For Congregational Discussion: Civic Engagement and the Relationship of Church and State December 2022/January 2023

[1] This issue of Journal of Lutheran Ethics suggests constructive ways of thinking of the relationship between piety and justice, faith and secular reasoning, church and state.  The following activities encourage the development of the virtues needed for such conversations as well as specific activities to help communities engage together on this topic.


Activity 1: Civic Virtue and Religious Piety in Theater.

[2] There are several classic plays that discuss the paradoxical tension that can arise between piety and justice.  The ancient play, Antigone, created  a space for Athenian democrats to think through the complexities involved between honoring one’s faith commitments to love and support a family member and one’s civic responsibility to uphold the  civil law in order to prevent chaos and insurrection.  The recent play, The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, helped viewers consider similar questions updated for an American audience who wondered when civil disobedience was necessary, faithful, and just.

[3] This activity suggests a group of people work together to create a skit, or more ambitiously, a contemporary short play that involves naming and playing out the tension between the divine command to love and a civil law to uphold order. In creating the performance, the group can work to expose the unsolvable tensions that sometimes arise. In doing so, participants might consider how the very activity of creating such a skit or play helps one build the virtues of humility, courage, open-mindedness, tolerance, and hospitable friendship that are necessary to work with others in today’s world. Following the skit or play with open discussion about the issues that emerged in the drama will bring more people into the conversation.


Activity 2:  The Church, the State, and Theology

[4] Consider holding a dialogue on the role of Lutheran faith in informing one’s secular behaviors.  Gather a group who is willing to share their experiences and opinions about the following three questions. Using the dialogue structure, have each member of the group share on the first question before moving to the second question.  After the third question is answered by each member of the group, open the conversation to a free flowing interchange of questioning and listening.

* What values and virtues do you think you hold dear precisely because you are Christian, or even Lutheran?

*What secular rules, institutions, and actions do you support because of the values you just named?

* What do you think should be the role of the church in guiding congregants in faith and action?

Jennifer Hockenbery

Jennifer Hockenbery serves as Editor of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics .  She is Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Humanities at St Norbert College. She attends Grace Lutheran Church in Green Bay, WI.