You want to get to the sex stuff and political stuff?
Let’s start with something far more important: Christ’s Church, the Chosen Bride of the King (see what I did there?).
For me, as a traditional Christian, “politics is downstream from culture,” and culture, derived from the Latin cultus, means “care, cultivation, worship,” which relates to religious faith. This, in turn, brings me to the Church and its responsibility for educating and disciplining the people of God — keeping its own house in order. In other words, Christian truth — backed up with real consequences when ignored (not only what some call “natural consequences”) — must continually prevail over and against even more “liberal” notions.
This includes even liberal political notions like freedom, equality, fraternity, etc. – things admittedly made somewhat realizable for many only with the help of Christianity.
And this certainly is no small task for today’s church. Why? It is because everywhere, including within the Church, consciences have been and are being increasingly seared and hardened (more on these concepts below) daily….
And, looking out more broadly, in many cases, the world and the Church like how it conscience has been seared and hardened. As Woody Allen so memorably put it, “the heart wants what it wants”. Freedom! (vs. that terrible Christian repression, you know!).
At the same time, there is an annoying side-effect of all this. When these folks think about Christianity, it can ruin their day. Thinking about the faith’s views about sex and gender in particular, they get upset and then proceed to ask the faithful why we fixate on these issues.
Currently, Theresa Latini, newly elected President of United Lutheran Seminary in Pennsylvania, is finding out that a position she took in the past — that Christians should resist same-sex attraction — is enough to have her run out of an ELCA seminary today.
Way back in 2009, when the Lutheran theologian Timothy Wengert provided the justification for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s (ELCA) acceptance of homosexual behavior by their clergy, many who both reject Christ and who claim Christ were doubtless gratified. On the other hand, the short paper Wengert wrote which did this, “Reflections on the Bound Conscience in Lutheran Theology,” prompted my own pastor – a Lutheran who loves and adheres to the 1580 Book of Concord – to study the topic of conscience in the work of Martin Luther.
I highly recommend reading Pastor Paul Strawn’s paper, as you will learn about…:
- Wengert’s “simply tragic” (I’d use a different word) failure to acknowledge existing scholarship that had been done on Martin Luther and the conscience by highly noted scholars (I add, this is a good way to kill your conscience about conscience).
- How for Luther, “the burdening of the conscience with man-made laws or traditions, and the burdening of the conscience by the Law of God in view of sin, are two vastly different things.”
- How this conscience burdened by God’s Law is an “evil conscience,” “plagued by guilt and despair in the face of the knowledge of God’s judgment upon a specific sin.”
- How an evil conscience can become hardened: “man can and does fight against his conscience and eventually, may even be able to subdue it so that it goes into a type of dormancy.”
- How Luther found these things not only in the Bible, but in the character of Orestes in Virgil’s Aeneid: the Erinyes, or Furies, of Alecto (“unceasing”), Megaera (“grudging”), and Tisiphone (“avenging murder,” hounding the guilty for their sin). If hell is not feared, future pain and suffering certainly is.
- How Luther broke with the scholastic concept of the human conscience which said that it, in part, was a “native capacity to choose to do good,” and instead spoke about the matter in accordance with the Apostle Paul.
- Luther: “[the conscience’s] purpose is not to do, but to pass judgment on what has been done and what should be done, and this judgment makes us stand accused or saved in God’s sight.”
- How a natural conscience, which has a knowledge of God and His Law, can become a seared conscience, i.e. one that functions improperly, where it cannot “accurately judge the actions of the individual.”
- In other words, it becomes “artificial, false, unreasonable, not natural, not true, causing a fear of God, that is worship, where God is not to be feared or worshiped.”
- For a good conscience, “an unfortunate event (which would terrify the evil conscience, bringing to mind former sins, and bringing to light future judgment) is considered not to have happened by chance, ‘but in accord with the good will of God.’”
- In sum “[h]ow Timothy Wengert applied the concept of ‘bound conscience’ to those who claim to be Christian but who would live in homosexual relationships is not to be found in the writings of Martin Luther” (to say the least!).
Now, perhaps, in referring to this nine year old event and showing how utterly bankrupt Wenger’s argument (and scholarship) is, I’ve already really upset some of my Christian brothers and sisters here. Even if it is true that men like Timothy Wengert did not do due diligence as a scholar here – so what? Why do you need to focus here, on this? Why put so much focus here on what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms and not on people who are poor, who are weak, who are oppressed?
Fortunately, I am feeling particularly inclined to engage concerns like this today. In that spirit, let me really try my best to reconnect with you, even as I seek to adjust your frame…:
- I agree we should be talking about this more and acting here more. In general, we should “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”
- It is true that to the idea that “I/you am/are not a victim” we need to respond: “We are all both victims and victimizers.” Some of us more so and some of us less so.
- Liberal: “We should be more concerned about issues concerning women and race.” Conservative: “What about Saudi Arabia and China? Why don’t you care about them?” Well, shouldn’t we take the log out of our own eye first? Point to the Liberal.
- That said, if you don’t really don’t feel any real strong affection for your own countrymen who contribute to the problems, shouldn’t you just shut up? Point to the Conservative.
- The left, with good points about greed and living wages. The right, with good points about the power and danger of sex and the rule of law. And never the two shall meet?
- We should not fail to speak the truth about any issue, no matter where our culture or political party of choice stands on it.
- Both the increasingly pagan right and the increasingly fake-Christian left (Fully secular? Please….) are loathe to recognize and deal with the fact that notions of progress come from the Bible, problematizing what is “natural” or “ideal” as the case may be.
- Finally, even if you don’t like talking about sexual issues, people really are harmed by the misuse of God’s good gift of sex.
And of course it is. For Christ is the husband and the Church is His bride – that’s meant to include you to. And marriage, as we know, is largely for sex even as sex is entirely for marriage. Sex shouldn’t be our religion – though given its significance it is understandable how this can occur – but is a critical component of marriage, which is one of the primary icons of the True Religion.
I’d go further and argue that the reason sex is such a big deal is because the dynamics often found there – strength, beauty, attraction, desire, seduction – are a microcosm of the dynamics that occur in the world on a larger scale.
This will be explored much more in part II of this series, but for now we can simply say this: part of this is because even as more secularized persons in particular complain about the disenchantment of the world, sex continues to enchant – giving us a sense of the kinds of things that capture our adulation and praise. The philosopher Matthew Crawford smacks us in our politically correct faces:
“Stepping outside the intellectually serious circle of my teachers and friends at Chicago into the broader academic world, it struck me as an industry hostile to thinking. I once attended a conference entitled “After the Beautiful.” The premise was a variation on “the death of God,” the supposed disenchantment of the world, and so forth. Speaking up for my own sense of enchantment, I pointed out, from the audience, the existence of beautiful human bodies. Youthful ones, in particular. This must have touched a nerve, as it was greeted with incredulous howls of outrage from some of the more senior harpies.” (Shop Class as Soulcraft: an Inquiry into the Value of Work, pp. 104-105).
And Christianity’s connection with all of this?[i] Nancy Pearcy, in her fantastic new book Love Thy Body, has many important tidbits to share: (note the impressive review/interview here from, of all places, Religion News Service)
- “We should never defend Christianity by saying it is traditional. From the beginning, it has stood against the traditions of its day” (70).
- “Beginning in the fifth century, Christian leaders finally began to wield enough political influence to pass laws against sexual slavery…The most reliable index of how deeply Christianity had permeated a society was whether it outlawed sexual slavery” (72).
- “[In ancient Greece and Rome] brothels specializing in sex slaves, including children, were a legal and thriving businesses… Jesus shocked his contemporaries by treating children not as contemptible but as valuable…” (104-105).
- “Scripture offers a stunningly high view of physical union as a union of whole persons across all dimensions” (138).
- “The communion of male and female is meant to mirror the communion of divine persons within the Trinity” (139).
- “Some of the early martyrs were slaves who proclaimed their freedom in Christ by refusing to [sexually] service their masters – and were executed for it” (143).
- “Christianity, we might say, invented consensual sex when it developed a sex ethic that assumed that God empowers individuals with freedom” (143).
- “When we make sexual decisions, we are not just deciding whether to follow a few rules. We are expressing our view of the cosmos and human nature” (156).
“We are expressing our view of the cosmos and human nature” not only as regards sexual decisions but about politics as well. After all, most political action — that is the governance of human beings in the world — happens organically with marriage, i.e. at the level of the family the one flesh union creates. It should therefore be no mystery why marriage is the ultimate icon of Christ and His Bride, who is the Church — the mother of the children of God who guides them to their Shepherd-King.
This is why, as Pearcey provocatively puts it, “The early church may have been ‘on the wrong side of history.’ But that’s why it changed history”(188).
The previous title of Professor Alvin Schmidt’s book “How Christianity Changed the World” says it all: “Under the Influence” – namely, of Christ and the Christian conscience!…
I hope I’ll see you for part II on Monday. I promise the title of the post will reach its consummation then…
 [Footnote from Strawn’s paper:] Originally: http://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1GPEA_enUS313US313&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=Timothy+Wengert+Conscience. Here as well: http://www.ewaidsynod.org/images/Resolution_12_-_Supporting_Doc_On_Bound_Conscience.pdf.
[i] From an old post: “In the bible, both adoption and marriage – which always includes a physically intimate, or sexual, component – are the two great metaphors of the Bible: this is how God deals with His people. Further, marriage is arguably the stronger of the two metaphors – so perhaps in this sense at least, Christianity is mainly about “sexual issues” (see this interesting post by Rod Dreher that I initially wanted to rebel against**). Though we might find the imagery put forth in passages like Ezekiel 16 disturbing in many ways – the sexualized symbolism here is jarring to say the least – this uncomfortable parable has much to teach us about the nature of God’s relationship with those who trust in Him (I pondered this more here, offering a counterpoint to assertions made in Justification is for Preaching, ed. Virgil Thompson).”
Images: Jordan Peterson, Joseph McCarthy, Mike Pence, Milo Y, Margaret Sanger, and Edmund Burke all from Wikipedia (CC BY 2.0 or Public Domain)