Archives For faith and politics

The Briefing

Protestors target Chicago church for stand on marriage
Demonstrators flocked to one of Chicago’s South Side’s largest churches Sunday morning after its pastor removed a woman from the congregation because of her same-sex wedding. The situation renewed a long-standing debate in churches around the country, pitting tolerance and acceptance against tradition and teaching. There has been a massive culture shift over the last decade on gay marriage, but the Apostolic Church of God is staying put, saying it’s defending faith and family.

New reason churches end up in court
For more than a decade, sexual abuse of a minor was the No. 1 legal matter involving US congregations. It made up more than 1 in 9 of all church lawsuits, according to Church Law & Tax. But last year, the top reason for church litigation became a different problem: property disputes. More churches went to court in 2016 due to their building itself rather than any abuse that occurred inside of it.

Targeted for marriage beliefs, judge appeals to high court
A longtime municipal judge and circuit court magistrate is seeking relief from the U.S. Supreme Court after the state of Wyoming fired her for telling a reporter she believes marriage is between a man and a woman. Judge Ruth Neely petitioned the Supreme Court Aug. 4 to hear her case after the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics forced her to stop solemnizing marriages, ending her career as a part-time magistrate.

President’s evangelical advisers request papal meeting
President Trump’s evangelical Christian advisers are requesting a meeting with Pope Francis after a Vatican-approved magazine published a piece condemning the way some American evangelicals and Roman Catholics mix religion and politics. That request came in an Aug. 3 letter to the pontiff from Johnnie Moore, an evangelical author, activist, and public relations consultant. Moore asked Francis for a meeting of Catholic and evangelical leaders — and quickly.

People assume serial killers are atheists
A new study published in Nature Human Behaviour found that people around the world are predisposed to believe that atheists are more likely to be serial killers than religious believers — a bias even held by atheists themselves. The study included 3,256 participants across 13 diverse countries that included highly secular nations like Finland and the Netherlands as well as highly religious ones like the United Arab Emirates and India.

Sources: WGN, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Religion News, Axios

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President Donald Trump signed an executive order to protect faith beliefs and practice in a ceremony May 4. Screen capture from WhiteHouse.gov. Courtesy Baptist Press

On May 4 – The National Day of Prayer – President Donald Trump, signed an executive order promising to provide churches, non-profit organizations, and Christian-owned business greater religious liberty. Reaction among Christians, especially evangelicals has been mixed. Here’s a round-up of some of those reactions:

Baptists cautious on Trump executive order
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “After years of open hostility toward religious institutions and conscience from the previous administration, this executive order is a welcome change in direction toward people of faith from the White House. Not only that, but many federal agencies are working already to ensure that the executive and administrative violations of religious freedom from the Obama administration are being rolled back.” Read more from Moore and other Southern Baptists.

Concern Trump’s order doesn’t address key issues
Some evangelical voices, like Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation; David French, a lawyer and writer at National Review; and Gregory Baylor with Alliance Defending Freedom had critical words for the president’s religious liberty executive order. They called the order woefully inadequate, weak, and a promise unfulfilled.

What Trump understands about religious liberty in America
There is a war on religious liberty in America – and this war is targeting people of the Christian faith. An Army of militant atheists and LGBT activists are hell-bent on eradicating Christianity from the public marketplace and punishing Christians who follow the teachings of Christ. That’s why President Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty Thursday in the Rose Garden – to protect Americans who have been targeted by a politically correct lynch mob.

Reaction mixed on order targeting birth control, churches, politics
Trump’s executive order targeted the Johnson Amendment, a provision of tax law which prohibits churches from getting directly involved in political campaigns. But it stopped short of his vow to “totally destroy” the amendment, instead instructing the Internal Revenue Service to enforce the law consistent with how it’s done so in the past — allowing speech on political and moral issues as long as it doesn’t advocate the election or defeat of a particular candidate.

Analysis: Trump order unlikely to alter sermonizing
Many Americans want religious leaders to be clear about their values and how those values impact every aspect of life, including politics. And they want churches to be free to practice their faith, which includes discussing politics without any government intervention. But few want their preacher’s advice on which candidate to vote for.

Sources: Baptist Press, World Magazine, Fox News, USA Today, Baptist Press

The Briefing

Has Trump found religion in the Oval Office?
President Donald Trump has increasingly infused references to God into his prepared remarks — calling on God to bless all the world after launching strikes in Syria, asking God to bless the newest Supreme Court justice, invoking the Lord to argue in favor of a war on opioids. Language like that has the Christian conservatives who helped lift Trump to the White House nodding their heads in approval. But others who have long followed Trump are skeptical that the president has found religion in the Oval Office.

Study: Evangelicals left churches over Trump
A number of Christians left their churches following last November’s election won by President Trump, including 10% of evangelicals who reported leaving their houses of worship before last December, a new study has found. The study found those most likely to leave their churches were Trump supporters who felt their clergy didn’t support him and those who opposed Trump and believed their church leaders strongly supported the billionaire real estate mogul.

Sounding the alarm on transgender regret
Robert Wenman was four years into being a “full-time” transgender woman in Ontario, Canada, when a police officer asked him: “You got all your legal rights by now. Why don’t you just enjoy life as a woman?” The question left the then-LGBT activist stuttering: Here he was, training a group of law enforcers on transgender rights, yet he couldn’t answer a basic question: Why? Why was he still campaigning, still fighting?

‘Bible Answer Man’ converts to Orthodoxy
On Palm Sunday, Hank Hanegraaff and his wife entered into Orthodox Christianity at St. Niktarios Greek Orthodox Church in Charlotte, NC. The former Protestant is well known among evangelicals as the Bible Answer Man. Since 1989, Hanegraaff has been answering questions on Christianity, denominations, and the Bible on a nationally syndicated radio broadcast.

Anticipation growing for SBC Phoenix 2017
Apparent interest in the Southern Baptist Convention’s upcoming annual meeting has necessitated an increase in hotel room availability for attendees the second consecutive year. The SBC Executive Committee has reserved an additional 500 rooms for the 2017 meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix. The previously reserved block of rooms was fully booked as early as March.

Sources: Politico, The Christian Post, World Magazine, Christianity Today, Baptist Press

The old adage says there are three things you should never talk about in polite company—money, religion, and politics. We already break two of those three rules every Sunday in church. Are we ready to break the third—politics?

The Free Speech Fairness Act was introduced the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives Feb. 1. The bill doesn’t repeal the Johnson Amendment, which limits church involvement in politics, but offers what Alliance Defending Freedom calls a “relief valve”—“as you carry out the mission of your church, you would have the right to speak freely on all matters of life, including candidates and elections.” Most importantly it maintains the prohibition against churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations from donating money to candidates and political campaigns.

The Johnson Amendment became part of the U.S. tax code in 1954 when then Senator Lyndon Johnson successfully restricted tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from endorsing or opposing political candidates under penalty of losing their tax-exempt status.

President Donald Trump discussed eliminating the amendment numerous times throughout his campaign and most recently at the National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 2. “[Thomas] Jefferson asked, can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God,” Trump said. “Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs. That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution. I will do that, remember.”

The question is, are churches ready for this? The pastor of the small church I grew up in was not shy about sharing his political views. He shared from the pulpit who he was voting for in the presidential election, and told congregants they could vote for whomever they wanted, just go vote. I remember as a middle-schooler being shocked, not so much by his action, but by the person he was voting for on election day. His candidate lost, there was no outcry in the church, and the IRS never came knocking on our church doors.

Not all pastors and congregants want to discuss politics within the church walls, but, if passed, the Free Speech Fairness Act would give those who want to the freedom to do so.

– LMS

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Inauguration news round-up

ib2newseditor —  January 20, 2017

small American flags in the background

Time: Trump held a very Godly inauguration
Christianity has been a part of the presidential inauguration since George Washington laid his hand on a Bible for the very first swearing-in. So, it was not unusual that Donald Trump sought to involve faith in his inauguration. But the ways in which the 45th President invoked God in unusually blunt ways in his inaugural address were. He quoted a Psalm of David from the Bible to buttress his policy. “The Bible tells us, ‘how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.’”

S. Baptist involvement in the inauguration
The participation of at least five Southern Baptist pastors in inaugural activities for President Donald Trump continues a tradition of prayer, Scripture, and references to God surrounding presidential inaugurations dating back to George Washington. In addition to Friday’s activities, a Saturday, Jan. 21 National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral in Washington will feature Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd, Texas pastors Jack Graham and Ramiro Peña and California pastor David Jeremiah.

Muslims angry imam to participate in prayer service
A popular Washington-area imam’s decision to issue the Muslim call to prayer at Trump’s inaugural prayer service has sparked a heated debate among American Muslim community leaders and activists over the appropriate ways to engage with a president, who they say has repeatedly disparaged Islam. Mohamed Magid, a Sudanese-American imam, is the only Muslim leader listed on a lineup packed with Evangelicals and other faith leaders who are scheduled to participate in the National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral.

SBC Pres. Gaines pens Christian response to inauguration
Today Donald J. Trump became the 45th President of the United States. As you know, Mr. Trump won a highly volatile election last November. Some see him as a candidate of much-needed change, readily resonating with his Reaganish slogan, “Make America Great Again!” Others see Mr. Trump as a less than desirable candidate for the highest office in the land. What are Southern Baptists to do?

Three S. Baptists nominated for cabinet positions
Three Southern Baptists — Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, and Sonny Perdue – have been nominated to serve in cabinet positions for the Trump administration. Price, a regular attendee at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., has been nominated as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Pruitt, a member of Tulsa-area First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Okla., has been nominated as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, was announced Jan. 18 as Trump’s choice for agriculture secretary.

Presidents who mentioned God in inaugural address
Every U.S. President has mentioned God in their inaugural address, even if speaking of the Lord in their own way, fitting with the times. With thanks to Bill Federer in America’s God and Country, consider this sampling of mentions.

Sources: Time, Baptist Press Washington Post, Baptist Press (2), Christian Post

Trump to be sworn in on Lincoln, family Bibles
When President-elect Donald Trump takes his oath of office on Inauguration Day, his hand will rest on his family Bible and the President Abraham Lincoln Bible, used most recently as part of President Barack Obama’s first and second inauguration ceremonies. Trump’s Bible, a revised standard version, was presented to him in 1955 by his mother upon graduation from Sunday Church Primary School in New York.

Pence to be sworn in with Reagan Bible, hand on 2 Chronicles
The Presidential Inaugural Committee announced Vice President Elect Mike Pence will be the first public office holder since the 40th president to be sworn into office using the Reagan Family Bible.During the oath, the Bible will be opened to 2 Chronicles 7:14, which is the same passage that was used during Reagan’s inaugurations. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas will deliver the oath to Pence during the ceremony.

FBC Dallas’ Jeffress preaching prayer service
First Baptist Dallas, Robert Jeffress, will preach at a private service held at St. John’s Episcopal Church before President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration. About 300 people, including Vice President-elect Mike Pence, are expected to attend. Jeffress noted the title of his sermon in a tweet: “When God Chooses a Leader.”

The religious leaders praying at the inauguration
Six religious leaders — including a rabbi, a cardinal, and a diverse group of Protestant preachers — will participate, more than for any previous president, said Jim Bendat, an author and historian of inaugural ceremonies. Each will have 60 to 90 seconds to offer a reading or lead a prayer.

Moore: Pray for Trump no matter how you voted
With the inauguration of a new president of the United States, now is a time to pray for President Trump and to remember our obligation as Christians to pray for all those who are in civil authority. The Apostle Paul charges us to offer prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for “all people,” and includes in that list “kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:2). This very act of praying is itself a counter-cultural act.

Sources: The Tennessean, Christian Post, Dallas News, Washington Post, NY Times, Washington Post

After a destructive election cycle, it’s time to ask some basic questions. 

Flag of USA painted on cracked wall. Political concept. Old text

Inwardly I chuckled when church historian Mark Noll said, “Evangelicalism is a fractious beast.” I was interviewing him for a documentary on the role Billy Graham played in the development of the evangelical movement when he founded Christianity Today magazine in 1956. As described by Noll, at the time a Wheaton College professor, evangelicals had no driving force other than their love for Jesus and desire to share him with the world.

In post-war mid-century America, the number of evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, was growing rapidly, but they were a people “about many things” as Jesus described Martha, with impact on society disproportionately weak compared to their numbers. They had no recognized think-tank to coalesce and articulate their conservative, biblical views and no central voice to bring those views to bear on culture, the courts, and behavior of the masses. No one was really paying attention to evangelicals as a political or cultural phenomenon.

We could use another Billy Graham today.

Graham remedied that by bringing top Christian thinkers together in his magazine, brought unity around a few ideals such that evangelicals over the next twenty years became a movement, and through a popular medium of the day he gave them a megaphone to broadcast their beliefs.

We could use another Billy Graham today.

Evangelicals today are fractured. The 2016 election cycle has divided us. While 4 out of 5 white evangelicals (the SBC’s predominant constituency) voted for Trump, that fact should not be read as evangelical unity. Believers who may have voted for Trump did so for a variety of reasons. Some were wholeheartedly behind the candidate; some were choosing “the lesser of two evils.” Some were motivated by religious liberty issues, or the future of the U.S. Supreme Court, or pro-life concerns.

No single issue or theology can be said to have brought together the 81% of self-identified white evangelicals who voted for Trump.

And there’s the other 19% who didn’t. And African Americans, Asians, and Hispanic believers who pollsters don’t measure as “evangelicals” and often lump in with other Protestants groups or even Catholics.

We are divided. The divides are between white and black, urban and rural, high levels of education and lesser. And in Southern Baptist life, we have seen some divide between older and younger Christians (especially Millennials), and notable differences among spokesmen for Baptist causes, and distance between leaders and pews.

What are the few things we will stand for—that will bring us together in the name of Jesus Christ?

For the first time in a generation, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission does not appear to have spoken for average Southern Baptists. Russell Moore and a few others were critical of Trump, especially on issues of character and behavior. On the other hand, a few leading megachurch pastors, including Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas, stood with Trump. Others kept mum. SBC president Steve Gaines advised not making politics a church issue, so as not to offend people who need to the hear the gospel.

In this election, there were many reasons for speaking up—or not. Thus, in their analysis of the Republican win, pundits may report evangelicals a “silent majority,” but if that is the case, this majority was bound by many motivations.

The need of the hour is for evangelicals, Southern Baptists in particular, to process this awkward election theologically—not practically, politically, or emotionally—and identify the kingdom-worthy reasons for future political involvement. What are the few things we will stand for—that will bring us together in the name of Jesus Christ?

Is it U.S. Supreme Court appointments that preserve religious liberty? Marriage, family, gender preservation?

Is it social justice and a biblical view of peace, poverty, and the sanctity of human life?

And what is the role of character and trustworthiness in supporting a candidate or, moving forward, working with a presidential administration? Which is mandatory for Christ-followers when choosing political allies: biblical political positions or biblical behavior? (It appears nearly impossible to find both in a single person these days.)

In the 1950s, Graham drew Christians together around conservative, biblical theology, and eventually brought that to bear on politics and politicians—not the other way around. At 98 (his birthday was the day before the election), does Graham even recognize the movement he codified?

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.