Monday, March 23, 2009


As we approach our annual synod assembly, the crazy aunties are coming down out of the attic.  They always do, this time of year.  The craziest of the aunties, at the moment, is a brother priest whom the Egg will call "Father Haddock."  'Cuz we love those Belgian pancakes.

In a series of increasingly vitriolic essays floating around these internets, Fr. H. has been arguing that the ELCA is captive to a variety of bad ideologies.  Most recently, these have included feminism, Marxism, deconstruction, antinomianism, environmentalism and community organizing.

Apparently, he hasn't yet heard about the ELCA's Cylon-human hybridization program, child sacrifice workshops, or Hug-a-Satanist Day.  We'll send him the e-letter.

Now, honestly, a case can be made that each of these things does exist, within the ELCA as within any other Christian community, and even that they do at times, on an individual basis, risk distorting the Christian message.  (We were, confidentially, relieved to get wind recently that one of our colleagues has resigned his post; he is a nice enough fellow, but his parish never recovered from the time he stood in the pulpit and denied the physical Resurrection of Jesus.  On Easter Sunday.)  

It is much more difficult to make the case that these things exist systematically, or that they in any way dominate the church or distort the church's corporate teaching.  That's because they don't.  There, we said it.  Unlike, ahem, certain church bodies we could name, the doctrinal basis of the ELCA is spelled out, in good Lutheran fashion, by its constitution:  the Trinity, the Scriptures,  Augustana and the rest of the Book of Concord.  Deviations from that standard, if they can be proven, are the basis for stern discipline of the ordained.

"If they can be proven," let us admit, is a Big If.  Theology is not rocket science, both in the sense that it isn't all that difficult and, more to the point, in the sense that it isn't all that precise.  Different exegetes can find in the Bible validation for wildly different doctrines and practices.  The Concordia tightens things up, but not merely as much as people might want to believe.  To make the case that one's colleague is actually distorting doctrine, knowingly and repeatedly, requires the ability to point to specific doctrines.  The nature of our confessions is such that if, for example, you want to bring a case against somebody for preaching works-righteousness or unitarianism, it is quite easily done.  If you want to "accuse" them of feminism or community-organizing, it is rather more difficult to make your case.  (As it should be, since some people would consider either of those to be natural extensions of a Biblical mandate.)

But here's the thing.  Fr. H. spends a great deal of time vituperating, and none whatsoever actually making his case.  He doesn't give any examples, name any names, or even  identify any actual doctrines that are in jeopardy.  He is clearly preaching to an imagined choir, a crowd of crazy aunties who already believe everything he is saying.  (And in case you somehow missed it, all of this is really about gay people.  Or wasn't that obvious?)

Sadly, however, he doesn't actually say quite what he's thinking.  Instead, he slanders the whole church, or at least much of its membership and leadership.  Because we disagree with him about a few highly debatable points of moral doctrine, we are all "Stalinists" -- his word, used often -- somehow complicit in the extermination of millions?  This is insulting, at the very least.  But beyond that, it is also a dramatic failure to observe the Eighth Commandment, as interpreted by the Small Catechism:  "... instead we are to speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light."

So Fr. H. has actually violated, habitually and publicly, one of the confessions he is bound to uphold -- and the most basic of them, the one he has doubtless taught to hundreds of young people through the years.  Perhaps his bishop ought to speak sternly to him about this.

A more generous soul suggested this morning that Fr. H.'s intemperance is mere hyperbole, "... like telling a woman who has on too much makeup that she looks like a painted hussy. That might be an exaggeration ..., but it should prompt her to look in the mirror to see if maybe she has over done it."

We think this misses both the gravity of the language and the wrongness of the claims.  A better analogy is to say that this Fr. H. sounds like a child whose mother leaves the house, dressed and made up like all the other moms in the neighborhood.  The child sneers at Mommy and says "You shouldn't go out that way -- you look like a whore."

Whether he is right or wrong depends upon one's idea of what a prostitute looks like.  But that is beside the point, because there is only one appropriate response to this sort of thing.  The child should be slapped silly, have his privileges taken away, and be warned that his father will be very angry.

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