Commenting on Pat Robertson’s latest outrage may seem like the blogospheric equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel, but I will try to add a bit of value by offering a theological perspective on the Rev’s persistent habit of asserting that God Almighty will smite anyone who disagrees with Robertson’s views on society and politics. Certainly every religious person of any faith tries to do God’s will, and to humbly try to discern it in all public and private decisions. But it’s a peculiarity of fundamentalists (again, of every faith), and of the Christian Right in particular, to embrace their own interpretations of God’s Will as clear, certain and infallible, and to attribute a willful disobedience towards the divine order to anyone who might happen to hold a different interpretation. In the end, this tendency leads its practitioners dangerously close to the position that they literally speak for God on any matter they decide to talk about. In Pat Robertson’s case, he’s gone well over that line, and apparently thinks his judgments and God’s are identical, which to my point of view is self-idolatrous and indeed blasphemous. I’ve speculated at length elsewhere that this fanatical certainty that God has a clear position on every secular matter–and that dissenters know this and are consciously in rebellion against God–reflects the dire spiritual danger today’s cultural warriors have risked by providing religious sanction to the entirely secular conservative agenda they have chosen to emphasize over every task. After all, if they’re wrong in thinking that the clear lesson of Holy Scripture for today’s Christians is to criminalize abortion, demonize gay people, and reverse the changing gender roles of recent centuries, then they are the kind of “false prophets” that Holy Scripture warns us all to fear and reject, right? In that sense, Robertson stands out less for the breathtaking arrogance of his pronouncements, than for his remarkable lack of discretion in broadcasting them regularly.Still, you have to wish he’d finally retire and share his views less broadly, if only because of the scandal he so often brings to his faith and his country. (Wikipedia has an excellent summary of his fatuous fatwahs over the years).When I first heard that the Rev had breezily announced Ariel Sharon’s stroke was a direct Act of God, like many Christians, and many Americans, my first thought was please shut up. Or, to quote one of the preachers in the repertoire of the late Richard Pryor: “How long? How long? How long–must this b—s— go on?”
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By Ed Kilgore
Always on the lookout for a new wrinkle on ancient battles, I drew attention to a recent legal development at New York:
Though the constitutional law of “religious liberty” is a murky field, we are all accustomed to hearing anguished claims from conservative Christians that laws requiring them to provide or pay for reproductive-health services or treat LGBTQ employees and customers equally are an unacceptable violation of their beliefs. Now that the Supreme Court has struck down the federal right to an abortion, it’s clearer than ever that the Christian right and its Republican allies are aiming to construct a system where they are free to live their values as they wish, regardless of the impact on others.
But as a new lawsuit in Florida shows, what’s good for the conservative goose may also be good for the progressive gander. A group of religious officials are arguing in state court that the new anti-abortion law enacted this year by Florida Republicans violates their right to religious expression. The Washington Post reports:
“Seven Florida clergy members — two Christians, three Jews, one Unitarian Universalist and a Buddhist … argue in separate lawsuits filed Monday that their ability to live and practice their religious faith is being violated by the state’s new, post-Roe abortion law. The law, which is one of the strictest in the country, making no exceptions for rape or incest, was signed in April by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), in a Pentecostal church alongside antiabortion lawmakers such as the House speaker, who called life ‘a gift from God.’”
The plaintiffs in these suits most definitely want to rebut the idea that forced birth is the only authentically “religious” perspective on abortion services. After all, as United Church of Christ minister Laurie Hafner explains, the anti-abortion cause has little biblical sanction:
“Jesus says nothing about abortion. He talks about loving your neighbor and living abundantly and fully. He says: ‘I come that you might have full life.’ Does that mean for a 10-year-old to bear the child of her molester? That you cut your life short because you aren’t able to rid your body of a fetus?”
The legal theory in the lawsuits focuses specifically on the counseling of pregnant people and their families that clergy engage in routinely, and that under the new Florida law may be treated as the illegal aiding and abetting of criminal acts. Hafner’s suit alleges that this violates both federal and state constitutional rights, along with Florida’s version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (a 1993 federal “religious liberty” law):
“The dramatic change in abortion rights in Florida has caused confusion and fear among clergy and pregnant girls and women particularly in light of the criminal penalties attached. Given her general duties and work as a Pastor, Plaintiff intends to engage in counseling regarding abortion beyond the narrow limits of HB 5 and, therefore, risks incarceration and financial penalties.”
It’s unclear how this argument will fare in the courts. Conservative judges may stipulate that anti-abortion laws impinge on religious-liberty rights that are nonetheless outweighed by the state’s “compelling interest” in fetal life. But at least, for once, the judiciary and the public will have to come to grips with the fact that many millions of pro-choice religious Americans passionately oppose what is happening to our country in the name of “life.” During the run-up to this week’s resounding “no” vote on a constitutional amendment removing any hint of abortion rights in the state’s constitution, a Presbyterian Church in Kansas displayed a sign that read, “Jesus trusted women. So do we.” This was likely an allusion to the “Trust Women” motto of the famous Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, who in 2009 was assassinated in the foyer of the church in which he was serving as an usher. His legacy lives on in houses of worship and now in the courts.