Wednesday, December 9, 2015

By their fruits you shall know them. . .

For all the public attention given to the Synods called by Pope Francis and what was or was not accomplished in them, the truth is that the quieter and more productive road to reform happens in what does not receive the same media focus -- the appointment of bishops, archbishops, and the naming of cardinals.

For years American Roman Catholics had been under the influence of a progressive Roman Catholic movement typified by Joseph Cardinal Bernadin.  He was an erudite spokesperson of a vision that equated the cause against abortion with the cause for a host of social advocacy positions distinctly within the liberal political sphere -- all under the idea of a seamless moral garment.  When Chicago got a new cardinal archbishop -- Francis Cardinal George -- the Roman Catholic Church in America gained an equally eloquent spokesman more in the stature of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  The Roman Catholic politicians were put on notice that there would not be a wink and a nod at those who publicly and vocally disagreed with basic moral teaching.

Now George is gone and his replacement is a resurrection of the Bernadin spirit.  Blaise Cardinal Cupich has shown his willingness to take on the traditional moral stance of the Roman Catholic Church in a number of areas -- especially at the recent Synods with their preoccupation about communing divorced and remarried and the situation of gay and lesbian incorporation into the life of the Church.  It is clear that if Francis cannot get his way through Synodical pronouncement, he will, in effect, remake the Church the old fashioned way -- through episcopal appointment.

None of this is real news but merely a rehash of what pundits have been saying for most of Francis' tenure as pope.  What is news is that this same issue is in play among other churches as well.  Who can forget the way former Episcopal Presiding Bishop Schori used the legal challenge to threaten, bully, and attempt to annihilate conservative Episcopalians into submission?  The recent installation of the first Black Episcopal Presiding Bishop put a ceremonial show of diversity into the rite and let the world know that under his tenure, the push would be in the liberal direction (never mind that the Episcopal Church in the USA is a shell of its former self and the whole Anglican Communion is a house of cards).  Nothing can stop us now -- so say the liberal prelates who have charge of the future of the face of Episcopalianism in America.

Even among the ordinary liberalism of the Evangelical Church in America you can find stand outs who will use every structure of the church body and every avenue available to the bishops to make sure that the ELCA is an arm of the GLBT movement and of the political left.  Never mind that this has caused the ELCA to bleed off two denominations, nearly a thousand congregations, and a host of dollar bills from disgruntled givers.

That said, another movement is underway within Missouri.  For years it seemed that though the Bible wars of the 1970s were history, we were left with District Presidents who were either sympathetic to that cause, unwilling to stir up trouble by enforcing doctrinal discipline, or had moved on to the evangelical wing of Lutheranism that loved and valued the worship and practices of this side of Protestantism more than our own Lutheran Confessions, catholic doctrine, and catholic liturgical practice.  Even conservatives like Al Barry seemed unable to rein in the tide of a Missouri in love with or envious of the mega church phenomenon or evangelical style Christianity.

Quietly and yet deliberately the cause of Lutheran identity has been championed by parachurch groups within the Missouri pale, by vocal proponents of confessional Lutheran identity, by Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, and by some of the newer District Presidents elected in the past two district convention cycles.  It has helped also that the sweeping reorganization of Synod designed and championed by the Kieschnick administration was in fact left to the Harrison administration to put into practice.  So, with a combination of Lutheran pastors confident of their Confessions and committed to liturgical practice consistent with that confessional perspective AND some turn over among the boards and commissions of the Synod combined WITH the election of new DPs more willing to fulfill their primary role as officers of Synod in the District with responsibility for ecclesiastical oversight and discipline, Missouri has moved slowly but surely away from an indifference or disdain toward Lutheran Confessional doctrine and practice and toward a more overtly positive expression of what the Augustana insisted was Lutheranism's raison d'etre -- catholic doctrine and practice and not novelty!  How long this lasts and whether it will endure is up to Missouri.  But we can hope!


Unknown said...

Depending on who is at the top of an organization, the organization will slowly move in a one direction or the other. In either case, some will say "But we can hope!"

Scott Diekmann said...

Somehow I think laymen also have something to do with the Missouri Synods' move towards confessionalism - not just the synodocracy and pastors.