Word from the Center: Friday, July 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…

Reformation Restraint, Religious Liberty, and the Border Crisis.

What a week it has been! At the end of last month an issue occurred at America’s southern border that exploded all over the news. The LCRL office received requests for an official statement about the crisis of separating children from their parents as they were attempting to enter the country illegally. Various voices asked that we speak unambiguously about the issue. That request came from both sides of the matter. Some felt that present U.S. policy was a clear example of our growing inhumanity. Others felt that finally our laws were being respected and that our own citizens, especially the poor and the disadvantaged, were being protected as they should be. Then there were those who were lamenting the politicization of this issue (see this article by Cal Thomas to that effect). So, what to do, what to say?

This is good time to talk about the uniqueness of Two-Kingdom Engagement in these volatile issues. It is true that certain issues of civility and humanity at times rise above the issues of policy. When the notion was presented that children were being abused at the border, there is no doubt that such actions, if true, would be inhumane and wrong. It’s also clear that children should not be used as political footballs for the sake of public law.

Since this was such a grave charge, it bore even closer, more thorough investigation. With that in mind, Reformation Restraint can be a helpful guide for engagement. Reformation Restraint is a principle that demands that we respect those in power as we seek justice (Romans 13), and that we speak and act judiciously, not hastily, with clear knowledge concerning the needs of all involved. This provides a well-rounded understanding of the benefits and consequences of the public actions under review. Concerning immigration, those issues involve not only the treatment of children and families by the U.S. government, but also the rights of American citizens and legal immigrants, as well as the effects of laws that are incentivizing the abuse of migrants and their families by coyotes, drug cartels, and child traffickers. With knowledge of these various issues and an understanding of what indeed was actually happening and why, Two-Kingdom citizens are then compelled to speak, even to act, according to their conscience for the sake of all, not just for ourselves (see Romans 13:5).

Why not something more “absolute?” Reformation Restraint cautions us from saying, “Thus saith the Lord” on many issues for good reason. Often times politics and policy issues seek answers to complex problems that render only a “lesser of two evils” answer because there really isn’t a completely “right” one. Other policies have tradeoffs involved, with both up-sides and down-sides. Reformation Restraint is the perspective that tells the Christian to respect the work that is done by our public officials unless it clearly is violating God’s law, even as we make our voices known on an issue. Reformation Restraint realizes that God created the left-hand kingdom realm to preserves civility and order in a broken world, not to save it. And with government policies, even good ones, it’s a sobering reality that Christians can be on both sides of an issue at times and still be faithful proclaimers of the Gospel.

So why do we take such a clear stand with government over issues concerning Liberty, Life, and Marriage? Why isn’t there Reformation Restraint there? Well, there is. But these issues are not public policy issues on particular matters, but fundamental protections that need to be defended for the sake of all. To defend liberty is to defend the access of all voices, including the Church’s and the individual Christian citizen’s voice, to be freely shared in the public square for the sake of our culture. Life, too, is a fundamental issue that goes to the core of our being as humane, human beings. Even the Church’s issue on marriage is fought as a “religious liberty” issue, a freedom of conscience issue that even those who disagree with the view of traditional marriage can support. It is for those reasons that the Church engages the culture to protect its public space to be faithful to Christ, offering His blessings on His terms for all. When engaging in issues less foundational than Liberty and Life, Reformation Restraint still seeks justice. But it does so with a judicious attitude and with respect for those who are called to serve in the capacities of law-enforcement, government, and other public leadership. In so doing, we, as we say here at LCRL, aim to put our “temporal liberties to work in service to the eternal liberties of Christ for all.”