You saw it, right? Michele Bachmann, God’s little darling, quit her Church. Her gay-hating, anti-Jew, anti-Catholic, anti-Black, anti-choice, anti-science Church.
Those of you who thought that Southern Baptists and the Assembly of God had the monopoly on Weird Religion, think again. America is multi-cultural, after all–like Bill Murray (as John Winger) reminds us in Stripes,
“We’re all very different people. We’re not Watusi. We’re not Spartans. We’re Americans, with a capital ‘A’, huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse.”
If that doesn’t quite compute with what you thought the Pilgrim Fathers brought to these shores–all that beeswax about freedom of worship and conscience–then you didn’t deserve your B- in American history. Come to think of it, you wouldn’t have learned this in American history because the schools actually don’t teach it. Nobody (in America anyway) wants to think of America as Europe’s dumping ground for religious misfits and zealots. It spoils all our stories about grandparents, forty acres and a mule and Ellis Island. And it’s only when their crazy descendants surface in modern political debates that we’re reminded of what it means to be wretched refuse.
The fact is, most of multidenominational America was monocultural at the start. America was a big enough country to make room for Dunkards and Mennonites and Amish farmers, apple-butter-making, wine tippling German Benedictines in Missouri and tight-lipped Presbyterians in North Carolina. No one in 1850 would have been surprised at the repetitious ethnicity of the surnames on church rolls. Just like no one cared much about what the pols were doing in Washington as long as it didn’t reach into the hills of Tennessee or the woods of Maine. Churches weren’t melting pots or even pots to melt thinks in: they were mechanisms for preserving ethnic difference, family custom, ancestral languages, inherited prejudices. –Special ways of loving the God who died on the cross for your sins and invented the shotgun so’s you could protect your special interpretation of what that meant and sing the songs your grandpa sang.
Their apartheid from each other was taken for granted. Their separateness from the federal government, on the other hand, had to be guaranteed by Constitutional authority, spelled out by a generation of pretty smart men whose influence did not last much into the following century except on the coinage. Mark Twain’s famous experiment in ecumenism says it all.
Which brings me to the latest example of cultural atavism: Michele Marie Bachmann, née Amble, of Iowa-Norwegian-Lutheran stock. (Where did you think those cute, semi-round vowels and troubled, vacant blue eyes come from?).
The stock went down when it was reported that the particular branch of Lutheranism that MB and her Christian counselor-husband Marcus belonged to, the Wisconsin Evangelical Synod of the Lutheran Church, was a sect caught in a time-warp of seventeenth century religious polemic. Rumour has it that German sociologists were convinced that the last traces of their kind were wiped out in the Thirty Years War, which ended in 1648. But no, they survived and swam all the way to Stillwater, Minnesota to form the Salem Lutheran Church, a retail outlet of the Wisconsin Synod consisting of 800 smiling, toothy, salvation-confident members.
In the main, they believe in all the things other Lutherans believed four hundred years ago before there was a United States, or a Charles Darwin or a Hubble Telescope. Among these things they believe that Christians should be “obedient” to governing authorities–not because the Constitution recommends it, but because the Bible says so:
“We believe that not only the church but also the state, that is, all governmental authority, has been instituted by God. “The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1). Christians will, therefore, for conscience’s sake obey the government that rules over them (Romans 13:5) unless that government commands them to disobey God (Acts 5:29).” Being a good citizen is a concession to the state, which insofar as it has any right to govern at all gets it from God. This puts the citizen in the stressful condition of always needing to remind the state of its obligation to the Church, which is, of course, not something the First Amendment talks about.
Importantly, Luther was able to side with the divinely appointed authorities against the zealous, protestant German peasants because Luther thought the state represented God, just like Michele Bachmann thinks the Republican Party does today.
Luther also believed the Pope was the antichrist. So does Michele Bachmann’s minister, er–ex-minister–and so does her Church. Luther wore the plain brown robe of an Augustinian monk. The pope got to dress up, drink better wine, and create new doctrines and sacraments. In historical context, the contempt between Luther and the papacy was personal (the pope called him a goring German boar, though it sounds better in Latin), so a little hyperbole can be forgiven. But something tells me that the use of the phrase in the Salem Lutheran Church doesn’t bother to mention this. And even Lutheran theologians who aren’t Salemites end up spewing gibberish when they try to explain:
“Luther’s point was, that in his view, the pope was so obstructing the gospel of God’s free love in Jesus, even though he wore all the trappings of a leader in the church…He was functioning as the New Testament describes … the Antichrist.” (Valparaiso religion professor George Heider). All clear? Benedict XVI is not the antichrist. He just plays one on TV.
America has been blessed with a rich array of religious craziness, so why pick on this sect, numbering about 420,000 adherents nation-wide, with over 60,000 of those located in Bachmann’s homestate of Minnesota. After all, they can’t be as bad at the homophobic Westboro Baptist Church or the Dove World Outreach Center, storefront for the antics of the reverend Terry Jones.
At the risk of misstating the obvious, it’s because neither of those groups or their simian cousins has yet produced a viable presidential candidate. One by the way who was permitted to slither away from her cultural-religious home and into a more mainsteam evangelical church (Eagle Brook Church) in Stillwater, one than openly opposes lynching.
Her erstwhile pastor “accepted” her resignation on June 27, 2011–within arm’s length of her announcement of wanting to be the next commander-in-chief of God’s armies. The resignation is characterized by that free exercise of conscience and aspiration to go where God leads that typifies Ms. Bachmann’s commitment to the creation of a Christian republic.
I’m not sure I agree with Christopher Hitchens that religion poisons everything. But it does make things rancid. In fact, I’m not really interested in what Wisconsin Synod Lutherans believe because we have a document that protects us from it.
But a lot of what they believe is incarnate in Michele Bachmann: her positions on global warming (hoax, because not mentioned as a sign of the apocalypse in Mark 13); health care (interference with God’s schedule); same sex marriage (you’ve got to be kidding); abortion (your comment here), and the Constitution (the writ of Christian men, like John Quincy Adams [sic] not to be distinguished from the Pilgrims of Plymouth colony in their aspirations). Bachmann’s entire social policy and cultural framework has been shaped by the Synod she’s just left behind.
What is even more repugnant however is that Bachmann calculated her move fairly skilfully, so as to preclude it being an issue in a political contest. She knows that Minnesota is not all Lutherans. Those wine-making German monks occupied land not otherwise reserved for protesant dairy cows–and Catholic faithful are a powerful electoral force. Stillwater is a skip away from St Paul, the Catholic twin of Minneapolis, where every Sunday a priest will hold forth from the magnificently rennovated pulpit of the cathedral with a sermon about protecting unborn life being the first duty of a Christian. Catholic politicians who vote otherwise and against the wisdom of Holy Mother Church? Screw ’em, and don’t use a condom.
Michele Bachmann knows that she is toast within her own state without the Catholic vote, or more exactly that insofar as there is a Catholic vote any more it is an anti-abortion vote, an anti-gay vote–a “family values” vote. That’s why when pressed at a forum about the pope being antichrist, Bachmann said passionately and completely mistakenly,
“Well that’s a false statement that was made, and I spoke with my pastor earlier today about that as well, and he was absolutely appalled that someone would put that out. It’s abhorrent, it’s religious bigotry. I love Catholics, I’m a Christian, and my church does not believe that the Pope is the Anti-Christ, that’s absolutely false.”
Much as Ms Bachmann’s bigotry flickers beneath this denial, it’s nothing compared to the Catholic traducers who are trying to rescue her for the cause.
In a recent statement on Bachmann’s religious views, The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights said “It’s regrettable that there are still strains of anti-Catholicism in some Protestant circles… But we find no evidence of any bigotry on the part of Rep. Michele Bachmann. Indeed, she has condemned anti-Catholicism. Just as President Barack Obama is not responsible for the views of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Rep. Bachmann must be judged on the basis of her own record.”
The same Church that threw Ted Kennedy to the wolves and vowed to keep John Kerry from receiving communion in the Boston archdiocese has made Michele Bachmann an honorary Catholic. And why? Because she has become a champion for the moral and cultural backwardness that Catholic orthodoxy has come to symbolize.
But that’s not the most noxious part of the Catholic League’s endorsement. They want us to see a moral equivalence between the Jeremiah Wright crisis of 2008 and Bachmann’s potential religious liabilities in 2012.
There’s a problem with this “equivalence,” of course. It’s that Barack Obama didn’t believe most of the things, at least most of the angriest things, Jeremiah Wright spouted in his sermons, and everyone knew it. Michele Bachmann believes almost everything her church teaches about the Bible, sex, sexuality, evolution, creation, government–you name it.
In fact, she probably believes it more strongly and is in a position to do more about it than any pastor or member of her denomination. The ancient virus of a regressive American protestantism flows in her blood and influences every part of her social agenda.
She can’t resign from that.