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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Separation of church & state

What does this mean?

In the cover story on church/state separation, John Witte’s “In Luther’s view” (September) gives the false impression that Martin Luther believed Christians should always obey the government. But note Luther’s opposition to service in unjust wars. When asked, “Suppose my lord were wrong in going to war?” Luther replies: “If you know for sure that he is wrong, then you should fear God rather than men, Acts 5:29, and you should neither fight nor serve. For you cannot have a good conscience before God. ‘Oh, no,’ you say, ‘my lord would force me to do it; he would take away my fief and would not give me my money, pay and wages. Besides I would be despised and put to shame as a coward, even worse as a man who did not keep his word and deserted his lord in time of need.’ I answer: You must take that risk and, with God’s help, let whatever happens, happen. He can restore you a hundredfold as he promises in the gospel ....” Now six years after the invasion of Iraq, I lament the fact that we failed to follow ... the boldness of Luther.

Lowell O. Erdahl
Roseville, Minn.

Witte added ‘muscle’

The September issue surprised me: two items by John Witte Jr., for whom I have great respect. He certainly added some muscle to this edition. I hope you will invite more like him.


Menard Ihnen
North Augusta, S.C.

More historical facts

The article “Church & state” (September) was timely. These historical facts could shine light on the problem. Wallace v. Jaffree in 1985 had the dissenting opinion of the late Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist: “The ‘wall of separation between church and state’ is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned.” The founding intentions were to avoid establishing a national church such as the Anglican Church in England. Two days after Thomas Jefferson wrote the 1802 “wall” letter to the Danbury Baptists, he attended church services in Washington, D.C.’s, most public building, the chamber of the House of Representatives. Clearly his meaning was not absolute separation.

Edward Henry
Mifflinburg, Pa.


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December issue

DECEMBER issue:

Advent: Waiting together

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