Tag Archives: church

INVITATION TO LISTEN by Marlow Carrels, Final-year M. Div.

I am a white male who tries my best to be an ally for those who do not have a voice in our society. I am also a raconteur, a weaver of stories, and have enough anecdotes to fill many conversations. By contributing to The Persistent Voice, I have hoped to bring light to some issues that I have seen in my military career. This article is to remind all readers that there is still work to do, and a white male can help or hinder the voices of others.

It is important to remember the very beginnings of The Persistent Voice. In its first issue, the voices of female theological seminary graduates having to wait a long time for first call due to societal and ecclesial hesitancy were heard loud and clear. There was also a “Sign of Hope” about a seminary intern ministering to the Roman Catholic woman in the hospital. The woman said to the hospital’s priest, “Father, I want you to tell your sisters that they can do this [work] too!” A poem spoke to the oppression that challenges us and the liberation we can experience together. In its second issue, one article lifted up questions asked of a female candidate at a call committee interview: “How do you reconcile what the Bible says about a woman being subordinate to a man?” and “Are you concerned about legitimate social justice issues, or that silly women’s lib stuff?”

Some people think these issues no longer exist. No person has an issue with their voice being silenced; never would a call committee ask a candidate about their gender, race, sexual orientation, or immigration status. In other words, there is an existing illusion of a church in which every voice is heard and no person is afraid.

My friends, these problems still exist, and sadly they will likely persist. So how can I, a white male with military participation and a penchant for storytelling help the church? Perhaps I can interweave my stories with discussions that I have had with people of color, those in the LGBTQ+ community, and immigrants. Even better though, I could invite those whose stories I know to speak for themselves in my context. I could do my best to give them a space where their voice can be heard and where barriers can be broken down, walls can be destroyed, and bridges can be built. I have no specific answers; I simply hope that I am able to continue to use—and silence—my voice so that others may be heard.

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SAFE SPACES FOR CHILDREN CONVOCATION by Kirsten Lee, Second-year M. Div.

The Wartburg Seminary community recently met for a convocation entitled “Creating and Maintaining Safe Spaces for Children” in our congregations, communities, and homes. Victor Vieth, Senior Director & Founder of the National Child Protection Training Center at Gundersen Health System lead the convocation. Victor is also a current Wartburg Seminary student expecting to graduate with a Master of Arts this spring.

The convocation addressed the impact abuse can have on a survivor’s spirituality during and after the childhood abuse. A study of 527 child abuse victims reported having “significant spiritual injury”, but also reported praying more frequently and having a “spiritual experience” (Lawson, et al, Child Abuse & Neglect (1998)).  Every child is impacted spiritually; questions of faith, love, and forgiveness remain long after abuse ends. Questions, such as, “How is God present in my abuse,” or “What does this say about God or me” remain long after the abuse occurs.  As church leaders, we are encouraged to find similar questions in scripture as we help survivors find their own words through scripture. Religious and spiritual forms of coping “contribute to decreased symptoms, greater self-esteem, and overall greater life satisfaction.” (Bryant-Davis 2012).

Tragically, clergy may sometimes use a “religious cover” to justify the abuse (i.e. their “good works” overshadow the abuse; God gave this child to me).  Clergy often communicate this cover to the victims, which leads to a greater impact on spirituality. Offenders often seek churches because of weak policies, unconditional love and forgiveness, and as a safe place to have access to children.  This demands a need for churches to create and regularly update policies to protect children from abuse (click here for more information) and provide educational opportunities for both clergy and parishioners.

Vieth also shared insight on how church leaders might address the spiritual needs of both survivors and offenders. He offered practical tips for providing pastoral care to both groups of people based on their unique needs, including the need to stay within the pastoral field of expertise and coordinate with law professionals, mental health therapists, and community leaders.

The following are quotes from students who attended this convocation. Students were asked to reflect further on how they were impacted as church leaders by this convocation. Several students responded with comments on how their own experience with child abuse has impacted their spiritual growth and their growth as a church leader.

“It is a great tragedy that these abuses happen not only at home but also in churches, as the media has been opening our eyes to in recent years. I feel all church leaders should be aware of this and for their own sake take courses on boundaries. Once leaders know their boundaries, it is crucial to become informed on how to spot abuses happening and how to respond. The church should never have and can never again ignore abuse or use Scripture to keep people in abusive situations. In my opinion, the worst thing to happen is for leaders to say to themselves in retrospect, ‘How did I not see this? All the clues were right in front of me and I missed it.’ The Church’s business IS the well-being of the lives of humans.”

“Aside from leaders being educated on the signs of abuse and what to do, churches need to also educate others. We need to offer educational events that are free and open to all to come and learn. Churches can also make it a part of their constitution/mission to safeguard children and all who are abused. In cases of caring for the abused, it takes a village. Churches and their members can offer safe spaces, food, basic needs, resources in the community, and someone to talk to. The worst thing the church can do in any situation of such grief is to ignore or deny the problem/situation. If the cross is truly part of the Church’s identity, we must be ready and willing to enter into the death and darkness of this world.”

“I have attended two ‘Safe-guarding God’s Children’ workshops through the ELCA.  I highly encourage that we students attend one of these training sessions.  After having done so, I saw that my home congregation was very negligent in having safety policies and screenings of volunteers working with children.  We immediately worked on implementing policies and guidelines, as well as background checking all volunteers. This convocation affirmed the necessity for continual reevaluation of policies and training.  I had not previously thought of the abuse that occurs with religion used as part of the abuse.  This was very eye opening to me.”

“My heart is broken, and also uplifted. I was hurt as a child, so it hit particularly close to home. The convocation shows a stark reality of the church’s failure, yet it offers hope because a room full of church leaders were similarly heartbroken. We will go into the church shaped by what we learned, protecting children, and perhaps leading predators to get the help they need. I also see the enormity of the work we have to do. There is no excuse for the church to have let itself become a place where predators go because it’s easy. The church has failed in this. And I hope we can make it succeed.”

“The subject of child abuse of all kinds is often taboo. This convocation brought the language to light. Child abuse must be talked about. The stigma towards admitting the church has a problem must be overcome. The Church can host community forums and offer training, or at least, a location for another organization to do trainings for their volunteers. Churches need a policy with an annual review. Volunteers must be trained. For the sake of children, complacency isn’t good enough. The topic needs to be brought out into the open.”

A FRESH TAKE ON CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN MUSIC by Amy M. Heinz, Final year M. Div.

“I detest contemporary Christian music.” This comment, from one of my lunch partners immediately after I had finished presenting on that very topic at a worship seminar, drew me up short. I thought I had presented the case for utilizing truly new Christian music quite well, but I recognized that mind-set. Two years ago, that had been me. In my opinion, there was so much wrong with contemporary Christian music that I could not have imagined myself even investigating the topic, much less speaking about it.

Christian worship draws attention to the work of God in Jesus Christ by calling us out of our separate lives to participate communally in Word and sacrament. Worship is a bold statement that we as Christians place God above all powers of this world, including and especially our own. So, if worship is about the incarnate presence of God in our lives, I feel it should reflect the contexts of our lives…including geographical context, theological and denominational context, historical context, and global context.

With this in mind, I wanted to see if it would be possible to honor the past by utilizing a previously established—though by no means binding—Lutheran liturgical format for a service of communion, while inserting current popular contemporary Christian music (CCM) songs in place of those which are in the various collections of hymns and communion settings most often being used. I concentrated only on the songs Lutheran parishioners were sure to have heard on Christian radio stations, and focused on whether or not these songs could be utilized in a Lutheran worship setting containing traditional liturgical elements such as the Kyrie, the Hymn of Praise, and the Great Thanksgiving. The result was that I spent one month listening to and theologically evaluating the top songs from 2014 through 2016 as presented by Billboard Magazine on their website. Although the website categorizes Christian music in several ways, I utilized the category of “Christian Airplay,” as that would reflect the most popular songs on the radio during those years. I also chose to evaluate only the top 20 from each year, as there is some carryover from year to year in songs which ranked lower in the previous year.

It wasn’t an easy task. Much of Christian contemporary music is not gender-inclusive, and appears to use scripture either as “proof texting” or as a catchy sound bite. In addition, as Mark Allan Powell points out, it is permeated by “triumphalism, commercialism, [and] individualism…”.[1] Most bewilderingly of all, I found far less mention of Jesus Christ than I had expected in music labeled “Christian.” I discovered a tendency for songs of hope, stick-to-it-tiveness, and militant growth in a general “faith,” all without mentioning the reason for hope or how we are enabled to grow in that faith. In evaluating 59 songs (although I listened to far more than that number and read lyrics from even more)—20 from each of three years with one overlap—I found only 17 which could be useful in an ELCA worship service. Several of those which I deemed “Lutheran” in theology as well as “singable” would need minor rewrites in places. And although Christian contemporary music is a different subgenre from contemporary worship music (commonly referred to as “praise and worship songs), it is what parishioners who are interested in this genre are listening to in their homes, cars, and at work.

“Christian music often occupies a major, even defining role in the lives of its more ardent listeners. The music…becomes a soundtrack for people’s lives. Individualistic piety and crass sentimentalism can be innocent enough in small doses, but some fans and performers seem to think that faith consists of little else.”[2]

If one is a congregational leader in a place where many parishioners listen regularly to Christian radio stations, then I feel it is imperative to address some of the shortcomings of CCM with one’s congregation, just as it is important to celebrate and utilize those CCM songs which are familiar, easily learned and sung, and theologically faithful to the gospel (using a Lutheran lens). People need to know what they’re hearing and be able to evaluate it for themselves. “This requires teaching and has to bear some relation to the musical language that is in the ear of the people.”[3] That doesn’t mean one ought not to sing a rousing chorus of “Move (Keep Walkin’)” by TobyMac, but one should be able to discern the theological content and whether or not the song points to Christ and not to ourselves. I could even see this being an interesting small group or adult/youth education topic. Mark Pierson, a pastor in the Baptist Church of New Zealand, calls this discerning approach “slow church.” In this ideal, a congregation will take the time to discern prayerfully the central things of worship and what it means to worship in that particular place, at that particular time, with the particular resources of that culture.[4] Dr. Gordon Lathrop supports this view as well; “While the pattern of the action has a long history in many places, it always becomes local.”[5]

One of the better resources I discovered for the discernment process is Sound Decisions: Evaluating Contemporary Music for Lutheran Worship by Dori Erwin Collins and Scott C. Weidler. Published by Augsburg Fortress, this thoroughly Lutheran look at CCM is well-organized and accessible to anyone—whether or not they have a seminary background. The authors lay out a four-step discernment process:

  1. Agree upon foundational principles of Lutheran worship.
  2. Apply a set of questions to a specific song in order to determine its textual and musical characteristics. The purpose of this step is only to gather information, not to make judgements.
  3. Compare the characteristics identified in step 2 with the principles in step 1, always taking into account the particular worship context. (emphasis added)
  4. Discern the song’s suitability for use in worship.[6]

Collins and Weidler rightly emphasize the importance of correct performance practice which facilitates learning and singing CCM. This is an issue of great importance that needs to be fully addressed when considering adding this genre to worship rotation. As someone with experience in both “contemporary” and “traditional” performance practice, I will point out that there is a big difference between accompanying worship out of a typical hymnal such as Evangelical Lutheran Worship and deciphering the charts, lead sheets, verses, choruses, and bridges of CCM.

In my opinion, there is no such thing as “contemporary worship” as we tend to define it—worship utilizing musical instruments other than organ, and songs which have a more upbeat tempo and/or a back beat. Indeed, in my home congregation, contemporary worship for years was defined as the Saturday night service which was exactly like the Sunday morning service but accompanied on a keyboard instead of the organ! Contemporary worship is just…worship. I cannot overstate the importance of acknowledging this fact. Discerning the music used in our worship of God may need differing processes depending upon when the music has been written or where it has originated, but the criteria are still the same. Does the music we choose lift up the gospel message for all? Does it point to Christ? Is it singable within one or two iterations of the tune? Does the music address the culture, context, history, and personality of the particular congregation? Does it remind us that we are part of a global church and one body in Christ? These are questions which should be asked of all music used in worship, whether one toils over spreadsheets of the most popular CCM songs or chooses hymns based on the topical suggestions in the back of a hymnal.

It is extremely important to note that CCM is not a magic bullet that will “bring the young people back to church,” nor is it the only element of import in worship (that would be Christ and his real presence in Word and sacrament!). If congregation members are not inclined to listen to, and appreciate, CCM then it may not be the appropriate context for going “all in” on worship which features that genre of music. People respond to almost all types of music when performed to promote assembly participation. When worshippers feel confident in their musical participation (regardless of natural musical talent or familiarity with a particular genre) and the music reinforces the proclamation of the Word, then Martin Luther’s stance on worship is upheld: “We can spare everything except the Word.”[7] In the end, it is our enthusiasm for being brought together as a community of faith, our joy and sorrow expressed in honest ways through words and songs, our ears and hearts opened to the Word, our partaking of the sacraments, and our deep growth in faith and relationship through the work of the Holy Spirit that produces lively and enthusiastic worship.

[1] Mark Allan Powell, “Jesus Climbs the Charts: The Business of Contemporary Christian Music,” The Christian Century 119, no. 26 (December 18, 2002): 26.
[2] Ibid., 22.
[3] Paul Westermeyer, Paul Bosch, and Marianne Sawicki, What is “Contemporary” Worship?, vol. 2, Open Questions in Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1995), 11.
[4] Mark Pierson, The Art of Curating Worship: Reshaping the Role of Worship Leader (Minneapolis: Sparkhouse, 2010), 72.
[5] Gordon Lathrop, Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 87.
[6] Dori Erwin Collins and Scott C. Weidler, Sound Decisions: Evaluating Contemporary Music for Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997), 6.
[7] Ulrich S. Leupold, ed., Luther’s Works: Liturgy and Hymns, American Edition, vol.53 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1965), 14.

RECONCILING IN CHRIST CONVOCATION Compiled by Kirsten Lee, Second Year M. Div.

The following information was compiled from documents written by WTS student Rebecca Goche, staff member LisaMarie Odeen, Rev. Amy Current, Prof. Thomas Schattauer, and Prof. Troy Troftgruben.

Students, faculty, and guests gathered for a convocation this fall to mark the formal designation of Wartburg Theological Seminary (WTS) as a Reconciling In Christ (RIC) community. Reconciling In Christ is a program of Reconciling Works, a national Lutheran organization. Program and Development Associate with RIC, Ryan Muralt, presented the seminary with a certificate from Reconciling Works and shared in discussion with students and faculty during the convocation.

The WTS Board of Directors approved the designation of becoming an RIC community in June, 2016. As stated in the faculty proposal to become an RIC community, “This designation of welcome makes clear that people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer are welcomed and affirmed.” This welcome furthers “the seminary’s longstanding and enduring commitment to being an inclusive community that reflects God’s reconciling purpose in Jesus Christ.”  A copy of the news release about this designation can be accessed through this link: https://www.wartburgseminary.edu/wartburg-seminary-board-directors-approves-designation-ric-seminary/.

Through table discussions, participants had the  opportunity to learn about RIC and what it means to be an RIC community. In addition, Prof. Troy Troftgruben hosted a lively Zoom gathering of Distance Learning students. The following is a summary of the discussion:

Describe a time when you experienced abundant welcome in a worshiping community.

Many stories were shared of communities across our world who were exceptionally welcoming and friendly. One student mentioned a RIC church in Ann Arbor Michigan that had a sign in their entryway stating, “Everyone is a child of God.” Other students mentioned feeling embraced and included in places such as Holden Village and Namibia. Stories were also shared of those who were aware of being well welcomed because they were heterosexual and Caucasian. Many shared of feeling embraced and included in our seminary community.

Describe a time when you experienced exclusion or disregard in a worshiping community.

Stories were shared of how churches have changed after the 2009 ELCA resolution to allow men and women in homosexual relationships to serve as rostered leaders. Examples were discussed of how some churches have become less welcoming, whether the church chose to remain a part of the ELCA or leave the ELCA. Examples of exclusiveness were shared through stories of visitors feeling isolated from the worshiping community because of non-inclusive language and ethnocentric messages. Many stories were related of segregation and discrimination witnessed within worship communities, some of which included a refusal to share communion or a blessing to people who had differing beliefs.

If our seminary is already welcoming, why do we need to say so?

There was dialogue that this is a good reminder to proclaim a clear welcoming identity and keep complacency in check. We have an opportunity to serve as a witness for other communities and people who have previously been hurt by their worshiping community. Dialogue continued from the perspective that this is also a good reminder to maintain compassion for those who are still discerning what it means to be an RIC community. It is important to preserve humility and not use our welcoming identity as a badge of pride or weapon to be used against those with differing beliefs. Dialogue also included how we continue to progress as a church, seminary, and congregational leaders. One person pointed out that inviting is greater than welcoming and we need to show true friendliness and include communities outside our seminary and place of worship. Many participants voiced concern of a lack of awareness regarding RIC in some communities, such as rural areas or African American churches. There is a need for continued conversation and prayerful reflection, and discussion participants felt this convocation was a good place to begin the necessary dialogue.

Share ideas about how you might engage in or foster conversations about the Reconciling In Christ community in the WTS community and in congregations in which you participate or (will) serve.

Participants shared that there is a need for leadership with compassion to allow individuals to grow into this idea and foster relationships through dialogue. Questions were also asked, such as, “How are we each living out God’s call to love ALL of God’s children,” and “How do faith communities promote healthy and effective dialogue that welcomes all voices without shame or fear?” Some expressed that there is confusion and a need for education regarding the differing terms of identities included in this designation, and this kind of discussion can only be had in an open, safe, and inviting atmosphere. One participant also shared how the ELCA social statements can be helpful resources.

Wartburg Theological Seminary joins over 600 other ELCA communities, congregations, institutions, and theological seminaries that welcome and affirm the LGBTQ community. As we look forward and ask ourselves how we can progress, WTS Dean for Vocation, the Rev. Amy Current, offers this guidance, “As leaders of the church, we must continue the dialogue and continue engaging the conversation. There are numerous resources to assist in learning, listening, and engaging in this conversation.”

Here are a few resources to begin:

Good resources for everything to do with RIC
http://www.reconcilingworks.org/

Our Congregation is already welcoming. Why do we need to say so?
http://www.reconcilingworks.org/resources/ric/whysayso/

You’re an RIC. Now what?
http://www.reconcilingworks.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/RIC-now-what.pdf

30TH YEAR FOR INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE AND COMMUNITY CONVOCATION By WTS Prof. Nathan C. P. Frambach

The “Inclusive Language—Inclusive Community” Convocation was held at Wartburg Seminary earlier this Fall. Presenters were Professors Nathan Frambach and Thomas Schattauer, and final year M. Div. students Rebecca Goche and Chris Lee.  This is the 30th such convocation held annually in the Fall at Wartburg as the church continues to grow, ever expanding the meaning of inclusivity. Professor Frambach’s opening comments begin below.

This convocation is about our life together as persons in community who use language as a—if not the–primary means of expressing ourselves, both to one another and in our praise of God. Language reflects and forms human perceptions and actions. In worship, the language we employ has the comparable impact on our perception and understanding of God.

This community long ago adopted inclusive and expansive language commitments, as stated in the Student and Community Life Handbook (p. 84). This policy reflects an institutional value, a commitment to providing leadership in the movement toward inclusiveness in church life and the church’s use of language. This convocation is an occasion for this community to discuss this commitment and the leadership that we will provide.

In preparing for this convocation and perusing my own inclusive/expansive language resource file, I came across material–task force minutes and notes, convocation literature, papers–from Wartburg as well as from my own tenure in a seminary community as a student. I left Trinity and Columbus well over 20 years ago and we were working on this then. Will we still be working on it 20 years hence? When I first encountered, or was encountered by a commitment to inclusive and expansive language in my seminary community, it was disorienting, difficult and challenging. But I was open to it, or I was opened to it, and gradually I lived and practiced my way to somewhat naturally using language in a more inclusive and expansive manner. It is now a non-negotiable for me. For instance, using “he” to refer to God, while acceptable in some circles, is finally unacceptable because it is fundamentally inadequate. Most significant is how my perception and understanding of God has been broadened, deepened, and enriched. The impact of inclusive and expansive language on me has been such that without it, I suspect my conception of God would be genuinely impoverished.

Finally, this I will claim: The call to be a Godbearer, to convey the gospel, to be a messenger of Jesus Christ, contains within it the call to give up the right to use language in a way that people experience as excluding them. I will own that statement, but it is not my claim. It is a direct quote from a paper entitled “Pastoral Ministry: All Things to All People,” written by an esteemed colleague almost thirty (30) years ago. We’ve been working on this for quite some time. The mantle is passed to each new generation of those called to share and serve the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s our watch, God’s people, and continue this work we must.

SOME THOUGHTS ON INCLUSIVE AND EXPANSIVE LANGUAGE By WTS Prof. Thomas Schattauer

The use of inclusive and expansive language in chapel and classroom reflects our effort within this community to speak about ourselves in a way that includes all genders, races, ethnicities, and varying abilities and also to speak about God truthfully, as God has no sex or gender identity.

Here’s how I prefer to think about such a practice. It is not about following or enforcing a set of rules. Rather, it is an encouragement to some common habits of speech that show the wideness of God’s mercy, the depth and breadth of God’s generosity in Jesus Christ for each and every one. For me, it is also important that we demonstrate that generosity in the ways we encourage one another as we learn these habits.

Some examples of these habits of speech within the common practice of the Wartburg community—

  • Avoid the use of third person masculine pronouns for God.
    • God does not have sex/gender.
  • Expand the images and words we use to address and speak about God beyond masculine images and words.
    • The Bible gives us examples.
  • Say and print “the assembly stands” and “the assembly is seated,” instead of “please stand” and “please sit,” or even “please stand if you are able.”
    • Such instruction describes what we are doing together, not what any particular person is being instructed to do; it also avoids calling attention to ability or disability.
  • When dividing the assembly by pitch range for singing, say or print “high voices” and “low voices,” rather than “men” and “women.”
    • Such instruction is descriptive, more accurate, and avoids reinforcing a binary understanding of sex/gender identity.

This is a topic for continued conversation and learning.

A FLOOD OF REACTIONS By Rebecca Goche, Final Year M. Div.

The following comments are Becky’s from the convocation. Interspersed with her comments are several quotes (in italics) from the sermon she references. The scriptural texts were 1 Kings 19:1-4, 8-15a and Luke 8:26-39 (the Gerasene demoniac).

 

I want to share an experience with you from my internship this past year at St. John’s Lutheran Church in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. I had the privilege to preach the week following the mass shooting at the gay nightclub, The Pulse, in Orlando, Florida. I felt led by the Holy spirit to preach from my unique perspective as a lesbian.

I experienced a flood of reactions. I was angry. I was sad. I was numb. And I was afraid. Just like Elijah in our 1 Kings reading today, I wanted to find a cave and hide in it. I wanted to hide from the storm of emotions raging inside of me. I wanted to hide from the rabid, non-stop media coverage. I wanted to hide from those who condoned these killings in God’s name because they believe that homosexuals like me should not be allowed to exist. I wanted to hide from the trite statements about prayer from those who just weeks ago were spewing hate against my transgender siblings as to which public restroom they can use. I wanted to hide from those who were offering up another Muslim as another scapegoat to another mass shooting. And I wanted to hide from those people who feel that it’s necessary to minimize those who had died and were injured by saying, “All lives matter, not just LGBTQ lives”. But I heard a voice deep inside of me ask as I was searching for my cave, “What are you doing here, Becky?”

It was a gut-wrenching experience for me to both write and deliver this sermon because I knew that the words that I chose to use would elicit strong responses. These responses ranged from icy, cold stares to warm embraces that enveloped me with love that I can still feel today. I want to share a portion of an email that I received from a lesbian woman who heard my sermon. She wrote:

“Dear Becky…I want you to know how important it has been for me to hear sermons from you and Pastor Rachel that boldly proclaim God’s love and acceptance of LGBT people. I always thought I was lucky that while I was growing up my pastors never preached hate ad never told me I’d go to hell. I had other church members tell me that, but my pastors never did. But that wasn’t enough. I sat in the choir loft every Sunday, sometimes quite confused about my sexuality, and I just got silence on the matter. Homosexuality was not something we talked about in church. I had a couple of mentors in my church who made it a point to let me know that God loved me even if I was a lesbian and they never judged me – thank God for them. But it’s different to hear that message from a pulpit. Until I heard you and Pastor Rachel preach, I had never heard a pastor mention LGBT people and issues in church. Most of the time I just felt like that part of my life didn’t belong in church. But you and Pastor Rachel changed that for me. So thank you for being brave in your sermons and letting all of us know how loved we are.”

Inclusive language matters because words are powerful.

It is easy to view another’s life as not worthy and expendable if you do not see him or her as a human being in the first place. Throughout history we have examples of what happens when people are de-humanized – the witch trials and executions of women, the mass killings and corralling on reservations of Native Americans, slavery of Africans, the Jewish Holocaust, and the internment of Japanese Americans. And still to this day acts of violence happen at higher rates to people of color, LGBTQ people, women, children, and to those who suffer from mental illnesses, addictions, poverty, and homelessness. We push the “others” to the edges of society through our systems of unjust laws and through economic disparity. We sometimes even use or interpret the Bible in such a way that it seems to strengthen our case against those whom we perceive as other. And then we demonize the people even further by attaching names like “the savages, the blacks, the illegal aliens, the terrorists, the fags,” and so many other derogatory names. In this story, the man doesn’t seem to know who he is anymore and simply calls himself the name that’s been attached to him – Legion.

And then Jesus arrives on the scene in this amazing story. The Gerasene man asks, “What are you doing here, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” And really, what is Jesus doing there…ignoring social and religious boundaries to reach Legion?…Jesus does not show up to reinforce the way things are in this community…When Jesus shows up, the kingdom of God starts happening. The world is turned upside down…This man, who was once considered an “other” and known only by the name attached to him, has now become Jesus’ disciple in Gentile territory…Jesus met him right where he was at. Jesus will meet you and me right where we’re at, too.

As church leaders, you and I have a responsibility to take great care in the words that we use, and do not use—for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.