Tag Archive: scripture


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.

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

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

This is what helped mold my views of Lutheranism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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