Editor’s (admin’s) note: Lightly edited text of a blast email I sent to participants in the “Sundays@6” online congregational book discussion group I co-facilitate on the Ten Commandments, ahead of our session on the eighth commandment (by the Lutheran and Catholic system for numbering them and the ninth by the most common Protestant system) forbidding false witness. I’m archiving it here because the topic is a matter of intense public debate. Also, it quotes from an article by emeritus church historian Martin Marty of the University of Chicago that cites Luther’s Small Catechism (!) as an antidote to corrosive, divisive political speech.

***

Hi everybody —

Here’s the handout with bible verses and prayers for the ninth week of our “Sundays@6” discussions of Adam Hamilton’s “Words of Life: Jesus and the Promise of the Ten Commandments.” Also a bonus question — with an excerpt from an article by Martin Marty that asks how Luther’s catechism might help us get past some of the angry rhetoric of American public life — and the usual links.

1. The first link is to this week’s video, in which Hamilton discusses the 9th Commandment (by his system of numbering them) with Rabbi Art Nemitoff: 

2. And the second is from the church newsletter — to get you connected to Zoom Sunday evening:

  • [xxxxxx xxxxx xxx]

We’ll open the meeting at 5:45 p.m. to chat and start our discussion promptly at 6 LDT (Lutheran Daylight Time). We’ve vetted the links to make sure they work, but here’s our phone number in case there are glitches: xxx-xxx-xxxx.

We’re making arrangements with [name redacted]’s long-term care facility in Carlinville for us to telephone him at 6:15 and say “hi” (a big thankyou to [name redacted] for getting the ball rolling on this). We’ll have more details on this Sunday.

THE BONUS QUESTION: Luther’s Small Catechism suggests something that Hamilton and Rabbi Nemitoff don’t emphasize. But Martin Marty, an ordained Lutheran minister and emeritus University of Chicago prof who has written widely on the history of religion in America, raised the question in a column in Christian Century. (He was also the magazine’s editor and publisher at the time.) In a 2011 essay headlined “The Best Possible Light,” Marty suggested Luther’s catechism could tell us how to mend “our uncivil ways” and “exercise more civility in public life.” He says:

Luther’s “explanation” to the eighth/ninth commandment–let’s be civil and not fight about the numbering–came to mind amid commercials and media appearances by candidates of all stripes last year. “You are not to bear false witness against your neighbor,” says the commandment, and Luther explains, 

“We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”

Ow! And again I say unto you: Ow!

Unless we ruled out the possibility that “neighbors” includes the more-than-next-door people who are fellow citizens, we would have to deal with different norms and engage in different practices. Do we think that those who prepared the commercials and wrote the speeches and competed on the talk shows did not tell lies, betray, slander or seek to destroy reputations? Did many of them come to the defense of the other and “interpret everything they do in the best possible light?”

The whole thing’s worth reading. Link here: 

https://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2011-01/best-possible-light

But I’m especially interested in Marty’s comment: Ow! And again I say unto you: Ow! We all violate the commandment, even if we’re not in politics. Ow! I do it too, I say again. Ow! 

So here’s the bonus question: Where do we fall short of what Luther would have us do? In politics? In our own lives? How might Luther’s “thou shalt” be applied to social media? To election-year rhetoric? How might Adam Hamilton’s emphasis on forgiveness fit in here?

[Published March 29, 2022]

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