Letters to the Editor
May / June 2005 • Volume 21 • Number 3
Lutheran Partners (Jan./Feb.) contains three articles on evangelism. The word “salvation” appears once. The concept of salvere (to be well) is resplendent throughout each of the articles, and is — quite properly — an important “this-worldly” aspect of salvation. But, “if for this life only we have hoped, we are of all people the most to be pitied” (I Cor. 15:19).
Reading [these] articles, it strikes me that “evangelism” has two significant goals: enabling individuals to live well and the aggrandizement of the institution. As to the first [goal], the Greek and Roman philosophical schools offer far more elegance of system (I myself find the Stoics most reasonable and the Cynics most attractive) than anything our culturally wannabe ELCA can offer.
As to the second [goal], the kindest thing I can say is that it is pure idolatry. The issue is — as Kierkegaard’s pseudonym, Johannes Climacus, pointed out in his Concluding Unscientific Postscript — how an existing individual can come into possession of eternal happiness. Without this core, this fundamental, the result is Christendom, whether established or not, without Christians.
Hazen, North Dakota
Thanks for 25th
First, thank you very much for your care in publishing the November/December 2004 issue of Lutheran Partners in recognition of its 25th anniversary.
Second, I would like to underscore the deep debt of gratitude owed to Dr. Richard E. Koenig by the church for his putting wheels under the ideas and aspirations of many. He diligently and incisively launched the publication and shaped it through its early years. In every way, Dick did exactly what was asked: he gave us a publication aimed at and for professional leaders — primarily pastors — with usefulness, stimulation, and theological perspicacity, in our tradition. It was not to be a house organ. If my picture was published with his article, so should his have been. I am disappointed that it was not.
Third, it should have been noted that, beginning with the second year of publication, Pastor Steven McKinley has hung in there with “Pastor Loci” — a “first read” for many over the years when they pick up the magazine. Steve’s humorous way of putting deeply serious concerns reflecting life in the parish ministry and his keen insights into our church body and the world beyond definitely deserve a rousing salute! I heartily agree with his latest: a word from the presiding bishop to the “partners” should return to every issue of the magazine.
Finally, in reference to the contents of the Nov./Dec. issue, I have pondered for several days what the two authors on the homosexuality study are really saying (“What’s at Stake in Our Sexuality Debate?”, p.25). Pastor William Trexler avers that “Both law and gospel apply to the church as the people of God, but the church is defined by the gospel ...” How does “applies” relate to “defines” and vice versa? Does this mean that although the law applies, it really says nothing about who and whose we are and can therefore be disregarded? If so, that doesn’t seem to echo the Lutheran Confessions that I know.
I agree with Pastor Gretchen Ritola that we must keep the conversation going when we see and hear differences among us, staying focused on God’s love. Americans fight over the Ten Commandments displayed in courthouses, but we don’t hear anyone yelling about the Beatitudes at the same time. Luther pulled them together, and much else, in his explanation of the Ten Commandments. As I ponder what I hear and read and see these days, I am grateful for a church tradition that keeps its focus on the gospel. But when has any preacher tried an evangelical treatment of the wrath of God for church and world today? Such a focus might shed some new light on attitudes and arguments on both sides of church’s discussion before us. And Pastor Trexler is right: we shouldn’t vote on it.
Lloyd E. Sheneman
Pastors and Pensions
I must be only slightly older than Steve McKinley, having just received my first Social Security check and awaiting my first pension deposit as I read his January/ February column. It’s an appealing prospect, indeed, that there might be some good “refirement” years left before “time like an ever-rolling stream soon bears us all away.”
I’m wondering whether an additional verse might be composed for “Borning Cry” to cover those “refirement” years — between “in the middle ages of your life, not too old, no longer young” and “when the evening gently closes in.”
Paul K. Hanson
Steve McKinley’s article suggests we add to our prayers a word of thanks to the Board of Pensions (BOP) where he says there is a “bucket of money” with his name on it (Pastor Loci, Jan./Feb.).
May we add a prayer of thanks to those able and dedicated pastors and rostered leaders with a strong sense of call who will not be so fortunate in retirement. Many servant leaders have made a conscious decision to serve in financially strapped inner-city churches while others have served in multi-point rural parishes where raises seldom have come their way.
One very able pastor I know found out his children were eligible for free or reduced school lunches because of his low pay. Female pastors have faced discrimination which has resulted in low-pay settings that put them on the edge of poverty. In post-retirement years, they will be struggling without a spouse’s pension to pick up the slack.
Many second-career pastors made major financial sacrifices to attend seminary. Some sold houses and used the equity and/or cashed-in pensions in order to get through seminary only to face age discrimination in seeking calls after seminary. Because of these depleted resources and a shorter term of service, these second-career leaders will not be as fortunate as the author.
Thank you, BOP, but let us also tip our hats and offer our sincere thanks ... to all those who have not viewed the ministry as just another place to climb the corporate ladder. These faithful servants receive a reward from a strong sense of call greater than any bucket of money. So let us not do an end zone dance or put our plane into a victory roll about the bucket of money waiting for us at BOP, because someone might think we are insensitive, and I am sure the author had no such intent.
Charlotte, North Carolina
P.S.— The repeated references to "fogy, curmudgeon, codger and coot" did give the article some sparkle. However, these terms appeared in the same sequence in James L. Kilpatrick's syndicated column, The Writer's Art. By the author at least tipping his hat to this lovable mossback, he would have been also tipping off his readers to a delightful resource and fun reading.
(Re: “Hope’s Defense,” Comment, Jan./ Feb.)…[T]he coincidence was just too great not to tell you about it. [Recently] we had the third in our series of adult forum topics on “Witnessing to the Hope That Is within Us. ”The introduction actually gave definitions and references virtually identical to the one’s articulated in your [column].
Our four-week series had the following four topics: “Responding to Those Who Say There Is No God,” “A Christian Response to the Creation-Evolution Debate,” “Responding to Those Who Say All Religions Are Bad” and “Responding to Those Who Say That All Religions are Equally Good.”
And to agree with your statement that these topics are of general interest, I am pleased to report that we have had standing-room-only attendance — and very animated discussions.
Solana Beach, California
I am clergy. I am also one of many faceless, nameless homosexuals in your midst. You cannot know me, and others like me, because I am “closeted,” shackled by our church policies that deny the fullness of my humanity and identity as a whole self — “gay.” Coming out to you would likely result in the loss of my ministry and livelihood as clergy. I would be erased from the ELCA roster despite my history with you as colleague, and despite the “good” of my ministry to hundreds of individuals, families, and staff I have served these twenty years. With teenagers awaiting college, I cannot heedlessly follow a path that leads to financial suicide. Nor can I for long deny myself and my heart-partner the fullness of a shared life together .This leads to relationship suicide.
I want you to know me in truth, how it is to have walked nearly five decades as a heterosexual but then, in the course of my life journey, to have discovered my authentic self as homosexual. I want you to hear how, through all of it, faith, life, my new love, and God have hung together in a wonderful tapestry of unconditional, life-giving love that never frayed or wrinkled but only became stronger and more beautiful still.
But the church has gagged me from speaking my truth. With angst and difficulty, I live and work in your midst unknown to you in the whole truth of who I am, one (of many) faceless, nameless homosexuals about whom this church has studied, argued, and soon will make its “decision” about “us.”
My anonymity to you was painfully revealed to me this past fall. My bishop led a service to reaffirm my colleagues and me in our ministries. We gathered around the altar. The bishop laid his hands upon each. One’s name was spoken, as well as ministry site, as he reaffirmed us in our calling. Yet, when my turn came, the bishop forgot my name.
A torrent of emotions raged within me as I recognized the truth that was being played out at the altar in parabolic form. In my namelessness was the truth. I, and so many other gay and lesbians, have no identity in our church because we do not exist, at least not as we truly are: men and women of faith whose nature calls us into love commitments with persons of the same gender. We remain faceless and nameless as long as our stories of life, faith, and love are not heard, accepted, and affirmed by the communities in which we worship.
My bishop was poised at the altar to affirm me, and the call of the Holy Spirit in my life for ministry, because he believed (assuming I was heterosexual) that I belonged at the communion rail as much as the other dozen pastors and AIMS. Though nameless in the moment, I was nonetheless blessed by him in and for the ministry of the church. Bitterly and mournfully I received his blessing in the fullness of my anonymity.
If only my bishop could know the irony of his words and actions that fall day. If only our church would bring together its words and actions in truth: either it welcomes in the pews of our congregations and the ranks of our rostered leaders gay and lesbians in the fullness of our identities and relationships, or it does not welcome us at all. In Christ, God has reconciled the whole world to God’s self. God is reconciled already to the homosexual. Would that Christ’s church would do the same.
Name withheld by request
Between Broad and Narrow
Some are so broad-minded about spiritual matters [that] they are empty headed, and others are so narrow-minded that no new ideas have crept in [over the] years. I read articles in papers and magazines about understanding the Muslims, especially since the 9/11 tragedy, but we are also trying to understand the Israelis and their fight with the Palestinians. Any negative or even cautionary word about someone else’s religion is assumed to be caused by prejudice. (Prejudice means literally “prejudging” without any basis in fact.) Maybe I can throw a little oil on troubled waters to provide some guidelines — as long as no one tosses in a match.
- There are some deep theological differences between Christians, Jews, and Muslims that can never be reconciled with a little study of the other person’s faith. Some have even tried to create a new religion that embraces all religions, but it fails under close scrutiny. It appears that the only way we can completely bridge these differences is by losing our integrity. For example, if we say that all who believe sincerely in “something” are going to the same place, we violate our faith. Christians, for one, would have to say then that Christ died for nothing and that he was foolish to suffer if all we have to do is follow our own path and we’ll all end up in heaven. None of the three religions (or most others) could agree to that!
- There is nothing wrong with learning about each other’s faiths. It can be very helpful, but we shouldn’t give up our own beliefs in the process or trivialize our basic doctrines in order to appear open and accepting. It is interesting to realize that Muslim, Jew, and Christian find a common root in Abraham, and all of us believe in one God. But from that point on grave, irreconcilable differences appear to any student of the Bible.
- So the important question is “How, then, do we treat others whose religion differs from ours?” As for Christians, the answer is with love. We treat others with love not in spite of our faith, but because of it. We are even commanded to love our enemies! God so loved the world — and not just a few favorites in it. We are also commanded not to judge others. We must leave that up to God.
- When my wife and I were in Nepal for a year, we had many Hindu and Buddhist friends. It was against the law to convert anyone to a different faith. Proselytizing was punishable by a six-year prison sentence. Many are [still] coming to the Christian churches, but they come voluntarily and they come because they feel the love of God and [God’s] people. God is love! I can’t help but feel that any religion that doesn’t acknowledge this does not know God — the true God.
- One more comment: it doesn’t take a very intense study of history to see that Christians have committed depredations even on fellow Christians! None of us, Christian, Jew, or Muslim, have lived up to our tenets. It is written in the pages of history and no one is innocent. We all need to kneel humbly before our God confessing our shortcomings and begging forgiveness from those we have injured of whatever faith. We should treat our neighbor with love, as we want to be treated, but not lose our integrity in the process. No one can respect someone who is wishy-washy, betraying his or her own faith to appear broad-minded, nor can we respect those who are so closed-minded that they view all others with hate and suspicion.
Robert S. Ove
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
Silence and Questions
This letter may be only an exercise in futility if the editorial office hits “delete.” But my integrity is pushing me to raise a question for the church.
My adult classes in our congregation continue to bring me news clippings, magazines, and book titles, asking my opinion. These honest (and occasionally naive) lay members are expressing uncertainty about some of the centuries-old truths held and taught by the church. It is not that laity are getting ahead of church leaders. Theologians and pastors have been aware of these questions for generations.
I hope I am not the only pastor who is willing to listen to the rising swell of challenging questions and attempting to give them frank and honest answers. They tell me their Sunday school faith is shaken in my class, but their adult faith is deepened. And they become excited about their Christian faith.
Is it wrong to inform the laity of the facts about the formation of our creeds? Is it destructive of faith when they learn what archeology has discovered? Is it a threat to the unity of the church when they ask why ancient theologians decided that their conclusions were “eternal truth”? How do we answer them when they ask if ancient creeds are the best answer to current theological questions? Are they to accept the worldview of the fourth century without letting their questions disturb the faith they were taught as children?
I am dismayed that our leaders are silent while the secular press is chewing at the edges of our confidence. We are paying little attention to the drain of our laity as they walk away from their church. Ask them why, and we hear a variety of answers. The sum is that they are finding little in the church to answer their growing anxiety. Their faith is shriveling, and we refuse to speak to them about their concerns. They hear about our concerns.
Is it possible for church publications and seminaries to at least acknowledge the views being published in the secular press? Why do we “protect” our laity from the knowledge that most pastors and our church leadership have? I have asked these questions and receive only [silence]. Is silence the best answer we can give?
If I see this letter in print I will hang on to my hope for the church.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
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