28. October 2023
I recently read the essay Sometimes reforming: Martin Luther, the church and the rest of us, and if it had ended with "Sometimes the most we can do is 'give a witness' by our dissent and hope for reformation when future generations take up the cause for social and spiritual transformation," I would have thought that essay was a brilliantly-worded treatise on why Christians should reflect on Luther's words and actions this October 31st. Unfortunately, the essay didn't end there, and its author, Bill Leonard, spent the succeeding paragraph lashing out at non-Baptists and pro-Trumpers. (And just to be clear - I am decidedly NOT pro-Trump. I have publicly spoken out against Trump on many occasions, but that's another story.)
Throughout the "On All Hallows' Eve 2023" paragraph, Leonard doesn't mince words when he equates the actions and attitudes of those with whom he disagrees with the 19th-century pro-slavery crowd and suggests that evangelicals are on an equal footing with the rest of today's sin-obsessed society. (Note that from a historical perspective, Leonard's pro-Baptist sentiments conveniently overlook the pro-slavery views held by the Southern Baptist Convention that upheld slavery and helped pave the way toward Civil War. Leonard also fails to mention that it was largely evangelicals from the Second Great Awakening who opposed slavery, and he makes no mention of Methodists who referred to slavery as the "execrable sum of all villainies," but I digress.) Leonard's entire "All Hallows' Eve 2023" paragraph is nothing short of "denomination bashing," which is a behavior that ultimately portrays all of Christianity in a bad light, and for which people have said to me on numerous occasions: "That's why I wouldn't want to become a Christian: you Christians are always fighting each other."
When viewing this essay as a whole, what started out so well as a history lesson about Martin Luther and a call for contemplation on the role of dissent within our Christian lives quickly descended into a veiled attack on those with whom the article's author disagrees, and in so doing Leonard completely negates his opening quotation from Luther: "I will constrain no one by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion." With that in mind, I would suppose that some form of sarcastic kudos are warranted for the essay's author; his dissertation on Luther is so misguided that he completely misses the meaning of Luther's original prose, and he manages to publicly humiliate the church in the process. So I offer a brusque "bravo" to Bill Leonard for his essay; his opinions are exactly what the church needs today, but only if the church intends to fail miserably in modern society.