Sep 14, 2014

Honoring Our 9/11 Brothers And Sisters

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Who Is The Man Who Fears We Could Be On The Eve Of 'World War III'?

Hardly any Americans will know of Hilarion Alfeyev, 48, a Russian Orthodox bishop who acts as the "foreign minister" of his Church, but it is important that they do. He is a bridge between not just the Orthodox Church and Catholicism but a bridge between Russia and America.

As a Catholic American, I first saw him 15 years ago on a cold December day in Moscow. Hilarion, then 33, was already a rising star in the firmament of the Russian Orthodox Church.

He had done his graduate studies in philosophy at Oxford — rather rare for Russian Orthodox Church leaders.

Back in Moscow, he had been named Secretary for Inter-Christian Affairs in the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, meaning his task was to deal with Protestants and Catholics.

Hilarion had been sent to attend a special ceremony in the Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Moscow. It was a small courtesy extended by the Russian Orthodox leadership to the Catholics, who number only a few thousand in that great city of 17 million.

The Catholic cathedral had been closed for 72 years, from 1920 until 1992. The Soviets had taken it over and constructed offices in the main nave, right up to the roof, with several levels of hallways and little cubicles. Grass and small bushes had sprouted from the roof and steeple.

After years of work by the Catholic Archbishop of Moscow, Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the cathedral was being re-consecrated and opened again.

On that day, Hilarion was the only Russian Orthodox cleric in a cathedral filled with hundreds of Polish, French, American and Filipino Catholics who tended to regard all Russian Orthodox with a certain diffident suspicion. He might have felt defensive, even intimidated.

Yet Hilarion, dressed in a long black robe, rose from his place in the front row, strode calmly to the lectern, and offered a sincere, warm congratulations to all present for the reopening of the cathedral.

Here was a Russian who seemed very far indeed from the boorish Nikita Khrushchev, with his famous “We will bury you!” while pounding his shoe on the desk at the United Nations. Here was a Christian monk who was also a gentleman.

In fact, Hilarion is a superbly educated Russian of deep sensibility, Oxford-trained, fully in command of the English language, who grew up under the Soviet regime but who, after training in the Moscow conservatory for some years to be a pianist and composer, while making a pilgrimage with his mother to a famous monastery in Georgia, felt the call to religious life and became an Orthodox monk.

All this points to Hilarion’s importance not only to the dialogue between the Orthodox world and the world of Catholicism, but to the dialogue between America and Russia, which is strained perhaps past the breaking point.

American Catholics prayed after every Sunday Mass for much of the 20th Century for the “conversion of Russia.” With the fall of Communism and the rebuilding in Russia of thousands of churches in the past 20 years, are we perhaps seeing the fruit of those hundreds of millions of prayers even now?

In 2004 a vastly important symbol was returned from the to Russia from the Vatican, an image that had gone missing during the 1917-1918 revolution, the Marian image of “Our Lady of Kazan” which is not only a symbol of Orthodox faith but of Russian patriotism. A copy of this image was ordered by Stalin in 1943 to be paraded around the walls of Leningrad in order to break the German siege, which then broke.

Another supremely important religious artifact was returned to the eastern Churches during the pontificate of John Paul II, the true cross of St. Andrew. This cross, a fragment really after it was largely burned up during the French revolution and the fragments came under the protection of the Catholic Church, went on display for the first time in Moscow last summer. The Orthodox faithful waited for five hours in the rain at Christ Our Savior Cathedral, only a stone’s throw from the Kremlin, to venerate this cross for only a second or two.

When Hilarion went to pay his respects to the new Pope Francis, he brought Francis an icon of Our Lady of Humility, a remarkable message from the Orthodox Church to the Catholic Church. A few days later, Francis “re-gifted” the image, giving it to Pope Emeritus Benedict upon their first meeting. Hilarion said he was “very pleased and touched” at this.

Hilarion, while steeped in the liturgy and tradition of the East, is decidedly western in his outlook and keenly interested in America. His orchestral works have been performed in Rome, New York, Washington DC, Boston and Dallas.

Hilarion’s career has not been without controversy. At a 2010 lecture to Anglican clergy and faithful, he is famous for shocking them with his denunciation of their community’s departure from traditional Christian teachings.

He has been tireless in his defense of traditional Christian values, and in this effort he has shocked some western sensibilities, denouncing in very strong terms the ideology of the LGBT movement.

And this spring in Minsk, Belarus, at an Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, Hilarion denounced to so-called “Uniate Churches” — those with eastern liturgy, like the Orthodox, but western loyalty to the Pope of Rome. One of the Uniate Churches was a key player in the Maidan Square protests that brought down the duly elected if corrupt Ukrainian administration last February. And this is much on his mind.

I last saw Hilarion on July 13 in Moscow, at the end of his regular Sunday liturgy. We spoke briefly about working together on other common projects in defense of Christian values, including the establishment of a Russian Academy in Rome, similar to the American, French and British academies in Rome.

But I sensed that something had changed. Hilarion seemed weighed down with a sense of sorrow and foreboding, this even before the as-yet unexplained shooting down of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. He said he feared that the summer of 2014 might, unfortunately, go down in history as similar to the summer of 1914, which produced the First World War.

Hilarion is an important door between the east and the west, between Orthodox and Catholics, and between Russians and Americans. It is very good he is speaking for the first time to the Breitbart audience. –Breitbart

As editor-in-chief of Inside the Vatican Magazine, Robert Moynihan is one of the most respected Vaticanistas in Rome. He has been involved Orthodox-Catholic dialogue for much of the past 15 years. He has worked closely with Metropolitan Hilarion for much of that time.

"This Is My Church?" - David Asscherick Part 3

The Catholic Case Against Religious Exemptions

The executive director of the Catholic LGBT organization New Ways Ministry weighs in on the debate over including religious exemptions in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

In post-Hobby Lobby America, the question of whether religious exemptions should be included in laws prohibiting employment discrimination against LGBT people has increased in complexity. It used to be that religious leaders and lawmakers could strike a comfortable balance of protecting faith groups’ rights to self-determination and LGBT people’s rights to equal opportunity. But the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision disturbed that balance, and now the Employment Non-Discrimination Act may be gutted by including overly broad religious exemptions. President Obama’s expected executive order today barring anti-LGBT employment discrimination by federal contractors reportedly will not include these exemptions.

Because the Hobby Lobby decision broadened the scope of what kind of entities can claim religious exemptions, several national organizations working for LGBT equality now fear that such provisions in ENDA will render the proposed law’s protections meaningless. As a result, they have withdrawn support for the bill. Similarly, the Supreme Court case seems to have emboldened some conservative religious leaders to lobby Obama to include strong exemption language in his upcoming executive order.

While the Hobby Lobby case focused on insurance coverage for contraceptives, a number of commentators have noted that the decision may easily be applied to religious objections to LGBT issues. Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said, “If a private company can take its own religious beliefs and say you can't have access to certain health care, it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to an interpretation that a private company could have religious beliefs that LGBT people are not equal or somehow go against their beliefs and therefore fire them.” And Equally Blessed, the Catholic LGBT equality coalition, detailed some of the potential disasters that can spring from this case: “This ruling might open the door for corporations not to provide benefits to employees in same-sex marriages, or not to cover appropriate health care services for transgender employees.”

So, while corporations don’t pray, corporations are now given the same exemptions that used to be the privilege of legitimately established religious groups. This expansion of privilege is far beyond what has long been considered fair religious exemptions for institutions whose primary purpose is salvation, not profits.

As a practicing Catholic, I see that such an expansion cheapens the position of faith in society. Faith is about developing an intimate relationship with a personal God and reflecting that relationship in my attitudes and practices toward other people. Faith is about sacrificing some privileges because of wanting to live in accord with principles. Faith is not about having access to government contracts. Faith is not about forcing people to live by an employer’s personal beliefs, no matter how sincerely those beliefs may be held. 

Hobby Lobby’s approach to religious exemptions diminishes the importance of persons and relationships in religion. Because the court favored institutions’ interests over individuals’ concerns, it has actually harmed religious faith. It provided power to institutions, but did not respect human consciences and souls, which are the mechanisms people use to apprehend God in the world and in their lives. As Justice Ginsburg stated in her dissenting opinion, “The exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities.”

Political conservatives are not the only ones who have religion. So, it should be no surprise that one of the strongest groups asking that religious exemptions not be included in ENDA and the executive order are religious leaders themselves. In one letter sent to President Obama by 100 religious leaders, their request to exclude exemptions came from a religious belief in nondiscrimination and human dignity. They stated, “Increasing the obstacles faced by those at the margins is precisely the opposite of what public service can and should do, and is precisely the opposite of the values we stand for as people of faith.”

Moreover, not all religious people feel that their faith is threatened by policies that promote LGBT equality and reproductive health for women. In fact, for many religious people, it is indeed their faith that motivates their advocacy for these principles. So, we are left with the question: Just whose religious liberty is being protected and whose is being infringed upon when we allow for broad exemptions?

For example, many Catholics oppose the bishops’ calls for religious exemptions because they uphold the lesser-known, but more central, Catholic principle that an individual must ultimately be ruled by one’s conscience, not by the dictates of doctrine or authorities. So most Catholic lay people respect lesbian and gay people’s dreams to be married and a transgender person’s decision to transition, and they oppose the interference of government or religious institutions to discriminate against what they see as personal and religiously-based decisions.

When we ask, what is a particular denomination’s view on hiring LGBT people, there is likely to be a variety of opinions, each based on principles of faith, about what is the just and moral thing to do in this situation. While Catholic bishops seem reluctant to hire LGBT people, over the past two years we’ve seen that Catholics in the pews support the employment of LGBT in Catholic institutions.

As the Catholics of the Equally Blessed coalition wrote to the Senate last year when ENDA was being debated: “The bishops do not speak for the majority of your Catholic constituents, many of whom believe, as we do, that the religious exemptions in the current draft of the legislation are not too narrow, as the bishops contend, but far too broad.”

My Catholic faith teaches me that all people have human dignity, that all people are equal. The Catholic social justice tradition teaches me that the right to employment is a sacred and basic human right and should be respected by individuals and institutions such as government. My respect for religion teaches me to value the diversity of religious opinions, as well as the diversity of human beings. From these perspectives, both ENDA and the expected executive order are better served without any religious exemptions included. –Advocate

God’s Handiwork

Northern Lights, Yellow Knife, Canada

 Fire Rainbow - The rarest of all naturally occuring atmospheric phenomena. The was captured on the Idaho, Washington border. The event lasted about 1 hour. Clouds have to be cirrus, at least 20K feet in the air, with just the right amount of ice crystals and the sun has to hit the clouds a precisely 58 degrees.

This is the sunset at the North Pole with the moon at its closest point, a scene you will probably never get to see in person, so take a moment and enjoy God at work at the North Pole. And, you also see the sun below the moon, an amazing photo and not one easily duplicated.

-Photographer Unknown/Contributed by Dan

Religious Freedom vs. LGBT Rights? It's More Complicated

The legal context for what's happening at Gordon College, and how Christians can respond despite intense cultural backlash.

A private Christian school holds what it considers a biblical view of marriage. It welcomes all students, but insists that they adhere to certain beliefs and abstain from conduct that violates those beliefs. Few doubt the sincerity of those beliefs. The school's leaders are seen as strange and offensive to the world, but then again, they know that they will find themselves as aliens and strangers in the world.

This description fits a number of Christian schools confronted today with rapidly changing sexual norms. But the description also would have fit Bob Jones University, a school that barred interracial dating until 2000. And in 1983, that ban cost Bob Jones its tax exemption, in a decision upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Even for a relatively small school of a few thousand students, that meant losing millions of dollars. And the government's removal of tax-exempt status had a purpose: one Supreme Court justice described it as "elementary economics: when something becomes more expensive, less of it will be purchased."

The comparison between Bob Jones in 1983 and Christian schools today will strike some as unwarranted. Indeed, there are historical reasons to reject it. The discriminatory practices in Bob Jones were linked to the slavery of African Americans and the Jim Crow South. The 1983 Court decision came within a generation of Brown v. Board of Education, and its legal principles extended to private secondary schools (including "segregationist academies") that resisted racial integration.

There are also significant theological differences between Bob Jones's race-based arguments and arguments that underlie today's sexual conduct restrictions. Those differences are rooted in contested questions about identity, as well as longstanding Christian boundaries for sexual behavior. Gay and lesbian Christians committed to celibacy show that sexual identity and sexual conduct are not always one in the same. But these points are increasingly obscured outside of the church. We see this in the castigation of any opposition to same-sex liberties as bigoted. That kind of language has moved rapidly into mainstream culture. And it is difficult to envision how it would be undone or dialed back.

How should Christians respond to these circumstances? First, we must understand the history from which they emerge. Second, we must understand the legal, social, and political dimensions of the current landscape. Third, and finally, we must recognize that arguments that seem intuitive from within Christian communities will increasingly not make sense to the growing numbers of Americans who are outside the Christian tradition.
How We Got Here

Many of the questions today simply were not in play that long ago. For one, governmental regulations have a far wider reach than they did even 100 years ago. We work, play, worship, and live in spaces regulated by government. Just look around the next time you step foot in your local church. Some of the building was probably subsidized through state and federal tax exemptions. Any recent construction likely encountered local zoning ordinances. The certificate of occupancy, fire code compliance, and any food service permits all reflect government regulation. Today, the government, its money, and its laws are everywhere.

We can pin many of these changes on the New Deal, but just as influential were the civil rights era and the battle to end segregation. Civil rights laws extended to what had previously been seen as private spaces and transactions. The laws focused on commercially operated public accommodations, such as transportation, lodging, and restaurants. But they also extended to private schools, neighborhoods, and swimming pools. The reach of these laws was unprecedented—and rightly so. The pervasive impediments to equal citizenship for African Americans have not been seen in any other recent episode in U.S. history. Our country has harmed many people (including my grandparents, who were stripped of their possessions and imprisoned for four years during World War II solely because they were Japanese Americans). But the systemic and structural injustices perpetrated against African Americans—and the extraordinary remedies those injustices warranted—remain in a class of their own.

 The legal context surrounding LGBTQ rights has also changed swiftly. In less than three decades, the Supreme Court has moved from upholding the criminalizing of gay conduct to affirming gay marriage. The tone of the debates has also shifted. In 1996, an overwhelming majority of Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was signed into law by President Clinton. Last year, a majority of the Supreme Court concluded that the Act reflected "a bare congressional desire to harm" and that its supporters were motivated by prejudice and spite. These developments are unfolding at breakneck speeds, and will likely affect the laws governing private spaces and transactions.

We also have seen shifts in the law pertaining to the free exercise of religion. The modern religious liberty story begins in 1990, in a case involving Native Americans who lost their jobs for using peyote (a hallucinogenic) for religious reasons. The law prohibiting peyote was generally applicable, meaning it applied to everyone and did not single out religious believers. You couldn't use peyote for either social or religious purposes. The Court decided that the First Amendment provided no special protection against such laws.

That reasoning has broad implications, because many if not most laws are generally applicable. For example, under current law, a religious believer will almost certainly lose a free exercise challenge to an antidiscrimination law that covers sexual orientation.

The public was outraged over the Court's decision in the peyote case. Congress responded with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The legislation had strong support from across the political spectrum. It passed the Senate in 1993 by a vote of 97-3. Five years later, Congress tried to pass another version, but it died in committee.

The primary reason that the revised legislation failed is that between 1993 and 1998, people began to worry that strong protections for religious liberty could harm gays and lesbians. The bipartisan coalition that had supported the RFRA legislation fractured. Instead of reaffirming comprehensive protections for religious liberty, Congress enacted a more obscure law, largely confined to zoning and prisons.

This isn't the whole story. Two years ago, the Supreme Court recognized important protections for "churches" and "ministers" (though the definitions of both remain unspecified). In addition, part of the original RFRA remains intact—that's how Hobby Lobby recently prevailed in challenging contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act. But as I noted for CT, Hobby Lobby's narrow legal victory hinged on a statute, not a constitutional principle. In the weeks after Hobby Lobby, we have already seen calls to repeal RFRA and to remove religious exemptions from proposed antidiscrimination legislation at the federal level. And while many states have constitutional and statutory protections for religious liberty, efforts to strengthen those protections at the state level have encountered growing political resistance.

What Lies Ahead

What does the current legal and cultural landscape suggest? Here are three predictions.

Prediction #1: Only religious groups (by no means all of them) will impose restrictions based on sexual conduct. That is in stark contrast to the many groups that make gender-based distinctions: fraternities and sororities, women's colleges, single-sex private high schools, sports teams, fitness clubs, and strip clubs, to name a few. It is perhaps unsurprising in light of these observations that views on gender and sexual conduct have flip-flopped. Thirty years ago, many people were concerned about gender equality, but few had LGBTQ equality on their radar. Today, if you ask your average 20-year-old whether it is worse for a fraternity to exclude women or for a Christian group to ask gay and lesbian members to refrain from sexual conduct, the responses would be overwhelmingly in one direction. That trend will likely continue.

Prediction #2: Only religious groups will accept a distinction between "sexual conduct" and "sexual orientation," and those groups will almost certainly lose the legal effort to maintain that distinction. Most Christian membership limitations today are based on conduct rather than orientation: they allow a gay or lesbian person to join a group, but prohibit that person from engaging in conduct that falls outside the church's teachings on sexuality. These policies—like the one at Gordon College currently under fire—are not limited to gays or lesbians; all unmarried men and women are to refrain from sexual conduct. The distinction between status and conduct from which they derive is rooted in Christian tradition, and it is not limited to sexuality: one can be a sinner and abstain from a particular sin.

But many people reject the distinction between status and conduct. And in a 2010 decision, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Supreme Court also rejected it, viewing distinctions based on homosexual conduct as equivalent to discrimination against gays and lesbians. I have argued in a recent book (Liberty's Refuge: The Forgotten Freedom of Assembly) that the Court's reasoning is troubling in the context of a private group's membership requirements. 

But it is the current state of the law.

Prediction #3: Fewer and fewer people will value religious freedom. Although some Christians will respond to looming challenges with appeals to religious liberty, their appeals will likely face indifference or even hostility from those who don't value it. The growing indifference is perhaps unsurprising because many past challenges to religious liberty are no longer active threats. We don't enforce blasphemy laws. We don't force people to make compelled statements of belief. We don't impose taxes to finance training ministers. These changes mean that in practice, many Americans no longer depend upon the free exercise right for their religious liberty. They are free to practice their religion without government constraints.

Additionally, a growing number of atheists and "nonreligious" Americans have little use for free exercise protections. Even though most Americans will continue to value religious liberty in a general sense, fewer will recognize the immediate and practical need for it to be protected by law.

This final prediction is deeply unsettling, because strong protections for religious liberty are core to our country's law and history. But those protections have been vulnerable since the Court's decision in the peyote case. And they will remain vulnerable unless the Court revisits its free exercise doctrine.

After Religious Exceptionalism

If I am correct about these three predictions, then arguments rooted in religious exceptionalism will see diminishing returns. There is, however, a different argument that appeals to a different set of values. It's the argument of pluralism: the idea that, in a society that lacks a shared vision of a deeply held common good, we can and must live with deep difference among groups and their beliefs, values, and identities. The pluralist argument is not clothed in the language of religious liberty, but it extends to religious groups and institutions. And Christians who take it seriously can model it not only for their own interests but also on behalf of their friends and neighbors.

Pluralism rests on three interrelated aspirations: tolerance, humility, and patience. Tolerance means a willingness to accept genuine difference, including profound moral disagreement. In the pluralist context, tolerance does not embrace difference as good or right; its more limited aspiration is permitting differences to coexist.

The second aspiration, humility, recognizes that our own beliefs and intuitions rest upon tradition-bound values that can't be fully proven or justified by external forms of rationality. Notions of "equality" and "morality" emerge from within particular traditions whose basic premises are not endorsed by all. Humility holds open that there is right and wrong and good and evil, and that in the fullness of time the true meaning of equality and morality will emerge. But humility also opens the door to hearing others' beliefs about right and wrong, good and evil. Instead of making claims about what we can know or prove, we might point out that faith commitments underlie all beliefs (religious or otherwise) and stand ready to give the reason for the hope that we have (1 Pet. 3:15).

The third aspiration, patience, recognizes that contested moral questions are best resolved through persuasion rather than coercion, and that persuasion takes time. Most of us—whatever our beliefs—think we are right in a profound way. Most of us structure our lives around our deepest moral commitments. And we instinctively want our normative views to prevail on the rest of society. But patience reminds us that the best means to a better end is through persuasion and dialogue, not coercion and bullying.

 Pluralism does not entail relativism. Living well in a pluralist world does not mean a never-ending openness to any possible claim. Every one of us holds deeply entrenched beliefs that others find unpersuasive, inconsistent, or downright loopy. More pointed, every one of us holds beliefs that others find morally reprehensible. Pluralism does not impose the fiction of assuming that all ideas are equally valid or morally benign. It does mean respecting people, aiming for fair discussion, and allowing for the right to differ about serious matters.
Pluralism and Witness

The argument for pluralism and the aspirations of tolerance, humility, and patience are fully consistent with a faithful Christian witness. And in this age, they are also far likelier to resonate than arguments for religious exceptionalism. The claim of religious exceptionalism is that only believers should benefit from special protections, and often at the cost of those who don't share their faith commitments. The claim of pluralism is that all members of society should benefit from its protections.

Christians have a long way to go in affirming the value of pluralism for all members of society. We might begin by recognizing its role for our gay and lesbian neighbors. When Uganda enacts a law that punishes homosexuality with death, U.S. Christians can speak out against such a law. Domestically, we need to think carefully about the kinds of legislation being pushed at the state level. Some proposed laws are undoubtedly important to protect religious institutions' right to live in accordance with their own beliefs and traditions; others are deeply problematic. Christians in states without any antidiscrimination protections for gays and lesbians might consider supporting those laws containing exemptions for religious groups, rather than simply advocating for religious freedom on its own.

Unkind words have emerged from almost every corner of the public discourse. Christians should not be bullied or silenced by careless language. But neither should they engage in it. Advocacy for Christian witness must itself demonstrate Christian witness. In this way, our present circumstances provide new opportunities to embody tolerance, humility, and patience. And, of course, we have at our disposal not only these aspirations but also the virtues that shape our lives: faith, hope, and love. –Christianity Today

John Inazu is associate professor of law at Washington University School of Law, an expert on the First Amendment freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion, and the author of Liberty's Refuge: The Forgotten Freedom of Assembly (Yale University Press, 2012). He recently wrote for CT about Hobby Lobby.

All Creatures of Our God and King - Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Sep 7, 2014