Liberation, not Legitimacy

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by Amalia Vagts

I noticed something about my route while walking to my pastoral internship site at Luther College the other day. It’s a little over a mile from my home and the last part crosses the campus. In the winter, I’m usually ready to get out of the cold, and the large imposing Center for Faith and Life looks steps away by the time I’m ready to be inside. But just at that point, the sidewalk takes a sharp turn and leads me in the opposite direction of my intended destination. Finding meaning in this route is unavoidable as I reflect on how the last and next 30 years of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries’ journey intersects with my own winding path to ministry. 

 

When the first extraordinary ordinations happened in 1990, I was in high school and in love with the Lutheran church. I was completely unaware of the dramatic events happening in San Francisco that year, although I was increasingly aware of my identity as bisexual. By the time I did hear about one of these events (Rev. Anita Hill’s in 2001), the path was leading me well away from the Lutheran church before winding back towards it through the LGBTQ+ liberation movement. In the fall of 2006, a series of life events led me to follow a call to serve with what is now called Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. The ordination stories became the heartbeat of my call – the candidates, congregations, and the expansive donor community who saw the church for what it would become. 

 

Beginning in the spring of 2016, my growing call to ministry of Word and Sacrament became increasingly clear. I wanted to offer what I had received. I left my job and enrolled full-time at Wartburg Theological Seminary. I don’t think I ever expected the path would make a direct turn towards clarity at that point, but I may have underestimated the new questions and challenges that would emerge for me as I seek to become one of the queer-identifying ministry leaders I supported for so many years. I now understand the necessity and power of ELM’s work in deeply personal ways. “We can’t do this work without you,” was something I often and earnestly said as ELM’s executive director. I can’t even imagine this call without Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is my truth now. 

 

What remains most central for me in the work that began over thirty years ago in congregations and communities is best summarized in words that Rev. Phyllis Zillhart wrote in a very early Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries’ newsletter, quoting the work of Barbara Smith. Phyllis wrote, “we are emboldened by the words of black, feminist writer Barbara Smith who says to her lesbian sisters and gay brothers, “You must ask yourselves in everything you do, in all your actions for freedom and justice. Is it legitimacy you are working for, or is it liberation? If it is legitimacy, what will you end up with by trying so hard to be accepted and good, rather than just and free?”* These words continue to challenge me to imagine and work to create communities that reflect and seek liberation, not legitimacy.

 

The movement for LGBTQIA+ liberation that began over thirty years ago with the extraordinary  ordinations and countless acts of courage and proclamation since unfolds with surprising turns. I continue to learn from the early pioneers and the current prophets of this movement. Those of us who were once on the outside could be easily tempted to settle for being “let” into the ELCA. But God is calling us to do more than try to be “accepted and good.” The church – the living Body – longs to be just and free – liberated. I’m going down that path.

 

* Rev. Phyllis Zillhart, 1990 Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries Newsletter

43055705_10156427688095259_4763265520361275392_o (1).jpgAmalia Vagts (she/her/hers) writes, plans, dreams, naps, studies, dances and bases out of her home in Decorah, Iowa, which she shares with her partner David Lester, stepson Finn, and adorable miniature dachshund, Le Nez. She is a third year Master of Divinity student at Wartburg Theological Seminary. located in Dubuque, Iowa. Amalia is serving as Vicar this year at Luther College, Bethany Lutheran (Elkader, IA) and Emanuel Lutheran (Strawberry Point). She’s been listening to a LOT of podcasts during her commute. Amalia is the proud owner of several URLs she has big dreams for, including napdoula.com and stjunia.org. Amalia served as Executive Director of ELM from 2006 – 2017. Photo of Amalia and Le Nez by Charlie Langton. Amalia is joyfully a member of Proclaim!