Sex, Religion, and Politics
The Rev. Eugene Schmid is remembered joyfully by my congregation: Salem Lutheran Church in Gretna, Louisiana. Pastor Schmid took a call (his second) to Salem in 1919. He served until his death in 1967 - forty-seven years. His name dominates our parish records. He baptized the babies, confirmed them, communed them, married them, and baptized their babies - and then confirmed them, married them, and baptized their babies.
Of course, most of my parishioners who remember him were children when he died. But he is still spoken of warmly. “He was strict, but kind.”
At a funeral, the son of a former parishioner told me stories about Pastor Schmid. Many of them I had heard before. He was frugal, and the parsonage (where he lived with his wife and three children, one of whom had Down Syndrome, and another who became a pastor) had no curtains, as Pastor Schmid felt that would be a frivolous use of money. He never owned a car, nor would he accept a ride from a lady - as he was scrupulous to avoid any hint of scandal, never being alone with a woman other than his wife (in this, he was ahead of his time). And so, for the most part, he walked everywhere in Gretna, which was only a few blocks at the time. When he had to travel to a hospital “across the river” in New Orleans, he took the ferries and streetcars - and his own two feet. If you missed church on Sunday, you got a personal house-call on Monday. All of these reaffirm the stories that I have heard in my fifteen years at Salem.
But here is one that I hadn’t heard: Pastor Schmid would visit parishioners, sit on the porch in the blazing South Louisiana sun, drink beers, and talk about the three forbidden topics: sex, religion, and politics.
Of course, one expects the pastor to talk religion. But sex? Even before the “summer of love”? And politics?
Sex is part and parcel of human life, and its sway over men and women is so strong, that it must be reined in according to God’s created order (the natural law) lest it become chaos, and leave a wake of pain and misery in its wake. And politics is how we relate to one another in the polis, in community life. It too is something unavoidable. But as universal and as important as these topics are, they can lead to heated disagreements - and so in trying to avoid unnecessary division, we often tend to politely steer our conversations away from these subjects.
Especially in this day and age with the country in a political roil, with divisions within families, and even between husbands and wives, we try to keep politics held firmly at bay - especially in the church. In terms of religion, we try to be accommodating (rightly or wrongly) of divisive topics in the church - such as internal church politics and things like worship style, communion policy, the role of women in the church, etc. And in terms of secular politics, there are many different ideas out there, but for Bible-believing Christians, there are certain issues that are simply not compatible with the Christian faith.
And so there is a tightrope to be walked.
But for us Christians, we must always first and foremost confess Christ.
Why do we advocate for natural marriage? Because Christ, ordained it. Why do we defend private property against authoritarian regimes that treat property as an arbitrary privilege granted by the state? Because Christ ordained it. Why do we oppose abortion and instead advocate for life from conception to natural death? Because Christ ordained it. And Christ ordained all of these things according to natural law. Even non-Christians confess these truths by virtue of the reality that we are human beings.
And since all of these “political” issues are matters of faith, matters of our Christian confession, we cannot simply be cowed into silence.
But there is a warning here. We must avoid the temptation to being so blinded by the political that we lose sight of the spiritual. For ultimately, political policies in force dart from one to the other, parties come and go, nations and empires rise and fall, the City of Man changes hands and swings from godly to demonic - but the City of God, the Word, the risen Christ endure forever. We must keep this in mind as we talk sex, religion, and politics.
Those of us who are inclined to cultural and/or political conservatism can learn a cautionary tale from those on the left who self-identify as “progressive Christians.”
A congregation in Oregon called Clackamas United Church of Christ (that refers to itself by the ironic acronym CUCC - no lie) is a case in point. They describe themselves as an “inclusive community” in which “members and friends feel safe, respected, and comfortable in being themselves and expressing all aspects of their identities. It is a place where each person shares a sense of belonging with others. It is home.” This sounds wonderful, and is generally true in pretty much any church, club, or voluntary organization. For if you didn’t feel safe or respected or welcome to be somewhere, you probably would opt out. I have to admit, though, I’m skeptical of the extent of their self-trumpeted tolerance. I doubt that they would be affirming of the identity of an old straight white guy with a MAGA hat. Among the tolerant, tolerance can only be tolerated so far. But that’s another discussion for another day.
CUCC publishes a statement about what they believe, called “What We Believe.” There are six points followed by a paragraph explaining each. They are:
Grace and love are for all people’
God is still speaking
The spiritual life is a journey
Doubts and questions are always welcome
Everyone is in ministry
God is in the restoration business.
Understood within a proper context and carefully-defined use of the words, these statements can be made by any and all Christians - including Missouri Synod Lutherans - but certainly only with clarity and elaboration. But what is missing about this United Church of Christ statement of faith is anything about the Church or, well, about Christ. Jesus is never mentioned, not even hinted at, in “what we believe.” There is an emphasis on United, but nothing about the Church or Christ.
They do cite scripture in a pained argument to explain why they believe that homosexuality isn’t sinful. You can read it for yourself here. They also explain that church membership isn’t limited to Christians, but is open to Atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, and LGBTQ people (an interesting lumping in of sexual identity with other religions). They explain the theology here.
So if the organization is open to Atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, and LGBTQ people (not visitors or inquirers, mind you, but practicing members) - what can their confession of Jesus possibly be? Can this church affirm the incarnation? The atoning death of Christ on the cross? The resurrection? The second coming and judgment? Can all of these disparate groups share any common confession of Jesus at all, other than His historical reality (if that)?
In repose to one of their church signs that referred to Jesus in the past tense, I asked: “Why do you speak about Jesus in the past tense, like He’s dead or something?” One person feebly defended the statement as technically correct English. I pressed the issue and asked if the church confesses that “He literally rose from the dead in the flesh, and is still alive in His flesh and blood humanity - and that the resurrection isn’t some kind of metaphor or something to be demythologized?” I asked point blank: “Do you believe the Bible is literally true? It’s kind of hard to get a straight answer around here, and it shouldn’t be.”
A lady replied:
“I'm curious, because you say that liberal Christians don't take the Bible literally enough, but there is quite a bit of scripture that details when a soul is granted to an infant child, so I'm interested in your stance on abortion rights, Pater.
You don't have to cite Jeremiah 1:5 ("Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."), because this scripture is irrelevant as it doesn't pertain to a fetus becoming a living being; if God is omnipotent, he sends all souls to their mortal bodies at his own whim, which is actually supported by Ezekiel 37:6.
"I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD." We do not know the Lord God until we take a breath, so we could not have a soul until that time.
Another applicable selection is: "Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." [Genesis 2:7]. Although the man was fully formed by God in all respects, he was not a living being until after taking his first breath.
I doubt anyone would try to imply that it's meant to be read as the child's first breath of oxygen, so if you take this to mean when the lungs form in the womb, and "the breath of the Almighty gives me life" [Job 33:4], that happens around 25-26 weeks.
Most people say now that it should pertain more to when a nervous system forms, as the child could feel pain, if an abortion takes place after this time.
Is there scripture to support any other conclusions?”
I found this fascinating. I never brought up abortion. The original picture had nothing to do with abortion. But this is where she immediately went when I asked, “What do you believe about Jesus?” For all of the talk about inclusion, the thing that this person (who admittedly, I don’t know if she is a member of CUCC) wants to talk about is abortion - which is by nature exclusionary. She wants to use the Bible to support abortion. She answers a question about christology with a justification of abortion. I never said anything about abortion. I’m seeing a pattern…
Why doesn’t anybody want to talk about Jesus?
Someone else then accused me of being “obtuse” and “self righteous, much like the religious leaders Jesus rails against” because “No one else has a problem. Jesus doesn’t. Be like Jesus.”
Still no answer to the question about who Jesus is, and if He is still alive.
I replied to the abortion apologist like this:
“Asche, I’m not asking you about your confession of abortion. I’m asking you about your confession of Jesus.
Will anybody here say that Jesus of Nazareth is literally alive today, in the flesh, as a human being who rose from the dead?
Is Jesus literally God incarnate who is still alive, and will return to earth bodily?
Are you ashamed of your confession? I still don’t know what it is. Are you ashamed of Jesus? Are you embarrassed to say because you don’t want the world to judge you?”
We are called upon to discuss difficult topics, like sex, religion, and politics. We are to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” which calls for discernment and wisdom in our use of words and at appropriate times and contexts, and yet, we are called upon to engage in this apologetic endeavor in the first part of this oft-quoted passage of Scripture, as St. Peter confesses: “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.”
Christ is holy because He is God in the flesh; because He was crucified, died, and was buried as the single and all-availing atonement for the sin of the world; because He rose again; and because He is coming again at the final judgment. He is God and man, and He lives to this day - literally and unequivocally.
If a “church” - even one that has “Christ” in its name - cannot confess this about Jesus, and if the members hesitate to confess Christ, it is a ruse, a trick, a deceit of the devil. This is the spirit of Antichrist, as St. John warned us here, and here, and most especially here.
Christians can disagree on matters of politics. But if they cannot confess Christ, they are not Christians.
This spirit of Antichrist is why we see people claiming to be Christians equivocate about Christ, who distort love into something alien to the Scriptures and to natural human relations, and who embrace murder and child sacrifice and attempt to justify it by the Word of God.
And so we must speak of sex, religion, and politics - at the right time and place, in the right contexts, and motivated by love for our neighbors for whom Christ died. This calls for discernment and wisdom. But when it comes to our confession of Jesus as the Christ, as the Son of the living God, as our Savior and Redeemer, and the one who died and rose again - that is the shibboleth and the confession upon which the True Church exists, a revelation of the Father, apart from which there is no church, but rather Antichrist.
And so we must engage in uncomfortable conversations about sex, religion, and politics. And we must do so with wisdom and tact and discernment - and in love. But first and foremost, we must confess Christ - unashamedly, unequivocally, and without regard for how we will be perceived.
The most important question of all to begin a discussion of sex, religion, and politics is “What do you think of Jesus?” For if we are to (as we are commanded to do by CUCC): “Be like Jesus!” - we need to know who He is.
And lest we fall into the snare of Antichrist and become nothing more than a front for a political organization - let us remember that all matters of discussion regarding sex, religion, and politics are ancillary to our clear confession of Christ.