Our governments are discerning the appropriate response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which balances the risk of the virus and the strain on the economy, the fears of the cautious and the voices of the protestors, and of course the emotional and mental impact of social distancing.
Meanwhile, we are called to discern our appropriate response. Although we should not impose our faith and its understanding upon individuals or society, it should inform our personal and congregational response. Thankfully, the Lutheran tradition benefits from the writings of Martin Luther, who was frequently engaged in civil matters while remaining firmly rooted in his faith and its understanding.
Luther wrote The Two Kingdoms, which discerns the relationship between and our role in the civil kingdom and the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is here in glimpses, it is near, and it is not yet fulfilled. As baptized Christians, we are called to exist within these two kingdoms, in order to further manifest the kingdom of God within our lives, communities, and the entire creation.
Luther also wrote The Freedom of a Christian. Freedom has always been a treasured principle, but especially within the United States. There are American communities currently protesting that social isolation and its restrictions are infringing upon said freedom. Luther understood that Jesus the Christ is our only lord, or governing authority, BUT Christ commands us to love and to serve our neighbors. In essence, we have been freed in order to seek justice, act with compassion and mercy, and to love and serve ALL people, especially the most vulnerable. Perhaps, the most infamous and conclusive statement within The Freedom of a Christian is:
A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.
As I reflect upon The Two Kingdoms and The Freedom of a Christian, I also ponder Luther’s Small Catechism explanation of the fifth commandment:
“You should not kill/murder”. He wrote:
We are to fear and love God,
so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors,
but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.
In essence, we are commanded
to do no harm in body, mind, soul, or even reputation of another.
Further, we are commanded
to not even risk harming one in body, mind, soul, or reputation.
Thus, let me share a true cautionary COVID-19 tale.
A friend requested prayer for her neighbor and his family.
The neighbor is a practicing Christian, who desperately longed for in-person worship and fellowship. Therefore, he hosted a small church ‘service’ at home with his wife, their two children, and seven additional persons (11 total). Afterwards, he became ill and tested positive for COVID-19.
Within approximately a week, four additional persons tested positive for COVID-19.
Within another week, his mother-in-law, who had attended the ‘service’, had died from COVID-19.
Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the funeral home could not conduct their desired service. Therefore, he hosted a memorial service at his home of approximately 30 persons. Additional persons have since tested positive for COVID-19.
This man utilized his freedom to defy the civil kingdom and unnecessarily risked the wellbeing of his family and friends. His gamble resulted in his infection of three persons and the death of a fourth.
This man, then, utilized his freedom to defy the civil kingdom again. He knowingly and unnecessarily risked the wellbeing of his family and friends AGAIN. His gamble has resulted in additional persons infected and potentially additional deaths.
In short, this is an unfortunate depiction of abusing our freedom as Christians.
Further, it is gross violation of the fifth commandment.
Martin Luther did not mince words. We are responsible for our neighbor and any harm we cause another in body, mind, soul, or reputation is a violation of the fifth commandment.
Although I am also concerned with the emotional, mental, social, financial, and spiritual wellbeing of neighbor, these can be restored within this lifetime BUT only if physical death has not yet occurred.
Therefore, I encourage each person to avoid unnecessary risk of COVID-19 transmission.
- Please stay home as able and run necessary errands only.
- Please wear a mask.
- Please limit your frequency and length of errands.
- Please refrain from gathering with persons outside of your household.
Therefore, I encourage you to use your freedom (as a Christian) in safely serving the neighbor and protecting the neighbor through social isolation, social distancing, and wearing masks.
May our responses be faithful, promoting the wellbeing of all person and protecting the vulnerable, despite the inconveniences to our pre-COVID19 and current existence.
Until we meet again, may God bless you and keep you in the palm of God’s hand.