Confusion in the Classroom

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed a bill into law this past week that permits student-led prayer in the state’s schools. There are several other provisions in the three-page law such as student’s rights to discuss religious views, write about their religious beliefs in assignments without censorship, and more. Students exercising these rights are forbidden from interrupting the learning process or harassing fellow students who do not wish to participate with them.

My first reaction is there remains a lot of confusion about the place and exercise of religion in the public school system. Since the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision in Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963), there has been much misunderstanding either because of ignorance of the ruling or lack of verbal comprehension.

Before commenting further I think it is necessary to quote the wording that is at issue, it is the Establishment Clause, immediately followed by the Free Exercise Clause, of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. It reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The Court ruled in the above case that for a government employee, such as a teacher, to read the Bible to their students or lead them in prayer is an unconstitutional establishment of religion. Nothing in the Court’s decision prevents the free exercise of religion of a school employee, or student. During his or her free time a teacher is at liberty to read the Bible and pray, or give thanks to God before eating a meal, or to discuss is or her faith when it arises in a discussion. The same holds true for students.

Contrary to widespread opinion Bible reading and prayer have not been taken out of the public school system or outlawed. More freedoms are lost through failure to exercise them than have ever been lost to legislation or judicial fiat.

This new law in North Carolina, while well intended, may add to the confusion and does nothing to secure the right to free exercise of our faith already granted by the First Amendment. A state statute cannot take away or add to the freedom of religion guaranteed by the United States Constitution; it’s that simple.

Advocates of religious freedom are rejoicing over the recent developments and hope the other forty-nine states will climb on the bandwagon and adopt similar laws. But more laws will not afford more protection than what we already have.

Jesus said, “When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you,” Matthew 6:6. Winning concessions in the public arena over needless legislation will do little to turn our nation to God, and distracts us from exercising our most powerful asset, private prayer. It is what we do in private that bolsters our witness in public.


Your Own Personal God

It has been said jokingly, “In the beginning God created man in His image, and ever since then man has been trying to return the favor.” I wish I knew who said that. The reason we find some things amusing is because they typically are based on some degree on truth. Given the current cultural perspective of God here in America, this statement might actually be funny if it weren’t so gravely true.

According to a Gallup poll published in June of 2011, ninety-two percent of Americans believe in God. That percentage has remained fairly constant over the years, but a recent Barna Group study revealed some insightful statistics. While fifty-six percent of Americans believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God, only thirty-seven percent read it at least once a week. When Americans say they believe in God, but do not read the Bible, the question arises; who is this God Americans say they believe in?

Many churches and denominations have articles of faith or doctrinal statements that summarize the basic tenets of what they believe. They typically begin with a statement about the Bible or God. Under our church’s statement of What We Believe, we begin with a statement on the Scriptures. This is not mere coincidence; we believe the Bible to the foundation for everything else we believe. We believe in God, but everything we believe about Him is based on what He has revealed to us about Himself in His Word. We believe in God, the God of the Bible.

Someone is always saying or writing something about his or her God, “my god would do this,” or “my god wouldn’t do that.” From the man on the street, to journalists, to politicians, everyone seems to have their own opinion about God’s nature and will. And for the most part, what they say is completely foreign to what the Bible says about God. That is understandable, if like many Americans, you believe in God but do not read the Bible; you are left to your imagination to conjure up a god that agrees with your particular perspective. You imagine a god who serves your likes and dislikes, instead of a God who should be served and obeyed.

While such a view is very convenient, I do not believe there are that many gods. Even if I did not believe in the God of the Bible, my concept of God would not be a god who exists to serve me. I do not believe you can have your own personal god.

God told Moses, “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other,” Deuteronomy 4:39. That sounds like a God who is much different than your own personal god, whoever you are.

Father’s Day

Father’s Day was created to compliment Mother’s Day. After hearing a sermon about Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother’s Day, in 1909, Sonora Smart Dodd told her pastor she thought there should be a day honoring fathers. Dodd was from Arkansas, and her father, William Jackson Smart, had been a Civil War veteran. After being widowed, he raised his six children as a single parent. Dodd was married and living in Spokane, Washington at the time. Her father had been born in June, so the first Father’s Day was celebrated on the third Sunday of June 1910.

The holiday did not enjoy the widespread recognition of Mother’s Day at first. Father’s Day was observed sporadically for many years in different parts of the country. This may explain why Father’s Day was much slower to gain official recognition. President Lyndon B. Johnson was the first President to issue a proclamation observing it and his successor Richard M. Nixon would be the one to make it an official holiday.

The fifth commandment of the Decalogue exhorts us to, “Honor your father and your mother,” Exodus 20:12. Before God ordained the Church, instituted governments, founded nations, or established schools, He created the institution of marriage and the home. The marriage of one man to one woman was instituted by God making it sacred, and history has proven it to be the fundamental unit of every culture and society, and responsible for the flourishing of every human civilization without exception.

Fathers play a significant role within the family. They should provide our needs, defend and support us when we are right, and should discipline us when we are wrong, and they must do so wisely and lovingly. They should live a saintly life before their family in such a way, that in the words of one writer, they create an atmosphere that makes “it natural to know and love God.”

This is a time to honor the fathers still with us, and to remember those who have passed on before us.   Many can do this thankfully, but some may think they cannot. Maybe their father died before they knew him, or maybe he deserted the family. Maybe their father failed to live a godly example and was instead abusive and mean.

God does not enjoin us to honor our fathers, because they consistently set a godly example or were always good to us. If for no other reason, we should honor them because we desire to be godly. The circumstances of your conception may have been less than noble, but the opportunities life affords you would have been impossible without your father.

So this Father’s Day let us honor and remember and pray for our fathers. And remember to worship “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing,” Ephesians 1:3. After all, it is the Father who gave us fathers.

The Conscienious Object

You have probably never heard of him. He was a Seventh Day Adventist, an ordinary man whose extraordinary faith and courage has left an indelible mark on the combat history of our nation. He never touched a gun or killed an enemy soldier. He was the first conscientious objector to win our nation’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor. His name is Desmond T. Doss.

As a young boy growing up in a Christian home Desmond was appalled to learn of the story of Cain and Abel. He could not understand why a man would kill his own brother. He vowed to never take another man’s life.

When the attack on Pearl Harbor ushered the United States into World War II, Doss thought it was his patriotic duty to enlist. That first night in the Army barracks as he knelt beside his bunk to pray, his fellow recruits taunted him and threw their boots at him. When he refused to train on the Sabbath he was ridiculed. He was belittled for refusing to touch a firearm, even in training. Doss vowed while others would take lives he would be by their side to save lives. His commanding officer, Captain Jack Glover, told him if he refused to carry a rifle he would never stand beside him in battle.

Despite the repeated humiliation heaped on him by the men of the 77th Infantry Division, he never took offense nor compromised his faith. When the 77th was deployed to the Pacific Theatre, in one engagement after another, Doss distinguished himself in providing lifesaving aid to those who fell in battle.

Eventually the 77th was sent to Okinawa to reinforce the American troops attempting to take the island. The Japanese had retreated to the Shuri escarpment, a plateau three hundred feet above the island. The last fifty feet was a vertical climb. The Americans called it Hacksaw Ridge.

The Japanese were well entrenched. In nine successive assaults the Americans had reached the plateau only to be thrown back by withering artillery, mortar, and machinegun fire. On April 29, 1945, A Company tried again. As the day closed, A Company was forced to retreat leaving seventy-five casualties behind. During the next twelve hours, Doss climbed to the top, alone and under constant enemy fire, he bound the wounded and rescued every single man by dragging each one to the edge of the escarpment and letting them down by a rope. Doss later said, as he let each man down to safety, he prayed, “Lord, let me get one more.”

A Company having failed and now decimated, B Company was next. Doss recommended the men pray. Lt. Goronto called the men together saying, “Doss wants to pray.” Doss led the men in prayer and B Company climbed up for the assault. They were able amidst the fiercest fighting yet, to secure a foothold and stave off a Japanese counterattack. When the rear command asked how many casualties they had sustained, the B Company commander replied none of his men had been killed or wounded. Stunned by this report, they asked how this had been done without a single casualty. Amazed himself, the B Company commander gave the only reply he could muster, “Doss prayed!”

The Japanese repeatedly counterattacked attempting to throw them off the escarpment. Amid the fighting, Captain Jack Glover was felled by a Japanese artillery shell. Slowly bleeding to death he was pleasantly surprised to see the face of Desmond T. Doss at his side. Doss had crossed two hundred yards of open ground under enemy fire to bind Glover’s wounds and drag him to safety. The man who said Doss would never stand by his side in battle was glad to see him crawl to his aid.

Doss said of himself, “I was not a conscientious objector, I was a conscientious cooperator.” Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).” As we commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion, let us also remember men like Desmond T. Doss.