As Americans celebrate the birthday of our nation, we give thanks for our civic freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, due process, a speedy trial, voting and many more. Our freedom has made us the envy of much of the world.
But as with any valuable gift, our civic freedoms can be abused, neglected or underappreciated to the point where, if we aren’t careful, they hardly matter anymore.
Lutherans are guided by Martin Luther’s insight that we are simultaneously called to be responsible citizens of “two kingdoms” – first, of God’s spiritual realm, and second, of earthly governments of people and laws. The synergy of our “dual citizenship” directs us to be good stewards of our civic freedoms.
Freedom of speech: Yes, even hateful speech and lies are protected under our Constitution, but Christians avoid them in obedience to Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves and by the Eighth Commandment, which Luther explains in The Small Catechism: “We should fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations.” We steward this freedom by speaking honestly and insisting others do, too.
Freedom of religion: Millions of people across the globe, including Christians, face persecution and discrimination because of their faith. We dare not take our freedom for granted, but exercise it with joy and defend the rights of others to follow their own consciences.
Freedom from illegal prosecution: Our guarantees of due process in legal, criminal and civil proceedings uphold justice and guard against government misconduct. It works imperfectly, as do all human systems, but as good stewards we fight for justice and the rights for all.
Freedom of self-governance: With its interconnected checks and balances, our three-branch system of government provides stability, accountability and flexibility for change. It’s a great system, but it requires us to be informed and involved. We steward this freedom by participating in political processes, voting and insisting on honest government that works for our interests.
This month, as citizens of both God’s spiritual realm and the United States of America, we renew our commitment to be good stewards of the freedoms we are privileged to have.