Jeremy Begbie: Theology through the arts
Saturday, November 8, 2014, 10:10 AM

Fascinating insights from a Theologian/Musician

Homosexual “Marriage” Heading Back to the Supreme Court
Friday, November 7, 2014, 2:17 PM

As much as the Supreme Court sought to avoid this result, the question of homosexual “marriage” will now inevitably return to the Supreme Court.  This is because there are now polar-opposite decisions in the courts of appeal, and therefore, a dispositive decision regarding the right of states to make their own decision regarding homosexual “marriage” will need to be decided by the Supreme Court.  Yesterday, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has federal law jurisdiction over the states of Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, and Tennessee, overruled lower court decisions that struck down state constitutional amendments passed by popular vote that defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.  The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that states have the right to set rules for marriage, and that changing a definition of marriage that dates to “the earliest days of human history” is better done through the political process, and not the courts.  Its decision breaks ranks with the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco, the 10th Circuit in Denver, the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, and the 7th Circuit in Chicago, that have all overturned homosexual “marriage” bans in the West, South, and Midwest since this past summer.  The 6th Circuit’s appellate decision follows reasoning used to affirm traditional marriage in Puerto Rico by a federal judge.  On these pages, I recently wrote about the federal court ruling last month in Puerto Rico that concluded that there is no Supreme Court precedent that requires the federal judicial redefinition of marriage.  Moreover, both the court in Puerto Rico and the 6th Circuit appellate court found that the Supreme Court’s ruling last June on the federal Defense of Marriage Act case supports the authority of each state to make marriage policy.

Although the appellate court’s full decision is available here, there are some excerpts that merit the attention of my readers.  One of the stunning hallmarks of this decision is the judicial humility and the respect for the decisions of our citizens.  Although often forgotten today, our nation’s founders believed in the ability of virtuous, moral, and reasonable persons to govern themselves, and that a society could be built on limited government and great personal freedom.  In the first excerpt from the appellate court decision, it observed:

Of all the ways to resolve this question, one option is not available: a poll of the three judges on this panel, or for that matter all federal judges, about whether gay marriage is a good idea. Our judicial commissions did not come with such a sweeping grant of authority, one that would allow just three of us – just two of us in truth – to make such a vital policy call for the thirty-two million citizens who live within the four States of the Sixth Circuit.”

Emphasis added.  Then, at pages 19-21, the opinion states:

A dose of humility makes us hesitant to condemn as unconstitutionally irrational a view of marriage shared not long ago by every society in the world, shared by most, if not all, of our ancestors, and shared still today by a significant number of the States . . . One starts from the premise that governments got into the business of defining marriage, and remain in the business of defining marriage, not to regulate love but to regulate sex, most especially the intended and unintended effects of male-female intercourse.  Imagine a society without marriage.  It does not take long to envision problems that might result from an absence of rules about how to handle the natural effects of male-female intercourse: children. . . . Once one accepts a need to establish such ground rules, and most especially a need to create stable family units for the planned and unplanned creation of children, one can well appreciate why the citizenry would think that a reasonable first concern of any society is the need to regulate male-female relationships and the unique procreative possibilities of them…. People may not need the government’s encouragement to have sex.  And they may not need the government’s encouragement to propagate the species.  But they may well need the government’s encouragement to create and maintain stable relationships within which children may flourish.  It is not society’s laws or for that matter any one religion’s laws, but nature’s laws (that men and women complement each other biologically), that created the policy imperative. And governments typically are not second-guessed under the Constitution for prioritizing how they tackle such issues.

Emphasis added.  Finally, at page 21, the appellate court held:

What we are left with is this: By creating a status (marriage) and by subsidizing it (e.g., with tax-filing privileges and deductions), the States created an incentive for two people who procreate together to stay together for purposes of rearing offspring.  That does not convict the States of irrationality, only of awareness of the biological reality that couples of the same sex do not have children in the same way as couples of opposite sexes and that couples of the same sex do not run the risk of unintended offspring.  That explanation, still relevant today, suffices to allow the States to retain authority over an issue they have regulated from the beginning.

Much will be written in the coming weeks about the wisdom of this decision, but I was struck by the comment of Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Byron Babione regarding this decision.  Mr. Babione stated:

The people of every state should remain free to affirm marriage as the union of a man and a woman in their laws.  As the 6th Circuit rightly concluded, the Constitution does not demand that one irreversible view of marriage be judicially imposed on everyone.  The 6th Circuit’s decision is consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s acknowledgement in Windsor that marriage law is the business of the states.

As old-fashioned as it might seem to some, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and Federal District Court Judge Juan M. Perez-Gimenez of Puerto Rico may well have gotten this decision right: let the people decide, and not unelected federal judges.

Mere Links 11.07.14
Friday, November 7, 2014, 10:00 AM

A Catholic philosopher’s spellbinding fight against Hitler
Kate Veik, Catholic News Agency

“Very, very few people in Germany in 1920-1921 already realized that Nazism was a poison,” von Hildebrand’s wife, Alice, explained. “People closed their eyes and did not want to see. (Dietrich) saw the danger and he warned people. Many people would call him a pessimist, but unfortunately he was right.”

Why Mars Hill’s Breakup Is a Warning for Megastar Pastors
Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

Pastors with megabrands are raising new issues for fast-growing churches.

Not Sentiment, Prejudice, or Tradition: Exploring the Nature of Marriage
Francis J. Beckwith, Public Discourse

Patrick Lee and Robert P. George’s new book clearly establishes that the case for conjugal marriage is not based on irrational prejudice or sentimental appeal to tradition. It is based on a series of sophisticated arguments that deserve to be answered.

Are Americans Afraid to Talk About Their Faith Online?
Emma Green, The Atlantic

On social networks like Twitter and Facebook, few regularly mention their religious beliefs.

Mere Links 11.06.14
Thursday, November 6, 2014, 10:00 AM

Pope sacked Church official for selling annulments
Angus Mackinnon, AFP

Pope Francis revealed Wednesday that he had sacked a church court official who had been caught offering to facilitate marriage annulments for cash.

How religion played in the midterm elections
Mark Silk, Religion News Service

According to yesterday’s exit polls, the religious layout of the electorate looks almost identical to the last midterm election in 2010, and not much different from the 2012 presidential election.

The Orthodox Trojan Horse
Rod Dreher, The American Conservative

In the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), there is awareness of a liberal vs. conservative culture clash between the old-line Orthodox in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, where Orthodoxy is historically and numerically stronger, but in decline; and the convert-heavy Orthodoxy in the South and West, which is the only place the OCA is growing.

Why Evangelicals Are Wary of the Government
Alan Noble, The Atlantic

The subpoenas Houston Mayor Annise Parker issued to five of the city’s pastors highlight the larger tensions in state involvement with religion.

Mere Links 11.05.14
Wednesday, November 5, 2014, 10:00 AM

Jesus of the Housetops
Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, Preachers Institute

If we reflected on it more closely, perhaps we would observe something curious, even surprising, in the Gospel stories about Jesus after his Resurrection; namely, what I venture to call a quality of restraint.

Surrogacy and Christian Compassion
Kristin Larson, Juicy Ecumenism

Despite appearing to be “pro-life,” surrogacy commodifies human life by using a woman’s body to create and carry a child that she is legally obligated to give away.

What is the Church’s Political Role?
James Kalb, Crisis Magazine

For more than 1500 years the Church was a major influence on Western politics. That is how it should be. Ultimate standards matter, and if the Church doesn’t explain what they are and how to apply them someone else will.

Vatican ethicist: No dignity in Brittany Maynard’s physician-assisted death
Josephine Mckenna, Religion News Service

The Vatican’s top ethicist condemned Brittany Maynard’s decision to end her life, saying there was no dignity in her physician-assisted death.

Mere Links 11.04.14
Tuesday, November 4, 2014, 10:00 AM

Cracks in the atheist edifice
The Economist

The rapid spread of Christianity in China is forcing an official rethink on religion

The Government Should Stop Waging War on Those Against Same-Sex Marriage
Ryan T. Anderson, The Daily Signal

It’s hard to imagine a more bedrock American right than being free to live according to your religious convictions. The very idea of being forced to violate your beliefs seems unthinkable.

Rogue pastors endorse candidates, but IRS looks away
Rachel Bade, Politico

A record number of rogue Christian pastors are endorsing candidates from the pulpit this election cycle, using Sunday sermons to defiantly flout tax rules. Their message to the IRS: Sue me.

In Malaysia, ‘Allah’ Is Reserved for Muslims Only
Thomas Fuller, New York Times

As the students knelt in a circle at a Christian kindergarten near the shores of the South China Sea, a 6-year-old girl in pigtails read out a chapter from a children’s Bible: “Sepuluh hukum dari Allah” – God’s Ten Commandments. Technically, she broke the law.

Get Out and Vote!
Tuesday, November 4, 2014, 9:00 AM

Head to your polling place—take a sick-bag with you, if necessary—and vote. If you don’t have the opportunity to vote for your own cause, then at least vote against the Devil’s cause—don’t let the Perfect be the enemy of the Good.

It is true that silence gives consent. Do you really want your own inaction to contribute to the furtherance of public policies with which you vehemently disagree?


Mere Links 10.01.14
Monday, November 3, 2014, 10:00 AM

Why Nigerian Health Officials Turned to a Megachurch Pastor When Ebola Struck
Sunday Oguntola and Ruth Moon, Christianity Today

Outbreak highlights African views about God’s healing power.

Segregated Surveys: How Politics Keeps Evangelicals White
Ruth Moon, Christianity Today

You can disbelieve in God, never go to church, and still identify as “evangelical” in most polls. But if you’re black and evangelical, you literally don’t count.

Learning about Love: How Sex Ed Programs Undermine Happy Marriages
Cassandra Hough, Public Discourse

Contemporary sex education prepares young men and women not for the fullness of friendship, intimacy and love, but for casual relationships and recreational sex.

Does purgatory have a prayer with Protestants?
David Gibson, Religion News Service

Most Protestant traditions forcefully rejected the “Romish doctrine” of purgatory after the Reformation nearly 500 years ago. The Protestant discomfort with purgatory hasn’t eased much since: You still can’t find the word in the Bible, critics say, and the idea that you can pray anyone who has died into paradise smacks of salvation by good works.

Lagniappe – Mahalia Jackson
Sunday, November 2, 2014, 7:00 AM

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! ~ Psalm 118:24

The great Mahalia Jackson:

How Great Thou Art

O mighty God, when I behold the wonder
Of nature’s beauty, wrought by words of thine,
And how thou leadest all from realms up yonder,
Sustaining earthly life with love benign,

With rapture filled, my soul thy name would laud,
O mighty God! O mighty God! (repeat)

When I behold the heavens in their vastness,
Where golden ships in azure issue forth,
Where sun and moon keep watch upon the fastness
Of changing seasons and of time on earth.

When crushed by guilt of sin before thee kneeling,
I plead for mercy and for grace and peace,
I feel thy balm and, all my bruises healing,
My soul is filled, my heart is set at ease.

And when at last the mists of time have vanished
And I in truth my faith confirmed shall see,
Upon the shores where earthly ills are banished
I’ll enter Lord, to dwell in peace with thee.

Election Day 2014
Friday, October 31, 2014, 1:33 PM

Next Tuesday, November 4, 2014, will be Election Day in the United States.  Although there are many local and state-wide offices being contested, for many, the election for the new Senate is drawing the most attention.  My friends who live in states where there are hotly-contested senatorial elections, such as in Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Kentucky, are overwhelmed with the number of political advertisements they face daily.  The cost of these campaigns will ultimately be in the billions of dollars, and yesterday, Senator Harry Reid (Democrat from Nevada) literally “begged” me to send money.  He wrote, “I’m begging for your help to close the [financial] gap IMMEDIATELY.”  (Emphasis in the original.)

I recently read an excerpt from Rev. Israel Evans’ 1791 sermon that was delivered to the Grand Court of New Hampshire (the State’s House and Senate).  You can read his sermon in a two-volume jewel of a book compiled by Ellis Sandoz, entitled Political Sermons of the Founding Era: 1730-1805, available here.  Rev. Evans preached the following in his sermon:

Religious liberty is a divine right, immediately derived from the Supreme Being, without the intervention of any created authority. It is the natural privilege of worshipping God in that manner which, according to the judgment of men, is most agreeable and pleasing to the divine character. As the conscience of man is the image and representative of God in the human soul; so to him alone it is responsible. In justice, therefore, the feelings and sentiments of conscience, and the moral practice of religion, must be independent of all finite beings. Nor hath the all-wise Creator invested any order of men with the right of judging for their fellow-creatures in the great concerns of religion.

As Christian citizens, we have a particular and shared responsibility in our modern American republic.  Consistent with being “salt” and “light,” Christians must choose our national and local leaders with values and integrity consistent with God’s Holy Word.  On some occasions, electoral races involve candidates of high quality and high integrity.  The candidates conduct a tough but fair campaign about the issues.  Voters in those electoral races, although they may have a difficult choice, can know that no matter who is elected they will be well represented by someone who won’t embarrass their community.  Sadly, such is not always so.  Our founders fought and died to establish and preserve our liberties, including the freedom to choose our own leaders.  However, the Church has had a poor voting record.  It may be due to apathy or sad ignorance, or perhaps a lack of gratitude for the privilege that Christians have been given by God for the privilege to live as citizens in this country.  Yet when we have the opportunity to help guide our nation by selecting men and women of righteousness, many Christians do not vote.  I was always deeply troubled by the fact, for instance, that of the more than 80 million American evangelicals eligible to vote in 2012, fewer than 32 million actually voted.  I believe that Christians fail to love our neighbors and our nation when we fail to vote, and then we fail our neighbors when we do not vote for men and women who will uphold righteous and just laws.  This coming Tuesday, I urge my readers to prayerfully and thoughtfully study the issues and to vote for the best candidate.  I remind you that all candidates are flawed men and women, but as we learn in Exodus 18:21, we must use our vote to elect “capable men from all the people – men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain.”  Amen!

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