Wisconsin Synod Gerrymandering

commentary by John W. Berg

Gerrymanderfn, “to achieve a result by manipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency, or to achieve a predetermined theological result by manipulating the boundaries of the Biblical text.” Ok, I added the second part to the definition, but, I think an apt description of attempts over the centuries to manipulate the text - clever eisegesis as opposed to honest exegesis.


Rome’s philosophizing aside, theological Protestantism has a long and often silly history of gerrymandering. Perhaps nowhere more so than in regards to the Sacrament of the Altar, specifically in regards to our Lord’s simple “is,” in an attempt to rob the Church of her most precious inheritance, the New Testament in his Blood. This author commented on this in “Is Redividus: Some thoughts on FC TD VII 78, the Synodical Conference and Bill Clinton” (Vol. II, no. 3, July 2004). For Protestantism “is” is ultimately gerrymandered to mean “not is” for it cannot mean “is” to achieve its predetermined belief that the body of Christ, which is otherwise safely ensconced in some distant heaven, cannot be on our altars or touched by profane hands and lips today. Besides, the “flesh avails for nothing,” or thus Zwingli’s gerrymandered “flesh” and his importation of that misunderstanding into the Sacramental debate leaving behind mere Zwingliandered bread and wine, or preferably, grape juice. Calvinism’s more refined teaching still takes the body off the altar, out of the hand of the officiant and from the mouth of the faithful for ultimately “finitum non capax infiniti.” Dr. Martin Chemnitz in his monumental De Coena Domini pins the tail on Sacramentarians of all ages,


For all the Sacramentarians, no matter who they are, derive some of what they want to believe and understand regarding the Lord’s Supper not from the words of institution in the proper and simple sense clearly conveyed to our understanding, but they come with preconceptions on the basis of other passages of Scripture, most of which say nothing about the Lord’s Supper… It becomes necessary for them to force upon the words of institution their preconceived meaning brought in from elsewhere on the basis of some distorted and twisted interpretation (The Lord’s Supper, Trans. J.O.A Preus, CPH, 1979, p. 31).


Lutherans, thus, stand by Dr. Luther’s graffitied words “Hoc est corpus meum” as the text that alone must be determinative when considering the Supper. These words, especially the beleaguered “est,” must be considered and understood in their own context, which context clearly shows that anything short of “is” being “is” is not Biblical. As Dr. Herman Sasse, the preeminent Lutheran theologian on the Sacrament of the Altar in the past century, cautions in regards to the real-presence-sounding words of the Reformed theological giant Karl Barth,


If we ask the question whether the bread is the body and the wine is the blood we would receive various answers. Some would say Yes, others would say “Yes, but”, which is the fashionable substitute for No, introduced by Karl Barth (This is My Body, Openbook Publishers, Adelaide 1977 p. 333).


The Formula of Concord echoes Luther when it states


For, we neither want to, are able to, nor ought to let any clever human ideas – no matter how attractive or impressive they may seem – lead us astray from the simple, clear, plain meaning of the Word and testament of Christ and into a foreign position, one which teaches other than the way the words read. Therefore, we shall instead understand and believe them in their simple sense (FC TD VII 92).


Anything else, we confess, is mere “prattle.”


However, it seems that some Lutherans are equivocating on which side of the table they wish to sit as yet another assault has been launched against the embattled but dauntless “is.” Perhaps surprising to some is that this incursion comes from the proudly conservative Wisconsin Synod, though not surprising at all to this author and former insider.


For those not in the know, the Wisconsin Synod equivocates on whether in the Supper when the celebrant says “This is my body” that one can say the words are true in his speaking. The Wisconsin Synod is receptionist in its understanding of the consecration - though rejecting that label – saying one can’t be certain of the presence until the moment of reception. This de facto receptionism is easily flushed out when you ask, “can one say of the consecrated bread on the altar, the bread about which it is said “This is my body” that it is the true body and blood of Christ?” The answer given is that you may believe it is, but only as a private opinion but you cannot insist that the words spoken by the celebrant are true. Ask the ELS who was strong armed into accepting that position, one that an ELS theologian quietly dubs “Wisconsin Synod agnosticism.”


Now lest you cast the discussion of this issue onto the heap of “needless controversies,” know that the issue is a simple one – can we believe the words of Christ spoken by the celebrant to be true? Often the uninitiated think that this is about the so called “moment of presence” issue and thus mere leptological hair splitting and logomachia. “What do you care about what is in your hand? Isn’t what matters what we eat and drink?” Of course, the adorable body and the blood of our Lord undistributed save no one, but it is our Lord’s words which tell us what we eat and drink. This is not an obsession about the so called moment of presence, but a serious question as to whether we can say that the Word we speak (“this is my body”) is true and whether the celebrant’s speaking of that Word has efficacy. It also brings to the fore serious questions about the treatment of the consecrated elements of bread and wine before and after the celebration of which we have a certain word of God that it is his true body and blood.


What I have learned, and predicted, is that the question has moved from what is in our hands to what was in the Lord’s, that is, whether the Word spoken by our Lord in the upper room was true or not in his speaking. What one discovers, and it was inevitable, is that the Wisconsin Synod offers the fashionable “yes, but….”  This was seen on its official web site’s official Q/A in which a simple question flushed out this equivocation (here cut and pasted from the web site),


Q: Another answer said the following: "The WELS does not believe in "transubstantiation," that is, that the bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Christ. While we do believe in "real presence," Scripture does not pinpoint a moment when the body and blood of Christ are present. It simply indicates that when a person partakes of the sacrament, he or she receives not only bread and wine but also body and blood." When Jesus said, "This is My Body", wouldn't that mean that at that point in time He was holding His body? So when the pastor says the words of institution, wouldn't the Body and Blood of Christ be present in, with, and under the bread and the wine at that point in time? Thanks


A: You seek to establish the "moment of real presence" at the time when the officiant repeats our Savior's words and speaks the words of institution. We believe and teach that this opinion or conviction is a valid option for a child of God, but not to be insisted on as the only correct one. To echo the words you cited: "The Scripture does not pinpoint a moment when the body and blood of Christ are present."


You ask, "When Jesus said, "This is My Body", wouldn't that mean that at that point in time He was holding His body?" Answer: Not necessarily. The Savior's use of the present tense in speaking did not always have reference to a present reality, chronologically speaking. As in today's language the use of the present tense also serves to emphasize something that can be trusted and will be present or will become reality at a sure but undetermined time. Christ's words in Luke 8:52 may serve as an example. Regarding the daughter of Jairus Jesus uses the present tense and says, "She is not dead but is asleep." Her actual return to life came later, recorded in Luke 8:55 when "her spirit returned". Christ's words were not identifying a "moment of returning to life" but he was assuring the people of something trustworthy and to be experienced and enjoyed a bit later. He might have been doing the very same thing in distributing the Lord's Supper.


You then ask, "When the pastor says the words of institution, wouldn't the Body and Blood of Christ be present in, with, and under the bread and the wine at that point in time?" Answer: No, not necessarily. Of great importance here is the fact that the officiant's speaking of the so-called Words of Institution at Communion celebrations does not cause or bring about the real presence. Christ's words spoken two thousand years ago accomplish this, not the words of a pastor. The Lutheran Confessions address this subject in more detail in Article VII of the Formula of Concord.


So, according to the Wisconsin Synod, when our Lord said, “This is my body” what he may have truly said was


This…may not necessarily be the present reality of, but you can trust that at some undetermined time in the future will be … my body.




There are three issues in this answer I will address, the truth of our Lord’s words, the example used to show that “is” may not mean “is” and the appeal to the Formula.


What, not When


In his joust with Zwingli over this matter Dr. Luther was able to maneuver Ulrich into conceding that the Lord’s words were true in his speaking, but not into conceding


that the action will take place when we speak them, but [that] the words remain a simple description of an action that has taken place (AE 37:181).


With this concession in hand, Luther quickly moved to secure the real presence for latter day Suppers by showing that the command words “Do this” encompass the descriptive words “This is my body.”  Therefore what can be said about the Supper in the upper room can be said about ours. Realizing that this is true both the questioner and the anonymous Seminary professor (who the site reports generally answer these questions) realize the battle over our Supper is a battle over the Supper in the upper room.  To paraphrase Claus Harms, if our Lord’s words were true in 33, they are still so in 2007.


Now it is de rigueur in the Wisconsin Synod to recast this issue as one of the “moment of presence” that is, to paint it as an obsessive desire to divine at what point in time the presence begins.” Of course one can’t. The “moment” of presence debate, as our readers know well, is one with the Papists over whether one can say at what exact moment does the real presence begin. The well known caution of Dr. Luther about “moments” and so forth was directed against the Papists who determined the moment to be after the “cor” of the “corpus” of the “Hoc est corpus” was uttered.  To be fair there were pious concerns about the treatment of the consecrated elements that helped bring the time issue to the fore.  If this is the body of Christ as the words say, then what if. “What if a mouse…? What if a fire breaks out? What if I spill, drop etc?” (Sadly, the blasphemous abuse of the consecrated elements by parading Papists has pushed the pendulum to the other extreme and has been surpassed by the flippancy and careless abuse of the consecrated elements by Protestantized Lutherans.)


What you note here is that this Wauwatosa theologian doesn’t get that “moment of presence” issue quite straight and misapplies those misapplied cautions even worse. He writes


To echo the words you [the petitioner] cited: "The Scripture does not pinpoint a moment when the body and blood of Christ are present."


The issue was always “at what point in time does the presence begin.” This Wauwatosa theologian leaves the poor readers of this Q/A in doubt about the presence of the body and blood of our Lord at any moment in time as he casts the presence into an indefinite “future” time. Even a hard core Synodical Conference receptionist has a point in time to which he can point and give assurance. The best case defense of “sloppy writing” for this is no excuse when handling the mysteries. 


Now that the Verba do not tell us “when” it happens does not mean they do not tell us “what” is present when they are spoken. It is not setting a “moment of presence” as that term is properly understood to simply say that the words of the celebrant are true when they are spoken. To be sure, our Lord did not say “this is my body…. beginning ….now!” as the Papists would have us believe and how Wauwatosa theologians paint (or is it smear) anyone who speaks of a presence prior to the reception as believing. Yet, most assuredly our Lord did not say “this is not necessarily my body but will be at some undetermined time in the future,” as this Wisconsin Synod gerrymandering of the words of our Lord would have us believe.  The mystery of the real presence is not ours to dissect or qualify, but to believe and confess and it is the Word of the Lord which tells us what to believe and confess.


Pious Lutherans, then, will have none of Rome’s hocus pocus or Wisconsin’s hanky panky and know that the matter before us is not “when it begins,” but “what it is,” and that question is answered by our Lord and so by our Confessions, the words of the celebrant, be he Christ or one of his called and ordained speaking in his stead and at his command. Our Lord said, “This [bread] is my body;’ the celebrant says “This [bread] is my body.” Both are either true or false.


Now before the Nihil rule (“Nothing is a sacrament without the appointed use [or divinely instituted act]) is brought up in defense of this Sacramental agnosticism please note that that rule was coined against the Papistic abuse of consecrating not to distribute. In that case there is no presence, no Sacrament for the very instituting words have been changed, and hence that “Sacrament” is nothing other than an Unding, “that is, when Christ’s institution is not observed as he established it, there is no Sacrament.” (FC VII 86).  The argument is not that the consecrated elements are not the body and blood of Christ until the distribution, but if they consecrated not to be distributed but to be paraded about.


Now this argument normally revolves around what can be said of our Suppers when the celebrant speaks today, that is, can we say in the Supper when the celebrant says “This is my body” can we say then that this bread is his body. The Wisconsin Synod says “no.” (The Formula which I just quoted says “yes” but more on that later.) This petitioner, however, takes the argument back to the upper room, that is, can we say when the Lord said “This is my body” was it truly his body. This Wisconsin Synod seminary professor responds with a resounding “mush, mush.” 


Present Tense


The Wauwatosa theologian writes, “The Savior’s use of the present tense did not always have reference to a present reality.”  Now first of all, the Confession’s hermeneutical principle in regards to the Sacrament elucidated above cannot simply be thrown under the bus here, that is, that we understand the words of Christ spoken by the celebrant “in their simple sense,” nor can the Confessional rule that one does not import a foreign text, the understanding of which is guided by its own context and force that context upon another. Those battles were already fought and won with chalk and codified in our Confessions. It would be useful for the Wauwatosa theologians to “revisit Marburg” for a lesson on the importation of other texts (John 6) into the Sacramental debate. No interloper on the issue at hand is Chemnitz who writes of the inevitable chicanery that occurs when one exegizes the accounts of the Lord’s Supper on the basis of passages which do not treat it,


…or it follows that it is not founded at all on those passages where this dogma is obviously treated and repeated, with the result that nothing can be established, proved, or evaluated on the basis of these passages when contention arises...(The Lord’s Supper, CPH p. 80).


So, onto the contention of this Wauwatosa theologian that the present does not always have reference to a present reality, yes, it can be so, but only when qualified by the text, for example, what is commonly called the “historic present,” when an author, describing a past event, uses the present tense in his narration to make the story come alive. The same holds true when a person is being quoted who was originally speaking in the present tense.  In other cases where the present may seem to indicate a future reality the future is often not found the copulative but in the predicate. “This is my new hot tub” one may say about a pile of lumber and plastic.  However, even though soaking in the tub with a Pilsner Urquell and Cohiba in hand is off in the future, this sentence does speak of a present reality - at present this pile of unassembled lumber and plastic is indeed my new hot tub. (To answer the question about the order of the verbs in the institution accounts, such as “took, broke, gave, said/saying,” the Twelve most certainly knew what Christ had given them to eat with the words “this is my body.” These words govern the entire action. “This bread I take, this bread I break, this bread I give, this bread you eat is my body.” Or as our Confessions say, “present, distributed and received.”)


Regardless, this use of the present is rare and must be determined by its own context.  Most often the examples of this use of the present refer not to the future but to the incompleteness of the action, which is often the nature of the present tense. And this future (or incompletedness) sense is not found in simple statements of fact, such as “this is my body.” Absolutely nothing in our Lord’s Testamental words spoken on that solemn occasion in that upper room suggests a “future” or incomplete reality.  (By the way, the words present and presence come from the same root.)


Curiouser and Curiouser


Now let me head off another argument often used here. Sometimes Wauwatosa theologians will appeal to the Confessions’ use of the words of our Lord, “Be fruitful and multiply” for their view of a delayed presence. For example Wauwatosa professor Tom Nass cites them


as an example of an efficacious Word of God which has produced and is still producing its results after its utterance. There is no reason to insist as a point of doctrine that the Word of God in the Lord’s Supper must produce its results immediately upon its utterance (“The Moment Of The Real Presence In The Lord’s Supper” unpublished essay, 1989].


Yes, the passage is used by the Formula (TD VII 76), but not in the way Nass uses it. The Formula quoting Chrysostom says


Christ prepares this table and blesses it; for no human being makes the bread and wine which are set before us, the body and blood of Christ. Rather Christ himself, who was crucified for us, does that. The words are spoken by the mouth of the priest, but when he says, “This is my body,” the elements that have been presented in the Supper are consecrated by God’s power and grace through the Word. Just as the saying “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” [Gen1:28] was said only once and yet is continually effective in nature, causing it to grow and multiply, so these words were said once.  But they are powerful and do their work in our day and until his return, so that in the Supper as celebrated in the church his true body and blood are present (FC TD VII 76).


The point of comparison is not between the words “be fruitful and multiply” spoken once which are efficacious later and “this is my body” so that one can say if we speak the Verba they will be efficacious later, but between “be fruitful and multiply” (which implies future efficacy, - multiply) and “Do this” or rather “Keep on doing this” so that the Word which instituted the Supper gives efficacy to our Suppers today because of Christ’s power and command makes these words efficacious in our speaking. The point, then, is not as Wisconsin Synod contends that


when we follow his institution and command in the Supper and say ‘This is my body’,” then it MAY NOT BE his body yet.


Rather as the Formula (TD VII 78) truly says


when we follow his institution and command in the Supper and say “This is my body,” then it IS his body.


Oddly, Nass, concludes his essay


I would be very happy to say that the real presence must be there prior to the reception ‑ if adequate Scriptural proof could be offered.


Apparently “This is my body” is not adequate enough proof for this ad fontes theologian. What this and other Wauwatosa theologians forget is that when “I AM” speaks his “is,” it is a present reality. As Dr. Luther wrote in reference to the creative word of God, 


[God] does not speak grammatical words; He speaks true and existent realities. Accordingly, that which among us has the sound of a word is a reality with God… Thus the Words of God are realities, not bare words (AE 1:21f). 


Additionally, when our Lord spoke he was referring to the bread and cup that he had taken - and that is important to note - and said “tou'to”  “this.”  What? “This.” The Lord used the demonstrative pronoun to draw the attention of the Twelve to what he was holding and had given, bread, a cup, and he told them what it was, not what it would be. As Augustine said, the rite “strikes the eye” (AP XIII, 6).  What we behold in not mere bread, but what the word tells us it is, the body of Christ. “This,” then, is the word of God that obliterates Thomistic transubstantiation, Melanchthonian crypto-Calvinism and Wauwatosan agnosticism.


Not Not Dead, Yet?


Now granting that this use of the present tense, though rare, is legitimate, its importation into the Supper is not. This is where words are understood in their “simple sense” which includes tense. But beyond that, the Scriptural proof provided by Wauwatosa theologian is simply astounding, the words of our Lord “She is not dead but asleep.”  What we are to believe is that what are Lord really said was “She is not necessarily alive at this point in time, but she will be not dead at some undetermined time in the future.”  


First of all this interpretation leads to absurdity in this context. Note that the words of our Lord speak of the same reality in two different ways, “she is not dead,” but “she is sleeping.” Both are in the present tense. Now if we are to believe this Wisconsin Synod theologian, both realities, then, speak of a future reality since both speak of the same condition.  So, then, we are forced by the Wauwatosa interpretation to conclude then that our Lord’s words “She is asleep” must then mean “She will sleep.” So to use Wauwatosan language our Lord said, “She is not necessarily dead now but at some time is the future will be not dead, and she is not necessarily asleep now, but at some time in the future will sleep.”  


But beyond that, the little girl was not dead at the precise moment our Lord spoke, she was sleeping. For do you not know what death for the believer is, dear theologian? I have joyous news for you! Death for the believer is sleep! She was not dead as the pagan world and you, dear theologian, understand. Now I know what you are thinking, “but she stinketh.” Indeed! For was her heart pumping blood through her arteries at this point in time? No. Was she breathing at this point in time? No. Was there brain activity at this point in time? No, she flat lined.  But, was she dead at this point in time? No, she was at that precise moment not dead; but sleeping (as our Lord said). Dr. Luther in his Genesis lectures speaks of this comforting truth


Natural death, which is the separation of the soul from the body, is simple death. But to feel death, that is, the terror and fear of death – this is real death. Without fear death is not death; it is a sleep, as Christ says (John 11:26): “He who believes in Me will not see death.” For when fear has been removed, the death of the soul has been removed (AE 4 p. 115).


Again, apply this Wisconsin Synod logic to any “present” tense, let alone on these most solemn words spoken at this most solemn time in the upper room.  “Your sins are…not necessarily at this point in time, but at some undetermined time in the future… will be forgiven.”  “I am… not necessary but will be at some undetermined time in the future... be with you always.”  All sorts of devilish mischief enters in when words do not mean what they say.  As Dr. Chemnitz said “some evil genius has brought these most holy words into controversy like an apple of discord” (ibid, p. 17).


Formula of Concord


The Wauwatosa theologian finishes his answer by authoritatively claiming the support of the Formula without citing it,


Of great importance here is the fact that the officiant’s speaking of the so-called Words of Institution at Communion celebrations does not cause or bring about the real presence. Christ’s words spoken two thousand years ago accomplish this, not the words of the pastor. The Lutheran Confessions address this subject in more detail in Article VII of the formula of Concord.


The inference is clear - the words of the celebrant have no efficacy and thus have nothing to really say about the elements before us beyond a history lesson. Once again the Wauwatosa theologian cleverly distorts the issue as he misrepresents the Confessions.  He, I assume, would quote the passage which Wauwatosa theologians often quote which would seem to support the above view.


So that it is not our work or speaking, but the command and ordination of Christ that makes the bread the body, and the wine the blood from the beginning of the first Supper even to the end of the world, and that through our service and office they are daily distributed (FC TD VII, 77).   


He would follow the lead of Dr. Siebert Becker, former Wisconsin seminary professor and a current Wisconsin seminary professor, Forest Bivens who likewise make much of this quote.  Dr. Becker wrote the Wisconsin Synod’s position paper on this issue and notes


It is of the greatest significance also that the Formula [VII] distinguishes sharply in this connection between the words spoken by the minister and the words spoken by Christ at the first Supper. Those who ascribe a Romanizing power to the words of institution usually stress the fact that the Savior at every celebration is speaking through the mouth of His called and ordained servant. But while there is an element of truth in that assertion, yet it should be noted clearly how the Confessions here so clearly draw a contrast between the speaking of the pastor and the speaking of Christ (“The Lord’s Supper: Consecration and Moment” p. 4, emphasis added).


And Bivens echoes,


[FC VII] does a couple of significant things in this connection. First it sharply distinguishes between Christ’s first, original words of institution and our recitation and speaking in connection with our celebrations (Summer Quarter Notes, p. 30, emphasis added).


But never do the Wauwastosa theologians address the following sentence in the Formula! Bivens and Nass do not and Becker quotes it but only in the German. (In fact I cannot find a Wisconsin Synod paper that does use it, which is not to say there isn’t one out there. Let me know if you find one.) 


Here too if I were to say over all the bread there is, “This is the body of Christ,” nothing would happen, but when we follow his institution and command in the Supper and say, “This is my body,” then it is his body, not because of our speaking or our declarative word, but because of his command in which he has told us to speak and to do and has attached his own command and deed to our speaking (emphasis added. FC TD VII 78).


The confessors were not claiming a character indelebilis à la Rome, but defending their authorized consecration in opposition to the Zwinglian and crypto Calvinist view of the real presence and their denial that our speaking of the Verba was efficacious. The Confessors claimed efficacy for their words “not because of [their] speaking or [their] declarative word, but because of his command in which he has told [them] to speak and to do and has attached his own command and deed to [their] speaking.”  Note here how Becker simply culls out the words “not because of our speaking” and ignores the remainder of the quote,


It is crystal clear in this quotation (FC TD VII, 78) that when Luther and the Confessions speak of our speaking or recitation in the discussion of the Lord’s Supper, they had in mind just our speaking of the words “This is my body,” When we speak these words, our words do not have a special efficacy, as is the case in Roman theology (The Lord’s Supper: Consecration and Moment, p. 6).


It is disingenuous, then, to say, “Christ's words spoken two thousand years ago accomplish this, not the words of a pastor.” This drives a wedge between the celebrant’s words and Christ’s words, which are one and the same or as our Confessions say “attached,” and what God has joined together let not theologians put asunder.  By this “separating” they weaken faith and bring into doubt the real presence.  My words, as a celebrant, do not make something “happen,” but Christ’s words, which I speak, do “because he has attached his own command and deed to [my] speaking.”  It is simply false to say otherwise.


The Formula had to address the Schwaermer who had attacked the Lutheran position as the Romanist position, a tactic that both Becker and Bivens and this Q/A theologian employ. Herman Sasse notes that the “fundamental difference” between the Roman (with its character indelebilis) and Lutheran understanding of the consecration that is, that the power is not in our, but in Christ’s words spoken by the celebrant “Zwingli and his followers failed to understand” (This is My Body p. 37).


This not so subtle scent of Romanism (whose original Wisconsin Synod targets were Tom Hardt and Bjarne Teigen) is always useful to distract the hounds from the real culprit. Neither Tom Hardt, Bjarne Teigen nor any censer swinging, chasuble wearing Lutheran father ever claimed a “special efficacy” for their speaking of the Verba anymore than that which comes from the Word and command of Christ which he has attached to their speaking. It is a sleight of hand to do as these Wauwatosans do, i.e. say “Since Rome, contrary to Scripture, claims an indelible character gives power to the priest’s chanting of the Verba in order to make it an effective Sacrament, therefore the Lutheran priests chanting of the Verba has no efficacy and anyone who says so is a Romanist.”  As Dr. Luther said to Zwingli for his misuse of the “flesh” of John 6, “Your logic is very poor; it is the kind of logic for which a schoolboy is caned and sent to the corner (AE 38:25).”


Hands laid upon, Concordia subscribing Lutheran celebrants, however, need no indelible character for they have the ‘command and deed of Christ attached to their speaking.’”  So again to paraphrase Harms, “those who do not believe the words ‘This is my body’ spoken by the celebrant in 2007 do not believe the words ‘This is my body,’ spoken by The Celebrant in 33,” or at least will cast doubt on those simple words. But, finally that is what you must do when the outcome is predetermined. Our Confessions have a word for that kind of gerrymandering, “prattle.” §



The Reverend John W. Berg is pastor of Hope Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Fremont, California.




Footnote “An official statement of the returns of voters for senators give[s] twenty nine friends of peace, and eleven gerrymanders.” So reported the May 12, 1813, edition of the Massachusetts Spy. A gerrymander sounds like a strange political beast, which it is, considered from a historical perspective. This beast was named by combining the word salamander, “a small lizardlike  amphibian,” with the last name of Elbridge Gerry, a former governor of Massachusetts, a state noted for its varied, often colorful political fauna. Gerry (whose name, incidentally, was pronounced with a hard g, though gerrymander is now commonly pronounced with a soft g) was immortalized in this word because an election district created by members of his party in 1812 looked like a salamander. According to one version of gerrymander's coining, the shape of the district attracted the eye of the painter Gilbert Stuart, who noticed it on a map in a newspaper editor's office. Stuart decorated the outline of the district with a head, wings, and claws and then said to the editor, “That will do for a salamander!” “Gerrymander!” came the reply. The word is first recorded in April 1812 in reference to the creature or its caricature, but it soon came to mean not only “the action of shaping a district to gain political advantage” but also “any representative elected from such a district by that method.” Within the same year gerrymander was also recorded as a verb. (American Heritage Dictionary).