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Sorting Universalism

My denomination, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) would be considered religious nuts by most of the Tech community. We believe the Bible is God’s word, that there is such a thing as sin that we all commit, that Jesus Christ was true man and true God, and He died a sacrificial death to atone for the sins of the whole world. Okay, I’ve probably lost most everyone but hopefully those who left read the entire previous sentence because that proclamation of the Gospel is really the most important thing anyone could get from reading this post.

Gospel proclamation aside, what I want to write about is the “bad week” my denomination has had regarding the reprimanding of a pastor who participated in a interfaith prayer service after the shootings in Newtown, CT. Why would any Christian be reprimanded for praying with and for others? Shouldn’t Christians take any opportunity to espouse what they believe? You Christians are supposed to be big on love, how loving is it to criticize this pastor when he was just trying to comfort and show love for his community?

Let’s look at an example from the field of computer science.
Let’s suppose there is a conference on sorting algorithms. The organizers don’t want any hostilities they just want to promote the benefits of sorting algorithms. Presentations can extoll the virtues of sorting, but can’t promote their algorithm above or denigrate any other algorithms. Of course you are presenting quicksort, someone else is presenting bubble sort, another selection sort, and finally someone is presenting bogosort.

The bubble sort presenter speaks about the beauty of sorting and the simplicity of small data sets. The selection sort presenter talks about the wonders of small memory footprints and the strength of sorted data. The bogosort presenter has an eclectic style that really reaches people emotionally with talk of the randomness that gave rise to the cosmos and the amazing combination of chaos and order. Finally, you present on quicksort and talk about speed, flexibility, and applications for sorting.

What have you succeeded in communicating especially to those not thoroughly versed in computer science? Sorting is a good thing. No algorithm is better than any other, just different. Quicksort is just another sorting algorithms, on par with bogosort. Some would say that you did a great thing by getting the word out on sorting and that somebody might truly come to understand the greatness of quicksort. Others would complain that you have just given legitimacy to bogosort. Your presentation next to bogosort gives the appearance that you see it as an equally acceptable sorting algorithm.

The example above illustrates the problem with participating in an interfaith prayer service. In order to participate, you must agree to the main thesis of the service which is to not pit one faith against another. Once you acquiesce to that, your proclamation, especially if it is one of exclusivity, is greatly weakened. Yes, you can proclaim God in some general way, and those who believe as you do will infer what you want them to, but those who see a different god see that your beliefs aren’t so different which is great in a Universalist sense, but not great for a Christian message. If you do proclaim the exclusivity of the Christian message then you have violated the implicit agreement of the interfaith service and will do much harm. By participating, you will either say too little, or say too much that’s why many, myself included, would say the best option is to decline participation.

So why did this get so much backlash and attention. Well, the pastor who participated in the interfaith service does not see any problem with what he did and many are trying to guide him to a correct understanding. Not all these corrective words were loving and some have caused the public kerfuffle which has put the LCMS in a negative light. Here’s the thing, we believe that Christians, even pastors, sin daily. We act unloving and we harden our hearts against those who disagree with us. That’s why we need the forgiveness that Christ gives us every day. We are not better than anyone else; the one we put our trust in IS.

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