Tag Archive: Church Politics


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,

K

…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

Hmm…

/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.



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.

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.

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.

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…

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.