Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tornado a Sign from God

Tornado sirens went off yesterday around the metro area as heavy rains and thunderstorms rolled through the area spawning a few small tornadoes along the way. One touched down in downtown Minneapolis near where Lutherans (ELCA) are gathered for their annual assembly. They, like most of our denominations, are having divisive conversations about homosexuality. Yesterday, as the storms were swirling they voted to accept the validity of same-sex relationships that are "chaste, monogamous and lifelong." This sets up a vote, expected Friday, on a proposal to repeal a ban on gay and lesbian ministers from leading churches unless they promise to be celibate.

Could these tornadoes have been a message from God? Via Drew Tatusko I see that John Piper, pastor of preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, has said God sent these tornadoes as a warning to the Lutherans. A gentle warning, thankfully:
The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.
It is worth noting that the tornado did not hit the convention center where the Lutherans are meeting. It did do some damage to a Lutheran Church steeple but most of the damage was done to homes in the area of the church. Thankfully no one was seriously injured.

Unless the homeowners were all ELCA members apparently God saw fit to punish innocent neighbors and homeowners. Or else God missed.

I am wrapping up a message series this week on the biblical view of suffering. There is certainly plenty of evidence from the scriptures, particularly the prophets, that one view of why suffering comes to us is that God is angry and sends armies and storms as punishment or warning. In this view God sometimes wipes out entire populations including lots of innocent people. So Piper isn't saying anything that can't be supported by biblical passages.

That doesn't make him right, though. For one thing there are other biblical responses to the question of why suffering happens, including some that suggest that bad things sometimes happen to good or innocent people and it isn't God's fault or their fault or anyone's fault. For another, we don't live inside that biblical worldview anymore. We know too much about storms and weather and how it works. It isn't a mystery left to be explained by God. This doesn't mean there aren't weather surprises; the tornadoes yesterday were quite surprising considering the relatively cool temperatures. But God isn't behind the surprises. The explainable forces of nature are.

Pastors who say the kinds of things Piper said about this storm are using a fear-based form of religion to maintain their authority with their congregation. If they can keep their people just scared enough to worry that God might be coming after them next if they don't behave then they can also keep them in the pews.

I know that many people are raised in this kind of fear-based religious environment and it works for them. I understand. But I do not have the same kind of understanding for educated pastors like John Piper who feed and nourish this kind of thinking. It is just wrong.


Chad said...

It is interesting to me that the passage Piper uses for his point "Jesus Christ controls the wind, including all tornados." is a story where Jesus is asleep when the storm begins and stops it after being woken up by His disciples.

jprapp said...

Cheers, Jay.

Blessings to you in your church- start work.

I’m posting here because I agree with your comments in your profile, that: “For that reason it matters to me more how a person lives their life and what they do to enhance the quality of all life on this planet than any doctrinal or theological position they hold.”

I’m informally scouring theological opinion on the tornado dustup.

A theologian-qua-actuary on my blog has convinced me that theology as a metric for this tornado is all amiss. Due to theological bias which discounts real-life interpretations by the Lutherans (actuary at, I don’t have empirical data to settle the question.

Nor am I surveying here empirically.

I half-expect a bias to be insinuated into liberal positions, to take the debate out of textual literalism.

There is a tornado-like draft and wind-drag on church membership over interpretation either way (tornadoes, sexual orientation), so the fallout from the storm isn’t settled.

I wonder if you have an impressionistic sense of prediction: whether churches will really fall out into fixed theological profiles along the lines of liberal v. conservative, due to theology as a prime factor, on this matter? - or due to other, non-theological reasons? And does this fall out make any difference to you in planting a church? - say in your own self-identification to others, say in publishing your DNA in your planting itself? - are your own averments and positions staked as an up-front, maybe quasi-covenantal decision, to self-define to others as liberal (to potential members), say in brochures, bulletins, in going door to door, or however else you build your invitations to check out your church?

How much of your theology itself has changed because of responses and conversations with potential members in your community?

Again, I’m not doing empirical work here.

My actuary-theologian friend has me half-convinced that theological bias on both sides (Piper, Boyd) drives objective inquiry underground. I don’t have a horse in this race. But I’m extremely intrigued with the dynamics of these questions of theological bias for planting a church, and whether you have found your own theology more or less fluid (or semi-solid) because of planting a church (rather than maintaining a staked position), because of conversations with potential members? Or maybe your sense of the wind-flow of theology has taken you in directions not even touched by my questions?