Monthly Archives: January 2010

ELCA Lutheran Haiti disaster response

On January 12th, two and 1/2 weeks ago, the earthquake disaster hit Haiti.  Immediately, on the 13th, the ELCA announced an immediate commitment of $250,000 toward disaster relief and also promised another $500,000 in anticipation of receipt of sufficient donations from ELCA members and member churches.

On January 15th, the ELCA announced it would keep a phone bank open to receive contributions and also announced a “strong and generous response from members” that could soon raise the ELCA contribution to $1 million. 

On the 19th, the ELCA announced it had received at least $1.2 million or more when all the checks were counted.

Haiti relief On the 20th, the first convoy of Lutheran World Federation (LWF) relief supplies arrived in Port au Prince.

Also on the 20th, Lutheran CORE spokesperson Erma Wolf broke with CORE’s financial boycott of the ELCA, stating, “I am going to make a suggestion, request, perhaps plea is the best word for it, now,” she wrote.  “Send an offering to the ELCA Vision for Mission Fund.”

On the 22nd, the total gifted to the ELCA reached $1.6 million.

On the 29th came the announcement that the state of Florida had enlisted the services of Lutheran Disaster Response to assist with processing Haitians with US passports through Florida airports into the US.

Bishop Hanson forum Also on the 29th, presiding bishop Mark Hanson issued a letter to ELCA constituencies announcing the ELCA gifts had reached $2.5 million, summarizing the ELCA efforts to date, and encouraging further member contributions.  His letter is printed in full below:

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it;
if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”
–1 Corinthians 12:26

Almost two weeks have passed since the devastating earthquake in Haiti. The outpouring of gifts from members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to ELCA Disaster Response has enabled a swift response on behalf of this church. 

Thank you for your generous financial support which now totals more than $2.5 million. Many gifts are still being counted. Our community-based partners are already providing:

  • Two water purification systems to bring clean water to 25,000 people.
  • Emergency food and medical supplies to thousands.
  • Blankets and tents to shelter 10,000 people who are homeless.

Funding, distributed through three partners, will increase as giving continues.

  • $300,000 has been sent to The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), a key responder and member of Action by Churches Together (ACT). The funds support LWF efforts to provide shelter to people left homeless by the quake. 
  • $150,000 has been sent to Lutheran World Relief (LWR), Baltimore, for material aid.
  • $150,000 will be sent to Church World Service (CWS) for construction of temporary water systems and distribution of water purification materials. 

In addition, $25,000 has been sent to Lutheran Services of Florida for initial support to refugees and Haitian Americans entering or returning to the United States.

We are pleased that Louis Dorvillier, director for International Development and Disaster Response in the ELCA Global Mission program unit, is part of a delegation to his country of origin with LWF and ACT.

Your generosity makes this life-saving work possible. As we celebrate this outpouring of gifts and prayers, we also know that we have a long road to travel together. There is so much more to be done. This church is committed to walking with our brothers and sisters in Haiti for years to come; your continued support is needed to provide ongoing care.

I encourage you to visit the ELCA Disaster Response (http://www.elca.org/disaster) Web site for updated information, worship resources, bulletin inserts and details on how to offer financial support. General mission-support dollars and gifts to ELCA Vision for Mission make it possible for 100 percent of your gifts designated for Haiti Earthquake Relief to be used entirely for this response effort.

To give today, go online (www.elca.org/haitiearthquake) or call 800-638-3522.

In God’s grace,

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Is Lutheran CORE fundamentalist?

One of the blogs I follow on my RSS reader is Otagosh.  I think that Gavin, the author, is in New Zealand, but since there is no “about” page, I’m not sure.  Gavin, if you read this, can you provide more info?  In any case, Gavin offered his perspective on the question, What is the Bible and how do we use it? 

[It’s not fiction, like a novel], but by the same token it’s hardly factual writing either, whether New Testament Gospels or Old Testament “history.” If you want to take the Bible seriously you have to meet it on its terms [as an ancient text].

The problem then isn’t with the Bible. The problem is with post-Enlightenment people trying to shoehorn ancient texts into contemporary categories. The Bible isn’t meant to be read in the same way as an instruction manual, recipe book, or newspaper report. Nor is it like some kind of weird jigsaw puzzle where you have to string together bleeding chunks of text from all over with the aid of Cruden’s concordance.

Fundamentalism provides the most egregious “all or nothing” example: the Bible is either 100% reliable in everything, or it isn’t “true.” An army of skeptics happily rise up to accept that thesis, and conclude – quite rightly if you follow the logic – that as there are errors, the Bible is useless.

Lutheran Pastor and blogger Doug Kings of Chicago is critical of Christendom’s (and especially our own ELCA) wishy-washy failure to confront the often simplistic, naive, and literal assumptions of the folks in the pews.

[L]et the Bible be what it is: the collected thoughts of a particular ancient people, containing their prejudices and ignorance but also some genuinely profound insight into living with God and with one another in our paradoxical world of beauty and pain, purpose and confusion.

Modern scholarship has actually discovered a great deal about the Bible but much of it is ignored because it doesn’t tell us what we want to hear. Modern biblical study’s totally unsurprising conclusion is that the Bible is theology, through and through. Thus, it isn’t history, biology, geology, astronomy, economics, political science, psychology or any of the other contemporary subjects which so fascinate us and about which we have so many questions. For answers to them, we must look elsewhere.

Professor emeritus Walter Brueggemann is one of the most esteemed and influential Bible scholars around, and I previously offered a blog post on his Christian Century article in which he posited that Scripture is “Remembering an Imagined Past.”  Brueggemann has authored the leading work of Old Testament scholarship of the past generation entitled Theology of the Old Testament: testimony, dispute, advocacy.  In his preface, he offers the following explanation of his methodology.

I have focused on the metaphor and imagery of courtroom trial in order to regard the theological substance of the Old Testament as a series of claims asserted for Yahweh, the God of Israel.  All of these claims share a general commonality but also evidence considerable variation, competition, and conflict … where truth is at issue and at risk, testimony is given by many witnesses, witnesses are vigorously cross-examined, and out of such disputatious adjudication comes a verdict, an affirmed rendering of reality and an accepted version of truth.

Biblical scholarship is serious business, not amenable to simplistic sound bites or proof texts.  As someone who has been drawn to this discipline for the past generation and as an ELCA Lutheran active as an LGBT advocate within my denomination, I take particular offense at the Lutheran CORE putdown that the ELCA has become unbiblical.  From Lutheran CORE talking points comes the following tripe:

“The ELCA is the one that has departed from the teaching of the Bible”.  “Lutheran CORE intends to remain with the clear teaching of Scripture”.  “Lutheran CORE would like to help those in the ELCA who continue to uphold the authority of Scripture to find a way to continue to maintain basic Christian teaching as revealed in the Bible.”

Following a recent meeting of the big shots of CORE, WordAlone, and Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMS), a press release was issued containing a revealing paragraph about CORE’s attitude toward the Bible and scriptural interpretation:

Confessional Lutherans accept the Bible as the sole, divine source and norm for all Christian teaching and endorse the 1580 Book of Concord—the statement of Lutheran doctrines—as being accurate interpretations of Holy Scripture. The Bible repeatedly condemns sexual relationships outside of a marriage between one man and one woman.

There are learned persons, Biblical scholars and professors, who stand behind CORE; for that reason, this quasi-fundamentalist statement is stunning.  Let us parse this paragraph a bit.

Sole: only; exclusive; standing alone.   No room for reason.  No room for conscience.  No room for experience.   Simple.  Just consult the ancient book of rules to answer all modern questions.  Even Luther would have disagreed with such simplicity.

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason … Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience [informed by Scripture] is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.

Divine: not human; perfect; beyond question.  I guess Brueggemann was wrong—there is no “variation, competition, and conflict” present in this perfect expression of God’s will, nor CORE’s perfect interpretation of it.  To refer to the Bible as “divine” smacks of rank Bibliolatry, but in reality it is a political maneuver meant to limit debate or dissent from a fundamentalist view.  Much as the ancient Hebrews could not bear to look upon the face of God, one probes the divine Word at one’s peril.  Dare not ask questions of the divine text.

1580 Book of Concord: I confess that I am not well-read in the Lutheran writings of the sixteenth century.  What I find astounding in the statement, given the scholars that are part of CORE’s hierarchy, is CORE’s static interpretation of scripture according to a document dated 1580, which establishes the pre-modern worldview of the reformers as preferable to the  insights of the past four centuries.

The Bible repeatedly condemns sexual relationships outside of a marriage between one man and one woman:  If the fundamentalists say this often enough, will it come true?  Proving the falsity of this statement is like shooting fish in a barrel.  One example, that of Father Abraham, shall suffice, but we could go on and on.

So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife.  He went in to Hagar, and she conceived.  Genesis 16:3-4a

Episcopal Priest Susan Russell recently offered a blog post in which she quoted an article from Professor Rosemary R. Reuther, entitled A Biblical View of Marriage: One Man and Several Women.

The point here is not to mandate either patriarchal polygamy or New Testament celibacy, but to dispute the notion that God in the Bible mandated one view of marriage, from the beginning and for all time. Rather marriage is a human arrangement which has varied over time, according to human (mostly male) views of their needs for sex, relationship, kinship alliances and progeny. In the West in the last few centuries the need to cement social alliances through marriage and to create (male) heirs has decreased, and the primary purpose of marriage has come to be seen as love, preferably between two people in a permanent relationship.

There are smart and educated persons in CORE, and they ought to know better than to spout such unscholarly and fossilized views of the canon coupled with accusations that the rest of us are unbiblical.  It is not that we don’t take the Bible seriously, as CORE alleges, it is that we take it too seriously to avoid challenging questions informed by reason, experience, and the lessons of scholarship, both traditional and modern.

Lutherans in ecumenical news

Episcopal Life online reports that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark has joined the Porvoo Communion

This is the name given to a report issued at the conclusion of theological conversations by official representatives of four Anglican Churches and eight Nordic and Baltic Churches in 1989-1992. The Porvoo Common Statement included the text of the Porvoo Declaration, which the participants commended for acceptance to their Churches.

They were the Churches of England and Ireland, the Church in Wales and the Episcopal Church of Scotland, together with the Churches of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and the Evangelical-Lutheran Churches of Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia and Lithuania. Acceptance by the signatory churches means that for the first time the Anglican Churches in Britain and Ireland have now moved into visible communion with other national Churches in Europe.

Map of Porvoo participantsPreviously, the Denmark church had merely been an observer and not a signatory due to differences over the ordination of female bishops.  (The Danish Lutherans favored female bishops).  According to the Danes, Anglican bishops have “changed their positions considerably” on such issues, and there are no longer any doctrinal obstacles to membership.

Meanwhile, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) announces that their “Eastern Synod will host the North American region’s preparatory meeting for the July 2010 Eleventh Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).”   

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund, Sweden, the LWF now has 140 member churches in 79 countries all over the world representing over 68.9 million Christians.

The Canadian report indicates that there are three North American Lutheran denominations that belong to the Lutheran World Federation: the ELCIC, the ELCA, and the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad.  The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Synod (WELS), the second and third largest Lutheran denominations in the US after the ELCA, do not belong to LWF.  The LWF has been front and center of Haiti disaster relief.  ELCA president Mark Hanson currently holds the presidency of the LWF, which has its international headquarters in Geneva.

Today, the ELCA and the Moravian Church will celebrate ten years of full communion partnership at Augsburg Lutheran Church, Winston-Salem, N.C.

Leaders and members of the denominations will be attending the worship service.  The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, will preside and the Rt. Rev. Dr. D. Wayne Burkette, president, Provincial Elders’ Conference, Moravian Church North America, Southern Province, will be preaching.

The Moravian Church is one of six full communion partners of the ELCA (United Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, UCC, and Reformed Church of America).

The ELCA takes seriously its call to act ecumenically for the sake of the world and not for itself alone. Unity does not mean that two churches merge; rather, in reaching consensus churches also respect difference. In this way, full communion is when two churches develop a relationship based on a common confessing of the Christian faith and a mutual recognition of baptism and sharing of the Lord’s Supper.  These denominations likewise jointly worship, may exchange clergy, and also share a commitment to evangelism, witness and service in the world.

Jan Hus The Moravian church has its origins in 15th century Bohemia and Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic).  They trace their heritage to reformer Jan Hus, who predated Luther and who was burned at the stake for his heresy.  Hus and his followers planted the seeds of reformation which came to fruition under Luther, Calvin, and others a century later.  The Moravians arrived in the US in 1741.  Their website offers much more of their proud history.

Are American evangelicals complicit in the Uganda anti-gay movement?

Much attention has been focused on the Ugandan parliamentary bill mandating Draconian treatment of gays, up to execution, that has been shelved for the moment.  Undoubtedly, the international outcry has been effective.  The relationship between several American evangelical groups and the Ugandan anti-gay movement has also come to light, raising serious questions about the influence and extremism of these American gay bashers in the name of their evangelical Christianity.

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback mega-church in the US and the author of the popular The Purpose Driven Life, is perhaps the most visible of the evangelicals who had cavorted with the Ugandan leadership prior to the drafting of the hate-filled legislation.  Religion Dispatches blog has reported extensively on Warren and Uganda:

Yet last year, according to a press release from Warren’s public relations firm, he launched a “purpose-driven living” campaign in Uganda, organized by a former member of Parliament. While there — his fourth trip to the country — he met with the First Lady of Uganda, Janet Museveni. Warren’s statement today that he’s never met the president of Uganda or any members of parliament, then, seems hair-splitting. The press release, after all, did say, “This is the second East African country to invite Dr. Warren to bring the well- known Purpose Driven Life and Church leadership training to churches, businesses and government on a national scale.” At the time, Warren said, “my challenge to business and government leaders is to use their influence for the glory of God and partner with local churches in solving community problems.”

There is no evidence that Warren directly promoted the idea of the anti-gay legislation; yet, it is clear that his original foray into Uganda to instill his “Purpose Driven” plan was at the request of homophobe Anglican Archbishop, the Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi.  According to a news release at the time appearing on Christian Post, it was Orombi who

recalled initially wanting to invite Warren to Uganda after seeing the Purpose Driven Living program implemented in Rwanda.

Uganda is the second east African country to invite Warren to bring the Purpose Driven Life and Church leadership training program to the country on a national scale. The first east African country to adopt the program nationwide was Rwanda in 2005.

It turns out that Orombi and first lady Janet Museveni, two of Warren’s principal contacts, have been among the most influential gay bashers in Uganda. 

After a month of waffling and suggesting it wasn’t his business to influence foreign nations internal policies, Warren finally bowed to pressure and issued a statement condemning the legislation, but his statement was also laden with self-serving denials:

There’s no doubt he has a strong relationship with government, business, and religious leaders in Uganda, according to his own statements. So it would seem logical for people at least to think he would have some sway to denounce the proposed law as a brutal violation of human rights and of Christian values. Instead of addressing the reasons why he waited to speak, though, Warren instead seeks to dispel “untruths” about his relationships with leaders there, and alleged misinterpretations of some of his statements. But that doesn’t tell us much about his relationships there, just which leaders and statements from which he’s now trying to distance himself. It would be more revealing to understand just what “purpose-driven living” is, how he has imparted that teaching to Ugandan leaders, and how they make use of it.

Exodus International is a well-known organization that promotes reparative therapy.  Reparative therapy is a discredited theory and practice of transforming gays to straight.  In August, 2009, the American Psychological Association issued a hard hitting condemnation of reparative therapy and its adherents.

The American Psychological Association concluded Wednesday that there is little evidence that efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation from gay or lesbian to heterosexual are effective.  The report looks at 87 studies conducted between 1960 and 2007.  In addition, the 138-page report — covering 87 peer-reviewed studies — said that such efforts may cause harm.

Of course, Exodus won’t allow the facts to inform their opinions, and they continue to inflict their “cure” on troubled gays who already doubt their human worth.

As an organization, Exodus was not directly involved in the rise of official Ugandan homophobia, but one of their board members was an early anti-gay spokesman in that country.  At a March, 2009 anti-gay conference in Kampala, Exodus Board member Don Schmierer was one of three presenters (Nazi revisionist Scott Lively was another).

Family Life Network has organized a training seminar to equip Ugandans with information and skills to fight what it calls spiraling promotion of homosexuality in the country.

[T]he seminar from March 5th to 7th will provide insight on the causes and treatment of homosexuality; provide practical tips on how to prevent homosexuality behavior in youth; expose the homosexual agenda … is intended for parents, guardians, teachers, government officials, policy makers, members of parliament, religious leaders, counselors and activists who need in-depth knowledge on the subject of homosexuality.

A blog called Box Turtle Bulletin has been on top of the Exodus-Uganda connection, with dozens of blog posts listed chronologically here.  A few pertinent items include the announcement of the anti-gay seminar on the floor of the Ugandan legislature, Exodus’ initial “applauding” of Schmierer’s participation, the Ugandan parliamentary foray into the anti-gay movement six weeks after the seminar, and finally the Nov 16th Exodus lukewarm rejection of the legislation only after the international outcry.

Written as it is by an organization which does not affirm the dignity and worth of LGBT people to live their lives responsibly in freedom and self-determination, there is certainly much in this letter that merits criticism. Furthermore, the letter makes no recommendations except to “consider the influence this law will have” on the work of those who believe that the only valid option for LGBT people is to self-deny their own existence. The “influence” this law will have on LGBT people themselves, well that’s apparently inconsequential and not worthy of discussion.

One final note regarding Exodus that will be of interest to regular followers of this blog.  Exodus International has a mutually supportive relationship with Lutheran CORE, the dissident ELCA group that resisted the pro-LGBT actions of the 2009 ELCA churchwide assembly and which continues as an ELCA irritant and schismatic movement.  At the ELCA church wide assembly, Lutheran CORE maintained a visible presence and a headquarters / hospitality room.  On Thursday evening of the assembly, they promoted a presentation by a representative of Outpost, an affiliate of Exodus International.  From the CORE newsletter of August 17th:

Thursday night will feature a presentation by Nate Oyloe, Youth and College Age Director for Outpost Ministries. “Outpost was formed to meet the needs of men and women who have made a decision to break away from the gay life,” its website
explains. Outpost is an affiliate ministry of Exodus International.

Oyloe, in turn, subsequently reported on his presentation in a post on the Exodus website:

Within the denomination is a group called The CORE – Coalition for Reform – that is committed to the upholding of God’s Word and the biblical understanding that homosexual behavior is sinful all the time, every time. The week before the convention Outpost was asked by The CORE to have a presence there. Outpost staff talked with delegates and shared their stories of transformation with individuals throughout the week. I was asked to speak to their group and share my personal testimony the night before the second vote passed. 

I also have private correspondence from an ELCA member in Florida whose pastor seeks to lead the congregation into CORE.  The pastor invited a CORE spokesperson, a Rebecca Heber, whose presentation to the congregation boasted of the CORE relationship with Exodus.

If we are known by the company we keep, then Lutheran CORE has some “splanin” to do about its affiliation with Exodus, its debunked reparative therapy theories, and its connection to the horrific anti-gay movement in Uganda. 

The International Transformation Network is the third evangelical organization that merits scrutiny for its Ugandan influence.  From their website:

The International Transformation Network (ITN) is a strategic alliance of Christians from the marketplace and the pulpit who are building prototypes for city and nation transformation that bring the presence and the power of God to meet the felt needs and the systemic challenges of our communities and countries.

As a result of a clear focus on five pivotal paradigms for transformation and the principles of prayer evangelism, real transformation is taking place in cities and nations around the world – in businesses, on campuses, in the halls of government, and within congregations.

Another web page lauds the program’s “prayer evangelism and marketplace redemption strategies to reach cities and transform nations for Christ.”  ITN promotes a full-blown and unapologetic prosperity theology, but with a governmental, theocratic twist–a three way partnership between government, business, and Christianity.

According to the Uganda State House website, in March, 2007 the Ugandan President and First Lady, Janet Museveni, (the same mentioned above as contact for Rick Warren) hosted a state dinner for the representatives of ITN.  A year later , in March 2008, the website reports the Museveni’s hosted ITN CEO Ed Silvoso, and Silvoso’s own website trumpets ITN’s relationship with “Mama Janet” and her role as a friendly First Lady in Uganda, “a nation completely ripe for transformation”.

These theocratic ideals, tinged with a prosperity gospel, are scary enough, but what about the the relationship of ITN and the anti-gay movement of Uganda?  The 18th ITN international conference of October, 2008 held in Argentina is revealing.  The speakers included exorcist Cindy Jacobs who offered a chilling, rabble-rousing, rant about “pornography’”, “homosexuals”, “bisexuals”, and “perversion” to a spell-bound, swaying audience.  Another speaker, a representative of ITN/Uganda praised “Mama Janet” for being “God’s key” to open not just Uganda but the whole African continent.  It also turns out that the daughter of “Mama Janet” is a pastor of a Ugandan church affiliated with the ITN, and it was one of her parishioners, a member of Parliament, who drafted the infamous anti-gay legislation. 

And then we come full circle back to the ELCA, back to Minnesota, back to Northfield, for it seems there are two Minnesota Lutheran congregations that have bought into the ITN prosperity gospel with its homophobic overtones. 

The first of these is Christ Lutheran Church of Otsego in the Elk River, Minnesota vicinity.  According to their website, they have a special congregational meeting called for January 31 to consider a resolution to secede from the ELCA.  The same web page has several links to anti-gay sermons of Pastor David Glesne of Redeemer Lutheran in Fridley, a Lutheran CORE and WordAlone Network congregation that has withdrawn from the ELCA. 

The second ITN Lutheran congregation is right here in Northfield; it is Rejoice Lutheran, and they claim inspiration from the Elk River example.

Rejoice! sees itself as a city leader in this prayer evangelism movement. We believe, through the power of community prayer, God is raising-up Christians in the city to bring others to the faith! Pastor Dan Clites says he is a pulpit minister, but our congregation is the marketplace ministers! Together, we are blurring the lines between the sacred and the secular!

Local speculation is that Rejoice will depart the ELCA, but a question remains about the significant mission financial support they previously received from the ELCA.  Will they keep it or give it back?  One wonders if Rejoice members know about the connection between ITN, their prosperity gospel mentor, and the anti-gay movement of Uganda; if so, are they ok with it?

Episcopal pastor, Elizabeth Keaton, has a lengthy post about ITN and their theocratic movement in her home city of Newark, and her post contains a video expose of ITN and their connections to the Uganda anti-gay movement.  Watch it!

ELCA Lutheran charity

Just a few end of the week notes about Lutheran charitable activities.

The latest number reported for the ELCA Haiti disaster relief is $1.2 million.

Earlier, I posted about Pastor Erma Wolf’s apparent break with the Lutheran CORE financial boycott of the ELCA.  Interestingly, there are no comments published on her blog post.  Since I attempted to offer a supportive comment which the blog did not publish, I wonder if she or someone else is trying to avoid a full-blown discussion of her statement in which she said, “I am going to make a suggestion, request, perhaps plea is the best word for it, now.  Send an offering to the ELCA Vision for Mission Fund.”   Of course, her statement is in stark contrast to the prior entreaties from Lutheran CORE to redirect funds away from the ELCA.

Here are some interesting charitable giving tidbits.  It would take 3 Frenchmen, or 7 Germans, or 14 Italians to equal the amount of charitable giving of 1 American.  The average US family donates approximately $2,000 annually.  Lower income folks donate a much higher percentage of their income to charity than high income folks. 

And here’s a trivia question for you:  what American charity raises the most revenue annually—an amount that would place the organization in the upper half of the Fortune 500 if it were a private business?

The answer surprised me—it is Lutheran Social Services (LSS) with annual revenues of $16 billion!  LSS is strongly supported by the ELCA and LCMS, but these eye-popping sums come from a much broader base than merely these two denominations, and I suspect most of the revenue is fee for services based rather than charitable contributions.

Billy Graham’s small college is “Left Behind”

Over thirty-five years ago, my wife and I lived in the northern suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota while I attended law school at the University.  We toured the greater neighborhood aboard our ten-speed bicycles.  We sometimes pedaled through the arched gate to Northwestern College in the wooded hills of Roseville, which we learned was a small evangelical Christian college.  I have since learned that evangelist Billy Graham served as the president of the college from 1947-53.

But there’s trouble afoot.  Are the end times near?

An article appearing in the Minneapolis Star Tribune recounts the internecine fight between the administration and a group led by 1997 graduate Dallas Jenkins, the son of Jerry B. Jenkins the author of the “Left Behind” series of novels that promote the idea of end times rapture.  From the Left Behind Website:

Are you ready for the moment of truth?

  • Political crisis
  • Economic crisis
  • Worldwide epidemics
  • Environmental catastrophe
  • Mass disappearances
  • Military apocalypse
    And that’s just the beginning . . . of the end of the world. It’s happening now.

Dr Alan Cureton Seems Jenkins and his cronies are claiming the college is tilting away from its conservative roots, allowing an undesirable secular influence to creep in.  College President Alan Cureton is their foil.  From the Strib article:

Several former trustees said in a letter that they had seen the college’s culture changing and hoped it “might, by God’s gracious intervention, be spared the fate of so many other institutions that have witnessed the dying of the light. …”

Last January, the student government sent a letter expressing a vote of “no confidence” in Cureton and asking for his resignation or removal. The letter said that Cureton had committed “grievous sin, lies, slander, and unethical actions” –including lying about his reasons for demoting two faculty members and falsely accused another employee of viewing pornography.

In response, the board of trustees appointed a three person task force (including the president of the Evangelical Free Church of America) to investigate whether the charges of doctrinal drift were warranted.  They concluded they were not, but the sniping continues even though the website of the dissidents has been closed to the public by requiring password entry.  The college website openly acknowledges the controversy and attempts to put it in the past.

For regular readers of this blog, a familiar character made a cameo appearance in the Strib article.  Dr. Robert Benne, a member of the Lutheran CORE advisory council and author of several CORE articles that have been critiqued here and here, was consulted by the Strib apparently because he wrote a book about secular drift in religious colleges.

Prop 8 trial reveals abuses of reparative therapy

If you haven’t heard, a civil trial is underway in California contesting the constitutionality of Prop 8.  If you don’t know about Prop 8, it was a California referendum that passed by a slight majority in the 2008 election, and its effect was to preclude same gender marriage in California.

This is a much ballyhooed trial, not merely for its subject but also for its participants.  The two main attorneys that are pursuing the case are the same who opposed each other in Gore v Bush, the 2000 presidential election Florida recount case, who now join in common cause to have Prop 8 overturned as unconstitutional.   One of these is well known Republican and conservative attorney Theodore Olson, formerly of the Bush and Reagan administrations.

Attorney Olson explains his views in a Newsweek article, entitled The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage.

My involvement in this case has generated a certain degree of consternation among conservatives. How could a politically active, lifelong Republican, a veteran of the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, challenge the “traditional” definition of marriage and press for an “activist” interpretation of the Constitution to create another “new” constitutional right?

My answer to this seeming conundrum rests on a lifetime of exposure to persons of different backgrounds, histories, viewpoints, and intrinsic characteristics, and on my rejection of what I see as superficially appealing but ultimately false perceptions about our Constitution and its protection of equality and fundamental rights.

Many of my fellow conservatives have an almost knee-jerk hostility toward gay marriage. This does not make sense, because same-sex unions promote the values conservatives prize. Marriage is one of the basic building blocks of our neighborhoods and our nation. At its best, it is a stable bond between two individuals who work to create a loving household and a social and economic partnership. We encourage couples to marry because the commitments they make to one another provide benefits not only to themselves but also to their families and communities. Marriage requires thinking beyond one’s own needs. It transforms two individuals into a union based on shared aspirations, and in doing so establishes a formal investment in the well-being of society. The fact that individuals who happen to be gay want to share in this vital social institution is evidence that conservative ideals enjoy widespread acceptance. Conservatives should celebrate this, rather than lament it.

 

Pastor Candice Chellew-Hodge is “the founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians and currently serves as associate pastor at Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, S.C.”  A religious progressive, her blog post today carries the subtitle, “testimony shows the ugly side of religion”.  The subject is the discredited and abusive practice of reparative therapy—the misguided attempt to turn gay persons straight.  (See my prior blog post about reparative therapy here.)

The testimony, as reported by Pastor Chellew-Hodge, is compelling and heart wrenching.

I’m gay. I’m short and half Hispanic those things aren’t going to change.”

Those are the words Ryan Kendall uttered in a federal court in San Francisco on Wednesday as the trial over whether or not to overturn Proposition 8 that stripped gays and lesbians of their right to marry in California, got into its second week.

Kendall took the stand to recount his harsh treatment in an “ex-gay ministry.” His deeply religious parents forced him into so-called “reparative therapy” after finding a note that Kendall had written to himself confessing his sexual orientation at the age of 13. Kendall said his parents “flipped out, (they were) very upset, yelling. I don’t remember a lot of what they said, but it was pretty scary the level of their reaction. I remember my mother telling me I was going to burn in hell.”

Read the rest of the blog post and more testimony here.

A Wretched Man novel: 3rd Review is in

A Different Voice is a website devoted to progressive, Christian educators.  It reviews and recommends educational resources deemed suitable for progressive congregations.

There are many of us…progressive Christian education professionals, pastors, youth directors, parents, volunteers, lay ministers, conference staff people…who are committed to taking the Bible seriously but not literally…who believe justice and grace and compassion and love are at the core of what it means to be Christian…who practice spiritual disciplines and still love God with their minds as well…who know themselves to be on a meaningful and hope-filled journey of faith.

Tim Gossett of Different Voice is “a twenty-some year veteran of youth ministry and Christian education. He has masters degrees in Religious Education and Religious Communications from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH, is a certified Christian education director in the United Methodist Church, and is an author of a handful of books.”  Mr. Gossett posted a lengthy review of A Wretched Man that includes the following snippets:

If asked to recommend some good books about Paul for laypersons and church professionals, there are several candidates that would come to mind. Two, though, would receive my top recommendation. Borg and Crossan’s The First Paul would be tops on my list for its lucid and important description of the de-radicalization of Paul’s message by the early church. Next, I’d recommend a forthcoming novel, A Wretched Man: A Novel of Paul the Apostle by RW Holmen, a compelling exploration of the Jewish (Nazarenes) and Gentile (Pauline) movements in the first century. If you’ve ever struggled to understand Paul’s form of faith, Holmen’s work of historical fiction will help you to imagine your way into Paul’s life and times.

  1. Holmen definitely captures the “feel” of first-century Roman territories. I suspect most readers will feel as if every chapter will add to their knowledge about life in those difficult days, from the basics of daily life to the realities of trying to exist as an oppressed religious community. Holmen clearly loves that period of time, and he describes it beautifully and (I think) pretty accurately. His training as a historian is clearly evident. 
  2. The author brings to life the source of the conflict between the early Christian movements, namely that Jesus did not return as expected, and there were significant differences of opinion about what Jesus’ life and teachings meant for Torah-followers and Gentiles alike. We cannot hope to fully understand and appreciate the differences between the Jesus of the gospels and the Christ of faith in the Pauline letters without understanding these two very different “Christianities.”
  3. The novel helps contextualize the letters of Paul and clarify how their themes came about. Paul’s conversations and private thoughts eventually are woven into bits and pieces of the letters. Unlike some novels about Paul, this one contains very little of the actual letters themselves, though, focusing only on their key phrases and themes. Stories from the book of Acts are woven into the story arc, though many scenes originate in Holmen’s own imagined, fleshed-out version of the characters’ lives.
  4. It’s clear to me that Holmen (who has done post-graduate studies in theology and Christian history at a progressive Benedictine community in Minnesota) is well-versed in contemporary progressive scholarship about Paul. This is evidenced in subtle ways—I suspect many readers will not pick up on the progressive emphasis—and at times I wished Holmen had been able to more directly expand on some of the insights in the Borg/Crossan book I previously mentioned. Yet it’s definitely the rare religious novel that can be recommended to your parishioners without reservation. 
  5. Finally, the novel treats Paul, Barnabas, Peter, James, the various women Paul knew, Timothy, Titus, and many others as extraordinarily normal people. We witness their frustrations, their anger, their salty language and questionable behavior, and the mundane experiences of their everyday lives, not just their piety and faithful witness. In many ways, this is the greatest gift of A Wretched Man, because these characters can now leap off the page and into our imaginations. 

Read the full review here

Lutheran CORE financial boycott of ELCA revisited

Yesterday I came across a two week old newspaper article from Pipestone, Minnesota, a small city on the prairie of SW Minnesota.  The article reported on Tensions Within the Church Body, referring to the ELCA and the Lutheran CORE opposition.  It was a well written piece which addressed the status of a couple of local ELCA churches, and it also quoted extensively from Pastor Erma Wolf, one of the primary spokespersons for Lutheran CORE.  Although several of her comments merely parroted Lutheran CORE talking points, I was struck by this quote:

“I’m not withholding my church offerings and I would not encourage a congregation to do that,” CORE’s Wolf said. “As long as we’re in the ELCA, we need to be financial stewards of the church.”

This is striking, of course, because Wolf deviated from the Lutheran CORE party line, which has consistently encouraged ELCA congregations to withhold financial support of the ELCA.  On August 22, before the 2009 Church wide assembly had closed, the CORE newsletter stated,  “Lutheran CORE leaders are inviting faithful Lutheran congregations and individuals to direct funding away from the national church body because of the decisions made this week by the Churchwide Assembly.”  Furthermore, the Lutheran CORE website promotes a paper by Pastor Steven King which attempts to provide a justification for withholding financial support of the ELCA.

This morning, Pastor Wolf has taken her views a significant step further.  In an article posted on two blogs, Satis Est, her own personal blog and on Lutheran CORE’s blog, she proposes a radical departure from the Lutheran CORE financial boycott.  “I am going to make a suggestion, request, perhaps plea is the best word for it, now,” she writes.

“Send an offering to the ELCA Vision for Mission Fund,” Pastor Wolf pleads.

Haiti Of course, one could minimize Pastor Wolf’s radical departure from the Lutheran CORE position by pointing out the exceptional circumstances of the Haiti earthquake, which is the occasion of her appeal.  Yet, her own stated rationale goes further than Haiti (bearing in mind, her newspaper quote before Haiti, “As long as we’re in the ELCA, we need to be financial stewards of the church.”):

Why? Because the main reason the ELCA International Disaster Relief Fund can dedicate such a high percentage of the offerings it receives to those who are most in need is because the ELCA Churchwide budget covers the cost of offices, lights, office machines, and staffing expenses. That is part of the mission work of this denomination. The Disaster Relief folks don’t have to pay for that stuff, so their money can go to places like Haiti. (And the flood victims in Iowa, and the hurricane victims on the Gulf Coast, and the tornado victims in Oklahoma, and you name the places where the ELCA has been in the past 10 years.)

Kudos to Pastor Wolf. 

One can only hope that her good sense and compassion rubs off on her cronies at Lutheran CORE.  Perhaps she sees that the CORE financial boycott has been a classic “cut off the nose to spite the face” effort from the outset.  Perhaps she understands that the financial boycott affects those who need ELCA missions and ministries the most.  Perhaps she senses that the boycott serves only to depict Lutheran CORE as mean-spirited, vindictive, and manipulative.  Certainly, Wolf’s plea reflects an adult understanding of the positive benefits that flow from the denominational infrastructure of the ELCA, something which Lutheran CORE as a separate denomination can only aspire to years down the road.

Most importantly, let’s hope that we can mark this as a breakthrough in the acrimonious relationship that has developed between CORE and the ELCA.  Again, kudos to Pastor Wolf.

Gun sights for Jesus

Howard Friedman Howard Friedman is Professor of Law Emeritus at Toledo University, and he publishes a blog about the intersection of law and religion.  His blog is named Religion Clause, and the blog’s byline is the first amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof… –US Const., Amend. 1”

His latest post contains a troubling investigative report from ABC News about a defense contractor that has a contract for supplying 800,000 high powered rifle sights to the US Marine Corps and more for the army.  The problem is that each rifle sight contains a Biblical reference, a coded citation to either 2nd Corinthians 4:6 or John 8:12 affixed to the end of each gun sight’s serial number.

For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (2 Co 4:6). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 8:12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

It is unclear why the gun sight manufacturer chose these particular verses.

An overt Biblical reference included on any government ordered product is undoubtedly a violation of the establishment clause.  Professor Friedman has a Sgt Joe Friday (Dragnet) style of writing (“Just the facts, ma’am”); thus, one is left to infer his legal opinion about the constitutionality of the practice from the mere fact that he published the post.

Jesus with a gun (borrowed from Seven Whole Days) Blogger Scott Gunn at Seven Whole Days is less subtle, and he writes less from a legal/constitutional point of view (although he agrees the practice is unconstitutional) than from his perspective as an Episcopal priest.  Apparently, the company spokesman dismissed critics of the practice as “uppity ‘non-Christians’”.  Gunn responds, “Well, this priest in Christ’s Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church is outraged.”

Where to begin? Let’s start with practical matters. It will (rightly) inflame Muslims to learn that US military forces are fighting a war with equipment that contains references  to the Bible … How can we have any credibility when we say we are not fighting a new crusade, while our forces use equipment that is marked with verses about following Jesus?

Continuing to speak as a priest, I am further outraged by the perversion of the faith to which I devote my life. Jesus surely wants us to share the Good News with the whole world, but not in the side of deadly weapons. More to the point, killing in Christ’s name violates every teaching of the Gospels. I might concede that war is a necessary evil, though I have strong pacifist leanings, but we can never imagine that we have God’s approval to fight wars. Every war, every weapon, and every death in battle represents a tragic sin. To mock Jesus Christ by stamping “the light of Christ” on a rifle scope is to engage in deadly blasphemy.

To lawyer Friedman, I say “Counselor, we join in your arguments.  Your comments are incorporated herein by reference.”  To Pastor Gunn, I say, “amen, brother.”