And there are others knocking at the door
David R. Weiss, August 29, 2009
This piece was written for the Fall newsletter for Wingspan Ministry.
God almost seemed intent on literally making a hole in the roof—of both Central Lutheran Church and the Minneapolis Convention Center—last Wednesday. Tornado sirens blared, tables and tents flew through the air (some landing on the convention center’s roof), the church’s steeple twisted in the wind, and in this very moment the Spirit led our church to open its doors wider than ever before to gay and lesbian persons of faith. In passing the Social Statement on Sexuality on Wednesday, we made way for Friday’s votes, which affirmed churches that choose to offer blessings for same-gender relationships or to ordain persons in such committed relationships.
While not achieving everything we might have hoped for (the ELCA still explicitly affirms and “protects” the countervailing view that homosexuality is sinful, a “balance” we would never tolerate in a statement on race), this is nonetheless a victory to savor in a church that has steadfastly sought to silence our voices and marginalize our presence for decades.
So I am not about to whine. But I cannot get Michael Cobbler’s powerful sermon from Pastor Anita’s ordination eight years ago out of my head. Preaching on the text where friends of a paralytic literally remove part of the roof to lower him into Jesus’ presence, Cobbler’s booming voice reminded us all, “And there are others who are knocking at the door … and there is room for more!”
As we relish the swell of blessings and ordinations that will surely follow in the months and years to come, let us remember, too, the many others whose welcome still waits upon friends to make yet more holes in the church’s roof.
I think of our bisexual and transgender friends, whose lives remain virtually unheard and unseen in our church (and in this Sexuality Statement) although they were baptized at the same fonts as we were. I think of our conservative brothers and sisters who find themselves on ground all too familiar to us, marginalized in a church they know is theirs. I think of our youth, many of whom are leaving the church in droves, while others must struggle to claim the voice that the rest of us so desperately need to hear. I think of our differently-abled members whose differences are found so unsettling by so many that of all God’s children they may be least likely to feel at home in God’s house.
I think of our brothers and sisters of color who still today meet barriers different but every bit as real as the ones we face. From interpersonal encounters to parish dynamics to institutional structures, it is not by accident that we remain a very white church. Race is the issue we all “agree on”—as though by our unified fervor for equality we can quickly sidestep all the awkward and uncomfortable issues it raises for us.
I think, too, of our brothers and sisters around the globe, whose very lives hang in the balance of the abundance we seek for ourselves. And I think of our kindred creatures, whose well-being and habitats are often made forfeit to our desires. We cling to a standard of living that makes our weekly request for “daily bread” a mockery both of God and of the fragile and finite planet given to our care.
We who celebrate our welcome today, surely we cannot celebrate too long a welcome that only extends the walls of the city a bit further while fortifying the barriers that continue to exclude others. There is so much that remains to be done—on behalf of the God who welcomes us.
If we have learned from our own struggle for welcome, perhaps we can extend to others more quickly now the welcome that was so long in coming to us. Here are a few lessons that I think can serve us well as we seek to widen our welcome even further:
1. Our own work is far from over. Both for ourselves and for our bisexual and transgender friends—and for allies, too—this church has a long way to go to truly embrace the goodness of our embodiment as gendered and sexual children of God. The 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly marks an important step, but this work, which is such a central piece in fathoming and affirming the mystery of Incarnation, must go on.
2. How we hold and hear the Bible is paramount. Texts continue to be wielded like clubs against us. As we move forward we need to grow in our capacity to articulate how we hold this text as sacred without turning it into an idol. We need to become even more adept, not simply at dodging texts that are dangerous (whether to ourselves or others), but also at claiming texts that offer a fully inclusive vision of the people of God. There is no pressing issue that we Lutherans will meet in which we will not look to the Bible for guidance. We are well-suited to help the church do this with wisdom and compassion on issues broader than “us”—though we will doubtless find some of our own biases challenged along the way.
3. This is fundamentally theological work. Strategizing, memorializing, and vote-gathering are all absolutely essential to changing church structures. But ultimately the matter of welcome rests on how we understand God and God’s creation. Listening to the persons speaking at the red and green microphones during the Assembly, it is clear that our understandings vary widely in this church. Some of us—at both ends of the spectrum—barely recognize the God to whom those at the opposite end pledge their faith. Until we can discuss this with calm voices and open minds, everything else is pretty much window-dressing.
4. Lastly, stories are holy and healing. Without question what turned the tide in this leg of our journey, what provided the Spirit the room to blow with new wisdom in our church, were our stories, shared with vulnerability and confidence. No matter how much we refine our doctrines or reform our policies, welcome is finally a disposition of the heart, and the heart longs for a story to embrace. So we will need to keep telling our stories. But just as importantly, we will need to be loud in calling on the church (and on ourselves) to listen with longing to the stories of those whose welcome is not yet secured.
Truly, “There are others who are knocking at the door,” and in our joy we know, “there is room for more!”
David R. Weiss is the author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (Langdon Street Press, 2008, http://www.davidrweiss.com). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace, David lives in St. Paul and is a self-employed speaker and writer on the intersection of sexuality and spirituality. You can reach him at https://tothetune.wordpress.com.