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Seems Like Old Times. Really Old Times

The past few days I’ve been talking to legal scholars and activists involved in the same-sex marriage fight, from the traditionalist side, asking them where the traditionalist cause stands these days, given the fast-changing legal and political landscape. I’ve learned some fascinating things, and will be writing about them for the next issue of TAC. One veteran of this front on the culture war told me that Christians who hold to traditional Biblical teaching on marriage are going to have to understand that we will very quickly have more in common with the Church in the first centuries than we ever could have imagined, in that we will in many cases be outlaws and outcasts in a hostile pagan culture, as in ancient Rome.

My source wasn’t giving a scare quote, but rather was simply saying that marriage trads need to wake up and see what’s going on, and adjust their expectations to a new world rapidly coming into being.

I thought about that just now when I read this Baptist Press story about what Southern Baptist military chaplains are facing [1]. Excerpts:

The decisions and changes mean chaplains might be asked to perform marriages for same-sex couples as well as counseling, marriage retreats and funerals. There are also concerns about whether military chaplains will be able to quote certain Scripture passages without facing disciplinary action for offending homosexuals.

“Those of you serving in the military are at the front wave of what we are eventually going to be facing all over this country,” Moore told the chaplains. “You are going to be dealing with some things that every community in the United States will be dealing with in a few short years.”

More from Dr. Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission:

Moore compared what today’s chaplains are facing to the challenges the apostle Paul faced during the time of the first-century church. Paul sought to exercise his rights as a Roman citizen not for the sake of his own well-being but for the precedents being set. He recounted Paul’s stay in a Roman prison as recorded in Acts chapter 16.

“Paul is not seeking his rights, but he knows his response to this has implications for everybody else. Remember to recognize you are really in the same place,” Moore told the chaplains. “You are making decisions that will have an influence for the next 300 years to come. We need to know what is going on so that you are not standing alone. We are going to work with NAMB legislatively and culturally and we will be educating Southern Baptists so that the people in our churches will know.”

Nobody is talking about persecution of the sort the early Christians endured, so let’s take that off the table now. What we’re seeing is the next phase of life in post-Christian America, in which people who really believe in Christianity have to learn to live in a pluralistic culture in which historical Christian norms not only cannot be taken for granted, but which may be radically opposed to the majority culture. Christians are going to have to learn what it means to suffer for the faith — though not, I believe (and certainly hope) to the degree that the early Church did — while keeping their hope and their openness to a world that increasingly sees them as aliens, even hostile aliens. They will also learn what it means to raise children who can successfully resist assimilation into the larger culture.

To that end, a reader sends me these reflections on youth ministry by Father Matt Marino [2], an Episcopal priest who is fed up with churches that try to be “relevant” to young people. He believes this approach has a lot to do with why young people are fleeing the churches, and compares the institutional church’s response to that of a young hospital patient he once counseled who was dying, but who refused to accept the reality of this. Fr. Marino believes the early Church can be a model for us. Excerpt:

The opposite of giving people what they want is to give them what they need. The beauty is that Christianity already knows how to do this.

Once upon a time our faith thrived in a non-Christian empire. It took less than 300 years for 11 scared dudes to take over the most powerful empire the world had ever seen. How did they do it? Where we have opted for a relevant, homogenously grouped, segregated, attractional professionalized model; the early church did it with a  multi-ethnic, multi-social class, seeker INsensitive church. Worship was filled with sacrament and symbol. It engaged the believing community in the Christian narrative. This worship was so God-directed and insider-shaping that in the early church non-Christians were asked to leave the building before communion! With what effect? From that fellowship of the transformed, the church went out to the highways and byways loving and serving the least, last and lost. In that body of Christ, Christians shared their faith with Romans 1:16 boldness, served the poor with abandon, fed widows and took orphans into their homes. The world noticed. We went to them in love rather than invited them to our event.

The beauty of where we are at today is that, unlike the girl in the hospital bed, our fatal pill could still be rejected. It is not too late. We can leave the culture-centered models we have been following for more Christ-centered ones. More ancient ones. More rooted ones. And the most beautiful thing is that students actually enjoy them.

 

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117 Comments To "Seems Like Old Times. Really Old Times"

#1 Comment By Loudon is a Fool On August 15, 2013 @ 9:46 am

All that is banned is a prayer crafted and enjoined by the government.

That’s just not accurate. Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe was student led and student initiated prayer. It’s not entirely clear to me what the current rule is, but for all practical purposes if something religious is going on at school that is in any way public, a bunch of atheists are going to sue and/or the school is going to shut it down to avoid litigation. If you’re a little kid handing out candy canes: You’re an establishment clause violator. If you’re a cheerleader praising Jesus in your cheers: You’re an establishment clause violator. Because homosexuals are almost as litigious as atheists by 2020 the general rule in public will be to go gay or go home.

#2 Comment By Josh McGee On August 15, 2013 @ 10:43 am

JonF,

I will try this one last time: nowhere have I made an argument for reintroducing public prayer by an administration or teacher back into schools. Maybe it was a glorious good, maybe it was a necessary compromise in order to maintain order, maybe it was a great evil. People debate this all the time and will continue to do so. It is not what is of interest to me at the moment, on this particular thread. What I am saying is something far more simple:

There was a point in time where administrators were at liberty to do this. Then there was a point in time where they were no longer at liberty to do this. I have repeatedly made a rather simple observation: something changed. I have further submitted that what changed is that they lost the liberty to do the thing they had been doing. I have made no case for or against this. Pointing out all of the liberties that do still remain (and the list may indeed still be long and the liberties that remain may indeed still be valuable) does nothing to change this rather simple observation.

I will say that this thread has caused me to wonder why pointing out such a simple observation is such a big deal. I am wondering if some secularists seem to believe they are only capable of increasing liberty for all, never before perceiving that a given action they may take may reduce the liberty to act in some way for this or that group: that as they become the dominant group, their values may indeed impose on this or that other group – that as the dominant group they will tend to behave as dominant groups tend to behave. But, I really don’t know….I admit I am at a loss for why such a simple observation should cause such a strong reaction…..

#3 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 15, 2013 @ 11:16 am

Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe was about prayer chosen as part of the official process of an official graduation ceremony, no matter what hoops those involved jumped through to make it look spontaneous. Those who sued to prevent it were not atheists. They were a Roman Catholic minority among students and parents who objected to having Southern Baptist prayers imposed upon their and their children’s official graduation day.

It is quite well established that a school administration may no more prevent a voluntary student club from meeting for prayer and Bible study after school (a truly VOLUNTARY process) than they may prescribe a prayer for all students to recite in unison, or listen to during a mandatory exercise.

#4 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 15, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

I’m sorry I came late to this thread, but not overmuch. The main points I’d have made were made by others with due eloquence.

I’ll leave the rest for the Sorokin thread, but I will offer a general comment concerning the victors writing the histories: Christians are very well-advised to take that cliche to heart and examine the basics before making claims, assertions or (especially) predictions of doom.

#5 Comment By Loudon is a Fool On August 15, 2013 @ 4:44 pm

Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe was about prayer chosen as part of the official process of an official graduation ceremony, no matter what hoops those involved jumped through to make it look spontaneous.

I didn’t say spontaneous. I said student led and initiated to correct JonF’s assertion that only prayer crafted and enjoined by the government is banned. The obvious point being that current establishment clause jurisprudence impinges upon free exercise. Setting aside the fact that government involvement and even government endorsement is not establishment, particularly in the public school context any voluntary religious expression in the public forum (even spontaneous expression) carries with it a risk of litigation because the Freedom From Religion Foundation is only a court filing away. So schools, even in Texas, tend not to tolerate it (two recent examples in Texas were the candy cane case and the cheerleaders with their prayer banners). So to the extent your argument or JonF’s argument is “Yeah, but nobody is stopping students from secretly praying in secret!!!11!!” I will say to you kudos for defeating an assertion no one else made and for winning an argument no one else is having.

#6 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 15, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

Loudon, not to put too fine a point to it, the defining factor is a public event to which all students are either required to attend or are invited to attend. I agree with Siarlys’ implied point (his correction invited): “student led and initiated” can still be coercive and as such any semblence of arms-length denial by the administration is disingenuous at best. Your suggested “extension” of his and Jon’s arguments is a non sequitur in this context, given that a prayer activity absent the coercive element is not prohibited, and should result in being protected if litigation ensues.

#7 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 15, 2013 @ 11:51 pm

I didn’t say spontaneous. I said student led and initiated to correct JonF’s assertion that only prayer crafted and enjoined by the government is banned.

Don’t be such a fool. The point I was making, although I didn’t use these words, is that a process of student GOVERNANCE was imposing the prayer on a common function of the entire class at the school. “Government” is not just the big bad bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. Its a process of exercising authority. Spontaneous is exactly what prayer in school SHOULD be, independent of legislation, regulation, administration, even the student council. If you think I was talking about praying “in secret” you obviously didn’t read what I mentioned about students forming prayer and Bible study clubs in school.

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As for FFRF, they can be beaten. Their web site for a while said they would no longer file in the courts of Wisconsin (the state where they are based) because they lost a silly suit over a creche in a city park. Talking about holding your breath until you turn blue and nobody cares. The totalitarian freethinkers deserve to lose. Nobody needs to be a coward or a crybaby about them. Who’s afraid of the big bad Gaylor girls and their merry band of lawyers anyway?

#8 Comment By Loudon is a Fool On August 16, 2013 @ 10:52 am

Franklin,

Agreed that the rule is that secret prayers are ok (as long as it’s clear that the school hasn’t somehow endorsed your secret praying).

On Mergens I’m just going to suggest its accommodations are pretty weak beer. And it’s worth noting in Mergens that students had to sue to form their Christian club (school policy prohibited it out of fear of violating the Establishment Clause and suffering the lawsuits of atheists (or the occasional Obama-voting Catholic or Morman); like school policies prohibiting the distribution of candy canes nearly 20 years later). Mergens had to do with whether a school had created a limited open forum outside of instructional time. The issue there isn’t free exercise (because students don’t really have a right to exercise their religion, they can’t even share prayer cards with fellow students if school policy prohibits it; they can protest wars but that’s about the extent of their First Amendment rights). Mergens is closer to viewpoint discrimination. Schools that create a limited open forum and allow noncurriculum related student groups access to facilities outside of instructional time can’t prohibit religious student groups from accessing those facilities (provided that there are no paid teachers around or anyone who might scare students into becoming religious). Now that’s robust, my friend. Now that I’ve typed it out I can see that you guys are totally right. Schools are just a hotbed of religious activity. Except that you can’t do any of the following:

Provide for voluntary prayer or Bible reading (Engel v. Vitale, Abbington School Dist. v. Schemp).

Provide for a moment of silence (Wallace v. Jaffree).

End classes early to allow students to voluntarily do anything religiony (McCollum v. Bd. of Educ.).

Post the Ten Commandments (Stone v. Graham).

Pray at graduation (Lee v. Weisman).

Of course, public school teachers can prosthelytize on behalf of the homosexual lifestyle, universal healthcare and ultra-progressive tax policy because those things are just, like, totally true.

#9 Comment By JonF On August 16, 2013 @ 6:48 pm

Re: There was a point in time where administrators were at liberty to do this.

While this statement works as a colloquialism, it is a misuse of the word “liberty”. It would be better phrased “There was a point in time where administrators had authority to do this.” There is no such thing as “liberty to define other people’s prayers”. Even bishops have only authority, recognized by their followers, to do so for those same followers. This is what I find so repugnant about the way “freedom” and “liberty” are used on the Right: It’s a form of Big Brother speak to posit that a freedom exists that consists of limiting the freedom of others. There may be circumstances when it is needful to do so, but that is never “freedom”; it is merely “authority”. It is your authority which has been curtailed, not your freedom. Do not confuse the two. They are born of different parents and feed from different mangers.

By the way I am hardly a secularist (I think you have been in these parts long enough to know that; just a few days ago I spoke warmly of a church I attended while on a vacation trip), but if I had children I would not want some teacher in school teaching them religion; that would be my job, and the job of my priest.

Re: “Yeah, but nobody is stopping students from secretly praying in secret!

Need I look up the passage in the New Testament where Jesus recommended “secret” prayer? School prayer was nothing but a big show of faux and pharisaic piety not intended for God, but as a form of spiritual exhibitionism.

#10 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 16, 2013 @ 11:01 pm

I think loudon has painted himself into a corner where his ignorance is on full display, but I will note that Schempp and Vitale were not about “voluntary” prayer at all, but about mandatory, administered religious exercises. Moments of silence have been approved by the U.S. Supreme Court since Jaffree, which was a particularly blatant attempt to circumvent Vitale and Schempp.

Whatever the merits of homosexual lifestyle (whatever that is), universal health care, and progressive taxation, none of them are religious in nature, except possibly in Church Lady’s personal universe.

Oh, and Zorach v. Clauson explicitly authorized releasing students from school early for religious exercises, as long as they weren’t conducted in school as part of the school’s program, as they were in McCollum.

#11 Comment By EG On August 17, 2013 @ 12:05 am

See: Former ABC Williams’ remark: ‘Christians complaining of persecution in Britain need to “grow up”, the former Archbishop of Canterbury has said, as he argues feeling “mildly uncomfortable” is not comparable to real suffering elsewhere.’

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#12 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 17, 2013 @ 9:58 am

Sorry, Loudon, but I saw you palm that card. “Secret” is a false qualifier in this entire context. It is a word that didn’t enter my thoughts, is not found on my posts, and I just spat out after your attempt to put it in my mouth.

#13 Comment By Chris 1 On August 17, 2013 @ 2:58 pm

What we’re seeing is the next phase of life in post-Christian America, in which people who really believe in Christianity have to learn to live in a pluralistic culture in which historical Christian norms not only cannot be taken for granted, but which may be radically opposed to the majority culture. Christians are going to have to learn what it means to suffer for the faith — though not, I believe (and certainly hope) to the degree that the early Church did — while keeping their hope and their openness to a world that increasingly sees them as aliens, even hostile aliens. They will also learn what it means to raise children who can successfully resist assimilation into the larger culture.

This is spot on, Rod. The culture war is not where the Christian needs to put their efforts, it is fighting the wrong battle with the wrong tactics.

The challenge for Christians is to return to the Christianity of the first three centuries. That was a Christianity with a very different face in the public square from the one “intellectuals” wish us to have today.

Back then Christians did not challenge the culture by holding protests and demanding their rights, but by loving those deemed by the culture to be unloveable, by caring for those the culture could not care less about, and by humbly subjecting themselves to abuse for the love of God.

We need to learn their lesson and embrace their example.

The problem is we wish to have our cake and eat it, too, and thus be Christian while conforming to the values and fears of this age.

#14 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 17, 2013 @ 8:20 pm

School prayer was nothing but a big show of faux and pharisaic piety not intended for God, but as a form of spiritual exhibitionism.

Highly recommended for an Evans-Manning award, or a gold medal of some sort.

#15 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 18, 2013 @ 10:04 am

For me, the elephant in the room full of Christians is the one that tramples over non-Christians in the name of evangelism. Let there be no mistake: I don’t condemn an entire faith for this, I’m pointing out that this one tenet by itself generates the vast proportion of distrust and hostility towards Christians.

In a pluralistic society, a core belief that states for all to see that Christians claim superiority over all other faiths cannot be anything but a source of tension and conflict.

Not to be pre-emptive, but the response “but not all Christians are like that” is true and worthy of consideration… but it’s not enough for those of us watching the rest of them claim persecution when that particular belief is rejected in its practice by secular laws and general social disapprobation.

#16 Comment By Socrates On August 18, 2013 @ 10:10 am

“They lost a liberty they had – the liberty to pray in school.”

EVERYONE has complete and total liberty to pray in school. In fact everyone has complete and total liberty to pray anywhere, at any time.

#17 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 18, 2013 @ 8:44 pm

“As long as there are math tests, there will be prayer in public schools.”

That tangent aside, after mature reflection I would like to suggest that there may after all be some merit in the notion that Christians are going to be thrust back into pre-Constantinian conditions, and that this might be a good thing.

Christians were not being hounded, thrown to the lions, and slaughtered every year between 33 AD and 306 AD. There were upsurges of anti-Christian violence and policy, and periods of tolerance.

IF, the point is that Christians will lack the prop of a supportive state, and will be swimming in a culture not suffused with an overwhelming implicit Christianity, but rather will be a coherent and compact body of people across many ethnicities, geographics, and demographics, influential perhaps, but not dominant, and will have to assess their mission in the world accordingly, that may be true. Shorn of any implication of certain persecution, holding at bay the melodrama, ‘they’re going to send us to the lions,’ this may call forth a more powerful and resilient Christian message. It will be less pervasive, but perhaps have a good deal more integrity for that.