Saturday, May 22, 2010

What Passes for Christianity

I thought I was done with this subject when I wrote about it here a couple-three months ago (Said, and Done)...and it's true that I can't get all that worked up about it anymore, being now on the outs and no longer having any material stake in what happens. But the assaults upon the character of--nay, the character assassinations of some of my friends and former co-workers in the local synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), by self-styled "reformers" who think they're pretty swell Christians, is really over the top.

(These "reformers" remind me a lot of Tea Partiers: They're certainly angry, but it's hard to know exactly why. They say it's because the ELCA voted last year to allow its congregations to call "practicing" gay clergy, but given that no one tells any congregation that it may or may not or must or must not call a particular pastor, their all-consuming angst and ire seems more than a little overdone. Not unlike Tea Partiers' "anger" about taxes, which are at their lowest level in years. And as with Tea Partiers, these "reformers"--who travel under such banners as WordAlone and Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) and LutheranCORE and, most recently, the North American Lutheran Church (NALC)--speak frequently of their burning desire to "take back" "their" church...though, as with the Tea Partiers, it's unclear from whom they intend to be "taking back." Which leaves one to conclude that, as with the Tea Party movement, it's really about making sure that "the other" is kept at bay.)

Well, whatever. I'm not a Lutheran and I no longer work in a Lutheran organization, thanks to the "reformers" and their successful efforts to siphon funding away from their church's national and local offices. But I am a "Lutheran in-law" and, as indicated, I have friends who still have to put up with the slings and arrows of outrageous "Christians," so, my hard feelings notwithstanding, I find I'm not as far removed from the matter as I had thought.

Indeed, I proved that to myself a couple of weeks ago when I spotted in the Rapid City Journal a brief article, "Bishop warns four congregations violate church law." The article reported that "a Lutheran pastor from Philip [S.D.] and the four Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregations she leads have been told by their bishop that they are in violation of church law for affiliating with another Lutheran association and withholding funds from the South Dakota synod."

Asked by the reporter to comment on the article, a friend of mine who is an associate to the bishop misspoke. He said the letter was not a "censure," when in fact it was. In the trade we call this "a mistake."

But in the world of righteous and self-righteous Christians, evidently, there is no such thing as a simple mistake. Everything is part of a grand underhanded conspiracy against them. Nobody's motives are innocent. A follow-up comment on the newspaper's website--perpetrated, predictably, by one of the local pastors who has been most vocal in excoriating the ELCA for its sins and heresies and who likes to demonstrate what a fabulous Christian he is by slinging lots of mud--gives the proof. This great "Christian" writes:
    I have been in direct conversation with the pastor involved. The information from the assistant to the bishop who is quoted in the article is incorrect if not intentionally misleading.

Ah, the passive-aggressive junior-high balderdash: Not sufficient nerve to actually come out and call the other guy a liar--which this so-called pastor can't and couldn't know--but just enough to sling mud at the other guy's back. "...if not intentionally misleading." How charming. How typical. As is the parting shot to his comment:
    There is no reason for [the associate to the bishop] to be spreading this "disinformation."
Nor is there any reason to be casting aspersions in re my friend's motives, if any, for using the words he used, but there they are anyway. Eighth Commandment? What Eighth Commandment?1

Add to that another bit of slander popped up on my radar screen a few days ago, courtesy of a "discussion" group called Friends of LCMC. The subject line of the thread in question is "Bishop Zellmer: Kool-aid drinker."

Well, that's certainly attention-getting, no? If there's anything these guys are good at, it's getting attention. And smearing people with whom they disagree. Long ago I noted that the members of these various "discussion" groups on this and related topics are far more interested in slandering other people than in actually "discussing" anything. Evidently this will serve as a cornerstone to their new denomination.

The thread--remarkably uncharitable and ill-tempered, even by these people's own standards--seems to have begun when someone posted to the group an "important news" item drafted by the pastor whose comment I quoted above. It starts off pretty straightforwardly, summarizing the facts of the "censure" against the congregations and their pastor. But this individual is incapable of maintaining the pretense of impartiality for long, and soon has to give the back of his hand:
    Frezil [the pastor] is on medical leave recovering from surgery for colon cancer. She is scheduled to return from leave in two weeks.
    It is fascinating that Zellmer chose to take this action while Frezil is on medical leave.
    It's interesting that he chose to have this done while he was visiting Cameroon (no doubt, spending the synod's supposedly limited funds).

Ah, again with the snide, underhanded, reach-around smear: "It is fascinating..." "It's interesting..." "...supposedly..." Not exactly coming out with a full-fledged accusation but certainly insinuating, with smarmy smugness, that something here doesn't smell quite right. And then, for lovers of irony such as myself, he proffers this little gem:
    I guess the bishop has decided it is time to play hard ball with any and all who dissent.

Wow...the guy vilifies his bishop, then follows up by slamming him for "playing hardball" with those who go against the policies of their denomination. Astonishing. And, I have to assume, he delivers it with a completely straight face, too.

Of course, this being a "discussion" group, that post is followed by a couple of other comments that are delivered with the same degree of Christian love and charity as the initial comments. First you have the bloke who asserts that his bishop has (sic) what we, in the early WordAlone movement, referred to as the "blue gas" (i.e., the historic episcopate). He follow-up (sic) his inhalation with a chug-a-lug of ELCA kool-aid regarding the party line against LCMC.

Yes, how astonishing that a bishop of a religious body would feel obliged to uphold the policies of that body. It defies the imagination. And then someone else piles on with this shining little bit of bilious nonsense:
    We could use the LCMC secret weapon. Our very own LCMC mascot to perform an exorcism on the bishop.

I confess, I have no idea what that means. I suppose the "secret weapon" and the "mascot" must refer to something that is well known to the inner circle of the movement but is no more than a wink and a nod to those of us who are not among the chosen. But I do, of course, understand full well the meaning behind the references to exorcism and Kool-Aid. The latter, of course, is a reference to the people at Jonestown who, under the sway of their leader, the Rev. Jim Jones, drank poisoned Kool-Aid. I find that right-wingers like to throw that insult at people pretty frequently, their intent being to say that one's disagreeing with them automatically means that one must be so mentally impaired that he or she blindly follows orders from another even when to do so is suicidal. And the former, the snide comment about exorcism, quite plainly is intended to assert that his bishop has been possessed by demons--how else to explain the fact that someone disagrees with us when we know what God wants, except to say that that benighted soul must be in the thrall of the devil?--and must be exorcised in order that he see the light, i.e., agree with us.

It's probably a bad sign when you quote yourself, but I will anyway. In my previous post on the subject, I included a comment that I had left on the blog operated by the pastor whom I have quoted above, a comment I concluded thusly:
    Is that your idea of "church?" Is that your idea of "Christianity?" If so, you are welcome to them both.

My feelings in that regard have not changed since I wrote that post almost three months ago. Nor have I changed my belief that this "reform" of theirs--CORE, NALC, whatever they wish to call it--stands scant chance of success. Successful institutions are built on something, for something. An institution built on opposition, on negativity, on character assassination, cannot long endure, simply because its so-called leaders must forever keep the "faithful" riled up. There must always be an opponent, there must always be an enemy, there must always be a siege, a conspiracy, a death-struggle that we are eternal victims of. There must always be a hated and reviled them so that there can be a pure and holy us, otherwise we are nothing.

A group can go on that for awhile, but in the long-term it can't hold together. Sooner or later there's going to be yet another disagreement within the ranks, yet another heresy, yet another blasphemy that simply cannot be tolerated by those of us who have the inside line to God's thoughts. Which will mean another split, another round of mud-slinging and name-calling and arm-wrestling to see who's the "better" Christian.

Which, come to think of it, is another bonus to those of us who appreciate the ironic.

1Depending on your religious tradition, it could be the Ninth Commandment. It's the one about bearing "false witness," in any event.

No comments: