When Freedom Dies

Religious freedom and freedom of speech in America are both in their death throes. While the writhing may go on for a while, absent a miraculous healing of the American spirit, their ultimate deaths are assured – and likely to occur sooner than we ever imagined.

Thanks to the progressive agenda, in general, these two real “fundamental” rights have been ill for quite some time. But it took the trifecta of radical environmentalism, the Affordable Care Act, and the same-sex marriage movement to push them to the brink. Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling saving the ACA and – to a far greater extent – Friday’s ruling creating a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, sounded the death knell.

Despite being so strong that nothing can stand in its way, the “right side of history,” apparently, is, at the same time, so fragile that any dissent could upend the whole enterprise. Dissenters – Christians, in particular – must, therefore, be silenced and marginalized. Progressives no doubt are overjoyed that the Supreme Court has handed them the tools to make that happen.

As Os Guinness writes in A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future, “[f]reedom never lasts forever, because its very vitality is built on a combination of elements that are dynamic, difficult to hold together and easy to corrupt.” In a fallen world, it could be no other way. When religious freedom and freedom of speech die, America’s freedom will be dead, as well.

CCO Public Domain pixabay.com CCO Public Domain pixabay.com

At the Northampton Seminar on the Patheos website, my friend Gerry McDermott offers reasons to take heart. While “[t]hese are dark days for orthodox believers and conservatives,” Gerry writes, “. . . these are also days when we should be reminded of bright hopes.” Quoting Luke 6:22-23, Gerry reminds us that Jesus said we should “leap for joy” when men hate and revile us on His account. Such treatment puts us right up there with the prophets.

I know Gerry is right, and I sure can’t argue with the words of our Lord, but I’m not quite there yet. As a new neighbor helpfully pointed out to me recently, I’m no spring chicken. Still, I had hoped not to live to see the day freedom died in America. I’ll pray that I can leap for joy very soon. For now, I’m just trying to stay upright and stake out a small stand on the wrong side of history.

–updated 6:31 pm EDT

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The Cost of Our Convictions

The courage of our convictions is a phrase that means a willingness to stand up for what we believe in the face of opposition. Until recently, beyond a little ridicule, the cost of expressing our convictions hasn’t been too great for America’s Christians. But the ante on Christian courage is about to go up dramatically. The question then becomes, are we ready to pay that cost?

For Christians of my generation – the baby boomers – the cost may not be too onerous. Many of us are at or approaching the ends of our careers and so have less on the line. But for our children and grandchildren, the cost could betruth very great indeed. At Public Discourse, Ryan Shinkel lays out that cost in his excellent essay, “The Courage to Be on the Wrong Side of History: Lessons from Burke and Nietzsche.”

A senior studying philosophy and literature at the University of Michigan, Shinkel articulates well the challenges that his generation will likely face. But he doesn’t flinch from those challenges.

“Moral courage” Shinkel writes, “means placing more value upon the integrity of conscience over the stability of external events: being denied tenure, a plum internship, some job, friends who cannot tolerate “bigoted” opinions . . . prudence is necessary, yet those of my generation who stand for what the family is, what marriage is, and what the foundational institutions of civil society rooted in our rational and social natures are, make possible a new counter-revolution.”

I came of age during the sexual revolution of the ‘60s. Considered counter cultural at the time, that revolution – along with other misguided ideas regnant in those years – has wreaked unbelievable destruction on the well being of our nation and its citizens. If Shinkel can persuade others of his generation to grab hold of the moral courage to become the counterculture of today, to resist the so-called “right side of history,” and simply stand for what is right – whatever the cost – there may be hope for our nation yet.

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Where There is No Vision

 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

(flickr.com CC BY-SA 2.0)

“Are you gonna exist or are you gonna live?” The question came from behind me as I browsed the reference book aisle at Barnes & Noble the other day. “Cause living means taking responsibility for your life and choices. Existing is just letting things happen to you.”

Those weren’t the speaker’s exact words,, but that’s the gist of what he was saying. After shamelessly eavesdropping for a few minutes, I discreetly glanced over my shoulder to see what was going on. The speaker was hidden from my view, but the listener – if he could be called that – was a young black teen who looked less than happy to be on the receiving end of the speaker’s words.

Curious, I prolonged my browsing, the better to hear the rest of the speaker’s monologue on the opportunities that were available to this young teen if he decided he wanted to live instead of exist.

“When I come to Barnes & Noble,” the speaker went on, “I come with a purpose. I ask about the section where the self-help books are that can help me change my life” (my paraphrase). The speaker continued on in this vein, trying to incite some response that would indicate his words were getting through to the sulky-faced teen.

Wanting to see who was trying so hard to make a difference in this young man’s life, I rounded the end of the aisle and glanced back once more. The speaker was leaning on the shelves, head bent toward the teenager, so I couldn’t get a clear look – at least without becoming a more obvious eavesdropper than I already had been. He was certainly older and wiser than the teen he was addressing – maybe an older brother – but most likely not his dad.

I left Barnes & Noble without purchasing any books, but the overheard entreaty stayed  in my mind.

In the KJV, Proverbs 29:18a is rendered, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Other versions translate vision as prophetic vision or revelation, and perish as unrestrained or cast off restraints. Regardless of the version, the verse well describes the times in which we live. But though it probably isn’t the most accurate translation, I like the KJV version best. It seems to describe the lives of so many young men today – particularly, but certainly not only – those in the black community.

Because they’ve not been given a vision of what it means to be a real man, many young men today are perishing – both literally in cities like Ferguson, MO, and figuratively all around the country. With few fathers to guide them and a culture that often seems to despise them, they’ve lost a sense of purpose and a belief in their value to society. Consequently, many are languishing either in real prisons or in prisons created by addictions to pornography and video games, by their lack of education, and by a lack of jobs.

I applaud the speaker in Barnes & Noble for stepping into a young teen’s life and trying to show him that he has a choice about whether to live or to simply exist. The words he spoke contained much wisdom, and if the young man is smart, he’ll chew on those words. But curing the malaise that has afflicted our young men will require more than self-help books and more responsible choices. Ultimately, only embracing a prophetic vision of biblical manhood, and a willingness to accept the restraints thus entailed, will enable our young men – and by extension, our culture – to flourish and thrive.

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If We Win at the Supreme Court, Do We Still Lose Marriage?

After hearing the oral arguments in the Obergefell v. Hodges case and listening to a Heritage Foundation panel discussion on the Supreme Court justices’ questions and what they might mean, I’m slightly more hopeful that the justices will resist the urge to invent a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. That would be a good thing. But at the risk of sounding like a Jeremiah, I have to say I’m not sure what practical difference resisting that urge will make.

As Solicitor General Donald Verrilli noted in response to a comment from Chief Justice Roberts, even if the justices do rule against a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, “questions of accommodation [of religious liberty] are going to arise . . . in states where there is no same sex marriage [and in states] where there [is].”

Verrilli is right. Leaving it to the states to decide their own definition of marriage isn’t necessarily going to protect the religious freedom of their citizens. And by declining the Elane Photography case, the Court has already signaled its lack of interest in resolving these questions when they do arise.

As of now, 37 states have legal same-sex marriage. Only 11, however, decided the issue through the democratic process. The other 26 have had same-sex marriage imposed on them by the courts. The vast majority of those decisions have occurred since the Windsor decision in June 2013 – an outcome the justices most certainly anticipated.

In the unlikely event the Supreme Court fails to create a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, my guess is that few if any of those 26 states will turn back the clock. The economic and other pressures to retain the status quo will be massive and unrelenting, and many governors and attorneys general won’t have the stomach for the fight. Others, like the governor and attorney general of Virginia, support same-sex marriage anyway and have no desire to fight.

In the 13 states that still define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, same-sex marriage advocates will wage intensive campaigns to pressure those states, first, to legally recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states (if the Court doesn’t require it in deciding Question 2 in Obergefell), and second, to legalize same-sex marriage, as well. The mauling Indiana took over its RFRA law offers an indication of what those campaigns will look like. Same-sex marriage advocates will give no quarter until every state falls into line.

The pressure will be equally intense on individuals, businesses, and institutions that refuse to get with the program. Those who oppose same-sex marriage for religious or any other reason will at the very least continue to be vilified, marginalized, and threatened with losing their jobs and businesses. Churches, religious schools, and other institutions and organizations will also be targeted. Resisting such pressure will become increasingly difficult, if not impossible.

So while I would certainly welcome a Supreme Court decision affirming the right of states to define marriage as they see fit, at best it will be nothing more than a bump in the road. The money and cultural influence of the same-sex marriage lobby will still drive us relentlessly on toward the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage even if it means the complete destruction of anyone who doesn’t get out of the way.

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Universal Acid

Two months from now, the Supreme Court almost assuredly is going to rule that people in same-sex relationships have a constitutional right to marry each other. And just as assuredly, the Constitution – as written – guarantees no such right. But we’re long past the time when judges believed it was their job to interpret the Constitution as written.

The justices no doubt hope their decision will put the contentious same-sex marriage issue to rest. As happened with Roe v. Wade, however, their decision is more likely to trigger even greater conflict instead. Given that same-sex marriage advocates have been successful in framing same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue instead of the public policy issue that it actually is, the conflict could get ugly indeed.

We’re constantly reminded that public opinion has been shifting in favor of same-sex marriage, and so it has. But this shift has not come about because of a thoughtful weighing of the pros and cons or a thorough investigation of government’s historical role in regulating marriage. The shift has come about in large part due to a relentless propaganda campaign that has been waged in the entertainment media, the news media, and in academia.

The purpose of this propaganda campaign has been two-fold: to convince Americans that sexual orientation is an immutable characteristic just like race such that any disapproval of homosexual behavior could arise from nothing more than bigotry or unfounded animus and that same-sex marriage is just like heterosexual marriage except, if anything, even better.

This clever bit of legerdemain – assisted by a scorched earth policy of publicly vilifying and threatening anyone with an opposing viewpoint, demanding that they lose their jobs, and destroying their businesses through lawsuits and legal fees – has, unsurprisingly, worked spectacularly well. Still, not everyone is falling in line. So once the Supreme Court decides in favor of same-sex marriage, the pressure on the recalcitrant is sure to increase.

Christians who believe in the biblical definition of marriage will be the most ardently targeted. And it won’t simply be Christian business owners in the crosshairs any longer. In his book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, atheist philosopher, Daniel Dennett, called Darwinism a “universal acid” that “eats through just about every traditional concept.” Same-sex marriage, it’s safe to say, is a similar acid eating through the Constitution and the protections it guarantees us for our most basic freedoms.

Canada’s 10-year experiment with same-sex marriage provides a frightening preview of things to come.

In an essay posted at Public Discourse, Dawn Stefanowicz describes in chilling detail the loss of fundamental freedoms Canadians have endured since same-sex marriage became legal in 2005. Americans should “expect severe erosion of First Amendment freedoms if the US Supreme Court mandates same-sex marriage,” Stefanowicz warns. “The consequences have played out in Canada for ten years now and they are truly Orwellian in nature and scope.”

Once the Supreme Court “finds” a right to marriage in the Constitution, as Al Mohler often notes in his daily podcast, no orthodox Christian will long be able to avoid taking a stand. “One of the earliest lessons Christians had to learn,” Mohler writes in his blog, “was that we cannot simultaneously bow the knee to Caesar [or even to the culture] and to Christ. We must choose one or the other.” Wise Christians should start thinking now about how they will respond when the test inevitably comes.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In Philippians 4:8, Paul tells us to let our minds dwell on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute” along with “any excellence and . . . anything worthy of praise” (NASB).

In a fallen world, that has never been an easy thing to do, but in our increasingly rude, crude, and lewd culture, finding the good and beautiful amongst the bad and ugly has become an immensely difficult task. This week, however, a Christianity Today article tipped me off to a recent song – a praiseworthy testament to God’s faithfulness – that stands out for its loveliness and beauty.

The song, “Alone Yet Not Alone” – title song for an obscure Christian movie with only a 21-day release, according to Paul Bonds of the Hollywood Reporter – has generated controversy for having been nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Original Song category, beating out well-known songs from highly successful movies sung by highly successful singers (think Taylor Swift). The singer of “Alone Yet Not Alone”?  Little known (outside of evangelical circles, at least) quadriplegic, Joni Eareckson Tada.

Tada’s singing itself is a testament to God’s faithfulness and is part of what makes the song so poignant. As a quadriplegic, Tada has limited lung capacity and, as Bond writes, needed her husband’s pushing on her diaphragm to help her hit the high notes. By God’s grace – as Tada would no doubt attest – and in answer to her opening prayer, listeners would never know such an effort was required.

To the musically trained, “Alone Yet Not Alone” may not seem like a great song. Even to my untrained ears, the song doesn’t appear highly original either in lyrics or instrumentation. Yet, when paired with scenes from the movie of the same name – a movie that tells the story of two young sisters captured by Indians during the French and Indian war and of the faith that sustained them – it has an undeniable power and grace that has kept me playing it over and over.

Will “Alone Yet Not Alone” win an Academy Award? It’s possible. Sometimes the good does beat out the bad and the ugly (not to say, of course, that the other nominated songs are either of those things). But probably not. Still, it’s the audience and not the award that really matters. Because regardless of whether or not the song captures the Oscar, we can always pray that it captures the imagination of at least a few of those who hear it and that, ultimately, its message captures their hearts.

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You Gave Me a Stone

I’ve been wanting to write about the Boy Scouts and all the recent controversy surrounding their near and perhaps still inevitable collapse before the gay rights steamroller, but haven’t yet found the time.

Over at Public Discourse, though, Anthony Esolen (who also writes for Touchstone) writes with righteous anger about another Boy Scout controversy – this time in Philadelphia. He uses a conflict between the city fathers and the Boy Scouts as a lead-in to his commentary, which describes how progressive sensibilities have contributed to the destruction of the lives of young men in that city. Esolen’s article is entitled appropriately “The Least of These.” But when I finished reading it, the title that came to my mind is the one I’ve used for this post.

In Matt. 7:9, we read where Jesus asked in his sermon on the mountain, “Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone?” As Esolen’s moving piece shows, the progressives who claim to care so much about the poor and downtrodden and who want the government to act in loco parentis for us all, have truly given these young boys and men a stone instead of the life-giving bread they so desperately need.

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Election Results

Recently I had the opportunity to hear Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter give the Constitution Day lecture at Roanoke College. During his lecture, Dr. Carter dismissed the notion that Americans are more divided today than they have been at other times in our nation’s history or that this election is of greater consequence than most. I admire Carter and appreciate much of his work, but on that point, I have to respectfully disagree.

While some may consider the time before the Civil War to have been more divisive than the present, Americans in that era had something today’s Americans lack – a common worldview. Disagreements existed as to what that worldview required of them, but they had a common – in large part biblical – vocabulary with which to engage in those disagreements. Whatever their personal religious practices, most at the least believed in the creator named in the Declaration of Independence and most held to the same general understanding of human nature.

For many reasons, however – not the least of which was Darwin’s theory of evolution that called into question the need for a creator – after the Civil War, a split occurred in that worldview. At first the split was small as some began to look to science to handle a portion of what had heretofore been considered God’s province while others continued to hold to a more biblical way of understanding the world. But over time – as science and technology advanced and claimed more and more of God’s prerogatives and as positive law overtook natural law in the making of legislation – that small fissure widened into a chasm that’s now become nigh impossible to cross.

While I pray Romney wins Tuesday’s election, because of the breadth of that chasm, my fervent hope is that whatever the outcome, the results are decisive. Even if President Obama is re-elected, I’d prefer he be chosen by a clear majority. I don’t think I could bear the election dragging out over days and weeks as it did in 2000 if there’s no clear winner on Tuesday night. Nor do I want to see the popular vote go one way and the electoral vote another or, heaven forbid, a tie. Any such result would only embitter one side or the other, and there’s already bitterness enough in this country to go around.

If President Obama is re-elected with a decisive victory, at least conservative Christians will know what we’re up against – an electorate that’s chosen a distinctly European and secular future for our country. If the past four years are any indication, an Obama victory will most certainly make it harder and harder to be a Christian in America. And that, in turn, could force us to begin making choices we’ve never had to make and would rather not have to think about. It could also uproot our comfortable lives in this world and cause us to work that much harder to prepare ourselves and others for the world to come – a reminder that “this world,” as the old hymn says, “is not our home. We’re just a passing through.”

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Constitution 201 & Al Mohler’s Podcast

Hillsdale College began it’s Constitution 201 course, “The Progressive Rejection of the Founding and the Rise of Bureaucratic Depotism” course on Sept. 4. If you haven’t yet signed up for the course, I encourage you to do so immediately. It will make the most sense if you’ve already taken Constitution 101, but even if you haven’t, this course will still help you understand the current state of our government and where it’s likely to go if Obama wins a second term.

You may also find a recent podcast at Al Mohler’s site interesting. It consists of a conversation with historian Gregg Frazer discussing his new book, The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders: Reason, Revelation, Revolution.  It’s important that Christians truly understand the beliefs of the founders so that we don’t misrepresent them or overstate our case that America was founded as a Christian nation. You might be surprised at what Frazer discovered as he researched his book. If you’d like to read the writings of the founders for yourself, check out the University of Virginia’s free online collection.

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Abstaining from Facebook

I have to admit that I wasn’t unhappy when Facebook’s disappointing IPO performance dimmed the social media monolith’s glow just a little. I love my laptops and the Internet, I’ve made peace with email, and I’ve come to appreciate some of the attractions of YouTube. I even text now and again. No matter how hard I try, however, I can’t make myself sign up for Facebook.

It isn’t that I don’t think Facebook has its benefits – or that social media isn’t here to stay in one form or another. It does and it is. My 82-year-old  mother, for example, has a Facebook page – and a smart phone with which to keep track of it. For her and many others, Facebook is a fun way to keep up with family and friends.

As theologian Albert Mohler indicated in a recent interview at Social Media Explorer, social media has benefits for ministry, as well. While I may eschew posting my entire life on Facebook, few people these days share my scruples. And since Facebook is where they turn when they want to know what’s going on in the lives of their friends, it seems only natural to turn to Facebook when they want to know what’s going on in their churches and elsewhere.

An article in the June Christianity Today offers another account of the benefits of social media, especially for distributing the Bible. According to Robert Crosby, because of today’s technologies, “billions around the world now have access to the Bible online, and not only are many of them actually reading it, they’re also actively engaging with the Word of God–and with one another in far-flung virtual communities across the planet” (emphasis in the original).

So I get it. If we want to reach people with the gospel, we have to go where the people congregate. And where they congregate today is on Facebook and in other online communities. As Mohler points out, and the CT article illustrates, Christians who are serious about reaching the lost can’t afford not to have a presence in social media.

But social media in general, and Facebook, in particular, have some negative aspects that – to me, anyway – at least partially offset the benefits. Steve Barrendse, an English and humanities professor at Columbia International University, sets out a baker’s dozen* of those in the May/June issue of Touchstone. In the form of an open letter to his students explaining why he isn’t on Facebook, Barrendse articulates many of my own reasons for not hitching a ride on the Facebook bandwagon.

The concerns Barrendse and I share include how Facebook feeds the narcissistic tendencies of its users — its younger users, in particular, I think – tendencies that are already too highly developed as Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell show in their 2010 book, The Narcissism Epidemic.

Another of Barrendse’s and my concerns is that Facebook is a source of “endless distraction.” As if people whose powers of concentration have already been diminished need any additional means of distracting themselves.

Two decades ago, Jane Healy wrote Endangered Minds in which she posited that the medium of television was actually changing the structure of children’s brains in such a way as to interfere with their ability to concentrate. In some ways, Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows is an updated version of Healy’s book with the Internet replacing television as the primary source of brain change with effects that apply as much or even more to adults as they do to children.

From my experience working with students and from the way my own ability to concentrate has taken a hit as I’ve engaged more and more with the Internet, I believe Healy and Carr are largely right in their conclusions. If they are, all the more reason that a source of “endless distraction” like Facebook should not be uncritically embraced.

I don’t deny that social media has its uses. I also don’t deny that it isn’t going away. In one way or another, I’ll have to come to terms with it. Maybe I’ll be persuaded to open a Facebook account for professional reasons at some point. Or, who knows, it’s even possible that someday I’ll succumb to the lure of a personal Facebook page, though I doubt it. For now, though, I think I’ll continue to abstain.

*My thanks to Touchstone for making this subscriber-only article available to my readers.

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