Friday, May 20, 2016

Spiritual Coffee: When One Spouse Leaves the Church - Keeping a Tender Heart Toward the Hard-Hearted - Understanding Little Sisters of the Poor

Today’s three links to the best things I've come across in the past few days to feed a Christian mind and heart. Click on Spiritual Coffee for prior roundups to sharpen and equip your Christian thinking.

Blessed Are the Agnostics, Stina Kielsmeier-Cook (her•meneutics, Christianity Today)
Her husband gave up on the church; she stayed. Too often we act like we don’t see people struggling through things like this because we don’t know what to say or do. Listen to how she wrestled with her doubts, her husband’s soul, divided worldviews in parenting, and what she needs from the church. Candid and earnest. These are people we need to listen to and learn to welcome.

Not Hardening Our Hearts Against the Hard-Hearted, David Schrock (
Insightful and helpful reflections for understanding the blindness and self-deception in friends and church members who are caught up in sin. How to seek their hearts while guarding your own against becoming jaded or discouraged.
n.b. The quote from 2 Timothy 2:22-25 seems to be missing from the end, right before the prayer in italics. But it’s a perfect complement to the post, so read it alongside.
"When they harden themselves against us, we must pray. In love, our response must not be passivity but wise, repeated strategic appeals to that member of Christ’s body. Matthew 18 is not a quick pitstop that enables churches to get rid of unwanted sinners; it is a long, arduous pathway to restore those who have been and are being deceived by sin."
"Sin is irrational and causes the sinner to make statements and take actions that are mystifying. These words and actions are not “out of character,” as many like to put it. They are tragically “in character,” as indwelling sin comes to the surface. Hebrews 3 reminds us, every believer has blindspots and chambers in their heart which, when released, exude poison.""Often these well-versed believers will make these steps quoting Scripture on their way. We are a twisted bunch and none of us are immune from deception."
"Left unchecked, sin will always go further than we first intended."
"Sin is not innocent or accidental, it is the self-willed desire to go our own way and to persist on the road to destruction. Immediately, hardness of heart—anger in speech, isolation in action, unwillingness to listen, self-justification, and personal advocacy—occur. And more than occur, they increase. Like yeast, sin leavens the whole heart. And thus it needs to be opposed—both internally by the Spirit-filled individual but also externally by the church, when that individual is a beloved member of the church."

Little Sisters of the Poor – Thoughts on the Decision in the Contraception Mandate Case, Mark Movsesian (First Things)
Christians should understand the United States Supreme Court's decision in Zubik v. Burwell, the case involving Little Sisters of the Poor and the HHS Mandate that would have forced them to pay for contraceptives against their religious beliefs. This is a good summary. Some overall high points (from several sources):
  • The Little Sisters asked to be exempt from being required to pay for health care plans that would include providing contraceptives to people, because their religious beliefs prohibit using contraception (additionally, many forms of contraception can act as abortifacients that can trigger rejection of a live embryo by the body after conception).
  • The Department of Health and Human Services ("HHS") mandated under the Affordable Care Act (commonly called Obamacare) that the Sisters must pay for the plans and ensure free contraception. No religious exemption was granted.
  • The decision did not settle what kind of accommodation the Little Sisters should receive, but it is nevertheless basically a win for two reasons: 1) the Supreme Court did not say the Sisters can't have an exemption for religious beliefs, but actually sent the case back to the district court with instructions to have the Obama Administration find an accommodation that would fit the Sisters beliefs - which means the Court believes one is possible and that one should be made; and 2) the Sisters had been charged with very heavy fines in district court because they were not cooperating with the HHS Mandate to provide health insurance with free contraception, and the Supreme Court vacated all those decisions, effectively wiping out all the fines and penalties.
  • The decision was unanimous. There was no disagreement indicated among the eight justices.
  • Remarkably, President Obama came out the day after the decision with a statement applauding the decision as a victory for religious freedom, and the President said that there is no need for the Sisters and other religious groups to be required to pay for plans with free contraception, because employees can get free contraception in other ways.
  • As Movsesian notes, it is odd that the President should take that position after his HHS has insisted for five years of litigation that employees have no other options for affordable contraception and that making the Sisters pay for it is necessary. It almost looks as if the administration's objective all along was not ensuring free contraception (which they now admit is already available in other ways) but overpowering religious objections to being forced to participate - a test of whether the government can get away with compelling religious groups to act against their beliefs if it wants to. Thankfully, the answer again is no.

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