So much so that for three days last week during the ELCA's Churchwide Assembly, I watched (or listened if I wasn't next to the computer) the live streaming video feed. Resolutions, motions, amendments, amended amendments, motions to amend amendments to resolutions, social statements, full communion agreements, motions to amend resolutions by changing their order...you name it, I was in full-glory church nerd extrordinaire mode.
There were some very difficult, very frank, and very emotional debates, most of which revolved around sex in one form or another. There were two main impressions that I came away with, at least during the sections I was listening in (which I have a feeling were some of the most contentious issues):
First, I was proud of my denomination, proud of the delegates, proud of my Churchwide Bishop, just proud of everyone involved at their upholding of the Eighth Commandment: You are not to bear false witness against your neighbor. More specifically, I was proud of how all sides in a very emotional debate lived into Luther's explanation of that commandment from his Small Catechism:
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our
neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we
are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything
they do in the best possible light.
Now I'm not naive enough to think that we all succeeded perfectly, and honestly there were a couple of times (on both sides) where I found myself thinking "now was that really necessary?", but given the subjects at hand, and given the passionate views most delegates had on these subjects, I thought the way the "business of the church" was conducted was a witness to the world about how it could be and should be. Imagine what Washington D.C. would look like if our Senators and Representatives took to heart Luther's explanation of the 8th commandment. Imagine what the United States would look like if its citizens did the same when it came to contentious issues. Heck, think of what our church's individual congregations and synods would look like if we really took the 8th commandment seriously.
I think they would be shaped much more like a cross...because they had been shaped by the cross.
My second impression is really more of an extension, or an example, of the first. It was Friday, the day when the two main topics of debate were whether to allow same-sex blessings, and whether to allow rostered leaders in same-sex relationships to serve. It was tense...and intense.
During debate on these resolutions, delegates were invited to step up to microphones, and were allowed 2 minutes to speak. Speaking at a green microphone meant you were in favor of a resolution, and speaking at a red microphone meant you were against it. First a green speaker would say their piece, then a red speaker. And so it went--green, red, green, red, until finally someone would come to a mike to call the question.
Every 20 minutes, the presiding bishop would call a brief halt to the debate so that all could pray together.
One gentleman stepped up to a green mike, paused for a moment, and said in a shaky voice, "is anyone else here as nervous as I am?" There was empathetic laughter from the assembly, after which the man asked, "would somebody pray for me while I speak?"
Immediately, another man stepped to his side, laid a hand on his shoulder, and prayed.
It was the person who had been next in line at the red microphone.
I honestly don't remember what the man at the green microphone actually said--all I can remember is that picture of the church, a church in disagreement about Christ's will in some issues, but a church willing to earnestly pray for and with those with whom we disagree, to stand alongside them, to offer a hand of comfort and encouragement, to "come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light."
It is my full and complete belief that Christ was present at the ELCA's Churchwide Assembly. He wasn't standing at the green microphones. He wasn't standing at the red microphones.
Christ was between the microphones.
As my online friend Sarcastic Lutheran pointed out, Christ wasn't between the microphones in a "I'm Switzerland, I'm neutral" kind of way. He was there in a "breaking down the walls that divide" kind of way. In a "giving yourself for the good of your neighbor" kind of way. In the kind of way where, as Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson said in his bishop's report, "we finally meet one another—not in our agreements or disagreements—but at the foot of the cross, where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Spirit, we are one in Christ."