Saturday, May 22, 2010

Justice Is No Substitute for the Gospel

First there was the dust up from Glenn Beck and his dissing of churches involved in "social justice" and his claim that social justice is just a euphemism for radical liberation theology and the like.  Then someone pointed me to a video interview of two ELCA gay clergy who had been removed and then reinstated to the ELCA clergy roster as a result of the consequences of the CWA action some ten months ago.

 First my disclaimer.  I do not listen to Glenn Beck and am not a fan of the kind of sensationalist rhetoric that often is shown on networks which also do hard news (but without seeming disclaimers on both sides about what is opinion and what is news).

That said, Back has a point.  There is a segment of liberal Christianity which has substituted social justice and advocacy for the proclamation of Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins and the application of His gifts of life and salvation.  We see it all around us.  Conversations about the proclamation of Jesus Christ tend to end up as calls to boycott this or advocate for that or work for justice for this oppressed or that.  There is legitimate social justice work which the Church is and should be involved in but not as a substitute for the proclamation of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  When the concern in churches becomes more about the improvement of this world or this life than about the proclamation of how the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinners, suffer, and die and on the third day rise and that forgiveness of sins be proclaimed in His name first from Jerusalem and then to all the ends of the earth -- then we have big trouble right here in River City. It is because of this Gospel that the Church is engaged in feeding the hungry and teaching them to grow food, providing medical care to the poor and teaching them healthy lifestyles, building shelters for the homeless and teaching them to work their way into self-sufficiency, and on, and on...But if the Church is content to improve people's lot in this life without proclaiming the life which is to come in Christ, the Church has not done the Lord's bidding and will have given them only a band-aid for a moment while leaving them completely unprepared for eternity.  It is both and not or -- a fact that those on both extremes of Christianity seem to have forgotten.

I believe that it is a good sign that the contender for President of the LCMS does not come out of an academic background or even an administrative background but from the office of this church body that shows mercy's work and that mercy works.  Perhaps he can teach this Church that it is truth, doctrine, and a rich liturgical life that leads us to care for those around us and to extend ourselves on their behalf -- and not just in time of emergency either.

That said, I am worried by the way that Lutherans seem to through about words like justice as if they were speaking the Gospel simply by calling out the oppressors and identifying with those oppressed.  Work for justice that fails to speak first the Gospel of the cross and empty tomb is empty work in the Church.  I do not know these ELCA clergy but from what I heard of their interview I do not want to know them.  They spoke of the injustice that they felt they endured because their PALMS relationship was not recognized by their own agreed upon vision and expectations of clergy ordained in the ELCA.  If they disagreed, why did they seek ordination under these rules?  Secondly, they did not speak of Jesus Christ once in this interview although they hid all the contemporary code words of social change and social justice.  They rejoiced in the solidarity they received from others who shared their view point and they rejoiced in the triumph of justice when they were reinstated.  For claiming to be Lutheran clergy, they did not speak like Lutherans nor did they speak anything about the Gospel of the cross and empty tomb. 

I know that you cannot fix the world but I also know that our Lord calls us to keep trying.  I know that you cannot fix the hungry by giving them a plate but it is a start.  I know that you cannot show forth good stewardship while arrogantly consuming a disproportionate share of the world's resources but ecology and economic justice are not the causes for which Christ died -- He died for sinners.  So I am not an advocate of praying away poverty or hunger or oppression.  I believe that we can and must be active against these things.  But such good works flow through us simply and only because the Christ of the cross and empty tomb lives in us by baptism and faith -- and we are witnesses of these things to all the ends of the earth.  But I cannot abide those whose voices for justice have no room for talk of sin and death, the cross and empty tomb, forgiveness and life.  Mercy that does not flow from the cross  and speak the cross is an alien mercy unknown to Christ and therefore unworthy of His Church.

1 comment:

GC said...

I once saw a yellow pages add for a "Lutheran" Church which boldly said, "Ministry Rooted in Word, Sacrament, and Social Justice." I think poor Pr. Deffner (Don), who founded this as a campus church, must have been rolling over in his grave.