By / Mar 28

There is simply no avoiding the furor surrounding religious liberty and the sexual revolution. Nathan Deal, the Republican Governor of Georgia, announced today that he will veto a comparatively modest Religious Freedom Restoration Act intended to protect religious liberty in the state.

For weeks, Governor Deal has encountered mounting pressure from Big Business and the LGBT lobby to reject the legislation. According to the New York Times, “Hundreds of businesses and sports organizations, including Coca-Cola and the National Football League, had warned Mr. Deal, explicitly or implicitly, that a decision to support the bill could jeopardize economic opportunities in Georgia.” Similarly, progressive groups, such as the Human Rights Campaign, voiced staunch opposition to the measure decrying it as “deeply discriminatory” and “anti-LGBT.” Governor Deal announced his plans to veto the bill in a press conference earlier today.

Legislators in Georgia have been seeking to extend further religious liberty protections for several years. House Bill 757, the legislation at the center of this controversy, would have safeguarded the rights of faith-based groups in the state of Georgia that were unable to provide “social, educational or charitable services that violate” their religious beliefs. It would have further guaranteed hiring rights for faith-based organizations, allowed clergy to decline to officiate same-sex weddings and protected churches and their affiliated ministries from being discriminated against by the state because of opposition to same-sex marriage.

Deal’s announcement marks a strategic victory for cultural cronyism and sexual progressives and a stinging loss for religious conservatives. Most disheartening are the words of Governor Deal himself,

In light of our history, I find it somewhat ironic that some in the religious community today feel that it is necessary for government to confer upon them certain rights and protections. . . . If indeed our religious liberty is conferred upon us by God, and not by man-made government, perhaps we should simply heed the hands-off admonition of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

While religious conservatives would love nothing more than to seek refuge in the First Amendment’s guarantee of Free Exercise, since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges last June—legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide—such claims have fallen on deaf ears. In his capitulation to cronyism, Governor Deal characterized the efforts of religious conservatives to secure guarantees for constitutional freedoms as unnecessary and misguided—something apparently at odds with President Bill Clinton who signed a similar federal bill into law, and the ACLU, which supported its passage in the 1990s. Perhaps the governor should have consulted the dissenting opinion of Chief Justice John Roberts to the Court’s Obergefell decision,

Today’s decision, for example, creates serious questions about religious liberty. Many good and decent people oppose same-sex marriage as a tenet of faith, and their freedom to exercise religion is—unlike the right imagined by the majority— actually spelled out in the Constitution. . . . The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to “exercise” religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses . . . Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage—when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples. Indeed, the Solicitor General candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage . . . Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.

The threat to religious freedom is real, not imagined. In failing to enact this bill, Governor Deal has worked to further isolate, alienate and stigmatize the millions of citizens with a religious belief about marriage. In passing H.B. 757, legislators in Georgia took a meaningful step toward safeguarding religious freedom, but unfortunately the effort was upended by Governor Deal’s decision to veto.

It is incumbent upon religious conservatives to support the efforts of lawmakers to secure the passage of carefully crafted legislation that provides reasonable accommodations and truly protects religious freedom. Ultimately, Governor Deal has cowed to corporate interests and bowed to hype and fear, rather than the interests of Georgia’s faith community who he so fervently campaigned off of and has now ultimately, and memorably, failed.

By / Feb 13

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has died at the age of 79. He reportedly died in his sleep during a visit to Texas. Here are five facts you should know about the man who was one of the leading conservative voices on the nation’s highest court:

1. Antonin Scalia (nicknamed “Nino”) was born on March 11, 1936, in Trenton, N.J.  He attended Xavier High School in Manhattan, a military school run by the Jesuit order of the Catholic Church, and studied History at Georgetown University. After graduating as valedictorian from Georgetown in 1957, he attended Harvard Law School, where he was editor of the Harvard Law Review and graduated magna cum laude. After graduating from Harvard Scalia worked for a law firm in Cleveland, Ohio (1961–67), before moving to Charlottesville, Virginia, where he taught at the University of Virginia Law School (1967–74). While in Virginia, he served the federal government as general counsel to the Office of Telecommunications Policy (1971–72) and as chairman of the Administrative Conference of the United States (1972–74). In 1974 Scalia left academia when President Ford nominated him to serve as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, an office in the Department of Justice that assists the Attorney General in his function as legal adviser to the President and all executive branch agencies.

2. In 1977 Scalia resumed his academic career at Georgetown University and the University of Chicago Law School (1977–82). For part of the latter period he served as editor of Regulation, a review published by the conservative American Enterprise Institute. In 1982 President Reagan nominated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In 1986, Chief Justice Warren Burger informed the White House of his intent to retire, allowing Reagan to nominate Associate Justice William Rehnquist to become Chief Justice and nominating Scalia to fill Rehnquist's seat as associate justice. He became the first Italian-American to serve on the Supreme Court

3. Scalia subscribed to a judicial philosophy known as “originalism.” This view holds that the Constitution should be interpreted in terms of what it meant to those who ratified the Constitution in 1788, and is often contrasted with the Constitution as a "living document" that allows courts to take into account the views of contemporary society. Scalia argued that originalism — and trying to figure out the Constitution’s original meaning — is the only valid option for judicial interpretation, otherwise “you're just telling judges to govern.” "The Constitution is not a living organism," he said. "It's a legal document, and it says what it says and doesn't say what it doesn't say."

4. Scalia was an adamant and vocal opponent of “judicial activism,” particularly when it was used to circumvent the democratic process on social issues. Scalia once said that that judges were crossing the line when it came to deciding matters of abortion and gay rights. Lawyers, in particular, are at fault, he added.

“[Lawyers] are not trained to be moral philosophers, which is what it takes to determine whether there should be, and hence is, a right to abortion, or homosexual sodomy, assisted suicide, et cetera… And history is a rock-hard science compared to moral philosophy.” Among his decisions in cases involving social issues, Scalia opposed federal legalization of abortion; said same-sex marriage was incoherent; and opposed banning homosexual sodomy laws.

5. Scalia was a devout traditionalist Roman Catholic (one of his sons is a Catholic priest). In an interview in 2013, New York magazine asked him, “Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil? Scalia replied,

You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.

His critics frequently claimed that as a “Catholic” justice he was letting his faith influence his rulings. He responded by saying that, “There is no such thing as a Catholic judge,” just as there is no such thing as “a Catholic way to cook a hamburger.” He later admitted there were only two teachings of his faith that affect his judicial work: “Be thou perfect as thy heavenly Father is perfect,” and “Thou shalt not lie.”

By / Aug 12

I can remember driving down the highway in Virginia in a state of depression. I’ve slipped into depression – probably a milder form than many have experienced – two or three times in my life. One was during my first pastorate, back in the late 80s. Every Saturday I’d get a copy of the Richmond newspaper and peruse the help wanted ads to see if there was a way for me to provide for my family if I threw in the towel on ministry. Honestly, if I’d had a fall-back option then I’d probably not be in the ministry today. As I drove down the rural highway in Southside Virginia my mind was walking through the valley of deep darkness that David spoke of in Psalm 23.

I looked at trees in the median and thought I could just swerve the wheel into one of those and the pain would stop.

I never seriously considered turning the wheel, but I had a deep longing for death that was evidence of the hopelessness and despair in my heart.

It was a lie, a lie I was believing, one that insulted the God of heaven and gave glee to the accuser of the brethren. My life was not hopeless, not as long as God was there with me. My feelings deceived me. The situations that I felt were beyond repair have all worked out – some took a short time, some long, but God resolved them. God worked to restore my heart, my joy and my passion for Christ. It is always too early to despair when the Living God of heaven is your Father. By believing the enemy’s lie, I teetered on the edge of spiritual self-destruction. I thank God that he led me through the valley of deepest darkness and back to his light!

I’ve had too many friends and family fall over the precipice and leave the earth by their own hands. My wife’s brother took his own life 30 years ago and the family still grieves today. The toughest funeral I ever did was for one of my deacons, a close friend and pillar of the church, who took this path out of his problems. Just recently, a fellow Iowa pastor ended his own life, leaving a grieving family, a devastated church and a stunned and sorrowful convention. There have been many others through the years. Of course, the Southern Baptist family was rocked yesterday with another such tragedy.

Suicide is the most devastating form of death because of the scars it leaves in the souls of those who are left behind. Could I have done something? Why did I say what I said? Is this my fault? We are left wondering what was going on, obsessing on why this person we loved felt that this was their best option, engaging in self-recrimination and examination of every word, deed and conversation, and feeling guilty – not just a little guilt, but massive, soul-stealing, gut-wrenching, keep-you-up-at-night guilt! Suicide may be an act of physical violence committed against oneself, but it is the most horrendous act of spiritual violence imaginable against family and friends. It leaves hearts bleeding, spirits broken and souls wounded.

And the worst part of it is that there is little that anyone but the Savior can do to salve these wounds. We can be there to hold up the family. We can express our grief. We can offer what help we can give. But the wounds of suicide are such that we can do little except express unending, indefatigable love and support – for the next decade or two!

A family touched by suicide will never be the same. In 1979 I was in a skiing accident in Eldora, Colo., that left me with permanent injuries. I recovered and have completed marathons, played softball, basketball, soccer and a host of other sports. But the limitations and effects of that injury are always there. If I move or sit a certain way, I can get shudders of pain throughout my body. It’s been 35 years and I’ve lived my life, but the accident on the ski slope left injuries that never fully heal. That is what it is like for a family that has been touched by suicide. Perhaps, in time, they learn to go on with life, to walk and even run. But the pain is always there. Certain triggers will bring a stab of pain regardless of how many years go by. Sweet memories now soured by grief, shame and pain. A sudden burst of guilt and self-condemnation. Questions without answers. The limp of a battered soul.

The victims of suicide (family, friends, etc) will carry those scars as long as they live.

So, what can we do? What can we as Christians, as the church of Jesus Christ, do to help our grieving brothers and sisters, to alleviate their pain? I would make several suggestions. In general, I think the advice given in Todd Benkert’s excellent post on dealing with cancer victims applies here – both the positive and the negative. I would give the following as suggestions for helping people who are going through this kind of tragedy.

Thoughts on Helping Victims of Suicide

1) Pray. Then pray again. Then some more. Don’t just say, “I’m praying for you.” Actually do it. Keep praying for about 25 years. 

The promise of prayer is too often trite and empty, or even a lie. But prayer is our greatest resource in the moment of grief. I cannot heal the hurting but my God can. He is the Great Physician, the Balm of Gilead, the God of all comfort. We can go to him on behalf of a family member or friend and the fervent, faithful prayers of the Body of Christ help. We can pray comfort for the grieving; pray that God’s presence will surround them and sustain them.

2) Be present. 

If you call someone “Job’s friend” it is not a compliment. The friends of Job tried to make sense of his suffering and did so in a petty, theologically shallow and ineffective way. But what we often forget is that before they were horrible friends they were the best friends ever. They sat in silence with Job on the ash heap for 7 days. They were there. They were present. It was when they opened their mouths that they lost their place as the greatest comforters ever.

The greatest gift you can give is your continued friendship, your presence in the wounded life. It is a blessing to sit with a person the day of the death or to be there for the funeral. But in the days and weeks thereafter – that is when true friendship is needed. You become God’s physical therapist to help the hurting work through the healing process. Through your love, patience, fellowship and consistent friendship, God’s healing takes place.

Be there, not just for the short term, but for the long haul.

3) Cierra la Boca. 

Keep your mouth shut!  Job’s friends blew it by talking.

Of course, I’m not advocating actual silence. I’m just saying that you needn’t say anything witty, insightful, or life-changing in these situations. When you try to communicate something profound, it often comes out as a cliche, or trite, or condescending  – it is generally not helpful.

Unless you are the mentor or spiritual authority of the grieving person (and even then, tread lightly) it is not your job to sort all this out and explain the inexplicable. That was Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar’s mistake. They tried to tell Job exactly why this tragedy came upon him (they were wrong) and how he could make things right (again, they missed the mark). They didn’t understand God’s sovereign plan and were therefore wholly incapable of explaining it to anyone else. They spoke out of ignorance and made Job’s suffering worse.

It is NOT your job to explain the activity, purposes and plans of God in a specific situation. This is not the time for you to test drive your theology on a fragile soul.

When I visit a family that has suffered a tragedy, I generally warn them that they need to be prepared for people who want to help to say incredibly foolish things. There are only three things we need to communicate to a person in grief.

  • God loves you and I am praying he will sustain you through this. We do need to hold on to God’s sovereignty and love, but we do not have to understand all its intricacies. No one ever explained all the reasons for God’s actions to Job. He was just called to trust God. The solution is TRUST, not understanding everything. We must trust God even in the darkness when we can’t see where we are going or why he is leading us on this particular path. When you try to be God’s trail guide you do more harm than good. Point them to trust in God, not in your understanding of God’s workings.
  • I love you. While I don’t understand all you are going through, I care deeply about you.
  • I will be here for you every step of the way. As long as it takes.

Of course, then you have to follow through. Pray and be there. It is your actions, not primarily your words, that will help the suffering.

4) Be patient. 

This is going to be a long (lifelong) process. When someone has a sniffle, they snap out of it in a few days. When I had West Nile, it took a few weeks. But this is going to take years to heal, and even then there will still be the spiritual limp. You just have to be patient and faithful as a friend or as a church.

Along the way, don’t be surprised if you hear or see some things that both you. Grieving people can become so overwhelmed they evidence emotional instability and even bizarre behavior. Unless it is extreme (you never take a threat of self-harm lightly) you just weather the storm. People will sometimes even lash out at God. Job did. God can handle it. You don’t need to be the theology police to correct every little thing they say. Just assure them that God is good and faithful. Encourage them to trust God even if they do not understand his works.

When someone you love becomes the victim of suicide, you have a long task in front of you. You cannot cure the wound, but you can be an agent of God’s healing, if you point people to the goodness of God, show your constant and faithful love and endure in this grace.

NOTE: If you know someone who is considering suicide, do not leave him or her alone. Try to get your loved one to seek immediate help from his or her doctor or the nearest hospital emergency room. Remove any access they may have to firearms or other potential tools for suicide, including medications. Call 911 or the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

This article was originally published here.