Lutheranism & ethnicity

Lutheran churches in America have an ethnic origin–they were usually started by communities of German, Swedish, Danish, or Norwegian immigrants–and that has definitely shaped the culture of local congregations, sometimes putting off new people who want to join.  I remember marveling at the Germanness of our congregation in Wisconsin, with its Men’s Club singing “Sie Leben Hoh” on birthdays and drinking beer and eating cannibal sandwiches while playing Sheepshead, after an extremely brief devotion from Herr Pastor.  This didn’t bother me–I got a kick out of it and actually liked it–though I was highly conscious that I was an outsider.

The distinguished sociologist of religion Peter Berger, an ELCA Lutheran, writes about this phenomenon, though he concludes that today the ethnic identity stuff is largely absent from American Lutheranism.  It is still a factor, he says, in American Orthodoxy.  Also, I would add, in the various ethnic Catholic parishes and in black churches.  I would further add that cultural identity is a factor in distinctly “American” churches too, with the upper class WASP Episcopalians and obviously southern Southern Baptists.  There is also the distinct culture of middle class white suburbanites in the megachurches of the land.

Is this a problem, or not?  Or are churches preserving something precious, something distinctly “cultural” in our current society that is actually “anti-cultural”?  Do you agree with Berger that ethnic identity is mostly gone from Lutheran congregations, or can you still see it, and, if so, where?  Where it persists, are there ways congregations can help newcomers navigate these cultural shoals?

What Peter Berger says, after the jump.  His article will also serve as a map for people trying to figure out the Lutheran landscape. [Read more…]

The dissolution of religious institutions

In an article about a prominent non-denominational pastor who has decided that he needs to go to seminary, the writer, Michelle Boorstein, discusses  non-denominational churches as an example of the larger phenomenon of “the dissolution of religious structures.”

Now we usually think of the decline of religious institutions in our culture in terms of fewer people going to church, the rise in the number of “nones,” the general climate of secularism, etc.  But this suggests that Christians too are complicit in the decline.  [Read more…]

“Two Kingdoms” from another Lutheran at Patheos

Another Lutheran joins me here at Patheos, Rebecca Florence Miller.   She has made a splash already with her post Why Christians Should Stand Up for Atheists,  which makes the case that religious liberty is for everyone, including those who reject religion.   (Atheists are reportedly astounded that a conservative Christians is standing up for them, but that should happen more than it usually does on an issue like this.)  But I leave you, after the jump, with a post that explains very well the Lutheran doctrine of culture and social engagement:  The Two Kingdoms. [Read more…]

Christianity’s relationship of opposition

The Orthodox Rod Dreher, who quoted Bonhoeffer in an essay on Christians separating themselves from the world, quotes another Lutheran, Søren Kierkegaard.  In his Attack upon “Christendom”, his devastating critique of the Danish state church and “cultural Christianity,” Kierkegaard argues that inherent to the faith is “a relationship of opposition” to the world.  He also makes the point that the final apostasy will not be when everybody renounces Christianity but when everybody claims to be a Christian. [Read more…]

Pulling back from the culture wars?

Church historian Martin Marty discusses how conservative Christians are pulling back from the culture wars.  He cites the leadership of Pope Francis for the Roman Catholics and Russell Moore for the Southern Baptists.  An additional factor is the increasing secularization of the conservative movement, citing the Tea Party’s general indifference to moral issues the church has been concerned with.  (He might have added the active atheism and hostility to Christianity of the hard-core libertarian followers of Ayn Rand.)

Read what Dr. Marty has to say–and what I have to say about what he says– after the jump.   [Read more…]


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