Note from CORE’s Executive Director: Many thanks to a seminarian, who wishes to remain anonymous, for writing about what it was like to attend an ELCA seminary. Students considering enrolling in an ELCA seminary, as well as members of orthodox congregations still in the ELCA, need to know what is being taught and what they can expect from their future pastor. Will this kind of woke educational experience train someone who will provide good pastoral care and leadership for your congregation? Those who believe that theologically solid pastors are and will continue to be available within the ELCA should know that there are some (Thanks be to God!) but the number is decreasingly rapidly.
I attended United Lutheran Seminary (United), in Gettysburg, for 3 semesters. My time there led me to realize that there was no place for a confessional Lutheran faith within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Growing up in central Pennsylvania, I knew nothing of the other Lutheran denominations. Every Lutheran church within an hour of my house was ELCA and that was all I knew. Upon entering seminary, I was assured by my synod’s bishop that there was a place for a confessional Lutheran in the “big-tent,” that is the ELCA.
United did not share this view and I realized this in my first semester, when I began questioning the “sacred doctrines” of the ELCA that were invented in the last 10 years. My first semester I took the class Systematic Theology 1: Creation, Sin, and New Creation, which I thought would provide me with a greater understanding of the ELCA’s newly held positions as well as a basic overview of theological concepts and systematics. I hoped that it would answer some of my questions and strengthen my ability to conduct ministry faithfully. I was disappointed to find that much of the class was heavily focused on womanist, feminist, and other niche and modern theological interpretation rather than core or confessional concepts. This was the only theology class that I was required to take. This lack of true theological instruction allows seminarians to believe they understood yet have made strawmen of a Biblical Christianity. Much of what the Church held for the last 2000 years could be dismissed as “privileged,” “racist,” or “sexist.”
My first (and only) sermon I gave at United was for my homiletics class. I was assigned to preach on the first week of Lent, which includes the Gospel reading of Christ being tempted in the wilderness. In my sermon I mentioned, not as the message of the sermon but to highlight the goodness of Christ, that hell was real. I felt relatively proud of my sermon while giving it. Given that it was my first sermon, it could have been better, but I stand by my message today. It shocked me when my homiletics professor opened my sermon up for critique and she implied that I shared a heretical message. I did not realize that the acknowledgement of hell was such a faux pas. After my professor shared that I was a heretic, much of my peers’ remarks echoed her idea. I called my parents as well as a mentor that evening and shared that I wanted to leave seminary because apparently, I did not understand anything about the faith.
Getting raked over the coals for believing that Christ was not lying when He spoke of hell was the straw that broke me. I realized that I could not stay at United, and I would not be welcome in the ELCA, if this is where the publicly acceptable discourse is.
Some of the common talking points that the professors would push in a variety of their classes include: using non-masculine pronouns for God, the merits of a variety of sexual relationships, how the church has been a force for bad in the world, and leftist political talking points. It is a shame that there could not be serious theological discussions concerning these topics as to disagree with any point carried with it accusations of being “not-loving,” among other unflattering titles, and being shut down by the professor.
When I told my synod’s bishop about leaving the ELCA, I told her how I felt betrayed by a church that I grew up in and how I was lied to when I was told that there was a place for me. She was sorry and could not defend the actions of the ELCA from polygamy to the disbelief in hell. There is no Biblical defense, and she couldn’t spin one. When I went to my home congregation to tell my pastor, whom I grew up with, he was not nearly as cordial. He tried to challenge me as misinformed when I pointed to the ELCA’s radical direction. He accused me of being political for not agreeing with the ELCA.
Although the gospel is not preached there anymore, it is sad to know I am no longer welcome in my home congregation.
Since coming to the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), I have appreciated the professionalism of the professors in the North American Lutheran Seminary (NALS), the comradery among clergy, and general support from congregations. It is refreshing to be able to read the Bible and confessions in a seminary setting and have genuine discussions about the application and use of the concepts. There is a fellowship among the students as members of Christ’s Church, here for Christ, unlike what I have known within the ELCA.
I write this because this is my story. I could have shared more anecdotes about the inability of United to form its students, the unprofessionalism of the professors and ignorance of those who followed the party line, but these examples make my point. I do not want to slander the ELCA or any pastors or congregations in it. I only want to bring light to what is going on in the once great Lutheran seminary of Gettysburg, PA, United Lutheran Seminary.
It breaks my heart to have had to leave but I have found a home in the NALC.