Friday, April 30, 2010

A Lutheran Tea Party Movement

A St. Louis Post Dispatch article attempted to frame the election fervor of the Missouri Synod in terms of the Tea Party Movement within Lutheranism -- anti-incumbency, disillusionment with larger goals, frustration with a grand restructuring idea, and an idea that the leadership developed an arrogance out of touch with ordinary folks.

I am no political insider and have no secret knowledge here but I do not think the two are related at all.  If anything, I believe that the recent events in the ELCA causing a rift in that church body and the resulting ripples in the sea of Lutheranism have brought to the surface issues that were there for a long time.  BUT I do not connect this to Barry and his administration or to the movement of the 1970s under JAO Preus.  Missouri is not rehearsing its past again (which she has done before).

What I sense is a growing frustration with the way the Lutheran landscape has been laid out.  It was much easier for Missouri when the enemies could be easily identified but that is not the case today.  It is not a personal battle here between an incumbent confessing evangelical style Lutheran and an evangelical catholic style Lutheran but the clash of two souls within the body of Missouri.

On one hand we have a combination of folks who have embraced the evangelical identity (some on the more fundamentalist end and others on the more non-denominational ideal).  Some are like liturgical Baptists who speak the language of inerrancy as conservative Baptists do but act like people of the book on Sunday morning because they like the order and that is what Lutherans do.  They are not sold on their liturgical identity as much as they hold to their conservative identity.  Some are like Rick Warren or Bill Hybels or even Joel Osteen in Lutheran dress.  They are willing to do whatever to fill the pews and they borrow from whomever has what they think will make that happen.  They shape their mission and identity to fit the culture (both in music/style and in substance) and they preach a message less about law and Gospel than about personal happiness, success, and purpose.

On the other hand we have a combination of folks who have embraced the confessional identity -- some as catholic in both creed and worship.  These folks believe that Lutheranism is not some fruit of a radical reformation but the conservative and careful reform of catholics who love their past and are willing to sort through the error to preserve as much as can be faithfully kept.  Other confessionals are not so liturgical or catholic but they do want to be confessional to the core.  They  fence the altar, the pass their neighbors through the sieve of their rigid conservatism and they re-argue past theological controversies as if they were sill going on and as if they were the real causes for Lutheran problems today.

On the other hand, we have folks on the fringes and people in the middle.

What will Missouri be?  Will she be an evangelical Lutheran identity rooted in a confessional fundamentalism or a catholic Confessional and liturgical body?  Will she move toward the cutting edge and emergent side of evangelical Christianity or will she be defined by her more recent past (1847-1944)?  Who will Missouri be for the future?  This is not so much a Tea Party battle as it is a wake up call that our big tent (not as big as the ELCA mind you) is fracturing, that the financial crisis cannot be fixed by structure changes, that a clerical collar does not make you confessional and a polo shirt does not make you an evangelical, that we can have all the best resources in books and educational institutions but if we are not fully utilizing them, that we have congregations in crisis and decline but is the best fix the borrowing of a Baptist idea or the renewal of confessional identity within a complementary liturgical practice....

The other side of this story is the independence of Missouri congregations and the freedom Missouri Pastor's feel to do whatever is pleasing in their sight -- without reproach from others.  Such a congregationalism makes it hard to settle any of these issues.  They may be gone from the news for a while but they are alive under the cover of the individual locale and the conventicles organized by quiet like minded folks....

It may not be that everyone articulates it like this but I do think that this is less about the mood in Synod than it is about the heart of Synod... and there is plenty enough fear to make this a pivotal moment in our church's life and future to say that the decisions made in Houston in July will not necessarily end the argument or the angst.

1 comment:

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Church politics gives me indigestion. That said, I think you're on to something here. I noticed way back during the Yankee stadium flap that it did not necessarily cut across the usual party lines. I was quite surprised by some who defended Dr. Benke, (I expected they wouldn't) and also by some who did not.