Pastor Russell Turnswich set down his coffee, leaned back in his office chair, and sighed contentedly as he gazed at the calendar. August 1, 2003: just one more week, and his wife and he would dig their toes in the sunny sands of Sanibel Island, far away from the heat and fervor of ministry. Ahhh, yes. That was the life! Pr. Turnswich closed his eyes and began imagining a myriad of ocean-side frolics . . . .
A knock on the door roused him from his reverie. He sat up and tried to look professional.
Pr. Turnswich groaned inwardly as he watched Higley Sollicito walk through the door. Higley was always worried about something, and it usually took a good hour of conversation to settle him down.
“Higley! Hello!” Be positive, Pastor Turnswich told himself. “What brings you in today?”
“Oh, Pastor!” Higley shook his head as he slumped into a chair. “It’s this war in Iraq. What do you think about it?”
Pr. Turnswich wiggled his nose, as he often did when executing a quick side-step. “The war? In Iraq? Why does that concern you?”
Higley sat up, animated. “Well, Pastor! Why wouldn’t it concern you? We’re sending all sorts of young men and women overseas to fight a war in a foreign country, all over oil! People are dying! Don’t you care?”
“Oh, well, now.” Pr. Turnswich scritched in his chair. “Yes, yes, of course—and you may have heard me pray about it two or three weeks ago in church. But, ah, I—well. What has you specifically concerned?”
Higley slumped back in his chair. “I dunno. It just seems we should be doing something. Protesting, or something! Making a stand for God’s way of peace!”
Maybe it’s time for a joke? Pr. Turnswich smiled benevolently. “Oh, now, that doesn’t sound very Lutheran!” Pr. Turnswich forced a prolonged and horsey laugh.
Higley did not laugh.
Pr. Turnswich cleared his throat.
Higley continued to gaze at him, waiting.
“Yes, well.” The hapless pastor searched for something to say, and that was when it happened: he glanced at the wall behind Higley, where Mrs. Turnswich had hung the faded photographs and portraits of all the Turnswich men who had ever served in the public ministry—a long line of them, stretching all the way back to the Revolutionary War. Seeing them, Pr. Turnswich suddenly knew what he had to say. He leaned forward.
“You know, Higley, I think what you have to accept is that this war is now the law of the land.”
Higley blinked, looking a little startled. Pr. Turnswich nodded.
“It’s true, you know. The president has called for this action in Iraq, and the congress has affirmed it by an overwhelming majority. It’s the law of the land.”
Higley’s brow furrowed. “But—but why does that matter?”
“Well.” Pr. Turnswich sat back in his chair and rested his hands on his stomach, suddenly thankful that he had paid a little attention in that elective course on Luther’s writings 35 years ago. “As Lutherans, we believe in the two kingdoms, you know, the civil kingdom and the, uh—well, ah, what was it now?—oh, yes! The church kingdom!”
“Yes, so, now, in the church kingdom, see, God sends us to proclaim the gospel and care for souls. But God created the civil kingdom to make laws about things like taxes, war, and marriage. Luther was very clear about it.” Pr. Turnswich could feel his theological juices flowing. “So, we in the church don’t really have any cause to protest anything the government does with respect to this war, because it is now the law of the land. God’s kingdom on the left hand”—Pr. Turnswich waved his left hand in the air—“has spoken.”
Higley cocked his head. “Does every pastor and bishop in the ELCA think about it this way?”
Pr. Turnswich nodded. “Oh, yes! See, that’s why you haven’t heard people like our presiding bishop, Mark Hanson, or anyone else protest this war in Iraq, but instead enthusiastically support it. It’s the law of the land. The civil government has the right to wage war, just like it has the right to change the laws on taxes or marriage, and the question isn’t if we will accept and support it, but how we will do so.”
“But what about Dietrich Bonhoeffer?”
“Well, let’s not confuse things.”
“But doesn’t God want us to pound swords into combines?”
“Right—well, see, the Bible was written in a different context from ours. Back then, there wasn’t much metal, see, and so they had to recycle. It’s different today, when we have lots of resources to make weapons. So that text doesn’t really apply the question of war and peace in a modern context. Plus, the threat back then was Babylon and Persia, and today it’s Iraq and Iran, which is totally different.”
“Oh. So the ELCA supports the war in Iraq?”
“Of course! Just as we support all the laws that the government passes in its function as God’s civil kingdom. It’s the law of the land.”
Higley’s suddenly brightened. “I see! And so the ELCA supports the death penalty, too?”
Pr. Turnswich wracked his brain. Had there been a statement on that one? “I imagine so . . . . It is the law of the land . . . or at least certain parts of our land, or—.”
“And St. Paul in Romans says that the government has authority to wield the sword to punish bad behavior, right?”
That seemed about right. “Yes, exactly! Now you see how it works.”
Higley seemed relieved when he left. Pr. Turnswich could feel himself relaxing, and he paused to gaze contentedly at the pictures of his forefathers. He was very thankful that he saw them just in time! Their example inspired his own.
For there hung the image of old Theodosius Turnswich, the very first Turnswich to serve as a pastor in the colonies. He had once penned a sermon, a copy of which Pr. Turnswich still had, in which he had explained very carefully that Britain had every right to tax the colonies as much as it wanted, and quarter soldiers in homes, and disperse public assemblies. It was the government’s divine right to pass such laws, and Christians just had to accept it—
Pr. Turnswich suddenly frowned, thinking for a moment. Things hadn’t turned out so well for Theodosius, had they? Come to think of it. Tarred and feathered after that sermon, run out on a rail—Pr. Turnswich blushed and shook his head. That was a long time ago. A different context.
He leaned over, pulled open his desk drawer, and started leafing through his travel fliers on Sanibel.