Word From the Center: Friday, April 13, 2018

Welcome to “Word from The Center” FRIDAY, a Two-Kingdom, practical reflection on the issues of the day from the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s issue…

Religious Liberty and the Power of Reformation Restraint!

There’s power in restraint. I know that’s not a popular, public position today but it is the position that our faith challenges of us as Christians. I realize that in many ways it also sounds counter intuitive. How can there be power in prayerfully gathering the facts, tempering one’s emotions, and trying to see the whole context of an issue? Don’t things get done when people passionately protest? Don’t things change when people “have had enough” and are motivated to just “do something, anything” as long as they are committed to the cause? It’s true, that kind of activity can change things. The only question is whether such change is ultimately for our good.

“Restraint seeking the truth” or what we at LCRL call “Reformation Restraint” realizes that God is already at work in the world to keep the peace through His rule of the world through His Left-Hand kingdom of Power. And, it recognizes that we as sinful people usually have a very limited perspective on how evil is truly kept in check and ultimately vanquished (Remember Peter literally rebuking Jesus when He talked about the cross in Matthew 16?). When Jesus tells us to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” that doesn’t sound right. What if Caesar is corrupt? What if the authorities are seemingly only in it for themselves? “Restraint seeking the truth” knows that God is in control to preserve the world even as He saves it. Such restraint lays on the believer the challenge to put liberty to work prayerfully, to think before one acts.

Keep that in mind especially when passions run deep. Honoring the vocations of elected officials, of officers, of parents and teachers, is not just a traditional nicety, it is an acknowledgment that God is at work in those vocations for the sake of the community and the common good sometimes even in spite of them. And it challenges us to seek the truth of a situation before we take our stand on what we believe is right for the community.

In St. Louis, back in August, 2014, the city erupted with the shooting of Michael Brown. In the middle of the chaos, the violent protests, and the general unrest, there was this pastor from the Wellspring Methodist Church, Pastor Willis Johnson who embodied a “restraint seeking the truth” attitude that provided a healthy way forward through the Ferguson unrest. His account was community focused, somewhat restrained because the facts were still unknown, sympathetic to both Brown and the officer, and focused on maintaining a dialogue between the police and the protestors, while seeking to maintain a civility that would serve the community. He said,

“I don’t live to far from the Ferguson police station… (I went to the police station)… For about three hours, I stayed with young people who were obviously upset, frustrated, and angered. The group of young people wanted to get some answers, and they were really going to rush the police station. And I’m sure I was not the only person there that said, “Well, maybe that’s not the best of ideas.” (I further said to them). “I live here. I pastor the church down the street. Not that I’m important but I think maybe I can go into the police station… (I did). They (the police) buzzed me into the station because somebody at the front desk knew who I was. And I said, “Hey, I know this is a very, very tense situation and you all have a group of folk out here who are demanding answers… I know that you probably can’t talk to them. But is there any way I can talk to somebody here and explain the situation?”[1]

Pastor Johnson’s actions demonstrated Reformation Restraint in action… he was a person involved in the community, one who was known by the police and the leaders, one sympathetic to the members of the community, but also respecting God-given authorities and seeking to preserve the foundations for future restorative action. As you think of the issues in the community today that seem to demand our action, remember the purpose of the engagement. Remember that God is at work in many and various ways already, through moms and dads, police and political leaders, and the business owners and leaders as well. Keep that in mind as you seek to undergird their work and hold it accountable as well. And finally, remember this,  keeping the temporal peace is ultimately for the sake of proclaiming the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, who is the only one who can change hearts and save lives eternally. That’s a liberty worth putting to work for the sake of the community and the Gospel.

 

[1]Leah Gunning Francis, Ferguson and Faith, 21.

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