Monday, November 17, 2014

All politics is local. . .

Some have said that Cardinal Kasper was playing to the hometown crowd when he brought up the issue of divorced Roman Catholics.  The population of Germany is growing more and more secular.  The numbers of Germans leaving the Church and therefore relieving themselves of the church tax burden grows with each succeeding year.  The age of the German Church is increasing and youth are not replacing them.  The benefits provided by the church tax structure, while generous now, are unsustainable given the above.  Some have said that Kasper is reacting not to a Roman Catholic problem but a German situation.  Interesting. . .

The same outspoken Cardinal has been caught up in a controversy in which private comments were recorded and made public in which he insisted that African Roman Catholics had to be excluded because of their hometown crowd and the difficulty in raising the issue of homosexuality.  According to Kasper this is a taboo subject among the Africans.  In a sense, he is admitting that his situation is different from theirs and that Rome may have to find a way to accommodate such differences (though probably he means that the Africans are at some point in time going to have to live with the recognition of gays and gay marriage already clearly intrenched in the West).

The point I am making is that no church and no Christianity can survive if it offers one answer for one set of people and another answer for others.  Rome is united more or less by its Pontiff.  Francis seems to have done a good job of uniting many folks in disappointment with him and his leadership.  Those who press for the full inclusion of gays, divorced, and other excluded groups will surely be disappointed with Francis' bungled leadership of their cause.  Those who insist upon a hermeneutic of continuity are undoubtedly disappointed with Francis for seemingly opening the door to radical change (or at least the expectation of such change to come) on these issues.

It all points out both the strength and the inherent weakness of the papacy.  On the one hand every religious group benefits from a clear and confident leader but on the other hand the leadership of such a large and diverse group means the confrontation with local needs and desires that are often at odds with the national unity and purpose of the larger group.  Where you have a Pope who is well respected and trusted, JPII, it is possible to unite people with disparate aims and purposes and to lead them to walk together.  When you have a Pope who is a theologian and a man of integrity, B16, people will listen to him even when they do not agree with him.  But when you have a Pope who appears to waver, to speak out of both sides of his mouth, and to give a false impression of what he believes or desires, it can only weaken and further divide an already weak and factionalized communion.

Lutherans and others cannot afford to watch this spectacle in Rome with only morbid curiosity.  The pressure upon our leaders is the same.  Faithfulness in doctrine and practice must be married to a compassionate heart.  Truth cannot be set at odds with either humility or kindness.  We struggle with the same issues and pressures as well as other issues.

For the Missouri Synod we run the same risk of being a rather loose conglomeration of independent but cooperating congregations (when it suits their interests) instead of being a churchly body that unites our divergent parishes.  We have enjoyed the leadership of an administration which has so far worked to enjoin faithfulness in doctrine and practice with a welcome face of compassion and kindness but every day brings new tests for this leadership.

St. Paul insists that our credibility before the world and our integrity with one another is our ability to speak the truth in love.  To lean on love without truth is to lie and to be content with truth minus love is be equally unfaithful.  God help us and may He raise up those who will lead us in both faithfulness and service.

1 comment:

John Joseph Flanagan said...

I agree with your comments.But I think the reality is that the pursuit of "unity" is not plausible in or outside of the Christian churches, except in certain areas of belief and consensus. It is a visceral and inborn tendency of people to disagree.....husbands and wives, parents and children, secular organizations, and nations. That is why communists use threats and punishment to retain "unity" and why Islamists behead those who dare oppose their body of beliefs. The lack of unity is most apparent in the multitude of Christian denominations and schisms throughout the past 2000 years. The unifying fact is that all people on the earth are sinners in need of Christ and God's grace.