Grandmother takes a strong stand for creation
Lita Cosner chats with Judy Finnessy, who moved her denomination to reaffirm biblical creation
Judy has a B.A. in psychology and accounting from Wartburg College. She is retired after over 40 years working in IT architecture and project management, and now devotes herself to studying creation apologetics. She calls herself a ‘grandma grizzly bear’ when it comes to teaching children how to defend their faith. She is the founder and President of the Denver Society of Creation, and has spoken for Bible study classes and conferences. She and her husband Jim have three grown children and six grandchildren.
People often wonder what they can do to make a difference, especially when they feel that they are ‘just’ an ordinary person without special qualifications or experience. Judy Finnessy’s story shows that one doesn’t have to be a scientist or theologian to have an impact for the truth.
When I wrote about the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod’s (LCMS)1 resolution affirming belief in historical six-day creation,2 a reader contacted me to tell me about Mrs Judy Finnessy, who had a huge part to play.
Judy cannot remember a specific conversion experience, having believed in Christ for as long as she can remember, growing up in the LCMS. But during her college years and the beginning of her marriage to her husband, Jim, they fell away from regular church attendance.
Four years later, several events caused Judy to reprioritize her faith.
One of our sons was in an automobile accident in Australia and came very close to being killed. Our other son became ill for two years and ended up being treated in the Mayo Cinic in Minnesota for six weeks. Our daughter married an unbeliever and stopped attending church. These events made me realize my deep need for the Lord, and I returned to the Lutheran Church. After a few months, Jim joined me there.
She found a Lutheran church when they moved from Iowa to Colorado, and they remained active there, participating in many church ministries.
Regarding creation, Judy recalls being taught Genesis in Sunday School classes as a child and she knew what the Bible said, but she also had a deep love of science, particularly astronomy. She was also taught evolution in high school and college, but she didn’t give a lot of thought to the contradictions between creation and evolution.
“I guess I thought somehow, science and the Bible would be reconciled given time.”
Lights came on with creation presentation
In 2015, Judy heard a creation presentation which caused ‘the lights to come on’ for her.
Once I understood that God really created everything in the universe and made me in His image, and that man ruined that perfect creation in the Fall, the rest of the Bible snapped clearly into place. The Gospel became much clearer and more believable. I understood why I needed a Saviour.
I knew that this was a life-changing moment. We have three children, two of whom have left the church or are inactive in it. I suddenly understood why that happened and I knew that I was being ‘called’ to get involved in the teaching of creation apologetics.
As her small group began studying biblical creation, they became concerned that the LCMS was “drifting away from the firm stand on biblical creation it had taken in the Synod’s 1932 and 1973 statements.” Her fears were confirmed when she learned that some (but not all)3 of the professors at Concordia University,4 contrary to church doctrine, believed and taught theistic evolution. Some hiring principles also favoured old-earth creationists over young-earth creationists.
Moving the denomination back to its foundation
Judy was determined to try to do something to help. In November 2016, Judy and a small group of like-minded Christians formed the Denver Society of Creation. Their group was concerned with teaching biblical creation to youth and countering the increasing compromise in LCMS academic institutions.
Judy’s pastor was supportive and encouraged the group, but was concerned that they proceed in a way that would attempt to avoid division in the church, emphasizing teaching the truth in love. The congregation seemed split at first, but fortunately the elders helped clarify the church’s teaching.
They helped tremendously and supported our efforts, and as the congregation understood more about what we were teaching, they became much more supportive.
Dr Joel Heck, professor of theology and C.S. Lewis studies at Concordia University Texas, spoke at the Denver Society of Creation in January 2017. He suggested to the small group that if they wanted to make a difference, they could write and support an overture5 re-affirming biblical creation in the LCMS. That spring, a group met to begin working on such an overture.
That summer, the Concordia Journal (published by Concordia Seminary) included a paper suggesting, in a nutshell, that the LCMS might consider compromising their historic stand on creation in order to “attract and accommodate” scientists who had trouble believing in a young Earth. The author of the paper later rescinded it, but the seminary never withdrew the paper.
In 2018, Dr Heck invited CMI’s Dr Jonathan Sarfati to speak at Concordia University and helped to arrange creation talks in the area.
By January 2018, the overture created by the small group had passed the initial (circuit) level of the LCMS and was passed to the next (district) level. Many other circuits also submitted the overture in their own districts.
Denomination reaffirms God’s Word in Genesis
In June 2018, the Rocky Mountain District of the LCMS passed the overture, making it an overture to the synodical convention. In 2019, to put an emphasis on the overture, the group put together several conferences, featuring many creation speakers from different creation ministries, including CMI’s geneticist Dr Robert Carter, well-known creationist physicist Dr Russell Humphreys, and many more. A major reason for these conferences was to capture the attention of the laity, pastors, and leadership, and to show that believing in a biblical age of the earth was not ‘unscientific’.
In the end, there were many resolutions passed at various circuit or district levels in the LCMS, and the LCMS convention decided to proceed with an overture submitted by Concordia Seminary faculty members. While there was much discussion regarding the meaning of ‘natural day’, when it came time to approve the overture, it was overwhelmingly approved by a show of hands vote. Judy comments, “We are extremely proud of our church body for having the courage to stand on God’s Word!”
What we can learn
We learned several things. First, we learned that the lay people and local pastors overwhelmingly believed and supported biblical creation, though some expressed concern that re-affirming our belief in a young earth would cause division in the church or make it less attractive to young people. In fact, experience shows that neither of these things is the case.
Second, we learned that compromise was coming in mostly at the level of our academic institutions. Academics are under great pressure to conform to a secular worldview. Many of them have been ‘blinded’ by secular teaching and accommodate long ages in order to be seen as ‘intellectual’.
Third, hiring practices at the Concordia universities are a major weakness. Professors are required to sign a form stating they will not teach contrary to Lutheran doctrine, but it is difficult to enforce that agreement.
Work goes on!
While Judy is thrilled with the group’s progress so far, she sees the job as far from finished. Further goals are to submit additional overtures to clarify the age of the earth issue, provide more oversight to LCMS academic institutions, and to continue to educate.
It involved the work of a lot of good people, but most of all, God’s hand was with us. There were many roadblocks, but each time God removed them. He orchestrated relationships I never thought would happen, created opportunities and made sure we received the support and encouragement we needed.
Judy exhorts others who may want to encourage lay people in other denominations to begin similar processes to bring them back to a biblical understanding of creation. This just shows that God can use ordinary people, even a ‘Grandma’, to accomplish big things. To Him be the glory!
References and notes
- The LCMS is a denomination with districts covering the entire United States. Return to text.
- Cosner, L., Lutheran Church Missouri Synod affirms creation in six days, 1 Aug 2019. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Hebrew professor: Genesis teaches six solar days! (interview with Dr Andrew Steinmann), Creation 36(1):48–51, 2014, . Return to text.
- The Concordia University system is affiliated with the LCMS. Return to text.
- The LCMS defines overtures as “recommendations in the form of proposed resolutions requesting action on the part of the convention”. Return to text.