No Two Kingdoms

Aight, so I’m totally Lutheran, all in. I was Lutheran before I knew I was Lutheran, okay? I’m all about it. But that doesn’t mean I agree with everything Luther came up with, because I’m not and this’n’ll be about that, but first, I wanna reiterate that Luther was pretty cool. He had some pretty good ideas, none of which occur to me at this particular moment – oh wait, indulgences are bullshit. Everybody remembers that one. If you know nothing else about the Protestant Reformation, you know that Martin Luther was opposed to the selling of indulgences. I’m pretty sure that was in the 95 theses he nailed to the door of All Souls’ Church in Wittenberg, Deutschland, 31 Oct. 1519 – boom, that was from memory. Looks like I ain’t the most ignorant Lutheran in town after all. There was something in there about ecclesial poverty, some stuff about the separation of church and state – people give credit to Thomas J. but the idea that the church should be separate from the government was around for a long time before he picked it up – and clergy should be allowed to marry. Actually, the whole celibate clergy thing was a relatively recent move – I don’t know when exactly that rule was made, but it hadn’t been but a century or two. I’m on board with all of that stuff. Good job, Marty.

I also gotta acknowledge that Luther was pretty badass. He was excommunicated, fer fook’s sake, which is pretty serious shit for a medieval Catholic, and he didn’t back down. That’s tough.

But he got some shit wrong too, and that’s what I’m on about here. There was the really awful stuff he said about the Jews, which the ELCA has officially repudiated and renounced and rejected. Not many people know about the Peasants’ Revolt that happened in the 16th century in Germany – basically, a bunch of peasants got up their hoes and sickles and attempted to secure for themselves any kinda living wage and any kinda representation, as if that was gonna happen, which it didn’t, and they were brutally beat by the armies of the nobility, which wasn’t brutal by the standards of the day. Martin Luther was opposed to the cause of the Peasants, and spoke out quite forcefully, as was his wont, in favor of the swift and severe punishment of the revolting peasants. If I recall correctly, he was for hanging the leaders and giving everybody a generous flogging. In the now, the ELCA would feel obligated to take the side of the oppressed poor, because that’s what Jesus did and instructed His followers to do.

There’s a lotta Mennonites around here where I live – Anabaptists, after the tradition of Thomas Mennos (I could be wrong about the “Thomas”, but I haven’t looked anything up yet and I’d rather not.) Mennos was a contemporary of Luther who basically thought Luther didn’t go far enough. He wanted t strip off all the gimcracks and gew-gaws that had accumulated and return to first century Christianity. Luther disagreed and when Luther disagreed with somebody, he wrote about it and he had an annoying habit of being in favor of brutal repression and quite a bit of violence, so he wrote the same kinda stuff about the Anabaptists that he wrote about the Jews and revolting peasants. And the Mennonites haven’t forgotten. I was talking with one about general Christian stuff and he brought up Luther’s truly terrible statements about the Anabaptists and I was like “Yeah, we don’t wanna burn you guys anymore.”

Thank God, there weren’t any Black people in Wittenberg. We got enough problems without having to also apologize for whatever bullshit Luther would’ve written down and spread all around if any Black folks had moved into the neighborhood.

So far, I haven’t gone off the reservation. The 21st century Lutheran Church is fully on board with disagreeing with our beloved founder on all of these issues. I should specify that I mean the 21st century Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. There are other forms of Lutheran in the US and the world and I ain’t speaking for them. Obviously, I’m gonna say something that goes against the grain, or why would I be bothering with this? And that thing is: Martin Luther’s concept of “two kingdoms” is bullshit.

Here’s the Wiki link – Wikipedia changes, so the entry there might be a well-written explanation of the two kingdoms doctrine, but at this writing, it’s a mess. Honestly, I just included the link to show that there are worse writers than me.

What it comes down to is – according to Luther, God created two forms of rulership, or governance – the sacred and the secular. Hmm. I thought it was gonna be harder, but that’s really it. The “two kingdoms” are the governing power of God and the governing power of the government. This is still very much in effect as a doctrine – I first heard of it from my pastor. And it is also pure and utter poppycock.

Jesus talked about one kingdom – the Kingdom of God. He was all about that one Kingdom. He never mentioned any other kingdom. Off the top of my head, I can think of one place where Jesus acknowledges the existence of the government, which is when He says “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”, a statement which is as plain and simple as it is wide open to interpretation. Jesus was good at that.

There is exactly one Kingdom that a Christian has any reason to care about and that is the Kingdom of God. The only way to attain to that Kingdom is through faith in God’s grace. I’m a Lutheran, and we might disagree with Luther about many things, but ain’t no Lutherans I know, meself included, gonna argue about that. All that 16th century kerfuffle about indulgences was a subset of the bigger argument about whether souls were saved by faith or by works. Certainly, no Lutheran is gonna say that one shouldn’t try to do good things, but the good things one might do are the result of salvation, not the cause of it. Here’s an example – I’m sitting here right now, pecking this out, in the middle of the night at a homeless shelter where I am a monitor. I am playing a part in providing care for the poor, just as Christ instructed His followers to do. I am not doing this because I’m trying to suck up so I can get a place in Heaven. I’m already going to Heaven. And when I get there, I won’t have to put up with any homeless people. Not because the homeless won’t go to Heaven, but because they won’t be homeless when they get there – “in my Father’s house, they are many dwelling places”. That’s in John, I think. I am guaranteed to get into Heaven. Whatever good things I do are the result of God’s grace – I got this job because God placed me here. I’m just doing what He assigned me to do, and getting paid okay for it. I make more money than I spend and that’s not a problem.

I’m going to be attending a Lutheran seminary in the not too distant future and I’m not gonna be able to avoid getting educated about the two kingdoms thing. I’ll learn the basics well enough to get a passing grade on the test, but I won’t be shy about disagreeing with it because I am dead certain that it isn’t just incorrect, but also wrong. We, as Christians, following the example of Christ, should not hesitate to violate any law that contradicts Christ’s teaching. We should not be afraid of, or give any authority to, any government. That doesn’t mean we should run about willy-nilly breaking the law – that’d be stupid – but we should be willing to. I’m pretty sure I won’t be the first seminarian to take that position, and I have no fear that it’ll hold up my ordination or anything, but if it does, I’m okay with that. I’d be embarrassed if I got through seminary without causing some trouble.

It occurs to me that I haven’t come out to the candidacy committee about being one of the T in LGBTQ. I don’t think that’d be a problem – I’m plainly male-presenting and could easily not bring it up and they’d never know, but even if I was trying to present as female, or transitioning, it wouldn’t hold up the process. The ELCA ordains LGBTQ pastors and deacons. Actually, that certainly is part of it – I could just say nothing about it, so why should I? Why not just leave it out of the conversation?

Well, because I’ve been doing that for years and I don’t think it was the best thing I could’ve done. It seemed easier at one point and then it was just what I did. I’ve really just started to be out in some areas this year – scroll back far enough in this blog and you’ll find some entries that are me trying to figure it out. I’ve got my head around it now – and I’m out to some friends, but not to most folks. My parents don’t know – I don’t see any reason to have that conversation with either of ’em. I haven’t told my kid either – because I haven’t been able to hang out with her in person since I got it figured out – covid19 and all. We talk a few times a week online. She just got her first lesbian undercut. We’re reading Watership Down. I’ll tell her when we talk in person.

Coming out is a complicated process. The subject came up with the grrrl in connection with her new ‘do – she hasn’t told her Nana she’s queer yet, and she’s a little nervous about how that conversation is gonna go down, but not being out isn’t an option. She’s not willing to keep something so significant from someone she cares about, which is really weird to me. Nana is my mom and she doesn’t know shit about me. I don’t remember when I started keeping secrets from my parents.

I’m truly grateful that my kid is nothing like me.

But I will haveta come out to the church. No other option.

I didn’t know this post was gonna go that direction.


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