I know that my denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has a terrible legacy. We have been abusive to our LGBTQ+ siblings, oppressive to our siblings of color, entrenched in colonizing thinking and theology. We still got corners of our church (and let’s be honest those corners are really centers) that exclude women from leadership.
So the fact that a white supremacy mindset has made Luther Seminary “toxic” to people of color is not surprising. The fact that United Lutheran Seminary tried to hide or deny they knew their seminary president used to advocate for so-called “conversion” therapy for the queer community is also not surprising.
BUT THAT’S THE POINT: IT ISN’T SURPRISING.
It is still disgusting. It is heartbreaking. But surprising? Shocking? Nah, this is what we’ve come to expect from our denomination. (And, hey, ULS: this is not a matter of a sin of ommission or commission; you didn’t do your homework to find out if the president is a true ally for your community. Your failure to do a good job doesn’t let you hide behind “we didn’t know.”)
I feel a strong pull to advocate for change within our denomination – because I care for the people my church is hurting. I stand in solidarity with them.
And I wonder if it is worth it. I have hesitated to tell my friends of color or queer friends that the ELCA is a place that will honor and embrace them. There are spaces in the church that exist that way – but in the landscape of the denomination these are shelters not tabernacles. They are hard to find and not all that say “all are welcome” really mean it.
I’m yearning for a church that is unequivocal in its embrace of people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. I want my siblings honored. I want queer theologies, liberation theologies, womanist theologies to be at the center not an optional elective. I want to see deep investment in ministries that can thrive with the support of the wider church. I want us to be clear about the God of Justice. I want us to proclaim that a grace-based theology does not tolerate bigotry, violence, or spiritual-abuse.
This struggle has been existing within the ELCA since the founding of the denomination. Right now, that struggle has shifted to make the seminaries the front line. Students: we are with you. You are beautiful and powerful. Your dreams for the church led you to this place and now with the presence of the Spirit we can feel the birth-pangs of that new life. So keep fighting. Keep loving. Keep striving. Keep organizing. Push on. This is your calling. “For such a time as this.” This will shape your theology for years to come. Lean into the work. Take sabbath when you need it. Care for one another. Faculty of good will: exercise your power, organize your voice, follow the students as they lead us.
And those of us in congregations: we are working to build a church that is ready to welcome you, that will celebrate your boldness in this moment. We need your voice and experience to help participate in the establishing of God’s kinship within the church and throughout the world.
The institution may be beyond redeeming, but the struggle is beautiful, the church will stand and the gates of hell shall not prevail against us.