The Intolerable Intolerance of the Dallas Mayor

As a lead-in to the July 4th holiday season, First Baptist Church, Dallas, paid a company to display on a DFW billboard, “America is a Christian Nation.”

The response from the “offended” was akin to Wyatt Earp’s famous line from the movie, Tombstone,” “Tell’em I’m comin’.  And hell’s comin’ with me!”  (You can read about all the drama from Dallas’ own local newspaper here.)  In short, the hatefully biased editorial might as well have said, “How dare you proclaim a religious worldview different from mine!”

Let’s slow this down, think critically, and have some civil discourse, shall we?

There are two critical issues at play here.

First:  Is America a Christian nation?

This answer is tricky because of how the question is presented.

For instance, if the question were asked, “Is Christianity the state religion of the United States?”  The answer is an indisputable “no.”

I sat in an intriguing lecture given by sociologist, Tony Campolo, once.  He rightly stated,

“America is not a Christian nation – but it is most certainly ‘spiritual.”

But, if the question was presented, “Was the United States created based on the principles of the Christian faith?”  The answer is an indisputable “yes.”

Before those who are thinking, “How dare you question that America is a Christian nation??” google my address and remove the American flag that is proudly displayed outside my house, read on…

What, exactly, were the religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers? 

They were diverse.

Some of our Founding Fathers were professed believers in Christ.

Historians tend to believe, based on what he wrote, that George Washington was a professed Christian, having strongly believed not merely in a Creator/God, but that salvation was found by putting one’s faith in Christ alone.

Some Founding Fathers were Deists. (Including some of the most famous.)

“Deism” can be described as strongly believing in a Creator/God without believing that said Creator can be personally known and experienced through God the Son, Jesus Christ.  This is why “Creator” was used in our Declaration of Independence rather than God or Christ.

For example, holding to deism, Thomas Jefferson fastidiously removed from his Bible all gospel accounts pertaining to miracles, including the resurrection of Christ because he didn’t believe in it.  (See photo below.  Read more about Thomas Jefferson and his religious beliefs here from the Smithsonian.)

Benjamin Franklin was asked point-blank about his religious beliefs.  His wrote,

“Here is my Creed, I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by His Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable Service we render to him, is doing Good to his other Children.”

But Franklin’s religious convictions require a delicate dance of interpretation.  In the quote cited above, Franklin’s conviction is in perfect harmony with the gospel.  But, in reference to Jesus Christ, he goes on to write,

As for Jesus of Nazareth … I think the system of Morals and Religion as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw … but I have … some Doubts to his Divinity.”

Translation:  Franklin had serious doubts as to whether Jesus was the Son of God.

My point?  As I stated earlier, the religious convictions of the Founding Fathers were diverse.

Now, before the Anti-Christian-Nation folks raise the “I told you so” banner, be aware that, despite the Founding Fathers’ diverse convictions regarding the person of Jesus Christ, the following axioms are well founded and documented:

1) They believed in a transcendent God – a Creator who was not created, outside of time and space, existing outside of nature.

2) They believed in an afterlife where both good and bad behavior was either rewarded or punished.  Ben Franklin affirmed,

“The soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this.”

3) They believed in objective morality as put forth in scripture (killing, stealing, lying, adultery, etc. is inherently wrong).

So, what you’re telling me is that, although the Founding Fathers differed on beliefs about the Bible, the United States was still created based on Christian principles like the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ “sermon on the mount”?  Yes.  This is precisely why, to the consternation of many, some city court houses still display the Ten Commandments.

While some may work feverishly to deny the Founding Fathers’ respect for and use of biblical truth, the fact is that the Bible was clearly the foundation for their worldview.  For example, John Adams professed to be Christian but did not believe in the divinity of Jesus (that Jesus is God – which is a central tenet of the Christian faith).  Nonetheless, conveying his conviction regarding the wisdom and authority of the Bible, he wrote,

“Those general principles of Christianity are as external and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”  He went on to write, “The Bible is the best book in the world.  It contains more of my… philosophy than all the libraries I have seen.”

Perhaps FBC, Dallas, wanted to employ “shock value” in their billboard to create interest (that certainly worked.)  But, regardless of their rationale for choosing the particular wording,  they have the constitutional right and freedom to convey their religious beliefs – regardless of how much the local mayor may not like it.

Which leads me to the second critical issue at play here…

The Dallas Mayor, Mike Rawlings, has demonstrated absolutely zero knowledge and/or understanding of the First Amendment to our Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson was passionate in his conviction for the ratification of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which states,

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

According to our own Constitution, the Dallas Mayor is completely free to believe what he wants to believe.

And so is FBC, Dallas (and the rest of us, as well.) 

The billboard was paid for by private funds and can say whatever the client wants it to say.  (Obviously, nudity, profanity, etc., are legitimate grounds for an advertisement’s removal.  But not religious views.)

Clearly, the grandstanding by the Dallas Mayor is nothing but an attack on Christianity, free speech, and the freedom of religion.

The Mayor has employed his own, personal, subjective religious/political filter as to what ought – and ought not -to be displayed publicly, which is representative more of bigotry and hate than respect and tolerance.

Just last year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the American Atheist Organization purchased and displayed huge billboards claiming the biblical story of Christ’s birth is “Fake News”. 

Where were some of the billboards displayed?  Dallas.

Sure, some Christians hollered and complained.  Did the billboards result in a Dallas city government uproar?  Nope.

I have absolutely no problem with the American Atheists posting the billboards.  It’s their constitutional right.  And I am thankful for that right.   In fact, it offered wonderful opportunities to dialogue with people, allowing me to express why I personally believe the biblical Christian faith is logical, intelligent, and makes the best sense of the world around us.

In sum – and I can’t emphasize my conviction enough:  the American Atheist Organization has every right to display whatever worldview they want.  Although I don’t agree with their views, I celebrate their right to publicly share what they believe just as much as I celebrate mine.

Finally, not only does the Dallas Mayor, Mike Rawlings, demonstrate an embarrassing understanding of the First Amendment, but, referencing FBC, Dallas’ “America is a Christian Nation” billboard, he demonstrates an equally embarrassing understanding of the Bible, making the following claim:

“That is not the Christ I follow. It’s not the Dallas I want to be – to say things that do not unite us but divide us. I never heard those words – that voice come out of Christ. Just the opposite. I was brought up to believe: Be proud of yours, but do not diminish mine.”

Dear.  God.  Come on, Mike.  Where did you find in the Bible, “Be proud of yours, but do not diminish mine?”  Can you quote me a chapter & verse for that one?

If Rawlings’ own comments weren’t so divisive, incendiary and biblically ignorant they would be laughable.  (The gospels are replete with Jesus warning his listeners that following him will offend others, divide their families, and potentially even cost them their lives.”)

In short: the sad irony is that the Mayor is doing the exact same thing he is accusing FBC, Dallas, of doing.  At its root, his words are nothing more than myopic bigotry.

So much for tolerance.

FBC, Dallas, could’ve done better in the original wording of their billboard.

AND THEY TRIED…

…by agreeing to change it to: “Is America a Christian Nation?”  But, by that time, the politics, bigotry and intolerance had done its desired damage, pressuring the billboard company to back out altogether.  No worries, though.  Another billboard company has offered to display FBC’s message on twenty billboards.  (Thank you, un-hateful billboard company, for possessing at least an elementary understanding of the U.S. Constitution.)

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Hate Speech vs. Free Speech

“Hate speech” is a subjective phrase.

Far too often, “disagreement” is construed as “hate.”  This is played out on college campuses through the U.S.

Furthering the subjective nature of defining “hate speech”, Facebook is relying “on its nearly two billion users to report any hateful posts they see. Workers then review the posts and decide whether to delete it.” That’s two billion people plus FB’s 4500 (soon to be 7500) “hate-speech-police” deciding what “hate speech,” in their opinion, is.  Apparently, with “66k posted being deleted per week,” there’s not shortage of hateful posts.

FB says that this “can feel like censorship.” Ya think?

YouTube, owned by Google, has begun a similar crackdown on “hate speech.” As I stated earlier, “hate speech” inevitably will be defined differently by different people. Here’s how YouTube defines “hate speech”:

…anything that “promotes discrimination or disparages or humiliates an individual or group of people on the basis of the individual’s or group’s race, ethnicity, or ethnic origin, nationality, religion, disability, age, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other characteristic associated with systematic discrimination or marginalization.”

This can/will get controversial quickly. 

Although I completely agree with – and applaud – Facebook’s & Google’s premise, I’ll be interested to watch where this goes – more specifically, where it ends up where the freedom to convey biblical Christian doctrine is concerned.

People erroneously argue, “Jesus never offended anyone.  He was a nice, wonderful, loving teacher.”  I submit to you that being “nice” doesn’t get one executed on a Roman Cross.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

Freedom of Religion? Yes. Freedom of Biblical Christianity? Not so much.

I customarily do not address politics in this publication.  We all have our convictions and opinions where politics is concerned.

Having said that, the issue of religious freedom is a bipartisan issue clearly supported by the United States Constitution – and I have no reluctance for speaking to, or defending, that freedom.

The big news last week was the attack on religious freedom by two U.S. Senators.  The person under religious attack was Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Russell Vought is an alumni of Wheaton College, a strongly evangelical Christian school.  Approximately a year and a half ago, a Wheaton professor, Dr. Larycia Hawkins stated that Muslims and Christians worship the same God – which is, according to the message of the Bible vs. the message of the Quran, blatantly false.  (For a brief explanation of the exclusivity of the world’s major religions click here.) While still a professor at Wheaton, Hawkins had written, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book.  And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

Wheaton College terminated Dr. Hawkins. As you can imagine, a firestorm of debate ensued.  One of the editorials written in the weeks that followed Dr. Hawkins’ termination was one by Mr. Vought  explaining the discrepancy between Islamic and Biblical theology.  You can read that editorial here.

At Mr. Vought’s confirmation hearing last week, two Senators – Bernie Sanders & Christopher Van Hollen Jr. – asked probing questions about Mr. Vought’s Christian faith.  But they didn’t stop there.  What followed was an overt attack on Mr. Vought’s Christian faith and how, in the senators’ opinion, Mr. Vought’s faith makes him unqualified to serve in public office.   The attack on Vought’s Christian faith was done under the guise that his Christian faith might impede his ability to treat people fairly.  You can view the the exchange between Sanders & Vought below.  It’s less than 3 minutes in length.

Clearly, Senator Sanders’ implication is that one’s faith should be a litmus test to serve in public office.  This is where the real firestorm exploded.  Sanders defiantly defended his comments by saying, “In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.”  So, here Mr. Sanders makes a fundamental mistake:  he defends one of the world’s religions (Islam) and attacks another (Christianity).  It is significant to understand that, both, Islam and Christianity make exclusive claims for truth.  But, alas, only Christianity gets attacked.

And, speaking of Christianity, Senator Christopher Van Hollen Jr., offered this convoluting comment.  Speaking to Mr. Vought, he says,

“I think it is irrefutable that these kinds of comments suggest to a whole lot of Americans that, number one . . . you are condemning people of all faiths. I’m a Christian, but part of being a Christian in my view is recognizing that there are lots of ways that people can pursue their God. . . .

I’m happy the senator said, “…in my view…”  Because, clearly, the Senator is sorely unfamiliar with his Bible.  He is justified in saying that “there are lots of ways that people can pursue their God.”  No one disagrees with that.  However, according to the Bible, there’s only one way to know the God of the Bible: through faith in his son, Jesus Christ.

The Huffington Post defended Sanders’ statements, creating their own version of logic.  The author, James Zogby, wrote:

It is Vought, not Sanders who has used a religious test to support the firing of a tenured professor. His demonstrated intolerance is a disturbing trait for someone in public service. Vought may claim that all are “worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs”, but when it came to Professor Hawkins, a fellow Christian, Vought behaved quite differently, precisely because her description of her faith did not comport with his narrow interpretation of Christian theology.

Zogby’s logic is myopic and erroneous.  Dr. Hawkins was teaching non-Christian doctrine at an expressly evangelical Christian college, and was not running for public office.  (I would invite Mr. Zogby to try and teach non-Islamic doctrine at an Islamic school and see what happens next.) Comparing the two stories is an argument based on Zogby’s errant logic, biased opinion and gross ignorance of the biblical gospel.

As expected, the ACLU, quickly jumped to Sanders’ defense by writing:

“Religious freedom is such a fundamental liberty that the framers of our Constitution enshrined it in the First Amendment. That’s why it’s so disturbing that Trump continues to pack his administration with appointees like Russell Vought, whose views threaten that very freedom.”

Once again, every world religion is given a pass – except Christianity.  The hypocrisy was deafening.  And the world noticed.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention responded to Sanders’ comments.  He said:

Senator Sanders’ comments are breathtakingly audacious and shockingly ignorant — both of the Constitution and of basic Christian doctrine. Even if one were to excuse Senator Sanders for not realizing that all Christians of every age have insisted that faith in Jesus Christ is the only pathway to salvation, it is inconceivable that Senator Sanders would cite religious beliefs as disqualifying an individual for public office in defiance of the United States Constitution. No religious test shall ever be required of those seeking public office. While no one expects Senator Sanders to be a theologian, we should expect far more from an elected official who has taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution.

Sen. James Lankford (I’ve met Senator Lankford) warned that Sanders’ comments come “dangerously close to crossing a clear constitutional line for how we evaluate qualifications for public service.”  He continued,

“The First Amendment is crystal clear that the federal government must protect every American’s right to the peaceful and free exercise of religion.  We cannot say we have the free exercise of religion and also require people to practice their faith only in a way that government officials prefer.”

Emma Green, writing for the secular publication, The Atlantic, defended Vought:

It’s one thing to take issue with bigotry. It’s another to try to exclude people from office based on their theological convictions. Sanders used the term “Islamophobia” to suggest that Vought fears Muslims for who they are. But in his writing (in his editorial for Wheaten College), Vought was contesting something different: He disagrees with what Muslims believe, and does not think their faith is satisfactory for salvation. Right or wrong, this is a conviction held by millions of Americans—and many Muslims might say the same thing about Christianity.

As you can imagine, Twitter blew up over this story.  NYT Best-Selling author, Eric Metaxas, tweeted,

“What [Sen. Sanders] did was in fact so bad, and so un-American, that we should be demanding his resignation.  It is a stunning moment in our history.”

And the conservative news site, The Federalist, disseminated all the jargon by tweeting simply, “Senator Sanders doesn’t think Christians are fit for public office.”

A friend of mine from HBU (he lives in the beautiful state of Vermont – the state Sanders represents) wrote a blog entitled, Senator Bernie Sanders and the Inverse Religious Test for Civil Service.  He writes, “Dear Senator Sanders,…

“…a worldview that affirms all other worldviews to be true is a contradiction in and of itself because it is evidently not true that all worldviews can be simultaneously true… The issue is that when you hold certain beliefs, you are espousing a particular worldview, and that worldview is inevitably at odds with other worldviews… You claim to embrace tolerance, but you are in fact being intolerant of Mr. Vought simply because of his freely chosen religious beliefs. That is hypocrisy.”

In the Washington Post, Jim Wallace wrote an editorial with the following subtitle: Democrats could stand to know more about religion.  Christians also need to express our beliefs without vitriol.  After reading Wallace’s article, I found it’s Wallace who needs to learn more about what Jesus said and did.  He would find this:  the gospel, by its very nature, is offensiveIt tells us we’re hopeless sinners in desperate need of a Savior.  And it tells us that those who die, having not professed their faith in Christ, will stand in judgment of hell You can’t proclaim the gospel of Jesus and count on everyone liking you – just ask Jesus.  They crucified him. 

Senator Sanders exposed his true motive during the hearing.  He has little interest in religious freedom – if you’re a Christian.  Additionally, he has no concept of the fundamental differences between world religions.  Finally, he is accusing Mr. Vought of making daily decisions based on his convictions when he is doing the very thing: deciding to attack Mr. Vought based on his own convictions. Religious or not, do we not all live our lives based on fundamental principles in which we strongly believe?

Let me be perfectly clear – if this story were turned around 180 degrees, and an evangelical Christian Senator had attacked the religious convictions of a political nominee representing a different religion, I would be writing the same opinion piece on behalf of the individual who was being marginalized and harassed.  If you don’t like someone’s religious faith or worldview – and they’re running for public office – don’t vote for them.  But, we must never personally attack them because of their faith or suggest they are less of a person solely because they don’t hold to the same convictions/worldview we do.

The moment we allow this to take place in government is the moment Religious Freedom will be a thing of the past.

I titled this blog “Freedom of Religion? Yes.  Freedom of Biblical Christianity?  Not so much.”  Here’s why:  (1) I use the term “biblical Christianity” because the term “Christian” is widely used and, as such, means different things to different people.  For instance, in this blog both, Dr. Hawkins and Senator Van Hollen Jr., refer to themselves as Christians while, apparently, holding to doctrines not taught in the Bible.  (2) While some might prefer to remove religious principles from any and all decisions made by those serving in public office, it is logically impossible to divorce someone’s decisions from what they believe – we’re not robots.  

We all have convictions, beliefs and principles that drive our daily decisions and make us who we are.  Senator Sanders, here, defends Islamic faith, while attacking Christian faith.  If this is true (and I don’t see any other way to interpret it), then Senator Sanders – and those who defend his statements – represent those who, according to their words, believe in the freedom of religion – as long as it’s not the Christian faith.

In sum, if Senator Sanders were to read a Bible I suspect he would never have attacked Mr. Vought’s Christian faith. For, he would see in the gospels that, although Jesus clearly states he is the only way to God, he never imposed his convictions on a single person.  On the contrary, he preached the truth and left the decision to trust him solely up to the listener, even when his message resulted in many people choosing to no longer follow him.  Jesus never compromised the truth of his message (and this made him a lot of enemies), but he treated all people equally, with love and respect.

All the way to the Cross.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

God’s Politics

I haven’t had much to say this election season. To be honest, I don’t know what to say. I feel like King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20:12 when he finished his desperate prayer with, “…we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”

Bono, the lead singer of U2, once said,

“The Left mocks the Right. The Right knows it’s right. Two ugly traits. How far should we go to try to understand each other’s point of view? Maybe the distance grace covered on the cross is a clue.”

In his book, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get it, Jim Wallis writes,

“Abraham Lincoln had it right. Our task should not be to invoke religion and the name of God by claiming God’s blessing and endorsement for all our national policies and practices – saying, in effect, that God is on our side. Rather, Lincoln said, we should pray and worry earnestly whether we are on God’s side.”

If you re-read through the Old Testament books of Kings & Chronicles you will notice that both Israel and Judah endured good kings, wicked kings, and everything in between. What often goes unnoticed is this: God was never once not on His throne, totally sovereign, in complete control, “working all things together for the good of those who love him…”

This November’s election results will not catch God by surprise. On the night before he was crucified, Jesus comforted his anxious disciples with the following words:  “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (Jn 14:1)

“….we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick