Let them go

by Andrea Elizabeth

I just remembered what I was looking up that lead me to learn about the King of Germany being the Holy Roman Emperor till 1806 and then about Austria. It was Lutheranism. I don’t remember why I was looking that up. But the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article has this statement,

“The split between the Lutherans and the Roman Catholics was made clear and open with the 1521 Edict of Worms:[2] the edicts of the Diet condemned Luther and officially outlawed citizens of the Holy Roman Empire from defending or propagating his ideas, subjecting advocates of Lutheranism to forfeiture of all property, specifying half of any seized property forfeit to the Imperial government and the remaining half forfeit to the party who brought the accusation.”

It was the seizure of property that caught my attention. How did the state have the right to do that unless there was no division between Church and state, which of course there wasn’t so much in those days. But all this leads me to the notion of coercion. Whatever the political or financial motivations, if you believe someone is defying God or the truth, what should you do? Force them through these other means to stop? The problem to me is the indirectness of it.

Property rights should involve trade rules, not religious rules. If someone is convicted of murder, should their property be seized? They may have to make certain restitution to the family, but that should be about damages, not removal of property. It’s the indirectness that is also involved in bribery, which is what the Empire was doing to the people who brought accusations of someone being Lutheran by giving them half the spoils.

So to say I’ll be nice to you and give you favors if you worship as I do, and I’ll be mean and take something of yours unrelated if you don’t is wrong. Do I feel this way because I’m a post-enlightenment American? I just found this on the Wikipedia article on the Separation of Church and State,

“The concept of separating church and state is often credited to the writings of English philosopher John Locke (1632–1704).[8] According to his principle of the social contract, Locke argued that the government lacked authority in the realm of individual conscience, as this was something rational people could not cede to the government for it or others to control. For Locke, this created a natural right in the liberty of conscience, which he argued must therefore remain protected from any government authority. These views on religious tolerance and the importance of individual conscience, along with his social contract, became particularly influential in the American colonies and the drafting of the United States Constitution.”

We are used to being able to think, and mostly to say what we think without state consequence. It seems an act of desperation to try to force someone to think and say differently. The Church has the authority to declare what is proper to think and say, with certain ramifications, mostly closed communion for those who declare with the agreement of their conscience the truth about Christ and the Church. She lets those who don’t go. So is it bribery or coercion to send gift-bearing missionaries? I think we have to be careful and examine our conscience. Am I feeding this poor person because I want to add numbers to my Church? We may not be able to help that that may be part of it, and if it is, if we also believe it is wrong to not feed a hungry person, then we should go ahead and pray to be cleansed of our wrong motivations. It’s the difference between schmoozing and ministering.