When I was a young man, Memorial Day was a big deal. There were parades, speeches, special services at many churches, and a town memorial. We were constantly reminded of the men and women who died to make it possible for us to live in freedom in the United States. In those days, in Bloomington, Indiana, where I grew up, many military veteran’s groups marched in the parade, and all the high school bands participated. After serving in the military, I found that Memorial Day had changed. It had become “the first weekend of summer.” There were no parades, and only a few veteran groups paid attention to the original purpose. What will Memorial Day 2021 be like? Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” in 1868, three years after the civil war ended. At Arlington National Cemetery. Flowers were put on all graves, and 5,000 people attended the ceremony. General Logan, who directed the ceremony, said, “Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”
Since that time, over 1.2 million Americans have died in our nation’s wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a National Holiday by Congress. In 2000, Congress enacted The National Moment of Remembrance Act (P.L.106-579). Its charter says, “To encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country … by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance.”
The National Moment of Remembrance Act suggests that at 3:00 PM local time on Memorial Day, “Everyone is to pause for a moment of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation … It is a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.” We are in no way minimalizing the struggles for freedom and racial equity in America today, but even with our problems, how can we look at other nations and not be thankful for what we have?
On Memorial Day 2021, not understanding the sacrifices of the past has made us a selfish and self-serving people. Our ecological problems are because we want what is ours without thinking about the future. Our moral problems are because we have forgotten the teachings of Jesus Christ, which call us to live to serve others with integrity. In Luke 22:19-20, we read about Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper as a way of helping us remember Him, what He taught, and the example He set. First Corinthians 11:28-30 warns Christians not to participate in communion without thought and understanding since “for this cause many are weak and sickly among you.”
What is true of the Church is true of America. We need a memorial to remind us of the important things. On Memorial Day 2021, let us not be so focused on our own agendas that we forget the past and what our predecessors have done to allow us to have what we enjoy today.
A federal judge has ruled against a Christian college in Missouri, and the ruling may affect other Christian colleges and universities. It involves opening the women’s dorm rooms and showers to biological males. On his first day in office, President Biden issued an executive order prohibiting “discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.” His order requires federal agencies to interpret the word “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Fair Housing Act is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. It prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of housing based on race, religion, or national origin. In 1974 a provision was added banning discrimination based on sex, but it says nothing about sexual orientation and gender identity. With the new executive order, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is now enforcing the requirement based on “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” and applying it to dormitory housing at colleges and universities.
The College of the Ozarks is a Christian college near Branson, Missouri. In April 2021, the college sued the Biden administration, stating that the new executive order “requires private religious colleges to place biological males into female dormitories and to assign them as female’s roommates.” On moral and religious grounds, the school prohibits males students from female dorms and vice-versa. The federal judge ruled against the school.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) plans to challenge the judge’s ruling. Ryan Bangert is vice president of legal strategy at ADF. He says that as it stands now, “If you have a male who identifies as a female, that student must be allowed to access female dormitories,” and that includes restrooms and showers. Failure to comply could result in fines that might force the school to close. That could be especially hard for College of the Ozarks, which does not charge tuition but depends on donations and requires all full-time students to work on campus.
Few Christian colleges could withstand hefty fines for violating the new rule, and dismissing a student because of sexual orientation and gender identity could create even more issues with the government. College of the Ozarks, like other colleges, is now working on housing plans for returning and new students in the fall. ADF said in a statement that “in this case the government is clearly overreaching.”
One of the peripheral issues to the COVID-19 pandemic has been the question of whether the government can shut down worship gatherings if it perceives they are spreading disease. There was a legal battle in California because the state had passed a law that said no more than three households could gather for religious services. Religious leaders said that the ruling stopped most Bible studies, prayer meetings, and other services in people’s homes and meeting places. The same law allowed more than three households to gather in hair salons, retail stores, movie theaters, and restaurants. Is it more dangerous for people to gather for religious purposes than for those other activities? Is there a legal bias against Christianity?
Early in the pandemic, the Supreme Court said that limiting worship to three households complied with the First Amendment. With the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September and conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett taking Ginsburg’s place, the court changed direction. On April 9, 2021, the court ruled the state could not restrict religious worship and that the same precautions used for businesses had to must apply to churches.
It does seem that the double standard of allowing movie theaters to operate and shutting down religious activities involving the same number of people is inconsistent. Legal bias against Christianity is certainly an issue here, and the problem is far from settled.
An interesting battle is going on in the Indiana state legislature, which could affect the rest of the country. Senate Bill 263 would make it illegal to restrict the right to worship even during pandemics or natural disasters. The statement made by those promoting the bill is, “The right to worship is guaranteed by the United States and Indiana constitutions, and no one has the right to infringe on that right.”
This is a complex issue. Telling people they can’t assemble because they might get sick or make someone else ill puts the government in the position of deciding who can worship and who cannot. Which is more important, having the right to worship anywhere, anytime, and in any way you wish or having authorities decide when and where to allow worship? The potential for abuse is very high either way.
We suggest that carefully following the biblical teachings and examples would solve this issue. The first-century Church did not own buildings and worshipped in small groups in private homes. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). The need for large groups with elaborate services and many participants is a product of church entertainment, not the worship of God.
No one can take away our right to worship if our worship is doing what the Bible encourages us to do and following the example of the first century Church. There are interesting legal questions in this discussion, but the right to worship is not threatened no matter what the legislature decides.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:15). Did Jesus use hate speech when He spoke those words?
In today’s world, making any negative statement about the LGBT lifestyle might put you in jail or at least under threat of a lawsuit. Sweden passed a law in 2003 and Finland in 1995 demanding discipline for anyone who says anything negative about the lifestyles of others. J.K. Rowling, the popular author of Harry Potter fame, has been “canceled” in England because she stated that males cannot become females. The question is not whether she is right or wrong, but whether in society today it is permissible to say anything critical of anyone else. George Orwell wrote, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
Those of us who are Christians and try to follow biblical teaching do not believe that anything in the scriptures qualifies as “hate speech.” What Jesus said in the passage above is not hate. We need to define what the phrase “hate speech” means. Webster simply says hate is “strong dislike.” We would add that the words “hate speech” describe what leads to physical action against a person. Most people would say it is okay to hate an idea. We can hate the idea of rape or prejudice without an individual being involved. When Jesus taught his followers to turn the other cheek and to love their enemies, He was certainly not advocating hate speech.
Did Jesus use hate speech in Matthew 23:15 when He expressed rejection of the Pharisaical system that injured other people as well as themselves? We have the moral teachings of the Bible because alternatives to those teachings hurt others and damage the people who promote those alternatives. No one following the teachings of Jesus would do any physical harm to anyone, no matter what their lifestyle. This is in stark contrast to the alternative teachings that would enact beatings, imprisonment, and even death.
In 1906, a British writer summarized Voltaire’s philosophy with the statement, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Others have repeated that phrase many times to describe the freedom of speech principle. Did Jesus use hate speech? No, and neither should His followers.
We live in a world where freedom of speech is becoming threatened, and those in power are trying to limit what someone can say. Ultimately Christians may be faced with the same situation that Peter and John faced in Acts 4:19. Their response to those who would shut down their freedom to speak was, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
As people wear masks during the pandemic, many people place messages on them. There certainly is no problem with that, as long as the message is not vulgar or abusive. We have seen many “Black Lives Matter” mask messages and messages about defunding police, supporting police, supporting political candidates, and women’s rights. It seems that almost any cause can be advertised, except for Christian messages on face masks.
The founders never intended the First Amendment to curtail public expressions of faith. This third-grader had no financial interest in wearing a mask to express her faith. This reminds us of an incident recorded in Acts 4. The religious leaders commanded Peter and John “not to speak at all nor to teach in the name of Jesus” (verse 18). They responded by saying, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (verses 19-20).
God expects our priorities to be clear, with our faith at the top of the list. That is not only the message of the Bible but also the message of those who wrote the Constitution.
One of the things going on in America today is the massive legal assault on Christian values. The Christian view that LGBTQ behavior has unhealthy consequences for individuals is becoming illegal. Christian love and concern compel us to warn a person that a behavior is destructive and unwise, but no Christian would want to put someone in jail or fine them for having an LGBTQ belief or practice. However, LGBTQ lawyers attempt to make Christian beliefs illegal and justify fines and imprisonment for Christian teachings.
An example of damage to innocent people caused by LGBTQ advocates is the inclusion of transgender participants in girl’s athletics. Now 16 states are allowing biological male transgender people to compete in girl’s sports. Obviously, a biological male can have a huge natural advantage over girls and women in bone density, muscle mass, and lung capacity. Biological males who have chosen to be females have won several athletic events denying capable girls the possibility of scholarships. Even magazines like the New York Post have pointed out the unfairness of this inclusion.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has 300 staff attorneys and a $300 million budget to bring expensive lawsuits against Christians and precipitate laws that afflict them. Planned Parenthood has more than $600 million in taxpayer funding, much of which goes to legal attacks on churches and pro-life organizations. The Southern Poverty Law Center has $500 million to use for similar agendas. Christians must be aware of the legal assault on Christian values and express their concern to their political representatives.
In recent years, several hate groups have grown up in the United States. Most of us know the Ku Klux Klan history, but today there are neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups gaining publicity. There are “anti-hate” groups to oppose the hate groups. That may sound like a good thing, but some anti-hate groups paint anyone who stands for anything as part of a hate group. Sometimes hate groups and anti-hate groups are hard to distinguish.
A good example is the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). This organization claims to track and expose 940 active hate groups operating in the United States. They define a hate group as having “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people typically for their immutable characteristics.” What they mean is that any group opposing same-sex marriage, radical Islam, or abortion they classify as a hate group. Their list of hate groups includes Christian organizations. Comparing a Church that opposes abortion to the Ku Klux Klan is absurd, but that is the case with the SPLC.
Because we have printed those things, we receive threats of lawsuits and violence. In the past, we have had some violence and vandalism directed towards our ministry. We urge anyone who donates to hate groups and anti-hate groups to be sure you know what causes you are helping. For the anti-hate groups, find out who they are labeling haters. Both the hate groups and anti-hate groups oppose some of the teachings of Jesus Christ. In the words of Joshua to the Israelites, “Choose you this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). Practice love and follow the teachings of Christ, even if it leads to persecution.
The persecution of Christians inChina continues to be severe. It is estimated that there are 60 million Christians in China, but half of them are in unregistered churches. Our Chinese materials are mostly in the hands of unregistered Christians, and a vast percentage of those are in university settings. A new tactic against the gospel is a Bible revision by the Communist Chinese Government.
American missionaries were able to take large numbers of Chinese Bibles into the country before the government’s crackdown. The Chinese government has answered that by producing a state version of the Bible. A high school textbook published by the Chinese government quotes their version of John 8:3-11. This passage is the account of a woman taken in adultery and brought before Jesus by the religious leaders. The leaders cite the Old Testament law saying that she should be stoned. In verse 7, Jesus says, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.” The Chinese government quote of this passage is quite different. In the Communist version, Jesus says that the law has to be enforced, and he stones the woman to death.
This has been called “the Communist Christ,” and it is a very different Christ from the one we read about in the Bible. It is also a vivid demonstration of what happens when Christianity gets mixed up with politics. The atheistic Communist government twists the biblical teaching to fit their agenda.
We emphasize Christ’s teaching in Matthew 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount) and Matthew 22:21 (about rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s). We do that keep biblical teaching pure and not tainted by the political agenda of the day. Bible revision by the Communist Chinese Government is nothing new. People who claimed to be Christians distorted Christ’s teaching to justify slavery in America. Others today use the Bible to justify abortion and immorality.
This year, one issue not getting media attention is whether college officials can censor public speeches that promote religious issues on campus. In many cases, students promoting Christian values or Christianity as a life choice have been punished or expelled for doing so. Most of the cases have been settled out of court, but the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Chike Uzuegbunam’s case.
Uzuegbunam is a young man who was talking about his faith in Christ at Gwinnett College in Georgia. College officials stopped him and disciplined him for his words. The college maintains that the constitution does not protect speech sharing religious beliefs, and Chike Uzuegbunam filed a lawsuit against the school.
Uzuegbunam’s case will bring before the Supreme Court the question of whether universities can ignore the First Amendment and shut down religious speech on campus. This subject has enormous implications for the whole country. Does the government or universities have the power to stop religious proclamations in public?
In her 1903 book The Friends of Voltaire, Evelyn Beatrice Hall described Voltaire’s attitude toward a book he disliked in this way: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” That has become a mantra of freedom of speech, but that viewpoint is being challenged today. For Christians trying to follow the example and command to preach the gospel, this discussion is critical.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear Chike Uzuegbunam’s case, and you can learn more about it HERE.