Tag Archives: heresy

The Heresy of the Charleston Shooter: Racism and Lutherans

The Charleston shooting is still heavy on our hearts and issues around race boiling over and over on social media. Here in Canada, we have been dealing with issues related to our (predominantly white and Christian) government’s relationship with indigenous peoples. Just this week, the premier of Manitoba apologized for the “60s Scoop” where thousands of aboriginal children were taken from their homes and given up for adoption to white families, often in other countries.

As a white Canadian, I am pulled to consider the role I play in passive racist systems. I have to acknowledge the privileges I enjoy because of my skin colour and the benefit of the doubt I receive because I don’t look “other.”

As a Christian, I am also moved to consider the role our faith plays in the suffering of marginalized peoples, and the ways in which the church has been tacitly and explicitly connected to racism.

However, the Charleston shooting hits particularly close to home as the suspected shooter (who I refuse to name) is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). I serve in the ELCA’s sister church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC). It not just that the shooter was a Lutheran. Our church bodies are so interconnected that I could have been the shooter’s pastor. There are number of Americans serving ELCIC churches that I count as friends. There are Canadian friends of mine serving in the ELCA. He could have been my parishioner.

And still again, Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, wrote in her pastoral letter following the shooting, “Mother Emanuel AME’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, as was the Rev. Daniel Simmons, associate pastor at Mother Emanuel.”

This incident is first and foremost a tragedy for the victims and their families, for the African American community, for South Carolina, for the US as a whole. But further down the list, it is also a Christian and, specifically, a Lutheran tragedy. 

And as Lutherans it is particularly troubling that the shooter sought to identify himself with the racist regimes in apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia. The shooter’s twisted view of race, clearly born in a larger system of racist thought, is something that Lutherans have indeed strongly and clearly condemned for decades.

Almost certainly the shooter did not know, probably nor cared to know, that the Lutheran World Federation in fact condemned apartheid in 1977. “A statement on “Southern Africa: Confessional Integritydeclared that the racial separation of the church in compliance with apartheid in Southern Africa constitutes a “status confessionis” (a basis in faith for churches to reject apartheid publicly and unequivocally).” And while Lutherans have a complicated history when it comes to racism with Hitler using some of Martin Luther’s writings to justify his actions, Lutherans during the past few decades have sought to clearly condemn racism, as they did in 1977.

To put this in perspective, the last time Lutherans added something to their confessions (collected statements of faith) was in the 1500s. The Lutheran World Federation thought it was so important to condemn the racist regimes of apartheid, that it made the issue a matter of faith, and those who practiced apartheid would be excommunicated.

The accused shooter’s views on apartheid and race, therefore, make him a Lutheran heretic. His views and actions have put him outside of fellowship with Lutheran church.

Lutherans are a people and community born out of excommunication, and it is very odd to turn those tables around. However, I think it bears understanding just how contrary to the core of our faith as Christians, and especially as Lutherans, that the events of Charleston are.

In the wake of this tragedy, I would expect bishops and pastors closer to the situation to make pastoral statements, expressing care and concern, sorrow and sadness, while also calling for healing and pointing to our source of hope – The One who was also murdered by oppressors and those in privilege.

However, I think that it needs to be said publicly, by pastors and other faith leaders, that the actions of the shooter last Wednesday night in Charleston were just as contrary to Christian faith as denying the Trinity or the divinity of Christ or any other heretical view.

The exclusion of someone based on the colour of their skin, gender, age, sexual orientation or otherwise is contrary to the gospel. 

Here is an anecdote to explain why:

When I was doing my pastoral internship in Calgary, Alberta, it was the in the 12 months just prior to 2008 financial crisis. Oil prices were booming. Housing was soaring. Rental units were impossible to find. The economy was firing on all cylinders.

But poverty was also soaring. The population of Calgary was growing very fast and 25% of the population was comprised of visible minorities. Poverty was growing, but in a new form. The ‘working poor’ became a new term.

Housing and the cost of living had become so expensive, that people with full time jobs couldn’t find housing and were living on the street. As a winter city,  Calgary churches and other organization were scrambling to find people shelter. Our congregation participated in a program called “Inn from the Cold”, where we provided cots and food for people to have a warm place over night. Many of the clients using the program were families where both parents were employed, but who couldn’t find affordable housing.

As a pastoral intern one of my regular duties was to help serve communion. It was during that year, having the chance to regularly serve communion – the body and blood of Christ, to that congregation, at that time, opened my eyes to the reality of God’s hope for the church.

Week after week, at the communion rail, people of all different kinds knelt with hands open to receive. There were rich oil executives, teachers, doctors, blue collar oil patch workers, single parents, unemployed people and even homeless people. There were young and old, men and women, and people of all different ethnicities.

It became clear to me, just as it was in 1977 to the Lutheran World Federation, that the Body of Christ cannot be limited by human categories. Regardless of gender, class, occupation or race, we are all equal before God. We are all kneeling beggars with our hands open to receive at the railing.

And this equality at the communion rail is a fundamental characteristic of the God’s grace for us. There is nothing about us, about human beings, that earned our place at the railing. And in fact, to suggest that something like skin colour would be a disqualifying characteristic, denies the very nature of God’s grace and mercy – a divine love – given wholly and freely by God with no condition.

That is why the Charleston shooter is a heretic. That is why he is to be excommunicated. His views on race contravene the very nature of God’s unconditional love for all humanity. 

Along side heavy hearts, conversations about race relations and renewed focus on gun violence, it also needs to be said that this tragedy committed in a church by a church member against other people of faith is tragic, deplorable and ultimately, heretical.


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The Heresy of Male Domination

St. Augustine and the Donatists
St. Augustine and the Donatists

A few days ago, blogger and author Tony Jones called for a Schism in the Church over the role of women, particularly that Christians who uphold an egalitarian view of men and women in the church leave and break fellowship with churches who uphold complementation views, or believe that women should submit to the authority and leadership of me in the home, in relationships and at church.

At the same time. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention and affiliated with the Centre for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, said that, egalitarian couples “preach a false gospel.”

[As a side note, Rachel Held Evans, noted that neither of these two have been called “divise”, one advocates schism, the other accuses a false gospel. She was famously called ‘divisive’ for simply asking why a Christian leadership conference with over 100 speakers only have 4 women.]

It is looks like the issue of the role of women in Christianity in North American, particularly among Evangelicals, is starting to boil.

Today, Tony Jones pulled back and said that schism was perhaps too harsh a word. I think he was right to do so. But I also think I know what he was trying to call for.

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) did it in 1977 in regards to Apartheid in South Africa. “The 1977 declaration of the Lutheran World Federation that apartheid constitutes a “status confessions,” this meaning that on the basis of faith and in order to manifest the unity of the church, churches should publicly and unequivocally reject existing apartheid systems.”

White South African churches were excluding Black South Africans. For the LWF, this wasn’t simply an issue of civil rights. This was a “gospel” issue. It was a gospel issue because those churches were denying the gospel to a particular group of people based on physical characteristic. The declaration is the only time Lutherans have agreed to add something to our confessions, to our unalterable doctrines of faith.

It just so happens that right around that time, many Lutheran bodies were beginning to ordain women. Co-incidence? I think not.

You see there is an important heresy that informed both the condemnation of Apartheid and the ordination of women.

Donatism.

Donatism was the claim that the moral character of a person affects the proclamation of the gospel and the means of grace. Or that only “good” or “special” or “saintly” or “chosen by God” people could lead worship, preside over the sacraments and proclaim the gospel.

The early church rejected Donatism. Martin Luther and the reformers condemned this heresy in the Augsburg Confession.

Those who advocate complementarianism or the submission of women are, essentially, Donatists. They are claiming that the Gospel is tarnished or diminished if preached by those who are not for “Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womandhood” or by egalitarian couples. This is heresy. The Gospel cannot be and is not affected by the moral character of those who preach it. The gospel is efficacious on its own.

But more importantly, the moral character (or biological character) of those who preach the gospel and administer the sacraments does not affect their efficacy. The sacraments are efficacious on their own. Men are not specially chosen to preach the gospel. Women are not specially prevented from preaching the gospel.

When people, like Russell Moore, make claims that the gospel is affected by the gender views of those who preach it, they are heretics.

That’s right, heretics.

I don’ think Tony Jones wants a schism. He said as much today. I think he, and many of us, are wanting a re-affirmation of orthodox doctrine. We want Christians and the Church to stand up and say that the rejection of complementarianism is a matter of doctrine and faith. It is “status confessionis”.

But what does that look like in practice?

Well, it is like when I go to denominations who practice closed communion, like Roman Catholics or the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (neither of whom allow the ordination of women either), I go up to receive communion anyways. I dare them to excommunicate me, knowing what I consider to be matters of faith.

When I preside at the church I serve, I invite all who believe Christ is present in the meal to receive, even Romans Catholics or Missouri Synod folks (many have received communion from me).

When I work ecumenically, I talk about the ministry of my wife.  I tell my male colleagues from churches that don’t allow women in ministry about the things that she is doing.

And I write here, advocating for things that are good and right for the church.

Naming heresy is not about schism. It about the clear rejection of unorthodox doctrine. But it is also about the invitation to dialogue and the invitation the table.

So here it is. Complentariansim is to be rejected as heresy. And those who uphold it, like Russell Moore, are invited to commune with me… but it will be at a table where both men and women are free to preside.

*** Greg in the comments pointed out that since Ephesians 3:28 does talk about submission of men and women to each other, that a more appropriate title could be “The Heresy of Male Domination”. Good point Greg!***

What do you think? Is Complementarianism a heresy? Share in the comments or on twitter @ParkerErik

More posts on women in ministry:

Putting My Jesus Feminism to the Test

12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better