More on “Fairness for All”

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What is “Fairness for All”?  Get up to speed here.

Over at Religion News Service, Yonat Shimron covers a motion championed by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and the National Association of Evangelicals that is bound to bring more division to the evangelical community.  I was happy to contribute to Shimron’s reporting.

Here is a taste:

Last week, World Magazine reported that two respected evangelical institutions, the National Association of Evangelicals and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, both quietly adopted a set of principles that call for comprehensive religious freedom protections combined with explicit support for LGBTQ protections in employment, education, housing and adoption, among others.

Neither group is backing down from the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. But the two groups want to work toward federally recognized protections for sexual orientation and gender identity alongside strong religious exemptions.

Specifically, they plan to soon unveil a draft of a bill they are working on with input from legal scholars, theologians and LGBTQ advocates that they say accomplishes those goals. The evangelical groups hope several members of Congress will sponsor the bill, tentatively called “Fairness for All,” in the session that begins Jan. 3.

“Fairness for All says we have to do this together because there are interests on both sides that ought to be protected,” said Stanley Carlson-Thies, director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance and a consultant in discussions about a possible bill.

Read the entire piece here.

Black Evangelicals and the Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision

Cake baker

We have done a few posts already on Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

According to a recent piece by Kate Shellnut at Christianity Today, a 2016 Pew survey found that 35% of white evangelicals support same-sex marriage, while 44% of black Protestants support same-sex marriage.

Only 22% of white evangelicals favor requiring businesses to serve same-sex weddings.  46% of black Protestants favor this.

Notice that the survey compares white EVANGELICALS with black PROTESTANTSso the comparison does not tell us as much as we think it does.  (Although it is also fair to say that a large number of black Protestants are evangelical in theology).  Nevertheless, it is clear that African-Americans are more than open to same sex marriage than are white evangelicals.

Shellnut asked four African-American Christian leaders to reflect on the Masterpiece case.  They are:

Charles Watson of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

Lisa Robinson, editor of Kaleoscope blog

Kathryn Freeman, director of public policy for the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas

Justin Giboney, founder of the AND Campaign

Here is Robinson:

As an African American woman, it might seem reasonable for me to have qualms about the recent ruling the Supreme Court delivered in support of a Christian baker. Jack Phillips’s refusal to serve these individuals smacks of the same kind of infringement that African Americans in this country experienced. However, three factors give me pause in this line of thinking and lead me to applaud the Supreme Court’s decision.

First, the case is not about discrimination, but religious conscience. The civil rights movement was started because a whole class of people were pervasively denied acceptance based on who they were biologically. Discrimination ensued because they weren’t deemed to be fit to share the same services, space, or civic obligations in a white society.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop case wasn’t about the people, but the ceremony. I think likening the two cases—discrimination against blacks and denial of cake-baking for a ceremony—undermines the cause of the civil rights movement, which was about affirming the dignity of personhood irrespective of lifestyle choices.

I can appreciate arguments that say whites believed upholding the purity of races was rooted in their Christian convictions; however, the racist line of thinking that prevailed for so long has no basis in Scripture (consider the marriages of Solomon and Moses), whereas endorsing same-sex marriage is explicitly prohibited.

Second, reliance on state-sanctioned intervention can have negative implications for how we value fellow image bearers apart from their choices. I confess that I have a love-hate perspective toward the governmental intervention needed to address discrimination against African Americans. Unfortunately, we ultimately had to rely the state to define discrimination rather than God himself and his requirements for what kind of activity his people should or should not support.

Lastly, equating refusal to participate in same-sex ceremonies with active discrimination against a class of people puts us in a precarious position of lending support to same-sex marriage because we don’t want to reject people. We ought to be free to distinguish between the value of persons and the values they espouse. At the end of the day, commitment to Christian convictions matters most.

Read the entire piece here.

Winnifred Sullivan on the Masterpiece Cakeshop Case: What is Religion?

Cake baker

Indiana University religion professor Winnifred Fallers Sullivan wants to know how the Supreme Court defines religion.  Here is a taste of her piece at The Immanent Frame,
Is Masterpiece Cakeshop a Church?“:

Let us weigh in where angels fear to tread. Where is the religion in this case and what kind of religion is it?

Mr. Phillips’s religion is described by Justice Anthony Kennedy as follows:

Phillips is a devout Christian. He has explained that his “main goal in life is to be obedient to” Jesus Christ and Christ’s “teachings in all aspects of his life.” And he seeks to “honor God through his work at Masterpiece Cakeshop.” One of Phillips’ religious beliefs is that “God’s intention for marriage from the beginning of history is that it is and should be the union of one man and one woman.” To Phillips, creating a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding would be equivalent to participating in a celebration that is contrary to his own most deeply held beliefs.

That is all. That qualifies Mr. Phillips for constitutional attention.

What do we know about Mr. Phillips’s religion from this? We know that he calls himself a Christian. We are told that he understands this to mean that his whole life should reflect fidelity to the teachings of Jesus. Virtually all Christians (perhaps a strong majority of Americans) could affirm something like this. Presumably that would not be enough to qualify a person for special legal treatment. What more is required for such treatment is a bit murky.

If we look to the religious claims in past cases, before the sincerity test was standardized, we see that Mr. Reynolds in the famed Mormon polygamy case said he would be damned if he did not practice plural marriage. The Court made a careful, if bigoted, analysis of Mormon religious teaching. The Amish families in the Yoder case said that sending their children to high school would destroy the Amish religious community. The Court reported lovingly and at length on the Amish religious way of life. Mr. Smith and Mr. Black said that ingesting peyote was a sacramental mandate, central to their weekly worship. Dissenting justices rehearsed the history of peyote use in the Native American Church and speculated about the Church’s benefits for remediating Native American alcoholism.

The Court no longer traffics in such amateur philosophizing about religion and religious practice. Religion today has become standardized and formatted for the purposes of laws protecting religious freedom.

What else does the Court report about Mr. Phillips? What makes this Colorado baker so obviously deserving of special treatment, when Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Smith and Mr. Black were not? According to the Court,

  1. He is “devout.”
  2. He believes that God intends marriage to be restricted to heterosexual couples.
  3. He believes it would be wrong for him to sell a cake he created to a same-sex couple for their wedding.

Let us consider each of these in turn and how they add up to the core of what counts as religion today….

Read the entire piece here.

Can a Cake Business Personify Christian Values?

Cake baker

Lawrence B. Glickman teaches American history at Cornell University.  In this very interesting piece at Boston Review, he wonders why the Supreme Court continues to treat businesses as people.  And why does the Court continue to favor the rights of businesses over the rights of individual consumers and employees?

Here is a taste:

Is there a meaningful distinction between Jack Phillips, “an expert baker and devout Christian,” as Justice Anthony M. Kennedy described him, and the company he owns, Masterpiece Cakeshop, a limited-liability company? The Supreme Court’s 7–2 ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission suggests not. The New York Times called the decision—which favored Phillips’s right to refuse service for religious reasons—“narrow” because it did not rule on the broader issue of discrimination against gay men and lesbians based on rights protected by the First Amendment. However, in terms of the relationship between capital and labor, the decision was anything but narrow. The Court’s majority opinion, written by Kennedy, is remarkable for its uncanny and unproblematic conflation of Phillips, the baker, and his business, the bakery. By insisting that the key issues in the case are Phillips’s artistic expression and his religious liberty, the Court was silent on the question of how a company can possess these rights. It did so by assuming not only that corporations are people, but that the cakes made by Masterpiece Cakeshop are produced by Phillips alone, when in fact we know that the bakery has other workers.

The Court saw fit to mention Phillips’s employees only once, in a remarkable sentence written by Clarence Thomas (joined by Neil Gorsuch) concurring with the judgement of the majority but making much broader claims about the rights of businesses to handpick their customers. Seeking to show both that Phillips is a sincere Christian and that his bakery reflects Christian values, Thomas wrote, “He is not open on Sunday, he pays his employees a higher-than-average wage, and he loans them money in times of need.” The last two clauses of the sentence are meant to demonstrate that Phillips is a good and generous employer, although one might wonder why well-compensated employees would need loans from their boss in order to make ends meet. But the first part of the sentence is particularly jarring. Presumably, Thomas meant to suggest that Phillips did not open his business on Sunday. But Thomas literally wrote instead that Phillips himself “is not open on Sunday.” Since it is impossible for a person to close or be open on Sunday or any other day of the week, Thomas here marked the extent to which the Court identified Phillips with the bakery.

The significance of this sentence is enormous and not just because, for Thomas and the other justices who sided with the majority, there is no appreciable difference between the baker and his company. (In this, the Court mimicked the language of Phillips himself, who in a 2014 video for the New York Times alternated between using “we” and “I” to describe the work of the bakery.) By extension, this means that the religious views and artistic contribution of the company’s workers are irrelevant. Phillips’s employees are merely props in Thomas’s morality tale—figures who receive the boss’s Christian charity but are otherwise unmentioned and invisible. The decision renders their status as workers for Phillips’s limited-liability company morally and legally immaterial.

I am not a legal scholar, but I find the question of how the Supreme Court defines personhood to be very interesting.  Back in 2014, the American Historical Association asked me to write a response to the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case.  I am not suggesting what I wrote back then applies directly to the Masterpiece case, but I will throw it out there anyway.  Here is a taste of my “‘We Hold These Truths to Be Self Evident, That All Corporations Are Created Equal“:

Ginsburg’s historical argument is a strong one. Indeed, religious liberty or the Free Exercise Clause has never been directly applied to a for-profit corporation. But this does not mean there is no precedent for considering a for-profit corporation a “person.” As the prominent American historians at Backstory have recently reminded us, the post-Civil War Supreme Court affirmed on multiple occasions that corporations (mostly railroads) are covered under the Fourteenth Amendment. Corporate personhood has a long history.

But can a corporation have religious liberty? I obviously don’t know how Roger Williams, Isaac Backus, James Madison, or Thomas Jefferson—the great early American defenders of religious liberty—would have responded to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, but there is little doubt that they would have considered such a proposal to be very strange. For these men, religious liberty was a very personal thing. Religious liberty was meant to protect deeply held spiritual convictions that found their home in the “soul” or “conscience.” Religious liberty was an inherently Protestant concept. It stemmed from the belief that people could read the Bible for themselves and draw their own religious conclusions. It has always been a religious idea applied to individual human beings. Can a for-profit cooperation have a soul? Can it truly practice liberty of conscience?

We might also ask, as political scientist Patrick Deneen has done so brilliantly, whether a big box store such as Hobby Lobby, located in a massive shopping center constructed on a slab of asphalt at the edge of town, can be considered a person. And if it is a person, can it exercise religious liberty? What happens to a traditional and historical understanding of a person—a human being embedded in political, religious, and local communities exercising virtues such as friendship, love, duty, and citizenship—when it is defined in the context of a soulless corporate world with the primary purpose of maximizing profits?

Some Quick Thoughts on *Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission*

Cake baker

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission will generate a lot of commentary in the next hours and days.  We will try to post some of it here.  As the pundits and legal scholars write their pieces, let’s get started with Robert Barnes’s summary of the case at The Washington Post:

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled for a Colorado baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a gay couple.

In an opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy that leaves many questions unanswered, the court held that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had not adequately taken into account the religious beliefs of baker Jack Phillips.

In fact, Kennedy said, the commission had been hostile to the baker’s faith, denying him the neutral consideration he deserved. While the justices split in their reasoning, only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Kennedy wrote that the question of when religious beliefs must give way to anti-discrimination laws might be different in future cases. But in this case, he said, Phillips did not get the proper consideration.

“The Court’s precedents make clear that the baker, in his capacity as the owner of a business serving the public, might have his right to the free exercise of religion limited by generally applicable laws,” he wrote. “Still, the delicate question of when the free exercise of his religion must yield to an otherwise valid exercise of state power needed to be determined in an adjudication in which religious hostility on the part of the State itself would not be a factor in the balance the State sought to reach. That requirement, however, was not met here.”

Read the rest here.

Read the decision here.

The Supreme Court kicked the ball down the road and made a strong statement about respecting sincerely held religious beliefs.

If I read the decision correctly, it seems that the Court ruled in favor of the baker because the Colorado Civil Rights Commission did not respect his First Amendment religious rights.  The Commissioner called baker Jack Phillip’s faith “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use.”  He compared Phillip’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” to slavery and the Holocaust.  As a result, Justice Kennedy argued in his majority opinion: “the Court cannot avoid the conclusion that these statements cast doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the Commission’s adjudication of Phillips’ case.”

In other words, the Colorado Civil Rights Commissioner crossed a line.  The Court is a sending a message that these sloppy attacks on sincerely held religious beliefs will not be tolerated.  If you think Phillips should be legally required to bake the cake for the gay couple, take your frustrations out on the Colorado Commission, not on the Supreme Court.

The decision also implies that another cake-baking case might be decided differently.  Kennedy writes:

Phillips was entitled to a neutral decisionmaker who would give full and fair consideration to his religious objection as he sought to assert it in all of the circumstances in which this case was presented, considered, and decided.  In this case the adjudication concerned a context that may well be different going forward in the respects noted above.  However later cases raising these or similar concerns are resolved in the future, for these reasons the rulings of the Commission and of the state court that enforced the Commission’s order must be invalidated.

The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.

 

Linker: Evangelicals are “Dreaming Small”

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

American evangelicals, according to Damon Linker at The Week, are on the defensive.  Here is a taste of his piece “The Dwindling Ambition of the Religious Right“:

The conservative evangelical Protestants who have long been the foot soldiers of the religious right may be thrilled with President Trump’s judicial appointments (and so willing to overlook his mountain of personal moral failings), but that excitement has nothing to do with ambitions to take back the country in the name of traditional moral values. On the contrary, evangelicals and their conservative Catholic allies today engage in politics from the position of a defensive crouch, anxiously hoping sympathetic judges will protect them from bullying at the hands of an administrative state empowered by anti-discrimination law to stamp out various forms of religiously grounded “bigotry.”

To see the change, ask yourself when you can last recall hearing a major figure on the religious right propose a major reform of American public life. (And no, restrictions on abortion don’t count, because supporting the placement of limits on abortion-on-demand doesn’t require affirming traditional religious views; one need only believe in the existence of human rights and recognize that a fetus on a sonogram is a human being.) Since Bush’s failure to reverse the rapid advance of gay marriage in the United States, the religious right has been playing defense and even entertaining withdrawal from active engagement in politics at the national level.

 

Read the rest here.  This is what happens when evangelicals are motivated less by hope than by fear.

 

Another Conservative Critique of the Nashville Statement

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I don’t know much about Matthew Lee Anderson apart from a few things I read every now and then in which he is defending traditional marriage.  I was thus was surprised to learn that he refused to sign the Nashville Statement on human sexuality.

Yesterday he published a critical piece on the Nashville Statement titled “Evangelical’s ‘Flight 93’ Moment: Reflections on the Nashville Statement.”  The piece is useful because it has a lot of links to articles and posts written by defenders and critics of the Statement.  It is good to have these links all in one place.

I was disappointed, however, that Anderson ignored Bethel University historian Chris Gehrz‘s critique of the Nashville Statement at The Pietist Schoolman.  It is the best evangelical critique of the Statement that I have read.

Anderson and Gerhz seem to be in agreement that the Nashville Statement reflects what we (and now many others) have been calling “The Age of Trump.”

Here is a taste:

The Nashville Statement is the Flight 93 statement. It is striking how similar its defenses have been to arguments that evangelicals should vote for Trump. The sense of crisis the preamble announces is so pervasive that it justifies not just any statement, but this one. Anything else makes the perfect the enemy of the good. One signer told me Article 10 alone should impel me to sign, because the urgency of the hour demands it. ‘Choose ye this day’, the statement announces, and voting third party is clearly a waste. The impulse to close ranks and reassert evangelicalism’s identity publicly and the eagerness to indulge in the rhetorical excess of the statement’s importance have the same roots in the despair that governs our politics. Those Nashville pastorswere right to detect an elusive commonality between evangelical support for Trump and the dynamics surrounding this statement, even if the vast majority of its signers were strong and faithful critics of Trump’s campaign.

Only time will tell, but I fear the Nashville Statement will be no more a win for conservative evangelicals than the election of Donald Trump. While it has exposed the silliness of progressive foes, it has also galvanized them and dangerously inflated our confidence in our own rightness and strength. The statement draws some of the right boundaries, but in the wrong way. And at least one boundary ought not to be drawn, or needs to be clarified. It comes to many right conclusions, but reflects principles and ideas that have born bad fruit within evangelicalism.

Read the entire piece here.

More from the Pietist Schoolman on the Nashville Statement

Gaylord

Last week I called the Nashville Statement a “disaster.”  Even if one affirms the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, this statement seems unusually divisive.  (I thought Al Mohler’s defense of the Nashville Statement in this weekend’s Washington Post took a less strident tone).  Over at Facebook I compared the Nashville Statement to other attempts by conservative evangelicals to define who is an evangelical and who is not.  I am thinking here of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and the Evangelical Affirmations meeting of 1989.  I was an observer at the latter meeting while I was a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and I saw fierce debates over whether or not an affirmation of biblical inerrancy was a marker of evangelical identity.  I also watched an attempt to keep John Stott from the evangelical fold because he believed in annihilationism.  Many of the signers of the Nashville Statement were also in the Arnold T. Olson Chapel in Deerfield, Illinois on that Spring day in 1989.

Last week at the Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gerhz described the Nashville Statement as “theology for the age of Trump.”  I affirmed his decision to describe the statement in this way.  Many people who signed the statement or who were sympathetic to the signers, took offense to this.  They argued that a significant number of signers did not vote for Trump in 2016.  Fair enough.  But as Gerhz’s recent post suggests, such a response misses his point.  Here is a taste of that post:

It’s clear that the title of the post (“The Nashville Statement: Theology for the Age of Trump”) has been a stumbling block for some. Lamentably but understandably, they don’t necessarily want to read two thousand words’ worth of my musings. Incorrectly but understandably, they read the title and nothing else, assuming that I’ll simply dismiss the signers as Trump apologists, or John Fea’s “court evangelicals.”

I did try to head this off in the post. While noting that one prominent signer is Trump supporter James Dobson, I added that the list also includes Trump critics like Moore and Piper. (In retrospect, I should have added Burk to that list.). But if I wanted to bring more light than heat to the discussion, I should have stated that point even more forcefully before trying to place the Nashville Statement in the context of an “Age of Trump.”

So let me try to sum it up this way:

The Nashville Statement is meant to stand up against “the spirit of our age” on matters of sexuality and gender. But the way it is written actually evokes the angry, merciless, divisive discourse of our age — whose problems don’t start or stop with Donald Trump, but certainly are exemplified by him.

Bart thinks that some of us critics of the statement raised “mincing and squeamish complaints” about it. Recognizing that I am naturally averse to confrontation and conflict and perhaps too quick to cry “Peace, peace,” I nonetheless stand by my conviction that Christians should always write as winsomely and irenically as possible. Even when it’s absolutely essential to draw a doctrinal “line in the sand,” it should be with the intention of persuading people to join us on our side of that boundary, not of keeping them separated.

So no, the signers are not all Trump backers. (I don’t think most have made their politics clear, either way.) But in their attempt to present an evangelical witness in the year of our Lord 2017, I think it would have behooved the authors of the Nashville Statement — like any of us writing for a public that is inevitably bigger than the intended audience — to have gone out of their way to communicate in as un-Trump-like a manner as possible.

Read the entire post here.

335 Union University Alums Protest Administrators and Faculty Signing the Nashville Statement

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The Jackson (TN) Sun reports:

Four names from Union University were on the list of signatures on the Nashville Statement from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on Monday, and a group of university alumni were unhappy that representatives from their alma mater chose to be associated with it.

The Nashville Statement is a list of 14 statements affirming biblical teaching on issues pertaining to gender and sexuality, according to the council. A number of evangelical leaders from across the country signed their name to the statement in agreement, including Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention president Steve Gaines and nationally known evangelist John Piper.

Union University, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, was represented on the list as well as its president Samuel “Dub” Oliver, dean of School of Theology and Missions Nathan Finn, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy C. Ben Mitchell and associate professor of political science Hunter Baker.

Since its release on Tuesday, the Nashville Statement has drawn both praise and condemnation from across the country. Some of those who support it appreciate it’s clarity. Some of those who oppose it think its harmful toward LGBT people. In Nashville, many in the city, including Mayor Megan Barry, take issue with the statements moniker and say it doesn’t represent the city’s inclusive views. The statement was named after Nashville because a draft of it was finalized last week in Nashville.  

“I was disappointed when I read the statement and saw Union’s name attached to it,” said Caraline Rickard, who graduated from Union in 2012. “I was disappointed because the message had a harshness to it that isn’t consistent with the message we’ve heard from most evangelical leaders.

“The statements were consistent with the point of view of Union as an institution, but the Union I knew as a student delivered that point of view in a loving and kind way, and not hateful like this seemed.”

Rickard drafted an open letter opposing the names from Union on the list from Union alumni, and 355 alumni or former students have attached their names to it.

Union issued a statement on the issue this week.

“The Nashville Statement provides biblical clarity and compassion about these issues in a time when it is needed most,” Oliver said in the statement. “At Union, we always want to speak the truth in love.

Read the rest here.   It should be noted that Union University was one of a handful of Christian institutions of higher education that left the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities over this issue in August 2015.

Conservative Evangelicals and Putin

Putin and Religion

Are conservatives in the United States growing fond of Vladimir Putin?

Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamburger of The Washington Post uncover a growing connection between conservative groups and Putin’s Russia.  These conservatives are drawn to Putin’s views on guns and gay marriage.  A Nashville lawyer with a porcelain bust of Putin in his office put it this way:  “the value system of Southern Christians and the value system of Russians are very much in line.”

Before I give you a further taste of this article, I think I should mention that Putin is a ruthless dictator who probably ordered the deaths of several of his political enemies.

But at least he is pro-gun and anti-gay marriage.

A taste:

Growing up in the 1980s, Brian Brown was taught to think of the communist Soviet Union as a dark and evil place.

But Brown, a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, said that in the past few years he has started meeting Russians at conferences on family issues and finding many kindred spirits.

Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, has visited Moscow four times in four years, including a 2013 trip during which he testified before the Duma as Russia adopted a series of anti-gay laws.

“What I realized was that there was a great change happening in the former Soviet Union,” he said. “There was a real push to re-instill Christian values in the public square.”

A significant shift has been underway in recent years across the Republican right.

On issues including gun rights, terrorism and same-sex marriage, many leading advocates on the right who grew frustrated with their country’s leftward tilt under President Barack Obama have forged ties with well-connected Russians and come to see that country’s authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin, as a potential ally.

The attitude adjustment among many conservative activists helps explain one of the most curious aspects of the 2016 presidential race: a softening among many conservatives of their historically hard-line views of Russia. To the alarm of some in the GOP’s national security establishment, support in the party base for then-candidate Donald Trump did not wane even after he rejected the tough tone of 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, who called Russia America’s No. 1 foe, and repeatedly praised Putin.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Where Does Judge Neil Gorsuch Go To Church?

st-johns-boulder

According to this piece at Religion News Service, Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, attends St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder, Colorado.

St. John’s is a member of The Episcopal Church of the United States of America and the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado.

Since conservative evangelicals seem to be very happy with Gorsuch, it is worth noting that Gorsuch’s church is far from conservative and evangelical.  The Episcopal Church in America is an LGBT-friendly church that ordained Eugene Robinson, an openly gay bishop. It also supports abortion rights (with some limits).

Not every parish in the Episcopal Church agrees with the official position of the denomination on these issues.  But this does not seem to be the case with St. John’s-Boulder. The church hosted a viewing of a film about Eugene Robinson and took an offering for an LGBT Episcopalian organization.  The church is listed on this website as a gay-friendly church. St. John’s also appears to bless same-sex marriages.

Of course a person can attend a congregation with his family and not embrace the church’s teaching on social issues like gay marriage or abortion.  Perhaps Gorusch falls into this category.  I know many people with very conservative positions on marriage and abortion who attend a liberal Protestant congregation because they appreciate the liturgy and the church community.

Gorsuch, I might add, is a judge, not a denominational official. Technically, he is not supposed to bring his personal views on these issues–whatever they are–to bear on his legal decisions.  Supreme Court justices in the past have ruled in ways that contradict the teachings of their religious communities.  For example, Sonia Sotomayor is a Catholic but she voted in the majority in the Obergfell v. Hodges case legalizing gay marriage.  On the other hand, this has rarely been the case with conservative Catholic justices such as Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts.

In the end, I wrote this post because it is worth noting that Gorsuch doesn’t seem to have any problems with attending a church with social views like St. John’s.  Perhaps this is something conservative evangelicals might be interested in knowing.

Interpreting Trump’s *60 Minutes* Interview

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Donald Trump on the wall:

Lesley Stahl: So let’s go through very quickly some of the promises you made and tell us if you’re going to do what you said or you’re going to change it in any way. Are you really going to build a wall?

Donald Trump: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: They’re talking about a fence in the Republican Congress, would you accept a fence?

Donald Trump: For certain areas I would, but certain areas, a wall is more appropriate. I’m very good at this, it’s called construction.

Lesley Stahl: So part wall, part fence?

Donald Trump: Yeah, it could be–it could be some fencing.

Lesley Stahl: What about the pledge to deport millions and millions of undocumented immigrants

Interpretation:  The wall has been reduced to a fence.

Donald Trump on the Supreme Court and abortion:

Lesley Stahl: One of the things you’re going to obviously get an opportunity to do, is name someone to the Supreme Court. And I assume you’ll do that quickly? 

Donald Trump: Yes. Very important. 

Lesley Stahl: During the campaign, you said that you would appoint justices who were against abortion rights. Will you appoint– are you looking to appoint a justice who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade? 

Donald Trump: So look, here’s what’s going to happen.  I’m pro-life. The judges will be pro-life. They’ll be very— 

Lesley Stahl: But what about overturning this law– 

Donald Trump: Well, there are a couple of things. They’ll be prolife, they’ll be— in terms of the whole gun situation, we know the Second Amendment and everybody’s talking about the Second Amendment and they’re trying to dice it up and change it, they’re going to be very pro-Second Amendment. But having to do with abortion if it ever were overturned, it would go back to the estates. So it would go back to the states and– 

Lesley Stahl: Yeah, but then some women won’t be able to get an abortion? 

Donald Trump: No, it’ll go back to the states. 

Lesley Stahl: By state— no some. 

Donald Trump: Yeah, well, they’ll perhaps have to go, they’ll have  to go to another state. 

Lesley Stahl: And that’s OK? 

Donald Trump: Well, we’ll see what happens. It’s got a long way to go, just so you understand. 

Interpretation:  Trump is not opposed to abortion on principle.  In his answer to Stahl he presents this as an issue of federalism.  Women will still have the opportunity to get an abortion–they will just need to go to a state that allows them.  This is NOT the way the Christian Right thinks about abortion.Donald Trump on “locking-up” Hillary Clinton:

Lesley Stahl: Are you going to ask for a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton over her emails? And are you, as you had said to her face, going to try and put her in jail?

Donald Trump: Well, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, I’m going to think about it. Um, I feel that I want to focus on jobs, I want to focus on healthcare, I want to focus on the border and immigration and doing a really great immigration bill. We want to have a great immigration bill. And I want to focus on all of these other things that we’ve been talking about.

Lesley Stahl: You– you know, you–

Donald Trump: And get the country straightened away.

Lesley Stahl: You called her “crooked Hillary,” said you wanted to get in jail, your people in your audiences kept saying, “Lock em’ up.”

Donald Trump: Yeah. She did–

Lesley Stahl: Do you

Donald Trump: She did some bad things, I mean she did some bad things–

Lesley Stahl: I know, but a special prosecutor? You think you might…

Donald Trump: I don’t want to hurt them. I don’t want to hurt them. They’re, they’re good people. I don’t want to hurt them. And I will give you a very, very good and definitive answer the next time we do 60 Minutes together.

Interpretation:  Despite the wild chants of his followers, Trump does not look like he will “lock-up” Hillary.

Donald Trump on marriage equality:

Lesley Stahl: Well, I guess the issue for them is marriage equality. Do you support marriage equality?

Donald Trump: It–it’s irrelevant because it was already settled. It’s law. It was settled in the Supreme Court. I mean it’s done.

Lesley Stahl: So even if you appoint a judge that–

Donald Trump: It’s done. It— you have–these cases have gone to the Supreme Court. They’ve been settled. And, I’m fine with that.

Interpretation:  Trump claims to overturn Roe v. Wade, but he will not appoint judges who will overturn Obergfell v. Hodges.

So much for the romance between the Christian Right and Donald Trump.  Oh, and by the way, he has appointed a strategy chief who is no fans of Jews.  So much for religious liberty.

It is also worth noting that Trump condemned racial violence in this interview. This is a step in the right direction.  But Trump has a lot more work to do on this front.  Incidents of racism have been cropping up all over the country.  I don’t blame Trump for racism, but I do blame Trump for making racism acceptable and empowering and inspiring the racists. If he really wants to bring the nation together he needs to address the culture he has created.

What Would It Take for Anti-Trump Evangelicals to Vote for Hillary Clinton?

hillary-christian

A lot.

Some evangelicals will never vote for Hillary Clinton.  She is connected to Barack Obama. She supports a women’s right to choose.  She promises to appoint Supreme Court justices that will undermine religious liberty. She is married to Bill Clinton, a man who cheated on her in the White House and was impeached.  She lied about the e-mail server.

In any other election, most evangelicals would vote for the GOP candidate.  Never Hillary.

But this election is different.  In this election a significant portion of evangelicals believe that the GOP candidate is not qualified to be president.

We don’t really know the size of the never-Trump evangelical coalition.  One survey has found that 65% of white evangelicals are voting for Trump and 16% back Clinton.  That leaves about 20% of white evangelicals who have either not yet made up their mind, will vote for a third-party candidate, or will not vote in the presidential election.  This 20% is led by group of outspoken evangelicals such as Southern Baptist Russell Moore and Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse.

Can these anti-Trump evangelical conservatives be convinced to vote for Clinton?

If Clinton were to make an appeal to this demographic she would need to address two main issues: abortion and religious liberty.

On abortion, it goes without saying that President Hillary Clinton is not going to be working to overthrow Roe v. Wade.  Nor will she appoint Supreme Court justices who will do so. But what if she would propose, policy wonk that she is, a systematic plan to limit the number of abortion in the United States?  I am not talking about returning to the old pro-choice Democratic mantra of “safe, legal, and rare.”  Evangelicals will need more than a catchphrase.  They will need to hear Clinton connect her public policy pronouncements with a specific a plan to reduce the number of abortions in the United States.

Some evangelicals would possibly vote for Clinton if she spoke out more forcefully about the controversial Planned Parenthood videos released in 2015.  When these videos appeared she called them “disturbing.”  Since then her comments about Planned Parenthood have been nothing but positive.  Actually, Trump has been more nuanced on this issue than Clinton.

We know, for example, that Clinton has worked hard in her career to reduce teenage pregnancies.  She might get more evangelical votes from the never-Trump crowd if she would connect this work more directly to the reduction of abortions.  This might also bring her closer to the position of her own church.

Clinton has said very little about abortion on the trail.  When asked about abortion at the third debate she defended a traditional pro-choice position and seemed to dodge Chris Wallace’s question about her support for late-term abortions.  Many evangelicals were turned off by this.

Clinton has also been very quiet on matters of religious liberty.  Yes, she pays lip service to religious liberty when Trump makes comments about barring Muslims from coming into the country, but she has not addressed some of the religious issues facing many evangelicals.  This is especially the case with marriage.

Granted, evangelicals should not expect Clinton to defend traditional marriage or set out to overturn Obergfell v. Hodges.  (I might add here that evangelicals should not expect this from Trump either).  But is she willing to support some form of principled or “confident” pluralism?  Some evangelicals of the never-Trump variety would be very happy to live in a society in which those who believe marriage is only between a man and a woman, and those who do not believe this, can live together despite their differences.

The recent attempts in California to cut financial aid for students at faith-based colleges that uphold traditional views of marriage is one example of a threat to religious liberty that has many evangelicals concerned.  So does the earlier Gordon College case and the recent news about the Society of Biblical Literature considering banning InterVarsity Press from their national conference book exhibit.

Or perhaps none of this matters.  Why would Hillary Clinton address these issues when she probably doesn’t need the votes of the anti-Trump evangelicals to win the election?

Report: Society of Biblical Literature Bans InterVarsity Press From Selling Books at Annual Meeting

ivp

Here is Rod Dreher at The American Conservative:

This is extraordinary. The Society of Biblical Literature describes itself like this:

Mission, Visions, and Values
The following Mission Statement and Strategic Vision Statements were adopted by the SBL Council May 16, 2004, and revised October 23, 2011.

Mission Statement:
Foster Biblical Scholarship

Strategic Vision Statement:
Founded in 1880, the Society of Biblical Literature is the oldest and largest learned society devoted to the critical investigation of the Bible from a variety of academic disciplines.* As an international organization, the Society offers its members opportunities for mutual support, intellectual growth, and professional development through the following:

  • Advancing academic study of biblical texts and their contexts as well as of the traditions and contexts of biblical interpretation
  • Collaborating with educational institutions and other appropriate organizations to support biblical scholarship and teaching
  • Developing resources for diverse audiences, including students, religious communities, and the general public
  • Facilitating broad and open discussion from a variety of critical perspectives
  • Organizing congresses for scholarly exchange
  • Publishing biblical scholarship
  • Promoting cooperation across global boundaries

Here are what the SBL says are its “core values,” in a statement revised in 2011:

Accountability

Openness to Change

Collaboration

Professionalism

Collegiality

Respect for Diversity

Critical Inquiry

Scholarly Integrity

Inclusivity

Tolerance

You might wonder why an academic organization devoted to Biblical scholarship holds as its core values “respect for diversity,” “openness to change,” “inclusivity,” and “tolerance”? Isn’t this just one of those typically euphemistic liberal ways of saying, “No Biblical scholars who don’t accept progressive views on LGBT issues allowed”?

Why yes, apparently, it is. SBL has reportedly banned InterVarsity Press from having a booth at the 2017 SBL convention in Boston because of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s recent decision to hold firmly to orthodox Christian teaching on homosexuality, and to ask employees who dissent to resign.

Read the entire piece and the links for the full context.

Here is another piece on the topic from World magazine.  If someone is aware of any other posts or articles please let me know.

I am holding judgment on this story until I get some more information.  Certainly the Society of Biblical Literature is not suggesting that men and women and organizations (IVCF) who believe that the Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman should be banned from their annual meeting.  There must be more to the story.

InterVarsity Press publishes some great books.  Some excellent historians and theologians have published with the press, including Mark Noll, Tracy McKenzie, Harry Stout, David Bebbington, Thomas Oden, Douglas Sweeney, Justo Gonzalez, Crystal Downing, Alister McGrath, Gerald McDermott, Roger Olson, G.R. Evans, Brian Stanley, Richard Mouw, and Kevin Vanhoozer.  I don’t know what most of these authors think about gay marriage, but it would be a shame if their scholarship is banned from the Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion meetings.

I am also an InterVarsity Press author.  I wrote the foreword to John Wilsey’s excellent American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea

I mentioned the American Academy of Religion above.  They have not made any announcement yet on the fate of IVP.   I have never been to a meeting of the AAR, but in November there will be an entire session at this conference devoted to my book The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible SocietyTo be honest, I am not sure what to think about attending a conference that plans to have an entire session on one of my books, but will not allow another book with my name on the title to be displayed in the book exhibit.

Let me be clear:  For me this whole thing is not a matter of the correct definition of marriage.  It is a matter of principled pluralism or what George Marsden describes as a “more inclusive pluralism.”

I need to think this through a bit more and, as I mentioned above, gather more information.

Georgia Governor’s Veto of Religious Liberty Bill Reflects Baptist Battles

DealGeorgia Governor Nathan Deal is a Southern Baptist.  That is why he vetoed the Georgia House Bill 757.

Here is a description of that bill:

A BILL to be entitled an Act to protect religious freedoms; to amend Chapter 3 of Title 19 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to marriage generally, so as to provide that religious officials shall not be required to perform marriage ceremonies in violation of their legal right to free exercise of religion; to amend Chapter 1 of Title 10 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to selling and other trade practices, so as to change certain provisions relating to days of rest for employees of business and industry; to protect property owners which are religious institutions against infringement of religious freedom; to define a term; to provide an effective date; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.

Essentially, the bill protects the opponents of gay marriage.

According to Jim Galloway of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, this debate over HB 757 is representative of the longstanding debate over the identity of Georgia Baptists.   Deal represents those Baptists who have long defended the historic Baptist doctrine of separation of church and state.  In other words, the government should not be legislating morality–in this case the nature of marriage.  His opponents, apparently led by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler, represents the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention that took place in the 1980s.

Here is a taste of Galloway’s piece:

…Tucked within the governor’s veto message on “religious liberty” legislation was a solid blow struck in the 35-year-old fight over what it means to be a Baptist in the South.

House Bill 757 was intended to offer legal protection to opponents of same-sex marriage. In his rejection of the measure, the governor went old-school Baptist. Danbury Baptist. Jefferson-and-the-wall-of-separation Baptist.

“I find it somewhat ironic that today some in the religious community feel it necessary to ask government to confer upon them certain rights and protections,” Deal said. “If indeed our religious liberty is conferred by God and not by man-made government, we should heed the ‘hands off’ admonition of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

When it comes to religion, even when legislatures try to do good, Deal said, “the inclusions and omissions” in the laws they draft can lead to trouble. “That is too great a risk to take,” he said.

If you were raised anything other than Southern Baptist, there’s a good chance you didn’t hear that dog whistle. Others did.

In the immediate aftermath of the veto, the governor was called a minion of the Antichrist and worse. But perhaps the sharpest criticism came from Albert Mohler, the president of the Louisville, Ky., seminary that serves as the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention.

In one of his daily podcasts, the seminary president declared Deal’s veto to be “fueled by a theological agenda,” as well as an economic one.

Read the entire article here.

Bluffton University Leaves the CCCU

This time it is Bluffton University in Bluffton, Ohio. Chris Gehrz has it covered at The Pietist Schoolman.  


Here is a taste:


Inside Higher Ed reports that Bluffton University has become the latest Christian college to allow for the hiring of gay and lesbian employees, after it added sexual orientation to its anti-bias policy. At the same time, Bluffton announced that it was leaving the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU), which currently has a task force reviewing its membership categories after Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University — whose own policy changes sparked a heated debate within the CCCU — withdrew in late September.

Read the rest of Chris’s post here.

Mayor Nutter vs. Archbishop Chaput on the Steps of Independence Hall

Pope Francis obviously stole the show Saturday at Independence Hall, but as Alexi Sargeant points out at First Things, there was a war words taking place prior to the Pontiff’s speech.  

During their introductory speeches, both Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput tried to appropriate the Pope for their own understanding of Catholicism and politics.

Here is a taste of Sargeant’s post:

Mayor Nutter briefly mentioned the Pope’s views on immigration in his opening remarks before focusing, primarily, on LGBT-issues. He cited Francis’s widely misunderstood “who am I to judge?” soundbite several times to paint a picture of a Pontiff in line with American progressive politics. Nutter came close to acknowledging the weakness of his reading of Francis when he said that, when Francis praises the good of the family, “he sometimes doesn’t define its composition.”

Sometimes, perhaps—though not, notably, the following day in his homily to conclude the World Meeting of Families, where the Pope referred to marriage as “the covenant of man and woman, which generates life and reveals God.” It makes sense that Mayor Nutter would search Francis’s gaps and lacunae for support for gay marriage. Nutter identifies as Catholic but disagrees with Church teaching on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. In fact, he had promised to press the Pope to change the Church’s stance on gay marriage. Though he apparently failed to make the Pope evolve on marriage issues, Nutter did his best to present the Pope as a champion to LGB Philadelphians.

Archbishop Charles Chaput’s  introductory remarks sounded, after Mayor Nutter, almost like a rebuttal. There was an appropriately Philadelphian spirit of brotherly love to what he said, but it was nonetheless clear that the Church Chaput praised was not the sexually-progressive Church of Mayor Nutter’s imagination. “We live at an odd time in history,” said the Archbishop. “When the Church defends marriage and the family, the unborn child and the purpose of human sexuality, she’s attacked as too harsh. When she defends immigrant workers and families that are broken up by deportation, she’s attacked as too soft. And yet she is neither of those things.” The Church, he went on the say, is the mother and teacher of humanity. Chaput then welcomed Pope Francis as the person most powerfully able to speak the truth of the Church’s mission.

For his part, Francis spoke about immigration and religious liberty. He called on America to remember its founding, and especially the important role religious liberty played for the Quakers who founded Philadelphia. Speaking in Spanish throughout, he made sure to specifically address the large percentage of Hispanics and Latinos in the audience, some of them recent immigrants. He urged them to remember their traditions and heritage, to be proud of their vibrant faith and familial loyalty.

Read the entire post here.

Rick Ostrander on the State of the CCCU

Over at The Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gehrz interviews Rick Ostrander, the VP for Academic Affairs of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU).  

Ostrander answers of a few of Gerhz’s questions about the recent resignation of Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College from the CCCU.  As many of you know, the issue was same-sex marriage.

Here is a taste of the interview:

Just how much of a debate was there? The CCCU board announcement indicated that 25% of member presidents opposed even affiliate status for the two Mennonite schools, while 20% supported maintaining EMU and Goshen as full members.
We clearly have a diversity of members. That’s what one should expect from a large, diverse association comprised of a wide variety of Christian traditions. But there wasn’t really a “debate” on the issue because the results were gleaned from individual private conversations between board members and CCCU presidents. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that this was not a scientific survey. The published results simply reflect the board members’ attempts to summarize and categorize what were varied and often open-ended conversations with presidents about the appropriate identity and boundaries of the CCCU.
Last week WORLD Magazine called this “the biggest challenge” in the four-decade history of the CCCU, with historian of Christian higher education William Ringenberg suggesting that it was almost as serious a crisis as the secularization of Christian colleges in the period 1920-1960. Is that overstating the significance of what happened, or was this truly a landmark moment for the CCCU? 
It’s difficult for me to comment without knowing his full remarks, but I do not think this particular moment rivals the significance of the period last century that you reference for Christian higher education as a whole. As it relates to the CCCU, we were simply dealing with questions about marriage and human sexuality that are being increasingly discussed in our culture, and that other Christian organizations will be facing (if they are not already). Hopefully we have modeled to other organizations how Christians can engage in vigorous discussions with conviction and charity.

Conservatives: Relax, the Pope is Not Done Yet

Some conservatives are unhappy with the Pope today.  They wish he would have said more about marriage and abortion in yesterday’s speech to Congress.


Of course the Pope did allude to abortion with this line:  “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every state of development.”


And  some might interpret this statement as a plug for traditional marriage: “Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and family….”

But the Pope is not done yet with the United States.  He still has more speeches to make and some of them will be devoted to the family.  I think everyone needs to wait until the visit is over before we can honestly assess it.  Some of us historians might even say we need a few years, or even longer, to fully evaluate the significance of Francis’s visit.

Stay tuned.

Some Very Brief Reflections on EMU and Goshen Leaving the CCCU

As you may have heard, Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College have left the Council on Christian Colleges and Universities. This means that the CCCU presidents did not have to make a decision yesterday about the fate of these two schools after they changed their policies to allow faculty members to be in same-sex marriages.

This is a sad day for the CCCU. Eastern Mennonite was a charter member of the council.  With both Eastern Mennonite and Goshen gone, the CCCU has lost much of its Mennonite voice–a brand of Christianity committed to social justice, peacemaking, and a cautious approach to nationalism. (Bluffton University, Fresno Pacific University, and Tabor College are Mennonite schools that remain in the CCCU).

The bottom line is that the CCCU has always maintained, in writing, a traditional view of Christian marriage. (Or at least that is how I understand this statement).  By resigning, EMU and Goshen did the CCCU a big favor.  The CCCU dodged a bullet this time, but I don’t think this issue is going away anytime soon. In the meantime, its membership will continue to embrace traditional marriage as a mark of fellowship.

If they did not resign, EMU and Goshen would have most likely been moved from full membership to “affiliate” status and as a result several more conservative members might have left.  It would have been a much bigger story and raised a lot more unwanted publicity for the CCCU.

Addendum: After reading my blog post on this yesterday, Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed contacted me for a comment.  His piece appears here.