The more things change, the more they remain the same…or so it is said.
Executive and judicial branches of government are not the only ones capable of lawlessness under color of authority. The Jim Crow laws prevailing in many states until the 1960s were all duly adopted by state and local legislative bodies. The Supreme Court ultimately overturned them, but we need to remember it was the Supreme Court that handed down the infamous Dred Scott decision – extending slaveholding authority even to free states – and that failed to overturn Obamacare even after a majority agreed it was unconstitutional. (The Court literally re-wrote the law in order to uphold it.) The equally infamous Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 fatally compromised both the First Amendment and the political process as laid down in the Constitution, and no court intervened. The people intervened with the election of a new government after massive protests, and that is the point: A government of the people, by the people, and for the people must be restrained by those very people; waiting passively on government to restrain itself is waiting for a train that does not come.
It is no different in any culture populated by people of God, by the way. If the prophetic tradition in Old and New Testaments sheds any light, it is that the people of God are rightly expected to hear Him for themselves and speak His Word for themselves. The prophets were first and foremost people outside the established-by-God government who confronted that government when it forgot its servant status.
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Yet in California alone at this time, we find measures like SB 775 winging their way through the legislative process. Should 775 become law – and the odds favor it in this legislative climate – it will trample the free speech and association rights of every pregnancy care center in California by seeking to force them to make referrals for abortion services. These issues have been settled law for decades, with the US Supreme Court weighing in multiple times over the past five years. Where are the massive demonstrations and civil disobedience that won basic civil rights over decades for black people and other minorities? Is the freedom to practice our faith and preserve life without harming others less fundamental than the right to vote and support our families with decent housing and jobs? Or does the one depend upon and backstop the other?
California’s Department of Managed Healthcare has already pre-empted the Legislature and the US Supreme Court – which has ruled repeatedly against such administrative assaults on freedom – by requiring all California businesses and ministries to provide abortion and contraceptive services to employees whatever their religious convictions. Assemblyman Jim Gallagher has introduced a bill – AS 1254 – to overturn these regulations, but it is unlikely to pass in this legislature. Where are the crowds of Christians picketing the CDMH offices daily and blocking access to entrances with our bodies? How did Dr. King get to Montgomery from Selma, much less to Washington?
SB 128 is also fast-tracking through the legislative process. It enshrines in law the “right” to die as its foremost supporter, a group called Compassion and Choices, re-brands it. This group is simply the re-named Hemlock Society, and their cause is simply the “right” to commit murder armed with a piece of paper saying the victim wants to die. The LA Times cites the hypocrisy of the group when they say they only wish to give a dignified way out to people suffering intractable pain. Their editorial is written by a palliative care doc who has not needed to hasten death due to untreatable pain in thirty-five years of practice. The San Diego Union Tribune notices the connection between assisted suicide and the profit-driven managed care industry. I notice the reality that the poster child for 128 – the late Brittany Maynard – took her own life to avoid a disease only weeks before the announcement it is being successfully treated; she had yet months to live in untreated comfort at her death. But my question is this: Where is the uprising in the Church and society at the government’s effort to speed death for our vulnerable loved ones? Where is the overwhelming resistance to a state-sanctioned plan for death with no safeguards – despite what proponents prattle – against misguidance, manipulation, or even a changed mind that somehow nobody hears in time to prevent needless death?
Restoring religious freedom to campus is the aim of yet another bill – the California Freedom of Association Act authored by Asm Shannon Grove. This one addresses the action by regents of the University of California and Trustees of the State University system banning Christian groups from campus if they do not permit non-believers to lead their ministries. Like the Gallagher bill, it is unlikely to pass in this climate. Where are the campus demonstrations by hordes of students – believers or not – who recognize seizing freedom from one group threatens the freedom of all? Where are the marchers and demonstrators who fought to successfully end a war policymakers never intended to win, bringing freedom and reconciliation to the races by placing their bodies in the path of the oppressors? It was the Church spearheading these efforts in the fifties and sixties and seventies. Where is the Church this week?
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On a more mundane but just as fundamental front, California’s governor has announced he plans to place meters on water wells found on private property. Advanced as a necessary measure to address the drought, it seems reasonable enough until we recall these wells are not property of the state–nor is the water they draw. Taxing the water is confiscation of private property without compensation, whatever the rainfall totals. Adding insult to injury, the State Resource Control Board is deciding whether to impose the $10,000 per business or household fine the governor wants for anyone exceeding new regulations to cut water usage by 4% to 36% depending on the region of the state where one lives. California’s own drought court has already ruled such regs – with varying percentages – unconstitutional, but this agency is unfazed. One might ask why the governor does not call on the Israelis – who licked the problem of drought in Israel decades ago – for a little creative help instead of trying to hold his own thirsty people hostage to draconian conservation measures for water we don’t have. Better yet, one might ask – as I do – where are the hordes of Californians – beginning with the Church – surrounding the governor’s mansion and offices, sitting in if necessary, demanding the governor start using his much ballyhooed visionary thinking to solve the drought instead of punishing the innocent and trashing the Constitution with one act of political violence after another.
And no – I won’t be organizing the demonstrations. I am a writer and pastor, not an organizer. But you can bet your sweet bippy – with apologies to Rowan and Martin – this Baby Boomer will show up for them. Any other takers amongst the clergy? Laity?
Some Christians may think it unseemly to do or propose what I propose, but they need to read the Book of Acts. When Peter and John are hailed before the Sanhedrin for unauthorized preaching of the Name of Jesus, that august body orders them to remain silent. “But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you or God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Christians are likewise exhorted in 1 Peter 3:15 to be always ready to account for our faith and for our hope. We are to do this without repaying evil with evil; in other words, we are to resist tyranny without resorting to anarchy or even some other form of oppression. But make no mistake – we defy our Lord if we permit injustice to be unaddressed. Speaking out and walking out come under the Great Commission rubric of teaching one another to observe all things commanded by Our God and King.
So let the powers that be beware. I have no clue for how many I may speak, but I am going out on a limb and prophesying that if SB 775 or 128 are adopted, you will reap a firestorm of non-violent but authoritative opposition and resistance. Ditto if these regulations stand. Christians brought down the segregationist establishment in the US. We brought down the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines and the Iron Curtain throughout Eastern Europe by putting flowers in the rifle barrels of the guards. (You thought only American hippies did that?) More important, we brought new freedom for ourselves and new glory to God. Does it get any better?
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The more things remain the same, the more it is our privilege to walk with our God as He changes them into His likeness – beginning with us.
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