By Charlie Johnston
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is proposing legislation to protect churches and pastors from being forced or fined for refusing to perform same-sex “marriages.” The Heritage Foundation says that is not sufficient, but that a law must be passed preventing states from legally attacking Christians. It makes sense when you consider Oregon, which recently presumed not only to bankrupt and destroy a baker who chose not to make a cake for a homosexual “wedding,” but to order them never to speak out loud about their opposition to homosexual “marriage” again. That great anti-religious crank, Voltaire, once said, “If you want to know who rules you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”
All those who are proposing new statutes have still not wrapped their minds around what happened the last few weeks. The Supreme Court has not been in the business of adjudicating law this summer; it has been in the business of claiming and exercising raw power. What statute supercedes the Constitution? None. The Constitution forbids the federal government from exercising any jurisdiction at all on the free practice of religion. It is why I actually opposed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA. When you adopt a mere statute to defend a Constitutional command, you have already drifted far afield from the rule of law. You’re like a liar who says “This time I really, really mean it.” You don’t have to say such a thing unless you have already proven yourself a liar. You don’t have to pass a statute to defend a Constitutional command unless you have already tossed the Constitution to the curb. The Supreme Court simply followed what lower courts and federal agencies of the Executive Branch have been doing for a very long time. They have abandoned all pretense of following the law and simply exercise the raw will of a transient elite. I told my priests back in 2000 that the breakdown of the rule of law had begun and would end in chaos. So it has. Traditional politics is dead but, like a fresh corpse reflexively twitching, political solutions keep popping out of the mouths of people of good will.
Our judges and officials have adopted the ethos of Humpty Dumpty, who told Alice in Through the Looking Glass, that words only meant what he wanted them to mean. Judges do not interpret the law as enacted by legislatures and enshrined in the Constitution. They cleverly torture the clearest words to mean whatever the ruling elite wants them to mean. This is not the first time a great society has come to this pass. People often speak of the fall of the Roman Empire; I have always thought the earlier fall of the Roman Republic to be more consequential in the long term – even if it was not as showy as the fall of empire. The Caesars anesthetized the citizenry to what they had lost by keeping the forms of institutional freedom while simultaneously gutting those forms of their substance. Caligula showed his contempt even for the forms when he made his horse a senator. I thought of this incident when IRS Commissioner John Koskinen did not disagree with the Congressmen who said he was in contempt, but simply dared them to do anything about it.
I expect we will continue to be hit with convulsions throughout the summer, all designed to show everyone who is paying serious attention that there is no law any more, only will. It is our hubris, our belief that we are masters, that has led us to destroy the very system of law that gives legitimacy to the decisions we collectively make. Once legitimacy is destroyed, the days of any system are numbered. If you were a baseball player and the umpires decided to change the rules however they felt in order to make a winner out of whoever they wanted, the game would soon collapse. If they decided players on your team only got one strike before they were out while players on the opposing team got five, at first the other team might rejoice because they were sure to win. The jubilance would be short-lived, though, for soon enough your team would walk off the field altogether rather than participate in a sham that used the form of rules to put the fix in. That is where we are now; figuring out that it doesn’t matter how we change the laws or who we support for election. The fix is in and the law will be contorted by those who have seized its reins to ensure we lose.
If those waging war on the livelihoods, reputation and person of any who dare to remain seriously Christian had a quarter as much wit as they do attitude, they would be terrified. Whenever a faction uses brute force and the exercise of raw power to impose its ideological agenda for an extended period in a comprehensive way, it always sets off a feeding frenzy that ends by consuming them, too. The progressive left is busy mounting the very guillotines on which it will ultimately end. Even more to the point, when a faction uses raw power to deny all but fellow travelers the right to consistent and fair standards of redress of grievances, one right ever remains with the oppressed – the right of revolt. Fortunately, the Storm will enter into its fullness before that final right is exercised. Even so, the crisis will continue to grow as more and more people begin to regard – and treat – public officials as an internal occupying force rather than a legitimate means of expressing the common will, withdrawing both their support and cooperation from that occupying force.
I was initially shaken to realize over the last few days that, despite his increasingly strident, bombastic political pronouncements, Pope Francis has not yet made the major blunder I was told about last December. Then I was comforted to understand that he, too, is being formed for the fullness of the Storm. When the blunder comes, he will shed the brashness, while holding fast to a holy boldness necessary for both him and us to weather this great Storm. He is in his prelude to greatness. When I say that all of us are going to be knocked back on our heels as we are confronted with our hidden vanities, I truly mean ALL of us. Some it will destroy, others it will purify and strengthen. Do not judge by appearances right now. Some who seem strong will be destroyed when confronted with the fact that they are not what they should be. Others who seem weak or even malicious, will be forged into a useful tool of God by the experience. Just hold fast…acknowledge God, take the next right step, and be a sign of hope to those around you. We have entered the final countdown. Wait on the Lord, for He will strengthen your hearts and reveal Himself in the midst of the howling winds. Be slow to judge hearts and wait on the Lord.
People often assume that to be directed by an Angel or by other heavenly beings is to have a sort of divine GPS system. It is not. My angel does not tell me things like, “take a left in three miles.” Rather, he shows me where we start, where we are to end, gives me a world of information and then tells me to figure it out. He will episodically tell me how I am doing along the way. The information he gives me is not suggested routes – and even if it were it would be confusing, for we will not get to the destination point by a straight, direct line. Rather, he gives me the equivalent of landmarks I should be watchful for…and particular configurations of common landmarks that have a deeper meaning. It is all well and good to tell me, in effect, to watch for the boulder covered in moss beside a great oak…but as I sometimes irritably note to him, there are a lot of boulders covered with moss and great oaks in this vast land. He just chuckles at me and tells me I am doing fine…except when I am not. It is a daunting task…I have to translate a vast amount of raw material into information that is useful to you. Sometimes, I will misunderstand the material; at others I may understand fine but translate badly. My task is not to tell you what to think, but how to approach the trials before us…in essence, how to think in new and deliberate ways in unprecedented times, to help you develop a new framework for approaching these trials.
It took me almost two years after I was told the time for a final decision on my part was coming before I actually made that commitment. I was told on December 7, 1995 and I did not fully embrace the work until the very late summer of 1997. I believe I have mentioned that I was promised a prolonged storm in miniature in my life to prepare and steel me for the real Storm. That was scary enough, but that was not the most daunting part by a long shot. I was told that if I fully accepted what the Lord intended for me, I would be held to account for every soul that I could have given effective witness to but did not out of anger or fatigue. I would also be held to account for every soul that was attacking the faithful that I could have prevented but did not out of a false sense of charity. By all human standards, this sort of balance is utterly impossible to maintain – and I had no illusions I could maintain it. To be held to account by God for an impossible standard was not an inviting proposition. I had been told that I would not lose my chance at salvation by declining what was asked (but I would not be guaranteeing my salvation by accepting, either), so I asked what would happen if I refused. I immediately found myself in the vortex of a great abyss. People were falling to destruction all around me – and every one of them was bitterly cursing me because I had known – and yet done nothing to help them. I was, one could say, on the horns of a mighty conundrum. Finally, I thought of when I first became a single father. The first year I worried myself to death. If I worked enough to properly support my kids, I did not spend enough time with them. If I spent the time I felt I should with them, I did not earn enough to properly support them. It was driving me crazy. Finally. I decided there was no answer. I could not solve it. I resolved to just do the best I could, quit worrying, and trust God to cover the gaps. Once I made that resolution and lived it, grace took up residence in our household. We had great joy. Oddly, kids from around the neighborhood started centering everything around our house. I was even inundated with local kids who wanted to go to Church with us on Sundays…so much so that I had to limit it to two kids a week and rotate who could come when. How lovely that the kids chosen in any particular week considered themselves truly blessed for the week! In both cases, the Lord put me in impossible situations in which the only hope was to surrender to a trust that human reasoning could never justify. The Lord was not putting me into impossible situations, but inviting me to trust – to taste and see His goodness and providence. But boy, that sure wasn’t what it felt like at the time.
So you must understand my prime motivation. I am not focused on being perfectly theologically refined, though it is important to me to work from a solid theological foundation. I am not an orthodoxy cop and will not be. In everything I do, in everything I say, the first motive is to move people to stay firmly in the faith, to keep them to the ship that will carry us all to safety – and to do it knowing the devil is using every wile he has, exploiting every weakness in every man to persuade him to jump ship. Sometimes, I am just cranky or just react. But one of my secrets is there is far more calculation behind how I react to people than I let on – and that calculation is always based on what will best serve to cement them to the faith and the ship that will carry us to safety. Sometimes a gentle answer will work best, sometimes a tart answer seems more suited to a different personality, sometimes forbearance seems the most effective approach – and all must be in context of how it will affect others who read the encounter. There is no doubt I make misjudgments on some of these approaches, but you must know that that is the motivation behind everything I do or say. If I say precisely the right thing theologically, but say it in a way that will push people away, I will be held to account for my failure. If I am gentle in a way that enables disorder to grow, I will not be credited for charity, but held to account by God for my failure. Keeping people to the safety of the ship is my lodestone and everything else a detail. Like St. Paul, I will be all things to all men that by all means some might be saved.
Now when you ask God for the virtue of trust, He does not magically give you serene trust. Rather, he gives you opportunities to trust. He allows you to be put in dire or even impossible situations that reveal how little trust you have, situations that don’t make sense, that seem offensive, that seem utterly hopeless. These are not trials so much as invitations to trust, to reach deeper and, despite your fears and your desire to come up with a futile plan, to trust Him. Every time you do, your confidence in Him will grow, Do enough and your trust becomes iron. Your fears fade as you give up confidence in yourself – and your confidence grows as you place it in Him instead of yourself. You must do the little you are capable of, knowing how little it is, but confident in the abundance and power of God. What freedom comes as you truly abandon yourself to this! But getting there is truly a trial by fire. The good news is that, throughout this summer, you are going to be given many opportunities to trust as new convulsions shake the world and the Church every week. The even better news is that if you set your jaw like flint and live this summer well, you will have gotten through the basic training that will give you the trust you need to endure the Storm. Even as darkness covers the whole earth, you will find a peace, a confidence you never knew was possible in this world. Give thanks for the trials, the convulsions, the fearsome things that this summer will continue to bring, for they are the means by which the Lord is making you fit for His service. Please make use of the Prayer of Miraculous Trust frequently to help you get through this period of final convulsion, for trust is at the heart of it all.
We have entered into the summer of our discontent. It will be marked by convulsions, confusion and terror throughout the world and the Church. But after the summer comes fall…and great will be the fall.