By Rev. Lamont Wells Director for Evangelical Mission for the Metropolitan New York Synod
For far too long the question of who should be allowed into Church leadership has always been a heavily contentious subject. It was in the 16th century that Martin Luther advocated for the “priesthood of all believers” (so long as they weren’t women). It almost took another 450-500 years before women were allowed into leadership positions in the Church. The injustices of exclusion still strongly affect women, disproportionately people of color, and the LGBTQIA+ community. As we approach the 10th Anniversary of the ELCA’s 2009 affirmative vote for inclusivity for LGBTQIA+ leadership, it’s my hope to realize the importance of increasing leadership opportunities from within the same gender loving and gender non-conforming communities.
As a mark of solidarity, I empathize with the painful realities of serving for years in conference and Synodical leadership and rarely seeing leadership that reflected my ethnic image or cultural heritage. Because of this lack of diversity and inclusivity, I have developed an internalized trauma that questions whether it is even possible to have multiple leaders of color to ascend to the various elected leadership roles within the Church. In 2018, we experienced the winds of the Spirit blow in a dynamic way that blessed the Church with a historic election of the first two African Descent women to the bishopric. However, my greatest concern is that the Church won’t recognize their elections as a movement for change and greater inclusivity, but rather a moment of accomplished mission and achievement.
My hope and cure for my internalized trauma is to see a robust trend in our Church (the ELCA) toward a diverse assembling of key leadership that keeps breaking barriers and that accepts differences in the intersectionality of humanity. This would create an institutional climate that provides models of leadership that so many more children of God can relate and connect to without waiting for the minimal exceptions. As the National President of the African Descent Lutheran Association (ADLA), it is my intention to work with ELM, WELCA and other ethnic specific associations to organize and advocate for leaders who bring our Church the gifts of greater diversity. In our indigenous expression as people of African Descent, same gender leadership and individuals were not a problem but always seen as key participants and “gifted ones” in the beauty of a diverse community. Knowing that God can use us all, we must support opportunities to choose leaders that God is raising from Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall, and Standing Rock.
Bio: The Rev. Lamont Anthony Wells is the Assistant to the Bishop/ Director for Evangelical Mission in the Metropolitan New York Synod. Pastor Wells is responsible for coordinating the development of stewardship resources and missional leadership for over 200 new and renewing congregations/ministries. He is currently the National President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s ‘African Descent Lutheran Association’ (ADLA). In his role, his leadership is the primary ecclesiastical voice of justice and equality for over 50,000 Lutherans of African Descent in the U.S.A. For many years he hosted a weekly radio program, “A Positive Message for Powerful Living with Pastor Lamont Wells,” in Philadelphia. In his ministerial career, Rev. Wells has pastored religious communities of multiple denominations in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Atlanta, Georgia, including having served as the Lutheran Campus Pastor for the Atlanta University Center (AUC).
Guided by the principle that a personal relationship with God is an essential life strategy, Rev. Wells is committed to a life of contemplative prayer and critical study of scripture. He consistently expounds in his theology that, “God’s grace allows us to know that all things work together for good to them that love God…” (Romans 8:28 – his favorite Bible verse)