It doesn’t take more than turning on the news, opening a paper, or reading an online article to learn the freedom to marry for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people will soon have a national verdict. Over twenty years of dedicated movement-building has brought America to this moment, and while it will be a great victory, it is one of many that need to be won in order to make welcome and equality a lived experience for LGBT people and their families.
ReconcilingWorks knows this movement-building well. We have paved the way for over 500 Reconciling in Christ (RIC) congregations to publicly welcome people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. We worked to bring policy change to the ELCA in 2009 so that people in same-gender relationships may serve as rostered leaders. We have provided a witness to faith and justice in the ongoing movement for the freedom to marry.
Yet we know the conversation and work of living out the welcome and inclusion of LGBT people within the church is only just beginning. We see evidence of this in the need for the ELCA to convene a Working Group on how to minster to same-gender couples and families. We see evidence in the fact that only five percent of ELCA and ELCIC congregations are RIC. And we see it in the upwards of eighteen states whose legislatures are considering bills that would allow corporations and businesses to deny goods and services to LGBT people based on personally, deeply held religious beliefs.
As the landscape of our culture and our Lutheran communions shift and change, so must ReconcilingWorks. Our mission has been and will remain to embody, inspire, advocate, and organize for the acceptance and full participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities within the Lutheran communion and its ecumenical and global partners, striving to dismantle injustice and oppression. We will continue to work with church leaders at the national and congregational level working for full inclusion. We will continue to deepen and expand the RIC program in order for LGBT people and families to have a safe community to worship and to thrive. We will continue to bring a Lutheran voice of faith wherever injustice and oppression are present. ReconcilingWorks is committed to being a leader in the welcoming movement.
However, to meet the needs of the present and prepare ourselves for the future, we know we must revise how this work is done.
The ReconcilingWorks Board of Directors has approved a two-year strategic plan that focuses on the work highlighted above. This plan requires us as an organization to evaluate our programs and make changes to our staffing in order to ensure we remain fiscally sound as we prepare for the future. As a result of this transition, Brett Bowman and the Rev. Anita Hill have left the staff of ReconcilingWorks. From the depth of our shared commitment to our movement and work, we acknowledge and thank Brett and Anita for their faithful dedication to the mission of ReconcilingWorks.
“I’ve been involved with ReconcilingWorks as a volunteer since 1976,” Anita said, “and I imagine I’ll be old and long retired before my volunteer engagement with the ministry of ReconcilingWorks comes to a close. I hope to see hundreds of ReconcilingWorks members, donors, and friends at the 2015 ReconcilingWorks Assembly, July 30–August 2, at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The theme, Until All Are Free, is close to my heart as I continue to work for LGBT and racial justice and equity.”
As God is doing a new thing in the church and the world, ReconcilingWorks is committed to aligning the staff and organization with the holy work and mission of welcome and inclusion that is before us, bending the arc of history for fuller equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and families. Together, with you as our partner, ReconcilingWorks will continue to strive side by side with the Lutheran communion to make welcome a lived experience in our congregations and our communities.
By the grace of God,
Interim Executive Director
ReconcilingWorks at the "Working Group for Ministry to and with Same Gender Couples and their Families"
ReconcilingWorks asks for your thoughts and prayers as we travel to Chicago to visit with the ELCA’s “Working Group for Ministry to and with Same Gender Couples and their Families” at the ELCA churchwide headquarters on Friday and Saturday.
ReconcilingWorks’ Interim Executive Director, Aubrey Thonvold, and the Revs. Ann Tiemeyer and William Hamilton will be making a presentation to the Working Group about ministering to and with LGBT couples and their families. The ReconcilingWorks team will speak to the great, continuing need for LGBT couples and families to feel welcome in the church and be accepted as they are. Other groups will also be presenting, including Lutheran CORE and various panels of clergy and laypeople gathered by the ELCA Working Group.
The Working Group’s mission is to encourage conversations and resource sharing throughout the church about this important ministry. You may recall, back in October, that the Working Group distributed a questionnaire to discover what conversations may be happening in your faith community and what resources might be needed to aid in ministry and pastoral care. To all of you who responded to that survey—thank you!
Please keep the ReconcilingWorks team and the Working Group in your prayers as they meet this weekend.
How should congregations welcome, care for, and support LGBTQ people and their families?
What is your congregation’s role in supporting children with LGBTQ parents?
Would it be helpful to have a wedding liturgy provided by the ELCA that is appropriate for all couples, including LGBT couples?
A diverse group of Georgia faith leaders gathered at the Georgia State Capitol on Tuesday, January 14, to call on state legislators to oppose divisive religious refusal bills being proposed and introduced in the upcoming session of the state legislature. If passed, these bills could be used to refuse goods, services, and employment to LGBT people based solely on their sexual orientation, identity, or expression.
The clergy announced the release of a letter signed by more than 60 religious leaders from across the state, warning state lawmakers about the dangerous potential for an increase in discrimination against people of all backgrounds.
“We strongly oppose giving for-profit corporations religious rights that could allow them to discriminate against employees based on any characteristic—from their religious practices to their sexual orientation. This principle harkens back to the civil rights movement and our nation’s core values of equality and justice,” the letter reads, in part.
“We believe that love of neighbor guides our standing today” said Rev. William Flippin, Jr., pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Atlanta, Georgia. “This RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] bill infringes on ethics and our love of neighbor.”
The Rev. Flippin also said, “We are here united for a common purpose. Religious freedom is a deeply resonant American principle. In fact, it is one of the most fundamental rights as Americans. From the first Puritans who arrived in Massachusetts because of religious persecution, we are protected in the Constitution on religious freedom and expression. We all know that freedom is a great responsibility – to protect, to uplift, to enlighten. But, also, it is the responsibility of freedom that we not harm others. That's why I stand today opposing House Bill 29. As a Lutheran pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I share with these great faith leaders their universal values. Our ethics of the way we treat others should reflect the way we want to be treated based on the universal love of our creator. Laws that are created or interpreted that go against that principle in harming any group, goes against that principle, hurting us all.”
ReconcilingWorks thanks Pastor Flippin, and all the clergy that participated, for their work and witness.
Go here for the full text of the clergy letter as well as a list of its signers.
See the press conference on YouTube. See below for a transcript of Pastor Flippin's remarks.
We are here united for a common purpose. Religious freedom is a deeply resonant American principle. In fact, it is one of the most fundamental rights as Americans. From the first Puritans who arrived in Massachusetts because of religious persecution, we are protected in the Constitution on religious freedom and expression. We all know that freedom is a great responsibility – to protect, to uplift, to enlighten. But, also, it is the responsibility of freedom that we not harm others.
That's why I stand today opposing House Bill 29. As a Lutheran pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I share with these great faith leaders their universal values. Our ethics of the way we treat others should reflect the way we want to be treated based on the universal love of our creator. Laws that are created or interpreted that go against that principle in harming any group, goes against that principle, hurting us all
As people of faith, we must fill our frames with not only the Ten Commandments, but with the Great Commandment that Jesus gave all of us, as well as all the virtues of a Spirit-led life. It's true that the commandments contain a list of rather daunting ‘thou shalt nots’ but these ten rulings are not meant to drag us down into negativity. In fact, they are intended to give us a very positive framework for the living of our lives.
The first four commandments provide us with guidance for our relationship with God, and the last six explain what it means to have a healthy relationship with each other.
We are standing for the principles of the Constitution: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which the First Amendment protects. But we believe that the love of neighbor is the framework of justice that guides my standing today.
You can think of the Ten Commandments as being two pictures instead of one. After all, God used two tablets of stone to deliver the commandments of Moses. The worship of God's majesty: that's picture one. And love of one another, that's picture two. They are equally beautiful, equally innovative, equally well crafted. No doubt Jesus had this two-frame approach in mind when he said that the greatest commandment calls us to both love your God and to love your neighbor as yourself.
As an ELCA pastor, I first understood this in making a volatile stand in support of the sexuality statement in my first call in the deep south, in Columbus Georgia, supporting clergy in same-sex partnerships. Clearly, these commandments are designed to help us, not to hurt us. That's why we need to tap into the source of energy and security when we worship God rather than the powers of the world.
The very same can be said for the second frame of the Ten Commandments. Despite the repeated ‘thou shalt nots’ that it contains, there's an enormous amount of guidance and direction to be gained from these six final commandments, despite our natural tendency to rebel against any limitations on our human freedom. When we collide, which I believe House Bill 29 is doing, with the commandments, we are going to get hurt, period.
We’ll be hanging in public view as a frame without a message, a canvas without a painting. It’s as though we ripped out of the frame the very meaning of life, the very reason for which God has placed us on earth. When an empty frame, when our lifestyle, trumpets the values of consumerism and materialism, we sacrifice our well-being for the sake of material possessions. We present our own interests as being identical to God’s interests and attempt to legitimize our ideologies and positions by attaching them to the name of God. We fail to honor and respect our elders, we carry hatred and resentments in our heart against others.
We read the New Testament and come across the great commandment of Jesus to love God and love neighbor. It is important to see the two tablets of the Ten Commandments and to post them prominently on your heart and mind. On one tablet you have the first four commandments concerning your relationship with God. And on the other, you have the last six commandments concerning your relationship with neighbor.
The Georgia discriminatory Religious Freedom Restoration Act infringes and violates the core of human ethics in our relationship with our neighbor. On one side is God; on the other side is neighbor. Both are important, both are God’s will, both are found throughout the Bible. Old Testament and New: both are close to the heart of Jesus. Let us join together with these very important sides shaping my experience as a Lutheran clergyman and know that, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, ‘We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny, in an inescapable network of mutuality.’ Thank you.
Rev. William Flippin, Jr.
January 13, 2015
“Love and truth meet in the street,
Right Living and Whole Living embrace and kiss!”
Psalm 85:10, The Message
Peace and blessings to you all as we stand and work together at the intersections! It is sometimes difficult to hear or to find a good word in the midst of justice being deferred or denied. In my own disappointment and fear I was mostly silent, but then a few people who knew I was a bit too quiet reached out to encourage me to speak again. David Gates, in the song “If,” says it this way:
“And when my love for life is running dry
You come and pour yourself on me.”
In this season of hope and expectation I wish to make an appeal – Let us think and act so that love and truth can, in fact, meet in the street, and Right Living and Whole Living can hug and kiss! Our devotion to God and our common lot as human beings call for no less than a repudiation to that which generates fear and demeans people. Can we craft a language that takes racial realities seriously without “whitewashing” it? Can we “pour ourselves” into the beloved community that God has fashioned for us, if we only embrace it and live it? Because of you, dear partners of faith, I am ready to dance again! Care to dance with me?
Michael L. Cobbler, Board Co-Chair of Committee Working at the Intersection of Oppressions
In response to recent questions about why ReconcilingWorks speaks out on matters of race—as well as on other issues, such as immigration, social class, culture, and global LGBT concerns—we point to ReconcilingWorks’ mission statement. We look to our mission as it informs and clarifies our inclusion of issues of racism as they occur alongside and overlap with LGBT issues:
“Working at the intersection of oppressions, ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation embodies, inspires, advocates, and organizes for the acceptance and full participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities within the Lutheran communion and its ecumenical and global partners.”
ReconcilingWorks, in our efforts to create safe space for LGBT people to worship and thrive in community, must focus on the root issues of injustice, inequality, and the violation of the core Christian belief that all life is sacred. Ending homo/bi/trans*phobia and heterosexism requires that we also dismantle racism in the world and in our hearts.
ReconcilingWorks proceeds from the Lutheran Christian idea that we are all called to care for neighbor and stranger alike. Scriptures call for hospitality and care in order to live up to the expectations of the 8th commandment not to bear false witness against our neighbor.
As a pastor married to my female spouse (after 20 years together), who has worked to reform church and societal policies that exclude LGBT people from life giving community, I am convinced that the oppression of any neighbor is part of the oppression I have experienced as a lesbian woman. We are compelled to address matters of injustice, brutality, dehumanization of others, whatever their skin color, culture of origin, physical or mental abilities, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Systemic racism ultimately affects the way LGBT people are treated, too. Whatever skin we live in, whatever orientation or identity we claim, we can stand in solidarity with one another. We can change systems borne in unexamined racism and make sure young black and brown men, women, and children can live free from policy terror and violence, mass incarceration, criminalization, marginalization, and murder by a corrupt system of injustice that cripples the human right to live as valued children of God.
God loves each of us just as we are created. Jesus taught us to pray. In the Lord’s prayer, we ask God to: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” Our request calls us to compassion and action so that all might be free of the “isms” that continue to oppress. No one is free until all are free.
Pastor Anita C. Hill, Deputy Director, ReconcilingWorks
Uncontainable Joy. For the last year and half, since I transitioned, I can only describe how I feel as having uncontainable joy. I go about my daily life and am in such amazing awe of the gift that God has given me. But, it wasn’t easy getting to this point. My transgender journey began when I was 6 years old praying to God that He would make me a girl. A pivotal faith moment for me in that journey happened 44 years later, in 2010.
In April 2010, I was driving to Albany NY from Philadelphia for the second straight day to attend the Empire Transgender Conference. I had just come back from Albany the night before to attend my daughter’s high school academic awards banquet. I left the house early and got back on the road to Albany, switching my attire from the suit and tie I wore the night before to a more appropriate skirt and blouse.
While driving to Albany, I was listening to a narrative reading of the book of Luke on CD. The narrator spoke about the amazing miracles that Jesus performed: water into wine, feeding 5000, Lazarus, and Tabitha. I had been juggling my male family duties with my need to be female for several years, and it had become exhausting switching back and forth from male to female and hiding it from everyone. Listening to the CD during my drive, it triggered all my frustrations and I broke down crying and I began yelling at God that if Jesus could perform all these miracles, then why couldn’t He do something simple like let me live my life as a female. And when I say my life, I meant that I wanted to keep my marriage, my friends, my family, my career and my bowling team!
And so for the next 10 minutes driving, I yelled and cried and He spoke in a calm whisper. After a while, I began to finally hear Him. He was saying that He had a purpose and mission for me. He said my mission was to become a woman and to be visible in the community so that it would help His mission to “Love one another as I have loved you”. Of course, I had always wanted to be woman, but now God was saying to me that He wanted me to become a woman – and that it was my calling, my purpose – our mission together. This now became very scary for me because there was the very real possibility that I would lose my entire world as I had known it. I have so many transgender friends have lost everything. Each week in church we hear how the disciples gave up everything to follow Jesus, but it’s a whole different thing when God asks you personally! I realized through tear-filled eyes that I needed to give myself to God and pursue transition in earnest – to fulfill His mission. I became convinced that if I just followed His lead, He would somehow make all this work out.
Over that summer, I started to follow a plan that I had developed during that car ride that day. Simple steps like seeing a therapist, growing my hair out, getting out more in public to build confidence, laser hair removal, electrolysis, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), and telling family and friends. Over the next three years, with each step, God walked with me through fear, anxiety, pain, anguish, and joy.
God then said it was time to transition and begin living my life as a woman. My spouse, my pastor and I developed a plan to inform and educate our church family, which we had been part of for 25 years. I also had plans to help my family, friends, work and bowling teams with the transition. God sent many angels to me in the form of advocates and on June 9, 2013, I transitioned at church and was welcomed by the vast majority of the congregation. With just a few minor bumps along the way, I have been wonderfully accepted by my family, friends, coworkers and teammates.
Ms. Jennifer Lehman is a transgender woman who after a lifetime of hiding her true feelings executed a successful gender transition in 2013 to begin living her life as her authentic self. Ms. Lehman is a graduate of Gettysburg College where she majored in Physics, was in the marching band, on the bowling team and was chapter president of her fraternity. She has been married for 30 years to her college sweetheart and has a son (26) and a daughter (22). Ms. Lehman is currently employed as an engineering manager developing innovative systems for the department of defense and she bowls competitively in two leagues. Ms. Lehman is very active in her local Lutheran ELCA church where she teaches Sunday school.
- A new RIC community, Faith Lutheran Church
- A new RIC community, Celebration Lutheran Church
- A new RIC community, Holy Spirit Lutheran Church
- A new RIC community, Lutheran Church of the Resurrection
- A new RIC community, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church
- A new RIC community, Lamb of God Lutheran Church
- A new RIC community, St. James Lutheran Church
- A new RIC community, Luther House at Yale
- A new RIC community, Bridge of Peace Community Church Lutheran Church
- A new RIC community, Messiah Lutheran Church