Author Archive | Denny Burk

Supreme Court refuses to defend religious liberty for pharmacists

Last week, I was at a meeting hosted by The Alliance Defending Freedom. There I was introduced to a Christian family who was ordered by the State of Washington to sell abortion-inducing drugs in their family-owned pharmacy (see their story above). This family and two other pharmacists believe that killing unborn children is wrong, and so they sued the state for relief.

In 2012, a federal court ruled that the law violated the free exercise clause of the first amendment and that the law was “riddled with exemptions for secular conduct, but contain no such exemptions for identical religiously-motivated conduct.”

In 2015, however, a federal appeals court overruled and said that the pharmacists and family must violate their consciences in order to do business in Washington State. The family and the pharmacists appealed their case to the Supreme Court.

This morning, the Supreme Court denied to hear their appeal. It means that the lower court ruling stands and that they cannot do business in Washington State unless they are willing to violate their religious beliefs.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote a dissent against the Supreme Court’s decision, and he was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas. You need to read this excerpt from the dissent:

“This case is an ominous sign. At issue are Washington State regulations that are likely to make a pharmacist unemployable if he or she objects on religious grounds to dispensing certain prescription medications. There are strong reasons to doubt whether the regulations were adopted for—or that they actually serve—any legitimate purpose. And there is much evidence that the impetus for the adoption of the regulations was hostility to pharmacists whose religious beliefs regarding abortion and contraception are out of step with prevailing opinion in the State. Yet the Ninth Circuit held that the regulations do not violate the First Amendment, and this Court does not deem the case worthy of our time. If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern. The Stormans family owns Ralph’s Thriftway, a local grocery store and pharmacy in Olympia, Washington. Devout Christians, the Stormans seek to run their business in accordance with their religious beliefs…. Ralph’s has raised more than ‘slight suspicion’ that the rules challenged here reflect antipathy toward religious beliefs that do not accord with the views of those holding the levers of government power. I would grant certiorari to ensure that Washington’s novel and concededly unnecessary burden on religious objectors does not trample on fundamental rights.” [underline mine]

The fortunes of religious liberty are waning in our country right now. The notion has been diminishing in the popular consciousness, and now the Supreme Court is declining to defend our first freedom as well. Alito is right, this is a “cause for great concern.” If the state can ignore the first amendment and coerce these Christians to violate their conscience, then the state can do anything.

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Pope Francis says he agrees with Martin Luther about justification

It was about five hundred years ago that the Roman Catholic church excommunicated Martin Luther for the teachings that led to the Protestant Reformation. Chief among these teachings was the idea that justification is by faith alone (sola fide). 

That is why it is baffling to read Pope Francis’s recent remarks about Luther. In a recent interview, a reporter asked the Pope if he might consider lifting Martin Luther’s excommunication. While the Pope did not offer to remove his excommunication, he did have some rather remarkable words. There is one particular paragraph worth highlighting:

I think that the intentions of Martin Luther were not mistaken. He was a reformer. Perhaps some methods were not correct. But in that time, if we read the story of the Pastor, a German Lutheran who then converted when he saw reality – he became Catholic – in that time, the Church was not exactly a model to imitate. There was corruption in the Church, there was worldliness, attachment to money, to power…and this he protested. Then he was intelligent and took some steps forward justifying, and because he did this. And today Lutherans and Catholics, Protestants, all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err. He made a medicine for the Church…

This is a rather curious statement. Francis argues that Lutherans, Catholics, and Protestants all “agree on the doctrine of justification.” These words seem to suggest that the main soteriological difference between Protestants and Catholics is no longer an issue.

I have no idea what the Pope is talking about here. It is possible that The Joint Declaration on Justification  is the background for this statement. But that statement only represented rapproachment with a particular group of liberal Lutherans. It did not establish unity with all Lutherans, much less Protestants in general. Protestants have not laid aside sola fide, and the Roman Catholic church has not laid aside its anathema of sola fide. Yes, the issues are complex, but the divisions among the faithful are obvious and ongoing.

If anyone wants to offer an explanation for the Pope’s statement, I welcome it. At first blush, it looks like he’s saying that the Reformation was no big deal after all and that the Roman Catholic church now accepts many of Luther’s insights. But I don’t think that is what is going on here. So what is going on here?

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A Meditation on Psalm 19

I thank You for this piece of sky
Which often I’ve let fly right by
Without a single thought from whence
It came or by it what is meant.
For day to day it pours forth speech
In words within my soul’s short reach.
And night to night its knowledge pours
Of You Who reigns forevermore.
Its line has gone through all the earth
To tell Your glory and Your worth. Continue Reading →

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I’m a single-issue voter on multiple issues, and so are you.

Election 2016 has presented evangelical voters with a real conundrum. There is no clearly pro-life candidate in this race. We know where the presumptive Democratic nominee stands. And even though the presumptive GOP nominee professes to be pro-life, we have good reasons to doubt that claim. He praises Planned Parenthood, supports the “health” exception, and names his pro-abortion rights sister as the kind of judge that would make a good Supreme Court appointment.

Still, many evangelicals who met with Trump this week in New York are making a “single-issue” calculation, and it goes like this. We know what kind of justices we would get with a Clinton presidency. There’s a chance that we might get some good ones with Trump. Ergo, despite his questionable character and pro-life credentials, single-issue pro-life voters should support him.

But that argument is not persuasive if you understand what single-issue voting really is. Single-issue voting is not the idea that being right on any single issue qualifies a candidate for office. Single-issue voting is the idea that being wrong on a single issue may disqualify a candidate from office. In this latter sense, every voter is potentially a single-issue voter. Unless you have no moral or political principles at all, then you must be a single-issue voter in this sense. The question is simply what single issue rises to that level of importance to you.

For example, no one would say that a candidate is qualified for office simply because he opposes legal slavery. But of course everyone would say that a candidate would be disqualified if he supported legal slavery. No matter how attractive that candidate might otherwise be, if he wanted to resurrect chattel slavery in the United States he would be disqualified on that single issue alone. That is single-issue voting. 

Pro-life voters have traditionally been single-issue voters in that sense. It’s not that being pro-life qualifies anyone for office. It’s that being wrong on the issue ought to disqualify a candidate. Evangelical Trump supporters are arguing that this single-issue certainly disqualifies the Democratic nominee but that there may be a chance it has not disqualified the GOP nominee. At first blush, it’s a compelling argument. What’s wrong with it?

This whole calculus is based on the premise that single-issue voting can only be about one single issue. This is simply a category mistake. I am a single-issue voter on the abortion issue. But I’m also a single-issue voter on wife-beating, slavery, war-crimes, and a host of other issues. Any candidate who supports wife-beating, slavery, war-crimes is barking up the wrong tree if they think they will have my support. They will never have it. Ever. Why? Because I’m a single-issue voter, and I’m willing to bet that every person reading these words is as well. Again, the question is simply what issues are that important to you.

So how does this reasoning appy to the choices before us in 2016? There is no question that the Democratic nominee is disqualified on the basis of the single issue of abortion. The GOP nominee may be as well. But even if we were to grant for the sake of argument that he were not disqualified on the basis of his abortion views, he is disqualified on a number of other single issues. His pledge to direct our miliatry to commmit war crimes, his fomenting of mob-violence at political rallies, his appeal to racism, and a host of other character flaws are all single issues, any one of which by themselves would be disqualifying.

That is why the most common argument in favor of Trump–at least the one I’m hearing from evangelicals–isn’t compelling to me. And it shouldn’t be to them either.

30

Albert Mohler discusses Trump and character in public leadership

Albert Mohler says that if he were to endorse Trump, he would have to apologize to President Clinton for everything he said about character and public leadership during the 1990’s. This is a good word. Mohler is not going to endorse any candidate, but it is clear where he stands on the Trump candidacy. Download here or listen below.

1

Donald Trump announces new religious advisory board

RNS reports that Donald Trump has named a new religious advisory board. The full list of board members is as follows:

• Michele Bachmann — Former Congresswoman

• A.R. Bernard — Senior Pastor and CEO, Christian Cultural Center

• Mark Burns — Pastor, Harvest Praise and Worship Center

• Tim Clinton — President, American Association of Christian Counselors

• Kenneth and Gloria Copeland — Founders, Kenneth Copeland Ministries

• James Dobson — Author, Psychologist and Host, “My Family Talk”

• Jerry Falwell Jr. — President, Liberty University

• Ronnie Floyd — Senior Pastor, Cross Church

• Jentezen Franklin — Senior Pastor, Free Chapel

• Jack Graham — Senior Pastor, Prestonwood Baptist Church

• Harry Jackson — Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church

• Robert Jeffress — Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church of Dallas

• David Jeremiah — Senior Pastor, Shadow Mountain Community Church

• Richard Land — President, Southern Evangelical Seminary

• James MacDonald — Founder and Senior Pastor, Harvest Bible Chapel

• Johnnie Moore — Author, President of The KAIROS Company

• Robert Morris — Senior Pastor, Gateway Church

• Tom Mullins — Senior Pastor, Christ Fellowship

• Ralph Reed — Founder, Faith and Freedom Coalition

• James Robison — Founder, Life OUTREACH International

• Tony Suarez — Executive Vice President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

• Jay Strack — President, Student Leadership University

• Paula White — Senior Pastor, New Destiny Christian Center

• Tom Winters — Attorney, Winters and King, Inc.

• Sealy Yates — Attorney, Yates and Yates

34

Are Christians “complicit” in Orlando?

I just read Jen Hatmaker’s viral Facebook post in which she says Christians are “complicit” in the hate that led to the Orlando shooting. Among other things, she writes:

Anti-LGBTQ sentiment has paved a long runway to hate crimes. When the gay community is denied civil liberties and respect and dignity, when we make gay jokes, when we say ‘that’s so gay’, when we turn our noses up or down, when we qualify every solitary statement of love with a caveat of disapproval, when we consistently disavow everything about the LGBTQ community, we create a culture ripe for hate. We are complicit.

We cannot with any integrity honor in death those we failed to honor in life.

Can you see why the Christian outpouring of compassion toward Orlando feels so disingenuous?

She goes on, and I’ll let you read it for yourself. Continue Reading →

17

Southern Baptists address Orlando massacre

All of us are still reeling from the news of what happened in Orlando on Sunday. When I went into church Sunday morning, I had read that 20 people were killed in a mass shooting in Orlando. After I left church, I read that the number had risen to 50. I could hardly imagine the scale of such a horror. It was even harder to contemplate what the victims suffered. Who can bear even to think of it?

As I mentioned on Sunday, every person in that night club was an image-bearer of Almighty God and had lives of inestimable worth and value before God. Their murders are an unmitigated evil. As Christians, our calling is to weep with those who weep in the wake of such tragedy (Rom. 12:15).

My denomination’s annual meeting is being held in St. Louis this week. Nearly every session has included prayer and rembrances for the victims and survivors of Orlando. Earlier today, the messengers also approved a resolution concerning the massacre. Here is the text: Continue Reading →

11

The Confederate Battle flag and Southern Baptists

I got a lump in my throat today watching what unfolded on the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention. The messengers considered a resolution against the Confederate Battle flag. People spoke for and against. But it was Dr. James Merritt’s speech that proved to be the seminal moment. Among other things, he told Southern Baptists, “I rise to say that all the Confederate Flags in the world are not worth one soul of any race.” Amen.

Dr. Merritt’s speech and the subsequent vote are not going to be forgotten by those who witnessed what happened. Russell Moore has put this into historical perspective over at his website. I recommend that you read the whole thing, but here’s a piece of it. Continue Reading →

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