Saturday, February 5, 2011

Struggling to Understand Religious Dimensions of Conflict

The day of religious wars is over -- at least it is in America.  We no longer battle in the same way others in the world battle.  In fact, we find it very hard to understand religious wars at all.  Whether Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq, Iran, or Egypt, we don't get it anymore.  We can understand demonstrations for freedom and democracy b  ut the dark underbelly of some of those fights is that religion is a key player in the whole thing.  It is hard to understand why anyone in Northern Ireland cares whether the Protestants or the Roman Catholics are in charge -- as long as the garbage is picked up, the schools teach children well, the roads are built and repaired, and the economy is growing.  We cannot understand why the people of Iraq care about Shiite, Sunni, Kurd, or Christian religious affiliation as long as the government functions effectively and efficiently.  Now as we watch the events unfolding in Egypt we are faced with the fact that there are religious undertones to this movement for freedom that confound us -- why the violence against the Copts?  what is the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood?  what does it matter as long as the economic situation improves, freedom and democracy flourish, and individual rights are protected.

We might have forgotten our own distant history -- the Thirty Years War, for example.  We might have forgotten the more recent history of America where certain states had established religion and some religions were outlawed at least into the early 19th century.  Or, it may be because we do not take our faith all that seriously.  I fear that this is one of the reasons why we fail to understand the religious dimensions of conflict between peoples and nations.

Once in a Bible study I said lightheartedly that I wished everyone would be Lutheran.  "Why" came the nearly universal response.  One person even said he did not get why we had evangelism or outreach.  If people want to be Lutheran, they know where we are and if they don't, well, no big deal.  In another context I once said that unless you believe that Lutheranism represents the most faithful, Scriptural, and fullest expression of Christianity, you should be shopping for another church home that is the most faithful, Scriptural and fullest expression of Christian faith.  Again, many of the people did not understand what I was saying.  Others understood but were embarrassed to chime in because it sounded so arrogant and rigid.

The point I am making is that too often the problem we have with getting our church mobilized for the work that God has given His church to do, the problem we have with people who are so very casual about worship attendance or bringing their children to Sunday school or children's activities that come before catechism class, or the problem we have getting people to share the hope that is within them, is that we are not convinced of the need.  We have taken the faith and the church with a grain of salt -- it is important but not important enough to fight over.  Therein lies the crux of the problem.

We will fight over political party or ideology, we will battle over sports teams and sports heros, we will dispute music and movies, but we are not excited enough about religion to break a sweat.  Now to be sure, I am not suggesting that we should lay siege to our religious enemies in America but I do think it behooves us to feel enough passion about what we believe, teach, and confess to be at least as interested in promoting and debating this as we are candidates for office, political parties and ideologies, sports loyalties, and entertainment preferences.

Let me use an analogy.  I have had couples come in for pre-marital counseling and they told me they have never had a fight, disagreement, or argument.  At that moment I am wondering if they have ever had a conversation, either.  It is impossible to live together as husband and wife and not disagree, even disagree heatedly.  In fact, one year I had two couples in counseling together and one fought all the time and the other never disagreed.  Interestingly, the couple that agreed separated and divorced within three months.  The couple that argued are still together (still arguing but forgiving).  Perhaps this is the problem.  We have come to some understanding of civil discourse that suggests that tolerance and acceptance are more Christian than standing up for the faith.  I find it hard to reconcile such with the words of Jesus.  Perhaps you can enlighten me.

I can understand the worship wars.  I can understand the battles over sexuality. Among other issues.  I do not understand the idea that we can disagree about the most fundamental of things and shrug our shoulders as we sit together in the same pews.  I am not saying we need armed conflict but either truth is truth (no matter what your perspective) or nothing is true.  I am not saying that worship wars or sexuality battles should be bloody but I do believe that if we care about either side of these we need to openly and passionately debate them and I do not get those who say that fundamental theological disagreement should be papered over or overlooked.  When we no longer care enough to stand up for what Scripture teaches or our Confessions state, we no longer hold to a truth worth holding at all.

I hope that we as Lutheran Christians are passionate about our faith and confession -- not to argue for the sake of arguing but passionate enough to care about what we believe, teach, and confess and about what others do not yet know or have not yet come to believe.  Faith is passionate -- in preaching, teaching, doing, and sharing.  I well recall once laughing with my brother who said the people in our home parish would be the first to rise on judgment day since the Bible said the dead in Christ shall be the first to rise and we could not imagine any folks more dead in Christ.  But even then, the lukewarm are reserved for a worse fate.  Perhaps we have forgotten that....   So... have at me...


Anonymous said...

The threat of global jihadism after
9/11 woke up the United States to the
fact that radical Muslims want to
destroy the affluent Western nations.
To compare this to standing up for
Lutheranism displays a naive mind
on international affairs.

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

To conclude that Fr. Peters is making this comparison displays a naive mind on reading blog posts.

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Peters: thank you for making a very important point, and for demonstrating your charity by not removing the absurd posting by anonymous about naïveté. This poster, courageously hiding in anonymity, is demonstrating just what Christianity is not.

Obviously the Kingdom of God or our Lord do not condone violence. Many people think that the prophecy in Isaiah 11:6 has to do with the hereafter – I believe it refers to the Kingdom our Lord “opened for all believers” with His death and resurrection. But regardless of that particular passage, God Himself has given us the will and the desire to defend the faith, when He wrote His will in our hearts when we were baptized. The fact that we do not do so, is, I believe, due to the fact that most people are still more afraid of God than they should be. One reaction to something you are afraid of is to ignore it and hope it goes away. One of the purposes of the Gospel is to make us aware of the fact that we need not worry about our relationship with God; that matter has been settled for all eternity by the Blood of the Lamb. “Fear not, little flock,” our Lord said, “it is My Father’s will to give you the Kingdom.” That means we can turn our energies outward; we need not waste them on ourselves. Our example is our Lord, Who even during the agony of the cross was still actively taking care of others.

Even when someone threatens us physically, as do the Muslim extremists, we know that using violence against them is not what our Lord wants us to do. Our reaction has to be the same as our Lord’s on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Yes, even when they want to kill us. The words of our Lord do not loose their intent as soon as our skins are threatened.

So, “Onward Christian soldiers,” but our weapon is the infinite love of God for all people. And “… for us fights the Valiant One, Whom God Himself elected.”
“And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child and wife,
Let these all be gone,
They yet have nothing won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.”

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Steve said...

Pastor Peters,
I deeply appreciate this post. I came over from the fundamental Baptist camp because I did see in traditional Lutheranism the most accurate proclamation of the Bible. It seems so many of us don't really care and aren't consumed with living an accurate proclamation of what we were taught. What really hurts too is that often we'll see 100+ in church and 15 in Sunday morning Bible study. What does that say for us?

Steve Foxx SSP

Anonymous said...

Good afternoon, all! Just catching up on my reading, so I'm a bit late responding to the post.

I've listened to those who say they don't really know who to believe. My response is simple: If you don't believe your church is teaching the truth, you need to

There are a couple of good posts that say things better than I ever could, so I'll just leave it at that.

God bless!
Pastor Kevin Jennings

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm. I really like this post; I'm also coming from a Lutheran church that has recently struggled with some deep divisions over -- well -- what Scripture really teaches.

Some people left. Some stayed despite heartfelt disagreement with others in the congregation over these issues.

I like your marriage analogy for a couple of reasons: first, couples can have strong disagreements. In fact, the marriage researcher John Gottman says that all couples have certain issues which will never be resolved. People with happy marriages are people who have figured out how to live with one another anyway.

And I think that happens because the people decide that some things are more important than even unresolvable disagreements -- the marriage is more important to them than the fact that in order to keep the marriage, they have to live with some things that will never be "fixed."

In the case of our church, we had a lot of discussions, but I don't really think minds were changed on the issues. The people who stayed despite strong theological disagreements stayed because they felt that the congregation had faith commitments that were seen as more binding and important than the very real disagreements.

Thanks for this thoughtful post.

-- Anna