Author Topic: Does this theology cause harm?  (Read 445 times)

Brian Stoffregen

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Does this theology cause harm?
« on: February 12, 2021, 03:29:25 PM »
I think that a recent meme on Facebook reflects some of our discussions. I share the meme below and then a few comments that have been posted there. (There was no source for the meme.)


A major problem in evangelicalism is that the question is never asked, “does this theology cause harm?” but rather they ask, “is it true?” Once an evangelical has determined a belief to be “true,” harm caused is irrelevant and can be blamed on moral shortcomings of the victim rather than blamed on the harmful theology itself.
 
Comments:

One of the things I was taught as a kid in the evangelical church is the belief (or truth) that “saving the soul is the most important thing” and that “compassion” is telling someone their actions are sinful as is ensuring you are in no way enabling their comfort level with that sin. There was no examination of if that belief caused harm, and I can attest it does cause harm.

I get this. I lived this. The ironic thing is, if your “truth” causes harm then it’s not God’s truth.

It took me a while to think of Jesus’ quasi-metric more holistically: Does it “bear good fruit?”


My comments: It's too simplistic.


The more liberal folks often center their beliefs and practices on the great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus indicated that helping a person is more important that keeping the Sabbath. If we break some religious rules out of love and care for our neighbors, we are following Jesus' way.


I've heard more evangelical folks state that loving the neighbor means confronting their sins so that they can repent of them and hear the good news. As many of us have had, or are waiting to have shots (that can hurt) to give us the vaccine to keep us save from COVID, so, sometimes the help that is needed requires going through some pain to get there.


A speaker looked at the biblical, "speaking the truth in love," and talked about the difference between "brutal truth" and "bitter truth."


There are those who speak the brutal truth: "I know what's best for you and I'm going to give it to you whether you want it or like it or not." There can be an almost joyful attitude about having the truth that I am now dumping on you whom I believe need to hear it 'cause you don't got it.


There are those who speak the bitter truth: "I'm sorry to tell you that the test for cancer came back positive." Such speaking the truth in love is painful for the truth-teller. If they had their druthers, it would be a truth they didn't have to share. We've been watching Heartland Docs about husband and wife veterinarians in Hartington, NE. When they've had to tell a pet owner that there's nothing more they can do and recommend euthanizing the pet, they have tears in their eyes. Their words cause harm; but they are necessary for that situation.
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

peter_speckhard

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Re: Does this theology cause harm?
« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2021, 04:09:49 PM »
I think the quote simply presupposes that the definition of "harm" is independent of the definition of "true."

Can a teaching harm someone's physical, emotional, or psychological health in a way that is beneficial to their spiritual health? If so, could that be abused? Sure.

When a physician says, "First, do no harm," it is clear what kind of harm he is talking about. That's because we know what a healthy body is as opposed to an unhealthy body. That is what is being lost with relativism. A physician who prescribes puberty blockers or who does surgery on a child confused about gender is deliberately doing tremendous harm, but he doesn't know it because he has changed the definition of harm.

Padre Emeritus

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Re: Does this theology cause harm?
« Reply #2 on: Yesterday at 04:02:06 PM »

There are those who speak the bitter truth: "I'm sorry to tell you that the test for cancer came back positive." Such speaking the truth in love is painful for the truth-teller. If they had their druthers, it would be a truth they didn't have to share. We've been watching Heartland Docs about husband and wife veterinarians in Hartington, NE. When they've had to tell a pet owner that there's nothing more they can do and recommend euthanizing the pet, they have tears in their eyes. Their words cause harm; but they are necessary for that situation.
[/quote]

I watch that show too, and really love the couple’s humanity and apparent (though not discussed) Christian faith.  As I did equine veterinary medicine for 20 years, I relate to that and “The Amazing Dr Pol” and the one about the 3 vets school friends who set up a clinic in Atlanta (name is escaping me right now).

Blessings, Brian.  Always good to read you!
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Dan Fienen

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Re: Does this theology cause harm?
« Reply #3 on: Yesterday at 04:13:16 PM »
Early in my ministry I was a part of a group of pastors from our circuit who met weekly with a couple of counselors from the local Community Mental Health Agency. We would discuss counseling cases and counseling topics. The theory was that by helping us with our counseling, fewer of them would end up being treated by Community Mental Health.


In any case, one principle that they brought up that I find insightful and for more than just mental health was this: "The purpose of counseling is not to make people feel better but to help them get better." Just making people feel better about what is going on in their lives or more comfortable in their situation sometimes assists them from making the changes necessary to make real improvements in their mental health.


The preaching of the Law is not designed to help people feel better about their sin or more comfortable in being a sinner. But being comfortable with sin does not motivate people to seek solutions, including the solutions of the Gospel.
Pr. Daniel Fienen
LCMS

David Garner

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Re: Does this theology cause harm?
« Reply #4 on: Yesterday at 04:34:53 PM »
I think the quote simply presupposes that the definition of "harm" is independent of the definition of "true."

Can a teaching harm someone's physical, emotional, or psychological health in a way that is beneficial to their spiritual health? If so, could that be abused? Sure.

When a physician says, "First, do no harm," it is clear what kind of harm he is talking about. That's because we know what a healthy body is as opposed to an unhealthy body. That is what is being lost with relativism. A physician who prescribes puberty blockers or who does surgery on a child confused about gender is deliberately doing tremendous harm, but he doesn't know it because he has changed the definition of harm.

Sticking to the physician analogy, sometimes the salve soothes, and sometimes the scalpel cuts, but it is all to the end of restoring the patient to full health and vigor.
Orthodox Reader and former Lutheran (LCMS and WELS).

Weedon

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Re: Does this theology cause harm?
« Reply #5 on: Yesterday at 05:00:15 PM »
I was once told by an Orthodox Christian who had been Lutheran (NOT David, by the way), that Lutheranism was spiritual harmful to him. As we talked a bit, it became clear that HIS idea of Lutheranism was:

Sin away; you can’t do anything but sin anyway;
BUT trust in God’s forgiveness which is always greater than your sin.

(The Weedon version: God loves to forgive and I love to sin. Such a deal!)

I suggested that that was actually NOT Lutheranism, and he demurred that it was my understanding of Lutheranism that was faulty. Be that as it may, I would absolutely concur with the fellow that the above IS spiritually harmful for anyone to believe. Johann Gerhard dared to put it like this:

While you are pilgrims and strangers here on earth, and you will shortly have to depart, it then will not be appropriate for you to hang onto fleshly lusts and set your agenda on this temporal life. Instead, you should concentrate on eternal things and lead a good life here on earth so that you do not lose the kingdom of God.— Schola Pietatis I:220.
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J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: Does this theology cause harm?
« Reply #6 on: Yesterday at 05:15:38 PM »
Johann Gerhard dared to put it like this:

While you are pilgrims and strangers here on earth, and you will shortly have to depart, it then will not be appropriate for you to hang onto fleshly lusts and set your agenda on this temporal life. Instead, you should concentrate on eternal things and lead a good life here on earth so that you do not lose the kingdom of God.— Schola Pietatis I:220.

"We are entering the godly contest of the blameless Fast. 
Let us all diligently subdue the flesh through self control. 
Let us seek the Lord with prayers and tears,
and completely deliberate every vice, and shout to Him,
"We have sinned against You.
Save us, as you saved the Ninevites of old, O Christ our King. 
Grant us to share in your heavenly kingdom, O compassionate Lord."

Idiomela from the Triodion
Vespers of Forgiveness Sunday
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Charles Austin

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Re: Does this theology cause harm?
« Reply #7 on: Yesterday at 06:45:20 PM »
Hold it! Pastor Poedel you’re a vet? A horse vet?
Retired ELCA pastor. Iowa born. Now in Minnesota. Twice-vaccinated.

Dave Benke

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Re: Does this theology cause harm?
« Reply #8 on: Today at 08:52:09 AM »

There are those who speak the bitter truth: "I'm sorry to tell you that the test for cancer came back positive." Such speaking the truth in love is painful for the truth-teller. If they had their druthers, it would be a truth they didn't have to share. We've been watching Heartland Docs about husband and wife veterinarians in Hartington, NE. When they've had to tell a pet owner that there's nothing more they can do and recommend euthanizing the pet, they have tears in their eyes. Their words cause harm; but they are necessary for that situation.

I watch that show too, and really love the couple’s humanity and apparent (though not discussed) Christian faith.  As I did equine veterinary medicine for 20 years, I relate to that and “The Amazing Dr Pol” and the one about the 3 vets school friends who set up a clinic in Atlanta (name is escaping me right now).

Blessings, Brian.  Always good to read you!
[/quote]

If you speak to physicians, "hospitalists" for example, they will give testimony to the difficulty of determining how to bring the news of cancer, including the stage, the options and the end-game in terms of months/years.  As brutalizing as those conversations are to the person with the disease, they also take a heavy toll on the messenger.

Dave Benke

David Garner

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Re: Does this theology cause harm?
« Reply #9 on: Today at 11:09:50 AM »
I was once told by an Orthodox Christian who had been Lutheran (NOT David, by the way), that Lutheranism was spiritual harmful to him. As we talked a bit, it became clear that HIS idea of Lutheranism was:

Sin away; you can’t do anything but sin anyway;
BUT trust in God’s forgiveness which is always greater than your sin.

(The Weedon version: God loves to forgive and I love to sin. Such a deal!)

I suggested that that was actually NOT Lutheranism, and he demurred that it was my understanding of Lutheranism that was faulty. Be that as it may, I would absolutely concur with the fellow that the above IS spiritually harmful for anyone to believe. Johann Gerhard dared to put it like this:

While you are pilgrims and strangers here on earth, and you will shortly have to depart, it then will not be appropriate for you to hang onto fleshly lusts and set your agenda on this temporal life. Instead, you should concentrate on eternal things and lead a good life here on earth so that you do not lose the kingdom of God.— Schola Pietatis I:220.

This is interesting to me, because the process you go through in such a conversion invariably includes some criticism of what you are leaving (else, why would you leave?).  But I had to recognize that what I took to be Lutheran in some cases was not really, and more important, that this cut both directions (toward what I wanted to believe as a Lutheran, and what I did not believe as a Lutheran).  That is, it is easy to make a tradition -- Lutheranism as one example -- an embodiment of what you experienced.  It almost never is.  I've seen this as an Orthodox Christian as well.  What I thought was Orthodox often was not. 

I will say, despite your friend's protestation, I never found Lutheran theology to be harmful to me.  I found a lot of Lutheran practice to be out of sorts with what I thought proper Lutheranism was.  I think I was mostly right on that, but I was sometimes wrong, for sure.  One reason I am capable of looking back in love is I chose to from the outset.  I didn't think it was healthy to enter the Orthodox Church based on what I didn't like about another church.  I chose to be thankful, and reverent, and hopefully kind toward the house I left.
Orthodox Reader and former Lutheran (LCMS and WELS).

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Does this theology cause harm?
« Reply #10 on: Today at 12:12:15 PM »
Early in my ministry I was a part of a group of pastors from our circuit who met weekly with a couple of counselors from the local Community Mental Health Agency. We would discuss counseling cases and counseling topics. The theory was that by helping us with our counseling, fewer of them would end up being treated by Community Mental Health.


In any case, one principle that they brought up that I find insightful and for more than just mental health was this: "The purpose of counseling is not to make people feel better but to help them get better." Just making people feel better about what is going on in their lives or more comfortable in their situation sometimes assists them from making the changes necessary to make real improvements in their mental health.


The preaching of the Law is not designed to help people feel better about their sin or more comfortable in being a sinner. But being comfortable with sin does not motivate people to seek solutions, including the solutions of the Gospel.


I've been critical of the so-called "praise services." It seems to me that their purpose is to excite the congregation; help the people get an emotional high. In workshop I've done on worship, I draw a simplistic picture of a box called "worship" with a stick person going into the box and one coming out of the box. I ask, "What happens in the box? What's different about the person coming out than the one going in?" My answer (at least for now) is, "Cleansed." This means exposing the dirt so that it can be washed away by the work of Jesus. One may be excited and emotionally high after being cleansed; but creating that emotion is not the purpose. One may also be relaxed, relieved after such a cleansing.

"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Matt Hummel

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Re: Does this theology cause harm?
« Reply #11 on: Today at 01:10:09 PM »
An important point to make would be to differentiate between pain and harm. Much healing involves pain. But it is not harmful. Much that harms us is quite painless.
Matt Hummel


“The chief purpose of life, for any of us, is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks.”

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