Category archives: Religion & Culture

Some Evangelicals I Know

by Rob Schwarzwalder

March 30, 2015

Today, among urban Americans and Europeans, ‘evangelical Christian’ is sometimes a synonym for ‘rube.’ In liberal circles, evangelicals constitute one of the few groups that it’s safe to mock openly. Yet the liberal caricature of evangelicals is incomplete and unfair.” So writes Nicholas Kristof in the March 29th New York Times as he begins a narration of the ministry of Dr. Stephen Foster, a medical missionary who has brought hope and healing to thousands on behalf of the love of Christ.

Dr. Foster is but one of countless Evangelical Protestants whose devotion to their Lord has animated a life of anonymous service, often at great sacrifice. There is no way to capture the many believers whose dedication to the good news of Jesus Christ has driven them to give up virtually all the world has to offer in exchange for an as-yet unknown city (Hebrews 11:10-16). In this short piece, I thought I’d note just three of those I know personally.

K.K. Deveraj, Bombay Teen Challenge, Mumbai, India

Deveraj (he goes by his last name) rescues women and girls from sex trafficking in one of the seamiest and filthiest places in the world, the “red light” district of Mumbai (Bombay), India. He has an AIDS clinic, runs an orphanage, and operates a large recovery home for women delivered from bondage and for their children. At this latter home, Ashragram, (“The Village of Hope”), “the women have an opportunity to start new lives in a protected environment of love, and receive education and job training in the hope that they can become productive members of society. Those that cannot move on because of psychological or physical trauma have a permanent home at Ashagram.”

Deveraj seeks no glory and gets little. I have been with him when he has stood between me and an angry group of Indian traffickers, upset because I had prayed with their “girls” instead of purchasing their services. I’ve worshipped with him in his AIDS clinic. And I’ve hosted women he has gotten out of trafficking on Capitol Hill, introducing them to people who want to learn more about their journey from darkness to light.

Brave and humble, Deveraj is “a bond-servant of Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:1).  I want to be like him.

Dave Treadwell, Central Union Mission, Washington, D.C.

Lt.Col. (ret) Dave Treadwell served two tours in Vietnam and holds the Silver Star, two awards of the Legion of Merit, and two awards of the Bronze Star. Many persons of Dave’s standing, upon leaving the military, go to work for defense or aerospace firms where they employ their training and expertise in the private sector.

Dave heard a different call. In the nearly 30 years since he left the military, Dave has served with the Christian Legal Society, Advocates International and, for the past 17 years, the Central Union Mission (CUM). CUM’s mission is to “glorify God by proclaiming the Gospel and meeting the needs of hungry, hurting and homeless individuals and families in the Washington Metropolitan Area.”

Dave and his team fulfill this calling every day for men and women the world just wants to pretend don’t exist.  Because of Dave and his colleagues, not only do they exist – they learn to thrive.

Jim Walker, Heal Our Patriots (Samaritan’s Purse), nationwide

Jim Walker sat in a Bible class I used to teach for months, if not years, never speaking but always listening. I knew he served in the military but his unassuming manner betrayed the stature of his service: senior military attorney for the United States Marine Corps. When Brigadier General James Walker spoke in the Pentagon, people listened.

When Jim left the Marines, he asked about ideas I might have concerning future service. I put him in touch with my friend Ken Isaacs of Samaritan’s Purse, and today Jim leads SP’s “Heal Our Patriots” ministry. Heal Our Patriots “gives wounded veterans and their spouses the opportunity for spiritual refreshment, physical renewal, and marriage enrichment. Couples participate in Biblically-based seminars that help strengthen their relationships with God and others and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation with outdoor activities at our Alaskan wilderness lodge.”

Jim and his delightful bride of 35 years, Nancy, are now serving a group of men and women deeply wounded, physically and emotionally, by the trauma of war. I’m honored to know them.

American Evangelicals have, since the earliest days of our country, served the most needy and sacrificed of their lives, hearts, and treasure to show, in tangible but usually quiet ways, the love of a living Savior to people here at home and around the world. Evangelicals, derided and misunderstood — in part because they won’t budge on issues of biblical morality — have represented and lived a Cross-filled life without fanfare or acclaim.

Perfect, always tactful, up on all the latest cultural phenomena? No. But knowing their audience is the God of the universe keeps them going, and keeps them loving even their most vicious critics, again and again. Paul the apostle says it best in the first chapter of his first letter to the church in Corinth:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe … God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Tony, the Homeless Track Star

by Rob Schwarzwalder

March 23, 2015

This afternoon I met a man on the street named Tony. A tall, handsome African-American man, he was well-spoken and dressed warmly in a new-ish parka. We talked for a while in front of the shelter where he resides currently.

Tony is homeless and lives at a mission not far from Capitol Hill. Gregarious but soft-spoken, he told me a bit about his life and noted he had attended four colleges. He also said he had run competitively with some of track’s greatest.

So, when I got back to my office, I looked him up. In roughly 25 years in the nation’s capital, I’ve been scammed a lot by people on the street, so my skepticism is not without some history.

Tony was telling the truth. In fact, he was an All-American in 1977 in the two-mile relay.

Since then, he’s spent time in prison – I don’t know for what — and now is hoping for a job as a maintenance man at a store near downtown D.C. He is to find out if he gets the job on Friday.

From All-American collegiate athlete to being a homeless ex-inmate hoping for an entry level cleaning-type job: Life’s journey can be strange and painful.

At one point, I made some comment like, “With God, there are always new chances.” Tony stared at me hard and said, “It’s predestined, isn’t it?”

As a moderate Calvinist, I was a little taken aback, but not wanting to get into the Reformed-Arminian controversy quite so extemporaneously, I said simply, “We all have to make choices.” He said, quietly, “Amen.”

My prayer for Tony is that he will make the right choices from hereon, that if he hasn’t yet found new life in Christ that he will, and that God will guide and bless his life as Tony seeks to restore years eaten by the locusts of deception and evil. And I hope I don’t soon forget Tony: With only a few wrong decisions over the course of my more-than five decades of life, I might be standing beside him on the street, wondering if I’ll find work pushing a broom somewhere. There, but by the grace of God …

Georgia’s S.B. 129 would free all Georgians from the tentacles of government

by Travis Weber

March 19, 2015

Down in Georgia, opponents of individual rights and personal freedom are attempting to ratchet up their smear campaign against S.B. 129, the “Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

This measure is simply designed to ensure that individuals’ consciences cannot be easily trampled by intrusive government regulation.

The claims against this common sense proposal are wild and confused. For example, some have claimed the bill gives businesses an absolute right to refuse service. This is patently false.

The truth is that S.B. 129 provides a method for sincere conscientious objectors of all religions to be protected, while winnowing out those using religion as a pretext to escape application of general laws.

To avail oneself of the protections of S.B. 129, you first have to prove you have a sincere religious belief which has been substantially burdened by the government action in question. Only then can the claim move forward. Even then, if the government can show it has compelling interest in burdening the religious practice — a religious practice of human sacrifice, for example, could be burdened — and has done so through the least restrictive means, it is allowed to burden the religious exercise in question.

This is a legal standard known as “strict scrutiny.” It has been used in constitutional law for decades, and has been applied to religious claims for over 20 years under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) without any documented pattern of abuses such as those claimed by the opponents of S.B. 129. As others have asked, where are these alleged “discriminators” who are supposedly walking away from criminal charges under RFRA? They simply do not exist.

RFRA simply restores previously strong protections for First Amendment rights. The federal RFRA does not apply to state or local action, so state RFRAs like S.B. 129 are needed. The Georgia RFRA under consideration here merely brings Georgia law into line with federal law.

Religious freedom laws like S.B. 129 never used to be (and still should not be) a partisan issue, as they protect those of all faiths and political persuasions.

The federal RFRA was supported by a broad coalition which cut across political and religious lines. This coalition was composed of groups with a diversity of interests, but they were united in protecting and bolstering the First Amendment.

Indeed, a review of RFRA and free exercise case law going back decades clearly shows its benefit to everyone from Muslims to Jews, Christians to Santeria adherents, and Native Americans to more obscure sects as they seek to protect their beliefs and consciences from being burdened by an ever-more intrusive government.

Now, sadly, many have subjugated their protection of the First Amendment to their political concerns. They have betrayed and slandered RFRA in order to advance their political interests, and in doing so, have compromised their stated principles of individual rights and freedom.

Moreover, RFRAs cut across racial and social lines, and apply in a variety of real-world scenarios, such as property disputes, social welfare (just this past year, the Texas RFRA served as protection for those seeking to care for the homeless), conscience objections to abortion, and restrictions on using controlled substances in religious ceremonies. They are not race-specific. They are not religion-specific. And they are not political party-specific.

By now it should be clear that S.B. 129, in merely applying the well-established strict scrutiny standard to claims of religious exercise, does not give anyone a “free pass” to “discriminate.” Indeed, it is notable that opponents cannot even cite to one instance of a business owner “openly deny(ing)” service, as it claims. The reason is that laws like S.B. 129 don’t provide any “free passes” — what they prescribe is that religious liberty claims must proceed through the framework described above.

For these same reasons, claims that the Michigan RFRA will “let EMTs refuse to serve gay people” and that the Arizona and Mississippi RFRAs from previous years are “right-to-discriminate” bills are completely misleading. When people are provided with a proper understanding of strict scrutiny’s application to religious claims, they can see that those making these “free pass” arguments are engaged in baseless fabrication.

Neither would S.B. 129 legalize child abuse, as opponents outlandishly claim. Child abuse and other criminal cases involving bodily harm are prosecuted routinely nationwide every day. These take place in states with laws like S.B. 129. Yet how often have we heard about successful religious freedom defenses to such prosecutions?

These S.B. 129 opponents have discredited themselves and revealed their political agenda by ignoring other instances of oppression to which the bill could bring relief right in their own backyard — like the state of Georgia’s termination of Dr. Eric Walsh for expressing his Christian views. Dr. Walsh preached sermons in his private capacity in his home church. Yet state government agents scoured his sermons for disapproved views on sexuality, and summarily terminated his employment when they found what they didn’t like. When Dr. Walsh is punished for his views, he’s being punished for his religion — right at home in Georgia.

The protections in S.B. 129 are the very protections needed to ensure the exercise of all religions — including that of Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and others — is protected. If its opponents had cared to represent this fact accurately, they would have observed that only this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of a Muslim inmate’s religious rights under a law applying the same standard as S.B. 129 — the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Yet there is no mention of this or other such cases; this truth is too inconvenient for those leading opposition to the bill.

RFRA never was and should not become a partisan issue, as it protects those of all faiths and political persuasions. All Americans of every political party and any religious faith who care about individual freedom from government coercion should support S.B. 129. The bill’s text and our established practices for analyzing religious claims show that S.B. 129 will merely support conscience rights for all in the face of ever more intrusive government.

S.B. 129’s opponents, including an outfit called “Better Georgia” (which itself is backed by out-of-state groups), should be ashamed of what they have said about RFRA. Georgia does deserve better.

Alarming New Study: Rise in Youth-Produced Child Pornography

by Rob Schwarzwalder

March 13, 2015

That’s the headline of a story this week from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Here are excerpts:

A new research study concludes there is an, ‘increasing trend for distribution of sexually explicit content produced by younger children using laptop webcams.’ The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and Microsoft participated in the study, examining 3,803 images and videos, of ‘youth-produced sexual content’ depicting young people and uploaded by the children or covertly recorded by a third party. The report, ‘Emerging Patters and Trends Report #1 Youth-Produced Sexual Content,’ was published on March 10, 2015 …

The study established that 85.9 percent of content depicting children aged 15 or younger was created using a webcam and 93 percent featured girls. While much of the content appeared to be knowingly created for websites, the study indicates that 100 percent of the content was shared to third party websites, which cannot be traced. The researchers noted a specific concern that the young people featured, ‘took no steps to conceal their identity or location, even in many cases using their real names.’ The study also found that 667 of the images and videos evaluated featured children 15 years and younger, and of this group, 286 were 10 years or younger. The researchers said their report confirms an alarming trend of young children producing and distributing explicit content online.”

Commenting on the study, NCSE Executive Director Dawn Hawkins said, “We are in the midst of a public health crisis on pornography. Every public official from the president on down, public health advocates, social leaders, as well as every parent must work to solve this crisis. We know that the long-term consequences to our children involved with pornography are monumental and can include problematic, even criminal sexual behaviors, and a host of anti-social activities.”

FRC is proud to partner with the NCSE’s Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation, which marshals the efforts of a large number of national and state organizations to fight pornography and its effects on individuals, families, and the culture.

To learn more about how you can protect your children from pornography, visit the Porn Harms Coalition website.

Dawkins: Protect Children from their Religious Parents

by Cathy Ruse

March 10, 2015

Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins made news recently for telling an Irish Times reporter that children need “to be protected so that they can have a proper education and not be indoctrinated in whatever religion their parents happen to have been brought up in.”

Poor Richard Dawkins. In his book, The God Delusion, he describes the God of the Old Testament as “a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

As my colleague Gil Mertz aptly notes, such a passionate description should raise the question in reasonable minds whether this sounds like the unbiased hypothesis of a neutral scientist or a very angry man who hasn’t forgiven God. Dawkins could easily dismiss the existence of unicorns or leprechauns with no emotion, but it is revealing how the question of God’s existence strikes such a nerve.

For more on his interview with the Irish Times

The 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural: A Meditation on the Will of God

by Rob Schwarzwalder

March 4, 2015

My brilliant friend Daniel Dreisbach (Ph.D., Oxford), a professor at American University, has written a wonderful piece on the 15oth anniversary of what he rightly calls “among the most eloquent of all presidential utterances.”   

Lincoln’s remarkable, 700-word speech is a meditation on God’s will during a time of national crisis and massive bloodshed, the Civil War.  It also reflects the 16th President’s internalization of the Word of God and how it affected his understanding of this great American trial.

Read Daniel’s perceptive piece, and join with Lincoln in remembering that “the judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.”

The Threat to Domestic Religious Liberties

by FRC Media Office

March 2, 2015

Anyone keeping a relatively close eye on the religious liberties landscape in this country cannot fail to sense a growing tension developing. Whether it’s anti-discrimination laws restricting the full extent of religious conscience, federal abortion coverage mandates demanding compliance from private catholic charities, or the tenacious Freedom From Religion Foundation mailing complaint letters to administrators demands the installment of laïcité in our public schools, the culture clash between church and state is anything but boring. The Christian Legal Society was fortunate to have Travis Weber of the Family Research Council come speak to us on the topic of Domestic Threats to Religious Liberty. We thank him for his time and for his commitment to fight for our first freedom.

Click here to listen to his remarks.

In the Footsteps of Jesus

by Travis Weber

February 20, 2015

In the New York Times, David Brooks asserts that followers of ISIS are looking for purpose, fulfillment, and destiny, and that attempting to address these needs with materialistic solutions misses the mark. In order to lessen the appeal of ISIS, Brooks suggests, its followers must be offered an even greater opportunity for fulfillment:

[P]eople don’t join ISIS, or the Islamic State, because they want better jobs with more benefits.”

They’re not doing it because they are sexually repressed. They are doing it because they think it will ennoble their souls and purify creation.”

You can’t counter a heroic impulse with a mundane and bourgeois response. You can counter it only with a more compelling heroic vision… . Terrorism will be defeated only when they find a different fulfillment, even more bold and self-transcending.”

He’s right about all of that.

But he’s wrong about the solution:

[Nationalism has offered that compelling vision. We sometimes think of nationalism as a destructive force, and it can be. But nationalism tied to universal democracy has always been uplifting and ennobling. It has organized heroic lives in America, France, Britain and beyond.”

Brooks proposes that followers of ISIS “will walk away when they can devote themselves to a revived Egyptian nationalism, Lebanese nationalism, Syrian nationalism, some call to serve a cause that connects nationalism to dignity and democracy and transcends a lifetime.”

Perhaps, though unlikely. And ultimately, it is only a half-solution to their real need.

Nationalism alone does not appeal to humanity’s deepest spiritual needs — which transcend life on earth and mere physical existence. These young followers know, at some level, that there’s more to life than the here and now. Many of us know that too. The followers of ISIS already have an “explanation” for life after death. Nationalism would seem bland and unappealing to them, for it only addresses earthly purpose, earthly satisfaction, and earthly fulfillment.

The answer for followers of ISIS is to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who offers all human beings (regardless of skin color, ideology, political party, nationality, prior life choices, or past faith) the chance for complete devotion, both in the here and ever after: “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom… . my Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). He says to us, “if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Matthew 16:25). For “this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever” (1 John 2:17).

How can we have this assurance?

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Only Jesus offers all human beings the chance to completely fill all our human longings and desires, for he offers the chance for complete devotion in response to his complete sacrifice for our complete salvation, beginning now and continuing ever after into eternity. Only in Jesus does death have no power, for he already defeated death for us.

David Brooks properly identifies the problem, but he misses the (ultimate) solution.

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