Clifton-Soderstrom, Response to Responses

This post concludes our series highlighting the dialog following from Michelle A. Clifton-Soderstrom’s article, “Covenant Freedom: Freedom for All or Free-for-all?,” published in the most recent Covenant Quarterly issue. Here Clifton-Soderstrom responds to Bantum, Bilynskyj, Erickson, Safstrom, and Snodgrass. We invite you to engage directly with the author in the comments section below (comments policy).


From Michelle A. Clifton-Soderstrom, “Response to [responses to] Clifton-Soderstrom,” pp. 47-57:

Michelle A. Clifton-Soderstrom

The intention of my proposal, drawing on archival sources, is not to adjudicate a conversation around any one particular moral issue. Rather, the intent is to describe Covenant freedom historically and to raise questions regarding the limits of this freedom. While my proposal has relevance for many ethical topics, far more is at stake. Specifically, if the Covenant determines that its long-cherished freedom is no longer a viable way forward in all matters of life together—perhaps most especially in those matters over which there is present conflict—we move decidedly in the direction of becoming a confessional church requiring doctrinal adherence.

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Covenant freedom—freedom from binding confessions—preserves Scripture as the highest authority for all matters of faith, doctrine, and conduct, as Safstrom also notes. The founders of the Covenant were convinced that when an ecclesial community places one interpretation over Scripture itself, it runs the danger of human interpretations being more authoritative than God’s word. In other words, if a community truly believes that Scripture has authority and power to transform those open to its truths, then the real work of communions such as ours is in faithful, communal, rigorous, charitable, and holistic reading, as the Covenant Resource Paper on the Bible outlines.

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As far as corporate unity is concerned, one could arguably say that faithful dissent or disagreement engenders Christian unity in that one of its criteria, emphasized in Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom, is sincerity in personal relationships, showing the courtesy of listening to others, exercising care in our words, never using disagreement for advancement, refraining from public shaming, and in all things reflect-ing commitment to Christ. Such practices are the building blocks of unity, and they have great potential to move us from the ease of sameness that a monolithic culture affords to the difficult but valuable work of embracing the diversity of a multicultural communion.

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This brings me to the excellent questions raised by several respondents around my third criterion, Does the dissenting position relate to the dominant position by being more or less inclusive? Bilynskyj rightly notes that inclusion has limits. He clarifies that inclusion of all people does not mean including all theological viewpoints. Similarly, Snodgrass writes that “the gospel is distorted if inclusion affirms sinful behaviors.” These points are well-taken. Inclusivity in itself and by itself is not a criterion for the boundaries of dissent. Inclusivity is only a helpful criterion if it is tethered to the other four criteria, most especially to faith in Christ and the recognition of the centrality of the word.

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[I]t is neither helpful nor clear to pit plausible exegesis against cultural values as a general rule. Culture, its values, and Christians’ relationship to culture all need further definition. Culture is an extremely useful and valuable aspect in historical-critical interpretive methods, and a rich understanding of the cultures surrounding the worldviews of the biblical authors even illumines the meaning of texts. Surely a rich understanding of the culture within which readers seek to apply a text also has great potential to illuminate faithful application. Culture and text are not always antithetical to one another. In short, cultural influences have at times driven solid exegetical conclusions. The relationships between both biblical authors and culture and also readers and culture, therefore, must be further clarified before making claims that definitively pit culture against plausible exegesis.

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With an eye toward renewal through the conventicle-like work of reading together, I ask readers to wonder with me: Does the Covenant need to take a step back and refocus our energy on building and rebuilding relationships with one another rather than foregrounding doctrinal and moral disputes in our life together? Do we need a radical transformation and reimagination of who we are as a body of faith, as Bantum suggests? If lay people, leaders, pastors, and teachers could overwhelmingly say “yes” to this kind of renewal—not one of doctrine but of renewed relation-ships—Covenant freedom may be the very thing that saves the mission of those who have historically been friends.

Read the full response here.


Michelle A. Clifton-Soderstrom is professor of theology and ethics at North Park Theological Seminary, where she also serves as the director of the School of Restorative Arts at Stateville Correctional Center. She is the author of Angels, Worms, and Bogeys: The Christian Ethic of Pietism (Cascade Books, 2010) and co-author of Incorporating Children in Worship: Mark of the Kingdom (Cascade Books, 2014).

Klyne Snodgrass, Response to Clifton-Soderstrom

Each Monday (1/21-2/18) we are highlighting in turn the six “Responses to Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, ‘Covenant Freedom: Freedom for All or Free-for-all?’” published in the most recent issue of the Covenant Quarterly. We invite you to engage directly with the authors in the comments section below (comments policy).


From Klyne Snodgrass, “Response to Clifton-Soderstrom,” pp. 42-46.

Klyne Snodgrass

A focus on freedom is one of the treasures of the Covenant Church, one that rightly attracts many people. Freedom in Christ from sin and for service is the focus of the sixth Covenant Affirmation. It is rooted in the other five affirmations and seeks unity rather than division. I value this freedom, but from my early years at North Park I have said with some regularity that the Covenant is very good at talking about freedom but does not do well talking about the limits of freedom. Freedom only exists within context and with responsibility.

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With regard to faithful dissent, several questions and comments are in order. Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom’s article analyzes Covenant freedom in relation to the centrality of the word, the necessity of new birth, and faithful dissent, all said to be essential to sustaining Christian freedom. As much as I want to guard dissent and do see it as necessary, it is not one of the Covenant Affirmations, as are the centrality of the word and the necessity of new birth. The article claims that a “diversity of viewpoints within the communion creates potential avenues for renewal” (p. 38). The New Testament focus is more on unity, including unity of thought. If one sought to justify dissent scripturally, it would not be easy….Positive statements about dissent you will not find. In fact, dissent is frequently disallowed. Paul did not allow dissent in Galatia or elsewhere, and even when stressing his own independence, he took pains to emphasize his unity with the traditions of the church. How do we guard the role of the prophetic voice while recognizing the frequency of false prophets?
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Relying on the 1963 report Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom —a very good report—Clifton-Soderstrom distinguishes between human reason, which Scripture does address, and the inward work of the Spirit in our minds and hearts. What is the relation of human reason and the inward work of the Spirit in our minds? The article suggests a distinction between reading for truth claims through exegesis, original languages, and authorial intent and reading for spiritual sustenance and conversion, evaluated by how the good news has taken hold of and molded the life of the believer. I reject the dichotomy. There is an implicit exegesis in any interpretation or grasping of the text, and we do not do one kind of reading when studying and another when reading devotionally, although different concerns may be foregrounded. Even more important, Clifton-Soderstrom does not do justice to the commitment to Scripture in the 1963 report, for the paragraph immediately following the focus on the Spirit’s inward work sets boundaries for any dissent.
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Another point requiring comment is that the topics Clifton-Soderstrom gives as examples of Covenant dissent are quite divergent and should not be lumped together: just war and pacifism; baptism; women in ministry; different views on eschatology, the charismatic movement, and inspiration; the affirmation of a restorative process for those who have committed crimes; and LBGTQ issues. Quite different interpretive processes are at play in these varied topics. For some, biblical texts stand in tension with other biblical texts, and for some, convincing explanations can be made for different views. While a biblical defense can be made for both sides of some of these issues, for others that is not the case.
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With LBGTQ issues, however, everywhere the issue of same-sex relations is treated in the Bible, the
practice is rejected. There is no tension between texts, nor is there any question regarding whether the biblical writers rejected the practice of same-sex intercourse. Freedom to disagree about interpretation is not the same thing as freedom to disregard all plausible exegesis in favor of contemporary cultural values.
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Inclusivity is an important theme, but what are the limits of inclusivity? Inclusivity is absolutely crucial because the gospel is for all people, but the gospel is distorted if inclusion affirms sinful behaviors. It is one thing to speak of inclusivity of other races, but quite another if one is thinking of ethical boundaries. Sexual practice is not the same as skin color. If the church is not going to be marked by ethical difference, why should anyone bother? If in the name of inclusivity we accept practices contrary to Scripture, we violate the Covenant’s stance on freedom we were trying to guard.
Read Snodgrass’ full response here.

Klyne Snodgrass is professor emeritus of New Testament at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, where he previously served for 41 years (1974-2015). He is the author of NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians (Zondervan, 1996), Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus (Eerdmans, 2008), and Who God Says You Are (Eerdmans, 2018).

Mark Safstrom, Response to Clifton-Soderstrom

Each Monday (1/21-2/18) we are highlighting in turn the six “Responses to Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, ‘Covenant Freedom: Freedom for All or Free-for-all?’” published in the most recent issue of the Covenant Quarterly. We invite you to engage directly with the authors in the comments section below (comments policy).


From Mark Safstrom, “Response to Clifton-Soderstrom,” pp. 37–41.

Mark Safstrom

Christian freedom is not an afterthought to Covenant ecclesiology. Rather the very kernel, the central idea, of the historical polity of this church is that people would be able to gather in the same congregation, read and discuss Scripture, agree and disagree about it, and yet find ways to remain in one body. This is not a concession to relativism or a low view of Scripture; rather, as Clifton-Soderstrom demonstrates through numerous examples, the Covenant leaders of past generations held stubbornly to the ideal that “[t]wo faithful readers may differ in their interpretations and still both hold a high view of the authority and place of Scripture” (p. 51). This aspect of Covenant ecclesiology facilitates a pathway to Christian maturity by embracing freedom and the tensions inherent to that freedom. As Clifton-Soderstrom is keen to point out whenever she speaks on the six Covenant Affirmations, there is a natural progression from “the centrality of Scripture” to “freedom in Christ.” The Covenant Affirmations are not a confession (articles to be professed) but rather an embodiment of a Covenant way of being together.
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[Clifton-Soderstrom’s] organization of Covenant values into five principles for discerning what makes faithful dissent faithful serves as a significant complement to Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom, filling a need for practical guidelines for church leaders and congregants to understand better the mechanics of how Covenant freedom can work in practice. For instance, she provides answers to questions like, “How can ‘sincere dissent’ be identified?” and “What is the difference between policy and theology?” The definitions Clifton-Soderstrom provides are anchored in the historical literature of the church and, as such, provide a much-needed service to the Covenant in filling a void apparent in many key denominational resources on sexuality from the past few years, which have often neglected to define this issue in relation to ecclesiology.
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This lack of attention to historical ecclesiology is an unfortunate omission, as attention to it could provide the church significant resources for how we can resolve, or at least diminish, current disputes and be as welcoming to divergent views as possible. The ongoing relevance of Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom has even been called into question in recent years….I believe that accepting a “that was then, this is now” paradigm deprives us of a critical opportunity for productive discussion. The  authors of Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom present depth of insight and a careful treatment of freedom. This document and other literature on Covenant ecclesiology is extraordinarily prescient, timeless, and relevant to today’s debates regarding sexuality….Covenant ecclesiology matters because we must understand not only what the Bible says about sexuality but also what it says about the congregation and how we are to make room for dissenters and seek unity in our diversity of conclusions about what the Bible says.
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The resource paper on freedom and responsibility recently commissioned by the Covenant Executive Board provides a timely opportunity to explain, clarify, and build on historical Covenant ecclesiology. It will also be important that this group meet the high bar set by the 1963 committee that produced
Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom in terms of breadth of authorship and length and transparency of deliberation….Trust and transparency will be better served if the freedom and responsibility writing team follows the Covenant Committee on Freedom and Theology in being comprised of a similar size (a dozen) of diverse people (to avoid the pitfalls of “groupthink”), conducting their work for a similar duration (five years) in a manner valuing transparency of process and authorship, and seeking approval for their work at an Annual Meeting.
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In a highly polarized conversation, Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom’s article offers an essential reminder that the Covenant’s historical theology is directly relevant to understanding how the Covenant’s approach to divisive ideological conflicts must be distinct from that of other evangelical churches, because our ecclesiology is different….An ecclesiology can be lost. But an ecclesiology can also be reclaimed if the leaders of the church today truly seek to understand the institutions they have inherited. It is imperative that leaders seek a longer institutional memory, beyond the past few decades. There is still time for all of us to start reading.
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Read Safstrom’s full response here.

Scott Erickson, Response to Clifton-Soderstrom

Each Monday (1/21-2/18) we are highlighting in turn the six “Responses to Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, ‘Covenant Freedom: Freedom for All or Free-for-all?’” published in the most recent issue of the Covenant Quarterly. We invite you to engage directly with the authors in the comments section below (comments policy).


From Scott Erickson, “Response to Clifton-Soderstrom,” pp. 33–36.

Scott Erickson

Regarding homosexuality, the underlying challenge with a model of faithful dissent is theological. Said another way, the heart of the problem is how the ECC exercises a theology of Christian freedom in relationship to homosexuality, not as a result of homosexuality. I believe the ECC is trying to solve the wrong problem (homosexuality) when a clear, renewed theological statement and implementation plan on Christian freedom is what’s most needed.
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We face another challenge with the model of faithful dissent because of the denomination’s current stance on a static authority of Scripture. I am not questioning the authority of Scripture per se, but rather the weight of that authority in the theological work of the church and how to deal with different points of interpretation. Paul Peter Waldenström, a Covenant founder, cast aside theological methodology with one question: “Where is it written?” Note that he did not ask, “What is the meaning of what’s written [in the Bible]?” Waldenström’s question espoused a static authority by implying that Mission Friends should quote the Bible literally rather than wrestle with its interpretation. His position aligned with the American evangelical movement of the nineteenth century. The result over time is that the ECC has relegated authority to a holy document rather than sustaining an active and lively discussion about the theological interpretation of Scripture within the body of believers. It is frankly foolish to believe we’re finished—or will ever be finished—with the task of biblical interpretation on homosexuality and gay marriage, as some have argued. We should never finish our discussions on the meaning and interpretation of God’s word.
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Covenant framers would agree with [sociologist Richard] Sennet because they understood that power relegated to the Bible’s authority has been constructed by humans. The authority of Scripture can become its own power play or hierarchy, even used as an excuse to suspend dialogue and to avoid consideration of theological change. In ECC tradition, this means that faithful dissent on homosexuality can be too easily, and mistakenly, characterized as dissent against Scripture itself. Instead, Clifton-Soderstrom’s framework would be best understood as faithful dissent vis-à-vis denominational policy, the official stance of church leaders, and biblical literalism.
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Readiness for theological dialogue and change will not happen by endlessly quoting passages of Scripture on homosexuality. The central question is whether a document—even a sacred document like the Bible—should be given so much power over a gathered body of believers who agree and dissent on many theological topics. My second suggestion is for the ECC to study and define more clearly how authority is exercised: Bible, Annual Meeting, local congregations, and church policy versus personal belief.
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Since its founding, however, the ECC has found ways to be the body of Christ by creating space for starkly different theological views, for example, modes of baptism, theological training for pastors, biblical interpretation, civil rights, divorce and remarriage, and women’s ordination….So this begs another question: Is homosexuality too thorny a topic to create space for starkly different theological views? We can return to Clifton-Soderstrom’s framework to seek an answer. If we apply her five criteria “for gauging the faithfulness of dissent,” it is clear that faithful Christians can (and, indeed, do) hold starkly different views on homosexuality within the same body of Christ. Yet faithful dissent on homosexuality has not yet resulted in the level of dialogue and reforms requested by the dissenters. By leaving the ECC, they could respond as I did, yet it should not be the goal for people to leave the ECC.

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Faithful belonging should be the goal. If we really believe in the body of Christ and the kingdom of God, theological issues should be de-emphasized in favor of an inclusive ecclesiology. If we, like Maria Nilsdotter, are listening closely to God and are open to the Holy Spirit, then faithful belonging is really the only theological goal we can have.
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Read Erickson’s full response here.

Scott Erickson is head of school at Phillip Brooks School, Menlo Park, California. His doctoral research at the University of Uppsala is published as David Nyvall and the Shape of an Immigrant Church: Ethnic, Denominational, and Educational Priorities among Swedes in America.

Stephen Bilynskyj, Response to Clifton-Soderstrom

Each Monday (1/21-2/18) we are highlighting in turn the six “Responses to Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, ‘Covenant Freedom: Freedom for All or Free-for-all?’” published in the most recent issue of the Covenant Quarterly. We invite you to engage directly with the authors in the comments section below (comments policy).


From Stephen S. Bilynskyj, “Response to Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom,” pp. 28-32.

Stephen Bilynskyj

I do not believe that sexual ethics is simply one of many topics toward which the conclusions of Clifton-Soderstrom’s essay might be directed. No, the paper is clearly aimed at clearing a space for faithful dissent in regard to the Covenant position on the morality of homosexual practice. I say this not to diminish the excellent historical research and theological reflection on Covenant freedom the author has offered, but simply to place what has been presented properly in the context of what is surely one of its main purposes.

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I begin with the general observation that Covenant freedom has never been meant to embrace, and likely never will embrace, the full range of possible biblical theological positions. This is a mistake that laypeople and Covenant clergy often make, imagining that if a viewpoint is theologically and/or biblically possible within the wider range of the Christian Church as a whole, then it must be an acceptable viewpoint within Covenant life and practice.
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Many Covenanters have been misled into thinking that Covenant freedom allows us to hold what C.S. Lewis called “mere Christianity,” a pure theology centered on the essentials and allowing complete freedom in regard to non-essentials. That is a worthy ideal, but it has never been an adequate description of Covenant theology… The Covenant is only one of the many rooms of the Christian Church. As such it has its theological boundaries and limits, and its expression of Christian freedom must be somewhat circumscribed.
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With regard to the inclusion of marginalized peoples, the Covenant indeed does have a stellar history of seeking to be as broad and welcoming as the kingdom of God is as a whole. As Clifton-Soderstrom’s article quotes from a 1959 report of the Committee on Freedom and Theology in regard to, “other races, religions, and classes, the Bible reminds us that these are persons whom God created and for whom Christ died” (p. 50). However, we must be clear about what such inclusion entails specifically. Surely an inclusive spirit toward those of other, non-Christian religions does not mean that we wish them to continue to live without faith in Christ. No, we send missionaries and engage in cross-cultural ministry so that they may accept Jesus, be transformed in their thinking, and set aside those other religions. So any principle of inclusion in Covenant theology and mission does in fact have limits. And one of those limits is moral….The Covenant’s position and policies in regard to human sexuality recognize that the Bible stands in judgment on our sexual sinfulness and seeks to deal with that reality graciously and redemptively, seeking new life in Christ also in this area of human life.
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Of course, the disagreement within the Covenant and within the larger Christian church concerns whether it is in fact true and biblical that homosexual behavior is sinful, as the Covenant position asserts. It is freedom for dissent from that position Clifton-Soderstrom wishes to allow as a consequence of Covenant freedom. To that end she presents another historical example of apparent allowance in an Annual Meeting resolution of significant moral disagreement in regard to just war and pacifism…. One simply cannot derive from a single resolution that acknowledged moral disagreement is a general Covenant practice or principle that would allow theological disagreement in regard to another moral issue like homosexual behavior.
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There is still room, as there is on almost any Covenant theological point, for a private, more or less silent dissent. On that same sort of basis, dissenters from our positions on women in ministry and on baptism have long been present and served among us. Their private opinions on these matters simply do not enter into the public exercise of their ministries. I am sure the same will continue to be true in regard to dissenters from our ethic of sexuality.
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Read Bilynskyj’s full response here.

 Stephen S. Bilynskyj is the pastor of Valley Covenant Church in Eugene, Oregon. He served as the president of the Covenant Ministerium from 2009-2012. 

Brian Bantum, Response to Clifton-Soderstrom

Each Monday (1/21-2/18) we are highlighting in turn the six “Responses to Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, ‘Covenant Freedom: Freedom for All or Free-for-all?’” published in the most recent issue of the Covenant Quarterly. We invite you to engage directly with the authors in the comments section below (comments policy).


Brian Bantum

From Brian Bantum, “Response to Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom,” pp. 25-27:

The term “covenant” holds both complexity and possibility. Tracing the invocation of covenantal language throughout Scripture reveals God’s perpetual presence and desire to be with humanity. Covenant is faithfulness that is reciprocated and mutual. And yet in Scripture covenant is at times paradoxical. It is irrevocable and constant, but it also cannot be completely known. Fundamentally, covenant is not simply about law, about what to do and what not to do. Covenant is about relationship, about how we are with God and with one another. Covenant is sometimes about who we are with. Sometimes that means exclusivity, and sometimes it means radical and scandalous inclusion, but these facts are never static. They shift and slip along a deeper claim about what it means to be with God and for God to be with us. In Scripture, whenever Jews who confessed Jesus as Lord began to define covenant around questions of what and who, God seemed to insert the troubling question of how into the image of what faithfulness could begin to look like.
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This struggle to account for the faithfulness of those whom we encounter lies at the center of the covenantal how. Whether Ruth or Rahab, the Ethiopian eunuch or Cornelius, Scripture points to the possibility of faithfulness, of God’s covenantal how, being reflected in those who were seemingly excluded from the covenantal who or what. In a very real way, Scripture is a testament to God’s faithful dissent—God’s refusal to allow those whom God loves to be hemmed in, confusing the how for the who or the what.
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As Clifton-Soderstrom has pointed out in her article, it is more likely than not that we will disagree in how we answer the above questions. At the same time, it is entirely possible that we will also begin to see new possibilities for connection and fellowship. We might even discover the possibility of a fellowship of freedom that allows some congregations and persons to discover the how of covenantal freedom in ways that are faithful even as they differ from others.

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I came to the Covenant with more conservative views regarding LGBTQ people. I came to the Covenant because of its deep commitment to racial reconciliation and the ways the denomination sought to foster an image of racial and ethnic diversity in God’s kingdom. But in order to do this, questions of culture and theological heritage had to be reimagined. Faithfulness was not simply about certain hymns or church policies or gatherings. What made this openness possible was a willingness to recognize the ways different people embodied faithful responses to God’s presence in their lives and in the stories they held. While many may see questions of race/ethnicity and sexual orientation as fundamentally different, I wonder whether we can separate them any longer.

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As the Covenant continues to wrestle with questions of marriage and inclusion of LGBTQ people in congregations, I wonder if we might also struggle with more than law, more than dogmatic notions of sex and gender. I wonder if we might become more open to the ways those very people who were seemingly outside the covenant also display marks of faithfulness, that their perpetual presence might reveal to us all just how radical and ordinary God’s covenant is. In the end, I wonder whether the Evangelical Covenant Church’s belief in a freedom centered in how we are together in Christ might become a critical way forward in displaying what God’s faithfulness in us might look like.
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Read Bantum’s full response here.

Brian Bantum is associate professor of theology and cultural studies at Seattle Pacific University and Seminary in Seattle, Washington, and author of Redeeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity (Baylor University Press, 2010) and The Death of Race: Building a New Christianity in a Racial World (Fortress Press, 2016).

The Pietist Chaplains of the American Revolution

From Jonathan M. Wilson, “The Pietist Chaplains of the American Revolution“:


Jonathan M. Wilson

The Moravians and Pietists were…in the American colonies during the Revolutionary War. The Moravians adopted neutrality, though their settlements were used as prison garrisons. Among Halle Pietists, some were elected to public office on behalf of the patriots. Many fought. Some fled to Canada. And on both sides of the war, Halle Pietists served the combatants as military chaplains to German-speaking regiments.

This article first describes the outlook on patriotism among the clergy in the Pennsylvania Ministerium, with particular focus on the opinions of its founder, the Halle missionary Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. It then tells the stories of three Lutheran chaplains connected to Halle Pietism: Christian Streit (1749–1812), who took a call to a patriot regiment and received a testimonial from the Pennsylvania Ministerium in the first denominational endorsement for a military chaplaincy in American history; Frederick V. Melsheimer (1749–1811), who deserted his German auxiliary regiment in order to marry a Moravian and seek admittance into the Pennsylvania Ministerium; and Christopher Triebner (1740–1815), a Halle missionary to Georgia, who became a loyalist and a chaplain to German auxiliaries (commonly called Hessians). Each is a unique story of faith, conscience, and duty.

In the centuries since the American Revolution, chaplains in the United States and Europe have evolved from civilian contractors to commissioned officers. Both then and now the balance between military duty and the pastor’s conscience toward God has at times been difficult to maintain. Perhaps present dialogues on clergy ethics may find it instructive that during the American Revolution the three Lutheran Pietist chaplains of this study responded to the ethics of partisanship in three different ways. This study concludes with suggestions for how the Evangelical Covenant Church, which locates itself in spiritual and intellectual continuity with Halle Pietism and Zinzendorf ’s Moravianism, may find resources in these historical precedents.

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In highly charged partisan atmospheres, non-partisan neutrality is often misunderstood and unappreciated. It is more viscerally satisfying to embrace the story of Thomas Allen and imagine the evangelical pastor rushing the battlements of tyranny with sword in hand. As the Evangelical Covenant Church had once cultivated ties with the Congregationalists, it can be argued that Allen belongs to its past, too; for the Covenant in the United States, a stronger case can be made for institutional succession from the Congregationalists than either Halle or Herrnhut. At the same time, an ethos came to be shaped within the Covenant that deliberately held the Congregationalists at arm’s length and chose rather to remember its spiritual forebears in the pietisms of a German past. Within that Pietistic Lutheran past, the clerical office was esteemed as one that was (1) loyal to the sovereign state and (2) non-partisan in the politics of representative governments wherever those existed. These values were variously expressed as is shown by this study of three Lutheran military chaplains and their relationships to their communities of discipline and call.

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In all cases, the choices between duty and conscience, and between partisanship and vocation, do not come easily. As military duties have evolved, new rights are being claimed and enforced in the US armed forces that may well cause a crisis of conscience for Covenant chaplains. Hopefully the Covenant, by remaining grounded in its affirmations, can be the support its military clergy need as they navigate their duties and their call; hopefully the Covenant will offer a collegial reception when conscience requires that the uniform be resigned or retired.

To those of a partisan frame of mind, Francke Institutes director Freylinghausen’s letter is little more than a string of pious phrases from an out of touch bureaucrat. Read from a premise that clergy should be neutral in the midst of partisan conflict, perhaps this missive from a Halle Pietist contains wisdom and hope for today: though conflicts and ethical dilemmas shift with the partisan tides, the church remains the rock of salvation for the repentant.


Read the full article here.

Jonathan M. Wilson is the pastor of Salem Covenant Church in Pennock, Minnesota. He received his PhD from Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and lectures in North American and Covenant history for North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois.

76:1-2 Sneak Peek

A new issue of the Covenant Quarterly is published at www.covquarterly.com.

Jonathan M. Wilson

Historian and Covenant pastor Jonathan M. Wilson begins this issue with a fascinating article tracing three Lutheran chaplains’ diverging responses to the American Revolutionary War (“The Pietist Chaplains of the American Revolution”). Wilson draws from these historical case studies contemporary application, suggesting finally that “today’s heirs to Pietism might consider reclaiming a framework of non-partisanship, that is, of political non-alignment, as we wrestle with and proclaim the ethical demands of justice, holiness, grace, duty, biblical hermeneutics, and conscience.”

In the previous issue of this publication, Michelle A. Clifton-Soderstrom, professor of theology and ethics at North Park Theological Seminary, contributed an historical survey of Covenant freedom, followed by a constructive proposal for faithful dissent amid conflicting biblical interpretations (“Covenant Freedom: Freedom for All or Free-For All?”). The conversation continues in this issue, which includes responses from

  • Brian Bantum, associate professor of theology, Seattle Pacific University and Seminary
  • Stephen S. Bilynskyj, pastor, Valley Covenant Church, Eugene, Oregon
  • Scott Erickson, head of school, Phillips Brooks School, Menlo Park, California
  • Mark Safstrom, assistant professor of Scandinavian studies, Augustana College, and
  • Klyne R. Snodgrass, emeritus professor of New Testament, North Park Theological Seminary

These responses, along with Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom’s engagement with the questions and critiques they raise, bring further clarity to the nature and limits of freedom, the possibility of unity amid diversity, and relationship of exegesis and contemporary culture. Additionally, they raise further questions regarding the centrality of Covenant ecclesiology and the value of the language of “faithful dissent.”

Respondents, left to right: Brian Bantum, Stephen S. Bilynskyj, Scott Erickson, Mark Safstrom, Klyne R. Snodgrass, Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom (response to responses)

Over the next month, we will be highlighting each article and response, inviting your interaction with each author. We desire the Covenant Quarterly to be a forum for charitable, critical dialogue on relevant issues in pastoral theology. We hope the dialogue printed here will generate further conversation in that same spirit, to the end described by Clifton-Soderstrom: “that we speak well of those in our communion, that we speak directly to those with whom we have issue, and that we commit to each other as members of the same body. In all things,…charity, and real charity requires courage to work through conflict over the long-haul.”

Read the full issue here; read the full Comment here.