Sunday, November 04, 2007

All Saints Day

Today is being celebrated by many Christians as All Saints Day. I think a very appropriate passage of Scripture to commemorate this day is from Hebrews 11, the famous "roll call of faith." However, since Hebrews 11 was originally written in the late first century, there have been 2000 years of Christian history. Therefore, at the risk of leaving out someone's favorite, I submit here my addendum to the "roll call of faith" from Hebrews 11.

By faith, two Christian women named Perpetua and Felicitas were able to stand strong and firm in their faith even to the point of martyrdom.
By faith, Athanasius of Alexandria became a theological giant against the heresy of Arianism at the Council of Nicea.
By faith, Augustine of Hippo, the great theologian of the west was able to overcome his base temptations, live a life devoted exclusively to service to his Lord and give Western theology its primary focus for the next millennium.
By faith, John Chrysostom was able to stand in the high altar of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, look the Empress Eudoxia in the eye and publicly censure her for her resistance to his attempts at moral reform in Constantinople and the Eastern Church.
By faith, Thomas Aquinas was able to withstand the rigors of the Dominican monastic order and rise to academic prominence as Roman Catholicism’s greatest theologian and philosopher.
By faith, Martin Luther, a terrified, neurotic, sometimes irascible German monk, was able to experience the grace and forgiveness of God and initiate a movement which forever changed the face of Christianity.
By faith, Balthasar Hubmaier found strength to face a gruesome martyr’s death because of his convictions concerning believer’s baptism and liberty of conscience.
By faith, Thomas Helwys was able to lead a little band of brand new Baptists from Amsterdam back to England and courageously tell King James I that he was a mere mortal and had no authority over the conscience of another human being.
By faith, Roger Williams was able to endure banishment from Massachusetts Bay and establish the colony of Rhode Island, the first colony in the New World exclusively devoted to complete religious freedom and separation of Church and State.
By faith, John Wesley was able to breathe vitality into the Church of England because of his insistence that true religion must be of the heart, not the mind only.
By faith, Jonathan Edwards was able to give theological understanding to the Great Awakening.
By faith, John Leland, an uneducated Baptist preacher, was able to lead the Baptists of Virginia to pressure James Madison into supporting a Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States which includes as its first statement a guarantee of complete freedom of religion and ultimately the doctrine of separation of Church and state.
By faith, William Carey was able to leave the comfort of England for the rigors of the mission field in India because of his unwavering conviction that the people of India needed to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
By faith, Lottie Moon expended her little body in the cause of Southern Baptist missions and gave birth to a passion for missions among Baptists in the South that remains with us today.
By faith, Walter Rauschenbusch was able to minister to the poor and down-trodden in Hell’s Kitchen and then awaken the social conscience of the Church.
By faith, William J. Seymour was able to feel the wind of the Spirit move and found the Azusa Street mission from which the Pentecostal movement sprang.
By faith, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was able to challenge the evil of the Nazi regime.
By faith, Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream that our great nation would live up to its creed that “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal. . . and that one day the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
By faith, Archbishop Oscar Romero was able to challenge an oppressive regime in El Salvador and bring empowerment to the poor of Latin America through a theology of Liberation.
Every believer has their personal "roll call of faith," those individuals whose names may not have made the history books, but who nevertheless serve as inspiration to us in our Christian lives. My grandmothers would be on that list. Dr. W. R. Estep, my church history professor in seminary would be on that list. Who is on your list?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Gideons Can't Pass Out Bibles in Harnett County Schools

The enclosed story from the Dunn Daily Record describes a decision reached by Harnett County Schools Superintendent Dan Honeycutt. There has been a long-standing practice of allowing the Gideons to distribute bibles in the elementary schools here in Harnett County. Someone complained to the ACLU which contacted Honeycutt to inform him that the practice was illegal. In short, the Harnett County School system has now been notified that the practice of passing out religious literature in its public schools is a violation of federal law. The case, a 1998 Supreme Court case (Peck v. the Upshur County Board of Education) determined that it was a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment for schools to allow Bibles to be passed out to the students. It constitutes an endorsement of religion, a clear violation of decades of case law argued before both conservative and liberal supreme courts. If Harnett County Schools wanted to fight this, it would eventually have to be carried to the U.S. Supreme Court, a very lengthy, expensive process. It would have drained millions away from our school district in a time when we have so many very critical needs, not the least of which is over-crowding and the need for new schools.

This is a no-brainer but there will probably be a loud, vocal outcry from citizens of Harnett County who disagree with this. Most of them will not understand the intent of the First Amendment, that while guaranteeing freedom of religion, it also guarantees freedom from religion. The First Amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof." There are two clauses here: (1) the "free exercise" clause that says that in America, people should be free to practice their faith unhindered by government intrusion; and (2) the "establishment" clause which says that the government (in this case the school system) cannot establish religion or formally endorse one religion over another.

Fifty years ago, the vast majority of children in public schools in the South were reared in Christian homes and attended church regularly. No problem with these kinds of things. No complaints. But, during recent decades, even in rural areas, the religious landscape has changed drastically. Now, even in Harnett County, it is not unusual to find neighborhoods with children from many different religious traditions such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and a good number of children growing up in homes that are expressly non-religious. The reasoning behind these legal opinions that have remained fairly consistent over the last 4 decades is that if one religious tradition (in this case Christian) is allowed to distribute their literature, it is a discrimination against those other religious groups.

One may say, "Well, Christians are in the majority and the majority rules." Majority rules is certainly the case in elections. However, when it comes to the Bill of Rights that is certainly not the case. The Bill of Rights exists specifically to protect the rights and voice of the minority opinion. The Founders were concerned with tyranny by the majority and wisely included the Bill of Rights in the Constitution to allow for the minority voice always to have an equal place at the table.

But, there is an even more important issue here. Where is the best place for religious instruction to take place anyway? The logical answer should be in the home. Quite frankly, I don't want public schools teaching my children religion or even influencing them in religious matters, unless it is perhaps a course on world religions which is taught from an objective point of view. In short, there is a fine line between teaching religion and indoctrination. I know this because I teach religion for a living. So, I'd rather the public schools teach my children reading, math, science, social studies, health and p.e. etc. and leave the religious instruction to our home and family.

So, really, while there will be dismay on the part of many citizens in Harnett County. This is a no-brainer and I applaud our superintendent for making this call.