What does a Lutheran look like?

by jpserrano on May 3, 2016 · 3 comments

When I first became Lutheran I understood it to be a theological movement.  I was brought into a church by a pastor who said, “If you can mix your Catholic upbringing with your recent Evangelical faith, you will do well in the Lutheran Church.”  That pastor went on to mentor me in the Lutheran Confessions, teach me how to read scripture, show me how to think theologically, and bring me up in the Lutheran Christian faith.  I stayed Lutheran after he died because he showed me a way of being Christian that resonated with both my Catholic and Evangelical sides.

So, it came as a surprise to learn that some people have combined very specific ethnic traditions with their Lutheran faith.   I have now heard all kinds of ethnic insider language that was, and to a large extant still is, foreign to my experience of being Lutheran.  It seems like this language usage centers around Minnesotan, Scandinavian, and German identities, all cultures with which I am not familiar.

I remember hearing my first Olly and Lena joke and needing someone to break it down piece by piece because I didn’t understand.  
I remember my first St. Lucia festival at church thinking I’ve never even heard of this.  
I remember my first smorgasbord, needing to have someone explain lefse and smelling lutefisk for the first time.

All of these things were explained to me as Lutheran things, but I didn’t get it because it seemed very foreign to have Lutheran things that are not theological.  I didn’t comprehend why it was such a big deal for people to do this in a Lutheran Church.

I knew Lutheranism for something else—theology.  But, for some people it is a whole cultural identity.  

There has been a muddling of ethnic identity and the Lutheran theological movement. I get this.  My family often mistakes Mexican-American norms for Catholic norms.  But, they mostly understand what they’re doing.  They know that not every Catholic church has menudo after the liturgy. This seems to evade a large amount of Lutherans who equate the Scandinavian/German/Minnesotan cultural norms for Lutheran norms.

What has been a sense of pride among Lutheran churches is now divisive and exclusionary, rather than inclusionary.

The Lutheran church has grown outside of those cultural traditions for some time.  We have Lutherans on every continent in the world and they know Lutheran theology with their own culture.  Specific cultural jokes and insider language aren’t “Lutheran,” it just doesn’t make any sense to those outside that culture.

While we can uplift and celebrate different cultural traditions let us not equate them for our faith. 

So, what does a Lutheran look like?

A Lutheran is a person who….

1. believes in the 3 creeds of the church.
2. understands the Augsburg Confession to be a faithful witness to scripture.  
3. knows that Jesus is the lens through which we understand God.
4. reads scripture as both law and gospel.
5. receives baptism and communion as gifts of God’s grace. 

There are more I could add to this list, but this is a good start.  Notice that none of these are culturally based.

The #decolonizelutheran memes that are going around seek to expand on the Minnesotan, Scandinavian, and German cultural norms that are prominent in the Lutheran Church in America.

My hope is that we get rid of the cultural norms in the Lutheran church and focus on what we believe as Christians in the Lutheran tradition.  Our belief in Jesus as the savior of the world is what binds us together not any cultural marker.


Other voices on this topic:
#DecolonizeLutheranism by Tuhina Rasch

Mixed Race, Tortillas, and #DecolonizeLutheranism by Joshua Serrano

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Debbie McAllister May 5, 2016 at 2:05 am

Even though I am of Scandanavian descent, not having been raised Lutheran often leaves me outside, also. I am Lutheran due to the theology, althougn, I have learned more from my church about my heritage than I ever did from my Swedish grandmother.


Sarah Degner Riveros October 20, 2016 at 6:21 am

From my very limited knowlege of Luther’s life and history, I would say that a Lutheran is also someone who….

1. seeks to understand the Scriptures in the heart language(s) and to make God’s Word available in the vernacular of the place and time.
2. liberates self from oppression and then seeks to extend liberty to other captives.
3. speaks truth to power and calls out oppression and falsehood, even at personal expense and risk of expulsion
4. makes long lists of points of contention that need to be resolved and works to resolve them
5. breaks bread across lines of age, gender, class, and nationality.


Bobby M September 21, 2017 at 6:31 pm

So in other words, people should give up their cherished ancestral traditions to accommodate outsiders. Got it.



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