3 - Atheist's death brings response from Christian community
You would think that the death of a religious leader would bring a great wave of commentary and tribute from the Christian community, and we see that transpire quite often. But who would have thought that a well-known atheist's death would bring a significant amount of response? That is the case with Christopher Hitchens, who passed away this week at the age of 62 from complications surrounding cancer.
The Christian Post had a summary of some of the high-profile Christian leaders who made comments regarding Hitchens' death. Some of the comments included:
Rick Warren, who tweeted: "My friend Christopher Hitchens has died. I loved & prayed for him constantly & grieve his loss. He knows the Truth now."
Albert Mohler: “The point about Christopher Hitchens is not that he died of unbelief...but that his unbelief is all that matters now. Unspeakably sad.”
Lee Strobel tweeted: “I was among many who shared Christ with him; so sad he rejected Gospel..."
Hitchens dismissed any chance of a deathbed conversion as he responded to Christians who vocalized that they were praying for him. Hitchens authored the book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, but it is striking to me that he not only debated Christians, but he was friendly with a number of Christian leaders. He was quite engaged with Christianity, it appears, even though he did not embrace it, or express a desire to.
Perhaps he was trying to change minds and building bridges with those with whom he disagreed, and perhaps he just enjoyed the company of others, regardless of their beliefs. Whatever the case, he was not necessarily viewed by a number of Christians as an enemy, even though he was an intellectual, and albeit spiritual, adversary.
What do we learn from Hitchens? Well, we can be challenged to be prepared at all times to defend our faith, and to realize that God will bring people into our lives, even those who don't know Him, in order that we might be a conduit of God's love for those people.
2 - Budget battles yield pro-family provisions
As the most recent session of Congress is winding down, the respective chambers are in the process of giving final approval to spending bills, in order to provide for the government's continued operation. While much of the attention has been centered on the extension of payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits, there were some key provisions in some of these end-of-year bills that are significant from a Christian, pro-family perspective.
First of all, the conference committee compromise of the Defense Authorization bill contained some language regarding same-sex marriage. While it would have been considered a major victory to see language saying that same-sex marriage ceremonies are banned on military facilities (which did not happen), still there was a minor victory in that chaplains received some conscience protections, as the bill basically says that chaplains do not have to perform ceremonies that violate their deeply-held religious beliefs. Also, the language affirmed that the Federal Defense of Marriage Act was in effect on military bases. And, an attempt to repeal Article 125 in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which would have made sodomy and bestiality legally protected acts, was turned back. Here is the report from the Family Research Council.
Also, in another spending bill, even though Federal funding of so-called "comprehensive" sex education has far outweighed the taxpayer dollars allotted to teach abstinence, still there was $5 million assigned to abstinence programs. Here is a report from Crosswalk.com.
Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association is quoted as saying, "this funding of five million dollars is contrasted against about 100 million dollars in the budget for contraceptive sex education...We are a long way from parity. But it's definitely a step in the right direction."
The politically-correct view, promoted by organizations such as Planned Parenthood, operates from the assumption that since promiscuity is pervasive, so contraceptive use should be taught and promoted to young people. The abstinence view reinforces the fact that abstinence is the only 100%-effective way to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases, as well as the negative emotional, psychological, and spiritual effects resulting from not engaging in abstinence.
1 - "Year of the Nativity": church, civic leaders stand against attempts to remove creches
Last week, one of the top 3 stories I identified on this week-in-review blog was the threat to a Nativity scene in Athens, Texas, about which the Freedom from Religion Foundation had complained, calling for its removal. Church and civic leaders stood against the removal, and this week, a powerful ally, the Attorney General of Texas, pledged his support for the County in its defense of what he saw as a constitutional expression. This is just one of many flash points where the display of the Nativity has faced pressure, and in many cases, the civic and church leaders have stood together to resist the attempts to have these displays removed.
Let's run through some of these instances in what I have termed the, "Year of the Nativity":
Ellwood City, PA: I mentioned this last week - residents celebrated that government leaders allowed the Nativity to be displayed, and the mayor of Ellwood City refused an atheist group's request to post a banner at the site.
Athens, TX: Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said that he would file legal briefs in support of Henderson County's contention that the Nativity scene at the courthouse square in Athens is legal. And, yesterday, some 5000 people rallied downtown to show support for the Nativity scene. Here's the story from the Houston Chronicle.
Travis AFB: Another organization that is intent on removing the vestiges of Christianity in public life, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, called on the base to remove its scene. Here is the report from Family Research Council. According to FRC:
Retaining one of the most respected law firms in the country, they fired off a letter to Colonel Dwight Sones, objecting to the base's nativity. "This conspicuous display of ritual objects," they write, referring to the manger and menorah, "is a clear endorsement of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and must either be removed from the premises or moved to a more appropriate location on the Air Force Base to ensure compliance with the United States Constitution."Todd Starnes of Fox News shared a report that the base had decided not to remove the display. He received this statement:
“While we appreciate the concerns raised by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Office of the Air Force Judge Advocate General, upon review, concluded the inclusion of a Wing Chaplain sponsored Nativity Scene and Menorah as part of a broader, secular holiday seasonal display does not violate the establishment clause of the United States Constitution."Santa Monica, CA: In Santa Monica, there is a pavilion with 21 spaces to be used, presumably for Nativity displays. Because there were a number of groups that had requested space this year, a lottery system was implemented, and secular, or atheist, groups ended up receiving the bulk of the spaces, but have apparently only used just a few of them, to display messages such as "Happy Solstice" or a quote from Thomas Jefferson likening religion to myths or fables. Radio station KPCC had this report.
The churches are attempting to push back. They have begun a letter-writing campaign to get the city to give them more slots and held a flashlight vigil to draw attention to their cause. Hunter Jameson, chairman of the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee, said he felt the lottery rules were fair, but manipulated by atheist individuals that applied. He is quoted as saying, "Through the force of numbers, [they] were able ... to win the vast majority of the space," he said. "Our problem with that is that this attempt was transparently not a good faith effort to put up their own display, but rather to force us out of the park."
Green County, Arkansas: And, finally, a Nativity scene is back on a bulletin board in Paragould, Arkansas after it was initially ordered to be removed by the school superintendent in the Green County Tech School District. Superintendent Jerry Noble had originally removed the display because he did not want to submit the district to a legal challenge, which could be rather costly. But, a group came forward to support the school in case legal action was filed. The Arkansas ACLU has said that the school is wrong and must abide by what it sees as the Constitution.
The Nativity is a powerful representation of the Incarnation, and cities and towns across America have traditionally allowed nativities to be displayed, consistent with our strong Christian traditions. And, while we have seen skirmishes all along, it is concerning that there is seemingly a fresh wave of challenges - has the Constitution changed? NO, and certainly not our religious traditions or the deep faith that has influenced our social and governmental structure. And, acknowledgement of God or these rich traditions is not the same as establishing a government church - there is confusion, and there are secular groups that have taken advantage of it and tried to contribute to the erosion of these foundational practices - now, people are saying, "enough is enough". And, perhaps even a resulting court case before the right judges could reverse this trend of attempting to whitewash our faith tradition from the fabric of our culture.