More Thoughts on Harmony and Competition

Thanks, Barak, for very thoughtful and illuminating comments. Our differences are becoming crystallized, and I wonder how much of it has to do with the differences between our respective religious traditions.

It’s interesting that Barak and Harry, who are infinitely more qualified than I am to opine on the issue, understand the hiring of rabbis as a clearly commercial transaction. I can only counter with an idiosyncratic example from my own experience. Until their recent retirement, my parents served their entire adult lives as evangelical Protestant missionaries in Europe. Their income came entirely from money raised from U.S. churches. I think that both they and their supporting churches would have most surprised to hear these transactions described as commercial. The money was incidental to the mission, in the same way that an athlete drinks gatorade incidentally to running a marathon. It may be true that without the gatorade she will collapse, but no one would understand the drinking of the gatorade as the point of the marathon.

This is the major distinction from Barak’s examples from the professions. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, and many other professionals may choose their vocation because of altruistic motivations–the desire to heal, promote justice, or mold young minds. But it is still a vocation–a way to earn a living–that they are choosing. Earning their keep is not incidental to their moral vision. If it were, professional salaries would be far lower than they are.

My point that ordained ministers are differently situated from “the professions” is perhaps as much aspirational as empirical. There are no doubt clergy of all religions who bargain hard to maximize their income based on market factors. But the overall effect is quite different than in the professions. Consider the 2012 Large Church Salary Report conducted by the Leadership Network. The study found that the average salary for a megachurch pastor (one with at least 2,000 attendees) was around $150,000, with an average increase of $8,000 for every 1,000 additional attendees. True, this suggests some market forces at work in setting compensation–pastors who attract more congregants get paid more. But, on the other hand, the effect is very small. The incremental income brought into the church by an additional 1,000 congregants is probably several million dollars. Megachurch pastors are comparable in talent, managerial responsibility, and labor intensity to the top professionals, yet their direct compensation is relatively modest (and yes, indirect compensation would need to be explored as well). In most congregations, it would be considered appalling for a pastor to try to justify his salary based on his value to the church (“I’ve saved thirteen souls this year so I should get a bonus”) as opposed to his needs.

Even conceding that bargaining over money plays a role in the hiring of clergy, there remains the question of fit between the existential purposes of the antitrust laws and the existential purposes of religious groups. When it comes to business firms, we believe that the profit motive is exactly what drives firms to deliver the goods and services we value. As Adam Smith observed, “[i]t is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” Competition principles channel this self-interest to maximize our collective well being. But I would not want to attend a church that followed such a principle–one where others gave of their time, money, and friendship only because of self-interest. Although I am of course self-interested (blame original sin), when I participate in my church I aspire to something different–to Jesus’ admonition that it is more blessed to give than to receive, that the widow’s mite was far more valuable than the rich man’s donation.

So where does it leave us if bargaining over money is an unavoidable aspect of much religious hiring but that rivalry over finances is contrary to the principles and self-understanding of many religious organizations? Should courts sift through the evidence on each religious organization, trying to craft antitrust rules that respect the values of each organization while obtaining the benefits of competition where they are warranted? In my view, that would raise serious questions of entanglement between church and state that justify a categorical decision not to apply antitrust law to ministerial hiring–just as the Supreme Court recently declined to apply antidiscrimination law to religious hiring. Barak and I have agreed to debate that issue next.

Lowry (ed.), “The Epistle on Legal Theory”

This February, New York University Press will publish The Epistle on Legal Theory edited by Joseph E. Lowry (University of Pennsylvania). The publisher’s description follows.

The Epistle on Legal Theory is the oldest surviving Arabic work on Islamic legal theory and the foundational document of Islamic jurisprudence. Its author, Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi’i (d. 204H/820AD), was the eponymous founder of the Shafi’i legal school, one of the four rites in Sunni Islam. This fascinating work offers the first systematic treatment in Arabic of key issues in Islamic legal thought. These include a survey of the importance of Arabic as the language of revelation, principles of textual interpretation to be applied to the Qur’an and prophetic Traditions, techniques for harmonizing apparently contradictory precedents, legal epistemology, rules of inference, and situations in which legal interpretation is required. The author illustrates his theoretical claims with numerous examples drawn from nearly all areas of Islamic law, including ritual, commercial law, tort law, and criminal law.

The text thus provides an important window into both Islamic law and legal thought generally and early Islamic intellectual history in particular. The Arabic text has been established on the basis of the two most important critical editions and includes variants in the notes, while the English text is a new translation by a leading scholar of Shafi’i and his thought. The Epistle on Legal Theory represents one of the earliest complete works on Islamic law, one that is centrally important for the formation of Islamic legal thought and the Islamic legal tradition.

Klarman, “From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash, and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage”

This September, Oxford University Press published From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash, and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage by Michael J. Klarman (Harvard Law). The publisher’s description follows.

Same-sex marriage has become one of the most volatile issues in American politics. But if most young people support gay marriage, and if there are clear indicators that a substantial majority of the population will soon favor it, why has the outcry against it been so strong?

Bancroft Prize-winning historian and legal expert Michael Klarman here offers an illuminating and engaging account of modern litigation over same-sex marriage. After looking at the treatment of gays in the decades after World War II and the birth of the modern gay rights movement with the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969, Klarman describes the key legal cases involving gay marriage and the dramatic political backlashes they ignited. He examines the Hawaii Supreme Court’s ruling in 1993, which sparked a vast political backlash–with more than 35 states and Congress enacting defense-of-marriage acts–and the Massachusetts decision in Goodridge in 2003, which inspired more than 25 states to adopt constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. Klarman traces this same pattern–court victory followed by dramatic backlash–through cases in Vermont, California, and Iowa, taking the story right up to the present. He also describes some of the collateral political damage caused by court decisions in favor of gay marriage–Iowa judges losing their jobs, Senator Majority Leader Tom Daschle losing his seat, and the possibly dispositive impact of gay marriage on the 2004 presidential election. But Klarman also notes several ways in which litigation has accelerated the coming of same-sex marriage: forcing people to discuss the issue, raising the hopes and expectations of gay activists, and making other reforms like civil unions seem more moderate by comparison. In the end, Klarman discusses how gay marriage is likely to evolve in the future, predicts how the U.S. Supreme Court might ultimately resolve the issue, and assesses the costs and benefits of activists’ pursuing social reforms such as gay marriage through the courts.

From the Closet to the Altar will stand as the definitive one-volume history of the tumultuous emergence of same-sex marriage in American life as well as a landmark study of litigation, social reform, and the phenomenon of political backlash to court decisions.