The actual text of Russell Staltzman’s announcement that he was converting to the Catholic Church is as follows:
Before word gets out too far and you hear it not from me, my wife, Dianne, and I are transitioning to the Roman Catholic Church.
I’m told there’s a small announcement going in Forum Letter next month and some advance copies have gone out. I had private conversation with Bp. John Bradosky [North American Lutheran Church] morning of our Great Plains Mission District convocation early November and told him. For the record, he wasn’t surprised.
To say I am becoming Roman Catholic is about the fifth step with four preceding it, none of which in my mind are necessarily connected. I’ll take you through them. I did this about as honestly as I could, given circumstances.
I was nominated for the NALC executive council. I decided if I were elected I’d resign as district dean; I was restless in that work and I don’t like two-fers, people holding two offices. Then, I saw Pr. Melinda Jones’ name on the ballot with 6,000 male pastors (I do exaggerate, slightly) also after the spot. The only question for me was whether I’d come in second or third to Melinda (I still got political instincts). I made second.
Having become accustomed to the idea of surrendering the dean’s office, I found, maybe mid-August, despite losing to Melinda, the reasons for giving up dean were still all in place. We are a small district numerically. The work should be passed around as much as feasible. I had done it four years; time to let go.
My wife. We were in Charleston, SC tending her father’s death bed as the NALC convocation was going on. Experiencing the death of her Roman Catholic father on the last day of the NALC convocation in July, my wife sensed a tug back to her childhood faith. She had issues with the RCs for many years, but never really examined them. When she began examining them last summer, most had faded. Her father was raised a Lutheran and became Roman Catholic; Dianne was Roman Catholic and became Lutheran. Life is darn strange.
When she mentioned this to me, I had no objection at all. It was something Richard Neuhaus, famously a Lutheran gone Catholic, had urged on me for years. Our last correspondence before he died 2009 was on that subject. You might say his ghost has come 'round to whop me upside my head.
While certainly Neuhaus was - ****, still is - a tremendous influence on me, Dianne’s announcement set me to examining my Lutheran life, and in some ways it’s not as Lutheran as it once was. I write regularly for a Catholic magazine. Everybody senior on the staff at First Things is Catholic. I know as many priests as I do pastors, people I hang out with on email and the like, and I point out not a few of those priests were once Lutheran pastors. Not to slight you or anyone you know, it has just happened in my life that my intellectual and best theological compatriots these days are largely Roman Catholic.
What I have always sought - since seminary on - is to be in a church that finally gives expression to the catholicity of the Augsburg Confession. There is no Lutheran expression doing that. Most of my 17 years as editor of Forum Letter was spent, so it seems, showing Lutherans how far we have fallen from the practice of parish life described in our own confession.
There are evangelically catholic centers of Lutheran congregational life, and some that are deeply so, And there are evangelically catholic-minded pastors seeking parish renewal by Creed, Catechism, Confession, and praise God for it. The Church must continually struggle “against forces that always strike the Church and gospel: the fashions and fads of Gnosticisms ancient and new . . . the devaluation of the sacraments through neglect, the socially accommodating spirit of Church Growth excitements, and the gross appetite of a politicized bureaucracy.” (Forum Letter 19:9, September 1990). It may be, I’ll find out, the best field for the contestation in that struggle is with Rome.
- By the time I reasoned all that out, Step 5 was, like, why the hell not?
Yet, this is not for ease nor is it out of mere unhappiness with the state of Lutheranism. It rises from true conviction that has grown in strength since Richard’s death, that the essence - more like fullness - of the Church of Christ is in found communion with churches in communion with the bishop of Rome. It is not safe to deny one’s conscience or renege on conviction.
My future as a Roman Catholic may clarify more in the coming year. The possibility of joining Catholic orders has come up. But if nothing comes of it, well, thanks to First Things, I’m already a “catholic” voice here and there. If the Spirit is happy with that, and that only, so am I.
I guess there is a 6th step. I ever thank God that when I was struggling out of the well of agnosticism, and atheism about every third or fourth day, He placed in my path some challenging, passionate, authentic Lutheran pastors, and made a place for me in Lutheran congregational life. It was in a community founded in the Resurrection that I first believed there had even been a resurrection. It was there - St. Mark’s, Olathe KS; Our Savior’s, Topeka KS - that I found myself practicing what I did not believe and thereby came to believe what I was practicing.
We are each of us companions on the Way, and I will treasure the journey onward regardless of affiliations.
The Lord be with you.” *
Russell E Saltzman, former editor, Forum Letter