Lutheran Church of Australia C.O.W. Apologises to its Gay Members.


A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog on a lay reading sermon recently preached in my church.  The sermon identified those who advocate for marriage equality and for women’s ordination to be “scatterers and destroyers of God’s flock” and “of Satan”.  The sermon warned that God would “deal harshly” with those of us who advocate for these people and these causes.

You can read the post here.

As is my standard practise, I wrote a letter to the pastor who wrote the sermon and to the Commission on Worship (COW) who are responsible for providing and vetting  lay reading sermons advising them of my post and inviting comment.

The Commission on Worship responded in a manner that reflected genuine compassion for the needs of the LGBTI people in our church.

I post my email to them and their response below. I thank the Commission on Worship for taking the time to consider my correspondence in what is a very busy time for them in the lead up to the National Synod.

Dear Members of the LCA Commission on Worship

For some years now I have been concerned about the plight of the LGBTI people in our church. I have a blog in which I attempt to give voice to their circumstances and advocate for their cause.

Sunday week ago I heard one of your lay reading sermons preached at our local congregation.

The sermon was for Sunday 19 July, 2015 – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11), Year B. The sermon was based on the Epistle reading Ephesians 2:11-22 and was written by Pastor                    .

It singled out those who advocate for marriage equality and women’s ordination. As one who advocates for both women’s ordination and for the plight of the LGBTI people in our church I found the sermon both shocking and hurtful.

Allow me to give you some background information. In recent years I have come across many gay people in our church who are hurting very badly. Here are some statistics.

• 24% of lesbian, gay and bi-sexual and 36% of trans people meet the criteria for experiencing a major depressive episode compared with 6% of the general population
• 15% of LGB and 20% of T people report CURRENT suicidal ideation. (Get that! 20% of them think they might want to kill themselves right now!
• Up to 50% of trans people have attempted suicide at least once in their lives.
• Same sex attracted Australians have up to 14x higher rates of suicide attempts than their heterosexual peers.
• LGBT youth who are under the influence of Christian churches and colleges have much higher rates of suicidal ideation and depression than the rest of the LGBT population.
• The average age of a first suicide attempt is 16, often before “coming out”

(sources listed below)

That the LGBTI people in our church are suffering so badly, worse even than the plight of the rest of the LGBTI community, testifies to the harmful nature of our teaching and practice.

I have heard it said by some in leadership in our church that the plight of the LGBTI people is their own fault, a consequence of their “lifestyle choice”. But that is a hard sell to the family of a suicided 16 year old, a child who had not engaged in any “homosexual activity” but had for years heard the explicit and implicit words of condemnation from their church and the suggestion that this condemnation comes from God.

Whenever the leadership of the church who claim to speak for God condemn marriage equality and homosexual relationships they say to the gay people in our church that their desire for a life long, loving and committed relationship is sinful. We tell them that their desire to grow old together with the person who intimately shares their life is evil. We are saying that families with gay parents are unacceptable to the church and to God.

These harsh words have very real consequences in the lives of the gay members in our church.

Last week I was informed by a High School chaplain of another young gay person who has taken his own life. It breaks my heart.

I feel a strong pull toward gay people and their plight. I understand that what I do in my advocacy work is in accord with my training as an Australian Lutheran pastor and is completely consistent with the Bible and the Lutheran Confessional Statements. More importantly, I believe that what I do is completely in accord with the message and ministry of Jesus. In fact, that message and ministry compels me in what I do.

That is why is saddened me greatly to hear in your sermon damning words against my advocacy for the LGBT people in our church together with your condemnation of those who advocate for women’s ordination.

The sermon said…

“…it is when we now turn our attention to today, that we surely are concerned and challenged. Now, as we are being encouraged to accept women as pastors, homosexual marriage, watering down what our church believes and practices, and many other issues, there is increasing pressure on us to give way.”

The sermon likened us to the people in Jeremiah’s time who were “destroying and scattering the people of (God’s) pasture”. It suggests that we encourage people to “not take God’s word seriously” and states that God “will be extremely harsh on those who lead his people astray”

The sermon even included these damning words.

“They do not have (God’s) Spirit, but the false spirit. There are only two Spirits active in the world; God’s Spirit and Satan. There is no middle ground that we can take or leave.”

Although it is difficult to determine exactly what is being spoken of here it seems from the logic flow of the sermon that these words also refer to those who advocate for marriage equality and women’s ordination.

I know that many in our church and perhaps many on your committee believe that advocacy for the LGBTI people in our church is contrary to the word of God. But my view of scripture and understanding of God’s will on this matter is consistent with the teachings of the Largest Lutheran Churches in the US and Canada and Lutheran Churches throughout Europe and elsewhere.

Very few Lutheran pastors in Australia speak up for the plight of the LGBTI people in our church but approximately half of the pastors in our church believe in and advocate for women’s ordination. Do you really believe that they are all scattering and destroying the flock and that God “will be extremely harsh” on them?

As I mentioned above I write a blog which seeks to give voice to the plight of the LGBTI people in our church. In the blog I draw attention to LCA teachings, letters, practices, policies, sermons etc that I believe do damage to the LGBT people in the care of the church. This morning I published a post that refers to your sermon. I write to advise you of this as a common courtesy and to offer you a chance to reply to the post if you so desire.

The link to the Blog Post is here.

Thankyou for your attention. I am sure that we all seek the same thing here, that the will of God be done in our Church on behalf of and for the good of the LGBTI people in our care.

Respectfully Yours

Neil Hart.

(I include my sources for the dot points mentioned at the start of this email to confirm for you that my concerns for the plight of LGBTI people in the church are genuine. I am not making the figures up.)

Pitts, M. et al. (2006) Private Lives: A report on the wellbeing of GLBTI Australians. Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, LaTrobe University. Melbourne

Couch, M. et al. (2007) Tranznation – a report on the health and wellbeing of transgender people in Australian and New Zealand. Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, LaTrobe University. Melbourne

Australian Bureau of Statistics. Unpublished data from the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing provided to Queensland Association of Healthy Communities in 2010

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2007) National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results. 4326.0

Di Ceglie, D (2000) ‘Gender Identity Disorder in Young People’, Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 6: 458-466; Holman, CW & Goldberg, J (2006)

Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care (2000) LIFE – A framework for prevention of suicide and self-harm in Australia: Learnings about suicide, CDHAC. Canberra; Suicide Prevention Australia (2009) op.cit.

Dyson, S et al. (2003) Don’t ask, don’t tell. Report of the same-sex attracted youth suicide data collection project. Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, LaTrobe University. Melbourne

Another good overview of the plight of young gay people in Australia including the particular challenges faced by gay kids in religious organisations is the Latrobe University Writing Themselves In set of studies conducted over a 12 year period ending in 2010.