Archive for category American history

The U.S. Supreme Court and Religious Liberty

The most important decision issued by the U. S. Supreme Court this year was not its decision on President Obama’s healthcare legislation, important as that issue is for the future of America.  The most significant ruling in my opinion was given in the Hosanna-Tabor case.  This case was heard by the Court last October and the verdict given in January of this year (2012).  I have a printed copy which can easily be found online. 

This case involved the dismissal of a called minister of a local Lutheran congregation.  The issue started with some disability questions involving the minister and Christian school teacher.  Eventually, the church had to give the position to another person in order for the ministry to be carried out.  When the original minister wanted to come back and pursue the position again, the church refused — a course had been set.  The minister challenged the decision to let someone else continue in the position.  The church told the minister to follow the appeal procedures used within the Lutheran Church’s hierarchy to handle disputes.  The minister refused and instead sued the Church.  The Hosanna-Tabor congregation viewed this unwillingness to follow the procedures for handling disputes as insubordination and rescinded the call of this minister.  The case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

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Washingon: A Life by Ron Chernow

I am currently reading the Pulitzer Prize winning historical work Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow (2010), given to me as a Father’s Day present by my son Phil and his wife Leah.  Overall, I handily recommend it to readers interested in the details of the lives of the Founding Fathers of the United States.  I find a lot of help in the details but at times I have some disagreements on certain points, not always minor.  Let me list some of my observations:

  1.  I have long held that George Washington was my favorite President based upon my studies (I started years ago with Irving’s work).  Chernow’s work deepens this for me.  I appreciate the presentation of both flaws and strengths.  Yet, Chernow has a way with words that helps the reader to picture in full bloom the way that Washington was accepted as the great man of his times.  Beyond that he adroitly shows why Washington deserved such credit in spite of his flaws.
  2. Washington’s greatest contribution may not have been the tone he set for the first presidency.  It was probably, in my opinion, his holding together of a straggly bunch of ragamuffins known as the Continental Army.  Their survival for over eight years was nothing short of the miraculous.  Chernow does a better job than most of delving into the details of Washington’s attempts to get the States and Congress to help his army, usually with failure.  Yet, somehow they managed to stay together and surprisingly win the Revolutionary War, albeit with French help as we all know.
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The Biblical Basis of the U. S. Constitution

Last Monday (October 24, 2011) I delivered what we call a Faculty Forum Paper during the chapel time at Baptist Bible Seminary.  The topic was “The Biblical Basis of the United States Constitution.”  Although I have made presentations of this topic in Sunday School classes, ABFs, and small groups, this is the first time I have committed my thoughts to a formal paper format.  It is my conviction that the Founding Fathers were steeped deeply in Judeo-Christian ethics and not secular Enlightenment thought.  While they may have adopted a kind of  ”Christian Enlightenment” in the sense of using reason more strongly than past generations, they nonetheless did not erase a predominately Protestant view of the Bible and the world as the underpinning for life.    I would not mind getting feedback from others on my paper.  The link is given below.

Biblical-Basis-of-the-United-States-Constitution

Why I love Billy Graham…

 I can never hate the man who should receive a lot of credit for me coming to Christ.  Over the years I have disagreed with him on many things he has said and practiced.  I believe differently about the details and I do things in church work differently than Dr. Graham.  But I have never come to a place where it seems ok for me to vilify him as I have seen others do over the years. 

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was the only preacher I would give serious attention to.  I do not know why that is the case.  But when he came on television I was riveted and I paid attention and thought about his words. 

Then in June 1974 my twin brother and I began a spiritual search to find a church that “sounded” like Billy Graham.  We were twenty years old and not raised in church.  We began to attend various kinds of churches, listening to see if it sounded like Billy.

When we came to the West Huntsville Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama, we knew we had come to the right place.  While mulling over the claims of the gospel of Christ, my brother and I spent two months attending services and studying the Bible’s teachings.  Then on August 18, 1974 through the message and ministry of Dr. Sam Wolfe, the pastor of the church, both my brother and I answered the call to trust Christ.  That day I trusted him as my savior.  I certainly cannot deliver myself from my sin.  I have not gotten over the impact the gospel of Christ had in my life that day.  Much of the credit goes to Dr. Graham.  Because of that, I will never ever be able to express an out of bounds negativity or downright hatred for such a man who has served as a servant of the Lord to bring many to Christ.  When I get to heaven, I will look him up and hug his neck and say “thanks.”

The Christian Conversion of Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln was sometimes criticized during political elections in his career because he never joined a church.  He was accused of being an Atheist.  Apparently, he rejected to some degree his parents’ Baptist heritage.  But as he grew older and rose in the political ranks, he seemed to talk about spiritual things more.  He began attending Presbyterian churches and even had one of his children baptized.  One interesting testimony is given from one pastor who asked him if he loved Jesus.  His response was the following:

When I left Springfield I asked the people to pray for me.  I was not a Christian.  When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian.  But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ.  Yes, I love Jesus.

Source:  A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen.  Their sources for this statement are documented in note 137 on page 857.

God Bless the U.S.A.

On this day of July 4, 2011, I thought it fitting for me to make some comments on the United States of America, the nation of which I am a citizen due to God’s providence.  I am proud to be an American although there are many who live here in these days who do not voice the same posture and appreciation.

Earlier this year, I read Peter Lillback’s Sacred Fire on George Washington.  I came away with a greater appreciation for the Christian character and virtue of the father of our country.  Then I read A. Lincoln by Ronald White which did the same for my respect of the other of the two great presidents by most reckoning, although Christian faith seemed to play less of a role in Lincoln’s life than in Washington’s.  Now I am reading A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen.  It is a history of America from a conservative point of view.  It does not treat America as a bad idea.  I am about a hundred pages in.  It is refreshing in that, unlike many histories, it tells a holistic picture.  One example is the handling of the Spanish conquests of the Aztecs.  While it is often portrayed in unbalanced histories that all or most Indian populations in North and South American before the white man came were peaceful, A Patriot’s History shows the ruthless character of the Aztec rulers toward their own people (they murdered tens of thousands).  While not justifying the Spanish abuse of them, it shows what the prophet Habakkuk taught — God sometimes uses a wicked people to judge another wicked people.

While I am a Christian first and then an American, I support my country without holding an “America right or wrong” approach.  But to commemorate this birthday of my great nation, I listened to Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning” and Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”  I also watched a couple of movies heralding some past heroes from the Revolutionary War days.  Then I prayed for God’s continued blessing upon our nation and wisdom for our leaders.  I ask all Americans to join me in this prayer.

Abraham Lincoln and Charles Finney

After reading the monumental work on George Washington, Sacred Fire, I have turned my attention to the other of the greatest presidents by public reckoning — Abraham Lincoln.  In the study I am reading A. Lincoln: A Biography by Ronald C. White, Jr.  I will probably make a few posts along the way.  My initial impressions of the work are positive.  The documentation and detail seems to be adequate and the writing easy to follow.  It comes with high marks from several reputable sources.

Here I want to mention what is an anomaly or oddity that I have found in White’s work.  On pages 296-97, White summarizes: 

“In Ohio, a contentious issue was the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.  The controversy was raised to a fever pitch in the fall of 1858 when a federal marshal arrested John Price, a slave who had lived in Oberlin for some time.  Residents of Oberlin stormed the hotel in nearby Wellington where Price was being held, freed him, and took him back to Oberlin, where the president of Oberlin College hid him in his home before friends spirited him away to Canada.”  (emphasis added)

What is perplexing is the absence of the name of the president of Oberlin College — none other than Charles Finney, who served as Oberlin’s president from 1851-1866.  Throughout the book, White mentions many pastors and preachers, some obscure, who figure into the narrative he is presenting of Lincoln and his times.  However, here he fails to mention one of the most famous revivalists of his day, who was also an ardent abolitionist.  I wonder why the lack of mention of Finney.

George Washington and Debt

We in the United States are in a debate for our fiscal soul.  But it is also a moral question whether we squander our wealth and leave our grandchildren with great debt and a country in shambles.  With this in mind, I have been reading (as I have posted a couple of times) Peter Lillback’s Sacred Fire which proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that George Washington was a genuine Christian and not a deist.  In the recorded Farewell Address by Washington, our first president made some comments that our current government leaders need to hear about debt:

“As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit.  One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible: avoiding occasions of expence by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumultion of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expence, but  by vigorous exertions in time of Peace to discharge the Debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen which we ourselves ought to bear.  The execution of these maxims belongs to your Representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should cooperate.”  (p. 878)

Looking at this statement, I think it is quite easy to see how Washington would vote and lead if he were alive today.  It appears to be a direction different than our current President and many government leaders.  It may also be unfortunate that public opinion is not strongly in the direction Washington lays out.

The American Revolution and the Depravity of Man

I have often contrasted the French Revolution and the American Revolution and their outcomes.  The French Revolution did not emphasize the depravity of man while the American Founding Fathers had a healthy respect for the biblical teaching of depravity.  Even though all men are made in the image of God, the depravity of the human race is a reality that must be taken into account if government organization is to mimimize the possiblity of corruption.  Hence our Founding Fathers designed a system of checks and balances to make sure that power is not consolidated in one man or one group of men.   This in turn helps to protect the God-given liberties that men possess.  In this regard I ran across a statement by George Washington quoted in Peter’s Lillback’s George Washington’s Sacred Fire:  “the blessed religion revealed in the Word of God will remain an eternal and awful monument to prove that the best Institutions may be abused by human depravity” (see p. 58).  Not only does this show a concern with the biblical doctrine of depravity, it is fairly prescient about what was to come in American life.