Editors’ Comment to the CORE Responses

[1] Our May issue of Journal of Lutheran Ethics (JLE) was one of our most-visited in recent memory. One particular article, in fact, was among the most-visited pages on the entire ELCA site for the second week in May. The corresponding number of emails about Jon Pahl’s article on Lutheran CORE in historical perspective has been among the highest during the years of publishing. Many e-mails expressed disappointment that we published an article that was so out-spoken in its criticism. Several writers suggested that publication of the article proved “there’s no place for disagreement in the ELCA.”

[2] We at JLE beg to differ, and believe JLE’s record as a whole supports this claim. JLE regularly publishes articles critical of public documents of the ELCA; moreover, we have often received affirmation for providing a balance of authorship and perspective on controversial issues with writing that expresses sharp disagreement. This record of publishing includes the topic of sexuality. Many of the articles published here have been linked to the Lutheran CORE and Word Alone Web sites. Reference to JLE articles that opposed sections of or the whole of the proposed social statement on human sexuality, work overseen by this department, was made more than once on the floor of the Churchwide Assembly. If JLE publishes articles that strongly criticize the work we manage, it seems consistent that others in the church should expect rigorous assessment of their public statements and writings. In publishing on controversial issues, we seek writers who will bring perspectives that, in our judgment, have been overlooked; moreover we encourage reply. We are grateful to Robert Benne and Cathy Ammlung, who were both kind enough to offer responses to Dr. Pahl, and to Jon Pahl, who continues in dialogue.

[3] Dr. Pahl’s article was contending that Lutheran CORE is as much influenced by its context (American religion, privileged heterosexuals) as by Scripture and the Reformation. It’s not altogether surprising that Pahl takes this view — as a historian, surely he is expected to draw historical analogies. Many e-mails suggest this claim is disturbing to some in Lutheran CORE who see themselves as acting in faithfulness to Scripture and Reformation principles. The contrast between Pahl’s viewpoint and these e-mails is precisely the point and suggests why the exchange in JLE highlights a fundamental issue in regard to the conflicts the ELCA is experiencing. Though it may be that the conflict is rooted deeply in biblical interpretation, could it not also be deeply rooted in clashing worldviews? Might it not be that underneath the profound differences is also the question of response to history — about whether it is possible to act ahistorically or whether one may be bound by one’s historical context? To disagree on how we are bound to our context (which includes Scripture, historical dynamics, tradition, knowledge, and experience) would be to experience a profound source of divergence. We believe it is helpful to our understanding of each other to probe the root of such difference.

[4] The publishing of Pahl’s article highlights an observation by a Roman Catholic church historian, who noted that Roman Catholics who are angry at their church generally don’t leave to form another church, they simply carve out a place for themselves in the Roman Catholic church. There are many in the ELCA who are doing exactly that, but there are many who do not seem to believe that they can. Why is it that conflicts in American Lutheranism so often end in splintering apart? Is it our theology, our history, our mistrust of institutions, our individualism, our differing worldviews? These questions are worth pondering.

The Core of Lutheran CORE: American Civil Religion and White Male Backlash by Jon Pahl
A Response to “The Core of Lutheran CORE” by Robert Benne
A Response to Dr. Pahl’s Critique of Lutheran CORE by Cathy A. Ammlung
A Rejoinder to Robert Benne and Cathy A. Ammlung by Jon Pahl

Kaari Reierson

Kaari Reierson is the founding editor of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics and is the Chair of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics Advisory Council.