The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: Tracing Conciliation As a Literacy Practice

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)



Date of Award

Spring 2017


The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is a mainline Protestant denomination actively engaged in trying to hear “the other” or marginalized in society, as part of fulfilling their mission to reconcile the lost to the Gospel of salvation. Therefore, studying the literacy practices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America may help reveal how literacy can function as a deliberative process of reconciliation through an examination of their Social Statements on Human Sexuality. Additionally, examining the ELCA’s literacy, texts, events, and literacy practices makes visible the ways in which literacy functions as a social practice within this community. Using textual analysis, my dissertation seeks to understand how religion frames this discourse community and their literacy practices. This dissertation adds to scholarship that examines the intersections of religion and literacy and seeks to understand how religious texts and literacies are inserted into the lived experiences of ELCA members. Furthermore, my study found that the ELCA functions as sponsors of literacy in that they not only supply textual materials to their members, but they frame how the topics are presented in the documents. I also found that Lutheran literacy is far more diverse, engaging a multiplicity of textual materials and literacy practices than commonly perceived. This study also made visible the reflective, critically engaged literacy practices of this discourse community. Finally, this dissertation shows that rhetorically, the ELCA ultimately applied a tiered rhetorical approach in their final statement. On the textual level, the final ’09 statement utilizes the classical rhetorical appeals of ethos, logos, and pathos. On a subtextual level, they frame their argument in such a way as to appeal to their members three foundational identities as Christians, Lutherans, and Americans. Finally, on the contextual level, the final statement addresses the duality of consciousness fundamental to Christian belief systems that holds them as dual citizens of both a heavenly realm and the earthly realm. This contextual level is made visible through the ELCA’s distinction within their document of the Lutherans responsibilities as Christians and as citizens in the world. Accordingly, I argue in this study that the ELCA’s literacy practices and rhetorical strategies returns us to Burke’s theories of Listening Rhetoric to reconcile divergent positions and that they frame their arguments in such a way as to open spaces wherein the rhetorical speaker and hearer can achieve consubstantiality.


Tabetha Adkins

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature