Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Unbelief, Matthew 6:33, and the case of the ELS pastor's son

I was reading Michael Kinsley in The Atlantic and came across his comment that "These days everyone is disenchanted with civic institutions and government. They hate the press, they loathe Congress, and so on." I asked one of my acquaintances if he had noted, as I have, that there is disrespect for the government coming from the church and from church people. He said that that was true. And the reason, he continued, was that morality isn't the same today as when I was younger.

I thought about this for a while but had to concede that I couldn't get my mind around that idea. I was born in the 40s and attended school in the 50s and the 60s. I was in the Army in the late 60s and early 70s and somehow I just couldn't grasp that morality was better in those days than it is now. My recollection is that Bernard of Cluny wrote a hymn that the world is getting very evil and that a Christian should be prepared.

Of course if one sees that morality is in decline, there is a tendency, even among church people, to explain the reasons for the decline and then to do something about it. A reason to engender support for one's agenda is to assert that something is bad in the arena of public life and that the audience should act appropriately. The common idea is that morality is in serious decline and that the government is behind it. Christians, the message goes, should be aware of this and do something about it before it is too late.

I was quite surprised to see last week in a publication from a respected Lutheran theological seminary that a respected Lutheran theological professor had walked in the annual January Washington DC rally against Roe v. Wade. I also read on the internet of a Lutheran pastor's explanation of recent American history to the effect that America wasn't what it used to be because it had embraced secularism.

That same Lutheran pastor was so concerned about social issues that he had tied together European social practices in an unusual way with his confirmation class. He said to his class that old people were being euthanized in Holland and that problem babies are killed or left to die. He encourages his kids to act out some imaginary situations for him. He wrote that he had been doing this "for years." All I can say is that I am glad that my kids aren't in that confirmation class.

Of course if a seminary professor wants to walk in a rally, that 's his business and his right as a citizen. If a pastor wants to introduce crack-potty stuff in his confirmation class he can do that, too. He shouldn't be surprised, however, if his parishioners start to walk out on him.

It's OK if people have their own political beliefs, but it is not a good thing when they wish to impose the burden of their beliefs on to the consciences of others. This binding of consciences is a very serious thing for a Lutheran and is to be avoided as the Lutheran Confessions declare.

Finally, last week, I read about an ELS pastor's son who faces felony charges in the break-in [see comments for a clarification] at Congresswoman Landry's office in Louisiana. [I am an ELS pastor's son. When I was given orders to Viet-Nam I asked my Dad about it. He suggested that I read Luther's essay on whether a soldier could be saved and then fulfill my civic obligation, obey the law of the land, do my Christian duty, and get on the plane.] This PK was so caught up in the right-wing politics in his own mind that he did what he thought should be done to make things right. The idea of the extreme right wing is that it is OK to violate the law of the land so that a higher law might be obeyed. He broke in to the Congresswoman's office, was then arrested, and now he is in very serious trouble.

But what law is at stake? The idea of the right is to look beyond the law of the land to a higher law. The practical problem for those who live in the world is to determine who shall define this law. That's what law and politics is all about. It's not about what some medieval philosopher thinks or what some bishop declares. The idea that the world needs to be improved by the actions of the faithful is, pure and simple, unbelief.

With all of this unbelief going around last week, I found comfort in reading Luther's sermon on the Gospel for last week. He said: "In today's Gospel [the feeding of the five thousand] Christ gives us another lesson in faith, that we should not be overanxious about our daily bread and our temporal existence, and stirs us up by means of a miracle; as though to say by his act what he says by his words in Matthew 6,33: "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." For here we see, since the people followed Christ for the sake of God's Word and the signs, and thus sought the Kingdom of God, he did not forsake them but richly fed them."


  1. I have been contacted by the ELS pastor. He has advised me that I am in error to assert that there was a break-in at the Congresswoman's office. The pending charge is "entering under false pretenses."

    I told the pastor that I would gladly publish the news of the final disposition of this matter.

    The pastor asserts that this was more of a prank than anything else. The persons involved wore cheap costumes. It was apparently more of a prank than anything else.

    I have removed the link from my entry to The City Pages story.

  2. On Saturday, March 20, 2010 The New York Times did a story on the pending bankruptcy of Acorn. James E. O'Keefe III was the man who produced a video which was widely broadcast and which caused the eventual downfall of Acorn. O'Keefe was the principal in the Landrieu case in New Orleans. The concluding paragraph of the story is as follows: "In January, Mr. O'Keefe and three other men were arrested in New Orleans and accused of trying to tamper with the office telephone system of Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana. Mr. O'Keefe has denied the charges and said the group was trying to investigate complaints that constituents calling Ms. Landrieu's office could not get through to criticize her support of a health care overhaul bill."