Frank Wolf asks ‘What is Caesar’s? What is God’s?’

Former Congressman Frank Wolf pondered “What Is Caesar’s, What Is God’s?” with attendees at the 2015 Petrie-Flom Center Annual Conference “Law, Religion and Health in America,” held May 7 at Harvard Law School.

Wolf, a tireless defender of the religiously marginalized around the world, opened by quoting James Madison, who “once opined, ‘Conscience is the most sacred of all property.’” To which Wolf added, “And as it relates to our discussion today, I maintain that conscience is most assuredly God’s.”

Wolf’s address weaved together his own story of standing for conscience on the House floor, current rulings related to religious liberty and the reality that the definition of tolerance and the protection of conscience are shifting dramatically in the United States.  He concluded that “the space for dissent is daily shrinking” as “our national narrative” which once upheld “the preeminence of religious freedom as the cornerstone of all other human rights” is actively undermined.

The question ultimately comes down to whether or not the state — or God — is Lord of the conscience.  People of faith will answer that God alone is Lord of the conscience. Wolf noted that as the increasingly powerful and politically persuasive progressive secular lobby demands that the conscience be “allegiant to the state,” people of faith are paying the price.

That is a perversion and yet it persists. “Quite simply, our conscience is not ultimately allegiant to the state, but to something, and for many people, Someone, higher. And this truth is important to protect, because if our conscience belongs to the state, the state can choose to violate it or compromise it at will,” Wolf argued.

Where does that leave us and where are we headed?

If the current trends continue, Wolf expects that some who refuse to sacrifice their conscience on the altar of tolerance will find themselves on the wrong side of civil authority. But that leaves them in good company, Wolf notes. Company like Joseph, Daniel, John the Baptist, Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King Jr.

As he told me once in his Capitol Hill office before he retired from Congress, “some of ya’ll are going to have to go to jail” before the nation wakes up to the reality that religious liberty and freedom of conscience are under assault in America. But Wolf fears that many will simply abandon the public square and allow culture’s continued course of devolution.  He is seeking to raise the alarm and encourage the convicted to take a stand.

Wolf said, “Rather than retreat from the public square, I am hopeful that Christians and other people of faith will boldly stay, regardless of the cost.  I am reminded of the rich Christian tradition of civil disobedience in the face of unjust laws. The Reverend Martin Luther King’s letter from a Birmingham jail, is an exemplary defense of this approach. It was intended to convict his fellow religious leaders for being more ‘cautious than courageous’ in the face of segregation.”

 “You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws… one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that ‘An unjust law is no law at all. A just law is a man-made code that squares with moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.”

 “We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’ It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. But I am sure that, if I had lived in Germany during that time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

King’s namesake, Martin Luther, took a similar stand for conscience in 1521.

Luther had said things that the civil authorities of his day didn’t like. In fact, both the church (Catholic) and the Emperor (Roman) wanted him to recant. But that was contrary to Luther’s conscience, informed by the Scriptures.  The showdown was set to take place at the Imperial Diet of Worms where Luther would be afforded a hearing before being excommunicated. Luther appeared twice before the Emperor where he “took his teachings” but on Luther could not see any proofs offered by the court that would lead him to recant. That is to say, his conscience continued to convict him. Luther’s statement to the authorities is a fair summation of Wolf’s position. It is safe to say that with both of them, here I stand:

 “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” – Luther

Hillary Clinton’s Adult summer camps now open

The report from the Daily Caller on March 19 read:

In a paid speech before the New Jersey chapter of the American Camp Association, former Secretary of State Hillary Cinton told the audience that America really needed to implement camps that adults could attend. 

As I have gotten older, I have decided we really need camps for adults,” she said to laughter. “And we need the kind of camps you all run.”

“None of the serious stuff, not of the life-challenging stuff; more fun!” Clinton continued. “I think we have a huge fun deficit in America.”

And now, as enrollment opens for summer camps across the country, Clinton’s call for adult camps is realized.

Self-described as “booze soaked” with “alcohol at every turn,” these adult only distractions from everyday life are designed for an elite clientele. The six adult camps featured by NY Time-Out are for those who can afford not only the time to getaway but the on-average $500/day price tag. There’s one especially for “the queer exhibitionist,” “the Walking Dead superfan,” an all-inclusive booze camp with co-ed dorms for the “nostalgia-thirsty partier.”

Is it too early to raise concerns about the possible uses of Camp David?

Clinton, who is aptly described as “a social gospel Methodist,” might call these well-healed, presumably single Americans with time and money to burn to something more civic-serving than weekends of adult camp debauchery.  Her Methodist women forerunners, hardy abolitionists who helped to transform America from a nation of drunkards in the mid 1800′s would likely not approve.

Is fun not possible without alcohol?  Have we so disconnected from the beauty and truth of creation that we cannot be intoxicated with awe when we turn aside to see the burning bushes of our day?  Must we instead indulge in Sodom and Gomorrah-like activities at Burning Man-style adult camps?

You were made for more than this, my fellow American. You are better – wiser, smarter, and more fun – than these camp-planners imagine. Do not descend into the debauchery they have planned for you. Instead, rise above the expectations of those who would have us entertain ourselves to death.

Natalie Portman recognizes her Oscar as a false idol

There’s no more coveted a prize in Hollywood than an Oscar. Portman has one. Where is it? She hasn’t a clue.

 

When the interviewer asked if her Oscar was with her in Paris, Portman said:

“I don’t know where it is,” she says. “I think it’s in the safe or something. I don’t know. I haven’t seen it in a while.”

Why?oscar

“I was reading the story of Abraham to my child and talking about, like, not worshipping false idols. And this is literally like gold men. This is lit­er­ally worshipping gold idols — if you worship it. That’s why it’s not displayed on the wall. It’s a false idol.”

This beautiful, wealthy, influential, politically complicated, intelligent Israeli born American actress-writer-producer is also a mom who reads to her child from the Torah.

She’s teaching him to have a Biblical worldview and to live as a God-centered person in a very me-centered world.

At the conclusion of the article in The Hollywood Reporter, the interviewer admits that he still considers Portman a stranger.

In response to a question about missing L.A. (she now lives in Paris), Portman revealed that while those around her might covet being known, she isn’t.

“I like being a stranger in a place. You’re kind of an outsider, and I think that’s what makes you. It’s the only way I’ve ever known.”

Those who have ears to hear will recognize the Biblical allusion. Most will miss it. Living as aliens, foreigners and strangers in the world is the reality of those who know that ultimately their home is not one built by human hands. I don’t know if that’s what Portman intended in her comment, but if it is, I don’t want us to miss it. In Hollywood as an Oscar winner who regards the gold statue as a false idol, in Paris as a Jew amidst rising anti-Semitism, a dual citizen in the kingdoms of the world and a dual citizen in a Kingdom yet to fully come, Portman is a complex living demonstration of God’s people.

Where she would likely turn to the stories of Abram who becomes Abraham, Daniel and stories of faithful living in the midst of exile, I would turn to First Peter for instruction on how to live as God’s person in an ungodly culture. Consider today how God is calling you to live authentically as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven first, sojourning in this world that He so loves. What’s the “Oscar” in your life that needs to be forgotten in order that God can be more fully honored?

gods-at-war

Divine appointments and discerning the leading of God

To Do List

Some days do not go as I plan. Nowhere on my calendar did a call with my Coptic friend appear. Nor had I scheduled time with an Assyrian American Christian seeking to provide aid for Iraqi Christians now living in refugee camps in foreign lands. Praying with a Pakistani Christian about the bombing of churches there was not on my agenda.  Nor was time with a Arab church planter committed to God’s calling to build a church in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem.  My calendar reflected none of these appointments – but each and all of them had been set by God who is sovereign over all time and all things.

What does a life structured to accommodate the divine appointments of the Lord look like? It is a life that expects always the unexpected, anticipates miracles and knows that God will provide all the time and resources necessary for the accomplishing of His will today. Now, that does not mean that everything on “my” list always gets done. But the priority remains discerning and responding to the Lord’s agenda, not obsessing about my own stuff.

Had I only taken the calls scheduled I would have never spoken to Nader. Had I only answered the emails on my agenda I would have never helped Juliana. Had I blocked all calls from unknown numbers I would have never prayed with the representative from the United Presbyterian Church of Pakistan who feels bereft of hope in the face of continual persecution of Christian minorities in that country. Had I stuck to my plan for the day I would have missed the opportunity to hear about the growth of the Church and the spread of the gospel in Iran; the challenges of planting a church in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem with the goal of winning Muslims to Christ; the invitation to assist my Christian brothers and sisters who have nothing and no home to return to as ISIL continues its scourge of Iraq and the Levant.

I didn’t get my taxes filed. I didn’t get my nails done. I didn’t pick up my dry cleaning. I didn’t get to the grocery.  But I didn’t miss any of the divine appointments God set for the day.

I’m a list maker and I like to check things off the list. So today as I peruse the list which now contains several carry-over items from yesterday, I pray. “Lord, use me for your purposes and make me anxious for nothing other than your perfect plans.”

There is enough time to do all that God has planned. May your day be populated with the divine appointments He has set and may you find joy in keeping each one – fully present in the moment as an agent of God’s grace in the world that He so loves.

 

Join Christ Church and the Dalton, Georgia community to hear from Carmen Fowler LaBerge at the 10:30 Worship Service on:

“Resurrected Living: ‘There He is again!’”

CCP

 

Date: April 12, 2015
Time: 10:30 AM
Event: Sermon at Christ Church Presbyterian Dalton, GA
Topic: "Resurrected Living: 'There He is again!'"
Venue: Christ Church Presbyterian
706-529-2911
Location: 510 South Tibbs Road
Dalton, GA 30720
Public: Public

Presbyterians and the evolving definition of marriage

ERLC Carmen

Note: the following is an excerpt of an article I wrote for our friends at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention. The entire article can be found here, along with many helpful resources on a wide range of issues Christians are facing today.


The headlines since March 17 have been crystal clear: Presbyterians approve same-sex marriage. By a majority vote of its presbyteries (regional bodies), the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) ratified an amendment to its constitution sent down last summer by its General Assembly that allows ministers to perform and churches to be used for same-sex weddings. In immediate response, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) affirmed its support for traditional marriage in hopes of avoiding the kind of confusion that often results when people hear the word “Presbyterian.”

Which Presbyterians did what?

The Presbyterian Church USA, based in Louisville, Ky., considers itself the “true” church when it comes to Presbyterians. They see all other Presbyterians as imposters and wannabes. If it sounds arrogant, it is. It is the PCUSA that boasts seminaries in Princeton, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Atlanta (Columbia), Louisville, San Francisco, Austin and Dubuque. Candidates who attend seminaries like Reformed (RTS) are often barred from ordination in the PCUSA until they do at least a year at an “official” seminary.

It is the PCUSA that boasts a multi-billion dollar endowment, the income from which funds much of its social witness agenda at the United Nations, in Washington DC and at the World and National Council of Churches. It is the PCUSA that is often in the news for its left-leading political advocacy. It is the PCUSA that considers the ordination of women an essential, allows for the ordination of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people, and now allows for same-sex marriages by its pastors and in its churches.

Parsing out the Presbyterians from one another is a little bit like parsing out Baptists. There are no longer “Southern” Presbyterians (although some remember the PCUS) but in addition to the PCUSA there are the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), Reformed Presbyterians (RP), Associate Reformed Presbyterians (ARP), Cumberland Presbyterians. The list goes on and on. Each follows a Presbyterian (elder based) form of government, and each claims to follow Reformed theology. But that’s where the dividing lines are drawn.

The vast majority of Presbyterian denominations worldwide use The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) as their primary confessional document. The WCF helps define the doctrine of “Reformed” theology.

The PCUSA, however, has a catalogue called The Book of Confessions—eleven different confessional documents that will be supplemented this year by a twelfth, Belhar. With so many confessions it’s hard to know what to believe, which is precisely the point. When the PCUSA adopted a catalogue of confessions, it did away with a mutually agreed upon list of essential tenets of the Reformed faith. So, whatever an individual embraces as essential is essential for them. That is the standard of theology for ordination in the PCUSA.

“Reformed and always being reformed, according to the Word of God” has morphed into “reformed and always reforming.” Reformed theology as an identifiable corpus of doctrine becomes a self-determined evolution of thought and practice that is subject to every wind of doctrine, people’s trickery and their deceitful scheming.

Always reforming

Reformation of thought and deed according to the Word of God has yielded to a spirit of reforming the church to conformity with the felt needs and desires of people. A perverted theology of “justice” and “love” literally out-voted the call to holiness, righteousness, submission and obedience to the revealed will of God.

The passage of the amendment also creates a clear conflict between the way marriage is consistently defined throughout the Confessions (“one man and one woman”) and the other part of the denomination’s constitution called The Book of Order (“two people”). The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Gradye Parsons, has noted the tension and said that “the tension will exist until it doesn’t.” People in the PCUSA are just going to have to learn to live with the shades of grey now present in their constitution.

So what?

The decision to repudiate the Word of God will have percussive effects for the PCUSA.

Click HERE to read the entire article at ERLC.com.

 

Doing the opposite of what’s right

spur

Anyone who has been touched by suicide knows the depths of despair and suffering which surround the taking of a life.  We have also heard and read accounts of those who stopped short of suicide because of the intervention of just one person who took notice, offered hope, and valued life.

The story from Shropshire, England in the UK will break your heart and lead you to wonder what kind of world we’re now living in.  A clearly distressed man stood atop a tall building, planning to take his own life. The police gathered to talk him down but they were drowned out by others who chanted “Jump, jump” from the street below. They poised their phones to record the man’s final moments and their bloodlust was satisfied when he succumbed to their taunts.

Nothing could be further from the Biblical mandate to spur one another on to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).

We are called to encourage, not discourage, one another.

We are called to assist, not cripple, those who are distressed.

We are to bear light, not darkness, to those who are depressed.

We are to cover people with compassion, not insults.

The man who was teetering atop the building was a child of God and he is precious in God’s sight. Christ died for that man. The minions on the street served not as ambassadors of Christ – the good shepherd who came that we might have life and have it abundantly. No, they served as agents of the thief who comes to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10).

Today, as you walk in the world, seek out the lonely person, walk with one who struggles, open a door, carry a load, be present and kind and listen. Do not miss the opportunity today to spurn another person on to love and good deeds.

What we call fellowship others call felonious

I walk into the coffee shop on the corner of Main Street and there is almost always someone reading a Bible, devotional or the latest Christian best-selling book. This week its the Benham brothers, next week I’m betting it will be Chelsen Vicari. The point is that we talk about religion freely, openly, and honestly because we live in a nation where freedom of religion is real and realized. We pray over meals in public, we attend our churches without fear of being arrested, we invite others to join us in studying the Bible and we share our faith freely.

But what we call fellowship others in the world call felonious.

The stories coming out of Iran and other despotic regimes should drive us to our knees in prayer for our Christian brothers and sisters. The “offenses” with which they are charged, tried, convicted and imprisoned (for up to six years) include:

  • attending a house church
  • spreading Christianity
  • having contact with foreign ministries
  • propaganda against the regime and
  • disrupting national security.

Consider that list.

These are not people who are proselytizing in the streets or forcing their religious convictions upon others. These are people gathering in homes. Accepting the gifts of tracks and CDs and MP3′s that well-meaning Western ministries send to them.

Christians who fellowship with one another and communicate with other Christians outside of Iran are considered threats to national security and they are sent away as felons to do hard time.

At issue is what we casually refer to as the freedom of religion or religious liberty. It is precious and it is serious under threat.

In America, we have a model of religious liberty that takes a positive view of public and private religious practice. That means that we not only protect the right of individuals and groups to practice their religion in private settings – like home and church – but also to live out their religion in public, engaging their faith with the world.

Because we are like fish who have been living in the water of this kind of religious liberty for so long that we can’t even imagine what life is like in another environment, Americans often fail to appreciate just how unique a brand of religious liberty we enjoy.

In just one month (February 2015) The Heritage Foundation “Religion and Civil Society” page identified a litany of religious liberty related stories:

This is both the tip of the iceberg and the tip of the spear.  These stories rise to the level of public awareness but simmering just beneath the surface of our desire driven secularism are a mountain of threats to the everyday religious expression of countless Americans. Those are the stories we don’t read but they are being lived out everyday in classrooms and cubicles and court rooms – places where people of convictional faith are told to shut up and keep their religion to themselves. And then the very Constitution that guarantees the right of free speech to both the bully and the bullied is used to browbeat the religious person into the closet because of the mis-application of the so-called “separation of church and state.”

This is a fight for which every person of convictional faith must be equipped lest we find our own fellowship felonized in the future.

 

The Year of the Sheep?

Shepherd and Sheep
Is it the year of the sheep or the goat? That is the question.

Well, it’s not really a question that those celebrating Chinese New Year are asking but it seems to be a question that many Westerners are stymied by.

““I’ve never thought about that question before,” Chen Xufeng, an office clerk in Beijing, told Xinhua. “Do we have to tell them apart? I’ve seen more goats in zodiac images, but I prefer to buy a sheep mascot, as sheep are more fluffy and lovely.”

So, yesterday marked the end of the year of the horse in the traditional Chinese zodiac that dates back some 3000 years. But whether or not “this” year is the year of the goat or the year of the sheep remains a matter of interpretation.

The similarity and distinction of sheep and goats may be of more interest to Westerners than to those in China because of the lingering shadows the Christian Scriptures caste generations after the faith is actually practiced.

Even if your neighbor is not a practicing Christian, they may well know that when it comes to the final judgment, when Christ returns, the sheep and the goats will be separated. The sheep to eternal life and the goats, well, its not a happy ending for the goats.

So, to Mr Xufeng’s question, “Do we have to tell them apart?” maybe not, but there is One who stands outside of manmade calendars who makes a distinction.

What is clear from the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46 is that the sorting is not up to us. God will sort out the sheep from the goats in the End. What matters is not that we know the sheep from the goats but that we know, and live in relationship to, the Shepherd.

Whether you are a sheep or a goat, this is the year of the Shepherd. He is the reference point for all of human history. Even the Chinese zodiac keys it count to the birth of Christ. It may be the year of the sheep or the goat but it remains 2015 Anno Domini – the year of the Lord.

Moral Universalism

Carmen Logo

Sunday lunch continues to be an extraordinary opportunity for the intersection of unrushed conversation and table fellowship where Christ is made known in the breaking of bread. This past Sunday was no exception. Having launched into and been thoroughly engaged by a new class on the cultivation of a Christian worldview, we invited our teacher to lunch. The table conversation was the kind I imagine people had centuries ago when time was plentiful, relationships matters and distractions were few.

We talked about many things but one of the subjects was the prevalence of moral universalism in American leadership. Moral universalism is the idea that there are certain moral categories which exist throughout the world and which provide an adequate moral code but which have no basis in a personal God. A person with a moral universalistic worldview might say, “Well everyone knows that’s wrong.” The fact that they are unable to articulate any basis for right and wrong is irrelevant to them. Their epistemology does not require that “knowing” be based in anything, or anyone, beyond their own awareness.

Moral universalism is writ large in such documents as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also happens to be the compass of our current President.

In his Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, he said:

“And when all of us, together, are doing our part to reject the narratives of violent extremists, when all of us are doing our part to be very clear about the fact that there are certain President Obamauniversal precepts and values that need to be respected in this interconnected world, that’s the beginnings of a partnership.”

What are the narratives that need to be rejected? Might any and all narratives that are “exclusive” or exclusionary be considered extremist? What if a narrative includes the convictional belief that if you do not believe and follow the particular individual at the center of the story then you will be cut off from real life now and eternal life forevermore? Must that narrative be rejected? You see where I fear this is headed.

A system of thought, a plan for global peace, a moral code constructed on the kinds of “universal precepts” espoused by the President is on shaky ground. The only firm foundation for an integrated worldview that leads to governance based on the rule of law (and not a tyrannical ruler or elitist class) is the Logos, the Word: eternal, unchanging, all sufficient, living, active, knowable, personal, objective, True.

The attempt to derive law without a Lawgiver is futile because in the end, each human act is personal. In a world run amok where God is rejected and the accumulation of matter is all that matters, then Darwin’s observations hold: the strongest, meanest, most selfish individuals and systems prevail.

Of equal hubris is the attempt to reconcile warring sinful people without a change of heart and mind that leads to a consistent pattern of peace governed not by external law or force but by the inward presence of the peace that passes all understanding which flows from the One whom alone is the Prince of Peace.