Dear Churchwide: By Drew Stever

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Dear Ecclesia,
Many of you know me. Many of you do not. I am Drew: pastor, step-parent, trans elder, son, partner of Hazel.
Yes. That Hazel. Pastor Hazel Salazar-Davidson.
I have been relatively quiet in the last eight months. This is a result of having to care for Hazel, myself, and our kids while maintaining my own call as a solo pastor.
During this time, we have experienced a palpable silence from the institution.
Institutions are created by specific people with specific worldviews, for specific people with specific worldviews. They are not made for marginalized folks, so they don’t know how to care for us. So they become silent.
This is what institutions do. They prioritize:
  • the institution over the people.
  • maintaining a perfect image over suffering.
  • public relations and political conversations over vulnerable and uncomfortable exchanges.
  • a facade over what is authentic.
  • pushing out any who hold up a mirror in one hand, and the gospel in the other.
“Is it even that bad? Why are we still talking about this?”
I have had to witness and learn more about how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shows up in a person as a result of religious trauma than I ever thought I would. And that person isn’t a congregant. They’re my partner. My love. There are no support groups for those caring for those experiencing spiritual trauma.
We have had to tend to the spiritual wounds of our kids, too. One of them, who was supposed to be a voter, chose not to attend Churchwide Assembly because they felt unsafe. She has experienced firsthand what it’s like to be a person from a marginalized group in this institution and as a young adult who grew up in the ELCA, has now taken steps to create distance from the institution during a season when the ELCA declares we are striving to bring in new young diverse leaders.
In the last eight months, we have not received one message of care from the presiding bishop, even after Hazel wrote to the bishops, reported to the listening team, published vulnerable accounts of her experience, and received a majority vote to speak at Sierra Pacific’s synod assembly.
Instead, we have received chaotic, dysfunctional attempts at care by the synod that have only perpetuated harm. As of the date of Churchwide Assembly, Hazel still has not received disability benefits, nor an income since December 2021.
We have been left to fend for ourselves in a system that was not created for us.
We have been left feeling like we are not wanted here, that eventually we will just leave so the institution can continue its trajectory of sweeping harm under the rug.
The thing is, we want to be here. We want to respond to God’s call to serve in this church.
However, it has gotten to the point where our safety is our utmost priority and wherever we find ourselves not experiencing safety, we look for the nearest exit.
Boz Tchivijivan, an attorney advocate for abuse survivors on the Hillsong:  A Mega Church Exposed documentary shared what he had consistently heard from those harmed by faith communities was that “‘the abuse that was perpetrated…by the perpetrator was traumatic and it is going to take me a lifetime to process it and heal from it. But what was worse than that was the response from the very community that I thought was going to be my greatest advocate, but who turned their back on me. That I don’t know if I’ll ever heal from.’” Tchivijivan found that the failed response of the faith community has a graver impact on the victim than the actual abuse itself.
There have been many in our denomination that are currently experiencing the same kind of hurt and abandonment. Those of us from the LGBTQIA+ community understand this kind of hurt on a very personal level.
This year’s assembly theme is Embody the Word. I invite us all to consider this word: Mark 21:12-13. It reads:
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’  but you are making it a den of robbers.”
Far too long this institution has ignored those on the margins. We have been distracted by the shiny things on the table. It is time we overturn tables and drive out those who are peddling goods that lead us away from God – goods such as legalistic resolutions, antiquated protocol, or “stay in our lane” mindsets.
Dear Ecclesia.
Dear Presiding Bishop Eaton.
Who are we called to be?
Are we called to witness suffering, but then ignore it until it goes away? Are we called to favor our own comfort? Are we called to check with our lawyers first before extending care?
Or, are we called to set down our egos, set aside what distracts us from one another, to witness suffering and move toward it, regardless of how we feel?
I pray this assembly moves toward the latter.

ELM encourages you to make a prayerfully considered gift for Hazel’s continued (unpaid) ministry within our church- you can Venmo her at @Hazel-Davidson. Thank you. 

Drew Stever (they/he) serves as Lead Pastor at Hope Lutheran Church in Hollywood, CA. During this season, he helped co-found Koinonia Mutual Aid with Hazel and many other faith leaders, which is a network of care by BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ faith leaders, for BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ faith leaders. Drew lives in Ventura County, CA with Hazel, the kids, their dog, fish, bird feeder and ever-growing abundance of succulents.

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