Tag Archive: Lutheran CORE


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.

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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.