Friday, June 4, 2010

Politics and/or Theology

I spent the evening reading a paper by a retired ELCA pastor, Ed Knudson.  The paper called "Conservative Lutherans Forsake Heritage for Politics" can be accessed at this link:

The paper was referred to me by another pastor.  In response, I wrote:
I spent the evening reading the paper. I previously read the similar one by Jon Pahl. I'm hoping for dialog... What are the sections of Pastor Knudson's paper, ____, that you think are particularly applicable to our situation in Cokato? Sections 13 and 14 especially speak to very important concerns. I'm just not sure what to do with what seems to me to be the clear witness of scripture about God's plan for the male/female life-giving bond... That understanding seems to be so firmly rooted in God's creative design that lifting up and blessing something else takes us outside of God's will. I do not want to be doctrinaire about this but I think there's a lot more to this than politics. It troubles me that Ed Knudson and Jon Pahl belittle the theological and biblical concerns of so many. Let's talk...
On Pastor Knudson's website ( it says that he...
"...began online publishing in 1994 after serving city and suburban congregations in Washington D.C., Baltimore, Maryland, Bemidji and St. Paul, Minnesota, and Portland, Oregon. Knudson has also worked professionally in settings of higher education and public policy planning. He has served as a consultant for planning and decision processes for congregations and church bodies. He now lives and works near Tacoma, Washington, next to the incredible waters of the Puget Sound."
Here's a noteworthy quote, also from Pastor Knudson's website:
"Religion is the source of great contention in public life today. One form of Christian faith, what is referred to as fundamentalism, evangelicalism, or the religious right, has come to dominate the public sphere. It has aligned itself with one political party and allowed itself to be used by that party in partisan politics. This has tremendously skewed the political culture of our time and threatens the historic witness of the orthodox church.

[Pastor Knudson goes on to say that his] " seeks to promote a more responsible form of public faith associated with the historic orthodox theology of the ecumenical Christian church. Fundamentalism is a modern perversion of historic Christian faith. Biblical inerrancy, for example, is a modern notion of the holy scriptures. One of the most important theological tasks of our time is to make this clear and to seek to interpret and present historic Christian faith in concepts and terms understandable to modern folks, including a proper role for faith and church in public life. This we seek to do at this website.

"Since the Republican Party has chosen to identify itself with the religious right, and since we at this website oppose that theological view, it will seem that we are ourselves promoting the views of Democratic Party. But this is only because we live in a society with a two-party system. If you are against one you appear to be for the other.

"We reject absolutisms on either side. We promote the concept of 'critical engagement', the church needs to be critically engaged with the issues and powers of the day but ultimately captured by no one party or perspective. To believe in God incarnated in Jesus Christ is to transcend and stand apart from any of the powers of this world. At each moment in history Christians must carefully assess how to be critically engaged in their political context. Christians who are Republican will be able to critique their own party, as should Christians who are Democrats.

"Let it simply be said here that our views are motivated from faith first, and politics second, not the other way around. Hopefully the various materials on this website will make this clear."

(end of quote from Pastor Knudson's website)
I agree that faith needs to be first and politics second. I think we need an understanding of the scriptures that is centered in Jesus' sacrificial love for us and that a simple statement of biblical "literalism" is unhelpful without understanding that the Bible has a shining center that we must always look to first.  However, in Pastor Knudson's paper "Conservative Lutherans Forsake Heritage for Politics," he claims that those of us who have issues with the ELCA are primarily motivated by conservative politics. I must object most strenuously to this assertion!  There are dangers in holding to what I believe is the biblical and theological order of creation, but I think there is more danger when we turn away from the clear understanding of male and female found in scripture.

Please, let's keep the dialog going!  Let's not blame or label one another.  Let's talk!


  1. Here's a good place to start dialog:

  2. Anonymous - That's the "similar one by Jon Pahl" that I referred to. Though some in CORE may be conservative republicans, that's certainly not true of all. I think we need to deal with one another in a way that respectfully considers the reasons each of us give for our positions, not by lumping us together with everyone else who holds similar positions. Know what I mean?

  3. You're missing the point of Pahl's argument. It's not to dilineate conservative vs. liberal politics, but rather to show how the heart-beat of Lutheran Core et al is power grabbing. Why weren't all these power grabbing pastors pushing hard to move their congregations out of the ELCA pre-09 assembly? Why have votes on confessional statemetns been held after the sexuality decision by the church and not before? Why aren't pastors who successfully push congregations out of the ELCA showing to the world that their motivation isn't about power by resigning immediately following the process?

    Power, power, power - who will gain?

    Also, paragraph 17 of Pahl's essay is a nice response to the "order of creation" arguement that you espouse regularly.

  4. Anonymous, you asked four questions and mentioned a response to the "order of creation" argument. I will try answer when I find time. I notice that many refer to CORE... Do you think that LCMC is likewise power grabbing in its essence?

  5. Show me the difference between this:

    and this:

    By your answer you will respond to your own question regarding LCMC.

    By the way, essence and "heart beat" are two very different things. If anyone should know this, theologians should.

  6. Hmmm... you've given me another assignment! I sure wish I knew who, other than the public at large, I was responding to. I remember someone writing to me before and I asked if he or she could let me know who they are. Having these conversations with anonymous people is difficult... but, I will take a look, again, when I have time. And, I agree with your point about "heart beat" and essence. They are different, though perhaps related to one another. By the way, my question was whether YOU think that LCMC is power grabbing. That was my question.

  7. Since, for me, your comment about the orders of creation is central, I'll respond to it first. Because, honestly, the political stuff just wears me out.

    In the paragraph below, I think Pahl ignores the main teaching about sexuality that we conservatives focus on, that is, what Jesus has to say in Matthew 19 in response to the question about divorce. Jesus goes back to creation for his argument, saying that God made male and female for one another, and that the two become ONE--meaning monogamy. Is that the "proof text" that he quotes from Coontz? If so, I'll accept the label as a proof texter, since it seems Jesus does that in quoting Genesis. And, yes, this monogamous standard did stand in stark contrast to the culture Segal describes.

    Pahl writes: "[17] Most notably, the chief rhetorical gambit of Lutheran CORE members is to assert that churches should affirm "the biblical view of marriage and sexuality." Only somewhat tongue-in-cheek, historian Stephanie Coontz has recently suggested that if one studies history and practice rather than selected normative proof-texts, it might well be argued that 'the biblical view of marriage' is polygamy. Even more provocatively, biblical scholar Alan Segal has recently suggested that Hellenistic sexual practices during the era when the biblical texts were being codified led to a norm of 'one man and as many women [or men and boys] as he could pay for.' It was in this milieu, of imperial-driven orgies, legitimated rape of slaves and servants, and pay-to-play patriarchy, that the biblical writers advanced a profoundly
    counter-cultural ethic of sexual mutuality between partners."

  8. Matthew 19 is clearly about sufficient grounds for divorce within the context of Mosaic law - that's why Matthew adds "for any cause," an intentional edit to bring the context of the question into the particularity of reasons for divorce. Mark's version has even less to do with the contemporary question of committed homosexual relationships.

    Genesis is brought to the fore by Jesus to frame the question of divorce of male/female couples AWAY FROM Mosaic law and into the goodness/mutuality/respect/etc. that only the creation story can do. Again, conservative proof texting gets this all wrong and reads into these stories LAW, which always leads back to power and self-righteousness.

  9. Hmmm... so the idea that God created them male and female in a way that the two become one is not, for you, normative for sexuality. It seems to me that this scripture, with its quotation of Genesis 1 & 2, is read at weddings, regularly, to claim that God blesses the joining of male and female in a unique way. So, as I understand what you're saying, that has been incorrect?

  10. Again, Matthew 19 and Mark 10 are not about sexuality, but about divorce, its incorrect context in Mosaic law and the (mis)treatment of women in the Biblical world as property. So, no, Matthew 19 and Mark 10 are not normative for sexuality (a proof text reading)- they are normative in the sense that divorce in the context of creation is not to be taken lightly (a message our culture needs to hear) and that marriage between male and female is no longer an exchange of property between a woman's father and the groom (as was the case in the Biblical world) The Genesis references take divorce and the the male power over women and place it in creation where the power is readjusted to the point that two become one, a unique and gospel oriented way. In Mark, Jesus takes this to level that would have been almost completely unheard of in his time by saying, "and if SHE divroces HER husband." A woman divorcing a man?!! Crucify, crucify, keep the power, keep the power!!!
    The fact that the lesson is read at weddings bears no weight to the discussion. Couples, I suspect, jump on and look up "wedding verses" and bam - there you go. to say that God blesses the joining of male and female in a unique way does not place limitations on God's blessing whomever God wishes.

  11. It seems that, historically anyway, that the Matthew and Genesis verses were used to give biblical warrant for marriage. That is certainly true, for example, in the Service Book and Hymnal and in the Lutheran Book of Worship. It's not just that couples choose the verses, it's that they've been used, historically, to give a reason why the church does weddings. I think you're saying that SBH and LBW etc. have been incorrect. I see that the ELW does not use the phrase "God made them male and female" in the same way. I'm just saying that there is a shift here from the way many people today, and in the past, have used/read those verses.

  12. Biblical warrant? As in authorization for marriage? Justification for marriage? The righteousness of marriage?

    The church does weddings because people have been getting married long before the church. Are you suggesting that at some point in Christian history the community wondered whether or not it had the "warrant" to "do" marriages? That's something I've never heard of before. So, before a life-long committed homosexual couple could be "married" (for lack of a better term as of now) by the church, we need Bibical warrant, as you've described? Is it possible that the church might ever act in good faith and conscience in the freedom of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit in ways that don't have crystal clear Biblical warrant? I sure hope so.

    To thing not seems so narrow-minded and legalistic. First of all, early Christian texts describe how the church continually broke with Scriptual norms of the Mosaic Law in service to gospel(by gospel I don't mean clear Biblcal warrant). Secondly, it seems as if you are reading Matthew 19 and Mark 10 as if Jesus was responding to the question of homosexuality. The text reads, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?" You continually ignore the context of the verses you bring up. That is prooftexting and it is obscurring the teaching Jesus is making by replacing it with your own views. The conclusions you make with the references to Genesis push marriage/divorce deeper into law rather than into the goodness of creation.

    You have yet to include in any of your interpretations the actual question posed to Jesus about divorce.

  13. What I was trying to say is that the scriptures cited seem to have been used, along with others, to talk about marriage. Is not that the case? It's clear in the SBH and LBW that they are used in that way, so it's not just me personally, as you seem to suggest.

  14. It seems to me that you are suggesting that if the hymnals you've mentioned use particular verses to talk about marriage then that justifies a sexual ethic to be established by those particular verses without regard to their context and the larger framework of the gospel. Also, you mentioned that a third hymnal does not use the particular verse in question. Hum, seems that maybe sexual ethics need to take more into consideration than verses used worship books. Especially when those worship books seemingly don't agree with what's normative and what's not.

    I know!!

    Maybe a study should be done over multiple years among theologians, pastors, laity, young, old, male, female, etc. etc. And, at the end of that study, a draft statement of sexual ethics be distributed church wide for review, suggestion, critique. And, at the end of that process, it be voted upon by delegates of church bodies from around the country. And, at the end of that process, a vote be taken whether to continue with one particular view of sexual ethics or to make policy changes that allow for the wide variety of interpretations - all the while holding up the differences and respecting the views of individuals and congregations.

    Then, when one party doesn't get their way, they say, See, we told you this was coming; but not only this, it's symptomatic of much larger and deeper problems. Let's form our own group by using those leaders who are sympathetic with our views against the larger body to influence congregations to join reform/opposition/orthodox alliances - where purity is maintained and all are in agreement with the normative verses of sexuality in Matthew 19. Which, by the way, is about divorce!!!

  15. Usually I get email notices of comments to be moderated but for some reason either missed the email or didn't get it. In any case there's been no suspension of the dialog.

    I am truly trying to dialog, anonymous, and I'm trying to do it in a spirit of brother-sister hood. I cannot speak for other people. My own sexual ethics were and are profoundly shaped by not only Matthew 19 but on what seems to me to be God's creative design that is reflected in the scriptures from beginning to end. My concern with biblical orthodoxy (reliance on God's revelation in scripture) goes way back to seminary days, for example, I remember writing a paper at Wartburg back in 1983 about "Father and Son" language in the naming of God. I have had huge concerns with the ELCA's willingness to adopt the historic episcopate, which seems to me to be fictional and unbiblical. I have never believed that we should allow "councils which have contradicted one another" to rule in the church, but instead to continue the debates on the basis of "scripture and plain reason." In any case, to say that my concerns have all been driven by the sexual issue seems disrespectful.

    You say, anonymous, that Matthew 19 is only about divorce. I will look when I have time, at the social statement to see if that's what it says there. If it does, however, there should be some EXPLICIT acknowledgment that this is in contradiction to the ways the church has used these verses in the past.

    But please don't accuse me of basing my position simply on one or two or three Bible verses. That is NOT my view. I see God's design of male and female in scripture from Genesis to Revelation. The question, it seems to me, is how seriously we're going to take that revelation (small r).

  16. There is a reference to Mark 10:6-9 on page 9 of the social statement: "The historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions have recognized marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, reflecting Mark 10: 6–9: 'But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one put asunder.' (Jesus here recalls Genesis 1:27; 2:23–24.)"

  17. Looking forward to continuing the dialog! I have no way of contacting the person who has been dialoging with me though... it could they are taking time off or are just busy with other things.