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Viewpoint: An open letter to ELCA churches in Woodbury

"It's not because we're anti-gay or anything like that. It's simply on the basis of what the scripture teaches, and we want to be faithful to the Word." These were the words of Rev. Kramer of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Afton, commenting last week on why his church, in addition to King of Kings Church, is considering withdrawing financial support from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America due to its decision to allow openly gay and lesbian pastors to serve as clergy.

I agree - what can we do to be more faithful to God's word?

That answer came most powerfully to me when I had the chance to visit El Salvador in the 1980s through my involvement with Lutheran Campus Ministry. While there, we visited with a Catholic Christian Base Community in a very poor area of El Salvador, and the priest there was leading a Bible study with local families. During the study, he would read a passage of the Gospel and then ask people what they thought that passage meant for them. He recalled how one man began to cry when he was asked his opinion. And the man said, "no one has ever cared about what I thought before." More people began to cry during the study of the Gospel on that warm night, as they learned that Jesus Christ actually came to earth for them - the poor, the hungry, the homeless.

Jesus, by both word and deed, came not to glorify the rich, the powerful, nor the righteous. Rather, He humbled himself as a laborer and a peacemaker who called all to him, turning no one away, and when asked directly by the disciples which commandments we should heed, He was clear - "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself." He did not say, "keep the homosexuals out of the church." Nor did he say, "build great suburban homes and cast judgment on people who are not like you." Nor did he say, "Use the one passage in Leviticus that casts dispersions on homosexuals as your guiding light."

If Jesus were present today in the board rooms of ELCA churches wondering what to do about gays and lesbians becoming clergy, what do you really think Jesus would say? Look at what he really did say in the Gospels. Look at what he really did do in his short life here on earth. As Christians, God's word is revealed to us through the coming of Jesus Christ, who so clearly demonstrated and taught us that our role as the faithful is to serve, not judge others, to sow love and not hate, and to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul - how small is one's love for their God when they openly try to keep people from Him? The God I know is an awesome god, who invites all to him, who is big enough to handle the judgment for Himself, and to leave the job of loving our neighbors to us.

I encourage ELCA leaders in our community to seek out the wisdom of Jesus, and to ask themselves also, "are we not being hypocritical by preventing access to the clergy for gay and lesbian people while we currently support the ordination of women and divorced people, which technically are also violations of a 'literal translation' of the scripture?" For no one lives a "literal life" according to the Old Testament scripture - thank goodness, or we'd be slaughtering live animals in our kitchens. Should we not be paying attention to what really matters, as Jesus taught us in Matthew 23: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others."

For all my gay and lesbian friends - I know I will follow the word of God and continue to seek justice for you - and for all.

Michelle Witte is a Woodbury resident.