Soulforce Responds to the passing of Bishop Paul Egertson
With the sudden and unexpected death of Paul Egertson on Wednesday afternoon, January 5, 2011, Soulforce lost a powerful and prophetic ally and the LGBTQ Community lost a courageous and committed friend.
Paul was Bishop of the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) from 1995 to 2001. He was appointed a member of the Soulforce Board of Trustees in April 2004 and served on our Board for two terms from 2004 to 2010.
“We loved Bishop Paul,” says Dr. Cindi Love, the new Executive Director of Soulforce, “because unlike most church leaders, Protestant and Catholic alike, Paul was not content to talk endlessly about full inclusion for LGBTQ people. He was an activist who risked his career on our behalf.”
Paul Egertson was the first active bishop in the 5.1 million member ELCA to participate in the ordination of a non-celibate gay or lesbian pastor. Paul believed that when dialogue about an unjust law becomes simply another tactic for delaying justice, it’s time to move on to direct action against that unjust law.
In 2001, Bishop Paul led the colorful and deeply moving parade of clergy participating in the ordination of Pastor Anita C. Hill of St.Paul Reformation Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. His courageous and historical act of “ecclesial disobedience” was covered by news media around the world and moved the ELCA one more giant step towards full inclusion. It’s easy to understand why Soulforce adopted Paul as one of our own.
Rather than forcing a long, drawn out confrontation with ELCA leaders, Paul resigned as an ELCA bishop to become a full time volunteer-advocate for full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the Christian church worldwide. For these last six years on the Soulforce board, Paul has provided wisdom and nurture as Soulforce advanced and enlarged its mission to “end religion based oppression.”
“We celebrate the fact that Paul lived to see all Lesbian and Gay clergy granted the rights of ordination at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in 2009,” says Chuck Phelan, Chairperson of the Soulforce Board of Trustees, “He spent the last nine years of his life working with Soulforce, Lutherans Concerned and other activist organizations for the full inclusion of Gay and Lesbian people who still suffer discrimination at the hands of most other Christian communities, Protestant and Catholic alike. He will be deeply and sorely missed.”
Bishop Paul ended a keynote address advocating full inclusion for LGBTQ people at an ELCA Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on April 17, 1999, with this prayer: “Almighty and everlasting God, create and make in the Church a new and contrite heart, that lamenting its discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members and clergy, it may receive from the God of all mercy, perfect forgiveness and peace; through Jesus Christ. Amen.
The people of Soulforce extend our sincere condolences to Paul’s wife Shirley, his family and many friends, and join with countless LGBTQ people who would say, “Well done, good and faithful friend. We will miss you greatly.”