A long time ago, as a student in seminary, I was pulled into an extremely heated debate regarding full communion with the Episcopal Church. I was a very polemic voice against that agreement was sure that I had the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions on my side.
The debate led to a schismatic convention held at the largest ELCA church in St. Paul that drew hundreds of pastors and laypeople. That weekend, I started to notice that most of the people who were sitting around me weren’t concerned about theology at all but about other issues entirely most of them tied to the merger of the ELCA some 12 years earlier.
That group of people, whom I still consider my friends, left the ELCA to create two new church bodies centered around single issues or concerns. I chose to take my time to think and pray, but also to converse with my mentors and elders in the church. The reason I was able to do so was that even amid my polemic certainty, these friends and mentors continued to love me and hold their doors and hearts open to me to listen to my anger and theological concerns, disagree with me, and still hold me closely. And here I still am.
Do I agree with every statement that comes out of our ELCA headquarters? You can ask my colleagues and they will answer that that is not the case.
But, do I still consider the ELCA my “family”? Absolutely.
While those events of 20+ years ago do not even come close to the riot and deaths we witnessed as a country two weeks ago, I have found myself in that same conversation and prayer regarding our divisions, anger, and conflict. I am convinced that while the presenting symptoms might be our beliefs about President Trump or President Biden, the disease is a deeper one than that.
This church community produced a Welcome Statement that was truly born of deep conversation, prayer, struggle, and reconciliation. In that statement, we boldly proclaim that Good Shepherd is a church that welcomes all people. And “All” means “all.”
In that light, I pray that we might continue to do the often quiet and uncelebrated work of reconciliation here, in our community. Yes, we are always called to speak out when we see injustice, but we must also continue to hold even those with whom we vehemently disagree close to our hearts in genuine love and a desire to seek understanding.
I leave you with this quote from MLK Jr. and a prayer that we may continue to find ways to be together even in our times apart,
But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. The type of love that I stress here is not eros, a sort of esthetic or romantic love; not philia, a sort of reciprocal love between personal friends; but it is agape which is understanding goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of men. This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization.
From “The Role of the Church in Facing the Nation’s Chief Moral Dilemma,” 1957.