A Response to Dr. Pahl’s Critique of Lutheran CORE

[1] As an ordained woman who is a member of Lutheran CORE I find that I cannot remain silent in the face of Dr. Pahl's florid and sprawling jeremiad against Lutheran CORE.

[2] Dr. Pahl contends that Lutheran CORE is a bastion of angry, fearful American civil religionists, rotten to the core with a millennial, white male patriarchal will to power that seeks to impose itself imperialistically upon women and sexual minorities. Yet Dr. Pahl operates from such a barely-disguised undercurrent of anger that his diatribe better describes himself than the leadership of Lutheran CORE!

[3] On to Dr. Pahl's essay. I note in passing that Dr. Pahl's avoidance of masculine pronouns for God, coupled with Dr. Pahl's claim that L-CORE is "bad to the core" because of sexist and imperialistic stereotypes that further a heterosexist and patriarchal hegemony, demonstrate that when Dr. Pahl says Lutheran CORE's Confessional point #1 (naming God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is "not a problem," Dr. Pahl is talking out of both sides of Dr. Pahl's mouth.

[4] Similarly with Lutheran CORE Confession #3: We believe and confess that the Bible is God's revealed Word to us, spoken in Law and Gospel. The Bible is the final authority for us in all matters of our faith and life." Dr. Pahl professes no problem with this; but again in passing I note that his understanding of sin, Law and Gospel are so different from that of confessional Lutheran theology as to be a parody of them.

[5] Lutheran CORE Confessional point 7 is a major stumbling block for Dr. Pahl. He left out the last line; and his argument is distorted by that deliberate excision. "We believe and confess that the church is the assembly of believers called and gathered by God around Word and Sacrament, and that the mission and ministry of the church is carried out within the context of individual congregations, which are able to work together locally and globally."

[6] Dr. Pahl draws the entirely unwarranted conclusion that this represents a Docetic understanding of the Church. This is uncharitable and is a serious misunderstanding of Word Alone and Lutheran CORE. The scandal and pain of schisms, controversies and divisions in the Body of Christ ought not to blind us to the fact that faithful Christians in many denominations understand themselves to be congregationally-based outposts of that Body.

[7] Within Lutheran CORE, there is a lively debate between those who gravitate toward this more congregational-based ministry, and those who would say, "We are a church body within the Body of Christ." However, all parties are profoundly formed by the understanding of the Church as the Body of Christ. Within Lutheran CORE itself, we are learning to deal respectfully and honestly with our differences, rather than scornfully dismissing each other.

[8] "Working together locally and globally" isn't just a nice phrase. SOLA Publishing provides solidly confessional Lutheran educational material for churches across the continent. Lutheran CORE works closely with Lutheran World Relief for disaster response and long-term assistance around the world. Lutheran CORE is not only assisting in the formation of a new church body (the North American Lutheran Church); it is also reaching out to financially support and to work in mission, outreach and education with those Hispanic, African-American, and African Lutheran churches which strongly opposed the Churchwide Assembly's actions, and which are highly sensitive to financial fluctuations. As Lutheran CORE develops and matures, even more interconnected ministries — as well as conversation with orthodox Lutherans around the world and orthodox Christians of other denominations in this country — will demonstrate our commitment to the entirety of this confessional point.

[9] We now come to the heart of the matter: Lutheran Core Confessional point 6. "We believe and confess that the marriage of male and female is an institution created and blessed by God. From marriage, God forms families to serve as the building blocks of all human civilization and community. We teach and practice that sexual activity belongs exclusively within the biblical boundaries of a faithful marriage between one man and one woman."

[10] Dr. Pahl claims that this is a false notion of marriage in Scripture. He also maintains that, because Luther located marriage in the civil realm, no single model of marriage is divinely instituted. He says that L-CORE's statement is derived from a "romantic" understanding of marriage, based not upon a right understanding of Scripture but upon a male-dominated will to power. This marginalizes and subordinates women and sexual minorities; phrases like "one man and one woman" ultimately relate to white men's fear of change and loss of power.

[11] In rebuttal, I first remind Dr. Pahl that until very recently, American laws governing marriage and sexual behavior were derived from a common Judeo-Christian understanding of marriage, shared by and flowing from Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican (Episcopal) teaching. If civil religion insists on "one man, one woman, one flesh," perhaps it simply retains some of the "thick" understanding of marriage inherited from its more doctrinally robust ancestors.

[12] Second, Dr. Pahl notes that Luther removed marriage from the Kingdom of the Gospel and placed it in the "left-handed" kingdom of the Law; however, he concludes that since that left-handed kingdom is the purview of the State, marriage is little more than some humanly agreed-upon arrangement that the State chooses to recognize and protect.

[13] This betrays a common misperception of revisionists: for them, "Law" (except in the most generically spiritual sense that permits them to say, "Before God, we are all sinners") is a humanly-devised social construct, given a patina of divine approval, and providing a modicum of order; but whose main intent is maintaining power and privilege for the few, and excluding or marginalizing the many. Orthodox claims that something might be God's law are thereby dismissed as the legalistic maneuvering of people who fear losing power and privilege as social conditions change.

[14] The Western Church confesses that Law originates in God's good intention for how people should live in community before him. Law arises in part as response to the broken and sinful reality in which we all live; God gives the Law so that chaos is contained and the worst side-effects of sinfulness are mitigated. He also gives it so that we should never be unaware of his will; should have a measuring stick against which to examine our consciences and conduct; and should flee, in humble repentance, to his forgiveness offered in Jesus.

[15] Some laws, limited in scope and duration, function to preserve Israel as God's "peculiar people" amongst the nations; as Dr. Pahl notes, we may eat shellfish. Other laws are taken up in the New Testament with the rigor of their intent unabated, even when punishment is mitigated and forgiveness is vigorously proclaimed for those who repent. Is Dr. Pahl as willing to dismiss prohibitions against adultery, incest, pedophilia or bestiality as breezily as he dismisses the prohibition against same-gender sexual intimacy?

[16] Beyond these "fallen world" laws, there are a privileged few commands of God that are not proscriptive (regulating sinful or dangerous behavior primarily by prohibition) but descriptive, revealing God's positive, primal intention. One pertains to marriage.

[17] Dr. Pahl says that the Biblical foundation of marriage is mutuality and respect. He doesn't dig far enough down to bedrock. The Biblical foundation of marriage lies in the design of humans made by God in his image: male and female he made them. "Male-and-female" was intended from the start; and not only for companionship.

[18] The intention is shown in the very first command given to the humans: "be fruitful and multiply…." What's so special about that? It's given to the creatures, too. But when a man and woman — given to one another by God in marriage — are sexually intimate, the fruit of their loving one-flesh union may result in the creation and rearing of another human being who bears the very image of God.

[19] The richness and dignity of that possibility are lost or belittled when marriage is reduced to a social construct (and contract) between consenting partners. God was not ashamed to use the intimate union of husband and wife as a metaphor for his covenantal union with Israel. Jesus strongly upholds marriage as given by God "from the beginning." The Son of God is repeatedly called the Bridegroom; in fact, the Bible literally begins with a marriage and ends with the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. All of that is lost in Dr. Pahl's interpretation. I have to ask why.

[20] In closing, I must thank Dr. Pahl for assiduously tabulating statistics concerning male and female representation within Lutheran CORE. We hadn't given it much thought, being more concerned with developing an umbrella organization which can bring people to the saving love and forgiving embrace of Jesus. The statistical breakdown clearly bothers Dr. Pahl a lot more than it bothers the women and men working together in Lutheran CORE.

[21] In sum, the words of David B. Hart in the May 2010 issue of First Things describing the "New Atheists" also aptly describe Dr. Pahl's essay: "I came away from the whole drab assemblage of preachments and preenings feeling rather if I had just left a large banquet at which I had been made to dine entirely on crushed ice and water vapor…. {N.} mistakes hysterical fear of the religious right for rational argument…. The movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe."1

The Rev. Cathy A. Ammlung, STS
, is Associate Pastor, St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Fulton, Maryland, and member of Lutheran CORE and the Society of the Holy Trinity (STS).




1. David B. Hart, "Believe it or Not," First Things, No. 203, May 2010, p. 35–26.



© June 2010
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 10, Issue 6