‘Metanoia’ in a polarized world

Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

We continue the Wisconsin installment of the ‘Advocating on the Road’ series with this piece.

Over the past 12 months of working together at The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Eau Claire, Wis., Lead Pastor Gerd Bents has spent many moments deep in conversation with his colleague Pastor Emeritus Donald Wisner. Colleague to colleague, the two Lutheran pastors have shared thoughts on Christian witness in the world and our call to God’s justice in Scripture, all the while observing the increasing polarization and broken relationships in their state and the larger nation.

Throughout these conversations, Pastor Bents was consistently drawn back to a few important questions: How do we, as Christians, understand “justice”? How has the notion of justice changed socially, when compared to our biblical heritage? And how does our cultural understanding of “justice” encourage polarization?

Guided by these questions, Pastors Bents and Wisner worked with others to plan a public event in Eau Claire in late October 2012 that explored concepts of justice from an Old Testament perspective. The event’s purpose is reflected in its name: “Metanoia.” A Greek phrase often translated “repentance,” but Pastor Bents explains that “its root meaning is better understood as  to perceive or understand in a new way.’” “Metanoia” included symposiums and keynote presentations structured around the topics of justice, reformation and reconciliation.

“Culturally, we tend to view justice as ‘having my rights met’ or ‘getting my fair share, or my just rewards.’ Often, we speak of justice as it relates to a consequence … hopefully for someone else.” But in the Old Testament Hebrew meaning, one who sought justice was interested in restoring relationship. For example, a faithful judge would render a decision intending to restore a relationship, as opposed to a ruling that ensures someone’s individual right,” Pastor Bents says. “This is consistent with God’s justice, as God continually seeks to restore relationships. In response to this, at “Metanoia” we explored how this notion of justice can guide the church, how we can avoid allowing broken relationships to lord over us, and we can become a church and a people that are transformed to be God’s justice-bearing people in the world.”

“People of faith, always have something to say about issues of politics and government,” he adds, “It’s when we fail to discern who we are — when we lose sight of our identity as God’s people — that we step into a place where we become servants of the self, and we separate ourselves from God’s acts of justice. We don’t like disagreement; we equate it to conflict, relationship loss.”

On this point, Pastor Bents offers a new way, a “metanoia” of sorts, explaining, “Disagreement with each other does not have to lead to conflict, relationship loss, or polarization — I think it can lead us to being a closer, more effective church if we continue to collaboratively explore our identity in Christ, in baptism, and in mission; if we continue to understand God’s world in a new way.”

Stay tuned to the “Voices for Change” blog as we continue the “Advocating on the Road” series over the next week.