Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘General’ Category

A few preliminary thoughts on the decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (announced by SCOTUS this morning):

First, I’m quite surprised that the final vote was 7-2. Justices Breyer and Kagan did question Colorado’s counsel closely at oral argument, and Justice Kagan’s questions throughout showed particular attention to the case’s facts, but I didn’t see either casting a vote for Masterpiece Cakeshop. Certainly not both.

Second, no one should be too cast down or too elated by the decision. The key passage from the Court’s opinion shows that this wasn’t a touchdown, or even a first-down conversion, for the religious traditionalists, but more of a punt that took a nice bounce and left their defense in somewhat better field position for the next series than expected. Here is the key passage:

. . . the delicate question of when the free exercise of his religion must yield to an otherwise valid exercise of state power needed to be determined in an adjudication in which religious hostility on the part of the State itself would not be a factor in the balance the State sought to reach. That requirement, however, was not met here. When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission considered this case, it did not do so with the religious neutrality that the Constitution requires.

Given all these considerations, it is proper to hold that whatever the outcome of some future controversy involving facts similar to these, the Commission’s actions here violated the Free Exercise Clause; and its order must be set aside.

Slip op. at 3.

So . . . what? Had some of the Commissioners in Colorado spoken more respectfully of Jack Phillips’s faith, would the case come out the other way? Is the consequence of the decision going to be that counsel for State Commissions are going to tell their clients to be extra careful to say “we really respect your religion, but the law compels us to order you to design and craft the wedding cake, and to participate in remedial education about why you must make the cake”?

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The events surrounding Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem and his death underscored not only the failures of human nature generally, but the failures of every basic unit of human society. Close friends betrayed, denied, and fled. The regional civil and religious authorities (the Sanhedrin) failed at every turn to entrap Jesus into saying something blasphemous or seditious, and then voted to kill him anyway. The federal authority (Pilate) proved disconcertingly spineless by sending Jesus off to die. And the reason Pilate proved pliable wasn’t the Sanhedrin; it was because of direct action of a relentless crowd.

Properly stirred, crowds can “get things done.” Whether the things the crowd wants done ought to be done is another matter. Even the crowd that hailed Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem (right though they were to hail it) didn’t understand it: it would have installed Jesus as a proper nationalist King, and had little use for a Deliverer who would promptly weep over the city and shut down the Temple. And the crowds that showed up at Pilate’s court in the early morning to call for Jesus’s crucifixion had no intention of slowing down to think, or stopping to weigh contrary evidence; they knew what verdict “righteousness” demanded, and would see that verdict handed down.

Read Full Post »

For some time I have been thankful that the Church dropped the dark notes of St. Stephen and Holy Innocents into the Feast of Christmas. In part, for the sake of those who mourn; in part, because it brings out Christmas’s natural patina — the patina that all beautiful things have, and without which brightness and comfort and joy devolve into triumphal kitsch. Mostly, though, I’m grateful for these days because they are helpful markers of what Christmas was, and is, in the story of the world: “a sign that will be opposed (and a sword will pierce your soul also).”

Wherever the gospel forms and moves a man to do good works in public, there will be envious informers and an angry mob with a Saul of Tarsus urging them to cast their stones. When the Light of the World dapples the walls of a cave in Bethlehem, then Herod the King — that oh-so typical political strongman who would co-opt the worship of God for his self-serving civil religion — will rage against the arrival of the Light.

Read Full Post »

On pretty much every high holy day, I could say “American Christians need to recover the fullness of the wonder of . . .”: at Christmas, the appreciation of downward mobility; at Epiphany, that the doors of the kingdom of God are now flung open; on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the ethic, sacrament, and theology of the cross.

But I’ve come around to the idea that the most overlooked day, the one overlooked as a middle child, is the one we mark today: Holy Saturday, Easter Even, the Sabbath of Sabbaths.

The Ancient Creeds of the Church Catholic, and the early Litany of the Church of England, did not overlook the day: “crucified, dead and buried” say the Creeds; “by thy precious death and burial” reads the Litany. The burial is more than a beat on the way to the glorious Resurrection. It is the narrow way that leads to life.

In our self-sufficiency, we call tales of self-improvement “redemption stories” — as if a prisoner on the auction block could redeem himself from slavery. In our impatience, we heal wounds lightly, proclaim “peace” when there is no peace, and pass off resuscitation as “Resurrection.” In our desperate, shallow optimism, we grasp any set of spectacles that will allow us to overlook the vaporous nature of life under the sun.

For this constitutional impatience and self-sufficiency, the only remedy is a season of meditation upon the fact that Christ was buried. On the seventh day, God rested in the tomb. In its darkness, the body of Christ rests with nothing “but the bare hope of resurrection.”*

* Austin Farrer, The Crown of the Year: Weekly Paragraphs for the Holy Sacrament (paragraph for Lent V).

Read Full Post »

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

The New Testament is full of sentences that are the gospel in shorthand. I have always found this one from John (1 S John 1:5) the most striking. Not only because it directly confronts the heart of both open unbelief and Christian crankiness and fear — the suspicion that God has a sadistic and miserly side — but because this message really does run through all of Jesus’s conversation. The way of life and renovation of the heart prescribed in the gospels are amazingly difficult. And yet very often Jesus’s portrait of his happy, lavishly generous Father might make one forget the difficulty: “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

When the world slanders Jesus, or remakes him after one of its own patterns, the Christian’s impulse is often to defend his elder brother, to “set the record straight.” Commendable impulse, but wrong: the “Christ’s defender” ethos is misleading. He needs no defense, unless it be the defense of our example — that we delight in listening to our Elder Brother and learning of him.

Read Full Post »

jeffersons-grave

Reading legislation is instructive. Occasionally it’s downright inspiring, seeing legislators laying down wise markers. Take for example the following bit of legislation authored by Jefferson, passed in January 1786 by the Virginia legislature largely through the efforts of Madison, and still in full force and effect as Virginia Code § 57-1:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested or burthened, in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.

And though we well know that this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that, therefore, to declare this act to be irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind; and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present, or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

Virginia Senate Bill 41, which passed both houses of the General Assembly earlier this month, was neither so inspiring nor so sweeping as the foregoing markers laid down by Jefferson and Madison. Its addition to the Code of Virginia was perhaps not strictly necessary — its provisions being implicit in the 1786 statute quoted above, and merely a clarifying response to the Supreme Court’s constitutional redefinition of matrimony. Reading the text of SB 41, the only thing about it I found striking was how narrow and modest its provisions were.

The fact that Gov. McAuliffe vetoed it, on the other hand, indicates that the Governor doesn’t really agree with Jefferson and Madison’s Statute for Religious Freedom, and regards it (if at all) only as one might regard a curious historical artifact.

As I noted last September, the Jeffersonian/Madisonian Settlement of Religious Freedom is crumbling. If it crumbles in Virginia — the land where it was first achieved — where can it endure?

Read Full Post »

One final word on the Wheaton controversy: Increasingly, the controversy generated around this looks to me like an attack on the right of an evangelical college to define and maintain its doctrinal boundaries. Hence the consistent accusation that Wheaton College acted from a bad (and legally suspect) motive — “enmity toward Muslims” — rather than a consistent, honorable, and legally protected one — i.e. concern for doctrinal orthodoxy.

I have not yet seen actual evidence proffered that the Wheaton administrators acted from the legally suspect motive rather than the legally protected one. No matter. If you re-publish the narrative often enough, people will believe it. Evidence not necessary.

PPS. I am grateful that at least one major newspaper, The Chicago Tribune, gets it.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »