Piety a la mode
Recently I returned a call to a church administrator who wanted to talk about
decreasing the number of copies of Metro Lutheran the congregation would
receive. Members were very concerned about reducing costs to Metro
Lutheran, as well as the environmental impact. I was preparing to talk about
the value of being conscious of our environmental impact at the same time as
we stay connected through the newspaper.
I was surprised when the conversation turned to issues of personal piety and
lifestyle. (Let me say I share a concern about a green lifestyle, but can make a
great case why congregations should keep getting lots of papers. Ask me
Personal piety is an often-used phrase. But I believe each user means
I still remember walking home from school during the 4th grade when one of
my classmates explained that the difference between Lutherans and Catholics
was that Catholics could swear and Lutherans couldn’t. There was some loose
connection made to personal piety, but I had quit listening. Even though I
hadn’t swore up to that point in my life, I remember feeling resentful.
Another good friend belonged to a congregation that wouldn’t allow card
playing. Several other friends couldn’t dance. Smoking was out for almost
everyone; drinking out for many, but not for the Germans of any
I don’t remember any church saying you couldn’t be a member if you were
racist. Consistantly, piety was merely about personal behavior — the
individual do’s and don’t’s of one’s individual life.
But in history classes I was learning about things like the temperance
movement, the child labor movement, and the civil rights movement. I heard
about Christians (and other people of faith) whose piety motivated their
engagement with the world. Lutherans of all stripes have seen piety in this
way. (Serving God’s world is so much better than swearing!)
Lutheran evangelist Hans Nielsen Hauge became a hero during these years.
He seemed to combine the concern for personal and corporate behavior. If I
understood him correctly, he believed that one influenced the other. Personal
and corporate piety could only be separated artificially.
So, what comes with our piety these days? Is there a dollop of justice on top?
Or, do we like our piety plain?