Love is the best construction for same-sex marriage. Faith is the best construction for the existence of the ELCA. Hope is the best construction for holding to reincarnation. Charity is the best construction for Somali pirate ransoms. Joy is the best construction for Pentecostalism. Peace is the best construction for appeasement of tyrants. Kindness is the best construction for abortion. Goodness is the best construction for being obedient to the Dalai Lama. Self-control is the best construction for having yoga in church. Forbearance is the best construction for allowing adultery in the pulpit to continue.
All the above statements are ridiculous. Yet they are hardly beyond the pale in the way that the Eighth Commandment is abused in LCMS circles where, if someone disagrees with you, it is invariably turned into an accusation that you “violated the Eighth”.
For those unfamiliar with the Small Catechism’s treatment of the Eighth:
The Eighth Commandment.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
What does this mean?–Answer.
We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.
My unfortunate experience is that the last seven words of Luther’s answer for the Eighth have replaced all the other words in the answer in the Short and Long versions. That contraction then has the effect of elevating the Eighth above the other Nine with unsurprising consequences.
Whilst there is a reticence to hurl around statements about violations of the other nine Commandments, there is very little restraint when it comes to the conveniently revised Eighth. It is the one commandment that Lutherans feel entitled to deploy in public and in private on almost any pretext.
The same people who will insist on following every jot and tittle of Matthew 18:15-20 will skip straight to deploying the “Eighth card” in public when it suits them. It is also my experience that the Eighth is the weapon of choice for the clergy against each other. It seems to manifest most often in Synodical and district settings where it invariably is a tool for protecting the status quo or keeping sacred cows fat and breeding more sacred cows.
To be sure, the sheep are hardly exempt, and will often be beaten by shepherds with a few switches of Eight without a second thought.
What is most remarkable is that those hurling the Eighth are often clearly guilty of violating it by the very action of using it. Yet the Eighth has that special place of honor in the LCMS where everyone (in the eyes of the accuser) and no-one (in the eyes of the recipient) is guilty of it. It is both a weapon and a shield depending on the need.
The net effect is to render the Eighth paralyzed for its proper purpose.
People often mean well in that they are coming to the defense of something or someone, but not every defense automatically needs to drag the Eighth with it. Used carelessly, it has a logical terminus in the first paragraph of this article.
For all those tempted to frequent bombing runs with the Eighth, I urge a re-reading of the Large Catechism’s treatment of the Eighth. The Eighth is to be used like a guided missile, not a cluster bomb. Before you pull the trigger on your next Eighth, make sure that you are actually launching it rather than detonating it in your own bomb bay.
We would all be much better off if we took to heart Luther’s admonition, “…if I rush in, judging and passing sentence, I fall into a sin which is greater than [my neighbors]. Let us give the Eighth Commandment the weight it deserves instead of diminishing it with frequent and wrong applications.
Now feel free to criticize me with little fear of bearing false witness.