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:


The ELCA needs your leadership.”

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
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Red flags:

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




Church as Minor Clerk in Caesar’s Court — 16 Comments

  1. Curious. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, of which LCMS is a partner, also supports passage of the Dream Act – and note that the date on the blog preceded the ELCA assembly referenced in Bishop Hanson’s letter by several months.

    I agree that politics do not belong in the pulpit. I also agree there is a significant challenge to understanding the appropriate manner for church bodies to engage social/political issues and a significant challenge to individual Christians because we each walk simultaneously in two kingdoms.

    It seems to me that there is a significant question of consistency here. LCMS is politically engaged in “life issues” but seems to have ignored the reality that, from a Scriptural perspective, “life issues” are much broader than just abortion. The way that we treat immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, and members of our underclass is a life issue. However, that seems to be a life issue in the LCMS’ blind spot and an issue in the blind spot of the political forces with which LCMS tends to align.

  2. What do you expect from a non Lutheran, pagan organization. Best advice for your brother in law is to get out of that spiritual sewer.

  3. Best advice for LCMS is to separate itself from the ***A.

    It would make this morning’s speech even more convincing.

  4. @Johan Bergfest #3
    especially undocumented immigrants

    The term used to be “illegal aliens” and “the way we treat them” is more generous than any other country in the world.
    If they rented the house next door to the home you owned for 50 years, had their guests parking on your lawn and slashed your tires if you complained; in short, if you were afraid to go out in your own yard on weekends when inebriated aliens took over the neighborhood, perhaps you could speak to the problem.

    FWIW: My father and his family are listed on the manifest of a ship which docked at Ellis Island. They were not met with “social services” and none of the older children were able to attend high school, though my grandparents had an education. Everyone had to work; there was no medicaid, there were no “food stamps”.
    (As my son says of his siblings as well), they didn’t “do drugs, do time or otherwise cost the taxpayer extra money.”

  5. @Johan Bergfest #3
    Johan, I do think politics belongs in the pulpit but I make a distinction. If for instance I preach that abortion is immoral I have made not only a Biblical statement but also a political one. Someone in a pew will think and/or say, ahh, preaching politics. Well, so be it. But I demure at making a statement from the pulpit that such and such piece of legislation must be approved/disapproved because it is inherently “Christian”, then we have entered party/partisan politics akin to passing out “voting cards” in the 80s. The HHS decisions were not legislation but bureaucratic fiat according to legislation, the Affordable Healthcare Act and yes there are exceptions to my distinction when it violates the Constitution, in the HHS Decisions, that is the 1st Amendment and so religious and moral conscience.

  6. @mames #5
    Mames, I wince at simply calling the ELCA “pagan” and making the formula ELCA = Pagan. Yes some aspect of it are but I also know many faithful pastors and laity who are bravely soldiering as confessional Lutherans therein. Not all have knelt to Baal. “Why don’t they just leave?” Maybe one of my postings will be on the considerable literature addressing the question of leaving or staying.

  7. Pastor Mark Schroeder :
    @Johan Bergfest #3
    Johan, I do think politics belongs in the pulpit but I make a distinction. If for instance I preach that abortion is immoral I have made not only a Biblical statement but also a political one.

    So, separation of church/state cuts one way but not the other????

    I would think that a confessional Lutheran focused on traditional worship would preach on the pericopes.

    How many of your parishioners do you think we seek abortion services if you never mentioned the subject from the pulpit? How are those who would have no such intentions edified by that message?

  8. @Johan Bergfest #11
    I should have added after, “…I have made not only a Biblical statement but also a political one: “…if it pertains to the lesson” and I do so that someone may rethink a horrendous decision or rethink encouraging someone else to an abortion, or be part and parcel of a “choice” culture of death. fwiw: this has been my understanding. I am sorry for the misunderstanding.

  9. @Pastor Mark Schroeder #12
    Thanks for the clarification. I would like to think that most homiletics professors teach pastors-in-training the difference between delivering a sermon and grinding an ax. I would also like to think that most pastors – especially those who have an appreciation for the rich liturgical heritage that informs Christian worship – prepare their sermons by first asking something like, “what might the lessons for this day have to tell us about grace?”

    From that biased perspective, I’d have to say that every pulpit message that I have ever heard on the subject of abortion was an exercise in grinding the ax. The worst example that I can recall was something like a “right to life Sunday” in which the service dispensed with the appointed lessons and the traditional liturgy and the entire focus was abortion. And, as a foot note, I also have a bias that “right to life” applies to the quality to which people are entitled to live after they have been born, not just the right to be born into life-long misery, which is the predictable fate of too many of the embryoes who do not make it to term.

  10. Johan Bergfest :

    Pastor Mark Schroeder :
    @Johan Bergfest #3
    Johan, I do think politics belongs in the pulpit but I make a distinction. If for instance I preach that abortion is immoral I have made not only a Biblical statement but also a political one.

    So, separation of church/state cuts one way but not the other????
    I would think that a confessional Lutheran focused on traditional worship would preach on the pericopes.

    If you look closely at this issue you will see that the state is interfering with the “free exercise” of religion. They are determining which church owned and operated institutions qualify as religious.

    If this rule stands the state will REQUIRE me to participate in sin [use of abortion causing drugs], by being the source of funding for that sin. That makes it a moral issue. When politics [government policy] require a person to participate in sin the church must not remain silent, but must speak out against the sin.

    As a confessional Lutheran pastor, my sermons are based upon the pericopes. At the same time that is not an excuse to ignore the sins of the day. The Law must be preached in its full severity and the Gospel proclaimed in its full sweetness. If I fail to proclaim the Law, do I become an accomplice in those sins?

    On this issue I brought it up during the announcements. I printed the bulletin insert from the LCMS website and also had copies of President Harrison’s letters concerning this mandate.

    As has been said above, I do not advocate for legislation. I also do not advocate for or against candidates. That would be wrong. But when the state tells me what I can or cannot preach or do in my ministry then I must speak out against it.

    About 4 years ago a state senator in Nebraska proposed changes to the liquor control laws that would have made it illegal to use wine in Holy Communion. When I spoke out against that was I engaging in politics? Maybe, but only because the state was attempting to curtail the free exercise of my faith.

  11. @Pastor Thomas Clark #14,

    That would have been the Nebraska LB 261 from 2007. The bill would have banned giving Communion wine to minors. It was proposed by Demonicrat State Senator Lowen Kruse (2001-2008), who was a retired minister of First United Methodist Church in Omaha.

  12. @Carl Vehse #15

    That is the bill. Senator Kruse stated that his purpose was to prevent minors from having alcohol. However, a close reading of the bill he originally submitted shows that it would have made use of wine for communion illegal regardless of age. That was because he not only went after the provisions that allowed minors to have alcohol “for bona fide religious ceremonies”, But he also was trying to strike the provisions in the liquor control statutes that allowed the use of wine “for bona fide religious ceremonies and rights” in churches at all. I had two lawyers, who are members of my congregation, look at the bill and they both agreed with me that it would have made the use of wine for communion illegal.

    Senator Kruse submitted an amendment to his bill that both restored the right of churches to use alcohol (wine), and that allowed minors to partake of it. When he did that I wrote him a letter thanking him for the amendment and withdrawing my objections to the amended bill. While I still thought that some of the provisions of his amended bill were silly, it no longer threatened our communion practice.

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