Tag Archive: ELCA


…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.



Sharing the Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Kelly

And my letter to Vice President Peña:

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

Dear Mr. Peña,

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Kelly

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.

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…

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.

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.