Author Archives: mycaptivethought

Looking for Racism in All the Wrong Places

Bernie Diaz, August 5, 2020

A recent poll on race relations in the U.S. unsurprisingly shows that a majority (56%) of participants believe the country has a racism problem – with women and Democratic party voters leading the way in even greater numbers.

The survey also found to little surprise, that attitudes about race fell largely along racial lines, with well over 70% of Hispanics and Blacks believing racism is rampant in America, while a slim majority of 51% of ‘Whites’ agreed. One thing we can all agree on, is that our nation is divided once more – red and blue politically, and white and black societally, including its varying shades of color.

Where there was agreement among a majority of all those polled, was the support of the protests that have taken place since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, May 25th. That finding comes despite the recent surge of protests, which have moved on from those that were often peaceful and legal, to the ongoing waves of violent and anarchist like protests and movements, that continue to defame and deface both public and private property, if not endangering life itself in the name of social justice.

Authorities have declared riots in Portland, Oregon, after protesters surrounded the city’s federal courthouse building where deployed U.S. agents are holed up. Ahead of the declaration, thousands of demonstrators marched in the city chanting, “Feds go home” and calling out the names of African Americans killed by police.

At least six federal officers were injured after firing tear gas to clear out rowdy protesters during that siege. Tragically, at least three of them may not recover their vision after demonstrators, who have shown up in crowds of over 1,000 for more than 50 consecutive nights, shined lasers in their eyes and threw fireworks at the federal courthouse, officials said.

Elsewhere, a murder and more protest mayhem occurred in Austin, Texas, where a person driving through a demonstration shot and killed a 28-year-old man. Protesters in Oakland, CA, vandalized a police station and set fire to a courthouse after one peaceful evening march and Seattle’s Police Chief said officers arrested another 50 people over a weekend for assaulting officers, obstruction, and failing to disperse.

I somehow fail to see the connection and benefit in drawing attention to racism by inciting violence, injuring innocent life and rebelling against any reasonable form of law and order in the name of racial equality and reconciliation.

But that said, I mention the above poll’s results because voters and citizens can be so easily swayed by mainstream media, culture and opinion- such as the current perspective on protests, that it misses the more subtle though significant forms of racism that are yes, even systemic, under our very noses.

For those that seek to move on from following the news of civil unrest for little more than the effect of gazing on videos of fires and violence, the greatest and most systemic form of racial violence that is finally beginning to come to light, are the historic and racist roots of Planned Parenthood and their still on-going agenda targeting the innocent lives of unborn minority babies.

The Racism of Abortion

A New York branch of the Planned Parenthood abortion chain shockingly and publicly distanced itself from its founder, Margaret Sanger, recently amid accusations of “systemic racism” within the organization.

Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood (the single biggest provider of abortions in the United States, at nearly 350,000 a year), in New York in 1916, was a well-known eugenicist who believed certain groups of human beings were “weeds,” “reckless breeders” and “morons” who should not have children.

According to the New York Times, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York plans to rename its Manhattan abortion facility, which has long bore Sanger’s name. It also asked city leaders to remove her name from a street sign nearby. The abortion group’s leaders pointed to Sanger’s eugenics beliefs “rooted in racism, ableism and classism” as the reason for the change.

“The removal of Margaret Sanger’s name from our building is both a necessary and overdue step to reckon with our legacy and acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s contributions to historical reproductive harm within communities of color,” said Karen Seltzer, who chairs the board of the New York affiliate.

With greater revelation of the twisted and sordid past of PP becoming a bit more mainstreamed of late, some healthy skeptics see it as little more than a politically correct campaign of damage control. “Planned Parenthood can rename a building, but it can’t whitewash its eugenics roots,” U.S. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska responded. “Planned Parenthood can try to forget its founder’s racist screeds, but it cannot escape the undeniable fact that it makes hundreds of millions of dollars each year by telling an ugly lie that certain lives are disposable and then disposing of them. Big abortion has always been, and will always be, in the business of violence and dehumanization.”

In fact, since abortion became legal nation-wide in 1973 (via Roe vs. Wade), an estimated 20 million unborn black babies have been aborted in America, many of them at Planned Parenthood. And in New York City, where Sanger started the abortion chain, city health data indicates that more African American babies are aborted in the city than are born each year. Yes, that means that more than one out of every two pregnancies there result in the death of preborn black children.

Where is the political and cultural left’s outcry for racial justice there? Just over a week ago, Planned Parenthood continued its fight against legislation that protects unborn babies from discrimination based on their sex, race or a disability.

It should go without saying that Planned Parenthood and it’s cronies have little to do with the moniker of actually being ‘pro-choice,’ since they oppose each and every single bit of state or federally proposed law that would give the choice of pregnant mothers to view ultrasounds of their children, or for parents to be given notice, if not approval of their own child’s pregnancies and abortion considerations or even waiting periods. Where is the choice there?

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser urged PP to not only disavow its founder but also its current racist and eugenics practices. “The next step for Planned Parenthood is recognizing that Margaret Sanger’s racist legacy continues today, as abortion continues to disproportionately impact minority communities, especially the black community,” Dannenfelser said.

Is her view just another case of conservative hyperbole? Well, today about eight out of every ten PP centers are in minority communities. What a coincidence! They closed seventeen abortion facilities in one year but sold 20% more abortions. How did they do that? By targeting minority neighborhoods in major cities like Miami.

Currently, 94% of America’s abortion facilities are in major metropolitan cities and African-American women, who make up 13% of the female population account for nearly 40% of all abortions. Hispanic-American women makeup another 13% of the female population, but account for another 20% of all abortions.

Can we connect the dots? Discrimination of adults of color, has been institutionally and rightfully criminalized in this country for more than a generation, but not as far as babies are concerned. Remember Dred vs. Scott and that 1850’s Supreme Court decision that said blacks were somewhat less than, or inferior to whites? Well babies of all colors are thought of the same way today. Racism and discrimination is still alive and well in the U.S. among the unborn and don’t we think it’s about time that something should be said and done about it?

After all, 2,000 black and Hispanic babies will be killed today by abortion in this country. There are forty abortion-selling centers in Miami alone, doing more than their fair share of that killing, in contrast to a handful of pregnancy health centers in that area that are striving to give true ‘choice.’ 

One expert told the New York Times that Sanger’s views have been “misinterpreted,” and she was following the popular beliefs of the day. But Sanger was not just a follower. She helped to lead the eugenics movement, frequently promoting discrimination through her writing and speaking, including in a speech to the KKK in 1926.

When she wrote about getting rid of people with diseases and disabilities through sterilization and segregation, she wrote in a 1939 letter to a friend, “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population.” I bet she didn’t.

Well, the word is finally getting out about Planned Parenthood and what will they and the political party of death do about it?

Shining Light on the Darkness of Abortion

As for the church of Jesus Christ, now is a good time to not only be the salt and light that our Lord commanded us to be in our world (Matt.5) but to shine light on it..

..Walk as children of light  (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible.. (Eph. 5:8b-13, ESV).

Being an image and light bearer of God, means that we have to do hard things to shine the light of Christ- the light and love of the gospel even in the darkest of places, and abortion facilities and Planned Parenthood offices are among them.

Suppose you lived next door to a real mean, ornery neighbor who was hostile and put up “don’t trespass” signs all over his property to keep folks like you out. One day, you hear a child screaming from the back yard of that home and see the child is choking on something. 

Instinctively, you jump the fence knowing about the trespass signs and what the law might say about it, in order to save the child. Would that be the right thing to do? There are times in which God has called for courageous conduct throughout scripture, so that His people could rescue or save or deliver innocent victims from harm’s way (Pro. 24:11, 31:8).

There’s a story about a certain nation and government that was intimidated by a growing minority population and putting them into slavery didn’t kill them off. Does that sound like British or American history? Guess again. It was Egypt in its dealing with Israel (Exo. 1:15-21). 

God rewarded the faithfulness of that early ‘crisis pregnancy center’ in Egypt. These mid-wives were pro-life warriors back in the day as we must come together as the American church to be so again.

Yes, racism is an issue- one of sin rather than skin really. But if we want to shed light on it, let’s begin where life begins – in the womb. #PBLM? Pre-Born Black Lives Matter to God and his Son’s church.

The Civil Disobedience of the Coronavirus

Bernie Diaz, July 30, 2020

I thought three blog posts on the nature of church and state relations to the Coronavirus pandemic from early April to June, would have sufficed to cover the issue from a Biblical worldview. ‘Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s right (Mark 12)?’ That simple.

However, I wasn’t counting on a U.S. Governor or two and the Supreme Court of the United States stirring the ire of America’s evangelical “Truth Warrior”, Pastor and Author John MacArthur, to enter into the fray last week and bring the church into debate and controversy over the radical act of Christians practicing civil disobedience, as the result of governmental decisions to restrict corporate worship – including MacArthur’s own church in Southern California.

Pastor MacArthur and the rest of the religious community there had willingly accepted the lockdown or quarantine of churches, communities and business in mid-March when the pandemic’s initial wave hit full boar and news of infection cases, hospitalizations and fatalities dominated our national landscape, leading to the most dire of predictions among epidemiologists and government officials – since proven to be largely untrue, though COVID 19 remains a real and serious thing.

Although the idea of masks had not yet been mainstreamed as a mitigation guideline at that time, there was little doubt that COVID 19 was not your ‘grandfather’s flu’ and not to be trifled with. But that was then and this is now.

After four months of mitigation and cabin fever, and the reality that the ‘sky had not fallen,’ nor the rapture of the church and the Day of the Lord had taken place, California and Nevada’s recent orders scaling back church congregational meetings to no more than 50 worshippers if at all, was too much for dozens of churches out west to take.

Last Sunday, more than 3,000 congregants – many without masks, filled Grace Community Church’s sanctuary in the wake of their leadership’s statement or ‘declaration of independence’, being published on Friday, stating that the church would not comply with Governor Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus restrictions in the aftermath of a surge in COVID cases there, arguing that the government had overstepped its authority by regulating worship – a big time no-no.

In obedience to the Bible’s command to not forsake its assembling (Heb. 10:25), MacArthur argued that the state had “exceeded its legitimate jurisdiction” in severely limiting or suspending services. He may have a point there.

I personally stand with MacArthur –  one of the most influential and impactful exegetes and expositors of at least the last generation, with an important caveat to tag onto my stance.

Pastor MacArthur relied on to little surprise, a biblical argument to make his case (“Christ, not Caesar, Is Head of the Church) as to why he and his church’s leadership team could not “.. acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings.”

He could have made a justifiable case for opposing the state’s congregational bans on both practical and even constitutional grounds as well as the biblical, but chose not to, so I will.

  • The Practical  

John MacArthur did make the point that COVID circumstances had changed over the last four months, influencing their change of heart. What changed? In spite of a recent surge in positive test cases in his state among others, he stated in his Sunday sermon that the chances of those that are either hospitalized for a serious medical response to infection of the virus, or who die from it is incredibly slim.

Therefore, does the state’s restrictions match up with the math? In other words, should the church decide to gather and for that matter, should our communities and country remain open, closed or shuttered based on the mere possibilities of Coronavirus infections or fatalities, or the probabilities of such? That is a provocative question to wrestle with.

For example, in my home state of Florida- another “epicenter” of the pandemic, what is often ignored or underreported, is that currently, just over one in ten of the three million plus tests that have been taken have been “confirmed” as positive. Nearly nine out of every ten of those cases which have tested positive here, have recovered from the effects of the virus.

Nationally and remarkably, considering the media attention paid to the pandemic, only three percent of the near four and one-half million cases of the virus have resulted in death. In fact, if one goes as far as to tabulate the likelihood of the average American dying from COVID 19, the statistical probability stands at 0.05% or less than one-half of one percent of our population being at risk of dying from the virus.

Factoring in the confirmed test cases, hospitalizations and deaths of those that are elderly and/or have pre-existing health conditions (one-half of my state’s fatalities have come from nursing home facilities), the numbers drop even more significantly. Therefore, have those numbers or probabilities justified the states’ response to the pandemic?

  • The Constitutional

Though Pastor MacArthur made the point that his church’s declaration and act of civil disobedience was not made from a constitutional perspective, he could have made a rather compelling argument, based upon the “free exercise” clause of our constitution’s first amendment right of religious freedom.

The founding fathers of this country drew clear and distinguishable lines of jurisdiction between the church and state, principles that safeguarded the liberty of places of worship to congregate and practice their faith as they see fit without government intrusion or regulation.

Is that freedom absolute? Admittedly it is not. The Supreme Court certainly made that clear in its controversial 5-4 ruling last week that rejected a Nevada church’s request to block the state government from enforcing a cap on attendance at religious services.

What I found most alarming in that decision though, as a Christian keeping a close eye on the issue of religious liberty, was what I believe to be the discriminatory nature of the decision, which allows large gatherings in casinos, restaurants, gyms and stores with little or no restrictions, to say nothing of the free exercise of protesters on our streets to congregate and in some cases, defame public and private property with or without facial coverings.

How essential are those meetings (Is Church “Essential?”)?  Justice Neil Gorsuch in his dissenting opinion of the Nevada case, said it well when he wrote, “The world we inhabit today, with a pandemic upon us, poses unusual challenges…  But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel.” Echoing Gorsuch, justice Samuel Alito wrote, “A public health emergency does not give Governors and other public officials carte blanche to disregard the Constitution for as long as the medical problem persists.”

All that said, John MacArthur to his credit took his church with an exhortation to others, to the scriptures to ground his position to practice civil disobedience.

Rendering to Caesar and God

One challenge that any church leader and member must undertake, as MacArthur and his team of elders did I’m sure, is making the case of whether or not a congregational order like California’s, prohibits or temporarily restricts- too severely, the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  • The Biblical

The tension which exists and leads to my caveat on Grace Church’s stance, is the clarity of the application between two equally scriptural commands which can be in conflict with one another. In one command, the Bible teaches clearly that Christians are to submit to the authority of God’s ordained institution of government at every level (Ro. 13; 1 Pet. 2), which would theoretically include Coronavirus oriented law and order.

And the other command is that the gospel and the entire counsel of God’s word is to be preached in the gathering of the local church (2 Tim. 3:16-4:2), and that furthermore, the function of biblical fellowship and discipleship is to take place personally and corporately in person.

The New Testament argues that God’s people grow by the means of grace he has provided the church, which includes the word, prayer and the interpersonal and relational fellowship of the body of Christ- the local assembly and community of faith, which is called to sing, pray and preach the word together, breaking bread and observing the ordinances of both baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42-47; Eph. 5:19; Col.3:16), all of which can be done at only the most minimal and temporary level online, through a video screen.

For the church to be the church and all that entails (including ministry, discipline, the love and support of the “one anothers”), the church must come together as intended, in the flesh (Ro. 16; 1 Cor. 16; 2 Cor. 3; 1 Thess. 5). MacArthur convincingly makes that case from the word of God.

However, as the 9Marks ministry of Pastor and Author Mark Dever countered in response to MacArthur’s church statement in particular, was the need for biblical nuance – yes, even Christian freedom or liberty to have a different conviction of conscience in  applying the word to this extraordinary Coronavirus season of life and ministry.  

Afterall, calculating the probabilities of COVID death are one thing and experiencing a fatality or it’s fatal risks within one’s own family, faith family or with a close friend is quite another. Public safety and health are legitimate concerns and a responsibility of the state as well as the church, which is to ‘love neighbors as ourselves.’

As to the exceptional circumstances given in scripture in justifying civil disobedience,  a state’s lockdown or severe restrictions of gospel ministry may very well qualify. Don’t we support the ‘underground’, biblical church’s gathering for the same reasons in oppressive countries like China, Cuba and parts of the Middle East? MacArthur may have been right in appealing to the apostles Acts 4 stand, to render to God what is God’s, when they said they would ‘obey God rather than man’ when they defied the authorities order to refrain from preaching the gospel in public in Jerusalem.

The key however, is found in the words, “may have been right” which I have posited for the position that Grace church took, among dozens of others that have done the same. Whereas faced with the same government order and circumstances in my community and with my church, I may have voted amongst my fellow elders to take the same action as MacArthur’s church, I also see the ‘wiggle room’ or Romans 14 freedom to have concluded otherwise, in the wisdom application of this issue, which seems to have taken on the nature of that which is “disputable” according to the apostle Paul.

Based upon the biblical doctrine of conscience and its call for unity and love (Ro. 14; 1 Cor. 8 and 10), above even the right to exercise personal and in this case corporate freedoms when in doubt, I will not condemn a church for leaning on their decision to submit to their governing authorities.

While I personally remain in support of John MacArthur and his church’s stand of civil disobedience in California, I extend understanding, grace and peace to fellow disciples and undershepherds of the local church who have decided otherwise, while exhorting them at the same time to prayerfully prepare to engage with the state and the next round of rendering that which is God’s and that which is Caesar’s.

The Progress of a Pilgrim who “Knew” God

Bernie Diaz, July 21, 2020

May the Lord rise up a new generation of biblically bathed pastors, preachers and theologians for our troubled times… because we just lost another great one, who has been called home.

James Innell (J.I.) Packer, one of the most oft-published, quoted and influential, evangelical theologians over the last century, went to be with the Lord of glory late last week, just days short of his 94th birthday.

This “good and faithful servant” of the Lord, was a lifelong Anglican churchman who spent the first half of his life in England and the second half in Canada but who was perhaps most popular here in the United States. Why?

He was a student and expert on the ‘Puritans’ – a brotherhood of pastors and theologians, whom he regarded as “the Redwoods of the Christian faith”, having revolutionized Christianity in the 16th and 17th centuries on both sides of the Atlantic, with their dedication to piety and sanctification to God, only matched by their zeal for God’s glory and sovereign grace in salvation.

Packer long fanned the flames of that historic church movement, which has continued to influence and inspire the church from yesterday to today, as noted in the preaching and teaching ministries of men like: Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, John MacArthur, John Piper and R.C. Sproul, among many others.

In fact, I personally have been encouraged and exhorted in my ministry by these Puritan forefathers of the faith, due in large part to Packer’s work on their legacy (The Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life).

In turn, Packer drew inspiration and much of his ministerial motivation from Puritan John Bunyan’s classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress, which he read every year of his Christian life. Throughout his nearly 70 years of writing and ministry, he stressed the importance of knowing and praying to and communing with the triune God.

He further called for the church to take holiness and repentance seriously by walking in the Spirit (Keep in Step with the Spirit) and fighting against indwelling sin.

J.I. Packer defended the infallibility and inerrancy of scripture and biblical authority as a whole and championed the cause of disciple-making to boot. He did all this and more even in the face of controversy, championing other biblically based causes without compromise, though he may have erred – good motives notwithstanding, with his support of the mid 90’s ECT (Evangelical and Catholics Together) statement, which called for ecumenical cooperation between biblical evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism in the cause of political, culture war advancement.

The Best of Packer

ECT notwithstanding, I am most indebted to Packer however, for two of his works – perhaps the two that will leave his greatest legacy to the biblical church for generations to come. The first, his 1973 classic, Knowing God, was not your typical book on theology and certainly was not a traditional, systematic theology text, as many of us come to think of them academically, as it came from the pastoral heart of a man who knew God intimately, and wanted to make him known to readers in the same way.

He took the most fundamental doctrines (truths) of the Christian faith and made them understandable and relevant in such a way, as to lead millions of readers to go deeper into their personal relationship with God and lead them to more holy, God-glorifying lives. He once said his conviction to write his landmark best-seller, was because, “… ignorance of God lies at the root of much of the church’s weakness today.”

Packer knew that Knowing God – what we think of our creator, reveals much of our heart.  In its pages he wrote: “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.”

As to his other great work of legacy to the church, many of us by the turn of the 20th century, probably didn’t see the need for yet another translation of the Bible into English, but Packer jumped at the opportunity to join a project that could be among the most significant investments he could ever make to the global church, that being the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible, which Packer named, serving as the General Editor of that award-winning study Bible, which I take to my pulpit (or online office desk) on each and every Sunday I preach God’s Word.

Published in 2001, Packer reflected on the ESV and said, “I look back on what we did in producing that version, I find myself suspecting very strongly that this was the most important thing that I have ever done for the Kingdom.” He may very well be right, in having helped to develop an excellent and readable, word for word or formal equivalent translation of the vocabulary and structure of the original biblical languages into English.

J.I. Packer did lots of things right for the kingdom and cause of Jesus Christ, by above all, calling Christian people to holiness – to move from spiritual superficiality and to follow the Lord’s example – and that of other great men and women of the faith, to spiritual maturity.

When asked not long before his death what his final words to the church might be, Packer replied, “I think I can boil it down to four words: “Glorify Christ every way.” Not only might that serve as an epitaph for what Packer did in his lifetime and what he is doing now, but should serve as of course, a scripturally bound clarion call (1 Cor. 10:31) for each and every born-again believer and disciple of Christ today.

Being COVID and Christ Contagious

Bernie Diaz, July 15, 2020

As my hometown region of South Florida has become an epicenter for the latest surge of the Coronavirus, breaking state and national single-day records for new cases being confirmed, my attitude about the pandemic has shifted, as I have been humbled by recent events – one, having found that a family of sheep from the flock I shepherd with my fellow elders, has been infected.

COVID-19 has now come close to home, virtually arriving on my doorstep (my son happens to work in a nearby hospital as well, struggling to find adequate space for COVID patients).

My new and improved, Christ-like or ‘Christ-conscious’ view of the pandemic, has taken the better part of four months to evolve, since our country and community shut-down in mid-March when the virus broke out in its initial wave. I had been pouring over scientific data, daily statistics and news updates from public health officials and other experts ever since, striving to find the truth of how bad this pandemic really is, and to find a balanced perspective that would enable me to better live and lead my family and church. To say that has been a challenge would be an understatement.

My research and observation led me to the conclusion that our country has become divided over the nature of this viral ‘beast,’ as if we didn’t have enough division to deal with already, in the wake of our post-Floyd killing season of civil unrest. In terms of COVID, I classified one extreme position as of those that believed that this strain was just another flu bug, a passing thing and that  ‘herd immunity’ or a vaccine would soon come and the curve would flatten – permanently. Well, not so fast.

Part of that position’s emphasis- logical and reasonable as it may seem statistically, has focused on the quarantine of at-risk groups (e.g. the elderly and pre-existing health conditions), urging officials to allow the greater population of citizens to work, school and play with minimal concern for mitigation guidelines that called for masks and social distancing.

After all, the ‘stats’ and odds were and remain (to a lesser extent now) in their favor.

According to the most recent national numbers, only one percent of the nation’s population has sought testing for COVID and only four percent of the 3.3 million plus cases that have tested positive in the United States, have resulted in fatalities. Only?

Furthermore, less than one half of one percent of the county’s citizens have died since the pandemic has been tracked from the beginning of this year. Statistically speaking, it would be fair to say that the average American or Floridian for that matter, will not contract the COVID-19 virus and the overwhelming majority who do, will survive and recover from it without further incident- as far as we know. I admit I have leaned most towards this position in what is admittedly a somewhat subjective or ‘grey’ area of ethics, as well as science.

The other position of the pandemic I found, have been those who take, shall I say, a more ‘apocalyptic’ if not fearful view, to oversimplify it, and have hesitated to leave their homes for virtually any reason, other than for the most basic or critically urgent necessities of life. Some who are of this persuasion, insist on the strictest of guidelines and protocols for public interaction, less they contract the virus themselves.

Some of those of the later position I must confess, have tested my patience, particularly those that have sought to mandate what I deemed as unreasonable orders on church gatherings. The Supreme Court amongst its more mind-boggling and constitutionally questionable decisions of late, ruled that states such as California, can actually regulate away choir and congregational singing in worship services, an encroachment of the state upon the church that I would have thought unimaginable in this country.

A COVID Conclusion

However, I am coming to grips with the idea that a happy medium on COVID will not be found any time soon. Why? Too many Americans like their freedom and too many Christians like their liberty too much, making it harder for them to compromise or feel content with what are perceived as “draconian” measures to protect public health.

Such followers of Christ, may be in this instance, thought of as the “stronger brother,” the apostle Paul refers to in Romans 14-15.

These disciples understand and wish to enjoy ‘freedom in Christ’ on issues of opinion or in dispute or doubt, that are not explicitly dealt with in scripture. COVID rules and regulations would undoubtedly apply as being one of those grey issues.

Whereas, we have in contrast, the “weaker brother or sister” in Christ, who live by a very scrupulous or sensitive conscience on such issues and yearn for stronger fences or walls to be erected, against the possible abuses of freedom on such issues (e.g. alcohol, tobacco, movies and music) including perhaps, mitigation guidelines and policies.

Interestingly enough, in every church there are weak and strong believers, who will be strong on one issue and yet weak on another. Neither one is treated as inferior or superior by Paul, who acknowledges their equality and calls for their loving unity amidst their inherent diversity on such matters.

I believe one of the many things that God may be doing with our culture war and current afflictions such as COVID, is waking up the church and the country to the reality that life is hard and maybe short (ask the families of the 136,000 plus victims of the pandemic and counting)- but God is still good and teaching us a lesson or two for our good and his glory.

One lesson, is that the Lord is more concerned with our spiritual condition and relationship to him – including the millions of anti-God and antichrist rebels amongst us, whose biggest concern is the inconvenience and discomfort of mask wearing during this pandemic. God will periodically afflict a people with attention-getting methods (i.e. hurricanes, earthquakes, riots and pandemics) that point to his sovereign authority over the world and the need for a people’s repentance, in response to their rebellion of that authority.

For the church of Jesus Christ, this lesson may serve as a spotlight on our “cruise-control” Christianity, as one church member of mine put it, which presumes on God’s grace daily, living casually and all too comfortably in the U.S.A. We too easily fall to a view that takes life and uninhibited freedom for granted as some sort of civil right and guarantee, rather than the God-given privilege it is.

Stronger brothers and sisters in the church disobey the law of love that the New Testament speaks of, when they look down or frown upon their weaker brethren for being careful and cautious in this pandemic season, while a weaker brother may disobey the scriptural admonition to not judge or condemn the conscience of the stronger brethren, looking to live within reasonable guidelines and with a certain degree of liberty where it may be available.

Indeed, the COVID divide that exists among us can be difficult to navigate. It is as basic as the potential divide that exists between thinking about that which is probable, versus that which is possible.

The stronger brother on this issue may be living in the ‘probable’ camp, leaning on data to support their view that they are not very likely to become sick or lose their life during this pandemic, so they might ask, “Why not enjoy as much freedom as the odds allow?” Conversely, the weaker brother that may be camping out on the ‘possibilities’ of contracting the virus, may think that life is too precious to risk venturing out needlessly.

Neither position is objectively right or wrong and neither may be fully taking God’s sovereign and providential purposes into account. The Lord on the one hand may will to infect an overly “free” Christian presuming on his grace though the “odds” may be in his favor, while on the other hand, God may will to protect and heal or infect the Christian taking every precaution of care possible for other purposes.

I myself however, may have just jumped a notch or two from the stronger to the weaker brother position if you will, learning how close COVID can come, as it finally entered our community of faith.

Make no mistake, regardless of what side you’re on, we must take this virus seriously, because our God is serious about submission to his word and kingdom. There are plenty of reasons to.  Moreover, the full understanding about resolving conflicts or issues between stronger and weaker church brothers, or the ‘liberals’ verses the ‘legalists’ among us, is that being Christ-conscious should result in love and grace – leading to unity, which must win out over sheer liberty. In other words, the believer needs to be reminded in our current COVID environment that love trumps liberty.

Despite our nation’s Declaration of Independence’s claim to the inalienable right of “liberty”  – as Bible inspired as it seemed to be, it still falls short of the authority of Christian faith and its call to dependence on its Lord and Savior, which is manifest in the love of God and neighbor above ourselves. That love seems to include mask wearing as the governing authorities that God has ordained (Ro. 13; 1 Pet. 2) over us, have mandated in the interests of the public good or what theologians might call, common grace. In any case, the virus of grace is worth passing on. God’s people are to be Christ-conscious, in order to be Christ-contagious to a lost world. This COVID-19 wake up call gives us a prime opportunity to be just that.

Symbols, Statues and the Need for ‘Dependence’ Day

Bernie Diaz, July 3, 2020

I’ve been around for a while and I can’t remember the last time a July 4th weekend and upcoming Independence Day, seemed so dour or dark as this one- and that’s not just because the beaches of South Florida are closed down, due to our latest COVID-19 breakout as inconvenient as that may be.

Yes, the pandemic seems to be rearing it’s ugly head again, leading to a resurgence of new cases in most of the country, including at record levels in my state, now regarded as one of the nation’s “hot-spots.”  

But of almost greater concern to me, is the state of the United States of America, which seems more divided to me, than at any other time in my lifetime. The sexual revolution which began as a late 60’s – early 70’s drizzle, brought a tidal wave of cultural and political upheaval to our nation over the last two decades, but even that seems to pale in comparison at the moment, to the crisis of a country struggling to retain a sense of its own collective identity, as it prepares to celebrate (?) it’s 234th birthday as an independent nation.

Protest crowds across the nation have been defacing or toppling monuments and destroying statue after statue, while cities and states- particularly in the south to little surprise, are debating whether or not to continue the public display of the confederate flag and names of confederate veterans and leaders from their places of historical heritage, which still stand as symbols of slavery and racism to tens of thousands of African-Americans, particularly in the aftermath of the George Floyd police killing, among other high profile incidents in which Black citizens have been killed by white police officers more recently.

As we’ve noted in this space before, racism and race relations are “a thing.” It’s real and it’s real complicated (Cutting Through the Fog of Skin and Sin- Pt.1). Race is America’s blind spot – the biggest blight on an unprecedented record of national prosperity and blessing, perhaps without equal in world history.

However, the problem of race or better yet, ethnocentrism, has always simmered at the American surface, and certain events – from court decisions or cases of police brutality have lifted up the lid of pent-up prejudice and animosity, leading to heated rhetoric, race-related protesting and rioting, pouring gas on an already explosive flame.

In response to such civil unrest, we’ve argued here that the issue of race is more about sin than skin, and that a proper theology of God and a right anthropology of man, can help make sense of a crisis like ours.

America’s history on the one hand is great, and on the other hand, is checkered in more ways than one, and the American story changes depending on the storyteller.

There is the story of America’s founding, which began on the shores of New England as the result of missionary pilgrims of puritan sensibilities seeking a land to practice pure Protestantism and gospel witness in a new land. The original thirteen British colonies declared their independence in a fight for freedom and formed a federal government and system that was grounded in a Biblically influenced Judeo-Christian culture, which espoused values like law and order, traditional family and freedom – based on the principles of self-government and personal responsibility, in a culture which respected God and his providence over a people. That story is admirable and true.

Then there is the American story of slavery and race. A story of image-bearers of God, whose primary distinctive according to their “owners” who twisted scripture to suit their own depraved and economic desires, was a life of subjection based upon their skin tone and being profiled as inferior human beings, who were subjected often times to forced labor, discrimination, oppression and the violence of beatings, public lynchings and later fire hoses, from a legacy of unjust Jim Crow laws and segregation. That story is abhorrently true.

As Pastor and Author Kevin DeYoung posted, America’s history is mixed and its gospel relationship to race, has been often scrutinized: The history of God and race in America is, as Mark Noll (a notable evangelical historian) puts it, a “tangled history” filled with “moral complexity.” On the one hand, the Christian faith has been a prominent feature in American history and has often been a beneficent force at home and abroad.

Noll wrote, “Christian altruism, Christian philanthropy, Christian consolation, and Christian responsibility are not the only forces for good in American history, but they loom very large and have had very positive effects.” And yet, Noll admits that “the American political system and the American practice of Christianity, which have provided so much good for so many people for so many years, have never been able to overcome race.”

A true, non-fiction story contains tragedy and redemption- good and evil doesn’t it? Why should America be any different? Israel, God’s own “treasured possession”, a nation he unconditionally elected to be his own lighthouse of his love and law to the world, escaped four plus centuries in Egypt, only to enslave pagan neighbors themselves, disobey Jehovah’s commandments, commit the most egregious acts of idolatry (including infanticide), engage in their own civil war and face decades of captivity or isolation as punishment and discipline for their centuries of spiritual adultery.

It may be argued that the U.S. has been and is now suffering much of the same fate- and for some of the very same reasons as Israel did and does, including the rejection of her Messiah. God gave America a light. Christ the Cornerstone by way of his cross, provided a foundation for a powerful nation, rich in resources and knowledge, and yet, continues to fulfill God’s history of redemption in displaying a people that were taught, tested, failed, restored, retaught and retested again and again. That is the U.S.A.

What to do with the Signs and Symbols?

History should be taught and acknowledged. American’s checkered past should be celebrated and mourned at the right time and in the right place and in the right way. The land of the free, has not been so for some of its people historically, but it has been known as the ‘land of opportunity’ and remains the bastion of immigration world-wide. People still love to come and chase the ‘American Dream.’

My family of Cuban immigrants is grateful and indebted to God for his grace, having enabled my parents to come to America as exiles at the dawn of the communist dictatorship there.

Our nation is a just big reflection of our world- a creation of fallen, sin-cursed creatures who bear the creator’s image at the same time we rebel against our creator and fall prey to the “whole world (which) lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jo. 5:19b).

Let’s not destroy every vestige of our flawed but unique history as a country, rather capture and display it in its most gracious and appropriate venues. For instance, the Confederate flag in case some of you didn’t know, is the symbol of a coup- a failed experiment of a movement that wished to divide this nation and shed the blood of more than 650,000 lives over “state’s rights,” to keep and even expand a slave trade and culture that abused an ethnic people.

I respect and heartily approve the state of Mississippi’s bipartisan action to remove the long-revered image of the confederacy from its state flag. NASCAR racing has decided to remove the ‘rebel’ flag from flying over its events. That’s a big move. For opponents of that idea, what would they think of Nazi Swasitka’s still flying over Germany’s republic as a commemoration of that bit of history?

In the respect for law and order- decency and the love of neighbor, I think it wise to support the government removal of statues, monuments and like symbols from open, public places of some historic figures that obviously represented hate and racism beyond the pale (e.g. Jefferson Davis, Nathan Bedford Forrest of the KKK) and move them (not by the destruction of property by protestors), to museums, places of education and reflection, rather than memorial and celebration.  

Let’s remember, acknowledge and take the best we can from our heroes of faith and the flesh, as flawed figures who were human in every way, without blotting out their history, such as Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, to  David, Solomon, the apostles of the church like Paul, to more contemporary figures like Martin Luther, Washington, Lincoln, MLK Jr., Regan, Obama and Trump.

Would America be America, if it changed the name of our nation’s capital because the “Father of our Nation” and first President owned slaves at Mt. Vernon? Should his accomplishments and legacy be erased?

Each of the above figures among so many others, in their own way can claim accomplishments that will mark American history and found to have been sinners, corrupted by the world, their flesh and the devil to one degree or another, and yet did much and hopefully found redemption in Jesus Christ, in the final chapter of their story.

Let this Independence Day in our country, be a time of reflection and a cry for a day of dependence– more than ever for the grace and mercy of our God to restore and repair a broken nation.

Civil War Continues in the Sexual Revolution

Bernie Diaz, June 25, 2020

As if we didn’t have enough battle fronts to contend with in the current culture war in America, which a growing number of pundits are referring to as a potential, new ‘civil war’, in describing our nations divisions in the wake of civil unrests linked to cases of police killings, another battle was quietly waged and lost for the soul of our country and objective truth last week.

It happened when the supreme court ruled that a landmark 1964 civil rights law could be applied to protect homosexual and transgender identifying workers from discrimination in a historic victory for LGBTQ+ supporters, that they will undoubtedly celebrate in the midst of “Gay Pride Month,” in June. I would rather call this ruling a loss for this nation, for the general welfare of its children, families and the idea of Bible-based truth renewing our culture.

The six-to-three verdict in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, is the latest and biggest victory for LGBTQ special rights since the court made same-sex marriage the law of the land in 2015.

The implications and the consequence of this supreme court decision which again practically makes new law where none previously existed (which happens to be the responsibility of Congress- the legislative body of the United States), are far-reaching and will likely be felt deep and wide for some time to come.

Justice Neil Gorsuch (a President Trump appointee joined in the majority by Chief Justice John Roberts and the four members of the court’s liberal wing) in his majority opinion wrote, “Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

Although the justice’s stated opinion and motive behind it, may seem benign if not worthy of consideration on its face at first glance, danger may be lurking behind it in a way that Biblical Christians should be aware of.

One chilling effect of the decision is that it redefines the category of sex in American law. The Title VII language of the Civil Rights Act forbids   discrimination “against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

Nowhere in the statute does it say that “sex” was intended to include sexual orientation or gender identity. Sex as defined and intended by this law is a fixed and immutable characteristic – meaning an unchanging, physical attribute such as biological gender. Now, by virtue of this decision it includes sexual desires, actions and self-made identity as protected classes worthy of extra-constitutional rights. 

Whereas in contrast, the founding fathers and historic American law had always understood sex as it pertains to the law, to follow God’s creative design and purpose for it, as described in its “good”, clear, pre-fall order set forth in the book of Genesis:

… then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature… 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him… 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.. 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Gen. 2:7,18,22,24, ESV).

Another consequence sure to arise in future courtroom dramas as the result of this ruling, will be what to make of school locker room and bathroom facility policies which still restrict in most states access for safety reasons, to the traditional and binary reality of gender.

Furthermore, couldn’t a male gender-dysphoric youth struggling with his sexual identity, now be able to successfully sue a school – public or private, for access to those female facilities by virtue of his own, subjective identification? I would say that hypothetical will be more a question of how soon, not if.

As troubling, would be the likely pressure exerted upon religious schools (secondary and university) and places of worship that would now be forced to hire employees that don’t live by the tenets or confession of their faith, particularly with respect to God’s created order of sexuality, under fear of a lawsuit should they defy this court decision and unprecedented interpretation of the Civil Rights amendment.

Disciples of Christ must be frustrated and weary of how SCOTUS (The Supreme Court of the United States) has again usurped the will of the people and authority of the legislative branch of our government, by making moral laws from the bench which threaten religious liberty and advance the sexual revolution.

We’ve seen that reality played out already in the legal battles which have economically crippled Christian bakers, photographers and bed and breakfast owners who tried to stand against these kind of judicial decrees by conscience, in the aftermath of the Obergefell decision that legalized same-sex marriage. 

Are Christians Discriminating?

At face-value, we might ask, “What can be wrong with anti-discrimination laws? Isn’t discrimination always a sin?” Well, as per the above definition of the anti-discrimination language of the Civil Rights Act, the idea is that we are not to discriminate or show bias against a person based upon their immutable, human characteristics that jibe with reality (i.e. gender and ethnicity or “race”).

Certainly, as per my last post (Cutting Through the Fog of Skin and Sin- Pt. 2), discrimination in the modern sense of the word, as showing prejudice towards or partiality towards another based on their ethnicity or gender or even economic class (Ja. 2:4-9) is called sin in scripture.

However, discrimination in the sense of discernment– meaning to rightly divide truth from error, what is right and wrong and to wisely make decisions, is not only permissible but necessary in order to live life and even share gospel truth.

For example, when we hear preaching or “church” teaching which denies an essential and orthodox truth of the Christian faith, such as the deity of Christ or his substitutionary atonement to justify sinners by faith, we are to be “discriminating” and call out such preaching to be the heresy that it is.

Therefore, words and their meaning matter. The fact of the matter is that the Christian’s opposition to, or discrimination towards homosexuality and transgenderism would not have ‘been a thing’ or controversy at the time the Civil Rights Act was signed into federal law, or up until as recently as less than a generation ago, since our society’s laws and culture reflected the Judeo-Christian values of normative sexuality and identity, affirming two millennia of church history and doctrine.

The legitimization much less the legalization of an LGTBQ community, was a non-issue in American history and mainstream thought until only recently. Bible-based Christians oppose the sexual revolution and its radical agenda to redefine sexuality and family, because God does, as clearly revealed in his word (see Genesis 2 above and echoed by Jesus in Matt. 19:4-6).

God’s written revelation lays out an unambiguous sexual design for mankind consisting of one biological man and one woman, marrying for one life on earth- that’s the blueprint and it’s unmistakable.

Why Does it Matter?

The supreme court decision (Bostock) as described above, jeopardizes the bedrock institutions of family and church, with the former being the first and best community in which children can survive and thrive, in an environment of proper and stable role models, which leads to stable societies.

The latter institution of church, and its freedom to operate and speak as God has intended, is put at risk by such legal warfare, as we draw ever nearer to the day, in the good ole’ U.S.A. when gospel speech may be criminalized as hate speech.

How Do We Respond?

Actually, hope is mandated for the Christian who knows and wonders at God’s story, of which we find ourselves in that section of the timeline we understand to be the time of redemption (Lu. 4:18), with restoration of this broken creation not far behind (Ro. 5:12,15; 8:18-21).

The disciple of Jesus Christ should not be surprised to find our nation in its current state of turmoil (e.g. a COVID pandemic, civil unrest and a sexual revolution), as we are simply joining other kingdoms and epochs of history, in which an “unrighteous” or wicked society, chose to honor and worship the creature and its creation, rather than its creator (Ro. 1:18-23), leading to a period of God’s wrath to be brought upon such a society, often through its inclination to sexual depravity and perversion (Ro. 1:24-28).  

Despite the disappointing news of another supreme court decision gone wrong, we have a hope of glory which sanctifies and strengthens the church to continue striving to be the loving and truth-telling dose of salt and light that this nation needs for a time such as now. The war continues for now- but we win in the end.

Cutting Through the Fog of Skin and Sin- Pt. 2

Bernie Diaz, June 17, 2020

The fog that prevents many of us from seeing the issues of race clearly as I argued in last week’s post in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota, became thicker just a week later, after an officer shot and killed a 27-year-old African American during a routine sobriety check that went wrong outside a Wendy’s restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia.

Unfortunately, a peaceful demonstration the day after the incident again turned violent when protesters set the restaurant on fire, further inflaming public and national calls for social justice and aggressive police reforms if not the abolition of local police altogether, demonstrated in the current standoff between protestors and law enforcement officials in Seattle, Washington.

There, under pressure from protesters, police have virtually ceded control over part of the city’s downtown area (CHAZ — Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone) to activists who are practically holding that zone under siege.

The fog was dense enough already to weave through both the reality and complexity of the issue of race in our COVID-19 infected country before this latest police related death, further drove American race relations to the precipice of a cliff that is even harder to see through our cultural fog.

Sin not Skin

In part one of this post, I began to make a case for Christians to lead a way through the fog with a Bible-based vision that centers around gospel reconciliation (Eph. 2:13-16). It is the idea that those that turn to Jesus Christ for salvation can find the peace and cultural diversity that most desire, through the unity found at the foot of the cross of Christ (Gal. 3:28), where everyone: “red, brown, yellow, black and white are all precious in his sight,” by virtue of being equal image-bearers of God (Gen. 1:26-27; Acts 17:26) who differ more by their national or ethnic roots, rather than their level of melanin – the tone of their skin.   

Those that follow Christ as disciples, understand by their call to color-blindly love their neighbors (as the Good Samaritan did) is that there is a danger in falling off either side of the cliff of extremism with respect to race.

The extremism exists between those that claim discrimination and prejudice are no longer an issue or problem in America due to the elimination of legal and institutional racism, and those that insist that systemic racism is alive and pervasive in this country, to the extent that ‘white privilege’ is brutalizing, or at least dehumanizing and oppressing blacks and other minorities in the face of data suggesting otherwise.

Neither view will do for Christians holding to a biblical worldview. Therefore, what are we to do and how can the church of Jesus Christ lead the way?

       Grace not Race – 4 Steps to take in Biblical Reconciliation:

  1. Study (“be an approved workman” 2 Tim. 2:15)

It stands to reason before anyone- Christians in particular, begin to speak about the issue of race or ethnocentrism, that they would strive to know what they are talking about. In other words, Christ followers need to develop a theology of race or ethnicity according to God’s word and to follow the biblical admonition to be “quick to listen and slow to speak.”

Indeed, believers need to think about the nations, tribes, tongues (Rev. 5, 7) and even economic classes of people as God does, who is no, “respecter of persons.” Half of the second chapter of the New Testament book of James, declares the sin of showing partiality (discrimination or bias) illustrated by the prejudice which even took place in the early church, where Hellenistic Jews (Greek widows that converted to Christ) were being neglected in the benevolence feeding of the church in Jerusalem, necessitating the ministry of Deacons to serve them.

What we find in scripture interestingly enough, is that race is a social construct that does not exist as a legitimate human distinction, since we are all members of only one, human race. That fact is why our nation’s problem is sin, not skin. As notable black preacher and author Voddie Baucham said, “The concept of race is not a biblical concept. It’s not a biblical idea. It is a constructed idea. You won’t find the idea of races in the Bible unless you find it in the proper historical context where we see, number one, that we are all the race of Adam. One race, one blood.”

2. Listen (Pro. 10:19c; 18:13)

My views of ethnocentrism took greater shape- clarity in my own racial fog, after speaking at some length with an African-American friend of mine – a brother in Christ, whose perspective I sought and received as to what has taken place of late. His desire was that a White-Hispanic man like me, would focus on the need right now to display empathy and engage in real dialogue. That essentially was it.

He didn’t want to talk about the Floyd case in any detail or crime statistics of black on black violence, things that may be germane and relevant to the greater issue at hand and public policy, but rather to just understand right now, what everyday life can be for a black man.

In other words, he just asked me to listen to his story in the wake of Floyd’s death, including what it felt like to be seen as an alien from another planet entering into certain stores or being pulled over on more than one occasion while driving, not having broken any laws, traffic or otherwise.

Subsequent to that meeting, I was shaken in reading the powerful and gripping testimony of Christian hip-hop artist, Reformed preacher and writer Shai Linne, who powerfully detailed his own testimony in recapping his email response to a white sister in Christ seeking his post-Floyd views.

In wanting to share the “opportunity to ‘bear one another’s burdens’ and ‘mourn with those who mourn”to the body of Christ, Linne in an excerpt from an essay that related at least seven experiences he’s had as a black man in America, wrote: It’s about being told to leave the sneaker store as a 12-year-old, because I was taking too long to decide which sneakers I wanted to buy with my birthday money and the white saleswoman assumed I was in the store to steal something….

Linne added, It’s about intentionally making sure the carseats are in the car, even if the kids aren’t, so that when (not “if”—it happens all the time) I’m stopped by the police, they will perhaps notice the carseats and also the wedding band on one of my visible hands on the wheel (which I’ve been taught to keep there and not move until he tells me to—and even then, in an exaggeratedly slow manner) and will perhaps think to himself, This man is married with a family and small kids like me. Maybe he wants to get home safely to his family just like I do.

Sadly enough, my friend, a black attorney, was told by his Law School professor that having a ‘Baby on Board’ sign visible on his car would serve the same useful purpose to him.

Linne in another account said, It’s about having to explain to my 4-year-old son at his mostly white Christian school that the kids who laughed at him for having brown skin were wrong, that God made him in his image, and that his skin is beautiful—after he told me, “Daddy, I don’t want brown skin. I want white skin

Conclusion? Racism- subtle as it may be and more overt for some, exists.

3. Seek (justice- Pro. 24:11-12b; 31:9)

Although the social justice movement has been radicalized in the name of “virtue signaling” and “intersectionality,” it may be argued that ethnic majorities or non-minority citizens in this country have too often failed tocall out real injustice when they see it and call for biblically based justice in our society and communities.

God is a God of justice and demands that his own children reasonably seek it for others. When the prophet Micah wondered what the Lord wanted from his people during a time of strife for Israel, their solutions might have called for more Sabbath worship or sacrifices. Instead…

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Mic. 6:8)?

The prophet Isaiah, in rebuking and calling the nation of Judah (then  separated from Israel) to repentance in a time of wickedness, wrote, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause
(Isa. 1:17).

That is our justification to enter into the fray of true social justice in at least interpersonal dialogue. Would that justify Christians joining in protests for racial justice? Opposing ‘police brutality’ and joining the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movements? Traveling through that fog is for another post.

4. Speak

So, what do we say or preach today? After studying, listening and seeking to understand, we can talk about both God’s law and order and gospel grace. Yes, we can correct the dangers of extremism while telling others that rioting and looting is wrong, and yet call for justice for all at the same time – as well as the respect for law enforcement. That’s all biblical.

We can also tell the truth in love as I have preached this month, that we can only ‘bring about a semblance of peace and justice to our country and its communities, because a utopian form of perfect, social justice and peace cannot and will not exist in this sin-cursed and fallen world.’ Not yet, until Jesus comes back. Our struggle now to find racial peace and justice, is what beckons us to cry to God for mercy.

Until then, Christians must speak about the peace of reconciliation with God that can be found only by his grace, a grace that supersedes issues of race found in the forgiveness of sins by the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Cutting Through the Fog of Skin and Sin- Pt.1

Bernie Diaz, June 10, 2020

Are we now dealing with a world ‘spinning out of control’ as one news-report click baits and suggests, in the aftermath of the double-shot crisis of Coronavirus and racial unrest in America? Or, might our current, national life be about trying to find our way to God, justice and peace through a societal and cultural fog, which clouds our vision and confuses our path?

I hope, pray and believe it is the latter scenario, due to the fact that as Solomon said, “there is nothing new under the sun” and God has made a way.

Mankind has been here before. I’m old enough to remember the tail end of the last major, racial crisis in America that was broadcast far and wide on TV screens more than 50 years ago and stretched out institutionally and systemically to as recently as just a few decades ago (remember Rodney King and O.J. Simpson?).

Unfortunately and tragically, violence, hatred, racism and disease, are all constants as part of God’s story in this sin-cursed world, where we have been living in the consequences of the second chapter of history – the fall of man for thousands of years, in the midst of the third chapter – the opportunity of redemption, as we await the fourth and final chapter to come – the restoration and renewal of God’s creation, being the culmination of HIStory (‘God’s story’).

The fog however is dense and painful to pass through, as you might imagine how painful it can be to step through a forest filled with rocks, trees and dangerous animals lurking in a distance near and far, which cannot be readily seen. Thankfully, I have a pretty good compass to find my way through the fog to the other side of my destination.

Of course, the compass I’m referring to is the Bible, the all-sufficient, special and living revelation of God, which manifested itself in this world in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, I believe there is a God-given biblical path to grace that will cut through the fog and supersede race. Before we get to where I’m going though, I’ll begin to make an argument for where we don’t want to go- particularly from the Christian perspective or worldview.

The Reality and the Complexity

It must be acknowledged that there is both absolute truth and complexity that has arisen from the aftermath of the shocking death more than a week ago, of George Floyd, an African-American man while in the custody of a white, Minneapolis police officer, after having been arrested for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a store.

Cries for social justice from cries of pain, anger and frustration have been and continue to be poured out of thousands of Americans, seen in mostly peaceful protest, though violent protests resulting in rioting, looting and the ransacking of personal property, also broke out in several American cities, led by more than one faction, undermining much of what the protest movement might have had to offer in the divisive discussion of race going on in our nation right now.

Make no mistake, a considerable amount of this country’s population is divided in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, not just in the red and blue of politics, but in the red of shed blood and the blue uniform colors of law enforcement. Our culture, often driven by social-media saturation hasn’t helped the issue, pushing people to take one of two extreme, either/or positions.

The first, might be the idea that racism in America does not exist. The argument is that problems of race have been largely eradicated and is a virtual, non-issue, with the vociferous protest to the Floyd case being overdone and seen as unAmerican, due to institutional and legislative progress made in this country from the Civil Rights movement- ironically, achieved in large part by peaceful protest.

True enough, it may be argued that institutionally segregated schools, buses, lunch counters and public facilities (“whites only”) no longer exist in this nation. From that standpoint, race relations have improved, interracial marriage is a reality and job opportunities and prosperity have increased greatly for African-American society and for that I am grateful to God.

However, it may also be argued that black-Americans are still disproportionately profiled and targeted for undue police attention and other, more subtle forms of racism. Where there may be a lack of conclusive data to make that point, there is the reality of the nature of sin.

As I preached to my church last Sunday concerning this matter, racism exists, because hatred exists and hatred exists because pride and sin exist in the wicked and deceitful hearts at one level or another, of men and women.

What our culture defines as “racism” today may be more broadly speaking, prejudice, which is a preferential bias, that can be either favorable or unfavorable. Usually, the term prejudice most often refers to a negative opinion, not based on conclusive fact or experience, but formed without just grounds or sufficient knowledge. Furthermore, prejudice targets groups or types of people (ethnic and cultural) rather than responding to people as individuals.

So with that definition in mind, why would any Christian think that the age-old sin of racism or more properly, one’s prejudice or ethnic superiority has been eliminated, any more than the sins of greed, murder, lying, fornication and adultery have? Such a notion is naïve and inconsistent with a biblical view of man or anthropology (Romans 3:10-23).

Christians should know better. All we need to do is sit down and have an honest dialogue with more than one Afro brother or sister in Christ or unbeliever and listen to their life experiences (see my next post- Pt.2) as I’ve been doing more of late, to understand.

After all, the professing American church has contributed to this divide, having historically dropped the ball big time on the issue of race. Prior to planting the church I serve as a Pastor, I came from a ministry with a racist background unbeknownst to me at the time our family arrived there. In the generation prior, bigotry was rampant in the name of Christ incredibly enough, having separated whites from blacks in congregational seating and baptisms, to say little of its not so subtle, school ministry segregation.

“Racism” unfortunately, is a shameful and historic stain on western Christendom that cannot be honestly denied, evidenced by a segment of the church’s support of slavery through the 18th and 19th centuries through the Jim Crow era.

True disciples understand that the world is the world- we can’t be surprised by racism and hatred from among the unregenerate. But when you see or hear about it from the church- from those that profess Christ, there are almost no words to describe the incredulity.

The second extreme position of today’s toxic, racial divide, is the view that being part of the white majority (“white privilege”) is a social crime worth punishing in and of itself and that the mere suggestion that ‘All Lives Matter’, encompasses the reality that all ‘Black Lives Matter (including the unborn),’ brings public ridicule if not job loss to others. This is evident in the debate over the role of police going forward in the aftermath of ‘Floyd.’

The extreme position there is to not only “defund”, but to eliminate local police departments altogether as we know them, as called for by Minnesota’s local city council. This one particular case of fatal, police brutality that just occurred, has now led more than one city government to move towards a law-enforcement less municipality that while caught up in the emotions of the moment, fails to explain how it will keep it’s citizens of all ethnic backgrounds safe from crime and violence.

One Minneapolis community activist said in a USA Today article, “We’re safer without armed, unaccountable patrols supported by the state hunting black people.” The inflammable rhetoric aside, might citizens of that city reasonably ask, ‘What happens when there is a school shooting?” Or, “when a drug deal goes wrong? When a woman is raped? What happens when gang leaders kill or hostages are taken?”

In light of the fact that an estimated 16,000 plus people were murdered in our country, according to the last year’s available FBI statistics, the above questions might be fair, you think? As one state’s Attorney General said, “This defunding makes as much sense as cutting funding for a hospital or a school where a doctor or teacher has engaged in criminal conduct against a patient or student.”

Accordingly, the mere suggestion that there may be another nuanced and balanced way to reform rather than replace police, may lead to a verbal attack from the politically correct police, that are pushing the growing “‘woke” agenda of intersectionality, where different forms of alleged discrimination interact or intersect with each other leading to social change movements.

In recent years, it has become a feminist buzzword, describing the cumulative, societal effects of “systemic discrimination on people who belong to more than one disadvantaged group.” For example, a woman may be oppressed by the anti-women crowd; a black woman faces anti-woman and anti-black bias; a black lesbian woman faces anti-woman, anti-black, and anti-gay bias and so on and so forth.

The point of intersectionality is that the victim of only one type of discrimination may have a hard time identifying with those who face multiple types of oppression. And for white people, you need not apply for inclusion in this.

Thus, American society is being pulled in two opposite and extreme positions on race and culture. Fortunately, the cross and the person of Jesus Christ has the both/and solution to the problem.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28, ESV).

I’ll offer the scriptural solution in our next post (Cutting Through the Fog of Skin and Sin- Pt.2).

Peacemaking for a Time Such as This

Bernie Diaz, June 2, 2020

“If I’m not over here messing up my community, then what are you all doing? … That’s not going to bring my brother back at all.” – Terrence Floyd, brother of the late George Floyd –

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9, ESV).”

If persevering with the dangers, depression and upheaval of COVID-19 weren’t enough, America erupted into a degree of civil unrest, not seen since the “race riots” of the late 1960’s this past week, in the wake of the death of African- American George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis police custody on May 25th.

At least 40 cities (including most of my home region of South Florida) have imposed curfews and National Guard members have been activated in 15 states and Washington, DC to try and squelch the violent side of protests that have resulted in looting, damaged property and threats to people and police, amidst the cries of , “No justice – no peace!” by protestors.

All of this has come in the aftermath of the actions of one police officer, who was seen across the country on video, with his knee on Floyd’s neck while making an arrest for a non-violent crime, leading to his being  charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. However, thousands of protesters nationwide say the charge isn’t harsh enough, and the justice they demand isn’t coming fast enough, as they’re also demanding charges for the other officers involved.

Peace seems to be the last thing that a number of the protesters are seeking, as police were provoked to use tear gas, flash-bang grenades, and low-flying military helicopters to clear out crowds that defied curfews across U.S. cities early this week, including our nation’s capital and a Chicago suburb, where at least two people died during the protests.

It is painfully apparent that cooler heads- I would say cooler, Christian heads must prevail, in order to bring about a semblance of peace and justice to our country and its communities. I say a “semblance” because followers of Christ understand that a utopian form of perfect, social peace and justice cannot and will not exist in a sin-cursed and fallen world, filled with followers of Satan (Jeremiah 17:9; John 3:19-20, 36; 8:44) until Jesus Christ returns to set up his kingdom on earth and restore God’s creation.

Racism is grounded in hatred, the kind that has been personified in some of the protests we’re witnessing and arguably in the hearts of some in law enforcement whose negligible and irresponsible actions may have resulted in the high-profile deaths of now three black Americans over the last month including George Floyd. What to do?

In the absence of a biblical worldview, America- its judicial system and the voices of its culture are struggling to find the answer. ‘Killer Mike’ a rap artist with an ironic name if there ever was one right now, made an emotional plea for calm as a protest in Atlanta against police turned violent.

According to CNN, the demonstration started peacefully, but some protestors broke storefront windows, torched cars and vandalized the cable TV network’s headquarters.

“I am the son of an Atlanta police officer,” said the rapper and activist, who was joined at a press conference by Atlanta’s Mayor, among other officials who criticized the looting among protesters not only citing the greater economic damage that violent demonstrations will likely bring that city, but also noted that such protests greatly contradicted the peaceful, non-violent and largely successful methods of the civil rights movement, led by Martin Luther King Jr.

While on the one hand Killer Mike said, “I am duty-bound to be here to simply say that it is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy”, he added on the other hand, “It is time to beat up prosecutors you don’t like at the voting booth.” This comment was made on  camera as Mike wore a T-shirt that read “Kill Your Masters,” a lyric from one of his rap group’s songs.

So, while one should sympathize and grieve with Floyd’s family and friends and prayerfully seek to understand the anger that boils under and above the surface of such messages and protest, that kind of public rhetoric above, not only sends a mixed message of justice, but it may even inflame more violence and conflict.

Real Peace

Many if not most people feel that the mere absence of conflict results in peace. Unfortunately, that idea is temporal at best and outright untrue at worst. According to historians, less than 90% of the last 3,500 years of recorded world history have seen peace on earth. Treaties that are not bathed in truth and reconciliation are eventually burned.

Interestingly enough, governments are mandated to order a degree of civil peace by punishing evil and promoting that which is good, but are limited by their infrastructure to do much more than that.

Love and true meaningful peace can be no more legislated than hate, which we have seen branded as a crime in and of itself as a motivating factor for additional criminal prosecution over the last decade or so. That of course is a well-intended but failed, secularly driven agenda that fails to see mankind as he is.

Racism is a hatred as old as the history of the Old Testament, which comes from a sinful heart of pride and selfishness that may be controlled but cannot be cured by man’s law. Conflict begotten from hatred began in fact on this earth when Cain murdered his flesh and blood brother Abel (Genesis 4), indicating just how ingrained it is in the unredeemed nature of man.

Thankfully, it can be argued that the institutional racism and bigotry which plagued our nation for two centuries has been eradicated. But still, conflict remains. Human Beings are wired to actually take one of three steps towards peacemaking, the third kind that Jesus called “blessed” and worthy of the identity of being called a son or child of God.

Conflict Resolution:

  • Escape (Fly and Deny)
  • Attack (Fight for rights – verbal assaults)
  • Peacemaking (forgive and reconcile)

You probably don’t have to think long and hard to figure out which of the three methods of conflict resolution is the rarest and most blessed. While it is in true in one sense, that peace is the absence of conflict, that will only be for a time. But in the greater sense of the word, peace is the positive presence of that which is good and loving- shalom peace as the Jews call it, referring to one who wishes and strives for the well-being of another or others.

I would go as far as to submit that those without Christ and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, will long struggle and ultimately fail to keep meaningful peace. Why? Because the key to peacemaking is forgiveness, the kind that God exhibited, by sacrificing his one and only son on a cross to forgive and make atonement for the most vile and wicked of sinners, in order to make them righteous.

Cross-rooted forgiveness makes peace and is at the heart of any relationship in any sphere of life, whether it be: marriage, family (with children), the local church, friends, co-workers and yes, even enemies divided by skin color or ethnicity.

Peacemaking must be a way of life and a mindset, as an adversary once said to the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, “I never forgive and I never forget.” To which Wesley replied, “Then, Sir, I hope you never sin.” If you live long enough on earth, you will sin and be sinned against- all of your life. Therefore, we need to constantly forgive and be forgiven by others, because we all need peace and we can’t have it without forgiveness.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).

I would argue that only Christians who have received mercy and forgiveness, who now have pure hearts as Jesus taught in the Sermon On the Mount, can forgive the way we do- even our enemies. One of the best-known secular humanists and writers of the last century, said, “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me.”

The Church as a Model

Born-again Christians can model the kind of counter-cultural and color-blind peacemaking that is so necessary today, by a love and forgiveness that serves- meets needs including justice, as much as an individual can grant (Micah 6:8).

What is this forgiveness that is so uniquely Christian? It’s a promise – a promise to cancel a debt. It means to put away what someone owes you.

A dictionary on Christian Theology defines it this way: “Forgiveness is the act whereby an injured party allows the party responsible for the injury to go free.” The idea is to release the injury or the offense- to let it go.

In the Hebrew and Greek languages of the Bible, the term ‘release’ is the best one-word definition of the word ‘forgiveness.’ This forgiveness is relational- a person to person initiative as the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. In other words, we are called to do what we can do to make peace with people. We do that first with God in a vertical forgiveness (“God I will not hold this offense against this person any longer. Help me by the Spirit, to take the bitterness away from me, towards this person”).

Then, after we forgive internally- vertically, we can then forgive relationally, or externally or horizontally. We begin to do this with those closest to us and then work outward. Indeed, as heart or internal forgiveness is vertical- up to God, a heart-felt verbal or external forgives goes out to the offender who has repented.

Racial reconciliation can begin to grow in our society only so far as individual peacemaking takes place, based upon a forgiveness rooted in the repentance of sin – personal and corporate, if we have contributed to hatred and racism ourselves, coming from the confession of sins. This can be a grass-roots movement which takes place within hearts of regenerated and righteous men and women, given the power to do so, reaching out, living and preaching the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ to our divided world.

For any relationship to be reconciled and the cancerous sin of bitterness to be removed in favor of restoration, righteousness must reign (James 3:8) and offenses must be acknowledged, confessed and repented of. Only then can forgiveness can be requested and granted, in order for that relationship to rebuild and for people to live the “quiet, peaceful and dignified lives” that the Bible calls for.

That’s peacemaking and it’s ‘for a time such as this’, while there is still time.

Is Church “Essential?”

Bernie Diaz, May 28, 2020

President Donald Trump says he wants churches to reopen as quickly as possible, being important to the “psyche” of this nation. He believes if they remained closed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, “you’ll break the country.” That’s a bold statement but then so is just about everything else that comes out of the mouth of our President.

The President like the Governor of my home state of Florida, have designated religious gatherings as “essential” to the well-being of the country and it’s communities, leading a vast number of churches to resume worship services as soon as the beginning of June, which is music to my ears.

However, at least a half-dozen or more state governments around the nation have begged to differ, arguing in essence that the assembling of people in places of worship, are ‘nonessential.’ In fact, some state officials have gone as far to presume that religious gatherings may still present public health dangers, citing either remote or unlikely threats based upon questionable numbers or anecdotes of a small number of COVID-19 related cases and fatalities from an even smaller number of gatherings back in March and early April, prior to when widespread mitigation policies were put into place.

One of the justices of a federal district court of appeals which rejected a California church’s request for a restraining order against the state’s ban on worship gatherings, wrote, “ … if a court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.”

Church meetings right now = a “suicide pact?” Really? Well, that decision has led that church in San Diego to take its case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Thus, the nation is again dividing on a cultural issue of critical importance to our society, this one about the very ideas of the necessity of religion and the application of its constitutional right to ‘freely exercise’ it.

This issue has been recently dominating the headlines and conversations from local church leaders, to state houses, federal courts and up to the federal office of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) as well as the White House.

The media-driven controversy pitting public safety versus religious liberty, came into sharper focus in two events this past week. The first, came amid reports that Chicago police banged on the doors of Cornerstone Baptist Church, interrupting their worship service, demanding an immediate end to it, intimidating the pastor and congregants in the enforcement of a local ordinance from Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot, despite the church having observed all of the required and suggested CDC protocols given it.      

Second, a coalition of 1,200 pastors in California announced their churches would be gathering for worship services on the final Sunday in May, in defiance of their Governor’s executive orders to remain sheltered, prompting grass-roots citizen and legal initiatives there and in Minnesota, that pushed those state’s chief executives to remove church bans to worship.

When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan (Proverbs 29:2).

Unfortunately, some new government guidelines are restricting gatherings not only in size and the length of the service, but going as far as in the case of California, to suggest that places of worship refrain from singing. Obviously, that ‘guideline,’ poses a potentially massive threat to the church’s legal standing and ability to worship God as it sees fit. 

Thus, COVID related policies and protocols are again prompting inter-denominational and evangelical debates over the justification of practicing civil disobedience to the “governing authorities (Romans 13).”

Really, the legal and cultural wrangling boils down to the question of whether the public manifestation of religion is essential to a society or not?

Generally, one’s worldview or perspective of faith will dictate the answer to that question. Secularists have one point of view on essentiality and religious advocates of the three ‘great’ monotheistic religions of the world- Judaism, Christianity and Islam have another.

In the aftermath of this pandemic, restaurants and retail businesses have been deemed “essential” and reopened in most of the country, including such essential or necessary establishments like liquor and marijuana/CBD dispensaries, as well as abortion facilities among others, while churches have been lumped together with nonessential and entertainment oriented businesses, such as: gyms, movie theaters, sports events, summer camps, concerts and local playhouses.

Is it safe to say based on such classifications that the meaning and significance of church has been lost to a chunk of America and its governing authorities in the year of COVID 2020?

Why Church is Not Essential

For secularists, religion is ok for you – prayer in your closet, but not so much for them. When we parrot the phrase, “Christianity is more about a relationship than a religion”, they take that literally to mean that faith is an exclusively private affair, consisting of a spiritual person’s personal and private devotion to a ‘higher authority’, or way of life, rather than having a positive influence on, or being essential to, the greater welfare of a society.

The California Department of Health hinted as much in their stringent guidelines for religious gatherings, noting that, “Even with adherence to physical distancing, convening in a congregational setting of multiple different households to practice a personal faith carries a relatively higher risk for widespread transmission of COVID-19.”

It’s that kind of viewpoint that helps explain why secular liberals prefer that Christianity and its worldview, be left out of the marketplace of ideas and public policy. Afterall, if they’re right and religion is just a solo practice of faith, then why don’t the religious just remain worshipping in the king mattress at home, doing virtual and online church there? Why can’t they keep their religious rules and opinions to themselves?

Spirituality for the secularist is about creating a customized and self-styled god if there is room for one at all. They believe, “If I’m ok- you’re ok and we must be with ok with God or mother nature or whoever is some sort of deity that may have once been involved with the world historically.

Therefore, the ultimate authority the secularist is accountable to, is a two-fold hierarchy: (1) self. Self-determination, being an island to one’s self and fulfilling one’s own personal desires and pleasures as the greatest good (2) the state. If and when they fail, the state or government is there to pick them up with a safety net and guarantee their happiness by virtue of ever-evolving laws and standards (e.g. the sexual revolution) as the next greatest good.

There is no room in their world for God – the creator and law-giver found in the Bible, judge and jury, that the secularist has always disdained and rebelled against.

Why Church is Essential

The church it may be argued, carries an essential, two-fold corporate identity and authority for elected officials to consider or be remind of: (1) it is a local body of believers, accountable first to God and to one another to receive and serve others with its spiritual gifts – in person, as a family and community of faith, dedicated to reproducing itself in Christlikeness, via relationships in a process of discipleship which reaches out to the world with the greatest news in the history of the world- the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:42-47; Matthew 28:19-20).

(2) admittedly, though the church is essential to Christians universally and locally- it really is, only those who are born-again in Christ and of the faith, will realize it. However, what the world too often loses sight of, is the essentiality of religion in general and Christianity specifically. The church was deemed essential to the greater good or welfare of a society by this nation’s founding fathers.

President George Washington – our nation’s first, while declaring the essentiality of the Bible to governance, said in his farewell speech at the conclusion of his term in office, “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that our national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

Washington’s successor and fellow Founding Father John Adams added, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

The common denominator being the uniquely American concept of ‘self-government’, as a life of freedom only possible by the anchor of a belief and obedience to God, as the highest and most objective source of law, order and morality- “nature’s law” as 18th century British Jurist William Blackstone put it.

America’s tradition and legacy holds that religion is an essential source of moral and ethical training as well as a protective force for good and bulwark against evil, for a people to survive and thrive in self-government.

From a more practical perspective, history has also shown us via the church’s manifestation of supernaturally empowered agape love and mercy over two millennia, that its has proven essential to the development of pre-government, societal welfare programs (e.g Salvation Army and homeless aid), counseling, hospitals, schools and orphan care.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:27).

Who came to the aid of New York City, besieged by COVID-19 being the epicenter of the virus in this country, with a mobile hospital center to care for the sick in Central Park when their hospital system was overwhelmed? An atheist non-for-profit organization? Nope! It was Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian ministry led by Franklin Graham, who said of their ministry to all New Yorkers regardless of their creed, color and yes, sexual orientation, “This is what Samaritan’s Purse does—we respond in the middle of crises to help people in Jesus’ Name.”

Is Religion essential? Should God’s people be allowed to meet- reasonably and safely at this time? Well, how essential is it that America be allowed to receive the gospel and love of Jesus Christ, as well as remain firmly grounded in it’s freedom afforded by self-government? Case closed.