Letters to the Editor
March / April 2005 — Volume 21, Number 2
Forgot the Nuances
Mark D. Johns (“Modern Media and the Sermon,” Nov./Dec. 2004) has done what so many writers have done, which is to recognize “Five Cardinal Rules” on preaching that have been around for 30 years now, but fail to incorporate the nuances that have been discovered over the years.
Rule 1: While it is true that “the 20-minute, 3-point sermon is long out-of-date,” some of the most excellent preachers in America preach twice this long (e.g., Preaching Today tape series of excellent preachers). What accounts for their success? They recognize that a long sermon can still be very effective if they are engaging their listeners in a narrative mode and also proceeding in smaller bite-size chunks (Buttrick calls them “forms”) that match the listener’s attention span.
Rule 2: Simply telling “stories, jokes, parables, and tales” is not the whole story. It may be engaging to the listener, but ultimately it is a “fast food” diet for those longing for some real meat. Narrative forms are essential but only as they serve the deeper message.
Rules 3 and 4: Visual media are notoriously prone to being only a distraction for listeners. A preacher who uses visual media must be extremely discerning in selecting illustrations, especially if they are movie clips or some other professionally produced genre. Also, a preacher should not overlook an actor’s best visual tool — the bodily gesture. These gestures, well done, can illustrate preaching points as well as many other more complicated means.
Rule 5: Extemporaneous delivery is key, no doubt, but it is achieved by skilled preachers of all types, even those who have a complete manuscript before them. The key is not in reducing a sermon to a few notes for delivery, but in remembering through the entire preparation of the sermon that preaching is an oral event, and that everything that is prepared must be memorable to the preacher. If the preacher can’t remember the sermon (and thus needs to read the manuscript) there is little chance the listener will remember it either.
Glenn Monson, Austin, Minnesota
What’s at Stake?
“What’s at Stake in Our Sexuality Debate?” ask William Trexler and Gretchen Ritola (Nov./Dec. 2004). Plenty, if we pay attention to our Episcopal sisters and brothers. Our church, like theirs, is deeply and passionately divided on the issue of ordained servants living in committed same-sex relationships and on the issue of our clergy blessing same-sex unions.
It is time for the ELCA to accept the unpleasant reality of these divisions. We don’t all think and feel alike on these issues! How fine it would be if by a rational process of information and discussion we could arrive at a comfortable, everybody smiling consensus on these two issues by 2005, but such an expectation is totally unrealistic. The strong positions for and against are deeply embedded in the structures of personal identity. Conscious, rational thought played only a small part in the formation of these positions, and consequently they are not readily changed by rational efforts. Passing by a small percentage a sweeping policy in either direction will result in sharp, crippling divisions and increased strife among us. The ELCA is too important and too beautiful to be taken apart by poor management of these issues.
We cannot agree, but we can “agree to disagree.” The 2005 Churchwide Assembly can sanction a “local option” approach. A congregation wishing to call a pastor who is living in a committed, same-sex relationship may do so with no fear of reprisal from synod or churchwide. Similarly, if a congregation wishes its pastor to participate in the blessing of same-sex unions, that pastor may do so, again with no fear of reprisal from synod or churchwide. Actually, these two provisions are nothing new. They are happening now under the duplicitous cloak of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The Churchwide Assembly can also strongly recommend to synods that they follow a similar “local option” policy and not seek to pass any sweeping resolutions on these matters by majority vote.
By practicing such an “agree to disagree” policy which is open and above board, the ELCA will be learning two things. One, we will learn that there are indeed gay and lesbian people among us. Two, we will learn that gay and lesbian people are every bit as human as the rest of us. We simply are not ready for a grand consensus on these matters at this time. In the meantime, let’s continue practicing, gently and respectfully, love [for] one another as our Lord commands.
Paul M. Bauermeister, Augusta, Missouri
In a recent communication from the Bishop of the Lower Susquehanna Synod of the ELCA, we were informed that in a Conference of Bishops [meeting] and following a discussion of the materials [regarding]…the study of human sexuality, the subject was brought to a close with the statement, and I quote, “There is no common mind among the Bishops, but all are concerned for this church and are in prayer, asking God to lead and guide us.”
Can you imagine a Conference of Bishops of the ELCA or any other Christian body coming up with such a conclusive statement: “There is no common mind among the bishops” following a discussion of human sexuality? As to the Lutheran bishops, they must have forgotten the promises they made when they were ordained as ministers of the church which are as follows:
“Will you preach and teach the word of God in accordance with Confessions of the church?
“Will you be diligent in the study of Holy Scripture…?
“Will you adorn the doctrine of God our Savior by a holy life and conversation?”
To the above each candidate replied, “Yes, by the help of God.”
How is it possible for a group of ministers of the Christian church to ever make the statement “There is no common ground!” when one of the principles of our denomination is “The Bible is the only rule of faith and practice”? As one who has been in the bosom of the Lutheran church for 93 years, I appeal to you all to take a stand for the right! Remember Jesus, who is always ready to forgive, who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
Henry G. Springer, York, Pennsylvania
William Trexler pinpoints the problem in his analysis of the sexuality debate when he says: “Biblical interpretation — The current sexuality debates highlight our need for concentrated work in biblical interpretation.”
Rather than explaining proper biblical interpretation, which has always been taught in our ELCA seminaries, our pastors have been intimidated by members who learned and practiced biblical literalism picked up in the community. To avoid confrontation and possible loss of popularity, they have chosen not to take issue. Now that failure is coming home to roost.
Charles E. Rein, Loveland, Colorado
The discussion in Partners of sexuality leads to a brief discussion of homosexuality. Gay men and lesbians have authored books that seek to justify their choice of homosexuality. Usually they bypass any reference to the Bible.
[In] Genesis 2:18-24 we hear the biblical prophetic insight saying this: there is no man without the woman, nor is there a woman without the man. In his commentary on the Genesis text, Martin Luther said homosexuals would corrupt the church. The apostle Paul condemned homosexuality (Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6). One of America’s most esteemed psychologists writes in his book, The Art of Loving, the great need of children to have loving dads and mothers while growing into adulthood. Psychiatrist Karen Horney, writing in her book The Neurotic Personality of Our Time, said homosexuals are neurotic. Helmut Thielicke, the renowned German pastor and theologian, writes in his book The Ethics of Sex that he agrees with Paul: homosexuality is a perversity.
William Cole, a Presbyterian clergyman and former president of Lake Forest College in suburban Chicago, writes that homosexuality or a homosexual is neurotic.
I am now retired, but if homosexuals had come to me when I was the pastor of a parish, I would have enrolled them in a year of classes in the Scriptures and the church and referred them to a psychotherapist for at least nine months of counseling, helping them to come to terms for the reasons they chose homosexuality.
I have counseled homosexuals, each one had the same problem: anger with/towards parents for being punitive; for spoiling them to the degree they couldn’t accept discipline or responsibility; or the parents were not home when the children needed them… Anger has the power to move persons into homosexual relationships. The church doesn’t help the homosexual by accepting them without the love that enrolls them in classes and appointments with a psychiatrist or psychologist.
Lawrence E. Martin, Apple Valley, Minnesota
In response to Katie Adelman’s article on “Emerging Churches” (Facets, Nov./Dec. 2004), one pattern I see emerging is many youth are around for the field trips, fun, games, and music, but few if anybody shows up for the work and fundraisers in the hot church kitchen and the car washes on Saturdays.
To borrow a title from another article in [this issue of] Partners, one of the leadership issues “Down the Road” is to convince people that self-sacrifice and discipleship have intrinsic value and please God. Not all of the faith journey is a titillating, feel-good, modern-media presentation.
The early Christians were participants in Rome’s media of the Coliseum as they were publicly executed for their faith. Life under the Cross has rarely ever been a populist media event....
David Coffin, Ada, Ohio
An Infant’s Faith
Bernard Johnson rhetorically asks, “When and why did Lutherans come to assume that Baptism works ex opere operato, so that an infant becomes an instantaneous believer once water is applied in the name of the Trinity?” (Letters, Nov./Dec. 2004).The question can be non-rhetorically answered. Luther, in the Large Catechism, said that infants are given faith [through] Baptism by the Holy Spirit (we do all lay hands on their heads and pray for the Holy Spirit, as Acts shows was the constant apostolic practice, do we not?).
This infant faith cannot be propositional, as “I believe that Jesus Christ is my Savior.” But then neither is the infant’s faith in her earthly father propositional. Yet she does have faith in her earthly father in a way appropriate to her age. And by the time she grows to age five, she will know very well what a father is, what makes a father, and what she can expect of him and he of her, and so her faith in him will also have mental content.
So, too, why would we not suppose that God answers our prayer and gives the Holy Spirit to the baptized baby, who gives her a trust in her heavenly Father, even if that faith is entirely in her heart and not yet, until a few years later through the ministry of the Word, in her brain as well?
Todd Murken, Green Bay, Wisconsin
Bernard W. Johnson’s response is another example of the divisions in the ELCA. Most of us, I expect, agree that the sacraments do operate ex opere operato. A good minority of the clergy rejects such high church theology. I wonder if they do not also reject The Call to Common Mission and the ordination of gay and lesbian seminary graduates?
What is the future of the ELCA with such, almost, irreconcilable theology? We will see when the next national assembly meets in August.
John E. Peterson, West Fargo, North Dakota
In response to an earlier set of articles on retirement and transition (July/Aug. 2004), retired Associate in Ministry Melvin Kieschnick comments on the very different experiences of two retired clergy he knows (Letters, Nov./Dec. 2004).
One told him he had joined a new congregation and, along with two other retired ministers, had offered his services to the lead pastor, but three years later had still heard nothing from him. In contrast, another minister belonged to the congregation from which he retired and, along with “two other retired pastors were asked by the new senior pastor to serve in very limited and well-defined capacities…[and] that the whole team was having a wonderful time…”
Mr. Kieschnick implies that the first senior pastor is either an insecure control freak or an egotist, while the other senior pastor is both self-confident and gracious. Perhaps so. Yet has the thought occurred to Kieschnick that the power relationships may be very different in the two situations? After all, he has heard only one side of each story.
The senior pastor at the first church knows he is in the driver’s seat; he doesn’t have to accept the offers of his retired colleagues and may not want to, especially if his intuition tells him, for whatever reasons, that it would be a bad move. On the other hand, one of the pastors in the other situation has recently retired at the very church he himself last served — a real “no-no” as far as professional ethics go. He probably still has a lot of influence among a number of the lay members. So, in order to accommodate and manage him — as well as the other two retired clergy who are there — the new senior pastor may have had little choice but to work with him. Or at the very least it may simply have been good public relations.
Kieschnick’s letter may say as much if not more about power relationships among rostered persons as it does about the need to use the gifts of those among them who are recently retired.
Alan J. Watt, New Braunfels,Texas
Raising the awareness of rostered Lutherans to the dangers of abusive and destructive religious and other groups (a.k.a cults) and identifying helpful resources have been a part of my ministry even before I wrote three articles published by Lutheran Partners (“Cults-revisited,” March/April 1991) and its predecessor publication.
The American Family Foundation, the premier counter-cult organization, has evolved into a new global network now to be known as the International Cultic Studies Association. Michael D. Langone, Ph.D. continues as executive director and editor of Cultic Studies Review. Santa Clara University Professor of Law Alan W. Sheflin is the new president of the ICSA board.
ICSA is “an interdisciplinary network of academicians, professionals, former group members and families studying and educating the public on social-psychological influences and control, authoritarianism, and zealotry in cultic groups, alternative movements and other environments.”
ICSA can be reached at: P.O. Box 2265, Bonita Springs, FL 34133 (phone: 239-514-3081, FAX 732-352-6818, e-mail: email@example.com, Web site: www.culticstudies.org
A review of the articles and news reports in the current issue of Cultic Studies Review makes it clear that the cults have not disappeared, and are still representing a threat that healthy faith traditions need to confront, now on an international level as well.
Richard L. Dowhower, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania
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