It’s Wednesday, so my morning today began with legal advice from Chicago lawyer Karen Conti. She does a phone-in spot each week on WGN Radio during which she fields legal questions from the listening audience. Today she had some words for those of us in the Lutheran ministry. Surprised?
Freedom of Speech
Well, ok, actually her opening comments were about embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling who is in trouble for racial remarks he made recently. How could I get Lutheran ministers confused with Donald Sterling? Well, just listen to what lawyer Karen Conti had to say when asked by the program host whether Sterling could be successful fighting his ousting, being banned from the NBA, or having the team taken from him.
First, she commented about his constitutional right to free speech. In a nation of free speech, can’t Mr. Sterling say whatever he wants? And on top of that – this was a private conversation! My goodness! Ms. Conti clarified that our right to free speech, while indeed protected under the constitution, is protection from government interference. The government cannot punish us, or Mr. Sterling, for the opinions we express. Others, however, can and do have an avenue if they do not like the words we choose. Employers for instance have some control over what we say as it relates to our employment.
What we Say Can Get us Into Trouble
While the things we say are protected from government intervention, our speech, even private speech, carries with it a great responsibility. What we say can get us into trouble. (Many things I said growing up got me into plenty of trouble with my parents and teachers – and some things I say today still get me into trouble. Just ask my wife.)
Second, and this is what really caught my attention. Ms. Conti said, seriously and with what I would call deep reverence in her voice: “Mr. Sterling was privileged to own an NBA franchise. This is something not many people can do. It is a very small group, and not just anyone gets in. And when you join that privileged group, you are entrusted with something very special and agree to behave in a certain way, not to do or say things that harm the brand.”
Privileged. Something not many people can do. A very small group. Agreeing to behave in a certain way …
The Privileges of Public Ministry
Karen Conti, while not intending to, pretty well described what it is to be in the Lutheran ministry. What a privilege, although we more often use the word blessing. Also, when you look at the total number of people in our world, that subset called Lutheran ministers – pastors, teachers, deaconesses, DCE’s, etc. is indeed a very small group. It isn’t something that everyone or just anyone can do. A relatively small number have been Called to do the Lord’s work in this very special role of public ministry.
To be called by God, led by the Holy Spirit to enter this vocation, and then be called into office by a congregation or an entity of the Lutheran church. Contemplate your ministry and as you do, think about this privilege, the office to which we have been Called, and the message of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ that has been entrusted to us.
The Michigan District, LCMS maintains several Ethics Documents for the benefit of the congregations and professional church workers in our District. These documents cover a range of topics from an outline on “Seeking a Church Worker” to “Care for Workers” to “Support for Workers.”
As stated in the “Theological Rationale” within the Ethical Conduct for Congregations document:
The purpose of this document is to help congregations understand and relate to their professional church workers and other staff and to sister congregations in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in ways that are healthy, God-pleasing, and beneficial to everyone, so that the work of the church may prosper to the glory of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Ethics Documents are available for free on the District website.
image via iStockPhoto