Dietrich Bonhoeffer ran an underground Lutheran seminary at Finkenwalde from 1935-1937. It was not only a preacher’s seminary but also an experiment in communal living. Life Together was written for his students.
One of my favorite passages admonishes Christians to banish all visionary dreaming and to soberly face the challenges of communal life. I do not live in a Christian community like Bonhoeffer did, but some of his teachings have helped me deal with the tensions I encounter in my parish and in the Catholic Church in general. Here is the passage:
“By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy…
By now, you have heard the Supreme Court issued its long-anticipated decision that imposed a 50-state same-sex marriage mandate. Pastors and churches have exhibited a great degree of uncertainty preceding this moment, wondering what the effect will be on their ministry. Now that the decision has been released, though, we can respond with greater clarity.
Here are the immediate things you need to know.
The Court’s Decision
The Supreme Court, in a 5–4 decision authored by Justice Kennedy, held that the Equal Protection Clause requires a state to license a marriage between two persons of the same sex and to recognize a same-sex marriage entered into lawfully in another state. In so holding, the Supreme Court struck down the state constitutional amendments of Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. The decision redefines marriage for the entire country to include same-sex couples.
The majority opinion stated the following with respect to religious opposition to same-sex marriage:
Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.
This statement is welcome to be sure. But the greatest threat for churches lies in the application of the Court’s decision to believers who live in jurisdictions covered by so-called “non-discrimination” laws and ordinances. Everywhere that marriage has been redefined in the last several years has seen an awakening of non-discrimination laws that prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, or places of public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. These laws are peppered throughout the states and local governments and are a linchpin of the sexual revolution’s broader legal and political strategy: to establish non-discrimination laws at all levels throughout the country and to “ensure that religion is not used as an excuse to discriminate.”
In coming days, the threat from these non-discrimination laws will materialize in numerous ways as same-sex couples marry. But there are proactive steps your church can take to protect itself.
What Should Your Church Do?
1. Churches should update their statement of faith on the issues of marriage, human sexuality, and gender.
Now is the time for churches to maintain a clear witness to biblical truth about marriage, human sexuality, and gender. Churches should update their statement of faith to include the congregation’s belief on these issues. Doing it in the wake of the Supreme Court decision will not be viewed negatively by a court if a legal issue ever arises. Instead, putting clarifying language in the statement of faith merely serves to codify a church’s long-standing religious beliefs. Alliance Defending Freedom has sample language in our Protecting Your Ministry manual that provides a starting point. Clarifying the statement of faith can help a church in numerous ways. If your church has not done so already, now is the time.
2. Pastors will not be legally compelled to officiate same-sex wedding ceremonies—for now.
In the near term, no pastor will be forced to officiate any wedding ceremony with which he disagrees. Pastors remain free to make a theological determination about whom they will marry and whom they will not. For example, pastors will often not marry a believer to an unbeliever, and many will not perform ceremonies for someone they know didn’t have biblical grounds for a previous divorce. Nothing in the Supreme Court’s opinion changes the freedom of pastors to continue to make those theologically based decisions about whom they will marry.
Consequently, pastors should refrain from retreating from marriage ceremonies. Some have suggested pastors disengage from “civil marriage” and only perform religious ceremonies. This type of reaction is not only legally unnecessary, but it sends the message pastors have “abdicated the field” on the battleground of marriage. Instead, pastors should engage more fervently in advocating and expounding the truth about marriage by maintaining a faithful witness to whom they will marry and whom they will not.
3. Churches should ensure their facilities usage policies are revised to allow only uses consistent with the church’s religious beliefs.
In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, some churches may be approached by same-sex couples seeking to be married in the church facility. Churches should not feel as if they have to close their doors to the community just to prevent wedding ceremonies with which they disagree. Churches must continue to be a welcoming presence in the community and can do so through updating or revising their facility usage policy. The key point is to tie usage of the church’s facility to the statement of faith and religious beliefs of the church. And then to make clear that uses inconsistent with those religious beliefs will not be allowed. Alliance Defending Freedom has a sample facilities usage policy available in our Protecting Your Ministry manual.
There are other suggestions for churches contained in the Protecting Your Ministry manual. Now is an opportune time to download the manual and follow the suggested guidelines to ensure your ministry is protected.
Despite the ruling of the Supreme Court, marriage has not changed.
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. (Psalm 30:11–12)
We head to church this weekend with heavy hearts. The cloud of the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision hangs over our corporate worship — and we don’t even yet know or feel all the consequences of the historic decision. The sense of sadness over a political decision is unlike many of us in the Christian community have experienced in our young lifetimes — the nationwide legalization of so-called same-sex marriage in the highest, most powerful court of our land.
Sadness and grief are unavoidable, even critical, to the Christian life (Romans 8:17, 35–37). But in Christ, they never need be the dominant or prevailing condition of our souls. The emotions may be overwhelming for a time — disappointment, depression, or disgust. However, for all who have been rescued from sin and promised an eternity of sinless safety and satisfaction, sadness will not ultimately win the day.
The Eyes of Faith in the Face of Defeat
David knew nights of intense terror and grief, and he knew the relentless, reliable, and irresistible power of our joy in God.
I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. (Psalm 30:1–3)
David looked in every direction and saw defeat. His opponents were bigger, stronger, and more in number. His circumstances suggested all was lost. But God. God rushes to offer help to the helpless, to bring healing to the broken, to restore life to the dying, despairing, and defeated.
In fact, God never left. For those who are his, he is never far off. His help, his healing, his life, and his joy are ever-present, however dark our days may be.
Joy in the Mourning
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:4–5)
Where sin is tolerated and even legislated, we will see the wrath of God. God’s holiness and justice cannot coexist with proud (though pitiful) marches against his name and his will. The world will taste the consequences of its iniquity, and God will be vindicated — every decision judged, every sin punished.
But God’s wrath and judgment are not the only word for our sin-sick world. We all deserve his anger for millennia and more (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Left alone in our sin, we’d all weep every morning, noon, and night for the rest of our lives. But the God of infinite justice is also a God of immeasurable mercy. Therefore: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
For those with faith in God, no setback, no misery, no loss can be lasting. Christ conquers our greatest fears and pains, not always swiftly, but surely. The suffering and loss cannot outlast the life he purchased for us on the cross. For the Christian, joy comes with the morning, after the morning, and in the mourning. And so we sing (Psalm 30:4), even in the midst of severe sadness.
Real Pain, Real Opposition
As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed. To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy. (Psalm 30:6–8)
As the American soil underneath our feet trembles, threatening to crack and crumble, we know where we stand.
Everything has changed and nothing has changed. The Supreme Court’s decision yesterday is a central assault upon marriage as the conjugal union of a man and a woman and in a five to four decision the nation’s highest court has now imposed its mandate redefining marriage on all fifty states.
As Chief Justice Roberts said in his dissent, “The majority’s decision is an act of will, not a legal judgment.”
The majority’s argument, expressed by Justice Kennedy, is that the right of same-sex couples to marry is based in individual autonomy as related to sexuality, in marriage as a fundamental right, in marriage as a privileged context for raising children, and in upholding marriage as central to civilization. But at every one of these points, the majority had to reinvent marriage in order to make its case. The Court has not merely ordered that same-sex couples be allowed to marry – it has fundamentally redefined marriage itself.
The inventive legal argument set forth by the majority is clearly traceable in Justice Kennedy’s previous decisions including Lawrence (2003) and Windsor (2013), and he cites his own decisions as legal precedent. As the Chief Justice makes clear, Justice Kennedy and his fellow justices in the majority wanted to legalize same-sex marriage and they invented a constitutional theory to achieve their purpose. It was indeed an act of will disguised as a legal judgment.
Justice Kennedy declared that “the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex cannot be deprived of that right and that liberty.” But marriage is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. As the Chief Justice asserted in his dissent, the majority opinion did not really make any serious constitutional argument at all. It was, as the Chief Justice insisted, an argument based in philosophy rather than in law.
The Supreme Court’s over-reach in this case is more astounding as the decision is reviewed in full, and as the dissenting justices voiced their own urgent concerns. The Chief Justice accused the majority of “judicial policymaking” that endangers our democratic form of government. “The Court today not only overlooks our country’s entire history and tradition but actively repudiates it, preferring to live only in the heady days of the here and now,” he asserted. Further: “Over and over, the majority exalts the role of the judiciary in delivering social change.”
“The majority,” he made clear, “lays out a tantalizing vision for the future for Members of this Court. If an unvarying social institution enduring over all of recorded history cannot inhibit judicial policymaking, what can?”
That is a haunting question. This Chief Justice’s point is an urgent warning: If the Supreme Court will arrogate to itself the right to redefine marriage, there is no restraint on the judiciary whatsoever.
Justice Antonin Scalia offered a stinging rebuke to the majority. “This is a naked judicial claim to legislative–indeed super-legislative–power; a claim fundamentally at odds with our system of government,” he stated. Justice Scalia then offered these stunning words of judgment: “A system of government that makes the people subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.”
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., right, and Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, are shown at a news conference at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York’s Harlem, November 14, 1965. (AP Photo/David Pickoff)
Two Afro-American Baptist preachers who changed America
The Rock on which we stood When all else failed…
This post is in response to the statement below by Tamara Tornado, a snide racist white bitch who does NOT UNDERSTAND black church history yet presumes to criticize it. I don’t like know-it-all crackers in the first place, because like this stupid broad they usually know nothing about us! The fact is that the black church has a dual history: progressive and reactionary.
The progressive tradition is heroic and grows out of the beliefs of those black slaves who interpreted the stories in the Old Testament bible about the enslaved Hebrew people in the Land of Egypt to be a parable about their situation in the American House of Bondage, where the white leaders of America collectively were Pharoah, locally represented by the slave master class. In other words Afro-American Christians converted Christianity into a weapon of liberation in a way that black slaves under Islam were unable to do.
Another Ignorant racist commenting on Black culture
This silly pretentous Bitch is no friend of ours!
The fact is that the majority of southern whites never owned slaves and Tamara’s grandfather was probably not one of them. Since she is obviously classless white trash. Every half ass redneck likes to identify with the slaveholding class, when most of their ancestors were nothing more than pawns of the planter class who supported the interests of the rich over their own because they were told that just being white made them special even though they didn’t have a pot to piss in nor a window to throw it out of: JUST LIKE ALL OF THE PO WHITE CRACKER ASSHOLES WHO VOTE REPUBLICAN TODAY!!!!
Before the Civil War slaves were the most valuable property in the US., that’s why in 1850 New Orleans was the richest port in the country. Black churchwomen were the backbone of the great Civil Rights movement that destroyed the racial caste system of the south…what has this dumb cracker bitch done to make this country a better place? My argument is not with the black church as such, but this particular church congregation at Mother Emanuel in Charleston. The fact that I am an atheist does not blind me to all of the GOOD WORKS the black church has done and is doing! It is far superior in its practice of Christianity to the WHITE CHURCH!!!
That’s why the great German theologian and preacher Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who came here to complete his PhD thesis and teach at the distinguished Union Theological Seminary, became mesmerized by the Afro-american church service..
“We must allow for the fact that most people learn wisdom only by personal experience. This explains, first, why so few people are capable of taking precautions in advance–they always fancy that they will somehow or other avoid the danger, till it is too late. Secondly, it explains their insensibility to the sufferings of others; sympathy grows in proportion to the fear of approaching disaster. There is a good deal of excuse on ethical grounds for this attitude.”
Remarks of Robert Kennedy on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. 4 April 1968, Indianapolis, Indiana Ladies and Gentlemen,
I’m only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening, because I have some — some very sad news for all of you — Could you lower those signs, please? — I have some very sad news for all of you, and, I think, sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world; and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.
Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black — considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible — you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.
We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.
For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with — be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.
But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.
My favorite poem, my — my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.
So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King — yeah, it’s true — but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love — a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.
We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We’ve had difficult times in the past, but we — and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it’s not the end of disorder.
But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.
And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.
“Things will continue to get worse until every single American from every single background understands there is no freedom and there is no peace without commitment to God-given truths which are the only truths that can put back together and mend broken vessels.”
Nine people are dead. Before we move on to the theological implications and the clarion calls—the social media posts and the half-baked diatribes—let us mourn. Let us pray because nine God-image bearingpersons were massacred in Charleston, South Carolina. To describe the horrors, our words fail us.
But God does not. And his Word speaks to the terrors of identity idolatry. It speaks to how we demonize the opposite of what we idolize; we devalue the opposite of what we treasure; we hate the opposite of what we love. And Dylann Roof—the Charleston gunman, the domestic terrorist—ultimately loved his ethnicity. He rang out with the worst manifestation of his hatred: he took the lives of those who were the opposite of white, yet who bore the same image he did. Again, our words, so feeble, and our experiences, so limited, can hardly speak to this. But we don’t need our words or experiences to engage this because we have the Word of God.
Consider its commentary on the beginning of human history. What hand did Satan play in Eden? He laid his regular ace: attacking identity. He tempted Eve to believe God was not who he said he is. Adam negated his identity as a male, as one who was to protect and lead; Eve wandered outside of Adam’s authority, foiling her womanhood. Both actors took a good thing—identity—and made it an ultimate thing, which is the essence of idolatry. Both attempted to rise above their author, grasping for his identity, grasping for God-likeness. The tragic irony? They were already like him, for he had made them in his likeness (Gen. 1:26–28). But still they grasped, and so they died. God removed them from his fellowship.
The Tragedy of Identity Idolatry
Identity idolatry leads to toil and enmity. It leads to death. Worst of all, it leads to separation from God. This is at least one lesson we can learn from Charleston. And yet, to lesser extents, we see this lesson all around in different manifestations.
Dylann Roof’s rampage comes on the high heels of Vanity Fair’s reveal of Caitlynn Jenner, one who seemingly has everything yet is enveloped in a poor identity he trusts will satisfy. Roof’s horrible actions also trail Rachel Dolezal, a former NAACP chapter president who was caught lying about her ethnicity. She seems to elevate being black, a good thing, above anything and anyone else. All these are people. All these people are in the wrong place of hate and mental disillusion. And that’s partly due to their sinful self-loving, which violently turns into a loathing—possibly of self or of others—but certainly of God and the image he has so graciously bestowed on humans, the crown of his creation.
The tragedy, as my friend stated so well in this loving piece on Jenner, is that the snake is eating itself.
“Unless we have the courage to fight for revival of wholesome reserve between man and man, we shall perish in an anarchy of human values. The impudent contempt for such reserve is the mark of the rabble, just as inward uncertainty, haggling and cringing for the favour of insolent people, and lowering oneself to the level of the rabble are the way of become no better than the rabble oneself.”