Lutherans should rejoice over policy change toward gays
By Randi Reitan
We brought our youngest child, Jacob, to the baptismal font at Messiah Lutheran Church on March 14, 1982, a day of great joy for our family. So many guests were coming that we considered asking for a private baptism.
Our pastor told us it was important to perform the rite during the church service, as it was a time when the church welcomed our son into its midst as a fellow member and a child of God. On that day, Jacob became a member of the ELCA. He was welcomed fully and with love.
We were active members of our congregation. Both Philip and I had been raised in Lutheran homes centered on the church. We wanted to start our marriage with a year of service, so we worked for a year as teachers at mission schools in Thailand.
As we settled into family life, Philip and I served on a number of church boards and taught confirmation and Sunday school. Our four children participated in all the programs of the church. It is where we found our family friends and spent much of our time.
We never felt the pain of discrimination until Jacob came out to us at age 16. It was the first time we really knew about the ELCA's stance toward gays and lesbians.
We knew we had to work to bring a new understanding to the church. We spoke out on our own, and in 2001 joined others in the struggle at the ELCA National Churchwide Assembly in Indianapolis. Philip, Jacob and I went together as a family to share our story along with others who were affected by the policy. We were deeply touched by many heartbreaking stories that week.
We had moved from Mankato to Eden Prairie after Jacob came out, and we joined Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. We worked with a group at Central hoping to see it become a Reconciling in Christ congregation. We helped put on monthly "Lunch and Learn" sessions, bringing in gay couples to share their stories.
We also joined the work of Lutherans Concerned at the national ELCA assemblies, sharing our story with as many delegates as possible, standing vigil at all the sessions in the convention hall and attending the worship services.
I wrote dozens of letters to pastors and bishops. We drove to Chicago to visit Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson. We tried in every way to communicate how damaging church policy was for families like ours.
We were asked to be a part of a documentary, "For the Bible Tells Me so," which told the stories of five Christian families who had a gay child. We were "the Lutheran family" in the film. It gave us another way to educate and bring the truth to light.
Throughout the years, we kept hoping the ELCA would change its policy. We knew how important it was to work within the ELCA to see the day the policy would be lifted. But we also felt pain as we listened to the other side of the debate. It was crushing for me to hear that many in the ELCA felt our son was sick and sinful.
Our last assembly as a family was in Orlando in 2005. As the church once again left its policy in place, we decided we needed to leave the ELCA. We were weary of the debate. We needed to hear the good news that God loves us all exactly as we were created. We needed to surround ourselves with people who rejoiced in that truth.
We found many welcoming churches that embraced us as we worshiped in different denominations. But my mother was suffering from Alzheimer's at the time, and we had to move her from her small town to be near us and her other children. Philip and I took her to church many Sundays, and always on those Sundays we attended a Lutheran church.
Many precious things had slipped away from her thoughts, but she remembered every word of the liturgy. She did not need a hymnal. The church was engrained in her, a part of her.
It was on such a Sunday that I realized just how much I missed the Lutheran church. It is engrained in me too. It is a link to my past. It is a link to my own dear family. And on that Sunday morning, it was a link to my mom as she was slipping from me.
Even though we were no longer members, we continued to work for a new understanding in the ELCA. When the vote was taken in August and the old policy overturned, we rejoiced and attended the service of celebration. It was a most joyous and profound service, held at Central Lutheran, my old congregation. I felt I was home.
We waited to hear from the leadership of the ELCA that this was a good step, an end to a terrible discrimination. We waited to hear that the presiding bishop rejoiced that the church had reached a place of understanding and truth about God's gay children. I felt that in its effort to hold the church together, the ELCA leadership wanted to embrace two different truths.
We know that Jacob is a child of God. He is loved and affirmed by God as a gay man. He should be welcomed fully into the life of the church. When he finds the love of his life, their union should be affirmed and celebrated. The ELCA is not living in that truth until it truly lives out its vote with a long-awaited, joyous welcome to all in the gay community.
Jacob should once again be welcomed fully with great love and joy, just as he was on that baptismal day in 1982. I pray that day comes soon.
Randi Reitan is a mom and gay rights activist.