By Amy Nile Herald Writer
EDMONDS — There’s a church-sanctioned process for congregations to be recognized as welcoming of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Edmonds Lutheran Church is taking the first steps toward gaining that stamp of acceptance.
The process is called Reconciling in Christ. It’s an official four-step procedure in which a Lutheran organization becomes recognized for inclusivity.
Rick Pribbernow is an openly gay pastor with Seattle-based Open Door Ministries. He’s giving a three-part lecture series at Edmonds Lutheran on the scriptures, human sexuality and stereotypes associated with LGBT people. His first two discussions were so popular that Edmonds pastors Julie Josund and Tim Oleson decided to give similar talks again as a way of encouraging the Evangelical Lutheran congregation to move forward in becoming officially recognized as inclusive of LGBT people.
“We’ve been talking about it and praying about it for 30 years,” Josund said.
In 2009, the national Evangelical Lutheran Church in America issued a statement allowing pastors in the denomination to be openly gay.
“That was our big moment,” Josund said. “It set off waves across the church.”
Following the decision, some left the church and others joined, she said. Allowing openly gay leaders made the denomination more welcoming to all LGBT people. It started the process of reversing the intolerance historically practiced by many churches.
“The LGBT community was marginalized,” Oleson said. “This is a significant group the church has ostracized.”
While all congregations strive to be welcoming, Oleson said, he sees the educational series as a step beyond that. The more people get to know LGBT people, the harder it becomes to believe that homosexuality is wrong, he said.
Oleson had an experience that pushed him to become more inclusive. He had an intern who was gay but didn’t share that information. Oleson later learned the intern hid his identity because he feared judgment. Now Oleson strives to welcome everyone to the table, even those with different perspectives.
The Edmonds pastors are taking another look at the scripture that condemns homosexuality and translating it into more modern language. They call those passages the “clobber texts” because they traditionally have been used to discriminate and exclude people.
“We’ll look at them from a different vantage point,” Josund said.
They’ll also work to address fears and concerns people have from some church teachings over the years. Josund said she was moved earlier in her career by hearing the story of a Lutheran pastor who felt he had to give up the cloth because he was gay.
“It’s not a mistake or an abomination. God made all of us,” Josund said. “Our message is that God loves all people.”
She and Oleson have scheduled their scripture and spirituality talks for 9:30 a.m. Sunday and again June 15. The discussions are set to take place at the church, with regular worship services before and after.
Pribbernow is scheduled to give his final lecture in Edmonds at 9:30 June 22.
Before he realized he was gay, he was married to a woman and worked as Southern Baptist minister. He said that realization was driven by identity rather than sexual drive. After he was divorced, he took a job with Open Door Ministries. It focuses on social justice issues, including those related to sexuality and gender expression. It strives to support those who have felt excluded by the church. Pribbernow works across denominations in Western Washington.
“People’s stories are what bring about change,” he said. “It changes the whole way we perceive others.
Josund and Oleson hope the new ideas will help the congregation move forward with Reconciling in Christ.
“It’s a marker that you’re a safe place for LGBT folks,” Oleson said. “Then people know a church has done the work.”
If the congregation decides it wants to become an RIC church, they’ll do a study, develop a welcome statement and register as such. Josund said she believes the congregation will choose to move forward with the process because it is already very accepting.
“This church has it in our DNA,” she said.
“We want to be on the right side of history,” Oleson said. “Our goal is to be the most open and welcoming congregation we can be. All people are welcome here.”
Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org.