Category archives: Religion & Culture

Fashion Isn¿t the Most Important Thing to Come Out of Milan

by Chris Gacek

November 19, 2014

If you have some time, watch FRC’s lecture with Jim Tonkowich discussing his new book, The Liberty Threat: The Attack on Religious Freedom in America Today. One particularly interesting aspect of the talk was Tonkowich’s discussion of the rise of religious freedom during the Roman Empire. Of particular importance was the Edict of Milan of 313 A.D. Read George Weigel’s First Things blog on this important document. Referencing the great church historian Robert Louis Wilken (The First Thousand Years), Weigel describes the document’s foundational significance in Western political thought and practice:

[The Edict] involved all religions, not just Christianity; it went beyond mere toleration and embodied a more robust idea of religious freedom, based on the conviction that true faith and true worship cannot be compelled; and it treated the Church as a corporate body with legal rights, including property-owning rights. Thus the not-really-an-Edict of Nicomedia and Elsewhere cemented into the foundations of the West ideas first sketched by the Christian philosopher Lactantius: that coercion and true religious faith don’t mix because “God wishes to be adored by people who are free” (as Joseph Ratzinger would rewrite Lactantius a millennium and a half later, in the 1986 Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation). The rather humane provisions of the mis-named “Edict of Milan” were not infrequently ignored in subsequent Western history; but that doesn’t alter the fact that the “Edict” had a profound and, in many respects, beneficial influence on the future of the West.

(Weigel quotes a passage from Wilken revealing that the Milanese origins of the documents putting the policy into effect arose from meetings between Emperors Constantine and Licinius during a state wedding.)

So, watch the lecture and learn other interesting things that will impress your friends and confound your opponents.

ISIS: and the New Damascus Road

by Nathan Oppman

November 6, 2014

The New Testament book of Acts tells us that Saul’s persecutions scattered the church throughout Judea and Samaria. Saul later converted to Christianity, on his way to Damascus to eradicate Christians, and began planting churches throughout the Mediterranean region

Today a new scattering in the Middle East has begun and a new group of persecutors on the road to Damascus has risen up. The new so-called caliphate, ISIS, which has emerged in the Middle East is seeking to remove from its borders all those who claim allegiance to the Jesus Christ. The slaughter of Christians has been one of the most troubling aspects of the rise of ISIS among many horrific stories coming out of Iraq and Syria.

While persecution is not new to Christians in the Middle East, many communities which have existed for millennia are in danger of being eradicated. You can read some of the troubling news in a recent article published by the Gatestone Institute.

Christians can pray for the persecuted by asking for God’s protection of them and for their boldness in sharing the Gospel. We should also pray that the Lord would change the hearts of the persecutors like He changed the heart of Paul and in so doing stop their evil rampage. May God turn this wave of persecution into one that turns the heart of a great persecutor into the heart of a great missionary, and one that uses the scattering of the faithful to spread new hope in Christ wherever they are driven.

Beachheads of God’s Kingdom

by Rob Schwarzwalder

November 3, 2014

So, things can look pretty bleak, at home and abroad. But in addition to the fact that we have the legal right and moral duty to try to restrain evil and advance good, Christians can celebrate some very good things that are happening concurrent with the gloom that sometimes seems to surround us.

Here is some news to encourage believers who sometimes feel at sea without a rudder in the waves of our culture. Some stories deal with specific events, others with broader trends. All should help keep us steadfast as we work for life, family, and liberty.

  • The adoption movement is bringing thousands of little ones, at home and abroad, into loving Christian homes).
  • Although a recent survey says that most Americans see religion’s influence in culture waning, the survey also shows “most people who say religion’s influence is waning see this as a bad thing”. This presents a real opportunity for Christians to talk about how God’s standards for society actually work – and use them to share the good news about Jesus, too.
  • Believers in the U.S. are growing more and more aware of their suffering brethren across the globe; for example, FRC played a key role in the release of Christian Mariam Ibrahim from Sudanese captivity earlier this year. Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors are among those leading in this area.

Is this list comprehensive? No. Does it diminish the grim news about abortion, violations of religious liberty, erosions of the family and our culture and other bad things we hear about so often? No.

But God is doing wonderful things despite the fallenness and corruption that is in the world. Let’s rejoice in that truth and from it gather continued strength to keep fighting the wrongs of our time.

Though Devils all the World Should Fill

by Robert Morrison

October 31, 2014

For the world, which is to say, for Google, today is a day about witches and ghosts, and not much more. Witchy Wanda is stirring her kettle on today’s webpage. That’s the way the world sees things.

With the headlines this fall, though, the world does seem to be full of devils. ISIS, Ebola, Russian submarines lurking menacingly under Swedish home waters. Obamacare forcing us all to pay for the slaughter of innocents. It’s all enough to give one a real scare.

I recall the story of a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther in the early Sixteenth Century. He was being urged not to go to that high-level conference chaired by the Emperor. All the leading Electors, princes, and nobility of Germany and the higher clergy would be in attendance. It was called the Diet of Worms.

(When they used to teach world history, we kids in ninth grade got quite a chuckle out of that “Diet of Worms.” I recall one of my classmates saying it would at least be better than what we get in the school cafeteria!)

Young Luther was being summoned before the Holy Roman Emperor to recant his writings. They had been found heretical by church authorities. Luther was warned by his friends not to go to the City of Worms.

They won’t keep their word. They won’t give you protection. Now that they’ve branded your writings heretical, they’ll excommunicate you. Then they’ll hand you over to the temporal rulers and you will be burned at the stake—just as Jan Hus was burned at the stake in Bohemia. That was in 1415.

But Martin Luther would not be deterred. He told his friends he was going to appear before the Emperor Charles V and all the assembled movers and shakers in Germany.

I would go if there were a devil on every roof tile,” the young scholar said.

We don’t often associate scholars with such courage. To be sure, today there are all too many scholars unwilling to take risks. But that bold stand of a Bible teacher inspired me thirty years ago. And it inspires me now. Luther had a Doctorate in Theology when such academic degrees were rarer than Nobel Peace Prizes are today (and more justly awarded, too.)

We continue to debate and wrestle over the doctrines of the Reformation that began this day in 1517. Dr. Timothy George has summarized some of the best thinking on this day in his First Things column here.

Today, I especially want to pay tribute to young Dr. Luther’s courage. And in the spirit of ecumenism, let me also salute my good friend, Hadley Arkes. Hadley is a great academic who has never hesitated to speak out on the most controversial topics of the day, on human life, on same-sex rituals, on the real meaning of our Constitution.

But when he was asked by a Catholic priest why he had not converted to Catholicism yet, Hadley did not respond with a learned citation from the early Church Fathers, or from Wise Rabbis of old. Instead, Hadley quoted the Cowardly Lion in Wizard of Oz.

 

C-c-c-courage!

It’s what puts the Ape in Apricot

It’s what I haven’t got.

Obviously, Hadley did summon the courage to follow his conscience and enter into communion in the Roman Catholic Church.

It may seem odd to describe the conversion of a Jew to Catholicism in the same column with today’s observance of the Reformation. But in both instances, what was required was the courage of conviction.

Another friend has been bidding me to join him in his Catholic faith. I am happy to attend Mass with this friend when we meet. But the last time we went to his church together, the hymn we sang on this day was Luther’s own most famous song: “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

And this powerful verse from that five hundred year-old Reformation hymn is a fitting one for today:

Though devils all the world should fill,

All eager to devour us.

We tremble not, we fear no ill,

They shall not overpower us.

This world’s prince may still

Scowl fierce as he will,

He can harm us none,

He’s judged; the deed is done;

One little word can fell him.

Ministers: Beware

by Travis Weber

October 20, 2014

As if the over-stepping Houston major’s office subpoenaing sermons and other private communications of pastors wasn’t enough, we now receive news of two elderly ministers being told by city officials that any refusal to marry a same-sex couple could cause them to face up to 180 days in jail and $1,000 in fines for each day they decline to do so.

For many years, the husband and wife team of Donald and Evelyn Knapp have presided over wedding services across the street from the local county clerk’s office in Coeur d’Alene, a beautiful city in North Idaho. Now, they are told they have to conform to their city’s iron-fisted demand that they “marry” men to men and women to women.

In other words, from the city to the ministers: Your religious liberty doesn’t really mean a thing when it comes to the new sexuality; you must come into line in accord with our views. When the city says something related to human sexuality should be accepted, that’s the final word.

For years, we have also been told by gay-marriage advocates that no harm would come from legalizing same-sex marriages. No one would be forced to participate.

Yet it seems that day has arrived. Court-issued stays have been lifted, and gay marriages have started to proceed in Idaho. Now a minister is being told by his government that he must officiate at these “marriages.”

Now that we are past the point where we were told the gay-rights crusade would stop, should we expect it to just stop here? I’ve grown doubtful of such expectations, as the advocacy and pressure for acceptance continue full steam. No, this crusade will likely continue until all are forced to approve.

These developments have occurred incrementally. As Albert Mohler points out, “[t]his is how religious liberty dies. Liberties die by a thousand cuts. An intimidating letter here, a subpoena there, a warning in yet another place. The message is simple and easily understood. Be quiet or risk trouble.”

How true. We are more in danger of remaining apathetic to threats to our freedom when the individual threats just don’t appear to be a big deal. The danger is in the accumulation, though. Hopefully, for many, this latest “increment” will be too big to ignore.

Pulpit Friction: TX Leaders Rally To Pastors’ Defense

by Tony Perkins

October 17, 2014

Thursday may have been Boss’s Day, but don’t expect Houston’s top leader to be flooded with well-wishes. Mayor Annise Parker hasn’t exactly won Manager of the Year after her city-wide intimidation campaign of area churches. After subpoenaing the communications of local pastors, including their sermons and private messages, the Mayor got a few sermons herself from key leaders on the ridiculousness of her vendetta.

Everyone from Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to the liberal Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have challenged Parker’s naked abuse of government power. The Mayor “should be ashamed,” Sen. Cruz told reporters before a local press conference this morning. “This is wrong. It’s unbefitting of Texans, and it’s un-American. The government has no business asking pastors to turn over their sermons.”

In the meantime, Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) did more than speak out — he called out city leaders with the full weight of the state. “Whether you intend it to be so or not, your action is a direct assault on the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Abbott warned in a formal letter to Houston Attorney David Feldman. “The people of Houston and their religious leaders must be absolutely secure in the knowledge that their religious affairs are beyond the reach of the government. Nothing short of an immediate reversal by your office will provide that security.”

For his part, Feldman seemed unconcerned, blowing off concerns in a dismissive press conference with Parker, which did more to fan the flames then douse them. “It’s unfortunate,” he said, “that our subpoenas have been construed as some effort to infringe on religious beliefs.” Exactly what part of “their sermons are fair game” isn’t an infringement on religious belief?

The Mayor made it quite clear — not just this week, but throughout the entire “bathroom bill” debate — that she’ll use her bully pulpit to bully pulpits across Houston. Like I tweeted yesterday, if the city government is so curious about what pastors are saying, tell them to stop in on Sunday morning! After all, there’s nothing secret in these sermons; most of them can be found online. But as I told Fox News’s Megyn Kelly, this isn’t about sermons or biblical instruction — it’s about political intimidation.

For now, the Mayor’s office shows no signs of rescinding the subpoenas. She may backpedal on a narrow portion of the order, but the government is still demanding pastors’ emails and other private communications. As ADF’s Casey Mattox explains, “The only way to make this subpoena appropriate and not unconstitutional is to place a giant red X across the whole thing. Otherwise, this is window dressing intended to shield them from public attention, not any real change. There is NO construction of this subpoena that is appropriate. Period.”

As the rest of the country looks on, it’s important that Americans understand this is not some kind of political aberration. This will be the norm in a brave new world where human sexuality is completely disconnected from biological reality. We’re just now beginning to see the impact on religious liberty from this cultural collision course President Obama set us on by championing the redefinition of marriage. You can’t alter something like marriage that’s deeply rooted in history and tradition, not to mention nature, without the use of force. Now that force is starting to come against those who are unwilling to yield to this new order. But here’s what the Left doesn’t understand.

The Bible-believing and preaching pastors have already yielded on this issue — to God. And that means they cannot and will not yield to government, regardless of how tyrannical it becomes.

Robert Gates’ Boy Scouts

by Rob Schwarzwalder

October 1, 2014

In scouting, there’s a secular emphasis on values and virtue that is not found anyplace else. We don’t teach civic values in schools anymore, so where else are kids going to learn it?”

So said former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, now head of the Boy Scouts of America, in an interview last month. Gates, who spearheaded the military’s renunciation of its historic policy banning homosexuality, said earlier this year that he “would have supported having gay Scoutmasters, but at the same time, I fully accept the decision that was democratically arrived at by 1,500 volunteers from across the entire country.”

I’ve written extensively on the Scouts’ decision to allow what the BSA itself has called “open and avowed” homosexuals into the ranks of Scouting (for example, my op-ed in U.S. News and World Report), and will not revisit the many issues involving this issue. Instead, I’m intrigued by Mr. Gates’ comment wedding secularism and “values and virtue.”

According to the Cambridge University Press Dictionary, secularism is “the belief that religion should not be involved with the ordinary social and political activities of a country.” Fair enough. But how does this square with the mission of Scouting?

Here is an excerpt from Scouting’s membership resolution, passed last year at the BSA’s annual convention in Dallas, Texas:

The Scout Oath begins with duty to God and the Scout Law ends with a Scout’s obligation to be reverent, and that will always remain a core value of the Boy Scouts of America, and the values set forth in the Scout Oath and Law are fundamental to the BSA and central to teaching young people to make better choices over their lifetimes …

Let’s see, Mr. Gates: An organization that promotes secular (i.e., non-theistic) values speaks of “duty to God” as “fundamental” and a “core value.” These are contradictory assertions, and cannot be integrated with any intellectual honesty.

Here is a brief summary of the world of Scouting, according to Robert Gates:

  • A Scout is to be “reverent,” but reverence for God is a secular value. I think …
  • Virtues and values are not grounded in revealed truth or natural law but in preferences and social adaptations.
  • We need an organization like Scouts to teach values and virtues, but we can’t talk about where these values and virtues come from, since to do so would mean taking a position on final and unchanging truth, which would be decidedly un-secular.
  • Kids aren’t taught values in their families, but we can’t define family since to do so would require a position on same-sex unions, which Scouting cannot take since to do so would be divisive and upsetting and, hey, what’s a Scout if not “cheerful,” right?
  • Boy’s Life magazine will continue to have Bible stories in every issue, even though the Bible teaches non-secular values like truth and honor and sexual abstinence outside of traditional, one man-one woman, monogamous marriage, which is something Scouting neither condemns nor condones.

Robert Gates is a patriot who’s done a lot of good for our country. He is also caught between the internal knowledge of what’s right (“the works of the Law written on his heart,” Romans 2:15) and acquiescence to post-modern thinking and secularism’s arrogant condescension toward religion.

Sad way to end your career, Mr. Secretary. Sad.

Islamism and Ferguson: There is No Moral Equivalence Between Them

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 25, 2014

In his speech yesterday at the United Nations, President Obama used the shooting of an unarmed African-American man in Ferguson, Missouri to note that America indignation at evil is not self-righteousness. Here is what commentator Richard Grenell, a former American U.N. official, said about the President’s comments:

In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri: (said President Obama). Morally equating the events of Ferguson to Islamic terrorism and Russia’s annexation of Crimea gives foreign diplomats from Arab countries and Russia the excuse they need to dismiss America’s condemnation of their actions. For anyone thinking that President Obama didn’t purposefully mean to equate the world’s problems with the events in Ferguson, two sentences later Obama blamed globalization for the public’s outrage in Ferguson: “And like every country, we continually wrestle with how to reconcile the vast changes wrought by globalization.” Overstating America’s issues doesn’t make us relatable; it makes others’ issues easily dismissible.

Equating a single and widely-condemned act of violence in America’s heartland, one that drew the personal attention of the Attorney General of the United States and enough FBI agents to make Al Capone shudder, with the systematic, calculated, and extensive mass murders perpetrated by the Islamic thugs in Iraq is such poor judgment as to be almost beyond belief. I am not diminishing the seriousness of Michael Brown’s killing, but it is not analogous to what so-called “ISIS” is doing in the Middle East.

The Islamists, as a matter of ideology, political conviction, and religious commitment, are dedicated to executing an agenda of death, including the murder (and beheading) of small children. Here is what Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein (D-CA) says about what the Islamists are doing:

I have a picture of what I estimate to be a 6-year-old girl in a gingham party dress, white tights, a little red band around her wrist, Mary Janes [shoes], and she’s lying on the ground, and her head is gone,” Feinstein said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “This could be an American child. It could be a European child. It could be a child anywhere,” the chairwoman added. “This is the mentality of the group that we are so concerned with. They have killed thousands; they are marching on; they have an army; they are well organized.”

A spasm of cruelty in Ferguson is not like a comprehensive program of genocide. The Russian invasion of Crimea and its threat to the Ukraine are the policies of a government, not the excesses of a single policeman. The President blurred the line between acknowledging America’s imperfection, in some contexts a good thing, with the outright humiliation of our country before the world.

There is no moral equivalence between America and ISIS. Mr. Obama would affirm this, surely, but in his desperate effort to discourage criticism he plays into our adversaries’ hands. Those who would highlight America’s flaws either to minimize their own evil or, out of envious hostility, to tear down rather than emulate the world’s greatest beacon of liberty, opportunity, and hope — that would be the United States of America — are wrong. President Obama seems to have internalized their criticisms, which says a lot about his approach to American foreign policy over the past nearly six years. A lot that’s disturbing.

All but a relative handful of the countries represented in the United Nations are authoritarian regimes, outright dictatorships, or hereditary (even if benevolent) monarchies. Anti-Semitism, cruel religious persecution, severe political repression, systemic policies that entrench poverty, quenching or abridging all the freedoms “endowed by their Creator” to their citizens: These things constitute the normal course of events in the majority of the world’s nations, all of which, to one degree or another, regularly castigate our country.

To allow such brutes, whether in developing countries, the Communist world, or totalitarian regimes to cow America into Uriah Heepish hand-wringing is maddening. No American, and certainly no American President, should succumb to it.

The Importance of Christian Culture

by Nathan Oppman

September 23, 2014

When confronting groups like ISIS or Hamas, it is often difficult for the West to understand the grotesque violence and reckless hatred that these groups promote toward those with whom they disagree. These groups do not wish to negotiate or reason. They wish to conquer and rule. On the one hand, the West has seen the all-too familiar horrors of despotic regimes such as those in 20th century Russia and Germany. It has also witnessed the tight grip of control maintained in such places as North Korea and China. All of these places have been the locations of mass executions and violence against peaceful citizens. Since most of these atrocities occurred far from the U.S. it can be difficult to come to terms with the reality that so many innocent people were killed. It was difficult to grasp the horrific Holocaust against the Jews or to understand the rigor of the Soviet GULAG system until eyewitness accounts became widely available. The Islamists doing so much harm in Iraq are evil but not unique. In Sudan, Islamists threatened to kill a woman, Meriam Ibrahim, simply because she refused to renounce her Christian faith. The Islamist culture is one of fear and death. Liberating Western (Christian) beliefs such as the dignity of every person, freedom of religion, and the good of peace are all undermined in Islamist theology.

Western culture has a great many flaws but much of its underlying philosophy is still providing a foundation for peace and prosperity today. Pretending that all cultures are equal or that Western culture is no different than any other culture undermines observable truth. It is easy to sit at home and play armchair philosophical quarterback or to theorize that economic concerns are driving violence but the thousands who die in the name of Islam in the Middle East don’t have such a luxury. Sometimes, a wake-up call is needed. If you would like to see a woman who experienced the cruelty of Islam and is a clear demonstration of the difference between cultures, please plan to attend the Values Voter Summit Gala honoring Meriam Ibrahim. Her story reminds us that the truth is worth fighting for and that some evils can’t be ignored with political rhetoric. May this woman shock our sedated Western mindset with the reality that there is a battle for truth taking place in cultures around the world. One side battles for a culture where a woman and child are seen as a mortal enemy for their beliefs. The other fights for a culture where that same woman is honored for her beliefs. In this cultural war with the lives of so many at stake may truth win, may freedom reign.

The Savagery and Horror of ISIS

by FRC Media Office

September 18, 2014

With the continued savagery of ISIS in the news, FRC’s Bob Morrison and Ken Blackwell have two op-eds in American Thinker that examines the stance that the U.S. has taken on this group.   Both Blackwell and Morrison’s recent article looks at how President Obama has dealt with ISIS and the growing threat that this group poses on global security.

President Obama is locked in a Westphalian mindset. That seminal 1648 Treaty of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years War in Europe and gave us the nation-state system we see today. Or most of it. What ISIS shows, however, is that the Westphalian definitions really don’t apply in the Mideast. It was an Egyptian diplomat who famously said: “There is only one nation over here; the rest are tribes with flags.”

Fortunately, President Obama realizes that you cannot give credence to a border between Iraq and Syria. He says he will hammer ISIS in Syria. Go to it. (Unfortunately, this president seems not to recognize a border between the Mexico and the U.S., either.)

You can read more from their op-ed here.

Thirty years ago, FRC’s Bob Morrison watched a beheading video. And he has never forgotten the horror of it. Here’s his column that ran in American Thinker on August 30, 2014

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