ACQUITTED SINNER: Former Sen. John Edwards and family last month outside the federal courthouse in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he was found not guilty on one of six counts of campaign corruption. The judge ruled a mistrial on the other five. (Photo: Chucky Liddy/Newscom)
The campaign-corruption trial of former U.S. Sen. John Edwards is history now. His former mistress, Rielle Hunter, with whom he had a daughter, is now on tour promoting her memoir, What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter, and Me. She announced during a TV interview that she and Edwards are no longer a couple, but will continue raising their daughter together. Soon, both will be out of the news cycle, but their saga possibly offers a lasting lesson for many Christians concerning this question about sin and crime.
A jury found Edwards, an admitted sinner, not guilty on one count that he accepted illegal campaign contributions in order to hide his adulteress affair. The jury deadlocked on five other similar counts. The acquittal hasn’t totally exonerated Edwards of campaign finance crimes, but the U.S. State Department dropped the case anyway.
Edward’s sin with Hunter occurred while he was campaigning for the presidency of the United States and while his late wife, Elizabeth, was dying of cancer. Like many men (and women) caught in an immoral self-inflicted bind, Edwards lied and lied until the truth, as it always does, eventually came to light. Many people who paid attention to the case agree that Edwards was put on trial more so as punshment for being unfaithful to his dying wife and for his hubris to believe he could sneak his secret into the White House.
And so Edwards publicly confessed his sins (which the Bible, in 1 John 1:9, states will be forgiven) before God and the world. However, should the government criminalize a sin that basically affects only the imperfect consenting adults involved? Should the church get riled about certain sins, while giving a pass to others?
I’ve been wondering about this most recently since President Obama announced in a TV interview in May that he supports same-sex marriage. The president caused an uproar among many Christians that still simmers, including among many of his supporters in the black church. But should the government, under political pressure from the church, legislate against same-sex marriage, especially when in America two consenting heterosexual adults can marry and divorce without the church being involved? Should most Christians insist that same-sex marriage be illegal, when homosexuality is actually listed in the Bible equally among other sexual sins, including adultery, that are not federal crimes?
A sin is a transgression against divine law for which Christians believe the sinner will be accountable at the judgment seat. The sinner mainly puts him or herself at risk with God. A crime is an action against the people that injures the “public welfare.” Like a drunk driver who runs a stop sign, or an armed robber, committing a crime puts several innocent people potentially at great risk. The government, working on behalf of the people, therefore has a duty to prevent crimes and punish criminals. Does the same duty apply to non-felonious sins?
Obviously many sins are also crimes such as, for example, being a serial killer. But what injury does same-sex marriage between two consenting adults cause to the public welfare? Is it more severe than adultery? Is it more destructive than divorce, a sin that often tears families and wounds innocent children? God allows divorce (which should be a last resort when reconciliation fails) under certain circumstances. Neither adultery nor divorces are federal crimes. Thankfully America is a democracy — a nation of Christians, believers of other faiths, agnostics and atheists, who for the most part believe in preserving the separation of church and state, and not a theocracy, as in living under Sharia law.
A recent CNN/ORC poll indicates that the majority of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal. Perhaps they’re saying it should be treated like adultery or divorce; it may be wrong, but people deserve the free-will right to choose who they want to (or don’t want to) be in a committed personal relationship with.
During closing remarks, Edwards’ attorney Abbe Lowell reportedly told the jury, “This is a case that should define the difference between a wrong and a crime … between a sin and a felony. John Edwards has confessed his sins. He will serve a life sentence for those.”
Perhaps Christians who are adamantly against two consenting same-sex adults having the legal right to marry should adopt this reasoning, too.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a key component of Arizona’s controversial immigration law Monday, allowing local police to request documentation from people they suspect to be in the country illegally. It struck down “two provisions that made it a crime for an illegal immigrant to seek work or fail to register with the federal government,” NPR reported. It also ruled against “a portion of the law that allowed state and local law enforcement officers to arrest anyone based solely on the suspicion that the individual was in the country illegally.”
Governor Jan Brewer declared the ruling a victory, according to Politico. “Today is the day when the key components of our efforts to protect the citizens of Arizona, to take up the fight against illegal immigration in a balanced and constitutional way, has unanimously been vindicated by the highest court in the land,” she said. “Arizona’s and every other state’s inherent authority to protect and defend its people has been upheld.”
But the ruling “reignited concerns that the law could lead to widespread racial profiling and civil-rights violations by overzealous police targeting Hispanics, including U.S. citizens or those who are here legally,” The Arizona Republic reported. Writing at The Grio, Judith Browne Dianis said the decision is also “a mixed bag and a cautionary note for black folks” because anti-immigration laws “intrinsically include us in their broad sweep, as civil rights violations always do. ”
“I am pleased that the Supreme Court has struck down key provisions of Arizona’s immigration law,” President Obama said in a statement. “What this decision makes unmistakably clear is that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform. A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system – it’s part of the problem.”
His administration went further. “Just hours after the Supreme Court issued its decision on SB1070, federal officials said they would immediately rescind a controversial federal-state partnership that uses local cops in Arizona to detain immigrants,” Colorlines reported.
Rival Mitt Romney took the opposite approach, according to The Washington Post. “I would have preferred to see the Supreme Court give more latitude to states, not less. And the states, now under this decision, have less authority, less latitude, to enforce immigration law,” he reportedly said at a fundraiser in Scottsdale.
The ruling could be a “boon” to the president, but Romney loses no matter what, said Howard Fineman at The Huffington Post. “Praise the court and [Romney] offends Latinos; fault it and he offends social conservatives who have made a crackdown on the undocumented a key Tea Party plank. … Since possession of a valid driver’s license is, under the Arizona law, sufficient proof of citizenship, the ruling will force legal residents and citizens to get them if they don’t have them. There’s no better place to run a registration drive than at or near a DMV. Most of those voters are likely to be Democrats, or at least Obama supporters,” Fineman wrote.
Either way, “Many politicians – and Americans in general – don’t understand the complex contours of Hispanic voters in America,” The Christian Science Monitor reported. The problem begins with the term Hispanic, which was reportedly “manufactured by Congress in 1976 to be an umbrella term that applies to all Americans of Spanish descent.”
Speaking of Hispanics, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference issued a statement stating, in part, that the Court “initiated the process of establishing a legal firewall against draconian measures as it pertains to immigration” and conveyed “a clear message that 21st century jurisprudence will not tolerate measures that polarize and segregate our communities.”
Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform also issued a statement, from Jim Wallis, that said, in part, “The decision to strike down key provisions of this legislation is a victory for everyone in the faith community who seeks to follow the Bible’s call for concern for the vulnerable and ‘stranger’ among us. Arizona’s immoral legislation threatened families, harmed children, and made it difficult for law enforcement to safeguard the communities they swore to protect; it remains important to ensure that any remaining parts of the legislation are never used to justify racial profiling by local police.”
The American Civil Liberties Union will devote $8.7 million to fight expansion of “show me your papers” laws in other states, its Executive Director Anthony D. Romero announced Monday. The ACLU will “aggressively battle any state’s attempts to enact copycat legislation while also fighting the ‘corrosive effects’ of existing anti-immigrant laws in Arizona and five other states,” its statement said.
It may be an uphill battle. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 55% of likely voters wanted SB1070 upheld, while only 26% wanted it overturned. Nineteen percent were undecided about the law.
What do you think?
Did the U.S. Supreme Court make the right decision?