Word from the Center: Friday, March 22, 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….


Have you heard about the “Johnson Amendment?” You need to know about this. It has created the silly notion that Church bodies and church people have NO right to talk about the cultural, moral issues of the day, even within their churches. Otherwise, they’ll risk their “tax exemption.” Under a mistaken application of the “separation of Church and State,” there are groups who claim that the church, its leaders, and its people have no right to publicly engage controversial, cultural issues because they shouldn’t be “legislating their morality.”

That opinion belies the common-sense truth that all laws and policies are legislating some form of morality and it stifles dialogue on these issues with the misuse of governmental coercive power. Tony Perkins, in his article titled, “Figures of (Free) Speech” (February 04, 2019), argues that the church’s voice has been a blessing in such matters throughout our history. He says,

The most powerful voices speaking into the crises of slavery, segregation, genocide, or     abortion have usually come from the pulpit. So it’s no surprise that when Christians’ political influence increased, so did the Left’s attacks. For almost 65 years, one of the most powerful weapons in their toolshed has been a piece of seemingly irrelevant tax policy called the Johnson amendment.[1]

Truth be told, then, some of the great issues of the day were first addressed as moral issues within the church whose voice then ventured out into society at large. Even the fundamental freedoms that are enshrined in our constitutional Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence are truths that are rooted in the religious truth that we are created in the image of God.

For those of us who see a differentiation between God’s work in and through the church, and God’s work in and through the state, we realize that the main role of the church is not “moral” in nature. Indeed, proclaiming the moral truths of the Bible leaves us all as sinners who still need to be saved. But it’s not either/or…. it’s both/and. Christians need to reflect the biblical truth that there is a penultimate message and an ultimate message. The Church needs to proclaim and defend God’s creative ordering of the world (which preserves His world through moral law and order), even as we proclaim God’s salvation of such a world through the person and work of Christ alone. The first has legislative responsibilities and challenges. The second is to be proclaimed freely and uncoerced so that all might hear and hopefully believe!

Instead of threats from the state about muting the church’s voice about morality and salvation, the state should mind its own business and stick to the limited role it has in our lives. And the church needs to utilize its public voice properly so that its moral role in the world is never seen as its ultimate charge which is, rather, to proclaim the forgiveness of sin that comes from the grace of God alone in Jesus. With the state, it’s always about “legislating morality” and the church has a role in advocating for just, fair laws for the preserving of a humane and civil culture. It also has the role of proclaiming that even the best “legislated morality” cannot cure what ails humanity. Only Jesus can do that. “Both/and” is the way to go. And the Johnson Amendment mucks up the work of a free people.

[1] https://www.frc.org/get.cfm?i=WA19B05&f=WU19B02