Faith

Trump announces that houses of worship are ‘essential,’ calls on governors to open them up

President Trump on Friday announced that new Centers for Disease Control guidance will classify houses of worship as “essential,” as he called on governors to allow them to open “right now” after being closed during the coronavirus lockdowns. Trump announced the policy for churches, synagogues and mosques, during a short briefing at the White House. “The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now–for this weekend,” Trump said. “If they don’t do it, I will override the governors.” “In America, we need more prayer not less,” Trump added. It’s unclear under what authority Trump has to override governors. But Trump took issue with certain businesses being open, while churches are not. Attorney General William Barr already warned last month that coronavirus restrictions by state and local government should be applied evenly and not single out religious organizations. “Some governors have deemed the liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential,” Trump said. “But have left out churches and other houses of worship. It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released interim guidelines Friday for communities of faith that acknowledge “millions of Americans embrace worship as an essential part of life” but also warn that “gatherings present a risk for increasing the spread of COVID-19.” The guidelines encourage the use of cloth face coverings during services, limiting the size of gatherings, social distancing during services and suspending or decreasing choirs and singing in church since “singing may contribute to transmission of COVID-19, possibly through emission of aerosols,” the CDC says. Last week the CDC released new guidelines that schools, businesses and other organizations can use as states reopen from coronavirus shutdowns. The document, however, excluded guidance for churches and faith-based groups because the White House raised concerns about the recommended restrictions, the Associated Press reported. Cities across the country have been taking their cues from their governors on when and how to reopen. New York Gov. Cuomo’s executive order still remains in effect in hard-hit New York City, officials said Friday. “Houses of worship never closed in New York City, but have been under reasonable capacity requirements that prohibit large gatherings,” said Olivia Lapeyrolerie, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s deputy press secretary. “We will continue to work closely with faith leaders to ensure people can safely worship during these stressful times, but will not take any steps that could jeopardize New Yorkers’ health.” The White House’s Friday announcement comes after Trump has been hearing an earful from faith leaders who are unable to hold services due to coronavirus restrictions at a time when their parishioners are grappling with the crisis. Families may be grieving the loss of loved ones from the virus or struggling with job losses but unable to seek respite in their places of worship. On Thursday, Trump had a conference call with 1,600 pastors and faith leaders from around the country, including Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. He reassured them he wants to get churches reopened. The evangelical Christian community was instrumental in supporting Trump during his 2016 White House bid and he’s maintained strong ties with Christian leaders throughout his presidency. Trump telegraphed the decision a day earlier when he announced he spoke to the CDC on finding ways to reopen houses of worship during the pandemic. “We’ve got to get our churches open,” Trump said Thursday. Churches across the country had to close down due to stay-home orders necessary to stop the spread of the contagious virus. Faith leaders set up online services and families tuned in Sunday mornings from their computers at home. Earlier in the pandemic, Trump expressed optimism that churches would be opened by Easter Sunday, April 12. But April turned out to be an extremely deadly month for the pandemic, and parishioners had to celebrate Easter from home. Some faith leaders have argued that social distancing rules have violated First Amendment religious freedoms. Others have defied state and local rules and tried to reopen. “The discrimination that has been occurring against churches and houses of worship has been shocking,” said Kelly Shackelford, president of the First Liberty Institute, a legal organization dedicated to defending religious freedom. “We applaud the President’s strong stance today demanding that these attacks must stop and that churches and houses of worship be freed to safely open. Americans are going to malls and restaurants. They need to be able to go to their houses of worship.”

Agreed..  If you can go to your grocery store, Walmart, Target and heck…your “essential” pot store (here in Colorado, mamajuana dispensaries have been classified as “essential,” if you can believe that) and so on…then there is ZERO reason why you shouldn’t be able to go to your church.  You can socially distance yourself, much like the White House press corps does every day…and you can require those to wear face masks and so on..   But, to tell pastors and preachers they can’t open their church or they’ll face fines or imprisonment, is the very definition of fascism.  We have a 1st Amendment to protect such freedoms.  Major kudos to President Trump for taking this strong position.  To see a video of the President making this announcement earlier today, click on the text above.  Outstanding!!       🙂

President Trump Marks ‘Separated’ Easter Sunday: ‘We’re Getting Rid of the Plague

President Donald Trump on Sunday released an Easter Sunday greeting video from the White House, during the coronavirus crisis. “This Easter will be much different than others because in many cases, we’ll be separated physically only from our churches,” Trump said. “We won’t be sitting there next to each other, which we’d like to be, and soon will be again, but right now we’re keeping separation.” Trump was optimistic about the progress made in the ongoing fight against the spread of the virus. “We’re getting rid of the plague, it’s a plague on our country like we’ve never seen,” he said. “But we’re winning the battle we’re winning the war.” Trump urged all families to celebrate Easter. “Celebrate, bring the family together like no other, we have a lot to be thankful for,” he said. President Trump said Friday that he would view Easter Sunday services online during the coronavirus crisis. “I’m going to be watching on a laptop,” he said. “Now a laptop is not the same as being in his church or being in another church. It’s not, no matter what you say.” The president said that he would watch Pastor Robert Jeffress’s service from First Baptist Dallas on Easter. First Lady Melania Trump also wished the country a Happy Easter, sharing a video of her reading an Easter story. “Happy Easter,” Melania said. “I hope you are able to enjoy this special holiday and be sure to take care of yourselves and each other.” The First Lady traditionally reads a children’s story during the Easter Egg roll at the White House. Click here to watch both the President’s Easter message, and First Lady Melania Trump’s message.

Happy (belated) Easter!     🙂

Cal Thomas: Coronavirus and an unexpected lesson in what matters most

Some years ago, I wrote a book titled “The Things That Matter Most.” It was a critique of the continuing impact the ’60s generation has had on the country. The coronavirus pandemic, too, offers us an opportunity to consider what matters most in our nation and individual lives. We are told to stay indoors, not travel, avoid restaurants and bars and crowds of more than 10 people. Many have been ordered to work from home. Some are being laid off or have had their hours reduced. Entertainment seems limited to the few things worth watching on TV. Rather than lament this — and there is plenty to lament — how about seeing it as an opportunity? During Lent, some people give up certain things to practice self-discipline and demonstrate their devotion to God. While there is a big difference between voluntarily giving up something and being forced to give up many things and while there’s a difference between a religious practice and an infectious virus, the principle remains the same. What are you now giving up that you could do without? Put another way, what are you now focusing on that did not get your attention before the coronavirus? Does being forced to stay indoors and spend more time with your spouse and kids (who are mostly staying home from school) offer an opportunity, or do you consider it a burden? If you are a workaholic who brings work home from the office in the pursuit of money and material things, what opportunities does this forced confinement offer and will you take advantage of them? Has making money been your primary goal? Are you making less money because you are not working as much, or maybe at all? Are you having to re-order your priorities? I recently moved. My wife and I are amazed at all the things we still have after donating many items to charity. We had to rent a storage unit for the overflow. Material things never fully satisfy and yet many of us continue to pursue them as if they do. If you crave status, does that matter as much while you focus on handwashing and other virus-preventive measures? How often did you even think about washing your hands before the virus? Last Sunday the president called for the nation to pray that God might remove the threat of the coronavirus and protect us from it. Other presidents — one thinks of Franklin Roosevelt’s call to prayer on D-Day, June 6, 1944 — have asked the nation to pray when the power of government seemed insufficient to overcome a serious challenge. Could this present a similar opportunity for those so inclined to seek a closer relationship with “the God who made us,” as Abraham Lincoln said in his proclamation for a day of “humiliation, fasting and prayer” in the midst of the Civil War? If nothing else is working and if politicians are incapable of guaranteeing our safety, why do so many of us continue to look to Washington for help? Leaders can do some things, but can they do what is most needed? Last question. When the virus is no longer a threat, will you return to your old ways? Will you again focus on money, things, status and work, or has this virus taught you a lesson, a lesson about what matters most for you, your family and the nation? As pastor Lon Solomon, president and founder of Lon Solomon Ministries, likes to say: “Not a sermon, just a thought.”

And a very good thought it is.  Thanks Cal!  Cal Thomas is America’s most widely syndicated op-ed columnist in the U.S. He is the author of “America’s Expiration Date: The Fall of Empires, Superpowers and the United States,” to be published Jan. 21, 2020. Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribune.com.      🙂

Who was St. Patrick and why does he still matter?

On March 17th, millions of people around the world will be mindful of St. Patrick’s Day. But who was St. Patrick? And why is a bishop who lived almost 1,600 years ago still important to us today? You may know Patrick as the patron saint of Ireland. You may have heard that he brought Christianity to the Emerald Isle. And you’ve no doubt heard all about the snakes and the shamrocks and other myths associated with him. But the real reason he still matters today is that his life demonstrates the call of God to share the Good News of the Gospel. And God still speaks to us today, if we’re willing to listen. Most of what we know about Patrick comes from his autobiographical Confession, which he wrote when a group of bishops in Britain tried to bring charges against him. The Confession begins with humility: “I am Patrick, a sinner, the most unsophisticated of people, the least among all the Christians, and among some, the most contemptible.” That humility was a way of life for Patrick, who was, in fact, British and not Irish. As the son of an official in the Roman Empire, he was born into privilege. But when he was just a child, he was kidnapped by the Irish and sold into slavery. In captivity, Patrick saw God’s hand in delivering him “out of a way of life where God didn’t matter for me.” Now a slave in a foreign land, overwhelmed by loneliness and starvation, he had a revelation: “There, the Lord opened up my understanding to my unbelief so that however late, I might become conscious of my failings and then remembering my need, I might turn with all my heart to the Lord my God.” After six years as a slave, Patrick heard a voice telling him to escape, and he miraculously made his way to freedom in Britain. For the next 18 years, Patrick dedicated his life to the church and became a bishop. Then he had another vision calling him back to Ireland to preach the Gospel. If you are a Christian of Irish or Scottish descent, you owe your Christianity to St. Patrick. You may also owe him your education. One of Patrick’s goals was for the Irish to become a people who could read the Bible. Patrick was known as a man of the Book, and the scriptures are scattered throughout his writings. In the fifth century, few could read, and many ancient writings, including the Bible, fell into disuse and were in danger of being lost. Patrick began a monastic tradition in Ireland that spread to the island of Iona in Scotland, and then on to continental Europe. Both the scriptures of the Jews, as well as the writings of the Greeks and Romans, were studied and copied in these monasteries, which became the forerunners of the modern university. St. Patrick was one of the first people in history to take a moral stand against slavery. In his Letter to Coroticus, he also condemned sex trafficking: “They who distribute baptized women as prizes….will be slaves in Hell in an eternal punishment.” The greatest message from St. Patrick is the call of God to preach the Gospel to every tongue, tribe and nation. In the Roman Empire of the fifth century, Ireland was considered the “ends of the earth.” Today, there are over 4,000 language groups that still don’t have even a portion of scripture available to them. Mission agencies agree that it is possible to complete the task of Bible translation, if not in our generation, then in the next. What is lacking are people who are willing to take up the task. And that is the lesson of St. Patrick. God still calls, and God still sends. God still wants to shake us “out of a way of life where God didn’t matter.” On March 17, the traditional day of Patrick’s death, let us celebrate the remarkable life of a slave who committed his life to God. With God’s help, Patrick changed a nation. Through Patrick’s example, may we realize that we can change nations as well.

Thanks to Gordon Robertson for that faith-based history lesson on the life of St. Patrick.  Gordon president and CEO of The Christian Broadcasting Network, is the executive producer of “I Am Patrick,” a docudrama on the life of St. Patrick from CBN Films. For more information go to IAmPatrick.com.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!     🙂

Trump declares Sunday a National Day of Prayer

Hours after declaring a national emergency because of the coronavirus, President Trump suggested the nation look to God for “protection and strength.” On Friday evening, Trump declared Sunday a National Day of Prayer and pointed out how the public has historically found solace in faith during times of crisis. The first Sunday of every March since 1988 has been designated a National Day of Prayer in the United States, but Trump personalized this year’s day of prayer to address the outbreak of COVID-19. “It is my great honor to declare Sunday, March 15th as a National Day of Prayer,” Trump wrote. Trump laid out the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic during an an address in the Rose Garden on Friday afternoon. He announced that the Food and Drug Administration plans to have 1.4 million testing kits available for the public by next week and as many as 5 million by the end of March. “We are a Country that, throughout our history, has looked to God for protection and strength in times like these,” he added. During his address, Trump promised access to up to $50 billion in aid to state and localities as communities brace for the disease. “No matter where you may be, I encourage you to turn towards prayer in an act of faith. Together, we will easily PREVAIL!” Trump wrote in a follow-up tweet.

Jonathan Morris: My favorite Bible verse

The practice of picking a favorite Bible verse goes against every theological bone in my body, for two reasons. First, because Sacred Scripture is best understood as a whole. Second, because focusing on a favorite passage risks distracting us from passages that are less pleasant to our ears, but perhaps more needed. I cringe, for example, when I hear politicians or even pastors quote a favorite line or two of the Bible to justify an action or prove their point. Popular verses like “judge not lest you be judged”—while true—are often appropriated to shut down rational, moral discourse. Theological musings aside, I do have favorite Scripture verses. The one I’ll share with you here has been material for deep reflection as I traversed through major life change this past year. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). This verse is about discernment. It’s about getting our mind and heart in the right place to know in which direction we should go when we face real-life decisions. The author of this verse, Paul of Tarsus, is writing to the early Christian community in Rome. He knows they have already committed to following the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, but they are living in a hedonistic society and they struggle to know and do what is right. The first part of this verse is a warning that what we think or feel isn’t always right. Paul tells the Romans that our minds are warped by worldly ways of thinking. If this was true in the times of Paul (the Epistle to the Romans was written circa AD 55), it is even truer today. We are brainwashed by the daily onslaught of commercial and social media. To counter this, Paul encourages us to allow God’s grace and truth to seep into our minds and renew it. As he puts it: “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” “Transformation” is a strong word. The original Greek word for transformation is “metanoia,” meaning existential conversion. This spiritual conversion is not about changing our behavior out of shame or guilt. Conversion is a decision of the will to turn away from sin, do an about face, and walk toward God who is calling. The second part of this verse is even more inspiring and challenging. Paul says that once we have taken the step toward “metanoia” or “conversion” we still need to test things out to see what God really wants of us. He says “so that you may test what the will of God is, that which is good, and acceptable, and perfect.” Paul is being brutally honest that it’s not always easy to know what we should do when we are faced with an uncertain future. Paul tells the Romans to test things out. In other words, if we think we know what we should do, but aren’t sure, we should go ahead and give it a try. I have found this very simple spiritual advice by Paul to be profoundly helpful. Here’s one final reflection on this verse. Paul’s exhortation to the Romans to take seriously the renewal of their minds in order to discern God’s will for their lives, suggests that he believes their decisions are important. He is honoring the significance—the power—of human activity. Other ancient spiritual teachers, before and after Paul, placed so much emphasis on God’s power that human choice was dismissed as insignificant. But in his letter to the Romans, Paul doesn’t belittle the real struggle of discernment. He doesn’t say, for example, “just leave it all in God’s hands”. Christians believe deeply in a personal, providential God, a divine being who cares about and, in varied ways intervenes in human affairs. But, mysteriously, this all-loving and all-powerful God has willed that this Divine Providence be subject, in part, to our free-will agency. In other words, our choices matter, and discernment is the way to get it right.

Agreed.  Thanks to Jonathan Morris for his inspired insight.  Jonathan is a former Catholic priest who stepped down from that “calling,” but who is still very active with his faith.

Group sues Boston for banning Christian flag, approving 284 others

The city of Boston, Mass. is being sued for religious discrimination for banning the Christian flag while permitting 284 others, according to a federal lawsuit filed last week. Hal Shurtleff, the director and co-founder of Camp Constitution, asked the city to fly the Christian flag, an inter-denominational symbol, as part of Constitution Day on Sep. 17, 2017, for a one-hour event. But the city banned its appearance, saying no non-secular flags could be flown. “There’s no question that it is an unconstitutional act and originally said it was a violation of the First Amendment, which I find ironic,” Shurtleff told Fox News. “I’m optimistic the lawsuit will go our way.” Shurtleff said the city would have accepted it if they had called it the Camp Constitution flag instead of the Christian flag. The group was planning an event with pastors encouraging racial reconciliation, freedom in the United States, and celebrating the link between Christianity and the United States, ending with the presentation of the Christian flag. But after the city’s rejection, the event was canceled. Matthew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a religious freedom law firm representing Shurtleff, slammed the city for the decision, which they made again in 2018. “Censoring religious viewpoints in a public forum where secular viewpoints are permitted violates the First Amendment,” Staver said in a statement. “Boston city officials may not ban the Christian flag as part of a privately-sponsored event when they allow any other flag by numerous private organizations. It’s time for the court to stop the city’s unconstitutional censorship.” A federal court and appeals court previously ruled against Shurtleff, but the new lawsuit has new “key facts” that Liberty Counsel believes will “compel a result in Camp Constitution’s favor.” One is that the city allowed the Turkish flag — with its Islamic star and crescent — to be raised on city hall flagpoles 13 times since 2005, according to the suit. The city has also allowed the Communist Chinese flag to commemorate the anniversary of the Chinese Communist revolution, Cuban, and Vatican flags to fly along with transgender and LGBTQ flags, which were not mentioned in the lawsuit. “Yet, despite all of these many flag raisings containing religious symbols and imagery, and the City’s allowing the official flag of the Catholic Church, Camp Constitution’s proposed flag raising was denied because it was ‘religious,’” the suit states. “There can be no dispute that the City’s denial impermissibly discriminated between religion and non-religion, and discriminated between religious sects. Both violate the Establishment Clause.”

Exactly!