What good is a crutch?

Jaynan Clark (President, WordAlone Network)

Sept. 14, 2004

photo of Jaynan Clark

Pr. Jaynan Clark

Some wonder if the WordAlone Network can at best offer to “prop-up” the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) for an uncertain future. That leads me to consider the nature of crutches, any crutches and the role they play.

First think about this story of a type of crutches.

We, as a family, play many different board and card games and yet our Scrabble game, given as a Christmas gift, was nearly two years old and still unopened. Why? The kids thought it sounded too much like “school,” not fun. After weeks of summer vacation and endless hours of fishing, swimming and baseball, and with the start of the school year just around the corner, we decided a couple of weeks ago to break out Scrabble to get the gray matter charged up a bit for the fall schedule.

As we got into the game, my husband and I both came to the same realization; we had both been crippled by the spell check and grammar check, crutches on our computers. The most basic and simple words were now questioned in how they were actually spelled. They didn’t “look right.” There was no red or green squiggly line to remind us that we had made a spelling error, no suggestions made of all the possible corrections or, worse yet, that instant correction you see your program make as you type in the words wrongly didn’t appear. What were meant to be an aid and a help, spell check and grammar check, have apparently weakened and crippled us in an area where we both were once strong.

Now, for those who are injured or disabled a crutch, a cane, a walker can be a real help. They are tools to aid their users and possibly help strengthen them or bring about their healing and recovery. Yet those, like my husband and I in the game, who accept and use crutches when they don’t really need them tend to be weakened and made dependent, having more harm than good done to them.

Some may see the efforts of the WordAlone Network to reform, renew and bring deeper theological reflection to the ELCA as mere attempts to temporarily prop up that which is beyond restoration. To issue a crutch rather than a cure. Upon reading the report from the ELCA news service recently on the state of the institutional structure, I was faced once again with what I see as a very crippled condition for the ELCA. The prognosis for its health and future looked poor. Poor if not terminal.

I invite you to read this report. You will come to your own conclusions but I assert that what I’ve stated above applies directly to the Network’s relationship to the churchwide administrative structure. If it were well and healthy then a crutch or wheelchair would only weaken that which is already strong. It’s not strong and, like those who are disabled, weak and falling, is in need of help. We certainly aren’t weakening a healthy churchwide structure.

Our efforts to bring reform to the constitution and processes of the ELCA may be criticized and derided as wasted rescue attempts. Should we not continue? If what we are about as the WordAlone Network is centered on redirecting the institutional church back to the center—centered on the Living Word of God alone—then perhaps our initial treatments are only crutches. The ELCA needs a lot more than a crutch to survive and thrive, don’t we all agree?

Maybe we are, for the present, merely propping up the old and crippled. But, perhaps the prop will only be needed in the short term until, according to the plan of God alone, he ushers in a time of healing renewal.

In the meantime, let it be said of the WordAlone Network that we have practiced the same loving care in all our efforts for the ELCA that we as Christians would extend to the lame, the injured and the sick. To help one in need whether they want it, deserve it or ask for it is the higher calling, our Lord’s call. May the congregations and chapters of WordAlone never be tempted to kick the crutch out from under the patient by facilitating or promoting the fall of the ELCA.

Our good Lord shall determine if a churchwide reform is ahead and healing is still possible or if nothing short of a resurrection is what the “good Doctor” will order.