Current Events, Reconstructing Faith

Why I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: By Their Fruits…. (Part 4)

Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Markus Trienke

For several posts, I have been writing about specific things that came up while I was within the LCMS–that is, at its schools, churches, and university–that made me start to think that the LCMS way of things didn’t align with some aspect of reality, what I learned in the Bible, or something else. Here, I continue a miniseries within that about the fruits of our actions and how they tell about who we really are.

By Their Fruits… (Part 4)

[Content warning: Homophobia across the spectrum and language related to it described.]

Homophobia was absolutely a given among pre-seminary students at my LCMS school. Denial of homophobia was also a given. The trite “well actually” type of discussion often seen online abounded in person. (Eg. people saying, as I heard, “I’m not homophobic, because that would mean I’m afraid of homosexual people.”) Calling things “gay” as a derogatory term was absolutely normal among pre-seminary students. The utter contempt for gay people was clear on a day-to-day basis. It should be noted that we had more than one out of the closet gay man on campus.

I’d lived in Massachusetts for a few years in high school. Before we moved there, I had a conversation with some adults about what it meant for someone to be gay. I genuinely didn’t really understand that the category even existed. Having grown up in LCMS schools and churches, I had actually never heard the topic discussed–or at least, not in a way that left me with any memory of the event. As an avid reader, I probably encountered the occasional gay character, but without the background knowledge to even understand the category, I can’t remember any specific instances of that happening. In other words, I was remarkably ill-educated regarding how people lived their lives. The discussion about gay marriage in Massachusetts before moving there was something like: some men think they love other men and want to marry them, which is obviously wrong, and Massachusetts is so liberal that they let them get married, which is wrong. I could understand the concepts when put so simply.

When I went to high school in Massachusetts, it was a bit of a culture shock. I learned there was such a thing as a “Gay Straight Alliance,” and I actually had to ask classmates what that even meant. I had no idea before moving there that rainbow flags existed or what they meant. One classmate I was friendly with asked me to hang out. I didn’t realize he meant it as a date, and had to awkwardly explain as we were hanging out that I was straight–a category I’d only recently learned about.

I remember in sitting in a prep period in high school in a circle with other students and one of them told us she was a lesbian. I barely even knew the word’s definition. For her to then share her story and her struggles as a lesbian in high school was eye-opening to the nth degree. I was, in a word, stunned. I know this sounds unbelievable, but before these experiences in Massachusetts, I really didn’t even know this was a thing. But the teachers in that high school, many of whom I respected, took gay students as a given and didn’t treat them any differently. I’m writing this from my position as someone who was totally ignorant. These experiences had a profound impact on me as I basically learned from these teachers how to treat others. The experience changed how I thought and acted about gay people.

That would be challenged when I got to my LCMS college and said that I didn’t really see the problem with gay marriage. People from all over corrected me, including phone calls from pastors to explain to me what the Bible said and meant about gay people and why letting them get married was wrong. In no uncertain terms, it was explained to me that it was better to not let them get married because although this would maybe make them sad in this life, it would potentially help prevent the eternal punishment they’d experience in hell. I remember pushing back a little, saying that didn’t make sense because other sins people committed don’t automatically consign them to hell, but the counter was that gay marriage was willful, unrepentant sin and so would lead to hell. I was never fully comfortable with this explanation, but at the time it made me silent about objections. I did not want to be responsible for someone’s eternal soul, after all.

I knew of at least a couple gay men on campus, and wanted to make sure that even if I didn’t necessarily support them fully, that they weren’t totally ostracized. I spoke to a few other pre-seminary students, telling them I thought the homophobic comments and jokes needed to be toned down. One asked me to explain, and I argued that if we really believed it was sinful and could put someone’s eternal life in jeopardy, that we should not potentially put up another barrier to their repentance by being jerks to them. This kind of convoluted reasoning never sat well with me. For years, I dealt with a kind of double life in which I struggled with what I thought was doctrinally correct–that it was sinful–and my ethical senses that the arguments against gay marriage and other ways to exclude LGBT+ people from various societal places and norms were discriminatory at best.

What I did not feel ambiguous about, though, was that everyone sins. One of the most frequently quoted passages of the Bible in my life was Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This verse still remains dear to me. No one is righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10). The fact that everyone was a sinner was perfectly clear. Why, then, did we treat some sinners differently from others?

The contempt for gay men especially was strong among not just men studying to be pastors, but among many pastors as well. There were clear exceptions–one pastor with whom I had quite a lot of interactions wasn’t affirming to my knowledge but also never once condemned gay people of any sort. Those exceptions were just that, though, exceptions. Calling gay men derogatory names was extremely common, and, again, using the word “gay” as an insult was engrained into us. Transgender people were seen as especially sinful–not just because of the Bible passages interpreted to be against homosexuality but also because of prohibitions against cross-dressing (at least, as interpreted by many in the LCMS).[1] Lesbians were barely mentioned as a category, but when they were it was either in order to sexualize lesbians (often with a wink and a nudge) or to shoehorn them into already understood gender norms (women need comfort more than men, so lesbianism could be explained as such), or, when fully confronted, it was something like “If only she’d met a real man” (read: like myself) “she wouldn’t be a lesbian.”

The way so many LCMS future and current leaders spoke so strongly against gay men especially was difficult to reconcile with how they behaved around men they knew were gay. While I cannot speak for the lived experience of gay men on campus, when I saw interactions, it seemed these LCMS leaders-in-training would tone down their language and act almost meekly, as though they were afraid being gay might rub off on them. It sounds absurd, but that’s genuinely the impression I had.

One gay man on campus shared stories with me about how other men in his dorm told him they were concerned they might get AIDs if they washed their clothes in the same washer and dryer as him. Another time, a pre-seminary man accidentally took a drink from his cup and was worried out loud he would get AIDs from taking a sip. The pre-seminary men, he told me, were the people who were worst to him of anyone on campus. These overt examples could certainly be multiplied. The way that pre-seminary men and even LCMS pastors treated and talked about gay people was and is abhorrent. There seems to be more focus on maintaining an insular status quo than in reaching out and trying to love one’s neighbor.

Reflecting on all of this now paints an ugly portrait. While I can accurately say that the rampant homophobia within the LCMS was a factor in driving me away, I can also say that at times I stood on the same side. There’s a sense of belonging in thinking that you stand against “the world” when it comes to morality and ethics, standing strong upon a stance that is perceived as unpopular and may lead to your supposed persecution. I wish I had been better and done more to stand up for people who were often silenced and mocked. I pray that I can do more now. The total lack of love of neighbor was reflected in how LCMS leaders treated and spoke about all non-straight persons. By their fruits…

[1] I don’t want to get into disputes over how to translate passages, but many passages taken to be straightforwardly about transgender people seem to have different implications in the Ancient Near Eastern context in which the Bible was written. I’ll talk some about some disharmony between how I was taught to interpret the Bible and how I saw the Bible being interpreted within the LCMS in a later post.

Links

Formerly Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) or Wisconsin Synod (WELS)– A Facebook group I’ve created for people who are former members of either of these church bodies to share stories, support each other, and try to bring change. Note: Anything you post on the internet has the potential to be public and shared anywhere, so if you join and post, be aware of that.

Why I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod Links Hub– Want to follow the whole series? Here’s a hub post with links to all the posts as well as related topics.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.

Discussion

13 thoughts on “Why I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: By Their Fruits…. (Part 4)

  1. I remember reading the story of David and Jonathan having heard evangelicals mocking the idea that they were gay just because they kissed. I was stunned. There’s just so many features of the story that make it clear, at a minimum, that the author didn’t think it would have been sinful had theirs been a gay relationship. I think one really has to strain to deny the implication they were gay.
    But if I ever try to explain why I don’t believe the Bible condemns all forms of homosexuality I’m always told I’m just conforming to the culture etc. No one ever makes the effort to refute my exegetical case. In fact it’s amazing how little effort is made to establish the alleged prohibition. Eg I hear Sodom quoted even though we are explicitly told that the sin of Sodom was injustice towards sojourners and the poor. One might as well quote “thou shalt not covet they neighbour’s ass”!

    Posted by koitaleel | May 3, 2022, 12:47 PM
  2. I agree with you that it is wrong to be cruel toward men or women who are homosexual. Christians should be kind and loving toward everyone. However, love does not exclude rebuking sin, and the fact that some LCMS members mistreat homosexuals doesn’t make what the Synod teaches about homosexuality any less true. The Bible is very clear that sex outside of marriage is wrong, and that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Solitary vice, fornication, adultery, and perversion are all sins against the Sixth Commandment. The fact that all have sinned does not mean that we should condone sexual immorality, and loving your neighbor does not mean minimizing or approving his or her sin. John the Baptist was not being hateful when he reproved Herod for his sexual sin–he was calling him to repentance.

    Posted by James Gibbs | May 16, 2022, 5:39 PM
    • Thanks for reading, for stopping by, and for the tone of your comment.

      My point in this post was almost entirely to show the treatment of LGBTQ+ people in LCMS circles that I observed while I was in those circles. We are in agreement that “Christians should be kind and loving toward everyone.” The behavior I describe here are entirely out of step with that teaching. Given that the behavior is by people who were and are LCMS pastors, teachers, or those people in training, I believe that that suggests something about the LCMS’s teaching itself, or, minimally, the way that teaching is propagated. It’s one thing to say “We should be kind and loving toward everyone”; it’s an entirely different thing to actually do so. The way that LGBTQ+ people are targeted and harassed in LCMS circles suggests that the LCMS has some inward-looking to do before it can share its teaching in a loving way. For me, the way people treated others was another reason to leave.

      I do not agree with the LCMS teaching on these issues, but that doesn’t impact the point I’m making herein. That point, again, just being that the treatment of others itself is evidence of the “bad fruit” of the system.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 16, 2022, 7:39 PM
      • Thanks for the kind words about my tone.

        I obviously can’t speak to the behavior you personally witnessed as a pre-seminary student, etc., but in my experience (I’m 62, and a lifelong LCMS member), the subject of homosexuality has not come up very often, period. I have occasionally heard pastors decry it (in passing, and often with the euphemistic phrase “alternative lifestyles”) as sin, but I have never heard one use abusive language. Nor have I heard lay members use slurs, etc. Mostly, it seems to come up when so-called LGBT issues are making headlines, and people express worry about how the world is becoming less Christian. Pre-sem students (I was one once myself) are male undergrads, and college boys will often say and do stupid things (I know I did), regardless of how “holy” their major is. This doesn’t excuse cruelty when it happens, but I am skeptical that homosexual people are being “targeted and harassed” Synod-wide in the widespread way you suggest. I remember one pastor back in the 1990s mentioning a “gay” seminary classmate of his who wound up committing suicide, and he strongly urged the congregation to be approachable and compassionate toward people with same-sex attraction, but (he added) without falling into the error of saying “Gay is OK.” The old cliche, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” has a lot of truth to it.

        So how exactly do you disagree with LCMS teaching on this issue?

        I also find it interesting that you repeatedly allude to Matthew 7, where Jesus is warning about false prophets. I would argue that the “fruit” of a false prophet is his teaching, not his deeds. Jesus describing false prophets as wearing “sheep’s clothing” seems to be saying that the outward deeds of a false prophet have the appearance of good works.
        False prophets can be appealing, loving, engaging, and nurturing, but they preach “another Gospel.” I would contend that authors and ministers who fail to uphold the clear Scriptural teaching about sex being reserved for husband and wife (the Sixth Commandment), regardless of how appealing and loving they may act toward homosexual persons, are false prophets.

        Posted by James Gibbs | May 17, 2022, 10:15 AM
      • The interpretation of Matthew 7 that you offer is, in my opinion, turned upon its head. The very next section of Matthew 7 has Jesus talking about those who will say to him “Lord, Lord” but will be answered that Jesus doesn’t know them. And what does he say to them? “Away from me, you evil” what? Believers? Those with false doctrines No, you evil “Doers.” The actions of the people reveal the truth within them, just as is the case elsewhere in Matthew (25:31ff).

        As I said in the post, it is true that not all pastors act this way. I’m thankful for those who are cognizant of the harm done to people by words and actions against LGBTQ+ people. My own experience is limited so I wouldn’t suggest a broad consensus purely based on my own experience. Instead, because of my longtime association with the LCMS and people therein, I know many, many, many stories from others that just pile on more of the same. Whether it’s recent stories about trans people being excluded from congregations or gay people being told directly they’re going to hell when they came out to their pastors, these stories can be piled one atop the other.

        This is not the time or place for me to debate the LCMS teaching on LGBTQ+ people, and I doubt it would get any traction either way. I am sharing my experiences and thoughts on why I left the LCMS, not trying to refute or debate every aspect of their teaching. Indeed, on many things I remain in substantial agreement, such as infant baptism, baptismal regeneration, real presence, and more. Thanks again for your kind tone and comments.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 17, 2022, 6:05 PM
  3. Again, thanks for the compliment.

    I got the interpretation of Matthew 7:15-20 from the Concordia Commentary on Matthew, Vol. 1. The author (also named Gibbs, btw) does note that “fruits” can apply to deeds as well as teaching, but contends the primary meaning in that passage is teaching. I note, FWIW, that the NIV section heading for those verses is “True and False Prophets,” while the next section (the one you mentioned) is headed “True and False Disciples.” Interesting. In the end, it doesn’t matter a lot. Both sinful deeds and false teaching are evils to avoid.

    Is the LCMS “homophobic”? Depends on what you mean by that word. Let’s be honest: to a large percentage of people in the Western world today, simply saying homosexuality is wrong, or even that true marriage is defined by a man and a woman, is ipso facto “homophobia.” Normal people with traditional morals find homosexuality (especially the male kind) to be repellent and abhorrent in varying degrees. Most people don’t even want to have the subject brought up, to be honest. Why people find some sins more disgusting than others is complicated psychologically, but that doesn’t mean they are bigots. And “bigots” is the label that a very large plurality of our society is intent on slapping on anyone who objects to the normalization of homosexuality. I think that accounts for a lot of the comments you have called “homophobia.” Again, not having been there makes it hard for me to judge. But I know plenty of Christian people who get very uncomfortable with the whole subject, and the way it is pushed and promoted in today’s world naturally evokes an almost visceral reaction. As long as such revulsion does not lead a Christian into hateful words or deeds, that Christian has nothing to apologize for. Christians should find sin–all sin–revolting.

    I don’t know what a so-called “trans” person being excluded from a congregation means, but if a man in my church suddenly announced that he was now a she, wanted to attend worship in a dress, and wanted everyone to call him “Susan” instead of “Bill,” that would cause a huge uproar–and rightly! If I had young children, I would not want them exposed to such things, and I would feel no obligation to go along with such a charade. I would not be hateful to that man, but I also would not just sigh and go along.

    Likewise, I don’t know what happened with the person who “came out” to their pastor. Did they seek help with their same-sex attraction? Did they defiantly proclaim they had no intention of changing? What exactly was said? Did the pastor simply share 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and tell the person that persisting in homosexual sin will exclude them from the Kingdom? Obviously, it’s got to be difficult to get the right mix of Law and Gospel when communicating with homosexual folks–but it’s got to be done, because that’s the pastor’s job.

    Why don’t you want to tell us your position? I don’t want to debate the morality of homosexuality, either–the Bible is just too clear on the subject to permit debate. I just thought it would be pretty central to your thinking and important for your readers to understand that thinking. Do you agree that God has reserved sex for husband and wife? I strongly suspect the answer is “No,” but I don’t quite understand your reticence. You are writing this series about why you left the LCMS, and you also said you “do not agree” with LCMS teaching on this issue, so…why the mystery? This is your blog, so you can leave us in suspense if you want.

    I see on your Twitter account that you say you are currently a Lutheran. May I ask which Lutheran denomination you are a member of?

    Posted by James Gibbs | May 18, 2022, 3:11 PM
    • I am affirming of LGBTQ+ Christians and this is exactly why I do not choose to debate it. The fact that you’re stating “the Bible is just too clear on the subject to permit debate” means that even an attempt to show context, intentional meaning, and original languages would be a non-starter. Hence the reason I initially said I did not wish to debate this, and I still do not. If you, personally, are in a stage at which your beliefs are unquestionably true, what’s the point of even engaging with others beyond asserting your views? I don’t know, to be honest.

      The point of this post, which I have been trying to get back to, is entirely that LCMS pastors–yes, pastors–and others therein have horribly, and continue to horribly treat others. People who are LGBTQ+ are just some of those people who have been mistreated, and this is just one of several reasons I left. Racism, misogyny, nationalism, and more are additional reasons. Interestingly, you’ve not commented on or disputed those. I don’t know the motive for that–perhaps you don’t have time–but the intense focus on this specific issue is concerning to me, and your blithe dismissal of mistreatment of others in this comment is also concerning. I do not wish to share specific details beyond what I said, to protect privacy, which is clearly needed.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 18, 2022, 6:41 PM
      • You are “affirming” of homosexuality, etc. So I guess that means that you think it’s not sinful. Again, the Bible is very clear. Sex is reserved for husband and wife–period. Anything outside of that is sin–whether it be homo-, hetero-, or whatever. The Church has taught this for 2,000 years. Some Christians being cruel to homosexuals does not change what sexual sin is. I’m sure you could provide me with “context, intentional meaning, and original languages,” but I have read attempts to find loopholes in God’s Law before. They are all sophistry. Do I think my beliefs are unquestionably true? Yes, many of them. The Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, etc.–all those things I learned from my Mom and Dad and in confirmation class. Don’t you think those things are unquestionably true? Don’t Lutherans vow at confirmation to remain faithful to these things even unto death? The point of engaging with you on this topic was to point out how some Christians being mean to “gay” people doesn’t alter the meaning of the Sixth Commandment.

        I had no agenda in choosing to focus solely on this post. I just wanted to speak to this specific topic. But I will say that I have read all of this series, and I don’t recognize the LCMS you describe. Are there LCMS pastors and laymen who do or say racist, misogynistic, etc. things? Of course. But every church is full of sinners. I guarantee you that whatever denomination you join or have joined has problems just as great–just not in the same areas, perhaps. I think you have picked out examples of bad behavior by LCMS people and used those examples to unjustly smear an entire denomination. If my tone offends you this time, so be it. It’s my church you are attacking.

        “Blithe dismissal of mistreatment”–no, I have repeatedly said it is wrong for Christians to be cruel or hateful to homosexual persons. You know I have made that clear, so I don’t appreciate your distortion of what I said. I think it bothers you that the LCMS refuses to go along with the lies of the so-called “gay rights” movement, and refuses to equate loving the sinner with approving the sin. Ask yourself this question: if every LCMS pastor and laymen treated all “gay” people with perfect tact and kindness 100% of the time, but still clearly taught that homosexuality was sinful, would you still think the Synod was “homophobic”? If so, then the mistreatment issue is just a distraction. The real issue is the rejection of Biblical teaching by the so-called “gay” movement. I really wish you had been honest from the start and simply said, “I don’t think that homosexuality is sinful, so I left the LCMS because they still teach that.”

        Posted by James Gibbs | May 19, 2022, 2:02 AM
      • You’re misrepresenting what I believe as well as the timeline of how things happened, which is exactly why I wrote the way I did. When I left the LCMS, I was non-affirming and believed it was sinful. So you saying that I left because of the LCMS teaching on that is wrong. I was not covering that up; I left, in part, because of the -treatment- of LGBTQ+ people, not because I was, at the time, affirming. It was not a distortion to say that, it was the truth, and your constant digging at it to then turn around and tell me how and why and when I believed things is wrong.

        You say you agree with the LCMS view on the commandments, then this false witness should be repented of immediately.

        I have repeatedly pointed out in these posts that it’s “Not all pastors…” etc. Your words echo that. Your willingness to look past racism, misogyny, and other issues among pastors and teachers is something you have to live with, not me. I couldn’t live with it, and each of these was a piece of a puzzle that drove me out of the LCMS. Saying all people are sinners is not enough. In the LCMS I grew up in, anyway, I remember being taught time and again that teachers (read: pastors) had a higher calling and were held to a high standard (James 3:1). But, you, like many, are so quick to dismiss this awful behavior among those same people which the Bible itself said should have a higher standard. This kind of hypocrisy or, if unintentional, ignorance of enforcing a standard is yet another reason to leave and stay away. Pastors behaving badly should be a reason for reflection, examination, repentance, and more; not a reason to write it off as “all people sin.”

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 19, 2022, 6:12 AM
  4. Thanks for finally clarifying that, yes, you don’t think homosexuality is sinful (a.k.a., you are ‘affirming”). I’m sorry that’s so, but at least, now I know.

    I didn’t know you changed your mind about that after leaving the Synod, so I apologize for getting the sequence of events wrong. I genuinely did not get that after reading your posts, so I guess I missed something. Sorry about that. But–“repent…immediately”? “Lighten up, Francis.”

    I wonder how someone like me would fare were I to visit an “affirming” church and share my views on homosexuality. Would being kind and loving (albeit firm) in proclaiming the truth of Scripture (God reserves sex for husband and wife) cut any ice with those folks? I seriously doubt it. I think I would probably be labeled a bigot, shunned, etc.–just like countless people in the secular world have been in recent years. Once the “tolerance” folks take power, they can be just as intolerant as anyone. Look at what happened to the Episcopal Church, or the United Methodists, for example. Look at what happened to J.K. Rowling–and she actually accepts a lot of the “trans” nonsense!

    I have not been “quick to dismiss” or “[willing] to look past” cruelty to”gay” people, etc. I am simply saying that you can be kind and loving without condoning sexual sin. That was my entire original point–sorry if it was unclear.

    I originally started reading your blog because of what you wrote about creationism (e.g., I agree with you that the Bible doesn’t demand a young earth). Now that I see you have joined the “gay is OK” bandwagon, I will wish you good luck in the future, and hope you return to the faith you professed in your confirmation vows.

    Posted by James Gibbs | May 21, 2022, 3:09 PM
  5. Having read your post and have been around LCMS churches for decades I have never heard anyone talk about gays like you have mentioned. It really is a dangerous game to play when people say its only their opinion when in reality they are painting with a very broad brush.

    Posted by churchlover5110gmailcom | August 4, 2022, 6:18 AM
    • Thanks for your comment. “Gays” is typically seen as outdated and even possibly derogatory; no one says “the heteros” unironically, for example. Perhaps awareness of relevant issues would make it easier to see what is happening. I also was around and deeply involved in LCMS churches for decades, including, as I said, attending LCMS schools and a college. Perhaps your experience was more selectively inclusive than mine; that’s possible. However, my experience is one that many others have shared from different parts and churches of the LCMS. I don’t think this is an opinion shared as a broad brush. It is a reality experienced, and certainly experienced by LGBTQ+ people in the LCMS.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 4, 2022, 7:21 AM

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