Editor’s note: This blog was edited from the author’s original post.
Originally posted July 18, 2011, at Lutheran Confessions. Republished with permission of the author.
In all likelihood, you know that Michele Bachmann is a prominent Republican presidential candidate of the tea party variety.
Like most presidential candidates these days of whatever political persuasion, she is fighting to reclaim America.
What she doesn’t mention on her website, but has come up frequently in the news, is that she is (or at least was until recently) a Lutheran and was a member of Salem Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minn., (denominational affiliation: Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod).
In this post, I don’t intend to address her political position per se.
What I do want to write about is the significance of her Lutheranism, and her transition away from it, because I think that’s worth remarking.
Different brands of Lutheran
Lutherans are not often in the national spotlight. There are probably a host of reasons for this, some good and some bad.
On the good side, we don’t think being famous is necessary in order to be of service to the kingdom of God, so Lutherans often quietly just get the work done that needs doing, especially as it relates to social service (think of the very large social service agencies we’re famous for — Lutheran Social Service and Lutheran Services of America, among others.)
On the bad side, well, we aren’t always spectacular at even telling anyone that we are Lutheran or what that signifies.
Michele’s Lutheranism has come into the spotlight as it relates to her ties to, specifically, the Wisconsin Synod tradition. Wisconsin Synod members are the ELCA’s very conservative brothers and sisters in Christ.
I am a pastor in the ELCA. Now that I live in the South, I frequently have to explain to folks who haven’t heard of Lutherans what the differences are between the various Lutheran denominations.
This is always a tedious experience for the hearers. By the time I get done with my long explanation, their eyes have glazed over.
I talk about the ethnic specific origins of many branches of Lutheranism, talk about the history of migration to North America and mention the distinctions between differing methods of biblical interpretation that lead us to our different positions.
Sometimes I throw in the joke my college president used to tell, that he studied the history of mergers of Lutheran denominations in the 20th century and, after all six of the main denominations merged and the dust cleared, they had finally gotten the number of denominations down to nine!
But back to the point. Simply put, Michele’s brand of Lutheranism matches her brand of politics.
Both are socially conservative in their leanings.
Michele first came to the spotlight because of her advocacy of a marriage amendment in Minnesota that would define marriage constitutionally as being solely between a man and a woman.
Similarly, her approach to the founding documents of our nation is not unlike the approach to biblical interpretation her denomination espouses. In the best sense of the term, that approach can be called “fundamentalist.”
Wisconsin Synod theologians and I would likely differ today on who or what to label the anti-christ, but we wouldn’t differ on the idea that we need to try and pay attention to the times and places where Christ is attacked and undermined by those who, in his very name, proclaim something other than who he is.
If the Wisconsin Synod wanted to confess this position to the press, I think they’d be better served simply saying that their church tries to be attentive to idolatry and evil in the world and that sometimes they are concerned that idolatry and evil crop up (perhaps they especially crop up) in places that claim to be good and religious.
In its best form, this is a hermeneutics of suspicion Lutherans rightfully cultivate. However, because the Wisconsin Synod is so committed to the historical manifestations of Lutheran confessional theology, and the maintenance of those confessions today virtually verbatim, I doubt they would have the wiggle room to say something more nuanced or “of the day.”
A campaign strategy
Now back to Michele. Six days before she declared her candidacy for president, she verbally requested to leave the Wisconsin Synod congregation where she had been a member but had not attended for over two years. She did not request a transfer to a different congregation.
This leaves in question, at least in part, what her religious commitments are these days. It also goes to show that, once you’re campaigning for president, being Lutheran may be more of a hindrance than a help.
She’ll be much better served (from a vote-gathering perspective) participating in a loose confederation of conservative Bible-believing churches than a specifically confessional conservative Bible-believing denomination. That’s the religious landscape we live in today.
My hope in all of this is twofold. First, if the press continues to trumpet this topic, I hope they do the Wisconsin Synod the honor of getting their faith right and representing it in a fair and honest way.
Second, I hope that political candidates of any persuasion can get a fair hearing precisely as the kind of religious individuals they are.
It’s tiresome to me that candidates for president have to leave the peculiarity of their traditions in order to join whitewashed American religiosity.
Praise God for candidates who are obviously Catholic, Mormon, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist or Lutheran. Martin Luther famously quipped that he’d rather have a good Turk than a bad Christian as his sovereign.
I couldn’t agree more, and I hope a strength of our political system is that you can run for public office precisely out of whatever religious tradition shapes and forms you.
Isn’t that what freedom of religion is all about?
Find a link to Clint Schnekloth’s blog Lutheran Confessions at Lutheran Blogs.