Book Review: David Sehat’s The Myth of American Religious Freedom

David Sehat’s purpose in his book, The Myth American Religious Freedom was to debunk the false mythical status that the United States of America has had a tradition of unfettered religious liberty. To the contrary, this false narrative propagated by progressives on the Left who cite court decisions from the 1960s such as Engel vs. Vital (see chapter 11 “The Liberal Moment”). While I was familiar with most of the historical figures and religious liberty cases Sehat put forth as evidence for his debunking, I was rather taken aback, as an African American, at the role the Curse of Ham played in several state court decisions, as well as even the Dred Scott SCOTUS decision. Slavery and subsequently racial segregation were reinforced through the White Protestant Christian truth regime. Sadly enough, racism undermined of the Common Law tradition and therefore setting back the conservative political movement back by about 150 years (Chapter 4 “The Moral Purpose of Slavery and Abolition”). Indeed, if the Civil War was not about slavery, then why did the South institute the Black codes right before the North officially declared victory?

This book is filled with the tales of the “negro question,” the “mormon question (well, it’s still a question today, huh?), and more prominently, the “catholic question.” While Republicans today do not claim any of the post-Civil War GOP presidents before the Industrial Age, President U.S. Grant, for example, proposed a constitutional amendment to ban public funds for sectarian schools (Chapter 8). It is historical facts such as these that could be used as a counter-narrative towards the newer pushes towards class segregation in the form of privatizing school systems.

By the midway point of the 11th Chapter, Sehat reveals his sympathies with the liberal/progressive notion of religious liberty, that the rights of individuals should be defended, and any notion of moral responsibility should be given up. of course, this commitment to pluralism and individual rights comes with a price; who will be there to keep the immoral establishment accountable? And by that, I mean the political and economic elites who make life harder for those on the bottom rung of society. Self-interest continues to run amock as all liberals and religious progressives can do is call foul in the aftermath. Hey, remember, there’s no need for responsibility to promote a moral establishment, so unions, corporations and politicians can behave without moral accountability. I also had problems with the presentation of William Lloyd Garrison as THE voice for abolitionists in conflict with the womens’ rights movement, though Sehat’s interpretation was intriguing, especially about Elizabeth Cady Stanton contrasted with Susan B. Anthony. But if you are going to discuss the intersection of abolition and women’s rights, why exclude Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass from the conversation? It was surprising, especially considering the detail Sehat gave in his depictions of Booker T. Washington as an apostle of civilization for the Negro race.

Lastly, given the fact that Sehat already gave evidence for the Curse of Ham that showed up in early American court cases, I have to disagree with his comment that the Loving family case against Virginia (an interracial couple getting married) had important ramifications for those who advocate same sex marriage. These concepts are two different topics; anti-miscegenation laws had everything from preventing one man and one woman from being married out of ideas about their biologically inherited cultural differences. Same sex marriage is about re-defining marriage all together. There is a huge difference.

The Theological Declaration of Barmen

Today, 31 May, is the anniversary of the Theological Declaration of Barmen. Read it. Read the history surrounding it.

While reading an unrelated work, I came across the mention of this pre-WW2 document which tried to prevent the Christian Churches in Germany from becoming the tools of Adolf Hitler who spouted Christian rhetoric to suit his purposes. These pro-Nazi churches were noticeably nationalistic in tone, and quickly allied themselves with the ruling authorities, causing no small distress to those which sought the separation of Church and State.

I believe that it is important to note, especially in this time, that others have faced the draw of realigning the Church with the State – and others have laboured to the point of death to prevent it.

Here is a site with some quotations from Hitler dealing with Christianity. I mention this because many will assume that Hitler was an atheist, etc… but few realize the close relationship he had with certain (un)Christian churches in Germany. While he claimed what he wanted, a simple reading of Scripture tells you what a Christian is – and a genocidal murder is not.

I. An Appeal to the Evangelical Congregations and Christians in Germany

The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church met in Barmen, May 29-31, 1934. Here representatives from all the German Confessional Churches met with one accord in a confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, apostolic Church. In fidelity to their Confession of Faith, members of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches sought a common message for the need and temptation of the Church in our day. With gratitude to God they are convinced that they have been given a common word to utter. It was not their intention to found a new Church or to form a union. For nothing was farther from their minds than the abolition of the confessional status of our Churches. Their intention was, rather, to withstand in faith and unanimity the destruction of the Confession of Faith, and thus of the Evangelical Church in Germany. In opposition to attempts to establish the unity of the German Evangelical Church by means of false doctrine, by the use of force and insincere practices, the Confessional Synod insists that the unity of the Evangelical Churches in Germany can come only from the Word of God in faith through the Holy Spirit. Thus alone is the Church renewed.

Therefore the Confessional Synod calls upon the congregations to range themselves behind it in prayer, and steadfastly to gather around those pastors and teachers who are loyal to the Confessions.

Be not deceived by loose talk, as if we meant to oppose the unity of the German nation! Do not listen to the seducers who pervert our intentions, as if we wanted to break up the unity of the German Evangelical Church or to forsake the Confessions of the Fathers!

Try the spirits whether they are of God! Prove also the words of the Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church to see whether they agree with Holy Scripture and with the Confessions of the Fathers. If you find that we are speaking contrary to Scripture, then do not listen to us! But if you find that we are taking our stand upon Scripture, then let no fear or temptation keep you from treading with us the path of faith and obedience to the Word of God, in order that God’s people be of one mind upon earth and that we in faith experience what he himself has said: “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” Therefore, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

II. Theological Declaration Concerning the Present Situation of the German Evangelical Church

According to the opening words of its constitution of July 11, 1933, the German Evangelical Church is a federation of Confessional Churches that grew our of the Reformation and that enjoy equal rights. The theological basis for the unification of these Churches is laid down in Article 1 and Article 2(1) of the constitution of the German Evangelical Church that was recognized by the Reich Government on July 14, 1933:

* Article 1. The inviolable foundation of the German Evangelical Church is the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is attested for us in Holy Scripture and brought to light again in the Confessions of the Reformation. The full powers that the Church needs for its mission are hereby determined and limited.
* Article 2 (1). The German Evangelical Church is divided into member Churches Landeskirchen).

We, the representatives of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches, of free synods, Church assemblies, and parish organizations united in the Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church, declare that we stand together on the ground of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of German Confessional Churches. We are bound together by the confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

We publicly declare before all evangelical Churches in Germany that what they hold in common in this Confession is grievously imperiled, and with it the unity of the German Evangelical Church. It is threatened by the teaching methods and actions of the ruling Church party of the “German Christians” and of the Church administration carried on by them. These have become more and more apparent during the first year of the existence of the German Evangelical Church. This threat consists in the fact that the theological basis, in which the German Evangelical Church is united, has been continually and systematically thwarted and rendered ineffective by alien principles, on the part of the leaders and spokesmen of the “German Christians” as well as on the part of the Church administration. When these principles are held to be valid, then, according to all the Confessions in force among us, the Church ceases to be the Church and th German Evangelical Church, as a federation of Confessional Churches, becomes intrinsically impossible.

As members of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches we may and must speak with one voice in this matter today. Precisely because we want to be and to remain faithful to our various Confessions, we may not keep silent, since we believe that we have been given a common message to utter in a time of common need and temptation. We commend to God what this may mean for the intrrelations of the Confessional Churches.

In view of the errors of the “German Christians” of the present Reich Church government which are devastating the Church and also therefore breaking up the unity of the German Evangelical Church, we confess the following evangelical truths:

1. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14.6). “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. . . . I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10:1, 9.)

Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

We reiect the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.

2. “Christ Jesus, whom God has made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30.)

As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.

We reiect the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords–areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

3. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together.” (Eph. 4:15,16.)

The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.

4. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men excercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your srvant.” (Matt. 20:25,26.)

The various offices in the Church do not establish a dominion of some over the others; on the contrary, they are for the exercise of the ministry entrusted to and enjoined upon the whole congregation.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, apart from this ministry, could and were permitted to give itself, or allow to be given to it, special leaders vested with ruling powers.

5. “Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17.)

Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the Church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The Church acknowledges the benefit of this divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to mind the Kingdom of God, God’s commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commission, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church’s vocation as well.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State.

6. “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt. 28:20.) “The word of God is not fettered.” (2 Tim. 2:9.)

The Church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of th free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and sacrament.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.

The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church declares that it sees in the acknowledgment of these truths and in the rejection of these errors the indispensable theological basis of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of Confessional Churches. It invites all who are able to accept its declaration to be mindful of these theological principles in their decisions in Church politics. It entreats all whom it concerns to return to the unity of faith, love, and hope.

Finally, Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
Then they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
I did not protest; I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
I was not a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out for me.

The Theological Declaration of Barmen.

The Church Fathers on Government and Public Service

Granted, the Church Fathers – those early writers and proponents of the faith – were/are not infallible, but they stand here to show us the early tradition of the Faith. It was simply that this world is not our home, and politics not to be the profession of the Church. This newest doctrinal development, which confuses Church and State, would have been looked down upon by the men and women who descended from the Apostles.

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Articles on Christian Identity

JB at The White Report has posted two new articles on the Christian Identity Movement. They are dated, but due to a recent rise of inane comments on Twitter, Facebook, etc… the ideas of this group seem to be spreading.

Anyway, the articles are here and here.

Although the Christian Identity movement is outside the mainstream of Christianity, it does serve as an affront to Christianity. It bothers me, quickly, when someone comes preaching that garbage on this site, and it gets my temper rising fast. If you visit the comments on the posts about Arnold Murray, you will note that my temper flies very fast, so forgive that, but bare in mind, we all have faults.

I am filing it under Arnie M because he is one of the most well known hatemongers out there.

Hawaii Lawmakers Pass Bill to Create 'Islam Day'

According to Comedy Central FoxNews, Hawaii has declared a day for Islam. To be honest, my first thoughts are a bit of a revulsion. Perhaps it’s that separation of Church and State thing. Not sure. But I will give it time to develop.

Hawaii’s state Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill Wednesday to celebrate “Islam Day” — over the objections of a few lawmakers who said they didn’t want to honor a religion connected to Sept. 11, 2001.

The Senate’s two Republicans argued that a minority of Islamic extremists have killed many innocents in terrorist attacks.

“I recall radical Islamists around the world cheering the horrors of 9/11. That is the day all civilized people of all religions should remember,” said Republican Sen. Fred Hemmings to the applause of more than 100 people gathered in the Senate to oppose a separate issue — same-sex civil unions.

The resolution to proclaim Sept. 24, 2009, as Islam Day passed the Senate on a 22-3 vote. It had previously passed the House and now goes to Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.

The bill seeks to recognize “the rich religious, scientific, cultural and artistic contributions” that Islam and the Islamic world have made. It does not call for any spending or organized celebration of Islam Day.

Read the rest above, leave the comments here.

Summum: Seven Aphorisms and the the fight of religion in the public square

There is a new religion burning up the charts this afternoon by the name of Summum. Never heard of it, really, but it turns out that it is another cooky religion.

Summum is a religion and philosophy that began in 1975 as a result of Claude “Corky” Nowell’s alleged encounter with beings he describes as “Summa Individuals.” According to Nowell, these beings presented him with concepts regarding the nature of creation, concepts that have always existed and are continually re-introduced to humankind by advanced beings who work along the pathways of creation. As a result of his experience, Nowell founded Summum in order to share the “gift” he received with others.[1] In 1980, as a reflection of his newfound evolutionary path, he changed his name to Summum Bonum Amon Ra,[2] but news stories indicate he goes by Corky Ra.

They are currently fighting a case that would allow them to put their ‘Seven Aphorisms’ in the public square. From here:

WASHINGTON, Nov. 12 (UPI) — The U.S. Supreme Court heard argument Wednesday on whether a city must accept all displays on public land if it allows one — in this case the Ten Commandments.

The case comes out of Pleasant Grove City, Utah. The city’s Pioneer Park has several “unattended” displays, including a Ten Commandment monument donated by the Eagles, a fraternal organization.

However, when a religious group called Summum, founded in 1975 and based in Salt Lake City, wanted to install its own Seven Principles of Creation (or Seven Aphorisms) monument, the city rejected the application.

A U.S. appeals court in Denver eventually ruled that if the city accepts one monument, it had to accept the other.

Lawyers for the city and the Bush administration argued that the country’s parks would be smothered in displays if all must be accepted, The Salt Lake City Tribune said. “The Vietnam Wall Memorial did not open us up to a Viet Cong Memorial,” Assistant U.S. Solicitor General Daryl Joseffer said, the newspaper reported.

Summum attorney Pamela Harris said the National Mall, where the Wall is placed, is protected by the free speech exception on federal government land, but Pleasant Grove claims the Ten Commandments monument isn’t even city owned.

A decision is expected before the court term ends in late June

And then there is more:

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Christian right steps up attacks on Obama – Barack Obama News- msnbc.com

One of the many reasons why I affectionately call them the religious wrong

via Christian right steps up attacks on Obama – Barack Obama News- msnbc.com

Terrorist strikes on four American cities. Russia rolling into Eastern Europe. Israel hit by a nuclear bomb. Gay marriage in every state. The end of the Boy Scouts.

All are plausible scenarios if Democrat Barack Obama is elected president, according to a new addition to the campaign conversation called “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America,” produced by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family Action.

The imagined look into the future is part of an escalation in rhetoric from Christian right activists who are trying to paint Obama in the worst possible terms as the campaign heads into the final stretch and polls show the Democrat ahead.

Although hard-edge attacks are common late in campaigns, the tenor of the strikes against Obama illustrate just how worried conservative Christian activists are about what should happen to their causes and influence if Democrats seize control of both Congress and the White House.

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Biden – Gird your loins, God willing

In a recent speech, Democrat Vice-Presidential nomiee (who as a person, I could really care less for) seemingly quoted 1st Peter 1.13,

Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;

There was a blog that I had followed a while ago but it died, but I have to wonder if there is a blog or group out there that is tracking the use of the bible in speeches and other lingo of the canidates. Granted, I would say that Sarah Palin’s use is way up there, but it would be interesting to see.

Anyway, here is the quote.

via Political Punch

Biden also mentioned the current economic crisis. “Gird your loins,” Biden told the crowd. “We’re gonna win with your help, God willing, we’re gonna win, but this is not gonna be an easy ride. This president, the next president, is gonna be left with the most significant task. It’s like cleaning the Augean stables, man. This is more than just, this is more than – think about it, literally, think about it – this is more than just a capital crisis, this is more than just markets. This is a systemic problem we have with this economy.”

Does this play well? Are these hidden ques in the minds of people to say that these people are okay because they can quote from the bible? I remember noticing when Bush did it it, but I haven’t  heard much from Obama, McCain or Biden.  I realize that this isn’t as important as Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama, but is it reaching for another endorsement, even subconsciously? Anyone?

Win the whole election and still lose our integrity?

via Decision ’08 | Out of Ur | Conversations for Ministry Leaders

Election time again and, once more, we face a big decision. No, not the decision about our vote. That one is big, but this one is even bigger. It’s the decision about our integrity.

I watch in amazement as every four years, well-meaning Christians who are otherwise committed to values of truth and controlling our tongues descend into the pit of partisanship, smears, and tale-bearing. You know how it goes. You have genuine concerns about the other guy (or gal) and so, with few qualms, repeat whatever was told to you by someone in the parking lot or that you heard on the talk radio show or read on that extremely well fact-checked source, the Internet. Of course, all the stuff the other side is saying about your candidate? Yellow journalism and lies.

People who balked at the Left’s mention of George Bush’s alcoholism repeat at the drop of a hat Obama’s admission of drug use in his younger days. And people who on any other day are likely to decry the sexism of American politics suddenly become concerned that Palin went back to work too quickly after giving birth and that she can’t be both VP and a mother of a special-needs child.

We believe whatever our side says, refuse to even listen to the other side, and generally put critical thinking aside.

I’m sad to say that over the last few months, I’ve seen good Christians who genuinely love Jesus repeat tale after tale (many later proven false or exaggerated) about both major tickets in this election–all with the intention of making others think less of the one being talked about.

Didn’t we use to call that gossip? And, actually, wouldn’t we still call it gossip if someone in our church was saying similar things about someone else in our church? Can anyone tell me how it’s any different during an election? I understand these are important decisions about public officials, and character matters. I know. I just think that’s all the more reason to be careful, to check the facts before repeating the tale. Character matters in both the ones being voted for and the ones doing the voting.

Read something about Obama on a Republican site? Great. Before you believe it, check out how the Democrats are explaining it. And vice-versa. Or better yet, bookmark an objective site that holds the feet of both candidates to the fire on issue of truth and spin.

Does John McCain really want to apply “Wall Street de-regulation” to health care? No.
Did Obama really vote against funding our troops? No. According to FactCheck.org:

McCain has made multiple false representations of Obama’s tax proposals. Obama has made false claims about McCain’s stance on Social Security. Both McCain and Obama have traded some whoppers about their energy policies, about Iraq, and about Iran, and about supporting troops.

Politicians lie. It’s what they do. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your guy is different. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that any issue you are passionate about, whether abortion or the poor, is worth your joining them in their half-truths, deceptions, and spin. Shouldn’t people who follow the One who called Himself the Truth (John 14:6), who told us that it was in truth that our freedom would be found (John 8:32), be a bit more careful about the “facts” we repeat? Shouldn’t we refuse to serve the interests of political parties by refusing to parrot talking point after talking point and, instead, using a bit of discernment?

Here’s what I want to see: Christians who can speak as eloquently about the good qualities of the candidate that they aren’t supporting as they can about the one they are, and who can speak as candidly about their candidates shortcomings as they do about the other guy’s. Christians who make decisions about whom to vote for based on issues, not rumors. Christians who take a stand and refuse to participate in political gossip and character assassination.

After all, what would it profit us to win the whole election and still lose our integrity?

Jesus Politics – The Bible and the Ballot

via Jesus Politics

After fighting as an Israeli soldier in the 1973 war, and troubled by the nation’s obsessive mixing of the Bible with politics, the filmmaker left for America, which he considered a “safe haven” because of its separation between church and state. Thirty-five years later, alarmed by the prominent role of religion in the 2008 American presidential campaign, he decides to make a road trip, to try and understand the phenomenon.

Rather than follow the candidates, however, Ziv decides to meet with religious activists supporting the Democratic and Republican candidates. From the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries to Super Tuesday in Oklahoma, JESUS POLITICS shows the efforts of Baptist activists for Obama, Catholics and evangelicals for McCain, Christian conservatives for Huckabee, as well as the political efforts of evangelical organizations such as Christians United for Israel.

film still

Through archival footage and discussions with author and theology historian Randall Balmer (God in the White House) and Moral Majority cofounder Paul Weyrich, the film also provides a historical overview of religion in American politics, from the Great Awakening religious revivals in the 18th and 19th centuries, through 1960 when JFK asked voters to disregard his Catholic faith, through the rise of Jimmy Carter in 1976 as a “born again” politician, and the more recent rise of the Religious New Right, and its political activism around the issues of abortion and homosexuality.

JESUS POLITICS explores themes including the social role of the church in the African-American community, the religious rhetoric of the candidates and their sometimes controversial associations with religious leaders, how moral issues such as abortion became political weapons, and how biblical interpretation is used to validate political beliefs.

Filmed across 4000 miles and seventeen states, in JESUS POLITICS Ziv weaves an historically informed but thoroughly contemporary cinematic essay, a probing look at how deeply religious faith shapes 21st cenury American politics.

Urging "Revolution," Palin's Religious Charity Evangelizes in Schools

From here:

A Saturday, October 11, 2008 Associated Press story detailed how Alaska Governor Sarah Palin had “bonded” church and state, spending more than $13,000 dollars in state money to attend religious events and meetings with Christian pastors since Palin took office in 2006. During that period, Sarah Palin was listed, and still is, as being on the advisory board of a publicly supported Christian nonprofit which states on its tax records its mission is evangelizing and runs “Religion related – spiritual development” suicide prevention programs in Alaskan public schools.

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