Musings of a Recovering Lutheran: January 2010
I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, 

Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?

Then said I, Here am I; send me.

Isaiah 6:8 (KJV)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The final authority?

Over at Lutheran CORE Pastor Steve King had this post concerning ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson's remarks about homosexuality and Biblical authority.

Two observations:

1. This is probably as close as we will ever get to an admission by the ELCA's leadership that the Bible does not condone homosexual behavior. Throughout the debate leading up to August's vote we had been told that the Biblical passages condemning homosexuality were either (a) an error in translation, and that the Bible was actually condemning forced homosexuality as opposed to consenting homosexuality, or (b) the Gospel brought Grace, and therefore the prohibitions against homosexuality had been overturned in the same way condemnation under Mosaic Law was now set aside.

Both (a) and (b) contradict one another to some extent, and they are certainly not the result of serious study of the Bible. But they make perfect sense if the ELCA is a political party instead of a church. In politics, log-rolling and bargaining with various factions is crucial. Proposition (a) would appeal to certain Lutherans who believe that the Bible is an instrument of racism, imperialism, colonialism, sexism, etc. and has been interpreted to suit the aims of rich and powerful. For lifelong liberals who nevertheless have been faithful to the Gospel and its teachings, and are troubled by this abrupt about face on homosexuality, Proposition (b) is a welcome escape hatch to dive out of.

If your goal is to supplant the Bible with a brand-new Gospel that appeals to the politics of a new and hip generation, then both (a) and (b) can be used to appeal to the faction it is aimed for. So what if (a) and (b) are inconsistent with each other? What is politics without a little inter-party tension?

2. If the Bible is not the last word on homosexuality (as Hanson suggests), then what else in the Bible can be discarded as not being able to stand up to our understanding of the world today?

In the past the Bible has been used to justify apartheid, colonialism, communism, imperialism, racial segregation, health care reform, Aryan supremacy, redistribution of wealth, monarchy, anti-war activism, and a host of other secular political causes. In each case adherents made the same type of arguments that the ELCA is now putting forward - that the Bible needs to be understood in the light of "modern" thinking. The notion that the writers of the Bible might have been wise and knew what they were talking about does not seem to have been seriously considered.

So I must ask: what other parts of the Bible can now be set aside, and how are we to determine what they are?

Leviticus is a special thorn in the side of proponents of ordaining homosexual ministers and blessing same-sex unions. So opponents point to dietary restrictions, laws concerning offerings, worship and the priesthood in Leviticus and say, "Since these are obsolete, so are prohibitions against homosexuality."

But Leviticus contains the only explicit condemnation of incest in the Bible. Should these prohibitions against incest be tossed along with the ones against homosexuality? If not, why not? Note also that Jesus, when presented with the opportunity to overturn Mosaic Law (Matthew 5), not only did not do so, but in the case of sexual matters strengthened them (verses 27-30).

I think that it would be more logically consistent - and honest - for the ELCA to simply discard the Bible altogether. There has been no consistent criteria cited by the ELCA's leadership in guiding us as to what parts of the Bible they see as valid (other than vague appeals to "modern understanding"). Why should they keep a book they clearly have serious problems with and are ready to disregard at the drop of a hat?

"I was there!"

The first words of the Bible are not, as some baseball fans think, "In the big inning....."

George Will, Bunts

All serious baseball fans have an "I was there!" story concerning some major event or record-setting performance in baseball.

On my wall at home is a picture of my brother and I at a ballpark just after a game. There is also a ticket stub and a box score. The game was played at Arlington Stadium on September 27, 1992 between the Texas Rangers and the Seattle Mariners.

We had come to see Nolan Ryan pitch. Unfortunately, it was not one of his better days. Ryan had only 5 strikeouts in 7 innings. He also gave up 8 hits and issued 5 walks, was tagged for two runs (although only one of them was earned), and threw a wild pitch.

But as the game wore on both my brother and I began to notice the Seattle starting pitcher. He was a tall, lanky southpaw, and had arms so long that when the ball finally left his hand when he threw it seemed to be already halfway to home plate.

And we also noticed that he struck out one Texas Ranger after another.

We didn't know it then, but the pitcher was Randy Johnson. Johnson was at the time a talented but erratic young fireball thrower. In this game he fanned a total of 18 batter, which tied an American League record for strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher in a single game. What was even more amazing is that he did this in only 8 innings of work.

Yesterday I learned that Johnson (a.k.a. the "Big Unit") had decided to retire after 22 seasons. He went on to top his 18-strikeout performance with a pair of 19 strikeout games and a record-setting 20 strikeout gem. Johnson retired with 4,875 total strikeouts and a record of 303 wins against 166 losses. Johnson was also a 10-time All Star, 5 Cy Young award-winner, and had a World Series championship.

So thank you, Big Unit!

Oh - the game? Texas won 3-2 in the bottom of the night inning. The Rangers hit a single to left field off Johnson's replacement that scored the winning run. I know because ... I was there!

Monday, January 04, 2010

Christianity & society

La Shawn Barber is a Christian writer who is a daily "must read" for me. Today she had an excellent piece about Tiger Woods and Brit Hume.

It seems that not a few individuals are shocked - shocked! - that Hume would engage in "proselytizing" (as Steve Benen of the Washington Monthy put it). Given the tendency of Benen's colleagues to promote leftist positions on a wide range of issues (global warming, the need for health care reform, opposition to the Iraq war, etc.), he might want to be careful about railing against "proselytizing" by Christians.

But Hume's comments raise a larger issue: to what extent can Christianity reform an individual and (by extension) society at large?

Such an issue is far too big to be dealt with effectively in a single post. Large numbers of books could be written - in fact, have been written - on Christianity and its relationship to society. But I would like to comment on what happens when a Christian or a Christian church starts to view the Christian faith as a way to redeem society at large rather than the redemption of lost souls through the proclamation of the Gospel.

Christian activity in reforming society is nothing new. Christianity was instrumental in abolishing the slave trade in first Great Britain and later America. Christianity has been at the forefront of eliminating Jim Crow laws and segregation, and Christians today are putting up a brave fight (sometimes in the teeth of an intolerant media and hostile political leaders) against the genocide of abortion.

But there is always a danger when Christians become politically active. Not so much to society - much of the talk about "right-wing fundamentalist Christianist theocracy" is simple paranoia - but to the Christian community itself.

Some years ago C.S. Lewis wrote an excellent essay entitled Meditations on the Third Commandment. Lewis was commenting upon the desire of some Christians to form a Christian political party. Lewis speculated how such a party would likely split among ideological political lines, and how it would be tempted to downplay Christian beliefs in order to attach itself to a larger secular political party (and in the process perhaps obtain more power and influence).

To me this seems to be the true danger of mixing Christianity and politics: that Christianity will be made to serve secular political goals that are at odds with the Christian faith.

Regardless of your views on politics, if you are a politically active Christian you might want to look at what is happening right now to the ELCA. By voting to allow non-celibate gays and lesbians to become pastors, and by exploring the possibility of blessing same-sex unions, the ELCA is attempting to attach itself to a larger political movement by eliminating parts of Christianity.

To be sure, the ELCA has always been both politically leftist and politically active. But in recent years, the ELCA has become even more strident in its statements on a variety of issues.

Yet this forcefulness is inconsistent, if the ELCA is truly a church. For example: it unambiguously condemns the death penalty, yet waffles on the issue of abortion. On the environment the ELCA promotes a kind of heathen nature worship inconsistent with the Scriptures. On the issues of education and what it called "Economic Life" the aim is purely bureaucratic with the Bible being given only lip service. And the ELCA's views on race and culture are openly hostile to the Biblical teachings of sin being individual rather than corporate.

For a Christian church this would be embarrassing hypocrisy. But for a secular political party the ELCA's views makes sense.

In short, the ELCA must be considered to be a leftist political party with religious trappings - a kind of ecclesiastical It is not surprising that it has now adopted the gay/lesbian agenda into its party platform, and that Lutherans who don't see the world in the purely political way that the ELCA does are leaving. Put another way - by transforming itself into a political party the ELCA has ceased being a church.

This is the danger of using Christianity to reform society, or (in Brit Hume's case) to transform a single broken individual. Christianity is the acceptance of a Savior who will take away our sins, and the Gospel is a love letter written by God to a fallen humanity.

Perhaps that is what Hume meant by his comments. But I hope that Woods will accept Jesus as his personal Savior in order to reconcile himself to God, and not just to become an example to the world.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

A Psalm for the New Year

Ee Mwenyezi-Mungu, Bwana wetu,
kweli jina lako latukuka duniani kote!
Utukufu wako waenea mpaka juu ya mbingu!

Kwa sifa za watoto wadogo na wanyonyao,
umejiwekea ngome dhidi ya adui zako,
uwakomeshe waasi na wapinzani wako.

Nikiangalia mbingu, kazi ya vidole vyako,
mwezi na nyota ulizozisimika huko,
mtu ni nini, ee Mungu, hata umfikirie,
binadamu ni nini hata umjali?

Umemfanya awe karibu kama mungu,
umemvika fahari na heshima.
Ulimpa madaraka juu ya kazi zako zote;
uliviweka viumbe vyote chini ya mamlaka yake:
kondoo, ng'ombe, na wanyama wa porini;
nedge, samaki, na viumbe vyote vya baharini.

Ee Mwenyezi-Mungu, Bwana wetu,
Kweli jina lako latukuka duniani kote!

Zaburi 8

O Lord our Lord,
how excellent is thy name in all the earth!
Who has set thy glory above the heavens.

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings
has thou ordained strength because of thine enemies,
that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars which thou has ordained:
what is man, that thou art mindful of him?
and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

For thou has made him a little lower than the angels,
and has crowned him with with glory and honor.
Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hand;
thou has put all things under his feet:
All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field.
The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea,
and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea.

Oh Lord our Lord,
how excellent is thy name in all the earth!

Psalm 8