Tag Archives: advocacy

THE TIMING JUST DIDN’T WORK OUT… By Paul Johnson, Final Year M.Div. Student

In the past, I have been honored to participate in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) both as a youth as well as an adult leader. I earned the rank of Eagle while a member, fully knowing that the rank could be taken from me if the BSA found out I was an openly gay individual.

With recent discussion in the BSA on homosexuality, I held hope that they would allow openly gay youth and adults to participate as much as their heterosexual members. I was on internship when the latest decision to allow gay youth but not adults was passed. Having been approached several times from local troops, I tried, nicely, to decline requests to serve in a leadership role. Usually I gave other reasons, such as having an already full schedule or time conflicts with meetings.

Then I was approached by a Council member back home, asking if I would lead a worship service for an upcoming Jamboree. Since this gentleman knew me and my orientation, I told him that the BSA wouldn’t let me lead as an openly gay individual. “Then don’t lead as a gay man,” came his reply. “Lead as a child of God.”

I told him I would get back to him on the worship service, needing time to process what he had said. Could I separate my identity as a child of God from the rest of who I am? It wasn’t a question of whether I could lead without incorporating rainbows and glitter, or if I could go a weekend without mentioning my orientation. I appreciate rainbows and glitter about as much as (perhaps less than) my heterosexual male friends. My call story and identity as a child of God have been influenced by my sexual orientation and struggles with my identity as such.

Still, in my future ministry I don’t want to be the “gay pastor” or the pastor of a “gay church.” I just want to be a pastor who happens to be gay, and hopefully lead a congregation who is welcoming to their neighbors, some of whom happen to be LGBT individuals. I am more than my sexual orientation, and identify as gay among a myriad of other attributes and qualities.

But could I, a child of God and future pastor in the ELCA, regardless of my orientation, lead a worship service for scouts who may be struggling with the same issues, all while representing an organization that clearly rejects me as being fit to lead? Could I share the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection for ALL while standing for an organization that only accepts SOME?

In the end, the timing of the event just didn’t work out with my schedule. Still, it leaves the question in my mind of what I might do. Would I claim my identity, my full identity, and decline the offer based on the BSA’s policies, possibly resulting in someone more conservative taking the position? Or do I accept, preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection for all, staying silent on my orientation? I don’t have an easy answer, and likely won’t know unless the situation arises again. My hope is that I will be asked again, and soon. An even greater hope is that the policies of the BSA will have expanded by then.

WARTBURG SEMINARY INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY CONVOCATION 2014

Rev. Dr. Troy Troftgruben, WTS Assistant Professor of New Testament:

Welcome to our first convocation of the academic year. “Convocations” happen here at Wartburg at various times on topics that require—not simply disseminating information—but face-to-face conversation. These topics are typically not cut-and-dry issues, but matters of evolving, ongoing, dynamic conversation.

For many years Wartburg has hosted a convocation on “inclusive language.” This convocation is similar, but broader in focus. It entails not only concerns pertinent to inclusive language but also concerns pertinent to behavior and actions that foster genuine inclusion of “the other.”

Our language and our behavior do things, especially in community: by our words and actions, we consciously and unconsciously assume certain norms, characterize ourselves and our community ethos, and establish what is “normal,” acceptable, and appreciated. Sometimes we are deliberate about our words and actions, sometimes not so much.

This morning we have 6 individuals who will each speak for about 2 minutes on a particular issue that pertains to becoming an inclusive community.

- Hannah Benedict (concerning gender)
– Norma Cook Everist (concerning disabilities)
– Mack Patrick (concerning transgender)
– Stan Olson (concerning inclusive language for God)
– Gus Barnes (concerning race and sexual orientation)
– Susan Ebertz (concerning denominational backgrounds)

Afterward, we will dialogue with each other at our tables.

Hannah Benedict, Final Year M.Div. Student: 

I don’t think much about my gender. I don’t have a constant internal track going, “I-am-a-woman-I-am-a-woman-I-am-a-woman.” I say this fully aware that as I say that, I wear a particular piece of attire typically attributed to one gender–yep, high heels, those tortuous devices woman can wear. But I don’t wear high heels because of my gender. I wear them because of my 5’3″ height. It’s logistics folks! I truly don’t pay attention to my gender much, until a moment about which I’m going to tell you:

At the end of internship, a congregation member came up to me with what she thought would be a compliment. She said, “At first we didn’t know how a lady intern would do, but you did great, honey!” Her pleasant surprise was my harsh realization. Not only might I need to consider my gender, but that others could see my gender as a detriment.

She wasn’t the first to share such reactions. Others, mostly women and women my age, shared similar reactions, “You wanna be a what? Sweetie, don’t you know you’re a lady?”

It’s not that I don’t know my gender. I am fully aware of it and others of my kind. I’m one of three sisters, (an aunt two nieces; women outnumber men in my family). I attended a women’s college—go Suzies—and chaired the feminist group. I got that I was a woman, through and through. But what I didn’t get was how this somehow made me any less effective or valuable.

Being a woman never stopped me from doing all that God called me to do. Being a woman never stopped me from being compassionate, courageous, strong, determined, and dedicated. Instead, being a woman, surrounded and supported by them, taught me how to be all these and more. My gender provides a particular perspective, one no less important than any other. From this vantage point, I can see who God makes me through the Holy Spirit in Christ.

In Christ, we are no longer male/female, gentile/Jewish, enslaved/free. We are God’s.  Gender may be part of my identity but it is not all of it. Yes, I’m a lady—and a wife, mother, sister, aunt, daughter, and, occasionally I wear heels.  But I am first and foremost a child of God.

Rev. Dr. Norma Cook Everist, Professor of Church Administration and Educational Ministry: 

I’m Norma Cook Everist, addressing living together with our abilities and disabilities. We are all differently abled. Wartburg is a caring community where people try to live thoughtfully, respectfully and in solidarity with people with disabilities.

How can we do this even better?

By really seeing each person, rather than pretending not to notice. By asking, rather than presuming a person’s need: “What is helpful to you?”

By using person-first language: Not “a blind person” but a “person who is blind.” I have a disability; I am not my disability.

And by using inclusive language in worship. Our ELW does not say, “Please stand,” words hard to hear for those who cannot. Thomas Schattauer and Melissa Waterman encourage us to motion with our hands when the congregation is to stand. People with disabilities who were on the hymnal planning committee encouraged, “The Assembly stands,” an inclusive phrase which means the congregation stands for those who cannot. We’ve been doing pretty well this fall. It is important we remember as we are formed as leaders for an inclusive church.

Inclusive language matters: So we motion, or we say, “The assembly stands,” or we say, “Please stand as you are able.”

Nicholas Rohde and I conferred, discovering we’ve both been tempted to respond when we hear, “Please stand”: “No thank you, I can’t.” Let’s try that. I’ll say, “Please stand,” and you respond, “No thank you. I can’t.” [The people at tables did.] Now say after me: “The Assembly stands.” [“The Assembly stands.”] “Please stand as you are able”   [“Please stand as you are able.”]

Thank you very much.

Mack Patrick, 1st Year M.Div. Student:

To start this conversation off, one must understand a few basic things about transgender. The first is that transgender is commonly spelled as trans*; this is an important piece in the trans* experience. The asterisk represents that trans* is a spectrum covering a wide variety of experiences. Some are a bit more clear-cut than others. There is the complete change over: Female to Male or Male to Female, but there is also the non-conforming, non-identifying side of gender.

Along with recognizing that trans* is a spectrum—and you may not always know how someone fully identifies—it is important to realize trans* are still people. Asking if they have surgery, or inquiring more about their chosen gender, is not cool and rather offensive. No one cares about your private parts. You should not ask those questions of those who are trans*. That is a private matter.

Pronouns identify who we are on a paper form, but correct use of pronouns is also a good way to show someone that you care about them and want them to be included in a community. While society has focused on the popular pronouns of male and female, there are yet two other known sets of pronouns that someone may identify with. One of those other sets is the gender neutral set. It is commonly used with individuals who do not identify with a specific gender. [This set includes:] Ze (zee) commonly referred to as the subject, Hir (here) known as the object and possessive adjective, and Hirs (heres) for the possessive pronoun. While these are not commonly known and used, as the popularity and acknowledgment of the gender-neutral pronoun grows, they will be used more often. It is completely acceptable to ask people what pronouns they prefer.

For someone who identifies as trans*, asking about pronouns is a great first step. Admitting that you have no clue what to do or say is good, but first and foremost ignore their gender and focus on the person. I know that hearing the correct pronouns being used when talking about me, is huge, as acceptance is growing. Even though I identify as trans*, I feel full included and accepted in the Wartburg Community. Inclusion starts with the ability to recognize you may encounter individuals in your community that are different from you. Take the first step and get to know them as a person.

Rev. Dr. Stan Olson, WTS President:

My privilege today is to talk with you a little about language for God. The topic of this convocation is inclusive language. I could talk about inclusive language for God, pointing to the importance of speaking of God in ways that allow all to be included.

I’ve given that talk. However, over the years I’ve concluded that it’s far better to speak of expansive language for God or, simply, appropriate language for God. Speaking appropriately of God is an expression of faithfulness.

Sixty years ago, J. B. Philipps wrote a book titled, Your God Is Too Small. He challenges the reader to think more expansively about God as made known in Jesus Christ, to embrace the depth of meaning. The book was very important in shaping my early thinking. I recently reread it and can’t now say that I commend the book to you. I do, however, commend the title. Let that title push you firmly as you do theology, preach, teach, counsel, write, and pray—your God is too small.

To embed this push in your thoughts, I invite you to shift from the second person pronoun and use this as a response: Our God is too small. Say it with me now, Our God is too small, and then in response.

If we speak of God using only a few of the words and images available, Our God is too small.

If we use only the language of the New Testament, Our God is too small.

If we use only the language of the Hebrew Bible, Our God is too small.

If our talk of God uses only masculine images and pronouns, or only feminine images and pronouns, or only combinations, Our God is too small.

If we limit our language for God only to words actually used in the Bible and neglect the church’s rich history of devotion and thought, Our God is too small.

If we casually and carelessly use familiar hymnic and devotional language that conveys limited or false images of God, Our God is too small.

If the God we convey seems distant and unknowable for any to whom we speak, Our God is too small.

If we think that God is ours alone, Our God is too small.

If we ever allow ourselves to think that we have arrived at language that is finally and completely appropriate, Our God is too small.

God is not too small!

Gus Barnes, 3rd Year M.Div. Student: 

I am Gus Barnes Jr. I am one of a kind, created by God and my parents. I am a fifty-three year old man in seminary. I am a tax-payer. I am a product of the sixties. Here is the shocker surprise: I am an openly Gay African American man. In my time in this temporal place we call earth, I have had many doors shut in my face because of the things that describes who Gus is. Here at Wartburg Seminary I assume when people speak of Gus being Gay, it’s because often I am happy as Gus; I am welcomed here as Gus.

I am thrilled to have lived a lifetime to see a Black President in office, and this week I met the ELCA’s first openly Gay Bishop. The ELCA has struggled with sexuality issues. And after its decision in 2009 to be more open to gays and lesbians serving in ministerial leadership, it has lost many congregations. Sadly I am reminded daily when I look in the mirror as I prepare my day that I need to ask,”What doors will be opened, and which doors will be shut because of who Gus is?” Spend some time to get to know me and others. I promise if you stay out of my closet, I’ll stay out of yours!

Susan Ebertz, Director of the Reu Memorial Library and Assistant Professor of Bibliography and Academic Research:

I’m speaking on inclusion of a variety of denominational backgrounds. I think that there is only one student here who is not Lutheran and she is a TEEM student. I think I am the only faculty member who is not Lutheran. There are a number of the staff who are not Lutheran. I mention this because sometimes it is easy for some of us to forget that not all of us are Lutheran.

At one time we had more non-Lutherans here. The other faculty member and the students would talk with me about some of their experiences. I’m not at liberty to share those stories. It wasn’t a secret club but it did create a bond between us.

I don’t think that the difference in denominational backgrounds is as hurtful as other sorts of discriminations. If we all realize that not everyone speaks Lutheranese and not all of us believe Lutheran theology, we go a long way into including those of other denominations.

I know that some of you grew up in a different denomination and the transition to Lutheran theology may be difficult. I think it is important for you to know and understand Lutheran theology and to live into that. That is okay. That is not what I’m talking about.

Many of you will be ministering in communities where you will need to work with ecumenical partners. Understanding what they believe or how they “do worship” can be an important learning experience while you are in seminary. Figure out ways to experience that.

If you want to talk more, I welcome conversation with you.

Table Question for Communal Conversation:

  1. When have you experienced “exclusion” in a community or church setting?
  2. What practices have you observed to be some of the most helpful for facilitating authentic inclusion and openness in faith communities? How have they worked?
  3. As leaders, how can we go about being allies or advocates in the communities we serve for inclusion concerning some of the issues named this morning?
  4. As leaders, what do you think will be some of the most pressing issues of inclusion for which we will need to be advocates in our unfolding ministries?

You may also appreciate the following previously published posts:


BOOK REVIEW: HALF THE SKY by Carina Schiltz, MDiv student

Book Review: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

This book is critical for all people to read, especially those in church leadership. The least of these, whose voices are so often ignored, have a chance to be heard through the pages of this book.

This book had such a strong impact on me that I had to read it in small sections. Husband-and-wife, Pulitzer-prize-winning authors confront readers with inspirational, incredible, and terrible stories about women’s realities around the world.

Imagine yourself as a young girl from a developing country growing up in an impoverished family.

Your cousin promises you will have a job as a fruit seller in a neighboring country.

Leaping at the change to support your family, you go with your cousin, but instead of selling fruit, you are sold to a brothel, drugged when you refuse “paying customers” and eventually become so addicted to methamphetamines that even if you are freed, you go back because you need the high.

This is only one gut-wrenching story that Kristof and WuDunn report. How do we continue reading something that is so full of despair? It seems easier to put the book on the shelf, but we cannot.

Out of horrible, unimaginable situations, women and men around the world have risen to combat injustices that women experience in developing countries. The dangers resulting from being sold into prostitution: rape, childbirth, lack of medical care, and neglect, are all explained in a straightforward but humane way. The book not only offers a look at individual lives, but what individuals, countries and the world have done and should do in the face of injustice toward girls and women.

What can be done? The authors touch on everything from microfinance to iodization of salt to education, including “Four Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes.”

This book is not about finger-pointing and blaming, but facing issues head-on, realistically yet hopefully. Authors call for bi-partisan cooperation to advocate for the care, health and well-being of women around the world, so that, as the Chinese proverb says, women will hold up half the sky.

Chock-full of information, I no doubt will be reading this book again.

LORI BRUFLODT: A PERSISTENT VOICE AS A VICTIM’S ADVOCATE VOLUNTEER

An Interview with Norma Cook Everist

Lori Bruflodt has persistently provided a listening ear and a voice for people in crisis who have suffered some sort of loss or tragic event. She has been a volunteer at the Y Domestic Violence Program in Dubuque for the past seven years and at Riverview Sexual Assault Center for eight. “I heard about these centers locally and their need for volunteers and I knew I wanted to do this.” Both places provided 40 hours of required training.

Lori went on, “Riverview had a whole curriculum with topics such as, ‘What are you going to do for self care when you come home from the hospital where you helped someone who has just experienced a rape?’ and ‘Dealing with different cultural groups.’” Lori said there are significant differences. “Some groups, because of cultural views of the victim, will not report as easily as others. In some groups the entire family comes to the hospital after the incident.” Rape and domestic violence are part of every social economic group. Lori believes training is essential. “We learned a lot of useful statistics and a lot of myths about sexual assaults and domestic violence.”

One statistic: A woman has one of the highest chances of being raped in the first 6 weeks of her freshman year of college.

One myth: That most rapes are stranger rapes. “In all my years of dealing with rape victims, only one was a ‘stranger-rape.’ The others were by people who were related, an old boyfriend, or an acquaintance, a ‘friend of a friend.’ That’s a big one. You don’t really know the person, but your friend knew him and so you are hesitant to pursue legal charges or sometimes even medical attention.”

There are many sources of myths and facts about sexual assault and domestic violence. A good example is http://www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/jhamlin/3925/myths.html

Domestic violence is usually done by a spouse or a partner. When the victim is a youth under 18, criminal charges may be pressed by law enforcement. Victims over 18 years of age in most cases,can decide for themselves. And because of the familiarity they don’t press charges because they are afraid, “It’s my word against theirs.”

“As an advocate we don’t tell the victim what to do, but we explain to them their options and the steps they need to take now. Most of all I let them know ‘I’m here for you,’” said Lori. “That’s who an advocate is.” Lori went on, “And that may mean standing up to law enforcement or hospital staff for the sake of the victim. You speak for the victim.” That’s a persistent voice!

Who speaks for those who can’t speak because of Cerebral Palsy or intellectual disability? In those situations Lori has had to work with medical staff to make sure there is needed medical attention for people who might easily be dismissed because of their inability to advocate for themselves. Likewise, sometimes people do not take victims who live with mental illness seriously. Lori listens, sorts through the complexity of the conversation and then may say something such as, “What can we do with tonight’s crisis?”

The role of an advocate is important. Victims need to know they have a voice and choices: she needs an exam; she needs STD testing; the choice of whether or not to have a rape kit collected and the importance of timing if they choose to. The volunteer victim advocate can be called the night of the incident and often that hospital visit may be only contact the agency will have with the victim. It’s so important the victim receives clear, caring help at that time, and good information on referrals for help afterwards. Victims have been betrayed, often by a family member or friend they thought they could trust; it’s important they not feel betrayed again after the rape

Lori went on to describe her work on the domestic violence hot line and at the shelter. She has been called in when the shelter was short on staff and relied on volunteers to fill in. Lori said, “When women come to the shelter they will be living in community. They usually come from having lived in a violent situation and there are issues. It’s tough. It’s stressful. They come to the shelter because they have no one else with whom to live. They bring their children, often fleeing a dangerous situation quickly. The whole family has one bedroom no matter how many children. They have no storage. The residents all share a living room, kitchen and bathroom with people who are at first strangers. We help facilitate living in community.

I would also answer the 24-hour hot line. As I sat by the phone in the shelter, women would come in and talk. We would have conversations about their options. You listen, particularly when they wonder if they should go back to the abusive situation, and you say, ‘What would it look like if you went back? How would it be different or not? What other options might you be able to find?’ They prepare a safety plan before they leave the shelter. ‘Could the situation be lethal? Do you need a restraining order? Do you need a 911 cell phone? Do you have people who could check in with you to see how you are and how you are doing?’ ”

The issues are long term and complex. If there has been a separation or divorce, and there are children involved, there can be issues of joint custody and visitations. Where is it safe to meet to exchange the children if the parents can’t get along? One local church had provided a safe place for such meetings. Lori went on to describe how volunteers help victims of domestic violence make safety plans and action plans for life. “If you need to leave the shelter in sixty days, what do need to do to be able to find work? To find housing?”

Sometimes a woman leaves her family and needs to tell no one where she is going lest she be found by the person looking for her who could be dangerous. The result is a combination of fear, and the resulting loneliness. Lori recalls a woman at the shelter on Thanksgiving by herself because she had to leave her situation and tell no one where she was, so had nowhere to go for the holiday meal. “That woman’s situation sticks with me,” says Lori.

Lori said that people sometimes ask about her volunteer work, “Don’t you get paid?” “How awful to go to the hospital and hear the story of rape. I could never do that.” Lori says, “If I can find the strength and have skills to do this, then I need to. Somebody has to be there for these people. There are lots of ways to volunteer. You have to know what your gifts are. There are other things other people volunteer to do that may not be my gifts. When I come home at 3:00 a.m. from a hospital visit and need to work the next day and lay there awake because I can’t get to sleep, I sometimes ask, ‘Why did I do this?’ Then I remember the times I made a difference. I may never know what became of the person afterwards, but I know I did the best I could and was there for the victim when she or he would not have had a voice.”

Lori Bruflodt soon will be taking a new position as a Crisis Recovery Team Counselor at the Hillcrest Family Services Crisis Center here in Dubuque. She hopes that in two years she will be licensed as a Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in the state of Iowa. She received an M.A. degree in Clinical Counseling from Loras College in Dubuque in December, 2008. She has been Director of Information Technology for 18 years at Wartburg Seminary and will continue part time at Wartburg for awhile to make the transition as smooth as possible. She knows she will miss Wartburg, but also knows that counseling has been dear to her heart for a long time. Lori says she will hate to give up some of the volunteer work she has done these years, but with her new employment cannot be on call for three places at the same time. Lori is so well known at Wartburg and her work here is deeply appreciated; the total impact of her persistent service as a volunteer may never be known but has no doubt changed countless lives.