South Sudan, Same Sex and the Future of the Church
On June 3, we had a special guest at Zion. He is the Rev. Jordan Long, president of the Lutheran Church of south Sudan. he was in the U.S. for three months to consider an affiliation with our association, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, and to raise funds for the work of building churches and leaders in South Sudan.
South Sudan is the world’s newest country. The Lutheran Church of South Sudan may be the world’s newest church. It has about 5,000 members, about 32 congregations, 18 pastors and 32 evangelists. And one president. Pastor Long came to the U.S. about 20 years ago as a refugee. He eventually finished college and seminary and became pastor of a special outreach to African immigrants called the Nile Lutheran Mission. In August of 2009, when the ELCA, of which Pastor Long was a part, approved same sex marriage and the ordination of practicing gay and lesbian clergy, Pastor Long and his congregation exited the ELCA. Along with us.
Pastor Long wept over the ELCA’s decision. So did we. Feeling a call to mission, he returned to Sudan and began preaching. His family history is an interesting one. He grew up in a Christian family. The only Christian family in their village. His mother started a church. It quickly grew to over 100 people.
Eventually, there was a refurendom on independence. Pastor Long joined the happy throngs welcoming a new and independant South Sudan.
It was an interesting visit. We opened it up for questions after the sermon and at the 8:00 a.m. service we nearly used up all our time with questions and answers and had to go into “extra innings” for communion. At the 9:30 service people lined up to ask him questions. I’m not sure what happened at 10:30 because I wasn’t able to be there. Even people who couldn’t understand him thought he was brilliant and wanted to support his work. We had the second largest exit offering we’ve ever had. Nearly $1500 went to aid the church in South Sudan. And Pastor Long never asked for dime.
I had several observations about the visit and Pastor Long’s testimony which I’ll share with you now.
- I think Pastor Long exemplifies what God is doing in the Church and among the Church’s leaders today. Here is a man who knew terrible suffering. Who had to flee his home country and suffer terrible things in order to survive. A man who lived for years in a refugee camp, surrounded by barbed wire, with barely enough food to live. Here is a man who was given a new life in the U.S. and who willingly, gave it all up and went back in order to serve those who need the gospel of Christ. I’m awed by what Pastor Long has given up: retirement accounts, a regular pay check, internet access, reliable transportation, air conditioning, running water. Yet I see the Lord calling his servants to abandon their former ways of life, their creature comforts and most of all, their certainty, and follow him into ventures unknown. And I see leaders following Pastor Long’s example and I see God providing. I see God doing amazing and wonderful things through them and producing much fruit. It’s like we’ve been called to go back to New Testament times. Like Jesus has called us to “go,” and not take an extra tunic or walking stick or wallet or extra sandals. Instead, as leaders, we are to rely more and more upon him and him only. And he is glorified in the “sacrifice.” We are learning this way to be a church in mission. His mission. And he will take care of his own. Not with worldly comforts, but with fruits of repentance and salvation. I’m awed and amazed. I have to admit, I see lesser but no less keen suffering in most of my colleagues. I begin to wonder if you’re not suffering now as a servant of Christ, are you really doing his work?
- Pastor Long talked about the relationships that other African churches have with the ELCA. One thing that has always worked in the ELCA’s favor was that it had money to give away. This led other Lutheran churches throughout the world to affiliate with them. One of the biggest affiliations with with the EECMY, the Evangelical Ethiopian Church Mekene Yesus, a celebrated church in Africa which does amazing mission work and which is now training the evangelists and pastors of the Lutheran Church of South Sudan. Pastor Long says that they are reconsidering their association with the ELCA over the same sex marriage and clergy issue. If the EECMY un-affiliates from the ELCA, I expect the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania will do the same. Money, for the churches of the developing world, is no longer as important as sound, biblical doctrine. This means that the churches of the Third World may well be last defense of historic, apostolic Christianity. You see this not only in the Lutheran Church but also in the Anglican Communion, where African and Asian Churches are in open opposition to the Church in the West. We may very well be on the verge of another historic split: Not East and West, like in .... But this time, North and South, which we can also call developed versus developing.
- Which leads me very nicely to my third point. Churches like Zion, which hold to historic, apostolic Christianity despite enormous societal pressure to amend our faith, may begin to look more toward Africa for fellowship and theological grounding than Europe. For the entire history of the U.S., we have looked for theological grounding to Europe, especially Germany and Scotland. I do not think it unlikely, nor does Pastor Long, that soon, American Lutheran pastors who love the Bible and who are missional in their theology will attend schools and conferences in places like Addis Abba, Ethiopia, Dodoma or Arusha, Tanzania and perhaps even Juba, South Sudan. Next month, Pastor Gakunzi will leave for a month in Burundi and Rwanda for a theologocial conference. Why? Because who can trust what the American Church is teaching. And I agree.
- I know that some of my dear readers will consider this the rantings of a crazy man. But remember, I’ve lived and worked in Europe. I know what’s happening in the great and historic centers of Christianity. And it isn’t good for mission. And what is the Christian Church without mission? What good is a church that doesn’t do what Jesus tells it to do? Frankly, if I had the money, I’d ask that Zion pay for an evangelist from the EECMY to come here to Des Moines, Iowa. Why? Because as a Church in North America, so many of us don’t know how to make converts, let along disciples. And they do. And, don’t forget, that because of globalization, we have a growing population of Eritrean (formerly Ethiopian) people. And Sudanese. Even at Zion we have members from Sudan and Liberia. Soon to be Eritrea and Iraq. Why? Because we preach the historic Christian faith and because we’re ready to receive them. It’s so very odd, I admit, to consider that our future might be South and East instead of North and West. But there you have it.
Please pray for our ministry at Zion. Please pray that we might be faithful. The times are confusing and may not look much like the past at all. Please pray that we might follow Jesus into the glorious future he has prepare for us. God bless you.