Monday, March 31, 2008

The Issues behind Issues

The real story behind the death of Issues Etc. has come out, and it’s not pretty.

As I expected, the famous LCMS blogger Mollie Z. Hemingway (of knew what was going on, and she published the answers in the Wall Street Journal’s Friday “Houses of Worship” column. (Also available at the Religion News Blog). I didn’t know Mollie was a former LCMS communications leader, which makes it even more clear why she was able to find where all the bodies were buried.

To make a long story short, the LCMS has been getting ready to split for a decade or more. The traditionalists (known as "confessional Lutherans”, i.e. ones who believe what Luther believed) long had the upper hand, but since 2001 the denomination has been led by the church growth (pop culture) faction. Rev. Todd Wilken and his Issues Etc. show was strongly identified with the former (which is why I recommended it), so now it’s toast.

Perhaps this will hasten the inevitable split of the LCMS, or at least rally some of the faithful to reassert control of the LCMS leadership. I imagine that many LCMS types (like conservative PECUSA types) will be scared to leave the institutions behind, but — as with us Anglicans — it’s long since clear that the world-views cannot be reconciled.

Updated Thursday April 3: The best sites for tracking this story seem to be:

Monday, March 24, 2008

So give three cheers

Although best known as the composing half of 19th century Britain’s dominant light opera partnership, Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan began his career as a church organist, and composed a series of hymn tunes in the 1860s and 1870s, the best known being St. Gertrude (“Onward Christian Soliders.”).

Hymnal 1940 lists Sir Arthur as the composer or arranger of 12 of its 600 hymns (double-counting the tune Hanford); if I had TEH (1906), I would expect to find even more. Three of the 12 are Easter hymns, including this week’s Easter processional, St. Kevin (Hymn 94, 2nd tune).

While the music for Hymn 94 is 19th century operetta, the words of this hymn can be traced back (via translation) to an 8th century text by St. John of Damascus:
Come, ye faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness;
God has brought his Israel into joy from sadness
Loose from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke Jacob’s sons and daughters;
Led them with unmoistened foot through the Red Sea waters.
Even if not an ancient hymn, this medieval sentiment is certainly one of the oldest extant hymns in the church today.

But, of course, in the TEC the need to “modernize” and “improve” the theology of worship continues unabated. At his blog The Continuum, Fr. Robert Hart this week offers an alternate Easter setting for St. Kevin, one more suited to contemporary TEC theology. Here are the first two of four verses:
Episcopalians, hide those eggs!
Display that branch a-greenin'
But remember, as you do,
The season's truer meaning!
No, I don't mean Jesus Christ,
Or even resurrection,
But what we preach to take His place:
Environmental protection!

Jews and Christians are at fault
For all the world's pollution,
By their foolish rejection of
The Caananite solution!
Fertility goddesses, and the Baals,
And Love Children of the '60s,
Were right instead -- but don't despair...
We've got your new B.C.P.s!
It seems hard to imagine that any sentiment so narrowly focused on contemporary issues — whether satirized or merely self-satirizing — would survive for use by Christians 13 centuries from now.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

No more Issues

Regular readers know that I’ve enjoyed quoting interesting interviews run on the KFUO radio show Issues Etc. Particularly interesting to me have been the ones by Terry Mattingly on the pop culture-ization of American worship.

This morning I caught on to Tuesday’s story that Issues Etc. has been cancelled and the staff fired, with the St. Patrick’s Day episode being the last. The KFUO website (which appears sluggish due to unusually high traffic) says
For programmatic and business reasons, the decision was made this week to discontinue the "Issues, Etc." program on KFUO-AM. We look forward to bringing you new programming in this time slot in the near future. Also, we thank "Issues" host Rev. Todd Wilken and producer Mr. Jeff Schwarz for their years of service on behalf of the station. Those interested may still download past "Issues, Etc." programs from the "Issues" archive on this website. Thank you sincerely for your continued support of KFUO's radio ministry.
I tried to find more of an explanation but apparently nobody’s talking.

However, dozens of LCMS bloggers and other former listeners have been critical of the decision, led by LCMS Pastor William Weedon, who called the act “Holy Tuesday Treachery”. Rev. Weedon has compiled a long list of listener testimonials.

Some station donors are angry and are instead donating money to the ex-employee financial support fund. There’s the obligatory online petition which has 1200 signatures. There’s even a brand new blog “Bring Back Issues Etc.”

I don’t know the issues and not being in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, it’s not my fight. I hadn’t listened to the show recently (because I was upset over the ignorance displayed by a guest they had for an hour in February), but one mistake does not negate all the good work they’ve done since 2003.

Appropriately, the next to last episode (on Sunday) was about a hymn. (Alas, it’s about a modern hymn with sappy music, but...) As far as I know, there’s no radio show anywhere on the Internet that has spent so much time on liturgical music, so the loss is a great one.