The reasons I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod were complex. Whether it was the science I was taught as a child not aligning with reality or the misogynistic and racist actions of pastors and those training to be the same, or any of a number of other issues I had, these all were contributing factors. Now, I am going to spend some time on perhaps the biggest reason I am no longer part of the LCMS, which is their views on women in the church and home. This is a deeply personal subject for me, and I have numerous personal stories related to it. Names and other details may be modified for privacy. Links to the series can be found here.
Points of Fracture: “On the Other Side”
I’ve written extensively about my moving away from various doctrines the LCMS deems especially important, even while still maintaining my commitment to core Lutheran doctrines (such as the Sacraments). What I didn’t realize as I shifted my doctrinal positions was the amount of pushback on a personal level that I would receive. I knew I’d have some arguments about the facts of the matter(s), but I didn’t realize how deeply, intensely personal the attacks would get. I should note I’m not sharing many because trying to remove identifiers would be too difficult. Instead, in this post I’m just sharing a broad view with some examples of what it felt to be on the “other side” of some of these issues, and why it spurred me to leave the LCMS.
Conflicts while Leaving
Whether it was for Christianity and science, women in the ministry, or several other topics, I experienced multiple, personal attacks on myself or those around me due to my differing in viewpoints from the LCMS. When it came to science and Christianity, the oft-repeated phrase was that I’d compromised with “man’s wisdom” instead of following “God’s word.” I trusted scientists to teach me about the world instead of the Genesis Creation accounts. Never mind that the creation accounts do nothing to set a date for creation, nor do they at any point hint that the purpose was to help date the earth, etc. Instead, the refrain was that I’d abandoned Scripture in folly. My turn from young earth creationism led to me being denied communion at different points, despite churches not listing this as a reason to do so. (See more of my discussion of close/closed communion here.) Several different pastors and LCMS resources I looked up suggested a denial of young earth creationism was capitulating to “the world” and led directly to a denial of the Bible and therefore of Christ Himself.
Even worse were the many experiences related to my change of position on women pastors. For one, there’s the knee jerk reaction many LCMS leaders and even laity have when they hear about me being married to a woman pastor. I have experienced ostracization for this position in the form of having conversations immediately end, having them devolve into arguments, ghosting, etc. More concretely, as my view on this topic shifted, I was warned there would be financial consequences. It was alleged I would need to pay back scholarships because I didn’t end up as an LCMS pastor or teacher after all. I want to state this plainly: this did not happen, nor did any official in any capacity suggest it would. However, I found this threat especially astonishing given that it came from a church and people who talk about how financial considerations cannot come between one’s faith and their profession of that faith. Those same people then turned around and threatened me with financial consequences if I didn’t change my belief. The suggestion was insulting, because it implied my beliefs could be bought. It was also nonsensical, because belief formation doesn’t happen that way.
Other attempts to get me to change my beliefs were similarly misplaced. Very few LCMS individuals were willing to engage me on the level of actually going to scripture. One exception was an LCMS pastor who genuinely wanted to know why I’d changed my views. When we talked about things like Junia being an apostle in Romans 16:7, he acknowledged that was a serious problem for his position. Other verses I raised were similarly given consideration, and he acknowledged it was more complex than he’d thought. Much more common, however, was a blithe dismissal of any Scriptural case and even a total ignoring of the reasons why women were excluded from the ministry in the LCMS. Instead, people refused to go to church with me, made false claims about my then-fiancée, used the pulpit to decry women in leadership, made insulting remarks about my lack of masculinity, made insulting remarks to my then-fiancée about church history and women, and more.
These supposed arguments are much more aligned with spiritually abusive practices than they are with reality. For example, assuming you, dear reader, are a Christian, suppose someone close to you took a dearly held belief of yours (let’s say your belief about whether babies should be baptized) and said that they would refuse to visit your church or refuse to go to church with you until you changed your belief about baptism. Would you think that’s a good reason? And if you did, would you really be able to change this deeply held belief just because of someone not going to church with you? Would you be able to change that belief just because you might have to pay some extra money for a debt? What if that person insulted you a bunch–would that change your belief?
This is the kind of argument raised against women pastors in my experience from within the LCMS, including from pastors.
Hate the sin, love the sinner
I was taught this concept and felt it was pretty much correct, especially in relation to some of the more controversial topics. What I’ve found time and again, however, is that hatred of the sin often turns into hatred of the sinner. It’s easy to say a trite phrase like this, but I’ve observed that it leads to a “holier than thou” attitude in which the one who is “loving the sinner” still has a lower view of that sinner. I experienced this myself within the LCMS when we talked about LGBTQ+ issues, and I know personal stories from others about the same thing. It’s one thing to say you “love the sinner”; but when that “sinner” experiences versions of “love” that include things like being denied communion, being called a sinner, being told they need to change their life/lifestyle, and other related things, the experience feels much less like love than it does like hate. For my own part, I had an LCMS pastor say that due to my embrace of women being pastors, they were “hating the sin” of women being pastors and “loving the sinner,” me. Even this somewhat mild comment felt like a stern rebuke from the mouth of a pastor, and certainly did not reflect the alleged “love” I was being given.
“The Holy Spirit Shut Your Mouth”
One of the most angry attacks I received was completely out of the blue. I began receiving messages on Facebook from someone who had attended the same university I had. I’d never spoken with them. The man was an LCMS pastor by this point, having graduated ahead of me by some years. He began by asking me about why I believed women could be pastors. It quickly became apparent that he was not at all interested in my responses. He quickly became aggressive, saying my arguments were obviously mistaken and wrong. When I directed him to further reading, suggesting he read Man and Woman, One in Christ to find deeper answers to some of his questions, he claimed to have read the book already. A few exchanges later, he then admitted he had never read it or even heard of it.
I asked him why he felt comfortable lying about that. He denied that he’d lied, saying he was caught up in the moment. When I pointed out that him being “caught up in the moment” didn’t somehow change lies to truths, he got more upset. I was wrong on every level, and no book could possibly change his mind or have any other impact on him or anyone who didn’t already want to ignore God’s “clear word” [according to him]. It was so clear, apparently, that even questioning it meant that I was likely already trying to follow the temptations of Satan. When I pointed out his misuse of Greek in multiple points he was trying to make, he became even more agitated and proceeded to insult my wife, heaping name-calling and vile phrases upon both her and myself.
At this point, I knew I wouldn’t engage this horrid person any more. I told him I was done talking with him because he had insulted myself and my wife personally. He changed tactic, saying that his wife told him that meant the “Holy Spirit had shut your mouth” so I could no longer type up “heresies” about women in leadership in the church. He said he agreed wholeheartedly–the reason I wouldn’t respond, despite me specifically stating it was because he was attacking my family personally–is because the Holy Spirit had shut me up and made it so I could no longer interact with him. I had already made the decision not to continue interacting with this person who had quickly moved to disgusting tactics to try to clobber me over the head with his position. It was extremely difficult for me to not fire off retorts or responses, because I knew he would take it as proof that the Holy Spirit had indeed silenced me. But I also knew for my own mental well-being, I could not continue interacting with such an awful excuse for a pastor.
I’ll not mince words: this was spiritual abuse. It was an attempt to coerce me using religious trappings and invoking God to try to say that I was in the wrong. This LCMS pastor, with whom I’d never interacted before and never have since, took it upon himself to personally insult my wife and then declared himself the “winner” of a discussion by claiming the Holy Spirit was on his side and even actively preventing me from typing a response to him. This is a man who was an LCMS pastor at the time who, despite whatever training he received to be a pastor, apparently believed these were both appropriate ways of interacting with other people. And someone–someone I know personally–gave my name and contact information to this LCMS pastor so that they could attack me and my family in this fashion. Unconscionable.
Is it really that bad?
People who’ve read this series–multiple people in different contexts–have responses like “Well we’ve never experienced that in an LCMS church” or “I haven’t seen that happen” or “is it really that bad?” One response I’d have to that is that maybe they haven’t been looking hard enough. For example, maybe their pastor or members in their church haven’t shown homophobia because there hasn’t been an opportunity to do so. After all, as I shared in an earlier post, gay men (and others) are leaving the LCMS due, in part, to their treatment therein. Maybe the LGBTQ+ people have already quietly left their church, so they don’t experience the comments about gay men that I observed. Moreover, the ubiquity of these comments when you start asking others about them is undeniable. It may be true that, in isolation, some LCMS congregations have pastors who aren’t homophobic, or who aren’t spiritually abuse, or whatever. I’d be surprised if that weren’t the case. But my series has shown time and again, citing multiple instances of pastors and those training to be pastors or teachers in the LCMS, that these things are happening and that they are perpetrated at levels of leadership within that church body.
I experienced real, religious trauma within the LCMS. That’s certainly not the case for everyone therein, but I know many, many people who have been “on the other side” can share similar stories. And I suspect many of these stories will never be told. If you’re out there reading this–please know you’re not alone. It’s okay to be “on the other side.”
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.
Leaving the LCMS/WELS– Not sure about whether to leave or thinking about leaving? Do you want to others who are thinking along the same lines? I created a group for those who are contemplating leaving these denominations, as well.
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.
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