Close this search box.

“Going to the Right House”

Political cartoons are often biting with their sarcasm and witticism. This particular one certainly is. Political cartoons can also be timeless as they point to the foibles of humankind that transcend any particular moment in history.

With some minor changes the 1860 political cartoon “Going to the Right House” by lithographer Louis Maurer could be as pertinent today as it was when Abraham Lincoln first sought the presidency of the United States.

Historian David S. Reynolds in his recent book “Abraham Lincoln in His Times,” points out that Democrats, Southerners and conservatives believed the new Republican Party of 1860 threatened the ruin of the nation. Republicans, they charged, were associated with every subversive “ism” eating away at the structure of America.

Maurer captured that view in his political cartoon published just before Lincoln’s electoral victory. He pictured the would-be President startling a fence rail (a Lincoln campaign logo) and being carried into a white house titled Lunatic Asylum. Leading the way is renowned newspaper editor Horace Greeley, an anti-slavery champion and one of Lincoln’s major campaigners.

In the cartoon, Lincoln looks back at the crowd of reformers following him and declares, “I’m almost in and the millennium is going to begin, so ask what you will and it shall be granted.”

From the crowd comes a series of demands. A couple asks for a change is sexual ethics. In this case it is “free-love” and the banishment of marriage. Another follower advocates economic change and calls for the redistribution of property. A suffragette implores increased rights for women and foresees a time when women’s right will equal men’s.

A poor man, a tramp in the cartoon, asks for a free hotel room. A “street tough” – today we might call him a gang member – demands all policemen be fired. An African American announces, “The white man has no rights that Black persons have to respect,” but the sentence is in stereotypical dialect.

Religion, immigration and more had their advocates among Republican followers. Democrats of that day consider all the ideas worth of the lunatic asylum.

There is one more thing. In 1860, the United States of America was fractured and polarized. The Democrats stood for the status quo. Republicans pushed for change with their anti-slavery stance. But voters of many persuasions rallied to the Republican banner making Republican identity fuzzy at best. Still, when Republicans won, a civil war followed.

Some contend that current Democratic President Joe Biden won the 2020 election because of who he was not (Donald Trump), more than because of who he was or what his party advocated. The victory, they say, was “fuzzy.” Still, the United States is fragmented and polarized as reflected in the attempted insurrection of January 6.

Republicans and Democrats have switched labels over the years. Republicans of 1860 were the progressives. Today they are the conservatives fighting to hold on to the status quo. Democrats abandoned the conservative label and are today’s progressives.

But have the issues changed? Some of the details may be different, but at the core, the issues remain the same.

Sexual ethics and the status of marriage still dominate the public square. Same-sex marriage, homosexual rights, domestic contracts replacing marriages, polygamy – these are just some of the sexual ethics issues over which people argue today.

Tensions rise as economic inequities between the have and have-nots grow. A June 25, 2019 Brookings Institute report found that only the top 20 percent of American households had recovered from the Great Recession a decade later. The current pandemic only exacerbated the differences as the gap increases between the middle class and the economic elites. Distribution of property remains a hot button topic.

Women achieved many of the legal rights envisioned by the suffragette of 1860. Now the struggle is more about the role of women. Different expectations continue to divide society as bitterly as did the demand for the vote.

How to help hungry and hurting people, the sick and the poor; that was an issue in 1860 and it is today.

Perhaps like me you thought firing the police was a new idea when it was voiced following recent incidents of police brutality and abuse. To see the demand in Maurer’s 1860 cartoon was a surprise. But the issue remains unsolved. How does society ensure public safety and protect itself from crime and lawlessness while safeguarding the rights of all of its citizens?

Tension over race relations was not surprising in 1860. Democrats sought to protect slavery. Republicans sought to eliminate it. Slavery may have officially ended with the Civil War but America still pursues its ideal that “all men are created equal.” Sometimes that pursuit becomes a struggle.

Immigration in Maurer’s political cartoon showed fear that “the American way of life” was about to be overrun by a prominent religious group from Europe. Today that fear is focused on people crossing the nation’s southern border.

And don’t forget about Mr. Greeley. Democrats charged that mass media – northern newspapers – were unfairly carrying Lincoln to victory. Mass media is still that culprit for pundits across the political spectrum. Now social media is coupled with it.

Lincoln’s comment about the millennium about to begin illustrates another outlook that has not changed. Supporters of a winning candidate expect the spoils of victory – their goals to be championed. Losers are afraid their worst fears will be realized.

“Going to the Right House” is one of those rare creations that speaks pointedly to its own time and continues to speak through the years. The cartoon illustrates how little the political process has changed, how similar the issues are and the persistent qualities of human nature.

The cartoon illustrates one other point. Americans have struggled with these issues for a long time and we still have “miles to go before we sleep,” to quote poet Robert Frost. Hopefully, we will continue struggling as one people seeking to embrace our collective best. Hopefully, we will not degenerate into a people at war with themselves.

When Truth is Compromised

“I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it. You must believe it.”

That plea sounds like a quote from today’s newspapers as participants in the January 6 storming of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. are inexorably rounded up and charged for their crimes. Many explain they never knew it would come to that – political insurrection.

But this quote comes from a 1961 film titled “Judgement at Nuremberg” starring Spencer Tracy and Burt Lancaster. The film is based on real events and tells the story of four German judges who were tried for crimes against humanity at the end of World War II.

German Judge Ernest Janning (Burt Lancaster’s character) was an internationally respected legal scholar. Yet, in the course of his trial he confessed his guilt. He condemned an older Jewish man to death knowing there was no evidence to support the crime. From there the condemnations grew to the point that Janning cried, “Those people, those millions of people. I never knew it would come to that.”

Janning explained that well-meaning people like himself went along with Adolph Hitler’s anti-Semitic, racist policies out of a sense of patriotism. Even though they knew it was wrong, they supported their national leader. Some even blamed the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I.  Many Germans believed the treaty was a miscarriage of justice against the German people. Evidently, because they felt mistreated, some concluded they were justified in mistreating others.

The film is set against the Berlin Blockade, a Russian attempt to drive Allied forces out of Berlin by refusing to allow land convoys across parts of Germany under Russian control. The blockade threatened Berlin with mass starvation. Only a massive airlift of food over several months prevented another human catastrophe.

Political pressure of the day caused some Allied leaders to counsel giving the judges only a “slap on the wrist” in order to gain the support of the German people. Just move on, they said.

How uncanny the number of parallels between the film and today’s reality.

After being convicted and sentenced to life in prison, along with the other three judges, Janning asked Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy’s character), the chief judge of the three-judge Allied panel of jurists, to visit him in his cell. When Haywood arrived Janning implored Haywood. “By all that is right in this world your verdict was a just one,” he said before begging Haywood to believe that concerning the mass murder of millions of innocent people “I never knew it would come to that.”

Haywood’s reply is iconic. “Herr Janning,” he said, “it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.”

Janning cooperated with a lie and that helped enable the Nazi reign of terror. Truth took second place to patriotism. Today truth sometimes finishes behind politics, political party, power, pride, personal preferences and prejudices, just to name a few. When truth is compromised it can lead to crimes against humanity like the Holocaust or to unintended consequences like insurrection.

For some Germans, everything Hitler said was true. Everything he did was justified. They believed, acted and defended his lies. For people like Janning, truth became expendable in order to accomplish other goals. Is either excused for their actions? Is either more culpable that the other?

And what about the source of the lies? What responsibility lies there? What accountabilities?

During my seminary days a psychology of religion professor cautioned about church members who carry rumors in the congregation. People who carry rumors, he said, show what they are willing to believe and what they are willing to do in similar circumstances.

I thought about that as I listened to people spreading rumors about a stolen election despite a lack of evidence. They were unwilling to believe in people, in public officials, in established processes and procedures, even in the courts of our nation. What does that say about them and what they might be willing to do given the opportunity?

And I thought of Janning and the scene with Haywood as I watched nationally prominent politicians who had railed about election fraud for weeks finally admit that Biden really did win the election for President of the United States. Unfortunately, their comments came only after what was supposed to be a political exercise turned into something dark, ugly and deadly.

That is what can happen when truth is compromised.

When Jesus stood at trial before Pilate, the Roman governor was not interested in truth. “What is truth?” he asked in a dismissive way (John 18:38). Of more concern to him was how he could manipulate events to his own benefit and the benefit of Rome. Some people still view the world that way.

Jesus offered a different worldview. In John 10:32, Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Jesus is the ultimate truth who can set us free from sin and death. But truth is more than spiritual truth. Truth controls the directions of a Christian believer’s life, the steps of a believer’s actions.

No matter how difficult the truth or how attractive the falsehood, Christians are called to walk in truth (3 John 1:4). To do anything less leads away from God and can result in unspeakable consequences. And like Janning, the day will come when we are called to accountability when we compromise the truth.

Finding Faithfulness

Have you ever found yourself wondering what in the world Jesus was doing? Have you ever found yourself confused, perhaps disappointed, with the way things worked out for you in the Lord’s service? Have you ever found yourself expecting Jesus to do more than He seemed to be doing?

All of us have. But we are not alone. So did his closest disciples.

For reasons lost in history, Peter, James and his brother John seemed to make up the core leadership of the 12 disciples who followed Jesus during His three-year public ministry. Throughout the Gospel of Mark, these three are chosen by Jesus to witness special events, providing insights into who Jesus was and what He was about.

Mark 5:21 tells the story of Jairus’ daughter. Jairus was “a ruler of the synagogue.” The Bible does not tell where the synagogue was, only that Jesus arrived “at the other side of the lake” (the Sea of Galilee) after casting out demons from a man in Gadara on the eastern shore.

Jairus forced himself through the large crowd gathered to greet Jesus and pled with him to hurry to Jairus’ home where his 12-year-old daughter was near death. “Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live,” he begged.

Mark says “Jesus went with him” but before they reached the home servants met them with the sad news of the young girl’s death (v. 35). Jesus dismissed what the servants reported, urging Jairus not to be afraid but to believe.

If you were Jairus, or Peter, James or John for that matter, you faced a dilemma. The servants knew when people died ‑- when their heart stopped and they quit breathing. That is what happened to the child. But Jesus insisted she was only sleeping.

The crowd laughed at Jesus’ words. But what would her father do? What would the disciples do?

Jesus did not allow anyone into the room where Jairus’ daughter lay except Peter, James and John. With them as witnesses, He touched her hand and said, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.” And miracle of miracles, she did.

Peter, James and John, along with others, had seen Jesus command the forces of nature when He calmed a storm the night before (Mark 4). They had seen Him triumph over demons in Gadara and heal a woman of a disease that plagued her for 12 years. Now the three stood alone with Jesus and saw His power command death itself.

In Mark 9, Peter, James and John are again chosen by Jesus for a special experience. They accompanied him up a “high mountain” for what is called the “transfiguration.” The three leaders of the disciples saw persons they instinctively recognized as Moses and Elijah at Jesus’ side. On one side stood Moses, representing the Jewish law. On the other side stood prophecy in the form of Elijah. In between was the grace of God in the person of Jesus.

Jesus began to glow with dazzling white light that the disciples could not understand or explain. It was as if the glory of God were visible in the person of Jesus. Mark’s gospel says law and prophecy slipped away. Only the love of God remained — Jesus.

Peter, James and John glimpsed the glory of God in Jesus, even if they did not fully understand what they saw.

About a week earlier there had been another incident. Jesus asked who people said He was. Peter answered for them all: “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29). But when Jesus tried to explain that being the Christ meant He would suffer and die, Peter argued. The two had a strong disagreement. James and John, along with the other disciples, missed the message, too. Instead of understanding what Jesus was saying, the disciples soon argued about who was the greatest (Mark 9:34).

Not long afterwards, James and John approach Jesus, privately asking that when He set up His kingdom, they wanted to sit at His right and left sides. Imagine the reactions that caused when the other disciples heard what they had done. Mark 10:41 says the other 10 became “indignant.”

On the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, He went to Gethsemane, a place He frequented for prayer. His “hour” was near and He needed time alone with the Heavenly Father. Still, He longed for human companionship as death approached.

Jesus asked all the disciples to watch while He prayed. But He took Peter, James and John a little farther into the olive grove and, in a rare moment, shared His sorrow. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” He confessed (Mark 14:34). He asked His closest earthly friends — these core leaders — to watch and pray with Him.

Instead, Peter, James and John fell asleep. Even a second request by Jesus could not keep them awake. As Jesus endured His worst moments of human agony, as He learned “obedience even unto death,” His closest friends could not watch and pray as He asked. Instead they snoozed.

Peter, James and John. They saw the power of Jesus over disease and death and somehow did not understand it. They saw the glory of Jesus in the transfiguration but missed its implications. They heard the mission of Jesus from His own mouth but were more concerned about who would be the greatest. They were invited to support Jesus in His agony but slept.

And when Jesus was arrested, Mark says, “Everyone deserted him and fled,” even Peter, James and John (Mark 14:50). Talk about confusion, disappointment and broken dreams.

Thankfully, that was not the final word. In time, confusion gave way to insight. Disappointment turned to amazement. New visions replaced broken dreams. And those who once fled in fear became pillars of the Christian church honored through the ages for the faithfulness.

The reason for the change? There are many but one is that Peter, James and John did not choose isolation or separation amidst their confusion, doubt, disappointment or failures. They held on to Jesus and to one another. And Jesus held on to them, providing new revelations and understanding that transformed their lives.

How strange that when the three disciples thought their journey with Jesus was ending, it was only just beginning.

Being like Peter, James and John as recorded in Christian history may be “a bridge too far” for most of us. But if we stay with Jesus and stay with His Church we will at least travel the same road they did. We will not be lost in confusion, doubt, disappointment and failure. We will find faithfulness and all that it brings.

When You Pray Together

It was supposed to be another Zoom meeting, a virtual orientation for people serving through the Baptist World Alliance. About 100 people signed up for this hour and a half session. The meeting started at 7 a.m. Central time but it was 10:00 p.m. for participants in Australia.

For part of the time, it was another meeting in front of a computer screen. But when we broke into small prayer groups all of that changed. The session was transformed into a time of thanksgiving and a vivid reminder that Baptists belong to one another.

Martin Accad joined from an internet café in Beirut. Martin is dean of the Arab Baptist Seminary there. Several years ago The Alabama Baptist and Samford University co-sponsored a seminar held at Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., where Martin helped participants understand what it is like to live and minister in a majority Muslim nation. Now his nation seems to be falling apart and not for the first time. But Martin still helps prepare God-called men and women to share the gospel in Muslim lands.

Otniel Bunacie, a Baptist leader from Romania, was part of the prayer group. I first met Otniel in 2005 when he led a Bible study group during the centennial celebration of BWA in Birmingham, England. He is a professor at the Baptist Seminary in Bucharest and also holds appointment at the University of Bucharest. Otniel is part of a historic Baptist family acquainted with communist persecution. He has been president of Romanian Baptists and for more than 40 years served as pastor of a church founded and led by his father for decades before him.

Melanie Maxwell was in the prayer group, too. I knew Melanie when she worked for national Woman’s Missionary Union in Birmingham, Ala. Now she teaches in a Canadian Baptist seminary associated with Arcadia University located in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Ravi Algama is a lawyer in Sri Lanka. He also leads the Baptist convention in that country. Sri Lanka has been plagued by ethnic and religious violence and Baptists have not escaped that trouble.

The General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain was a part of the prayer group. So was a theology professor from a Baptist seminary in Mexico whom I had not previously known.

There was an African-American pastor friend from the Bronx in New York City and a denominational leader of American Baptists who works in Washington, D.C. There was a leader of a missions organization which defends religious freedom around the world and other Baptist leaders.

We prayed for those suffering from the COVID-19 epidemic, those who are physically ill, those suffering economically, those thrown back into hunger and those who are lonely and confused. We prayed for those without Christ and for the Body of Christ — that Christian believers would seize this opportunity to share God’s love in word and deed.

It was an important time of prayer. But the overriding impression for me was one of privilege. For a few moments I was able to pray for people around the world and I was privileged to pray with Baptists from around the world.

Beirut, Bucharest, the Bronx, Birmingham. Different nationalities. Different cultures. Different languages. Different races. Yet all one family because of the blood of Jesus shed on Calvary’s cross. After praying together, you can’t forget that truth.

Worship Is a Verb

Those arguing about the necessity of churches gathering together for public worship during the coronavirus pandemic would do well to remember that worship is a verb and not a noun. Worship is something one does, not a destination to which one goes.

In John 4:24, Jesus said worship of the Father is done in “spirit and in truth.” Worship is not connected to a holy place. Worship is the Holy Spirit’s inspired confession that “Thou art my God,” to use the language of H. Richard Niebuhr.

The Hebrew word most used for worship is sarah meaning “to bow down.” The word reflects the idea of God’s presence in the act or place of worship. For the Jewish Patriarchs worship could take place wherever they encountered God. As a response to meeting God, they often built altars, made sacrifices and prayed. They worshiped.

Later Israel cherished its physical aids to worship — the tabernacle, synagogues, even the Temple. But physical presence in a special place was never equated with worship. Worship was found in the giving of tithes, offerings, sacrifices, and prayers.

In Greek, the most used word for worship is proskynea meaning to “kneel before.” Other words for worship mean “to serve” or “to revere.” All are verbs showing action. Again, worship is something one does. It is not tied to place.

Those few times one finds worship as a noun in the New Testament, it is usually tied to “reverential service,” scholars say.

The Apostle Paul makes this point in his letter to the Ephesians and, again, in his letter to the Colossians. In the first letter, he reminds to “make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5: 19–20).

The Colossian letter teaches that Christian believers encourage one another in order that they might have “gratitude in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). Both teach that even when others are present, worship is a personal experience of praise, thanksgiving, adoration, confession, and obedience to God.

To be sure, both letters stress the importance of corporate worship. How else could they encourage, teach and admonish one another? The Christian church has always been a worshiping community. Believers need one another. The current shelter-in-place orders remind us of that fact.

My Sunday School class now meets via Zoom. So do countless others. My church live streams its worship service. Neither is the same as being together in person but we still learn. We still are encouraged and admonished. And we still worship.

For those without these technological wonders, one can always do what Christians have done for centuries. By one’s self or as a family, people can gather around an open Bible and be encouraged through readings, teachings, hymns, and prayers.

Anywhere, anytime Christian believers can worship God in spirit and in truth because worship is a verb. It is something we do. It is not a place we go.

Demonstrating Values in Times of Crisis

Most Americans are scared. Maybe that is too strong a word. Anxious might be more appropriate. But we should be scared. When medical experts predict that 2.6 million of us could die in the next few months if the nation does not take drastic efforts to limit the impact of the COVID-19 virus, that is a scary moment. Even with our best efforts, the number of deaths could still top 100,000, they say.

It is getting harder and harder for some outliers to argue the coronavirus scare is overblown or a Deep State plot to discredit President Trump. After all, President Trump is the one telling us to prepare for the “bad times” of the next few weeks.

In Alabama, the number of COVID-19 cases has spiked since March 13 when the first case in the state was diagnosed in Montgomery. Deaths are climbing and officials warn to expect more. One model indicates the state will experience more than 650 COVID-19-related deaths by the end of April and more than 1,700 by the end of August. Obviously, we have a right to be scared.

One reason for these high numbers is limited health care facilities in much of the state. Another is that many people in Alabama have not heeded the guidelines offered by national, state and local officials to shelter in place (see New York Times, April 2, 2020). Evidently, many of us have decided a “me first” attitude is the best approach in the midst of this crisis.

The “me first” mindset can be seen in grocery stores where one shopper piles four of the store’s 10 bundles of toilet paper into a cart leaving none for others in the line. That scene is played out again and again from the meat counter to cleaning supplies. Empty shelves scare us. Food rationing hasn’t occurred in this country since WWII. The temptation is to revert to individualistic survival behaviors.

Will the next step be pushing and shoving where the strong survive and the rest perish?

Until recently the “me first” attitude could be seen on Alabama beaches, on playgrounds and other sites where people ignored guidelines about social distancing and avoiding large groups.

Advertisements tell us “we are all in this together.” Do we believe that? As Christians, we are taught to love others as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). New York Pastor Timothy Keller recently shared an excerpt from Dionysius, an early Church Father, which reads, “Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick — ministering to them in Christ and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected with the disease, drawing of themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.”

Keller asked if that description of Christians in 260 AD is true of today’s Christ-followers. Certainly, values are demonstrated more by how one acts in times of crisis than by what one says in the safety of a Bible study.

In a matter of days, Christians will celebrate the holiest day of the year — Easter. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, God “made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus gave Himself so that all who believe in Him might live. Those of us who follow Jesus are called to reflect that kind of attitude. Our lives are to be like the Christian believers described by Dionysius, not the “me first” often seen across society.

This Easter may seem like society stands on shifting sand. The economy is almost in free fall. In Alabama, more people filed for unemployment in the week ending March 28 than filed for the whole month of February. Necessary medical equipment is in short supply. The virus continues to spread and people continue to die.

But the solid rock beneath our feet is that God loves us, that Jesus died that we might have life eternal, that God never leaves us alone and that, as believers, we are called to serve others.

The way we live during this crisis should demonstrate those values to all.

Responding to Religious Intolerance

It was passion for religious liberty that prompted Baptists from 50 nations to unanimously adopt a resolution condemning religious intolerance and religiously motivated violence during the July 7–12, 2019, Baptist World Alliance (BWA) Annual Gathering in Nassau, Bahamas.

Baptists believe they should live in peace with everyone just as Romans 12:18 instructs. From earliest beginnings, Baptists have sought the right for all to worship freely and to live at peace in the same geographical area with those of differing beliefs.

Religious liberty is for all

That is why the 2019 resolution condemned attacks on Jews and Muslims as well as Christians. Every human being is created in God’s image and worthy of respect, the Bible teaches. Religious liberty is for all, not just for Christians or Baptist Christians.

Despite the good words of Baptists, two reports also released in July indicate religious intolerance and religiously motivated violence are increasing. And Christians are the most persecuted group in the world.

On July 15, Pew Research released a decade long study of religious restrictions and persecution around the world. Among the many findings was that the number of governments that impose “high or very high” restrictions on religion have increased from 40 in 2007 to 52 in 2017. The number of countries where “social hostilities” are highest because of religious belief has increased from 39 to 56 in the same period of time.

That is more than a 20% increase in each category, Pew observed.

Most of the countries with the highest scores in government favoritism have Islam as their official religion — 27 of the 43 nations with an official religion, Pew reported.

Among nations mentioned by name were Saudi Arabia where it is a criminal offense to “cast doubt on the fundamentals of Islam” and to publish information that “contradict the provisions of Islamic law.” China was cited for reports that the government arrested, tortured and physically abused members of both registered and unregistered religious groups.”

On July 8, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the British government released a year-long study focused on the persecution of Christians. The report was led by the Anglican Bishop of Truro, the Right Reverend Philip Mounstephen, at the request of British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Persecution problem is growing

The FCO report concluded about 245 million Christians worldwide face persecution for their faith. And the problem is growing. Between 2015 and 2017 the number of countries where Christians are persecuted rose from 128 to 144, the report said.

Foreign Secretary Hunt concluded there is “widespread evidence showing that Christians are by far the most widely persecuted religion.” He called it a “global phenomenon that is growing in scale and intensity” saying the acts of violence against Christians are becoming more widespread and increasing in severity.

Mounstephen, the report’s author, went further. In an interim report released in January, he supported a finding that 80% of persecuted believers around the world are Christians.

The final report said, “The eradication of Christians and other minorities on pain of the sword or other violent means was the specific and stated objective of extremist groups in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, North-East Nigerian and the Philippines.

“An intent to erase all evidence of the Christian presence was made plain by the removal of crosses, the destruction of church buildings and other church symbols. The killing and abduction of clergy represented a direct attack on the church’s structure and leadership,” the report continued.

A move toward genocide

For the first time, to this writer’s knowledge, the FCO report put a government on record of supporting what some Christian leaders have said for several years. In certain parts of the world Christians face genocide.

The report declared that persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Africa has reached such a “vast scale” that it is coming “close to meeting the international definition of genocide.” The report added, “Where these and other incidents meet the test of genocide, governments will be required to bring perpetrators to justice, aid victims and take preventive measures for the future.”

Specifically mentioned was the Middle East where the report said Christianity “is at risk of disappearing.” Christians in Palestine represent less than 1.5% of the population while in Iraq the number has fallen from 1.5 million before 2003 to less than 120,000.

The report also slammed the British government for not taking religious persecution, especially persecution of Christians, seriously. In response, the British government announced on July 18 that it has accepted all the report’s recommendations including imposing sanctions on foreign governments that violate religious liberty.

That places Great Britain alongside the United States which has begun placing economic sanctions on selected leaders of groups accused of religious persecution in the Middle East and in Myanmar according to an announcement by Vice President Mike Pence the same day at the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. That meeting drew official participation from 106 nations.

Whether religious intolerance and/or religiously motivated violence is carried out by individuals, by groups, by government policy or allowed by government indifference, it is wrong.

Plight of Christians must be addressed

This month there has been an unusual convergence of personal, denominational, governmental and academic concern raised about religious persecution and the persecution of Christians. Now no one can honestly deny or ignore the reality and plight of Christians. That issue must be addressed.

But, again, religious liberty is for all people. That is why the BWA resolution called on Christians everywhere to “offer the hand of sincere friendship” to those of other faiths “as a prophetic response to God’s love in the face of terrorism, violence and religious intolerance.”

May it be so. May God’s love — expressed in respect and friendship among all peoples — ensure everyone enjoys the God-given right to religious liberty and freedom from intolerance and violence.

Source for featured map: “A Closer Look at How Religious Restrictions Have Risen Around the World” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (July 15, 2019)

american pride

Pride in America

This Fourth of July country and western singer Lee Greenwood’s gravelly voice will be heard in every part of the United States declaring “I’m proud to be an American…”. But this year there may be fewer voices than ever joining him in that proclamation.

A Gallup Poll released July 2nd found that less than half the adults in the nation are “extremely proud” to be Americans (45%). To be fair, that is only two percent less than last year but it continues a 15-year downward trend. Gallup reports its highest finding of those who were extremely proud to be Americans was 70% in 2004.

Seventy percent of Americans are still “extremely” or “very” proud to be citizens of this nation.

The picture is not as bleak as the headline might indicate. Seventy percent of Americans are still “extremely” or “very” proud to be citizens of this nation. But that, too, shows a downward trend.

When Gallup first asked about Americans’ pride in their country in 2001, 55% said they were extremely proud and 87% said they were either extremely or very proud of their nation. Results stayed near those levels until 2013 when both responses started to slide. In the past six years, extremely proud responses declined from 57% to 45%. The combined response dropped from 85% to 70%.

Men show only slightly more pride in America than women. Seventy-two percent of men are either extremely or very proud of the nation compared to 68% of women, Gallup found.

Age seems to impact responses. In the age bracket 18-29, only 51% of responders indicated they were either extremely or very proud of America. For those in the 30-49 range, 65% fell in this category. The 50-64 age bracket recorded 80% and the 65+ segment showed 85%, Gallup reported.

Cause for the discontent, Gallup said, was easy to identify. To the surprise of many, it was not racial or ethnic tensions. U.S. diversity in race, ethnic background and religion was a source of pride for 72% of responders. That is nearly a three to one favorable evaluation.

Responders also approved of America’s economic achievements (75%), culture and arts (85%), military (89%) and scientific achievements (91%).

What lowered Americans’ pride in their nation, Gallup found, was the nation’s health and welfare system and the nation’s polarized political system.

Only 37% of responders pointed to America’s social safety-net system as something that made them proud. Sixty-seven percent said it did not. That is a 2-1 indictment of the way the nation responds to the sick and hurting – the “least of these” as the Bible says.

The American political system was a source of pride for only 32% of responders. It brought a negative response from 68%.

That finding should concern every American. Our system of representative democracy should be a model for all freedom loving people and for years it was. Unfortunately, some political theorists now argue that democracy is failing as a system of governance. They point to political instability, to short term goals, to corruption and to individual selfishness to shore up their arguments. Parties and individuals seek their own selfish wellbeing at the expenses of the whole. Party, class, economics — these personal identities ultimately become more important than the welfare of the whole or the consent of the governed.

Democracy has always had its challengers beginning with Plato and Aristotle. In the 1600s, democracy was like a curse word for those who discussed government. Some say it is becoming that again.

Gallup found that responders were not referencing representative democracy in their responses about America’s political system. They were referencing the current polarization of the system. Gallup wrote, “Record-low American patriotism is the latest casualty of the sharply polarized political climate in the U.S. today.”

Analysis by Gallup found that neither party – Republicans or Democrats – is proud of the polarization in the U.S. political system. That means leaders recognize the problem. Now the question is whether our leaders, as well as us common citizens, will be more committed to our partisan and personal identities than we are to the welfare of the whole nation.

Pride in America is more than pride in me and mine.

This Fourth of July as I join my voice with Greenwood’s in singing “I’m proud to be an American…”, as I ask God to “bless the USA,” it will be with a prayer that I and others will overcome our partisanship, our short-sightedness, our selfishness and be able to “love one another” as we have been loved by God.”

Dr. Bobby S. (Bob) Terry serves as an Advisor to the President of Samford University for Faith Networks. A native of Alabama, Dr. Terry holds degrees from Mississippi College and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was involved in state Baptist papers for more than 50 years beginning in 1968 and retiring at the end of 2018 from The Alabama Baptist newspaper after serving for more than 23 years as it’s President and Editor.

Follow him on Twitter at @drbobterry.

To contact Bob Terry, email [email protected].


No Substitute for Belonging

Like most Christian mothers, Cathy was concerned about her children as they entered their teen years. She had participated in a dynamic church youth program that had been instrumental in shaping her Christian identity. She wanted something like that for her two children – Jim and Ann.

But the church the family attended was a small membership church. Less than a handful of teens attended and all were nearing the end of their teen years while Jim and Ann were just entering that stage of life. Jim and Ann had been about the only regular attendees as older children and Cathy feared for them if that pattern continued into their teens.

It was a painful decision. The church had ministered to Cathy and her family during a crisis time for which she was grateful. And the family liked the church despite the stresses and strains that go with life in a small congregation.

Still, the spiritual welfare of her children was at stake. She had to do what was best for them.

So not long into their teen years, Cathy, Jim, and Ann began attending a nearby large membership church where teens had their own place of worship and a list of activities and ministries that almost never ended. Cathy threw herself into the new congregation becoming active in Bible study and choir. Jim and Ann almost never missed a youth activity and Cathy was a supporting parent.

But something did not seem right.

Neither child complained or said anything until over a year later. Around the dinner table one evening the family talked about their new church. Jim finally said he liked being a member of a church where the adults knew his name and who he was more than being a part of a church offering a never-ending list of activities.

To Jim and Ann, the Wednesday night youth service, complete with a rock band and flashing lights, was not as important as relationships. Being surrounded by other teens was not as important as a sense of belonging to a larger family.

Don’t be surprised. That is a normal reaction.

More than 10 years ago a large study titled National Study of Youth and Religion found religiously serious teens “have a larger number of non-parental adults in their lives whom they can turn to for support, advice, and help.”

The study confirmed what most people already knew. The most important religious influence in a teen’s life is a parent.

But for teens serious about their religious faith, there is a second group of adults to whom the teens can turn to for support, advice, and help. These adults are not strangers to their parents either. Instead, these adults are likely known by the parents well enough to talk with them about their teens’ lives.

It is like a network surrounding and supporting the teens as they “increase in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.”

An African saying contends “it takes a village to raise a child.” Those of us raised in large families know that village includes uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, neighbors, parent’s best friends, Sunday School teachers, church program leaders and more.

The National Study of Youth and Religion concluded, “In sum, the lives of more religious teens are, compared to less religious teens, statistically more likely…to be linked to and surrounded by adults, particularly non-parental adults who know and care about them and who themselves have social ties to the teen’s parents.”

Cathy listened to her children. A few weeks later the family was back at the smaller church, back where they felt part of a family, where the belonged. Jim and Ann became the core of the youth group. They helped build it up by bringing friends and classmates to the church. Their youth experience didn’t have all the bells and whistles of the nearby megachurch but it provided the essentials and more. Just on a smaller scale.

And on Youth Sunday of Jim’s senior year when he preached the Sunday morning sermon, the adults who lined up to congratulate him knew his name, knew his story and knew how God was working in his life.

While this is a true story of one family (with names changed), the experience has been lived out by countless families. Along the way, they have learned there is nothing wrong with a large youth group. But numbers don’t equal helping teens grow in Christ. There is nothing wrong with a rock band and flashing lights but cool technology doesn’t ensure experiencing God and learning His Word.

Many families have learned that to help teens become devoted to the Lord, there is no substitute for parents and other caring, Christian adults who are involved with teens. There is no substitute for helping teens know they are not shuttled aside but belong to a Christian family.

SBTS Photo - Martin Luther King Jr.

Changing a Nation

By 1961 the nation had been in the troughs of the civil rights struggle for six years. In truth, the nation had struggled with civil rights since its founding, but the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott started an unprecedented chapter in this on-going struggle.

On April 19, 1961, Martin Luther King stood behind the pulpit in Alumni Chapel of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, to deliver the J.B. Gay Lectures on Christian Ethics. Southern Seminary was the oldest and most prestigious seminary sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention. Much of King’s work the past six years had been centered in places where Southern Baptists formed the largest religious group. It is an understatement to say many Baptists were not pleased with him.

King’s appearance caused a stir among some at the seminary. A few dignitaries invited by other seminary departments to participate in the lecture series withdrew after hearing of King’s participation. But the faculty and administration would not back down. They stood with Henlee Barnett, the seminary’s most distinguished Christian ethicist, who had nominated King for the lectureship.

So on April 19, the nation’s leading civil rights advocate stood to address the leaders of Southern Baptists’ most distinguished educational institution at a time when tensions about civil rights were about to erupt across the nation and especially in the South.

King did not back down either. In clear and unmistakable words he declared,

“Segregation is a moral evil which no Christian can accept. The church must make it clear that if we are to be true witnesses of Jesus Christ, we can no longer give our allegiance to a system of segregation.”

He called segregation more than a political issue. It was a moral issue, he said. “Since the church has a moral responsibility of being the moral guardian of society, then it cannot evade its responsibility in this very tense period…” he declared.

Listen to the audio tape of that address and you will hear previews of themes made famous in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the Capitol Mall in August 1963. You will hear King utter that famous line “Let justice roll down like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” The quote is from Amos 5:24, a fact King acknowledged in his seminary address.

In 1961 and, more famously, in 1963 King used the Bible to lay the foundation for his moral crusade against segregation and Jim Crow laws. He fought for the Voting Rights Act based on the Bible’s teaching that in Christ there is no Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male or female (Galatians 3:28). For the Apostle Paul, that teaching was so important he made the same point again in Colossians 3:11.

King crusaded in behalf of the poor, the hungry, the disposed of, because that is what Jesus followers do. Christians demonstrate their Lord’s compassion through such acts and they offer a hand up by working for a society that cares for “the least of these.”

King’s appearance at Southern Seminary created a firestorm for the seminary.

Baptist bodies passed resolutions condemning the school for inviting King whom many labeled a trouble maker. Some stopped supporting Southern Seminary through the Cooperative Program – the primary financial support channel of the denomination. Donors canceled pledges. One church wrote Barnett, who initiated the King invitation, attacking him with such viciousness that Barnett looked up the church’s Cooperative Program giving and calculated the amount of money that eventually found its way to Southern Seminary. He then figured what portion of that money went toward his salary. With that information, he sent the church the amount of their money that went toward his salary – four cents.

Today Southern Baptist seminaries teach that King is a “Christian Hero” according to a January 18, 2019 press release from Baptist Press, a news outlet for Southern Baptists. The release quoted Jason Duesing, provost for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, saying, “I classify him (King) as one of seven chief theologians in the Baptist tradition.”

Leroy Gainey, who teaches education leadership at Gateway Seminary in California, said, “At least during my lifetime, there is no greater Christian or Baptist leader that I can see than Martin Luther King.”

It takes the eyes of history to see how the appraisal of Martin Luther King by Baptists in the South has changed over the years. And history shows that some once prominent leaders who used tortured reasoning and twisted theology to oppose equality and civil rights for all have faded into oblivion.

What has not changed is the church’s commission to be “the moral conscience of the nation” as King said in 1961. That is what Jesus followers do. They demonstrate God’s compassion for all and they work for a society that does the same.

Every time one prays the Lord’s Prayer, every time we say “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” we affirm that mission. The prayer is not for “pie in the sky by and by.” It is for now.

King unapologetically used Bible teachings to influence national policies and to change a nation. So should we.

Dr. Bobby S. (Bob) Terry serves as an Advisor to the President of Samford University for Faith Networks. A native of Alabama, Dr. Terry holds degrees from Mississippi College and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was involved in state Baptist papers for more than 50 years beginning in 1968 and retiring at the end of 2018 from The Alabama Baptist newspaper after serving for more than 23 years as it’s President and Editor.

Follow him on Twitter at @drbobterry.

To contact Bob Terry, email [email protected].

Featured image from 

Close this search box.