July 5, 2023
Welcome into The Equipped! It was a fast and furious finish to the U.S. Supreme Court’s term this week, so we will bring you up to speed on a few of the most consequential rulings, and particularly consider how we as Jesus followers can serve in the midst of each issue at hand. Thank you for being a part of The Equipped community!
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Every Time I Remember You
“I thank my God every time I remember you.”
Of all the New Testament letter openings, this one from Paul and Timothy to the Philippians is my favorite. After greeting the church and wishing them grace and peace, Paul and Timothy express their deep and abiding gratitude to God for the brothers and sisters to whom they write.
As we celebrate Independence Day in America this week, there is so much for which we should be grateful, including the historic levels of liberty and provision we enjoy. However, the blessing of free fellowship with other Jesus followers is among the greatest of our blessings. Over the course of human history, governments (including the ones under which Paul, Timothy, and the Philippians were living) have viewed the gathering of religious people skeptically, and have often worked to create distance (including tactics of physical separation, restricted liberty, and ideological division) between believers. Note how this expression in Philippians 1 is rooted in separation (Paul and Timothy have to recall their times together rather than enjoy regular and ongoing interaction with them).
Even so, in one short sentence, so much is imparted. Paul and Timothy love the Philippians. They value their friendship, long for their companionship, and hold their dear friends perpetually in their thoughts (and, I’m sure, in their prayers).
What a gift it is to walk this journey with fellow Jesus followers! Let us not take for granted the magnitude and the sweetness of this gift. In fact, make it a point today to sincerely tell someone that you thank God for them!
I’ll go first by telling you how grateful to God I am for you, and how encouraged I am that you would take seriously this task of being equipped for your ambassadorship of Jesus Christ. My effort to follow hard after Jesus is bolstered as a result of walking alongside you. So I thank my God every time I remember you!
Repay Your Debts
A few weeks ago, we in The Equipped community discussed the state of play around student loans, and particularly whether the U.S. Supreme Court would invalidate a plan put forward by the Biden Administration to cancel approximately $430 billion in federal student loan debt. The Court has done just that, finding that the Administration exceeded its authority when it enacted the loan forgiveness plan without clear congressional authorization.
Read the decision here: Biden v. Nebraska
Controlling Vote: 6-3 (Roberts authored; Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett joined; Kagan, Sotomayor, and Jackson dissented)
Analysis and eternal perspective: This is not a particularly surprising decision, as many legal experts from across the ideological spectrum were skeptical about the Administration’s claim of authority under the recently enacted HEROES Act. Further, while not in any way controlling on the matter, a majority of both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House voted that Congress had not authorized such a plan, and even leading officials from the President’s political party expressed doubt about the plan’s constitutionality.
As Jesus followers, we would do well to again remind ourselves of the importance of both faithfully repaying our debts (Ecc. 5:5, Ps. 37:21, Rom. 13:7-8) and showing compassion to those in our debt (Luke 6:30, Matt. 6:12, Deut. 15:1). Very practically, we should, a) Carefully contemplate the wisdom of taking on enormous student loan debt, b) Be diligent and fervent to repay the debts we owe, and c) Look for ways to be generous toward those who are financially in over their head.
Religious Freedom and Employment Law
Honor the Sabbath
In another case we’ve discussed here at The Equipped, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a postal worker who was denied permission to observe a Sabbath. The Court specifically held that, in order for an employer to deny such a request, Title VII requires they first demonstrate that the burden of such an accommodation would result in substantially increased costs.
Read the decision here: Groff v. DeJoy
Controlling Vote: Unanimous (Alito authored)
Analysis and eternal perspective: Religious liberty is one of the bedrocks of the American system of government. While this does not—and should not—mean that employers must shoulder the burden of every decision motivated by an employee’s religion or faith, this ruling is an important (and unanimous) affirmation that significant deference must be given to an individual wishing to live out his or her faith.
As Jesus followers, this decision gives us an opportunity to consider a few questions: a) How fervent is our walk with Jesus (Col 1:9-12)?, b) How do we observe a Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11; Ez. 20:19-20; Mk. 2:23-27)?, and c) Do we use our influence to make space for others who wish to live out their faith (Gal. 5:1,13; 2 Cor. 3:17; Rom. 14:2,20-21; 1 Cor. 8:9)?
The First Amendment and Free Speech
In a case involving a conflict between the promises of the First Amendment and the requirements under Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, “The First Amendment prohibits Colorado from forcing a website designer to create expressive designs speaking messages with which the designer disagrees” (page 2 of the Syllabus). At question was whether or not a web designer could be compelled to design a website for a marriage she does not endorse. The Court ruled that the First Amendment protects the web designer from this type of compelled speech.
Read the decision here: 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis
Controlling Vote: 6-3 (Gorsuch authored; Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh, and Barrett joined; Sotomayor, Kagan, Jackson dissented)
Analysis and eternal perspective: Much like the Groff v. DeJoy case above, this case reminds us how essential religious liberty is to our governing system. The guarantees in the Constitution—and, more specifically, the Bill of Rights—are not grants of rights, but rather restrictions on the government’s intrusion on those rights. The rights themselves are acknowledged to be inherent, and endowed by our Creator. The First Amendment promises legal protection against government infringement on an individual’s right to free speech and the free exercise of religion. This promise is far more important when the speech or religious exercise in question is out of favor with a significant portion of society, as disfavored speech necessitates more protection than does favored speech.
As Jesus followers, we should endeavor to live upright and with complete devotion to God’s Word (1 Kings 8:61). In doing so, and to the greatest extent possible, we should also endeavor to live at peace with those around us (Rom. 12:18).
Equal Protection Under the Law
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the affirmative action components of the admission processes at both Harvard and the University of North Carolina are unconstitutional. Specifically, the Court found that using race as a factor for determining admission is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Read the decision here: Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College
Controlling Vote: 6-3 (Roberts authored; Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett joined; Sotomayor, Kagan, and Jackson dissented)
Analysis and eternal perspective: You and I have discussed this important concept before: No person should be above the law, and neither should any person be beneath the law’s protections. Even when we find agreement around that statement, it can be difficult to apply the principle in real life. When it comes to affirmative action, traditionally disfavored students are given favored status in an attempt to level the playing field. The complication, however, is that this practice actually grants permission for those in authority to once again disfavor certain groups. Even if you support the initial acts of disfavoring to "level the playing field," it is nearly certain this authority will eventually be used in a way you find problematic. That is why the Constitution provides a vision of equal protection under the law, and it is one that is worthy of our defense (Col. 3:11).
While equal protection under the law is essential for good governance, we should also heed the biblical reminder to use our voice and influence on behalf of those who are in need or without a voice (Pr. 31:8-9). These two principles might at first seem to be in conflict, but it is helpful to remember this distinction: The law is responsible for equal protection while we as Jesus followers are repeatedly called to pay particular attention and concern to specific (and vulnerable) segments of society.
Truth results in freedom (Jn. 8:32).
Freedom is never free except at the foot of the Cross (Rom. 8:1-3).
Freedom should be used on behalf of those who are not yet free (Gal. 5:13-15).
How beautiful it is that you are free to be poured out for those around you!
You have true freedom! May you offer that beautiful gift to those around you this week!