This letter is my brief response to Daniel Gray’s recent letter to the editor.
Gray continues to paint me as a liar, a deceiver, immoral, and an all-round bad person. Gray does not know me personally, so I am not sure how he comes to the conclusions he does about me. I have never made one of my letters personal, yet Daniel Gray and a few other letter writers think it is okay to attack my character and suggest that I am not a good person.
As a public figure, I know I must endure such attacks, but I wish my critics would focus on the issues rather than the person. If they would like to have a public discussion on these issues, I am quite willing to participate in any public forum they put together.
For the third time Gray suggests that I am not legally able to marry people and that anyone married by me is in danger of having their marriage invalidated. Gray seems to not understand the legal requirements for being licensed to marry people in Ohio. I meet all the statutory requirements and I am duly licensed to marry people in Ohio. Anyone can verify this by doing a ministerial license search on the Ohio Secretary of state’s website.
The U.S. Supreme Court rightly determined that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. Of course, those who oppose same-sex marriage are infuriated over the Court’s decision.
Mike Huckabee spoke for a number of people when he said the justices asserted that they were bigger than God. Huckabee, like others of similar persuasion, wrongly assumed that DOMA was all about what the Christian Bible said on the matter of same-sex marriage. According to Christian fundamentalists like Mike Huckabee, God and the Christian Bible condemn same-sex marriage and homosexuality.
What they fail to understand is that God and the Bible don’t matter when it comes to settling constitutional issues. The Supreme Court is God when it comes to determining what is constitutional. They have the final say. As citizens, we are free to amend the Constitution, but until we do, we must live according to the decisions handed down by the Supreme Court.
Jehovah, Allah, or Jesus have no say when it comes to what is the rule of law. The sooner people like Mike Huckabee understand that the United States is a secular state the better off it will be for our republic.
The Bible is not the standard by which we determine what our laws will be. We the people, through our elected officials and the ballot box, decide what our laws will be. Christians are free to live by the teachings of the Bible, but they have no right to demand that everyone live by those teachings.
For the past 40 years, evangelicals have been repeatedly told that the United States is a Christian nation, a nation that should follow the teachings of the Bible. As interpreted by evangelicals, no matter how many times historians correct their errant thinking, they continue to think that the United States is a Christian nation meant to be governed by the Bible.
I have come to the conclusion that trying to correct their errant thinking is a fool’s errand. Like those who deny global warming, think Obama is a Kenyan, think Ronald Reagan was a great president, and think Fox News is really a news channel, there is no remedy for their willful ignorance.
What matters is fairness and justice for all. Same-sex marriage is a matter of equal protection under the law. Gays have a right to expect to be treated equally when it comes to the law. In no way does this Supreme Court decision affect how evangelical Christians live their lives. They are free to practice their religion and get married just like they always have. Their ministers are free to not marry same-sex couples just like I am free to marry same-sex couples once same-sex marriage becomes legal in Ohio.
I applaud the Supreme Court for standing on the side of fairness, justice, and equal protection under the law. The battle now moves to the states and I suspect here in Ohio the battle will be long and bitter. I can only hope fairness and justice will ultimately prevail.
I am writing in response to Gary Luderman’s recent letter to the editor.
Contrary to Luderman’s assertion, my letter was all about the Republican Party and its infection with right-wing religious extremism.
I am quite indifferent to personal and private religious practice. I was an evangelical pastor for twenty-five years and I know well the value people find in religious belief. I have no desire to rob anyone of their religious belief.
However, since the United States is a secular state, I do take issue with those who attempt to require fidelity to a particular religion’s peculiar beliefs, morals, and ethics.
I have never met Gary Luderman, so I am quite perplexed when he suggests I have no moral beliefs. How could he know this?
Luderman speaks of Christian morality as if it’s a singular belief and that all Christians adhere to the same moral and ethical system. Anyone who has paid close attention to Christianity, both in its present and historic form, knows there is no such thing as a singular belief about anything in Christianity.
Luderman mentions God’s rules? Which God? Which rules? Luderman believes that the Christian God is the God. He is atheistic towards all other Gods but the Christian God. He and I are quite the same then, the only difference being my atheism includes the rejection of the Christian God.
I assume Luderman believes that sex before marriage is a sin. Yet, the majority of Christians are not virgins when they marry. In fact, every study I have ever read shows that Christians are every bit as “sinful” as the rest of us. If Christians can’t keep their God’s moral standard why should they expect and demand anyone else to keep it?
The first three words of the Constitution is “We the People.” This is the foundation of our legal system. As a people, we decide how we want to govern ourselves. Collectively, we decide what kind of rules, standards and laws we want to have.
As our country matures, these rules, standards and laws change. At one time, homosexuality was considered a crime, a sign of mental illness. We now know that such beliefs are wrong and that in a just society all people regardless of their sexual orientation should have equal protection under the law.
As a humanist, my focus is on working towards a more just society. Whatever makes us more intolerant and is harmful to others must be abandoned. The proclamation of the angels in the birth story of Jesus is quite applicable today. We must continue to strive for peace and good will for all people.
As far as my personal morality and ethics is concerned, I will leave it to my wife, children, grandchildren, neighbors and friends to pass judgment on my moral beliefs. As much as lies within me, I try every day to love others and do all I can to promote peace and good will.
After the re-election of President Obama, Dr. Al Mohler, a noted right-wing Southern Baptist leader, told his followers that the American people had heard the right-wing message and rejected it.
Contrary to recent letters to the editor, the reason President Obama was re-elected was not because right-wing Christians didn’t vote. They did vote, and as this election makes very clear, their numbers are no longer sufficient to carry a national election.
What is the message of the religious right? Is it an inclusive message? Is it a message that broadly appeals to Americans?
The religious-right and the Republican Party are joined at the hip, and the Republican Party’s unwillingness to sever this tie has led to embarrassing defeats in the last two presidential elections.
Thanks to the religious right and the Tea Party, the Republican Party is now an extremist party dominated by white, aging, right-wing Christians. The Party is now known, like fundamentalist Christian churches are, for what they are against rather than what they are for.
As Mohler rightly understood, most Americans have rejected the right-wing exclusionary message. More and more Americans are coming to understand that mixing politics and religion is harmful to our republic.
Groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a group I proudly support, continue to point out the unconstitutional entanglement of church and state in our schools and government entities. Every month the Freedom from Religion Foundation newsletter reports legal victories in cases concerning the separation of church and state. The courts continue, much to the consternation of the religious right, to reaffirm the legal fact the United States is a secular state and there is a strict wall of separation between church and state.
Twenty percent of Americans are now considered “nones”, people who are indifferent to religion or are atheists or agnostics. What is most encouraging is that this percentage jumps to 34 percent for young adults.
Young adults increasingly reject the bigoted, exclusionary message of right-wing Christianity (and by extension the Republican Party). On issues like homosexuality, abortion, immigration, socialized medicine, and war, young adults reject the message and values of right-wing Christianity.
I am encouraged by the changing beliefs and values of American young adults. I am profoundly glad that my six children have rejected the narrow, judgmental, exclusionary right-wing Christianity they were raised in. I have great hope that my eight grandchildren will grow up to be loving, accepting adults who do not judge others based on their religion, skin color, or sexual orientation.
In the Bible there is a story about King Belshazzar (Daniel 5). The Bible has this to say about Belshazzar’s kingdom: Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting. This is exactly what is happening in America. The right-wing Christian message has been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Belshazzar lost his kingdom and exclusionary, bigoted right-wing Christians are losing theirs. This is good news for all who love freedom and liberty.
Who is this “our God” I keep reading about in the letters to the editor section of The Crescent-News?
If the letter writers spoke of our flag, our country, our military, or our government, I would readily understand what they mean. As a citizen of the United States, I have a common connection with all other U.S. citizens. Our country belongs to all of us, contrary to what right-wingers think when they speak of taking back their country.
When the Star Spangled Banner is played, I remove my hat and turn my face toward the flag of my native land. However, when the national anthem of the “our God” crowd, God Bless America, is played, I refuse to bow in obeisance to the “our God.”
We have no “our God” in the United States. We may be one people, under one flag, willingly governed by those we elect to office, but we do not have a common God, a deity that every citizen must worship and obey.
Where in the U.S. Constitution is this “our God” mentioned? At best, the U.S. Constitution mentions a generic God, a deist form of a Creator God. Even then, the founders of this country, understanding the danger of having state-sanctioned religion, made sure that there was a separation of church and state, and no religious requirement for holding office. They made sure there was not only freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion. Christian, atheist and Muslim alike are equal in the eyes of the state.
So, I ask again, who is this “our God?” Of course, every letter writer would say “our God” is the Christian God. Again, I would ask, which Christian God? The Trinitarian God of the Lutheran or the non-Trinitarian God of the Oneness Pentecostal? The Calvinist God or the Arminian God? Which of the thousands of Christian sects have the “our God?”
Christians bitterly disagree and separate from one another over matters like salvation, baptism and communion. If Christians cannot agree on these basic teachings, how can there be an “our God?” The division and internecine warfare among Christians reveals the bankruptcy of the notion that there is an “our God.”
All that letter writers have is a personal God, a God they believe exists. I have no problem with them having a God or believing whatever they want to believe about that God. However, when they suggest that their personal God must be the God of all then I take issue with such a claim. As a citizen of a secular state that codified the freedom of, and from, religion in its founding documents, I object to any suggestion that there is an “our God” I must worship and obey.
Going down the “our God” road leads to violence, bloodshed and a loss of freedom. Such a notion must be resisted at every turn, lest we wake up one morning and find a Christian theocracy ruling the United States.
Cal Thomas is right about one thing. The Bible clearly condemns homosexuality. The Bible is not ambiguous about homosexuality. It is a sinful behavior that is the mark of a reprobate heart. If the Bible is taken literally, it is clear that no homosexual will inherit the kingdom of God.
And this is the very reason the Bible should not be used as a legal standard in the United States. Christians are free to live according to the dictates of the Bible, however, in a secular state, a particular religion’s moral code of conduct has no business being codified into law.
There are many moral strictures in the Bible that many moderns find abhorrent. The Bible has been used in the past to justify all kinds of vile behavior. Not too many years ago segregationists routinely quoted the Bible to justify their dehumanizing of the African-American race. We matured as a nation and realized the Bible was wrong about slavery and the so-called inferior races.
In the same manner, the Bible is wrong about homosexuality. In fact, the Bible is wrong about many sexual matters. At best, the Bible is a religious text that promotes sexual repression and control. It is a book that is currently being used by single, white, Catholic men to deny women birth control and control of their own bodies. Christians who willingly submit to such anachronistic laws are free to do so, but Christian sects have no right to force, through the legal process, others to live by their moral code.
We say we are a Nation that believes in privacy but it seems that many Christians only support a right to privacy when what is being done in private lines up with their moral code. Simply put, Christians need to mind their own business when it comes to the sexual proclivities of others. What goes on behind closed doors between consenting adults is nobody’s business. Again, Christians are free to live according to their interpretation of the moral code of the Bible, but in a secular state they have no right to insist, through legal means, that others do so.
Homosexuals should have the same civil rights as any other American. Since marriage is a legal act licensed by the state, matters of religion have no place in the process. Two men, two women, or a man or woman should have the same freedom to marry. There is no civil reason for denying homosexuals the right to marry.
Christians need to realize that the United States is not a Christian nation. It never has been. Christianity does not deserve special status and certainly the Bible should have no weight when it comes to enacting law.
Our legal system should reflect what is best for the American people. How best to live as a pluralistic people in a secular state. Allowing homosexuals to marry and have the same civil rights as heterosexuals is absolutely essential as we mature as a nation.
Attempting to formulate a reply to the responses to my letter to the editor has left me with quite a quandary. In 500 words I must respond to issues that deserve far more treatment than I can give them. Every letter writer committed the same error as Jack Palmer.
They assumed a priori that everyone believes in the Bible, their God and their version of Christianity. According to them, it is self-evident that the Christian God is the true God. They base their assertion upon the Bible, and therein lies the problem. They believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. I suspect most of the letter writers also believe the Bible is inerrant.
I do not believe the Bible is a supernatural book. The Bible is a manmade book of spiritual writings. It is rooted in a nomadic and agrarian economy that no longer exists. The last book of the Bible was written 1,900 years ago. While certainly the Bible has some value in the 21st century, it is not a book that should be used as a divine road map for life nor as a rulebook for governing society.
The Bible is best suited for use in tribal worship, cultural events and acts of personal piety. In other words, our society is far better off if the Bible is relegated to the same shelf as the great classics of the past.
Because I do not believe the Bible to be the divine truth, threats of divine retribution and judgment have no meaning to me. They did at one time. I was a student of the Bible for over 33 years, attended a Christian college and pastored evangelical churches for 25 years. As an agnostic, I have a humanistic worldview. It is a worldview that focuses on the here and now rather than eternity and a mythical home in heaven.
With all the suffering in the world, time spent pining for a mansion in the sky seems scandalous. The responses to my letter make it very clear to me that no two Christians agree on anything. Every letter writer espoused a different form of Christianity. Every letter writer has their own version of God and what constitutes a right, saving relationship with that God. This shows me that there is no such thing as Christianity (singular) in America.
Instead, what we do have is multiple Christianities, with every Christian picking and choosing what they want to believe from the Bible and then making God into their own image. Christians continue to use Pascal’s Wager with unbelievers to no effect. I would reverse the challenge and ask Christians, What if this is it? What if there is no heaven or hell?
What if you’ve spent your entire life seeking an eternal destiny that doesn’t exist? A life wasted that could have been spent enjoying the here and the now. A life wasted that could have been spent living and loving rather than trudging through a wicked world in search of a heaven and eternal reward that does not exist. We each have one life. This is it. Love and live.
Evangelical Christian Church continues to grow while the mainstream Christian Church continues to decline. As the mainline Christian Church continues to decline, it seems likely that Protestantism will become a single party dominated by Evangelicalism. We see evidence of this in northwest Ohio. I do not know of a mainline Christian church in this area that would call itself a liberal, progressive church. Such a label would be societal suicide in our rural culture that is dominated by right-wing Christian and Republican ideology.
There are many important battles that loom on the horizon. While the election of Barack Obama dealt the political and religious right a severe blow, they have not been defeated. Theocrats, determined to make the Christian religion the official state religion, continue to argue for the enshrinement of the Christian God’s law as the law of the land. They continue to press for a revisionist history that paints our founding fathers as evangelicals and our nation as a Christian nation. The religious right continues to target local schools as a prime target for cultural change. Abstinence-only education, school prayer, Christian nationalism and intelligent design (which is nothing more than creationism in new clothes) are all points of attack that must be met head-on by those of us who are secularists. We cannot afford to give any ground to attempts to Christianize our schools and government.
Here in northwest Ohio we have become too complacent as right-wing religion (often joined at the hip with right-wing politics) pushes itself into every aspect of our daily life. A recent event is a case in point. The Bryan Jubilee was held recently. Thursday night was advertised as Christian Fun Night. The Jubilee is a public event. As such, there should be no exclusionary events. I wonder if the organizers of the Jubilee would allow the atheists, agnostics and deists of Williams County to have their own fun night, especially if that fun included acts that made light of the Evangelical Christian faith. I seriously doubt it. I want to encourage my fellow secularists and humanists to come out of the shadows and help stymie the continued encroachment of Evangelical Christianity into our schools and government. I realize our numbers are few, but we can make a difference if we are willing to speak out.
I am writing in response to the letter to the editor by Rebecca Soellner.
In her letter she extols the virtues of the American Dream and love for God. Her letter is a good example of the error of Manifest Destiny — the notion that America has a divine purpose and future ordained by the Christian God.
Such thinking allows Soellner to justify the demolishing of the land and the killing off of wildlife and Indians just so our forefathers could plant the seeds of faith, hope and love. I am not sure that the God of faith, hope and love (1Cor. 13:13) wants any part of a people who stole the land from its rightful owners and then murdered them if they resisted. I seriously doubt that God was delighted when our forefathers corralled hundreds of Indian men, women and children into a building, set the building on fire and burned the Indians to death.
The spirit that Soellner extols allowed our forefathers to take what was not theirs and kill those they had no right to kill, all in the name of the Christian God. Our nation had a bloody, sinful beginning and we should recognize it as such. We had no right, God given or not, to do what we did. Think of how we would respond if Ohioans decided it was their manifest destiny to live in Indiana and they, by force, stole the land and killed the inhabitants of Indiana. There would be outrage at such barbarity, and rightly so.
Some of our forefathers were indeed Christian men and women. But many of them were not. Some of them came to America because of religious freedom and then made laws forbidding any other religion but the Christian one (and in some cases outlawing the Catholic religion.) Many of our forefathers were opportunists who saw a great opportunity to amass land and wealth.
They had a respectable form of religion and thought nothing of using their religion to gain economic advantage. If it meant that they ended up with more money, they gladly went along with the notion that God was behind their endeavor.
Some day I hope the myth of the Christian nation will be put to rest. I hope we will stop turning our forefathers into saints who were only motivated by the Godliest of principles and virtues. They were fallible, frail, sinful human beings. Some indeed had great religious virtue but many others were driven by avarice and greed.
We must own up to the fact that our nation’s beginning is covered with blood and that we owe Native American Indians an apology for our national sin. They deserve complete and full restitution for our wicked actions. While we cannot undo many of the sins of the past we can stop trying to paint over our past sins with the God paint.
We will never collectively progress as a nation until we admit that much of our social, economic and political belief is based upon myth. Time shapes facts into collective myths that are rarely, if ever, examined by the average citizen.
Christian ministers continue to preach the Christian nation myth. America has never been, and never will be, unless the Christian right gets its way, a Christian nation. We have always been a secular, pluralistic society. Any notion to the contrary is revisionism and not supported by our collective history. In secular America there is a clear separation of church and state. For this reason, questions concerning the religious beliefs and practices of presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama should be considered out of bounds and irrelevant.
Our political leaders continue to preach the myth of continual economic growth. Few people seem to question the notion of continual economic growth. Is unlimited, unconstrained growth possible? Will we ever reach a place where no more growth can take place? Do we really need one more restaurant in Defiance? Do we really need one more drug store? Do we really need another church on another corner? How many varieties of the same old stuff do we really need? When will our razor have enough blades?
We are rapidly approaching the time where the myth of continual growth will be clearly revealed. Soaring food and energy prices, collapsing housing and economic markets are all signs that continual growth is not sustainable. Words like sustainability, conservation and self-sufficiency are the common vocabulary of the future. An economy built on consumption will ultimately fail because it cannot sustain itself. We are consuming ourselves to death. We cannot rely on the government to tell us the truth about the economic condition of America. Statistics like the GDP, unemployment, poverty rate, etc. are massaged and manipulated by government officials to such a degree that they are essentially meaningless.
The evangelical Christian church and many of our government leaders continue to promote the myth that war brings peace. In fact, our entire national history rests on the foundation of this myth. Our nation has a bloody, warring history. We have bombed, killed and destroyed all who have stood in our way. From the early days of our nation to the present conflict in Iraq we have used military force and brutal war to force our will on others. We have rarely been a peaceful people.
War will never bring peace. It can’t. It may bring a cessation of hostilities, but peace can only come through peacemaking. A peaceful country will not have nuclear armaments capable of destroying the world many times over. A peaceful country will not wage pre-emptive wars and will only use its military forces for acts of self-defense. Peaceful nations act peaceably. Our national conduct shows us to be anything but peaceful.
Peace begins at home with each of living like peacemakers. Peace begets peace.
Every time Christians gather together for communion it is for the purpose of memorializing the death of Jesus. The death of Jesus on the cross has many theological implications. Redemption and sanctification among many others.
The death of Jesus also has political implications. His death, along with his resurrection from the dead, proclaim a new Kingdom, the Kingdom of God. Who, and all that Jesus did, challenges the politics and agendas of every generation. There is a new King in the world, and Jesus is his name.
Last Sunday, many Churches took time to briefly mention Memorial Day. Some Churches had full blown patriotic rallies, complete with the presenting of the colors and taps. Others sang a few patriotic songs and said a quick prayer for those who have died in our nations wars. Some took time to honor Church members who are serving or had served in the Military.
I always prepare myself for what may happen in Church on our nations various national holidays. I would prefer that Churches not meld worship of God and nationalism together, but I have come to the place where I can tolerate it in short doses. Interjecting nationalism into our worship of God diminishes the focus of our worship, and can, if we are not careful, suggest that Christianity and American nationalism are one and the same.
In many sermons we will hear that Christians need to view the sacrifice of war in and of itself, separated from its theological and political implications. An attempt is made to link the sacrifice of war with the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus laid down his life for others and in war we are called on to do the same.
It is unwise to connect the sacrifice of Jesus and the sacrifice of war. Jesus was the guiltless dying for the guilty. In war, there are no guiltless parties. It is also impossible to divorce the sacrifice of war from its theological and political implications. War ALWAYS has such implications.
My prayer is that Churches will stop being agents for the political agendas of the Republican and Democratic parties. Instead of giving public service announcements for the Defense Department, Churches would be truer to their calling if they proclaimed what Jesus said about peace and loving our enemies.
I am still waiting to hear a sermon anywhere that takes seriously the claims and teachings of Jesus concerning peace and as a result declares the war in Iraq to be contrary to Christian teaching. Instead of wrangling about just war I hope and pray Churches will wrangle with the implications of thou shalt not kill, love your enemies, and blessed are the peacemakers.
It is certainly proper and right to quietly remember those who have died during our nations wars. Some died defending freedom, others died for a political agenda, but all died as Americans and we should remember them. We should also take time to reflect on the awfulness of war and the danger of a nation with unchecked arrogance waging war against all who cross her path.