Thursday, January 15, 2009

That's Some Reformation! (redux)

Shrimp here, with an update of sorts to our That's Some Reformation! entry on the extraordinary call to Jay Wilson, who had "transitioned female-to-male in appearance while living" and matriculating at Luther Seminary. Referring to a particular old Forum Letter article, we had written,
Naturally, our copy of that particular issue is (we think) currently "filed" in one of several chests labeled "stuff to be filed" and Forum Letter wasn't online then, so we can't fill you in with (or direct you to) all the gory details.
Well, Forum Letter wasn't online then, but ALPB Forum Online was online and already included a Selected RePrints section. And we just discovered (okay, rediscovered) that the articles we were looking for in our earlier post were right there all along.

So, we invite you to read Learning Deficiencies at Luther from the November 2004 Forum Letter (here's a taste):
Take, for example, a current internship assignment from Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. This year Luther has placed an intern with Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer in Sacramento, CA. Let us say up front that we do not mean to suggest that this case is at all comparable to Thomas’ case in terms of physical danger to children, nor do we believe that the intern involved in any way poses such danger. Still, as you will see, there are other reasons to question the seminary’s placement. Indeed, the issues surrounding this situation are so numerous it is hard to know where to begin.

Let’s start with the candidate herself (and we are withholding her name purely out of sympathy for her as an individual, and because her personal situation is not really the primary issue here). She, it seems, is a transgendered person. She had been a “she” entering Luther, but now on internship she is a “he.” We won’t begin to speculate what the nature of this change may entail, but the category of transgender in current usage refers to a continuum of persons dealing with gender ambiguity. (If you really want to know more, check out ). Let us simply note that this student is confronted by some heavy duty personal issues, issues that maybe are just a bit beyond the usual fare for seminarians.

Perhaps the best way to give you a sense of this is to quote a few words from the student herself. Writing a signed article last year in Luther’s student publication Concord, she related, “When I came out as queer, I realized slowly that I didn’t have to try to be woman enough anymore. I could be masculine and there was a place for that. But I still called myself woman. . . . But one of the insistences [sic] of queer women is that they are fully woman, and there is less and less space for masculine women. As I started to let myself dress the way I wanted to and express myself in more masculine ways, I realized that woman enough to be a woman . . . didn’t fit me. . . . Having discovered this I realized that my identity is congruent with my genderqueer body and style, I’ve been joyfully experimenting to see what works the best for me.” “Genderqueer,” as we understand it, is the new politically correct term for “transgender.” Some days we just wish everyone would settle on one lexicon.

So yes, you bet, there are some personal issues for this seminarian. Or to put it as Luther’s contextual education director Randy Nelson did in a recent conversation with Forum Letter, this student is in a process of “discernment,” both about whether she/he is being called to the office of the holy ministry, and whether it is as a “he” or as a “she” that she/he is or isn’t being called. Discernment? Well. We hardly know what to say, but before saying anything at all let us again express our honest sympathy for the student, who obviously, as we said, has some real issues to resolve, and is apparently struggling with them honestly and openly.
and Luther Internship Redux from December 2004, which begins:
A number of correspondents have observed that our article about Luther Seminary and one of its internship assignments made little mention of the role the synodical candidacy committee may have played in approving the student in question (“Learning Deficiencies at Luther,” FL:33:10 ).

Naturally, there is a reason for this. The seminary official most responsible for the internship declined to tell us which candidacy committee was involved, and when we did find out — from another seminary official — it was too late to incorporate it into the story. Should you wonder, the committee is the Intersynodical Candidacy Committee serving, among other places, the Greater Milwaukee Synod, apparently this intern’s home synod. But knowing that, as we found out, changes little.

Among our correspondents were those who would excuse the seminary and scapegoat the candidacy committee. It was suggested to us that once the committee has endorsed a seminarian for internship, the only possible reason a seminary might deny it would be the lack of an available site.

Not quite. We will concede the candidacy committee itself bears a good deal of the responsibility, but it is not the chief culprit in this business. Even should the committee approve an internship, as it evidently did in the instance we reported, the seminary itself is not obligated to place a seminarian on internship. As we pointed out in the piece, a great deal of effort was made to find an internship site for the student, even to the extent of ignoring or overlooking several key points in the ELCA’s policy on internships. Only an active ignorance of the policy permitted the seminary to accept as supervisor a pastor who is out-of-compliance with ELCA policies.
That last sentence returns us to this from the first article:
It seems to us Dr. Nelson went above and beyond the call of duty here, and proactively sought out a congregation which might welcome such an intern. He hit the jackpot in Our Redeemer, a so-called Reconciling in Christ congregation whose pastor, Robyn Hartwig, is a lesbian who has publicly admitted to being out of compliance with Vision and Expectations, the ELCA’s statement of standards for ordained ministers. You can read about her disagreement with the church at some length at
Not unexpectedly, that Sacramento News & Review article isn't at that link. But Robyn Hartwig showed up on Lutheran (True!) Confessions last week with a report of her call and installation as associate pastor at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Beaverton, Oregon.

Where Oregon Synod Bishop David Brauer-Rieke preached,
I said, “Robyn, what’s wrong?” She looked at me and said, “Huh? Oh no, nothing, I’m OK.” And I said, “You still feel called to parish ministry, don’t you?” The embers kicked in a little bit and she said, “Oh yes, absolutely,” and then they died away again. And I said, “So what’s wrong?” And Robyn looked up at me for a moment and then looked back at the ground and she said, “It’s hard to be rejected for who you are rather than embraced for what you have to offer.” “I’m not sure I’m ready to risk that again.” Risk that again being bread and butter reality for people who are gay or lesbian as Robyn is. Or just women who are looking for professional roles in the world. Or perhaps people who are marginalized because of race or social class or whatever. It’s hard to be rejected for who you are rather than embraced for what you have to offer.
Read it all here, or listen to the Bishop exercising "restraint."

Shrimp out.

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