Supreme Court

No Independence Day for the Unborn

300px-supreme_court_front_dusk*My recent post at Theological Matters addresses this week’s Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The full post is available here.

This weekend I plan to attend a patriotic concert with fireworks, food and friends. It has become an annual tradition for my wife and me that we would not miss for anything. We will sing along to the national anthem and probably tear up as they honor military veterans. In fact, one of our friends who organizes a group of us to attend each year will have just returned from a war zone on a brief leave from his military duties. It should be a great evening full of emotions and patriotic pride.

Unfortunately, there is another cause for tears heading into Independence Day. These are not tears of joy, but tears of sorrow. As was the case last year, the week before Independence Day celebrations, the Supreme Court issued a decision that will alter the course of our great nation. This time the decision struck down abortion regulations in Texas and has made it almost impossible for states to enact commonsense medical regulations on the abortion industry.

In the days ahead, we must not lose hope. Independence Day gives us a good reminder of what we should work to attain for the unborn. Let us give them an opportunity to celebrate their own independence rather than having their lives snuffed out in their mothers’ wombs.

Read the rest of the article on Theological Matters.

Christian Marriage in a Post-Christian Age

wedding rings“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14–16

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled. June 26, 2015, is a date to be remembered for generations. According to the majority opinion of the Court, the Fourteenth Amendment provides a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry. And according to Chief Justice Roberts’ dissenting opinion, the majority has also paved the way for polygamous and polyamorous marriage. So what are we to do now? How are Christians to live in a post-Christian age?

There is much to be said about the SCOTUS decision, but I will save that for another day. Right now I want to offer a positive spin on the future of Christian marriage in a post-Christian age.

I am fully convinced that by the time my children are old enough to marry, the status of marriage in the United States will be completely different than when my wife and I married over 12 years ago. This will create a number of challenges for us as parents and as Christians, but these are challenges that we can and should take on with confidence.

Here are a few thoughts about what Christians should do regarding marriage in a post-Christian society.

  1. Teach what the Bible says about marriage.

The foundational passage of Scripture about marriage is Genesis 2. In fact, when Jesus and Paul taught about marriage, they both referred back to the creation narrative to make their case. Genesis 2:24 reads, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” There are a few key points that we see in this verse that are also affirmed in the New Testament.

  • Marriage is created by God to be monogamous. When we see the divine commentary on the first marriage in Genesis 2, we see the original model for marriage—“a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife.” When Scripture speaks of marriage, it speaks in terms of monogamy. Yes, polygamous marriage was a reality in the Old Testament, and a number of the early patriarchs participated in such marriages. However, in each case, polygamy led to very difficult marital circumstances. Jealousy, backbiting, and ridicule were the norm in these relationships. If you fast forward to the New Testament, Jesus and Paul both affirm the monogamous nature of marriage and appeal to the creation narrative in order to do so (see Matthew 19:1–12, 1 Corinthians 7:1–40, and Ephesians 5:22–33).
  • Marriage is created by God to be heterosexual. Before God instituted the first marriage, he had a choice. He had only created the man, and he declared that it was not good for him to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Thus, God decided to make a woman and bring them together in marriage. Thus, the first marriage was intentionally heterosexual in nature according to God’s design. Jesus affirms this directly in Matthew 19:4–6a when 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.” Jesus declared that marriage was designed around the fact that God created male and female. This was the design of marriage in the garden of Eden. It was the design of marriage that Jesus upheld in his teaching. It is the design of marriage that we should teach.
  • Marriage is created by God to be permanent. The Supreme Court did nothing specific to undermine this aspect of marriage, but we have already been undermining it as a culture and the church for decades. In Genesis 2:24, we see that a man and his wife will join one another. The old KJV uses the term “cleave.” The idea is simple. The man and woman join together and become one. This is more than a partnership or contractual relationship. They become a single unit. After quoting Genesis 2:24, Jesus then gives a brief explanation of the verse. He says, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6). Notice the last phrase of the verse. We are not to separate what God has joined together. In a culture that celebrates individuality and recommends divorce when life gets difficult, we need to teach the permanency of marriage.
  1. Model biblical marriage in the church and culture.

Marriage is not a random social arrangement. It has clear public goods, such as ensuring that children have the right to be reared in the home of their biological mother and father. It is also the most effective and efficient way to move the next generation from helpless infants to productive members of society. But more than that, marriage is one of the clearest illustrations of the gospel that we have. It illustrates the relationship between Christ and the church. In Ephesians 5, Paul quotes the foundational marriage verse of Genesis 2:24 and then states, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). This is all part of his lengthy description of the relationship between a husband and wife. Thus, he declares that God’s design for marriage even in the garden of Eden was to point us to how he relates to his people.

Therefore, we should take the instructions of Ephesians 5 very seriously. Husband, love your wife as Christ loves the church. Care for her. Protect her. Sacrifice your own interests for her good. Wife, submit to your husband as to the Lord. Follow him. Respect him.

Even in the church, we have undermined biblical marriage by making light of the model that God created. We should not quickly jump to divorce as the answer to difficulty. We should not mock or ridicule our spouses for a cheap laugh. Instead, honor and cherish each other—just as our vows promised. If we follow the biblical model of marriage, our marriages will be different. They will be as a city set on hill giving a public witness to the world of the power of Christ in our lives and our marriages.

  1. Instill in our children the importance of biblical marriage.

For many of us, we have a historic understanding of marriage that will most likely not be impacted that much by the changes wrought by the Supreme Court decision. However, our children will grow up in a culture that will be inundated with unbiblical models of marriage. Already we are beginning to see commercials, children’s literature, and school curriculum seeking to normalize same-sex marriage, cohabitation, plural marriage, and divorce. There is no way to shield them from seeing these things, so we must learn how to counter them.

First, we need to model marriage in our homes. Make sure that your children see how you interact with your spouse in a godly way. Demonstrate the truths of Ephesians 5 right in front of them. Second, talk about biblical marriage with your children. I don’t ever recall having long conversations with my parents about God’s design for marriage, but it is not because my parents ignored the issue. They didn’t need to explain it to me. I saw it all around me—in our home, in our church, and in my school. That will not be the case for my children. We must talk about marriage as a key doctrine at all times in the model of Deuteronomy 6:7. Third, we must encourage our children to marry when the time comes. I recognize that some of our children will be called to singleness (1 Corinthians 7:8), but most of them (from a historical standpoint) will not. However, many in the next generation may see marriage as a pointless, cultural relic by the time they are old enough to get married. We must encourage marriage as God’s model for joining together in intimacy and rearing future generations. Without such encouragement, even Christian young people may give up on marriage.

So what should we do in light of the Supreme Court ruling? While we could start wringing our hands and fretting about what the future may hold, I believe we should instead redouble our efforts to live out the biblical model of marriage in a watching world. Trust me, the world is watching, and they will want to know why our marriages are different if we truly model the biblical pattern.

When Sunday and Monday Collide: Navigating the Same-Sex Marriage Dilemma

What impact does your faith have on the rest of your life? That is essentially the question posed by Tim Ryan of Fox 4 News (DFW) to Dallas County Clerk John Warren. On June 24, Ryan asked Warren if there is a different John Warren on Monday through Friday than there is on Sunday. Warren replied that he is not the same person when he is County Clerk as when he serves as a deacon in his church or resides at his home.

For Mr. Warren, the question presents a particular difficulty because he is the Dallas County Clerk, and his office is responsible for issuing marriage licenses to people getting married in Dallas County, Texas. In anticipation of the Supreme Court issuing a ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, his office is prepared to start issuing marriage licenses immediately. He is also a deacon in a Baptist church that has articulated a very clear position in its statement of faith regarding same-sex marriage. The church states:

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE – We believe that marriage is defined as being the legal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife. We also believe that only marriages between male and female, as ordained by God, is essential for the procreation of mankind (Genesis 1:27-28; 2:24; Matthew 4:5-6). The Mount Olive Baptist Church does not ordain nor recognize same-sex unions.

In the video (beginning at the 2:50 mark), Mr. Warren seems to give his approval (or at least non-opposition) to same-sex marriage and distinguishes his personal faith from his public responsibilities.

Is Mr. Warren correct in making such a distinction? For those who hold firmly to the traditional definition of marriage that limits marriage to one man and one woman, can you hold a public office that requires you to issue such licenses? What if your private sector job makes demands to affirm same-sex marriage? What should you do if your job requires that you violate your religious beliefs in any area? What should a believer do in such circumstances?

These are some of the questions that must be asked in light of the impending Supreme Court ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges expected in the next several days. Christians who work in county clerks’ offices are not the only ones needing to ask such questions. Elected officials, attorneys, insurers, teachers, and many other professions will be impacted if the Supreme Court rules that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

What should believers do if their jobs suddenly require them to affirm or promote a position on marriage that is inconsistent with their faith? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Work to secure conscientious objector rights in the workplace.

Historically, there have been professions which have secured protections against participating in an activity in the workplace that violates their religious beliefs. For example, pharmacists have the right not to fill prescriptions for abortion-inducing drugs if it violates their consciences. Some workplaces may be able to offer such protections regarding same-sex marriage.

  1. Seek a new role within your company or workplace.

While this option may not always be possible, you may want to pursue a transfer of roles within your company to avoid directly dealing with the issue that violates your conscience. In some cases, your employer may be more than willing to accommodate your request. Unfortunately, other employers may see this as an opportunity to speed up your departure to another place of business. In order to be most effective in this approach, clearly communicate your desire in a respectful way to those who make such decisions.

  1. Seek a new place of employment.

This is probably the most difficult and extreme option. Some of you may have been working in your company for years, if not decades. Starting your career over at a new company may be both frightening and intimidating. However, a clear conscience and an enjoyable workplace may well be worth the transition. Consult with business owners and professionals in your church in order to seek advice before initiating the change. Hopefully, this will make your transition smoother.

At the end of the day, we have to recognize that Sunday and Monday are on a collision course. Our faith impacts the way we work. Our faith influences our business practices and decisions. In fact, our faith should inform what we do Monday through Friday. There should be no division between the sacred and the secular in our lives. Who we are on Sunday should be exactly who we are Monday through Friday.

When God first created mankind, he placed him in the garden to work. In Genesis 2:15 we read, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” We were created to work. But we were also created to worship. Every aspect of what we do is influenced by our relationship with God. Paul writes, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Paul was not simply talking about Sunday morning worship. “Whatever you do” includes our jobs. Therefore, we need to seek to bring God glory seven days a week.

Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments on Same-Sex Marriage Today

Supreme_Court_US_2010The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for Obergefell v. Hodges regarding the constitutionality of same-sex marriage this morning. The Court will consider two primary questions:

  1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
  2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

The answers to these questions will decide the future of marriage across the United States. If the answer to the first question is “Yes,” then same-sex marriage will be legalized nationwide, and the second question would be irrelevant. If the answer to the first question is “No,” but the second question is answered “Yes,” then it will authorize de facto same-sex marriage across the country. If both questions are answered “No,” then the status quo will continue.

You can follow a live blog of the oral arguments from SCOTUSblog at http://live.scotusblog.com/Event/Live_blog_Obergefell_v_Hodges. The live blog launches at 9:45 a.m. (CDT).

This case has the potential to be a defining Supreme Court decision for this generation. It could possibly change the definition of marriage for generations in our country. It has the potential to undermine the most fundamental institution in society, and I do not believe that to be an overstatement.

I encourage you to join with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and others as we pray for marriage. A sample prayer guide can be found at http://erlc.com/article/prayformarriage. We should also pray for the Supreme Court justices by name as the hear the arguments today. They are John Roberts (Chief Justice), Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Let us heed the words of Paul to his son in the faith, Timothy, as he wrote:

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. (1 Tim 2:1-2)

Supreme Court to Decide Constitutionality of Same-Sex Marriage Laws

Supreme_Court_US_2010The Supreme Court has just announced that it will hear four cases involving the constitutionality of same-sex marriage laws around the United States. The hearings will most likely be in April with a decision in June.

Two central questions will be considered according to the Court’s statement granting certiorari:

  1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
  2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

The answers to these questions will decide the future of marriage across the United States. If the answer to the first question is “Yes,” then same-sex marriage will be legalized nationwide, and the second question would be irrelevant. If the answer to the first question is “No,” but the second question is answered “Yes,” then it will authorize de facto same-sex marriage across the country. If both questions are answered “No,” then the status quo will continue.

The New York Times notes:

The pace of change on same-sex marriage, in both popular opinion and in the courts, has no parallel in the nation’s history.

Based on the court’s failure to act in October and its last three major gay rights rulings, most observers expect the court to establish a nationwide constitutional right to same-sex marriage. But the court also has a history of caution in this area.

This could be one of the most pivotal decisions of the Supreme Court in a generation. It will impact the future of marriage in this nation for generations to come. This is a time for us to be in earnest prayer for the justices of the Supreme Court. I pray that they will uphold the design for marriage that God has created and has been recognized for all of human history up to the last decade. The future of marriage is at stake.

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Supreme Court Order 574 U.S., January 16, 2015.

Adam Liptak, “Supreme Court to Decide Whether Gays Nationwide Can Marry,” The New York Times, January 16, 2015.

Lyle Denniston, “Court will rule on same-sex marriage,” SCOTUSblog, January 16, 2015.

Next Stop, Supreme Court (?)

wedding ringsA panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the traditional definition of marriage today in cases involving Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky. This is the first time in the recent round of cases that a circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of laws limiting marriage to one man and one woman. This also creates a point of tension for the Supreme Court since they decided last month not to take up other cases related to the definition of marriage.

Robert Barnes reports the following in The Washington Post:

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upheld same-sex marriage bans in four states Thursday afternoon, creating a split among the nation’s appeals courts that almost surely means the Supreme Court must take up the issue of whether gay couples have a constitutional right to marry.

The panel ruled 2 to 1 that while gay marriage is almost inevitable, in the words of U.S. Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton, it should be settled through the democratic process and not the judiciary. The decision overturned rulings in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky, and makes the 6th Circuit the first appeals court to uphold state bans since the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

In the conclusion of the majority opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton chastises the courts that have overturned marriage laws in other states. He writes:

When the courts do not let the people resolve new social issues like this one, they perpetuate the idea that the heroes in these change events are judges and lawyers. Better in this instance, we think, to allow change through the customary political processes, in which the people, gay and straight alike, become the heroes of their own stories by meeting each other not as adversaries in a court system but as fellow citizens seeking to resolve a new social issue in a fair-minded way.

Now there is a split in the U.S. Circuit Courts. Now we have to wait and see if the Supreme Court will take up the cases.

Hobby Lobby Wins Religious Freedom Victory

Supreme_Court_US_2010*Co-authored with Trey Dimsdale

In the highly anticipated decision of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court issued a victory to closely held for-profit corporations on the issue of religious liberty. While the decision was not as sweeping as some may have wanted—or as Justice Ginsburg claimed in her dissent—the Court’s decision upheld the idea that Americans need not check their right to religious liberty at the door when they enter the business world.

At issue for the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby and Mardel, and the Hahn family, owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties, was the fact that the government compelled them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs by providing abortifacient birth control drugs and devices to their employees as part of their employer-provided healthcare plans. The Greens and Hahns specifically believe that life begins at conception and any measure that extinguishes the life of a human embryo is a violation of that belief. As such, the Health and Human Services birth control mandate would cause them to violate their consciences.

One of the key issues before the Court was whether or not for-profit corporations fit the legal definition of a person for the sake of exercising religious liberty. In the summary of their decision, the majority of the Court noted, “Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.”

In a further explanation of this protection, the Court noted the Third Circuit’s argument that for-profit corporations “do not pray, worship, observe sacraments or take other religiously-motivated actions separate and apart from the intention and direction of their individual actors.” In response to this conclusion, the Court stated, “All of this is true—but quite beside the point. Corporations, ‘separate and apart from’ the human beings who own, run, and are employed by them, cannot do anything at all.”

In making these statements, the Supreme Court tied the actions of closely held for-profit corporations directly to the actions and beliefs of their owners. Specifically, the Hahns and Greens can exercise their belief that life begins at conception through excluding certain types of birth control from their insurance plans.

The heart of this decision is in the Court’s determination that a corporation is a “person” under the meaning of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA). RFRA establishes a very specific test which federal courts must apply in cases that deal with government action that infringes on a person’s free exercise of religion. HHS argued, and at least one appellate court agreed, that corporations are not “persons” capable of exercising religion. In that case, the RFRA would not apply to the issue before the Court. The Supreme Court, however, held that (in at least the case of closely held corporations), corporations areentitled to the protections offered by RFRA. The fact that corporations are not capable of participating in religious activities is irrelevant. In short, the Supreme Court recognizes that Hobby Lobby, Mardel, and Conestoga Wood Specialties are legitimate vehicles for the exercise and expression of their owners’ religious convictions.

This is a clear victory for business owners who believe that life begins at conception and that the HHS mandate violates such a belief. In keeping with the First Amendment and RFRA, owners of closely held corporations can exclude abortifacient birth control measures from their healthcare plans.

A second issue presented in the Court’s decision is that the government cannot determine certain religious beliefs are invalid because they do not like them. The Court argues, “Arrogating the authority to provide a binding national answer to this religious and philosophical question [i.e., that providing these birth control measures enables the commission of an immoral act], HHS and the principal dissent in effect tell the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed. For good reason, we have repeatedly refused to take such a step.” Thus, HHS claimed it had the right to determine if the Greens and Hahns held a valid religious belief. The Court clearly held that is not the job of the government. The majority went on to say, “Similarly, in these cases, the Hahns and Greens and their companies sincerely believe that providing the insurance coverage demanded by the HHS regulations lies on the forbidden side of the line, and it is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial. Instead, our ‘narrow function . . . in this context is to determine’ whether the line drawn reflects ‘an honest conviction,’ . . . and there is no dispute that it does.”

If the government had its way, the Court argued that it could have excluded religious owners from the business world. According to the government’s argument, no insurance coverage mandate would have violated the RFRA, including third-trimester abortions and assisted suicide. The Court responded, “The owners of many closely held corporations could not in good conscience provide such coverage, and thus the HHS would effectively exclude these people from full participation in the economic life of the Nation.” Thankfully, the Court disagreed.

What does this mean for Christian business owners? Specifically related to the HHS mandate, owners of closely held corporations cannot be compelled to provide abortion-inducing drugs and devices as part of their healthcare plans. The Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is only applicable to closely held corporations. These are businesses which are organized under state law as corporations but are owned by a small number of individual shareholders. The companies involved in this case are all closely held, family-owned businesses. This is different from publicly held corporations that may have any number of shareholders who have invested money in the business.

Many people in our churches are likely to be part of such businesses. While they may not always have the number of employees that require mandatory health insurance coverage, there is potential that their businesses could grow to that point just as Hobby Lobby, Mardel, and Conestoga Wood Specialties.

This case could also foreshadow how the Court may decide other related cases, such as the cases involving the Little Sisters of the Poor and religious educational institutions. Subsequent Supreme Court decisions could extend similar religious freedom protections and exemptions to other types of organizations that Burwell v. Hobby Lobby does not.

We can rejoice in today’s victory for the Greens and Hahns, but there is still much work to be done in protecting religious liberty for people of faith in the marketplace.

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Trey Dimsdale, J.D., serves as Research Fellow in Law and Public Policy for the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He is also one of my Ph.D. students in ethics.