As long time readers know, one of the first things I did at the beginning of my coming out journey was to distance myself from the Roman Catholic Church in which I had been raised. Why remain in a faith tradition that denigrates you - especially when that same denomination is controlled by those who would rather protect child rapists than turn them over to the police. By coincidence, I ultimately found myself in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America ("ELCA") in a parish that for the most part actually seemed to want to practice the Gospel message of Christ. Power, control and manipulation of others, and of course money - the truly sacred things to the Catholic Church hierarchy - seemed to way down the priority list. Then in 2009, after considerable controversy, the ELCA took the step of allowing partnered same sex clergy. Sadly, some of the modern day Pharisees within the parish ranks fled the ELCA and the denomination suffered from "doing the right thing." Now, with the Roman Catholic Church spending millions of dollars to denigrate LGBT individuals, the former presiding bishop of the ELCA has issued a challenge to a group of Roman Catholic bishops. Will they accept the challenge? Probably not. But Bishop Herbert W. Chilstom's op-ed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune clearly sets the standard of what Christian leaders ought to be about in the debate over same sex marriage. Here are some highlights:
May I share a word with all of you who now lead the Roman Catholic community of faith in Minnesota? First, I would go to the wall to defend your right to work for the adoption of the so-called marriage protection amendment. Having said that, I must tell you that I believe you are making a significant mistake.
Over my 35 years as an active and retired bishop I have come to know hundreds of gay and lesbian persons. I have yet to meet even one who is opposed to the marriage of one man and one woman. After all, they are the daughters and sons of such unions.
What they cannot understand is why church leaders would oppose their fundamental desire and right to be in partnership with someone they love and respect who happens to be of the same gender and sexual orientation. They don't understand why they should not enjoy all the rights and privileges their straight counterparts take for granted.
More than a half century ago Father Francis Gilligan spoke out for equality for African American citizens of Minnesota. Though many argued on the basis of the Bible that these neighbors were inferior to others, Gilligan fought tirelessly for justice for these brothers and sisters.
In our generation homosexual persons are subject to the same discrimination. Their detractors often use the Bible and tradition as weapons of choice.
Is it not time for religious leaders, walking in the footsteps of Father Gilligan, to do the same for another minority, neighbors who are as responsible as our African American sisters and brothers?
Let me put out a challenge to each of you brothers. Invite 15 gay and lesbian persons from your respective areas, one at a time, to spend two hours with you.
Thirty hours are a pittance compared to the time you are investing to promote adoption of the marriage amendment. Use the time, not for confession, but to listen to them describe what it is like to live in our culture in Minnesota.
Hear as they tell you what it means be a child of God and a faithful member of your church, persons who happen to be gay or lesbian through no choice of their own. I can promise you, based on my experience, that your heart will be deeply moved by what you hear.
When you have finished your time with these sisters and brothers in Christ, spend a quiet hour reflecting on a single question: "As I understand the heart of my Savior Jesus, how would he treat these sons and daughters of my church?"