Category Archives: Issues and Challenges

CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION: CONFRONTING RACISM by Derek Rosenstiel, 1st Year MDiv Student and Angela Kutney, Final Year MDiv Student

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” Ephesians 2:13-14

“Continuing the Conversation: Confronting Racism” was held at WTS Tuesday, November 10th as a response to Bishop Eaton’s call to address systemic and institutionalized racism in the church, the country, and the world. This gathering together in fellowship, conversation and worship was one step toward breaking down the walls that divide people from people. Facing the sin of racism brings us, once again, to the foot of the cross where Christ transforms hostility to peace.

In community we work to find a solution to this issue, ultimately trusting that God will bring about the justice and reconciliation desperately hoped for.  And so the conversation continues, because it must.



I am not disabled.  Let me say that again: I am not disabled.  I am not handicapped.  I am not crippled.  I am certainly not handicapable, whatever that means.  I am not a “gimp.” I am not a disabled person.  I am a person with a disability.  Person first, then disability.  Or maybe more accurately, person first, then my hair color, eye color, height, and about 20 other things that also don’t matter, then the fact that I am physically disabled (by definition).

Author Amos Yong writes about people with disabilities in relationship to the body of Christ.  Yong makes the argument that people with disabilities are equally made in the image of Christ, just as able-bodied persons, and are not people to be viewed as needing to be fixed, healed, or cured.

So, how can we be inclusive as fellow members of the body of Christ?  Personally, I think language, specifically body language, is the biggest and most powerful way to be inclusive of others.  Now, I’m not about to just give out a laundry list of Do’s and Don’ts because that doesn’t exist.  Literally every person is different.  Each person’s preferences are unique to them. Saying or doing one thing to another may offend one person, be appreciated by other, and have absolutely no effect on a third.

However, what I will tell you is to think.  Especially when planning something like worship, think about it.  Think about the physical space.  Can people with varying physical disabilities participate in worship with the way that the space is arranged? (For example Dr Nessan and I don’t use the same pulpit or podium because of our foot and a half height difference).   Are there ways for each worshipper to participate physically in the worship service, i.e. the standing, kneeling, and coming to the front for communion, being at the font?  And do those options make individuals feel a part of the assembly, or singled-out?

Listen to how people talk about themselves, and do your best to also speak about them or to them in the same manner.  ASK QUESTIONS!!! Don’t just assume things.  Yes, yes you will get things wrong from time to time.  Yes, you may annoy someone with the questions you ask, but if you treat them as a another member of the body of Christ, made in the image of God, it is better than assuming things about them as if they couldn’t decide for themselves.

Lastly, in all things, let there be forgiveness.  Being mindful and inclusive of one another is not a perfect science and therefore, we don’t always get it right.  There are times when we forget things, say the wrong thing, something slips our mind and we act incorrectly.  IT’S OK!!  Forgive one another and live life together as fellow members of the body of Christ.

2010 ADA Guidance Standards for Accessible Design


Cisgender. Heterosexual. Homosexual. Bisexual. Transgender. Genderqueer. Queer. Pansexual. Asexual. Questioning. The list goes on and on when we are talking about the language we use when we identify ourselves in terms of our sexual and gender identity.

You might notice I left out a few words that are commonly used within the LGBTQ+ community and the larger society. I purposely left out the words straight, gay and lesbian for they do not fully grasp what it means to be living within the LGBTQ+ community and, honestly, I have yet to understand what straight means in terms of gender and sexuality.

Everyone thinks gender and sexuality is binary, where you can simply check a box on a form and that is the end of the question. However, the reality is that gender and sexuality are a spectrum, where you can on any day be at one point and a different point the following day. Understanding that gender and sexuality are a spectrum helps in working towards more inclusive language and community.

When thinking specifically about how to be inclusive when someone falls outside of the binary there are a few basic things that will not only help you in ministry but in society as well.

In terms of gender, think of it in a two-fold way, gender identity and biological sex. Gender is how the person identifies. The way they dress and how their mind is wired. Biological Sex is about the hardware one is born with. When talking to someone who may identify as transgender or gender queer, do not ask them about what they were born as. It shows that they are not valued as people in our current state, and honestly asking about biological sex is only okay in a health care facility, no one needs to know what is in your pants but yourself and your doctor, so be aware of the language you are using and the reason for asking.

Sexuality is not the same as gender identity; it is about the attraction you personally feel towards others. Moving towards being more inclusive in terms of sexuality, it is more about a shift in attitude rather then in language. New language is being created and used each day but a change of attitude can last a lifetime. Opening your mouth and asking questions regarding who someone is attracted to is not always the best thing for the moment. Think about why you are asking the question and if you would want your grandmother to hear it. Sexuality is personal and needs to be kept that way. Avoid saying “wife” or “husband” or “partner”; it limits what one defines as a relationship. Sticking with talking about the person first and the relationship last lets them choose how they want to be labeled.

Being inclusive takes time. It also takes grace and forgiveness from everyone. Remember you are not perfect and asking questions in proper ways help you avoid assumptions and allows you to get to know the person. Allow yourself to make a mistake and learn from it. Remember, getting to know the person for who they are is the most important thing you can do.


One of the central points—truths—to consider when thinking about inclusive language, is our power to name things. It’s one of the things God gives humans right up front.

We can name for good, or for ill. From naming, to classifying, to including/excluding, to judging . . . it’s a slippery slope.

Lots of things about this next story make me cringe. I used to work with a group of friends who had an inside joke about the name “Target.” There was a nice, big, new, shiny (all of those words are important) Target in the rich suburb south of town. That was the Targét (pronounced Tar-jay). Not just Target— Targét. The other Target was in a mall that people thought was dying. Not as nice, big, new, or shiny. That was the Tar-ghetto.

We have the power to name. And I am not proud of how I used that power. How I used that power not just to name, but to judge. Reflecting on that story, one of the most important things, scary things, to me is that it was an inside joke. It was something I shared with some people, and not others. So that shows me personally what exclusive language (as opposed to inclusive) is: “Can I say it to anyone?” Is it appropriate everywhere?

That was a socioeconomic example. Here is a race/ethnicity based example: I have heard very well-meaning people, kind people, friends ask me what I would like to be called, “African-American?” “Black?” I’m sure people who have lived through the decades of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, etc have wondered about African –Americans: “Well, what do they want to be called now?”

There is so much packed into that question. The “they” is a separation, designating an ‘us’ from a ‘them’, whether the question is asked sincerely, faithfully, with concern, with annoyance, or with a sense of insecurity. All of those things are present.

Also present is the idea that the many names for African-Americans, from the slurs (n-word/darkie/ coon) to the ones that are socially acceptable and progressive for their time (black/negro/Afro-American/African-American) have all been reactions. They are all reactions of one person looking at another and thinking, “You, your skin, your culture – you are not like me. What are you?” In other words, African-Americans have never had a way of naming themselves that isn’t a reaction to a normative culture from outside classifying, judging, naming, including/excluding. That slippery slope again.

Those groups that have been named from the outside have often taken those names on internally as a defining characteristic and point of identity. Consider the pink triangle, or the n-word with a gangsta ending. Why would a group do this? Because naming is powerful. Inclusion and exclusion are powerful.

The ability to name is the possession of power, God-given power. As leaders in the church, let’s work to change the balance of power.

AN INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE CONVOCATION TALK by S.D. Giere, WTS Associate Professor of Homiletics & Biblical Interpretation

A brief excerpt from a book that we are studying in one of my classes this fall:

To the prophet… no subject is as worthy of consideration as the plight of man…  Man is rebellious and full of iniquity, and yet so cherished is he that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, is saddened when forsaken by him.[i]

To borrow from my good friend, David Tracy, “We belong to language far more than it belongs to us.  Language shapes our perception, our understanding, our world, our sense of community, our sense of who God is.”[ii]

When Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Conservative Rabbi, reworked and published his book The Prophets in 1962, he used the language of man to refer to all of humanity.  Heschel, a prominent progressive figure in the Civil Rights movement,[iii] clearly did not intend to exclude with his choice of language.  At the time, Heschel’s use of “man” for all humanity was understood as inclusive.  And guess what?  Times have changed.  When we read from Heschel’s text in class, we spit and sputter and choke as we work toward hearing and engaging Heschel’s important and profound observations, because Heschel’s most basic language for communicating about humanity and about who God is are simply no longer inclusive.  This kind of language is out of tune… not for everyone, mind you, but for many and for us here at WTS.  Language changes over time.

In the WTS Student Life Handbook[iv] we have a policy, which is worthy of your attention.  By my count, this is the 29th annual Convocation that addresses inclusivity.  (Doesn’t quite get back to 1962, but…)  In short, there is longstanding commitment to inclusivity in this worship-centered community of critical theological reflection, where learning leads to mission and mission informs learning.

Policies are often experienced as law or political correctness, in particular when it comes to inclusive language.  I want to suggest that we reframe policy in light of the gospel.  Simply put, inclusive language has to do with the gospel.  For whom is God’s love in Jesus Christ?  For whom did Jesus die?   Do we want to use language that communicates the inclusive nature of God’s love in Jesus Christ?

Inclusive language was a priority during my time as a student here.  I was unleashed upon the church with a commitment to inclusive language, but the gospel importance of it didn’t hit home until sometime in 1998, when I was serving my first call at Messiah Lutheran Church in Fargo, North Dakota.  Because of my formation at Wartburg Seminary, I naturally used inclusive language, perhaps most noticeably in the context of worship.  Early one week, I received a note from a parishioner, scratched on the back of a communion card.  The note was from a woman in her early twenties, away a good chunk of the time at university.  Her note, which I still have in my desk, read: “Pastor Sam, thank you using language that includes me.”  This little note nudged me toward the notion that inclusive language is about the hearing of the Gospel. The language we use impacts how people hear the Good News of Jesus Christ as being for them.

Closely related to inclusive language is the use of expansive language for God.  In Heschel’s day, it was common to hear God referenced with masculine pronouns, e.g., God Himself.  To ascribe gender to God is never the point when a masculine pronoun is used.  Rather, it has do with language and the change of language over time.  While it’s best (in my humble opinion) to avoid the heresy of Patripassianism, a.k.a., Sabellianism, modalism (referring to the three persons of God as modes of God’s activity, e.g., creator, redeemer, sustainer), scripture provides many images for God. Perhaps we ought to consider the use of expansive language as Gospel-centered in the same way as inclusive language (so that people will hear the good news of Jesus Christ!), though differently responsible to the witness of Scripture and the Rule of Faith.


[i] Abraham Heschel, The Prophets (Harper Perennial, 1962) 6.

[ii] David Tracy, Plurality and Ambiguity: Hermeneutics, Religion, Hope (University of Chicago Press, 1985) 53.

[iii] I am delighted to share with the reader a children’s book that was shared with me by Wartburg student Carina Schiltz after the convocation: Richard Michelson (author) and Raul Colon (illustrator), As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom (Dragonfly Books, 2013).

[iv] §3.1 Inclusive Language, p.84.

FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS by Denise Rector, 2nd Year MDiv Student

I am African-American. After Charleston, we as the ELCA need to go be Lutheran in African-American communities across the United States.

Within Lutheranism there are, truly, many ethnicities. But as discussed in the recent article in The Economist  (“The silent minority: America’s largest ethnic group has assimilated so well that people barely notice it” ) many of those European ethnicities have blended together. Could it be that they have assimilated into the modern American concept of whiteness?

The black/white distinction is not something created by African-Americans. This is an important point. The cultural distinction (to put it mildly) is something everyone is born to, yet only “other” ethnicities have to deal with. Whiteness has social and economic benefits, and thus, very practical dimensions.

Lutherans have a chance to proclaim and demonstrate a word of grace in the midst of exclusion. Black America needs a word of grace. Economics, stop-and-frisk, and other ills have left too many behind, and the African-American community sees a world going on about its business with little care.

Are we listening? Are we willing to partner for change?

Lutherans are “the grace people,” and we have a powerful work of grace to do. It is not neat. It is not fast. It is not easy. It is one by one, face to face, fueled by humility and an understanding of willing sacrifice.

I am willing to answer the question “Why are you Lutheran?” over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. But people can’t ask me the question if I am not out there, where conversations can happen.

Have you been asked why you’re a Lutheran lately? Is it because you are only around Lutherans? Then how will that powerful work of grace proceed, if we talk only to ourselves?



Wartburg Seminary held a community-wide conversation on “Confronting Racism” during the first week of fall semester classes. Faculty, staff, and students were invited to attend this conversation to further engage in the complexity and implications of racism, to share stories, and to continue in this dialogue for the sake of change.

The community viewed the ELCA webinar featuring Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton in conversation with ELCA church wide council member William B. Horne II about racial justice in the United States. This webinar was created in response to the massacre of nine people, including two pastors, at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, as well as in response to other racially-motivated violence that has been taking place all through the history of the United States, but particularly over the past year.

After viewing the webinar, members of the Wartburg community shared stories of witnessing and experiencing racism first-hand, even within the walls of Wartburg Seminary.

How will we, as a seminary, as a gathering of faithful people who worship the God who breaks down barriers, continue to contemplate and take action when it comes to the evil of racism in our world and in our midst? This conversation must be continued, and this conversation must result in change.

Click here to view the webcast, or for resources to assist in beginning conversations about confronting racism on the ELCA website.