Saturday, April 24, 2010

People Who Live in Glass Houses...


Over at, Susan Hogan has published a press release written by Betsy Carlson, trumpeting the new directions being taken by WordAlone Ministries (formerly the WordAlone Network) following their April 19-20 convention. You can read the article in its entirety here.

I would call your attention to the fourth paragraph which reads:

The convention affirmed that Word Alone will continue to serve congregations, groups and individuals committed to proclaiming the Word of God and to remaining faithful to the Bible, although it ended its attempts to reform the ELCA after its unbiblical decisions on marriage and family and on new standards for ministers at the churchwide assembly last August.

Note particularly the word "unbiblical" in that sentence. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that whenever someone uses the word "biblical" or "unbiblical" what they mean is "the Bible as I interpret it."

So if someone uses the phrase "the biblical doctrine" what they mean is "the Bible as I interpret it supports the doctrine that I teach." Again, if someone uses the expression "the unbiblical practice" what they mean is "the Bible as I interpret it condemns the thing that you are doing." I have found this to be invariably true.

Claiming that something is "biblical" does not automatically give one the moral high ground. One can speak as meaningfully about the "biblical practice" of slavery or genocide, as one can speak of a "biblical doctrine" of marriage.

Returning to Betsy Clark's press release, we read:

Earlier in the day, Word Alone President Jaynan Clark presented a new vision for Word Alone Ministries in a dynamic report that included her falling to her knees and repenting for anything Word Alone failed to do that the Lord called it to do in the past 10 years.

Still on her knees, she prayed, “Otherwise continue to call us, guide us; send us leaders, evangelists and (on) a mission to go forward and to get beyond the nonsense of . . . celebration of sin.”

This is the sort of histrionic display that observers have come to expect from Jaynan Clark. Frankly, it brings entertainment value to the sport of WordAlone watching. I will point out, not as a matter of judgment but only as a point of fact, that Jaynan Clark is a divorced, female pastor.

The last paragraph of the WordAlone press release says:

Another important ministry development project has resulted in Lutheran CORE which provides affiliation options for Lutherans who are opposed to the recent unbiblical policies being implemented by the ELCA.

There's that word "unbiblical" again. It is an interesting, some might say "ironic," accusation coming from an organization headed by a divorced, female pastor. You see, there are plenty of Christians, some of them Lutheran, who would say that a divorced, female pastor is "unbiblical." Some might even go so far as to say that an organization headed by a divorced, female pastor is indulging in "the nonsense of...celebration of sin."

For the record, I do not object to the ordination of women, divorced persons, or same-sex partnered individuals. And yes, I am aware of the fact that I am a plank-eyed speck-picker. The picture of the glass house came from this website. There are more pictures there as well. You might want to check them out. They're pretty cool. All I can say is, if I lived there, I would hang some curtains.


  1. Brant, you describe yourself as "a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America." I thought one of the roles of a pastor was to call sinners to repentance. But I fail to see that here. Instead, all I see in your words is holding women such as Jaynan up to public scorn. You claim not to object to the ordination of women, or even divorce. However, what I have found is that many, yourself included, find great objection in women who are ordained, even divorced, speaking out about issues when they take a different stand than your own. While you don't use the word, the charge of "hypocrite" lies close at hand, and has been used by others at outspoken women like Jaynan and myself (also a women pastor who opposes the CWA decisions of last August). So why don't you call us to repentance? Why not contact us, as Matthew 18 recommends, and tell us directly of our offence?

    But you, a pastor, don't do that. No, it is so much easier to write a witty blog post about glass walls, Bibles, and other people's public offenses. Your unjudgmental judgment strikes me as an equally "interesting, some might say 'ironic' accusation" coming from a pastor who finds the description of woman on her knees praying, repenting, and asking for God to send evangelists to lead the church "histrionic" and a source of amusement.

    I think you, Brant, should get to work on your own curtains. Those in Word Alone Ministries (and in Lutheran CORE also) will continue to work and speak out in the open, where others can see us, warts and sins and hypocrisies and all, public sinners clothed only in the borrowed garments of the one who redeemed us.

  2. Sorry, Erma Wolf, but there is no role in a Lutheran pastor (no matter what branch) preaching that salvation comes by works. Essentially, you "conservatives" have become literalists and fundamentalists.

    Unfortunately, that's what you and your CORE colleagues have chosen to embrace. So, I say enjoy your little schismatic delusion. Who cares how many lives and souls you ruin in the meantime, right?

  3. Stephen JohanssonApril 25, 2010 at 1:40 PM


    I am saddened to read this post. I have come to expect this in the ELCA. The idea that everything is up for interpretation and there is no such thing as things be biblical or unbiblical. Don't believe in the virgin birth? That's ok. That's your interpretation. Don't believe in salvation through Christ? No problem. That's your interpretation. This is exactly what is pushing thousands of people out of the ELCA.

  4. The ELCA ordination says nothing about "calling sinners to repentance." John's Gospel, however, is quoted in the rite--"If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." Pastor Clements is well within his ordination vows to "forgive" or "retain" as scripture indicates and as the Holy Spirit moves him. Who are you to deny the Holy Spirit, Rev. Erma, in Rev. Clements or in CWA 2009?

  5. Thanks to all my commentators for reading my blog and taking the time to remark on it.


    You have played the sexism card in reply to my critiques of Jaynan Clark's behavior. Before you declare "trump" let me say that I often read reports of grand gestures and outlandish statements on her part. Maybe these things work for her in some way. I would be no more nor less bemused by such antics if Jaynan Clark were a man. This has nothing to do with her gender.

    You seem to be very sensitive to the effects of institutional sexism in your own life and in the lives of other women. Does this translate for you in anyway into a concern for the effects of institutional heterosexism in the lives of gay individuals?

    Concerning Matthew 18, I did not contact Jaynan Clark directly, as you suggest, for the following reasons. 1. She did not sin against me, as the procedure in Matthew 18 indicates. 2. I am not her pastor. 3. Theatricality is not, to my knowledge, a sin. 4. Her actions were public and performed in the public exercise of her office, it is therefore appropriate to comment upon them public where you, she, or anyone else who chooses, may respond either through comments moderated by me, or through their own choice of public forum.

    Please note, too, that while the form of Jaynan Clark's prayer strikes me as over-the-top, if we focus on the content of that prayer it is not the petition for evangelists that I chose to comment upon. Rather, it was the statement about moving beyond "the nonsense...of celebration of sin." If this is indeed what Jaynan Clark wants, then why keep bringing it up? Move on and focus on the Gospel.

    And concerning hypocrisy, Erma, we are all hypocrites. I remain the plank-eyed speck-picker who wrote the original post, sinning boldly and proclaiming Christ as God allows me.

    Finally, please allow me a personal note. You and I have a mutual friend (I almost said "common friend" but there is nothing common about her). She speaks well of you. She is a divorced, female (duh!) and one of the finest pastors I have ever known. I believe that you and she were roommates at some time past. If you know of whom I speak, please keep her health concerns in your prayers.


    I think you have gotten to the heart of the matter. It is about the interpretation and use of Scripture as practiced by the ELCA and by its detractors.


    Which of the following would you consider "biblical"? Young Earth Creationism? Polygamy? Kosher dietary practices? Papal authority? Infant Baptism? Justification by grace? Female clergy? Slavery? Heliocentrism? The "Secret Rapture of the Church"? Believer's Baptism? Closed Communion? Dispensationalism? Speaking in tongues? Open Communion?

    That is a short list of doctrines and practices that have some claim to being "biblical." My point is not that every interpretation of Scripture is equal. Far from it. My point is that calling something "biblical" does not make it good, true, moral, just or right. Calling something "unbiblical" does not make it so.

    Still the Bible remains authoritative. It is the source and norm of the Church's teaching. Scripture alone is sufficient to give us knowledge of God's saving acts in Jesus Christ.

    In this blog's early posts I laid a foundation by considering how Lutherans read Scripture, and how we derive doctrine from it. You might want to read through those posts to see better where I am coming from.


    The Holy Spirit blows where it will and no one sees where it comes from or where it goes. While I am not much given to enthusiasm in the theological sense, I do believe that God has been at work in CWA 2009.


  6. Oops! In my reply to Stephen above, I used the word heliocentrism when I meant geocentricism. Geocentrism is the idea that the sun revolves around the earth. Heliocentrism has the earth revolve around the sun.

  7. Brant, I think you summed it up quite well. And I hardly consider it sexist. Falling on one's knees, squeezing tears out, etc is grand standing at a Dramacakes magnitude. The only thing that would have made it complete would be the hair sprayed upswept pompadour of Televangelist Superiority.

    All snark aside, I definitely agree with you. When the very head of WordAlone is spouting on and on about Scriptural Authority and moral superiority and decries the sins of the so-called apostates, then he or she had be pretty darned sure he/she is upholding the same rigid principles that the orthodoxy espouses. Wow, is that a convoluted way of agreeing that People in Glass houses shouldn't be playing field hockey.

    And I think this is exactly why I have a problem with this neo-orthodox Lutheran movement that is packaged in the LCMC/CORE/NALC/WA word salad.

    Anytime someone brings out the the "Scriptural Authority" trump card, I quickly lose interest in the debate. It's like playing rock, paper, scissors and someone declares that dynamite trumps everything.

    When someone declares they are right because of Scriptural Authority it means they are right and anyone who disagrees is wrong. End of Story. It's a cheap way to get to take the high ground and a way to steam roll agendas through either through guilt or the bullying power of a pulpit.

    And this fundamental, absolute approach to the Bible that organizations such as WA embraces is absolutely depressing. If we are to take every word, every comma as the absolute word of God that is beyond reproach and nothing else can be considered, does that mean that God stopped speaking to us over 2000 years ago? Does that mean we need to use an antiquated road map to find Grace and ignore how the Holy Spirit continues to speak and work through us? Quite frankly, that is a pretty bleak look at Christianity.

  8. Thanks, Kelly.

    I talked to a friend of mine the other day. I said, "Would you call me a sexist?" She answered, "All right. You're a sexist." (Rim shot!)

    I think that you are absolutely right. As soon as someone says "biblical" or "unbiblical" conversation ends. I believe that the Bible is a record of a conversation between God and God's people. It is also an invitation into that conversation. But a lot of Christians use the Scriptures as a cudgel to beat down anyone who disagrees with their interpretation.

    It gets a bit tiresome.