Minnesotan Michelle Bachmann is a Republican candidate for the U.S. House. She's a member of a congregation affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Media coverage of her campaign has delved into religion repeatedly but I couldn't quite find the time to mention it here.
A few weeks ago, some Lutheran readers here sent along some articles about the way she was campaigning. Lutherans tend to follow the practice of the Two Kingdoms, which for our purposes can be described as the view that worship is so important and sacred that it shouldn't be mixed with earthly political machinations. But Bachman delivered a speech one Sunday from the stage of a nondenominational
church center, claiming that God wanted her to run for office and that she was a fool for Christ. That's not what you might expect from a confessional Lutheran.
Even though her behavior was noteworthy, the articles about her behavior weren't quite bad enough to mention here. But then my pastor sent along an article that's definitely worth covering. See, even though Bachmann hasn't been campaigning as a Lutheran, Democratic bloggers have decided to attack her for the 16th-century confessions of the Lutheran church. Sometimes I love politics. Anyway, here's the story from Pamela Miller of the Star-Tribune:
The labyrinthine doctrine of a theologically conservative Lutheran denomination has wound its way into the Sixth District congressional campaign, a twist that has Republican Michele Bachmann's campaign fuming and DFLer Patty Wetterling's denying any role.
Labyrinthine? As in complicated or tortuous? I mean, I'm not even that opposed to the word because of its negative connotations. But I'm not entirely certain that Lutheran doctrine commonly receives that adjective, particularly in the context of where this story is about to go.
Liberal blogs are abuzz with claims that the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the parent of Bachmann's church, holds that the pope is the antichrist.
It's about time Lutheran doctrine gets discussed on the pages of a major paper! But what an unbelievably ridiculous story. Anyway, the candidate was asked about it on a radio show and she denied her church teaches that. She also mentioned that some of her family members are Catholic. To her credit, the reporter goes to other sources to get to the bottom of things:
In Christian theology, definitions of the antichrist range from a being who embodies evil to teachers of heretical doctrine. In the 1500s, the term was tossed back and forth between Protestant reformers, most prominently Martin Luther, and the Vatican.
The Rev. Jonathan Brohn, co-pastor at Bachmann's church, Salem Lutheran in Stillwater, said the synod views the antichrist -- or "antichrists," as the Bible sometimes refers to -- as "someone who stands in the place of Christ."Luther saw the office of the papacy as falling into this role because it stands between man and God and tries to take too much authority from God," Brohn said. "The modern-day pope retains that authority but doesn't use it much."
Okay, if you're going to give coverage to a political hit piece such as the anti-Lutheran attempts of the lefty bloggers, I think the reporter did fine to a point. But the religious ignorance of the reporter is too much. Religious divisions exist for a reason. Roman Catholics and Lutherans disagree about the means by which humans are saved. Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther in 1521 over the serious disagreements.
But if reporter Pamela Miller is going to turn this political season into a referendum on religious doctrines, I wonder how far she'll take it. Is she covering any Roman Catholic candidates? What do Roman Catholics believe about Lutherans? It just so happens that we covered this in my church this week when my pastor read declarations of the Council of Trent (the Roman Catholic response to the Reformation), it being Reformation Day and all. Here are a few of that council's statements:
Canon 9: If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification . . . let him be anathema.
Canon 32: If anyone says that the good works of the one justified are in such manner the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of him justified; or that the one justified by the good works that he performs . . . does not truly merit . . . eternal life . . . let him be anathema.
In other words, if anyone is Lutheran, let him be cursed and damned to hell. The church councils haven't exactly backtracked on those views.
People who take religion seriously take religion seriously. It's not surprising that two churches with such different ideas about the means by which people are saved would defend their views strongly. Lutherans and Catholics who take their doctrines seriously are able to systematically debate aspects thereof because of how clearly the differing views are laid out. I agree with the Lutheran confessions and yet I'm able to write about Catholic doctrine in such a way that half of the reader e-mail I receive assumes I'm Catholic. Religious tolerance does not mean you have to check your beliefs at the door -- even if those views seem impolitic by the standards du jour.
All that to say that Pamela Miller is having trouble giving the proper weight and context to the, uh, labyrinthine doctrines of the two churches. Either she should get help from a religion reporter or she should reevaluate her story selection.