Friday, August 04, 2006

Bristling With Hostility


“In contemporary American culture, the religions are more and more treated as just passing beliefs – almost as fads, older, stuffier, less liberal versions of so called New Age – rather than as the fundaments upon which the devout build their lives. (The noes have it!) And if religions are fundamental, well too bad – at least they’re the wrong fundaments – if they’re inconvenient, give them up!”

- Stephen Carter – “The Culture of Disbelief” (1993)

Sometimes bad news comes under the radar like the attack on Pearl Harbor. In a June 2, 2006 decision, Robert Pratt, Chief Judge of the Des Moines, Iowa circuit, ruled against Prison Fellowship Ministries in a lawsuit that had been filed against the ministry by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The net effect of the ruling was to declare Prison Fellowship’s faith based ministry unconstitutional. Judge Pratt has given Prison Fellowship sixty days to vacate its work, pending an almost certain appeal.

Judge Pratt’s primary rationale for the ruling was that:

“The program was “pervasively sectarian,” requiring participants to attend worship services, weekly revivals and religious community meetings. Participating inmates also were ordered to “engage in daily religious devotional practice.”

Barry Lynn, American’s United for Separation of Church and State’s executive director, couldn’t contain his joy over the rendered decision:

“There is no way to interpret this decision as anything but a body blow to so-called faith-based initiatives.”

The decision, if upheld, will have a major impact, there’s no doubt about it. For example, the nation’s prison recidivism rate is, according to Prison Fellowship’s president Mark Early, currently running at fifty percent. With 600,000 inmates being released from prison annually, it means that we can count on 300,000 doing something within three years to merit re-incarceration. The recidivism rate among those inmates who have worked their way through Prison Fellowship’s program is, while it’s still functioning, running at eight to eleven percent. The potential of that number is enormous. Think of it. Prison Fellowship’s number, applied to the current release rate, could mean that thousands fewer former prisoners would find their way back into the prison system. It could also mean that thousands and thousands fewer Americans might become victims of crime.

And this is the kind of decision that Barry Lynn is hailing! Apparently, higher recidivism was a much more favorable outcome in his mind than excoriating a fellow Christian. His anti-faith bias is much in keeping with the 2000 Santa Fe School Board vs. Doe decision that brought this withering dissent from Chief Justice William Rehnquist:

“The Court distorts existing precedent to conclude that the school district’s student-message program is invalid on its face under the Establishment Clause. But even more disturbing than its holding is the tone of the Court’s opinion; it bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life. Neither the holding nor the tone of the opinion is faithful to the meaning of the Establishment Clause, when it is recalled that George Washington himself, at the request of the very Congress which passed the Bill of Rights, proclaimed a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” Presidential Proclamation, 1 Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789—1897, p. 64 (J. Richardson ed. 1897).”

While I have no doubt that Prison Fellowship will survive this battle, regardless of the outcome of the appeal, I’m troubled by this decision. I read the full transcript of the decision earlier today and I can now see clearly just how hostile our courts and culture are becoming to religion, particularly Evangelical Christianity. Having read the decision I can now see that, beyond the logistics and rationales for recent anti-faith decisions, some within our judiciary and other organizations (Americans United, for example) are using the nation’s courts as a testing ground to decide which religious beliefs are normative and which aren’t. The circuit court in Des Moines made what amounted to a theological decision, enshrining its view of normative religion and subtly declaring that Evangelical Christianity was not in the mainstream of any religion, particularly the Christian religion. Lest you think I’m a conspiracy theorist I’ll cite some examples directly from the decision. The first, written early on in the decision follows:

“Throughout this Memorandum and Order, the Court will describe Prison Fellowship and
InnerChange’s theological position, as reflected in its public statements, curriculum, and in practice at the Newton Facility, as Evangelical Christian rather than simply Christian or Non-Denominational Christian.”

About a page later the following judicial opinion was rendered:

“As will be evident from the facts set forth, the religious nature of the InnerChange program is not only distinct from non-Christian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Native American practices, and Judaism, for example) as well as atheist or agnostic practices, it is also quite distinct from other self-described Christian faiths, such as Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, and Greek Orthodoxy. Evidence shows that the Evangelical Christian message is also distinct from the beliefs held by self-described Protestant Christian denominations such as Lutheran, United Methodist, Episcopalian, and Presbyterian, again, to name only a few.”

What was so egregiously out of the mainstream of current Christian thought? The court cited Prison Fellowship’s statement of faith:

“We believe in one God, Creator and Lord of the Universe; the coeternal Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We believe that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, lived a sinless life, died a substitutionary atoning death on the cross, rose bodily from the dead, and ascended to heaven where, as truly God and truly man, He is the only mediator between God and man.

We believe that the Bible is God’s authoritative and inspired Word. It is without error in all its teachings, including creation, history, and its own origins, and salvation. Christians must submit to its divine authority both individually and corporately, in all matters of belief and conduct, which is demonstrated by true righteous living. We believe that all people are lost sinners and cannot see the Kingdom of Heaven except through the new birth. Justification is by grace through faith in Christ alone. We believe in one holy, universal, and apostolic Church. Its calling is to worship God and witness concerning its Head, Jesus Christ, preaching the Gospel among all nations and demonstrating its commitment by compassionate service to the needs of human beings and promoting righteousness and justice.
We believe in the necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit for the individual’s new birth and growth to maturity and for the Church’s constant renewal in truth, wisdom, faith, holiness, love, power, and mission. We believe that Jesus Christ will personally and visibly return in glory to raise the dead and bring salvation and judgment to completion. God will fully manifest His Kingdom when He establishes a new heaven and new earth, in which He will be glorified forever and exclude all evil, suffering, and death.”

Once you’ve read the statement of faith I hope you’ll find it eerily reminiscent of statements the Christian Church has made throughout human history, such as the Nicene Creed, which follows:

“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

But, the court didn’t stop there. It ended with this flourish, which was enough to make what little hair I have on my head stand on end:

“Evangelical Christianity tends to be anti-sacramental, which means it downplays the traditional sacramental Christian events—baptism, holy communion or Eucharist, marriage, ordination, etc.—as appropriate ways to interact or meet with God. Along with initial adult conversion, contemporary Evangelical Christianity emphasizes religious experience—the actual experience of God in the believer’s life. Evangelical Christians, therefore, are receptive to overt, actual displays of this experience much like those manifested in Pentecostal Christianity. Additionally, for Evangelical Christians, everything that happens in the world is understood through and interpreted by religious language. For many Evangelical Christians, the belief in creationism and suspicion of evolutionary theory is also present. Finally, the Evangelical Christian stance toward religious institutions is one of suspicion. This is most obviously seen in the worship style. Whereas traditional, organized religious groups, such as Roman Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, and Lutherans, employ a structured, highly liturgical style of worship, Evangelical Christian worship is free form with individual pastors given authority to determine how services are planned. For instance, Evangelical Christians have embraced contemporary music forms and multi-media presentations.”

I’m sure that Judge Pratt would insist that he made his decision in the matter based on the merits, and would be able to provide enough legal smokescreens to prove his point. I don’t for a moment believe him, nor do I believe in the good will of Barry Lynn and the folks at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. What the decision says, clearly, is that anyone else who takes their faith as seriously as Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Intelligent Design proponents, and others who actually have the temerity to believe in “actual, overt displays” of faith in the public square will have no standing in this nation’s courts. They’re heretics, living and thinking in direct opposition to the prevailing religion, whatever the courts determine it to be. Not only is the decision rendered by Judge Pratt bristling with hostility, it’s bristling with the kind of theological insanity that could effectively shut religion out of American public life and policy.

Technorati tags for this post:

Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Barry Lynn

Charles Colson

Prison Fellowship

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Once again, fine piece of work!

Tain't it funny? We ignore our car and it eventually breaks down. You ignore your house and it eventually falls apart. They ignore their kids and the little devils go to hell in a heartbeat. I ignore my county, town, city, state, country, and they all go to hell too. What is it, about all this, that we seem to think is so unfair; that --like spoiled children-- we say we just ain't going to think about or do anything 'cause it ain't right; that.. (we say to ourselves)..."life just shouldn't be that way"? Is "That" why we ignore things? Or... Maybe, it's because our parents never taught us "responsibility", or the "un-sexy", "Real" facts of life; could that be the reason? Really? I know, you're thinking: "We don't know the real "facts" of life; who's kidding who around here?" You know that "freedom isn't free", you say? You know we're all supposed to vote on election day, you say? You know we need to "instruct" our mayor, or our this, or our that, or our Representative or Senators, and do it frequently, you say? You do? Really? Then maybe there's something I didn't think to mention, maybe that's the problem. Think about it? Please? What's THE problem?

Rue-Mur said...

Think it might be that some generation put the country on autopilot; went off and "did their own thing"; stopped going to church, temple, synagogue, or whatever; destroyed the family; ignored the radicals and anarchists; thought college professors were "brilliant"; watched too much TV; ate too many Big Mac's; and figured "know-nothing" elected officials were so much smarter and better looking than they were? Of course, once the snow ball gets to rolling, it does tend to grow on its own. Do it not? Yes it do!

James Fletcher Baxter said...

As with keeping a pet, defining the creature accurately determines its future...be it goldfish, canary, or puppy dog.

And, human...

Consider:
The missing element in every human 'solution' is
an accurate definition of the creature.

The way we define 'human' determines our view
of self, others, relationships, institutions, life, and
future. Important? Only the Creator who made us
in His own image is qualified to define us accurately.

Many problems in human experience are the result of
false and inaccurate definitions of humankind premised
in man-made religions and humanistic philosophies.

Human knowledge is a fraction of the whole universe.
The balance is a vast void of human ignorance. Human
reason cannot fully function in such a void; thus, the
intellect can rise no higher than the criteria by which it
perceives and measures values.

Humanism makes man his own standard of measure.
However, as with all measuring systems, a standard
must be greater than the value measured. Based on
preponderant ignorance and an egocentric carnal
nature, humanism demotes reason to the simpleton
task of excuse-making in behalf of the rule of appe-
tites, desires, feelings, emotions, and glands.

Because man, hobbled in an ego-centric predicament,
cannot invent criteria greater than himself, the humanist
lacks a predictive capability. Without instinct or trans-
cendent criteria, humanism cannot evaluate options with
foresight and vision for progression and survival. Lack-
ing foresight, man is blind to potential consequence and
is unwittingly committed to mediocrity, collectivism,
averages, and regression - and worse. Humanism is an
unworthy worship.

The void of human ignorance can easily be filled with
a functional faith while not-so-patiently awaiting the
foot-dragging growth of human knowledge and behav-
ior. Faith, initiated by the Creator and revealed and
validated in His Word, the Bible, brings a transcend-
ent standard to man the choice-maker. Other philo-
sophies and religions are man-made, humanism, and
thereby lack what only the Bible has:

1.Transcendent Criteria and
2.Fulfilled Prophetic Validation.

The vision of faith in God and His Word is survival
equipment for today and the future.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. Psalm 25:12 He is by
nature and nature's God a creature of Choice - and of
Criteria. Psalm 119:30,173 His unique and definitive
characteristic is, and of Right ought to be, the natural
foundation of his environments, institutions, and re-
spectful relations to his fellow-man. Thus, he is orien-
ted to a Freedom whose roots are in the Order of the
universe.

- from The HUMAN PARADIGM

Barry Lynn's humanistic definitions are fiction. Mr. Jefferson's "endowed Liberty" is still founded on the Creator's paradigm as "made in His image."

It cannot be improved on but it can be rejected.

Choose wisely...there are results.

James Fletcher Baxter said...

As with keeping a pet, defining the creature accurately determines its future...be it goldfish, canary, or puppy dog.

And, human...

Consider:
The missing element in every human 'solution' is
an accurate definition of the creature.

The way we define 'human' determines our view
of self, others, relationships, institutions, life, and
future. Important? Only the Creator who made us
in His own image is qualified to define us accurately.

Many problems in human experience are the result of
false and inaccurate definitions of humankind premised
in man-made religions and humanistic philosophies.

Human knowledge is a fraction of the whole universe.
The balance is a vast void of human ignorance. Human
reason cannot fully function in such a void; thus, the
intellect can rise no higher than the criteria by which it
perceives and measures values.

Humanism makes man his own standard of measure.
However, as with all measuring systems, a standard
must be greater than the value measured. Based on
preponderant ignorance and an egocentric carnal
nature, humanism demotes reason to the simpleton
task of excuse-making in behalf of the rule of appe-
tites, desires, feelings, emotions, and glands.

Because man, hobbled in an ego-centric predicament,
cannot invent criteria greater than himself, the humanist
lacks a predictive capability. Without instinct or trans-
cendent criteria, humanism cannot evaluate options with
foresight and vision for progression and survival. Lack-
ing foresight, man is blind to potential consequence and
is unwittingly committed to mediocrity, collectivism,
averages, and regression - and worse. Humanism is an
unworthy worship.

The void of human ignorance can easily be filled with
a functional faith while not-so-patiently awaiting the
foot-dragging growth of human knowledge and behav-
ior. Faith, initiated by the Creator and revealed and
validated in His Word, the Bible, brings a transcend-
ent standard to man the choice-maker. Other philo-
sophies and religions are man-made, humanism, and
thereby lack what only the Bible has:

1.Transcendent Criteria and
2.Fulfilled Prophetic Validation.

The vision of faith in God and His Word is survival
equipment for today and the future.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. Psalm 25:12 He is by
nature and nature's God a creature of Choice - and of
Criteria. Psalm 119:30,173 His unique and definitive
characteristic is, and of Right ought to be, the natural
foundation of his environments, institutions, and re-
spectful relations to his fellow-man. Thus, he is orien-
ted to a Freedom whose roots are in the Order of the
universe.

- from The HUMAN PARADIGM

Barry Lynn's humanistic definitions are fiction. Mr. Jefferson's "endowed Liberty" is still founded on the Creator's paradigm as "made in His image."

It cannot be improved on but it can be rejected.

Choose wisely...there are results.

Jim said...

History Trivia for non-Dummies Blog
A Different View of an "Eye for Eye"
The quotation from Exodus 21:24, "eye for eye, foot for foot..." is often understood to mean that that people have a right to revenge an injury to them. This was true in Old Testament times, even though the Gospel of Matthew at 5:38 refers to it and then rejects it at 5:39 ("turn the other cheek") in the New Testament.

What is interesting about the "eye for an eye" quotation, however, is that in Old Testament times it was also meant to put a limit on the amount of vengeance people could take when they suffered at the hands of another.

In ancient times it was customary that if one person from a family killed a person from a different family, the tradition was to kill not only the killer, but also kill everyone in his whole family as well.

So an "eye for an eye" was not only meant to allow for retaliation, but also to limit the extent of the vengeance so that wholesale bloodshed did not occur between families. Vengeance was to be proportional to the harm a person received.

Source: A Short History of Philosophy, Solomon & Higgins

Old Man said...

Re: James, Jim, Fletch, etc.

Ever thought about being a Guru, Hermit, or someone who lives in a cave, way up high on the side of a mountain? Got a feeling you just might have what it takes. Seems I'm getting cranky and grumpy and I ain't even 60 yet. You know why parents get old, their kids. You know why other people (those that don't have kids) get old? Other peoples' kids. You know why kids get old? I don't either.

Steve said...

Seems like the left wants us all to reap the "benefits" of their "labor" in being "right". Yes, I want to reap the benefits of the left in the chaos and crime that will take place because they suceeded in removing the "Evangelicals" from the states... Should I thank them now? Or should I be moving out of this place before the whole floor falls out from under us all?