Thursday, 6/25, we'll continue our Bible Study discussion topic is church and society
. Join us, 7:30-8:30pm, on Zoom: https://zoom.us/j/703956236What do you consider as the relationship between church/faith and society? And/or what should it be?
A new resource published by our denomination (ELCA) week of 6/22, Being a Public Church,
outlines what's acceptable and not for congregations and clergy's public engagement in elections and campaigns.
From this morning's daily prayer, the reading was Ezekiel 34:1-16
- about the leaders of the people who are false shepherds, and God's promise to be a good shepherd. God has a lot to say in scripture about leaders, governments, kings, leaders, and the weaknesses of societies, for the sake of the people. What does that mean for how we as people of faith are to respond?
Any study of this topic often begins or can be helped by starting with (but not necessarily sticking to or accepting) H. Richard Niebuhr's categories in his book Christ & Culture
(as summarized by Pt. Bob Benne here
, with some edits):
- - The "Christ against culture" (sectarian) tradition escapes the tension by withdrawing from the world. Think Amish, but actually shuns any human culture at all and rather that we find Christ by withdrawing from human culture - more like Christian hermits/some monastic cultures.
- - The classic "Christ above culture" (Roman Catholic) tradition aims to manage the tension by forging Christ and culture into a grand synthesis presided over by the church. This is also called the "dominating" or conquest type.
- - The "Christ transforming culture" (Reformed) tradition seeks to convert the culture toward the will of God as it is discerned by the church and carried out by its members.
- - The "Christ of culture" (liberal religion) tradition escapes the tension by absorbing Christ into the enlightened culture of the day - God is in culture, just gotta find the right one.
- - The "Christ and culture in paradox" (Lutheran) tradition teaches that the Christian lives in tension, and in two worlds at once - God's kingdom and secular culture, and that they are in paradox in that it can't be fully resolved how the two interact. Human culture is always sinful/imperfect, but it's also where we get glimpses of God. This is related to the "two kingdoms" concept in Lutheran theology.
But like most things, Lutherans believe all of these things, and find themselves all across this spectrum, and some find these categories unhelpful, to simple, or bound by modern thinking to begin with. I (Pastor Brett) personally believe that while Lutherans technically believe in the "in paradox" type above, that foundational belief moves us toward the "transforming" position - when it comes to living out our faith, and I personally find that reflected in Luther and subsequent Lutheran theologians.
One key thing we often consider or respond to when we consider this topic, is religious freedom and the "separation of church and state" which comes from the "establishment clause" in the First Amendment. Much of our thinking also flows from Jefferson's language in a letter he wrote regarding the First Amendment:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State."
Ok. But what does that mean to you?What are the scripture verses/concepts/religious teachings that come to mind when you consider this topic? Check back later here and I'll update this with some for us to discuss - feel free to add yours in the comments below.Some other questions to consider:What is the Christian call/duty to advocate to change society?
How much did Jesus talk about social/civil/political matters?
What does it mean to you for a topic to be "political?" Where is the line?
A couple examples for you to consider/question the church and society place here:
- A pastor in Florida famously was arrested dozens of times for feeding people, since the local ordinances had banned feeding people outdoors to discourage homeless folks from congregating. The pastor continued to do so. What things that are illegal have been deeply moral? (Or said the opposite way, when has the church/faithful people been called to take a stand or change society?)
- Right now, on the Georgetown neighborhood email listserv, there are a couple threads with a subject line regarding "calls for reducing funding to MPD" - initial responses from folks on the listserv are entirely about protecting the Georgetown neighborhood, and that the MPD response could be even better in Georgetown, so MPD funding should not be reduced/diverted. Is there a faithful response here? What would Jesus say? Or would Jesus stay out of the conversation? (Because, cards on the table, my (Pastor Brett) feeling at first read of these is understanding their personal desire for protection, but wanting to invite them to put themselves in others' shoes, and consider the needs of more vulnerable DC residents. I've also been really thinking about all the police do, and how it's maybe too many different things - and really reflecting on what a faithful response is.)
Our denomination, the ELCA, determines the church's official position on social matters, from which the church advocates (and lobbies) through Social Statements. Social Statements are documents
of theology and teaching that take years in the making. In each one, there are some firm positions and some spectrum of intepretation.
There is an ELCA Social Statement on Church and Society - click here for the brief summary (1pg)
or the full social statement (8pg)
, which was approved in 1991.