One year after the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted to allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as clergy, Minnesota Public Radio News engaged its Public Insight Network to bring together 12 Lutheran pastors and church members to talk about how the vote has affected them, their congregations and their communities.
The Aug 24 discussion, held at MPR's UBS Forum in St. Paul, featured people on both sides of the gay clergy issue, but was not meant to address the merits of the August 2009 decision. Instead the idea was to discover how their congregations dealt with the aftermath of that vote.
The overarching question was this: Is what keeps your congregation together stronger than what pulls it apart?
This first segment features a look at Trinity Lutheran Church in the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood of Minneapolis. It's an historic Norweigian Lutheran Church and its newest members are immigrants, African immigrants largely from Ethiopia. The newer members are not happy with the ELCA vote and you'll hear that through the voice of pastor Alem Asmelash, himself an African immigrant. The older members exemplified by Pastor Jane Buckley-Farlee, are happy with the vote.
In this first section you will hear from Jodi Gustafson, an ELCA staff member for Lake Nokomis Lutheran who is also in a committed lesbian relationship; and Karen Stack, who is searching for a new church home.
In this section you'll hear from former governor and congressman Al Quie, a member of Minnetonka Lutheran Church - a man who misses those who have left the church because of the vote. Brad Froslee, an openly gay pastor for Calvary Lutheran Church, speaks about how the real work of the church overshadows the controversy. You'll also hear from Shari Howell, a member of St. John's Lutheran Church; Sarah Kise, an active member of Grace University Lutheran and Ron Sorensen, a member of University Lutheran Church of Hope.
Here, Pastor Alem talks about how equating gay rights with civil rights offends him and other African immigrants. Jodi Gustafson says that the fact of her sexual orientation is "morally neutral" and it's her committment to her partner that should be judged. Al Quie and Karen Stack also appear.
In this segment Sarah Kise says that people who differ on this decision can still coexist in a congregation. We hear from retired Pastor Dean Swenson of the Zion Lutheran Church in Chisago City who says, yes, individuals in a congregation can differ, but the church as a body can not. Pastors Alem, Brad and Jane also speak here.
Here Shari Howell says the vote for gay clergy raises so many new questions for congregations to consider. Jodi Gustafson gives a heartfelt message about how she grieves for departure of people who disagree with the gay clergy vote. Al Quie and Sarah Kise also are heard.
In this final segment, we ask all the participants to give one piece of advice to the two pastors at Trinty Lutheran Church, where the pastors and factions of their congregation disagree about the ELCA decision.