Remember this Scene in A Christmas Story?
That scene came to mind as I imagined tens of thousands of non-church-nerds reading that Michele Bachmann’s former denomination, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, believes the Pope is the Antichrist.
The story has been floating around for a while, but Joshua Green’s piece in the Atlantic has renewed focus on it, and much of the reaction has been predictable: Antichrist! Bwah! Surely that can only mean that Michele Bachmann thinks that Benedict XVI is, identifiably, an extra special satanic baddie with superpowers and invisible demonic beasts doing his bidding, like in a Frank Peretti novel.
(Please tell me there are other RD readers who harbor a love for Frank Peretti novels, a love they can’t always explain? My favorite was this one. It’s been years, but my recollection is that it was about a town where if you have extramarital sex you get a rash on your chest and then after a while a monster eats you. If I remember correctly, there was a romantic scene which ended with two characters committing adultery, and which began with something like: “Tracy walked in looking neat, clean, and very cute in an oversized sweatshirt and leggings.” Chicka-bow-tss-wocka-wocka. But, sorry, I seem to be getting off track here.)
When you go and read the WELS statement, though, it’s far less dramatic. I mean, they are Lutherans. Plus, the denomination has “Wisconsin” right there in the name. Lutheran + Wisconsin = growing suspicion that maybe this is not chock-full of cinematic melodrama and special effects.
Here is what WELS believes:
1. There are “anti-Christian powers” that do not necessarily attach to a particular individual or office. These are bad, but they’re not demons-that-eat-people bad or laser-eye-beams bad. Pride, for example, would be an anti-Christian power.
2. Scripture speaks of the Antichrist as a particular individual embodiment of these powers, so if you believe in the literal inerrancy of scripture (which WELS does), then according to them, you pretty much have to believe in an Antichrist.
3. Specifically, scripture gives marks of the Antichrist: one who “sets himself up in the temple” and “will exalt himself over everything that is called God.”
4. The office of the papacy, the WELS believes, meets these conditions. Plus Martin Luther said so and hey, this is a Lutheran denomination.
“Be sure to… drink your Ovaltine?” What we have here is a theological dispute over whether the office of the papacy can, by God’s grace, participate in the mediation and redemption ultimately performed by Christ (the Catholic view); or whether such an office can only ever set itself up as a fradulent rival to the mediation performed by Christ (the WELS view). I mean, I actually think that’s an interesting theological dispute; but this is not necessarily the kind of action movie antichrist envisioned by those who expect a physical rapture, a period of tribulation, and an epic cosmic battle between Jesus and a slick-talking demonic United Nations official (not necessarily in that order).
Does it mean that Bachmann will have a Catholic problem? Maybe. Anything’s possible in a campaign. And if one anticipates the reactions of American Catholics based on the fulminations of the, er, “prominent” Catholic Green talks to, Bill Donohue, then indeed we should all expect a big fight. But Donohue, who thinks “Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular,” and that “Mel Gibson represents the mainstream of America,” doesn’t represent American Catholics.
Consider, also: Bachmann is no longer a member of the denomination. Also nothing was said by a black preacher in a loud voice, which unfortunately has seemed to be a big factor in the past. And I have heard that, once in a great great while, people do not agree with everything their denominations teach… or, indeed, even know about it.