A reflection on this week’s events in the global church from ELM’s Board of Directors
The apostle Paul reminds us that we who claim to follow Jesus are one body in Christ and that “if one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Cor 12:26).
As members of the one body and in the spirit of co-suffering love, ELM mourns and laments, with all our United Methodist kin, the St. Louis 2019 General Conference’s vote to reaffirm and strengthen the ecclesial prohibitions on ordaining same-gender loving clergy and officiating same-gender weddings, as prescribed by the “Traditional Plan.”
As we know from experiences within our own Lutheran denominations, such decisions globally impact and harm LGBTQIA+ people who are and will be told that God does not love them or that they do not bear the image of God. They wound the whole body of Christ, because LGBTQIA+ individuals are members of this body and, thereby undermine the church’s witness to God’s ever-expanding, radical love.
ELM holds with tenderness and compassion, all individuals that have experienced similar instances of institutional sin across denominations that caused safety and trust to be threatened, and that lead to further marginalization and feelings of isolation for specific groups of people. The effects of trauma and re-traumatization stretch wide and run deep, and we encourage and support those impacted in seeking support during these painful times.
Furthermore, with the entire body of Christ, we acknowledge and lament our own active and passive participation in the sins embodied in this decision. We mourn the sins of queerphobia and transphobia. We rebuke the forces of fear, ignorance, and hate that keep the church from celebrating the gifts and ministries of LGBTQIA+ Christians.
As members of the body of Christ, we also confess and repent the sins of racism and white supremacy, particularly as enacted through colonization, which continue to enforce the gender binary and heteronormativity as divinely and scripturally ordained, thereby erasing global indigenous expressions of same-gender love and expansive gender diversity. These sins also lead to the creation of a false binary between LGBTQIA+ people and people of color.
As the scriptures teach us to welcome one another, just as Christ welcomes us for the glory of God, so we believe that the Gospel commands us to extravagantly welcome all people, particularly those who are marginalized and oppressed.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of sexual and gender minority ministers transforms the church and enriches the world. We know the value and gifts that queer people bring to the church and to ministry throughout the world.
Grounded in this conviction, we commit to living in solidarity through mutual prayer and support with our UMC kin as they discern their way forward, just as we too continue to discern and struggle within our own denominational structures.
We rest in the knowledge that the Spirit continues to be present among us, calling and guiding as we journey towards God’s promise to gather all people as part of God’s one family:
Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed… Do not let the foreigner joined to God say, “God will surely separate me from God’s people”; and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.” For thus says God: To the eunuchs… I will bring them to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the sovereign God, who gathers the outcasts…” (Isaiah 56: 1, 3, 7-8).
May we hold each other graciously and tenderly in our times of sorrow. And, may we not forget to step out in bold faith, trusting the Spirit to guide us on the path of reparation and justice.
ELM Board of Directors
Emily Ann Garcia, Co-Chair Matthew James, Co-Chair
Margaret Moreland, Secretary Charlie Horn, Treasurer
Jessica Davis, Emily E. Ewing, Matta Ghaly, Jeff R. Johnson, Barbara Lundblad, Margarette Ouji, Angela Shannon
The ELCA Conference of Bishops and Churchwide staff have, for the last year, engaged a process of revision of the church document “Vision and Expectations.” This document was designed and implemented in 1990 as a gate-keeping device to keep gay and lesbian individuals unwilling to promise celibacy from serving on the church’s rosters.
Though the policy was updated in 2010 following the 2009 Churchwide Assembly which passed “Human Sexuality Gift & Trust,” the impact of this document has continued to be a shared, unhealthy ethic of human sexuality that promotes silence, shame, and secrecy for both queer and straight candidates and rostered ministers. This document undermines and inhibits the church’s ability to promote healthy professional boundaries and a responsible ethic for leaders in this church. V&E remains the church’s primary vehicle that promotes discrimination and intimidation of candidates. A new revision of this document has been in progress over the last year.
Leading up to the Fall 2018 Conference of Bishops, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and our colleagues encouraged the Bishops to open the process by which this document was being revised so that voices of concerned parties could participate in crafting an ethic and standard that reflects the communities it affects. We were encouraged when the Bishops did, in fact, vote to postpone recommending a revision to the Church Council with a motion that recognized the need “that special attention be given to inclusive language and descriptions of life situations and relationships by inviting voices from diverse perspectives.”
We have no evidence that this has happened.
A committee made up of Bishops and Churchwide staff has been meeting to prepare a revision of “Vision and Expectations” to be presented to the Conference of Bishops at their Spring 2019 meeting, starting Friday, March 1st. As far as we know, there has been no invitation to include the participation or voices of concerned parties. ELM strongly disagrees with this course of action and condemns the lack of a promised open, fruitful, and transparent process.
A draft of the latest revision has not been shared with us, but we are deeply concerned about a process that fails to consider the perspectives of those who have been most damaged by our church’s policies around sexuality. We seek to offer our lived experiences and queer wisdom in the creation of a sexual ethic for our church that creates healthy and thriving church leaders, and in turn, congregations.
ELM calls on the Conference of Bishops to hold your siblings and yourselves accountable to the promise made at your fall meeting to invite “voices from diverse perspectives” into this process of revision. Do not recommend a document that has not been created in an inclusive setting. A failure in a just and open process will result in the creation of flawed guidelines.
To all leaders, lay and rostered, who are concerned members of our congregations and communities: if you value healthy, vibrant ministers, please reach out to your Bishops to express your concern. Documents that promote and call for “holy living and faithful witness” cannot be created only by those who hold power within our institution, the result of this kind of process is colonization and oppression. Trust in our church and in its policies is only garnered by courage and openness to change, and inclusion and diversity – two of the church’s stated values that are seemingly being ignored in this process.
Here is a list of talking points we have created that might assist you in your outreach to Bishops and church leaders:
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of gender and sexual minority ministers transforms the church and enriches the world. We believe that living into the fullness of who God created us to be is the greatest expression of “holy living and faithful witness” that is asked of us by our Creator.
Bio: Bishop Jim Hazelwood (he/him/his) was born in Concord, MA. Not raised in the church, he was baptized at age 21 while serving at El Camino Pines, a Lutheran Camp in Southern California. BA Cal Lutheran University, M.Div PLTS, D.Min Fuller Seminary Pasadena, CA. Pastor 1987 to 1993 Bethany Lutheran Brooklyn NY 1993 to 2012 St Andrew Charlestown RI. 2012 to present Bishop. Married to Lisa, Father and now Grandfather. When not bishoping he is bicycling, swimming, doing stand up comedy and writing a book on Everyday Spirituality.
By Sara Cunningham , Executive Director & CEO of Free Mom Hugs
When I was a child, my mother called me “Goose,” I am certain now more than ever this was because of my natural ability to put my nose into other people’s business. I needed to know what was going on, if everyone was ok, and most importantly when we could all get together again. Community was everything to me then, and it certainly is my focus every day now.
My Journey to becoming an ally began with the words from my child, “Mom I’ve met someone, and I need you to be okay about it.” I didn’t take the news very well, and I said and did some things I regret even to this day.
I had to re-examine my religion as it suggested that I needed to choose between my faith and my child. I discovered, with the help of some others who came alongside me, that what I believed about LGBTQIA+ people came from a few verses in the Bible that had been misinterpreted and misunderstood. From there, my journey went from the church to the local pride parade wearing a homemade button and offering Free Mom Hugs or High Fives.
I wasn’t the first mom to show up at a Pride Parade offering love and hope and hugs, but I did create a non-profit based on that experience. After my post about being a stand-in mom at same-sex weddings went viral; what we have seen has been a movement of love and celebration for the LGBTQIA+ Community.
It has been the most amazing gift dropped in our laps as far as getting the message out to moms, dads, educators, and churches that NOW is the time to get educated, to step out of fear and ignorance and come out of their own closets to speak out on behalf of their children.
But what has been even more beautiful is the community, the connection and healing that is taking place in the lives of LGBTQIA+ youth and adults due to the thousands of compassionate, empowered people who are responding and offering support, birthday cards, words of affirmation, homemade blankets, and other simple but very important small gestures such as referring to a transgender person by their chosen name.
We also recently had a follower on Instagram post about their 11-year-old child who attempted suicide because of intense scrutiny and bullying from family and school. We noticed the post and got our group of “Mama Bears to the Rescue” their address and when the young girl came home from the hospital, she was surprised by dozens of cards, stuffed animals and blankets from Mamas all across the country. These small acts of kindness, this kind of loving presence in the life of that child and her Mama delivered a message of love and hope that was life-changing for them.
This is where we are going Beyond The Hug. We are supporting homeless youth with Free Mom Hugs Hoodies. We are helping our transgender friends fund legal fees for gender name changes, emotional and financial support after top- surgeries; we travel to small-town colleges and encourage their GSA’s. We are educating on behalf of our communities in schools and in the workplace. We are advocating on behalf of mental health awareness, ending workplace discrimination, and putting an end to once and for all the mental abuse that is conversion therapy.
So many young LGBTQIA+ people are hurting from family rejection and rigid religious beliefs. This is why I support LGBTQIA+ ministries like Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries who, every day, affirm & inspire bold loving leaders to Proclaim the gospel in the world. We may not be able to change every heart and mind – we may not be able to solve most problems – but one thing we can all do is be a loving presence in the life of LGBTQIA+ people. Anyone reading this can send a card, speak words of affirmation, get together with someone for a coffee, give a small gift, use someone’s chosen name, give a hug. These are things we can all do.
My hope is that my journey will inspire all of you to want to be a loving presence in the life of LGBTQIA+ people.
Together I believe we can change the world, so it is a kinder, safer, more loving place for all people to live.
Love wins. Hugs and high fives help too.
Bio: Sara Cunningham is the Founder of Free Mom Hugs and has a heart as deep and wide as the ocean, and a commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community that matches it. Sara has very recently been featured on the Today Show, CNN, and has been viewed by millions on social media. What does Free Mom Hugs mean to her? “For me, it just represents unconditional love,” she said. “Everyone needs love and understanding from their mother.”
From ELM: We did it! Proclaim (ELM’s professional community of publicly identified LGBTQIA+ ministers and candidates) just hit 300! Join us in a bold welcome to Sergio Rodriguez, Proclaim’s 300th member.
I must from the outset thank and praise our Triune God for the grace which brought us all here together for ministry in our world today. This message of the grace of God in Christ Jesus continues to shape and mold our communities from which God calls us and will call others like us to ministry.
Growing up the gay son of two Mexican immigrants, the notion that God would call anyone outside the sexual and gender norms of our Mexican-American society seemed contrary to God’s will. Though I loved Jesus, his mother Mary, and the church, I found myself at odds with the wider Roman Catholic institution because of my sexuality. While this effectively made me leave the church during my high school years, I found myself returning to the Roman Catholic church as I studied at Baylor University.
At Baylor University, I felt God called me to serve the capacity as a minister of the church and to test this out. I became the chaplain of two music organizations; the Baylor University Marching Band and Kappa Kappa Psi.
Despite serving in this capacity, I still resented my sexuality and found myself hungering for a God who would simply accept me for who I was and who I wanted to be.
During my senior year of college, God showed me the message of radical and inclusive grace for all through my studies of Dr. Luther’s works, conversation, and conversion to Lutheranism.
At that time, I felt that I needed to wait before I dived right into word and sacrament ministry. From the end of college up to this present day, I managed to complete a Master’s of the Arts in Theology from Concordia Theological Seminary, switch from the LC-MS to the ELCA, and move to San Antonio where I briefly studied Marriage and Family Therapy.
About two years ago, the weight of these changes finally took their spiritual toll on me as I contemplated giving up the idea of being a rostered word and sacrament leader in the ELCA.
I felt that I was unable to find an affirming congregation that would also attend to my identity as a Latinx Lutheran. Precisely at that moment, God made me aware of Gethsemane Lutheran Church and Jesus Maestro church in San Antonio where I met my future pastoral supervisor and Spiritual Father who awakened in me that call I felt so many years ago in college.
Moreso, he reaffirmed my dignity as a gay Mexican Lutheran and made me aware that God calls people to ministry regardless of where they are in their lives, their gender, their sexuality, and their race.
So when a classmate of mine encouraged me to join Proclaim, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that it was God gathering me to a community of fellow believers and leaders to join them in proclaiming the Gospel of our Crucified and Risen Lord that all may know the all-inclusive love of God!
Bio: Sergio Rodriguez (he/him/his) Growing up in the Texas borderlands in an immigrant household, my parents raised me to be aware of how the border defined our identities, culture, and lives as children of God. While my formative years were spent growing up in socially conservative Mexican household in McAllen, TX, I found affirmation, mercy, and unconditional love amongst my fellow musicians, religion majors, and friends at Baylor University.
Though I continued to struggle to integrate my Latinx identity with my faith, I felt God calling me in the midst of an emotionally difficult time of my life during my senior year of college to a position of leadership knowing full well the lucha that people of color face in the church.
Unbeknownst to me as I navigated through the institution of the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod, God needed me to mature, develop, grow and learn further about what radical grace means for all people today.
Rather than be disingenuous to my God-given identity as a Latinx believer, I left the Missouri Synod while I finished a Master’s in Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary because God showed me the depth, the breath and the height of the love of Christ for all people with no exception to gender, race, sexuality, age, creed, capacity or the like
After taking a year off following graduation and moving to San Antonio, God kindled in me the passion, the confidence and knowledge for being a leader in the church for the sake of the world and moved me to start the candidacy process for rostered word and sacrament ministry. As I progress through my studies at Wartburg Theological seminary and candidacy process, God has continued to assure me there is no more certain calling for me than to proclaim Christ crucified for the sake of the world in word, sacrament, and deed.
What is the Proclaim Gathering? ELM’s annual Proclaim Gathering was held August 5-8, 2018 at Pearlstone Retreat Center outside Baltimore, MD. The Gathering brings together members of Proclaim (ELM’s professional community for publicly identified LGBTQIA+ Lutheran rostered ministers and candidates) and their families, for a time of renewal, community building, and professional development as publicly identified leaders.
I am new to Proclaim – just joined in April. As a seminary student at LSTC, I was aware of Proclaim’s presence and had heard good things, but it wasn’t until I entered the first call process that my need to join became apparent. In the midst of ignorant comments in interviews and losing call opportunities because of my orientation, I needed a community. Apart from initial welcome emails, this year’s Gathering was my introduction to the community. I am pleased to say that I went away from the experience excited about new friendships, inspired by the idea of queerness as central to Christianity, and heartened by the potential of this group of leaders. The Gathering exceeded my expectations, but more importantly, it offered something I hadn’t expected.
In the world of clinical social work, which is my background, we talk about something called “unconditional positive regard.” Unconditional positive regard is an intentional, emotional posture that the best therapists extend to their clients. As its name implies, unconditional positive regard assumes the best in the client. It assumes that the client is inherently good, worthy, and worthwhile. It is able to separate misguided choices and challenging behaviors from who the person is deep down. It is essentially a clinical description of love and grace.
While I had experienced unconditional positive regard from outstanding therapists, until the Gathering, I had never experienced this posture from an entire community of people, all at once. I felt it extended to me in conversations about my difficulties in the call process, in theological discussions about problematic aspects of Lutheran theology, and in conversations about bisexuality and being “queer enough.” I witnessed it being extended to others in sessions on polyamory that challenged more traditional views, in worship services that intentionally included expansive language, and in day-to-day interactions in which both friends and strangers were deeply seen and accepted. Experiencing this openness and radical acceptance made me want to participate in it – want to reciprocate and extend this attitude to others. It made it so much easier to turn to my neighbor and offer them the same attention and acceptance.
Ideally, this experience of communal unconditional positive regard would be the mark of the church. Can you imagine congregation members feeling this way every Sunday morning or at every church event?! Talk about changing the world. Of course, this is not the case at many churches, and it is also important to recognize that my experience of the Proclaim Gathering was likely not universal. That being said, I truly believe that this community of leaders has something powerful to offer. Our experience as queer people has taught us the importance unconditional positive regard, and God has empowered us to offer it to others. Thank you all for extending this unexpected gift to me.
Bio: Allison Bengfort (she/her/hers) is an approved candidate for ordination, currently assigned to the Metro Chicago Synod. Born and raised in the Midwest, Allison moved to Seattle in 2016 for a final-year internship and loved the area so much, she decided to stay while she awaits call. Allison holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College, a Master of Social Work from the University of Chicago, and a Master of Divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. As a bisexual woman, Allison is passionate about dismantling systems of oppression in the church and the larger world. While awaiting her first call as a pastor, Allison stays busy teaching violin lessons, working at a church preschool, and playing lots of Ultimate Frisbee.
Photos by Emily Ann Garcia
ELM is responding to the Holy Spirit’s call by growing into an intersectional organization and a beloved community that is shaped by diverse experiences. I have known Rev. Shannon to be a gifted pastor, wise teacher and vocal supporter of LGBTQIA+ ministers. Her voice and experience will enrich our witness to the gospel and justice-making labor in God’s kin-dom. Read on to learn more:
The Rev. Angela Lynn Shannon grew up in a law enforcement family in Gary, Indiana. Pastoral ministry is her second career but first love and calling. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology/criminal justice from Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana. Rev. Shannon graduated from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in June 1996 and was ordained January 12, 1997, the feast day of the baptism of our Lord at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Gary, IN. She has served congregations in Indiana, Ohio and Texas. She has served as Dean of Student Life of Luther Seminary, St Paul, MN.
Rev. Shannon is the national Vice-President for the African Descent Lutheran Association. For over twenty years she has been involved in ecumenical and interfaith conversation at home and abroad. A self-described, church “blerd,” she loves liturgy and theology.
However, her driving passion is the ministry of reconciliation. As such, she is trained in conflict transformation. Says Rev. Shannon: “My deepest hope is that we will deepen our empathy for one another in these very odd times and restore hope. To engage a sustainable reconciliation, we must take a middle step towards each other.”
Rev. Shannon is a tireless bridge-builder whose vision invites us into multi-issue and collaborative work with other associations and communities. Along with the rest of the ELM Board, please join me in welcoming Rev. Angela Shannon!
Bio: Br. Matta Ghaly, CSJC. (all pronouns) is a candidate for the ministry of Word and sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and currently serves as vicar at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, MN. Along with a passion for congregational ministry, Matta feels a deep call to the@logical education and serves as adjunct faculty for Islamic and Quranic Studies at The Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley, CA. In the midst of laboring, Matta is spiritually replenished through religious life as a Brother of the Community of Saint John Cassian (CSJC), a vowed apostolic community under the Episcopal Church. Matta is married to Rev. Sonny Graves (United Church of Christ), and finds a lot of joy in travelling, writing and teaching, composing multi-religious music, exploring unfamiliar food scenes and brewing delicious coffee.
I’ve made academia my home. The classroom was the birthplace of my intellectual curiosity, my understanding of my identities, and my passion for liberation. I felt like I could never know enough, could never read enough, and always pushed myself to integrate every piece into my larger worldview; constantly evolving. Then it became time for me to shift to become a knowledge-producer. I had to ask myself what do YOU think? What are the connections YOU are seeing? How do you articulate something that hasn’t been said before? This process tested everything I thought I knew about myself. It was really hard. I realized that I didn’t trust myself or what I knew and I definitely didn’t believe that I had something unique to contribute (hello, imposter syndrome!).
It was like BOOM! One day I woke up and just realized that I have something important to say. Thanks to the faith that I have in powers bigger than this world, I know it was no coincidence. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries came to me on the coattails of that moment. I finally felt like I could say 100% yes, I have something to offer here and I’m confident in casting a vision. I’m still an academic at heart, but I think that takes many forms. Knowledge is everywhere, and I want to practice what I know in as many ways as possible. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn from ELM as well as contribute to its strengthening and growth. Thank you!
We’re fresh off the recent Proclaim Gathering near Baltimore Aug 5-8, 2018 bringing together over 60 LGBTQIA+ pastors, seminarians, and rostered leaders for a time of learning and community. On our final day, we announced big news we can now share with everyone.
Drumroll please… (click below video!)
Proclaim is approaching 300 members! And we’re kicking off a campaign to mark this momentum:
What is #Proclaim300?
Proclaim (ELM’s professional community for Lutheran pastors, rostered ministers, and those preparing for rostered ministry who publicly identify as LGBTQIA+) is growing exponentially! In September 2015, we reached our 200th member, and just three years later in 2018, we are approaching our 300th member. Wow!
Together, we will mark this momentum with:
1) A three-month visibility and fundraising campaign August- October 2018, helping a wider community know about ELM, including opportunities to financially support the increased membership of Proclaim and future of ELM, with a goal of 300 gifts of $300.
2) A week of celebration and gratitude September 17-23, 2018, sharing online about extraordinary gifts of LGBTQIA+ leaders, honoring those who have gone before us, offering prayers for a messy and beautiful community of God, naming barriers and triumphs faced by LGBTQIA+ people in the church, and inviting others to learn more about ELM and Proclaim.
What are our Goals for #Proclaim300?
#Proclaim300 has three main goals:
- Celebrate ELM’s Proclaim community. Raise each other up.
- Build the momentum. Raise friends.
- Grow our support! Raise funds.
What are we asking you?
- Celebrate your colleagues and partners in ministry. Thank a mentor, send love to a Proclaimer, enjoy this milestone!
- Build our presence on social media by posting about #Proclaim300 and inviting others to ‘Like’ and ‘Follow’ Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Follow the daily prompts September 17-23 and encouragefriends and allies to join in! Reach both inside and outside the church and queer community!
- Grow ELM! Ask organizations, individuals, and congregations to give $300 (or more!) to honor and celebrate this exciting moment. Or raise these funds by guest preaching, having a special offering in Worship, starting a Facebook fundraiser, or hosting a giving gathering.
When can you start? NOW!
Give online, mark “attending” on Facebook, share gratitude with Proclaimers, start a fundraiser, forward this email, and ask your congregation, friends, and self: will you help us reach our giving goal?
In deep gratitude and excitement,
Anna Czarnik Neimeyer, ELM Associate Director of Development & Communications
Ben Hogue, Proclaim Member, ELM Fund Development Committee
Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer and Ben Hogue love ELM as an ongoing justice movement, and enjoy fearlessly asking people to be part of the movement with their time, talent, and treasure! The friends and colleagues each studied communications & PR, and like serving communion, high fives, puns, and service work; Ben was a Peace Corps volunteer and Anna volunteered at Holden Village.
Photos by Emily Ann Garcia