Monday, November 01, 2004

Musings for a Monday Morning

Tomorrow is the big day. Warren Kinsella has dire predictions of a Bush victory, and he just may be right. But time will tell, and the wisdom of the American voter will prevail. Now there’s a thought!

On a different note: here’s an article from Finland on how the C of F lost 70 000 member in the years 2002-2003. Yikes! That’s a big loss. Even for Lutherans. “But don’t despair!” The Lutheran World Federation would tell us, “There are 66 million Lutherans around the world.” So on the surface it looks like we are a formidable group. But check under the hood and we find that many of the numbers come from European state churches where attendance and church involvement hover in the single digits.

Also, my own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, reports something like 150 000 Lutherans from sea to sea to sea (but Reg Bibby in his book Restless Churches reports that 600 000 Canadians think they’re Lutherans). But when I look at the stats for our churches, a typical entry is: Baptized membership 800, Confirmed membership, 550, average weekly attendance: 80. So where are the other 720 missing Lutherans? Do they count toward the 66 million that the LWF claims?

So the 66 million Lutherans declaration sounds a wee bit inflated.

But not that I’m a nut for numbers. (d minus, second time around in grade 10 Basic math). The church is not about stats, but they do tell us something about how we understand ourselves.

In my previous parish, Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I wanted to have university students play a larger role in the life of the church – including voting. So I came up with, what I thought was a brilliant idea. Students who attended Resurrection and who wanted to keep their membership at their home congregations would be given a dual membership designation. It didn’t make sense to fill out transfer forms for the 8 months of the school year just so we could take advantage of these young people’s gifts. If we wanted more young people to take leadership roles then we should be bending over backward to accommodate them. But when I ran this idea past synod office I was told that “it would screw up the stats”! I thought to myself, “The stats are already screwed up!” Moreover, the church is not about record keeping!

I still think I was right.

But this is not about silly details like how we do administration. The loss of 70 000 Lutherans in Finland or the missing 450 000 Lutherans in Canada all point to a need for a renewal in the church. We can look at this as a problem (“O sure, they come when they want a wedding, but where are they on Sundays”) or an opportunity (“Great! That’s a great place to begin our evangelistic mission!”).

Some of my colleagues start frothing when numbers are discussed. “The church is not in the numbers game!” They would say. And they’d be correct. But that doesn’t excuse the church from being the church. The “righteous remnant” theology is too often a convenient excuse for being lazy.

Why am I so hopped up on this? Maybe it’s because I see Christianity being hi-jacked by George Bush supporting Fundamentalists or theology-lite mega-churches. The world needs justification by grace alone through faith alone, not angry anti-abortion homophobes who believe that same sex marriages are more threatening than preemptive war, or feel good suburban Christianity that reduces our faith to a self-help program. This wounded world needs God’s transforming grace in Christ Jesus. And that is the message that Lutherans have to offer.


Anonymous said...


You're a day late - the election was decided yesterday by Green Bay (Wisconsin, ironically) - by beating the Redskins 28-14. (Since 1940, if Washington wins their last home game before the election the incumbent party wins, they lose and the incumbents lose ... they lost therefore the Republicans lose)

I appreciate your comments on numbers in the church - I see this a lot in youth ministry ... fighting the people who prefer seeing 25 youth playing games (even if none of them stay in the church) over a group of 1 that gives their life to God. (I think of 1 member who promised a youth that church would be fun once they were old enough to join the youth group)

So all good, except i have some problems with your last paragraph ... to return your words to you, should I pray "I thank you God that I am not an 'angry anti-abortion homophobe who believes that same sex marriages are more threatening than preemptive war'"? Is it easy to be righteous and hard to be loving?

I ask this as a passive, anti-abortion, non-homophobe, who believes that same sex marriages threaten (challenge) my beliefs in the world I know and pre-emptive war threatens the world that I do not know.
(and to explain some peoples preference to debate local issues over global issues)

mark h

Kevin said...

Thanks Mark,

I appreciate you comments. I too would describe myself as "anti-abortion" but not in the same way as it is generally represented in the Christian community. The ones who stand outside abortion clinics and spit words of judgement on terrified 15 year olds trying to reverse a bad decision. I believe that abortion should be, in words of one pundit, "safe, legal, and rare." Making it illegal would put too many moms at risk and would not solve the problem.

However, in the context of the rhetoric coming from our neighbours to the south, the Christian anti-abortion anti-same-sex marriage side seem to think that these are the only issues that matter to Christians. The refrain that I've come up with is: why is abortion the only pro-life issue? What about child poverty, which in the US has close too doubled over the past 4 years? What about 10 000 Iraqi civilians who have died in the war? What about the substancial cuts to education and health care? These are issues that I think the Christian community should be rallying around as well.

The homophobe comment: I do not believe that all who oppose same-sex blessings/marriages are Homophobes. But the ones I'm referring to are the angry, dance on the grave of AIDS victims, sort who seem to dominant the discourse.