A lot has been said in the news and editorials over the past months and years about building a wall to protect the southern borders of the United States from illegal immigrants. The rhetoric in the current election wars has been so strong that Pope Francis called out Donald Trump and said his position on immigration is not Christian. “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel,” the Pope told reporters. Trump was quick to point out that the Vatican is completely surrounded by “massive walls” and proclaimed, “No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man's religion or faith.”
One thing about walls is that they define people – you belong on one side of the wall or the other. America, which was once considered the melting pot of the nations, has become a nation of walls. We are all about the labels. We use them to define ourselves, and we use them to define others. Sometimes we use labels to demean and humiliate others. Sometimes we use them out of political correctness. Most often we use them to simplify the complex nature of our multicultural, multigenerational, multilingual nation.
For the most part, I think labels do more harm than good. When we build walls between groups of people with the words we use to label and compartmentalize them, we create an “us” versus “them” mentality which doesn’t need to exist. Another harm of using labels is that we often group together behind one wall people who are very disparate in what they think and how they act. Over time, a label can even lose its original meaning when it is thoughtlessly applied to too many different people.
To the Pope, being “Christian” means (at least in part) building bridges between people instead of walls. He says Donald Trump is not “Christian” based on this definition. Trump says he is a “Christian,” although he refuses to define the word. “Evangelical Christians” are big supporters of Donald Trump according to national opinion polls, but the polls define that term differently than many committed followers of Jesus would like to see it used. Some Evangelical Christians are even looking for a new label to distinguish themselves from those who hold very different views. For now, they remain rounded up behind the massive walls of “Christianity” with those who are all about building walls and others who want to see all the walls come down.
As much as I dislike walls between people, I have to recognize the necessary existence of one. There is a wall, not made of human hands or defined by human labels, which separates the forgiven and redeemed children of God from the rest of the world. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus called his followers “sheep” who knew his voice. “Very truly,” he said, “I am the gate for the sheep, … whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:7-9). The Bible also says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Many who call themselves Christians recognize this wall and are safe inside its walls. Others are not. That is an unfortunate truth. Even within the sheep-fold of true Christianity are those who fail to act the way Jesus calls his followers to act – with love, forgiveness, and grace. That is also unfortunate. It makes it very difficult to be certain of who is on our side of the wall and who is not. So, in a way, Trump is right, and we need to be careful when using the labels of “Christian” or “Evangelical” when speaking of other people or groups.
But whatever label you use to describe yourself, you can be certain that God knows your heart and he knows which side of the wall you are on. If you have never entered into the sheep-fold through faith in Jesus Christ, don’t despair. The gate is unlocked, and all are invited to enter.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Two days ago I came home from a week-long writers’ conference. I left the peace and quiet of a beautiful redwoods setting where I had gone a week without turning on my computer or even watching a TV. I arrived at home in time to watch the evening news, which was still filled with the terrible images of the terrorist attacks in Brussels where at least 30 people had died and many more were injured.
A family appeared on the news, sobbing happy tears because they had just heard from their son in Brussels and he was alright. Other stories were told of Americans who were caught up in the attacks and jumped in to help others. I’m sure just seeing their faces on TV and hearing their voices gave great comfort to their loved ones at home. I thought of my own husband, in another country at that moment attending a conference. I thought of my daughter, living in New York City, where security around tourist and transportation sites had already been tightened. I wanted to know they were safe too.
In times of great distress, we find out what really matters to us. Our peace is shattered for a time, and we think, “If I just could know my husband is okay…” “If I just could see my child again…” “If I could just get through this and get home again….” We all have someone or something that makes us feel safe, or whole, or happy, and the thought of losing that person or thing terrifies us.
It reminds me of when my daughter was two years old and had to have a minor surgical procedure. She was so scared when they took her away from us to begin the procedure. Sometime later, a nurse came to tell us the procedure went well and our little girl was fine. She had woken up and started to cry, but then she saw the two stuffed animals we had brought along for her. She gathered one in each arm, smiled, and went back to sleep.
It reminds me of the words of Jesus, too. He warned his disciples that to follow him meant giving up a comfortable place to live (Luke 9:57-58). It meant walking away from family (Luke 9:61-62), walking away from work (Matthew 4:18-20), giving away our treasure (Mark 10:17-22). Not everyone who follows Jesus is called to walk the same path, but we are all called to hold lightly to the things of this world so we can hold tightly to the hand of our Lord and Savior.
Today is a good day to take inventory. What are you holding onto? What are you afraid to lose? What is it you think you need? Close your eyes for a moment, open your hands, and lift them up to Jesus. Listen to him say, “I am all you need.” Trust him in this moment. And the next time that terror or tragedy strike, reach first for Jesus. When disappointment falls like a shadow, reach for Jesus. When fear clouds your view, reach for Jesus. He really is all you need.
An interesting battle over religious diversity and the U.S. Constitution has been fought in the City of Phoenix. Last December, members of the Satanic Temple put in a formal request to offer a prayer before an upcoming city council meeting. According to AZCentral.com, “The city typically holds a short invocation at the start of formal council meetings and has included members from a variety of faiths, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Sikhism.” The Satanists’ request was granted, and they were put on the agenda for a meeting to be held on February 17.
Rather than allow the prayer, members of the city council voted on February 3 to discontinue the practice of opening their public meetings with prayer. A moment of silence would be used instead. Receiving local and national criticism for that decision, the council then voted on March 3 to reinstate a spoken prayer before the meetings, but the prayer will now be given only by chaplains for the Phoenix police and fire departments—among which there are presumably no Satanists.
In support of the city’s initial decision to allow Satanists to deliver an invocation, a city attorney argued: “Consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s direction, the city cannot dictate religious viewpoints or the content of a prayer. In addition, government may not exclude a denomination or a religion from praying under these circumstances.” While at least one city council member wanted to reject the request and make the Satanists battle it out in court, the mayor and others on the council accepted the idea that offering an invitation to pray to some religions opened the door to all religions being given an equal opportunity.
The Supreme Court ruled on the prayer issue as recently as 2014 in another town board meeting case, Town of Greece v. Galloway, specifically finding that the town did not have to limit prayers before meetings to “generic, nonsectarian” prayers to satisfy the Constitution. The town was free to invite members of Christian denominations and other faiths to pray, “so long as the town maintains a policy of nondiscrimination.”
What is very interesting in the Galloway case is the reason prayers are allowed at governmental meetings. In school prayer cases, public prayers have been found to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because they endorse a particular religious belief – something the government should not do. But in other cases where the government acknowledges a belief in God (prayers before legislatures and town boards, the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the motto “In God We Trust” on U.S. coins), the courts have allowed a religious expression by the government because it furthers a non-religious purpose. In Galloway, the purpose is that an opening prayer “lends gravity to public business, reminds lawmakers to transcend petty differences in pursuit of a higher purpose, and expresses a common aspiration to a just and peaceful society.”
Why can’t the government endorse a particular religious belief? That has been the Court’s interpretation of the Establishment Clause since it was first given the opportunity to interpret it.
Of course, Christians have different ideas about that “wall of separation between Church and State.” To fully understand my viewpoint, you’ll have to read my book, One Nation Under God: A Christian Argument in Favor of Separation of Church and State.
Dustin Gardiner, Satanists to give prayer at Phoenix City Council meeting, The Republic, January 29, 2016 < http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/phoenix/2016/01/28/satanists-give-prayer-phoenix-city-council-meeting/79486460/>
Eleven years ago, the United States Supreme Court rendered a decision on a First Amendment case which captured the interest of the nation. I was also intrigued by the case, but I had a different opinion about it than most people I knew. It was difficult to explain my opinion without going into detail about American history, legal interpretation, and biblical exposition, so I wrote a book. I called it One Nation Under God because the Supreme Court case it was based on looked at the constitutionality of including the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States flag.
I was told no one would buy my book. There were two kinds of buyers in the Christian book market: those who wanted nothing to do with political issues and those who were eager to read anything supporting their own political beliefs (usually right-wing conservative). I published the book anyway in 2005. A handful were ordered by Christian book stores, but eventually they were returned for a refund. It seemed my critics were right: No one wanted to buy a book that was a Christian argument in favor of separation of church and state in America.
Yesterday, I released a second edition of One Nation Under God with two new chapters. It is available as a paperback book or a Kindle eBook from Amazon.com. For two weeks only, the Kindle version will be priced at $1.99.
Do I think people will buy the book this time? I don’t know.
Do I think people should buy the book? Absolutely.
Christianity in America has been under attack for some time now and many of the battles Christians have undertaken have been lost. We lost the war for prayer and Bible reading in schools. We lost the war for decency in movies, TV, and music. We lost the war against abortion. And now we’ve lost the war against same-sex marriage.
Along the way we lost something much more important. We lost sight of what it means to be a Christian.
That, more than anything, is what my book is about. From the time the Puritans first landed in Massachusetts, many Christians have looked on this land as a gift from God, a special blessing to his chosen people who would become a blessing to the nations. But instead of sharing with the world the blessing of God’s salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, we talk about sharing democracy, capitalism, and equality (something we still haven’t obtained in our own country) –as if any of these things had the power to redeem mankind. We talk about morality and following God’s law—as if obedience to a hand-picked set of morals could change our relationship with God. And now that we losing ground to atheists and secularists who challenge our identity as a nation “under God,” many Christians are fighting back to regain their political influence before they lose everything that makes them comfortable, happy, prosperous, and safe.
Jesus never promised his followers they would be comfortable, happy, prosperous, or safe. He never promised us political power. He never promised us victory over our enemies. He told us we would be persecuted and hated. He told us to trust him to work out everything for our good. He promised to prepare a place for us in his Father’s house—not here in a temporary nation.
Please take advantage of the $1.99 Kindle price and buy my book. Read it through. Write a review. Help me take this message to Christians in America that we are fighting the wrong battles. Instead of fighting to reclaim America for Christianity, let us fight to reclaim Christ.
What is my mission as an author? The goal dearest to my heart is to help Christians think about what they really believe and then to act as if they believe it. It all begins with understanding what it means to be a Christian. Then we have to learn to live like a Christian.