Why Christians should support the “compelling interest” standard of accommodation.
For Christians, the rule should be something like this: Protect other people’s religious liberty as you would like your religious liberty to be protected.
Many believers will celebrate today because the Supreme Court ruled in Fulton v. Philadelphia that Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia should be able to continue operating according to its religious principles without getting its contract canceled by the city. That will be hailed as a victory, and it should.
But the freedom of those at a Catholic foster care agency to do their work as committed Catholics wouldn’t have been so precarious if not for a Supreme Court decision from more than 30 years ago—one that upended the status quo of religious freedom law in the United States.
There is lots of data that shows that Christians are becoming more marginal in the US. In the years ahead, it will be important to defend religious liberty legally. But strategically—and more importantly, morally—we need to do that by defending religious liberty for everyone.
That’s not what happened in Employment Division v. Smith, the critical 1990 ruling that set the precedent leading to challenges for Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia. In Smith, the Supreme Court made it much easier for the government to justify actions burdening religious free exercise. Officials were not obligated to accommodate religious practice. In fact, they could make it impossible for minority groups to be faithful to their beliefs and call it “just” and “fair.”
To understand this, let’s go back to 1963. A Seventh-day Adventist named Adell Sherbert was denied unemployment benefits after refusing to accept job offers that would have required her to ...
What an attention-starved son learned while reconstructing the life of his distant dad.
Our family is a bit raw this week. Packing your whole life into a U-Haul and leaving behind everything called “home” has a way of putting everyone on edge. We moved several times during my childhood, but this was my first time doing it as a father. I remember moving to South Florida in the third grade—the tears, the uncertainty, the upheaval. It’s been hard to watch a familiar sorrow swell in the eyelids of my own kids.
As fathers, we dream of passing down wisdom, character, and faith, but so often we end up leaving our children an inheritance of pain, hurt, and unfulfilled longing. In his latest offering, Lament for a Father: The Journey to Understanding and Forgiveness, prolific author and longtime World magazine editor in chief Marvin Olasky reflects on this mixed blessing. “Many people … have unresolved conflicts with dads, living or dead,” he writes. “So do I.”
Olasky styles the book as an elegy for his own dad, a father “simultaneously present and absent.” It’s a work so particularly about one father that it ends up being about every father.
Who is to blame?
Eight brief chapters piece together a mosaic of Eli Olasky, a son of immigrants who grew up in a Jewish ward of Malden, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. Using the present tense, the author narrates the life of a school principal with a Harvard degree who settles into a life of comic books, bridge, frequent job turnover, and disappointing his wife. Aloof and stoic, he shows a mysterious lack of ambition.
A sense of melancholy weighs heavily over the entire book. The discoveries the younger Olasky digs out of Harvard archives, newspaper clippings, and family photo albums give his prose the yellowed ...
This Father's Day, more families are recognizing the God-given dignity of adoptees’ biological dads.
When Darrick Rizzo was 18, his girlfriend of three years told him she was pregnant. With the couple on the cusp of their college careers and unprepared to parent, his girlfriend chose to pursue adoption. Despite opposing the decision, Rizzo ultimately acquiesced, hoping to offer the best life possible for his son.
“I was willing to do anything for my boy, even if that meant listening to his mom and choosing an open adoption,” wrote Rizzo in his book, The Open Adoption: A Birth Father’s Journey.
Rizzo was committed to his role as a birth father and sent letters and gifts to his son. Years later, he learned his child had never received his correspondence. Despite a desire to be an involved birth father, his efforts were thwarted.
Whether or not they make the effort, the reality is that many birth fathers end up absent from the lives of their adopted children. And until recently, the relationship between adoptees and their birth fathers had not been given too much consideration in the context of the adoption conversation.
But as social media and family genealogy tracing allow more children to find and connect with their biological dads, Christians involved in adoption are thinking about the significance of such relationships.
“We’re starting to see a little more discussion around birth fathers, where historically they’ve been left out of the picture,” said Cam Lee, an adoptee and a Christian who now works as a therapist with adoptive families.
Most adoptions feature communication exclusively with birth mothers. Lee has noticed that adoptees on social media are speaking out more about their interest in their other parent too.
For Christians, these new conversations around birth fathers represent ...
The court sidestepped some of the major issues, but this is still a good day for religious liberty.
This week the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) delivered an overwhelming ruling in favor of a Catholic foster care agency that may carry significant implications for the church, children, and families. In a surprising unanimous decision (9-0), the Court determined that the city of Philadelphia had erred in breaking a longstanding contract with Catholics Social Services (CSS) over their refusal to certify same-sex couples. The majority opinion was offered by Justice Roberts with three separate concurring opinions offered by Justices Barrett, Alito, and Gorusch.
In March 2018, Philadelphia ended its foster-care contract with Catholic Social Services (CSS) due to the organization’s policy of not placing children with same-sex couples. The city’s nondiscrimination policy guarantees “full and equal enjoyment of services and facilities without discrimination or segregation” because of gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, marital status, and a number of other characteristics.
In response, CSS filed suit, claiming the policy violated its First Amendment right to religious exercise and free speech. Losing in district court, the agency appealed to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which unanimously affirmed the lower court’s decision in April 2019.
It is worth noting that the CSS is wanting to place children in foster care. It’s also worth noting that other agencies are willing to place children in foster care with same-sex couples. So, the question of ...
But majority declines to revisit rules for religious accommodation, over protests from justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.
Update (June 17): The United States Supreme Court ruled decisively in favor of a Catholic foster care agency on Thursday, with all nine justices agreeing that the city of Philadelphia violated the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty when it ended a contract with Catholic Social Services (CSS) over service to LGBT people.
“It is plain that the City’s actions have burdened CSS’s religious exercise by putting it to the choice of curtailing its mission or approving relationships inconsistent with its beliefs,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts.
Philadelphia claimed the city could not contract foster care services with a Catholic agency that only served married heterosexual couples because of an antidiscrimination law ensuring that everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, has equal access to public accommodations. The court found, however, that foster parenting is not a “public accommodation,” since certification is not available to the public and “bears little resemblance to staying in a hotel, eating at a restaurant, or riding a bus.”
According to the court, there was also no evidence presented in the record that the Catholic agency’s policies ever prevented a same-sex couple from fostering a child, or that it would have that effect.
The majority opinion was joined by justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.
The other three justices—Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas—agreed with the judgement but signed on to two concurring opinions arguing the court should go further in defense of religious exercise. They wanted the court to overturn a 1990 precedent written by conservative legal ...
Pastors speaking on behalf of victims pushed for a task force to direct inquiry into the Executive Committee.
Southern Baptists called on their denomination to launch what would be its biggest investigation into sexual abuse responses and coverup.
While the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) recently commissioned its own independent inquiry through Guidepost Solutions, messengers voted at its annual meeting to transfer oversight of that investigation or launch an additional one.
Thousands of messengers in the convention hall, voting with a wave of yellow cards in the air, supported the move as an additional level of accountability, while few opposed.
“It is the least we can do for abuse survivors. It is worth the extra effort. It is worth the money. It is worth the time and attention,” said Grant Gaines, a Tennessee pastor who made the request for an outside task force with an SBC abuse victim at his side. “If this investigation is worth doing, then it’s worth doing right.”
The newly elected SBC president Ed Litton will appoint the task force to serve as a middle man between third-party investigators and the Executive Committee, a decision-making body within the denomination.
The Executive Committee, though it declined to consider a similar proposal to amend its own investigation just two days before, has agreed and said it will “work expeditiously to apply today’s motion.”
Scrutiny of the SBC’s response to abuse has recently focused on the Executive Committee after letters leaked in the weeks leading up to the annual meeting described leaders dismissing victims, quickly clearing churches of accusation, and resisting broader efforts to address abuse.
According to the motion, the investigation, backed by a group of survivors and advocates, will cover 20 years ...
Devastating deflation means evangelical and Catholic schools can barely pay teachers and keep classes open. Yet it’s cheaper than ever for the global church to support them.
The 2021 graduating class of the National Evangelical School in Nabatieh (NESN) is entirely Shiite Muslim.
While certainly not the image of a typical Christian school in the United States, it is hardly an outlier in Lebanon, where 35 evangelical schools average student bodies that are two-thirds Muslim.
Located 35 miles south of Beirut, Nabatieh originally had a 10 percent Christian population when American Presbyterian missionary Lewis Loe founded the school in 1925. Based in the city’s Christian quarter, NESN drew students from all sects until the civil war drove the once integrated communities apart. From 1978 to 1982, Israeli occupation forced the school to close altogether.
When the city was attacked again during the 2006 war, the school’s bomb shelter gave refuge to frightened children. Relative peace since then has allowed the shelter to become a storage room, but less than 40 Christian families remain in the city. Even so, NESN draws from surrounding villages to maintain a Christian share of 10 percent among its 100-some faculty.
But the new crisis facing Lebanon is financial. Year-end inflation for 2020 was 145 percent, as food prices surged over 400 percent. The World Bank judged the economic collapse to be one of the world’s three worst in the last 150 years.
Teacher salaries have lost nearly 90 percent of their value.
Three years ago, NESN’s 100-foot Christmas tree was Lebanon’s largest. This year—as debt equaled the entire operational budget minus teacher salary—the school could not afford even the Charlie Brown version.
A highlight of the school calendar, Christian elements are welcomed by the local Shiite population—including its substantial number of Hezbollah-affiliated ...
They might embrace their marginal status, but they don’t plan on staying marginal forever.
In September 2020, about 150 Christians gathered to stage an informal Psalm Sing in the parking lot of Moscow, Idaho’s city hall. They were there to protest the local mask mandate.
Five individuals were cited by police for violating the local order to wear masks, and two were arrested “for suspicion of resisting or obstructing an officer.” One of the event’s organizers was Douglas Wilson, pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, a 900-member congregation with historical connections to Christian Reconstructionism (also known as theonomy), a movement that hopes to see earthly society governed by biblical law. One month earlier on Twitter, Wilson had framed his concerns about the issue in revealing terms: “Too few see the masking orders for what they ultimately are. Our modern and very swollen state wants to get the largest possible number of people to get used to putting up with the most manifest lies.”
In Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America: Christian Reconstruction in the Pacific Northwest, historian Crawford Gribben recounts how in recent decades conservative evangelicals, inspired by assorted strands of theonomy and survivalism, came to settle in the Pacific Northwest. Gribben explores how this group of “born-again Protestants who embrace their marginal status” has thrived in the wilds of Idaho and adjoining states, proposing “strategies of survival, resistance, and reconstruction in evangelical America.”
Turning toward triumphalism
Gribben describes his book as a “social history of theological ideas” based on long-distance interviews of several subjects and in-person fieldwork. Rather than crafting a journalistic exposé or a theological critique, ...
The Alabama pastor, known for his inclusion of women and work on racial justice, beat out Mike Stone of the Conservative Baptist Network in a runoff.
Pastor Ed Litton, championed by supporters as a force for gospel unity and racial reconciliation, was elected the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), overtaking the candidate backed by a passionate faction of conservatives.
Litton’s election is seen as a signal of the direction of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, where infighting has broken out over approaches to race, abuse, and other issues while the Conservative Baptist Network raises alarms about liberal drift and “woke” theology. The close race also reveals how much ground the vocal group has come to hold in the SBC within a year and a half of its founding.
“This vote … shows we desire a leader whose character, humility, and voice for unity represents us a whole over those who call for division,” said Jacki King, who serves on the steering committee for the SBC Women’s Leadership Network.
In a race with no clear frontrunner at a convention with a 25-year-high turnout of more than 15,000 messengers, Litton won out over Mike Stone, a pastor endorsed by fellow Conservative Baptist Network leaders, and Albert Mohler, the longtime president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Critics of the new network worried that if Stone won, that could cause the denomination to divide on political lines. They were also concerned about leaked letters alleging he resisted abuse response efforts while chair as the Executive Committee. Stone secured the highest level of support among candidates in the first round of voting and won 48 percent to Litton’s 52 percent in a runoff.
Litton is expected to carry on the priorities set forth by outgoing president J.D. Greear and said he would continue Greear’s ...
Attrition rates and leadership failures are only one part of the story.
A recently leaked letter from Russell Moore describes profound institutional rot, overt racism, and the toleration of sexual abuse inside the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). (His claims were later substantiated in leaked recordings.) The public square has been consumed with discussing this controversy, especially as the SBC annual meeting is underway.
But the problems Moore describes are not limited to one denomination. Many so-called “moderate” evangelical leaders—those who hold to historic orthodoxy and traditional sexual ethics but speak out on behalf of women and racial minorities—have similar stories to tell. It feels increasingly hard to find institutions in America that aren’t knee-jerk conservative or progressive.
Beyond that, Christian institutions—whatever their doctrine or ideology—often hold in common a thirst for power, an unrepentant self-defensiveness, and a lack of courage that altogether belie the gospel. Many of them don’t seem to function all that differently than institutions outside the church.
In the midst of this upheaval, I’ve watched friends and acquaintances leave the church, others who are in the process of “deconstructing,” and still others (including orthodox church leaders) who are deeply disheartened, even depressed, about the state of the church in the West.
We have reason to be discouraged. The statistics are dismal. In a recent survey from Lifeway, two-thirds of young adults reported that they stopped attending church, citing religious or political disagreements with the church or hypocrisy among members. Two recentinterviews in CT paint equally dark pictures.
What is happening to the institutional church in the United States? ...
Cross-cultural diffusion of the Gospel through people on the move.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Diaspora People and Churches
The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for all churches; however, it has had a disproportionate impact on immigrants, especially the Latino, and refugee communities as globally, borders have been closed. Refugees have languished in camps in Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere. Within the global refugee community, we do not even know how many lives have been lost.
Many in the American immigrant and refugee community have suffered from the economic downturn, loss of jobs, wages, and the closure of schools and daycares. During times of crisis, immigrants and refugees often have less support available, are neglected, and often fall through the cracks.
For immigrant churches, the impact of COVID-19 has been varied. Technological abilities and economics both impacted immigrant churches’ ability to adapt and survive. Churches located in the suburbs with college-educated congregations or those with technological capabilities tended to adapt well during the pandemic. These churches also had the financial means to purchase needed equipment in order to stream online services for their younger members who were able to adapt unlike some congregations with older populations.
The pandemic had a significant psychological impact on the diaspora. For many immigrant communities who are communal in culture, gathering in person is very important and is often like an extended family. The inability to meet face-to-face greatly inhibited the ministries and vitality of the church. When churches are unable to gather, many diasporas suffer due to unmet practical needs as well as feelings of emptiness, purposelessness, misunderstanding, loss, and confusion. Additionally, because of border ...