Saturday, April 30, 2011

Further notes on the ELCA Social Statement on Genetics

April 27, 2011
PC, Assembly Delegates and others,

Here are a few comments regarding the ELCA Social Statement on Genetics.  This is nothing like the original document that I reviewed in 2009. 

The Committee had a difficult assignment......  to deal with a topic full of controversies and not take real specific stands.   So they choose to develop a framework for decision making.   I like the document as a framework,  but it is just a starting point for issue resolution. 

I am disappointed in that I view Social Statements as taking a position on an issue.  So, my vote is to accept it.   If it gets modified to take positions on issues, then I would want to see it again.

Hope this is of some value.

If anyone wants to talk bout this, I am willing.


Calvin Bey, scientist, and member of Good Shepherd Lutheran, Fayetteville, AR


ELCA Social Statement on Genetics
Comments by Calvin Bey

Like many of you I suppose, I have reviewed a lot of documents over the years.   Documents prepared by a committee, like this one, are difficult to assess.   First let me say, I reviewed the original document and wrote to the Committee on Oct 30, 2009.

I was quite critical of the original.  In short, they failed to incorporate the principle of the interrelatedness of all the aspects of Nature into the document. They wrote as if genetics was independent of the environment.   And they showed a huge bias when they spoke about “promises” of GMOs which were very unrealistic.   Many of those issues in the first draft have been addressed.

Now there is a certain amount of vanilla flavoring and blandness in the document that sounds real nice, but it does not deal with the issues that are forefront in the news today.  So I like a lot of things in the document, but it does almost nothing for resolution of any current issues.   Even so, if were a delegate, I would vote for it.

Having said that, here are few points/opinions.

One typo, I think.  Line 782, first word should be “decreasing” not ”increasing.”

I really like their repeated reference to having respect for “the community of life.”  It is nothing new, but we need to hear that over and over.  Many operational activities in the world are quite counter to the concept that says all life is to be respected.   The whole realm of polluting by incorporating foreign material into plants and animals and spraying toxins over the earth are primary examples. 

The “community of life” concept ties neatly to their emphasis on support of sustainable practices.  I like that idea.  But, in practice it is a far more difficult thing to discern.   As we live in the Natural world, we are constantly faced with biological alternatives.  That is okay, it happens in Nature all the time.   The crux is always about where to draw the line to favor one thing over another. 

I like that they are refer to a lot of the ecological concepts, i.e. biodiversity, endangered species, etc.  This ties back to the “community of life,” and can make us humble when we begin to understand the wonder of creation, and continuing creation.

I am also glad they referred to the principle of wisdom, the “precautionary principle.”   I think of it in terms of the Hippocratic oath, “first, do no harm.”   They suggest the responsibility is with the “promoter” of the novel action.   A nice statement indeed, but what happens if the promoters don’t care, i.e. are driven only by money.   It could happen.  It does, all the time.  

I like the statement (994-995) that says we should do impact assessments before proceeding with genetic testing ( and I assume full-scale production).  But what happens when it is ignored, by the companies who are promoting the novel product, and especially by the Regulatory agencies?  

More than anything, I like the fact that they spoke out for the underprivileged, those without power to do anything.   Social injustice runs rampant in the field of GMO promotion today.    What goes on with big companies imposing on the poor from South America to India is simply evil. 

I also like the idea that there should be all disciplines and kinds of people involved in the development of major policies.  That too is a 40-year old idea, that first surfaced in the genetics field in the 60s and 70s.  Too bad, but no group insisted on having diverse groups involved in making national policy.  Big business took control and promoted what was to their advantage.  Today the big business and Government culture is pretty much the same.  If the voices of the people are to be heard, it will take grassroots movements. 

So there are many great statements and concepts in the document, and I expect they will all be adopted.  What next?   Would the world look different if we were to apply them all?  I think so.  We would surely be forced to slow down, study, assess,  consider unintended consequences, be less concerned about money, be concerned about health of the soil and every living organism, and be more concerned about the less fortunate and marginalized people of the world. 

Again, I would endorse the document, with the caveat that this is just a base or framework for making changes and decisions in the many aspects of modern life.  As difficult as I expect it was to get consensus on this document, the next steps will be the real challenges.  It is something we should not ignore. 

4th of July Selection: Democracy and Tradition

Every year I try to bust out one book to read in May and June that prepares me for the 4th of July, and exercises my chops as a citizen of the United States. Often this is a work of history or biography, on a president or founder of the nation. This year, I'm picking up a book I've been meaning to read for years. Jeffrey Stout's book was widely heralded at the time as a profound philosophical piece at the intersection of religion, politics, and philosophy. Respect for the book has not diminished, but has instead greatened, and so I'll be reading it over the next few months, hopefully distilling 500 words about it for a July 2nd newspaper column I'm writing for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette in their Faith Matters section.

Here are teasers, some pull quotes from the introduction I found inspiring:

"Acknowledging one's dependence on an exemplar-guide whose help has been a necessary condition of spiritual growth, while also being able to achieve the independence of mind that the exemplary thinker exemplifies, is a high and rare spiritual achievement" (7).

"The democratic practice of giving and asking for ethical reasons, I argue, is where the life of democracy principally resides. Democracy isn't all talk. Now and then there is also a lot of marching involved, for example. But there is no form of ethical life that generates more talk on the part of more people than does modern democracy." (6)

"The point of view of a citizen is that of someone who accepts some measure of responsibility for the conditions of society and, in particular, for the political arrangements it makes for itself. To adopt this point of view is to participate in the living moral tradition of one's people, understood as a civic nation. It is the task of public philosophy, as I understand it, to articulate the ethical inheritance of the people for the people while subjecting it to critical scrutiny" (5).

"The solidarity of an aggrieved people can be a dangerous thing. No lesson from recent history could be more evident. Any nation united mainly by memories of injustices does to it is likely to behave unjustly in its own defense and to elicit similar responses from its neighbors and enemies" (1).

"The result of [political] posturing is the Manichean rhetoric of cultural warfare. The pundits would have us believe we are all embroiled in an essentially two-sided conflict over the culture of democracy... there is some danger that a dualistic picture of our cultural situation, if accepted by enough people, will become true" (10).

"A central challenge for pragmatism as a public philosophy is to overcome the suspicion that it cannot adequately distinguish truth from concepts like warranted assertability and justified belief" (14).

And finally, the reason I'm reading the book as a pastor and citizen: "I would like to think that a reader who took the time to go through the entire discussion carefully could emerge with an improved understanding of what has been going on recently in the disputed territory where philosophical, political, and religious thought intersect."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What is a synod assembly?

The Arkansas-Oklahoma synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America gathers in assembly this weekend for its annual synod assembly. I'm enough of a church geek that I love going to synod assembly, and wouldn't miss it for the world. Because of our move and new call, it's a new synod for me, so I look forward to meeting new colleagues in ministry from across the two states, as well as voting members from the 60 or so congregations that make up our synod. It is also bitter sweet, for I will miss all the colleagues and friends we made during eight years of ministry in South Central Wisconsin.

I invite your prayers for our assembly. There is way more of spiritual import going on in a synod assembly than may be first apparent, and the support of prayers undergirding such a gathering is essential. On the surface, such a gathering looks like a bunch of people driving to Tulsa to stay at a hotel and conduct church business. And it is that.

But what is really happening in synod assembly is profound and amazing. Christians from across our two states join together Friday evening for Eucharist. Together we receive Christ's body and blood, and hear the Word of God proclaimed. Over the course of the weekend, we mutually console each other, pray for each, worship some more, attend seminars, conduct holy conversations in the back of the room and in side hallways, practice wisdom and discernment, and in the case of this particular assembly, elect a new bishop.

It is this last event that likely garners the most attention. People wonder who it will be, and how one is elected. I'm so new as to be clueless on the first point, and on the second, I can say it includes many ballots interspersed with prayer, and speeches by the candidates once we get the field narrowed to a few.

But what interests me about our election of a new bishop is the spiritual gift it represents. A bishop is a sign of unity. Like the pastor in a congregation who is a sign of unity, the bishop is a sign of unity for the synod. I don't alway comprehend or fathom what unity is or how to attain it, but I know it when I see it, and where true unity and love prevails, there is God.

My prayer for our assembly includes these petitions: that we be united in faith through the sacraments and the election of our new bishop; that we be energized for mission by the Holy Spirit; that we practice hospitality one with another; that we learn something new; that we are guided by the wisdom of God in our decision-making; and that we carry news back from the assembly that enlivens and inspires each of our congregations for mission in God's world.

This weekend, would you pray for that with me?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Theology Table

Canon, Creed, Confession, Comparative Theology

Fall of 2011 and will last 14 weeks, Tuesdays at 5 p.m. at Nightbird Books. The class will be taught by Pastor Clint Schnekloth with Jon Amos and Tom Stockland, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Fayetteville.

The concept: All communities can benefit from continued conversation about how Scripture functions as a holy text for community, how the creeds function as a hermeneutical key for reading Scripture, and how being confessional contributes further to being authentic in conversation, and finally how comparative theology opens us to deep learning across religious borders.

Primary texts:
Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture, by Peter Leithart
Canon and Creed, by Robert Jenson
The Augsburg Confession (and perhaps other Book of Concord texts)
Harvesting the Fruits: Basic Aspects of Christian Faith in Ecumenical Dialogue, Walter Kasper
Comparative Theology: Deep Learning Across Religious Borders, Francis X. Clooney

Open to the whole community.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Here are twelve indicators to know that leadership is lacking:

1. I wait for someone to tell me what to do rather than taking the initiative myself.

2. I spend too much time talking about how things should be different.

3. I blame the context, surroundings, or other people for my current situation.

4. I am more concerned about being cool or accepted than doing the right thing.

5. I seek consensus rather than casting vision for a preferable future.

6. I am not taking any significant risks.

7. I accept the status quo as the way it’s always been and always will be.

8. I start protecting my reputation instead of opening myself up to opposition.

9. I procrastinate to avoid making a tough call.

10. I talk to others about the problem rather than taking it to the person responsible.

11. I don’t feel like my butt is on the line for anything significant.

12. I ask for way too many opinions before taking action.

-Dave Ferguson and Jon Ferguson, 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ

Sometimes the best sermon preparation and study is by way of indirect reading, and this is definitely how I'm preparing sermons this week. I've been immersing myself in T.F. Torrance's Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ. It's a big thick book, but well worth the time spent reading it. Anyone praching through the Triduum will, whether they know it or not, tend towards some version of the doctrine of atonement or another, and it is good as we preach to be a bit more clear about what we are doing, what aspects we are emphasizing, etc. There is no clearer guide to this than Torrance.

For those not interested in buying his book or reading an entire volume, you can dip a bit into his theology and biography by visiting

Blessings to all as we meditate on the mystery of the person and work of Christ this Holy Week.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pastor's Holy Week Letter 2011

There is hope, and then there is hope. Hope of the first variety happens all the time. Consider some examples—I hope I get an A on this paper; I hope that movie comes to Fayetteville; I hope the pastor’s sermon isn’t long or boring. These are the kinds of things we hope for on a daily basis, and often (though not always) our hopes are fulfilled.

Hope of the second variety is hope against hope (Romans 4:18), or, as Paul accents it again in Romans, “Hope for what we do not see” (8:25). This second kind of hope is, paradoxically, the kind of hope that is so close to hopelessness that it, and only it, is truly hopeful. This is the hope of glory, hope for righteousness, hope that makes bold, hope laid up in heaven, hope of salvation, hope that grounds our calling, hope set on the living God, promised hope, blessed hope, hope grounded completely and utterly in Jesus Christ, the one raised from the dead by God (Acts 2:32). This is hope so big you can’t get your head around it, and so full your heart can’t decide whether to pound or skip.

And somehow, some way, during Holy Week Christian communities the world over are called to find a way to proclaim in words and songs and prayers the hope that is in them as they remember Christ’s tragic death on a cross, and his glorious resurrection come Sunday morning. I know I’ll be trying my level best as a preacher to share some of the glory and terror and awe of it all, and I pray God’s Spirit will do the rest.

My prayer for our entire congregation this Holy Week is that we might be inspired and enlivened by hope. I hope the hope of the gospel makes you feel totally and truly alive!

I also pray that together we might be challenged to push out from what we think we know about the resurrection, and into territory that will make us more faithful and authentic Christian people. For example, one of my favorite theologians has written, in his recent book Sun of Righteousness, Arise, "The hope for the resurrection of the dead is not an answer to the human yearning for immortality; it is a response to the hunger for [God's] righteousness and justice." (Jürgen Moltmann) What does it mean for us to hope for God’s righteousness and justice, and not for our own immortality? Is it, at the very least, hope against hope? From my perspective, it clarifies precisely why and how Easter is more important and bigger than we first imagine!

So I hope this letter finds you well. This is one of those weeks that challenges and inspires me as a pastor, and reminds me that we do not travel this journey through Lent and Holy Week alone. We walk in hope, together, as we anticipate celebrating the hope of Easter and resurrection. Thank you for being the hopeful people you are, connecting others to God through the hope-filled gospel of Christ.

“I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face” (3 John 14)

In Christ,

Pastor Clint Schnekloth +

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dead Mules

Rick Bragg says in Southern Living that the defining element in Southern writing is... a dead mule. I myself have never seen a dead mule, but I can imagine a dead one is even more stubborn than one alive. Now, having blogged about a dead mule, am I officially a Southern blogger?

Bragg writes:

"My survey of around thirty prominent twentieth-century Southern authors has led me to conclude, without fear of refutation, that there is indeed a single, simple, litmus-like test for the quality of Southerness in literature...whose answer may be taken as difinitive, delimiting, and final," wrote professor Jerry Leath Mills, formerly of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, more than a decade ago. After some four decades of cataloging, he concluded that the true test is: "Is there a dead mule in it?...Equus caballus x asinus (defunctus) consitutes the truly catalytic element..."

Preparing parents for the baptism of their child

They say that good liturgy is its own best catechesis. As you prepare families for the baptism of their children, have you considered Washed and Welcome: A Baptism Sourcebook? ( We put a lot of work into making sure it is theologically enriching for pastors who make use of it, as well as instructive and appropriate for families in this stage of life. Check it out, or tell me what you think of the five curricula at the beginning of the resource.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

How the ELCA (or any denomination or church) Can Grow

1) Let churches die. I think we try to keep churches stringing along much longer than we should. Hospice is an important ministry, letting people or institutions die with dignity. That said, give birth to lots of churches. Perhaps a large part of our problem is we don't take the risk of starting lots of new churches, but just a few each year. 

2) It really is about leaders. Vital, self-differentiated, gifted leaders are important. Many but not all churches that are dying prematurely are dying because of a failure of nerve, and lack of vision. 

3) We need to raise up apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers within the congregation itself rather than thinking those gifts are centralized in one person hired to do it all. Most traditional small churches can't afford a full-time ELCA staff person with benefits, but they can afford volunteer or part-time leaders. Sometimes I think we have become too focused on recruiting from outside rather than training those with gifts in place, including for preaching and other apostolic ministries. 

4) Start LOTS more churches. Some will fail. Start lots more anyway. Lots. Start more churches. Lots more churches. Plant churches, try, fail, try again. That should be our mantra. We figure out theological training around that mantra. Train up people in place in the congregation to go out and start new churches.

5) It's about bible and theology, not methods and strategies. "The cure for the missionary malaise in the Western churches will not come in a new marketing strategy, but in a new look at Scripture, for it is there that we see God clearly" (Paul the Missionary, Eckhard Schnabel). Theologically profound, hermeneutically creative, and homiletically sophisticated preaching will bear fruit. The Spirit will see to that!

6) Preaching is key. Although it isn't everything, it is a lot, and needs our sustained and best attention. Get ye to the woodshed and figure out how to preach!

7) Seminary isn't. Seminary is a great thing, I loved it, but we should commission more leaders before they have a master's degree who have the gifts of the Spirit, and then train them later as situation and resources allow. There's an inverse correlation between the level of education in the leadership of denominations and their patterns of growth. Paul was trained in a special school, but did he require the leaders of the churches he planted to travel to Jerusalem and study for three years before beginning a call? Not saying we need to repeat Acts in the present day, but it does seem we've taken a cultural construct (seminary education) and elevated it above its proper place. I'm not advocating against seminary either, just encouraging open-ness to great diversity of practice, and especially the practice of identifying gifts within the local congregation and then training in place.

8) What we are experiencing is part of a larger national pattern. See Kenda Creasy Dean's Almost Christian. There's a parasite, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, that now passes for the Christian gospel in most denominations, even the most vibrant, so the battle we are engaged in is a shared battle even in other somewhat growing or vitalized denominations.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

ELCA Clergy Facebook Group

Friday at 3 p.m. I launched a Facebook group for ELCA clergy. By 11 p.m. that night there were 1500 members. This evening we're up to 1941 members. It's been a kind of fascinating experiment in Facebook groups use.

Clearly ELCA clergy are very networked, looking for even greater levels of networking and grassroots, democratic conversation, and the group is already functioning like that. One synod staff person posted the following on the group page, and gave permission to share it here on the blog. The post and response I hope are interesting in their own right, but then also interesting in that they offer a snapshot of the group conversation and direction:
So, I've been wrestling with an idea for a while I want to share and invite conversation. I work on the bishop's staff in North Carolina synod and am deployed ELCA staff as well - deployed to North Carolina (duh) ;) 

A major challenge I see all over the ELCA, particularly in my own synod, is that of smaller traditional churches struggling to make a go of it. These churches aren't doing anything "wrong". They're comprised of wonderful people. Some of these churches have been around for 100 years, 200 years - or even longer. They've seen many, many changes and trends come and go over the decades, but have remained viable. Until now. I get calls regularly from churches like this asking for help. Desperate voices of wonderful people at their wit's end. I struggle to respond. I want to help, but I'm not sure how. 
Many who serve in positions like mine suggest some ways the leaders can tweak and improve the ministry (think Natural Church Development). The hope is that, with some adjustments, these churches can turn things around and get growing again. Young people will return. A sense of vibrancy can be restored. And this happens from time to time. But mostly it doesn't. A decline may be slowed, but is not generally reversed. 
I'm left with the sense that what is called for is not a minor makeover, but a more significant re-visioning of what it means to be the church. This goes WAY beyond adding a "contemporary" worship service or some other fix. That seems to me to be old thinking. Even the pioneers of contemporary church are looking past that now. 
But people like me are often wary of naming such things because the institutions of our church (synods, churchwide, colleges, seminaries, agencies/institutions) are mostly dependent on keeping things the way they are. Too many jobs at stake. (For the record, my position is funded by churchwide, so this includes me). Funding streams all start at the local congregational level. To mess with that is messing with the life-blood of the rest of the church... local benevolence dollars. So, we mostly try to comfort the anxious and suggest minor revisions to things which helps make people feel better ... but has little impact long-term. Seems like I'm being asked to help manage the decline of our church (keep things as palatable as possible). I don't really care to do that.
Anyway, I don't want to sound fatalistic. I've no doubt the Body of Christ is alive and well. However, I wonder about the long-term viability of many of our small, traditional churches - which are the dominant form of church in the ELCA. 
Your input, thoughts, and wisdom are appreciated. I want to be helpful to leaders like you all who lead local congregations. I want to do more than just hold your hand while we wait for the last person to turn out the lights. I'm just not sure how...


Here's my response:

This is precisely the kind of first post and ensuing dialogue I was hoping to witness here, so thanks all y'all. A few thoughts come to mind, some of which have already been mentioned by previous respondents. Here's my list: 1) Let churches die. I think we try to keep churches stringing along much longer than we should. Hospice is an important ministry, letting people or institutions die with dignity. That said, give birth to lots of churches. Perhaps a large part of our problem is we don't take the risk of starting lots of new churches, but just a few each year. 2) It really is about leaders. Vital, self-differentiated, gifted leaders are important. Many but not all churches that are dying prematurely are dying because of a failure of nerve, and lack of vision. 3) We need to raise up apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers within the congregation itself rather than thinking those gifts are centralized in one person hired to do it all. Most traditional small churches can't afford a full-time ELCA staff person with benefits, but they can afford volunteer or part-time leaders. Sometimes I think we have become too focused on recruiting from outside rather than training those with gifts in place, including for preaching and other apostolic ministries. 4) Start LOTS more churches. Some will fail. Start lots more anyway. Lots. 5) It's about bible and theology, not methods and strategies. "The cure for the missionary malaise in the Western churches will not come in a new marketing strategy, but in a new look at Scripture, for it is there that we see God clearly" (Paul the Missionary, Eckhard Schnabel). Theologically profound, hermeneutically creative, and homiletically sophisticated preaching will bear fruit. 6) Preaching is key. Although it isn't everything, it is a lot, and needs our sustained and best attention. 7) Seminary isn't. Seminary is a great thing, I loved it, but we should commission more leaders before they have a master's degree who have the gifts of the Spirit, and then train them later as situation and resources allow. There's an inverse correlation between the level of education in the leadership of denominations and their patterns of growth. 8) What we are experiencing is part of a larger national pattern. See Kenda Creasy Dean's Almost Christian. There's a parasite, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, that now passes for the Christian gospel in most denominations, even the most vibrant, so the battle we are engaged in is a shared battle even in other somewhat growing or vitalized denominations. || Those are my theses, all strung together without spaces because FB forces a new post every time you hit return.

Holy Week

Every Sunday in worship the church celebrates the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit gathers us to receive again the gifts of God that come to us through Christ, the saving Word. On several key days at the center of the church year, however, worship takes a particular shape. These central days have come to be known as the Three Days, recalling Jesus' own words to his disciples that he would be handed over to death, and that "after three days he will rise again" (Mark 10:34). The three days encompass the time from Maundy Thursday evening through the evening of Easter Day. In particular, the services of Maundy Thursday (7 p.m.), Good Friday (8 p.m.), and Easter morning (8 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.) unfold in a single movement, as the church each year makes the passage with Christ through death into life.

Maundy Thursday--On this night we begin the Three Days during which we participate once again in the saving power of Jesus' passing over from death into life. The Maundy Thursday service includes the words of Jesus' new commandment (mandatum, from which Maundy comes) to love one another. As a sign of our calling to follow Jesus' example of humility and service, children participating in the communion class this year will wash one another's feet as Jesus washed the disciples' feet. On this night in which Jesus was handed over to death we also gather around the Lord's supper. At the service's conclusion, the altar area may be stripped of furnishings as a sign of Jesus' abandonment.

Good Friday--This service continues the journey through the Three Days of Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection At the heart of this service is the passion reading according to John, which celebrates Christ's victory on the cross. As Jesus draws all people to himself, we pray for the whole world for which Christ died. Finally, we honor the cross as the sign of forgiveness, healing, and salvation. With all God's people we are invited to bow before this mystery of faith. Christ has died, so that we may live.

[Easter Vigil- coming soon, 2012]

Easter Day--Perhaps the day of the Resurrection of our Lord is best thought of as a superb regular Sunday service. This morning is the culmination of the Three Days, a festive celebration of the eschatological hope for the fulfillment of God's promises. We proclaim, "Jesus Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!"

~ Adapted from ELW

Sunday, April 10, 2011

It's in the genes

 As one pastor's contribution to conversation in preparation for a vote at ELCA Churchwide Assembly, I offer these notes and review.

1) Before reading the proposed statement, I had assumed that it would address embryonic stem cell research directly, at least in some fashion. It does not. I bet many who read the title of the document assume a social statement on genetics would focus on stem cell research. However, one of the implementing resolutions reads: "To direct the Theological Discernment Section of the Office of the Bishop in late 2013 to bring an assessment of the feasibility of developing a social message on hESC research to the ELCA Church Council for consideration" (1276). The only other surprise to me in reading that was to learn that we have a Theological Discernment Section of the Office of the Bishop. News to me.

2) Human cloning is discussed, in my opinion the other hot button issue when it comes to discussions of ethics and genetics. I have a special interest in this topic because I'm a sci-fi nerd, and I wonder what will happen once human cloning becomes a regular and straightforward possibility, something I think is inevitable. On this one, I think the social statement drops the ball in a major way, because it sets up a tragic conflict of interest. Here's what it says:

"As a matter of respect, however, the ELCA affirms the widely held rejection of research into human reproductive cloning because of the unacceptable risk of harm to experimental subjects. This church will continue to reject human reproductive cloning as a matter of respect even if it becomes safe and economically feasible. A person should not be treated as a means to another person's end. Cloning for the sake of repeating another individual's genotype violates this standard. Aims other than the replication of identity may be possible, but they are not compelling today.

However, if individuals are cloned despite societal and ELCA rejection, this church will respect their God-given dignity and will welcome them to the baptismal font like any other child of God" (694-701).

Try reading this from the perspective of a person who is a clone. The social statement says, "People shouldn't have made you, but now, fine, whatever, we'll baptize you even though they shouldn't have cloned you in the first place." This is simply an untenable formulation, and it needs to be struck from the social statement. Whatever is included in the social statement needs to be more sensitive to the situation of future cloned persons. Clones, like twins, are people too, plain and simple.

3) The proposed statement says that rostered leaders should gain a basic knowledge of genetics. It's not clear to me what level constitutes "basic," and I'd love guidance on what precisely to study. So I was hearted to see that one of the implementing resolutions was to compile lists of resources in synods, etc (1260). Regular readers of this blog will know I love bibliographies. For my part, I'll keep reading some good science fiction and science writing every year.

4) I quite like and appreciate the central thesis of the document. In the "executive summary," it reads: "The ethical imperative today is to respect and promote the community of life with justice and wisdom" (3). That's a good sentence, a theological restatement of the golden rule, and each term is elucidated to show how it shapes and directs ethical reflection on genetics. I've tried to memorize the sentence so I can apply it when reflecting on genetics and science topics.

5) The best sentence in the whole document is this one, "The Word became flesh and took on a human genome." That's true, provocative, surprising, and fresh. I liked it in the draft, and I'm glad they kept it for the final proposed social statement. It will in all likelihood find its way into a sermon some time soon. As an intriguing theological caveat, might it be that this is a good explanation for why Jesus didn't have biological children. No God genome passed on...

6) I continue to be proud of "this church" for its commitment to attending to and empowering marginalized voices. The proposed social statement is correct in pointing out that "public dialogue and moral deliberation on questions of genetic research and its application would be greatly enhanced if more people were included and empowered to participate" (318-320). We should "encourage the development of means to enable marginalized voices to be heard in public policy debates" (996). Amen. I have a feeling the sci-fi community is right on this one, and that developments in genetic science will pose grave risks for even greater levels of marginalization than heretofore known. See my point two above on cloning!

7) Another intriguing assertion: "This church believes the use of any technology should be subject to moral assessment" (350). So does this mean we'll start work on social statements on technology, media, computers, cars, etc.? Interesting. I'm game!

8) I was heartened to see one of my favorite doctrines of creation make it into the statement. Most people know the church teaches that God created "in the beginning." Less know that God is about the business of continually creating, creatio continua. Here's how the statement reads, "God's action is not confined to a series of events in the past. God creates continually, orchestrating an interplay between the laws of nature and contingent events to create and sustain all that exists" (393-). Genes are just one amazing and complex example of this creatio continua. If you're reading this and you're a preacher, bone up on creatio continua and sneak it into a sermon very, very soon.

9) Finally, the proposed social statement encourages readers not to be resigned in the face of the overwhelming complexity and forbidding nature of genetic science (473). It encourages us to confront this resignation head on, but doesn't offer advice on the how. Here's my pastoral suggestion. Might the best antidote to resignation, complacency, or negligence, be sheer wonder and awe before the majesty of God's ordering of life through genetic means in the first place? The best antidote for acedia and its kin is beauty, and genes are beautiful. We shouldn't "have to" study genetics. Genetic science is so beautiful we should naturally be attracted to taking a look for ourselves.

In fact, an insight like this last one is sort of lacking from the social statement in its proposed form, unless I overlooked something. Maybe it needs a little sentence like, "And isn't it beautiful!?"

 In all likelihood I will post a second review of the document after we discuss it in a proposed forum with the half dozen scientists who attend our congregation who work in genetics-related areas at the university.

If the sermon today inspired you to learn more about Bonhoeffer

These are my top recommendations for those interested in learning more about Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography, by Eberhard Bethge. Bonhoeffer's original biographer and close friend.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance, by Ferdinand Schlingensiepen. A shorter "update" of Bethge making use of more contemporary research.

Bonhoeffer - Agent of Grace [VHS]: A PBS documentary

Bonhoeffer, another movie, this one with direction and footage with friends and family members.

Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 5): This is the fifth volume in Fortress Press's magisterial complete works of Bonhoeffer in English. It might be the most accessible volume, LT is about life together as a seminary at the confessing church seminary Bonhoeffer led. The volume also includes his commentary on the psalms. This may be a bit more approachable than his more difficult, if more famous, Discipleship (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 4)

Bonhoeffer's theology developed over time, and it is worth reading his late work, especially Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 8) or Ethics (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 6). The first is a book assembled by Bethge after Bonhoeffer's martyrdom. The second was the last book he worked on (but did not have the chance to finish) in the final years of his life. Both are seminal, and are where I will be devoting my reading energy in the next couple of months.

Note that I do not list Eric Metaxas's Bonhoeffer biography here--although it is on the best-seller list, I consider it to be too full of historical inaccuracies, and an attempt to make Bonhoeffer something different than he really way. Bethge and Schlingensiepen are much more solid choices in biographies.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Heaven is a place on earth, for real

I think Belinda Carlisle wrote the song, and I doubt the song means exactly what I'm outlining here, but the title at least is a helpful start (in fact, I just googled the lyrics and read them... some of them will resonate with this post, others will not).

For various reasons, I keep ending up in conversations around a popular book on near-death experiences, Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back . I have not read the book, so won't comment on the content of it, but will say that as a result of books like this (of which there are many) I have repeatedly had conversations with parishioners, neighbors, and various humans about life-after-death, near death experiences, and the status of those who have died and now rest with God.

One would think Christians would have clarity on this topic, since it is a dominant motif in our Scripture and creeds. But it seems we do not. In point of fact, almost everyone I meet seems to have a conception of heaven and the after-life that is much more informed by Plato's concept of the soul and the mythological Elysian Fields than the biblical witness concering Christian eschatology.

So, in what follows, I will lay out as starkly and crisply as possible what Christians do and should believe about life after death and heaven.

1. "Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven": It might help us, first of all, to stop talking about going to heaven when we die, and instead talk about God's kingdom coming, when heaven and earth will be united. We pray for this in the Lord's Prayer. It is also the dominant image in, for example, Revelation, where at the end of all things, the New Jerusalem descends onto the earth. The kingdom, the city, and God, are on the way here. We confess in the creed, "Christ will come again." Any near-death experiences need to be scrutinized in the light of this confession and the biblical witness, because they seem to imply a different conceptuality. I simply don't believe in so-called near death experiences as accurate confessions of the after life from a Christian perspective, nor do I need them as the foundation for hope in the resurrection. They cast more shadow than light.

2. "I believe in the resurrection of the body": We don't believe in the transmigration of souls. We don't confess that at death our soul is finally released from the body to float off to somewhere else. Instead, on the last day, all will stand before God, and the bodily will take on immortality, etc. (see 1 Corinthians 15, for example). Somehow, like a seed planted in the ground, our bodies will die and then be raised to participation through Christ in the life of God. And we believe and confess this because Jesus Christ himself was raised "in the flesh." He ate fish. Thomas touched him. The tomb, we must remember, was empty.

3. "Eternal life is life in God, in Christ, in the Spirit--and we don't go to live with God, God comes to live with us": God does not save creation for heaven; God renews the earth. "The earth is the stage of God's coming kingdom, and so resurrection into God's kingdom is the hope of this earth" (Moltmann, 72).

4. "Jesus was raised from the dead": Maybe this seems obvious, but it seems to be overlooked in most conversations on the subject. We seem to assume that we can talk about life after death apart from Jesus, as if the power to live on after death is innate in us somehow. It's obvious we can't die, right? By emphasizing that it is Jesus who has been raised from the dead, and placing our confidence in resurrection only in his resurrection, we simply entrust all aspects of life after death that we don't thoroughly understand to the one who is trustworthy. God has raised Christ, the first fruits of those who have died, and we can trust that in Christ we too shall rise, and in no other way or by no other means should we have that kind of confidence (see Romans 8).

5. "The hope for the resurrection of the dead is not an answer to the human yearning for immortality; it is a response to the hunger for righteousness and justice" (Sun of Righteousness, Arise!: God's Future for Humanity and the Earth, Jürgen Moltmann, 41). Notice that the Old Testament doesn't mention saving your soul, ever. We aren't actually concerned about the salvation of souls or free trips to paradise. As God's church we are called to be the advance guard of God's coming kingdom into the world. We can't see heaven because we aren't supposed to. We're called to keep our eyes on this world, caring for the poor, being merciful, seeking truth and justice, in anticipation of God's coming kingdom. We do not pray for escape from this world but endurance in and for this world, in the manner of Christ.


After all of this, typically one last question remains. Something like, But what about those who have already died? Where are they? This is an important question. We grieve, and are concerned about those who have died. My answer: Trust God, trust Christ. They are in God's hands. Perhaps it is like sleep until the resurrection. I'm not sure. However, if you prefer to grasp hold of something more concrete, here's the medicine I recommend:

"Before the face of God time is not counted... Hence the first man Adam is as close to Him as will be the last to be born before the Final Day. For God seeth time not according to its length but athwart it, transversely" (Martin Luther). "The eschatological moment takes place throughout and across time, diachronically... from the hour of death until the resurrection to eternal life is only a moment" (Moltmann).

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Scripture for the moment your government can't pass a budget

Federal budgets are not my area of expertise. However, the prophets when they addressed Israel were not addressing the church per se--at least in part they were addressing their own government. The following text seems to speak to the moment, a word directed to the nation and government as a whole, and directed at me, and us, as well. When you're at an impasse, maybe a dude like Isaiah needs to be heard. Listen up.

   “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
   and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
   and break every yoke?
   Is it not to share your food with the hungry
   and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
   and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

   Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
   and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
   Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
   you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”

Isaiah 58-6-9

Biker Blessing

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church Parking Lot
Fayetteville, Arkansas
May 7th, 2011; 11 a.m.

-- (Total time: about 10 minutes, following donuts and coffee)

Pastor: Friends in Christ: Today we give thanks to God and we seek God's blessing as we gather to bless these bikes and riders to the praise and glory of God.

Scripture, Job 40:9: "Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?"

Brief (2 minute) meditation by pastor: God's Thunder and the Road

Song: Canticle for Departure, from Heartland Liturgy, Jonathan Rundman (pastor on guitar and sings it for group)

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.

Let us pray.
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, ruler of the universe. You made the whole earth for your glory; all creation praises you. We lift our voices to join the songs of heaven and earth, of things seen and unseen.

You stretched out heavens like a tent; you divided the day from the night; you appointed times and seasons for work and rest, for tearing down and building up. You blessed your people through all generations and guided them in life and death: Abraham and Sarah; Moses and Miriam; Isaiah and all the prophets; Mary, mother of our Lord; Peter, James, John, and all the apostles; and all the saints and witnesses of ages past, in whom your Spirit spoke and moved.

We give you thanks, O God, as we set apart this group of motorcyclists to your glory and praise. Grant us faith to know your gracious purpose in all things, give us joy in them, and lead us to the building up of your kingdom; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

The blessing of almighty God, the Father, the + Son, and the Holy Spirit, be with us all.

All y'all, start your engines.

Sermon Series on the Small Catechism--Audio recordings

Throughout Lent our congregation has observed the season with a specific Wednesday pattern. First a soup supper, then the singing of Holden Evening Prayer, special music written by and performed by our musicians connected to the theme for the evening, then a reading or performance of one section of the Small Catechism by our confirmation youth, and finally a sermon on each section.

You can listen to the audio of these sermons here:

I think listeners will find them to be fresh and inspiring. This last week, I talked about what it is like for Lutherans to live in the land of Baptists, and how to be a good neighbor in that context. Let me know what you think.

** Please note that it takes a few seconds or even minutes before the audio loads and begins to play.

William Barclay on Universalism


by William Barclay

Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at Glasgow University and the author of many Biblical commentaries and books, including a translation of the New Testament, "Barclay New Testament," and "The Daily Study Bible Series."

I am a convinced universalist. I believe that in the end all men will be gathered into the love of God. In the early days Origen was the great name connected with universalism. I would believe with Origen that universalism is no easy thing. Origen believed that after death there were many who would need prolonged instruction, the sternest discipline, even the severest punishment before they were fit for the presence of God. Origen did not eliminate hell; he believed that some people would have to go to heaven via hell. He believed that even at the end of the day there would be some on whom the scars remained. He did not believe in eternal punishment, but he did see the possibility of eternal penalty. And so the choice is whether we accept God's offer and invitation willingly, or take the long and terrible way round through ages of purification.
Gregory of Nyssa offered three reasons why he believed in universalism. First, he believed in it because of the character of God. "Being good, God entertains pity for fallen man; being wise, he is not ignorant of the means for his recovery." Second, he believed in it because of the nature of evil. Evil must in the end be moved out of existence, "so that the absolutely non-existent should cease to be at all." Evil is essentially negative and doomed to non-existence. Third, he believed in it because of the purpose of punishment. The purpose of punishment is always remedial. Its aim is "to get the good separated from the evil and to attract it into the communion of blessedness." Punishment will hurt, but it is like the fire which separates the alloy from the gold; it is like the surgery which removes the diseased thing; it is like the cautery which burns out that which cannot be removed any other way.
But I want to set down not the arguments of others but the thoughts which have persuaded me personally of universal salvation.
First, there is the fact that there are things in the New Testament which more than justify this belief. Jesus said: "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will drawall men to myself" (John 12:32). Paul writes to the Romans: "God has consigned all men to disobedience that he may have mercy on all" (Rom. 11:32). He writes to the Corinthians: "As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22); and he looks to the final total triumph when God will be everything to everyone (1 Cor. 15:28). In the First Letter to Timothy we read of God "who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth," and of Christ Jesus "who gave himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tim 2:4-6). The New Testament itself is not in the least afraid of the word all.
Second, one of the key passages is Matthew 25:46 where it is said that the rejected go away to eternal punishment, and the righteous to eternal life. The Greek word for punishment is kolasis, which was not originally an ethical word at all. It originally meant the pruning of trees to make them grow better. I think it is true to say that in all Greek secular literature kolasis is never used of anything but remedial punishment. The word for eternal is aionios. It means more than everlasting, for Plato - who may have invented the word - plainly says that a thing may be everlasting and still not be aionios. The simplest way to out it is thataionios cannot be used properly of anyone but God; it is the word uniquely, as Plato saw it, of God. Eternal punishment is then literally that kind of remedial punishment which it befits God to give and which only God can give.
Third, I believe that it is impossible to set limits to the grace of God. I believe that not only in this world, but in any other world there may be, the grace of God is still effective, still operative, still at work. I do not believe that the operation of the grace of God is limited to this world. I believe that the grace of God is as wide as the universe.
Fourth, I believe implicitly in the ultimate and complete triumph of God, the time when all things will be subject to him, and when God will be everything to everyone (1 Cor. 15:24-28). For me this has certain consequences. If one man remains outside the love of God at the end of time, it means that that one man has defeated the love of God - and that is impossible. Further, there is only one way in which we can think of the triumph of God. If God was no more than a King or Judge, then it would be possible to speak of his triumph, if his enemies were agonizing in hell or were totally and completely obliterated and wiped out. But God is not only King and Judge, God is Father - he is indeed Father more than anything else. No father could be happy while there were members of his family for ever in agony. No father would count it a triumph to obliterate the disobedient members of his family. The only triumph a father can know is to have all his family back home. The only victory love can enjoy is the day when its offer of love is answered by the return of love. The only possible final triumph is a universe loved by and in love with God.

[Quoted from William Barclay: A Spiritual Autobiography, pg 65-67, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1977.]

Monday, April 04, 2011

Guidebook: LWF together | LWF Youth Blog

Thrilled that we have a group participating in this awesome LWF Youth program. Young adults from around the world share in youth ministry, life, faith, and justice.

Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church

Kenda Creasy Dean opens this book with these bracing words:

"Let me save you some trouble. Here is the gist of what you are about to read: American young people are, theoretically, fine with religious faith--but it does not concern them very much, and it is not durable enough to survive long after they graduate from high school.

One more thing: we're responsible." (3)

This is the book I plan to recommend that our whole congregation read this summer. I think it is the most important book to be published about faith and the church in a very long time, and I'm praying now that we will all read it carefully and take it to heart.

Dean offers some words of hope that her book details more carefully as you read it. She writes:

"The predicament described in this book--namely, that American young people are unwittingly being formed into an imposter faith that poses as Christianity, but that in fact lacks the holy desire and missional clarity necessary for Christian discipleship--will not be solved by youth ministry or by persuading teenagers to commit more wholeheartedly to lackluster faith. Most teenagers seem quite content with maintaining what the sociologist Tim Clydesdale alls a 'semireligious' position after they graduate from high school, and most churches seem happy to leave it at that. At issue is our ability, and our willingness, to remember our identity as the Body of Christ, and to heed Christ's call to love him and love others as his representatives in the world" (6).

Will you read it with me this summer?

Sunday, April 03, 2011

What was I thinking?!

I had an aha! moment yesterday. It occurred to me that any time I'm talking "missional" church (and I'm almost at the point where I want to jettison the term because I think it has become vacuous), I'm thinking about reaching individuals, or nuclear families, whereas I know from study in missiology that missions often reaches whole groups or tribes, not individuals.

Is it possible that this is one of the primary reasons that even though the church is trying to be missional, by and large it's failing? We're trying to be missional in an attractional way, attracting individuals or small families, rather than converting whole tribes. We're trying to participate in God's mission, but on our terms.

What does it mean to convert a tribe? Of course, we know some of the history of how that went, and the dangers. We do well to be careful. But I think there are some authentic and faithful ways to reach tribes with the gospel, and not just individuals.

And by tribes, I simply mean groups. I know groups of people who would probably only be open to faith in Christ if it was happening with their whole group. They don't plan to leave their clan. They share faith, whatever that faith is. I probably even belong to at least a few clans or tribes like this. Just try to get me to give up my Mac. Or indie music. Even my participation in church is like this. I'm fiercely loyal, and I wouldn't leave the ELCA unless the ELCA left the ELCA, and then I would probably go with them, wherever they go.

If you want to be on God's mission and reach a people group that really hasn't experienced the benefit of faith in Christ, what group would you reach? Why? How would you do it? That's the aha! question that has me thinking this week.

Friday, April 01, 2011

How I Spent Last Week

In my first month as pastor in Fayetteville I posted a summary of a week. Then, new baby arrived, and everything went wacky and awesome. Now, post-paternity leave and three months into ministry at GSLC, I thought it might be informative and helpful to post another summary week.

Thursday- Marriage care conversation with a couple. Final preparations for Sunday worship and preaching. Wrote publicity for our Contemporary Worship Leader position that is opening up in June. Visits to two homebound members, including a nursing home and the VA, plus lunch with a Stephen's Minister who visits the nursing home.
Friday- Sabbath, family road trip to Tulsa Zoo and Siloam Spring
Saturday- Hospital visit, family time as compensation for many upcoming Saturdays full of church events, and during naps and evening finished the preaching helps for the Book of Faith Advent Year B study; also read The LutheranPro Ecclesia and The Christian Century.
Sunday- Morning worship, follow-up phone calls and care calls, reading and preparation for next weekend's council/staff retreat. Published blog post on Rob Bell's book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.
Monday- Six hours of one-on-ones with our staff, working on alignment and vision; phone calls and notes organizing upcoming Maundy Thursday communion class.

Tuesday- Staff meeting, proofing new letterhead and logo, photo with newspaper for Faith Matters Saturday column, lunch with team from church interested in deepening our media ministry (video, web site, advertising, etc.), Memorial Committee meeting, Bible study, finished worship helps for Book of Faith, project completed!
Wednesday- Studied material for upcoming synod assembly, Stephen's Ministry coordinator summer training, and Scientists in Congregation grant and ELCA Genetics Social Statement; initial drafts of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter services; evening soup supper, Holden Evening Prayer, sermon on the Lord's Prayer, meeting with couple to plan June wedding; two nights this week prayed Compline with the St. Matthew's group on Second Life

Interspersed through here, although I can't remember precisely when, I read three books (Sticky Teams: Keeping Your Leadership Team and Staff on the Same PageDietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of ResistanceMarshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work!), wrote two sermons, had many impromptu conversations, wrote some thank you notes, invested prayer and conceptual energy in mission development, etc.

Hoping posting this offers insight for those curious how a pastor spends his or her week, or at least how I do; it's also helpful for me as an examen of where I'm investing time and energy.

God bless you.