By JamieAnn Meyers, Transgender Representative and Board Member
On Sunday, August 3, 2014 I visited the Seminary Ridge Museum at Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary, the school from which my Dad received his M.S.T. in 1956. The seminary was founded in 1826 by progressive theologian Samuel Simon Schmucker and is the oldest continuing Lutheran seminary in the Americas.
During the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, the 1832 seminary building on the strategic high ground of Seminary Ridge was pressed into use as a hospital to treat wounded soldiers. Later the building was returned to classroom use and subsequently served as a dormitory. When Dad was admitted as a seminary student in 1952, the building was called “Old Dorm.” When the building was closed in 1954 and retired from use, Dad took my sister and I through “Old Dorm.” At that time, bloodstains from the wounded soldiers were still visible in the floorboards of some of the rooms. The “Old Dorm” is now the Seminary Ridge Museum.
As I toured the museum, which occupies the original seminary building of 1832, I was struck in a profound way about how issues of social justice have divided the Church throughout history. Prior to the war, “America’s Lutheran churches were embroiled in multiple debates over faith and freedom. During the 1850’s, recent Lutheran immigrants rejected the [progressive] adaptations Samuel Simon Schmucker introduced into American Lutheranism as conflicting with the fundamental “confessions” of their faith. Member churches of Schmucker’s General Synod struggled with questions of both religious reform and slavery.
“When the Civil War began they found themselves geographically divided by secession. Students and alumni of the Gettysburg Seminary enlisted in both armies. Lutheran churches in the South broke away to form the General Synod in the Confederate States of America. In addition to geography and politics, its constitutional convention in 1863 explicitly identified disagreement over slavery [italics are those of JAM] as the cause for the break. [Christians on opposite sides of this controversy cited Biblical texts in support of their positions.] The end of the war did not end debates among Lutherans. In 1867 theological issues further splintered Schmucker’s American Lutherans and the Confessional Lutherans in Philadelphia.”1
In 2014 we continue to find ourselves embroiled in divisive debates, this time over issues of Human Sexuality and especially around matters of sexual orientation and gender identity. Christians on opposite sides of this debate cite Biblical texts in support of their positions. The ELCA has experienced painful loss of some congregations over this issue. Yet we in ReconcilingWorks continue to do our work of education through graceful engagement at the grassroots in congregations across North America. We pray that through our work the Holy Spirit will change hearts and minds to embrace and proclaim full welcome and inclusion for all people. Our sacred work is forever a journey of love and commitment to achieving justice in the name of Christ Jesus.
1 Text on a sign in a first floor room of the Seminary Ridge Museum, Gettysburg PA
"When one congregation or a group of congregations gather for service in their local communities, they are the church in that place, taking care of that part of God’s vineyard. But this is all work that we do together.” These are words so eloquently spoken by Bishop Elizabeth Eaton about the ELCA’s annual “God’s Work. Our Hands.” event taking place on Sunday, September 7, 2014.
|This event is a unique opportunity for your congregation to look into the future and think about how you will continue to spread the unconditional love and welcome that is so embodied in the message of Christ. You can do this in new and bold ways, better serving your community, living into your RIC commitment by making a positive difference in the lives of LGBT families, friends and loved ones.|
There are many ways that your congregation can participate in this event. The ELCA published a wonderful tool kit at www.elca.or/dayofservice to consult. We encourage you to use this resource in your planning. This toolkit however, is broad in how it presents the event, and this message seeks to give you ideas specific to your commitment as an RIC setting in your neighborhood.
- Your congregation could participate by partnering with ReconcilingWorks and your local school district to create awareness of LGBT bullying and to create an anti-bully message to be spread into the community by hosting a workshop for church and community members as well as elected officials, teachers and school board members. Find the "Where All Can Safely Live" Allies Against Bullying curriculum here.
- Another way for your congregation to participate is by reaching out to a local LGBT community center to start a conversation about needs they may have at their location. Maybe the local center could use some landscaping work. Or perhaps your congregation could volunteer some hours to staff the reception area or phone line. Your congregation’s “God’s Work. Our Hands.” project could respond to those needs. Here is one resource (not comprehensive) to locate your local community center.
With all of our hands working together, we will be an extraordinary witness to the loving God in the LGBT community!
Go in Peace and Serve the Lord!
The Rev. Paul A. Tidemann, a ceaseless advocate for full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church and of society, died on Saturday, July 26, 2014, at 77 years old.
The Rev Anita Hill, ReconcilngWorks Regional 3 Coordinator, ordained extraordinarily at a ceremony presided by Paul in 2001, says of her long time mentor, colleague and friend, “Paul was one of the best preachers I have ever heard. A thoughtful theologian, writer, liturgist and pastoral presence, it was an honor and privilege to have served with him. Paul’s saying, ‘There is nothing that one is or one does that can set one outside the active love and grace of God’ is forever etched in my mind.”
Obama signs executive order prohibiting federal contractors from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity
"Today President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Significantly, the president's order does not include any new religious exemptions. While many media outlets have announced this news as protections for gay workers, it's important to note that transgender and bisexual workers are also included in this order. President Obama's action will protect approximately 28 million employees in 24,000 companies that hold federal contracts.
ReconcilingWorks celebrates the life and ministry of Bishop Emeritus Stanley E. Olson, former bishop of the Pacific Southwest Synod of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), one of the predecessor churches merged into the ELCA. Bishop Olson died on July 2, 2014, in Sacramento, California, at 87 years old.
Ordained in 1952, Bishop Olson’s ministry was marked by his commitment to social justice -- civil rights in the 1960s and an early champion of full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the Lutheran church.
“Bishop Olson spoke out for full inclusion and the rights of LGBT people when that was not a popular thing to do. Preaching at the first national convening of Lutherans Concerned in 1980, he continued his public witness for a church that lives up to the promise of Christ – that all are welcome," Aubrey Thonvold, ReconcilingWorks Interim Executive Director said.
Imagine running into your neighbor on the street corner and striking up a conversation, trading stories and learning what’s happening in your community. That’s how we envision Conversations at the Corner: pastors, ministry workers, Churchwide staff and activists gathering to learn about ministries of LGBT welcome in multiracial congregations and to dream about ways we all can strengthen and spread this welcome.
As June is racing to a close, so concludes a month filled with LGBT PRIDE all over the country. ReconcilingWorks has received many wonderful stories of how Reconciling Lutherans across the country are showing their support and PRIDE in their LGBT community! We are so excited by the work you are doing in the world!
PRIDE month is also a time for giving. The end of June also brings the end of the fiscal year for ReconcilingWorks. As I write this letter, we are $112,000 from the goal we set for ourselves last year. I am asking you to help us close this gap, through a special PRIDE season gift.
June 22, 2014 is Refugee Sunday declared by Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) for their 75th anniversary.
LGBT individuals are fleeing Russia, Uganda, and countless other countries. On June 22, 2014 we encourage all RIC settings to take a moment and pray for LGBT people whose lives are in danger and who are seeking asylum.
Immigration Equality released a short film sharing success stories from their LGBT Asylum Program, which represents over 400 individuals from all over the world.
Alexander Kargaltsev, a photographer and graduate of Russia’s top film academy, spent his childhood in Moscow.
He experienced first hand the country’s homophobic environment.
When he began to fear for his own safety, he finally made the decision to leave.
He was granted asylum on May 5th, 2011.
Victor Mukasa is a human rights defender living in Baltimore, MD.
In his home country of Uganda, the issue of sexual orientation is just beginning to be understood.
His own religious community attempted to convert him from his transgender sexual identity.
Along with other activists, he co-founded Uganda’s top LGBT rights group.
He was granted asylum on June 27th, 2013.
Damaris Rostran, a social worker and community organizer, came to the United States from Nicaragua.
She kept her sexual orientation a secret to everyone but her own grandmother, who urged her to leave.
Having lost a friend herself, she knew what could possibly happen if she was open about her sexuality.
Damaris was granted asylum on May 8th, 2013. She now lives with her partner in New Jersey.
Watch the entire film:
June 5, 2014
Dear Members, Supporters and Friends of ReconcilingWorks:
Grace, blessings and peace be with you! As Co-chairs of the Board of ReconcilingWorks, we write to bring you news of changes in our leadership staffing.
As you may know, our Executive Director, Emily Eastwood, has been dealing with continuing serious health issues over the last year. In late April, Emily and the executive committee concluded a medical leave of absence would be necessary for her to be able to undergo aggressive treatment in hopes of fully regaining her health. As we’ve named it, the time is needed “to get well, not just better.” Her leave will continue for about six months.
In the short run, Pr. Anita Hill, Regional Director for Region 3, is serving as Acting Executive Director.
And as you might expect, we have been in an active search for an Interim Executive Director to fill in until Emily returns. We are pleased to tell you that we have just hired Ms. Aubrey Thonvold to serve in that role. A lifelong Lutheran originally from Willmar, Minnesota, Aubrey has most recently been the faith coordinator for the successful Marriage Equality Campaign in Oregon.
She has also done faith based organizing around marriage in Hawaii and Washington. A graduate of Trinity Lutheran College and the Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry, Aubrey will relocate to St. Paul and begin her work June 17. Her wife, Heather, will join her in the fall, after she completes a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education in Portland. You can read more about Aubrey here.
We are thrilled that Aubrey has agreed to provide leadership and work with us in this time. We give thanks to God for raising up such a passionate, visionary leader with great energy and commitment. And we give thanks for ears and a heart to hear God’s call. According to Emily Eastwood, “Aubrey is an excellent choice for Interim Executive Director. She is bright, talented, genuinely caring, and full of positive energy with a proven track record. She has my full support in her new role.”
We know that at the moment, the office is missing two full-time employees – Emily and Tim Fisher, who is also on medical leave, being treated for cancer. On behalf of the entire board and staff, we thank you for your patience as we have shifted work, responsibilities and decision-making around during this time. Many of you know Emily personally and care for her. We are praying for her health and strength and invite your prayers as well. Her treatment is underway. Emily and her spouse, Jan Bailey, appreciate the ways in which the ReconcilingWorks community has continued to care for them. Cards and letters may be sent to ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation 1669 Arcade Street N Suite 2, Saint Paul, MN 55106.
As we mentioned, Tim Fisher, Legislative/Communications Assistant, is continuing his medical leave. He has responded well to chemotherapy treatments, which will continue through July. He is in good spirits and is leaving the house to attend church and socialize when he feels strong enough. We ask for your prayers for Tim as well.
Know that our work across the country continues. Our new resource for conversations around same-gender marriage: “Your People Shall Be My People” has just been released. Give Out Day was a wonderful success, raising more than $14,000 in 24 hours, and garnering an additional $6,000 in prize money for being the top performing organization in Minnesota. We are actively planning our summer “Conversations at the Corner” summit around issues of welcome of LGBT people of color. Our international work with the Eastern European Summer School is on tap for August. We are almost through the ELCA Synod Assembly season. Our own 2015 ReconcilingWorks Assembly will be here before we know it.
While we are mindful of our colleagues who are battling illness, we know that they want this work, “this holy work,” as Aubrey calls it, to continue. In honor of June being national PRIDE month and our ongoing work for all to be welcome, please consider making a gift of $100 or an amount meaningful to you to continue your support.
It is because of your gifts, support, and prayers we are able to move our work forward.
Cheryl Stuart Mike Crandall
By Bishop Dave Brauer-Rieke
Originally printed in The Oregonian
It just ain't so!
Public opinion polls suggest that people see Christians as anti-homosexual, closed minded and legalistic. Some may be. Like any other group, one shouldn't assume Christians are all the same. At the same time, many of us cringe under such a characterization.
My church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S., has always and unwaveringly supported civil rights for all people. This includes individuals who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
This past weekend, our Assembly of Oregon congregations overwhelmingly affirmed the freedom to marry for same-gender couples in Oregon. Thank you, Judge McShane, for doing the right thing. Same-gender couples, their children and their families deserve the same protections, support and respect that everybody else receives. There can be no question about this.
While some complain that allowing same-gender couples to marry will weaken or destroy the institution of marriage I would have to say exactly the opposite. My personal experience in the church is that same-gender couples who come to us for marriage know exactly what they are doing - and why. Far from destroying it, same-gender couples may actually save the institution of marriage! Many such couples I know have long and stable relationships which they want to make fully legal, fully accountable, and which they recognize as a gift and grace from God. What's not to love about that?
Again, though, Christians are not all the same. Now that marriage is legal for same-gender couples in Oregon, it doesn't mean that every Lutheran church will choose to officiate at same-gender weddings. We are different, and mutual respect is a core value for us. We live peacefully with our own internal diversity.
We do not, however, live peacefully with discrimination. Religious freedom means that clergy and congregations may make decisions about whom to marry. A government official or business, however, does not. Religious freedoms are important. So are basic civil rights. We mustn't confuse the two.
So it is that our recent Assembly of Oregon Lutherans also passed a resolution "to stand in opposition to any and all attempts to legalize discrimination in the name of religious freedom." We were referring here to the recently proposed Oregon Family initiative IP 52 - "Exempts religious opposition to same sex marriage/civil union/domestic partnership from penalties for discrimination."
Lutheran pastors choose whom they will or won't marry. Lutheran bakers, however, knead bread for all the world. Lutheran gardeners care for anybody's lawn. Christians are called to serve their neighbor, whoever they are. In the public realm, Christians do not pick and choose. It is our privilege, and God's glory, that we serve any and all as if they were Christ himself.
I can't speak for all Christians everywhere. However, I will speak for the church in which I am a bishop. Discrimination is wrong. Equality under the law is essential. Freedom to marry in Oregon is the right thing to do. We rejoice.
Dave Brauer-Rieke, of Milwaukie, is bishop of the Oregon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
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