“Do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused. Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit wine and abolish women? The sun, the moon, and stars have been worshiped. Shall we then pluck them out of the sky? Such haste and violence betray a lack of confidence in God.”
Thus Martin Luther addressed the errors and excesses of his friends, who in his absence and in their zeal sought to reform abuses in the church by sometimes relying upon hasty conclusions, faulty exegesis, and even force — instead of compassionate prayer, careful preaching and faith. Luther recognized that genuine faith is not the fruit of intimidation or edicts, but grace, patient learning and love of the truth.
Luther’s example in this regard is worthy of consideration and imitation by both conservatives and liberals. We all are tempted to rely primarily on law to save or reform our society or promote our values. Law, however, is not sufficient.
Some well-meaning conservatives support banning cannabis that God created for good, but that like all things can be abused. Overly righteous conservatives love their own liberty, but their neighbor’s not so much.
Some well-meaning liberals support banning firearms from individuals old enough to go to war, be parents and vote. They believe powerful weapons cannot be used in defense of life and liberty except maybe by the government.
Both believe in the prohibition of things. Both require a police state. Both want government to eradicate these evils to save us. But things are not inherently evil. Evil comes from the human heart and no law can change that — not even God's law. Scripture warns us against trusting in civil powers in Psalm 146 and elsewhere.
There is a place for laws prohibiting aggression, and for the prompt and just punishment of people who harm their neighbors. Banning things, however, won't stop abuses. Reform has to come from within. Human depravity and cultural demise cannot be fixed by external force.
The prohibition of fast-shooting guns will not stop murder. But it will certainly make parishioners and students more vulnerable to murderers. The prohibition of plants endowed by our Creator with certain powerful compounds will not stop intoxication or addiction. But it will force families to flee even the great state of Texas in order to live free of pain and seizures with the help of CBD and THC.
Classical conservatism and liberalism need one another. Without the freedom to do what is right (and wrong), there is nothing to conserve. Without virtue and a common commitment to order, freedom is quickly lost. However, hubris is the downfall of both conservatives and liberals. Hubris makes it is easy to forget our own depravity and idolize power in our own hands, but hard not to stop it in others.
So, what’s the answer? It’s not in either one or the other ideology, exclusively. Both perspectives have a place, but we must go deeper.
As in Luther’s day, we need more humility and a deeper confidence in God, the gospel of grace, and patient engagement of one another with the truth, not in grasping power over others. Undue confidence in ourselves and the state will be our downfall. But by humility and with confidence in God and his great grace we can succeed.