bellwether |ˈbelˌweT͟Hər| nounthe leading sheep of a flock, with a bell on its neck.• an indicator or predictor of something: college campuses are often the bellwether of change
I remember my youth in school and what was taught to us about America. How we were a free country and that the government couldn’t do, or force us to do, bad things. We were told how people came to America to escape places that treated them unjustly. As I grew older, I realized that this was a “rose colored glasses” view of things. That our country could and did wrong over the past 200 years. But throughout my transition from growth to adulthood, it was still recognized that the Declaration of Independence was still meaningful when it said:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
We were told that the Bill of Rights were essential rights to all people and that our Founding Fathers were determined to protect the people from the abuses from a government, acknowledging that there were certain things that the government had no right to do.
Right now, America has a system where laws which were based on this understanding are subject to being reviewed by courts that are free to throw out those laws which the judges happen to disagree with. The term used is “finding the law unconstitutional,” but too often, this is a code word for an arbitrary decision that reflects the political views of the judges without concern with actual concern for justice or law. This is the case when a few judges have ruled that the understanding of marriage as being between one man and one woman is “unconstitutional.” Based on these rulings, people with religious beliefs that forbid them from participating in what they think is morally wrong can be forced to choose between their business and their beliefs—something the government had previously been seen as having no right to do.
Take a recent case of a Washington florist. The judge ruled that the florist’s religious beliefs, which forbade her from providing flowers to a same sex “wedding,” was illegal from the time that Washington legalized it. Think I’m using unreasonable rhetoric? Think again. Look at what the judge (Alexander C. Ekstrom) said:
"Stutzman is not a minister, nor is Arlene’s Flowers a religious organization when they sell flowers to the general public,” Ekstrom wrote. “Stutzman cannot comply with both the law and her faith if she continues to provide flowers for weddings as part of her duly licensed business.”
The judge has baldly stated what we have been warning of for years—that a person with religious convictions can be forced to choose between business and faith (Stultzman has decided to stop doing any weddings). Basically, what we have is this: if a law is passed defending our religious freedoms, it is ruled as unconstitutional. When a law is passed which infringes on our religious liberties, it is seen as acceptable and those who invoke their first amendment freedoms are told that it doesn’t apply—the courts continually reducing who has religious freedom to the point that a church itself can (thus far) be protected from government interference, but the institutions that church runs or the individual practitioner is not.
Decisions like this make much more chilling a recent event where lawmakers urged Archbishop Cordileone to change his policy insisting that teachers in Catholic institutions actually act—Catholic. With legal precedence like this, we can expect the judges to be more likely to side with the laws infringing on our religious freedoms.
While such things are more benign than in other countries and other times in how they try to coerce compliance with religious beliefs they oppose, these rulings are in the same spirit as the persecutions of the past. Alban Butler’s Lives of the Saints describes for us the case of St. Sadoth:
The second year of the persecution, king Sapor coming to Seleucia, Sadoth was apprehended, with several of his clergy, some ecclesiastics of the neighborhood, and certain monks and nuns belonging to his church, to the amount of one hundred and twenty-eight persons. They were thrown into dungeons, where, during five months’ confinement, they suffered incredible misery and torments. They were thrice called out, and put to the rack or question; their legs were straight bound with cords, which were drawn with so much violence, that their bones breaking, were heard to crack like sticks in a fagot. Amidst these tortures the officers cried out to them: “Adore the sun, and obey the king, if you would save your lives.” Sadoth answered in the name of all, that the sun was but a creature, the work of God, made for the use of mankind; that they would pay supreme adoration to none but the Creator of heaven and earth, and never be unfaithful to him; that it was indeed in their power to take away their lives, but that this would be the greatest favor they could do them; wherefore he conjured them not to spare them, or delay their execution. The officers said: “Obey! or know that your death is certain, and immediate.” The martyrs all cried out with one voice: “We shall not die, but live and reign eternally with God and his Son Jesus Christ. Wherefore inflict death as soon as you please; for we repeat it to you that we will not adore the sun, nor obey the unjust edicts.”
Whether the governments would have us worship the sun, burn incense to the emperor or give our acceptance of “same sex marriage,” we must not obey what is unjust or forces us to go against what God commands. It may only cause us overt persecution or it may cause us hardship, perhaps legal action, but we need to be prepared for being called on to make the choice—for God, or against God. It might not happen to you or personally, but Our Lord did warn us that we must accept this:
The World’s Hatred. 18 If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. 20 Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 And they will do all these things to you on account of my name,* because they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me also hates my Father. 24 If I had not done works among them that no one else ever did, they would not have sin; but as it is, they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But in order that the word written in their law might be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without cause.’ (John 15:18-25)
And so, we must prepare for darker times, which continue to come faster than I expect. We must prepare to continue to carry out our mission. As Cardinal George said, "I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” None of us want to die in prison, let alone the public square for the faith. But if it does happen by death or by lawsuit or by imprisonment, we must respond in love, blessing and praying for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44) and seeking to convert them. This is true, whether persecution comes from unjust judges interpreting unjust laws or whether it comes at the hands of fanatics like ISIS.