Lenoir-Rhyne University's Lineberger Center for Cultural and Educational Renewal and the LR Campus Activities Board presents An Afternoon with Author Zach Wahls at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. Best known for his moving address in front of the Iowa House Judiciary Committee regarding a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in that state, Wahls tries to answer the question, "What makes a family?"
Wahls tried to answer that very question when he testified before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee in January 2011. The son of two lesbian mothers, the 19-year-old University of Iowa engineering student had no idea that his heartfelt testimony that day would spread like viral wildfire, and even land him on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
The interesting thing here? Well, Lenoir-Rhyne and Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary have merged and the first theological lecture offered by this newly merged institution is not a Luther scholar or an exegete of some renown or even a political figure on the merger of church and state. Nope, they kick it off with an extended discussion of family from the distinct perspective of a guy who had two lesbian moms.
Now I watched his testimony and there is no denying that this guy is an effective speaker, looks good before a camera, showed some grace as he made the news and talk show circuit, and has told an appealing story. Whether you agree or disagree with him, you have to grant him that. The problem is that his story is but one story about an issue that needs fewer stories and more facts, fewer emotional appeals and more straightforward debate, fewer personal perspectives and more Biblical perspective.
My issue is not Zach Wahls. You can listen if you want. My issue is with the departure from an academic and theological focus to one which essential abandons dogma, truth, and confession on the altar of experience and anecdote. Believe me, we have plenty enough of this already going on throughout Lutheranism. At those institutions who aspire to or are charged by their constitutive bodies as the places for pastoral education and formation, something greater is owed than an appearance by a popular and effective young man telling a story. Without casting aspersions upon him, the issue of what is family is not and dare not be left to anecdote. It deserves nothing less than the fullest and best discussion of the Biblical, Confessional, and historical intersects with the modern mind and the direction of our culture.
Truth to be told, I was not surprised by this. I am not surprised by this. But I am deeply saddened by this foray into experience as the great arbiter of truth, morality, and virtue. Maybe Mr. Wahls does have a story to tell but the mind of the Church had better listen more to the voice of Scripture, the perspective of the Confessions, and the historical practice and position of Christianity than to experience on either side of this issue. This is hardly an auspicious beginning for the educational and theological partnership of one seminary and one Lutheran college. It may well, however, be the precursor of how some Lutherans in the future will approach other issues and make decisions that represent a clear and distinct disconnect from Scripture, from Confession, and from tradition. And that is what worries more most of all.
BTW I noticed that on the LTSS web site they have newly become an RIC institution (part of a network of intentionally gay friendly congregations and institutions). How quickly change can move a church body and its institutions from one position to another. The big challenge for the ELCA is how much of this kind of change can the pews bear before the weight of it all empties them to the manifold Lutheran choices out there besides the ELCA.