The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is on the cutting edge of Protestantism.  The Church opposes the death penalty, supports abortion on demand prior to the viability of the fetus outside the womb, ordains non-celibate homosexuals to the order of the ministry, and opposes a wall erected between the United States and Mexico that would deter illegal immigration. The Church has now polished its progressive image by electing its first female presiding bishop, the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, pictured at right. 

Before the far left breaks out in cheers, it should not go unnoticed that, from 1987 to 2011, the ELCA lost approximately one and a quarter million members. In 2010 and 2011 alone, the denomination suffered a catastrophic loss of a half million members. The decline continues today. It seems reasonable to suppose that the arc of these numbers may underscore a problem.

Yet the Rev. Eaton appears poised to pursue the same leftist positions which have characterized the church in recent years. Following election to her new office, she stated to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Philadelphia, “We are a church that is overwhelmingly European in a culture that is increasingly pluralistic. We need to welcome the gifts of those who come from different places, that is a conversation we need to have as a church.”

Consider the bishop’s statement carefully and ask yourself what exactly she was attempting to express.  Was she simply reminding her fellow communicants that their denomination has its cultural roots in European soil and that, while the church under her leadership will retain and hold fast to its distinctive cultural identity, it will welcome members from other parts of the world and will help them assimilate to the denomination’s particular ethos?  That may indeed have been what she was suggesting, but I think not.

I suspect that the Rev. Eaton was taking a far more radical position than may initially meet the eye, and that she was laying the groundwork for still another denominational swing to the left.  I believe that she was proposing a “conversation” (what a cliché that word has become!) in which members of the ELCA will consider compromising their church’s European identity in an attempt to attract new members from disparate cultures.  After all, America is, she would probably note, no longer an assimilative melting pot, in which the primary and predominant ingredient is a robust European stock. Counter-culturists Horace Kallen and Randolph Bourne emphasized this “truth” long ago, did they not?  America is a nation of institutionalized multiculturalism, where no single culture is deemed superior to any other. All languages, mores, customs, and traditions are, at least theoretically, on an equal footing of honor and respect. Damn European hegemony and its bogus sense of superiority!  Addiction to European hymnody, celebration of a European-style mass, and unwavering respect for a stubborn German protestant named “Luther” and the particular (European) intellectual heritage from which he was spawned are all retrograde. Yes, and a bit of an embarrassment as well!  Such is the conclusion, I suspect, the proposed “conversation” will educe. Its most prominent participating voices will be music to the ears of the left-wing, who have grasped this denomination firmly within its clutches.

If I have interpreted the Rev. Eaton’s statement correctly, and I hope that I have not, then she wants to alter (“revise,” “adjust,” “modify” – use whatever verb you like) the Eurocentric identity of her denomination.  I don’t know how else one might characterize it.

I find myself wondering if and when a well-meaning soul will remind the new presiding bishopette that the culture of a church is what it is, and is fundamental and basic to an appreciation of its historical identity. Engineering cultural changes, even in small incremental acts, influences the members’ self-understanding, which invariably has profound implications not only in their lives, but also in the enterprise called “church” in which they have joined together.

“Oh, but Jesus was hospitable to others, and the Bible speaks so positively of strangers.” This is always the refrain from the left. “Hospitality,” when interpreted in this context, means cordially accepting the other. But it’s a social grace that need not entail compromising one’s identity when welcoming the stranger.  For the ancient Jews, it meant principally that aliens who resided legally among them would be treated equally before the law.  This is based upon the exegesis of Prof. James K. Hoffmeier, author of The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible.

I seriously doubt that a sound Biblical argument can be made that it is somehow incumbent upon you and me to welcome Iranians, for example, into our homes or community by addressing them in Farsi, serving them burani bademjan, and bowing to Allah. Why?  Because it is our home and a reflection of who we are, and as visitors they should be respectful of it, and especially of our law.  To carry the idea a step further: if and when aliens become citizens of our community or members of our household, they must then assimilate to the prevailing culture. As a necessary corollary, if a religious denomination has the slightest degree of integrity, it too will hold fast to its underlying culture.

I find myself in agreement with the late Judge Robert Bork, whose words about American culture are relevant to the present discussion:

“What needs to be said is that American culture is Eurocentric, and it must remain Eurocentric or collapse into meaninglessness. Standards of European and American origin are the only possible standards that can hold our society together and keep us a competent nation.  If the legitimacy of Eurocentric standards is denied, there is nothing else.  There are no standards from any other quarter of the globe that we can agree upon.  Islam cannot provide standards for us, nor can Africa or the Far East.  Yet a single set of standards is essential to a sense of what authority is legitimate, what ideals must be maintained.  The alternative to Eurocentrism, then, is fragmentation and chaos.”

Judge Bork’s sapient words about American culture are squarely applicable to religious denominations with a European heritage.  If and when the ELCA sacrifices its Eurocentrism, it will lose its historical identity and descend into “fragmentation and chaos.” Sadly, perhaps, the Rev. Eaton’s new office may serve to accelerate her denomination’s flight into oblivion.  She seems off to a fast start.

Chris Hedges, in his book, Death of the Liberal Class, believes that the Church is cowardly and filled with pious platitudes. One does not have to be a liberal or socialist like him to agree with his assessment. Most mainline Protestant clergy, I dare say, find themselves at a loss to question the moral positions advanced and promoted by contemporary junk culture.  They look to the New York Times for their morality.  They remind me of adolescents with little or no sense of identity, who try hard to pass muster with the “fast crowd” in order to be popular.  Yet they fail to realize that their attempts to win approval places them in a position where they receive no respect from anyone, and in the case of church officials especially from those they are there to lead. They are, in short, seen as lacking the courage of their convictions.

Is it any surprise that many discerning Lutherans have seen the ELCA for the leftist organization that it is and have voted with their feet?  Is it any surprise that the institutions of mainline Protestantism are in decline and failing?  Is it any surprise that this nation’s culture is in turmoil and wreckage?  Think about it. 

August 17, 2013