Friday, July 1, 2011
Looking with 21st Century Vision at Those Who Came Before Us
I think it is a futile pursuit to rewrite hymn texts to be sensitive to gender issues. For Pete's sake, we all know that man refers to mankind (oh, pardon moi, "humankind" or "peoplekind"). Some of the women who think they are somehow excluded by such language are so hung up on something that they cannot see for the forest for the trees. I know that there are many folks who had a terrible father or no father growing up. So this means we must excise from the Scriptures and hymns every reference to Father? I don't think so. No father is perfect and every father is flawed. Good or bad, our human fathers are not meant to be images that we stretch in order to get the idea of God the Father.
It is terribly unfortunate that Luther did not live through the holocaust or it would have tempered his temper and softened his words about the Jews. But he did not. So what are you going to do? Discard every mention or minimize the impact of the man whose name is mentioned more in history than any other name except Jesus Christ? Puleeeeeze. Get over it. He was a sinner. God declared him a saint in his baptism but he never achieved this goal personally until heaven intervened to end the struggle for self-improvement.
But we Lutherans are not bound to Luther or his words -- except the few of his many words that form part of the Lutheran Confessions. So we neither own him or his words nor must we always disown what he said that was either rude, radical, or racist.
A friend raised some questions about statements made by Lutherans in America at the time of the Civil War. Sadly, some did not condemn slavery and echoed the false opinions of the time that Blacks were less than human. Their flaws and failings in this area does not erase their contributions in other areas. We cannot hold them up to 21st century standards when they lived and worked in the early to late 19th century. Yeah, I wish some of them had said nothing instead of what they said. But they were who they were. We are who we are. We all live and work within the framework and through the lens of the times in which we live and the places where we live. We all say and think terrible things and wish we had not said them or thought them. All the moral outrage in the world cannot change the past. Maybe we can learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before us but maybe we won't. I can only speak for myself but regret is a powerful emotion and not always a great teacher.
But we in the Missouri Synod (and others) have not adopted the words of Walther or any of our forbearers in the US. We may honor his faithful words without accepting what he said that was rude, radical, or racist. Apart from Law and Gospel and his theses on Church and Ministry, Walther's words have no official standing within our church body and even the above and not part of our confessional standard.
Some are rewriting history to fit 21st century perspectives and sensitivities. This is just as foolish as holding on the flawed and sinful opinions of folks in the past when we should know better. We will be judged just as we judge those in the past. It will consume us unless we learn to let loose of this and move on... I am not suggesting that we forget their flaws or failings but simply that we cannot rewrite or correct the past from the vantage point of the present. We can only deal with things today and make sure that the legacy we leave to future generations is as faithful, honorable, and noble as it can be.
As Christians, this means forgiveness of the sins of those who went before us and daily contrition and repentance for our own flaws and failings. We cannot correct the past. We can only forgive it. This is the lesson of Jesus who gives us a place to lay down every yesterday that we might take up a new tomorrow. The cross is the place to place failed and flawed people and all their flaws and failures. So give it a rest. Every hymn does not need to be rewritten and every flawed word of those who went before us does not have to be righted -- we would better spend our time confessing our own sins and working, with the aid of the Spirit, to become the people God has declared us to be in Christ. I have not even begun to talk about whether our 21st century sensibilities are any less flawed that the constraints of those of yesteryear... that is for another post...
I know that there will be those who think I am way off base here... Maybe I am... I am a sinner who sins. I may not be responsible for the sins of Luther or Walther but I am surely accountable for my own. That is where the majority of my time and energy needs to spent.... That is all I am saying... Well, have at me....