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News from the Center: Digest

News from the Center: Digest (7)

 

Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, has addressed the church regarding the changing situations as states and communities face reopening.

 


“We are now seeing a different phase in government, and that is resulting in a different response from the church,” Harrison said.

The LCMS is working with Alliance Defending Freedom, First Liberty and the Becket Fund to defend religious liberty where needed. Please go below to find links to letters, press releases, and the latest news from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod on religious liberty with regard to congregations’ ability to worship.

 

 

Be Informed

Author J. K. Rowling made an unexpected stand for the difference between male and female. Learn more here.

 

Be Equipped

A Christian professor in Ohio got the message from his employer loud and clear: “You must endorse the university’s favored ideology or be punished. There is no room for dissent.” See how he’s fighting back.

 

Be Encouraged

“Lifting each other up, as we share our faith in Christ Who came to make all things new, is the only hope we have. Let us not waste this life God has given us, but let us move forward in faith, together, knowing that ultimately the gates of hell will not prevail against those who love God.” --Abbott Tryphon, Vashon Island, Wash.

This Saturday the country will celebrate the Fourth of July, a time when Americans still publicly cherish and celebrate the freedoms that they’ve been privileged to possess. It’s a time when we honor the things that make America special and, in fact, unique in this world. It’s a time when we come together, in spite of our country’s failures and our many differences, and honor what makes our country different. And what would that be exactly? Many today are trying to sell the notion that nothing about our country makes us “unique” or honorable. But is that true? Of course it isn’t! In fact, I’d like you to take the time right now to be thankful for a country that did some incredible things for you. No matter what your station in life at the moment, things like these have rarely, if ever, been done before.

 


Those who founded this country did the following:

(1) They organized a country based on the self-evident truth that people, as creatures of God, all “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (Declaration of Independence). Such rights were to be virtuously engaged and constantly striven for “freely” without need of coercion. To be sure, not living up to those principles has caused our country tremendous turmoil, but the fundamental truth remains and still calls all freedom-seeking people to itself.  

(2) They not only realized the inherent dignity of all people, but also recognized the depth of the depravity of all humanity, themselves included. Who wins a revolution, writes a constitution, and claims a victory by limiting one’s own power? People who know that liberty for all is more important than personal power for some, that’s who. This truth makes America as a country unique to this day.

(3) Finally, they realized that the American experiment rises and falls on the idea with which the Constitution begins, “We the People.” This statement envisions free citizens in charge of our lives as capable, competent, self-disciplined, religiously-motivated people living freely for others just because it’s the right thing to do. In the biblical dichotomy of “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, give to God what is God’s” (Matt. 22:21), America was the first and only country that limited government types. It even gave the ultimate “Caesar-ship” to individual citizens with a Bill of Rights to keep power-hunger politicians in their place.

All of this was pretty special then, and, in the midst of the turmoil of the last several months, it remains even more special today . . . if we can keep it. Reverend Peter Marshall, Chaplain of the United States Senate for a short time in the 1940s, said this about America’s freedom in action: “May we think of freedom not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.”[1] Wise words.

So, while July Fourth is rightly called “Independence Day,” I want you to remember that exercising our freedoms is not libertinism, a “do as I please” attitude subject to no moral code or no civil concern above oneself as the final arbiter. On this Fourth of July, let’s prayerfully and thankfully celebrate those who sacrificed so much so that we can have the freedoms that we have today. And let’s realize that for such freedoms to endure, we must understand that our healthy “independence” is rooted and empowered by these three things: (1) our dependence on God in all things, (2) our interdependence with each other in community (e.g., family, church, neighborhood, city, and country), and (3) our humble, steely-eyed willingness to be independent and even “go it alone” for ourselves and for others when God’s fundamental, moral truths are one the line.

While the resurrection freedom of Good Friday and Easter Sunday is the only enduring, eternal freedom in the world, it is a precious thing to have the temporal freedoms of America as well. Such temporal, constitutional freedoms free us to be faithful to God on His terms and to others without coercion or fear. That freedom was worth fighting for then, it is worth celebrating now, and it is worth exercising in the future. A blessed 244th Independence Day then to you all and may there be many more to come!

The Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz is executive director of the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty.

Be Informed

A new survey “finds widespread support for letting Church, not State, control internal religious direction.” Learn more here.  

 

Be Equipped

Discover more about a dangerous agenda for America’s institutions with Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto. Click here to listen to a recent interview.

 

Be Inspired

“O Merciful Father in heaven, from You comes all rule and authority over the nations of the world for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. Graciously regard Your servants, those who make, administer and judge the laws of this nation, and look in mercy upon all the rulers of the earth. Grant that all who receive the sword as Your servants may bear it according to Your command. Enlighten and defend them, and grant them wisdom and understanding, that under their peaceable governance Your people may be guarded and directed in righteousness, quietness and unity. Protect and prolong their lives that we with them may show forth the praise of Your name; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

  

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/33254.Peter_Marshall

Religion waxes and wanes in a culture and throughout history.  It can fade away, but it can also suddenly come back again.

The American Enterprise Institute has released an important study of American religion entitled Promise and peril: The history of American religiosity and its recent decline.

 


It is a meta-analysis--that is, a study of studies–bringing together a wide range of disparate research and analyzing the data in terms of each other to arrive at more rigorous conclusions.

You may have noticed, for example, that there have been many studies of American religion and its possible decline that come up with different statistics.  The problem is that different researchers study different aspects of the question.  You can focus on how many Americans claim to have a religious affiliation.  Or you can focus on how many Americans actually go to church.  Or you can focus on what Americans say that they believe.

Those are three completely different questions.  Many members of a church don’t attend much, or don’t believe what their church teaches.  Many Americans profess Christian beliefs but don’t belong to a church.  Furthermore, each of those questions rely on what individuals tell survey takers.  Another line of research is digging out objective data about American religion, such as church records and evidence of cultural markers, such as “religious” baby names.  Then again, church records are not always accurate and some congregations don’t even have memberships.  So the whole questions of “how religious are Americans?” and “is Christianity declining in the United States?” are more complicated to answer than it might appear.

Read more from Dr. Veith here.

Be Informed

Life begins at conception. Click here to see a timeline of fetal development . . . and to learn how a child’s heart starts beating at only 21 days old!

Be Equipped

“Many people are looking to a higher power for comfort these days. In March, the number of Google searches for prayer skyrocketed, according to a not-yet-published analysis of search results for 95 countries by an economist at the University of Copenhagen.” Learn more from the Wall Street Journal.

Be Encouraged

Dear Father, you sent your Son, who left His powerful position in heaven to be born in a lowly stable, to live life in our place, to die a death that is the recompense for this world’s sin, and to give us eternal life as a gift now and forever. May that motivate our prayers and our service to our friends and our enemies, to our brothers and sisters in the faith and our neighbors in the community, and all who are in authority to lead and to serve. Give us strength to be a people constantly in prayer, available for service, and bold in our witness of the God who is at work in the world to save. In the Name of Jesus, we pray. Amen!

Religion waxes and wanes in a culture and throughout history.  It can fade away, but it can also suddenly come back again.

That is one of  the takeaways from the American Enterprise study by Lyman Stone that we’ve been discussing this week:  Promise and peril: The history of American religiosity and its recent decline.

 


In addition to giving us something of a three-dimensional profile of the extent of religion in the United States and Western Europe, the study gives data about why religions decline but also what brings religions back.

As we reported from that study, the lowest level of church membership and church attendance in the history of the United States was in the 1780s, when only a third of Americans belonged to any church body and only a fifth of the population was in church on any given Sunday.  That’s far worse than today’s supposedly “declining” numbers, of 62% membership and 35% attending.

But after that religious low point at the very outset of our nation came the Second Great Awakening, which began in the 1790s and soon made our forebears the strong Christians we have always assumed them to be.

What changed?  Researchers have cited sociological factors.  For example, as we blogged about, the American Enterprise study says that the heavy-handed, politically powerful colonial churches created a backlash against faith, whereas their disestablishment and America’s new religious liberties created a climate for faith to flourish again.

Click here to read more from Dr. Gene Edward Veith.

Be Informed

Hosted by LCMS Urban & Inner-City Mission, the Rev. Dr. Greg Seltz, executive director of the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty, will presents a free webinar on “Religious Freedom in our PC Culture” from 1:00-2:00 p.m. Central time Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. Seltz will provide insights and strategies to winsomely witness to our world as the Christian faith becomes less “PC.” Learn more here!

Be Equipped

Rev. Christopher Thomas discusses when Christians must disobey government’s restrictions on gathering in a recent Issues, Etc. interview.

Be Encouraged

Dear Father, you sent your Son, who left His powerful position in heaven to be born in a lowly stable, to live life in our place, to die a death that is the recompense for this world’s sin, and to give us eternal life as a gift now and forever. May that motivate our prayers and our service to our friends and our enemies, to our brothers and sisters in the faith and our neighbors in the community, and all who are in authority to lead and to serve. Give us strength to be a people constantly in prayer, available for service, and bold in our witness of the God who is at work in the world to save. In the Name of Jesus, we pray. Amen!

 

When John Kennedy was murdered in November, 1963, the Washington Star columnist Mary McGrory famously said, “We shall never laugh again,” to which  Daniel Patrick Moynihan, later to become a famous senator, replied, “Mary, we’ll laugh again, but we’ll never be young again.”

 


That Cold War tete-a-tete is surely to be repeated, at another level and for a new era, when official Washington begins slowly and incrementally to awaken to the reality of the Covid-19 chapter of American history.  The only thing that will have changed in our nation’s capital is everything, which is to say, the way in which the city has historically done business and navigated itself has been inalterably shifted and reimagined.

            In its 231-year history – through Civil War, two world wars, the Great Depression, major recessions, Watergate, Vietnam, the three wars of the last 30 years, etc. – there has never been a time when the United States Congress has not met in person and voted in person. To do otherwise, even up to two weeks ago, would have thought unthinkable.

But as a direct result of America’s current domestic war –- the attack of an invisible, lethal pathogen – remote voting will be installed in the House whereby Members of Congress will be given the option of remaining in their home districts and merely appointing a proxy on the House floor to vote in their behalf. This is genuinely a radical change.

            The United States Senate, perhaps the most tradition-bound institution in America with only one exception, refuses to move toward proxy voting; but it is inevitable, if there is, God-forbid, a second round of Covid spikes, that even that legislative upper house may need to find a contemporary manner in which to do its daily business.  The current muddle of discontinued subcommittee and committee hearings has become, for some members, intolerable.

            Most people who watch, track, and work with Congress most closely have been told that, in the post-Quarantine era, the House and Senate will revert to in-person voting, in-person hearings, and in-person modes of doing daily and weekly business.  Having worked on or near Capitol Hill for three decades, I feel confident that will not be the case.  Some changes are so dramatic, you can never go back again, at least completely. 

            Some of the current “temporarily-remote” ways of doing business in the House and Senate will likely be concretized into permanence and will thus fundamentally change how the House does much of its work.  With likely airline snafus and other related transportation hurdles on the cusp, there will be every incentive to reform the old decorum and to favor less centrality on the Hill and in the city.

            Thousands of people who work on the Hill, in the federal bureaucracy and in the institutions most associated with the work of the legislative an executive branches have now had a two-month sense of how working remotely can be made to work, and there will be inclinations toward keeping more people away from the capitol core of the city.

            Similarly, there has not been a time in White House history where there were so many daily hurdles to even getting inside the complex, much less near-to or inside the West Wing where the president, vice president, and their most senior staffs work.  To what was an already highly-restricted working space before Covid will be added layers of keeping more people away.  The risk is simply too high for infection; in fact, even with the most stringent barriers in Washington, senior White House aides still were infected and necessarily quarantined.

            Perhaps the biggest immediate change of Washington, D.C., in the post-quarantine era will be its impact on the United States Supreme Court.  Two members of that august body are in their 80s; four of the members, including the Chief Justice, are in their 60s or above; and for the first time in the court’s contemporary history, the justices heard 10 major cases, met in conference, and had discussions by teleconference, allowing the public for the first time to listen to cases as they were actually being argued. Lawyers making the cases were doing so from their living rooms via telephonic connection.

            There has been a longtime push to allow the public to listen to real-time audio from the court cases as they are being argued; others have pushed for TV coverage, much like C-SPAN.  The justices say such coverage would impede the way the cases are both argued and decided.  It seems unlikely at this juncture that real-time TV and radio are in the offing, but it is does not seem unlikely that, with the viral threat ongoing, new procedures and protocols will be adopted to modify how the Court adjusts to the new normal, and that may include a modified version of real-time audio.

            The Irish-Anglo statesman Edmund Burke famously observed that the best definition of a healthy conservatism is that which allows worthy institutions to be reformed in order to be preserved.  It seems to me Burke’s definition accords with right reason in the public square of a post-Quarantine, twenty-first century Washington, D.C.

            The Constitution has a fixed meaning and purpose; its original vision remains more vital today than ever; the way contemporary Washington adapts and reforms will be the largest historical question going-forward, and will be fascinating to watch and help impact.

Timothy S. Goeglein is the vice president for External and Government Relations for Focus on the Family.

 

Be Informed

“How Minnesota Catholics and Lutherans Teamed Up to Open Their Churches:” the title of the article says it all! Read it here.

Be Equipped

Every child deserves a mom and dad, but for those absent fathers, one man is stepping up to help. Check out “Dad, How Do I?” for more.  

 

Be Encouraged

In a nation that grants its citizens liberty and freedom, in a nation that seeks to limit the powerful and set the religious, disciplined, self-governing citizen free, we, as believers, pray that we might rise to that challenge as your people, to proclaim your ultimate work of redemption for all. Amen.

 

So, Chris tells Jamie, “I just couldn’t cast a vote for someone who supports abortion.” And Jamie says, “You know, Chris, abortion’s not the only voting issue. Other things matter to elections and politics too. Seems kind of narrow-minded for you to fixate on just that one.”

Have you ever heard a conversation like this? Have you ever had a conversation like this?

Have you ever heard a conversation like this? Have you ever had a conversation like this?

Have you ever met someone like Chris or Jamie? Have you ever felt like Chris? Like Jamie?

Is abortion an election issue? No and yes.

No, abortion is never just an election issue. But yes, abortion is always at least an election issue. Here are ten reasons why:


1. Abortion isn’t just a political issue. Abortion has to do with facts and truth about the science of human life—embryos and fetuses are living human beings as much as you and me. Abortion deals with the physical and psychological welfare of the most vulnerable among us—it kills children and makes mothers suffer. Abortion executes the injustice of discriminating against one another—unborn babies face deprivation and dying based only on their age, appearance, experiences, environment, or abilities. And abortion involves moral assessments and enforcements—who has the right to life, who has the authority to take life, when may we limit one’s lifestyle because it infringes upon somebody else’s survival?

2. Abortion isn’t just a single issue. Abortion is a conclusion that comes from a whole set of principles. It relates to economics, medicine and health care, justice and civil rights. It shows how one understands the roles of government and law—shouldn’t we protect the weakest? It affects one’s sense of the community’s commitments to our underprivileged and endangered—wouldn’t we want to make up for what they lack rather than take even the little they have? It informs how one feels about our relationships to each other as citizens in a society—can’t we care instead of discarding? And abortion has long-term consequences and global implications for both individual bodies and entire populations.

Click here to read the remainder of Pastor Salemink’s article.

Be Informed

During the recent pandemic, church members have been stepping up to care for their members in big ways. But “as churches are trying to adapt and serve, some government officials are targeting churches and treating them worse than local businesses. That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom has intervened on behalf of several churches.” Click here to learn more.

 

 

Be Equipped

The end of life can be deeply painful and challenging, often marked by anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Yet Christians working in hospice have opportunities to serve patients, families, and churches in these critical moments.” Hear from people working to show mercy and compassion to the suffering and dying, sharing Christ’s words of comfort and peace.  

 

Be Encouraged

“As you love the Savior, and through Him the members of your family, seek to remember how it is when Christ attends a wedding. He is not only to be a permanent and prominent Guest in your home; He should be its most visible centerpiece, enriching your marriage and empowering your relationships with others.” – Rev. Dr. Armin Oldsen, former “The Lutheran Hour” speaker, a Life Quote from Lutherans for Life

 

A year ago, I quoted Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary for President Bill Clinton, who said,  

The true battle (of the 21st Century) will be between the modern society and the anti-modernists; between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe that human beings owe their allegiance and identity to a higher authority; between those who give priority to life in this world and those who believe that human life is a mere preparation for existence beyond life; between those who believe in science, reason, and logic and those who believe that truth is revealed through Scripture and religious dogma; Terrorism will disrupt and destroy lives. But it is not the greatest danger that we face.[1]

[1] Ramesh Ponnuru, “Robert Reich’s Religion Problem,”  National Review Online, July 6, 2004


It still amazes me how brash, condescending, and dismissive his statement is. I could argue that belief in God is actually the source of his individual liberties. This is because the Western concept of the individual grew out of the notion of two public sovereigns, the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor (which grew out of the biblical distinction between the things of God and the things of Caesar; see Matt. 22:17-21). I could also argue that modern science grew out of a biblical worldview that sanctified the investigation of the dirt-level of life, rather than eschew it like the elites of so many pagan cultures before us did. After all, if God created human beings, that establishes an inherent dignity to the physical, human level of life. And if God then visited humans at that level (a foundational Christian teaching), then of course the “elites” of our culture shouldn’t mind putting their hands in the dirt as well!

What discoveries we started to make when we were willing to sanctify the research that used to be thought of as “beneath” us. I counter Reich’s caricature of the uselessness of those who see life as “eternal” by pointing out the nihilistic focus that his worldview has unleashed on our culture and on our world. If life is eternal, then what you do now matters. If life is merely one thing after another until you die, then nothing ultimately matters. So, which of these two views gives purpose and meaning to each day? Bring on the conversation, because belief in one, true higher authority brings civility, humanness, peace, and even salvation in the midst of this sinful, broken world. Other false “higher” authorities, when unleashed, bring tyranny.

My reason for citing this quote today pertains less to that enduring discussion than to the way many are facing the challenges of COVID-19. Amidst the data emanating from our health experts and politicians, real fears are not being vanquished; they are intensifying. With every solution, people are facing the possibility of their own mortality and demanding that such things be overcome. They are instinctively seeking answers from a higher authority. At this moment in time, people are also struggling with the notion of who to trust and turn to amidst all of the fear, uncertainty, and even despair. And too many are being counseled not to look to God, but to science, technology, political efforts, and earthly power alone. Yikes! I chuckle a bit when I see politicians puff their chest out and say, “God didn’t do this; we did!”[1] Governor Cuomo, who I think is doing a fine job overall, seems to forget that even if he locks people down, the human body with its God-given immune system, along with the medical knowledge of God-given anti-bodies and potential vaccines that lay in wait for us to discover, are the things that can really heal and protect us.

[1] Ramesh Ponnuru, “Robert Reich’s Religion Problem,”  National Review Online, July 6, 2004

If the COVID-19 virus has taught us anything, it has taught us how fragile life is even now. It has also taught us that there are things bigger than our best efforts, things beyond our capabilities to master. All of our technology and power, as well as our very own lives, can suddenly be overwhelmed by something as small as this virus. As we face tomorrow, the Bible instructs us to number our days (Ps. 90:12). Why? Because our life is not our own. It is a gift from God. This “faith in God” perspective doesn’t run from reality. It faces it with the courage, perseverance, and the perspective necessary to put our knowledge to work for the good of others without fear. Science, technology, individualism, “survival of the fittest,” and all the modern “shibboleths” of so-called “higher authorities” can never produce this “faith in God” perspective on life, even amidst the bigger-than-life terrors of this world.

Think about it this way: What view of life would motivate you to stay behind and care for others when pandemics and plagues hit? What would inspire such care when there was nothing in it for you? What would cause you to suffer along with someone when you knew you’d be exposing yourself to life-threatening risks as well? What would cause you to do all of these, rather than to look down on others who couldn’t? Martin Luther, a giant religious leader in history, wrote about this kind of faith life during the devastating plague of 1527. His letter was entitled, “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.” Luther wrote compassionately about this, saying it was not “inherently” wrong to flee the plague, as long people ensured that someone of “greater faith” was there to care for their loved ones. He then said that those with “greater faith” to stay behind should not condemn those who could not bear the plague and fled. (Of course, he stayed). He wrote,

Yes, no one should dare leave his neighbor unless there are others who will take care of the sick in their stead and nurse them. In such cases we must respect the word of Christ, “I was sick and you did not visit me …” [Matt. 25:41–46]. According to this passage we are bound to each other in such a way that no one may forsake the other in his distress but is obliged to assist and help him as he himself would like to be helped.[2]

Faith in God binds us to each other in a way that no other belief can. In The Hill,[3] a political magazine in Washington D.C., Erwin M. Hawley also hails Luther’s “faith life” perspective in facing this COVID-19 pandemic. Such faith bears suffering with another because God bears with us in suffering too. What a way to live! This perspective value the lives of others as precious, even when sick or dying, because God values us as His created and redeemed people. What a way to face the fear of COVID-19! Does faith in God, trust in God, and belief in God as the ultimate “higher authority” change the way we live for each other? Yes, and for the better! In fact, I say there is no other “higher authority” that will do, especially in these days of COVID-19.

The Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz is the executive director of the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty.

 

Be Informed

Children need a mom and a dad. Author Suzanne Venker explains why boys especially need the steady hand of both to thrive in life.

Be Equipped

Dr. Anthony Esolen offers solid insight on love, marriage, and what to look for in a spouse.

 

Be Encouraged

“The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, by the blood of the eternal covenant, that great shepherd of the sheep, establish you in everything good for the working of His will in whom God is well pleased; to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” – Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

 

[1] https://www.westernjournal.com/god-not-gov-cuomo-tries-steal-glory-god-flattening-curve/

[2] https://www.patheos.com/blogs/chorusinthechaos/martin-luther-and-the-black-plague/

[3] https://thehill.com/opinion/white-house/488675-the-plague-coronavirus-and-martin-luther-why-they-all-matter-now