The Supreme Court issued two rulings yesterday and will make public its remaining opinions later today. Both of Wednesday’s rulings were good news for evangelical Christians.
One upheld a Trump administration regulation that allows employers with religious or moral objections to limit women’s access to birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). By way of background: The ACA required employers to provide contraceptives to employees with no out-of-pocket costs. Churches were exempted, but other employers with religious affiliations were not.
Hobby Lobby successfully appealed to the court in 2014, citing its religious objection to forms of birth control that it considers abortifacients (drugs that cause the fetus to be aborted). Yesterday’s ruling similarly exempted all employers with religious and conscientious objections.
The other Supreme Court ruling declared that federal employment discrimination laws do not apply to teachers whose duties include instruction in religion at church-run schools. At issue was whether Catholic schools in California were free to dismiss two teachers who were not priests or ministers.
Both rulings are good news for evangelicals, whatever our views about particular forms of contraception or engagement in religious instruction, in that they signal the court’s desire to protect religious beliefs from governmental infringement.
Brooks Brothers declares bankruptcy
Despite these positive decisions, this term’s Supreme Court rulings remind us that we cannot place our trust ultimately in secular authorities. Last month, the court ruled against requiring hospital admitting privileges for abortion doctors and extended employment protections to LGBTQ individuals without specifying protections for religious employers. Both were setbacks for evangelicals.
The coronavirus pandemic also reminds us daily of our finitude. Some examples:
- The US set a new one-day record for coronavirus cases this week. We have passed three million confirmed coronavirus cases as the virus spreads rapidly in our three most populous states: California, Texas, and Florida.
- An influential model estimates that 208,255 Americans will die from the virus by November 1 (though the death toll could be reduced by nearly 22 percent if mask use were to become widespread).
- As coronavirus cases spike, healthcare professionals fear a return to the days of personal protective equipment shortages.
- Brooks Brothers, a 202-year-old clothing company, filed for bankruptcy protection yesterday, citing the pandemic. Bed Bath & Beyond announced it will close two hundred stores as sales fell almost 50 percent during the pandemic.
Also reminding us of our fallenness is a horrifying spike in deadly shootings in major US cities. Last weekend, sixty-five people were shot in New York and eighty-seven in Chicago; several children were killed in nationwide violence.
However, despite the discouragement of these days, my purpose this morning is to point us from the bad news to the best news.
“You keep him in perfect peace”
This week, we’re following the Independence Day weekend by claiming the biblical promise, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12). We’ve seen the urgency of making the Lord our Master, both in solidarity with others and in our personal worship and service.
Today, let’s consider our need for the blessings and help only he can provide.
Religious freedom is a precious commodity throughout Christian history and in our fallen world today. The pandemic is just one reminder of our physical frailty and finitude. But our Father offers us peace in the present and hope for the future that are available nowhere else.
God’s people testify to him: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). Our Lord’s promise to Paul is his assurance to us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
But note: the promise of God’s favor is no guarantee of temporal security. Moses’s relationship with God was so intimate that “the Lord used to speak to Moses face-to-face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). Yet a list of the challenges and disappointments Moses faced would fill the rest of this article.
Paul was the greatest evangelist, missionary, and theologian in Christian history. Read 2 Corinthians 11, however, if you think his life was anything but secure.
“Jesus promised his disciples three things”
Here’s my point: God wants us to develop the reflex of turning every obstacle into an opportunity to seek his best.
When we face temptation, he wants us to seek his strength immediately. When we become discouraged over the pandemic and other world events, he wants us to make him our Prince of Peace. When we suffer, he wants us to turn to him as our Great Physician.
William Barclay noted: “Jesus promised his disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.”
If we will choose the first in Christ, we will experience the third but can claim the second, to the glory of God.