Yesterday, Liberty Counsel Celebrated Christian Freedom Day

Yesterday, like presidents before him, President Trump issued a proclamation commemorating Thomas Jefferson’s work in writing Virginia’s

Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission
Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission

Statute for Religious Freedom (full text here) which was adopted by the Virginia legislature on January 16, 1786. The law ended the establishment of the Anglican church in Virginia and recognized freedom of conscience in the state.
Jefferson meant for that freedom of conscience to extend beyond Christian denominations to all religions or none. However, ultra-conservative Liberty Counsel does not appear to recognize the breadth of Jefferson’s work. In their press release, the Statute on Religious Freedom is described as follows:

Religious Freedom Day is celebrated in America each year on January 16 to commemorate the 232nd anniversary of the passing of the 1786 passage of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom that ended the state-established church in Virginia, finally protecting religious rights for all denominations. The Anglicans had fined, persecuted, jailed and murdered Christians who were not part of the state-established church. However, Jefferson, a lifelong fervent advocate for the rights of religious liberty and religious conscience, worked hard to protect and defend those Christians. (emphasis added)

Liberty Counsel’s presser refers to denominations of Christianity and to Jefferson’s work to defend Christians. In the past, Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver has questioned the status of Islam as a religious worthy of First Amendment protection. Staver is also of the David Barton school of thought regarding the First Amendment — that the purpose of it was to prevent a Christian denomination from being established. In other words, when the First Amendment says religion, it means Christianity.

What Did Jefferson Mean?

In fact, there was an effort in the Virginia legislature to limit the scope of Virginia’s statute to Christians during debate on the bill. Jefferson wrote about it in his autobiography:

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally past; and a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan [Islam], the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.

According to Jefferson, the effort did not succeed. He meant his religious freedom bill to cover all people, of all religious ideas or no religious ideas.

What Religious Freedom Really Means Now

Ultimately, religious freedom at this particular time for this particular group means the freedom to discriminate against people, usually GLBT people in providing public services. In general, I think those who provide services to the public should provide them to GLBT people, even if they personally disagree with some aspect of those they serve.
But that’s just me and my beliefs. I know others believe differently, and the beauty of this nation is that they are free to believe it. What we will find out over the next few years is if they are free to discriminate based on that belief.

I Have a Dream Speech – Martin Luther King, Jr.

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. today, I link to MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered August 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C. during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Be inspired.

For a transcript of the speech, you can consult the National Archives at this link.  It is fascinating to examine the draft of the speech. In particular, the phrase “I have a dream today” isn’t in the draft. He improvised the phrase.  He had used it before but it wasn’t in the prepared remarks. In the moment, inspiration came to him and he took the speech to another level. See this interview with Clarence Jones for more on that story.

W.H. Chief of Staff John Kelly Can't Get the Confederacy Right

no Confederate flagAs has been widely reported, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly last night on the Laura Ingraham Show said Robert E. Lee was an honorable man and the Civil War was fought because the North and South couldn’t compromise. Kelly was brought into the White House to keep Trump from stepping on verbal landmines. However, he has stepped on a few of his own in recent days.
The unforced historical error comes amid two indictments and the revelation yesterday of an even more damning guilty plea from a former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos relating to the Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Some historical matters arouse little passion, some are critical to get right. Anything involving slavery and the Confederacy and understandably critical to get right. And it isn’t difficult. Lee fought for the South in the Civil War which was fought to keep African slavery as a moral good. All the compromising took place before the war and was evil. See, not hard.
A good social media place to look at for a response to Kelly is Ta-Nehesi Coates thread on Lee and the Civil War.
For more from past posts, see below:
Robert E. Lee on slavery – This post contains a letter from Lee to his wife.
The Vice-President of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens on slavery as the reason for the Confederacy – This post contains the words of a speech by Stephens declaring slavery as integral to the new Confederacy.
Unfortunately, it appears that Kelly may have read too much history from David Barton. Barton believes Lee was a good guy and isn’t in favor of removing the Confederate statues. Even though Barton correctly attributes the cause of the Civil War to slavery, he falters on many other alt-right talking points.
UPDATE:
And of course, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, W.H. Spokesperson came out and defended Kelly’s comments.


The heads of thousands of sane historians explode.
To follow on social media, click the following links:
Facebook (blog posts and news)
Facebook (Getting Jefferson Right – history news)
Twitter

The Gospel Coalition Removes “When God Sends Your White Daughter a Black Husband”

Responding to a backlash against the controversial article “When God Sends Your White Daughter a Black Husband”, the Gospel Coalition removed the article at the author’s request. TGC also posted an audio discussion about the article involving three African-American writers (TGC editor, Jason Cook, Isaac Adams, and Jamar Tisby). Listen to the discussion at TGC’s website.  About the situation, TGC posted:

In this recorded conversation, Jason Cook (editor at The Gospel Coalition), Jemar Tisby (president of Reformed African American Network), and Isaac Adams (editor at The Front Porch) respond to the article “When God Sends Your White Daughter a Black Husband” and the ensuing backlash, as well as broader issues including handling discussions about race and the dignity of black life.

The article has been removed from TGC’s website at the request of the author, who regrets hurting many readers. An article intended to celebrate God’s work in this family’s life also became an occasion for hurt and pain. Understandable frustration and constructive concern was not the only response. Sadly, white supremacists have threatened the author and her family.
We invite you to listen to the conversation to understand TGC’s editorial process, what we could have done better, what we can learn going forward, and more.

The article (archived here) had generated hundreds of comments on the TGC website in addition to a tweetstorm of discussion both supporting and criticizing the article. In particular, the format of the article’s title indicated to some critics that a black husband was less than optimal. However, in this discussion, the participants talk about what can be learned from the situation.
The discussants took a firm stance on the language of the article and lamented the problems in evangelical circles. One said:

This is an issue where our discipleship has a gaping hole.

I recommend you listen to the conversation.
From my point of view, I appreciate TGC’s recognition that the article was hurtful to many. I think it illustrated just how far the church needs to go in order to address subtle as well as overt racism.

Why It Was Important to Get the Iowa Civil Rights Commission Story Right

On July 5, the Alliance Defending Freedom law firm posted an alert which inflamed religious conservatives with worries that the sky was truly falling in Iowa. Here is the opening two paragraphs:

DES MOINES, Iowa – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing an Iowa church filed a federal lawsuit Monday against members of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, among others, to stop the government from censoring the church’s teaching on biblical sexuality and from forcing the church to open its restrooms and showers to members of the opposite sex.
The commission is interpreting a state law to ban churches from expressing their views on human sexuality if they would “directly or indirectly” make “persons of any particular…gender identity” feel “unwelcome” in conjunction with church services, events, and other religious activities. The speech ban could be used to gag churches from making any public comments—including from the pulpit—that could be viewed as unwelcome to persons who do not identify with their biological sex. This is because the commission says the law applies to churches during any activity that the commission deems to not have a “bona fide religious purpose.” Examples the commission gave are “a child care facility operated at a church or a church service open to the public,” which encompasses most events that churches hold.

Note the active language: the lawsuit was filed “to stop the government from censoring the church’s teaching…and from forcing the church to open its restrooms…to members of the opposite sex” as if the government was actively censoring religious speech and forcing churches to open restrooms.  In second paragraph, ADF wrote that “the commission is interpreting a state law to ban churches” as if the commission had just developed this interpretation and was enforcing it on Iowa’s churches.
This alarmist language set off some alarms. In response to a tweet from Russell Moore, Princeton professor Robert George tweeted


His tweet was in response to a tweet from Moore who reacted to a tweet from ADF’s Erik Stanley.
It seems obvious that all concerned believed ADF was reacting to a new threat to religious liberty from the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. Thus, when I corresponded with Iowa Civil Rights Commission executive director Kristin Johnson, I was surprised to learn that the Iowa legislature added sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s civil rights code in 2007 and the Commission had written guidance to the public including churches in 2008. I was even more surprised to learn that the Commission had not taken any action against a minister or church. In other words, nothing had happened. The sky was not falling.
What had happened is that someone noticed admittedly vague and confusing language about churches complying with the law in “a church service open to the public.” That sounded like a Sunday worship service. However, after some emails with Johnson at the ICRC, it became clear that Iowa wasn’t about to shut down churches for preaching on homosexuality. The wording was chosen based on a meaning of “services” in Iowa non-discrimination law as an economic good or service without a religious purpose. The Commission did not have in mind worship services and quickly changed the language in the guidance to make that clear.
Some Iowa religious leaders declared victory as if they had beaten back the secularist agenda. However, the truth is, no Iowa church was ever censored or forced to do anything by the Commission.
Why is this important?
It should be important from the standpoint of truthful communications. Donors who contribute to ADF should get the full story. At the end of the day, ADF believes it is necessary to challenge the law because they believe it isn’t clear what a “bona fide religious purpose” is. Since churches haven’t had to deal with these matters, they are a little unclear on which of their activities might not be considered bona fide by a state agency. I can see the need for some guidance on these matters, especially as churches determine what building use policies to establish. However, there is no crisis.
I believe saving crisis mode for an actual crisis is important because I also believe that years of alarmist rhetoric have helped bring us Donald Trump. Religious right advocacy organizations have worked the evangelical community into a frenzy, always in fear of losing our rights. We are now in a position where evangelical leaders are recommending a strong man type to come and save us. The desire for political salvation has never been greater. Evangelical leaders who support Trump have boiled down Christian engagement in the culture to a central theme: control the Supreme Court. Hang everything else, just don’t let Hillary appoint a justice.
A question for those who support Trump for this reason: Who appointed Anthony Kennedy?
We do need to be vigilant but also we need to be wise about when to sound the alarm.
If Iowa’s Civil Rights Commission was really telling pastors what to preach and controlling how churches use their facilities, then yes, sound the alarms, let’s get all hands on deck. I would be right there too.
In the mean time, I urge evangelicals to save the crisis language for a real crisis.

Iowa Civil Rights Commission Releases Revised Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Public Accommodations Brochure

This just in from the Iowa Civil Rights Commission:

Iowa Civil Rights Commission Releases Revised Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Public Accommodations Brochure
The Iowa Civil Rights Commission announced today the publication of its Revised Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Public Accommodations Brochure.  The revision replaces the previous version which had not been updated since 2008 and clarifies that religious activities by a church are exempt from the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
“The Iowa Civil Rights Commission has never considered a complaint against a church or other place of worship on this issue,” said director Kristin H. Johnson. “This statute was amended to add these protected classes (sexual orientation and gender identity) in 2007 and has been in effect since then. The Iowa Civil Rights Commission has not done anything to suggest it would be enforcing these laws against ministers in the pulpit, and there has been no new publication or statement from the ICRC raising the issue. The Commission regrets the confusion caused by the previous publication.”
The revised brochure may be found at this link: https://icrc.iowa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/2016/2016.sogi_.pa1_.pdf

This new language is more clear:

P L A C E S O F W O R S H I P
Places of worship (e.g. churches, synagogues, mosques, etc.) are generally exempt from the Iowa law’s prohibition of discrimination, unless the place of worship engages in non-religious activities which are open to the public. For example, the law may apply to an independent day care or polling place located on the premises of the place of worship.

By independent day care, the Commission means a day care renting or leasing a place of worship and not being conducted by the church as a part of the church’s ministry. Ms. Johnson clarified that to me earlier in the week.
For background on this issue see these posts: Link, link

Happy Religious Freedom Day 2016; Happy Freedom to the Five Americans Released by Iran Today

Today, we remember Thomas Jefferson’s work in writing Virginia’s Statute for Religious Freedom (full text here) which was adopted by the Virginia legislature on January 16, 1786. From Obama’s presidential proclamation:

When the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was adopted on January 16, 1786, it formed a blueprint for what would become the basis for the protection of religious liberty enshrined in our Constitution.  Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the statute proclaims that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

You can read a Congressional resolution celebrating the day here.
Unrelated, but it is very good news that Iran has released 5 American prisoners today as well.

Judge Who Sent KY Clerk Kim Davis to Jail was Appointed by G.W. Bush and Disagreed with Supreme Court Decision on Marriage

David Bunning, the judge who sent KY clerk Kim Davis to federal custody is a Republican son of a Republican former Senator and according to his mother did not agree with the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.
Bunning’s dad was popular baseball player and Senator Jim Bunning. He is known as a careful jurist and conservative person who jailed Davis because she would likely be able to pay her fines with supporters’ money.
Davis was jailed earlier today because she refuses to issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Religious right political figures have come to her defense, saying she is suffering for her faith. I think she is getting bad advice from her handlers. I don’t see how every county official’s religious beliefs can be accommodated in such matters. Presumably, if consistent, Davis does not believe in believers and unbelievers being married. Would her supporters advocate for her right to refuse a license to religiously mixed marriages?
According to local media coverage, Bunning raised his own religious beliefs in court:

Bunning said he’s Catholic and the Catholic church says you must have an annulment before you can get remarried. He asked: What would prevent a Catholic clerk from not issuing a marriage license to a divorced person?

Exactly.
We are not governed by sectarian interpretations of any Scripture.
 

Tony Evans Says African-American Families Were "A Lot Stronger" During Slavery

UPDATE: You can listen to Evans remarks in full at these Dallas Seminary pages (this link has part two and a transcript). He has many good things to say. It is unfortunate that he prolonged the notion of the stronger African-American family during slavery.
………………………………………….
I can’t believe Evans said this. I think I know what he was going for but this doesn’t do justice to the history on the subject and plays into racial politics without any real benefit to his point.

He then made the reference to slavery to highlight the dire condition of the black family.
“The White man is not making you do that. He’s not forcing you into that position. That’s a convenient out. In slavery when we did not have laws on our side, the community on our side, the government on our side, the broader community on our side, our families were a lot stronger. We were a lot more unified and we made a lot more progress. We’re going through regression right now and a lot of that is because of decision-making we are responsible for,” said Evans.

Since African slaves couldn’t marry and were subject to forced separation at any time, this statement really makes no sense. If Evans’ point is that African families were resilient through adversity, I would give him that much. However, his points about strength, unity and progress seem surreal and aren’t accurate in any meaningful sense.
I hope he comes to recognize how such a statement, made in the current scene, takes us backward.