Category archives: Religion & Culture

ACLU Again Betrays its Support of Individual Freedom

by Travis Weber

July 21, 2015

The ACLU historically has not always opposed religious freedom. The organization did support RFRA in 1993, after all. It has long held itself out as a protector of individual rights, and has done that in a number of areas. However, it continues its now sad and all-too-familiar decline regarding First Amendment Free Exercise rights (and Establishment Clause jurisprudence).

The latest marker of this decline is the organization’s opposition to proposed federal protections (the First Amendment Defense Act or “FADA”) ensuring the government can’t discriminate against people because they believe marriage is between a man and a woman. Yes, the ACLU is opposing a law protecting individuals from the government — a law which protects both religious and nonreligious people in exercising their beliefs. How did we get here?

While I don’t know all the ins-and-outs of the organization’s internal decision-making, it appears simply to have prioritized sexual liberty (and the individuals rights protections it sees as advancing this liberty) over other rights, including First Amendment religious protections. This is the reason that, in the interval since 1993, the ACLU has developed its concerns about RFRA. Nothing must interfere with sexual liberty, religious or otherwise.

The problem (among others) with this approach is contained in a simple question: What are the limits of this sexual liberty? By holding up such a loosely contoured and ill-defined right above all others, the ACLU (and others with the same aim) ultimately cannot say what these rights to sexual liberty they are protecting will look like in the long term. While the ability to “define and express” one’s “identity” (as the Supreme Court explained in creating a right to same-sex marriage) looks like one thing today, what will it look like tomorrow?

I wish I could say otherwise, but the ACLU is playing with fire as it loses the moorings on which it is able to secure any protection of any constitutional rights. When any rights develop such a nebulous character, they threaten the foundations of other constitutional and civil rights — and ultimately the very foundations and systems supporting these rights. Some of the first casualties are RFRA and First Amendment Free Exercise rights. Now it appears FADA will be thrashed next. And it’s not the last; there will be others. The philosophical assumptions adopted by the ACLU demand further application.

This is why my heart isn’t lifted by the ACLU’s promises regarding FADA:

Despite the claims of some marriage equality opponents, the First Amendment already protects the rights of churches and clergy to decide which unions to solemnize within their faith traditions. Since the founding of our country, no church has been forced to marry any couple in violation of its religious doctrine and that will not change now that same-sex couples can marry. And, the ACLU would be the first to rise in defense of these religious institutions if government ever tried to do that.”

Perhaps so, for now. But such promises can’t be sustained over the long term. The methodology and philosophy adopted (to my dismay) by the ACLU demands it.

Proud to Be

by Joshua Denton

July 8, 2015

I am proud to be an American. I am proud of many things my country has done throughout the course of its history. I do not approve of all of our policies or decisions our leaders or governing bodies have made, but I still firmly believe that I am blessed to have been born in America.

Our founding is richly rooted in Christianity and principles of religious liberty. Yet even as I rejoice to be a citizen of this great nation, I lament that we are in a national identity crisis. All around us it seems people are wondering who we are supposed to be as a nation. What principles are important to us? What is freedom? What is equality? Who are we as individuals? What is our role in society? What is our country’s role in the world?

Abraham Lincoln wrote that the equality of men was the “central idea” of our Republic.  In our time, that idea has been redefined wrongly and diminished cruelly – same-sex “marriage” and abortion, respectively, speak to these errors.

Yet Christian Americans - citizens of our republic - find their identity in Christ and in the nature of the humanity God has given us.  We should carry a confident humility in what God has created us to be.

1)  Proud to be one blood

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.  ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring. – Acts 17:26-28

We all were created of equal by and for God. Every person has intrinsic worth.

Historically, there have been prejudices of race, class, and gender. But Christians know that every person, from conception onward, possesses God’s image and likeness, even if it has been marred by the curse of the fall.

2) Proud to be one community

                So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized        into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave            nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Gal. 3:26-28

Through faith in Christ Jesus all are the children of God. We are all sinners saved by grace and without Christ we would be nothing.

Paul addresses all the prejudices that we deal with today. Race. Class or status. Gender. He tells us that as believers in Christ we are all equals regardless of the distinctions that our society is so prevalent to box us all into. One race is no better than another. Rich is not better than poor. Man is not better than woman, neither is woman better than man. The church is one community – one family. Paul writes, As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.– Eph. 4:1-6

This passage describes how the church should interact with each other and those who have not yet come to know Christ.

3)  Proud to be of one mission

Our purpose is to show forth the image of God so that His glory may be seen in us.

He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.– Luke 24:46-49

This has come to be known as the Great Commission, and were some of Jesus’ last instructions to his disciples before his ascension. We are Christ’s image-bearers on earth.

 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. – Matt. 28:19-20

I am grateful to be a Christian and because of Jesus Christ I share true equality of value with everyone – equal race, equal gender, equal mission, and equal status.

But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. – 1 Cor. 15:10

I am proud to be an American. But my faith in Christ transcends national loyalty and defines my very being. 

*This article was written using the author’s notes from a recent sermon delivered by Lead Pastor Deamon Scapin, of TriumphDC. Used with permission.

So Help them God!

by Robert Morrison

July 2, 2015

My wife and I attended “I” (for Induction) Day ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy last night. We witnessed 1,139 of our best and brightest young people take the oath to defend the Constitution of the United States “against all enemies foreign and domestic.” We have seen plenty of evidence in recent days of just who those domestic enemies of the Constitution might be.

I was heartened to see those vital young people repeat the time-honored words: So help me God.

This was, of course, followed by the Academy’s song, Navy Blue & Gold and its most important military mission: BEAT ARMY!

For my wife, a retired commanding officer in the Navy, it is always a meaningful experience. She looks over the fresh-faced youth who are spending their first day in the Navy. “How young they look,” she remarks.

I survey the families of the incoming Midshipmen and reply: “How young their parents look!”

God bless and keep them all. And I thank them for their service.

Wise Thoughts on Christians Trying to Conform Jesus to the Culture

by Rob Schwarzwalder

July 2, 2015

From Tim Challies:

Many (Christians) … are redefining the terms of their friendship by redefining their friend. They are creating a new version of their friend Jesus, rewriting him in their own image, or in the image of the culture around them, making him into a figure who has been misunderstood and who is far more tolerant, far more accepting, far more palatable. This inoffensive Jesus loves without judgment, he gives without expectation, he proudly waves a rainbow flag.

But, of course, Jesus is unchanged and unchanging. He will not bow to the changing culture, he will not cede to the rising tide. Jesus will only ever be who he is and who he has always been. And each of us has a choice to make.

Laudato Si: Pope Francis Calls for a Deeper Love of God and Neighbor

by Christina Hadford

June 23, 2015

Pope Francis’ new encyclical Laudato Si is less controversial than people think. Although Francis heavily treads in an area previously only lightly touched by his predecessors he merely reiterates established Catholic doctrine. Moreover, Pope Francis’ fundamental message transcends climate change or political provocation: it laments the moral deterioration of man and societal institutions, and optimistically rallies for a purposeful revival of humility, selflessness, and love of God.

At the heart of his exhortation, Francis asks: “What kind of world do we want to leave for those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?”

In answering this question, Pope Francis addresses a number of environmental issues. But he does so in a context that all Christians share. God put Adam in Eden to till it and keep it (Genesis 2:15); He forbade man from polluting the earth (Numbers 35:33) or stripping it bear (Leviticus 19: 9-10). The Earth is a gift to man from God; it is a glimpse into God’s unfathomable glory and greatness. Any man that destroys the earth robs future generations of witnessing this piece of God’s glory.

Pope Francis seeks to reinvigorate these Biblical values in Christians everywhere. He does not condone the secular environmental movement that divorces human life from environmental improvement, nor does he support specific policies: “On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views” (61).

Rather than prescribing policy to improve the ecological environment, Francis focuses on solutions to fix the human environment, the heart of the crisis:

Christian thought sees human beings as possessing a particular dignity above other creatures; it thus inculcates esteem for each person and respect for others. Our openness to others, each of whom is a “thou” capable of knowing, loving and entering into dialogue, remains the source of our nobility as human persons. A correct relationship with the created world demands that we not weaken this social dimension of openness to others, much less the transcendent dimension of our openness to the “Thou” of God. Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb, locking us into a stifling immanence. (119)

Our environment is indeed in crisis. Mothers kill their own children, children are taught to choose their own gender, families are torn apart, and material wealth stands as the mark of success. Why, then, should we be surprised that man is indifferent to others’ needs? Mankind has been calloused to his neighbor’s suffering.

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis shows that there is a simple and expedient solution for our environmental crisis: the love of Jesus Christ. As St. Francis of Assisi said in the encyclical’s namesake, “Laudate e benedicete mi’ Signore et rengratiate,” “Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility.”

Overview of Reed v. Town of Gilbert: Pastor Wins Supreme Court Case Against Local Government Trying to Restrict His Church Signs

by Travis Weber

June 18, 2015

In its opinion issued today in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, the Supreme Court handed a solid victory to Pastor Jack Reed and Good News Community Church, unanimously holding that the town’s regulation of signs to church meetings violated the Free Speech protections of the First Amendment.

A Gilbert, Arizona sign ordinance had discriminated against certain signs based on the content of the signs—whether they were political, ideological, and directional. Directional signs were placed under more severe restrictions than the other types.

Good News Community Church and its pastor, Clyde Reed, needed to announce the times and locations of their services, but because their announcement signs (which directed individuals to a public school where services were being held) were considered directional, the church was severely hampered in speaking its message. Pastor Reed and Good News Community Church filed suit after unsuccessfully seeking an accommodation from the town. The lower courts ruled against them, so they took their case to the Supreme Court. Family Research Council filed an amicus brief with the Court siding with Pastor Reed and his church to make the case for a robust interpretation of our First Amendment rights.

Writing for the Court, Justice Thomas held that Gilbert’s sign code engaged in content discrimination and thus had to meet strict scrutiny, which it failed to do.

Government regulation of speech is content based if a law applies to particular speech because of the topic discussed or the idea or message expressed,” Justice Thomas wrote. If regulation is content based, it must meet strict scrutiny, meaning the government must have a compelling interest behind its regulation and the regulation must be done in the least restrictive way possible.

The Court noted that “[t]his commonsense meaning of the phrase “content based” requires a court to consider whether a regulation of speech “on its face” draws distinctions based on the message a speaker conveys… . Some facial distinctions based on a message are obvious, defining regulated speech by particular subject matter, and others are more subtle, defining regulated speech by its function or purpose. Both are distinctions drawn based on the message a speaker conveys, and, therefore, are subject to strict scrutiny.”

In this case, “[t]he restrictions in the Sign Code that apply to any given sign thus depend entirely on the communicative content of the sign. If a sign informs its reader of the time and place a book club will discuss John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, that sign will be treated differently from a sign expressing the view that one should vote for one of Locke’s followers in an upcoming election, and both signs will be treated differently from a sign expressing an ideological view rooted in Locke’s theory of government.”

Here, “the Church’s signs inviting people to attend its worship services are treated differently from signs conveying other types of ideas. On its face, the Sign Code is a content-based regulation of speech.”

In essence, Gilbert treated directional signs differently than others. It thus regulated signs based on their content. “We thus have no need to consider the government’s justifications or purposes for enacting the Code to determine whether it is subject to strict scrutiny.”

Justice Thomas continued by noting the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning to the contrary was unpersuasive. Content based regulation occurs if it is present on the face of the regulation, regardless of the government’s motive. “In other words, an innocuous justification cannot transform a facially content-based law into one that is content neutral,” and the Court rejected any reliance on Ward v. Rock Against Racism for the notion that government purpose is relevant when a law is content based on its face: “[W]e have repeatedly ‘rejected the argument that discriminatory … treatment is suspect under the First Amendment only when the legislature intends to suppress certain ideas.’ … We do so again today.”

Of note, the Ninth Circuit opinion which the Court so clearly rejected here relied on Hill v. Colorado for similarly dubious reasoning. This rejection confirms our observation about Hill in our amicus brief:

[T]he Hill majority was wrong to treat ‘protest, education, [and] counseling,’ the activities forbidden by the Colorado statute in Hill, merely as modes of speech rather than as distinct subjects of messages… . [T]hat the Hill majority’s analysis would lead a federal court of appeals to conclude that the Gilbert ordinance—an ordinance that on its face differentiates expression by content and imposes different restrictions based solely on content—is somehow content-neutral is one more reason … to overrule Hill.”

Indeed, as Justice Thomas realizes, “[i]nnocent motives do not eliminate the danger of censorship presented by a facially content-based statute, as future government officials may one day wield such statutes to suppress disfavored speech. That is why the First Amendment expressly targets the operation of the laws—i.e., the ‘abridg[ement] of speech’—rather than merely the motives of those who enacted them.” He presciently quotes Justice Scalia’s dissent in Hill: “[t]he vice of content-based legislation … is not that it is always used for invidious, thought-control purposes, but that it lends itself to use for those purposes.”

The Court then analyzed the sign code under strict scrutiny, and found that the code’s differential treatment of certain signs based on how it characterized their content did not serve any compelling interest in a narrowly tailored way. The town offered two reasons for its regulation—“aesthetics” and “traffic safety”—neither of which persuaded the Court. “Aesthetics” did not serve as a sufficient reason to draw the distinctions as the code drew them, the Court said. Neither is “traffic safety” advanced by limiting certain content more than others. As the Court noted, local governments can further legitimate interests in traffic and pedestrian safety, among other interests, through content neutral restrictions which are narrowly tailored. The Town of Gilbert’s did not meet that standard.

Justice Alito wrote a concurring opinion in Reed, joined by Justices Kennedy and Sotomayor, outlining simple ways that municipalities can still regulate signs consistent with this opinion.

Justice Breyer also wrote a concurring opinion, cautioning against using content as an “automatic … trigger” for strict scrutiny, and argued for more “judicial sensitivity” to the First Amendment’s objectives. He opined that because speech is so often regulated by the government, the ruling in this case will result in “judicial management” of all sorts of government activity.

However, while Justice Breyer makes an attempt to articulate an alternative standard, it is convoluted and confusing:

The better approach is to generally treat content discrimination as a strong reason weighing against the constitutionality of a rule where a traditional public forum, or where viewpoint discrimination, is threatened, but elsewhere treat it as a rule of thumb, finding it a helpful, but not determinative legal tool, in an appropriate case, to determine the strength of a justification. I would use content discrimination as a supplement to a more basic analysis, which, tracking most of our First Amendment cases, asks whether the regulation at issue works harm to First Amendment interests that is disproportionate in light of the relevant regulatory objectives. Answering this question requires examining the seriousness of the harm to speech, the importance of the countervailing objectives, the extent to which the law will achieve those objectives, and whether there are other, less restrictive ways of doing so.”

Unfortunately, such a vague standard would likely invite more judicial management (at least leaving more discretion in the hands of judges) then the majority’s clear rule here. In addition, “substituting judicial judgment for that of administrators” is precisely what we need the separation of powers for. In this case, “administrators” saw their clearly content based regulation as permissible, and needed the Supreme Court to articulate the correct standard—which it did.

Justice Kagan also concurred, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, and argued that the majority’s rule would capture all types of regulation within its net which is not necessary, and instead the “content-regulation doctrine” should be administered “with a dose of common sense, so as to leave standing laws that in no way implicate its intended function.”

While there likely are a number of regulations which may be implicated by the majority’s ruling, it is better to resolve doubts in the ruling in favor of individual rights, if nowhere more than when the First Amendment is at issue. Regardless, the problem remains: who gets to say what common sense is?

Does Justice Kagan have a point that the town’s regulation here could have been failed on tailoring alone, instead of being declared invalid under a rigid holding which she believes we “will regret” down the road after seeing how intrusively it requires courts to review sign codes? Perhaps so. But at this juncture it’s better to have clear constitutional guidelines laid out by the Court. Finally, the regulations which hypothetically concern the concurring Justices may not devolve into litigation, thus minimizing this ruling’s actual effect.

In sum, the ruling today is a Free Speech victory, and should be celebrated by all adherents to a strong First Amendment and individual rights.

Elisabeth Elliot: A Woman Who Knew God

by Rob Schwarzwalder

June 16, 2015

Today’s New York Times’ obituary section features stories about, among others, the passing of a Hollywood actress, a stripper, a movie producer, a Grand Ole Opry star, and “a host to legendary maestros.”

Not listed is Elisabeth Elliot, perhaps the most influential woman in American Evangelicalism of the past half-century.

She was the widow of missionary martyr Jim Elliot and later of Gordon-Conwell Seminary theologian Addison Leitch; in total, she was married to them for about six years. She knew loss and pain throughout her life. Then God brought her to Lars Gren, with whom she enjoyed many years of marriage and ministry. She also rejoiced in her daughter with Jim, Valerie Elliot Shepard, and many grandchildren.

Numerous moving obituaries have been written about her. I recommend Justin Taylor’s at The Gospel Coalition (“She was a beautiful woman of whom the world was not worthy”), John Piper’s (“Peaches in Paradise: Why I Loved Elisabeth Elliot”), Tsh Oxenreider’s at the Washington Post, and the collation of tributes at Christianity Today. These remembrances feature many quotes from Mrs. Elliot, whose love for her Savior and devotion to taking up His cross daily fed millions for many years.

Her ministry for Jesus Christ was her gracious but uncompromising. Consider Mrs. Elliot’s utterly fearless decision to live with three Ecuadorean Indian tribes (taking her year-old daughter with her and beginning with the tribe that murdered her husband and his four missionary colleagues); her 13 year-long radio devotional; her more than 20 books; her extraordinary speaking ministry; and her extensive personal correspondence with generations of young women seeking the compassionate but firmly truthful counsel for which she was both known and honored. Like Abel, she, being dead, yet speaketh (Hebrews 11:4), and will speak for many years to come.

Mrs. Elliot was also a gracious but unflinching advocate for the unborn and their mothers. “We are faced with only one question,” she wrote. “Are we talking about an object, or might it by any stretch of the imagination be a person? If we cannot be sure of the answer, at least we may pick up a clue or two from the word of the Lord which came to Jeremiah: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you for my own; before you were born I consecrated you, I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ To God, at least, Jeremiah was already a person. For my part, I will try to regard whatever bears the marks of humanity as God’s property and not mine.”

As a young man, her book about her husband Jim, Shadow of the Almighty, had a greater effect on my own devotion to Christ than any book but the Bible. When she came to speak at the seminary I attended in Oregon, the venue must have had a special meaning to her. Western Seminary is located on the eastern slope of Portland’s Mt. Tabor; Jim had been raised only a few blocks away on the northern slope.

Mrs. Elliot’s omission from the obituary section of the nation’s “paper of record” is unsurprising. It’s also unimportant. Elisabeth Elliot lived a life “despising the shame” of the cross, just as did the Prince of Life nailed to it, the eternal Son she followed with perseverance and humble fidelity.

There is so much to say, but one thing should not be neglected: Mrs. Elliot was not occupied with Evangelicalism’s many self-preoccupations, endless self-analyses, constant bickering over secondary things, the latest techniques of ministry, or the embarrassing and fruitless professionalization of the ministry of the Gospel and the church’s sordid aping of the business world. She harkened her fellow believers to a deep and intimate walk with the Savior not just for what they could derive from it but because He deserves lives of full submission to Him. And, as that submission is given, daily, the peace, joy, and contentment for which we all long follows.

No short blog of mine can capture fully the magnificence of Mrs. Elliot’s utter surrender to the Lord Jesus. Perhaps a story related by Steve Saint, the son of one of Jim’s colleagues, is a good way to close:

… moments after killing the five missionaries who had come to deliver to them the gospel, these native Indian men saw hazy figures above the tree line and heard them singing music they had never heard before. Many months later, several of these tribesmen were converted to Christ. Afterwards, they sat listening to a missionary’s record player … (playing) a choir singing hymns. The natives recognized the music and said it was like the music they had heard that day on the sandy beach coming from the figures hovering above the tree line.

Mrs. Elliot has, in person, now heard those “figures” – those angels – singing. And she has met the One of Whom they sang, and sing, for all eternity.

Harder Times Coming

by Pat Fagan

June 15, 2015

Given all we know about the benefits of religious worship the rising numbers of NONEs is real bad news for society.  The social and individual benefit depletion  suggested by the trend lines below is staggeringly serious —- but no public leader is calling attention to this weakening trend. 

From the abstract of a new report by a team of researchers:

In four large, nationally representative surveys (N = 11.2 million), American adolescents and emerging adults in the 2010s (Millennials) were significantly less religious than previous generations (Boomers, Generation X) at the same age. The data are from the Monitoring the Future studies of 12th graders (1976–2013), 8th and 10th graders (1991–2013), and the American Freshman survey of entering college students (1966–2014). Although the majority of adolescents and emerging adults are still religiously involved, twice as many 12th graders and college students, and 20%–40% more 8th and 10th graders, never attend religious services. Twice as many 12th graders and entering college students in the 2010s (vs. the 1960s–70s) give their religious affiliation as “none,” as do 40%–50% more 8th and 10th graders. Recent birth cohorts report less approval of religious organizations, are less likely to say that religion is important in their lives, report being less spiritual, and spend less time praying or meditating

Talking Turkey Tumult?

by Robert Morrison

June 11, 2015

America’s business newspaper of record, the Wall Street Journal, headlined this story this week: “Key Ally Turkey Braces for Tumult.” Generally, business does not like “tumult” and it especially doesn’t like it in a country viewed as vital to U.S. national interests. Turkey, a founding member of the NATO alliance, has been moving out of the orbit of American friends in recent years. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pronounced air-doo-WAN) has been pushing this large Muslim majority country into the arms of the jihadists. But last weekend’s voting in Turkey resulted in a loss of a majority in Parliament by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has ruled Turkey since 2002.

Erdogan tried five years ago to run the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The ship, the Mavi Marmara, was “discreetly encouraged” by Erdogan’s government. She was bringing only “humanitarian” aid to the people in that strip of land adjoining Israel. But Gaza is controlled by the terrorist gang, Hamas.

Humanitarian aid in Gaza includes construction materials that can be used, yes, to repair bomb damage from Israeli raids. But it can also be used to build Metro-size tunnels. Hamas is burrowing under Israeli schools and hospitals. To prevent a future terrorist strike by Hamas fighters emerging on Israel’s side of the border, Israel’s Defense Force (IDF) launched Operation Protective Edge last summer.

So “tumult” for Ergodan and his cronies may be good news for us, for Americans, for Israelis, and perhaps even for Christians.

My best Turkish news this week came from friends who spoke of church planting among Turkish immigrants in Germany and who told me that even in Turkey itself, there are green shoots springing up, budding church communities. This in a land where one hundred years ago this year, millions of Christian Armenians were killed. “Who remembers the Armenians?” said Adolf Hitler as he planned his Holocaust of the Jews.

We can answer him: We do! And it is for the sake of the people of that troubled region that we demand religious freedom. It is because too many there murder their neighbors who worship differently that they have seen a century of tumult.

America has a lesson to teach the world. When George Washington greeted the Hebrew Congregation at Newport in 1790, he quoted Scripture to them: “Let each sit under his own vine and fig tree and let there be none to make him afraid.” That has too rarely been true in the Mideast. And, today, it is a heritage increasingly at risk here at home.

In demanding religious freedom for the people of Turkey, we assert a fundamental human right. And we strengthen our own resolve as Americans. 

Christianity’s Revolutionary Recognition of Women as Equals

by David J. Theroux

June 5, 2015

For millennia, marriage has been universal to civilization with most marriage ceremonies involving religion. Yet for years, traditional marriage and the family have been subjected to secular ridicule, with the family increasingly politicized and socialized by “progressive” government bureaucracies.

The result has been an unprecedented decline of the family in America, producing increasing rates of non-marital births, divorces, juvenile crime, substance abuse, and other pathologies. However, this trend need not be permanent. Put simply, the progressive narrative that supports it is unfounded and refuted by the witness of cultural experience.

The biblical account of marriage begins with one man and one woman: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them.’” And, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Jesus later called humanity back to these records (Matthew 19:4–5, Mark 10:6–8), and the Christian story is viewed as ending with the wedding of Christ with His bride, the Church, from which all Christian discussions of marriage stem.

In Christianity, marriage is hence a sacred union of the highest order. However, since the Enlightenment, secularism has defined marriage as a civil union. Many academics view traditional marriage as a patriarchy to dominate and oppress women, all supported by despots animated by their Christian faith. Such a narrative is based on the theory that primitive mankind was egalitarian, matrilineal, and socialist, with communal sexual relations, despite the biological and kinship basis of heterosexual pairing.

However, for thousands of years around the world, a wife was considered a husband’s property. In ancient Jewish communities, almost every adult was married. By age thirteen, a man chose a wife who was betrothed (committed legally to marriage) and, thus, considered de facto married. The man headed the family, with the wife his property. In the Greco-Roman pagan world, marriage was reserved for citizens, and a woman shared her husband’s station as mother of his children, but she and the offspring were his.

While adultery was prohibited for women, no fidelity obligation existed for men. Older men could force marriage on pre-pubescent girls and compel them to have abortions, usually certain death for not only the baby but also the girl. Moreover, according to sociologist Rodney Stark in his book The Rise of Christianity, infanticide was a commonplace, with baby girls disproportionately abandoned, resulting in “131 males per 100 females in the city of Rome, and 140 males per 100 females in Italy, Asia Minor, and North Africa.”

Only with the arrival of Christianity did the status of women change as obligations were placed on husbands. As Stark has shown, “Christians condemned promiscuity in men as well as in women and stressed the obligations of husbands toward wives as well as those of wives toward husbands…. The symmetry of the relationship Paul described was at total variance not only with pagan culture but with Jewish culture as well.

Stark shows that Christianity recognized women as equal to men, all sacred to God. Christian wives did not have abortions (neither did Jewish wives), and Christians opposed infanticide, polygamy, incest, divorce, and adultery—all to women’s benefit. No longer serfs to men, women had dignity, were not rushed into marriages, and served as leaders in rapidly growing Christian communities. Christian women married into more secure families, had better marriages, were not forced to remarry if widowed, and were given assistance when needed. Stark notes Paul’s teaching:

But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does. (I Corinthians 7:2-4)

Thus, the progressive narrative upon which contemporary, anti-family policies rest, is false. Only through Christianity did women receive full marriage rights and gender equality in fidelity. The private, monogamous family has served well the human needs for love and companionship, economic and social well-being, and the rearing of children.

Abandoning these lessons is at the root of the modern decline of the family, and government can only further undermine the rights and benefits that have uplifted the lives of countless men, women, and children through Christian-inspired marriage.

To restore the family, civic and religious leaders must continue to challenge such folly and advance reforms that strengthen rather than weaken the most extraordinarily successful social unit in history – the family. In this regard, religious and secular leaders should protect the sovereignty of religious institutions to perform marriages according to their own beliefs.

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*David J. Theroux is founder, president and chief executive officer of the Independent Institute in Oakland, California; founder and president of the C.S. Lewis Society of California; and publisher of The Independent Review.

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