Wednesday, February 29, 2012

67 Christians killed by a radical Muslim group in NIGERIA

LAGOS, - At least 67 people died in a wave of bombings and shootings carried out in northeast Nigeria overnight, officials said Saturday, as frightened mourners left their homes to begin burying their dead.

A radical Muslim sect known locally as Boko Haram claimed responsibility Saturday for the attacks, which represent the most coordinated and wide-ranging assault yet in their increasingly bloody sectarian fight with Nigeria's weak central government. The sect, which wants the strict implementation of Shariah law across the nation of more than 160 million people, promised to carry out more attacks.

Read the rest here.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

First Sunday in Lent

II Corinthians 6:1-10  *  Matthew 4:1-11
A new kind of Pelagianism captured the imagination of twentieth century clergy. Pelagius was Britain's first- sadly not last- heretic, and he taught that man was not really dead in trespasses and sins by Adam's transgression. His doctrine was that one could pull himself up by his own bootstraps, and become holy by sheer will power. Never mind everything St. Paul wrote about the weakness of the flesh. Never mind the words of Jesus: "Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world."1 Because they had embraced, essentially, a quais-Unitarian view of God, they were unable to accept the Gospel.      
To accept the Gospel you must come to a very simple recognition of fact: Life is not a test. Those who teach, in the name of religion, that life is a test, and at the end you get a passing or failing grade, will never understand the portion of the Gospel according to Matthew that we read this first Sunday in Lent. Like Pelagius of old, his modern followers cannot see that Christ came in the fullness of his divine nature, taking our finite and mortal human nature into his uncreated eternal life. They cannot see that He reached down and saved us from sin and death, that His cross and passion were the sacrifice by which we receive forgiveness of sins, and that He was raised again for our justification; that only by His cross and passion, and glorious resurrection and ascension, are we given life and immortality. They cannot see that He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Life is not a test; it is a shipwreck. Christ did not come to prepare us for a test; He came to rescue us, to pull us out of the sea of sin and death and place our feet on solid ground. If life were a test we would all get an "f" and be cast into Hell. But, the Gospel is this: "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."2 
So, the message of today's Gospel is not, "imitate Jesus: if he could do it so can you." Yes, try to imitate Jesus the best you can by doing always what pleases the Father. But, when, not “if” but when, you fail, confess your sins and be forgiven. This is one area in which you cannot imitate Jesus, for he had no sins to repent of. We have no power in ourselves, of ourselves, to save ourselves. The temptations of Jesus in this passage from Matthew are strange to us. They exist on a higher level than the carnality we must wrestle with. I have never been tempted to use divine power to turn stones into bread. Have any of you? I have been tempted to eat when I was fasting, and tempted to satisfy the body in ways that are outside of God's will; but, never to turn stones into bread.          We need to examine these temptations in light of what they were for Christ, and in light of what they mean for us. Two things that come to our aid are from St. Paul. One is the line, "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." 3 The other is, "But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many." 4    
With these passages in mind, let us think of the temptations Christ endured, first in terms of their meaning in his life, and then what they mean for us. Always remember this; Christ being holy and sinless was not a fallen creature. He was the Word made flesh, the fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily among us, fully God and fully man. It was not the fullness of His divine nature shrunken down into humanity, but the raising of human nature into His infinite Divine Person. For us, the temptations that come are common to man. To the holy, righteous savior, born of a virgin by the Holy Spirit instead of the seed of a fallen man, He is the pure and perfect man. These temptations we read about in this chapter of Matthew were not common to man, in one sense, but were common to man in another sense.
The first temptation was this: "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread." The temptation was to use His Divine power in a way that was foreign to his very character as God. In everything we see from creation, God always used his power to make, that is, to give. Everything is grace, including life itself. The creation of life, including human life, met no need of God, for God has need of nothing.5 All of God's creative work was from His love, by which love He gives, seeking nothing for Himself. 6 The Son of God came into the world because of God's immeasurable love, with the intention of sharing the humility of a creature, and suffering the death of the cross as the Atonement, that which no sinner could make either for himself or as a ransom for his brother. The will of God foretold by the Prophets, that Christ rose again on third day, was for our sakes; by His resurrection He meets our greatest need, the gift of eternal life to save us from the full power of the grave. With mighty signs and wonders He went about "doing good, healing all who were oppressed by the Devil."7 But, here, in the desert wilderness after forty days of fasting, He was tempted by the Devil to use miraculous power for Himself. But, that creative power had only been used in charity, that is agape- the love of God.
The second temptation was to throw Himself down from the temple, that is, to put the truth itself on trial. It is this temptation that demonstrates the cunning of Satan in his misuse of the very scriptures themselves. Notice how he misquotes the Psalm, taking it out of its context that teaches us not to fear death as an ultimate power, so that its meaning is reduced to something no bigger than this mortal life. Notice too the addition of three words not in the real Psalm: "lest thou strike thy foot against a stone" becomes, in the Devil's mouth, "lest at any time thou strike thy foot against a stone." At any time?  The condition is taken away, and the promise mis-stated.
This temptation was to place the word of God on trial, and to do so by using an arbitrary and false measure, one forbidden by the Law itself, namely, testing God.         
The final temptation is subtle indeed. "The devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto Him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." It is the plan of God that all nations serve and obey Christ when he comes in His kingdom 8. When He comes again in glory, this will happen, and will happen in a way far beyond our present ability to perceive. Understand the nature of this temptation for what it was: This temptation was to avoid the cross. This is why we see this echoed in Christ's words to his own Apostle Peter. Remember one day, as we read later on in the Gospel According to St. Matthew, when the Lord predicted his coming suffering and death, that Peter, "…took Him, and began to rebuke Him, saying, 'Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.' But He turned, and said unto Peter, 'Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.'" 9       
The temptation was to arrive early at the goal by abandoning the Father's will, by avoiding the suffering and death which alone could reconcile man to God without any compromise of His holiness, and which in making sacrifice also shows the seriousness of our sins to change us morally. Retire early, avoid the suffering, do not take up the cross. Such a decision would have been to turn away from the Father indeed.      
In fact, there was no danger that Christ would yield to this. But we see important things for our own edification. The book of Genesis describes the Fall this way:

"And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat." 10 

Look at these three things: 1) Good for food. 2) Pleasant to the eyes. 3) Desired to make one wise. Compare this to the words of St. John:

"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." 11  

Compare the two lists: "Good for food" to "the lust of the flesh." We forget that the lust of the flesh is not only sexual lusts and passions, but also all other things that drag us away from God because of their direct effect on the desires of the body. This includes abuse of sex and of food, but also the abuse of drugs and alcohol that destroys lives and families. Beyond the obvious, read the fifth chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians about "the works of the flesh" that are the opposite of "the fruit of the Spirit."

Compare "Pleasant to the eyes "with "the lust of the eyes." Remember the words of St. Paul: "for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet."12 The lust of the eyes is what Jesus spoke of when He said that it is the sin of adultery to look on a woman to lust after her. He was simply driving home the point already in the Law of Moses, in the tenth Commandment: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, etc." 13 The lust of the eyes is never content with the gifts that God has given, and is the opposite of that love that "seeketh not her own." It wants more, even if your neighbor is deprived or diminished. The lust of the eyes does not give thanks to God for what He has given, but finds fault with Him for not giving to our impossible satisfaction. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content  with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." 14 Giving in to the lust of the eyes is like drinking seawater. It never satisfies, and indeed, each drink of the seawater (that is, saltwater) only makes one thirstier and thirstier, leading to death by dehydration, and only after madness.   

Compare "it was desired to make one wise" to "the pride of life." Pride requires an illusion. The truth makes a man humble. The truth is the very opposite of Pelagianism; for the fact is, you cannot go one day without committing sins if only in your thoughts. The truth is, you cannot keep your own soul alive. The truth is contrary to "Motivational Seminars," which teach the sin of pride a thousand different ways. Every day, in every way, it is not getting better and better, no not at all. You are aging, and as your eyes fail, and your hair gets gray or falls out, and your skin wrinkles, you are reminded that the body is subject to the uncleanness of death 15. This is part of the Fall. Pride says life must be a test, and we can pass it. Humility says, "God I have earned no better than an 'f', that is, everlasting damnation. Save me from sin and death." A man trying to stay afloat in a shipwreck has no time to impress anybody; he must, with the humility that realism brings, accept salvation from his rescuer.     
Christ overcame the things that are in the world. "The world" in this sense, that has only these three sinful categories, is best described in the first chapter of John's Gospel: "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not." The world is fallen into the state of not knowing its Creator, even in his Incarnation. 16 This season of Lent, learn the humility to take seriously these three enemies: The world, the Flesh and the Devil. Learn to fight the temptations used by the Devil through "the things that are in the world." Jesus used the scriptures, the sword of the Spirit; so, you need to know the word of God, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest it. 17 The disciplines of Lent are useful indeed. Fasting is a way to humble our souls before God, 18 and giving is a way to show gratitude to the Lord.

Let us have a holy Lent, knowing that without him, we can do nothing.19

1) John 8:23
2) John 3:17
3) I Corinthians 10:13
4) Romans 5:15
5) Acts 17:25
6) I Corinthians 13:5
7) Acts 10:38
8) Psalm 2
9) Matthew 16:22, 23
10) Genesis 3:4-6
11) I John 2:15-17
12) Romans 7:7
13) Cp. Exodus 20:17 to Matthew 5:28
14) Hebrews 13:5
15) See my sermon for Trinity XVI.
16) John 1:10
17) Ephesians 6:17, in context.
18) Psalm 35:18
19) John 15:5

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:12-17 * Matt. 6:16-21
We should be uncomfortable if we hear, in connection with Lent, only concerns about the many things from which we abstain. Yes, we intend to fast and we intend to abstain, and in our outward acts we ought also to place special emphasis on works of mercy. But, these are to aid us in redirecting our hearts to God. The main issue is not simply the rules of Lent, but the purpose those rules are meant to serve. The Gospel reading for this day speaks of that above all else- where the heart is. What we fuss over and care most about is our treasure, that is to say, what we treasure. If, as our Lord tells us to do, we pray, fast and give alms in secret, caring only that the Lord sees, then it is all for the right reason, the reason of a heart of gratitude to God for His mercy. The severe disciplines of Lent are in substance a  penance, that is, an opportunity to redirect our focus on God. It is this same chapter of Matthew in which the Lord Jesus goes on to say, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (v.33) So, in all your Lenten disciplines, pray that the Holy Spirit will so work in you that your heart is turned to God.  
The ashes you wear on your foreheads are not in accord with all that is trendy and stylish in religion; for they are not about healing, prosperity and self-improvement. They are about the one thing in life that you cannot avoid, that one thing that ruins all your hopes and dreams, the one thing that brings the rich man down to the level of the most poor, and that reduces man to the level even of the beasts, until God saves us in our helpless and hopeless weakness from the fate of all flesh. "Remember O Man that thou art dust, and to dust shalt thou return."
Perhaps the women wonder why we say the same words to each person. No, I have not mistaken you for men. But, we are all of the race named Adam, we all belong to the species named Man after its first father whose Fall into sin has unleashed death upon everyone. It is in your first father Adam, the head of Fallen humanity, that you inherited mortality. The words were spoken to Adam in the third chapter of Genesis, where we see clearly to whom God spoke them: "And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." (Gen. 3:17-19)        
I thought our religion blamed Eve, for isn't that what all the revisionists are telling us? It seems they are wrong. The Bible lays the responsibility on Adam, which means "Man." This, Adam, is the name God gave to the human race before the Fall, in the day He made them and blessed them. (Gen. 5:2) This has great meaning, as we shall see. 
A movie made in 1951, starring Kirk Douglas, named Detective Story, takes place in a major American city. It is about police and criminals on the surface, but seems to be about sin and redemption under the surface. The detective played by Kirk Douglas hates criminals, and feels very righteous. But, his father was a criminal. As the story unfolds, the detective, Jim McLeod, becomes increasingly aware that, even though he is no criminal, he is not the good and righteous man of his own delusions and self-deception. He learns, quite painfully, that he is sinful and capable of hurting the one person he loves most, his wife. In one scene, he tells how he always wanted to be different from his father, but now discovers that his father, the worst part of what his father was, lives inside him. This movie was made long ago, before the current unhealthy trend in Hollywood always to paint everyone's father as a bad guy, and all father-son relationships as full of strife. But, in 1951 the lines Kirk Douglas spoke were probably shocking. The father that lived inside him seems to have been written with a symbolic and theological meaning. The father, whose evil the hitherto self-righteous detective could not escape, spoke really of Adam. That is, he was a fallen child of a sinful race called Man. 
You were born subject to death because you were conceived in iniquity (as Psalm 51 says). The revisionists are quite wrong in thinking our Bible lays the blame on Eve, for St. Paul takes it up in these words when writing to the Church in Rome:

"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned...For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord." (see Rom. 5:12-21)

And writing to the Church in Corinth he said,

"For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (I Cor. 15:21,22)

Someone may think I am getting ahead of the season by mentioning our hope and our salvation in Jesus Christ. Not so, for that is the message; in fact it is always the message. In Easter, yes, then we shall concentrate on our other father, our everlasting father (Isaiah 9:6,7) by whose obedience we can, indeed, have treasure in heaven, and therefore a good and sound heart. In that season we will dwell on the Second Man, the Last Adam, the Lord from Heaven (I Cor. 15: 45-47).
But, in Lent we concentrate on penance. That is, seeing our hopelessness, we treat our bodies with severity of disciplines in order to focus our attention on that heaven where we ought to have our treasure. In the Law of Moses, when a man died his brother would raise up a child to be named as the son of his dead brother. Such a man had two fathers, one natural and one legal. We have two fathers. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." In Adam we die; in Adam we are hopeless; in Adam we are helpless; In Adam we are sinners. But, when we were baptized our life began again, and if we have a lively faith, then we know our other father. That other father, the Father of the new humanity, died to make us, by adoption, children of His Father. In Christ the Everlasting Father of the new and redeemed human race, God saves us from sin and death; for that we could not do ourselves.         
For now, like Det. Jim McLeod in Detective Story, we must face with honesty the simple truth that we cannot keep ourselves alive. The evil we might think we hate, especially when it takes forms we are able to despise as beneath us, is really in us, in each and everyone of us. Our Fallen father Adam is in us with all his sinfulness, and we are not free. We shall all return to the dust; No truer words have been spoken than these: "thou shalt surely die." Just as we must pass through this time of mortality and weakness, while living with the sorrowful reality of death, we do so with the sure and certain hope of the resurrection on the Last Day. So, we pass through this penitential season of Lent aware that Easter lies ahead. We do have faith in the coming resurrection; and so, at this time, having our treasure in heaven rather than in the things of this world that passes away, we follow Christ to his cross. This is the season that teaches us to face our helpless and sinful condition, and to make war upon it, so that we may truly become ever more thankful for His salvation.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Quinquagesima or the next Sunday before Lent

I Corinthians 13  *  Luke 18:31-43

I am glad that we use the old English, the Authorized, that is King James Bible. I prefer the use of the word “charity” to the word “love” for the Greek word, ἀγάπη (agape). Our use of language follows certain traditions that predated the Bible in English. The word “charity” speaks very specifically of the highest kind of love, and cannot be used properly for anything lower. The English word, “charity” is from another old language, one into which the Bible was translated by Saint Jerome, namely Latin. Agape was translated into the Latin caritas. The most famous line using that word is the one by Saint Augustine: In Omnibus Caritas- “In all things charity.”     
The word “love” is used in modern translations, but I am glad that more and more writers are rediscovering the word “charity.” It cannot be used in a way that confuses its meaning. You can say, “I love a big juicy steak.” But, you cannot say, “I have charity for a big juicy steak.” The possibility of interpreting the meaning of “love” in a selfish way disappears if we understand agape, or caritas, that is, charity.  
The modern world has been infected by theories of human psychology that no well-balanced person can accept. By these theories every action, every feeling, every thought is always selfish all the time. By these theories, every human thought, word and deed is predetermined by someone's psychological condition; and everything is really completely selfish. These theories destroy all notions of courage, and of giving, and of everything that comes from the virtue we call charity. And, these theories come, ultimately, from the enemy of mankind, the adversary of every human soul. 
The highest of the virtues is charity, and the scriptures tell us that this kind of love is “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.” That is from Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. And, in his Epistle to the Galatians he tells us that this love, agape, is the first of “the fruit of the Spirit.” In every way we are dependent on the Holy Spirit in order to have this virtue, because charity is the love of God Himself. And, this love can be planted and grown within us, but not simply from our efforts. We need the Holy Spirit of God. 
To understand it, we must first know a bit of theology. We need to know God as He reveals Himself by His Word and by His Spirit. You see, to know this love we must first know that God is “Wholly Other”- that is, His nature is distinct from every created nature, visible and invisible. The angels do not share God’s nature, because they, like us, are creatures. God is Other. And, this must be followed by knowing the words of Saint Paul, that God “hath need of nothing.” The reason that agape never seeks anything for itself, that it has no selfish element, is because God is completely without need of anything. God did not make the human race because He needed us. The love of God is satisfied in eternity within the Trinity of Persons, so that God is never alone. Man does not bring comfort, solace or companionship to the Trinity, because God “hath need of nothing.”    
My younger brother, David, made a big splash with his first book, The Beauty of the Infinite. The most important point he made in it is that God made everything as gratuity; that is a gift. Creation is not necessary. The universe did not have to be. You did not have to be born. Our very existence is completely arbitrary and unnecessary, the result of extravagant Divine generosity. Why, then, are we here? Not as objects that can give God anything, but as objects of His love.     
Knowing this, we can again value the reality of every good thing that comes from the virtue called charity. Selflessness does exist, existing first in God’s gracious giving of life itself. The heroic sacrifice, the selfless pouring out of the heart, all comes first and foremost, and only, from the One Who is Love. The world is safe for romantics, or at least well-balanced individuals, after all; the most cold-hearted forms of clinical theory that would take away from us everything beautiful and noble, will be done away with when the heavens are rolled up as a scroll, and we see the Lord in His glory face to face. 

Knowing this, we can look again at today’s Gospel, and see it for what it is. Hear the words of the prophet Isaiah [from chapter 53]:

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.”

This ought to bring to life the words we heard from Saint Luke:

“Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again.”   

......Isaiah foretold that simple phrase, “Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures.” (I Cor. 15:3)- that is, in fulfillment of the scriptures. And the words “and He rose the third day, according to the scriptures”- again, fulfilling the scriptures. That He rose again fulfills the words of Isaiah, that after He was dead and buried “He shall prolong His days.” And, Saint Paul tells us that the love of God was commended toward us because, “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” I want to make this clear: In order to know the love of God for you, lift up your eyes and look at Jesus on His cross, dying in your place. You must take it personally.1 Once knowing that love, you can be given the strength to have such love for others, even for those who respond to it with hostility. This love is true freedom having no obligation to respond in kind to abuse; soaring above malice and bitterness, spreading mercy like wings.          
........Our creation itself is a gift, something God gave to us. Our redemption from sin and death is a gift as well. In the healing of the blind man (in today's reading from the Gospel) we see that God does not deal with us as our sins deserve. The blind man, did not deserve to be healed, because, like everyone of us, he was a sinner. But, he was healed; he was given back the gift of eyesight. The healing of the blind man signifies that God forgives sin; every miracle of healing signifies this, because “with His stripes we are healed.” The healing of the blind man was a gift, given by the One Who earned that forgiveness for him, which he could not earn for himself. The question that we must ask is not: "Why are so many people not healed of their illnesses?" The question that we must ask is: "What does it mean that Christ heals anyone ever at all?" Saint Anselm tells us that all of the benefits of Christ’s suffering and death have been given to us, for He had no need of anything for Himself. So, when I see Christ showing mercy to the blind man, I understand better what happens later in the story; I understand better what His cross has done for me.

In that we see love that is completely selfless and giving.

1. Consider the words of St. Paul: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" Gal. 2:20

More on the battle for religious liberty in America

"Morality is not about keeping as long a leash as you can on the harms you cause. It is about keeping upright intentions and rejecting unfair tradeoffs—neither of which Obama’s proposed revision even pretends to affect." See the full story here.

Dr. Robert George also wrote the following on his Facebook wall, and it is so interesting it is worth passing on here, as is the link to the petition (embedded). 

"Hundreds of leading scholars, university presidents and other academic administrators, activists, and religious leaders from a multitude of faiths, have joined together in a statement rejecting the HHS mandate requiring employers to provide, directly or indirectly, insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations, and contraceptives, and also rejecting President Obama's so-called 'accommodation' of religious liberty as a mere 'accounting trick' that changes nothing of moral substance. The statement is entitled "Unacceptable" and is available here: Its signers include Mary Ann Glendon, of the Harvard Law School; Rabbi David Novak of the Univeristy of Toronto; the eminent Muslim scholar and public intellectual Shaykh Hamza Yusuf; University of Chicago Professor Jean Bethke Elshtain; the great religious liberty scholar and appellate litigator Michael McConnell of Stanford Law School; Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Vice President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; the distinguished political theorist Thomas Pangle of the University of Texas; Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Yeshiva University; Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia; Evangelical leader and Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson; Archbishop Peter Akinola, former Anglican Primate of Nigeria; Dr. Paige Patterson, former President of the Southern Baptist Convention; Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III of the Church of God in Christ; Stockholm Prize laureate Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe of Princeton University; and on and on. Not only is this an alliance of Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Latter-Day Saints, Jews, Muslims, and others; the list of signers includes people from across the political spectrum--liberals, conservatives, and people fitting into neither category. I believe that this is an unprecedented coming together of people to defend religious liberty and the rights of conscience against a deeply misguided and unjust governmental action."

Monday, February 13, 2012


Article XVIII

Of obtaining eternal salvation only by the name of Christ

They also are to be had accursed that presume to say that every man shall be saved by the law or sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that law and the light of nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out to us only the name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.

De speranda aetrna salute tantum in nomine Christi

Sunt et illi anathematizandi qui dicere audent unumquemque in lege aut secta quam profitetur esse servandum, modo iuxta illam et lumen naturae accurate vixerit: eum sacrae literae tantum Iesu Christi nomen praedicent in quo salvos fieri homines oporteat.

Robert Hart
This Article alludes to words spoken by St. Peter, having stated as fully as possible “Jesus Christ of Nazareth” as his subject: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12 & see v.10).” The universal nature of this message is clear, “under heaven among men.” Put another way, this means on earth for every human being.
This ties in to the fact that the Church is commanded to preach the Gospel to every nation, which phrase is expanded in the Book of Revelation to mean, “Every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation (5:9).” A nation is, in the Greek New Testament, is not a nation state but an inherited ethnicity. The word is θνος (ethnos). St. Paul preached that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth (Acts 17:26).
Among other things we must learn from this is one simple fact: Christians have no excuse whatsoever for racism. We are all of one blood, which today is a very basic and well known fact of medical science. This means that the theology of the Incarnation as stated in the words, “And the Logos was made flesh, and dwelt among us (John 1:14),” is deliberately inclusive. By taking human nature, the eternally begotten Son of the Everlasting Father made Himself a relative of the whole human race, everyone everywhere divided as they are in time and place.
One major issue among the Jewish people of the first century was their distinctive place as the people of God; circumcision was the sign of the covenant God made with Abraham. As early as the preaching of John the Baptist, it was proclaimed that the Gentiles would become full and equal heirs of the covenant: “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham (Luke 3:8).” In the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts, we see that God revealed, in the manner of His own choosing, the full meaning of revelation that went back to the ancient Prophets of Scripture, that John the Baptist preached, and that our Lord Jesus Christ taught. When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius, on men who were not circumcised, in exactly the same manner as He had come on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 11:15, “as on us at the beginning”), the “middle wall of partition” between Jew and Gentile was broken down in Christ (Ephesians 2”14). That one and only significant barrier broken down, between people in the covenant and those born outside of the covenant, no other barrier, whether of race or clan, can stand.
There was no controversy about what had happened at the house of Cornelius, or about what it meant, among the Apostles. In sharp contradiction to several modern writers, the Church was not divided on the issue of Gentile inclusion. When we come to the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts, in which Peter explains what had occurred, we find the matter neatly summed up for us:

“And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life. (vs. 15-18).”

This was the doctrine of the Church. After a few years this Apostolic doctrine was challenged by the first heresy in its history. A party of self-appointed teachers, having no authority, troubled believers among the churches of the Gentiles by teaching them that they had to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses to be saved. So, we read in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts that their heresy was simply and directly condemned by the first Council of the Church, wherein the Apostles and Elders issued a letter for all to read.
The universal nature of the Gospel and of the Church have been revealed to us by God. To preach the Gospel to all peoples everywhere, to recognize the missionary nature of our faith, to obey the Great Commission, has become controversial in modern times among people who claim to be believing Christians. It is now considered, by these modern critics, an insult to other cultures that we would presume to convert them to our faith and baptize them into the Church. But, our orders have their root in the first commandment, “Thou shalt have none other gods before Me (Exodus 20:3).” Translated literally, the first of the Ten Commandments says, “No other gods may you have for yourselves in my presence (i.e. ‘before me’ or very literally, ‘in front of my face.’).”
The Old Testament command for dealing with the gods of the nations was told in the negative, for example this: “But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire (Deuteronomy 7:5).” The relevant commandments were about the Land given to the people of Israel, to banish from it the cruel pagan practices that included among their rituals acts of sexual perversion and child sacrifice in the fire. But, in the judgments rendered by God through Moses in the ten plagues, judgments expressly on Egyptian gods, the revelation had been given that YHVH was the only true God in heaven and earth. And, this revelation is a constant theme throughout the Old Testament. The prophets foretold a day when all the nations of the earth would be turned to the one true God, the God of Israel, but never explained exactly how that would come about.
That fullness of revelation has been granted in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:5), and it is He Who issued our orders as His Church. The New Testament commandment is to preach the Gospel in every nation and make disciples:

“And Jesus came and spoke unto them, saying, All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go therefore, and make disciples from all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. (Matthew 28:18-20).”

This does not justify the use of arms and force (which cannot convert anyone anyway), but it does command the art of persuasion by preaching the Gospel. The Gospel is briefly summarized in the New Testament (I Corinthians 15:1-11) as the saving acts of our Lord Jesus Christ on behalf of the whole human race scattered, as it is, in time and among the inhabited places of earth. Christ commands, as well, the establishment of His Church among all nations, into which each person is baptized, and in which each person is taught.
In response to the modern attack on our missionary commission, the Church of Rome is to be credited for the document Dominus Iesus which came out under the Imprimatur of Pope John-Paul II in the year 2000. Although we cannot accept the exclusive claims of the Church of Rome that appear in part of that document (all quoted from earlier documents, and which should have come as no surprise), the main point of it was genuinely ecumenical and very true; for its overall message was the same as our own Article XVIII. We do have a missionary commission laid upon us by the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. No matter how much various individuals may complain, and no matter how much they may present false historical claims about an ideal and peaceful pagan utopia, we are to preach the Gospel to all nations on earth and establish Christ’s Church everywhere for the good of all peoples.

The Article does not give treatment to questions about whether or not people may be saved who have not personally believed in Christ. It does not attempt to answer, “what about the souls of those who have never heard?” What it says is very direct about those who “presume to say that every man shall be saved by the law or sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that law and the light of nature.” That is, whatever false ideas, and even whatever truth, may be found in various religions, no one is saved by adherence to those beliefs. This truth stated in the negative is then answered by the truth of revelation stated in the positive, “For Holy Scripture doth set out to us only the name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.”
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (John 14:6).”
The major two-fold theme of the Gospel According to John is the Trinity and the Incarnation. There is one Son or Logos Who alone provides access to the Father. Christ alone is the salvation of the human race. This fits perfectly with the words of St. Paul, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time (I Timothy 2:5,6).”
Article XVIII is basically saying this same thing in other words. Jesus did not say in this statement anything to the effect that people ignorant of the Gospel, who therefore have no personal faith instructed by clear teaching concerning the Son, cannot be saved. That question is not answered by these words or by our Anglican Article. But, the fact that we are given the Great Commission is enough both to obey it because Christ himself commanded it, and with the understanding that the Gospel is the spiritual medicine needed by the whole world, and the Church is the spiritual hospital needed everywhere. 

Fr. Laurence Wells
From Genesis to Revelation, the Biblical Gospel is marked by a tension between the universal and particular.  In God’s covenant with Abraham, we hear that in Abraham “all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gn 12: 3), but when Abraham prayed for his son Ishmael, he was told that even if certain blessings would befall  Ishmael’s descendants, “I will establish my covenant with Isaac.”  (Gn 17:21).  At the other end of the Bible, we hear of “a great multitude which no man can number” in heavenly bliss, but also that “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” ( Rv 7:9 and 20:15).  The Word of God does not encourage any insouciant universalism.      
The Biblical hinge for Article XVIII is found in two texts.  In John 14:6, from the lips of the Savior Himself, we are taught, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  This is reinforced by the text which the Article quotes somewhat obliquely: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  We cannot talk around the plain meaning of Peter’s exclusive claim.  He was addressing “rulers and elders and scribes” under the co-presidency of Annas and Caiaphas, the very group which had tried Jesus in the wee hours of Good Friday, while Peter himself was interrogated by a servant girl.  He was telling them in unvarnished language that unless they acknowledge this Jesus as the Christ and embrace Him as Lord and Savior, they will go to hell.   The same warning stands for all who hear the Gospel but fail to embrace the One who is proclaimed as “the only Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus”  (1 Tim 2:5).  This radical exclusivism accounts for the painstaking urgency of New Testament preaching, an urgency missing from the moral lectures which pass for preaching in so many Anglican pulpits.  Apart from Christ, we are lost.  In Christ we have eternal life.    
Now what does all this say to the pastoral problem which a missionary in Japan or India faces when a new convert, with a cultural heritage of ancestral piety, asks, “Are my ancestors in hell?”  The missionary, who does not wish to offend with the common evangelical answer, might say:
1.      Oh no, everyone goes to heaven. In spite of our exclusive-sounding texts, we know that God is love, or
2.     If they lived a good moral life, doing the best they could, then God will make an exception for them,  or again
3.     Their religion was a noble tradition and is also a revelation of God’s gift of salvation.  Christianity is a new and improved version of their faith but not essentially different.
None of these responses are Biblically faithful.  But neither is the standard evangelical answer (even if it was the one Thomas Cranmer might have given in 1553 when he wrote this Article).  And before popular evangelicalism is pilloried, we must not forget the Patristic background in “nulla salus extra ecclesiam” or in the stern opening words of the Athanasian Creed.  The best response, both pastorally and doctrinally, might be along these lines: “If your ancestors embraced the measure of God’s revelation which He gave to them and loved God in return, then they are not without hope.”     
The New Testament itself, in the Parable of the Great Assizes, seems to deal with this problem, which surely must have emerged in the Apostolic era.  In Matt 25 we see the eschatological Son of Man seated on His throne of judgment, dividing the world into sheep and goats, eternally destined in opposite directions.  But the final reward comes as a great surprise to all.  “When did we see thee, Lord?”  The sheep are not told, “Even if you did not see me, I am rewarding your good deeds and virtuous lives.”  The goats do not hear, “You are eternally lost because you failed to make a decision for Christ.”  The eternal destiny of both groups depends absolutely on their relationship to HIM, in whatever way He chose to manifest Himself to them.  
Whereas our Article might seem to support the “heaven for born-again Christians only” tenet of popular evangelicalism, it is interesting that the Puritan Westminster Confession of Faith offers a more Biblical view.  There it is stated that “all other elect persons [besides elect infants dying in infancy] who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word, … are  saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when and where, and how he pleaseth.”   
To sum up:  Christ, as the unique and exclusive Savior of lost sinners, must be urgently preached and any compromise of His sole unshared authority must be sternly rejected.  But that very authority forbids us to assume specific judgment of the eternal state of any.  It was concerning the final destiny that He said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” 

Saturday, February 11, 2012


II COR. 11:19-31 * LUKE 8:4-15

The Gospel and the Epistle appointed for this day blend well together when we consider the patience of St. Paul. He endured all things that could come on anyone, and so brought forth fruit an hundredfold. When he began his walk he turned away from the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. In time of persecution he did not fall away; and in his case the time of persecution was lifelong until his death as a martyr. Instead of complaining that God was terribly unfair in leading him through fire and water, he gave thanks that he could suffer with Christ. Paul saw his own sufferings as leading to good, especially emphasizing how God used those very trials to further his evangelistic mission as an apostle. Through those sufferings Paul was able to reach people with the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his salvation.

He said as much in another epistle, writing to the Church in Philipi these words:

"But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear." (Philippians 1:12-14)

In today's epistle, he did not write the long list of things he endured in order to boast, but to establish credentials that his critics did not have, namely certain false apostles and teachers who were troubling the Church in Corinth. That is, he was not waxing rich or gaining status in the world, and was not living in luxury. That he chose to continue his life of persecution and danger, and great discomfort, instead of going back to Tarsus to profit from his family's tent-making business (no doubt as suppliers to the imperial army), was offered as proof that his service was genuine. For that reason, and that reason alone, he wrote those words to the Christians in Corinth, that they would hear him and turn away from the false teachers. The Apostle warned about them in the same chapter from which today's Epistle reading was taken:

"But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him." (II Corinthians 11:3,4) 

It really does matter who you allow to serve as your spiritual leader, teacher and guide, due to the very same problem: A false gospel, another Jesus, and another spirit which we did not receive (that is, not the Holy Spirit Who we received in our Confirmation). St. Paul actually came right out and told the Corinthian Christians that some ministers are called into their vocation by Satan, not by God.

"For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works." (vs. 13-15)

Issues are of eternal consequence, not simply matters of liturgical taste. Furthermore, with eternity in mind, live your life as part of the Church, for that is where the true Gospel is taught, where the pure Word of God is preached and where the sacraments are duly administered. That is what matters, whether every detail is to our taste or not. It is not about satisfying our emotions (which satisfaction may come or not come) but about eternal life with Christ.

It is in this context, when St. Paul told those ancient Christians in the city of Corinth that they needed to follow him, and reject the false ministers of a false Gospel, that he reminded them of his own sufferings and persecutions. I have quoted a few parts of the same chapter that lead to the Epistle appointed for this day. Let me remind you of a little bit of it:

"Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not."

In light of that, once again I want to quote those words from another epistle, the Epistle to the Philippians:

"But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel."

"The furtherance of the gospel" means, of course, the mission of the Church, preaching the word of God to those who have not heard it. That is how the Apostles laid the foundation. They built the Church wherever they went by preaching the Gospel. And, the troubling reality is, we are much too capable of presenting something less than the Gospel.

We must never allow our Faith to become so complicated that we cannot easily and briefly articulate the essential message of salvation that everyone needs to hear. Nor can we afford to be distracted by many pressing matters that, in the end, simply prevent us from serving God. If Satan has beguiled any of our people through his subtilty, it has been by distorting the message or hiding it under a pile of stuff, maybe rubble, or maybe under a pile of beautiful ornate treasures that simply distract us from the real priorities. We must not allow anything to so complicate our beliefs that we forget the Gospel, how to preach it with power, with the right kind of simplicity, and with conviction.

Who is the sower, and what does he sow? The answer is in the Gospel reading we have heard today: "The seed is the word of God." So, after Mark's account (4:14) of the same parable, the Lord explains simply, "The sower soweth the word." To whom do we sow the Word? Now, that is also important to get right.

What kind of farmer would sow the seed everywhere, on all kinds of ground, the shallow ground of the path, the rocky ground, and among the thorns? The sower in this parable does not seem to be very careful with that seed. He appears to be less than frugal. He seems extravagant, like a spendthrift. But, recall the parable of the wheat and the tares. The landowner, representing God in the parable, did not send his servants to uproot the tares prematurely, lest they uproot the wheat as well.

Just as we cannot tell who will prove to be genuine wheat (that is who will actually hear the Gospel, and truly repent and believe the message), so we cannot really know into what kind of ground we are sowing. We cannot see who will receive the seed into the good ground of an honest heart, for we cannot see as God sees. It is our task to sow the seed everywhere, as wasteful as that may appear to be.

I have seen parishes and their clergy fall into the trap of looking for P.L.U.--"people like us." Over the years in various churches I have met clergy, and even a few self-appointed lay-sheriffs, who mistake their position for that of a "gatekeeper." They treat potential new members the way insurance underwriters treat new applicants, looking them over to see if they should be approved or not. It is especially troubling when these underwriters and sheriffs purposely drive away people based on churchmanship, whether in the name of Anglo-Catholic High churchmanship, or in the name of pietist Low churchmanship. In truth, there must be room for everyone who is looking for a valid church, just as there must be an effort also to reach people who are completely unchurched, and to introduce them first and foremost to Christ Himself. We have been commissioned to spread the word to "all sorts and conditions of men." It isnot a commission exclusively to "people like us," but to everyone.

The message is simple: "Repent and believe the Gospel." The sacramental life of the Church follows, and we are supposed to bring people into that life; but, before we can do that, we must be willing and able to present the Gospel of Christ. Listen to these words by William Temple, the 98th Archbishop of Canterbury (1942–44):

"“Evangelism is to so present Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit that men might come to trust Him as Savior and serve Him as Lord in the fellowship of His church.”

The sower presents Jesus Christ as the Gospel reveals Him. He is One with the Father in eternity, and Who also took human nature into His Divine person, born of a virgin as fully human (while remaining One with the Father as God the Son), Who died on the cross as the spotless Lamb of God to take away all our sins, Who rose again from the dead on the third day, Who appeared to witnesses after His resurrection, and Who will come again in glory. Those who believe in Christ are welcomed into the fellowship of His Body, the Church, to live the sacramental life of disciples.

Now, the purpose of false apostles, and deceitful workers, the ministers of Satan, is to take away this Faith from our minds. Failing that, their purpose is to get us so distracted by other things (even things that may seem good or religious), so as to get us "off message," so that we never sow the word to others. The tactics I have seen include:

1. To distort our priorities so that we "major on the minors."
2. To sow discord among brethren, so that we fight each other and squabble about all manner of things (oh, and it's always about something important, in fact so important that people must divide, and maybe even ignore the clear commandment of God- in I Corinthians 5-so as to take each other to court with lawsuits).
3. To simply make us lazy, so that we neglect the House of God.*
4. Or to lead us astray with false doctrines.

All of these things I have seen in my many years, and so have some of you. And, why should we be surprised? St. Paul warns that Satan has his own minsters-indeed, the Devil really does call some people into the "ministry." They are called and appointed, by Satan, to stop the Church so that sowers cannot sow the word.

But the good news is God calls His own servants to lead the way. God has given us the word to sow, just as we are to believe it ourselves and live by it. And, knowing that we are weak, God gives us the Holy Spirit Who reveals His own power within us by gifts of service in every member of the Body (and I do mean you), so that together we may do His will in this fallen world. And, if we have the Faith that He plants in us by the seed of His word, and if we remain steadfast, anything that may come our way, whether good or bad, will fall out for "the furtherance of the Gospel."
*Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. Haggai 1:9, 10

Thursday, February 09, 2012

News commentary

Here in the United States, the Obama administration with the Health and Human Services (H.S.S.) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius have mandated that all employers must provide the entire "health-care package" for all employees, which includes access to contraception. That includes religious institutions such as hospitals and universities. Churches and other places of worship are exempted, but that means direct worship facilities only, as if other operations of a church, its schools, charities and hospitals, are entirely separate from the church's religious life. But, in fact these things are an expression of that Faith, and they belong to the church that has created them, that maintains them and manages them. The Roman Catholic Church takes the irrevocable stand that having to provide coverage for contraception is against Catholic beliefs. 

I am not writing this about the issue of contraception, but I am writing to support the position of the Roman Catholic Church, that religious liberty has been violated and trampled already if only by the arrogance of government. Unless this mandate is prevented from taking effect, a church will be forced into Civil Disobedience, with the potential of leaders (including bishops and even administrators of various operations)  going to jail for their religious convictions. 

The simple fact is, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States forbids the federal government to interfere with the free exercise of religion. The mandate, therefore, is illegal because the Constitution is the law. But, it seems that this administration has decided that the Constitution is subject to the whims of the H.S.S. The Administration's argument, that they have a duty to force employers to provide contraception as some sort of right, is completely absurd. That right, under law, exists anyway. No one can take it away. But, ordering the Roman Catholic Church to pay for it interferes with an established right protected by the Constitution, the free exercise of religion.

Either the United States Government is subject to the rule of law, or it becomes tyrannical. The ultimate sign of a tyrant is the attempt to subject the conscience to the state. This is not a partisan problem either. For anyone who can see beyond the end of his own partisan nose, it is not a matter of Republican or Democratic policy, or of conservative or liberal persuasion. After all, if a Democratic administration may throw off the shackles of the Constitution, so may a Republican administration. And for anyone who cannot see beyond the end of his own ideological nose, if not about this, then either party may trample on liberty about something else. 

The rights that must be protected are not those invented for specific groups of people, but the rights guaranteed in the Constitution itself. George F. Will once wrote a line about a topic in which he said, "the proliferation of rights threatens freedom." The issue of contraception is something concerning which the Roman Catholic Church has a clearly stated doctrine, and is therefore entitled to the full protection of the First Amendment. If their right is taken away, then all rights protected by the Constitution become subject to the whims of "rulers."