Rights Won, Battles Lost
“Uncle Sam v. First Church” [News, Oct. 7] was well written and researched. The warning from the Christian Legal Society’s Steven McFarland—“All is not well in the judiciary, and I think the church needs to wake up to that fact”—is easier said than done. Church leaders who take up the challenge to stir a “complacent” church face stiff cultural resistance.
Bethel, Connecticut, has denied Grace Community Church a permit to build. Unlike Hastings, Minnesota, which allowed churches [such as Cornerstone Bible Church] to build in 45 percent of its land area, churches in Bethel are not permitted to build anywhere unless licensed, in violation of “free exercise.” If a church’s civil rights are violated, it is entitled to collect damages under the Civil Rights Act of 1983. However, the court challenge is proving very difficult for Grace, now meeting in a high school.
Those of us raised “born again” in the fifties and sixties recall it was vindictive even to bring suit—especially against those in authority, whom we are told to obey. Arguments to “live peaceably with everyone” and that “it must not be God’s will to build there” are difficult to counter. The issues quickly become emotional, not constitutional.
People like McFarland need to develop a solid Christian apologetic for pursuing our rights as churches. It is useless to win our rights to worship freely but lose the church in the battle.
Grace Community Church
CT’s coverage would have profited from editorial comment on the role of the Humanist Manifestos (1933 and 1973) in leavening our entire culture with an anti-God philosophy. The editorial pages might also have mentioned the possibility that sometimes churches are not altogether smart in what they do and lack sensitivity to community attitudes, thus inviting litigation from antichurch zealots.
I still can’t figure out why conservative Christians are so worried about the U.S. Supreme Court. Is this not the Court that stands to hold a majority of conservative Republican presidential appointees? Wasn’t this Court the vision of the Christian Right movement of the 1980s? If you ask me, conservatives in any group have little room to complain about the present Court, whom their presidential candidates influenced.
Rev. David Coffin
Trinity Lutheran Church (ELCA)
Kim Lawton’s excellent cover article clarified some complex issues. I wish to clarify one statement attributed to me. I consider “majority rule” generally to be good, but “majoritarianism” to be bad. Most laws and public policy should reflect the majority will. However, when fundamental rights are at stake, the majority must be overruled by constitutional principle. My point was that, in Lee, a parent does not have a fundamental right to prohibit other parents from having a minister lead a commencement prayer. Hence, the rule of majority over minority is fair.
Majoritarianism is an extreme abuse of the power of the majority, like authoritarianism is an abuse of authority. It presumes the majority is always right, with callous insensitivity to the views of the minority. I would never endorse this as a good democratic or theological principle.
Michael K. Whitehead
The Christian Life Commission of the
Southern Baptist Convention
Amy serving two masters?
A few thoughts concerning the editorial by Ken Sidey, “Once in Love with Amy” [Oct. 7], wherein you give tacit approval to Amy Grant singing secular songs, seeking secular fame, and posing provocatively for secular posters. I am confused over how she gained the right to serve “two masters” when God has forbidden the rest of us to do so. The call of Christ-centered persons has always been to live holy, separated lives, to abhor that which is evil. I’m afraid you lack spiritual discernment.
Walter E. Adams
Thanks to Ken Sidey for not falling in line and bashing Amy Grant. I, for one, am glad Amy took this risk. My daughter, who is 12, could be listening to Madonna, but she isn’t. She’s dancing around the house singing “Baby, Baby” with gusto, but with the same feeling, she’s singing “When it all comes down, if there’s anything good that happens in life, it’s from Jesus.”
When my daughter stops listening to me, I hope she keeps listening to Amy, because Amy is still singing about Jesus.
Terri J. Rousey
If Amy Grant wants to go mainstream, no problem. Nobody said she had to keep blessing the saints (and their teenagers) for the rest of her life. The problem lies in what Amy’s delivering in the mainstream market now that she’s there. Is she making kids think, raising important questions, poking at the hedonistic balloons of our culture? Other Christian “crossover” artists have done so (e.g., Noel Stookey, Kerry Livgren, Cliff Richard, BeBe and CeCe Winans, and even Michael W. Smith). “Baby, Baby” just isn’t on that level.
That hit, first touted as an ode to her infant daughter, showed its true colors in the video. Defenders have tried to say this was fiction, a la a sitcom. But Amy wasn’t role playing like a “Denise Huxtable” or “D. J. Tanner.” Videos are a documentary format, with Amy being Amy—and the guy she was riding horsey on was hardly her husband.
It all comes down to credibility. After she has pulled a switcheroo on the video and filled much of the album with standard bubblegum love songs, who will be left to take her seriously when she gets around to Jesus on the last cut? Amy can still become a credible mainstream artist who happens to be a Christian. But she’ll need some help thinking through the strategy next time.
Colorado Springs, Colo.
More than a wake-up call
Brian O’Connell’s voice of the voiceless millions denied basic human rights is one that needs constant amplification [Guest Editorial, Oct. 7]. While there are many secular organizations (Amnesty International, Helsinki Watch, Freedom House, etc.) providing critical information regarding the abuse of human rights throughout our world, the Christian community has hesitated to get involved. There is a tantalizing suggestion that those best informed regarding anti-Christian oppression—the leadership of a national church—are reluctant to raise their voices for fear of losing their hard-won survival benefits in a hostile environment.
Revived and revolutionary Islam poses unique challenges for the survival of the Christian community in its midst. These churches of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East do not have energy to engage in protracted run-ins with Islamic fundamentalists who see themselves as newly liberated from oppressive colonial and anti-Islamic forces.
The continual occupation of Arab lands by Israel raises a host of problems, which, when judiciously resolved, will give Arab governments less of an excuse to trample on the rights of their citizens. The long-term observer of Islam has to admit there are inherent human-rights abuses found in the normative practices of the faith. O’Connell’s thoughtful appeal for a Christian response to wholesale abuses of human rights is more than a wake-up call for a sleeping church. It is a summons to take seriously the cries of millions of our contemporaries who are tortured for their convictions.
David S. Bentley
In one sentence O’Connell mentions the human-rights policies of the past two administrations; in the next he implies those administrations covered the years 1975–90. This is to leave out the administration of former President Jimmy Carter that did much to contribute to religious liberty through world peace. I am reminded of Camp David every time I hear Habitat for Humanity International has built another house in some needy part of the world.
Nathaniel W. White
I was shocked by the editorial, which lumped Israel with Syria and China as virtual peers in violation of human rights. Israel’s present situation concerning the Palestinian intifada (uprising) and the actions of Syria and China can in no way be reasonably compared. Hafez al-Assad directly ordered the brutal and intentional murder of between 10,000 and 25,000 human beings in the region of Hama. China, even without the events surrounding the Tiananmen Square incident, has a record of inflicting tremendous suffering on people. Israel, on the other hand, while surrounded on all sides by enemies waiting to “push the Jews into the sea,” and having an internal population dedicated to the same cause, has acted with incredible restraint to preserve its existence.
This is not to say Israel’s actions have been perfect. As followers of Jesus, we must grieve over the violation of even one person’s human rights. Still, we must not allow compassion kindled by fragmentary information to drive us to extremes. Believers must be careful not to be swept up by sheer momentum into the rhetoric of Israel’s enemies. We want to be on the Lord’s side in these matters.
Bruce L. Cohen
Messianic Jewish Alliance of America
The unknown Columbus
I think the best description of “The Columbus Nobody Knows” [Oct. 7] is the one given by his friend and chaplain, Fr. Bartolome de las Casas, O.P.: “He observed the fasts of the Church most faithfully, confessed and made Communion often, read the canonical offices like a churchman or member of a religious order, hated blasphemy and profane swearing, was most devoted to Our Lady and to the seraphic Father St. Francis.”
The “canonical offices” are better known today as the Liturgy of the Hours. They’re a cycle of daily devotions, mainly using the psalms, that priests and members of religious orders are expected to read throughout the day—together, if possible. As a “third order” or lay Franciscan, Columbus not only read the other hours in private but also would lead the men on his ship in evening prayer, or vespers, every evening. Also as a third order Franciscan, he was buried in the habit of the order.
That’s not the Columbus we hear about, is it?
David Neff’s interview of Kay Brigham sheds new light on a notable individual in Western history. The inset map is a useful illustration but doesn’t quite do justice to the situation in Europe in 1490. If “known world” means “known to educated and enterprising Europeans,” the area was much greater than the map shows, I believe.
We should see, rather, a picture not of a Europe confined within narrow limits until liberated by a voyage in 1492, but of a Europe already reaching out by land and sea, probing and seeking, ready for the right man to take the next step.
Donald V. Etz
Selling our doctrinal heritage?
“Kingdom of the Cult Watchers” [Oct. 7] raised some hard questions. Why are evangelical seminaries so quiet about the New Age and the cults? Why have evangelical publications become so silent on doctrinal issues? Is it not because in our desire to be inclusive we have sold our own doctrinal heritage? Tim Stafford might well have named a few more names. Perhaps God is using the New Age to recall evangelicals back to historic Christological and soteriological preaching and teaching.
Rev. Phil Janowsky
Sargent Community Church
Monte Vista, Colo.
Calling Christian apologists’ scholarship into accountability is fair; but it is not a glaring consideration, in view of the doctrinal confusion and division many Christian denominations currently find themselves in. Calling Christian TV (CTV) into scholarship accountability seems more appropriate, and urgent. No one categorically condemns all CTV programming, but it is particularly and increasingly disturbing that it seems to have effectively censored the apologist. Horrible attributes, such as “heresy hunter,” are bestowed upon the apologist. The clear biblical command to “reason together these matters” is ignored by CTV for the sake of “unity” in the body—“God will sort it all out.”
Inasmuch as Christians may assume the Devil hates sound Christological doctrine, the church needs to blow the dust off her creeds and regain a healthy respect for, and recognize its desperate need of, apologetics.
Liteness in the church
Regarding “The Unbearable Liteness of Televangelism” [Books, Oct. 7], I agree it is light—what messages I’ve heard are so light that a baby or child can barely wade in it and so profound an elephant could drown in it.
It would be nice to visit the churches of the critics of those who are preaching to a spiritually hungry, spiritually thirsty world via TV—on Sunday nights, on Wednesday nights—and see what bill of fare their churches offer. Most churches are empty on those nights.
W. H. McNeil
On the cutting edge
I’m disappointed at the lack of market awareness displayed by Doug LeBlanc in his review “Recovery Books Turn Problems into Sellers” [Books, Sept. 16]. Focusing only on the publishers capitalizing on the 12-step program, he overlooked Here’s Life Publishers, which has been on the cutting edge in developing badly needed books for those recovering from abuse—and for pastors counseling those abused. These include A Door of Hope, by Jan Frank; When Victims Marry, by Don and Jan Frank; Freeing Your Mind from Memories that Bind, by Fred and Florence Littauer; The Promise of Restoration, by Fred Littauer; Putting Your Past Behind You, by Erwin Lutzer; and the recently released Uncovering the Mystery of MPD, by Dr. James G. Friesen. Several of these were rejected by the major publishers mentioned by LeBlanc because they were too cutting edge, and their market had not yet been established.
Leslie H. Stobbe, President
Here’s Life Publishers
San Bernardino, Calif.
Our highest privilege
Philip Yancey’s columns are worth the year’s subscription [“Health and the God Factor,” Oct. 7]. Perhaps in a forthcoming column he will note that certain religions contribute to neurosis and other personality deficits because of their profound misrepresentations of the character of God and their diminished appreciation of his creation, including racial prejudices, lack of regard for the relationship of health habits to spiritual discernment, and human behavior generally.
We were once created in God’s image. To reflect that loving, gracious, trustworthy image, or to give him glory—however we say it—is surely our highest privilege as well as our Christian duty.
Herbert E. Douglass
Battle for the family
Apparently reviewer Margaret Koch misses the thrust of Children at Risk (Books, Sept. 16). Her message seems to be that “most people have far more relevant concerns than the encroachment upon our society of secular-humanistic values.” I have never understood the book to be one of general help for common struggles that are as inevitable as life itself. I don’t believe James Dobson and/or Gary Bauer would even suggest that.
Bauer has had the privilege of working in the highest levels of government in our land and has seen firsthand the mentality behind the overwhelming majority of our government, as well as the media and educational system. It is a frightening mindset indeed.
Consider the power that government, education, and media exert in our culture. Generally, the words and actions of these institutions are accepted as true and right. If one hears the same message from all directions for a long enough period, one begins to believe it.
It used to be that message was one that generally supported the Judeo-Christian system of values. Obviously, it is no longer. It is this fact that Dobson and Bauer seek to convey. Christians must realize that there is a real battle taking place.
Paul J. Velek
A couple of years ago, everyone in my church was reading Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness. Then they read the sequel, Piercing the Darkness. To say the least, the books are popular. In some of our Bible studies, they have practically become part of the Canon—I Peretti and II Peretti.
Since Peretti, the trickle of teaching on “spiritual warfare’ has become a flood. The market has unleashed a legion (so to speak) of books, tapes, posters, and conferences on the Devil If the trend continues, we’ll soon know more about talking to demons than about talking to our unchurched neighbors.
There might be some positive results to all this demonology. It saves time, for instance. Recently our church talked about how to help poor people in a nearby apartment complex. In the old days, we would have had to set up a food pantry, or a legal-aid clinic. That sort of work takes weeks to set up—even longer to carry out. But with our new understanding of spiritual warfare, someone suggested we just march around the buildings and bind the “territorial spirit of poverty.” We were home by 2:30. Almost in time for “Guiding Light.”
So most nights now, you’ll find me at home, surrounded by stacks of books on spiritual warfare. I’m brushing up on the fine points of “generational curses,” “transference of spirits,” and “warring in the heavenlies.” And I must say, I have gained a new confidence in the believer’s protection from Old Scratch. He’ll never spot me behind all these books.
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