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Politics in the Pulpit

Politics in the Pulpit

One of the concerns that has been consistently expressed about the rise of LGBT rights is that this will suppress religious rights. “Nonsense,” detractors have said, “that will never happen.”

This week’s events in Houston rather prove that, in fact, the LGBT agenda will have chilling effects on free exercise of religion. The city of Houston subpoenaed the sermons of churches in response to the church’s opposition to opposition of an ordinance designed to allow access to either male or female restrooms depending on personal preference.

From the Houston Chronicle:

City attorneys issued subpoenas last month as part of the case’s discovery phase, seeking, among other communications, “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”

From my perspective, all restrictions on pulpit ministry should be dropped. It is a restriction on free speech. I realize that this is not the law of the land, but it should be.

Why should we tell pastors they cannot organize politically? Pastors were involved in organizing the American Revolution. They led the way in the fight against slavery. They were (and are) advocates of civil rights (ever heard of the Baptist Martin Luther King?). Through all of these events the pulpit was a powerful political force. The past few years have shown a full retreat on the mix of politics and pastoral influence. I am not sure that’s an altogether healthy thing. Perhaps it’s time for the pendulum to swing back the other way.

Great Article on Hobby Lobby & Personal Liberty

Great Article on Hobby Lobby & Personal Liberty

Does Hobby Lobby have the right to say “no” to Obamacare mandates? I just read this article and couldn’t agree more with the thoughtful evaluation.

Americans of all stripes, most of them at least, consider religious liberty to be one of the signal achievements of the era of the American revolution. Why, then, are “Progressives” so hostile to the religious pluralism that inevitably results from religious liberty?

The Road to Progressive Dhimmitude by Richard Samuelson

Well worth reading the whole thing…

By the way, I note that he writes that Puritans saw marriage as a “government only” sort of thing: a civil contract. Never heard that line before. Personally, I would like to see us go in the opposite direction. Marriage should be a completely void of government acknowledgement or benefit. It’s the only way forward in a pluralistic society.

Pro-Immigrant AND Anti-Immigration?

Pro-Immigrant AND Anti-Immigration?

Over the past month a group called the Evangelical Immigration Table has been sponsoring a campaign to raise awareness about immigration reform. Their platform statement includes the following items:

  1. Respects the God-given dignity of every person
  2. Protects the unity of the immediate family
  3. Respects the rule of law
  4. Guarantees secure national borders
  5. Ensures fairness to taxpayers
  6. Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents

Jesus charged us to care for the stranger (or foreigner, to use a term that I think is more accurate in the Biblical text) among us. It’s Biblical justice and shame on us that we don’t do better at it than we do.

But is there justice behind building a Democrat voting block and welfare state through increased immigration? I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind. I can’t help but wring my hands and worry that the EIT’s push will result in this outcome.

The history of Evangelicals mixing with politics is not one that makes me proud. We are either become strident and harm the reputation of Christ or we are duped and become the unwitting instruments of evil. I want to be pro-immigrant but I also would like to see an end to abusive illegal immigration that is being forced on us by the current administration and those on the political left.

Is there room for somebody to be pro-immigrant AND anti-immigration?

I think I will wait for the specifics of the legislation.

Want to read more?

Book Review: Men on Strike

Book Review: Men on Strike

This was a hard book for me to review. I think that Dr. Smith gets the diagnosis right: she says that our culture has become increasingly hostile to men in light of an increasing pervasive push to empower women. The problem I have with this book is that her recommendation is for men to become selfishly protective of their rights. Is this a good response? I am not so sure. Would it not be better for both men and women to embrace their uniqueness and embrace their gender in a mutually respecting relationship that honors one another?

Dr. Smith notes that men have been increasingly withdrawing from society and retreating into a world of men-only living, video games, and marriage-free existence. I don’t see how one can argue as the facts speak for themselves. Men are giving up and giving out the keys to the home, workplace, and culture. Men are enjoying fewer and fewer privileges in society while these same privileges are piling up for women. From college to child custody to due process men have allowed women to cow them into a place of submissive apology. This is, I believe, mostly true. Despite the urban myth, men are not earning as much as women, they are taking a back seat in the classroom and they are overwhelmingly favored in our court system. It’s time to stop the feminist movement – it has largely succeeded and now is living in excess.

So what to do about it? Dr. Smith explores a range of options from fighting to “going Galt” (dropping out of society). Herein is the weakness of the book. Her stark libertarianism provides no basis, at least no moral basis, for what men should do in society. So rather than embrace the selfless role model we find in Christ and the Christian view of gender she treats the reader to a selfish model.

This book is one more brick in the wall of my opposition to libertarianism. There is so much I like about libertarianism. I believe it’s the future of the Republican Party (if, of course, the Republican Party has a future). It’s the only logical choice our secular culture will accept as a balance to the rising nanny state that Democrats offer. But at its core it’s nothing more than selfishness made into a political worldview. “Men on Strike” is part and parcel of this sort of pragmatic selfishness.

Should you read it? Yes, you should. But keep in mind that replacing the left’s insistence on “my rights” with the libertarian version of the same does not create a civil society.

The Collision of Two Rights Make this Wrong

The Collision of Two Rights Make this Wrong

The Foundry has reported on one of the briefs in the upcoming Supreme Court battle on same sex marriage. If the court affirms gay marriage religious liberties will be curtailed.

Religious liberty doesn’t stop at the church doors. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the nonpartisan public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religions, filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court making the case that legal recognition of same-sex relationships as marriages creates hazards for religious liberty, particularly when courts impose a redefinition of marriage.

This is a pretty significant court case. Christians (and Muslims, Mormons, Jews, or any other religious body) will experience limits on the use of federal funds, limited access to federal jobs,contracts, be subject to lawsuits, and many other bureaucratic pressures.

Shame and the Welfare Ethic

Shame and the Welfare Ethic

From our many friends at Wikipedia:

The Protestant work ethic (or the Puritan work ethic) is a concept in theology, sociology, economics and history which emphasizes hard work, frugality and prosperity as a display of a person’s salvation in the Christian faith. The phrase was initially coined in 1904 by Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

It is argued that Protestants, beginning with Martin Luther, had reconceptualised worldly work as a duty which benefits both the individual and society as a whole.

Religious worldviews have consequences. I agree with Max Weber’s definition of the Protestant Work Ethic: I personally believe that one of the reasons the United States has enjoyed financial growth is an embrace of the Protestant worldview, influenced by Calvin, and reinforced by a morality that suggests that work is redemptive.

The Protestant Work Ethic and the Welfare Ethic are two opposing views (with religious underpinnings) that are along the fault line of American society’s current national debate. For those who hold to a worldview ensconced in the Protestant Work Ethic, welfare is only to be seen as necessary evil, a stopgap measure to help those who have been overwhelmed by circumstance. Protestantism, of course, was a protest against a state-run church. The individualism of Protestant theology has been a bulwark against statism and the state is seen as a force for evil which must be contained. Nobody summed this distinction up better than Reagan when he said, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

The Welfare Ethic is a completely different view in which welfare, provided by a benevolent state, is for the common good. In this view, helping the poor is not the responsibility of the individual but of the state. Paying taxes is a moral act of charity and creates fairness in society (I believe that some have called paying taxes, “patriotic”). European Evangelicals have long ago held to the Welfare Ethic in understanding and interpreting Christianity. Catholicism, which itself was the government for many years, has a positive view of the state and teaches that government is a force for good. President Obama has been consistently growing the size and scope of the welfare state and, in contrast to Reagan, sees government as the solution.

Between November 5th and November 7th last week, our country did not change. The election does provide, however, a snapshot of what has been long changing in our society. A significant part of the change is religious. Protestantism as a backdrop for the moral choices of our nation is receding and it is being replaced with a statist worldview that embraces the Welfare Ethic.

At one time most Americans would have seen a young, able-bodied man on food stamps (or other welfare assistance) as shameful. I personally know three of them, in their mid-twenties, with the ability to at least work a part-time job. “No,” one of them told me, “for $10 an hour it’s not worth it and it might mess with my eligibility.”

This is the Welfare Ethic in the new America. There is no shame in welfare.

Should there be?

Faith-Based Organizations and the Obama Administration

Faith-Based Organizations and the Obama Administration

I have been avoiding politics on the blog, though I am avid political junkie. I have decided that, because it’s an area in which I have some expertise and experience, I would provide you with my thoughts on this topic.

Often we lose sight of the importance that faith-based nonprofits have played in our nation’s history. From churches to soup kitchens these institutions have shepherded us, fed us, healed us, and have educated us. Currently, with the destruction of Sandy on the eastern seaboard, groups such as Samaritan Purse are providing on-the-ground support for families (you can donate here).

A healthy non-profit sector opens the door to less government and greater civil life. It’s my view that as a society we should be encouraging non-profit activities and do so with economic incentives. These should be applied fairly, regardless of religious affiliation but not by discriminating against religion or faith-based organizations. This is what I see happening with the present Obama administration.

My question for today is: How does the Obama administration regard faith-based non-profits?

The first thing that stands out to me is the Obama administration’s handling of the HHS policy on employer mandated contraceptive benefits. I am not opposed to contraception. However, our government is making religious institutions, particularly Catholic organizations, participate in the delivery of contraception against their will. I think there will be a significant number of Catholic voters who take this into account on Election Day. Evangelicals should also pay attention to this issue. While Evangelicals typically do not forbid contraception like Catholics, the idea that the government is forcing Catholics to include this in insurance coverage is chilling.

Another change that the Obama team was wrought on the non-profit world is what I call “onerous bureaucracy” in the form of required paperwork for non-profit activity. Mostly private sector abuses produced a rise in government-mandated oversight in what is called the “Sarbanes-Oxley.” I fault nobody’s intention here: people want our businesses and non-profits to operate with transparency and effective management. That’s a good thing. This set of regulations, however, increases legal and audit costs unreasonably. Keep in mind that many non-profits are “kitchen table” organizations: they are small and have limited funds. While Sarbanes-Oxley does have a “sliding scale” regarding the amount of oversight (larger organizations are required to have more oversight than smaller ones) the impact is wasted time and money. Do these new regulations help? I don’t think they help much. Frankly, I don’t see this changing much under a Romney administration. To be fair, this sort of regulation precedes the Obama administration. Yet, it provides an open door to government intrusion and my trust level for the current administration to restrain themselves from interference is nil.

Federal policy mandating anti-discrimination policy is another issue facing non-profits, particularly religious non-profits. For example, USAID, the official humanitarian and development branch of the US government, has been directed by the Obama administration to strongly encourage all contractors to develop anti-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation. In other words, if you are a non-profit delivering services through a grant or program of USAID you must adopt a pro-gay-rights view of civil rights. This is the strategy that homosexual rights advocates are using to stop Christian teaching on the immorality of homosexuality. Since many religiously affiliated organizations provide the sorts of aid services USAID might want to see delivered, this policy discriminates against religious organizations (see this link for more info on this).

In 2010 (and subsequent years), the Obama administration proposed limiting charitable donations made by wealthy donors (see this link and this one). This is a direct attack by the administration on charities’ ability to raise funds. I am amazed it hasn’t gotten more press than it has and, fortunately, it hasn’t been able to pass muster with congress.

Some might argue that President Obama does care about faith-based partnerships because he created the “White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships” (see this link).  I personally am not aware of any ways it has helped the religious non-profit sector. I would be very interested to learn how it has helped so please let me know your thoughts on this.

The election process has produced a stark contrast between President Obama’s giving to charity versus Governor Romney’s giving. The lack of personal giving on the part of our president is one of my greatest concerns about President Obama. For somebody who has been a “community activist” I would think that there would be a serious appreciation for the role of charities in society. The organizations with which he has been affiliated are, of course, supported by donations and grants. In spite of this, the current administration has whittled away at the rights and privileges that faith-based organizations have enjoyed for many years.

Numerous studies contrasting giving by liberals and conservatives reveal a huge discrepancy. Klein shows that liberals give to secular causes while conservatives give to faith-based initiatives (this is the article here). Klein is wrong about one thing: liberals and conservatives do not give at the same rate. Conservatives give far more to charitable causes, particularly faith-based causes, than liberals do (here is an article about it, and here is another one – there are lots – there is even a cool interactive tool you can use). Before you flame me with comments about how unfair I am to make this statement, check the data! An interesting note is that Utah – the Mormon bee hive – is the most generous state and I bet most of that is going to support the Mormon machine.

From my perspective, liberals tend to see government as the answer and therefore they subconsciously (and often consciously) consider taxes as a part of what they “give.” Liberals have made the contention that paying taxes is patriotic. That is a redefinition of “I gave at the office,” which makes me cringe. It’s also one of the reasons why I will not be pulling the handle for President Obama in this election cycle.

If you work for a faith-based non-profit or believe in giving to them I would suggest you do a little research on this before casting a ballot for President Obama. He has not been friendly toward us and it’s a bit scary to think what will happen in the next four years. Since this is (in his own words) “his last election.” We might be in for some pretty big surprises.

Free Book on Romney’s Faith

Free Book on Romney’s Faith

A few months back I reviewed a book that was edited by a friend. Today (and tomorrow) that book is being offered free on Amazon for all Kindle readers.

Here is where you can get the free book: The Mormon Faith of Mitt Romney.

Now that Romney is the presumptive Republican nominee you might want to learn a little bit about his faith. This book is written from an evangelical perspective and is not a smear job, but I think you will find some surprises in it (I sure did).


Missionaries on Welfare

Missionaries on Welfare

Two converging events have created in me a need to write this post – a post that will no doubt offend (or embarrass) a few of my fellow Christian workers. Please forgive me for what I am about to write.

This past week the Obama campaign rolled out a fictitious story about Julia. Julia’s story unfolds on the computer screen telling us about all the ways that Uncle Barack has come to the rescue in the form of government assistance just when Julia was at her time of greatest need. It contrasts these benefits with all the heinous cuts the evil Republicans are planning to make. The Republicans responded fiercely, painting Julia as a ward of the state, sucking from the teat of government rather than making her own way in life (that’s the first time I have ever used the word “teat” in a blog post!). One rather cute  tweet noted that, most likely, Julia will be moving in with mom and dad after college since she cannot find a job.

This got me thinking about the “support-raised Christian workers” who are taking advantage of government welfare programs. They are, in effect, missionaries on welfare.

The phrase, “support-raised Christian workers” refers to people working in organizations that require their staff members to find donations to pay for their ministry cost. I am aware of a number of them that are now sucking at that same teat (2nd time!!) as Julia. The issue to which I am referring is almost exclusively found among US-based staff (none of the aforementioned “welfare missionaries” are with Pioneers, mind you, although there may be some).

My bias against welfare is about to come out and I apologize in advance for being such a troglodyte about government assistance. I have this old-fashioned idea that welfare is not supposed to be a part of a household’s economy unless there are (negative) extenuating circumstances. In other words, if you are on welfare, you have problems and need help.

I have learned, however, that many consider government welfare (whether it concerns food stamps, school lunch assistance, or any other range of assistance programs) to be “rights.” In other words, if you qualify, than it is your “right” to have it.

There is something that seems wrong about deciding to work a bit less at fundraising because, with a lower income level, one can top off the budget with free school lunches. Worse yet? Qualifying for food stamps or assistance payments that allows a person to continue in ministry despite budget shortfalls. If one works for a non-profit I assume the idea is to provide a service to society, not to ask society to give you welfare benefits. After all, non-profits already get a government break through reduced taxation.

As I pondered this, I realized that I myself have sucked at a government teat (wow – three times in post!) but perhaps not the same one. Just this past month my wife and I refinanced our house. We qualified for a lower interest rate through an FHA-sponsored program that covered most of our closing costs, courtesy of the Obama administration, based on when we purchased our home. I didn’t ask for it – in fact, we were bombarded by offers and simply couldn’t pass it up (that’s my justification for doing it). If one extrapolates this to include other benefits of government for which I qualify (roads, bridges, protection from the US armed forces, etc.) I suppose we all get government assistance of some sort.

Still, am I wrong to suggest that missionaries who raise their support should think twice before getting welfare benefits?

What do you think?

Crimes of Conscience

Crimes of Conscience

Yousef Nadarkhani, a 34-year-old Iranian father of 2, has been convicted of the crime of converting from Islam to Christianity. The sentence could be carried out at any time. We may wake up tomorrow to read of his death, or we might wake up as the Iranian government pats itself on the back for releasing him to show the world their tolerance. You can read more by clicking here.

His case highlights a global injustice. Particularly in Islamic countries, blasphemy laws make it a crime to choose one’s own religion.

In the West we pride ourselves on the freedom of speech. And we should. We believe it’s of value to protect the rights of minorities. And we should. We value freedom of conscience. And, of course, we should. I can think of no greater assault on these ideals of Western liberal society than the archaic, medieval, blasphemy laws that send so many to prison and sometimes, to death.

Our current president has been nothing short of abysmal on this issue. Under his watch Christians have been exterminated or forced to flee Iraq. Coptic Christians in Egypt are better candidates for the endangered species list than most of the wildlife threatened by the Keystone Pipeline. Our foreign policy should reflect concrete steps to reward those nations that extend complete freedom of conscience to its citizens while punishing those that do not.

In this year of presidential elections I have my ear to the ground listening for any sign that our elected officials, and those aspiring to be elected, understand the importance both pressuring these repressive regimes when it comes to religious freedom.

Please join with me in praying pastor Nadarkhani.