Wednesday, February 27, 2008

William H. Lazareth, 1929-2008

The Rev. Dr. William H. Lazareth, Lutheran theologian and ethicist, former ELCA Bishop, and ecumenist, died on February 23, 2008. He was 79 years old. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson said of him: "Dr. Lazareth was a teacher of the Church. The ecclesial, theological and ecumenical legacy that he leaves will bless the people of the Church for generations to come," he said.
As the director the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Secretariat, he oversaw the drafting of one of the most important ecumenical documents of the 20th century: "Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry" (1982), also known as the Lima Text. He was well-known for his work in Lutheran theology and social ethics [for an excerpt from his last major work, Christians in Society: Luther, the Bible, and Social Ethics, click here and here]. In his final years, he served as the Jerald C. Brauer Distinguished Professor of Lutheran Studies at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin and co-founded the on-line Augustine Institute while there.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The New Pew Study and Ecclesiology

The religious landscape in the U.S. is not only increasingly diverse; it is also more fluid, which means that "loyalities to churches prove [to be] more fleeting" according to a new study released yesterday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. According to the study, 44 per cent of Americans have left the religious tradition in which they were raised for a different tradition--or no tradition at all. Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, concluded, "it's a very competitive marketplace, and if you rest on your laurels, you're going to be history." As troubling as the study was to read, Lugo's comment is even more troubling. The language of "marketing" may have entered church discourse more than a generation ago, "but there's a reason Jesus said 'You shall be my witnesses,' and not 'You shall be my marketers'" says Mark Galli in a piece in Christianity Today. He's right!

In my new course, "Pastor as Theologian," we have been talking about the identity and mission of the church. The church is a community (koinonia) of disciples and witnesses, not a product to be marketed. As Reggie McNeal would say, the goal is not "church growth" but "kingdom growth." The church is called to be a sign and instrument of the kingdom of God. At the heart of this witness is the power of God's reconciling love that St. Paul speaks of so elequently in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (among other places):
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Back in 2003, I heard Lutheran missiologist Philip Baker call for a moratorium on the "Great Commission" of Matthew 28 as the foundational text for Christian mission (his article starts on page 39). He suggests instead that we consider this passage from St. Paul. The idea of "reconciliation as a paradigm for mission" has been echoed and developed by others such as Robert Schreiter, the Forum for World Evangelization, and the World Council of Churches. I plan to explore this idea in ecclesiological terms (i.e., how do we understand the nature of the church in light of this paradigm?) in a paper proposal for the Ecclesiological Investigations Group of the AAR.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Detroit Urban Seminar--Initial Thoughts

I returned home a week and a half ago from my J-term course, an 11-day immersion experience in Detroit with 10 students, and I am still trying to figure out how I want to relay this experience on my blog (In fact, it took me a week to finish this post). The focus of the course was "Racism, Classism, Sexism, and Heterosexism." The city of Detroit was the "lab" for growing in our knowledge of how these "isms" operate in society--and in ourselves. While overt racism is alive and well, we were reminded of the many subtle but insidious ways that racism has been structured into the very fabric of our society, and how the system perpetuates white privilege. Detroit is a city that was shaped by racism: we recall that Detroit was the place of "race riots" (or rebellions depending on your perspective) in the 40s and 60s, but as Kevin Boyle of the Washington Post puts it, "40 years later, the urban crisis still smolders." Detroit continues to be the one of the most segregated cities in the United States (right after Milwaukee, according to the last census). There is no mass transit system linking the city and the suburbs and there is not one major grocery store chain in the entire city of Detroit.

The pastors of Acts in Common were our teachers along with the many leaders they scheduled for us to meet. Jim Perkinson, professor of theology at Ecumenical Theological Seminary, framed our time in Detroit with lectures on the "isms," drawing from his own work and that of Ched Myers and other biblical scholars who apply a socio-political hermeneutic to the reading of scripture. We learned of the devasting effects of environmental racism from the Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion and our tour guide Lila Cabbil who directs Wayne State University's Multicultural Experience in Leadership Development program. We learned about the crimminal (in)justice system from Regina Jemison, a lawyer who also shared her gift of music with us at the Tuesday Night AIC Prayer Meeting (and who also happens to serve on Trinity Lutheran Seminary's Board of Trustees!). We learned about ministry to the homeless during our visit to the Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS). We learned about community organizing from leaders in Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength (MOSES), the local Gamaliel chapter, and joined them for their annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. banquet. We heard from school principals and superintendents about the challenges of educating children in an urban context. We did ride-alongs one evening with the Detroit Police and even got to meet Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and some members of his staff (one week before this story hit the papers). We were moved by what we saw at the "And Still We Rise" exhibit at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. We were introduced to the ministry of the Ruth Ellis Center, one of only four youth social service agencies in the U.S. dedicated to helping LGBTQ teenager and young adults who are homeless. And there was much, much more.

As one who had served as a pastor in an urban setting myself, much of what I saw and heard was not "news" to me. Nonetheless, the experience deeply impacted me and challenged me to do more. In the classroom, I enjoin my students to "open their eyes" to the reality of racism, classism, sexism, and heterosexism through readings and discussion, and I will continue to make this a mark of my teaching. But I need to move beyond the classroom and find ways other ways to actively participate in the struggle for a more just and anti-racist church and society.