". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Orwellian Actions

Those who have been following the Issues, Etc. debacle will want to check out this new blog from Pastor Cwirla. He has named it the "Underground" and designated it as his "bunker in case of synodical terrorism." And indeed, what we have seen this past week strikes me as akin to terrorism in the abrupt, arbitrary, cold and ruthless way in which it was carried out. But I have been encouraged by the flood of denunciations that have been appearing throughout the blogosphere and in the comments section of the online petition to reinstate the program. Issues, Etc. fans are not sitting by quietly, resigning themselves to the status quo, but are uniting around the noble cause of saving this treasure of the Gospel. And I for one think we're going to succeed.

On his blog (linked above), Pastor Cwirla has posted a letter that he wrote to his own congregation on this matter. I hope he doesn't mind my reproducing it in part here. I found the following passage to be of particular note:

"The official statement from KFUO reads: For programmatic and business reasons, the decision was made this week to discontinue the “Issues, Etc.” program on KFUO-AM. We look forward to bringing you new programming in this time slot in the near future. Also, we thank “Issues” host Rev. Todd Wilken and producer Mr. Jeff Schwarz for their years of service on behalf of the station. Those interested may still download past “Issues, Etc.” programs from the “Issues” archive on this website. Thank you sincerely for your continued support of KFUO's radio ministry.

"Those of you familiar with the evasive language of bureaucracies and institutions will recognize that this statement says nothing at all except that they still want your money. This is not an explanation but an evasion. We are assured that this had nothing to do with the show’s content or its host. Issues, Etc. was the most popular show on KFUO-AM, whose other programming is hardly on the cutting edge. Admittedly, Issues, Etc. was controversial, but it was Christianity for the hard-headed thinking person with a huge internet following worldwide. I can personally attest that these two men are among the finest spokesmen and advocates for Lutheran orthodoxy today. They are respected across denominational lines.

"At a time when the synod is pushing hard to bring the Gospel to the unevangelized world, it defies all common sense why it would pull the plug on a show that reached out to millions of people throughout the world. If anything, the show should have been given even more air time and support. The evasiveness of synodical officials is even more disturbing. For a few hours, the archives of the show had been taken down from the KFUO web site, as though the show never existed. Only persistent pressure caused them to restore the archive, though the Issues Etc. site remains down. This is precisely the way repressive, totalitarian regimes operate, not church bodies."

I have emphasized that last sentence because it reflects exactly my thought last week when these events transpired. As I sat Tuesday looking at the computer screen as all traces of Issues, Etc. slowly disappeared from existence, I was reminded of George Orwell's masterpiece 1984 (which for various reasons I seem to be citing a lot these days). Early in the book the main character Winston is introduced as a man whose job it is to rewrite history so that it is in line with the government's official version of things. In order to achieve that purpose, Winston spends his days searching out and destroying any evidence that does not fit into the prescribed narrative. Those bits of evidence are then stuffed down the "memory hole," never again to see the light of day:

"Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record."

Tuesday as not only the Issues, Etc. program but also its website and archives disappeared I couldn't help thinking that synod officials were behaving in much the same way as the Party of 1984--rewriting history so as to control it. Since the cancellation of the program--one unmatched in quality and popularity among the KFUO lineup--the erasing of all evidence of its existence struck me as an effort to deny that popularity and perhaps speed up the pace at which people would forget about it and move on to other programs. Clearly that strategy backfired, and perhaps as a result of the outcry, the powers that be have shown some sense in returning the archives to online availability.

In 1984, Winston begins to question his job and the society in which he lives and he is ultimately searched out and imprisoned by his government for the crime of "doublethink" (questioning the Party's version of the truth). While imprisoned, he meets up with one of the Party leaders, named O'Brien, who has been put in charge of bringing Winston around to proper thinking. Before O'Brien commences with Winston's "reprogramming" he gives him a peek into the Party's philosophy and goals, all of which culminate ultimately in one word: power.

"The party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested in power. . . . Power is not a means; it is an end. . . . The real power, the power we have to fight for night and day, is not power over things, but over men. . . . How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?"

Winston thought. "By making him suffer," he said.

"Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is inflicting pain and humiliation. . . . Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. . . . Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution. . . . But always--do not forget this, Winston--always there will be intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on the an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face--forever."

Now, I don't mean to suggest that our synodical leaders are taking pleasure in causing pain to others. But I do think that the way they have handled this entire affair has been an exercise in power without regard for those they are hurting in the process. I also see in their actions a desire for control that is so paramount that they are willing to turn their backs on a large percentage of the people they claim to serve, making those people feel marginalized, uncared for, and yes, even trampled upon.

If you care about Issues, Etc. and haven't signed the petition yet, what are you waiting for? Sign here. It's the right thing to do even if you aren't a regular listener to the program, because by doing so you will be speaking volumes to your brothers and sisters in Christ as well as to those who would make the exertion of power more important than the welfare of their fellow human beings.

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