If Peter Can Deny Our Lord Three Times (dot dot dot)

In the current climate of Roman Catholic discontent about sexually abusive and active priests, bishops, cardinals, and a church structure that made cover-up possible, it may not be the best time to raise questions about sexual infidelity among pastors. But a dinner with old friends and colleagues this summer at General Assembly and now reading about what to do about priests who have fallen has me thinking (always dangerous to do in public).

The thought is this: why is sexual infidelity worse than other sin? As the title of the post indicates, Peter did something that was pretty rotten. He denied his Lord three times. At certain times in church history (persecution in N. Africa in the third century and in Korea in the twentieth century), that kind of infidelity could get you booted from the ministry. But you could add lying and stealing as big deals. How do you trust a pastor who commits those sins? And perhaps not as obviously wicked, but what about idolatry or blasphemy (never mind keeping the Lord’s Day holy)? Why do we zoom in on the seventh commandment to adopt a one-strike and you’re out?

Here is how Robert George put it this week:

In short, what the Church (and by “the Church” I am referring to the lay faithful as well as to the Church’s hierarchical officials) should demand—that is, absolutely insist upon without exception—of its clergy is what the clergy should preach to the people, namely, fidelity. Fidelity, fidelity, fidelity. Priests must believe and preach what the Church holds as true about God and man—and must practice what they preach. Am I advocating a zero-tolerance policy toward grave sexual sins, such as fornication, adultery, and sodomy (even when committed by consenting adults)? Yes, I am. It is not because I think these sins are unforgivable, or even that they are the worst sins. (In fact, they are forgivable and, though grave, they are not the worst sins.) It is because the infidelity expressed by and embodied in these sins, and because the scandal—undermining of the faith (including the faith of the sinning priest and the faith of the person with whom he sins)—they occasion, is simply intolerable. These sins are toxic to the priestly ministry. Priests who cannot or will not avoid them cannot effectively carry out their mission.

So there is the logic from a conservative Roman Catholic:

Sexual infidelity undermines the faith corporately and personally.

Therefore, sexual infidelity is intolerable.

I understand it but the argument is not exactly airtight since you could insert idolatry, lying, and stealing into the premise and come to the same conclusion.

I am not trying to excuse sexual infidelity (or lying and stealing). I am curious though if our revulsion at sexual sin reveals more about those judging the sin than it does about the nature of the sin. I understand that according to our standards, some sins in themselves and by reason of several aggravations are more heinous in the sight of God than others. But that catechetical language gives room for what may only be “like your opinion, man.”

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So You Want the Magistrate to Enforce both Tables of the Law?

Does that make you more extreme than a Muslim? It very well may, according to Aaron Rock-Singer (you can’t make up a name like that).

On the one hand, Shari’a law admitted a diversity of mechanisms for enforcement:

Historically, Muslims understood the Shariʿa as a broad framework within which one could live a proper Islamic life. The Shariʿa represented a comprehensive ethical system, the bulk of which was not understood as law in the sense of regulations that state authorities must enforce. Instead, acts were divided into five categories: obligatory, recommended, neutral, disapproved, and forbidden. Crucially, it was only those acts that fell into the category of “forbidden” that were to be enforced by the state. Put differently, prior to the last 200 years, the obligations set forth by the Shariʿa, though they were obligatory for Muslims, neither assumed nor depended on enforcement by state authorities.

That’s an intriguing point if only because ecclesiastical authorities won’t enforce the Fourth Commandment (Third for the Roman Catholic slackers).

On the other hand, the insistence that civil authorities enforce Shari’a was a function of the West’s brilliant diplomatic hegemony:

With the onset of colonial rule, British and French officials made a momentous decision to implement foreign legal codes while limiting religious law to questions of personal status such as marriage and divorce. While Islamists today recall this moment as decisive because it limited the role of Shariʿa, just as important is the shift that they do not mention: that it codified the Shariʿa. In the place of the relative flexibility and accommodation to local diversity exercised by judges who were tied to local communities, state-appointed graduates of modern law schools, with little knowledge of over a millennium of Islamic legal scholarship, now interpreted a code of Islamic law. Crucially, however, legal codes were not solely a colonial imposition: in the late 19th century, the Ottoman Empire introduced a legal code, based on the dominant Sunni legal school in that area (Hanafism) in an attempt to formalize and define a civil legal code throughout the empire.

As Middle Eastern states gained independence over the first half of the 20th century, new secularist elites, like colonial officials, restricted the Shariʿa to family law. Notwithstanding their opposition to colonial rule, they were no more interested than their colonial predecessors in empowering Muslim scholars to interpret the Shariʿa. Instead, these new elites wanted to reshape the legal system to their own liking and in terms that they understood. Looking abroad, they saw the combination of military, political, and economic power that had enabled colonial rulers to take control of their countries, and sought to use law as a tool to expand the reach of their newly independent states. The appeal of a powerfully interventionist state would only grow as the United States and Soviet Union vied for Cold War supremacy.

In the shadow of a codified family law, powerful post-colonial states, and Cold War ideological contestation, Islamists began to argue that Shariʿa was central to state power.

The good news for folks worried that behind every Muslim is the Islamic equivalent of [insert name of favorite theonomist here], most Muslims are content with a separation of civil and religious law (in good 2k fashion, mind you):

A community whose roots go back to early migration between 1875 and 1912 from Greater Syria (an area that included what is now Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine), Muslim American ranks grew following World War I following the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Between 1947 and 1960, Muslims increasingly arrived not only from the Middle East, but also from Eastern Europe, South Asia, and the Soviet Union. The past 40 years, in turn, have seen, once again, substantial immigration from the Middle East.

The American Muslim community is, as a 2007 Pew survey puts it, “Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream.” In this vein, American Muslims have, by and large, sought to live according to their religious obligations through a set of daily practices that bear little resemblance to the specter of “Creeping Shariʿazation.” Whether by securing permits to build mosques, observing dietary laws through Halal butcheries and restaurants, or buying shares in Islamic finance companies that allow them to purchase homes or pay for higher education while avoiding interest-bearing loans, American Muslims today work within the American legal system and live devout lives. And like members of so many other religious and ethnic minorities, Muslims have set up a number of political advocacy organizations. There is no evidence, however, that American Muslim organizations have ever attempted to replace the American constitution with an Islamic legal code.

America, the beautiful.

Not All, Just Some of the Bible

So 8 out of 10 Americans believe that “following the Bible’s teachings would be good for American society.”

And Daniel Darling and Andrew Walker argue that Americans should follow the same divine law that Christians do:

Imagine we took the same approach with a different issue—say, crime—that some do with marriage and family policy. What if our approach toward murder or theft was as laissez-faire? Why should we expect our neighbors not to murder? Why should we think non-Christians will act like believers and obey the sixth commandment? But if the home of one of these advocates were broken into by an unbelieving neighbor, they would call upon the local, God-ordained authorities, and accusing the thief of violating a fundamental principle of justice that all of our consciences know to be true: It is unjust to steal. Stealing is a violation not only of God’s revealed law, but also of the basic concept of justice that is written on the heart of every person. If our unbelieving neighbor steals from us, we don’t excuse their behavior because they don’t follow a Christian code of ethics. We simply expect them not to steal.

All Christians, if they are honest, hope non-Christians think and act like Christians—whether in maintaining a just and well-ordered society or when approaching issues like human trafficking, abortion, racial justice, child poverty, and other pressing issues. We fight for laws that reflect what we believe to be true about human dignity and human flourishing. Why? Because principles of morality are not limited to or binding on only Christians.

Of course, the authors skirt the first table of the Decalogue and what those commandments might mean for Muslims, Roman Catholics, and Jews, not to mention agnostics and atheists.

My complaint is that the advocates of the-Bible-is-good-for-what-ails-the-United-States is that they are overwhelmingly selective. What if all Americans followed Peter’s teaching at the end of his second encyclical epistle:

8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

On the one hand, that solves the problem of Christian busy bodies and transformationalists. Chill.

On the other hand, Peter seems to have a remedy for climate change. Burn, baby, burn.

Or maybe we just let the Bible do what it was supposed to do.

Teach Us To Number Our Commandments

Cardinal Dolan thinks Roman Catholics and American culture need to recover biblical teaching on sex (finally a bishop other than the Roman one):

We rarely, if ever, speak about it. (Just ask Pope Francis! Did you see that, on his flight to Asia last week, a journalist asked him if he would condemn contraception. He replied, “Why are you always asking about that?”)

I’m not proud about the fact that we rarely speak about the sixth and ninth commandment. Why don’t we? One reason might be that, decades ago, we probably did speak way too much about it. A second might be that it’s so controversial. And a third is that we’re still so embarrassed by the sex abuse scandal that we’re gun-shy. . . .

one of our most pointed challenges, as a Church, and, for that matter, as a culture, is to regain the high ground on the nobility of God’s design, to present it credibly and fresh to ourselves, one another, and a society that has reduced sex to culture’s most popular contact sport.

Do the captains of Team Religion in America recognize that players on the team don’t even follow the same play book when it comes to counting the Decalogue?

And does the good Cardinal not see that by blurring church folks and Americans Team Religion has compromised the discipline of the Team’s players? Maybe if all churches worried more about their own members and less about the “other kind” of Americans, the results would lift the boats of the whole nation.

Postscript: meanwhile, Boniface detects in certain apologists — ahem, Mark Shea, who swims in the same hip Northwest culture that Jason and Christian (without the Callers) do — the difficulty the fellows with all the apostolic authority face even from some of their most enthusiastic supporters:

. . . this thread demonstrates some inherent problems in the neo-Cath position: To what degree will we see that alleged orthodoxy to the Church is really just a matter of supporting what is viewed as “current policy”? Is there not a problem with viewing a perennial discipline as merely “policy”? Is not the value of discipline and tradition severely downgraded. if so? And if these sorts of matters are simply the “current policy” that can change the way it changes with each American presidential administration, what tools does the Church really have to ensure discipline and continuity in the long run?

Ultimately, the neo-Cath strategy is to insist loudly that certain things can never be changed so long as the current Pontiff does not want to change them; then, when the “policy” changes with another pontiff, suggest just as loudly that such matters were never immune from change to begin with. I’m not suggesting the practical question of whether or not to admit persons with deep-seated homosexuality to the seminary is a doctrinal question or that infallibility is on the line here; I am suggesting that reasoning that the Church’s very old discipline on this matter (it goes back to Trent and before) can be seen as merely “current policy” is destructively reductionist.

Tim Bayly Does His Impersonation of Joseph Stalin and Alger Hiss (all in one)

Tim thinks this exchange between Erik’s brothers’ Darryl/ell proves that 2k advocates are using theology for a political agenda. What it actually reveals is that Tim is afraid his followers will read the other side (e.g. Stalin). And worse, he cannot answer the question (e.g. Hiss) of why he supports the magistrate enforcing the sixth commandment but doesn’t apparently care about laws to preserve the first, second, third, and forth commandments.

R2K men aren’t Christians with a certain political argument but libertarians with a certain Christian argument by which they hope to shore up their political philosophy of each man doing that which is right in his own eyes.

And he thinks 2k advocates hide a political agenda behind Reformed theology?!? In the words of Tom McGinnis, “are you kidding me?”

Theonomic Dreaming: President Obama Gets Religion

One of the recurring criticisms of 2k is that it denies the authority of God’s word for the civil magistrate. In some cases, the assertion is simply that the state should enforce both tables of the law. But since God’s word is filled with teaching that is binding, the anti-2k view does not lead necessarily to a narrow view of God’s law – as in only what Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai. In fact, among the theonomic critics of 2k, the laws of Israel are as much part of God’s law as the Decalogue.

So, let’s see what happens when President Obama is having a quiet time (after recently speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast where he gave his testimony: “My Christian faith then has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years”). He orders one of Max Lucado’s books sold by his former church in Chicago, where Jeremiah Wright was pastor, and begins to read through parts of Scripture on his own. He comes to the conclusion that murder is absolutely wrong and that abortion in many cases seems to be at odds with God’s law. He calls for a meeting of his cabinet to address the matter, calls the Speaker of the House about drafting legislation, and may even decide to address the nation during prime time.

Is that enough for the critics of 2k, or do they want President Obama to go farther and read the New Testament as well?

So let’s say the President continues to read the Bible daily and comes to the conviction, after counsel from nearby pastor, Mark Dever, that infant baptism is sinful. He knows that many churches, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, practice infant baptism. But he still believes that God’s word teaches only people who have made a credible profession of faith are eligible for baptism. So he calls another round of meetings with cabinet officials, members of Congress, and church leaders to begin to draft legislation that would prohibit infant baptism. Let’s also suppose that he gave the churches a year to stop their practices and if they did not the government would shut down all congregations that still used a baptismal font.

This scenario is not so hard to imagine since Presbyterians in Scotland and Northern Ireland experienced from Oliver Cromwell the kind of repression that President Obama might visit on Reformed churches if he got evangelical religion. According to Crawford Gribben, The Irish Presbyterians Puritans:

In May 1653, the English elite decided to remove the leading Presbyterian ministers and lay families [from Northern Ireland] by force to a remote part of Ireland. This plan, the goal of which was described as sending Presbyterian “to hell or Connaught”, was so breathtaking that it was never actualy carried out. Leading Catholics were removed instead.

The fact that this plan was adopted by leading Irish Independents shows the betrayal that existed at the heart of the Puritan alliance. . . . These Puritans believed that, with the end of the Stuart monarchy in the execution of King Charles, the fourth monarch was being swept away, and would be replaced by the millennial kingdom of God.

The Fifth Monarchist vision of the kingdom was grounded in Old Testament law. They believed that the coming kingdom . . . would see the restructuring of civilization. All over the world, nations would be brought into submission to King Jesus, who would govern them with a “rod of iron”. The evidence of his rule would be that the nations would abandon their old laws, and be governed instead by the laws of the Bible . . . . English policy in Ireland was governed by this type of millennial interest. (pp. 101, 103)

Is this the kind of magistrate that anti-2kers want? Is this the kind of eschatology that anti-2kers affirm? If they don’t, how do they distinguish between a magistrate that enforces only part of God’s word and one who follows Scripture in everything, both national and ecclesiastical policy? I know I have raised this point in other ways before. But it does seem mightily selective to think that magistrates need to pay attention to sexual sins but need to mind their business when it comes to liturgical infidelity.

Can you really have a godly magistrate without having a ruler with powers that restrict the church? Is it really possible for the separation between church and state to apply only to the first table of the law and not to the second also? If Israel is the model, and if Old Testament Israel was biblical – duh – then those questions would seem to answer themselves.