I think it must have flown under the radar for many folks, but last week the Supreme Court issued two decisions which impacted issues many conservative Christians label as top priorities. In one ruling SCOTUS overturned lower court rulings which had allowed a Texas ban on abortions during the pandemic. What is significant about this ruling is Texas had already reversed course and the purposed law was moot. The SCOTUS ruling then was simply a statement that such laws to ban abortions would be considered unconstitutional. The second event was SCOTUS declined to hear a case about California’s prohibitions on worship services during the pandemic. Neither of these cases would be considered a landmark ruling no matter the outcome; however, considering the last three appointments by Mr. Trump there is some significance to these decisions. These decisions signify the court is remaining consistent on areas which Christians care about. I know many Christians who will be heartbroken hearing these stories, because much of their confidence in creating revival in America is focused on the Supreme Court.
Many Christians cheered as Amy Coney Barrett became Mr. Trump’s third appointment, seeing in their minds court rulings which would re-Christianize America. Now, I will not be so bold as to predict that no rulings against abortion will come down in the next few years, however, this week should temper the enthusiasm of some. These same Christians wanted a California’s laws restricting church attendance overturned, but as I have said before, this shows a lack in their creativity and theology. People should recognize a “conservative” court does not mean that it will rule in favor of politically conservative or religiously conservative ideas. Sadly, many people do not understand that fact, and more distressing is the fact that so many Christians continue to equate Constitutional with moral. Expecting SCOTUS to issue decrees to do our work for us is the supreme example of entitlement. Such entitlement thinking is an expression of laziness. We cannot adapt our methods of being the church and participating in worship to the demands of the time– the courts should rule we can meet in the same old ways. We cannot convince others that life is so sacred that pregnancies should not be terminated– the courts should rule that it is illegal.
Many conservative Christians expect the Courts to “do the right thing”, which can often be translated “agree with me”. This particular mindset comes from a form of religious nationalism and is often not a conscious opinion. Conservative Christians have the notion that since “America is a Christian Nation” whatever the Christian opinion is on an issue that should be reinforced by laws. Of course, the “Christian opinion” is exclusively the domain of their church. So, it follows the courts should end abortion and open churches because these are the Christian (read– right and just) things to do. Even if I grant that America is a Christian nation (a belief I only seem to find among lay historians), it still does not follow that the courts should favor Christian beliefs. Rather, Christians would be like the coach’s kid, the one who has to work twice as hard to prove that we belong on the team. Even if we can prove our beliefs founded this country, we must allow that others do not share those beliefs. We must acknowledge that part of our belief structure is to respect those with different beliefs and allow them the freedom to make laws. As for me, I do not expect the courts to hold to my ethics and standards of morality. Who do I expect to hold to them– Christians. And what is more I expect Christians to actually act like God is working through the Church not the Court.
If our God is greater than COVID we should be granted the wisdom to adapt to the new realities. I will readily admit it has been a struggle for my churches to adapt to the realities of the past year but we are beginning to do so and are possibly in a healthier position than this time one year ago. Hebrews tells us to value meeting together, but there are no demands beyond that; there are thousands of Christians acting like it is a religious duty to overthrow these harsh governmental constraints, and desperately hoping in the Supreme Court to right this grievous wrong. Now, I will readily admit I am not terribly familiar with the California laws restricting gathering sizes and I have read some legal commentators who have suggested there is something to the churches’ claims. Yet, SCOTUS not hearing the case suggests to me that these laws are being implemented fairly. I also look at the theology of those complaining, as well as the churches not complaining, and I come to the conclusion that pride and ignorance are behind the complaints. It strikes me that if God is working through the Church we should be about to work around a government order not to meet by the thousands. After all, what did Jesus say, “Where two or three are gathered…” not “Where the stadium is packed…”.
I have said it numerous times, we do not need the Supreme Court to strike down Roe v. Wade; rather, we need Christians to prove how sacred life is by creating a society which values life. Legality does not equal morality, if we need the Court to designate abortion as illegal to see it end, then the Church is failing to compel people that life is sacred. And the reason the Church is failing is probably because we are not treating life as sacred. (In part by clamoring for the right to cram thousands into a church during a pandemic). Now, some will respond with a slippery slope argument that, “If we let them take these rights…”. My reply, “If we do our jobs and convince people to turn to Jesus then we don’t have to worry now do we? Of course, even if we do not convince people we are right and more rights are taken, how did it end up in Rome when they started throwing Christians to the lions?” In other words, this is part of trusting God and not the institutions of the world. If our trust is in God then we are working through the Church to change the world not the Supreme Court.