Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fearful Words

The town fathers of Wittenberg -- yes, that Wittenberg -- give out a"Fearless Word"  medal in honor of courageous speech, inspired by Martin Luther.  This year, they want to give it to the Russian groupe celebre Pussy Riot.

Curiously, the actual Lutherans in the area don't seem very excited about this.  Per The Local:

Theologian and one-time East German dissident Friedrich Schorlemmer blasted the recommendation as an "outrage" and highly offensive to Christians. 
"A Luther town should not honour blasphemy. The protest against the regime of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin as well as the close ties between the Church and politics in Russia are indeed justified," he told the daily Leipziger Volkszeitung. 
"But they chose the wrong place for their provocation."  
He added that the name of the band itself was scandalous. "You only have to translate it to the letter. Pussy Riot sounds offensive and indecent," he said.
This sounds reasonable, until you think about it.  Blasphemy is bad, right?  Well, yes.  On the other hand, when the Church links its fortunes to a tyrannical, unprincipled, journalist-murdering state, then it seems to us that the steps of a church building are precisely where the protest ought to start.

As for the indecency of the band's name, we will go on record as loving it, if only because of the intense discomfort it has caused to news broadcasters over the past year.

Still, the church/state situation in Russia is a bit more complicated than that, and Schorlemmer has a pretty solid track record as an activist himself.  While disagreeing with him, we are inclined to cut the guy some slack. 

Less slack comes the way of another fellow:
The Lutheran Church's state commissioner for Reformation and Ecumemism in central Germany, Siegfried Kasparick, said Pussy Riot had trampled on the feelings of the faithful.

Next he'll be telling a Danish newspaper that it shouldn't print cartoons showing Luther's fat belly.  This is a massive theology fail; Luther himself went after "the feelings of the faithful" with a (verbal!) pickaxe, when those feelings had been led astray by enemies of the Gospel.  More extreme Protestants were even more ... extreme.  As we keep on saying, pluralism demands a certain amount of tough skin, and a willingness to let one's feelings be bruised.

What we suspect is that Kasparick was speaking in his official capacity as his church's ecumenical officer, and playing the "be nice to our Orthodox brothers" card.  We've seen it before, frankly, and we're tired of it.  Freedom and justice are more important than ecumenical relationships; if the Russian Orthodox wants respect from Western churches, it ought to flex its muscles a little more -- and show its independence from the government -- by getting those girls out of jail.


Turnip Ghost said...

If barely 5% of the local Wittenberg ("yes, THAT Wittenberg") population doesn't care, why is "that Wittenberg" still important, whatever its views?
If barely 1 in 20 of your own neighbors can't be bothered with what you do or think, who can wonder at why religion is having to scream louder and louder to try to stay "relevant".
Why not scream and pass resolutions about ending the automatic Kirchensteuer? You want to be "prophetic"? How about stopping your attachment to the government's teat and show some real independence?

Father Anonymous said...

Off topic much?

Turnip Ghost said...

Passive-aggressive and dodging questions all that often?

Father Anonymous said...

Dodging what questions? We long ago established that neither you not I thinks highly of the church-tax system. And sure, that's another case of church and state being a little too close for comfort.

But let's be serious. There's a world of difference between German Lutherans, who (like other "reocgnized" churches in Germany) use the government as a collection agency, and the far darker situation in Russia.

In Germany, Pussy Riot's protest wouldn't mean much, because -- well, sure, the church and the state are too close, at least by American standards. But the state is basically benevolent and the church retains so much of its independence. In Russia, neither of those things appears to be true.

The problem seems to be that the Germans quoted here don't get, or aren't willing to acknowledge, the depth of that difference.

So you're overstating the hypocrisy case. But where you're beating your own private drum is the business about how few Lutherans there are in Wittenberg. Not many, sure; but who cares? There could be three and they's still be a church, and they'd still be entitled to offer opinions for anybody who cared to listen. Even if the opinions were wrong, which they are.