When reports started circulating that Republican
presidential contender Michele Bachmann was a member of a congregation in the
Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, I thought: this could be interesting.
The WELS is a small (400,000-member) denomination known
for its rigid confessionalism--a description that is not just mine but one used
by most other Lutherans. (See Lutheran Churches in the World, produced by the Lutheran
World Federation.) WELS adheres to a strict interpretation of the Lutheran
confessions of faith that were written in the 16th century, and its
rigidity is such that it broke off relations with the conservative Lutheran
Church--Missouri Synod in the 1960s and refuses cooperation with church bodies
other than those with which it is in total theological agreement. I don't think
there are any. (CORRECTION: That isn't strictly accurate: the WELS is in fellowship with one other church body in the U.S.--the tiny (40,000-member) Evangelical Lutheran Synod--as well as with some Lutheran groups abroad. --DH)
Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to have a
presidential candidate who is a conservative Christian not as in "conservative
evangelical" but as in conservative, creedal, sacramental, confessional
Lutheran. How would her Lutheran understanding of the two kingdoms, and of law
and gospel, shape her politics?
But it turns out Bachmann no longer belongs to the
WELS's Salem Lutheran Church, hasn't attended Salem for months, and claims no
ties to the WELS. This came out after the Atlanticpointed out that the WELS officially regards the papacy
as the Antichrist and that this might be a political liability for Bachman.
comment roused several commentators to say that they were shocked that anyone was shocked
by WELS's stance. After all, isn't that what Lutherans believe? Well, not most
Mollie Hemingway, for example, writing in the Wall
Street Journal, took the view that of course Lutherans think the papacy is
the Antichrist, and aren't they are entitled to their beliefs? She sought to
minimize such "strong rhetoric" by pointing out that the "current pope,
Benedict XVI, is particularly close to the Lutherans."
Well, yes, the current pope is close to some
Lutherans, and he even helped forge an agreement with the Lutheran World
Federation on justification. But Hemingway might have admitted that the pope is
not close to WELS Lutherans, and that WELS Lutherans would have nothing to do
with any ecumenical conversation or agreement with him.
In any event, Bachmann does not appear to have
distinctive WELS-related views on the papacy or on anything else. As Sarah
Posner reports, Bachmann is a conservative Christian "mishmash"--a Lutheran "moved by Francis Schaeffer to get
involved in conservative politics, who attended a law school founded by a
Pentecostal and a Christian Reconstructionist."