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Love One Another

Martin Luther famously wrote of us, we are simul justus et peccator, we are righteous and at the same time sinner, enduringly sinful and totally forgiven. Despite our best efforts to believe the advice of self-esteem gurus, truth be told, we find deep within our sinful nature. We are each as Phil Anderson described, a “mixture of pearls and garbage.”

Dare we bring this theological wisdom to the public square and apply it to Al Franken, to Garrison Keillor, to Donald Trump? We would then look beyond the sin and offense in search of the good. The New York Times looked past its criticism of the President and filled its January 18 editorial page with letters from his supporters. One wrote of his leadership, it “exceeded my wildest expectations,” another wrote, “a president like Donald Trump only appears every 100 years or so.” Days later, the same editorial page described Mr. Trump as “a relentlessly abusive and degrading president.” David Brooks described the president as “bigoted and incompetent.” It is difficult to listen to friends of another “tribe” express their view, but listen we must. More important, we must apply this theological assertion to one another.

If we can calmly listen to one another and as Luther instructs, “put the most charitable construction on all our neighbor’s actions,” we may still disagree but will learn from each other and make decisions and judgments based on merit.

In 1918 Henry Ford purchased his hometown newspaper, the Dearborn Independent and began publishing a series of articles decrying the “vast Jewish conspiracy” he believed was “infecting America.” Ford distributed his paper throughout the network of Ford dealerships and as one of the most popular Americans of the time, many other newspapers picked up and published his writings. Hitler was a fan of Ford and on July 30, 1938 awarded him the “Grand Cross of the German Eagle,” recognizing Ford for making automobiles available to the masses.

Hasia Diner said of Henry Ford in a recent WGBG interview, “From the point of view of anti-Semitism, Hitler could look at Ford as somebody who was — let’s call him an age-mate. They were both in the 1920s beginning to write and disseminate information about what they both considered to be this great powerful threat, ‘the Jew.’”

This is the same Henry Ford, a Nazi sympathizer, who established the minimum wage of $5 in 1914, a wage paid even “to the boy who sweeps the floor.” In a NYTimes article published on January 5, 1914, the treasurer of Ford, James Couzens said, “It is our belief that social justice begins at home.” Ford added, “We want all who have helped us produce this great institution and are helping to maintain it to share our prosperity.” Ford promised if an employee didn’t like the job to which he was assigned, he would be sent to another department until a suitable job for him was found.

Henry Ford revolutionized the automobile industry making cars available to the middle class; cars throughout the world bear his name. My father was a “Ford” man. Dad liked Ford automobiles but I cannot remember him ever speaking about Henry Ford, perhaps because his wife, my mother, was part Jewish. Dad still liked Fords and encouraged me to buy my first car, a 1930 Model A Ford.

If we can move past the tribal rancor dominating our time, we will see not just the “simul” but the “justus” in one another. We may continue to disagree, but will disagree respectfully and will learn from each other.

This won’t be easy. It will demand that we move past news headlines, past tweets, past the first paragraph in the newspaper, past television news scrolls and dig deep into issues we face: immigration, global climate change, responsibility of government, health care, national debt, military spending, gun control, education, social policy, religious freedom, the economy, unemployment, taxes, poverty, environment, abortion, foreign aid and foreign relations, war, nuclear weapons, national security, judicial system, election, drugs, racism, Middle East, sexual abuse, energy, population growth, terrorism, clean water….

Let us remember these words in John’s gospel, “God so loved the world……”

If we find it impossible to apply Luther’s words to those in leadership, we must apply Luther’s words to each other and see ourselves and one another through the lens of simul just et peccator.

And never forget Jesus’ salient command: Love one another.