#MAGA Hat Jesus, Jan. 6, 2021 (photo Tyler Merbler, Flickr/Creative Commons)

Edited copy of a blast email I sent to participants in “Sundays@6,” an online adult faith formation group that Debi and I facilitate for our ELCA Lutheran parish church about the Missouri Synod’s official statement on white Christian nationalism as contrary to Christian doctrine as set forth in the gospels and Luther’s Small Catechism. I shared the LC-MS statement to Facebook, but I’m archiving it here with other Sundays@6 book study material. The “MAGA Hat Jesus” picture above was taken shortly by Tyler Merbler before Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, 2021 (available under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license).

Hi everybody —

Here are links to the statement I mentioned Sunday night in which Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod president Matthew Harrison “categorically reject[ed]” white Christian nationalism, along with other “alt-right,” racist and quasi-fascist political doctrines, and recommended excommunication for white Christian nationalist LC-MS members who don’t repent those beliefs. The first link is to a Feb. 22 Religion News Service story by Jack Jenkins and Emily McFarlan Miller:

In a letter dated Feb. 21, LCMS President Matthew Harrison said he was “shocked to learn recently that a few members of LCMS congregations have been propagating radical and unchristian ‘alt-right’ views via Twitter and other social media.” He noted far-right members were causing “local disruption” for congregations and alleged that LCMS leadership and deaconesses had fallen victim to online threats, some of which he described as “serious.”

“This is evil. We condemn it in the name of Christ,” Harrison writes.

Harrison went on to rebuke the “horrible and racist teachings of the so-called ‘alt-right,’” listing ideologies such as “white supremacy, Nazism, pro-slavery, anti-interracial marriage, women as property, fascism, death for homosexuals, even genocide.”

He noted that while the LCMS is “not a top-down institution,” he would work with local pastors and district presidents “to address this matter wherever it arises among us and reject it.” Citing Scripture, he called on those spewing hateful ideologies to repent.

“Where that call to repentance is not heeded, there must be excommunication,” he writes.

The RNS story links to Harrison’s original statement, which appeared Feb. 21, in The Reporter, official newspaper of LC-MS under the headline: “President Harrison denounces disturbing ideologies: Statement on recent online unchristian teachings.” It prominently brings out the scriptural authority for the statement, citing not only the gospels of Matthew and John but also Luther’s Small Catechism. It begins:

Dear friends in Christ,

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, its president, vice-presidents and all 35 district presidents, along with its ministerium and congregations, categorically reject the horrible and racist teachings of the so-called “alt-right” in toto (including white supremacy, Nazism, pro-slavery, anti-interracial marriage, women as property, fascism, death for homosexuals, even genocide).

The Synodical explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism teaches that the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder,” includes the prohibition of “hating, despising, or slandering other groups of people (prejudice, racism, and so forth).” The Scriptures agree: “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15). Every human being is precious to God and as valuable as the very blood of Jesus Christ shed for all, “for God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16).

We were shocked to learn recently that a few members of LCMS congregations have been propagating radical and unchristian “alt-right” views via Twitter and other social media. They are causing local disruption and consternation for their pastors, congregations and district presidents. They have publicly stated that they seek the destruction of the LCMS leadership. They have made serious online threats to individuals and scandalously attacked several faithful LCMS members. Through these social media posts, even our wonderful deaconesses have been threatened and attacked.

This is evil. We condemn it in the name of Christ.

There’s more. A lot more, in both accounts.

Apparently a small but vociferous group of LC-MS members has been proclaiming white nationalist, alt-right views online and its threats delayed publication of a new Concordia Publishing House edition of Luther’s Large Catechism. Says Harrison in the Feb. 21 statement:

These “alt-right” individuals were at the genesis of a recent controversy surrounding essays accompanying a new publication of Luther’s Large Catechism. This group used that opportunity to produce not only scandalous attacks and widespread falsehoods, but also to promote their own absolutist ideologies.

Anyone trying to sully the reputation of the LCMS based on comments from a small number of online provocateurs does not know the loving, faithful, generous, kind and welcoming Synod that I have met all across the nation. Our people are delighted to gather with sinners of every stripe to receive full and free forgiveness from our crucified Savior and are not represented by these few men with their sinful agenda.

I am not speaking about the individuals who may have expressed theological concerns about the essays published alongside the Catechism. I’m talking about a small number of men who based their opposition upon racist and supremacist ideologies. The former we welcome. The latter we condemn. […]

There’s a local angle to the story, too. At least to the reporting. Emily McFarlan Miller, who shared the byline with RNS political reporter Jack Jenkins, grew up in Springfield’s Atonement Lutheran Church. 

If you need background on white Christian nationalism, Mark Silk, who writes the “Spiritual Politics” opinion column for RNS, reported on recent survey research indicating that 10 percent of Americans”are adherents of Christian nationalism,” and another 19 percent sympathize with its goals. “These two groups are far more likely to hold racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim views than the rest of the U.S. population,” he adds. “Among white evangelicals, 29% rate as adherents, with an additional 35% as sympathizers.” 

Silk cites Public Religion Research Institute surveys defining a Christian nationalist as one who supports the following statements:

  • The U.S. government should declare America a Christian nation.
  • U.S. laws should be based on Christian values.
  • If the U.S. moves away from our Christian foundations, we will not have a country anymore.
  • Being Christian is an important part of being truly American.
  • God has called Christians to exercise dominion over all areas of American society. 

Here are links to the stories:

Next Sunday we’ll take up Barbara Brown Taylor’s chapter on the Muslims in Holy Envy. It looks like as the culture wars rage on, they aren’t the only faith community that has to worry about being stereotyped by the behavior of a small, vociferous group of their adherents.

— Pete

[Published March 1, 2023]

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