Protesting the Protest

The International Lutheran Council, representing conservative (“confessional”) Lutheran churches around the world, has today issued a “Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland”: a statement in support of Dr Päivi Räsänen and Rev Dr Juhana Pohjola and their 2004 pamphlet on same-gender relationships (see previous posts 1 | 2).

The church body of which I am a member, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE), is listed as a signatory to this statement.

The ILC statement is framed as supporting “freedom of expression” and “freedom of religion”. However, it goes far beyond merely stating that Drs Räsänen and Pohjola ought to be able to make the 2004 pamphlet available without facing prosecution. Instead, the ILC statement amounts to an unqualified endorsement of the contents of the pamphlet itself, which it presents:

  • as offering nothing more than a summary of teachings shared by “the vast majority of Christians” and as reflecting “the clear teaching of the very words of Jesus himself”; and 
  • as affirming “the divinely given dignity, value and human rights of all, including all who identify with the LGBTQ community”, in a manner that would lead any “people of goodwill”, even outside the church, to recognise that it ought to constitute legally protected speech.

In fact, I believe that many Christians, let alone “people of goodwill”, would be surprised and dismayed if they were to read the 2004 document and see what it actually asserts: that being LGBTQ is a “sexually anomalous emotional life” and a “development disorder” comparable to an “inclination to criminality”; that LGBTQ people and relationships should not be depicted on TV, lest that lead to “confusion” and “experimentation” among children and young people; that conversion therapy for LGBTQ people should be supported; that allowing LGBTQ marriage will lead to increased sexual abuse of children; that even stable and committed LGBTQ relationships are harmful to the couples themselves and those close to them; that tolerating LGBTQ relationships in society undermines “marital morality” among straight couples; and so on. (See my previous posts, linked above, for further details.)

Far from giving an accurate presentation of the 2004 document’s contents, the only direct quotation from the document in the ILC statement is the following: 

According to the Christian concept of humanity, everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, is equal and of equal value.

It strains credulity to regard that as representative of the document’s contents. Similarly, in view of the assertions summarised above, I cannot see how the ILC’s claim that Dr Pohjola and Dr Räsänen “clearly affirm the divinely given dignity, value and human rights of all, including all who identify with the LGBTQ community” is borne out by the document.

If the ILC were intent on putting forward an honest argument for freedom of expression, they could have acknowledged that the document contains all these assertions and more, repudiated them as false and offensive, but argued that making such assertions should not lead to prosecution. Instead, the ILC statement is likely to leave both Christians and “people of goodwill” with the misleading impression that mainstream Christian teachings are the object of these prosecutions.

To make matters worse, in the section headed “Other International Organizations”, the first item is from the “Alliance Defending Freedom” (ADF), an organisation which is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. As the SPLC site sets out, the ADF has supported the criminalisation of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults, defended the state-sanctioned sterilisation of trans people, and claimed that there is a “homosexual agenda” to undermine “the family”, Christianity and even the American nation itself. Such are the organisations which “confessional Lutheranism” finds itself endorsing as it embraces a “culture war” agenda.

The ELCE’s chairman has claimed that the ELCE’s support was only in respect of the statement as a defence of “freedom of expression”. However, no such qualification appears in the ELCE’s subscription to the statement. Objectively speaking, the ELCE has endorsed the ILC statement without qualification; and, as outlined above, this amounts to an unqualified endorsement of the 2004 pamphlet’s contents.

It saddens and distresses me that the church of which I am currently a member has officially associated itself with this statement and with the 2004 pamphlet, a document which goes far beyond presenting “mainstream” conservative teachings on sexuality and can, in my view, be fairly described as anti-LGBTQ hate speech.

So, capitalism. Thumbs up? Thumbs down?

I’ve been asked to prepare half a side of A4 on “the Lutheran view of capitalism” for one of our denominational committees. It’s intended as one of a series of short statements setting out “the Lutheran view” on various topical issues.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. Would be interested to know what people think – though do bear in mind the context and limitations of the remit (he said, carefully 😉 )…

The Lutheran view of… capitalism

“Capitalism” is an umbrella term for a wide range of economic systems that have developed since the end of the middle ages, all of which have varying degrees of public and private-sector involvement in their economies.

The Bible is not an economics text book, and Lutherans (and other Christians) disagree over the extent to which Christians can or should support any given economic system. However, Lutherans (as with other Christian traditions) have had a profoundly ambivalent relationship with capitalism, and with money and wealth more generally – as would be expected from followers of the One who said “you cannot serve both God and Mammon”.

Luther condemned in characteristically strong terms the early capitalism that was developing in 16th century Germany, writing: “Daily the poor are defrauded. New burdens and high prices are imposed. Everyone misuses the market in his own willful, conceited, arrogant way, as if it were his right and privilege to sell his goods as dearly as he pleases without a word of criticism.” Elsewhere, he went even further: “Little thieves are put in the stocks, great thieves go flaunting in gold and silk.”

However, Luther was also critical of those (such as St Francis of Assisi) who had advocated the total renunciation of wealth by Christians. He asserted that “silver and gold … are good creatures of God” – the problem was their misuse, not their existence. “If God has given you wealth, give thanks to God, and see that you make right use of it”.

What does it mean to make “right use” of our wealth? Lutherans understand this in terms of vocation. This is our belief that the Christian life is one in which we use our abilities and wealth to serve our neighbours in the ordinary spheres of human existence in which we find ourselves: as husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees, and as citizens (including, today, as voters).

For some, this service of neighbour through our vocations may include working to change aspects of the political or economic system that are unjust. For others, perhaps most, the priority will be serving our neighbour within whatever economic system we find ourselves living in.

(Note: the main sources quoted above are this and this, though this also looks quite fun.)