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The Lutherans and Twister Theology


Aug 25 2009
Julia's first-person account of the strange events at last week's ELCA convention.

When is a warning from God not a warning from God? Or a "we can't tell whether or not it's a warning from God"?

This question came up last week while I was covering the church-wide assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in Minneapolis. Members of America's largest Lutheran denomination voted to allow non-celibate gays to become clergy and paved the way for same-sex blessing ceremonies. Conservatives I talked to were devastated by the convention, but even they admitted that before the meeting began August 17, they knew they did not have enough votes to prevent the juggernaut.

Then the tornado came.

It was just before 2 p.m. on Wednesday, August 19, right before one of the first significant votes of the assembly. The Lutherans were slated to vote on a sexuality statement that, for the first time I know of, gave the gay-friendly view a place at the table as one of four theological positions Lutherans could have. If the statement passed, it indicated where the convention would go from that point on.

Then someone rushed into the press room and told us to vacate the place fast. A tornado had touched down close by, we were told. The police wanted us in a safe place away from the glass windows that encase the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Everyone rushed into the main hall to join some 1,045 voting members who were listening to a Bible study being led by a female preacher. (A few blogs say the debate on the statement had already begun, but that is not true. I was there). A palpable blanket of fear descended on the entire group as the doors to the outside hallways were shut, enclosing us in the giant hall, which was apparently was the safest place to be. We could hear the winds howling outside. I thought of my rental car parked nearby and hoped it would stay in one piece. After the Bible study, ELCA President Mark Hanson read the 121st Psalm to calm everyone down.

"We trust the weather is not a commentary on our work," said the Rev. Steven Loy, chairman of the ad hoc committee on the sexuality statement.

And a tornado was headed our way. Just after 2 p.m., the twister knocked the cross off the steeple of Central Lutheran Church, across the street from the convention center. I walked outside afterward to look at it; the steel cross was dangling high up in the air.

Things got even weirder. The sexuality statement needed a two-third majority to pass. Many folks weren't sure there were enough Lutherans there who would vote that way, and the vote came up rather suddenly near the end of the day. When the totals were announced, everyone gasped—the statement had passed by an exact two-thirds vote. One vote less would have killed it.

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