Word from the Center: Friday, February 15, 2019

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 topic/issue….

Family, Friends, Faith, and Work as the Keys to Happiness.

Social scientists have identified four primary drivers of human happiness, which we can put in the form of four questions: 1. Do you have family you love, and who love you? 2. Do you have friends you trust and confide in? 3. Do you have work that matters—callings that benefit your neighbors? 4. Do you have a worldview that can make sense of suffering and death?[1]

One of the reasons that the Lutheran Church has chosen to create an office in Washington D.C. is to join the struggle of limiting the government to its proper role in our lives. We exist to defend religious liberty, to promote the sanctity of life, to defend the institution of marriage, and to promote educational freedom so that the church of Jesus Christ can continue to freely strive to be God’s people serving in the communities and neighborhoods in which we live. Translation: Most of the big problems in our lives are not going to be solved by federal governmental control, edict, or policy. Most of what matters in life is going to come down to issues of family, faith, neighbors, friends, work, and community. While government is a necessary part of our life, it more often should involve itself in fundamental issues, or last resort protections. Elsewhere, it fails to do better what we can and should do for ourselves.

Ben Sasse, a conservative senator here in Washington, recently wrote the book, Them, describing the present divisiveness in our culture and how we might overcome it. But, ironically, even as a politician, his solutions do not entail more government policy or more centralized, bureaucratic enforced solutions across the culture. No. He thinks that we should get back to solving our problems within our families, our churches, and our freely assembling public institutions that transcend government, even as they institutionalize service for one another. He says,

Because we believe that the most important issues are ultimately matters of the heart—that they are rightly matters of freedom choice, never of coercion—politics is simply the bare-bone instrument we use to protect the freedom to live lives of purpose, service, and love. But if we collapse civics and politics together, …. we ensure that politics squeezes out community.[2]

Well said. In another book on the subject, To Change the World,[3] James Davison Hunter argues in much the same way. What is needed now are more intermediate groups that come together freely to work out the issues for the communities in which we live. This is precisely why the government’s intrusion into groups like the Boy Scouts is damaging. This is why government coercion against groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor faith-based adoption agencies, and others is destructive. Intermediate groups, accomplishing wonderful things motivated by love and grace, are literally being driven out of business despite all the wonderful work they do.

As Lutheran, Two-Kingdom believers, we can say that solutions to the things that matter are two-fold. One, we must protect our religious liberties for the sake of the culture and the Gospel, and, two, we must we reach out to proclaim the Gospel as we serve in the communities in which we live. This means “both/and,” not “either/or.”  Two-Kingdom engagement seeks to preserve, not transform culture, even as it proclaims God’s transformative message of the Gospel. Emphasizing these Two Kingdoms, God’s two ways, is how Lutherans can affirm the role of family, friends, work, community organizations, etc., even as we proclaim the utter uniqueness of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. It’s the way to get involved, to make a difference, and to be faithful to the mission of the Gospel of Jesus. That’s the ultimate matter of the heart, and that attitude and life will make a difference in a community where it is believed and lived.

[1] Ben Sasse, Them: Why we Hate Each Other and How to Heal, (New York, St. Martins Press, 2018), 44.

[2] Sasse, Them, 245-6

[3]James Davison Hunter, To Change the World, (New York; Oxford University Press, 2010).