Honoring Police Officers

It’s popular to trash talk and put down police departments and officers in America today.  A few NFL players (see my previous blog) have refused to stand during the National Anthem due to perceived racism in police departments.  Riots in both small and large American cities have focused their anger on the police.   This growing anger has contributed to shootings of officers (in Dallas and other cities) and has put the lives of all police officers in serious risk and danger.

It is becoming popular to put down police officers.

But it’s wrong.

Let me explain by starting with a rather obvious (to me) truth.  Yes, there are some racist police officers and these officers have acted immorally, in some cases illegally, and in a few cases atrociously.  These officers need to be dealt with appropriately and immediately by their superior officers and by the courts.

But let me state another rather obvious (again, to me) truth:  The overwhelming majority of police officers are honest, hardworking, committed, unbiased, dedicated, competent, and fair.  I can’t point to specific statistics, but my personal experience tells me that 95% or more of our officers are what we used to call “the salt of the earth,” fine people who make good neighbors, good friends, good church members, and good citizens.  You might disagree with my percentage, but think about it.  What would you say?  It is 80%?  90%?  99%?

To trash a whole class of people due to the actions of a small minority is wrong.  If the judgment and anger were directed at people with a particular skin color, we would call it racism.  If the judgment and anger were directed at a particular sex, we would call it discrimination.  If the judgment and anger were directed at a religion or denomination, we would call it blatantly unfair.

It’s simply wrong to judge a large group of people by the actions of a few, even if the few act horribly.

There are a few ungodly teachers in America, but we accept the fact that most teachers are fine people who should be respected.  There are a few dishonorable doctors and nurses out there, but we don’t judge the profession by the actions of the few.  There are (I admit it) more than a few ungodly and immoral preachers out there, but we accept the fact (at least I hope you do) that most preachers are respectable.

It’s the only fair way to act.

And though I’ve used the examples of teachers and preachers and doctors, it’s really an unfair comparison.  Teachers work hard and long preparing the next generation of Americans.  Doctors work hard and long healing and teaching and helping their patients live healthy lives.  Preachers work hard and long deal with important doctrinal, emotional, spiritual, moral, Biblical, and even eternal issues.

But preachers and teachers and doctors in America don’t generally put their lives on the line every time they go to work.

Police officers do.

I concede that there are a few officers who need reprimand, correction, and dismissal.  And there are also a few who need to be arrested and tried for serious crimes.  And leaders who have protected guilty officers or who have failed to act should be held accountable.

And it’s fully acceptable to be angry and demand action in those particular cases.

But let’s not judge the whole by looking at the actions of a few.  It’s not right.  It’s not healthy.  It’s not fair.  It’s not Christian.   

Instead, let’s offer police officers our highest level of honor.  Treat them with respect when we interact with them.  Understand the stress and strain they are under when they pull over a car, intervene in a domestic assault, observe a crime, or respond to a plea for help.  Recognize the overwhelming challenge they face to make life-or-death decisions in a fraction of a second.  Obey them when they give us directives.  Defend them when their integrity is unfairly attacked.  Pray for them on a regular basis, and again when we see them on the street.

The Apostle Paul instructed the church in Rome, “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”  (Romans 13:7, NIV)

We owe our officers–because of the work they do, the risk they take, and the responsibility they shoulder–both honor and respect.

It’s the right way to live and to act.

 

PS.  We will renew our efforts to pray for our own local police officers in the City of Avondale.  Our mission team will have the badge numbers available within a few weeks so that members can adopt–and agree to pray regularly for–an officer.  We do it anonymously, but we believe that God honors our prayers and our officers know we care for them and pray for them.

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An Open Letter to Colin Kaepernick

Colin,

I respect your right to take a stand by choosing not to stand during the National Anthem.  I admire the fact that you have a social conscience and the desire to speak to the issues of our day.  I recognize that we still have some serious racial divides and issues in our country.  I’ve read enough of your tweets to know that I don’t agree with all of your conclusions, but in America, we are allowed to speak our minds and to take appropriate actions to communicate what we believe.

I know that not everyone enjoys it, but I appreciate athletes who use their status to speak and do more than just play ball and make a dollar.  There are many causes to promote, many stands to take, many evils to point out.  And you had a right to make your point.

But having the right to do something doesn’t mean that it is the right thing to do.  I, too,  have the right to speak my mind, so I want to respectfully tell you why I disagree with your actions, and why I encourage you to stand respectfully the next time you hear the National Anthem:

  • Standing during the National Anthem shows respect toward those who have served our nation and for the nation itself.  It doesn’t mean that you agree with everything the nation has done.  I would stand and show respect at the singing of any National Anthem in any country.  When in Canada, I would stand respectfully during their playing of their anthem.  If in Russia, I would do the same.  I expect the same courtesy from any of our own athletes and from visiting athletes.  Disagreement–even strong disagreement–doesn’t have to lead to disrespect.  And I think that your actions showed a great degree of disrespect for America, for those who have served America, and for all Americans.

  • I don’t know you personally, but it would seem to me that the United States has treated you very well.  You have worked hard and are reaping the rewards of that hard work.  Young black men in previous generations may not have been able to reap the rewards of that work, so we are changing.  It’s slow, and it’s not across the board, but we are changing.  We are far from perfect and we have many remaining issues to solve, but our nation has given you an incredible opportunity.  Should you not be able to respect a nation that has given you that opportunity?

  • Your apparent disrespect offends the many people who would otherwise be your allies.  Many good people of all skin colors who love our country despite our sins are working hard to overcome racism in our country.  I happen to be a white pastor of a predominately white church.  I preach strongly of the evils of racism and call our church to take a strong stand against the evils of racism.  But we can accomplish more with mutual respect than we can with shows of disrespect.

  • And though my church is predominately white, the basketball league I administer is predominately black.  I work with young black athletes on an almost daily basis.  I don’t always understand them.  And they don’t always understand me.  But we’re working hard to love and respect each other.  I expect them to stand at attention during the National Anthem.  I expect them (even if they’re not believers) to take off their ball caps and bow their heads during prayer.  I expect them to listen respectfully when I speak.  And I do the same to them.  Even when we disagree, we work on the basis of mutual respect.  Your example of disrespect will just encourage disrespect on a local level.

So continue to speak what’s on your mind.  Take a stand.  Make a strong point.  Make me think.  Challenge me.  Tell me where you think I’m wrong.  Call out our leaders (and even pastors) when we’re wrong.  And I will do the same.

But let’s do so with at least a base level of respect.  Stand respectfully during the playing of the National Anthem.  Set an example of a man who can state his opinions boldly and forcefully, and yet still show respect for his nation and his fellow countrymen.

I respect your desire to take a strong stand, but I believe you will accomplish much more if your strong stands are combined with respect for our nation and our people.

Pastor Jack Marslender, First Southern Baptist Church of Avondale

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Ten Commandments for Christian Voters

I preached on Sunday, August 21, on A Christian Response to Government and Politics.  In part, I taught that Christians must operate with a much higher standard than do politicians, and even the way we do politics (which is often a very dirty business) must be done according to the ethics of Jesus.

I closed with these Ten Commandments:

  1. Recognize that a country is only as strong as its citizens, so live your faith in Jesus.

  2. Pray regularly for our country and our leaders.

  3. Respect our current leaders with your words, prayers, and with the titles you use to talk about them.

  4. Keep your priorities in order.  God . . . country . . . with your political party way down the list.  But especially remember that your passion for Christ must exceed your passion for politics.

  5. Inform yourself on the candidates and the issues using direct sources rather than biased news reports and commentaries.

  6. Refuse to let political disagreement become personal disagreement within the church.

  7. Show respect to all candidates, including those you disagree with.

  8. Never insinuate that our church is endorsing a candidate—we’re not and we don’t.

  9. Speak the truth with kindness.  Refuse to lie, to exaggerate, to put-down, or to call a candidate names.

  10. Vote for candidates you can support after you’ve done your homework.

We can’t operate the way the world operates.  We can’t excuse our behavior with “well, politics is dirty business” or “I’m just playing by their rules.”  We answer to Jesus, not to a political party.  We follow His standards, not the standards of the world.

Even in our politics, our behavior and our words must operate by the standards given to us by Jesus!

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Our Deepest Sympathy . . . and Indignation

This was originally published in the FSBCA Weekly.  It has since been moved to this blog.

I knew it was coming, but it still infuriated me when it did.  There are enough people on the “lunatic fringe” of Christianity that it was inevitable.

A California pastor posted a video on YouTube that said that Christians shouldn’t be grieving with those who died in Orlando because they deserve what they got.  (He said much more but I refuse to quote him.  You can his remarks online if you care to do so.  He is the pastor of Verity Baptist Church in Sacramento, an independent, fundamentalist, King-James only church.)

So let me shout–internet style–so that you know where I stand and where I believe all Christians should stand:  WE EXTEND OUR DEEPEST SYMPATHY TO THE FAMILIES OF THOSE WHO LOST A LOVED ONE IN ORLANDO.  OUR PRAYERS ARE WITH YOU.

And let me shout once again to the pastor in California so that you know where I stand:  YOU HAVE TOTALLY MISREPRESENTED GOD’S HEART.  YOUR JOB IS TO PROCLAIM GOD’S LOVE AND CALL PEOPLE TO FAITH IN CHRIST.  You have made God’s work much more difficult for the rest of us and we call upon you to repent and send out a message of love and sympathy.  And if you refuse to do so, please take the word “Baptist” out of your church’s name.  We don’t understand you.  We don’t agree with you.  And we don’t want others to assume that we do.

Real love is for all people.  Love is not limited to people we agree with or to those who live a lifestyle that we approve of.  Love is not limited to those we identify with or to those we fully understand.  Real love is offered to all people because they are human beings and made in the image of God.  God loves all people; because we are His people, we love them as well.

And because we love people, we cry with them.  When they’re hurting, we hurt with them.  When they need help, we offer it to them.  We don’t have to understand them or agree with them.

We are called to love.  It is our heart, our “prime directive,” our greatest commandment, and part of our “great commission.”

So to the families and friends of those who lost a love one in Orlando or who are struggling with injuries sustained in Sunday morning’s attack, we offer you our love, our sympathy, our prayers, and any help we can give you.

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Rape and College Campuses

The media this week has deservedly put great attention on a story coming out of Stanford University.  A male college athlete raped an unconscious drunk female after a party.  The convicted rapist made the news for never admitting to the crime despite overwhelming evidence.  The victim made the news because of an incredible and moving 42 minute statement detailing her pain, both physical and mental.  The father of the rapist made the news for downplaying the seriousness of the crime, saying that his son shouldn’t be punished severely for “twenty minutes of action.”  The judge made the news for only giving the rapist six months in county jail instead of the six years of hard time the prosecution asked for or the two year minimum specified in state law.  The judge further made the news by saying that the rapist had “less moral culpability” because he was drunk.  And colleges in general are in the news because of the horrible truth that nearly one out of every five female college students in America are sexually abused, raped, or sexually threatened.

Let me say up front that I’m the father of seven daughters.  Six of them have had at least some college, and the seventh one is headed in that direction.  So my perspective is that of a deeply concerned father.  Nevertheless, I’d like to make these points, which seem self-evident to me but apparently not to others:

  • If a woman doesn’t give consent, can’t give consent, or is too young to legally give consent, then it’s rape.  And we shouldn’t use lesser terms to describe it.

  • Rape is a horrible crime and needs to be treated as such by schools, athletic departments, judges, and parents.  It is not only “2o minutes of action.”  Six months  in county jail is not enough time.

  • A father of a criminal can understandably write a letter asking for leniency for his son, but to equate rape to “20 minutes of action” makes everyone wonder if the criminal learned his warped sexual attitudes from his father.

  • Drunkenness does not lessen “moral culpability.”  If a person chooses to drink, they are fully and should be legally culpable for all actions they commit while they are under the influence.

  • Colleges need to take a serious look at and take responsibility for the culture on their campuses.  Sexual crime is far too commonplace and the pressures to “keep your mouth shut” are far too real.  Colleges need to find ways to change this culture even if it impacts their income, their prestige, their donors, and their athletic departments.

  • Alcohol is a contributing factor to far too many of the problems on college campuses and in society as a whole.  (The rapist in this case had twice the “legally drunk” level of alcohol in his system.)  Decriminalization or legalization of marijuana in more places will increase irrational, immoral, and illegal activities while under the influence.  Unfortunately, drunkenness has become the norm on college campuses and the expected behavior for anyone 21 or older.  Where are the voices calling for restraint and sobriety?  Why aren’t schools doing more to combat this behavior?

  • This paragraph is hard to say correctly without being misconstrued, but we need to speak the truth.  Rape is never acceptable and men cannot blame their actions on a woman no matter what she is wearing or what they’ve been drinking.  Nevertheless, being drunk increases the chances of becoming a victim of crime.  The victim in the above mentioned case had 3 times the “legally drunk” amount of alcohol in her system and she was passed out behind a dumpster after leaving a party.  She was not responsible for being raped, but her drunkenness kept her from acting rationally and taking the normal precautions that would keep  her safe.

  • Sexual assault of any type harms victims deeply.  The 12 page statement of the victim was one of the toughest things I have ever forced myself to read.  Living through the emotional and physical trauma–as she did–is something I have never been through and can scarcely understand.  It should be required reading for all incoming freshmen at any college or university.

  • And on a more personal note, churches need to take the  lead in teaching men a real respect for women.  Real men should “shudder” at the thought of any type of violence against women, and this has to start while they are young.  Churches should also take the lead in ministering to women who have been raped.  I hope and pray that a local church has reached out to the woman in this story.  She needs to know the love of God and of God’s people.

Sadly, we live in a world in which rape has become part of American culture.  We (churches, parents, schools, coaches, judges) need to do all we can to change that culture and to change the drunkenness that contributes to it.  It is not right.  It is not trivial.  And it should never be overlooked or ignored.

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How To Leave A Church With Integrity

This may just be the strangest blog I’ve ever written.

It’s on a topic that I hope you never need to use, “How to leave a church with integrity.”

I will start with some honesty.  I don’t like it when members decide to go to another church.  It hurts my pride and even my feelings.  But it does happen.  And in today’s church culture, it happens more often than it used to and more often than it should.  Sometimes I understand why people leave my church.  Sometimes I don’t.

So let me first talk you out of leaving a church.  Then, if you must leave, let me give you my best advice on how to leave a church.

First of all, never leave a church mad.  Churches are made up of imperfect people, and it’s human nature to offend and to be offended.  But that’s never a reason to leave a church.  The Bible is clear that we are to be reconciled to our brothers, and walking away does not allow for reconciliation.  First take whatever steps are needed to be reconciled to your brothers and sisters; then you may not feel like leaving.   If you leave mad, you leave broken relationships behind you and you are very likely to repeat that pattern in the next church.

Secondly, never just walk away without explanation.  A church is a family, so it’s never right to leave a family without explanation.  I’d rather have an honest conversation with someone who has decided to leave the church and can tell me why he is leaving than to (1) wonder why someone has left or (2) receive dishonest or evasive answers.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t enjoy the honest conversations that begin with, “Pastor, we have decided to leave the church and I felt like it was only right to tell you why.”  Those conversations are never fun, but at least they’re honest.  I understand why the family is leaving.  I have a chance to explain or clarify.  I have a chance to see my church through the eyes of others.  And, occasionally, I can rectify a problem and retain members.  But even if I can’t, I respect the face-to-face honesty.

Thirdly, don’t look around for the “latest and the greatest.”  Yes, a large church pastor might be an outstanding communicator.  And the worship band across town might be better than the one in your own church.  And the facilities in the new suburban church might be incredible.  And the megachurch might have more ministries and programs.  But God’s work is strongest when all churches are strong and getting stronger.  And a church is strongest when the members live nearby and can serve more often. I would rather see 10 strong neighborhood churches than one super-strong megachurch.

There are, of course, reasons to leave a church.  If you’ve moved and need to serve in a church that is closer to where you live, you may need to leave.  If a church is not preaching the Bible—and you’ve pointed it out to no avail—you may need to leave.  If you’ve tried to rectify a serious problem and you can’t, you may need to leave.  If you’ve tried everything you can to support a church and you cannot do so with integrity, you may need to leave.

But if you leave, do it right.

Be reconciled to any and all people you’ve offended.  Talk to the appropriate pastor or ministry leader and give them the honest reason why you’re leaving, without any anger or harsh words.  Leave on good terms with all of the members and refuse to burn any bridges.  Never lead a revolt and take others with you.   And decline any and all opportunities to talk down or gossip about your old church.  They may not be perfect, but they are trying to do God’s work, and negative words make God’s work much more difficult.

Have you picked up on my underlying philosophy?  A church is like a family.  It functions best when members make a long-term commitment to the church and work out differences with God’s help rather than walking away.  Leaving the church is a last resort.  And even when that becomes necessary, it must be done with integrity, honesty, and compassion.

These words have been focused mostly on church members, but they apply to church pastors and staffers as well.  I stayed in my first church as pastor for 13 years.  I’ve been in this church for nearly 17 years.  (Don’t do the math.  It will make me sound old.)  I’ve had to work through numerous issues and relationships.  There have been days (yes, pastors have those days too!) when it would have been easy to put out my resume, find a new church, and move on.

But I’m glad I didn’t.

And God’s church is stronger as a result!

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Religious Liberty and Politics

I believe in religious liberty.

I don’t just believe in religious liberty for Christians.  I believe in religious liberty for all people.

So I am deeply frustrated when politicians make statements that indicate that they don’t understand religious liberty.  I’m offended when candidates say they want to refuse to accept immigrants of a particular religious persuasion.  I understand the necessity of stopping terrorists from reaching our country; that’s a goal I highly commend and support.  But barring all people of a religious group simply because they are a member of a religious group is a violation of religious liberty and cannot be supported by those of us who believe strongly in religious liberty.

I am saddened when a candidate (and one who has loudly proclaimed his faith) says that we should “empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods.”  We should do all we can to stop terrorism, but paying particular attention to a neighborhood simply because it has a large percentage of Muslims is a violation of religious liberty and cannot be supported by those of us who believe strongly in religious liberty.

Does a neighborhood have a large concentration of criminal activity?  Then by all means pay close attention to that neighborhood.  Does a neighborhood have a large concentration of terrorist activity?   Obviously, that neighborhood should get extra law enforcement attention.  Does a neighborhood have a large concentration of threats, terrorist recruitment centers, bomb-making, or plots?  Then pay extremely close attention to that neighborhood.

But religious liberty means that we cannot infringe on anyone’s freedom or “secure” a neighborhood simply because of their religion.

It is often forgotten that early Baptists in America fought hard for religious liberty for all people, and Baptists were insistent that the Bill of Rights include a strong statement on religious liberty.  And Baptists didn’t just fight for the rights of Baptists or just for Christians.  We insisted on religious liberty for all.  John Leland, for example, a leading Baptist preacher during the constitutional era, said, “The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever . . . Governments should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely . . . The liberty I contend for is more than toleration.  The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans, and Christians.”

John Leland was a strong believer in Jesus and He preached Jesus constantly.  But at the same time he preached that every man, including Turks (Muslims) and Jews and even Pagans, should have full freedom to think and speak and that government should protect that right.

I will continue to preach Jesus with all of my heart and might, but I expect no legal advantage over any other group in doing so.  Muslims have the right to live in full liberty while they preach their religion, as do Jews, “pagans,” and even those who espouse no religion at all.  And we have no right to limit the freedom or the rights of anyone simply because of their religious persuasion.

I am not saying that I believe all religions are equally valid.  I believe that Jesus “is the way, the truth, and the life” and that He is the only way to God.  But I am saying that I want no preferential treatment when I claim this nor do I want to limit the freedom of any other group that preaches anything else.  I will rely upon speaking the truth and on the power of the Holy Spirit to be at work.  I need no other advantage.

I believe in the long-held ideal of “a free church in a free state.”  And I encourage candidates for office and for voters to insist on this ideal and insist on real religious liberty.

When I say I believe in religious liberty, I am voicing a belief in religious liberty for all.  It’s not just for Christians or for evangelicals or for Baptists.  If we reduce religious liberty for some groups, then we don’t really believe in religious liberty at all.

We can’t back down from our belief in religious liberty for any reason.

I understand that strong anti-Muslim statements by candidates are highly applauded in today’s political climate.  I understand the fear that terrorism has brought to today’s world.  I understand the frustration that Americans feel over an ineffective and inconsistent immigration policy.

But we can’t allow ourselves to be caught up in the fear or the political propaganda or the frustration of the moment.  Religious liberty is too important to back down for any reason.

Unless religious liberty is for all people, it isn’t really religious liberty at all.

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Choosing a Candidate

It is well known at FSBCA that I don’t endorse candidates in my position as a pastor. My role is to preach and teach the gospel of Jesus, to lead the church, and to show God’s love to members and people in the community.  I don’t ever want my political opinions to get in the way of that.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have strong political opinions.  And since these political opinions are heavily influenced by my belief in God and my understanding of the Bible, it’s natural that I would at least share how I come to my political opinions and how I choose a candidate, for that is heavily shaped by the Bible and a Biblical worldview.  To be honest, it’s more than natural.  I believe that it’s part of my responsibility as a teacher of God’s word to apply the Bible to the political world.

The truth is that my reluctance to publicly endorse candidates does not mean that I am not political. Far from it.  I live by the following three political truths on a personal level:

  • First of all, I view participation in the political process as a God-given privilege.  Not everyone in the world has this privilege in the same way Americans do.  I thank God for it, and I take advantage of it.

  • Secondly, I believe that it is more than just a privilege; participating in the political world is part of the responsibility we have as disciples of Jesus to influence our communities and even our nation for Christ.

  • And because of these two beliefs, I spend time educating myself on the issues and the candidates.  I read news items from various persuasions so I am not unknowingly and incorrectly persuaded.  I listen to debates.  I check the stances of candidates.  I look at the voting records of candidates.  I read about their lives and not just their politics.  I am actively involved in the political world.

Right now, our country is in the process of selecting a new president.  And for me, when it comes time to look and choose from the many candidates, I pray and think through several issues.

I start with the character of the candidate; this is even more important to me than his stand on the issues.  Is he honest?  Does she have integrity?  Does he have a strong set of values and morals that he lives by both personally and professionally?  Does she handle her own finances well?  Is he a strong family man?  Is she a woman of faith and does she live by that faith?  Is he personally generous and does he give to God and to worthwhile causes?  Is she kind and compassionate on a personal level?

Secondly, I want to know that he or she has the experience and leadership ability to do the job, and I have very high expectations for a president.  Can he lead?  Does she communicate well?  Does he have the necessary knowledge? Are her political persuasions backed up by real facts and not just opinions? Can he work well with those who agree and those who disagree?  Can she be both honest and diplomatic? Can he disagree with members of his own party?  Does she inspire confidence?  Would he represent our country well among the nations of the world?

Then I look at his or her stands in areas in which I believe the Bible is very clear.  I need to tell you ahead of time that some of you will find this section offensive, for I do not see Jesus as either a conservative or a liberal in the current thinking of our day.  I am much more interested in being “Biblical” than I am of being faithful to a modern political party or philosophy.  As a result, I want to support candidates who support Biblical concepts and a Biblical worldview.  Here are just a few of the Biblical questions I ask of a candidate:

  • Does the candidate have a high regard for human life from conception to the grave?

  • Does the candidate have a high regard for racial equality?

  • Does he or she believe in a Biblical concept of family?

  • Does he believe that the Earth is created by God and that we are to care for the planet and all that is in it?

  • Does she believe in religious liberty?

  • Does he believe in both mercy and justice for all people of all colors, faiths, and economic status?

  • Does she have a Biblical understanding of finances that would translate into leading an economy that rewards hard work, paying bills, and reducing debt?

  • Does he believe in and actively work for peace in the world?

I also want to know his or her stand on the United States of America as a nation. Personally, I believe that God had His hand in the founding of our nation and that He has given our country great privileges and also great responsibilities.  So I have some questions for a candidate that I want answered both in words and in his deeds:  Does he love our country?  Does she understand and support our constitution? Will he lead our country to be a force for good in the world?  Does she understand and support our ideals of freedom, justice, personal responsibility, opportunity for all,  compassion, and religious liberty?  Can he work with the legislative and judicial branches of the government?

And, since I have a practical mind, I want to know if he or she has a plan to deal with some of the real problems that we face.  There are some real problems and issues in American life that are not usually addressed by politicians running for office.  Will he address these issues with forcefulness, honesty and understanding of the issues?  For example, I’d like to know how the candidate would address issues like these:

  • Does he have a plan for reducing our growing debt?

  • Does she have a feasible plan for solving a looming Social Security crisis that will be fair both to workers and those who are retired?

  • Does he have a plan on reducing the number of murders in this country while still preserving our freedoms?

  • Does she have a plan for reducing the huge number of drunk drivers in this country and for a huge national “drug” problem?

  • Does he have a plan that will keep America safe in a world of war, terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction?

  • Does she have a fair and workable plan to deal with our borders and our broken immigration system?

  • Does he have a plan on how the government can help the needy without creating a large group of people who expect to be taken care of by the government?

  • Does she have a plan for improving our tax code that is fair to families and businesses, and that supports our government adequately?

  • Does he have a plan for cleaning our environment without destroying our economy?

  • Does she have a plan on how to deal with terrorism both nationally and internationally?

  • Does he have a have a plan for when to get involved in–and when to stay out of–international conflict?

  • Does she have a plan for dealing with issues like a growing infrastructure problem, a water problem (especially in the west), an energy problem, a climate change challenge, and the myriad of other issues we face?

As you can see, I have very high expectations for a President.  I ask a lot of questions from both a Biblical and a practical perspective.  I’ve never found a “perfect” candidate and I know that I never will.  But I do take my role as a Christian and as a voter very seriously.

And if you are a Christian, I encourage you to do the same!

PS.  You can’t fully participate unless you are a registered voter, and in Arizona you can register online at www.servicearizona.com.  You can also check your status, change your address, or change your party affiliation.  If you’re not registered, why not follow the link now and do so?

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Religious Freedom and Kentucky

I’ve been asked many times recently my opinion about Kim Davis, the Kentucky County Clerk who was jailed (but now released) for her refusal to issue marriage licenses for gay couples as ordered by the courts.  She went so far as to refuse to issue any marriage licenses at all, so that she would not appear to be discriminatory.

Let me start by saying that I understand her and agree with much of her stand.  I, too, would not want to issue marriage licenses in that situation.  It would violate my conscience and I would not want to do it. But she is in direct conflict with the courts and with the county’s need, according to Kentucky law, for the county to issue marriage licenses.

So I don’t agree completely with her stand.  Let me explain why.

Fairly consistently, in the past, courts have dealt with religious liberty by insisting that employers have the responsibility to offer reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs.  If it is not overly burdensome or expensive, a company has to do what they can to accommodate a person’s sincerely held religious belief.  It can mean that an employer should expend a reasonable effort to adjust schedules, dress codes, and policies to reflect the beliefs of their employees. According to the courts, they don’t have to go to extreme costs or cause undue hardship for other employees or the public, but they have to make a good faith effort.

Let me give you an example from my own life.  When I was in seminary, I delivered pizza for a living.  In my area, there were a row of “strip joints.”  I didn’t want to deliver pizza there, so I told my boss that it would bother my conscience to go into one of them. He knew I was a Christian and that I was going to school to be a pastor, and he told me that he would do whatever he reasonably could so that I wouldn’t have to go into one of them.  He would send another driver or put me in the kitchen and let someone else deliver if it were all possible.  But, he warned me, that if no one else was available, I would have to go.  Since other drivers openly wanted to go to those establishments, it wasn’t much of a problem.  But one time (and one time only), the issue came up and I had to go–or quit.  With a red face and with my back to the stage, I went and delivered the pizza.  My boss had offered reasonable accommodation to my beliefs and tried to get someone else.  But when there was no other person, I agreed to deliver the pizza.  He respected my beliefs.  And I respected his need to get the pizza delivered within a certain time guarantee.  I had at least two more options:  I could have refused and been fired.  Or I could have quit on the spot.  I chose to do my job and pray that it wouldn’t come up again.  It didn’t.

So what would be reasonable accommodation in the much more serious Kentucky situation?

The clerk, Kim Davis, could have decided not to personally issue marriage certificates, but allow one of her deputy clerks to do so.  (Most of them are on record saying that they would be willing to do so.) That would have been a reasonable accommodation to this situation.  She would not have to personally violate her religious conscience.  But her office would still follow the law and she would be abiding by her oath to follow the law of the land.   (I know that we don’t like the law-of-the-land as it stands, but our constitution calls for the courts to interpret the constitution and our laws.  I disagree with their interpretation.  But it is the law.)

She chose not to allow her deputies to issue the certificates because the certificates would still have her name on them.  You can judge whether that would be a problem for you, but it was for her.  So there is still another option.  She could have redesigned the marriage certificates to have only her title and not her name on them, and then allow her deputies to fill them out.  She wasn’t sure this was legal; it would certainly be a worthwhile question for lawyers and the courts to decide, because her employer (her county) does have a legal right to offer reasonable accommodation to her.  And she has the legal responsibility to offer marriage certificates to legally qualified couples. There should be a way–short of absolute refusal and short of jail time–to offer the needed service to the residents of the county and to respect her religious beliefs.

Of course, there is still another option.  She could resign her position.  (Firing her is not an option, since she is an elected official.  And she probably won’t be impeached or recalled, because she has the support of the majority of people and the State legislature.)

But this is a fight that didn’t need to happen.  I think her county would work with her to offer reasonable accommodation and the courts would insist on it as they have in the past.  There are ways for her to follow her conscience and still do her job as the County Clerk.

To refuse to do her job and to still hold office (and take the salary) is not the right option.

There are times in which Christians are going to have to stand by their rights and then be fired. There are times in which we are going to have to quit.  And there may be times in which we hold our heads up and go to jail.

But, sadly, this is not one of those times. And this is not the way to fight a law we do not like.

 

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Is Baptism Necessary?

00001028I continue to answer questions submitted by FSBCA members, and I must admit that I’ve received many good questions, far more than can be answered in Sunday morning sermons this month.  (I’m glad to pastor a church of curious-I-want-to-know-the-truth kind of people!)  Many of these questions will be answered in future blog columns.  This particular question is both doctrinal and personal in nature. Here’s the question as it was submitted:

Is baptism mandatory?  My dad died without being baptized.  He was a believer. Do you think he is in heaven?

Let me start with the short answer and then give Biblical reasons for my thinking: Baptism is not necessary or mandatory for salvation.  If your father was a believer, then he is in heaven.

Baptism is, of course, important.  It is taught in the Bible.  I personally highly recommend it for all believers.  Jesus Himself was baptized and He taught us to baptize those who become believers.  It’s so important to us that our denomination has “baptist” in the name.  But it is not necessary for salvation.  Salvation comes by the grace of God through faith in Jesus.  Nothing else is necessary.

Can I show this to be true in the Bible?  Yes, I can, in several ways.  First, (1) the thief on the cross (Luke 23:42-43) became a believer and Jesus promised him salvation. He wasn’t baptized.  He never took communion.  He didn’t join a church, nor did he ever give a dime to God’s work.  He had no chance to serve, other than to give his testimony of faith. He didn’t do anything that the Bible teaches that believers are supposed to do. But by the grace of God and His personal faith, he became a believer. He will be in heaven.

I can also show this to be true by the absence of any teaching of baptism in key salvation Bible passages. John 3 tells the story of Nicodemus. Jesus explained to him what salvation was all about. Baptism was never mentioned in this conversation. John 3:16, part of this passage, is often considered the gospel in a nutshell, but there is no mention of baptism.  Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches us that salvation comes as a gift of God through faith.  Paul doesn’t even refer to baptism in this passage, or in the entire book of Ephesians for that matter.  If baptism were necessary to salvation, Jesus would have mentioned it to Nicodemus. Paul would have mentioned it to the Ephesians. It’s absence in these key passages, and many others, shows that Jesus and the authors of the Bible didn’t consider it necessary for salvation.

Don’t think I’m not in favor of baptisms. There is nothing I enjoy as a pastor more than baptisms. It is an outward show of what God has done in the heart of a new believer. It’s important.  It’s a celebration. It’s Biblical.

But it’s not mandatory for salvation.

PS.  The picture?  It’s me as a very young pastor baptizing in the Colorado River.

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