Not Morality but Decency

What if Christians talked more about decency than morality, about what is normal than about what is righteous or God glorifying? Sure, we have churches to talk about the demands of God’s law and how believers glorify God. But, as 2kers are wont to point out, persuading non-Christians to embrace Christian morality sans regeneration or the means of grace seems to be bass ackward.

Does that leave us without a case for those sexual and family aspects of public policy or social life that so animate religious conservatives? It certainly leaves us without a moral high ground. But it’s not as if that high ground doesn’t look to non-Christians like a moral high horse.

So why not take a page from Joseph Epstein? His first collection of short stories about Jewish life in Chicago included one that revolved around a non-observant Jewish businessman meeting his daughter, who had just had an abortion, for dinner to express his disapproval. Part of dinner conversation went like this:

“Daddy, did you really expect me not to sleep with anyone while I was in college?”

“No,” he said, “I guess I didn’t really expect that, but I wouldn’t have minded if you hadn’t. I would have minded a hell of a lot less than I do about what has happened.”

The waitress set down their food. “Enjoy,” she said.

“You still haven’t told me why this bugs you so much, Daddy. Do you think your daughter is now, somehow, damaged goods?”

“I don’t know as I would put it that way, baby, but maybe I do. But not in the way you might think.”

“How then?”

“I think it’s a goddamned damaging thing for a girl to have had an abortion at nineteen,” he said, more emphatically than he had intended. He looked across the aisle at the two old broads and the expressionless face of the senile old gent, and hoped they hadn’t heard him.

“Look, Deb,” he said, talking more softly now, “if you’ve had an abortion at nineteen, what’ve you got planned for twenty-four, or thirty-one, or forty-two?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that, for the first time, as a result of what’s happened, I can imagine a terrible life for you. A life of confusion and sadness and heartbreak. And it terrifies me.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Maybe an abortion is a solution to the problem of a pregnancy, but I suspect that it brings its own problems. It isn’t as tidy as it sounds; I suspect that it takes its toll. Once you undergo something like this, your opinion of yourself changes, maybe in small little ways, but it changes. Maybe, because of something like this, you no longer think so well of yourself. Maybe it becomes easier to do more foolish things.”

“I don’t think that’s true, Daddy.”

“I hope it isn’t, sweetheart, I really do hope it isn’t.”

“But what could I have done?”

“You probably did all that you could do, but I think you may be making a big mistake if you think you got away with it. An abortion, anyhow one of this kind, is a dreary and common and pretty crummy thing.”

“What do you want, Daddy?” She had only been picking at her food, but now she gave up even doing that. Tears were in her eyes. Harry remembered her in braces.

“What I want you can’t give me, Deborah. What I want isn’t even reasonable. I want you back the way you were before this happened.”

“What I am supposed to do?” she asked.

“I don’t know what you’re supposed to do. The world is slipping away, my sweet girl, and there’s evidently not much any of us can do about it. But I don’t have to like it. And I especially don’t have to like my kid becoming a part of it.”

If we can join with all (how many?) those people who think abortion who think not that it is a violation of the sixth commandment but “crummy,” would social standards be higher? Maybe.

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Would Russell Moore Argue This Way about Cocaine Possession?

I understand why pro-life groups want to disassociate themselves from Donald Trump’s convoluted thoughts about women who seek abortions needing to be penalized. But doesn’t Russell Moore go too far when he says these women are victims of a culture and industry that is pro-choice?

One of the worst misconceptions about pro-life Americans is that we are pro-baby and anti-women. Unfortunately, the pro-life movement hasn’t always done a good job of defeating this notion. It’s true that some rhetoric on our side has lacked compassion and holistic concern for the well-being of mothers, especially unwed moms. But despite our imperfections, the pro-life movement has indeed been remarkably consistent about our desire not only to tear down abortion culture but to build a culture of life and human flourishing in its stead. This is the conviction that has built thousands of crisis pregnancy centers, funded hundreds of adoptions., and come alongside countless numbers of women, and men, with practical acts of mercy and love.

If abortion were illegal, if it were a form of murder, why does Moore assume the mother is innocent or not responsible for her involvement in the procedure? Does Moore think this is true for wealthy professional women as much as it may be for the poor mothers who can’t afford to have a child? And would he be so forgiving of any number of harmful activities that take place in poor urban neighborhoods?

I get it that the public relations of the pro-life movement needs to avoid looking punitive. But think about it. If a woman in a Southern Baptist Convention congregation had an abortion procedure, would her deacons come along side her and grant forgiveness and offer consolation apart from an admission of guilt and an expression of repentance?

This is not 2k. Two kingdoms theology recognizes that the church’s role is forgiveness (in response to faith and repentance) and that the state’s role is to punish the wicked and reward the good. But a blanket public policy that says mothers walk away scot-free from an activity that has drawn and quartered the United States for the last four decades seems a tad cynical. If something is illegal and someone engages in an activity that breaks the law, law enforcement doesn’t assume that law breakers are victims.

Anti-Gun is Pro-Life, Right?

James Mumford thinks so:

To me, the Planned Parenthood scandal seems the ultimate commodification of the body under the conditions of late capitalism.

Moreover, I agree that in the end it comes down to a trade-off between life and freedom. Pro-lifers often sheepishly downplay what their view entails: radical restrictions to a woman’s autonomy, both in having to undergo pregnancy—a burden I will never experience—and then either embarking on the project of a lifetime in raising a child she didn’t choose or, if she opts for adoption, knowing her child is walking around in the world without her.

So it struck me as all the more strange that, in complete contrast to the abortion debate, when it comes to guns American conservatives reverse their priorities. They rank freedom over life. “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.” Dr. Ben Carson’s response to the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon befuddled me.

Presumably, those who own guns for self-defense wouldn’t accept the claim that they rank freedom over life. They would say the freedom to own guns is precisely a freedom to defend life, their own and other people’s. Yet are more lives saved than lost by people having such easy access to lethal weapons? . . .

no possible reading of the Second Amendment can possibly excuse the fundamental hypocrisy here. Just because you’re free to do something doesn’t mean you should do it. Conservatives like me who care deeply about family values typically forego their freedom to sleep around.

Plus, a right is never absolute anyway. In 2008 Justice Scalia, writing the majority opinion in Heller, recognized that even the individual rights reading allows for a raft of gun-control measures—prohibitions on carrying weapons in public, extension of background checks, etc., etc. So there’s a lot for consistent pro-lifers to be campaigning for with as much vigor as they’re trying to defund Planned Parenthood.

Mumford is British. So is it a form of American exceptionalism to make round the square of defending guns and opposing abortion?

Indignity Unbecoming

One more small yelp about Christians spotting media bias.

Alan Jacobs faults journalists for improperly interpreting Pope Francis’ declaration of mercy for women who have had abortions:

Pope Francis has done a big, big thing: he has made it dramatically easier for women who have had abortions to be reconciled to the Church. But take a look at this NBC News headline: “Pope Francis: Priests Can Forgive Abortion If Women Are ‘Contrite’” — as though before this papal statement contrite women could not have received forgiveness!

The distinction between making forgiveness — more accurately, reconciliation and restoration to Communion, but even I won’t be a stickler for that — easier and making it possible is an important one and easy to grasp, but a reputable religion journalist insisted to me on Twitter this morning that such headlines are perfectly accurate and that my questioning them shows my ignorance of Catholic doctrine.

Apparently the BBC doesn’t agree with him, because the headline and article they posted earlier — has been revised: “Pope on abortion: Francis relaxes forgiveness rules.” Which is a big improvement in accuracy, though at least one, ahem, reputable religion journalist will think it wholly unnecessary.

Why defend the indefensible? The NBC and the original BBC headlines are plainly and simply wrong, and the stories accompanying them are factually wobbly at their best and in several places incorrect. So why say otherwise? An ideological axe to grind? Misplaced professional solidarity?

But when Roman Catholics themselves don’t know what the church teaches or pay attention to the papacy, why should the press be held to a higher standard than those who answered the call to communion. Rod Dreher reports on the latest set of numbers that don’t lie (and don’t reassure about the call’s terms):

Although an overwhelming majority of Catholics (nine in ten) believe in the concept of sin, they don’t seem to agree on what, precisely, constitutes one. Fifty-seven percent of Catholics think it’s a sin to have an abortion, compared to 48 percent of the general U.S. population who say the same. Forty-four percent think homosexual behavior is sinful (about the same say this among the general public). And just 17 percent of Catholics believe its a sin to use contraceptives, while 21 percent say the same of getting a divorce.

And although those percentages are higher for those who attend Mass weekly — 73 percent of weekly churchgoers say that abortion is a sin, for instance — the numbers are still pretty low on the issue of contraception: just 31 percent of weekly Mass attendees say the use of artificial contraception is a sin.

When Rod adds that liberalizing church teaching would actually hurt more than help, I have to wonder:

This is a pretty strong piece of evidence against the idea that if Pope Francis (or any pope) liberalized church teaching and practice in certain controversial areas, it would stop the bleeding and bring back Catholics who have left the church. All it would stand to do is to discourage the core of true believers. In fact, the Pew survey appears to indicate that the teachings of the Church don’t have a lot to do with the way many individual Catholics — even regular churchgoers — think and live.

I’ve seen what the numbers do to the true believers who at least were former Protestants. Nothing discourages these folks. It’s always sunny in Rome.

Telling Fibs about Saving Lives

The Lutheran Satire pastor, Hans Fiene, is the latest to defend David Daleiden’s deceit. Thankfully, he does not mention journalism. Unthankfully, he does mention fascist Germans:

The lie of the CMP is, therefore, the obliging lie — seeking to protect the lives of our littlest neighbors. It’s the same lie told by people who say to a frothing-at-the-mouth husband, “sorry, I haven’t seen her,” when his battered wife is safely asleep in their guest bedroom. It’s the same lie told by law enforcement officers who do undercover work to protect children at risk of sexual abuse or citizens at risk of gang-related violence. And if Tollefsen wants to compare the actions of the CMP with a figure from World War II, Truman and his decision to let thousands upon thousands of women and children die to end the war is far from an appropriate candidate. Rather, he’d find a much better fit in someone like Irena Sendler, the Polish nurse who deceived the German government by producing fake IDs for Jewish children in order to save them from the Holocaust.

Actually, not. PP officials were not asking Daleiden where the pregnant women were so they could abort and sell the parts. He was there not about the taking of life but the sale of abortions’ remains. If government agencies defund Planned Parenthood, the lives of unborn babies will still be taken by those providing abortions. Maybe PP’s rates will go up. Maybe they’ll take a hit in public relations. But abortion remains legal and these videos or the lies Daleiden told do nothing to change that.

So I’d like the analogies to be accurate. This is like Daleiden posing as a lampshade maker to meet with Nazi officials about the effects of those slaughtered in the concentration camps. His lies are all after the fact.

Meanwhile, Fiens identifies the basis for the resonance these videos have had:

We in the pro-life community don’t get many stirring victories. Granted, we see a reason to celebrate in the face of every woman who changes her mind and walks out of an abortion clinic with her child still safely in her womb. And we take comfort in the gradually declining abortion rate in America. But Roe v. Wade still stands, the most aggressively pro-abortion president in U.S. history still sleeps in the White House, and the Supreme Court still blocks implementation of state restrictions on abortions.

So when the Center for Medical Progress started releasing its string of undercover videos, most of the pro-life community felt a kind of joy we hadn’t felt in ages. Not joy over what Planned Parenthood was doing, of course, nor was it the kind of joy that wants to shout “busted!” in the face of the bamboozled enemy. Rather, the joy pro-lifers felt at the release of these videos came from the belief that maybe, just maybe, unveiling these particular horrors of the abortion industry would be enough to wake up previously indifferent Americans and start moving the wheels of justice for the unborn. Buried in the sewers of those nausea-inducing undercover videos, pro-lifers found a nugget of hope that lets us believe that a stirring victory for our cause is finally on the horizon.

That confirms my sense that these videos are pay back in the culture wars for same-sex marriage. I’m not saying such a desire for retribution is without basis (though I’m not sure it goes with turning the other cheek). But again, it would be helpful to be honest when defending dishonesty. (Is that a Christian haiku? Nah. Wrong w-w.)

Journalists and Saints Together

Push back on questioning David Daleiden’s explanation of his Planned Parenthood videos got me thinking — it sometimes happens — about the ethics of journalism. One of the strongest pushes came from those who say that Daleiden is only doing what journalists do. Which is sort of like saying that journalists don’t have to tell the truth to gain a story, and why would believers argue that way? Sounds antinomian.

In point of fact, journalists have ethical standards that require honesty. Here’s part of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics:

– Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.

– Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.

– Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.

– Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant. . . .

– Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.

Daleiden was vigilant and courageous (though he might have been even more courageous if he had been truthful with his interviewees). But didn’t he fail on all the other measures? In which case, can anyone really say that this is par for the course with journalists?

Here are a few excerpts from NPR’s Ethics Handbook:

Honesty
Journalists who conduct themselves honestly prove themselves worthy of trust. In the course of our work, we are genuine and candid. We attribute information we receive from others, making perfectly clear to our audience what information comes from which source. We avoid hyperbole and sensational conjecture. We may sometimes construct hypotheticals to help explain issues and events, but we reveal any fabrication, and do not otherwise mix fiction with our news reporting. We edit and present information honestly, without deception, and we identify ourselves as NPR journalists when we report. Only in the rarest of instances – such as when public safety is at issue, or when lives are at stake – might we disguise our identity or intent when reporting. Before we take such a step, we engage in rigorous deliberation and consider all alternatives. Then, when we tell the story, we fully disclose what we did and why. . . .

Impartiality
Our experiences and perspectives are valuable assets to our journalism. We enjoy the right to robust personal lives, yet we accept some unique professional obligations and limitations. Because our words and actions can damage the public’s opinion of NPR, we comport ourselves in ways that honor our professional impartiality. We have opinions, like all people. But the public deserves factual reporting and informed analysis without our opinions influencing what they hear or see. So we strive to report and produce stories that transcend our biases and treat all views fairly. We aggressively challenge our own perspectives and pursue a diverse range of others, aiming always to present the truth as completely as we can tell it.

Transparency
To inspire confidence in our journalism, it is critical that we give the public the tools to evaluate our work. We reveal as much as we practically can about how we discover and verify the facts we present. We strive to make our decision-making process clear to the public, especially when we find ourselves wrestling with tough choices. We disclose any relationships, whether with partners or funders, that might appear to influence our coverage.

Christians and conservatives should be careful about snickering too much here. If we want our side not to be snickered at, . . .

And on each of NPR’s criteria you could said that Daleiden was an epic fail.

But here’s the worst part of the journalistic-ethics defense of Daleiden. If a journalist went to a Roman Catholic archbishop and presented himself as a member of the church and in need of sacramental grace as part of a way of doing an expose of clerical sexual misconduct, what would the social conservatives say? Is that the way journalists behave? How loud would the outcry be over such dishonesty?

Or how about a reporter who while doing an interview with Mitt Romney to gain better access to insider information, what if that reporter presented himself as a fellow Mormon (when he wasn’t) and a regular donor to the GOP (which he didn’t)? Would anyone possibly take that “reporter” seriously as a journalist? Would Romney or his staff?

None of this means that Daleiden doesn’t deserve some credit for exposing a truly despicable aspect of American society. But if he is going to claim either the mantle of journalistic ethics or Christian morality, can’t we/I question that?

Pro-Business, Pro-Life

Imagine yourself the owner of an aluminum ladder company. What do you do once every home owner in the United States owns a ladder? You go after renters. But what happens when that market is saturated? You better hope the ladders fail and need to be replaced. Or you buy another company, like one that makes cookies, and hope for profits on that product. (Or so I imagine how business people think.)

But imagine also hearing the Brit Hume commentary about abortion and the Planned Parenthood videos. You learn there that 55 million human lives have been taken through abortion. And you begin to think of all those customers who might have needed an aluminum ladder.

What got me thinking along these free-market lines was Rod Dreher’s posting of an American creed that goes out of its way to deride capitalism:

We believe in one Market,
Objective and Free,
maker of assets and security,
of all that is prosperous and possible.
We believe in the one true force, the Invisible Hand,
the Logic of the Market,
eternally co-existing with the Market,
regent of riches, assurance of efficiency,
trumpeter of technology, power behind politics.
Through him all transactions are made.
For us and for our prosperity
he gives value to all money
and enables all commerce;
by the power of the American Dream
he becomes incarnate in the hearts of all free men.
For our sake he guarantees the equitability of all commerce,
he re-assures all the laborers,
emboldens all the entrepreneurs,
and casts aside all the idle.
He ensures all debts will ultimately be repaid.
He is revealed in glory in America but his kingdom has no end nor boundary.
We believe in the American Dream, the hope and giver of the life abundant,
who proceeds from the Market and who with the Invisible Hand is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through Adam Smith and his economists.
We believe in one holy and universal Spirit of Growth.
We acknowledge the cost and risk of our choices.
We look for the extension of credit,
and the affluent life that is certain to come. Amen.

Dreher’s friend, the one who wrote the creed, explains that “consumerism and its underlying philosophy is as big of a cultural hurdle to serious Christian’s life as liberal sexual norms.”

It can be. But why isn’t consumerism also a friend of the unborn when you recognize how many potential consumers have been eliminated from the check-out line?

At Least 2k Doesn't Produce Carrie Nations

Or, even our Lord told Peter to put the sword away.

So here is the strange sequence of events in BaylyWorld.

Last Thursday (April 11), Benjamin D. Curell, a deacon at Clearnote Church (where Tim Bayly is pastor), broke into a Planned Parenthood facility, apparently carrying an ax. His action was to protest the abortions conducted at the building.

The congregation responded by disassociating itself from one of its officers:

Yesterday morning the pastors and elders of Clearnote Church learned that Ben Curell, a deacon of the church, had been arrested for vandalizing Planned Parenthood. No one in the church knew about his plans. We are convinced Ben’s actions were not justifiable civil disobedience. The elders and pastors have met with Ben and admonished him.

Throughout history faithful Christians have confessed that from conception children bear the image of God. Therefore, we at Clearnote Church have encouraged and will continue to encourage Christians to peacefully and lawfully witness against the great evil of abortion.

We have counseled Ben to repent and submit to the civil authority that God has placed over us for our good. This authority reflects and points to the judgment of God before Whom we all one day must give an account.

Notice that the idea of “encouraging” Christians peacefully and lawfully to witness against abortion is precisely what 2k advocates approve. Such a witness goes on in all sorts of ways that avoids the breast-beating of a blog. But peaceful and lawful witness is not what the Baylys require of their 2k enemies. Typically the Baylys don’t encourage but demand, and if they don’t see evidence of objecting to abortion they question the faith of someone who is not as publicly outraged as they are:

Under the Third Reich, were the true shepherds silent in the midst of the slaughter of millions of Jews, sodomites, mentally handicapped, gypsies, and Christians? Then, what about us? When the day arrives and the light reveals our work as shepherds, will it be seen that we have been faithful witnesses against the anarchy and bloodshed all around us? Or will it become clear we have built with wood, hay, and straw?

There are many church officers today who are collaborators employing doctrine to justify their silence. Let me be clear: I am not saying these men are unconverted, but rather that they are unfaithful.

Notice as well that Clearnote’s statement on Ben Curell adopts an attitude toward civil authorities that comes directly from the 2k playbook — that God has placed even not so great authorities over us, for our good no less. That notion of civil authorities has not been one that you can discern in many Bayly posts. For instance:

Our presidents, governors, and mayors ceaselessly toil at enforcing the worship of their gods and the only thing up in the air is which gods the pinch of incense adores: the Only True God or Molech.

This is these United States today. On every street corner, we have altars to Molech where pagans and Christians alike sacrifice our own offspring to demons–something Scripture tells us is so very evil that it never entered the mind of God (Jeremiah 19:5)–and Christians drive by on our way to our church-house, silencing our consciences by assuring ourselves confessing Christians aren’t putting Covenant children in the fire, only pagans do that; that as Christians we have no duty to oppose the fire since the Westminster Divines told us not to meddle in affairs rightly belonging to the jurisdiction of the civil magistrate; that whether the civil magistrate should outlaw the slaughter is a question of public policy not addressed by the general equity of the Law; that pagans have always given their children to the fire, so what’s new; that if we speak up against Molech’s bloodlust, we’ll only alienate the pagans rendering them even more resistant to the pure, unadulaterated, scrupulously clean Gospel message; and on it goes.

But do we hear about any of this incident or Clearnote’s statement at the Bayly blog? No. Instead, it is business as usual when it comes to verbally tarring and feathering 2k. On April 15 the Baylys ran a long-winded piece by Darrell Todd Marina against 2k. Here’s a flavor of the verbal barrage:

However, the more radical “Two Kingdoms” people believe something much worse, namely, that once a question has become “politicized,” Christians ought to avoid preaching on it because it will identify the church with a political party or a political position and drive people away.

The key question ought not to be whether we will offend people and drive them away, but whether we will offend God and be driven by Him out of His presence regardless of how many people fill the pews of our churches. God has strong words to false prophets who seek to please people rather than pleasing God.

What we must ask is whether God has spoken to an issue in His Word. If God has spoken, the church must speak. If God has not spoken, the church must stay silent.

I have engaged Maurina several times before and he still can’t fathom the difference between policy and legislation, on the one side, and what the Bible says about a specific matter on the other. Christians may agree on certain moral norms and have completely different understandings of what the state’s role in executing such morality involves. It’s the same old myopia that afflicted Machen’s fundamentalist and modernist critics. Because he did not support the Progressive reform of the 18th Amendment, for instance, his friends and enemies thought he favored drunkenness. And Maurina has the audacity to suggest that 2k stems from ignorance about politics. It is his own ignorance that draws a direct line from biblical teaching — which may require some exegesis — to the law of the land. I oppose lying. Does that mean I advocate an amendment to the Constitution that adopts the ninth commandment? (When was the last time you heard 2k critics, by the way, oppose mendacity? How would they like hearing that their silence on laws opposing lying means they favor falsehoods?)

But the issue here is not Maurina, it is the repeated bellyaching of the Baylys against 2k in a way that misrepresents 2k advocates and that denies the implications of the Bayly’s shrill jeremiads, especially when all of their talk about Hitler, martyrs, persecution, and courage may actually encourage men like Ben Curell to pick up an ax, much like Carrie Nation, to uphold God’s law. Their rhetoric and logic is irresponsible but may actually be responsible for encouraging folks like Mr. Curell to think they are acting courageously and righteously when they vandalize private property.

Consider the following:

Now then, are the two Bush brothers up to the job? Are they faithful public servants? Will they do what is necessary to save Terri’s life? Will our civic fathers face down the cowardly legislators and judges? Will they show themselves men and rescue Terri from her oppressors?

Both men ought to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ We, the citizens of these United States deserve a straightforward answer to this question.

It would be easy for both the President and Governor to think their duties have been fulfilled and that no reasonable person could expect more from them. They’re wrong. We expect them to be men and stand–now!

If they are determined to abdicate their responsibilities and abandon the citizens under their care and protection, let them say so. Then we the people will have been put under notice that the rule of law is dead and we’re on our own.

The civil authority ceases to have authority when he abandons those at the margins of life to their oppressors. Are President and Governor Bush willing to acknowledge that the courts have betrayed their vows to uphold the Constitution? And will they do what is necessary to remedy the courts’ betrayals of those duties?

You know, “When in the course of human events” and all that.

Or this:

As it’s now against the law for Christians to do anything physical to stop the dismembering of the 1,300,000 unborn children slaughtered each year just down the street from us, soon it will also be illegal for Christians to preach or say anything warning the sexually immoral that their conduct is an abomination to God–and that, unless they repent, they will perish eternally.

Here’s a little prognostication: those believers and their pastors who find saying “No” to abortion distasteful and prefer to say “Yes” to crisis pregnancy centers are likely the same Christians and pastors who, as the cost escalates, will also find saying “No” to sexual immorality distasteful, preferring to say “Yes” to the joys of Christian marriage and morality. Those who feel most comfortable witnessing to the Faith in the “God loves you and has a wonderful man for your plan” or “God loves you and has a wonderful wife for your life” sort of way.

God’s “No” is already a stench in the eyes of Emergelicals, but soon it will become illegal, too. And those who have been timid in these days of the feminization of discourse and the slothfulness of cheap grace will turn and run for their lives when prison terms are added to the cost of biblical preaching and witness.

Or this:

I say it again: secularism is a religion that is utterly intolerant of true Christian faith. It started by privatizing Christian faith and now it’s moved on to removing privacy from our lives and obliterating every mediating institution that could put a check on its totalitariansim.
The day is quickly coming when followers of Christ will be hounded from jobs, business ownership, professorships, the practice of medicine, teaching in the state’s religious schools, owning rental property, preaching in public, publishing and selling books, getting letters to the editor published, getting a degree at the state-funded religious colleges and universities, and the list goes on and on. We will be utterly unclean and every effort will be made to bar us from the public square. When a federal judge forbids legislators from praying in Jesus’ name to open a legislative session, he’s not impeached in disgrace, he’s elevated to a higher court. But it won’t end there.

Even in the privacy of our homes, we’ll be imprisoned by the state. Its religious totalitarianism will seek to control our discipline of our Covenant children, our obedience to God in being fruitful, the way we give birth and die, our practice of church discipline, what’s preached in the privacy of our worship in our church-houses, what our children do sexually, whether our minor children are able to murder their unborn children, even the media we do or do not consume in our living rooms. You think I’m alarmist, but just watch–if you live long enough. And it should be a bit of a wake-up call for you to realize a number of the things listed above are already done deals. For instance, your minor daughter can have an abortion without your knowledge, and the religious educators of our secularist taxpaper-funded schools can help them hide the murder from you.

One more:

Brothers and sisters, we are citizens of a representative constitutional democracy with heavy privileges and duties that flow from that system of government. We are not under a Roman Emporer. We are under ourselves and we ourselves have the legal duty to guard the commons God has been pleased to bequeath to us from the hard work and shed blood of our faithful Reformed forefathers who created these United States.

If we learn anything from the Early Church under the Roman Empire, it’s that empires like Rome and the Secular West must oppress and kill every Christian who believes all authority in Heaven and earth has been given to the Lord Jesus and we must go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything He commanded knowing He is with us to the end of the earth.

Intolleristas are bloodthirsty for exclusivists. It was this way with the Early Church under Rome and it’s this way with the Late Church under Western Secularism. Separation of church and state is the death of Christian evangelism and discipleship unless Christian evangelism and discipleship becomes as vapid as the R2K monomaniacs.

Christian life, worship, evangelism, and discipleship are utterly incompatible with Western Secularism’s pluralism. Every single time a man under the Lordship of Jesus Christ tries to clothe our naked public squares, he will be shouted down by those convinced they don’t have gods and they don’t worship and they are as broad-minded and tolerant as can be.

The real wonder is that Mr. Curell or someone like him did not vandalize a seminary or a church where 2k views prevail.

Postscript: it looks like a pattern in the Curell family (and it looks like the Baylys may oppose civil disobedience only when conducted with a weapon — or they don’t respect deacons as much as pastors.)

What A Difference A Day Makes

If Westminster Seminary were hoping for a media bump from its decision to sue the federal government over the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Affordable Care Act, they couldn’t have picked a worse day. The seminary’s press release did reach at least one Roman Catholic website, but events at the Vatican absorbed most news coverage. A small Protestant seminary was no match for God’s new vicegerent.

Publicity tactics aside, Westminster’s decision to sue the federal government is an odd twist in the institution’s long associations with the spirituality of the church and biblical theology. The suit comes in the form of a protest against federal policy but it masks a chance to make a public pronouncement against abortion:

The Complaint, submitted to the federal district court in Houston, Texas, states federal agency defendants are violating Westminster’s rights under the First Amendment, and related statutes, to the free exercise of religion, by requiring the Seminary to provide health insurance to its employees that covers, and thereby promotes, their use of abortion-inducing drugs. Westminster believes this is in direct violation of one of the most basic tenets of its religious foundation – the sanctity of life – the understanding that every human life is created in the image of God.

So instead of explaining how Obama Care will hurt the Seminary, its president, Peter Lillback, uses the podium to protest abortion:

“It is indisputable that every human embryo, formed the moment a human egg is fertilized, has a unique human identity,” said Westminster President Peter Lillback. “That is a human life the Affordable Care Act we are challenging would destroy. In Westminster’s view, this mandate is the antithesis of the federal government’s solemn responsibility ‘to promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty’ for its citizens.”

Declaring the sanctity of human life is fine, but taking the government to court (or jumping on a case already before the courts) is another. Paul’s example of going to court in Acts 24-26 would hardly be the model for such litigiousness. His motivations were first of all self-defense and evangelistic. Posturing does not come to mind. (And if some think “posturing” is too cynical a read, how exactly do they think the editors at the Philadelphia Inquirer are looking at it — if they noticed?)

Equivocation on the politicized nature of this decision — and the press release to publicize it, mind you — comes in the responses supplied at the WTS website:

Q: Does filing the lawsuit involve Westminster in a political cause?
A: Westminster is not a partisan institution. Joining this lawsuit is an expression of our deeply held religious beliefs. We are united in this action with many other religious institutions that are standing for religious freedom unrelated to any partisan cause.

That is not an answer.

Q: Shouldn’t Westminster concentrate on its core mission?
A: Teaching the whole counsel of God is at the core of our mission. Westminster’s commitment to the whole counsel of God includes matters of public theology. Thus, when necessary, the Board and faculty must be prepared to speak and to act our deeply held Biblical convictions that from time to time require appropriate civic engagement.

Westminster already does plenty of speaking and acting. It teaches, holds conferences, its faculty and board members preach, and I am sure many of these people take actions in the civic realm that testify to their convictions. But a law suit? Isn’t 1 Corinthians 6:7 part of God’s whole counsel? “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong?” If you want to say that Paul is only talking about lawsuits by Christians against fellow believers, then what about 1 Timothy 2:1-2: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

Wherever you look in the New Testament, Christians were not trying to rock the boat aside from the God-appointed means of preaching the word of God and worshiping the author of that word. And that was a different kind of boat-rocking, not one so close to show-boating.

The New York Times: A Better Way?

Many conservative Presbyterians and Reformed believe – along with the idea that no neutrality exists – that secular America is intolerant of red-blooded Christianity. The current alarm over gay marriage and abortion on demand is evidence of the Reformed-sky-is-falling-world-and-life-view.

Could it be that consolation might come to these upset souls from the secularized (as opposed to hallowed) pages of the New York Times? It could if conservative Protestants would take a gander at the columns written by Ross Douthat. When the Times hired him away from the Atlantic Monthly, some conservatives worried that Douthat, a smart, Roman Catholic, and remarkably wise-for-his-age-writer, might succumb to temptation to fit with the liberal intelligentsia (as if Atlantic is Chronicles) in by soft pedaling his conservatism. But this has hardly been the case. Within the past month Douthat has posted at his Times blog (in addition to columns) a number of serious and thoughtful posts against gay marriage that conservative Protestants should well consider, both for encouragement in culture-war well doing and for learning how to make an argument with people who don’t share your faith (or any).

On August 9th, Douthat wrote in response to a post by Noah Millman who explained why he was supporting gay marriage:

What I would strongly dispute, though, is his suggestion that it’s possible to escape entirely from ideological conceptions of marriage, into a world where it’s all just people loving people, and the way we treat one another is the only thing that matters. This seems like an extremely naive view of how ideas intersect with human action, and how cultures shape behavior. Of course all ideals and ideologies are imperfect descriptions of reality, and semi-quixotic attempts to graft order onto the inherent messiness of human affairs. But you can’t escape them just by declaring that they’re “artificial,” because such artifice is itself natural to man, and inherent to culture-making and social order. Every society has its ideals and ideologies, about marriage as much as about any other institution. And the fact that wedlock was once somewhat more about property and somewhat less about love than it is today doesn’t mean that our ancestors didn’t have their own theories of marriage, and their own arguments about what the institution meant and ought to mean.

Read the Greeks and Romans; read the New Testament; read Shakespeare and The Book of Common Prayer. There was never a time when human beings weren’t building ideologies of marriage, and there was never a culture where those ideologies didn’t have an impact on how people wed and parented and loved.

This means that if the ideology that justifies defining marriage as lifelong heterosexual monogamy gets swept into history’s dustbin, we won’t suddenly be flung into a landscape where the only real things are people and the people they love. We’ll just get a different ideology of marriage in its place, one that makes a different set of assumptions and generalizations and invests the institution with a different kind of purpose. And we don’t need a judge’s ruling (though Judge Vaughn Walker’s analysis was certainly clarifying!) to know what that ideology will look like: It’s the increasingly commonplace theory that marriage exists to celebrate romantic love and provide public recognition for mutually-supportive couples, with no inherent connection of any kind to gender difference and/or procreation, and with only a rhetorical connection to the ideal of permanence.

Because Douthat is thoughtful and because he writes for the Times, lots of people pay attention to what he writes and so various bloggers and op-ed writers responded to his August 9 post. One of those came from Glenn Greenwald, who argued that whether or not the state supports heterosexual marriage, the ideal of one-man-and-one-woman marrying could still prevail without legal sanction. One example to which Grennwald appealed was racism. Nearly everyone believes racism is wrong even if the state protects the rights of racists to speak freely and associate voluntarily.

Douthat responds this way:

. . . take alcohol and cigarettes. Why are Marlboros more stigmatized than Budweisers in contemporary America? Well, in part, it’s because there’s been a government-sponsored war on tobacco for the last few decades, carried out through lawsuits and public health campaigns and smoking bans and so forth, that’s far eclipsed the more halting efforts to stigmatize alcohol consumption. Here again, public policy, rather than some deep empirical or philosophical truth about the relative harm of nicotine versus alcohol, has been a crucial factor in shaping cultural norms.

And the same is true, inevitably, of marriage law. Culture shapes law, of course: Judge Walker’s decision last week would be unimaginable without the cultural shift that’s made gay marriage seem first plausible and then necessary to many people. But law tends to turn around and shape culture right back. And this is particularly true when the law in question is constitutional law, because constitutional rights carry a distinctive legal weight and an even more distinctive cultural freight. (To take just one example, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the cultural space for making a moral critique of pornography has shrunk apace in the decades since the Supreme Court expanded First Amendment protections for pornographers, and limited the reach of obscenity laws.)

So if Anthony Kennedy follows Walker and finds that the traditional legal understanding of marriage is unconstitutional — and, by extension, that it’s irrational and bigoted to think otherwise — it’s just naive to say that this won’t have a ripple effect in the culture as a whole.

The point here is not to discuss the merits of Douthat’s arguments – though they are considerable. It is instead to take notice and see that people of faith do speak up in public secular life and do not lose their jobs for doing so, even at the New York friggin’ Times! I wonder if more of the anti-2k crowd were to take a page from Douthat the public debates over hotly contested issues would be not only more “fair and balanced” but also more people would “decide” to regard favorably (rather than as kooks) those who defend the way that Westerners have practiced the family lo these many years.