The man with no name

The man with no name

Cut-away drawings are interesting, because they show you what’s “underneath” the exterior. Here’s one of the Millennium Falcon, the ship that made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs:

This just isn’t the Millenium Falcon. The exterior is peeled away to reveal what lies beneath. You can even see Han Solo at the helm, ready to pilot the ship through an asteroid field to escape Imperial star destroyers:

In our passage, Zechariah 1:7-21, God is doing the same thing. He’s pulling back the “divine curtain.” He does this when He wants to comfort us, to give us perspective, to give us hope, to give us a glimpse of what’s going on beyond what we can see. And, when God does this, it’s always through extraordinary, mysterious and otherworldly visions.

In the vision from our passage, we encounter a mysterious Man With No Name, on a red horse. If we let Him, God will take us a few steps “behind the divine curtain” to see what message He has for us.

On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, which is the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, saying,

Zechariah 1:7

This is three months after Zechariah’s first message. When God speaks, He has a reason—what’s His reason? Something’s happening among God’s people to make this message necessary—what is it? That rebuke from Haggai 1:4 is a symptom, not the disease itself—what’s the disease?

We’ll only figure this out by reading what God has to say.

I saw in the night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen, and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses.

Zechariah 1:8

I once read a Lee Child novel in which a minor character, a pastor, explained to Jack Reacher that the Book of Revelation read like an acid trip.[1] Even if Christians wouldn’t put it quite so crudely, some would share the same sentiments. Why? Because of genre confusion!

The writer of Hebrews tells “long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,” (Heb 1:1). The Old Covenant shows us poetry, proverbs, narrative, prophecy … and a genre called “apocalyptic.”

When you find strange and otherworldly prophetic visions in scripture, then you’re probably looking at apocalyptic literature. This is a sub-genre of prophecy, and God uses it when He wants to peel back the divine curtain and show us something.

  • What’s this genre look like? You usually have an angelic guide[2]. Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah and John each have one. They need these guides because the visions are, well … confusing! You find “graphic visions filled with unexpected and often mysterious scenes of heaven and the future.”[3] So, for example, you see John introduce a pregnant woman; “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars,” (Rev 12:1). At the beginning of Ezekiel’s book, you see strange creatures, chariots, a vision of one like the Son of Man, jewels, fire … lots of odd things.
  • What’s it’s message? It’s often about “distant judgment and restoration: The final solution for the problems of this age is in the age to come, when God will reign and be recognized as the LORD of all.”[4] So, Daniel’s four beasts are slain by a stone that represents God’s kingdom (Dan 2). The Son of Man is crowned as King of the world, and His kingdom will never end. These are visions of a better future.
  • Why does God use it? When people feel hopeless and they need an awesome “window” into the future as a vehicle for hope—it’s an encouragement to persevere![5]. So, God shows His people a vision of a newer, better, massive temple (Ezek 40-48). And, of course, you have visions all over Zechariah. A surveyor takes measurements for a future Jerusalem (Zech 2). One day, the high priest and a king will be united in one person (Zech 4). Sin, personified by a woman (cf. Rev 17-18), is sealed into a container and cast into darkness (Zech 5). One day, a King will come to bring a new and better covenant (Zech 9).

It’s not that Zechariah, Ezekiel, John (etc.) are trying to describe strange things within the limitations of their language and experience. It’s that God communicates hope by way of fantastic images and visions of an eternal future. And apocalyptic is the genre for it, just as poetry/song is the genre for love.

After all, you don’t write essays to the one you love. You write songs, you write poetry, you write verse. Can you imagine writing a five-paragraph essay, complete with a thesis statement, and presenting it to your fiance? Of course not! You write poems. You sing songs.

For hope to persevere through crisis … God uses apocalyptic. It makes truth come alive. It makes you experience the events. It uses dramatic images, not data. God wants the powerful, otherworldly imagery to move you to action and shape your values.[6]

How do we interpret it?[7]

  1. God’s people are usually in some sort of crisis.
  2. It’s about hope for the future—not chronological info about the future.[8]
  3. It uses lots of non-literal, symbolic language to paint pictures.
  4. So, because the “big picture” is the point, not the details, you should be very humble when proposing interpretations!
  5. Don’t try to identify every single detail; focus on the bigger picture—akin to impressionist art[9] Take a look at this impressionist painting by Claude Monet:

In this picture, the details aren’t the point. It’s not about the ships, the sun, or what might be the city lost in the haze. It’s about the general impression. This is just a picture of a guy rowing his boat at sunset. It’d be a mistake to ask questions about the time of day, or about the names of the sailing ships in the harbor. It’s the same with apocalyptic literature.

What does all this have to do with the guy on the red horse? Well, you can tell it’s going to be “weird.” I’m showing you how to interpret the “weirdness!”

There’s a crisis. God wants to encourage us. Zechariah’s visions do that, in striking and mysterious ways.

So, what does Zechariah show us, here? He shows us the Man With No Name on a red horse. Behind him are three other horses.

Then I said, ‘What are these, my lord?’

Zechariah 1:9

Good question! It’s our question, too! Zechariah asks his guide. Remember I told you the prophets usually have one, in this type of literature? Zechariah needs a guide because he’s consistently just as clueless as we are (and so is Daniel, and Ezekiel, and John). So, if you’re confused about this, you’re in good company!

The angel who talked with me said to me, ‘I will show you what they are.’

Zechariah 1:9

It’s good to have a guide!

So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered,

Zechariah 1:10

The Man With No Name hears Zechariah’s question and answers, and you can picture the guide gesturing to him to get Zechariah’s attention. But, Zechariah wasn’t talking to him—so why does the guy on the horse answer?

Because this isn’t like A Christmas Carol, where Scrooge can only see, but not interact with the vision. Zechariah can see, and can interact.

These are they whom the LORD has sent to patrol the earth.

Zechariah 1:10

“These” are the three horsemen. The Man With No Name says, “Yahweh sent these guys out to patrol the whole earth!”

Who is this Man With No Name? Zechariah doesn’t know His name. The guy never tells us his name. But, he does differentiate Himself from Yahweh. We’ll have to wait to find out more.

Back to the three horsemen—why would they go out to patrol the earth? Patrol for what? It’s a reconnaissance—like imperial probe droids. These scouts have returned, and Zechariah parachutes in right when they’re about to make their report—what do they say?

And they answered the angel of the LORD who was standing among the myrtle trees, and said, ‘We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth remains at rest.’

Zechariah 1:11

What kind of report is this? Good or bad? Well, because this is an apocalyptic genre, we can assume there is some kind of crisis going on, so the report likely isn’t positive at all—at least for Israel. But, the only way to find out is to see what the Man With No Name does with their report.

Then the angel of the LORD said, ‘O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?’

Zechariah 1:12

Before we answer the question we raised, we’re confronted with something else. Here is the first clue to the Man’s identity—He’s “the angel of the Lord.” Who is this angel of the Lord (LXX: ὁ ἄγγελος Κυρίου)?[10] The bible tells us this particular angel:

  • led the people from Egypt by fire and cloud (Ex 14:19),
  • comforted Hagar in the wilderness (Gen 16:17),
  • confronted Balaam and told him to prophesy to the Moabites (Num 21:22, 31f),
  • promised Samson’s parents they’d have a son who’d rescue them from the Philistines (Judges 13),
  • and was probably the commander of the Lord’s armies who meets Joshua outside Jericho (Josh 5:13-15)

As we look at one of these examples, we see the bible tells us He’s the angel who comforted Hagar (Gen 16:7), he refers to God in the third-person (Gen 16:11) but speaks as if He is God (Gen 16:10) and, after speaking to Him, Hagar thinks she’s seen God Himself (Gen 16:13). The Angel of the Lord, the Man With No Name, is Jesus.

Was the scout’s report good or bad? It was bad—He prays for His people immediately after hearing the report.

What’s so bad about the report? You can tell by what He prays. How long will you not have mercy? How long will you be so angry at your people? Why are our enemies happy and “at peace”?

The Man With No Name’s prayer tells us what the “crisis” is: “God doesn’t care!”

  • Why do the Persians prosper?
  • I thought God promised to curse His people’s enemies?
  • Can we even trust God?
  • Does He keep His word?
  • Will He be angry forever?
  • Does He have no mercy?

Haggai 1:4 (“Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?”) is the symptom, not the problem. People are asking themselves, “why should I go on, when God seems to have checked out?” It’s a fair question. They’ve endured sustained 16 years of local opposition. It’s easy and cheap to dismiss this as mere “disobedience.” 16 years ago it was 2005. That’s a long time to wait. It’s natural to suspect God has “checked out;” to suspect it implicitly even if you wouldn’t dare say so explicitly.

Have you ever felt the same way, as you survey your life? Do you feel the same way, right now? Is your life a mess? Is a crisis sapping your faith in God’s goodness? Are you wondering what God’s doing? Do you wonder if He cares? Wondering if He notices? Wondering if you should stay the course if God doesn’t care? Are you here physically, but “checked out” mentally and emotionally? Are you weary with unspoken frustrations about God’s goodness?

That’s the crisis that’s prompting God to peel the divine curtain back for Zechariah—so he can tell us what he sees! God is peeling that curtain back for us, too. For me, for you, for all of us. Because we need to be comforted, as well.

What does Zechariah see? What should we see? What’s behind the curtain? The vision isn’t finished yet, but we can already see this much:

  1. God hasn’t checked out—He’s arranged a reconnaissance patrol.
  2. God knows—He’s received a report from the scouts.
  3. Jesus prays for His people … and God hears Him!

What is God’s message through this vision?

And the LORD answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.

Zechariah 1:13

What does God say in His response? He speaks comforting words; God does care about our fears, hopes, dreams, terrors. He speaks gracious words; God does have mercy.

He wants us to know that He remembers, that He cares, that His Son prays for us, that He hasn’t abandoned us, and that He’ll fix this.

God wants us to know we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One (1 Jn 2:1).

He wants you to know it, too.

So the angel who talked with me said to me, ‘Cry out, Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion.

Zechariah 1:14

God wants Zechariah to “cry out,” as if to say “this is what I want you to tell everybody!” God wants Zechariah to say this loudly.

  • they’re upset—tell them this!
  • they’re angry—tell them this!
  • they think I’ve forgotten about them—tell them this!
  • they think I deleted them like a bad smartphone app—tell them this!
  • they feel worn down by unspoken weariness about my goodness—tell them this!

He wants Zechariah to tell the people that He’s “exceedingly jealous.” He does care. He promises He cares. He remembers His promises. No matter what it looks like—he cares about His people. If you’re one of His people, He cares about you.

And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster.

Zechariah 1:15

He’s angry at the “nations at ease;” those nations at peace from the scout’s report (Zech 1:11). Why is God angry? Because of His promise from Genesis 12 to curse His people’s enemies (Gen 12:3).

Therefore, thus says the LORD, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; my house shall be built in it, declares the LORD of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem.

Zechariah 1:16

From the beginning, God’s desire has been to dwell among His people. It was that way in the beginning, for a short time. The tabernacle and then the temple were object lessons to show us, in part, He has a plan to fix that one day. Through those structures, as living parables, God shows Himself living with His people, among them. But, God left His people a long time ago (Ezek 8-10). He’s never physically returned. Jesus certainly went to the temple (Mal 3:1), but was rejected.

Even now, God hasn’t “returned” to Jerusalem and built a place to be physically with His people. His promise to Zechariah looks forward to eternity. The imagery of the measuring line brings to mind surveyors and grand re-building plans.

Cry out again, Thus says the LORD of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.’ ”

Zechariah 1:17

Again, God tells Zechariah to “cry out.” To tell the people about the hope for something better than the mess that is “now.”

And I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four horns!

Zechariah 1:18

These horns are symbols of power—what do they mean?

And I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these?” And he said to me, “These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.”

Zechariah 1:19

The horns are enemies in general, whoever they are, whenever they are. Four nations have not scattered Israel. These are not literal kingdoms.

Then the LORD showed me four craftsmen. And I said, “What are these coming to do?” He said, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, so that no one raised his head. And these have come to terrify them, to cast down the horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter it.”

Zechariah 1:20-21

These craftsmen are like a divine demolition crew. They’ve come to blast enemies off the face of the earth; to take the buildings down and leave nothing but rubble behind. Whoever His people’s enemies are, they’ll all be gone!

Exhortation

There are ups and downs in the Christian life. Zechariah is dealing with people whose lives are down. They’ve implicitly (but, perhaps not explicitly) “checked out.” Are you in the same place this morning?

This passage is about the angelic guide peeling back the divine curtain to show Zechariah that God does remember, and does have mercy, because Jesus is our advocate.

What is God doing, here? His aim is to assure His people to not be bitter with God or think He’s forgotten about His people—He hasn’t. So, when you feel bitter or angry with God at injustice in your life, know that Jesus prays for you.  

How do we specifically apply this truth to become more like Christ? This is what I suggest. Whenever you doubt God, peel back that same divine curtain in your mind and repeat to yourself, “I can go on, because Jesus prays for me!”

You may be asking yourself, just like Zechariah’s folks did:

  • does God care about my heartache?
  • does God remember me?
  • does God notice my struggles?
  • does God keep His promises?

Well, when God peels back that curtain for Zechariah, he shows us Jesus translating those thoughts from your heart and mind and asking them for you—”O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy?” (Zech 1:12).

God responds and says to Zechariah: “Cry out, Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion,” (Zech 1:14). He’s telling Zechariah (and us, too) “shout it on the rooftops, put it in CAPS, bold, underline, buy television airtime, launch social media campaigns—do whatever you gotta do to tell them, “I know, I care, and I’ll fix it!”

So, again, whenever you doubt God, I suggest you peel back that divine curtain in your mind, and repeat to yourself, “I can go on, because Jesus prays for me!”



[1] Lee Child, Nothing to Lose (New York: Dell, 2009), 435.  

[2] D. Brent Sandy and Martin G. Abegg, Jr., “Apocalyptic,” in Cracking Old Testament Codes: A Guide to Interpreting Literary Genres of the Old Testament, ed. D. Brent Sandy and Ronald L. Geise (Nashville: B&H, 1995), 185.   

[3] Ronald Giese, “Literary Forms of the Old Testament,” in Ibid, p. 22.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “… in apocalyptic the coming judgment is written to encourage the saints who are caught up in the crises of living in an evil world; they are encouraged to persevere and not give up hope, for God is truly in control and will “soon” intervene into world events in the person of the Son of Man,” (Ibid).

“When faced with severe adversity such as the Jews experienced at the hands of the Assyrians or Babylonians or Syrians (or the Nazis), the response of many was to call on God for salvation. When relief failed to come, patience became thin and doubts about God’s control and mercy arose. People understandably lost sight of the bigger picture of how God might be at work in the affairs of this world and became preoccupied with the immediacy of their own misfortunes.

Largely in response to this kind of crisis, apocalyptic literature gives its readers a roller-coaster ride through the heavens and into the future. There are thrills as those faced with crisis get a glimpse beyond the problems of the present. The heavenly journeys and descriptions of activities and creatures in the domain of heaven—all so unlike anything known on this earth—help the persecuted put their own misfortunes in perspective,” (D. Brent Sandy and Martin G. Abegg, Jr., “Apocalyptic,” in Ibid., p. 186).

[6] D. Brent Sandy and Martin G. Abegg, Jr., “Apocalyptic,” in Ibid., p. 177.

[7] Ibid, pp. 187-189.  

[8] The genre is “a literary shock treatment of bold and graphic images to take our attention away from the problems we currently face and give us hope,” (Ibid, p. 188).

[9] “Apocalyptic tends to be impressionistic, more like an abstract painting which communicates an overall impression. If you stand too close to the painting trying to examine the detail of the artist’s work, you fail to grasp what the picture is intended to present,” (Ibid, p. 189).    

[10] See a good overview of this issue in (1) “Angel of the Lord,” in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 90, and (2) Elke B. Speliopoulos and Douglas Mangum, “Angel of Yahweh,” in Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry et al. (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2016).

Millard Erickson sums it up nicely when he writes, “There are three major interpretations of ‘the angel of the Lord:’ (1) he is merely an angel with a special commission; (2) he is God himself temporarily visible in a humanlike form; (3) he is the Logos, a temporary preincarnate visit by the Second Person of the Trinity. While none of these interpretations is fully satisfactory, in light of the clear statements of identity, either the second or the third seems more adequate than the first,” (Christian Theology, 3rd ed. [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013; Kindle ed.], p. 413; KL 9090).

Is anybody home?

Is anybody home?

The Bible tells us that, even though Abel is dead, his faith still speaks to us. Well, Zechariah is dead too, but God still speaks to us through his words.

God’s message for us, through Zechariah, is “return to me, and I’ll return to you!” (Zech 1:3). That’s the message of his entire book. It’s a message for covenant people to be more faithful to Him.

We might object, “But I haven’t left God!” That’s what Zechariah’s audience thought, too.

We might think, “This is for other people! It’s not for me!” Well, that’s what they thought, too.

It’s what we always think—and we’re always wrong.

Zechariah begins his book with an introduction:

In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, saying,

Zechariah 1:1

In order to express what’s happening in Zechariah’s day, I’ll ask and answer a few questions.

When is Zechariah preaching? Well, it’s about 519-520 B.C.

Where does Zechariah fit into the big picture of Israel’s history? For all practical purposes, the Babylonians conquered Judah in the last decade of the 7th century B.C. Jerusalem went through a brief period of passive resistance, but eventually rebelled and the Babylonians arrived in force to take the city. Jerusalem fell in 586 B.C. The Babylonians carted prisoners off into exile throughout this entire period. There they stayed for a long time.

  • About 18 years before Zechariah’s ministry, in 538 B.C., the Persian king Cyrus let a large delegation return to Jerusalem to re-build the temple (Ezra 1).
  • 17 years before, in about 537 B.C., Daniel died in exile in Babylon. I’m certain he would have wished to return, but he couldn’t.
  • Zechariah begins preaching in about 520-519 B.C., along with Haggai.
  • Three or four years later, in 516 B.C., the returned exiles finally completed the temple.
  • 50 years after Zechariah’s ministry began, in the 470s, the events in Esther take place.
  • 70 years on, sometime in the mid 440s B.C., Nehemiah arrives from Persia and sets himself the task of re-building the walls of Jerusalem.
  • 90 years later, in the early 430s B.C., Malachi’s preaching ministry begins.

What’s going on in Israel right now? Well, you have desolation, destruction, and ruin. The city has lain vacant lo these 90 years or so. What do you think will happen to a city left empty for that long? It’s why I chose this picture to express something of the mess the exiles inherited when they arrived:

Foreigners occupy the land and the Israelites have no autonomy at all.[1] Stale dates on paper make us forget that 90 years means a lot of water under the bridge. Think on it. Transport yourself to 1930 …

  • Mickey Mouse cartoons first appear in newspapers.
  • Herbert Hoover is President
  • Al Capone is active in Chicago
  • It’s illegal to produce, import, transport or sell alcohol!

How about a real example; one closer to home? Consider the 1930 census data for a residence near my church, in Olympia, WA. Specifically, 118 Cushing St. Here’s the actual page from the 1930 census to which I’ll be referring[2]:

At that address in 1930, there lived Andrew and Ido Lillis. They were both immigrants from Finland, and their native language was Swedish. Ido was a homemaker, and Andrew was a laborer at the “Verneer Plant.” They had two children. The son, Lawrence (age 22), worked with his father as a fellow laborer at the “Verneer Plant.” The daughter, Edith (age 17), stayed home with her mother.

The burning question on the 1930 census was “do you have a radio set?” I must report the Lillis family did not own such a device!

Here is that very same address, today:

But, the catch is that structure from the picture was built in 1937. The home that census worker visited in 1930 is gone! I say all that to say this—90 years is a lot of water under the bridge. Things change. Entire generations live and die. Many people in Jerusalem don’t know, care or remember what used to be.

What’s Israel’s job? It’s pretty simple; (1) build a temple for God to be with them, and (2) start over by following the law because they love Him—don’t make the mistakes their fathers did! Well, what were their mistakes? We ought to know that, so we can avoid repeating them. Zechariah tell us:

 The LORD was very angry with your fathers …”

Zechariah 1:2

This doesn’t sound good—nobody wants the Lord to be angry with them. What did their fathers do? Why did they go into exile in the first place? Isaiah has some hints for us. I’m reaching for Isaiah here because Zechariah alludes to him two years later in his ministry (Zech 7:7).

Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.

Isaiah 58:1

God doesn’t want Isaiah to hold back. He obviously has a serious problem with his people. He explains:

Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God.

Isaiah 58:2

The problems seem to be externalism and fakery. God now mocks what the people ask him:

‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’

Isaiah 58:3

They want to know why God is “ignoring” them when they pray, when they fast, when they bring sacrifices. So, God tells them why:

Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.

Isaiah 58:3-4

There’s no brotherly love. No real covenant community.

Fasting like yours this day, will not make your voice to be heard on high.

Isaiah 58:4

When there’s no obedience, God ignores us.     

Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?

Isaiah 58:5

Of course not! God sees through externalism. If we really love God, we want to do what He says. Isaiah tells them to start showing love to their brothers and sisters; to show brotherly love to one another in the community (a la John the Baptist). God explains what will happen if they obey:

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

Isaiah 58:9

None of this is news to many Christians. But let me ask you this—will God one day say speak to our grandchildren and say, “I was very angry with your fathers?”

We want to instinctively respond, “No, because we’re not like them!”

  • is that really true?
  • do you think Isaiah’s audience were a bunch of people who self-consciously hated God and wanted to be free from Him?
  • did they think God was angry with them?
  • or, did they think God was just fine with them?
  • did they deceive themselves?

Is the Lord angry with us? We want to reply, “I’m not like them, even if other Christians are!” But, God is dealing with groups, here. The churches in Revelation weren’t all full of “bad” people, you know. Sometimes the righteous suffer because of the sins of the larger group. Our individualism won’t save us.

So, I ask again—is the Lord angry with us? Let’s see what Zechariah has to say:

Therefore say to them, Thus declares the LORD of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.

Zechariah 1:3

God says they’ve left Him behind, and they don’t even know it! How have they done that? It’s an important question, because right now (today!) we’re doing variations on the same thing. How have the folks in Zechariah’s day “left” God? Ezra and Haggai tell us how.

Ezra tells us they didn’t listen to God, and then rationalized their sins away. The first wave of exiles returned and built a makeshift altar to worship God “for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands,” (Ezra 3:3). They re-instituted proper worship and laid a new temple foundation (Ezra 3:8-13). They rejected help from the syncretistic locals (Ezra 4:3), who then discouraged them, made them afraid, and bribed officials to hinder their work (Ezra 4:4-5). So, they stop working on the temple.

Haggai then weighs in. He and Zechariah practically began their preaching ministries together. What does God think about their failure and their rationalizations? By the time Zechariah and Haggai roll up on the scene, it’s been 16 years—what does God think about this?

Well … God isn’t happy. Even worse, God doesn’t care about their reasons.

Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?

Haggai 1:4

What can they say to this? Not much. They had good reasons for being afraid. For being worried. For being scared. But, God doesn’t care. The time is never “right” to do what God wants. He told them:

Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD

Haggai 1:8

No matter what we think, we only honor and glorify God when we do things His way. And, in Zechariah and Haggai’s day, His way is to have a temple in which to dwell among His people. So, we do things His way or He takes no pleasure in us. We do things His way or we don’t honor Him.

God doesn’t care about our excuses. They might be real excuses, but He still doesn’t care. He wants us to get moving because He promises to help us along the way. The rest of Zechariah is full of encouragement to do just that. God has power over their circumstances.

He has power over ours, too.

But, now another question crops up in our minds as we mull this over. When you think about the real pressures Zechariah’s folks are facing, and the real obstacles in their way, and the fact that they’re probably not cartoon characters who self-consciously hate God … how did they “leave” Him in the first place?

Looking at what Ezra and Haggai said, it seems to go something like this:

  1. we chose to disobey (Hag 1:2-4)
  2. we rationalize our choice (Ezra 3,4)
  3. God doesn’t accept this—He rips our pious cloaks away (Hag 1:4)
  4. so, God takes no pleasure in us (Hag 1:8)
  5. and we dishonor Him (Hag 1:8)
  6. so, He calls us to return to Him (Zech 1:3)

Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the LORD.

Zechariah 1:4

This sounds so simple, so easy. Well, when Jeremiah tried to preach truth to Israelites, a mob of priests and angry folks seized him and declared he must die (Jer 26:7-11)! We read this and think, “what idiots!”

We forget that we’re very good at seeing ourselves in the best possible light— sometimes a very false light. The Pharisees didn’t think they were hypocrites—why not? How does this rationalization work? How do we deceive ourselves?

  1. You stop looking to Him to figure out His standards. You make your own standards—even with good intentions.
  2. Then, you begin to drift away, all while thinking God’s happy with you. With no guardrails, you begin to edge off the road and into the ditch.
  3. Eventually, God’s word sounds strange and offensive to you. But, you’ve been without it for so long that you can’t see that.
  4. So, when you do hear the real truth again, or a call to repentance, or a call to faithfulness … you get angry!
  5. So, you see, the messenger is always the bigot, the hater, the fundamentalist, the intolerant one, the legalist—we’re the “righteous” ones!

So, when we read Zechariah’s words, what do we think about them? He told his people their fathers “did not hear or pay attention to me,” (Zech 1:4). Will we hear or pay attention to God?

If we skip the introspection and immediately scoff and say, “Whaddya mean!? We’re all fine here!” then we’re making their same mistake. Can any of us bring our lives before the Word of God and say with a straight face that there are no problems? Can any of us really hear God say, “Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds,” then look inside our hearts and minds, and say, “I’m good! Nothing to see, here!”?

Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever?

Zechariah 1:5

Well, of course not! So, who should you listen to? Whose example is the best?

But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers?

Zechariah 1:6

They certainly did. Their fathers refused to listen, for whatever reason, because of whatever rationalization, because of whatever excuse. So, God did just what He said He would—He brought discipline!

God isn’t speaking to unbelievers, but to believers—to covenant people. If you’re a Christian, then you’re a covenant member and God is speaking to you just as surely as He spoke to Zechariah’s audience.

Picture that ruined building again:

As Zechariah’s audience surveyed a landscape that looked quite a bit like this, then thought about their duty to build a newer, cruder temple, they might have thought, “God isn’t here! Not in all this mess!” But, He is there … and He’d like to be there more often.

So, too, we Christians might look at our lives, which may look a bit like that picture. Ruined. Scarred. Messy. In need of some extensive renovation. Disobedient. We might mutter to ourselves, “God isn’t here! Not in the mess that’s my life!” But, He is there … and He’d like to be there more often!

So they repented and said, ‘As the LORD of hosts purposed to deal with us for pour ways and deeds, so has he dealt with us.’”

Zechariah 1:6

Eventually, some of their fathers repented, in the end—will we?

Zechariah’s message is deceptively simple. It’s a warning against externalism. So, return to God, and He’ll return to you. God says, in effect:

If you love me, then act like it—because I love you! Prepare your hearts to meet me, because first I’m gonna build my house, and then I’m gonna go to my house, and I want my people to serve me with right and loving hearts!

If you’ve a covenant member, a Christian, then your job is to consider how you’ve left God, and then return to Him—He’s full of mercy! But, how do you do that, exactly?

You do it by asking yourself two questions:

  1. What is one way in which I’ve left God?
  2. How will I return to Him today?

Zechariah spoke in general terms in this message. He meant for his people to raise their eyebrows, and consider their own lives. Whoever you are, there is at least one way in which you’re not being faithful to God. What is it? How will you return to Him?

Remember, we do things His way or He takes no pleasure in us. We do things His way, or we don’t honor Him. Remember the steps-towards self-delusion that Ezra and Haggai taught us:

  1. we choose to disobey (Hag 1:2-4)
  2. then, we rationalize our choices (Ezra 3, 4)
  3. and God doesn’t accept this—He sends His word to us to rip our pious cloaks away (Hag 1:4)
  4. so, He takes no pleasure in us (Hag 1:8),
  5. because we dishonor Him (Hag 1:8),
  6. so we must return to Him

So, I ask again:

  1. What is one way in which you’ve left God?
  2. How will you return to Him today?

Remember, it’s always the deceptively “simple things” that God cares about. Two years later, Zechariah will go on to chastise the people for their lack of brotherly love (Zech 7:8-10). These might seem like “little things,” but they’re actually the most important things.

What is “the thing” in your life? Zechariah says, “you guys don’t have to respond like our fathers did!” And neither do we. He told his people, “you guys don’t have to be self-deceived like they were!” And neither do we.

I say it again—God is speaking into our hearts and souls just as surely as He spoke to those folks in Jerusalem in 519 B.C. Zechariah says, “If you won’t hear God, then He won’t hear you!” And it’s the same for us.

So, again, I offer this challenge from this passage:

  1. What is one way in which you’ve left God?
  2. How will you return to Him today?

But, it’s harder than that. Answer the “how” question to the fourth level. Answer it four times in order to get a “real” answer.

I’ll demonstrate.

Let’s say I decide I’ve “left” God because I don’t show the right kind of love to my wife that scripture commands. I want to fix that. So, here goes:

  • Level one. “I’ll show better love to my wife.” This is cute, but worthless. There’s nothing specific here. It’s a well-meaning bit of nothingness, like a bite of cotton candy. That’s not good enough. I have to ask myself “yeah, and how will I do that?”
  • Level two. “I’ll show better love to my wife … by listening to her more.” That’s also cute. It’s only a bit less worthless than the first attempt. But, at least I’ve now identified a target. I can show better love by listening more. Great. So, what does that mean, exactly?
  • Level three. “I’ll show better love to my wife … by making dedicated time to talk with her more.” Getting better, but there’s still way too much wiggle room. What does that mean?
  • Level four. “I’ll show better love to my wife … by scheduling a 30-minute walk with her 2x per week and never breaking it.” Now we’re talking. Something specific, measurable, realistic … and real.

We each need to “return to God” in some way. What’s your way? How will you do it? Be specific! Answer the question four times in order to get a real answer that’ll actually mean something.

If we return to Him, then He’ll return to us.



[1] The exiles found themselves in a much-reduced geo-political situation. Even perhaps 130 years later under Nehemiah’s governorship, “Judah comprised an area covering roughly nine hundred square miles,” (Thomas V. Brisco, Holman Bible Atlas [Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998], 171).

[2] “United States Census, 1930,” database with images. Retrieved from FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9RZX-99N?i=1&wc=QZFW-8V7%3A648803901%2C650883001%2C650323301%2C1589282463&cc=1810731) Washington > Thurston > Olympia > ED 32 > image 2 of 20; citing NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002).

Cuomo, COVID and the Notorious ACB

Cuomo, COVID and the Notorious ACB

Yesterday evening, the Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) barred restrictions on religious services in New York that Gov. Cuomo had imposed to combat COVID-19. The vote was 5-4. If the late Justice Ginsburg were on the bench instead of Amy Barrett, it would have gone the other way.

This is not a permanent decision. Justice Kavanaugh explains:

Importantly, the Court’s orders today are not final decisions on the merits. Instead, the Court simply grants temporary injunctive relief until the Court of Appeals in December, and then this Court as appropriate, can more fully consider the merits.

Kavanaugh concurring opinion, p. 1.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, along with some Orthodox Jewish synagogues, asked for injunctive relief from Gov. Cuomo’s order that “imposes severe restrictions on attendance at religious services in areas classified as ‘red’ or ‘orange; zones. In red zones, no more than 10 persons may attend each religious service, and in orange zones, attendance is capped at 25,” (Decision, p. 1).

It has always been tricky to weigh religious freedom and the State’s legitimate authority to protect public health. In a recent article, I explained my own thoughts on this matter (for now, anyway) in my own context in WA State. This SCOTUS decision is very helpful because it crystallizes much of what I’ve been thinking for some time.

Strict neutrality. If you don’t treat religious institutions with strict neutrality, then a State will likely have a problem. You can’t single churches out for harsher treatment than other organizations:

In a red zone, while a synagogue or church may not admit more than 10 persons, businesses categorized as “essential” may admit as many people as they wish. And the list of “essential” businesses includes things such as acupuncture facilities, camp grounds, garages, as well as many whose services are not limited to those that can be regarded as essential, such as all plants manufacturing chemicals and microelectronics and all transportation facilities

Decision, p. 3.

What is the rhyme and reason for these determinations of “essential” vs. “non-essential?” I’m sure there is an alleged reason, and I’m also certain a binder exists even now in the State’s emergency management office that explains everything. I also know Gov. Cuomo made a moral distinction, a value judgement, when he drew those lines. A garage is more important to society than a church. This is not neutrality.

Irreparable harm. The decision notes:

There can be no question that the challenged restrictions, if enforced, will cause irreparable harm. ‘The loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.’ Elrod v. Burns, 427 U. S. 347, 373 (1976) (plurality opinion).

Decision, p. 5.

This is a point many Governors don’t understand and many Americans don’t understand. Religion is quaint, cute, mysterious and ultimately annoying to so many people today. They don’t understand it, so they don’t value it, and thus marijuana dispensaries are “essential” and houses of worship are not.

Public interest. Here, we have an especially compelling point.

But even in a pandemic,the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty. Before allowing this to occur, we have a duty to conduct a serious examination of the need for such a drastic measure.

Decision, pp. 5-6

Justice Gorsuch issued a concurring opinion in which his tone was sharp and he appeared more than a bit … miffed. He proclaims:

At the same time, the Governor has chosen to impose no capacity restrictions on certain businesses he considers “essential.” And it turns out the businesses the Governor considers essential include hardware stores, acupuncturists, and liquor stores. Bicycle repair shops, certain signage companies, accountants, lawyers, and insurance agents are all essential too. So, at least according to the Governor, it may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pickup another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike, or spend the afternoon exploring your distal points and meridians. Who knew public health would so perfectly align with secular convenience?

Gorsuch concurring opinion, p. 2.

A liquor store and a wine shop are not analogous to a worship service, but I take his point. It’s a shame Gorsuch wasn’t similarly outraged in Bostock v. Clayton County. He continues:

The only explanation for treating religious places differently seems to be a judgment that what happens there just isn’t as “essential” as what happens in secular spaces. Indeed, the Governor is remarkably frank about this: In his judgment laundry and liquor, travel and tools, are all “essential” while traditional religious exercises are not. That is exactly the kind of discrimination the First Amendment forbids.

Ibid. Emphasis added.

Seemingly on a roll, Gorsuch now scales the heights of righteous indignation and observes:

In recent months, certain other Governors have issued similar edicts. At the flick of a pen, they have asserted the right to privilege restaurants, marijuana dispensaries, and casinos over churches, mosques, and temples. In far too many places, for far too long, our first freedom has fallen on deaf ears.

Ibid, pp. 2-3.

We cannot defer to Governor’s executive orders indefinitely, Gorsuch argues.

Even if the Constitution has taken a holiday during this pandemic, it cannot become a sabbatical

Ibid, p. 3.

Justice Kavanaugh echoes his colleague:

In red and orange zones, houses of worship must adhere to numerical caps of 10 and 25 people, respectively, but those caps do not apply to some secular buildings in the same neighborhoods.In a red zone, for example, a church or synagogue must ad-here to a 10-person attendance cap, while a grocery store, pet store, or big-box store down the street does not face the same restriction. In an orange zone, the discrimination against religion is even starker: Essential businesses and many non-essential businesses are subject to no attendance caps at all.

Kavanaugh concurring opinion, p. 2.

However, Kavanaugh goes further and insists States must explain why houses of worship are “excluded from that favored class” of businesses which can operate with fewer restrictions:

The State argues that it has not impermissibly discriminated against religion because some secular businesses such as movie theaters must remain closed and are thus treated less favorably than houses of worship. But under this Court’s precedents, it does not suffice for a State to point out that, as compared to houses of worship, some secular businesses are subject to similarly severe or even more severe restrictions.

Ibid.

To my knowledge, this point has not yet come up in a meaningful way in a COVID-19 context. This flips the entire script from “may I please stay open?” to “prove to me why I can’t stay open!” as follows:

  • Wrong: You can’t just say, “gyms are closed completely, while churches can stay open subject to restrictions, so there is no discrimination.” This isn’t good enough.
  • Right: Instead, you must say, “I know Walmart is open and the parking lot is always packed to the gills, but churches can’t do that because … (insert reasoning here).”

Thus, Kavanaugh tightens the screws:

Rather, once a State creates a favored class of businesses, as New York has done in this case, the State must justify why houses of worship are excluded from that favored class. Here, therefore, the State must justify imposing a 10-person or 25-person limit on houses of worship but not on favored secular businesses

Ibid, p. 3.

COVID is certainly dangerous, Kavanaugh admits. But the great danger, he warns, is if the judiciary continues to defer to the State. This cannot be:

But judicial deference in an emergency or a crisis does not mean wholesale judicial abdication, especially when important questions of religious discrimination, racial discrimination, free speech, or the like are raised. In light of the devastating pandemic, I do not doubt the State’s authority to impose tailored restrictions—even very strict restrictions—on attendance at religious services and secular gatherings alike. But the New York restrictions on houses of worship are not tailored to the circumstances given the First Amendment interests at stake.

Ibid, p. 3.

However, Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan disagree. They wish to continue to defer.

Thus, according to experts, the risk of transmission is higher when people are in close contact with one another for prolonged periods of time, particularly indoors or in other enclosed spaces. The nature of the epidemic, the spikes, the uncertainties, and the need for quick action, taken together, mean that the State has countervailing arguments based upon health, safety, and administrative considerations that must be balanced against the applicants’ First Amendment challenges.

Breyer dissent, p. 4.

I suspect (but, of course, cannot prove) these Justices simply do not appreciate the importance of religious worship and are therefore incapable of adequately protecting it. I’m unmoved by stories about how Joe Biden (et al) have “deep Christian faith.” The Christian faith isn’t play-dough to be molded and appropriated by the owner. It’s objective. It has content. It has meaning. The ideologies of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris (and, for that matter, President Trump) largely do not comport with the Christian faith and message.

The dissenting justices continue:

We have previously recognized that courts must grant elected officials “broad” discretion when they “undertake to act in areas fraught with medical and scientific uncertainties.” That is because the “Constitution principally entrusts the safety and the health of the people to the politically accountable officials of the States.”

Breyer dissent, p. 5.

Sotomayor, in her own dissent, writes:

I see no justification for the Court’s change of heart, and I fear that granting applications such as the one filed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn (Diocese) will only exacerbate the Nation’s suffering

Sotomayor dissent, p. 1.

To her, the nature of religious activities make it more dangerous.

But JUSTICE GORSUCH does not even try to square his examples with the conditions medical experts tell us facilitate the spread of COVID–19: large groups of people gathering, speaking, and singing in close proximity indoors for extended periods of time

Ibid, p. 2.

Sotomayor epitomizes this deference to public health authorities. No sane person would deny these individuals have expertise. The dispute is over whether public health concerns can trump religious freedom, and if so for how long. Can, as Gorsuch quipped, the Constitution actually take a sabbatical? Sotomayor apparently believes it can:

Unlike religious services, which “have every one of th[ose] risk factors,” bike repair shops and liquor stores generally do not feature customers gathering inside to sing and speak together for an hour or more at a time. Id., at 7 (“Epidemiologists and physicians generally agree that religious services are among the riskiest activities”). Justices of this Court play a deadly game in second guessing the expert judgment of health officials about the environments in which a contagious virus, now infecting a million Americans each week, spreads most easily.

Sotomayor dissent, p. 3.

I wonder, then, why States do not issue edicts forbidding potlucks at Baptist churches because, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 655,381 Americans died from heart disease in 2018. One could marshal precisely the same public interest arguments for abolishing potlucks and communal meals at all houses of worship. Of course, that’s absurd. Why is COVID different, given the COVID death rate in 2020 (262,158) is only approximately 40% that of heart disease?

I can only see this continued judicial deference to the State as a sophisticated extension of the “stay safe at all costs” mindset that is so common, today. Sotomayor concludes thus:

Free religious exercise is one of our most treasured and jealously guarded constitutional rights. States may not discriminate against religious institutions, even when faced with a crisis as deadly as this one. But those principles are not at stake today. The Constitution does not forbid States from responding to public health crises through regulations that treat religious institutions equally or more favorably than comparable secular institutions, particularly when those regulations save lives

Sotomayor dissent, p. 5.

Predictably, Gov. Cuomo dismissed this injunction as a partisan political move by SCOTUS. However, the decision signals how the Court will likely rule on similar cases that come its way, and lower courts may well use these same arguments to rule in favor of houses of worship.

Legal experts said that despite the governor’s assertion that the decision was limited to parishes and other houses of worship in Brooklyn, the court’s ruling could be used to challenge and overturn other restrictions elsewhere. “The decision is applicable to people in similar situations,” said Norman Siegel, a constitutional lawyer and former leader of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “It’s applicable to any synagogue, any church, to any mosque, to any religious setting.”

Jesse McKinley and Liam Stack, “Cuomo Attacks Supreme Court’s Emboldened Majority Over Virus Ruling,” in New York Times (26 November 2020). Retrieved from https://nyti.ms/378Wmwp.

In its amicus brief to SCOTUS, the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission asked for clear guidance on how lower courts should weigh public interest and the free exercise of religion:

This Court’s guidance is needed, and, in its absence, the lower courts are left grasping for whatever they can find. Indeed, a search of Westlaw reveals that the concurring opinion in South Bay (declining to grant the requested injunction) has been cited 118 times in the past five-and-a-half months, leading to a hodge-podge of results across the United States and uncertainty as to what standard the lower courts should apply … It is time for the Court to weigh in and provide clear rules for lower courts struggling to resolve these questions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ERLC amicus brief, p. 4. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/39gWDjp.

Well, SCOTUS did just that. Whatever else they may feel about his fitness for office, all people of faith owe President Trump a debt of gratitude for appointing Justice Barrett, a convictional and faithful Roman Catholic, to the Court. This decision is a wonderful victory for religious liberty, and I suspect 2021 will see many of these executive orders struck down State by State.

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on …

Happy Thanksgiving.

COVID, the Church, the State and a more excellent way?

COVID, the Church, the State and a more excellent way?

What to think about government public health edicts and the Church regarding COVID-19? In an outburst of representative frustration, a Southern Baptist theologian recently posted the following on Twitter in response to his Governor’s new lockdown restrictions which, among other things, forbade dancing:[1]

As the American philosopher Yosemite Sam has often remarked, “them’s fightin’ words!”

Basic principles

We begin with some principles to help us consider how to react to the latest public health directive from Governor Inslee.

  1. The Bible tells us we need community and relationship to be truly human, and the Church is God’s community.

God saves His people to join them to the brotherhood of faith so we can be in relationship with Him and with our new brothers and sisters in the faith.[2] This is why God gave us pictures of the Church as God’s bride (Hos 1-3; Ezek 16; Eph 5), His body (1 Cor 12), and His spiritual house (1 Pet 2). It means we are only complete in community and fellowship with each other. This cannot be done solely by Zoom or YouTube. Therefore, just as a marriage does not exist unless there is a spatial closeness and relationship, so the Church cannot long exist if it does not meet for corporate worship. There are reasons why long-term, long distance marriages often die!

For God’s people to not meet in community is to deliberately hinder the image of God that Father, Son and Spirit are refurbishing in our individual and corporate lives (2 Cor 3:18; cp. 1 Cor 15:49).

Therefore, the Church should close its doors only as a matter of extreme necessity, as a last resort.

  1. The Bible says God puts the government official in place.

We cannot forget this, no matter who is in office:

Daniel 2:21: “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings.”

John 19:11: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”

Romans 13:1-2: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

  1. The Bible says we must obey the secular authorities.

This also cannot be wished away.

We do it because we would be disobeying God if we disobeyed the authorities. “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid, God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience,” (Rom 13:5).

Paul told Titus to “remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities,” (Titus 3:1).

We do it for the sake of evangelism. “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people,” (1 Pet 2:13-14).

  1. The Bible tells us we can disobey the authorities in certain circumstances.

The penultimate examples are Acts 4:1-22 and Acts 5:27-33. But, before we use these as the escape pod for which we have been searching, we must note three things:

  • The authorities singled the Christians out for discriminatory treatment. They treated the Church differently than other groups.
  • The State ordered the Church to not preach the Gospel. The State wanted to stop evangelism, not corporate worship.
  • The State did this maliciously and on purpose because it hated the Gospel.

We also think of Daniel and his friends who refused to compromise the way they practiced their faith—even after the State commanded them to do so (Dan 1:8). Would they have done so if there were a legitimate public health reason? Perhaps a famine, a crop failure, or something similar? We do not know. We do know the king’s order did not supersede God’s command, and Nebuchadnezzar provided no compelling reason for them to think it did. God blessed Daniel and his friends for their allegiance (Dan 1:17-21).

In non-canonical but very helpful Jewish literature from the period between Malachi and Matthew, the theme of staying loyal to God in foreign lands was also a tough issue. The Book of Tobit is set during the Assyrian exile, and it is about a man named … (you guessed it) … Tobit, who struggled to be a faithful Israelite in a strange land. He explained:

Now when I was carried away captive to Nineveh, all my brethren and my relatives ate the food of the Gentiles; but I kept myself from eating it, because I remembered God with all my heart (Tobit 1:10-12).

Like Daniel, Tobit loved God and so tried very, very hard to observe the dietary laws even in hard circumstances. As with Daniel, it was not about the dietary laws per se; it was about an honest desire to do what God ordered.[3]

What “certain circumstances,” then, allow us to disobey the State? Based on our survey, there are three triggers:

Considering COVID in Thurston County

This brings us to COVID, and Governor Inslee’s proclamation 20-25.8 of 15 November 2020.[5] These are his new directives for congregations:

Governor Inslee explained during a press conference:[6]

This spike puts us in a more dangerous a position as we were in March … And it means, unfortunately, the time has come to reinstate restrictions on activities statewide to preserve the public’s well-being, and to save lives. These were very difficult decisions that have very real consequences to people’s livelihoods. I recognize that and don’t take those impacts lightly, but we must act now and act quickly to slow the spread of this disease.

As of 15 November 2020, the Thurston County Health Department reports the following statistics:[7]

This data shows a 98.4% survival rate and indicates 6.4% of those infected have required hospitalization. The Thurston County Public Health Officer recently wrote the community[8] (p. 1, §7) that her recommendation to abandon in-person school instruction was “made based on our local patterns of transmission, rising transmission rates, hospital capacity, public health capacity, and our likely trajectory of disease going into winter.” It is reasonable to assume Governor Inslee’s proclamation is predicated on similar concerns.

As of 15 November 2020, the cumulative data for the State of Washington is as follows:[9]

This data shows a 98.1% survival rate and demonstrates 7.3% of those infected have required hospitalization. For comparison, here are the State of WA and Thurston County datasets side by side:

COVID and basic principles

We now turn to the triggers we previously discussed which allow the Church to disobey the government. We can eliminate one of these and further explore two others, as follows:

Discrimination?

The State has not engaged in intentional discrimination. Has it engaged in defacto discrimination? In this context, to discriminate means to “make an unjust or prejudicial distinction”[10] regarding the Church. To be unjust is to not behave “according to what is morally right or fair.”[11] Something is prejudicial if it is “harmful to someone or something; detrimental.”[12] Therefore, we can summarize and say Governor Inslee’s proclamation is defacto discriminatory against the Church if it draws morally wrong or unfair distinctions between it and other organizations in society, and these distinctions cause harm.

In his proclamation 20-25.8, Governor Inslee states (p. 3, §3):

These below modifications do not apply to education (including but not limited to K-12, higher education, trade and vocational schools), childcare, health care, and courts and judicial branch-related proceedings, all of which are exempt from the modifications and shall continue to follow current guidance.

Is this distinction morally wrong? Is it unfair to allocate the Church less societal value than a daycare? Is it morally wrong to say the Church is less valuable than an undergraduate institution which runs a course about the sociology of gender, in which students read texts that advocate transgender ideology?[13]

In this context every policy decision has, at its root, a moral calculus that weighs the organization’s value to society.[14] Governor Inslee has decided public schools, universities, trade schools, childcare, health care, the courts and their associated activities are more valuable than religious community. He has conducted a moral reckoning, and he sincerely believes his conclusions are correct.

But, the fact remains he has made a distinction. Is it an immoral or unfair distinction? According to Governor Inslee, both the organizations above are more precious than the Christian church. Thus, they may operate under current guidelines and are not subject to this new proclamation. According to the scriptures, gathering in community is not optional, it harms God’s people to prohibit it, and transgender ideology is a false construct of self-identity and humanity.

Therefore, we could say Governor Inslee’s proclamation 20-25.8 is defacto discriminatory against the Church. However, he has not prohibited churches from meeting. He has set limits on the manner of worship, and he has set similar (financially) harmful limits on how other organizations conduct their operations. The State economy has been crippled and is only now beginning to recover.[15] It is safe to say this latest proclamation will rip the new scab off this wound for all manner of organizations, across all sectors. If Governor Inslee is explicitly or implicitly injuring the Church, even his foes must admit he is making a very clumsy job of it.

Evidence suggests the allegation of defacto discrimination against the Church is ambiguous and unclear.

We turn to the next issue.   

Adequate cause to change the manner of worship?

The question is about predication. In SKRBCs context, the weightiest issue from WA’s new restrictions is whether Governor Inslee has adequate cause to prohibit congregational singing in a worship service. Does he? In his press conference, Governor Inslee declared:[16]

We have a pandemic raging across the state. It is a potentially fatal disease. Left unchecked, it will assuredly result in grossly overburdened hospitals. It will keep people from receiving routine but necessary medical treatment because of the stresses our hospitals will be under.

Left unchecked, the economic devastation, long term, will be continually prolonged. And, most importantly, left unchecked, we will see continued untold numbers of death.

We will not allow these things to happen.

This brings us back to the datasets about COVID:

Just from this admittedly simple review, COVID-19 does not seem to be a serious disease. The number of WA dead (2,519) seems only to be so high because so many have been infected (130,419). And yet, this data masks the true horror of the virus. Even this seemingly modest amount of hospitalizations may overwhelm the public health sector:[17]

… in the hardest-hit areas, there are simply not enough doctors, nurses, and other specialists to staff those beds. Some health-care workers told me that COVID-19 patients are the sickest people they’ve ever cared for: They require twice as much attention as a typical intensive-care-unit patient, for three times the normal length of stay.

The article goes on:[18]

The entire state of Iowa is now out of staffed beds, Eli Perencevich, an infectious-disease doctor at the University of Iowa, told me. Worse is coming. Iowa is accumulating more than 3,600 confirmed cases every day; relative to its population, that’s more than twice the rate Arizona experienced during its summer peak, “when their system was near collapse,” Perencevich said. With only lax policies in place, those cases will continue to rise. Hospitalizations lag behind cases by about two weeks; by Thanksgiving, today’s soaring cases will be overwhelming hospitals that already cannot cope. “The wave hasn’t even crashed down on us yet,” Perencevich said. “It keeps rising and rising, and we’re all running on fear. The health-care system in Iowa is going to collapse, no question.”

In the imminent future, patients will start to die because there simply aren’t enough people to care for them. Doctors and nurses will burn out. The most precious resource the U.S. health-care system has in the struggle against COVID-19 isn’t some miracle drug. It’s the expertise of its health-care workers—and they are exhausted.

Just how difficult is it to care for a single COVID-19 patient?[19]

A typical patient with a severe case of COVID-19 will have a tube connecting their airways to a ventilator, which must be monitored by a respiratory therapist. If their kidneys shut down, they might be on 24-hour dialysis. Every day, they’ll need to be flipped onto their stomach, and then onto their back again—a process that requires six or seven people. They’ll have several tubes going into their heart and blood vessels, administering eight to 12 drugs—sedatives, pain medications, blood thinners, antibiotics, and more.

All of these must be carefully adjusted, sometimes minute to minute, by an ICU nurse. None of these drugs is for treating COVID-19 itself. “That’s just to keep them alive,” Neville, the Iowa nurse, said. An ICU nurse can typically care for two people at a time, but a single COVID-19 patient can consume their full attention. Those patients remain in the ICU for three times the length of the usual stay.

Are some Christians so insulated in their echo-chamber of favored news commentators that they do not realize how awful COVID is? One public health worker recently lamented:[20]

Health-care workers and public-health officials have received threats and abusive messages accusing them of fearmongering … They’ve pleaded with family members to wear masks and physically distance, lest they end up competing for ICU beds that no longer exist. “Nurses have been the most trusted profession for 18 years in a row, which is now bull**** because no one is listening to us,” Neville said.

Add to it that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now concludes COVID-19 spreads through droplets in the air:[21]

Some infections can be spread by exposure to virus in small droplets and particles that can linger in the air for minutes to hours. These viruses may be able to infect people who are further than 6 feet away from the person who is infected or after that person has left the space.

This kind of spread is referred to as airborne transmission and is an important way that infections like tuberculosis, measles, and chicken pox are spread.

There is evidence that under certain conditions, people with COVID-19 seem to have infected others who were more than 6 feet away. These transmissions occurred within enclosed spaces that had inadequate ventilation. Sometimes the infected person was breathing heavily, for example while singing or exercising.

In light of this, does the Church have cause to question the State’s motives in a public health emergency? Can it responsibly ignore the recommendations of public health experts? It seems the following guidelines should apply when considering public health emergency orders:

In the State of Washington’s context, the answers to these questions are, in order, No, Yes and Yes.

Does Governor Inslee therefore lack adequate cause to restrict congregational singing? Only if the Church believes the proclamation (and others like it from other Governors) is part of a conspiracy against Christ and His Church. Such theories abound on the internet, that warm incubator for so much cold darkness.[22]

Of course, these questions do not consider that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14) and rarely works in an overt way. He seeks to destroy the Church (1 Pet 5:8; Rev 12:17). “For we are not ignorant of his designs,” (2 Cor 2:11). We also must consider whether the Church is the proverbial frog in the pan that slowly boils to death … and never notices. Is the burner dial turning to “MED-HIGH” even now? 

We must remember we live in two worlds: the City of God and the City of Man. This world does not like the Church, does not respect it, does not value it, and never will. We must only go along with public health decrees that re-shape our community and our worship as long as we are reasonably certain there is no explicit or implicit evil motivating them.

Is there, in this case? With Satan, we can never be sure. But the evidence suggests no.

A more excellent way?

We make a mistake when we consider COVID and the State from the perspective of Satan as the moving force in the universe. Yet, that is what we have done. It is what we have all done. We forget the most biblical way to think of COVID is as God’s judgment on the world. Examples from scripture are too numerous to list, but here is one (Jeremiah 14:11-12):

The LORD said to me: “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. Though they fast, I will not hear their cry, sand though they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.”

God brings curses on a world that rejects Him. True, the world is not Israel. But the point remains—God brings judgment so people might repent. We do not know what His specific message is, but we can be certain it has to do with repentance and allegiance to His name.

While it is necessary to focus on the Church’s obligations to the State regarding public health orders, it is perhaps best for the Church to re-double its efforts to fulfill its mission. That mission is to preach the Gospel. To build bridges to the community in service of that Good News. To be innovative, creative, and winsomely aggressive in this outreach.

That is what God would have us do.

Notes

[1] See https://twitter.com/ostrachan/status/1328413157325410304. This was posted on 16 November 2020.              

[2] See the sermon “Made for Each Other? The Bible on Marriage” (preached 01 November 2020) for an exposition of Genesis 2:18-25. This sermon is essentially about the imago dei and how it is imaged in the covenant of marriage. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/BHZaV6YwXSg.

[3] See also 1 Maccabees 1:58-64 for a similar theme. 

[4] The case of defacto discrimination is well illustrated by Pliny the Younger’s letter to Emperor Trajan querying how he ought to handle Christians. This came about after Pliny issued a general edict outlawing political associations. Christians were then caught up in this administrative dragnet. This was not an explicit, but a defacto discrimination.

[5] Retrieved from https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/proclamations/proc_20-25.8.pdf

[6] TV Washington, “Governor Inslee Press Conference on COVID-19,” (15 November 2020). Retrieved from https://www.tvw.org/watch/?eventID=2020111099.

[7] Retrieved from Thurston County Public Health and Social Services on 15 November 2020 from https://www.thurstoncountywa.gov/phss/Pages/covid-19-data.aspx

[8] Dr. Dimyana Abdelmalek, “Letter to the Community: 10 November 2020.” Retrieved on 15 November 2020 from https://www.thurstoncountywa.gov/phss/phssdocuments/11%2010%2020%20letter%20to%20community%20FINAL.pdf

[9] WA State Department of Health, “COVID-19 Dashboard.” Retrieved on 15 November 2020 from  https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/DataDashboard.

[10] New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford, 2010), s.v. “discriminate,” verb, 2; p. 497. 

[11] Ibid, s.v. “unjust,” p. 1893. 

[12] Ibid, s.v. “prejudicial,” p. 1378. 

[13] For example, see SOC 235 “Sociology of Gender” from South Puget Sound Community College. The assigned textbook is Lisa Wade and Myra Ferre, Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, 2nd ed. (New York: Norton, 2018).

[14] “A man who acts, makes decisions, ranks things above or below, sets a high or low value on things, is acting according to definite principles—even though theoretically he may deny these principles—and he is acting with the consciousness—although in theory he would certainly deny it—that it is right to act in such a way,” (Emil Brunner, The Divine Imperative, trans. Olive Wyon [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1947], 18). 

[15] See State of Washington Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, Economic & Revenue Update – October 15, 2020, pp. 3-5. Retrieved from https://erfc.wa.gov/sites/default/files/public/documents/publications/oct20.pdf

[16] TV Washington, “Press Conference,” 00:25 – 01:10. Retrieved from https://www.tvw.org/watch/?eventID=2020111099.

[17] Ed Yong, “‘No One Is Listening to Us,’” The Atlantic (13 November 2020). Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/11/third-surge-breaking-healthcare-workers/617091/.

[18] Ibid.  

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “How COVID-19 Spreads,” updated 28 October 2020. Retrieved on 16 November 2020 from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-covid-spreads.html. Emphasis added.

[22] These theories usually include varying amalgamations of George Soros, the World Economic Forum, Bill Gates, microchips, a belief COVID-19 is not real or is being exploited for nefarious purposes, and conviction that there exists a coordinated, multi-national cabal of political and civil service conspirators ready to execute sinister orders from on high across the globe. I believe the latest colloquial term for this conspiracy at the moment is “the Great Reset.” You can read a short, breezy article skeptical of this theory here.

Meeting Jim Crow

Meeting Jim Crow

Like many Americans, I knew very little about the context of the civil rights era. I learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. in elementary school, like everyone else. That’s about it, for me. As a Christian, of course I condemn slavery and racism as evils; a poisonous fruit of the Fall.

However, like so many others, I have recently been assaulted with anti-racism rhetoric that seemingly sprang forth from nowhere. This perspective often comes from Critical Race Theory (“CRT”), a new religion I began writing about a little while ago. I have encountered this anti-racism “training” at work in State government, peddled by unwitting Human Resource personnel so the agency can now say it’s “done something” in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death and the ensuing riots.

A host of revisionist Christian pastors, all darlings in the woker quarters of the evangellyfish pond, have sallied forth to denounce racism – often employing extra-biblical categories to push a watered-down CRT in the Church. One such well-known black pastor recently called for reparations from white Americans and foolishly cited Exodus 12:33-36 as support.

Well, I want to actually learn something about the civil rights era and its context. I don’t want it from woke Christian pastors, or by radical scholars pushing an agenda. I want it from responsible sources. My studies have only begun, but I wanted to pass along some excellent resources to better understand the context of Jim Crow laws and the civil rights era:

  1. The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward. This classic, endorsed by MLK, Jr., was written by the dean of Southern historians in the mid-1950s after Brown v. Board of Education, and revised three times (the last being in 1974). It advanced the so-called Woodward thesis, that Jim Crow laws did not follow immediately on the heels of the Civil War, but were a calculated step backward after Reconstruction that deliberately disenfranchised the entire black population and reversed racial progress. The thesis is much more nuanced than I’m presenting it (racial prejudice certainly still existed during Reconstruction). But, it’s a horrifying look at how a culture deliberately took a step back towards pure evil.
  2. The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow by Richard Wormser. This is a short history of the entire Jim Crow era, with particular focus on eyewitness accounts. It is the most horrifying book I’ve ever read and literally changed my perspective forever. I will never think of my country the same way again. You wonder how the Nazis constructed concentration camps? Then, wonder how a “Christian” people did this to other human beings in America. Sin can warp the mind worse than anything else. Terrible. 
  3. Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King. Pulitzer Prize-winning account of Thurgood Marshall and the NAACPs legal strategy to destroy Jim Crow, using the Groveland Four case (from late 1940s Florida) as a foil. One of the most readable, enjoyable books I’ve ever read.
  4. Grand Expectations by James Patterson. Part of the Oxford History of the United States series, focusing on 1945-1974. Essential for capturing the greater context to understand the civil rights era.

I’m listening to the Oxford History entry on the Reconstruction era right now. I plan on listening to a detailed history of the pre-Civil War era slave issue (likely Impending Crisis, by Potter) after that. 

I Love Me …

I Love Me …

Carl Trueman’s forthcoming book will be required reading for any pastor (or, anybody, really) who is interested in a Christian explanation for the cult of self-worship in the West. He summarizes the issue in an article published today titled “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self … And How the Church Can Respond.”

Even if you aren’t a Christian, do you want to know what’s happened to the world? To people? Where did this “you do you!” ethos of self-worship come from? Why do people see their psychologized self-conception (which, tellingly today, almost always centers on sex) as the thing that defines them?

Trueman sums up the problem in the article:

… the idea that happiness is personal psychological satisfaction—“self-fulfillment”—is the staple of sitcoms, soap operas, movies, and even commercials. And this narrative, this illusion, has powerful implications. When the goal of human existence is personal psychological satisfaction, then all moral codes are merely instrumental, and therefore continually revisable, to this subjective, psychological end.

I’ve preached both a sermon that touched on this a BIT:

and one that touched on this a LOT:

and hopefully have an article forthcoming in a Christian magazine that lays some of this out. My latest article about the Bostock decision also noted that this lens of narcissism is behind SCOTUS’ redefinition of “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Trueman closes his article with this:

We have been here before—despised, considered immoral, standing on the margins. And we can learn lessons that will fortify us as we move into an uncertain future.

I’m looking forward to the book.

On Christian Civil Religion

On Christian Civil Religion

Christian Nationalism, the tendency to conflate American patriotism with the Christian faith and message, came into its modern form in the Eisenhower years. It did so largely as a civil religious bulwark in the context of the escalating Cold War and domestic “Red Scare.” It was deliberately fostered by President Eisenhower. It morphed into the political arena in a meaningful way from the 1980s to roughly 2004; the glory years of Moral Majority and, later, the Religious Right.

Frances Fitzgerald wrote about this in her book The Evangelicals (which I previously reviewed):

Eisenhower and Graham did not agree on theology or foreign policy, but they agreed on the place of religion in what both considered perilous times. They agreed that America was fighting atheistic Communism and that national survival rested on the belief of Americans in God.

“A spiritual awakening,” Graham said, “will restore our spiritual heritage, create moral stamina and consciousness, bring back the sanctity of the home . . . strengthen the bulwarks of freedom and bring integrity back to the people of the world.”

They agreed that patriotism and religious belief were synonymous and that America had a moral and spiritual mission to redeem the world. “If you would be a loyal American, then become a loyal Christian,” Graham said in one sermon, and in another, “We are created for a spiritual mission among the nations.”

Graham, of course, did not believe that just any religion would do. In a sermon titled “Satan’s Religion” he offered five ways Americans could “most effectively combat Communism.” The first was “by old-fashioned Americanism”; the second “by conservative and Evangelical Christianity”; the third by prayer; the fourth by spiritual revival; and the fifth “by personal Christian experience.” “The greatest and most effective weapon against Communism today is to be a born-again Christian,” he said.

Despite his sectarian perspective, Graham’s position was closer to Eisenhower’s than to that of liberal Protestant leaders, all of whom objected to the conflation of Christianity with Americanism, and some of whom had a disconcerting tendency to call for nuclear disarmament and talks with the Communist Chinese.

It was also closer to the majority position of the day. In 1949 Graham had styled himself as Amos, the prophet crying in the wilderness, but in four years he had become a pastor of the national civil religion.

The Evangelicals, pgs. 185-186.

This is why this article by Michael Svigel is so helpful. He offers up a third way for Christians to engage the world. A way that isn’t isolationism or a bad marriage to politicians and their all too often crocodile promises. It’s a way Svigel calls the “Conscience of the Kingdom” approach:

In this approach, Christians uncompromisingly commit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ with regard to their priorities and values, morals and message. They surrender none of these to any other lord or any other leader. The Church is the community of their primary allegiance, which they will share with no other party or political organization.

However, Conscience Christians view their relationship to the world as analogous to the conscience of an individual. On the basis of God’s Word and in allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, Christians speak and act on behalf of righteousness.

Christians address political corruption, weigh in on social ills, take righteous action on behalf of truth, justice, and mercy, and do so in ways that refuse either to empower a “strongman” or take shelter in a bunker.

Svigel’s article provides a helpful corrective for Christians who may tend to conflate American nationalism with the Christian faith. They are very different. They should REMAIN very different. The hopes and dreams that fire a Christian’s heart and mind MUST come from Christ’s kingdom, not from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Read the whole article. Then, read Svigel’s wonderful book RetroChristianity.

Godspeed, Dr. Houghton!

Dr. Myron Houghton, longtime Chair of Theological Studies at Faith Baptist Bible College and Seminary in Ankeny, IA, has passed away from complications from COVID-19.

Dr. Houghton was a legend in the more mature, balanced flavors of Baptist fundamentalism. His major written work was Law & Grace, which presented perhaps the most extensive and learned dispensational perspective on this issue yet in print. The publisher explains:

Law and Grace explores a misunderstood theological subject from several perspectives. After discussing Roman Catholic and Reformed views of law, gospel, and grace, the book uses an exposition of Romans to present a dispensational framework for distinguishing key theological concepts.

Pastors, church leaders, and ministry students will appreciate Myron Houghton’s thorough exegesis and practical applications, including practical advice on tithing, Sabbath keeping, and the believer’s responsibility to follow grace principles for godly living.

You can read several moving tributes to Dr. Houghton from former students and others:

I never met Dr. Houghton. I’ve read his Law & Grace twice, and need to read it again. I disagreed with it, and may well disagree again. However, his learned presentation of a dispensational view of the issue, and his more than fair representation of the other side, will likely never be equaled. In that respect, his work has and will continue to be rightly esteemed among dispensationalists like Alva McClain’s Greatness of the Kingdom.

I wish he’d written more. I wish I’d taken some theology classes with him.

Good advice from a guy who oughta know

William Still was pastor of the same church in Scotland for 52 years. He died in 1997. He wrote a little book titled The Work of the Pastor. In it, he wrote the following:

Make sure you are called to the ministry, because the world gets worse and worse, and if ever there was a day when an evangelical minister could become a conventional member of society and fulfil a merely social role or occupy an official status, it is not today.

In which land is the church not in a real missionary situation as pilgrims and strangers in an alien, enslaved world? Even places with a rich evangelical heritage can take nothing for granted. When the superficially evangelistic community exhausts the solid biblical capital it has inherited from its forefathers, what is there to fall back upon?

There is more likelihood that it will become increasingly worldly in ostensible attempts to maintain communication with the lost world than that it will be willing to be led back to a solid biblical diet by ministers called of God to give it what it needs and not what it wants.

You need to be called of God to stick out from a complacent, alien community like a sore thumb. Nor will you need to try to stick out. Just be faithful, and God will arrange it, and you will be the talk of the community, however self-effacing you try to be.

Work of the Pastor; Kindle Location 1164.

He also says this, which many American ministers who grotesquely marry a peculiar civil religion to the Word of God need to heed:

Because of the nationalisation of the church under Constantine, and the institutionalisation of it subsequently, she has failed to see that as a remnant church, gathering and building up a hidden Kingdom in an ever alien world, she is always in a missionary situation. The hope of the Christianisation of the state, or even the Christianisation of a complete community, is vain.

Work of the Pastor; Kindle Location 801.

1: Bad, bad news

Some quick thoughts about the Bostock v. Clayton County court decision that came out yesterday. The impetus for the case were three separate instances where employees were terminated for being either homosexual or transgender. The Court consolidated all three cases, and the question before it was whether the definition of “sex” under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act included the concepts of “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” The Court held that it did. My focus here is not the employee terminations; it’s the question before the Court and its decision to re-define “sex” in anti-discrimination law.

  1. Christians who have made an idol of supporting the Republican Party because of the alleged advantage of appointing “conservative justices” now have no leg to stand on. Justice Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion, and Chief Justice Roberts concurred.
  2. Christians may have little meaningful reason to continue to support the Republican Party, except perhaps as the alleged lesser of two evils. We will likely see a wide-scale capitulation to this newest phase of the social revolution. President Trump has already figuratively shrugged his shoulders about the decision.
  3. Republican does not equal Christian. This much should have been obvious for a long time, but now it is clear as day. Christians who have looked to the Republican Party as a vehicle for achieving social change should now see the bankruptcy of this tactic. The Religious Right is dead. This is a good thing. This entire endeavor of the Church’s political activism in the service of social reform was a mistake. I have believed this for a long time. Read Stanley Hauerwas’ book Resident Aliens for a better strategy for the Church.
  4. The idea that “textualism” is a bulwark against bad legal interpretation is now dead forever. There is no way on earth legislators in 1964 would have understood “sex” to mean “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” Yet, Justice Gorsuch wants us to read it in.
  5. Textualism is only as good as the document to which it pledges loyalty. Chief Justice Taney used “textualism” (an anachronism, I know – but it’s what he did) to defend his interpretation in Dred Scott v. Sanford. The only textualism that really matters is fidelity to scripture. Because our society no longer has any semblance of a Christian view of morality (see #7, below), textualism in service of the U.S. Constitution is not a strategy in which to place anything but deep skepticism.
  6. This decision will open a floodgate of unending litigation against every Christian institution in the country. The very concept of “sex” in the context of non-discrimination law has now been irrevocably altered. This has profound implications, because Christian universities, seminaries, organizations … and churches … will now be targeted by malicious actors. The very expression of reality in this country has now been changed.
  7. How you view the world determines how you think. The Judeo-Christian worldview used to be the philosophical foundation from which citizens understood moral values, even if wasn’t a self-conscious foundation. There used to be a residue of that worldview present in society. This Court decision signals that it is gone forever.
  8. Everybody has to identify some foundation for moral values. Once you cut yourself off from objective truth, you’re cast out onto the open sea of subjectivism. Sex means gender identity because … well, why not? Forget rationality. Forget history. Forget divine revelation. Forget biology. There are only our own subjective feelings, baptized in the laver of diagnoses from mental health professionals (the new secular priests, dispensing the sacrament on letterhead) by whose mystical incantations people are “declared” to suffer from gender dysphoria. People look to what they perceive to be an objective standard to make moral value judgments. Having rejected divine revelation, they’ll look elsewhere. Today, they often look to the sciences. The DSM-V is the Bible, and the mental health professional is the high priest dispensing pagan grace. With the diagnosis letter in hand, the doors are open to validating felt gender identity. Transgender is a valid paradigm. Why? The mental professional says! See, here’s the diagnosis letter …
  9. Employers will now have little recourse to curtail unprofessional and unacceptable workplace behavior. All the employee need do is to claim the behavior is an integral part of his “gender identity.” If you believe there will be “safeguards” in place for businesses to have reasonable leeway to enforce professional codes of conduct, you are very naive.
  10. Christians must figure out what they believe on the subjects of gender and sexual orientation. They must. There is nowhere to hide. Pastors who do not take a stand on this issue are cowards.
  11. Our nation is irrevocably broken. I am more and more inclined to advocate for the Church’s total withdrawal from public life, in the sense of political activism for the social good. The only role I now see for the Church in the public square is for evangelism. Again, see Resident Aliens and perhaps Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, though I have not yet read the latter.

I’m reading the Court documents, including the transcript of oral arguments and the decision itself, and will write up an analysis in the next month or so. I did the same for the Obergefell v. Hodges decision a few years back. It’ll be an analysis of the arguments and its implications from a Christian perspective. I hope to have it ready by late July.