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Setting it straight: For the love of God, gays want to be active in church

When Heidi and Jenny Wrenson baptized their daughter Evelyn at Faith Lutheran in West Fargo in 1999, the event held significant meaning for the women.

When Heidi and Jenny Wrenson baptized their daughter Evelyn at Faith Lutheran in West Fargo in 1999, the event held significant meaning for the women.

As a committed lesbian couple, they often felt excluded from the Lutheran church. Heidi had gone to a gay church in Minneapolis for a while, but worshiping with only gays and lesbians grew stale.

"It didn't feel like a real church community to me," she said. "For me, church is the old, the young, the newly married, kids, singles. It's everybody."

In a small way, Evelyn's baptism meant that her family had a place and value in the church.

"When you're marginalized, those traditions are so meaningful," Heidi said. "I felt like I belonged."

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Historically, Christian churches have condemned homosexuality and cast aside gay and lesbian people. In recent years, more denominations have wrestled with ways to welcome gay and lesbian people who share a faith in Jesus Christ.

The move hasn't been without controversy. The issue has threatened to divide nearly every faith group that tackles whether to bless homosexual unions or ordain non-celibate gays and lesbians.

A day-long workshop, "The Church and Human Sexuality" will address some of these issues. It will be held Nov. 9 at Faith Lutheran Church in West Fargo.

The workshop is partially in response to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's decision to implement a four-year study of homosexuality.

"The time has come to talk about these people who have been oppressed and misunderstood," said the Rev. Peter Schmidt of Faith Lutheran, Heidi Wrenson's uncle and the pastor who performed Evelyn's baptism. "There's a biblical call to justice that we need to heed."

Traditionally the church has been resistant to change.

In some ways that's good, says the Rev. Herbert Chilstrom, former presiding bishop of the ELCA and a speaker at the workshop. The church is an important anchor in the community, but there's a dark side to that, too.

"We can be so bound up in our traditions, that we don't take the time to view things from different perspectives," he said. His goal isn't to change minds, but to open a conversation.

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Stereotypes and misunderstandings often get in the way of Christians accepting people who are gay or lesbian, Chilstrom said. People may believe they are only interested in superficial relationships or that they choose their sexual orientation.

Others may believe homosexual people can change and become heterosexual.

"Once you have a conversation with somebody who is gay or lesbian, however, you realize these stereotypes are faulty," Chilstrom said. "Among these folks are many very, very religious people who have a deep faith commitment to Christ."

Those who support including gay and lesbian people more fully in faith communities compare the issue to when the church struggled with issues of slavery and ordaining women.

People used biblical texts to support their views, whether for or against a certain side.

"People read into the Bible what they perceive is truth," Schmidt says. "You can find biblical support for slavery, for keeping women in their places, for the Crusades. That doesn't mean it's right."

There are a handful of texts that may be interpreted to condemn homosexuality, Schmidt said. None of these portray homosexual orientation in the way it is known and experienced today, he said.

In addition, there is an abundance of biblical passages about God's love and acceptance of all people.

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Supporters for more gay and lesbian involvement don't expect things to change fast. Even if the Lutheran church offers congregations and pastors the freedom to bless same-sex relationships and to call gays and lesbians to leadership roles, many may choose not to.

The process may feel slow to those who are oppressed, Schmidt said. But part of opening a discussion is avoiding polarization and listening to people on both sides of an issue.

"For us in the Lutheran church, the glue that holds us together is the proclamation of the Gospel and the celebration of the Holy Sacraments," Chilstrom said. "If we can hold onto what's central, we can deal with issues that aren't always uniformly agreed to by the believers in that community."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erin Hemme Froslie at (701) 241-5534

If you go

A seminar, The Church and Human Sexuality, will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 9 at Faith Lutheran Church, 127 2nd Ave. W., West Fargo.

The Revs. Herbert Chilstrom and Lowell Erdahl, former bishops in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, will speak.

They co-authored the book, "Sexual Fulfillment for Married & Single, Straight & Gay, Young & Old."

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Participants also will hear stories from people of faith who are gay or lesbian.

Call the church at (701) 282-3309 to register by Nov. 5. There is no charge for the event. A light lunch will be offered.

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