A City Upon A Hill

As I thought about praying for today’s hearing on marriage, I remembered William Bradford’s words of gratitude for the Pilgrims’ arrival in Massachusetts.

May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say:

Mayflower in Plymouth HarborOur faithers were Englishmen which come over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this willdernes; but they cried unto the Lord, and he heard their voyce, and looked on their adversitie, etc. Let them therfore praise the Lord, because he is good, and his mercies endure for ever. Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, shew how he hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressour. When they wandered in the deserte willdernes out of the way, and found no citie to dwell in, both hungrie, and thirstie, their sowle was overwhelmed in them. Let them confes before the Lord his loving kindnes, and his wonderfull works before the sons of men.

William Bradford, Of plimouth plantation, 1620

Our nation has a long history of crying out to God in our distress and recognition of His providential hand of blessing, yet recent national calls for prayer have changed. Several years ago I came across an article by Dr. John S. Uebersax, National Days of Prayer: A Historical Comparison, in which he made this significant observation:

Since 1952, the President of the United States has, by law, annually issued a proclamation recommending a National Day of Prayer. This seeks to revive a similar practice that emerged in Revolutionary times, and again in the Civil War. The modern proclamations, however, differ in important ways from the earlier ones. The main difference is evident in the change of titles — from the earlier ‘Day of Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer’ to the modern ‘National Day of Prayer.’ The earlier proclamations emphasized humiliation — understood as including a deep conviction of God’s Providential sovereignty in all things, recognition that calamities may express God’s chastisements, expression of guilt, sorrow for sins, and earnest pledge for reformation.

The first thanksgiving of the Pilgrim Fathers followed a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer. Both days were appointed and set, not by the church, but by their governor. How much more than they, do we as a nation need to turn to God in humiliation and petition. We have grievously sinned against Him.

Look at the Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day signed by Abraham Lincoln on March 30, 1863:

And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

This morning I also remembered John Winthrop’s vision for our country and his warning.

…For we must Consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world…

I shall shut up this discourse with that exhortation of Moses, that faithful servant of the Lord, in his last farewell to Israel, Deut. 30. Beloved there is now set before us life and good, Death and evil, in that wee are commanded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another, to walk in his ways and to keep his Commandments and his Ordinance and his laws, and the articles of our Covenant with him, that we may live and be multiplied, and that the Lord our God may bless us in the land whither we go to possess it. But if our hearts shall turn away, so that wee will not obey, but shall be seduced, and worship and serve other Gods, our pleasure and profits, and serve them; it is propounded unto us this day, wee shall surely perish out of the good land whither we passe over this vast sea to possess it;

Therefore let us choose life
that wee, and our seed
may live, by obeying His
voice and cleaving to Him,
for He is our life and
our prosperity.
John Winthrop, A Model of Christian Charity, 1630

The monument at the grave of William Bradford has one inscription in Hebrew:

Jehovah is our help

Another in Latin:

What our fathers with so much difficulty secured,
do not basely relinquish

The streets of our City darken. As we pray today for marriage, may we pray in humiliation—with “a deep conviction of God’s Providential sovereignty in all things, recognition that calamities may express God’s chastisements, expression of guilt, sorrow for sins, and earnest pledge for reformation.”
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Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, William Halsall: PD-US.

Obergefell v. Hodges: Marriage & the States

Today SCOTUS will hear arguments on Obergefell v. Hodges (the marriage case from Ohio) which has been consolidated with three other cases: Tanco v. Haslam (Tennessee), DeBoer v. Snyder (Michigan), and Bourke v. Beshear (Kentucky). In all four cases the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the state marriage laws were constitutional, reversing lower federal district court rulings that had overturned those laws. (The Sixth Circuit’s ruling can be read here).

The Sixth Circuit split from rulings made by the Fourth, Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Circuit Courts declaring state marriage laws under their jurisdiction to be unconstitutional. Needless to say, the Sixth Circuit decision will now be reviewed by SCOTUS.

GavelThe questions to be argued before SCOTUS are:

1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?

2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state?

Because these cases are about the Fourteenth Amendment and a state’s right to make its own marriage laws, it is ironic that states’ rights were key to the Windsor decision overturning DOMA. Gene Schaerr and Ryan Anderson point out in their Memo to Supreme Court: State Marriage Laws Are Constitutional (numbers are reference citations found at the link):

Kennedy’s opinion for the Court hinged on the reality that “[t]he significance of state responsibilities for the definition and regulation of marriage dates to the Nation’s beginning.”[9] “The definition of marriage,” Windsor explained, is “the foundation of the State’s broader authority to regulate the subject of domestic relations with respect to the ‘[p]rotection of offspring, property interests, and the enforcement of marital responsibilities.’”[10]

United States District Judge Juan Pérez-Giménez recently highlighted this feature of Windsor: [His ruling can be read here.]

The Windsor opinion did not create a fundamental right to same gender marriage nor did it establish that state opposite-gender marriage regulations are amenable to federal constitutional challenges. If anything, Windsor stands for the opposite proposition: it reaffirms the States’ authority over marriage, buttressing Baker’s conclusion that marriage is simply not a federal question.[11]

Windsor also taught that federal power may not “put a thumb on the scales and influence a state’s decision as to how to shape its own marriage laws.”[12] Yet since that time, the federal government—through federal judges—has repeatedly put its thumb on the scales to influence a state’s decision about its own marriage laws—all the while claiming that Windsor required them to do so.

Judge Pérez-Giménez bemoaned this reality, noting that “[i]t takes inexplicable contortions of the mind or perhaps even willful ignorance—this Court does not venture an answer here—to interpret Windsor’s endorsement of the state control of marriage as eliminating the state control of marriage.”[13]

In Justice Kennedy and Marriage: A Guide for the Perplexed Quin Hillyer also noted Kennedy’s reasoning in the Windsor decision:

In it, Kennedy so repeatedly emphasizes state authority on marriage, both definitional and regulatory, that there seems no intellectually honest way for him now to invalidate state laws that, yes, define and regulate marriage. Indeed, even Kennedy’s hymns to personal dignity, at least in Windsor, were sung only in the context of the power of individual states to recognize such dignity despite DOMA’s alleged determination to trample it. In other words, Kennedy painted the dignity not as something conferring a freestanding right to a particular definition and practice of marriage, but only as something a state might choose (or, by inference, choose not) to confer as a recognized privilege.

Hillyer conjectures as to how Kennedy could circumvent this problem, but Kennedy has some pretzel logic to work on if he’s going to deny his reasoning in the Windsor decision in order to deny states the right to make their own marriage laws. Of course, as we have seen in the past he is capable of “inexplicable contortions of the mind.”
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Judges Gavel: Chris Potter. (CC BY 4.0).