A Response to “The Core of Lutheran CORE”

See The Core of Lutheran CORE: American Civil Religion and White Male Backlash by Jon Pahl

Ah, how to respond to a rant? Especially by an author (Pahl) who thinks his new book (Empire of Sacrifice) is so brilliant that it provides the analytical key to everything that Lutheran CORE is about. It is so bracing to have a profound seer tell you exactly what you have really been doing — defending the Empire and its civil religion, scapegoating, and holding on by our fingernails to the great power and privilege we once had — when you actually thought you were involved in a struggle over Christian teaching and practice. I am so grateful to have the scales removed from my eyes, and no doubt other leaders of CORE will also be elated to see clearly now the truth about themselves. Our self-deception has been an awful burden from which Jon Pahl has freed us.

Pahl never really argues a case in the huge debate going on in American and world Christianity about homosexual conduct. As an enlightened person that debate was over a long time ago for him so he refuses to engage in it. Instead, he takes to calling those who don’t agree with him “homophobes.” Indeed, students from the Philadelphia seminary have told me that nary a professor there can grant any credibility to the classical Christian teachings on homosexual conduct. Anyone who holds such opinions are bigots, fundamentalists, or homophobes. Any doubt why the topic of theological education is on the front burner in CORE’s deliberations?

But the strife over homosexuality is symptomatic of the larger debate, which has to do with the nature of the Gospel in its larger sense, the role of the Law in the Christian life (of which there seems to be none in Pahl’s rant), what is authoritative in the life of the church, how that authority is exercised, and what is central and what is peripheral in the life and mission of the Lutheran church. A large number of people in the ELCA — including some its most devout members — are deeply disturbed about the direction of the ELCA on these matters, and CORE takes them up as genuine concerns.

Pahl addresses none of these issues but rather attributes CORE’s efforts to social, political, and psychological forces they unwittingly serve. At least CORE’s critique of the ELCA grants it the dignity of making wrong theological choices. Maybe Pahl could grant CORE the same dignity and begin actually to argue his case.

Jon Pahl

Jon Pahl is the Peter Paul and Elizabeth Hagan Professor of the History of Christianity at United Lutheran Seminary.