”Love trumps chromosomes.”
That’s the conclusion Bert Oelschig has come to when it comes to accepting gay and lesbian clergy into the pulpit of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Up until this past week, Oelschig the pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Anniston, Alabama.
Two years ago, Oelschig and his congregation were adamantly opposed to changes in the ELCA that welcomed gay and lesbian clergy. The church was even thinking of pulling out of the denomination all together over the issue. Then, Oelschig had what he described as “a change of heart” on the issue. From the Anniston Star:
In June, Oelschig was invited to speak at an ELCA senate convention, where he planned to call for the vote on gay clergy to be overturned.
“I meant to speak to that,” Oelschig remembered during an interview in August, sitting at a table just outside the church sanctuary. “By the time I got there—I can’t put a cognitive handle on it—but in front of God and everybody else, I said I thought we should keep it.”
What has happened to Oelschig since his revelation, however, explains why many pastors keep it to themselves if they agree with the ELCA move. If their congregation doesn’t approve, they’ll be out of a job.
The response from his congregation was less than charitable. Oelschig was prepared to explain his change of heart in a sermon entitled “Your Pastor’s Struggle with Homosexuality,” but the church council forbade him from delivering it, preferring to remain in the dark about their pastor’s switch. The Star reported:
“We didn’t know what he was going to say,” [church council president Mike] Anderson said. “He’s torn up this church enough. He’d already lambasted the congregation once and got everybody all up in arms. We didn’t want him toying with us anymore.”
On Thursday, Oelschig delivered his message at the congregational meeting, in what ultimately became his farewell sermon.
“Before there was any creation, God was love,” Oelschig said, citing imagery from his original sermon. “After creation, gender came along, but God’s essence was still love. It’s my belief that the love between people is not a function of gender. (Homosexual couples) can express love, faith and affection just as we all can … it’s blessed by God.
This is sad on many levels—one, because Oelschig’s story becomes a cautionary tale for other clergy who may now not dare to speak out for fear of losing their livelihood, and two, because this congregation is missing out on an opportunity. Perhaps if they listened to their pastor’s story, they too could have a change of heart.