Lutheran Magazine

The Lutheran

The Lutheran magazine belongs to the people of the ELCA in all our diversity. The magazine nurtures awareness of Christ's presence in our lives and the world, shares stories of God's people living their faith, connects us with the global Christian community, provides an open forum for discussion and challenges us to bring God's grace and care to all.
  • Christians have been using the word ‘Allah’ for 2,000 years even before the advent of Islam. If we, the Arab Christians, can use the word ‘Allah’ in the heart of the Muslim and Arab world, peacefully and without any controversy, it is very difficult for me to understand why Malaysian Christians cannot use it.  Munib Younan, Lutheran World Federation president and bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, in a Nov. 5, 2013, letter to Lutheran Church in Malaysia Bishop Aaron Yap and other leaders.  On Jan. 2 the Selangor [Malaysia] State Islamic Department seized more than 300 Malay and Iban-language Bibles during a raid of the Bible Society of Malaysia’s offices — an action that drew protests from Christians and those of other faiths in Malaysia and the U.S. At issue is who can use Allah, the Arabic word for God. In Malaysia and other countries where the local language is infused with Arabic words, Lutheran and other Christian communities have always used Allah to mean God. ELCA stands with them ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton wrote Feb. 5 to the Council of Churches in Malaysia, saying the ELCA “stands with the Christian community in Malaysia and together with all Malaysian citizens who stand for justice and freedom of religious belief and expression.”  The Al-Kitab (Bible) seizures and threats by extremists are a “blatant and aggressive attack on the moral and multicultural fabric of Malaysian society,” Eaton wrote. That the confiscation violates the religious freedom provided by the Malaysian constitution is “particularly disturbing,” she added.    Eaton said the “actions, aided and abetted by the police, are further breaches of the Malaysian government’s 10-point solution announced in April 2011, which stated that Christians can import, print and distribute the Al-Kitab under certain conditions, all of which have been complied with by [the Bible Society of Malaysia].”  Lutheran indigenous people are the most affected by the confiscations, said Philip Lok, ELCA regional representative for Southeast Asia and China and former bishop of the Lutheran Church in Malaysia.

  • As a formerly incarcerated person, Kim Wilkins knows the challenges. Finding stable employment, often a parole or probation requirement, “takes effort,” said Wilkins, a member of Bethel Lutheran Church, Chicago. “You have really got to want it.” The job search can be intimidating for people leaving prison or jail with few skills and little education. After serving their time, they enter a world where employers may refuse to hire them, public housing is denied to them, and only a minimal safety net exists to aid their reintegration into society. The help they need to reintegrate is often inadequate, when it exists at all. Wilkins’ story is far from unique. In 1980 about 470,000 people were released from prisons. By 2008 that number had climbed to 735,454, says Michael Pinard, a law professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. The steep rise in the number of people incarcerated led the ELCA in 2013 to adopt the social statement “The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries” (www.elca.org/socialstatements). The statement encourages congregations to minister with and advocate for people in the criminal justice system, including returning citizens whose economic prospects are bleak. Research indicates that people who have been incarcerated are less likely to find stable employment and earn up to 40 percent less money during their lifetimes than those never incarcerated — even when wages lost during incarceration aren’t considered. Incarceration makes economic mobility (growth in wages over a lifetime of working) a near-impossibility, says Bruce Western, a sociologist at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. After people have served their sentence, they remain vulnerable to joblessness, poverty and homelessness for years to come.  Today many religious institutions, nonprofits and public officials question why so many barriers to reintegration exist for returning citizens. Why do so many people leave incarceration only to enter a world of poverty? One factor is the stigma that follows conviction. Not only do former prisoners often lack job-competitive skills, they are hampered by the reluctance of employers to hire them. Recognizing the importance of “allowing people with a conviction history to compete fairly for employment without compromising safety and security on the job,” Roger Dickinson of the California Assembly authored a bill to prevent government agencies from collecting criminal background information on initial employment applications.  State laws may also prevent returning citizens from working in certain professions. That can include nearly 800 professions ranging from barber to social worker, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. Such collateral consequences — civil penalties that follow arrest or conviction — are a significant obstacle and nearly as debilitating as incarceration. Other significant sanctions include eviction from public housing; denial of voting rights (sometimes for life); and ineligibility for food stamps or small-business, housing and education loans. Some sanctions may apply even without a criminal conviction. In New York City, execution of a search warrant, even without arrest or conviction, can lead to eviction from public housing. While many argue that it’s in the public’s best interest to prevent certain offenders from working in particular occupations, these sanctions often do little to protect public safety, according to the American Bar Association. This glut of sanctions that don’t bear a relationship to crimes led the ELCA to conclude in its social statement that “the majority of [collateral consequences] are unjust.” Researchers find that, far from protecting the public, by denying access to welfare programs and housing and permitting employment discrimination, state laws may place pressure on returning citizens to re-offend, especially in regard to drug and property crimes. The very penalties said to deter crime may actually lead to increased crime and decreased safety in communities.

  • In 2010, I was part of the Northeastern Ohio Synod/Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown pilgrimage to Germany and Italy. We visited Martin Luther sites and then traveled to Rome. It was an interesting experience to be in the places that formed our spiritual identities in the company of those who, in our respective narratives, had the role of the “other,” or even the “enemy,” during and after the Reformation. But we came to a deeper respect and appreciation for each other’s tradition by being pilgrims together. All of us were asked what the most memorable part of the trip was. For me that moment came after I was home. The last day in Rome I caught a lulu of a cold. As I lay in bed the Friday after we returned searching the TV for a football game, I came across a televangelist. I was mesmerized. He was preaching to a packed house in a converted NBA coliseum. His text was from Matthew 21, the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree, the disciples’ wonderment at Jesus’ authority and Jesus’ teaching about faith being able to move mountains. The televangelist’s exegesis (explanation) of the passage led him to conclude that Jesus said we must “speak to the mountain” — prayer was not enough. If we wanted a better job we needed to “speak to that mountain” and all the heavenly forces would be set in motion. Poor health? Fear of foreclosure? Troubled marriage? “Speak to that mountain” and get it fixed. Wow. When my father was dying why didn’t I speak to that mountain? When Paul prayed three times that the thorn in his flesh be taken away, why didn’t he speak to that mountain? Here it was, the “Name It and Claim It Health and Wealth Gospel.” The people in that arena were cheering. At that point I remembered our stop at the Flossenburg concentration camp in Germany. This is where theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was brutally executed just before the end of World War II: Bonhoeffer who spoke against “cheap grace” or what I have come to call “entitlement grace”; Bonhoeffer who in his ministry and death experienced the costly grace of discipleship. 

  • I have long thought that scientists who deserve our highest admiration are individuals blessed with sophisticated minds, brilliant intellects, meticulous scientific methods and notable achievements. But they also possess another special quality. They have a capacity to be awed. They meet mysteries they can’t solve. They ask questions that reveal beauty. They are stunned by the intricate majesty of the universe.  Listen closely to outstanding scientists. They share how little they know in the midst of how much they know. Listen closely to deep believers. They testify to how much they trust in the midst of how little they can verify.  The rift between religion and science often gets painted with larger brushstrokes than seems necessary. Public debates on science vs. religion, and creationism vs. evolution, attract broad attention. Were these debates capable of generating heat and light from all the energy they expended, we might end our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels. Strident arguments get aired. Camps develop. To even use the word “debate” implies a fundamental incompatibility between two realms. It should come as no surprise that strong passions get stirred in communities where compartmentalized thinking reigns.  Certain public school districts in pockets of the country have moved to prohibit the use of various science textbooks. Proponents fear that the textbook content might conflict with matters of faith. Specifically, they worry about the Genesis creation account getting undermined. It’s hard to believe that any ancient writer would have penned the Genesis story for the sake of recording good science. If that was the author’s intent, he (or they) failed miserably. The early chapters of Genesis make for lousy empirical science. Not that this has kept numbers of Christians from trying to cram every dinosaur jawbone, distant galaxy and Grand Canyon formation into the span of the last 6,000 years. The Genesis story was never meant to tell us how the world was created. It is rather a masterful treatise for informing us who created this floating orb in its magnificent universe. From the story, we learn that God appreciates beauty, design and order over ugliness, nonsense and chaos. One doesn’t have to tread far into Scripture before discovering that humans were created for relationship with God and one another. These convictions of faith are hardly at the heart of scientific inquiry.

  • It is up to usThe “Church of the future” authors (March, page 14) state, “We begin with the obvious: insofar as both the church and the future belong to God, the church will ‘look’ like whatever God intends or desires it to.” Really? It will look like whatever God intends? Sounds like predestination to me. Why then do we need to discern ourselves with this matter? The church will be and look like, as stated in the next paragraph, that “as disciples of Christ, we trust and live and worship and serve and do our best to discern what ‘church’ ” the future needs. It is up to us to analyze, plan and evolve a church that is meaningful and effective in spreading the gospel. Let’s pray that this future church is acceptable to God. Gil HolocherCincinnati   Old heresyPeter W. Marty’s advocacy of the old heresy of universalism is heartbreaking (March, page 4). If the editor believed in the doctrines of the church, he would suspend Marty immediately. If the presiding bishop loved her church she would start the process of defrocking him tomorrow. Neither of these will happen. The leaders of the ELCA are so lukewarm and lazy that they will sniff at their critics and pretend that they are not tolerating a debilitating old heresy but are actually breaking new theological ground. Henry PoetkerTaylorsville, N.C.   BravoMarty has given us the reminder that we all need to heed: “Christ is bigger that our imagination” and “we are not given permission to shrink the cross to suit our own version of God.” This is most certainly true. Betty BerggrenLindsborg, Kan.   OopsIt appears that Marty accidentally submitted his “Who gets saved?” column to The Lutheran when he surely must have intended it for publication in a Unitarian Universalist periodical. How careless. The Rev. Elna L. StrattonOrwigsburg, Pa.   Keep it comingMarty does it again. In the tradition of both the Marty family and the family of God at large, he reflects and speaks for the living Christ. All too seldom do denominations have spokespeople who validate inclusivity in the Christian church and particularly from the historic Lutheran tradition. His reflections, just as his father Martin E. Marty’s, continue to be a must read for all and, quite frankly, are what keep many of us as readers of The Lutheran and working hard on also following Christ. T. Lance HolthusenBrooklyn Park, Minn.   Good insightI found the February issue to be filled with faith-inspiring stories and study guides. Most useful were the articles and study guide on women’s issues. The magazine is moving in the right direction with the focus on eradicating discrimination in also highlighting some of the earlier socially acceptable concerns on how women are/were viewed. Victimization in psychological and physical abuse issues has too long placed the ill-conceived blame on women. Thank you for your insight. Judy MullaneGlen Rock, N.J.   Range of diversityClearly the ELCA should warmly welcome people of all races (February, page 50). There are also other types of diversity. Wikipedia states that the ELCA is a broad denomination containing socially conservative and liberal factions that emphasize liturgical renewal, confessional Lutheranism, charismatic revivalism, moderate to liberal theology and liberal activism. Divergence (a form of diversity) on gay ordination has led to another Balkanization (a potential result of diversity) of American Lutherans. Politically, surveys indicate that the laity splits evenly between 45 percent Democrat and 43 percent Republican, yet clergy are 69 percent Democrat and 19 percent Republican, revealing another diversity gap within the ELCA.  Eric OlsonNew York City   Time is rightThe column on diversity was a welcome recognition of the work we still need to do as church. It is important that we come to grips with the truth that in 25 years we have hardly moved the needle on truly including people of color and people whose primary language is other than English in the life of the ELCA. It was also helpful to hear the emphasis clearly placed where it needs to be, on a system that needs to be challenged. Now the real work begins. Many have been waiting for a long time for a change in the church around issues of race. Some have even begun to despair. Thank you, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton, for your leadership. May we do these things together. The Revs. Marilyn Miller and David SchoobGreater Milwaukee SynodAnti-racism Team   Good workI am tardy in telling you how excellent the October issue was. The articles promoting tolerance (page 20) were well done, timely and thought-provoking. I read each issue of The Lutheran cover to cover even if it takes me a while. Keep up the good work. Nancy CaldwellArgyle, Wis.   Believe what you willThanks for the “Editor notes” in each issue. The data on evolution (February, page 4) was very interesting. In one way the evolution arguments are a nonissue. People can embrace whatever ideas they wish, but it doesn’t change the evidence. For those unwilling to accept what has become obvious from studies in geology, paleoanthropology, anatomy and genetics, little can be done to change their way of thinking. Doubters are free to live with their own myths. David RoslienDecorah, Iowa