Posted by: gmscan | November 9, 2012

Election Reflections

I had been hoping to get back to Ross Douthat’s important book, “Bad Religion,” but I got preoccupied with the election. Let me make some observations about the election first and then get back to Douthat next time.

First, I expected that the combined effort of Evangelicals and the Catholic Church would have had more impact, and am surprised it didn’t. I can’t think of a time when there has been more cooperation between the two communities. Both Billy Graham and Cardinal Dolan all but endorsed Mitt Romney – a lifelong Mormon! I expected that to be very powerful – and perhaps it was, but just not enough to offset other dynamics in this election.

Second, the challenge for Christians in the next four years will be tremendous. I have and will continue to focus on the economic and regulatory effects of this election in other forums, but here I want to talk about the effects on Christians.

This administration has shown enormous hostility to religion as it has been practiced for millennia. It has acknowledged a “freedom of worship,” but that is far different from the Constitutionally protected “free exercise of religion.” Freedom of worship is confined to formal services in church or prayer at home. “Free exercise” includes living according to Christ’s commandments seven days a week in every aspect of our lives.

This distinction is not new, though it is the first time it has been a principle of an American government. For many years some people have tried to keep religion out of “the public square,” arguing that religious ideas should be kept strictly apart from secular society. The attitude is that a belief in God is an embarrassing aberration that may be tolerated as long as it doesn’t scare the horses.

I am not making just a rhetorical point here. The administration’s position in the Hosanna-Tabor case  was that churches must be subject to secular authority in all but actual sacramental practices. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the administration in that case. More recently, the HHS has ordered all religious employers except houses of worship to pay for contraceptives and abortifacients.  The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty  summarized the situation like this –

At every opportunity, the Obama Administration has made it clear that it takes the narrowest possible view of religious liberty:

  • Just weeks after President Obama was sworn into office, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) took action against the monks who run Belmont Abbey College, charging them with sex discrimination because they wouldn’t provide contraceptive coverage to their employees in defiance of their faith.
  • In Hosanna-Tabor, Administration attorneys argued that the government should have the authority to tell churches who to hire and fire to preach the faith – a point every Justice on the Court rejected.
  • In the HHS Mandate, the Administration is saying that organizations only get the right to religious liberty if their primary purpose is the inculcation of faith, they serve only those of the same faith, and they employ only those of the same faith – ignoring the important role that ministry to others plays in faith.
  • Administration attorneys have even gone so far as to deny the right of religious liberty to individuals when they start a business.  They argued just last week that our client, Hobby Lobby, has no rights under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because it is a for-profit company.

We are bracing ourselves now for what the next four years might bring.  If the Obama Administration was so bold in its efforts to define religious liberty down in its first four years, what will it seek to do in its last four years?

The Becket Fund believes the only recourse is in the courts, but that avenue may soon be blocked as Obama appoints more judges, including a possible two vacancies on the Supreme Court.

So, what is a Christian to do?

Most importantly, realize that our relationship with the Lord is not dependent on anything the government might do. For a very long time Christians have dominated civic life in the United States. This has made life very easy for us – maybe too easy. Having political dominance has meant that many politicians have given lip service to Christianity to advance their own political ambitions. It has become as meaningless and routine as saying “God bless you” after a sneeze.

This use of Christianity as a cultural and political icon has devalued the faith. When we say we are Christians, very few people have the slightest idea what that really means, other than Christmas trees and Easter bunnies. It evokes no particular creed.

In turn, many Christians have become reluctant to rock the boat. We don’t want to offend anyone or make anyone angry. We are like high school sorority girls – we just want everyone to like us. We can afford to be bland because no one ever challenges us. A faith that is never tested becomes flabby, like an athlete who never exercises.

So, maybe this new era will be good for us. Are we willing to stand up and defend our faith and practice it seven days a week? If not, maybe we should stop pretending. Maybe we should accept that our faith goes no further than Christmas trees and Easter bunnies and seeing our friends on Sunday morning. It is comfortable and familiar, even if it isn’t what Jesus had in mind.

Jesus warned his disciples that the world will hate them for following Him –

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: They hated me without a cause.’ (John 15:18-25)

Maybe, just maybe, if the world likes us there is something we aren’t doing right. If we really are following the Lord, the world should hate us because we are making them uncomfortable in their sin and idolatry. We don’t return their hate. We still love them no matter how much they try to bait us, mock us, and call us names. Far worse was done to Jesus. But we remain true to scripture regardless of the political climate and the actions of governments. Our reward is not in how liked we are in this world, but how loved we are by God.





  1. Great post, Greg. I am always impressed with your logic and, especially after this election, your resiliency in staying engaged in the battle. I confess to a weariness so great that I can hardly think about the faith-politics interface any more.

  2. Just as Jews in Germany tried to meld into the pre-Nazi society so as not to offend or draw attention, so Christians are doing in America today. It did not work for the Jews, who, until the Nazis, experienced only indifference or antagonism. Thereafter it got worse.

  3. Great post. I believe Christians must begin to speak their faith more openly in society at large and in the work place. We can no longer be ashamed or reticent to speak of pur faith. If liberals continue to be effective in removing God from our life and politics the logical conclusion is the general acceptance that our rights do not come from God, but from government. That is the core reason it is so important for liberals to miniimize God in every aspect of our lives and why it is so important that we not let that happen.

  4. While it is encouraging – even vital – that the Supreme Court remains unanimous in its defense of separation of Church and State, it is a double edged sword.

    Historically speaking, there are few greater bullies than those with ecclesiastical authority. When they join forces with the State they can embody pure evil. Fortunately that is not the case here.

    But I think it is particularly embarrassing that as the Church has fallen behind the secular society in matters of fair labor practices, that there is no recourse to employees of the Church when they are treated unfairly and unjustly. This means that the only court left to them is the Court of God Himself, and God is not impartial in such matters.

    We Christians have spent almost no time thinking about what it means to treat our own employees fairly. In my own congregation, the only standards anybody ever quotes is a self referential standard “what are other similar churches doing?”. i.e. the lowest common denominator becomes the standard. If the Supreme Court maintains that we are free to do as we wish, the burden of responsibility before God is squarely on our shoulders. We cannot delegate the practice of justice and fairness within our own ranks to the courts of the land, or even the Supreme Court.

    I don’t see any evidence of us measuring up to that challenge.

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