It is, for many of us, the most powerful line in the most powerful carol of the Christmas season:
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining ‘Til He appear’d … and the soul felt its worth.”
So reads John Sullivan Dwight’s English translation of Adolphe Adam’s beautiful French carol, O Holy Night. Singing and listening to that song this year, though, I’ve been sadly reminded what an unholy year it has been for many Americans – particularly Christians – in the courtrooms of our nation. So many crucial judgments this year seemed calculated to convince believers that they have no worth at all, in our country’s “halls of justice.”
In California, for instance – with one sweeping and breathtakingly arbitrary ruling by a federal trial court – Christians were effectively told that they have no place in the political process of the state, and that marriage as we’ve always known it, the union of one man and one woman, is now unconstitutional and irrelevant to the needs and concerns of children.
In 2009, another federal court determined that Christian law students cannot block the participation of non-Christian law students in the election of officers for a club designed for … Christian law students. Incredibly, to outlaw that kind of “prejudice” against those who don’t believe, the courts encouraged universities to institutionalize prejudice against those who do. This year, the U.S. Supreme Court concurred in that judgment. So much for the worth of souls who care about the souls of others.
Is this the spirit and letter of the law now, in America?
That marriage means nothing …
… that the need to separate faith from citizenship is now so critical that Christians are to be denied any meaningful participation in the electoral process …
… that the voice of one’s conscience is no longer valid for the making of life-and-death decisions …
… that religious liberty isn’t worth the paper our Constitution was written on?
That’s the way the legal winds are blowing, in our nation today. So it’s not just the winter cold sending chills along the spines and into the hearts of so many citizens and voters.
In our courtrooms, our law schools, our legal journals and our judges’ chambers – as in that little town of Bethlehem two thousand long years ago – “the hopes and fears of all the years” are met, in the increasingly dark night of America’s soul.