Of History and Religion: Raise Your Voice

By Emmy Kegler October 20, 2011

Categories: Faith, Our Lives

[MN]Love Photo Collection: Rochester Pride, Margie W. & Jo E. (Placement does not indicate relationship to editorial content.) 

Photo by Simon Scott Stromberg Photography

As we approach on the ballot measure in November 2012, we will begin to hear “Christian” voices in support of a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.  These voices seem inescapable and indefatigable.  Yet, as an openly partnered queer woman and a student at Luther Seminary pursuing ordination, I know that these are not the only voices rising up in the church today.

As a result of many brave men and women who have gone before me, I am able to be a candidate for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.  After nearly twenty years of discussion, the ELCA voted in the summer of 2009 to allow individual churches and regions, as they felt moved, to call pastors in “publicly accountable lifelong monogamous same-gender relationships.”  Other “mainline Protestant” denominations — specifically Episcopal, United Church of Christ, and Presbyterian — have been through similar processes to remove barriers to the ordination of gay and lesbian people.  (The largest mainline Protestant denomination, the United Methodist Church, does not allow the ordination of openly gay and lesbian pastors, and has also been discussing the issue for some time.)

There is still a great deal of struggle in the church, even after the policy transformations that have taken place.  Many people and pastors cannot (or will not) understand what has happened and have elected to leave their particular churches or denominations.  Debate continues — and not always civilly.  Yet there is also a great deal of celebration.  Many people and pastors are coming forward to rejoice in the long-awaited recognition of partnered gay and lesbian people as children of God, loved and accepted unconditionally.  My partner and I, the congregation where we worship, and many of my fellow students at the seminary are among those who daily celebrate how far the church has come.

We have not come this far by votes and debates alone.  We are where we are today because of the courage of people throughout the church who raised voices and questions that challenged and strengthened us.

Some of those voices raised the question of biblical authority.  For much of the church’s history, we treated the Bible as a book with a single author (usually God), which spoke to us plainly no matter where we were in space or time.  It is in recent centuries that academics and scholars in the church have awoken us to how far we are from the original setting of the Bible — culturally, geographically, racially, historically, even religiously.  What came to be called “historical criticism” attempted to reconstruct the context in which the books — plural — of the Bible came to be.  For many, understanding the teaching of the books — plural — of the Bible in their first context brought the lessons in those books into greater clarity.  The creation stories became not a scientific and historical record but songs of praise to the beautiful work of God’s hand.  The laws and commandments given in Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy became not a way to cast out the “unclean” but a collection of guidelines for keeping a community “clean”, set apart from other religions who worship other gods.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John became not four voices to the same story, but four authors of four distinct stories offering different windows on the person of Jesus Christ.  For many, historical criticism brought the Bible from an untouchable and condemning pedestal into our own hands where the stories of struggling to know what it means to be “God’s people” became a living and nourishing witness to our own story.

Some of those questions came from the perspective of the oppressed.  In the twentieth century, national and global voices raised questions about institutional oppression within the hierarchy of the church.  Social injustice and the inequality, poverty, and cruelty it sowed was challenged.  No, said voices from colonized countries in South America, Africa, and Asia; No, said voices of African-American and Latino-American church leaders; No, said voices of women across the church.  A Savior born to a working-class family, who ministered to fishermen and spoke about farms, who died at the hands of religious authorities and political regimes — this Savior did not come to establish a church of injustice.  From these perspectives grew liberation theologies and feminist theologies, speaking from and for the perspective of the oppressed, looking to Christ not only to save us from our individual sin but from the institutional sin that bound us to hurt and oppress one another.

But the most important questions came from the witness of ordinary people.  This has been the biggest challenge to the church:  when its children, baptized and raised and loved by many, step forward and speak their truth.  The bold witness of the queer children of God has been the transformation of the church.  Each church, both individual congregations and gathered denominations, has wrestled with these beloved children, the Sunday School teachers and secretaries and musicians and potluck coordinators who stepped forward and said:  “This is who I am.”  Each church has asked:  “How do we hear this witness, the voices of the people we love speaking out against hate?  How do we understand the experience of our queer brothers and sisters in the face of years of tradition?”

We still have a long way to go, and there are days and weeks when we are weary of the journey.  When our voices of celebration are mixed with voices of condemnation, when two sets of hands open the same holy Book and see two very different images of God, it may seem that we have not come very far at all.  The constitutional amendment looms before us, and varied voices from the church rise up.  Our own voices are strained after years and decades of calling for justice, for equality, for the right to the pursuit of happiness.  And it has been those voices, weary and worn, that have changed the church.  It is the bold witness of the queer children of God, their proclamation of the truth of God’s love for them, that has brought us here, to this place, where we might be able to dream of a world where despair can be conquered by hope, where lies can be consumed by truth, where hate can be overcome by love.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

2 Responses to Of History and Religion: Raise Your Voice

  1. Jo Ericksen says:

    I am the Jo in the picture with my partner, Margie. I was raised in the ELCA. It is good to see some progress being made. But there is much more to do. We have 8 grandchildren from 17 to 3 years of age. They have been showing the above picture to their friends, excited to talk about their grandmas and the love they have for each other. But children are vulnerable. When some to not respond with the same excitement, they do not understand.

  2. Michael says:

    Being gay I felt that churches had closed there doors to gay people and I was left in finding my own way home.

    I was in a good space before the car wreck with my God, a practicing catholic of great faith and belief. My faith was enhance by my loss (sometimes you have to loose what you have to understand your true Being) as difficult as that may sound and to believe, I would go through it all again to be where I’m at in my understanding of God. Struggles happen to all people with much faith and belief as well as to people with little faith or no belief, it’s how you handle it that matters.

    I now feel I did find my way home and want to share it with you if you allow me. I got to experience what a dying person gets to experience due to that car wreck caused by a 28 year old preacher. He left behind a loving wife and 3 children. He gave a sermon just 2 weeks before; “When it’s your time to go.” Same day as the car wreck I was being awarded a bid for a job leaving the state but instead I was left in a coma for 3 weeks, a 5% chance to live, 7 surgeries, died twice, then after I awoke and on the third day in rehab when I was learning to re-walk again, a valve in my heart ruptured. I now had to put rehab on hold and due light duty to gain strength, also to let my open surgical wound heal before that open heart surgery a month down the road. I had to ask myself; “Did God just give me this time so I could say good bye?” That would be the kind of relationship my God and I have. Bottom line is…heaven didn’t want me and hell didn’t want me either. So here I AM. Many have told me that God must have a purpose for my life. You can decide. Right now this is the Best and Grandest of self that I can be.

    In my rediscovering of self I turned to other spiritual teachers outside of the fear based teachings of organized religion. My church parish had a great Lesbian,gay,bisexual,transgender support group (LGBT) and when I speak of the fear of the church it’s as an institution and not on a personal level or as a community label. I share with you these teachers that helped me bring knew thought of a God without a hell. Non-judgmental thinkers who have sought after and have found God through their own experiences in life and now share it with you. So now you too can have a Oneness with God if you allow. May God’s peace be with you as you find your own way home.

    God is experiencing your pain and struggles, along with everything else. In all fairness to the God within, did we create the situation we’re in through our concept and expectations of God?

    When you don’t like something…change your thoughts about it. As you go throughout the day you should be feeling one of 3 or all 3 of these emotions or your not in tune with life. Acceptance/Enjoyment/Enthusiasm. Peace, Love, Joy, Happiness are all things experienced in heaven. You can live heave on earth as surly you can live hell. Don’t like something then change your thoughts about it.
    Jesus could have stopped the crucifixion had he too had choices. The question then is, why didn’t he?

    My own opinion is that people were making Jesus into an idol as being God, and for Jesus to redirect the attention back onto God he had to show that even by death mankind can not get around the eternal. Jesus found his self-realization of who he was and I’m finding mine as I would wish for everyone. It’s the wonder of the peace within and the opportunity to experience new experiences without labeling them good or bad. I now want to wish that for you . In time we’ll all find our own way home. It’s called God’s unconditional love. As humans many people argue that we can’t experience giving unconditional love, and yes I say they are correct in that statement. I could not do that when I was the doer, (Doer means being the human I was doing this and doing that.) After the car wreck I was no longer the doer, then who was I? All I had left was my mind. Standing back and observing the situation I found my true Beingness. I was no longer a human being having a spiritual experience, I was now a spiritual being being having a human experience. What a difference and we’ll all have to face that some day. From my experience, it’s not the love you leave behind that matters and counts, it’s the love you take with you that matters. All that other B.S. in life doesn’t matter.

    Find Your Own Damn Way Home, I found
    Mine! Love, Michael

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