Kurt Johnson, Sr. is an ELCA Lutheran who resides in the Austin, Texas area. He is the author of a political non fiction book entitled Glass Walls released in May, 2009. The book discusses the neoconservative influence on the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
GLASS WALLS is a flowing, descriptive study of how public policy decisions by government can be misguided by social, cultural and religious influences.
This post is not about the book but a subsequent paper by Johnson that discusses one of the neocon subjects of his book, Robert Benne. This is the same Robert Benne who serves on the Lutheran CORE advisory board and who has authored several articles posted on the Lutheran CORE website, including the recent Why There Must be New Beginnings. Based on Benne’s background in neocon politics, Johnson offers a paper in response to Benne’s New Beginnings article. It is a scholarly paper (pdf format) that is more ponderous than a blog post, but it offers revealing insight into Benne and serves as a rebuttal to many of Benne’s positions.
Johnson briefly traces the Benne drift into neoconservatism (emphasis added).
[I]t is well documented that in the mid-to-late 1970s, Benne distanced himself significantly from his position embracing “social justice” and toward a distinctively white and middle-class (if not upper-middle-class) system of values. It is well documented that he became disillusioned with the civil rights movement and anti-war movement (Vietnam).
As part of that transition, Benne decided to take up with the “Chicago School” of economic theory as promoted by the economists at the University of Chicago, embracing the free-market ideas of Milton Friedman as distinguished from the long-accepted views of John Maynard Keynes. And perhaps most surprising because of its
remoteness from Benne’s pre-1975 views as a professor at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago was his position that “market arrangements” can (as per Benne quoting Assar Lindbeck) “reduce the need for compassion, patriotism, brotherly love and social solidarity as motivating forces behind social improvement.” And so, by the time the ELCA was being formed and attempting to engage the world on the cutting-edge issues, Benne already was in the process of retreating from it, aligning with the neoconservative values which are found substantively in the “white, middle-class, Euro-American composition.” All he needed to complete the schism was a virulent issue like human sexuality, which conveniently pulled the trigger.
Here are a few key points of Johnson’s rebuttal to Benne.
Based on his baseline premise that lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships are necessarily sinful, Benne concludes that the ELCA willy nilly excuses sin and offers cheap grace. I previously discussed this unquestioned assumption or paradigm here. Johnson rightly argues that the ELCA has not gone into the business of excusing sinful behavior. Instead, the ELCA now challenges the basic assumption of sinfulness and has achieved a paradigm shift in the church’s attitude about committed same gender relationships.
Benne offers significant criticism of the ELCA quota system, as if it is part of a “pervasive, deep-seated and well planned conspiracy to overturn Lutheran confessionalism and a Lutheran interpretation of scripture,” according to Johnson’s characterization of the Benne view. Johnson responds:
The inclusive, so-called quota system was developed in order to integrate the church and a world in need of ministry and sanctification. It was not developed to overturn important aspects of Lutheran doctrine. It is true that the quota system could be viewed as a threat to those who want to have the ELCA dominated by a “white, middle-class, Euro-American composition.”
Johnson concludes by raising the recurring question of how religion reacts to modernity, and suggests that the answer of Lutheran CORE is an unsatisfying retreat to Reformation era tenets of traditionalism.
It is understandable that the traditional orthodoxy represented by the Lutheran Core movement likely will dismiss these emerging developments and call them liberal, secular and heretical. The problem with this position … is that traditional orthodoxy is not likely to reassess how its message can reach and find acceptance in a society and world which are trying to digest such fast-moving changes.
Johnson’s paper is lengthy, but it’s worth the read.