Thursday, March 27, 2014

A SWNID Spotting: What to Think and Why to Think It about World Vision's Same-Sex Marriage Apology

At the request of gentle readers, we are roused from hibernation to go all SWNID on l'affaire Vision Mondial. Hence, below are ten observations about WV's (not West Virginia's) action and retraction on same-sex marriage. What follows is pedantic, some of it sounding like we are scolding people for not doing their required reading, which we are in fact doing. Those who religiously follow our alter ego in his pathetic social-media posts, all of them lame imitations of noble blogging, will have already read what's here, except for a couple of light revisions for what we hope is clarity. Note well that in the rest of this post, we abandon the SWNIDish style of using the first-person plural inappropriately to refer to the SWNIDish self regally.

1. We should always be careful about bifurcating narratives that pit money against principles. Yes, plenty of true stories are about the conflict between these. But let's be clear: anyone in a responsible position, even responsible only for oneself, ignores financial considerations at one's own peril, usually thereby also imperiling others and, in the case of an organization, the organizational mission. No one who leads a family, let alone a large organization, takes a breath without thinking about its financial impact.

2. [scolding about required reading] As I've noted previously in my brief and infrequent comments in social media on the WV affair, WV faced tremendous pressure to adhere to USAID standards introduced in 2011 that give preference in issuing grants to organizations with nondiscriminatory policies about sexual orientation in hiring. This has clearly been a matter of concern for WV since 2011, since WV, a big recipient of USAID grants, asked USAID for clarifying language, which it never received from USAID or other agents of the US executive branch. [those of you who don't hang on my every word are just missing out]

3. About half of WV's revenue comes from private donations, and we can assume that much of it comes from individual donors, and we can assume that most of that comes from evangelicals. And about half comes from grants, much of that from USAID and other governmental and international organizations that also favor nondiscrimination in hiring in regard to sexual orientation. So the money cuts maybe two ways. WV's financial situation, if compared to two geological entities, is a rock and a hard place.

4. WV's brief "stand" was not taken on the "principle" that they were committed to what is euphemistically and popularly called "marriage equality" but on the "principle" that they won't take a stand where the church universal (mostly the Western, evangelical, Protestant church) is divided. Maybe they were hedging. Or maybe they were serious. Or both. More on this below.

5. For what it's worth, I have observed in myself and others a tendency for those with organizational authority to become insulated from larger, organizationally relevant realities as their attention is captured by immediate organizational concerns, especially those that they believe they can or must manage. How that generalization might apply here is this: the CEO and board of WV have surely faced two attention-capturing matters since 2011: the policy of USAID and the clamor for marriage equality, the latter including some voices in the Christian community. How the insulation works is this: paying so much attention to such things, I don't attend to other relevant factors and so misoverestimate the importance of the things I'm looking at while misunderestimating the importance of the things I'm not looking at. I've paid a price for having done this myself in the past, and I've paid a price for naively assuming that others who had my trust were not doing it. The habit of knowing and questioning one's assumptions is about the hardest habit to acquire.

6. The fact is that despite the considerable noise on the subject in the last couple of years, the Church Universal is hardly divided on the same-sex marriage issue. Even American and European Protestants outside of evangelicalism have not spoken with an organizationally united voice on this subject. If one gets outside the modern Western echo-chamber and listens to global and historic voices--which comprise most of our "great cloud of witnesses"--it speaks loudly and clearly, if inconveniently, on this issue. This may well be the very thing that WV's leadership misunderestimated, having misoverestimated the division of the church and the strength of the revisionist voices on this matter, perhaps unconsciously inclined to do so because doing so offered a way of resolving their dilemma with USAID.

7. So I take seriously and find credible (more credible than many backtracking explanations I've been compelled to accept in other situations in the past, including a couple of my own) WV's statement that it came quickly to realize that its position was out of step and divisive for the Church Universal, which was the very opposite of its intention. I take seriously the idea that people whom the WV leadership respected called members of the WV leadership and respectfully told them that they'd messed up.

8. What disturbs me now is the Manichean tendency of some in the Christian community who advocate same-sex marriage to offer simplistic narratives of the noble, enlightened, principled people against the ignoble, ignorant brokers of power who remind many of their narrow-minded parents. If (and this is a powerful urge in scholarship, where originality and the challenging of authority are the coin of the realm) one wants to take a "principled" Christian stand against the consensus of the faithful globally and through the ages (we like ancient and global Christians when we talk about liturgy, spiritual disciplines, poverty and courage, not so much when we talk about dogma), you may be right to do so. After all, is it not true that in the modern, Western Christian community there are those who advocate such historically un-Christian notions as Arianism, unitariansism, panentheism, universalism, and other matters that Scripture and tradition anathematize? Do we put everything in theological paralysis as a result, meekly shaking our heads that no one can affirm anything about anything theologically because there are "just too many conflicting interpretations"? Or do we justify every revisionist "Christian" position that comes out of scholarly monograph or popular blog? Or do we resolve to stand with the consensus of the faithful until compelled to dissent? I say, for heaven's sake, one should dissent only after taking an extra large dose of self-awareness, seeking large doses of wise counsel, and giving large doses of consideration to all the reasons, even the ugly ones, for which those many witnesses who disagree with the revisionist position do indeed disagree.

9. Yes, you need to know this for the final.

10. Thou shalt not covet.

Monday, September 16, 2013

On Syria

This is a curmudgeonly message to all on Syria, the present administration, and Christians' statements on global politics. Some matters require more than 140 characters.

The Obama administration's inept handling of all things related to the Syrian civil war demonstrates a disturbing truth, on the one hand of passing but gravid significance, on the other of lasting and gravid significance.

The passing matter is that the President of the world's greatest democratic republic is, as a politician, only good at getting elected, not at exercising power. His impulse to consult Congress for authorization to take action in Syria is the most tragically obvious demonstration of his inability to date. The Wall Street Journal's poignant chronicle of the events leading to the current so-called agreement with Russia to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons captures this ineptitude most aptly. It shows that:

  • While some in the White House advised the President not to take action against Syria, none advised getting authorization from Congress.
  • In fact, he was advised not to get authorization, on the obvious account that the War Powers Act clearly authorized the Commander in Chief to take such actions as were contemplated in Syria. Any seeking of authorization would weaken not just Obama's position as Commander in Chief but also that of subsequent Chief Executives.
  • No leader of Congress advised the President to seek authorization, and he did not discuss the tactics of seeking such authorization prior to informing Congressional leaders that he was about to ask it.
  • The President made his announcement that he would seek authorization without doing what is most basic in any situation where a President asks Congress to vote: he didn't count the votes he had before he asked.
  • Finding himself in what can only euphemistically be called a political impasse ("hoist by his own petard" is more fitting), the President leaped at the Russian offer to form an obviously unenforceable agreement to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons, one not even countenanced until the Secretary of State, desperate to find any way out of the mess that the President had created, improvised a statement in response to a reporter's query.
  • Every action since the unintentional offer of a negotiated pretend-dismantling of Syria's WMD indicates that the President is desperate to accept any terms he is offered to get out of the political mess that he has created for himself.
We've had two complaints about BHO from the beginning. The obvious one is that his leftist ideology prevents him from seeing the world as it is and responding with policies that can work with actual people. The Affordable Care Act is the obvious outcome of that tragic flaw.

The less obvious one is this: that lacking significant experience in any endeavor, Obama is exceptionally poor at interacting with others. He doesn't just lack experience as a leader; he lacks it as a follower. Had he spent more time in Congress, he could at least have empathized with Congresspersons in a way that could enable him to work with them constructively. But he has mostly burnished his résumé and laid the foundation of his next campaign. He can raise money, recruit campaign staff, and make public appearances. He can't maneuver the political minefields of conflicting interests to build consensus and take action. When he needs to, he gets irritated, testy, even angry. In that regard he is as far from his idols, FDR and LBJ, as one can imagine. Nixon was more effective in winning political support, for goodness sake.

Along the way, we've made the assertion that the agreement with the Russians to dismantle the Syrians' chemical weapons is impossible to implement. Why this is the case is obvious, so again we list:
  • Syria is an active war zone and will be for as long as the use of the gas is likely.
  • Assad has used the time Obama has given him to scatter and hide his considerable stockpiles.
  • Other regimes have used the time to deflect the issue to the chemical weapons held by other countries, especially Israel, which, held for the threat of retaliation in the terrible event of the use of chemical weapons by one of their enemies, of course have never been used.
  • Dismantling chemical weapons is so dangerous and difficult that even the best technicians have an awful time managing it. Specifically the United States remains significantly off schedule in reducing its own stockpiles, per treaty obligations.
  • The Russians, who sold Assad his poisons, are the only ones with the ability to direct their destruction. Even absent the problems of doing so at all, let alone in a war zone, they have no intrinsic reason to do so. Their motives for selling the weapons and for covering for their use remains.
  • The so-called agreement has no provision for consequences should Syria not dismantle its weapons. Russia saw to it that there is no allowance for Security Council action or other international reprisal for failure to comply. It is a gentlemen's agreement between parties that aren't gentlemen.
Surely the President has been warned that he is doing what he is clearly doing, then: ceding initiative to the Russians to allow their client Assad to act with impunity. It is a restoration of the "spheres of influence" notion that allowed the Soviets to oppress Eastern Europe for the generation after World War II, at a time when Russia lacks the military or economic might to threaten costly reprisals that advise against positive action.

This is the matter of passing but gravid significance: by his ineptitude Obama has frittered away American global influence and moral standing, not to mention the power of the Presidency. With American wielding less influence that can at least imperfectly be directed toward its founding ideals (the real meaning of "American exceptionalism," Mr. Putin), the world will be more subject to the changing winds of nationalist, power politics, and all the worse for it.

This is a matter of passing significance because this President will not be President forever. It is a matter of lasting significance because these actions will have a legacy, like the legacy of Vietnam, or more specifically the response to Vietnam, which left tyranny with a much stronger hand for a decade or more. Now Iran and North Korea have a stronger hand, as do elements that would take internationally placid authoritarian regimes (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Emirates, Egypt) in a more hostile direction. And the French (under a socialist President, sacre bleu!) would be justified if they never spoke to us again.

Finally, we ask Christians of the political right and the political left to take a realistic clue about the situation in Syria. 

Assad's brutality historically has had one salubrious effect: he prevented outright atrocities against what remains of the Christian minority in Syria. Now, in the vacuum of power left by the civil war, Islamist forces have done what Islamist forces do to Christians.

This is what it is: anti-Christian atrocity committed by radical Islamists. But this is what it is not: the definitive clue to a Manichean explanation of Syrian politics, showing that Assad is the good guy and the "rebels" are bad. Most of all, this provides no justification whatsoever for the ridiculous belief--advanced by Assad, Putin, and Sean Hannity--that the rebels, who have no gas, did the gassing. Yet such views are being advanced exactly so: the rebels include Al Qaida elements; those elements have committed atrocities against Christians; good is therefore on the side of the Syrian government; all atrocities have been committed by the rebels.

For Christians on the right, this miserable nonlogic gets blended with their irrational desire to see Obama fail. For Christians on the left, this miserable nonlogic gets blended with their irrational dogma that pacifism advances peace. For both, the miserable nonlogic gets blended with war-weariness, one of the long-term costs of living in exceptional America, we fear. And for all that, otherwise rational people will believe that people with little motive and no opportunity did what all the evidence says someone else, with plenty of motive and opportunity, not to mention a record of doing similar things, did.

Don't be fools, earnest believers. Assad gassed Syrian civilians en masse. You're being played if you think otherwise.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Rand and Paul

By request of our gentle readers, we briefly opine on the influence of the creepy Ayn Rand on GOP VP candidate Paul Ryan. For those expecting us to provide links for further background, a common practice of ours, we offer our apologies. We think that this topic deserves the attention requested but not so much as to embroil us in research that others can carry out for themselves.

For those hiding from awful literature, we provide the reminder that Ayn Rand was the celebrated author of such unreadable propagandistic novels as Atlas Shrugged. Purveyor of something called "objectivism," which she styled a philosophy, Rand excited many in the past and continues to excite many in the present with the idea that the pursuit of profit is for the public good, that the heroes of modern life are its successful, selfish entrepreneurs.

Paul Ryan, it is widely reported, got turned on to free-market economics by reading Rand as an adolescent. Through Rand, Ryan got the notion that the world might be a better, not worse, place for the pursuit of profit, something that the young and idealistic sometimes have to be forced to consider, it seems.

Of course, Rand's "philosophy" goes well beyond the "invisible hand" of Adam Smith and other observers of economics. It is allegedly scornful of religion, altruism, and weakness, arguably a severe variety of social Darwinism. Naturally, people who hear that a leading pol was ever a fan of Rand will wonder how far that fanaticism extends.

Is Paul Ryan a secret disciple of Rand, sending endless votes to the Modern Library to get Rand's books rated as highly as the esteemed L. Ron Hubbard, that other entrepreneurial demagogue of nonliterary dreck? Does his budget agenda hide a more sinister agenda to revolutionize our Republic according to Rand's dystopic vision?

Well, no.

Ryan has been widely heard explaining his youthful enthusiasm for Rand as just that: youthful enthusiasm. After a short while, he had read and thought widely enough to see the weaknesses in Rand's so-called objectivism, rejecting what didn't make sense.

But Rand opened his eyes to something he hadn't considered. So he regards the discovery as monumental in his experience, still holding some affection for the author who had such a profound, if now sharply limited, influence on him.

More obviously, Paul Ryan is a devout, thoughtful, well informed Roman Catholic. His positions as a Catholic may be controversial with some Catholics, including many bishops, who prefer, as Ryan has put it, to see the preferential option for the poor as a preferential option for big government. Be that as it may--a very important intra-Catholic debate over the last couple of generations--Ryan has demonstrated clearly enough that his Catholic faith trumps his youthful devotion to Rand.

And so a SWNIDish parallel. We discovered the wonders of jazz in the 1970s, initially in large part through the recordings of Chick Corea and his various sidemen who wrote, recorded and performed as Return to Forever. Theirs was a fusion of jazz with rock. In retrospect, we still have affection for that music, though realizing now that only some of the band's recordings were really worthy of our attention. Moreover, we now greatly prefer to listen to American improvised music performed on more traditional instruments and drawing more directly from the grammar of jazz established over the genre's history.

Now, back in the day and even until now, every recording by Chick Corea and his sidemen includes a dedication to L. Ron Hubbard. Yes, the eminent composer and keyboardist is a Scientologist who prefers to play with others of the same persuasion.

We are not and have never been a Scientologist. We've never been interested in any aspect of Scientology or its founder. We denounce and repudiate Scientology and all its allies. We flatulate in its general direction. But we still remember Return to Forever fondly.

Paul Ryan could say roughly the same about objectivism, except that he was for a time directly interested.

Nothing to see here people. Just keep moving to November 6. Thank you.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Generational Contrasts

Helen Gurley Brown, whose acute public-mindedness led her to become the authoress of Sex and the Single Girl and the editor who turned Cosmopolitan from a sophisticated general-interest magazine to a sex-obsessed supermarket checkout fixture, has died.

At the age of 90.

Her death is sad as all deaths are sad. For SWNID her age is arresting.

That's one year younger than SWNID's mother. Ms. Brown and our beloved mother are very much members of the same generation.

Ms. Brown gave American women permission to be successful and slutty at the same time.

SWNID's mother was married to the same man for 70.5 years. She has discovered that her purpose in aged widowhood is to counsel the nursing staff who cares for her to eschew sexual promiscuity and find God through Jesus Christ. More than one has responded by giving up her baby-daddy and getting herself and her kids to church. Really.

These two women, born about a year apart just as the 20s began to roar, each remarkable in her own way, responded very differently to the opportunities and pressures of modernity.

We prefer the legacy left by one of them.

Let this be a warning to all those who pronounce about what this or that generation is going to do. Choices are made and lives are lived by individuals. Choose well, and live well, gentle readers.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Same-Sex Marriage and the Biblical Christian

We've seen more than enough of the same-sex marriage discussion to last us an eternal lifetime. But some voices are persistent enough, raising sufficient questions for the faithful and curious, that we are compelled, from our lofty position as an Authentic Biblical Scholar (PhD and all that) to offer some response.

Those persistent voices are succinctly represented  in a snarky, condescending (rather like this blog) Facebook-posted flow chart found (by those with Facebook accounts) here. The notions therein contained are for some persuasive enough to prompt questions of trusted experts like SWNID. We figure it'll be more helpful for others and easier for us if we provide a succinct, pointed response and enshrine it here for posterity's future reference.

So, point by point:

  • "Jesus never uttered a word about same-sex relationships." This is false. The word is porneia, used by Jesus in Matthew 5:32; 15:19 (parallel at Mark 7:21); 19:9. In conventional usage of Hellenistic Greek among Jews of Jesus' day, porneia referred to all sexual activity outside of marriage, and marriage was between members of the opposite sex, of course. If Jesus meant to exclude same-sex relationships from his condemnation of porneia, he did not say as much.
  • "The OT also says that it's sinful to eat shellfish, to wear clothing woven with different fabrics, and to eat pork." True but hardly relevant. The Mosaic books imply a difference between those things that have always been unlawful for all people and those things that become unlawful for Israel when Israel receives the Mosaic law at Sinai. Later Jewish scholars distinguished these as the Noachic commands (those given to all humanity) and the Mosaic commands (those given to all Israel). The notion of sexual sin is based on the creation of man and woman in Eden. It is therefore fundamentally different from the various symbols of separation (diet, clothing, calendar) that constitute what was distinctive to Israel. This notion is part of the Christian interpretation of the Mosaic law as well, as enshrined in Jesus' teaching and the New Testament letters. In the New Testament, the Mosaic law's distinctives for Israel do not bind the follower of Christ, especially the Gentile follower of Christ. But those laws that express what has always been right and wrong do very much apply. So Jesus can at once make a statement understood later by his followers to pronounce all foods clean (Mark 7:18-19) and follow it immediately with a statement affirming that sexual immorality, which for Jesus included same-sex relations, is evil (Mark 7:21).
  • "The original language of the NT actually refers to male prostitution, molestation, or promiscuity, not committed same-sex relationships." Questionable and ultimately irrelevant. Many instances of same-sex relations in the Graeco-Roman world were acts of prostitution or pederasty (an older, more powerful male taking sexual advantage of a younger, less powerful male). And doubtless promiscuity was present as well. So to say that the language of the NT refers to such is simply to say that such acts were common and so were what the language of the NT would commonly refer to. However, here we must proceed thoughtfully. First, were there no "committed same-sex relationships" in the Graeco-Roman world? Would Paul and others not have known of men who lived together for many years and were sexually active together? In the cosmopolitan world of the first-century Mediterranean, we doubt as much. Second, there is a significant difference between the referent of a word and its sense. The "sense" is the meaning of the word, its definition, as it were. The "referent" is the thing in the world to which it refers. So "table" has a sense: piece of furniture with legs and a flat surface on top, on which objects can be placed, but in any usage "table" will refer to a particular table. Now, it is true that most tables one sees in the United States presently are either wooden or made to look like they are wooden. Would it be fair, therefore, to say that in our time someone who speaks of a table thereby refers to something that at least appears wooden? Obviously not. So if someone wanted to communicate, "Tables are evil because of their woodenness," that person would have to say more than "Tables are evil." So it is with the language of same-sex relations in Romans 1:24-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9. These statements in their historical context would refer mostly to exploitative or promiscuous acts. But it is not the exploitation or promiscuity which is the focus of the terms used. Rather, it is the acts themselves. And those statements are made without qualification to make the reader understand that exploitation or such is the real problem. In sum, the nontraditional reading quoted at the head of this point is a case of special pleading that confuses the referent and sense of words.
  • "Paul may have spoken against homosexuality, but he also said that women should be silent and never assume authority over a man." True and irrelevant. The point here is to suggest that no one really follows what the Bible says anyway, especially Paul's bits, so why do so in this instance? One can make a strong case that Paul's teaching about women in context is not nearly as severe as this out-of-context citation makes it seem to be, and that thoughtful Christians have at least sometimes followed and applied Paul's teaching with variations for culture without either oppressing women or obliterating genuine differences between the sexes. Such is not so easily done with texts like Romans 1:24-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9, where Paul's language assumes the prior understanding that same-sex activity is wrong.
  • "[The creation of man and woman in the garden with the command to multiply] was when the earth wasn't populated. There are now 6.79 billion people. Breeding clearly isn't an issue anymore." The implication is that the command to heterosexual marriage is solely for procreation. But Jesus sees more than that. Jesus cited Genesis 2:24 to express the idea that divorce is not a fulfillment of God's will. Given the very real truth that divorced and remarried people generally remain as fertile after remarriage as they were before divorce, Jesus' implication would be irrelevant were heterosexual marriage just for filling up the earth.
  • "The Bible also defines marriage as one-man-many-women, one-man-many-wives-and-many-concubines, a rapist and his victim, and conquering soldier and prisoner of war." False, at least if by "define" we mean "approve." Does the Bible portray all these things? Yes. Does the Mosaic law regulate these things? Yes. Does that imply that the Bible approves of them? No, of course not. All polygamy in the Bible falls after the foundational narrative of Eden with its statement about monogamy in Genesis 2:24. Every story of polygamy shows the bad end to which such arrangements come. The Mosaic law deals with polygamy as it does with other deeply embedded elements of Ancient Near Eastern culture that run counter to morality based on creation: by regulating the practice so as to ameliorate its worst effects and discourage its practice. So Moses tells the polygamist that he must treat each wife exactly the same, while telling stories of the bad ends of polygamy. What does the thoughtful reader do? Take only one wife. Those who don't repeat the stories with bad ends. By the way, Israel's soldiers were specifically forbidden to take spoils during the conquest, including foreign brides taken as spoils.
If you've made it this far or just skipped this far, the problem with all such discussions as these is the failure to consider or acknowledge that there is a consistent, biblical notion of sexual morality, tied to creation. That man and women are both different and correspond is celebrated by the Bible as the expression of God's purpose and the foundation of human society. Reading the Bible to this outcome is not a tendentious misreading: it is the consensus of Jewish and Christian interpreters throughout the Bible's history.

It is the pervasive assumption that heterosexual monogamy is God's creation design that underlies biblical teaching about sex and marriage. This assumption is what makes it possible for the NT writers simply to make brief statements of condemnation without explanation. They address people who quite simply have come to assume that creation of two different, corresponding sexes means something about the act of sex.

Advocates of same-sex marriage would be more honest if they simply admitted that they have chosen to reject what the Bible teaches. The approach we've noted, while doubtless sincerely believed by some, constitutes ad hoc special pleading that ultimately works by confusing the less-informed faithful about the real boundaries of their faith system.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

What Government Investment Gets You

The Washington Examiner reports the shocking but unsurprising news that Amtrak, our Republic's "investment" in "green transportation" in the form of 19th-century rail technology, has lost $833 million over the last decade in the sale of food on its trains.

For perspective, note from the brief article that:

  • the cost of a cheeseburger and Pepsi for a passenger is about $11.50
  • the cost of the same to the taxpayer is nearly $20
  • [the cost of the same at Five Guys* is about $8, and it's Coke instead of Pepsi, not to mention a fantastic cheeseburger, for a better overall experience]
  • the loss in Amtrak food services per Amtrak food service employee is just shy of $70k per employee for last year alone
  • last year's losses were less than previous years
  • the food service is bound by law not to lose money
Remember this when you're asked this fall to vote for the President who will "invest in our country's future" and not for the fellow who spent most of his adult life making profitable investments and turning around insolvent operations.

We won't even mention "high speed rail" and all that.

*The president of Five Guys refuses to articulate his position on the polyandrous same-sex marriages that the company's name seems to support.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

On Liberty, Commerce, Faith, and Power

We SWNIDishly collate three recent news stories.

Largely unnoticed on this side of the Atlantic was the decision of a German court to outlaw the practice of circumcision in Germany. If Gentle Readers conclude that such a decision appears remarkably insensitive to the lessons of German history, they should consider themselves conventionally thoughtful. It is expected that the German parliament will pass a law reversing this decision. Apart from such action by the Bundestag, German Jews and Muslims must either emigrate, leave the country temporarily to circumcise their children, or secretly violate the court's ruling.

Massively noticed on this side of the Atlantic has been the kerfuffle over remarks from Dan Cathy, prez of Chick-fil-A, about marriage. Apart from the rather noxious public response to Mr. Cathy's unsurprising remarks (we should think that a restaurant that closes on Sundays on principle would affirm nontraditional family arrangements?), some mayors and aldermen have notably stated that their municipalities are now officially off limits to the world's best chicken sandwich.

Less noticed, however, has been the very definite rejoinder from most quarters that our Republic's Bill of Rights, specifically the cherished First Amendment to the Constitution, forbids any government in our Republic from restricting commercial activity because of a speech act. Even (get ready) the ACLU has weighed in for the rights of Chick-fil-A.

Meanwhile, as our body politic alternately fumes and dithers about the implications of the Affordable Care Act for the upcoming election, more legal action is quietly pushing things along. In Colorado, a private business owned by Roman Catholics sued to prevent the ACA from forcing them to provide free contraception to their employees, something that would violate the religious faith of the business's owners. They won, and they are expected to prevail on appeal.

All of which is to say that:

  • in matters of religious liberty, it is better to be American than German. The Bill of Rights is a more potent guarantor of human rights than the unfettered welfare state.
  • in matters of controversy, the American commitment to free speech and free practice of religion remains robust even if it will always and inevitably be under assault.
  • as people fret and even suffer under the social pressure to conform to prevailing opinions (one Chick-fil-A executive has tragically died of a heart attack since the controversy erupted, and we know employees who express personal stress and dismay over the scorn directed to them personally), they need to take the long view. More often than not in the history of Our Republic, attempts to force ideological conformity have failed.
So we urge those who, like us, hope to see religious liberty preserved to take the long view, to exercise patient endurance, offering sensible, thoughtful responses to queries about their beliefs, rather in the style enjoined by the first of the Petrine epistles.

And to that end, we offer a true story.

We work for a Christian institution of higher education that as recently as a decade ago was seeking for the first time to gain authority from our state government to grant licensure to public school teachers. We found the state bureaucracy unresponsive to our petitions and queries. After months, the state's response to our case was taken over by a new officer. He asked to meet with us. In frank and cordial conversation he indicated that he believed that our institution was the object of prejudice on the part of state officials. He said, "I've been the object of prejudice, and I don't like it. I don't think that others should be the object of prejudice either." To explain the personal aspect of his utterance, I mention that the gentleman is openly homosexual.

Anyway, with his wise maneuvering of the wheels of government, our institution received the state's approval.  After the approval was granted, another state official spoke candidly and apologetically to one of our faculty members. She confessed that when our petition was initially held up, one member of the state's apparatus said that the program couldn't be authorized because graduates of the program serving as teachers would try to "lay hands" on and heal students who had accidents on the playground.

You can't make this stuff up.

In the years since (about seven, we recall), the program has won two prestigious statewide awards and a graduate has been named Ohio Student Educator of the Year. The program is not just accepted; it is respected and lauded.

Patience, persistence, fortitude, confidence.