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Why I Left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: Points of Fracture: Women in the Church Part 2

The reasons I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod were complex. Whether it was the science I was taught as a child not aligning with reality or the misogynistic and racist actions of pastors and those training to be the same, or any of a number of other issues I had, these all were contributing factors. Now, I am going to spend some time on perhaps the biggest reason I am no longer part of the LCMS, which is their views on women in the church and home. This is a deeply personal subject for me, and I have numerous personal stories related to it. Names and other details may be modified for privacy.

Points of Fracture: Women in the Church, Part 2

I wrote before about being confronted about the possibility of women being pastors when I was in college and dated a woman who wanted to be a pastor. I went straight to texts approved by the LCMS to try to prove that women could not be pastors. For a while, I was in a comfortable space thinking I was right, despite a few hiccups here and there. But one question that I’d never thought of before continued to plague me: why couldn’t women be pastors? It was one thing to read the texts a certain way and believe they excluded women from the ministry, but why would that be?

The answers I received when I asked LCMS pastors–who were plentiful at my school and the churches I attended in college–were unsatisfactory. With few exceptions, they boiled down to “Because God said so.” I could accept that. There were plenty of things I believed God had done or determined that I either couldn’t understand or hadn’t the information to even begin trying to comprehend them. But what bothered me more is that this didn’t seem to be the reason given until very recently. When I looked into why women were excluded from the ministry in older LCMS works or in church history, the answer continually came up that women had less ability to pastor. That is, they weren’t as smart, or they had some inferiority in them. Or, because of the curse from the fall, women had to submit to men. Another answer was a reading of 1 Timothy 2:14 (“Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner”) that claimed women were inherently more prone to being deceived.

These reasons, while they didn’t align with reality I observed, at least were reasons apart from “God said so.” As someone who was becoming increasingly interested in Christian Apologetics (a branch of theology in which people work to defend the Christian faith against objections and provide positive reasons for belief), I was especially sensitive to the “God did it” type of reasoning which many non-Christians accused Christians of appealing to when it came to questions of how the universe works. To me, having a reason why women shouldn’t be pastors, even if it was a poor and transparently misogynistic one, was better than having no reason other than a bare appeal to authority. But this reason didn’t stand up when I raised it to others. At one point, I recall even foolishly raising it to the young woman I was dating who wanted to be a pastor. She shot the reasoning down with all the scorn it deserved. After all, did I really, truly believe that men were any less inclined than women towards sinfulness? And didn’t the Lutheran confessions themselves teach that all people–men and women alike–are inherently sinful? How did men somehow get a free pass on this?

I realized that the reason I’d found didn’t work pretty quickly. Not only did it not match reality, but it also was blatantly misogynistic on a level with which I was uncomfortable despite the misogyny in my own background (see, for example, here). This left me adrift. I thought the Bible taught women couldn’t be pastors, but I could find no adequate as to why that should be the case. Then, one day, I walked into a Christian bookstore and came upon a book: Man and Woman, One in Christ by Philip Payne.

The first few pages of the book had the author talking about how he affirmed inerrancy but believed that men and women were equally gifted to serve and lead in the church. Here was someone who claimed to believe as I did about the authority of the Bible while still affirming women in leadership. I bought the book and over the course of the vacation I was on I read it, underlining copiously, looking up Bible passages (“Does it really say that!?”), looking at my Greek New Testament, and more. Payne focused on the Pauline corpus related to women in the church, but as that’s where the most significant “clobber passages” were drawn from in my own tradition, that made it a nearly comprehensive study of the topic. And what I found is what I’d begun to suspect: the reading I had been taught was mistaken. Not only did it ignore the cultural context of the text, which I’d been taught was important for understanding the true meaning of the words, but the readings were simplistic on the highest level. They relied, often, on English translations by people already inclined to exclude women from ministry in order to make their points. Payne’s analysis was insightful and absolutely cut the core out of my own view.

I still wasn’t ready to accept women as pastors, but I realized I had massively oversimplified the biblical debate. Then, one day, push came to shove.

My girlfriend had changed her career path because of my objections to her chosen field. She’d decided to study psychology and possibly do some kind of family counseling. But then she came to me telling me that her sense of call from the Holy Spirit into the pastoral ministry hadn’t gone away. Indeed, in some ways it had strengthened. Could I accept what she felt called to do?

I prayed fervently that God would show me the way. I believed–and believe–that God answers prayer, and I dedicated most of my free time for over a week to ask God to guide me. Finally, I prayed one night something like, “God, I know I should not test you, but even your servant Gideon asked for a sign[1]. Please, show me a sign.” I set my Bible on my bed, and flipped it open.[2] It landed on 1 Corinthians 12. I started reading, and became greatly agitated. There it was, about as plain as it seemed it could be, 1 Corinthians 12:28: “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” The verse showed that God put an order in the church. That order seemed to be a kind of authoritative or hierarchal order. First were the apostles, second the prophets, third the teachers, and then other gifts. But those first 3 were numbered in an order form first through third. And every understanding I’d seen of pastors in the Bible would say the word “teachers” could be applied to pastors. And, while Junia was an apostle in the Bible, I hadn’t yet read enough on that topic to realize how important she was or even acknowledge that fact. No, what mattered is that women were prophets in the Bible. Absolutely no one could deny that. But if that was the case, then women prophets were set above teachers in the church by God Himself.

It can’t be emphasized enough how much this verse shifted my understanding of the topic. I had been taught that men were suppose to have more authority than women. Indeed, the word “authority” was absolutely essential to an understanding of the topic of women in the ministry. Women just weren’t supposed to have authority over men, they were supposed to submit to them in everything. But here was a verse that plain as day stated that prophets ranked above teachers–the word I’d been assured was one of the biblical words for pastors. And because women prophets existed and no one denies that, that meant that women could be above pastors in whatever sense the verse meant.[3]

It was a revelation, and one that had struck me at the very moment I’d been most fervently praying for a sign from God. There it was. What more could I do than acknowledge it? My mind had been changed, and not because I wanted it to be changed for the sake of my relationship. It hadn’t been changed by “the culture,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. It had instead been changed by prayerful consideration of the text and a strong adherence to carefully reading the same. My mind had been changed. Women could be pastors. I realized this was going to be a major life-changing event for me in a way that people outside some obscure theological debates might not be fully able to grasp. It truly was a paradigm-shifting moment in my life, and one about which I’d not yet realized the full implications and consequences that would follow.

[1] The book of Judges has been a longtime favorite of mine, ever since I was enthralled by the illustrated kids’ Bible in which the action hero nature of this book made it jump off the page. Gideon’s story can be found in Judges 6 and following. The part I was referencing was Judges 6:37-40.

[2] I realize some readers might be uncomfortable about thinking God works this way. So am I. I don’t think God typically works in such a fashion. I can only report what I experienced and my belief that, in the moment, God used a broken, mistaken understanding about how God works to bring me to a better understanding of the Bible.

[3] Obviously much more nuance is needed here, and I’ve since thought and read quite a bit about this issue. However, I’ve yet to see a complementarian answer about this specific verse that is able to read the words on the page without somehow subverting the order in the church as stated here.

Next: Women in the Church Part 3- I write about my experience within the LCMS on the other side of the issue of women in the church.

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.

Book Review: “Jonathan Edwards and Deification” by James R. Salladin

Jonathan Edwards and Deification deeply dives into Edwards’s theology to discover what he taught about theosis and whether that can be reconciled with the Reformed tradition.

It must be stated from the outset that this is a dense book on a topic that is itself highly complex. Theosis, the doctrine that humans may be undergoing a kind of transformation into the divine, has many streams of thought within Christianity, but is also among the more easily misunderstood and hotly debated (when it comes up) doctrines therein.

Salladin does an admirable job of outlining the way Edwards himself thought and wrote about theosis–sometimes without making it clear he was doing so. A careful analysis of many of Edwards’s works yields a fairly consistent picture that Edwards did hold to a kind of theosis while merging it with Reformed belief. This is a kind of shocking juxtaposition, given the belief of total depravity within Reformed circles. It is difficult to square that with the notion that humans might be becoming divine, in some fashion. Salladin is careful in drawing out the distinctions Edwards himself made, and supplements that with his own analysis of what theosis could mean within that tradition.

I must admit one piece of skepticism about this project, which is my own belief that people like Jonathan Edwards don’t deserve the attention they get. Jonathan Edwards was an enslaver. While no one is perfect, I tend to believe we need to find better heroes and theological interlocutors than people who enslaved others. Unfortunately, due to Edwards’s immense influence on American religion, even outside of Reformed circles, some study of his work at times is, if not necessary, then understandable.

Jonathan Edwards and Deification is a fascinating read on a niche topic. If you are part of a niche that is adjacent to the topic (eg. interested in theosis and Protestantism, for example), it’s a must-read. If not, it may be too esoteric to consider.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates links

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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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even 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.

Book Review: “The Qur’an and the Christian” by Matthew Aaron Bennett

The Qur’an and the Christian is an introduction to the Qur’an from the perspective of a Christian. I admit that going in I had no small amount of skepticism about such a project. Christians don’t have a sterling record when it comes to colonialism and Islam, and I was concerned that this would be more of an attempted take-down than a broad introduction. Instead, Matthew Aaron Bennet provides a genuinely winsome introduction to the Qur’an that will assist Christians in learning about Islam.

The first two parts of the book, “The Qur’an as Revelation” and “The Qur’an as a Text” help provide readers background not just into the Qur’an but into Islam’s teachings about the Qur’an and how Muslims often approach it. Bennett notes how the Qur’an itself teaches about revelation, how Muslims tend to view the Qur’an, and topics related to what the Qur’an teaches, how its laid out, and more. He also surveys major teachings found in the Qur’an, such as the absolute unity and singularity of God, tahwid (47, see also 73-77).

What’s helpful in all of this is that Bennett tends to report these teachings and beliefs matter-of-factly. There’s very little analysis in the early chapters; Bennett is just reporting what Muslims believe and what the Qur’an teaches. It is in the third part of the book that such analysis occurs. The analysis itself is not as much polemics as some might expect. Instead, he starts by looking at whether Christians should read the Qur’an, and how they might fruitfully do so. Then, Bennett turns to one apologetic method used by some Christian apologists in talks with Muslims. I initially thought the method was too simplistic, and was gratified to find that Bennett, rather than pushing a simple approach to an entire faith, points out some of the difficulties with this approach in speaking with Muslims. Other apologetic approaches are also considered, and the potential problems are highlighted. Ultimately, one comes away from this section more aware of the complex nature of approaching other religions in a simple fashion. Bennett does, in the final chapter, provide what he sees as a bridge to open meaningful dialogue between a Christian and a Muslim, but he doesn’t push it as a one-size-fits-all approach.

If there can be a fault found here, it’s that Bennett perhaps doesn’t provide a clear picture of the diverse array of Muslim scholarship, which, as I understand, is quite broad regarding various aspects of faith, including beliefs about the Qur’an. Bennett is likely trying to keep things simple, but having a clearer explanation of this, even in introductory form, would be helpful. Christians could come away from reading the book thinking there’s almost entire agreement among Muslims about the topics offered. I do also wish there had been an index included to make it easier to look up specific topics.

The Qur’an and the Christian is a great introduction to the Qur’an from a Christian perspective. Bennett doesn’t totally dismiss the Qur’an, instead offering genuine insight into how Muslims view their holy book and how Christians might begin to engage with it. Recommended.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates links

Links

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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even 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: Women in the Church Part 1

The reasons I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod were complex. Whether it was the science I was taught as a child not aligning with reality or the misogynistic and racist actions of pastors and those training to be the same, or any of a number of other issues I had, these all were contributing factors. Now, I am going to spend some time on perhaps the biggest reason I am no longer part of the LCMS, which is their views on women in the church and home. This is a deeply personal subject for me, and I have numerous personal stories related to it. Names and other details may be modified for privacy.

Points of Fracture: Women in the Church, Part 1

My dad was an LCMS pastor, which meant that I’d only had a male pastor–him–my whole life. I don’t recall ever hearing anything about whether women could or could not be pastors as a young child. I met several other pastors and families, of course. My parents formed lasting friendships at seminary and many of their friends and circles they were in were LCMS pastors as well. I never really thought about the fact that all the pastors I met were men.

The first time I remember encountering anything about whether women could be pastors was in middle school, at an LCMS school. We were in small groups talking about future careers and in my group there was a girl who said she wanted to be a pastor when she grew up. Again, I’d never really thought about it one way or another that I can recall. I mentioned it to a few LCMS people in the school and was told that no, women couldn’t be pastors. It was against the Bible. Nothing could be a higher authority than that. There wasn’t an in-depth discussion of why women couldn’t be pastors, or what verses allegedly made that the case. It was just that: because the Bible says so. Carelessly, I then went back to that girl and told her she couldn’t be a pastor. Why not? Because the Bible says so. I felt a kind of righteous vindication, because I was telling her what God had said about what she could or couldn’t do. I’m sorry.

It wasn’t until college that I would have any further reflection on women pastors. After a deeply religious experience, I decided to become a pastor. Knowing the LCMS well, I knew that involved a kind of commitment to doctrinal purity. Whether it was biblical inerrancy, ordaining only men, or something else, I knew I had to be ready to fight the ways of the world when it came to these things. After the summer, I was in student leadership as a spiritual life representative–think of them kind of like Resident Assistants, but for spiritual life. We did devotions in the dorms, were there for talking, that kind of thing. I helped move the freshman in on their first day, and I met one young woman. We hit it off and decided to hang out later.

Later that week, I was at breakfast for pre-seminary students, those who were planning to go on to be pastors, and she showed up at the breakfast. I was stunned. Why… was she here? It turned out she was there because she was planning to study to become a pastor–something she was manifestly Not Supposed To Do. The series of events after that is difficult to piece together, but I know that the theological question of whether women could be pastors went from something I couldn’t be bothered to learn more about to something that I needed to be able to prove to others. I needed to be able to show that women should not be pastors.

Like some of my favorite literary characters, when confronted with a challenge to something I thought, I hit the books. And, like most people do, I hit the books on my own side to see how I could refute this belief. The first book I dove into was Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless. The book was published by Concordia Publishing House, the publishing arm of the LCMS. It had, in other words, a doctrinal seal of approval that meant I could trust implicitly anything that it had to say therein. I knew that this book would have the answers I was seeking. However, as I cracked the cover and skimmed through the chapters, I found some things of deep concern. While passages like 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 were cited and used to silence women in the church, other exegesis did not align with what I was being taught about how to read the Bible.[1]

For example, in a chapter about the Trinity in the book, I read, “Even though [God the Son] is in all ways equal to the Father and in no way inferior to the Father, he is nevertheless utterly subordinate to the Father… Christ’s relation as Son to his Father is therefore characterized by his subordination to the headship of the Father” (222-223, first edition only, the chapter by John Kleinig). This was not what I’d learned about Trinitarian orthodoxy. Indeed, it seemed to be skirting the lines of Arianism. I was strongly put off. Much later, I’d learn that this chapter was either removed or heavily edited in a subsequent edition. At the time, I was shaken. If this was the kind of thing that got past official doctrinal review, what would it mean for other doctrinal issues?

Of course, this hardly caused a collapse of my position. Other chapters seemed more solid in their approach, and I felt like I was armed to show people, especially this young woman, why women shouldn’t be pastors after all. I don’t recall exactly how our discussion played out, but I do know it didn’t escalate into an outright argument. She decided to switch from the pre-seminary program to a different one, and I thought that’d be the end of it.

It wasn’t. The question was opened in my mind. It was even more open because I realized there were people who appeared to be faithful Christians who nevertheless believed women should be ordained and, shockingly, there were even ordained women pastors who weren’t clearly working to undermine Christianity at every step. I know this reads dramatically, but this is truly the way I thought, and certainly the way many pastors and others I interacted with thought about women pastors. The Bible, it is assumed, is simply so clear on whether women can be pastors that anyone who disagrees and even engages in the opposite practice absolutely must be some kind of heretical person or someone actively working to try to discredit Christianity. But because the question had been opened, I couldn’t just drop it. I kept investigating, despite the fact that the woman I was dating had changed course. This wasn’t the kind of thing I could just drop and leave aside. The very question of whether God was calling women into the ministry was at stake. If I really believed that God wanted to keep one half of the human population from even being possibly called by the Holy Spirit, I wanted to be sure that I was supremely confident that I was right.

I kept reading the Women Pastors? book, but became more and more disillusioned with the LCMS arguments against women pastors. Contradictory arguments abounded, and the exegetical principles used to conclude women couldn’t be pastors were simplistic even by the standards I was being taught in LCMS pre-seminary classes. It was like the pastors and theologians who’d written the book had abandoned things like the historical grammatical method when it came to this one issue.[2] I began to start asking questions, mostly in private, about the LCMS teaching on women pastors, but was met with either horror or a blanket statement about how clearly the Bible taught against it.

It’s worth a brief aside here at how often people–including more than one pastor–would try to silence the questions I was asking about women pastors or other issues by quoting Satan in the Garden of Eden: “Did God really say?” [Genesis 3:1]. This was used time and again as an answer to any questioning of the LCMS’s supposedly clear and exclusively biblical teachings. So, when it came to Genesis 1-3 and I pointed out that it seemed to be based upon ANE myths while turning them on their heads to refute aspects of them, not a literal, blow-by-blow account creation, I was told that I was like Satan in saying “Did God really say” that creation happened a certain way. When I asked about whether a verse truly taught what I was told it did, I was again questioning not the interpretation, but the word of God itself: Did God really say what the LCMS said it did–oops–what the Bible says God did? This clobber passage in context, of course, isn’t intended the way these pastors and others were using it at all. Indeed, the phrase itself is ripped from the middle of a sentence from the serpent’s mouth in which he was asking specifically about whether God had told them not to eat from any tree in the garden. The way the passage was being used against me was abusive and did cause trauma. Imagine being told that you’re just like Satan, tempting others with your nefarious questions just because you genuinely care about and want to know what the Bible says. It’s terrible.

My questioning would continue as I kept reading more about the topic, but while I was no longer convinced the Bible taught women shouldn’t be pastors with certainty, I was also unconvinced by arguments that women should or could be pastors. I was stuck in a kind of confused middling view. It was deeply uncomfortable, and not just because the woman I was dating had agreed to change her life based upon my discomfort. No, the very way God worked to call people to the ministry was at question, and I struggled to find any reason why God wouldn’t call women apart from a trite “The Bible says God doesn’t do that” type of answer. But did the Bible say that, or did it only read that way if one adopted the overly-simplistic hermeneutic I saw time and again in LCMS works on the topic–a hermeneutic that was different from the one I was being taught in LCMS classrooms? It was a question that would loom larger soon.

Next Time: Women in the Church, Part 2

There had to be some kind of reason why women weren’t called to the ministry. Only in some older LCMS works or references to earlier Christian teaching on the topic would I find any kind of answer.

[1] I wrote more about this same phenomenon when it came to young earth creationism. Time and again, despite being told to read the Bible contextually and take care to try to find the original meaning, the historical sense, etc., I did not find that reading reflected in LCMS teaching or reading of various texts. And, when I challenged those readings, I was told that I was challenging the text itself.

[2] I have been critically reviewing the Women Pastors? book chapter-by-chapter. Not all of the issues I raise with it in my reviews were ones I realized at the time I’m writing about now, but the more one reads the book, the more one realizes the poorly argued nature of it. See also note 1 above and the link therein about how I found on other issues the hermeneutical method I was being taught and the one actually being used did not align.

The Christian Apologetics Alliance (CAA) – A Post-Mortem

I want to offer a post-mortem on the Christian Apologetics Alliance (CAA). What I mean isn’t that the CAA has died. The CAA Facebook Group is still alive and kicking. It still has several posts each day, and posts frequently pass the 10 comment threshold, some diving into the 100+. People are still engaged. It doesn’t seem to be driving the traffic it used to, but there’s still plenty of activity. No, what I mean is a post-mortem on the CAA as it could have been. It’s a post-mortem on how the CAA should have been, and as it was, however briefly.*

Imagine a place where Christians around the globe could mingle and discuss the defense of the Christian faith. It’s a place where people share meaningful posts, links, and struggles they’ve had. It’s a group in which people could bring up favorite apologetics arguments and hone their skills. People with a passing interest in the topic could join the group and rub virtual shoulders with published philosophers and skilled Christian debaters. Some time ago (more than a decade, I believe), a group of people got together with the desire to make just such a place. Enthusiastic about apologetics, with bookshelves overflowing with works in the field, these people made a group on Facebook, the “Christian Apologetics Alliance.” It was the first iteration of the group (later, after a catastrophic and, to my knowledge, still unexplained loss of the original group, we all migrated over to the group CAA: Christian Apologetics Alliance) that would unite thousands of members around one topic: Christian apologetics.

The vision I just described is anachronistic, in some ways. Those of us involved didn’t sit down with a specific plan of how we thought CAA would form and grow. But we did share our thoughts, concerns, and interests. From the beginning, we largely agreed (or at least said we agreed) that the Christian Apologetics Alliance would be a place that all Christians could mingle and talk and learn about apologetics.

It was a dream that wouldn’t last. But before the dream was totally shattered, there were a ton of awesome times. We had huge amounts of bloggers sharing blog posts, commenting on those of others’, honing arguments, and more. We inspired each other and new bloggers. Some in the group went on to “go pro,” getting degrees and teaching, earning a career as an apologist. All the while, we had a great community set up. I was hugely involved, especially in the first iteration. I was one of the first 5-10 members of the group and, as I recall, one of the few people involved in bringing the idea to fruition. I became a mod for a while, but stopped when the position became saddled with increasing responsibilities (eg. expectations for how long to be online in the group, etc.).

From almost the beginning, there were pushes in two directions that would lead to the CAA becoming less than it could have been. First, there was a strong push to organize it and enforce more and more strictures on the discussion. This impulse wasn’t entirely misguided: I can’t tell you the number of times debate over the age of the earth popped up. It was a favorite for some members, and the discussions would often devolve into name-calling frustration. The topic was quickly banned, and that and other topics that started to pop up and spark more fire than light on the discussions prompted the impulse to organize. Another part of that impulse, though, was the push to make the group ever more visible and prominent. Visions of conferences, t-shirts, and more abounded. I was excited, but never had the time to fully dive in. CAA chapters formed, and people began meeting in person to talk about apologetics. One epic moment was when I went to a Evangelical Philosophical Society Conference and met, in person, several of the people I’d only known online. It was a hugely awesome time. But the eagerness to expand came with more and more control being given to moderators to monitor and control discussion and that led to the second push that would make CAA less than it could have been.

The second push was for clarifying what it meant to be Christian. At first, this made some sense to me. Loud questions were raised about whether we needed to have membership requirements that would explicitly preclude, say, Mormons from joining the group. Were Mormons really Christian? And, there was one [known] Mormon who was actively involved in the group for some time. I don’t remember his name, but I remember the significant arguments people had with him and his eventually being asked to leave (again, foggy memory, but I believe he was asked and accepted rather than just being banned). The loudest members who wanted the clearest definitions pushed farther and farther on the definitions, though. For many–no, almost all–in the group, it was a given that Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses weren’t to be involved. But then came more questions, like how do we make that happen while having the widest tent possible?

For a while–a long while–we got by on a kind of moderator consensus of figuring things out. We tried to use things like the Apostles’ Creed. Apart from the pushback from non-credal traditions, however, we also received pushback from members saying that the Apostles’ Creed did not take things far enough. After all, many whom people wanted to exclude would affirm the Apostles’ Creed, if not in meaning, at least in the rote words that were on the page. This, of course, already shows some of the impetus driving the group’s decline. That is, an ever more exclusionary mindset was developing even at the earliest times. To my shame, I didn’t acknowledge it or really even notice it. Eventually, things like the Nicene Creed were proposed (but what of the filioque? asked some, whilst others still didn’t wish to affirm Creeds). Finally, several leaders got together and decided something had to give, and the lines had to be drawn.

Which lines mattered, though? The pressure from various members in the group was enormous. What would be the stance on marriage? What about salvation? How could they articulate the Trinity? I was involved in some of these discussions early on, but admit I checked out after a while, because they started to deviate to the many, many rabbit holes possible with 2000 years of theology to debate. What emerged was an increasingly complex statement of faith, which made somewhat predictable exclusions while also having some incredibly strange inclusions. The statement of faith may be viewed here. There are many, many things one could pick apart with the statement of faith and most definitely its clarifying notes. One low-hanging fruit is why the statement explicitly excludes universalists, for example? Universalism has a long and storied history within Christianity, and the statement of faith would, somewhat ironically, exclude many church fathers that I personally know several group members hold up as major examples of early apologists and incredibly important to the formation of Christianity.

Beyond that, though, there’s the much bigger issue: what is the purpose of such a statement? It could only be to exclude others. I didn’t think of this as it was being written and doubled-down upon, and by the time I started to really have reservations I was not in the leadership in the CAA anymore and, frankly, pretty checked out of the group more generally. I had been deeply disturbed by the many times my own faith was called into question for being a Lutheran, for example. No, not that anyone (to my knowledge) was in the group saying Lutherans weren’t Christians. Instead, the number of times people questioned things like infant baptism, the real presence in the Lord’s Supper, and more while having even some moderators argue that yes, these were entirely relevant and necessary discussions for broader apologetic import was disturbingly high. In retrospect, such questioning should have been entirely expected. The overwhelming majority of the group was some kind of Evangelical (very few Catholics, Lutherans, or Orthodox, or other believers were in the group even according to polls the occasional times they showed up). Thus, the group gravitated towards that sort of amalgam of Baptist/Reformed (or rabidly anti-Reformed) Puritan-esque theology from which Evangelicalism spawned. Because of that, many members were outright hostile to those outside of those theological circles.

One vivid memory was running into a member of CAA (in person) in an apologetics graduate-level course I was taking. This member not only thought that affirmation of infant baptism was only for “Catholics” rather than being the majority position of the worldwide church for all of history, but also questioned my salvation when I affirmed baptismal regeneration. He was astonished to discover later that I was not wrong when I pointed out that his theological strand related to baptism was in the extreme minority and itself the historical oddity, but never withdrew any of the statements about my need to repent of such beliefs. This discussion was a microcosm of what’s wrong with apologetics today, and also an illustration of the takeover of the CAA by exclusionary rather than inclusive beliefs.

The CAA has only become more hostile to believers outside a narrowly defined (and often implicitly so) group of beliefs. For example, while the statement of faith explicitly states “We are commanded by God to show compassion to suffering people,” many group members and posts repeatedly do not do so. Whether this is a total rejection of any kind of work for social justice [which again, the statement of faith seems to suggest is itself commanded**], or the extreme prejudice with which the group actively alienates progressive members, it is clear that apologetics in practice within the group is almost entirely done apart from and at the expensive of any work for justice and on-the-ground work. I could go on for quite a while on this tangent about how the tenor of the group is that apologetics is some kind of intellectual activity that many either agree to the premises that will inevitably yield to faith or not, instead of being a whole-person approach in which minds and lives are convinced to bend the knee to service to Christ and fellow humans, but I won’t.

The point of all of that is that within the CAA, a narrower and narrower definition of what is Christian (and not) is being utilized, a narrower definition of what is related to apologetics is being developed, and much of this is done at the expense of the original focus and premise of the group itself. Progressive Christians constantly have their faith called into question, whether explicitly through the numerous posts dedicated to the topic or implicitly through the statement of faith narrowing to exclude almost any form of progressivism.

The Christian Apologetics Alliance could have remained great. It really should have. But it didn’t. In part, that was my fault. As a leader for a while, I should have spoken more loudly, advocated more fully, and been more willing to put in time and effort to try to push back against an ever-more-exclusionary vision of apologetics. I didn’t. Some of the fruits of this can be seen across offshoot groups as well. One group is about parenting and apologetics and one of the most frequent topics of discussion is the supposed dangers of progressive Christianity. Once again, the vaguely American Evangelical nature of the group is showing. Rather than aligning with Christ and Christians worldwide across a spectrum of beliefs, the group and those it has influenced continue down a smaller path. It honestly brings me pain to reflect on what could have been.

None of this is to say no good work is done within the CAA. That’s not the case. But it’s also the case that rather than offering a broad spectrum group for engaging with non-Christians from all walks of Christianity, as was the original vision, the group has become yet another mouthpiece for a milquetoast American Religiosity.

So what can I do? I don’t know. Writing about it is just one step. I know of a few other, much smaller apologetics groups that allow for discussion from a much broader range of Christian voices, but even they have inroads happening with the same posts, the same content being shared again and again. Apologetics has almost become a codeword for defense not of Christianity but of a sterilized, antinomian faith much more concerned with dogmatic status quo than with reaching non-Christians.

*Much of this is written from my memory (well, almost all of it, really), not from specific documentation or saved screenshots or anything. I wasn’t there to do that. I might have some of the specific details and order of events slightly wrong. This post is meant to be my personal thoughts and recollections on what went wrong with the CAA.

**But! some may exclaim, But you have not defined what is meant by “compassion,” “suffering,” “show,” “justice,” “social,” or “people”! Yes, I know. That’s kind of the point. Instead of actually doing those things, may apologists in particular and Christians more generally prefer to sit around arguing about who may or may not be suffering, may need compassion and justice, and the like. But God prefers those who actually do justice and show mercy; no qualifications.

Links

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!

Much Ado About Nothing: Alisa Childers’ “Another Gospel?”– I review a book that has been bounced around as the source for discussing Progressive Christianity.

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even 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.

LCMS President Harrison’s Letter to Board of Regents of Concordia University Wisconsin – Ann Arbor

Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Markus Trienke

I’ve written before about the storm brewing within the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod over controversy at Concordia University Wisconsin – Ann Arbor. The controversy, so far as I can tell, is at least in part due to the inclusion in the Presidential Search of having a need for “diversity, equity, and inclusion” on the part of the candidates. One professor wrote about how this showed that CUWAA had gone “woke” and “Marxist.” I wrote that that reaction was unchristian nonsense. However, Rev. Matthew Harrison, the President of the LCMS, apparently decided it was worth a visit to CUWAA, and after that investigation, sent a letter to the Board of Regents. This letter has been published on various sites, though I haven’t been able to find it on an official LCMS front-facing website. If anyone has such an official source or any additional information, please let me know.

I wanted to write a response to this letter. For one, I am intimately connected with CUWAA. For another, the letter is timely in all the wrong ways, and I believe that needs to be addressed.

Harrison’s letter, after saying he and his people were welcomed to the CUWAA and given full access to things they requested, goes over a bunch of supposed bylaw violations that occurred in the presidential search for the new President of CUWAA. Harrison writes about how the “visitation team uncovered the following concerns…” and then lists a number of those alleged violations. Intriguingly, one of the supposed violations includes a lengthy note about how the list of candidates given was 38 names instead of the approved list of 11, which “especially belittled candidates from the CUWAA theology and philosophy departments, and precipitated the Schultz matter.” What Schultz matter? The Schultz matter about the former Professor of Philosophy who wrote the screed I responded to in my link above.

Going on, another concern listed is “changes to the faculty handbook include referring to the president with the pronouns ‘he or she’ and ‘his or her,’ in violation of the teaching of Holy Scripture that spiritual and doctrinal oversight in the church and its universities is given to qualified men. Accordingly, Commission on Constitutional Matter rulings have consistently ruled that presidents of CUS schools must be qualified men. Mr. Polzin’s errant council to the Regents, even after I spoke at length with the Regents in person, about this matter, is unacceptable.” I personally seem to have missed the Bible verses about universities being run by men. Of course, this kind of assumed Scriptural precedent is what qualifies for argument in much of the LCMS discussion related to women in the church and home. When arguments are provided, they’re unconvincing. (See, for example, my series of posts analyzing a Concordia Publishing House book on Women Pastors.)

A primary problem, Harrison notes, is “concern over the introduction of secular diversity, equity, and inclusion language and initiatives into the mission of the university. This philosophy is laden with ideas antagonistic to the sacred Scriptures, including great lies about human sexuality and race.” Once again, Harrison doesn’t delineate any of these alleged antagonistic ideas. And, to be fair, that’s probably outside the scope of a letter like this. But when the question is whether racism needs to be addressed at a university is apparently a live question, and a professor on the philosophy department who Harrison explicitly names as having been “belittled” somehow by being included among others in a list of names for possible President of CUWAA comments about how racism cannot exist on that same campus, red flags should be raised all over.

This letter was dated May 9th, 2022. On May 14th, 2022, a white man entered a grocery store in a zip code he explicitly targeted due to its high population of black people and murdered 10 people, shooting others before his arrest. He specifically cited the “Great Replacement” theory in his manifesto–the notion that white people are being replaced by non-white people through migration, differing birth rates, and more. I can personally attest to encountering the Great Replacement theory in LCMS schools, including at CUWAA when I attended speaking in class about how we needed to have a higher birth rate to keep up with or surpass Muslims. I’ve written about the racism, Islamophobia, and antisemitism I encountered among men training to be pastors and teachers. I’ve also written about the unity of nationalism and Christianity I was taught in LCMS schools. Maybe the allegedly “secular diversity, equity, and inclusion” isn’t the bogeyman we need; maybe we need to refocus and acknowledge that racism is a real, true threat and that explicitly racist theories have been spoken out loud in classes at CUWAA before. I can’t attest whether that’s still happening, but the fact that it did happen and did so without any investigation from the President then suggests that actual, real life racism might be a more urgent issue to address than the latest right wing buzzwords.

Now would be a great time for President Harrison to take a step back and call out racism. Now is the time to acknowledge that it exists in the LCMS, in schools and churches, and to repent of it. Now is the time to strongly condemn the Great Replacement theory, which I personally have heard from LCMS pastors. Now is the time to take real, lasting steps for change that will work to bring God’s Kingdom here on Earth, as we pray daily. I hope and pray that President Harrison will rethink his dismissal of social change and instead work so that one day, we truly can have a church that reflects Galatians 3:28.

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.

Book Review: “The Everlasting People: G.K. Chesterton and the First Nations” by Matthew J. Milliner

The Everlasting People: G.K. Chesterton and the First Nations is a book I picked to read because the premise seems so utterly strange. I admittedly avoid Chesterton somewhat actively, in part because of his extreme anti-Protestantism, and in part because of his misogynistic comments about women. I’m also wary of colonialism and the title smacked of that as a possibility. But something about the description got to me, and I gave it a try. I’m glad I did, because what I found was Matthew J. Milliner’s fascinating study that looks at individual places, their First Nations heritage, and Christianity.

The book is a series of lectures with responses from different scholars. The first lecture, the Sign of Jonah, discusses cave art, the ways in which myths about “savages” have been perpetuated, Chesterton’s own counter words about how cave art should correct some of the myths, other art, Turtle Island, and more. The second lecture is largely about Chicago and the First Nations heritage that was displaced and destroyed there and elsewhere. In this lecture, he offers alternate meanings for the stars on the Chicago flag. The third lecture turns to Chesterton’s poetry and the Byzantine imagery of “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” while uniting it with discussion of white expansion and warfare against First Nations people.

Throughout, G.K. Chesterton is used as a backdrop; whether quotes that speak to Milliner’s specific focus or with more extended discussion. Milliner doesn’t cover up Chesterton’s ills, but rather seeks to offer correction where needed and elucidation when possible.

Each chapter has a response from a different scholar to Milliner, and though these are short, they often offer their own insights and discussion of First Nations culture and the richness of humanity. In almost every section there is some kind of new delight, fascinating detail, or new avenue to explore that is initially unexpected. Milliner and those responding to him offer a wealth of knowledge. The unexpected way they manage to discuss Christianity, First Nations people, First Nations artists, and more (some of the responses themselves are by people from First Nations groups) make the book a wonderful read from front to back.

I don’t really know what I expected when I started The Everlasting People. I also don’t know how to adequately describe it. It’s a fairly slim volume with a rather massive amount of content and encouragement for further reflection and learning. It’s one of those books that makes you think about it long afterwards, and flip it open to a random page to see what might be found. I highly recommend it.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates links

Links

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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even 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 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.

Book Review: “From Plato to Christ” by Louis Markos

What has Jerusalem to do with Athens? Quite a lot, if one reads Louis Markos’s From Plato to Christ. The work is a partly a look into Plato’s thought, and partly a survey of how Plato’s thought impacted Christianity through its early history.

Markos wastes little time essentially baptizing Plato after the fact. The first page of the preface has Markos claiming that Plato’s writings can be read “as inspired writings used by the God of the Bible to prepare the ancient world for the coming of Christ and the New Testament” (ix). On the same page, he says that Plato is the “culmination of the best of the pagan (Pre-Christian) wisdom” (ibid). One might wonder how, say, the Hebrew Scriptures fit into this scheme, and whether Markos lumps Judaism in with “paganism” as it is pre-Christian or whether he simply dismisses it as being capable of preparing the ancient world for the coming of Christ. Markos’s fervor to recommend Plato to his readers seemingly has no limits, as he quickly navigates through chapters that analyze several of Plato’s writings and argue that he offers a kind of vision for Christianity in the future. I may indeed be understating how eagerly Markos endorses Plato, as he later quotes C.S. Lewis approvingly stating that “Prophets and holy men… do not so much teach us morality as remind us of it” (57). This quote is then applied, at least by implication, to Plato.

Those looking for a critical analysis will need to look elsewhere. Markos’s enthusiasm knows few bounds. Even the very occasional time in which he points out something problematic in Plato’s thought are steeped in explanations about why that might have been part of Plato’s belief system. There is also little by way of critiquing Plato’s system itself, something with a long and storied tradition within Christian philosophy and theology. One might forgive the book for this, as it clearly isn’t intended to be a total look at Christian Platonism, but it seems worth mentioning given that readers without background knowledge on the subject may walk away from reading the book thinking that Christians generally have no problem with Platonism despite there being entire systems of thoughts developed to circumvent or deny Platonism in Christianity.

One example is in the chapter outlining The Republic. Markos outlines the way the republic is built by noting it is Socrates presenting all of these ideas. In a way, this shields Plato from criticism, but allows Markos to pour on praise when he agrees with Plato (see the shift from Socrates to Plato on page 27, for example). There is little about the awful way the city is set up to essentially force young adults into sexual relationships to produce offspring as dictated by the city’s leaders. Markos, having shifted before to claiming that these parts of the text reflect a more mature Plato using Socrates as a mouthpiece, in a footnote directly and singularly assigns Socrates the blame for this eugenic and ethical quagmire (45n9). Plato, it appears, can actually do no wrong.

Markos’s survey of Christian history and influence from Platonism is of interest, though not without problems of its own. He questions Origen’s orthodoxy due to his universalism, which fails to account for the lengthy stream of orthodox Christians (some of whom, as Origen, were condemned much later as heretical for their beliefs) who held to universalism or at least something similar. These sections provide insight into at least the range of Christians who were influenced by Plato, however.

From Plato to Christ is an enthusiastic endorsement of Plato and Platonism for Christians to explore. It’s difficult for this reader to wholly endorse the work, as it presents so uneven a picture both of Platonic thought and early Christian history that it could lead to a skewed view going forward. However, it could serve as an introduction to Christian Platonism for those interested who read it with a critical eye.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates links

Links

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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even 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.

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