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A Response to the Events of January 6, 2021

January 07, 2021 - 5 minute read

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Dear Students and Colleagues,

On January 6, 2021 the world watched in horror as the Capitol of the United States of America was breached for only the second time in history. This time it was not by foreign troops but by our own citizens. This violent mob sought to undermine the constitutional duty of the Congress to count the Electoral College votes. This certification process is the final step in the ordinary peaceful transition of power of the world’s oldest democratic republic. What happened is inexcusable, and each individual who broke the solemn laws of the United States during this insurrectionist riot needs to be brought to justice.

The United States of America is a nation of laws. Each citizen is afforded the right to petition their representatives and the courts to bring grievances they seek to redress. The storming of the world’s greatest deliberative body for the purpose of stopping this certification, not through petition but through violence, tears deeply into the fabric of this nation that has been woven together, alas not always perfectly, for nearly 250 years.

There were many arresting images from yesterday’s incursion—a Confederate Flag outside the Senate chambers, Representatives donning gas masks, Capitol Police with drawn weapons—but one image to my mind is the most arresting of all. A man dressed in tactical gear dangled from the balcony in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives in front of the inscription of one of the two mottos found on the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States: Annuit Coeptis (“He [God] favors [our] undertakings.”). I would surmise, based on Romans 13, that our Lord does not favor the undertakings that happened yesterday.

Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther set off a catalytic reformation of western civilization. The principles of the Reformation transformed theology, education, economics, and politics. It has been argued many times that the Reformation birthed the very concepts that led to the Enlightenment which in turn provided the intellectual underpinnings of the American Revolution and the eventual drafting of the Constitution.

A key principle of the American political experiment is found in Luther’s writings. Interpreting Biblical texts such as Romans 13, Luther understood that civil government was a gift of God to be used as an instrument of peace. The duty of the government is to establish and maintain peace and to thwart evil to provide a setting for citizens to live out the commandment of our Lord: to love our neighbor. This is accomplished, in part, by living peaceably, honorably, and respectfully under the established temporal government, especially one that allows for the peaceful petitioning of grievances.

Our nation is deeply hurting and the social fabric is being stretched thin. We have seen the ravages of the pandemic, the reckoning of the racial justice movement, the bitterness of the 2020 election season, anarchy and irrational violence on the streets of many American cities, etc. As faculty, staff, and students of Concordia University Irvine, what should we do? Where do we go from here?

Tip O’Neil, former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, famously said, “all politics is local.” I would encourage Concordia University Irvine to remember these words. While the challenges facing our nation seem overwhelming, the nation ultimately is us. Concordia University Irvine is a Lutheran Christian university that prepares wise, honorable, and cultivated citizens. To this end, I commend this citizenry to live out our calling to love our neighbor as ourselves. But what does this mean concretely at this time of deep division and pain?

A few years ago Rev. Dr. Chad Lakies and I drafted an intellectual and social contract that I want to commend to the faculty, staff, and students of Concordia University Irvine. It starts with a simple premise rooted in our Christian love and commitment to each other to engage in civil dialogue and is followed by a pledge of tenets. I believe that a pledge such as this has the ability, if we commit to it communally, to offer healing in our community and a constructive path forward to address many grievances experienced even at Concordia University Irvine. As the Great Commission University, it is my hope that this spirit would in turn shine forth from this hill into our community, state, and nation.

An Intellectual and Social Contract for Civil Dialogue

At Concordia University Irvine we consider and critique ideas. Simultaneously, we resist with fortitude the temptation to critique the people who adhere to those ideas. Therefore, we pledge to one another the following:

  1. We will thoughtfully consider, discuss, debate, critique, and explore all ideas in accordance with the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty for the welfare of our neighbors, which is a foundational characteristic of the Lutheran Intellectual Tradition.
  2. We will remain open and honest in all inquiries and aware that we may shed our previous positions and assume new ideas.
  3. We approach all inquiries with humility, knowing fully that we ourselves are imperfect beings in our thoughts, words and actions.
  4. We will commit ourselves to the care of and hospitality toward our peers, most especially those who harbor convictions different from our own.
  5. We will maintain a character of civility, charitably putting the best construction on what others say and do, and measure our speech in all dialogues.
  6. We will demonstrate concern first and foremost for others rather than for ourselves, that is, we will endeavor to listen primarily to understand another’s position, not to react or respond.
  7. We will always have forgiveness on our lips, for we know that difficult dialogues sometimes produce unintended offenses, which need gentle correction, patience, and the gift of Christ’s forgiveness.

It is my hope that our faculty, staff, and students can work together on this project to forge and commit to a social and intellectual contract as a community. It is my prayer that we, the citizens of Concordia University Irvine, can heal the wounds locally that have riven our nation during these last several months. I beseech our Lord to bring peace and healing to our citizenry through justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation through the hands and feet of His followers throughout the United States of America.

Pax Domini,

Dr. Michael Thomas

Michael A. Thomas, Ph.D.
President, Concordia University Irvine

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