Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Letter to the Bishop - May 2001

Here is some Wikipedia information about Anita Hill - not the Anita Hill of the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination controversy, but a Lutheran minister.  As I've copied it direct from Wikipedia, it contains several links to other Wikipedia entries.

Rev. Anita Carol Hill is a pastor at Saint Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota, (United States). The congregation is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), however, her ordination is not recognized by the ELCA. Hill is a lesbian in a committed relationship, and ELCA guidelines require celibacy from "ministers who self-identify as homosexuals." Hill made national headlines when she was called and ordained by the congregation in defiance of ELCA regulations. She is one of a handful of openly gay and lesbian pastors serving congregations within the ELCA. This has caused much controversy within the church.

And indeed it did.  At the time I was working as a secretary at a Long Beach, California ELCA church, Rev. Hill had been called by her congregation to serve as their pastor.  I'm pleased to note that the ELCA finally changed its policies in 2009.  Its current policy is set forth in Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hansons' Message to Rostered Leaders:  ELCA Message on Sexuality 

The Washington Post's account sums up the matter neatly:  Washington Post "Monogamous Gays Can Serve as Clergy"

This letter was sent in May of 2001 to Paul Egertson, Bishop of the Southwest California Synod.  He had ordained Anita C. Hill, and publicly disagreed with other prominent church officials over her ordination, as well as on the matter of equal treatment and respect for GLBT congregants and clergy.  He paid more than lip service; he took a strong, principled stance on the matter, and resigned rather than give in to pressure from the higher-ups.

I think he was serving a God who was even higher up than his fellow bishops.  

 Dear Bishop Egertson: 
Thank you for publicly doing the right thing in the matter of Anita Hill.  

I know that you must have struggled with the decision to participate in her ordination.  I am overjoyed that, for once, an American Lutheran bishop chose to publicly take a stand on this matter.

The ELCA has discussed this matter to death.  Thank God someone has chosen to actually DO something.  

An old joke asks:  “How many Lutherans does it take to change a light-bulb?”

The punch-line is, of course, “Change?  What do you mean, change?  My grandmother gave that light-bulb to this church!”

While the national church hems and haws, urging continued “prayerful discernment,” “additional dialogue,” and “remaining engaged in discussion on this matter,” gay and lesbian children are born into Lutheran families and grow older.  Some remain with the church, “sitting quietly in the back of the bus;” some leave to find other churches willing to declare the truth that “God doesn’t make second-class citizens;” some fall away from church altogether, abandoning their hope along the way; and some, as we know, fall so deep into despair that they kill themselves.

Meanwhile, the ELCA demonstrates that, “when all is said and done, the Lutherans will still be talking.”

I pray that all will be well with you, and that you will join with Bishop Olson in becoming publicly active in pursuing true full participation for God’s gay and lesbian children.  I pray that our national church will once again learn to lead by example on this crucial matter of social justice.  I pray that the ELCA will place Jesus Christ at its head, relegate the pieties of Paul to their secondary position, and recognize that its own slavish adherence to its present constitution and “Visions and Expectations” document thwarts Luther’s vision of a priesthood of all believers.

Thank you for taking action and “changing the light-bulb.”  I hope you will continue to bring light to our lives for many years to come, and that your example will help move the ELCA to become more than merely a stale punch-line to a hoary joke.

If you do resign, I urge you to do so loudly and as publicly as possible.  Let our nation know that churches have been removed from the ELCA’s roster for calling non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy who refuse to lie about their committed relationships – and that these congregations are well and thriving.  Let America know that we enjoy full communion with the United Church of Christ, which ordains non-celibate GLBT persons.  Spread the truth that Lutherans are the largest religious body in every country in the world that accords same-sex partnerships the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual marriages.

Educate and enlighten:  Lutherans need not be the reticent stuff of Garrison Keillor’s comic monologues – they are as passionate and deeply committed to the Great Commission as their more outspoken Episcopal brothers and sisters, and far more numerous.  In short, even if you resign, as you do so, continue with your gift as a teacher, spreading truth and light.  

Personally, I believe the national ELCA office has become so pre-occupied with bureaucratic niceties such as “correct rostership status” that Martin Luther would have included our American church as his 96th thesis.  If Luther had kept the same quiet “wait and see” attitude as our present ELCA, we’d all still be Roman Catholics.

Thank you for DOING something.

May God continue to bless and keep you.

Your brother in Christ (whether Bishop Anderson likes it or not),

Reed  Boyer

Copies were sent to Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Bishop Murray Finck, Pacifica Synod; Lutherans Concerned North America; and the Lutherans Human Relations Association

A month after this letter of support was sent to him, Bishop Egertson resigned.  His resignation letter, provided by Democracy Now! details his reasons for his "act of 'ecclesiastical disobedience'" in having ordained Rev. Hill:  Egertson's resignation

Bishop Egertson's letter also stated in part: "Yesterday, Shirley and I celebrated our 45th Wedding Anniversary.  Within our first year of marriage, God gave us our first son.  He was and is a gift.   He was and is gay.  Over the next fifteen years God gave us five more sons.  They were and are gifts. T hey are straight.  You never know what is in God’s gifts until you open them.  We have been blessed and we are grateful."

In my estimation, Bishop Egertson and Rev. Hill must be ranked with Martin Luther himself, who famously said, when asked to recant his "heretical views:"  -- "Here I stand.  I can do no other."

A link to a Fox11 news report is also attached.  The viewer comments are very interesting, but not unexpected.

Last week I decided to become a member of the United Methodist Church where my mother worships and I sing in the choir.  I've been in the choir for nearly three years, but always balked when invited to become a member.

Last month, the congregation voted 54-15 to become a Welcoming and Reconciling Congregation, welcoming all GLBT people home to a church that values them.  I may slip off to Shepherd of the Valley ELCA Lutheran church during the choir's summer break, but in either place, I feel that I'm finally home.

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