Pause Before Ranting or Gloating

Some people believe that the United States is sliding toward American theocracy. Others claim that the country has been mortally infected by a godless secularism.

Some of the people who hold one or the other of those views have some well-thought out reasons for their positions. Many others, however, believe it because they have read someone else’s only-minimally-partially-accurate account of something or other.

I’ve been reading a lot of commentary in the news the last two days about the Supreme Court’s decision Monday morning in the Hobby Lobby case, which involved whether a Christian family-owned closely-held corporation could be compelled under the Affordable Care Act to provide coverage for certain forms of birth control that operate as abortifacients.

Sadly, much of the commentary on many popular on-line sites is being written by people who neither read the Supreme Court’s decision nor have any understanding of the legal issues involved in the case. Whether one likes the result or not, the reality is that the decision, which was decided on statutory and not on constitutional grounds, was fairly narrow in scope and is probably a correct decision as a matter of statutory interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 statute that had broad bipartisan support and that was signed by President Clinton.

I don’t want to here get into an extended analysis of what is incorrect in the various reports I’ve read of the opinion. My primary point here is simply to suggest that before anyone either jumps up and down with joy over the opinion or wrings their hands in agony – they read the Court’s opinions and/or talk to someone who understands what the legal issues were and what the Court actually decided.


Dialogue As Virtue

Yesterday UST’s Director of Campus Ministry, Fr. Erich Rutten, gave a talk at the law school titled Dialogue as Virtue. The goal of the talk was to help us reflect on how people of differing faiths can engage in and promote quality dialogue in the law school, the university and the state as a whole – an important virtue given our contentious political and religious landscape. He certainly gave us much to reflect on.

Early in his talk, Fr. Erich talked about the fact that, rather then being thought of as a virtue, dialogue is often seen as a vice. By that he meant that dialogue is sometimes seen as weakness – as a sign of compromise or “collaboration with the enemy” or as giving in. That feeling is reinforced by both images of culture “wars” and the contentiousness that characterizes both our political and economic discussions and our religious ones.

Seeing dialogue as virtue requires us to move from the image of war to the image of a common journey, a journey that requires that we not think of those with whom we disagree as “enemy” and that we understand that we are searching together for truth and wisdom.

In that vein, Fr. Erich drew an important distinction between debate and dialogue. A debate is a contest that invariably involves a winner and a loser and the currency of debate is persuasiveness, rather than truth.

Dialogue implies exchange and listening. It implies a sharing of perspectives and an openness to learning something from the other. And it assumes a common goal of finding truth – and recognizes the importance of that goal. It is neither about compromise nor vilification, but an openness to truly hearing the other.

We live in a difficult time. A time in which, as Fr. Rutten pointed out, we see conflict as entertainment and a time of great contentiousness. My hope is that we at UST can be participants in dialogue in a healing and loving manner.

Christian Faith and Politics

Yesterday I spoke at Weekly Manna, a gathering for Christians that takes place each week on Wednesdays during our noon worship hour. The gathering includes some prayer and a reflection offered by a different member of the community each week.

The reflection I gave was prompted by an exchange I had several weeks ago with a Facebook friend, an Evangelical Christian, who criticized my decision to post something on Facebook regarding a bill that had been proposed in the Minnesota state legislature to cut health care spending on the poor. I posted it with a comment that read: “More balancing of the budget on the backs of the poor.”

My Facebook friend said that he tried to separate his faith from his politics and that he never posted anything political because doing so damaged relationships and risked our losing the ability to care for and love others with whom we disagree. He also worried about the tendency of many people to “respond to politics more fervently than they do to the Lord.”

My Facebook friend’s post raised for me two broad questions: First, it is possible for a Christian to completely separate faith from politics? – the answer to which I believe is no. Second, are there dangers and things we have to be careful about as people of faith when we engage with politics? – to which I believe the answer is assuredly yes.
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