Sunday, October 29, 2006

Followers of the Antichrist, I Ask for Your Vote!!

Here in Minnesota, religion has been a major issue in two congressional races. Voters in the 5th district, which encompasses Minneapolis and nearby suburbs, are expected to send Democratic candidate Keith Ellison to Washington, thereby electing the first Muslim member of Congress. Not surprisingly, Ellison's faith has been a major point on contention in the race. In particular, his opponents have targeted his past associations with the Nation of Islam, the notoriously anti-Semitic organization led by Louis Farakan. Ellison denies that he was ever a serious follower of the Nation of Islam, and he has repeatedly disavowed the group's teachings. However, the stain lingers. I'm inclined to take Ellison at his word, but given his assured victory, and my disgust with the two-party system, I'll probably cast my vote for third-party candidate Tammy Lee.

More interesting is the 6th district, which pits Democrat Patty Wetterling against Republican Michele Bachmann. Bachmann has long been the standard-bearer for the religious right in the Minnesota Legislature, where she fought the "homosexual agenda" tooth-and-nail. This involved leading a "prayer circle around the desk of an openly gay state senator" and spying on a gay-rights rally at the Capitol while hiding behind a bush. She has also made it clear that God told her to run for Congress and intends for her to win (of course, such statements have become de rigeur for Republicans these days, so we shouldn't be too surprised).

Interestingly, Bachmann is a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran, which prompted this snippet from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune Opinion page:
Much has been made of Democratic Fifth District House candidate Keith Ellison's alleged ties to the Nation of Islam -- or, as Scott at [the Power Line blog] put it, his "long, enthusiastic and devoted service to the Nation of Islam as the acolyte of a hate cult." Conservative bloggers have made candidates' ties to religious groups an issue, but now a liberal blog -- Faithful Democrats -- has adopted the same tactic regarding GOP Sixth District House candidate Michele Bachmann's church. It is affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which regards the Roman Catholic papacy as the Antichrist. "It's tantamount to hate speech," said Dennis McGrath, spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The blog asked, "Can a congressional candidate whose faith says Catholics follow Satan win in a district that's 30 percent Catholic? ... This statement is one of only nine core doctrines listed on WELS's website, suggesting it is particularly important to the denomination. Might Bachmann disagree with this rabid anti-Catholicism? Perhaps, but WELS insists that members and congregations agree on the fundamental doctrines of the church in order to remain in communion with it."

After reading this, I visited the WELS website and, sure enough, their feelings about the papacy are loud and clear: "We reject the teaching that Christians should look for one individual to arise in the end times as the great Antichrist. The characteristics of the Antichrist as presented in Scripture have been and are being fulfilled in the institution of the papacy (2 Thessalonians 2:4-10). We reject the opinion that the identification of the papacy with the Antichrist was merely a historical judgment valid only at the time of the Reformation." In their defense, WELS does make a distinction between the institution of pope and individual Catholics, but it's a very slight distinction:
We thank God, that even within the outward kingdom of Antichrist, there will be some (the precise number known only to God) who escape the fate of the Antichrist because they believe the Scripture's teaching about Christ rather than Antichrist's lies. It was just such Christians within "Babylon" that made up much of the Invisible Church in the days before the Reformation.

Apparently, Bachmann has not visited the WELS website, because she claimed in a debate that her Synod says no such thing about the pope. I guess her particular church has done a poor job of teaching her the "right doctrine". Perhaps, for political purposes, she should quickly transfer to the ELCA (God forbid!) or the Missouri Synod, which, according to the WELS website, has gone soft on the Antichrist.

Some political experts think this issue has the potential to hurt Bachmann, and I hope it does. It would be delicious irony if Bachmann's over-the-top religiosity manages to alienate other conservative Christians, thereby costing her this very close election. Poor Michele. She thought only liberals and gays followed the Antichrist.


Thuloid said...

I'd think the Antichrist would be hard to beat in an election. Yes, he's a bit of a jerk, but you can be dead certain he makes the trains run on time. I'm not certain the Vatican has quite this level of sinister efficiency (though travel books do often inform that the Vatican post office is much to be preferred over the Italian).

Anonymous said...

Well, those guards at the Vatican musuem certainly herd you through there efficiently (like so much cattle).

And, just to play the devil's advocate for a second, what should Lutherans and other Protestants say about a (from our point of view) human institution that claims divine authority and even infallibility for itself?

Thuloid said...

Are you referring to the US Supreme Court, the Vatican, or just what you're likely to think after reading a bunch of self-help books?

I'm barely joking--sure, that's a problem, but it's not even an unusual problem. It's practically our baseline definition of sin, isn't it? So I'd call it dead wrong and misleading and yes, even opposed to Christ; but no more specially opposed to Christ than I am inclined to be.

Chris Jones said...

Mr Adams,

You wrote:

Some political experts think this issue has the potential to hurt Bachmann, and I hope it does.

I am curious why you hope that this issue will hurt Mrs Bachmann. Is it simply that you dislike her political and social views, and anything (within reason) that will contribute to her defeat is OK by you? Or is it because you find the WELS's doctrine particularly odious? Or because you do not care for candidates who are overtly religious, irrespective of the specifics either of their religion or their politics? Your reference to "Bachmann's over-the-top religiosity" suggests that it is the latter reason, but I cannot be sure.

I'm not asking this as a challenge, but simply because I'm curious about the interplay of religion and politics. I don't have a dog in this particular fight, but just so you know where I am coming from: I'm generally conservative in my politics, but on prudential rather than theological grounds; and I am quite traditional in my theological views (I'm LCMS). However, although I'm conservative in both politics and religion, I'm not "religious right". A Christian who is a political liberal is still a brother in Christ; and a political liberal who does not believe in Christ shouldn't be turned away from Christ on the mistaken idea that his political principles are somehow inconsistent with Christianity. That, unfortunately, is the message sent by the religious right; and it is quite un-evangelistic.

Thomas Adams said...

Chris – My desire to see Bachmann lose has nothing to do with this silly Antichrist issue, or with her membership in a WELS congregation. Simply put, she is far too conservative for me on a whole range of issues – tax cuts, Iraq, civil liberties, gun control, torture, health care, and so on. In my opinion, she’s a classic example of what’s gone wrong with the modern Republican Party, and I would hate to see her win.

With regards to her faith, I was actually quite surprised to learn that she’s Lutheran, as her style is more Southern evangelical than Midwestern Lutheran (that’s what I mean by “over-the-top religiosity”). Moreover, her public pronouncements about religion and faith, at least those that I’ve heard, bare no traces of Lutheran theology; for instance, it appears that she has never heard of Luther’s Two-Kingdoms doctrine. It all makes me wonder if there is anything distinctively Lutheran about the congregation that she attends, or if she has merely imbibed the simplistic religious rhetoric of Bush, Dobson, and Falwell. Regardless, she represents that toxic mix of Christianity and politics that is the religious right.

Lee -- Thanks for playing the "devil's advocate". You're correct in suggesting that WELS's identification of the papacy with the Antichrist is probably not as radical as it appears at first glance. However, in this era of ecumenical rapprochement, I think we should all tone down our inflammatory rhetoric.

Chris Jones said...

Simply put, she is far too conservative for me on a whole range of issues

Despite my claims of disinterested neutrality, this was the answer that I expected and hoped for -- that is, a stance on the political merits irrespective of religion.

a classic example of what’s gone wrong with the modern Republican Party, and I would hate to see her win

Without getting into a debate on the merits of the specific issues you listed, I wonder if you could elaborate on this. None of the issues you listed (tax cuts, gun control, health care, etc.) are classic "religious right" social issues (like abortion, gay rights, school prayer, "creationism", etc.); and most of them are traditional Republican issues, on which the "modern" Republican party is no different from the "classic" Republican party. From your perspective, how much has the GOP "gone wrong" and how much has it "always been wrong"? Or, to put the same question another way, what would a Republican party that had not gone wrong look like?

her style is more Southern evangelical than Midwestern Lutheran ...

She wouldn't exactly fit in in Lake Wobegon, would she?

... makes me wonder if there is anything distinctively Lutheran about the congregation that she attends

That is a wonder well worth wondering, I think. Much of "conservative" Lutheranism in this country is content to be "generic conservative Protestant," without much consciousness of what is distinctively Lutheran. The "two Kingdoms" doctrine is one example of this, but other Lutheran distinctives (the Law/Gospel hermeneutic, Word and Sacrament as objective and exclusive means of grace, loyalty to the historic liturgy -- don't get me started) get short shrift in many Lutheran congregations, not only in WELS but in Missouri as well.

Thomas Adams said...

What bothers me most about “modern” Republicans is their reckless foreign policy (specifically, the debacle in Iraq), their all-out assault on civil liberties, runaway deficits, and their disregard for the separation of powers. Their positions on social issues irk me somewhat, but my dislike of G.W. Bush has little to do with his faith. I simply can’t get worked-up over intelligent design, prayer in schools, or the so-called “homosexual agenda.” Those issues matter very little to me. What bothers me most are CIA secret prisons and Cheney’s belief that torture is a “no-brainer” – things that Bachmann endorses wholeheartedly. But she won, and won easily. So be it. She’ll be in the minority, thereby minimizing the damage that she can inflict upon the nation.