Staying Together for the Kids
After the church I was involved with fell apart a couple of years ago, a group of us from the music team continued to meet and play together. Occasionally, we’ll get calls from other churches asking us to fill in for their Sunday service and give their worship team a chance to take a break (playing week-in / week-out can get tiresome and often strain volunteer musicians to an emotional breaking point).
One church we recently had the pleasure of subbing for is in the middle of a church split due to the recent vote by the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) to allow for those in “life-long, monogamous, same-gendered” relationships to serve in leadership positions (find out more at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/21/AR2009082103343.html). For those who don’t know, the ELCA is the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States and has classically been a bit more liberal than other Lutheran organizations. The provision does not require churches to accept homosexual ministers but allows for churches that desire integration of same-sex couples into leadership to do so.
To be clear, I’m not Lutheran. However, observing all of this has impacted me fairly heavily, perhaps bringing back some difficult memories of the demise of our faith community in early 2007.
One of the reasons I believe Christianity has been able to survive as long as it has revolves around its ability to adapt to cultural shifts and maintain relevancy. For example, there was a period of time when the church strictly forbade divorce, but it has largely moved away from that stance and has welcomed divorced individuals into fellowship. In fact, studies show the current divorce rate among Christians is very similar, if not identical, to the national average.
It’s hard to imagine a time when a church would split over an issue like divorce, but it did happen (part of the reason for the creation of the Anglican Church) and many people held passionate views one way or the other. I see a mirrored situation currently taking place as Christianity struggles to find a place for homosexuals in both fellowship and leadership.
The interesting thing about this decision by the ELCA is that it did not require member congregations to appoint gay elders and even allowed congregations to reject the practice internally. The fact that church splits are taking place over an issue that will probably have little pragmatic impact on them serves to show just how heated and difficult it is.
I’m not writing to weigh in on one side or the other. I am writing, however, to encourage those on both sides to try and find common ground and avoid splits if possible. Speaking from experience, the destruction of a community has a severely negative impact on those involved and should always be considered a last resort of sorts. There is lots of room for discussion and debate on the matter, but I think it is important that the issue is placed in a historical context. The church has flexed to allow for lifestyles in today’s modern day that it would have never even considered hundreds of years ago. As charged as the fight for or against allowing women into leadership was at the time, it seems rather petty in today’s modern world. The same goes with a host of other issues such as the allowance of tattoos or the orbit of the planets in the solar system.
My opinion is that none of these are worth the destruction and heartbreak that a division has both internally in the community experiencing it and externally to those looking in at the faith. If there is a way to maintain unity, I hope they can find it regardless of the perceived cost!