Tag Archives: Law

What the Supreme Court Decision on DOMA Actually Means

The homosexual couples who are celebrating that DOMA is ruled unconstitutional should take a little time later today to think about what it means when a federal law can be ruled unconstitutional by revising the definition of a word which has had a single meaning since the first humans appeared on earth. If the meaning of the word “marriage” changes, because five justices want it to change, because they have a social agenda, and if the social agenda of Supreme Court justices agenda trumps the Constitution, then we do not live in a constitutional republic any longer.

It is not a first principle of Christian faith that people must live in a constitutional republic. The first principle of Christian faith is Christ — crucified, buried, risen and ascended to heaven. Christians have lived as Christians under all sorts of governments. Christians gratefully receive forgiveness from their sins through Christ and serve him faithfully. Our first allegiance in all choices is Christ, but our allegiance to him does not require us to overthrow governments that are not constitutional republics.

However, until recently, Christians thought that, as citizens of the USA, they did live in a constitutional republic. They believed that the Constitution meant what the plain language of the document means, and they just naturally assumed that all other language considered against the frame of reference of the Constitution would be considered in accord with the plain meaning of plain language.

No longer. By court fiat, a definition of the word “marriage” which has been the definition since the first humans appeared on earth, a definition that has been consistent in all cultures at all times in all places, has suddenly been revised. For all the time of human history, marriage has meant the union of a man and a woman. By an act of the Supreme Court, that word means something else today. We don’t even know what it means, because in doing away with the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, the court leaves the definition empty. The word “marriage” now means nothing, at least in the court of US law.

A lot of homosexuals think that everything in this post is homophobic. That is not the right word. This post is grief. Grief at the death of the late, great USA, and grief at the end of marriage and family as we have known it. Most profoundly, it is grief that there is no longer any basis on which to assume that any right or freedom of human beings is protected by the Constitution, because as of today, the words in the Constitution mean whatever the court decides they mean on any given day.

The real horror that lies ahead is not, therefore, whether gays can “get married” or “be married.” The real horror is what happens next. Christian know that in politics, some people win and some people lose. If it were simply a matter of acceding to a political loss, Christians would be sad, but not crushed. Unfortunately, in states where “gay marriage” has already come to pass, suits are being filed that tell the story. A florist is being sued, because she exercises her faith, which specifies that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, by refusing to participate in something her religion defines as sin. A school is being sued, because they exercise their faith by rejecting the application of a child with two male parent, something considered to be sin in their religion. People with religious convictions who want to live their religious convictions may well be required to go along with the “gay marriage” idea whether or not it conflicts with their faith. Contrary to public statements on the matter, when the definition of “marriage” changes, everything changes.

For now, Christians continue to believe what they believe and to state their beliefs. That may not be true very much longer. Gay couples think this is fine and a well-deserved reproach to Christians. They should be very sure to remember one thing: if the Supreme Court can simply redefine a word as ancient as “marriage” it can certainly redefine other words that specify other social and political issues dear to the hearts of everyday citizens. Speech. Assembly. Search. Due Process. These words can be redefined by declaration. Beware.

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What do we Teach our Children?

 

1631 Book of Psalms
1631 Book of Psalms (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. Psalm 19:7 

Everyone who was listening to Jesus speak the words of Mark 9:42 was familiar with psalm 19:7. The book of Psalms was the prayer book of faithful Jews, and Bonhoeffer calls the book of Psalms “Jesus’ prayer book.” Maybe Jesus prayed psalm 19 in the morning before the discourse in Mark 9:42. Jesus may have been thinking about the beauty and nourishment of God’s teachings. He may also have been thinking of all the issues he had to argue with Pharisees who twisted the law to suit themselves. Or perhaps he was simply reveling in the beauty of the psalmist’s meditation on God’s teaching for the good of people: 

7     The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
8     the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
9     the fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
10    More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:7-10)

The Psalmist’s view of God’s law, or Torah, is very different than the impression secular thinkers express. A search of secular sites will turn up comments about Christian teaching on almost any subject, and the comments are not complimentary. Christians are viewed as narrow-minded, oppressive, and even hateful. Christian views of sexuality are highly scorned. The very idea of sin, an offense against God, is rejected first, because secular thinkers reject any reality not bounded by time and space, and second, because secular thinkers reject the concept of absolute truth.

The Psalmist, on the other hand, found God’s teachings, revealed in books we call the Old Testament, to be inspiring and comforting. They made life rich and good. They called forth not only obedience but admiration. Among those teachings was the admonition that parents have the obligation to pass God’s teachings to their children. Each generation has the responsibility to assure that the next generation knows God’s teachings. While there may be institutions such as church, school or government that participate in the shaping of a child, God’s teachings lay that responsibility first and foremost on the parents. Parents who love God’s teachings the way the Psalmist did will not find this responsibility burdensome.

The beauty and comfort of God’s law as well as God’s expectations of parents was clearly in Christ’s thoughts as he spoke in the discourse recorded in Mark 9:

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell., And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”                                                                                          Mark 9:42-50 

Jesus here emphasizes the importance of leading “little ones” in the right path. It is certainly true that he didn’t limit the comments to parents and children. The value of his teaching applies to all Christian testimony to all people. Nevertheless, the relevance of Jesus’ words to parents, and adults in general, who try to share God’s teaching with children, is very obvious in this text. Christian parents struggle with this teaching as they combat a civil society attempting to inject its values into their daily lives. They try to teach their children biblical truth, but the secular culture in which they live sends strong counter-biblical messages. Schools, for example, increasingly treat all religions as variant myths about an imaginary spirit realm that has no reality in daily life. 

This approach is in keeping with public pressure to teach without preference for one religion or other, a neutral stance most citizens could applaud. This push for neutrality, however, is increasingly moving beyond neutrality to outright hostility to religious teaching. For example, through the schools, the secular culture intrudes on the responsibility of parents to lead their children in the right path with regard to sexuality. Christians teach a view of sex rooted in the conviction that God created sex with a divine purpose to be enjoyed within a moral standard revealed in the Bible. As of January of 2012, The National Sexuality Education Standards, create programs for sex education in public schools beginning in kindergarten. The “Core Content and Skills, K-12” aggressively programs children to a secular view of sex, reproduction and families that is dramatically at odds with the worldview of most Christian parents. Christian parents might wish there were some form of punishment for those who insist on teaching a secular viewpoint so completely at odds with biblical teaching, but they cannot wish this curriculum away. 

The law the Psalmist praises in Psalm 19, the teaching of God revealed in the Bible, teaches that sexuality is a beautiful gift from God, that reproduction is the fruit of a marriage between a man and a woman, and that families are built on this foundation. The marriage relationship between a man and a woman is the model God uses to teach his relationship with the church. The consummation of that relationship is the model for the end of the time/space reality. The Bible teaches that God loves all human beings, no matter what sin they choose in their brokenness, but the Bible does not teach that God blesses every variation on sexuality that humans choose to invent. In public schools, the secular view that all variants are equally valid in the eyes of the culture is the basis for the “Core Content and Skills” included in the National Sexuality Education Standards. The public school curriculum confuses children by asking them to figure out their gender identity, when they think they already know. The secular worldview asks children to experiment with different sexual orientations to figure what they like, even though children are told by their parents that God made sex for the joy and fulfillment of a man and a woman. Secular models for the meaning of the word “family” embodied in the sex education curriculum directly challenge the Christian teachings about family that Christian children receive at home. 

Some people may dispute the involvement of activists for the LGBT political agenda in the creation of the National Sexuality Education Standards. It would be difficult to prove actual involvement, but it is easy to see the evidence of the embedding of that agenda in the standards. It is quite disturbing, all religious teaching concerns aside, to see a political agenda embodied in any teaching curriculum. The problem in this case is that political warfare is an arena where only adults should engage in the battles. Sadly, when a political agenda is embedded in teaching programs for kindergartners, those little children stand on the front lines of a very violent battle. The rhetoric of this confrontation is abusive and destructive, and no little child ought to be forced to stand in the middle of it. This is surely the sort of image Jesus envisioned when he spoke so forcefully about the way God feels when children are led astray and used by adults to achieve adult objectives. 

This is the sort of crisis that requires Christian parents to exercise their faith with strength, persistence, endurance and love. Jesus said that “everyone will be salted with fire.” Many commentators link this statement with the Old Testament teaching that sacrifices to God should be salted (Leviticus 2:13). Any parent who tries to stand firm for Christian teaching in the face of the LGBT political agenda embodied in the National Sexuality Education Standards will quickly discover how it feels to be sacrificed, and it will certainly feel like being salted with fire. 

It is a matter for deep and serious prayer. How do parents assure that their children learn the truth in an environment that teaches them something else altogether? Christian parents in the US need not feel alone in this battle. Christians around the world face similar problems. There are many countries where even reading the Bible is illegal, and anyone who teaches its precepts may see neighbors burn down his house while the police watch. All Christians must remember that Christ did not promise us that living the faith or even teaching the truth to our little ones would be easy. Christians must put their hope in Christ alone, learn to look at the world around them with God’s worldview, exercise the disciplines that strengthen their relationship with Christ, and respond to all acts of oppression and persecution with love and blessing. Even while Christian parents teach their children to ignore the false teaching about sexuality that they hear in school, they are equally obligated to pray lovingly for the blessing and enlightenment of the teachers whose words they reject. This is hard. 

Jesus promised in today’s discourse that God will judge those who teach lies to children. Satan would really crow if Christians responded to these challenges by saying, “God’s going to get you for this.” Christians must be faithful to leave that judgment to God as they work lovingly to protect their children from ungodly influences in the culture. After all, Jesus died for everyone, including the activist who pushes the homosexual agenda and the teacher who teaches sex education to a secular standard because it is part of his or her job. Christians who rejoice in God’s grace in their own lives face this secular assault on biblical teaching about sexuality and family values must find in themselves the love of Christ to share with those who are enemies to their families and their children. 

In today’s reading Jesus says, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:42) In the Sermon on the Mount he says, “You are the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13) If the salt in today’s verse is the salt that sanctifies the sacrifice, we must recognize in Jesus’ words that we are the salt that sanctifies the world. We dare not allow our wounded egos or our fearful hurt feelings to overpower our commitment to give our testimony, our salt, to the earth. We must not let despair at the cultural invasion of our families steal our faith that God will work in the hearts of our children despite all the cultural pressure to turn away from him. We must be salt and keep the peace and give our testimony and sanctify the world.

A Hymn for Meditation

Oh, That the Lord Would Guide My Ways

Oh, that the Lord would guide my ways
To keep his statues still!
Oh, that my God would grant me grace
To know and do his will!

Order my footsteps by your word
And make my heart sincere;
Let sin have no dominion, Lord,
But keep my conscience clear. 

Assist my soul, too apt to stray,
A stricter watch to keep,
And should I e’er forget your way,
Restore your wandering sheep.

Make me to walk in your commands,
‘Tis a delightful road.
Nor let my head or heart or hands
Offend against my God.

               Isaac Watts

  • The psalmist once asked (see Psalm 15:1) who could approach God? What does this hymnwriter think about this question? 
  • Some people think that the need to keep God’s rules and laws is  a great burden. Moses thought God’s laws were so good and just that other nations would envy Israel because of them. (see Deuteronomy 4:6-8) What does the hymnwriter think? What do you think? 
  • Why does this hymnwriter think there is hope that God will come to bring him back if he wanders away in disobedience? (see Luke 15:1-7) 
  • Try praying the words of this hymn. Speak them slowly. Try putting your own name into the words. Think about our call to be Christlike in our lives. What issues in your life come to mind as you pray this hymn?

Mental Illness is not Religious Persecution

The recent shooting at a Sikh temple was perpetrated by a person who exhibited aberrant behavior in many other regards. He had been engaged in groups that advocated a “white supremacy” agenda. Even though such attitudes are considered unnatural in our culture, the freedoms protected by our First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly protect the groups and their members as long as they do not actually harm others. Some may remember when some neonazi sympathizers marched in Skokie, Illinois. Nobody thought they had good ideas, but nobody wanted to suppress the Constitutional guarantee of free speech. The outcomes of this shooter’s attitudes are just as destructive as persecution, but the attitudes are personal, not rooted in the culture or the state.

Self-centered behavior and the assumption of a right to execute judgments on personal enemies is beyond the capabilities or even the rightful powers of the state to prevent. Many people have ideas just as judgmental as the shooter at the Sikh temple, but the vast majority of people do not feel entitled to execute judgment on others. The fact that this person felt that sort of entitlement is not within the power of law or enforcement to control. People who feel this way always feel driven by a power nobody else can even imagine, because most people, probably 99% of all people, do not feel entitled to execute terminal judgment on people they disagree with.  

Human law and the legitimate enforcement powers are not able to prevent this sort of “one-off” behavior. Like the shooter in Aurora, the shooter at the Sikh temple gave nobody in the general population any hint of what was coming. Police can study organized crime or gang warfare and learn things that may poise them to prevent or intervene in such criminal behavior. Neither the shooting in Aurora nor the shooting at the Sikh temple is rooted in the normal venal or intergroup conflicts that police action can hope to intervene in or thwart.

All human law relies on instilling a fear of the consequences as a very real part of the power of law to contain the behaviors that grow out of the natural human sinful nature. It is human nature to want to avoid arrest, detention or execution. Setting up harsh penalties for crimes is a partial deterrent, although the fact that criminal behavior continues apace despite harsh penalties, is a reminder that many of the perpetrators of crimes simply believe that they are so smart that nobody will ever catch them. Hence, they have no fear of the consequences. This attitude is typical of those violent and exceptional individuals with the kind of agenda that leads a person to engage in mass shootings of innocent people.

The recent episodes in which shooters killed random victims in movie theater and at a Sikh temple are the outcome of mental illness too irrational to be controlled by any fear of arrest or imprisonment. These individuals give ample evidence that they don’t care if they are caught in the act. The behavior is a crime, but the crime can only be punished, not prevented. This sort of behavior is not touched by rules or laws or cultural norms.

The recent episodes were perpetrated with guns, leading to yet another national discussion of the Second Amendment. This blog is focused on the recognition of religious persecution, not on the Second Amendment, so I will only say in passing that removing guns will not prevent such episodes. It will only change the mechanism by which the madness is expressed.

It is important for Christians to recognize and respond appropriately to evidence of religious persecution. The acts of madmen do not meet the definition of religious persecution by the culture or the state. The murder of innocent people is already a crime in the laws of the United States, and therefore, no new laws are required in order to appropriately deal with perpetrators who are arrested alive. In the case of the Sikh temple shooting, the perpetrator was killed by the police engaging in appropriate action for the protection of the people under assault.

Neither Sikhs nor Christians nor any other religious group needs to fear that this event is a sign of things to come. If the government had responded to this shooting by ignoring the crime or by trying to protect the perpetrator, then people of all religious persuasions would have both the right and the responsibility to speak up and ask the government to do its duty to protect the free expression of religion as our First Amendment requires. If the former associates of the shooter had subsequently announced their endorsement of this act or worse, announced that it is part of their agenda with more such acts to come, then we could understand it as a cultural expression of religious persecution. If the government responded by folding its hands and refusing to investigate the crime or to speak against such an agenda, then we could start worrying that our government supports such violence. We can give prayers of thanksgiving that our government is not protecting anyone who behaves this way.

We can also give prayers of thanksgiving that normal police policies and procedures did, in fact, end the life of the shooter before he could end any more lives than were lost due to normal police response time.

We can further give thanks that in our country, churches are not surrounded by guards. The Indian government asked that places of worship be protected at all costs. Such a request sounds like political overkill, not a reasonable reaction to a real tragedy. Places of worship in the United States are not under assault. If that were the case, we would see frequent reports of such killings and attacks. If places of worship were under regular assault by ordinary citizens, then our culture would be in a real shambles. We can look to Nigeria for the evidence of a cultural climate and a government attitude that promotes frequent assaults on places of worship. That is not what is happening here.

It is important to be vigilant against persecution. We need to be vigilant because attitudes and behaviors that lead to real persecution can slip up on us. Like the well-known cautionary tale of the frog in the boiling water, a lack of vigilance can result in the ultimate destruction of our freedom. There are cultural indicators that the free exercise of religion is increasingly disfavored by our fellow citizens who have in many cases adopted the secular words expressed by political leaders without applying critical thinking skills to those words in order to discern the truth embodied in the seemingly innocuous verbiage. Christians, and Sikhs and Buddhists and other religious groups, must be very alert when any political leader speaks on a subject related to religion. As the Catholic Bishops are discovering, seemingly normal language can be used to enforce quite discriminatory behavior that suppresses the normal free exercise of religion, all the while claiming quite the opposite.

We all must join with the Sikhs who mourn the death of their innocent fellow worshipers. We must all speak and act in accord with our national commitment to assure the right of all people to exercise their religious beliefs in peace. We must not, absolutely not, join in a national diatribe, using deliberately pejorative words to impugn the character of everyone who disagrees with us. Rather, following the teaching of Christ, we must pray to stand firm in our testimony and pray for the love and blessing of God upon our opponents in this conversation..

Truth in all its Splendor

The more I read Psalm 19, the more I love it. This psalm is like a layered sauce for shrimp and pasta. Each layer has been reduced to its flavorful essence, and there are so many flavors that it is impossible to appreciate each one.

Psalm 19 begins with a lavish statement of the way creation testifies to God’s work and ongoing sovereignty. Pointing out that created things have no voice in the sense of a sound we can hear, the psalmist says, as translated in The Message, “Their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.” (Psalm 19:4) This statement feels like a Hubble photograph. It responds to my hunger for truth. The world around me suffers from a massive truth deficit, but all of creation speaks truth that fills and comforts my heart. To hear these words is to be built up in faith that God has a purpose for all things, and his purposes do not fail.

The heart of the psalm is a master statement of the way God’s law testifies to the same truth which creation speaks without words. God’s law is perfect, sure, right, clear, pure and true. There really is order behind the chaos I encounter everywhere. Like a painter’s palette of many colors, the psalmist’s word palette names God’s law as the facets of a jewel – law, decree, precept, commandment, fear, ordinance. I feel as if I hold this treasure in my hand turning it this way and that to catch the light the way I might view a beautiful diamond ring.

In case I don’t really absorb the value of God’s law, the psalmist explains what will happen if I make the law a part of myself. If I absorb it into my spirit, it will make me feel alive, it will make me look wise even if I am not smart, it will make me happy with a happiness that cannot be crushed, it will give me insight into reality, it is never out of date, and best of all, it is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Using God’s personal name, the name God gave to Moses to emphasize his eternal presence with Israel, the psalmist makes the revelation of the law intimate and vibrant, just for me.

In sum, the psalmist says, God’s revelation of himself is so rich and so valuable that it is better than the finest gold or the sweetest honey. Maybe I don’t think so highly of honey as the psalmist, but I do know that when Israel left Egypt bound for the Promised Land, they called it the land of milk and honey. As far as the psalmist is concerned, the law is a real treasure.

There is only one legitimate response to such a revelation. I bow my head in worship and prayer. God has given me the priceless treasure of himself, wordless truth in creation, words of truth in his law. With the psalmist, I ask nothing more than to speak and think truth in all things as my creator does.

If you don’t have a Bible handy, here is a copy of the Psalm

Psalm 19

1      The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

2     Day to day pours forth speech,

and night to night declares knowledge.

3     There is no speech, nor are there words;

their voice is not heard;

4     yet their voice goes out through all the earth,

and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,

5     which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,

and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

6     Its rising is from the end of the heavens,

and its circuit to the end of them;

and nothing is hid from its heat.

7     The law of the Lord is perfect,

reviving the soul;

the decrees of the Lord are sure,

making wise the simple;

8     the precepts of the Lord are right,

rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the Lord is clear,

enlightening the eyes;

9     the fear of the Lord is pure,

enduring forever;

the ordinances of the Lord are true

and righteous altogether.

10    More to be desired are they than gold,

even much fine gold;

sweeter also than honey,

and drippings of the honeycomb.

11    Moreover by them is your servant warned;

in keeping them there is great reward.

12    But who can detect their errors?

Clear me from hidden faults.

13    Keep back your servant also from the insolent;

do not let them have dominion over me.

Then I shall be blameless,

and innocent of great transgression.

14    Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

be acceptable to you,

O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.