Alito Argued That Roe v. Wade Should Be Overturned

In a 1985 amicus brief, Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito appears to have supported the overruling of Roe v. Wade. The brief reads as follows:

“We should make clear that we disagree with Roe v. Wade and would welcome the opportunity to brief the issue of-whether, and if so to what extent, that decision should be overruled” (“Memorandum,” p. 9).

In spite of all the media ballyhoo, I don’t think this is as big of a story as it’s being made out to be. First of all, when this brief was written, Judge Alito was working as a lawyer for President Reagan and was advocating for a position on behalf of his client. In his confirmation hearings, questioners will not be able to use this brief as if it were an expression of Alito’s personal view. Secondly, since when is it illegal for a Judge or a lawyer to have an opinion on whether a court case was correctly decided? A judge can have such an opinion without prejudicing his hearing of future cases.

Like I said, I don’t think this is that big of a story–or at least it shouldn’t be.

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Anti-Bush Bias at the New York Times (So what else is new?)

Why did the New York Times splash a story about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) secret surveillance program? There appears to be no laws broken (it’s not clear that FISA applies here), and other presidents (like Clinton and Carter) have authorized similar programs in the past. So what was the motivation for the New York Times’s putting forth a story that it has been sitting on for over a year? Why now?

Edward Morrissey of The Weekly Standard has a plausible answer to that question in a story titled “Fit to Print? Neither the Bush administration nor the NSA broke the law, so why did the New York Times break the story?” He writes the following:

SO WHY PUBLISH the story at all? The Washington Post published a behind-the-scenes look at the Times‘s editorial decision and found a couple of motivations for the decision to dust off the story which had been spiked during the election year. With the Patriot Act up for renewal, the current headlines finally provided a political context that would make the story a blockbuster–not because it describes illegal activity, but because it plays into fears about the rise of Orwellian Big Brother government from the Bush administration. The second impetus to publish came from the upcoming release of James Risen’s book, State of War, due to be released in less than a month.

It had to dismay the editors at the Times, then, when an angry President Bush came out the next day, the day after that, and the day after that to take personal responsibility for the NSA effort. Bush called the Risen/Lichtblau bluff. Had there been any scandal, the president would hardly have run in front of a camera to admit to ordering the program. He changed the course of the debate and now has the Times and his other critics backpedaling.

The timing and questionable news value of the story opens the question about the motivation of the Times‘s editors. Has the Times allowed its anti-Bush bias to warp its judgment so badly that it deliberately undermined a critical part of America‘s defenses against terrorist attack to try to damage the president?

Bottom line: The New York Times appears to have an anti-Bush bias. I guess there’s nothing new here after all.

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Guilt by Association: Intelligent Design on Trial

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones put Intelligent Design (ID) on trial in the Pennsylvania legal battle over the teaching of evolution in public schools. Judge Jones ruled that the Dover School Board violated the constitution in requiring science teachers to read a brief statement about ID and evolution before teaching about evolution in Dover Public Schools (click here to download the proposed statement).

In Judge Jones’s 139-page opinion, he charges that “ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism” (p. 31). In other words, as far as Judge Jones is concerned, ID is simply creationism in sheep’s clothing. Judge Jones argues that ID has a religious pedigree linking it both to Christian fundamentalism (p. 19) and to scientific creationism (p. 21). These links, among other things, show that the Dover School Board curriculum takes a religious position that violates the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.

This opinion ought to trouble any thinking Christian. Judge Jones did not so much evaluate ID on the basis of its own claims, but on the basis of its association with Christianity. That association consists mainly in the fact that many proponents of ID are themselves Christians. Judge Jones sets the precedent of outlawing any curriculum that can be shown to have been supported by Christians! The logic goes like this: If Christians support it, then it must be religious. If it is religious, then it violates the establishment clause of the U. S. Constitution.

On this logic, any idea taught in public schools that can be shown to have been supported by Christians violates the first amendment. What precedent does this set with respect to whether other controversial topics should or should not be included in public school curriculums? For instance, would it not be possible to rule that abstinence-only curriculums violate the first amendment because Christians by and large tend to support such curriculums?

This kind of guilt by association without considering the merits of the arguments sets a dangerous precedent indeed. Whether this logic will be applied in other cases remains to be seen. Let’s hope not.

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Defeatists Just Don’t Listen (even at the Associated Press!)

President Bush delivered a great speech tonight—one that was long overdue. He brought the nation up to date on the progress of the war in Iraq, defended his decision to go to Iraq in the first place, and warned about the deadly consequences of pulling out of Iraq before winning the war. He assured the American people, “Not only can we win the war in Iraq—we are winning the war in Iraq.”

The President also directly addressed his critics and political opponents:

I also want to speak to those of you who did not support my decision to send troops to Iraq: I have heard your disagreement, and I know how deeply it is felt. Yet now there are only two options before our country — victory or defeat. And the need for victory is larger than any president or political party, because the security of our people is in the balance. I do not expect you to support everything I do, but tonight I have a request: Do not give in to despair, and do not give up on this fight for freedom (source).

About two hours after the speech, Ron Fournier of the Associated Press released an “analysis” of the President’s speech. Fournier’s characterization of what the President said was as pitiful a thing as I have ever seen:

After watching his credibility and approval ratings crumble over the course of 2005, President Bush completed a rhetorical shift Sunday night by abandoning his everything-is-OK pitch to Americans and coming clean: He was wrong about the rationale for going to war in Iraq; he underestimated the dangers; the country has suffered “terrible loss”; and the bad news isn’t over (source).

Fournier’s summary is a deceptive mischaracterization of what the President said.

The President never said that “he was wrong about the rationale for going to war.” He did say that our troops never found the weapons that he thought they’d find in Iraq. On this point, U. S. intelligence was incorrect. But this is a far cry from saying that the President was wrong about the “rationale” for war.

The main “rationale” for the war was Saddam Hussein’s continued defiance of the United Nations. Security Council resolution 486 was all about Saddam’s refusal to verify the dismantling of his pre-1990 WMD stockpiles. Saddam never did comply with this obligation, and this became the legal premise that the President cited for the war in Iraq. Saddam’s defiance of Resolution 486 (and about a dozen others through the 1990’s) had to be dealt with, whether the weapons were really there or not. For more on this point, I have written previously on it here and here.

How Fournier’s piece passes for legitimate analysis is beyond me. Fournier’s “analysis” reads as if it were written by the very “defeatists” that the President was warning us about. What a sad response to a clarion call from the President.

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N. T. Wright and American “Imperialism”

The Wall Street Journal’s OpinionJournal.com has a great piece on N. T. Wright and his influence on American Evangelicalism. It is titled “Reform Party: A British Theologian Takes Another Stab at It.” John Wilson, the author of this piece, argues that N. T. Wright is “the most influential biblical scholar in American evangelical circles today.” According to Wilson, this fact is a great irony because Wright regularly denounces the “imperialism” of U.S. foreign policy—a criticism that most American evangelicals would not agree with. Continue Reading →

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John Piper, Bethlehem Baptist Church, and Baptism

I wrote several months ago about John Piper’s support for a proposal to recognize some paedobaptisms as valid baptisms for members of his church (read here and here). Piper and the other elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church have recommended to the church that they allow

the possibility that a person may become a member who has not been baptized by immersion as a believer but who regards the baptismal ritual he received in infancy not as regenerating, but nevertheless (as with most Presbyterians) in such a way that it would violate his conscience to be baptized as a believer. The elders are proposing that under certain conditions such persons be admitted to full membership (“What the Elders Are Proposing”).

In effect, the new policy being proposed by the elders is that under certain conditions members need not be baptized by immersion after coming to faith. Of course, the change would have to be approved by the congregation before the policy would go into effect.

I totally disagree with this proposal. Yet I understand the desire to have unity with evangelical brothers who are not Baptists. Nevertheless, this proposal seems to me to be without scriptural foundation.

My doctoral supervisor, Tom Schreiner, is the pastor at Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He and the elders of his church have sent a letter to the elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church urging them to withdraw this proposed change to Bethlehem Baptist Church’s membership policy. I am in agreement with what Clifton’s elders have written, and I commend the letter to you also for your careful consideration.

[Right click on the following link, and click “save target as”]

Download: “Proposal and Response to the Elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church From The Elders Of Clifton Baptist Church”

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Closing Church to Reach the Unchurched

Many churches across America have announced their plans to be closed on Sunday, December 25. Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press made this news a national story this week in her report, “Some Megachurches Closing for Christmas.”

At the end of the day, the controversy over the propriety of such a move boils down to a dispute about whether the Bible prescribes Sunday to be observed as the Christian Sabbath. Since no church that I have seen wants to cancel services altogether (most will have Christmas eve services on Saturday), this doesn’t seem to be a question of whether to gather for worship, but when to gather for worship. So the question is this–Can Christians meet for worship on Saturday in lieu of regular Sunday services? The question becomes all the more controversial in light of the fact that the issue of the Sabbath has certainly not been a theological point upon which Evangelical Christians have had consensus. Some observe Sunday as a biblically prescribed Sabbath, and others do not.

Yet even if Evangelicals cannot agree on the propriety of observing Sunday as Sabbath, they certainly should agree that the matter ought not be settled by appealing to the preferences of people who aren’t even Christians! Sadly, this kind of agreement does not exist–at least not with those who have a more “seeker-friendly” orientation. As Rachel Zoll reports, a spokeswoman for Willow Creek Community Church said that “If our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched, basically the people who don’t go to church, how likely is it that they’ll be going to church on Christmas morning?”

This is the kind of statement that is common fare among those who have imbibed of the pragmatism of the church growth movement. Yet the notion is wrong-headed on a number of different levels. First, no where does the Scripture teach that the church should conform its worship practices to the darkened opinions of those who do not in fact worship her crucified and risen Lord. The church gathers to worship Jesus Christ, to make much of her Lord, not to bow to the unsanctified whims of those still in need redemption.

Second, since when has it ever been the case that the unchurched like to stay away from church on Christmas? Everybody knows that one of the only times the “unchurched” show up to church is on Christmas and Easter! So the spokesperson from Willow Creek has not only missed the point theologically, but also pragmatically. On her own criterion, the stated reason for keeping the church closed doesn’t achieve the goal it intends.

Whether churches meet for worship on Sunday or Saturday, may it be this Christmas that the Lord’s people will endeavor to be pleasing in all things to her Lord alone.

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Emerging Irony

The cover story of the most recent issue of Touchstone magazine is about Johnny Cash, and it’s written by Russell Moore. This is an excellent piece, and I highly recommend your reading it.

Scot McKnight, however, does not share my enthusiasm about Moore’s article and has criticized it here. Moore has responded to McKnight’s response here. Now McKnight has responded to Moore’s response to McKnight’s response here.

If that all sounds confusing, then let me sum it up for you. McKnight thinks that people like Moore should have been more supportive of Cash’s Christian conversion about twenty or thirty years ago. For McKnight, supporting Cash now is too little too late.

In other words, the Emergent folks don’t seem to be very tolerant of Moore’s admiration for the sinner Johnny Cash.

How ironic is that?

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Richard Hays: An Intellectually Honest Egalitarian

It has been a great blessing to teach through 1 Corinthians this year in Sunday morning Bible Study at my church in Dallas, TX. This past Sunday I taught on chapter 11:2-16, the passage on “headship” and “head coverings” in the church. In my preparation for teaching, it became abundantly clear that the interpretation of this passage has cause no little controversy among commentators—most of them struggling to reconcile Paul’s apparent patriarchal language with a gospel that they think affirms the current culture’s flattening out of gender distinctions (cf. Galatians 3:28).

In order to resolve this tension, commentators tend to interpret Paul’s language non-patriarchally (i.e. head in v. 3 means “source” not “authority”), thereby removing the clash with texts like Galatians 3:28 and with a culture that is manifestly moving to obliterate gender roles. The unhappy result of such an approach has been the defanging of Paul’s patriarchal vision of the Gospel (for more on patriarchy as Gospel click here). To my mind, this kind of exegesis represents more a caving in to feminist cultural pressure than a faithful exposition of the clear meaning of Paul’s words.

One egalitarian interpreter is an exception to this trend and actually interprets Paul on his own patriarchal terms. In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, Richard Hays of Duke University argues that,

Any honest appraisal of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 will require both teacher and students to confront the patriarchal implications of verses 3 and 7-9. Such implications cannot be explained away by some technical move, such as translating kephal? as “source,” rather than “head,” because the patriarchal assumptions are imbedded in the structure of Paul’s argument (p. 192).

I really do appreciate Hays’s willingness to let Paul’s voice be heard. There is no attempt here to bend Paul’s teaching to conform it to feminist, anti-patriarchal sensibilities. This is remarkable given that Hays is himself an egalitarian when it comes to the role of women in the life of the church (see review of Hays’s Moral Vision of the New Testament).

Yet not everything that Hays argues in his commentary is helpful. Although he recognizes that patriarchy is “imbedded” in Paul’s teaching, he ultimately rejects Paul’s teaching if favor of egalitarianism. Hays thinks that Paul has misinterpreted the creation accounts in Genesis and thus that Paul is in error in what he argues in 1 Corinthians 11:3ff. Hays writes,

There are various possible approaches to this problem . . . we must reconsider how the doctrine of creation might lead us to conclusions about the relation between male and female that are not precisely the same as Paul’s (p. 192).

So Hays is an intellectually honest egalitarian in his willingness to interpret Paul’s meaning on Paul’s own patriarchal terms. Hays is also intellectually honest in acknowledging that Paul’s view is in conflict with Hays’s own egalitarian view.

Yet, I think Hays’s analysis represents what’s at the heart of the evangelical gender debates: whether to accept the Bible’s teaching on its own terms and to submit to its teaching even when it is radically counter-cultural. While Hays is willing to read this text on Paul’s terms, he is not willing to let Paul’s patriarchal vision have any authoritative weight over the Christian’s conscience.

While I appreciate Hays’s willingness to let Paul’s voice be heard, the implicit compromise of biblical authority makes his solution untenable for the Christian who wishes “to live on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

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