Post: Readers Respond
As a new subscriber to Pietisten and a casual reader of past issues, the first thing I noticed about the periodical — aside from what a refreshing and necessary organ of Covenant thought it is — was its strong ethnic tilt. Or, to put it in the pithy words of a Covenant minister friend, "the Swedish thing." [We are not trying to be either an organ or ethnic. Eds.]
Not just the title of the journal, which is probably the most logical and fitting title available (at least until some revisionist Covenant historian disinfects Missions-Vännen). I'm thinking more in terms of text material — Tommy Carlson's translations and, to a lesser degree, the references to things pertaining to Mother Svea, which seem to run higher than in official Covenant publications. Again, well and good. The Covenant is stuck too often in its own little shoe box, and outside dialogue is necessary. Since we have relations both personal and historical with Svenska Missionsforbundet, it's as good a place as any to start. And the material translated is good reading, solid Christian food.
What really struck me, though, were Bob McNaughton's and Ted Roberg's letters in the Summer issue. Both have valid issues of Covenant discussion — worship, music styles, and Paul Larsen's view of pietism vis-a-vis his apologia on behalf of the denomination's administrators toward our abominable track record on women in ministry. What amazes me is that both chose to discuss their respective subjects within the context of "the Swedish thing." And they're not the only ones.
I grew up in your average, ethnically blended American suburb. Like most Americans, I viewed my heritage in the same nonchalant manner most of us view our earlobes — a part of me, but not worth thinking about much. Americanness was and is paramount. In the Covenant church in which I was raised, if the subject of ethnicity came up — and it rarely did — everyone raced to Galatians 3:28. Surely the Covenant, a denomination whose very existence is a testimony to the Holy Spirit's ability to bridge such intra-Protestant gulfs as baptism, eschatology, liturgy, atonement, polity, etc., viewed one's ancestry as an adiaphara somewhere in importance between the use of lipstick and whether one could say "darn" or not.
[Mr. Sager observes that he has lived in the North Park neighborhood for ten years and has been surprised how Swedish it is and what as issue it becomes. He continues.]
Since the Covenant's ethnic nature and heritage (they don' t seem to be mutually exclusive topics in the minds of many) is a "hot" issue, I applaud Pietisten for being open to it, among other "hot" issues you've handled. What follows is my answer to the issue. It isn't everyone's, but hey, that's the Covenant for you.
First, an overarching theme or touchstone is needed. Waldenström's precious John 17 and the Galatians verse are a good place to start, and, to quote McNaughton quoting Waldenström, "This unity.. . must be in external appearance a unity that can be seen by the world. All division among the believers works against that big purpose for which Christ offered himself." Powerful stuff indeed! Also, keep in mind Karl Olsson's themes in dealing with the Covenant spirit, themes of inclusion, affection, and control.
Second, if, as Roberg states, understanding one's collective and personal church history is important to understanding one's Christian nature — an argument I thought he handled well — two questions need to be asked. Do Sweden and Swedishness inform our Christian nature? and How important is it to have biological ties to it?
My answers? Not much, and not very. As Phil Anderson states on page 121 of Karl Olsson's festschrift Amicus Dei, we've been focusing on the wrong topic. The ethnic force in question is Swedish-Americanness, not Swedishness. These are two very different cultures, two very different groups of people, as any of you who have or have had contact with Swedes knows.
[Mr. Sager observes the difference in political attitudes and ecumenical interest between most American Covenanters and most Swedish Covenanters. The latter tend to be broadly ecumenical and liberal, the former tend to be ecumenically unconscious and conservative. He continues.]
Then there is the nature of Covenant history itself. What do we know about it? In a nutshell, it is the story of poor Swedish immigrants who, driven by the winds of revival and economic hope, came to America to start believers' churches and brought them together under one aegis for reasons of national and international missions and pastoral accreditation. Here is a plethora of historical images to frame ourselves with that aren't necessarily Swede-intensive — among them our nature as a believer's church, an immigrant-founded church, a small church, a church created by poor people which is now largely middle-class, a church of revival, and, of course, a pietist church.
To be sure, there are still many valid areas to be studied in that aspect of the church's heritage. But these are issues for historical background that informs current policy, not current policy itself. By common consent, in today's Covenant there is neither Jew nor Greek. We are an American church mostly a white middle-class American church at that — and understanding and exploring our place in the family of God here in 1989 must spring from a universal awareness of that fact.
What came before us as a denomination was largely SwedishAmerican, and those who made that past a precious treasure were Swedish-Americans. This should never be forgotten.
But if the heritage is essential, its persistent badges, trappings, and codes of inclusion are not. In fact, they should be cast aside. Exceptions can be made where those particular aspects of our heritage are inclusive — all Covenanters benefit from the blessing of our Swedish and Swedish-American hymnological legacy of Sandell, Frykman, Skoog, etc. — or where Swedish ethnic folkways are used clearly for the Lord's work. A Lucia festival or Swedish cookbook sale where proceeds fund local or world relief and missionary efforts would be a good example.
We are not our grandmothers and grandfathers, just as our grandchildren may see the need to redefine themselves — as the church must do in every generation and cultural context, Reflexively, our definition must grant the Korean immigrant in Chicago, the African-American in the Bronx, and the WASP ex-Baptist in southern California as full an inheritance of the legacy of WaldenstrCim, Nyvall, Lund, etc. as any Minnesota Peterson or Jamestown Gustafson — should they wish to claim it. We are all, first, heirs of Jesus Christ and second, Covenanters and Americans... and beyond that, it can't really be all that important. Gregory Sager, Chicago, Illinois.
Dear Pietisten: I wish to make the following comment on Don Teed's recent contribution to your journal:
Eric Johnson, Minneapolis, Minnesota
The [enclosed] poem is about growing up. For some years now, I have been wondering and thinking about my years as a child. Raising my own children, aware that I often hurt my three girls and all the help from modern psychology does not keep me from making mistakes!
I have often thought back to the times when, after my parents' divorce, my father would take us camping. I was a young, impressionable, rebellious teenager, full of life and my own ideas. I loved camping. I hated mornings in the wild, so cold, the sleeping bag so warm. It was those generic, musty showers of the National Parks that got to me. Young teenagers go to great lengths to make impressions they so desire, so I showered first thing.
Life is still like that for me. I love life, it is getting up each day that is difficult. The warm bed promises dreams that still come true. Yet I am finding that I must take "one day at a time." That little advice is often the impetus I need to forget all the pain of yesterday's yesterdays and to live for the coming day. Anyway, I send this poem [printed on page 10] and this explanatory letter to you for Pietisten. Michael Hardin, Floral Park, New York
Hi, fellows! It's good to keep in touch, this way at least!
Thanks so much for your letter of the 16th — it really gave me a lift on a rather dull day and I'll keep it handy to read often!
[You may] add this to the list of notes from me. I really enjoy getting Pietisten. I have saved them because I like to re-read them. Then I let my mind go back over memories, which trigger other memories. When you get to age 76, that entitles one to do that!
Please continue to keep me on the list and remind me of the subscription price, O.K.? Greetings to all! Dorothy P. Johnson, Batavia, Illinois.
Congratulations on making it to the 4th year. Gabriel Fackre, Newton Center, Massachusetts.
Dear Friends, Many thanks for your continuing kindness in sending me Pietisten which is much appreciated.
Please, if I'm not too late, send me a tape of Väckelsens Sånger. If the supply is exhausted, keep the check any way. With much love! Sig Westberg, Chicago, Illinois.
I read with interest your report on the Covenant Annual Meeting in the Fall issue of Pietisten.
In particular, your concern about the Covenant relating to the World Council of Churches is well taken and, as a delegate, I voted for the motion to "study, explore and educate our fellowship." I liked the input in the meeting by Olle Engstrom and really had hopes that it would have a favorable effect on the final vote. Certainly the Swedish Covenant appears to be more progressive than the American and, even though small in numbers, they feel good about their role participating in the WCC.
Enclosed is $9.00 for Väckelsens Sånger if you have one available. If not, just put it in the bank. Sincerely, Curtiss D. Johnson Minneapolis Minnesota.