Yesterday, California became the first state to require "gay history" in public school textbooks. But I'm thinking states might want to consider just focusing on basic history. Yesterday's news cycle was full of stories showing some pretty striking ignorance of the events of the 16th century. Apparently the media think that Catholics are both ignorant of the Reformation and also very fragile and easily offended. So let me break this "news" from the 16th century. You may want to sit down. OK, here's the deal: There was something called the Lutheran Reformation. A man named Dr. Martin Luther joined with various other Reformers in protesting the abuses of a man named Pope Leo X. It's true, it really happened. And the Catholic Church said that anyone who believed in justification by faith in Christ alone was to be anathema. And that is a very not nice word. And the reformers said that the papacy was the anti-Christ talked about in Scripture.
I know this must be very difficult to hear. I'm sorry I had to be the one to tell you. Please, Catholics and Lutherans, put down your arms and go back to peaceful coexistence in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Have a hot dish meal. It will be all right.
The news that Lutherans oppose the office of the papacy vehemently just hit the media recently, though. First there was an anti-Bachmann piece from four years ago. It spread through Daily Kos and various sites before landing at The Atlantic, in a piece we
made fun of discussed yesterday.
National Journal ran The Atlantic piece. And Religion News Service filed its own report.
The pieces weren't totally ridiculous in what they said, although I could nitpick each of them (e.g. we're told that Bachmann's former Synod is "one of the smallest" Lutheran denominations when it's bigger than like three dozen other Lutheran synods or groups and smaller than only two).
But as I did a bunch of radio shows and conversed with people on the topic (shockingly, most Catholics knew of the Reformation and said we could all still be friends), something became apparent.
Basically, the media might not just be shocked to learn of the historical battles on the papacy but also completely confused as to what the term anti-Christ means in historic Christianity.
Over at Religion Dispatches, which produces a lot of quality journalism from a progressive religious standpoint, associate editor Sarah Morice-Brubaker (who teaches theology at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, OK and is finishing her Ph.D in theology at the University of Notre Dame) got me wondering if journalists weren't running with the story because they envisioned a Hal Lindsay-style anti-Christ with horns and such. Her piece is really funny but she boils it down to:
What we have here is a theological dispute over whether the office of the papacy can, by God’s grace, participate in the mediation and redemption ultimately performed by Christ (the Catholic view); or whether such an office can only ever set itself up as a fradulent rival to the mediation performed by Christ (the WELS view). I mean, I actually think that’s an interesting theological dispute; but this is not necessarily the kind of action movie antichrist envisioned by those who expect a physical rapture, a period of tribulation, and an epic cosmic battle between Jesus and a slick-talking demonic United Nations official (not necessarily in that order).
I'm with her. I think it's a fascinating debate. But I think we all know that a thoughtful debate on this topic is the last thing the media are looking for. Do you think maybe they're just looking for yet another way to go after the devilly-horned Bachmann? A little bit?
I'll only add that media coverage hasn't explained that by definition the anti-Christ must be positioned within the church, and Catholics and Lutherans recognize each other's baptisms and what not. Each of our churches have very strongly held views and differences. But I've found that Catholics and Lutherans tend to know more about each others views and why they're held than many other groups. A Catholic bishop told me once that he preferred working with Lutherans over other groups because of this issue -- it made it super easy to know where they could and couldn't cooperate with each other.
And news to the media: you'll be hard pressed to find significant numbers of Catholics or Lutherans who won't vote for each other because of their differing views on the papacy or the doctrine of justification or anything else like that. It only makes you look out-of-touch with the actual lives of believers when you try to suggest as much.