“A Piece of My Mind”
September 2017 Newsletter
Advancing Christian Faith and Values,
Defending Religious Liberty for All,
Supporting Civility and the Common Good
through Preaching, Teaching, Writing, Activism and Reasoned Conversations
Why does California’s radically secular legislature meddle in the affairs of religion?
Has it not heard of
the separation of church and state?
(read more…and what can you do)
Religious Liberty Vigilance
“No provision in our constitution ought to be dearer to man, than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.” – Thomas Jefferson
Assembly Bill 569 – Today’s Threat to Religious Liberty
Assembly Bill 569, the “California Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act” introduced by Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), is this year’s muddle of meddlesomeness.
While appearing to be a law that applies neutrally to all employers, its real targets are churches and other religious institutions—those that balk at the secular orthodoxy of “reproductive rights” for which contraception and abortion are holy sacraments.
The real target is quite clear from the examples cited in Assemblywoman Fletcher’s arguments for needing the bill. ALL the examples that supposedly identify the “problem” involve religious institutions.
What would AB 569 require? Employers (including churches and religious organizations) must not take any adverse employment action based on an employee’s “reproductive health care decisions” such as contraception or abortion. Religious organizations could not require a code of conduct on reproductive health decisions. Their employee handbooks must spell out what an employee’s “rights and remedies” are with regard to these decisions.
This bill would thus create the state-mandated hypocrisy of a pro-life religious organization opposing abortion in its message and mission on the one hand and enabling abortion in its employment policies on the other hand.
I am a Christian evangelical pastor with almost 50 years experience in religious organizations. Many of these require assent to certain behavior codes that reflect core beliefs because they see the behavior codes as essential to their mission. A church’s convictions on moral values may require that these values govern not just the conduct of clergy but that of all employees and volunteers as well.
For example, someone seeking help from a church may initially contact a church secretary or even encounter the custodian first of all. I would expect this employee to provide basic spiritual guidance and prayer, whether or not a member of the clergy gives assistance later.
A church that embraces pro-life values or takes positions on other controversial issues will likely convey its convictions through literature, conversations, telephone policies and other ways. In other words, a strong pro-life atmosphere will pervade everyday church life. It takes no imagination to see a church accused of creating a hostile work environment in this circumstance, with all the legal trouble that can bring. And for this we will have AB 569 to thank. Employee rights lawyers are already licking their chops.
Evangelical Christians are conscientious supporters of the rule of law. But we increasingly see that those who make the laws do not cherish and safeguard religious liberty as they should. The free exercise of religion must include the right of organized religion to live out its convictions as well as believe in them. The state should stay neutral toward religious free exercise, except in the most compelling cases.
What, then, is a proper response should AB 569 become law? Churches could require that all their employees be members of the employing church and thereby subject to moral standards that bind all members. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously supported the right of churches to apply their religious tenets in hiring decisions (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v. Amos, 1987).
But this policy would not protect religious organizations that are not church-affiliated. And churches would need to practice fair and even-handed discipline of all members, employed or not, which they should be doing anyhow.
More directly and bluntly, religious organizations should refuse to comply with the unacceptable dictates of AB 569. They should still insist on codes of conduct as they deem appropriate. They should refuse to spell out rights and remedies in their employment policies if they would violate core religious values.
Such civil disobedience—selective refusal to obey an unrighteous law in a context of overall respect for law—has solid secular and biblical support. The Bible affirms resistance against state edicts on worship and prayer, among other examples (Daniel 3:16-18, 6:6-10).
Refusal based on religious conviction would eventually lead to court challenges against AB 569. I am confident that the control of religion this bill envisions would not survive.
But nightmares like this can be avoided if California’s legislature would back off from burdening free exercise of religion in the first place and be much less meddlesome in the future.
Published as a Guest Commentary (August 20, 2017)
Long Beach, California Press-Telegram
Californians, please read this bill at:
The bill is now before the state Senate.
Contact your state senator and, if and when necessary, the governor.
Outside of California? Watch for similar legislation in your own state.
Dr. Wayne S. Flory (1927-2017)
Wayne passed away unexpectedly on July 8. He was a very faithful member of Grace Community Church of Seal Beach. He had been a military chaplain, pastor, theology professor (Biola University) and much more.
He was an outstanding husband and father. To me, he was a pastor to pastors and a dear friend.
It was a special honor for me to officiate at the graveside service and at a well-attended memorial service on August 13.
Beatitudes for Educators
As the new school year gets under way, my church devoted time in worship services on a Sunday in August to honor and pray for educators.
The words spoken reminded me of something I wrote years ago. I took the “Beatitudes” taught by Jesus (Matthew 5:3-10) and applied them to educators. Please read:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit”
So, blessed are you…when your frustration level is so high and your human resources so low that you realize you must turn to God for renewed strength.
“Blessed are those who mourn”
So, blessed are you…when your heart is broken over how cruel people can be to other people and over how little children can become innocent victims of violence, even to the shedding of blood. Blessed are you when you grieve over the children who come to school with the deck already stacked against them because their house is not a home and they have no real role models or incentives for being good.
“Blessed are the gentle”
So, blessed are you…when you turn the other cheek, walk the second mile and continue to work with patience in a situation, even when it seems just about impossible.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”
So, blessed are you…when your frustration over the lack of learned values, moral standards and discipline make you want to chuck it all, but you stay committed to your education task as a calling from God and you don’t forget the importance of your own moral nourishment.
“Blessed are the merciful”
So, blessed are you…when you reach out your hand to a child desperately needing love and care and concern and assistance, who may not find it from anyone other than you.
“Blessed are the pure in heart”
So, blessed are you…when you maintain your moral standards in the face of temptations to cut ethical corners and when others see you take your stand on principle, no matter the cost to you.
“Blessed are the peacemakers”
So, blessed are you…when you intervene in the cause of peace, even at personal risk, and help children who don’t like each other to learn at least how to live civilly with each other and to practice the “Golden Rule.”
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness”
So, blessed are you…if you are ever belittled or have to put your reputation or career on the line and pay a price for following the best values.
In all this God is well pleased with all you do and, in the end, that’s what really counts.
* * *
Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
They will be a garland to grace your head
and a chain to adorn your neck.
We meet three outstanding Christian leaders in the above scripture reading. Priscilla and Aquila were a wife-husband ministry team from Rome, located now in Ephesus. They mentored Apollos. Apollos himself was, well, let’s look at his outstanding ministry qualities…
Ministry Quality #1 – He was a SKILLED COMMUNICATOR
Acts 18:24 – “Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man…”
Notice: he was Jewish and he was from Alexandria. A large Jewish population was there at that time. The great Jewish philosopher Philo was a contemporary of Apollos. The Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek there in 200 BC.
Alexandria was a great center of learning. Apollos had breathed this intellectual atmosphere. He was an “eloquent” man—literally, a “man of words.”
He could speak well and speak persuasively. This was a natural ability of his, honed by the intellectual environment of Alexandria. God uses our natural abilities as well as the spiritual gifts he gives us. Don’t bury your natural abilities—learning, speaking, leading, art and music, etc. Dedicate them to God and nurture them.
Ministry Quality #2 – He knew his BIBLE and could “HANDLE” it well.
Acts 18:24-25 – “…competent in the Scriptures; instructed in the ways of the Lord.”
We would say, “He knew his Bible.” But more than its details, he knew its message. He heard the voice of God in the Scriptures and learned the will of God there.
The Bible is great for academic study. But we have missed its message if we are not illumined by the Holy Spirit to hear God speak to us from these sacred pages and learn his will for our lives.
Holy words long preserved,
For our walk in this world.?
They resound with God’s own heart ?
Oh let the ancient words impart.
Ministry Quality #3 – He was ZEALOUS for the Lord.
Acts 18:25 – “…being fervent in spirit.”
“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” – Romans 12:11
Zeal is a spiritual fire. In the wrong hands, at the wrong time, it can wreak havoc, like the fires that burn in the West every year. But put zeal in the heart of someone who knows her Bible and how to handle it, and you have a powerful Instrument of God.
Zeal must always be combined with knowledge and wisdom.
Ministry Quality #4 – He shared his faith the BEST he knew how.
Acts 18:25 – “he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.”
Put it this way: he taught truth about Jesus as he knew it, but not all the truth that could be known about Jesus. He only knew what John the Baptist taught.
John the Baptist preached, “The Messiah is coming! So be ready!
Receive a baptism of repentance and do good works.”
This was what Apollos knew about Jesus. We might say he knew “Jesus 1.0”.
He needed to upgrade his theological system because Jesus, the one he anticipated, has come and completed his earthly mission.
Perhaps you haven’t been a Christian for long. You have a lot of learning ahead of you. But do this: “Share your faith the best you know how.”
Perhaps you’ve been a Christian for a long time. You still have much to learn!
Do this: “Share your faith the best you know how.”
Ministry Quality #5 – He was TEACHABLE—open to CORRECTION and new KNOWLEDGE.
Acts 18:26 – “He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.”
Private discussion is almost always better than public confrontation. But private discussion can bear fruit IF, and only IF, the listener is willing to listen. And Apollos, in spite of his great intellect and knowledge, was open to correction.
If he had displayed a “know it all” attitude, he would have never made progress. Sadly, sometimes theologians think they have nothing to learn from non-theologians, certainly not from a pastoral team like Priscilla and Aquila.
Let’s look for opportunities to be mentors, like Priscilla and Aquila were. Let’s strive to be effective with the gifts God has given us, as Apollos was. And keep an open mind to learn more. Faith and knowledge are friends.
Listen to Don’s sermon on Acts 18:23-28 – “Leaders Training Leaders”
http://gracesealbeach.org/sunday/sermons (July 30 sermon)
Don’s Upcoming Ministries
September 13 – Speak at an evening Bible Study of Grace Community Church on “The Five Points of Calvinism.”
October 29 (Reformation Sunday) – Speak on “The Freedom of the Christian” at Grace Community Church of Seal Beach (8:00, 9:30, 11:00 services).
A Different World
End of August 2001—Change of Command at the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station
“Yours truly” (younger!) is sharing a moment honoring outgoing Commanding Officer Capt. Paul Bruno (far left) prior to offering the Benediction as the navy band played “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.”
Captain Bruno and his family had been very active at Grace Community Church and also in their service to the Seal Beach community.
In less than two weeks, “9/11” would strike the country. The base would be highly secured—there would have been no public ceremony. On that day Captain Bruno’s family was at a hotel watching the smoke rise over the Pentagon, where he was preparing for his next assignment.
America’s “Vacation from History” (since the end of the Cold War) was over.
Evil and Tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017
A Position Statement by The Social Concerns Committee of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches
(August 21, 2017)
The God-given dignity of persons and how it was violated
We affirm the essential equality and dignity of all human beings. All are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). God has made us morally responsible—ultimately to his commands and judgment, intermediately to the just laws and courts of human government (Acts 17:31 and Romans 13:1-7).
This inherent equality is not affected by race or nationality (Acts 17:24-26). Therefore, racism is repugnant to God and an insult to our humanity. Racism includes any words or attitude or conduct that supports racial superiority or inferiority or uses race as criterion for either inclusion or exclusion.
With these basics before us, and with humble confession of our own failures, we must pass moral judgment on the recent tragic, evil events in Charlottesville, Virginia. We must condemn the racism that was verbally advocated and violently demonstrated. We must condemn the lawlessness that occurred in all its forms.
We must pray for the reconciling power of the Gospel, demonstrated and advocated by all who embrace it, to have a powerful impact on the Charlottesville participants and on all of our country. We must also pray for law enforcement at all levels as it fulfills its difficult responsibilities.
– Social Concerns Committee of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches
Donald Shoemaker, Chair
Contact me at: email@example.com