Sunday, April 17, 2011

National Day of Prayer Ruling Overturned: Alienation Is Not Injury

I caught this good piece of news over at Christianity Today (emphasis added):
National Day of Prayer Ruling Overturned

A federal appeals court today ruled 3-0 that dismisses a lawsuit against the National Day of Prayer. The decision overturns last year's ruling by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb that ruled that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Freedom From Religion Foundation did not have standing to bring the lawsuit against President Obama. "But unless all limits on standing are to be abandoned, a feeling of alienation cannot suffice as injury in fact," the court said in its opinion opinion.

President Truman signed into law in 1952 a Congressional resolution establishing a National Day of Prayer. The Justice Department had appealed Judge Crabb's decision.
So, I guess prayer is a protected right still ... for a while.  I wonder when the next attack on religious freedom will occur.

Friday, April 15, 2011

When Christians Hate: Fighting The Black Eye We Give God

I don't believe in Mormonism, but I certainly do NOT believe in persecuting its adherents.  Hate is hate.  Check out this article from Lillian Kwon in last week's The Christian Post (emphasis added):
Christians Counter Hate, Offer Love to Mormons
Tue, Apr. 05, 2011 Posted: 11:07 AM EDT

Mormons who gathered in Salt Lake City, Utah, for their 181st Annual General Conference this past weekend were again met by a small group of Christians shouting "repent," among other things.

The group is a regular presence at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints conferences, often hurling insults and dragging the Book of Mormon on the ground.  [Comment: What a hideous thing to do!  We should at all times remain respectful!]

Countering the protesters this year, however, was another group of Christians who offered "free hugs" and some "Jesus style" love for the Mormons.

"Jesus didn’t scream and hold signs at the Samaritan well," said Charles Hill, pastor of One Community Church in South Jordan, Utah, in a statement. "We are called to love each other."

Hill moved to South Jordan in 2009 to start a church in a predominantly Mormon community. He has made clear that his mission is not to "defeat" the LDS Church, which is headquartered in Salt Lake City, but to simply reach those who need Jesus.

Over the past two years he has built relationships with many Mormons. He often opens his house up to his neighbors, almost all of whom are part of the LDS Church. But again, he has clarified that he's not out to convert them to his Christian faith, but rather to simply love them.

So when he sees other Christians protesting at LDS conferences, he's compelled to respond.

He brought out his church to the conference on Saturday, the opening day of the two-day event, to give out some love. "HUGS not THUGS" was their marching orders. They handed out free hugs to those who needed "a boost after walking past our brothers and sisters in Jesus who just gave them an ear full. We will give them an arm full."

Meanwhile, he has a message for the protesters: "Dear Thugs: stop driving the wedge between our relationships that we seek to build that much deeper. I bet most of you aren’t even from this city. If you really knew someone who was LDS and loved them, you would never be doing this. And for those that are in our cities here…there is a reason your church is '50 soldiers in the Army of the Lord' strong every Sunday morning and has been for years."

The LDS Church continues to grow in membership in the U.S. and worldwide. According to statistics revealed at the convention on Saturday, total LDS membership at the end of 2010 was 14.1 million. The religious body also reported 272,814 converts baptized in 2010, 134 temples (with three new ones planned for this year), and 52,225 missionaries serving in 340 missions.

Additionally, LDS leaders boasted service and aid to the poor. Mormons logged in over 40,000 hours of service through more than 4,000 volunteers in Japan relief efforts, Thomas S. Monson, president of the LDS Church, reported.

Monson, whom Mormons view as a modern-day prophet, delivered a charge that likely resonated with Hill – to be good citizens and good neighbors, and examples of honesty and integrity "wherever we go and in whatever we do."

Hill acknowledges that there are fundamental theological differences between Mormons and evangelical Christians. And he would rejoice if his Mormon neighbors came to a saving knowledge of Christ.

But he disagrees with treating them as a "conversion project."

"Jesus did not say: 'Win them with scare tactics and by acting like thugs when you disagree with someone.' He said, 'They will know you by your LOVE.' Jesus said: 'LOVE your neighbor as yourself.'

"He also said, 'By this will everyone know you are my disciples when you have LOVE one for another.' All of the law and the prophets hang on the 2 commands to LOVE! Can I get a witness?"

Reminding Christians of both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, Hill encourages believers to reach out in their own context – whether it's a GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) parade, a porn convention or an atheist convention – with Jesus' love.

"Maybe we can start a revolution that shows what we are FOR [love and the gospel] rather than just the press we get on what we are AGAINST," he pondered.
I love Hill's ideas! ... Gee, kinda takin' things back to Jesus.  A novel approach to witnessing to the world, eh?

Sadly, and to our embarrassment, our press seems to only print the ugly side of Christianity ... rarely does one fine mention of the good.  We need more "HUGS" not "THUGS!"

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Exchanging the Truth for A Lie

He nervously paced the floor, like an Olympian athlete engaged in visual imagery, going through the motions of the huge challenge before him. He waited outside the courtroom, his own attorney's gaze following the frenetic path of his client. Kevin occasionally reached inside his coat pocket, fingering the rosary he had bought long ago in Mexico. His mind groped for reassurance and comfort as his fingers searched for the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe that was attached to the rosary. In the other pocket nestled a scallop shell from his pilgrimage he had made along the Way of St. James in Spain -- "el Camino de Santiago de Compostela."

Kevin had brought these trinkets with him on the day he had been dreading: the day of a deposition involving an angry neighbor and his nasty lawyer. They were hell bent on intimidating Kevin with a long and drawn out deposition at the courthouse. It was an annoying and ridiculous property dispute ... a matter he tried to settle with his neighbor but to no avail. He had been dragged into court.

I have known Kevin for many years. He is a family man, married many years to the same sweet woman and the proud father of two -- a teenage son and a younger daughter with Down syndrome. His wife had battled some serious health crises herself over the years and, coupled with the extra trials a special needs child brings, Kevin's home life was filled with additional burdens and emergencies many other families do not face. But, he never showed bitterness or resentment toward the seemingly harsh and unfair chain of events that comprised his life, instead choosing to be jovial and a ball of fire in the workplace.

Over the years and through the numerous trials, crises and close calls, Kevin understandably wondered the same question any of us would: WHY?  Raised Catholic, yet having chosen to slip "the bonds" that Kevin felt Catholicism presented, he delved into various New Age philosophies and gurus to soothe his aching soul, seeking a spirituality that brought him comfort but not the "control" he believed religion forced upon its adherents.

One day at lunch, some of us were discussing religion ... the precise topic of the discussion escapes me now. But, I clearly recall Kevin interrupting the conversation, announcing to the group with pride: "I'm not religious, I'm spiritual." I asked him what he meant by "spiritual."

He talked about having a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe in his garden, a statue he had brought back with him on one of his winter trips to Cancun. He said that he found meditating before the statue in his garden brought him peace. He stated that spiritual means he does things that help him connect with the world and "a higher being" without the trappings of religion. He read books by such authors as are featured of Oprah. He said it helped him feel better and that it made him a better person.  I replied that it seemed very self-focused .... very selfish. Did his meditations lead him to reach out to his community to make the world better and not just himself?  I tried to be as kind as possible in choosing my words, but such a challenge is never welcome.

That conversation was years ago, perhaps not handled by me as best as it could have been. And now he was preparing for the dreadful deposition. His pronouncement of having his pilgrim's shell and rosary with him -- what I would deem his "good luck charms" -- only brought me sadness. He had exchanged the truth for a lie. He sought support and comfort from two small inanimate objects. They were not souvenirs from Christ-centered pilgrimages. I could understand their importance if they were accompanied by a Christ-centered faith. But, rather than using them to help bring himself closer to Christ, they were used no differently than a rabbit's foot -- mere good luck charms to help connect him to the universe. No relationship. No different from reading one's horoscope. No different from knocking on wood.

The "New Age", my friends, ain't nothin' new.  It's the same ancient paganism that's been around for millenia.  In the past two decades it has been repackaged, revamped, and been presented in a sleek Madison Fifth Avenue PR campaign.  

Ironically, in Kevin's revolt against the "control" of religion, he failed to see his own desire for control, for what is the purpose of superstition but to give us a sense of some control over our out-of-control lives -- our destiny?  If I throw a pinch of salt over my shoulder, I'll ward off evil ... that would vengefully attack me for spilling salt.  If I cower at the number 13, I believe I'm warding off misfortune, but I miss out on the full engagement in one day a month and the lovely "baker's dozen" at the bakery.  If I bury a statue of St. Joseph in my front yard in hopes that my house will sell faster, I worry that maybe I buried "him" the wrong way ... and I wind up putting my faith in a cheap trinket rather than connecting in close communion with my Lord.

Do these items drive me closer to God ... or do they serve to distract me from God, naively placing my faith in inanimate objects and rituals?  In my feeble attempts to control my life, I shut the door to the true Author of Life.  I exchange Him and His Truth for a life of cheap grace -- fruitless rituals, charms, and charlatans.