Monday, May 10, 2010

Feelin' the Love in the ELCA

Shrimp here.

"Never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel," went the old political adage that also fit well in the church. Witness, for instance, The Protestant Reformation.

Thanks to the World Wide Web, though, large quantities of ink and newsprint are no longer necessary to get your message out. Witness, for instance, Shellfish itself.

Or for more, uh, conventional churchly publishing, there is the online-only Journal of Lutheran Ethics, "a free, online publication living out the Lutheran tradition of addressing social issues theologically, in conversation with Christian ethics and political theology" published by the Department for Studies of the ELCA's Church in Society program unit.

JLE started in 2001 and editrix ELCA pastor Kaari Reierson has presided over a lively exchange on all sorts of matters over the years. It has, in fact, been a place where more "traditionalist" Lutherans have been very much included as an expected and welcomed part of the conversations on "ethical" issues that have been on the screen during the past decade — perhaps the most truly inclusive forum within the ELCA.

Then there's the main article in the current (May 2010) issue's section "On the Coalition for Reform (CORE)" by Dr. Jon Pahl, lay Professor of History of Christianity in North America at the ELCA's venerable seminary at Mt. Airy.

The Core of Lutheran CORE: American Civil Religion and White Male Backlash

Jon Pahl, Ph.D.

You have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.... Do you despise the riches of God's kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.... For those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.

—Romans 2:1-5, 8

Empires divide to conquer. Christians have often been prevented from the fullness of our witness to the gospel, if not completely conquered, by internal bickering that resolves upon historical examination into causes that have less to do with central doctrines or practices of Christianity than with jockeying for position in relationship to imperial privilege. Just such jockeying for power, for what Paul called "self-seeking," is at the core of Lutheran CORE, the so-called "Coalition for Reform." Lutheran CORE, in its mildest form, seeks to siphon funds away from the ELCA into ostensibly purer activities, some of them sponsored by The Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC). In its most extreme form, CORE seeks to foment schism and organize dissenting ELCA congregations into a new church — the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).

Lutheran CORE claims to represent Lutheran orthodoxy, but, as I shall show, in fact abandons historic Lutheranism at crucial turns in favor of an American civil religion. This accretion of an American imprint on CORE's version of Lutheranism mirrors, as the epigraph from Paul suggests, how CORE leaders have repeatedly accused faithful ELCA leaders of having themselves sold out to "America." Even more, the leaders of Lutheran CORE, because they assert a self-righteous American moralism about sex and marriage as a litmus test of ecclesiastical purity, confuse law and gospel, and imperil the clear truth of salvation by grace through faith that is the actual core of historical and confessional Lutheran teaching. When teaching about sex replaces teaching about salvation as a defining mark of the church, something has clearly gone severely awry.

All in all, the core of Lutheran CORE is rotten. One can get more than a whiff of Docetism, Donatism, and Pelagianism — heresies all — in the doctrinal formulations of the various groups represented in the coalition. Lutheran CORE represents, in its demographic and historical contours, a largely white, heterosexual, male backlash against the supposedly evil changes in gender roles, sexual mores, and participatory democracy that marked the 1960s. At the same time, the leaders of the movement also ironically embrace many of the least savory aspects of the sixties rhetoric of adolescent resentment and entitlement. Most fundamentally, the leaders of Lutheran CORE have come to the brink of dividing the church in an attempt to hold onto (or to carve out) some power. The movement undermines the universal need to repent and to trust in grace that it claims to uphold, and it substitutes for the gospel a pale version of American imperial ambition. That the movement obstructs God's demand to let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, in an attempt to prop up the privilege of a powerful few, almost goes without saying. As is the case with many other schismatic purity movements in American religious history, however, for all of its sound and fury, Lutheran CORE is doomed to be a historical footnote, or a cipher, in the larger history of the body of Christ.
There's more here, but we can't help but notice that Dr. Pahl's examples come from the WordAlone Network and LCMC, and that the only Lutheran CORE identification is erroneous. Of the many giants in the Philadelphia seminary's history, Dr. Pahl reminds us only of Bishop William Lazareth when he was really po'd — except Dr. Lazareth always checked his facts and demonstrated theological depth to go with his sharp phrases. Charles Porterfield Krauth, Luther Reed, Paul Zeller Strodach, John Reumann, Timothy Lull he is not. But at least no ink was wasted — except by the few who may have printed Dr. Pahl's screed at home in order to read it.

JLE includes a brief response from Prof. Bob Benne and Shrimp hears that other well-written responses would be welcomed. A full response would, in print, need to remind one of Concordia Publishing House's 886 page reprint of Krauth's The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology.

Actually, digesting The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology itself just might the best antidote to Pahl's piece. Click that link; it's on sale right now for $15!

Shrimp out.

6 comments:

Tony said...

Shrimp: I do not understand what you mean. Which examples refer to WA & LCMC? What erroneous example refers to CORE?

I agree that the article is poorly written and full of fire-calling-the-match-hot situations, but which ones are you referring to?

Blessings
Tony

Jon Pahl said...

Thanks for picking up on my piece, and for identifying me with Lazareth and the venerable institution I'm delighted to represent. I wrote the essay in Laz's spirit, as I've been researching his earlier writing. I did check my facts, however, and since I quote Benne repeatedly, and he surely represents Lutheran CORE, I stand by the associations. Even more--I'd welcome engagement with my reasoning, which is pretty clear, closely reasoned, and hardly a screed: Lutheran CORE (and fellow travelers) do not represent orthodox Lutheranism but a Lutheranism accommodated to the American civil religion and its millennialism, individualism, moralism, and innocent domination. The movement is led (largely) by white males (and their consorts) frightened of losing privilege, with more than passing elements of the heresies of Donatism, Docetism, and Pelagianism. That's the argument in a nutshell, with ample evidence to back it up.

Tony said...

Dr Pahl,

"... the movement is led (largely) by white males (and their consorts)..."

And their CONSORTS?!?

So any woman who supports the traditional position is nothing more than a CONSORT? This is the same kind of bigoted thinking that claims that Clarence Thomas and Michael Steele are not really black. It is sheer bigotry.

For anyone in the hysteric Episcopate adopting ELCA to call someone else Donatist is the pot ... Oh well. You know.
Blessings
Tony

Eric Jonas Swensson: said...

Jon Pahl’s "On the Coalition for Reform (CORE)" is an excellent example of how far some adherents of Lutheranism have moved as they attempt to creat a Lutheranism their political ideology can live with, an his comments show he means to continue a line of mischaracterizions. This is truly troubling in a historian. I was present at a retreat of Metro New York clergy when William Lazareth said that his one regret was that he did not take on the activists who supported the full inclusion of homosexual clergy. Activists need their authority figures, so they sight martin Luther even with the full knowledge that he would not support their position on homosexual clergy, and here Jon Paul is trying to align himself with Lazareth who made himself clear at the end that he was against what Pahl promotes.

Jon Pahl is to be commended for having the courage to come out and fight, and I suppose if he and anyone else truly believes the mischaracterization of CORE and the misrepresentation of Lutheran theology it would be good to have a reasoned public debate. However, based on a half dozen years of discussion within leaders of the left in Metro New York synod, as well as many, many online discussions, I have serious doubts that it is possible.

I will let those who still believe it is possible to reform the ELCA to engage Jon Paul, but really need to say simply that Lutheran CORE was not formed to promote schism but the very opposite. CORE was formed to try to successfully engage the activists who were hijacking the ELCA to steer it toward Liberal Protestant waters and keep the good ship headed straight to home port. To hear now that CORE is American Civil Religion is just too, too much.

Happily responses are being written to address the errors in Jon Paul’s erroneous, biased and mean-spirited mischaracterization of CORE. I can’t do it without going back on my decision that I have poured too much of my life already into this waterless pit whose depth cannot be measured.

We live in Christian hope that all Christians including myself would be open to learn and study and fully repent where there is any error. I repent publicly of any name-calling or ill feeling I might have engaged in. I do hope that discussion can be had without needless denominationalism and sinful party spirit.

Peace,

Eric Swensson

Anonymous said...

It is more that a litle ironic for a privileged white male professor with a Ph.D. who seems to be quite angry, to label those with whom he disagrees "angry white males". When Dr. Pahl resigns his teaching position at Philadelpia so that a more qualified woman or person of color can take his place, then he might have some credibility. Until then, he is a self righteous hypocrite. If being an angry privileged white male diqualifies one from commenting on the state of the church, then Dr. Pahl should remain silent.

One also has to wonder what kind of arrogance it takes for a privileged white male like Dr. Pahl to dismiss all of the women, Africans, Hispanics, and Africa Americans who disagree with him as nothing more than "consorts" of the White Male. Apparently, Dr. Pahl, privileged white male seminary professor, believes he is in a postion to determine who truly speaks for women and people of color. How paternalistic!

Rev. Spaceman said...

I didn't really thoroughly read Pahl's rant, only bits and pieces of it, but perhaps someone can enlighten me as to how in the world he connects millenialism to Lutheran CORE.

The good ship ELCA...

The good ship ELCA...
Or the Shellfish blog...