A tornado hit downtown Minneapolis yesterday afternoon, destroying parts of the Minneapolis Convention Center and the Central Lutheran Church next door. It happened that strong winds were sweeping across the nation, knocking down trees in Central Park and dramatizing an earthquake in Anchorage, Alaska.
But John Piper, on his blog this morning, focused on another aspect of the Minneapolis calamity: it hit the Convention Center right as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America commenced its discussion of whether or not to allow homosexuals into the ranks of their ministry. After laying out the strange circumstances of the tornado, he says he will “venture an interpretation of this Providence with some Biblical warrant.” Oh no.
Without even talking about the actual “interpretation,” I have a problem with this. I have read and respected Piper on several subjects, but we all know where things go when evangelicals start interpreting cataclysmic events as heavenly signs. Piper’s interpretation isn’t even hedged with “maybe” or “could be”; it baldly states God’s opinion and reactionary behavior as a matter of fact. “The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin," Piper writes. "Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture.”
It doesn’t require disbelief in a personal, engaged God to believe that nobody should be attributing the wind to His feelings on a particular theological issue. I don’t care if you neatly line up Scripture references, as Piper has done, you are still not God. (To their credit, Piper's commenters weren't impressed, either.) Andy Crouch says it best in this passage of his wonderful book Culture Making:
“All efforts to pin down the details of where and when we can say that God is working in history are fraught with the danger of self-deception, if not outright blasphemy. The commandment not to take the Lord’s name in vain seems especially to apply to human attempts to recruit God for one cultural movement or another. The warning that “history is written by the winners” should caution us that any attempt to discern God’s activity in particular historical events runs the risk of self-justification, claiming after the fact that God was on our side all along.”
David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol. He covers religion for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and is a graduate student in the Draper Program for Humanities and Social Thought at New York University. He can be reached at hdavidsessions at gmail dot com.
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