My colleague from across town was being customarily succinct. His message was tinged with a sense of urgency and concern. “You need to pick up a copy of today’s Chicago Sun Times.” He read me only the headline from the (August 20, 2002) front page: “Are Lutherans pretending to be Catholic to lure Hispanics?”
Lutherans on the front page: not a rare phenomenon (Martin Marty helps to increase our percentage), but infrequent enough to get the phone lines buzzing in the dog days of summer.
When was the last time we had a banner headline? The Joint Declaration of Justification a couple years earlier comes to mind. Remember? Lutherans and Roman Catholics were celebrating together in every time zone from Augsburg to Anaheim. Then there was the more sobering fixation just one year back on a Joliet Lutheran pastor’s “conversion” (as some press articles had it) into the Roman Catholic priesthood.
I made the quick trip to the gas station for the Sun Times. There, indeed, was the tabloid-like headline. As if inviting all of Chicagoland to enter a plebiscite ballot, the paper queried, …well…, “Are Lutherans pretending to be Catholic to lure Hispanics?” (emphasis mine). Maybe the story’s continuation (“Metro” section, page 10) would offer a phone-in option? Dial 1-800-SI SEÑOR (yes sir) to vote yes, or 1-800-MENTIRA (lie) to cast a negative response.
One Lord, One Faith…?
The deeper one read into this article the more that it seemed that the vote was stacked (toward the first option). Cathleen Falsani’s “detail” story inside the paper carried a more insistent headline: “Lutherans luring Hispanic Catholics?” followed by the sub-heading “Families feel duped into wrong church; priests charge deceit.”
The pictured family members are at least smiling as they display their baptismal certificates received from a Lutheran parish. Could it be that they know of the “One Lord, one faith and one baptism, one God and Father of us all” noted in Ephesians 4:5-6? The Christian unity that springs from Baptism has been widely celebrated by Lutherans and Roman Catholics throughout the country, especially in recent years. How sad, that the sacrament of Christian initiation was now a component of Christian division.
Remember the Covenant?
The summer’s-end splash in the Sun Times jogs the memory of still earlier, and even more substantive acclamations of baptismal unity. The lofty language of “The (1989) Covenant” between the ELCA’s Metro Chicago Synod and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago affirms “that the Holy Spirit empowers us to overcome the separation which now exists in doctrine, sacramental life and church order, and is enabling us to achieve the full communion Christ desires for His Church.”
That splendid and exemplary document needs to be translated into Spanish and circulated among pertinent Lutheran and Roman Catholic colleagues and congregations. (Let’s Talk Editorial Board member, Pr. Tom Knutson, co-edited the covenant texts. He has available copies, as do I.) Unfortunately, given the current climate, we probably shouldn’t hold our collective breath for a baptismal affirmation liturgy for Lutherans and Roman Catholics anytime soon in the involved Chicago southwest side neighborhoods. (The Holy Spirit may just surprise us!)
The Sun Times article has served to stir the theological waters. Lutheran pastors serving Latino ministries / congregations are meeting to discuss their evangelical catholic identity and to share mutual support. They have key colleagues within the Episcopal Church, themselves no orphans in matters of catholicity. Our “Call to Common Mission” with that church body has compelling, positive implications for Lutherans and Episcopalians in the vibrant and ever-growing Hispanic ministry field in the USA. We share a view of the church which pre-dates the reformation. We understand ourselves as being a part of the church that is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” Growing numbers of pastors and lay leaders from both church bodies have theologies and pieties that do not fit into the traditional “American (USA) Protestant” stereotype. They delight in rich liturgical expression, have a rather developed Mariology and are heirs of the Reformers’ insistence that the mass be retained (Augsburg Confession, Art. XXIV).
What are the issues?
A few items of contention are enumerated in the Sun Times article. They are elements of a critique that has been surfacing in various times and places as Lutheran Hispanic ministries grow, catching the attention of certain Roman Catholic clergy around the Chicagoland area. (The italicized lines are from the Sun Times article):
- “The [Lutheran Church at 53rd and Maplewood] has Holy water dispensers…”
We do well to be reminded of our baptism, each day if possible. Increasingly, our fonts remain filled – or other water vessels are made available for this purpose – in our churches and chapels.
As I viewed the Sun Times photo of Mrs. Quintero and her children with the “suspect” certificates, I thought back to a shared service of prayer at the Cathedral of St. Raymond in Joliet. Bishop Gary Wollersheim of the Northern Illinois Synod – ELCA and Bishop Joseph Imesch of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet stood side by side at the massive cathedral font as the faithful queued up for a paschal blessing. As it happened, I was in Bishop Imesch’s line. He dipped his hand into the font and signed the cross on my forehead: “Rejoice. Remember that you are baptized.”
- “…and an icon of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Catholic patron saint of Mexico.”
Lutherans have been getting over their “Mary silence” in recent decades. The image of Guadalupe is a ubiquitous religious and cultural image for Mexicans. Her gaze is cast over meat markets and dashboards as well as sanctuaries and sacristies. Witness the fact that in the early days of its life as a small but growing mission, Santa Cruz, Joliet may have had as many as 6 persons named Guadalupe (male and female) in a worshipping group of 50! The very name can not be avoided in the Latino communities.
The image of Mary as the Virgin of Guadalupe and its significance for the churches is receiving wider treatment and discussion. (As I write these lines, a brother pastor has sent an invitation to a discussion on the Virgin of Guadalupe, to be held at Notre Dame in December ’02 with Roman Catholic and Lutheran participants on the panel.) The story of the virgin’s apparition to humble, indigenous Juan Diego certainly echoes the Magnificat: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.” (Luke 1:52)
One must remember that the object of the story’s critique is the Roman Catholic Church, freshly arrived to the soil of the Americas. (It is thus ironic that this story would now be cast as an exclusively Roman Catholic identifier or emblem!)
- “…the pastor is called ‘father’”
This is a contentious issue in Lutheran Hispanic ministry, in no small measure due to the fact that the ELCA clergy roster includes men and women. If male pastors can be called “Padre,” where does that leave the women pastors? In my experience, the “padre” moniker is often an opening, more formal title which frequently shifts to “pastor” as relationships develop within the parish and community.
- “… the service was nearly identical to the Catholic mass she was familiar with.”
Luther, of course, didn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. The term misa is widely used by Lutheran Spanish language congregations (of both the ELCA and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) as well as by Episcopalian Latino ministries. (Cf. my article “Gathered, Nourished and Sent: Reflections on the Meaning of Mass,” Let’s Talk, Vol. 4, Issue 1, p. 12).
Is history still taught? I sometimes wonder. The reformation story is fascinating. We should be bolder in teaching it, hoping to receive both of its twin blessings: renewal and continuity. Unfortunately, the contemporary view has this great chasm between Roman Catholics (popularly called simply, “Catholics”) and any other church. “Gather, Word, Meal and Sending…” these are the great, broad strokes of the historic liturgy shared by Lutherans, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics and others. What should be our delight – an indicator of some semblance of unity, per John 17 – sadly becomes a source of suspicion. We have our work cut out for us.
Truth in Packaging?
An additional critique has been raised by Roman Catholic clergy who, frankly, seem startled and alarmed by the very existence of Lutheran ministries serving Hispanic communities. They point to a perceived failure to advertise truthfully (i.e., to identify the church as being “Lutheran” in signage and publicity).
Some of our area Lutheran Latino Ministries do not routinely use the “L word” in signage or printed materials. There are parallels to this approach in new, ELCA-sponsored mission starts or redevelopments which eschew the Lutheran title.
Certainly, congregations of various denominations and confessions use signs that simply state their name followed by “Church.” My nearest Roman Catholic neighbor parish is commonly known as “Mount Carmel Church.” Signage does not include Catholic, much less “Roman Catholic.”
The “Lutheran-ness” of a faith community can be experienced best in relationship and over time. The elimination of “Lutheran” from all signage, printed matter or conversation could certainly seem disingenuous (although, truth be told, it probably would have greatly pleased the good doctor from Wittenberg!). Our ministries have lively connections with the ELCA synods and churchwide links. Prayers are offered for Lutheran bishops and partner parishes. Announcements are made about meetings of the Lutheran synod. At Santa Cruz, Joliet, we make extensive use of the Spanish and English language version of the ELCA logo, as well as “Luther’s seal” or coat of arms. We may be known on an invitational banner as simply “lglesia SANTA CRUZ Church,” and then be identified as “A Congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America” on the church bulletin.
Not lost on so many of us is that this public attack on Lutheran Latino ministries has come in the midst of a crescendoing sexual mis-conduct scandal within the Roman Catholic Church in the USA. Parallel to the stunning scope of that scandal is the ever-growing awareness of the perils faced daily by Mexicans and Central Americans as they are drawn to this country seeking work.
Our shared catholicity needs renewal and all the members of the body of Christ will be needed as earthen vessels effecting that renewal. Just such a renewed church catholic – encompassing each and all of us – will then be poised to better proclaim in word and action the Good News of Jesus who came not to be served but to serve.
Collegial connections strengthened
The controversy has motivated a new generation of Latino Lutheran pastors to explore and write about an evangelical catholic identity. I hope that they will share their writings here, as the conversation continues in Let’s Talk.