Thursday, 30 April 2015

Barth - the Enigma (der vierte Teil)

Protestant altar in Cologne during the 1930s
There is a good deal of nonsense made of the faithfulness of the Confessing Church during the Third Reich. The story goes that the German Protestant church was subverted by the "German Christian" movement which eagerly promoted Nazism. Of that there's no doubt, the record is quite unambiguous.

But, we're told, the Confessing Church stood firm against Hitler, led by spiritual titans like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth. But the truth is less clear cut. Yes, Bonhoeffer opposed the Nazi regime and paid for it with his life. The record of the Confessing Church, and of Karl Barth, is as a whole more ambiguous.

Few have dug as deeply into the disturbing world of the churches under Hitler as Susannah Heschel. Her book The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (Princeton University Press, 2008) should be required reading for anyone seeking to comment on events in that period. Here's what she has to say about the Confessing Church and its attitude toward Jews and Judaism.
[W]hile the Confessing Church supported Jews who had become baptized Christians, most of them agreed with the German Christians that Germany needed to be rid of its Jews and that Judaism was a degenerate moral and spiritual influence on Christians. (p.5)
Even within the so-called "church struggle" between German Christians and the Confessing Church for control of the Protestant church, antisemitism became the glue that united the otherwise warring factions. (p.7)
[B]oth asserted that Jewishness represented a real threat to Christians but differed in their definitions of Jewishness. (p.161)
[A]ntisemitism linked the competing German Christian movement and Confessing Church during the Third Reich, and facilitated an easy transition of power from one group to the other at the end of the war. (p.286)
More recently Mary Solberg (A Church Undone: Documents from the German Christian Faith Movement 1932-1940, Fortress Press, 2015) has written:
The organizational independence of the church, rather than the question of what was happening to the Jews, was perhaps the issue most bitterly contested between the German Christians and the Confessing Church. Even the question of whether the church would adopt a version of the Aryan paragraph was principally an issue of the church's independence from state interference, rather than... its implications for the Jews. (p.29)
The Confessing Church agenda was not fuelled by concern for the fate of Jews, Roma or the disabled. Martin Niemöller, a leading pastor of the Confessing Church, illustrates this sad reality.
Niemöller only gradually abandoned his national conservative views and even made pejorative remarks about Jews of faith while protecting—in his own church—baptised Christians, persecuted as Jews by the Nazis, due to their or their forefathers' Jewish descent. In one sermon in 1935, he remarked: "What is the reason for [their] obvious punishment, which has lasted for thousands of years? Dear brethren, the reason is easily given: the Jews brought the Christ of God to the cross!" (Wikipedia entry)
Later - too late - Niemöller was to express his regret with the famous mea culpa, "and I did not speak out..." In this Niemöller was not atypical.

This is not to say there were not many good and courageous men and women who sheltered under the wing of the Confessing Church, but as with all things in life, the situation was complicated. The simplistic rewriting of history serves nobody well.

So what about Karl Barth himself?

To be continued.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

What do The Simpsons and the ESV Bible have in common?

Smart Christians, including lots of well educated evangelicals, know that Moses couldn't have written the Five Books of Moses. The publishers of the ESV Bible know that too. But there's a problem. They want their translation to have credibility, but they sell to the conservative end of the market. No problem you say, they just need to keep quiet and offer no opinion.

Great advice, unless you want to expand into the Study Bible market in a big way, and the ESV PR machine is currently revved up to promote its new Global Study Bible as number one choice in the English speaking world. The issue then can't really be ignored, they have to say something. They could tell the honest truth but, oh dear, think of all those readers who'd be offended, especially as this translation has a reputation as evangelical-friendly.

Can't you just feel their pain.

What to do, what to do...

And so the time-honoured strategy of prevarication is trotted out. Say something suitably ambiguous.

Such as:
Traditionally, Moses is considered to have been the author of Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch (see Num. 33:2; Deut. 31:24; John 5:46). Of course, Moses lived much later than the events of Genesis. Presumably, stories were passed down about those earlier events, and Moses brought them all together. (Emphasis added)
Traditionally, presumably. Weasel words. If you're a literalist you can read right past them with your ignorance intact; if you're familiar with the textual and historical issues you spot them immediately.

It's a bit like a family watching an episode of The Simpsons together. Adults and kids both laugh - but for different reasons. What amuses the old folks goes right over the heads of the youngsters. It's a winning formula for entertainment, but perhaps not exactly ethical in the Bible business.

Which perhaps says a good deal about the contempt which the editors hold their readership in methinks.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Eunuchs for the Kingdom

Every so often you come across an article that leaves you blinking and mildly astonished. Stephen Patterson's column in the current Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) had just that effect on me. First, news that "Christian cage fighting is a trendy new phenomenon among some evangelical churches... men exchange brutal punches and kicks to the legs, torso or head until one or the other 'taps out,' that is, begs for mercy."

Say what?!

Then Patterson draws a line from this fine 'Christian' sport to male-on-male dominance in the Roman Empire. "Male penetration of another man was the quintessential  act of domination - think imperial 'prison sex,' not gay sex." Here's the explanation for all that phallic graffiti that adorns the ruins of Pompeii.

Now you might be wondering where this is all going. First a diversion back to Sodom. Those despicable Sodomites weren't "randy homosexuals out looking for a good time. They simply intended to put the outsiders [Lot's angelic visitors] in their proper place."

Okay, that makes a good deal of sense. Patterson now changes tack to fifth-century Athens, citing Eva Keuls' book The Reign of the Phallus in support. I've had this worthy academic tome on my bookshelf for a number of years (somewhat obscured in its placement lest anyone casually browsing the shelves come away with an entirely wrong impression).

Stephen Patterson
Finally Patterson zeroes in on his intended text of the day - one I believe is absent from most Sunday lectionary readings; Matthew 19:11-12. This is the eunuch passage which concludes: there are eunuchs who have castrated themselves for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone who can receive this, receive it."

Just a colourful metaphor for the virtues of sexual abstinence or celibacy? No, says Patterson, it means exactly what it says. This was apparently seen as one way to opt out of a brutally toxic culture. Cross reference Galatians 3:28 (neither male nor female) and 1 Corinthians 11:14-15 (on hair length). States Patterson: "Paul liked his men and women to look like men and women, but his Corinthian protégés had taken 'no longer men and women' to heart."

And though I hate to admit it, I think Patterson has made a convincing case. Anyone who has studied early Christianity knows it was pretty diverse (a handy euphemism for "occasionally weird") but apparently it could get weirder than many of us ever imagined.

Fancy a trip back to "Bible times"? I think not.

Speaking of weird, evangelical cage fighters (assuming any of them are actually able to read) please take note!

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Barth - the Enigma (der dritte Teil)

Earlier entries:
First part
Second part

What kind of man was Karl Barth? Certainly he was studious, as you'd expect from someone with his scholarly reputation. He began his day with 30 minutes of 'reflection', then indulged himself by listening to recordings of Mozart. This done it would be time to catch up with the daily newspaper. Then the great man would retire to his world of books and writing till lunch. In the afternoon, on days he had teaching commitments at the university, he would travel in to give a lecture, then head straight back home to pick up his pen once more.

There seems little joy in such a routine (except for his musical indulgence). Biographer John Bowden observes that his "gazing into heaven may have dulled his perception of what was happening around him on earth..." It seems a valid criticism. He did have his peccadilloes though, included pipe tobacco and alcohol, and an unusual (even by today's standards) domestic arrangement with his secretary.

Those who met Barth might have been forgiven for expecting such a bookish man to be shy and unassuming, a kindly old uncle figure. If so they would have been quickly disillusioned. Barth was not given to modesty, comparing himself at times with such notables as Jeremiah the prophet and the apostle Paul. Nor was he given to generosity of spirit with fellow theologians, including Rudolf Bultmann and Emil Brunner (more of his dispute with Brunner later in this series). While a man of great wit, he has also been described as a verbal sadist. Not so surprising then that this "grumpy old man" rebuffed speaking invitations and left letters unanswered.

Barth had his devoted admirers both then and now. He was the acceptable face of European Christian thought in the post-World War II world; a role that may well have fallen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer had he not been executed by the Nazis. Despite Barth's very lukewarm attitude to Catholicism, Pope Pius XII (described by John Cornwell as "Hitler's Pope") considered him the greatest theologian since Thomas Aquinas.

Much of Barth's reputation rests on his leadership role in the Confessing Church, his part in writing the Barmen Declaration (seen as drawing a line in the sand with the Nazis) and his opposition to the Third Reich. This portrait of resistance is, as I hope to demonstrate, a simplistic and perhaps misleading one.

More to follow.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Passage to Zarahemla

Mormon mythology is a fascinating thing. Not that most Mormons think of it as mythology, their church isn't all that big on theological subtleties. Ancient America was filled with Nephites and Lamanites, and Jesus Christ appeared in the pre-European New World.

In this mythical America there was a city called Zarahemla, a Nephite stronghold. Zarahemla is a great name, and hence the title Passage to Zarahemla, a 2007 teen movie set in - where else? - Utah. I found the DVD staring back at me in a pile of el cheapo bargain movies ($3.99) and, lo, the spirit spake unto me, buy that sucker.

This is possibly one of the worst movies I've seen in the last decade. On one level it's Sci-Fi with the modern world overlapping across the centuries with the long lost world of the Nephites in an isolated part of Utah. On another level it's faith-building LDS propaganda. Troubled modern teenage girl falls for broad-shouldered Nephite warrior. Mormon granddad gifts her with an early copy of the Book of Mormon which makes it all plain. Lots of heart-warming family themes. Baddies and Goodies. Did I mention that, apart from a couple of the lead characters, there's some outstandingly bad acting?

A fictional treatment of a fictional subject which parades as real history. The Salt Lake Tribune called it "a stimulating Action-adventure", but I'm thinking they were somewhat predisposed to a positive review. When it hit the Utah cinema circuit it catapulted to #4 in the first week.

There are some Latter-day Saints who approach the Book of Mormon as an inspired novel rather than a text grounded in real historical events. I can respect that. But I guess if you take a more naive approach you come up with this kind of schmaltz.

Maybe there's a lesson here for those who do the same with Biblical epics.

Barth - the Enigma (der zweite Teil)

'Neotherm' has provided some excellent comments on Karl Barth in response to my first post, and has kindly emailed me his research notes. Here are some of his comments - you can read them in full under der erste Teil (1st Part).
I communicated with GCI Ministers, a Trinitarian faculty member at Azusa Pacific, a faculty member at Carey College in New Zealand and, in general, wherever I might find some insight. I read a few articles written by various credible theologians on this topic. And l communicated a lot with someone that I know only as "GCI Info". (It is odd to me that GCI retains the Armstrongite practice of masking identities. The old WCG used to carefully hide the names of ministers and the locations of congregations. So I actually have no idea who GCI Info actually is but it gives the impression of a secretive and perhaps illicit and underground organization. I am sure that appeals to some because if its cachet of exclusivism.)
In general, the responses I received fell into the following categories:
1. Don't read Barth, read Torrance. 
2. Answers written in the abstruse code of hyper-theological academicians. Long on verbiage, short on meaning. 
3. The idea that understanding theology was a special gift (the implication being that I did not have the gift). 
4. The idea that the English translation of the original German was inadequate to bring forward the poetry and meaning of Barth. (I read some German so I know this is not fully the case. Barth's "poetry", I believe, is based his use of portmanteau words. This is novel in English but common in German. German readers would probably not regard it as poetical.)
5. Honest admissions by theologians outside of GCI that there really was no exegesis to be viewed. 
6. The idea that exegesis may not be the necessary requirement for establishing theological principle. (I recoil at this because it reminds me of a salesman sitting in a library in Des Moines, Iowa developing an off-the-wall theology and egotistically presuming that it came directly from God.)
I would not venture the say coldly that the Emperor Has No Clothes. He may have a fig leaf here and there. But I think he would certainly feel uncomfortable on a mildly chilly day. 

Response 3 is one I've also encountered, together with a good deal of neo-Calvinist snootiness. Response 2 is, sadly, par for the course. Number 6 also rings bells.

C.S. Lewis had a word or two to say about Barth also. I've posted this before, but it's worth another airing.
Did you fondly believe – as I did – that where you got among Christians, there, at least, you would escape (as behind a wall from a keen wind) from the horrible ferocity and grimness of modern thought? Not a bit of it. I blundered into it all, imagining that I was the upholder of the old, stern doctrines against modern quasi-Christian slush: only to find that my 'sternness' was their 'slush'. They’ve all been reading a dreadful man called Karl Barth, who seems the right opposite number to Karl Marx. ‘Under judgment’ is their great expression. They all talk like Covenanters or Old Testament prophets. They don’t think human reason or human conscience of any value at all: they maintain, as stoutly as Calvin, that there’s no reason why God’s dealings should appear just (let alone, merciful) to us: and they maintain the doctrine that all our righteousness is filthy rags with a fierceness and sincerity which is like a blow in the face.
More soon.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Barth - the Enigma (der erste Teil)

For a long time now I've been intending to do a series on Karl Barth. Barth (pronounced Bart) is hailed by some as the greatest theologian of the twentieth century. Today his views still have currency and influence among many Protestant churches, and even reach into strange and wondrous backwaters such as Grace Communion International (the former Worldwide Church of God).

A lot of Christians have a superficial image of theologians locked in: be-speckled, study-bound, pedantic, withdrawn from the real world. As misplaced as that might be, Barth nonetheless embodies the stereotype. He is famous for his resistance to Hitler, but perhaps not deservedly so. I would even go so far as to suggest that no single individual has so negatively impacted on the viability of Christianity in the years since World War II as this one man.

What appears here will not (could not) even scratch the surface of Barth's thought. His published works - excluding articles and miscellaneous papers - passes six million words in length. Barth was also a complex - very complex - thinker and writer. I intend to avoid that sort of entanglement and attempt instead to cut the Gordian Knot without getting caught up in the futility of trying to unpick it. If that sounds a tad arrogant one can only take comfort in the reputation the man had himself for arrogance.

It's quite an assignment for a pipsqueak blogger, but I've loaded my super-soaker anyway. 

Not to say that Karl Barth didn't have, like everybody else, redeeming features, both in his theology and his personal life. My contention is simply that the man has been horribly over-rated, and that he and his followers have led the church down a dead-end. You're free to agree or disagree, though I suspect most readers will simply be wondering: "Who was this Barth dude?"

More next time.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Discworld Meets The Plain Truth

It's hard to know where to begin with the latest issue of The Journal: News of the Churches of God, but what the heck, let's give it a go.

For Terry Prachett fans, news that the late fantasy writer and creator of the Discworld novels drew on The Plain Truth as inspiration for a fictional publication in his nineteenth book in the series, Feet of Clay. The magazine called Unadorned Facts was modelled on the PT.

Live and learn.

And you'd have to concede that Feet of Clay is also a great title for anything that, even obliquely, relates to Herbert Armstrong and the gaggle of sects that still idolise him.

It is, incredibly, ten years since the Terry Ratzmann killings during LCG services in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Several articles reflect on that event, including an essay written just two months after those terrible events by Robert Geiger, then just 12, who was sitting next to the youngest of Ratzmann's victims, Bart Oliver, aged 14.

Coverage also of an Ambassador College reunion held in Pasadena earlier this year. The organiser was Bob Gerringer who, if I'm not mistaken, was along with the late John Trechak, one of the founding editors of Ambassador Report. Some 400 were in attendance. Among the speakers was Wayne Cole whose "words were positive and healing." Nice to hear that Wayne, regarded as one of the "good guys" among WCG's former leadership, is still holding his own. How might things have been different if it was he who followed on as Pastor General from Armstrong?

(Perhaps in some alternate Discworld universe he did!)

The last instalment of John Warren's history of the WCG in East Texas appears in this issue, especially focusing around the explosive years of 1994/1995.

Dave Havir puts the buzz-phrase "servant leadership", much abused by the LCG, under the microscope. As always he's well worth reading.

I don't believe I've ever recommended one of the ads in the Connections section before, but there's a first time for everything I guess. Tina Engelbart has written a page-long essay entitled Did Paul Silence Women in Corinth? She's reacting to statements by Art Mokarow in a previous issue. While I'm not sure I'm completely convinced by Ms Engelbart's exegesis of the passages in 1 Corinthians, I'm glad someone is standing up to those officious dilettante preachers who so love to quote Paul to support their misogyny, but know so very little about his writings.

If all this sounds good, it's only fair to warn you that there are the usual less than insightful contributions as well. Australian engineer Mike Baran blows a righteous indignation valve discussing (kind of) the canon, and there are the rest of those Connections ads - one sponsored by something called The Obedient Church of God, Omak, Washington. You'd have thought these guys would have run out of naming options years ago.

You can find The Journal PDF here.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

On babies, screw-drivers and deck chairs

What do you do when long-held beliefs suddenly start to crumble under the impact of fresh information?

It's a situation that most of us have had to confront at one time or another. For some of us more than once.

One option is to go into denial. Get defensive, refuse to be pushed any further up the learning curve. Dig your toes in and circle the wagons, hallelujah! Growing is painful, make it stop!

I dare say we've all met people like that. The older you get the harder it is to go through a seismic shift in your world-view. You end up spending a lot of time and energy trying to convince yourself (usually while trying to convince others) that there's no problem.

Another option is to finesse your views. Take out a screw-driver and make a few adjustments. Look for the deeper significance. I confess that this has been my favoured approach over the years. Reject a vulgar literalism, for example, and  try to uncover the authentic values that lie "in, with and under" the problematic elements.

Then there are the "baby and bathwater" types. Out it all goes.

I was challenged on this a few days ago by something Hemant Mehta wrote. He was making the point that the Option 1 people - the example was Ted Cruz - are only succeeding in creating more Option 3 converts. To summarise the argument, more young people are distancing themselves from any form of Christianity because "they don't want to be part of a religion that does so much damage in our society. [The role of fundamentalist extremists is] to make them realize how awful their beliefs really are."

And that hit me between the eyes. True, nicht wahr? How do we expect young people (or even the occasional old coot) to bother with a nuanced, compassionate or progressive understanding of their inherited faith while all the noise is being made by lobotomised literalist preachers who advocate a gospel of judgement, fear and intolerance? The situation isn't helped by the congenital unwillingness of more sophisticated mainline Christians to distance themselves from the moralistic tithe-farmers who now loudly dominate public discourse on all things Christian.

And I wondered, if only for a fleeting moment, whether the "baby and bathwater" types had succeeded in cutting the Gordian knot while others like myself were fluffing around trying to shuffle deck chairs on the Titanic. Yeah I know, horrible mixed metaphor, but you get the idea.

I guess I'll stick with Option 2, but maybe I'll also be less critical of those who, in all good conscience, find Option 3 the only one they can really deal with.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Developing passionate readers

PZ Myers isn't everybody's cup of communion wine. The wicked old bloke is a rampant godless atheist after all. But whatever you may think about his refusal to bow the knee to religious sensibilities, his recent post on kids and reading is simply brilliant. It's called Don't read because you should, and is the kind of advice parents of young readers should be hearing from their kids' teachers and schools, rather  than the pedantically meaningless claptrap that all too often appears on youngsters' reports - and I confess to having written my share. Follow this simple advice and the literacy skills of the nation (whichever nation you identify with) would get an immediate boost.
[B]eware the attitude that you should tell people what they should read: what you’re doing isn't ennobling their mind, it’s teaching them that reading is a chore and an obligation, and that it isn't fun at all... My philosophy is always to encourage a passion — if you are devoted enough to start devouring books on any topic, eventually you’ll find enjoyable and educational stuff on your own. But the key step is to foster pleasure in reading anything.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Trusting Doubt

On my "must read" list for April.
Most Evangelical Christians earnestly strive to worship the God of Love and Truth. But a belief that the Bible is literally perfect can put them in the odd position of defending falsehood, bigotry, and even violence. What do Evangelicals believe? And how do these beliefs subvert humanity's shared moral values, including the compassionate ministry of Jesus in the New Testament? Is the Good Book even “good,” given its historical inaccuracies, scientific impossibilities, and moral contradictions? Trusting Doubt answers all these questions … and more. It also provides a clear picture of this variant of Christianity which has risen to political prominence at a spiritual cost. 
Raised in a staunch fundamentalist family and educated at Wheaton College – home of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelicalism – Valerie Tarico speaks as a former "insider." She offers alternative biblical, social, and scientific explanations that are compatible with contemporary Christianity, interfaith understanding, and non-theism. Gratefully, Tarico's unique voice as a former Evangelical provides a scholarly yet accessible path away from fundamentalism and toward spiritual clarity – a journey based on logic, love, and the quest for truth.

Monday, 6 April 2015

The Gospel According To Harry

Harry Belafonte to be exact.

Belafonte, born in 1928, is still going strong it seems. Back in the day (by which I mean the fifties and sixties) he was a household name, a rare Black singer who soared on the international music charts. Just my opinion of course, but his music is still fresh and vibrant even now, although some of the lyrics (in A Woman Is A Sometime Thing for example) wouldn't pass muster today. He tends to be remembered for Jamaica Farewell, The Banana Boat Song (Day-O) and Island in the Sun, but his repertoire went much deeper than that. The "king of Calypso" was hugely versatile.

But what intrigues me is the many, many biblical references in his music. Songs like:
  • Wake Up Jacob
  • My Lord What a Mornin'
  • Ezekiel (improvising on Ezekiel 1:15-22)
  • Buked and Scorned
  • Were You There When They Crucified My Lord
  • Swing Low
  • March Down To Jordan
  • Steal Away
  • Take My Mother Home (very appropriate for Easter)
  • When the Saints Go Marching In
  • Hosanna (based on Matthew 7:24-27)
  • Noah (a hilarious sermon parody)
  • In That Great Gettin' Up Mornin'
It's not as though this can simply be explained by a taste for spirituals. Biblical references abound among folk artists of that era - The Seekers, The Kingston Trio and many more. The middle years of the past century were saturated in a cultural appropriation of biblical themes and imagery. They weren't "preachin'", they were simply reaching into the rich cultural capital that then under-girded society, often to inspire much needed progress and change (perhaps no surprise that Harry Belafonte has consistently fought for civil rights and justice issues over the years and that folk music had a strong anti-establishment subversive streak).

What happened?

Today those images - well watered down and given an evangelical spin - seem to have been consigned to the ghetto of "Christian music", the abomination of guitar gripping, faux rock groups strutting their heinous Hillsong stuff on mega-church stages.

If anything is a measure of the decline of Christian influence and the advance of biblical illiteracy in general, I'd guess this would be it. 

And I find that kind of sad.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Blogging Babel

Paul over at Is That In The Bible? doesn't blog nearly enough, but when he does it's almost always worth the wait. Take his latest illustrated piece on the Tower of Babel as an example. What can one say? Comprehensive, informed... Dear lord, the man even provides a bibliography!

You've got to wonder how anyone, living as we all do in the early years of the twenty-first century, could take the Babel story literally. This is simply not the way languages developed. And yet lots of people still do. Not on linguistic or etymological grounds, but because "the Bible tells me so", and they take pride in "a simple faith".

While that may cause some of us to grind our teeth in frustration along with the editors of National Geographic (see their lead article in March: The War on Science), even worse in my opinion is the well-intended appropriation of the Babel story by more liberal Christians in an (ineffective) attempt to rescue it from irrelevance. Sure, there are universal themes in the narrative, just like there are universal themes in the Epic of Gilgamesh. But should the fact that the Babel story is in the biblical book of Genesis privilege it beyond similar tall tales in Greek and Near Eastern culture (or Far Eastern, African or Pacific culture for that matter!) Etiological stories (can be well say etiology together, brethren?) of necessity touch on basic themes, whether they're in Genesis or Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories.

But I digress. Paul has put together an outstanding post on the Tower of Babel. Read it, then share it with a fundamentalist relative or acquaintance (oh the joy of being just a bit subversive).

Poisoned WELS

Various media are carrying the story of a Lutheran minister who "joked" about raping a female blogger whose political views didn't coincide with his own. Among those commenting has been Überblogger Hemant Mehta.

Indeed, when you read the comment, it's clear that "Pastor Dave" Wendt has a wide and expressive vocabulary that would crisp the eardrums of most of us at fifty paces.

My only observation - apart from agreeing that this guy is a contemptible dipstick - is to qualify what 'Lutheran' actually means in this case, especially for those of us beyond the borders of the US.

Pastor Dave doesn't work here anymore.
In America there are three large Lutheran bodies, each quite distinct from the other (as well as a bunch of little bodies, some of which are truly unique, such as the Laestadians). They are:
  1. The ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) which is progressive, the largest of the US Lutheran bodies (just under 4 million), and a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). 
  2. The LCMS (Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod) which is highly conservative and shares a number of beliefs - such as Young Earth Creationism - with fundamentalist churches. It's membership is a tad over 2 million.
  3. The WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) which is, to speak plainly, batshit crazy. With a membership below 400,000 it's the Missouri Synod on steroids.
This last body, the smallest of the three, is the original spiritual home of Michele Bachmann, who only abandoned WELS when it became apparent that continued membership could be a political liability (a move that could be termed the Bachmann Turncoat Overdrive.)

Now, ya wanna guess which of these bodies "Pastor Dave" belongs to?

Yup. We're talking WELS.

Pastor Wendt initially denied sending the email, but then up and resigned anyway. The congregation's website since seems to have been purged, Stalin style, of references to it's former pastor.

Good riddance.