Category: Religious Liberty

Thankful for the fruits of religious freedom

Come next year, Congress will not be as Christian as it used to be. By that, I mean the 113th Congress will have fewer professing Christians than the 112th because voters have chosen to send more non-Christians to the Senate and the House. It is, however, a very small change.

Here are the three most notable changes:

Hawaii elected  Mazie Hirono to the Senate. Hirono, who previously served as a representative, becomes the first Buddhist member of the Senate. She also will be the first Asian-American woman in the Senate.

Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district will be sending the first Hindu to Congress, Tulsi Gabbard. The new Representative also is an Iraq War veteran. She will be taking over the seat vacated by Hirono.

Arizona’s new 9th congressional district elected Kyrsten Sinema, who will be the only member of Congress who is religiously “unaffiliated,” according to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Sinema also is the first openly bisexual member of Congress.

All three are Democrats.

Congress will still be predominantly Christian, with 299 (56.4 percent) members identifying with Protestant groups, 161 (22 percent) calling themselves Catholics, and five (1 percent) connected to Orthodox Christianity.

Other religious representation will be: Jewish, 32; Mormon, 15; Don’t Know/Refused, 10; Buddhist, 3; Muslim, 2; Hindu, 1, Unitarian Universalist, 1; and Unaffiliated 1.

So how should we Christians react to this diversity?

As a follower of Christ, I have a desire for everyone in the world to know Christ and to have an ongoing relationship with God through Christ. As a result, I wish all of the members of Congress were followers of Christ, as well.

Despite that wish, I have a deep respect for people of other faiths. We all are God’s children, created in God’s image and for God’s purposes.

I am thankful this Thanksgiving that I live in a nation that has no religious test for holding public office. I suspect some of those who disagree with me on religious matters will make wonderful members of Congress and will acquit themselves honorably. As Scripture says, God has put them there. And the United States, God has done so through the votes of the people.

These are some of the fruits of religious liberty. We are blessed. We should be thankful.

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A strange reaction

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, and you cannot seek to convert a Muslim to Christianity. Also, tipping is not generally practiced. So, today, I left a tip for the hotel maid and left my Bible laying on a table. There are subtle ways to share one’s faith.

I have found myself having a strange reaction to the religious situation here. As I see Muslims on the street and in the hotel, I find myself feeling sorry for them. I have never  felt that way before about Muslims. I surely respect their faith, though I do not agree with them. I felt sorry for them because they live in a society that feels it has protect itself from other beliefs.

That is contrary to how I approach Christian. I read widely, including stuff that is not Christian. I don’t feel constrained by my government to be a Christian; I feel constrained by God to seek His truth.

The Muslims in Malaysia receive special economic and professional advantages as well, so it’s not just a matter of religion. That seems like it will really hurt the nation, because that means 40 percent of the population is limited in how it can contribute to the national well-being. This apparently came out of fear of the ethic Chinese population and their long-time economic success when Malaysia was a British colony.

Now let me bring this back home to America. There are some who want to do for Christianity in the U.S. what has been done for Islam in Malaysia. My response: We don’t need that. We don’t want that. We do need the U.S. government to give special favor to Christians or Christianity. We need freedom of religion because Christians and Christianity have all the strength and protection they need — the God of the Bible as revealed in Christ.

FDR’s prayer: ‘Let our hearts be stout’

Franklin Roosevelt

The president of the United States: “Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.”

Thus spoke Franklin Roosevelt to the nation on June 6, 1944, as Allied forces were in the midst of the D-Day invasion. He prayed to God on the airwaves.

This great prayer was broadcast and recorded for all to hear, even today. And across these years, some might find it inappropriate for a president to pray in such manner — in fact, to pray a prayer that could not be prayed at some public school graduation ceremonies.

Roosevelt began and ended his prayer with “Almighty God,” a rather generic appellation that would have been inclusive of all three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He also did not utter the name of Jesus; once again a bow to inclusion.

Of course, today some courts have indicated similar use of “God” language in a prayer is inappropriate for public school functions. This just seems patently wrong-headed and inconsistent with the best of our history. We do not need or want a government that is pushing Christianity or any other faith on people, but to go the extreme secular path that some courts have gone is to prevent free exercise.

I am OK if some atheist valedictorian wants to say he doesn’t believe in God, just as I am OK with a Christian valedictorian saying he believes Jesus is the Son of God. God talk, including anti-God talk, simply must be allowed in this country if we are going to have freedom of religion.

We can, however, draw the line when people begin to use God language to incite behaviors that would be destructive of the principles on which this nation are founded. In other words, if someone says God told him or her that America is evil and people should go kill their neighbors, that has no place in civil society whether the person invokes God’s name or not.

I obviously am no attorney nor an expert on church and state, but the ideas expressed above seem self-evident and consistent with history of this nation, as I understand it.

Roosevelt’s prayer was no violation of separation of church and state as expressed in the First Amendment — then or now. It is not an “establishment” of religion for a president to pray in public and to invoke the guidance and protection of God. It also is not a violation of others’ “free exercise” for the president to do this. Likewise, such actions by other individuals in public forums are not a violation.

On the opposite side of this equation, we don’t need a government — or school — pushing one faith and denegrating others. If we do, someday and in some places something other than Christianity will be pushed and Christians will be persecuted. I surely do not that to happen to me, and I surely do not want that to happen to others.

Roosevelt’s prayer points to the reality of a powerful nation that is still not the ultimate power. In his prayer, Roosevelt asked God much for Allied soldiers and the nation.

“Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

“They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

“They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

“For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

“Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

“And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

“Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

“Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

“And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

“And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

“With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

“Thy will be done, Almighty God.

“Amen.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt – June 6, 1944

Keller: Church and state in the Bible

Timothy Keller offers one the quickest and best understandings of church and state from a biblical perspective that you will find. It comes in chapter two of his book, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just.

“In the Old Testament believers comprised a single nation-state, with divinely appointed land apportionments and with a religious law code backed up by civil sanctions. … but in the New Testament this changed. Christians now do not constitute a theocratic kingdom-state, but exist as an international communion of local assemblies living in every nation and culture. … Jesus’s famous teaching to ‘render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ (Matthew 22:21) signaled this change in the relationship between church and state to one of ‘non-establishment.’

“Though believers are still a ‘covenant community,’ a people who are bound together to obey God’s will, the church is not a state. So the apostle Paul, for example, calls for the rebuke of an adulterer in the Corinthian church. And if he does not repent, says Paul, expel him from membership in the community (1 Corinthians 5). Nevertheless, Paul does not demand his execution, as would have been the case in Israel.” (pp.21-22)

This is so helpful. It’s interesting that American Christians on both sides of the church-state separation debate tend to focus on the founders of our nation and not the Founder of our faith.

The two sides, in case you missed it, are basically identified this way: In one corner of the “boxing” ring we have the defender’s of Thomas Jefferson’s wall of separation of church and state. And in other corner we have those who believe the United States was essentially a Christian nation that granted freedom of religion. You might have guessed, I go with the former group.

No need to argue all of that now. Keller simply gives a good perspective.

(This is my second post on Keller’s book.  The first is here.)

Goats lose

Religious liberty wins out over cruelty to animals. Most of us would celebrate that in principle, but the details make me squeamish.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has said the City of Euless cannot prevent a resident from sacrificing a goat as part of his religious practice. The city prohibits cruelty to animals and the keeping of livestock, except chickens, and it obviously didn’t put those ordinances into effect just to stop a group of Santaria worshipers from killing goats. But the 5th Circuit says the goats can die–for religious purposes, that is. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram story)

It really doesn’t matter that Santaria is a small religion or even a scary one. Those of us who believe in religious liberty know that it minority practices are the ones most in need of protecting. And some people think Baptists are a bit scary.

That said, this ruling just doesn’t seem right. Michael Vick goes to prison for killing dogs (which I detest), but I guess if he had started a religion that requires dog fighting then it would have been OK.

I probably need legal advice, but sometimes I think a little common sense would be nice. We don’t need to be killing goats, or dogs, in suburban backyards. Of course, on my ranch, that would be OK. Life is tricky.