Thursday, December 26, 2019

Facts are not important, politics is

This was posted by a very liberal long-time friend and fellow cleric of mine.

 I commented thus:
The Holy Family were never refugees. They did not move to Egypt illegally. They moved from Roman-controlled Judea to Roman-controlled Egypt. It was literally like if you moved from Tennessee to Kentucky.
Why did the Holy Family need to move to Egypt in a hurry? The answer is one word: government. Yet to my friend and others of his leanings, government is always the solution, never the problem.

But the facts don't matter when political hit jobs can be done even on pretense.

Update: In response to another minister's query (who is a friend and not just on FB), I wrote this:

Both Judea and Egypt were occupied and governed by Rome; of course you know this. Just as the Romans changed the name of the formerly independent country of Judah to Judea, they changed the name of Egypt to Aegyptus. But the key point is not really that they changed the name, but that they had the power (by force of arms, to be sure) to do so.

To say that Egypt and Judea were "countries" under Roman rule is about as accurate as saying that Kazakhstan was a country under Stalin. Maybe it was once, and wanted to be again, but in 1948 it was not. It was a Soviet province and nothing more.

Likewise Judea and Aegyptus. The Holy Family changed province of residence but it did not change who governed them.

Now, whether the Holy Family were refugees. Yes, Matthew is clear that they made the trek to Aegyptus because of Herod's lethal plans. But again, while they changed provincial government, there was no political difference, just as if someone moved from Virginia to North Carolina.

Which are states I use on purpose because, as I am sure you know, Virginia's Gov. Northam has publicly stated that he will call out the National Guard to enforce the state's new, draconian gun laws - laws that have caused 90 percent of the state's county commissions to declare that they will prohibit any local law officers to enforce or assist state authorities in enforcing.

Which is to say, Gov. Northam is in fact directly threatening to use actual soldiers to kill people who have committed no offense against the peace or safety of anyone at all or even can be remotely considered such a threat.

Think that cannot happen? In November of last year, Maryland police shot to death a 61-year-old man in his own home who had committed no crime but for whom a court had issued a "red flag" order.

IMO, Gov. Northam is today's Herod. So when (not if, btw) some Virginia 2nd Amendment advocates decide to leave potentially-fatal Virginia to live in North Carolina, will they be refugees? If not, why would the Holy Family have that status?

Tomorrow in my sermon I will quote the Rev. Joy Carol Wallis thus,
Herod represents the dark side of the gospel. He reminds us that Jesus didn't enter a world of sparkly Christmas cards or warm spiritual sentiment. Jesus enters a world of real pain, of serious dysfunction, a world of brokenness and political oppression.
So far, so good. Agree 100 percent. But then:
Jesus was born an outcast, a homeless person, a refugee, and finally he becomes a victim to the powers that be. Jesus is the perfect savior for outcasts, refugees, and nobodies.
I will omit the italicized part because it is simply incorrect.
  • Jesus was not, in fact, born “born an outcast." He was born a Jew in a nearly-totally Jewish land to a solidly ordinary and righteous family.
  • He was not "a homeless person" because his parents owned a home in Nazareth. If a Nashville woman gave birth to a child in Knoxville, would that make the baby homeless?
  • And as I have said, he was never "a refugee” at all, much less born one in his father’s ancestral town.
  • That “Jesus is the perfect savior for outcasts, refugees, and nobodies” is true, but then, he is also the perfect savior for absolutely everyone else.

Monday, December 9, 2019

10 Tough Questions


The 10th point is the toughest one:

10. Remember, the ‘wicked problem’ of the denomination far transcends sexuality 
This last point is not framed as a question because of its truth there is no question. No matter what the GC decides, decline and irrelevance will continue to accelerate unless larger issues are named and tamed. Examples are trust deficits, miscommunication, theological conflicts/contradictions, ineffective organization, inefficient structures, disjointed training and education of clergy or establishing coherent ministry career paths. Organizations facing a wicked problem either tend to ‘fail into collaboration’ among competing stakeholders…or they just fail (see above). Nurturing trust and affirming the claim of conscience for all parties sets the stage not for failure but new birth.
The author earlier posted an essay with a full explanation of what a wicked problem is, as distinguished from a simple problem or a complex one (click here). But briefly, a wicked problem is that which all parties agree exists but do not agree on how to describe it, nor on what a solution can be, nor even on how to implement a resolution or know when it has been accomplished.

I have elsewhere explained that one such wicked problem, which I think underlies all those listed just above, is Pournelle's Law, formulated by the late, great science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle. It is:

And no, I do not have a solution to it.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

An Advent reflection

Grace and peace to all!

I subscribe to a daily newsletter by a Canadian minister, the Rev. Carey Nieuwhof. He is one of only two or three such writers that I know who are always worthy of reading because the majority of his writing applies in some way to my ministry. He does not write merely for other pastors, but also for the people of churches. I do recommend taking a look at his site,

Recently, his email included this nugget:

One of the most difficult things to do is self-challenge what we know. As someone once remarked, it is not what we do not know that is often the problem, it is that so much of what we think we know is not so. The balance between retaining what have tested and found enduring, and discarding what serves us well no longer—well, that can be tough.

Just imagine what the first followers of Jesus had to discard and adopt. Start with Peter, whom Jesus told to stop fishing for fish and start fishing for people. Or much earlier, the shepherds, who had to face that the Messiah was born in the humblest of settings to undistinguished parents. Or Mary, that she was being asked to face possible social disaster in being pregnant with a child that her fiancé could not say was his. And Joseph, who is described as a honorable man who elected to do what in his day was a dishonorable thing, marrying Mary anyway.

The story of Jesus’ nativity and ministry is one of turning over tables, both literally in the Temple confronting the money changers, but also figuratively, for bringing people to confront that so much of what they knew simply was not so:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven" -- Matthew 5.43-45
If we are truly blessed, we are seriously disturbed this Advent by the implications of Jesus’ coming and nativity. May the Holy Spirit lead us to think more deeply about what we think we know and what it means for the way we live and more importantly, why we live.

The gifts of Advent and Christmas are twofold, at least:

  • First, that “unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
  • Second, that in celebrating that Christ is born, we can embrace that we are born anew. May we discern the renewing revelation of God through our worship and giving this season!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The last best hope for America

I came across this post from 2017 by accident and am re-dating it to today. Today was the day that the US House of Representatives voted along strictly party lines to proceed with impeachment proceedings against the president. I make no comment here as to the merits or not of the proceedings. But as much as my colleague's words rang true two years ago, how much more compelling are they today.

From July 2017:
From former district superintendent in the Memphis Conference of the United Methodist Church, Sky McCracken:
In my opinion, the most powerful force in Christianity - if it wants to be - is a local church who decides to be a community of faith and discipleship in the manner of Jesus for its neighborhood, instead of a chapel for members who like things "just the way they are." No law, no entity, no politician has any power against such a force. Regardless of the happenings, fear mongering, and media hype of the last few weeks, they pale against the total history of God's presence with His people - which has always been unrelenting and ever-pursuing. I'll quote Bill Hybels:
"For eight years...I went to Washington, D.C., every month to meet in the foremost centers of power with some of the highest elected officials in our country. What I discovered was not how powerful those people are, but how limited their power really is. All they can actually do is rearrange the yard markers on the playing field of life. They can't change a human heart. They can't heal a wounded soul. They can't turn hatred into love. They can't bring about repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace. They can't get to the core problem....I believe that only one power exists on this sorry planet that can do that. It's the power of the love of Jesus Christ, the love that conquers sin and wipes out shame and heals wounds and reconciles enemies and patches broken dreams and ultimately changes the world, one life at a time. And what grips my heart is the knowledge that the radical message of that transforming love has been given to the church. That means that in a very real way the future of the world rests in the hands of local congregations like yours and mine." - In his book, Courageous Leadership.
There is no political solution to the severe dysfunctions of America today because our national illness is not really political. It is spiritual. There will not be a better America until there are better Americans. That is the task for the Church today: to bring more and more people into the fullness of reconciliation to God through Christ so that we can be reconciled to one another. Absent that, our congregations are just religious clubs. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The ground beneath our feet

The United Methodist Church is committing denominational hari-kiri, which will be nearly completed before the end of May, 2020. Recently, a long-term friend and law-enforcement officer posted an article from "The End of Law Enforcement, " written by a 20-plus year active LE officer and a trainer of LE officers around the country.

He says that this is the state of law enforcement today:

1. Retirement eligible officers are retiring even though they have many years of useful service ahead of them.

2. Mid-career officers are miserably trying to make it to retirement and are "are trying to get off the streets, afraid of the next 'viral' video showing them doing nothing wrong but ruining their reputation and ability to work forever." Some are leaving LE anyway.

3. Less than 10-year officers "have now realized that they work in the only profession that can ruin you for doing nothing wrong. They have stopped working. Some call it the 'Ferguson Effect' but they just call it trying to save their [hind ends]. It’s not worth staying and the majority are looking to leave."

I responded thus:

There is a French phrase from maritime history that was adopted by some other nations' services that is usually, though inaccurately, translated as, "every man for himself." The French is, "Sauve qui peut," and don't ask me how to pronounce it.

It was the command given when a vessel's captain decided the ship was lost and was going to sink no matter what. So he would order, "May he save himself, whoever can" (literal translation) or basically, "Stop trying to save the ship and save yourselves."

ISTM that is what this writer has concluded about the profession of law enforcement.

Regarding the UMC, I had a conversation recently with a senior staffer of one the UMC's general councils. It became clear to me that sauve qui peut has already been adopted by large numbers of our laity. Both attendance and giving have plummeted at UM churches across the nation, including mine. The laity who have left because of all the intra-church fighting over the homosexuality question have absolutely abandoned ship and are not going to return.

I can only wonder how many serving clergy will decide the same between now and the end of General Conference in May 2020. Will we see a parallel with what is going on in law enforcement? Will we see retirement-eligible ministers with several more years of possible service just hang it up now? Will mid-career pastors try simply to hang on until retirement and younger ones make (covert) plans to move to another denomination or profession?

Update, Dec. 10: I attended a Mon-Wed. GCFA conference last month with pastors from across the nation present, although the majority from the southeast and eastern seaboard. Here is my takeaway summary:

Basically, retirement-eligible pastors are doing so, even if they have years left to 72. I met some who are younger than I who are retiring in 2020, including two who pastor mega-churches (neither in my conference).

Several ministers from about age 50 openly told me that when they hit 62, they're gone. Very few were there much younger than that, but if I was 44 rather than 64, I almost certainly would be covertly making contingency plans.

And the denomination is going broke. Giving across America is way down. Way. Down. This is not going to be reversed and will, if anything, accelerate. At current trend, the GCFA's episcopal fund will be at zero dollars by the end of 2024. 

One minister told me that giving is down so much in his present appointment (not only because of people leaving a strife-torn denomination, also several major donors died) that his church can no longer afford his compensation. But he wonders what the point in a new appointment will be if it will probably run out of money also within a year. May as well retire, right?

BTW, even apart from people voting on the "issue" with their feet and checkbooks, the UMC will still be in accelerated rate of decline due to increasing deaths of an aging laity and our inability (and frankly, denominational unwillingness) to evangelize, especially evangelize unconnected to politics.

Just as law enforcement, the UMC still has many strengths and still is doing great work. But we are more and more resembling Centralia, Penn. Our foundation and "solid rock" on which we stand is being destroyed from underneath us.

Centralia was a coal-mining town where the mine shafts caught fire in 1962 and 
the town was destroyed from underneath. The fire is still burning. Estimates are that 
it will burn at least 250 more years.

The ground burning beneath our feet applies to much more than the UMC or law enforcement. I would be hard-challenged to find any national-level institution not affected by this threat.

Wesley said that when we are on fire for Christ people will come for miles around to watch us burn. The UMC is on fire, all right. But decide for yourself for what we are burning.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Kurds, Turkey, Syria - and US forces

Link to article

I worked with Petraeus when we were both at the Pentagon. He was a major then, promoted to Lt. Col. not long after I came to know him. I respect him immensely. He and US Marine Gen. James Mattis were the key, essential players in redirecting US strategy in Iraq away from the disastrous Rumsfeld model. I have never met Mattis, but have nothing but greatest respect for him. Marines I have known who worked with him are in awe, and that says a lot. 

So when Petraeus and Mattis both sharply disagree with the administration's decision, I have no choice but to pay attention. 

But having said that, I would say their view is very solidly an establishment one. S
enior military officers prosper very well. They gain their rank and status not only because of the military skills, but their political skills as well. They retire as comfortable members of the country's political class and often wind up with lucrative corporate consultancies and defense-related boards. I have seen this play out with three- and four-star generals I worked for. I do not blame them, actually, but we need to understand that they are far too invested in the status quo to try to change it. It what got them their rank and positions in the first place. Their incentives to change it are exactly zero. (This also applies to senior diplomatic personnel.) 

I wrote a long essay in 2008 on why the US should exit NATO, but of course, with both the outgoing Bush and incoming Obama administrations, there was so much Old Guardism at work that there was (and is) no chance. Petraeus and Mattis (and I, for that matter) were raised militarily and strategically with a Cold War, organizational mind-think that has not significantly subsided. They still think that what G. Washington warned against, "entangling alliances," should be normative and are simply the way things get done. 

Fifteen years ago Petraeus and Mattis and some others were the Young Turks. Now they are the Old Guard. And that should temper how we assess what they say. 

None of this is to say that all will turn out well today. In fact, it would be insane to say so. I mean, point to one time in the last several hundred years that things have worked out well in the Middle East! 

But it is also a real error to assume that had a mere 50 US troops been left in place, that everything would now be unicorns and rainbows. Turkey did not ask our permission to incur. They simply announced they were doing it. Turkey did not ask Trump to withdraw the troops; Trump just got them the heck out of the way. It would be nice for Petraeus and others to say how they would have responded to Turkey's announcement that it was coming, instead of just clutching their pearls in protest. They know better because they many times had to think through questions such those as I pose later in this essay. They know how to do it, but now they do not need to do it because the media will smile kindly upon them if they don't. And that is the problem.

My take: 

There is no solution to the problem of the Kurds. The Kurds have been screwed, they are being screwed, and they will continue to be screwed, because only Iraq, Turkey, and Syria (and Iran, as if) can resolve the issue and all of them see the Kurds as tools to be used for their own purposes against the others. No Western nation can possibly have any effective role - not the USA, not Britain, not NATO, not nobody.

The Kurdish PKK is Turkey's main target. The PKK, Partiya KarkerĂȘn Kurdistan, is a Marxist faction that has been launching cross-border raids into Turkey since 1984 - as have other Kurdish factions. The PKK is classified as a terrorist organization by the Turks -- and by the US, the European Union, NATO, and even Japan.

Anyone who is denouncing the withdrawal of a few dozen US troops from the affected area of Turkish operations, insisting they should not have been withdrawn, should first answer one basic question:
If you were president, would you have ordered US troops to stay in place and resist the Turkish incursion by force of arms? 

Then proceed to these:
  • If you would have given that order:
    • What is your strategic goal?
    • How many US troops are you are willing to have killed to attain that goal? 
    • Once US troops are killed, what would be your response? 
    • How many Turks are you willing to kill to attain the strategic goal? 
    • Would you escalate the violence if the Turks do not withdraw? If so, would you restrict US combat strikes to only the incursion area, or would you strike Turkish forces still inside Turkey proper? For either answer, explain why.
    • How will you ensure the safety of thousands of US Air Force personnel, aircraft, special weapons, and family members at the Turkish air base at Incirlik, Turkey? There are also large numbers British and Spanish military personnel there. 
    • Would you ask for a congressional authorization of use of military force against Turkey? 
      • If yes, are you really willing to go to war with a decades-long, US-ally member of NATO? 
      • If not, why not? Would you wage war against Turkey anyway?
  • If you would not have given that order:
    • What is your strategic goal?
    • Why would you leave the troops in place rather than withdraw them, if they are not to fight?
    • What would you have done specifically different from what the administration has done, and why?
Anyone who will not address those topics before slamming the administration is not thinking about this seriously at all. And yes, that includes congressional members of both parties and, I regret, many of my ministry colleagues who have posted about this topic.

Finally, here is a pretty well-balanced article that explains why Trump did not sell out the Kurds while also pointing out that Erdogan is pretty much a thug himself. (But we knew that.)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Four ways the UMC may split

The deadline for submitting resolutions and other action items for consideration to next May's General Conference was Sept. 18. This is not a UM site, but the summary of the proposals for the schism of the denomination seem to be fair summaries. As of the time I am posting this, I have not finished the article, but I did want to "park" the link.

See alsoGC2020: Nine Plans and What to Think about Them

See also:

Rev. Shane Bishop: Know What You are Going to Do! (my advice to #UMC pastors and churches)

The real issue splitting the UMC is not homosexuality, it is the destruction of trust on all sides.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Esther - a dramatic telling

Youth Sunday Esther Skit
Sept. 15, 2019

We begin by each character outlining who she is, in the order in which they first appear in the book.

Ahasuerus (A-ha-SWER-us)
My name is Ahasuerus. I am the great king of an eastern empire, where many Jews live. My word is literally law. But I am not a very admirable character. As the story opens, I am hosting an enormous drinking party in the capital city of Susa. I decide I want my queen, named Vashti, to come in, wearing her crown, and parade herself in front of the party-goers so they may see how beautiful she is.
But Vashti refused. My court nobles were aghast. They said that from now on wives everywhere would disobey their husbands. So I removed her royal title and exiled her for life.
That tells you a lot about me, doesn’t it? I ordered the people of Susa to get drunk, I tried to humiliate my queen, and then I threw her away like yesterday’s news.
This tells you a lot about the danger of the world in which the Jews live. I am the Law, but I hold grudges and am prone to anger. So my law is the same way. My law brings no assurance of stability or justice to those under its mandates. My law is not fair, not reasoned, not impartial. But of course, neither am I.  I am a man with no center. There is nothing I stand for. I personify a Gentile society for the Jews: unpredictable, dangerous, and potentially lethal, all wrapped up in me.
Mordecai (MOR-deh-kye)
My name is Mordecai. I am introduced as a “Jew in the citadel,” of the tribe of Benjamin. I am the guardian of my orphaned cousin, Esther. I am the only character whose Jewish identity is emphasized. In the story, I am a Jew who stands for all Jews.
I am neither stupid nor a fool. I learned of a plot to kill Ahasuerus and told Esther, who had become the new queen. She told the king. So, I saved the king’s life but I also made Esther a real player with the king and court. Already queen, then she became the king’s protector.
Later I learned of Haman’s plot to kill all the Jews, so I asked Esther again to go to Ahasuerus. Her credibility would make it difficult for the king to fail to extend the golden scepter when she approached uninvited.
I value loyalty and constancy of purpose. But I am very private. I do not reveal my inner thoughts. Everyone was mystified why I would never bow to Haman, even at risk of my own life. But no matter: my character is one of total loyalty to the Jews and I represent what the ideal Jew should be living outside Israel.

My name is Esther. I am Mordecai’s cousin. It is true that I was acclaimed as a very beautiful woman, which was the main reason the king selected me to replace Queen Vashti. I contrast with her. Vashti refused to come when the king called, I went to the king without being summoned. Vashti was exiled, I am favored. Vashti was rebellious against the king, but I was humble before him – well, at least at first.
I am a complex character in the story. I start off as an ideal woman of that time, obedient to my providers. Even when I was drafted into the king’s harem I hardly reacted. When I was told to go Ahasuerus, I simply followed instructions. I did and said nothing on my own. I was like a pawn, never taking control of my life, always being acted upon.
However, when I learned that only I could go to the king to beg him not to allow all us Jews to be killed, my passive obedience and submissive nature dramatically changed. I was no longer merely a pretty young thing who was always obedient. I became truly Queen Esther, a strong leader of the Jewish community and in fact, the real royal authority of the whole empire. I became assertive, politically active, and full of self-confidence. By the end of the story, I am one who commands and is obeyed. My beauty, it turned out, was matched by my brains.

My name is Haman. I am the “bad guy” of the story. I am the source of everything that Mordecai and Esther must defend against. I am a harsh, murderous enemy of the Jews. All my energies are directed against Mordecai and the rest of the Jews in Persia.
I am furious that Mordecai never bows to me. I want him to die. I embody power without conscience, and I have no tolerance for the Jews’ obstinate devotion to their God. But in the story, I am not just the symbol of evil. I am a buffoon, a court fool whose every scheme backfires. I have a pompous faith in my derivative authority. Not even my wife really believes in me.
I am a small-minded man who is somehow the prime minister of the whole empire. I have wealth and an exalted position, but they mean nothing to me whenever I see that Jew Mordecai. Hence, I am irrational evil personified.

 The Skit

Scene 1 – Haman and Ahasuerus
HAMAN: O mighty king, I beg you to hear me! There is a terrible thing going on! Your throne itself is at risk!
AHASUERUS: Wait, let me finish this glass of wine. First things first, you know! Now, what is this terrible threat?
HAMAN: There are certain people scattered among the people of your kingdom. They are called Jews. They follow their own law and they do not keep the king’s laws.
AHASUERUS: That is serious! It must not be tolerated!
HAMAN: Exactly, O great king! As usual, you go straight to the point.
AHASUERUS: What do you suggest? Should we just remind them who’s in charge here?
HAMAN: Well, yes, great king. I counsel a permanent solution. You should issue a decree for their destruction.
AHASUERUS: That will be expensive!
HAMAN: I will pay a million dollars to cover it.
AHASUERUS: Wow! Sounds like a good deal! Here, you take my ring with my official seal and issue whatever order you wish.
HAMAN: I will have the order written in every language of the empire. I will seal it with your ring and send copies to all the king’s provinces, giving orders to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the month of Adar. Then O Great King, you and I will sit down to drink!
AHASUERUS: I am looking forward to that!
Scene 2 – Mordecai and Esther. Mordecai is pacing back and forth, very upset. Esther enters.
ESTHER: Mordecai, dear cousin, what upsets you so?
MORDECAI: Here! Read this edict from your husband, the king! Sealed with his ring! He hands a document to Esther, who takes it and looks it over.
ESTHER: I never knew about this! How could such an order be given? We Jews have never rebelled against the king!
MORDECAI: It must be Haman’s doing! He hates all of us. The king is an empty suit and would never think of this on his own. But he will sign anything that Haman places before him.
ESTHER: What do you want me to do? I cannot go to the king unless he sends for me. Anyone who enters his court uninvited is simply executed unless the king extends his golden scepter. And the king has not sent for me for a month!
MORDECAI: The king does not know you are Jewish. He saw you only as a beautiful woman who struck his fancy. But do you think that will save you? If you enter his court uninvited, he may order you executed. But if you do not enter, you will still die on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar along with all us other Jews! Even if deliverance of the Jews comes from someone else, you and your father’s family will still perish.
ESTHER: I did not think of it like that. Still, I am helpless in the court of the great king!
MORDECAI: But Esther, listen. There is no one but you! Who knows? Perhaps the real reason you have been made queen is for just such a time as this.
Esther paces back and forth for a moment, then:
ESTHER: Here are my orders. Go, gather all the Jews in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf. Neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I am executed, well then, I am executed.
MORDECAI: Yes, Esther, it shall be done as you say. I will do all that you command!

Closing, all four characters
AHASUERUS: Esther did come to see me uninvited. Of course, I held out the golden scepter to welcome her. It never occurred to me to withhold it.
ESTHER: But I did not tell him then to withdraw his order to kill the Jews. Instead, I invited him and Haman to a banquet, which they eagerly accepted.
HAMAN: I was flattered to be included at a private dinner with only the king and his queen. That meant that I was a very important person! I was happy! But later when I saw that Jew Mordecai at the gate, the queen’s invitation turned sour. I decided to build an enormous gallows and hang Mordecai on it.
MORDECAI: It did not help that the king wanted to honor me for saving his life and so ordered Haman personally to lead a procession in my honor through the city, announcing I was favored by the king.
ESTHER: As we reclined at the banquet, I begged the king to spare my life and the lives of my people. I told him that I and my people were to be annihilated.
AHASUERUS: I was stunned! I demanded of Esther, “Who has presumed to do this?” She pointed at Haman and said sharply, “Adversary, enemy, Haman!” 
HAMAN: I knew I was in big trouble. The king left the room. To beg for mercy, I fell onto the couch where Esther reclined. At that moment the king came back.
AHASUERUS: I was already furious that Haman had included my queen in his plot, but when I saw him climbing onto her couch, my rage was unbounded. “You assault my queen as I stand here?” I shouted. “Even in my own house?” I turned to my servants and told them, “Hang him on the same gallows he has had built!” And they did.
ESTHER: My king later awarded me all of Haman’s property, including his servants. I begged him to write an order that the Jews could defend themselves on the day in the month of Adar. And it was done. I also ordered that all Haman’s ten sons be hanged as well.
MORDECAI: The king made me prime minister of the empire. When the day in Adar came, my power was so great that all the governors and officials supported the Jews, who destroyed all their enemies that day.
ESTHER: I decreed among all the Jews that their deliverance would be celebrated for all generations to come as the Feast of Purim, and it was done. Now you know my story.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Ban on driving while using cell phone - just a cash cow?

Last July 1, a law went into effect here in Tennessee that makes it illegal for anyone driving a car to hold a cellular phone in his or her hand. Reports the Knoxville News Sentinel,
The Tennessee law banning hand-held cell phones went into effect July 1. Drivers can eat, drink, converse, sing, look at roadside sights, talk to their kids in the back seat, and it’s all perfectly legal. Pick up a cell phone, however, and you’re a distracted-driving lawbreaker. Law enforcement and first responders, however, are exempt from the safety measure that the legislature and governor determined is required for Tennessee drivers.
The Sentinel is not a fan of the law, mainly because such bans, in effect in some other states for many years, have not once been shown to affect the accident rate at all. They cite a number of such studies.

But it does roll cash into county and state coffers.
At $50 per ticket, the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s cell phone ban enforcement netted, it would appear, a minimum of $21,200 for the 424 tickets the THP wrote in July, Knox News reported. Tickets increase up to $200 depending on the situation.
And yet . . .

Yes, the ban here in Tennessee is really just another way to tax people. OTOH, the worst accident scene I ever got called by the sheriff's dept. to go work was directly caused by a young woman driving on a two-lane state highway in Franklin, Tenn. It was before smart phones were invented. She was trying to punch a number into her cell phone and wandered into the other lane. An oncoming 18-wheeler swerved to miss her, bounced back onto the road and went head on into a Chevy pickup behind the woman's car. 

The impact was so violent that it completely separated the truck's body from its frame, knocking the truck body 20 or more feet away from the frame assembly, which was solely occupied by the driver, married only three weeks, on his way home from work. He had been ripped into three separate pieces. The 18-wheeler's driver was injured.

The woman phone caller was wholly uninjured but when I spoke with her she was not very coherent. She was still holding the phone in her hand, up next to her head, though of course there was no call connected, and basically just walking in a small circle at the rear of her car.

A highway patrol trooper told me that in his 26 years in the THP, this was the most violent accident he had seen. After seeing the truck driver's remains, I could see why. Before the medical examiner's team went to retrieve the remains, I held a time of prayer and Holy Communion for them (I always took my Communion kit responding to sheriff's department calls).

So I cannot argue with Tennessee's law.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The latest plan to replace the UMC

It's called this:

The Indianapolis Plan envisions a Traditionalist United Methodist Church that would maintain the denomination’s current restrictions on same-sex weddings and ordination of “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy.
A separate Centrist/Progressive United Methodist Church would remove those restrictions, as well as church teaching that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

The names in the plan are placeholders. Each denomination would decide what it would be called and could incorporate “United Methodist” into that name. 

The Indianapolis Plan also holds out the possibility of a third denomination, a Progressive United Methodist Church that would practice immediate full inclusion of LGBTQ persons.

Significantly, the plan avoids dissolution, suggesting that “legal continuation” and most general church agencies would remain with the Centrist/Progressive United Methodist Church. ...
The Indianapolis Plan’s basic provisions include:

  • Central conferences could align with either of the denominations or become autonomous affiliated denominations. Those that don’t decide would automatically be part of the Traditionalist United Methodist Church.
  • U.S. annual conferences would decide by majority vote which denomination to join. Those who don’t take a vote would by default be part of the Centrist/Progressive United Methodist Church.
  • Local churches disagreeing with their annual conference’s decision could decide by majority vote to align elsewhere, retaining their property, assets and liabilities.
  • Clergy would decide on a denomination to join, but by default would go with their annual conference’s decision. Bishops could also choose a denomination.
  • Each denomination would develop a new General Conference, as well as its own Book of Discipline, structures, polity and finances.
  • Wespath, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, United Methodist Women and the United Methodist Publishing House would be independent 501(c)3 organizations positioned to serve the two or three denominations.
  • All other agencies would be part of the Centrist/Progressive United Methodist Church.
  • The 2020 General Conference would provide funding for central conference ministries through the 2021-2024 quadrennium, and the separated denominations would share the costs.
  • A process would be devised for dividing current general church assets, including creation of an arbitration board.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Rule Number One: Don't be stupid

One would think that in the wake of the horrific mass murders in El Paso and Dayton, that people would understand that everyone's anxiety is elevated about copycat attackers. But apparently, not everyone thinks about that.

Case number one: Panic in Springfield Walmart as man walks around with tactical rifle wearing body armor in Missouri (CBS).
Springfield, Mo. – Police here say they arrested a man who went into a Walmart store Thursday with a rifle around his neck and wearing body armor and military-style clothes, prompting terrified shoppers to flee. Springfield police tweeted that "an armed individual" was confronted and arrested. No shots were fired.

CBS Springfield affiliate KOLR-TV says Lt. Mike Lucas told reporters police got a call about an active shooter at 4:09 p.m. and arrived within three minutes. According to Lucas, a 20 year old put on body armor in the parking lot, then walked inside with a tactical rifle around his neck and a handgun on his side. He had more than 100 rounds of ammunition, according to The Springfield News-Leader.
The manager pulled the fire alarm and people headed for the exits. Smart thinking. The gunman never pointed his rifle at anyone. He did take smart-phone video of the scene (police think he was Facebook live streaming) and then walked out of the store, where he was confronted by a legally-armed former firefighter, who held him at gunpoint until police arrived about three minutes later. Police have neither released the man's name nor established his motive. The police lieutenant at the scene told reporters, "He is lucky to be alive." And he is right. The armed former firefighter who held him at gunpoint police arrived showed remarkable restraint, IMO.

Here in Tennessee there is no such thing as a "concealed" carry permit. The law requires a permit to carry at all, whether concealed or "open carry," which the term of art for carrying a firearm unconcealed.

Not a long time ago I was in a Best Buy where I saw a man - not a staffer - wearing a full-size semiauto pistol on his right hip, not tucked inside his shorts. When he turned I saw he was wearing another one in the middle of his back. And then by gosh he was wearing a third one on his left hip. Fortunately, he was turning to head for the doors and he left the store.

This is not something mentally healthy men do, regardless of having a carry permit or what the Second Amendment says. It was legal, yes (assuming he had a permit, I sure did not inquire) but it was stupid. And there are times when stupidity brings on its own penalty, as the police lieutenant in Springfield implied.

Case Number 2Florida man who asked Walmart clerk about a gun to kill people was 'making political statement'

In Port St. Lucie - at another Walmart (what is it about dumbbells and Walmarts?) - a man identified as Phil Attey, an anti-gun activist, walked into a Walmart "and asked the clerk about a gun to kill people with."
"Can you sell me anything (or a gun) that would kill 200 people?" When the worker replied, "That isn't funny," Attey said, "I know," and asked again if they could sell him anything that would kill 200 people.
Police were called, but Attey had left the store by the time they arrived, so this APB was put out.

Attey was soon apprehended but not charged since he had not made actual threats and no one was harmed.
He admitted to WPTV the remark was in poor taste, but he was trying to make an anti-gun statement because he saw someone who looked like a white nationalist purchase a gun.
If you know what "someone who looked like a white nationalist" means, then you are ahead of me on that.

Case Number 3SunTrust Park worker allegedly threatened to ‘blow up’ stadium, ‘shoot everyone there. That's the Braves' stadium.
A man who worked at SunTrust Park is behind bars after getting into an argument with
Jamar Antonio Golfin, police photo
his boss and threatening to “blow up” the stadium and “shoot everyone there,” according to his arrest warrant.

Jamar Antonio Golfin, 30, has been in jail since Saturday on a felony charge of making terroristic threats or acts, Cobb County jail records show.

Golfin, a temporary employee assigned to clean a seating area of the stadium, got in trouble Friday morning for walking off during a break and was asked to leave the ballpark, according to his warrant.  ...

As he was walked out, Golfin ... allegedly threatened to “kill them all” and told his supervisor he “would come back and shoot everyone there,” his warrant said. Golfin also allegedly said he’d be back to “blow up the place.”
Golfin has been charged with "making terroristic threats or acts," according to reports.

You know, when people do or say stuff like this, it makes me believe the reports that the human race is literally getting stupider every year.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

What next for us?

There is said to be a Chinese curse that simply says, “May you live in interesting times.” Whether a curse or not, I’d say we are certainly living in interesting times!

I think most of you know that the United Methodist Church is facing an uncertain future as a denomination. The General Conference (GC) is the only body that makes denomination-wide policy. It is useful to recall that the UMC is a worldwide church with several million members outside the United States.

Since the GC of 1972, the UMC has been wrestling with what shall be the denomination-wide position regarding homosexuality. Presently, the UMC's position is that homosexuals, like all other peope, "are persons of sacred worth" and are invited to become part of the body of Christ through baptism, to celebrate Holy Communion, and to serve in the church as fully as everyone else, with two exceptions:
  • "Self-confessed, practicing homosexuals" may not be ordained as ministers of the UMC, and
  • No UM minister, whether ordained or licensed, may officiate a same-sex wedding anywhere, nor may such ceremonies be conducted on the grounds of UM churches, no matter who officiates. 
By the time of the 2016 GC, the durability and mounting intensity among progressives and traditionalists had reached the point where a special General Conference was set for February 2019. It was intended that this GC would provide the definitive position of the church, for no other business was to be brought before it.

Last February, the General Conference retained the existing position and strengthened it. Some provisions of what was passed were subsequently nullified by the UM Judicial Council. But the core parts were retained. See here.

Even so, the debate is far from finished. The GC regularly meets every four years and will convene again in May 2020. There is, as of now I think, a widespread belief among all sides of that issue that no compromise-outcome is really possible. I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s observation in his 1858 “House Divided” speech, that every solution to the slavery question had been attempted and failed and no more compromising was possible. The nation, he said, would eventually either legalize slavery in every state or in abolish slavery in every state. What it could not do any longer was maintain the status quo.

I think that is what progressives and traditionalists alike are concluding about the UMC’s position on homosexuality. Everything that can be tried has been tried, and the subject is still not settled within the denomination. The One Church Plan, endorsed by the Council of Bishops, was rejected last February and no one today is promoting it for next May.

If I could forecast now the GC will decide next May, I could make a fortune on the stock market. I know that many influential progressive and traditionalist Methodists across the country are in ongoing conversation. I am gratified not have seen or read of spite-filled language or personal attacks by either side.

But what about us?

I echo what Bishop McAlilly told the annual conference in June. I am pastor of all the people of the church and I will not be drawn into partisan positions. Of course, I have my beliefs about this issue, but as I told the annual conference, “I could be wrong” (an admission I wish everyone progressive or traditionalist would also make).

TNAC 2019 Bishop's Remarks from TNUMC on Vimeo.

"It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future." Even so, here are my predictions:

Our calling to be disciples of Jesus Christ will not change even though our denomination is going through “interesting times.” Jesus’ Great Commandment to go make disciples shall remain before us.

We shall face the future unafraid because
  • we are still united in our baptism even if not by certain beliefs on this (or other) topics,
  • we therefore will continue to worship together and move on to Christian perfection through deeds of devotion, charity, and justice.

These "interesting times" are temporary. Christ’s church is eternal!

Regardless of the future of the United Methodist Church, we remain united in our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness.

The Lord is with us! Let’s remain with the Lord -- and with one another!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Doctor shortages and medical-school loan payoffs

The LA Times reports, "California doesn’t have enough doctors. To recruit them, the state is paying off medical school debt."
Federal, state and local governments have increasingly turned to loan forgiveness programs as the competition for doctors has become more aggressive nationwide. Two-thirds of physicians finishing their training said they’d been contacted more than 50 times by job recruiters, according to a 2019 survey by physician staffing firm Merritt Hawkins.

California will spend $340 million paying off doctors’ debts using Proposition 56 tobacco tax revenue. This month, the state offered its first awards — 40 dentists received $10.5 million in debt relief while 247 physicians received $58.6 million.

California’s program is aimed at increasing the number of doctors who see Medi-Cal patients in a state experiencing a shortage of healthcare providers. The number of physicians who accept Medi-Cal patients — and the low reimbursement rate that comes with them — hasn’t kept pace with the rapid expansion of the state’s healthcare program for the poor, which covers 1 in 3 residents in the state.
One of my son's medical degree was paid by the US Air Force. He owes them years of service for the payoff. He is presently an Air Force surgeon, and by the time his years of payback are done, he will have 13 years on active duty - more if he elects to pursue a medical fellowship certification.

The states' doctor shortage (California is not the only one) was fully predictable. I even predicted it 10 years ago in my essay, "Doctor shortages and health-care price controls." (I have to say, though, that I was far from the only voice saying this.)
However one might describe the economic system of American health care, "full free market" ain't it. Probably the best description of how we get medical care is that it is brokered to us: "Health care does not equal health insurance."

The costliness of health care rests largely on the fact that its provision became brokered long ago by insurance companies. We buy "coverage" from insurance companies instead of medical care from providers. The insurance company is intermediate between the consumer and the provider. Unlike say, stock brokerages, which have to compete with each other for consumers and so lower both costs and price, health insurance companies operate in monopolistic fashion. The competition between health-insurance companies is so low that there are no competitive pressures to reduce price, only internal costs. The result? Lower reimbursements to providers and higher premiums to consumers.

We have almost a doubling effect of price controls in play here. First, the government, command rations medical care by controlling the prices its insurance programs will pay, especially Medicaid but also Medicare. Then we have health-insurance companies effectively price controlling medical care because they often, if not usually, tell doctors that they won't pay more (or much more) than the Medicare rate. As puts it, Medicare is such an important part of the health-care economy "because of the precedence set by its claims payment practices."

The inevitable result of price controls, no matter by what mechanism implemented, is shortage of the price-controlled good or service. That doesn't mean that the service is scarcer, that is, physically rarer. Medicaid's low payments schedules have not reduced the total number of doctors. It has produced a shortage of medical care available to patients by halving the number of doctors who will accept Medicaid payments.
We are in the mess we are in because we make two (at least) critical errors of understanding. The first is that health care is a resource that is simply available for those who need it, or that can be made mostly-equally available through proper legislation and regulation. The second error is that medical care and access to it can be rationed by command more equally, economically and fairly than by demand.

But health care is not a resource to be exploited. Medical facilities and doctors are not phenomena of nature, like water or petroleum are. Hospitals don’t just appear. They are produced. Medical care is not a resource that can be "mined" through more regulation to be more plentiful. Medical care is a contracted, individual service.

Hence, before we uncritically head-nod to the claim that health care is a human right, we might ponder what commentator Philip Niles observed: the real question is not whether health care is a human right, but "How much health care is a human right?" Good question, since health care is finite.

Medical care is always going to depend on these three things:

  1. Availability -- Can you see a doctor reasonably quickly and reasonably near?
  2. Quality -- Will you receive good, appropriate, and effective medical care?
  3. Price -- Can you afford to pay for it, either through insurance or through the massively-higher taxes that, for example, candidate Bernie Sanders said would have to be enacted?

Basically, pick two. Because no matter how medical care is structured, all three will not operating at the same time, and it may not even be two of the three.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The post-2020 UMC

"For now we see through a glass, darkly ... ." 
1 Corinthians 13.12

For those who have heard that two bishops of the UMC have proposed a plan to schism the denomination while trying to maintain some level of connectionalism, here are two good analyses. The plan is the product of Bishops Scott Jones and David Bard. It is proposed for next year's general conference to enacted (or not) by a simple majority vote. The plan envisions “two or three self-governing” denominations being birthed from United Methodism.

First the United Methodist News Service release is here.

Second, "Thoughts on the Bard-Jones Plan," by Chris O'Ritter. 

Third, "The Bard-Jones Plan: 'Cooperative Separation',” by David F. Watson.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Theology of America

There are certain occasions when events on the secular calendar give us the opportunity to pause and reflect on religion in America. The Fourth of July is an obvious occasion. I want to take this day to reflect on the religious underpinnings of our country and explain why I believe there is an actual theology of America and what it means.
I think that the theology of America was best summarized by Thomas Jefferson in his 1774 essay, "A Summary View of the Rights of British America." There he stated, "The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time. The hand of force may destroy but cannot disjoin them."
Editorialist James Freeman wrote that based on the standards of our day, “Thomas Jefferson was a religious nut.”
   Jefferson was a big believer in religious liberty, but he certainly wasn't shy about mentioning God in official proceedings. In the final paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson asks twice for God's help in creating the country. And the Declaration was not the only work of Jefferson's in which he gave credit to a higher power. . . .
   In his Notes on Virginia of 1782, Jefferson writes: "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?"
If we disregard the Founders’ religious faith, we have no answer to the question, Where do our rights come from? Jefferson's religious ideas, shared by representatives from the thirteen colonies, are the reason we have a United States and the reason that We the People are in charge.

However much it is claimed that Jefferson and most of the other Founders were more secular than religious, there is no escaping that Jefferson's writings are permeated with God consciousness. It's true that Christ does not figure into his political writings, but God does, and frequently. What gave Jefferson and his fellow revolutionaries the right to be so, well, revolutionary? Whence came their idea that the people should rule instead of a king or a parliament of nobles? How could they claim that the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was "unalienable," meaning beyond the rightful power of any government either to grant or deny? Why did they talk about human rights to begin with and where do rights come from?
According to Thomas Jefferson and his fellows, the ultimate answer to all those questions was simple: God. Only cynics say that the religious convictions of the Founders were not central to their determination to risk their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor for a single claim: that all human beings are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain rights that may not be rightfully denied them. And yes, the Founders did exclude African-Americans from this claim, but let us also acknowledge that Jefferson, among others, said explicitly that God's righteous day of reckoning and judgment upon slave-owning America would come. And it did.
The whole justification for the American revolution was that the divine rights of the people trumped the divine rights of kings that European monarchs claimed to have. Human rights come from God, not government. When the British government usurped them, it was the God‑given right of the people of America to cast off the that government and form their own. That is what the Declaration of Independence says, and that is what the Founders did. Freeman wrote, "If you could sum up Jefferson's political views in one sentence, you would say: He believed that God and reason allow people to rule themselves."
One of the genius things our Founders did was create a civil society in which enormous numbers of different Christian denominations and nowadays, different religions, find a home. Our history has seen times of sectarian strife, but it never descended to open combat as it has in, say, Northern Ireland. A lot of Protestants were suspicious of whether Catholic John F. Kennedy would cleave to the Vatican rather than the Constitution, but their fears were unfounded. In 2004, orthodox Jew Joe Lieberman ran for president and then was the nominated candidate for vice president and no one worried whether he would cleave to Jerusalem rather than the Constitution.

The American ideas of freedom and liberty are drawn from religion. Jefferson was saying that human liberty is inherent in the creative acts of God in bringing forth humankind to begin with. Creation was not a static event, it is a dynamic process of bringing forth the image of God in humankind and the world at large. The creation stories in the book of Genesis show that the realms of the divine and creation overlap. God is powerful, but creation has power too; a certain degree of independence and freedom is built into creation by God's very acts of creating.
In the original paradise, the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were given the run of the garden and meaningful work to do. They were free agents of their own will. Yet there were limits. God commanded them that they could eat the fruit of any tree except one. Their freedom had its limits. When they crossed that limit, they were less free, and Genesis relates that as generations passed, humankind became steadily even less free.
Eventually the story leads to Egypt, where the Hebrews found themselves in chattel slavery to Pharaoh. They had no freedom at all.
The twin images of slavery and freedom shape the entire theology of both Jews and Christians. Always God is a liberator. The central story of the Jews is that of Moses leading the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. At their start, slavery. At their ending, freedom. But neither the slavery nor their freedom is the high point of the story. The high point is what happened at Sinai. The high point, the defining moment, was when God gave them the Law.
The Law of Moses defined freedom in two ways. On the one hand, the law defined what was forbidden. On the other, it stated what was obligatory.
There is always a tension between the forbidden and the mandatory. But the Bible seems clear that human freedom is found somewhere between the limits of what may not be done and what must be done. With no limits there is no freedom because there is no orientation on God. Without obligations there is no justice, without prohibitions there is no community. The surest way for persons or societies to fall into bondage is to ignore prohibitions and obligations. Falling into slavery is easy, staying free is hard.
The apostle Paul said that creation itself is in bondage to decay, an amazing statement for a pre‑scientific man to make. Science today confirms that the universe is running down and cosmologists now seem convinced that the universe will keep expanding forever, until the time comes when energy states will be even, and nothing will ever change.
As for we men, women and children, we are born slaves to this decay. At the end lies the grave. We know that. We fear death because our mortality looms over everything we do. Human customs and culture are shaped by the end of life in ways we cannot even uncover, to degrees we do not recognize. Such is our slavery to the fear of death.
Christians have tended to think of Jesus' gift of life as some sort of afterlife, but Christ is concerned about far more of our lives than what happens after they end. Christ frees us not only from the fear of personal death but from our slavery to a death‑shaped culture. With death overcome, the family of God is empowered to inaugurate a new order of living and a new kind of life.
Jesus explained in the Gospel of John (8:34‑36), "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."
Through Christ, we are freed from sin and from servitude to the things of this world which inhibit godly living: greed, jealousy, anger, resentment, racism, selfishness – all the hundreds of things we put under the general label of sin. We are freed from sin and the fear of death.
So liberated, we should be able to live positively in ways not possible before. Justice, the right ordering of things in human affairs, is the result of this spiritual freedom. So the fuller Law of the Hebrews recognized this fact. Deuteronomy 10:12‑13 and 17‑18 says to the nation of Israel:
12 So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13and to keep the commandments of the LORD your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well‑being. 17For the LORD your God is God of God's and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.
Those are some of the divine obligations people have as they live in community. Yet our nation's founding documents make no mention of the obligations and responsibilities, they seek to ensure only our rights. In fact, Jefferson wrote that the whole purpose of government is to secure the rights that God gave us. He ignored codifying the obligations God lays on us.
I think that is a good thing. I shudder to think what our civil life would be like if our Constitution required things of the people rather than limited the power of government. It is always too easy for the law, whether civil or religious, to cease being a guide and become a slave-master. George Washington warned that even democratic "Government is not reason; ... it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."
In both our civil and religious life, we would do well to remember Paul's admonition to the Corinthians, 1 Cor 10:23: "‘Everything is permissible' – but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible' – but not everything is constructive.'" The absence of limits in America's founding documents is not an oversight. The Founders expected the people to understand the limits of libertine anarchy on the one hand and political slavery on the other.
John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife, "We have no government armed with the power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
Justice William O. Douglas wrote in a majority opinion of a Supreme Court case, "We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being."
The Constitution guarantees our rights, but not our liberty. It is our religion under the providence of the God of the Bible that secures our liberty. Liberty is maintained by faith in powers greater than government, by living out God’s call to know the truth of freedom in God’s way of life. When we make government the object of our faith, when we decide that our liberty depends on government, we will live under political bondage.
Various commentators of the American religious scene point out that America is becoming less and less religious. A lower percentage of Americans regularly attend church or synagogue than in past times.
But the fact is that Americans are still just as religious as before, it's just not Jewish or Christian religion they are practicing. Increasing numbers of people are turning to forms of spirituality that are private and personal, not public and social. These forms of religion are, at their base, selfish and self‑centered. While this is certainly their right, I fear that over time the obligations of freedom will be ignored, and the justice of our freedom will be degraded. Self‑centered persons do not prosper, and neither do self‑centered societies or nations. Paul warned the Galatian Christians (Gal 5:13‑14):

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self‑indulgence . . . For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."                                                          
Freedom is God's will. Certain rights are God‑given and cannot be rightfully denied by human authority. God's gift of freedom carries the obligation to live godly lives under his guidance and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Our rights and our obligations reinforce one another, guard one another, preserve one another. Together they comprise our freedom.