Along with the beautiful and reverend Mrs A. and our darling little baby (click the link to see his blog), Father A. spent Friday and Saturday some weeks back at our annual Synod Assembly. Oh joy, oh bliss.
For those who have never had the pleasure, the Lutheran churches of our region (or "synod") gather each year to do business. Each parish sends its pastor(s), and two or three laypeople. The setting is usually either a hotel ballroom or a large church building -- this year, the latter. While we are together, we hear reports from various officers and agencies (our seminary and social-service agencies, for example); we talk about the mission and ministry of our local parishes and the synod as a whole; we elect people who need electing (this year, a delegate to the churchwide, or national, assembly). And we fight.
Mostly, we fight.
Mostly, we fight about sex.
A few years ago, as the ELCA was putting into place the ecumenical agreements that arose from thirty years of dialogue with our Reformed and Anglican sister churches, we used to fight about the meaning and terms of Christian unity. But these days, mostly, we fight about homosexuality. The precise issuse varies from year to year, but usually it has something to do with whether or not we can tolerate gay and lesbian pastors living openly in committed relationships.
I could write more about the various levels of irony and hypocrisy involved in this debate. (One of the leaders of the anti-toleration wing, for example, is a boozer, who should probably have been defrocked years ago, after the assembly where he staggered around drunk at breakfast.)
But today, all I can think about is how silly and sterile the debate has become. We've been talking abut this for years, and -- so far as I can tell -- it has been years since anybody changed their mind. We all know where we stand, both as individuals and as a community. There really isn't much left to talk about, and the conversation itself is increasingly toxic and personal. Moreover, the historical tide has turned; reactionary Boomers wil make up an ever-decreasing portion of these assemblies, replaced eventually by Genration X and its polymorphously perverse heir, GenY. The age that rallied for or against Stonewall is being replaced by one that grew up watching Madonna get rich by emulating gay club culture. The battle in our culture is long since over. So why does the minority camp keep fighting, and why does the majority not simply declare victory and move on?
Here's my theory. Our congregations are closing down at an accelerating rate. We start new missions, but most of them fail or -- far worse -- limp along, draining our resources. Meanwhile, as our numbers and dollars, decline, we are losing our ability to act effectively in the public arena -- to ameliorate poverty, create fair working conditions or help immigrants and prisoners. There isn't much that we can do as a church these days, and this debate allows us to feel that we are doing something, when in fact the partisans on both sides have merely been enliusted as unwitting soldiers in the culture war.
It is significant that, although the US has been engaged since 2003 in an unjust and unpopular war, our synod assemblies (which are historically eager to offer opinions on matters they cannot change) have not passed a single resolution dealing with the subject. This might sound like a newfound humility, nut I suspect it is not. I suspect, on the contrary, that it reflects a collective cowardice, which is given protective cover by the sexuality debate. We can remain frozen, impotent, mute in the face of Abu Ghraib and Haditha and the rest of it, while consoling ourselves wih the false illusion that we are still somehow addressing the great issues of the day.
But we aren't. We're choking ourselves withy rage and frustration as we grapple over the great issues of 1975.