Justice Scalia’s Worst Opinion

Today is the 25th anniversary of Justice Anton Scalia’s opinion in Employment Division v. Smith, which Michael Stokes Paulsen describes as Justice Scalia’s Worst Opinion:

Smith is not by a long shot the worst Supreme Court decision of all time, or even of the past twenty-five years. As a matter of the human harm it inflicts, there are far more egregious cases.Planned Parenthood v. CaseyandRoe v. Wade, the Court’s abortion decisions,top the listin the modern era. Nor isSmith the most indefensible of opinions in terms of the Court’s legal analysis.Roe,Casey,Lawrence v. Texas, andWindsor v. United States, each adopting and extending some form of “substantive due process,” are worse thanSmithon this score.Smithis a dubious and insidious interpretation of the Free Exercise Clause, and Scalia’s opinion is an embarrassment, but it embodies an at least barely plausible argument from the constitutional text.

ButSmith is hugely pernicious in its effects. Like a weed, it intertwines with other actions of government, strangling freedom. In fact,Smith’s subtlety and superficial plausibility are in part what make it so deadly. AndSmith is positively perverse in its consequence: not only does the Constitution’s protection of religious free exercise entail no positive protection for religious free exercise, butSmith’s rule means that the sphere of religious liberty is utterly at the mercy of government’s choices. Thebroaderand more unrestrained government’s reach, thesmallerthe sphere for religious liberty. As government expands, religious liberty shrinks. This is an upside-down reading of a constitutional provision that obviously singles out religion for special protection from government.

Twenty-five years afterSmith, we’ve come a long way, but not in the right direction. The right to freedom of religious exercise and conscience—which Scalia cheerfully left in the hands of legislatures—is being overrun by those same legislatures and by courts acting in the name of the Constitution. We are relearning a bitter lesson: that what Scalia called “a luxury” that “we cannot afford” is in fact the first, the last, and the most fundamental line of defense against tyranny in the form of legal evisceration of religious conscience.

Scalia’s opinion was so bad that three years later, a nearly unanimous Congress (all but three votes in the Senate) passed and President Bill Clinton signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a legislative remedy. Ironically, yesterday’s liberals–who overwhelmingly supported RFRA–are today running from it. I guess they are okay with Scalia’s shrinking of the sphere of liberty…

The Best Is Yet to Come: Why Credentialed Women Ministers Matter to the Assemblies of God

From Enrichment Journal:

That’s a critical point for young women who are very sincere and see this servant model of leadership in Christ and are not comfortable with a rights issue. This has nothing to do with rights for men or women in ministry. That’s not the rationale for following Jesus in leadership in ministry. Don’t we cripple ourselves in the Kingdom by not empowering both men and women to use their God-given gifts?

Wood: I’ll tell you a sad story. Just a few months ago, a very competent, young, ordained, seminary-trained, female graduate interviewed for a pastoral position of a church of about 100 to 150 people. At the end of a process, the board said they were not going to recommend her election to the membership of the church. Two of the board members came to her privately and said, “You know, we all realize you’re the most qualified person to be pastor. But two of the board members are opposed to having a woman as pastor. Therefore, the person we’re going to recommend is not as qualified as you.”

My heart just sank at that. I thought, That is not right.

I feel passionate about changing the situation at the local level. Now, if the woman candidate had been less qualified than the male candidate, I would feel equally upset if they said, “We’re going to choose you because you’re a woman even though you’re less qualified.”

Either way, that has to be taken off the table. The bottom line is: Is this person qualified? Is she gifted? And what’s the Spirit saying? Let’s not use artificial, secular means for making decisions in the body of Christ.

Calling Out the High-Tech Hypocrites

From Calling Out the High-Tech Hypocrites:

As a country, it is time to understand that the tech oligarchs are not much different from, and no better than, previous business elites. Like oil companies under the Bushes, they relish their ties to the powerful, as evidenced by Google’s weekly confabs with Obama administration officials. No surprise that a host of former top  Obama aides—including former campaign manager David Plouffe (Uber) and White House press secretary Jay Carney (Amazon)—have signed up to work for tech giants.
“None of this is to say that the tech elites need to be broken up like Standard Oil or stigmatized like the tobacco industry. But it’s certainly well past the time for people both left and right to understand that this oligarchy’s rise similarly poses a danger to our society’s future. By their very financial power, plutocratic elites — whether their names are Rockefeller, Carnegie, Page, Bezos or Zuckerberg —  need  to be closely watched for potential abuses instead of being the subjects of mindless celebration from both ends of the political spectrum.

“Seven Stanzas at Easter” by John Updike


Make no mistake: if He rose at all

it was as His body;

if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules

reknit, the amino acids rekindle,

the Church will fall.


It was not as the flowers,

each soft Spring recurrent;

it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled

eyes of the eleven apostles;

it was as His Flesh: ours.


The same hinged thumbs and toes,

the same valved heart

that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then

regathered out of enduring Might

new strength to enclose.


Let us not mock God with metaphor,

analogy, sidestepping transcendence;

making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the

faded credulity of earlier ages:

let us walk through the door.


The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,

not a stone in a story,

but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow

grinding of time will eclipse for each of us

the wide light of day.


And if we will have an angel at the tomb,

make it a real angel,

weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,

opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen

spun on a definite loom.


Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,

for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,

lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are

embarrassed by the miracle,

and crushed by remonstrance.

The Great Day of Their Wrath (Revelation 6.12–17)

It has been said that God is slow, but never late. God’s slowness to fulfill his promise of a just world order redounds to the benefit of us sinners, who are given ample time to repent of the error of our ways. But God’s patience is not limitless. As C.S. Lewis somewhere puts it, there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who say to God, “Your will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Your will be done.” When God determines that more time will not result in another change of heart, then he will usher in his righteous kingdom—not a day late, but at just the right time.

Revelation 6.12–17 describes the onset of God’s judgment of the world in terms of natural disasters so great that the cosmos itself is shaken and destroyed: “I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.”

John intends his description of these great natural disasters to shake our faith in the things we take for granted: a solid earth, a shining sun, a luminous moon, the stars fixed in heaven, and mountains that do not move. The great decision all of us must make in life is whether our hearts are fundamentally oriented toward earth or heaven, toward ourselves or toward God. The seeming permanence of the earth lulls us into thinking that it and our worldly affairs are what matters most. God’s judgment shatters this illusion.

No wonder, then, that precisely those most invested in the old world order are terrified by its passing. “Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains.” Having lived off the benefits of the earth for so long, with nary a thought of God, heaven, or eternity, they vainly seek earth’s protection from God: “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.” How very different is this response from the promise John gives those who put God first: “They will see his face” (22.4)! Divine judgment means fearing the face of God; salvation means seeing it and loving it.

Does the language of wrath in verses 16–17 make you uncomfortable? I freely admit that I am more comfortable with the abstract nouns “justice” or “righteousness” than with the psychologically provocative “wrath,” even though all three describe the same facet of God’s personality. But John intends to be provocative. He wants to make us uncomfortable. For only if we envision the harrowing effect of God’s judgment can we rightly understand the graciousness of God’s love for us. In the end, there are only two options for us: judgment or salvation, hiding from or seeing God’s face, bad news or good news.

Which do you choose?

O Sovereign Lord, How Long? (Revelation 6.9–11)

Submission, peacemaking, generosity, and hospitality all require patience: Patience with a corrupt government to reform, with the violent to act peaceably, with the poor to move from dependency to productivity, and with the sick to heal. The last two items are borne with comparative ease. The first two items? Not so much.

It is fascinating to me that after describing the devastation wrought on earth by the four horsemen of the Apocalypse (Rev. 6:1-8), John turns again to a scene in the throne room of heaven (6:9-11). There, he sees “under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.” They are martyrs, in other words. (That this altar is a heavenly one rather than an earthly one may be ascertained by comparing 6.9 with 8.3, 5.)

What fascinates me is not the heavenly scene, but the cry of the martyrs: “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on earth?” Until I read Revelation 6.9–11, I had always thought that those whose souls had entered heaven existed in a state of uninterrupted bliss. This is not the picture John presents. Rather, those souls cry out to God for justice in no uncertain terms. Indeed, the absolute certainty of their cries is unnerving. “Avenge our blood” is not a request uttered in polite company, after all. (Perhaps we would think otherwise if we had been martyred.) Whatever the particular terms used, we understand the martyrs’ request. Is it too much to ask God that right be done on earth?

What I have written above about submission, peacemaking, generosity, and hospitality may have struck you as, well, a bit unjust. Why should we submit to corrupt politicians? Why should we strive to make peace when our enemies are making war? Because, quite frankly, God commands us to. And because we recognize that we live in between Christ’s first and second coming, when God offers grace to sinners like you, me, and our enemies. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise,” Peter writes, “as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3.9).

That reason is why, I think, the martyrs were “given a white robe and told to rest a little longer.” The white robe is a symbol of sins forgiven, of being justified by Christ before God. Just as they had been made right through God’s patience with them, so now the martyrs are asked to exercise patience toward others, even if that patience results in the martyrdom of other believers. Until Christ returns, God asks us to be witnesses through our words and with our lives.

Justice and patience. Martin Luther King Jr., who knew both in equal measure, rightly said that while the arc of the universe is long, it bends toward justice. So, as we wait for God to do the right thing at the last, let us do what God is doing now, and patiently extend to sinners his gracious love.