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Why I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: Points of Fracture: “On the Other Side”

Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Markus Trienke

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

Points of Fracture: “On the Other Side”

I’ve written extensively about my moving away from various doctrines the LCMS deems especially important, even while still maintaining my commitment to core Lutheran doctrines (such as the Sacraments). What I didn’t realize as I shifted my doctrinal positions was the amount of pushback on a personal level that I would receive. I knew I’d have some arguments about the facts of the matter(s), but I didn’t realize how deeply, intensely personal the attacks would get. I should note I’m not sharing many because trying to remove identifiers would be too difficult. Instead, in this post I’m just sharing a broad view with some examples of what it felt to be on the “other side” of some of these issues, and why it spurred me to leave the LCMS.

Conflicts while Leaving

Whether it was for Christianity and science, women in the ministry, or several other topics, I experienced multiple, personal attacks on myself or those around me due to my differing in viewpoints from the LCMS. When it came to science and Christianity, the oft-repeated phrase was that I’d compromised with “man’s wisdom” instead of following “God’s word.” I trusted scientists to teach me about the world instead of the Genesis Creation accounts. Never mind that the creation accounts do nothing to set a date for creation, nor do they at any point hint that the purpose was to help date the earth, etc. Instead, the refrain was that I’d abandoned Scripture in folly. My turn from young earth creationism led to me being denied communion at different points, despite churches not listing this as a reason to do so. (See more of my discussion of close/closed communion here.) Several different pastors and LCMS resources I looked up suggested a denial of young earth creationism was capitulating to “the world” and led directly to a denial of the Bible and therefore of Christ Himself.

Even worse were the many experiences related to my change of position on women pastors. For one, there’s the knee jerk reaction many LCMS leaders and even laity have when they hear about me being married to a woman pastor. I have experienced ostracization for this position in the form of having conversations immediately end, having them devolve into arguments, ghosting, etc. More concretely, as my view on this topic shifted, I was warned there would be financial consequences. It was alleged I would need to pay back scholarships because I didn’t end up as an LCMS pastor or teacher after all. I want to state this plainly: this did not happen, nor did any official in any capacity suggest it would. However, I found this threat especially astonishing given that it came from a church and people who talk about how financial considerations cannot come between one’s faith and their profession of that faith. Those same people then turned around and threatened me with financial consequences if I didn’t change my belief. The suggestion was insulting, because it implied my beliefs could be bought. It was also nonsensical, because belief formation doesn’t happen that way.

Other attempts to get me to change my beliefs were similarly misplaced. Very few LCMS individuals were willing to engage me on the level of actually going to scripture. One exception was an LCMS pastor who genuinely wanted to know why I’d changed my views. When we talked about things like Junia being an apostle in Romans 16:7, he acknowledged that was a serious problem for his position. Other verses I raised were similarly given consideration, and he acknowledged it was more complex than he’d thought. Much more common, however, was a blithe dismissal of any Scriptural case and even a total ignoring of the reasons why women were excluded from the ministry in the LCMS. Instead, people refused to go to church with me, made false claims about my then-fiancée, used the pulpit to decry women in leadership, made insulting remarks about my lack of masculinity, made insulting remarks to my then-fiancée about church history and women, and more.

These supposed arguments are much more aligned with spiritually abusive practices than they are with reality. For example, assuming you, dear reader, are a Christian, suppose someone close to you took a dearly held belief of yours (let’s say your belief about whether babies should be baptized) and said that they would refuse to visit your church or refuse to go to church with you until you changed your belief about baptism. Would you think that’s a good reason? And if you did, would you really be able to change this deeply held belief just because of someone not going to church with you? Would you be able to change that belief just because you might have to pay some extra money for a debt? What if that person insulted you a bunch–would that change your belief?

This is the kind of argument raised against women pastors in my experience from within the LCMS, including from pastors.

Hate the sin, love the sinner

I was taught this concept and felt it was pretty much correct, especially in relation to some of the more controversial topics. What I’ve found time and again, however, is that hatred of the sin often turns into hatred of the sinner. It’s easy to say a trite phrase like this, but I’ve observed that it leads to a “holier than thou” attitude in which the one who is “loving the sinner” still has a lower view of that sinner. I experienced this myself within the LCMS when we talked about LGBTQ+ issues, and I know personal stories from others about the same thing. It’s one thing to say you “love the sinner”; but when that “sinner” experiences versions of “love” that include things like being denied communion, being called a sinner, being told they need to change their life/lifestyle, and other related things, the experience feels much less like love than it does like hate. For my own part, I had an LCMS pastor say that due to my embrace of women being pastors, they were “hating the sin” of women being pastors and “loving the sinner,” me. Even this somewhat mild comment felt like a stern rebuke from the mouth of a pastor, and certainly did not reflect the alleged “love” I was being given.

“The Holy Spirit Shut Your Mouth”

One of the most angry attacks I received was completely out of the blue. I began receiving messages on Facebook from someone who had attended the same university I had. I’d never spoken with them. The man was an LCMS pastor by this point, having graduated ahead of me by some years. He began by asking me about why I believed women could be pastors. It quickly became apparent that he was not at all interested in my responses. He quickly became aggressive, saying my arguments were obviously mistaken and wrong. When I directed him to further reading, suggesting he read Man and Woman, One in Christ to find deeper answers to some of his questions, he claimed to have read the book already. A few exchanges later, he then admitted he had never read it or even heard of it.

I asked him why he felt comfortable lying about that. He denied that he’d lied, saying he was caught up in the moment. When I pointed out that him being “caught up in the moment” didn’t somehow change lies to truths, he got more upset. I was wrong on every level, and no book could possibly change his mind or have any other impact on him or anyone who didn’t already want to ignore God’s “clear word” [according to him]. It was so clear, apparently, that even questioning it meant that I was likely already trying to follow the temptations of Satan. When I pointed out his misuse of Greek in multiple points he was trying to make, he became even more agitated and proceeded to insult my wife, heaping name-calling and vile phrases upon both her and myself.

At this point, I knew I wouldn’t engage this horrid person any more. I told him I was done talking with him because he had insulted myself and my wife personally. He changed tactic, saying that his wife told him that meant the “Holy Spirit had shut your mouth” so I could no longer type up “heresies” about women in leadership in the church. He said he agreed wholeheartedly–the reason I wouldn’t respond, despite me specifically stating it was because he was attacking my family personally–is because the Holy Spirit had shut me up and made it so I could no longer interact with him. I had already made the decision not to continue interacting with this person who had quickly moved to disgusting tactics to try to clobber me over the head with his position. It was extremely difficult for me to not fire off retorts or responses, because I knew he would take it as proof that the Holy Spirit had indeed silenced me. But I also knew for my own mental well-being, I could not continue interacting with such an awful excuse for a pastor.

I’ll not mince words: this was spiritual abuse. It was an attempt to coerce me using religious trappings and invoking God to try to say that I was in the wrong. This LCMS pastor, with whom I’d never interacted before and never have since, took it upon himself to personally insult my wife and then declared himself the “winner” of a discussion by claiming the Holy Spirit was on his side and even actively preventing me from typing a response to him. This is a man who was an LCMS pastor at the time who, despite whatever training he received to be a pastor, apparently believed these were both appropriate ways of interacting with other people. And someone–someone I know personally–gave my name and contact information to this LCMS pastor so that they could attack me and my family in this fashion. Unconscionable.

Is it really that bad?

People who’ve read this series–multiple people in different contexts–have responses like “Well we’ve never experienced that in an LCMS church” or “I haven’t seen that happen” or “is it really that bad?” One response I’d have to that is that maybe they haven’t been looking hard enough. For example, maybe their pastor or members in their church haven’t shown homophobia because there hasn’t been an opportunity to do so. After all, as I shared in an earlier post, gay men (and others) are leaving the LCMS due, in part, to their treatment therein. Maybe the LGBTQ+ people have already quietly left their church, so they don’t experience the comments about gay men that I observed. Moreover, the ubiquity of these comments when you start asking others about them is undeniable. It may be true that, in isolation, some LCMS congregations have pastors who aren’t homophobic, or who aren’t spiritually abuse, or whatever. I’d be surprised if that weren’t the case. But my series has shown time and again, citing multiple instances of pastors and those training to be pastors or teachers in the LCMS, that these things are happening and that they are perpetrated at levels of leadership within that church body.

I experienced real, religious trauma within the LCMS. That’s certainly not the case for everyone therein, but I know many, many people who have been “on the other side” can share similar stories. And I suspect many of these stories will never be told. If you’re out there reading this–please know you’re not alone. It’s okay to be “on the other side.”

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.

Leaving the LCMS/WELS– Not sure about whether to leave or thinking about leaving? Do you want to others who are thinking along the same lines? I created a group for those who are contemplating leaving these denominations, as well.

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

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.

“The Shape of the Past” by John Warwick Montgomery- A Christian Historiography?

John Warwick Montgomery is a Christian apologist who is perhaps best-known for his defense of the method of evidentialism and attacks on presuppositionalism. The Shape of the Past is a work that outlines a Christian historiography–a Christian way of reporting history. I first read it maybe a decade ago or so and remembered it being fairly impactful to my own development. I read it again recently and was struck by how my perceptions of it changed. While I still believe it to be useful book in some ways, I also found difficulties in others. Montgomery’s central theses developing a supposed Christian philosophy of history are problematic.

The first four chapters of the book focus on definitions of history and historiography, an intriguing look at history as time travel, classical conceptions of historiography, and modern histography [modern at the time- 1975]. These present a survey of some major approaches to history and historiography, while highlighting a few problems Montgomery identifies without what he’s going to build up as a central development of historical writing and research. For example, early on Montgomry notes that historians at some point must make decisions about motivations, acts, etc. such that they are making decisions about what is “humanly possible” or probable. But whither the criteria for “humanly possible”? Ultimately, he argues, “the historian’s conception of human nature stems from his general philosophy of life…” (14). Historians, on this problem, must have a sound philosophy of life in order to make sound judgments about historical events.

Montgomery here is clearly on to something, but he fails to take seriously enough his own noted problem. If, as he says, historians are dependent upon their philosophy and background beliefs in order to make determinations about history, how is objectivity in history possible? While it can largely be agreed that historical events did happen, the exacting details of how they happened are much harder to pin down. And if an historian states that, say, a specific soldier on the battlefield at Gettysburg turned right when he in fact turned left, what does this mean for the “objectivity” of history and the truth thereof? Does this undercut the rest of the historian’s narrative? How much of it is discredited by “minor” details being wrong? And if historical evaluation depends so much upon one’s philosophy of life, how does one even begin to judge said evaluations? Most of these questions don’t get answered (and some aren’t even asked) in the book.

To be fair, Montgomery isn’t trying to answer questions he didn’t ask. I bring them up because they seem a logical extension of the problems he himself points out with history, and it would be interesting to see his answers to them. He does, however, turn to objectivity in history. How are Christians different in this regard?

“The Christian Answer” is the title of Chapter Five, which purports to offer a Christian solution to this difficulty. To get there, Montgomery insists that Christianity can provide the valid interpretation of history because its truth is “‘accessible to science’ and rests upon an objective foundation”; namely, he argues that the Christian worldview rests upon “the objective, historical truth of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead” (138). However, to get to the point that resurrection is an “objective, historical truth,” he uses a very brief evidentialist style argument: that the Gospels “are found to be trustworthy historical documents”; that they report Jesus “exercis[ing] divine prerogatives”; that they describe Christ’s bodily resurrection “in minute detail”*; that the resurrection “cannot be discounted on a priori grounds” [emphasis removed]; that Christ spoke the truth regarding the OT and confirms the NT; and that “It follows from the preceding that all Biblical assertions bearing on philosophy of history are to be regarded as revealed truth” (138-139).

Examining each of these steps in detail is beyond my scope here. Instead, I want to reflect on the reasoning. The problem at hand is: how do we find objectivity in Christianity to give us a valid interpretation of history? The answer is a purported historical fact. But how do we validly interpret that question of the resurrection? So far as I can tell, Montgomery is insisting that it is an historical fact. But the question he’s seeking to answer is whether Christianity can provide an objective basis for historical interpretation, and then he answers that with an historical interpretation: that the resurrection is objective fact. It’s a circle, and I’m not sure how it is supposed to escape that circle. I don’t see a way out of this circle. Even if one introduced some hidden premises about historical reasoning to get to the historicity of the resurrection, that would undercut his argument that Christianity is the objective arbiter of historical interpretation by introducing some external mechanism for that same evaluation. It seems hopeless to me.[1]

Now, it is possible to simply state that Montgomery’s argument here has failed, but that Christianity is valuable in historiography because it can give an objective (or at least “better” by some measure) way of interpreting history. While that would undermine much of his argument, it would leave one free to delve into the questions of what Christianity brings to the table as an evaluative tool. Montgomery does list several “principles of Christian historical interpretation,” and some of these are indeed valuable. For example, under metaphysical principles, he notes that Christianity gives the possibility to historical intepretation that history is inherently meaningful due to “God’s… activity” (145). This would take some effort to hash out, but it seems a potentially fruitful path to pursue.

Other principles he gives seem almost hopelessly naïve, in my opinion. For example, he argues that “human nature is constant” on Christianity, and so “the Christian historian has the assurance that a common ground exists between himself and the [people] of past ages whom he studies…” (148). So, he lists Louis XVI as one possibility for the Christian historian to be able to “confidently interpret motives” due to this constancy of human nature (ibid). Even conceding that human nature is constant, one would wonder how that alone would make it possible to determine the motives of Louis XVI with such confidence, especially if purely based upon that premise. After all, the vast chasm between my own experience and that of Louis XVI makes even the smallest decisions we have to make entirely different. Because I have made so few decisions that even resemble decisions with which Louis XVI was presented, that should give me at least some caution in drawing out his motivations for specific tasks. Other criteria Montgomery presents are helpful, but some need additional caveats.

Ultimately, The Shape of the Past is a frustratingly tantalizing read. Montgomery’s writing style is winsome and matter-of-fact. He writes in an easy manner about all sorts of scholarly topics. The central theses, however, remain unproven and possibly viciously circular. His criteria for Christian historians are a mixed bag. It’s unclear to this reader that Montgomery truly provides a reason to suppose Christianity is superior to other historiographic methods when it comes to objectivity in history. A specifically Christian historiography might be possible and even desirable, but it will need to be heavily supplemented from here.

*Interestingly, Mark does not do this unless one accepts the longer ending as genuine.

[1] Montgomery does note several potential objections to his view, but none of them hint at the circularity inherent in this reasoning: 1. We need an objective standard for historical evaluation; 2. historical evaluation shows that the resurrection is objectively true; 3. therefore, Christianity can be the objective standard for historical evaluation.

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.

Book Review: “Enjoying the Old Testament” by Eric A. Seibert

Enjoying the Old Testament by Eric A. Seibert is an invitation to Christians to read and love the Old Testament.

I admit this reader was shocked when I realized the ultimate purpose of the book. When I saw the subtitle: “A Creative Guide to Encountering Scripture,” I assumed the book was some kind of work introducing the OT. It is that… kind of. What the book is really trying to do is encourage Christians who are hesitant about reading the OT to actually do so and even enjoy doing so. I was shocked because I, personally, love the OT and spend as much time as I can therein. However, Seibert’s careful and sometimes cheeky writing drew me in nonetheless as he encouraged fellow Christians to read and understand.

The book is arranged around three parts: Preparing to Read the Neglected Testament; Having Fun with the Old Testament; and Encountering the Old Testament in New Ways. The first part exhorts and even cajoles Christians to read the OT, while helping set expectation and discuss a mindset that might be needed to do so. The second part helps, among other things, highlight how even the “boring” parts can be found meaningful. The third part offers some ways to read the OT that might help readers, both hesitant and not, encounter the OT in new ways.

Enjoying the Old Testament will hopefully accomplish the goal it sets out to do: bring Christians to read and encounter more Scripture. Seibert’s style and chapters will certainly help any reader who is hesitant to understand and draw out the reasons for doing so. The book accomplishes the task set before 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: 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.

Leaving the LCMS/WELS– Not sure about whether to leave or thinking about leaving? Do you want to others who are thinking along the same lines? I created a group for those who are contemplating leaving these denominations, as well.

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

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

SDG.

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

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

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.

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.

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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.

Why I Left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: Links Hub

Photo by J.W. Wartick. All rights reserved.

I wanted to have a place to collect all the links for my ongoing series of why I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in one post. Here, I share those links along with related reads.

Series

Finding My Voice– I wrote about why I wanted to write this series of posts, and why I thought it was time to do so.

A short history of my time in the LCMS– I go over my time in the LCMS and why I believe that makes my voice especially relevant in a critique of the Synod.

Points of Fracture (Part 1)- Science as a child– I begin to draw out the points of fracture I felt with the LCMS, starting with science I learned as a child.

Points of Fracture (Part 2)- Science as a young adult– Debates over science finally came to a head as fractures became faults in my faith.

By Their Fruits… (part 1)– I begin a miniseries that goes over a number of ways in which I discovered things within the LCMS practices that drove me away from that church body.

By Their Fruits… (Part 2)– I discuss the racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia I encountered in the LCMS.

By Their Fruits… (Part 3)– I observed and encountered quite a bit of misogyny in the LCMS, and document some here.

By Their Fruits… (Part 4)– Homophobia is rampant in the LCMS at various levels.

By Their Fruits… (Part 5)– Nationalism, inconsistent practices of close/closed communion, and more are additional problems with LCMS practice.

Why I Left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: Points of Fracture: Women in the Church Part 1– I write more about how I was confronted with the LCMS’s views about women in the church and the struggle I had with it.

Why I Left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: Points of Fracture: Women in the Church Part 2– I discuss how intense prayer and fervent study of Scripture led me to believe that women can be pastors.

Related 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.

Leaving the LCMS/WELS– Not sure about whether to leave or thinking about leaving? Do you want to others who are thinking along the same lines? I created a group for those who are contemplating leaving these denominations, as well.

The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and Creationism: An Unnecessary Match– I quote from a resolution passed by the LCMS in convention in 2019 and analyze how it’s a problematic view to put forward.

Unchristian Nonsense: A microcosm of what’s wrong in conservative Lutheranism– I look at some of the controversy surrounding the selection of a new President at one of the Concordias (the universities of the LCMS).

“Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod” – A book from James C. Burkee that has me thinking about my former denomination– I take a brief look at an historical exploration of Seminex.

LCMS President Harrison’s Letter to Board of Regents of Concordia University Wisconsin – Ann Arbor– I provide my thoughts about President Harrison’s letter in which he addresses some alleged problems at CUWAA.

Book Review: “Discovering Biblical Equality” Third Edition edited by Ronald W . Pierce, Cynthia Long Westfall, and Christa L. McKirland

Discovering Biblical Equality: Biblical Theological, Cultural, & Practical Perspectives is a massive tome defending the equality of women in the church and home from a Christian standpoint.

The book is organized around 31 chapters plus an introduction and conclusion. The chapters are broken up into four parts: Looking to Scripture: The Biblical Texts; Thinking it Through: Theological and Logical Perspectives; Addressing the Issues: Interpretive and Cultural Perspectives; Living it Out: Practical Applications. There are highlights in each section, and each essays has its own strengths. Linda Belville’s “Women Leaders in the Bible” goes through many names readers might be familiar with, but also dives into details about some of the specifics, such as the background info we can see in the text for the importance of Huldah (p. 73) and some surprising examples readers might be unfamiliar with (74-75). The discussion of both marriage and singleness with regards to mutuality in Ronald W. Pierce and Elizabeth A. Kay’s chapter (“Mutuality in Marriage and Singleness: 1 Corinthians 7:1-40) is refreshing because so often the discussion centers entirely around marriage. The so-called “clobber passages” of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 each get their own passage, as do many other related passages.

Kevin Giles’s chapter on “The Trinity Argument for Women’s Subordination” shows the lengths to which some have gone to try to ground women’s inequality. Jeffrey D. Miller’s chapter on gender accurate Bible translation was fascinating and shows how the issues that are often dismissed regarding translation issues can have real, spiritual implications. Mimi Haddad’s chapter on global perspectives and why gender equality matters helps demonstrate the real-life applications of theology.

The book is the third edition of this collection. I own the second edition, which I read some years ago. I compared the table of contents for the two editions, and there is in the third edition a significant overhaul of the included essays. There are 31 chapters in the new edition vs. 29 in the previous one. Several chapters have been entirely replaced, and several new topics are introduced in the third edition. For example a chapter on “Gender Equality and Homosexuality” by William J. Webb in the second edition appears to have been replaced by “Biblical Equality and Same-Sex Marriage” by Ronald W. Pierce in this third edition. The third edition also addresses race and gender, a topic that I don’t recall or see a chapter dedicated to in the second edition. In other words, readers interested in knowing whether it’s worth re-purchasing should rest assured that it very much is. This new edition has a huge amount of new content. I cannot comment on whether essays that appear in each are revised in any way from the original.

The chapter on “Biblical Equality and Same-Sex Marriage” is written by Piece, who is non-affirming in his stance on same-sex marriage. The thrust of the chapter seems to be that one can be a fully committed egalitarian while not affirming same-sex marriage. Such a topic is certainly of interest to the many people who are caught in the middle on these issues. For my part, I’d have liked to see another chapter from an affirming perspective, though I wonder if it wasn’t included because that’s a less controversial pairing. The chapter on race and gender is fascinating and shows how these topics often intersect and overlap.

Discovering Biblical Equality is unquestionably the standard text for those wishing to explore the basics of egalitarian theology on a scholarly level that remains accessible. Every chapter has something to add to the discussion. The depth and breadth of some of the chapters is truly remarkable. I recommend it extremely highly as among the best books on the topic.

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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