Religion

Radio Interview about First Freedom

knowingthetruth-kevinbolingToday I had the privilege to join Kevin Boling on his radio program “Knowing the Truth” out of the Greenville, SC area. I have known Kevin for several years now and have been honored to join him on his show a few times.

In this interview, we discussed the new edition of First Freedom: The Beginning and End of Religious Liberty. I contributed a chapter to that volume entitled, “Religious Liberty and the Gospel.”

Over the course of our discussion we covered some of the biblical context for religious liberty, the connection between America and the ancient Roman Empire, and implications of religious liberty for all religions.

You can listen to the interview here. You can purchase a copy of the book on Amazon or other book retailers (as of Oct 17, the first print run of the book sold out, but the publisher assures us that more copies will be available sooner than Amazon currently reports).

Guest Post: Hope from a Stump

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

Last spring, we noticed something odd growing in the middle of our crape myrtle tree. This particular tree is on the side of our house where we hardly ever play or walk, so we hadn’t paid much attention to it in the 6 months we had lived here. If you know crape myrtles, you know that there is not one trunk, but many smaller trunks that grow in a circular-type shape. What made this particular tree quite odd was in the center of the crape myrtle trunks was a small live oak tree. I say small tree, because live oaks can become a mammoth of a tree, but this one was only about four inches in diameter, but had many branches and leaves already growing heartily. Because I knew the two trees could not co-exist for long, and quite frankly I did not appreciate the live oak “bully” taking over my pretty crape myrtle, we chopped it down. All that was left was a small, rough, crude stump. The job was complete. We walked away and forgot all about it.

Many times in the Old Testament, judgment is described with the analogy of chopping down trees. At the end of Isaiah 10, it describes the judgment by “cutting down thickets of the forest with iron.” This is where we find God’s people during and after the exile, in the midst of living in the consequence of their sins. We can also find ourselves here if we are living a life without Christ. A broken, crude, naked, barren stump.

BUT, “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” (Is. 11:1)

Two weeks ago, I walked over to that side of the house again, probably the first time since back in the spring. I glanced over to check on that stump to make sure it was leaving my pretty crape myrtle alone. However, much to my surprise, the stump had not died, but had sprouted long branches of bright green leaves. The stems were small but healthy and even the tips had new buds on them with the expectation of further growth.

During the darkest time in history, God sent his Branch growing out of the roots. Notice that Isaiah did not refer to Christ as from the line of David, although He definitely is. This passage goes all the way back to Jesse, before the kings were corrupt, to show that this King is different. “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:2) God’s people were familiar with kings who were wise like Solomon, but Solomon did not have the fear of the Lord to put away the gods of his many wives. God’s people were familiar with kings who were mighty to rule like Rehoboam, but lacked the ability to listen to good counsel. Christ has all of these traits as the perfect king and will rule justly, with righteousness and faithfulness.

I know there are no kingdoms that are perfect today. Most are very far from it, but are only filled with corruption and evil. I am tempted every day to fall into fear. Fear for our safety. Fear for my country. Fear for my children’s future. In my limited vision, all I see are a field of stumps cut down. “Where are you, Lord?” I cry out every time I turn on the news. But then, the Lord is kind and reminds me of the branches that come from the broken stump.

The Rod of Jesse is not dead! The Branch is not slumbering.

Christ is patiently waiting until, in the fullness of His wisdom, He declares that it is time to burst forth with life and newness and growth. In the meantime, I have hope in the promises of my God and King.

What’s In a Name?: Evangelicals and Marriage

bible-cover-pageThis post is the second installment of a multi-part series reflecting on my recent radio discussion with Brandan Robertson, spokesperson for Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. The audio of that radio “debate” can be found here. The first post can be found here.

In Shakespeare’s classic play, Romeo and Juliet, the “star-cross’d lovers” are destined for a life apart from each other because of a long-standing feud between their families. In act 2, scene 2, Juliet proclaims these famous words to Romeo:

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Is Juliet really right? Just by changing his name, can Romeo escape the wrath of the Capulet family for loving Juliet? Would they not still know exactly who he is?

As part of my ongoing interaction with Evangelicals for Marriage Equality (EME), I have become intrigued with their use of the term “Evangelicals” in their name. What makes an evangelical?

The term “evangelical” is admittedly hard to define. Many have taken up the task, and some have reached disparate conclusions. However, there are some common elements that seem to mark the use of the term evangelicalism.

First, evangelicals typically stress the authority of the Bible. They believe that it is the inspired Word of God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). The first half of the doctrinal statement of the Evangelical Theological Society reflects this emphasis as it states, “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.”

Second, evangelicals stress the atoning work of Christ in personal salvation. The term itself derives from the Greek word εὐανγγέλιον (evanggelion), which means “gospel” or “good news.” It should come as no surprise that a people who claim to be gospel-focused exhibit a concern for personal salvation.

Third, evangelicals tend to stress preaching and proclamation of the Word. This goes hand-in-hand with being gospel-focused people. Part of this preaching would involve calling people to live in accordance with the Scriptures.

In light of these basic characteristics of evangelicals, I find it difficult to reconcile the use of the term “evangelical” for a group of people who are promoting a lifestyle inconsistent with Scripture.

I have written in a number of places about the immorality of homosexuality, but I do not want to focus on that particular activity here. Instead, I want to focus on Jesus’ definition of marriage compared to the statement of belief from Evangelicals for Marriage Equality (EME).

The EME statement concludes, “You can be a faithful evangelical Christian and at the same time support civil marriage equality for same-sex couples.” They specifically avoid making a theological case for same-sex marriage and intentionally choose civil marriage as their battleground.

As we saw above, however, evangelicals stress the authority of God’s Word. If we go to Scripture, we find a very clear statement from Jesus on the nature of marriage. He says, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt 19:4–6). If Jesus declared that marriage is between male and female, just as God designed it from the beginning, I find it difficult to imagine how self-proclaimed evangelicals could promote something that Jesus expressly excluded from marriage.

The reason for EME’s promotion of same-sex marriage, in my opinion, comes not from their desire to adhere to the authority of God’s Word, but instead from a hermeneutical commitment to elevate experience over Scripture. In most of my conversations with Christian proponents of same-sex marriage, they make an appeal to the personal experience of a friend who was (or could be) hurt by the church’s opposition to his desire for same-sex marriage. While I do not doubt the other person’s experience, I do question the wisdom of allowing our experience to subvert the authority of the text. If we elevate experience over Scripture, then there is no limit to what behavior we can justify.

In addition, Brandan Robertson and others have appealed to a standard of love as the reason that evangelicals should support same-sex marriage. They believe that showing love will win over those who would not otherwise want anything to do with the church. However, I am drawn back to the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13. In the midst of his extended treatise on love, Paul declares, “[Love] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13:6). Since Jesus stated that marriage is between one man and one woman for a lifetime, then we know that to be truth, and in that we rejoice. Any departure from the pattern made clear in Jesus’ words is a departure from the truth resulting in unrighteousness. In this we cannot rejoice. So EME is left with a choice. They can either rejoice in the truth of what Jesus has said about marriage or rejoice in unrighteousness. To rejoice in unrighteousness, however, is not to express love in a biblical sense.

In many respects, this conversation about a name comes down to the authority of Scripture. If that is truly a mark of evangelicals, then we must abide by what Scripture says. EME cannot consistently use the term evangelical and also promote something that Scripture forbids. To do so is internally inconsistent, unless of course they mean something entirely different by “evangelical,” a term not defined in their statement of beliefs.

Perhaps Malcolm Yarnell has already provided us some insight into their use of the term. In his book, The Formation of Christian Doctrine, Yarnell traces the changes to the word “evangelical” and concludes that “the term has lost the substantive meaning it once possessed” (xvi). In fact, he cites Darryl Hart’s opinion that “‘evangelicalism’ is little more than a marketing construct demanding a minimalist understanding of the Christian faith” (xvi).

If that is how EME uses the term “evangelical,” then it is no different than their use of “marriage” that I discussed in the previous post. Thus, it is a term with no meaning. It is a name with no substance. It does not describe who they really are.

I, on the other hand, am happy to claim the characteristics of evangelicalism, not the least of which is to stand on the authority of God’s Word.

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For further discussion of the term evangelical, see Malcom B. Yarnell III, The Formation of Christian Doctrine (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), xiv–xvi; and James Leo Garrett, Jr., “Who Are the Evangelicals?” in Are Southern Baptists “Evangelicals”? eds. James Leo Garrett, Jr., E. Glenn Hinson, and James E. Tull (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1983), 33–63.

Good Reading: Tracking Christian Sexual Morality in a Same-Sex Marriage Future

The Public Discourse has posted a very interesting article from Mark Regnerus on the connections between support for same-sex marriage and other issues related to sexual morality. Regnerus is associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and became (in)famous for an article he published about the effects on children raised in a same-sex couple households.

In this article, Regnerus documents the beliefs of churchgoing Christians (attending 3 or more services per month) regarding sexual morality. He specifically looks at the differences in beliefs between those who support same-sex marriage and those who oppose same-sex marriage. The related issues include pornography, cohabitation, hook-ups, adultery, polyamory, and abortion.

Here are some of the highlights:

Primarily, this exercise concerns the attitudes of all churchgoing Christians who express support for same-sex marriage. And since the LGBT population remains a small minority (and even smaller in organized religious communities), it’s reasonable to conclude that the sexual morality that “welcoming” congregations or individual Christians profess will have largely been fashioned—and maintained—by sympathetic heterosexuals. These are and will remain the majority (and hence, the norm) in all congregations, save for the Metropolitan Community Church and perhaps scattered congregations of the United Church of Christ.

Regnerus includes a table with the numbers and makes some observations:

So what do the numbers say? The table above displays the share of each group who either “agree” or “strongly agree” with the seven statements listed above. At a glance, there is a pretty obvious fissure between Christians who do and do not oppose same-sex marriage. More than seven times as many of the latter think pornography is OK. Three times as many back cohabiting as a good idea, six times as many are OK with no-strings-attached sex, five times as many think adultery could be permissible, thirteen times as many have no issue with polyamorous relationships, and six times as many support abortion rights. The closest the two come together is over the wisdom of a married couple staying together at all costs (except in cases of abuse).

Churchgoing Christians who support same-sex marriage look very much like the country as a whole—the population average (visible in the third column). That answers my original question. What would a pro-SSM Christian sexual morality look like? The national average—the norm—that’s what.

He concludes:

Churchgoers who oppose same-sex marriage sense that they are out of step with the rest of the nation about sex and relationships. (The numbers above reinforce that.) And Christians who favor legalizing same-sex marriage often remain embattled with those who oppose it, and yet sense that their own views on sexuality still lag behind those gay and lesbian Christians from whom they’ve have become convinced of the legitimacy of same-sex marriage. That, too, is true. Gay and lesbian Christians, in turn, have much in common with gay and lesbian non-Christians—their social circles often overlap. The sexual norms of the former are not as permissive as the latter, but are still well above the national average in permissiveness. The latter likely constitutes a reference group for gay and lesbian Christians (together with heterosexual Christians with whom they are in fellowship).

The full article is worth your time, and you can find it here.

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Mark Regnerus, “Tracking Christian Sexual Morality in a Same-Sex Marriage Future,” The Public Discourse, August 11, 2014.

Are Corporations People Too?: Hobby Lobby and Religious Liberty

Supreme_Court_US_2010Who would have ever imagined that a craft store chain owned by a Christian family would be at the center of a Supreme Court case about sexuality, abortifacient drugs, the role of corporations, and religious liberty? Oral arguments were heard today in the Supreme Court case Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. The central point of the case is whether or not the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby and Mardel Christian bookstores, has the right to exercise their religious freedom in opting out of the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring employer-provided health plans to offer emergency birth control drugs at no charge to their employees. The Greens have objected on religious grounds that such emergency birth control options are tantamount to abortion and that providing abortion-inducing drugs is a violation of their deeply held religious beliefs.

Trying to predict what the Supreme Court will decide is an exercise in futility, so I will not go down that road. However, I do want to highlight a few interesting notes from today’s oral arguments.

The first is not all that surprising (and possibly not all that interesting)—the high court appears divided. From the best one can tell from the questioning, the Supreme Court is split 4-4 with Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor apparently siding with the government and Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, and Alito leaning towards Hobby Lobby. This leaves Justice Anthony Kennedy as the deciding vote in an otherwise divided Court. This is familiar territory for the current version of the Supreme Court.

The second item of note is that the role of a corporation seems to be a big question. Some of the liberal justices seemed to imply that corporations should simply be able to pick up the tab for the healthcare expenses or fees for not providing healthcare with no impact on the business or the economy. They did not seem to take into account that these healthcare costs have to be paid by someone and that the costs would most likely be passed along to the customer. Justices Kagan and Sotomayor also pressed Paul Clement, the attorney arguing for Hobby Lobby, about whether corporations could opt out of other healthcare options for their employees. Lyle Denniston reports that they “suggested that if corporations gain an exemption from having to provide birth-control services for their female employees, then the next complaint would be about vaccinations, blood transfusions, and a whole host of other medical and non-medical services that a company or its owners might find religiously objectionable.”

On the other hand, Justice Alito pushed back against Solicitor General Donald Verrilli regarding the purpose of corporations. He asked the Solicitor General if the only purpose of corporations was to “maximize profits.” If the object is only to maximize profits, then corporations would have no other rights. However, if corporations serve other purposes, then they might have the right to protection under the free exercise of religion clause in the First Amendment.

The third item is the most interesting development in my opinion. It relates to the rights of a corporation to make a claim regarding discrimination. The government argued that for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby have no standing to file a claim against the government based on religious discrimination. On the surface this seems to make sense because corporations are not churches, nor are they individuals with religious beliefs. However, the government has already held that corporations can file claims based on racial discrimination. In the same sense, corporations are not individuals of a particular race or ethnicity. The racial discrimination claims have typically been based on the race and ethnicity of the owners.

Applying the same standard to the religious freedom aspect of the Hobby Lobby case, it would appear that the Green family’s deeply held religious beliefs (and clear articulation of those beliefs in company documents) would provide the corporation with the same protections as those guaranteed to them as individuals. This argument could prove to be central in the upcoming decision of the Court.

Once again, we will be left to wait for months until hearing the decision of the Supreme Court that will most likely come in June. Until then, it is futile to speculate what the Court will decide. However, there is one thing that we can do. We can pray for the justices of the Supreme Court that God would grant them wisdom in judging these matters. We should pray for godly wisdom that they would rule according to God’s will. We should pray that they would value life in the way that God values life—seeing those in the womb as no different than a full-grown adult (Psalm 139:13–16).

I urge you to join me in prayer for John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. The future of religious liberty in the United States is in their hands.
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Lyle Denniston, “Argument recap: One hearing, two dramas,” SCOTUSblog, March 25, 2014.

Derrick Morgan, Hans von Spakovsky, and Elizabeth Slattery, “How the Supreme Court Justices Reacted to Today’s Hobby Lobby Arguments,” The Foundry, March 25, 2014.

Ilya Shapiro, “Is There No Alternative to Forcing People to Violate Their Religious Beliefs?” Cato Institute, March 25, 2014.