U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Arguments in Pivotal Church-State Case This Week


The U.S. Supreme Court is set to begin hearing oral arguments this week in one of the most important church-state cases in decades. In Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the court will consider whether a Lutheran school in Michigan is subject to a federal law banning discrimination based on a disability.

So, about those "Evangelicals..."

In his column last week, Sojourners chief Jim Wallis talked about his frustration with the perennial misuse of the word "evangelical" by various media to describe folks and ideas that, in his view, and that of many of us who self-describe as evangelicals, don't bear any resemblance to what we understand that term to actually mean.

Below is a compilation of recent media reports where the word "evangelical" is invoked. When you read these, evangelical brothers and sisters, do you recognize yourself in how the word is used and defined? Or does it ring false to you and your understanding of what "evangelical" really and truly means?

Did Someone Say "Class Warfare"?

When President Barack Obama laid out his deficit plan Monday, he wasn't just trying to sell a policy. When he pressed for tax hikes on the rich and announced, "This is not class warfare," he was trying to exorcise a demon that has bedeviled the Democratic Party for decades and in the process deprive the Republicans of one of their trustiest weapons. The reaction from the right was swift and sure: "Class warfare!"

The Works of the Flesh and the Debt Ceiling Deal

In Galatians 5:19-20, Paul lists the "works of the flesh," contrasting them to the "fruit of the Spirit" immediately thereafter (Gal. 5:22-23). Among the works of the flesh are hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, and division. Another translation puts it, "People become enemies and they fight; they become jealous, angry, and ambitious. They separate into parties and groups ... I warn you now as I have before: those who do these things will not possess the kingdom of God."

Is Laughter Really the Best Medicine?

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

-- Proverbs 17:22

How can one have a cheerful heart in this time of global climate change, natural disasters, and violence on every hand in nearly every land? How can we speak of humor, levity, jesting, and laughter when our world is in such pain?

Having a cheerful heart, as the author of Proverbs put it, does not mean that we avoid engagement in serious peacemaking work. What it means is that humor can provide interludes in many of the deepest reaches of seemingly desperate situations.

There is a time and place for humor. As it says in Ecclesiastes, "There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance." Humor -- like art, music, and dance -- is essential for the well-being of the human spirit.

Healthy humor is inviting and forgiving, never hurtful, and often involves some kind of pleasant, incongruent surprise. For example, I recently heard a 4-year-old (whose parents live in Ohio and grandparents in Iowa) ask his mother if he was a Buckeye or a Hawkeye. His mother wisely replied, "Ivan, you can be anything you want to be," to which the boy replied, "Good, then I want to be Chinese!" We have all heard comedy routines, at stand-up clubs or on TV sitcoms, that are sarcastic, acerbic, and hurtful to one population or another. This is not healthy humor.

It is well documented that stress has negative effects on our immune systems and our general health. While there have been few studies on the positive effects of healthy humor, and the scientific evidence is still unfolding, available information strongly suggests that humor, with its inherent laughter, has many benefits:

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The Importance of Sharing Our Stuff

"And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children." --Matthew 14:13-21

Immediately before the story of the feeding of the 5,000 is a description of a very different sort of meal: John the Baptizer's head on a platter. And just as women and children are included among the multitude fed on the beach (a detail unique to Matthew's version of the story), the female sex is also represented in the account of John's demise: Herodias, sister-in-law of Herod, asks for the head of the Baptist; her nameless daughter, with no detectable squeamishness, delivers the request to the king and serves up the plated head to her mother. (That women in all of their moral complexity are present throughout Matthew's gospel - recall also the women who appear in the genealogy of Jesus in chapter one -- is an observation worthy of closer scrutiny. See, for instance, Jane Kopas's 1990 essay in Theology Today).