. . . We interrupt this broadcast to celebrate(!) a Lutheran-Catholic lovefest . . .
Recently, there has been a blogosphere brouhaha over questions pertaining to the murder of late-term abortionist scoundrel George Tiller. Our executive editor Scott P. Richert has made compelling arguments against Tiller’s murder at his Catholicism GuideSite on About.com. And yet Scott, who is rightly described by his friendly debate opponents at Takimag.com as a “devout Catholic,” has not made arguments that are what one (I speak as a Lutheran) would call “uniquely Catholic”—except for his citation of Aquinas and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which of course are wildly papist. (And imagine that, at Catholicism.About.com!)
Scott’s argument is simply Christian.
The question he answered was initially posed by Richard Spencer, and it goes something like this: Did George Tiller deserve to die?
Here’s Scott’s answer: Yes, he did. “For the wages of sin is death.” [I pick up my AK and an armload of clips.] But wait! There’s more. So do the rest of us. Why? Because “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” We—you and I, Dear Reader—deserve to die, because we are part of that “all” mentioned by Saint Paul. [I put down my AK.]
This explains why we need a Redeemer, Scott says, following Saint Paul, as confessed by Lutherans, Catholics, and every Baptist who has walked the Romans Road.
“The question now becomes,” Scott continues, “Who has the authority to kill?” And then he discusses the ways in which God delegates His authority over life and death to particular estates—those in government who wield the sword and “not in vain,” to borrow again from Saint Paul. Others, too, such as fathers, entrusted with authority over their households, justly wield the shotgun against home invaders, and that includes those who would invade to destroy a father’s begotten in the womb.
Did the suspect, Mr. Roeder, act based on this sort of biblical authority? Could he justly wield the sword against the wretched Mr. Tiller? Not by any reading of Saint Paul or any other Apostle or any Christian tradition. “Murder is murder,” wrote Scott. And murder being sin, the wage of both Roeder and Tiller is death.
Over at Takimag.com, Dr. Paul Gottfried disagrees with Scott “on two points.” “First, I do not see any moral parity between the mass-murderer George Tiller and the outraged Christian [sic] who took his life.” Well, as Scott has argued, Roeder did not merely “take Tiller’s life”—a benign description. To kill apart from divinely appointed authority is murder, and so Roeder did not merely kill but murdered the disgusting abortionist. And murder is one of those sins that is in many senses “mortal,” or in Lutheran parlance something that suggests the absence of saving faith (pistis) in the heart.
Dr. Gottfried’s phrase “moral parity” is also ambiguous, suggesting, perhaps, to the reader that Scott thinks there is no difference at all in God’s eyes between a man who kills one and a man who slaughters tens of thousands of helpless children. Is that what Scott argued? No. The “parity” he described is the parity taught by Saint Paul, which may be called soteriological or [get ready, Scrabble players] harmartiological parity. Any sin can and does damn.
“Second,” Dr. Gottfried continues, “Scott’s attempt to prove his case by citing the bible and medieval philosophy is less than convincing.” Now I agree completely with Dr. Gottfried’s suggestion that the “evils of the modern managerial regime” cause a few head-scratchers for theologians today. (When Saint Peter, for example, tells us to “fear God and honor the king,” how does this apply to Christians today? Aren’t “we the people” “sovereign” in the popular understanding of American “democracy”? Should we honor and obey ourselves?) But the timeless truths of Scripture are not “simply outdated.” No matter which branch of local, state, or federal government (or whichever elective body) winds up counting as “sovereign” in the current managerial shakedown, we have no cause to conclude that, as individuals, we may justly become lone gunmen and commit murder out of “Christian zeal” for justice.
In his first piece, Scott specifically cited Romans 3:8: “Christians take seriously both Romans 3:8, in which Saint Paul says of those who claim that we can do evil that good may come of it that their ‘damnation is just’; and Romans 13, in which Saint Paul declares that the civil authority, not individuals, ‘rightly wields the sword.’”
Dr. Gottfried finds these citations “far from compelling. Paul’s epistle does not show that Tiller’s killer acted wickedly ‘because good cannot come out of evil.’” What then was the Apostle aiming at, according to Dr. Gottfried? The “leitmotiv of Romans, which pertains to actions taken [with] or without faith (pistis).”
Hot dog! Now here’s something this Lutheran can get fired up about, against a “devout Catholic” (flaming papist) such as Scott. Indeed, “Scott may not read these passages in the same way as the Protestant Reformers. As he might know, they were pivotal texts for Luther.” Oh, he might know, all right.
Romans . . . Luther . . . game on!
Except wait. Does Luther disagree with Scott’s application of Romans 3:8? Well, yes and no. Luther thinks that the phrase “whose damnation is just” is applied by Saint Paul not to those who would “boast of their sins, but rather [to] such as think themselves righteous and trust in their own works to save them.” In other words, those whose “damnation is just” are those who punch their ticket to Heaven with their own righteousness.
Tiller’s alleged murderer likely did not think he was committing evil in order that good may come out of it. On the contrary, he likely thought that he was committing a just act by killing a killer. But here is where Luther would agree with Scott’s application of Romans 3 to Roeder. For it is precisely when we think that our conception and execution (so to speak) of righteous deeds glorifies God that we highlight just the opposite, “for the greater God’s righteousness shines forth, the more wicked appears our ‘righteousness.’” In Romans 2, Saint Paul castigates the Jews, “Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.”
If Roeder had been vilified by the left for keeping God’s commandments, he would be worthy of honor, following in the footsteps of Christ, Who reminds us that those who hate you really hate Me. But the murder of Tiller was nowhere commanded by the “oracles of God“; it was committed (allegedly) out of Roeder’s own conception of the justice of God. And as a result of Roeder’s self-conceived righteousness, the name of God has indeed been blasphemed among unbelievers.
These were certainly “pivotal texts for Luther,” as Dr. Gottfried suggests. But Luther did not think (by any stretch) that “pistis” was all that was necessary to make an action righteous, nor did he find such a notion to be the “leitmotiv” of Romans. He repeatedly denounced self-conceived works of righteousness—works done apart from God’s revealed Word. This includes deciding for oneself which wicked monsters should live and which should die.
And Luther is right there with Scott on Romans 13. In fact, Luther is much more insistent on the Christian’s duty to submit to the authority of evil rulers. “In contradistinction to the Jewish conception, [St. Paul] teaches that Christians must subject themselves also to the wicked and unbelievers.” This included wicked pagan Romans who murdered innocent Christians in Saint Paul’s day, and it includes wicked managerial elites who permit abortion in ours. Luther reminds us that, on the occasion of His trial, which was brought about by a half-phony local government under the thumb of a foreign ruler beholden to a distant and idolatrous emperor, Jesus Himself told Pilate that “thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.” And here’s a shocking thought: By God’s standards, Jesus Christ was and is more innocent than all of the defenseless babies killed by George Tiller. And Our Lord told Peter to put away his sword.
The one exception, acknowledged by Luther, is when a civil government attempts to compel a Christian to do evil. In such a case, as the Scriptures say, “It is better to obey God rather than men.” But no civil authority was compelling Roeder to perform an abortion, or to stand aside while his wife paid for one.
It goes without saying that there is much that Scott and Martin Luther would disagree about when it comes to interpreting Saint Paul’s epistle to the Romans. But the suggestion that Scott’s “devout Catholicism” would put him at odds with Luther on the question of the murder of George Tiller is absurd. Luther risked his own neck to preach against the Peasants’ Revolt. Luther condemned the Buzzing Anabaptist Bees for assuming that they could judge the government evil and therefore take the law into their own hands. All of this did he in full agreement with Scott’s interpretation of Romans 13.
. . . And now back to your regularly scheduled denominational warfare . . .