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For those of you who don’t know, I have deep Lutheran roots. We are a funny lot.
Some of you have no idea what a Lutheran is.
Have a look at this very short VIDEO BY THE “BANGLES” and you’ll know everything you need to know :-).
Some Lutheran FAQ’s:
- Are Lutherans liturgical? Most are. Many are not.
- Do Lutherans agree on theology? Except for “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone), nope. And we argue about what that means.
- Are Lutherans like Catholics except in “black and white?” Often. Sleepy version of the mass without cool candles, statues and magic stuff.
- Who are the great Lutheran preachers? Next question!
- Do Lutherans have a sense of humor? Rarely, but it can happen.
- Are Lutherans liberals? Some are virtually Marxists. Most of them hang out in seminaries or become bishops.
- Are Lutherans conservatives? The black-shirt conservatives could scare all the peeps on Fox News. They don’t think you’re really saved, by the way. They KNOW I’m not :-).
- Where do they tend to live? Scandihoovia and parts of Germany. Pennsylvania. Upper Midwest USA. Wherever there is bad weather. But the cool ones live in Ethiopia. They do fire baptisms and stuff.
- Why do we see less and less of them? They reproduce like Panda bears and would rather die than share their faith.
- Who are some famous, high-profile, deeply committed Lutherans we would all know? ROTFL
We US Lutherans are weathering a scathing season of debate on sexuality.
Don’t want to pick that scab and re-kindle the same tired scripts on both sides of the debate.
But I am fascinated by how little mention (during the debate) has been made of Martin Luther’s landmark essay on this very topic.
In German: Vom ehelichen Leben
English (Click on for Text) Translation: The Estate of Marriage
Never the legalist, Luther sees (in crushingly potent typically Luther-esque prose) the establishment of marriage in the Genesis order of creation.
Far from being an idle academic treatise, Luther fully intends to re-make Europe around his new non-monastic ideas. His essay is an ideological invasion.
And he succeeded.
You don’t have to read the whole thing; but a few pages will give you the idea.
We have somehow lost the idea of to-be-promoted biologically generative procreation within covenant Adam/Eve marriage families with earthly non-disposability.
We have bought into the myth of overpopulation (i.e. more people is bad), and have embraced the overuse of birth control and abortion (1/3 of conceptions in the US) as corollaries.
Luther is earthy, alive, and strident in his essay. Vintage Marty. Seriously, I dare you to read it, no matter where you stand on things.
Meanwhile, we (and most Mainline Christian groups) are dying out, only to be replaced by more biologically assertive faith families, who actually believe enough in their way of life to see it thrive.
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This article is not just for Lutherans. It applies to most North American faith families.
The above chart spells unmitigated disaster. And it’s a few years old. It’s gotten much worse since it was first printed.
And better theology is not going to rescue us. We Lutherans have always had the odd idea that if we could “nail” the philosophical content of the Gospel, then everything would line up and we would thrive. Truth is, we have right-leaning Lutherans (LCMS) and left-leaning Lutherans (ELCA) and ALL of us are headed down the same demographic waterslide hand-in-hand.
I’m a theological conservative with no illusions that more conservatism would stem this tide. Our big problems are demographic.
The gay issue in the ELCA churchwide assembly of 2009 will be seen as a blip, historically, compared to the real crises:
1) Lutherans don’t have enough babies. We seem to see them as a liability. Ironic that we did backflips, inducing great trauma to the ELCA, to include the LGBT group (on their terms) which has the lowest fertility rate on earth. It’s like we’re trying to form a no-baby union.
Here are confirmation pictures from 1969 and 2004 from the same Lutheran congregation. These trends are the rule, not the exception, for most congregations. Do the math.
2) Lutherans don’t retain enough of the babies they have.
3) Lutherans have no clue how to do evangelism which leads to large-scale adult conversion and baptism. Some even have an “in principle” allergy against doing it; for them, praying with someone to become a Christian is some kind of theological felony. We did 14 adult baptisms at our last church picnic (and we are only a church of 200). Have a look at the video>> LINK We are shooting for 30 this year.
4) Many of our congregations are led by informal juntas of empty nesters and retired people which sabotage every step taken to try to create a young-adult-friendly environment, young adults who tend to have babies, by the way. The trauma many of our missional pastors carry is not unlike that of soldiers returning from Iraq. PTSD is rampant among the younger half of our roster (which is tiny–the average ELCA pastor is 59 and aging). It’s not the pagans who beat on them, it’s their own church members.
5) Lutherans do not do well in urban areas where they have had many churches (big cities like LA, Chicago, St. Louis, etc.) when those zip codes diversify ethnically. In general, we’d literally rather die than reach the new immigrant residents. And we seem to think that urban Latinos and African Americans are looking for high-church worship with a PC message; intelligent Catholicism in black and white without the magic. Small wonder they are staying away in droves.
6) Our denominational corporate structures are clueless about the “opt in” revolution created by social media. They still think they can control their rosters and not have to attract, cultivate, and maintain “opt inners.” Both the lists of congregations and clergy are brittle and fragmenting. Denominations are like Tower Records trying to discipline iTunes. Good luck.
7) Lutherans are also clueless about the communications revolution. Most of them spend half of their office hours producing bulletins and newsletters which are among the poorest quality print media in America, and no one reads them. Most of our pastors don’t have blogs or a social media presence of any kind, let alone a podcast (click for example) that would hold anyone’s attention. Many Lutheran churches have no website or screens in the church. And the ones that do have websites usually have a big picture of a Jetsons-Gothic postwar church building (see pic below) with other useless information. Generalities abound on such websites (e.g. love the world and love God), and there are no branding distincitives (i.e. what makes us unique) that would attract someone. The mission statements are so vague that Taco Bell could probably use them. And you can never find a picture of the pastor or get a feel for her or his vibe. Anti-branding. Fine, don’t have screens–and while you’re at it, get rid of your parking lot and hope streetcars will come back. If you’re not at least toying with the idea of crafting a smartphone “app” for your church, you may simply never catch up.
8. We have over-merged. Some talk about the “emergent” church. Well, we are the “overmergent” church. A few generations ago, when Lutheranism was thriving, we had a bunch of solid medium-sized Lutheran denominations which were very relational (every pastor could go do every national gathering), and each one had clear branding and vibe. There was loyalty to their one seminary and tiny handful of major global mission fields. Now we have two mega corporations which have no branding and spend all of their time fighting, because we are forcing together constituencies that don’t belong together. Many of our seminaries are going broke. Our leaders can’t name our global mission fields. Former ELC pietists have no business slugging it out for turf within the ELCA with former ULCA East Coast types. No branding, no new customers.
9) Most Lutheran sermons are virtually impossible to understand. I was a Fulbright Scholar and I can’t follow most of them. We tend to preach in the formal register with tertiary reflection; writing a weekly term paper for a professor who isn’t even there. And we are humor-impaired. Our preaching culture is non-existent. We don’t celebrate our (few) preaching stars. Name them. See?
10) We treat our successful churches like pariahs. Reading the Lutheran for years, you’d have no idea which churches they are. The ones that are growing and thriving, reaching lots of new converts, and baptizing them. The ones that are transforming their communities. Heaven forbid we celebrate any success. Synod staffs, churchwide, and struggling congregations tend to be at least passively aggressive towards any success. And if new church plants innovate? Don’t let them on the roster! Unless they impersonate the other dying congregations.
I value the opinions of liberals. Some of them I share; some I don’t. Respectful liberals return the favor. Some just scream at you. Bless them :-).
But with a drift toward liberalism, comes, without question and statistically provable, a less church-going population (see the recent Gallup results–a conservative is twice as likely to be in church as a liberal), and less tendency to have big families (NPR families have way less kids than NASCAR families) that will carry on the important missional work we are doing for generations to come. I think that’s worth questioning, once in a while. Even if I’m wrong, which many of you believe and may indeed be the case, I will plant my flag on the right to ask the question. The survival of our movement is at stake.
There will always be Lutherans in America. We are too strong in the Upper Midwest to disappear entirely. But we have squandered our “pole position” which we had after WW2. Instead of contributing to the core of the project that is America, we seem to be choosing to be a quirky footnote to life here.
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This is the number two question I get, after:
Are there pets in heaven?
Both questions are tough to answer in a simplistic way!
First of all, there is often a “question behind the question.” So, before answering, I counter with “What do you mean by Lutheran?”
Let’s start with Martin Luther (1500’s in Germany). I once was blessed to meet the greatest Luther scholar of the 20th century, in person, Roland Bainton, in the early 80’s after a lecture. I asked him why he never joined a Lutheran Church. His witty response was: “I’ve never seen one. Luther himself, ironically, would not be welcomed in most Lutheran churches today.”
So, are you Lutheran? If you can answer difficult theological questions simplistically, you probably aren’t following Luther’s pattern.
Asked whether there is pre-destination, Luther answered “yes and no.” Asked if we can lose our salvation, Luther answered “yes and no.” Asked if we are basically sinners or totally justified, he answered “yes.” Luther was a Bible teacher, and not a systematic theologian. He loved the (obvious) dramatic tensions in scripture and was OK with just leaving them be. His counterpart, Calvin, seemed to have a high need to cram the Bible into a neat system.
There are parts of Luther’s teaching and personality that I, without reservation, condemn and reject. His bizarrely anti-Semitic view of European Jews was an outrage. His mowing down of the peasant revolt was inexcusable. His eschatology was primitive at best and incomprehensible at worst (He thought Pope Leo was literally THE Antichrist). He had no sense of Christian mission to the majority of the non-Christian world.
But he was spot-on right about the whole Bible revolving around Grace, Faith, and Christ. And he was crazy-courageous in standing up to the whole authority structure of his world (Popes and Emperors) to make it stick. He rediscovered Paul’s “Jesus plus nothing” and remade much of the Western Church around it.
Along with Isaac Newton, he is one of the most mercurial and influential humans ever to walk this planet (Newton, like Luther, had his mega-quirks). By deconstructing the monastic world-view (which had been dominant for centuries), philosophically and practically, Luther helped lay the foundation for the Modern World in which you and I live.
Ironically (I thought of this while walking the ancient stones of the Via Sacra), Luther and Paul were the two greatest historical figures ever to walk the streets of Rome. No one at the time, in that city, even noticed them. Luther and Paul could care less–they just went out and re-made the world. All of the emperors and heroes of Rome amounted to: not much. We name our sons Paul–and our dogs, Nero.
Am I a follower of Paul or Luther? No. So perhaps I’m not a Lutheran, in that sense. Luther didn’t want us to use the term “Lutheran” (see his exact quote at the bottom of this page) and Paul, in 1 Corinthians, was horrified that people would label themselves with his name. I, like Luther and Paul, am a follower of Jesus Christ alone.
But what about faith families? What about denominations? I am totally a product of Lutheran theological-cultural upbringing, and can’t do much about it. It’s like being Jewish, it’s a cultural tattoo which you can’t remove without lasers. Even if I (God forbid) were to become an atheist, I’d be a Lutheran atheist.
If I were to join a Baptist or Catholic congregation, I’d still be a Lutheran member of that church. If you are Jewish or Lutheran, you understand the tribal implications of these labels :-). I’d actually, if I had my ‘druthers, like to be a charismatic Anglican (the Alpha London folks), but I’m too blue-collar Lutheran to pull it off long term.
So, is the church I pastor, Robinwood Church, Lutheran, because I am the primary teacher? Perhaps. We affirm (in our bylaws) the unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Small Catechism, and the ecumenical creeds. We would qualify, thus, for joining the Lutheran World Federation.
But we are non-liturgical. Totally. More than you think. And we are very Pentecostal in our expression. It doesn’t look “Lutheran.” We have no Euro-centric trappings of any kind. We are a California beach church that meets in a warehouse. No Lent. No Advent. No lectionary. No altar table. No permanent cross. I don’t own a clerical collar. There isn’t a single hymnbook in the building. It would be hard to find the word “Lutheran” on our website. I only wear shoes if it’s a cold day. The music is loud.
But if any trained theologian were to visit us for three Sundays, he or she would say:
They sure aren’t Calvinists or Arminians. Not Roman Catholics. Not Southern Baptists. Not Eastern Orthodox. Not liberal North American PC activists. Not Anglicans. By default, they must be Lutherans. Expressive, non-legalistic, missional–but pretty dang Lutheran at the core.
If Luther were to show up at Robinwood Church, I’d probably tell him off (privately) for that goofy Jew-bashing (and a few other things) of his, but we’d pour him a beer (and cut him off at two) and share his love of God’s Word, and the tensions that are simply there in it.
Is Robinwood Church Lutheran? Yes and no 🙂
And like Luther and Paul, we don’t care if “important” people don’t notice what we’re up to, we’re busy remaking the world.
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LUTHER’S QUOTE on LUTHERAN LABEL:
“People should not call themselves ‘Lutherans’. ‘What is Luther? After all, the teaching is not mine. Neither was I crucified for anyone . . .How then should I — poor stinking maggot-fodder that I am — come to have men call the children of Christ by my wretched name?’ Not so, my dear friends; let us abolish all party names and call ourselves Christians, after him whose teachings we hold.”
Who said that?
–from, “A Sincere Admonition by Martin Luther to All Christians to Guard Against Insurrection and Rebellion 1522”
Have a look at this FASCINATING video from the Royal Society of the Arts.
Link to share: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g
What if we aren’t totally sinful? Granted, we all have incurable sinful tendencies, and we need a Savior, but what if the Lord also implanted countering tendencies like empathy?
For those of you looking for a definition of Total Depravity, see the Wikipedia article on the same topic.
I’ve been a committed follower of Christ for some time now, and have never, in my gut, totally bought into the notion that we are “totally depraved.” I’ve always gotten chills when we sing “saved a wretch like me.” Does the creator create wretches?
Never liked saying over and over every Sunday that “I am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself.” Felt like reinforcing a curse. I think I can say “yes and no” to that on different levels, but it’s just not that simple.
I would say that we are more complex than that.
We are beautiful and broken.
We are noble and sometimes pathetic.
What if original sin is true. AND original blessing…
Does it have to be all or nothing?
I’m Lutheran in my tendencies, and Lutherans have always been good at holding things in tension. Already and not yet. Simul iustus et peccator, etc. That works for me.
This is a key issue in evangelization–if we can’t agree, basically, about the human condition, with those we are trying to reach, we have no table on which to serve the “dinner” of the Gospel.
I would love to hear your thoughts. The conservative TULIP Calvinists among us are going to go nuts.
Isn’t what the Bible teaches much richer than “total depravity?”
Have at it. But play nice. 🙂
Che and Marty
Movements “morph” over time. And the labels they once used no longer fit what the movements have become. Revolutionaries become oppressors. Conservatives become Progressives and even the primary change agents.
Disclaimer: This essay is not for the irony- and humor-impaired. I am not promoting any partisan political view. I am just pointing out how words change their meaning over time and no one seems to notice. And how “true believers” of any “line of thought” are more than ready to accept huge contradictions for the sake of their cause.
For the record (I always lay my cards on the table): I am a family-values free-market guy.
I just see some cracks in the ice, and think it’s a good idea to tell you where they are…
Also, there is a PG-13 woodcut coming up. Commissioned by Martin Luther. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Think about these five words:
The meanings of these words change over time. In a few generations, a total 180-degree-shift in meaning is possible.
German Reformer Martin Luther was an almost-crazy, authority-taunting radical. He was the “Che” of the 16th century; except that Luther was more influential than Che over time. Che, on the other hand, was more iconically photogenic and had a cooler rifle. Both are responsible for much violence and bloodshed as a result of their charismatically resistant posture. They both also had streaks of bigotry a mile wide.
Luther’s most ardent followers today are anything but radical. There is no word “rigid” enough to describe some of his most enthusiastic students. Luther wouldn’t spend five minutes with these “hyper-Lutherans” if he were alive today. He would drink too much beer, make fun of them, and probably get some world-class artist to do woodcut-cartoons of them with animal heads. Like the one below he had done of the Pope:
Pardon the PG-13 nature of Luther’s propaganda. He was a tad earthy. Well…more than a tad.
“Lutheranism” is a prime example of radicalism, over time, under the same banners and labels, becoming entrenched “conservatism.”
And today’s self-proclaimed political “conservatives” are anything but conserving. Especially here in California. They are trying to reform a bloated, decadent societal core–grown fat on entitlements, and trying to accomplish this more or less from the outside. Hint: the ones chopping away with hatchets are not those who are conserving things.
California will be electing a governor this year, maybe the one in the EBay pic above. “Conservatives” are running as the ones who are going to dismantle, not preserve/conserve the “large public sector” system. Thus, “conservative” is the wrong word for them. They are the progressives, but they are afraid to use that word.
And, liberals are liberal? Hardly. They seem to be the ones who want more, not less, regulation. Liberal should have a “laissez faire” economic and social vibe, as it does in Europe. The word “libertarian” is a close cognate, but true liberals won’t return their phone calls.
Liberals want to tell me that I can’t have a weapon in my house potent enough to protect my family and neighbors should there be large scale social unrest (already happened here in LA twice in the past couple of generations), even if the US Constitution is crystal clear in saying that I can.
After Lexington and Concord, the founding fathers saw the value in a lethally-potent local militia of gun-owners powerful enough to chase away trained (Red Coat) armies. Such combat-quality weapons today are “California Unapproved.” What’s liberal about that? Not saying I want or need such a weapon, but telling me I can’t have one is not very “liberal.” Liberals, if they are true to their label, shouldn’t want the government to have a monopoly on force. They should be NRA members.
By the way, famous British “red coat” general Burgoyne surrendered 8,000 of the best trained soldiers on earth to the barely-trained American citizen militia at Saratoga during the Revolution in 1777 at least partly because one regular American guy, Tim Murphy, put a bullet through General Simon Fraser’s heart (from 200 yards out) with his own rifle, which was better (sporting newfangled spiral rifle threads) than any muskets with which the Red Coats were equipped. The gun was made in the USA and not registered anywhere with the authorities.
Every time I’m in Europe discussing politics, someone reminds me that our liberals in the US are not really liberals. Liberals in Europe (like the Free Democratic Party-FDP in Germany, or the VVD in Holland) are the free-market, no-regulation people.
Liberal is Latin for “freedom-oriented.”
And our “Conservatives” are actually big socialists when it comes to military spending. They love huge socialized military (Think about it, we are 4% of the world population and we spend over half of the military money on earth). This outrageous spending, along with other entitlements (much of which are going to people who don’t need them–many of the people getting social security would be fine without it) are the reason you have to work most of the first half of the year just to pay our taxes.
Somehow it doesn’t count as big government if it’s armed. If you break the economic back of the country through military spending, somehow that’s not big government. We won’t mention that, by far, the biggest office building in Washington is…the Pentagon. If aliens landed in DC, they would go there to find the leaders.
Conservatives used to be against foreign wars and “entangling alliances.” Now they want to build aircraft carriers that cost a bazillion dollars and sail them all over the world, way far from home, poking our noses around where we have little business being. What on earth were we doing in Kosovo and Somalia? Would we want Chinese aircraft carriers (thank God they don’t have any) sailing around in the Gulf of Mexico? We do the equivalent to everyone else all the time, our Nimitz-class carriers commanding sovereignty over an area bigger than California wherever they go. No wonder we have PR problems.
The Russkies sent one old navy cruiser and a destroyer escort to Venezuela in 2008 and we had a cow.
And all of this, and we can’t, a decade after 9/11, with stratospheric spending and the ability to read license plates from orbit, find ONE guy behind the WTC attacks. Not exactly a lot of bang for our (countless) bucks.
Please hear me, I’m not anti-military. I think a draft would be a good idea, as long as draftees had a choice between military and non-military public service. And I am proud of our soldiers and sailors, who do their best given the decisions that our leaders make.
There are lots of valid opinions on this, I just believe that our true security interests are:
1) Ensuring stability, free trade, and prosperity in the Western Hemisphere, in cooperation with local governments.
2) Protecting the nation from incoming missiles from rogue states.
3) Foiling the efforts of yet more nations to achieve nuke status. Ideally through diplomacy. By stealth and sabotage if necessary.
4) Making sure there is never another 9/11 or Pearl Harbor.
5) Finding the guys who plot 9/11 schemes and bringing them to justice (Bin Laden types). Best done by special elite forces, not by invading whole nations (Iraq and Afghanistan).
6) Ensure that air travel is safe and convenient.
We don’t need tanks or aircraft carriers to pull off any of the above. WW2 was over in 1945. Nostalgia continues to craft our military budgets.
Just my opinion (and there are lots of good opinions), but I think we should pull out, militarily, of the Eastern Hemisphere altogether. Especially the Middle East. If we got cut off from their oil, it would force us to become self sufficient–and it’s about time we did learn how to provide our own energy needs.
How about another word that has changed meaning? “Progressive.”
The two Republicans on Mount Rushmore were arguably two of the most progressive statesmen we ever had. Abraham Lincoln hardly conserved the status quo. He deconstructed the Southern social/political/economic system by force. He was willing to take casualty numbers in single battles as high as all of our casualties in Vietnam put together (biblical-level battle death) in order to enforce central Washington DC control. Played fast and loose with the Constitution all the time (made Nixon’s line-crossing look like a mischievous choirboy). Hardly a states-rights anti-Washington guy. Phenomenal leader; he did what he had to do. He wouldn’t get to first base with today’s Republicans. Not a strict constitutionalist. Not a church member. Not afraid to shed American blood. Too intellectual. Unable to carry the South.
If you can read his Second Inaugural Address without shedding a tear, you’re not paying attention.
And Republican Teddy Roosevelt kicked the pooey out of established big business, robber barons, and monopolies through…get this….massive new government regulation and federal takeover of HUGE tracts of the Western US for conservation. Lincoln believed in powerful centralized government at the point of a bayonet. TR would be kicked out of today’s Republican party for being “business unfriendly.” His enemies (think today’s Wall Street barons) had to figure out how to put their political teeth back into their mouths after meeting with him.
I think that today’s Republicans are economically progressive/liberal (they want change). The Democrats are the ones who want to conserve big government and create regulation. Except for military, where the Republicans are socialist conservers.
I used the word “progressive” once to describe, favorably, a certain kind of missional evangelical Christian. I was warned by MANY afterwards not to use that “P” word or people might think I’m a liberal…but not liberal in the sense that the word liberal really means :-).
The Mount Rushmore darling of the (so-called) liberals, Thomas Jefferson, hardly believed in the rainbow coalition and diversity. Current Democratic party conventions would bewilder him. He kept slaves…for a lot of reasons.
He is often invoked by the ACLU to halt school prayer and town square manger scenes, although most all the explicit (and very moving) spiritual/God references in our founding documents come directly from him. He (although quirky-deist in orientation) considered himself a devout follower of Jesus and did several stints as a vestry elder in the local Episcopal congregation.
And his views of US-American rule of the continent were decidedly imperial. More American Indians had to move and go somewhere else because of him than because of any other one person. He planned the Euro-stock settling of the whole Northwest Territories (why it looks like a checkerboard to fly over), which the British had reserved for the Indians, and bought the whole Louisiana purchase to the west of that without really thinking about where to put these Indians (who aren’t from India, as you well know–another word with a total shift in meaning).
And then we go all PC on them with the term Native American. “Native” is Latin for “born here.” Thus, I am a Native American since I was born here (My wife and my son are not–Asia and Europe births). And American? From Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian who finally figured out (unlike Columbus) that this wasn’t Asia. Thus, the First Nations (this Canadian term is way better) peoples that the Europeans found here are “native” (as I am) and connected to some Italian (i.e. “Native American”)? “Native American” is just as odd as calling them “Indians.”
Any why are pro-life people (and I am one of those) usually for the death penalty? Only super-spiritual Catholics seem to come out as consequentially against abortion and the death penalty.
And why are many pro-choice people afraid of laying out all the choices for a woman with an unexpected pregancy and against giving her a day to think it over and make a choice? Or offering her a solid alternative choice to abortion? Seems like only pro-life people show up on the sidewalks of abortion clinics offering women the choices of food, shelter, and long term help. My head swims when I think of this stuff.
And we talk about a woman’s right to choose. What about the 50% chance that there is a woman being formed inside the mother? Is anyone asking that woman if she wants to be born or not? If we’re going to affirm the right of a woman to choose, why not both of the women involved?
And one of the most universally held beliefs out there (left and right) is that late term abortions are (way) yucky. The more you learn about them, the more you think so, no matter how you label yourself. And yet, in a democracy, we still do them. How does that work? Go ahead and google an image of a late term abortion. You won’t forget it.
And the religious far right has to come to terms with the fact that the two of the three most outspoken presidential followers of Jesus in my lifetime were Democrats. Bush the younger is the lone Republican with enough explicit faith even to have had the potential capacity to teach a Sunday school class.
Hint: One of the two Democrats on the explicit-Christian list wrote a book called Born Again and still teaches Sunday School every week.
The darling of the Republicans (also a hero of mine, by the way), presidential-wise, was apparently more interested in astrology readings (yes, I know his wife dragged him into it) than Bible class. But the conservatives forgive him for that. Because…well, I don’t really know. It is not unthinkable that “conservative” Christians will help nominate a Mormon in 2012 to try to unseat a Black evangelical. Never mind that this Mormon instituted the same health care concept for Massachusetts that Obama passed for the USA.
Many of these same hardline “conservatives” believe the bizarre conspiracy that our current president is a Muslim. Never mind that he’s one of two presidents in my lifetime that can describe his explicit concrete born-again Christian conversion experience in any more than somewhat evasively vague terms.
Granted, it’s strange to me that he’s pro-choice. But then, what about American politics isn’t strange (the whole point of this essay).
And then “conservatives” want a free market when talking about goods (which is why you are right now within reach of something made in China) but not with labor (which is why they try to close the borders).
A market cannot be partially free.
A free market does not work without freedom of labor to find its way to capital. If you close the border to labor, you have to close it to goods too, or they will flood in from the outside, manufactured by someone else’s cheap labor.
Unless you are a liberal in the true sense of the word and open it to both (goods and labor).
We don’t make things in America anymore because we seem to be afraid of freely mobile (and cheaper) labor coming into our country.
Not saying I understand all of this, but the contradictions on this topic are not only bizarre, they are heaping up a trade deficit that God himself could never pay off. The result is that capital is leaving our shores in search of overseas labor. Why would we want that? Why not attract BOTH labor and capital in OUR direction? Isn’t that how we built this country in the first place? Isn’t that what brought your ancestors here? Labor seeking capital.
If our immigrant ancestors had faced today’s paperwork immigration regulation jungle, they wouldn’t get in either. It took less time to process a non-English speaker with little meaningful documentation at Ellis island than it takes to change your oil. We basically just checked them for lice, spelled their names wrong, and let them in.
And less than a third of all American immigration (from 1609 onward) was ever documented. If you don’t believe me, try finding all the immigration entry points in your family tree. Even the Mormons can’t find them for you. Widespread passport use wasn’t even common until around World War One.
My ancestors came in legally!
That’s because it was easy back then, usually easier than getting a driver’s license today at the DMV. Or that for a majority of us, no one was even watching.
Picture Title: “Our Trade Deficit”
And all the talk about “securing the borders.” Have you ever flown from LA to Houston with a window seat? Right over the border. Our whole military could never pull it off. The distances are VAST. And most of the Canadian border doesn’t even have a fence. God bless you if you want to “secure the borders.” Good luck–it simply is not physically possible. Your grandmother can cross the Canadian border at will wherever she wants to at any point along the line, night or day. And Canada is so big it doesn’t even really have borders. Certainly no one is able to watch their coasts! I don’t think there are enough Canadians, total, to play red rover with us at the border.
You can believe whatever you want about immigration. But securing the borders is not physically possible. Go ahead and build another Iron Curtain. But remember how well the first one worked. Even the best walls leak…a lot. The Great Wall of China (similar dynamics gave rise to it) never worked. Ever.
We are a funny people. Myself included. We get all caught up in group thinking patterns that spin us away from the truth. We are so off balance that surveys can prove that a few catchy sound bites and a couple negative campaign ads can convince us to vote for just about anything.
So, liberals aren’t “liberal” when it comes to guns or economics. Today’s conservatives lean toward dismantling, not conserving, the political and economic status quo (especially here in California). These true progressives are afraid of their own label. But Republicans are also socialists when it comes to the military; an over-funded, under-focused military which is still designed to fight World War II. Pro-choice folks are wary of too much choice for women with distressed pregnancies. Pro-life people tend to be pro-death when it comes to nasty criminals. Free-market Republicans want to close the borders to mobile free-market labor, and conservative Anglo-white Evangelicals would rather vote for a Mormon who “feels” like them than for an African-American Evangelical (most all of whom tend to be Democrats).
Once again, I am not taking stands on these issues, just trying to point out the truly bizarre nature of current American politics. And the need to start “thinking straight.”
What if we all started believing in real truth again, and started with the assumption (as I do) that no one of us possesses it fully?
How about: There are flaws in my thinking and I want to find out what they are.
The truth is out there.
What if we started valuing it more than our opinion patterns?
Please pass the link to this essay to everyone. I write these things because I want everyone to read them :-). LINK: http://wp.me/pGQxY-9y
Now, granted, many of you reading this are not Lutheran, but you were drawn to the title much as you were to the movie White Men Can’t Jump.
I am a lifelong Lutheran. Laying my cards on the table, I’m a theologically conservative Lutheran with incurable Pentecostal tendencies.
The Lutheran Church is beautiful, in a Volvo/Ikea sort of way. We tend to be understated and solid, with terminal dependability and not much foolishness.
But we have some real weak spots.
1) We more or less have no functioning eschatology (end times teaching). Martin Luther wrecked that for us. He thought the Antichrist was alive and that his name was Leo, and that he lived in Rome. Great Tribulation on its way? Heck, in Luther’s mind, it was already here. And Uncle Marty had a tendency to want to mow down “Heaven is coming on earth!” Millennialists (Thomas Muentzer, etc.) whenever he had the chance. We’ve had an eschatological hangover ever since. A dirty little family secret.
Please hear me, I am not suggesting that we adopt the folk American Darby-based dog and pony show, which I affectionately call “Chutes and Ladders.” We can do much better than that. But it’s hard to invite people on a journey when we don’t have a compelling destination.
2) We won’t even bring up Luther’s formative 16th century anti-Semitism which planted the seeds for all kinds of later nastiness. What he said about the Jews is not for polite publications like this one. And it was disgusting. I totally condemn it and there was no excuse for it.
3) We have no theology of mission. Within the framework of our theology, we have no idea how to get someone saved. This will be the topic of our little essay today.
Our theology, as Lutherans, is primarily confessional and not missional.
Now by confessional, I don’t mean the confusing dual use of the word including personal or corporate confession of sins; not talking about the “mea culpa” on page 56 in the LBW.
What I mean, rather, is that we “speak together” the truths of our faith. The Reformed tradition (Calvinists, Presbyterians, etc.), along with Lutherans, is one of the two great “confessional” traditions.
The Westminster (Reformed) Confession and the Augsburg (Lutheran) Confession are towering examples of confessional Christianity.
Both streams, however, are anemic in their ability to think about reaching the lost (i.e. missiology).
Now confessionalism is not a priori anti-missional. You can have a missional confession of faith. We just don’t.
Well, at the time the Lutheran Confessions were written, they were written within a (nominal) Christendom which had no immediate frontiers (at least none which most people had actually seen—Muslims were unthinkably far away and the New World was just being discovered) with non-Christian nations. There also were no large minorities of explicit non-Christians within Christendom. Only the Jews were present among them as a distinct minority, and they, as now, were a tiny sliver (albeit super-influential sliver) of the total European population.
The Lutheran Confessions were not written to define how to reach the lost. They were written to defend the new Evangelical faith against a Roman Christianity which was organizing to resist the Reformation.
It is also a misnomer to say that Lutherans were a “breakaway” from the Roman Catholic Church. Western Christianity before Luther was anything but monolithic. There were often up to three rival popes at a time. Lots of priests married and there were instances of female ordination. Rules and uniformity were unenforceable, especially at the farther ends of the muddy trails which were the ‘highways’ of Europe. In fact you can make a case for the fact that the Roman Catholic Church was only first incorporated at Trent (as in “the council of….”) in reaction to the Protestant Reformation. Without the printing press (which appeared about this time), it was more or less impossible to hold a bureaucracy together in those days.
The Confessions were full of Realpolitik (i.e. say whatever you have to in order to help the movement survive) and were defensive in nature. They were not nearly as systematic as the parallel Reformed-Calvinist documents.
Lutheranism has a high tolerance for tension and has less of a fetish for streamlining than Calvinism. For instance, our stock answer to the question “Can I lose my salvation?” is a typically Lutheran “yes and no.” We also have no answer for the problem of evil (theodicy). We live with the tensions of the Bible and those conflicts we find in life.
You see, Luther was a Bible teacher, not a systematic theologian. “Lutheran Systematic Theology” is a bit of an oxymoron.
Luther rediscovered the Apostle Paul’s “Jesus plus nothing” mentality in Galatians. He remade the new Evangelical church around this reality. And like Paul, he was ready to defend this new movement at whatever cost.
He didn’t seem all that interested, however, in the crafting of the Confessions; he left that to his indispensable-but-weenie-dweeb colleague Melanchthon. He’d rather drink beer and engage young leaders for hours on end (Tischreden or “table talk”); and he loved to preach and teach.
He and Paul are on everyone’s short list of one-handful of the most influential humans of all time (I would add Jesus, Newton, and Mohammed.)
So the Confessions were written in a time when the main job of the Church was not seen as evangelization or global missions. It was the education of nominal Christians (hence the writing of the iconic and ubiquitous Small Catechism).
Unfortunately, our faith family’s official theology locked in and froze up on this angle. We have huge education wings on all of our churches, but we don’t know how to lead a non-Christian to faith.
The Confessions are simply silent as to how to do mission. It wasn’t the issue they were dealing with.
In conclusion, the formative-era Lutherans were concerned with two things:
1) Catechizing already-baptized nominal Christians within their jurisdiction (the Small Catechism)
2) Defending the faith against non-Lutheran neighbors (the Confessions)
Mission was just not on their radar screen. It didn’t get into our family DNA.
It is a huge understatement to say that we live in a totally different world today. My block here in California has no ignorant but compliant Christians just waiting to be catechized, and defending the faith in an intellectually permissive pluralistic culture has way lower stakes (and no stakes to be burned on). But we Lutherans are operating with answer patterns (catechism and confession) which address situations that have long since vanished. We have a cure for a disease that is no longer with us.
I, a confessional Lutheran, came to the hard conclusion recently that criticisms against me not being Lutheran in much of my teaching (because I am very missional) were actually quite accurate. My missional side (my dominant driving spiritual thrust) doesn’t get its marching orders from the confessions.
And teaching unbelievers the Catechism is like building a second story on a vacant lot.
The truth is, it’s time to write a new Lutheran Confession of Mission. It is ironic that we have a new fellowship called the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ when we haven’t really thought through how to do mission as Lutherans.
In other words, since our theology is through-and-through confessional, and those Confessions are not missional, we have to go “outside the system” to do mission.
We’ve been borrowing the Arminian theology of the Second Great (American) Awakening whenever we feel the urge to reach a lost person or send out a missionary. It works, but it’s kind of like an American soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan using a Kalashnikov rifle—it gets the job done OK, but it looks and feels wrong.
Nothing wrong with Arminians. But they lack the Lutheran appreciation for ambiguity and struggle (the “Mighty Fortress” stuff). Their total embrace of free will collapses the inconclusive experiences of the human condition in this area. We are free and not free. We are sinners and saints. God is sovereign and rules all, but condemns no one to death. We Lutherans live with this stuff and have always been allergic to over-simplistic answers.
Now if you see no value whatsoever in the Lutheran way of looking at things, you may as well not read any further. I do see value in our tribal “vibe.” We are not the only voice in the Christian choir, but we need to know our voice and sound it clearly. The Christian movement without Lutheran contribution would be infinitely poorer.
Arminians (Finney, Moody, Billy Graham, etc.) are the world champions of missiology. Calvinists, on the other hand, blow it by insisting on wooden “total depravity” and an existentially confusing (but in theory simple and elegant) view of election and predestination.
Arminianism, when connected with classical substitutionary atonement teaching, leads to the famous “bridge” illustration which then urges a free-will decision on the part of the hearer.
A half-generation ago, these methods were working well. The Jesus Movement used this model which led to millions of conversions. But we have been seeing diminishing returns. It doesn’t work for most of today’s young adults; failing to describe the ambiguity of the human condition and the apparent multiplicity of “bridges” that could be used.
The Gospel never changes. But missiology does. A particular missiology is not the core truth of our faith. It is a hermeneutical tool for getting that core across.
For instance, reaching people in pre-modern cultures with ancestor worship looks different from reaching people in post-modern, secular France.
But as Lutherans, we have an empty missiological toolbox.
We’ve all heard the joke about crossing a Jehovah’s Witness with a Lutheran and getting someone who knocks at your door but doesn’t know what to say. There’s a lot of truth in that.
And it’s not just that we’re Northern European and passive/stoic. We simply haven’t crafted a vocabulary and grammar of mission and conversion. We don’t even know how to describe the conversion event.
And we have to get serious about conversion for all kinds of reasons. One of them (along with the obvious love of the lost) is that we are in demographic free-fall.
Lutherans in America have had three major eras:
1) The era of immigration.
2) The era of procreation.
3) The era of decline.
The era of immigration was a period which lasted up to 1920. Millions of nominal Lutherans were coming in sailing and steamships to North America. If we set up ethnic specific ministries which functioned as community centers, and catechized and confirmed the young, then primary relationships would be built around church activity and continuous exposure to Word and Sacrament would get the job done.
It worked. Until the steamships stopped coming.
Then we turned to plan B: Procreation. The average Lutheran woman had 4-5 kids. We built education wings onto our churches (a whole new thing). From VBS to Lutheran Colleges and Seminaries (via Luther and Walther League) we did a full court press on the kids, knowing that keeping over half of them would lead to a growing church. I am a product of that full court press.
It worked. Until the pill came and the average Lutheran woman now has 1.7 kids. Keep half of 1.7 and you get exactly what we now have.
The pill was introduced in 1963. The Lutheran Church has been in freefall since 1964 (despite the rapid growth of the US population during that same time).
Contraction, aging, and entropy have been the norm for our congregations since then. The exception has been Upper Midwest suburban areas where a fresh critical-mass population of young Lutherans moves into new tract housing and has kids (a curious mixture of “retro” immigration and procreation).
This all sounds pretty pessimistic and dark.
But I am actually optimistic.
Because, if we can get our act together, the young adults I work with are much more open to a “Lutheran” way of looking at the human condition (with all of its tension and ambiguity) than an Arminian or Calvinist view. Both of the latter seem a little too easy for today’s nuanced and savvy young adults.
But these young adults are not going to stream into our churches by default. We have to craft our message and understand their sociology.
For instance, we baby boomers love “small groups.” Not so with the next generation. They tend to prefer larger groups (i.e. a houseful) with smaller informal “fragments.” I have looked all over and have yet to find even one single exception to this that would prove the rule.
We also have done precious little to get them involved in our leadership. How many 18-25 year olds are you grooming for leadership?
But back to missiology…
I believe that it will be Pentecostal-leaning (or at least experientially Holy-Spirit-friendly) Lutherans who will have the inside track to reaching the next generation (if we even show up for the game).
We Lutheran charismatics are experiential-oriented, as they are. We also, as Lutherans, have a gut sense, as they do, that life is not all that simple.
So the task at hand is to craft an experientially-friendly Lutheran missiology which respects the complexity of life, avoids simplistic answers, and involves the next generation in leadership. And it has to be clear enough to lead to lots of solid from-the-outside conversions into the Christian faith.
Stay tuned. I am actively working on just such a model. You do the same and we’ll compare notes. I’ll give you a teaser-hint. It has to do with re-framing the concept of sin (de-emphasizing Calvin’s total depravity) using mega-themes from the letter to the Galatians.
The church will stand, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. But I am not satisfied with a church that stands. I want to see the church get up and walk! And to see it go into all the world…
Please forward the link to this essay to every church leader you know.
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A HOUSE DIVIDED
The ELCA; Post-Assembly-Vote (hereafter referred to as “PAV”)
9.5 Theses (a mini tip-of-the hat to Martin Luther)
A house divided against itself cannot stand.
-Jesus (and Abraham Lincoln)
This is not a diatribe, nor is it a list of grievances. It is an unusually stubborn attempt to think clearly. Please join me in this exercise.
I bear no hard feelings on the vote or anger toward the denomination or my faith family of origin (the ELCA). It is what it is. Bless us all. Bless them all.
This essay is an answer for many of you who have asked me to pick up my fountain pen and help define the issues for your congregational use. From the beginning, I want to say, humbly, that although I am theologically (very) conservative and deeply committed to the renewal movements, I do not speak for either group, just for myself.
I am surprised by the decisiveness of the Assembly (many of us expected something fuzzier) and the ferocity of the reaction among conservatives. This changes the game.
Please hear me that I am not attacking anyone. I just believe that the truth is true and that seeking after it is a good thing.
There has been a sea change in the ELCA, “PAV.” (Post Assembly Vote)
THESIS ONE: The Really Big Picture
Trends on society’s view of human sexuality are not as clear as they seem.
I live in California. A bill to ban same sex marriage in this (very blue) state passed just this past year. This constitutional amendment passed, not in the church, but in the (arguably) most “liberal” state in the West.
It is impossible to predict the future, but the trend in California may be pointing in the direction of traditional marriage.
Everyone in the media predicted that gay marriage would survive the election. But then, most of the media is Anglo liberal white.
And most of the voters are not. Asians and Latinos came out to the polls in droves. They, and conservative Anglos, have about twice as many kids per family as liberal Anglos.
What will this demographic wave do to the assumed, liberal-sliding trends?
Gay marriage may well pass in some places and fail in others. But it is highly unlikely that there will ever be a broad consensus for it. There will always be a majority or large minority of conservatives that are simply never going to accommodate it.
Liberals just don’t reproduce in big numbers. Neither do gays and lesbians. The future is owned by those who have the most babies; look at the Islamification of today’s Europe for a striking example of birth rates producing political power.
People talk a lot about emergent/emerging Christianity. There are actually two emerging Christianities (please note that I am not talking about “postmodern theology” here, but rather about emerging demographic trends).
One “emerging Christianity” is a postwar liberal movement with roots in the 19th century social gospel, liberal German theology from that same era, and flavored with a shot of very resilient Marxism.
This faction has firm control over most mainline Protestant North American denominations, colleges, and seminaries.
Their piety is cool and understated. Public teaching/preaching voice is reflective and nuanced. It is detached from the immediate heart of the speaker and objective in tone. E.g.: “Let us then go forth brothers and sisters to renew our efforts to establish justice and peace throughout God’s creation. For the sake of the greater Gospel and the Christ who was crucified.” The Christ is an archetypal figure central to their worship and thinking. Personal conversion language, however, is avoided. Ask a liberal pastor how many people got saved in his/her church last year, and you will get a funny look.
The other emergent stream was born around campfires on the mission field and the songs of slavery. Its piety is “warm to hot,” expressive, potent, and unpredictable. There is a supernatural vibe to the body language and speech. It is a high-touch world of prayer and laying on of hands. It can be found in storefront churches full of immigrants in any major world city. I describe it in my book: Light Your Church on Fire Without Burning it Down (available on Booksurge.com and Amazon). Also, see Harvey Cox’ Fire from Heaven. Conversion is embraced and baptism is a full-bodied experience.
These two emergent streams, like two poles to a magnet, repel each other. In some ways, they gain identity by not being like the other, and see their own movement as an upgrade over and against the other. Mutually patronizing comments about the other are the rule, not the exception.
Sexuality has become the poster issue between these two groups. They take virtually 180 degree opposite views on the topic.
The fault line between these two emerging Christianities was so clear at the Church wide Assembly (hereafter: CWA). They lined up at opposite microphones and their “gut feelings” were simply in a different place with little emotional common ground. It was hard to watch. The immigrant Lutherans at the microphone looked like they were in shock.
The truth is, the old Protestant consensus has broken down. The CWA vote was the loudest rip in the North American Protestant fabric to date.
The old consensus between the two emerging streams ran like this:
The liberals (first stream) can control the apparatus and the seminaries and the renewal people (second stream) can control the Bible camps, missionary efforts, and most youth ministries. The non-negotiable lynchpin: Traditional Family Morality will be upheld by both groups, at least officially.
Without this lynchpin, the grand Protestant consensus, which we have had for at least a few generations, is unraveling. The grand freight train un-couples and cars coast in opposite directions on the same rails.
The liberal Protestant establishment is exhorting, begging, and even threatening (Episcopal-Anglican rift) the renewal-conservative people to stay. But without the lynchpin agreement, the core of the Protestant Covenant, they are not going to stay.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men will not be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
The Protestant consensus has been dissolved; with it will dissolve the grand coalition of North American Protestantism.
Grand coalitions take decades to build but can be unraveled in a week. Roosevelt and Reagan built formidable political “great coalitions” in the 20th Century. Neither exists today.
The liberals will retain control of the mainline denominations. But I doubt they realize the damage they have done in pushing through the sexuality vote. They could have won this vote long ago, but they understood what was holding the broad consensus together. They used to appreciate the fact that Traditional Family Morality on the books made for the possibility of a grand Protestant coalition.
Renewal/conservative folks will, PAV, be left with three options:
1) Stay and submit to a “new covenant” without a Traditional Family Morality contract. Those who stay will be playing a permanent “away game” from now on. I have already been shouted down, PAV, by liberals (and I was being irenic and peaceful) when I even dared mentioned that I am not OK with the new morality and won’t accept the new contract.
2) Leave the mainline world (as individuals or churches) and join the growing world of non-denominational Christianity.
3) Do something visionary and creative. This remains to be articulated and executed. Perhaps you will craft it!
More on this later. For now, suffice it to say that we conservative/renewal folks have been voted off the island.
THESIS TWO: Sex is Complicated
Human sexuality is way more complex than extremists of any political-theological stripe would concede.
There may be no more nuanced and complex animal behavior on planet earth than human sexuality.
Virtually no one sexual label fits even a handful of people, let alone a whole population group. Most humans have a unique individual sexuality based on tiramisu-like layers of experience, pre-disposition, feelings toward parents, early courtship successes and failures, and of course, hormonal levels.
Our sexuality is like a constantly morphing fingerprint, individual, but not fixed. I was at the Moulin Rouge in Paris and out came “sexy” women covered in feathers. They have been doing this for 100 years. Many, many men, for generations, have paid to watch this and obviously (I was looking around) enjoy it. I cannot think of anything less sexy than scantily dressed women in feathers. We are all different in our sexuality.
I am complex sexually, and so are you. And my sexuality continues to evolve the longer I am married. It becomes more focused on my wife of 28 years, over time, and to say that I was born the way I am now is silly. Of course my wife has had a huge effect on my sexuality. And on everything else about me, by the way. Had I been married to someone else, my sexuality would have evolved in a different direction.
Three phrases are common among gay and lesbian persons:
1) I was born this way.
2) I don’t ever remember being attracted to the opposite sex.
3) Why would I choose this path, given all the persecution of gays and lesbians?
The first phrase is a gross oversimplification of sexual behavior. No one is born with a totally developed sexuality any more than they are born with grammar and vocabulary. Our sexuality develops and changes well into middle age.
Besides, no one even remembers his or her first 2-3 years at all, let alone what they were thinking and doing, sexually, when they were born. I remember my first fuzzy sexual feelings (attraction for my best friend’s sister) around 6th grade. And even these thoughts were complex, the more I think about it. I am looking back at the past through a glass, darkly, at best.
The second phrase above, truth be told, is un-verifiable and can be politically self-serving. And no one can argue with it because no one can access your memories. And besides, memory is funny stuff. If you don’t believe that, spend some time listening to witnesses in a courtroom. “What actually happened” is vague, at best, with even the simplest events, let alone remembering the pedigree of our sexuality as it was forming.
And the third phrase borders on comical. The truth is, people choose crazy, destructive lifestyles all the time, for bizarre reasons. People give up jobs and marriages for beer! Why would I choose this? Who knows? People are very capable of doing whatever they feel like, regardless of the consequences for them, socially.
In conclusion, sound bites on sexuality, which most people accept without thinking, are philosophically wobbly at best. Hardly a foundation upon which you want to build a philosophical skyscraper.
But activists use such sound bites, all the time, to end critical debate and to put us, theological conservatives, on the defensive.
THESIS THREE: The Bible and Sexuality
Guidance on sexuality is trickier than it appears, if you use the Bible as your guide.
Much has been made over biblical authority in this debate on human sexuality.
For the record, I’ll lay my cards on the table. I believe in biblical inerrancy; it is not logically possible for you to be theologically to the “right” of me on this issue. That may put me to the right of many of you, theologically speaking, but please hear me out. Making a case for biblical inerrancy is the subject of another essay.
I just wrote the Galatians Bible study for Augsburg Fortress, which they published. The tension between law and Gospel in this Galatians is palpable (the big issue was circumcision).
The truth is, we all, liberal and conservative, pick and choose which rules we want to hold as still valid, in light of the cross:
-We don’t eat kosher
-Women go to church without hats on, and some wear their hair short
-We skateboard over the Sabbath rules
-We ignore the commands to keep festivals
-You are wearing blended fabrics right now, forbidden in the Bible
We still hold that the Ten Commandments are somehow really important, even though they are part of the Old Covenant.
We, according to Galatians, are to be led by the Spirit, not by the law.
So it doesn’t work, when we conservatives are trying to convince moderates and liberals, to quote the usual prohibitions against gay and lesbian sex in Leviticus and Romans (although Romans has a lot of bite to it and just sent a chill up my spine this evening). Besides, there’s a trap door at the end of the Romans passage (Romans 2) that should give us pause in using it at all against anyone else.
The only argument that “has legs” in circles outside of our own is the biblical argument from the Order of Creation. It’s an argument with which even the most secular common sense 15 year olds can resonate.
It goes like this:
1) God created the world and created humankind in his own image: male and female.
2) His first command to us (over and over actually) was “be fruitful and multiply.”
3) Adam and Eve were a reflection of himself and a prototype for life-giving sexuality.
4) Jesus and Paul affirmed this Order of Creation by saying that “a man shall leave his family and cleave unto his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” Jesus, implicitly, and Paul, explicitly, commanded the single life for those who can’t, won’t, or feel led not to carry out this traditional plan.
5) Jesus was a hardliner on marriage: “What God has joined together let no one put asunder.” He saw marriage as God’s plan.
6) Thus, this is God’s best plan for our sexuality, and we ought to raise our children to live out God’s best plan for their sexuality.
7) All of our leaders should, as best they can, teach and model this central creative impulse from the very heart of God. Being celibate and single (e.g. like Paul) is the other option.
This is taking the “Main Street” approach to the Bible and sexuality (God’s original plan), rather than getting lost on side streets.
The common sense nature argument, even if you never saw a Bible, resonates with this Bible ueber-theme. Any fifteen- year old can tell you what part goes where (sexually). Physiologically, it is beyond debate that one of the main biological goals of the sex act is to bring sperm and eggs together; as Dr. Strangelove would say: “It’s the whole idea!” Certain things don’t belong in certain places. Even we Protestants would have to give the Catholics some credit for seeing the importance of letting biology take its course in their allergy against birth control.
And economically, one of the biggest causes of crime and poverty in America is single parents raising children without a partner (although many do it heroically and well). Thus the importance of lifelong marriage between a man and a woman who generate the births in the first place.
Traditional Morality encourages having children, lifelong marriages to support and nurture the family, and long-term economic mutual aid between family members of many generations.
The two opposing views on this issue (human sexuality) are heartfelt and incompatible.
I use a Mac. Mac users are insufferable for their missionary zeal. I could digress…
In any case, a computer cannot have two operating systems; or at least, it shouldn’t.
The opposing views on sexuality are incompatible.
Either a full sexual relationship is limited to traditional marriage or it is not.
Conservative view: Although we live in a broken world and often fail to live up to it, the ideal should be for full human sexuality to be expressed within the boundaries of a life-long marriage between one man and one woman.
Liberal view: Human sexuality can be a great blessing between any two committed, consenting adults (some would add: in a life long committed relationship).
The problem is: the only “compromise” is to adopt the liberal view, and then it ceases to be a compromise.
Logically speaking, there is no compromise (either way) without collapsing the opposing view.
PAV ELCA Lutherans just shifted from the former (conservative) to the latter (liberal) view, very decisively. Mutual respect of bound conscience means nothing to the party left holding the short straw.
In fairness to them, this is how liberals have felt all along—that they have been holding the short straw. And they did.
I studied Philosophy as a Fulbright Scholar and just don’t see a way around this impasse.
This may be the most intractable social issue since slavery (where there was also no compromise possible—although many were attempted). Either it was OK to have slaves, or not.
In these kinds of issues, someone has to carry a short straw. For PAV traditional folks, it’s our turn (if we choose to stay in the denomination).
Even with the abortion issue (and I am actively and heavily involved in the pro-life movement) there are lots of places for constructive compromise with pro-choice folks (parental notification, 24-hour waiting, rape and incest, required counseling, no late term abortions, etc.). I have actually enjoyed conversations with activist pro-choice people, where the discussion went in a very constructive direction, because we could find some areas of agreement.
Now that hurdles have been removed for blessing same sex unions, our conservative view becomes irrelevant.
And what about us who believe that homosexual activity is always sinful, no matter how committed the partners are? Are we still allowed to say this, print this, and write books about it that Augsburg Fortress will publish?
Are we to give up on prayers for healing for those who want to be released from the gay and lesbian lifestyle? Can we have official booths at ELCA gatherings urging people to leave the lifestyle and staffed by those who have left the lifestyle (I have a dear friend in this camp)?
Is it a sin or not? If we no longer, unconditionally, say “yes,” then the answer is “no.” A community cannot be held together with two sets of rules on the big-ticket issues.
In the logical-philosophical world, there is such a thing as a winner-take-all game.
This would be one of them.
THESIS FIVE: How then shall we live?
Without basic unity in answering the question: “How then shall we live?” there is no longer one faith system, but two.
A faith system (“religion”) rests on twin pillars:
1) Love and community.
2) Teaching, purpose, and direction.
If we fail in one or both, then we have a multiplicity of faith systems, not a unity.
There have been a lot of appeals to love and for community to hold the ELCA together. But those appeals are ignoring number 2 above.
Granted, there will always be smaller disagreements in any community.
But the church offers an ideal lifestyle, an alternative to the prevailing culture, as an answer to the question: “How then shall we live?”
A big part of human lifestyle is sexuality, and what to do with it (and what not to do with it). Primary relationships are formed out of sexual relationships, and these bondings form families.
What constitutes the “goal” family we are “shooting for” simply is a big deal.
As noted above, there are philosophically coherent conservative and liberal views on sexuality.
As PAV Christians, we conservatives, it would seem, would now be required to teach the liberal view in all official capacities. Or at least to keep our mouths shut.
Simply put, our denomination no longer teaches the conservative view. So what happens to those of us who do?
A “religion” teaches a path for one’s life. A “calling,” if you will.
Some of that path is intended for all people (think: Ten Commandments).
Some of it is intended for individuals (e.g. “Go to med school.”)
Conservatives believe that human sexuality teaching belongs in the former, and liberals believe that its center of gravity can also be found in the latter (this is an over-simplification, but you get the idea).
We simply can’t teach both views at the same time.
Lutherans have called lesser-charged issues as “adiaphora” or things that don’t break fellowship.
To theological conservatives, human sexuality, and the Christian community which is literally formed out of it (bonding and birth), is simply not adiaphora. It is central to the lifestyle teaching of our churches. We conservatives have a clear answer to the family part of “How then shall we live?” and it’s not negotiable.
Simply put, we can’t as a denomination, shoot at two different targets at the same time. As Jesus says, we can’t serve two masters.
A faith system, much less a faith community, cannot survive without a basic shared ideal about how human life should be lived.
It’s all about life together. And life together has a shape.
We can’t hold up opposites as equal ideals and survive as a church.
THESIS SIX: Convergence and Divergence.
The ELCA is diverging, internally.
Perhaps you have flown over the Mississippi delta. There you have, not converging but diverging streams.
Ecclesiastes says that there is a time for embracing and a time to refrain from embracing.
There has been a saying: What belongs together stays together.
Perhaps the ELCA was born under a “bad star” (I don’t believe in astrology, so don’t send me letters) and there were constituencies in the ELCA that did not belong together in the first place.
The ELCA is a synod. You have heard of the Missouri Synod. Synod comes from two Greek words: “syn” (together) and “hodos” (path). We get symphony (sounds that go together well) and odometer (path measurer) from these two root words.
You can be together in love but moving in different directions. The PAV scenario will resemble the Mississippi delta. This is neither good nor bad. It is the way it is.
I have always advocated a “big tent” ELCA with room for everyone, conservatives and liberals. And everything in between. I have been a tireless advocate for people “staying in.”
Having a tent (which is a mobile shelter) only works if you are carrying the tent down the same trail or have it pitched at one spot.
If you go in different directions, even a big tent rips. I’m not sure if I can continue to hold my “big tent” views, although I’d like to. It may not be possible.
THESIS SEVEN: The Cost
The ELCA will pay a much higher cost for the CWA vote than liberals believe and/or hope.
Polls and statistics can be spun to back up almost any opinion.
But it’s clear to me that a large minority of clergy/leaders and a majority of lay people do not want the blessing of same sex unions or practicing gay/lesbian clergy in the ELCA. The vote will not alienate a fringe of the ELCA; it will alienate the core of the denomination.
Christians are an authority-following, codependent lot, and many who disagree with the new PAV scenario will just go along with things because they don’t want any conflict.
But for many of us, the PAV world is unacceptable.
Many churches are going to cut off unrestricted benevolence to the ELCA and its synods. Completely.
Pastors are in a difficult spot, because virtually none of their congregations are 100% made up of either faction. Many moderate and conservative pastors will lack the courage to lead, and the following will happen:
1) Hard line conservatives will leave their congregations immediately.
2) The leadership “buck” will be passed to councils or congregational meetings which will bring the fault line of the assembly to the middle of the congregation, resulting in intractable conflict for the reasons stated above. This will be distracting and counter productive at best.
3) The decline of the typical mainline congregation will be hastened by internal bickering.
The social and economic cost to the ELCA may be larger than anyone anticipated. The new center of the denomination may not hold.
THESIS EIGHT: The GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender—the order of the letters can be different) Agenda
This is not the end of the issue; it is the beginning of the implementation of the GLBT agenda.
Tolerance and blessing was the rallying cry of the movement that resulted in the CWA vote.
Where does it end?
This is just the beginning.
If sex can be “holy” and “blessed” with any consenting adults, why not a return to polygamy? Why not group marriage?
Why not bisexual pastors who are sexually practicing both ways? As long as all the partners are in lifelong committed relationships. Because, after all, they were “born bisexual” and have to be able to live that out…
Gay pride week at our seminary chapels and colleges, supported by your offering money?
There will be a new term appearing: Queer (and Queer Folk). You don’t have to look far on Google to see that Christian GLBT activists are thinking of imposing this term on the rest of us, with missionary zeal, as the next step. Do you really think that this activist term will not be used in written prayers this year in some ELCA congregations? Do you really think that synod assemblies are far behind? Have a look at an official ELCA congregation in San Francisco: http://www.HerChurch.org. Goddess rosaries, you can buy them at HerChurch on line now! “Maybe you’re gay” booths at the ELCA youth gathering? An office for GLBT affairs at ELCA headquarters in Chicago? If this sounds way “out there,” think about people a generation ago seeing the CWA vote we just had.
Once sex has been de-coupled from traditional marriage, the sky is the limit. Is this something in which you want to take part?
It starts with committed, life-long gay and lesbian relationships. But what is committed? And what is lifelong? Are we easier on gay divorce because it is less “real?” Where does it end?
Who will be in charge of the storytelling? Will the Stonewall story be elevated to the Selma bus story or even to that of the Pilgrims? Will we be able to push back?
The toboggan ride down the icy slope has begun. Do you want to ride it all the way down?
THESIS NINE: Breaking Fellowship
It is possible to love people and break directly supportive fellowship with them.
I keep getting told by liberals, even scolded by them, that this is not a big deal. That sexuality is not as important as Jesus or the Gospel.
Well, to me, it is a big deal. And no one else gets to vote on how I believe about that.
There are small things, which the Bible tells us to overlook, and then there are big things.
Human sexuality is one of a tiny handful of “big thing” issues in our culture right now.
There are lots of churches and denominations. And there are “whole other religions.” We can love them all without having to support or pay for them.
If part of the body of Christ moves in a 90-degree direction to the way you are headed (think “syn-hodos”), you can bless them, pray for them, but you don’t have to pay for them.
I can love Hindus and Mormons too. But I don’t have to send them money. Or pray that their message prevails. Not that our Lutheran brothers and sisters on the left are Hindus and Mormons. But to realign the faith system from forgiving sin to blessing sin is a structural change, not a cosmetic one.
New sound bite: Pray for them, but don’t pay for them.
Financial support for a PAV organization (the ELCA and its synods) that allows for the blessing of gay and lesbian unions/marriages and/or elevates practicing gay and lesbian people to exemplary leadership is optional, at best, for conservatives.
We can love them but we don’t have to support or subsidize this new direction.
Let the liberal wing of the church pay for its own decisions.
I’m not saying leave the denomination; that’s up to you. But money reinforces and rewards behavior. Time to stop sending it until we find a new way forward.
An entire redefinition of the human condition, sin, and atonement/blessing is a big deal to us. In fact, you could argue that to do so is to create a new religion. That, of course, is endlessly debatable.
Pray for them, but don’t pay for them.
THESIS 9.5: The Options
Two of the churchwide organizations, which conservative Lutherans ought not to abandon, are Luther Seminary and Augsburg Fortress Publishing. There are others, of course.
Both have sizeable Evangelical presence in their leadership. Their CEOs (Rick Bliese and Beth Lewis) are very comfortable among us and value us. These operations may not be spotless in their conservative-evangelical résumés, but they are very important to us and we ought to stay connected with them, if only for the sake of the many Evangelicals who are a big part of what they do.
When conservatives complained about the liberal bent of the notes in the Lutheran Study Bible, Augsburg Fortress apologized and changed the text! Rick Bliese, the president of Luther Seminary is a frequent worshiper at ELCA conservative/renewal congregations and is valued by their pastors.
There are some good options for conservative churches and leaders looking to find healthier associations:
1) The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
Plusses: Bigger, broader group. Great global missions, LWR activity
Minuses: Limitations on women in leadership; seriously crabby factions
2) The Lighthouse Covenant (see Facebook Page)
Plusses: More outreach-focused and not as theologically athletic, broad appeal
Minuses: Not an actual denomination with full-service pensions, etc.
3) LCMC (some unofficial family ties to Word Alone)
Plusses: Full service. Thoroughly Lutheran. Done their homework.
Minuses: Some still have an axe to grind, some factional issues
Plusses: Super young demographic, and their spirituality is winsome and warm
Minuses: Association with old-school Charismatic movement hard for some, not hyper-Lutheran
Plusses: More confessional, “smartest” of the groups, very Lutheran
Minuses: Same as the plusses.
6) Additional Groups, including AFLC and AALC, etc.
They are sprouting up all over the place. Keep an eye out for them.
This is just my view; I don’t speak for others. I appreciate all of the groups, and my plusses and minuses are more anecdotal than anything else.
Let’s support one another. As Ben Franklin said: We can all hang together or we will all hang separately. Please start supporting them financially with redirected funds. You can adjust the “mix” as your relationships develop.
We all agree on a high view of the Bible and on traditional family morality. Let’s start with that.
And let’s be gracious with one another.
Some helps for your deliberations as a congregation:
1) Think both/and rather than either/or. Consider a good handful of groups to be a part of. Re-think the idea that you can only belong to one group.
2) Think “Copernican Revolution” and diversify your associations for the benefit of your congregation. Give benevolence money to those groups that most move your congregation forward and move the Kingdom forward.
3) Get good legal and business advice from someone who understands non-profits.
4) Consider redirecting benevolence money now. Think of ways of protecting money that goes to global missionaries, disaster relief, etc. Spread it around until it becomes clear to you which relationships feed your church and move the Kingdom forward most clearly.
A word (to you clergy) about your next call: You may be tempted to backpedal on your convictions because of potential disfavor by a bishop should you seek another call in the future.
Please consider spending some time in prayer on this and ask the Lord to remove any fear you might be feeling over this.
We clergy are a notoriously codependent group and we need to get past fear of what others think.
These are times that try our souls. I believe you will pass the test.
PRACTICAL STEPS FOR THE CONSERVATIVE/RENEWAL PASTOR/LEADER IN THE P.A.V WORLD:
1) Remember that you are on the right side of history. The Lord gets his way with creation (Isaiah 9:7, Psalm 110:1). Never, ever get discouraged. Elijah got discouraged at Mount Horeb, but the Lord encouraged him, told him to pull his socks up and go back to work.
2) Do not submit to intimidation on the part of officials or those who, as Paul said, “seemed to be in authority.” You have every right to hold your view. You have every right to speak it publicly in all official gatherings. Love everyone. Perfect love casts out all fear. There are already reliable reports of conservatives getting shouted down in discussion groups, PAV. Don’t let it get to you.
3) Remember that you did not create the disunity of which everyone is accusing us. The grand coalition, and its contract (based on an affirmation of Traditional Family Morality), held us together for generations. We did not dissolve it. The other side did. Intentionally.
4) Join the Lighthouse Covenant on Facebook (search: Lighthouse Covenant). Encourage all of your leaders and members to do so. Explore LCMS, LCMC, Lutheran CORE, and the Alliance of Renewal Churches (ARCusa.org). Many churches are broadening and diversifying their relational “portfolio.” No matter what anyone says, you can stay in or leave the ELCA and join any or all of these groups. My personal preference would be that you join all of these groups and see which relationships mature.
5) Refuse to be lulled into complacency. These issues are big issues. They are a big deal, to us. The other side does not get to vote on how big we think this is.
6) Do not fall for the “it’s no worse sin than any other” sound bite. The purpose of this phrase is to stop discussion and to devalue your opinion. Answer with “So you agree that it is a sin? Then why should we bless it?”
7) Do not let your church drift in the Sargasso Sea of theological weeds because of a few families with gay/lesbian family members. Love them. Love all of them. But teach what the Bible teaches. You can do both.
8) Do not fall for the “they were born this way” sound bite. Answer (and it will shock them) that your sexuality is not that simple and neither is anyone else’s.
9) Refuse the idea that “all young people” are going to be for gay/lesbian ordination and blessings in the future (so we may as well vote for it now). There are tons of conservative young people, especially among immigrants, who are going to make up a majority some day. The trends are ambiguous at best.
10) Don’t re-hash the ELCA debates in your congregation. Lead. Moses didn’t ask the Israelites to vote on whether or not to go back to Egypt. Be willing to lose people in order to remain faithful to the Bible. Love them, but let them go. Beg, borrow, or steal some spiritual backbone. Remember that you are at the helm, and the shepherd (Latin: Pastor) does not report to the sheep. Don’t let your church become a House Divided!
11) Don’t let anyone tell you that this issue is adiaphora (a side issue). It is one of the great issues of our day.
12) Pray for Mark Hanson, your local bishop, and the ELCA, without any bitterness or unforgiveness. Refuse to use bitter language if you are challenged by others. Operate out of love. Be firm in the truth as God gives us grace to understand it.
I am not going to tell you whether or not to leave the ELCA. I want to say very clearly and explicitly that this is not a call to do so. The Lord will tell you what to do. But whatever you do, remain committed to an unusually stubborn attempt to think clearly.
Pray for them, but don’t pay for them.
The truth is true.
You can lean on it.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of God remains forever.
Please feel free to post or share this with those who love the Church.
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American national church denominations are not as old as people think.
We have no real memory before national denominational corporations, because they started before any of us saw the light of day; but not long before…
They came into being with the advent of the railroad.
For instance, with Lutherans, we used to gather, more or less, in state-sized groups:
-The Pennsylvania Ministerium
-The Ohio Synod
-The Iowa Synod
-The Missouri Synod
-The Wisconsin Synod
The railroad changed all that. It made a national bureaucracy and national gatherings (assemblies) possible and affordable. This new transportation method also created the big political party conventions.
Nothing lasts forever.
These statewide church groups merged into national groups which merged some more. Along with the “Peter Principle,” they advanced to their level of incompetency: they became politically and economically unmanageable.
There are many reasons for the demise of national church corporations:
1) Many, if not most young adults, prefer being part of cool indie projects to being “tools” of large corporations.
2) The mergers have created coalitions with incompatible viewpoints (sexuality, etc.)
3) Lutheran versions (more so than other brand names) of these corporations tend to operate as closed systems (tightly controlled roster, Lutheran seminary requirements, etc.).
4) These corporations, in efforts to hold things together and make structure and function coherent, have discouraged innovation by entrepreneurial types.
5) For whatever reason, these corporations have very strained relationships with their best practitioners.
6) Generational and ethnic diversity issues have become too heavy for the corporations to carry.
This does not mean that church brand names are a thing of the past. It just means that the national church corporation is unraveling before our eyes. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men will not be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. There is nothing wrong with this and it should not be seen as a failure–every human organizational form has a life span.
This does not mean that faith families and connectional Christianity are dead.
Post-denominationalism is just a reality that is emerging. I want to clarify: this does not mean post-brand-name.
This means that the national corporations are failing and will continue to fail. There is no point in any effort to “renew” them.
I don’t know what the post-denominational world will look like. But I do know that:
-Railroad-era national conventions are a thing of the past.
-Coalitions will replace national corporations
-The effort to form smaller, new “theologically correct” corporations to replace national denominational corporations will fail if they follow the template of the national church corporation (parliamentary conventions, national office, official rosters, closed systems, etc.). That’s railroad thinking in a Twitter-world.
-The influential congregations within faith families will fill the leadership vacuum, along with the more innovative evangelical seminaries (Fuller, Asbury, Gordon-Conwell, Bethel, Luther, etc). Classic “div schools” (Chicago, Yale, Union) will become irrelevant to church life, as will “company shop” seminaries of dying corporations.
-A lot of people won’t be able to separate the faith family names (Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, etc.) from the national corporations. Some of those names might not survive because of this. Hard to say.
-National leaders with a clear life message and a New (Social) Media presence will rule the roost. If it doesn’t matter on Twitter, it doesn’t matter.
1) Think both/and, not either/or. We are in a postmodern era.
2) Stop trying to renew the denominational corporations.
3) Find new ways of being connectional.
4) Resist the temptation to build up new theologically “correct” corporations which are infected with the same terminal virus.
5) Find ways to embrace the good things about your faith family and preserve them for the future forms which will emerge.
6) Take social media seriously. Very seriously.
7) Be willing to let people of color and Global South Christians take the lead. It’s their churches that are doing the best. The New African Churches are very post-denominational and organizationally effective.
8) This will take time; perhaps a whole generation. Practice patience.
It’s a brave new world. Let’s watch it emerge, together.
Follow me on Twitter @RobinwoodChurch. Please feel free to forward this (link or full text) to people who love the church, or to post it online.
Asked a prominent (VERY prominent) Evangelical leader what he thought of us Lutherans. I’d share his name, but I didn’t get permission when we were talking.
I asked him for his opinions about the future of Lutheranism (he is not, for the record, a Lutheran).
The problem is not with the Churchwide Assembly vote; the problems run way deeper than that.
The authority of Scripure?
Nope. You guys use that as a smokescreen for what you really want to talk about.
He answered (and this is the good part):
You have two big problems which will ruin you in a generation:
1) You Lutherans always have one foot firmly planted in the past. It makes it impossible for you to walk. You have a hard time living in the present. You think that your confessions are important, but they were way more important to those who wrote them in “their present,” because they addressed real, contemporary issues of the 16th century. You are all “confessional” and not at all “missional.” In fact, your confessions are silent about mission. Mission is a tack-on for you. Your core theology does not speak to it. Mission keeps us in the present and you can’t go there without somehow compromising your confessional identity. All good theology is really good missiology, and Lutherans can’t do missiology well; nor can you craft a compelling eschatology that anyone pays any attention to.
2) You Lutherans prefer a closed system. Even your breakaway groups create new closed systems. You are obsessed with who is in and who is out. You insist on a Lutheran year for your seminarians; you won’t even accept a Fuller or Asbury degree, good Lord! You guard your tribal boundaries and fight more about rostering than anyone else. You kick people off your roster who are doing anything creative and out of the box. You don’t play well with others and would rather preserve a Euro-centric Midwestern-vibe subculture than do any mission or have any real partnerships with the rest of us.
Just let than lean against your mind for a while…