Happy Augsburg Confession Day!

On this day 482 years ago–June 25, 1530–the Reformation princes and free cities confessed their faith before Emperor Charles V at the Diet (the governing assembly of the Imperial states) held in Augsburg, Germany.  The 28 articles drawn up by Philipp Melanchthon (not Luther!) became known as the Augsburg Confession.  It was the first confession of faith of the Reformation and, to this day, it is perhaps the most succinct and definitive summaries of Lutheran theology.

Part of its genius is that it spells out what did NOT change in the Reformation churches–the continuity with historical Christianity that later protestants would throw out–as well as precisely what elements in the medieval church did need to be reformed.  The Augsburg Confession is still startlingly relevant to today’s controversies of theology and practice.

Honor the day by reading it:  Augsburg Confession – Book of Concord.

40 years of Watergate

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the burglary of the Democratic National Committee office in the Watergate office complex.  That event on June 17, 1972, would bring down the presidency of Richard Nixon.

I remember news of the burglary and the subsequent dripping out of details and the final whole cascade vividly.  I was a college student at the time.  I realize many of you weren’t even born yet.  So I first ask those of you who remember it:  What has changed since the Watergate scandal?  Did it change the way you view the office of the president or our government or journalists?  Did it make you the cynic you are today?

To the rest of you and to anyone, what, to use grandiose language, is the legacy of Watergate?  It was uncovered largely by old-fashioned investigative journalism, as well as bipartisan Congressional investigation.  Do you think if an event like this happened today, in our media environment of 24-hour news, the internet, and yet cash-strapped newspapers, that it would be that big of a deal?  Are we in a state of scandal overload, so that the serious gets lost in the trivial?

Watergate scandal – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The hedge of separation

John Garvey, the president of Catholic University, has written an op-ed piece in which he explains why his institution is joining scores of other Catholic groups in filing a lawsuit against the contraceptive & abortifacient mandate in Obamacare.  In the course of his essay (in which he mentions also the Hossana-Tabor case involving the LCMS school), Garvey discusses the “wall of separation of church and state,” finding the metaphor’s origins not in Thomas Jefferson (who wanted to protect the state from the church) but, earlier, in Roger Williams (who wanted to protect the church from the state):

When the Supreme Court first considered the issue of aid to parochial schools in the 1947 case Everson v. Board of Education , it invoked separation as a limiting principle. The court quoted Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Conn.: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”

Jefferson was a child of the Enlightenment, suspicious of organized religion. He believed that efforts to establish an official religion led to persecution and civil war.

The metaphor was not original to Jefferson, though. Roger Williams, who founded the colony of Rhode Island on principles of religious tolerance, used it in 1644. History has shown, he observed, that when churches “have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall . . . and made his garden a wilderness.”

Williams had different reasons than Jefferson for preaching separation. Jefferson thought that religion was bad for government. Williams thought that mixing church and state was bad for the church.

These two perspectives often give us the same results. They both warn against tax support for churches and against prayers composed by public school boards. But Williams’s theological metaphor may have been more influential than Jefferson’s political one in the adoption of the First Amendment.

via For the government, what counts as Catholic? – The Washington Post.

Not just a “wall” of separation but a “hedge” of separation.  The church is a garden.  The world is a wilderness.  Making a hole in the hedge is punished by God who turns the garden into a wilderness.  Powerful metaphors.  Apply them to current issues.

And yet, is Rogers’ formulation adequate?  He was a Baptist, so we see here elements of the doctrine of separation from the world.  Is the secular arena more than just a wilderness?

Stalin’s five-year-plan for atheism

Eighty years ago on this day, May 22, 1932, Josef Stalin began his program to eliminate the very memory of the name of God in the Soviet Union within 5 years.  The following account of Stalin’s “atheistic five-year plan” is from a Russian site and is clumsily translated into English, so I’ll edit it slightly:

On Tuesday, there will be 80 years since the Soviet government issued a decree on “atheistic five-year plan.”

Stalin set a goal: the name of God should be forgotten on the territory of the whole country [by] May 1, 1937, the article posted by the Foma website says.

Over 5 million militant atheists were living in the country then. Anti-religious universities – special educational establishments for training people for decisive attack against religion – were organized.

According to the plan on religion liquidation, all churches and prayer houses should have been closed [in] 1932-1933, all religious traditions implanted by literature and family [in] 1933-1934.   It was planned that the country, and firstly, youth would be grasped by total anti-religious propaganda [in] 1934-1935; the last clerics were to be eliminated [in]1935-1936; the very memory about God should have been disappeared from life to 1937.

However, the 1937 census in which  a question about religion was included on Stalin’s instruction puzzled Bolsheviks: 84% of 30 million illiterate USSR citizens aged over 16 said they were believers; the same was reported by 45% of 68.5 million literate citizens.

via Interfax-Religion.

HT:  John Couretas and Joe Carter

Colson and me

Chuck Colson has died.  The ruthless political operative for Richard Nixon was imprisoned for Watergate-related offenses.  Crushed by the law, literally, he read C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and became a Christian.  When he got out of prison, Colson started Prison Fellowship, a ministry to prisoners and their families that has chapters worldwide and that has changed the lives of untold numbers of men and women that society–and the church–had usually rejected.

I myself owe Colson quite a bit, not as I was a prisoner but as a writer.  Colson got interested in “Christian worldview” issues and started a radio program, Breakpoint, that looked at current events and cultural developments through the lens of a Christian analysis.  I had done some writing on Christianity and the arts, and for some reason Breakpoint producer Nancy Pearcey asked me if I would join the stable of writers she was putting together.  That was in 1991, pretty early in my career.   This got me paying attention to the news and keeping up with contemporary culture, whereupon, if I could find an angle, I would write up a brief commentary that Nancy would turn into a radio script.   (By the way, Breakpoint is now in good hands with Eric Metaxis doing the broadcasting.)  This would lead to my doing the same thing as a columnist for World.  And then as a blogger for World.  And then to this blog.   This work also led to longer form studies of Christianity and culture that I published into books.

As one of his writers, I was sometimes invited to meet with Colson, along with  others  in his brain trust to help him think through various issues, and sometimes he would call me over the phone.

So, for better or worse, if it weren’t for Colson, I would probably have just stuck as an English professor to writing about 17th century poetry and never would have gotten into cultural analysis, let alone punditry.   And this blog would almost certainly not exist.  So your reading this post at this very moment is something of a tribute to Chuck Colson.

 

See Charles Colson, Watergate felon and prison reformer, dies at 80 – Obituaries – MiamiHerald.com.

The founders’ individual mandates

It is unconstitutional to force individuals to buy health insurance, according to critics of Obamacare.  Not so, says Einer Elhauge of The New Republic, who points out that the founders who wrote the Constitution were not above passing individual mandates forcing citizens to buy things:

The founding fathers, it turns out, passed several mandates of their own. In 1790, the very first Congress—which incidentally included 20 framers—passed a law that included a mandate: namely, a requirement that ship owners buy medical insurance for their seamen. This law was then signed by another framer: President George Washington. That’s right, the father of our country had no difficulty imposing a health insurance mandate.

That’s not all. In 1792, a Congress with 17 framers passed another statute that required all able-bodied men to buy firearms. Yes, we used to have not only a right to bear arms, but a federal duty to buy them. Four framers voted against this bill, but the others did not, and it was also signed by Washington. Some tried to repeal this gun purchase mandate on the grounds it was too onerous, but only one framer voted to repeal it.

Six years later, in 1798, Congress addressed the problem that the employer mandate to buy medical insurance for seamen covered drugs and physician services but not hospital stays. And you know what this Congress, with five framers serving in it, did? It enacted a federal law requiring the seamen to buy hospital insurance for themselves. That’s right, Congress enacted an individual mandate requiring the purchase of health insurance. And this act was signed by another founder, President John Adams.

Not only did most framers support these federal mandates to buy firearms and health insurance, but there is no evidence that any of the few framers who voted against these mandates ever objected on constitutional grounds. Presumably one would have done so if there was some unstated original understanding that such federal mandates were unconstitutional. Moreover, no one thought these past purchase mandates were problematic enough to challenge legally.

via Einer Elhauge: If Health Insurance Mandates Are Unconstitutional, Why Did The Founding Fathers Back Them? | The New Republic.

Wait a minute:  A mandate for everyone to possess firearms?  What does that  do to the liberal argument that the Second Amendment only allows for collective gun ownership in militias rather than personal possession?

I’m also curious about the status of these old laws.  Were they ever repealed?  Why, how, and when?  Would conservatives accept the insurance mandate in return for  Congress  re-instating the firearms mandate?

Anyway, back on topic, that the Washington and Adams administrations passed commerce mandates in no way proves they are Constitutional.


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