Saturday, August 31, 2013

Civil Rights Then, Civil Rights Now

In this week where we've looked back over 50 years to see how we've evolved since the March on Washington, my thoughts have returned to gender.  For people who say that nothing essential has changed, I would argue vociferously.  Not only do we have a black president, but we see more and more women moving up into lead positions in churches.  My own church, the largest brand of Lutherans in the U.S. (the ELCA), just elected a woman to be our bishop, to lead on a national stage.

It seems to be my fate to be away from the Internet when big things happen at our ELCA national assemblies.  In 2009, I was at Hilton Head when the national gathering voted to be more inclusive on issues of sexuality; I wrote about it when I returned in this blog post.

And then, in the weeks after the move, when my home Internet access has been limited, I heard news of a female bishop to lead the ELCA.  The possibility wasn't even on my radar screen.  I had no idea until my mom wrote an e-mail asking me what I thought of our new woman bishop.

I did some Internet searching, and honestly, several weeks later, I'm still not sure of what I think, although I am struck by how little information is out there about her.  I love what the outgoing bishop said when he talked about it not being an election, but a call that will be accepted.

I would have predicted that a woman would never be elected bishop, given the elections that I witnessed in my Synod Assembly back in May (I wrote about it in this blog post).  I would have predicted that a woman, or maybe several women, would make it to the final rounds, and then we'd draw back and go with a choice that felt safer, in other words, an older, white male.

I'm glad to be proven wrong.

You could argue that we're not being particularly edgy in our choice.  Is it really so groundbreaking to elect a woman?

I would say that it is, still, even in this day when we've had plenty of women in a variety of leadership positions.  We still don't see many women in the TOP leadership position.

I am old enough to remember a time when women couldn't even be pastors, and there are still plenty of churches out there full of members who will tell you why men make better pastors.

But honestly, I'm old enough now to believe that we've all got important gifts.  Why should we deny anyone the chance to use those gifts?  Even people who have been deeply wounded can make a huge difference; out of the wound comes their strength.

In some ways, by focusing on gender in such a binary way, we're being very 20th century.  I predict that there will come pitched battles in the not-too-distant future about the transgendered and inclusivity.  We will look back with longing at the battles fought over gender, and perhaps homosexuality.

I think of my grandfather who was a pastor in various southern states in the U.S. during much of middle years of the 20th century.  My mother remembers that the pastors of the communities--all white, all male--would gather to discuss what they would do if a black person or family arrived to worship.

I'm fairly sure I don't want to know what my grandfather would have done.  It was a different time, and the emphasis was definitely not on diversity, the way it is now.

Now it seems quaint, this old discussion about what to do if a black family came through the door.  Now it seems impossible to believe we ever would have worried about such things.

I predict that in 100 years, maybe less, we'll feel the same way about gender.  We'll marvel at the fact that it took so long for women to be allowed to preach, for a woman to be elected Bishop.

This week, as I watched the documentary about the Freedom Riders, I got an idea for a short story.  My grandfather and his fellow pastors worried about what they'd do if a black family came to church.  I know of some churches who have had to wrestle with the issue of gay people attending church.

And how would your church respond if someone who is undergoing a gender transition came through your doors?

I plan to write a short story that juxtaposes the two time periods, the 1960's pastors worrying about black people coming to church and a more modern church wrestling with issues of transgendered parishioners.  Let's see if I can pull it off.

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