Archive for January, 2012

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

–The First Amendment

Constitution of the United States

The words are old, the First Amendment having been adopted in 1791 along with the rest of the Bill of Rights. But even today, whenever they’re read, the effect is the same. The heart beats just a little faster.

There is a majesty about those words, not just in their grand sweep, but in the fine judgment one can sense behind them. Note the carefully chosen phrases, the balance and comprehension of its language, broad yet focused. It was as if the founders knew they were writing not just for their time but ours, as if they realized they were founding. A new order of the ages, as it still says on the dollar bill.

The constitution they put together would prove to be that rarest of cases in history and literature: a work of art produced by committee. (The King James Bible is another.) The constitution they crafted was, and is, about more than law. A mix of the mundane and visionary, it expressed great principles while dealing with practical details — like terms of office and tax policy. Complex and simple, general and precise at the same time.

What a mix of idealism and practicality the founders bequeathed in the Constitution, much like the country and society it was meant for.

William Ewart Gladstone said it. He was the 19th-century statesman who alternated as Queen Victoria’s first minister with the great Disraeli. He once described the U.S. Constitution as “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.”

For once Mr. Gladstone, an orator known for his lengthy and labored flourishes, may have committed an understatement.

Gladstone’s tribute to the foresight of the founders was borne out the other day by a unanimous decision of the current Supreme Court of the United States. All nine justices agreed that, no, the federal government may not tell churches whom to hire and fire as teachers charged with transmitting the faith to the next generation.

All the justices had to do was read the crystal-clear language of the First Amendment. It specifies that Congress shall make no law even respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

In short: State, hands off Church.

And not just hands off, but stand clear. Don’t even come close to crossing the line between church and state.

The teacher who had challenged her church (and the Constitution) asserted she couldn’t be fired because an antidiscrimination law protected her job. And it wasn’t as if she were a minister acting under the church’s authority and discipline. She claimed she wasn’t exercising any religious authority as a teacher at a church school.

Even though she had undergone religious training for her post of “lay teacher,” had agreed to be a “called teacher,” and was commissioned as a minister by her church. And, oh yes, she’d also claimed a ministerial housing allowance on her taxes.

But, the teacher explained, she led chapel services and taught religion classes only sometimes. The rest of the time she taught secular subjects like math. She estimated that the “religious” part of her day took up only 45 minutes.

How modern. As if someone who’s supposed to be an exemplar of her faith need be religious only part-time. Chief Justice John Roberts, speaking for a unanimous court, put it well: Being a religious leader is not a matter “that can be resolved by a stopwatch.”

Next we’ll be told that a judge is a judge only while sitting on the bench. Or that an officer and gentleman need be one only in uniform.

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, for following the simple yet profound language of the First Amendment. Its words have yet to be bettered by those who would add all kinds of footnotes, exceptions, interpretations and complications to the text.

Naturally, the teacher was supported by this administration. This administration also seems to believe that under the Constitution the president of the United States can make recess appointments even if Congress isn’t in recess at the time. He’ll decide when Congress is in session, thank you. So much for the separation of powers, whether legislative and executive or, in this latest landmark case, church and state.

This welcome decision is but the latest round in a continuing case that might rightly be styled Obama v. Constitution.

The strangest objection to the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in this case came from an organization with a noble name, Americans United for Separation of Church and State. That’s precisely the principle this ruling exemplified.

Maybe this group assumes that the purpose of the First Amendment is only to prevent the church from interfering with the state. But the Amendment is just as concerned with preventing the state from interfering with the church. And with its right to decide who will teach its faith.

The good people at Americans United for Separation of Church and State might want to go back and reread the words of the First Amendment. Those words never fail to clarify thought. And elevate the spirit.

Tags:                 Constitution            ,                                    Christianity            ,                                    Barack Obama            ,                                    Church v. State
Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg

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Thou shall not covet your neighbor’s house, your neighbor’s wife, not “anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Not anything.

If talk of Biblical Commandments makes you feel uncomfortable, then let’s call them “Ten Helpful Guidelines.”

On purely secular and practical grounds, is it better or worse for a society to follow the “Helpful Guideline” to not covet?

Imagine you are in a dark alley and you are approached by a gang.  Would you feel better or worse if you knew that gang followed the Helpful Guideline to not covet your wallet?

What if it’s an “Occupy Wall Street” gang?  Coveting is the foundation of their movement.  A movement that – in a short few months of public coveting – has already racked up multiple counts of assault, rape, murder – and stealing wallets.

Which alley would you rather be in?  Which society would you rather be in?

In November, when a group of Occupy Wall Street protesters shouted at President Obama, the President took their side and shouted back:  “You’re the reason I ran for office.”

Taking the President at his word, is there any evidence – in his words, deeds or policies – of coveting?

“At a certain point you’ve made enough money.”  Says who?  The President of the United States.  He also said, “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”  In a CBS News story entitled “Obama Versus the ‘Fat Cats,’” President Obama “ratcheted up his rhetoric against Wall Street” calling them “fat cat[s]” and scolding them for not showing “‘a lot of shame’ about their behavior and outsized compensation.”  And Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign is built almost entirely on coveting – the promise to reach into the wallets of rich “Fat Cats” and take their money away.

I interviewed Economics Professor Walter E. Williams, a regular guest host on the Rush Limbaugh Show, and asked him what he thought about government playing the “Covet Card” to demonize so-called rich “Fat Cats.”  He said: “Politicians use so much demagoguery along these lines.  I’ve said to people: Bill Gates is the richest man in the world.  What can Bill Gates make me do?  Can he force me to send my kids to a school that I don’t want to send them to?  Can he force me to use 1.8 gallons to flush my toilet…what can he do?  But, by contrast [the] government…can make my life miserable.  So, when people talk about the power of the rich, and government has to protect us against the rich, that’s BS.”

When you and I covet, it’s a sin.  When government covets, it’s policy.

Government has the power to turn its covetous policies into coercive action.

Like the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform’ Act (which empowers the government to literally “occupy” Wall Street).  Its co-author Barney Frank revealed the true covetous nature of the Bill to NPR: “When it comes to Wall Street’s bottom line, yes; if we do not see some reduction in profits at some of the largest financial institutions as a result of this Bill, I’ve wasted a year.”

The central theme of President Obama’s re-election campaign is coveting.  His word for it is “fairness.”  What’s “fairness?”  According to the Ten Helpful Guidelines: it’s none of your business.  Nor is it the business of the President.

If we minded our own business, and followed the Helpful Guideline to not covet, it would not matter to us if our neighbors had more.  There would be no class warfare.  We would never descend into the covetous madness of declaring what’s “fair” between what our neighbors have and what we don’t have.  Following this one Guideline alone would end the most corrosive debate of our time: the covetous urge to take away from the “haves” and give to the “have-nots” in pursuit of some mythical fantasy of fairness in a world that has never been fair – not once, not for a second – since our Ten Helpful Guidelines were first etched into stone.

President Obama is not a stupid man.  Therefore he knows that his covet-based promise of “fairness” is an empty promise.  A manipulative ruse.  A lie.

There’s a Helpful Guideline against that, too.

Tags:                 2012 Election            ,                                    Bible             ,                                    Barack Obama            ,                                    Occupy Wall Street
Michael Prell

Michael Prell

    Michael Prell is a writer and strategist with the Tea Party Patriots and the author of the book Underdogma: How America’s Enemies Use our Love for the Underdog to Trash American Power

For years I have been saying that those who came out of the closet one generation ago (speaking of gay activists) want to put us in the closet today. For making that statement, I have been derisively scorned and ridiculed: “No one is trying to put you in the closet!” But as the tide continues to turn in favor of the gay activist agenda, I’m noticing a shift. People are now saying to me, “Bigots like you belong in the closet!”

Last Wednesday (January 25th), Dr. Frank Turek and I engaged in a radio dialogue-debate with gay activist Mitchell Gold, founder of Faith in America, which is devoted to “ending the harm of religion-based bigotry.”

Speaking at a reception on Capitol Hill December 2, 2011, Gold made reference to this alleged “religion-based bigotry,” saying, “I know those . . . three words might seem harsh or incendiary to some, but unfortunately those are the words that best describe the disease that has and is dividing our country and too many families.”

In other words, if you have any moral or religious or social objection to homosexual practice you are suffering from a divisive and destructive “disease.” In fact, if you simply affirm that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, not the union of two people, you are suffering from the “disease” of “religion based-bigotry.”  And bigots, of course, should not be tolerated.

In the midst of our very spirited debate (the three of us are from New Jersey or New York), I repeatedly told listeners they needed to read the book Mitchell edited, Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America. In keeping with the sub-title, I reiterated that it was important that those of us who opposed gay activism understood the personal dimensions involved. In fact, I started the show by asking Mitchell to tell his own story, wanting others to know the pain he suffered growing up with same-sex attractions.

I also made clear that rampant, no-fault divorce among heterosexuals (including all too many Christians) had done more to destroy marriage than all gay activists combined.

Still, when I asked Mitchell what he thought I should do with my deeply held spiritual and moral convictions, the fruit of 40 years of study, prayer, and reflection, he basically said that I needed to keep studying until I abandoned my opposition to homosexual practice. So much for tolerance, diversity, and religious freedom.

The emails I received from those in Mitchell’s camp were even more enlightening (I have not corrected the typos).

From Rosemarie: “You are the one that is blinded by bigotry.  Read how the churches handled slavery, mixed marriages, etc. . . .  You and others like you will have a lot to answer for at the judgement.  You might make it in the gates and you will most likely be surprised who is there and who is not there.”

From John: “I just finished listening to your program featuring Mitchell Gold, and I feel like crying. . . . It’s such a bold, unquestioned arrogance. . . .  I’m a very loving, open-minded athiest as an adult.  I whole-heartedly wish that all of humanity would abandon belief in god(s) and truly learn what it is to be kind, and loving and gentle to each other.  In all likelihood, it will never happen, but I sincerely believe it’s the only way we will avoid extinction.  Upon hearing the message of your show… (devicive, bigotted, self-righteousness) wrapped in the guise of love, I am far-from-assured in my hope for humanity.”

From Cindy: “As a Christian, I was deeply offended by your comments as well as Frank Turek’s comments. . . . Your arguments are outdated and preposterous. You and Mr Turek reminded me of my grandmother when she would rant on and on about black folk.  She was fearful.”

From Jeana: “More than 60% of the congregation in my church are divorced.  Don’t blame that on the gays.  There are 4 pregnant unwed teenagers in my church.  Don’t blame that on the gays.  Porn addiction is an epidemic among the married men in my church.  Don’t blame that on the gays.  In other words stop blaming the world’s problems on the gays just so you can justify your hate.  You can deny your hate all you want but if you listened to yesterday’s broadcast, your disgust and hate comes through loud and clear.” (My emphasis.)

From Jess: “I couldn’t believe how obnoxious you and Mr. Turek were to Mitchell Gold.  You two acted like immature teenage boys…bullying someone who’s diiferent than you.” (But of course. Bullying!)

And clearest of all, from Pablo: “Free speech espousing hate even disguised as pseudo or real religious speech is still hate speech. Hate speech in any and all circumstances is not protected by US law. If you use religion to disguise your hatred of other groups you should be called out, fired, fined and shamed.”

Now, go back and re-read the opening paragraph and tell me if it sounds far-fetched to you.

Tags:                 Christianity            ,                                    Gay Rights            ,                                    Homosexuality
Michael Brown

Michael Brown

Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and is the author of 20 books. He has served as a professor at a number of seminaries and hosts the nationally syndicated, daily talk radio show, the Line of Fire.

The memory of my suffering and      homelessness is bitterness and poison. I can’t help but remember      and am depressed. I call all this to mind—      therefore, I will wait. Certainly the faithful love      of the LORD hasn’t ended;      certainly God’s compassion isn’t through! They are renewed every morning.      Great is your faithfulness. (CEB)

In the last few days, I’ve been considering the question “What enables us to keep on trusting in God’s faithful love when our lives are stung by suffering?” I’ve pointed to the encouragement we receive from Scripture and from Jesus Christ. Today, I want to suggest another way God makes his presence known when we are suffering.

I’m thinking of the community of God’s people. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, we enter into a relationship, not only with God, but also with God’s people. Our Heavenly Father adopts us into a giant family with millions of brothers and sisters. His intention for us is that we would live our life in profound intimacy with some of these Christian siblings.

One of the crucial roles of the family of God is to offer comfort and support in times of suffering. According to Romans 12:15, we are to “be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying.” This happens because “if one part [of the body of Christ] suffers, all the parts suffer with it” (1 Cor. 12:26). Notice that our first duty to those who suffer is not to cheer them up or sort out their theology. We’re to share in their pain and to weep when they weep. Then, in the context of such empathy, we can also find ways to bring comfort and hope.

When my father was dying of cancer, his last months seemed endless. My family and I were being pummeled with this suffering, as well as with our own grief. Members of our church family often reached out to us, offering their love and prayers. But the most wonderful thing they did for the last two months of my dad’s life was to bring dinner to my family, every night for two months. Some of these dinners were glorious, the fruit of long labor. Others were picked up as someone rushed over to my parents’ house after work. Sometimes, those who brought the meals stayed and shared them with us. Sometimes they dropped off the food and hurried home.

I can’t begin to describe how it felt to have our brothers and sisters in Christ serve us in this way. In a time when God often felt very distant, we sensed his love in meatloaf, casseroles, and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

When you’re in the midst of hard times at home, work, or wherever, don’t go it alone. God did not intend for you to be faithful all by yourself. Rather, he adopted you into his family so that you might experience his love from your brothers and sisters in Christ.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever experienced the support of your Christian community when you were going through a difficult time in life or at work? What happened? Have you ever been a conduit of God’s love to someone who was suffering?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, how thankful I am that you have not left us alone. As you know so well, there’s no way I could make it on my own. This is especially true in times of suffering.

Your church is not perfect, Lord. You know that better than I do. But, in so many ways, my brothers and sisters have been there for me in difficult times. I thank you for their prayers, their hugs, their patience, their generosity, their words of comfort, their strong faith when my faith faltered.

Help me, dear Lord, to be to others what they have been to me. Help me to be a channel of your peace and reassurance. Help me to weep with those who weep so that I might rejoice when they rejoice.

All praise be to you, Heavenly Father, for the privilege of being a child in your family. Amen.

There are commonly 2 extremes as we all wrestle with this question.  The first is the careless lack of discernment of many churches who have an alter call for 4-5 year olds, ask them to raise their hand if they love Jesus, then baptize them as converted followers of Jesus.  The other extreme often results from the carelessness of the first.

This extreme prevents both parents and pastors to be willing to affirm whether or not a child is truly converted until they are adults and are completely independent of their parent’s authority and care.  I believe a middle ground must be approached if we truly desire to discern clear biblical evidence that a child, teenager, or young adult has become a new creature in Christ.

Knowing we are not God and cannot see the heart, I believe there are still evidences we can see and know to help us discern a child or teenager’s conversion in a similar way we try to do the same with adults.   In the spirit of Jonathan Edward’s 5 signs of true conversion, here are 5 evidences that I try to use as a template as both a parent and pastor in wrestling with this issue.

1)  A growing affection and need for Jesus and the gospel.

2)  A heightened understanding of the truths of Scripture.

3)  An increased kindness and selflessness towards siblings.

4)  A greater awareness and distaste for sin.

5)  A noticeable desire to obey parents.

In my experience as both a parent and a pastor, I have found that age is not the most important gauge to determine true conversion, but to genuinely look for these evidences in an age appropriate manner.  For example, we need to know that a child has a clear understanding of the gospel.  However, that will be articulated by a 10 year old differently than it should a 16 year old.  A desire to obey parents and a selfless spirit towards siblings will also show up differently in a 10 year old than they will in a 16 year old.

Nevertheless, they must be present in some way and I would strongly discourage any pastor or parent to affirm a child’s conversion without some kind of tangible evidence apart from their verbal profession.  On the flip side, I would also caution you from falling into the trap I have in the past in regard to demanding more from a child than can be observed.

This is tricky ground I realize.  So much as a pastor must be approached on a case by case basis.  Many of us will be all around the spectrum, but the one takeaway from this post is be mindful to avoid the extremes that do exist on both sides.  Find I nice seat in the shade somewhere in the middle as a starting point.  Then, be wise, assess honestly, and pray that the merciful God who does regenerate adults, teenagers, and even children give you much discernment.

Under Obligation

David‘s religion had social implications, but he was no mere do-gooder, no patcher-upper of the world’s hurts. All his service was rendered according to the will of God. It was the divine quality in his ministry that made it immortal. Many good deeds may be done whose final effects will not be lasting. A sick man laboring to cure the ills of another sick man may be a moving sight, but it can hardly be a reassuring one, for both will die at last. But the service that can bring the healing touch of God into human life is infinitely to be preferred to any other. It is the will of God that brings eternity into human toil. We should remember that if we are to serve our generation we must get at it right away, for our generation will not be around long. Isaac Watts wrote:  Time, like an ever rolling stream Bears all its sons away; They fly, forgotten, as a dream Dies at the opening day.We are all born in debt to the world, and that debt increases as we grow older. If we are wise in the Spirit, we shall see to it that we turn the tables and put the world in debt to us. This we can do only by serving our generation by the will of God before it is too late.

“He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderers’ soap.”         Mal 3:2 NKJV

Soap cleanses the outside, fire cleanses the inside. And the Spirit of God does both! When you sin, repent! In-depth repentance brings in-depth cleansing. Don’t feel bad about feeling bad, feel good about it. Be glad your conscience is still sensitive and responsive to God. What you never want to hear God say is what He said about Ephraim: “Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone” (Hos 4:17 NKJV). The fact that God is convicting you of sin is proof of His love for you. God can forgive your sin but He cannot overlook it. Unconfessed sin disrupts your fellowship with Him. Forgiveness is about more than just escaping the penalty of sin, it’s about restoring your fellowship with God. You say, “Won’t God get tired of me sinning and repenting?” If Jesus told Peter to forgive his brother “seventy times seven” would He do less for you? The Bible says: “’Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool’” (Isa 1:18 NKJV). When you sin and try to hide from God you only prolong your misery. So the moment you become aware of your sin, confess it, then leave His presence confident that He has forgiven you. You’re not a loser, you’re a learner. Alexander Pope said: “A man should never be ashamed to own he has been wrong, which is but saying in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.”