graphic website title banner

Listen to the lullaby or the canary?

by Jaynan L. Clark (WordAlone Network president)

September 22, 2009

photo of Pastor Jaynan Clark EglandLullabies are meant to soothe, to comfort and to help you go to sleep. Lullabies are by their very nature helpful and healthy tunes that are not only good for infants and small children but for all those in need of rest and security.

I have been with elderly couples as one faces severe health problems and possible death when the spouse, their lover for a lifetime, sang them a lullaby. I’ve witnessed—through tear-filled eyes—grandchildren caught up in the circle of life, singing to an aging nana or papa.

A lullaby is a love song. The canary’s song is a song of vigilance. Which do confessional Lutherans need in the 21st century?

In these post-churchwide-assembly days of 2009, I’m witnessing the chaos and confusion that the human sexuality votes have caused as ears have opened to hear the truth of what has been happening for a very long time within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The rapid response of the ELCA leadership is predictable—a lullaby.

I’m hearing the ELCA leadership sing a lullaby of sorts attempting to lull to sleep the congregations, laity, pastors, churchwide staff and anyone else waking up to the radical changes that have now—after years of unrelenting, top-down pushing—finally been approved.

Because of the Churchwide Assembly decisions this August, ministers in same-sex relationships can be ordained or serve as lay ministers. Same-sex relationships can be blessed in the ELCA.

Across not only the ELCA, but also in all other Christian churches globally the sleepers are awakening and they feel called to confess their faith, take a stand and act upon it.

But the response from the ELCA leadership is a “Shhhhh . . . go back to sleep, all is well.” The language of the false lullaby also is the language of society and its political agendas. Don’t listen to it, turn it off, reject it.

For too long people in the pews across the map have been hoodwinked into believing that there really wasn’t a problem in the ELCA. They were told there were just a few people out there in a little radical fringe group that was trying to rile everyone up, bring division and even schism into Jesus’ church.

One judgmental episode of name calling and stereotyping after another called us, those involved in efforts to reform, “Pharisees, judgmental, self-righteous naysayers who are afraid of change and people with different sexual orientations.”

At this just past assembly, speakers on the floor even accused us of being guilty of the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit! These judgments and attacks were all done, of course, under the code words of love, inclusion, gospel, justice and unity. This kind of politically correct, toxic, legalistic judgment needs to draw more than just a yawn.

Apparently we in the WordAlone Network and other reform groups really haven’t been such a little fringe, rump group speaking for ourselves. As I’m hearing a global response of outrage, I am a bit overwhelmed with finding myself and all those who have been confessing the Christian Lutheran faith— in opposition to what was happening step-by-step, ELCA-assembly-by-ELCA-assembly—now in an overwhelming majority. Praise the Lord!

On the other hand, the rallying cry for years in every speech made by Mark Hanson, as not only the presiding bishop of the ELCA but also as president of the Lutheran World Federation, was a challenge that the world was watching—what would be “our” witness?

Well, the churchwide assembly voted, made its witness and unfortunately for the ELCA, the world was watching and listening. The witness made by the churchwide assembly action is not being received as the good news of Jesus Christ but rejected as a false gospel that is heresy and must be opposed. A great awakening is taking place not only across the ELCA and other Lutheran bodies but also other Christian churches.

Wake up!

Don’t listen as the headquarters in Chicago tell you to calm down and ignore all the disruption and chaos and confusion.

Don’t listen to the song and verse now coming out through ELCA communications all to convince you that none of this is going to affect you or your church. Shhhh—go back to sleep. Just close your eyes, pick up your wallet and be a cheerful giver and a faithful steward of what God has given you, say institutional church leaders.

We in the opposition warn you to be suspect of the ELCA suggestions that you just continue to support the ELCA as you always have because nothing is different for you, that your church is just including all those whom the ELCA with its supposedly “unjust policies” has excluded for all this time.

Huh? Since when is full inclusion in the church equated with ordination? Does that mean every lay member is not fully included? It isn’t about unity or love or inclusion either, it is about obedience. It is about the clear Word of God and obedience to the Lord of the true Church, not to elected leaders of a human institution.

I am not making these comments to be sarcastic or incendiary but rather to sound the alarm so we do not drift off again into the state of wishful bliss embracing in unearned trust the institutional leaders and hirelings who have covered their wolf pelts with sheep’s wool.

Jesus has taught you to not listen to their voices but to his alone, your Good Shepherd.

Again I say, “Wake up! Arise from your slumber!”

If you check the story of the canary, you will find there is reason to believe that it refers to canaries in the coal mines. Those precious little birds served one purpose—protection of the miners by dying and thus warning the miners of the presence of deadly, poisonous gases. The canary’s song was a comfort, but not a lullaby meant to lull the miners to sleep. It was a call to vigilance. And when the little, vulnerable canary dropped from its perch silent, the absence of its song meant action, take immediate precaution and evacuate.

On Aug. 19, the canary dropped to the bottom of its cage in silence in Minneapolis. With votes that stand in opposition to the Word of God, the ELCA mined a deadly, poisonous gas. Proceed to the door of the dark cave, empty the tomb.

Seek the light and the fresh air of the one, Holy Spirit according to the Word and not the elemental spirits of the day.

Let us not only sing like the vigilant canary but also continue to do so even as we fall from our perches for the sake of the true Gospel, in service to the voice of the Good Shepherd and for the life and safety of the sheep.