Michelle Bachmann, Emmett Tyrell, and the Pope

He can’t really think that the Lutheran/Catholic split was about papal infalliblity. Can he?

Is Emmett Tyrell, editor of the American Spectator, a fool or a scoundrel? From his latest musings (at Clownhall) on the anti-Catholicism of Michelle Bachmann’s church, it’s hard to tell.

The backstory is that Bachmann just resigned from the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran church which she had attended for years, after it came out that website of the Wisconsin Synod’s website – following the teachings of Martin Luther himself – identifies the Pope as the Antichrist.

If you didn’t know that backstory, Tyrell’s piece would leave you ignorant. He writes:

I do not know what the Salem Lutheran Church’s complaint is, but if it is the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility, I think I understand. The debate began in 1517 and got rather bloody. Yet over the past century or so, it has become quite civilized. Actually, I would be rather surprised if any Protestant or, for that matter, Jew accepted papal infallibility. But that does not mean I would not vote for a Protestant or Jew for president.

Now, Martin Luther was undoubtedly a great man, but as far as I know his followers have never claimed that he had such prophetic powers as to dissent in 1517 from a doctrine – Papal infalliblity – not proclaimed until the First Vatican Council of 1871. But of course reducing the claim that “the Pope is the Antichrist” to the claim that “the Pope is not infallible” makes it hard to see what all the shoutin’ is about. No doubt that was Tyrell’s intention.

Of course I agree with Tyrell that whether or not Michelle Bachmann agrees with Martin Luther and her former church about the Bishop of Rome is not relevant to her qualifications (if any) for the Presidency. It’s all good clean fund to point out that politicized fundamentalism and politicized Catholicism come from religious traditions that hate and despise each other as much as Sunni and Shi’a Islam. But that fact is a mere historical curiosum. A generation ago, anti-Catholicism was still an important social fact in this country. Now it’s not. That’s progress, and no Catholic in his right mind will think that the adherence of the Wisconsin Synod to the Smalcald Articles has any relevance to the candidacy of Michelle Bachmann.

Her apparent mendacity on the point – denying that her former denomination believes what it does, in fact, hold – is, perhaps, a different question.

Joshua Green found the following delicious piece of transcript:

Pat Kessler, WCCO (debate moderator): We’ll start with Senator Bachmann. Religion and politics that has crept into this campaign over and over again. The Minneapolis-based Star Tribune reports today, Senator, that the church you belong to is affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which, it says, regards the Roman Catholic pope as the Anti-Christ. Is this true, do you share the views of your church, and why should any Catholic in the Sixth District vote for you if it is true?

Bachmann: Well that’s a false statement that was made, and I spoke with my pastor earlier today about that as well, and he was absolutely appalled that someone would put that out. It’s abhorrent, it’s religious bigotry. I love Catholics, I’m a Christian, and my church does not believe that the Pope is the Anti-Christ, that’s absolutely false.

Compare the relevant passage from the Wisconsin Synod website:

… all Christians ought to beware of becoming partakers of the godless doctrine, blasphemies, and unjust cruelty of the Pope. On this account they ought to desert and execrate the Pope with his adherents as the kingdom of Antichrist.

Now, the last time I checked, the “adherents of the Pope” were called “Catholics.” So the Wisconsin Synod calls on its members to “execrate” Catholics as partakers of “godless doctrine” and “blasphemies.” It’s quite likely that Michelle Bachmann has no actual prejudice against Catholics. But her denial of an accurate account of her church’s teachings as “a false statement” is … well, it’s in line with the rest of her discourse.

Mollie Ziegler Hemingway correctly points out that the Wisconsin Synod is less extreme than some evangelicals, who regard Catholicism as a form of paganism and do not regard Catholics as Christians. I suppose that’s even worse than holding “godless doctrines” and partaking of “blasphemies.”

As to the question with which this post started, to Hell with it: why not both?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

23 thoughts on “Michelle Bachmann, Emmett Tyrell, and the Pope”

  1. “papal infalliblity – not proclaimed until the First Vatican Council of 1871”

    You’ll get better info from those more versed in this subject than I (but I’m first!): the idea of infallibility has been around for several hundred years — it became official Church doctrine in 1871.

  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_infallibility#Theological_history

    “In the year 1075, Pope Gregory VII asserted 27 statements regarding the powers of the papacy in Dictatus Papae: ’22. That the Roman church has never erred; nor will it err to all eternity, the Scripture bearing witness.’

    “Several medieval theologians discussed the infallibility of the pope when defining matters of faith and morals, including Thomas Aquinas and John Peter Olivi. In 1330, the Carmelite bishop Guido Terreni described the pope’s use of the charism of infallibility in terms very similar to those that would be used at Vatican I.”

    So the Wisconsin Synod calls on its members to “execrate” Catholics as partakers of “godless doctrine” and “blasphemies.”

    Well, no, it doesn’t. The Lutheran Confession does, but the Synod itself seems to take a significantly milder stance. From the Synod’s Web site, long section titled “Statement on the Antichrist”:

    “We thereby affirm that we identify this ‘Antichrist’ with the Papacy as it is known to us today, which shall, as 2 Thessalonians 2:8 states, continue to the end of time, whatever form or guise it may take. This neither means nor implies a blanket condemnation of all members of the Roman Catholic Church, for despite all the errors taught in that church the Word of God is still heard there, and that Word is an effectual Word.” (My bold)

    The passage Mark quotes is from the Lutheran Confessions, selections from which are quoted in the “Statement on the Antichrist” pages. The passage I just quoted is from the Synod’s commentary on the Lutheran Confessions material.

    How the Synod attempts to reconcile the sentence I bolded with the passage from the Confessions that apparently demands that all Catholics be execrated, I don’t know, but there seems to be a clear difference on that issue.

    The piece by Joshua Green Mark cites makes the same point, BTW. It also goes into the history of the doctrine of papal infallibility (particularly the conflict with Luther), which is intimately related to the issue of the pope as Antichrist. Green was told by a Synod representative, however, that the pope as Antichrist “has never been one of our driving principles.”

  3. While it’s true that some evangelicals have a more extreme position than that of the Wisconsin Synod, it’s also true that most Lutheran denominations dropped this doctrine long ago. Since the Wisconsin Synod has chosen to stand against that trend and make this one of it’s distinctives within the Lutheran community it seems fair to point it out, as well as Bachmann’s mendacity on the subject in 2006. It’s plausible she didn’t know about the doctrine or that it wasn’t an important factor in her families’ decision to affiliate with the church, but there’s no way she she got the assurances she claims to have gotten from her pastor if she ever really discussed it with him.

  4. Fool or scoundrel? If you’ve read Tyrell over the years, the answer is obvious: scoundrel. Maybe fool as well, but certainly scoundrel.

    I agree that anti-Catholicism is less important than it was. But it’s not dead, especially among the Taliban faction of American Protestants. The American Taliban Protestants have decided to put their anti-Catholicism on ice, until they have established the ecumenical Taliban caliphate. (This involves at least one Supreme Court justice and maybe a few decades.) The Catholic hierarchy is with them on the gender wars, and the gender wars are the cutting edge of Talibanism anywhere. But I predict that if they ever establish their caliphate, the anti-Catholicism will emerge again in full force: the first intramural fight among the victorious American Talibs.

    And for the record, anti-semitism is as strong among that group as it ever was. They take every old Jewish stereotype they have and pin it on the “liberals,” while pretending Jews are perfectly represented by Bibi Netanyahu and the management of select parts of Brooklyn and Rockland and Sullivan Counties. (On represesentation, a remarkable agreement with their bearded brethren overseas.) Of course, their stereotype of “liberal” corresponds nicely to the majority of real American Jews.

  5. there’s no way she she got the assurances she claims to have gotten from her pastor

    It seems strange that she’d lie about something so cut-and-dried. I’d speculate there was a misunderstanding–e.g., that her pastor thought she was asking about the “execrate Catholics” bit, but she understood him to be making a blanket denial of the whole pope-as-Antichrist doctrine. I’d sure hate to be a pastor trying to explain anything complex and sensitive to her.

  6. I’m going to get into a parsing question here (and was this passage originally in English?): does the “as” there mean “in the same manner as” or “in his capacity as”? The first would let someone weasel through by asserting that the doctrine merely proclaimed the then pope to be as bad as the antichrist without actually identifying him as such…

  7. I’m with Ebenezer Scrooge on this.
    Mark has shown a remarkable ability over the years to be unwilling to take the evil that people say at their word, and then to be surprised when it turns out that they mean what they say.

    I’m no expert on this, but I’ve come across, in one form or another, a constant strain of US Protestant thinking riddled with on-going hatred for Catholicism — most recently in a book about the early explorations of North America by the Spanish, which had a few asides where the author spoke to locals about what they knew of the past, and discovered in Florida a seething nest of anti-Catholicism.

    I suspect that Mark goes wrong by assuming that this hatred is (in some sense) rational, and then trying to figure out exactly what has these people riled up and how to mollify them. Ebenezer is much more realistic — this hatred comes from some incoherent mix of hatred of “the other”, nostalgia for some imagined time when “we were top dogs”, and the usual Freudian mix — one or more of hatred of control, hatred of women, hatred of one’s parents, suppressed homosexual urges, and so on

  8. It is, I think, unfair to judge religious groups very heavily by traditional articles of faith; the relationship is complicated in all religions with which I’m familiar.

    Judaism has the longest history, and has more written down–but to ask a religious Jew if he believes in the written Torah, and then ignore the clear fact that he reads it through 3 millenia of history and practice whcih mitigate its harshness rather strongly, isn’t a reasonable way to approach Judaism. And it’s similar with Christianity: the anti-Catholic statements are clearly not acted on in practice.

  9. Gee, do you think there might be a little bit of hostility the other way, too — the claim that Mormons (including more than one of B’s current opponents for the nomination) aren’t christians either?

    This thread is exceptional evidence in favor of a strict, high, and impenetrable wall between church and state. But then, so was the First Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648); and the Crusades; and…

  10. “It is, I think, unfair to judge religious groups very heavily by traditional articles of faith; the relationship is complicated in all religions with which I’m familiar.

    Judaism has the longest history, and has more written down–but to ask a religious Jew if he believes in the written Torah, and then ignore the clear fact that he reads it through 3 millenia of history and practice whcih mitigate its harshness rather strongly”

    Sam, I don’t think this is good enough. As long as those words exist and are written down, they are ALWAYS there, just waiting to be activated as appropriate. There was plenty of good stuff to use when Southerners wanted to defend Slavery, when Afrikaners wanted to defend Apartheid, and now when we’re told that “God hates fags”. You talk of Judaism, but there are a vocal (and apparently increasingly successful) crowd of Israelis who want to bring back EVERYTHING in Leviticus and Deuteronomy to go along with the territory greater Israel.

    Looking for the worst in a religion may not be a reasonable way to approach the behavior of the *average* worshipper. But the average worshipper, alone, is not the problem; it’s the nutcase zealot who is the problem — and the fact that by finding supporting words in his text of choice he can pretty easily (as shown by 2000+ years of human history) bring the average worshipper along with him.

  11. Tyrrell is not a fool. The Catholic Church is proud of its history and teaches it with precision, if also with a modicum of advocacy. So what we have here is an instance of “tactical wrongness” — a form of social signalling wherein credibility is appealed for and gained by means of deliberate, calibrated inaccuracy.

    …and by the way, the average worshipper IS the problem, because the extremists speak and act in his name.

  12. There are a vocal crowd of Israelis who want to bring back EVERYTHING in Leviticus and Deuteronomy

    I was not aware of that; I knew there were groups who wanted to go back to traditional Judaism, but that’s at least as based on the Talmud as on Torah–and very often the Talmudic interpretations significantly lessen the harshness of the Torah.

  13. Ditto what SamChevre said. Unfortunately, I think we are all morally obliged to engage energetically with the fundamentalists within our own group. Men have to take on male chauvinists, etc. Just thinking about it makes me tired, but, I think it’s the most effective way, though certainly not foolproof. I have a feeling fundamentalists will always be with us.

  14. I suspect Ms. Bachmann didn’t know about the antichrist business until someone pointed it out; if her church is like mine, relatively few parishioners know much about the fine points of doctrine. Her resignation therefore seems to be a bit of an overreaction.

    I’m a practicing Methodist in spite of its official position on homosexuality, to wit: “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” This language was upheld at the last General Conference by something like a 5-3 margin, so I am hopeful it will soon be amended, perhaps even within my lifetime. While I might feel comfortable enough saying publicly that many of my fellow Methodists are idiots on this or that doctrinal issue, it’s understandable that Ms. Bachmann might be hesitant to do so.

  15. “Pat Kessler, WCCO (debate moderator): We’ll start with Senator Bachmann…”

    I’m already not liking this alternative universe…

  16. @Ralph Hitchens: Her resignation therefore seems to be a bit of an overreaction.

    She had actually not attended that church for two years (she had moved to a different part of town) before she resigned her membership; and apparently it was the pastor who requested she resign formally since she hadn’t been there in so long. There was no requirement that she resign; from what the pastor said that was quoted in one of the newspapers, it was more of an administrative matter. Doesn’t seem to have had anything to do with the pope-as-Antichrist business.

  17. @koreyel–The debate Mark quoted took place in 2006 when she was a Minnesota state senator running for reelection.

    And BTW, y’all, it’s Michele, not Michelle.

  18. Ebenezer says, “The American Taliban Protestants have decided to put their anti-Catholicism on ice, until they have established the ecumenical Taliban caliphate. (This involves at least one Supreme Court justice and maybe a few decades.)” I find this statement puzzling. There are presently six members of the Supreme Court who call themselves Catholic (including one convert), four of whom are the most conservative of the Justices, and three of Jewish heritage. None of the Justices is Protestant, much less ecumenical. How would adding one extreme conservative ecumenical — Goddess forbid — in any sense “establish[ an] ecumenical Taliban caliphate”? I’m not disputing your metaphor about the goal of the most extreme of the fundamentalist Protestant political activists; just denying that your characterization of the more conservative members of the Supreme Court is remotely accurate.

  19. Swift Loris @ 4:03 – it doesn’t sound like it was quite that routine or administrative – from the article in the Atlantic that kicked off the discussion: ‘Joel Hochmuth, the communications director [of the WELS denomination]… revealed that Bachmann is no longer a member of the WELS congregation. “I do know that she has requested a release of her membership,” he said, adding that she took the unusual step of formally requesting that release in writing.” ‘

  20. @drkrick–Hochmuth may not have been completely tuned in, or Green may have misunderstood. The story I read (may have been the Star-Tribune) said the pastor at the church had asked her to resign formally and quoted him as indicating that the church preferred to have it on the record when members leave, but that it wasn’t required. Again, this was after she had not attended for two years and was worshiping elsewhere.

  21. In the linked article, Tyrell brings up then-Senator Obama’a association with the UCC church led by Jeremiah Wright. Isn’t it peculiar that no one who in 2008 groused about the Reverand Mr. Wright’s called upon Joe Biden, Christopher Dodd, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson, Rudolph Giuliani and/or Alan Keyes to repudiate the Roman Catholic Church Man/Boy Love Association? In 2004 the Democratic nominee was a Catholic from Boston, the epicenter of the priests buggering children scandal. Who, among those who later excoriated Obama for listeninig to Mr. Wright’s sermons, then called upon Senator Kerry to denounce Cardinal Law?

  22. I suggest taking a look at Mollie Hemingway’s article in the WSJ ( http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903554904576458520779260518.html?mod=wsj_share_facebook#articleTabs%3Darticle ) or on her site, ( http://www.getreligion.org/2011/07/are-you-now-or-have-you-ever-been-a-lutheran/ ).

    Lutherans, even very conservative ones, are not “evangelicals” in the sense the media uses the term. Ms Hemingway is a conservative Lutheran herself and does a good job explaining things.

    The Pope knows what we mean and where we’re coming from. He doesn’t seem to have much trouble getting along with Lutherans.

Comments are closed.