I Will Not Be Silent

Alliance Defending Freedom provide slides from the Power Point presentation used by the U.S. Army Reserve in training soldiers on religious extremism.

I’ve been silent lately, not one of my usual characteristics, but much has been in the news which has troubled me. I’ve been thinking and not talking; researching and soul searching, not writing my blog. Today I decided my silence must end. I don’t like feeling my point of view is old-fashioned or outdated, like it hasn’t “evolved” with the times or with public opinion, that grand arbiter of what is right and wrong these days. Despite public opinion, I believe in absolutes, in right and wrong, in morals based on biblical principles versus moral relativism. In that vein, I would like to get a few things off my chest. Please bear with me. I’m not trying to offend; I’m trying to bear witness to truths I live by that still have relevance in our society but which are under attack every day.

 

My unease and feelings of defensiveness have grown recently with the Supreme Court cases concerning “gay marriage” and DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, not because they were taken up by the courts but because there was so much vitriol covered in the media against the idea of traditional marriage being between a man and a woman. My uneasiness grew after the Newtown tragedy and the push for gun control. I am puzzled by the push for more restrictive gun laws when we already have effective gun laws in place if they were enforced. We mustn’t forget that an unarmed citizenry is vulnerable; our founders knew this and ensured we would be able to protect ourselves. Hitler disarmed the people of his regime under the guise of public safety. We mustn’t allow our lawmakers to infringe on our Second Amendment rights under the same argument.

 

These two issues have caused me to think a lot about our rights, but today I read something that made my blood boil and caused me to wonder what kind of country the United States is becoming and what is happening at the government level. It frightens me. Here is an excerpt from what I read: “A U.S. Army Reserve Equal Opportunity training brief describes “Evangelical Christianity” and “Catholicism” as examples of “religious extremism,” according to the Archdiocese for the Military Services and the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, who shared a copy of the documents with The Christian Post.”
Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/evangelical-christianity-catholicism-labeled-extremist-in-army-presentation-93353/#QFzCbzK8YQlrwc2A.99 .

 

I realize we live in an age where political correctness rules the day, but in the last several years, I have felt increasing pressure regarding my religion and what it represents. You see, I am an evangelical Christian and am completely unashamed of the label. In fact, I wear it proudly. I believe in the Ten Commandments. I believe in the Golden Rule and the Great Commission. I believe in the promise of Easter, eternal life because Jesus died for the sins of humanity. As Jesus said in the book of John, chapter 14 verse 6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Now, I suppose, my beliefs and those of my fellow Evangelicals and the Catholic Church are considered extreme by the federal government, a troubling development.

 

I suppose we’re in good company. After all, since its beginnings Christianity has been controversial. Beginning with the death of Christ himself, people were ridiculed, maligned, and sometimes put to death for their beliefs in one god, not the many gods the Romans believed in or the lack of belief in God so apparent in our society today. Christians believe no matter if they are persecuted and maligned, however, because we have faith which comes from God. In the early days of Christianity, Christians met in secret to worship and commune with one another. They were treated as criminals in the second and third centuries by the Romans. Why would that be? Why did the Romans believe Christians posed a threat? Perhaps it is because we believe we were created in God’s image and won’t settle for only what a government is willing give us and to limit us to. We are meant for great things because we know God and believe in Him. And here’s the kicker: we want to share that wonderful truth with EVERYONE.

 

I thought today we had moved beyond labeling groups who do much more good than harm as extremists, but I realize in our media culture we are exposed to alternate viewpoints, barraged by them, in fact, on a daily basis. But I believe society is hungry for what Christianity offers. We wonder why children are angry and kill each other with guns when the institutions of marriage and the family, the bedrock of their young lives, is daily under assault. Children are told in school that their family, their way of life, their values are just some of the many values which are valid ways of thinking and believing in today’s world. Christians and people who believe in traditional family values are belittled and attacked and accused of being bigoted. What those who attack fail to understand is that Christians can’t and don’t change their beliefs because public opinion changes. We base our beliefs on The Bible and the words we find within it because we believe those words to be divinely inspired. Those don’t change as society does. The Bible doesn’t “evolve” because a poll indicates that what is within it is no longer “popular.”

 

Society must be careful about demonizing Christians or any other group of people. The lessons of the Holocaust are not terribly far in our past. Some people who survived that horror are still alive today, and they remember how it began. Hitler didn’t round up the Jews right away. He classified them, marginalized them and demonized them. He courted public opinion, blamed them for the ills of society, took away their rights slowly but surely. Genocides begin with classification. That is what this presentation by the Army did to evangelical Christians and Catholics. It classified us as extremists and listed us just above the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Quaeda in the presentation.

 

Around the world Christians are persecuted every day. Check out this watch list, “an annual survey of religious liberty conditions of Christians around the world. http://www.opendoorsuk.org/news/documents/WWL_2013.pdf  It measures the degree of freedom of a Christians to live out their faith in five spheres of life – private, family, community, congregation and national life – plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence.” It is published by Open Doors, an international charity serving persecuted Christians in over 50 countries around the world.

 

The fact is Christians are persecuted everywhere, and the verbal attacks against Christians and some attacks against churches here in the United States and the western world have increased. Of course, you must look to find these stories in the news. They aren’t widely reported. We Christians in America should be wary of how we are represented by others and vigilant about our freedom. What we believe may once again be counter-culture, as it was in biblical times, but our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and founded in part for people to be able to worship as they see fit. Our laws are based upon the Ten Commandments. Our freedom is dependent upon a populace who value the ideals and tenets of that freedom and understand that we are responsible for our liberty.

Our founders understood this. Daniel Webster who was a senator and also Secretary of State said, “[T]he Christian religion – its general principles – must ever be regarded among us as the foundation of civil society. Whatever makes men good Christians makes them good citizens.” Benjamin Franklin said, “As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and His religion as He left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see. And finally, Thomas Jefferson said, “The practice of morality being necessary for the well being of society, He [God] has taken care to impress its precepts so indelibly on our hearts that they shall not be effaced by the subtleties of our brain. We all agree in the obligation of the moral principles of Jesus and nowhere will they be found delivered in greater purity than in His discourses.”

I don’t intend to be silent about what I believe, and I will not allow others to silence me. I won’t sit idly by while Christianity and the traditional morals and values which have been the foundation of a successful society in the United States are maligned by those who don’t subscribe to them or wish to marginalize them because they believe them not to be inclusive or worse, bigoted. I know I am right about Christianity. It is not an extremist religion despite what the Army has written in its presentation. It is a religion which welcomes all who want peace and salvation. Remember what Edmund Burke once said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I am doing something about this. I won’t allow my values and beliefs to be marginalized. I hope others will join me in protecting our religion and our values and beliefs which have stood the test of centuries as good and inclusive despite what is said today.

 

 

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Act by Act, Word by Word

Since last Friday I have struggled to make sense of the senseless. I have tried to understand what can’t be understood. I have counted my blessings to have my own happy, healthy children who have lived to see adulthood. As a teacher I have wondered if I would have had the courage to do what those teachers in Connecticut did to shield the students in their care from harm. Along with our nation and the world I have mourned the precious lives lost in Newtown, Connecticut. I have tried to find words to express the ineffable sorrow conjured by this moment in time, a pivotal moment fraught with grief and politics, but also one I hope holds the key for change within our society.

For several days after hearing about the shooting in Newtown, I had no words to convey what I felt. Words seemed inadequate and still do. How do we comfort the parents of these children who will never see their faces again or hear their laughter? How do we comfort the families of the teachers and administrators who tried to protect those little children from this nightmare come to life? No words can convey our sorrow or our helplessness in the face of such grief. No gesture can offer enough comfort to ease their pain, but still we try because we can imagine all too well the same fate happening within our own communities to us. We still pray for them and reach out to the families of these precious children and wrap our arms around them even if it is from afar.

As I was returning home yesterday from Appleton where I finished my Christmas shopping and made a final grocery shopping run—two tasks which seemed incongruous in this moment—I turned on the radio. I looked for a Christmas carol station but couldn’t find one which had religious songs, only silly pop renditions of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and the like. I needed the comfort of calm, so I turned to NPR. I knew there would be no commercials and perhaps some classical music. Instead I realized the news was playing. Frankly, I didn’t want to hear another story about the shooting, but yesterday the first two funerals were held. The correspondent for NPR was covering those funerals. I was only half listening to the story because I was worried about an imminent snowstorm on Thursday and wondering how my youngest son would be able to make it home. Ironic, I know, that I worried in the midst of this tragedy, but parents worry no matter how old their children become. Despite my being distracted the words of the rabbi who attended Noah Pozner’s  funeral made it through my own thoughts.

I believe the rabbi’s name was Rabbi Shaul Praver, and what he said finally allowed me to make sense of what has happened. His words allowed a puzzle piece I had worried over to fall into it’s proper place and filled me with calm purpose for the first time since last Friday. I regret I must paraphrase because I was so taken in that moment that I forget the rabbi’s exact words. He said Noah and the others who died are with God in heaven. It is up to us now to bring heaven down to Earth, act by act and word by word.  Wow! Those words sang through my consciousness. Finally, here is something I can do. I can make a difference each day by treating all people with kindness and compassion. I can be the light of heaven here on Earth. We all can. Another rabbi interviewed on the news, Rabbi Yehoshua Hecht said that we can “elevate and sanctify our lives in honor of these children.” Even those of us who are far away from Newtown can make a difference in this life. We can’t change what has already happened, but we can honor the memory of those lost by how we live. Even if we only touch one person with kindness, perhaps that one moment will make the difference between life and death.

The idea that we reach out to others one kind act at a time is what I am advocating here. Why should we do this? We should reach out because each life is precious, because we are our brother’s keeper. Each life on this planet contributes to every other life even if we aren’t always aware of our affect. Just look at the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. We all affect each other’s lives in so many small and sometimes great ways, and we will never know how great an impact we have had on our fellow man, at least not while we’re here. We are and should be responsible for each other. Let’s remember what John Donne wrote in 1624 in his Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation17. I won’t quote the whole passage here, but the words do explain why each of us must make a difference in the lives of others. He says, “No man is an island, entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind.”  Though these words were written so long ago, Donne’s message applies to today’s tragic circumstances.

Most of us will mark this tragedy in our own personal ways by hugging our children, by praying, by taking some sort of action. However we decide to accomplish the task, I believe we must make a difference in our world. Perhaps this tragedy will be the impetus for true change in our society. Perhaps we will mean it when we ask someone how they are instead of using “how are you” as a greeting. Perhaps we will be patient when we drive behind an elderly person. Perhaps we will treat the young men and women in middle and high schools not as delinquents but as people with strong opinions trying on adulthood. Perhaps we will guide them instead of ridiculing them. Perhaps we will treat each other as human beings worthy of love and forgiveness and kindness.

We must take responsibility for each other, act by act, word by word. We must bring God’s heaven down to earth and shine the light of His love into the darkness we see in the world. Get off social media for a while and interact in a physical way with your friends, family, and strangers. Become “involved in mankind.” Talk to people in the grocery store. Chat with the lady collecting money for the Salvation Army. Chat with the older gentleman in the pew next to you at church. Then really listen to what they have to say in return. Learn their stories. Embrace them with kindness. Become a part of your own communities. Make a difference.  Honor the memory of those who lost their lives long before they could make a difference here on Earth. Perhaps if we do these things, the wish for peace we all share at this time of the year will become reality.

 

“No Man Is an Island”

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

                                John Donne