A Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty?

By Caleb Keith

Most of the people reading this probably haven’t heard of the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty (LCRL). I hadn’t heard of the LCRL until this past summer, and it wasn’t until this last semester that I really understood what the LCRL is and what they do. As part of a research paper for my Christians and Ethics course this semester, I examined the LCRL and reviewed its functions in light of the classical view of Lutheran two-kingdom theory.

The LCRL is a “special initiative” of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LC-MS) located in Washington D.C. The LCRL monitors and engages with political and ethical issues surrounding the first amendment, marriage, and abortion in two distinct ways. Firstly, it educates and connects congregations and individuals within the LC-MS concerning critical political developments in Washington. Secondly, it performs limited political lobbying within IRS guidelines for non-profit organizations. The question I ask is simple: is this sort of political involvement in line with the classical view of God’s two-kingdom rule?

I based my research off of available documents from the LCRL webpage. Below is their purpose statement:

  1. Engage federal and state officials and other partners through advocacy and networking;
  2. Educate future generations about serving God through vocations in government, law, and public policy; and
  3. Connect with Lutherans involved in government affairs. Where the government, the culture and faith conflict, Lutherans can and must speak up and out in support of religious liberty.

Based on the above statement, the LCRL performs both public and private functions within the church. In its public function, the LCRL engages political leaders and performs limited lobbying on behalf of the LC-MS. In its private functions, the LCRL serves to educate and connect with LC-MS congregations and individuals about political issues concerning religious liberty.

Church-and-Politics

In my paper, I argue that the LCRL’s function as a lobby in most cases stretches classical two-kingdom theory concerning the role of the church, while the LCRL’s function as educator operates within two-kingdom practice for the benefit of the church and all people.

The two kingdoms are often distinguished by the terms right-hand kingdom and left-hand kingdom. The right, in its simplest understanding, is the realm of the Church and salvation, while the left hand is the realm of social order overseen by government and other secular authority. This distinction is deeper than the typical American understanding of the separation of church and state. Though they remain separate, these kingdoms are not in competition with one another but are both instituted by God coexisting for the good of man. The Christian life takes place within the right-hand kingdom so that men might be reconciled before God and in the left-hand kingdom that men might live peaceably and be blessed in this earthly life.

Since the left-hand kingdom is made up of both Christian and non-Christian sinners, it requires laws for order, peace, and security. However, the coercion of these laws cannot solve but only curb the problem of human sin. Thus, the right-hand kingdom of Grace does not expect temporal government to do God’s perfect will. The role of the right is not to ensure perfect earthly obedience but to bring about and uphold salvation through Christ. In this light, it may be problematic for a Lutheran synodical body which confirms the classical Lutheran two-kingdom teachings would perform political lobbying in Washington D.C. This lobbying engages in the shaping and guiding of earthly obedience. To be clear, the LCRL does not employ the means of Grace or the Gospel as a tool for coercion. Instead, the LCRL functions in the left-hand kingdom using human reason and the Law of God as guide concerning political and moral issues. However, since the LCRL still functions as an entity within the LC-MS, it always carries right-hand kingdom implications along with it. The involvement of a right-hand kingdom organization in left-hand kingdom rule can result in blurring the Gospel with the Law and making the church look more concerned with social order than with salvation even if this is not really the case.

2378churchstate_00000001532

While the LCRL’s role in public civil engagement may not completely fit within the classical two-kingdoms theory, its role as educator certainly does. This is because the two kingdom warning of involvement within the political realm is not to Christian individuals whose vocation as citizen may call for them to be engaged in such matters. As an agent of the LC-MS, the LCRL does well to educate congregations and individuals about current and future legislation. The LCRL is also armed with God’s word so that it can encourage members of the church to take action according to their callings as members of both the left and right hand kingdoms.

The two-kingdom Theory is an integral part of how the early Lutheran reformers and the historical Lutheran church views both the Church’s and the Christian’s place in society. This theory is as important now as it ever has been because the ethical climate of the western world has become more hostile toward orthodox Christianity. While valuable, this theory can be stretched to apply outside of the reformers original intentions and context. Lobbying activity performed by the LCRL may be one example of such stretching insofar as it takes a direct role in the American legislative process. While one function may be a stretch of the classical view of the two kingdoms, the LCRL’s role on individual and congregational education falls directly within the classical two-kingdom model as well as the reformers’ understanding of Christian liberty and vocation.

I am not writing this to attack the LC-MS or the LCRL. Instead, my aim is to start a conversation about the place of the Church and its voice in the midst of the political and ethical failings of our government. Is church-organized lobbying a good solution, or does the responsibility of political action fall on the vocations of the church’s members?

JaggedWordLogo2