Thursday, 2/6/14

    1. Man was in danger of disappearing
    2. “Born again” at age 12 — days
    3. Horns of a dilemma
    4. The most difficult commandment
    5. Grand Slam for Hobby Lobby…
    6. … Request for video replay
    7. ONE v. Olesen (and dancing against sophistry)
    8. Breaking the dogmatism scale


“Man was in danger of disappearing.” That’s not from an environmentalist’s dystopic novel. Where it’s from may surprise you.

The parish (a former Presbyterian facility) has a sign with variable letters, where a changing “message” can be displayed. It reads something like, “Father Stephen Freeman speaking Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday on Salvation, Heaven and Hell.” Those are indeed the topics, but the sign fits so well in the culture of Mississippi that it brought a smile to my face.

[I]t may seem strange to think of Orthodoxy in such a context – a world that has become a stranger to the gospel encountering the Church that wrote the gospels. But that is precisely where I think we are. My experience of Orthodoxy has not been with a new way of arguing the same old things (though it is possible to force it into such a position). Rather, reading and praying the fathers has been a path back to something prior to all of the arguments.

I used passages from St. Athanasius to guide my thoughts tonight – and was struck particularly by something he said in On the Incarnation of the Word: ”Man was in danger of disappearing.”

He was describing the existential position of the human race after the fall. Refusing communion with the only truly existing God, we began to fall back towards the nothing from which we were created. Either we are sustained by grace and flourish, or we increasingly cease to exist.

And so I’ve been speaking on “saving the atonement,” finding a way to understand our reconciliation with God that is not the same set of arguments (wrath, debt, justice, etc.), working from the same set of tired, misused Bible verses. What has God done in order for us to not disappear? What does it mean to disappear? What would it mean that we should appear?

And to all of these things Orthodoxy bears a rich witness. And the richness of that witness is beautiful. For, as Pavel Florensky rightly wrote, “Beauty is the criterion of truth.”

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, Saving the Atonement, emphasis added)


I began working with evangelical Protestants on pro-life and religious freedom issues and noted that some of them had an interesting way of introducing themselves at a meeting. Whereas the normal American way of breaking-the-ice is to say, “I’m John Doe and I work at Boeing” or “I’m Jane Smith and I’m an attorney,” these folks would begin rather differently: “I’m John Doe/Jane Smith and I was born again on such-and-such-a-date,” usually in the past 10 or 15 years. Contrarian that I can be on occasion, when things got around the table to me, I’d say, “I’m George Weigel and I was born again on April 29, 1951 . . . at which point I was 12 days old.”

Which got a few interesting conversations going ….

Sometimes I like Weigel, sometimes not. I like this a lot.  There is essentially no biblical or historical support for the almost universal evangelical subjective construal of “born again.”


Oh, my! The dilemma!

At its January 27 meeting (Council Minutes), Orlando, Florida City Council approved the use of eminent domain to acquire the property of Faith Deliverance Temple by eminent domain if negotiations with the church are not successful. As reported by the Orlando Sentinel (Jan. 31), the church is the last parcel needed by the city for construction of an $84 million Major League Soccer Stadium … The family that owns the church building says it wants $35 million.

On the one hand, I cannot imagine ever wanting to darken the door of a place called “Faith Deliverance Temple.” If that was the only church within 100 miles, I wouldn’t be going to church.

On the other hand, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what new blight Orlando will produce when it burns $84 million on a Major League Soccer Stadium, visions of jobs and high-velocity tourist money dancing in their heads: a ghastly and forbidding money-loser that a few times a year is surrounded by a sea of cars pouring money into the coffers of the Soccer Team – if soccer really takes off. If not, everybody loses.

Actually, it’s a pretty easy choice: Faith Deliverance Temple does me no measurable wrong and makes some downtrodden folks feel good for an hour or two a week. An $84 million on a Major League Soccer Stadium is a damn racket, benefitting guys who have more than enough already and want taxpayers to give them more.

Be it noted that something may be omitted from the news story: does Faith Deliverance Temple own, or merely rent? Who is this “family” that thinks eminent domain of a commercial rental is kinda like winning SuperBall if your tenant is a church?

(Categorized in “Sports” and “Damn Rackets,” but I repeat myself.)


Nowhere in our Christian Scriptures does it suggest we must avenge our God against anyone who would insult the Holy Trinity. Nowhere does it say that anyone who has defiled our Bible, or insulted the Holy Name of Jesus, should be murdered. Nowhere in our Bible are we, as Christians, given a directive to mass in our streets with anger, and murder innocent people for any perceived insult to our Saviour, Jesus Christ. That peoples of another faith are told by their religious leaders that they must do such things, in no way can be seen as a directive for our behavior.

The most difficult commandment Christ gave to His disciples was surely the one that we must love our enemies. If we translate that directive into the simple task of being nice to the crabby old man next door, we will have missed the point. Jesus said, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:44).”

(Abbot Tryphon, on America’s increasing religious pluralism and specifically on Muslims among us.)


If you read only one amicus brief in the Hobby Lobby case, read this brief authored by Douglas Laycock on behalf of the Christian Legal Society and several other groups. Professor Laycock was right in the center of the legislative debates over the meaning of RFRA in the 1990s. In exploring the meaning of RFRA and its application, the brief describes those debates in very helpful detail, and it also discusses the legislative history of the Religious Liberty Protection Act, a statute that was in the offing (but ultimately was never passed, though portions of it made their way into the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and portions were used to strengthen RFRA) after the Supreme Court struck down RFRA as applied against the states as in excess of Congress’s enforcement powers under section 5 of the 14th Amendment.

I’ve known of Douglas Laycock for what feels like 30 years. I can’t remember when he wasn’t on my radar as a religious freedom expert (generally on the right side by my lights, too). He puts the whole Hobby Lobby case in perspective: it’s not about how many for-profit corporate religionistas can dance on the head of a free exercise pin; it’s about what RFRA means.

I don’t know what anyone can say in response except “the whole damned RFRA is unconstitutional,” which may explain Freedom From Religion Foundation’s audacious ploy.


I tried not to overreact to provocateurs like the late Madeline Murray O’Hare, and I continue to try today not to overreact to provocateurs like the  Freedom from Religion Foundation.

But they have pulled an audacious play with one of their recent amicus briefs:

While most of the attention on the Supreme Court’s HHS mandate cases has properly centered on whether the Court will interpret the protections of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to include corporations as well as individuals, an even more malignant threat to religious liberty lurks just beneath the surface … [T]he Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to strike it down as an unconstitutional “takeover of the Court’s power to interpret the Constitution” and a violation of the Establishment Clause. Terming the protections of RFRA as “extreme religious liberty rights,” the Foundation and associated groups go beyond even what the Obama administration requests, asserting not only that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood don’t qualify for the law’s protections, but rather that RFRA itself is unconstitutional.

(Mark Barrett) I think their chances are pretty slim, but then I never would have predicted Justice Roberts’s opinion on the Obamacare challenge, either. And in light of Douglas Laycock’s grand slam homerun on the meaning of RFRA, their only hope may be getting the play called off on account of the rules being unconstitutional.


Jonathan Rasch, the standard-setter for civility in our debates over matters of sexual orientation (why couldn’t that honor go to my side?) has been guest-blogging at Volokh Conspiracy this week. Wednesday, he taught me two things:

  1. Same-sex marriage was advocated in the U.S. as early as 1953. (That doesn’t change my opinion on its merits, since that still decidedly is in the category of “historically unprecedented novelties.”)
  2. 56 years ago last month, “anti-gay censorship died in America.” (I’m not talking gay porn. I’m talking about words of advocacy.)

I wouldn’t want to deprive you of Rauch’s account, even though, if you’re on the fence, he might knock you the wrong way. It’s the least I can do for such a candid, decent and courteous believer in free speech and debate.

(Final Caveat: not everything that’s true can be put in declarative prose sentences for debate. I’d love to see a debate where one side got up and recited poetry, or sang, or danced against sophistry.)


What’s this world coming to? First, media obsessively obsessed about how others, especially conservative Christians, are obsessed about sex. Now, leading atheists more dogmatic than Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter. Am I starting to see a pattern here?

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.