Where the Church Meets the World
Mar 25, 2019
By ELCA Minister of Word and Service (Deacon) Ross Murray, Senior Director of the GLAAD Media Institute
Deacons do their ministry where the church meets the world. As a Deacon with a calling from the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people at GLAAD, I can think of no better way to live out this calling then through advocacy.
GLAAD’s advocacy is with the media, the fair, accurate, and inclusive representation of LGBTQIA people. It also means using the media as one tool of advocacy for the LGBTQIA , and many marginalized communities. GLAAD is a secular organization but understands engagement with faith voices is essential to shift the culture to a place of acceptance.
The reality is that LGBTQIA advocacy is not a secular calling, but for far too long, it’s been treated as one. I believe LGBTQIA advocacy is a call for all people, including all Christians. Historically, the Christian church has been on the side of LGBTQIA oppression. Over the past several years, the Christian church, and the ELCA has undergone a major shift from a place of punitive rejection to tolerance, acceptance, and even into advocacy. This shift is not complete, and it’s not happening evenly. There are those who still reject LGBTQIA people. But we have also seen the leadership and ministry of some incredible LGBTQIA people. My own consecration would not have been possible without the policy change the ELCA enacted in 2009.
The ELCA’s more inclusive policy change was a significant step forward inside the church but doesn’t have much impact on wider society, until we consider the ripple effects. The Church’s voice is desperately needed to call for justice for those who are oppressed. Today, we hear voices claiming to represent Christianity, actively calling for violence and oppression against those who are already marginalized. They are citing Christian faith as a reason to deny consumers life-giving goods and services. They are upholding a hermeneutic that lines their pockets while others suffer under unjust laws.
My call is a synodically authorized call. I have the support of GLAAD, but my call to this particular form of ministry comes from the church. As a Deacon, I am called to “Word and Service.” “Word” can be the traditional teaching and preaching that we often see inside of our church walls, but “Word” can also be calls for justice at a rally, tweeting scripture that commands us to take care of the immigrant, the widow, and the orphan, or speaking love and grace to those who need to hear it. “Service” can be meeting immediate needs through chaplaincy and social services, or it can mean calling for a system that protects those who are most vulnerable among us.
I was working at GLAAD years before I was consecrated as a Deacon. I always considered my work ministry, even before my consecration. I took the job at GLAAD to use the media to work toward justice for a community that has faced exclusion, violence, and persecution.
So, why was I consecrated as a Deacon with a call to a job I was already performing at a secular organization?
This call is about mutual accountability. My ministry isn’t in service to myself but is focused through the doctrine and structure of the ELCA, with the oversight of a wider community. I speak and advocate as a called and consecrated minister of the ELCA, in much the same way a local pastor represents the larger church. At the same time, I can work from the inside of the ELCA to speak and act strategically for the protection of LGBTQIA people, and all marginalized communities. By doing this ministry, I help bring the church into a place of advocacy where it hasn’t been historically.
My ELCA calling as a Deacon to LGBTQIA advocacy through Word and service is good for the Church, and it’s good for the world. That is what the call of a Deacon is meant to be, and I offer thanks and praise that this call was given to me.