I worship at the Lutheran Church of the Atonement in Atlanta. In the immediate community, more than 29 percent of residents have an income of less than $10,000, 37 percent live below the poverty level and more than 10 percent of people 25 years and older have less than a ninth-grade education. Many grandmothers here are raising their grandchildren alone because a parent is in prison.
More than two-thirds of Atonement's members are 70 years old or better, mostly retired professionals living on fixed incomes. Yet the congregation is rooted in the community and reaches out to nearby transitional housing for those in recovery and to a homeless shelter for more than 200 women and children. There is a desire to continue caring for God's people together, even when there are differences in understanding the nature of human sexuality.
It's important to remember that there is more to the ELCA's human sexuality statement than issues of rostered pastors in same-gendered relationships. There are statements about trusting relationships and educating our children about care and love. There are discussions about human trafficking and prostitution (and, yes, it is happening in our neighborhoods). There are statements that call us to show mercy, compassion and justice to the least of these.
The cost of not having these conversations is great. One population segment contracting HIV/AIDS the fastest is the tweens, and not just in ethnic-specific communities. With our synod's benevolence dollars dropping to the lowest levels since 2003, with funding and resources sorely limited to help children in this community and others like it, with the focus of mission and strategy shifted elsewhere — well, I have concerns. According to an African adage, "When the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers."
So I need wisdom. How do I love a church where, when there are differences, some people respond by taking their money and running? How do I love a church where instead of talking with one another, there is silence and folks are shut out? How do I also see what I must change and when I need forgiveness?
What do you need wisdom to see? What does this church and your synod need to address instead of fighting and closing ears and purses to the hungry, the poor and the naked? I invite you to engage in this discussion as well.
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers