Category Archives: Ethics

Hawkins to Address the Challenge of Genetics

by Theological Commission

On Monday afternoon of the 2019 National Convention in Cincinnati, the Commission for Theological Integrity has invited Dr. Ian Hawkins to address an emerging scientific challenge. The title of his seminar is: Genes Made Me Do it! The Implications of the Genetic Revolution for Adam and Eve, Original Sin, and Free Will.

In the past 15 years the historicity of Adam and Eve has come under fire in academic circles. This new debate has been caused by recent work in genetics that has called into question whether the human race could have come from only two individuals. Not only does the idea of a non-historical Adam and Eve call into question doctrines such as creation, but it has a profound effect on doctrines like original sin and free will. This seminar will discuss recent objections to these findings, as well as how science can be used to support a historical Adam and Eve, original sin, and free will.

Hawkins has taught at Welch College since 2007, where is he is Chairman of the Department of Arts and Sciences, and Science Program Coordinator. He has a master’s degree in molecular biology from Vanderbilt University, and a Ph.D. in Chemistry Education from Middle Tennessee State University. Hawkins is married to Katie (Stewart). They have two sons: Joseph and Luke.

Note: The Commission’s annual seminar is always held at 2:00pm on Monday. It is an hour and a half given the substantial nature of the topics, and also to allow extensive audience response and questions afterward. Check your programs once arriving at the Convention for the exact room location of the seminar.


Convention Seminar Resource

Jackson Watts

At this past National Association the Theological Commission sponsored its annual seminar/lecture on the topic of euthanasia, or what is more typically described as Physician-Assisted Suicide. In my judgment, this topic is one that many of us are not paying adequate attention to.

I suppose in some instances this is due to the fact that the states which have been most progressive in legalizing this practice are not states where Free Will Baptists have had a strong presence (or any presence at all!). On the other hand, it could be that the glaring challenges presented by the Sexual Revolution seem much more pressing, and are having a deleterious effect on our families.

Whatever the case may be, I do know that the vicissitudes of life impact all of us. This is especially true as we age, our parents age, and as we minister to sometimes elderly congregations. Sorting out a Pro-Life ethic is one thing. Working out that ethic’s implications for end-of-life issues is another.

Dr. Andrew Ball was kind enough to give our Convention seminar on this topic. Ball, a philosopher, is well-suited to deal with these issues. He has also kindly provided a document that deals with this issue in great-depth. I have embedded his paper below.

Physician-Assisted Suicide in Theological Perspective by Dr. Andrew Ball

Legal and Religious Liberty Implications of the Supreme Court Decision on Same-sex Marriage (Part V of V)

by Matthew Steven Bracey

In part IV, having looked at religious liberty in parts II and III, we considered the separation of powers, federalism, and the rule of law. Here in part V, we’ll conclude by reviewing the topics of democracy and liberty.

Democracy and Liberty

We should also remember the importance of democracy and liberty. The founders sought to achieve the best balance between a democracy and a republic. So they established America as a democratic republic. Authority is exercised by representatives of the people.

The Constitution begins, “We the people.” Although America isn’t a direct democracy, it’s a representative democracy. And we have an important role to play. By protecting democracy, we preserve liberty. On the other hand, when democracy is attacked, liberty for all suffers.

As with previous topics, though, democracy is falling on hard times. We see this when government leaders assume control over some issue that properly belongs to the citizens. This is what happened, for example, with the Obergefell majority.

Chief Justice Roberts points out, “The Court’s accumulation of power does[n’t] occur in a vacuum. It comes at the expense of the people. And they know it.”[1] Or as Justice Scalia put it, “Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court.”[2]

As with democracy, so goes liberty. Justice Scalia explained: “This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.”[3]

So, just as the Court’s majority didn’t actually appeal to law, it also didn’t actually appeal to liberty. It just said it did.

What should we think about liberty? What did it mean for the American founders? At the founding, liberty didn’t amount simply to a right for people to do as they please. Yet this is how it’s often interpreted today.

Instead, liberty had a nobler meaning. Founder James Wilson said this, “Without liberty, law loses its nature and its name, and becomes oppression. Without law, liberty also loses its nature and its name, and becomes licentiousness.”[4]

This is an important statement. To understand what liberty is, we must understand it in relation to law. For many today, liberty is the freedom to pursue licentiousness, or immorality.

For Wilson and the founders though, true liberty is contrasted from immorality, which is bad for a well-ordered society. Liberty without law to temper it, or the freedom to pursue immorality in the name of liberty, isn’t actually liberty.

As Wilson put it, it’s just “licentiousness.” Instead, law protects liberty from becoming immorality. Liberty needs law to be truly liberty. On the other hand, law without any liberty is just oppression.

This is a much higher view of liberty, and it’s one we need to reclaim. As we find ourselves talking with others, mentoring people, and voting, let’s remember this:

Don’t let people guilt you, in the name of “liberty,” into believing that you have to let people live however they want. As if you can’t support laws and policies that makes immorality illegal.

Don’t feel bad about believing that abortion, marijuana, physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, and other topics should be illegal.

To believe that certain actions should be illegal doesn’t mean you don’t believe in liberty. It means you’re trying to keep liberty from becoming licentiousness. True liberty needs law to protect it from itself.


No, America isn’t perfect, nor is its government flawless. Yet it represents some of the best ideas of political theology and political philosophy from world history.

These are the very principles we’ve considered. We must not take these principles for granted. We need to recognize and reassert their importance for well-ordered societies.

We live in difficult times. Our culture chips away at this heritage to society’s own destruction. What do we do? We don’t regret the age we live in. We recognize that God has put us here for a reason. We don’t “hunker down” and wait for the storm to pass.

We go forth as light to a dark world, extending the influence of Christ in our spheres of influence (Matthew 5:16), including society. This means thinking about law and politics at the local, state, and national levels. It means recognizing the importance of the principles we’ve considered in this presentation. And it means thinking about what candidates and nominees believe about the role of these principles in government and society.

We regret the direction that certain cultural developments steer us in. But we take seriously our vocation as citizens. We commit ourselves to doing our part to contribute positively to American culture, society, and government. And we look to God ultimately for our identity and mission as He guides us for such a time as this.

Helpful Books

Bruce Ashford, One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics (Nashville: B&H, 2015).

Hunter Baker, Political Thought: A Student’s Guide (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).

Wayne A. Grudem, Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).

Russell D. Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel (Nashville: B&H, 2015).

Matthew Pinson, Matthew Steven Bracey, Matthew McAffee, and Michael A. Oliver, Sexuality, Gender, and the Church: A Christian Response in the New Cultural Landscape (Nashville: Welch College Press, 2016).

Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto (Westchester: Crossway, 1981).

Helpful Websites

 Acton Institute: For the Study of Religion and Liberty,

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission,

The Colson Center for Christian Worldview,


[1] Obergefell, 576 U.S ___ (Roberts, dissenting), at 26.

[2] Obergefell, 576 U.S ___ (Scalia, dissenting), at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Ibid.

Legal and Religious Liberty Implications of the Supreme Court Decision on Same-sex Marriage (Part IV of V)

by Matthew Steven Bracey

In part III, we continued looking at religious liberty, looking specifically at how it’s threatened and what we can do to defend it. In this post, we’ll continue with the separation of powers, federalism, and the rule of law.

 The Separation of Powers and Federalism

 As with religious liberty, we also should recognize the importance of the principles of the separation of powers and federalism. The American founders knew the dangers that come from a government with too much power. As Lord Acton said: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”[1]

In Articles 1–3, the Constitution provides for three branches of government: legislative, executive, and judicial. Each of these branches has distinctive roles and responsibilities, and each of these branches should act as a check and balance over the other two branches.

The legislature makes laws and not the executive or judicial branches—“we the people” and not “he or she the president” or “they the justices.” The judicial branch’s proper role is, with laws, to hear and interpret them. It doesn’t make them, or shouldn’t.

And yet in Obergefell, the Court’s majority acted like a legislature.

In his dissent, Chief Justice Roberts notes, “This Court is[n’t] a legislature. . . . The people who ratified the Constitution authorized courts to exercise ‘neither force nor will but merely judgment.’. . . . [The founders] would never have imagined yielding that right on a question of social policy to unaccountable and unelected judges.”[2] The separation of powers is being threatened.

The same is true with federalism. Like the separation of powers, it protects against too much power. Federalism doesn’t refer to a preference for a stronger federal government. It refers to the balance of power shared between the federal and state governments.

Whereas the separation of powers divides power among three branches, federalism divides it between two governing bodies—in this case, the federal and state. Power split three ways over multiple governing bodies has less chance of abuse than power too heavily concentrated in any one branch or government.

The Tenth Amendment reads, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”[3] So governmental power is supposed to be shared. It’s not supposed to be centralized.

Not only does federalism protect against the corruption of power. It also allows for different people with different beliefs to live together. That’s kind of the point. In his Obergefell dissent, Justice Alito says,

The system of federalism established by our Constitution provides a way for people with different beliefs to live together in a single nation. If the issue of same-sex marriage had been left to the people of the States, [it’s] likely that some States would recognize same-sex marriage and others would not.[4]

However, the majority of the Court didn’t apply federalism. They didn’t leave it to local communities and states. Justice Alito continues, “By imposing its own views on the entire country, the majority [helped] marginalization of the many Americans who have traditional ideas.”[5] Many voices in our culture echo the majority’s sentiment.

In response, we should note the importance of the separation of powers and federalism. As we find ourselves in a voting booth, we should vote for those who honor these principles best. As we find ourselves in conversation with others, we should lovingly and winsomely show how these concepts best protect their liberty.

The Rule of Law

Another important principle that guards against the abuse of power and protects the liberty of the people is the rule of law. The rule of law refers to the belief that the law is king, as Samuel Rutherford put it.[6] It just means that nobody gets special treatment.

The rule of law finds its basis in God. Because God is holy, He is just. And because God is just, His rule is[n’t] arbitrary, but fair and predictable. God’s law is a reflection of God’s person, and God’s judgment is consistent with that. The rule of law, then, is a very Christian idea. And we should recognize its importance for a society.

It means that no one’s above the law—not legislators, not executives, and not justices. America’s founders emphasized this principle. They’d served under a king who hadn’t respected the rule of law. They’d experienced firsthand the abuses that follow from its disregard.

To protect this principle, the Constitution should be interpreted according to its intent. Laws should be interpreted by their original, ordinary meaning. A law means what it does when it’s written. It doesn’t change according to the whims of the culture or justice.[7]

“What if a law is unjust? Shouldn’t judges change them?” If a law is bad or unfair, the people can change it through the democratic process. Justice Scalia said this,

Persuade your fellow citizens it’s a good idea and pass a law. That’s what democracy is all about. It’s not about nine . . .  judges who[’ve] been there too long, imposing the[ir] demands on society. A system of government that makes the people subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does[n’t] deserve to be called a democracy. [8] [9]

Well, like these other concepts, the rule of law is threatened in our own day. When government leaders disregard the law they don’t like. Enforce ideas that run contrary to the actual law. Interpret the law to mean what it doesn’t actually mean. When these things happen, the rule of law is on shaky ground.

And this is what’s happened in Obergefell. Justice Alito says, “Even enthusiastic supporters of same-sex marriage should worry about the scope of the power that today’s majority claims.”[10]

In the last few months, the FBI’s investigation of a likely presidential nominee has also reminded us how the rule of law, and the consistency of its application, is being threatened.

Why is the rule of law so important? What can happen if it’s disregarded? The rule of law establishes consistency, predictability, and stability. It protects ordinary citizens. Like you and me. From a government leader’s unfair use of the law.

Whenever a nation, state, or locality would change the law, it should do so through just means. The failure to respect the rule of law results in inconsistent laws, unpredictable standards, and civil instability.

As with the separation of powers and federalism, the rule of law guards against the abuse of power and protects our rights. We should recognize its importance. Not just as a legal principle but a Christian one.

Again, it should shape the way we think about laws and policies, societies and governments. It should impact how we dialogue about current cultural and political events with our family, friends, and coworkers. And it should influence the types of government leaders we support.

We’ll conclude this study in part V, which will consider the principles of democracy and liberty.


[1] “Letter from John Dalberg-Acton to Bishop Mandell Creighton, April 5, 1887,” in John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence, Lectures on Modern History (London: MacMillan and Co., 1906), Online Library of Liberty: A Collection of Scholarly Works about Individual Liberty and Free Markets, http://oll.liberty; April 19, 2016; Internet.

[2] Obergefell, 576 U.S ___ (Roberts, dissenting), at 2, 25.

[3] U.S. Constitution, amend. X.

[4] Obergefell, 576 U.S ___ (Alito, dissenting), at 7.

[5] Id.

[6] See Samuel Rutherford, Lex Rex (1644) (Edinburgh: Robert Ogle and Oliver & Boyd, 1843).

[7] See E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Validity in Interpretation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967).

[8] Antonin Scalia, “The Originalist,” California Lawyer; quoted in Emily Conley, “7 Masterful Quotes That Sum Up Former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s Approach to Life and Law,” Alliance Defending Freedom, February 15, 2016; allianceedge/2016/02/15/7-masterful-quotes-that-sum-up-former-supreme-court-justice-antonin-scalia-s-approach-to-life-and-law; accessed April 5, 2016; Internet. See also Obergefell, 576 U.S ___ (Scalia, dissenting), at 2.

[9] Obergefell, 576 U.S ___ (2015) (Scalia, A., dissenting), at 5.

[10] Id. (Alito, dissenting), at 7.

Legal and Religious Liberty Implications of the Supreme Court Decision on Same-sex Marriage (Part III of V)

by Matthew Steven Bracey

In part II, having considered how we’ve gotten to the state in which we find ourselves in part I, we began asking where we go from here, and considering religious liberty in particular. We’ll continue that with this post.

Religious Liberty Threatened

Chai Feldblum said, “There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win.”[1]

Many Christian voices have sounded the alarm. Robert George writes, “In the name of ‘marriage equality’ and ‘non-discrimination,’ liberty—especially religious liberty and the liberty of conscience—and genuine equality are undermined.”[2] Russell Moore remarks, “Religious liberty is genuinely imperiled, perhaps more than at any time since the revolutionary era.”[3]

In his dissent in Obergefell, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “Today’s decision creates serious questions about religious liberty. Many good and decent people oppose same-sex marriage as a tenet of faith, and their freedom to exercise religion is—unlike the right imagined by the majority—actually spelled out in the Constitution.”[4]

Make no mistake, friends, religious liberty is in trouble. And it’s slowly being taken away. What will this mean for our children and our grandchildren if we don’t do something?

Religious liberty isn’t simply the right to teach our religion or to hold it in the privacy of our homes. It includes the freedom to exercise our religion in society, in business, and so forth. “Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.

However, a Supreme Court that requires states to recognize same-sex marriage results in a conflict for people who want to exercise their First Amendment religious liberty rights.

Justice Thomas also talked about this in his dissent. He says that the majority’s opinion “makes only a weak gesture toward religious liberty in a single paragraph. And even that gesture indicates a misunderstanding of religious liberty in our Nation’s tradition.”

He explains that religious liberty is

about more than just the protection for ‘religious organizations and persons . . . as they seek to teach the principles [of their faith].’ Religious liberty is about freedom of action in . . . religion generally, and the scope of that liberty is directly correlated to the civil restraints placed upon religious practice.[5]

Well, this is the same thing Jefferson said. When Justice Thomas echoes Jefferson, and yet finds himself in the dissent, we have a problem.

If the chances of incurring civil limitations or restrictions increase as a result of practicing your religious beliefs, the less religious liberty you have. And the more religious liberty is being threatened and destroyed.

This was illustrated when, following Obergefell, Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky, was jailed for defying a court order when she refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses, which she said violated her religious beliefs.

We’re seeing similar conflicts on related issues on the state and local levels. What happens if you or someone you know is a public servant and refuses to issue a same-sex marriage license on account of his or her conscience?

What if you or someone you know is a baker, bed and breakfast owner, florist, photographer, or a wedding venue owner and declines to accommodate same-sex couples?

What if you or someone you know is a church planter, and the city refuses to grant you equal access to rent public properties? What if it attempts to regulate your policies regarding marriage or compel you to submit sermons that make reference to homosexuality or gender identity?

What if you or someone you know is in upper management, and the government attempts to require your company to cover contraceptives and drugs to induce abortions? These possibilities, and many like them, aren’t far-fetched. They’re affecting us, our families, our congregations, and our cities.

Defending Religious Liberty

What, then, can we do? We reeducate ourselves about religious liberty. We learn how religious liberty is rooted in Christianity and good for societies.

Moore reminds us that it’s a gospel and church issue: “Religious liberty is as much about children’s Sunday school as it is about the Supreme Court—indeed more so. If we’re going to claim a future for liberty, we must remember why we have it: for the gospel and for the advance of the mission.”[6]

We observe how the voices of the past can help us in this endeavor.[7] We see the good sense in it, and we commit ourselves to it. “Just expressing our opinion is[n’t] enough. We are called to take a stand.” [8] We don’t do any of this by ourselves, but with people in community. This can take place in all kinds of situations.

Perhaps we discuss religious liberty with our families over the dinner table. Perhaps we do it with our churches in Sunday school or a small group. Perhaps we do it in our workplaces around the proverbial water cooler or over lunch.

Perhaps we defend religious liberty by voting on laws and candidates that best honor it. I hardly think that a likely presidential nominee who says that Obergefell was a good start, but that we’ve a long way to go, cares much your religious liberty or mine.

Perhaps we sign petitions or manifestos, write letters to local newspapers and representatives, protest peacefully, volunteer or work for appropriate candidates, or even run for a political office.

Whatever we do, we must do something.

In part IV, we’ll pick up with the topics of the separation of powers, federalism, and the rule of law.


[1] Maggie Gallagher, “Banned in Boston: The Coming Conflict Between Same-sex Marriage and Religious Liberty,The Weekly Standard, May 15, 2006; Content/Public/Articles /000/000/012/191kgwgh.asp?page=3; accessed October 21, 2015; Internet.

[2] Robert P. George, “Marriage, Religious Liberty, and the ‘Grand Bargain,’” Public Discourse, July 19, 2012;; accessed October 21, 2015; Internet.

[3] Moore, 150.

[4] Obergefell, 576 U.S ___ (Roberts, dissenting), at 27.

[5] Id. (Thomas, dissenting), at 15–16; ellipses in original.

[6] Moore, 153.

[7] Some of these include Thomas Helwys (c. 1575–c. 1616), John Murton (1585–1626), Thomas Hooker (1586–1647), Roger Williams (c. 1603–1683), William Penn (1644–1718), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), and James Madison (1751–1836).

[8] Timothy George, “Let Religious Freedom Ring: Why It’s One of the Most Pressing Issues Today,” First Things, June 30, 2014;; accessed October 21, 2015; Internet.