Discussing Tiller, abortion and god's love

Posted: Sunday, June 14, 2009

I almost stopped going to church in college. It was not because of the questioning or wildness of the time. The community of faith has always been a centering place for me. It was the wimpiness of one pastor.

God bless him. It was a Lutheran church in Virginia that was very cautious, and he wimped out. The reading that morning had been one of the controversial women passages (I can't remember which one).

It could have been a wonderful moment of boldness and justice, but instead he said that it was too controversial and talked about Jesus' love of kittens or something tame like that.

I was ticked. I wanted to know how the church dealt with past abuses, with challenging texts, with current injustice. I wanted him to have the guts to trust us with the big conversations and trust that we loved each other enough to not walk out and slam the door.

So, as tempted as I am to write about Jesus' love of kittens, let's talk about why a Lutheran church would welcome Dr. George Tiller who was murdered on Pentecost Sunday while ushering at his Lutheran church.

I welcome conversation (note the word "conversation" does not mean diatribes on abortion) surrounding life, trusting women, including fathers, eugenics, justice and all the other complexities that get ignored in the rhetoric surrounding abortion. Give me a call or stop by and let's talk.

But, I only have 700 words, and the question that is filling the blogosphere regarding Dr. Tiller is not as much about abortion as "what kind of church would welcome him?" My answer is "we would."

I cannot speak for all Lutherans, but I can speak to our tradition and definition of church. Lutherans are steeped in grace. Grace means we see in scripture a narrative of God's steadfast love in the midst of our brokenness, ambiguity and failure. We see in Jesus' death and resurrection the good news that God's love cannot be defeated even by death, but it is the eternal grounding for life.

We gather as community not so we can look at each other and pat ourselves on the back for our fabulous behavior. We gather as community so we may encounter and experience God's love for us. We gather as community knowing that we all have brokenness and trusting God's love to transform us all. We gather so we may have the courage to enter into the complexity and ambiguity of life freed by God's love.

Lutheran ethics are grounded in God's love for us and that relationship. We believe that the starting point for ethics is our unity with Christ. It is out of that relationship that we are called to "be Christ" to our neighbor. The law of love trumps all others in ethics. What Christ's love looks like is normally the heart of our disagreement on ethics.

We know that it has something to do with forgiving, healing, feeding and loving people. We know that it is not hateful, spiteful, destructive, or mean. That's our framework for all ethical discussions.

So, Lutherans are all over the place when it comes to discussing abortion, but our tradition calls us all to seek being Christ to the neighbor over being right or trying to win God's favor with our purity.

That may all sound wishy washy to some. Lutherans have spent the last decade talking about sexuality and one of my evangelical friends told me we could have saved our money and just stated what is right and what is wrong.

But it's not that easy for us. When we trust God's grace, then we are not afraid of the ambiguity and complexity of the world. We are not as interested in right versus wrong as loving versus hateful or creative versus destructive.

All broken people struggling with life are welcome in the church. Come and encounter the living God who sets us free and transforms us to be Christ to one another.

• Tari Stage-Harvey is pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

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