Religious Liberty, Muslims, and Donald Trump

Disclaimer: The thoughts, beliefs, and conclusions drawn belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Port Royal Baptist Church.

Politics are not in my wheelhouse. I rarely venture into the political arena and make every attempt to not be drawn into public political debates. With that being said, my head is stuck in the sand either. I believe that part of my responsibility as a pastor is to educate my congregation on “how” they should vote based on God’s Word instead of telling them “who” to vote for. In my opinion, voting is one of the most genuine and sincere activities of the conscience. Our country is in the middle of another presidential election cycle. There are more candidates vying for the office of president than I have ever seen in my lifetime. One candidate has been, and continues to be, especially vocal and polarizing: Donald Trump. His “no holds barred, tell it like it is, truth speech” has galvanized many of his supporters while alienating many more. You either love him or hate him. He has no problem letting the media know where he stands on any given topic and does so very matter-of-factually. In itself that is not a bad thing.

Over the past month, our world has witnessed terror attacks in Beirut, France, and just this week, California. It has been concluded that these attacks were the acts of Islamic extremists or those with link to similar groups. Candidates have spoken against the attacks and have attempted to reassure the public that terrorism will be defeated and how they would go about doing that if elected. Donald Trump has been especially vocal on this subject stating that our country should go to great lengths to defeat terrorism. I could not agree more. Our agreement ends there.

In recent weeks Donald Trump has offered two startling and extreme measures to protect America from terrorism. First, he has called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Second, he said that he was “open to establishing a database for all Muslims living in the U.S.” On one hand, this may sound good to many Americans: don’t let them in and track the ones who are already here. He has mistakenly connected the dots by saying that, in essence, we were attacked by Muslims so all Muslims must be guilty. On the other hand, his statements and positions are at odds with the gospel and serve to further jeopardize religious liberty, an already endangered species.

Let me say this lest my theological convictions be called into question. I believe that Islam is a false religion. I believe that adherents to Islam are lost and headed toward an eternal separation from God unless Jesus saves them. They serve a god that cannot save them. They serve a god who offers them no hope at all. They serve a god that does not care for them personally. I believe the same thing applies to the adherents of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christian Science and any other religious system that denies the exclusivity and divinity of Jesus Christ. Within the Islamic/Middle Eastern economy, Islam (religion) and Muslims (people/nationality) are essentially the same thing. The gospel of Jesus Christ allows and admonishes me to see that there is a difference. It is through the gospel that I can see the truth that many Muslims (people/nationality) are trapped in Islam (religion). In the same way that every German (people/nationality) was not a Nazi (political party), and every American (people/nationality) is not a Baptist, Methodist, or Atheist (religion), every Muslim is not automatically an Islamic extremist or terrorist.

Let me say this lest my national allegiance be called into question. I’m proud to be an American. I served in our military and fought for this country as a Marine. I believe our government should make every legal and reasonable effort to protect its citizens from harm. That is the duty of government. I have no problem with refusing entry into this country any person (Muslim, Hindu, Christian, etc.) who has made credible threats to the safety of this nation or who has close ties with groups that want to harm this nation. A database to track Muslims within the United States, for no other reason than a person is Muslim, is no different than the Nazi’s numbering the Jews during World War II, for no other reason than a person being Jewish. It was an offensive proposition then and it is an equally offensive proposition today.

I believe there are at least two unintended consequences to the actions that Donald Trump advocates.

  1. The physical safety of our missionaries around the world, especially those in predominantly Muslim countries could be compromised. I didn’t expect Trump or his campaign to think through this possibility. Why would he? Is it worth risking physical harm to every American missionary who may be unfairly stereotyped by Trump’s comments?
  2. The bridges of trust that have been built over the decades between missionaries and the Muslim communities they serve and share the gospel among may come crashing down around them. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for our missionaries to work and labor in Muslim countries. The work is difficult enough without the Muslim communities being given a reason to doubt the sincerity and love of the missionaries who live among them. It is the gospel that runs along these bridges. It would be a tragedy to see the gospel be hindered because of something as ridiculous as an ill-informed blanket statement by a presidential candidate.

The denomination in which I choose to participate, the Southern Baptist Convention, has spoken to the issue of religious liberty in its statement of faith, The Baptist Faith and Message. The section reads in part, “A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.” In its simplest terms, religious liberty says that you have the right to believe whatever you choose and to worship the same, even if I disagree with you. On the other hand, I have the same right. Government must be careful to not penalize law-abiding citizens, even law-abiding Muslim citizens for pursuing their religious convictions formed by their God-given conscience. The same protection we desire must be extended as well. If you truly value religious liberty, not just your own religious liberty, but religious liberty as a whole, then God’s Word must shape your decisions, not fear-induced rhetoric that sounds good in a sound bite.

I believe the term “prophetic” is overused today. With that being said, if the statement made earlier in the week by Dr. Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, doesn’t speak in prophetic fashion to the slippery slope we’re on in terms of religious liberty, nothing does. He wrote:

“Make no mistake. A government that can shut down mosques simply because they are mosques can shut down Bible studies because they are Bible studies. A government that can close the borders to all Muslims simply on the basis of their religious belief can do the same thing for evangelical Christians. A government that issues ID badges for Muslims simply because they are Muslims can, in the fullness of time, demand the same for Christians because we are Christians. We are in a time of war, and we should respond as those in a time of war. But we must never lose in a time of war precious freedoms purchased through the blood of patriots in years past. We must have security and we must have order. But we must not trade soul freedom for an illusion of winning.”

Book Review : NKJV Foundation Study Bible

NKJVFoundationStudyBibleIt seems that almost daily there is a new study Bible on the market. Each one proposes to offer something special and significant that the others do not. At times, many fail to deliver on the promise of something fresh and new. The NKJV Foundation Study Bible is one of those new study Bibles that has been recently released. I really like the style of the NKJV. It is the version that I use in my pulpit ministry. It reads very well in the modern language but holds to the word structure and thought of the KJV. The NKJV Foundational Study Bible is not like other Bibles seeing that it does not attempt to give exhaustive study notes. It has a simple layout with cross-references and section titles that you would expect in a study Bible. I really enjoyed the size of this Bible.  It measures approximately 8-3/4” tall, 5-3/4” wide, and 1-7/8” thick, significantly smaller and lighter than most Bibles. Individual book introductions are short and provide necessary information on the high parts of each book. This Bible does a great job of enticing the reader to want to go somewhere else and dig deeper.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Day America Was Changed Forever

NYTIt is difficult to believe that it has been fourteen years since the terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington DC, and Shanksville, PA claimed thousands of innocent lives and forever changed the landscape of the United States, and the world for that matter. The images of planes flying into buildings, individuals jumping for safety, debris filled streets, acts of extreme heroism will be forever notched into the memories of a watching world. Prior to the terrorist attacks, September 11th was just another date on the calendar. After the attacks, September 11th became something entirely different. It became a rallying cry. It became a point of reference. It became, as Franklin D Roosevelt said before Congress after the attack on Pearl Harbor, “a date that will live in infamy.” It is a date, as former president George W. Bush said on the evening of September 11, 2001, “Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature.”

It is one of those days that everyone remembers their exact location. It is a date that everyone can recount exactly what they were doing when the planes struck the North and South World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon in Washington DC, and spoiled attacks of hijacked Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. Previous generations had such life-defining moments. Everyone remembers where they were when news came across the radio that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by the empire of Japan. Everyone remembers where they were when news broke  that John F Kennedy had been assassinated. The events and horrors of September 11th, 2001 will be a day frozen in time for America, and the rest of the world.

I can remember where I was on that day. I was on the campus of North Florida Community College in Madison, FL in my first class of the day, Liberal Arts Math. I remember that the attacks came close to the end of that class. Students filed into the student center to hear the latest update. We were in there just a few minutes when we were told that all remaining classes for the day had been cancelled. As I made my forty-five minute drive home, I remember thinking about what had just happened. I remember thinking about the extreme loss of life. I remember wondering what would be next. I remember wondering whether or not those responsible would ever be found and brought to justice.

Much has happened in fourteen years. Responsible parties have been identified and for the most part brought to justice. As Americans, we have been introduced to phrases that we rarely considered before: terrorist, Islamic fundamentalist, extremists, and jihad.  We have engaged in a war on two fronts that is beginning to come to an end. Plans are being made to build an Islamic mosque very near the site of Ground Zero sparking heated debate. A tower has been erected on the site of the original towers to serve as a reminder (as if we needed one) of the events of that day, demonstrating the resiliency of the American people. On this day may we remember, reflect, and pray. Pray continually for the families whose lives were forever changed. Pray continually for our military who are fighting today to ensure these events are not repeated. Pray continually for our country’s leaders who wade through the aftermath of September 11th . May we also pray for the spirit of unity we all felt as Americans on September 12th, 2001.

Missional Monday : Church Leaders – Are You Serving Your Community While Secretly Desiring Reimbursement?

MMlogoIt is important for church leaders to know why they engage in community ministry. This means churches must understand what drives them outside the church walls and into the neighborhoods, businesses, and schools of the community. When you combine the command to pray for the welfare and peace of the city (Jeremiah 29:7) and the commission to be witnesses for the gospel wherever we are (Acts 1:8), an important truth emerges: the church has a responsibility to those who are not a part of it. With that being said, ministry in our communities is difficult. Ministry in our communities can be messy. Ministry in our communities can be time-consuming. Ministry in our communities has a financial component to it as well. As a result, members of the church wonder, if only to themselves, “What are we getting out of this deal?” This question, at the basement level, is one of reimbursement.

There is a danger associated with the church expecting reimbursement from the community for ministry on their behalf. To reimburse means to “make repayment for expenses or loss incurred.” If the church sees community ministry as a loss from the very beginning then certainly there will be cries for reimbursement. If the church sees community ministry as a means to gain materially from the people then certainly there will be demands for repayment and compensation. How might a church seek reimbursement from the community?

  1. Filling a seat in the sanctuary. Churches may take an intentional or unintentional stance such as “we went to them now they need to come to us” stance. A common question asked by congregants is “Where are the people we have been ministering to?” The easiest measurement of ministry success is people filling a seat in the sanctuary. Although the easiest measurement, it is not always the correct measurement. Ministry is an investment. It may require multiple engagements before the gospel is understood and embraced. Churches must be comfortable with the fact that beneficiaries of their ministry may never connect to their church body. This is not easy to accept.

  1. Filling the offering plate. Churches may also take an intentional or unintentional stance such as “we gave to them financially now they need to give back to us”. Our world has conditioned us to expect something in return for services rendered. The old saying goes, “there is no such thing as a free ride”. This would be true if you viewed your community exclusively from the business standpoint, seeing them as consumers only. Is it true that your community may take a consumer approach to the church? Absolutely. The church has to resist the temptation to “even the books” and fully embrace the teachings of Jesus Christ where we’re reminded that to whom much is given, much is required.

Ministry in which the gospel is communicated and delivered, regardless of the acceptance of it, can never be viewed as a “loss incurred”. If there is no loss incurred then there is no need of reimbursement. Church leaders, the economic laws of supply and demand and return on investment are measured much differently in the church. Be generous. Give what you have.

Missional Monday : 80 Days of Summer – A Family Ministry Challenge

mmSummer is coming to an end. Vacations have been taken, school shopping is in full swing, and family schedules are getting back to normal. Summer can be a double-edged sword. On one hand you have students who are excited to be free and are thinking only of having fun. On the other hand you have parents stressing over how to keep their kids occupied for three months. It can be tricky for families to juggle the summer. Summer can be a tricky time around the church as well. Family schedules are different. Attendance patterns shift.  For this reason churches operate under an unpublished principle during the summer: don’t start anything new. Well, we violated that principle this year.

With the reality of families scattering during the summer, we asked ourselves a question, “Why does it have to be this way?” So, we decided to give our families an opportunity to spend some of their free time together in kingdom work.  On June 3rd we began 80 Days of Summer;  a family ministry challenge that would continue through August 22nd. The concept is simple. 80 Days centers around a very specific goal: to see families serving their community together.  Over the course of 80 days, 17 ministry opportunities in 9 different community locations were scheduled. We challenged our families to choose a ministry event and work together. It pleases me to be able to say that we have accomplished our goal. We have seen families, some for the first time, give up their free time and serve the kingdom through their local church.

Getting all caught up in numbers is not a good thing. With that being said, numbers do reflect a certain reality. As of this past Friday, 15 ministry opportunities have taken place with two remaining. Over the course of these opportunities, 48 different people have been involved and have contributed 902 volunteer hours to our community. My heart has been blessed this summer to know that we were committed both to our families and to our community.

Book Review : Unoffendable

unoffendableWe live in a world where someone seems to always be offended by what someone else did. Whether it’s flying a particular flag, your choice of Christmas greeting, or your belief that marriage should be between a man and woman, there is always someone who will not you’re your choice. The troubling part of all this offense is that while living in a land of free speech and free expression, some believe they have the right to be offended. In his new book “Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better”, Brant Hansen offers a different look at this ever-increasing phenomenon of personal offense.

 Hansen writes that the whole issue of being offended has to do with worrying that what someone else is doing is wrong and that we should take them to task on it. At the very root level Hansen says that being offended is a choice. He reassures the reader that ultimately and correctly, God is in control of everything and everyone; even that person whom you think has done wrong. Two powerful quotes for me are found in chapter two. Hansen writes, “Being offended is a tiring business. Letting go gives you energy” and “I can let stuff go because it’s not all about me. Simply reminding myself to refuse to take offense is a big part of the battle.” Hansen does a good job of weaving Scripture, personal experiences, and a unique writing style together to produce a work that is challenging and encouraging. I can recommend this book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”