Freedom to Be Faithful

Robert Schmidt

“I’ve just graduated from college,” she said.  With diploma in hand she reflects where she’s been and where she’s going. “Yeah, I learned more than computers, than math, than business and history.  In biology I learned about evolution but most of all,  I learned how to care.  I care about our world and its crises.  I care about the poor and the injustice of the rich getting richer and the poor barely surviving. Corporations are running the news, financing candidates, and literally buying the country.  I sympathize with some friends who are gay.  And me? I want the freedom to be faithful to the environment, to economic justice, to abused women. I guess I want to be faithful to what God wants for our world.”

“Then I read my church magazine.  ‘Freedom to be Faithful,’ it said.  Then I read about its concerns.  No evolution, no gay marriage, no abortion, not even the morning after pill.  “Yeah, I agree with no abortion but to deny the morning after pill to people who work for a church institution, even though they may not even be Christian seems stupid.  Is this social policy of my church all  there is? You gotta be kidding. It sounds to me like some right wing rant by social conservatives.  We also learned that a lot of rich people love the social conservatives because they provide a moral cover so that people will not be so concerned about the increasing differences between them and everybody else.”

“I guess these church people say this is all in the Bible, as they interpret it. But doesn’t the Bible condemn the rich for trampling the head of the poor into the dust of the earth?  While they are concerned about poor women taking a pill, doesn’t the Bible rather talk about  rich women who oppress the poor and crush the needy, saying to their husbands, ‘Bring that we may drink’? Wow, even Noah saving the animals was more concerned about the environment than they seem to be.”

“What’s all this stuff about the separation of church and state, Madison and Luther and all that? Didn’t those church folk ever look at the top of the Liberty Bell?  There, plain as you can see, it says ‘LEV XXV’ (Lev.25). That’s all about the year of Jubilee and releasing debts, giving land back to the poor, releasing slaves and all that. Yeah, the church should not use coercion, but it sure ought to say something.  Liberty was more than just religious liberty; it was also liberty to work and to eat. Bet Madison knew about that too.”

“Didn’t Luther write to the government to do something about educating kids?  I think he even told the princes to get some wise folk to set prices so that the poor wouldn’t be gouged. They did not have anything like that in the magazine I read.  I wonder what they would do if they went to the same university I did?  They probably would say that I needed to go to the campus ministry program to get their interpretation of the Bible.”

“That is kind of weird because they are shrinking our campus ministry program.  I guess they ran out of money. My folks said that they used to have a student congregation and everything, but no longer.  My folks wonder why my friends and I don’t go to church anymore.  I don’t know. Maybe the church doesn’t care about what we think and really does not want to listen to our concerns.  Don’t get me wrong. I still like Jesus; I’m just not sure about the church.”

Freedom to Be Faithful – Who Really Cares?

How might the church respond to this young lady and the concerns she raises? She is not alone, as most of the members of her generation have left the church or have crossed it off.  Unlike her parents and most of the people in the church, she no longer sees the church as having an important place in society.

Those of us in the church have grown accustomed to think of the church as having an important voice in society for conservative or liberal issues. There is the whole history of the  church and church leaders as “the second estate.” Britain still has bishops sit in the House of Lords. But in “young America,” the church is seen as not much more than another corporation pushing its brand. Were the churches united about this or that, they might be worth hearing, but with membership  losses, they seem more and more like relics of their better days.

The Freedom to be Faithful campaign still reflects the paradigm of “Christendom,” where the church was in a position of some influence, if not some power. Western civilization, however, becomes more secular every day.  As a result, committed Christians  find themselves increasingly in a mission field.  Now, for a moment, think of a few missionaries in a polygamist land wanting the government to enforce a marriage ethic of one man and one woman.  Wise missionaries have more important things to discuss and a more important message.  Yes, one man and one woman is the right way, but faith in Christ may need to come first.

Freedom to be Faithful – Is it Consistent?

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) shares it pro-life stance with other Christians, such as many Evangelicals and the Roman Catholic Church.  However, the Freedom to be Faithful campaign’s focus is quite narrow compared with that of, at least, Roman Catholicism.  The Roman Church seeks some consistency in that in its pro-life position it also decries capital punishment, on which the LCMS is silent.

The current pontiff also has made a special effort to be pro-life with respect to immigration, issues of economic justice, world peace, and environmental destruction. Were the Freedom to be Faithful campaign to link up with the papacy with regard to these matters, it would be more consistent with a pro-life position. It would also link up the LCMS position not only with the Roman communion but also with a number of mainline churches. Were most  churches united on these issues, perhaps there would be a few more people who might care, including the young lady above.

Freedom to be Faithful – Is It about the Gospel?

The freedom spoken about in the current campaign does not have its origins in the Gospel of Christian liberty.  Rather it is anchored in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. As a result, any disagreement between the church and state on those matters under discussion are not about the law versus the Gospel, as was the case when Peter said it was better to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). Rather, the disagreements are between the laws of the land and the law, literal or implied, in the Scripture.

The Constitution, and the jurisprudence in its elaboration, is concerned about equality of people under the law. Currently this is being interpreted under the Affordable Care Act as letting all women have equal access to birth control. Many states are interpreting equality under the law to apply to the marriage of gays and lesbians.  In no case are people forced into using birth control or marrying someone of the same sex. Furthermore, no one is forcing the church to go against its beliefs and begin advocating abortion or homosexual marriage.

However, when the church moves beyond the advocacy of its teaching to having the government enforce its teaching by denying women birth control or homosexual marriage, it comes very close to undermining the same First Amendment of the Constitution on which its claim to freedom rests.

Freedom to be Faithful – Is It Pastoral?

Today some pastors still find themselves dealing with gays and lesbians.  Actually more pastors might find themselves involved with discussions if the LCMS’s position was not so public.  When a pastor is in dialogue with a homosexual the conversation might start out with the person acknowledging that he understands the church’s position but has some questions.  No, he says, he realizes that the church is not against his orientation but does not want him to act upon it.  The pastor agrees.  But the person continues, ” I really want to be in a meaningful relationship, to love and be loved for who I am.  The pastor says, “I think I can understand that but doesn’t the homosexual life style promote promiscuity, the danger of disease and all that?”

“Exactly,” the person replies. “That is why many of us are really advocating marriage.  Here is a way in which we can try to be faithful to one person, to love and be loved.”  The pastor replies, “Yes, but the Bible is about a man and a woman.”  “But doesn’t the Bible also talk about a faithful enduring love?”, he replies.

While the pastor’s mind revolves around what he knows of the Scriptures and the church’s teachings, his heart goes out to the person before him.  In that tension he  does all he can do to support the one with all of Christ’s love and compassion. Dealing with real people rather than political issues, the church can show a much more compassionate and caring face.  In many a pastoral heart the Freedom to be Faithful campaign seems hollow and uncaring.

Freedom to be Faithful – Is It Representative?

Does the Freedom to be Faithful campaign really represent the entire Lutheran Church Missouri Synod or is it just the political stance of the administration and some conservative ethicists at the seminaries?  Many pastors are concerned that the political nature of the campaign is alienating many young people who are leaving the church.  Many parents and grandparents are asking  whether the conservatives in the Synod are helping to destroy the faith of their children and grandchildren. This is not a concern to be easily dismissed.  A pastor recently asked his Bible Class how many of the members had children or grandchildren who are leaving the church.  Hands were raised across the room.

It is getting clearer all the time that instead of the church serving as the conscience of the nation, it is rapidly losing its influence as its numbers dwindle. Now is the time for a major change of attitude and strategy.  More and more the church needs to see itself as a mission society, a minority holding out hope for a troubled and often disillusioned society. A call needs to go out to that young college student, not about our public stance of what we are against, but a message of hope that God wants her to have an important role to make things better.

Robert Schmidt served as a campus pastor for 24 years at Colorado State University and the University of Washington.

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