“PLEASE, LORD, SPARE THE CONGREGATIONS”
That was my prayer as I read a recent announcement from United Lutheran Seminary, the ELCA school of theology that was formed by the merger of two separate educational institutions in Gettysburg and Philadelphia. That announcement, which is dated July 12, 2018 and which can be found under “News and Events” on the seminary’s website, is about the appointment of Dr. Crystal L. Hall to the faculty as assistant professor of biblical studies. It reads, “Dr. Hall’s research and teaching address the call to justice with the human Other alongside the call to justice with Earth as Other.”
When I read that, my first thought was, “What in the world does that mean?” I decided to try to determine its meaning by breaking it down into three phrases – “the call to justice” (which obviously must be very important because it is in there twice), “with the human Other,” and “alongside . . . with Earth as Other.”
I certainly agree that the Biblical authors are concerned for justice. The Old Testament prophet Amos wrote, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” (5: 24) Another prophet, Micah, added, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6: 8) God is not satisfied with my merely being in favor of justice. I need to do justice. So Dr. Hall’s first emphasis – “the call to justice” – I completely agree with.
But what about that second phrase – “with the human Other”? I could not find references to “the human Other” in the writings of other Bible scholars, so I was left to my own devices to try to interpret it and understand it. Since the “O” is capitalized, I assume the human Other is Jesus. But how can we view calling Jesus the human Other as anything other than a lessening of Jesus? Jesus is not just the human Other. He is fully God as well as fully human. As the Gospel writer John tells us, He is the Word that has existed from all eternity who at a certain place and time became flesh and lived among us. As the apostle Paul wrote, “He is the image of the invisible God.” “In Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” (Colossians 1: 15 and 2: 9) Jesus is not just the human Other. He also is fully God.
And then that phrase, “alongside . . . with Earth as Other.” With the word “Earth” being capitalized and with Earth being referred to as “Other” in the same way as Jesus is “Other,” how can we view this as anything other than deifying a part of creation? How can we see it as anything other than placing a part of creation on par with the Creator? The apostle Paul had some very harsh words to say about people who do that. He said that they have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator.” (Romans 1: 25) What can we call placing a part of creation on par with the Creator as anything other than idolatry?
So as best as I can understand the language of the announcement, the newly appointed professor’s research and teaching emphasize justice (I completely agree with that one), de-emphasize Jesus (I have a major problem with that one), and promote idolatry (I also have a major problem with that one).
If emphasizing justice, de-emphasizing Jesus, and promoting idolatry are not what Dr. Hall’s research and teaching are all about, then I wish the announcement would have been made clearer and would have been worded in a way that even I can understand.
Speaking of being clear, the only part of that sentence that is clear for me are the four words “the call to justice.” And those four words must be the most important words because they are included twice. But is “the call to justice” really what should be the major emphasis of someone who teaches the Bible to future pastors?
Justice, Mercy and Grace
I like the following definitions of justice, mercy, and grace. Justice is I get what I deserve – no more, no less. Mercy is I do not get what I deserve. Grace is I get what I do not deserve. Justice talks about what God requires of me. Justice speaks of what I need to do. Mercy and grace speak of what God gives because of what God has done. Is the Christian faith primarily about what I need to do, or is it primarily about what God has done and about what God has to give?
Future pastors who are being taught to emphasize justice and de-emphasize Jesus and who are being taught that the Christian faith is more about what I need to do than it is about what God has done and therefore what God has to give are not being prepared to be shepherds for God’s flock.
If that is what our future pastors are being taught, my prayer is, “Please, Lord, spare the congregations.”
ELCA’s Next Generation Pastors
I had been concerned enough with the news from a few months ago that the LGBTQIA+ community at United Lutheran Seminary had forced the firing of the school’s president. When it became known that the president – about twenty years ago – not only had held a traditional view on human sexuality but had served as director of an organization that held a traditional view, the LGBTQIA+ community became so wounded, traumatized, hurt, and upset that the seminary leadership had to cater to them and fire the president. At the time I was thinking, if these poor students become so upset just because someone who agrees with them now believed differently twenty years ago, what are they going to do – how are they going to be able to handle it – when they receive their first call and attend their first council meeting – or even worse their first congregational meeting – and find that someone does not agree with them? The ELCA is raising up a generation of pastors who emphasize justice, de-emphasize Jesus, and who do not have the resilience and stamina to survive in the parish.
Excluded and Marginalized
That same announcement from the seminary also says about Dr. Hall, “She works to privilege voices that have historically been excluded from the classroom and the church.” But what actually are the voices that are being excluded from the classroom and the church? The voices that are being excluded are the voices of the historic, orthodox, traditional Christian faith. The voices that are being excluded are the voices that believe that the Bible is true, Jesus is God, the tomb of Jesus really was empty on Easter Sunday morning, and that the prime mission of the church is to proclaim Jesus as Savior and Lord.
That announcement also says, “Dr. Hall works to read the Bible prophetically with communities struggling against the structures that keep them marginalized.” But who are the communities that are struggling against structures that are keeping them marginalized? It is certainly not the LGBTQIA+ community. That community is not marginalized. It has taken over. That community was not only able to force the firing of the president of the seminary where Dr. Hall has been appointed. The agenda of that community was also fully promoted by keynote speakers at the recent ELCA youth gathering. The communities that are struggling against structures that keep them marginalized are the people still within the ELCA who hold to a high view of the authority of the Bible and a traditional view on such things as human sexuality. They are the ones whose communications bishops ignore. They are the ones whose view of human sexuality has been called – at an official gathering of thirty thousand ELCA young people – a lie from Satan that needs to be renounced.
We Are Very Grateful
Speaking of voices that have been excluded and communities that are being marginalized, we are very grateful for all of you. We are very grateful for –
- All who are sharing our letters and newsletters with others. Please continue to do so.
- Pastors who have shared our communications with their church councils and congregations.
- People who are asking to be added to our email or post office (paper) mailing list.
- People who filled out the survey and told us how they feel about the recent ELCA youth gathering.
- All those who have spoken to their pastors and/or written to their bishops with their deep concerns over the recent ELCA youth gathering.
- All who send us an encouraging word, telling of their agreement with our concerns and their support of our work.
If you have not yet read them, here is a link to the letter we have written to Elizabeth Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, about the recent youth gathering.
Here is a link to the letter we have sent to all sixty-five synodical bishops of the ELCA.
In the letters to Bishop Eaton and the ELCA synodical bishops we have called upon them to do three things –
- Exercise the authority of their office and hold the organizers of the youth gathering accountable
- Restore sanity to the ELCA’s teaching on human sexuality, beginning with rejecting the “We Are Naked and Unashamed” movement
- Publicly affirm that the traditional view of human sexuality is still an acceptable position within the ELCA rather than what one of the speakers at the youth gathering called it – a lie from Satan that needs to be renounced
Here are links to two sample letters that you might find helpful as you compose your own letter to your bishop. (here and here) It is not too late to write. ELCA leaders need to hear that there is a vast number of people who are horrified over what took place at the recent youth gathering.
Finally, here is a link to the names and mailing addresses of the sixty-five ELCA synodical bishops.
“That’s Just the Way Things Are Now”
One person told of speaking with an assistant to the bishop of one of the ELCA’s synods. That synod staff person rejected this person’s concerns by saying regarding the recent youth gathering, “That’s just the way things are now.”
What kind of a response is that? To be told that even though current ELCA behavior is in direct violation of ELCA agreements and commitments that are less than nine years old, “That’s just the way things are now.”
What if the federal government acted like that? What if ICE and the border patrol, after being told to reunite families, were to keep them separate and say, “That’s just the way things are now”? What if promises made to native Americans were broken with the justification that, “That’s just the way things are now”?
If either were to happen, can you even imagine how many ELCA bishops would write letters and how many ELCA synods would pass resolutions? And yet how does the ELCA seem to be justifying its totally ignoring and even violating the terms of the decisions made at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly? By saying essentially, “That’s just the way things are now.”
Please pray with us that the ELCA bishops actually read our letters to them. And then please pray that they will allow the Holy Spirit to convict them and that then they will make appropriate and needed changes.
Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE