Friday, May 31, 2013

The Erosion of Religious Freedoms

Forerunner, "WorldWatch," May-June 2013

Ever since the United States Supreme Court ruled against prayer in the public schools in 1962, religious freedom has been under assault, despite the fact that the Bill of Rights clearly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The government, under the guise of the “separation of church and state” principle—which it perverted just enough to widen the scope of its attacks—has steadily barred religion from the public square, twisting the phrase, “freedom of religion,” to “freedom from religion.” Christianity, the primary religion of Americans, has been the chief target.

The tempo of the march against religious freedom has sharply increased in the last several years, particularly under the Obama administration. The following examples of blows against the free exercise of religion have occurred within the last five years:

  • After a Christian photography company in New Mexico was sued for declining to photograph a homosexual couple’s commitment ceremony, the state’s Supreme Court held that the law compels the owners to compromise their religious beliefs. The business had to be closed.
  • The city of San Diego pressured four Christian firefighters with disciplinary action if they refused to take part in its “Gay Pride” parade, during which the firemen were subjected to verbal abuse and sexual gestures. Winning their lawsuit, they were awarded $30,000 in damages.
  • A day after a visit from Federal Reserve employees, an Oklahoma bank was forced to remove Bible verses from its website, crosses from teller stations, and buttons carrying a Christian Christmas message.
  • A Missouri university threatened to withhold a Christian student’s degree after she refused to write a letter to the state legislature in support of homosexual adoption.
  • Under Obamacare, the Department of Health and Human Services mandated that all organizations (except churches) that offer group health insurance to provide for abortifacients such as Plan B (the “day-after pill”) and Ella (the “week-after pill”).
  • In New Jersey, a second-grade public-school student was forbidden to sing “Awesome God” in an after-school talent show. Another girl in Port Charlotte, Florida, was barred from singing “Kum Ba Yah” at a Boys & Girls Club talent show because the song included the words “Oh, Lord.”
  • Despite a previous written agreement to respect a pro-life nurse’s religious convictions, a New York hospital threatened her with termination and loss of license if she refused to participate in a late-term abortion.
  • Florida withheld grant money from students attending Florida Christian College because the college did not satisfy the state’s “secularity checklist.” A lawsuit forced the state to reverse its policy.
  • The Centers for Disease Control fired a Christian counselor because she refused to lie about why she was referring clients with same-sex relationship problems to other counselors.
  • A third-grader in Plano, Texas, was forbidden to include a religious message in the goodie bags that he was bringing to the “Winter Party” to share with his classmates.
  • A Cisco employee was summarily fired for his belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman, though he had never mentioned his view at work, but only in a book that he had written.

From just this sampling of infringements of religious liberty, it is plain to see that the trend is widespread. Christians, especially, are seeing their religious freedoms limited by federal, state, and local governments; schools and universities; institutions and corporations; and community groups. Liberty Institute, “a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America,” has documented a list of nearly 1,200 incidents of bigotry against religion in the U.S., most having occurred in the past ten years ( While various courts found many of these occurrences to violate the First Amendment, too many have become legal precedent and the law of the land.

Another inference from the above list is that many of them involve Christianity’s stances against homosexuality, homosexual adoption, homosexual “marriage,” and abortion, all sexual-freedom issues. American values have been so turned on their heads that today, sexual freedom, which receives no mention in the Constitution or Bill of Rights, trumps religious freedom, which is specifically named. Moreover, as the New Mexico photography case shows, a Christian, protecting his conscience, cannot even politely say, “No,” to a homosexual without being hauled off to court for discrimination and losing his business along the way.

Many Christians and churches have tried to “stand in the breach” to uphold biblical moral values, but they have only delayed the crumbling of all barriers to sexual expression. Lately, all opposition has seemed ineffective, as California, for instance, now requires public schools to allow self-perceived transgender students, regardless of their birth gender, access to whichever restroom and locker room they wish to use. Clearly, the cultural trend in America is toward “anything goes” and nothing being stigmatized—or else.

And who but Christians would denounce “anything goes”? Thus, Christians have been targeted as enemies of “progress,” and every effort is being employed to stifle, ridicule, or delegitimize Christianity’s voice in society. So far, anti-Christian attacks have mostly been legal maneuvers, designed to marginalize Bible-believers, not yet reaching the level of outright persecution. However, Scripture warns repeatedly that true Christians will suffer intense persecution in the end time (see Luke 21:12-19II Timothy 3:12-13Revelation 6:9-1112:1713:7, 15; 17:6). To paraphrase our Savior, these incursions against our religious freedoms are just the beginning of sorrows.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Sign of Moral Decline

As the week ground to a close, one of America's last bastions of nominally Christian morality succumbed to the forces of tolerance and liberalism. On Thursday, during the Boy Scouts of America's annual meeting of its National Council in Grapevine, Texas, not far from its national headquarters, 61 percent of the roughly 1,400 voting council members who cast secret ballots decided to admit openly homosexual boys into the association, which currently counts about 2.6 million boys as members. The policy change will take effect on January 1, 2014.

The measure, drafted by the National Council's Executive Committee, says that no youth may be denied membership "on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone." The Boy Scout's chief executive, Wayne Brock, calls the organization's decision "compassionate, caring, and kind," saying the goal of scouting is to reach out to as many boys as possible. Further, a statement released by the organization argues, "The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive and unresolved societal issue."

However, the change actually reveals the hypocrisy of its national leadership. They are required to pledge fealty to God, who does not in any way sanction homosexuality (see, for instance, the apostle Paul's unambiguous statement in I Corinthians 6:9-10). In addition, the new policy violates the part of their oath in which they promise to be "morally straight." At least the National Council refused to consider the considerably more contentious proposal to allow openly gay adults and leaders—though lawsuits may soon force the Boy Scouts to do so anyway.

John Stemberger, a conservative activist from Florida and a former scout, criticized the Executive Committee for its role in passing the measure:
What kind of a message are we sending to young people about being brave when its top adult leaders don't even have the courage to stand up to the pressure of a militant lobby when the bullies in Washington, DC, Hollywood or even some of their own renegade councils start pressuring and harassing them?
Christian and conservative members of the organization, who had lobbied tirelessly against the measure in the weeks prior to the vote, feel that the leadership ignored the beliefs of the majority of scouting families in order to fall in step with the sudden rise in public acceptance of homosexuality. Across America, there are more than 100,000 Scouting units, and a full 70 percent of them are chartered by religious institutions. Some of the largest sponsors are conservative denominations that have previously supported the broader ban of homosexuals, among them Southern Baptist churches, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many from these units are expected to quit the Scouts and form one or several alternative character-building groups for boys.

When asked why she opposed the inclusion of homosexuals as Boy Scouts, one mother of scouts responded frankly, "I am just as afraid of a gay boy tenting with my son as I would be if a straight 15-year-old boy tented with my 13-year-old daughter." While liberals would decry her fears as homophobia, Christians like this concerned woman would call it prudent parenting and fully in harmony with their faith.

Robert Schwarzwalder, a senior vice president of the Family Research Council and a father of two scouts in Northern Virginia, says: "The fallout from this is going to be tremendous. I think there will be a loss of hundreds of thousands of boys and parents. This great institution is going to be vitiated by the intrusion of a political agenda."

In reality, the move is simply the scouting leadership's attempt to "get on the right side of history," as they would consider it. The country's moral center has been steadily sliding to the left for many decades, and over the last few years, the pace of moral decline has drastically accelerated. According to a May 13, 2013, report from the polling organization, Gallup: "Just three years ago, support for gay marriage was 44%. The current 53% level of support is essentially double the 27% in Gallup's initial measurement on gay marriage, in 1996."

Young adults, aged 18-29, are leading the charge in changing Americans' views on gay and lesbian relations. Again according to Gallup, in 1996, 41% of Millennials supported same-sex marriage, while today, up to 70% of them do—a 70% increase over seventeen years. This group consists of the parents or potential parents of the next generation of scouts, and with this policy change, the Boy Scouts of America's leadership believes it is ensuring the future of the organization. The Executive Council thinks that, once this cultural storm passes, its brand of scouting will emerge on the other side stronger and with increasing numbers of members. Tolerance and inclusion are the wave of the future.

Additional polling data seem to support their belief. Another Gallup poll, this one from May 20, 2013, bears the headline, "In U.S., Record-High Say Gay, Lesbian Relations Morally OK." It is subtitled, "Americans' tolerance of a number of moral issues up since 2001." In summary,
Americans' views toward a number of moral issues have shifted significantly since 2001. Their acceptance of gay and lesbian relations has increased the most, up 19 percentage points in the past 12 years—to a record high of 59% today. Americans' tolerance toward having a baby outside of marriage is also now much greater, up 15 points since 2001, to the current 60%.
Americans have also become significantly more accepting of sex between an unmarried man and woman, divorce, embryonic stem cell research, polygamy, and cloning humans.
Such moral indifference can hardly be characterized as a wave; it is better described as a rising tide that sweeps all before it. Most younger Americans just have not been taught solid Christian values at home, and the public schools have done nothing but indoctrinate them to abhor discrimination of all kinds without moral distinction. Add in a constant media barrage of liberal ideas and feel-good "values," and the results are quite predictable: Anything goes.

Peter, quoting Psalm 34, gives some sage advice to those who still believe and follow the morality found in God's Word:
He who would love life and see good days, let him . . . turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil. (I Peter 3:10-12)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Whom Do We Trust?

This past week, Reader's Digest released a nationwide, 1,000+-respondent poll managed by a marketing research firm called The Wagner Group. The poll's purpose was to find out which people and ideals have most earned the confidence of Americans, thus the name, "Reader's Digest Trust Poll." This spawned a list of "The Most Trusted People in America," which contained some surprising results. The magazine's press release about the list explains how the polling worked:
Reader's Digest compiled a list of more than 200 American opinion shapers, leaders and headline makers from 15 highly influential professions and presented it to more than 1,000 Americans, a representative sample of adults living in the United States, asking them to rank each name on how trustworthy they thought each individual was. Trustworthiness was determined by integrity and character, exceptional talent, drive to personal excellence, internal moral compass, message, honesty and leadership.
In other words, the list of individuals from which respondents had to choose were pre-selected by the marketing research firm, pre-biasing the results, and the responses were, of course, entirely subjective and based on the public face of the shaper, leader, or headline-maker. That being the case, the individuals listed as "trusted" may not in fact be trustworthy at all but just appear to be so from what (little) the respondents know about them. In the end, then, the list itself is meaningless—more of a popularity poll—but it does give some insight into the American psyche.

Liz Vaccariello, Reader's Digest editor-in-chief and chief content officer, provided her assessment of the poll and list to ABC's "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts, who happens to be the list's most trusted woman on television:
The poll results were fascinating, fun and shocking. We trust because it feels good, but putting our faith in the wrong place often carries a high price. While the list showed what Americans think about those they see regularly in the news, on television and in movies, our poll also revealed that we put our trust in do-gooders, that tweets do not always equal trust, and that we trust people we know more than anyone famous.
As she indicates, the poll behind the list reveals that most people trust their doctors (77%), "spiritual advisors" (71%), and their children's teachers (66%) more than any public figure, but the difference is slight. Sixty-five percent of Americans find actor Tom Hanks—the highest-scoring public figure—to be trustworthy, followed closely in spots two through four by actors Sandra Bullock (63%), Denzel Washington (62%), and Meryl Streep (61%). Five actors in all made the top-ten (these four plus actress Julia Roberts), and ten more actors slotted in lower on the list. Unbelievably, these scores made movie acting the most highly trusted profession in the survey! Now we know why actors feel so free to spout their frequently extreme views on the issues of the day: A good majority of Americans trust them and their opinions.

That is just the influence of the big screen. While so-called legendary silver-screen actors fill the top slots, those who appear on television may just have even more sway due to the sheer number of TV personalities on the list. Television anchors, journalists, and talk-show personalities—such as the aforementioned Robin Roberts, as well as Ellen DeGeneres, Diane Sawyer, Brian Williams, Rachael Ray, Katie Couric, Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, Anderson Cooper, Oprah Winfrey, Christiane Amanpour, George Stephanopoulos, Scott Pelley, Kelly Ripa, Steve Harvey, Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer, and Shepard Smith—fill a disproportional number of spots.

This television dominance continues outside of the news category. Americans seem to love both TV doctors and TV judges, as the names of doctors Mehmet Oz, Sanjay Gupta, Travis Stork, Nancy Snyderman, Richard Besser, David Drew Pinsky (Dr. Drew), Phil McGraw (Dr. Phil), and Deepak Chopra and judges Judy Sheindlin and Joe Brown all rated highly. (In fairness, all nine Supreme Court justices also made the list, but most of them placed lower than the TV judges.)

Only one significant Christian minister finds a place on the list: Billy Graham at number 67. A Jewish rabbi, Arthur Schneier, who received the Presidential Citizens Medal, appears at number 48. Of conservative political types, only Condoleezza Rice (#68) and Steve Forbes (#97) made the list, but on the other end of the spectrum, Michelle Obama (#19), Madeleine Albright (#23), Jimmy Carter (#24), Colin Powell (#32), Hillary Clinton (#51), and Barack Obama (#65) did. A fair number of Nobel Prize winners, corporate executives, and sports figures round out the list.

These results suggest that Americans do not really know what trustworthiness is or how to identify it in a person's character. As the Reader's Digest editor noted, Americans "trust because it feels good" and "we put our trust in do-gooders." In other words, they place confidence in people who provide them emotional satisfaction and seem to have good intentions. Those whom they trust do not necessarily have to be honest, dependable, faithful, or responsible (all synonyms of "trustworthy"). In fact, Americans are willing to put their trust in people that they do not really know—except for what has been pre-packaged for them to see on their movie or television screens. In essence, they trust a manufactured image, a lie (consider Habakkuk 2:18 in this light).

The Bible contains a great deal about trust, although it does not always use the word. The New Testament uses "trust" infrequently, but it employs a broader, more important term quite often: "faith." Trust is a major facet of faith—along with belief, submission, agreement, hope, and others—and in this vein, trust means "to have faith in another because one is convinced of his reliability." Ultimately, we can trust God because He is the gold standard of reliability. Zephaniah 3:5 says of God and His righteousness and justice, "He never fails." His love never fails.

People, though, are a different story altogether: They let each other down with regularity in small things and large. In Micah 7:5, the prophet warns, "Do not trust in a friend; do not put your confidence in a companion; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your bosom." If in these times of unbelief we should be wary of those closest to us (see Mark 13:12), how much more should we distrust the flickering image of someone on a screen?

Human beings are inherently untrustworthy due to being full of a grasping, self-centered nature that always seeks to put itself in the best light and in the best situation when the dust settles. We have a treacherous heart (Jeremiah 17:9), one that cannot be fully trusted. As the psalmist writes in Psalm 118:8, "It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man." He is the only One truly worthy of it.