Whose Sin is the Greatest?

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Recent events in Charlottesville and other scenes of destruction and death have produced in our country conflict and division about the rightness or wrongness of harmful actions and of any response thereto. No rational person I know approves of willfully hurting or harming a human being. Yet there are some on both sides who justify their side’s violent behavior in Charlottesville.

Can anyone in his or her right mind condone extreme ideology that leads to violence, whether in the form of vicious demonstration, vitriolic protest, or, even worse, suicide bombing or driving a vehicle into a crowd, in Charlottesville or Barcelona, that results in injury or death of innocent bystanders?

The actions of racists, Neo-Nazis, anti-Semitists, white supremacists, Ku Klux Klan, ISIS, and similar groups should be unequivocally condemned. The same condemnation is due any person or group who behaves violently for any reason other than genuine self-defense.

One related and causative issue that has developed into a highly emotional one is the endeavor to remove statues of Confederate heroes from the American landscape. The presenting reason is that these heroes condoned, endorsed, and practiced slavery and therefore their statues should be demolished or at least moved to a museum, out of sight of the majority of residents and tourists.

That begs a question. Where does one draw the line when determining whose statue to remove from public view, whose name to remove from a school building or street sign, and whose reputation to downgrade from hero to scoundrel on the basis of positions held or decisions implemented that now taint their historic heroic actions?

Is condoning and practicing the sin of racism in the form of slavery the only offense worthy of statue removal, school or street name change? What about other sins? Some United States presidents have had numerous extramarital affairs and children sired out of wedlock. Some were also involved in bribery, kickbacks, tax evasion, espionage, and gun-running scandals, to name a few less than godly activities.

So, whose sin is the greatest? The man who made his living on the backs of the slaves he owned or the man who found his pleasure in the bodies of the women he seduced?

Question: If statues of heroes are removed because they were racist, why we would not also remove any form of adulation of U.S. presidents who have committed adultery or any other grievous sin? Do we rename our nation’s capital because George Washington owned 317 slaves at the time of his death, even though he freed them through his will upon Martha’s death?

Whose sin is the greatest? Rom. 3:23 says: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And Jesus says: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” John 8:7.

Last Week in America and the World

Dallas Shooting

Credit: DallasNews.com

What better way to end this seventh year of Perspectives articles than with a few observations about our church body based on last week’s 66th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in Milwaukee? While inclined to do so, I’ve decided to begin the eighth year of Perspectives with an article on that topic next week. Today I feel constrained to address other events that occurred last week and at too many other times in our nation and around the world.

Insane and premeditated attacks and ambushes, bombings and brutality, vitriol and violence continues to plague our nation and world! For starters, I would hope and pray that anyone in a position of political, racial or religious authority and influence in our country and around the world would immediately cease any hint of verbal justification of such atrocities and instead denounce these barbaric activities unequivocally!

Rationalization or justification of violence in any form empowers those with a propensity toward such behavior, precipitating new incidents that take the lives of innocent women, men and children. Black lives matter! White lives matter! The lives of those unjustly treated by officers of the law matter! The lives of law enforcement officers matter! The lives of grieving family members of those who die matter! Young lives matter! Old lives matter! Unborn lives matter! All lives matter! Jesus came to give life, in all its fullness! (John 10:10) Life is precious!

Might gun control legislation be helpful? Perhaps. I see no need for rapid fire machine guns to be as readily available as they appear to be. Yet the reality is that gun control alone will not deter those who are ideologically or mentally or religiously imbalanced from doing the dastardly deeds we’ve seen way too frequently in recent months. When Cain killed Abel thousands of years ago, he had no firearm at his disposal. Yet he did what he set out to do.

The real root cause of all evil, especially the kind we’ve recently seen, is spiritual depravity. The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth (Gen. 8:21). The devil will always walk around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). King David was beset on every side by enemies who hated him (Psalm 25:19). Jesus was brutally killed. So long as the world exists, man’s inhumanity to man will continue to wreak havoc upon peaceful, law abiding citizens.

What can you do? What can I do?

  • Pray for, encourage and express appreciation to law enforcement officers and military personnel.
  • Petition political and religious leaders at every level to speak out against violence of every kind.
  • If you see something or someone suspicious, say something to someone who can help!
  • Pray for all who lay their lives on the line every day to protect the citizens of our land.
  • Take appropriate protective precautions wherever and whenever possible.
  • Pray for divine intervention to thwart the devil’s destructive desires.

Above all, say this: Lord, have mercy!

Last Week in Dallas

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Credit: Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press

Today Terry and I return to Texas after being briefly introduced yesterday at the LCMS convention in Milwaukee. Many decisions were made by convention delegates. Perhaps I’ll have some reports and observations regarding these decisions in future Perspectives articles.

For now, I draw your attention to yet another tragic shooting in a seemingly never ending stream of such horrific events. Last Thursday in downtown Dallas five police officers were killed and seven others injured by a sniper. The officers were providing security for a peaceful protest over alleged police violence in various parts of the nation. After a sustained shootout with police, the suspect was killed by a bomb delivered to the suspect’s location by a police robot.

The horrible result of this premeditated, racially motivated, cowardly attack is the traumatic grief experienced, by the spouses, children, parents, friends and co-workers of those who lost their lives in the line of duty. This is yet another episode that leaves law abiding citizens disappointed, distraught and deflated. While gun control measures are again on the minds of many, we all know that anyone bent on death and destruction will find ways to carry out their dastardly deeds.

One week ago today a Perspectives reader emailed to me a reminder that in July 1999, while serving as president of the Texas District LCMS, I had written an article in the Texas Messenger of The Lutheran Witness about the shooting in Littleton, Col. She stated that she still carries that article in her Bible and suggested I reprint it in Perspectives. Because of its length I’ve posted it below as an Addendum. I pray it will be helpful. Here’s one pertinent excerpt from that article:

In the face of such tragedy and trauma, what do we, who believe in the only true God, say to those of our constituency who wonder, question, doubt, search and seek to understand the place of our God at times like these? 

  • We say what we know to be the truth, namely, that the effects of the devil, the world and our flesh combine to produce death and destruction, in sometimes-unimaginable ways.
  • We say that events such as that in Littleton [and Dallas] are clearly outside the will of our gracious God and are the works of fallen humankind, urged and egged on by Satan himself.
  • And we draw people to the only hope for such fallen human beings, God’s grace, lovingly and selflessly given to the world in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Savior and Lord of the universe.

A Simple Question

Question MarkBefore getting to this week’s topic, a note about two very important events observed this week:

  • July 4 is Independence Day in America. It commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776. America has been called “The land of the free and the home of the brave.” That distinction is being challenged these days. God bless America!
  • July 5 is the 21st birthday of Terry’s and my dear grandson, Kolby Ryan Keith. He’s a very fine young man who brings much joy to his family and to many other people. God bless you, Kolby! Mimi and I love you very much!

Now to A Simple Question. Lots of bad things happened last week and, so far, this week:

  • The savage and satanic killing of nine Christian women and men in a Charleston church.
  • The massacre of at least 39 people, mostly foreigners, on a beach in Sousse, Tunisia.
  • The mid-air explosion of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket after Cape Canaveral liftoff.
  • A 350 point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
  • The Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states of the U.S.

The Supreme Court ruling drew lots of attention. Almost immediately after its release, religious and political leaders from the U.S. and other parts of the world offered their opinions. Some were emotional. Some were rational. Some were theological. Some were political.

Rather than add a lengthy opinion to that growing body of literature, I suggest we consider one simple question. Carried to its logical conclusion, if same-sex marriage someday replaces traditional marriage, either totally or essentially, from whence will the next generation(s) come?

God ordained marriage as a special, lifelong union of one man and one woman. His plan includes the natural order of procreation by which the population of the world is replenished by the fertilization of an egg from the body of a woman by a sperm from the body of her husband.

Artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization, both still requiring egg and sperm and both including their own set of moral and ethical questions, are the current options. In the future, watch the soaring value of companies that specialize in those procedures.

Hard decisions for church and clergy may very well lie ahead. In the meantime, the church needs to continue to be the church, proclaiming the Word of God in all its truth and purity. That includes the miracle of God’s grace, his undeserved love and forgiveness for sinners—male and female, young and old, black and brown and white, heterosexual and homosexual.

The church should never condone what God’s Word considers sinful. Nor is it our place to judge, a responsibility reserved for God alone. Here’s one Law and Gospel reality: When we think someone else does not deserve God’s grace, we need to remember that neither do we.

Especially at this time of previously unthinkable developments, Lord, have mercy!

Baltimore

Credit:  Newsweek

Credit: Newsweek

My December 11, 2014 Perspectives article was titled “Ferguson.” The article reflected on the protests, demonstrations and looting in Ferguson, Missouri, following the decision of a grand jury not to indict the policeman who shot and killed an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown.

Those protests, demonstrations and looting spread from Ferguson to places as far away as Oakland, Cal. and New York City. Stores were burned, valuable items were looted, bridges were blocked and mayhem was unleashed.

Sound familiar? The same things happened this week in Baltimore. Violent activity, riots, fires and looting resulted in charred cars, burned buildings, hospitalized police officers, looted and damaged businesses. One activist vowed to “shut this city down.”

A state of emergency was declared and National Guard troops were brought in. Parts of Baltimore looked more like a war zone than a place where people live, work and play. The damage and destruction were inflicted by, among others, gangs and high school students.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan appealed for peace and declared that further lawlessness and violence would be neither condoned nor tolerated. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said: “Too many people have spent generations building up this city for it to be destroyed by thugs who, in a very senseless way, are trying to tear down what so many have fought for.”

The catalyst for this scenario of senseless, dastardly, destructive, lawless and violent behavior in Baltimore was similar to that which precipitated the same kinds of raucous demonstrations that devastated the city of Ferguson several months ago. In each case a young African American man died in the wake of police response to what appeared to them to be unlawful activity.

In Ferguson it was Michael Brown, who was shot and killed. In Baltimore it was Freddie Gray. The only details of the cause of his death available at the time this article was written are that he was not buckled into the police van in which he was riding after being apprehended and that he did not receive timely medical attention. More details will surely be uncovered in the future.

In the meantime, I’m convinced that, along with original sin and satanic influence, there are several significant root causes of the behavior manifested in Ferguson and now Baltimore:

  • High rates of unemployment in poverty stricken areas, especially among young males.
  • Breakdown of the family and thus the absence of spiritual, moral and ethical values.
  • Difficulty faced by police officers in making split-second life and death decisions.
  • A growing spirit of distrust contributing to greater interracial division in America.
  • Disrespect and disregard in some circles for law and law enforcement officers.
  • Lack of personal responsibility and respect for authority, law and order.
  • Three out of four homes in certain areas have no father in the home.

My December 11 article concluded with these words: “It will take a miracle for what happened in Ferguson never to happen again!” We still await that miracle.

Lord, have mercy!