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Part of the Solution

For those of you in the Midwest, remember the billboard series (I think the Roman Catholic Church paid for them) that were brief memos from God? You know the , brief inspirational ones. They were cute and a great way to reach the masses as they were stuck in their daily commute.

But how would you like it if you received this one from God:

Dear Lost Soul,

I hate you. I hate everything about you. I made a mistake and made you wrong. You are junk and unworthy of my love. I have a reputation to uphold, and this isn’t working for me, so I shall be distancing myself from you and will taking no responsibility for any of your flaws. I have instructed my son who is in charge of terrestrial relations as well as my staff to do the same. I’m sorry, but it is just standard procedure to sever all ties with defects.

Best of luck making it through life alone,


I think we can all admit that would be a very hard memo to handle. Hyperbole, no doubt and it truly contradicts everything the Gospel proclaims.

But for many GLBTQ teens, this is how they view life. They have been mocked, ridiculed, and rejected from so many facets of life, that it seems that even God hates them with the Church leading the charge. Imagine what a burden that would be–to think that even Christ rejects you.

It happens all the time in church-sanctioned discrimination and homophobia. And I’m not talking about the whackjob extreme fringe that carries signs that say, “God Hates Fags.” I’m talking about mainstream religion that either bangs home the You Were Made Wrong Gospel of Biblical Authority (or as I have blogged about in the past the I’m Right-You’re Wrong. I’m big-You’re Small approach to biblical bullying.)

It either outright rejects the GLBTQ community, proclaiming it immoral and stratifies it as something far worse than any other sin, it places caveats on sexual identity, creating bogus psychological diagnoses on it (aka the faux diagnosis of Same Sex Attraction) that can be,  at best.  cured with enough prayer and reeducation (read: enough guilt, bullying  and self-loathing) or suppressed into the isolation of forced celibacy.

Even this week, a mainstream religious organization made the news for making such proclamations. This weekend Boyd Packer, president of the LDS (ie, mormon) Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (ie, the highest echelon of Mormon leadership) hammered that home this past week at the LDS’ Semi-Annual conference in Salt Lake City, a conference attended by 100,000 in person. It may be easy to say pffft and blow it off as the Mormon’s odd views on marriage. But his message was televised to millions of Mormons around the world, and translated into 92 languages. In his message he states that homosexuality is something that is NOT inborn.

To justify his assertion, he said, “Why would our heavenly father do that to anyone?”

Packer adheres to the party line that one can Pray the Gay Away. He dismisses any other schools of thought as something sinister that is inspired by none other than the devil himself.

What a great message to send a suffering teen: God didn’t make you that way. You made a choice to be a deviant. In fact Satan is the one helping you make that bad choice.

Luckily the Human Rights Campaign was quick to respond. HRC president Joe Solomonese said yesterday:

When a faith leader tells gay people that they are a mistake because God would never have made them that way and they don’t deserve love, it sends a very powerful message that violence and/or discrimination against LGBT people is acceptable. It also emotionally devastates those who are LGBT or may be struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identify. His words were not only inaccurate, they were also dangerous.

But it isn’t just the Mormons that espouse this church-sanctioned bullying. Mainstream Lutherans do it as well.  Unlike the ELCA that has actively decided to cast a wider net of inclusiveness, the Missouri Synod is still very much in the church-sanctioned bullying camp. In fact in 1992, the LCMS drafted a resolution to develop a plan of Ministering to Homosexuals and Their Families  and in it cities their document Human Sexuality,  A Theological Perspective which allows very little room for discussion by proclaiming:

Whatever the causes of such a condition may be, . . . homosexual orientation is profoundly ‘unnatural’ without implying that such a person’s sexual orientation is a matter of conscious, deliberate choice. However, this fact cannot be used by the homosexual as an excuse to justify homosexual behavior. As a sinful human being, the homosexual is accountable to God for homosexual thoughts, words and deeds.” (Human Sexuality, A Theological Perspective, p. 35)

Of course, the Missouri Synod appears to be doing it out of Christian Love. (Here’s the part of the essay where you need to picture me making air quotes and rolling my eyes.) The policy talks about bearing each other’s burdens and hating the sin, not the sinner (more rolling the eyes, by the way.) But it places caveats on forgiveness. It sets forth a list of demands and paves the way for bullying. The plan includes the following:

… 2. to confront the individual with his/her sinfulness, and call him/her to repentance;  3. to help the individual recognize that God can rescue individuals from homosexual orientation and practice; 4. to assure him/her of forgiveness in Christ, contingent upon sincere repentance and faith in Christ, and to assure him/her of the love and acceptance of the church; 5. to assist the individual to rely on Christ’s love and strength to abstain from homophile behavior;…

It’s nothing more than another exercise in I’m Right, You’re Wrong. I’m Big, You’re Small.  But it goes one step further and includes the threat, And if you want God to love you, you have to do what I say.

So let’s go back to what Packer said,  Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?  But let’s turn it back on him. And ask a parallel question.

In this day and age of intolerance and bullying, where laws (eg, Calfornia’s Proposition 8) are specifically written for the sole purpose of taking human rights away, and where churchs continue to bang home the message that God hates you, why would anyone actively chose to be GLBTQ?

I mean, seriously, why would anyone want to seek out harassment, threats of beatings or death, family shunning, rejection from church or a mantra heard over and over again that they were made wrong?

It’s time to really put aside man-made constructs that it’s a “choice” and a sin that one can chose not to pursue. It’s time to close the Bible to cudgel verses uses to marginalize and promote  heteronormative privlege.

How many more deaths either from hate-related violence or suicide need to happen before people realize that practices are Unchristian and Inhumane. How many more GLBTQ teens need to feel that there is no where to turn because everyone–including God–has turned their backs on them? How many need to endure extra hurdles on a path to salvation that the heteronormative culture does not need to jump?  How many times do they need to be “confronted” by leaders telling them that they are Wrong?

We can chose to hide behind Scripture and use it as an excuse to discriminate. But as the old cliche says, when you point a finger, there are three pointing back at you. We can chose to allow bullying to continue and turn a blind eye to the next child that throws himself off a bridge. We can chose to hide behind religion to mask our own fears and insecurities.

Or we can chose to be better than that.

Unlike sexual identity, THOSE are choices each and everyone of can make.

There is meme that is currently circulating around the internet which really does bring home the message of bearing each others burdens:

I am the girl kicked out of her home because I confided in my mother that I am a lesbian.
I am the man who died alone in the hospital because they would not let my partner of twenty-seven years into the room.

I am the person who is afraid of telling his loving Christian parents he loves another male.

I am the prostitute working the streets because nobody will hire a transsexual woman.

I am the sister who holds her gay brother tight through the painful, tear-filled nights.

We are the parents who buried our daughter long before her time.

I am the foster child who wakes up with nightmares of being taken away from the two fathers who are the only loving family I have ever had. I wish they could adopt me.

I am one of the lucky ones, I guess. I survived the attack that left me in a coma for three weeks, and in another year I will probably be able to walk again.

I am not one of the lucky ones. I killed myself just weeks before graduating high school. It was simply too much to bear.

We are the couple who had the realtor hang up on us when she found out we wanted to rent a one-bedroom for two men.

I am the person who never knows which bathroom I should use if I want to avoid getting the management called on me.

I am the mother who is not allowed to even visit the children I bore, nursed, and raised. The court says I am an unfit mother because I now live with another woman.

I am the domestic-violence survivor who found the support system grow suddenly cold and distant when they found out my abusive partner is also a woman.

I am the domestic-violence survivor who has no support system to turn to because I am male.

I am the father who has never hugged his son because I grew up afraid to show affection to other men.

I am the home-economics teacher who always wanted to teach gym until someone told me that only lesbians do that.

I am the man who died when the paramedics stopped treating me as soon as they realized I was transsexual.

I am the person who feels guilty because I think I could be a much better person if I did not have to always deal with society hating me.

I am the man who stopped attending church, not because I don’t believe, but because they closed their doors to my kind.

I am the person who has to hide what this world needs most, love.


Until we realize that THIS is bearing another’s burdens and we practice hospitality and acceptance without pseudoscience, fear-driven dogma and clobber verses, then we are nothing more than the problem

Once again Obie Holmen express what I have been feeling about the Post CWA09 schism in a vastly more eloquent manner than I could ever do. I hve been thinking a lot about his Dusting Your Feet Off post about asserting and standing by the decisions of the ELCA regardless of what other organizations (ie, CORE/NALC, etc may have.)

Like Obie, I don’t think we as a church body have anything to apologize for. Yes, this decision has been a lightning rod for many chosing to exit the ELCA. But let’s face it, for many, this was a good excuse to leave. If it weren’t this issue, it would have been another. I suspect the leadership of CORE/NALC was looking for any excuse to make a public exodus, and that the CWA decisions were a convenient vehicle.

That said, there is nothing to apologize for. The ELCA has chosen to cast a wider net instead of letting a man-made construct to define who is worthy of Christ’s all-loving redemption. It gives a voice to the often disinfranchised and proves that there is no one cookie cutter that produces rostered clergy.

So in the spirit of dusting off my feet after more than a year of local church politics, here is my contribution in the form of an open letter:


Dear Senior Pastor and Associate Pastor,

Now that the Little Church on the Edge of the Prairie and the Edge of the Prairie SAWC near the final steps of the separation process, I would like to thank you for the past year. I know a letter of thanks seems quite odd considering that we will never see eye-to-eye in this matter, but I would, never the less, like to thank you.

Thank you for helping me transform from an Armchair Lutheran to a pro-active member of my congregation. For the first 38 years of my life, I pictured my role in church to be something rather passive. Sunday was a routine with a lot of rote and automated demonstrations of faith. Get up, get the kids to Sunday School, go to worship, go home. Repeat on the next Sunday. Thank you for making me realize that going to Church is not enough. Thank you for making me realize that faith is process that is constantly evolving, that it is something that should never be taken for granted or considered de rigeuer. Thank you for letting me realize that I too can be a servent-leader in the Church and that my witness is something I want to share with others. Thank you for making me realize that being the spiritual head of a family is part of that journey of faith and that the actions I make regarding faith have a lasting, and hopefully positive, impact on my daughters. Thank you for helping me realize that God is still speaks to us but that I just needed to listen a little harder.

Thank you for encouraging me to read my Bible more. I’ll be the first to admit that I have read more scripture–and not just the over-sited cudgel verses, actual scripture–more in the past year than any time in my life. Thank you for making me realize that the Bible is an invitation to faith and not a weapon of faith. Thank you for helping me realize that when one asserts Biblical Authority it is more about asserting power over God than God asserting power over humanity. This has been a difficult concept for me to grasp and it has really helped shed a lot of the guilt that I brought from my Missouri Synod upbringing.

Thank you for bringing me closer to others in my congregation. It was the first time during my membership at your church where I have truly felt welcomed, that I was among kindred spirits. Thank you for making me become more publically confortable in my faith that I want to share it with my friends.

Thank you for illustrating that an open dialog and relationship with Christ will always be more important than material possessions, deeds to builidings or a popularity contest. Thank you for helping me realize that one does not need an overflowing offering plate to have a church that flourishes and is alive in the Spirit. Thank you for showing me that a church does not need to have four walls and a roof to be nurturing. Thank you for helping me understand that walking away with empty hands doesn’t really matter as long as your heart is full.

Thank you for bringing me closer to God. And I mean this with the utmost sincerity and gratitude.  There had been times in my life when I was very disillusioned with organized religion. A younger version of me would have given up and turned my back on it all, but now that I am approaching forty, I find myself in the closest relationship I have ever had with Christ. Sure, I have days when I question my faith. I think that is only human and am conforted that others struggle with this as well, but in the past year there is no doubt that my faith has strengthened in ways I have never imagined.

And it is because of this gratitude that our paths must divide. While I am thankful that your actions –though I will never agree with them–have brought me closer to Christ, I realize that I will not be following you in the direction you have guided Little Church on the Edge of the Prairie.  While I know that you are “seriously concerned about [my]faith” please be assured that my faith has never been stronger. I stand by the ELCA’s 2009 CWA statement on human sexuality and have made the very conscious realization that I am in the right place spiritually to pass on my faith to my daughters. I was baptised, confirmed and married as a Lutheran, and it is as an ELCA Lutheran where I will continue my journey with Christ.

Kindest regards,


They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
—Pr. Martin Niemoller, (1892-1984)
German Anti-Nazi Theologian and Lutheran Pastor

It has been eighteen years since I traveled Europe as one of countless college students with a backpack strapped to my back. And like any other twenty-one-year-old in Germany, I visited  the Dachau concentration camp. I got up early with my roommate, got on a bus and saw what humanity could do if left to its hateful devices. It was raining, if I recall correctly, rather fitting for place. Didn’t bother with a guided tour. This was a journey I wanted to experience alone with my thoughts and my ugly brown umbrella. I walked past the site where barracks once lined the road. There are only cement blocks and trees there today as reminders.   I felt sick to my stomach as I walked through the crematorium, horrified that people were burned like stacks of firewood.

I spent a lot of time at the international memorial with its tangled iron, forged together to look like barb wire. It was only after I took a closer look did I realize that the barb wire was made from human forms. And then there was the simple phrase: Never Again written in Hebrew, French, English, German and Russian. The war was flaring in the Baltics at that time, and I prayed that we had learned from our mistakes and would not  repeat history.

I prayed for peace and tolerance.

And yet we don’t seem to learn from our mistakes. We’re still a world of intolerance, often in the  name of self-proclaimed political or religious superiority. Ethnic Muslims were still slaughtered in the Baltics in the 1990’s.  I can’t count how many were slaughtered in the genocide in Rwanda. What Stalin did to his own people, or Hitler to the Jews, Roma, and others is not a new concept. Purge those who are different while wrapping yourself in the flag and proudly smiling.

When one person hates, they can be signaled out as a bully. When that person hates with an audience they can go from shunned whack-job or hate-monger to a hero in a matter of moments. Remember how crazy that woman sounded during the 2008 when, while attending a John McCain town hall meeting, declared that Barack Obama was an Arab? (And by saying “Arab,” that as a buzzword to mean Muslim, which leads to the ridiculous syllogisms that equate all Muslims to terrorists.)   Sounded pretty insane right? Well don’t underestimate the power of the mob mentality. Nearly one in five adult Americans now believes that Obama is a Muslim. (And I am going on record saying, even if he was, WHO CARES? There is not a constitutional ban on non-christians holding public office in the United States. God help us that it remains that way!) Again it’s fear mongering. But apparently if you through enough of anything against the wall, it will stick.

And it’s not just fringe whackjobs that are trying to perpetuate fear. It’s very savvy individuals that know how to manipulate the mainstream media.  When Keith Ellison, Democratic Congressman from Minnesota was elected, Glenn Beck fanned the fire of fear by saying something quite obnoxious, “And I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, “Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies. And I know you’re not. I’m not accusing you of being an enemy, but that’s the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.”

Translation: Others may not feel like I do, but I’m going to do my best to plant that seed of fear so that they they think like I do.

And then there is Beck asserting everyone’s First Amendment rights to religion, free speech and the right to assemble, but at the same time tries to propagate that any Islamic Center at the Park 51 site near–not at— Ground Zero in New York will hasten Sharia Law and the destruction of America as we know it. It’s just a nudge and a wink, but that seed is planted yet again:

Everybody is talking about Ground Zero and the mosque. Should it be there? Should it not be there? I believe, as a nation, we’re pretty clear: You can build any house of worship wherever you want to build.

But, shouldn’t we be asking a more important question? Who are the people behind this? Where are they getting the funding? What do they really believe?

According to our next guest (Frank Gaffney, the same anti-Islamic president of a lobbyist group that advocated that the US military take out the Al Jazeera news network–ed.), the imam behind the Ground Zero mosque, Imam Rauf, makes no bones about his goal to build a mosque near sacred ground and to bring Shariah to America.

But their definition of Sharia Law carries omnious overtones. Gaffney states: “Shariah is a political program that the authorities of Islam have long believed, a millennium or so, must be imposed over the entire world, to be ruled by a theocracy, a caliph and to impose Shariah as the rules.”

In other words, hide your babies and beadwork! The Evil Muslims are coming for your country!

Yet the opposition to mosques and the basic constitutional right to assemble is not something unique to the Park 51 location where the excuse of Hallowed Ground gets tossed around more frequently than a football. It’s happening all over the country, but it doesn’t get as much media play (or thankfully, the public media magnets such as Palin and Beck haven’t heard about them yet.) And I’m ashamed to say, it is happening in my own state. Time recently ran an article about Islamophobia. When a local physician, Dr. Mansoor Mirza, wanted to start a mosque in the tiny town of Oosburg, Wisconsin so that he and others could have a house of worship, he was met with nothing short of xenophobia and hostility:

But when the floor is opened to discussion, you hear things they would never say to you even in the privacy of an examination room. One after another, they pour scorn and hostility on your proposal, and most of the objections have nothing to do with zoning regulations. It’s about your faith. Islam is a religion of hate, they say. Muslims are out to wipe out Christianity. There are 20 jihadi training camps hidden across rural America, busy even now producing the next wave of terrorists. Muslims murder their children. Christian kids have enough problems with drugs, alcohol and pornography and should not have to worry about Islam too. “I don’t want it in my backyard,” says one. Another says, “I just think it’s not America.”

Not American. As in, We Don’t Want YOUR Kind Here. By the way, Dr. Mirza was even asked if there would be any weapons or military training at the proposed mosque. And the local clergy aren’t immune to fanning the fire. In fact, the local clergy started an effort to ban the mosque before it could even be built!  Rev. Wayne DeVrou, pastor of the First Reformed Church of Ootburg told Time, “The political objective of Islam is to dominate the world with its teachings … and to have domination of all other religions militarily,”

Someone once told me, it is very hard to publicly disagree with your doctor or pastor. When the local clergy gang up to perpetuate stereotypes and fear, is it any surprise that Islamophobia is gaining momentum on a national level?

This mindset terrifies me. And I don’t just mean it gives me a big case of the willies. I worry we are on a slippery slope, and if we don’t do something to nip this fear mongering and hatred in the bud, the atrocities of the 1940’s Germany will come back to haunt us.  The anti-Semitic pogroms of the 1930’s were fueled by hatred and fear on the local level. And look what that got us? Euphemisms such as The Final Solution to the Jewish Problem. The pogroms started with propaganda. It didn’t just magicly appear at the beginning of World War II.  It appeared long before that. And some of the words from the  1934 Deutscher National-Katechismus (German National Catechism) echo nearly word for word what we are hearing about Muslims in America today:

The goal of the Jew is to make himself the ruler of humanity. Wherever he comes, he destroys works of culture. He is not a creative spirit, rather a destructive spirit.

Sounds a lot like what the anti-Muslim pundits are screaming every day if you ask me. But it doesn’t stop there, the Nazi’s were very good at coming up with counterarguments like, “Religion is a private matter” or “There are decent Jews” or even, “Everything in the human race is equal.”  Again, these are arguments rightfully used today when the sane try to counter these ridiculous and hateful assertions. Kurt Hillmar Eitzen’s Zehn Knüppel wider die Judenknechte outlined the propaganda with its own rules of logic (unfortunately it was the type of logic that insane trolls speak) to dehumanize the Jews.

Funny how we forget how propaganda successfully manipulates the waiting mob. It can whip the mob into a frenzy and spark unspeakable violence. All it needs is a nudge in the right direction. September 11 means quite a lot to many. It is a day to mourn those who passed in the terrorist attacks. It’s a day to support the survivors, both from the actual sites and every one of us world-wide who watched the terror unfold. Shortly after the event, the United States Congress  darated a bill to memorialize September 11, but President George W. Bush reinvented Patriot Day to reclaim the day from those who wanted to main and destroy us, rebranding it as a day of Nationalism and pride. It’s now a public holiday along side Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. Not sure if mail service is supsended that day.

Coincidentally, September 11, 2010 also marks the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year marked by, among others,  fasting, prayer and reflection.

I, like others worry,  how these two entities will collide. And I’m not talking about attacks on America or others. I’m talking about how the mob will react to to Muslims.

There is already hype for an International Burn a Quran Day on September 11. And this “celebration” (Picture me making very sarcastic air quotes.) is the brainchild of a so-called Christian preacher Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainsville, Florida. It has a Facebook page that features photoshopped pictures of Iran and Mecca being destroyed by bombs.

What’s not to stop people from going one step further? All it takes is a small nidus for an infection to take hold. For Islamaphobes, September 11 is a rallying point. There is no question about it. Some will be clutching a cross and wrapping themselves in an American flag as the burn the Quran. What’s to stop anonymous cowards who already burned construction equipment at a building site for a future mosque in Tennessee from escalating the violence on a larger, more destructive scale?

After all, it’s not the first time in humanity’s long history that houses of worship have been burned to the ground in the name of extreme nationalism. It happened quickly, and countryBerlin Synogogue after Kristallnacht-wide on the night of November 9, 1938 in Germany. That night at least 91 Jews died, 25,000-30,000 more were arrested, 267 synogogues were destroyed in fires and thousands of Jewish homes and businesses were ransacked and destroyed. Some say it was this event that took Germany from petty pogroms to a full-blown steamroller of the Shoah that extinguished the lives of millions all in the name of nationalism and extreme religious/cultural intolerance.

Are we creating the perfect storm for the Islamic version of an American Kristallnacht either through active hatred and violence, or worse yet our own apathy? How much graffiti is enough? How many acts of arson will occur before “decent” Americans finally say No More, Never Again? When do we realize that we aren’t the puppets of dressed up pundits and finally put our foot down?

When will we learn from our own mistakes. Neimoller’s words still ring true today. I just hope people are still willing to listen to him.

“Those who begin by burning books will end by burning people.”
—Heinrich Heine, German Jewish Poet

For more about this, I highly recommend Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s article Qur’an Burning: The 5 Steps that Brought Us to this Point and Why Religious Communities Must Resist.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It was one of the first bits of legalese that was ever crammed into my brain during some civics class in junior high. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is something people love to hold dearly, defend loudly (especially when they’ve recently been caught red-handed after saying or doing something in an incredibly and often publicly heinous manner.)  It is a right guaranteed by law that no one can take away.

But so many political factions want to claim the high ground when it comes the First Amendment, that for whatever reason they are more American than others, more “patriotic” than others and their rights matter more than others.

The First Amendment did not have a majority rule clause to it where one groups needs and rights supersede the rights of those, well, who are carbon copy white Christian duplicates of them.

Enter the New York Ground Zero debate. We don’t need to rehash September 11, 2001. Unless you have been living under a very large rock, I think most of the world knows what happens. It was my morning off. I got a phone call from one of my best friends telling me to turn on the TV.  I mowed the lawn later that day, and yes, did notice that the sky was completely devoid of jet vapor trails. It’s why I had a full blown panic attack five weeks later when I was trying to get on a plane. It’s why the US is currently at war.

And now an Imam wants to build an Islamic Center a few blocks away from Ground Zero and we have quite the uproar. Those groups who hold the First Amendment close to the proverbial breast are up in arms complete with some very hyperbolic arguments.

Of course there’s the famous word salad Twitter post from Sarah Palin, Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate. (Original post has been deleted because someone discovered that refudiate is not a verb apparently.)  Actually, if you read Palin’s Twitter account it is filled with a lot of hyperbole when it comes to the planned Islamic Center.

But the criticism isn’t something merely coming from the political right. Sen. Harry Reid has jumped on the bandwagon of the First Amendment applies to everyone, except when we don’t want it to apply to everyone. His spokesman Jim Manley has said, The First Amendment protects freedom of religion. Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.

Funny how those making the biggest stink about this are pandering for your vote in November.

The arguments seem to be a variation on a theme: it’s insensitive, it’s a slap in the face to the victims and survivors, it’s an insult to America, blah blah blah. But people realize that it wasn’t just Christians that perished in this catastrophe. Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and atheists all died that day.

Take a look at the neighborhood around the World Trade Center site and St. Paul Chapel is a block away. A few blocks south is near World Trade Center 4 is St. Paul’s sister church Trinity Wall Street. Do the 1 million New York Muslims feel threatened by these Episcopal worship centers? Or what about St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church which is literally kitty corner to Ground Zero?

Why can’t there be a mosque or Islamic community center in that area? Every Muslim is not a follower of Osama bin Laden nor do they all agree with his policies of fear and violence.  England did not ban Roman Catholic churches near the numerous sites that the Irish Republican Army has bombed in London.  And I don’t think there has a ban on worship centers in the wake of the subway bombings.

Like him or hate him, even President Obama has weighed in. And it surprises me (actually, no it doesn’t surprise me. People’s unabashed hatred and intolerance has ceased to surprise me. Disappoint me, yes.  But surprise me? Unfortunately, not any more.) that people are willing to ignore that First Amendment that they cherish so dearly and bash him for defending it. For the record, the president didn’t say anything scandalous. He said the following:

As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.

But opponents say it is insensitive or offensive to be that close to hallowed ground. But what is too close? Two blocks? Ten? A half of a mile? The other side of Central Park? Brooklyn? There are 1 million Muslims in New York City. Are they all a slap in the face to the Offended? Where are they allowed to peacefully worship in pray? In hiding as second class citizens? In a prapproved Muslim ghetto?

It’s a pity humanity doesn’t learn from the past. Not to be completely hyperbolic, but when politicians start seeking out religious groups different from their own for scapegoating, persecution and discrimination, it leads to such blights on humanity that go by such dubious euphemisms as The Final Solution.

There are no caveats to Freedom of Religion. We are not a theocracy where one faction gets to decide where and how we worship. We are not a theocracy. There is no state-sanctioned religion that dictates these rules.

If people want get frothed up with moral indignation then why don’t they crack down on the drug dealing or gang activity in neighborhoods around Ground Zero. Why don’t they advocate for women who are victims of domestic violence or help the children who are abused or neglected in the surrounding neighborhoods. Crack down on sex crimes and human trafficking in the neighborhood.

But don’t crack down on people’s rights to faith however they may chose to worship. It creates a slippery slope where those in power can limit how any of us gather to worship. Do you want to be on the receiving end of such an edict?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Photo: the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.  Haven’t been there but the Mom and Dad have. According to them, it is as beautiful as it looks in print. The other one is a bumper sticker.

…or keep it up, you’re proving what I don’t like about organized religion.

I’ve been planning to do make a post about this all week, but alas, packing for vacation and tying up loose ends at work has pushed this post back a few days. As usual, some spectacular bloggers Obie and Brant have already weighed in on it.  I don’t want to rehash their wonderful thinky thoughts, but I would like to expand on the concepts of the proverbial big tent and–on the flipside– the intolerance of exclusivity.

Like many early Christians, Martin Luther took the concept of priesthood of all believers and ran with it. And this is one of the concepts that keeps me a Lutheran despite my skepticism of man-made constructs that annoy me in organized religion. Luther didn’t coin the phrase, but he definitely embraced it:

That the pope or bishop anoints, makes tonsures, ordains, consecrates, or dresses differently from the laity, may make a hypocrite or an idolatrous oil-painted icon, but it in no way makes a Christian or spiritual human being. In fact, we are all consecrated priests through Baptism, as St. Peter in 1 Peter 2[:9] says, “You are a royal priesthood and a priestly kingdom,” and Revelation [5:10], “Through your blood you have made us into priests and kings.” (An den christlichen Adel deutscher Nation.)

The passage reminds me of an illustration from my grandmother’s children’s bible where all of the believers surrounded Christ in white robes and crowns.  It’s an image that has stuck with me for nearly forty years–we aren’t born into nobility. It is through our service to Christ that we become royalty.  It isn’t something bestowed by a priest, bishop or church body. It something offered freely to all through Grace. Believe and it shall be yours.

Yet there is still that pesky man-made judgment that tries to narrow down that royal court. You know, the sanctimonious WE that has declared themselves worthy, and the rest of us lowlife apostates are lucky if we get the paper cups and folding chair version of Heaven.

It’s just another form of bullying to push the agenda of I’m right, you’re wrong. I’m big, you’re small. If you think it has anything remotely to do with Christ, then I want no part of your “Christian” agenda.

We all know there are now volumes of criticism of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for its decisions to become a Church that welcomes an uncloseted and noncelibate GLBTQ community at all levels including ordination and rostering. And there is no doubt that there is now v. 2.bazillion of finger pointing, name calling and judging that is circulating after the recent ELCA Rite of Reception when it welcomed seven openly GLBTQ ministers into the roster of the ELCA where they had been banned prior to the 2009 CWA decision on sexuality.

No surprise CORE pounced on it. And the Missouri Synod blogosphere is up in arms. Obie linked to the Brothers of John the Steadfast, one of the ultraconservative blogs of the Missouri Synod. I don’t know why I clicked on it. Maybe my blood pressure wasn’t high enough for the day. I knew the blog itself would bash and/or mock the ELCA press release. But what shocked me was the tone in the comments that were nothing short of hate-filled, homophobic and downright elitist complete the I’m right, you’re wrong. I’m big, you’re small attitude.

And many of these hate-filled comments are coming from pastors and leaders:

Yes, I do point out the homophobia. One poster goes as far to mock Rev. Megan Roher, a transgendered Lutheran pastor:

/scratches head


/more head scratching

I need a “plumbing” diagram I think. On second thought… not a good idea.

Then there are the accusations that we ELCA Lutherans aren’t Christian enough, aren’t Christians at all, and are definitely not Lutheran. I’m sorry, but I not have time such juvenile name calling such as ELC-Gay, unrepentant heretical ELCA,

And then there is this gem of a comment,because hide your babies and beadwork. The ELCA defectors, conservative as they may be are NOT conservative enough to meet LCMS muster:

apostate is as apostate does. ELCA is no longer Christian, period, let alone Lutheran. So if one leaves the ELCA do they come over to the LCMS which is fast becoming an american evangelical church?

Careful kids, the ELCA defectors may destroy the moral fabric of the Missouri Synod of they should join:

What really concerns me in all of this, apart from the ELCA continuing its drift away from any notion of what it is to be ‘Lutheran,’ is the possibility of those fed up leaving for the LCMS, or other more confessional Lutheran church body.

The reason this concerns me is how many of these people have been members since the ELCA ordained female clergy and not had a problem with it…. or at least not enough of a problem to do anything about it. These ‘conservatives’ leaving the ELCA could become the new ‘liberals’ in the LCMS.

And then, if that is not enough to push my buttons, the giant brush of Better than You, the critics toss Valparaiso University into the list of apostates for 1) open communion for all who gather at the Chapel of the Resurrection 2) Allowing not only an ELCA minister to serve beside the other two LCMS ministers as University Pastors but allowing that pastor to be a woman! (quick, faint of heart, clutch those pearls in horror!) and 3) Allowing that ELCA minister to have a ministry reach specifically to the campus’ GLBTQ community:

My question is: Why is LCMS teaming with ELCA pastors who ” extended hospitality and care to many in the university community, including international students, women and Alliance, a community of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students” ? (according to LCMS Pastor Cunningham) Where is the LCMS care/warning to parents who send their children to such Lutheran Campus Ministries? Better a millstone…..

That’s right, folks. Don’t let those evil liberal quasi-Lutherans in Indiana corrupt your children! For the record, as a proud alumna of Valparaiso and its honors college Christ College, I really take offense at such histrionics. Sure, you might want to warn your kids if you don’t want their eyes opened to a broader exposure than what the MS wants you to see. Then by all means, warn them. Hide them and protect them from inclusive practices.

And then it gets better. There IS a pastor that warns his congregation about Valpo. It’s an evil place that lets gays attend its classes side by side with hetersexuals!! Better yet, he condemns it because it is more than a preacher/teacher college (read: it teaches evils like science and such heretical concepts such as evolution, round-earth geography, and women’s studies!)

Valpo ceased being Lutheran many years ago in every way except in its name. With the ever increasing number of non church worker related course being offered at our own Universities, I have the same concern about them. They give out more and better scholarships to those not in the church worker programs. I know because two of my chidlren attended one of the Concordias. I warn children as much as a pastor is able. Please note that many of the things that effect Valpo also effect our Concordias! I know of at least four where there is open communion practices in the campus chapel and such things. I am confident that our campuses also have their share of homosexuals attending classes. Whether they are open or not I would not know. I know that our seminaries while they do a great job, must not convince some people because I had the unfortunate obligation as a circuit counselor to preach in a congregation whose pastor admitted he was a homosexual and had been since early in his college days. This is not a condemnation of what the seminaries are doing but I am simply pointing out a fact of how well they are able to disguise themselves as being non homosexuals.

That’s great. Fear and guilt disguised as college counseling! For the record, I entered Valpo as a Missouri Synod Lutheran like half of the population that attends VU. I was one of those heretics that majored in two sciences: biology and chemistry. While Valpo has its fair share of pre-seminary and deaconess students, I’ll admit it’s not a preacher mill. It never will be a preacher/teacher institution like the Concordias. But area where it proudly succeeds is being a top notch, nationally recognized university that, year after year, promotes tolerance and acceptance while at the same time fostering future leaders in science, business, medicine, academics and religion that never forget the Christian-based education that they received.

This type of intolerance is exactly why I left the Missouri Synod and never looked back. Want to know why I was so disillusioned with organized religion for a decade and didn’t claim any affiliation? Read those hate-filled comments and you will have an answer. Fear, guilt and judgment of those who dare to question the heteronormative, patriarchal power structure of the Missouri Synod that promotes an We are better than you mentality.

Ann Rice, an author that irritates me on most days, really echoes many of my thoughts when it comes to this type of judgmental Christianity. As you all know, she very publicly turned her back on organized religion, finally fed up with the intolerance once and for all:

Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten …years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

I think she’s telling the intolerant factions, “Quit it, you’re making our side look horrible.” And it’s true, Christianity as whole carries the reputation of its most repugnant. Those who scream loudest tend to get the most attention. And like many bloggers, I agree that her comments are a bookend to that famous quote by Ghandi:

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

A few weeks ago, a more conservative poster over at Obie’s blog brought up the Parable of the Sheep and Goats, and using the predictable anvil, tried to use it as a cudgel to beat us over the head that the unworthy goats will be cast into damnation. Nothing like adding some de rigueur brimstone intimidation to beat home the I’m right, you’re wrong mentality.

Since I’m feeling a little lazy and need to not only pack but can several quarts of pickles before the sun comes up tomorrow, I’ll just quote my response that I posted there:

Unfortunatetly the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats is often used as a cudgel to silence dissenting voices. It is used as a fire and brimstone cautionary tale about the “proper way” to live, act lest you be damned for all times. In other words, it is too frequently used as a weapon to assert, I’m right, you’re wrong. I’m big, you’re small. And quite frankly I don’t like how it is used as an eschatology hammer to push an agenda or maintain the status quo.

Now don’t get me wrong. I really like the parable. It’s an edict to provide shelter and comfort to our fellow man where there is none. It is a reminder that if we ignore one, we ignore God, because he is reflected in each of our faces. And it does’t codify any one person into more godly than the next. The charge is to accept and comfort each other. Sounds a lot like love each other as I have loved you.

Ann brings up a great companion to the parable: Galatians 3:28. We are all one in Christ. And it is because of these premises that I left the LCMS in college. How can a church body refuse to raise up half of its population because of the man-made construct of patriarchal bureaucracy? And on the flipside, it is why I stand proudly as a supporter of the ELCA’s 2009 CWA decisions. We are all one in Christ regardless of age, gender, nationality, socioeconomic status or sexual identity or orientation.

Too often people forget that humanity does not decide who sheep and goats are, but those hammering the parable like a mallet tend to think they get to make that decision.

Yes, I like that parable, and I am going to go one step further and point out that shepherds find worth in both the sheep and the goats. A sheep provides wool that clothes him, it can provide meat that feeds him. But a goat has an equal worth as well. Its milk will nourish the shepherd and family and its meal will feed them as well. And while the parable was meant to point out that how we treat each other reflects how we treat God, I think we need to remember that a good shepherd would not kill or cast out his goats. He has other uses for them yet still appreciates their worth.

Declaring one’s self a better or more worthy Christian is what makes me hate organized religion. Creating a Frozen Chosen that claims moral superiority, or worse yet Biblical Authority (see previous rant) over others is nothing more than something humanity created to make one group feel better and superior to others. It’s a weapon to oppress, intimidate and wound. This is how we end up with the blonde-haired, blue eyed Christ, which in my opinion, represents centuries of creating Jesus to be something we want him to be(ie, like Us)  instead of what he truly was (the fear that he was like Them.)

Let’s go back to Galatians. There is neither slave nor free. There is neither Greek nor Jew. There is no male nor female. We are all one in Christ. We are taught early in our Sunday School years that humanity was made in God’s likeness. So if you take that concept to heart, then God is not only our Father, he is our Mother. God is straight and God is gay. God is male, and God is female. God is black, God is white, and God is every color in between. That sense of belonging is what brings me closer to God. Strip away the high church of Old School Lutheranism. Get rid of the patriarchal hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. Toss out the snake handling and tongue speaking of the Deep South and we are all on the same path: searching for Christ, trying to see our selves in Him and reaching for his Grace that comes without the caveats and speed bumps that humanity has put it the way of those goals.

Sharing the Love

A couple of bloggers have pointed out that the ELCA leadership has had its share of bellyaching and complaining about the 2009 CWA statement’s on sexuality and the rostering of partnered GLBT clergy. I’m guilty of this. It’s really easy to vent one’s spleen when things don’t go your way and it is far to easy to say nothing when you agree.

So Justin over at DarthJedi and Brant over at Both a Saint and a Cynic want to change things. For those of us who have fully supported these bold decisions, we have decided to share the love.

And for $0.44 you can do the same thing. Let’s face it, there has been a good quantity of gnashing teeth and rending of garments over these decisions to last a lifetime. But how have we expressed our happiness in these measures? So Justin and Brant have proposed a letter writing/blogging campaign.

Let’s get back to that $0.44 stamp. It doesn’t take much to zip a letter to the ELCA leadership and give share our opinions as well. Because, seriously, how many Your Going to Hell letters or outright death threats (yes, there have been a few) do they need?  Isn’t it time to temper those nastigrams with a little gratitude?

Pr. Brant suggested three targets for a letter writing campaign: you synod bishop, ELCA Vice President Carlos Peña (FYI, Brant if your screen has an Omega, that’s where you find the symbols for the squiggly) as well as Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson. But he didn’t just suggest sending them a letter. Go on the record and post your copies of your letter on your blog.

I’ll admit, I didn’t send my Synod Bishop a letter. But then again, I’m working with him and the Assistant to the Bishop on a pretty regular basis as we get our SAWC up and running. He knows where I stand on this.

So let me share my thanks to the ELCA Leadership. First is my letter to PB Hanson.

Bishop Mark Hanson
Office of the Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
8765 West Higgins Road
Chicago, Illinois  60631

Dear Presiding Bishop Hanson,
I am writing to thank you for your hard work and dedication during this difficult time in our Church’s history. There is no doubt that the 2009 Churchwide Assembly’s decisions regarding human sexuality and the rostering of same-sex partnered clergy has been challenging and far-reaching.

Though I am a member of a congregation that has been split in two by this decision, this step forward to guarantee that all are welcomed at God’s table has definitely affirmed that I am where I need to be.

Needless to say, it is also an exciting time as a significant number of us refuse to let this destroy the ELCA’s presence in [Edge of the Prairie Town.]  We have already started the process of reorganizing as a Synodically Authorized Worship Center as the first site in once again  becoming an independent ELCA congregation. I cannot thank Bishop Jim Arends and his assistant Pastor Libby Howe enough as they have been such an invaluable source of not only pastoral care but also assistance as we move forward and rebulid.

I will am also grateful to [Local Communion Partner Congregation] who has opened its doors to us, not only providing a safe harbor during a time of heated debate but also also worship space to maintain our ELCA identity and the possiblity of a mutually beneficial partnership that could forge bonds  between the two communities for years to come.

I fully support the ELCA’s inclusive policies and commend the Assembly’s bold actions. I firmly believe that we have made the right decision, and I have never been prouder to be raising my daughters to be strong members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

I apologize that this letter is long overdue and can never truly express my deep gratitude toward our Church and its unwavering stand to welcome all regardless of age, gender, nationality, socioeconomic class or sexual identity.

My prayers continue for you and the Churchwide leadership as we move foward in this exciting and promising chapter of the ELCA’s history.

In Christ,


And my letter to Vice President Peña:

Carlos E. Peña
Vice President
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
8765 West Higgins Road
Chicago, Illinois  60631

Dear Mr. Peña,

I am writing to thank you for your hard work and dedication during this trying time in our Chuch’s history. There is no doubt the 2009 Churchwide Assembly’s decisions regarding human sexuality and the rostering of partnerned GLBT clergy has been challenging and far-reaching. Though I am a member of a congregation that has been split in two over regarding these policies, this step forward to guarantee that all are welcomed at God’s table has definitely affirmed that I am where I need to be.

I fully support the ELCA’s inclusive policies and commend the Assembly’s bold decisions. I firmly believe that we have made the right decision, and I have never been prouder to be raising my daughters to be strong members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

I apologize that htis letter is long overdue and can never express my deep gratitude toward the Church and its unwavering stand to welcome all regardless of age, gender, nationality, socioeconomic status or sexual identity.

Please know that you and the ELCA leadership remain in my prayers as we move foward in this exciting and promising chapter of the ELCA’s history.

In Christ,


When a Theologian Enters the Fray

I’ve noticed that a lot of Lutheran bloggers have commented and linked to Jon Pahl’s (Professor of History of Christiantity, Luther Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and Fellow in the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University) article in the Journal of Lutheran Ethics where he weighs in on what he views as the bottom line of the CORE/NALC movement.

Granted, I had to look terms like Docetism, Donatism, and Pelagianism (what can I say, I was a biology and chemistry major, not a theologian by training) to see what they meant.  And I don’t intend to rehash this journal article as there are great blog posts already already analyzing it.

But there are a few things that really stood out in the article:

Lutheran CORE represents, in its demographic and historical contours, a largely white, heterosexual, male backlash against the supposedly evil changes in gender roles, sexual mores, and participatory democracy that marked the 1960s. At the same time, the leaders of the movement also ironically embrace many of the least savory aspects of the sixties rhetoric of adolescent resentment and entitlement. Most fundamentally, the leaders of Lutheran CORE have come to the brink of dividing the church in an attempt to hold onto (or to carve out) some power.

If you look at American Lutherans as a whole–ELCA, Missouri Synod, WELS, LCMC, CORE, etc, the status quo for leadership and rostered clergy is the heterosexual white male. You can’t argue that. There is a paucity of clergy of color, and women still make up the minority in denominations that ordain and roster them. That isn’t a political statement. That’s pure statistics. I hardly think Professor Pahl is labeling CORE/NALC a group of racists, homophobes or misogynists with this statement. But he is breaking down their mulitutudes of criticism toward the ELCA and their driving force to a simple concept: CORE/NALC does not want to yield leadership or Scriptural Authority. It strives to maintain the status quo of white male heteronormative privilege.

And I think I have to agree with Professor Pahl.

On the surface wants to sound like something else, stating that they acknowledge the ordination of women, but there is this one statement that stands out in their article regarding the formation of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC):

The NALC and Lutheran CORE will recognize both women and men in the office of ordained clergy, while acknowledging the diversity of opinion that exists within the Christian community on this subject.

Just wait a second. Is that a caveat that paves wiggle room to reject the role of ordained women. Would you mind elaborating on the part that says “…while acknowledging the diversity of opinion that exists within the Christian community on the subject.”

It that an acknowledging the diversity opinion as in we acknowledge that the Missouri Synod does not ordain women, but we aren’t going to rock their boat? Or is it something a little more malignant? Is that an acknowledging the divirsity of opinion to reject the ordination of women on a parish or synod level?  Is it acknowledging the differences outside of NALC, or is this an nod to differences inside NALC?  Is it nothing more than a token gesture where the unspoken intention is to maintain that status quo of heteronormative, white male control of power? Is it rights with a bunch of fine-print caveats? Does that mean ordained women will merely be grandfathered into the NALC clergy, or does this statement pave the way for a future moratorium on their ordination?

Because if it is the latter, I don’t ever want to be caught on any part of that incredibly slippery slope! That once sentence generates a lot more questions than affirm concrete facts. Now while I’ll probably never join the LCMC, at least this church body has made a true committement to lifting women up to be on equal footing in all aspects of church life.

So let’s go back to Professor Pahl. For every blog on the internet that has supported his essay, there are probably just as many on the other side that are tearing it apart. The Anti-ELCA blog Shellfish is one of those that vivisected Pahl’s jounral article.  As Professor Pahl himself is a blogger, he took the opportunity to answer the criticism directly:

Thanks for picking up on my piece, and for identifying me with Lazareth and the venerable institution I’m delighted to represent. I wrote the essay in Laz’s spirit, as I’ve been researching his earlier writing. I did check my facts, however, and since I quote Benne repeatedly, and he surely represents Lutheran CORE, I stand by the associations. Even more–I’d welcome engagement with my reasoning, which is pretty clear, closely reasoned, and hardly a screed: Lutheran CORE (and fellow travelers) do not represent orthodox Lutheranism but a Lutheranism accommodated to the American civil religion and its millennialism, individualism, moralism, and innocent domination. The movement is led (largely) by white males (and their consorts) frightened of losing privilege, with more than passing elements of the heresies of Donatism, Docetism, and Pelagianism. That’s the argument in a nutshell, with ample evidence to back it up. 

 It didn’t take long for the highlighted segment to be pounced upon with outrage (*waves to Tony*.) Sexism, misogyny, pot calling the kettle something to the right of dark grey.

But I can say with confidence that Jon Pahl is not a misogynist. During his time as a Christ College and theology professor at Valparaiso University he was one of the most vocal faculty that protested the ban (which have since been lifted) on women leading worship or preaching in the Chapel of the Resurrection.

So take all the ad hominem attacks from both sides apart, and let’s look at his choice of words: consort.

  Consort: (noun)
1. a husband or wife; spouse, esp. of a reigning monarch. Compare prince consort, queen consort.
2. a companion, associate, or partner: a confidant and consort of heads of state.

I’ll give you that it is a little inflammatory, but after reading the blog that criticizes Pahl, I can’t help but think it is a reflection of how Jon Pahl perceives how CORE/NALC views its own women.  Again, can’t speak for him, but in my opinion, the word choice feels deliberate.

A consort may be a Queen Consort or a Prince Consort in a monarchy. They may get to wear the robes and coronets during official business such as the opening of parliament, but have you ever noticed they always walk three steps behind? To use the British monarchy as an example. Elizabeth is Queen yet her husband is the consort. He holds no power. He doesn’t open parliament. He sits next to her.  To use a more patriarchal model, Elizabeth’s son Charles will eventually become king. When he does, he will be King Charles and his wife Camilla will be the Queen Consort. Yes, they will call her Queen Camilla, but a queen consort has no position of authority. She will not ascend to the throne if she outlives her husband.

To use a church based model, let’s look at the pastor’s spouse. A pastor can lead a worship service, can provide care during times of emergency and mortality, can baptise children and marry couples, and can preach from the pulpit. His wife is usually held in high regard. But her is very limited.  She can’t assume his responsiblities if he is taken ill or dies. The call isn’t passed to her in those cases (unless she is a rostered clergy.)

A consort, at first glance, may appear to be on equal footing as those in power. But scratch the surface and they still walking the proverbial three steps behind.

And if you read the blog where Pahl responds, the tone in the blogger reveals this tone in his comments regarding the Journal of Lutheran Ethics editor Pastor Kaari Reierson (bold emphasis once again mine):

JLE started in 2001 and editrix ELCA pastor Kaari Reierson has presided over a lively exchange on all sorts of matters over the years.

Edirix. That’s not a typographical error. Editrix as in Editress: a female editor. It has that old world charm of my Missouri Synod congregation growing up where the director of the women’s altar guild was titled the directress.

With that line of thinking, would that make me a doctress even though I have the same degree, rights and privileges as my male counterparts in the medical field? What’s next? A pastress?  Or go one step further: A pastorette?

When you start codifying roles and titles according to gender lines you either directly or indirectly start stratifying the roles along a hierarchy whether you want to or not. One half is superior and the other is relegated to a secondary role.

Which brings us back to maintaining the hierarchy of heteronormative white males.

According to the Social Security Administration, the name Isabelle has knocked the name Emma of the top of the heap as the most popular girl’s name in the United States while the boy’s name Jacob remains atop the list of most common boy’s name for the eleventh year in a row.  I for one was named after Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis’ not-so-famous older daughter. Jamie Leigh Curtis? No, not her. The other daughter. *shrugs.*  For what it’s worth, other parents apparently liked the name as well as there were four Kellys in my medical school class. While I was pregnant with our first daughter, we quickly crossed that ultrapopular name Emma off the list after we realized that half of the town’s girls under the age of five were named that.

Names define who we are. Were we named after something trendy or given a traditional name. As it is becoming quite obvious that the Little Church on the Edge of the Prairie will most likely be unable to reconcile and be one single congregation ever again, I suppose it is time to start thinking of LCEP as two different congregations: an ELCA congregation and a separate LCMC congregation. The division is too deep to cross. Emotions are high, and it might be good to have a clean break for both sides and move on. I guess it is time to decide what we are going to name ourselves as we move forward.

Before you name a church, you need to make a list of what not to name it.  LCEP1 and LCEP2 are hardly good alternatives. Each new congregation needs its own identity. And in our town of 8500, there are already two St. Mary’s (Catholic and Episcopal, respectively,) two FIRSTS (Methodist and United Church of Christ,) one St. Paul, one Good Shepherd, (WELS and LCMS, respectively) one named after the town itself, (Bapitist) and the eclectic assortment of Bible and Lighthouse (Evangelical Free and Assembly of God.)

And then there are the overused Lutheran names. Nice, tradtional but way overused. In our synod alone, there is a gaggle of Bethels and Bethanies, three Immanuels (but no Emanuels, go figure), and three, maybe four Trinities.

As much as the apostles Paul and Peter were clearly instrumental to the early Christian church, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a St. Paul or St. Peter Lutheran Church, or if you were my mom growing up in Detroit, she had the honor of attending Sts. Peter and Paul Lutheran Church because two saints were apparently better than one. As wonderful as these names are, if we went with these names, we would be committing our congregation to the generic conformity of the Emmas and Jacobs of today.

But you don’t want to be too trendy. Of course the hip and modern names such as Open Arms Living Truth Beacon in the Storm SONrise Fresh Wind Lutheran Church would definitely have a Twenty-first Century ring to it and, from a marketing standpoint would be fresh and innovative, it is important to remember that the Ariels, Jasmines, and Mileys of today will someday be the very dated Ethels, Myrtles, and Beulahs of tomorrow.
So how do you name a church? There are plenty of names out there to pick from. Traditional Lutheran names that announce that we are either Scandenavian or German Lutherans are aplenty. There is a tiny, rural WELS congregation up the road from my house that is known as St. John’s Lutheran Church, but its heritage is quite obvious as the name on the building is St. Johannes Kirche. I doubt that there are still services in German, but it is definitely steeped in the Lutheran tradition.  This side of the globe is home to the St. Olaf’s (as I was raised on the German side of the state, I still have no idea who St. Olaf nor do I appreciate the finer aspects to the holiday meal of fish marinated in Easy Off Lutefisk.)
All kidding aside, a name is something that should transcend generations. It is the first thing a vistor would see as he or she contemplates membership. It is soemthing that sets the tone, not only now, but also for years to come. What do you want others to know about your congregation in three or less words? I’m one of those traditionalists (a tradtionalist liberal? Who knew??) My girls have traditional names, and I tend to be drawn to churches with traditional names. Let’s explore some possibilities:
Christ: After all, he is the reason that we come together as church. He is the Alpha and the Omega of the very concept of faith.  It’s a very simple name that says it all. Without Christ, there is no church. Period. Other permutations of this would be Christ the King, Redeemer, Immanuel/Emanuel, Prince of Peace, Our Savior.
Grace: It’s one of the three pillars of Lutheranism (Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Word Alone for those keeping track at home.) It’s what we seek when we forge a relationship with Christ. And for many of us who supported the CWA decision of 2009, it is something we want offered without caveats. Grace regardless of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or socio-economic status is very powerful gift from God. Is this something we want to proudly proclaim?
Peace: After months of infighting, this may be the one gift from God that many want. It’s the gift of purchase that comes with Grace. It’s name that tells the community: We don’t want conflict and are one body in Christ.
Faith: It’s the glue that holds a church together. Without it, we are just a bunch of strangers gathering together in a building to sing songs and listen to a speech about being good to each other. 
Resurrection: It’s the gift that Christ offers no matter how hard life can be. It’s a powerful message and reminder of God’s unwavering love and the sacrifice Christ made to ensure that we are all blessed.
All Saints: Maybe this is the closet socialist in me that likes this name, but Martin Luther famously asserted that we are each a sinner and a saint. Each of us has the exact same favored status among God. All Saints isn’t just a nod to Peter, Paul, John, Matthew, Mary Magadelene and the zillion Roman Catholic saint’s I can’t name that came before us. All Saints is umbrella that covers each and everyone of us. We are all on a level playing field with God. Fits quite nicely with the Priesthood of All Believers.
A name packs a lot of information in a few short words. An entire mission statement and vision for a congregation should be able to be summed up in its name.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve blogged about the Little Church on the Edge of the Prairie. Needless to say, even after the second congregational vote, nothing has been resolved. I knew it would be an uphill battle to work toward reconciliation and healing. This entry is a personal one, so please feel to skip the rant. Part of the reasons I started this blog was to record the process.

This past Sunday there was a critical congregational meeting (for the record, I’m making air quotes here)  to discuss the state of the congregation, only the Anti-ELCA crowd was notified and invited.


I guess that’s okay, because it has been no secret that the ELCA part of the congregation meets regularly for support, Bible Study and discussion. They were more than welcome to attend as long as they weren’t disruptive. Same rules for everyone.

Well, needless to say there was a petition circulated at that meeting to push for another vote on May 25, because we all know how fun the first round of votes was.

*rolls eyes*

This time we will be voting on two things: An Affirmation of Faith in the Pastors and to Demand that LCEP Remains Affiliated with the LCMC. Translation: brass of the big cheese of the ELCA and force the ELCA leadership to kick LCEP out of the tent. Not too surprising as the LCMC doesn’t officially advocate such a tactic *nudge, nudge, wink, wink* but does mention that it is a way to circumvent the 2/3 supermajority double vote in the LCMC web communities.

A little background on the first resolution…our pastors received a letter from our Bishop–who, in my not so humble opinion, is a general all-around good guy with enough patience to go around to the rest of us–because numerous attempts to contact the pastors by phone have conveniently not been successful. The letter asked whether or not our pastors will support the ELCA since the vote to, well, not be part of the ELCA failed. Technically LCEP is still very much an ELCA congregation, one of few (less than 1%) where the required second vote to leave was defeated. Like it or not, it still needs to adhere to ELCA rules and hierarchy.

So much for moves toward healing a fractured church. But wait, it gets better than that.

Two weeks ago we ELCA-ers (which, for the record is a lovely new epithet or congregation created that has about as much warm fuzzy feeling as tossing around the N-word early and often…how nice) were invited to a “listening session” that the council was holding as part of their retreat. When it became obvious that they didn’t want to listen and it was a great display in tokenism, someone pointed out that the LCEP constitution mandates that the council support the ELCA (hey, I didn’t write, but I agree with it) and since there were three open council seats that they should be filled with members of the ELCA. So tentatively the council voted and extended offers to three church members that have supported the ELCA through this whole mess. Seemed like a step in the right direction toward workng on unity and mending fences.

Only it didn’t happen that way. At Tuesday night’s  council meeting, the three invited to join the council were met by pitchforks and torches an angry mob of sixty people led by the Associate Pastor’s wife demanding to know, Why are THEY here? (The angry mob was there to present their petition to vote again, sigh.)  Uh, just a guess, but they were invited by the council??? Tensions where high, and one of my friends felt quite unsafe in her own church that night.

After much bellyaching, a council member demanded that the offers to join said council be recinded. So they voted on it.  Both pastors voted against bringing the three ELCA members on board, the president who has been not that supportive of the ELCA–to everyone’s surprise actually defended the decision to extend an invitation–and voted for the three additions. BUT and this is a big BUT, the pastors decided that the president could only vote if there was a tie.  It had been 5 for, 5 against, but one of the for’s was shot down by the pastors. At the end, since people were about to stroke out, the council decided to table the decision for another month.

How convenient.

And in the continuing saga of As the LCEP Turns, they changed their minds again. But this time only ONE of the ELCA advocates was invited to join council. The other THREE (wait, didn’t I write earlier that three open seats, not four???) open seats were filled by Anti-ELCA advocates.

Talk about the pastors filling the council with hand-picked minions.

I’m to the point where I am more than happy to let this angry mob have the building, the assets, the debt, the name, the negative taint in town and everything else associated with LCEP. It isn’t about healing a congregation for them. It’s about owning the deed to a million dollar building. It has become a cult adoring the pastors. Where is the welcoming warmth that first drew me to the congregation when settled in town? Where is the Christian love that is supposed to be preached from the pulpit? I have been called an ELCA-er with as much animosity that you could easily substitute nigger, faggot or whore and convey the same meaning. We’ve been told but we still love you. But quite frankly? I’m not feeling the love. Don’t tell me you love me, then treat me like garbage behind my back. And if you mean, we still love you if you agree to our terms and promise to behave, then I want nothing to do with that type of love. I’m not looking for love or grace with caveats.

I pulled my kids from Sunday School about a month ago. I don’t want this hatred spilling down to my children. I do not want them harassed because of our family’s beliefs in equality for all or be bullied because our family wants to remain members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

My husband and I were standing on the driveway the other night listening to the frogs peeping. My husband is agnostic on his better days and an atheist on most others. I don’t force him to go to church and be uncomfortable and resentful for an hour, and he doesn’t try make me give up my faith. It may sound odd, but it leads to a healthy and happy relationship.

But as we were standing there the other night, we started talking about this detente we have, and he had something very profound to say: that he would never try to destroy my faith or convince me not to be active in church. He didn’t want to take hope away from me under any circumstance.

My pastors could learn a lot from my happily agnostic husband. In that one little conversation on the driveway, my husband offered so much more than my pastors have done in the past year: faith and support without any strings attached.

Moments like that I realize that affirmations of faith come in the weirdest places. Thank you, my dear husband, for showing me that there is hope in places where I least suspect it.

I recently taught my daughters (ages 6 and 4) how to play Roshambo aka Rock, Paper, Scissors. Everyone knows the game:  Rock crushes Scissors, Scissors cuts Paper, Paper covers Rock.  While I love the permutation: Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock, apparrently so do my girls. It didn’t take long for them to start throwing dynamite into the mix, proclaiming that dynamite trumps (or in their words explodes everything.) Although they forget that Scissors can cut the fuse on dyamite, my daughters quickly learned that games can become very one-sided when someone has a trump to play.

Now while it is fun to pull out dynamite and sandbag your Roshambo opponent, it is not so fun when someone pulls out the dynamite of theology: Scriptural Authority. Things quickly become defined in black and white, right and wrong in record time when someone throws down the trump and declares any other facet of a discussion invalid.

It’s easy to label things when you claim Scriptural Authority: Churched vs. Unchurched. Biblical vs. Unbibical. You get the picture. There is no room for debate. Ever. It’s a cheap and dirty way to claim the high ground. It’s like playing Rock, Paper, Scissors (with or without Dyanmite, Lizards or Spock) and someone hauling out NUCLEAR BOMB!  I mean, how do you counter that? You can’t. It’s a cheap way to declare, without actually saying, “I’m right and everyone who disagrees with me is wrong, and I don’t even want to listen to what you have to say.”

Pastor Brant Clements sums it up quite well in his blog:

So if someone uses the phrase “the biblical doctrine” what they mean is “the Bible as I interpret it supports the doctrine that I teach.” Again, if someone uses the expression “the unbiblical practice” what they mean is “the Bible as I interpret it condemns the thing that you are doing.” I have found this to be invariably true.

Quite frankly, I’m a little fed up with this game plan, especially when it is tossed around like a hand grenade in the debate following the 2009 CWA decision regarding same-sex unions and GLBTQ rostered clergy. It’s what the Anti-ELCA crowd (ie, LCMC/CORE/WA) likes to use to criticize and condemn the “unbiblical” decisions of a now “unchurched” denomination.  Word Alone has no problems claiming Scriptural Authority to weigh in on this:

Biblical norms establish the boundaries and proper use of sexuality. The Bible clearly teaches that marriage is a holy bond between one man and one woman and is the only proper arena for sexual activity. From marriages, families are formed which serve as the building blocks of civilization.

There’s that biblical vs. unbibical moniker that Pr. Clement blogged about. Translation: “OUR rules establish the boundaries and norms for marriage and sexuality because we claim Scriptural Authority.”

One of my own pastors, who embraces the orthodox Confessional Lutheran Acronym Salad, has even claimed as much in his speech when implored the LCEP to secede from the ELCA (bold emphasis mine):

Throughout her history, [LCEP] has been a part of a Christian Lutheran body that has upheld the Bible as the final authority in governing the way she lives out her faith and service to God. [LCEP’s] current constitution proclaims that the Bible is “the source and norm for all matters of faith and life.”

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Lutheran body with which [LCEP} currently has membership, has taken steps away from this time-honored and basic Christian practice. As a result, a number of the member churches of the ELCA have been thrown into turmoil and the ELCA’s world partners have distanced themselves having issued letters calling for the ELCA to turn from this grave error.

Translation: “I don’t agree with the 2009 CWA’s decisions, and since I am the Associate Cheese* at LCEP, I am going to discredit it because it doesn’t jive with my interpretation of Scripture. My house, my rules. End of discussion.”

Which brings us to Word Alone (not the ministry, the concept) aka Sola Scriptura. It’s a concept that all Lutherans (and for that matter most Christians) embrace.  It’s one of the pillars of the Reformation. The Bible alone is the measure of faith and the sole authority for Christians. Many Lutheran denominations cite Paul’s letters to Timothy as the basis for this rule:

16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.    2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)

Contrary to popular belief, the ELCA does not sway from that belief. In fact, it reaffirms it in many ways. At it’s website, the ELCA states the following:

The canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the written Word of God. Inspired by God’s Spirit speaking through their authors, they record and announce God’s revelation centering in Jesus Christ. Through them God’s Spirit speaks to us to create and sustain Christian faith and fellowship for service in the world.

I don’t think even the most progressive Lutheran will argue this confession of faith. It’s what makes us Lutheran. It’s why we embrace the Nicene Creed as one of our Confessions of Faith. It’s that leap of faith that defines who we are as Christians that God really did speak through the prophets.

But who gets to interpret every verb and decide where every comma goes? Who gets to claim the scriptural high ground and be, as former President Bush, declared, The Decider? Who gets to decide what is “inerrant” and “infallable” and what is minor and trivial? As one of the pillars of the Reformation, Sola Scriptura was a concept to correct the errors of the Roman Catholic Church. It was meant to take the human error out of how we read scripture. As Martin Luther once said, “a simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it.”  In other words, Reformers such as Luther strongly believed  in the Five Solas (as in were willing to die for what they believed) that Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone), Sola Gratia (Grace Alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone) were the foundations of faith and salvation. We didn’t need an intermediary such as the Pope to facilitate grace or interpret scripture. In fact, Luther (and many conservative Lutheran denominations) to this day still officially declare the Catholic Pope the Antichrist. (Talk about arguments I never want to touch with a ten-foot pole!) I have no idea if they truly meant the Pope really does have the number o’ the beast hidden under his mitre or if he was just the embodiment of the power and how to abuse it, (for that matter, I don’t want to touch that debate with ANY  length pole) but it is summed up nicely in Building Unity (Burgess and Gross, eds.):

In calling the pope the “antichrist,” the early Lutherans stood in a tradition that reached back into the eleventh century. Not only dissidents and heretics but even saints had called the bishop of Rome the “antichrist” when they wished to castigate his abuse of power.

But in ignoring the time-honored Lutheran tradition of respecting Bound Conscience (PDF file), have these Anti-ELCA organizations and their Scriptural Authority become the one thing that the the early Reformers rallied against: the embodiement of power and how to hold it over others? Have they become the Dynamite in Roshambo that becomes the unnecessary intermediary and Decider of right and wrong? Isn’t that why Luther split with the Pope and his church because of the arbitrary “unbiblical” rules  (Yes, the irony of using the word “unbiblical” burns, thanks for noticing.) for salvation and grace. Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Word Alone (as long as you color within the lines with the preapproved four crayons provided for you. Any deviation from this will nulify the above promised Grace.)

And since I’ve already stuck my neck out far enough, I might as well go all the way and really get branded a progressive heretic…

I don’t agree with Scripture Alone.

There I said it. I haven’t been smote, smoted, smited (what is the past tense for the verb “to smite?”) by a bolt of lightening. And when I say that, I mean that I don’t think that Scripture is not the ONLY way that the Holy Spirit communicates with us. Holy Pessimism, Batman! If that were the case, aren’t we painting a very bleak picture of modern Christianity? That would have meant that God had stopped speaking to us over 2000 years ago, that there are no modern day prophets that will light the way, that God has been some place else for the past two millenia. I like how Pr. Brant summed it up in his blog. The Bible is not only a record of God’s past conversations with humanity but it is an “invitation to the conversation” to build faith and find Grace.  

Scriptural authority sure worked well when the only people that could actually read scripture were a handful of clergy. The masses were taught to recite the Pater Noster from memory when they neither spoke nor read the Latin in which it was recited thousands and thousands of times. For that matter, most had never held or even seen a Bible. Mass was in Latin, so they didn’t even understand the words of worship when the gathered in churchs. Wielding scriptural power was pretty easy when the only person that actually read it was the one in power. Unfortuantely there isa 2000 year history of using Scripture and the pulpit to keep everyone else in line. It is extremely easy to use Dynamite when no one else understands the Roshambo rules.

Now if I came out and said, “The Holy Spirit told me that I shall have a tuna melt for lunch today,” I would be the first one to sign the papers to check myself into a psych ward.  But the Holy Spirit didn’t stop speaking 2000 years ago. The Spirit is at work today.   Now I’m not saying go pick up the Book of Mormon or the Anarchist’s Cookbook to find what the Holy Spirit is saying today. But we don’t live in that era where only the learned clergy had access to the scripture. The Bible has been translated into countless languages. It isn’t just someone elses Scriptural Authority that points us toward Grace. We are individually given a roadmap to head in the right direction. Scripture helps us find the Spirit. It is an essential element in that journey of faith.  We need that invitation in to the conversation. We need to use it as a roadmap to Grace. But we also need to ask ourselves, how does the Spirit speak to us today? It is there in our prayers and discernments. The Holy Spirit isn’t trapped in the the first century of the common era.

It is a Twenty-first Century force that continues to help us on that journey of faith, and it isn’t restrained by one version of Scriptural Authority.

And as we each open that wonderful invitation, it the Apostle Peter who warns us about people using their own interpretations of Scripture as a weapon:

15Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.  2 Peter 3:15-16 (NIV)

Both sides of an argument will use this passage to claim the other is fallen into the trap that Peter writes of. People like distort Scripture and bend it to their will. The like to use it as Roshambo Dynamite.

Scripture is an invitation to meet God. But reading it cover to cover isn’t the way to find Him. Nor is claiming the Scriptural highground in an argument. Scripture brings us closer to God, but the journey is ours. The Bible will point us in the right direction. But without Faith, without guidance from the Holy Spirit in our day to day lives, the Bible just becomes a book filled with a bunch of words that can be thrown at another as easily as a rock. Christ didn’t intend for it to be used in as a trump in a biblical version of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

I welcome the Bible as an invitation, but I know it I need to find the other roadmaps provided by the Holy Spirit in order to strengthen my face and continue on that Journey with Him.

*No offense intended to either associate pastors or cheese as I like them both.