“A Piece of My Mind”
July, 2016 Newsletter from
Advancing Christian Faith and Values,
Defending Religious Liberty for All,
Supporting Civility and the Common Good
through Preaching, Teaching, Writing,
Activism and Reasoned Conversations
July 4, 2016 – Celebrating 240 Years of Liberty
The Bald Eagle—Emblem of the United States
My wife and I saw several of these majestic birds during our trip to Alaska in June. She snapped this picture in Juneau.
On the Great Seal of the United States of America, on many coins, and on many expressions of national authority, this bird represents American strength and freedom. The bald eagle was chosen as our national emblem in 1782, although Benjamin Franklin thought this a bad decision and preferred the turkey!
Religious Liberty Vigilance –
“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.”
– 1st Amendment
California’s Senate Bill 1146 interferes with Religious Liberty and ought to be defeated
“Title IX”, part of an education law passed in 1972, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Longstanding federal and state laws and policies exempt religious educational organizations from “Title IX” prohibitions if these prohibitions violate the religious tenets of the organization.
CA Senate Bill 1146 would create intrusive, meddlesome reporting and disclosure requirements for schools that receive this exemption. It has the potential of creating a state-sponsored “shame list” of these schools. Have its author and its supporters not heard of the separation of church and state?
I encourage California readers to review SB 1146 and, if you agree with my observations, contact your Assembly member to ask him or her to oppose it.
Did Our Founding Fathers Intend to Favor Christianity?
Several years ago I was presenting a workshop on how Christians should be involved in our culture. I set forth a position that I still hold—religious liberty must apply to people of all faiths, not just to Christians. A man raised his hand and prefaced his comment with words surely intended to serve as a “trump card”. He said, “I’m a lawyer.”
Then he said the Constitution was intended to protect Christians. I answered (less coherently than here) that even though the country’s religion at the time of our founding was overwhelmingly Christianity in its several versions, we must allow for some dynamic in the Constitution so it could apply to future religious landscapes. (I should have added that the Constitution explicitly authorizes an army and a navy, but says nothing about an air force!)
It would be helpful to listen to Thomas Jefferson. In his autobiography, he speaks of his intentions when he authored “The Statute of Virginia for Religion Freedom,” a document that greatly influenced our new nation’s position on religious liberty. He says of the final version that passed the Virginia legislature: “…a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal”. Then he reports [bold lettering mine]:
Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.” The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.
Clearly, Jefferson and the adopted document both intended that religious liberty be extended to those outside the Christian faith, even to infidels (those who confess no religious faith at all). Quite relevant to today is his clear inclusion of Islam.
It’s always risky to speak of “the Founding Fathers” as if they spoke univocally on matters such as religious freedom. But we can say with assurance that Jefferson did not think the religious freedom recognized in our founding documents was intended only to protect Christians.
I am committed to this same understanding. Four years ago, upon my retirement as a senior pastor, I adopted a “purpose statement” for the future ministry I intended to have. This statement is at the front of every newsletter I write. I stand fully committed to “Defending Religious Liberty For All.”
Recommended reading: Founding Faith—How our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty by Steven Waldman (2008 by Steven Waldman; 2009 by Random House)
What Did Jefferson Omit from His Tombstone?
Does it amaze you that Jefferson fails to list “President of the United States” on his tombstone along with the three accomplishments engraved on it?
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
[Author] of The Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom
Father of the University of Virginia
Also curious at first is learning that the monument above is not the original one (which now belongs to the University of Missouri, for goodness sake). The original 6-foot obelisk and marble plaque specified by Jefferson became prey to those wanting souvenir chips from it.
The three accomplishments listed are those Jefferson wished as his legacy. His handwritten instructions: “…because by these, as testimonials that I have lived, I wish most to be remembered.”
He was explicit: “…and not a word more.”
Was he preempting any who might want to add, “President of the United States”? Did he regard that service as an era of personal stress and without great significance—certainly unequal to the three services mentioned?
What would libertarian Jefferson think and say if he saw the power of the presidency and the centralization of authority in Washington as it exists today?
Messages of the Month –
#1 — Civility in Today’s Toxic Political Climate
Bernie Sanders spoke last September to a convocation of students at Liberty University in Virginia—a school founded by the late Jerry Falwell, whose current president, Jerry Falwell, Jr., supports Donald Trump.
I doubt 10% of the Liberty U student body would vote for Bernie Sanders. Still, he was greeted warmly by the crowd, treated with respect, and his message got a listen. He made it clear at the outset of his speech that he and the audience members would have views “on a number of important issues that are very, very different.”
Actually, it was rather refreshing to see a politician speak to a religious group and not try to pretend to be one of them!
Mr. Sanders said of his appearance there, “I spoke at Liberty University because I believe that it is important for those with different views in our country to engage in civil discourse.” That’s wisdom, and very American.
Fast-forward to June 2 and behold the shameful protests against Donald Trump’s appearance at a rally in San Jose, California. Sometimes supporters of Mr. Trump responded in kind. San Jose’s irresponsible mayor failed his duty of office and blamed Donald Trump for the actions of the protestors—a version of “the devil made me do it” defense.
Police declared the protesters an “unlawful assembly”. The president of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association said, “I’m disgusted by the violent attacks yesterday that have no place in our society or our political process.” Well put. The mayor and protesters appear in this instance to care little for the freedoms of the First Amendment.
The late Chuck Colson once said, “… in a democracy, civility is not an option, it’s a precondition that makes our system possible . . . Without civility, political discourse becomes hostile and polarized. In the resulting chaos we become vulnerable to tyranny.”
We better heed his word and warning.
#2 — The Mass Killing in Orlando
On June 12, forty-nine people were killed and another fifty-three wounded at a nightclub frequented by the LBGT community in Orlando, Florida. This was the worst mass murder and act of terrorism in the United States since “9/11”.
As human beings made in the image and likeness of God, these victims did not deserve this violence. They deserved the dignity and honor and protection that flow from creation in God’s image (Genesis 1:27 and 9:6; James 3:9-10). Regardless of one’s religious beliefs or personal convictions about LGBT issues, we must support basic rights for all, including the right to life and safety.
Leaders of our government and of law enforcement should regard this incident as an act of terror committed in the name of the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as both the perpetrator and ISIS so claimed, and move to protect Americans accordingly to the utmost of their ability. Many are choosing to ignore or minimize this reality. They put the blame for this attack on the Religious Right, on homophobia, on xenophobia, on immigration as it now exists in America, or on failure to legislate on gun control. When they do this, they are missing the most critical issue. If they are government leaders, they are failing to exercise their proper leadership role entrusted to them by God and by the American people.
Bible Insight – “Don’t Be a Modern Esau!”
(Squandering Your Future for the Cravings and Pleasures of the Moment)
Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew [crudely literal: “red stuff”], for I am exhausted!”
Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way.
Thus Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:29-34 English Standard Version)
Esau squandered his rights as the firstborn to satisfy his hunger. He badly overstates his cravings, eats, wipes his mouth on his sleeve, and moves on.
Esau is the careless young person who lives for the cravings of the moment and does not consider God or the future—certainly not the consequences of bad action. He is willing to risk long-term benefit for short-term satisfaction of his craving. Esau’s trickster brother Jacob knew how to take advantage of such weak willpower.
Brock Turner, student at Stanford University, is a modern Esau—sexually exploiting a drunken female till he was discovered and subdued by two other men. He received a surprisingly light sentence of six months in jail (three months with good behavior) but must register as a sex offender for life.
Nonetheless, his father told the court, “His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” But the 20 minutes were hardly spent on a minor crime like, say, shoplifting. They were spent sexually violating a young woman incapable of resisting at the time.
Reminds us of Esau’s wrong. Maybe he spent 20 minutes surrendering his birthright and eating some soup. It meant his life would never be the same. Esau at least did not victimize someone else through his own foolishness.
Don’s Upcoming Ministries
July 22-25 – Attend the annual Conference of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches in Toronto, Canada. Offer Resolutions on social issues for adoption by the delegates of the Conference.
August 7 – Speak in Sunday morning services at Grace Community Church of Seal Beach (8:00, 9:30, 11:00).
Good News from Grace
An excellent VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL program is offered by Grace Community Church of Seal Beach—July 11-15 for age 4 through grade 5. Contact the church on-line or at 562-596-1605.
“He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”
– Micah 6:8 ESV