Last weekend, members of East Side Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls sang hymns, read scripture and took communion the same as they had every other week. The choir even sang “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” beautifully before the sermon, given that day by Associate Pastor Lon Kvonli—and that’s where everything started to go wrong.
On this 19th Sunday after Pentecost—a regular Sunday—Pastor Kvonli took it upon himself to use his sermon to educate the congregation on his negative position on gay marriage following the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s recent vote to legalize the ordination of gay or lesbian individuals.
Wait, wait—aren’t ELCA Lutherans supposed to be more tolerant and more liberal than other Lutherans? Yes, they are. ELCA churches are typically more modern in their language, style of worship service and religious viewpoints than their more conservative Lutheran counterparts in the Missouri and the Wisconsin Synods. For example, many ELCA pastors preach that the Bible is inconsistent and shouldn’t be taken literally. Some even go so far as to declare extramarital sex and homosexuality as permissible in the eyes of the church.
Homosexuality in the church is precisely the point at debate for Pastor Kvonli and many other ELCA pastors. At its Churchwide Assembly held this past August, the ELCA voted “to open the ministry of the church to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in committed relationships,” according to the ELCA website. This modernizes its previous stance, which allowed gay and lesbian pastors only if they were celibate.
In resistance to the ELCA decision, Pastor Kvonli preached a sermon filled with biblical examples and personal anecdotes all proclaiming the sins of anyone living in a homosexual relationship—as well as anyone protecting their rights.
Pastor Kvonli began his sermon with an adolescent recollection of a man named Dan, an influential man who fostered Pastor Kvonli’s sense of community and conviction in God’s teachings. One day, he realized that Dan had disappeared from church. Pastor Kvonli later learned that his friend and mentor was fleeing because he had been outed—Dan was gay. This revelation caused Pastor Kvonli to question the faith of a man whose personal actions contradicted what their church taught.
Although Pastor Kvonli would welcome his old friend at his church today, he said it would be only as a sinner. Pastor Kvonli implied clearly that the church welcomes Dan and other homosexuals in order to help change their sinful lifestyles.
The treatment of Pastor Kvonli’s old friend portrays the hypocrisy many churches express in the welcoming of homosexual individuals. With a preconceived notion of the homosexual sinful nature, pastors and ministers across the nation discriminate against gay and lesbian individuals without considering the depth of their personal faith. People may be welcome at church—but that doesn’t mean they’re not judged.
Regardless of their political, religious, and especially sexual orientation, all members of a church community should feel a sense of inclusion at a place like East Side. Instead, what Pastor Kvonli did was hypocritically preach on the acceptance of all members—as long as they confess their homosexuality and leave it at the door.
For those opposed to his discourteous sermon and for those whose faith was questioned, the beautiful stained glass windows of East Side Lutheran Church will never look the same with the reflection of those preaching inside it. In Pastor Kvonli’s church, like all too many others, thy great faithfulness apparently isn’t recognized in everyone.