Of Heroism and Hand Grenades

On May 16, 1968 Donald E. Ballard Corpsman U.S. Navy won the Medal of Honor.  His unit was ambushed.  While applying a field dressing, an enemy solider tossed a grenade into his group of men.  Shouting, “Grenade!” Ballard vaulted over the stretcher and covered the grenade with his body.  The grenade was a dud.  He still received the Medal of Honor (This Day in Military History, www.history.com), and rightly so.  The president of the LCMS, Matthew Harrison, has done a similar thing 45 years later.

In his May 2013 Lutheran Witness article, “Marriage and the Church,” he bravely, boldly, and correctly jumps on the grenade of gay marriage, but he’s jumping on a dud when he closes his argument with: “As traditional Christians are driven out of the public square, the door is also closed for the Gospel.”  The article actually says “pubic square,” but we chalk this up to a typo.  This, however, makes for a joke that is no dud, but modesty, propriety, and manners restrain me.

I’m sure Ballard’s comrades were relieved, overjoyed when their corpsman threw himself on the grenade.  Even when the grenade didn’t go off, I’m sure their relief and gratitude were in no sense diminished.  Harrison, however, leaves us feeling more afraid, more undone, more hopeless about the future needlessly.  He’s warning us of a dud.

For the first three centuries of the Christian church, she was allowed no consistent voice in the public square.  Even after Christianity was legal, she had no rightful place in the public square as the Gospel went out into barbarian lands.  But no nation can close her doors to the Gospel.  The more they ban it, slander it, legislate against it, even murder it, the more it prospers.  As Tertullian famously said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

In fact, I will go one better.  It’s precisely when the church is driven out of the public square that her voice, the voice of the Gospel, can be clearly heard as not just another political message.  It’s interesting to me that Harrison has proceeded similarly to Ralph Bohlmann, LCMS president 1981 – 1992.  The latter established an office of governmental relations in Washington D.C. ostensibly to keep Washington informed about what we thought.  (Do you honestly think they care?).  The former sent to Washington various officials from the LCMS to meet with our elected officials.  The Lutheran Witness quoted LCMS officials saying how all the elected officials said they needed and valued our input.  (Come on! They say the exact same thing to the 4-H Club from Muleshoe, Texas!)

We don’t need our president boldly speaking out in the public square; we need him boldly speaking out in our private church body.  We don’t need him sending LCMS officials to Washington; we need him sending ecclesiastical supervisors to do what they have vowed to do.  We need him jumping on the grenades of open Communion, feminism, and unionism being lobbed into our ranks.  We don’t need him lobbing duds like unless we’re able to speak in the public square the door is shut on the Gospel.  By the way, the argument of those in favor of praying with pagans is precisely that our voice must be heard in the public square.

The more we stand away from the public square the more we will stand out. But we’re trying so hard, most teens and college kids would say too hard (and you better know what that means when they say that) not to stand out from popular, public culture.  Read the May 2013 Witness.  The contents page tells you that on page 4 you will find the department #BELIEVE BOLDLY.  Turn to that page and you will find a good article on God’s gifts.  But taking up more space then the fine article is the ever-present, extremely popular, sine qua non of relevancy: the Facebook thumbs up not once but six times.

Such an attempt to reach kids where they are is pandering.  It’s my adult youth group adviser saying to me in 1971, “Do you want to rap?”  It’s him leading us in the soft rock of “It Only Takes a Spark,” or “They Will Know we are Christians.”  Teens and college kids live in an intense realm.  They want ultimate answers now.  They want answers without fluff, without posing, without posturing.  Answers they are not getting from the public square.

When we clothe, cloak, cover the ultimate answers we have in the trappings of the public square, we are in effect tossing a grenade that makes them scatter.  Or worse, we’re showing we really are no different than the public square.  We’re Pied Pipering them into the public square saying the answers can be found among popular hashtags and the greatest number of likes.  For this we deserve no medals.


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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