I know we've hashed this out a bit already at Ricochet, but my latest column for the Wall Street Journal suggests that we should be wary any time the media starts defending the papacy:
American political reporters aren't known for their vocal support of Roman Catholic teachings. But when they discovered recently that Minnesota Congresswoman and Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann was once a Lutheran, they began defending the papacy as if they were the Vatican's own Swiss Guard. They asked with concern, could Catholics even vote for a former Lutheran?
Ms. Bachmann's former church, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, hasn't followed the mainline Protestant church practice of regularly revising its doctrines. The Lutheran confessions, or statements of faith, are found in the Book of Concord, first published in 1580. They explain the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone. Accordingly, they don't believe the pope's authority comes from God.
This shouldn't be surprising to anyone familiar with the Reformation, but it hit the press hard. "Michele Bachmann leaves church accused of anti-Catholic bias," the Los Angeles Times reported. The Atlantic Monthly: "Michele Bachmann's Church Says the Pope Is the Antichrist." From the Washington Post, we learned that the Lutheran Confessions use "unfortunate wording." ...
Some Lutheran church bodies have said that the teachings on the papacy were true at the time they were written but are no longer in effect. Certainly the original historical context is key, when the memory of popes who had abused indulgences, murdered rivals, launched wars and squandered church resources was fresher. Today, Lutherans still hold that the office represents an unbiblical authority to speak unilaterally for the church.
And yet the current pope, Benedict XVI, is particularly close to the Lutherans. As his biographer John Allen has written, the Lutherans are to Pope Benedict what the Orthodox were to his predecessor John Paul: "the separated brethren he knows best, and for whom he has the greatest natural affinity." Indeed, far from the sectarian battles that reporters may envision, the fact is that confessional Lutherans and Pope Benedict are partners in the battle against what he has called the "dictatorship of relativism."
Catholics and Lutherans know where they disagree and why. They'll be forgiven for taking a pass on the media's new interest in resolving their disputes.
I used to get upset that the media more or less ignored confessional Lutherans -- even though we're much larger than, for instance, The Episcopal Church. Mostly they ignore us because we don't get involved in politics or change our beliefs like some religious groups do. But if the last week's butchering of Lutheranism is any indication, perhaps I should be glad that they avoid us.
But this idea that the media is some great defender of the papacy is laughable. Just this week we saw how it treated Archbishop Charles Chaput who has been moved from Denver to Philadelphia. The coverage didn't exactly praise him for his fidelity to the Vatican or the teachings of his church. Far from it, in fact. I wrote about that, too, over at my website that analyzes media coverage of religion news.