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Click here to read local articles from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune.

Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries

March 29, 2001

Hans Nielsen Hauge, lay preacher, renewer of the Church, 1824

Dear Bishop Anderson

With a heavy heart, I write to inform you that I have accepted an invitation from St. Paul/Reformation Lutheran Church, St. Paul, MN, to participate with others in the ordination of Anita Hill. Since the invitation arrived several weeks ago, Shirley and I have talked, prayed and consulted with our children; a selection of Bishops and former Bishops, beginning with Bishop Mark Hanson; my congregational Pastor and members of our congregation; my Synod staff; various Pastors in our Synod; our Conference Deans and Synod Council. While I requested and promised confidentiality in regard to the content of those consultations, I can report that responses ran the gamut from demands not to participate, to warnings of probable consequences, to acknowledgment of one's responsibility to protest policies perceived to be unjust, to expressions of hope that I would participate, to direct urgings to do so. Nevertheless, no judgments about what any person or group said to me can be drawn from the decision I have made. No pressure was placed on me by St. Paul/Reformation or by any other persons or groups. In the end, Shirley and I made this decision alone and bear full responsibility for it. We have tried to anticipate and are prepared to accept whatever consequences may follow.

Our hearts are heavy because we are torn here between two loyalties. On the one hand, there is the church which has nurtured me and my family for as many generations back in America and Norway as our parents can trace. It is a church in which my wife, raised in another denomination, found the freedom of grace. It is a church my father and I have served, and one of my sons will soon serve, as Pastors, along with a number of uncles and cousins. It is a church in which I am glad to be a member and am pleased serve.

On the other hand, there are within this church a number of gay and lesbian persons who are being systemically precluded from full participation in its life by exclusion from ordination, not on the basis of individual character but on the sole basis of belonging to a particular class of people, namely, gay or lesbian persons who are in or open to committed relationships. One of our sons is a member of that class. In response to an inner call first experienced as a teenager, he fully prepared himself for ordination by completing all requirements set forth by the ELCA. But he is nevertheless precluded. So we know first hand the injustice of a policy that excludes persons like him from ordained service. His experience has led us into personal relationships with several others who have suffered the same exclusion. This is not merely about our son. It is about all the sons and daughters of faithful Lutheran parents throughout this country who have been made outcasts in their own church, by the very church they sense a calling from God to serve.

The realization of this injustice led me to participate with forty other ELCA Pastors in the irregular ordinations of Jeff Johnson, Phyllis Zillhart and Ruth Frost in 1990. That realization then led me to accept a part time call to serve as Pastor of St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in North Hollywood, a Reconciling in Christ congregation composed of mostly gay and lesbian Lutherans. Among the members there were former Lutheran pastors whose lives and ministries had been hurt by this exclusion. One of those was Joel Workin, one of three seminarians at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary whose certification for ordination was rescinded in 1988 because they told the church honestly who they were as gay men. It was their courageous act that led to the current policy in the ELCA. A few years later I provided Joel with the pastoral care he needed while his life-partner was slowly dying of AIDS and then as he himself died in that plague the following year.

The realization of this injustice led me to accept speaking opportunities first within our Synod and then outside our Synod, advocating for the full acceptance of gay and lesbian people in the life and ministry of this church. By any measure, "full acceptance" includes the blessing of committed relationships and the ordination of those, otherwise qualified, who are living in such relationships. Because St. Matthew's had adopted an intentional policy of conducting "holy union" ceremonies for gay and lesbian Christians, I presided over three such unions while serving there.

In spite of this public advocacy that was fully known by the voting members, I was inexplicably elected Bishop of this Synod in 1994 and installed in 1995. I have never been able to escape the conviction that this office was put upon me as a place from which to bear witness on behalf of those I have come to know as the outcasts of our day, among whom Jesus can surely be found. At the same time, I knew this office would require more than a single interest, so I made and have fulfilled a promise to give this issue no more emphasis than it proportionately deserves among the many concerns facing this church. I have addressed it only but always when asked or when others raised it.

While in this office, Shirley and I have joined others in supporting with dollars and advocacy the production of Call to Witness (Pam Walton Productions), a documentary film which tells the story of this policy's impact on the lives of several ELCA related Pastors and their congregations. The Lutheran published a sidebar on it and several Bishops have requested copies for their Synod Resource Centers. Since it has been shown and still is being shown on PBS stations in major markets all over this country, I have pleaded for its showing to the ELCA Church Council and the Conference of Bishops, but, so far as I know, to no avail. Maybe in April?

During my term in this office, our Synod has become a Reconciling in Christ Synod; has called for study materials for congregational use in discussing homosexuality; invited the Los Angeles Gay Men's Chorus to sing at one of our Assembly Banquets; and our Synod Council voted to support the St. Paul Area Synod Council's appeal to the Church Council to provide a way for making exceptions to the policy of exclusion articulated in Vision and Expectations.

While in this office, I have continued to publicly advocate for "full participation" as a keynote speaker at the Here I Stand Conference, Minneapolis, MN, 1998; at Texas Lutheran University, 1998; at Charis, Concordia College, Moorhead, MN, 1999; at the Building an Inclusive Church Conference, Minneapolis, MN, 1999; at Jubilee 2000, Lutherans Concerned National Assembly, Ohio State University, 2000; at the Professional Leaders Conference, Fargo, ND, 2000; and at the Bridge Builders Conference, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, 2001. Also during this time, the sermon I delivered at a Eucharist sponsored by Lutherans Concerned/Twin Cities, amidst the 1995 Churchwide Assembly, was published in Open Hands magazine; the keynote sermon given at the Inclusive Church Conference was published by the Reconciling Congregation Program in Shaping Sanctuary; an autobiographical account of our family's journey was published as a chapter in the Fortress book, Homosexuality and Christian Faith, edited by Walter Wink, and again by the Alliance of Baptists and Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America in Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth; and I was asked by the Division for Church in Society to write the section favoring the ordination of gay and lesbian persons in Talking Together as Christians About Homosexuality.

The point in listing these efforts is to demonstrate the lengths to which I have gone to fulfill the obligation I inwardly feel and my commitment to work within appropriate bounds when doing so. Yet, while having their rightful place and some salutary effects, all these efforts have been only words in search of responsive action. A time comes when words cry out to become deeds. I find it self-evident that movements of change in both church and society do not arise as voluntary actions from within our organizations. Progress on the inside is most often stimulated by pressures from the outside that make delay or avoidance no longer possible inside. That point was made so memorably by Martin Luther King, Jr., in Letter from a Birmingham Jail, that it needs no repetition here.

I believe those who continue to work faithfully for change within an organization, as I have so far done, should be commended for every effort they make. But I also believe that engagement in that way is relatively safe for the participants. As necessary and valiant as that service may be, they nevertheless risk nothing more than the frowns of those they seek to change. The real risks are taken by those who put themselves and not just their words on the line. At this point in my ministry, I can no longer advocate this cause with credibility from a position of personal safety. I am called to join in solidarity with those who are willing to be hurt as well as be heard, walking the way of the cross.

St. Paul/Reformation Lutheran Church has voted to move forward outside the bounds of constitutional partnership in the ELCA. They do so only after one of the longest periods of intentional ministry with and to gay and lesbian people of any congregation in this church. They do so with a candidate as qualified by spiritual gifts, academic preparation and experience in ministry as any Ordinand in this church. They do so after exhausting every reasonable avenue of recourse available within the polity of this church. This is no act of defiant congregationalism, but an act of conscience-driven faithfulness to their ministry of the gospel. I cannot stand by in safety and cheer them on. I need to stand with them.

By doing so, I know that I am crossing an implicit and explicit boundary line of trust within this church. That is what makes my heart heavy. But that is also the point. I do this consciously and conscientiously in protest of a church law I perceive as unjust. I do so in both fear and faith. My fear is that this action may stimulate forces of resistance to new levels of reaction and move the cause backward rather than forward. My faith is that, in the long run, this action will help our church more fully become the inclusive fellowship we intend it to be. Until gay and lesbian people in committed relationships are fully accepted in our pews and pulpits, that outcome will never be realized.

What Exactly Makes Us Lesbians Fall In Love?

A woman will fall in love with you because she feels as if she can be herself with you. It's when she feels connected to you and safe in sharing her innermost, private feelings with you.

She will begin to long for your company, for your affection and your touch, for you! She may not even know why she feels this way.

Once a woman feels safe around you, she starts to long for your company, your affection and your touch. She might not even know exactly why she feels this way. But she does know that there's something special about you that she doesn't feel with any other woman in her life before.

The Hidden Psychology To Women And Love

Often times, neither you or her will know why she feels captivated by you and wants to get close to you and pursue you for something serious and long- lasting.

Many of us are wrong about why people REALLY fall in love! We think she needs sex, or has to have a drop dead gorgeous woman, or a woman who goes out of her way to do whatever she wants, because the woman is sweet and giving. WRONG! Us lesbians can sometimes be TOO giving...and mostly in vain!

We start doing things for her like cooking elaborate meals and offer deep, thoughtful advice on whatever troubles her. Light candles and put on soft music whenever she comes over. We put on our sexiest clothes because we know what she is attracted to.

We end up giving our body, mind and souls over to the woman! This happens only to have her tells us that she's "confused about her feelings." We become exclusive with her without even a passing thought to what is important to us or whether or not she has met our needs yet for a secure, loving and committed relationship. She tells us that she's not sure that she wants a relationship now, she becomes distant and moody. Or she may even stop calling or making dates as often. She might do something very hurtful, cheat, or inform you that she doesn't believe you're "meant" to be together.

This happens because deep down, you didn't trigger that true connection to her heart. You didn't connect on the deepest, most intimate level... her feelings. You were too busy "doing" stuff for her!

How To Make That Special Connection Happen

This is what doesn't connect with a woman's heart: When you tell her about what you think about the relationship, or what you did that day, or what you think of the latest news you've read or the gossip at work, she listens. She may even participate in the conversation. But her feelings aren't triggered.

This happens because you share everything but who you are. You put up walls with her without even knowing you're doing it. You decide not to tell her why you were feeling down the other day or how a conversation with your mother made you happy by calling you and cheering you up.

Or perhaps you actually don't even pay attention to your own emotions. You're too busy with your to-do lists and tasks.

But by allowing yourself to really feel what you're feeling, and then speak from those feelings, you would make her feel safe and connected to you.

It seems like such a basic thing. But for so many of us, it's difficult. We are programmed to be "doers". Unfortunately, this make a woman feel nothing around you!

Lord, have mercy upon us.

Grateful for your faithful leadership of this church,

Paul W. Egertson, Bishop
Southern California West Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America