Posts tagged ‘Supreme Court’

A Judge and #MeToo

Credit: Wikipedia

Last week was a raucous one in politics.  Last Sunday, The Washington Post published a bombshell investigative report detailing allegations of sexual assault against President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh.  Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of clinical psychology at Palo Alto University, claimed that Judge Kavanaugh, at a party in the early 1980s, when they were both in high school:

…pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it. When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth.

The details of this account, if true, are deeply distressing.  Yesterday, another accusation was leveled against the judge, this one concerning some sexually aggressive behavior in his college years during an alcohol-fueled party.  Hearings on the initial accusation are tentatively set to begin on Thursday.

While these stories continue to unfold, and facts, evidence, and debate continue to trickle – and, in some instances, flood – in, there are some important lessons for us to consider from what we already know.

We can learn something about honor.

Whether or not these accusations ultimately prove to be credible, this much is indisputably true:  we live in a culture that has lost its way sexually.  These allegations may turn out to be false.  But so many others have turned out to be, if the preponderance of evidence is to be believed, true.  Harvey Weinstein.  Les Moonves.  Charlie Rose.  Bill Cosby.  Al Franken.  Roy Moore.  Matt Lauer.  Kevin Spacey.  Steve Wynn.  And there are many more.

This must stop.  Sex is not a right, a rite of passage, or an unrestrainable drive.  Sex was created to be an expression of love and commitment, which sometimes results in the blessing of children, between a husband and a wife in marriage.  Committing to a woman publicly before God and a group of witnesses to be a faithful, gentle, and servant-hearted husband till death do you part is the most honorable thing a man can do for a woman before he lays a hand on her sexually.  Ripping sex out of this commitment and context provides a seedy breeding ground for sexual entitlement instead of gentle chivalry.

We can learn something about power.

Dr. Ford’s allegation against Judge Kavanaugh first came to light in the middle of a contentious and hyper-politically-charged Supreme Court confirmation hearing.  Sadly, partisans on both sides have proven to be more concerned about the political power in play than the moral rectitude at stake.  From a supporter of Judge Kavanaugh came an argument that it doesn’t really matter if the judge is guilty of sexual assault, because his good deeds clearly outweigh his bad deeds overall.  The judge should get a pass.  Conversely, a detractor of the judge who knew of these accusations as early as late July and decided to sit on them and not address them, now appears to be using them to maximize the political chaos surrounding Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination.

When partisans on either side engage in these kinds of arguments and actions, they insult justice.  The treat the terrible truths of two women’s claims or the shameful besmirching of a man’s character as less important than a political victory.  Human lives get trampled for the sake of maintaining and extending political power, which, by definition, sounds less like a democracy where human dignity is supreme, and more like a tyranny.

We can learn something about truthfulness.

There is really no way to assert that both Judge Kavanaugh and his accusers are being truthful.  Two women have made accusations.  Judge Kavanaugh has categorically denied them.  Contrary to some clumsy efforts to try to exonerate all parties, someone is almost certainly lying.  In a cultural consensus that seems all too content to bake deceit into some sort of pragmatic cake because “everybody lies,” and to downplay the need for the truth as secondary to other, supposedly larger, concerns, this case reminds us that the truth really does matter.  Lives, reputations, and, in this case, the public good are stake.  This is why, for the sake of justice, and for the sake of our country, I hope the truth comes out.

For now, we’ll have to wait and see.

September 24, 2018 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Justice Anthony Kennedy Will Retire

Anthony Kennedy

In what was one of the biggest stories of this past week, after 30 years on the bench of the Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement last Wednesday, effective July 31.  Justice Kennedy’s tenure as a Supreme Court justice was fraught with anticipation and tension when various landmark cases were being decided, with many referring to Kennedy as the court’s “swing vote.”  He voted with the more conservative branch of the court on issues such as gun control and campaign financing while siding with the more progressive branch on issues like same-sex marriage, abortion, and the death penalty.

Not surprisingly, the announcement of Justice Kennedy’s retirement has set off a flurry of political activity, with conservatives delighted that President Trump appears poised to deliver another proponent of originalist jurisprudence to the nation’s highest court while those on the liberal flank of the political divide worry about what such a justice could mean not only for the current progressive agenda, but for some of the most consequential Supreme Court decisions of the past half-century.

The fiery debate that is unfolding is a timely reminder for Christians that good judgment really does matter.  Over the past few decades, it has become fashionable to decry nearly any sort of judgment as self-righteous judgmentalism, and to respond to those who call for keen legal, moral, ethical, or theological discernment with a cry for tolerance and relativism – living and letting others live.  This is why an artist like Chris Brown can sing a song like “Don’t Judge Me,” where he asks his girlfriend to forgive his indiscretions.  This is why Justice Kennedy himself could write, in a 1992 majority opinion on Planned Parenthood v. Casey in support of abortion:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.  Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.

This is a judgment that refuses to make a judgment on something as basic and fundamental as what constitutes life.  In this way, it is relativistic in the extreme.  Of course, by not making a judgment on what constitutes life, Justice Kennedy makes a de facto judgment:  either there is no human life in the womb, or there is no human life in the womb worth protecting.  Either one is a judgment that carries with it massive life-and-death implications.

A moment like Justice Kennedy’s retirement reveals that an unmoored relativism and an absolutist tolerance ultimately cannot stand.  Society needs and wants good judgment.  After all, judgment, both legal and personal, decides how money is spent, how people are treated, what relationships are desirable and permissible, and, as Planned Parenthood v. Casey demonstrates, even which lives endure.  The Supreme Court is called upon to render judgments on disputed issues according to the U.S. Constitution.  As Christians, we are called, first and foremost, to judge our own lives according to the law of the Lord and then, second, to lovingly and compassionately call others to appreciate the beauty, the value, and the wisdom of this divine law.

Our society is in desperate need of good judgment.  Sadly, we live in a time rife with poor judgment where standards, especially in the realm of politics, shift for the sake of expediency and, as the fight over a new nominee for the Supreme Court will surely reveal, power.  But, as Jesus warns, “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).  We will not be able to elide consistent standards of judgment forever in order to suit our own fleeting fancies.  Our standards and principles may slide and glide around today’s political ice rink, but God’s standards will outlast our shifts and will, ultimately, judge our shifts.  Perhaps we would do well to consider His standards when making our judgments.

July 2, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Flowers, Same-Sex Marriage, and Responding with Grace

screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-6-43-59-am

Barronelle Stutzman enjoyed catching up with her friend, Rob Ingersoll.  He would stop by regularly to order custom bouquets from the mom-and-pop flower shop she operated, Arlene’s Flowers, and the two would talk about what was going on in their respective lives.  Everything was coming up, excuse the pun, roses, until one day when Rob stopped by Arlene’s Flowers to ask Barronelle to provide custom flower arrangements for his upcoming wedding to his partner, Curt.  According to a deposition by Ms. Stutzman, she responded by putting her hands on Mr. Ingersoll and saying, “Because of my relationship with Jesus Christ, I can’t do that.”  Understandably, he walked away feeling deeply hurt and rejected.  After that, it didn’t take long for a legal firestorm to explode.

The two men sued Arlene’s Flowers for $7.91, the price it cost to drive to another florist.  Then, on February 16, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that Ms. Stutzman was in violation of state law, claiming that Ms. Stutzman’s actions constituted “socially harmful conduct” and that the “government views acts of discrimination,” which is how they regarded Ms. Stutzman’s refusal of service, “as independent social evils.”

In a situation like this, it can be difficult for a Christian to figure out how to respond.  Indeed, there has been a fair amount of debate among Christians over whether or not it is biblically-appropriate to provide certain services, as Barronelle Stutzman refused to do, for a same-sex wedding.

Regardless of what an individual Christian may or may not be willing to accommodate in a situation like this, Ms. Stutzman’s overall response to this controversy has been charitable and exemplary.  Shortly after the controversy erupted, she penned an opinion piece for The Seattle Times.  She opened:

Rob Ingersoll will always be my friend. Recent events have complicated – but not changed – that fact for me.

Ms. Stutzman began with a statement of love for Mr. Ingersoll.  Even if he sues her, she will not disown him.  She will always be a friend to him, even after she felt she had to have a conversation with him that was, in her words, “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.”

She continued by explaining her desire to balance her moral convictions with her Christian love:

I knew he was in a relationship with a man and he knew I was a Christian. But that never clouded the friendship for either of us or threatened our shared creativity – until he asked me to design something special to celebrate his upcoming wedding.

If all he’d asked for were prearranged flowers, I’d gladly have provided them. If the celebration were for his partner’s birthday, I’d have been delighted to pour my best into the challenge. But as a Christian, weddings have a particular significance…

I’ve never questioned Rob’s and Curt Freed’s right to live out their beliefs. And I wouldn’t have done anything to keep them from getting married, or even getting flowers. Even setting aside my warm feelings for them, I wouldn’t have deliberately taken actions that would mean the end of being able to do the work I love or risk my family’s home and savings.

I just couldn’t see a way clear in my heart to honor God with the talents He has given me by going against the word He has given us.

Whatever decision another Christian would have made if faced with a situation like this, it is difficult to disparage Ms. Stutzman’s desire to be both faithful to her moral convictions and loving toward her friend.

In the news, much has been made about what this story and the Washington Supreme Court’s ruling mean for religious freedom.  The questions this controversy raises about religious freedom are indeed monumental.  And the court’s ruling a couple of weeks ago is certainly open to vigorous questioning.  But in the midst of all the thorny Constitutional and legal quandaries, let’s not miss the simple story of a woman trying to live out her faith in Jesus in front of others and for the sake of others.  For this is how each of us are called to live – loving even those with whom we deeply disagree us and seeking to winsomely hold forth to the world the use of God’s gifts – like the gift of marriage – according to God’s intentions.

Whatever ultimately comes of this case, this call will not change.

February 27, 2017 at 5:59 am Leave a comment

Texas, Abortion, and the Terrible Triumph of the Human Will

Supreme Court Texas Abortion Case

Credit: Associated Press

A front page for the The New York Times caught my eye during a layover at the Phoenix airport last week.  Its headline read, “Justices Overturn Texas Abortion Limits.”  Last week, the Supreme Court ruled against a Texas law that required abortion clinics to have hospital admitting privileges in order to continue operating.  The Justices ruled that this and other standards in the law placed an “undue burden” on the ability to obtain an abortion.

Along with the headline, there was an infographic with this caption: “The Supreme Court Drifts to the Left.”  Sadly, this is the way the abortion debate is often now cast:  conservative versus liberal, right versus left.  But there is far more at stake in this case than just political or ideological points.  What is at stake in this case is human lives.

Yes, the lives of the babies lost to abortion are at stake.  But so are the lives of the women who suffer through the loss of a child to abortion.  Abortion can change profoundly the lives of the women who endure it – and not necessarily for the better.  Indeed, some studies have shown that women can suffer under a crushing weight of hidden hurt and regret after obtaining an abortion.

Yet, regardless of its mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual tolls, many in our society continue to fight for the widest possible access to abortion and, as the Supreme Court ruling symptomizes, raising any concerns about the way the abortion industry operates is regularly met with little more than scorn and skepticism.  The right to abortion, in this view, is sovereign.

The problem, however, with making the right to abortion sovereign is that it makes physical reality subservient to the human will.  The physical reality of life in utero becomes becomes dependent on a person’s choice.  To borrow a quip from 2004 presidential candidate Wesley Clark: it means that “life begins with the mother’s decision.”

Except that it doesn’t.  Life begins in spite of a person’s choice.  But life, tragically, can be ended by a person’s choice.  To try to make the physical reality of life subservient to the human will is to deny that physical reality really matters at all.  But the denial of physical reality in light of human decision seems to be en vogue – not only with babies in wombs, but with people in their lives.

Several weeks ago on this blog, I wrote about the connection between transgenderism and Platonism.  Just like Platonism sees that which is non-corporeal as more important and, in some sense, more real than the physical, transgenderism gives preference to a non-corporeal inner identification over a person’s physical biological sex.  Sherif Girgis made a similar observation about the relationship of the physical to the internal in an article for First Things:

The body doesn’t matter…Since I am not my body, I might have been born in the wrong one. Because the real me is internal, my sexual identity is just what I sense it to be. The same goes for other valuable aspects of my identity. My essence is what I say and feel that it is…

On the old view, you could know important things about me unmediated, by knowing something about my body or our shared nature. And our interdependence as persons was as inescapable as our physical incompleteness and need: as male and female, infants and infirm. But if the real me lies within, only I know what I am. You have to take my word for it; I can learn nothing about myself from our communion. And if I emerge only when autonomy does – if I come into the world already thinking and feeling and choosing – it’s easy to overlook our interdependence. I feel free to strike out on my own, and to satisfy my desires less encumbered by others’ needs.[1]

Girgis’ final line is key.  If we are fundamentally defined by our internal wills rather than by our physical bodies, our wills must be held as sovereign and defining.  Anything and anyone that would encroach on our wills – even a baby growing inside of us – must be put it in its place.

In this way, everything from same-sex marriage to transgenderism to abortion is of one piece.  It privileges the human will over everything else.  I can choose who I want to marry without any regard for a created complementarianism.  I can choose my gender quite apart from what are, in most cases, very clear biological markers.  And I can choose to keep a baby inside of me or to rid myself of it.

I understand and am sensitive to the fact that, in each of these cases, there are strong stirrings that can lead to difficult decisions.  The stirring of affection for someone of the same-sex can lead to a same-sex marriage.  The stirring toward the lifestyles of the opposite gender can lead a person to live as transgender.  And the stirring of fear over what it takes to raise a child can lead to an abortion.  But even when these stirrings are strong, I think it is worth it to at least ask the question of whether or not it is wise to make human stirrings so defining that they can eclipse and even try to deny actual physical states of being.

According to the Supreme Court, the stirring of a person’s choice in pregnancy is defining.  And if anything – even a raising of medical standards for abortion clinics in Texas – impedes that choice, choice must have its way.  So it will.  And with deadly results.

_________________________

[1] Sherif Girgis, “Obergefell and the New Gnosticism,” First Things (6.28.2016).

July 4, 2016 at 5:00 am 1 comment

Justice Antonin Scalia: 1936-2016

Antonin ScaliaHe was a man who combined a first-class intellect with a caustic whit.  The world lost not only a legal titan, but a brilliant mind when Justice Antonin Scalia passed away.  Sadly, some cheered his death in a macabre display of twisted politically-driven hatred.  Others – even those who disagreed with him politically and legally – were far more charitable.

Justice Scalia was fiercely devoted to Constitutional originalism.  He defined his originalism this way:

The Constitution that I interpret and apply is not living but dead, or as I prefer to call it, enduring. It means today not what current society, much less the court, thinks it ought to mean, but what it meant when it was adopted.[1]

His originalism came out in many ways, especially in his dissents. His famous 2001 dissent in PGA Tour, Inc. v. Casey Martin, for instance, is the stuff of legend.  Mr. Martin was a golfer who wanted to participate in the PGA Tour, but could not because had a degenerative leg disorder that prevented him from walking any considerable distance.  PGA rules required golfers to walk all 18 holes.  He sued the PGA under The Americans with Disabilities Act.  The high court ruled in his favor, noting, contrary to the PGA’s assertion, that using a golf cart does not “fundamentally alter the nature of the competition,” but its majority opinion did not find favor with Justice Scalia who believed the Court should not get involved in defining what does and does not constitute actual golf.  In a sarcastic dissent, he wrote:

It has been rendered the solemn duty of the Supreme Court of the United States, laid upon it by Congress in pursuance of the Federal Government’s power “[t]o regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States,” U. S. Const., Art. I, §8, cl. 3, to decide What Is Golf. I am sure that the Framers of the Constitution, aware of the 1457 edict of King James II of Scotland prohibiting golf because it interfered with the practice of archery, fully expected that sooner or later the paths of golf and government, the law and the links, would once again cross, and that the judges of this august Court would some day have to wrestle with that age-old jurisprudential question, for which their years of study in the law have so well prepared them: Is someone riding around a golf course from shot to shot really a golfer? The answer, we learn, is yes. The Court ultimately concludes, and it will henceforth be the Law of the Land, that walking is not a “fundamental” aspect of golf.[2]

No other Justice could turn the legal into the comedic the way Justice Scalia did.

At the same time Justice Scalia was a legal scholar, he was also a devoted Catholic.  In a speech at a Living the Catholic Faith Conference, he rumbled:

God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools…and he has not been disappointed.…If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.[3]

Justice Scalia’s call to endure scoffing from others for the sake of faith in and a witness to the gospel is quintessentially Christian.  It is also, I would add, experientially true.  After all, Justice Scalia himself had to endure countless questions – not all of which were inappropriate, but many of which were the product of a secular skepticism – about his faith and the ways in which he exercised it.

Of course, Justice Scalia did and does have his supporters – including some of those who most vehemently disagreed with him during his life.  In a remembrance penned by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the Supreme Court’s most liberal justices, she wrote of Justice Scalia:

He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh. The press referred to his “energetic fervor,” “astringent intellect,” “peppery prose,” “acumen,” and “affability,” all apt descriptions. He was eminently quotable, his pungent opinions so clearly stated that his words never slipped from the reader’s grasp … It was my great good fortune to have known him as working colleague and treasured friend.[4]

For all of their political and legal differences, these two justices were best friends.  And it is here that we find one of Justice Scalia’s most important legacies.  Justice Scalia was strongly opinionated.  He did not mince words concerning his legal or theological views.  There was no question as to where he stood.  But at the same time he was intellectually rigorous as a justice and theologically rigorous as a Catholic, he was also relationally generous.  He befriended and loved even some of those with whom he vehemently disagreed.

From prostitutes to adulterers to tax collectors to religious elites, there was once another man who behaved similarly.  He too could be known for His “peppery prose.”  “You snakes! You brood of vipers!” He once thundered, “How will you escape being condemned to hell” (Matthew 23:33)?  But the same people He thundered against in His words, He also died for on a cross.  He was most certainly intellectually and theologically rigorous.  Indeed, he was more:  He was intellectually and theologically perfect.  But He was – and is – also relationally generous.  And somehow, the two went and worked together for us and for our salvation.

Justice Scalia leaves behind an impressive professional legacy.  And he will continue to be criticized – sometimes thoughtfully and sometimes angrily – for many things.  But beyond his professional legacy is his personal example of how intellectual and theological rigor can go hand in hand with relational generosity.  They went hand in hand in him.  And in this, Justice Scalia reflected how they go hand in hand in Christ.

At Justice Scalia’s funeral this past Saturday, his son, the Reverend Paul Scalia, began his homily:

We are gathered here because of one man, a man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to many more; a man loved by many, scorned by others; a man known for great controversy and for great compassion … That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.[5]

In his son’s mind, Justice Scalia’s greatest legacy is found not in what his father accomplished, but in how his father reflected Christ – even if imperfectly.  This is why, for Reverend Scalia, Justice Scalia’s funeral was not about Justice Scalia.  It was about Jesus.

May we be about Jesus too.

________________________

[1] NPR Staff, “Originalism: A Primer On Scalia’s Constitutional Philosophy,” npr.org (2.17.2016).

[2] PGA Tour, Inc. v. Casey Martin, 532 U.S. 661 (2001) (Scalia, J., dissenting)

[3] Ken McIntyre, “The Wit and Wisdom of Scalia: Nine Zingers,” Newsweek (2.14.2016).

[4] Marina Fang, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg Remembers Antonin Scalia, Her Dear Friend And Sparring Partner,” Huffington Post (2.14.2016).

[5] Julie Zauzmer, “A moving homily for Justice Scalia by his son, Rev. Paul Scalia,” The Washington Post (2.20.2016).

February 22, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A County Clerk, Gay Marriage, and What’s Right

Credit: Ty Wright/Getty Images

Credit: Ty Wright/Getty Images

It’s not often a small town county clerk becomes a household name. But Kim Davis has managed to pull of just such a feat after going to jail last week for refusing to issue marriage licenses from her office. The Washington Post reports:

The Kentucky clerk drew headlines for refusing to issue marriage licenses to all couples, gay and straight, after the Supreme Court ruled earlier this summer that same-sex couples have the right to marry. An Apostolic Christian, Davis has said it would violate her faith to put her name on a marriage license for two people of the same sex.

She was sued by several gay couples and was ordered by [Judge] Bunning to begin issuing the licenses this week. When Davis defied the judge’s order, the couples asked for Davis to be held in contempt and fined.

But Bunning decided to jail Davis, saying fines would not be sufficient to compel compliance because Davis’s supporters could raise money on her behalf.

“The idea of natural law superseding this court’s authority would be a dangerous precedent indeed,” Bunning said.[1]

Not surprisingly, demonstrators, both in support and in protest of Mrs. Davis, gathered outside the courthouse where she was sentenced:

Ashley Hogue, a secretary from Ashland, held a sign outside the courthouse that read, “Kim Davis does not speak for my religious beliefs.”

“This is so ugly,” she said, wiping away tears. “I was unprepared for all the hate.”

Demonstrator Charles Ramey, a retired steelworker, downplayed the vitriol.

“We don’t hate these people,” he said, holding a sign that read, “Give God his rights.” “We wouldn’t tell them how to get saved if we hated them.”[2]

On the one hand, I am somewhat puzzled why Mrs. Davis, if she could not in good conscience carry out one of the duties for which state taxpayers are compensating her, did not simply resign her position.  After all, for Mrs. Davis to refuse to issue marriage licenses not only to same-sex couples, but to all couples, and to make it incumbent on the clerks who work for her to follow suit hardly seems the best way to handle a personal religious objection, as Ryan T. Anderson, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, makes clear in this thoughtful article.  Mrs. Davis explains her reasoning in the USA Today article: “‘If I left, resigned or chose to retire, I would have no voice for God’s word,’ calling herself a vessel that the Lord has chosen for this time and place.” Her explanation begs the question: would she really have no voice for God’s Word if she was not a county clerk? Couldn’t she be a witness for Christ in ways that involve less emotional, political, and rhetorical volatility than refusing to issue marriage licenses?  And what does she do when she has to perform other duties that could – and perhaps should – violate her conscience, such as legally licensing divorces for couples who are not splitting for biblically appropriate reasons?  I’m not sure I completely understand Mrs. Davis’ thinking.

On the other hand, I am also not unsympathetic to her plight. Here is a government worker who was thrown in jail because she, in her vocation, was seeking in some way to abide by what God’s Word says about sexual boundaries. A Christian theology of work says that no matter what we do, we ought to view ourselves as “working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23).  Mrs. Davis seems to be trying to put this theological truism into everyday practice.  I should also note that she does not appear to have arrived at her practice of refusing to issue marriage licenses lightly. Her conversion to Christianity came on the heels of a history littered by broken marriages and broken hearts. Since her conversion, however, she has maintained a strong stance on biblically informed sexual standards.

This is one of those theologically, ethically, legally, and relationally thorny situations that seems to be increasingly common in our day and age. As Christians, how do we respond? Is Kim Davis right? Or should she resign if she cannot, in good conscience, issue marriage licenses?

In the book of Daniel, we meet a man who, like this county clerk, held a government job. Indeed, he held a very prominent government job. Under the reign of the Persian king Darius, this man Daniel “so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom” (Daniel 6:3). Daniel’s upward mobility, it seems, was virtually limitless until, one day, as he went about carrying out his duties, the laws of the land changed in a way that violated his conscience:

The administrators and the satraps went as a group to the king and said: “O King Darius, live forever! The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. Now, O king, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered – in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.” So King Darius put the decree in writing. (Daniel 6:6-9)

As a worshiper of the God of Israel, Daniel could not, in good conscience, follow the king’s edict to pray only to the king – even though he was serving the king as a public official. So what does Daniel do?

Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. (Daniel 6:10)

I have sometimes wondered why Daniel didn’t try to negotiate some sort of compromise. Couldn’t he have stayed downstairs in a private room to pray to the true God rather than going upstairs and kneeling before an open window so everyone below would know exactly what he was doing? Couldn’t he have simply put off praying altogether in order to comply with the edict without committing idolatry against his God? After all, the edict was only in place for thirty days. In this instance, Daniel, according to his conscience, could do neither. He had to live out his faith, even if his faith was in conflict with his vocation as a public official and his status as a citizen of Persia.

You probably know the rest of the story. Daniel’s sentence was not just a jail cell, but a lions’ den. Daniel was willing to go to his death for his confession of faith. But, miraculously, “God sent His angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions” (Daniel 6:22).

It’s not difficult to draw parallels between Daniel’s story and Mrs. Davis’ story, save that we do not yet know how Mrs. Davis’ story will end. For us who are looking on, there are a couple of lessons I think we can take away from Daniel’s story. First, Daniel’s refusal to obey Darius’ edict had nothing to do with a political victory and everything to do with theological fidelity. I fear that, all too often, we can prioritize the politics of an issue like gay marriage specifically over a biblical theology of what marriage is generally. Any stand that we make must never be simply for the sake of winning a political battle, but for the sake of staying true to God’s Word. If people perceive that our theology is being leveraged merely as a means to political power, they have every right to be cynical of us and even angry at us. I’m fine if people, as I’m sure they did when Daniel was willing to be thrown to the lions, question our sanity, but we must never give people a reason to question our spiritual sincerity. Second, Daniel served and supported his governing authorities in every way he could until he couldn’t. This couldn’t have been easy for him. The Persians, after all, were pagans who shared none of Daniel’s theological commitments. But rather than fighting them, Daniel supported them in his work. He took a contrarian stand only when it was theologically necessary. I worry that, because of the deep suspicion and animosity that plagues our political system, we have become so devoted to fighting with each other on every front that we have lost our ability to take credible stands on the most important fronts. This is not to say that we can never be engaged in the political process – we do live in a democratic republic, after all – but it is to say that our governing authorities are first and foremost gifts from God to be supported by our prayers rather than political enemies to be bludgeoned by our anger.

As I think about Mrs. Davis’ predicament, I can appreciate her stand.  My prayer for her, however, as she remains steadfast in her opposition to a Supreme Court ruling, is that she also proves stalwart in her commitment to love those with whom she disagrees. A strong stand may be good in the face of a morally untenable court decision. And she has decided to take one. But love – even when it’s love for the gay couple that comes walking through the door of the county clerk’s office – is absolutely necessary for Godly, gracious relationships.  I hope she’s decided to give that.

______________________________

[1] James Higdon and Sandhya Somashekhar, “Kentucky clerk ordered to jail for refusing to issue gay marriage license,” The Washington Post (9.3.2015).

[2] Mike Wynn and Chris Kenning, “Ky. Clerk’s office will issue marriage licenses Friday – without the clerk,” USA Today (9.3.2015).

September 7, 2015 at 5:00 am 3 comments

Obergefell v. Hodges

Arguments at the United States Supreme Court for Same-Sex Marriage on April 28, 2015When the Supreme Court ruled on Obergefell v. Hodges[1] a little over a week ago, the verdict was not a surprise, but the reaction was fierce. Facebook profiles and even the White House went rainbow. Crowds gathered to celebrate and shed tears of joy. Others were not nearly so jubilant. Jonathan Saenz, President of Texas Values, issued this statement:

This decision is the most egregious form of judicial activism of our time, overriding the votes of over 50 million voters, including millions in Texas. The freedom to democratically address society’s most fundamental institution is central to ordered liberty. The Court has taken that freedom from the people.

This decision has no basis in the text of the Constitution and will never be accepted by millions of Americans and Texans that understand that marriage, by nature and God’s design, can only be the union of a man and woman, husband and wife, mother and father. No decision by five judges can ever alter this fundamental truth.[2]

As Christians, it can be hard to know what to say or where to stand. The day the Supreme Court’s decision came down, I offered some initial reflections with the promise of more to come. These are those further reflections.  Though these reflections will not address every concern, they will hopefully give us a way to begin to think theologically and pastorally about what has transpired and help us live together peacefully and in love.

What Scripture Says

As I said in my original blog on the Supreme Court’s decision, we need to remain committed to what Scripture says about all our relationships and, specifically, those that are deeply intimate in nature. But we also must remember that our understanding of Scripture can prove fallible. It is easy to fall prey to foolish and sloppy readings of what the Bible has to say on sexual ethics, making assumptions that are based more in our cultural biases than in careful exegetical study. As William Eskridge explains in an article for The New York Times:

Biblical support for slavery, segregation and anti-miscegenation laws rested upon broad and anachronistic readings of isolated Old Testament passages and the Letters of Paul, but without strong support from Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels … The current … view that God condemns “homosexual behavior” and same-sex marriages comes from the same kind of broad and anachronistic scriptural readings as prior support for segregation.[3]

Although Eskridge’s assumed contradiction between what Jesus taught and what the rest of the Bible has to say is problematic, he does have a point: we have not always gotten things right.

So how do we avoid misreading Scripture on gay marriage? To begin with, we must never handpick proof texts without context. Arguments made in this way against gay marriage are not only not persuasive theologically, they’re also not solid methodologically.  A better hermeneutical case for traditional marriage can be made by looking at the sweep and scope of Scripture. Scripture begins (Genesis 2:24) and ends (Revelation 19:7) with the wedding of a bride and her groom. Jesus affirms both God’s creational and eschatological pattern for this staid institution as one that involves a husband and a wife (Matthew 19:4-6). Furthermore, when this pattern for marriage is abandoned, the results never seem to be good (e.g., Genesis 29:30; 1 Kings 11:1-4; Proverbs 6:32; 1 Corinthians 5:1-2).

The Bible does not seem to be nearly so concerned with condemning gay marriage specifically as it is with affirming God’s design for marriage generally – and not just because deviating from God’s design is morally wrong, though, in fact, it is, but because it is personally hurtful. Marriage has not only a moral design; it has a compassionate intent. This is why God institutes it as gracious gift (cf. Genesis 2:18).  The biblical authors do not want people to miss out on God’s gracious gift by not receiving it as God intended it.

How We Say What Scripture Says

When speaking about same-sex marriage, we must stop embracing and employing over-the-top rhetoric. A pastor who threatens, even if figuratively, to immolate himself if the Supreme Court allows for nationwide gay marriage sounds, and perhaps is, insane. A preacher who drops the Supreme Court’s ruling to the ground while holding up the Bible in the middle of his sermon may garner some applause from the faithful, but such grandstanding does nothing to contribute to civil and important conversation.

I can’t help but wonder if the reason we are sometimes tempted by such silly stunts is because we live with a kind of Chicken Little apocalypticism. We really are afraid the sky is falling. But it is not.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in his dissenting opinion, writes:

The Court today not only overlooks our country’s entire history and tradition but actively repudiates it, preferring to live only in the heady days of the here and now. I agree with the majority that the “nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times.” … As petitioners put it, “times can blind.” … But to blind yourself to history is both prideful and unwise.

This is well stated. As Justice Roberts notes, the ethical stances of yesteryear are by no means unimpeachable, but they are also not meant to be thoughtlessly discardable in an assumed inexorable evolutionary advancement toward ethical nirvana. C.S. Lewis would remind us that there is a “great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of [our] own age.”[4] In other words, we’re not as enlightened or as advanced as we think we are.

Thus, we need not fear. What is happening now does not mean the sky is falling. It simply means that history is marching – sometimes wisely and sometimes foolishly. Waiting and watching to see what comes of “the heady days of the here and now” is a much smarter – and, I would add, much less stressful – option than opining about the doom and gloom that lurks around the corner.

Religious Liberty and Pastoral Care

Sadly, the Supreme Court’s decision does raise real concerns over religious liberty. In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy addresses these concerns, writing:

It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.

Justice Kennedy’s synopsis of the First Amendment is interesting – and troubling. He sees the First Amendment as protection to “teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to … lives and faiths.” This is well and good. But what happens when teaching faith translates into living faith?  What happens when those living their faith intersect with others who do not share their faith? Does religious protection now extend only to what one says?

The dissenting justices are rightfully skeptical of the majority’s nod to and definition of religious liberty. Justice Thomas Roberts warns:

Religious liberty is about more than just the protection for “religious organizations and persons … as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.” … Religious liberty is about freedom of action in matters of religion generally, and the scope of that liberty is directly correlated to the civil restraints placed upon religious practice.

It is not just paranoid, martyrly Christian activists who have concerns about the narrowing parameters for religious liberty; it is a sitting justice of the Supreme Court. So how are we to respond?

I would argue that the best way to respond to threats against religious liberty is not politically, but pastorally. This is not to say that Christians should never be involved in politics; it is only to say that politics must take the backseat to love. So rather than offering a political strategy, allow me to share a few pastoral thoughts.

What makes same-sex marriage an ethically thorny issue is that it simultaneously aches for something that deserves our compassion while also promoting something that calls for our repudiation. On the one hand, the desire to marry someone to whom you are attracted, whether that person is of the same or opposite sex, represents an ache for companionship. This is why, in the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy writes:

From their beginning to their most recent page, the annals of human history reveal the transcendent importance of marriage. The lifelong union of a man and a woman always has promised nobility and dignity to all persons, without regard to their station in life. Marriage is sacred to those who live by their religions and offers unique fulfillment to those who find meaning in the secular realm. Its dynamic allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone, for a marriage becomes greater than just the two persons. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations.

Such an ache for companionship not only ought to be acknowledged, it ought to be affirmed by all Christians. God did, after all, create us as relational beings (cf. Genesis 2:18). Desire for companionship, regardless of whether you are gay or straight, is perfectly normal and natural.

At the same time the Bible affirms the human ache for companionship, however, it also puts boundaries on how such companionship is expressed erotically and, ultimately, maritally. Again and again, the Bible calls upon us to control our desires – erotic and otherwise (cf. James 1:14-15). Though such a call runs quite contrary to the spirit and sensibilities of our age, Christians must continually uphold this call in their speaking and living.

Tragically, many Christians have spent so much time proclaiming that people must control their desires that they have forgotten to empathize with them in their loneliness. People who are romantically attracted to the same sex have much deeper and more profound needs than just sex. They, like everyone, need love, which we must be prepared to show, lest we defy the command of Christ: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Ultimately, we must never forget that same-sex marriage involves people. Indeed, though nearly everyone knows the Supreme Court has now legalized nationwide same-sex marriage, few know the particulars of the plaintiff who brought the case. Jim Obergefell married John Arthur three months and 11 days before John died. Jim knew their marriage would not last long because, when they wed, John was in the dying throws of ALS. Jim brought a case to the Supreme Court because he wanted to be listed as the surviving spouse on John’s death certificate in Ohio, a state that heretofore did not allow for gay marriage. Their story, then, is not just about gay marriage. It’s also about sickness, sadness, and caregiving – all universal themes to the human experience. Even as we express concerns over same-sex marriages, we must also recognize that the people in them do things that are noble and hold values that we share.

Decrying same-sex marriage with protests, rallies, and votes will not change hearts. Love, however, just might. So let’s focus on what people actually need – not a vote against them, but love for them. In today’s milieu of broad and fierce political support for same-sex marriage, it is probably our only option. But that’s okay. Because it just so happens that it’s also our best option.

_________________________________

[1] Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. (2015).

[2] William Eskridge cited by David Walls, “Supreme Court’s Marriage Ruling Is Egregious Attack On Democracy, Will Never Be Accepted,” Texas Values (6.26.2015).

[3] William Eskridge, “It’s Not Gay Marriage vs. the Church Anymore,” The New York Times (4.25.2015).

[4] C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time,” The Weight of Glory, Walter Hooper, ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 59.

July 6, 2015 at 5:15 am 3 comments

A Pastoral Statement on Today’s Supreme Court Decision

Supreme Court InteriorAs you have no doubt probably heard by now, the Supreme Court of the United States has legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. At the church where I serve, the pastoral team is working to address some of the issues involved in this ruling, including potential repercussions for religious liberty, but for now, I want to offer three brief thoughts.

First, as Christians, we need to continue to be committed to what God’s Word has to say about all our relationships and, specifically, those relationships that are deeply intimate in nature. Sexual integrity is a much bigger issue than whether or not you support same-sex marriage. Sexual integrity touches nearly every aspect of our lives – from how we guard our purity if we are single to how we appropriately relate to our coworkers and friends to how we hold sacred our most intimate moments if we are married.  God has put boundaries on sexuality and intimacy not to needlessly constrict us, but to lovingly protect us.

Second, as with any major cultural shift, reactions to the Supreme Court ruling have been instantaneous and, in many cases, extreme. Some are unfettered in their celebration. Others are paralyzed by deep trepidation. As Christians, we are called to be measured in our words and peaceful in our hearts, always and fully trusting in God’s providence. We do not need to join our culture in its emotionally charged reactions. We have nothing to fear.

Third, please remember to be kind in any reactions and responses you may offer to the Supreme Court ruling. Chief Justice John Roberts, in his dissenting opinion, expressed concern about how we regularly feel “compelled to sully those on the other side of the debate.” As Christians, we should never sully others. We can disagree with others without hating them. On Facebook, I saw a simple thought that expresses well how we ought to dialogue about the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage: “We don’t have to agree on anything to be kind to one another.” This is exactly right. For this reflects the very character of our God. As the Psalmist says, “God’s merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the LORD endures forever” (Psalm 117:2). Like our Lord, may we be people of merciful kindness and truth. It’s what our world needs – now, more than ever.

June 26, 2015 at 1:33 pm 7 comments

It’s Not About The Supreme Court Ruling

Credit:  Wikipedia

Credit: Wikipedia

There was the ruling.  And then there was the reaction to the ruling.  When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby, saying it did not have to pay for certain types of birth control as mandated by the Affordable Care Act because it considered them abortifacients which violated the theological beliefs of the company’s owners, the reaction was swift and fierce – from both sides.  Mark Goldfeder, senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, announced:

Here is what the decision means:  People have First Amendment rights, and even if the corporations themselves are not entitled to Free Exercise exemptions, the people behind the corporate veil, the business owners themselves, certainly are.

On the other side, Judy Waxman, vice president of health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center, lamented:

We think it’s a bitter pill to swallow for women, and that the decision is saying that bosses know best and their religious beliefs can trump very basic health-care coverage.  It’s especially harmful to women, but beyond this, down the line, there will be other cases, other challenges, that could have an even broader effect.[1]

Of course, along with these measured responses, there were also the less measured responses of the Twitterverse, like one post advocating arson: “#HobbyLobby are scum of the earth.  Burn every single one down, build a homeless shelter there instead.”[2]  Then, there was another very humble post from a person who agreed with SCOTUS’s ruling:  “Ha. Ha. It’s The. Law.”[3]

What fascinates me about all these responses – whether they be sophisticated or sleazy – is how little they have to do with the actual legal ins and outs of this case and how much they reflect the radically disparate worldviews of our society.  I have found no better synopsis of the clash of worldviews in this case than this from Trevin Wax:

A generation ago, a person’s religious observance was a public matter, a defining characteristic of one’s identity, while a person’s sexual activity was something private. Today, this situation is reversed. A person’s sexual behavior is now considered a defining characteristic of identity, a public matter to be affirmed (even subsidized) by others, while religious observance is private and personal, relegated to places of worship and not able to infringe upon or impact the public square.

The culture clash today is less about the role of religion in business or politics, and more about which vision of humanity best leads to flourishing and should therefore be enshrined in or favored by law.[4]

This is exactly right.  Different people value different things.  For some, their faith is their defining characteristic.  Thus, they have a strong desire to practice their faith in every area and aspect of their lives, including their business dealings.  For others, some other thing – like their sexuality – is their defining characteristic.  And anything perceived as an affront to their sexual identity is worthy of unrestrained caustic choler.

As a Christian, I really have no choice when it comes to how I will define myself:  my life must be defined by Christ.  In the words of the apostle Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).  So what does this mean for my interactions with those who define themselves by other things?  A few things come to mind.

First, I must love those with differing worldviews.  As Ed Stetzer so pointedly says in his article on the Hobby Lobby ruling, “You can’t hate a people and reach a people at the same time.”[5]  People who live outside a Christian worldview are not to be destroyed or oppressed in a political or judicial power grab, but loved through a winsome witness.

Second, I must realize that my worldview is no longer a privileged majority worldview in our society.  Indeed, many people are not at all concerned that a Christian may be legislatively or legally forced to do something that goes against his conscience.  Again, Ed Stetzer writes, “Most Americans are not as passionate about the religious liberty issue (when connected to contraception, even abortifacient contraception) as most evangelicals and conservative Catholics.”  Trevin Wax reveals that “a record number of Americans (1 in 3) said the first amendment [which grants religious liberty] goes too far in the freedom it promises.”  This is just a reality.

Third, I must make the case – through both a rigorous intellectual defense and a gentle, quiet lifestyle – why my worldview should be seriously considered and why it does indeed lead to true human flourishing.  It is important to note that this case cannot be made quickly.  Indeed, it cannot even be made by just my life or in just my lifetime.  No, this is a case the whole Church must make.  And blessedly, the Church has been making it for millennia.  For instance, the Church made its case here.  And here.  And here.  And here.  This is why I doubt any Supreme Court ruling – be it in favor of or against religious liberty – will kill the Church’s case.  For this is the case and cause of Christ.

Let’s keep making it.

______________________________

[1] Ashby Jones, “Legal Experts, Advocates React to Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby Ruling,” The Wall Street Journal (6.30.2014).

[2] Costa Koutsoutis, @costa_kout, 6.30.2014

[3] Harriet Baldwin, @HarrietBaldwin, 6.30.2014

[4] Trevin Wax, The Supreme Court Agrees With Hobby Lobby, But Your Neighbor Probably Doesn’t,” The Gospel Coalition (6.30.2014).

[5] Ed Stetzer, “Hobby Lobby Wins: Where Do We Go from Here?The Exchange (6.30.2014).

July 7, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Downfall of DOMA

Supreme Court 1The headline was welcomed with both cheers and tears:  “Supreme Court strikes down Defense of Marriage Act.”[1]  For some, this ruling was a welcomed vindication – and indication that the argument for same-sex marriage had not only won the day in the Supreme Court, but in the court of public opinion.  Others were saddened and even embittered.  Former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee tweeted:  “My thoughts on the SCOTUS ruling that determined that same sex marriage is okay:  ‘Jesus wept.’”[2]

So how is a Christian to respond to this ruling?  There are two things I believe that are paramount to any Christian’s response.

The first is humility.  Responding with bravado – either for or against this ruling – is not helpful.  Whether it be the raucous celebrations of many of this ruling’s supporters or the vitriolic denouncements of many of this ruling’s detractors, anything less than a humble and gentle spirit leads to combat rather than conversation.   And as I have written elsewhere, simply trying to win against each other rather than listening to each other means that no matter who supposedly “wins,” everybody loses.[3]

The second thing needed is honesty.  Christians need not compromise moral conviction when it comes to human sexuality.  We simply must hold to our convictions humbly rather than haughtily.  The biblical moral vision for human sexuality is clear:  sexual intimacy is to be reserved for a husband and wife in the lifelong covenant of marriage (cf. Genesis 2:24-25).  Deviations from this – be they fornication, adultery, or homosexuality – are prohibited by Holy Writ.  It’s okay to say this.  It’s okay to stand up for this.  It’s okay to make a moral pronouncement on marriage.

Indeed, as I have thought through the court’s ruling on DOMA, I find Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion to have far reaching moral implications:

The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.

The history of DOMA’s enactment and its own text demonstrate that interference with the equal dignity of same-sex marriages, a dignity conferred by the States in the exercise of their sovereign power, was more than an incidental effect of the federal statute. It was its essence. The House Report announced its conclusion that “it is both appropriate and necessary for Congress to do what it can to defend the institution of traditional heterosexual marriage. … H. R. 3396 is appropriately entitled the ‘Defense of Marriage Act.’ The effort to redefine ‘marriage’ to extend to homosexual couples is a truly radical proposal that would fundamentally alter the institution of marriage.”… The House concluded that DOMA expresses “both moral disapproval of homosexuality, and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality.” … The stated purpose of the law was to promote an “interest in protecting the traditional moral teachings reflected in heterosexual-only marriage laws.”[4]

In Justice Kennedy’s opinion, DOMA was drafted and passed into law with the express purpose of interfering “with the dignity of same-sex marriages.”  How does he know this?  Because DOMA demonstrates “both moral disapproval of homosexuality, and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality.”  In other words, Justice Kennedy claims that the Judeo-Christian morality in which DOMA is grounded diminishes the dignity of same-sex marriages.  Such a diminishment cannot be tolerated.  It is, in a word, illegal.  This is why DOMA must be overturned.

The duty of the Supreme Court justices is to render legal decisions.  But every legal decision carries with it an indissoluble moral component.  In this instance, this legal decision’s moral component is in the declaration that a law based on the Judeo-Christian sexual moral standard is discriminatory and illegal.  Such a pronouncement replaces the Judeo-Christian sexual moral standard with a sexual moral standard of its own – one that is open to same-sex marriage while still, interestingly enough, discriminating against other forms of marriage (e.g., polygamy).  Thus, what Justice Kennedy and the Supreme Court majority have done is issued not only a legal opinion, but a moral valuation.

Laws are irreducibly moral.  Laws against murder or perjury or theft inevitably promote some vision of what morality is and means. Thus, even the justices of the Supreme Court cannot render a strictly amoral legal verdict on whether or not to federally recognize same-sex marriages.  What they declare on this issue will always, in some way, involve judgments of and on morality.  The question we must ask ourselves is, “Is the morality of the Supreme Court majority the right morality?”

Justice Kennedy has given his answer.  What’s yours?


[1] Pete Williams & Erin McClam, “Supreme Court strikes down Defense of Marriage Act, paves way for gay marriage to resume in California,” NBCNews.com (6.26.2013).

[2] Mike Huckabee, twitter.com/govmikehuckabee (6.26.2013).

[3] Zach McIntosh, “The State Of Our Public Debate: Same-Sex Marriage As A Test Case,” zachmcintosh.com (4.8.2013).

[4] United States v. Windsor, 570 U. S. 1 (2013).

July 1, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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