He speaks out strongly for the importance of Scripture.
President Reagan declared 1983 the Year of the Bible during his address at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., on February 3. Three days earlier, he addressed a session of the National Religious Broadcasters convention on the theme of the Bible. His 21-minute speech was interrupted by applause 15 times. Here are excerpts:
In a time when recession has gripped our land, your industry, religious broadcasting, has enjoyed phenomenal growth. Now, there may be some who are frightened by your success, but I’m not one of them. As far as I’m concerned, the growth of religious broadcasting is one of the most heartening signs in America today.
When we realize that every penny of that growth is being funded voluntarily by citizens of every stripe, we see an important truth. It’s something that I have been speaking of for quite some time—that the American people are hungry for your message because they are hungry for a spiritual revival in this country. When Americans reach out for values of faith, family, and caring for the needy, they’re saying, “We want the Word of God. We want to face the future with the Bible.”
Facing the future with the Bible—that’s a perfect theme for your convention. You might be happy to hear that I have some “good news” of my own. Thursday morning, at the National Prayer Breakfast, I will sign a proclamation making 1983 the Year of the Bible.
We’re blessed to have its words of strength, comfort and truth. I’m accused of being simplistic at times with some of the problems that confront us. I’ve often wondered; within the covers of that single Book are all the answers to all the problems that face us today if we’d only look there. “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever.” I hope Americans will read and study the Bible in 1983. It’s my firm belief that the enduring values, as I say, presented in its pages have a great meaning for each of us and for our nation. The Bible can touch our hearts, order our minds, refresh our souls.
Now, I realize it’s fashionable, in some circles, to believe that no one in government should order or encourage others to read the Bible. Encourage—I shouldn’t have said order. We’re told that will violate the constitutional separation of church and state established by the founding fathers in the First Amendment.
Well, it might interest those critics to know that none other than the father of our country, George Washington, kissed the Bible at his inauguration. And he also said words to the effect that there could be no real morality in a society without religion.
John Adams called it “the best book in the world.” And Ben Franklin said, “The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men.… without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel; we shall be divided by our little, partial, local interests, our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach, a byword down to future ages.”
So, when I hear the First Amendment used as a reason to keep the traditional moral values away from policy making, I’m shocked. The First Amendment was not written to protect people and their laws from religious values. It was written to protect those values from government tyranny.
I’ve always believed that this blessed land was set apart in a special way, that some divine plan placed this great continent here between the two oceans to be found by people from every corner of the earth—people who had a special love for freedom and the courage to uproot themselves, leave their home-land and friends to come to a strange land and, when coming here, they created something new in all the history of mankind: a country where man is not beholden to government, government is beholden to man.
I happen to believe that one way to promote, indeed to preserve, those traditional values we share is by permitting our children to begin their days the same way the members of the United States Congress do—with prayer. The public expression of our faith in God through prayer is fundamental—as a part of our American heritage and a privilege which should not be excluded from our schools.
No one must be forced or pressured to take part in any religious exercise. But neither should the freest country on earth ever have permitted God to be expelled from the classroom. When the Supreme Court ruled that school prayer was unconstitutional almost 21 years ago, I believe it ruled wrong. And when a lower court recently stopped Lubbock, Texas, high school students from even holding voluntary prayer meetings on the campus before or after class, it ruled wrong, too.
Our only hope for tomorrow is in the faces of our children. And we know Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” Last year, we tried to pass an amendment that would allow communities to determine for themselves whether voluntary prayer should be permitted in their public schools. And we failed. But I want you to know something: I am determined to bring that amendment back again, and again, and again, and again.
We were frustrated on two other fronts last year. There are five million American children attending private schools today because of emphasis on religious values and educational standards. Their families, most of whom earn less than $25,000 a year, pay private tuition and they also pay their full share of taxes to fund the public schools. We think they’re entitled to relief. So, I want you to know that shortly, we’ll be sending legislation back up to the Hill and we will begin the struggle all over again to secure tuition tax credits for deserving families.
There is another struggle we must wage to redress a great national wrong. We must go forward with unity of purpose and will. And let us come together, Christians and Jews, let us pray together, march, lobby, and mobilize every force we have, so that we can end the tragic taking of unborn children’s lives. Who among us can imagine the excruciating pain the unborn must feel as their lives are snuffed away? And we know medically they do feel pain.
I’m glad that a Respect Human Life bill has already been introduced in Congress by Rep. Henry Hyde. Not only does this bill strengthen and expand restrictions on abortions financed by tax dollars, it also addresses the problem of infanticide. It makes clear the right of all children, including those who are born handicapped, to food and appropriate medical treatment after birth, and it has the full support of this administration.
I know that many well-intentioned, sincerely motivated people believe that government intervention violates a woman’s right of choice. And they would be right if there were any proof that the unborn are not living human beings. Medical evidence indicates to the contrary and, if that were not enough, how do we explain the survival of babies who are born prematurely, some very prematurely?
We once believed that the heart didn’t start beating until the fifth month. But as medical instrumentation has improved, we’ve learned the heart was beating long before that. Doesn’t the constitutional protection of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness extend to the unborn unless it can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that life does not exist in the unborn? And I believe the burden of proof is on those who would make that point.
I read in the Washington Post about a young woman named Victoria. She’s with child, and she said, “In this society we save whales, we save timber wolves and bald eagles and Coke bottles. Yet everyone wanted me to throw away my baby.” Well, Victoria’s story has a happy ending. Her baby will be born.
Victoria has received assistance from a Christian couple, and from Sav-A-Life, a new Dallas group run by Jim McKee, a concerned citizen who thinks it’s important to provide constructive alternatives to abortion. There’s hope for America; she remains powerful and a powerful force for good; and it’s thanks to the conviction and commitment of people like those who are helping Victoria. They’re living the meaning of the two great commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind;” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Each year, government bureaucracies spend billions for problems related to drugs and alcoholism and disease. Has anyone stopped to consider that we might come closer to balancing the budget if all of us simply tried to live up to the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule?…
I know that each of you is contributing, in your own way, to rebuilding America, and I thank you. As broadcasters, you have unique opportunities. And all of us, as Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, have a special responsibility to remember our fellow believers who are being persecuted in other lands. We’re all children of Abraham. We’re children of the same God.…
Malcolm Muggeridge, the brilliant English commentator, has written, “The most important happening in the world today is the resurgence of Christianity in the Soviet Union, demonstrating that the whole effort sustained over 60 years to brainwash the Russian people into accepting materialism has been a fiasco.”
Think of it—the most awesome military machine in history, but it is no match for that one, single man, hero, strong yet tender, Prince of Peace. His name alone, Jesus, can lift our hearts, soothe our sorrows, heal our wounds, and drive away our fears.
He gave us love and forgiveness. He taught us truth and left us hope. In the book of John is the promise that we all go by, [and it] tells us that “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
With His message, with your conviction and commitment, we can still move mountains. We can work to reach our dreams and to make America a shining city on a hill. Before I say goodbye, I wanted to leave with you these words from an old Netherlands folk song, because they made me think of our meeting here today:
“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing.” “We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant, / And pray that Thou still our Defender wilt be. / Let Thy congregation escape tribulation: / Thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!” To which I would only add a line from another song, “America, America, God shed His grace on thee.…”
An Important Test Of Religious School Freedom Begins
Does God or the state govern the gift of teaching?
Seven fundamentalist Christian schools in Maine were told to comply with state education regulations or get themselves a lawyer. Not only did they get a lawyer, they got one of the country’s best, and they were the first to file suit. The schools, and the churches operating them, charge that the state is unconstitutionally sticking its nose into religion by trying to dictate what can be taught and who can do the teaching.
The case, Bangor Baptist Church v. the State of Maine, went to trial last week amid some signs that the fundamentalist church schools might have another important victory in the making. For one thing, their lawyer is William Ball of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who won a forceful decision in a similar case in Michigan just two months ago. For another, the federal court judge in the Maine case, Conrad Cyr, threw out the state’s plea for a summary dismissal of the lawsuit. In doing so, the judge wrote a 56-page decision in which he said the state may have turned its compulsory education law into an “unauthorized administrative system for the licensing of private schools.” He said the Maine legislature has neither “mandated nor authorized the administrative closing of unapproved private schools.…” Because the schools filed suit against the state instead of the other way around (which is what usually happens in such cases), the fundamentalists have a tactical edge in court.
Among other things, Maine requires that private schools offer courses approved by the state education department and that teachers be state certified. The Maine Christian schools that filed suit fall short on both counts, but that does not necessarily mean their courses lack quality.
Ralph Yarnell, executive director of the Maine Association of Christian Schools, which is one of the plaintiffs, said he offered to let the education department examine the test results of Bangor Christian School’s 330 students, as well as students at other member schools, just to demonstrate that the teachers perform well. David Lavway, the administrator of the Bangor school, said that all but 3 of his 36 eighth graders exceed national norms in English and reading, and the other three are right at the average.
Ball’s past strategy has been to demonstrate in court precisely what state certification of teachers says, and does not say, about proficiency in the classroom. During the Michigan trial, the certification issue turned out to be something of an embarrassment for the state. Experts could not agree on which standards teachers should follow, and they were not able to prove a connection between certified teachers and good education. The judge in the case, himself a former school teacher, noted that “the overwhelming evidence shows that teacher certification does not ensure teacher competency and may even inhibit it.”
The Maine Christian schools teach the fundamentals—writing, spelling, math, history, geography, science, the arts, and physical education—and they are willing to obey state safety and health standards. The plaintiffs argue that what puts their schools outside of state jurisdiction is their belief that education is religiously mandated and must be in accord with what the Bible teaches. They believe that such an education cannot be obtained in a school in which tenets of their faith are questioned or contradicted.
Ball prepares his Christian school cases meticulously and unsheathes an array of constitutional weapons in marshaling his courtroom arguments. Other lawyers have not always done that, and that helps account for the tragic incident in Louisville, Nebraska, in which a church was closed and a pastor jailed (see the articles elsewhere in this issue by Rodney Clapp and John Whitehead).
The Maine fundamentalists recognize the legitimate, although limited, interest the state has in ensuring sound education. Herman Frankland, president of the Maine Association of Christian Schools and pastor of the 1,000-member Bangor Baptist Church, which operates one of the schools in question, said his school recently installed a $40,000 sprinkler system to comply with the state code. “But,” he said, “we teach history as ‘his story,’ ” and he said it is God, not the state, who gives some people the gift of teaching, and that is why his teachers will not be certified by the state.
Theologian Carl F. H. Henry will be a full-time visiting professor of Christian studies at Hillsdale College in Michigan for the 1983–84 academic year. Henry will teach an introductory religion course and lead a weekly evening seminar series.
Wendell G. Johnston has been selected as dean of Biola University’s Talbot Theological Seminary. Johnston is currently president of William Tyndale College in a Detroit, Michigan, suburban area.
Dutch priest, theologian, psychologist, and noted author Henri J. M. Nouwen has received an appointment at the Harvard Divinity School as professor of divinity. The appointment, which is on a half-time basis, begins with the 1983–84 school year. Nouwen is best known in this country as a lecturer and author.
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