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Dear Judge Kavanaugh: Jennifer Hawks – BaptistsNewsGlobal.com

SEPTEMBER 4, 2018

As a fellow attorney who – like you – takes my faith seriously and is actively engaged in my congregation, I am sure we have much in common. However, we seem to disagree about the robust way that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, alongside the Free Exercise Clause, has protected religious liberty in our country and permitted religious dissenting groups – including Baptists and Catholics – to thrive.

The institutional separation of religion and government is a foundational aspect of our democracy, one deeply rooted in our shared history and experience.

In reviewing your record, I was disappointed to learn that you think the metaphor of a wall of separation is “wrong as a matter of law and history.” Admittedly, all metaphors are imperfect; yet, good metaphors are one of the best ways to conceptualize an abstract idea. As a religious liberty advocate, constitutional attorney and ordained Baptist minister, I urge you to reconsider the metaphor you’ve disparaged.

The wall metaphor was first articulated by Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island and the First Baptist Church in America. He said that a wall was needed to protect the “garden of the Church” from the “wilderness of the world.” Church and state governed two different realms, and neither would ever truly succeed if distracted by the ultimate concerns of the other. President Thomas Jefferson famously picked up the metaphor and used it to reassure Baptists in Connecticut that the new constitutional government would indeed protect their religious freedom.

“For faith to be vital, it must be voluntary and uncoerced.”

Separating the institutions of religion and government ensures that the rights and responsibilities of citizenship do not rise or fall based on compliance with state-sanctioned religion. The institutional wall provided space for our dissenting religious ancestors to seek converts and pass their religious teachings down to current generations. It is up to the people, not the government, to teach our respective faith traditions to future generations. For faith to be vital, it must be voluntary and uncoerced.

This is why the concept of a wall of separation worked for Roger Williams and President Jefferson – and still works today. The wall does not keep people of faith from the public square but separates institutional control. There is debate about the application of “the wall,” but it is certainly not “bad history,” nor is it useless in modern debates.

“It is not the role of the state educational institution to dictate religious conformity by telling students when or how to pray.”

Judge Kavanaugh, we see this in our public schools. I imagine that, like myself and millions of other Americans, you place a high value on the power of prayer and see it as a conversation with God. I know that you and I agree that public school students have the right to individually and collectively pray on school grounds. What I am unsure of is whether you also agree that students have the right to choose not to pray. It is not the role of the state educational institution to dictate religious conformity by telling students when or how to pray. Even between us Christians, there is a vast difference between typical Catholic prayers and typical Baptist prayers, let alone the prayers of non-Christian faiths. A government institution should never be allowed to force any of us, much less children in state-run schools, into religious observance.

Colonial Baptists, Catholics and other dissenters endured imprisonment, whippings, fines and other forms of state-sanctioned religious persecution so that each American could voluntarily choose to be a person of faith or not. As members of the American legal community who value our respective faith traditions, we must remember and continue to honor those sacrifices by taking seriously – and enforcing robustly – both Religion Clauses of the First Amendment.

America has never been united by a single religion, but in the Constitution we secured unity in a commitment to religious freedom for all people. Separation of church and state is good for both.

Respectfully,

Rev. Jennifer Hawks
Associate General Counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Libertyge Kavanaugh, the wall of separation is worth defending
OPINIONJENNIFER HAWKS | SEPTEMBER 4, 2018

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Dear Judge Kavanaugh:

As a fellow attorney who – like you – takes my faith seriously and is actively engaged in my congregation, I am sure we have much in common. However, we seem to disagree about the robust way that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, alongside the Free Exercise Clause, has protected religious liberty in our country and permitted religious dissenting groups – including Baptists and Catholics – to thrive.

The institutional separation of religion and government is a foundational aspect of our democracy, one deeply rooted in our shared history and experience.

In reviewing your record, I was disappointed to learn that you think the metaphor of a wall of separation is “wrong as a matter of law and history.” Admittedly, all metaphors are imperfect; yet, good metaphors are one of the best ways to conceptualize an abstract idea. As a religious liberty advocate, constitutional attorney and ordained Baptist minister, I urge you to reconsider the metaphor you’ve disparaged.

The wall metaphor was first articulated by Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island and the First Baptist Church in America. He said that a wall was needed to protect the “garden of the Church” from the “wilderness of the world.” Church and state governed two different realms, and neither would ever truly succeed if distracted by the ultimate concerns of the other. President Thomas Jefferson famously picked up the metaphor and used it to reassure Baptists in Connecticut that the new constitutional government would indeed protect their religious freedom.

“For faith to be vital, it must be voluntary and uncoerced.”

Separating the institutions of religion and government ensures that the rights and responsibilities of citizenship do not rise or fall based on compliance with state-sanctioned religion. The institutional wall provided space for our dissenting religious ancestors to seek converts and pass their religious teachings down to current generations. It is up to the people, not the government, to teach our respective faith traditions to future generations. For faith to be vital, it must be voluntary and uncoerced.

This is why the concept of a wall of separation worked for Roger Williams and President Jefferson – and still works today. The wall does not keep people of faith from the public square but separates institutional control. There is debate about the application of “the wall,” but it is certainly not “bad history,” nor is it useless in modern debates.

“It is not the role of the state educational institution to dictate religious conformity by telling students when or how to pray.”

Judge Kavanaugh, we see this in our public schools. I imagine that, like myself and millions of other Americans, you place a high value on the power of prayer and see it as a conversation with God. I know that you and I agree that public school students have the right to individually and collectively pray on school grounds. What I am unsure of is whether you also agree that students have the right to choose not to pray. It is not the role of the state educational institution to dictate religious conformity by telling students when or how to pray. Even between us Christians, there is a vast difference between typical Catholic prayers and typical Baptist prayers, let alone the prayers of non-Christian faiths. A government institution should never be allowed to force any of us, much less children in state-run schools, into religious observance.

Colonial Baptists, Catholics and other dissenters endured imprisonment, whippings, fines and other forms of state-sanctioned religious persecution so that each American could voluntarily choose to be a person of faith or not. As members of the American legal community who value our respective faith traditions, we must remember and continue to honor those sacrifices by taking seriously – and enforcing robustly – both Religion Clauses of the First Amendment.

America has never been united by a single religion, but in the Constitution we secured unity in a commitment to religious freedom for all people. Separation of church and state is good for both.

Respectfully,

Rev. Jennifer Hawks
Associate General Counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

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Iowa Summer Writing Festival

I spent July 14 and 15 in a workshop at the Summer Iowa Writing Festival. I opted for, “Our Own White Cows: Magic and Mystery in Children’s Picture Books. The leaders are a delightful mother daughter team: Sarah Busse and Jacqueline Briggs Martin. Both of them well published. There were a dozen other weekend workshops.

Our small group of seven congealed and worked so well together. There were two from Iowa, one from California, Wisconsin, Chicago, New York City and me from South Carolina. Everyone is an experienced writer. The leaders were exceptional in moving the group along without disturbing the rapport. Most of us ate lunch together and continued our discussions. I went to shake up by cobwebs and get some fresh ideas. The workshop more than met my expectations which is unusual. Iowa City is a delightful place. I made wonderful new friends. Made contacts for Say Something Nice Day and Say Something Nice Sunday.

It is ironic that I was there for a writing workshop when the University of Iowa also has a renowned speech and hearing program.

Carol and Cassie were with me. After the workshop, we drove back to Omaha. On Monday we went to the Omaha Zoo.

If character is ‘irrelevant’ in politics, eventually the Church will be, too

Russ DeanI do not even know where to begin.

Life has always been confusing, and there have never been easy answers, but we live in a very bewildering time. Is it my imagination, or has it gotten worse? The confusion seems just recently to have magnified pretty dramatically.

No one trusts facts anymore. And what is truth?

The conservative Christian influences of my younger years used to disdain the danger of “liberal relativism.” But what “truth” could be more relativistic than what we are now hearing from some evangelical pulpits?

As reported by Baptist News Global, Robert Jeffress from the First Baptist Church of Dallas, recently pronounced that having an affair with a porn star is “completely irrelevant” to evangelicals. Jeffress believes forgiveness is between the sinner and God, “for anyone who asks.” The sinner in question, of course, has publicly and proudly admitted to never in his life having asked God’s forgiveness, for anything. But maybe that’s irrelevant, too.

I trust the reporter, I know the source, and I’ve never appreciated the accusations of “fake news,” but when I read this I thought, “This has got to be fake news. It just cannot be.”

For my entire adult life evangelicals have unwaveringly inveighed against the personal immorality of political candidates (not wrongly, though maybe a bit too piously at times). Character has always mattered, significantly. Today, suddenly, it is “completely irrelevant.”

According to Jeffress, apparently personal morality and integrity are no longer the measure of Christian character. Personal morality is now irrelevant as long as you toe the party line regarding national policy on abortion rights and as long as you threaten to rain down all-consuming “fire and fury” on our enemies.

You know, just like Jesus said.

In this age of bitter polarization and angry divisiveness, maybe critical words, words that challenge someone else’s point of view only fuel the unhealthy animosity so many of us are experiencing. I worry about being the one to offer those words. I sincerely do not want to be part of the problem.

But can the Church really afford to allow such breathless hypocrisy to define Christian ethics and spirituality? Can we tolerate such an example to be the model of “Christianity” for the wider culture? Or could it be that people are running from the Church today in droves because we have allowed exactly this?

To be sure, navigating our political system will always present a challenge, especially for voters of faith. There’s the law, and there’s the “higher law” — and then there’s that thorny concept of the separation of church and state. Making voting decisions difficult for all is the fact that there is no perfect candidate (and no perfect voter either!). No candidate will perfectly mirror a voter’s views, issue by issue, point by point, and given the complexity of our democracy, based largely on the “either/or” of a two-party system, voters — maybe especially religious voters — will sometimes have to settle. Choosing a candidate might come down to choosing an issue or issues, being willing to compromise on other concerns …

… but never compromising our own, core values in the process.

The primary job of a leader is to lead — and no one leads without first setting the example. In leading by example, character and integrity are essential. Jesus said you will know a tree by the fruit it produces. Conservatives used to say this was Truth.

I believe it still is.

In a recent sermon about gun violence I told my congregation that I am not “anti-gun.” I said this because … I am not anti-gun! I am, however, anti-foolish — and I believe what we are doing, and all that we are not doing proves our utter foolishness with every tragic, often preventable, killing. Likewise, I am neither anti-conservative nor anti-evangelical. I am, however, anti-… well, anti-whatever-this-is. I just have no idea what to call it.

I have never seen anything like it. I do not even know where to begin. Character doesn’t matter. How do we even talk about truth?

It is a confusing time, but one thing is crystal clear to me: if committing an adulterous affair with a porn star, if that kind of morality and that kind of character is “completely irrelevant” to a Church that has always said exactly the opposite, there is another thing that will be “completely irrelevant” to today’s culture — and that is, sadly, the Church.

*Russ Dean is co-pastor of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. A native of Clinton, S.C., and a graduate of Furman University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he earned a D.Min. degree from Beeson Divinity School. He and his wife, Amy, have been in church ministry for 30 years, and they have served as co-pastors of Park Road since 2000. He is active in social justice ministries and interfaith dialogue, and when he isn’t writing sermons or posts for Baptist News Global you’ll find Russ in his shed doing wood working, playing jazz music, slalom or barefoot water skiing, hiking and camping, or watching his two teenage boys on the baseball field.

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Jesus, Mary and Joseph! American Christianity’s Shattered Witness

Bill Leonard“Take the Bible: Zechariah and Elizabeth, for instance. Zechariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist. Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

That’s how the Alabama state auditor defended U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore as some eight middle-aged Alabama women came forward to accuse Moore of sexually harassing or stalking them when he was 30-something and they were teenagers, the youngest and most graphic at age 14.

Welcome to Advent in America, 2017. Advent, those four weeks before Christmas when Christians declare that “the word became flesh and dwelt among us,” is the church’s witness to Christ’s incarnation, and against our culture’s ceaseless effort to Christianize Black Friday materialism. This Advent, however, the Jesus Story has been sordidly deployed in defense of a political candidate beset by shameful accusations and ineffectual self-righteousness. Note to Alabama Christians: Vote for Roy Moore if you feel you must, but for God’s sake, leave Jesus, Mary and Joseph out of it!

In a Nov. 19 New York Times interview, Brett Pitman, pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Muscle Shoals, Ala., sums up the current religio-political dilemma for congregations in Alabama and the nation: “I have people in my church who are strong liberal-leaning Democrats and strong right-leaning Republicans. Politics in a church is a divider.” Pitman’s words portend the future for churches, not only if Moore is elected, but also if the removal of the Johnson Amendment is finally approved in the tax bill now pending in Congress.

The original amendment, attached to the 1954 tax code, forbids (but seldom enforces) nonprofits, including churches, from endorsing particular candidates. It does not prohibit clergy or laity from speaking out against or advocating specific policies and practices of politicians or government agencies. The new law would permit greater candidate specificity and the possibility that churches become tax shelters for direct campaign funding. Approval promises to divide congregations over which candidates are “Christian” or at least supportive of “Christian agendas,” perhaps giving dangerous new meaning to the words of the Advent hymn, “how still we see thee lie.”

Various religious groups have offered opposition to abolishing Johnson, including the witness of our friends at the Baptist Joint Committee for (real) Religious Liberty who warn that weakening the amendment “would divide [faith] communities and distract from their mission.” Yet other Christians demand the right to politicize their congregations to the max, implicitly connecting Democrat or Republican policies and politicians into their confessional identity.

This Advent, the public witness of American Christianity isn’t merely compromised; it is shattered, with Roy Moore’s candidacy and the U.S. Congress among the worst of a great herd of enablers. Odds are that before the last Advent candle is lighted Roy Moore will be elected; and churches can expand their candidate-funding for certified “Christian candidates,” while tightly clinging to state-supported tax exemption and the neo-Constantinian ministerial housing allowance for their state-privileged clergy. “O Mary, don’t you weep, don’t you mourn.”

Amid this shattered koinonia comes the unforeseen yet poignant witness of late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, responding to Moore’s demand that Kimmel visit Alabama, where “we’ll go man to man.” Kimmel agreed to make the trip, but only if the two meet up at a mall food court, “have a little Panda Express” and “talk about Christian values.” Then Kimmel voiced what Alabama Baptists might call his “personal testimony,” telling Moore:

“I don’t know, it doesn’t fit your stereotype — but I happen to be a Christian, too. I made my first Holy Communion; I was confirmed; I pray; I support my church; one of my closest friends is a priest; I baptized my children. Christian is actually my middle name. I know that’s shocking, but it’s true. So if you’re open to it, when we sit down, I will share with you what I learned at my church. At my church, forcing yourself on under-aged girls is a no-no. Some even consider it to be a sin. Not that you did that, of course. Allegedly. But when you commit a sin at our church, at our church we’re encouraged to confess and ask for forgiveness for the sin. Not to call the women you allegedly victimized liars and damage them even more. To confess. But maybe your church is different. I don’t know.”

“Maybe your church is different.” Amid the silence of too many of us “Reverends,” irony of ironies, the church’s witness — its Advent “light in the darkness” — is awakened by a “secular” talk-show host who “happens to be a Christian, too.”

Frankly, Kimmel’s words hit me hard, shaming me and my conscience; hence, this essay. Indeed, his forthright witness chastened me into confessing that while I’ll retire as a professor at Wake Forest University next July, my conscience, by God, won’t file for social or ecclesiastical “security.” I learned that years ago from Roger Williams, on his way to that “shelter for conscience,” Rhode Island, and last week from Jimmy Kimmel, on his way to an Alabama mall.

And in my 71st Advent I heard with new ears the expectant song of Jesus’ own Immah: “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

This Advent, one can only hope.

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