Category archives: History

Holocaust Remembrance Day: “Never Again”

by Chris Gacek

January 27, 2022

Today, January 27, marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was on this date in 1945 that Soviet troops took control of the extensive Auschwitz labor and extermination complex that the Nazi Reich operated from 1940-45, finally liberating the remaining survivors.

Of the 1.3 million people who were taken to Auschwitz, 1.1 million were murdered. Of that number, 865,000 Jews were killed by lethal gas upon arrival. Others succumbed to starvation, disease, beatings, execution, and medical experimentation.

The Red Army soldiers experienced shock and disbelief as they approached and liberated the camp. These were hardened men, having fought the Nazis since June 1941.

In December 1941, they had retreated to the outer perimeter of urban Moscow. Yet, they fought their way back after turning the tide of the war in late 1942 and were in the outskirts of Krakow, Poland, approaching the pre-war German-Polish border.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s “Holocaust Encyclopedia” has a page devoted to giving a brief descriptive overview of the “Nazi camps.” The Encyclopedia states that in its 12 years of existence, the Nazi state “established more than 44,000 camps and other incarceration sites (including ghettos).” And these were used for a “a range of purposes, including forced labor, detention of people thought to be enemies of the state, and for mass murder.” Imagine the death and destruction Soviet soldiers witnessed walking through the tragic scenes the Nazis left behind in Auschwitz.

In addition to the carnage in the camps, there was the endless destruction brought about by the war itself being fought eastward to Moscow and back to near-Germany with millions of men bombing, shelling, and shooting apart so much of the pre-war civilization that existed in these regions. They must have already seen many horrific sites in the past several years, yet Soviet soldiers were appalled by what they saw in Auschwitz. The level of brutality and depravity seen there was beyond comprehension. Of course, it still is.

Yet, the Nazis did not operate haphazardly. Hitler held to a racial hierarchy of human life. In it, the most despised were the Jews. The Nazis targeted the Jews and psychologically manipulated the German people to “other” them.  They accused the Jews of being the source of every sort of evil in the world. Thus, their complete extermination would be a paramount goal of the Reich’s war aims.

The Holocaust is unique for its horror and scale in world history. In the other cases, the perpetrators of genocides targeted a people group because they occupied territory that that the perpetrator wanted free and clear: They lived next to each other, one group had to go. The extermination of the Jews by the Reich was a different thing altogether. Hitler sought the killing of the Jews in all places.

When the Nazis invaded North Africa, they brought SS killing teams to hunt down Jews in Africa. The Isle of Guernsey, Corfu, Tunisia, Norway, Sicily, the Caucuses—all became killing fields for Jews. There was no realpolitik reasoning for it. 

Hitler sought a metaphysical purge of the Jews from the earth reminiscent of the same demonic drive exhibited in the Book of Esther (Esther 3:5-6). Satan hates God, and he hates the Jews for their relationship with Him. It is a hatred that never rests.

There has never been anything like the tragedy of the Holocaust. That is why we observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day. We remember the victims, and we renew our commitment to Never Again allow this to happen.

The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 5): Mary Endured the Crisis of Ostracization

by Joy Zavalick

December 24, 2021

This is the final part of a five-part series. Read our previous entries on Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.

***

The fifth and final woman acknowledged in the genealogy recorded in Matthew’s gospel is Jesus’ mother, Mary. Scripture tells us that Mary was a young woman from Nazareth who was highly favored in God’s sight (Luke 1:26-28). The angel Gabriel visited her to explain that she would serve the Lord in an unprecedented way; the power of the Holy Spirit would allow for Mary to conceive even though she was a virgin, and the child would be the Son of God.

Mary would have understood the social consequences of her conceiving prior to her impending marriage to Joseph. She would have faced possible ostracization from her community, since at this time in history, women could even be executed for an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Nevertheless, Mary readily accepted the Lord’s charge for her, telling Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant […] May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

What Mary’s community would have viewed as a “crisis” was all part of God’s plan. In reality, the crisis Mary faced was not her pregnancy but the pain of facing a world that would not celebrate the creation of this new life with joy. We learn from Scripture that Mary did receive support from at least a few people in her life. These included her fiancé, Joseph, and her cousin, Elizabeth.

After the angel of the Lord affirmed to Joseph in a dream that Mary had not been unfaithful to him, and that the child in her womb was the Son of God, Joseph responded in faith and accepted his charge as the adoptive father of Jesus. Joseph cared for Jesus as his own son throughout the entirety of his earthly life. In so doing, Joseph set a strong example of a man of God rising up to fill the role of an earthly father for a child who was not biologically his own. Prayerfully consider if God might be calling you—like Joseph—to adopt, foster, or mentor children who are not biologically your own.

The response of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth paints a beautiful image of how all Christians ought to respond to the news of a pregnancy, even if the surrounding circumstances are not easy. Elizabeth was also pregnant at the time of Mary’s visit, and Scripture tells us that the baby in Elizabeth’s womb, who would later become known as John the Baptist, “leaped in her womb” as he recognized the nearness of the Messiah. Elizabeth and her own unborn child shared in Mary’s joy at the news of her pregnancy and treated it like the miracle that it was.

Just as Elizabeth shared in Mary’s joy, Christians ought to rejoice at the news of pregnancy, encouraging the mother and reminding her of the miracle of life in which she is participating. Each child is a unique individual handcrafted by the Lord and worthy of celebration. Although Mary had the unique honor of carrying the Savior in her womb, every mother has carried a human made in the image of God.

Every new life is a gift of God, but not all pregnancies are surrounded by joyful or peaceful circumstances. Some pregnancies are unexpected. Some pregnancies might be unwanted by one or both parents. Some pregnancies result from rape. Some pregnancies are accompanied by a prenatal diagnosis of a disease or disability. However, the faithfulness of the Lord ensures that a response of trust in His plan can contribute to redeeming a broken situation. Even amid dark circumstances, the light of miraculously creating a new image-bearer can shine through.

Though not in bodily presence, as he was with Mary, Christ is present with each of us as we face challenges. The world may see an insurmountable trial, but as Christians, we are called to believe that each “crisis” no matter how big or how small is all part of God’s plan.

Let us pray that this Christmas, no matter what circumstances we happen to be facing, we would recognize that God will use every moment of our life for good. May we join Mary in singing, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior… The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name” (Luke 1:46-49).

The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 4): Bathsheba Endured the Crisis of Sexual Sin

by Joy Zavalick

December 23, 2021

This is the fourth part of a five-part series. Read our previous entries on Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth.

***

The fourth woman identified by Matthew’s gospel as being part of the lineage of Christ is Bathsheba, or “Uriah’s wife” as Matthew refers to her. If we take a closer look at Bathsheba’s story, it becomes clear that Matthew’s description of her as Uriah’s wife is intentional.

According to 2 Samuel 11, King David remained at home while his army was away at war. One night, while walking on the roof of his palace, he noticed Bathsheba bathing. Instead of respecting the woman’s privacy, a lustful David sent one of his servants to find out the woman’s identity. Despite learning that she was married to someone serving in his army, David continued to pursue Bathsheba.

David commanded his officials to bring Bathsheba to him, and he slept with her, causing her to conceive. Scripture does not tell us what Bathsheba’s role in this affair was; she could’ve been a co-conspirator in David’s act of sexual immorality or a victim of sexual assault. However, Scripture does show us that David misused his position of authority to initiate a crisis of sexual immorality.

When David learned that Bathsheba was pregnant, he attempted to hide his sin by tricking her husband into sleeping with her so that Uriah would believe the child was his. After this strategy failed, David resorted to placing Uriah at the front lines of battle so that he would be killed. Thus, David not only sinned against Bathsheba sexually but also by murdering her husband and leaving her a widow.

Bathsheba married David after Uriah’s death. She might have had little choice, given David’s position as king and her own desperation to survive after being widowed. Although David believed his sin to be in the past, the prophet Nathan reminded him of the Lord’s wrath against David’s acts of sexual immorality and murder. David was convicted and cried out to the Lord in repentance. His prayer for forgiveness, Psalm 51, is one of the most well-known penitent psalms in Scripture. Although he repented, David still had to live with the consequences of his sin. Tragically, the first child that Bathsheba had conceived with him died (2 Samuel 12:19).

Bathsheba eventually bore David a son named Solomon, who later succeeded his father as king and became known for his immense wisdom. However, the trauma and anguish that David caused Bathsheba may never have fully healed in her life. Even if the intercourse between David and Bathsheba was consensual (which is unknown based on the biblical evidence), it was nevertheless a sinful act that God mercifully commuted. The Messiah’s lineage passing through Solomon, David, and Bathsheba’s son, demonstrates God’s willingness to graciously use for good situations that man intended for evil (Genesis 50:20).

Tragically, there are many women who must live with the consequences of evil acts committed against them, such as sexual assault or abuse. Just as David attempted to escape the consequences when Bathsheba became pregnant, many men today try to conceal evil actions or simply escape the responsibility of fatherhood by abandoning women or coercing them to undergo abortions. It is important to note that although men must be held accountable for sexual abuse, children conceived through an act of sexual sin are never to blame for their fathers’ sins and must be treated with the same inherent dignity as every other child made in the image of God.

Chemical abortion pills have provided yet another way for men to avoid the responsibilities of fatherhood. But what makes this abortion method even more appealing to abusers is that it limits the woman’s contact with an in-person physician, making it harder for the abuse to come to light. Women who have suffered a coerced abortion ought to know that there are resources available to help them. Additionally, women who have taken the chemical abortion pill should know that this form of abortion is reversible if only the first pill has been ingested and action is taken quickly to reverse it.

Many women have been sexually manipulated or assaulted and may be struggling to recover from this pain. The church must rise up to protect and care for these women, ensuring that they have access to resources and ministries designed to help them heal.

The story of Bathsheba reminds us that Jesus Christ came to free mankind from captivity to sin and demonstrates the loving character of God in bringing beauty even from the depravity of human actions.

The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 3): Ruth Endured the Crisis of Being Widowed

by Joy Zavalick

December 22, 2021

This is the third part of a five-part series. Read our previous entries on Tamar and Rahab.

***

The third woman identified in Matthew’s gospel as being part of the lineage of Jesus is Ruth, a Moabite woman who married into the nation of Israel. In addition to being an ancestor of Christ, Ruth has the distinction of being one of only two women with a book of the Bible named after her (Esther being the other).

The book of Ruth opens with an introduction to three widows: Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth. Naomi had relocated to Moab with her husband and two sons in order to avoid an ongoing famine in Israel. While they were living in Moab, Naomi’s sons married two local women, Orpah and Ruth. Tragically, all three husbands passed away, leaving Naomi alone in a foreign land and Orpah and Ruth childless.

When Naomi decided to return to her homeland of Israel, Orpah returned to her parents’ household, but Ruth refused to abandon Naomi, knowing that her mother-in-law had no one left to care for her. Ruth demonstrated her loyalty to Naomi by saying, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:6).

Ruth and Naomi returned to Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem. Upon arriving, Ruth provided for them by gleaning in the fields of a man named Boaz, the son/descendent of Rahab and a relative of Naomi’s late husband. Boaz took notice of Ruth, impressed by her loving sacrifice to leave her home in order to stay by Naomi’s side. Boaz treated Ruth with kindness and ensured that she could work safely in his fields without being harmed by men who might prey on her.

Naomi informed Ruth that Boaz was one of their family’s kinsmen-redeemers. According to Hebrew law, Boaz was eligible to purchase their family property and marry Ruth, thus allowing her to carry on her late husband’s family line (Ruth 2:20). When Ruth approached Boaz and explained her family’s situation to him, he went through the proper cultural channels to redeem Naomi’s husband’s inheritance and marry Ruth (Ruth 3:9-13). Ruth’s first son with Boaz was named Obed. In God’s wonderful providence, Obed had a son named Jesse, whose youngest son, David, would one day become king of Israel.

The intricate story that God wove from the tragedy of Ruth’s widowhood shows His ability to bring beauty even from crisis situations. After the death of her first husband, Ruth likely was unsure of her future. When Ruth selflessly refused to abandon Naomi, she took a leap of faith and trusted that God would care for her—and He did, grafting the Moabite woman into Israel’s family tree.

It is worth noting that Ruth likely did not see the ultimate plan that God was working through her suffering during her lifetime. This is true for us as well. In this life, we will likely never fully understand why God allows us to experience a tragedy. Whether it is the experience of heartbreak, miscarriage, death of a spouse or loved one, or loneliness, it is important to know that the Lord is still present even when He seems silent and that hope for the future remains even when today’s circumstances are filled with pain. Just as Ruth mourned her loss and placed her faith in God, so should we today whenever tragedy strikes.

There are ministries and resources equipped to support widows as they raise a child while simultaneously coping with grief. The book of Ruth may also be read as a call to action for the men of the church to meet the needs of women facing crisis circumstances. Marriage aside, there are countless other ways for Christian men to emulate Boaz and serve the widows or single mothers in their community through acts of kindness.

Ruth’s example may provide inspiration to women and men who have experienced a tragic loss or who unexpectedly find themselves in the position of being a caretaker. Ruth displayed her noble character by acting based on her love for her family and trust in God, rather than allowing the pain of loss to overshadow her hope for the future. Her story reminds us to turn to the Lord in every sorrow and trust that He is working all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28).

The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 2): Rahab Endured the Crisis of Protecting Her Family

by Joy Zavalick

December 21, 2021

This is the second part of a five-part series. Read our previous entry on Tamar.

***

The second woman identified by Matthew’s gospel as being part of the lineage of Christ is Rahab. When Scripture first introduces us to Rahab in Joshua 2, she is a Canaanite prostitute living in the city of Jericho at the time that the Israelites were preparing to enter the Promised Land. Two spies sent by Joshua to scout out the fortified city of Jericho secretly lodged in Rahab’s house. When word reached Jericho’s king that Israelite spies were inside the city, he commanded Rahab to turn them over. However, she sent the king’s men to search elsewhere instead of betraying the spies’ true location.

Rahab had heard about the mighty deeds of Israel’s God and decided her fear of this God and love for her family were worth the risk. In the face of impending death for herself and her family, Rahab saved the lives of the Israelite spies by hiding them from the king and asked them to do the same for her and her family, acknowledging, “the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”

The spies assured Rahab that they would spare her when the Lord delivered the land into their hands, so long as she tied a red cord to her window and kept her family members inside during the impending attack. When the Israelites eventually surrounded Jericho in Joshua 6, God miraculously delivered the city into their hands. Prior to the battle, Joshua commanded his men to spare Rahab and her family because she had honored her word to protect the spies.

Rahab and her family were rescued and brought into the camp of the Israelites, where she married a member of the tribe of Judah named Salmon. According to Jewish tradition, Salmon may have been one of the two spies whose lives Rahab had saved. Rahab was either the mother or direct ancestor of Boaz, whose marriage to Ruth is named later in the genealogy of Christ. The Lord transformed Rahab from a prostitute and a woman who likely worshipped pagan gods to the wife of an Israelite and an ancestor of the Messiah, thus adopting a Gentile woman into His family.

Rahab’s brave actions embodied obedience to the charge God gave Joshua himself in Joshua 1:9: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Hundreds of years later, Rahab’s faith was even included in the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11. Many women today face circumstances that seem insurmountable and approach motherhood with trepidation. Rahab modeled a response to fearful circumstances that constitutes courage, trust, and devotion to God.

Rahab’s story can encourage women (and men) that their past does not have to define them. God did not have to include a prostitute in the family line of Christ. He did so to demonstrate that no life on earth is too broken, shameful, or deeply steeped in sin that He cannot redeem it and use it for His glory. Rahab’s family lineage went on to produce the Messiah, who spent His time on earth ministering to those lost in sin, as well as the needy and the downcast, in further affirmation of God’s love even for those that society rejects or those who start out their lives far away from God.

Rahab’s actions on behalf of her family also contradict the modern narrative of individualism. Just as Rahab risked much to protect her family, women and men facing unplanned or unwanted pregnancies ought to consider their duty as mothers and fathers to their unborn children rather than using abortion to bypass that responsibility.

Tragically, the pain of abortion is already part of many women’s stories. Rahab’s example shows that women who have something in their past that they are ashamed of ought not to distance themselves from the Lord but rather draw near to the throne of grace and accept the mercy that is theirs in Christ.

Resources such as Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard exist to bring healing to women who have suffered the pain of abortion and to help them to lead lives reconciled to God. For women who, like Rahab, have worked as prostitutes, resources such as Gems helps provide an exit from the commercial sex industry. Additionally, for trafficking victims who were involuntarily forced into the sex industry, organizations such as Justice Ministries assist with rescue and coping with trauma.

Rahab’s story shows that being strong and courageous can take many different forms—sometimes, it is simply choosing to trust the Lord and serve one’s family that can produce the greatest fruit.

The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 1): Tamar Endured the Crisis of Familial Abandonment

by Joy Zavalick

December 20, 2021

The genealogy of Jesus, as recorded in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, includes many of the most recognizable and celebrated men of the Judeo-Christian tradition, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the kings David and Solomon. Five women are also listed as being among Jesus Christ’s earthly ancestors: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and, of course, his mother Mary.

In the coming days, we will explore the lives of these women. Each one faced challenging circumstances and endured hardships, but ultimately God saw fit to include them in the family line of the Messiah. Moreover, given that Matthew’s genealogy is not comprehensive—and that the inclusion of women’s names in a genealogy was unique for Matthew’s time and culture—we can be sure that each of these five women were included in this list for a reason. The Lord evidently wants us to learn important truths about His grace by considering these women and their stories. The beauty of God’s plan is that the unique “crises” that each woman faced ultimately led to Christmas.

***

The first woman listed in the genealogy is Tamar, who was the daughter-in-law of Judah, one of the 12 sons of Jacob. Genesis 38 says that Tamar’s husband, Er, was put to death by the Lord for unspecified wickedness. According to custom, it was the responsibility of Er’s brother, Onan, through “levirate marriage,” to marry his brother’s widow in order to provide an heir and keep property in the family. Onan, however, refused to accept this responsibility (likely motivated by sinful desires to assume the position of family leadership and a double inheritance). Because of his failure to fulfill the duties of levirate marriage, he sinned against his deceased brother and Tamar. For his actions, he was also put to death (v. 10).

After the death of his second son, Judah was fearful of giving any more sons to a woman he thought might be cursed, so he sent Tamar away to live in her father’s household. Although Judah promised Tamar that he would give her his third son in marriage, he evidently had no intention of keeping his word. This abandonment of Tamar was a grave evil.

Years later, Tamar learned that her father-in-law was visiting her hometown. Determined to carry on the family lineage of her late husband, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute. Judah, not recognizing her as his daughter-in-law, solicited her and impregnated her. Three months later, Judah learned that Tamar had conceived a child and demanded she be put to death for prostitution. This hypocritical demand reveals not only the inconsistent manner in which men and women were treated in that day, but also puts in sharper relief the evil of Judah’s abandonment of a woman he was supposed to provide for and protect. Tamar immediately revealed that Judah was the father of her child. Judah responded that his daughter-in-law had been “more righteous than I” and rescinded his call for the death penalty.

The story of Tamar reveals God’s enduring faithfulness to Abraham in allowing the line of Judah to continue so that Jesus could be born from it. Tamar gave birth to twin boys—Perez and Zerah. From the line of Perez came King David, and later, Jesus Christ—the Son of God.

God saw fit to use Tamar, a widow who faced the crises of being abandoned by her family, feeling that she had no recourse but to act as a prostitute, and having her father-in-law threaten to have her killed, in the story of His Son’s birth.

Today, many women, like Tamar, are abandoned by their families. Many women feel their only option is to allow men to use them. Many women face abuse from those who should love and protect them. These women can find encouragement in God’s faithfulness to Tamar—a woman who was never deserted by God, even when her earthly circumstances were less than ideal.

Women who find themselves in situations like Tamar should know there are people ready to support them as they work to raise their children. Approximately 3,000 pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) are available across the country, seeking to provide material support, emotional encouragement, and spiritual healing to pregnant mothers facing difficult life circumstances. These centers allow women to advocate for their children even when they lack support from those who are closest to them.

Although Tamar’s husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law all failed to love and care for her, and although Tamar’s act of prostitution was immoral, God still provided for her and saw fit to include Tamar and her family in the earthly lineage of His Son. Tamar’s life proves that God’s mercy is endless, and His ability to bring good out of our missteps is boundless.

Thinking Biblically About Freedom

by Dan Hart

November 5, 2021

What is freedom?

It’s a question at the heart of the American experiment. Our national anthem dubs us “the land of the free.” Our Declaration of Independence proclaims that America “ought to be Free and Independent States.” Our Constitution’s stated purpose is to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

In a certain sense, America has been seeking the meaning of freedom since the country’s founding. In asserting our independence from Britain, we declared that all people “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It was an extraordinarily bold statement, but it also left the fundamental concepts of “liberty” and “happiness” open to interpretation. Perhaps that was Thomas Jefferson’s intention in writing those words, to set forth an ideal that America could eternally strive to define and reach for, and in doing so, create the freest and most prosperous country the world has ever known.

What could possibly go wrong?

The Great American Paradox

Jefferson followed up his declaration of man’s unalienable rights with these words: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Consent of the governed was not a completely new idea; the king of England ruled with the consent of Parliament, which represented the people. However, our Founders took this principle of consent even further by establishing a constitutional republic—foregoing a monarch and entrusting lawmaking to representatives elected by the people.

This leads us to the central paradox of the American experiment. By choosing to define civic freedom in this way, America took a great gamble—it bestowed governing power to a majority, trusting that that majority would decide against tyranny. Ever since then, an uneasy and terrifying possibility has lingered in the back of the American consciousness: If a majority of Americans are somehow convinced that freedom should be abolished, they could in theory “freely” choose tyranny.

A modern iteration of this paradox is currently playing itself out in our culture. On one hand, a sizeable portion of Americans believes that freedom is the ability to do whatever one wants whenever one wants, usually with a vaguely defined caveat that one’s free choices should not “harm” somebody else. But on the other hand, another large portion of Americans believes that freedom is innately tied to virtue and responsibility—in other words, an authentically “free” choice must be not only for one’s own good but also for the general welfare of society at large.

At first glance, there may not seem to be much difference between these two views. But there’s a crucial difference: The first view sees personal autonomy as the highest good, whereas the second view sees personal virtue as the highest good. Here again, we come up against a fundamental paradox and an open question. In a country where everyone is free to decide for themselves what the definition of freedom is, how long can that country maintain some semblance of unity before devolving into either fascism or an anarchy of moral relativism?

The True Source of Freedom

As Christians, we know that true freedom can only come when we freely choose to live in accordance with God’s law. The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church concisely states this truth well:

By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.

The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin.” [Romans 6:17]

In America, we see a culture that is awash in the abuse of freedom. In the name of “freedom of choice,” the lives of unborn babies are extinguished in their mothers’ wombs, often due to pressure from fathers and family members. In the name of “freedom of expression,” pornography clogs the internet and sweeps up millions of Americans into the slavery of addiction. In the name of “freely choosing one’s identity,” children are indoctrinated, speech is restricted, and people are canceled. The list goes on and on.

One of the greatest tragedies of the Christian life is to witness others make wrong and poor choices about freedom that lead to enslavement to sin and, ultimately, spiritual death. But herein lies the golden opportunity for American believers. As faithful Christians, we have discovered the only true source for happiness, contentment, and true freedom: faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to His laws. Thus, by “always be[ing] prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15), we can help spread a true understanding of freedom to our family members, friends, coworkers, and anyone else in our circles of influence, always remembering to “do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15).

A Moral and Religious People”

By God’s grace, America has remained a flawed but free country for 238 years, arguably the longest-standing democracy in the world. But, as former President Ronald Reagan famously said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Indeed, we are seeing authoritarianism creep its way into American life as we speak.

This is why for Christian citizens, American freedom will always be bittersweet. We treasure our freedom to believe and live out our faith in our daily lives, but we also know that it could vanish if enough of our fellow citizens make terrible choices. Consequently, believers ought to not only share their faith with boldness and work to educate their friends and neighbors on the values of civic freedom, but we should also bear witness to what will truly set the human heart free: to do what one ought to in accordance with God’s law. As our second President John Adams wisely observed, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Despite the precarious nature of American freedom, there is a silver lining in it. The very fact that our country remains free only by the choice of its citizens is a stark reminder for Christians that our true home is not here. As brilliant as our Founding Fathers were in establishing our constitutional republic, it is impossible for fallen human beings to create a system of government that will deliver a utopian paradise (despite what some believe). The paradox of American freedom reminds believers that there is only one truly free place—the heavenly kingdom ruled by our Creator. And while we are called to be good citizens of both the City of God and City of Man (Phil. 3:20), we are nevertheless “sojourners and exiles” in this world (2 Peter 2:11).

To be a Christian citizen of America is to be a person of trust. We harness the opportunities that American freedom gives us by witnessing to the gospel and leave the rest up to God. What could be more freeing than that?

After 246 Years, Old Glory Still Endures

by Molly Carman

June 14, 2021

One of the most identifying symbols of a nation is its flag. In the United States, the stars and stripes that fly over federal buildings, schools, and on our front porches remind every American of the price of freedom. Although the design has changed over the years as the union grew, Old Glory has represented America since 1775. Because of the significance of this patriotic symbol, Americans observe Flag Day each year, remembering the history of the flag and the nation it represents, how it was made, and what the flag symbolizes.

The first design of an American flag was presented on December 3, 1775 and it was known as the Grand Union Flag. While the designer of the flag is not known for certain, it was first hoisted on the Continental Navy man-of-war USS Alfred, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 2, 1775, by Lieutenant John Paul Jones. On the first design, the section where the blue background and the stars now reside was originally occupied by a small British flag. This design was used until June 14, 1777 when the 13-star design was adopted as the official flag of the United States of America. According to the Library of Congress, “To date, there have been twenty-seven official versions of the flag, but the arrangement of the stars varied according to the flag-makers’ preferences until 1912 when President Taft standardized the then-new flag’s forty-eight stars into six rows of eight. The forty-nine-star flag (1959-60), as well as the fifty-star flag, also have standardized star patterns.”

The original design of the 13-star flag is credited to Elizabeth Griscom, more commonly known as Betsy Ross. Although no official documentation exists to confirm she was commissioned to design and manufacture the first American flag, it is accepted because of the accredited testimonials from her grandchildren. Betsy was born on January 1, 1752, as the eighth of 17 children in a Quaker family. After completing her education, she was apprenticed to an upholsterer named John Webster. She broke from her family when she married John Ross who did not follow the Quaker faith. Tragically, John died three years into the marriage, leaving Betsy a childless widow. According to the testimony of her grandson, it was soon after her husband’s death that she was visited and commissioned by George Washington, Robert Morris, and George Ross in the summer of 1776 to make the flag for the new nation.

Our flag has been celebrated in various ways throughout our nation’s history. However, the first official celebration of the flag was on June 14, 1870, which was the 100th anniversary of the Flag Resolution which declared Ross’s design to be the national flag of the United States. Bernard J. Cigrand was the first schoolteacher to organize a flag day event at a school and later was recognized as the “Father of Flag Day.” He inspired other teachers to add the holiday to their school calendars. This movement later led to an order by New York governor Frank S. Black in 1897 when he ordered that all public schools have an American flag displayed outside their building.

Flag Day continued to be recognized by various states throughout the following years and was consistently observed in 36 state and local governments until 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a Presidential Proclamation declaring June 14 as National Flag Day. Thirty-three years later, on August 3, 1949, President Harry Truman officially signed the holiday into law and the motion passed Congress that June 14 be recognized as National Flag Day.

Flag Day recognizes the banner that charged into battle as the united colonies fought for their independence in the Revolutionary War. As we salute the flag of the United States of America, we demonstrate our respect for those who laid the foundation of our nation. It is to the flag of the United States that we pledge our loyalty, our liberty, and our sacred honor. On Flag Day, it is appropriate to recite The Pledge of Allegiance: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The Prayer That Saved America

by Worth Loving

May 12, 2021

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln gave a now-famous speech to the Illinois Republican Party as he accepted their nomination for the U.S. Senate. In this speech he referenced Matthew 12:25, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Indeed, the nation would quite literally split in half a little over two years later. But less than 100 years prior, we nearly ceased to be a nation.

The United States was a mere six years old and was on the brink of collapse. Our first form of government, the Articles of Confederation, proved to be an abysmal failure due to a weak central government that failed to keep the young nation united. In May of 1787, the states decided to send delegates to Philadelphia to draft a new governing document—what is today known as the Constitutional Convention.

The convention dragged on for weeks amid the stifling heat and humidity of the Philadelphia summer. There was fierce debate among the delegates regarding representation in the new Congress. Delegates from the small states favored equal representation, known as the New Jersey Plan. Delegates from larger states, on the other hand, favored a more proportional representation based on population, known as the Virginia Plan. Apparently, there was such vigorous debate that it sometimes descended into a shouting match. Some delegates left and never returned. By late June, it was an open question whether an agreement could be reached to save the young nation.

It was at this point that the aged delegate from Pennsylvania offered his sage advice. Benjamin Franklin, now 81 years old, was a frail figure compared to his younger self who spent years frolicking in France as the U.S. ambassador. In fact, he was now so weak and feeble that he often had to be carried into the convention on a sedan chair. Additionally, he would write out his speeches and have a fellow Pennsylvania delegate deliver them in his stead. What makes this speech unique is that Franklin actually rose from his chair and delivered the speech himself.

Mr. President:

The small progress we have made after four or five weeks close attendance and continual reasonings with each other—our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

In this situation of this Assembly groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection.—Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance.

I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move—that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service. 

As a result of Franklin’s speech, the rest of the Convention proceeded smoothly. Although a chaplain was never appointed, likely because the Convention couldn’t afford to pay one, the delegates gathered a few days later on the anniversary of our independence at the Reformed Calvinist Lutheran Church for a sermon and prayer. A few weeks later, the delegates reached a compromise, known as the Connecticut Compromise, that gave birth to the House and Senate prescribed in our Constitution today. On September 17, 1787, the U.S Constitution was signed by 39 of the 55 delegates. While there were still great disagreements among the delegates, they chose to put aside those differences for the greater good. The “miracle at Philadelphia” was birthed through prayer. The new Constitution also honored Franklin’s request—a chaplain was appointed for both the House and Senate. To this day, both houses of Congress are opened in prayer by a chaplain before they proceed to business.

While Franklin was publicly a professed Christian, privately he did not believe in Christ’s saving work on the cross. Franklin believed he could live a virtuous life and perform enough good works to gain Heaven. Again, this makes his call to prayer at the Constitutional Convention even more unique. 

Over 240 years later, Benjamin Franklin’s call to prayer is just as relevant today. Perhaps we are even more divided today than we were in 1787. Have we forgotten “that powerful Friend” who gave this nation our independence? Have we thought of “humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understandings”?

James 5:16 says that “the effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” We need Christians to offer up prayers for our nation, that our leaders would set aside their differences for the common good. Prayer literally saved our nation, and it can do so again today.

4 Reasons Why the Founders Valued Religious Freedom

by Arielle Del Turco

May 10, 2021

Contemporary debates over proposed legislation like the Equality Act and over COVID-19 church restrictions draw attention to the so-called “first freedom” listed in the Bill of Rights—religious freedom. This core right in the U.S. Constitution has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and passed down to contemporary Americans intact.

But as debates over how Christians and those of other faiths should live out their faith in the public square increase, questions about religious freedom will remain relevant. Understanding how religious freedom became a core value of the American Founders is critical to understanding its place in the United States today.

Here are four reasons that Americans in the Revolutionary era valued religious freedom and protected it for future generations:

1. The truth concerning religion is deeply important.

In advocating for religious freedom, its proponents did not embrace moral relativism. Isaac Backus, a Baptist preacher, argued that it is precisely because there is objective truth concerning religion that every individual deserves the freedom to discover that religious truth for themselves. Backus wrote:

The true liberty of man is, to know, obey and enjoy his Creator, and to do all the good unto, and enjoy all the happiness with and in his fellow-creatures that he is capable of; in order to which the law of love was written in his heart, which carries in its nature union and benevolence to being in general, and to each being in particular, according to its nature and excellency, and to its relation and connection to and with the supreme Being, and ourselves.

For Backus and others of his day, part of the definition of liberty itself is the freedom for an individual to “know, obey and enjoy his Creator.” Thus, policies protecting the ability to seek religious truth were a natural extension of this understanding of truth and the freedom to pursue it.

2. Respect for individuals’ consciences.

Former diplomat Tom Farr argues that human nature “impels us to seek answers to profound questions about ultimate things. If we are not free to pursue those answers… we cannot live a fully human life.” Many of the American Founders understood religious freedom in much the same way.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights, adopted by the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1776, was drafted by George Mason and was influential when Thomas Jefferson was drafting the Declaration of Independence. The Virginia Declaration of Rights stresses the importance of religious freedom to each individual’s conscience:

That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.

The declaration affirms the importance for all individuals to choose their religious beliefs for themselves, according to the “dictates of conscience.” This highlights how the lack of religious freedom is a very personal assault on the rights of every individual. It is wrong for the government to try to control what goes on in someone’s head, heart, or soul.

John Leland, a Baptist minister, argued for robust conscience protections and asserted that the state had no right to be involved in religion in part because every individual must make himself right with God and no government can answer for the souls of men. In 1791, Leland said:

It would be sinful for a man to surrender that to man which is to be kept sacred for God. A man’s mind should be always open to conviction, and an honest man will receive that doctrine which appears the best demonstrated; and what is more common than for the best of men to change their minds?

Creating a political order with a state-established religion is not fair to the children and grandchildren who will come later because it may violate their conscience, which was not free to choose their faith since it was mandated by the government.

3. Establishment of religion is harmful for religion.

Many early American pastors were at the forefront of societal protests against the establishment of religion. They did so not for secular but religious reasons. Backus famously argued that a legally established religion or church corrupts “the purity and life of religion.”

Many religious leaders promoted religious freedom not just because the freedom to believe affects the conscience of individual Christians, but because the state establishment of religion can have negative affects on the established religion itself. When a state forces religious practice, it waters down churches with individuals who do not truly believe but rather are practicing the faith externally because they are compelled to do so.

Utilizing the force of government to require individuals to practice a religion is ineffective at making true religious believers. In 1675, William Penn said, “force makes hypocrites, ‘tis persuasion only that makes converts.”

Religious persecution doesn’t only harm those outside the religious majority, it harms the authentic practice of the majority religion. This makes the establishment of a state religion not only pointless, but also oppressive and detrimental to the religion the government associates with.

4. All people are equal under the law.

George Washington affirmed the inherent natural right to freedom of religion in a letter to a Jewish congregation. While president, he told the congregation, “For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” Washington strongly repudiates religious persecution and emphasizes the equality of all religious groups and believers under the law.

***

The embrace of religious freedom has contributed to what makes the United States unique in the world. Wherever religious freedom is not protected around the world, oppression and misery clouds society.

The world is better off because of the successful example of religious freedom that the United States has set. America’s promotion of international religious freedom has released religious prisoners, rebuilt religious communities devastated by genocide, and offered hope to the oppressed.  

This serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining religious freedom here at home. Our Founders enshrined robust religious freedom protections into law because they believed everyone’s right to seek the truth and live according to their beliefs was deeply important. This is worth protecting—for ourselves, for future generations, and for those around the world relying on our advocacy on their behalf. 

Archives