God, Gays, & the Lutheran Church Basement

Did you notice the location of the meeting between Alan Chambers, now-apologetic director of the now-former Exodus International, and the group of ex-Exodus members?

The church basement.

The Hollywood Lutheran Church basement was the site of the “God and Gays” episode of Our America with Lisa Ling on OWN.

And it was a fitting location for so many reasons.

The church basement is where so much of the ordinary, daily, and often messy work of the church takes place.  Education, meals, group discussions, young people, old people, recovering people … it’s all there.  Sunday school, wedding receptions, family meet-and-greets after the funerals, AA meetings, coffee hour after services … it’s all been there.

The church basement is the stereotypical domain of the women … yes, often the older women who make sure everyone is fed and take an occasionally controlling interest in the lives that pass through the church doors.

The church basement is often the launching pad for the work that goes out into the neighborhood … the prison ministries, doorbell dinners, food pantry collection, and so much more.

Lutheran theology is, of course, many things.  Some of what it is that keeps me engaging in it embraces paradox and mess and humanness and grace and growth.  Anfechtung – the struggle embedded in human life.  Simul justus et peccator – at the same time saint and sinner.

These are the things that I saw in the episode.  Fractured and angry people.  A man haltingly trying to apologize.  People listening and refusing to accept the not-enough and too-late apology.  Questions.  Answers.  Tears.  And then … laughter.  A flawed woman trying to bridge the gap.  Laughter in the space of pain and frustration.  A release.  A step.  Even an embrace.

And a church that makes space for it all.

It wasn’t enough.  It never will be.  But it simply WAS.

A Lutheran church basement is the perfect location for such a gracious mess.

Here are some of the ministries in which Hollywood Lutheran is engaged:

Community Garden and Food Pantry

HIV/AIDS advocacy and education with Hollywood Remembers, Inc.

Twenty 12-step meetings each week.

Mariposa Prison and Parole Ministry

Additionally, the community states its welcoming mission:

“Our doors are open to sexual minorities.  A member congregation of the Reconciling in Christ program of Lutherans Concerned, we especially welcome LGBTQ people of faith and those who love them.”

And:  “We are committed to following Jesus —wherever he is working in the world today— trying to be faithful, not religious, in sharing God’s good news for humanity through our service to others.”

The shuttering of Exodus International does not mean that the homophobic and spiritually violent pray-the-gay-away movement is over.  It might just be rebranded.

But we do well to see this meeting in the church basement encompassing so much of the grace and the mess that being human together requires.

Images via & via

 

About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • James Guay

    Thanks for bringing light to this part of the story! I also thought it was more appropriate than the main part of the church for reasons you mentioned. Things did get messy and hopefully in this mess there can be greater growth and liberation.

  • Frank Elliott

    I’m down with Lutherans as long as I’m not expected to eat lutefisk. :-)


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