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I wrote a column this morning for SAT-7 USA called “The Practical Impact of Christian Values.” I’ve been thinking about this for some time.

The column’s thesis is that we sometimes spiritualize Christian values to the point we think of them only as a means to inner peace or worship or emotional wellbeing or religious expression. If we take this to an extreme, which I believe some do, we miss the fact or forget that Christian values rightly understood and applied can also make an enormous practical impact.

The idea is that Christian values were providentially designed to make our lives run more smoothly, more enjoyably, more fruitfully. I make no case, for the Bible doesn’t, that individuals who live lives characterized by Christian values miraculously escape all problems. No, I’m simply saying that persons who embrace and live out Christian values live lives closer to what God intended in the first place, i.e. reality, when he brought us into Creation and defined his values in the Scriptures. When we live aligned with God's reality we're better off.

Think about these examples of the practical impact of living based on Christian values:

--If more people were honest and did not steal, we could tak e the locks off doors and wouldn’t need to fund costly criminal justice systems of police, courts, jails, and counseling centers.

--If people did not behave in sexually immoral ways, we would not need to fear AIDs or fund medical research pertaining to AIDs and other STDs, or even abortion.

--If people did not lie or cheat, we could avoid contracts, lawsuits, and the expensive attorneys who go with them.

--If married individuals loved their spouses, stayed committed for life to their marriages, did not covet another’s spouse or commit adultery, divorce, alimony, child support, prenuptials, and a lot more would diminish or disappear.

--If people were not greedy, did not hate, and loved their neighbor, armies, wars, rumors of wars, low and high tech ammunitions, security systems, and the intelligence community would not be draining the federal treasury.

--If people did not commit people-on-people crimes of assault, battery, and murder, we could take long walks in the dark without fear, avoid incarcerating and supporting criminals at tens of thousands of dollars per person per year, and stop buying weapons for protection.

--If people exercised good stewardship and conservation of the natural environment and its resources, we would not face costly oil spill eco-damage and cleanups, contend with smog or other air and water pollutants, or debate global warming; nor would the Passenger Pigeon be extinct.

This is a short list of ways Christian values could leverage truly positive and extensive practical impact upon our daily lives if simply enough people actually applied them. It’s amazing really, and it’s not rocket science.

An old adage (long but erroneously attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville) suggests “America is great because America is good.” Insofar as this observation has been arguably true, it is disconcerting to think of the implications of its reverse: “America is no longer (or, not) great because America is no longer (or, not) good.” Christian values, though not embraced by all, have historically played a role in the good to greatness of this nation. I hope we don’t forget the practicality of those values and thus lose a shot at continuing greatness.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

The words in the title of this piece seem jarring in close association. The reason is they really don’t fit together, other than that Terry Jones has sensationally forced them into the same articles, comments, and reactions worldwide.

Jones is the pastor of the approximately 30-member Dove World Outreach Center of Gainesville, Florida, who apparently burned a Quran in his effort to “put on trial” a holy book and a religion with which he disagrees. Last fall he threatened to burn a Quran on an “International Burn the Koran Day,” but apparently demurred when General David Patraeus and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates implored him not to do so because it might cost American lives. President Obama made similar public comments at the time.

But Jones finally put his plan in action, allegedly burned a Quran, and the result to date has been more than 20 killed in Afghanistan, including United Nations employees. Related protests continue in Pakistan.

So as a Christian what am I to think of this? Here are a few things to consider:

--It’s a free country. We enjoy an incredible gift of freedom of speech (which the US Supreme Court has expanded to freedom of expression) that most of us did nothing to earn. It is our political birthright. But what may be legal is not always moral or ethical.

--As a believer we enjoy the incredible gift of Christian liberty, something we did nothing to earn. It is our spiritual birthright. But 1 Corinthians 10:23 reminds us, “’Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is constructive."

--Scripture tells believers to speak the truth in love. It does not endorse what today we call “hate speech,” acts of violence, or incendiary in-your-face actions against those with whom we may disagree. In fact, Scripture commands us to “turn the other cheek” and to “love your enemies,” whomever we may perceive them to be.

--Jones’s “ministry,” if not a cult, is certainly “cultish.” He emulates the dictatorial pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, who also has apparently burned a Quran. They do not lead as shepherds. They rule and demean and pontificate and sensationalize. They have their 15 minutes of fame. I question what rewards they will receive in heaven.

--Burning the Quran accomplishes nothing but inciting to anger those who revere it. Is this a way to express love, to build a relationship based upon trust or mutual respect? If someone knocked on your door and insulted Christ or burned a Bible would you feel inclined to initiate a friendship? Does Jones really believe he is battling for truth? Or is he applying his warped worldview in the name of Christianity, all the while enjoying his time in the media sun?

--Burning the Quran is more than burning a given book. It’s an act of political malice akin to burning any symbol vested with the ideals of a people. Not long ago, some US Congressmen submitted bills intended to make burning US flags illegal. To date these amendments to the US Constitution have not been ratified by a sufficient number of states. Flag desecration is a protected act of “symbolic speech” in the US—while in many other countries such acts against the national symbol are illegal. The point is, while according to rulings by the US Supreme Court desecrating an American flag is protected speech, as is burning a Quran, we still don’t have to like it, embrace it, consider it wise, or report it via news media. Interestingly, national media are beginning to figure that out, dropping most references to Jones and hopefully letting him fade away from lack of attention.

--Is Jones’s faith so small, so lacking in confidence, that he fears placing the teachings of the Bible alongside the teachings of the Quran and allowing people to make their own decisions about truth, love, forgiveness, and hope?

--I feel sorry for Jones and his followers, for they are clearly enveloped in a false understanding of Jesus’s ethic of love and the beauty of the Christian faith. While I condemn the killing of innocents in Afghanistan in reaction to Jones’s Quran burning, I feel badly for the families who lost loved ones as part of the ripple effect of Jones’s actions.

--Jones is no more representative of biblical Christianity or of most believers than are members of the Ku Klux Klan.

--Burning the Quran or any other holy book from any religion is not an act of Christian love or an overture toward spiritual reconciliation for those who embrace those religions. It is an act of fear and prejudice, self-righteousness and ignorance. No true follower of Christ can or should condone such acts.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

U.S. Representative Katherine Harris (R, FL) recently called separation of church and state “a lie” and said that God and the Founding Fathers did not intend a “nation of secular laws.” She also told a religious journal that if Christians are not elected than in essence Americans have elected people who will “legislate sin.”

Rep. Harris’ comments come in the midst of her campaign for one of the State of Florida’s seats in the United States Senate. Needless to say her comments have drawn criticism from her opposition, but she’s also lost support among other Republican Party leaders.

Whether Rep. Harris should be elected to one of Florida’s Senate seats is a decision for the people of Florida. But we can say that her grasp of early American political history needs a tune up.

Most of the Founding Fathers were religious people, some were Christians, some were Deists, and some were less committed individuals. A few were not believers at all. To a person, though, they distrusted Church governance of the State and State governance of the Church. Then-recent European history was replete with negative examples of too much Church/State interconnection.

While the term “separation of church and state” does not appear in the key documents, The Declaration of Independence or the United States Constitution, it was a political doctrine promoted a century earlier by Roger Williams and embraced after the Constitutional Convention by Founders like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution forbids government from establishing a religion and prohibits government from intervening in the free exercise of religion.

What perhaps Rep. Harris intended to say is that the Founding Fathers never intended and did not establish a separation of religion and politics. They did not because they valued the input of religion, believed religion helped keep politics true to appropriate values, and was impossible practically speaking to separate from politics anyway. What they intended was for the Church not to control the State and the State not to control or establish any given Church. They believed in religious and political liberty.

While I cannot judge her motives or her character, I can say that Rep. Harris’ remarks about church and state, and about others who do not share her Christian commitment, are unwise and unnecessary. They feed fuel to those who do not share her religious and political values and needlessly offend those who may share her political values but not her religious views.

We’ve said before that journalists need to grow more sophisticated in their understanding of religion and its intersection with politics. Perhaps religious, and especially specifically Christian, people need to become more sophisticated in how to express their religious views in politics.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

It was good to see that a federal judge in California rejected atheist Michael Newdow’s lawsuit contending that the words, “In God We Trust.” on American coins constituted a violation of his First Amendment rights. Newdow is a Sacramento doctor, but he’s become something of a professional anti-God slogan complainant. He’s also involved in an ongoing effort to ban the Pledge of Allegiance from public schools because it contains the phrase, “Under God.”

U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell, Jr. based his ruling on the fact that “In God We Trust” has been recognized as a kind of national motto, not a governmental promotion of religion.

Despite what atheists and secularists would have you believe, the Founding Fathers never intended for American life to be sanitized of all religious expression. Their main concern was that religion not be allowed to control government and that government not establish religion. They wanted freedom of religion and liberty of conscience, which Dr. Newdow enjoys as a citizen of this free country. He is free not to believe as I am free to believe.

Some 98% of the American population consistently says they believe in God. So atheists are indeed a small minority. Praise God for this, and let’s pray it remains that way. In God we trust.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

President George W. Bush has used executive orders to steadily increase federal funding to faith-based organizations, this year to the tune of $2.1 billion or about 11% of the $19.7 billion awarded last year to community groups. The Bush Administration’s director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, Jim Towney, says “Government can’t fund preaching or proselytizing, but it can fund the good social work being done by religious organizations.”

Federal funding of faith-based programs is problematic. One could argue that such programs are operated by tax paying citizens and in many cases serve other tax paying citizens. Consequently, the people involved “have a right” to access funds they helped to create. Not only this, but one could argue as the Bush Administration does, that federal funding of faith-based programs reduces religious discrimination by allowing faith-based programs to qualify on the merits for federal support. In other words, no faith-based program is declined simply because it is religious.

But one could also argue that any governmental financial support for a religious organization violates the First Amendment’s injunction prohibiting government from establishing any religion. Generally, this is the viewpoint maintained by liberals or others advocating a strict separation of church and state.

But one could also say that federal funding of faith-based programs eventually, nay inevitably, entangles the program in governmental oversight undermining or disallowing the program’s religious character. When this happens, the federal government again violates the First Amendment, this time by preventing the free exercise of religion—paradoxically by supporting it. This is not a viewpoint generally proffered by liberals or strict separationists. This view is more often articulated by conservatives or other religious individuals who fear governmental intrusion in the mission of faith-based organizations.

In 2002, I was invited to a White House session on the Bush Administration’s faith-based initiatives. In the White House Office Building, President Bush spoke to perhaps sixty of us, people considered religious leaders, asking for our support of the initiative. Despite this personal pitch I have never been comfortable with federal funding of faith-based organizations. I would rather encourage more religious influence of public discourse—an easier mix of religion and politics—while reducing direct financial interaction of church and state. I like ideological interaction and institutional separation.

Federal funding of faith-based organizations begins with funding but eventually translates to influence, which in turn can translate to dependency on the part of the religious agency. First it accepts the funds, then it changes religious policy or practice to continue receiving the funds, and then it needs or cannot survive without the funds.

Policy changes to keep the financial gravy train rolling can include alterations of religious-based hiring practices or the suspension of proselytizing. In other words, the fundamental religious mission of the organization can be gradually secularized.

Finally, if federal funding of faith-based organizations continues, who determines which faith-based organizations are appropriate or acceptable? I am no more comfortable with the idea that some religious organizations or programs might be funded by my tax dollars than some of them may be if my religious organization or program is funded by their tax dollars.

This is a judgment call. I’m not criticizing faith-based agencies that accept federal funds, nor am I claiming their religious mission is always tainted. I think this is a decision each of them must carefully make.

I believe President Bush’s heart and motives are in the right place. But I do not think his faith-based funding initiative is good public policy.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.