I must be a writer at heart, because now that I've gotten into this whole blogging thing, I really flippin' love it.
It occurred to me today, though, that it might be good if I said something nice about the ELCA. After all, I'm still here, so it must be for a reason, right? Despite its current trajectory of sacrificing the faith once delivered, I will have to say that being here has edified me in certain areas. First of all, I used to be a big, conservative jerk. I was totally sold on ridiculously far-right political positions, and really was one of those people who equated the Republican Party with God. (I know, leave me alone, ok?) It's really pretty embarrassing to talk about some of the organizations I was involved in, and things I used to believe, not to mention the things I thought and said about other people. But I'm also one of those people who has a strong sense of loyalty, and at some point I figured out that I was going to be part of the ELCA for the forseeable future, and so maybe I should be less judgy about them. This dovetailed with what was going on in my life on another front, when I jumped on board the Straight Talk Express. About 3 or 4 years ago, God got a hold of me and rather violently (it seemed at the time) got me on my knees about some positions I had on issues and the way I treated people who disagreed with me.
The ELCA tends to focus a lot on what we are supposed to "do" - support this, write letters for that, get involved here, give money there, etc...I don't always agree with the specifics - the object or the method of our "doing", but I will admit that thinking through the things the national church body supports has made me get serious about being aware of others around me. Too often, one of the critiques of conservatism is that it is not very compassionate. For most politically conservative individuals, if you probed deeply, I don't think you'd find a lack of compassion, I think you'd just find it expressed differently. But, because of how we think about the role of government, we can come across as kind of cold-hearted, particularly given how the mainstream media tends to frame the debate. (Of course, there are the occasional complete jerks who don't care about anything except themselves... they're on the left, too, though.) And the thing is, the Bible tells us that we're supposed to be compassionate. It's easy for Lutherans to talk a good game about "justification by grace through faith," which is totally true. But we still have to deal with, for example, Matthew 25 or Matthew 19. Or even the fact that Romans, Martin Luther's favorite book, seems to have as its theme that "faith is a way of life." Indeed, "the just shall live by faith" but then again, "faith without works is dead." So, you know, there we are. However, because I tend to disagree with the object and method of our "doing" in the ELCA, we've now bumped up against another problem.
I wish that our leadership would do a better job of teaching, instead of just pronouncing. All of these statements tend to come out of the offices in Chicago, and they seem to have an air of...mmm...arrogance isn't quite the right word, but sort of. Like there's absolutely no room for disagreement. Now, I actually happen to be a fairly big fan of church leaders claiming and using the authority they've been given - in a Godly, as-Christ-loved-the-Church kind of way. So the fact that I disagree with them about political issues and the theological justification for them means that....it would be good of them to actually teach me, show me how I'm wrong, so that I can appropriately be under their teaching/preaching/confessing authority. Instead, I'm left with reading press releases about "we lobbied for such and such on your behalf" and thinking, "Um, I hope you didn't mention my name specifically", and feeling sort of schismatic/disobedient/disloyal about it. Who knows, maybe this sense of the leadership acting like they are in charge, but then not really leading, is the result of our bizzare-o one-foot-in-one-foot-out-do-the-hokey-pokey-and-hope-it-works-itself-out ecclesial structure. Maybe it was always going to end up this way. Nonetheless, step up and lead, peeps!
Second, I should really point out that the biggest, most important thing the ELCA has given me over the years is a home, a place to be raised in the faith. The countless congregations I've attended and been a member of. The faithful pastors who have preached the Word and administered the Sacraments to me. I was baptized in one of the "predecessor bodies" of the ELCA, had my first communion in the ELCA, was confirmed in the ELCA, learned to pay attention to the working of the Holy Spirit in the ELCA, had my "conversion experience" in the ELCA (Note to all the diehard "crockpot Christians" out there: take a deep breath), decided to attend seminary in the ELCA, and just generally been loved, nurtured, cared for, challenged, affirmed, sharpened, and refined in the ELCA. For that, I can never express enough gratitude.