How Gov. Phil Bryant Just Ruined His Chances for Re-Election

In Mississippi politics there is one sin that a Republican cannot commit.   A Mississippi Republican may not, under any circumstance, side with national Democratic leaders on any social issue.

Around here, most people are not too fond of Washington liberals.   If a Republican candidate ever sides with, let’s say, Nancy Pelosi on a social issue, his opponent will eat him alive.  In very short order, TV spots will run showing the Mississippi Republican and his Washington liberal “friend” side-by-side, with a voice-over describing just how closely the two politicians are.

Guilt by association.  That is how politics works.

As one who enjoys watching negative ads, I feel compelled to point out that my governor, Phil Bryant, has just sided with Vice President Joe Biden on a controversial social issue.

You heard me right…  Phil Bryant is now “friends” with Joe Biden.

Let’s go back to 1990.  Joe Biden was a senator from Delaware.  On October 26, 1990, then-Sen. Biden introduced a certain piece of legislation.  The future Vice-President described the bill as follows:

Today I am introducing legislation to restore the previous rule of law, which required the Government to justify restrictions on religious freedom.  The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1990 would allow Government to restrict religious freedom only if the restriction is a general law that does not intentionally discriminate against religion.  The Government will also have to show a compelling State interest in enforcing the law and that it has chosen the least restrictive way to further its interest.

Although Mr. Biden’s bill failed, it was reintroduced by Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1993 (a copy of the bill along with his remarks are here.)  With backing from the ACLU, as well as support from liberal senators such as Diane Feinstein, the bill passed both Houses of Congress.  It was then sent to President Bill Clinton, who signed it into law.

Today, Gov. Phil Bryant has followed the lead of prominent liberals, such as Joe Biden, Diane Feinstein, Bill Clinton, and the ACLU, by enacting into law SB 2681 (“The Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act”).  Read Section 1 carefully, and you will see just how closely this bill tracks the bill introduced by Sen. Kennedy in 1993.

SECTION 1.

(1)  This act shall be known and may be cited as the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

(2)  The Mississippi Legislature finds the following:

(a)  The framers of the Constitution, recognizing free exercise of religion as an unalienable right, secured its protection in the First Amendment to the Constitution;

(b)  Laws “neutral” toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise;

(c)  Government should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification;

(d)  In Employment Division v. Smith,494 U.S. 872 (1990), the United States Supreme Court virtually eliminated the requirement that the government justify burdens on religious exercise imposed by laws neutral toward religion; and

(e)  The compelling interest test as set forth in prior federal court rulings is a workable test for striking sensible balances between religious liberty and competing prior governmental interests.

(3)  The purposes of this section are as follows:

(a)  To restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner,374 U.S. 398 (1963), and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972), and to guarantee its application in all cases where free exercise of religion is substantially burdened; and

(b)  To provide a claim or defense to persons whose religious exercise is substantially burdened by government.

(4)  As used in this section, the following words shall have the following meanings:

(a)  “Government” means any branch, department, agency, instrumentality or political subdivision of the State of Mississippi and any official or other person acting under color of law of the State of Mississippi.

(b)  “Demonstrates” means to meet the burdens of going forward with the evidence and of persuasion.

(c)  “Exercise of religion” means the exercise of religion under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

(5) (a)  Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in paragraph (b) of this subsection.

(b)  Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person:

(i)  Is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and

(ii)  Is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

(6)  A person whose religious exercise has been burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against the government, as defined by subsection (4) of this section.  Standing to assert a claim or defense under this section shall be the same as the general rules of standing under Article III of the United States Constitution.

(7) (a)  This section applies to all state laws, rules, regulations and any municipal or county ordinances, rules or regulations and the implementation of those laws, whether statutory or otherwise, and whether adopted before or after the enactment of this section.

(b)  Any such law, rule, regulation or ordinances adopted after the effective date of this section shall be subject to this section unless such law explicitly excludes such application by reference to this section.

(8)  Nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize any government to burden any religious belief.

(9)  Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect, interpret, or in any way address that portion of the First Amendment prohibiting laws respecting the establishment of religion.  Granting government funding, benefits, or exemptions, to the extent permissible under the Establishment Clause, shall not constitute a violation of this section.  As used in this subsection, the term “granting,” used with respect to government funding, benefits, or exemptions, does not include the denial of government funding, benefits, or exemptions.

(10)  Nothing in this act shall create any rights by an employee against an employer if the employer is not the government.

Notice how Subsection 5(a) tracks the federal law almost verbatim.  There is no substantive difference between Section 1 of the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the federal version.

I don’t know how Gov. Bryant is going to live this down… actually enacting into law a bill that the ACLU once supported.  That’s going to be a really tough sell.

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Dr. Godslove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Uncertainty

My first two posts have dealt with public policy. Today, this discussion will move to the world of theology.

A few days ago, I was going through a very difficult time. I had been worrying about the typical stresses of life—e.g., family, business, money, etc.

When I get stressed out, I pray. And when I REALLY get stressed out, I pray and read the Bible. (Most of the time, I just listen to the Bible on my phone, but when I get really worried, I pull out the computer and do an in-depth Bible study.)

Last weekend, I did one of these in-depth studies. I came across something that I had never seen. In more than twenty-five years of studying the Bible, I had never comprehended what I am about to share.

If you are going through a difficult time… if you are suffering, or afraid, or otherwise in need of God to make a real mark in your life, take a close look at 2 Corinthians 12:9, which reads:

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

In this verse, the words strength and power come from the Greek word, dynamis.

Strong’s Concordance defines dynamis as “inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth; power consisting in or resting upon armies, forces, hosts.” Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines dynamis as “the state of that which is not yet fully realized.” Dynamis has been translated as power, miracle(s), and mighty works in the King James Version of the Bible.

Conversely, the words weakness and infirmities come from the Greek word, astheneia. Strong’s defines astheneia as “want of strength, weakness, infirmity; want of strength and capacity requisite to understand a thing, to do things great and glorious, to restrain corrupt desires, or to bear trials and troubles.” Astheneia has been translated as infirmity, weakness, disease, and sickness the King James Version of the Bible.

Let’s juxtapose the two words together. Essentially, dynamis is the potential to do great things. It is power that is stored up, ready to be released. Think of all the potential force that an army has; that is dynamis. On the other hand, astheneia is the lack of strength. Astheneia is inability to do great things; it is the inability to stand up to difficulties.

You see the difference? Dynamis and astheneia are complete opposites.

Before we go back to the text, let’s examine the phrase made perfect. This comes from the Greek teleioō, which, according to Strong’s, means, “to make perfect, complete; to carry through completely, to accomplish, finish, bring to an end; to complete (perfect); add what is yet wanting in order to render a thing full; to bring to the end (goal) proposed.”

So let’s reword the first half of this verse, replacing the English with the Greek:

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my dynamis (unrealized potential might) is teleioō (completed, reaches its goal) in astheneia (inherent weakness). …

From this, we can see that the purpose—the goal—of Christ’s power is to complement man’s weakness. Christ’s miracle-working power is completed in our lack of strength. In the same way a solution is incomplete without a problem, Christ’s power is incomplete until it is applied to a human frailty.

Now, how do we actually apply Christ’ strength to our weaknesses? Let’s look at the next half of the verse …

… Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Examine the word glory. In the Greek, it is kauchaomai, which means, “to glory (whether with reason or without); to glory on account of a thing; or to glory in a thing.” It is translated, glory, boast, rejoice, make boast, and joy.

Look at the word that. It comes from the Greek word hina, which means, “that, in order that, so that.”

Now, look at the word rest. It comes from the Greek word episkēnoō. Incidentally, this is the only time in the New Testament this word is used. It means, to fix a tent or habitation on: to take possession of and live in the houses.” It also describes “the power of Christ descending upon one, working within him and giving Him help.”

So let’s reword the second half of this verse, replacing the English with the Greek:

… Most gladly therefore will I rather kauchaomai (rejoice, with or without reason) in my astheneia (inherent weakness), hina (so that) the dynamis (unrealized potential might) of Christ may episkēnoō (fix a tent, take possession of, and live) upon me.

In grade school, we were taught cause and effect. Here, the word hina (so that) implies a cause and effect relationship.

We rejoice—with or without reason—in our inherent weakness so that the Power of Christ will fix a tent, take possession of and live upon us.

Put another way, if you want the mighty Power of God to take control of your situation, all you have to do is rejoice in the fact that you can’t handle it—that you are too weak to solve your problem by yourself. When you do this God will take you over—possess you—and strengthen your weakness, just like an army staking a claim on its territory.

Looking back over my life, I can see just how true this maxim is.  Here is a simple illustration.

Eight years ago, I had just graduated from law school and was studying to take the bar exam. Because I had attended law school in Virginia, I had not been trained in the finer nuances of the laws of Mississippi, where I had selected to move. So I took two-month study course, while cramming as much time as I could to prepare.

When I first started to prepare, I was nervous. If I were to fail, I would have to wait about six months to take it again; in the meantime, what would I do to support my wife and son? I began to panic.

One day, I decided to figure out how the test would be graded. After doing some research, I found that the test used a strange normalized curve. I learned that if the average score on the exam’s multiple-choice section was relatively high, then my score on the essay section would enjoy a boost; but if the average score on the multiple-choice section was exceptionally low, then my score on the essay section would take a hit.

Since my grade depended, in part, upon how other people performed, I reasoned that I was not in complete control of my destiny. If the other test-takers were to bomb the multiple-choice section, then I might fail, regardless of how well I really did on the essays. Likewise, if the other test-takers were to pass the multiple-choice test with flying colors, then I might pass the essays, even if I were to screw them up.

Oddly enough, this actually took a lot of pressure off of me. When I realized that the test was not in my hands, I had no choice but to put the outcome in God’s hands. From that moment, I had no fear. I had confidence of success.

Now don’t get me wrong. I still studied. I didn’t sit on my butt and play computer games all summer long. I studied. But I wasn’t afraid of failing. I was allowing God to work through me; I was allowing His grace to get me through the trial as I partnered with Him.

In retrospect, what I was doing was rejoicing in my weakness. I lacked control over the situation. I could study (which I did). I could prepare (which I did). But in the final analysis, there was nothing that I could do to ensure success. Whether I passed or failed was not within my control. Since it was not in my control, it was that much easier for me to trust that God would get me through it.

And so here is my advice. When you have a difficult situation, sit down and itemize the areas that you have control over and those that you don’t. Then, take the list of those areas that you lack control and celebrate them; don’t bemoan them.

The more you celebrate your weaknesses… the more you rejoice in your difficult situation… the more God’s Power will invade your life. It will fix a tent on your situation. Then, you will understand what Paul means when he says in the following verse: “… for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

In closing, take a look at Acts 16. Paul and his buddy, Silas, were imprisoned. It was pitch-black dark. They were in chains. They were in a really bad place.

Yet they praised God. When they did, the walls came tumbling down.

When they were at their weakest, their (presumably joyful) praises released the dynamis of God into their situation. Thus, even at their weakest point, they were able to bring down the house.

You may be at your weakest point, ready to give up. This means that you are in the very best position to see the dynamis of God manifest in your life. Give it over to Christ, rejoice in the fact that He’s got it, and see what God will do for you in the midst of your suffering.