Church as Minor Clerk in Caesar’s Court
Back in November, my brother-in-law, called me up because he was quite upset. First, he and his family are members of an ELCA congregation. His angst was over the pastor’s approving inclusion of a letter by Rev. Mark Hanson, the Presiding Bishop, to President Obama, encouraging the passage of the DREAM Act (Letter). My brother-in-law is not exactly a political supporter of the President. He had just e-mailed his pastor saying he no longer wanted to be a member of the congregation.
Needless to say, a quick perusal of the websites of ECUSA and UPUSA are of course on board with the passage of this bill. Liberal Protestant denominational hierarchies work out of the same playbook of “deeds not creeds”. My purpose here is not to speak about the pros and cons of this particular piece of legislation, but this sentence from Rev. Hanson’s letter to the President of the United States leapt out at your reporter:
November 1, 2011
Dear President Obama:
As the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and a member of the Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, I write to lift up the support of our national church body for comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act.
We are a church that belongs to Christ, and we believe God calls each of us by name. Therefore, the ELCA has repeatedly affirmed the biblical witness and our shared experience of working with and on behalf of America’s newcomers through our ministry with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
The 2011 Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA voted overwhelmingly in support of immigration reform and the DREAM Act. The churchwide assembly is the ELCA’s highest legislative authority serving on behalf of 4.2 million baptized ELCA members.
The biblical call to hospitality also inspired Lutheran congregations across the country to discuss transforming communities into centers of hospitality through relationship building and advocacy. In addition, congregations are holding DREAM Act Sabbaths to lift up the experiences of undocumented youth and encourage broader public support for the legislation.
The need to overhaul the U.S. immigration system is becoming ever more urgent. In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform, states have felt compelled to write their own immigration laws, which are often shortsighted and misguided. The ELCA needs your leadership. We urge you to continue to speak to Congress and the American public to take action on comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act and to explore other compassionate policy reforms that advance the common good. As a national church body, the ELCA — our congregations, bishops, schools and millions of individual members — continues to preach, teach, advocate and work with and on behalf of America’s newcomers. This nation has achieved such greatness due to the resilience, labor and intellect of immigrants. We will roll up our sleeves and work tirelessly until this nation is once again a place of welcome and justice for newcomers.
In God’s grace,
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
1. The posturing of humility: This sentence is in a paragraph on the need for comprehensive immigration reform. Rev. Hanson invites the President of the state to give leadership to the Church by political guidance by “…(urging) you to continue to speak to Congress and the American public to take action on comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act and to explore other compassionate policy reforms that advance the common good.” The government’s “compassionate policy” interfaces perfectly with the ELCA’s self-perceived compassionate policies.
2. The main red flag: the confusion of the Two Kingdoms. In the cover letter to the ELCA, Rev. Hanson states, “This is Christ’s church”, so he invokes the Una Sancta. The Lord knows His right hand from His left, and so did the blessed Reformers, but not the ELCA. But now in the ELCA it is one hand washing the other. The purposes and aims of the Chief Executive are the same as the hierarchy of the ELCA so that the State helps fulfill the vocation of the Church and the Church the vocation of the State. Therefore, I conclude: the ELCA and at least the Executive branch of the Federal government are one. There is no more a political reign and the spiritual reign coming. If a denomination loses this distinction, then it ceases to be the Una Sancta.
“When the camel’s nose enters the tent, can the rest of the camel be far behind?” – Bedouin Proverb Maybe it is not so much a red flag but a white one of surrender; and maybe not a surrender flag any longer, but the same flag.
President Harrison in his letter regarding HHS decision wrote, “We live and breathe Romans 13:3-7.” He cites a sedes doctrinae of the two Kingdoms. Bp. Hanson and President Harrison are not breathing the same air. “If the world grows too worldly, it can be rebuked by the Church; but if the Church grows too worldly, it cannot be adequately rebuked for worldliness by the world.” (G. K. Chesterton) President Harrison can rebuke the government. Why? In his recent follow-up letter regarding the President Obama’s accommodation: “Jesus bids us, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ (Mark 12:17). We will pray for and support our government where we can, but our consciences and lives belong to God.”
And this confusion in fusion of the two kingdoms has been the bane of Liberal Protestantism for sometime:
“…we were told: “Everything will be quite different when you as a Church cease to have such an entirely different flavor – when you cease to practice preaching which is the opposite of what the world around you preaches. You really must suit your message to the world; you really must bring your creed into harmony with the present. Then you will again become influential and powerful.”—Rev. Martin Niemoller in a Sermon, preached in Berlin, ca. 1936