Living with neighbors

I recently read a New York Times opinion article by Dr. Russell Moore: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/18/opinion/supreme-court-religious-freedom.html?fbclid=IwAR28o6dLh13KCBimIvQBbiN-YO_yKc_P1-FEsalInoF46jduHigMG-WzJ28

The Supreme Court recently decided that the 1964 Civil Rights Act covers sexual orientation and gender identity. Outcome-wise, our neighbors are free to seek federal protections from being fired from a job for identifying as lesbian, gay, or transgender. But means-wise, I do wish our Supreme Court justices kept to originalism per their jobs as guardian and interpreters of the Constitution.

Not all interpretations are created equal, and interpreting the word ‘sex’ to mean things outside the original scope of the legislation creates a useful but dangerous basis for legislation. If Supreme Court justices feel free to use their judicial authority to stretch the meaning of a word to satisfy the prevailing cultural opinion, this freedom carries the danger of rendering existing law almost meaningless. For the sake of rule of law, originalism is the best, conservative option for Supreme Court justices to adopt. Otherwise they act as teachers who suit the passions of people who do not endure sound teaching, but have itching ears (2 Tim 4:3).

Through a textualist lens, Supreme Court justices act as pseudo-legislators, passing a law through an unauthorized back-door instead of the established Constitutional means of passing a bill through both houses of Congress and having the POTUS sign the bill into law. It is through this latter authorized means that I wish our neighbors would have sought federal protections.

The court did not rule on religious institutions and their First Amendment freedoms. But I do hope the distinction can stay. The United States is a country of both sinners and saints. The books and letters of the New Testament establishes the church and the world as two distinct spheres of influence although they occupy the same space both temporally and spatially. Christian colleges and universities, faith-based nonprofits and other religious organizations seeking to serve their communities should be able to do so in accordance with their beliefs. They should be able to establish who gets to serve on their leadership teams and how they should best serve their communities in accordance with scriptural norms.

In similar manner, the world is free to serve their interests as they see fit. But they should learn to draw the line when it comes to using the force and power of government from federal to local to require religious institutions to abandon their views from wedding cakes to requirements for nuns to provide contraception.

On one hand, there is nothing new under the sun. In the city of Ephesus in the 1st century Roman Empire, there was a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, who brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” (Acts 19:24-27)

In our 21st century context, the rainbow flag and pride parades are meant to convince society that there is nothing wrong with being gay, nothing to be ashamed of. The issue is now so deeply tied to identity that it can feel like we are rejecting our friends and neighbors when we hold to our traditional biblical views.

Yet, with respect to marriage and sexuality, the government should stay out either way. We are not the Byzantine empire and we are not Oceania. We do not compel outsiders to come to the faith, and neither should outsiders compel believers to abandon their faith because they conflict with the fluctuating norms of secular sexual orthodoxy. Given that the issues involved are not as severe temporally as the issue of abortion is, the government should generally stay out. Instead of using the raw power of whoever has more votes at the moment, we need to engage in arguments and conversation with one another.

As Moore stated, “We need to argue about such matters in the arena of persuasion, not state coercion. Yes, sometimes those debates will spill into legislatures and court rooms. But it would be tragic if secularists believed that they can somehow “win” through blunt political force untethered from the American principles of religious freedom and liberty of conscience.”

On other related issues such as transgender bathrooms and participation in athletics, we should seek healthy nuanced dialogue with one another, instead of resorting to the power of law to bulldoze over one another’s convictions.

More than that, people need to hear and understand the gospel. All of us can be guilty of idolizing our sexuality, wrapping our hopes and identities up in our sexual freedom and we all need to repent of this sin. We have to find our identity in Jesus. All the approval, fame, and recognition of this world is nothing, less than nothing, compared to knowing Christ. The gain is this relationship with God through Christ. Eternal life.

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