Discrimination charges against religions?

Journalist Asra Q. Nomani, writing in USA Today, is calling for the government to enforce anti-discrimination laws against religious organizations, denying them tax-exempt status if they discriminate against women.  She is thinking of her fellow Muslims, but the proposal also would apply to Christians.  Her article specifically mentions the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod:

As much of the world cheers the rise of democracy in the public square of the Middle East, it’s time that we see the Arab Spring bloom somewhere equally important: mosques. We should start with mosques in the U.S., and the government should help promote democracy in places of worship by denying non-profit tax-exempt status — called 501(c)3 designation — to places of worship that practice gender inequity, just as they can deny tax-exempt status to places of worship that engage in political activity. . . .

The IRS has ruled that “tax exempt organizations may jeopardize their exempt status if they engage in illegal activity.” Political activity is covered in the “illegal activity” doctrine. Applying this doctrine in 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that the IRS could deny Bob Jones University tax exemption because of racial policies at the evangelical Christian university (kicking students out for interracial dating). Tax attorneys say the ruling established public policy that tax-exempt organizations can’t racially discriminate in educational institutions.Meanwhile, in 1984, in a case against the Jaycees civic organization, the Supreme Court held that a private organization cannot discriminate based on gender.

So far, though, gender rights aren’t protected at places of worship. . . .

Who would stand in the way of reform? Catholic churches, for one, and other places that get exemptions in employment law so they can practice gender inequity (think priest jobs). Alan Goldberger, a non-profit attorney in Millburn, N.J., is a former member of a conservative synagogue that integrates women, but he has attended orthodox Jewish synagogues that segregate women and says that it could be “more prudent with public policy” to enforce non-discrimination in places of worship, but the courts “like to stay away from intervening in the affairs of a private organization.”

Daniel Dalton, 46, a non-profit attorney in Farmington Hills, Mich., says the IRS has taken the position “it’s not going to look at ecclesiastical, doctrinal issues.” He grew up in the Missouri Lutheran Church, which limits women’s roles in leadership positions. “I don’t understand it. I don’t agree with it,” says Dalton. “But that’s a doctrinal issue.”

I understand the difficulties in having the state intervene in worship issues. I believe in a separation of church and state, but I’ve come to the difficult decision that women must use the legal system to restore rights in places of worship, particularly when intimidation is used to enforce unfair rules.

via End gender apartheid in U.S. mosques – USATODAY.com.

We need to realize that if religious freedom is taken away, it will begin with unpopular religions.

National debt impasse

So President Obama offered $4 trillion in budgetary cuts if the Republicans would accept a tax increase on the higher brackets.  House Speaker Boehner rejected increasing anyone’s taxes, indicating that he would accept a $ 2.4 trillion trim in cuts alone.

Talks between President Obama and congressional Republicans grew increasingly contentious on Monday, as GOP leaders flatly rejected his call to raise taxes on the wealthy as part of a bipartisan agreement to restrain the nation’s mounting debt.

Dueling news conferences by Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) served as a testy prelude to an afternoon bargaining session that only emphasized the partisan divide, according to people on both sides with knowledge of the closed-door discussions.

During the meeting, Obama challenged Boehner to buck the anti-tax hard-liners in his party, who, the president suggested, are blocking the path to a landmark compromise to reduce borrowing by as much as $4 trillion over the next decade. Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) responded by urging Democrats to settle for a more modest reductions-only deal that would save $2.4 trillion but would not touch tax breaks for the nation’s richest households.

In addition to major cuts to domestic agencies, the House GOP proposal calls for slicing about $250 billion from Medicare over the next decade by asking well-off seniors to pay more for health coverage, placing new restrictions on Medigap policies and putting in place new co-payments and cost-sharing provisions for home health care, among other changes. Those reductions would come on top of about $500 billion in Medicare savings previously enacted as part of Obama’s overhaul of the health-care system — cuts Republicans denounced during last fall’s midterm campaign.

via Debt talks between Obama, Republican leaders grow more contentious – The Washington Post.

Isn’t it better to have a $4 trillion cut than a $2.4 trillion cut?  And wouldn’t a tax increase cut the deficit even more, on top of that?  Isn’t the deficit such a huge problem that we need to attack it both by cutting spending and by increasing revenues somehow?  Given that Democrats don’t want to cut entitlements and Republicans don’t want to increase taxes, do you see any way out of this impasse?

The history of classical Christian education

I am very excited about the publication of Thomas Korcok’s  Lutheran Education: From Wittenberg to the Future.  It supplies what has long been needed:  a history of classical Christian education as practiced in the Reformation tradition.  Dr. Korcok shows that the Lutheran approach to  education has always been the classical liberal arts + catechesis.

He also shows that the various theological conflicts were also manifested in educational conflicts:  The scholastics did practice the liberal arts  but with an emphasis on logic, whereas the Renaissance & Reformation educators emphasized rhetoric, with its attention to original texts (such as the Bible).  The Renaissance humanists tended to believe that the liberal arts were sufficient to instill morality, but the Lutherans insisted also on the necessity of Christian catechesis.  The enthusiasts, considering the liberal arts too worldly, wanted only Bible-reading schools.  The pietists also considered the liberal arts too worldly and wanted schools to concentrate only on job-training.   The rationalists considered the liberal arts too old fashioned, wanting only scientific education.  But the Lutherans believed that the liberal arts approach to education–training students broadly, with lots of history, great books, and objective knowledge from mathematics through music–combined with rigorous catechesis, was the best approach in forming young people so that they can think like a Lutheran.

Pastors, parochial school teachers, and parents should read this book.   So should anyone interested in classical Christian education.  (I suspect that much of what holds true for Lutherans also applies to various Reformed educators, who also practiced this approach.)

Here is what Paul McCain of CPH says about the book:

A great new book is now available on Lutheran education which, historically, has been the key to the success of the Lutheran Church’s ability to transmit the confession of the Church to future generations. You may order it here, via the web, or call 800-325-3040. Here is a sample for you to download.

The liberal arts model has traditionally been preferred in Lutheran elementary classrooms. No other educational paradigm so well meets the requirements of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. There is no reason that the liberal arts cannot be adapted to meet contemporary needs. The question is, what should be the main focus of a contemporary presentation of the arts?

Thomas Korcok demonstrates how the Wittenberg theologians settled on a liberal arts education as the preferred model for Evangelical Christian elementary schools. He then traces how that model persisted and was adapted as Lutherans moved from Europe to North America. Korcok concludes that the liberal arts model fits our contemporary setting as changes in society today make it ever more important to have an elementary education that is compatible with Evangelical Theology. The book includes:

-Historic exploration of educational models in view of theological truths
-The challenge of influences that push educators either to the Word as objective truth or away from the Word toward secular standards of truth
-A definition of an Evangelical Liberal Arts approach, its flexibility, and how it fits into classrooms today
-Extensive references to educational, historical, and theological literature

via Lutheran Education: From Wittenberg to the Future – New Book from Concordia Publishing House | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

You can order the book from the link in my first paragraph or from the CPH website, along with downloading a free sample.  The book is scheduled for release in August, but you can pre-order it.   I wrote the foreword.

Along these lines, I should put in a plug for the 11th annual Conference of the Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, July 12-14,  in Sheridan Wyoming, which is where I am heading this week.  I’ll be giving a couple of talks.  If you are in Sheridan, be sure to  introduce yourself!

Why do believers have more children?

Sociologist Peter Berger (an ELCA Lutheran), after surveying the overwhelming data that religious people have more children than the non-religious do, offers this explanation:

Religion has always given its adherents a sense of living in a meaningful universe. This protects individuals from what sociologists call anomie—a condition of disorder and meaninglessness. Religion, by the same token, gives a strong sense of identity and confidence in the future. More than anything else that human beings may do, the willingness of becoming a parent requires a good measure of confidence in the future. Mind you, this is not an argument for the truth of religion. Illusions may also bestow meaning and confidence. But my hypothesis offers an explanation for the ubiquity and persistence of religion.

via Why do Godders have so many kids? | Religion and Other Curiosities.

He’s probably right in what he says, but I’m not sure that’s the whole story.  What else plays into it?

(And note the new word in his title:  “Godders.”  Should we embrace that word for those who believe in God or proclaim ourselves  offended?)

HT: Joe Carter

Pushing back against “born this way”

Postmodernists are opposed to “essentialism,” the notion that ANYTHING is innate or predetermined.  Thus I have found it interesting that when it comes to homosexuality, the prevailing argument is that this condition IS innate and predetermined.   I have been waiting for signs that postmodernism is on its way out, and this seemed to be a significant development.  But now it seems that postmodernists are pushing back against Lady Gaga’s assertion that we can all say “I was born this way.”  Instead we are seeing a revival of the notion that identity, including sexual identity, is “fluid.”  Thanks to Tim Challies for his comment alerting me to this from Gender Studies professor Suzanna Danuta Walters:

If marriage and military access are conjured as the Oz of queer liberation, then biological and genetic arguments are the yellow brick road, providing the route and the rationale for civil rights. The medicalization of sexual identity – and the search for a cause if not a cure – has a long and infamous history. This history includes well-meaning attempts by social activists to create a safe life for same-sex desire through the designation of homosexuality as biologically predetermined but also, more ominously, includes the sordid history of incarceration, medication, electroshock “therapy” and numerous other attempts to rid the body (and mind) of its desires.

Notions of homosexuality as “inbred,” innate and immutable were endorsed by a wide variety of thinkers and activists, including progressive reformers such as Havelock Ellis and not so progressive conservatives, eager to assert same-sex love as nature’s mistake. Richard von Krafft-Ebing in the 1880s and Magnus Hirschfeld in the 1903s – both pioneer sexologists and generally advocates of “toleration”– came to believe in some notion of “innate” homosexuality, whether through theories of a kind of brain inversion or through vague references to hormonal imbalances. These theories mostly had little traction, and no evidence whatsoever, and were further undermined during the heyday of the early gay movement which included a deep commitment to the depathologization and demedicalization of homosexuality, manifested in a long-term attempt to remove “homosexuality” as a disease category in the DSM.

Theories of biological origins of “gayness” have ebbed and flowed during different historical and social moments, most obviously intersecting with the rise of eugenics and other determinist frameworks in the early part of the last century. There is no question that the romance with biological and/or genetic explanations for sexual “orientation” has ratcheted up in recent years, due in no small part to the combined force of the gay marriage debates and the increasing “medicalization” and “geneticization” of behavior and identity, spurred on by the initiation of the human genome project in 1989 which furthered the already booming interest in genetic bases for behavior, personality, disease, etc. . . .

In our present political context, gay volition is like Voldemort – dangerous even to be uttered. This “born with it” ideology encompasses gay marriage, gay genes, gayness as “trait” and is used by both gay rights activists and anti-gay activists to make arguments for equality (or against it). This is bad science (mistaking the possibility of biological factors with wholesale causation) and bad politics (hinging rights on immutability and etiology). Causality is – of course – the wrong question and will only get muddled answers. The framing of “gayness” as an issue of nature vs. nurture or destiny vs. choice misses the point about (fluid, chaotic) sexuality and about civil rights. It’s not our genes that matter here, but rather our ethics.

via Born This Way? – Brainstorm – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Of course, the author doesn’t cite any evidence for her contention, just surveying the overall history of the question, which is how postmodernists tend to argue.

Gay marriage & totalitarianism

We have discussed gay marriage in terms of theology and morality.  Now let us consider it in political terms.   What kind of government is it that takes to itself the power and the authority to make such a radical change in the institution of marriage?   George Weigel makes the connection between gay marriage and totalitarianism:

As analysts running the gamut from Hannah Arendt to Leszek Kolakowski understood, modern totalitarian systems were, at bottom, attempts to remake reality by redefining reality and remaking human beings in the process. Coercive state power was essential to this process, because reality doesn’t yield easily to remaking, and neither do people. In the lands Communism tried to remake, the human instinct for justice — justice that is rooted in reality rather than ephemeral opinion — was too strong to change the way tastemakers change fashions in the arts. Men and women had to be coerced into accepting, however sullenly, the Communist New Order, which was a new metaphysical, epistemological, and moral order — a New Order of reality, a new set of “truths,” and a new way of living “in harmony with society,” as late-bureaucratic Communist claptrap had it.

The 21st-century state’s attempt to redefine marriage is just such an attempt to redefine reality — in this case, a reality that existed before the state, for marriage as the union of a man and a woman ordered to mutual love and procreation is a human reality that existed before the state. And a just state is obliged to recognize, not redefine, it.

Moreover, marriage and the families that are built around marriage constitute one of the basic elements of civil society, that free space of free associations whose boundaries the just state must respect. If the 21st-century democratic state attempts to redefine something it has neither the capacity nor the authority to refine, it can only do so coercively. That redefinition, and its legal enforcement, is a grave encroachment into civil society.

If the state can redefine marriage and enforce that redefinition, it can do so with the doctor-patient relationship, the lawyer-client relationship, the parent-child relationship, the confessor-penitent relationship, and virtually every other relationship that is woven into the texture of civil society. In doing so, the state does serious damage to the democratic project. Concurrently, it reduces what it tries to substitute for reality to farce.

via No Homophobia – George Weigel – National Review Online.

“Totalitarianism” does not just mean that the government is authoritarian and anti-democratic.   Plenty of dictators preside over that kind of government, but they are not totalitarian.  That term  means a government that is “total,” that asserts its sovereignty and its control over EVERYTHING.   A government that presumes to alter the institution of the family is surely over-reaching in that direction.


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