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Raising Up Strong Women

I have spent quite a lot of time in the past two weeks writing about Rev. Darlene Grega and her impact as the first female University Pastor at Valparaiso University. That said, I would like to devote a post to raising up strong women of faith and also some of the barriers that are still in place 2000+ years after Christ had welcomed women to be an integral part of part of his ministry.

We have come a long way in 2000 years, but there are still many barriers to gender equality, some of which are still are used as weapons today. Grega shattered the glass ceiling at Valparaiso, and I am hopeful that other women will continue to follow her lead both at Valparaiso and in other congregations.

Progressive Lutherans have never shied away from controversy. The Lutheran Church in America, a predecessor to the ELCA ordained Rev. Elizabeth Platz on November 22, 1970–an era where the idea of women even voting as church members was forbidden in the Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Synod.  She was the true trail blazer. She was ordained where the pinacle of a woman’s career in the Lutheran Church was either a deaconess, a pastor’s wife or the director (or as the LCMS church where I was raised referred to one as a “directress”) of the altar guild.

But that’s not to say journey toward that glass ceiling has been an easy one.  At a 2005 ELCA celebration of Women in Ministry, Bishop April Ulring Larson–a woman I can proudly say was the former bishop of my synod–pointed out that the call process is still arduous for women:

“More than half the time, when the candidate is a woman, there is a somber tone to their meeting. They never say, ‘we don’t want a woman,’ but it’s somber and mysterious,” Larson said, saying this is more notable if the woman is a candidate for a solo or senior position but not for an associate pastorate. “We’ve got some work to do,” she said.

I suspect that Bishop Larson can accurately attest to this. After all, when she was elected in 1992, she was the first female to become an ELCA bishop.  Moreover, she was only the second woman in the entire world to become one. Sixty-four percent of the ELCA’s members are women, yet female bishops make up about 10% of the leadership of the ELCA’s 65 synods. We’ve made great strides, and compared to the LCMS and WELS, we are still light years ahead. Nevertheless, there is much work to be done.

This attitude toward women is not unique to the church. Many women can recall specific incidence where a job interview turns rather cold. The words but you’re a woman are never uttered, but the actions speak louder than words. When I was applying to medical school, one of the universities–not the one I matriculated, but another that shall remain anonymous, played the white male privilege card and was more interesed in what my father did for a living than my aspirations to be a physician when the interviewer asked me, “So, is your father a doctor…”

Girls are told all the time that they can’t be something because they lack the requisite Y Chromosome. When I was in first grade, my class toured a local Emergency Department. At the end of the field trip all of the boys received a doctor kit, all of the girls received nurse kits. By then I had already set my sights on medical school (yes, I was goal directed even at that age) and I was absolutely horrified with the excuse: but you are a girl.

And that is the biggest reason I fled the Missouri Synod when I was in college.

For record, women gained the same rights as men to vote in Great Britain in 1928 (women over the age of 30 could vote in 1918.) . In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in the United States which affirmed the following:  the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Yet it wasn’t until 1969 that the Missouri Synod finally allowed congregations to let women vote (though I seem to recall that my own childhood congregation not allowing women to vote until the eighties–*shrugs* I could be wrong.)

And in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), women are still denied the right to vote as members of a congregation.

I’m going to skip to a post-Christ era of Christianity where the role of women can be diminished. The Apostle Paul can take a lot of credit for this. And it his specific writings that the LCMS and WELS use to deny women both the pulpit as well as the vote.

In 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, Paul talks of proper rules for orderly worship. This is a verse that denominations use to keep women out of the pulpit:

As in all the congregations of the saints, 34women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul asserts that women must submit in every way to their husbands (Eph 5:22-25):

22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

(For the record, this passage has been wielded as a weapon for husbands to force themselves sexually on their wives.)

Paul’s letters to Timothy are cited by both the LCMS and WELS for upholding a male-only clergy (1 Timothy 2:11-15.) Furthermore, it is used as a weapon to go one step further–banning women from even teaching men in the church as leading a co-ed bible study. It would put a woman in a position of authority over men.  And while we’re at it, let’s blame Eve and every woman who followed her for casting the condemnation of sin on all of humanity:

11A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

Penance through sexual submission. Barefoot and pregnant. Apparently that’s the role Paul saw for women. We were no better than mobile condos for babies. Sigh.

Other more fundamental denominations (eg, Pentecostals)  uses these passages to define an “apostolic woman,” an image of submission and humility. Revisiting Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, he defines the role of women even further. They are to show their submission to the head in both dress and head coverings (1 Corinthians 11:3-10):

3Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved. 6If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. 7A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.

This often translates into edicts of long skirts, covering of the legs and arms, uncut hair, no makeup. Granted, many of these concepts are embraced by other ultraconservative Judeochristian religions. But in some fundamental sects, it goes one step further in the apostolic dress code. It is branded as “wholesome” or “modest.”

Of course, such concepts usually evoke images of the classic prairie dress that has become synonymous with FDLS and shows like Big Love.  But one  website really stands out about others: WholesomeWear swimwear. For any of you have have ever taken a lifeguarding class and have had to swim full clothed, it is easy to point out how ridiculous this type of swimwear can be. Is modesty that crucial that you would trade form over function? Such a swimsuit would create an enormous amount of drag and would make swimming quite an arduous chore.

Enough of the hyperbole. I want to now switch gears and explore what Christianity has to offer to women in his ministry. As much as I have some major issues with Paul’s rather severe edicts for women, there are many instances where he acknowledges women as leaders in the early church. He refers to Tabitha/Dorcas as a Christian disciple in in Acts. Many translations of 2 Corinthians describe the equality between spouses Priscilla and Aquila, perhaps each functioning as a pastor. In Romans, was Phoebe a minister (diakonos) of the church in Cenchrea or was she just a “helper” as some translations assert?

Perhaps the most hopeful passages for girls and women are in Galatians. For every bit of misogyny that Paul’s writings have  created over the centuries, he gave women who hear the call to the ministry a kernel of hope in Galatians 3:28 that we are all equal in God’s eyes:

27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Where some denominations will use scripture to hold women back, I am thankful that there are others that raise them up to be leaders. Quite frankly there are not enough April Larsons or Phyllis Kerstens or Darlene Gregas in the world. But I am hopeful that these pioneers will make the call easier for women of future generations.

A month ago, I was dropping my netbook off at a friend’s house. Her laptop was in the shop and needed something to hold her over until it was repaired. My daughters were in the car with me. The eldest had her violin lesson. As we pulled up to my friend’s name, my daughter asked what we were doing, and I told her that I was lending my computer to Pastor M.

My daughter’s eyes widened as she took it in. M is a rostered ELCA pastor. My six-year-old said, “Girls can be pastors?” (She obviously doesn’t remember that our former assistant pastor–the one who baptized her–was a woman.)

I couldn’t help but smile when I replied…

Yes, honey, girls can be pastors. They can be anything they want to be when they grow up.

I think she summed it up correctly when she replied, COOL!

Moments like this are what forge strong women. Pastor M doesn’t realize it, but she left a very powerful impression with my six-year-old.

Valparaiso University has stepped up to the plate and already has a plan to fill the void left by Rev. Darlene Grega’s death. In a press release on sites such as Facebook, University Provost and former Dean of Christ College Mark Schwehn has announced that Valpo has found a minister with strong ties to Valpo who will absorb Rev. Grega’s residential ministry as well as attending to the spiritual needs of the international students and GLBTQ community on campus:

April 19, 2010

Dear students, faculty, and staff,

I am pleased to announce that Rev. Phyllis Kersten will join the pastoral staff of the Chapel of the Resurrection beginning today, April 19, to provide additional support for our campus ministry. Rev. Kersten, a Valparaiso University alumna who most recently served as interim pastor at Luther Memorial Lutheran Church in Chicago, will support the chapel staff at least through the end of the academic year and attend to some of the areas previously served by Rev. Darlene Grega. This will include meeting with residential ministers, mentoring Fellowship House students, and working with international students and members of the GLBTQ community.

I am glad that a pastor possessing such experience, wisdom, compassion, and care for Valpo has come forward in this challenging time to join our campus community. Rev. Kersten has remained in very close touch with the University over the years, often staying on visits here with her good friend Louise Williams, former executive director of the Lutheran Deaconess Association, whom she worked with as a past president, vice president, and board member of the LDA.

Before serving as interim pastor at Luther Memorial, Rev. Kersten served 12 years as associate pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest, Ill., was vice president for communications for Wheat Ridge Ministries in Chicago for 18 years, and served on the Board for Missions of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. She is co-author of the Women of the ELCA Bible study “Companions on Your Journey” and of “Talented, Tired, Beautiful Feet,” a Bible study for women published by Concordia Publishing House. She also is the author of “Jesus Wept,” a three-part series on grief in Lutheran Woman Today, which won an award from the Associated Church Press.

Rev. Kersten has served as keynote speaker and Bible study leader at district and synod conventions of LCMS and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America women’s organizations; pastors, teachers, and principals’ workshops; and congregational planning retreats. She was a workshop leader at the 2009 Christian Women’s Conference at Valpo, and has served as a member of the LCMS Task Force on Women.

I and Valpo’s chapel staff look forward to working with Rev. Kersten and for her assistance in ministering to the campus community. Please join me in welcoming her to the University.

Sincerely,

Mark R. Schwehn

Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs

As a Valparaiso alumna, Rev. Kersten is a scholar and seasoned pastor. She is coming out of retirement to meet the needs of the university. She is an author and public speaker who has reached out to inner city youth. She bridges the gap between the LCMS and ELCA as her career is intertwined with both Lutheran Denominations. She is a strong woman who is a role model for all of the women of Valparaiso.

Rev. Kersten’s biography for 2009 Valparaiso University Guild’s annual Christian Women’s Conference lists her accomplishments and diverse career path:

Phyllis Kersten, M.Div.

The Reverend Phyllis Kersten is a Valparaiso University graduate (’61) and a 1996 graduate of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, and following her ordination served as Associate Pastor at Grace Lutheran Church (River Forest, IL) until her recent retirement. She served as an adjunct professor at the Lutheran School of Theology and in 2006, was a recipient of Wheat Ridge Ministries’ “Seeds of Hope” award. Prior to her ordination, Phyllis served as Wheat Ridge Ministries’ Vice President for Communications, conducted research on Christian education in the inner city, and later did mission interpretation work as a staff member of the Board for Missions of the LCMS. As a new college graduate, she worked as a parish worker at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Detroit’s inner city and as an English teacher at Lutheran High School South, St. Louis, MO.

Phyllis has co-authored numerous books, including: R is for Religion, 26-session curriculum for inner-city youngsters (Morse Press, 1964); Talented, Tired, Beautiful Feet, a Bible study for women (CPH, 1985); Companions on Your Journey, Women of the ELCA 1990 Bible Study (Augsburg-Fortress); and The School as a Caring Community (Lutheran Education Association Monograph, 1986). She has authored articles for Lutheran Women Today, such as the Associated Church Press award-winning “Jesus Wept,” a 1991 three-part series on grief, and an April 2000 funeral planning article, and recently authored a chapter in a new book, Christian Education as Evangelism, (Augsburg, 2007). Phyllis has also written devotions appearing in My Devotions, Home Altar, the LCMS Youth Ministry Resources, Currents in Theology and Mission (October 1994), and Lutheran Woman Today (April 1995). She is the author of a hymn text “Wake Us, O Lord, to Human Need,” published in several hymnals; tracts for outreach in the inner city, published by the Concordia Tract Mission; and articles in a variety of church periodicals.

Phyllis has served as a volunteer in various church-related organizations, including Lutheran Mission Association (St. Louis, MO); Lutheran Deaconess Association (Valparaiso, IN); LCMS Task Force on Women; LCMS district mission and communications committees; new church design task force on communications; and women’s organization’s magazines.

There is no doubt that Rev. Kersten will be an asset to the University. What stands out to me in Provost Schwehn’s announcement is the fact that she came forward and offered her assistance to Valpo. No doubt she will play a role in the healing process. She will give many a voice that may be lost on campus.  She also sends the oh so powerful message that Valparaiso has not forgotten the young women of campus.

Kersten is a welcome addition to Valparaiso, and I look forward to hearing more about her accomplishments from the Chapel of the Resurrection.

Last week the motion for Little Church on the Edge of the Prairie did not meet constitutional muster, and per the bylaws of LCEP’s constitution, it remains an ELCA congregation.

But the congregational meeting had barely concluded before the pastors were murmuring about their new plans to take the congregation from the ELCA.

So much for moving forward in the name of unity or healing.

Instead we get a passive aggressive letter from the council president and pastors. On the surface it seems like an olive branch type of letter. But look a little closer and it sends a different message. On one hand it acknowledges that there has been a lot of pain and turmoil and that a lot of people–myself included–want to move forward in healing. But then in the very next sentence it says, but we still have important decisions to make.

Uh, wasn’t that decided last week with, you know, a vote mandated by the constitution of LCEP? What more mental gymnastics need to be performed? Vote until they get the supermajority they have decided is entitled to them?

And it spells out how not to give money to the ELCA, that the congregation is still dual-rostered with the LCMC. Oh, and if you are planning to leave, don’t let the door hit you on the way out, but before you go.

We ask that you continue your financial support of LCEP. If you are concerned that your giving not go to ELCA causes, make your check out to LCEP and write “miscellaneous” in the memo line and your giving will be applied solely to LCEP. If you desire that a portion of your giving be sent to the ELCA, please write two checks. Place your support in for LCEP in the offering and send the ELCA portion directly to the XYZ Area Synod.

Okay, so they’ll take my money as long as they don’t have to actively send it to the ELCA despite the fact that we are an ELCA congregation. Is the leadership saying that they will refuse anything in the offering plate that isn’t directly written out to them? Maybe they are sick of my weekly check to an ELCA charity of choice–Lutheran World Relief, ELCA Disaster Relief Fund, the Ben Larson memorial fund at Wartburg Seminary in Iowa…

In other words, LCEP, is ELCA in name alone. The pastors still want to leave the ELCA and there will still be no money passed on to the synod or ELCA.

Maybe their newest strategy is just to get kicked out the ELCA. I also wouldn’t be surprised if there is a shoved-through petition to start the voting process all over again.

Fortunately, our bishop and the assistant to the bishop have stepped up to fill the void of pastoral care, even if it is from a distance at time as they may not officially come to the congregation unless they are invites. So sometimes pastor care is in the form of emails of encouragement.

In a recent email with the Assistant to the Bishop, she gave a good assignment. The first was Ephesians 4 as this was the excerpt from the Bible that has been stuck in her mind since this process that began. It can be summed up in Unity in the body of Christ. The entire chapter is insightful, but verses 11-16 really hit home.

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Without love and unity in Him, we are nothing but individuals bobbing in the proverbial ocean alone. Being one body in Christ isn’t about paying the church mortgage. It’s about supporting one another.

The other reading assignment she gave me grew out of my sense of frustration when I felt like this was a futile up-hill battle. At times I feel like it still is when it seems like the vote meant nothing to the leadership. Psalms 13 is a great psalm to ground yourself it what is important.

1 How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?

2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;

4 my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.

6 I will sing to the LORD,
for he has been good to me.

This process is long from over. Yes it would have been easier had the measure passed and LCEP ended its affiliation. It would have been a clean break with an opportunity to start over this week. But that’s not the way the vote went. We have hard work to heal wounds, to pray for and with people we have disagreed with, to respect each others’ bound consciences.

To just be…

It has been a week since Valparaiso University Pastor Darlene Grega took her own life. And slowly, the Valparaiso community struggles to deal with her loss and finds a way to move forward.

Unlike my time at Valpo, there is now the internet (email on the university level was just in its infancy for students my senior year) to quickly spread information. With good intentions, the Valparaiso leadership let the campus know of her passing. Regretably, the first communications omited the fact that her death had been a suicide.  Students found out through the news and internet that she had taken her own life.  I’m not sure why the university didn’t disseminate that news right away. Maybe it was that paternalistic response to protect the students. 

*shrugs*

The official letter to the Valparaiso Community from President Mark Heckler:

April 7, 2010

Dear Friends,

With profound sorrow, I must inform you that Pastor Darlene Grega has passed away. 

Pastor Grega was a beloved member of the Valparaiso University family, and we mourn the loss of someone who cared deeply for the members of this community.  Our sympathy and prayers are with Pastor Grega’s son,
Nathan, her extended family, and her many friends here at Valpo and beyond. 

I invite all members of the campus community who desire to come together for support and to remember Pastor Grega to join me at tonight’s Celebrate! service at 10 p.m. in the Chapel of the Resurrection or at tomorrow’s morning prayer service at 11:15 a.m. in the chapel.  Chapel and counseling services staff will be available at both of these services and offer support to anyone in need during this time of grieving.

Pastor Grega has been a friend to many and generously served our campus community since joining our chapel staff less than two years ago.  In particular, she provided significant counsel and support to women and to the LGBTQ community on our campus and built relationships with our international students to help them feel welcomed here. Pastor Grega provided leadership for the University’s residential ministry and the Fellowship House. She counseled many others.  

As a caring community, I ask each of you to support and care for your fellow students and colleagues as we mourn for Pastor Grega.  I encourage anyone in need of spiritual or emotional support to speak with
Pastor Joseph Cunningham or Pastor James Wetzstein by contacting the chapel office at ext xxxx, or to speak with our Counseling Center staff by calling ext. xxxx.  If you need to speak with someone during non-business hours (5 p.m. to 8 a.m.), you may contact Director of Counseling Services  at (219) 464-xxxx during the next 48 hours. Additional information about Valpo’s counseling services is available online (link omitted.)

Pastor Grega will be remembered for the many lives she touched and the myriad gifts she shared with our community.  We must now care for one another and those loved ones she leaves behind. May God bring comfort
and peace to all who mourn and may God’s boundless grace and thepromise of Easter extend to our beloved sister in Christ Jesus.

Sincerely,

Mark A. Heckler
President

It’s not the first time Valpo has faltered in disseminating information to the student body. When I was a resident assistant at Lankenau Hall, then an all-women’s resident hall, we got to meet racially-motivated violence head-on. The only African American Resident Assistant’s door had been torched. At first the university refused to acknowledge the racist overtones. But after a week of student protests, including a sit-in at the administrative building–Kretzmann Hall–the school really opened a dialog about race relations and hate crimes. So something positive came from that sad and ugly experience.

It seems like Valpo is experiencing these growing pains once again. The students are adults, and it is comforting to know that despite the initial blunder, the school has quickly circled the proverbial wagons and is providing nurturing pastoral and psychological care for its students. The school has established a very visible support network of counselors–starting with the peer levels with contacts in each resident hall and academic department, to resources within the Chapel all the way to the formal office of counseling services. It may not seem like much, but  there are even identified peer counselors for the pre-seminary women who looked up to Grega as a friend and role model.

Pastor Grega will be laid to rest today. Valparaiso has chartered a bus that left in the wee hours of the morning for anyone who wanted to journey to Ohio to pay their final goodbyes. This Sunday April 17, there will be a memorial service in the Chapel of the Resurrection to celebrate her life and accomplishments. I’m not sure if it has ever occured before, but Bishop James Stuck of the ELCA Indiana-Kentucky Synod will preside over the service with univesity professor Dr. Fred Niedner preaching. It is comforting to know that VU is allowing the students to be full participants in the grieving process.

Valparaiso University Professor Walt Wangerin, Jr. wrote an essay in 2005 that many blogs are citing this week called Comfort for Those Who Grieve a Suicide.

Save me, O God,

for the waters have come up to my neck.

The event of a suicide encompasses, I believe, not one, but two separate griefs, each distinct from the other by cause and effect. The first of these, often too brusquely dismissed, caused the suicide.

I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold;

I have come into deep waters,

And the flood sweeps over me.

The second grief is that which is caused by the suicide. Moreover, this particular grief is distinct from our more general mournings because it resists–it undermines–our more general comfortings. How do we return to life again when the death seems to have been a willful act of our beloved?–as though the heart had chosen to cut itself out of the body.

 I think Wangerin summed it up best. There are two griefs in play. The first, we may never know the answer to–Why. It is hard to imagine anyone so hopeless than the only way out is for life to end. There are lots of reasons–chronic illness, crippling depression, and stress of life, work, relationships that can put someone over the edge.

Pastor Grega definitely has those stressors as both an ELCA minister and only female to preside in the Chapel of the Resurrection. As reported earlier this year (and reprinted this week) by Pretty Good Lutherans,  Missouri Synod President, Rev. Dr. Gerald Kieschnick had the chutzpah asked Pastor Grega to not play a role in the worship services celebrating VU’s 150th Anniversary because the LCMS does not have an “altar and pulpit fellowship” with the ELCA. Of course this was sandbagged on Rev. Grega only minutes before she was to play an integral role in the worship service in her own church as a Valparaiso University Pastor. Mind you that prior to Rev. Grega’s tenure, the Chapel of the Resurrection has been staffed exclusively by ELCA clergy but the Chapel has never been a Missouri Synod congregation.

Supposedly it had everything to do with her ELCA rostering and nothing to do with her gender. But as we all know, it is very hard to separate gender politics when the LCMS refuses to allow women to serve as rostered clergy while the ELCA has been raising women up to serve proudly for almost forty years.

*insert intense displeasure male privilege and see future discussions regarding this in more detail*

Needless to say I am saddened that the University allowed this to happen. But this is one example of how the weight of the world weighed down on her. In addition to being a role model for every woman–ELCA, LCMS, WELS or other–that dreamed of becoming a rostered pastor, or any woman for that matter that tried to shatter the glass ceiling. She took on the role of spiritual advisor and advocate for the GLBTQ community at Valparaiso that, despite progress, is still a marginalized population.

And I’m not sure if you can partition the griefs into her grief and the university’s grief. They seem intertwined..

But how does a campus move forward after something so tragic. Finals are quickly approaching. Students will once again scatter to the four winds a month from now. It is true Valpo will never be the same, but how can it become stronger as a result of Grega’s passing?

Open dialog is the first step. Suicide is not a dirty word. It is something that needs to be faced head on. Just as in the  example above regarding the RA and racial violence, hopefully this tragedy will get the community speaking. How can we prevent any more loss of life? What are the signs of suicidal behavior.  How can a school move past its grief and move toward healing?

Next the school cannot forget everything good that Grega has given the university. I am hopeful that VU will continue to call an ELCA minister to its roster of University Pastors. It needs that voice in the Chapel of the Resurrection. More over, I am hopeful that VU will call a woman to fill that role.  They need that glass ceiling to remain wide open and not closed once again. They need to give each woman on campus a voice in the Chapel. They need to reach out to the GLBTQ community with a bold leader. They need to give the international students that may not normally have a voice one that will sound loud and clear.

They need to keep Pastor Darlene Grega’s ministry alive so that hopefully there is no more tragic loss of life.

Today was the second vote held at the Little Church on the Edge of the Prairie. Okay, the moniker is a little misleading, said Little Church is a congregation of 1300 baptised individuals.

Today we voted on the following:

Be it resolved that [Little Church on the Edge of the Prairie] end its affiliation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Today, the first Sunday after Easter was Fish or Cut Bait Day. A 2/3 majority vote in favor of the resolution would officially end our affiliation with the ELCA.

We had held our first vote back in December 2009. The motion passed by 2/3 plus a little wiggle room. I felt very uncomfortable as the winning group decided there needed to be a round of applause for the measure.

It moved us toward a period of discernment, more like regroup and reorganize. I live in a conservative, rural town, so I knew it would be an uphill battle.  The 2009 Churchwide Assembly’s decision on sexuality and how it impacted clergy rostering and marriage was used as a lightening rod.

Open forums became shouting matches. Sigh. Male privilege was lobbed a few times and I was told, “Look here, young lady.” (for the record, I am almost 40, my cholesterol is 205, I have an MD, two kids, a mortgage,and enough student debt to rival the GNP of a small, third world country. I’m hardly young by any stretch of the imagination.) It turned ugly on more than one occasion.

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well last night as was nauseated as I walked through the church doors.

I volunteered to be one of the ballot counters to be paired with council members. The election was transparent, and unlike last time around, we were given a parliamentarian. Wonderful guy from another congregation who has taught Robert’s Rules to the local FFA forever. He was trustworthy and kept things in order, even when someone stood up and started screaming today that we were actually following Roberts Rules of Order. I was too nervous to even keep track of the math. We had 402 that registered to vote, and I could not do simple math in my head to determine 2/3.  So I counted ballots, Yes in one box, No in the other. Stacked them in groups of ten.

It wasn’t until we were walking back with the ratified results that it sunk in.

We, and I mean those of us that wanted to remain members of the ELCA, had187 votes.

It wasn’t a mandate, but we had gone from losing by more than a 2 to 1 margin in December to a nearly 50/50 split.

The motion did not carry. W

We are still a congregation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Of course a woman stood up ans proposed that we do this all over again in six months, because you know, it was so much fun the first time around. Sigh. Luckily she was out of order and no motions were made beyond the vote.

Unlike this time, there was no cheering. We have much healing to do. Can our pastors still function within the ELCA? Will they support it, or will be looking at another vote down the line?

We need to heal. We need to forgive those we were most angry with. We need to remember that the Holy Spirit can lead us regardless of where we stand on the political continuum. God is neither a liberal or a conservative.

It was a victory, but it sure didn’t feel like it. I don’t think there are any winners here. Bridges need to be built. We need to come together once again. All need to return to the congregation if they want to be part of the ELCA and not just a vote.

In closing, the old school Doxology came to mind as I was standing in the shower this morning. It seems fitting, and it has crept into my head several times today.

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;

Praise Him, all creatures here below;

Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

While Valparaiso University is not affiliated with any one Lutheran denomination, it has long had a very strong (and German) LCMS presence. Every presiding pastor of the Chapel of the Resurrection had been a Missouri Synod ordained minister including the beloved Rev. OP Kretzmann who was the president of the university while my mother was a student here in the Sixties, who through his 28 years of service to the school still remains one of the major influences at Valparaiso.

Until Darlene Grega.

In 1997 the university officially changed its policy to allow not only Non-Missouri Synod Lutheran clergy to serve in the Chapel but it finally opened its doors for female pastors to serve both in the Chapel but at the level of University Pastor. Needless to say, I had been one of many alumnae that cheered loudly when this was announced.

Rev. Grega was the first–and only–woman to serve as a University Pastor. Needless to say, Grega broke down many barriers and the proverbial glass ceiling of the Chapel had finally been broken!

Former university president Rev. Dr. Alan Harre, himself an LCMS pastor led the way to create an endowment fund to pave the way for an ELCA pastor to serve at Valparaiso.

On November 2, 2008 Rev. Grega became that pastor that so many alumnae had dreamed of.

From her biography at the Chapel of the Resurrections website:

Pastor Darlene Grega is the mentor for Fellowship House and the Residential Ministers (a.k.a. Piece Core). She leads the planning for the Chapel’s discernment retreats and has an abiding commitment to the spiritual needs of international students on our campus having worked, before ordination in 2006, over 20 years primarily with international students. She loves reconnecting at VU with the international community and offering them hospitality and helping others learn from them. A Valpo grad herself, she remembers the spiritual formation she received here and looks forward to being a new face in a crowd that is welcoming and committed to walking with you during your tenure here. By the way, you will also find her walking her Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Muffin, around campus, and keeping up with her son Nathan, a senior at the college of William and Mary who is studying neuroscience.

And in another first, this past Sunday, she was the first female pastor to ever preside over the Easter Sunday celebrations and worship in the Chapel. ask any alumni, nothing can be compared to Valpo’s Easter worship!

Yet sometime this week, Pastor Darlene Grega died. The Porter County Coronor’s Office has ruled her death a suicide.

Valparaiso President Mark Heckler has issued this statement:

Pastor Grega was a beloved member of the Valparaiso University family, and we mourn the loss of someone who cared so deeply for the members of this community. Our sympathy and prayers are with Pastor Grega’s son, Nathan, her extended family and her many friends here at Valpo and beyond.

Pastor Grega has been a friend to many, and generously served our campus community since joining our chapel staff less than two years ago. In particular she provided significant counsel and support to women on our campus and built relationships with our international students to help them feel welcomed here.

It is obvious that Pastor Grega was a loved and valued part of the Valparaiso family. She provided to pastoral care to many, and was also a resource for the GLBT students on campus.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson has issued the following statement regarding her passing:

Darlene’s call to serve as the first ELCA pastor on the staff of the Chapel of the Resurrection has been the occasion for renewing and deepening our relationships with the University and its extended family of alumni and friends.

We have rejoiced in the strength of her service as university pastor with students, faculty and staff — a ministry marked by her distinctive gifts of warm hospitality, gregarious compassion for the suffering and tenderhearted, and tenacious advocacy for those who have often been kept at the margins of Christian community and public life.

Although the news of her death comes as a deep shock and disappointment, we entrust her to the mercy of God shown in Jesus Christ and share with you our hope in the promise of Christ’s Resurrection.

Pastor Grega was not a University Pastor when I was a student at Valpo back in the early Nineties yet I join the rest of the Valparaiso Community and mourn her passing. It always tragic when someone feels so hopeless that the only solution they see to end their own pain and suffering is to take their own life. Mental illness is an unforgiving bedfellow and can strike anyone regardless of age, gender or station in life. I mourn her passing as a fellow alumna, and my thoughts and prayers go out to the campus that has lost a dynamic and compassionate leader.

OP Kretzmann led Valparaiso during the height of the Atomic Age and nudged the school toward the Twenty-first Century. In moments like this, his voice still rings true:

If we are to survive the Atomic Age, we must have something to live by, to live on, and to live for. We must stand aside from the world’s conspiracy of fear and hate and grasp once more the great monosyllables of life: faith, hope and love. Men must live by these if they live at all under the crushing weight of history.

I was baptized an ALC Lutheran, but was raised in an LCMS church as my mother’s family was LCMS. Discovered there was much more out there that I aligned with when I attended Valparaiso University. Though it still had/has a strong LCMS influence, it was there were I really started to embrace the ELCA as my home church.  It’s no secret that the other Lutheran colleges refer to it as That Liberal Lutheran School.

Valpo reallystrived to promote tolerance and acceptance. It welcomed its first GLBTQ student support group when many other relgious-based schools shunned such groups. Thought provoking seminars during the Week of Challenge and Martin Luther King, Jr Day really did bring cultural diversity to the fore.  And it was through student and faculty envolvement where women were finally allowed not to be just silent ministers in the Chapel of the Resurrection but were finally allowed to preach and lead worship as the ordained pastors that they were.

This is what helped mold my views of Lutheranism.

What I didn’t sign up for was Martin Luther’s anti-semitism. Yes, I knew it existed but chose to ignore it forever. It wasn’t until recently that I really explored what it was all about.

There is no doubt that Luther carried much of the old school Catholic Church animosity toward the Jews as Christ killers (sigh) into the Reformation.  Gordon Rupp, a Methodist Luther scholar writes in Martin Luther: Hitler Cause or Cure:

Luther’s antagonism to the Jews was poles apart from the Nazi doctrine of “Race”. It was based on medieval Catholic anti-semitism towards the people who crucified the Redeemer, turned their back on the way of Life, and whose very existence in the midst of a Christian society was considered a reproach and blasphemy. Luther is a small chapter in the large volume of Christian inhumanities toward the Jewish people.

It is no suprise that Luther wanted the Jews to convert to Christianity. There was a simmering animosity that cannot be ignored, but at first Luther seemed much more benign, hoping that it would be God’s will that cause Jewish faith tradition would erode away and yield to Christianity. In his 1514 letter to Rev. Georg Spalatin (Burkhart), Luther writes:

But what am I doing? My heart is fuller of these thoughts than my tongue can tell. I have come to the conclusion that the Jews will always curse and blaspheme God and his King Christ, as all the prophets have predicted. He who neither reads nor understands this, as yet knows no theology, in my opinion. And so I presume the men of Cologne cannot understand the Scripture, because it is necessary that such things take place to fulfill prophecy. If they are trying to stop the Jews blaspheming, they are working to prove the Bible and God liars.

But trust God to be true, even if a million men of Cologne sweat to make him false. Conversion of the Jews will be the work of God alone operating from within, and not of man working-or rather playing-from without. If these offences be taken away, worse will follow. For they are thus given over by the wrath of God to reprobation, that they may become incorrigible, as Ecclesiastes says, for every one who is incorrigible is rendered worse rather than better by correction.

Yet somewhere along the line, the tone became more vicious.  While many a confirmand is familiar with Luther’s Small Catechism, many do not realize that he also wrote the 1543 treatise Von den Juden und Ihren Lügen (On the Jews and Their Lies.) His tone takes a distinctively hateful tone, reducing the entire race of people to something subhuman:

They must assuredly be the base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth…

… For they are full of malice, greed, envy, hatred toward one another, pride, usury, conceit, and curses against us Gentiles. Therefore, a Jew would have to have very sharp eyes to recognize a pious Jew, to say nothing of the fact that they all should be God’s people as they claim…

…So it became apparent that they were a defiled bride, yes, an incorrigible whore and an evil slut with whom God ever had to wrangle, scuffle, and fight. If he chastised and struck them with his word through the prophets, they contradicted him, killed his prophets, or, like a mad dog, bit the stick with which they were struck.

It’ is not bad enough that he views them as subhuman, he goes one step farther to actively encourage Christians to take action against the Jewish people. He promotes the destruction of not only their prayer books, but advocates “to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them.” 

Yet he did not stop there, Luther had an eight point plan to eliminate the Jewish faith tradition either by conversion to Christianity or by forced expulsion. His plan also included the prohibition of owning money, forced labor and forced expulsion from the country. (“In my opinion the problem must be resolved thus: If we wish to wash our hands of the Jews’ blasphemy and not share in their guilt, we have to part company with them. They must be driven from our country.”)

Quite frankly this sounds terrifyingly similar to the Russian pogroms or Hitler’s Endlösung der jüdischen Frage (Final Solution for the Jewish Question) which led to the Holocaust/Shoah. In fact scholars Berger and Rose both point to Luther’s influence on forging a truly Germanic hatred of Judiasm and its people that may have been a building block in the Shoah. Professor Rose goes on to assert that without Luther’s antisemitic treatises, the German mindset leading up to the Shoah may have been absent.

Not exactly the faith tradition I signed on to when I was confirmed, married and baptized my daughters.

Fortunately mainstream modern Lutheranism has distanced itself and denounced Luther’s hateful rhetoric. Without that, I doubt that I would be raising my daughters in the Lutheran faith tradition and would be embracing a different Church.

It was not until 1982 when the Lutheran World Federation finally encouraged the Lutheran body to move beyond Luther’s hatred and define ourselves as something that is set apart from his anti-semitism and move actively forward in the name of Judeochristian reconciliation by stating, “We Christians must purge ourselves of any hatred of the Jews and any sort of teaching of contempt for Judaism.”

The Missouri Synod was next in its denouncements. In 1983 the LCMS issued a statement denoucing Luther’s “hostile attitude” toward the Jews:

That while, on the one hand, we are deeply indebted to Luther for his rediscovery and enunciation of the Gospel, on the other hand, we deplore and disassociate ourselves from Luther’s negative statements about the Jewish people, and, by the same token, we deplore the use today of such sentiments by Luther to incite anti-Christian and/or anti-Lutheran sentiment.

In 1994, the ELCA followed suit by issuing the following Declaration of ELCA to  Jewish Community:

We who bear his name and heritage must acknowledge with pain the anti-Judaic diatribes contained in Luther’s later writings. We reject this violent invective as did many of his companions in the sixteenth century, and we are moved to deep and abiding sorrow at its tragic effects on later generations of Jews. (Entire text in link above.)

It is clear that the mainstream Lutheran church bodies have denounced Luther’s Antisemitism, and the ELCA has gone one step further (see my previous post) by acknowledging Judiasm in a Judeochristian continuum as seperate and equally worthy facet of worshipping the same God. So why am I posting a history lesson about the ugly underbelly of Martin Luther?

While the recent visit from Jews for Jesus was still fresh in my mind, the choices of scripture translation for Easter Sunday really have stuck in my mind.  There was nothing controversial about the choices of passages, though our pastors in a push to distance themselves in every way from the ELCA refuse to utilize the ELCA’s choices of scripture each week. Each told the story of the Resurrection. The New Living Translation was used for the second lesson and the Gospel. No big deal. It was the Resurrection in modern English. Not my first choice for translation as I am more familiar with the RSV or NIV from my confirmation and college days. The psalm was in that nice cadence of the New King James Version.  (I think everyone would agree that the psalms lose a lot of their lyrical quality if a truly modern translation is used. So again, nothing controversial.

But what really stood out was New Century Version of the first lesson.  A revision of the International Children’s Bible, the NCV is a good choice for bringing the Bible to those with lower literacy skills. But it also known for its conservative and evangelical tone.  Not a surprising choice since my pastors have declared themselves “orthodox” Lutherans are rather involved in the World Alone network and the LCMC. I normally don’t have a problem with NCV, though I don’t prefer the writing style. But what really grabbed my attention and made me wince was the following exerpt from the passage in Acts 10:34-43, in particular verse 39 (bold emphasis mine):

We saw what Jesus did in Judea and in Jerusalem, but the Jews in Jerusalem killed him by hanging him on a cross.

Ouch. And with one translation we are back to blaming the entire Jewish people for killing Christ.

So I did a comparative search of the passage, looking at the  alphabet soup of English Bible translations includng the NLT, NIV, NRSV as well the RSV, NKJV and finally the first English translation the KJV. Each of the other translations makes the one to blame for killing him more vague. They killed him, or they put him to death, etc. Perhaps this is me being too overly sensitive, but the NCV is only one that spells out the Jews killed Christ.

So why did they use this specific translation where the other lesson and Gospel were in the New Living Translation? I certainly don’t want to bear false witness against those chosing the passages (for the record, the ELCA did not include the passage from Acts as part of suggested readings for Easter.) Nevertheless the choice of passages and translations was rather jarring? Why was the passage blaming the Jews picked to be the lesson? And why was the one translation that clearly spells it out the one that was picked instead of the other translations the dull the blame? These are questions I do not have the answers for.

That said, is this return to a more orthordox interpretation of Lutheranism also embracing Luther’s other opinions?  I certainly hope not. The pollyanna optimist in me would like to think this is merely a coincidence. I certainly hope that subtle anti-semitism is not a biproduct of such conservative evangelism and that I am seeing problems where they don’t exist.

Reflections on Good Friday

At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”     Mark 15:33-34 (NIV)

Today goes by many names. In Greek liturgy it is called he hagia kai megale paraskeue. The Romance languages give it a more reverent name Holy Friday while the Germans refer to it as Sorrowful Friday Charfreitag.

A 1983 article in the highly prestigious science journal Nature used a combination of the biblical and Julian calendars as well as knowledge of the moon phases and lunar eclipses to calculate that the original Good Friday likely occurred on April 3, 33 AD/CE.

Altars were stripped bare or covered in black last night.   Services are solemn and darkened. The LCMS congregation where I grew up had a Tenebrae service where one by one, the candles are extinguished and the sanctuary is filled with darkness. The service was stark, and at the end of the readings, the Bible is slammed shut to signify the moment of death. My undergraduate university Valparaiso has a similarly somber service where the Christus Rex was draped in black. The deafening silence in the Chapel of the Resurrection for quiet contemplation was always such a stark contrast to the cacophony of voices of students, family, faculty and community after the joyous celebrations of the chapel’s Easter Celebration.

Good Friday is a quiet time to mourn the death of Christ and the perceived absence of God through this weekend. He was silent as Christ died, and even his own son felt abandoned.

But even with the stark and stripped imagery, God has never left us. The Easter Vigil that many churches will observe tomorrow night will be a time to renew baptismal promises. A candle will be lit to remind us that we are not alone.

During this time of reflection, I think the perfect symmetry to the passage above from Mark is Psalm 46:10:

Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

I cannot read ancient Hebrew, but if you look at the Hebrew linguistics of the edict Be Still, a better translation may be Cause yourselves to let go or Let yourselves become weak. In other words: surrender.

So, yes, surrender and trust that regardless of how dark today–or life for that matter–may feel that the candle of faith still burns this weekend, that though Christ was crucified, died and was buried, he is still very much with us. Trust yourself to let go and know that there is someone to catch you.

An author, whose name complete escapes me right now, took Psalm 46:10 and created this:

Be still and know that I am God

Be still and know

Be still

Be

Not a bad way to approach this weekend.

Hebrew
Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe

This is the opening sequence of the Kadeish, the first element of the Seder commemorating the  Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. Many families recited this blessing last night as part of the second night of Pesach (Passover.)

This is one of those years where Pesach and the Christian Holy Week coincide, and with it the two two faith traditions often intersect.

Many churches will include something called a  Christian Passover as part of the Holy Week observances. When I was about ten, I attended a one of these Passovers at my grandparents’ church (then an ALC congregation) in Madison, Wisconsin. I had been the dutiful little girl that attended enough Sunday School and knew some of the “bible stories” to understand on, at least a kid’s level, what the Exodus about.  To me it was about  bunch of plagues–boils, frogs, a bunch of creepy-crawlies, blood, etc and the Charleston Hestonesque Let My People Go. It seemed like an extension of Christianity.

Only it wasn’t.

Pesach is a uniquely Jewish experience.  There is no such thing as a Christian Passover. And I mean that in the most positive sense. When we were in junior high, my friend E was preparing for her Bat Mitzvah. It was in the spring of 1985, and was either right before or right after Pesach.  And it was through E that I realized that Pesach was more about her relationship with God, not mine. And I was okay with that. Where she had Pesach and her Bat Mitzvah to affirm that she is a child of God, I had that with my Baptism and Confirmation.

Now I don’t have a problem of attending a Seder to undertand Jewish expressions of faith. It is a great way to understand how our faith tradition evolved from the Jewish tradition as long as you respect the boundaries.

But what I do have problems with is when Christianity tries co-opt the Seder and make it its own. The Seder is not the Last Supper. There is no Gospel in the Seder. The broken piece of matzoh is not a symbol of Christ. Each element of the Seder has a specific meaning in retelling the history of the Exodus.

To give it a Christian spin to the Jewish Seder really diminishes its significance and ignores what the Seder really is about.

The article this week in the Houston Chronicle really emphasized how I feel about this:

The Christianized Seder initially became popular about 30 years ago and seems to be experiencing a resurgence across denominations. About 20 churches in the Houston area will host Passover celebrations this week.

Some in the local Jewish community, however, fear their traditions are being used out of context.

“They take our symbols, our holiday, our ritual and start investing them in Christian meaning,” said Rabbi Stuart Federow, who leads Congregation Shaar Hashalom and speaks out against the evangelization of Jews on his Web site, WhatJewsBelieve.org. “It’s spreading out through the more liberal Christian churches. The Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians are doing this without understanding the hurt it causes to their Jewish friends.”

Fortunately the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America does not push for evanglizing to Jews. It is comforting, at least to me, to know that ELCA has reached out in Christian-Jewish dialog to embrace the similarities and respect the differences.

We as Christians share deep and common roots with Jews, not least books of Scripture revered by both communities. There is much to be gained in exploring those common roots, as well as the reasons for the “parting of the ways” during the first generations of the followers of Jesus. New Testament texts reflect at many points the hostility between the two communities, but also point to ways in which a new spirit of mutual respect and understanding can be achieved.

We as Christians also need to learn of the rich and varied history of Judaism since New Testament times, and of the Jewish people as a diverse, living community of faith today. Such an encounter with living and faithful Judaism can be profoundly enriching for Christian self-understanding. It is to nurture this blessing that we offer these guidelines for honest and faithful conversation and cooperation between Lutherans and Jews.

Furthermore, the ELCA cautions against the practice of a Christian Seder:

Although attendance at Seders in Jewish homes or synagogues is to be preferred, “demonstration Seders” have been held rather widely in Christian churches and can serve a useful educational purpose, in which both common roots and significant differences can be learned. This should be approached with caution, however, and with the awareness that this might be considered “trampling on the other’s holy ground. ” If such demonstrations are done, they should be done carefully, preferably in consultation with, or hosted by, a local rabbi.

Enter Jews for Jesus. Much to my displeasure, as part our pastors’ enthusiatic edict to evangelize and make disciples of all blah blah blah, Jews for Jesus is putting on a Christ in the Passover version of a Christian Seder at my congregation this Good Friday.

So much for not trampling on faith traditions or respecting the true meaning of a ritual.

Don’t let the can’t we just get along sweet name that the organization has. Jews for Jesus isn’t about Jews embracing both Judaism, their heritage and Christianity. It’s strictly about evangelizing to Jews and attempt to convert them to the right team. While the “missionaries” that present this form of a Passover claim to embracing their Jewish herritage, they are preaching right from the playbook of evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity.

There is no respect for the Jewish faith tradition. It is all about converting. And getting money for putting on these bogus Seders. Needless to say, the won’t be getting a dime from me. I have no intentions of attending their performance (because worship service seems to give them more credit than they’re worth.)

From What Jews Believe:

The “Jews for Jesus” are not Jews. Originally founded by a very old organization known as The American Board Of Missions To The Jews, as their San Francisco office, they changed their name to “Jews” for Jesus, as the newest technique in missionizing the Jews to Christianity. Were you to compare the theology of the “Jews” for Jesus with the theology of the Southern Baptist Convention, you would see no difference. Compare the statements of faith of the Messianic “Jewish” Alliance of America (whose original name was the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America), with the statement of faith from the Southern Baptist Convention. Both the MJAA and the SBC have web sites.

Christian missionaries (and this includes the “Jews” for Jesus, the Messianic “Jews,” and the “Hebrew” Christians) claim that this deceptive technique originates with Paul, in I Corinthians 9:20, where he says that it is okay to pretend to be anything, so long as it gets converts to Christianity. One can also see this in Phillipians 1:18. Furthermore, it is expanded in the idea of Indigenous Cultural Evangelism. This is the name to the missionary technique which says so long as you make the targets think that they can be both a Christian and whatever they were before their conversion, then missionizing will be easier. See Understanding Church Growth, by Donald A. McGavran, the chapter on The Sociological Foundation.

So, the “Jews for Jesus” are merely another Christian Missionary organization, which make converts to Christianity by dressing up the Christian theology in Jewish clothing.

The ELCA seems to be on to the scam and warns in its guidelines for Lutheran/Jewish dialog:

Groups such as “Jews for Jesus” or “Messianic Jews” consist of persons from a Jewish background who have converted to Christianity and who wish to retain their Jewish heritage and identity. Lutherans should be aware that most Jews regard such persons as having forsaken Judaism, and consider efforts to maintain otherwise to be deceptive.

My concerns about Jews for Jesus coming to celebrate Christ in the Passover not only continues to trample the Jewish faith traditions, but also sends the message that my church endorses such deceptive behavior.

Jews for Jesus’ mission is a 180° turn from the ELCA’s goal to embrace the differences yet affirm both Christianity and Judiasm as different yet  equally worthy faith traditions:

Our relationship to contemporary Judaism requires both sensitivity to what we have in common and a respect for the independent right of Jews to define themselves as a community. A mature Christian respect for the work of God in Judaism thus affirms the faith and practice of Jews as more than a foil, a footnote, or a problem for our own identity.

So as Pesach and Holy Week converge once again, I challenge those who want to evangelize at any expense to take a step back and realize we are all on the same team.

Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’

Acts 10:34

Let’s not trample one faith tradition in order to raise up another. Let us not dimish the meaning of rite that is millenia old and replace its symbolism with something else. Let us remember the story of the Exodus and how it set God’s people free from slavery, and let us remember how Resurrection set us free as well. But I challenge us all to respect each as unique and blessed gifts from God.

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, indeed!

If you would have asked me ten years ago if I would be blogging about religion, I would have laughed. I was raised a Missouri Synod Lutheran. My family was only tangentially involved with the church. My dad is agnostic at best on a good day and somewhere just left of Bill Maher on a bad one. My mom raised us to be silent and not heard in church, and until recently the idea of standing in front of congregation–let alone publicly disagreeing with the clergy–would have been the quickest way for me to faint and/or vomit.

When I was a kid, I realized that the Missouri Synod wasn’t for me. When I was about eleven, I remember sitting quietly and trying not to fight with my younger brother during a sermon that a guest pastor was giving. What started as a sermon on morality quickly turned into an anti-choice tirade where women were nothing more than whores. I can still remember my mother standing up during the middle of the sermon, and with a not-so quiet proclamation, said, “Come on kids, we are leaving!” I can still feel every eye in the church boring down on my back as she marched us out.  I didn’t really understand what my mother was standing up for at the time, but looking back, it has forged my views on women’s rights as well as religion. Women couldn’t vote in the LCMS until some time in the mid-eighties when I was in middle school. Their roles are still diminished to this day. Women cannot preach from the pulpit, and the older I have grown, the more that has bothered me.

By the time I had graduated from Valparaiso University in the early Nineties, I was Lutheran in name alone. I could not stomach being a member of a religion where women were second class citizens.

Jump ahead more than ten years, I was a wife and physician with a baby on the way. My parents had already made the leap to the ELCA. It was an organization that also resonated with me. It was progressive. It embraced women equally. It valued social justice,not just proselytizing. (I’ll be the first to admit I have a lot of problems with forcing religion on anyone, especially at the expense of others’ heritage and culture, but that post is for another day.) It was something I wanted my daughters to experience.

The 2009 Churchwide Assembly is something that has received a lot of attention both within the ELCA and from those who revel in the angst it has created for some. For me I was thrilled to embrace a policy that broke down the barriers of discrimination. I was thrilled to be part of a church that welcomed all regardless of race, gender, nor sexual identity. Of course not everyone was thrilled about it, my pastors included.

It didn’t take long before the half-truths and psuedoscience started getting flung around left and right. The synod would force us to call a gay pastors, those gays would molest everyone in Sunday school, being gay is a choice and can be cured with enough prayer and counseling (and self-loathing.)

That was only the beginning. The same-sex issue was just the tip of the iceberg. Our pastors wanted out and starting throwing anything against the wall to see what would stick. Suddenly everything was wrong with the ELCA. The ELCA doesn’t do this, The ELCA doesn’t do that. It’s not good enough. It’s too liberal. It’s unchurched. It’s amoral. There’s too much hierarchy. It’s theologians know nothing about the Bible. It doesn’t teach the bible.

In December we had the first of two votes to leave the ELCA. Like other congregations, the proposal had to pass by a 2/3 majority in order to move forward to a second vote. Needless to say, the first vote passed by about 10 votes and my congregation will be voting a second time on April 11. Since then those of us who have wanted to remain with the ELCA have been vilified, our voices silenced, our information suppressed. It’s hard to have your voice heard when you don’t have the pulpit.

So this is why I have started this blog. My posts won’t be as general as this one. But I want to journal the path that I and fellow congregants are experiencing. Whether we sway the vote and try move toward healing or if we are starting from the ground up. I want our story to be heard.