Tag: church and state

Religious liberty and oneness at the core of U.S.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump said Monday we need a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

It is sad that a candidate for president would say something so contrary to the founding and sustaining principles of this great nation. Religious liberty stands at our nation’s core, and openness to immigrants has filled our population with a diverse people unparalleled anywhere on earth. America is at its best when it allows people to pursue their religious beliefs and when it treats all people with respect and dignity.

These principles of liberty and openness are also reflected in Scripture, which is the ultimate source of authority for Christians.

If we impose a religion test regarding Muslims in this regard, a religion test regarding Christians could be applied to some other case.

Let us pray for a more appropriate response to the threat of terrorism than that suggested by Mr. Trump.

(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists web site.)


Trying to get this church-state thing right

(This article originally appeared on the Texas Baptist web site.)

Some Bible verses are so clear and direct they are like taking a finger in the eye; you can’t ignore them. Paul seemed to specialize in the finger-in-the-eye genre, while generally, Jesus was more subtle, as if whispering a word one had to take some time to think about.

In one of Paul’s finger-in-the-eye passages, he told the Christians in Rome the following:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment (Romans 13:1-2, NRSV).

This verse is a bit striking because history has exposed some very evil governments.

The key to understanding finger-in-the-eye verses is to read more verses, including the more subtle ones, especially the ones in which Jesus spoke.

Paul told the Corinthians to not take their grievances to the courts (1 Cor. 6:1-4). He called the Roman courts unrighteous. Settle issues among yourselves because you understand some things the unbelievers will never get.

He also told the Corinthians that the “rulers of this age” do not understand God’s wisdom. In fact, those rulers, the Romans again, “crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:6-8). Mature believers know a greater wisdom – God’s.

Jesus also had something to say on the subject, and, as usual, He said it in rather veiled language because some people were trying to trap Him in theological and political debate. Jesus said:

“’. . . Bring me a denarius and let me see it.’ And they brought one. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were utterly amazed at him” (Mark 12:15c-17 NRSV, also see Mt. 22:21).

We sometimes take this as meaning the state and God have an equal claim on our lives. That is not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is saying certain things belong to the government, such as taxes.

What belongs to God? Our lives.

If Paul’s words in Romans 13 are taken alone, they can lead us into untrue places. Governments reign for a time, only for a time, but we are part of a greater kingdom – God’s.

We do not stand idly by as governments trample upon innocent people, or at least we shouldn’t.

Unlike the Rome of Jesus and Paul’s time, this nation of ours is uniquely ours. We elect our leaders, and we communicate our opinions. And we do so in the midst of a public square, which includes people with very different ideas and opinions.

As Paul said, we owe our governments great respect and deference. But, as Jesus made clear, it is important to remember we owe our lives and ultimate allegiance to God. As a result, in all that we do, we stand for the things of God: for love, for grace, for fairness, for kindness, for morality and for the “least of these.”

We respect government. We worship only God. And we can be thankful we live in a nation, which grants us the freedom to worship. If it didn’t, we would worship anyway.

Connecting religious liberty & evangelism

brent-walker-speakingEvangelism and missions can be conducted openly and forthrightly only in an environment that fosters and protects religious liberty. The United States, with its constitutional protections, is a shining example of this reality, while nations with limits on religious expression are examples of the opposite.

Brent Walker, in the January Report from the Capital, develops the link between religious liberty and evangelism. Americans are “able to practice our religion as we see fit and free to go tell others about it,” said Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty.

One person’s freedom, however, can best be expressed only in a context that respects another person’s freedom.

“Respecting the other person’s soul freedom does not mean we cannot share our faith; it does mean, however, that we respect and honor that person’s right to say no. We must fight to resist others doing, or the church doing, or the government doing what even God will not do — to violate conscience or coerce faith.”

A commitment to “religious freedom and sensitive evangelism has resulted in amazing religious and cultural pluralism” in the United States. It also has changed the missions task.

“The ‘world’ is now next door, down the street, in our workplace and throughout our culture.

“Living alongside people from around the world allows us to get to know and understand them and their religious points of view. Ideally, ‘with-nessing’ should come before ‘witnessing.’ That makes what we say so much more effective and credible. And, it allows us to learn from the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Jew, the Muslim and countless others. As Christians, we believe we know the ultimatetruth in the person of Jesus Christ, but we do not presume to know all the truth. We can learn a lot from our brothers and sisters from various religious traditions.”

The multi-religious culture that now exists in the United States makes the Baptist distinctives of soul freedom and religious liberty even more important.

Walker says:

“The Bible teaches both individual freedom and responsible evangelism. The Apostle Paul issues a clarion call for freedom in Christ to the Galatians when he said, ‘For freedom Christ has set us free, do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.’ (Gal. 5:1)

“Paul was a freedom guy through and through. But he was also the great missionary of the early church. His embrace of freedom did not detract from — but added to — his enthusiasm for sharing the Gospel. And, Peter tells us in his first letter that we must ‘always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.’ (1 Peter 3:15) (emphasis added)”

The principle of religious liberty also is important in preventing human rights violations caused by religion. Walker noted that a recent op-ed piece in The Washington Post by Stephen Hopgood attributed the diminution of human rights internationally to the influence of religion. ”This need not be the case,” Walker said. “Religious freedom — including the freedom to share one’s faith and change one’s mind — is not antithetical to human rights. In fact, they are closely related.

“People of faith were integrally involved in the drafting and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In fact, J.M. Dawson, the first executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, along with Gov. Harold Stassen (a Baptist from Minnesota), were instrumental in convincing the United Nations General Assembly to embrace the Universal Declaration in December 1948 as the aspirational goal for the post-World War II world. Both Dawson and Stassen understood religious rights and human rights go hand in glove.”

In addition to the article, Walker has written a new book, a “basic primer,” titled What a Touchy Subject! Religious Liberty and Church-State Separation. The book is available at Amazon.comBarnesandNoble.com and NurturingFaith.net.

(This post originally appeared on the texasbaptists.org site.)

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.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt – June 6, 1944

Standing for truth about American history

Stephen Stookey

Stephen Stookey, a historian at Dallas Baptist University, has summarized some of the serious problems with the “Christian America” push now being promoted in some circles, most notably by David Barton and Glenn Beck.

Stookey spoke during the annual meeting of the Baptist History & Heritage Society, meeting in Dallas May 20. Ken Camp has written a story on Stookey’s presentation in the Baptist Standard, and that’s where I ran across this.

The Christian America folks say they are rescuing American history studies from secularists intent on scrubbing Christianity from our history. Some secularists, it seems, would like to do that, but that’s no reason for we Christians to distort history ourselves, which I think is what Barton and Beck are doing.

Stookey acknowledged that some efforts to secularize, minimize or ignore America’s religious heritage certainly exist. “However, in reacting to perceived revisions of American history, Christian America advocates recast American history, creating a quasi-mythical American tale—a story with just enough truth to give the air of credibility but riddled with historical inaccuracies,” said Stookey, according to the Baptist Standard.

Proponents of Christian America presuppose the United States “was, is and should continue to be a constitutionally established Christian nation,” he explained. Any evidence to the contrary is ignored or recast, he said.

“Supportive data is either exaggerated or manufactured,” Stookey said. “In short, this camp presumes an inerrant historical understanding of America, as well as the original intent of the Constitution.”

Christian America advocates use out-of-context quotations and some outright falsehoods to give the Founding Fathers impeccable Christian pedigrees, ignoring or at least minimizing Enlightenment influences, he said.

“The historical reality is that the Founders were a varied collection of orthodox Christians, nominal (church) attenders, Christian moralists, deists and nonbelievers,” Stookey said.

While some advocates of the Christian America position long have existed, in recent years, they have moved into new prominence, he noted.

“Once a marginal group at the fringes of American culture and politics, dependent upon mimeographed newsletters and self-published books, this camp now enjoys significant access to public discourse via the Internet, publishing houses, television news networks and mainstream churches,” he said.

Proponents of the Christian American position gain credibility by dazzling with documentation—extensively footnoting their position papers with quotes carelessly copied from secondary or tertiary sources, he noted. Sometimes, quotes are abridged so much they imply the opposite of what originally was stated.

For more on Stookey’s speech, see the Baptist Standard story

I’m not a historian, and I suspect Barton and Beck have done a lot more study on America’s founding than I have, but trained, qualified, Christian historians generally agree that these guys are wrong. It is so hard for ordinary folks like me to know what is true and what is not, so we depend on experts. The reality is that Barton and Beck are not the experts on this; they are propagandists.

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.)