No, it's not about who can participate, though that is the way the debate has been handled. It's a question about how a Christian group uses their foundational document, namely the Bible.
Here's a parable.
Let's say you had hired a lawn service to take care of your yard. You treasure having lush, green grass on your bare feet, and for a while the lawn service seems to do a good job. Then one day the lawn guy starts talking about Astroturf and how much better it is than real grass. He tells you that he has a lot of customers who are tired of the whole grass thing and they'd like him to install Astroturf. Each time he works on your grass, he brings up the Astroturf idea. One day he tells you that as a side part of his business, he's started putting Astroturf in people's yards. Then a few months later he tells you that Astroturf is now his main business. He still calls it a lawn service, but it's mostly about Astroturf. You start to notice that the lawn guy is not taking care of your lawn very well. And every time he has to mow or spray he says things like, "You know, if you'd put in that Astroturf we could just vacuum once each fall and you'd be good."
How do you respond to the lawn guy? At the bottom line, all you can say is, "No, I don't want Astroturf. I like having green grass. It's my preference." Astroturf is fine for other people, but you want a lawn service, not an Astroturf service. Pretty soon one of your neighbors puts in Astroturf, then another. You start to feel a little strange. Is it weird to want real grass? Seems like more and more of the culture is wanting Astroturf. They seem pretty happy with their fake lawns. These are your neighbors -- you know they're good people.
One day you're reading through the neighborhood covenants, and you see a provision in the covenants that says, "No homeowner shall install Astroturf." So you go to the lawn guy and ask him about it. "Oh, yeah," he says. "But that's just the way you read it. Besides, that covenant is old. It doesn't really apply any more." You ask your neighbors about it, and one says, "We don't have Astroturf. We've got a newer product called AmazingGrass, so that covenant doesn't really apply to us."
What can you do? How much authority does this neighborhood covenant have? That gets to be the question, doesn't it? That's the question facing churches in the ELCA today. How much authority does the Bible have? We have said for years and years that it's our foundational document. Now, in one specific dimension of life, we're saying it just doesn't apply any more.
So Paul called us to prayer and repentance yesterday. Not to pray for guidance -- the Bible is fairly clear about what's what, if you read it carefully -- but to spend time with God saying, "We are yours -- and we want anything in us that is not in line with your desires to be stripped away." There's a great prayer in one of the church's liturgies that I just love. It says, "Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name." That's what yesterday was about. It was a great day to return to work.
In the end this debate is not about excluding or including people. It's about saying yes, the Bible applies to every area of life -- it is a living book that God's Spirit helped write and it is still used by God in a way that is finally beyond our understanding -- or no, the Bible is a great book of stories but we're pretty much on our own to use our own understanding to figure things out today.
Like I said, I'll dig into the meat of these arguments in the next few days. But I treasure working in a church and with a team that sees the value of setting aside a day to say, "Lord, this is not about judging other people, but it is about putting ourselves in every way under the authority of your word in the Bible. Here we are -- forgive, renew, and lead us."