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How the murdered theologian came to be a symbol in American politics.

The Battle for Bonhoeffer
Debating Discipleship in the Age of Trump
by Stephen R. Haynes
Eerdmans, 208 pp., $19.99

You can tell a lot about people by their heroes. After all, people model themselves after their heroes—and sometimes model their heroes after themselves.

That’s the basic premise of Stephen R. Haynes’s The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship in the Age of Trump. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor and theologian executed in 1945 at the age of 39 for joining a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, lives on today as a hero for American Protestants across political and confessional boundaries. Different readers and biographers of Bonhoeffer have made different things of him—so strikingly different that in 1964 theologian Harvey Cox famously called Bonhoeffer “a veritable Rorschach test.”

Bonhoeffer wasn’t always a hero for American evangelicals. For two decades after his death, his legacy was the near-exclusive domain of liberal theologians attracted to the concept of “religionless Christianity” that Bonhoeffer developed while on death row. For those so-called “death-of-God” theologians, he was a prophet of a happy future in which Christianity would outgrow many of its traditional beliefs and practices. Needless to say, fundamentalist and evangelical Christians were unamused.

But as death-of-God theology started to, er, die out, the growing evangelical movement began to claim Bonhoeffer as one of its own. New interpretations of Bonhoeffer and his ideas emerged in the 1980s and ’90s. Haynes sorts these into four types: Bonhoeffer as a “Critical Patriot” showing liberal Protestants how best to critique their own government; Bonhoeffer as a “Righteous Gentile” whose advocacy for Jews models Jewish-Christian relations to this day; Bonhoeffer as a “Moral Hero” whose ecumenical battle for conscience transcended particular religious traditions; and the “Evangelical Bonhoeffer” whose Bible-believing Christianity can be weaponized in today’s cultural battles.

Each new Bonhoeffer has required more abstraction than the last—and because each has relied heavily on the broad outline of his life (and, more importantly, the story of his death) for symbolism of heroism and holiness, the actual details of his life and his writings have taken a back seat. It wasn’t Bonhoeffer’s theological ideas but the model of his self-sacrifice that demanded emulation, asking of every American, as Haynes puts it, “What are you doing to arrest this ongoing assault on innocent life?” As for which“ongoing assault,” well, that’s up to the reader. In recent decades, Bonhoeffer’s example has inspired right- and left-leaning Americans alike, all insisting that if Bonhoeffer lived today he would be on their side. Haynes documents Bonhoeffer’s postmortem crusades against abortion, the Iraq War, President Bush, President Obama, and finally, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

In this back-and-forth deployment of Bonhoeffer’s legacy, Eric Metaxas’s bestselling 2009 biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy has a special place. Metaxas’s book and his subsequent attempts to employ Bonhoeffer to critique the Obama administration are significant not so much for changing anyone’s view of its subject but for amplifying the “Evangelical Bonhoeffer” in its public role. Dismissing prior Bonhoeffer scholarship as “a terrific misunderstanding,” Metaxas made a Bonhoeffer from scratch, one who (as evangelical reviewer Andy Rowell put it) “looks a lot like an American evangelical—an extraordinarily courageous American evangelical.”

Thanks in large part to Metaxas, the phrase “Bonhoeffer moment” became a powerful call to arms, especially for politically conservative Protestants. And as Bonhoeffer’s symbolic importance grew, the need for facts, either about him or about present realities, diminished. In the battle over religious liberty, for example, Haynes notes that evangelical leaders used the phrase “Bonhoeffer moment” almost without context. “Elaboration was unnecessary,” he explains, “because these leaders shared with their audiences an intuitive understanding of the expression.” The fact that the real Bonhoeffer might have disagreed strenuously with any number of the uses to which his name was being put doesn’t matter in the least.

At this point in the book, it looks like Haynes is about to ask why: Why do we still tie our political disputes today to the (usually far more dramatic) struggles of the last century? Why do the real details of those times matter so little to those who invoke them today? Why do our causes need to piggyback on the credibility of older ones?

But Haynes doesn’t ask. Instead, his narrative and argument collapse into the very misuses of Bonhoeffer that he criticized in the first half of the book. His analysis of the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision about same-sex marriage struggles to retain scholarly neutrality, and the closer the story gets to the 2016 election, the more it relies on personal views and anecdotes.

By the end, Haynes’s scholarly project is altogether abandoned.

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chapman.0830 - 08/29/05 - A Supreme Court headed by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has questions for Chapman University Law School professor John Eastman as he and California Attorney General Bill Lockyer argue the 1905 ''Lochner v. State of New York'' case during a re-enactment Monday afternoon at Chapman University. (Credit: Mark Avery/Orange County Register/ZUMA Press)

A Giant has Fallen — The Death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the Future of Constitutional Government


Justice Scalia firmly believed in the right of the people to establish a constitutional government that would recognize the ultimate authority of the people, not an elite of unelected judges, to establish laws.

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; February 13, 2016

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died today at the age of 79. He reportedly died in his sleep during a visit to Texas. Here are nine things you should know about one of the leading conservative voices on the nation’s highest court:

1. Antonin Scalia (nicknamed “Nino”) was born on March 11, 1936, in Trenton, New Jersey. He attended Xavier High School in Manhattan, a military school run by the Jesuit order of the Roman Catholic Church, and studied History at Georgetown University. After graduating as valedictorian from Georgetown in 1957, he attended Harvard Law School, where he was editor of the Harvard Law Review and graduated magna cum laude.2. After graduating from Harvard Scalia worked for a law firm in Cleveland, Ohio (1961–67), before moving to Charlottesville, Virginia, where he taught at the University of Virginia Law School (1967–74). While in Virginia, he served the federal government as general counsel to the Office of Telecommunications Policy (1971–72) and as chairman of the Administrative Conference of the United States (1972–74). In 1974 Scalia left academia when President Ford nominated him to serve as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, an office in the Department of Justice that assists the Attorney General in his function as legal adviser to the President and all executive branch agencies.

3. In 1977 Scalia resumed his academic career at Georgetown University and the University of Chicago Law School (1977–82). For part of the latter period he served as editor of Regulation, a review published by the conservative American Enterprise Institute. In 1982 President Reagan nominated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In 1986, Chief Justice Warren Burger informed the White House of his intent to retire, allowing Reagan to nominate Associate Justice William Rehnquist to become Chief Justice and nominating Scalia to fill Rehnquist’s seat as associate justice.

4. Scalia was the first Italian American to serve on the Supreme Court—a fact that was frequently remarked on during the opening remarks of his confirmation hearings. This lead Senator Howard Heflin (D-Alabama) to jokingly say, “Judge Scalia, I believe that almost every Senator that has an Italian American connection has come forward to welcome you to this or to participate in this hearing thus far. I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that my great-great-grandfather married a widow who was married first to an Italian American.” Scalia replied, “Senator, I have been to Alabama several times too.”

5. Scalia was known for his wit and humor. A study by Jay D. Wexler, a law professor at Boston University, of transcripts during oral arguments found that was good for slightly more than one laugh—1.027, to be exact—per argument during the 2004-2005 session.

6. Scalia subscribed to a judicial philosophy known as “originalism.” This view holds that the Constitution should be interpreted in terms of what it meant to those who ratified the Constitution in 1788, and is often contrasted with the Constitution as a “living document” that allows courts to take into account the views of contemporary society. Scalia argued that originalism—and trying to figure out the Constitution’s original meaning—is the only valid option for judicial interpretation, otherwise “you’re just telling judges to govern.” “The Constitution is not a living organism,” he said. “It’s a legal document, and it says what it says and doesn’t say what it doesn’t say.”

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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.

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No Sore Losers on Sunday

Singing Despite the Court’s Decision

June 28, 2015

No Sore Losers on Sunday

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.

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by Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Saturday • June 27, 2015

US Supreme Court in Washington DC in bright sunlight

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.”

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