A Pastoral Letter Regarding the Churchwide Assembly Vote to Become a Sanctuary Churchbody
Dear friends in Christ,
In the middle of last week, the Churchwide Assembly voted to designate the ELCA a “sanctuary churchbody.” Over the next several days, news organizations picked up the story; the coverage was mostly vague.
When I returned home from worship this afternoon, I learned that Fox News aired a short panel discussion on the Churchwide Assembly’s decision. I assume that this piece will make the usual social media rounds over the coming days, and I write to you today in hopes of addressing any concerns that might be raised by the segment.
Question: What is the Athanasian Creed, and why does it matter?
Today is Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost. Across the western branch of Christ’s Church, preachers went through the annual tradition of scratching their heads and trying to figure out what to say about that most sacred mystery of God’s existence. Every analogy falls into heresy, and even the our best words fall short. It’s a daunting Sunday to climb into the pulpit. (And I should apologize to my supply preacher for putting him in that position.)
Scripture itself provides relatively little information on the nature of the Trinity. We are sent to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We see all three persons at work in the cosmos from Creation and through to the consummation of all things. And Saint John tells us that the Logos is God and with God from the beginning. But how does that whole three-in-one one-in-three thing work?
Blessedly, the Spirit has led the Church to craft statements of faith we now call the ecumenical creeds. Among them is the oft-neglected Athanasian Creed, a lengthy discourse on the nature of the Trinity and Christ’s ministry.
So what does this creed say, why does it matter, and why do we so often ignore it?
Short Answer: The Athanasian Creed is a bit like the Holy Roman Empire: neither Athanasian nor a creed. Discuss.
Infuriating but not surprising. That’s my response to the latest news in the unfolding scandal in the #ChurchToo era.
The Houston Chronicle has broken the story that everyone knew was coming. At first, I felt numb, as though there was nothing else could shock me following the waves of accused clergy in the Roman Catholic Church — but then I read about just how close the abuse was to the top. Baptists may not have Bishops, but their conventions come damn close. And, just as on the other side of the Tiber, these false prophets have sacrificed children to demons, covering up criminal acts and sins.
Women impregnated by their abusers, forced to “confess” their trauma in a perverse display of church “discipline,” urged to get an abortion by leaders in a denomination that exiled moderates through a thin veneer of pro-life language.
For the past few days, my Facebook feed has been lighting up with shared posts cheering on the idea of biblical literacy laws. My Twitter feed, by comparison, has filled with posts amounting to “be careful what you wish for.” Several armchair pundits have pointed out that the same Christians who have been fighting against sex education, modern scientific cosmology, and evolutionary biology should be equally as suspicious of a government-sanctioned biblical studies curriculum.
I myself have weighed in on Twitter, but it’s difficult to mount a full review in only 280 characters — thus, this longer piece.
Rabbi Jeffery Salkin offers a nuanced take, writing about the importance of biblical literacy but the immense practical challenges that make such a curriculum impossible to introduce. Providing more nuance than the 280-character crowd, noting that “because of the atmosphere in America today, such classes would undoubtedly become part of the culture wars.”
In each of these claims, Childers cherry-picks her evidence, bases her position on one narrow understanding of Calvinism, and ignores the wider Christian tradition. But her arguments are flawed at a deeper level. In each of her three theses, Childers hedges her language to paint all progressives with a broad brush and to find them guilty by association.
Today would have been the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s 90th birthday, and it marks an important holiday in the civic calendar of the United States (though, like other federal holidays, is observed on a Monday).
This time of year, many people post quotes from Rev. King: sometimes to simply mark the day, sometimes to call their fellow citizens to act for social justice. If you get on Facebook or Twitter over the next few days, expect to see quotes from the “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered during the March on Washington. Expect to see the famous line, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” excerpted from the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Expect, on rare occasion, to see his final public address, in which he declared, “I’ve been to the mountaintop.” Continue reading “Rev. King and the Politics of Proclamation”→
In the previous post, we examined Alisa Childers’ claim that progressive Christians ignore Scripture and instead focus on their own preferences to create an ethical framework. We examined the role of Scripture, reason, experience, and Church Tradition in shaping a distinctly Christian ethic. We further considered the distinction between a holistic approach to Christian behavior — that is, a concern for the impoverished, the oppressed, and the marginalized — over and against a narrow focus on what my colleague termed “pelvic issues,” or matters pertaining to human sexuality.
About three and a half years ago, Pope Francis promulgated the encyclical Laudato Si, calling for Christians to care for our common home (i.e., the earth). What followed was an uproar from politically conservative corners of the Church. Jeb Bush announced that he doesn’t take policy advice from the Pope, and Rick Santorum stated that the Church should stick to “what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.”
It just so happened that, I was heading for a two-night backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail with some older pastors during this same time. On our drive through the mountains of Georgia and Tennessee, we discussed the reaction to the Roman Pontiff’s document. How could it be, I wondered out loud, that care for the environment — with all that it means for the poor, for future generations, for our role as stewards — is not considered a point of “morality”? Continue reading “Shared Belief: Tradition and Ethics”→
On December 6th, we marked the feast of Saint Nicholas, a fourth century bishop of the Greek city Myra (in present-day Turkey).
Chiefly, he is remembered for his generosity and secret gift-giving. The son of a wealthy family, Nicholas gave away much of his inheritance to the poor. According to one tradition, the bishop heard a poor man praying; the man had no money to provide dowries for his three daughters and worried that, unmarried, the young women would be left impoverished. Over the next three nights, Bishop Nicholas is said to have thrown bags of money through the window to provide for the family.Continue reading “Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra”→