Reconstructing Faith

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Why I Left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: By Their Fruits… (Part 5)

Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Markus Trienke

By Their Fruits… (Part 5)

My previous posts in this miniseries focused on specific things: my discovery that Christians could believe one thing and act in ways contrary to it, racism I encountered in the LCMS, misogyny I encountered in the LCMS, and homophobia rampant in the LCMS. This post will summarize several other aspects of practice and belief I found within the LCMS that drove me away. It comes from a wide variety of sources, but again, I focus on behavior from people who either were leaders in the LCMS (pastors, professors, teachers) or were studying to become those leaders. These are not stories of random laity, but trained LCMS people. Other examples are specifics about LCMS teachings, whether official or not. [1]

Growing up in LCMS schools, I learned to say not just the pledge of allegiance, but the pledge to the cross. Yes, the pledge to the cross. “I pledge allegiance to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the faith for which it stands, with mercy and grace for all.” We would stand and say the pledge to both flags, which were set up across from each other in classrooms and sanctuaries. It didn’t bother me until I was a young adult that we would say a pledge to both–as if our allegiance to a nation state should be as strong or on the same level as our allegiance to Christ. When I started to raise objections to flags in sanctuaries or unquestioning allegiance to our nation, I was told, basically that that was along the lines of a Jehovah’s Witness and because they were wrong about everything, I shouldn’t agree with them on this topic. That didn’t sit well with me.

It wasn’t until years later, when I read The Myth of Religious Violence by William Cavanaugh (book review here), that I could better articulate my problems with the integration of nationalism and religion that remains entrenched in many LCMS churches. When I started to express those views, the reaction was almost entirely negative. Flags were in sanctuaries in part, I was told, because of a holdover from when the LCMS shed some of its outward associations with Germany, particularly during WWI[2]. But that didn’t explain why they needed to remain there, or why the pledge to the cross was said alongside the pledge of allegiance. The nation state, I kept pointing out, seemed to be elevated to the same place as allegiance to Christ. The flag in the sanctuary was and is very often next to and on the same level as the so-called Christian flag. The pledges were said in tandem. As a kid, the link between the two was impossible to miss. As an adult, no correctives were offered. Nationalism is frequently conflated with patriotism, just as it is in the general populace. However, reconciling my belief that our allegiance should be to Christ alone with the way allegiance to the nation state is assumed and even pushed within the LCMS became impossible.

Pastors in the LCMS are extremely inconsistent when it comes to practice related to the Lord’s Supper. Many speak with pride about the extreme doctrinal purity the LCMS pushes. In practice, however, maintaining that supposed purity gets complicated. As a kid, I remember not taking communion in other churches. It was because they believed differently from us, and so we weren’t supposed to participate in that. I specifically remember one time before I was “confirmed”[3], I was offered communion at a Methodist church. I was super excited to take it, but (as I recall-it was a young memory) my hand was physically moved from taking the bread or grape juice offered. I remember people being denied communion in our church, and some of them being upset by that. Again, I learned it was because of different beliefs about what communion was. When I got older, I learned that the reasoning behind denying others communion was because we didn’t want people to eat and drink destruction on themselves. This belief was backed by a rather idiosyncratic reading of 1 Corinthians 11:27: “So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” This verse was used to justify virtually any reason for not allowing a person to have communion.

While the LCMS has produced documents about who should and should not be allowed to receive communion, from firsthand experience I can say that these documents are entirely ignored or applied whenever the pastor desires (or not). Ultimately, the practice of closed (or, a preferred term: “close”) communion, while given lip service as a way to protect people from grave sin, is wielded by many LCMS pastors as a totally arbitrary way to punish those with whom they disagree. Alternatively, refusing communion to people can enforce a pastor’s doctrinal whims. Indeed, the LCMS website itself renders many decisions to the “individual pastor’s judgment,” such as whether someone with Celiac disease can have communion with gluten-free wafers. Thus, it is entirely possible for there to be LCMS churches in which, because the pastor chooses not to use gluten free wafers, people with Celiac disease are effectively excommunicated not because of different belief but because of a chronic immune disorder.

The decision about whether or not to commune someone was totally arbitrary even in churches in which I found inserts about their beliefs about who could or could not commune in bulletins. One church had such an insert, and it said, essentially, that people who differed about the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine could not receive communion. I remain Lutheran, and affirm real presence to this day. When I was denied communion by the pastor of that same church, he justified it by saying that because I disagreed with the LCMS on other things, I couldn’t really share their belief on real presence, as all beliefs are ultimately tied together. Such a reach for what can or cannot qualify someone based on what is already a tenuous reading of Scripture effectively meant this pastor believed he could exclude anyone from communion for any reason. I told the pastor this, and he just smiled and said he wasn’t changing what he said.

In the LCMS, one of the strongest beliefs I was taught was the need to properly divide law and gospel. C.F.W. Walther, perhaps the single most influential LCMS pastor and leader, wrote a book on the topic. There was no question in my mind that the arbitrariness with which this pastor and others applied closed communion was a key example of mixing gospel (the forgiveness found in the Lord’s Supper) with law (attempts to punish people for disagreement or call out sin therein). This was not the first or only time I’d be denied communion for absurd reasons. Another time, while staying at a friend’s house on a trip, I was denied communion because I didn’t affirm young earth creationism. Indeed, that pastor’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:29 meant that I’d be unworthily receiving the body and blood because I disagreed about how old the planet is. At that stage, I was still a member in good standing within the LCMS and regularly attended an LCMS church, at which I was given communion. In spite of that, I was denied communion at this LCMS church based on the age of the Earth. The practice is, again, entirely arbitrary. LCMS documents and leaders give lip service to how it protects people, but show total disregard for the spiritually abusive way many pastors apply the practice to exclude Christians from participating in Christ’s body and blood.

I could illustrate this time and again with many, many firsthand accounts or accounts shared with me by others. Another Lutheran was denied communion when they were traveling as part of an LCMS choir because they weren’t a young earth creationist. At a different time, the same person was denied communion because they believed women could be pastors. In neither case was this policy stated, nor were others on the same trip queried about their beliefs on those same topics. The only reasonable conclusion is that LCMS pastors are totally arbitrary about when they apply the doctrine of closed communion. This should be seen as a damning indictment of the practice. After all, the LCMS teaches that closed communion is intended to protect people’s souls, or at least protect them from unknowingly participating in sin. If that’s the case, then why would something with such huge import be so subject to inconsistency about its application? And how is it possible that people like me could go to four different LCMS churches and experience 4 totally different practices about communion such that I received it without question in one, after a brief discussion with the pastor in another, and was denied it for totally different reasons in two others? Inconsistency is one of the surest signs of a failing belief or system, and it can be found all over regarding this practice in LCMS churches. The leadership of the LCMS has effectively handed individual pastors a carte blanche to use their office to arbitrarily withhold the Sacrament from parishioners for whatever reason they desire. It’s a recipe for abuse of the system.

In LCMS schools, I was taught to read the Bible. It’s a legacy I keep to this day, and one I hugely appreciate. When I got to college, I finally began learning more about how to read the Bible, not just to read it. The consistency with which the method was applied was impressive, as I found multiple different professors in the theology department (all of whom were pastors) emphasizing points that were, if not the same, then essentially interchangeable. The bedrock belief was that scripture interprets scripture. Another hallmark of the system was talking about the historical grammatical method of interpretation. The historical grammatical method includes attempting to find the original meaning of the text. I found this exciting, because it meant that for the first time, I was reading about history and archeology and seeing what they could teach me regarding the Bible. This was alongside my surging interest in Christian apologetics. I was (and am) fascinated by finding out about idioms in the Bible, or euphemistic language that explained why things were written in the way they were. It was truly an exciting time.

Then, it started to become problematic. The simplistic reading of passages that I grew up with started to make less sense. Some of this coincided with my turning away from young earth creationism. There was a distinct incongruity between what I was learning regarding what the original intent might have been for a passage and what I was supposed to accept it to mean. It culminated in one private discussion with a professor (who, again, was an LCMS pastor) in which I pointed out that it seemed like the Flood story had precursors in the ancient world, and that it seemed to be almost polemical in its intent rather than historical. That is, the Flood story to me read as an intentional reframing of existing stories to teach monotheism and about how God overpowered forces of chaos than it did as a sort of rote historical report. This reading, the professor pointed out, contradicted another aspect of the historical grammatical method, which is that the events depicted in the Bible are actually historical essentially all the way through. I would later learn that this was a distortion of what evangelicals broadly held to be the historical grammatical method, and that would be its own kind of revelatory gain. In the moment, however, I was a bit shocked. I was simply trying to apply the hermeneutic I’d been learning to the texts themselves. Instead, I was being told that I was undermining Scripture as history and, possibly, denying the Bible itself.

When I shared my thoughts with another LCMS pastor, I was told straightforwardly that the way to distinguish someone who believed the Bible or not was to ask them about whether certain passages or books were historical. Thus, this pastor said you should ask whether they believe Jonah was a real person who was truly swallowed by a whale (or, he conceded, maybe a giant fish instead). You should ask whether they believe Adam and Eve were real and whether they were the first and only humans. You should ask whether a snake literally did speak to them. Noah’s Flood was another example. This pastor wasn’t just implying that denial of any of these meant one didn’t believe the Bible, he straightforwardly said it. That meant that my reading had to be rejected out of hand. I was devastated, but for the moment I dropped my investigation of Ancient Near Eastern background for the text. It would take me years to get back into it, and to this day I’m still trying to find resources to learn more.

One thing I’d theorized for a while about the LCMS and other groups that push beliefs that are outside of mainstream science was that once someone starts to disbelieve scientists regarding one thing, it becomes much easier to doubt scientists in other things. I wrote about how, as a child, I learned that scientists weren’t just wrong but were actively lying about things like the age of the Earth. Once you’ve accepted that there is some kind of global scientific conspiracy to cover up something like the age of the Earth, it becomes much easier to accept that same kind of thinking in other areas.

I dove into the question of climate change entirely from the view of one who wanted to deny that it was occurring. Again, from hearing things like Rush Limbaugh’s radio show and other sources, I was convinced it was another example of scientists lying. In college, I continued to read on the topic, watched and listened to several debates, and read some books on either side. What I kept finding is that the numbers couldn’t be thrown out. When I explored the age of the Earth, I kept finding young earth creationists saying things like “We look at the same data, we just interpret it differently.” The same thing seemed to be occurring with climate change. I eventually brought this notion to one of my professors as we talked about what I was hoping to study going forward. We were in his office and I distinctly remember him saying “It’s such a shame that global warming [using the parlance more common at the time] has become a politically charged question. The data is there; it is happening! It’s okay to debate what to do about it, but to deny that it exists is like sticking your head in the sand. It shouldn’t be political.” He went on to talk about a number of other issues he saw as unnecessarily political. It was hugely refreshing to hear, and it helped free me to think about all sorts of topics in different ways. But this put me on the outside of many conversations with LCMS leaders or leaders-in-training, who frequently talked about the lie of global warming. It wouldn’t be a major factor in alienating me from the LCMS, but it would serve as another example of how teaching about scientists all lying in one area made it easier to accept the same elsewhere.[4]

None of these served as overwhelming reasons why I left the LCMS, but united with the reasons from the previous posts, they became a massive case for leaving. Next time, we’ll delve into one more major reason I left the LCMS.

Next: Points of Fracture- Women in the Church

[1] I’ve said before there are many things the LCMS has a de facto position in relation to without explicitly drawing out or spelling it out in doctrines. One of these is the de facto young earth creationism within the LCMS. While they have some documents saying there is no official position, the continued adoption of resolutions effectively teaching YEC makes holding other positions problematic at best and grounds for excommunication for some pastors. I say the latter from my own experience of being denied communion for differing beliefs on the age of the Earth.

[2] There is some of the history of the LCMS’s transition from a German-speaking church to an English-speaking church in Authority Vested by Mary Todd, which has a history of the LCMS.

[3] a broadly used practice in the LCMS to teach children what they supposedly need to know before participating in the Lord’s Supper.

[4] I didn’t include a longer aside about anti-vaccination beliefs in the LCMS. It certainly is not an official position within the LCMS, but I’ve found it to be more common there than in the general population, even before Covid-19. Again, I believe this is linked to a general mistrust of scientists and science. If scientists are liars about one thing, why trust them in others? It genuinely makes me concerned about what might happen in the future if more and more people I know start to refuse vaccines, despite demonstrable evidence that they work.

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.

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.

Why I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: By Their Fruits… (Part 3)

Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Markus Trienke

For several posts, I will be 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 3)

[Content warning: discussion of misogyny.]

I wrote in my short history of my time in the LCMS: “What I thought when I decided to become a pastor is that I’d find a group of like-minded men… I did find several like-minded men, but I also found some of the most inward-looking, doctrine-obsessed, orthodox-rabid, self-righteous, and, unfortunately, misogynistic people I’d ever run into. I was one of them for a while.”

There’s intense pressure within the LCMS to fit in. The focus on “doctrinal purity” is immense, and this means that any dissent from some supposed norm is met with black-and-white simplicity. There simply cannot be dissent from the LCMS party line if one wants to be right about anything. This pressure to be “doctrinally pure” increases peer pressure on other levels. One doesn’t want to be seen as the weirdo who goes against commonly accepted jokes and practices. I found myself, then, as a pre-seminary student studying to be a pastor, in a group of men[1] with a like-minded focus on doctrine. This manifested in some strange ways.

For one, it meant that we largely had to pretend to know everything about Lutheran and LCMS doctrine. This wasn’t hard for me, as one who was a pastor’s kid and spent much of my childhood memorizing parts of Luther’s Small Catechism and other works. But it meant that if one of us was found out of step with something within the LCMS, there simply was no wiggle room. You either had to conform or be shunned; there’s no middle ground. So if someone was called on something that was not LCMS-correct, they either had to double down and defend it, proving it was LCMS appropriate or they had to show they’d been misunderstood. Recanting or repenting was largely out of the question because it meant that one’s doctrinal purity was suspect going forward. After all, if you couldn’t be trusted to know who to exclude from communion (or not) based on obscure and arcane rules, how could you be trusted to lead a church?[2]

The peer pressure was enormous, and would often get applied to things that weren’t necessarily official stances of the LCMS, but were rather logical outcomes of LCMS stances on things. One of those is the LCMS’s stance on women, which is an historically complex topic that has developed over the life of the Synod (see, for example, this historical work on the topic).

My increasing support of women’s rights and equality put me on the outside of these pre-seminary circles. Eventually, that would permanently remove me from those circles, but that’s a later post. Jokes at the expense of women were frequent. I’ll never forget being in a philosophy class, huddled together with some other pre-seminary men as we waited for the professor, talking around a set of desks. We were talking about intramural sports or something similar when significant others came up. One of the other pre-seminary men bragged about how his significant other had made him a sandwich the previous day, and he joked that “she’d be doing that for the rest of her life.” Everyone else laughed, but I didn’t. My increasing unease with jokes like this was becoming well-known on campus, and at least one of the other men said something like “take a joke” when I said it wasn’t funny.

Jokes weren’t the only way I experienced pastors or pastors-in-training to be derogatory towards women. The very acts and stances they took regarding women underscored this at every level. I heard from multiple different LCMS pastors things like “If a wife isn’t happy, no one in the house is happy,” a saying taken as a kind of truism about how women’s emotional lives will lash out at everyone else and bring them down.

The frequency of jokes in expense of women cannot really be overstated. Whether it was about women making sandwiches, needing to stay in the kitchen, being only good for raising children, or not having the right body parts to be a pastor, women were the butt of jokes. Menstrual cycles were seen with derision, and the verses in the Bible that mentioned them or euphemisms for them were treated with unease. But they also were fodder for jokes, and I heard jokes even from seminarians and pastors about a woman being “in her time of the month” if they were upset or expressed any kind of emotion. Conversely, men were emasculated if they showed emotions, “crying like a girl” or “running like a girl” was reason enough to be treated with scorn. Women’s place in the home was undermined even by their children. Teenage males were told they were “head of the household” if the father was away. I know this isn’t limited to my own experience, as I recall conversations with other LCMS-raised men talking about the same things.

For those who know the inner workings of LCMS theology, all of this shouldn’t be that surprising. While the LCMS ostensibly values women and claims women are fully equal to men, in practice that is far from the truth. Franz Pieper, an early President of what became known as the LCMS, wrote a lengthy multivolume systematic theology work. I used to own it. One of the passages in it basically says regarding women that they ought to be home and in the kitchen. It’s that blunt. I don’t have the volumes on hand anymore to get the exact wording. Pieper is seen by some LCMS theologians as extreme or off-base, but usually because of his views on things like predestination, not because of his views on women. The pre-seminary students were at least vaguely aware of theology like this existing, and some even cited it directly if their jokes about women were questioned.

To the outsider, this might sound absurd. Surely some random college kids wouldn’t be this aware of obscure theological texts from their theological heritage! Well, again, these were men studying specifically to be pastors. And because of the LCMS’s extreme emphasis on doctrinal purity as a kind of shibboleth for deciding who’s in or out, these students were very much aware of at least the basics of their theological heritage. They had to be, else their own doctrinal purity might be questioned and all might be lost. Again, this sounds over the top, but I cannot emphasize how accurate it is.

The emphasis on doctrinal purity came out in regards to other denominations as well. While non-Lutherans were generally tolerated as “wrong” or “deeply deluded” by the pre-seminary crowd, the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt” was astonishingly accurate. The LCMS seems to have an extreme case of bitterness against the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). I’ve noted this as I read LCMS-published theological texts, nearly all of which I’ve read have at least a footnote somewhere trashing the ELCA for some perceived wrong. This absolutely flows through the veins of many pastors in the LCMS, as well as in the pre-seminary and seminary students I knew. One pre-seminary student “converted” from ELCA to LCMS while in college with us, and he quickly moved to distance himself as much as possible from the ELCA, becoming a front-runner in making jokes at the expense of women and about “homosexuals.” This kind of insular hatred directed at a near theological rival is extremely common.

In college, I was dating an ELCA woman, and this led to one of many examples of this that directly impacted me. In the earlier days of Facebook, posts would be “[your name] [status]” so you’d post things like “is tired…” so it would say “J.W. is tired.” I posted something like “J.W. is so grateful to have a girl with [these great attributes]”[3]. A pre-seminary student who saw this status aped it, but modified it ever-so-slightly: “Charles is so grateful to have a girl with [same great attributes] who’s LCMS!”[4] It was a clear dig at my status, and an implicit questioning of my orthodoxy. After all, how could I date a woman who was in the ELCA?

What kind of answer could be given to this? The easiest response to all of this would be to offer a similar response to the proposed one regarding Racism: not all LCMS pastors are racist, and many would be appalled by racist jokes. Not all LCMS pastors are misogynists. Not all LCMS pastors joke about women’s place in the kitchen or write systematic theologies arguing to that end… not all… I agree. It’s true that not all LCMS pastors are guilty of the things I saw and experienced. But too many LCMS pastors allow misogyny within their ranks. Too many LCMS pastors cover up or make demeaning comments about women. Too many LCMS pastors have misogynistic mindsets. “By their fruits, you will know them.”

Next: By their fruit… (Part 3) I discuss still more bad fruit I witnessed within the LCMS.

[1] I occasionally will interchange “men” or “pre-seminary students” or similar terms. Unless otherwise noted, these should all be understood to be all men. The LCMS does not ordain women into the office of ministry, and so women in a pre-seminary program are vanishingly rare.

[2] I will address closed communion and some related idiosyncratic practices within the LCMS in a later post.

[3] Note the use of the term “girl” for woman, and the notion of ownership of a significant other; these talking points were imbibed and encouraged with in an LCMS context that devalues women and treats people who’d care about calling women “girls” as absurdities. Again, I’m not proud of myself for having adopted this language at that point, but I am thankful that woman challenged me to do better.

[4] Again, I’ve changed any names throughout this series.

Why I Left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: By Their Fruits… (Part 2)

Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Markus Trienke

For several posts, I will be 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. Check out the Hub for this series to see all my posts on why I left the LCMS.

By their fruits… (Part 2)

[Content warning: discussions of racism, antisemitism, and Islamophobia.]

I talked about how I learned that faith lived wasn’t the same as faith professed in my last post. It was a kind of disturbing reality to become aware of, but also one that would get repeatedly shoved in my face as I studied to be a church worker in the LCMS–initially as a teacher, and later as a pastor. The black-and-white, rigid doctrinal purity I was taught was essential didn’t get applied to the lives of Christians, including church workers and those studying to be the same.

I enjoyed visiting other LCMS churches. I’d come prepared with my well-worn and well-marked Bible, eager to join the Bible study, which is where I knew the rubber hit the road regarding discussions of doctrine. I wanted to engage scripture as much as possible, and learn it as deeply as possible. One visit took me along with another man studying to be a pastor to a church site he was working at. I enjoyed the Bible study well enough.

After church, I went to speak with the pastor, who knew I was a pre-seminary student. He asked me how college was going, and how I liked my classes. At some point, the conversation turned to sports and he asked about my favorite college team. I said it was Nebraska, and the pastor said that he liked them too. The reason, he said, was because they “don’t have any of those black boys on their team.” He favored Nebraska because, in his words, they liked “white boys playing football,” even at positions other teams often had–here he used a derogatory term for African Americans–playing the position. He grinned at me with a knowing smile. I was genuinely shocked. So much so that I was literally dumbstruck. I could not untie my tongue to correct him or even say I disagreed. I think after some awkwardly long silence I said something like “I like them because my parents do,” and walked as swiftly away as possible.

When I met back up with man I’d come with, he asked what I thought about the experience. I’d managed to muster my thoughts a bit more at this point. In no uncertain terms I said the pastor was a racist and that I found that reprehensible for a pastor, especially. I repeated what had been said. I had expected the other pastor-in-training to be similarly incensed. I don’t know exactly what I thought would happen–some kind of confrontation with the pastor over the absurdity of his statements. Instead, this man who was at seminary in the LCMS told me that I shouldn’t be worried about it. The pastor was old, and stuck in his ways. Something to the effect of, “That’s just how people his age think” was said. I was even asked if I would come back the next week for Bible study and church. I was appalled and said something that made it clear I’d not be setting foot in the place again. He shrugged it off.

The LCMS had and has a very uneven stance with race. While outwardly speaking against racism abstractly, inwardly instances of racism were hushed up. Racist jokes were not infrequent among pre-seminary men[1] when I was in college. Whether it was about how “illegals” would ruin our country or jokes about other minorities and stereotypes, these were seen as good natured fun, not as the vile racism they reflected. Again, to my shame, I wasn’t nearly loud enough in my condemnation of it. Indeed, like all too many people, I found myself laughing along to try to fit in. It was easier to conform and be “in,” than to be “out.” The visit to a church with a racist pastor is what broke me. I realized that I was enabling others on that same path. I got louder in pre-seminary circles at lunches or breaks between classes, not laughing at jokes. I wish I’d been better at this than I was, to be honest. Even the inadequate amount of pushback I offered made me a bit of a pariah.

The pattern of racist remarks is one I encountered at many levels of LCMS leadership at many different sites. Defenses of the Confederacy is one way this manifests. Defending an alternate history narrative of “states’ rights” as the cause of the Civil War[2] provides a convenient dog whistle to cover up, at minimum, prejudice. Thus, when I grimaced as I listened to one pastor go on about the “glorious cause” (actual quote) the South had fought for, he was able to take a few steps back and say, “I mean states’ rights, of course!” Defense of the Confederacy cannot avoid being tied to racism. Thankfully, my elementary and middle school education in LCMS schools did not support a Lost Cause false narrative of the history of the United States, but I frequently encountered it among LCMS teachers and pastors.

Directly racist statements were also not out of the question. I already shared above my story about visiting a pastor who doubled down on racist statements, and the defense of that pastor by others. Another pastor, after overhearing an elderly woman using a derogatory word for Black people, told me that I should not be upset or intervene about it because “that was just the times she was in.” I was a young teen at the time, and did not yet have the capacity to question such an answer. But horrific, racist language from people that then gets defended by pastors (or having that same language come from pastors’ mouths) is the kind of thing that makes an impression on a young mind. It would take me some years before I was able to dig through that morass of obfuscation regarding racism and realize that “growing up some number of years ago” does not excuse one for being racist.

Comments about Islam and Muslims were and are extremely common. Reading Facebook comments on LCMS groups trying to teach about racism gives many, many contemporary examples of this. But my own experience in the LCMS demonstrated time and again that Islamophobia was not only endemic in the LCMS, but was often tied to racism in complex and interconnected ways. 9/11 wasn’t when this started, but certainly touched off a number of comments, from Americans across the board. However, within LCMS institutions, I would frequently hear about how Muslims were all trying to kill Christians specifically and that Islam’s teaching is explicitly violent. Indeed, it was not uncommon to be told that if Muslims said Islam wasn’t violent, they were doing so in order to cover up latent desire to cause violence or to allow a kind of shadowy Sharia to sneak into “the West” in order to take over peacefully before starting a violent regime. Any action by anyone who could be identified as Middle Eastern was therefore automatically linked to this global Islamic conspiracy. The tie to racism came up not infrequently, such as Christians who engaged in violent acts but “looked Muslim” being tied to Islam. The color of skin was apparently enough to tie the perpetrator into Islam.

One memorable conversation about Islam ended after I asked something similar to “If all Muslims really wanted to kill all Christians–if that was really want they all wanted, deep down, and they were covering it up–then how come, if there are over one billion Muslims in the world, we aren’t all dead or fighting for our lives?” The question was pointed not because I believed the charge that all Muslims wanted to kill all Christians, but because I wanted to point out the absurdity of the claim. This was in conversation with an LCMS pastor, and the response was basically to change the subject. Again, due to widespread anti-Muslim sentiment in America, this isn’t uncommon, but these are comments from and by pastors or people studying to be pastors within the LCMS, and one might wonder what standards and corrections are being offered within to make this not be such a common problem.

Antisemitism also reared its ugly head. There were offhand remarks about how Jews today (those who hadn’t converted to Christianity, anyway) were all going to hell, for example. While this aligns with the general belief that anyone who isn’t Christian is going to hell, time and again Jewish people were singled out for especial remarks to that effect. Lutherans, especially, have a history of antisemitism. Martin Luther’s horrifying comments about Jews were either ignored or given a context that was supposed to justify them. At multiple points within the LCMS, I was taught that Luther’s comments about Jews were understandable because he was frustrated that they didn’t convert to Christianity. This wasn’t just a way to explain why Luther turned towards antisemitism more fully[3]. Instead, it was an explanation that was supposed to exonerate him, in some way. Luther could emerge from this explanation, if not sparkling clean, then understandable.[4] Rather than simply condemning Luther as a sinful man engaging in detestable behavior–something that would very much align with Lutheran theology–Luther was given an apology for his behavior. This opened up, for some, the possibility of doing the same or at least excusing other behavior. In college, some classmates, including a few pre-seminarians, engaged in Holocaust denial. Some of them were treating as a joke, apparently thinking it was “edgy” to make such comments. However, even “jokes” about antisemitism are engaging in antisemitic behavior.

Racism continues to be a major problem within the LCMS. Currently, controversy has erupted at Concordia University Wisconsin (and by extension, Concordia University Ann Arbor) because the job description for the President of the university included diversity and equity in what was being sought. The extreme conservative pushback against this is a major problem that shows leadership in the LCMS continues to prefer to hide or ignore racism rather than confront it. It’s easier to pretend racism in the LCMS is impossible than it is to confront the ugly truth that it exists and is tolerated and even protected. My own experience encountering racism in the LCMS reinforces this. (For more on this controversy, see my post here.)

Another recent example is from the reporting around a survey of Young Adults who’d left the LCMS. I received this survey and filled it out. When the reporting came out explaining the reasons why people like me had left, racism was one of the examples. One other young adult said she left because her boyfriend, who’s Hispanic, felt unwelcome at an LCMS church. But the report said something to the effect of “We in the LCMS aren’t racist and are welcoming of people from anywhere, so it’s likely that this boyfriend was being paranoid.” I wish I were making that up. But this kind of head-in-the-sand reaction to overt and covert racism is enough of a pattern that it is clearly an issue.

The easiest response to all of this would be to say not all LCMS pastors are racist, and many would be appalled by racist jokes. Not all LCMS pastors are Islamophobic or antisemitic… not all… I agree. It’s true that not all LCMS pastors are guilty of the things I saw and experienced. But too many LCMS pastors allow racism within their ranks. Too many LCMS pastors cover up racist jokes and comments made by peers. Too many LCMS pastors have defended the Confederacy with impunity. “By their fruit, you will know them.”

[1] I’ll occasionally use the term “pre-seminary” or “pre-seminary students.” It should be understood unless otherwise noted that this always refers to groups of exclusively men, and specifically men who were on track to study to be pastors. Women are not permitted to be ordained as pastors in the LCMS, and so it is exceedingly rare for a woman to be enrolled in the pre-seminary program.

[2] States’ Rights was manifestly not the cause of the Civil War. Reading the articles of secession of several states reveals this, as they explicitly state that a major or even the reason for secession was they wanted the Federal Government to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, itself a major infringement on States’ Rights. I outline some of this, and other reasons to point to slavery as the reason for the Civil War, here.

[3] Research shows that Luther was surrounded by antisemitism from childhood in every context in which he operated, and even his earlier works featured antisemitism at least in illustrations. See Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet by Lydal Roper.

[4] This propensity to deny or explain away defects in heroes’ character is pervasive. That doesn’t excuse it, but should instead make us cautious about our own heroes.

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.

Why I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: Points of Fracture (Part 1): Science as a Child

I have written about why I am writing this series as well as my history within the LCMS. Now, it is time to turn to what I’m calling points of fracture. For several posts, I will be 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, something I learned in the Bible, or something else.[1]

Points of Fracture: Science as a Child

Here, I’ll be sharing the points of fracture that I experienced related to science at a young age. At the outset, I want to point out that much of these points of fracture were discovered by me over time. So, for example, when I talk about my young childhood, it’s not as though I was immediately aware that something was off about what I was learning. Instead, it was a realization that came over time, and the memory of when I was young was something that I recall as an important stepping stone to get to where I am now.

Some of my first memories of conflict between what I believed and what others believed was as a child getting library books. I don’t remember how far we had to go to drive to the library from our tiny town, but I remember it seemed like forever, and that I would consume books on the way home, often falling asleep in the car before arriving at home. I, like many kids, was obsessed with dinosaurs.[2] That meant I raided the library’s section on dinosaurs. I’d memorize the names and facts about them, pore over images of them, and imagine what life would have been like alongside them. If the cover of a library book had a T-Rex ripping apart its prey, that was the book I was going for. But those dinosaur books talked about when dinosaurs lived. Those dates were given as the best scientific approximations based on various dating techniques, ranging from about 66 million years ago to 200 million or more for dinosaurs’ first appearance on Earth.

Those dates, I was told, were wrong. Whenever I saw “millions,” I was told to ignore it. As a young kid, I didn’t press back very hard on that. After all, I had no reason to do so. I knew that I could get facts wrong about all sorts of things, so the notion that basically every book I read about dinosaurs was wrong about how long ago dinosaurs lived wasn’t terribly mind-bending for me. I learned to just run my eyes over any time it said “millions of years,” because that was wrong. The rest of the facts, though, were basically unquestioned. I didn’t have the capacity at the time to put those two things into disharmony. That is, I didn’t realize how odd it was that the books and scientists seemed to be right about, say the ecosystem the dinosaurs lived in, or their diets, or debates about coloration while simultaneously being totally wrong and even untruthful about how long ago they lived.

That last bit is important. I used the word “untruthful” because part of what I was taught, whether directly or through creationist literature I would be exposed to a year or so later, was that scientists weren’t just wrong about the age of the Earth or when dinosaurs lived. No, instead, they were actively lying about it. I want to sit with this for a moment because it is an extremely important distinction. There’s a huge difference between someone being wrong while reporting something they think is factual and someone deliberately deceiving you about something they say is factual. That I came to believe that scientists were actively lying about the age of the Earth would temper my interest in science for more than a decade once it became fully engrained in me. Sometimes I genuinely think I would have ended up in geology or paleontology as a field of study and employment if I hadn’t come to be taught that, because of my deep interest in these topics. But I didn’t, at least in part because I thought scientists were liars.

No small part of that belief came from some of the approved dinosaur books I was gifted during my dinosaur obsession. These dinosaurs books portrayed a different history of the world, with humans walking alongside long-necked dinosaurs and feeding them fruits by hand. I distinctly remember a photograph of an alleged plesiosaur (see below) that had been caught by a fishing boat in one of them. These books didn’t have the same exciting illustrations of T-Rex or Deinonychus (my personal favorite) shredding their prey. Instead, I was taught that they had something more precious–the truth about dinosaurs. These books confronted head on topics like evolution and the age of the Earth, saying in no uncertain terms that evolution was a lie and scientists who taught millions of years were liars as well. I didn’t even understand what evolution was supposed to be at this point, but I knew it was a lie. Again, this disjunction between being mistaken and being liars was something that sucked away my enjoyment of science over time, and also would make it extremely difficult for me to fairly examine evidence.

Alleged photograph of a plesiosaur captured by a fishing boat. The photograph is genuine, though it is of a rotted carcass of a shark, not a plesiosaur. Even Creationist organization Answers in Genesis shares reasons to doubt its authenticity as a plesiosaur. I couldn’t find the exact photo credits for this image, but use it under fair use.

Later, I remember talking to a child a few grades above me at my LCMS grade school. When I mentioned that I liked dinosaurs, she told me quite sincerely that dinosaurs had never existed. I was incredulous, asking “What about all the bones!?” Her answer surprised me: she said something to the effect of “Those bones were put there by God to test people’s faith.” The total somberness with which she expressed this sentiment took me off guard, but I do remember laughing at her because I thought it was so ridiculous to think that (I wasn’t the kid with the best manners). I would later recall the incident when I was studying more about these topics because it specifically showed me I could see beliefs about science that seemed obviously false and reject them, and that was okay. Even more importantly, it was a time my younger self was given an idea about God that did not seem to align with what I believed about God. Even as a child, the notion that God would be actively trying to deceive people seemed obviously, even hilariously wrong. That God doesn’t deceive us with nature, but that nature rather declares the glory of God (Psalm 19) would be hugely important to me as an adult.

Another topic I remember was about Adam and Eve. I specifically remember learning that all boys and men had one fewer rib than women. This was seen as evidence for the biblical account of Adam having been formed from Eve’s rib. I don’t remember my first source of hearing of this, but I do remember I heard it from more than one adult in my life. It wasn’t actually until college as I was searching online for various science-related things that I learned this was false. To this day, even typing that it’s false has me second-guessing myself, so firm was my belief that men had fewer ribs than women. It’s one of those things that is incredibly easy to disprove, to the point that when passed along, no one thinks to question it. It was honestly a shocking revelation to me when I discovered it wasn’t true, and it spurred me on to search for other things I could disprove or couldn’t confirm.

I believe it was in 6th grade, again at an LCMS school, that I had a single day in which we talked about plate tectonics. It was in a geography class, and we were learning quite briefly about how the map was formed. I recalled some of the maps I’d seen in dinosaur books of Pangaea and asked about that, noticing it appeared as though Africa and South America fit together. I don’t remember the exact answer, but what I got was enough for me to excitedly talk about plate tectonics later, only to be told by a pastor that they don’t exist. How did earthquakes happen, then? I asked. The answer was that God made them happen. I was disturbed even then by this answer. More, I was confused in getting entirely different answers about what caused earthquakes and how continents moved–or whether they moved at all–from two approved sources. Which should I believe? In the moment, I just bracketed it and stopped thinking about it. That was largely my answer for when things like this happened. I assumed others knew more than me, and it would become clear later.

One year in middle school at an LCMS school (I think it was 8th grade), we were super excited to be taking part in a science curriculum that would be shared by schools all over the country. The curriculum used the Hawaiian islands as a touch point for learning all sorts of things about science–whether geology by learning about volcanoes, biology by learning about ecosystems, and the like. I distinctly recall opening the binders we received and flipping through to see the contents. In among the thrilling sections on volcanoes and wildlife, I saw that there was a section about evolution on the islands. I had only the vaguest idea of what evolution meant. I knew it meant something like animals turned into other animals because of seeing it in some dinosaur books I’d read years before. I recalled learning that evolution was a lie, but seeing it show up in a text in my LCMS school made it feel safe… but only for a moment. When I turned to the pages indicated to see what might be said about this intriguing topic, I discovered the pages had been removed. I opened to the page, and found I was flipping from page 55 to page 75. It’s hard to fully capture my feelings at that moment. It was a truly disturbing incident for me. I believe I mentioned it to the teacher and was told that we wouldn’t be covering that topic. I remember flipping back and forth a few times, stunned. It was one of the clearest moments as a kid that I realized something was genuinely being covered up. It wasn’t just that scientists were wrong or lying. That, I could, in my childlike trust, accept. This was a revelation: what scientists taught was being actively covered up or suppressed, as if it would be dangerous to even know about it.

Earlier, I said this was one of the points of fracture that led me to think that maybe the LCMS way of things wasn’t accurate. I want to briefly address a possible objection here. I say “the LCMS view of things,” not necessarily to mean that they have specific teachings on everything I touch upon here or in other posts. For example, it is very clear that the LCMS holds that young earth creationism in some form is the view that ought to be taught to and held by its members. This view, however, is not codified in LCMS official positions. Indeed, according to the LCMS’s official web site about their views, they do not have an official position on the age of the earth. Thus, one could technically take issue with my pointing out that the LCMS’s view of things is a young earth creationist perspective.

However, this would indeed be nothing but a technicality, because in application and practice, no other views are allowed broadly in the LCMS. As one example, one pastor confidentially told me about how some of their peers attempted to introduce a resolution at a pastor’s conference to simply discuss the possibility of views apart from young earth creationism. This pastor approvingly told me that those pastors were literally shouted down by the rest of the pastors at this conference for their attempt. From my own experience, I know of at least 3 different LCMS pastors who questioned the faith of LCMS members who did not hold to a young earth creationist view. Additionally, tying belief in a young earth together with trust in the Bible is ubiquitous in LCMS leadership. In preparing this post, one classmate of mine pointed out that an LCMS professor who was a pastor explicitly taught an old Earth in a class we shared. This experience was perhaps the lone exception to an otherwise uniform experience that I and others have shared related to the LCMS’s views on the age of the Earth.

All of these final points are to say, just because something isn’t explicitly codified on the LCMS web site, for example, doesn’t mean that it’s not part of the DNA of the LCMS. Young Earth Creationism is absolutely integral to the overwhelmingly vast majority of LCMS belief and practice related to any questions about science and faith.

See also my post, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and Creationism: An unnecessary match, in which I go over the 2019 convention’s affirmation of Young Earth Creationism, including a link to the official LCMS blog.

Next: Points of Fracture, Part 2

[1] I debated internally a bit about how to organize my thoughts related to the specific fracture points that led me to see that my views did not align with those of the LCMS. Should I organize them topically, chronologically, or in some other order? I ultimately settled on doing them topically, because it allowed me to arrange each topic chronologically and show how some of these built on themselves over time. I thought it would be less disjointed to present it this way, rather than skipping around.

[2] I say “was obsessed” but I truly remain obsessed with dinosaurs, and find learning about them is still one of my greatest joys.

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.

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!

What’s Wrong with Apologetics? – I take a look at some of the issues I’ve found to be broadly true in apologetics-related circles.

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.

Why I Left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: Finding my voice

I’ve wanted to write about my reasons for leaving the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) for some time. Some years ago, I received a survey sent out to LCMS and ex-LCMS youth. I was just within the age range of people they wanted to respond. I filled it out and sent it in. Reading through some of the results from that survey, it looks like approximately 1-in-3 millennials who were in the LCMS in their younger years have remained. I am not surprised by this. I’m one of the ones who left.

It is difficult for me to write about these things for a few reasons. The first reason is because there are many people I know and love within the LCMS, and there is such complexity in my feelings, thoughts, and beliefs about that. I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. I am a people pleaser at heart, and I don’t like to be disliked. It is hard to be rejected, and much harder to cause pain to others, intentionally or not. I know that writing about these issues will bring pain to some. My hope, though, is that it can also bring understanding, conversation, and peace to others. I have received several anonymous (and not) e-mails and messages from people reflecting on some of the same issues I have and sharing the same concerns. I’m writing this, in part, for you. But I also write it for those who remain in the LCMS, because it is important to know what at least some people are experiencing therein, and why we are leaving.

The second reason it is difficult to write about is because I know that I will receive backlash. I have already experienced in person chastisement and insults, and received letters and e-mails, Facebook messages, and more from allegedly concerned LCMS leaders and laity. Nearly all of those conversations included some form of saying that I would be going to hell (though not always using those exact words). The reason for this was not because I rejected Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (He is); it was not because I stopped affirming infant baptism (I do affirm it) or real presence in the Lord’s Supper (I do affirm it); the reasons were not because I rejected the Lutheran Confessions (which I continue to study to better understand). No, all of these messages were sent with their concern that I’d be going to hell because I’d left the LCMS for reasons other than these. It is not easy to be told time and again you’re going to hell. But I trust in Jesus Christ, who is Lord of the Universe, and in whom I trust for my salvation, far more than I trust people in whose interest it is to maintain the status quo and silence dissent from their insular denomination.

I also haven’t written about this more publicly for years because it is traumatic. I have experienced spiritual trauma from my time in the LCMS and from leaving it. Typing that remains difficult for me, not because I don’t believe it, but because it is so hard to acknowledge and name. Spiritual trauma and abuse aren’t easy to pin down and point at, and people so often try to wave it off and cover it up. Naming it as traumatic and difficult is part of the way to heal from it and move forward.

I am now at the point in my life in which I feel mentally and emotionally prepared to do this work. The work I refer to is to share my story in hope that it will benefit others who have similar experiences, thoughts, and concerns. The church should be a place in which Christ’s work is done. My hope is that by sharing my story, I can inspire others to continue to do Christ’s work. I also know that there are parts I still don’t feel ready to share. I am nervous about this, and I pray for peace and courage as I write.

For those reading this silently, for those who are reading and not commenting, I pray for you as well. I pray that my story will be edifying and enlightening. I pray that I don’t bring harm. I pray that if I “cause trouble,” that it is good trouble.

Next in series: a short history of my time in the LCMS.

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.

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!

What’s Wrong with Apologetics? – I take a look at some of the issues I’ve found to be broadly true in apologetics-related circles.

SDG.

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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.

Jon Meacham's "The Hope of Glory" and Reconstructing Faith

Jon Meacham is best known as a biographer of Presidents, whether his excellent look at Thomas Jefferson’s life (my review here), or his Pulitzer-winning biography of Andrew Jackson. His recent work, The Hope of Glory, is a short reflection on Jesus’s words from the cross. I grabbed it after I got an email from Goodreads in which Meacham described his perspective and talked about his faith. I thought it might be interesting to see his perspective, but have to admit I was a little worried due not wanting to see some sort of patriotic deity paraded in front of me. I shouldn’t have been worried. What I found instead was a pithy, frank discussion of faith alongside some theological reflection. I found it helpful in my own reading as I’ve been reconstructing faith.

Meacham writes that, “For the thoughtful believer… there is nothing more certain than the reality of uncertainty, nothing more natural than doubt…” (12). He notes the difficulty with seeking certainty: “Fundamentalist believers and fundamentalist atheists would both do well… to acknowledge that literalism may be comforting but is ultimately dangerous, for an uncritical acceptance of one worldview or another (whether in religion or politics) ends more conversations than it begins” (13). Though I feel more certain now than I had before, a lot of that is due to my decision to “go public” with my own thoughts about faith. The common saying about the more you know, the more you know you don’t know seems so true to me in regards to Christianity and faith. While once, I felt so certain that I could demonstrate my beliefs were superior to those of others’, I no longer feel that way.

Fundamentalism is a frequent target of Meacham, and he even goes so far as to note that it can be sinful: “Literalism is for the weak; fundamentalism is for the insecure. Both are sins, too, against God, for to come to believe that we are in exclusive possession of the truth about things beyond time and space, and thus hold the power to shape lives about things within time and space, is to put ourselves in the place of God” (69-70). Over and over again, I see people who talk about the “clear teaching of Scripture” and how those who disagree with them are sinning due to their rejection of God’s word. But if that’s true, how is it possible that people do, seemingly in good conscience, disagree on so many of these “clear” issues? I think that we need to be very careful about what we say is so clear. What is clear for one of us may not be clear to all. We get in danger of reductionism when we push for the “yes or no” clarity of certainty.

Meacham notes that we as Christians “are called to use our minds as well as our hearts in reading the Bible…” and that we need not ignore possible difficulties in the Bible. He goes so far as to say that one can hold the Scriptures are “perhaps inspired but certainly fallible” (42). His wording is strong, to the point I’m not sure agree (I would affirm the Bible is inspired, for example), but part of his effort seems to be to force readers to think through their assumptions and certainties and see where there may be problems.

Meacham writes about hell, and he argues that one can find verses to contradict each other on the topic, such that a reader who wants to insist on literal interpretations will end up in a “guerrilla war that never ends” as they “fight… verse-to-verse” (90). One thing I’ve contemplated a lot as I reconstruct faith is the notion of the polyvalence of Scripture. I don’t remember where I first heard the term–it may have been Peter Enns–but I know I reacted poorly the first time I heard it. But more and more, I’ve thought about it as I’ve read and reflected on Scripture in my reading and devotion times. I think about how Kings and Chronicles portray the Kings of Israel and Judah in different, sometimes apparently competing ways. What does that mean for our own reading of Scripture? What does it mean as we try to take it seriously and read at as inspired?

Meacham’s book is a fascinating, challenging read that highlights his love of Jesus while also noting his own perspectives related to Scripture and believers. It’s worth reading and challenging yourself to look beyond individual quotes and think about what he says. Like me, you may find yourself nodding along at times, while at others you may sit back in contemplation and wonder about your own faith journey.

Links

Reconstructing Faith– Read other posts as I search for truth and navigate the messiness that is faith.

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.

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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.

The Faithful Solace of Metal- Reconstructing Faith with Demon Hunter

We live in interesting times, for better or worse. Recently, the weight of many things settled down on me. The stress of dealing with various personal problems, along with the broader pandemic impacting everyone through the novel coronavirus COVID-19, really was hitting me hard. So I sought solace in music. Usually, I listen to audiobooks on the way to and from work (and pretty much any other time I have a chance to listen to something for any length of time). But I felt that I needed something more–some music to sooth the soul.

Demon Hunter is a band I’ve loved for decades, since their debut self-titled album. I have listened to each album many, many times. I was listening to their music on shuffle, and the song “The Last One Alive” from their album Extremist came on. The lyrics resonated with me in a way nothing had before. As I listened, I realized that it was something I had desperately needed, and also was able to reflect on the way that the metal music of the band “Demon Hunter” had helped me reconstruct my faith and get through many difficult times.

Living through a pandemic certainly lends itself to thinking of doomsday scenarios, for better or worse. The song starts with a poignant line: “Did anyone survive?” But after this question, it delves more deeply into the trials we face each and every day:

Where angels fall and darkness reigns
Where time dissolves the brightest flame
Ever the same

Whether I’m the last one alive
Or ascend before my time
Better I’m the last one alive
Than a soul denied

So this is how we break
And this is where we find the only hope within this place

The lyrics spoke to me on such a deep level as I was driving on the interstate on the way home. The music moved me, and I couldn’t help but feel the connection with God, the cry for help, and the hope inherent in the song. We live in a world where angels have fallen, and where it does seem, so often, that time wears away at even the best parts of the world and the most uncorrupted things get shattered. When we live in the midst of a pandemic, how easy it is to cede our hope. But whether we are the last one left alive or not, whether we ‘ascend’ before our time, dying younger than one might think is fair, it remains true that God will not deny us, and that our lord Jesus has already saved us. That is where we can find the hope, and that means that even if we think all hope is lost, it is not.

Time may dissolve the brightest flame; angels may fall; it may seem that everything changes and yet remains the same; but in spite of all of this, hope remains.

Links

Reconstructing Faith– Read other posts as I search for truth and navigate the messiness that is faith.

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.

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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.

“It’s a Yes or No Question!” – Reconstructing Faith

On my faith journey one of the hardest things was when people I used to agree with would aggressively demand yes or no answers to what they thought were simple questions but that I thought were incredibly difficult and complex to answer.

Then they’d be angry about my hesitancy to answer. “It’s just a yes or no question!” they’d exclaim. Many continue to offer these questions to me as I consider questions about faith. The dichotomies that are offered are thought to be definitional, of deepest concern, and simple. But so often they’re not–they’re false dichotomies, they’re secondary issues, and they’re incredibly complex. Even trying to explain some of the difficulty with how complex these issues are would take much more than a single blog post. I’ll show a few examples of some of these dichotomies, some of which I actually did have offered as yes/no questions to me.

Do you believe that God created the heavens and the earth? Yes or no?
Do you believe in hell?
Do you believe we have souls?
Do you believe the Trinity is an essential doctrine?

Some readers might see some of these questions as quite simple–maybe even all of them, but here are some examples of the complexity:

Do you believe that God created the heavens and the earth? Yes or no?
What is meant by “created” here? Is it direct, fiat creation? Could God have used processes? What is meant by “heavens and the earth”?

Do you believe in hell?
What do you mean by hell? Do you mean endless, eternal, conscious torment? Do you mean literal fire? How does one “believe in” hell? Shouldn’t we all wish there were no hell and be hopeful that all might be saved, even if we don’t think all shall be?

Do you believe we have souls?
What is meant by the soul? Is it dualism? What kind of dualism–Cartesian, interactionism, emergentism? Could a Thomistic view of the soul be correct?

Do you believe the Trinity is an essential doctrine?
Yes, I do. But! What exactly does it mean to call it “essential”? Must one have it 100% correct in order to be saved? What does one make of the immense disagreement over subordination of the Son in recent debates, if so? What about questions of rejection of the Trinity being based upon rejection of colonialism?

Yes or no questions, intentionally or not, cut across sociological, theological, and philosophical lines without any precision and are seemingly designed to stop serious discussion and debate about a topic. They are used as a divisive tool, cutting apart people to show others what they’re right or wrong about? They’re traps that cut off discussion.

So yes, people will continue to get angry with me, but I refuse to allow some of these incredibly complex issues get boiled down to a yes or no question. It might make things simpler to boil down these topics to yes or no, affirm or deny type dichotomies, but it doesn’t help us get at truth. And that is what I desire: to seek truth.

Links

Reconstructing Faith– Read other posts as I search for truth and navigate the messiness that is faith.

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.

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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.

Faith is Messy

A picture of a goldfinch I took. All rights reserved.

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I’ve taken a kind of hiatus from some kinds of posts. I’ve mostly been posting a ton of book reviews. Part of that is because I have been reading all the time, trying to expand horizons and learn more. Another aspect of it is that my views have been changing, meshing, melding, and morphing over time, to the point that I kept thinking I should post on things and then being loathe to confidently put forward ideas that I wasn’t convinced were true.

I am hoping that pattern stops now. I have a lot of things going on in my personal life, but I also have a lot I’d like to write on and reflect on with you. If you’re a longtime reader, thanks so much for sticking with me through this, and I hope you’ll continue to read and comment going forward! If you’re new here, welcome! I hope you’ll bear with me on this journey.

First, there are still going to be a lot of book reviews. It’s a thing I like doing and that I like to think I’m fairly good at. Second, I’m still very interested in a lot of the things I wrote on before: apologetics, science and Christianity, and theology (especially Bonhoeffer!). I’ll still be writing on those things.

Faith is messy. That’s maybe the biggest thing I’ve learned on my own walk. It’s easy to have a set list of specific, explicit instructions about how the way things ought to be. It’s easy to stay in the position that you’re right and everyone around you is, at best, mistaken, or at worst actively deceiving others. It’s easy to subscribe to a view and never let it be questioned. Some people can live with that–and I’m not trying to judge them. I can’t live that way, though. I have to question, to poke and prod and find out if the ideas work. I don’t want to spend my life living behind a set of doctrinal statements that I’ve not at least tried to confirm for myself. I’ll be writing a lot more about this going forward.

So what do I mean that faith is messy? I mean that, for me, many of the things I was taught at various levels–all the way through graduate school–turned out to be much more complex than I thought at the time. Questions about what it means to affirm inerrancy, questions about hell–and heaven!, questions about what it means to live as a Christian today. I asked questions about my own Christian identity, and what it means to be orthodox.

I lost a lot of friends. I don’t know if it was because I was asking questions that were too difficult, or if it was that I felt some anger and lashed out when the answers I received seemed too simple to deal with the complexity I saw. Either way, I don’t begrudge them–but it doesn’t make it any easier.

Those are just some of the issues I’ve struggled with, and the struggle has been highly formative. I hope you’ll join with me as I write about some of my faith journey, and maybe even comment, and walk with me. I hope to explore the faith even more fully as I write and reflect on my journey, and I want you to join me.

I’ve decided to rebrand my blog a bit, too. Instead of “Always Have a Reason” – I’m naming the site “Reconstructing Faith.” It is one thing to deconstruct faith–that’s easy to do. But here, I’m going to be doing the hard work, hopefully with your help, of reconstructing faith.

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