I read with fascination an article in the latest journal from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, my alma mater. It’s the Fall 2011 volume 137 number 4 issue. The article is by Erik Herrmann and it’s about mercy. On first reading what was going through my mind was “it is possible to think too much”. However upon further review I realize this article raises some questions I’ve had in my own mind over the last few years. If I’m getting Prof. Herrmann’s point, the issue for him is whether or not it is possible for churches as institutions to relate to others “mercifully”. In other words is the word “mercy” something that only should be applied to God and individual Christians in a narrow context (after all Jesus said, “blessed are the merciful”), and specific instances such as a scenario like the “Good Samaritan”?
Prof. Herrmann writes –
When God is described as “merciful” it is a beautiful thing. Yet what happens when we use the term “mercy” to describe our actions towards our neighbor, or the churches orientation to the world? Are we to picture the Christian as one who is accustomed to a position of privilege? Is the church comprised of those who have the upper hand and thus from that place of luxury to be gracious and merciful to a disadvantaged world? Interestingly, Paul writes that God did not choose the privileged – the rich, the wise, and the powerful – but the weak, the poor, and the foolish. So is “mercy” the right word?
As I said before my first reaction to the article was “it is possible to think too much”. What difference does it make if we choose “Witness, Service and Life Together”, or instead of service use “compassion”, or leave it as it is? Prof. Herrmann, after asking “is “mercy” the right word?” goes on to say, “Yes, and no, or maybe, or “why do you want to know”? My question is “why is he asking”? What is it here that has gotten into Prof. Herrmann’s craw, and does it make any difference?
Well, words do mean things, and it is always been my contention that part of our problem, especially in the political realm is that we have lost the language. Case in point; when politicians talk about a tax cut and then run around asking everyone how they are going to “pay” for it. So if I am getting the point of the article, using the word “mercy” in the context that we see it in the emphasis from the Office of the President of the Synod, can lead to paternalist and perhaps even colonialist actions. At least we should spend some serious time talking about what we mean when we use the word and what the context is. I believe that a discussion of “colonialism” is a very timely one as well. Right now in areas all around the world, institutions that are affiliated with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod are behaving like colonizers under the guise of “witness” and “mission” and sometimes “mercy”.
So Prof. Herrmann I apologize for my – “it is possible to think too much” – crack, and it is my desire to use your article as you suggest, as a “springboard for further discussion”. The whole orientation of Christians to the world around them is in need of discussion. The articles about Tim Tebowand how radio stations and talk show hosts deal with his Christianity raises the fact that much of the animosity in the culture against Christians and a Christian “witness” is that people do feel that we think that we have something that they don’t have and that we in some way “lord it over them”. The fact that we do have something that they do not is beside the point. Let’s have a discussion and I hope others will chime in as well.