Category archives: Religion & Culture

Bigots?” Memories Pizza Demonstrates its Tolerance.

by Travis Weber

October 9, 2015

It is hard to miss recent media portrayals of anyone who voices or acts on their religious beliefs regarding same-sex marriage in how they run their business as “bigoted” and seeking a “license to discriminate.” This consistent narrative has judged their motives without reason, roundly rejecting small business owners’ (often wedding vendors) claims that they are simply living out their faith with love, but can’t be a part of a ceremony that violates their consciences.

When the owners of Memories Pizza — a small town pizzeria in Indiana — were posed a hypothetical question about whether they would cater a same-sex wedding last year, the “intolerance” of their simple response that they would not resulted in a threat to burn down their shop. They didn’t react in turn, but continued to explain that they would happily serve customers who identify as homosexual; they just didn’t want to be a part of the wedding. Of course none of this mattered to those not seeking the facts.

Now it appears that a man ordered two pizzas from Memories Pizza, without stating his reasons (as is quite normal when ordering pizza), and brought them back to serve at his same-sex wedding. He’s recorded the event, and claimed Memories “catered” his gay wedding — without knowing it. In response, Memories owner Kevin O’Connor hasn’t threatened to burn anything down. He hasn’t called anyone a bigot. He’s actually not really too interested in what happened.

So what’s the point?

Memories Pizza served a man regardless of his sexual orientation. The owners did not deny him service. They didn’t “turn him away.” And the fact that their pizzas were served at a gay wedding isn’t too bothersome to them. They didn’t quiz the man when he came in, asking him what he would use the pizza for. Those truly seeking to understand the conflicts in the “wedding vendor cases” should study what happened here, for they will see that no one involved is interested in simply turning away customers based on their sexual orientation.

What else can we learn?

It’s important to note that Kevin O’Connor didn’t run around claiming “my conscience was violated here!” Conscience is not violated merely by the occurrence of events; there must be knowledge of what one is getting oneself into. Thus, conscience is violated when someone is forced to knowingly participate in something they believe is wrong. Kevin wasn’t forced to participate in anything here; thus he wasn’t upset. He had no problem with serving a person in his shop, whether or not that person identifies as homosexual.

This is an important teaching moment on the role of conscience in the “wedding vendor cases” and beyond. The small business owners involved are not asking to simply “turn people away” or for a “blank check” to do whatever they want; they are advancing sincere conscience claims in certain circumstances. Memories Pizza’s unproblematic “catering” of this same-sex wedding shows that. Those who sincerely care to understand more about such religious freedom claims can learn from this development.

Pope Francis’s Words Confound Liberal Orthodoxies

by Daniel Hart

October 6, 2015

The mainstream media seems to be in a constant battle to try and wrest control of who they think Pope Francis is and what he stands for. What the media often fail to do is to quote the Pope’s actual words when he speaks against the modern orthodoxies that they are so fixated on upholding, in particular that of same-sex marriage.

During his homily at the Mass in Rome celebrating the opening of the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the family on October 4, Pope Francis reflected yet again, as he has done throughout his papacy, on the central and indisputable truth and beauty of the family, that is, of one man, one woman, and their children:

In the first reading we also hear that God was pained by Adam’s loneliness. He said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:18). These words show that nothing makes man’s heart as happy as another heart like his own, a heart which loves him and takes away his sense of being alone. These words also show that God did not create us to live in sorrow or to be alone. He made men and women for happiness, to share their journey with someone who complements them, to live the wondrous experience of love: to love and to be loved, and to see their love bear fruit in children, as the Psalm proclaimed today says (cf. Ps 128).

This is God’s dream for his beloved creation: to see it fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self. It is the same plan which Jesus presents in today’s Gospel: “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mk 10:6-8; cf. Gen 1:27; 2:24).

But the Pope did not stop there. He went on to point out the ills that modern society currently suffers from in regard to its understanding of what marriage actually is:

For God, marriage is not some adolescent utopia, but a dream without which his creatures will be doomed to solitude! Indeed, being afraid to accept this plan paralyzes the human heart.

Paradoxically, people today — who often ridicule this plan — continue to be attracted and fascinated by every authentic love, by every steadfast love, by every fruitful love, by every faithful and enduring love. We see people chase after fleeting loves while dreaming of true love; they chase after carnal pleasures but desire total self-giving.

He followed this by quoting his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger), who cuts to the heart of modern society’s ill-conceived notion of “freedom”:

Now that we have fully tasted the promises of unlimited freedom, we begin to appreciate once again the old phrase: “world-weariness”. Forbidden pleasures lost their attraction at the very moment they stopped being forbidden. Even if they are pushed to the extreme and endlessly renewed, they prove dull, for they are finite realities, whereas we thirst for the infinite.”

Despite the media’s best efforts in pigeonholing him to fit their agenda, Pope Francis will continue to confound them with what he actually says. Only time will tell if they will ever listen.

Israel, Oregon, and Religious Persecution

by Joshua Denton

October 6, 2015

Last week, Benjamin Netanyahu stood before the UN and berated the assembled members for their deafening silence over the Iran Deal and the threat it poses to Israel.

He reminded them of the promise made by Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s, “there will be no Israel in 25 years,” and recounted to his listeners that only 70 years after the murder of 6 million Jews, Iran’s rulers have promised to destroy his country and murder his people. He rebuked the individuals represented at the UN for their lack of response, saying it has been “Nothing but absolute, deafening silence.”

Netanyahu then proceeded to silently glare at the UN for a full forty-five seconds before proceeding with his speech explaining why Israel was not celebrating this deal. And with good reason. The Iran Deal is in fact, a deal which will almost invariably provoke a nuclear arms race and is nothing short of a machination to destroy his country.

Also last week, in our very own United States a young gunman murdered innocent victims in a mass shooting. Why? Simply for their Christian faith. CNN reported the testimony of a father of a wounded student:

Before going into spinal surgery, Anastasia Boylan told her father and brother the gunman entered her classroom firing. The professor in the classroom was shot point blank. Others were hit, she told her family.

Everyone in the classroom dropped to the ground.

The gunman, while reloading his handgun, ordered the students to stand up if they were Christians, Boylan told her family.

And they would stand up and he said, ‘Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second,’” Boylan’s father, Stacy, told CNN, relaying her account.

And then he shot and killed them.”’

In the history of the universe, the persecution of Israel is nothing new; religious persecution of the people of God is nothing new; even Christians slaughtered for their faith is not a new phenomenon. It may be new to Americans because it is on our soil, and in our lifetimes.

Israel is currently defending the right to protect its very existence. The jailing of Kim Davis marks the first time in American history a Christian citizen was incarcerated for not compromising a sincerely held religious belief. Last week, we had American citizens shot in cold blood for testifying for their Christian faith.

Franklin Graham said so aptly, “Persecution and targeting of Christians isn’t just in Iran or the Middle East, its right here in America. The bold souls at Umpqua Community College who stood up to say they were followers of Jesus Christ were heinously gunned down with no mercy. Jesus said, ‘If they hate you, remember they hated me before they hated you.“’ (John 15:18)

If you were faced with a similar situation, how would you react? Ponder that question deeply. It should drive you to your knees. While you’re there, pray for Israel. Pray for those facing religious persecution. Pray for the victims of those in the Oregon shooting. Pray for your family and friends.

On Religious Liberty, Pope Francis Reminds Americans to Be American

by Travis Weber

October 5, 2015

There has been much media discussion over what the Pope said or did on his brief visit to the United States last month. Some topics drowned in the news coverage of others. However, one thing the Pope was certainly not confused about was his stance on religious liberty. Before Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pope Francis clearly proclaimed:

One of the highlights of my visit is to stand here, before Independence Hall, the birthplace of the United States of America. It was here that the freedoms which define this country were first proclaimed. The Declaration of Independence stated that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that governments exist to protect and defend those rights.”

He continued:

History also shows that these or any truths must constantly be reaffirmed, re-appropriated and defended.”

Concluding his speech, he stated:

Let us cherish freedom. Freedom of conscience, religious freedom, the freedom of each person, each family, each people, which is what gives rise to rights. May this country and each of you be renewed in gratitude for the many blessings and freedoms that you enjoy. And may you defend these rights, especially your religious freedom, for it has been given to you by God himself.”

In so clearly restating the American vision of religious liberty which has existed for over two centuries, Pope Francis reaffirmed the human right of religious liberty, given by God to all people, everywhere. In clearly restating this right, Pope Francis reiterated and reaffirmed an American ideal.

And by reminding us to defend and uphold religious freedom, Pope Francis simply reminded Americans to be American.

President Obama: Patiently Chiseling Away at Religious Liberty

by Travis Weber

September 28, 2015

At a recent Democratic Party fundraiser, President Obama reportedly said:

We affirm that we cherish our religious freedom and are profoundly respectful of religious traditions … . But we also have to say clearly that our religious freedom doesn’t grant us the freedom to deny our fellow Americans their constitutional rights.”

This is a perfect example of the incrementalism by which rights are diminished, relegated to second-class status, and eventually dismissed altogether.

President Obama’s comment may sound innocuous on its face, but what he’s actually saying is the First Amendment is to be subjugated to his own vision of society as implemented through his own view of the Fourteenth Amendment — a view which for our nation’s entire history was never even seriously considered right up to a few years ago.  It’s noteworthy that President Obama also publicly opposed same-sex marriage in the not-too-distant past — a fact which should tell us (and his current swooning supporters) something about his convictions. The “constitutional rights” to which he now so confidently refers are actually nonexistent in the text or meaning of the Constitution, only imposed on the nation through one ill-formed opinion of the Supreme Court.

On the other hand, the First Amendment (which he fails to even mention) has plainly and openly provided protection as the first of our Bill of Rights for centuries (since the founding of our country), clearly protects wide-ranging and robust religious practice, speech, and action, explicitly protects the “free exercise” of religion (which protects far more than the “religious traditions” and “religious institutions” the president references), explicitly prevents the government from “establish[ing]” what citizens must believe (in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the Court said, “no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein”), and has been consistently held by the courts to provide strong and wide-ranging protection from government interference and coercion in religious matters.

Thus, with one off-putting comment, President Obama attempts to use “rights” which aren’t even mentioned in our primary written legal authority (the Constitution) to denigrate rights which are clearly protected by the first provision of the Bill of Rights of that same Constitution.

As it’s said: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

President Obama: Insulting Friends, Placating Adversaries

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 21, 2015

Today’s Washington Post carries one of the most remarkable and surprising op-eds that paper has published in a long time. Note: This op-ed is the paper’s own “voice,” not a piece by a columnist.

Commenting on the Obama administration’s inclusion of “transgender activists, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop and a nun who criticizes church policies on abortion and euthanasia” in the welcoming ceremony planned for the Pope’s upcoming visit, the Post comments:

What struck us as we read about this small controversy is the contrast between the administration’s apparent decision to risk a bit of rudeness in the case of the pope and its overwhelming deference to foreign dictators when similar issues arise. When Secretary of State John F. Kerry traveled to Havana to reopen the U.S. Embassy recently, he painstakingly excluded from the guest list any democrat, dissident or member of civil society who might offend the Castro brothers.

And when Chinese President Xi Jinping comes to the White House next week, shortly after the pope leaves town, it’s a safe bet that he won’t have to risk being photographed with anyone of whom he disapproves. Chen Guangcheng, the courageous blind lawyer, for example, lives nearby in exile, but he probably won’t be at the state dinner. Neither will Falun Gong activists, democracy advocates or anyone else who might, well, give offense.

The Obama administration argues that it will include many people of every background. Yet according to the Wall Street Journal, “The presence of these (controversial) figures is especially irritating, (a) Vatican official said, because it isn’t yet clear if the White House has invited any representatives of the U.S. anti-abortion movement, traditionally a high-priority cause for the U.S. bishops.”

Read that, no one active in the pro-life movement is welcome to greet the head of the world’s largest pro-life organization.

There will be some Evangelical leaders present at the event. U.S. News reports that they include “the Rev. Joel Hunter, an evangelical megachurch pastor from Florida who is a confidant of Obama on spiritual matters; the Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents about 40 conservative Christian denominations; and the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.”

While it’s nice of the White House to include some Evangelicals, the inclusion of persons at overt and public odds with the teachings the Pope represents and the omission of others whose political activities — standing for the unborn and their mothers — are essential to Catholic teaching are startling.

Remarkable: A stinging and blunt calling-on-the-carpet of an Administration far more concerned with advancing an aggressive “gay rights” agenda than defending religious liberty here at home or standing with those being horribly persecuted for their faith in repressive nations around the world. As I have written elsewhere, President Obama “cannot defend abroad what (he and his) administration … are working to erode here at home.”

The willingness of this Administration to affront the leader of the world’s largest Christian tradition is an embarrassment to our country. It demonstrates a moral arrogance so profound as to be one of the few things that still surprises after nearly seven years of the President’s diligent efforts to, in his words, “transform the United States of America.”

Insulting foreign friends while placating foreign adversaries strikes one as an unusual approach to advancing America’s national security and vital interests. Sadly, this Administration seems eager to do just that.

Fuller Seminary Takes a Stand”

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 15, 2015

That’s the title of a new piece in First Things by the distinguished New Testament scholar Dr. Robert Gagnon. Dr. Gagnon, a professor at Pittsburg Theological Seminary, spoke at FRC on the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality last year and we honor him for his careful, judicious, and thorough teaching concerning what Scripture says about human sexuality.

Today he reports that California’s Fuller Seminary has “decided not to offer tenure to a New Testament professor, J. R. Daniel Kirk, whose view of marriage does not comport with Jesus’s view.” He notes that while this must not have been an easy decision, it was an important and necessary one: “Had Fuller set a precedent of embracing faculty whose position toward sexual ethics was so at odds with Jesus’s own, it would soon have ceased to be an evangelical institution.”

He is right. And despite calls by some on the Left that schools like Fuller should lose accreditation, federal student loan eligibility, or even tax exempt status, Dr. Gagnon reminds us that the cost of following Jesus is such that any temporal loss is worth accepting if it comes as a result of following Him faithfully. As he writes:

American Evangelical, Orthodox, and Catholic colleges and seminaries will face greater challenges in the not-too-distant future if they do not bend the proverbial knee to the unconstitutional, new state definition of marriage. They will be threatened with lawsuits and loss of accreditation. Their students will be denied access to federal student loans. This will happen for ‘discriminating’ not only against faculty supporters of ‘gay marriage’ but also against homosexually active job applicants. Eventually sanctions may be imposed even for permitting faculty to teach or write against homosexual practice. Yet no matter what comes, we must heed Jesus’s exhortation to ‘estimate the cost’ of being his faithful disciple and of ‘carrying one’s own cross’ (Luke 14:27-28).”

Religious Participation and Religious Liberty

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 9, 2015

My colleagues at FRC’s Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) have spent years documenting, copiously and irrefutably, that religious practice benefits families and children. As MARRI argues, “the intact married family that worships weekly is the greatest generator of human and social positive outcomes and thus it is the core strength of the United States and of all other countries where the data are available.”

Strong, two-parent families mean higher educational attainment and emotional health for children, greater income, less crime, and a host of other benefits. Those families that do best are the ones that attend a religious service together at least once a week. But essential to such worship and, thus, to the benefits that correlate with it, is another factor.

That would be religious liberty. Not just the right to attend a religious service at a given building unimpeded by the law. Not just private devotions in the four walls of one’s home. Not just “freedom of religion” in the sense that people can believe, in their minds, what they choose as long as they are silent about it.

Religious liberty in its fullness means not only the ability to believe what one chooses but the right to live out one’s convictions at work, in the neighborhood, and in all facets of one’s life.

Religious liberty is grounded in the belief that God is the Author of our rights, and that government is merely their protector. This is what the Declaration of Independence asserts and is the very foundation of our philosophy of government and entire way of life. Unless God has granted us our rights, they are the arbitrary bestowals of a government which can diminish or even remove those rights at will.

The threats to religious liberty in our country are real. There are steady efforts to encroach upon it, attempts to chip-away at the right to live out one’s faith such that gradually, religious liberty itself will crumble from incremental erosion (see FRC’s “Free to Believe” webpage for myriad examples of this).

Participation in religious worship and related activities makes a tremendous difference in family life and, thereby, the well-being of our culture. But if religious liberty in its truest sense is lost, will the incentive for participation in formal religious services remain as strong as it is now? Although many Americans will continue such participation if the practice of their faith is hemmed-in by anti-religious laws and rules, repression of religious liberty will render their lives less whole, less happy, and less American.

Not just Sunday, but every day

by Brittany Jones

August 20, 2015

George Washington once said, “Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society.” Benjamin Franklin, deemed one of our nation’s most irreligious Founders, opined that “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

Once upon a time, through tax-exemptions and other initiatives, our nation sought to encourage religious groups to contribute to society by teaching the populace to be moral and to care for those who are less fortunate. However, in recent days, even leaders of the “free” world are calling for the faith community to ensconce their beliefs behind the four walls of the church. No longer are religious beliefs seen as a necessary support for society, but rather as discriminatory ideas set against the “public interest.” No longer does our society understand that Christianity is not only what a person does on Sunday but also the way he or she lives throughout the entire week; not only in one’s private life but also in one’s public life. In an age of multiculturalism, Christianity is seen as culture-killing rather than life-giving, and thus, many are trying to suppress it.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton even said that in order to promote a social agenda in Africa, “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.” Her remarks reveal the fact that Christian culture is increasingly viewed as a hindrance to society and thus orthodoxy at its best can be tolerated and at its worst ought to be suppressed. This shift has led to calls for the end of tax-exemptions for religious institutions.

More pointedly, while writing the majority opinion for the recent Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Kennedy stated:

Those who adhere to religious doctrines…may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”

This does little to bolster a religious person’s trust in the ability to actually practice his or her faith. Justice Kennedy may as well have said, “You can teach about your beliefs, but we aren’t guaranteeing anything.” Faith permeates our whole being and should form our identity. Thus, it cannot be left at the door. We do not hold our beliefs as reactions to the culture, but rather as immutable principles from God. They cannot be thrown away to fit the culture’s whim.

The marginalization of Christians is not a new problem. William Wilberforce grew up in the Enlightenment era in Britain in which the majority of people went to church. However, church attendance did not typically correlate with a devout faith. Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived in pre-World War II Germany where the Gospel had been largely removed from the church. Phyllis Schlafly began her career in the 1950s, a time when the merging of faith and politics was foreign. Yes, even in the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ era, faith and politics were separated.

When faced with this opposition we can choose to run or enter the fray and fight for truth. William Wilberforce considered leaving politics, but his good friend William Pitt the Younger responded, “If a Christian may act in the several relations of life, must he seclude himself from them all to become so? Surely the principles as well as the practice of Christianity are simple, and lead not to meditation only but to action.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer fled to America to escape the rise of the Nazis but soon realized he could not watch his countrymen suffer from safety. He ultimately returned to Germany and joined the resistance. In the 1970s, America was rocked by both the Watergate scandal and the sexual revolution, and seemed completely devoid of any moral understanding. In the midst of this climate Phyillis Schlafly rallied thousands of Christians across the country to defend women and fight the proposed “Equal Rights Amendment.” She, along with many others, helped return religion to politics. So what did these leaders do when everything seemed to be against them? They fought on to incorporate faith into the public consciousness, and as a result, they changed the world.

Wilberforce fought for the next twenty years, Bonhoeffer until the Nazis took his life, and Schlafly continues to this day. They did not cave to the pressure to sequester their beliefs in their homes and houses of worship, but rather allowed their beliefs to permeate all of their life, even as society and government worked against them. We face similar challenges today. We must not stay hidden in our churches or our homes. True belief simply will not allow it. True belief calls us to come and die daily, not just on Sunday.