Thursday, June 15, 2006

Why Do They Hate Us?

[UPDATE: I should not have written this this way. My apology is here. Let this stand as a monument not to wallow in thin-skinned self-pity.]

No, I'm not referring to the United States and the Islamic world, and "hate" might be a bit strong here. [Then why did I use it? Sheesh! Punch them in the face and then say "It was just a joke"?]

I'm referring to the whole world of Touchstone-style conservative yet ecumenical Christianity, and if I hadn't been looking for the grabber headline, I would have titled it, "Why Do They Disdain Us?" with the "us" being confessional Lutherans in the LCMS.

In practice, Touchstone magazine makes women's ordination and life issues its "touchstone" of orthodoxy in the new era. (S.M. Hutchens makes this point here.) One would think therefore, that their sympathies would be clear: LCMS good, ELCA bad. But no, that's not how it works at all. In the Mere Comments blog, Catholic David Mills refers approvingly to Russel Saltzman's survey of the situation in the LCMS. (It's printed in an annoying format, but well worth reading.) Pastor Saltzman is in the ELCA and the whole article has the tone of "Missouri is finally getting reasonable under Kieschnick."

What I find most mystifying is the sense in Touchstone that ELCA is "us" and the LCMS is "them," that we naturally look at the LCMS through ELCA lenses and wouldn't dream of looking at the ELCA through LCMS glasses. Why is that? I can think of several possible reasons but I don't know which one is right. [The whole point of this is to ask "I don't get no respect." -- It's good as a comic shtick, but unfortunately there was no comedy in this post.]

1) The LCMS has closed communion and hence is anti-ecumenical. (But so do Catholics and Orthodox.)

2) Missouri Lutherans are six-day creationists and Biblical literalists. (But so are the Southern Baptists who consistently get good press at Touchstone.)

3) Touchstone is basically about culture wars and sanctification and confessional Lutheran churches aren't very strong on these sorts of matters. Even when they hold the right opinion, they seem to have some block about getting all fired up about it. (But then neither do the Orthodox.)

4) At its core, Touchstone is an American version of the British-style ecumenism of Catholics and Anglo-Catholics: what they had in common was varying degrees of rejection of or discomfort with the Reformation and justification by faith alone. Protestants were welcome as long as they were "evangelical catholics" finding some way to "get beyond the old Reformation polemics." (But then why the welcome to Baptists?)

5) For opponents of the Reformation, Luther stands for that movement in a way that no other person ever has. Ever since Newman, the line that the Reformation inevitably leads to liberalism and then atheism has been a standard of Catholic and "evangelical catholic" apologetics. Perhaps this leads to sub-conscious resentment of churches like the LCMS which disprove it.

6) Perhaps Touchstone agrees that Luther's theology is fundamentally unusable for ecumenical purposes, while pietist, Methodist, and (presumably) Baptist theology isn't. (S.M. Hutchens argued as much here.) But if so, this amounts to a claim that Luther is essentially a cultist in a way that Wesley or Billy Graham is not, and ELCA is admitted into the fold because they don't really adhere to Luther, imputation vs. infusion, etc., any more. In short their version of "Mere Christianity" doesn't include the Reformation. Shouldn't we be told if they believe that's the case?

7) Socially, ELCA seminaries and colleges move in the same world as Catholic seminaries and colleges -- naturally when they look to the Lutheran world, mainstream Catholics and "evangelical catholics" ask their old friends in the ELCA for their opinion, even if those men are tied to a church that opposes their fundamental commitments? And just as the only doctrinal commitment that holds all Jews together is "That man Jesus is NOT the Messiah," so too the only doctrinal commitment which even the most conservative ELCA members adhere to is that "Back when we disagreed with the LCMS, they were always wrong."

I don't know which is the case, but something has to explain this odd disdain for the people in the Lutheran church who actually live by their ideas.

[Or maybe they don't spend that much time thinking about us at all, and I dreamed up these explanations out of bits and pieces of all my experiences that we "don't get no respect."]