Changing attitudes and action
Lutherans apologize, commit to diversity and inclusion
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This article was published 27/08/2022 (286 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Opening the church doors wider means more than just words of welcome, but a change in attitudes and action, says the new staff person charged to work toward diversity and inclusion at a Winnipeg-based Christian denomination.
“My vision would be going to a church and feeling welcome in a place where everyone feels welcome,” says Carmen Ramirez, assistant to the bishop for diversity, equity and inclusion for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.
“I don’t feel discrimination was ever part of God’s plan.”
Ramirez took on the new half-time position on Aug. 1, working remotely from Mississauga, Ont. The denomination’s head office is in downtown Winnipeg.
As part of her new job, she plans to lead workshops and training areas such as anti-racism, intercultural awareness and sexual orientation and gender identification expression, as well as help to establish racial justice committees for each of the denomination’s regional synods.
“I’m visiting churches and it’s good they get to see me,” said Ramirez, who is of Latino background and is completing a doctorate in practical theology
“That relationship is good because it changes attitudes.”
One change already underway is encouraging staff members to state their preferred pronouns to their email signatures and name tags as an act of solidarity with transgender or non-binary people, said National Bishop Susan Johnson.
“It’s not just about learning, it’s about our intentions,” she said about pronouns and other actions.
“What are we holding on to if we’re not willing to change?”
Ramirez’s appointment grew out of recommendations from three denominational task forces addressing racism, ableism, and homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. The appointment follows the bishop’s apology to members of the LGBTTQ+ community for times when they were not welcomed, denied sacraments, vocation, marriage rights or affirmation of their gender identities.
Johnson delivered the apology as part of her address to delegates at the ELCIC national convention, held online in mid-July, more than a decade after the denomination passed a statement on human sexuality. She expects to make an in-person apology next summer when the denomination meets in Calgary.
“With this apology I acknowledge the harms we as a church have caused and those harms we continue to cause,” she told delegates.
“We have work to do, and I cling to a hope that the entire church will learn from the past and work toward a future where all generations will feel acceptance, affirmation, and celebration for the gifts they bring our church as valued children of God.”
The apology provoked a few tears for Winnipegger Haiden Werboweski, a member of the task force on homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, who has heard stories of discrimination within congregations from fellow Lutherans.
“They’re made to feel unwelcome in their churches or even straight up (are) being told they are not welcome in the church, or they are told they are loved but they will not be able to perform their weddings in the church,” said Werboweski, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns.
Johnson’s apology also resonates with a Lutheran pastor ordained in Saskatchewan in 1978 who spent decades working as a university chaplain and United Church of Canada minister after coming out as gay in 1987.
“My sexual identity is an aspect of who I am, but it’s not the central defining thing,” said Rev. Ralph Carl Wushke, who returned to ministry in the ELCIC in 2020.
“I’m a servant of God and an ordained pastor.”
For decades, Wushke joined other many queer Lutherans and their allies to build awareness and relationships with congregations and denominational leaders.
“People who love the church really, really worked hard to make change and work for the new Jerusalem for 35 years,” said Wushke, pastor at First Lutheran Church in Toronto.
Now that discussions around gender and sexuality have calmed down, Wushke said his denomination can focus on other issues of justice and social change.
“The church debates around sexual orientation really preoccupied the Protestant church for almost 50 years, so it took a lot of the Holy Spirit’s airtime,” he said.
“And now that airtime can be devotion to pressing issues like Black Lives Matter, and climate change.”
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Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.