Category archives: Religion & Culture

Suicide Prevention? Try the “BFPF!”

by Robert Morrison

December 18, 2014

I was puzzled. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta had sent me an entire briefing book on suicide rates. The thick 3-ring binder had statistics on suicide for every demographic group—from Aleuts and Ashkenazi Jews to Zuni Indians. But the figure for Black Females was less than 1 per 100,000. Could this be? I called a desk officer at CDC to learn if there was some mistake. “No mistake,” I was assured as the staffer on the other end of the line smoothly told me “we call it the ‘BFPF—Black Female Protection Factor—they’re very religious.”

The U.S. Government knows this to be true. Or at least it used to know this in the Reagan years when I was tasked with studying “Suicide among Youth” for the federal education department.

If the government cannot promote religion, one would think that at least the government would not try to impede religion. (And isn’t that what even the Supreme Court has said?) 

Especially, it would seem, the government should not try to impede religion in its efforts to prevent suicide. 

But, no! The atheizers and the pink panzers of  political correctness have so cowed our military that we actually have senior officers who want to punish chaplains for the grave offense of including spiritual and secular resources in a program for the troops seeking to prevent suicide.

Does the Army want more suicide? You have to wonder when you see the infamous actions of Col. David Fivecoat at Fort Benning, Georgia. Here’s a news report from FRC’s communications department. This is a verified report on the disciplining of a military Chaplain: 

Capt. Joseph Lawhorn, U.S. Army Chaplain at Fort Benning, participated in a mandatory suicide awareness and prevention briefing in which he gave a presentation describing resources – both spiritual and secular – that were available for handling such grave mental health situations. He went further and discussed his personal struggles with depression, describing the spiritual and religious steps that helped him during those dark times in his life.

As a result of the chaplain’s discussion of his faith, he was called into his brigade commander’s office on Thanksgiving Day. There Col. David G. Fivecoat issued Chaplain Lawhorn a Letter of Concern that is to remain in his personnel file for the duration of his stay at Fort Benning. This type of letter can be devastating for career military personnel and would likely prohibit further professional advancement of Chaplain Lawhorn.

We can contrast this Fort Benning colonel’s despicable action with the brave stance of Coast Guard Rear Admiral Dean Lee. The admiral spoke at the National Day of Prayer recently on this very question of spiritual resources shared with young volunteers in our military who are in danger of suicide. Admiral Lee spoke truth to power. He showed undaunted courage in the face of a rising storm.

Admiral Lee doubtless knows the toll of suicide—and not just on the young victim’s family and fellow service members. Those of us who served in the Coast Guard—like many first responders—have on occasion been called upon to deal with the tragic results of a suicide.

I will never forget having to pick up the body of a “floater” who had been in the water for weeks. I was a young enlisted Coast Guardsman more than thirty years ago. I can still remember the sight, the smell, the feel, and the sounds of that bloated and crab-eaten corpse.

As vivid and unforgettable as that experience was, I am not scarred by it. That is because it was also in the Coast Guard and in that same year that I came to faith in Jesus Christ. I thank God every day for that.

I hope those of you reading this column will sign FRC’s urgent petition calling for a reversal of this cruel and unjust discipline of a brave Army Chaplain. Be a lifesaver! 

Christmas Joy and Divorce

by Nathan Oppman

December 9, 2014

Each Christmas my wife Joy and I set up our tree and relive the memories of past years. For every year of Joy’s life she has received an ornament commemorating a major life event. There is a baby crib for year one and a Crayon box for a few years later. There is an ornament for her first car and for her college graduation. There are many “Joy” ornaments as can be expected for someone with such a cheery Christmas name. And there is one of my favorites, the one that reminds us of our marriage. Sadly many couples do not spend Christmas together. Many more use the holiday, not for sharing sweet memories but for hurtful words and unkind actions. Others spend it shuttling the kids between their broken homes.

I consider my marriage to my wife to be precious as well as sacred. When we said our vows we both sincerely understood and meant “for better or for worse” and “‘til death do you part.” A recent article in First Things on the danger of no-fault divorce laws demonstrates the sad reality for many families harmed by recent American attitudes toward divorce. The article lists some casualties of no-fault divorce including “abandoned spouses, the institution of marriage, and American society itself.” No-fault divorce gives the false impression that there is an easy way out of the difficulties of marriage. Rather than seeking to understand one another, become more loving, and to get counseling when needed, many couples simply give up on marriage. But divorce is never that simple. It affects children, the couple, and the country. A society whose basic family unit is not functioning in harmony cannot expect its political institutions to function well. A society where the marriages are not accountable to God cannot expect its other institutions to be accountable to God.

Love in marriage is a difficult thing. One sees all of the faults of their spouse. It can be easy to become frustrated and discouraged. But marriage is not about one, it is about two who have become one. No fault divorce has caused many homes to become not a place of joy at Christmas but one of bitterness and broken hearts. We must work to change the no-fault divorce culture to a marriage-is-precious culture. So this Christmas if you are struggling, let your spouse know you believe your marriage is precious and seek help. If you are happily married then I recommend going home and, like me, giving your Joy a loving Christmas hug, it will do more good than you know.

To the business community: Religious freedom and you - perfect together

by Travis Weber

December 1, 2014

Writing at the Berkley Center’s Religious Freedom Project blog, Samuel Gregg explores the idea – and idea for which new evidence is consistently emerging – that religious freedom is good for business.

Gregg begins by noting historically that as certain religious groups have been marginalized in political life, they have turned their energies toward commerce – and prospered. In other cases, certain groups have been marginalized in their nation’s financial life – thus handicapping the economy. This isn’t good for growth, obviously. Gregg then focuses his attention on the more recently discovered correlation between economic growth and religious freedom:

[T]here is growing evidence that respect for religious freedom tends to correlate with greater economic and business development. One recent academic article, for instance, found (1) a positive relationship between global economic competitiveness and religious freedom, and (2) that religious restrictions and hostilities tended to be detrimental to economic growth.”

Moreover, other rights and freedoms are not entirely unaffected:

[T]he strongest interest that business has in being attentive to the religious freedom of individuals and groups is the fact that substantive infringements upon one form of freedom often have significant and negative implications for other expressions of human liberty. If, for instance, governments can substantially nullify religious liberty, then they are surely capable of repressing any other civil liberty. This included rights with particular economic significance, such as the right to economic initiative and creativity, property rights, and the freedom of businesses to organize themselves in ways they deem necessary to (1) make a profit and (2) treat employees in ways consistent with the owner’s religious beliefs.”

He concludes by noting that, nevertheless:

[M]ore work needs to be done in this area. Correlation is not causation. While there do seem to be significant correlations between restrictions on religious liberty and the economic freedom of individuals and corporate bodies, the case for causation requires further elaboration.”

But, businesses take note!

If … the various forms of liberty are as interdependent as they seem to be, business surely has at least a high degree of self-interest in seeing substantive conceptions of religious liberty and the rights and protections associated with religious freedom prevail.”

Businesses take note, indeed.

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

by Chris Gacek

November 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

ISIS: and the New Damascus Road

by Nathan Oppman

November 6, 2014

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

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

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

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

Beachheads of God’s Kingdom

by Rob Schwarzwalder

November 3, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Though Devils all the World Should Fill

by Robert Morrison

October 31, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

C-c-c-courage!

It’s what puts the Ape in Apricot

It’s what I haven’t got.

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

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

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

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

Though devils all the world should fill,

All eager to devour us.

We tremble not, we fear no ill,

They shall not overpower us.

This world’s prince may still

Scowl fierce as he will,

He can harm us none,

He’s judged; the deed is done;

One little word can fell him.

Ministers: Beware

by Travis Weber

October 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pulpit Friction: TX Leaders Rally To Pastors’ Defense

by Tony Perkins

October 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Gates’ Boy Scouts

by Rob Schwarzwalder

October 1, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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