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The new Lutheranism 

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Editor's note: This story was updated on May 5 to correct an error related to how the ELCA got started.

When I first heard Krista Tippett interview her for On Being in 2013, I couldn't believe that Nadia Bolz-Weber was a Lutheran pastor.

I grew up in the Lutheran church. Attended Lutheran school from kindergarten through eighth grade. But the denomination with which I am intimately familiar is the Missouri Synod. Women there were secretaries and teachers, but never clergy.

In 2015, the Missouri Synod still does not ordain women. In 2004, it affirmed a previous decision that women could serve in "humanly established offices" as long as those offices did not include any of the "distinctive functions of the pastoral office."

And yet, as I spoke to Bolz-Weber this past Palm Sunday about liturgy and life, she wore the clerical collar of the Lutheran Church.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, of which Bolz-Weber is a part, started with a merger of three church bodies, including the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches — which itself started as a breakaway group from the Missouri Synod. Today, the Synod sits at 2.2 million members. The ELCA? 3.9 million.

Whether you like her tattoos or not, approve of her language or not, Bolz-Weber is part of a larger shift, one promoting equality for all people. It's represented in who she is and how she brings a message of God's grace to her congregation and beyond.

As her bishop, Jim Gonia (also a former Missouri Synod member) told me: "Right now ... people see Nadia and they go, 'You're a Lutheran pastor?' I'm waiting for the day when they look at Nadia and they go, 'Let me guess: Lutheran. Let me guess: ELCA.' And I think that day's coming."

  • I couldn't believe that Nadia Bolz-Weber was a Lutheran pastor.

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