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Wednesday, 01 November 2017 07:28

Come, thou long-expected November

Written by  Staff

Martin Luther delivered his 95 theses in November 1517. His concern was salvation — its necessity and nature and the means by which it is achieved. Luther’s points were not original to him, nor was he the only one raising them. People throughout Europe, including some on the receiving end of his critique, shared his concerns.


Five centuries later, salvation is still the dominant theme of November. I recognized this fact a few weeks ago when I drove by a yard sign with the words “Save Davidson.” I am confident that Luther would agree with that imperative, although he might have different particulars in mind.

This article is not about this grassroots organization, nor am I hoping to deter political engagement. Truly, anyone seeking the principled betterment of our community and/or pursuing public service in this current environment deserves our thanks. This article is about a larger cultural current in which all of us are swept up. Simply put, 500 years after the catalytic event of the Protestant Reformation, salvation remains November’s focus.

In the intervening years, however, the commonly perceived locus of salvation has changed. While salvation used to reside in the realm of God and forgiveness, salvation is now vested in government and politics and thus elections. Friedrich Nietzsche successfully mapped this journey from God to politics. He contended that, as people stopped believing in God, society would lose its basis for determining right and wrong. Nietzsche praised this change as progress, and the quest to define mores to our individual likings began. 

Increasingly, the only unforgivable sin is to let someone else impose his or her will on you. Power and triumph are virtues, mercy and meekness vices. Elections are our shot at redemption; we need people who think like us to be in charge. We pin our hopes on the democratic process. Where else shall we turn?

This mindset comes at a cost: relationships. When politics is our salvation, those who disagree with us on matters of governance become our enemies. Those who disagree with us are either stupid or more likely evil. Centuries ago people believed that the line separating good and evil ran through every human heart. Now we are tempted to believe that this line, if it exists at all, runs between us and those who do not think like us.

Friendships are lost and loyalty tests are devised, all in the pursuit of salvation. We cannot imagine fall without colorful leaves and football and political rancor. In our more sober moments, we evaluate this situation and entertain the thought that perhaps society has taken a wrong turn. There has to be a better way. Let me suggest a first step in a new direction, perhaps one that we should pursue when we see our neighbors on Wednesday. I think Luther nailed it:

Grace alone.

— Rev. Michael Flake, lead pastor, Lake Forest Church-Davidson

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