Category archives: Religion & Culture

Stand with the (Unstoppable) Persecuted” Church on Sunday, April 17th

by Rob Schwarzwalder

March 31, 2016

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is unstoppable.  Consider what happened last year when 21 Christians were beheaded on a beach along the shores of the Mediterranean:

Undaunted by the slaughter of 21 Christians in Libya, the director of the Bible Society of Egypt saw a golden gospel opportunity. “We must have a Scripture tract ready to distribute to the nation as soon as possible,” Ramez Atallah told his staff the evening an ISIS-linked group released its gruesome propaganda video. Less than 36 hours later, “Two Rows by the Sea” (the story of the Libyan victims) was sent to the printer. One week later, 1.65 million copies (had) been distributed in the Bible Society’s largest campaign ever.

We weep with the families of those slain and pray for their killers.  But we also rejoice that what man planned for evil, God has used for good (Genesis 50:20).

Yet even as human evil can be employed by the Lord of all for His glory, He never excuses or countenances it, and He calls on His people to oppose it (see, as just one of many scriptural examples, Psalm 82:3-4).

That’s why FRC and our allies Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors, In Defense of Christians, and the Institute on Religion and Democracy are hosting “Stand with the Persecuted Sunday” on April 17th.

We are calling on churches across America to “view a brief, two-minute video, distribute a special bulletin insert, and spend time in prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters internationally.”

To learn how your church can participate, go to http://frc.org/stand.  Stand with “the least of these, His brethren,” and thereby stand with the unstoppable Lord Jesus Himself.

MEMO TO THE STATE DEPARTMENT: CHRISTIANS WERE MURDERED IN LAHORE. THAT’S C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N-S

by Rob Schwarzwalder

March 28, 2016

Yesterday, “Jamaat-e-Ahrar, a splinter faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility” for a suicide bombing in Lahore, Pakistan that killed at least 69 people and wounded about 300. Why? Jamaat-e-Ahrar makes its reason very clear: “Its spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said in a statement that Christians were the target.”

The Taliban murders Christians on Easter Sunday: This is the essential headline of myriad news reports, at home and abroad. But you’d never know that Christians were in the killers’ bulls-eye from the U.S. State Department’s news release. “The United States condemns in the strongest terms today’s appalling terrorist attack in Lahore, Pakistan. This cowardly act, which targeted innocent civilians in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, has killed dozens and left scores injured,” says the statement. No mention of the Taliban. No mention of Islamism and it’s brutal aggression. And no mention of Christians.

What happened yesterday in Lahore was the mass murder of Christians by Muslim radicals. This is not a statement of bigotry or an overreaction to violence. It is not inflammatory or hostile or anti-Muslim. It is a statement of fact, based on the remarks of the killers’ official spokesman (a sickening thought — barbarians have a “spokesman”) and the indisputable carnage at a park where Christian children were playing after Sunday services.

Yet this administration cannot summon the moral courage to say what actually and obviously occurred. This is repulsive and a shame to our country, which proclaims itself “the home of the brave.”

Former federal prosecutor and expert on radical Islam Andy McCarthy, in a recent lecture at Hillsdale College, said, “In the real world, we must deal with the facts of Islamic supremacism, because its jihadist legions have every intention of dealing with us. But we can only defeat them if we resolve to see them for what they are.”

The Obama Administration lacks such resolve. Its fear of giving offense exceeds its willingness to defeat our enemies. Brussels, Lahore, San Bernardino, 9-11: the list goes on and on, as does the Islamists’ intention of destroying us.

It is hard to know how to destroy an ideology grounded in a fanatical faith. But at least we can destroy those of its adherents intent on spreading their faith through vicious brutality. We must do this, even if it necessitates a recognition that such destruction could be a multi-generational endeavor. The security of 320 million Americans and the dignity of human life worldwide demand it.

Listen to FRC’s Executive Vice-President, Lt. Gen. (ret) Jerry Boykin, talk with FRC President Tony Perkins about the threat of radical Islam in a March 21 broadcast of Tony’s “Washington Watch” radio program.

A Win for Religious Freedom in the Military

by Travis Weber

March 9, 2016

A federal judge notched a win for religious freedom last week by ruling in favor of a Sikh Army captain requesting an exemption to grow his hair and beard for religious reasons. This ruling is a positive reaffirmation of RFRA’s application in the military context, and is proof that the statute can be used to protect service-members’ rights while not impinging on the unique needs of the military.

In response to Captain Singh’s exemption request, the Army directed him to go through several batteries of tests with his gas mask and helmet on to determine how they would perform while fitted over his head and facial hair. This order was unique, however, for the Army regularly grants beard exemptions for all sorts of reasons without requiring the testing it directed Captain Singh to go through. Moreover, around the same time the Army was imposing these onerous burdens on Captain Singh, he successfully completed a previously scheduled standard gas mask test with other soldiers from his unit.

It was obvious to anyone that the Army was making Captain Singh jump through hoops, and the Court granted his request to stop the Army from making these burdensome demands on him after concluding his RFRA claim would likely succeed. He had shown a sincere belief that was substantially burdened by the testing, and while the Court recognized the Army “unquestionably has a compelling interest in ensuring the health and safety of military personnel,” the specific tests required of Captain Singh are not the least restrictive means of accomplishing this interest. As the Court noted, “[i]ndeed, conducting or commissioning a study of the efficacy of helmets and gas masks for soldiers donning a variety of unshorn hair, beards, and/or head coverings, which does not target one particular Sikh soldier merely because of his request for a religious accommodation, would be more effective in furthering the government’s compelling interest in ensuring the health and safety of its soldiers.” The Court also observed that “medical exceptions and ‘relaxed grooming standards’ are granted without such specialized information” as the Army claimed it needed from Captain Singh.

On balance, this ruling reaffirms the principle that robust religious exercise for those of all faiths can occur in the military consistent with the unique demands it must impose on its members in order to maintain readiness and accomplish its mission.

11th Circuit Rejects Religious Liberty in Favor of Government-Mandated Contraception

by Travis Weber

February 19, 2016

In yesterday’s opinion in EWTN v. Burwell, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals caused double the damage by rejecting a clear religious liberty claim and trying to save the HHS contraception mandate at the same time. This is not the court’s job. It was supposed to objectively analyze a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) claim, which it not only rejected in an attempt to set religious liberty back in time, but then jumped through hoops to justify the government’s contraception and abortion-related services scheme which wasn’t even passed by Congress and instead was imposed by executive fiat.

In its opinion, the 11th Circuit recognized:

We accept that the plaintiffs truly believe that triggering contraceptive coverage or being complicit in a system providing contraceptive coverage violates their religious beliefs.”

However, the court then amazingly concluded:

But our objective inquiry leads us to conclude that the government has not put plaintiffs to the choice of violating their religious beliefs or facing a significant penalty. We hold there is no substantial burden.”

The court now looks foolish. It already admitted religious liberty was violated in this case, and is now left trying to claim there is no “significant penalty” when the government threatens religious actors with thousands of dollars in fines if they don’t violate their consciences.

The court continues:

The ACA and the HRSA guidelines—not the opt out—are … the “linchpins” of the contraceptive mandate because they entitle women who are plan participants and beneficiaries covered by group health insurance plans to contraceptive coverage without cost sharing. In other words, women are entitled to contraceptive coverage regardless of their employers’ action (or lack of action) with respect to seeking an accommodation.”

If this is so true, why the need to involve EWTN in this scheme? Why not just provide the coverage directly? The government seems to need (or want) EWTN and others to be involved themselves.

In sum, the court acknowledged that the HHS contraception mandate “accommodation” forces EWTN to violate its religious beliefs or pay government penalties, but still found no substantial burden on religious freedom. This is nonsense. Surrendering your religious beliefs in order to avoid government penalties is the definition of “substantial burden” if there ever was one. Hopefully the Supreme Court will get these cases right when it considers them in the next few months, and settle once and for all that the government is substantially burdening religious exercise by threatening thousands of dollars in fines against religious actors if they don’t violate their consciences, and has no need to even involve them at all in providing drugs and services they believe cause abortions, but can leave religious groups out of the process entirely as it already does for other types of organizations.

It Is Not the Political Critic That Counts

by Rob Schwarzwalder

January 11, 2016

Many politicians are some combination of the following: hypocritical, venal, self-interested, provincial, demagogic, too ideologically rigid, too easily manipulated, not close enough to the people, too susceptible to public whims, immoral, ignorant and arrogant. And so are many of the people they represent.

Many activists, Right and Left, are motivated by a confection of fear, outrage, anger, insensitivity, a sense of loss, and intellectual myopia, not to mention political unsophistication and a pattern of oversimplifying the complex.

Combined with the fact that the sun rises in the east and that water runs downhill, the above statements should be obvious to any reasonably close observer of the American political scene.

In other words: So what? Human moral and emotional frailties are not new, and that they are evident in the 240 year-long American effort to demonstrate that representative self-governance is not a farce should come neither as a surprise nor a source of contempt.

I am not talking about the excesses of human sin that blot the American political landscape. From marital infidelity to subsidization of abortion, the personal and public wrongs of those we allow to rule us stain the body politic, sometimes hidden beneath the heavy cloth of secrecy, at others as obvious as a rash on one’s cheek.

Yet painting all office holders as contemptible because some fall greatly or because all are imperfect amounts to little more than snide carping and usually is the result of personal non-participation in the arena of public life. Armchair critics enjoy the comfort of indolence and the luxury of indecision. This is not to say their criticisms are always wrong. Rather, it’s to note that their observations are made in the arid vacuum of passivity, preventing a fuller, deeper understanding of the tensions and difficulties found in writing a bill, taking a vote, electing a candidate, or marshalling a movement.

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure,” said Theodore Roosevelt in 1899, “than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

A bit melodramatically stated, perhaps, but nonetheless a substantively accurate account of life generally and of politics in particular. Public action need not be perfect to be noble, permanent to be valuable, or complete to be worthy.

Cynicism is often tempered by engaging in the very activity condescending detachment sees as humorous or stupid. Tempered because in such engagement one comes to know the moral courage of one’s fellow participants. Even if some of those who act are ill-informed or driven as much by pain as principle, working alongside them shears-off the coat of patronization whose thickness prevents experiencing the empathy, joy, and sadness—the richness—political life can produce.

Those are things worth knowing, and can only be known by those whose intellectual knowledge is augmented by human experience. That combination, founded upon a bedrock of moral conviction, can make involvement in the public life of one’s country invigorating, honorable, and beneficial.

Christians know (or should) that until Christ’s return, political success will always be partial, transient, and pock-marked by sin. They should also know that justice and human dignity call for their faithfulness not only in private endeavors but appropriate public ones, as well.

Armed with that knowledge and stirred by that duty, let the redeemed of the Lord seek to protect the innocent, defend the fatherless, strengthen families, and do justice to the poor and oppressed, at home and abroad. People of the Gospel must do no less.

Poll Shows Americans Want Christmas in Schools and Religion in Public Life

by Travis Weber

December 22, 2015

According to polling recently released by Rasmussen, large percentages of Americans want more religion manifested in the public square and in public life.

76% believe Christmas should be celebrated in public schools, and 54% say there’s not enough religion in the public schools. Of those adults “with school-age children at home, 82% favor celebrating Christmas in public schools, and 61% believe there should be more religion in those schools.”

Interestingly, “[s]ignificant majorities of adults across most demographic categories believe Christmas should be celebrated in public schools.” 80% of adults who celebrate Christmas in their family support it being in schools, compared to just 27% of those who don’t celebrate the holiday, and 60% of adults 40 and over think there is not enough religion in public schools. 71% think Christmas should be “more about Jesus Christ than about Santa Claus.”

57% of Americans favor prayer in public school, and 73% support “giving parents a choice between a school that allows prayer and one that does not.”

Americans largely support religion playing a prominent role in public life: 57% say it is not possible to have a healthy community without churches or a religious presence. 71% of Americans say their religious faith is important in their daily life, and 49% consider it “very important.”

Americans also appear to be tiring of government’s over-sensitivity to political correctness. 42% of U.S. voters believe that “when it comes to the concerns of racial, ethnic, religious and social minorities in America, the government is too sensitive.” 29% say the government is not sensitive enough to those groups, and 18% think the level of government sensitivity is about right, while 12% are not sure.

While governments and activist groups may want to scrub the public square of religion, the American public itself doesn’t want that. Any way you slice it, people are voicing the view that religion has a role to play in our society, and it isn’t going away.

Winning the “War of Exhaustion:” Persevering in an Eroding Culture

by Rob Schwarzwalder

October 23, 2015

In 2009, retired Army General Mark T. Kimmit wrote in the journal Foreign Policy of what he called “war exhaustion” respecting America’s military efforts in Afghanistan.

The objective in a war of exhaustion is to defeat a nation’s will to fight. The British Empire was not defeated in Afghanistan by a war of attrition, nor was the Soviet Union defeated in Afghanistan through attrition. Both were defeated through exhaustion. And this is how the Taliban intends to defeat the current coalition efforts in Afghanistan — by steadily eroding our will to fight,” he explained.

Whatever is now happening in Afghanistan, there is another “war of exhaustion” plaguing America: The exhaustion of social conservatives as we continue to defend life, uphold marriage, and protect religious liberty.

It’s wearisome to be in combat for a sustained period. Combat is usually a “dirty business fought by tired, hungry soldiers,” wrote Frederick J. Manning, former Director of the Division of Neuropsychiatry at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, in the book War Psychiatry. “High morale demands, for each soldier, a goal, a role, and reasons for self-confidence,” he argues.

Christians involved in the public debates of our day often feel like they are in a “war of exhaustion.” Like the “tired, hungry soldiers” engaged in a “dirty business,” many of us are struggling with a sense of weariness, discouragement, and, in some cases, even hopelessness.

Some need to take a true break, to replenish their spirits and refresh their minds. There are many ways to serve, and not all of them involve political activism. No believer should ever withdraw from serving Christ and those made in His image, but there are seasons when Christians who have long participated in the cultural battle can, as Jesus said to the Twelve, “come away … and rest for a while.”

In the case of His disciples, His call to rest came because, as the apostle Mark explains, “many were coming and going, and they (the disciples) had no leisure even to eat” (Mark 6:31). For Christians enmeshed in today’s social issues, “having the leisure to eat” – to detach from constant engagement in seeking to uphold righteousness and justice in the public arena – might well be merited.

With respect to Dr. Manning’s comments about the need for “a goal, a role, and reasons for self-confidence,” Christians who are committed to life from conception until natural death and protecting it in law, who understand the implications of turning from the historic (and biblical) definition of marriage as the covenantal union of one man and one woman, for life, who grasp the necessity of healthy families for parents, children, and the nation as a whole, and who recognize that religious liberty is under threat at home and being violently suppressed in many places around the world – we have our goal. As Family Research Council puts it, that goal is “a culture in which human life is valued, families flourish and religious liberty thrives.”

And we each have a role. There are various ways to participate in building such a culture, from sending emails to friends about an upcoming ballot initiative to running for office or preaching a sermon on biblical values. Most of us already know the roles we can play, given our time, health, and various other resources.

Perhaps what some of us need is a boost of confidence, not in the sense of “self-talk” or desperate efforts to see a bit of blue amid the gathering gray storm clouds. Rather, true confidence, in the context of the cultural battles we face, comes from surety that (1) we are in the right with respect to the convictions we seek to uphold and (2) in eternity, we indisputably are on the winning side.

As to the first point, I am not suggesting that every position taken by every conservative Christian activist on every issue is correct! Rather, the declarative, clear, and propositional assertions of the Bible concerning the sacredness of personhood from the womb onward, marriage and human sexuality, and human dignity and its obvious implications for religious liberty assure us that on the essentials of our efforts, we are moving in tandem with the Holy Spirit.

As to the second, the temporal scorecard is uneven. There have been some valuable federal court wins and some disastrous court losses. We have had some significant political victories at both the state and federal levels, and some noteworthy losses.

We need to keep seeking to advance the things we believe God cherishes for any society and do so with grace, courage, integrity, an unremitting allegiance to truth, and prudential good judgment. We must love our enemies, pray for those who oppose God’s rule and rules, and share with them the good news of a King Who died for them and rose again in triumph.

But we need to do so with a firm understanding that eternity awaits us, an eternity in which the Lord of Glory will reign over “new heavens and a new earth” in which justice and purity will be unblemished forever.

With that perspective ever in mind, exhaustion will never be our permanent lot. We will not lose heart (II Corinthians 4:16) nor grow weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9).

That’s our call. That’s our challenge. That’s our confidence.

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.

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