'We've Got to Go Beyond Tolerance, to Love'
The sign said, “All Are Welcome.” But apparently, “all” doesn’t include Donald Trump. Any other leader visiting a church in the middle of a nationwide street war would have been praised for his solemnity, his search for healing. Not this president. His visit to St. John’s, which had been engulfed in flames the night before, and St. John Paul II’s National Shrine on Tuesday were just new opportunities for second-guessing.
“No one,” Mollie Hemingway insisted, “needs permission to pay respects to a church.” She’s right. In fact, if more Americans had been visiting churches — for reasons other than lighting them on fire — our country might not be in this mess. Very honestly, the fact that we live in a nation where our leaders embrace faith, not just in times of crisis but as a matter of daily life, ought to be something we celebrate. And yet, we’ve grown so used to our freedoms and jaded by years of enjoying them that we can’t set aside our political suspicions long enough to see the remarkable contrast our America’s leaders make to their counterparts all around the world.
When the riots broke out in Hong Kong, where was China President Xi Jinping? Not kneeling at the altar of a local shrine, I can guarantee that. Or when starving Venezuelans clashed with police in the latest of more than 500 protests under Nicolas Maduro? Was he standing outside with reporters talking about God, justice, and liberty? No. So while skeptical media types and the president’s opponents try to assign motive to Trump’s every move, maybe it’s time to recognize that however imperfect they may consider this administration’s response, his instinct to look to faith in times of turmoil is instructive and reassuring. Because the government doesn’t have the answers to brokenness. It can’t tear down walls and fix what’s wrong with the human heart. Only God can.
President Trump isn’t perfect, but he understands what the majority of talking heads do not: our nation’s problems are a whole lot bigger than race. They’re rooted, as Bishop Vincent Mathews and I talked Tuesday, in a rejection of basic truth. And over time, that creates the kind of division and disrespect we’re seeing across the country today. “For many people,” Bishop Mathews said, “[it’s] incomprehensible, the depths of man’s inhumanity to man that we’re witnessing.” But as hurtful as it is, he shook his head, “it’s no surprise.” This is what comes when we turn away from centuries of teaching that we were created by the hand of God who loves us and sent His Son to redeem us. Without that certainty, people’s lives lose all meaning. It puts us on the path to what we’re seeing on American streets, where humanity isn’t treated with reverence but contempt.
“We need to, as a church,” Bishop Mathews insisted, “[a] black church, white church, as God’s church… not only preach the kingdom, but preaching truth to power… That’s important for all Christians — to speak out for those who are disenfranchised and have challenges in our society.” There is real wisdom in that, because only the church can bring together people in a genuine, abiding fashion. I’m not talking about promoting tolerance — we’ve got to go beyond tolerance to love. And the only true way that can happen is when we’re in the bond of Christ.
We can’t just rely on our skin or zip code or status to unite us. “That’s superficial,” Bishop Mathews warned. “It is the love of Christ that binds us together.” And it’s that love that will impact society. “We need to really seek and share with the world the true gospel… When we see that there are disenfranchised, marginalized individuals in our society, [the answer is] not just to say, ‘Hey, people need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps’ — but to say that Jesus is the answer. He is the one who empowers you. And we share that gospel that you can be free… whether you’re black, white, Latino, or Asian.”
Of course, the irony is, black and white evangelicals have a lot more in common than the media will ever admit. It’s in their best interest to keep the two sides separate and fuel the growing divides. But, as lot of surveys bear out, there’s far greater agreement on issues that matter than there are differences. “That’s why,” Bishop Mathews agreed, we can’t allow “the narrative to be defined by the world.” “There are 7.5 billion people in the world, 7,500 languages. But there are only two cultures… There’s a culture of Christ and a culture of Satan. And we may not share the same DNA — but we share the same Father. And we share the same values — and those are biblical values.”
It’s in that sameness, that strength of conviction, that the church finds its mission in these tumultuous times.
“We must be intentional about breaking those barriers,” Bishop Mathews urged. “Not just swapping pulpits, but really seeking to see what we can do on the ground in our cities and in the areas where we are to serve humanity and demonstrate… our love for each other. When the world sees that you and I can not only get along but work together and break down the walls of denomination and ethnicity, then we define what is being portrayed in the media and outside.”
Originally published here.
The New Diplomacy Normal: Freedom First
The United States isn’t the only country split wide open by pain and grief. In Nigeria, where senseless killings are a way of life, people are struggling to find the words to describe the horror inside a church in Benin City, where a young, 22-year-old microbiology student was found, lying in a pool of her own blood. Raped, attacked, and left half-naked on the floor, Vera Omozuwa had come to the sanctuary to study. She liked it, a parish member said, because it was peaceful. She died, telling a very different story.
A member of the church’s choir, Vera had just been accepted at the university. When she didn’t return the key to the sanctuary later that day, one of the Redeemed Christian Church of God’s staffer started to worry. A night guard found her and rushed her to the hospital. But her injuries were too severe. She died three days later. Her own mom didn’t even know about Vera’s condition until a neighbor told her. “I ran [to the church] but before I got there, they took her to a private hospital and when I saw my daughter, I cried. They raped her; the dress she was wearing that morning was white. The white had turned to red; all her body was full of blood,” she cried.
Unlike a lot of horrific killings in Nigeria, this one seems to have gotten the world’s attention. As CNN points out, “the RCCG church is one of the largest denominations in the country with hundreds of parishes.” The idea that innocent people would be targeted there is a nightmare that families in the remote villages have been living for months. Fulani herdsman and Boko Haram have combined to terrorize Christians in the less populated areas than Benin, burning down houses, executing and kidnapping young people, missionaries, and newlyweds. Attacks with machetes, midnight invasions, beheadings are fears that every mother and father in the western region knows well.
Now that Nigeria is on more people’s minds, what President Trump did Tuesday carries even more significance. Despite the challenges here at home, this administration hasn’t lost sight of the countries who struggle to cope with senseless killings almost every day. So, to add to the White House’s already ground-breaking record on international religious liberty, the president signed an executive order that has been months in the making, building on his legacy with something no other administration in history has attempted: making our First Freedom a top priority in foreign policy dealings.
In the executive order, the president asked the State Department and USAID to “develop a plan to prioritize international religious freedom” and to “budget at least $50 million per fiscal year for programs that advance international religious freedom.” On top of that, the Hill explains, government leaders will be expected to undergo training, along with diplomats on religion “to empower them to bring up international religious freedom issues when meeting with foreign officials.”
Ambassador Sam Brownback couldn’t have been more thrilled. On “Washington Watch,” celebrating the move, he explained, “Today was a big milestone day. No administration has ever done an executive order on international religious freedom,” he pointed out. “And [this] one is a fairly expansive, the one the administration did today… [It’s] just really huge.” For once, he explained, America is tying our “development aid to our values. And one of our core values is religious freedom.”
By this order, the president is taking the debate over international religious liberty beyond rhetoric and into reality, where actual dollars hang in the balance. “The president saying, ‘Within the next 180 days, I want to plan from State Department and USAID on how you’re going to integrate and expand and really kind of feather in to all of statecraft and all of the foreign policy apparatus and our development money this concept of international religious freedom.’” That means that the countries of particular concern and the special watch list regions — some of the worst actors on religious persecution — are going to feel the heat. “We’re going to target them to really force them to step up and do a better job on religious freedom.”
It’s a one-of-a-kind integration of diplomacy and religious freedom. Instead of pushing the issue to the backburner in conversations with other leaders, President Trump is saying: this has to be a part of the discussion. Even, Sam pointed out, in other agencies’ dealings. “If an entity of U.S. government, say the Treasury Department or Agriculture Department, has foreign apparatuses — and they do — they’ve got to engage on religious freedom issues as well.”
“And in case some of your listeners are [wondering], are we [focusing] too much on this one topic? I would just remind people, this is just a foundational human right. You get this one right, and the others tend to flourish — the ability to speak, the ability to communicate, the ability to assemble, because this is just such a hard one for a lot of countries and in a lot of places. So that’s why we really want to put a lot on this one. This is your fundamental. You get your fundamentals right, you can do more. You get your fundamentals wrong, things sink faster. And so, this is this a big addition on religious freedom that happened today by this administration. And I think it’s warranted. And I think it’ll pay dividends for the United States and our foreign policy and how these other countries act and the freedoms of their citizens around the world.”
Citizens like Nigeria’s, where even religious tolerance could lead to a new dawning of stability. Or, at the very least, a safety — which, for innocent young women like Vera — is the very least they deserve.
Originally published here.
ARISE and Shine!
Unrest has rocked our nation over the last week. After a blatant display of police brutality in Minneapolis that took the life of George Floyd, cities across our nation have experienced a torrent of lawlessness. Questions, opinions, hurt, anger, and fear have been some of the primary responses by Americans that are looking for hope, healing, and justice in the midst of the chaos. As followers of Christ, we know that the Scriptures give us directions on how to respond even in uncertain times.
A week ago, when President Trump announced that churches were essential and needed to be allowed to open back up, he said, “We need more prayer in America, not less.” We could not agree more.
Tuesday night we shifted plans for ARISE, our virtual partner event, to focus on praying for our leaders and our nation. We were joined by elected leaders and pastors from across the nation including Michele Bachmann, Ken Blackwell, Pastor Carter Conlon, Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), Pastor Jack Hibbs, Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), Bishop Harry Jackson, and Cissie Graham Lynch.
It was a powerful night filled with discussion of the pressing questions facing America, followed by times of intercession. As Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) acknowledged in prayer, “We are at a historic, and unfortunately, heavy moment in our country’s history, and we need Your guidance. We do a misnomer to our own selves to try to solve some of the most complex problems in our own strength and our own power… We need you now more than ever to bring healing to our land.”
Lifting up minority communities, he continued, “I pray for the people that are hurting today. This pain is real in our communities, this is not fabricated. Lord, I pray for healing among our minority communities that are struggling with this, rightfully so. That you would allow us to build bridges, to build bonds that ultimately, they can see Christ not just in our words, but in our actions.”
Addressing the question on many Americans’ minds, Pastor Leon Threatt of Christian Faith Assembly in Charlotte, N.C. shared how we can come together across ethnic lines to bring healing and hope for America:
“I honestly believe that the divide we see in culture is often because there is a divide in the church… According to Ephesians 2, the cross brought down the line of division between Jew and Gentile. And it’s that work of the cross that the enemy doesn’t want. I think there is a failure of the church to model that according to John 17, to demonstrate that in such a way that we send a profound message to culture and to community that divide has been eradicated. I think if we will live that out in such a way, we make transformation and change in our communities.”
It’s true that if any place should model what racial harmony looks like, it should be the church. We’re all on level ground at the foot of the cross.
Though these are dark days for our nation, we cannot sit back or stay quiet. The answers to the problems plaguing America will not come from political parties or even well-intentioned peaceful protests. The world is searching for the hope, peace, and reconciliation that Jesus alone can bring.
I hope you will take time to not only watch the ARISE event and join us in prayer, but to take to heart the words of Cissie Graham Lynch. “These [days] are opportunities for us to shine in the darkness,” she prayed. “That, as Christians, we will run to the front of the fire… This is an opportunity to show your love, the love of Jesus Christ, the One that can make a way for healing. To bind up those wounds. You [Jesus] are the only one that can change the heart.”
As Pastor Threatt stated, “There’s still work to be done in the church to model that the divide was removed at the cross.” May we follow the instructions of Scripture and “First of all, [let] petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
Let us ARISE as the church “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) to help our hurting world.
Originally published here.
This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC.