Abandoning Those Most in Need

If you follow what’s going on in the news in Africa, especially in Zimbabwe, you can see what suffering amidst chaos the church is dealing with there. Did anyone at the ELCA Assembly last August even stop to consider how the vote to roster gays would affect our ability to stand with them in solidarity and continue to support them, or would they even want our support after such a vote?

The following press release from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania clearly states the reasons that recent ELCA advocacy for same-sex unions is both false teaching and a serious threat to the authority of scripture.

  • ELCT Press Release
  • Date: April 29, 2010
  • Press release No. 004/04/2010

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) has reiterated her opposition to same-sex marriage and stated that those who are in such unions are not welcome to work in the ELCT because such practice is incompatible with Biblical teaching.

The ELCT Executive Council meeting, held in Moshi on April 27 to 28 this year, received and approved “The Dodoma Statement” prepared in January this year by the ELCT Bishops’ Council. The bishops met in Dodoma to discuss in details steps to take after the decision of some European and American churches to recognize same-sex marriages.

The Statement says: “Those in same sex marriages, and those who support the legitimacy of such marriage, shall not be invited to work in the ELCT. We further reject their influence in any form, as well as their money and their support.”

“This church affirms that love is the essence of a relationship between two people who live, or who want to live, together in marriage. But, with regard to married spouses, this is the love between two people of the opposite sex.”

“This church does not accept reasons offered by advocates of same-sex marriage and its legitimacy unless it is based on the Word of God and Biblical teaching; therefore, we reject inappropriate and false interpretations of scripture produced to justify the marriage of people of the same gender.”

“This church encourages and supports all those around the world who oppose churches that have taken the decision to legalize same-sex marriage.”

“We appeal to those of like-mind with us to continue to be salt and light in our relationships. We should direct our energy into maintaining the unity and cooperation between us. Such unity will help us avoid falling into a state which would further injure the body of Christ, that is, the Church.”

“Those supporting same-sex marriages have started to do all they can to destroy one Biblical passage after another in order to legalize homosexuality and affirm that marriage is not necessarily between a man and a woman. They do so by putting forward their new and wrong interpretation – one which displays an attitude and understanding which differs from that which has existed for many years in the Church regarding the meaning of marriage in accordance with the teachings of the Word of God.”

Some Bible passages that have been misused and given another interpretation to defend same-sex marriage are the following: Genesis 1:27-28, 2:24, Matt. 19: 5-7, Rom. 1:26-27, Gal. 3:28, etc.

The statement goes on to say: “The ELCT and other people worldwide who support our stand on the issue of opposing same-sex marriage believe that the Bible cannot be interpreted according to people’s wishes or according to other authorities or to culture. Rather, the Bible is self explanatory and is merely translated into various languages without altering the meaning.”

“The ELCT accepts that moral values may change among people as their situations change; however, ELCT believers know and believe that there are some things that cannot change, such as people having noses, ears and mouths.”

“This church believes that, based on the teaching of the Word of God, there are values that cannot be adjusted even under the pressure of changing conditions and locations. One of these unwavering values concerns the issue of marriage and its meaning.”

Issued by:
Office of the Secretary-General, ELCT

Churches splitting here, new Synods being formed, staff layoffs because of decreased funding, world missions and unity undermined.  So much for justice.

Church Constituencies?

According to a recent Synod newsletter referring to the upcoming Synod Assembly: “Congregations with members who are persons of color or persons whose primary language is other than English: Send one additional lay voting member from each constituency.”

Huh? Did I miss something in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”? Or maybe I misread something in 1 Corinthians 12:13: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”

We Lutherans seem bound and determined to model the world. As an issue of justice in the world at large, we should support those with less voice or no voice, those who are marginalized and maligned, but to bring the concepts of constituencies and the politics of interest groups into the church?

In keeping with the spirit of generosity, I imagine this is being done because historically Lutherans churches, in America, anyway (not Africa), are not exactly full of mixed ethnicity. It is a good thing to try to find ways to minister and welcome all.

However, this is not a vision conference. They clearly want varied representation in the voting, which seems to imply that congregations with people of color or who are not native English speakers somehow need mandated help to find a voice in their own home churches. It’s almost as if the thinking is, “We have to enable them to come or the representatives their churches do send will not represent them adequately.”

Steyn on Kennedy (or Why I Tend to Be Non-Progressive)

In general I would like to change the overall tenor of my blog away from the more polemical, reflections on the news-of-the-day, culture war sort, but something Mark Steyn recently wrote about Edward Kennedy summed up a lot of things for me.   Steyn is acerbic, clever and hilarious, the closest living writer we have to a Twain (in his journalism and travelogues (not fiction)).  I have debated with myself for years if an H.L. Mencken (whom I love though I don’t share his worldview) style of rhetoric and writing is appropriate for a Christian.  At one time I read a lot about Muggeridge, though I have only dipped into him, and have the sense that he may have pulled it off.

Steyn wrote: “If a towering giant cares so much about humanity in general, why get hung up on his carelessness with humans in particular?”  While I really do find that I tend to adopt mediating political and theological positions, though that does not make me a moderate, I am a thorough orthodox Nicene Christian with strongly held beliefs, and though I dislike hubris on either side, I tend to believe political conservatism (for all its faults, failures and excesses) tends to do less harm to humanity.  Basically it’s a slower descent on the road to hell.

Steyn’s quote above nails it for me.  Progressives care deeply about the Poor, and less about the poor.  They are more concerned with Environmentalism than they are the environment.  They love Humanity and hate man.  Jesus Christ was the opposite.  His life and ministry showed an unparalleled concern for concrete humans, and His death showed that that deep care was extended to all Humanity.  This is the arrow of love–it moves from the particular to the general–and without that focus on the concrete, historical person before you; that is, our neighbor, we can not truly exhibit compassion for humanity.

We see this in 1 Timothy 3.  An overseer should be gentle, temperate, faithful, self-controlled and hospitable, among others, all qualities that relate to specific, real, tangible human beings we are in family or community with.  We find an awful lot in Scripture about how to treat persons and not so much about how to treat peoples.  We find almost exclusively teachings on how individuals should relate to individuals and how communities of faith should relate to individuals (e.g. Matthew 18:15-17).  I can not think of a teaching off-hand that deals with our responsibility to our neighbor, family or community mediated through the government, unless it’s Jesus’s teaching to reconcile with another before it lands in court, suggesting, at least, that judicial intervention is a valid and necessary, if undesired, process.

It’s interesting to me that Jesus, Paul and Peter all addressed our obligations to the government, especially when the government they were referring to would be intolerable to us today, as long as it wasn’t in conflict with our obligations to God.  Nowhere I am aware of do they delineate the obligations of government to the individual or the individual’s obligation to other individuals through the government.

Don’t get me wrong; I cherish representative democracy even if it is “the worst form of government except all those others” (Churchill) which contains the “seeds of its own destruction” (Robert Welch) ((No I am not a member of the John Birch Society and know very little about it)), and ours is sliding into an insidious individualism with a destructive bent towards self-gratification and consumerism.  However, nothing we can do will remove the consequences of original sin.   When we try to “fix” problems, especially on a grand scale, we tend to make them worse–the more grand the proposed solution the less grand the outcome.

So, I tend to be generally more conservative politically and more radical (in the sense of the Sermon on the Mount, not French Revolution) personally. Conservatism should be about conservation (and I should say I tend to an older pre-Reagan conservatism, one that at one time would have embraced thinkers like Wendell Berry), and the best way to conserve is to plant.  If democracy does indeed contain within itself the seeds of its own destruction, as all human Babels must, then at least it takes longer for the weeds to flourish because there are just so many vibrant, beautiful plants growing.

Governments do indeed have positive roles to play; some problems (e.g. toxic waste, highways, defense, education) need resources, regulations and direct intervention, but governments deal with people in the aggregate and abstract, and this leads to care for Humanity and carelessness towards humans.  It creates a situation in which people can advocate for health care as a positive right while denying life to millions.  Medical treatment guaranteed to the sick by governmental legislation is not as  legitimate a function of government, if at all, than protecting the innocent or defending those who can not defend themselves.  Because the unborn have been abstracted to fetuses, we have decided they are not human and have no rights.  The first right a government should protect is the right to life.  Even liberty itself comes after that!

It is not progress to medically treat a person with the flu in the same hospital where an unborn baby is deprived of her life and where another baby is born and another is operated on in the womb.  (While most abortions are done in specialty “clinics,” there are still hundreds of hospitals that perform them, and even if they were not, it’s not progress to treat those who were born while killing others. The hospital was a useful, but unnecessary, comparison.)  Yes, of course, I think the conditions which drive some women to abortion need to be addressed.  That’s why we adopted two older, special needs children out of the public adoption system after they were removed from their mother.

Desipte what Obama said in his address before Congress on September 9th, don’t be fooled into thinking that if we get a national public option we won’t eventually get tax-payer funded abortions.  They already have them in Canada.

Render unto Caesar, but love your neighbor.

A Legacy of Faith

legacy of faith coverI was just handed a copy of this book by my pastor, who won’t have time to read it until after Lent. Apparently Rick Hathaway lives somewhere near me, and he came by the church and gave the pastor a copy. I’ve skimmed it and read the first two chapter just now at lunch, and it is one of those right-books-that-fell-into- my-hands-just-when-I-needed-to-read-it kind of moments.

I’ve been struggling with the concept of blessings. I’ve been praying that God make me able to be trusted with good things. Life has been a real struggle the past couple of years, not least of all on the financial front, and this book is a much needed tonic that takes “a fresh look at blessing.”

I am not and have not been looking for abundance, only “provision and preservation” (31), and I have been struggling with the theology of providence for some time. This book isn’t so much about that as it is a reworking of the concept of blessings, contra Jabez, I suppose, but he has yet to mention that particular book, and also morality, self-esteem and mentorship.

Of late I have also been praying that God’s grace be sufficient to me (2 Cor 12:9) and today’s reading in Streams in the Desert is on just that. The devotion comes from someone who had just been saying the same prayer when it it him:

In one moment the message came straight to my soul, as a rebuke for offering such a prayer as, “Lord, let Thy grace be sufficient for me”; for the answer was almost as an audible voice, “How dare you ask that which is?” God cannot make it any more sufficient than He has made it; get up and believe it, and you will find it true, because the Lord says it in the simplest way: “My grace is (not shall be or may be) sufficient for thee.”

Legacy of Faith came right on the heels of that reading today.

[more later, saved for now, back to work]

Marriage, Abortion, Fatherhood

Yesterday, I stumbled across a quote by Tertullian on abortion at the same time that I received an email promotion for two movies on abortion. Today I was going through some old files, and I found a letter I sent to “The Guardian” (the one at WSU in Ohio, not England) back in 1996 when my wife was pregnant with our third child. I was responding to a letter or article by someone named Craig Naiper.

I’m posting the letter as it was written as a way to preserve it for myself, because I find it interesting that my views haven’t changed, and I am dismayed that abortion is generally not a relevant political topic in 21st century America. I also can see the seeds of a way of thinking that have since solidified. I dislike abstractions. Jesus always dealt with the concrete person before him.

Mr. Craig Napier
c/o The Guardian

Mr. Napier:

In your brief note in the May 1 issue of “The Guardian,” you wrote, “I don’t really believe words by a man are relevant in a situation that he is not bonded to by body or blood.” In other words you are rephrasing the current trendy cliché that when it comes to abortion, “men should have no say.” (At least that is what I believe is implied in your statement. If it’s not, then most of what follows will be wasted space.)

The problem with your thinking, and with the reasoning of those who think this way (I usually refer to them, for convenience sake, as liberals even though that word has been so devalued and distorted it has lost any real meaning), is that you create generalized, abstract conceptual frameworks and then seek to impose them, by force of law if necessary, upon concrete people in particular circumstances.

The major problem with “liberalism” in the waning of the twentieth century is that its practitioners believe themselves to be beyond moral categories, so they anoint themselves the arbiters of truth for the “unenlightened.”

Well, no one has anointed you, or anyone else, with the authority to tell my wife and me that I, as a man, have no say what-so-ever in choices that effect our children while they are in her womb, and no one made you, or anyone else the arbiter of whether or not I have anything relevant to say?

I am the father of three [now five, two adopted]. One is as yet unborn, but she has a name already; it’s [deleted for safety]. She has a heart that beats, two kidneys, ten fingers, ten toes, and a normal, fully functional brain. I can feel, and actually see, her move inside my wife. She is due on June 30th.

All this is not particularly relevant to my point, but it is very relevant to me, so forgive the digression. My point is this: my wife and I decided before we ever married that all of our decisions would be mutual. Now you might say that she merely allows me a say in this regard which means that she is the real decision maker, but this is not true.

If I may make a comparison. Let’s say there is a family and the man works outside the home, and the woman, by mutual consent, stays home with the kids, or vice versa as in my case, and they have a joint checking account, and the woman goes out and buys an orbital sander. (Well why not? What did you think I was going to say- a dress?)

Since she did not “earn” that money in the marketplace, is the man merely allowing her to have a say in how it’s spent, making him the real authority? To argue this is to misunderstand the fundamental nature of marriage- oneness. This is not just some meaningless buzzword found in poetry and music; it is as much a descriptive statement of the reality of marriage as πr2 is a description of the area of a circle.

This is why sex and child rearing should wait until after marriage. If you do not understand how two people can actually be one in all aspects, thus giving both a say in all decisions, then it is because you are bounded by a cultural worldview that won’t allow your mind to make the necessary paradigm shift. However, please don’t presume to tell my wife and me who gets to make which decisions in our relationship, and don’t tell us which of us has anything relevant to say about our children’s well-being.

In trying to reason in a general, abstract way about mankind, or humankind if you would rather, you actually end up engaging in tyranny in a particular way; by telling concrete men and women everywhere, in all times, and in all circumstance that despite what they as individuals may choose for themselves, there is only one “correct” policy, which is that men have no say, and that only certain people have relevancy to policy debates in a democracy.

This is the exact same flaw, just a different form, as the one made by those who protested the newspaper’s inclusion of a particular advertisement [context of Napier’s letter, I presume. I have forgotten.] They were arguing that their belief, pro-choice, be imposed, in the form of censorship, on those who disagree. You are arguing, if in fact you believe that fathers should have no part in the abortion decision making process, that your belief be binding upon me. My wife and I can decide for ourselves.

Besides the above argument, there is another reason, one extremely vital to our country’s current social problems, why your statement about men’s relevance is wrong-minded. One of our gravest problems is that we are becoming a fatherless nation. I do not have any current statistics on hand, but more and more children are being fathered by men who, in many cases, are already fathers to other children through different women, and who, in few cases, take any responsibility for any of the children they father.

On top of this, there are abusive fathers who beat their children, dead-beat dads who skip out on them, and workaholic fathers who ignore them. All your statement about men’s relevancy does is make it easier for men to shirk their responsibilities and ignore their mistakes. You can’t argue that a man has no say in whether his children even get to live or not and then expect him to hang around and raise them.

There is another fallacy in your brief comments. You use a line from the poem, “Just Becuz U Believe in Abortion Doesn’t Mean U’re Not Pro-Life,” where Laini Mataka writes, “I thank Mother-God for the technology that allows a woman to free herself from the possibility of becoming a horrible mother.”

Can’t you see the glaring contradiction in this reasoning? You can’t stop being a horrible mother by becoming a hideous one can you? Can she become better by becoming worse? Maybe stating it as an oxymoron would help: you suggest she becomes a life-giving murderer, a nurturing destroyer, a benign cancer or that she engages in benevolent infanticide.

Abortion is an absolute, complete, and final act of violence against a child for an adult’s self-interest. Ms. Mataka, and you (since you offer her quote as a homily for our edification), argues that a woman who knows she would make a bad mother somehow redeems herself by killing her child.

If she knows, with enough certainty to kill her child, that she would make a bad mother, then she should abstain from intercourse, period. If she doesn’t do that, then she doesn’t somehow elevate and ennoblize herself by killing the child, as you and Ms. Mataka suggest.

Your reasoning in both regards discussed in this letter shows how your arguments are, if I may be allowed another oxymoron– a flash of darkness.

Sincerely,
Bo Grimes