Saturday, March 31, 2012

Another religious freedom case

A mother has been charged with criminal contempt of court for having her kids baptized without the consent of her ex-husband. The court ordered that there be court mediation if the parents could not agree on the religious upbringing of the kids; mom wanted them baptized (she's Methodist), dad didn't (he's Presbyterian).

I hope this case goes through the appellate system and is overturned. It is a long standing rule in Western Christianity that the consent of only one parent is required for the baptism (see the Code of Canon Law sec. 868.1). I can't see it as a good thing for our ministries if courts start forbidding baptisms until we get the consent of Presbyterians, Baptists, or Atheists.



  1. Technically, the mother is not sued for having her baby baptized, but for disobeying a previous court's order. It would have been the same if anyone else would have had the boy circumcised for religious reasons. Therefore it is not right to claim here "that courts start forbidding baptisms", for they do not. What they are doing is punishing civil disobedience, and that's there God commanded duty.

  2. and that's "their" God commanded duty, i.e.; sorry for my grammar ;)

  3. Mr. Mueller,

    I disagree. The effect of the court's order is clear: you cannot baptize these children without consent of this court. That is a clear breech of the separation of church and state and a clear violation of the mother's first amendment rights, and God-given parental rights.

    It's always a judgment call as to when Romans 13 or Acts 5:29 applies - but I think this one is pretty clear. I want the parents of my parish to get their children baptized ASAP - and no I, for one, don't take it kindly if any State apparatus impedes Baptism in any way.


  4. Dear Pr. H.R.,

    we may well disagree on this point, but please ponder these questions first:
    (a) Who is sued. The pastor? The congregation? Or the mother?
    (b) What is she sued for? For having her baby baptised or for having arbitrarily ignored a previous sentence? If former, she'll be acquitted, because no law prohibits baptism. If latter, what makes her disobedience different from those who hijack their children to initiate them into a religion abroad?
    (c) Whose first amendment rights have also been violated? The fathers? What makes his rights inferior to those of the mother?

    Don't get me wrong. I, too, would baptise as soon as one parent shows up. But what this case is about is very similar to the weird distinction between temporal and ecclesiastical jurisdiction back in the time of reformation. Disobedience must be punished. That's what will happen. The mother is not punished for having her baby baptised, but for disobeying a sentence.

    In Christ,
    Benjamin M.

    1. Mr. Mueller:

      If my parishioners feel constrained from keeping their children from baptism because a court orders them to get permission from an Atheist before they can - that impedes my ministry as much as her freedom. If they come for mom for this, how much longer until until they come for those who "aided and abetted" a parent in disobeying the court?

      Further, as I mentioned to Fr. Osbun below, it is mere sophistry to say that the court did not forbid this baptism. What act of hers violated the court order? The baptism of her child. They said she could not make "any major religious decision" without court mediation with the father. That is unjust, unconstitutional, contrary to the proper sphere of the State's authority, and will, I hope, be recognized as such by the higher courts.


    2. Pr. H.R.,

      if you're concerned about the feelings of your parishioners you better don't reject diligent examination of actual facts as "sophistry". If my religion was canibalism you wouldn't claim it being "unjust, unconstitutional, contrary to the proper sphere of the State's authority" if ate my children, either.
      As a brother in confession I dearly recommend you to study Luther's Invocavit sermons and the treatise "Von den Konzilii und Kirchen"; then you know what the state can do from a genuine confessional Lutheran perspective, and that there's nothing wrong in sentencing someone for disobedience. Thus, if your parishioners are concerned do what is your task: Comfort them with the Gospel and remind them of their duty of obedience.

    3. There is something wrong with sentencing someone for disobedience to an unjust decree - see Acts 5:29. The whole argument is whether or not the order was just. I say it wasn't. You, evidently, think it was.

      I don't believe any government has the right to order any parent to jump through any hoop before they get their kid baptized. I mean, would the Sanhedrin command in Acts 5 have been more acceptable if they told the Apostles not to "make any religious pronouncements until they could meet in Sanhedrin mediation with the Pharisee party?"


    4. Well, you're right, there is an unjust component to that. I am pretty sure that the father is abusing a well intentioned sentence to bully the mother. And I am sure the judges will ponder that.

      In terms of Acts 5: I think we deal with a tricky situation here, inasmuch as the Sanhedrin actually forbade to preach the Gospel at all. And even if it were just "temporarily": What the Apostle actually says makes it clear: If on account of sin we come into the predicament between civil authorities and our mission, we better decide for latter. This, however, does not imply a divine "right" of civil acceptance of our mission, nor that the judges would commit sin in sentencing her civil disobedience.

      Well, as a citizen I am sorry for her. As a Christian I am glad she did that, and by imprisioning her she does become a confessor. That's not something I would wish everyone, but it's one of these crosses you don't wish everyone to carry, either.

  5. Actually, Heath, the article says nothing about needing the court's consent to baptize.

    "This week the Tennessee Court of Appeals said Lauren Jarrell must face a criminal contempt hearing for violating a court order that said major decisions regarding the religious upbringing of her two children should be made jointly with the children's father."

    The court order was that the parents had to make the decision together. The mother made a decision without the father. Yes, the Church recognizes that. But she is not being charged with "baptizing your children." She is being charged with contempt.

    But a later statement in the article is exactly along the lines of what I was thinking:

    "Court records show that the mother argued that it was wrong for the lower court to find her in contempt it was tantamount to preferring the father's religious views on baptism over hers."

    The dad does not want the children baptized young. The mom does not want to wait. Why must the mom wait? Why is the court not holding the dad in contempt as well?

  6. Fr. Osbun,

    The question is whether the court has any right to insist that some person not exercise their religious freedom without prior condition. The court imposed a prior condition on this woman's exercise of her God given parental rights. That's wrong, in my humble opinion.

    It is mere sophistry to say that she is not being held in contempt for having the kids baptized. "Having the kids baptized" is the action that is being held as contrary to the court's order to "jointly decide major religious issues" with the father.

    As you point out, this is at best a nonsensical order: what if they just plain disagree? But it is more than nonsensical: it is tyrannical and unconstitutional.


  7. This is yet another example of abuse of state power. This estranged couple needs to work this out and negotiate it themselves - without interference from the state.

    When the state (under the color of divorce settlements or anything else) presumes to tell people when, if, or how to baptize - they are simply assuming powers they don't have. Since when did the state become omnipotent? When did Americans become so servile? It boggles the mind...

    At best, this is a *civil* matter - not a *criminal* matter. The comments on the news story are telling - there are people who want this lady to go to prison (prison!).

    Of course, that is the solution to just about everything these days. A legislator in Louisiana wants to make it a crime (a crime!) to wear pajamas in public. Some talk radio yahoo is calling for Al Sharpton to be arrested (arrested!) for calling for civil disobedience. There were people calling for Rush Limbaugh to be arrested (arrested!) for calling someone an ugly name.

    It seems that this is America's solution to everything: a cell. We are descending into Stalinism - and most of the politicians seem to want to outdo one another in this regard. It shows how tough they are, I suppose.

    It seems that nearly everyone in "the land of the free" wants to put everyone else (especially those who disagree with us) in cages. Maybe that's why we have the highest proportion of our citizens in cages - and most of them for non-violent "crimes."

    But hey, law and order, and all that! Baptize a baby. Go to jail. It's the law! Saudi or American? It's getting harder to tell...

  8. The article actually says that the father was the Methodist. Which brings up an interesting question; what kind of Methodists don't baptize their kids? Strange.

    Just to play devil's advocate (not that I'm trying to be the devil's advocate), if this were a Mormon/Muslim/pick your poison woman who's ex-husband was a Christian father, would it violate the parental rights of said father if the mother took their children through the religion's initiation (whatever that may be) without his consent? Divorce makes these things get really sticky in a pluralistic society. It's a shame.

    1. No, the Christian father would have no right to forbid this and no State would have any right to forbid it either. That's why St. Paul was not very sanguine about Christians being yoked to unbelievers.


  9. "The question is whether the court has any right to insist that some person not exercise their religious freedom without prior condition. The court imposed a prior condition on this woman's exercise of her God given parental rights. That's wrong, in my humble opinion."

    There's more going on than the free exercise of religion for a single person. The mother's free exercise of religion pertains to the children, over which the father also has a constitutional right to free exercise of religion. The father believes that the children should not be baptized. (Yes, he is wrong.) But he has as much protection for free exercise of religion under the first amendment as the mother does.

    This then becomes a matter for the State because the State serves as the arbiter of dissolution resolutions (using the language of the State of Indiana). The State tells the couple how everything is divided. Yes, this is a matter that falls under religious freedom, but since there are conflicting religious freedoms going on, the State does have the right to dictate how those religious freedoms will be exercised equally. And in this case, religious freedoms will be exercised in joint consultation with each other, not independent of each other.

    That's where the contempt of court came in. It's not sophistry. It is telling it like it is from the viewpoint of the law.

    1. You have written a fine brief here for the court as this heads to appeal. The other viewpoint is that US court properly have no jurisdiction in telling one parent that s/he must get the other parent's court supervised permission before a Bar Mitzvah, baptism, or Mormon Temple ceremony.

      Obviously, I favor the latter view.


    2. The problem with the state is that it knows no bounds.

      The state should simply say "this is not our business." How this couple negotiates the religious life of their children is no more the state's business than it is to dictate whether the mother teaches the children to use chopsticks or whether the father may require the children to wear blue shirts when they are eating dinner at his house. We could not imagine the state mandating whether the children are to be raised Democrat or Republican - or threatening one of the parents with prison time over it. If the father were to complain that the mother is raising the children to love dogs when he despises dogs, the courts would (hopefully) tell him it is beyond the scope of the state to get involved in that level of detail.

      Divorce is messy, and parents need to work together as best they can - even if it means that they cannot. Some differences can't be fixed - especially by government. A state with the power to jail someone over a baptism is a state that needs its wings clipped.

      If the father doesn't like it, he can either ritually unbaptize them, or he can simply refuse to accept the validity of the baptism. Shall a court mandate how the children are to be taught church history, predestination, what to confess about the Lord's Supper, the validity of female "pastors" (we don't know what denomination of Presbyterian the father is), and other nuanced issues? What about creation and evolution? How much power do we want politicians and bureaucrats to have over the religious life of the people? And who is going to oversee all of this?

      And to threaten to imprison (imprison!) someone over their children's baptisms, my goodness, what barbarians we have become!

  10. As much as it displeases me to see the court doing this, there's one other factor that must be taken into consideration:

    The court is not imposing its will on the parents against their will. That is to say, this husband and wife voluntarily elected to allow the court into their marriage to oversee and establish the terms of their dissolution. The court did not initiate this. They did. They said, "We don't want to be married anymore. O Court, please mediate this matter for us!"

    It's a terrible situation, to be sure, but it is not one that was unwillingly forced upon these people. They made the choice. They must live with the consequences of that choice.

    This woman is not being punished for baptizing her children. Though that is the set of circumstances that led to her punishment, she is being punished for violating a court order.

    Had she and her husband not elected to allow the court into their marriage and then had she had her children baptized against his will, the court would have no standing in the matter. Therefore she is not being punished for baptizing her children.

    But as it stands, they voluntarily went to the court. Therefore they voluntarily chose to submit to the court's decisions. Therefore the woman is being punished not for having her children baptized, but for violating a court order to which she voluntarily agreed to submit.

  11. No, the state has a monopoly.

    There is no other institution to go to to dissolve the contract. Marriage is regulated by the state, and the state recognizes no competing entity.

    Now, I agree with you to this extent: they could have gotten a church wedding without any state involvement or contract, and then the dissolution would have been entirely voluntary (subject to the dictates of their religion) with no state coercion. And I think a good argument can be made to separate the state and marriage. In fact, in this day and age of homosexual "marriages" this may well be something churches might want to consider. The faithful remnant of the Church of Sweden were seeking (albeit unsuccessfully) to sever the ties between the state and marriage so as to allow Christian pastors not to be coerced by the state into officiating over homosexual "weddings."

    But as it stands, this situation is state coercion, plain and simple. A woman can potentially be jailed for baptizing her kids. Not in Soviet Russia. Not in Saudi Arabia. A woman can be jailed (!) in America (!) for baptizing (!) her kids. No amount of legalese can sugar coat this poison.

    The couple did not "invite" the state to be involved any more than the legal fiction that paying income taxes is "voluntary" (something the IRS actually says with a straight face). The state is never "invited." It would be like the state requiring that we "ordain" women, after all, we do accept 501c3 tax status, and by accepting the tax break, we "invite" the state into our sanctuaries and creeds. Therefore, the state could claim the right to shut down our churches and jail our pastors for "discrimination." I think there is a 50-50 chance of something like this happening in our lifetime.

    Once again, in this divorce case, the state needs to be concerned with *property* - not mandating religion and religious ritual. Such things as what color the tiles in the bathroom are, whether or not the children eat salami or bologna, and what color tie the ex-husband may wear are not the state's business - just as it is not the state's business how, when, or if the children are baptized. The state needs to butt out of this. It's just that simple. If the couple can't agree on the color of the tiles or what kind of lunch meat to give the kids, well, that's just something for them to work out. I don't see why people are so eager to justify governmental overreach into the religious lives of citizens. This is a terrible precedent.

    It seems that we, unlike our ancestors, have lost the ability to say to the government: "This is none of your business." The problem is the state thinks it is master and not servant.

    What if the state were to mandate that a woman seeking a divorce must get an abortion? Would you argue that she would be volunteering to kill her child by asking the state to dissolve her marriage? What if she were being beaten or if her husband were cheating on her? Must be accept a state mandated abortion if the husband demands it?

    I mean, should a women who is being abused or cheated on be forced to choose between the following: a) Not baptize her kids, b) go to jail, c) remain married to an abusing husband?

    A free person should be able to say d) none of the above.

    I don't know if she is being abused, but before allowing this precedent, I think the ramifications need to be considered. There is always such fallout when government is given too much power.

  12. Yes, they did invite the State into their marriage. After all, they didn't have to get a divorce.

    They are living with the consequences of their actions and their decisions. The consequences are that the State gets to dictate the terms of their dissolution.

    No one forced them to get married. No one forced them to get divorced. Those were all voluntary decisions that come with certain assumed and implied conditions.

  13. Dear Pr. Osbun:

    So, if you get legally married (as opposed to just shacking up), you are freely agreeing to have an abortion if the state decides that's what you must do? Are you married? Did you consent to this? I am and I didn't.

    If a woman were being beaten by her husband, getting a divorce is a "voluntary action," like ordering a cheeseburger? And if the state decides to compel her to abort her child or withhold baptism from her children as part of the process - that's what the state "gets to dictate"?

    I agree with your choice of term "dictate."

    Any state that believes it has the right to compel a person not to baptize their own children is dictatorial. That is a dictatorship. That is also the tendency of any state - which is why our founders rejected both empire and democracy and sought to keep the state at bay by a republican form of government held in the chains of constitutional law with checks and balances - though we now see how Quixotic they were in hindsight.

    No, the state does not "get to dictate" matters of religion and conscience in a republic, as the state is limited by the Constitution, not to mention the morality of its actions. The state executed Jesus for treason. The state ordered Peter and John not to preach in the name of Jesus - though it had no right to make such a demand. The state slaughtered thousands of Christians in the arena. The state ordered the deaths of tens of millions of people in the 20th century - why? Because people "voluntarily" joined political movements the state considered subversive and so such "decisions" came with "certain assumed and implied conditions"?

    I disagree that this is the right of the state to tell a woman she can't have her children baptized. If the state were to mandate that she must vote Republican, or that she must cheer for the Seattle Seahawks, or that she can drink Coke but not Pepsi - we would probably not be having this disagreement. We would likely agree that the state has no right to make such demands. But something like baptizing children? I'm baffled as to why a Christian would defend the state in potentially putting children in peril of hell.

    Free people are not treated this way by governments that respect freedom. This is naked fascism. Hopefully, someone will have the guts to rule the state out of order on this. But then again, asking the state to limit its own power is the classic fox and hen-house scenario. It typically doesn't work out so well.

    "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."
    ~ Sinclair Lewis

    1. "So, if you get legally married (as opposed to just shacking up), you are freely agreeing to have an abortion if the state decides that's what you must do? Are you married? Did you consent to this? I am and I didn't."

      My first response to this strawman is that if the State ever starts commanding abortions, I will stand right at the front of the protest line with you.

      My second response to this strawman is that this does not accurately reflect the conditions of the case in question. The State neither commanded nor prohibited the woman from having her children baptized. That's why she's not brought up on charges of having her children baptized. The State ordered that all decisions pertaining to the spiritual upbringing of their children be made with the children's father, who has just as much of a protected right to the free exercise of religion as the mother. This is why she's being brought up on contempt of court charges (which is a charge applicable even in civil court). She failed to abide by the provisions set forth in the dissolution, which were to make these decisions with her ex-husband.

      "If a woman were being beaten by her husband, getting a divorce is a "voluntary action," like ordering a cheeseburger?"

      Yes, it is. There is no mandate to divorce.

      "And if the state decides to compel her to abort her child or withhold baptism from her children as part of the process - that's what the state "gets to dictate"?"

      Again, this is a strawman. That's not what happened here.

      "Any state that believes it has the right to compel a person not to baptize their own children is dictatorial."

      I can understand why you are so upset about this. You completely misunderstand that circumstances of the case. The court never compelled the woman not to baptize her children. In fact, this whole thing is not about the baptism at all.

      The court ordered that both parents make decisions pertaining to the spiritual upbringing of their children together. That's what she failed to do. The means by which she failed to do this was by having her children baptized. But it's not about the baptism.

      Yes, that's right. This case is not about the baptism.

      The court did not compel her to baptize. The court did not compel her not to baptism. It's not about the baptism.

      The court ordered her make these decisions with the father. The woman failed to make this decision with the father. It's not about the baptism.

      In case you didn't catch it the first few times: it's not about the baptism.

      For the record, I agree with the mother's decision.

  14. Dear Josh:

    This is not a strawman.

    Your argument that this is a strawman would be like the state outlawing a mosque, and a lawyer arguing "What if this were not a mosque but a Methodist church?" and the judge throwing calling it a strawman because mosques and churches are different. Yes, they are, but the issue is "Does the state have the power to interfere in the religious beliefs of citizens?" - or even non-citizens for that matter.

    In his questioning of the Obama administration regarding Obamacare, Judge Alito (I believe it was) asked that if the government could compel citizens to buy health insurance, could the state therefore compel citizens to buy broccoli. That's not a strawman, but rather an exploration of the state's authority. We have to be very careful about setting precendents when it comes to state power. Alito's question is spot on.

    The theoretical abortion question is not a strawman because it is also a precedent and an exploration of the state's authority. If a divorce settlement provides the state the ability to make imprisonment the consequence for making a decision based on the exercise of religion and conscience, what are the limits?

    Baptism and abortion are similar issues. They both involve life and death, both involve children at the mercy of their parents, both involve matters where ex- (or even current) spouses may disagree, and both are deeply held religious beliefs.

    The fact that the parents are divorced is laregly irrelevant. You could have a Jewish husband and a Christian wife who disagree about circumcision, or a Muslim wife and a Christian husband who disagree about baptism. The state will not (hopefully!) get involved in such matters - and nor should they if it involves a divorce. If the married couple has to negotiate this (and they do), so should they if they divorce.

    Again, the courts will not get involved in telling mom she must serve oatmeal for breakfast instead of scrambled eggs, or tell dad that he has to provide the children with a PC and not a Mac.

    You are correct that it isn't about baptism per se. It is rather about the right of the state to compel or prevent - under the threat of imprisonment (!) - the free exercise of religion. Can the state, in the name of protecting the religious liberty of one person, threaten another person with imprisonment (!) for the free exercise of his religion? I mean, no matter how you slice it, this is something out of Communist China or a Sharia legal system. And this is exactly why the founders placed religious liberty in the first amendment of the Bill of Rights.

    And the fact that you endorse the state's right to imprison this woman if she were to baptize, but you would balk at the state's right to imprison this woman for carrying a child to term shows that your view is inconsistent. In both scenarios, the state would be putting a mother into the position of suffering imprisonment for giving life - in one case physical, in the other spiritual. The question isn't whether or not you or I agree with baptism or abortion, the question is "Does the state have the right to compel a person in matters of religious or philosophical belief?"

    If we are a free people, the answer is a resounding "no." If the state is supreme, the answer is an obvious "yes."

    The fact that we are even discussing this issue in the United States is indicative of a government out of control. If we have not become a full-blown tyranny, we are surely walking the road. We really need to declare some things off-limits when it comes to the state. And if our religious beliefs aren't sacred, I don't know what is. Actually, I do: the state. And when the state becomes "sacred" that is the dictionary definition of fascism. I hope we get off this road while we still can.

    1. Dictionary definitions and alleged dichotomies are the business of platonism, but not that of sound Lutheran teaching. Each individual state is sacred, in as much as it is an agency in the realm to God's left, goverened in responsibility to him; also the wickedness of its rulers, however, does not exempt us from our duty to obey. If a state lowers taxes for churches, he obviously is doing a good thing. If a state is asking citizens of different confessions to make sure that they both agree on the issue of baptism, it is also a good thing.

      Now you tell me: Is your fear about religious freedom a spiritual concern? If so, you better pray, God will grant you peace to deliberate this issue in a manner that is lead by the two swords, i.e. Law and Gospel.

      But if it is a political issue which questions your private notion of religious freedom, you better write a letter to your senator(s) and congressmen.

      But there is absolutely no point why we should waste time on "ifs" and "whens" in a "Lutheran" blog, especially if there is no evidence, but just fear. Fear is not the Spirit given to us in baptism.

    2. Larry,

      "This is not a strawman."

      Yes, it is. I am presenting to you that the court found her in contempt because she violated the terms of her divorce. You cannot argue against the fact that the court found her in contempt for violating the terms of her divorce, so you are changing the circumstances to say that the court found her in contempt for baptizing her children.

      That is a straw man through and through.

      And if the court had found her in contempt for baptizing her children, the same as with abortion, I would be right there at the front of the protest line.

      But that's not what the court did. The court found her in contempt for violating the terms of the divorce. (See Dgkirch's excellent summary which includes facts from the dissolution.) The only way that baptism enters into this is that baptism is the means by which she violated the terms of the divorce. But she's not being held in contempt for baptism.

  15. Perhaps looking at the facts will help.

    "Mother filed a complaint for divorce in November 2009."

    Mother chose to utilize the court system and, thereby, voluntarily subjected herself to court rules. In legaleze, she voluntarily placed herself under the court's jurisdiction.

    "On June 30, 2010, the trial court entered a Final Decree of Divorce, which incorporated both a Marital Dissolution Agreement ('MDA') and a Permanent Parenting Plan ('Parenting
    Plan')...The parties’ MDA...incorporated the Parenting Plan..."

    Mother voluntarily chose to enter into an agreement with father, something she did not have to do. She could have maintained a right to make independent decisions regarding the religious upbringing of the children. She voluntarily chose not to do so but, rather, entered into an agreement with father.

    "...the Parenting Plan provided that 'major decisions' regarding “religious upbringing” should be made jointly. However, '[i]n the event of a dispute' concerning such decisions, the parties agreed to submit the dispute 'to a mutually agreed upon parenting mediator.'"

    Furthermore, under oath:

    "In her deposition, Mother acknowledged that the parties 'have always had a disagreement on the baptism issue' and she conceded that baptism is a 'major religious decision[.]. Under the circumstances of this case, we find the Parenting Plan provision outlining the procedure for making 'major decisions' regarding 'religious upbringing' was sufficiently clear, specific and unambiguous to alert Mother that her unilateral action was proscribed."

    “The parties disagreed as to the age at which their children should be baptized; Mother believed baptism should occur at an early age, but Husband did not. The disagreement led the parties to consult with their minister, who suggested that the parties ‘look to prayer for guidance on the issue[.]’ According to Mother, however, no consensus regarding the appropriate baptismal age was reached, and the parties’ ‘disagreement on the baptism issue’ continued."

    Mother acknowledged a disagreement with father over the issue of baptism, she acknowledged that a parental decision on the issue of baptism was a major religious decision regarding religious upbringing, and she voluntarily entered into an agreement with father that decisions regarding “religious upbringing” should be made jointly and that, in the event of a dispute concerning such decisions, they would submit the dispute to a mutually agreed upon parenting mediator.

    IOW, mother subjected herself to the law, she voluntarily entered into an agreement with father as to how the issue of baptism would be handled, and she agreed that the agreement would be a part of the court's judgment and decree. Then she turned around and acted in opposition to the agreement she had made and in opposition to the court's decree to which she had agreed.

    This is by definition contempt of court.

    1. "This is by definition contempt of court."

      And that is the charge that she faces.

      Thank you for doing the leg work and posting this.

    2. LOL. This is sophistry. Peter and John were also charged with contempt of court in Acts 5:28. I suppose you will say they deserved what they got for disobeying the court (and that this is actually all about not respecting the government, not about preaching Jesus).

    3. Your response reminds me of John Cleese from Monty Python in the "Argument" sketch. You are relying on pure contradiction. Dgkirche's response is anything but sophistry, yet all you can do is call it sophistry.

      You are an outstanding theologian. You are a terrible student of the law. I thank God that you will stick with what you're good at and will not venture to into other areas.

    4. Dear Josh, we'll have to agree to disagree. And I'm glad you will not swap your alb for a black robe either, lest we start having to hold secret baptisms in between inquisitions.

      Seriously, though, there is a good chance that this country's state apparatus will be controlled by Muslims a hundred years from now. How much power do you want the state to have?

      Our grandchildren will pay if we don't wake up now and defend the church against state encroachment. We need to start thinking about the concept of "the tyrnny of the majority" like the founders did when they rejected democracy.

      The last Lutheran pastor in Soviet Russia was shot in 1940. The state had destroyed every Lutheran church by that time. It would have been unthinkable when 10% of the population in Russia were law-abiding, productive Lutherans a little more than two decades before.

      Don't think such things cannot happen here.

      Besides, whether you like it or not, after the resurrection, we will all be naked vegetarian anarchists. :-)

  16. Although I think the argument that the Lutheran Church in Germany, through its quietism, bears responsibility for the Nazi holocaust is too facile and not nuanced enough, I do believe it is beyond doubt that modern Lutherans advocate a kind of statism that goes beyond the respect for governing officials per Romans 13, and that WW2 era German Lutherans could have had a better record of resistance (there were, of course, great heroes who opposed the state in that era, but there could have been more, to be sure).

    I'm sad to say that the mainstream of conservative American Lutheranism has gotten to the point where the state is treated as a sacred institution - when in fact, the Israelites sought statehood in the form of a monarchy over and against the warnings of the Lord, who told them that a state would also mean taxes and conscription. They were better off with a form of highly decentralized, stateless, self-government. But to their peril they sought imperial glory instead of the freedom God intended for them (the more things change...).

    There is no force on earth - not Soviet Russia or the modern United States - that can morally (or even according to its own constitution) demand that a parent not baptize a child, that a parent abort a child, or to in any way restrict a person's religious beliefs and practices.

    Even if the state and the law are clear, such as it is in Muslim states which prohibit conversions from Islam, when it comes to faith, God trumps the state. I would not be surprised if there were some Lutherans in America who would argue for the beheading of Christians in Saudi Arabia because "that's the law" and "we have to obey our rulers."

    The mother in this case did the right thing by baptizing these children - whether she were threatened with the gulag or even just a few weeks in a county jail. People are entitled to side with the state against religious liberty - as many did in the 20th century. But I think we should follow the precedent set by St. Peter and the apostles in Acts 5:29.

    I'm ashamed of any government (anywhere in the world) that sanctions the bloodshed of millions of children and threatens parents with jail time for violating a court order by baptizing her children. We are quickly becoming the very thing that a lot of my own ancestors went to war to prevent.

    Again, I really think the solution to all of these problems is to consider the separation of marriage and state. Marriage should be treated as a religious matter (including such questions as baptism for children of parents who disagree with each other), and if people choose to enter into an additional contract involving property rights - that would be a state matter apart from the church.

    In many places around the world there is this kind of separation. One may have a church wedding, state wedding, or both. I think most confessional Lutherans in the U.S. would demand that the state be involved. Maybe the whole "gay marriage" thing will open a few eyes.

    I think the early Lutherans blundered terribly by climbing into bed with the state. Three words: "Church of Sweden." The church needs to return to her days of independence of the state. And so do free people, in my opinion.

    1. People never were "free", nor have the particular ecclesiastical communities been. The apostles have been subject to legal persecution, as well as Christ himself. And it was Him who made it clear: My kingdom is not of this world. Unless we haven't left this world, we are thus subject to any state, how mad it ever may be. Especially as Christians we thus cannot claim to know the right political answers.

      As citizens, however, we can and have to be political. When Christians are beheaded in Saudi Arabia we should not be concerned because Christians are beheaded, but because people are beheaded; just as we should not be concerned because Christians abort, but because human beings are aborted.

      Ironically it is poor knowledge and lack of faith that makes churches fall, not the fact that their administration is outsourced to the state in one way or the other.

  17. RE 2:11 pm comment:

    Your analogy does not hold. It would be analogous if Peter and John had vowed not to preach Jesus and then went and did it anyway. They specifically did not enter into such an agreement.

    In this case, the mother did enter into the agreement and court decree, then went and violated it. She is in contempt of court and, if punished, rightly so.

    Analogies are never perfect, but perhaps one might be in order. Let us say that a man is of a certain religion that holds that charging interest is wrong and, therefore, he is in opposition to the charging of interest on a loan. Despite that, he then voluntarily enters into a loan agreement, a contract, with a lending institution in which he borrows money at a particular rate of interest. Later, he pays off the principal but refuses to pay the interest. Lending institution sues for the interest and the man responds that his religion is against the charging of interest and, therefore, he cannot be required to pay it. He asserts that to require him to do so violates his freedom to practice his religion.

    In neither case is the freedom to practice one's religion the issue.

    1. No, people are entitled to change their mind. The Greek word is "metanoia." That is what repentance is.

      Let's say (and we don't know this to be true) that the mother didn't care about baptism when she signed the decree. But then she changed her mind (metanoia) and baptized the children.

      Who trumps whom? God or state? Civil law or sacramental gospel?

      Even if we were talking about some kind of civil penalty, this would not be so odious. But we are talking about a person potentially being incarcerated (!).

      Besides, one could argue that by recognizing the authority of the Sanhedrin, Peter and John were legitimizing whatever verdict they gave.

      Once again, there was a time when Americans were not so servile and did not allow the state to dictate to the church. But we have atrophied to the point where the church invites persecution and then plays the Theology of the Cross Card.


    2. The analogy comparing a contract involving interest fails because that would be a case involving property (something the state can deal with contractually) not conscience or religion (which is not something the state has control over).

      In other words, if I make a contract with you that I will buy a parcel of land from you and will pay you 100,000 plus a certain interest rate, this involves the exchange of money. Even if one person decides owning property, paying interest, or buying and selling is against his religion, this is a valid contract and an obligation.

      But a contract that went something like this: "I contract with you that I will be a Baptist for three years" is not something the state would consider binding - at least it should not. No property is changing hands. No damages are incurred.

      And even if it were allowed to go to court, this would be a civil, not a criminal matter.

      In the "my religion forbids interest" case, a civil action would be taken to recover any lost moneys. We would not even imprison someone for that, nor would we send the "I broke my three-year Baptist contract" guy to the slam if he became an Episcopalian.

      The fact that this marital issue has become a criminal matter is one more example of a government out of control. If a person loses money because of an unfulfilled contractual obligation (for example, Mom agreed to pay for the children to attend a Methodist school, but welched and refused to pay - her wages might be attached or a lien might be put on her house - but we wouldn't put her in jail even for that.

      People don't go to jail even for failing to meet their contractual obligation to pay bills (instead they go through bankruptcy) or even breaking their marriage contract (adultery itself is seen as a civil, not a criminal matter).

      The "crime" in this case is raising her children in the religion of her choice. Had she and her husband still been married, and had she broken their pre-existing agreement not to baptize the kids, she would not be threatened with jail.

      Governments resort to the swapping of the criminal and the civil to bully the citizenry and work around their own restrictions.

      One example of this are the unmanned speeding cameras in use in some states. Since you can't cross examine your accuser, these speed cameras can't be used in criminal law (not yet, anyway). So what cities do that lust after the revenue (like my hometown) is to (presto-change-o) decree a criminal offense into a civil matter. So when you get one of those tickets, it essentially becomes a civil suit by the city against you, and the protections under the law that you enjoy in criminal court don't apply.

      Of course, people should obey the law and not speed. But once the precedent is set that the state can work its way around constitutional protections, this can become dangerous. For example, president Obama could unilaterally declare any American citizen to be an "enemy combatant" and have him arrested without charge, held without trial, and even tortured - all with no due process. Actually, president Lincoln invoked such non-existent powers and some of his own citizens (from union states, never charged with anything) died in prison. One Ohio congressman was exiled from the country - all with no due process.

      This baptism case raises all kinds of red flags - unless, of course, one accepts the tautology "this is legal because the state says it is legal." We have been conditioned to worship the golden calf of the state and to obey men rather than God. It even says "Vox populi, vox Dei" on some courthouses!

      This also explains why it is not particularly uncommon (in my experience) for the pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag to conclude "Amen."

  18. In this case, as I understand it, the father identifies himself as Methodist and the mother as Presbyterian. Both of these church traditions practice the baptism of infants and small children as their normal procedure. So, without considering whether the Methodist theology of Baptism or the Presbyterian theology of Baptism are correct or incorrect (which is beyond the purview of the courts), the default position is that the children should be baptized. This accords with the professed religion of both parents. The father's refusal to go along with the teaching of his own church on this matter is being treated by the court as the default position. That is, the court is saying that if there is no agreement on whether or not to baptize, the father gets his way, not the mother. But the default position should be that the children be baptized, unless both parents decide not to have them baptized. If the father was professing to be a Baptist or a non-Christian, then it wouldn't be as easy to figure out. But as things are - with the father claiming to be an adherent of a church that does in fact practice paedobaptism as its norm - the court should decree that this is what will be done, since the mother's wish represents the normal practice of the religion that each parent professes.


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