The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America just passed three of four policy changes that allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships the opportunity to become official rostered leaders of the church. It finished a week of tense voting and exchange between Lutherans arguing with one another to "think as Lutherans" and appeal to their "bound conscience."
Those against the policy changes saw the passage as an acceptance of sin. Those for them saw it as the culmination of a decades long fight for inclusion. But in good Lutheran tradition, the discourse remained civil. Every 20 minutes they stopped to pray, side by side, all with God.
But many masked their deeper feelings. Outside the convention center during an intermission, a man talked on his cell phone, almost in tears.
"This going to allow our Sunday schools to tell our children that it's okay for them to have homosexual parents!?"
Yet for the most part, the entire process lacked any sort of surprise. A member of Lutheran CORE, a group against the changes, conceded early on in the week that they didn't have the votes to prevail.
Meanwhile, the Goodsoil organization for full inclusion were upbeat and smiling most of the time, bouncing around in their hand-knit prayer shawls.
And Bishop Hanson remained neutral in his position, preferring to sit this one out and let his church decide the matter without the influence of its most influential member.
The most surprising moments came in casual observation. Those who spoke against change were at times outraged, hurt, and lost. They seemed to realize they were the minority and it pained them to think their church could move in a different, uncomfortable direction without their blessing. Many threatened to leave the church during their pleas to the assembly. Many warned the church about leaving the teachings of Martin Luther behind. But their pleas were in vain, as the body voted again and again for change.
It's like they were on the other side looking in for the first time, experiencing what it's like to feel excluded.
No doubt, the ELCA will lose members over the policy change. One pastor announced his abdication for all to hear. Other leaders spoke about how their churches are going to look at giving up on the ELCA.
Yet for the hundreds-of-thousands of gay and lesbian members, the outrage and threats of abandonment seemed misguided. They stayed with the church for decades without the church's consent. It didn't abandon them. It gave them love.