Two Lutheran seminaries in Pennsylvania are planning to close and launch together a new school of theology in 2017 with hopes of slashing costs and reversing years of declining enrollments. The decision came this week from the governing boards of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. The plan will cut the number of seminaries affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America from eight to seven.
Catholics and Lutherans have made another step toward joint commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 by issuing common liturgical guidelines for ecumenical services to mark the occasion. The guidelines, in a booklet called “Common Prayer,” provide a template for an ecumenical service, complete with suggested prayers, appropriate hymns, and themes for sermons.
At an interfaith summer camp in northern New Jersey, two dozen children explored a swamp to learn how creatures depend on safe water.
In Southern California, a Unitarian Universalist congregation installed a dry well so water from its church rooftops drains into underground pipes to replenish the water table.
In Vermont, members of a Lutheran church removed cars and appliances that had been dumped in a nearby stream and restored its banks with local willows and oaks.
Across the country, water has become more than a ritual element used in Christian baptismal rites or in Jewish and Muslim cleansing ceremonies. It has become a focus for worshippers seeking to go beyond water’s ritual symbolism and think more deeply about their relationship to this life-giving resource.
I am part of a liturgically worshiping tradition. There are days I wish I wasn’t; days when our Kyrie is lacking splendor and our Eleison feels redundant; moments that I wish we could get to the important stuff — my inspired and infallible message (I kid) — and toss the unending Psalm or Prayers of the Church.
And then there are the other times, when I am guiltily reminded that cutting the creed means missing out on the same words spoken by millions of believers before me. Or when the music just all works and my heart is stirred by the Hallelu– (shhh, its Lent) Chorus.
So I like to remind my community of believers from time to time why we do what we do. I have long felt the risk of liturgy is that it becomes rote narration, a thoughtless speechifying of sorts. So that this might be avoided, here are my thoughts on the creeds and why a corporate confession of faith is still valuable today.
ST. LOUIS — A decision by the leader of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to censure a pastor for participating in a prayer service for victims of the Sandy Hook school massacre has reopened old wounds for an often politically divided denomination.
The Rev. Matthew Harrison asked the Rev. Rob Morris, pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown, Conn., to apologize for participating in a public interfaith vigil with President Obama two days after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at the town’s elementary school.
Morris apologized and Harrison accepted, but the exchange sparked a media firestorm with charges that the 2.4 million-member denomination was intolerant, insensitive or both. On Sunday, Harrison said he made a bad situation even worse.
“As president of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, I take responsibility for this debacle,” he said. “I handled it poorly, multiplying the challenges. I increased the pain of a hurting community.”
Editor's Note: God's Politics contributor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, recently delivered an address to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's (ELCA) Youth Gathering in New Orleans, where she told the story of her spiritual journey from tattooed, alcoholic ne'erdowell to tattooed, 20-years-sober, Lutheran minister. Nadia's is a powerful tale of redemption, God's unconditional love, and staggeringly real grace.
Nadia told the thousands of Lutheran youth gathered in the Big Easy earlier this month:
Some of your parents and some of your pastors were really upset that I was your speaker tonite. They felt like I was someone who should not be allowed to talk to tens of thousands of teenagers. And you know what I have to say to that? They are absolutely right.
Somebody with my past of alcoholism and drug abuse and promiscuity and lying and stealing should not be allowed to talk to you. You know what? Somebody with my present — who I am now — shouldn't be allowed to talk to you because I am sarcastic, heavily tattooed, I swear like a truck driver — they're having a heart attack back there, going, "Please help her not swear."
I am a flawed person. I should not be allowed to be here talking to you. But you know what? That's the God we're dealing with, people.
The Rev. Andrena Ingram is currently the only known Lutheran ordained pastor living openly with HIV. Her husband's death from an AIDS-related illness, and the shame that he felt, inspired the pastor to be open about her own diagnosis with HIV. She is known as "The HIV Minister" – a title that has helped others with HIV reach out to her for help.
Listen to Ingram tell her story inside the blog...
There’s someone who is new here at House for All … actually they are new to church entirely and therefore unfamiliar with liturgy. After coming to House for a few weeks I met them for lunch and asked what stands out for them at church expecting them to say the singing or maybe the community. “You know that part at the beginning where we all say together that we’ve fractured relationships and done things we shouldn’t and stuff?” Uh…I answered…the confession? “Yeah! they said. That’s so amazing.”
There’s a trend in starting new Lutheran churches to actually eliminate the confession and absolution in the liturgy because, well, it just makes people feel bad. And let’s be honest, it’s just a lot more appealing to go to a church that doesn’t make you feel bad.
And I guess there is some logic to that. I mean, if the point of religion is to teach us good from evil and how to choose the good, then who wants to start out each Sunday saying that you didn’t manage to pull that off. Again.
The question now is whether these breakaway groups signal a seismic shift in American Protestantism, or just a few fissures in the theological terrain.
In some ways, the rifts are nothing new. American Protestants have been splintering since Roger Williams left Plymouth Colony in the 1630s, said Nancy Ammerman, a sociologist of religion at Boston University.
Yet the schisms counter a 20th-century trend in which ethnic and regional Protestant groups merged to form big-tent denominations such as the ELCA and PC(USA).
"What we may be experiencing at this point is the limit of that movement to draw a lot of diversity under one umbrella," said Ammerman, author of Pillars of Faith: American Congregations and Their Partners.
With its unanimous ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Church & School v. EEOC last month, the United States Supreme Court handed down one of its most important church-state decisions in decades. The First Amendment bars ministers from suing the religious communities they serve regarding the terms and conditions of their employment, it said.
The Court affirmed what lower courts had held for decades: Religious bodies, not the government, must have the power to decide which individuals will minister to the faithful. This doctrine is known as the “ministerial exception.” The Court also held that the former teacher in this case, Cheryl Perich, was a minister and thus her lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) could not proceed.
An important aspect of the Hosanna-Tabor ruling is the Court’s recognition that there is simply is no good way for the state to police these matters – it inevitably ends up intruding on core religious decisions like who should speak to and for the church. When a minister is fired, the religious employer cites a religious reason for doing so, such as sermons that are inconsistent with Biblical teachings and a failure to challenge congregants to follow Jesus Christ. If the minister then sues the church for discrimination, he or she claims the religious reason wasn’t the “real” reason for the church’s actions; it was just a pretext for discrimination.
DES PERES, Mo. — More than 100 Lutherans streamed into the basement classroom at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Des Peres recently for a Bible study called "Islam Through a Lutheran Lens."
It was a better-than-expected showing, and people carefully balanced their Styrofoam coffee cups as they rearranged extra folding chairs into rows to capture the overflow crowd.
"We're going to be looking at (Islam) though the lenses we have been given through God's word, the Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions," the Rev. Glen Thomas told them. The executive director of pastoral education for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod had taught a similar series of classes in the fall called "Mormonism Through a Lutheran Lens."
"How many people here know a Muslim?" Thomas asked.
Three hands went up. Thomas pressed on.
Here’s the story I tell about how I met my husband, Matthew.
I had left the conservative, sectarian church of my childhood along with their teaching that being Christian mostly meant buying an insurance policy for the hereafter. We were told not to concern ourselves with this world. We need not bother ourselves with the poor, the hungry, the stranger unless of course in doing so we might sell them the eternal insurance policy thus adding a notch to our holiness belt. See, as our hymns suggested, we were the spiritual 1 percent we were all about gold streets and mansions in heaven so the deteriorating sub-standard housing around the corner was not our concern.
Almost 10 years after leaving that form of Christianity and after involving myself quite deeply into issues of social justice I met Matthew, a really cute Lutheran seminary student. On our first date we sat across the booth from each other at el taco de Mexico and talked about social issues and we saw eye to eye on everything. Then he said, “my heart for the poor is rooted in my Christian faith” at which point I looked at him and thought: What are you? Like a unicorn? Some mythical combination of creatures that doesn’t exist in reality? Soon I learned there was a whole world of Christians out there who actually take Matthew 25 seriously. Who believe that when we feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and care for the sick we do so to Jesus’ own self.
I first heard the term "evangelical" in the 1980s, about the time the Swaggarts and Bakkers were imploding. Christianity needed a new name for sane, intellectually sound faith.
"Born-again" had been sullied by the televangelists and worn out by Debbie Boone’s explanation of how she justified singing the lyrics to “You Light Up My Life.”
"Jesus Freak" had died with the Peace movement.
We needed another word to separate true Christians from fake ones; sheep from goats; serious believers from those who merely checked the “Christian” box on their driver’s license application because Jew, Muslim or Ekkankar didn’t apply.
(Sometimes I wonder if all the denominations in Christendom are merely a list of the nomenclature we’ve used to separate Us from Them.)
Because this week -- months after the Arab Spring, and after weeks of the growing Wall Street Occupation -- well, in this climate of discontent and dissent as we all begin to wake from our consumer induced coma to see how multi-national corporations control so much more than we can imagine, in a season when tyrants are being over thrown, I simply could not preach a sermon in which I say that God is like an angry murderous slave owning king. Maybe there is a way of finding good news in that but I just couldn't do it.
Evangelicals had always seemed like the "other" Christians. They were the ones who didn't celebrate Advent or baptize babies. They were the ones who went colleges that required pledges not to drink, smoke or dance. They were the ones who frowned upon evolution or "free-thinking."
As a child of the 1970s and '80s, I saw evangelicals as politically and socially conservative -- ever skeptical of culture and worried about what we were reading and watching. They bobbed for apples at "Harvest" parties instead of trick-or-treating on Halloween. They were the ones telling Kevin Bacon he couldn't be footloose and fancy free -- or maybe those were "fundamentalists." Did it matter? Was there even a difference?
The "sermon" consisted of reflections by five participants from different regions and traditions who were attending the Global Christian Forum for the first time. They each spoke of the joy, and often the surprise, in what they discovered here -- some of them interacting with delegates from Christian traditions they barely knew even existed.
The unity of heart and Spirit they experienced at the forum had a profound effect, they said. Emily Obwaka of Kenya, a staff member from the Association of Evangelicals in Africa, whom I met on the bus the first day of the forum, was one of those who shared. She said the forum felt like "a preamble to heaven." Such sentiments might seem excessive but they were not uncommon among the 287 forum participants from 65 countries. Joy and affirmation were among the greatest takeaways from the five-day gathering.
The compelling story of the Global Christian Forum, shared with the more than 300 forum attendees (many of them new), was told in moving testimonies from Orthodox, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Catholic, and historic Protestant members of the forum's steering committee. ... It's remarkable to hear how an Egyptian surgeon became a Coptic Orthodox priest, or how a woman Anglican Bishop from New Zeland heard her calling to the priesthood as a teenager, long before her church ordained women. Story after story simply puts you in awe of God's grace.
The Global Christian Forum is the most exciting and promising ecumenical initiative I've participated in all my years of ministry. Its import can be summed up simply: This is the only place where the leadership of evangelical, Pentecostal, Catholic, historic Protestant and Orthodox churches -- which comprise all the major "families" of world Christianity -- are brought into sustained and intentional fellowship. In so doing, the Global Christian Forum is also responding to the dramatic shift of the center of Christianity from the North and West to the southern hemisphere.
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to begin hearing oral arguments this week in one of the most important church-state cases in decades. In Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the court will consider whether a Lutheran school in Michigan is subject to a federal law banning discrimination based on a disability.