Denison Forum – Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will retire: The power and privilege of personal influence

According to CNN, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer plans to announce as early as today that he will retire at the end of the Court’s term. This will provide President Biden with his first opportunity to nominate a justice to the high court. The justice is only one person, but one vote on the court upheld the right to abortion in 1992, decided Bush v. Gore in 2000, and legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, all of which were five-to-four decisions.

One person can achieve surprising significance in our world. For example, if you’re not selected to serve on the Supreme Court, you could become the “king” of your own island off the English coast or own a sixteenth-century castle in Scotland that was visited by Mary, Queen of Scots.

But you don’t have to own an island or a castle to have personal influence unimagined in previous generations. This is both good news and bad news.

Redefining tolerance

I remember a day when publishing a book or an article required approval by a book, newspaper, or magazine publisher, editorial oversight, and significant accountability. Being known through video or audio required being on television or radio or producing and marketing a studio recording.

But today, anyone with a cell phone can publish their thoughts and record themselves on video or audio that goes viral.

This is good news in that our individualism mirrors the biblical declaration that each human is created in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). It also empowers our ability to use our personal platforms to share God’s truth and love with everyone we influence.

But this is bad news in that the radical individualism of our culture has empowered an ethic of personal “authenticity” that now threatens biblical morality and religious liberty in unprecedented ways. Our culture has exchanged truth for tolerance and redefined tolerance from the right to be wrong to the claim that there is no objective right or wrong.

Why Christians are on trial in Finland

Our cultural “evolution” with regard to sexual ethics is a case in point.

Decades ago, a concerted strategy began normalizing same-sex relationships through popular culture and media. Next came legalizing same-sex relationships through the courts, culminating with the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision in 2015. Next came stigmatizing those who disagree as “homophobic” and “dangerous.”

Now we are witnessing the stage of criminalizing those who object.

France adopted a new law yesterday that bans so-called conversion therapies and authorizes jail time and fines for those who attempt to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ persons. Canada approved a similar law earlier this month, with jail terms of up to five years for offenders. Two Christian leaders have been on trial this week in Finland for publishing a pamphlet explaining biblical teachings about sex and marriage.

And the so-called Equality Act is being called “the most invasive threat to religious liberty ever proposed in America.”

“Is there any hope?”

My new book, The Coming Tsunami, explains the forces leading to this unprecedented attack on biblical truth and morality. In media interviews this week, I have often been asked why Christians should try to engage a culture that is so opposed to biblical faith. Why shouldn’t we withdraw from our fallen society into safer havens of shared community?

My first response is that I’m glad the questioner is taking the threat seriously. But we cannot withdraw from culture and remain biblical. Jesus called us to attack the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18) by taking his word and grace to every nation on earth (Matthew 28:19Acts 1:8). To do otherwise leaves the salt in the saltshaker and the light under a basket (Matthew 5:13–16).

The questioner then typically asks, “Is there any hope that such engagement still works in our secularized and hostile culture?” My answer is to focus on ways God is using his people with transformative power today.

Consider some examples.

A Bible in the foundation of a Chick-fil-A

The owners of a Chick-fil-A restaurant opening soon in Marshall, Texas, placed a Bible in the foundation of the building. Their action made headlines along with its explanation: “Our purpose here is simple—to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”

Nakobe Dean, the 2021 Butkus Award winner as the nation’s top college linebacker, helped lead Georgia to the NCAA Championship earlier this month. An engineering student with a 4.0 GPA, he is a projected first-round NFL draft pick. After the game, he knelt and bowed his head on the field. As he told his postgame press conference, “I had to thank God. Without him, none of this would have been possible. Every step of the way, I thanked him for putting me in this position, putting my team in this position, and I just thank him for everything.”

Bryce Young, the Alabama quarterback whose team lost to Georgia, won this year’s Heisman Trophy, college football’s highest individual honor. In his acceptance speech, he began, “First and foremost, I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Without him I couldn’t be here. And through him all things are possible.”

When Sen. Raphael Warnock tweeted, “As a pro-choice pastor, I’ve always believed that a patient’s room is way too small for a woman, her doctor, and the United States government,” former Super Bowl champion Benjamin Watson replied, “Is a patient’s room too small for a child as well?” His response made national headlines.

“Held safe in an everlasting embrace”

If you never serve on the Supreme Court or own your own island or castle, you can still use your gifts and abilities to stand publicly for biblical truth in ways that are uniquely yours.

Such influence begins with embracing your unique status as the child of God (John 1:12). Henri Nouwen is right: “You have to keep unmasking the world about you for what it is: manipulative, controlling, power-hungry, and, in the long run, destructive. The world tells you many lies about who you are, and you simply have to be realistic enough to remind yourself of this.

“Every time you feel hurt, offended, or rejected, you have to dare to say to yourself: ‘These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself. The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity, and held safe in an everlasting embrace.’”

Claim God’s “everlasting embrace,” then invite those you influence to experience the same grace that is holding you safe today. Ten thousand millennia after the Supreme Court issues its final ruling, someone will be glad you did.

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