by Chris Schaefer
Editor’s note: Have you heard it’s the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation this year (1517-2017)? Today’s post is the last of our series of reflections on how the church continues to re-form and the role of LGBTQIA+ leaders.
500 years sounds like a very long time. To an individual alive in 2017, 500 years spans many generations beyond their lived experience.
And yet, in the grand scheme of existence and creation, 500 years is just a drop in the bucket!
As a people and a church, we’ve come a long way since the time of Luther, and there is good reason to commemorate all that has been accomplished for justice and equity in both secular and religious circles.
And yet, as much as humanity and Lutheranism have progressed since the beginning of the Reformation, there is still so much that needs to be done.
I was reminded recently how much this rings particularly true for queer folk.
When I began my seminary journey in 2014, my uncle exclaimed how proud he was to have a nephew who was on “the front lines” of LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the church. I giggled a little thinking that was somewhat ridiculous as the 2009 decision to allow openly gay and lesbian clergy to be called to congregational ministry was soooo long ago, and I was just a late arrival to the ticker-tape parade celebrating the queer Lutheran liberation army’s victory.
Clouded in the great privilege of being openly loved and accepted by my family, friends, and home church—all the while having long ago accepted that my path to ordination wouldn’t be simple, easy, or straight-forward (pun intended)—I often forget just how recent and hard fought the queer Reformation in the Lutheran Christian Church has been.
I’m allowed to be married to the love of my life and simultaneously answer my discerned call to Word and Sacrament ministry, and that is FABULOUS. And yet, I must also recognize the fact that openly gay and lesbian folk still have an extremely difficult time being called to many congregations who claim to hold true to the spirit and tenets of the ELCA. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the hoops and hurdles faced by erased bi and ace* folks, silenced trans and intersex folks, and especially those with intersections as PoC, women, and femmes, just to name a few.
At my synod assembly this summer, Presiding Bishop Eaton was present, and I had an opportunity to ask her about what is happening on the churchwide level to clear paths to ordination and reduce wait time to calls for all those mentioned above. She told me that the Council of Bishops is currently working on addressing the issue of “bound consciences,” but she also confessed that it would probably be slow going and take a lot of work in individual congregations to make any discernible progress. She was very sorry to have to admit that.
Like any death and resurrection, all Re-formations are complex, messy, and frequently painful. I may want to just jump to the resurrection where all folks are openly loved and welcomed regardless of their identities, but first I must mourn and lament for all who came and battled before me and have allowed me to even be where I’m at. Hopefully I’ll even get to a place of forgiveness for all those who kept our queer Lutheran ancestors locked in their closets of repression and silence.
I want the butterfly moment, but I must also put in the work of a hungry caterpillar to get there, accepting that our chrysalis moments will be hard and painful.
We’ve come a long way. Let’s keep going.
* “ace” is shorthand for Asexual identities.
Chris Schaefer (he/him/his) is a Senior Seminarian at United Lutheran Seminary living right outside of Washington, D.C. He can usually be found on the road listening to RuPaul’s podcast while commuting to Church Admin classes, connecting with mischievously holy people, and introverting on his couch watching TV with his husband and very vocal cat. He enjoys liberation theology with a touch of medieval mysticism and a glass of whiskey.