I predict this article is going to make a lot of people angry. I don’t care. It has been said that a pastor’s job is to “comfort the afflicted” and “afflict the comfortable.” Nobody seems to mind when I comfort the afflicted, but whenever I afflict the comfortable they get angry. So, buckle up. I need to get a few things off my chest.
First, I need to ask my fellow citizens of Utah a question: “What on earth are you thinking?” Ever since school started, the COVID-19 virus numbers are out of control. As I write this, the seven-day rolling average of new cases is over 1,500 a day! Common sense would tell you, stay home as much as you can. And when you can’t stay home, wear a mask and keep at least six feet between you and the next guy.
But, obviously, we’re not doing that because we’ve never had more new cases per day than we’re having right now. I don’t get it. Are we that dumb, or are we waiting for the authorities to mandate how we handle this pandemic? There is a weird, defiant streak out there with people saying, “No one is going to tell me where and when I have to wear a mask.” They show up at the state epidemiologist’s private home to protest “suggestions.”
And on the other hand, you have the strident, virtue-signaling types who insist on shaming and belittling those whom they feel are not taking adequate precautions. A plague on both your houses. Can’t we just freely use our common sense?
Next, by the time you read this, it will be election day, 2020. I feel myself being pulled in two different citizenship directions on election days. I am at once a secular citizen of the country, state, and county. At the same time, I am a spiritual citizen of the Kingdom of God. People of faith have dual citizenship and there is or should be some tension between the two, but historically the two citizenships shared important common values.
Until very recently, freedom was of primary importance to both. Freedom lies at the heart of the entire Judeo-Christian worldview. Human agency or the freedom to choose is fundamental to what happened in the Garden of Eden. Delivering the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt was about freedom. The gift of the Law has freedom as the goal. The Ten Commandments free us from the worry of harm that comes from murder, stealing, worshiping false gods, adultery, and lying.
When Jesus comes on the scene, once again freedom is the goal. Through his redemptive work on the cross, Christ frees us from sin and by his resurrection frees us from the power of death. And the beauty of this whole arrangement is that we are free to accept his gift of grace or not.
The image of Jesus as shepherd and his followers as his flock is sweet and positive. And it speaks of freedom. Jesus leads his flock into the Kingdom of God. We are free to wander off or not to follow. No one is ever coerced or driven into the Kingdom. A flock of sheep is led — a herd of cattle is driven. Again, freedom is the goal.
Two clear messages emerge from Scripture. First is that freedom is important to God. Second, is that God keeps his promises. Which brings us back to election day. Say what you will about politicians, but “promises made are promises kept,” is not the reality of our time. And sadly, freedom which once was important to practically all politicians and even their most ardent followers, is becoming less and less so. Now too many of the politically powerful, and many of their near fanatical followers, are eager to force compliance to their way of thinking. Private companies have even gotten into the act. They have always advertised and marketed products, often heavily, but marketing is about persuasion, not coercion.
But recently, the social media titans have crossed the line to the dark side. For a real eye-opener, watch the movie “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix. It details how social media manipulates and coerces us in ways we don’t even recognize. To say the film is disturbing is an understatement. It is clear that as far as social media is concerned, freedom is not the goal.
It has taken me years — decades, actually — but I have come to the firm conclusion that for people of faith, spiritual citizenship must take priority over secular citizenship. Why? Because salvation will not come through politics. Sooner or later even the politician you love the most will break you heart. The political process has gotten ugly and freedom is becoming less and less of an option. Obtaining and retaining power is what is most important in the secular political world
But in the Kingdom of God, it is different. Freedom is still important and promises made are promises kept. God is faithful and keeps his promises. Oh sure, the church is made up of flawed, broken human beings and has its problems, but that is a topic for another article. In the meantime, my encouragement to people of faith is to stand for Kingdom values. If faith has not been a part of your life, my invitation is to visit a house of worship and check out what those values are.
Rick Ehrheart is pastor of Mountain of Faith Lutheran Church in Tooele.