For several weeks now, we have been changing residences more frequently than Arafat did in the 1970s, and our internet access has been spotty. Likewise television, newspapers and books. So we're pretty far out of touch with the world these days. (On the other hand, we did see some longhorn cattle this afternoon).
All this out of touchness leaves us a bit confused about the headlines. So far as we can tell, presidential wannabee Michelle Bachmann has recently left her Lutheran church, after not attending for the past two years. Nothing really new there, if you're an ELCA member annoyed about The Gays. But Mrs. Bachmann is -- or rather was -- part of the WELS. Is it possible that they weren't reactionary enough for her?*
Her decision might conceivably have been prompted by some fluff about her husband's counseling service, which includes a "cure" for homsexuality. More likely, it is related to a recent Atlantic piece, reminding the world that Martin Luther thought that the Pope was Antichrist, a belief enshrined in the WELS statement of faith, and (more significantly) in the Smalcald Articles (2:4:10).** This latter, after all, is part of the common confession of all Lutheran churches. Were it otherwise, the point would be moot, since Luther said any number of things which Lutherans are free to disregard, chuckle over, or cringe at. He was particularly rough on Jews and Germans, for example. He also thought that eating meat was a consequence of the Fall, and on one occasion endorsed bigamy. All of which is why we have the Book of Concord.
Author Josh Green does something funny here: he cites a couple of theologians who tell him, as anybody familiar with the documents would, that sure, Luther said and meant the antichrist thing; but that neither Luther nor Lutherans meant anything like the things modern people seem to read into it. Then, to all intents and purposes, he ignores them. He is explicitly trying to use Bachmann's religious association against her, as Republicans used Obama's in 2008 -- a tactic that struck us as churlish then and continues to do so now.
In related faith-baiting news, we read that a Fox News host thinks Rick Perry may have an eaiser time raising funds than Mitt Romney, since Romney "is obviously not a Christian." While agree with the general idea, we are troubled by the glibness of that "obviously." As we have said before, the question of whether Mormons are Christians is purely academic, and depends upon your definition of Christian. For the record, our definition is tied up in the somewhat loose canon of Scripture, to which the Book of Mormon is by no historic standard a part, and in the faith delivered to the saints, as recorded in their writings -- including, most especially, the Canons of Nicea. But for somebody who thinks that "Christianity," degree zero, means no more than claiming the name of Jesus as a road to salvation, Mormons are indeed Christian -- along with some Hindus. Seriously.
Meanwhile, Tim Pawlenty is talking up his Evangelicalism, just in case anybody missed it.
Now, we haven't been following these stories, so it is likely that we have missed some important details. But what comes out clearly is that, once again, religion and religious tests are likely to have a prominent role in the presidential campaign. This is, as always, an unneccessary and unwholesome contribution to the civic life of our secular republic.
But hey -- at least it got Lutheranism into the news.
*Technical note: It seems that the WELS, unlike the ELCA, doesn't remove people from the roster for inactivity; they keep you on the rolls until you die or formally request removal.
**In context, Luther is arguing that, because the [Renaissance] papacy claimed that communion with Rome was necessary for salvation, the pope arrogates to himself the saving power which belongs only to God. Since modern Roman Catholicism takes a more nuanced view of this subject, and since much of this has been dealth with in the dialogues leading up to the Joint Declaration, it seems to us that Luther's claim is no longer binding. (Even at the time, Melanchthon recognized the possibility of granting the pope authority as a practical matter.)