Date: Tuesday, November 9th, 2010
From: David Lauri
To: Pastors and Congregation Council members of Epiphany Lutheran Church
Subject: Your church’s debate over homosexuality
Dear Pastors and Council of Epiphany Lutheran Church,
I read with interest the Dayton Daily News article about your church’s struggles with reconciling homosexuality and Christianity and your church council’s recent vote in favor of leaving the ELCA because of the ELCA’s decision to “open the ministry of [your] church to gay and lesbian pastors […] living in committed relationships.” I was interested not because I’m Lutheran (I’m not and never have been) but because I’m a gay Christian and because several years ago I attended a Centerville Washington Diversity Council community conversation about “Gay and Lesbian Issues at the Intersection of Faith and Public Policy” at which both Mike Castle, a friend and the openly gay pastor of my church, Cross Creek Community Church, UCC, and your senior pastor, John Bradosky, spoke.
Reading about the struggles in your church, both your congregation and your denomination, makes me glad I found the United Church of Christ, a denomination that’s settled this issue (although individual UCC congregations are allowed to differ), that supports the calling of openly gay clergy and that supports full equality for LGBT people, including marriage equality. As I said, I never was Lutheran, but I was raised Methodist, and as I’m sure you know, like Lutherans and other denominations, the United Methodists have long debated and continue to debate this issue. The ongoing debate in what was my church as to whether I was an abomination “incompatible with Christian teaching” or whether I was who God created me to be made me tired, tired enough to leave Christianity altogether for a time and then, after a brief return to Methodism, too tired to want to work for change in that denomination when I could find acceptance elsewhere.
You may well be wondering why I’m e-mailing you given my gladness that I’m not part of your struggles. You may well think what your church does on this issue is none of my business, and to a certain extent, if you think that, you’d be right. It isn’t my business. Whether Epiphany Church stays in the ELCA or leaves the ELCA will have no direct impact on my life; I’m not going to change my beliefs or change my church affiliation based on what you all say or do (and I recognize the irony inherent in my assuming, after such an arrogant statement, that you might change your beliefs based on what I say, but oh well).
However, having read that your church has 3,000 members, I thought to myself, wow, that means your church has a fair number of LGBT kids and teenagers and even adults, closeted or out. Take a conservative estimate, say two or three percent, and that'd be about 60 to 90 (or take a liberal estimate of ten percent, and that'd be 300!). These are the kids and the teenagers and the adults who are hearing your senior pastor say that homosexuality is “to’ebah,” that who they are is an abomination, that unless they manage to change who they are or at least suppress it, God will never accept them. These are the kids and teenagers and adults who are witnessing your church declare that you must take a stand against accepting homosexuality even if it means giving up your denominational ties, a stand that your congregation did not feel compelled to take on the issues of divorced clergy or remarried clergy or female clergy. A queer kid attending your church is getting the message that it’s better at Epiphany Lutheran Church to be divorced than it is to be queer. Perhaps as importantly, the non-queer kids at your church are getting the message that queer kids are “less than” and perhaps deserving of being bullied.
My telling you this, my pointing out to you that the message you send out makes you partly to blame for anti-gay bullying and for suicides committed by LGBT people, is probably not a message you want to hear, least of all from a faggot like me.
However, perhaps you’d better appreciate that same message from a heterosexual conservative Christian pastor, and to make you aware that there is such a person with that message is partly why I decided to write to you all. I’d urge you to become familiar with the Rev. Dr. Leslie David Braxton, Senior Pastor of New Beginnings Christian Fellowship. Apparently, according to an article on TheStranger.com, Braxton used to be an anti-gay preacher but now thinks the church’s rhetoric on homosexuality is partly to blame for anti-gay bullying and gay suicides and who thinks that “[t]he church definitely needs to have a conversation about sexuality.” I’d never heard of Braxton before today, but it’s rather serendipitous, isn’t it, that I read an article about him the same day I read an article about your church’s struggles.
I also want to point out some resources that you might find useful in your continued discussions about your LGBT brothers and sisters. One is a film, available on Netflix, called Fish Out of Water. My church in conjunction with the Dayton chapter of PFLAG sponsored a viewing of that film last month, and for us, of course, it was rather like preaching to the choir, given that folks at Cross Creek and many folks in PFLAG think it’s quite possible to be openly gay and Christian (and not just in a chaste Catholic celibate for the rest of your life kind of way). We lamented at the viewing that people who didn’t agree with the film’s message would probably never see it. I’d urge you, at least the pastors and leaders of your church, to watch it; it’d be even better if you had a viewing of the film for your entire congregation (even if you disagree with the film’s premises, surely your faith is strong enough then to be able to withstand challenges to what you believe).
Another resource that you can have access to is folks both at Cross Creek and in Dayton PFLAG. Although I am a member of Cross Creek’s Coordinating Council (I’m the chair of Cross Creek’s Justice and Witness Ministry), I am sending this message to you as an individual, not as a representative of Cross Creek, and I have no official capacity with Dayton PFLAG, but if you’d be interested in dialoguing about this issue with people who may hold a different perspective than you do, I’m fairly confident that I could bring folks from Cross Creek and PFLAG to the table.
One last point I want to make is that at first I was disheartened to see that 10 out of 15 of your church council’s members voted in favor of your congregation’s disaffiliation from the ELCA. However, after thinking about it more, I realize that’s the wrong way to look at it. Fully 1/3 of your church council voted against that decision. I don’t know who among you to whom I have addressed this e-mail feels one way or the other, but there’s a good chance that at least some of you to whom I’ve sent this e-mail are part of that 1/3 minority. I don’t know whether those of you in that minority fully accept your denomination’s decision about queer clergy or whether you disagree with it but also disagree with breaking your denominational ties, but I figured it might be good for you to know that there are gay-affirming progressive Christians in Dayton, Ohio, who are your neighbors.
My sending this message is also a reminder to myself that you all are my neighbors too. If I profess to be Christian, I have to try to love you, as distasteful as I may find what you say and what you do.
I wish you and your church luck as you continue to work on this decision, and I won’t bother you again if you choose just to ignore my e-mail.