Photographer: Arvind Balaraman FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The LCA has traditionally been loathe to step into the public sphere and become political, forgetting that silence is as political as speaking out. Silence quietly supports things as they are and the noisiest speaker on an issue. The LCA has been lazy on issues of justice, thereby participating in oppressing different groups throughout the years. Towards the end of the Cold War, we heard little from the Church on the moral imperative for nuclear disarmament, but much on the right to life. Where is the LCA voice on global warming? What does the LCA have to say on the rapid loss of species, environmental degradation and dwindling water supplies? Perhaps the silence in connecting with the world arises from when German immigrants in two world wars were marginalised by the rest of the nation, making us akin to the conservative German Missouri Synod in the US and dis-similar to the progressive Scandinavian based Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).
We are a socially conservative Church. This is not healthy for our place in Australian society, for conservatism becomes our branding. Sadly, in Australia, it was not pre-union Lutherans who advocated equality for women. It was not the LCA who led the way among Australian Christian churches in encouraging female lay leadership, female delegates at a national level, female lay reading of Scripture, and so on. Rather, the LCA has usually aligned itself with conservative social politics. We have emphasised a focus on Scripture but we have downplayed our engagement with the world. By focussing just on what we heard from the voice of Jesus in Palestine we deny the voice of Jesus among the outcasts of today, the addicted and those of other sexualities. Likewise we perpetuate the crucifixion of Jesus when women are told that their call to ordained ministry is not genuine.
Luther was key in uncovering the astounding grace in the Scriptures: grace that liberates, and grace that inspires discipleship and justice. The LCA, however, while proudly claiming its birthright has accommodated grace into its own image.
Bonhoeffer, presumably while reflecting on what discipleship meant in the face of a brutal Nazi world-view, reflected on how cheap grace had become.
Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost!
Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Bonhoeffer could have been talking about the LCA. Cheap grace is ours to laud and dispense but there is no cross. Here grace is free with few consequences. In contrast, costly grace, as described by Bonhoeffer, requires your whole life, discipleship, doing justice, even martyrdom. In short, grace demands a response, a repentance that has us engaging on those fronts where the hurt is greatest. Mary MacKillop, famously said, “Never see a need without doing something about it”. Her revolutionary schooling of poverty-bound children reflected an intuitive understanding of costly grace.
In a Church that has aligned itself with socially conservative values it is not surprising that the LCA is lacking leaders who are able to manage change arising from a progressive society.
We don’t need charismatic or authoritarian leaders to make the ‘right’ decisions for us. We need adaptive leaders who can help us all support necessary but hard decisions. We need leaders of such quality across our whole community who can appeal to the better angels of our nature.
LCA members do not need managing or manipulating. Neither does the LCA need its leaders and clergy to decide direction or programmes. Congregations and members of the LCA need leaders who are gentle, humble, and wise enough to perceive and facilitate the will of the Church.
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