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Messages - Russ Saltzman

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I said - now listen carefully: I do not have to use his theology to denounce Mr. Phelps, he's enough of a creep as a human being.

Charles, I think we can do without the ad hominems. I understood your point; however, you did refer to Phelps theology as atrocious.

Naw, I'll defend Charles Austin here. Describing Fred Phelps ad hominen is likely best and frequently most accurate. I knew the guy 30-odd years ago when I was Kansas' deputy secretary of state. One responsibility my division had was registering legislative lobbyists and Phelps registered every year to lobby for moral causes and such - he and the tobacco lobbyist had to be separated once by capital security. (My experience with Phelps and his "moral vision" is one of the things I find so amusing about the Lutheran Office of Government Affairs - which "moral vision" do we sign on for: the one we like or the other guy's?) What genuinely ticked me off about the fellow was his practice of sending his then-small children through the state offices selling candy for the church, a congregation consisting mostly of his family members. He went to law school in this period, was admitted to the bar and later, for reasons I cannot recall, was disbarred.

All that said, I do think Charles might have done better with a different ad hominen expression. Not all creeps fall into the Phelp's category. I wouldn't want to see them all painted with a brush unnecessarily broad.

Letters to the Editors / Re: Farewell, Thank You, and Welcome
« on: June 23, 2007, 11:15:54 AM »
I was scanning quickly, so I may have missed a detail or two, but I seem to have read on Page 8 of the June 2007 issue of Forum Letter, that Russ Saltzman has coerced his wife Dianne to obtain a new degree and get a job, which will bring in enough extra income to allow Russ to retire from his lucrative but stress-producing gig as editor.

Uh, well, yes, you did scan too quickly. Though to be honest, it isn't anything Dianne hasn't accused me of. In point of fact, though, I increasingly came to believe that Forum Letter needed a new voice, mine having grown a bit too grumpy. I gave the ALPB board notice two years ago, but I don't think they took me serious until about six months ago. But without question they have made a fine choice in Dick Johnson, who (aside from his tendency to use too many commas) brings to Forum Letter journalistic, academic and pastoral experience.

Your Turn / Re: Memorials at the Lower Susquehanna Synod (PA)
« on: May 22, 2007, 12:45:34 PM »

It's fascinating that the Roman Catholic Church offers a way through for those who have suffered a divorce in circumstances similar to mine.

Yes, their method is to declare that the first marriage never existed.

Uh, no, Brian. The annulment process - the so-called "Catholic divorce" - seeks to determine whether the couple "made" a sacrament. Absent the sacramental capability and capacity of the couple, Rome recognizes there was no sacrament. That is the extent of the determination. This does not invalidate the marriage nor make it go poof down the memory hole nor render children illegitimate. And never is it a declaration that the first marriage never existed.

There is also in the process a very strong element of repentance and the promise of healing and restoration.

It cannot be said that Protestants have served themselves well on the subject of divorce. Excessively pedantic arguments like your own reveal how poorly we have addressed marriage and divorce theologically or pastorally. If we have no forgiveness to offer the repentant divorced, what is it you suggest Protestants may offer?

Forum Blogs / ALPB Denied Booth at Coming LCMS Convention
« on: April 27, 2007, 02:43:30 PM »
The American Lutheran Publicity Bureau made a routine application for booth space at the coming summer convention of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. Well, hardly a booth; more like a card table, really.

Application was made through the director of General Services for the LCMS, David Fiedler <>

Our application was denied because, the story went initially, our products might be in competition with Concordia Publishing House. Our president, Missouri Synod Pastor John Hannah made reply something to the effect that the ALPB presently has some 35 products compared to the gigazillion or so items that Pastor Paul McCain, CEO of Concordia Publishing, generates annually, forever and henceforth. Besides, as Hannah pointed out, Concordia Publishing House generously advertises many of its products through the pages of Lutheran Forum. So, like, what competition?

In reply Fiedler said, "It is the belief of the application review committee that we have the right balance and mix of exhibitors for the convention at this time."

The ALPB does not, by this judgment, represent the "right balance" within the "mix of exhibitors."

So the ALPB at the moment has no table space for the LCMS convention. (We don't even bother applying for the ELCA churchwide assembly and this year, we're beginning to pick up static from several ELCA synods that have previously permitted ALPB displays.)

I have placed some back-channel inquiries to a couple LCMS officials (Paul McCain is not one of them) for whatever help they might be able to offer.

Lacking any resolution, I suggest that maybe, perhaps, Concordia Publishing House clear away a little space at the end of one of their tables for an ALPB display. As I said, a card table would be about right.

Meanwhile, for our LCMS readers so inclined, a mild missive to <> would not be altogether out of order.

Russell E Saltzman, editor
Forum Letter

At the same time, I have a problem with most absolutes. Abortion is one of them, I'm afraid. I think there are circumstances where abortion is the correct action, evil as I believe abortion is.

I don't support (financially) LFL or other similar groups because I'm not an absolutist on abortion, even though I have a deep understanding of and appreciation for the sanctity of human life.

You should bite a bullet and send a contribution.

I don't know anyone in the pro-life movement who is an "absolutist," and certainly not in the sense of protecting the baby at the expense of the mother. But just about every other situation is a matter of convenience - and in most cases, the convenience of the boy friend, the live-in male. I forget the exact statistic, but a majority of women with untentional pregnancies would avoid abortion were sufficient support for an alternative available. Providing conditions to create those alternatives is part of what Lutherans for Life is about. You don't have to be an "absolutist" to support reasonable alternatives to abortion. Forgive me for saying so, but I want to drive the point home: a refusal of "absolutes" is mere license for moral inactivity.

Say, folks, this isn't about Brownback, ELCA policy statements, or anything like that. Mine was a simple inquiry about how Lutherans for Life is preceived by pro-life supporters in the ELCA.

I see little reason to organize an ELCA version for a pro-life witness when the wheel - LFL - already is invented. But if LFL is preceived as an LCMS subsidary, that isn't good.

This question is the one that needs to be addressed.

I am a member of the board of directors of Lutherans For Life <>. I have been since about a year ago when I was invited to serve on the board, more or less specifically as a pastor of the ELCA, albeit one with a mouth that gets into print now and then.

(Self-Disclosure Moment: I am a terrible board member. So far I have been unable to attend even one board meeting, and the meeting I thought I could attend next month has been trumped by family obligations.)

Of 2,883 members of Lutherans for Life, three are members of the ELCA. Four, counting me. These three are self-identified as members of the ELCA.

There are 547 LFL members who have not disclosed their Lutheran affiliation - could be a few ELCA'ers lurking within that number, but I have my doubts. My assumption is, these 547 unidentified LFL members are all members of the Missouri Synod and they just expect everybody else to know it. (Of the remaining non-LCMS folks paying their dues to LFL, 29 belong to the AFLC, 13 to the AALC, and 14 to the CLBA.)

Lutherans for Life is trying to expand its membership base by becoming more pan-Lutheran. A not unreasonable goal is to see a non-LCMS membership of 5 percent by 2008, doubled to 10 percent by 2010.

Now, harboring the notion that the ELCA has more than four members with pro-life sentiments, what prevents them from joining Lutherans for Life?

I have my thoughts but I would much rather hear yours. You may post a reply here (my preference, since it would generate needful public discussion) but I will also take private replies (

Finally, let me put in a plug for Lutherans for Life. There, consider it plugged.

Russ Saltzman, editor, Forum Letter

On-line Articles / Re: One Church, Two Sides: An Interview
« on: February 24, 2006, 11:47:35 AM »

I have met very few remarried Christians (especially remarried pastors) who have a "broken and contrite heart" over their remarriage. (They certainly feel that way over the divorce, but I'm centering on the sin of adultery in the remarriage.)

I question what you intend by that. When it comes to a second marriage following divorce, it is impossible to regard the present joy without giving equal regard to the profound sadness that preceded it. While giving thanks for the present, one must also pay a necessary homage to an unhappy past. Only the dull would regard it in any other light. And only the narrowly pedantic would chose to split hairs about it.

On-line Articles / Re: One Church, Two Sides: An Interview
« on: February 22, 2006, 05:03:24 PM »

and there are many people in this synod who thank God daily I was only third runner-up [for bishop]

Uh, this should be amended to read "and there are many people in this synod myself most notably among themwho thank God daily I was only third runner-up."

On-line Articles / Re: One Church, Two Sides: An Interview
« on: February 22, 2006, 04:55:58 PM »

My question is not about unsinning divorce, but about unsinning marriages after divorce.

Why do we no longer consider a couple who have married after a divorce as living in adultery?

Very early, the church made allowances for second marriages in certain circumstances. The Church of Rome has a formal process to annul the sacramental bond of marriage, permitting a second marriage as the result. Lutherans do not.

Nonetheless, beyond the particularities, there are always conditions in human living that make for a state of continuous sin - like, uh, life itself, huh?

In special regard to the divorced and remarried, if the Lord does not despise a broken and contrite heart, neither should the Lord's church.

On-line Articles / Re: One Church, Two Sides: An Interview
« on: February 22, 2006, 10:55:02 AM »

Has this (the un-sinning the sin) not already happened within the ELCA on the issue of divorce??  Rarely is there ever talk of divorce as a sin anymore, however it is quite noticible in scripture.  There may be no "social statement" (could someone truly tell me what the heck a 'social statement' is??)  overturning scripture like the revisionists would want but practically speaking isn't it happening??    And before anyone starts I am not comparing divorce to homosexuality!!  Just curious as to Pr. Saltzman's definition of "un-sinning sin" and whether or not the ELCA is already there b/c I have heard approved for first call senior seminarians refer to divorce as no longer being a sin.    

Just a side question to Pr. Saltzman...

You are right to raise the question. I certainly have tried to raise it (see my chapter "Clergy and Divorce" in Christian Sexuality: Normative and Pastoral Principles). And, remember here, I speak as a pastor who has been through a divorce. 8th Commandment issues probably apply here, so I will say only that it was not by my choice. That is not to indicate "innocence," only reality. (I am keenly aware of my own failures as a first husband. Thanks to my Old Adam, though, usually I am more aware of hers as a first wife . . . but my Old Adam, as you might guess, is another issue.)

What we Lutherans and other Protestants have slipped into is a generous tolerance of divorce among our clergy, and we have done it most informally. Problematically, Protestants have left it to the secular world. We no longer regard marriage as a public "order" of church life. We have come to regard it as a matter of private choice, and, like the culture around us, divorce as "nobody's business but my own."

But this is not the same as as declaring divorce no longer sin. It is to merely note that what has happened among our parishioners is happening now among our clergy. (Interestingly, tuck this away in your statistical tidbits file, a pastor going through divorce while serving a parish typically will have left that parish within the next 24 months.)

Yet there are several distinctions to be made here:

1) Anyone divorced, in my experience, regards it as the single most defining failure of their life - even among those who divorce for the "best" of reasons, and even among those who have entered into happy, successful second marriages. The residual regret - if not shame - lingers always in the background.

2) No one chatters away about divorce in terms of what a wonderful experience it was, up-lifting and life-enhancing.

3) Most tellingly, few of us are going to "celebrate" the many "gifts" the divorced bring to the faith. Even less will we see synodical resolutions to that effect.

Eveyone recognizes the debilitating effects of divorce (even should they be unable to speak about the "sin of divorce").

So: If there are folks who no longer regard divorce as sin, they are seriously - willfully? - misreading the scriptures.

The question isn't whether divorce is sin. Rather, the real question is always, what do Christians do with sin?

Confession and repentance - those funny old church words - would seem to have some application.

As I indicate in "Clergy and Divorce," were I a bishop (and there are many people in this synod who thank God daily I was only third runner-up) I would be asking an entire array of privacy-invading questions of any pastor contemplating divorce. And I would do this, frankly, with a view toward assessing continued fitness for public ministry, seeking to hear in context those old church words.

That is not likely to happen - me a bishop, or any bishop asking those sorts of questions. Not for want of concern, but because of concern - concern for the clergy family's income, concern for the spouse and children (who not only lose a parent, but typically their congregational connections, too), and concern for the parish in the aftermath of the pastor's divorce. But I think those sorts of questions do need to be asked. And answered.

I hope this clarifies some of my thought.

On-line Articles / Re: One Church, Two Sides: An Interview
« on: February 20, 2006, 04:10:17 PM »
I was careful to indicate that Pr Simon and I could disagree deeply and remain friends. At the same time, I was also very clear as to what conditions would compel my departure from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The church may properly tolerate all sorts of bad behaviors - considering the constraint of sin and the weakness of the flesh, the church has but little choice in the matter.

But the church may not give official sanction to those things and remain, in any sense, church. It's the business of "un-sinning the sin." And when the ELCA does that, I will depart. And likely, I'll still be friends with Donna.

Letters to the Editors / Re: Response to Saltzman
« on: February 16, 2006, 11:25:59 AM »

Maybe Saltzman's response was a bit pointed personally toward Hanson, but I certainly can understand his frustration.

What's he mean, "Maybe"?

To respond to several points originally raised:

First, the bishop himself raised the issue of partisanship. Partisanship extends beyond the romantic churning of Democrats and Republicans. It entails staking out one side exclusively over and against another side. He then labeled one side "moral" and the other "immoral." By that, the bishop's statement was unremittingly partisan. Inserting the Republican references, as I did, was simply a way of highlighting the evident partisanship already contained in his statement. I could have inserted Social Democrat, but I don't think it would have had the same impact.

In a liberal representative democracy it is a misapplication of partisanship to dress up one side as moral and the other immoral. Religious leaders fail democracy when they "baptize" their partisanships in the font of religious language. "Better a smart Turk than a stupid Christian" sort of thing. Introducing "religious vision" to the public debate - like Falwell, like Robertson, like Hanson, like Griswold - does nothing for public argument save diminish it. Which "religious vision"? Falwell's? Hanson's? When the gospel becomes subject to political partisanship, then we're cooked. We're just preaching political preferences, not the gospel.

Of course Christian living has a public dimension, but it belongs in the sphere of baptismal vocation as citizens who are Christian enact their stewardship of life in the voting booth, in public life, in all areas of living. In all fairness, some may choose to be conservative, some liberal. But it is not the calling of pastors and bishops to distinguish one side as moral and the other not. The calling of pastors is to minister to the people of God where the people of God are.

There are exceptional occasions when failure to speak the gospel is sin. In Germany. In South Africa. But political life in the United States generally does not consist of literally risking one's own neck to protect the truth of Christian witness. There are some who would like to think so, but I think they should be dismissed as "no-fault" prophets.

Second, nothing I said constitutes an ad hominen attack, unless Webster's has changed the definition of the term since issuing the their 9th Collegiate. I did not question the bishop's character, only the wisdom of his statement.

Third, everything in Forum Letter is peer-reviewed prior to publication, by pastors and laity, exactly to insure fair, though admittedly biased, commentary. This time, for this piece, I even included a college professor or two.

Fourth, I have never been of the opinion that political speech - when verging to the religious - enters some kind of safety zone, where it may not be questioned, merely because the speaker attaches religious significance to his remarks. Public speech is always subject to public comment. No more, no less.

Letters to the Editors / Re: Harmful cries of social injustice
« on: August 07, 2005, 07:53:48 AM »

But surely a Bishop has a right and obligation to speak his mind on what he sees as social injustice -- even when, as in this case, professional economists are divided on the matter.  The Bishop of Rome, for example, strongly noted the injustice he saw in the American-led war in Iraq, even though learned opinion on the subject was (and is) divided.

Peace and joy,
Glenn Richter

Certainly a bishop has that obligation, and it would be a poor bishop who failed to take that responsibility seriously. But he is not obligated to call the faith and morality of those who disagree with him into question. This, as I understand our correspondent, was the major thrust of his article.

And however much John-Paul the II objected to the war, he never went so far as to argue that the war fell outside the scope of Catholic moral teaching. This is a considerabe distinction, and one which Bp. Hanson failed to recognize.

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