Denison Forum – The football coach at the center of a Supreme Court religious liberty case

While the headlines were focusing on Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter yesterday for $44 billion, an event involving a high school football coach could affect the future of religious liberty in America.

Following a twenty-year career in the Marine Corps, Joseph A. Kennedy was hired in 2008 as assistant football coach for the varsity and head coach of the junior varsity squad at Bremerton High School near Seattle, Washington. Soon after, he began kneeling to pray at the fifty-yard line after each game. After a few games, some of his players asked to join him. Visiting players later joined them.

His post-game prayer continued for several years, but, in 2015, Bremerton’s athletic director told Kennedy his prayers were against the rules. He refused to stop and was placed on leave; the school district did not rehire him for the following season. Yesterday, First Liberty defended Coach Kennedy before the US Supreme Court.

Critics allege that the prayers were public, not private, and that the coach was acting coercively in his professional capacity. By contrast, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Coach Kennedy explained his position and the stakes involved: “Unless the US Supreme Court rules in my favor, teachers could be fired for praying over their lunch in the cafeteria if students can see them. That doesn’t seem like the Constitution I fought for in the Marine Corps.

“I just want to be back on the field with my guys, building a team to accomplish a mission. I hope the Supreme Court agrees.”

The latest euphemism for immorality

Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah, is refusing to cancel an elective class where students will watch hardcore porn together. Despite widespread outrage, the college insists that pornography is “an art form that requires serious contemplation.”

This headline in the Washington Post is a harbinger of our moral future: “These Christian leaders embraced sex positivity—and now preach it.” The article reveals the latest cultural euphemism, using “sex positivity” to refer to “the belief that all forms of sexual expression between consenting adults are permissible and should be destigmatized.”

The writer cites aberrant theologians and ministers, many of whom are gay, to undergird her claim that the ethic limiting sex to a married heterosexual couple is less biblical than Puritan. Of course, the writer could not be more wrong from a biblical perspective. But her use of “sex positivity” to describe her position aligns with “pro-choice,” “death with dignity,” and “marriage equality” as recent additions to our cultural vernacular.

Each frames its issue in a way that resonates emotionally. Who isn’t for “positivity,” “choice,” “dignity,” and “equality”? Euphemisms can be powerfully persuasive, whether they are accurate or not.

“Lord, paint the dragon red”

Yesterday we introduced the concept of “besetting” sins, defined as sins “we continually struggle with and have a weakness toward.” What are some practical ways to gain victory over them? Let’s consider today’s news in reverse order.

First, to counter Satan’s spiritual euphemisms, we need to pray for the wisdom to recognize sin as sin.

When we deal with repetitive temptations, our moral sensitivity can grow dull and our objections weaken. Over time, we cease seeing sin as sin. The person being tempted believes the tempter’s lies (Genesis 3:4–5) and is “enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14). Then desire “gives birth to sin” and “sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (v. 15).

This is why we need to begin every day by submitting to the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Ask him to bring to your mind anything that displeases God, then confess what comes to your thoughts. Some of what he reveals may surprise you at the time, indicating the degree to which you have been deceived. Then ask him to help you see temptation for what it is and to refuse sin as a result.

A wise friend of mine prays often, “Lord, paint the dragon red.” Let’s join him: pray for the Spirit to reveal the spiritual euphemisms of our day and give you the strength to defeat them in the power of God.

“Kindle sacred flames of love in my heart”

The next way to defeat “besetting” sins is to do what we believe to be right, whatever the cost. Coach Kennedy has paid for his convictions with his job and has endured widespread scorn and opposition across the years his case has been litigated. But he is defending his religious freedom on behalf of all those who may face similar threats in the future.

When you know you are being tempted, take these steps in this order: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). And remember that the cost of what you are being tempted to do must outweigh any benefit or your spiritual enemy who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” would not offer it to you (John 10:10).

Speaking of idols, the psalmist warned, “Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them” (Psalm 115:8). I often warn that sin will always take you further than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you wanted to pay.

So pray for the discernment to know what is right and for the courage to do it. Charles Spurgeon prayed: “To come to Thee is to come home from exile, to come to land out of the raging storm, to come to rest after long labor, to come to the goal of my desires and the summit of my wishes.”

Then he added: “But Lord, how can a stone rise, how can a lump of clay come away from the horrible pit? O raise me, draw me. Thy grace can do it. Send forth thy Holy Spirit to kindle sacred flames of love in my heart, and I will continue to rise until I leave life and time behind me, and indeed come away.”

Would you make his prayer yours right now?

Denison Forum

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