On Religious Liberty

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Before Europeans came to America, Christian traditions and practices were well-rooted in Europe for over 1000 years. Catholicism was the predominant form of Christianity, at least until the Protestant Reformation of the early 1500s The Protestant Reformation was a major schism is Western Christianity that ultimately influenced America – both before and after independence.

Whereas the US Constitution’s First Amendment (ratified 1791) granted religious freedoms for individuals and that government cannot establish religious preferences, I content that American has a long history of battling this ideal by continually challenging it in the name of religious preference.

As the Puritans came to America (1630) seeking religious freedom in their disagreement with the Church of England (Anglicans), they established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in order to establish an orthodox community seeking to save their perception of Christianity from the wayward Anglicans. Puritans saw themselves as the chosen people – the new Adam and Eve with the American colonies being the New Jerusalem – the new Israel.

Yet, I think of Puritan Anne Hutchinson, a well-spoken and well-versed Puritan who Puritan leadership banished for heresy.

I think of Puritan Roger Williams, who Puritan leadership banished, so he went on to establish a new colony of Rhode Island.

In the 1740s, Rev. George Whitefield (an Anglican cleric) came to America. Without a congregation, Whitefield, a vibrant orator, travelled throughout the colonies preaching a message of rebirth and revival to large crowds in towns and fields. Not only did Whitefield help spread Methodism in America, Whitefield and his contemporaries fueled the Great Awakening in America.

Yet I think of those who opposed Whitefield – the Anglicans whose doctrine did not support rebirth and revival. – and the Puritans who challenged Whitefield cause his message conflicted with their orthodoxy.

I think of the Evangelical Baptists from Pennsylvania whose preaching in Anglican-centric Virginia spurred harassment and imprisonment.

I think of the religious freedom voices uniting with the freedom of liberty voices. There’s Thomas Jefferson who drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1777) supporting the non-Anglicans. Anglican opposition would prevent its passage for nine years. After this statute became law, it would serve as the framework for the First Amendment (ratified 1791).

As a young America grew, westward expansion followed. As people moved westward, revivals also moved across the frontier to save souls. Methodists rapidly grew in numbers. In time, they engaged is societal causes as orphanages, jails, caring for the poor, education, anti-slavery, and supporting women. They also saw education as an important role in creating good Christians for society. This activism favored a Protestant America in the New World.

Yet, I think of the large numbers of Catholics and Jews migrating to America in the mid-1800s – yet Protestants did not perceive Catholics and Jews as one of them. Protestants now became the persecutors of religious freedom by using schools to deliver anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic views.

I think how animosity between Protestant and Catholics would endure into the 1960s – and is same ways, still being present today.

The 20th and 21st Centuries provides the backdrop for increasing immigration of Muslims to America. Coupled with the presence of second generation Muslims, Pew Research projects Muslims will be the second largest group in America by 2040.

Yet I think about how anti-Islamic attitudes attempt to block the building of mosques in various communities. Let alone the general anti-Islamic rhetoric I hear in conversations and on the news.

I think about how political candidates who are Muslim face increased scrutiny – or as some politicians promote anti-Islamic and/0r pro-Christian views.

I think about today’s conservative Christians promoting anti-religious claims as the attempt to ingrain their beliefs through a variety of religious freedom laws throughout the country.

I think about the extremes attempting to establish a Christian America and those believing in the exclusion of religion from all aspects of public life.

I think about the growing number if Americans with either no religious preference or unabashed Atheism.

I think about the difference between school teaching religion and teaching about religion – with people worrying that the latter is about advocacy and indoctrination.

The US Constitution’s First Amendment is overtly clear. Yet, American has a persistent history of challenging the First Amendment in the name of their religious preference – a history of religious freedom advocates turning into inhibitors of religious freedom. Although the First Amendment has endured, I wonder if people understand it.

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.

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On Justice

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Justice – a concern for fairness, peace, and genuine respect for people. (Google Dictionary)

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Activist, Reformer)

It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world. Mary Wollstonecraft (Writer)

Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe. Frederick Douglass (author)

Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both. Eleanor Roosevelt (First Lady)

All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope. Winston Churchill (Statesman)

Freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others. Coretta Scott King (Activist)

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Book of Amos, 5:24)

A joint youth-adult choir sang a song at our church’s musical event celebrating the Reformation’s 500-year anniversary. I choked up listen to it during rehearsal, and then again during the concert. Enjoy Roll Down Justice by Mark A. Miller.

On Planned or Not

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There’s a great data department in the sky – that department is responsible for checking people in or out on a given date at a designated time.

The check-ins are the births. The assigned clerk has a card for Justin, who will check in later during the shift (3:52 am UTC) at 9 lbs 8 oz (4.3 kg). Before pacing the card to Accounting for record keeping during life on Earth, the noticed that Justin would eventually become a CEO of a prominent global company and live to the ripe age of 95.

William’s card was directly behind Justin’s because he is to be born two seconds later at a different hospital. Checking the records, the clerk applies a special sticker for expedition to the check-out group.

Accounting is much more high-tech as it tracks everyone’s determined roles for that day. With all the people in the world, there’s always much happening … and those occasional glitches in the system can cause a bit of disarray. But the Accounting staff works well under pressure, thus can get the plan back on track with seemingly unnoticeable successful adjustments.

Over in Check-Out, clerks are dealing with car accidents, cancer, heart attacks, murder, drowning, and many others. One particular clerk is unaware that William’s card will arrive at their desk for processing in a matter of hours. From the living human perspective, these clerks have a tough job … but they also look at it from a different perspective.

Some Christians see life this way – that is everything is predetermined in accordance to God’s plan for that individual – including meeting a person that turned out to be a network opportunity for potential employment … but could that have encounter been coincidental?

I don’t know why I used to believed in predestination – after all, I wasn’t taught that way in Catholic catechism … no friend guided me in that direction … I didn’t read it in an influential book … so I probably guided myself that way for whatever reason.

During my mid-20s and early in my teaching career, I met Nancy – a very bright and personable student whose father happened to be a Baptist minister. In a discussion with her, I mentioned the great database in the sky, to which she responded with a very important question – Do you really think God is that cruel?

Although it did take a long time to answer that question to myself (and I don’t know when I did), her question remained active in my mind for 40 years – but in a good way – well, at least for me.

There is no way I believe that God sent Hurricane Katrina to punish the people of New Orleans. God didn’t sent a horrific tsunami to Indonesia, or a drunk driver wildly across a road to collide with an unsuspected vehicle that killed multiple people – including a small child, a teen, and a parent. God doesn’t plan for people to be homeless, have mental illness, or be malnourished.

God didn’t make a networking opportunity possible, didn’t send volunteers to a disaster area, or provide a hole-in-one to a golfer. Nope, God didn’t make Justin a successful CEO, and Nancy wasn’t sent to me to deliver a message.

God didn’t inflict cancer on my mother nor any other unsuspecting person. God didn’t plan a young child drowning in a pool, a person’s violent shooting spree, or the physical deformities that would take William’s life in less than a day.

Nope – God isn’t that cruel .. and God isn’t playing out the world as if it was a video game. God is good. Free will is a gift to the natural world and to human beings, and with free will, many events will happen – positive and negative – which includes bad things to good people.

Thank you, Professor Nancy.

Other Posts on Free Will

 

On Letters to a Skeptic

The father grew up with church being part of his life. Over time, he withdrew, so the son grew up without church. While attending during college, church become part of the son’s life. In time, he became a pastor and a professor.

As one would expect, father and son would have religious discussions, and many went nowhere. Eventually, the son invited his father into an honest dialogue through written letters – and the father agree. Their format was simple – the father asks a question, then the son answers. As with any meaningful dialogue, answer lead to more questions.

Letters to a Skeptic (Gregory Boyd and Edward Boyd) is the collection of letters of such a journey. The father (Ed) asks good questions, and provides thoughts around his questions. Ed’s responses to his son Leters2aSkepticCover(Greg) are also direct, poignant, and relevant. Greg’s replies are respectful and (generally) easy for a layman to understand. However, the responses are also debatable within the Christian community because one size does not fit all.

The father’s questions are good, such as;

  • Why has Christianity done so much harm?
  • Why is the world so full of suffering?
  • Does God know the future?
  • Is you God all-powerful?
  • Why does God create earthquakes and famines?
  • Are the Gospels full of contradictions?
  • Isn’t the Bible full of myths and God’s vengeance?
  • Do all non-Christians go to Hell?

Given the content and the situation/circumstances of the characters involved, one would think this is a book for any atheist or agnostic – or even as a toolbox for Christians when discussing religion with atheists and agnostics. Although this may be applicable to somebody in some circumstances, I see Letters to a Skeptic as an excellent read for Christians – especially in a discussion format. (Note: I read this book this book and participated in a discussion group. The book also provides discussion questions to consider.)

The discussion between father and son is sincere, respectful, and thought-provoking. Every Christian won’t agree with every point made by the son or the father – let alone by others in a discussion group. After all, theological disagreements exist with Christianity.

This book enhanced my Christian perspective, it also caused me to question the thoughts said by others – yes, the others in my own church – and that’s OK. In the end, reading and discussing Letters to a Skeptic was worthwhile – therefore, I recommend this book for those who might be interested in learning more.

Flashbacks: On Religion

Religious choices are a personal decision. Although I’m a regular church attendee, I try to be respectful to all. Enjoy, visit as many as you want, and I hope you comment on the post you visited.

On a Church Wine Group

WineToastPeople are generally surprised when I mention that our church has a wine tasting group. Interestingly, the group is not only successful, but it also is one of the longest-running groups at the church.

I’m not sure when the group actually started, but being one of the founding organizers and prime movers, my best guess is 12-15 years ago. We are a fun and fellowship group that uses wine as the vehicle to drive the event.

The following are the basics for our group:

  • Meet 3-5 times per year
  • Volunteers offer to host the event
  • Organizers set the theme, which may be countries, regions, wine types (varietals), or something quirky as numbers, animals, or colors – and something to accommodate red and white wines
  • Attendees sign up in advance, bring a bottle of wine (per couple) within the theme and an appetizer to share

Like any organization, he had growing pains. On the other hand, because we pioneers wanted to be an official church group, we quickly adjusted. Here are some of the finer points that I have learned.

  • We went to the pastors first with our idea to get their permission
  • As attendees arrive, the host provides inexpensive starter wines
  • Using nametags is important
  • Incorporate a “program” within the event – we include a welcome, thanks to the hosts, introducing first-time attendees, a prayer, something informative about the wines/theme, and reminders about the group’s purpose
  • After the program, the remaining time is for fun and fellowship

Additional tips

  • Have a set of wine glasses for the group (they don’t have to be fancy)
  • If the wine runs out, so be it – thus the host does not supplement
  • Know the communication guidelines within the church as newsletter and weekly bulletin submission requirements and deadlines
  • Remind attendees not to fill the glass so everyone gets a chance to taste

Given our longevity, our group has been successful. During our years, I have no doubt that 400 different people attended our functions … thus I wonder how many people would I not know if it wasn’t for our church wine group.

By the way, in this past post, here’s a prayer I put together about wine, The Spirit of Wine. Plus, enjoy some of our home decor done with corks.

On Enlightening Light

CandleburningLight is many things as it can be a noun, a verb, an adjective, and even be transformed into an adverb.

We can apply different definitions to light in terms of physics, nutrition, religion, knowledge, burden, illuminations, and being less encumbered.

We think of natural light, artificial, black light, grow light, infrared, visible, incandescent, fluorescent, LEDs, fog, flood, spot, ambient, task, direct, backlighting, and countless more that I won’t try to mention.

Yet, on this day, I honor the celebration of light. I’m not Jewish, but as a Christian, I look for parallels. Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In this hectic time that approaches Christmas, Happy Hanukkah to those in the Jewish faith – especially Shimon, a kind and wise man who visits here.

Shimon, I know this post doesn’t give your celebration justice, so I hope for dignity.

Two minutes to help one understand this holiday

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One+ minute for the beauties of the Hanukkah bush

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Two minutes to visit the Menorahs around the world

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Two minutes to see Jerusalem’s Festival of Lights

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This pop song and video makes me smile