July 16, 2011

Scandal! Bachmann Attended Lutheran Church That Followed Luther's Teachings

Now it may shock the historically ignorant, but the Reformation was a period of great animosity between Catholics and those who broke with Rome. Many of the Reformers had some not so complimentary things to say about the Church of Rome -- and in particular the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. And there is no doubt that Martin Luther identified the Pope in Rome with the Anti-Christ.

From the time of the Reformation to as recently as the late nineteenth century, followers of Luther's teachings (and most other streams of theology rooted in the Reformation) would have universally espoused that belief. For that matter, the theological belief that the Papacy was the anti-Christ remained common through my own childhood -- the best-selling works of Hal Lindsey certainly hinted at the view -- but the spirit of ecumenism that opened up greater dialogue between Catholics and Protestants in the years after Vatican II took a more friendly approach to non-Catholic believers has resulted in that view becoming a minority in contemporary Christian circles. And even among those churches that still hold to that centuries-old teaching, the importance of that notion has diminished to the point that the average believer in the pew would likely not know it was an official position of their denomination or find it obscure enough that they could dissent from it and remain a member in good standing of their local congregation.

That is why I, speaking as an ex-Catholic with a graduate level education in Catholic theology (I was at one point a year from being ordained a priest) who is now a member of a Protestant church, find the kerfluffle about Michelle Bachmann's membership in and departure from a congregation of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod to be amusing.

Taking a page from President Obama’s political playbook, Michele Bachmann has formally left a church in Minnesota accused of holding anti-Catholic views.

According to CNN, the church that Michele Bachmann and her husband Marcus had attended for more than a decade, Salem Lutheran in Stillwater, Minn., granted the couple’s request to be released from their membership last month, a week after Bachmann told a national audience that she would run for the Republican presidential nomination.

Now let's face it -- the WELS very much represents the "traditionalist" strain of Lutheran teaching. As such, it looks askance at Roman Catholicism theologically, and still looks to the six great Lutheran Confessions of the sixteenth century as authoritative. To the degree that holding to these older documents leads to a theological opposition to fundamental tenets of Catholicism, it is fair to call the WELS "anti-Catholic" -- but only if one were to similarly argue that holding even to the more accommodating teachings of Vatican II makes the Catholic Church "anti-Protestant". Neither side advocates hatred for members of the other, nor abuse or mistreatment of individuals who adhere to the other belief system.

And as for Michelle Bachmann, I think the words of this press release from the Catholic League (which has a long history of battling anti-Catholicism) really says it all.

The Catholic League finds it regrettable that there are still strains of anti-Catholicism in some Protestant circles, but we find no evidence of any bigotry on the part of Rep. Michele Bachmann. Indeed, she has condemned anti-Catholicism.

In this case, the effort to impute some level of bigotry to Bachmann is positively laughable in light of her record.

Which is, of course, why I laugh at the fact that anybody has even tried to make WELS doctrine on this matter an issue. After all, the "offense" of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod in this instance -- if there is any offense at all -- is being authentically Lutheran. And quite frankly, it is hard to criticize them for that.

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