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Constitutional Hermeneutics September 20, 2006

Posted by Joe in Random Musings.
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Well Lar, before I call it a day, I want to say a few more words regarding the subject of my last post. This is, in fact, where most of my reading lies right now, so it is a natural for me to speak about it. So take these for what they’re worth. I hope they serve to help you view the world through a God-entranced lens.

Lately, I have been doing quite a bit of reading on the first amendment. It reads,

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

I trust that we all would agree that the interpretation and application of this amendment by our various courts is a very important matter for our country today. And after just a week or so of reading and learning, I have to tell you that I have begun to taste how difficult this process really is. See, I used to think that the process of interpreting and applying this amendment was rather clear cut, one that a judge could get either right or wrong. Well, I no longer think so. For it seems to me that just like the Scriptures, one might agree on an interpretation but differ on an application. That is to say that when the nitty gritty details of life and court cases come, how that law applies to a particular situation can really be a tough thing to discern.

Judges have to consider every situation in its own context and the various implications for government and future cases. Take that last case I mentioned (with the kid wearing the more or less offensive (but true) t-shirt). When it comes to dress codes in school and the ability to exercise ‘free speech’, where do you draw the line? And what are the circumstances when kids cross the line? I mean, if a Christian has a right to wear an offensive t-shirt to school, does also a satanist? With our moral compass, this might seem like an easy question, but it’s not that simple. The concept of free speech in a secular society like or own is anything but comfortable. There is a line to be drawn, but where? And who determines where?

John Milton (author of Paradise Lost–a famous poem for those who don’t know) once wrote an essay on free speech that expressed the truth that the pursuit of truth in a fallen world must include the presence of error. Darkness serves as a backdrop for the light. Of course, he was a protestant writing in the 17th century, so later on in his essay, he also expressed his opinion that this exercise of free speech shouldn’t apply to catholics and others, but his point was clear. Without going into detail about his whole essay (which I can’t do), his premise is quite wise, and I believe, Christian. If we are confident that we adhere to the truth of Scripture, why do we fear the expression of that which is false?

And, what might be more important for us today, how do we fight against the presence (however big!) of darkness? What I mean by that is, what is the best way for us to influence our surrounding culture? What is the most effective means? Is to hold a strict possession of freedom of speech or to let everyone talk, with full confidence that one day, the truth will prevail? However uncomfortable it might make us, I believe we have to opt for the latter. And in reality, it is my conviction that the reason why we opt for the former is because we are not very confident ourselves.

Might it be that the reason why evangelicals are so caught up in political and external matters today (the courts, legislation, etc.) is b/c we are so weak spiritually? We are not salty. We don’t shine bright, so we must aim to mandate the presence of light. I’m not sure if that makes a great deal of sense, but I hope you can understand what I am getting at. For even though I respect the presence of evangelicals in politics and legislation (and everything else), we need to be very careful about imposing our will on others just because it is right (if it is right). We influence the culture best not by imposing our wills, but by losing our wills to another, so that we might humbly serve in a way that magnifies Christ–in every sphere of society and life. We walk with Christ and shine bright, not simply by mandating morality, but living with a view toward an eternity with Christ.

There is more and I haven’t stated my thoughts incredibly well, but I hope they serve to stimulate yours. In the end, I just long to see a church that is powerful, a church that is influential and attractive, b/c she is full of people who genuinely and wholeheartedly love Jesus. If the church were full of such men and women, who then went out to live their lives of self-sacrificial service in every sphere of society (school, military, business, politics, you name it), I can’t help but think that we would see radical change, real change, true change. We wouldn’t have to worry about mandating speech, because we would be so salty that others wouldn’t want to engage in such wickedness. The light would simply shine so bright. O Lord help us! We need your mercy.

Seeking to magnify Jesus in all of life,

Joe

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