Friday, October 14, 2016

The growing gulf between the leaders and the led. . .

Reading again an article by Peggy Noonan (How Global Elites Forsake their Countrymen), I am struck by how her words express what I have been thinking, or rather fearing, for some time.  She writes particularly of politics and economics but her points can be applied in other ways.  She began with: This is about distance, and detachment, and a kind of historic decoupling between the top and the bottom in the West that did not, in more moderate recent times, exist.

She chronicled a conversation with an acquaintance of Angela Merkel and the pursuit of ideals that ended up with a flawed policy that has left conflict and controversy in its wake.  Her immigration policy in the wake of Islamic refugees was a typical way in which a political leader had placed the burden of idealism not upon the leaders but upon the ordinary folks living in neighborhoods throughout Germany.  Merkel was and is part of an elite for whom the consequences of her policy will not be personally felt (unless she is unelected).  It was as if the weakness of Wall Street CEOs and their preoccupation with global products and global strategies that feel little concern for their corporate role of citizens had infected political leaders as well.  National interest has become an embarrassing concept both economically and politically.  This, as much as anything else, is responsible for the discontent that has so characterized the election of a president and members of the Congress.

Noonan and others have characterized the success of this globalization in stark terms.  While the rising tide has certainly benefited the middle class in the developing nations and rewarded the rich in the developed world, the middle class in the developed world has not found much to benefit them in the globalization of politics and the economy.  The recent exit of Britain from the Common Market only proves the frustration of the governed with those who have governed them there and elsewhere.  It shows up on football fields where players take moral stands against the national anthem and on the stages when actors accept awards as a platform for expressing not only their views but their contempt for those who believe differently.

What Noonan and others have reported on for politics and economics is also true in the areas of faith and morality.  Christians increasingly feel the distance between them and the religious elite who have decided that marriage must be reformed, social justice pursued even at the cost of religious freedom, and diversity is the mark of or the fruit of the Gospel at work.  This is not what we were brought up to know and believe.  Christians have felt the distance between the elites and the folks in the pews for a long time.  In 1973 their moral cause for the unborn was thrown under the bus for the sake of an invented right of privacy and personal autonomy.  Forty years later the same thing happened in the courts but this time about same sex marriage.  Added to this has been the abrupt cultural embrace of all sorts of things that were once tolerated but not extolled and now are extolled and those against are not tolerated (think gender confusion and the policy of restrooms for those who feel a gender different than their biology).  Worse, the elites now have identified those who disagree with their higher vision as xenophobes, homophobes, etc..., those in the basket of deplorables who shall have no public right to their opinion.

What Noonan and others note on a political or economic level is also profoundly cultural and religious.  Tim Kaine insisted that his Roman Catholic Church had no choice but to change its views on same sex marriage and gender identity.  Joe Biden is called devout when he defies his own church's teaching to preside at a same sex wedding.  Lutherans are not far behind.  In the ELCA a radical choice to depart from Scripture and tradition with respect to same sex marriage was more important than the unity of the church and a cause worth bleeding off a million or more members (some to other churches but many to nowhere at all).  In Missouri we have our own elites who insist upon mission work that shares the story of Jesus but does not plant congregations in which the Word and Sacraments are front and center and those who are willing to wear whatever mask it takes to draw people in and then presume that faith may be maintained in the abstract while Sunday morning looks radically different. Missouri has folks who bristle at the idea that a church confession counts enough to hold those who publicly preach and teach accountable or that those who commune is anything more than a local decision.  We saw some of that at the Milwaukee convention in the confusion of oversight and supervision of doctrine and practice with authoritarianism.  So liberal and conservation churches have some of the same great divides we see happening on a political and economic level.

Noonan ends:  Affluence detaches, power adds distance to experience. I don’t have it fully right in my mind but something big is happening here with this division between the leaders and the led. It is very much a feature of our age. But it is odd that our elites have abandoned or are abandoning the idea that they belong to a country, that they have ties that bring responsibilities, that they should feel loyalty to their people or, at the very least, a grounded respect. 

If we feel it in the approaching election cycle, we will feel it in the pews.  What does it mean to be Lutheran?  Is being Lutheran a good thing or a bad thing?  Does Lutheranism matter at all anymore?  I wonder if the growing gulf between church leaders and the folks in the pew is not partially to blame for the way denominational loyalty has taken a hit and devotion to the faith is used as a cause for violating the very tenets of that faith.  In any case, it is something to ponder for the sake of our nation and our future and for the sake of orthodox Christianity and the future of this faith in America.

1 comment:

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Sometimes we look at the times in which we live with great dismay and confusion. We wonder how there exists so much division between people, so many opposing ideals, so much confrontation, and endless conflicts. It is usually in our perceptions and personal experience where we find we have been forced out of our comfort zones by forces outside of our control. But one can look back to the history of the church at various periods and see similar situations to what we are experiencing today. Before Martin Luther, there was Tyndale turning the established Roman church on its head, and Wycliffe, and the dissenters, the Anabaptists, and there were countless bloody wars between Protestants and Catholics, endless debates over the Geneva Bible and its margin notes, and the KJV's several versions and changes offended some and pleased others. In early America, the Puritans went beyond scriptural faithfulness, becoming oppressive and condemning Quakers, wrongly accusing and hanging Innocent housewives for alleged witchcraft. Reading history, including the history of the church, lifts the veneer of truth and reveals the darkness and the light. The church will survive the present challenges we face, the generational gaps, theological debates, and conflicts within the LCMS as well. In order for that to happen, we must continue to be true to the word of God and expose false teachings. God knows all about these things, and His sovereignty remains above it all.