Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The State of (dis)Union

Last night, with much political fanfare, President Obama gave his sixth State of the Union address to Congress, members of the Supreme Court, and millions of Americans watching at home. It was his shortest speech yet, but I will give credit where credit is due: President Obama is a talented speaker and a gifted politician.

But I am leery of the disconnect between what the President envisions as a flourishing society and the means by which he proposes to get there. In fact, I am leery of the President's vision for what constitutes a flourishing society in the first place.

Foundational to my disagreements with the current state of affairs is the end to which government—our government—is established. What is our government doing, and why are they dong it? I believe this is where we have gone off the rails. Many may disagree with my assessment, and that is fine. I do have a bias; I believe one purpose of government is inherently better than other purposes of government. So when I look at how America governs her people, I believe we have suffered from serious mission drift. The causes of this drift may be complicated and convoluted, but I believe the solution (at least initially) is simple and clear.

To start, I want us to take a look at a few short quotes from some early State of the Union Addresses: George Washington's first address in 1790 and Thomas Jefferson's first address in 1801. From there, I want to compare their vision for government to our current vision for government and give, what I believe to be, our current state of the union based on the purpose of government laid out in those speeches.

In 1790, George Washington charged the Senate and the House of Representatives to pursue knowledge for their people because it helped secure their freedom. "To the security of a free constitution [knowledge] contributes in various discriminate the spirit of liberty with that of licentiousness—cherishing the first, avoiding the last—and uniting a speedy but temperate vigilance against encroachments [on liberty]...." That is powerful language, but it speaks clearly to the end for which Washington believed the government existed: to secure liberty (as opposed to licentiousness) for the people. This is the end toward which the government labored.

How does America's government of today line up with Washington's vision in 1790? Not well. The most glaring object is that our government today exists to secure the licentiousness of the people rather than their liberty. Remember, they are different. And I need not labor here with specifics to show that we as a country expend tremendous labors in promoting licentiousness over liberty. Moreover, our government has never controlled and restricted more aspects of commerce, property use, and business—even of small business owners—than it does now. To many, the government is merely running an extortion racket.

Thomas Jefferson shared similar sentiments with Congress in his 1801 State of the Union Address:
"The prudence and temperance of your discussions will promote within your own walls that conciliation which so much befriends rational conclusion, and by its example will encourage among our constituents that progress of opinion which is tending to unite them in object and will. That all should be satisfied with any one order of things is not to be expected; but I indulge the pleasing persuasion that the great body of our citizens will cordially concur in honest and disinterested efforts which have for their establish principles and practices of administration favorable to the security of liberty and property, and to reduce expenses to what is necessary for the useful purposes of government." 
"To establish principles and practices of administration favorable to the security of liberty and property." This was seen as a foundational function of government. In other words, Jefferson saw that the end of government was to secure what rightfully belonged to the people: their liberty and their property. These were not things granted by the government, but things secured by it, for they were rights endowed to us by God. And so the government was tasked with laboring toward that end.

The same is true for today, though we may not recognize it. Life, liberty, property—these are rights that God has given to us through Jesus Christ, regardless if one is a Christian. They persist regardless of governmental regime. They are "inalienable." But I believe we as a society have given up these rights (or at least given up protecting them) in a big way. How is this shown? Look at how our government takes life for granted, or rather how it has an impossible time understanding what life is. A government complicit (and supportive) in killing 1 million babies each year has no conception of what it means to protect life. And I don't trust it to labor toward that end, either.

Have we endeavored to secure liberty? I don't think so, but we have certainly labored to secure licentiousness (see above) at the expense of liberty. Our current view of government is that, if something is good, it should be free, and if something is bad, it should be prohibited. It is no way to govern a free people. (And who decides what is good or bad?)

Have we labored to secure property? Even less so. Our Executive Branch of government has 70 independent executive agencies  and 15 departments, made up of unelected and unaccountable officials, many of which have unilateral authority to investigate, prosecute, and take the property of citizens who cannot vote them out of office. Some of these agencies cannot be dissolved by Congress, and their budget cannot be reduced by Congress either. It is truly "taxation without representation."

I could go on. We are in a crisis of liberty, which, I will admit, is not the worst thing in the world. There are far more repressive governments and systems that could endanger our freedom. But we are regressing. Why?

I believe that liberty begins in the hearts of a liberated people. Liberated from what? Liberated from sin through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Any notion of liberty that rests on another foundation will inevitably degrade into licentiousness and a distaste for liberty. It is no accident that in the wake of massive numbers of individual conversions to Christ, there is an increase in liberal, democratic society. Freedom from sin, I believe, truly results in a free society. Liberated hearts create liberated men, and liberated men live free in the places they find themselves in.

So how do we get back to liberty? We preach the gospel and make disciples. We pray for a reformation of the hearts of our neighbors and a turning of the people from their sin to their salvation in Christ. We must remember that liberty itself is not the end to which we labor. Rather, it is a fruit of our success in the gospel. The solution to our mission drift is simple and the call is clear: "go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19–20).

Biblical worldview training and public discourse on such things are important, but they must be built on a foundation of prayer and heart transformation. Such things are only accomplished by the Holy Spirit, working as he wills. May we pray that he descends upon us—upon our country—in a great way. Only then will we enjoy the fruits of righteousness.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Law and Liberty in the Sharing Economy

“Responding to an evolving hospitality industry, the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association recently started crafting legislation that would give property owners reason to pause before opening their homes and apartments to temporary guests.” The Houston Chronicle reported this story on December 10, 2014, which details the THLA’s attempts to introduce legislation that would regulate innovative short-term lodging businesses such as Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO.  

In my last article on government regulation, I dealt with the Houston City Council’s similar attempts to regulate ride-sharing services Über and Lyft. This story is the same old story.   Businesses like Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO allow homeowners to put up rooms in their homes for short-term lodgers, much like a hotel or inn, except it is a cheaper and “cozier” alternative to more traditional lodging choices. These rental websites have grown in popularity thanks in part to the success of the “sharing economy,” and it has benefitted both travelers and homeowners. The barriers to entry are low for homeowners, and the lodging choices are cheaper for travelers.

See the rest of my article at HBU's The Kingdom Economy website here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Time to Build Up, and a Time to Break Down

In light of recent events in our country, yesterday our church called its members to fast and pray for racial reconciliation. Initially I was skeptical; I have a natural reticence to go along with something just because someone tells me to do it. I want to be able to put my intellectual and emotional support behind something before committing to it. So instead of abstaining from food, I considered abstaining from the fast. But that's precisely why I needed to participate, and I did. I fasted and prayed for racial reconciliation—sort of. I will explain.

I am not going to write about Ferguson, Eric Garner, the situation in Cleveland, or any other recent incidents involving police brutality and racial tension, although the temptation to do so has been strong. I am writing about what God revealed to me during our fast, and what I think it means more broadly for the church, or maybe just for my own heart. I normally deal in polemics, but this time I am writing personally.

I had a hard time with this fast initially. From the outset, I've thought that the response and reaction to these situations has been overblown and misses the real issues. I didn't see the need to talk about racial reconciliation—I thought the real problems were elsewhere. So I rolled my eyes, so to speak, at the idea of fasting for racial reconciliation. What does that mean? Nevertheless, I committed to doing it because I knew, deep down, that there were likely sinful attitudes polluting my motives and creating a divide between me and my brothers in Christ. I am glad I did.

Let me be clear up front: I believe—and passionately so—that every human being is created equally in God's image. We are all descended from Adam, every one of us. And we are all reconciled by the same blood of Christ. So there is zero distinction along racial lines in terms of human dignity and worth. Zero. (Secularism, by the way, can offer no such unambiguous foundation). Despite my beliefs, however, I have to deal with the reality that there are racial tensions in our country (and even, I have to assume, in some of our churches).

This is difficult for me personally because I do not harbor real, objective prejudices against any particular race; I really believe in the equal dignity of all people. So, my thinking goes, if I'm not harboring racism in my own heart, then it's not a problem. This attitude tends to foster another attitude further down the line: minorities' concerns and fears of systemic racial injustice are, at worst, illegitimate and, at best, merely misplaced.

And here is where the Lord revealed my sin in the midst of this fast. My racial sin is not thinking or acting like one race is inherently better than another. My racial sin is believing that certain minorities aren't thinking properly about race in the first place. It's the sin of pride. My pride says that I am the one who is defending true justice, that I am the one who is thinking properly about racial tension, and that I am the one who has a firm grasp on the nuanced truth of these situations.

I wasn't esteeming my brothers and sisters as better than myself; I esteemed their thinking as inferior to mine. I wasn't bearing with my brothers and sisters in their burdens; I was secretly thinking their burdens weren't really burdens. And I wasn't considering the sufferings of others in how I approached the situation. That's unwise and prideful.

The book of Ecclesiastes says there is "a time to break down, and a time to build up." My timing was wrong.

This was because of my own pride. Therefore I must repent of that way of thinking and instead build up my brothers and sisters before I seek to break down bad arguments. As a wise friend explained, "we want to win people, not arguments."

So while it may not be that I have harbored overt racial animosity in my own heart, I have not fostered a foundation upon which to listen to those who have legitimately experienced it. Regardless of the merits of any of these individual cases that sparked this fasting and prayer, it's never unwise to listen first, judge later.

In light of that, I am sincerely excited—and hopeful—for the upcoming conversations in our church regarding racial tensions and what reconciliation looks like. I have devoted serious thought to these issues before, but I believe that God will honor our fasting and prayer to bring about true reconciliation—the reconciliation that only occurs through our mutual need for the forgiveness of sins, bought by the precious blood of Christ.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Promised to David, Fulfilled in Christ, Given to Us

From 2 Samuel 7:11–14:
Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son...
The events immediately preceding this covenant are interesting, and frankly, expose God as the gracious God that He is. David had recently been crowned King of all Israel, but he was ruling from the city of Hebron, a southern city in the region of Judah. David decided that Jerusalem would be a better place to rule because it was centrally located and geographically tough to take down. The only problem was that Jerusalem was inhabited by the Jebusites, and they taunted David, saying that even the blind and lame could keep him out of Jerusalem. David decided to have his men sneak through a water shaft at the city's wall and attack it from the inside. Obviously, it worked, and David sets up shop in Jerusalem as the new capitol. The only thing missing was the Ark of the Covenant. 

So David sends a convey to bring the Ark to Jerusalem, which they do (after a 3-month pit stop at someone else's house). Once the Ark is back in Jerusalem, David pitches a tent where the Ark is to be kept and stored. But as he goes to bed one night, David is dissatisfied with this solution. "See now," he says to Nathan, "I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent." He wanted to build a house for God—a dwelling place.  

God answered through Nathan, "would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day..." God then goes on to say that He would instead build David an everlasting house. 

This is called the "Davidic Covenant," where God established an everlasting covenant with David. The fulfillment of this covenant, however, rests with Jesus. David is merely the type, a shadow of what would be the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. 

Let's take a look at the particulars and how they point to God's fulfillment of the covenant in Christ. "I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his Kingdom." King Solomon came from David's body, and the Lord established his kingdom as one of the most prosperous times in Israel's history. Similarly, Jesus came from David's line, and God established his everlasting kingdom at his incarnation. 

"He shall build a house for my name . . . ." Solomon built a temple for God to dwell in, "a house for my name," when he completed the Temple at Jerusalem. In a much greater way, Christ built (and is building) a permanent house for God's name, that is, his people. The Bible says that in Christ we "are also being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit" (Eph. 2:22).

"I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son." This is talking about Christ, the coming Messiah, and the kingdom that he established when he came to earth in the form of a man (Heb. 1:3–5). And when Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father, he ascended so that he would reign until God made all his enemies his footstool (Heb. 1:13). He is reigning. And He will reign forever. This is how the Davidic covenant is fulfilled—through the Lordship of Christ and the building up of the Church as the dwelling place of God.

As interesting as the story of the Davidic covenant is, it reveals much more about God's character and his love for his children. Look at David: he thought that God not having a permanent dwelling place meant that God lacked something. So he endeavored to provide for God by building him a house. Or, giving David the benefit of the doubt, he believed that it would be dishonorable for David to have a house but not God.

It was not an ignoble desire, but God had different plans. When David wanted to build a dwelling place for God, God desired to build David a house, which would ultimately become the dwelling place of God. What grace! David says "God, let me bless you," and God replies, "No, I will bless you and establish your house forever!" Why? Because God delights in making and keeping covenants with his people.

So what does this have to do with us now? It has everything to do with what we cannot do and yet God does. We walk around on this earth thinking that we are going to provide for God by the little houses we build for him and the deeds that we do for him, but God turns that on its head and instead gives such gifts to us. He makes us into his dwelling place, and he prepares for us good works that we should do to glorify him. We do not bless God out of the strength of our own hands. We are blessed by God in spite of our weakness and insufficiency. Therefore salvation is God's gift—and God's gift alone. He gives it to us from his good pleasure and out of an overflow of his grace, much like he did with David.

When David heard the words of the covenant, he wondered, "Who am I, O Lord, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?" Yes. Who are we, and what is our house, that you have brought us this far? We are no one, but it is God who establishes his house and his kingdom. There is no one like our God who could accomplish such things. And because of this, we can say together, "for you, O Lord, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever." Amen.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Revision That Didn't Revise

Last week, news broke that Mayor Parker's legal team subpoenaed five area pastors' sermon notes (among other things) on topics related to HERO, gender identity, homosexuality, and Mayor Parker. A swift outcry soon erupted from the Christian sphere, decrying the subpoenas as an abuse of governmental authority and serious threat to religious liberty. I covered that topic here.

In response, the Mayor distanced herself from her original position that "if the pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game." But it wasn't much distance. City Attorney David Feldman said that, while the original requests were overly broad in their scope, if the pastors engaged in political speech from the pulpit, it would not be protected. Someone needs a First Amendment refresher course. 

On Friday, however, the City filed a response that revised the scope of the original subpoenas. But the "revision" doesn't seem to have revised much. Here's what the response says: 
Request No. 12 originally read: 
All speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuals, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession. 
Defendants [the City of Houston] hereby revise Request No. 12 as follows: 
All speeches or presentations related to HERO or the Petition prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.
No definitive word on whether a sermon counts as a speech or presentation. What the response also omits is that Request No. 12 represents one request out of seventeen total document requests. Left untouched are requests like these: 
1. All documents or communications to, from, CCing, BCCing, or forwarded to you, or otherwise in your possession, relating to or referring to any of the following in connection in any way with HERO, the Petition:...the topics of equal rights, civil rights, homosexuality, or gender identity; 
4. All communications with members of your congregation regarding HERO or the Petition.
In other words, the City hasn't backed off from its original demands. David Feldman issued a revision that didn't really revise anything. In my opinion, instead of backing off, the City is trying to double-down on its position with political savvy to appease the public. Many Christian leaders are not taking the bait.

From a legal standpoint, it will be interesting to see how the judge rules on the pastors' Motion to Quash. I suspect he will quash at least some of the more onerous requests, if not most of them entirely. The requests are still so overly broad, burdensome, and harassing (not to mention unrelated to the underlying issues of the litigation), that I don't think they will survive a challenge under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. The judge likely will not entertain a First Amendment argument on the issue. But if the Court did address the First Amendment, I think the pastors win. The requests would have a chilling effect on religious participation, and there are numerous other ways to get the requested information—they are not drafted narrowly enough to warrant the intrusion, especially for a non-party.

Culturally, this "scandal" says much about our beliefs and assumptions as a society. If we boil the case down to its essence, we have a group of people who sought to petition their government for a redress of grievances. In response, that same government set out to harass and bully them into submission through the litigation process (a burdensome and expensive undertaking). The right of the people to "petition the Government for a redress of grievances" is fundamental to a self-governing society. The plaintiffs didn't even make it past the petition part; it was thrown out by the same government that was established to protect their right to petition it.

We are facing competing worldviews on the nature and purpose of government. One loves liberty, distrusts centralized political power, and understands the depravity of man. The other entrusts our greatest needs to the government as our source of goodness. 

I believe that the City's actions bely a deep misconception about how society ought to function. Whereas, at America's founding, we established a society in which the government was accountable to the people, the City of Houston has repeatedly shown that it believes the people are accountable to their government. This type of thinking is anathema to a free society. That lawyers representing a governmental entity could issue such demands with a straight face tells me that the concept of liberty is in serious peril among our nation's political actors. 

I don't know how this case will turn out. Trial is set for January, and I hope the City loses. I am still bewildered that the City isn't the plaintiff. But what I do know is that this case has served as a medium of exposure—exposure of underlying political philosophies that are competing for dominance as we speak. 

Casting the political sensitivity of this case aside, it should serve as a wakeup call that this is an ongoing ideological battle. Is the government accountable to the people? Or are the people accountable to the government? Your beliefs about the nature of man will influence your answer to that question. And your answer to that question will largely inform your response to similar situations in the future. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Victory Through Defeat

Someone told me recently that we would never face religious liberty issues in Houston. There wouldn't be a need for a religious liberty lawyer in such a conservative state. Well, the pigs have flown. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance controversy continues, this time with heavy religious liberty implications.

Before we get started, a little background is in order. That can be found herehere, and here.

The HERO ordinance and subsequent repeal referendum efforts have been embroiled in litigation since August. Yesterday, news broke that the City of Houston's legal team had demanded, among other things, "all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by" a list of area pastors who are not parties to the lawsuit. The City of Houston issued non-party subpoenas for the document requests, which are punishable by contempt of court if not properly responded to (or quashed by the judge). An example of the subpoenas issued by the City can be found here.

As an attorney, I know that these subpoenas are not quite as big a deal as some people make it out to be. This isn't the Inquisition. But it is unnerving. If the pastors refuse to respond (e.g., turn over their documents), and the Court does not quash the subpoenas or issue a protective order, the pastors theoretically could face jail time. That is scary. Normally, non-party subpoenas aren't that big of a deal. Lawyers issue them all the time. But there is something quite different when a governmental entity demands to comb through sermon notes on hot-button moral issues from non-party pastors. (Phrases like "separation of church and state"—the darling phrase of liberals—come to mind). Alliance Defending Freedom wrote a compelling memorandum in the case on why the Court should quash the subpoenas, which you can read here. Their press release on the case can be found here.

As a matter of normal legal practice, I doubt that Mayor Parker, David Feldman, or anyone at the City of Houston read the subpoenas before they were sent, much less specifically ordered the discovery and confiscation of sermon notes and other communications involving homosexuality and gender identity. Typically in litigation lawyers will throw a bunch of jello at a wall and see what sticks, so to speak. Or, to put it another way, they'll fill up the kitchen sink and see what takes. In other words, the lawyer drafting the discovery requests and subpoenas probably tried to think of every conceivable thing that could possibly be related to this lawsuit and asked for it. You don't get it if you never ask, and litigation is all about being aggressive and taking anything that the other side will give you. Again, these are just requests (issued by a lawyer), and the judge can quash the subpoenas or issue a protective order for the pastors. 

Usually when we address litigation tactics, we are dealing with private parties, commercial disputes, and other non-religious issues. The "sensitivity" in this case comes from the fact that the government is demanding to review sermons and other religious speech in connection with certain pastors' opposition to the HERO ordinance. And, frankly, I think the City of Houston is on a mission to shame the pastors and their beliefs by exposing their sermons and the content of their communications. If it can show that the pastors were spreading an irrational and bigoted fear of the ordinance's moral consequences, then the City can shame the pastors out of the controversy and dismiss their petitions as mere fear-mongering. The only problem (besides glaring First Amendment issues) is that the contents of the pastors' sermons, communications, or anything else requested (one request was for the pastors' resumes!) has nothing to do with the underlying lawsuit. This case, at its core, is about whether the City Secretary properly certified the petition signatures according to the City Charter. You don't need a pastor's sermon notes to figure that out. 

As Russell Moore put it,
 [t]he preaching of sermons in the pulpit of churches is of no concern to any government bureaucrat at all. This country settled, a long time ago, with a First Amendment that the government would not supervise, license, or bully religious institutions. That right wasn't handed out by the government, as a kind of temporary restraining order. It was a recognition of a self-evident truth.
Amen, but I don't think the government is trying to supervise, license, or bully religious institutions here. Not yet, at least.

As we analyze what's going on, I want us to be careful in how we think about the liberty implications of the City's actions. Is this the worst thing that has ever happened to Christians for their faith? Not by a long shot. But it is unnerving. Do not succumb to the lie that "anti-gay" Christians are trying to divert attention away from the real victims of harassment and discrimination. That's a red herring. And don't believe Mayor Parker when she says that if the pastors used sermons for politics, then they are fair game. I disagree. Jesus Christ has lordship over everything, including our politics. Therefore, I believe our preachers should especially preach on politics from the pulpit. From a theological perspective, at least, the Bible has ample advice on the political sphere. You should read Puritan and Reformed pastors' sermons during the Revolutionary War. Pastors routinely addressed political happenings from the pulpit, and this was the milieu that enshrined religious liberty in the Constitution. So I don't buy the argument that political sermons are fair game. They're not. Not even in the ballpark.

Religious liberty, freedom of speech, and freedom of association are foundational principles of this nation. People fought and died for our religious liberty. For hundreds of years and in hostile cultures, people were martyred so that we may enjoy the first-fruits of their sacrifice. So let us not take threats to our religious liberty lightly, no matter how innocuous they may seem.

At the same time, the reality is that we are merely dealing with an overbroad discovery request from a zealous trial lawyer employed by the City. So the sky is not falling. This is not a government-wide "approval" system of pulpit messages. The pastors aren't being threatened with punishment merely for the contents of their sermons. But this is harassment, and the small things add up. A government that tries to intimidate pastors who would seek to employ the democratic process to repeal a morally questionable piece of legislation is no friend of liberty, religious or otherwise. The government answers to the people; the people do not answer to the government. Remember that. The subpoena is only step one in their 12-step program.

In all of this, however, there is good news. And it is a glorious prognosis:
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have (Phil. 1:27–30).
We are not to be frightened in anything from our opponents. Yes, we have opponents. And when we stand firm in one spirit striving side by side for the gospel (including what it says about gender identity and sexuality), it is a sign to our opponents of their destruction and of our salvation.  We will suffer in some ways, engaged in this conflict. Maybe those pastors will go to jail, but they probably won't. The mere threat of jail time, though, is serious. If they do go to jail, it will be a sign that we have won. Our victory will be wrought through suffering, whether great or small. This has been granted to us by God as a sign of our salvation. Praise God for that; it cannot be taken away.

So what do we do in the meantime? Pray for wisdom, think, and never cease to preach the Word of God and all its implications for our lives. And pray that, by God's grace, those who seek to threaten our liberty will soon strive side by side with us as brothers. It's happened before. May it happen again.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The NFL and Moral Authority

I think what Ray Rice did was wrong. You probably do too. Most of the country does—wife (or fiancee, or any woman) beating is not a moral outlier that people are divided on. And I understand that Ray Rice most likely violated the NFL Code of Conduct, which he is contracutally bound to obey. So the NFL is on solid legal footing. But where does the NFL get the moral authority to suspend Ray Rice? They're obviously imposing a moral standard here—wife beating is bad, you're a wife beater, therefore you are bad and can't play in the NFL—but where does the NFL get such authority in the first place? What is their moral standard?

It's interesting that in a society with such perceived moral subjectivity, there's a lot of moral absolutes being thrown around and imposed upon people. What is Roger Goodell's moral framework, and why can he impose that moral framework on the players? Is anyone asking these questions? Countless drug offenders, weapons offenders, absentee fathers, and the like are free to play in the NFL with impunity. Ray Rice cold cocks his fiancee and is banned indefinitely? What gives? Excuse me if I raise an eyebrow at this newly found moral uprightness when, to my knowledge, the NFL has done zero to stem the tide of abortions and deadbeat dads that plague the players' personal lives. 

If the NFL truly cared about what was right and wrong and just, a million things would have happened to other players before Ray Rice was suspended, but they didn't. And the NFL's silence on a host of issues within the league is an indictment on the NFL that it doesn't care about right, wrong, truth, or justice, but about what will make the NFL look good right now. It's not about integrity, it's about self-preservation. 

This leaves me a bit confused, but hopeful. The actions of Roger Goodell show that the NFL is looking out for itself and its image. Ray Rice's public conduct made the NFL look bad, so Ray Rice has got to go. All those players behind on child support and abdicating their fatherly duties? Those are less public, so those guys can stay. Michael Sam? We better not say that his sexual expression is wrong; we shouldn't impose our morality on players. The confusion lies in the arbitrary and capricious selection of which moral standards will be objective (applied and imposed on others) versus subjective (left to the whim of the person). How are we to know what the standard is and whether is applies to everyone? 

On the other hand, the public's response shows that society demands an objective moral standard. This is good news, because it means we need to have a conversation about what that objective moral standard is or ought to be. Moral relativism in its pure form will not withstand the demands society has placed upon it. That house is in ruins. What will we build in its place? Now is the time to be talking about it.