What It Really Means to Be Accountable

What do we mean by accountability? In the simplest terms, it is answering the hard questions. Accountability includes opening one’s life to a few carefully selected, trusted, loyal confidants who speak the truth—who have the right to examine, to question, to appraise, and to give counsel.

People who are accountable usually have four qualities:

Vulnerability—capable of being wounded, shown to be wrong, even admitting it before being confronted.
Teachability—a willingness to learn, being quick to hear and respond to reproof, being open to counsel.
Availability—accessible, touchable, able to be interrupted.
Honesty—committed to the truth regardless of how much it hurts, a willingness to admit the truth no matter how difficult or humiliating the admission may be. Hating all that is phony or false.

That’s a tough list! As I look back over those four qualities, I am more than ever aware of why accountability is resisted by the majority. Those with fragile egos can’t handle it. And prima donna types won’t tolerate it. They have a greater desire to look good and make a stunning impression than anything else. I mean, “the very idea of someone probing into my life!”

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting for a moment that accountability gives the general public carte blanche access to any and all areas of one’s private life. If you will glance back a few lines you will notice I referred to “a few carefully selected, trusted, loyal confidants.” They are the ones who have earned the right to come alongside and, when it seems appropriate and necessary, ask the hard questions, to serve in an advisory capacity, bringing perspective and wisdom where such may be lacking.

In our society, where privacy is a reward of promotion and a life of virtual secrecy is the prerogative of most leaders, a lack of accountability is considered the norm. This is true despite the fact that unaccountability is both unwise and unbiblical, not to mention downright perilous!

Today we need others to hold us accountable. Sometimes an objective opinion will reveal a blind spot. Sometimes we may simply need a sounding board to help keep us on target. Just remember—not one of us is an island. We need one another.

C. Swindoll

King of the Cannibals

A likely outcome of his ministry ended with him upon a plate. A generation before, on November 20, 1839, the first pair of formal missionaries to the New Hebrides were killed and eaten within minutes of their arrival upon the shore. Even still, John G. Paton, whom Spurgeon later dubbed “King of the Cannibals,” traveled as a missionary to the islands with his wife and son, facing odds and suffering only Christ with him could conquer.

And Christ, having promised to be with him (Matthew 28:20), achieved a great feat. Less than fifty years after the murder of the first missionaries, Paton would reflect on the widespread work of God on the islands (including the entire island of Aniwa coming to Christ) , writing, “Thus were the New Hebrides baptized with the blood of martyrs; and Christ thereby told the whole Christian world that he claimed these islands as his own” (The Autobiography of the Pioneer Missionary to the New Hebrides, 75).

From a people dead in their sins, who ate the flesh of their enemies, committed infanticide, and killed their widows upon the death of the husband — to the whole island coming to Christ, and today roughly 85 percent of the population of the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) still professing his name.

Flowers and Stems
The courage alone makes the blood to stir. Something must be said — and indeed much has been well said — about the grand triumph of planting Christ’s flag on an island of cannibals. Biographers have written books. Legends have been passed down. We rightly raise great lives — like that of John G. Paton — to fly high for following generations.

Yet comparatively little is said of the ordinary saints whose prayers, lives, and instruction shaped these men mightily used of God. We admire the flowers and forget the stems. Mothers often play a formative role in the lives of great men: Hannah stands behind Samuel, Elizabeth behind John the Baptist, Eunice behind Timothy, Monica behind Augustine, and on and on. Their praying, weeping, pleading gave birth to lions for the kingdom of God.

The birth of missions among the New Hebrides cannibals, however, largely began in the humble cottage of a hardworking, ordinary — yet anything but ordinary — father. A father whose example stirs the heart of every godly man and hangs in the halls of this world, displaying the beauty of a simple life devoted to Christ.

Grandfather of Cannibals
The family tree of these islanders who converted to Christ has its roots in a man almost forgotten to history. James Paton, father of eleven, lived Deuteronomy 6:5–9:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

He labored all day as a stocking manufacturer, taking breaks to pray earnestly in his prayer closet after every meal. He led family devotions consisting of Scripture reading, application, catechizing, singing, and fervent prayer for the lost world.

He walked four miles (each direction) with his children to church every week, talking of the Lord along the way — an endeavor John insists the children never begrudged. Upon arriving home each Sunday, he would impart the sermon from memory to his wife — who remained home due to poor health — his children filling in the gaps.

James led a rare home, an unhurried one:

None of us can remember that any day ever passed unhallowed thus [family worship]; no hurry for market, no rush to business, no arrival of friends or guests, no trouble or sorrow, no joy or excitement, ever prevented at least our kneeling around the family altar, while the High Priest led our prayers to God and offered himself and his children there. (Missionary to the Cannibals of the South Seas, 9)

Simple gazes at his Savior in the word, simple (yet ignited) prayers to him from simple faith and trust, led to simple joys, simple yet constant acts of devotion, along with simple sacrifices for others that all amassed into a remarkable legacy of faith and passionate consecration that he passed to his children.

Hear the King of Cannibals speak of such a father.

In family worship, he brought his family into Christ’s presence:

How much my father’s prayers at this time impressed me I can never explain, nor could any stranger understand. When, on his knees and all of us kneeling around him in family worship, he poured out his whole soul with tears for the conversion of the heathen world to the service of Jesus, and for every personal and domestic need, we all felt as if in the presence of the living Savior, and learned to know and love him as our divine friend. (Missionary, 82)

In sending his son off to a possible horrific death, he handed him affectionately to divine providence:

I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as he had given me. The appearance of my father, when we parted — his advice, prayers, and tears . . . have often, often, all through life, risen vividly before my mind, and do so now while I am writing, as if it had been but an hour ago. (80)

In life, he served as a sanctifying and “shining” example:

In my earliest years particularly, when exposed to many temptations, his parting form rose before me as that of a guardian angel. It is no Pharisaism, but deep gratitude, which makes me here testify that the memory of that scene not only helped, by God’s grace, to keep me pure from the prevailing sins, but also stimulated me in all my studies, that I might not fall short of his hopes, and in all my Christian duties, that I might faithfully follow his shining example. (81)

In death, he left an unforgettable spiritual legacy:

Never, in temple or cathedral, on mountain or in glen, can I hope to feel that the Lord God is more near, more visibly walking and talking with men, than under that humble cottage roof of thatch and oaken wood. Though everything else in religion were by some unthinkable catastrophe to be swept out of memory, or blotted from my understanding, my soul would wander back to those early scenes, and shut itself up once again in the Sanctuary Closet, and, hearing still the echoes of those cries to God, would hurl back all doubts with the victorious appeal, “He walked with God, why may not I?” (85)

What a legacy to leave a son: “He walked with God, why may not I?”

G. Morse

Poisonous Tolerance

But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. (Revelation 2:20–23)

Here’s the concern: “You tolerate that woman Jezebel.” Now, tolerance, in and of itself, is not necessarily a problem. Tolerance can be good, in the right place. And it can be bad, and produce deadly compromise, in the wrong place.

There is a kind of tolerance in society, in the public square, in the civic arena, that allows people with different religious beliefs to live together in peace and respect each other as humans. In society, we as Christians advocate for religious tolerance, that the city or state or nation not punish or discriminate against groups for their religious beliefs (unless those beliefs physically harm others).

But this distinction between the church and the city, or the world, is critical to keep in mind. The problem with some from the church in Thyatira is their tolerance is in the wrong place. They may be admirably tolerant of different views in town. They are in the world. They are cultural affirmers and participators. They are out there doing acts of love in Thyatira. But in their wide, indiscriminate love in the world, they have become undiscerning in the church — which can happen in large-hearted churches.

Tolerating Sin
They are tolerating, in God’s house, among God’s people, what they dare not tolerate, and in a leader at that: Jezebel, who “calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants” — which may be literal adultery, or figurative, or both.

This Jezebel seems to profess the Christian faith and is teaching in the church. The name Jezebel here is symbolic, proverbial for wickedness, a reference to one of the most evil figures in the history of Israel. In the days of Elijah, Ahab, who was Israel’s most wicked king to that point, did evil by taking a wife named Jezebel from the king of the Sidonians (1 Kings 16:31). It was a marriage of compromise: She worshiped the false god Baal, and once Ahab married her, he soon did as well. Jezebel used her power as queen to kill true prophets of God (1 Kings 18:4, 13), and threatened to kill Elijah as well (1 Kings 19:2). First Kings 21:25 says she incited Ahab to evil.

And in the end, Ahab and Jezebel did not escape God’s judgment. God avenged the blood of his prophets (2 Kings 9:7), Jezebel was thrown out a window and trampled underfoot, and dogs ate her flesh just as Elijah had prophesied (1 Kings 21:23; 2 Kings 9:36).

It’s not insignificant that this so-called Jezebel in Thyatira, whoever she is, is a woman. Though Jezebel was not king, she incited her weak husband to evil. He let her have her way. Perhaps a similar dynamic was at work in Thyatira, and the leaders have given her leash, and been easy on her, because she’s a woman, perhaps even the wife of one of them.

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And this influential woman is teaching some in the church “to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (Revelation 2:20). We saw this pair last week. These are the same two temptations mentioned in the letter to Pergamum: “food sacrificed to idols and . . . sexual immorality” (2:14).

These may well be the two great social-cultural compromises of the day. In Acts 15, at what we call the Jerusalem council, when the apostles and elders agreed that Gentile Christians need not live under Old Testament law, they wrote to them,

It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell. (Acts 15:28–29)

What this may mean about Thyatira is that this church is facing the characteristic temptations of the day. Which should not be a surprise for a church like this: in the world, growing in love, professing Christ, and yet facing the temptation to cater to the flesh and social pressure from the unbelieving world surrounding them.

Compromise with the World
So also every generation of Christians faces the question of what to embrace in culture and what to reject. And in some senses, it gets more and more complicated. Our cities today dwarf the largest cities in the world two thousand years ago — not to mention a small town like Thyatira. And our communication tools and technology connect us with people and ideas and challenges far away — which is why we need each other in the church, and faithful teaching, to be discerning. These are not easy questions. And yet, amid our confusing swirl of temptations today, both of these are relevant to us — one very directly, one indirectly.

Consider the reality and ripples of sexual immorality today, from dress and modesty, to media and pornography, to expectations in dating and engagement, to homosexuality and transgender issues.

And for food sacrificed to idols? Not eating meat put before you at a work banquet could cost you your job in Thyatira. There were economic pressures to just go along with the false religion in town. And how often are we tempted to just go along with what society is serving us? Whether what our jobs pressure us to affirm, or what our entertainment involves. Or political expectations, that you’re all in with the left or right, antiracism or nationalism.

Ask yourself: What is it today, for you, for us, that makes sin look normal and righteousness strange? In movies, on television, in sports, in polite conversation?

We could boil it down to this in Thyatira: the problem in the church was worldliness — compromise with the world. And what was especially perilous is that someone in the church was teaching what likely was a sophisticated form of compromise. Perhaps she called it “the deep things of God.” Which Jesus says, in verse 24, amounts to “the deep things of Satan.”

Patient Justice
How, then, does Jesus himself respond to this compromise — the compromised theology of Jezebel, and the compromised tolerance of the church? Verses 21 and 22 give us two responses.

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First is patience. Verse 21: “I gave her time to repent.” Jesus doesn’t rush to judgment. He gives time to repent — oh, what patience and kindness! And if he gives time to repent, should not we also? How amazing, says Leon Morris, that Jesus “still holds out the prospect of mercy. This is to be noted throughout this book [of Revelation]. It is full of severe judgments, but always there is the prospect of deliverance for those who repent” (Revelation, 72). This is not to confuse patience with compromise. The patience is not indefinite.

Second, then, is Christ’s justice — never gratuitous, never overdone. Verses 22–23: “Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead.” In other words, the punishment will fit the crime. The bed of sexual immorality will receive a sickbed. Like Haman hung from his own gallows in the book of Esther (7:9–10). Or like Psalm 7:15–16: “He [the wicked man] makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends” (see Psalm 9:15 and 10:2, among many others).

Christ is patient. But not indefinitely. He will, in time, exact fitting justice.

D. Mathis

Dear Dad

Dear Dad,

Happy Father’s Day. I hope you know that you’re my hero. The older I get, the more blessed I am to have such a remarkable father. Given how much fatherlessness there is in the world today–and the experience you had growing up with an abusive, alcoholic father–I don’t take this lightly.

Most people know you as a speaker, writer, and Christian leader. To me, you have always primarily been my dad. While doing ministry with you today is one of my greatest joys, some of my best memories are just the times we have spent together shooting hoops, watching movies, or talking in the jacuzzi.

While you are the first person to admit that you have flaws, I wanted to honor you this Father’s Day by sharing four life lessons you have taught me. While you have taught me so much more than this, here are four big takeaways that I have tried to emulate in my own life.

First, you have taught me to live by principles. I remember you sharing how one of the early principles you developed as a public speaker was that you would not address racially segregated audiences. That may seem natural to many people today, but you developed this principle over five decades ago and it has even cost you some speaking opportunities through the years. I have seen you live by principles about money, relationships, politics, and many more issues. Thanks for modeling and teaching me to develop biblical principles and to live by them.

Second, you have taught me to speak up, even if it is costly. I have seen you speak up on many controversial issues, even though you have been criticized for it. Around a dozen years ago, I remember you speaking up about the sexual abuse you experienced from ages six to thirteen. You knew it was a huge issue in the church (and wider culture) and in order for people to get healing, they needed models of people who would speak up. Given that your own mother didn’t believe you when you told her, you also knew that there were many others who had been shamed into silence. And so long before the #MeToo movement caught cultural steam, you began publicly addressing sexual abuse in both film and books. Thanks for teaching me to use my voice to speak costly truth as well.

Third, you have taught me to prioritize family. You are a busy man, dad. I honestly don’t know how you accomplish so much! And yet amidst your busyness, you have always made a conscious choice to prioritize family. I remember you making all my basketball games my senior year in high school (including flying home from Russia for one game, and then flying immediately back that night) and am clearing my schedule next basketball season so I can do the same for my own son. While it wasn’t always easy having you travel so much when I was growing up, I never doubted your love for me, my sisters, or my mom. Thanks for modeling and teaching me about the importance of prioritizing family.

Fourth, you taught me how to enjoy life. Given that you come from such a dysfunctional home, it would be easy for you be a critical, negative person. And yet you have found a way to enjoy life more than anyone I know. I remember you telling me that your goal in life is to take as many people to heaven as you can, and to enjoy it along the way. Well, you’ve accomplished both! Even though you have some cheesy dad jokes now and then (or should I say grandad jokes?), your commitment to experiencing the joy of the Lord is extraordinary. Thanks for teaching me to find joy in life.

I love you, dad, and hope you had an amazing Father’s Day.

S. McDowell

Do I Forgive a Flawed Father?

Our family is a bit raw this week. Packing your whole life into a U-Haul and leaving behind everything called “home” has a way of putting everyone on edge. We moved several times during my childhood, but this was my first time doing it as a father. I remember moving to South Florida in the third grade—the tears, the uncertainty, the upheaval. It’s been hard to watch a familiar sorrow swell in the eyelids of my own kids.

As fathers, we dream of passing down wisdom, character, and faith, but so often we end up leaving our children an inheritance of pain, hurt, and unfulfilled longing. In his latest offering, Lament for a Father: The Journey to Understanding and Forgiveness, prolific author and longtime World magazine editor in chief Marvin Olasky reflects on this mixed blessing. “Many people … have unresolved conflicts with dads, living or dead,” he writes. “So do I.”

Olasky styles the book as an elegy for his own dad, a father “simultaneously present and absent.” It’s a work so particularly about one father that it ends up being about every father.

Who is to blame?
Eight brief chapters piece together a mosaic of Eli Olasky, a son of immigrants who grew up in a Jewish ward of Malden, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. Using the present tense, the author narrates the life of a school principal with a Harvard degree who settles into a life of comic books, bridge, frequent job turnover, and disappointing his wife. Aloof and stoic, he shows a mysterious lack of ambition.

A sense of melancholy weighs heavily over the entire book. The discoveries the younger Olasky digs out of Harvard archives, newspaper clippings, and family photo albums give his prose the yellowed edges of a son who would rather have known his father in his own words. Chock full of details from a distinctly Jewish upbringing, Olasky’s vignettes benefit from a pen sharpened by decades in magazine editing:

In 1957 we drive down US Route 1 to Hollywood, Florida, where my father will be the principal of a Hebrew school that students attend after public school lets out. One night we eat at a Howard Johnson’s. The table looks a lot like the one we have at home, with the same laminate surface. My father orders a hamburger and a wedge of iceberg lettuce. No ketchup or mustard on the burger. No dressing on the non-salad salad. My mother orders beef burgundy.

I request a small wedge of lettuce and a child’s hamburger. Since we eat only kosher meat at home, I ask the waitress if it’s kosher. She laughs and walks away. My father says it isn’t. I ask, “Why are we eating it?” He says, “It’s not important.”

It’s funny what memories a son’s mind latches onto when it’s starved for a father. The older Olasky was always dodging his son’s probing queries with that same refrain—It’s not important.

The author unpacks his taciturn father’s past one dusty box at a time. He learns of the antisemitism he had to overcome to gain entrance to Harvard. He begins to comprehend his father’s love-hate relationship with his Jewish heritage after discovering the philosophies he encountered in college. He realizes that his detached father probably spent a lifetime coping with the horrific sights, smells, and sounds he brought home from concentration camps he saw during the Second World War. “Like many of his generation,” Olasky writes, “my father never spoke of his World War II experience. Like many of my generation, I didn’t ask.”

Olasky dignifies every unfolding detail of his father’s life like a skilled mortician. He chronicles the slide of his parents into middle age. They fight a lot, particularly over his father’s underachievement, and his mother fends off fatalism with the interjection, “I’m not going to end up like my mother!” Both hope their two boys will provide redemption for the family’s shortcomings. With wistful hindsight, Olasky writes, “That does not happen.” His father’s career disintegrates into administrative temp jobs while the son completes graduate school: “I don’t know anything about that, but I don’t ask.”

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His tale concludes with the sentiment, Who should I blame? When fathers and sons have poor relationships, when families fall apart, who is at fault? The author warns, “Scapegoating is an occupational hazard for writers of family history: It’s easy to blame parents.” Part of Olasky’s recent journey as a son has been learning of all the sin, abuse, and trauma his parents suffered in their own lives:

I’ve realized in the course of this research how self-centered I was, not only as a child but as an adult. Why did I have so little interest in seeing my parents not primarily as people to meet my needs (or not), but as individuals with their own struggles? I never really cared to find out about them.

In these sheepish confessions, Olasky reiterates the book’s main thrust: Fathers and sons are meant to know and to be known by one another. He gives sons this bit of advice: “Persist in questioning while your father is still alive. Don’t take no for a final answer.”

As I was packing up our shed this past week before our move, my nine-year-old son unloaded a barrage of questions: “What’s that called? What’s it for? Where does it go?” I was hot, sweaty, and annoyed, so I began to respond with sarcastic non-answers meant to discourage further inquiry.

I read Olasky’s exhortation later that afternoon, and I had to go find my little boy to apologize. I never want to hinder or discourage his searching heart. Those persistent questions are the outward expression of a little soul that longs to know his father.

Fathers, find a place, an activity, a time, where you feel comfortable sharing yourself with your children. Ask Marvin Olasky, or any son who has lost a father. They know in their bones that this is true: Our kids don’t want a perfect dad; they just want Dad.

C. Ashby

Do Birth Fathers Deserve a Part in Adoption Decisions?

When Darrick Rizzo was 18, his girlfriend of three years told him she was pregnant. With the couple on the cusp of their college careers and unprepared to parent, his girlfriend chose to pursue adoption. Despite opposing the decision, Rizzo ultimately acquiesced, hoping to offer the best life possible for his son.

“I was willing to do anything for my boy, even if that meant listening to his mom and choosing an open adoption,” wrote Rizzo in his book, The Open Adoption: A Birth Father’s Journey.

Rizzo was committed to his role as a birth father and sent letters and gifts to his son. Years later, he learned his child had never received his correspondence. Despite a desire to be an involved birth father, his efforts were thwarted.

Whether or not they make the effort, the reality is that many birth fathers end up absent from the lives of their adopted children. And until recently, the relationship between adoptees and their birth fathers had not been given too much consideration in the context of the adoption conversation.

But as social media and family genealogy tracing allow more children to find and connect with their biological dads, Christians involved in adoption are thinking about the significance of such relationships.

“We’re starting to see a little more discussion around birth fathers, where historically they’ve been left out of the picture,” said Cam Lee, an adoptee and a Christian who now works as a therapist with adoptive families.

“What we know is that when birth fathers are involved … it’s a better outcome,” said Jennifer McCallum, foster care and adoption counseling supervisor for Buckner International, a Christian organization that facilitates open adoptions.

“We tend to think of the expectant moms as the only one making a sacrifice or grieving,” said McCallum. “But we want birth fathers to be a part of the entire process.”

Both parents can experience a sense of loss when their child is adopted. There isn’t much research out there, but one study of 30 birth fathers found that they experience feelings similar to birth mothers: grief, distress, and pain, for example.

“Birth fathers reported similar waves of emotion around birthdays, holidays, major life events and other major triggers,” according to the National Council for Adoption’s report.

Roger Matthews, 61, placed his son up for adoption over 40 years ago. He maintains it was the right decision for him and his girlfriend, both just 18 at the time, and one born out of their nascent Christian faith at the time.

Years later, Matthews met his adult son, and it was the beginning of a new family tree for them both. Matthews’s son initially sought contact with his birth mother, who then connected the three of them. “We now see them regularly,” Matthews said in an email. “I count them as part of our family.”

Theodora Blanchfield, 38, was adopted as a newborn. As an adult, she met her birth mother first. That desire felt “urgent” at the time. But it wasn’t long after that when she was compelled to find her birth father, too.

“Growing up, I had envy of people who weren’t adopted,” said Blanchfield. “People who took knowing stuff about themselves for granted.” Though she said meeting her father was somewhat anticlimactic, she was thankful for the opportunity.

Lee, the therapist who works with adoptive families, never met the birth father who died when he was a baby. But he has a “living curiosity” about him, including regular thoughts and dreams. “There’s a longing to humanize him,” he said.

He believes it would be beneficial to start incorporating birth fathers more into his work with families. Without the presence of a birth father in any way, he said, identity development can be harmed.

E. Anderson

Religious Freedom Demands We Defend Everyone

For Christians, the rule should be something like this: Protect other people’s religious liberty as you would like your religious liberty to be protected.

Many believers will celebrate today because the Supreme Court ruled in Fulton v. Philadelphia that Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia should be able to continue operating according to its religious principles without getting its contract canceled by the city. That will be hailed as a victory, and it should.

But the freedom of those at a Catholic foster care agency to do their work as committed Catholics wouldn’t have been so precarious if not for a Supreme Court decision from more than 30 years ago—one that upended the status quo of religious freedom law in the United States.

There is lots of data that shows that Christians are becoming more marginal in the US. In the years ahead, it will be important to defend religious liberty legally. But strategically—and more importantly, morally—we need to do that by defending religious liberty for everyone.

That’s not what happened in Employment Division v. Smith, the critical 1990 ruling that set the precedent leading to challenges for Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia. In Smith, the Supreme Court made it much easier for the government to justify actions burdening religious free exercise. Officials were not obligated to accommodate religious practice. In fact, they could make it impossible for minority groups to be faithful to their beliefs and call it “just” and “fair.”

To understand this, let’s go back to 1963. A Seventh-day Adventist named Adell Sherbert was denied unemployment benefits after refusing to accept job offers that would have required her to work Saturday, her tradition’s required day of rest. The Supreme ruled that she should get benefits, and not getting them was an infringement of her religious rights.

The court explained that the government would not always be able to accommodate every minority belief, but it shouldn’t be allowed to make it harder for someone to practice their faith unless there was a really good reason. The key phrase here was “compelling interest.” Further, the court said that the government had to find the “least restrictive means” to accomplish the legitimate goal. That means government must have to try, at least, to accommodate religious practices. The starting place, so to speak, would be to see if you could make it work.


Nearly 30 years later, the court heard another case involving a member of a religious minority who was denied unemployment. This time, it was a member of the Native American Church named Al Smith, who was fired following a positive test for peyote, a hallucinogenic drug central to his church’s religious practice.

According to one attorney I spoke with years ago, advocates for religious liberty were confident the court would use Sherbert’s compelling interest framework and rule for Smith; there was little activity among Christians defending his legal claim. But it’s also possible that Christians weren’t especially interested in rushing to the defense of drug use, or allying with religious practices situated well outside the cultural mainstream.

And then the decision was announced: Antonin Scalia, a stalwart, Reagan-appointed conservative, wrote an opinion shredding the court’s precedent in Sherbert. He declared that so long as a law is neutral and “generally applicable,” states are not required to grant exemptions for religious convictions. That kind of assumption of accommodation, Scalia memorably wrote, would permit a man “to become a law unto himself.” He said that, “To adopt a true ‘compelling interest’ requirement for laws that affect religious practice would lead towards anarchy.”

Supreme Court Rules on Christian Foster Care

The United States Supreme Court ruled decisively in favor of a Catholic foster care agency on Thursday, with all nine justices agreeing that the city of Philadelphia violated the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty when it ended a contract with Catholic Social Services (CSS) over service to LGBT people.

“It is plain that the City’s actions have burdened CSS’s religious exercise by putting it to the choice of curtailing its mission or approving relationships inconsistent with its beliefs,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts.

Philadelphia claimed the city could not contract foster care services with a Catholic agency that only served married heterosexual couples because of an antidiscrimination law ensuring that everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, has equal access to public accommodations. The court found, however, that foster parenting is not a “public accommodation,” since certification is not available to the public and “bears little resemblance to staying in a hotel, eating at a restaurant, or riding a bus.”

According to the court, there was also no evidence presented in the record that the Catholic agency’s policies ever prevented a same-sex couple from fostering a child, or that it would have that effect.

The majority opinion was joined by justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.

The other three justices—Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas—agreed with the judgement but signed on to two concurring opinions arguing the court should go further in defense of religious exercise. They wanted the court to overturn a 1990 precedent written by conservative legal icon Antonin Scalia, which made it easier for governments to justify laws that place a burden on religious activity.

In Employment Division vs. Smith, Scalia said that governments can burden religious practice as long as it is done “incidentally,” and religious activities are not being targeted by the “neutral” and “generally applicable” law.

In Thursday’s ruling, Roberts and the majority said Philadelphia was intentionally targeting the Catholic foster care agency. The law was not neutral toward religion and not generally applicable, since it was written with the Catholic agency in mind. The court decided not to overturn the 1990 precedent.

Gorsuch, in his concurring opinion, questioned the majorities’ decision to “dodge” the critical legal question of the standard for religious accommodation.

D. Silliman

Intersectionality and the Christian

Intersectionality is a term used to describe how different forms of discrimination can interact and overlap with each other. In recent years, it has become a feminist buzzword. As a concept, intersectionality deals with the cumulative societal effects of systemic discrimination on people who belong to more than one disadvantaged group. For example, a woman is oppressed by the anti-women crowd; a black woman faces anti-woman and anti-black bias; a black lesbian woman faces anti-woman, anti-black, and anti-gay discrimination, etc. The point of intersectionality is that the victim of only one type of discrimination may have a hard time identifying with those who face multiple types of oppression.

The term intersectionality was coined in a 1989 essay by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a legal scholar who wrote that individual anti-discrimination laws are insufficient to address the experiences of those who suffer from intersecting discriminations. Current political efforts to end individual forms of discrimination such as sexism, racism, and classism, Crenshaw posits, will always be insufficient because they don’t take into account the cumulative nature of different types of discrimination. The answer, according to promoters of the intersectionality concept, is more progressive social programs.

The Bible doesn’t use the term intersectionality, but the concept of overlapping discriminations was present in ancient societies, just as it is today, and examples of it can be found in the Bible. The woman at the well who encountered Jesus in John 4 was the victim of different forms of discrimination. First, she was a woman, and rabbis typically did not speak publicly to women. Second, she was a Samaritan, and there was great hatred between the Samaritans and the Jews, who considered them idolatrous half-breeds. When Jesus asked her to give Him water from the well, she was shocked. “How is it,” she asked, “that you, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (John 4:9, ESV). Third, she was a social outcast because of her lifestyle and past. Drawing water from a community well was a form of social interaction for people and usually occurred during the early part of the day. The Samaritan woman came to the well at the sixth hour, or noon (John 4:6), when she knew others would not be present. She was shunned in her town because she was living with a man who was not her husband and had been doing so with other men (John 4:17–18).

The theory of intersectionality, which has become the darling of radical feminists and, more recently, Christian feminists, may have some validity. However, the number of ways we discriminate against one another really isn’t the issue. The issue is the sinfulness of the human heart. All sin separates us from God, and all sin must be atoned for. This is why Jesus died on the cross, to pay the penalty for our sin and to redeem a people unto Himself.

All forms of discrimination and their intersectionality are the result of the fall of man into sin. No doubt discrimination will continue as long as sinful people reside upon the earth. Christians should acknowledge the problem of discrimination and work to counter it, but lasting change can only happen through the life-transforming power of Christ. Movements that seek to divide people along racial, gender, or class lines; that create designer victim groups; or that seek retribution through ever more autocratic policies are not truly benefiting society. Christians should be peacemakers working to unite people in the truth rather than divide people or stoke feelings of resentment.

The Bible and Prejudice

Broadly speaking, prejudice is preferential bias, and it can be either favorable or unfavorable. But the term prejudice most often refers to a negative opinion, not based on fact or experience, formed without just grounds or sufficient knowledge. Prejudice targets groups or types of people rather than responding to people as individuals. Prejudice is usually expressed as unreasonable and hostile feelings, opinions, or attitudes toward ethnic, racial, social, or religious groups. Prejudice has been a significant part of religious history, with some even defending acts of prejudice in the name of Christianity. It’s good to look at what the Bible says about prejudice.

Humans have a natural tendency to show prejudice toward anyone who is different. Both Old and New Testaments were written during times of human history when racial, national, and sexual prejudice was expected. Women were treated as property, and the enslavement of other nationalities was common. When God gave Moses the Law for Israel, He incorporated moral and ethical standards that were unheard of in that barbaric day (Deuteronomy 4:8). God decreed that His people would be different from the violent and godless nations around them (Leviticus 20:26). Part of that difference would be in the way they were to treat others: foreigners among them were to be treated as their own brothers (Leviticus 19:34), eliminating prejudice from their ranks.

Prejudice among Jews, Gentiles, and Samaritans was rampant in Jesus’ day. Jews hated Samaritans and considered Gentiles unclean. Jesus transcended the prejudice by placing particular emphasis on a Gentile man’s faith (Matthew 8:10–11) and the kindness of a Samaritan (Luke 10:30–36). God had chosen the nation of Israel through whom He would send His Messiah (Romans 1:16), and the Jews were proud of their heritage (see John 8:33). When the church began, the first Jewish converts to Christianity believed God’s salvation belonged solely to them. But as non-Jews began to respond in faith to the gospel, the ingrained Jewish prejudice led quickly to discord and controversy within the church (Acts 11:1; 15:5).

God gave the apostle Peter a vision to teach him that God is not prejudiced and will not tolerate prejudice in His people. Because of what God revealed to him, Peter said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34–35). Paul, chosen specifically by God as the apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:8), explained that Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, offers salvation to everyone who trusts in Him. That faith grafts every believer into God’s family. Paul wrote, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26–29). There are no second-class Christians. Faith in Christ is the great equalizer, eradicating any foundation for prejudice.

The historical accounts of fighting and bloodshed in the name of Christ—Protestants killing Catholics and Catholics killing Protestants—look nothing like the Christianity of the New Testament. Religious prejudice is just as evil as any other kind and is nowhere validated by Jesus or the apostles. Religious prejudice is still rampant in many parts of the world and is directly opposed to everything Jesus taught. While we can strongly disagree with other Christians in doctrine and lovingly oppose false teaching of every kind, we are never to force our views through hatred, coercion, or violence (see John 18:36).

Jesus’ teaching combats prejudice. God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good,” Jesus said, “and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). “Love your enemies,” Jesus said, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:27–31). Such commands steer us away from prejudice of any kind.

The Bible states that love must govern every action we take (1 Corinthians 16:14), and prejudice is opposed to love. Love sees the image of God in every individual; prejudice pre-assigns judgment without just cause. First Corinthians 13:4–8 defines what love looks like. We are not the judges of a person’s worthiness. First Corinthians 4:5 says that we should not “pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.”

Prejudice has no place in the heart of a believer in Christ. Our lives are to be ruled by humility, obedience, and love for God and others (Romans 13:7–9). Prejudice violates all three. To be prejudiced means we consider ourselves better than someone else, which is pride (Philippians 2:3). It means we are directly disobeying Jesus’ command to treat others as we would want to be treated (Matthew 7:12). And it means that we are not fully loving God, since we are unwilling to love people created in His image (1 John 4:20–21). Due to our fallen human natures, we all struggle with some form of prejudice; we should be quick to recognize it as sin and ask the Lord to rid us of it. When we are willing to see our prejudice as God sees it, we can repent of it and seek His help in changing it (1 John 1:9).

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