An oft-recreated image.
I have this picture in my mind of a two panel comic strip with Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the church door in panel one, and at the Diet of Worms in the second one with the caption, “Well, that escalated quickly.”
It’s actually a pretty accurate, if stripped down, version of events… Luther didn’t want to take on the Catholic Church and start a movement when he nailed his ninety-five topics for debate up, but the situation got, shall we say, out of hand. Nearly 500 years later, here I am in the shaken up, but still quite lively Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).
And for once, I don’t feel like giving a complex history lesson, so I’ll discuss what being a Lutheran means to me. To start with, I’ll restate the first thing I learned in confirmation class ten years ago. “Justification by grace through faith.” Justified means “made right,” so we are made right by God’s grace, even though we don’t deserve it. Being raised Lutheran in a very fire and brimstone part of the country, meant I knew that I was in the hands of a loving God when most of the people around me did not. It was an odd, sometimes socially awkward arrangement, but it worked out for the best. I do not fear death as many of the people I grew up with do, am not waiting for God to drop a brick on the spiderweb of my existence (those Puritans!), and I even have a vague sense of what not to do when talking with someone of another faith or religion.
The Lutheran church gave me a community when I didn’t necessarily have one myself. I didn’t always get along with everybody, but it was a sense of belonging that helped me grow as a person, and as a Christian because my pastor (and dad) saw to it that I had a good religious education and understood the faith I had been brought up in. And being a PK taught me something about being assertive. I did my PK duty usually without complaining, but I also learned to put my feet down and point out that I did not need to do every activity and be part of every project. And in college, I learned to recognize when the community I had first entered wasn’t working out and how to pick a better one.
None of that was especially theological, but it was important. Like this one. I have a professor who is not religious because, in his words, the scientist will admit he is wrong when the priest and the rabbi will not. Now, that is not entirely true. Some scientists refuse to admit that they are wrong, and plenty of priests, rabbis, and pastors will admit when they, or their establishment, got something wrong. In the summer of 2009, the ELCA admitted that they were wrong to encourage the LGBTQ community in their midst to stay in the closet… the bishops and pastors in attendance voted to take a more progressive stance. History was made, and admittedly, it was not universally popular. About 5000 congregations left the church, and either went Missouri Synod or just became independent. One of my father’s colleagues was subject to threats of violence and eventually moved house, but not position. Yet the ELCA has carried on. I, a bisexual, can be ordained under the 2009 ruling. It’s something I may someday do, but the time is not yet right. Some people still grumble, 5 years after the fact, about that historic event, but I know it was the right thing to do. We all are welcome in God’s house and family, and those of us who are higher up on the Kinsey scale are part of the church on earth as well. See this video for more details:( http://vimeo.com/109153388).
Historically, we’ve admitted we were wrong, or that the old man himself was wrong about other things, as well. (Especially his views on women in leadership positions.) We’ve had 500 years, more or less, to evolve, shake things up, and, even though we know that by our own doings we cannot please God, do our best to anyway. We will be loved no matter what, but we also should not be complacent in our grace. It’s affirming, but not all rainbows, fluffy bunnies, and unicorns either.
So I say thank you, Dr. Luther, for nailing up the theses and sticking to them all those years ago! My life would be much poorer without the Lutheran Church (he would be unhappy that we’ve stuck his name on it, though), and I’m happy to sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” once again. (The music alone is reason to check out Lutheranism… just saying.)