Tomorrow the mainline of magisterial Protestantism will somehow work the events of the week into its preaching and somehow tie it to the readings. Everyone knows the events of the week already. The world is a tinderbox because a callous fool made a low budget movie, his right in a land that values free speech, and the Muslim world has erupted. The preaching will state the obvious. We can neither condone the actions of either filmmaker or violent protestors. Of course everyone listening will be in agreement, as well they should be. What they may not get will be the intention of the readings themselves. It is remarkable how on any given Sunday, one can make what is heard from ancient texts fit so perfectly into current events.
What will be preached will be true, though it will miss the mark. I suspect (I will not watch it) that “Innocence of Muslims” is a cruel jab at those who practice Islam, though it is not something the mainline needs to hear. We know it already. The ones who need to hear it are the ones who will not listen anyway as they are so set in their prejudices that they cannot be swayed. And that the United States must take action, including the need to do violence, needs not be heard by us either. The ones who need to hear that will not listen anyway, for their world is inherited by so much peacenik nonsense that they cannot live in the pragmatic place that the real world demands.
Still I cannot blame those who will ensconce this in their preaching, for if they say nothing they will again face that accusation of quietism that plagues magisterial Protestant history. (Think of Niemoller saying they came for the Jews, Communists, trade unionists, and Catholics and I said nothing….when they came for me there was no one left to say anything.)
The big problem here is the misunderstanding of the two kingdoms. The doctrine does not relieve civil authorities from moral responsibility, though historically it is treated as such in that you give your civil authorities carte blanche to act in ways even if it violates your principles. That, however, is the grossest misunderstanding of the teaching.
In Luther’s teaching both those who preach the gospel and those who hold civil authority are beholden to the laws of God. I know this is difficult in the multicultural climate, but it is something that cannot be ignored by the Christian. That it has been ignored has forced the Protestant churches into the civil arena. The new reality is called being a “public church.”
Now what we have is the public church every Sunday. Protestant history has largely made that a necessity. Now when current events and the wrongs of the world are ignored, mainline churches must speak up and they should. But the reality is this should not be manifested in the preaching that accompanies the sacrament, but in that Christians take seriously that as citizens of democratic societies, they need to exercise their public morality. The only thing hearing it perpetually preached does is tell us that our church bodies do not trust us to do such a thing on our own. It also speaks volumes about how we are catechized, being so ignorant of where the Christian life have us to be, that we need to labor word and sacrament with political messages. No wonder the mainline does not grow.
If we are true to two kingdoms theology tomorrow should belong to the faithful preaching of the word and the right administration of the sacrament. Is it too much to ask that one hour a week cannot be about such a thing? We have 167 other hours in the week. I am sure that we can fit our obligation to behave in a more public way into one of those.