Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Being Lutheran in Public: Contributions to Social Capital in the Midwest

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Being Lutheran in Public: Contributions to Social Capital in the Midwest

Article excerpt

My topic is suggested by the conference theme "The New World Experience of Two Old World Traditions" and by Peter Williams who comments upon these two traditions in his history of American religion: "Among the array of denominations that took shape under the terms of the American experiment, Lutherans and Episcopalians occupied an ambiguous position in the developing Protestant spectrum. Both had emerged in the vanguard of the Magisterial Reformation as state churches, so that democracy was hardly part of their formative experience. For Anglicans, the close relationship between the Church of England and the overseas regime against which the colonists-including many Anglicans-successfully revolted was a major factor in their problematic accommodation with the new order. For Lutherans, language-various German and Scandinavian tongues-and culture were more potent barriers to assimilation."1

Both the theme and Williams point to our shared national context and to ongoing adaptation to its challenges and opportunities. A central aspect of this transition was replacing the familiar Constantinian pattern of cooperation between the civil and churchly realm with disestablishment and voluntaryism.2 In this nation no religious group receives legal or financial benefits from the government and in return the government has no divine mandate mediated through a religious group. Neither is any person compelled by civil authority to belong to any religious group. While all groups found this situation new, Lutherans and Anglicans brought to it similar theological views and old world experiences. As Williams noted these two "had emerged in the vanguard of the Magisterial Reformation as state churches." Although in practice things worked out differently in England and in Lutheran lands, in the colonial era European Anglicans and Lutherans generally expected a cooperative relationship between civil government and church and both assumed a beneficial overlap between citizenship and church membership. The emerging American circumstances of legal and cultural disestablishment, voluntaryism, and expanding religious pluralism have had dramatic consequences for church life-internally and externally.

In the new world, where religious groups no longer receive legal benefits or protection, financial assurances, or guaranteed membership, Anglicans, Lutherans, and every other group must find ways to recruit and retain members, to secure financial support, and to contribute to and influence public life. The persistent image of a wall separating church and state is not a particularly accurate description of the relationship between religion and political, social, and cultural life. The institutionschurch and state-are separated, but persons move between them; if there are dividers between the arenas of religion and those of politics, social life, and culture, they are constructed of flexible, permeable materials. In these dynamic circumstances Anglicans and Lutherans have had various experiences influenced by factors such as timing and language, geographic and social location, and theology.

When adaptation to disestablishment is considered by attention to political life and cultural influence differences between the groups are usually emphasized. The gross assumption about Anglicans is that they have retained cultural influence and political power, to say nothing of economic weight. They are all descendents of tidewater aristocracy, given to prep school education, afternoon sherry, liturgical smells and bells, corporate nepotism, and governmental positions. This is matched by the equally gross assumption that Lutherans are without position or influence due to ethnic clannishness, orthodox obsession with pure teaching, pietistic moralism, and political quietism. In the wake of legal disestablishment Anglicans are the elite of the mainstream, Lutherans are presentable, but boring outsiders notable only for the oddity of their languages, liturgy, and social aloofness. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.