Last week, the Center hosted a conversation on church-and-state issues before the US Supreme Court with federal appeals court judges Kyle Duncan (5th Circuit) and Richard Sullivan (2nd Circuit). The two newly-appointed judges discussed legislative prayer; public religious displays; the conflict between anti-discrimination laws and religious freedom; and state aid to religious schools. Here’s a write-up of the event from the Law School webpage.
Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
- Centura Health Corporation, a Christian-run health system in Colorado, fired a doctor after she joined one of her patients in filing a lawsuit alleging Centura’s faith-based policy against assisted suicide violates state law.
- Ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was accused of sexual abuse of a minor in 2018, stated in an interview last month that he does not believe he committed any acts of which he had been accused.
- An appellate state court in Minnesota found that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine precludes a civil court from determining whether an “arson-damaged church” is a “historical resource” that is protected by the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act.
- China’s government is “more intensively” enforcing a law that restricts the minimum age for religious conversions, prohibiting religious groups from either proselytizing or converting individuals younger than eighteen years old.
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” These words open the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, one of the earliest Christian reflections on the proper relation of church and state. Last fall, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press released a new commentary on Romans, Romans: An Orthodox Commentary, by Patrick Henry Reardon, senior editor at Touchstone Magazine and an Orthodox priest. Here’s the publisher’s description:
God seems to have chosen the Apostle Paul to demonstrate—arguably more than in any other person in Christian history—how the life “in Christ” arrives at insight through experience. If this is the case of Paul more than any other person in Christian history, the reason may be simply that Paul’s words are the Word of God. His epistles stand forever as the divinely chosen model of how the Christian arrives at truth through experience. Unlike so many theologians of later times, Paul did not inherit a Christian worldview. His vocation, rather, was to create such a thing from his own experience. For this reason, Paul’s thought ever remains the Church’s cutting blade, the biting edge of her apologetics and evangelism.
To affirm, as everyone does, that Romans is unique in the Pauline corpus should serve to indicate the necessity of caution in using it as a guide to the other epistles. But in recent centuries the Christological and ecclesiological core of Paul’s thought has been displaced by a preoccupation with religious and moral psychology; all the epistles were interpreted through a Romans lens. This is a false turn, which runs the risk of reducing salvation itself to a sub-division of religious anthropology. To misinterpret Paul is to misunderstand the Gospel itself. Fr Patrick Henry Reardon guards against this error and offers a fuller and more balanced picture of the Letter to the Romans, reading it in the context of the entire Pauline corpus and relying upon the best ancient sources, the Apostle’s earliest disciples and defenders, those Christians in the churches that Paul had a hand in founding. These churches, closely associated with the composition and copying of the epistles rightly enjoyed a recognized authority in the determination of early Christian doctrine.
Being a bishop has not always been a safe job. In late antiquity, in fact, it could be positively dangerous–as it remains in some parts of the world today. Not surprisingly, bishops sometimes survived Roman persecution by fleeing (or worse–see the Donatist Controversy), which occasioned considerable consternation among the members of the flock who stayed behind. A book out today from the University of California Press, Bishops in Flight: Exile and Displacement in Late Antiquity, addresses the sad history. The author is religion scholar Jennifer Barry (University of Mary Washington) Here’s the publisher’s description:
Flight during times of persecution has a long and fraught history in early Christianity. In the third century, bishops who fled were considered cowards or, worse yet, heretics. On the face, flight meant denial of Christ and thus betrayal of faith and community. But by the fourth century, the terms of persecution changed as Christianity became the favored cult of the Roman Empire. Prominent Christians who fled and survived became founders and influencers of Christianity over time.
Bishops in Flight examines the various ways these episcopal leaders both appealed to and altered the discourse of Christian flight to defend their status as purveyors of Christian truth, even when their exiles appeared to condemn them. Their stories illuminate how profoundly Christian authors deployed theological discourse and the rhetoric of heresy to respond to the phenomenal political instability of the fourth and fifth centuries.
Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
- The Harvest Bible Chapel, a Chicago-area megachurch, has dropped its defamation lawsuit against two bloggers and a writer because the church did not want to subject innocent people to the subpoena process.
- The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom issued guidelines for registration of religious organizations that seek to protect religious freedom.
- A federal court ruled that Jack Phillips’ second lawsuit relating to refusing to bake a cake for a gender transition may proceed.
- The Freedom Center of Missouri has filed a lawsuit against the city of St. Louis over city regulations that prevent people from providing home-cooked meals to the homeless, claiming it violates the Free Exercise Clause.
- The Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit challenging the Maryland governor’s executive order that bans state agencies from contracting with businesses that boycott Israel.
- Russian president Vladimir Putin has disavowed the crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been detained for their practice of proselytizing and passing out literature.
- Religious and private schools in New Jersey have received an additional $11.3 million in security funding from the state to spend on measures such as security guards and alarm systems.
- India’s lower house of Parliament passed a bill that would grant residency and citizenship rights to non-Muslims such as Hindus, Jains, and Parsi who entered India illegally.
- The Camden County Commission held a meeting to discuss the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s demand to remove two images with Christian religious themes and language, with no one speaking in support of the images’ removal.
- North Dakota legislators have introduced a bill that would require public schools in the state to teach a unit on the Bible.
- The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China offered training classes for Muslim clerics to help them resist extremism and contribute to regional stability, including studying Chinese history.
Lately, law-and-religion scholars have been turning their attention to the Patristic period, during which Christians first began to think in earnest about the relation between church and state. To give just two examples, there’s Steve Smith’s new book on pagans and Christians in the Roman Empire, and Robert Louis Wilken’s forthcoming book on early Christian concepts of religious liberty, which he presented at our Center’s colloquium this past fall. And so it might be a good time for us to reconsider Eusebius, that chronicler of Christianity in its formative centuries. A forthcoming book from Cambridge, Eusebius and Empire: Constructing Church and Rome in the Ecclesiastical History, does just that. The author is historian James Corke-Webster (King’s College London). Cambridge presents the book as a “radical” new treatment, which makes a traditionalist like me a little skeptical, but readers will be able to judge for themselves. Here’s the description from Cambridge’s website:
Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, written in the early fourth century, continues to serve as our primary gateway to a crucial three hundred year period: the rise of early Christianity under the Roman Empire. In this volume, James Corke-Webster undertakes the first systematic study considering the History in the light of its fourth-century circumstances as well as its author’s personal history, intellectual commitments, and literary abilities. He argues that the Ecclesiastical History is not simply an attempt to record the past history of Christianity, but a sophisticated mission statement that uses events and individuals from that past to mould a new vision of Christianity tailored to Eusebius’ fourth-century context. He presents elite Graeco-Roman Christians with a picture of their faith that smooths off its rough edges and misrepresents its size, extent, nature, and relationship to Rome. Ultimately, Eusebius suggests that Christianity was – and always had been – the Empire’s natural heir.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is currently hosting a wonderful exhibit on Armenia during the Middle Ages. The exhibit contains major historical objects, including carved stone crosses, illuminated manuscripts, and reliquaries that have never traveled outside the country. And there is a connection for law-and-religion fans: Armenia was the first state in history to adopt Christianity as its religion, a generation or so before Rome (Marc DeGirolami, nota bene). Many of the objects on display reflect a particular relationship between church and state. Christian separationists rightly point to the potential for corruption when the church draws too close to the state, but there are advantages for the religion as well. It’s hard to imagine other institutions with the wherewithal to sponsor works of such beauty and intense spirituality, whose impact on viewers remains profound today.
Armenia bordered Christian Byzantium and Zoroastrian (and later Muslim) Persia, a position that often put it in a difficult political situation–what’s new?–but that also enriched its culture. Medieval Armenian culture was suffused with Christianity, as it remains, more or less, today. But that Christianity did not prevent Armenians from drawing from, and in turn influencing, surrounding cultures. So the exhibit will interest not only people who seek to understand the historical relationship between Christianity and the state, but among Christians and non-Christians in that part of the world.
Yale University Press has released the exhibit’s companion volume, Armenia: Art, Religion, and Trade in the Middle Ages, by Helen C. Evans, the Met’s curator of medieval art. Here’s the description from Yale’s website:
A fascinating exploration of art created by the varied Armenian kingdoms that connected the East and West during the Middle Ages
As the first people to officially convert to Christianity, Armenians commissioned and produced astonishing religious objects. This sumptuous volume depicts and contextualizes the compelling works of art that defined the rich and complicated culture of medieval Armenians, including carvings, liturgical furnishings, beautifully illustrated manuscripts, gilded reliquaries, exquisite textiles, printed books, and more. Situated at the center of trade routes that connected the East and West during the Middle Ages, Armenia became a leading international trade partner for Seljuk, Mongol, Ottoman, and Persian overlords, while also serving as a powerful ally to Byzantium and European Crusader states. Written by a team of international scholars, with contributions from Armenian religious leaders, this book will stand as the definitive text on the art and culture of medieval Armenia.
This forthcoming book, by Dartmouth art historian Nicola Camerlenghi, might seem a bit outside our jurisdiction. But as I said yesterday, art reflects and shapes the values of a culture, and scholars of law and religion ought to pay it more attention. Besides, the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls is one of the most important churches in history, with strong church-state associations. It was one of the first churches founded by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, and its position outside the walls, in addition to reflecting the burial site of the saint for which it is named, reflects the sensitivity the emperor had to show pagans, who still made up the majority of Rome’s citizens.
And there’s another church-state association. Hildebrand, who went on to become Pope Gregory VII, was once abbot of the monastery attached to St. Paul’s–that Pope Gregory VII, from the Investiture Crisis. The monastery still displays his bony finger in a reliquary. I saw it myself once. Imagine, the finger that shook at Henry IV. What would Constantine have thought? If all this is not enough to qualify the book for a post, I don’t know what would.
The book is St. Paul’s Outside the Walls: A Roman Basilica, From Antiquity to the Modern Era. The publisher is Cambridge. Here’s a description from the Cambridge website:
This volume examines one of Rome’s most influential churches: the principal basilica dedicated to St Paul. Nicola Camerlenghi traces nearly two thousand years of physical transformations to the church, from before its construction in the fourth century to its reconstruction following a fire in 1823. By recounting this long history, he restores the building to its rightful place as a central, active participant in epochal political and religious shifts in Rome and across Christendom, as well as a protagonist in Western art and architectural history. Camerlenghi also examines how buildings in general trigger memories and anchor meaning, and how and why buildings endure, evolve, and remain relevant in cultural contexts far removed from the moment of their inception. At its core, Saint Paul’s exemplifies the concept of building as a process, not a product: a process deeply interlinked with religion, institutions, history, cultural memory, and the arts. This study also includes state-of-the-art digital reconstructions synthesizing a wealth of historical evidence to visualize and analyze the earlier (now lost) stages of the building’s history, offering glimpses into heretofore unexamined parts of its long, rich life.
“For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” This verse from Hebrews has strongly influenced Christian understandings of politics from the time of the early Church to the present. The conviction that Christians are, most fundamentally, citizens of another, eternal city has shaped their relations with temporal cities both pagan and Christian. It has comforted them in periods of alienation and checked them in times of triumph.
A forthcoming book by scholar Anthony Esolen (Thomas More College), Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World (Regnerey) addresses Christians’ longing for home–a longing, which, on earth, must always be unfulfilled, however much Christians love their families, communities, and nations. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:
America’s political elite has a stake in the destruction of cultural memory—anything that resists the new management state and the rootless elites. But it is a deeply human thing not only to have a home, which is rare enough in our time, but to long to return home. For Christians, this longing to return home not only makes us defenders of our homes and families here on earth, but also wayfarers, in that we understand we are contantly moving towards our true home, the “patria” that is the presence of God, in eternity.
This Christian nostalgia is the subject of scorn and condescension from secular elites, who are invested in making us forget our loginging to return home. Instead, they would have us join in the silly and inhuman worship of mother earth as our “home” and the more dangerous and destructive worship of change for change’s sake—as if we could make heaven ourselves or work ourselves up into gods.
In Nostalgia, this essential new work by Out of the Ashes author Anthony Esolen, the singularly Christian concept of true nostalgia is examined, defended, and brilliantly celebrated as Esolen reveals the central role nostalgia plays in great works of literature including Shakespeare, Dante, Dickens, and Eliot.
Next month, Marc and I will among the speakers at “Religion and the Administrative State,” a conference sponsored by the Center for the Study of the Administrative State at George Mason’s Antonin Scalia Law School. The Center’s Director, Adam White, has put together a very interesting set of panels, including the one on which Marc and I will speak, “The Future of the First Amendment.” The conference, scheduled for September 14, will appeal to anyone with an interest in church-state relations. For details, please check the conference announcement, here.