Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Slow News About the Fast

A week or so before Christmas, the Lutheran World Federation asked its member churches to beginning fasting for climate change.  The fast is conceived as
a way for Lutherans to express their common faith, spiritual and ethical values; to transform the Lutheran communion; and urge national governments to be more ambitious in climate change negotiations.
Lutherans worldwide are asked to fast on the first day of each month throughout the year, leading up to the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations, which will take place in Peru next December.

This is interesting news for several reasons.  First, of course, is climate change itself -- a serious event with long-term consequences for everyone on Earth, which nonetheless remains politically volatile.

But it is almost as interesting that the LWF has responded, in part, by calling for a fast.  Needless to say, fasting has a long and largely noble tradition in both Judaism and Christianity.  It exists both as a private devotion and as a public one, undertaken collectively by the residents of a city or a nation.  Among Protestants, at least through the 17th century, it remained commonplace for leaders of both church and state to declare a public fast especially at times of war, drought or famine.  As the LWF press release observes, Luther
... called for a civil fast to “teach people to live more moderately” and for a spiritual fast prior to Easter, Pentecost and Christmas. Luther said fasting helps Christians know who they are in relation to God and their neighbors.
Fasting remains a modestly common practice among some Protestants, largely of the non-denominational sort, as well as Pentecostals.  But in our own observation, it has become quite uncommon among the principal Reformation churches -- Evangelical, Anglican and Reformed.  The idea of an Advent fast is a mere historical footnote.  Even Lent is typically honored not with the ascetical rigors of yore (and of Orthodoxy) but by a token surrender of one single earthly pleasure.  Even that is rapidly becoming the exception rather than the rule.

Of course, many Protestants have their doubts about fasting on principle.  Despite its long history, not to mention the example of Jesus himself, they worry that it seems like a legal obligation undertaken to appease or forestall God's wrath, in which case it would indeed be theologically questionable.  Perhaps that's why there's a defensive tone in the LWF release.

Is that also why we have not yet heard anything about this from the LWF's largest Western Hemisphere member church, the ELCA?

Perhaps it was simply lost in the Christmas rush. Perhaps there has been something on Twitter.  Or perhaps we just missed it.  But our search of the ELCA's news releases over the past few weeks reveals not a single word about the proposed fast for climate change.  Humanitarian aid for Syria and the Central African Republic -- check; Malaria Campaign -- check; Christmas message from the PB -- check.  Lots of other stuff on the news blog, both national and international.

But not a thing about an unusual spiritual initiative from our worldwide communion.

We hope this isn't a manifestation of some knee-jerk Pietist bias.  We hope it isn't a a capitulation to the knee-jerk "Climate change is a liberal myth" mindset still hanging on in parts of the US.  We hope, in fact, that we've just missed a thoughtful story on it, or that one is about to be published.

In any case, we personally are not likely to fast on the first of next month.  We have a potluck that night.

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