Earlier this month, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed and sworn in as an associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. I am not going to enter into a debate here as to whether or not Justice Kavanaugh should be on the Supreme Court. As a citizen, I have an opinion on the matter. As a pastor, I have a concern much greater that needs to be discussed.
In the pulpit I am loathe to address political issues, but I am called upon to address moral issues such as those addressed in the Ten Commandments — issues such as abortion, end-of-life issues, adultery, coveting, respect for those in authority over us, and what we say about others (and how we say those things).
It is the last of those issues I want to discuss. What we are talking about is what God says in the Ten Commandments, namely in the 8th Commandment (as Martin Luther numbered them): “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
Luther goes on to explain in his Small Catechism what this means: “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.” Recent editions render the last phrase “and explain everything in the kindest way.”
What we have experienced as a nation is an example of civics that has been most uncivilized. One could have gone deaf from the repeated sounds of this commandment being broken on all sides of the issue. This is not a matter of whether we think Kavanaugh should be on the Court. You have your opinion and I have mine; the First Amendment guarantees us this freedom as Americans. But have we as a nation and as citizens simply let our “Yes” be “Yes” and our “No” be “No”?
Upon deep reflection, we must confess that we have not. Regardless of where we stand on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, we all must confess that we have not kept our tongues in check. Rumors, innuendo, and false accusations were the order of the day. Vitriol and venom came from the lips of so many people, and in the process, while Kavanaugh was confirmed, his name and reputation were destroyed. In addition, anyone who has actually been sexually harassed or assaulted is now viewed as suspect as a result of the confirmation hearings.
What does this mean for us as a society? What does this mean for us as Christians? While we have the right in this country to say whatever we want, that doesn’t mean what is legal to say is not sinful. Saint Paul writes: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24).
Luther says in his Large Catechism: “This commandment forbids all sins of the tongue whereby we may injure or approach too closely to our neighbor. For to bear false witness is nothing else than a work of the tongue. Now, whatever is done with the tongue against a fellow-man, God would have prohibited, whether it be false preachers with their doctrine and blasphemy, false judges and witnesses with their verdict, or outside of court by lying and evil-speaking. Here belongs particularly the detestable, shameful vice of speaking behind a person’s back and slandering, to which the devil spurs us on, and of which there would be much to be said. For it is a common evil plague that everyone prefers hearing evil to hearing good of his neighbor; and although we ourselves are so bad that we cannot suffer that anyone should say anything bad about us, but everyone would much rather that all the world should speak of him in terms of gold, yet we cannot bear that the best is spoken about others.”
In other words, we must repent.
To repent is to not only confess our sins to God (and to one another when we have spoken ill of them), it is also to turn our backs on our sins, that we would not commit them again. And for this we need the Holy Spirit’s help, that He would strengthen our faith, that we would not sin in thought, word and deed.
We can’t do this on own; to the contrary, we can only plunge deeper into our sin and drive ourselves further from God. This is why repentance is so critical in the life of the Christian. Repentance is also expressing our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, who died for our sins of the tongue and for all our sins. Our heavenly Father looks at us through the blood of His Son Jesus and forgives us for Jesus’ sake. He sends us His Holy Spirit so that we would speak well of and defend others, to “open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9), “and above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins ” (1 Peter 4:8).
Mark Schlamann is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Tooele.