Calling all Lutherans, ex-Lutherans or those who know about Lutherans

At the end of this month, as part of a barbecue, science, and atheism tour of Georgia and South Carolina, I’m debating a Lutheran theologian—one from the conservative Evangelical Lutheran Church of America—on the topic of “Are science and religion compatible.” The church does not adhere to Biblical literalism, and I suspect this will be a debate along John Haught lines: accommodationism versus incompatibility.

Now I’ve already carefully examined the doctrines of that sect, which are far more conservative than I thought Lutherans could be, but would like to hear some personal experiences of Lutheran readers, particularly those from that branch of the church.  Do weigh in below, particularly on the topic of how their religious views comport with science.

145 Comments

  1. truthspeaker
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    ELCA isn’t conservative. Do you mean he comes from the conservative wing of the ELCA?

    The conservative Lutheran denominations are Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Synod (aka WELS).

    • eric
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      Yes, I was going to say the same thing. The ELCA is the more liberal of the two big branches of Lutheranism in the US, with Missouri Synod being the other (more conservative) one. The ELCA churches I know about accept gays, allow any self-confessed christian to take communion, and so on.

      Having said that, however, I’ve never actually examined any of ELCA’s official doctrinal statements. The situation could be analogous to US Catholicism – in that the behavior of 99% of member congregations don’t match doctrine – and I wouldn’t know.

      • eric
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        Ah, my digression took over my whole post…

        Back on the original subject, I would expect that an ELCA priest would probably accept evolution, an old earth, old universe, etc., etc.

        I expect the sort of argument you’ll get is “relgion is compatible with science because…” and not the more conservative “science is wrong because…”

        Though who knows. Every individual priest is different. The fact that the ELCA is the more liberal branch just means that the center of their distribution is a bit more to the left. It doesn’t mean any individual member must be on the left.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      It’s conservative on doctrine, believing in pure justification through works, the real existence of hell, salvation only if you’re baptized and accept Jesus as saviour, and so on. I believe they’re liberal in social works and beliefs, but they still think you go to hell if you don’t get dunked. And there’s no limbo.

      • eric
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

        I think you mean “pure justification through faith.” Or maybe that they believe in pure justification through the works of Jesus.

        I doubt very much that they think salvation is justfied through a person’s good works. That idea is generally rejected by protestants of all types.

        That’s three posts for me, so I’ll shut up for a while. Good luck with your debate.

        • George
          Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

          I think Jerry is accusing Lutherans (sola fide) of being Catholics.

      • Sajanas
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

        I think that’s a fair description of the by the book doctrine of the ELCA. I would not, however, describe them as ‘conservative’. In my experience growing up as a Lutherans, we were never taught that the other denominations of Protestants and Catholics were hell bound (and my own family told me that other good people were not hellbound, even if they didn’t believe in Jesus). ELCA membership, for example, does not require one to be re-baptised if you come in from another denomination. I worry that if you hit out with those literal doctrines, you’d find that a lot of ELCA Lutherans probably haven’t even heard of them, don’t follow them, and don’t think they’re relevant.

        I think the big thing about the ELCA is that it is very, very reluctant to take a hard stance on any issue. While the accept evolution, and now allow gay ministers (in committed relationships), I think there is a lot of room for disagreement within the church. I don’t think they’ve ever made a firm statement about abortion, birth control, or the like.

        The actual running of churches is fairly democratic too… finances are decided on by the congregations themselves, pastors are chosen by election, and the Bishops (I don’t know how they’re appointed) pass measures by votes.

        The downside of all this is that its harder to read a few books and know what a Lutheran will think.

        • Gary W
          Posted January 2, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

          Looking at their website, they seem pretty rigid about sex. Gay *may* be ok, but the only good sex is sex in a “lifelong, monogamous” relationship. They stress the “lifelong” and “monogamous” restrictions over and over again. And apparently, having sex just because you’re horny is never right. Sex is never justified to “gratify the desires of the flesh.” So I guess masturbation is out too.

          • Sajanas
            Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

            Again, while that is the letter of the law, the actual teaching and practice just isn’t that way, at least in my experience growing up as a Lutheran and dating one through college. I don’t think the ELCA is encouraging kids to sign purity pledges, denouncing sex from the pulpit, or the like. Old friends of mine that had out of wedlock children were not shunned by anyone at their churches, etc.

            That’s its own avenue of attack, of course, but its just been my experience that the Lutherans have a lot of rules, but I remember that they spent more time trying to encourage people to give more to charity (ie, the church) and to volunteer more than they did trying to keep people from having sex. But I also grew up in an older community of rich golfers, so it may be that the sermon for not being a selfish rich bastard held a bit more of an audience than one aimed at the 10 or so teenagers in the crowd.

            • Gary W
              Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:36 am | Permalink

              I don’t remember seeing anything about purity pledges or shunning in the ELCA statement of beliefs, so I wouldn’t expect to see that kind of thing going on in the churches. But if an ELCA member does not agree with the rather harsh sexual morality described in the statement of beliefs, he should seriously consider leaving the Church. I wouldn’t expect every member to agree with every point of doctrine, and the sexual teachings are arguably not core doctrines of the Church, but surely they’re pretty important.

      • Posted January 2, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

        In the social beliefs, they seem to be more accepting of homosexuality and gay marriage, and don’t have a hard-and-fast stance against abortion. More theologically, they also tend to an “inspired” over “inerrant” view a bit more than median US Christians, though there’s likely some (more than 1-in-10, less than 1-in-3 ?) of the latter type in a typical congregation sample, despite an official church stance preferring the former.

        All these would seem to leave them on the liberal side relative to the median for US protestants, rather than the conservative. If you don’t recognize their relative position accurately, it could become a liability in the debate. Paraphrasing Augustine of Hippo, if you’re not accurate when talking about things the audience know something about from direct experience, it’s going to make it more difficult to persuade them when you’re talking about other matters.

        YMMV.

    • raven
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      The conservative Lutheran denominations are Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Synod (aka WELS).

      The Missouri synod and WELS are both fundie xian sects.

      In my area, there are around 5 different One True Lutheran denominations. Including to my horror, a WELS church.

    • JBlilie
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Truthspeaker’s comment aligns perfectly with ym understanding as a former Lutheran and with parents who have attended all three flavors. WI and MO synod are crazy-stupid.

  2. gbjames
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Oh, Jezus.

    I was supposed to be a Lutheran. They confirmed me as one when I was 13. I have a photo as proof!

    Even at 13 I realized it was hogwash. So I memorized the requisite creeds, satisfied someone that I was worthy of my white gown, and got a summer job as a groundskeeper at the church where we were able to read Playboy magazines and smoke in the utility shed. At the time I was struck with the irony that our head pastor (whose daughter was reportedly rather “loose”) had been the Army chaplain to bless the bomber taking off to drop an atom bomb on Nagasaki during WWII. He was a rather aggressive jerk.

    I’m afraid that none of this will help you in your debate. Lutherans profess faith in the trinity. I was taught about original sin, Adam and Eve, and the talking snake. They never told us this was metaphorical stuff. Your debate opponent may be more “sophisticated”, I suppose.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      (fwiw, I was confirmed into the Wisconsin Synod.)

      • JBlilie
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        Condolensces …

        • gbjames
          Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

          Like the guy who had been turned into a newt said….

          “I recovered.”
          ;)

  3. Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    ELCA is actually a liberal group, not a conservative one. The term “evangelical” meant that they were willing to accept non-Germans—which caused to more conservative Wisconsin and Missouri synods to split. I’d expect this person to be much like a liberal Catholic.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      What I mean by “conservative” is doctrine, as you can see here. Salvation through baptism, no limbo, belief in a literal hell, etc. Here’s their declaration of faith, which every minister swears to:

      http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe.aspx

      • raven
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        I can’t speak about the Lutherans one way or another.

        But my natal sects were supposedly Calvinist and believed in Predestination.

        I never heard one word about Calvinism though. My impression was the theologians and ministers all thought it was cuckoo nonsense and devoutly hoped no one ever brought the subject up.

        Calvinism doesn’t make much sense for a church anyway.

        Minister: “Some of you here this Sunday will go to heaven, some to hell. You are all Predestined and nothing you can do will change that.

        So why are we here? Forget it, I’m going to go play golf.”

        • Veroxitatis
          Posted January 2, 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          So, 50/50 Hitler’s in Heaven?

          • echidna
            Posted January 2, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

            Hitler was Roman Catholic; suicide is a mortal sin.

      • Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        Jerry, I took a look at the page you linked, and at the statements of belief. According to those, the ELCA is quite incredibly liberal as Christianity goes. Very close to Anglicans in many ways. They are probably very diverse, with pockets of conservatism, but I would not go to the debate with the idea that they are particularly literal in their beliefs. When I was appointed to a parish in Bermuda I had to sign a document which said that I accepted the 39 Articles of Religion, but this was a legal, canonical requirement, and not necessarily reflective of the standard of belief of Bermudian Anglicans, or of my own. Statements of faith, like scripture, has to be interpreted, and unless it states the beliefs with the requirement that they be held literally, I would not assume that they are. Basically, they accept the historic creeds, but these are read through centuries of interpretive theological history. If you just take a look at the catalogue of documents which are accepted as authoritative, you know that these are historical, traditional attachments, and not expressions of literal belief. This is an example of the kind of loose “traditonality” that seems to accompany belief in the ELCA:

        This church accepts the other confessional writings in the Book of Concord, namely, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles and the Treatise, the Small Catechism, the Large Catechism, and the Formula of Concord, as further valid interpretations of the faith of the Church.

        There is simply too much there that you know is no longer relevant to belief today. Notice how the Bible is spoken of as an “ancient text”. That’s a clue too.

  4. Kevin Meredith
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    I was a member for about 5 years, until late 90’s, of a Lutheran church belonging to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Despite its name, ELCA is the more liberal version of American Lutheranism (vs. the Missouri Synod). In fact, I was assured upon joining that particular church that “evangelical” did NOT mean we knocked on doors etc., and I found it a comfortable, non-fundamentalist place to continue my path to apostasy.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      I didn’t say they WERE evangelical, but maintain only that they have a very strict interpretation of what you have to do to go to heaven. Read this and see if you feel otherwise:

      http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe.aspx

      • Kevin Meredith
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        The inescapable dilemma of being a modern institution founded on a primitive book. Do what feels right, but don’t put anything incriminating in writing!

      • Darth Dog
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

        My wife and her entire family are ELCA. From what I have observed they are not very concerned with church dogma. For example, when her sister married a Catholic and converted no one seemed to care. When I asked if the conversion was difficult the answer I got was “no, the hymns are almost all the same”. When I explicitly asked about differences in dogma I got puzzled looks. When I asked if Lutherans believed in transubstantiation, first I had to explain the term (not very surprising) and then found out that none of them knew (very surprising)!

        • Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

          Lutherans, as a rule, do not believe in transubstantiation, but have traditionally believed in consubstantiation. There is a Wikipedia entry for that.

          • whyevolutionistrue
            Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

            Eric, yes, I was confused about that, but “consubstantiation is that Jesus’s blood and body are present along with wafer and blood? Part of Lutheran doctrine (from the “Formula of Concord”) is this:

            “We believe, teach, and confess that in the Holy Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and essentially present, and are truly
            distributed and received with the bread and wine.”

            • truthspeaker
              Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

              Almost, but not exactly, like transubstantiation.

              And they used to fight wars over piddling details like that.

              • Benjamin O'Donnell
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

                Hmm, I think that’s too harsh. “Consubstantiation” seems to me to be a kind of early accommodationist dodge of the “not even wrong” variety. The bread & wine aren’t changed by the magic words, it’s just that “spiritual” flesh & blood are invisibly added to them such that, when you eat or drink the real bread & wine, you’re also “spritually” imbibing the body and blood. It’s silly, but not nearly as silly as transubstantiation.

          • Grace
            Posted April 22, 2014 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

            We definitely do NOT believe in transubstantiation. That’s probably the main difference between Lutherans and Catholics.
            Instead we believe that when the bread and wine is blessed, Jesus’s body and blood are in and with the bread and wine. All four things are there- body, blood, bread, and wine. People who believe in transubstantiation think that the bread and wine changes into Jesus body and blood.

            • Posted April 23, 2014 at 2:53 am | Permalink

              Again “we believe” is not evidence: it’s a statement of faith. What reason do you have to think that what you’re saying about “consubstantiation” is actually true.

              • Grace
                Posted April 23, 2014 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

                Once again, I never said that “I believe” is evidence. And what’s wrong with having a statement of faith and believing in something you can’t see? You believe in gravity even though you can’t see it, because you can see the effects of gravity on objects. I believe in God because although I can’t see him, I can clearly see the effects of Him on the world.
                And the reason I believe Jesus’ body and blood is truly with the communion:
                The bread and wine in the sacrament are Christ’s body and blood by sacramental union. By the power of His word, Christ gives his body in, with, and under the concentrated (blessed) bread and wine. (From Luther’s small catechism)
                I don’t just believe this because it’s been told to me all my life. I would deny it if I didn’t think it was true. But I do think it’s true because it makes sense to me even though it can be hard to understand sometimes. So that is why I believe this about communion.

              • Posted April 23, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

                Grace, you owe it to yourself to answer to yourself why you believe in Jesus but not in Krishna or Muhammad or Mithra or Thor or Quetzalcoatl or any of the many other gods so many others have been every bit as absolutely certain of as you yourself are of Jesus.

                What you’ll find is pretty much guaranteed to be one of two possibilities.

                First, you’ve never truly examined the possibility that Jesus really could be just another faery tale character like all those other gods. Just as you think it’d be silly to believe there really is a blue-skinned multi-armed monkey god…there are people who believe in those gods every bit as much as you believe in Jesus, and they think Jesus is just as silly as you think blue monkey gods are. If you’ve never seriously considered the possibility that you both could be right, especially if you’ve never come up with an independent standard of evidence that, when applied equally to both, isn’t as likely to demonstrate monkey gods as Jesus…well, then you’re living the unexamined life. And do note: explanations such as “Satan is deceiving the monkey god worshippers” work equally well for the monkey god worshippers to apply, substituting their own daemons for your Christian one, so it would fail this test.

                Second, if you’ve made it past that type of stage…then you need to figure out if you’d buy an used car based on the same criteria as you’ve used to determine the reality of Jesus. If not, then what you have is the exact same type of confidence that con artists prey on…which isn’t surprising, because, ultimately, that’s all that religious faith really is.

                Richard Feynman put it most eloquently: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” If you believe something because you want it to be true, you’ve almost certainly succeeded in fooling yourself. It’s okay to believe things that you also want to be true…but if your desire is the source of your belief, your cart is before your horse and you’re in for a seriously disappointing ride.

                Cheers,

                b&

    • Kevin Meredith
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      I should add that the pastor of said Lutheran church mentioned to me privately once that we had some gay & lesbian members. There was no judgment in his words, just noting a fact, and implying that he fully accepted them as members. This was in the 1990’s in South Carolina, but I found what he said to be consistent with the culture of this particular church.

  5. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    A Lutheran? He’ll probably just whip out a copy of Martin Luther’s On the Jews and Their Lies, and tell the audience not to believe anything you say.

  6. Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    hi, I do come from this Church..in fact my father was a pastor in this church in South Africa. I do love the people in this church and always have. Theologically they are so conservative as possible, so much so that should the bible be in conflict with science, the bible should be believed. Dinosaurs were placed there to test our faith etc etc. I am actually amazed that you are there for a debate, perhaps they have changed. Its been years since I have been in a Lutheran Church.

  7. mday
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I’d like to know where you will be speaking (and eating BBQ) in Georgia. Perhaps you will be near our little blue dot of Athens, GA?

  8. Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    all Christians adhere to bible literalism in some form. If he believes in a magical man raised from the dead that offeres an afterlife, pointing that out is all that is needed to show that science and religion aren’t compatible at all.

  9. George
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    This debate shows the basic problem of debating with xians. You cannot get different varieties of xians to agree on much of anything. Even xians who call themselves the same thing. Wikipedia lists 47 versions of Lutheranism in the United States. The three big ones are the “mainstream” ELCA, the fundamentalist Missouri Synod and the wingnut Wisconsin Synod.

    This is true for any protestant church – Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, etc. I used to drive through the small town of Pound, Wisconsin, population 377. It is about 40 mile north of Green Bay. Right next door to each other, separated by a few feet, are the First Baptist Church and the Pioneer Baptist Church. I was always tempted to go there on a Sunday and find out what the difference was between them. My curiosity was not that great and I never did. Why debate xians when they cannot agree amongst themselves?

    • Kevin
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      Why limit it to Christians?

      I have stated for years that I will convert to a religion just as soon as all religions everywhere decide on the status of the bacon cheeseburger.

      Most Protestants (except the vegetarian 7th Day Adventists): Delicious anytime.
      Catholics: OK, except if you fast or eschew meat on Fridays and/or during Lent.
      Jews: No cheese, no bacon.
      Muslims: No bacon (not sure about the cheese).
      Hindi: No burger.
      Buddhists. Cheese only (and depending on the sect, maybe only the bun).

      And on and on.

      Decide on the bacon cheeseburger, and on the wearing of hats and then we can talk. Until then…nope.

      • Posted January 2, 2013 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        i love your post, Kevin. Wonderfully succinct

      • truthspeaker
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

        I can see you’ve put a lot of thought into this, and it’s good as far as it goes, but it neglects the crucial question of scallops with pieces of bacon wrapped around them.

      • RFW
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

        Aha! You’ve pinpointed the real issue: the wearing of hats!

        Did you know that in Tibetan Buddhism different grades of lama wore different styles of hat, some gilded?

        And none resembling the hats of RC clergy?

        Hats off, everyone!

        • truthspeaker
          Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

          I have a hypothesis that the entire English system of government is based on the principal that whoever is wearing the most ridiculous headgear is in charge.

      • Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        FYI, Jews and Muslims will both eat beef, but it has to be special beef. The cow has to have its throat slit and then be dragged up by a hind leg until it exsanguinates. This must be done in the presence of a rabbi to make it Kosher, or an Imam to make it Halal.

        Muslims will eat cheese with their burgers. The rules of Halal are mostly about avoiding pork and alcohol (although Mohammed drank beer) and the method of butchering thing. Unlike Jews, they are allowed shellfish, for example, and are allowed both camel and rabbit, which are not Kosher.

    • Stephen P
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      Indeed. How can religion be compatible with science when religion isn’t even compatible with religion?

      • Posted January 2, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

        +1

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        +1

      • Posted January 2, 2013 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

        This sounds good as a sound bite, but I don’t think it actually makes sense. What it amounts to is “some things that are properly called religion contradict some other things that are also properly so-called, therefore everything that is properly called religion contradicts everything that is properly called science,” which is an obvious non-sequitur.

        (Somewhat amusingly, in classical logic, a set of inconsistent propositions is actually compatible with ANYTHING, because a contradiction entails any proposition. Obviously this isn’t much relevant to the discussion at hand, though.)

        • Notagod
          Posted January 4, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink

          You need to go at least one step deeper in your thought process. Just for a starter, they claim there is but one god. If they are receiving their orders from one god they can be expected to be consistent, if that god weren’t a hate filled ass. Also, the core concepts of christianity are clearly not compatible with science, such as, science isn’t consistent with faith, christians love faith.

          That doesn’t mean that someone proclaiming to be a christian can’t think it means that christianity isn’t consistent with rigorous thought.

  10. Suzanne
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    It sounds nit-picky, but when you say conservative in their doctrine, it’s not really conservative to the Lutheran faith – all Lutherans believe those things. I was raised Missouri Synod which is pretty far right, but not as far right as Wisconsin Synod. Missouri Synod has a literal interpretation of the bible – YEC, people riding dinos, biblical miracles are literally true… My idea of ELCA was we’re the hip group so come on in, we’ll take anybody. We can work out all those rule things later. As such, I would expect a lot of accommodationism.

  11. Newish Gnu
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Former Missouri Synod Lutheran here.

    I’ll echo what others have written above. An ELCA minister is likely to think of himself as “liberal” even if we all recognize them as doctrinally conservative.

    My sister is ELCA but is still a biblical literalist. (No discussion of dinosaurs with her children, no reading Harry Potter allowed).

    RE science: My best guess is that you will encounter some intelligent designish arguments (eg, “look how nature reveals the glory of god”) even if they don’t call it ID. You will likely encounter statements that include the phrase “god’s plan”. You *might* encounter something about natural disasters being evidence of god’s displeasure.

    In short, you should expect a baseline assumption that god was and continues to be active in the world.

    Oh, and how it all happens will be very, very mysterious.

  12. Posted January 2, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    I was raised in an ELCA Lutheran church, and I was fairly versed in their stance on science. While they haven’t weighed in on evolution, they believe in interpreting the Bible as a metaphor and generally accept the methods of critical thinking that science has to offer. They generally accept that science has a good understanding of reality and accept that evolution has occurred. I was raised in the Pacific Northwest, and what I was taught may differ from what is learned in the Southeast. They have issued a report that human caused climate change is happening, and that efforts need to be taken to counter it. While they accept that science is a good method for understanding material reality, they also hold that it is a tool given by god for their stewardship of the earth. They do believe in Hell for anyone (including infants) who hasn’t had the magical water on their head, but Hell isn’t tormenting fire; it is only the absence of an afterlife. They believe in god as the prime motivator cause. They believe in determinism in general, but free will in specific. They are accomodationists; they believe that science provides a great understanding of the material world, but that faith is required for salvation in the non physical spirit world. They believe that we are all lowly bugs that are undeserving of redemption, which is granted by god’s grace alone.

    • Sajanas
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      Growing up in NC, the ELCA there had the same basic view of science, I think. Though in general they didn’t mention it from the pulpit or in Sunday school. But my parents and pastors didn’t find evolution specifically or science in general to be opposed by their religion (though that is perhaps because they didn’t think about it that much, since it was never really mentioned or discussed).

  13. Posted January 2, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I was raised in an ELCA Lutheran church, and I was fairly versed in their stance on science. While they haven’t weighed in on evolution, they believe in interpreting the Bible as a metaphor and generally accept the methods of critical thinking that science has to offer. They generally accept that science has a good understanding of reality and accept that evolution has occurred. I was raised in the Pacific Northwest, and what I was taught may differ from what is learned in the Southeast. They have issued a report that human caused climate change is happening, and that efforts need to be taken to counter it. While they accept that science is a good method for understanding material reality, they also hold that it is a tool given by god for their stewardship of the earth. They do believe in Hell for anyone (including infants) who hasn’t had the magical water on their head, but Hell isn’t tormenting fire; it is only the absence of an afterlife. They believe in god as the prime motivator cause. They believe in determinism in general, but free will in specific. They are accomodationists; they believe that science provides a great understanding of the material world, but that faith is required for salvation in the non physical spirit world. They believe that we are all lowly bugs that are undeserving of redemption, which is granted by god’s grace alone.

  14. Erp
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    As others have pointed out ELCA is the liberal or at least mainline branch (Missouri is conservative, Wisconsin (WELS) is way out conservative). They’ve ordained women since the 1970s and, in 2009, officially permitted the ordination of those in committed same sex relationships (there was some splitting away at that point and quite a few congregations left the denomination though no congregation is required to have a minister they don’t want).

    They aren’t on the whole as liberal as the United Church of Christ but individuals may be. The wikipedia article on them has the results of a Pew Forum survey and various beliefs though not on evolution in particular. I believe they have a strong musical tradition. Note what is written down as church doctrine isn’t necessarily what people (or ministers) on the ground believe. Your best bet is searching the writings of the individual you will be facing.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

      ELCA is on the liberal end of Christianity, which means they’re on the conservative side of moderate social attitudes.

      • Sajanas
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:25 am | Permalink

        My parents left the ELCA when they decided to allow gay ministers in committed relationships. I think a lot of the conservative of the ELCA (and probably most ‘liberal’ churches) is simply that people like my parents in the >65 crowd give the most money and are the most likely to leave. Consequently, I always found the place to be kind of like Thanksgiving dinner where no one wants to offend the bigoted grandparents.

  15. tfkreference
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    In my experience, anecdotal as it is–but based on being confirmed in the ELCA before it was the ELCA, and within the past decade a two-term church council president–the typical ELCA Lutheran has no clue what the doctrine is.

    For those I know, the Lord’s Prayer is longer than the Catholic version, they eat meat on Fridays in Lent, and they have 27 more books in the bible than the Jews (and older Lutherans are often antisemitic). That’s about the extent of what they know about the difference between them and other religions.

    As for science, they accept it on faith (for one, I was told in Sunday school that the order of creation in Genesis 1 is the same as the evolutionary path–a claim I recently heard a cousin repeat).

    It will be NOMA all the way to the inevitable “God works in mysterious ways.”

  16. Achrachno
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    I’m Lutheran by ancestry, but I’m not sure I can help much since my ancestors were northern plains Scandinavian types and you’ll be in the South. However, if your opponent looks to be a Swede, you might ask him “If there’s a god, how can there be lutefisk?”

    That’s all I’ve got.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      Lol! I can continue the workday knowing my minimum daily chuckle requirement has been met.

    • guilherme21msa
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      ” if your opponent looks to be a Swede, you might ask him “If there’s a god, how can there be lutefisk?” ”

      Best advice I ever heard.

    • JBlilie
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      It is: The piece of cod that passeth all understanding!

      • gbjames
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        The ways of god are mysterious!

  17. Posted January 2, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Jerry, to riff on what others have pointed out, I think you should go in there fully aware of the divide between the fundamentalist nature of the church’s doctrine and the liberal nature of its day-to-day practice.

    If you don’t go into the debate expecting that, then the theologian will pounce on you, whichever stance you take. However, with a bit of preparation, you should be able to turn that against him: find some really good examples of things the church officially and unambiguously endorses but that the laity doesn’t like, and then hit him with it. “The official dogma says this-and-such, but a recent poll of Lutherans says they don’t agree, and I certainly get the impression from talking with people here that they generally don’t. So how do you reconcile this cognitive dissonance?”

    Cheers,

    b&

    P.S. If there’s a Q&A, this time, please try to make sure it gets recorded! KTHXBAI b&

    • eric
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      Hmmm, I can see that not working out well. The theologian can rightly respond: I thought we were going to discuss religion’s compatibility with science, and you want to discuss the minituae of the blah blah creed? Why, you must not have a good argument against compatibility!

      IMO, forget that. Stay on target.
      1. Incompatibility of method. The method of revealed truth or divine inspiraton is incompatible with the methods of empiricism. Revelation treats (revealed) ideas as evidence, something one should give weight to. Science treats ideas as hypotheses; things that need to be tested by collecting evidence separate from the idea itself. If you are treating any revelation like evidence, you are practicing a method of knowledge formation which is incompatible with science.

      2. Incompatibility of claims. The miracles of Jesus that the ELCA statements of faith support are incompatible with what science tells us about the world. Humans do not viginally give birth. Humans do not walk on water. Humans cannot turn water into wine. Humans do not get up and walk around after being dead for three days. NOTE: I’d stay away from talking about OT miracles; most likely, the ELCA preacher will simply agree with you that those could be mythic/allegory. I’d also avoid talking about Jesus’ moral claims or the possibility that he didn’t exist as a person. Those things will just muddy the water.

      • Gary W
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

        +1

        • poxyhowzes
          Posted January 2, 2013 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

          Eve was the first scientist.

          Given one hypothesis: “eat of the fruit of this tree and you will surely die,” and a directly countervailing hypothesis: “of course you will not die…eat of the fruit and you will be like gods, [sic] knowing both good and evil… Eve, like all good scientists, performed the experiment.

          The results proved ambiguous. After eating the fruit, she did come to know both good and evil. But the experiment cost her dearly:

          The managing editor and the Editor-in-Chief disagreed on the interpretation of her findings, and, without peers to review it, her article was never published. Thus, as hypothesized, she perished. (In the Noachian flood if not before.)

          Moreover, she lost tenure and was expelled from her lab. Her subsequent experiments in good versus evil proved disappointing: her most grievous failure was her inability to convincingly demonstrate to two of her outstanding students that “The farmer and the cowboy should be friends.” — pH

          • truthspeaker
            Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

            Nice.

    • Posted January 2, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      The difficulty being finding polling specific to the ELCA. The GSS denominational breakdown includes both “Evangelical Lutheran” and “Lutheran Church in America”; even if it was clear which the ELCA was, scarcely 100 respondants total over the last decade leave the uncertainties too high to be a particularly fruitful source. There’s some data here, but I’m not sure how specifically useful it would be. #8 on the “FACT Survey Results for the ELCA” seems most promising, of that.

      It’s also probably going to be important to distinguish the practice components of religion (saying what you OUGHT to do) from the belief components (describing how the universe of experience IS). Practice components like the “works of mercy” are much easier to have compatible; they only run into problems when they say “you OUGHT to do that, because this will/won’t happen” and it turns out “this” doesn’t/does happen when “that” is done. This approach may also involve distinguishing “science” from “engineering”, with the former being in the “is” business and the latter the “ought” business.

      That, however, may just be the Hume-ish bee stuck in my bonnet. Dr. Coyne may find another approach more promising.

      • Posted January 2, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

        Seems to me that the split between what people profess to have faith in and what people actually do and believe is a very up-close and personal example of the incompatibility between faith and reason, and thus between religion and science.

        Finding a good instance of “official dogma you recite ever week says this, but here’s an example where you’re horrified by it” would go a long ways towards proving the point.

        Cheers,

        b&

  18. Posted January 2, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    My brother is a Missouri Synod Lutheran. He thinks most of science is wrong, “macro” evolution never happened, and most important from a theological standpoint, man did not share a common ancestor with non-human animals. He also believes in a universal flood. He does however accept an old cosmos.

    • JBlilie
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      Sounds about right …

  19. RedSonja
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Raised ELCA Lutheran (and Southern Baptist, divorced parents are great!), including being confirmed.

    IME, Lutheranism was quite mellow. Lots of “love thy neighbor” and very little hell. Heavy emphasis on justification by faith, in contrast to the Catholics. (This was often said with a smirk in my confirmation class.) I found the congregation itself to be very white, very straight, and fairly politically (and moderately socially) conservative. My step mom reported a major schism in the congregation when homosexual pastors became a question of doctrine, and a bunch of people left.

    I don’t recall any anti-science, though there was a lot of “well, that was a miracle” or “let God worry about that”. I never heard a satisfactory reply to the problem of evil. My overall impression was of a bland, but amiable, church who didn’t lean too hard on the fear factor.

    • MadScientist
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Re: “Luthernism was quite mellow”

      Yes, it sure has changed since Luther’s era. Even the most conservative congregations would probably have been branded by Luther as hellbound.

  20. Ludo
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    In my opinion, everybody interested in Luther and his religion should begin with reading his book on the Jews. Luther himself considered this book hos most important contribution to society. Furthermore it should never be forgotten that it was no coincidence that ‘Kristallnacht’ (the night of 8 to 9 November 1938) was the birthday of Luther.
    Luthers hideous ‘masterpiece’ is on internet; in German and in English: http://archive.org/details/VonDenJudenUndIhrenLuegen

    http://www.preteristarchive.com/Books/1543_luther_jews.html

    • Marella
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      I had no idea that Kristallnacht was the birthday of Luther, interesting.

  21. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    The ELCA recently took down a website which openly allowed for salvation (going to heaven) outside of the boundaries of Christian belief and practice, even suggesting the possibility of universal salvation. This claim is also made in the Augsburg Fortress Lutheran Study Bible and in various standard seminary texts such as Braaten and Jensen’s “Christian Dogmatics”.

    Modern Roman Catholics have a similar loophole which they used to call “baptism by implicit desire” and they now call by the rather condescending name “anonymous Christians”. (An anonymous Christian is someone who is Christian but doesn’t know it, but they would be Christian if they really understood it, etc.)

    I would regard this as “making a virtue of necessity”. Our greater awareness of the globe has forced Christians to face up to the obvious goodness of religious (or even secular) cultures other than their own.

    • Gary W
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      Yes, that loophole would apparently allow people who are not baptized in the conventional way to be saved anyway, as long as the reason for their not being formally baptized is lack of knowledge or opportunity. But the Catholic Catechism also seems to state clearly that people who *choose* not to become baptized, because they’re simply not persuaded that Christianity is true, are not saved:

      “Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.”

      This would presumably include the vast majority of atheists, Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians living in the U.S. and other societies where “the Gospel has been proclaimed,” but who just don’t believe it and have therefore declined to be baptized.

  22. Jim Thomerson
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I have had considerable contact with a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. I found is a fairly pleasant experience, as they did not live up to my mental expectations of them. One thing for sure, Lutherans know how to do a potluck.

    • tfkreference
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      Yep, the potluck is the holy meal of the Lutheran church. I’ve heard complaints about having communion every week (some conservative congregations still have it just once or twice a month), but have never seen a poorly attended potluck.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

        And coffee is the sacramental beverage.

  23. Grad Student
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I grew up in rural Michigan, where my family accepted the “teachings” of the Missouri Synod the the Lutheran Church. For those who are unfamiliar with the Missouri Synod, it is radically conservative and unapologetically adheres to Biblical literalism. I usually describe it as Catholicism Light, as the church has kept many Catholic traditions.

    My family was not particularly religious and only attended church on holidays or special occasions. Despite the growing evidence of my atheism around 15-16 (I am now 25), my mother begged me to undergo Catechism, which I unenthusiastically did. Traditionally, Catechism requires two hours of study every week for one year. During this time, I learned much about what the church believes that solidified my atheism and deep distrust of religion. They are of the usual variety: gays are sinners, choosing a salacious lifestyle, a morula is a human being, women cannot have authority in church, because of the shenanigans of Eve, etc. They also have the usual Catholic beliefs, such as Jesus being one-third of a monotheistic God (the trinity), communion, and hand-shaking.

    Honestly, if you know enough about Catholicism, you know enough about Lutheranism. It’s the same crazy, minus the confession box.

    • echidna
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

      It makes sense, since Lutherans split directly from Catholicism.

  24. SLC
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I would point out to Prof. Coyne that Judge John Jones of Dover fame is a communicate of the ELCA and that after the decision in that trial, his pastor gave him an attaboy after Sunday services.

    • Posted January 2, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Yes,I know that, but it doesn’t show that religion and science are compatible, any more than does the Pope’s halfhearted acceptance of evolution demonstrate that Catholicism is compatible with science. After all, the ELCA still accept a literal hell and a literal Adam and Eve and the fact that at least four billion people will fry forever because they’re not “saved”. Now that’s compatibility with science! :-)

      • Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        Jerry, I would caution you to read very carefully before you suggest that the ELCA believes in a literal hell. For example, this is something that is included if you search for ‘hell’ on the church’s home page:

        In the Apostles’ Creed we confess, “He (Jesus) descended into hell.” What does this mean?

        This phrase was added to the creed at the Synod of Sirium in 359 A.D. because Markus of Arethusa wanted to express the truth that in his death on the cross, Jesus experienced the abandonment of God, which is, in fact, hell. The sinless Son of God was bearing the inevitable consequences of our sins for us. He went to hell so we who receive him in faith will not have to. This is how far Christ went to save us.

        Is this what you mean when you speak of belief in a “literal hell”? It is at least clear that Lutherans are not bound to believe in a place of eternal fire. I’m willing to bet that Adam and Eve can be interpreted away too. Perhaps there is a “white paper” for that!

        • MadScientist
          Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

          Martin Luther was obsessed with a literal hell, so how dare the ELCA call itself Lutheran when they obviously don’t follow Luther?

      • SLC
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        Of course, a putz calling himself Ray Martinez over at Panda’s Thumb claims that Jones and his pastor are not true Christians because they accept evolution.

  25. GoLutes
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    ELCA is conservative? You might as well say up is down, every Lutheran on every side considers them the liberals — LCMS, WELS, etc. split off because ELCA was too liberal.

    BTW Judge Jones of the Kitzmiller case is ELCA, google “ELCA Judge Jones”.

  26. Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    One of my best friends is an evangelical Lutheran, scoffs at psuedoscience, believes in an ancient earth, chortles over Ken Ham’s dino ark, but argues fiercly with me that evolution is”only a theory,” and refuses to read John E.Jones III’s statement about the Dover trial. I predict you’ll meet a strange melange’ of views. Not very helpful, I know. But most Lutherans believe wholeheartedly in hell and think Martin Luther was the bomb. That is, not terribly culpable in the modern attitued toward Jews that led to their slaughter.

    • Sajanas
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      To be fair, Martin Luther’s attitude towards the Jews (and really, his attitude to anything) is barely mentioned in Church. If I recall correctly, his anti-Jewish writings weren’t even translated into English until the 70s. I didn’t know about it till I did a report on him, and most bibliographies of him really, really down play it too. Which is a shame, because I think it would really be beneficial to talk about it and comprehensively refute it.

  27. morkindie
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    You could always talk about how neuroscience conflicts with the notion of free will required for religion.

  28. Marta
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I was baptized Lutheran, confirmed Lutheran, married Lutheran, and my name is actually carved in the cornerstone of The Good Shepherd Lutheran church in a small city in Florida.

    I no longer recall to which Synod the church belonged; I did, however, know that the flavor of Lutheranism practiced by the church was fairly liberal–at least liberal compared to my friends who were Catholic.

    Not helpful, I know, in addressing their position on the compatibility of religion and science.

    The pastor of the Good Shepherd Lutheran church I attended, was, without question, the most anti-semitic human I’ve ever met. His anti-semitism was the reason I disaffiliated from the church, and was the initial push down the road to atheism. What a horrible little worm he was.

    • MadScientist
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      The hatred of all Jews was mandatory for catlicks until the second half of the past century. Some catlicks like Mel Gibson miss the Good ol’ Days when all catlicks were required to hate people they never met and know nothing about.

  29. MadScientist
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I’m no Lutheran (nor have ever been), but this strikes me as strange for conservative Lutheranism:

    “The church does not adhere to Biblical literalism …”

    That is true only because, like Augustine 1100 prior to Martin Luther, any inconvenient passages were obviously metaphors. Martin Luther’s own brand would be remarkably different from any contemporary flavors because as time goes by more of the bible becomes metaphor. The short story: they go for literalism whenever it’s convenient and quickly accept things as a metaphor when it becomes an inconvenience. Biblical claims such as the authenticity of Jesus, son of The One True God(tm), are taken very literally. Maybe one day the Jesus and God claims won’t be taken literally – contemporary catlick theologians appear to lean towards claiming that Jesus was nothing but a metaphor. Turning god into a metaphor will be another challenge – after all, a metaphor could not have dictated the bible. I hope some Sophisticated Theologians are up to the task.

  30. TnkAgn
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    My personal saying regarding my experience with religion:
    Catholic by Baptism,
    Lutheran by up-bringing,
    Secular Humanist by dint of reason.

    At any rate, the joke goes thus:

    “Why won’t Missouri Synod Lutherans make love standing up? Because someone might think they’re dancing.”

    This joke also works for Maranatha Baptists.

  31. bunnycatch3rii
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Here’s the president of the LCMS explaining evolution.

  32. Owlglass
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know about them in specific, but they seem to be rather the “european type” of evangelical. And they usually more on “its all symbolical” end of the spectrum.

    In the debates there is the inherent tendency to fullfil Godwin’s Law, typically played against atheists. And here you have the trump card this time, google for “On the lies of the jews” written by no other than Martin Luther himself, where he openly suggests to prosecute jews and burn down their synagoges etc. It’s on the silver platter, there is wiki article, all backed up and safe. But I strongly advice to keep this for a defense only. But atheits should always expect the Hitler-The-Atheist rochade, and thats just one quick counter argument (explaining atheism is a time stealer, and they know that, and it itensifies the propaganda lie).

    • Owlglass
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      rochade = would be Castling (chess)

    • Posted January 2, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      The best way to deal with those who Godwin atheists by claiming that it was atheism that made Stalin kill all those people is to agree, and bemoan the fact that Stalin never saw the light, abandoned his atheism, and bowed down before the altar of Quetzalcoatl, beating heart of a sacrificial human raised before him in his bloody hands.

      Wait. What?

      You mean that it’s not atheism you have a problem with, but those who don’t worship your own favored gods? Well, fancy that.

      b&

  33. Joel
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t read much into the “evangelical” in the ELCA name. Evangelical is the world used by early Lutherans to describe themselves. (They didn’t want to be called Lutherans – Lutheran was a word used by their enemies, like we might use the word “Moony”.) German speaking Lutherans today, such as still exist, usually call themselves as Evangelicals.

    Growing up Lutheran our congregation was pretty conservative, but the ELCA college I attended was much more liberal. The science classes were the same as you would find at a state university. I strongly suspected the religion professors viewed miracle stories including the resurrection as metaphor, but they rarely, if ever, came out and said that; they liked to speak in vaguer terms.

  34. Karl Withakay
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    “Now I’ve already carefully examined the doctrines of that sect, which are far more conservative than I thought Lutherans could be”

    Anyone familiar with the LCMS surely laughed when they read this, as the LCMS considers the ELCA to be a bunch of radical, liberal hippies.

    The LCMS is biblical literalist, creationist, Sola scriptura, believes in the inerrancy of the bible, does not ordain women or homosexuals, and believes abortion “is not a moral option, except as a tragically unavoidable byproduct of medical procedures necessary to prevent the death of another human being, viz., the mother”

  35. Greg Peterson
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    I was ELCA, and one of my best friends is an ELCA pastor in California. To call them conservative would be to render the word, in context, useless. ELCA is as liberal as one can be–excepting perhaps Anglicans and Episcopalians–and still have any truck with historical, biblical Christianity. It’s fine if you want to call anyone who takes doctrine at all seriously–as in, has one–conservative, but who does that leave? Unitarian Universalists, with whom we have no substantial differences to debate.

    Jerry, I love you, man, and I cheer you on in this venture as in all others. But you have to let go of the notion that the ELCA is anything other than liberal Christianity–at least from the perspective of actual evangelicals. I was ELCA but went to a fundamentalist Bible college, and I’m pretty sure most of my fellow students would not have considered ELCA members to be Christians at all.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      Okay, let’s not get all hung up on the word “conservative,” which is what a faith seems to me that takes hell literally, tells you that you’ll go to hell if you’re not baptized or accept the savior, believes in a literal Adam and Eve, and believes in “consubstantiation.” That’s the doctrine. Now you can say that the adherents don’t buy that stuff, but I can tell you that there are churchesthat are in some ways more liberal than ELCA on terms of formal theology. Catholics and other Christians, for example, don’t see hell as a literal place where people are burned for eternity, and that there is no limbo for respite. THAT is what the ELCA doctrine says.

      Now the adherents, or those who swear they believe this doctrine (like the pastor I’m debating), may say that they don’t believe it, but then they brand themselves as heretics, particularly a pastor who has to swear to the truth of this doctrine.

      So do you think someone is “liberal” who swears that there is hell and that God sends people there to burn who aren’t baptized or who don’t accept Jesus? I don’t. For crying out loud, almost no church accept a literal hell full of fire these days.

      I am talking now about doctrine. If people reject the ELCA’s statement of what they believe, then they shouldn’t belong to that church.

      • Golkarian
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

        I can’t seem to find the statement about baptism and hell on the website, if someone could point me to it that would be nice (I’ve never heard that in a church).

        Also, this might be a matter of opinion, but to me it seems like the majority of Christians and churches still accept hell.

        I can’t be much help on the Lutheran side (I grew up Calvinist) but in terms of evolution, science, etc. you’ll find more variation within a group then outside it (for example a fundamentalist Calvinist church will agree with a fundamentalist Lutheran church about evolution more than it would with another Calvinist church).

      • aldoleopold
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

        You’re spot on to the teachings of the church (Missouri Synod Lutheran) that I was brought up in. Hell is real, Adam and Eve were real, etc. etc. Also, Darwin was named in several sermons as the anti-christ and evolution was devil worship. — I’m assuming those gems weren’t official dogma and were added in under creative license.

  36. Greg Peterson
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    You’re right that the conservative/liberal divide is not terribly useful here, but there is a distinction I’m trying to get at, not to be pedantic because it might be helpful in understanding ELCA folks, and this is how I might express it. Yes. The official doctrine is as you describe it. But I think the great mass of ELCA Lutherans treat the doctrine as one does a Terms of Service Agreement–you don’t really read it, you just skip to the box and check “I agree.” The focus of the ELCA is much more on community, social outreach, peace and justice, that sort of thing. It’s not that doctrine is wholly absent, but that’s not the emphasis, as it most assuredly is in a much larger number of churches than you seem to realize. Perhaps it requires a greater familiarity with the fundamentalist and evangelical subculture than you are (wisely) willing to gain, but there are a LOT of churches and church folks who not only believe in fire-and-brimstone hell and damnation, but eat, drink and breath it. So forget my clumsy use of “liberal” and think in terms of, yes, this church has a doctrine, but they are not doctrinaire or dogmatic, and this debate partner will be, probably, fairly amenable to reason. As opposed, I am saying, to a “real” evangelical, who will often be convinced that dogma means something important.

    • Gary W
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

      The official doctrine is as you describe it. But I think the great mass of ELCA Lutherans treat the doctrine as one does a Terms of Service Agreement–you don’t really read it, you just skip to the box and check “I agree.”

      Then they should read it. And if they don’t agree with the doctrine, they should leave the Church, as Jerry suggested. Otherwise, they’re hypocrites.

      • Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:13 am | Permalink

        Indeed.

        One might suggest the same of Republicans and their Platform — especially considering that they regularly meet to revise and reaffirm it.

        b&

        • Gary W
          Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

          One might suggest the same of Republicans and their Platform — especially considering that they regularly meet to revise and reaffirm it.

          Only if one didn’t know what one was talking about. Support for political candidates does not imply approval of their party’s platform. Platforms are written by small groups of party activists and are ignored by most rank-and-file members.

          • Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

            You mean, like how statements of faith are written by small groups of church activists and are ignored by most rank-and-file members?

            Gary, we’d have a lot less disrespect for you if you could at least keep your stories straight.

            b&

            • Greg Peterson
              Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

              Yeah, Gary, I don’t reallyh disagree in principle with your point–maybe all the Catholics who use birth control should quit, too, and any skeptic who’s used a homeopathic “remedy,” and so forth. That’s not really at issue, though, as I understand it. What seemed to be at issue is the reality on the ground and not some Platonic Ideal of what an organization should be. And the fact is, ELCA members tend to be quite liberal, by and large, and give only a head-nodding “sure sure, whatever” to issues related to their denomition’s doctrine. For some more evidence of this, I tremblingly recommend “Faitheist.” The author, Chris Stedman, found a great deal of support for his being gay within the ELCA, and it was precisely the non-dogmatic approach of that church that I think played a role in his ability to leave Christianity behind. Again, it’s not that they don’t have a clear doctrine–they do. But–also again–they are not doctrinaire about it. The congregations I knew approached the non-doctrinal state in practice that the Episcopal church has in fact.

            • Gary W
              Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

              You mean, like how statements of faith are written by small groups of church activists and are ignored by most rank-and-file members?

              No, not like that. Christian denominations are largely defined by formal doctrines of belief and practise. People who do not accept at least the core doctrines of a denomination should not belong to that denomination. Political parties are not defined by formal doctrines, and certainly not by platform documents, which is why the platforms are largely ignored.

              Gary, we’d have a lot less disrespect for you if you could at least keep your stories straight.

              Ben, we’d have a lot less disrespect for you if your arguments weren’t so irrational.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 10:37 am | Permalink

                “Political parties are not defined by formal doctrines, and certainly not by platform documents, ”

                Good lord. I’m impressed you could type that with a straight face.

              • Gary W
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

                I think you’re hilarious, truthspeaker. What formal doctrines do you seriously claim define the Republican and Democratic parties, and where are “Republicans” and “Democrats” required to express support for these formal doctrines? And what exactly do you mean by “Republicans,” anyway? Anyone who ever votes for a Republican candidate in an election? Or what?

              • truthspeaker
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

                A “Republican” is someone who runs for office with the endorsement of the Republican party.

                A “Democrat” is someone who runs for office with the endorsement of the Democratic party.

                Informed voters look at the party platforms, look at what policies other officeholders from that party promoted and voted for, and looks at a particular candidate’s record to determine how likely he or she is to stray from the party platform.

              • Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

                So, if you’re a member of a religion in which you were indoctrinated since birth and primarily retain your membership because of your family and friends and a broad consensus with the official statements of belief, you’re a hypocrite if you don’t leave the church if you have serious disagreements with said statements of belief…

                …but official political party platforms are completely irrelevant when choosing which party you wish to register and affiliate with.

                Wait — let me guess. That’s only for Republicans, right? I’m sure you’d call me a hypocrite if you could find some random phrase in the Green Party platform that I didn’t agree with.

                But don’t let me stop you from digging that hole even deeper, Gary! Before long, I’m sure you’ll reach China, or strike oil, or whatever.

                b&

              • Gary W
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:58 am | Permalink

                A “Republican” is someone who runs for office with the endorsement of the Republican party.

                I see. So when you attack “Republicans,” this doesn’t mean people who send money to, vote for, or in some other way support Republican candidates. Only the candidates themselves. Just so we’re clear.

                Informed voters look at the party platforms, look at what policies other officeholders from that party promoted and voted for, and looks at a particular candidate’s record to determine how likely he or she is to stray from the party platform.

                The vast majority of voters don’t give a hoot about the party platforms. They couldn’t even tell you what was in the platform of either party. They vote for candidates and issues, not a party platform.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

                The vast majority of voters are uninformed.

                Party platforms are part of issues.

                ” So when you attack “Republicans,” this doesn’t mean people who send money to, vote for, or in some other way support Republican candidates. Only the candidates themselves. Just so we’re clear.”

                Of course.

              • Gary W
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

                …but official political party platforms are completely irrelevant when choosing which party you wish to register and affiliate with.

                I didn’t say that party platforms are “completely” irrelevant. They are mostly irrelevant. In particular, they are mostly irrelevant to how people choose to vote. Most voters have no idea what’s in the party platforms. They vote for candidates, not party platforms.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

                And that makes those voters idiots.

              • Gary W
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

                Of course.

                Then your position is even more irrational. It makes no sense to attack Republican candidates but not the people who vote for them, send them money, etc., especially since political candidates’ positions on issues are often determined largely by what their constituency wants.

                Still waiting for you to show where candidates are required to express support for some supposed set of formal doctrines of their party. Bob Dole publicly boasted that he hadn’t even read the GOP platform when he ran for president.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

                I didn’t say I wouldn’t criticize those people, I just wouldn’t call them “Republicans” I would call them “people who voted for or donated to Republicans in such and such election”.

                People can vote for whoever they want, regardless of party registration, and many voters don’t register with a party. In my state there’s no way to actually register for a party.

              • gbjames
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

                In my state there’s no way to actually register for a party.

                Same here (Wisconsin). There is no party registration but you can still join a party if you so choose. This is of interest to activists and those who want to influence a party platform.

            • Gary W
              Posted January 3, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

              Greg, I’m not disputing that there is a big difference between the doctrines of the ELCA as described in the statements of belief and the actual beliefs and behavior of many rank-and-file members. I’m saying it’s hypocritical to belong to a Church if you do not accept, and are not at least willing to try to abide by, its basic teachings (what counts as a “basic teaching” is open to dispute, but surely it includes the doctrines about the nature of God, Jesus, salvation, heaven, hell, basic moral principles, etc.). If the Church leaders had any respect for those teachings they’d be encouraging their members to study and think about them carefully, and to remain in the Church only if they really believe them. But of course they’re not going to do that. Christian Churches, especially the more liberal ones, are desperately trying to hang on to their shrinking congregations. The last thing they’re going to do is give their members another reason to leave.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink

        Or rubes.

  37. John Perkins
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    I have a Garrison Keillor CD – Lake Woebegon Days – My favourite part is,”The Young Lutheran’s Guide to the Orchestra”. It is a satire on other composers’ guides to orchestras. It is humorous & doesn’t take itself seriously. It is available at Amazon quite cheaply. You may like to listen to it before the debate.

  38. Hos Loftus
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that anti-semitism has been brought up already but not this particular point. ELCA renounced Martin Luther’s antisemitism only in 1994. Martin Luther’s version of antisemitism was a particularly nasty one. He wrote a book named “on Jews and their lies”, which has been described as the recipe for the holocaust. Hitler was a big fan of Martin Luther. Nazi propagandist Julius Striecher (hanged at Nuremberg) published a one-issue newspaper, that one issue being antisemitism, and the paper carried a banner which was a quote from Luther (the Jews are the blights among us).
    So that raises the question: why didn’t ELCA renounce antisemitism any earlier? And when they did, what was the reason? Did they get a revelations from God himelf like Mormons when they started accepting blacks into the clergy? Or could it just have been political correctness?

    • Erp
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

      The probably didn’t consider it necessary (also the ELCA as a denomination didn’t exist until the 1988 when several previous Lutheran denominations merged). Note that Luther is not someone whose works are considered holy by virtue of being written by him so they don’t have to be explained away like certain verses in the Bible.

      It might be interesting to note whether the ELCA theologian has signed the Clergy Letter in support of science (and in particular biological evolution). I note no ELCA church in South Carolina or Georgia are listed as participating in Evolution weekend in 2012 (though not all churches that did participate did list themselves).

      Some ELCA article on science

      http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Faith-Science-and-Technology/Covalence.aspx

      (they have an entire online journal)

    • truthspeaker
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:44 am | Permalink

      1994 was “only” 49 years after the Holocaust ended. I guess they wanted to take some time to decide if Luther was wrong.

      • Erp
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        And only 6 years after the denomination was formed.

        German Lutherans with the exception of a splinter group mostly went along with the Nazi party (sometimes enthusiastically). Even some of those opposed took some time from becoming anti-Nazi to anti-antisemitism (“they came first for the Jews…” is a statement by one such Lutheran). American Lutherans almost certainly varied (and there were a lot more midsize Lutheran denominations then). A brief hunt shows some opposition to the persecution of Jews but many were ‘timid at best’ (quoting Lloyd Svendsbye in this Th.D. thesis “The History of a Developing Social Responsibility Among Lutherans in America from 1930 to 1960, with Reference to the American Lutheran Church, the Augustana Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the United Lutheran Church in America” 1966 as quoted in “The Church in an Era of Crisis (1933-41) — A Case Study” by Kent L. Johnson, 1988, Word & World [a Lutheran magazine]). BTW do a google search of the Wisconsin synod web page for Jews (site:wels.org) for examples of what very conservative Lutherans think of Luther and his essay.

      • eric
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

        The holocaust was 43 years before the ELCA existed. What did you want them to do, time travel back and repudiate it two generations before they existed?

        Taking 6 years to develop a mission statement you should’ve had right from the beginning is not stellar. But for a large slow-moving organization, its not unconscionably immoral, either.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

          I would have hoped the denominations that merged to form the ELCA would have had existing repudiations of Luther’s anti-semitism.

  39. ethologist
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 5:08 am | Permalink

    I searched for “evolution” on the ELCA web site and came across this interesting article: http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Faith-Science-and-Technology/Covalence/Features/Evolution-Cosmic-and-Biological.aspx.

    It is striking for its acceptance of science as the route for understanding how the world works, for its remarkably accurate accounts of various scientific field including evolution, and for the explicit rejection of anti-scientific claims of other fundamentalist religions.

    All this is rooted in a “Theology of the Cross,” which I had never heard of. According to this weird-and-wacky-read-between-the-lines-in-the-bible idea, God’s (Jesus’s) death on the cross has various implications for accepting science as an explanation of nature. For example,it supposedly implies that God (1) “cooperates with natural processes” rather than controlling them, and (2) “is willing to be considered unnecessary for our understanding of the world.”

    Weird and wacky indeed, but hardly conservative.

  40. ForCarl
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Jerry-

    I was confirmed a Lutheran in an IL church in 1966. It was an LCA church, which if you look up online was probably the most ecumenical and liberal of the Protestant movements. It merged with the ELCA in 1984, so I doubt the newer entity is as liberal.

    I have my old confirmation class book and according to my notes, we only studied about half of it (its taken from Luther’s Small Catecism).

    You’d love the essay on “Does it Matter What We Believe?”

  41. Barbara Bengtsson
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    I was raised Lutheran during the 60/70s in Germany. My paternal grandfather died before I was old enough to remember him. He was a Lutheran pastor and judging by what I have been told he believed that “if you spare the rod you spoil the child, “ right in line with the god he was preaching about. In elementary school Christianity, Lutheran or Catholic depending on affiliation, was taught along with reading, writing, math and some science. I remember being very confused when I learned that the “good god,” that I was taught to pray to had asked Abraham to butcher his son. I asked my father what he would do in Abraham’s place and was very upset when he replied, “Well, if god asked me too…”
    For the most part, however, the general attitude of my parents and teachers was to view the bible as a metaphor, accept evolution as a fact, and move the creation of the world by their god to before the “Big Bang.”

  42. Grace
    Posted April 22, 2014 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Hi, I am a Lutheran and I can’t speak for everyone who is, but here are my thoughts.
    One big thing that comes to mind about Lutherans and science is evolution. Here is what most of us believe: I believe God created the world and all living things. However that doesn’t mean he created them exactly the way they are now. While I and many other Lutherans don’t believe in evolution – that all life evolved from one common ancestor over billions of years- we do believe in micro evolution, which is evolution within species. For example, God created cats, right? But he didn’t necessarily make lions, and tigers, and leopards, and cheetahs. He just made one type of cat which evolved into the species we have today – kind of like all of today’s’ domestic dogs are descended from wolves.
    I could talk about a lot of other things, too, but that’s one thing Lutherans think about science.
    Hope I helped!

    • Posted April 23, 2014 at 2:52 am | Permalink

      This is not satisfactory because there is PLENTY of evidence for macrovolution in the fossil record and other sources. We see deer turning into whales, fish into amphibians, dinosaurs into birds, reptiles into mammals, and so on. So you are ignoring evidence here, evidence adduced in my book. Given that you reject the whole premise of this website, I think you belong on a religious site. Saying “Lutherans believe” isn’t evidence; it’s an assertion of what your faith community tells you. If you actually looked at the data you’d reject that belief

      • Grace
        Posted April 23, 2014 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

        I can assure you that I am not ignoring the evidence because I went to a public high school and my science teachers used to tell me about evolution, the fossil record, etc. all the time. But let me ask you this question- has there ever been evidence that’s turned out to not be real? Has science made mistakes before? Yes. Did you know that around the time Darwin came up with his theory of evolution, another scientist, jean baptiste Lamarck, published a hypothesis of inheritance of acquired traits? That basically said that if I dye my naturally black hair blonde, my children will be born with blonde hair. How ridiculous that theory sounds to us now!
        You say “I believe” isn’t evidence. I agree with you. Saying I believe isn’t evidence and I didn’t mean for it to be. I’m simply saying I know in my heart something is true and that is what I believe in, and I’m not going to change that because there is some “evidence” out there that may be proved false fifty years from now.

        • Posted April 23, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

          Grace,

          Science does not claim absolute knowledge or perfection — quite the opposite.

          I generally define, “science,” as, “The apportionment of beliefs in proportions indicated by a rational analysis of empirical observation.” There’s a lot of lifting being done by some of those words; for example, we currently rely upon the peer review process as an essential element of rational analysis.

          But it’s that first bit that applies here: of getting the confidence of your belief aligned properly with what the rest of the endeavor indicates.

          How confident are you that the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow? I’d suggest you are, or should be, so nearly absolutely confident that it’s generally not worth mentioning any caveats; yet caveats still exist. You could, for example, be in a computer simulation, or your tinfoil hat could have slipped and aliens are controlling your thoughts with their mind rays, or any other variation you might care to invent in that theme. As such, there’s always going to be some doubt…but, often, as in the case of tomorrow’s sunrise, the doubts are so insignificant and / or useless and / or just plain silly that we can, in practice, safely ignore them and just act as if our confidence really were absolute.

          We can establish various other facts with similar confidence. An apple falling from a tree and undisturbed by other forces such as a very strong wind will accelerate straight down at a rate of about ten meters per second per second. This, too, you should be as confident about as tomorrow’s sunrise…

          …but only if you’ve done the experiments for yourself! If your education was reasonably complete, you did do the experiment in a physics class in high school or thereabouts. If you haven’t done the experiments for yourself, you desperately owe it to yourself to do so. They’re easy, fun, and very informative. Grab any well-reviewed introductory physics textbook and follow along, if you’re the self-motivated type, or register in your local community college’s introduction to physics class (and the lab!) if you prefer a classroom setting for these sorts of things.

          There are other similar non-controversial facts in all the major branches of science that you should, again, be as confident about as tomorrow’s sunrise, and, again, you can (and should!) verify them for yourself in a similar way.

          Once you have a good grounding in basic, high-school-level science, you can leverage that to lesser but still exceedingly high levels of confidence about other facts about the world. For example, neither you nor I will ever independently confirm that the Higgs Boson really does exist and has a mass of ~126 GeV…but we both can (and should!) verify that that’s what the consensus of the physics community is, and we should examine their reasons for their confidence. We can also check various claims of theirs against what we’ve independently verified for ourselves and examine the ways in which they go astray — and, being human, they inevitably will.

          If you follow that same process for biology rather than physics, you’ll discover that there is every reason to be as confident in the modern refinements to Darwin’s original theory as you’d be in Newton’s original theory with similar modern refinements. The two really are on equally solid ground, and it no more makes sense to propose divine intervention in the evolution of life on Earth than it does to propose divine intervention in the course of the planets across the skies.

          Fortunately for all who’re interested, our host has written a superlative text to introduce novices to the fundamental principles of modern biology. It is entertaining, informative, correct, and all the other things you want in a great science book for non-specialists — and it’s neither all that long nor expensive (and your library should have it). There are other excellent resources as well, some as good as Jerry’s…but none are better.

          While you would still owe it to yourself to verify for yourself the factual claims in Jerry’s book, after you’ve read it, you’ll have no doubt that, granting the factual claims, Evolution really truly is True.

          …again, to the same non-absolute degree of confidence you have that the Sun will rise tomorrow.

          Cheers,

          b&

        • truthspeaker
          Posted April 23, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

          “Did you know that around the time Darwin came up with his theory of evolution, another scientist, jean baptiste Lamarck, published a hypothesis of inheritance of acquired traits? That basically said that if I dye my naturally black hair blonde, my children will be born with blonde hair. How ridiculous that theory sounds to us now!”

          Any idea why one theory was kept and the other discarded?

  43. Kevin Meredith
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    “I know in my heart something is true and that is what I believe in . . .”

    So would it worry you to know that there are billions of people in the world who know in their heart very different things? e.g. that their ancestor spirits protect them, that Joseph Smith got golden plates from God, that Allah is the only God, Jesus a mere prophet. In other words, the disagreements among everyone’s “heart knowledge” are all the proof required that such knowledge is highly suspect and obviously inferior to knowledge that is established through independent observation and repeated experiments.


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