Category archives: Religion & Culture

Bowdoin College and Religious Bigotry

by Rob Schwarzwalder

February 20, 2014

Bowdoin College, one of America’s elite institutions of higher education, has now “banned a local lawyer and his wife from leading campus Bible studies with students after the couple refused to sign a non-discrimination agreement they say violates their Christian faith.”

For nearly the past ten years the couple, Rob and Sim Gregory, has been volunteers with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Bowdoin Christian Fellowship (BCF). They have been told they will no longer be welcome on Bowdoin’s campus after May because of their commitment to the Bible’s teaching that sexual intimacy is reserved for a heterosexual couple within the covenant of marriage.

The following excerpt from The Maine Wire explains the story well and succinctly:

For nearly a decade, the Gregorys have been a fixture of Bowdoin’s community and source of counsel and comfort for college-aged Christians. But last year administration officials informed the Gregorys they would be required to sign a non-discrimination agreement in order to continue serving as an advisor to BCF.

If someone’s participating in an organization and they are LGBTIQA [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Questioning, Asexual] and they are not allowed to participate in that organization because of their sexual orientation or they cannot lead that organization because of their sexual orientation, then that’s discrimination,” said Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster, according to the Bowdoin Orient.

According to the Orient, Foster said the initiative grew partially as a reaction to the Penn State scandal in 2011 in which assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of multiple counts of child molestation. “One of the things we realized,” Foster told the Orient, “is that we have people on our campus working with students, spending a significant amount of time with students, and we don’t know a lot about a lot of these people.”

Gregory, who runs a Damariscotta-based law firm and is also a minister, had no qualms submitting to a background check. But for him, signing the agreement would constitute a violation of his Christian faith. So he offered a revision to the agreement that would protect his right to teach the historical Christian faith - without Bowdoin’s censorship. Similar religious exemptions have been adopted at other American colleges and universities.

The suggested amendment to the agreement read, in part, as follows: “Reservation of Rights to Religious Beliefs and Practices: The signature on this agreement shall not be construed to limit in any way the right of the undersigned Volunteer to hold, teach and practice his/her sincerely held Christian religious beliefs and to follow, hold, and teach the religious beliefs and practices of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in the conduct of its campus ministry at Bowdoin College.”

In a Feb. 5 email obtained by The Maine Wire, Nathan Hintze, associate director of student activities, rejected Gregory’s compromise language.

I’m sorry that you have decided not to agree to the College’s volunteer policy,” said Hintze. “Both the Muslim and Catholic volunteers have in fact agreed without reservation.. It is simply unacceptable to have College-recognized student organizations effectively discriminate against individuals in violation of Maine law, which protects students’ right to fully participate as members of an organization and to lead that organization regardless of one’s sexual orientation.”

The stern, unbending voice of crypto-fascism is all too prevalent in the college’s condescending comments. For Rob Gregory, as quoted in Bowdoin’s student paper, The Orient, the fundamental issue is fidelity to Scripture and to historic Christian teaching: “The Bible teaches that human sexuality is expected to find its fulfillment inside of the twoness of persons and the twoness of genders.”

For this affirmation of biblical teaching on human sexuality, the Gregorys are being forced off the Bowdoin campus.

A friend of mine, who is associated with Bowdoin, sent me the following in a confidential email:

Rob and his wife, Sim, have hosted students countless times at their homes, taken on pro bono an internationally-covered cause to help a Bowdoin student, and spent thousands of dollars to love Bowdoin students out of their love for Christ. I know this firsthand, though Rob doesn’t say this publicly at all. In short, Bowdoin could not be targeting and smearing a better man (and his wife). Rob is gospel-centered, a man of oak, and does all this work (usually 35 hours a week) when he’s not being a high-powered Maine attorney. He and his wife aren’t paid a dime for this! They serve Bowdoin’s students selflessly, and Bowdoin has the temerity to try to crush them.

The historic Judeo-Christian understanding of morally valid human sexual expression is not bigoted, intolerant, or whatever other tired terms-of-political-art its opponents use whenever their social suzerainty in our decomposing age is questioned. And if the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality is true, then there is no ground for compromise with those who insist it not be taught. There is no common ground here, which is scary for anyone who cares about liberty and justice in a self-governing society.

The Gregorys deserve our thanks for their willingness to stand unequivocally “for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:2). They are losing access to the Bowdoin campus in time, but for them, a well-deserved eternal reward awaits. Not a bad trade-off, that.

Moral Virtue and the Military

by Leanna Baumer

February 19, 2014

Amidst renewed plans from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to take up legislation this spring addressing sexual assault in the military, a collection of ethical scandals involving military leadership continues to dog Pentagon officials.

Though the U.S. military still ranks as one of the most respected institutions in public life (and rightly so), the reputation of top brass has taken a beating with news of a Navy bribery scam, drinking binges during high profile missions, and incidents of serial adultery. Problems at one Air Force base extend to the junior officer level as over ninety officers responsible for operating our nuclear missile force have been caught cheating on monthly proficiency exams. In South Carolina, sailors tasked with operating Navy nuclear reactors appear to have shared exam questions and so far at least thirty sailors have been decertified as a result.

Given these troubling stories of lapses in integrity, numerous new oversight plans have emerged. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a full review of the ethical training senior officers receive, with the report due last Friday. The Secretary of the Air Force has spoken of the need to address “systemic problems,” and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said that assessing character will be a larger part of the evaluation of military officers in the future.

With the pivot to introspection however, it’s important for Pentagon officials to consider how moral virtue in the Armed Forces is cultivated in the first place.

That human failings have surfaced in the military isn’t in itself news. After all, the military is made up of individuals who are influenced by and reflect the social mores of our culture. Look at any aspect of American society, and you will quickly find examples of cheating, moral failure, and personal irresponsibility. Honesty, sobriety, and sexual propriety are not often glorified in our culture at large. Instead, our culture lauds self-expression and immediate self-gratification.

In a self-focused culture, how can we shape an environment that demands honesty, fidelity, and honor, all characteristics demanding self-denial? In other words, how is an expectation of ethical and moral behavior to be cultivated and maintained?

Traditionally, religious beliefs have been helpful in forming an ethic that values others over self, upholds integrity, and demands personal piety. Religion generally involves the humbling of self in light of a Divine Being, a realization of answering to a higher authority. Such beliefs tend to inspire an individual to please a higher power in interactions with fellow men. (Of course, religious individuals as fallible human beings can be guilty of violating ethical codes too, sometimes egregiously so in light of their claiming to have a high standard to which they have failed to adhere.)

Unfortunately, religious expression within the military has grown more difficult following the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” in part because of the taboo surrounding the expression of politically incorrect opinions on sexuality. In an effort to be accommodating to homosexual service members, religious opinions about the proper boundaries of sexual behavior have been constrained.

Yet religion strongly condemns infidelity, lying, and drunkenness — all problems highlighted in the latest military scandals. Moreover, the dominant religion practiced in the United States, Christianity, upholds the ideal of chastity, a demand for purity and restraint in sexual conduct.

Army General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that multiple rounds of deployment demanded by the pressures of war in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years have caused a focus on character to fall behind a focus on competence. That failure also meant “we were neglecting the tools that manage us as a profession over time.”

Since we know that one of those tools for cultivating morality for many people has been religious faith, are we encouraging the “systemic problem” in our services by ostracizing the expression of moral beliefs rooted in religious faith? It’s a question worth asking as DOD leaders search for the tools to reinforce moral integrity in our military.

Ronald Reagan and the Bible: “Rock on which our Republic Rests”

by Robert Morrison

February 7, 2014

It came up again this week as I was preparing for an FRC radio interview: What to say about President Reagan’s faith, especially in a week when his 103rd birthday coincided with the annual Congressional Prayer Breakfast?

Well, President Reagan used his remarks at the 1983 Prayer Breakfast to announce his Proclamation of the Year of the Bible. Clearly, the participants at that long ago breakfast were happy to hear this good news. Just as clearly, the atheizers and the cultured despisers of religion were unhappy. It was too much mixing of church and state to their taste.

Even so, President Reagan held firm. He never wavered in declaring that:

the Old and New Testaments of the Bible inspired many of the early settlers of our country, providing them with the strength, character, convictions, and faith necessary to withstand great hardship and danger in this new and rugged land.

He even went on to quote President Andrew Jackson in his own. Jackson had said the Bible is “the Rock on which our Republic rests.” Jackson was the first president of the modern Democratic Party, the man most associated with building a powerful political movement that embraced millions of immigrants, especially Irish and German refugees fleeing tyranny abroad.

Many of these new Americans were Catholics and some were Jews. But they came here yearning to breathe free and hoping to avail themselves of the religious, civil, and economic freedoms that America even then afforded.

Reagan’s proclamation quotes Abraham Lincoln’s words about the Bible.

There could be no more fitting moment than now to reflect with gratitude, humility, and urgency upon the wisdom revealed to us in the writing that Abraham Lincoln called “the best gift God has ever given to man … But for it we could not know right from wrong.”

In early 1983, the American economy was still in deep distress. The “malaise” of Jimmy Carter’s failed policies was still being felt in the workplace, the offices, and factories of a recovering nation. Unemployment was still at 10% and inflation had not yet been brought under control.

Many of the atheizers and liberals carped that the President of the United States had, or ought to have, more important things on his mind than proclaiming a Year of the Bible.

Take U.S.-Soviet relations, they said. Why, Reagan has not even met with his Soviet “counterpart,” the ruler of the Communist Party of the USSR. President Reagan was too polite to lecture these editorial writers that he had no Soviet counterpart. He was the constitutionally chosen leader of a great Republic. He had won almost 44 million votes in a free and open election. The ruler of the USSR had been unanimously chosen by Communist Party delegates who were responsible to no one except the Communist Party.

Instead of a political science lecture, however, on the essential differences between a free country like America and the Soviet Union holding all its Captive Nations behind the Iron Curtain, Reagan deflected critics with humor.

How can I meet the Soviets when they keep dying on me?

Looking back on 1983, that long ago Year of the Bible, we can note some interesting events.

  • President Reagan addressed the nation in March of that year to announce his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Critics jumped on it and said it was dangerous and wouldn’t work. They called it “Star Wars” to show their contempt. Reagan didn’t mind: He knew Americans loved the Star Wars movies and readily identified the Soviets with the bad guys in the movies.
  • Reagan spoke in March to the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and warned them not to turn a blind eye to “the machinations of an evil empire.” He only used that term once. He never said the USSR was that evil empire. But the next day, in Moscow, the Communist editors of Pravda and Izvestia exploded in rage, charging him with labeling the Soviet Union with those “provocative” words. Deep in the bowels of the GuLAG, the Soviet slave labor system, prisoners read of Reagan’s words and took heart. They excitedly tapped out the words “evil empire” on plumbing pipes. Finally, an American president gets it, they said to each other.
  • In September, the Soviet Union shot down a straying civilian jet liner, Korean Airlines Flight 007. All 269 passengers and crew of the unarmed aircraft were murdered in cold blood. Throughout the West, liberals feared Reagan would use this as his pretext for a war with the USSR. Reagan exercised amazing restraint, using the shoot down as an occasion for closing Soviet consulates and tightening the screws of his economic boycott. But he had the grim satisfaction of letting the world see the Russian bear as it truly was—with teeth and fangs bared.
  • One month later, President Reagan ordered U.S. forces to liberate tiny Grenada from Soviet-backed Cubans and homegrown Communists. The Caribbean island nation was only 1/10 the size of Rhode Island, but its 100,000 residents, most of them black, greeted the American troops ecstatically. They blessed the Americans for their new-found freedom. In this short, successful, nearly bloodless campaign, Reagan disproved the idea that Marxism was a “historic inevitability.” Leonid Brezhnev had proclaimed: What we have, we hold. Reagan thought otherwise.
  • Also in October, 1983, the U.S. economy turned the corner. Job creation began to pick up robustly. Inflation had come way down. The economic indicators all started to show healthy signs of recovery. Reagan joked that his friends could put “egg on their faces and go to their Halloween parties as liberal economists.” The Reagan recovery that began in October 1983 lasted until October 2008—a quarter century of prosperity.

Secular scholars, of course, will laugh at the notion that President Reagan’s Proclamation of a Year of the Bible had anything to do with any of these favorable events in our nation’s life. Let them laugh. God laughs, too. He laughs his enemies to scorn.

Religious Persecution Around the World is Growing

by Rob Schwarzwalder

January 17, 2014

Religious persecution around the world is growing. Consider two recent studies from respected sources, Pew Research and Open Doors USA, and a summary analysis by The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University. Here are excerpts and links to each of these moving reports:

Pew Research: “The share of countries with a high or very high level of social hostilities involving religion reached a six-year peak in 2012, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. A third (33%) of the 198 countries and territories included in the study had high religious hostilities in 2012, up from 29% in 2011 and 20% as of mid-2007. Religious hostilities increased in every major region of the world except the Americas.”

Open Doors USA: “For the 12th consecutive year the hermit communist country of North Korea remains the world’s most restrictive nation in which to practice Christianity, according to the Open Doors 2014 World Watch List (WWL). However, a major trend which the WWL tracked in 2013 was a marked increase in persecution for Christian communities in states that are commonly regarded as ‘failed.’ A failed country is defined ‘as a weak state where social and political structures have collapsed to the point where government has little or no control’.”

Berkley Center: “A common myth is that it is just fear-mongering to imagine that Christians and other religious groups could suffer serious restrictions in Western countries. Of course, Western countries have been free of the kinds of violent attacks on Christians and other religious groups that have occurred in countries such as Egypt and Syria in recent years. But the trend lines are not encouraging.”

We do not experience physical attacks or imprisonment in the U.S. We do experience a growing tide of anti-religious bias, not just from our culture but from the current administration (as FRC has documented at length).

Loss of liberty is seldom, if ever, sudden. Almost invariably, it occurs incrementally. The Obama mandate that even explicitly Christian-based businesses, religious colleges and universities, and faith-based hospitals must provide their employees access to at least one health insurance plan that includes coverage of drugs that can produce abortions is a troubling sign that the incremental erosion of our “first freedom” is real.

FRC continues to lead the battle to oppose the mandate and is active with the conservative legal community to fight this disturbing Obama Administration proposal. We also continue to stand with people of Christian faith who are killed, tortured, and expelled from their homes and schools simply because of their profession of faith. If you already haven’t, please join us.

Religious Freedom Day: January 16, 1786

by Robert Morrison

January 16, 2014

Today’s commemoration of Religious Freedom Day is important because of what a state legislature did in the early republic. This day in 1786 saw the final passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. The bill had worldwide influence. From that time to this, it represents the height of Enlightenment thinking on the crucial role of religious liberty as the solid foundation of a free state.

Thomas Jefferson had first introduced the bill in the Virginia General Assembly in 1779. But the Commonwealth of Virginia was then in the throes of the War of Independence, and British invaders were threatening the state. Action was delayed on this measure until 1785 when Jefferson’s friend and closest political ally, James Madison, skillfully moved the measure through the legislature.

Reporting by letter to Mr. Jefferson, who was by this time America’s Minister to France, Madison said — in his quaint eighteenth century spelling — that it would “add to the lustre of our country.” Jefferson fully agreed and delightedly had the Statute translated into French for full distribution on the continent of Europe. The influence of this document spread far and wide.

Jefferson had offered this bill as a way of establishing religious freedom. We need better to appreciate what was meant by that word. In every civilized country during the time of Jefferson and Madison, parliaments and royal courts established the country’s religion. The “established” Church of England was the only church legally recognized throughout the British Empire and the only one supported by taxes. The best that dissenter Protestants, Catholics, and Jews could hope for in England was toleration.

Toleration meant that you could practice your religion, mostly in private, without harassment from royal authorities. Public celebration of the Catholic Mass was illegal in England. Catholics, Jews, and dissenting Protestants were ineligible to vote, to hold office, or even to serve as a commissioned officer in the Army or the Royal Navy. A religious test was required. Those who were unwilling to pledge even a nominal allegiance to the King’s Church of England were disqualified.

France, our ally in the Revolution, was no better. There, the Catholic Church was established and Protestants and Jews had no civil rights. Holland was perhaps the most enlightened country in Europe, but even for the liberal Dutch, toleration was the guiding principle.

When the great patriot George Mason drafted Virginia’s Declaration of Rights during the Revolution, he first included in it language supporting the broadest “toleration” for all religions. Young James Madison, in his modest and self-effacing way, had persuaded Mason instead to use the phrase “free exercise of religion.” It was Mason’s document that Jefferson used as a reference in writing the American Declaration of Independence.

Madison had no stronger ally in the fight for the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom than Elder John Leland, a leader of the Old Dominion’s Baptists. These evangelical Protestants had been brutally mistreated under the colonial government of Virginia. Their refusal to tell Church of England clerics where they would preach and to whom they would preach landed a number of Baptist preachers in jail.

In establishing religious freedom for the first time anywhere in the world, the Virginia Statute said that our worship of our Creator was a matter between us and our God. It said we had a duty to worship but the manner and means of that worship were a recognized right of conscience. It freed citizens from paying taxes to support churches they did not attend and doctrines they did not believe. None of the peoples’ rights as citizens would be infringed because of their membership in a particular church body, synagogue, or other “religious society.”

Finally, the Virginia Statute stated in emphatic terms that it recognized the power of succeeding legislatures to amend or repeal portions of the Statute. The authors nonetheless asserted that should any part of the Virginia Statute be diluted or repealed, it would be a violation of a fundamental human right.

The importance of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom cannot be overestimated. Its spirit breathes in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — also a handiwork of James Madison. In the nineteenth century, millions of European immigrants would be drawn to our shores in the knowledge that in America, their faith would be respected and their right to free exercise of religion protected.

Here lies Thomas Jefferson, author of the American Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia,” reads the epitaph on the Founder’s grave marker. He wrote it himself. Modestly, he added no word about two terms as president, or a long string of offices and titles conferred upon him. Those were gifts of the people to me, he explained, but these were my gifts to them.

Today, America’s religious freedom is in the gravest danger since 1786. The HHS Mandate will force millions of us to aid in the destruction of the inalienable right to life. It violates our consciences and threatens our free exercise of religion.

Our own State Department, forgetting the legacy of two of our ablest Secretaries of State — Jefferson and Madison — has pressured constitution writers in Iraq and Afghanistan to establish Islamist states in which the rights of religious minorities are nowhere respected nor are their lives secure. No wonder our efforts in those strife-torn countries have come to naught.

There’s nothing new under the sun,” said President Harry Truman, “just history we haven’t learned yet.” His words should serve as a warning and a spur to his successor in the White House and the diplomats at State. Even if they have not learned our history, we must remember it.

Lost Episodes’ Deserve Discovery

by Rob Schwarzwalder

January 3, 2014

One of the best-kept secrets on the internet is Dr. Kenyn Cureton’s “Lost Episodes in American History” series. Vice-President of Family Research Council’s Church Ministries department, Kenyn was for 20 years a pastor and now leads a movement of more than 23,000 pastors he encourages to “pray, preach, and partner” concerning the key issues of life, marriage, family, and religious liberty.

Kenyn’s Ph.D. training has equipped to view history with a scholar’s eye. His love for God and his love for our country motivate him to study our history’s with a patriot’s passion. For example, yesterday’s entry dealt with God’s remarkable protection of George Washington during the American Revolution. Students will be especially edified as they read these faith-filled perspectives on historic events.

Kenyn’s “Lost Episodes” series is a refreshing reminder that many of our country’s Founders were men and women whose Christian backgrounds strongly influenced them, and who saw God’s amazing provision during that tumultuous time in the nation’s history. You can read these valuable and often-neglected stories of faith, freedom, and courage here. Kenyn publishes the “Lost Episodes” five days a week, and each one will inspire and encourage you.

Senate Action on Special Envoy Bill Could Aid Iraq’s Religious Minorities

by Leanna Baumer

January 2, 2014

It’s become an all-too familiar and devastating pattern — while much of the West looks back with fondness to lavish Christmas and holiday celebrations, suffering religious minorities in Iraq simply wonder how to live after yet another round of horrific bombings and persecution.

Reminiscent of the 2009 Christmas Eve attack in Mosul, a car bomb detonated near St. John’s Catholic Church in Baghdad after a Christmas Day mass.  Two other attacks targeted Christian areas of Baghdad on Christmas Day, killing over thirty and leaving dozens wounded. Aside from Iraq’s beleaguered Christian community, other Iraqi minorities such as the Shi’ite community faced attacks in the lead up to a Shi’ite holy day that coincided with Christmas Eve.

What can we do in the midst of escalating sectarian violence in a country many Americans have sacrificed for years to rebuild? We can pray for courage and comfort for those left behind, send relief to devastated families, and pressure Iraqi political leaders to work against sectarianism and terrorism. We can also urge our own government to focus on the vital importance of religious freedom for fostering national political and local community stability as our diplomats convey U.S. foreign policy abroad.

A small step towards that goal occurred right before Christmas as the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee took up legislation introduced by Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) The bi-partisan legislation would create a special envoy at the U.S. Department of State to focus specifically on the status of religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia. In a welcome move after two years of roadblocks in the Senate, the Committee approved the bill with unanimous support.

The current Administration has shown continued disinterest in incorporating religious freedom into overarching foreign policy goals (as evidenced most recently by the unwillingness to press Iran during talks for the release of an imprisoned American pastor).   Therefore, it is imperative that the full Senate move quickly to pass this legislation and convey renewed Congressional support for the core value of religious freedom. Companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced by Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) has already been approved twice with overwhelming support in the 112th and 113th Congress. 

Religious persecution in countries such as Iraq has complex roots and many contributing factors. Yet, the ongoing silence from the State Department about a regional human rights crisis only contributes to the inattention suffering minorities receive from their own governments. A special envoy able to speak to the plight of these victims and to reemphasize the importance of religious freedom for American foreign policy would be an important addition to the State Department’s diplomatic team.  Without such a voice, dwindling religious minorities in the Middle East may find they won’t have many more Christmases or holy days left to commemorate in the future.  

Video: Senior Master Sgt. Philip Monk Discusses Military Religious Freedom Incident

by FRC Media Office

December 20, 2013

Master Sgt. Phillip Monk shares his story about how he was relieved of his duties when he refused to agree with his openly lesbian commanding officer that a subordinate’s expression of opposition to same-sex marriage constituted “discrimination.”   His punishment was intended to have a chilling effect on service members throughout the military.  This case among many other similar incidents prompted Congress to overwhelmingly vote to strengthen conscience and religious freedom protections for our men and women in uniform. Passage of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act requires the Armed Forces to accommodate a service member’s ability to practice and express their religious beliefs and to issue regulations formalizing those safeguards.   For more information go to militaryfreedom.org.  Thank you for standing up for #militaryfreedom.  Please share this video with your friends and family!

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