Friday, May 15, 2015

The End of Christian Identity?

Is the faulty reasoning in the CLS v. Martinez decision actually a reflection of our relativistic society?  A recent study is giving me pause. 

A recent article in Christianity Today reports on a survey that says that many Evangelicals do not think that student groups should dictate what their leaders believe.  The story and title are somewhat misleading, as less than half hold to these beliefs.  Regardless, however, more than 40% of Evangelicals believe that it would be wrong in some way to require that leaders of Christian student groups adhere to Christian beliefs.

Why do evangelicals on public school campuses hold these beliefs?  Is it because it seems discriminatory to hold to a belief that is exclusive in nature or that possibly offends someone who does not believe it?  C.S. Lewis once said that if you believe in everything, you don't believe in anything.

This line of thinking became apparent a decade ago, when we were involved in the Martinez case involving the Hastings College of Law, which eventually became CLS v. Martinez.  The school argued that it was discriminatory for a religious group to require that their leaders believe a certain thing, thus discriminating against those who didn't believe - precluding them from leading the group.

In the end, the Christian Legal Society group was forced to disband.  And in the wake of Martinez, other universities have attempted to pass "all-comers" policies, like Hastings, denying the ability of a group to define its own character and beliefs.

The survey also shows that most Americans do not think that such groups should be punished for sticking with their beliefs.  But recent history is showing us we cannot have it both ways. If we are opposed to some particular act or belief, we eventually punish or malign those who are performing that act or holding to that belief. 

It may not be tolerant to require those who desire to lead a group to share its beliefs, but it seems to be common sense that if you are going to lead a Bible study, you should have knowledge of and believe in the Bible.  And it seems equally intolerant to force people to align with popular beliefs or be driven from the public square. 

To respect a person's ability to choose to believe one thing instead of another things is not discriminatory, it is the basis of freedom.  Freedom, however, must still be freedom when it is difficult.  For example, believing in freedom of speech is easy in the abstract - but respecting that freedom of speech when someone is spewing hatred is much more difficult.  But it in fact tests whether we really believe in freedom.  

So we have to decide as Evangelicals - do we believe in religious freedom?  Or will we be cowed into abandoning the First Amendment, just to get along.  Because there is no getting it back once we give it up. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Christian Lawyers and Race Relations - Update

I am editing a post from over two years ago, with changes in brackets, in light of recent events in Charlottesville and other places. I think the principles shared by that panel are just as true today as they were two years ago:

Race and race relations are not easy topics.

The recent [events in Charlottesville show that we have not come far from two years ago when it comes to the issue of race in America. The issue in 2015 were prompted by] high-profile deaths in Ferguson, New York, Cleveland and elsewhere. [They all] highlight a struggle we are having as a country. It may simmer just under the surface most of the time, but the bubbling over of recent protests are an indication that race relations is not an issue we can ignore. 

Moreover, the statistics regarding race in this country are not encouraging. Today, 27% of African Americans live in poverty compared to only ten percent of whites. More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For black males in their thirties, 1 in every 10 is in prison on any given day. Blacks make up around 13 percent of the U.S. population, but account for almost 40 percent of prison inmates

[In 2015], the Christian Legal Society Washington, D.C. Attorney Chapter sponsored an excellent panel discussion in response to these issues, titled: "What about Ferguson: A Christian's perspective on race relations in America's criminal justice system." The panel featured attorneys Lorenzo Bellamy and Heather Pinckney and Pastors Thabiti Anyabwile and Tom Tarrants. The room was packed.

Although I cannot do justice to the amazingly insightful comments made by the panel, I think it is worth sharing some of their thoughts:
  • Racism is result of the Fall.  It is sin and we need to admit that the only true solution to healing racism and race relations is Jesus Christ. He died for all of us. He leveled the playing field. And as Christians, we should be able to model the love of Christ to each other, leading by example for the rest of society.
  • There is no one group that is guilty of racism. We must all own our sin, confess it to the Lord and each other, and reach beyond it.
  • As lawyers, we need to know that the criminal justice system treats African Americans different than other races. We should be looking for solutions and not ignoring or denying the problem.
  • Christians must demonstrate a gospel that is able to overcome ethnic, cultural, and racial barriers, otherwise, what do we have to offer the society at large? Our "religion" must not be meaningless.
  • Finally, the most racist group of people in the country are Evangelicals, according to recent polls. (As my African-American colleague at CLS mentioned, Sunday is the most segregated day in America.)

I commend the CLS DC Chapter, who had a packed house, for continuing this important national discussion.

The road to repairing race relations in this country is a long one and will not be travelled overnight. And one of the final comments from the panel was that it is great to discuss it, but nothing will change unless we "discuss and" -- do something after talking about it.

So, what can we do? I wish I had the easy answer. But for now, I will look to make changes in my own life -- answering this question: "Where is there an opportunity in your life to make a change in the right direction?"