I have been holding off on this for a while, but after getting up this morning and seeing the absolute debacle going on in Iowa I had to go with this blog. I wanted to reprise the “One Thing You Have to Do” blog that points our that there are folks in life who have on thing to do. Guarding Jeremy Epstein, counting the number of voters and who they vote for, are far on the a scale of responsibilities but the truth is that these folks had one thing to do and couldn’t do it. The inability to count votes and the fractious way the results of voting are analyzed is fascinating as well. Anyway, voting takes place in church as well is in the culture at large and every time we vote on something there are questions. I am always surprised when church folks organize to vote on something and then are surprised that there are politics involved. The “I am shocked” famous scene from “Casablanca” happens when Claude Rains playing a police official shuts down Rick’s (Humphrey Bogart’s) place for gambling while the croupier hands him a wad of cash from a gambling table. I replay that scene in my mind when someone hints at a whiff of scandal when claiming there are “politics” in the church.
We had a convention this Summer for our church body and delegates were asked to give their reports to the congregations that sent them. Our delegate sent a letter and offered to come and talk. We haven’t had him come yet but we may. I have also seen some reports from District Presidents and they are always interesting. Some of them were “shocked” that there were politics going on at a convention. There is always a whiff of politics when people report on a convention. We tut tut about that and yet the fact that it is mentioned in a report is itself a political act. The church, when it organizes itself at whatever level by necessity, becomes political. The act of organization itself is a political act. I always laugh when I hear the old lament that someone has made something political. When two or three are gathered together there are politics. There is the need to influence others or try and get their support in the smallest groups of human beings. Deciding where the pinochle game will be on Friday night and who is to bring food and who is to bring the wine is a political action. District Presidents are officers of Synod and representatives of their Districts and they therefore become, by definition, political. For a District President to say that they are not political is, in itself, a political stance. It is also a lie. It is where the theological and the political meet that gets interesting.
One District President made this fascinating remark. He makes a statement that there are two different perspectives in our Church and then goes on. “I believe that the two camps present in our church may be distinguished in this way: one group sees the need to place trust in a relatively few national and district leaders who will show the church the way they should go and ask for (require) the people to follow them there, and the other group sees the need to place trust in those who are doing ministry on the ground in the local setting and seek to provide them the freedom to make those choices and carry them out. My heart is with the second group. I believe the spirit behind the Synod constitution is behind the second group. This may be because I lead a district far away from the heart of the Missouri Synod in the Midwestern United States where the culture is decidedly different”.
Parsing words is always fun. Getting the politico/theological jargon down and trying to parse the words is even more fun. Notice the words trust, freedom, culture, and the interesting word “camp”. So let’s think about this. “Polis” is the Greek word for “city” which had a specific understanding that it was a walled enclosure that had within it citizens who had to figure out a way to live together and so politics became a word describing how that “life together” would look. It becomes obvious that the advantages of being in a city that has walls around it were protection and security. There is a wild world out there where people are sometimes killed for their stuff or just because some wildling didn’t like the way they led their donkey. So for security some things had to be given up. Certain freedoms that existed in the wild world had to be curbed. One of them was going to the bathroom wherever you wanted to. There had to be rules about cleanliness and hygiene. Sickness and death could happen within the walls if everyone just decided to go to the bathroom wherever they wanted to which seems to be happening more and more in the places where we have a “decidedly different culture”. Certain things that individuals might like to do had to be given up or prohibited in order to stay within the walls. Laws and ordinances were put in place and taxes were levied, supposedly for the good of all. Differences of opinion were taken care of in the polis and there was a sense of pride over your particular polis and someone else’s. Remember that great line in the Bible from Nathaniel when he was told about Jesus? He wondered if anything good could come out of Nazareth because it wasn’t his “polis”. The politics of the polis were meant to protect the polis.
Now note the interesting use of the word “camp”. I love words and I have always said that words mean things. According to this official there are “two camps” in the church body. “Camp” implies someone outside the polis, the gates, the city. Barbarians are outside the gates not inside, and if they get inside the “polis” dies. The problem with these words is you can’t be in a camp and in the polis. Is the implication that when one of these camps gets election wins they move into the polis and the others have to move out and go camping? Is not having your buddy elected as President make you like Churchill in the wilderness? Does losing a synodical election mean exile? That idea of campers outside the church and in exile raises interesting memories of the old days of the LCMS when we had a seminary “in exile”, remember? Many don’t remember but they were outside the gates casting aspersions on what went on inside the polis.
This official begins his report with these words – “Let me start by saying that this report has been a challenge for me to write. I began working on it over a month ago, and in sharing thoughts with various groups around the District, it has continued to shift in focus in my mind. I offer it to you as a work in progress, but the core thoughts remain the same.”
We are more than 6 months from the synodical convention and we have District Presidents still trying to explain how they feel about what happened, why it happened, along with the good Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” That much effort reveals a real conflict and conflict reveals a lot as well. There is more here than meets the eye. When District Presidents start venting like Lear on the heath we might want to pay attention. He might be just being political, or he may be ready to go camping.