The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is facing a challenge, a challenge shared by most churches in the United States. The challenge is going from an almost all white church membership, to a membership that reflects what this nation looks like. This will be our test in the 21st century.
This is going to be difficult considering the mood in our country today. The biggest aspect of this challenge is change. Not only Lutherans, but folks in general are afraid of change. In fact studies have shown that a majority of folks with rather stick with the status quo, even if the alternative was markedly better. Add fear of the other in the mix and you have a challenge that is nearly overwhelming.
Who is the other? Anyone who doesn’t look like us, sound like us, has a different culture or life situation than us or has religious or political views different than us. Currently the environment we live in, is energized by the media (social media as well) encouraging this fear of the other.
Stereotypes, misrepresentation, falsehoods, propaganda and just plain lies have polarized our country and our churches. You know Jesus dealt with this stuff all the time. Tax collectors, sinners, Samaritans, Romans, the poor, the outcasts, women children they were all either hated, prejudged as inferior or marginalized by the religious leaders and the Jewish culture of 1st century Palestine. Even the early church had to struggle through the issues between the Jewish Christians, the Gentile Christians, poor and rich Christians, free or slave Christians, well you get the idea. They had the same challenge in the 1st century church as we do in the 21st century church.
I believe the only way we can successfully deal with this challenge of the fear of the other is on a one on one, family on family, church on church basis. The change will be a grass roots change, not a top down national church telling us we must do this or that. I will say we have the tools to work on this and that is how we choose to love and forgive one another.
The legalized prejudice against gays and lesbians in our society did not just change because of marches and legislation, (these were important). But because someone knew or loved someone in their family who came out to them. The other became a person, not a group, they were our sister or brother, son or daughter, a good friend or close colleague. The faceless other, became someone we loved. The majority of us although not to easily chose to embrace that person and not reject them.
The church, this church, every church will have to and I mean have to, overcome the fear of the other. We can do this, we know and have seen how love is more powerful than hate. We teach our children about the God who loves all of us, every one of us and says to us, love one another as I have loved you. By the way this will not be easy and not every Christian will do this, but we have to try. Not for the sake of the church, but for the sake of the world, a world that Jesus died for, that is all of us!