14 August 2009

How to NOT Win Friends and Influence People

Got my first mass e-mail related to the upcoming ELCA Churchwide Assembly this morning. Here you go:
Dear Pastor, or, rostered Church Leader,

Our Lord says, Ps. 50.15 “Call upon Me in the day of trouble and I will deliver thee.” May I request that you consider the following thoughts, as you prepare your prayers for our ELCA brethren in their hour of trial.

O Lord Who married Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, and promised them a Savior after they fell, Who delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, Who raised up Dr. Martin Luther to reform the Church, we pray that during the ELCA Assembly, You would raise up and grant grace to all, who speak up and stand as witnesses for Your Holy Word.

O Lord, Luther in the Large Cathechism, encouraged us “constantly to cry unto” You “against all who preach and believe falsely”, and use Your Name “as a cover and pretense for their devilish doctrines.”

O Lord have mercy on all Your sheep who would be lead away from You by false teaching and raise up pastors after Your own heart who will protect Your flock from this evil.

O Lord we pray You would show mercy and turn those who have been deceived into proposing the Report of the Taskforce on Human Sexuality which attacks Your plan of marriage for men and women and turn them from their error to rejoin us in worshipping You rightly.

Finally, we pray for those tempted by homosexual desires, that they would not be deceived by false teaching which robs them of the forgiveness of their sins which Christ won for them on the Cross.

O Lord we pray all this in Jesus’ Name, Your Son and Our Lord
Yours in Christ,
Spammy J. Dreckington (not his real name)
Oh, how my head does hurt these days.

If I were going to write a response, here's how it might go:

Dear Spammy,

Greetings to you in the name of Christ our Savior.

I'm not exactly sure how you got my email. Your email does say that you used the 2009 Lutheran Annual, whatever that means - it might be the ELCA Directory, for all I know. I have a hard time believing that you accessed all those email addresses via some link at the ELCA website, which means, I think, that you must have entered the thousands of rostered leaders' email addresses manually. I guess, if nothing else, I can give you points for two things: sheer effort, and willingness to sign your name to your email.

I appreciate your concern for us as we gather in Assembly to see to the affairs of our denomination. This is a time of great anxiety for some in our church and some who, like yourself, believe that our discussions regarding human sexuality are problematic at best.

I take issue, sir, with some of the assertions within your letter. I am indeed praying for our friends who will soon be gathering in Minneapolis for our churchwide assembly. But I'm offended by your assertion that some of my good friends are somehow beyond salvation. The last I checked, we Lutherans believed wholeheartedly that it is God, not humanity, who has the final word on salvation; to presume to take that place is idolatry and blasphemy at its worst.

It is obvious that our churches are not of one mind when it comes to interpreting scripture regarding human sexuality. As a Lutheran, I'm sure you're familiar with the seventh article of the Augsburg Confession: "For the unity of the church, it is enough to agree on the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments." Funny: I don't see any mention of sexuality in that definition. Since we've already established that the gospel teaches that only God can declare what is righteous or unrighteous, then it seems to me we might want to be willing to consider that differing interpretations of human sexuality are within the realm of justified possibility.

I'm not saying what happens over the next week isn't important: it is very important. It's important to our brothers and sisters who support only the traditional understanding of sexuality and faithful family life. But it is also important to our brothers and sisters who are trying to be faithful to God as God has created them - and I, for one, am no longer willing to assume that I, and only I, know the definition of faithful Christian living better than they do.

You mention evil and false teaching in your letter. Frankly, sir, the only evil I've seen in all of this discussion has come from the extreme edge of the church that insists on the traditional understanding of sexuality. I haven't heard my gay and lesbian friends using words like "abomination" or "aberration" or "slippery slope." No one, to my knowledge, has ever insisted that "God Hates Straights." Over the past six years, I've been amazed to see the patience, graciousness and honesty displayed by those who believe the time has come for a change. While I'm not there personally yet, I've come to realize that the time for change may have come for our church, and I believe God's family is big enough to include a much wider array of interpretation than we once believed.

So, yes, I'll be praying for our brothers and sisters heading to Minneapolis. But I won't be praying pointedly, as you seem to be asking. I'll be praying for faithfulness, patience, honesty and strength for the entire assembly, and I invite you to do the same.

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Scott Johnson


  1. well goodness i missed this bulk email... *cheers & claps*... i'm afraid there will probably be more to come in the days ahead... wish it weren't so... how i wish, but i'm guessing those who cling to such adamant fear, will spread it like buckshot...

  2. Oh, please actually send your response!

    I will be curiously watching my email to see if I get such an email too.

  3. You're reacting to just one email like this? Try getting emails and letters constantly like this for the last several years of your life -- equally inflammatory/non-inflammatory, equally responsible/irresponsible on both sides.

    I'm not allowed to share details of stuff due to the gag order on TF members, but let's just say that some on the other side included illustrated materials... and advocacy for "triads."

    Enjoy! Welcome to my world! :)

  4. Triads? Nice.

    It just goes to show that the lunatic fringe on every side is creepy and abusive. I'm glad you were part of the TF, MS, because I'm sure you represented yourself and the whole church with dignity and grace, even when forced to disagree at times.