Thursday, June 03, 2010

You Don't Have a Dog, Part Deux

In response to our remarks on the little tiff between Mr. Benne and Fr. McCain, two readers have responded with comments that deserve some above-the-fold attention.

First, PSanafterthought asks, in effect, "Why are those LCMS people so mean?" She has herself tasted their lash in response to a few online comments, and wonders if she has been dealt with severely because of her sex.

To be honest, we think not. Our theory, which we have described once or twice before, is that the Missouri Synod was formed in reaction against the Prussian Union, and has since been doomed to live in a constant state of reaction. Its identity, and in particular its internal cohesiveness, depends upon the ability to identify itself as a faithful remnant, and the Other -- usually meaning the rest of world Lutheranism -- as Augustine's sartago flagitiosorum amorum. The "meanness" is a conditioned reflex, a rhetorical device which seeks to reinforce the loyalty of their members by constantly assaulting the (perceived) wretchedness of outsiders.

This is typical sectarian thinking, needless to say. Although we often complain that the ELCA is not sufficiently brisk about defending itself, the golden lining is that the ELCA (and its membership) rarely go on the attack, either. It may seem a bit high-and-mighty, but at least it isn't ... well, you get the idea.

Second, Fr. James of the Tonsure asks, also in effect, "Has the Pope started ordaining women and nobody told me?" Well, not quite. What he actually asks is why Benne rejects the LCMS as a possible future church home, while talking grandly about a dive from the Ponte Sant'Angelo. In fact, Benne offers two reasons that, should the New ALC fail, he prefers Rome to St. Louis:
One is women's ordination. I know of too many fine ELCA women pastors to deny the validity of their ordination. One of my own pastors is a fine woman pastor.*

Second, the quasi-fundamentalism of some of the Missouri guiding documents would probably guarantee that I would not last long as a theological ethicist in the Missouri Synod.
Hmm. Why do we find this ringing hollow? Obviously, the Roman church does not ordain women, nor will it in the conceivable future. So Benne's first point is pure bluff.

His second point is more interesting. A few commenters take him up on it immediately, giving (weak) testimony that the LCMS does permit some wiggle room on, say, the seven days of creation. Still, it seems readily apparent that the church of Rome grants far more freedom to its teaching theologians than does the church of St. Louis. On the other hand, who doesn't? Seriously, who?

But "wiggle room" isn't quite the same as "academic freedom," in the sense that Benne's own church has always permitted it.

The Popes have come a long way from the days of the Index, and the theologians censured in recent memory are a bunch of wild-eyed liberationists. Not at all Benne's crowd. But the point remains that the Roman church does not care much for its internal critics. At least its hierarchy does not; dissidents can often find teaching positions at church-run universities, much to the chagrin of the church's faithful. You know -- a place where the bishops may growl, but can't actually touch them.

But come to think of it, that's what Benne already has, isn't it?
* Blogger's Note: We know her, and she really is. A fine pastor, that is.

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