Monday, August 24, 2009

Lord, Where Shall We Lutherans Go?
Uwe Siemon-Netto

As one whose profession it has been for many years to observe the plight of Christianity, I am always grateful for signs that our God is truly a Jewish God – one with a hilarious sense of irony. This happened again during the ELCA’s national assembly, which will go down in history as a singularly boneheaded display of unfaithfulness.

Just as delegates worked themselves up to their decision to allow homosexuals in committed relationships to serve as pastors, a highly selective tornado knocked the cross off the roof of Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, where some of their shameful meetings took place.
I could not help grinning: This was truly Old Testament-style: God sometimes uses nature to make a point. Of course you will have to believe in these things in order to grasp their ramifications. If on the other hand you accept Biblical truths only selectively, as did the majority of the Minneapolis delegates, then this incident could only have been a random occurrence – you know: as random as the beginning of the universe.

I was then reminded of another display of God’s irony 40 years ago in East Berlin when a television tower, the tallest building in the whole city, went into operation. Walter Ulbricht, the East German Communist party leader, had ordered it built to symbolize the superiority of the Marxist-Leninist worldview that was the state religion in his land.

When the tower was inaugurated on a sunny day, the Communists were shocked. Its rotating ball-shaped dome consisting of hundreds of thousands of metal prisms reflected the sun in the shape of a huge cross regardless of the time of the day. Ulbricht’s regime invested millions of marks to rid their edifice of this embarrassing phenomenon. It did not succeed. To this day, an enormous shining cross keeps dominating Berlin, which has alas become the most godless capital city in Western Europe.

To Christians in Germany this amusing episode serves as a reminder of who is still boss -- even after 56 years of Nazi and Communist dictatorship, and the demented two decades of secularization that followed Germany’s reunification in 1990.

Until then, East Germany called itself German Democratic Republic, or GDR, for 40 years. Germans used to quip that this acronym stood for a threefold lie. The GDR was neither German, nor Democratic, nor a Republic. One wonders whether a similar analogy could not be made for the ELCA now that its national assembly of this denomination supposedly committed to the “Sola Scriptura” principle stressing the authority of Scripture.

Is it still “evangelical”? Surely not! Is it still “Lutheran”? No way! Is it in fact still “Church” in the original sense of this word deriving from the Greek vocable “Kyriake” (belonging to the Lord)? That depends on which Lord are we talking about – God or a wimp who does not care whether His word is mocked? The Greek word for church is “ekklesia,” meaning “called out.” In the light of the ELCA’s new sexuality decision we must ponder the identity of the Spirit the largest Lutheran church body in the United States seems to follow these days.

To state it bluntly, there is nothing Lutheran about what has happened in Minneapolis. We have witnessed 19th century cultural Protestantism gone wild -- the theologoumenon that Christ and the highest expressions of aspirations of culture are in agreement. But what are at any given time the highest expressions and aspirations of culture? Do they not come across as Zeitgeist, or spirit of time? Were not Nazism and Communism two murderous manifestations of a Zeitgeist? The genocidal “choice” ideology that has slaughtered more than 50 million unborn children in America since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973 certainly falls into the same category.

Aghast, faithful Lutherans wonder: “Lord where shall we Lutherans go?” Why is it that we Lutherans so often lose our way just at a time when no message is more needed then ours? Let it be known that there exists a paradoxical tension between Christ and culture: The certainty of being forgiven sinners through Christ’s redeeming work on the cross frees us to engage the world with all its foibles but not to embrace them as the ELCA has just done.

I observed the ELCA’s Minneapolis proceedings on my computer and murmured, “Lord, have mercy!” Then I remembered one of my favorite lines in the Psalter: “He who sits in the heavens laughs” (Psalm 2:4). It’s really good to have a Jewish God occasionally sending selective tornados and marking a godless edifice with a shining sign of the cross.

Uwe Siemon-Netto Ph.D.
Director, Center for Lutheran Theology & Public Life

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