Saturday, February 5, 2011
Struggling to Understand Religious Dimensions of Conflict
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...