Albert Mohler

Caesar, coercion, and the Christian conscience: a dangerous confusion

Albert Mohler
By Albert Mohler
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February 24, 2014 (Albert Mohler) - Several states are now considering legislation that would provide explicit protections to citizens whose consciences will not allow an endorsement of same-sex marriage. The bills vary by state, as do the prospects for legislative passage, but the key issues remain constant. Millions of American citizens are facing a direct collision between their moral convictions and the demands of their government.

The cases are now piling up. A wedding photographer in New Mexico, cake bakers in Colorado and Oregon, and a florist in Washington State have all found themselves in this predicament. Each now faces the coercive power of the state. They are being told, in no uncertain terms, that they must participate in providing services for same-sex weddings or go out of business.

The bills now being considered in several states are attempts to protect these citizens from government coercion. They take the form of remedial legislation — bills intended to fix a problem. And the problem is all too real, and so is the controversy over these bills.

Those pushing for the legalization of same-sex marriage are relentless in their insistence that these bills would violate the civil rights of same-sex couples. They brilliantly employed arguments from the civil rights in their push for same-sex marriage, and they now employ similar arguments in their opposition to bills that would protect the consciences of those opposed to same-sex marriage. They claim that the rights of gays and lesbians and others in the LGBT community are equivalent to the rights rightly demanded by African Americans in the civil rights movement. Thus far, they have been stunningly successful in persuading courts to accept their argument.

That sets up the inevitable collision of law and values and Christian conviction. In each of the cases listed above, the key issue is not a willingness to serve same-sex couples, but the unwillingness to participate in a same-sex wedding. Christian automobile dealers can sell cars to persons of various sexual orientations and behaviors without violating conscience. The same is true for insurance agents and building contractors. But the cases of pressing concern have to do with forcing Christians to participate in same-sex weddings — and this is another matter altogether.

Photographers, makers of artistic wedding cakes, and florists are now told that they must participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies, and this is a direct violation of their religiously-based conviction that they should lend no active support of a same-sex wedding. Based upon their biblical convictions, they do not believe that a same-sex wedding can be legitimate in any Christian perspective and that their active participation can only be read as a forced endorsement of what they believe to be fundamentally wrong and sinful. They remember the words of the Apostle Paul when he indicted both those who commit sin and those “who give approval to those who practice them.” [Romans 1:32]

The advocates of same-sex marriage saw this coming, as did the opponents of this legal and moral revolution. Judges and legal scholars also knew the collision was coming. Judge Michael McConnell, formerly a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and now director of Stanford University’s Constitutional Law Center, suggested many years ago that the coming conflict would “feature a seemingly irreconcilable clash between those who believe that homosexual conduct is immoral and those who believe that it is a natural and morally unobjectionable manifestation of human sexuality.” Accordingly, he called for a spirit of tolerance and respect, much like what society expects of religious believers and atheists — what he called “civil toleration.”

But the advocates of same-sex marriage are not friendly to the idea of toleration. One prominent gay rights lawyer predicted just this kind of controversy almost a decade ago when she admitted that violations of conscience would be inevitable as same-sex marriage is legalized. Chai Feldblum, then a professor at the Yale Law School, also admitted that her acknowledgement of a violated conscience might be “cold comfort” to those whose consciences are violated.

But perhaps the strangest and most disappointing dimension of the current controversy is the entry of some Christians on the side of coercing the conscience. Writing in USA Today, Kirsten Powers accused Christians supporting such legislation of “essentially arguing for homosexual Jim Crow laws.” She explicitly denied that florists and bakers and photographers are forced to “celebrate” a same-sex union when forced to provide their services for such a ceremony.

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Well, my wife and I recently celebrated the wedding of our daughter. We not only celebrated it, we paid for it. And I can assure you that we were expecting our florist and cake baker and photographer to celebrate it as well. And we employed them for their artistic ability and we paid for their expressive ideas. Kirsten Powers went on to suggest that Christians who have such scruples about same-sex weddings are hypocritical if they do not refuse to participate in the wedding of an adulterer. As a matter of fact, some Christian wedding vendors do indeed try to screen their clients in this way. But the fact remains that the marriage of a man and a woman is, in the biblical point of view, still valid. No union of same-sex couples is valid according to the Bible. This is a huge and consequential matter of conscience and conviction.

Jesus, we should note, was often found in the presence of sinners. He came, as he said, to save those who are lost. But there is not a shred of biblical evidence to suggest that Jesus endorsed sin in any way. To suggest otherwise is an offense to Scripture and to reason.

Just days later, Powers was joined by Jonathan Merritt in yet another essay in which they argued that conservative Christians are selectively applying the Scriptures in making their case. They also denied that forcing participation in a same-sex ceremony is a violation of conscience. They wrote:

Many on the left and right can agree that nobody should be unnecessarily forced to violate their conscience. But in order to violate a Christian’s conscience, the government would have to force them to affirm something in which they don’t believe. This is why the first line of analysis here has to be whether society really believes that baking a wedding cake or arranging flowers or taking pictures (or providing any other service) is an affirmation. This case simply has not been made, nor can it be, because it defies logic.  If you lined up 100 married couples and asked them if their florist “affirmed” their wedding, they would be baffled by the question.

Well, the issue is really not what “society really believes” about baking a wedding cake, but what the baker believes. Reference to what “society really believes” is a way of dismissing religious liberty altogether. If the defining legal or moral principle is what “society really believes,” all liberties are eventually at stake.

Their article also perpetuates another major error — that the wedding of a man and a woman under sinful circumstances is tantamount to the wedding of a same-sex couple. In their words, “This makes sure to put just one kind of ‘unbiblical’ marriage in a special category.” But a same-sex marriage is not “just one kind” of an unbiblical marriage — it is believed by conservative Christians to be no marriage at all.

The state might decide to recognize a same-sex union as a marriage, but to coerce a Christian to participate in a same-sex wedding is a gross violation of religious conscience.

And it will not stop with bakers and florists and photographers. What about singers and other musicians? Under the argument of Powers and Merritt, they can be forced to sing a message they believe to be abhorrent. What about writers for hire? This argument would force a Christian who writes for hire to write a message that would violate the deepest Christian convictions. To be forced to participate in an expressive way is to be forced to endorse and to celebrate.

The most lamentable aspect of the Powers and Merritt argument is the fact that they so quickly consign Christians to the coercive power of the state. They should be fully free to try their best to present a biblical argument that the right response of Christians is to offer such services. But to condemn brothers and sisters as hypocrites and to consign their consciences to the coercion of Caesar is tragic in every aspect. We can only hope that they will rethink their argument … and fast.

Reprinted with permission from Albert Mohler

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Cardinal Dolan: Debate on denying Communion to pro-abortion pols ‘in the past’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

As America heads into its 2014 midterm elections, a leading U.S. prelate says the nation’s bishops believe debate over whether to deny Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians is “in the past.”

The Church’s Code of Canon Law states in Canon 915 that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” Leading Vatican officials, including Pope Benedict XVI himself, have said this canon ought to be applied in the case of pro-abortion Catholic politicians. However, prelates in the West have widely ignored it, and some have openly disagreed.

John Allen, Jr. of the new website Crux, launched as a Catholic initiative under the auspices of the Boston Globe, asked New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan about the issue earlier this month.

“In a way, I like to think it’s an issue that served us well in forcing us to do a serious examination of conscience about how we can best teach our people about their political responsibilities,” the cardinal responded, “but by now that inflammatory issue is in the past.”

“I don’t hear too many bishops saying it’s something that we need to debate nationally, or that we have to decide collegially,” he continued. “I think most bishops have said, ‘We trust individual bishops in individual cases.’ Most don’t think it’s something for which we have to go to the mat.”

Cardinal Dolan expressed personal disinterest in upholding Canon 915 publicly in 2010 when he told an Albany TV station he was not in favor of denying Communion to pro-abortion politicians. He said at the time that he preferred “to follow the lead of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who said it was better to try to persuade them than to impose sanctions.”

However, in 2004 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI the following year, wrote the U.S. Bishops a letter stating that a Catholic politician who would vote for "permissive abortion and euthanasia laws" after being duly instructed and warned, "must" be denied Communion. 

Cardinal Ratzinger sent the document to the U.S. Bishops in 2004 to help inform their debate on the issue. However, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, then-chair of the USCCB Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians, who received the letter, withheld the full text from the bishops, and used it instead to suggest ambiguity on the issue from the Vatican.

A couple of weeks after Cardinal McCarrick’s June 2004 address to the USCCB, the letter from Cardinal Ratzinger was leaked to well-known Vatican reporter Sandro Magister, who published the full document. Cardinal Ratzinger’s office later confirmed the leaked document as authentic.

Since the debate in 2004, numerous U.S. prelates have openly opposed denying Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

In 2008, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley suggested the Church had yet to formally pronounce on the issue, and that until it does, “I don’t think we’re going to be denying Communion to the people.”

In 2009, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C. in 2009 said that upholding of Canon 915 would turn the Eucharist into a political “weapon,” refusing to employ the law in the case of abortion supporter Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

Cardinal Roger Mahoney, archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles, said in a 2009 newspaper interview that pro-abortion politicians should be granted communion because Jesus Christ gave Holy Communion to Judas Iscariot.

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However, one of the Church’s leading proponents of the practice, U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, who is prefect of the Vatican’s Apostolic Signatura, insists that denying Communion is not a punishment.

“The Church’s discipline from the time of Saint Paul has admonished those who obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin not to present themselves for Holy Communion,” he said at LifeSiteNews’ first annual Rome Life Forum in Vatican City in early May. "The discipline is not a punishment but the recognition of the objective condition of the soul of the person involved in such sin."  

Only days earlier, Cardinal Francis Arinze, former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, told LifeSiteNews that he has no patience for politicians who say that they are “personally” opposed to abortion, but are unwilling to “impose” their views on others.

On the question of Communion, he said, “Do you really need a cardinal from the Vatican to answer that?”

Cardinal Christian Tumi, archbishop emeritus of Douala, told LifeSiteNews around the same time that ministers of Holy Communion are “bound not to” give the Eucharist to Catholic politicians who support abortion.

Pro-life organizations across the world have said they share the pastoral concern for pro-abortion politicians. Fifty-two pro-life leaders from 16 nations at the recent Rome Life Forum called on the bishops of the Catholic Church to honor Canon 915 and withhold Communion from pro-abortion politicians as an act of love and mercy.

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‘His bones are basically like paper’: Parents refuse to abort baby with rare condition

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By Kirsten Anderson

At just 11 weeks old, little Layton Diven is not like other babies. Every time his parents pick him up or cuddle him, there is a chance they will break his bones. In fact, Layton has already suffered more than 20 fractures in his short life – beginning at the moment of his birth.

Layton has Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), a rare disease that makes his bones brittle and prone to breakage. There are several types of OI, and Layton’s type, OI Type III, is the most severe type found among infants. Most babies born with the disease, like Layton, are born with multiple fractures, especially along the rib cage. Many struggle to breathe or swallow. The incurable disease is progressive, so it will get worse as he gets older.

Layton was diagnosed with OI in the womb, but abortion wasn’t an option for his parents, Chad and Angela Diven, who considered their baby a gift from God, no matter his condition.

“We weren't going to have an abortion, so he was born with the disease,” Angela Diven told KSLA. “God chose me for him, to be his mom, so I have to take that huge responsibility and do what's best for him.”

That responsibility comes with a heavy price. Layton requires 24-hour care, but both Angela and Chad have full-time jobs. He can’t go to regular daycare, because it’s not safe for him.

“You can't just pick him up like a normal baby,” Diven said. “You can't dress him like a normal child; his bones are basically like paper. He can't go to daycare because of his condition. He's medically fragile, and a daycare can't handle him."

Childcare costs are just the beginning, though – the treatments Layton will need throughout his life are expensive and may not be covered by insurance.

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Layton is currently receiving pamidronate IV therapy, which will help to strengthen his bones. But in order to be able to stand or walk, he will need metal rods implanted in his legs – an operation that will cost the Divens $80,000. The OI specialist coordinating Layton’s care is in Omaha, Nebraska, while the Divens live in Louisiana. As he grows, Layton will also require special equipment, such as a wheelchair, along with extensive physical therapy.

Despite the hardships they knew would come, the Divens stepped out in faith to bring Layton into the world. Now, they are reaching out to the internet for help to shoulder the financial burdens that came with their baby blessing. The family has set up both a GoFundMe and a Facebook page called “Lifting Up Layton Diven,” where people can receive updates on Layton’s condition and contribute to the cost of his care.

To donate to baby Layton’s medical trust fund, click here.

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Sources confirm Cardinal Burke will be removed. But will he attend the Synod?

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By John-Henry Westen

Sources in Rome have confirmed to LifeSiteNews that Cardinal Raymond Burke, the head of the Vatican’s highest court, known as the Apostolic Signatura, is to be removed from his post as head of the Vatican dicastery and given a non-curial assignment as patron of the Order of Malta.

The timing of the move is key since Cardinal Burke is currently on the list to attend October’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family. He is attending in his capacity as head of one of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, so if he is removed prior to the Synod it could mean he would not be able to attend.

Burke has been one of the key defenders in the lead-up to the Synod of the Church's traditional practice of withholding Communion from Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried.

Most of the Catholic world first learned of the shocking development through Vatican reporter Sandro Magister, whose post ‘Exile to Malta for Cardinal Burke’ went out late last night.

If Burke’s removal from the Signatura is confirmed, said Magister, the cardinal “would not be promoted - as some are fantasizing in the blogosphere - to the difficult but prestigious see of Chicago, but rather demoted to the pompous - but ecclesiastically very modest - title of ‘cardinal patron’ of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, replacing the current head, Paolo Sardi, who recently turned 80.”

At 66, Cardinal Burke is still in his Episcopal prime.

The prominent traditional Catholic blog Rorate Caeli goes as far as to say, “It would be the greatest humiliation of a Curial Cardinal in living memory, truly unprecedented in modern times: considering the reasonably young age of the Cardinal, such a move would be, in terms of the modern Church, nothing short than a complete degradation and a clear punishment.”

On Tuesday, American traditionalist priest-blogger Fr. John Zuhlsdorf also hinted he had heard the move was underway. “I’ve been biting the inside of my mouth for a while now,” he wrote. “The optimist in me was saying that the official announcement would not be made until after the Synod of Bishops, or at least the beginning of the Synod. Or at all.”

“It’s not good news,” he added.

Both Magister and Zuhlsdorf predicted that the controversial move would unleash a wave of simultaneous jubilation from dissident Catholics and criticism from faithful Catholics. The decision to remove Cardinal Burke from his position on the Congregation for Bishops last December caused a public outpouring of concern and dismay from Catholic and pro-life leaders across the globe.

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Both men speculated on the reasons for the ouster. 

Magister pointed out that Burke is the latest in a line of ‘Ratzingerian’ prelates to undergo the axe.

“In his first months as bishop of Rome, pope Bergoglio immediately provided for the transfer to lower-ranking positions of three prominent curial figures: Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Archbishop Guido Pozzo, and Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca, considered for their theological and liturgical sensibilities among the most ‘Ratzingerian’ of the Roman curia,” said Magister.

He added: “Another whose fate appears to be sealed is the Spanish archbishop of Opus Dei Celso Morga Iruzubieta.”

Fr. Zuhlsdorf observed that Pope Francis may also be shrinking the Curial offices and thus reducing the number of Cardinals needed to fill those posts. He adds however, “It would be naïve in the extreme to think that there are lacking near Francis’s elbows those who have been sharpening their knives for Card. Burke and for anyone else associated closely with Pope Benedict.” 

“This is millennial, clerical blood sport.”

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