Seeking a God who loves us for who we are

Dawn Mikkelson
Dawn Mikkelson of Stillwater, Minn., is an award-winning independent documentary filmmaker and teacher.
Photo by Adrian Danciu

In 2001, I stood in the balcony of a St. Paul Lutheran church as the Rev. Anita C. Hill was ordained in an act of ecclesiastical disobedience. Standing there with my little video camera, with mainstream media on either side, elbowing for a view of the packed church, I fought back tears.

I needed to get this shot for my documentary film, "THIS obedience," directed with Jamie A. Lee. Hill was my pastor, openly lesbian and in a committed relationship, which meant that her ordination would prompt official church sanctions against our congregation.

The rules of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America state that pastors must refrain from "homosexual sexual relationships," while their straight counterparts may enjoy the support and love of a lifelong partnership.

I have made other films, but screenings of this one often lead me to weep publicly during audience Q&As.

Today, more than eight years later, I prepare to set up my camera at the Minneapolis Convention Center, where the ELCA has gathered again to debate the fate of my pastor's call and the future of one of the country's largest Christian denominations.

I watch nervously as groups from both sides of this issue scurry about, preparing for the structured chaos of floor debate, tethered by Robert's Rules.

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Lutherans believe that congregations have the final say in decisions about whom to call as pastors, rather than having to defer to the opinions of powerful clergy leadership.

That said, this measured democracy comes at the price of generations of potential members and clergy who silently leave because the denomination sees their lives, or the lives of people they love (family, friends, etc.) as an issue to debate instead of bless.

What's my stake in this? I was raised Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist and had run from organized religion since my early 20s, largely due to the rejection I felt within a faith that erred on the side of rigid doctrine instead of focusing on grace and love. This division was particularly painful for me, as my Christian faith was the lens through which I first viewed the world.

As a Christian, I was raised to believe that my relationship with God (which at that point was housed in a Baptist church building) was more important than any relationship I had on this earth with friends, family, lovers or myself.

Yet as I discovered myself to be bisexual, the faith that had been my strength began to tear me apart. It was like God himself was rejecting me.

Beyond the debate over scripture (which has divided biblical scholars on all sides), I have come to believe that God loves me and that my sexuality is a gift. I have also become a member of the Lutheran Church (some find this ironic, but my new church is more liberal than the one I left).

Part of this journey was influenced by making "THIS obedience," which was broadcast across the United States on public television. The film ends with the Lutherans deciding that they needed to "study" homosexuals for a few more years before making any big decisions.

Today the study is done. The ELCA Church Council is recommending a sexuality statement that would allow for ministers to be in public, same-gender, committed relationships without fear of losing their jobs or seeing their congregations removed from the denomination, which has happened to dozens of pastors in recent years. For the first time in years, I have felt hope for organized religion.

So if the Lutherans make this decision, so what? Will it change the world? Maybe not exponentially.

But it will mean that untold numbers of adolescent kids who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning will see that there is a place for them in this world and with God. That the foundation of their life and world view has not rejected them. That the church, sometimes the biggest weapon used against them and their view of themselves, says, "We love you and accept you."

This does not mean that all Christians -- or all Lutherans, for that matter -- need to agree on one biblical interpretation. But it does mean that God is much bigger than all of us and that none of us have all the answers, nor can we claim to know whom God has and has not called to the ministry. All we know for sure is that God loves us for who we are, not in spite of who we are.

It's thoughts like that one that will change the world. And for the little kid in me -- maybe she will heal a bit too.


Dawn Mikkelson of Stillwater, Minn., is an award-winning independent documentary filmmaker and teacher whose company, Emergence Pictures, produces documentaries for nonprofit, governmental and sustainable business clients.