Many Lutherans, especially educated Lutherans, embrace snark.
Why? Martin Luther was snarky. His rhetoric was not particularly kind, especially against his theological adversaries (i.e. the Pope, RCC leaders and bishops, Orthodox Jews, etc.). We read much of Luther’s rhetoric and we grin and think, “Yeah, you get ‘em Luther!” I’ve been there, done that. I bet some of you have, too.
A recent Lead Time episode with Rev. Dr. Pat Ferry has gathered a fair amount of attention. One blog was even written against Pat Ferry openly putting himself before the church body as a presidential candidate. The blog displays the height of Lutheran snark.
Where does the word snark even come from? The literal definition of snark is “an imaginary animal.” It is used to refer to “something or someone that is hard to track down.” (An imaginary animal is hard to track down.) Another informal definition is “an attitude or expression of mocking irreverence and sarcasm.”
I am praying for less snark in the LCMS. I am praying we let our “yes be yes, and no be no.” I am praying we can disagree agreeably.
Here are 3 damaging effects of Lutheran snark. (You could probably think of more.)
1. Snark creates labels and caricatures.
I know I am labeled by some in the LCMS as “liberal.” I know some of our church practices
would not receive universal applause within some LCMS congregations, most of them in quite diverse ministry contexts. I would love to hear more specifically how our preaching and teaching would be labeled “liberal” by those who disagree with us. I truly would. I want to learn what this label means. Why are we labeled by some as liberal? Because we can work toward unity under the cross of Christ for the sake of discipling the baptized to reach their pre-Christian neighbors.
I would love to humbly be in a friendly relationship with those who disagree with my words. You are my brother or sister in Christ. We’ll find we agree more than we disagree. If you’re ordained, we took the same ordination vows. I take these vows seriously. I know you do as well. Lutheran snark has played a role in creating labels and caricatures of one another that makes bridging the gap of misunderstanding more difficult.
2. Snark divides through “mocking irreverence.”
I admit. Snark is a more fun read. Sarcastic wit may bring a smile to the face. Yet I can’t imagine people verbalizing snark to someone’s face. The pain in the other person’s face would cause most baptized believers to temper their words. Mocking irreverence does not unite.
I am truly curious as to the intent of Lutheran snark toward others within our church body. Is it to make us laugh at the divisive wit? Is it justified because Luther did it? Regardless of intent, it results in increased division within the church.
I am speaking to every corner of the LCMS—from “missional” to “confessional” LCMS Lutherans (labels I do not like, but this is how we have often divided ourselves). Please refrain from snarky rhetoric. I commit to doing the same.
3. Snark damages our gospel witness.
I can’t find a lot of snark in the Bible. You could maybe make the case that Moses mocked the gods of Pharaoh, or that Elijah mocked the gods of Baal. If they lived in our blog-filled world, these prophets probably would have thrown down some mad snark against those pagan traditions. I do not read the prophets writing snarkily (??) to their fellow Israelites.
Was Jesus snarky? One might argue his tone against the Pharisees held snark. But in truth, Jesus was being lovingly honest. The Pharisees, whose pride couldn't shoulder correction, undoubtedly found Him snarky. Nonetheless, I can’t find one instance where He used snark with His disciples. Then again, Jesus never wrote one word that made it into Holy Scripture. Even if He did, I do not think Jesus would have written snarkily (is that a word?) against His disciples. “Mocking irreverence” toward image bearers would not have suited the Word made flesh.
Was St. Paul snarky? I don’t read any “mocking irreverence” from Paul toward the Early Church, nor even toward the outsider. Paul speaks frankly and clearly about what the Church is (and is not) to believe, and how they are to behave (and not behave) as those freely saved by grace through faith in Christ.
I pray pastors to lead in eliminating snark for the sake of our witness. I pray we deeply meditate upon Paul’s guidance to Timothy and all pastors, “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil (1 Timothy 3:7).”
We fall into the “snare of the devil” when outsiders look at us and say, “That is how people within the church talk to one another? Wow!” Satan and the world will snark. The church should not, especially against those who are within our family of faith in the LCMS. I know there are a few topics (worship, the role of lay and ordained, the role of women, communion practice, etc.) where we are not fully united. I am praying for unity. Snark will not serve us well as we work toward unity.
I am praying current and future LCMS leadership deepen relationships among those with whom they disagree. I am hoping to start many new relationships with those who see the church, and her mission in the world, through different lenses than I do. I am committed to having more open conversations like these on upcoming Lead Time podcast episodes.
I would love to hear what you think about Lutheran snark! Please let the ULC know if we can serve you in any way! uniteleadership.org