Category Archives: religious news

No doubt about it: U.S. is ‘secular nation’

An interesting argument has surfaced over the discussion about the use of Scripture to justify the separating of children from their parents as they enter the United States illegally.

It comes from the newspaper where I used to work, the Amarillo (Texas) Globe-News.

Here’s the editorial with the title, “The Spiritual Double Standard.” 

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently cited Romans 13 to justify the policy of yanking kids from their parents along our southern border and housing them separately. It also seems to suggest that the United States might not be a “secular nation.”

Actually, the United States most certainly is a secular nation. Of that there can be no serious debate.

The founders intended to craft a governing document that is free of religious requirements. Their ancestors came to this world fleeing religious persecution. Right? Yes!

The editorial seems also to suggest that critics of the AG are targeting Christians. Hmm. I don’t believe that’s the case. The founders didn’t even mention Christianity in crafting the U.S. Constitution. The Amarillo Globe-News opined: This is becoming a common tactic of many of those who support open borders – attempting to shame Christians by pointing out how federal immigration laws are not in line with Christian teachings about how to treat your neighbors, immigrants, etc.

The secular nature of our government is not aimed at Christians. It excludes any religious litmus test for government. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus … you name it.

The G-N also suggests that secularists shouldn’t use Scripture to debunk the AG’s citing of the New Testament to justify the policy.

Fine, except that if the attorney general is going to bring it up first, then it is totally fair for critics to use the Bible to rebut what they believe is his misdirected justification.

The G-N notes, “As the saying goes, you can’t have it both ways.”

Actually, in this instance, I believe you can.

Scripture does not justify cruelty

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s use of the holy word to justify a cruel government policy simply boggles my mind.

It also boggles the mind of many other Americans.

He stood in front of a nation and declared that the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans said that we all must obey the government. Therefore, the AG said, the Donald Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents who enter the United States illegally is justified by New Testament Scripture.

What an absolute abomination! What a profoundly offensive use of the Bible to justify cruel treatment of children.

Sessions cited Romans 13. Yes, Paul instructed us to obey the government. But that’s not all that his letter said. Paul refers to the Old Testament commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Look, the idea that the attorney general would invoke Scripture as a justification is insulting and demeaning on its face.

The Trump administration has decided to get tough on illegal immigration by taking children, many of them infants, from their mothers and fathers if they are caught entering this country without proper documentation. Hundreds of children have been separated from their parents with no assurance of when they will be reunited — if ever!

Someone has to tell me how that kind of policy is in keeping with the love and compassion that Jesus Christ taught the world while he was walking among us.

And think of the irony here. Sessions is the chief law enforcement officer in an administration led by a man with zero demonstrated commitment to the teachings brought in Scripture.

Therefore, does anyone actually believe that the attorney general is speaking for Donald John Trump while invoking a passage from the New Testament?

Shameful.

Do these symbols speak for a community?

CLARENDON, Texas — We have been traveling through this community for more than two decades en route from Amarillo to the Metroplex … and occasionally beyond.

During a relatively recent span of time, though, I have been struck by the plethora of religious symbols that have sprouted up on both ends of the highway that courses through the Donley County community.

Some of them are crosses, symbols of Jesus’s crucifixion. There are signs, too. They speak about God. There’s a touch of preaching in them; some of the signs speak of the “only path to salvation.” That kind of thing.

I’ve long wondered: Who put these messages out there? Did the city sanction them? I’ve sniffed around only a little bit.

Then I found a link to an Amarillo TV station that rooted out an answer or two.

As KFDA NewsChannel 10 reported: A local resident, Jim Griffin, put the signs up. They are meant to predict consequences far worse than 9/11. They seek to espouse Christian belief.

Not everyone is happy about the signs, or the crosses, or the message some have construed — which is that Clarendon is welcome only to Christians.

Hmm. I don’t buy that. I’ve never felt “evangelized” when I read the signs or look at the crosses.

The signs generally speak of hope and faith. Is there something really wrong with that? I think not.

Yes, it is a curious community feature. I have noticed that all the signs and the crosses are sitting on private property. I haven’t noticed anything on the Clarendon College campus, or at the Donley County Courthouse, or at Clarendon City Hall. There clearly would be a constitutional concern were there to be such messages delivered on public property. That First Amendment prohibition, after all, does prevent government from sanctioning any specific religion.

Not everyone is happy about it. Read the editorial in the Clarendon Enterprise here.

As for non-Christians’ feelings as they motor through Clarendon, I am sensitive to that, too. However, I am unaware of anyone forcing individuals to abide by whatever message the signs convey.

I rarely stop in Clarendon for anything other than gas or perhaps a convenience snack or cold drink. I might feel differently about the crosses and the signs if a convenience store clerk were to start preaching to me.

My response would be: Talk to me on Sunday — in church!

Faith on the rise? Yes, but here is a cynical view

Vice President Mike Pence posted this little nugget on Twitter.

Faith in America is rising again because Trump and our entire administration have been advancing the very principles that you learned here in the halls of College.

Yep, you read that correctly. The vice president says the serial philanderer president is “advancing the very principles” taught at Hillsdale College, a conservative faith based school in the Midwest.

I’m not usually prone to cynical responses, but I’ll offer one here to the vice president.

It well might be that “faith … is rising again,” but perhaps for vastly different reasons than any policy initiatives coming from the Donald J. Trump administration.

It might be instead that people are turning to God and praying that he protects us against the craziness that emanates from the White House. I know that’s a terribly cynical way of looking at an important part of many people’s lives.

As a practicing, church-going Christian I do not take my faith lightly. But for the life of me I cannot see how the president’s long history of self-aggrandizement, personal enrichment, hideous behavior with his first two wives (which he has acknowledged) and his serial lying along with his philandering have called Americans to answer the call of their better angels.

I am left only to presume that the vice president’s belief in a boost in religious faith in this country is a result of a sort of collective fear that Donald Trump is going to do something so stupidly irrational that he places the entire nation in harm’s way.

House chaplain to stay on the job … good deal!

Politicians can and do have second thoughts, yes?

Consider what happened with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision to ask for the resignation of House chaplain the Rev. Patrick Conroy.

He pulled it back. Father Conroy will stay on the job, offering prayers for legislators as they grapple with the issues of the day.

Ryan had incurred considerable national anger when he asked Conroy — a fellow Catholic, as is Ryan — to resign. Ryan hasn’t yet explained his reason for seeking the chaplain’s resignation. Reports have swirled that Father Conroy had offered a prayer that some had taken as criticism of the Republican caucus’s passage of a tax-cut bill that Donald Trump signed into law.

Ryan asked Father Conroy to submit a letter asking the speaker to rescind his request to resign. Conroy did and Ryan accepted it.

As The Hill reported: “I have accepted Father Conroy’s letter and decided that he will remain in his position as Chaplain of the House,” Ryan said. “My original decision was made in what I believed to be the best interest of this institution. To be clear, that decision was based on my duty to ensure that the House has the kind of pastoral services that it deserves.

 “It is my job as speaker to do what is best for this body,” Ryan added, “and I know that this body is not well served by a protracted fight over such an important post.”

The speaker is correct that the House need not be battered by a “protracted fight” over the chaplain.

Except that Ryan started the fight by issuing the resignation request in the first place.

I am one American who is demanding an explanation from Ryan why he picked the fight with the priest. Please tell us, Mr. Speaker, that your initial request had nothing to do with partisan politics.

Now it’s the House chaplain who’s on the hot seat

It’s not every day that the chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives finds his or her name in the news.

The Rev. Patrick Conroy has just entered a new realm of celebrity status. House Speaker Paul Ryan asked Fr. Conroy to resign — but he hasn’t told the chaplain why he wants him out.

What’s going on here? Why push the House’s spiritual leader out of the way?

Fr. Conroy, a Jesuit priest, has served as chaplain since 2011; then-Speaker John Boehner, selected him.

Boehner left office. Ryan — another Catholic — succeeded him as the Man of the House. Now, Ryan wants Fr. Conroy to hit the road.

The New York Times reports: Father Conroy’s resignation is all the more contentious in Catholic circles because Mr. Ryan is a Catholic conservative, whereas Father Conroy is a Jesuit, a branch that is viewed by some as more liberal.

To his huge credit, Fr. Conroy has declined to engage in that discussion.

I certainly understand that we are functioning in highly contentious times these days. To ask the chaplain of the House, the fellow who opens congressional sessions with an invocation seems to take contentiousness to a new level.

Speaker Ryan not only owes the chaplain an explanation, but he ought to give offer one as well to the rest of us. He doesn’t need reminding, but I’ll do so anyway: The speaker works for us.

Those of us who pay for the People’s House deserve an explanation, too. Come clean, Mr. Speaker.

‘Separation of church, state’ need not be written

I cannot let this one pass without offering a brief rejoinder.

Dave Henry, the director of commentary for the Amarillo Globe-News, offered this tidbit in a column Sunday about what is written in the U.S. Constitution.

His column dealt with myths and other untruths that show up on social media. He writes: The fake “City of Amarillo” Facebook page reminded AGN that, “The free press is a cornerstone of democracy.”

Is the free press a “cornerstone” of a republic? I hope so, because the word “democracy” is nowhere to be found in the U.S. Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, what is actually written in the U.S. Constitution – and what is not – does not matter anymore. For example, “separation of church and state.”

He quibbles correctly about whether the founders created a “democracy” or a “republic.” It was the latter, for certain.

But then …

Henry repeats a canard that needs some further explanation. He says the Constitution does not contain the words “separation of church and state.” True. But only as far as it goes.

What that remark — cited often by conservatives who keep arguing that it’s OK to teach religion in public schools — ignores is that the Constitution implies such a separation in its First Amendment. The founders didn’t need to write “separation of church and state” when they declared that Congress shall make no law that establishes a state religion. The prohibition against writing such a law translates quite nicely, in my humble view, to a church-and-state separation.

What’s more, the federal courts have upheld that standard repeatedly through countless court challenges over the course of, oh, 200 years.

I just have grown weary of the tired refrain that the Constitution needs to say something specifically in order to make an issue relevant. Church/state separation is covered by the nation’s governing document — even if it doesn’t say it in so many words.

Revisiting myth of our ‘national Christianity’

Some issues just never go away. They lurk on the edges of our national consciousness, occasionally returning to a spot under the lights.

I have written a number of blogs on this venue about whether we live in a “Christian nation.” I concluded long ago that the founders deliberately left the word “Christian” out of our Constitution.

Here’s a post from 2015:

A ‘Christian nation’? Never have been one

I suspect we’re going to be talking, maybe soon, about this issue once again. After all, the president who’s alleged to have had an affair with a porn queen has been courting the evangelical community since he began running for the office. I fully expect the evangelicals to talk about religion and their “faith” in the president.

Indeed, I saw a tweet this morning that reminds us that Barack Obama and George W. Bush were faithful to their wives, but it took a serial philanderer who’s allegedly involved with a porn star to get evangelical Christians so energized.

And somewhere along the line, someone is going to blurt out some nutty notion that the United States is a “Christian nation,” that it is rediscovering its Christian roots.

I’ll say it again, just as I will say it now.

Baloney!

We aren’t a Christian nation. We are a nation founded by and large by men who adhered to Christian principles; many of them were men of faith who didn’t necessarily follow Jesus Christ’s teachings. Yes, there is a Judeo-Christian ethic written into the Constitution.

However, the founders explicitly excluded any reference to Christianity in the nation’s founding document. Why? Because those men fled religious persecution from tyrants who demanded that they must believe a certain way. They came across the ocean intent on preserving people’s right to worship as they please — or not worship if that is their choice.

I am acutely aware that the founders didn’t craft a perfect document. It didn’t grant full citizenship rights to every living human being in this newly created country. But on the issue of the nation’s religiosity, they got it right.

God bless those brave and wise men.

Behar apologizes to faith community … good for her!

You think you “know” someone based on what they say on the air … and then they surprise you.

Loudmouth comedian/TV talk show co-host Joy Behar had popped off on “The View” not long ago about how Vice President Mike Pence hears wisdom from Jesus Christ. She said Pence must suffer from some sort of “mental illness” if he hears voices from the Lord himself.

Behar’s comment at the time offended people of faith across the land. I was one of those offended and said so in an earlier blog post.

‘Comedian’ crosses a sacred line

Then we hear from Pence, who told Fox News’s Sean Hannity that Behar had called him immediately after her ill-advised snarkiness and apologized to him for her remarks. Pence told Hannity that as a devout Christian, he extended God’s grace to Behar and accepted her apology, but then said he told her she ought to apologize to millions of other Americans of faith for her comment.

What do you suppose Behar did this morning? She apologized. On the air.  On a segment of “The View.” What’s more, she didn’t offer one of those phony “If I offended anyone” non-apologies. She didn’t try to explain anything. She didn’t say “That’s not who I am.” She apologized. Period.

We live in a strange time, folks.

I am not yet certain that Joy Behar quite understands how faithful individuals receive guidance from Scripture. She likely doesn’t quite get how that guidance doesn’t come in the form of audible voices. The very issue of faith is deeper than that.

The vice president is a man of deep faith and as a devoted Christian he is able and willing to extend grace as it is taught in the Bible.

That’s what he did. Joy Behar did her part, too, in telling the rest of us — through her apology — that she made a mistake.

Good for her.

America’s Pastor kept the faith

One of our country’s true giants has gone to reap his great reward.

The Rev. Billy Graham was 99 years of age. He had grown frail in recent years. He had become something of a recluse, staying at his North Carolina home away from the spotlight, eschewing the attention that other noted evangelical preachers had sought out feverishly.

But this man, who found his calling at a young age and then became arguably the nation’s most iconic evangelist, remain true to his belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ.

To my mind — and heart — Rev. Graham kept the faith. He sought to preserve Christian purity as taught by Jesus two millennia ago. His belief was that one need not mix faith with secular politics. He delivered an unvarnished message of love and faith.

Rev. Graham was a confidant to U.S. presidents, all of them from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. You want bipartisanship? Rev. Graham embodied it, providing spiritual counseling to presidents of both parties. Yes, he was closer to some than to others. For instance, Rev. Graham developed a close personal friendship with President Nixon and stood by him during the Watergate scandal that eventually forced the president to resign. When it became clear that the president was complicit in the coverup, Graham was said to be hurt terribly by that revelation.

Still, he remained — in his own view — “above the fray” of partisan politics, which is a lesson that was lost on other noted evangelists. I think, for instance, of Revs. Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, two men who in my view sullied their standing as spiritual leaders with their involvement in partisan politics.

That lesson also has been lost on the Rev. Franklin Graham, the great man’s own son, who also has stooped to the level of political hack. Papa Graham could not have been happy about that, even as the younger Graham carried forth the tradition of the famous Graham “crusades” around the world.

It’s been reported that Graham spoke to roughly 200 million people during his many years of preaching Jesus’s Gospel. He no doubt was heard by many more than those who stood before him, whether in revival tents or across sprawling landscapes in much larger venues.

It’s not an overstatement to suggest that Rev. Graham will be known forever as America’s pastor. He was passionate in his faith and was unafraid to share it with the world.

As it has been said about many iconic figures who have come and gone, the Rev. Billy Graham won’t ever be compared to anyone else.