Friday, October 26, 2018

Not a withdrawl but an end to accmmodation. . .

For many years the game was played and it was sufficiently beneficial to both sides that it appeared to work. . . for a while.  The game I am referring to is the way the church or church agencies were contracted and paid to do what was considered the work of the state.  From orphanages and adoption to hospitals and nursing homes to social services and refugee resettlement and on and on, the church did the actual work, being paid for or having the bulk of its expenses covered by tax dollar, on the state, local, and national level.  For a long time, things seem beneficial to both provider and the government paying the bills.  But then things changed.  The culture no longer was in a mood to allow church distinctives to prevail in this service for pay arrangement.  Churches had to distance the faith from the actions done because of the one paying the bills.  Eventually, some churches agreed to be nothing more than secular agencies acting as sub-contractors for the government.  Some did not find a problem with that.  After all, the poor needed to be fed, the homeless needed shelter, the orphans needed, homes, etc...  Others found it impossible to continue in these arrangements in which they were paid to be quiet about the Gospel that was compelling them to love and serve their neighbor.  For the state, it was a simple either/or.  Either you do it our way and silence your doctrine while doing it or we will find somebody else to do it.  Eventually some agencies found that their reliance on government money made it impossible for them to continue even on a small scale without the government's dime.  Some of this is even now unfolding as governments and churches reassess the changing situation.

The so-called Benedict Option appeared to many to be a retreat, abandoning the public square in favor of a refuge of like believing people together, separate and apart.  But it was never the neat and clean disconnect that some claimed the “Benedict Option” was all about  The only real cultural withdrawal involved the withdrawal from exactly those circumstances and situations in which the church would have to surrender its distinctive message, doctrine, and morality to continue.  And the same applied to individual Christians.  It was never about finding a place to hide out but admission that when we silence our voices to do good with our hands, it is precisely the Gospel that loses.  When we become dependent upon somebody else for funds and they exercise their inherent right to call the shots, the church and individual Christians cannot continue without losing their integrity and without diluting the Gospel.

When I read the Benedict Option, I hear the resurgence of a church unafraid to speak, a church not in fear of the purse strings, and a church no longer willingly constrained in the good works that she can and must do.  Let us be honest here.  Are there many religious hospitals left?  Are there many religious retirement communities and nursing home facilities left?  If we must forego the government dollar to do these, must it also mean that we do them no longer?  I hear in this a call for the church to be resurgent and for individual Christians to sacrificially support this work so that the work continues of engaging people with the Gospel in word and works without having to follow the rules of the donors who make the condition of silence the price to pay.

In Lutheran terms, our Lutheran social service agencies need not stop what they are doing but find a way to do with work in spite of not having the comfortable tax dollar to pay for it all.  Our Lutheran works for the poor, the needy, the unemployed, and the sick is not to end simply because the government has pulled the plug on the steady stream of dollars that made these works Lutheran in name only.  No, indeed.  We still do them but free from constraint of rule or fettered by what we cannot say while doing them.  Our Lutheran schools ought not be just like public schools with a hint of faith but thoroughly Christian and Lutheran in identity and practice.  Are Lutheran schools dying because they are no longer needed or because they have been slowly but deliberately surrendering their Lutheran identity over so many years that we did not even see it?

Maybe it is time for us to cough up the money to make these arenas Lutheran in identity and practice without the luxury of the government dollar.  Or maybe we will decide that some of these things are not so needed or not so urgent and we will not do them anymore.  I don't know the answers to those questions but I do know we cannot make accommodation with the state without finding our hands are tied and our mouths are silenced and this cannot continue.  So have it if you disagree or, perhaps, if you do agree. . .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Of the seven mission priorities of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, I have always wondered what priority no.3 looks like.
3. Perform human care in close proximity to Word and Sacrament ministries