“A Piece of My Mind”
November, 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
John F. Kennedy on Religious Liberty
“I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials.”
Sept. 12, 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy gave a major speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association
That Was Then – “Will Religion Try to Control the State?”
John F. Kennedy was nervous as he was about to address the Greater Houston Ministerial Association during his 1960 campaign for president. It was one of the best speeches he would ever give.
Conservative and fundamentalist Protestant ministers were deeply worried he would, if elected, inject his Catholic beliefs into the office of president.
He would take orders from Rome, we feared (one pamphlet was titled: “The Pope for President”). A pastor in my Ohio city gave a message, “Why I will not vote for a Roman Catholic for President.” My own pastor said we might have a president who bows his knee to someone other than God.
Fundamentalists were deeply suspicious of Catholicism. “Anything out of Rome is wrong! Now, what is your question about the Catholic Church?”
This Is Now—“Will the State Try to Control Religion?”
The country has changed. Churches have changed. The attitude of Protestant conservatives (and many fundamentalists, but certainly not all) toward the Catholic Church has changed. *** At least when it comes to “church and society” issues, we share much in common and we work together.
The “separation of church and state” is dynamically different too, due in part to the deep impact of secularism on our values and way of thinking. Secularism has its own values and it tries, through government power, to impose those values more than any religious movement has tried in the U.S. Secularists are minimalists when they speak of “freedom of worship.”
Today the worry of conservative and fundamentalist churches and of devout Catholics is how much is the state going to try to control religion. In less than a decade we’ve moved from Mitt Romney’s word that politicians have no business telling churches what to do to today’s politicians who say, for example, the Catholic Church needs to change some of its beliefs (or else?).
*** See my editorial “One Evangelical’s Gratitude for John Paul II”, written in April 2005 shortly after his death. Read it at my Website under “writings”: www.donaldshoemakerministries.com
Qualities We Should Look for in a Political Leader
• Integrity – being people of truthfulness and fairness and good character in light of reasoned principles acknowledged by almost everybody.
• Sagacity (“mental discernment, sound judgment”) – realizing that the state’s power to compel behavior is a great and potentially dangerous power and therefore exercising great reserve and wisdom in its use in our free society.
• Accessibility – demonstrating openness to the people they are selected to serve, whether these people are supporters, detractors or indifferent.
• Frugality – viewing public funds as a limited resource to be prudently handled with great care and not as a constant spring where there is always more to be tapped. It must always be remembered that every tax dollar, regardless of its source and our political good intentions, takes money from people and not from impersonal things.
• Accountability – recognizing that managing public funds and exercising power are solemn trusts. Those who do these things must see themselves as stewards answerable to the people. Most of us believe accountability is due “in the sight of both God and man.” But even if a politician doesn’t think God exists, he or she knows the citizen does. Accountability also measures actions by their impact on the future long after a term of office has ended.
• Collegiality – being an effective office-holder through knowing how to work with others, especially those of opposing viewpoints. The collegiate leader earns respect “across the aisle” and knows how to work the political process for reasonable advantage without yielding core values. The “collegiate” politician knows “half a loaf is better than none.”
• Efficiency – getting the most “bang for the buck” by avoiding wasted time, squandered resources, incompetence and bloated bureaucracy. Thomas Jefferson’s call for “suppression of unnecessary offices, of useless establishments and expenses” needs to be heeded as never before.
• Productivity – ensuring that resources of funding, time and talent are used for intended and effective purposes and not, as examples, for self-aggrandizement or for programs likely or proven to fail. A good leader regards no program as sacrosanct and regularly evaluates them for both effectiveness and efficiency.
Let’s Make This Political Stipulation and then move on)
I’ve done enough jury duty to hear attorneys ask that something be stipulated. Something is stated, and then accepted by the other side as a fact. Once “stipulated,” it doesn’t need to be argued and the court can move on to matters needing argument and deliberation. Let’s stipulate, for example, “There is no difference between six of something and half a dozen of something.” (I think of that example because a McDonald’s clerk recently didn’t know the two were the same!)
In politics let’s stipulate this:
Those on the far right are likely to support the more conservative candidates; those on the far left are likely to support the more liberal candidates.
Therefore, let’s drop the ad hominem argument that conservative candidates are blemished because they get the votes of, say, a nativist or racist or members of an extreme fundamentalist group.
And let’s drop the ad hominem argument that liberal candidates are blemished because they get the votes of, say, a socialist or environmental extremist or anarchist leftists.
If we accept this stipulation, we can move on to substantive issues instead of trying to score points by smearing opponents with fallacious “guilt by association” labels.
Is this reasonable? Or am I missing something? Is this too much to ask?
Religious Liberty Vigilance – CA Senate Bill 1146
“I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises.”
– Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Miller, 1808
California’s Senate Bill 1146 is now state law. The final version primarily puts an obligation on religious schools to disclose and report their basis for claiming religious exemption from federal and state non-discrimination laws.
Gone are the more obnoxious features that would greatly burden religious liberty— dictating housing rules and requiring religious schools to report expulsions and suspensions to the state, as examples. Still, the bill marks a new level of state intrusion into the affairs of private religious schools. And all wonder what shoes will drop in future California legislatures.
In words published by newspapers of the Los Angeles News Group, I said this:
“The proper meaning of the word tolerance as ‘a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own’ is turned on its head by SB-1146. It does not take much stretch of the imagination to see future legislation expand the control of the state over religious institutions including, ultimately, churches.
“In deciding SB-1146, the legislature and governor will help shape what kind of society we want—one encouraging true religious pluralism or one requiring conformity to secular standards that will supplant religious liberty.”
Note on the Jefferson quote above: Jefferson believed the Constitution banned the federal government from meddling in the affairs of religious institutions. It is now a well-established point of constitutional law that the protections of the Constitution (like the First Amendment) are binding on the states as much as on the federal government.
See the U.S. Supreme Court decision Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940).
Bible Insight: Good Anger, Bad Anger
On July 7, 2016, Micah Johnson ambushed police officers in Dallas, Texas, killing five officers and injuring nine others.
My anger was great that evening. As Senior Chaplain of the Seal Beach (CA) Police Department, I went to the station for three hours to be of support (as I put it) “to any of you who are feeling what I’m feeling.”
Scripture approves anger at times. God has anger (Jeremiah 25:6). Jesus got angry. Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.” (Mark 3:4-5)
So anger isn’t always wrong, but it is often and easily wrong. How can scripture guide us toward good anger and away from the bad?
1. I must control anger; it must not control me.
The classic biblical example of uncontrolled anger is Cain, son of Adam.
Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:3-7)
But Cain let anger control him, and so he killed his brother Abel.
2. To be right, anger must be due to a just cause.
Governor Nehemiah listened to the people who were wronged (Nehemiah 5:1-5). When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry (v. 6).
Romans 12:19 – Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” The magistrate’s anger may be God’s instrument of wrath and justice (13:4-5).
3. Anger can motivate us, but good reasoning must direct us.
“I pondered them [the charges] in my mind.” (Nehemiah 5:7)
4. We must not allow even proper anger to seethe within us.
In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26-27)
Anger must be turned off and not allowed to fester within us. Go ahead and write that angry reply—your letter or email or tweet. Then save it until morning (“sleep on it”) and, with morning’s clarity and more reflection, review and edit it before hitting that irretrievable “send.”
5. Jesus classified wrongful anger under murder.
Why? Because anger can burst forth into abusive words, rage, violence, harm and killing. He warned of the personal fallout from wrongful anger.
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother [some texts: “without cause”] will be subject to judgment. (Matthew 5:21-26)
6. Anger as a vice must be confessed and put away.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:31)
Such anger disqualifies one as a church leader, for not being “quick tempered” is a biblical standard for leaders (Titus 1:7).
Read the verses from Proverbs below to learn the dangers of anger.
7. We must not entice others to wrongful anger.
One of the worst examples of this is failed fatherhood that fills one’s offspring with anger. We see the fruit of this everyday in our culture. Fathers, do not exasperate (provoke to anger) your children. (Ephesians 6:4).
Think of anger as fire.
It takes skill to handle it rightly.
Controlled, it brings comfort and light and progress.
Uncontrolled it is a destructive wildfire.
Don’t pour gas on your anger—ever.
Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,
but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,
but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
Make no friendship with a man given to anger,
nor go with a wrathful man,
lest you learn his ways
and entangle yourself in a snare.
A man of wrath stirs up strife,
and one given to anger causes much transgression.
Pressing milk produces curds,
pressing the nose produces blood,
and pressing anger produces strife.
Don’s Upcoming Ministries
November 1 (6:30 p.m.) and 4 (9:30 a.m.)
Speak at Women’s Bible Studies at Grace Community Church. Topic: “The Lord’s Prayer”
November 11 (11:00 a.m.) – Veteran’s Day
Speak and offer prayers at the Veteran’s Day Observance, Eisenhower Park (at the Seal Beach pier)
Listen to my Recent Sermons (click below and go to the date indicated):
“Giving Thanks-A Missing Jewel?” (August 7, 2016)
Nehemiah 13 – “Time for a Great Reformation” (October 23, 2016)
And Finally, A Vin-ediction
This Irish blessing was given by Vin Scully after the Dodgers-Giants game on October 2, the game that closed his 67-year broadcasting career:
May God give you for every storm a rainbow,
For every tear a smile,
For every care a promise,
And a blessing in each trial,
For every problem life seems a faithful friend to share,
For every sign a sweet song and an answer for each prayer
Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to all merchants who don’t start “Black Friday” sales on Thanksgiving!