Thursday, September 13, 2007

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men [and women!] do nothing.

- Edmund Burke



Here is a comment I wrote on NewProclamation.com, to hopefully get a discussion started:

A perennial challenge for me is how to preach faithfully about potentially partisan issues. Now, I know our call is to preach the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. But we are also called to preach the law, which reveals our sin and drives us to Christ. It seems to me, that if we confine ourselves to 'personal' sin (though what sin is purely personal?), and ignore corporate sin, then we are being unfaithful to the biblical witness.

For example, I've recently compared the Word Alone Network and the ELCA's websites by searching for some key terms, and here are the number of hits I came up with (keep in mind that the ELCA website is much larger):



"Iraq" Word Alone: 5 (0 sustained reflections on the war) ELCA: 677

"Torture" Word Alone: 0 ELCA: 108

"Refugee" Word Alone: 0 ELCA: 534

"Immigration" Word Alone: 0 ELCA: 508

"Genocide" Word Alone: 1 (in an article comparing homosexual practice to it) ELCA: 97

"Poverty" Word Alone: 21 ELCA: 1730

"Homosexual" Word Alone: 149 ELCA: 247


Based on that list, on what is the Word Alone Network's sustained theological reflection focused? All of those are political issues, and every one that Word Alone ignores is an issue of corporate, national and international action.

So, without descending to partisanship, how do we preach faithfully and prophetically about the life and death issues of the day? If we remain silent in the face of evil social, political, and economic systems, are we not in fact supporting them, and bowing to the golden calves of nationalism, racism, imperialism, sexism, etc.?

4 comments:

  1. I'm not a Lutheran. But I agree with Lutherans to the extent they endorse freedom, and disagree with them to the extent they endorse coercion. And so I have questions.

    Has this Word Alone group advocated civil penalties on individuals over their sexual behavior? Has it advocated a civil definition of marriage, or supported tax-funded or legal privileges for one type of family arrangement as opposed to another? Or has it refrained from political controversies and reserved itself to addressing what it believes should be requirements regarding the sexual behavior of members of the ELCA?

    In other words, does this Word Alone group endorse State aggression against the private activities of non-ELCA members, or does it merely want to enforce what it believes to be Biblical standards within its own faith community?

    Along the same lines, I ask whether the ELCA condemns U.S. action in Iraq while at the same time recommend that the U.S.sacrifice American lives and spill bloodshed for one side or the other in Darfur or some other troubled region.

    I understand why some or most segments of the universal Church remain "publicly" silent on civil aggression; after all, Paul kept quiet about Nero, and seemed to ask his followers to obey Nero if Romans 13 is accurate. But I will never understand how or why any segment of the Church would endorse aggression against anyone, for any reason.

    From my outsider's perspective, I would criticize Word Alone only to the extent that they promote State aggression, if they indeed do this at all. But I wouldn't blame them for supposed failure to speak out in favor of other forms of State aggression.

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  2. Jim, Thanks for writing. Very good questions. You help me think through what I believe.

    You ask, “In other words, does this Word Alone group endorse State aggression against the private activities of non-ELCA members, or does it merely want to enforce what it believes to be Biblical standards within its own faith community?” In answer, while their focus is definitely on influencing church policy – kind of a ‘take the church back from those damn liberals’ movement – there is no doubt that their intent is more than just ecclesial. As an analogy: can you imagine a southern church in the ‘50s being both against full equality for African Americans in the church on biblical grounds, and for civil rights and integration in the public sphere? I doubt you will ever see a member of WA advocate for civil unions for gays and lesbians, while fighting the blessing of such unions in the church. Nor would they say that their view of homosexuality only has application within the church, without application outside the church. Their focus as an organization is within the church, but there is not doubt that, were they in charge in the church, they would use that platform to try to affect public policy.

    You also ask, “Along the same lines, I ask whether the ELCA condemns U.S. action in Iraq while at the same time recommend that the U.S. sacrifice American lives and spill bloodshed for one side or the other in Darfur or some other troubled region.” In that case, I have to answer yes. The ELCA is not a purely pacifist church. Last year, for example, the ELCA, along with about 60 other churches and organizations, sent a letter to Congress asking for support for humanitarian relief, and the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), which helps get the humanitarian aid to the people on the ground. Now, I know you have a philosophical aversion (by which I mean deep, well thought out reasoning) to any such interventions. But, if you read the list of signatories, it includes virtually all the NGOs that are on the ground in Darfur trying to provide relief for the millions of people affected by the conflict. I cannot believe that they would support violent intervention that will cause more harm than standing by and doing nothing. Look at the list of NGO signatories: were any of them calling for the US to invade Iraq? That doesn't mean the situation in the Sudan is not complex and fraught with dire consequences whichever way you go. But I think there’s a difference between qualified support for AMIS and Bush’s unilateral war in Iraq.

    About Paul’s words in Romans 13: that passage is not the only word of scripture on the relation between people of faith and political authorities. Part of the background of that passage is the fact that he was a Roman citizen himself, which was a privileged position in the Empire. His relationship to those in power is different than, for example, Jesus, who was a Galilean peasant, or John of Patmos, writing the book of Revelation later in the first century, after decades of violent persecution of Christians – or, for that matter, Amos the shepherd in the 8th-century BCE. I imagine that even Paul had a more nuanced opinion of the ruling authorities in Rome, and the Christian’s relation to them, in the days before they beheaded him for following Jesus. Would he say that his executioner was ‘the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer”? In any case, it is one thing for the tiny, persecuted early church to keep a low profile in the Roman empire; it is another thing for Christian citizens of the US to keep silent when our elected officials act unjustly, or neglect to act justly.

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  4. By the way, the letter from the ELCA and others to Congress is at
    http://www.elca.org/advocacy/issues/darfur/
    06-02-28-sudanletter.html

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