Archive for July, 2005

PCUSA: The poor are not our problem!

Saturday, July 2nd, 2005

It’s disturbing what you might uncover when you turn over a few denominational rocks. My reading on the Presbyterian PAC led me to a creepy-crawly that should not live in a Christian denomination. Looking through a 2004 lobbying handbook published by the PCUSA Washington Office (“Christian and Citizen“), I found this astonishing statement on page 16:

… General Assembly policy has consistently and clearly stated that government has the primary responsibility for caring for the poor, along with the private sector: The 1997 General Assembly stated (and the 1999 General Assembly reaffirmed), “that while the church, voluntary organizations, business and government must work cooperatively to address the needs of poor persons and communities, the government must assume the primary role for providing direct assistance for the poor” (Minutes, 1997, p. 553)

The General Assembly has noted that the private sector is incapable of caring for the needy on its own. The 1996 General Assembly asserted that “churches and charities, including many Presbyterian congregations and related organizations, have responded generously to growing hunger but do not have the capacity to replace public programs (Minutes, 1996, p.784)

(Note: I have been unable to locate the General Assembly minutes for either 1996 or 1997 and so have not verified that this “policy” actually exists. The Washington Office has shown a willingness to ignore or distort policies of the General Assembly in order to promote its private political objectives; this could be another example. However, the citations of the relevant Minutes complete with page numbers lead me to believe that, in this instance, the Washington Office is telling the truth.)

What Bible are these folks reading? Perhaps there is a new translation that portrays Jesus himself as a lobbyist rather than a high priest. Here are some passages we might expect to see in such a Bible:

No, there is no translation or paraphrase of the Bible that says such things. God calls Presbyterians to compassion. We are to feed the hungry, give the thirsty something to drink, invite the stranger in, clothe the needy, and visit the sick and the prisoner (Matthew 25:34-40). We are to aid the bleeding man by the side of the road (Luke 10:29-37). We are to be devout and God-fearing, giving generously (Acts 10:1-2). These are acts of compassion.

Throwing in the towel, giving up, turning it over to the government and demanding government programs are not acts of compassion, they are acts of surrender and convenience. The PCUSA has given up and said that there are some jobs to big for the Body of Christ to undertake, that God is unable or unwilling to equip his Church to do what He has clearly called it to do. Besides, getting the government to do the dirty work leaves more time and resources for lobbying, protesting, organizing boycotts, schmoozing with like-minded secular leaders, and spouting pious excuses.

It is difficult to imagine a policy more rooted in left-wing political ideology and less rooted in the teachings of the Bible than “the government has the primary responsibility for caring for the poor.” Publicly stating such drivel is a measure of how far – and how willfully – the PCUSA has wandered from its calling.

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Culture: Stupid Judge Tricks

Friday, July 1st, 2005

The Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States must believe they are paid by the nuance. How else can we explain the silly and contradictory recent rulings concerning the display of the Ten Commandments on government property?

The First Amendment to the Constitution is neither complex nor difficult to understand. The so-called “Establishment Clause” consists of 16 words, only seven with two or more syllables: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, extended these restrictions to the states. We might safely read these words as “Neither Congress nor any State shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. The provision is still simple enough that even a federal judge or an ACLU lawyer should be able to understand it.

Accommodation is not establishment

George Will has briefly explained the history and original context of this clause. Will cites numerous examples of the facilities and institutions of the national government accommodating the free exercise of religion.

The [House of Representatives] Speaker’s chair served as a pulpit for Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Quaker clergy. In 1813, a Massachusetts congressman reported that “two very Christian discourses” were “preached in the hall introductory to a contribution for the purpose of spreading a knowledge of the gospel in Asia.” Services were conducted in the old House, now Statuary Hall, until 1857.

Will notes that “The generation that wrote and ratified the First Amendment obviously thought that none of these practices … violated the Establishment Clause.” He then describes the increasingly foolish rulings that led the Court into the morass from which it failed to escape with these two rulings. But there is a tragic irony in this trail of bad decisions consistently made worse.

A self-imposed limit on the Supreme Court’s power

The Supreme Court is a massive contradiction. It has taken unto itself power that its creators never imagined. Through its own decisions and the lower-court rulings it has let stand, the Supreme Court has usurped the legislative power of both the national and the states’ governments. It has declared itself free to create new “rights” and to use them in overriding the clearly expressed will of the people and their legislatures. It has made itself the supreme law of the land, negating by its own arrogation of power the provisions of Article IV: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land”

Yet this court, which has freed itself from the fetters of the Constitution, nonetheless often declares itself to be enslaved to a doctrine not found anywhere in the Constitution, the doctrine of stare decisis. This doctrine of blind obedience to previous decisions has produced a Court that usually considers itself helplessly entangled in decisions – good or bad – made by Justices long retired or dead. The Court found its way to these silly and contradictory rulings via the trail of stare decisis, of tinkering, replacing the Constitutional word “establishment” with its own word “endorsement”, and wandering, as they did in these cases, into the murky waters of “intent”.

Of course, self-imposed limits are no limits at all. The Court occasionally reverses itself. It seems that in these cases, at least five Justices found stare decisis a more appealing master than the Constitution.

Which religion is established?

Along the way, the Court (in Lemon v. Kurtzman – summary here) created the “Lemon test”. According to this “test”, three simple questions would lead the Court to a correct assessment of legislation under review. (1) The law must have a “a secular legislative purpose”; (2) its “primary effect must be one that neither advances or inhibits religion”; and (3) it must not “foster and excessive government entanglement with religion.” According to Chief Justice Burger’s opinion, the Lemon test is the product of “consideration of the cumulative criteria developed by the Court over many years” – stare decisis.

Unfortunately, it seems that over those many years, the Court never thought to ask “what religion is being established?” If it had, Burger might have added a fourth provision to the Lemon test: Does the law in question endorse, promote, or establish any particular religious sect, denomination, belief, or organization? We might ask, how can a law possibly encroach on the First Amendment if it doesn’t?

For example, the slogan “In God we trust” is far too generic to “establish” a religion. It is that generic “God” that the republic is “under” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Which religion do those two uses “establish”? Which religion does a display of the Ten Commandments “establish”? Judaism? Christianity? Islam? The Ten Commandments are foundational to all three, yet their beliefs – even about the God in whom we trust – are widely divergent. How could any act of government have the effect of simultaneously “establishing” both Judaism and Islam?

The answer, of course, is simple. It is only the bigots who wish to drive religion out of public life altogether – and the activist judges who find their misreading of the Constitution personally agreeable – who can believe such a thing possible.

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