The US Supreme Court issued two landmark rulings yesterday. One struck down affirmative action, declaring the consideration of race in university admissions to be unconstitutional. According to the Wall Street Journal, the high court’s ruling against racial preferences means “admissions offices now must decide where racial diversity ranks among priorities that can include academic performance, achievement in extracurricular activities such as athletics, and preferences for alumni and donors.”
Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts stated, “Eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it.” He added, “The student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual—not on the basis of race. Many universities have for too long done just the opposite.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented: “The Court ignores the dangerous consequences of an America where its leadership does not reflect the diversity of the people.”
If you were on the Court, how would you balance our founding declaration that “all men are created equal” with the consequences of racial discrimination across our history?
The other ruling sided with an evangelical Christian worker who was denied requests to take Sundays off from his post office job to observe his Sabbath. The unanimous opinion made it more difficult for employers to deny religious workplace rights, as Justice Samuel Alito stated: “An employer must show that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.” This is a significant victory for religious liberty in America.
However, some worry that the ruling could give employees more leeway to exercise their personal religious views even if they are inconsistent with those held by their employers or colleagues. Should a Jehovah’s Witness who works at a hospital be able to withhold a blood transfusion on religious grounds? Should a Muslim be able to stop for daily prayers even if this disrupts other workers and hinders workplace productivity?
Asked differently, does the ruling violate the First Amendment’s promise that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”? Or does it uphold the promise not to prohibit “the free exercise thereof”?
If you were on the Court, how would you balance the two?
“The boundaries between spheres are collapsing”
Yesterday’s rulings demonstrate the problem of competing constitutional values in a democratic republic. And they illustrate an even larger narrative at work in our culture today.
New York Times columnist David Brooks recently highlighted the thinking of the early-twentieth-century Dutch prime minister and theologian Abraham Kuyper, who observed that there are a variety of spheres, each with its own social function. Brooks explained that there is the state, the church, the family, the schools, science, business, and so on. Kuyper noted that each of these spheres has its own rules and possesses its own integrity and way of doing things.
Brooks writes: “Society grows unhealthy, Kuyper argued, when one sphere tries to take over another sphere. In our country, the business sphere has sometimes tried to take over the education sphere—to run schools like a business. But if you run a school or university on the profit-maximization mentality, you will trample over the mission of what a school is for—the cultivation of the student, the mission of pure research.”
According to Brooks, “Today, the boundaries between spheres are collapsing. You go into an evangelical megachurch and it can feel like a political pep rally. Some professors now see themselves as political activists. You open your email and find corporations taking political stances on issues that have nothing to do with their core businesses.
“Some days it seems every sphere has been subsumed into one giant culture war.”
How evangelicals feel as Pride Month ends
This concept of social “spheres” is vital to our flourishing as a democratic republic. However, these spheres often overlap, as when a university tries to balance the equality of an individual with the consequences of racial discrimination or a worker claims religious rights in secular employment.
At such times, inevitably one “side” will think it lost the legal and cultural battle.
This is precisely where many evangelical Christians find ourselves as Pride Month ends. We agree that LGBTQ individuals have civil rights and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. But we have civil rights as well.
We do not want our children exposed to incessant attempts to normalize unbiblical immorality. And we do not want to be branded as bigoted and hateful for upholding moral positions that have been upheld for all of Judeo-Christian history and are still the majority position in much of the world.
But remember this: If Jesus is your Lord, this world is not your home. On the contrary, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). You are an “ambassador” for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), representing your king in this foreign land.
Christ “is Sovereign over all”
The Supreme Court is generating headlines around the world, but your next act of faithful obedience will echo in heaven. The culture wars are dominating our culture, but you cannot measure the eternal significance of present faithfulness.
Here is where another assertion by Abraham Kuyper, one omitted in Brooks’ article, is essential: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not exclaim, ‘Mine!’”
Can he say the same of your life and obedience today?