I watched part of Rev. Matthew Harrison’s powerful witness to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee regarding the HHS Decisions. One congressman in his peroration pointed out to the panel that not one of the clergy was a woman, thereby insinuating their witness was suspect. He had played one of the trump cards of liberal Protestantism which is enshrined in the Constitution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Section 5.01, “Principles of Organization”:
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America shall be one church. This church recognizes that all power and authority in the Church belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ, its head. Therefore, all actions of this church by congregations, synods, and the churchwide organization shall be carried out under his rule and authority in accordance with the following principles…
At least 10 percent of the members of these assemblies, councils, committees, boards, or other organizational units shall be persons of color and/or persons whose primary language is other than English. Processes shall be developed that will assure that in selecting staff there will be a balance of women and men, persons of color and persons whose primary language is other than English, laypersons, and persons on the roster of ordained ministers. (5.01, paragraph F)
The ELCA has narrowly, parochially, and utterly dogmatically defined the rule and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ to include a quota system for that Church body, and so overtly suggesting that His Word calls for said system. I had blissfully not thought about the quota system for years until I heard the congressman today. I bring this up for the following reasons:
1. Not many of the laity and maybe even my colleagues know about the quota system. The Constitution was adopted April 30, 1987, soon after the merger.
2. I think that the other mainline Protestant church bodies have not even gone as far the inclusion of a quota system as a church body bearing the name “Lutheran”.
3. This is another case of legislating the Gospel and so confusing Law and Gospel and the two Kingdoms.
4. But here’s the rub: once that card is played, the sense is, game over. It is utterly rigid. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus famously said, “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” It has been curtailed in the churches and in the public square it is also proscribed and something fills the lack of moral clarity: the new secular orthodoxy.
What is the new secular orthodoxy in the ELCA and the public square? What is it’s authority? Part of the answer: Experience. One’s experience as a Hispanic, a homosexual, an African-American, a woman is authoritative: if I think my experience as fill-in-the-blank is not ‘affirmed’ by say, the Bible, then my experience of oppression must trump any societal norm and the Bible for that matter, which says otherwise. It seems to be based upon Marxist ideology of class struggle and in fact the resolution to such struggle is by legislating it in the ELCA with voting power blocks.
Then the next morning after the congressional testimony, on The Today Show (2/10/2012), a reporter and a commentator speaking about the congressional committee meeting said the following (not verbatim but close): “Look it is all men speaking on women’s health issues.” “It shows how far we still have to go.” I know that the clergy were not speaking to “woman’s health issues” but conscience and the 1st Amendment. Truth is a recurring casualty in the media and the intent is clear: we will have our way and it’s just a matter of time. Or so they think. This alien hermeneutic is part and parcel of many Christian denominations. It is interesting when orthodox Christians speak about political issues the cry is “separation of church and state”, yet watching TV, it is clear that we have a union of Church and State. And the ELCA in its constitution sanctions this alien hermeneutic and it is part of the State Church. Once orthodoxy is optional, then a new orthodoxy will be prescribed. It was for me déjà vu all over again.
What’s to be done? On Transfiguration Sunday, year B of the Lectionary, the Epistle Reading is 2 Corinthians 3: 12-18, 4: 1-6. One of the verses I have gone back to time and time again:
“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”