Response to United Lutheran Seminary from ELM’s Board of Directors
A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil.
A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.
– Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputation, 1518
Since its inception, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) has been a community rooted in the Gospel’s call to justice. This call birthed a movement of resistance in principled non-compliance with the systems of oppression, marginalization, and injustice which plague our church and society. Although much has changed since our genesis in 1990, oppressive systems continue to be embedded within our institutions and communities and our call to prophetic witness remains vital to the well-being of the body of Christ and the world.
Through God’s abounding grace, our commitment to discipleship in Christ demands that we reject the corrupt practices of a death-dealing empire to be transformed by faith to live according to the Way of Jesus. At the center of this commitment is the mystery of the cross by which we are called to proclaim the Word in Law and Gospel, to call for confession and repentance, and to make way for redemptive and restorative justice within our church.
ELM acknowledges that the situation at United Lutheran Seminary (ULS) is the product of a larger, systematic, institutional culture that utilizes secrecy and devalues transparency for the purpose of self-preservation and fragile stability. These systems create a pattern of sin that protects the powerful and privileged and harms the vulnerable and marginalized. Although we claim to be evangelical, our church has not been immune to this sin. In fact, the current state of affairs at ULS has clearly exposed how deeply our beloved church is entangled in and complicit with these systems.
In order to protect and prioritize its public perception for the sake of respectability and approval, institutional leadership discourages individual leaders from telling their story, be it by confessing the ways in which they enacted and perpetuated oppression, or the ways by which they were, through the gospel, transformed and restored to right relationship with God in community. The Rev. Dr. Theresa Latini and others have been taught and encouraged to not bring their whole selves and whole journeys into the greater narrative of the church by elders in our community who, in their deceit, mean well but perpetuate shame. When stories are hushed and veils pulled over our eyes, we do not get to see the cross but are expected to believe in the false glory of a manufactured and superficial resurrection.
Our ability to respond to brokenness is also tainted with sin: when lack of transparency and deep corruption (systemic sin) is exposed, individuals are either sacrificed through punitive measures, not as a corrective to abuse of power, but for the purpose of institutional continuity; or, they are defended and protected by the institution – praised for their leadership in handling a hard situation. In these broken systems, individuals are either scapegoated or protected, excommunicated or permitted to remain. This false binary assumes there are only two options: one which works to preserve the systems of oppression deeply at work in our institutions at the cost of the marginalized; the other which further isolates people from one another, their deeper humanity, and reintegration in community
As the ELM Board, we see these systems at play and know that we are no less susceptible to their influence. We acknowledge that this sinful system would have us either wholeheartedly support the Rev. Dr. Elise Brown as a member of our Board and ignore her role in this situation or banish her completely from our community and ignore our kinship.
As a queer organization we reject this false binary.
We understand the Gospel as calling us to name the truth of the situation and events, listen deeply to the pain, confess the harm, and repent—turning to a new way of being that includes, to the extent that it is possible, making amends, creating correctives for the power imbalance, and restoring just relationships.
Having met together this past weekend with times for deep listening and conversation, the ELM Board has received and accepted the resignation of the Rev. Dr. Elise Brown. While Elise’s role on the ELM Board has ended, our relationship with her has not and will not end. Elise will continue to be a member of our community through relationships with our Executive Director, the Rev. Amanda Nelson; Board members who are companions with her on this journey of reconciliation; and, individual Proclaim members with whom Elise has a close relationship. ELM is providing opportunities to Elise for continued engagement and anti-oppression training in the recognition that she will continue to be an ally to gender and sexual minorities and that all allies need to be equipped and encouraged.
The ELM Board also acknowledges that we must continue to educate and train our Board Members to more fully embody ELM’s explicit practices of listening deeply, publicly claiming our identities, working collaboratively, acting transparently, asking “who is not here?”, speaking truthfully even when it is hard, and remembering to laugh together. As a Board, we commit ourselves and our time to continuing to explore ways to live into our practices and receive the training needed to deepen our own understanding of the systems of oppression to which we are susceptible.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries will continue our work of lifting up and spotlighting LGBTQIA+ leaders whose experiences, voices, and ministries matter in times like these. We are deeply encouraged by and stand in solidarity with the organizing that has occured on the ULS campuses by LGBTQIA+ students and their colleagues. Systemic change happens when folks within communities erupt with purpose and calling – and that is happening in Philadelphia and Gettysburg as well as at other seminaries as they respond to this situation and their colleagues’ pain.
As the Board of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, we would like to affirm that the messy is valuable. We know that there is pain and grief and sorrow in our communities right now; and, we believe that by listening to the cries of those on the margins the church has the opportunity to repent – to turn to a new way of being that includes, to the extent that it is possible, making amends, creating correctives for the power imbalance, and restoring just relationships. We are committed to walking the way of the cross.
In solidarity and hope,
The Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries Board of Directors
Emily Ann Garcia, Co-Chair Matthew James, Co-Chair
Margaret Moreland, Secretary Charles Horn, Treasurer
Emily E. Ewing Brad Froslee
Philipos Ghaly Jeff R. Johnson
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of gender and sexual minority ministers transforms the church and enriches the world.