A Conversion of Consequence: Russell Saltzman Has Crossed the Tiber

A Conversion of Consequence: Russell Saltzman Has Crossed the Tiber December 12, 2014

It is with great pleasure that I welcome my friend Russell E. Saltzman, a former Lutheran pastor and a former journalist, into the Catholic Faith.

In the years since we became internet friends, Russ–who has been a columnist for First Things–has shared delightful stories about his friendship with the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus.  I was pleased, a few months ago, to review Russ’s book Speaking of the Dead: When We All Fall Down, a book of funeral homilies which offered a glimpse into Russ’ faithful ministry to families who have lost a loved one.

Russ has just posted an open letter on the ALPB Forum Online, announcing his transition to the Roman Catholic Church.  The ALPB, the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, is an independent nonprofit organization which is linked by faith and confession to the Lutheran Church.

Russell E. Saltzman
Russell E. Saltzman

Russ titled his announcement Is It Just Me:  Does Evangelical Catholicism Lead to Roman Catholicism?  In it, he addresses the reasons for his decision.  In part, it seems, his wife Dianne was responsible for his shift.  I extract from his letter here:

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 – crap, 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. 

He goes on, admitting that much of the time during his tenure as editor of Forum Letter, a Lutheran publication, he tried to show Lutherans how far they had fallen from the practice of parish life described in their own confession.

But this–this single paragraph–is the part that most warms my heart, that makes it real in my mind that we should open welcoming arms and accept Russ Saltzman as a fellow Catholic.  He believes what the Church teaches.  He writes:

“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 found in communion with churches in communion with the bishop of Rome.  It is not safe to deny one’s conscience or renege on conviction.”

You can read the rest here.

God bless you, Russ, for your courage and conviction, for fearlessly exploring the issues which divide the people of God, for speaking clearly on the pages of First Things and other venues.  Surely it is He Who guides your steps; may He continue to bless you and those you love in the months and years to come.

And lastly, I want to express my appreciation to the Lutherans, fellow believers in Christ, who offered their well-wishes in the comment box after Russ’s letter.  Nowhere do I see animosity or derogation from those who remain behind in the Lutheran communion.   All speak in charity, offering their well-wishes as he embarks on this new journey.  For that, I thank you.


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  • JohnE_o

    All conversions are of consequence, are they not?

    • kathyschiffer

      Well, yes, of course, John. I don’t mean to imply that each soul isn’t precious in the eyes of the Lord. Saltzman’s conversion, though, may be the impetus for others in his wide circle of acquaintances and fans to more closely investigate the Catholic Church–and wouldn’t that be great?

      • JohnE_o

        It would be, indeed!

  • David Gray

    This would seem to be a good thing even to this conservative son of the Reformation. I’d rather see a man as an orthodox Roman Catholic than as a liberal Lutheran. Salzman is coming out of a denomination which pretends to ordain women.

  • Well God bless him. I love conversion stories. Welcome to our wonderful faith. Now I think I’ll go over to The Journey Home program and listen to another conversion story. 😉