A Series of Unfortunate Events

I believe Jesus is Lord.  He is the only Man who keeps His promises.  That’s not in dispute.  I do not despair, no matter what happens in any given country, because my hope is not in this world or its rulers or its laws.

Nevertheless:

As far as the secular realm goes, this is not a good day.  This is not about Mitt Romney.  I have no idea how a Romney Administration would have turned out, and we will never know.  This is about the policies of the current Administration, as well as the arguments that this President and his Administration have made in the public square.  In the Hosanna-Tabor case before the Supreme Court, the Obama Administration argued that there is no “ministerial exception,” which, if that argument had succeeded (and with 2 or 3 new Justices in the next four years, it may yet), would mean that neither the Roman Catholic Church nor the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod would be able to limit its ministerium to men.  You can bet that both churches’ Biblical and traditional arguments would have been challenged in court, if the Administration had won that argument.

More recently, the Administration has argued that religious freedom (i.e., “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]”; and, further, the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly) does not extend to business owners such as the owners of Hobby Lobby.  If you think this is going to stop with contraception and places that are not explicitly “houses of worship,” you are fooling yourself.  Who really believes that the pushers of the absolute secularization of the public square are going to let churches get away with flouting the new progressive order?  (“First they came for the Roman Catholics…”)  For a litany of other attacks on religious freedom in the United States, see here, including

In our universities, those citadels of toleration, we find that toleration can be sharply limited. At the Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, the student chapter of the Christian Legal Society was denied any status on the campus because it would not abandon its requirement that members commit themselves to traditional Christian norms regarding sexual morality. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling in 2010, held that the student group’s rights were not violated by a “take all comers” policy. Following this lead, Vanderbilt University has rewritten its student organizations policy and effectively chased every traditionally Christian student group off campus, denying them regular access to campus facilities. And at the University of Illinois, an adjunct professor of religion, hired to teach a course on Catholicism, was let go because a student complained about his patient explanation of the Catholic Church’s natural law teachings on human sexuality. (He was later restored to his teaching duties, but at the expense of the Newman Center, not on the state payroll.)

In our states and localities, we see other kinds of pressures. Authorities in Washington state and Illinois have attempted to force pharmacists, against their conscience, to dispense “morning after” pills when other pharmacists short distances away make these abortifacients available. New York City has barred church congregations—and them alone—from using public school buildings outside school hours. In New Mexico, a Christian wedding photographer was fined for violation of a state “human rights act” because she refused to take the business of a same-sex couple who claimed to want her services at their civil union ceremony. And in Massachusetts, Illinois, San Francisco, and the District of Columbia, the adoption and fostering agencies of Catholic Charities have been shuttered because they will not place children with same-sex couples, as the local authorities demand.

So welcome to the continuation and expansion of the Brave New World, where the unborn are problems, diseases, and accidents; where fighting against a “war on women” is a euphemism for fighting against the birth of human beings (including, obviously, unborn women); where there may not be any limit whatsoever on the “right” of a woman to kill her own child, as long as it’s still inside her womb; where we have a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) policy of Lebensunwertes Leben, whether the youngest, the oldest, or the most handicapped.  (It is not a coincidence that somewhere between 80-90% of those diagnosed with Down Syndrome–whether diagnosed correctly or not–are aborted.)  Welcome to a world where the most pro-abortion President in history (Cecile Richards’ fawning is evidence of this) now does not have to worry about being re-elected, and so has more freedom to push the extreme edges of his agenda.  Welcome to a world where you have the freedom to worship, but that’s it, and when your religion’s convictions come into conflict with the State, the State wins, simply by virtue of being the State.  I would take a civil-religion, one-nation-under-whatever-god, syncretism over this anti-religion any day.  If the State is the overarching authority, that means that it must and should overrule family, community, religion–anything that opposes its all-consuming agenda.  We will soon discover if this is an overreaction.  But the Obama Administration has given us no hints of any moderation on this or any other issue.  They know what is right and good, and if you oppose them, you are wrong and evil.  There is very little gray area for the defenders of such statism.

If these things are true, the next four years are going to be very bad, and successes on the part of the Administration will mean a lot of this will be very hard to repair.  The damage will already have been done.

Nevertheless:

The Church will continue to do what the true Church always does: preach Law and Gospel to sinners; pray for and obey the properly constituted authorities up until the point when the State interferes with the Church’s proper sphere (and the HHS contraception mandate clearly crosses that line).  Then we must always obey God rather than men.  But what am I going to do today?  The same thing I do every day, Pinky, try to take over the w–, oh, um–I mean, prepare my sermon, visit my people, pray, and confess.  We’re not in control, anyway.  God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes in Christ.  Will this country progress (regress) to the point where it is illegal to call sin sin?  Will churches lose their tax-exempt status?  Will churches be sued for refusing to violate their collective conscience?  Perhaps, and we should fight against such things for the sake of our neighbors.  But, ultimately, the Church may lose those battles.  No matter.  Trust the promise of the Promised One.  Though all men are liars, He is the Truth.

“O Thou, whose coming is with dread/To judge the living and the dead,/Preserve us from the ancient foe/While we dwell on earth below” (LSB 351:5).

And, “Preserve Your Word, O Savior,/To us this latter day,/…O keep our faith from failing;/Keep hope’s bright star aglow./Let nothing from truth turn us/While living here below. … Preserve, O Lord, Your honor,/The bold blasphemer smite;/Convince, convert, enlighten/The souls in error’s night. … Preserve, O Lord, Your Zion,/Bought dearly with Your blood;/Protect what You have chosen/Against the hellish flood./Be always our defender/When dangers gather round;/When all the earth is crumbling,/Safe may Your Church be found” (LSB 658:1, 2, 3).

Timotheos

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7 thoughts on “A Series of Unfortunate Events

  1. I’m surprised that you consider Cheryl Perich a minister…

    “[Ministerial exception] would mean that neither the Roman Catholic Church nor the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod would be able to limit its ministerium to men.”

    • I didn’t say that. I don’t. The point is that, for the purposes of this case, both the plaintiff and defendant did consider her a minister, and if the defendant had lost, that would have had far greater consequences for the Church as a whole. For the LCMS, because of tax breaks, school teachers are Ministers of Religion-Commissioned. I think that has had negative consequences for our teaching on church and ministry. Even so, it would have been bad, over all, to fight that point within this case. That battle belongs within the Church; the Supreme Court dealt with something else entirely: i.e., that a church has the right to choose its own ministers. Whether I agree with the way the LCMS has identified ministers is, for the purposes of the case, completely irrelevant.

  2. I’m concerned with what you didn’t say and the hyperbolic description of the secular realm on behalf of the defendant. On the one hand, you’re not concerned with the precedent this court’s decision established by confirming “her a minister”–a declaration with clearly relevant implications from a Confessional view–in order to avoid employment discrimination laws. On the other hand, you state that the court’s decision had “far greater consequences” in the cosmic battle against the “anti-religion, all-consuming agenda” of Obama’s “absolute secularist” administration. I think the Church’s “right to choose its own ministers’, in this case declaring Cheryl Perich a minister or religious leader, is far more consequential on the clarity of Confessional teaching. It seems to me that you’ve put politics before the Church’s confession.

    Cheryl Perich was fired after returning from leave for a medical disability (narcolepsy). The defendant (i.e Church-run school) justified the firing because Ms. Perich made the case a civil rights issue to be debated in the public sphere. I believe any internal issue brought before the republic requires repentance from the Church–not exaggerated narratives between Church and State (i.e. Obama administration). There is a Lutheran layperson involved in this particular case, Ms. Perich, who didn’t find recourse in the administration of the Church-run school.

    The secular realm by nature is “absolute”. It wasn’t less absolute under Bush or more absolute in the 17th century. Much worse, you deceive yourself when you prefer syncretism as if the secular realm can ever reflect less-than antagonistic civic principles. The Obama Administration did not seek to abolish the “ministerial exception”, but was making a distinction between the gradations of employer-employee relationship in the Church-run school. And, I’m sure you overreact equally when stating that the Obama’s Administration considers the opposition “evil”.

  3. I’m not really sure who you’re arguing with, but I don’t think it’s me. Let me put it as clearly as I can: I think the LCMS messed up by calling teachers “Ministers of Religion.” It has wreaked havoc with our doctrine of the Ministry. So it wasn’t the court that set any precedent, it was the Missouri Synod. The Supreme Court did not deal with, and had no business dealing with, whether she actually is a “minister,” since that, too, would be interfering with the freedom of religion. That is a completely separate issue from whether the Missouri Synod should call her a minister. I do not know the details, but perhaps the school dealt with her in a sinful manner. I have no idea. But, again, it’s beside my current point.

    In addition, you need to read the actual transcript. The Administration argued that the government has an overriding interest–an interest overriding the ministerial exception, I take it–when it feels that civil rights have been violated. The Administration wants to be able to decide when the government can step in, and they want to do it under free association, rather than free exercise. That’s what the Administration’s lawyer argues. (See esp. pp. 35-36ff, or so, of the transcript: http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/10-553.pdf). At any rate, if the Administration had won that argument, it would not have ended with the “gradations of employer-employee relationship.” The State (and here I think it is “by nature”) never wants to become less intrusive, always more. So thank God the Supreme Court decided the way it did, not because I think the school or the LCMS were blameless in the situation (again, I don’t know), but because the ramifications would have been horrendous.

    I disagree that the State is by nature absolute. Clearly, the Lutheran princes at the time of the Reformation did not think the State was absolute. My point is that when it refuses to recognize any authority above itself, then it will, eventually, enter the realm of the Church, and the Church must resist.

    Thanks,
    Tim

  4. I don’t disagree with the Court’s decision. Ms. Perich was considered an ordained minister and not a lay teacher, and therefore, she was covered under ministerial exemption. The Court did not distinguish her “calling” from the ordinations of pastors or Catholic priests. They could not, as you rightly note, make the distinctions based on Confessional doctrine.

    I do, however, disagree with your exaggerated characterization of the “Obama” administration on this particular case. You use this case for a rant about the Obama administration and the Brave New World… The core problem of this case is not politics; it’s confessional. If LCMS teachers are considered part of the ecclesiastical office(p.56 line23)–then that problem overrides hyped-up concerns about religious freedom from the State…In response to Justice Scalia’s comparisons of this case with Catholic priests and gender issues, for example–nowhere did the defendant “…argued that there is no ministerial exception”. It’s simply hyperbole to state that “…neither the RC nor LCMS would be able to limit its ministerium to men.”

    We agree that “called” teachers are distinctly separate from the ordained priesthood. This is what the defendant attempted to argue: “…there is a fundamental difference b/w…those who would preach the word…administer its sacraments…and the more public relationship between a church and a school teacher (p. 39 line23-25). Ms. Perich was justified in bringing this case to the court.

    This case should be an opportunity for Confessional Lutherans to express regret because the Church put Ms. Perich in this situation. If there is a political point to be made, it’s that Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School deceived the Court. That is a public travesty–not an assault from the Obama Administration. I enjoyed everything you wrote after “Nevertheless”, but imparting fears about the “agenda” of Obama Administration belong elsewhere.

    • I hope you’re right about this Administration, but my concerns do not belong elsewhere, since they are the point of this post. Hosanna-Tabor, whatever the facts, is only one place where the Obama administration has tried to limit the free exercise of religion. Read the Imprimis piece for more evidence.

  5. Matthew Franck, in my opinion, also puts hyped up politics before academia (just check his twitter account), especially after being attacked by liberals for his research. Nonetheless, I understand your fears. Thanks, brother.

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