Syncretism of any kind, by Mollie

I’m bunkering down here in the nation’s capital, preparing for the road closures, bridge closures, parking restrictions and general mayhem that will come with the inaugural festivities for our new president. I have no plans to attend (have you been outside in D.C. in January?) but I am looking forward to the excitement, even if I’m one of the four percent of Washingtonians (yes, we were in the single digits) who didn’t vote for Obama this past year.

The big stories leading up to the inauguration — other than the scandals and bribery and what not — have surrounded President-elect Obama’s choices for which clergy will be involved in inaugural festivities. Purpose-Driven Life author Rev. Rick Warren is doing the big one but in a sop to gay rights activists, Obama just picked Bishop Gene Robinson to kick things off.

When you add in the other two clergy who will be participating, it’s a uniquely Protestant affair, which is sort of interesting. As we head into this huge celebration of civil religion, it’s brought back some memories for me.

I never realized how different Lutheranism was from American Protestantism until the weeks and months following the horrendous acts of terrorism on New York City, over the skies of Pennsylvania and in my city of Washington, D.C.

As the nation grew even more infatuated with civil religion, I found deeper meaning in the teachings of the Lutheran Confessions. When the Atlantic District President prayed a nebulous civil religion prayer at the Oprah Winfrey-led interfaith “Prayer for America” service at Yankee Stadium — with the full blessing and approval of President Gerald Kieschnick — it wreaked havoc on the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. When those with a proper understanding of the confessions called the syncretizers on their commandment breaking, noted theologians such as Bill O’Reilly took the syncretizers side and questioned whether the LCMS could rightfully be called Christian.

It was a shameful and difficult period and it’s hard not to lose respect for President Kieschnick for just how poorly he handled the situation — from a managerial or leadership position even if not a doctrinal one.

And as we look to the competing prayers of Warren and Robinson, I can’t help but be reminded of the beauty of the Lutheran understanding of what it means to have no other gods before our God. Patriotism may be a virtue but it shouldn’t trump a clear confession of Christ and him crucified.

Note Robinson’s quote about his prayer:

Bishop Robinson said he had been reading inaugural prayers through history and was “horrified” at how “specifically and aggressively Christian they were.”

“I am very clear,” he said, “that this will not be a Christian prayer, and I won’t be quoting Scripture or anything like that. The texts that I hold as sacred are not sacred texts for all Americans, and I want all people to feel that this is their prayer.”

But of course that’s what syncretism does. Robinson’s more or less just being straightforward about it. The deities of civil religion force away distinctives and turns all belief into cliches and platitudes.


Syncretism of any kind, by Mollie — 9 Comments

  1. This is very helpful. People in the LCMS tend to either forget Yankee Stadium or underestimate the hideousness of it. By drawing our attention to Robinson you make clear the only fitting logic behind these sorts of syncretistic acts.

    Even if none of that were true, you are correct, at the very least this was handled horribly by PK. A reprimand of President Behnke was in order and a confession and apology by him to the synod. If that had been the approach, we could have remembered Yankee Stadium as a time of sin and reconciliation that made the LCMS stronger, rather than an act that confused and divided us.

    Pastor Rossow

  2. Mollie, you’re right.

    Two thoughts:

    First, the upcoming inauguration is a bona fide civic event. Yankee Stadium was a worship service. All rationalizations to the contrary are sophistry.

    Nonetheless, I hope that Warren will pray as a Christian and clearly confess Christ as the only Savior. I know he can; I hope he will.

    Second, the Yankee Stadium service only showed us what was already there in the LCMS: a denomination too eager to please and too fearful to offend the world.

    Yankee Stadium belied our claim to be a confessional Lutheran denomination in practice. It showed that, for many in the LCMS, our confession can, and will be silenced whenever it proves inconvenient –all with the veneer of official permission and endorsement.


  3. Bishop Robinson says all that needs to be said, “I want all people to feel that this is their prayer.” He, like his female consort “Mrs. Robinson of “The Graduate” fame” (can homosexuals have female consorts?) is all into feelings. While I thoroughly understand the attraction of feelings over truth and God; it should be noted that Christianity is not founded upon feelings. So, although the “good” bishop will be wrong in his prayer – at least he is being consistent – he follows his feeling in his sexual orientation and in his prayers regardless of what God says.

    I’m sometimes embarrassed to call myself LC-MS when one of our DP’s or the SP “steps in it.” I can’t imagine how a conservative Episcopalian must feel.

  4. Robinson said, “The texts that I hold as sacred are not sacred texts for all Americans…”

    Huh, I wasn’t aware that he held any texts sacred, let alone the Bible, seeing as he willfully ignores & teaches against many, if not most, of the Biblical teachings. And I’m not just talking about homosexuality. But I guess the Bible talks plenty about those who deceive themselves regarding God’s Word.

    I hope Warren gives a Christian prayer. As Todd said, he can do it if he really wants to. And it should be so Christian that he never gets invited to do anything like it again. And therein may lie the temptation for him to dumb it down, so that he may get invited again & be a player in the American religious/political scene.

  5. An openly unrepentant homosexual heretic who is a “bishop” in an apostate denomination finds himself “horrified” by an open expression of his supposed faith, because it is “aggressively Christian”.

    Satan must be laughing himself silly.

  6. I figure that Warren will opt for popularity over substance. He made his start with the McCain/Obama interviews. A “Billy Graham in the White House/Capitol” wannabe? Too much ego there.
    For the rest of it all, refer back to Richard John Neuhaus’ essay in the January 1997 First Things entitled, “The Unhappy Fate of Optional Orhodoxy.” The theme of which is that when orthodoxy is made optional it will eventually be proscribed. That’s what has hppened in Robinson’s brand of Episcopalianism, in ELCA, and is coming in the LCMS if we don’t stop it. Google “where orthodoxy is made optional.”
    Regardless of the post-death bashing that Neuhaus has been receiving from “confessional” Lutherans in some quarters, there’s a lot of worth-reading meat in that essay. He’s writing about more than just “religious” orthodoxy.

  7. Elnathan (#3)
    Being a former conservative Episcopalian, I can tell you that most conservative episcopalians don’t want to be called “Episcopalian” anymore. Most conservative “anglicans”, as they would rather be called, are in the process of breaking away from the Episcopal Church, which has been suspended from the World Anglican Communion. I’m sooo glad that the Lord led me and my family to a LCMS parish that upholds the Bible as the true Word of God.

  8. Mollie,

    Thanks for the link to your article! You really are one of the best voices the church has for explaining ourselves to the larger society. I didn’t see your article at the time though I did see another editorial in the WSJ about the same time ripping the LCMS for our “isolationism.”

    Praise God who uses even the worst events for His own good. Yankee Stadium was a wake-up call, before that episode and its repercussions, I never considered myself “confessional.” The Holy Week Massacre last year similarly served to galvanize our movement.

    Yankee Stadium will soon be rubble. The Church still stands. Soli Deo Gloria!

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