I’m still not sure how to handle this.
It has taken me awhile to approach this story of a Lutheran pastor forced to apologize for participating in an interfaith memorial service. Most of my colleagues-in-arms tackled this last week and said everything I would have. Beyond pointing out LC-MS and ELCA differences, there was much theological discussion about Jesus, his ministry, and the role of the church in the midst of death, tragedy, and evil. Much was written – and quite a bit of it was better than I could ever compose.
I don’t have anything to add nor earth shattering to point out. Rather, I hope this isn’t forgotten. I hope I don’t forget it. Because, well, what happened there is…it’s not abnormal. When I look at my own life, and what it means to be a confessing Christian, I find myself making theological decisions like this everyday. My life is a series of decisions – decisions that can be underpinned by a theological framework and dimension that will (or will not) influence the decided course of action. Even if the decision is from the gut, the theological underpinning can still shine through. Not everyone has to make the same exact decision this pastor did – but, every day, the issue of theology is played out in every aspect of my life. This can’t be compartmentalized our – nor removed. Even deciding who to talk to at work, or whether to give up your seat on the subway – that can carry the underpinning of theological discourse and understanding. Individual actions or behaviors can’t be excluded, or removed, from a theological framework. A Lutheran Christian understanding of the person is holistic. The person cannot be divided into compartments, with some parts objective, some thoughts seen as unnecessary of grace, and some decisions as just automatic and not tied to theology. A Lutheran Christian understanding seems takes a person as they are. All of the person needs grace; all of the person needs love; all of the person is a sinner; and, through baptism and the gift of faith, all are saints. To consider the total of a person, we end up having to consider the paradox that is the person. And that’s not an easy thing to actually have to deal with when you have to live in a world of decisions and choice.
That pastor made a choice to witness in the midst of grief and evil. Their higher ups made a choice to point towards a tradition rooted in the need for clarity and distinction. The rest of us took a look at what happened and either rooted for distinction or saw division where there should be unity. No matter how I fall in this discussion (and, to be honest, I am on the side of unity in the face of evil), I am reminded that paradox and murkiness is the true hue of what it means to live a human life. And, as a Lutheran, if I’m unwilling to point out that truth and to live in the midst of contradiction and hope in that which is clear – the Word of God – well, I’m not worth the paper my candidacy papers were written on.