Samuel “Sam” Cornelius, who flew home to heaven on August 22, was one of a kind. He was the consummate diplomat, decorous gentleman, doyenne of black conservative politicians, mentor to many generations of young leaders (among them, Clarence Thomas, now of the United States Supreme Court), civil rights leader, White House official, entrepreneur business developer, and on and on it goes. All this is in addition to his being a loving and devoted husband, father, grandfather, and faithful Christian churchman.
It was a privilege for me to know Sam and to benefit from his tutelage. Until age and infirmity slowed him down, he was the center of any room he entered on Capitol Hill. I came to know him through the Capitol Hill Executive Service Club, of which he was a long-time member and where I serve as chaplain. Whenever Sam was in attendance at our breakfast meetings in the U.S. Capitol, I knew instantly because there was an extra energy in the room. And there was always that cluster of people surrounding him. Not that Sam demanded the attention. In fact, he was very low key—sometimes so soft-spoken I had to cup my ear with my hand to hear him. Sam didn’t demand the attention; he naturally commanded it because of the gravitas and substance he carried in his life experience. People in my circles wanted to know what Sam thought of any critical issue. And there were good reasons to seek his wisdom.
First, Sam was known as a “good man.” (They are few in number in Washington.) He was sincere, principled, and clever in a good sense. He understood and liked people—especially politicians. He didn’t have an axe to grind with anyone. A lifelong Republican (who served in the administrations of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan), Sam knew what it cost to think for himself. Many of Sam’s fellow black leaders expressed contempt for his conservative sensibilities, but they never despised him personally. In fact, he was widely admired by friend and foe. As a conservative, he had been a leader in the civil rights movement, including integrating the YMCA from his seat as executive director in Omaha, Nebraska. When President Jimmy Carter, among other prominent Democrats, decided the time wasn’t right to pass a bill on a Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday, Sam rallied high-profile Republicans to get it done—and they did.
Second, Sam was sensible. Over the nearly twenty years I knew Sam, he never jumped on anyone’s bandwagon. He was always carefully considered about any position he took on any issue. He weighed all sides to an argument, judged the matter by his core convictions, prayed about it, sought scriptural and sometimes pastoral guidance, then took his stand and advanced it congenially. He was rock solid and unwavering. He also had a great sense of humor. My memories of him are as much with his big grin and infectious laugh as they are with his furrowed brow and sober pronouncements. Sam was balanced.
Third, Sam was a godly man. He feared the Lord, revered the Word of God, prayed deeply and sincerely, and had great respect for the church and for the clergy. No matter how many times I invited him to call me Rob, he always addressed me as “Reverend.” Yet, when I insisted on calling him “Mr. Cornelius,” he rebuked me and ordered me to call him “Sam.” What was I to do? He was my senior in every way. Of course, I acquiesced, but I always thought of him as Mister and Sir.
If space allowed, my list of reasons for admiring this man would be much, much longer, but these are enough to form my tribute to a unique leader among leaders. “Mr. Cornelius” left his indelible mark on everything he touched: The communities and societies he was a part of, the institutions he helped to better and to build, the movements he so effectively led, the government he faithfully served, the family he lovingly headed. Most of all, for me, I honor Samuel J. Cornelius because he helped to shape my life, my ministry, and my attitudes towards government and politicians. I will be forever in his debt.
God bless you dear teacher, dear elder, dear friend. Until I join you at Abraham’s bosom, I will miss your warm company and good counsel.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:3 ESV)
As so often happens, I had planned to make this week a slow one—mostly to catch up on my memoir, which I’ve abandoned too often in recent days. But, as we say, God had other plans.
On Tuesday, Rev. Pat Mahoney called me to say he was meeting up in Washington with persecuted people from Iraq. He asked if I would join him. How could I say no?
On Wednesday we met Faysal Shaqooli, a spokesman for the American Yazidi community, one of the religious minorities targeted with extinction by the radical jihadi terrorists called ISIS. He has been in the U.S. for some time because he was targeted for assassination years ago, after technically assisting U.S. forces during the recent war. Faysal’s mother and sister remain in Iraq and are in grave danger. His mother is in the mountains facing serious illness due to unsanitary conditions, if not dehydration and starvation. His sister is in even greater peril. She was taken to a prison controlled by the terrorists after her husband was banded up with thousands of other men and presumably executed. The whereabouts of their children is uncertain.
Scores of American Yazidi came to Washington this week to demand that President Obama order the military to intervene. While the Yazidi religion is non-Christian, they have a very long history of friendship with Christians in Iraq. Their families often intermarry and they protect one another. Just as they’ve lived together, Iraqi Yazidis and Christians have suffered together in this latest disaster. Thousands have been murdered, and their women and children are being marked for sale on wife-market.
The Yazidis showed me photos of their family and friends stacked up in mass graves after being summarily shot by ISIS goons. The images brought back the terrible feeling I had when, as a boy, my father showed me similar photos of our fellow Jews in Nazi mass gave sites.
This is another holocaust—this time of Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities. One of the Yazidi leaders said to Pat and me, “If the United States won’t help us, maybe Israel will. To show our gratitude, every family will send one male to serve in their army. We promise!”
On Thursday, I went to the gates of the White House to join with dozens of Yazidis that gathered there. They were loudly crying out to President Obama, pleading with him to send military help to their stricken communities. In the fervor, with shouting, crying, and chanting all around, they yelled to me, “What can you do to help us?”
I told them I had already spoken to government officials and Christian relief agencies. I had drafted and successfully worked for passage of a resolution at the annual meeting of my denominational body calling attention to the crisis. Of course, none of that was enough to console them. I was left with only one way to help, I explained. To offer up prayers to the God that can save them. I asked if I could do that right there, in front of the White House gates. They said “Yes, yes, yes.”
I invited their spokesman to kneel with me, which he did. Others joined us. In that prayer time, I held a picture of the body of a little girl killed in the calamity. Another little Yazidi girl stood next to me holding a poster-sized photo of children traumatized and crying. It was horrible. I pled with God to mercifully look down on these suffering people and their Christian friends, and to move on the hearts of all good people to help them. I asked especially for the Lord to move the heart of President Obama to come to their aid. Right after I pronounced, “In Jesus name, Amen,” the Yazidis began chanting, “Save the Christians of Iraq! Save the Christians of Iraq!” I was speechless.
As you saw, God heard and answered those prayers. Last night, just hours after we prayed, President Obama spoke to the nation about the Christians and the Yazidis, and announced he had authorized humanitarian and military aid.
Tomorrow, Saturday, August 9, I will be at the White House gates again, this time as Pat hosts Iraqi Christians who have family and friends in the same horrible circumstances. We will pray with them, too. Of course, they love the Lord and are in the family, so we’ll have so much more in common. I’m really looking forward to being with them. The Yazidis, though, made for a very meaningful Christian ministry opportunity. Let me explain.
The Yazidi religion is very old. It predates both Christianity and Islam. They claim it predates Judaism. (Well, perhaps “modern Judaism,” but couldn’t be biblical religion.) In any case, Yazidiism is at least related to Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion. Many scholars believe the wise men that came from the east to find the Christ child, using the Bethlehem star to guide them, were Zoroastrians. If so, I find it fascinating that all these millennia later, their religious and ethnic descendants may have again bowed in the presence of the only Savior.
Like the wise men in search of the Christ Child, we must keep focused on the only Savior of humankind. At times like these, we’re tempted to place our trust, “in chariots and horses, “ but, as the Psalmist reminds us, “we must remember the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7)
Yesterday I told the Yazidis just that—and today, they are learning it is true.
Please continue to pray for all our neighbors in Iraq, and especially those of the household of faith.
AIRING MY THOUGHTS
“I did not speak in secret . . .” (Isaiah 45:19)
Maybe it’s because my roots are in New York, where everyone just blurts out streams of consciousness. There is very little self-censoring or circumspection among the sons and daughters of immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Puerto Rico, Eastern Europe, and the Mediterranean. What you see is what you get—or, in this case—what you hear. We’re all loud and unvarnished. Jews from New York are especially so.
Of course, I realize there is need for discretion—and even biblical support for concealing information. (Esther is just one story that comes to mind.) In any case, I’ve always favored telling it like is—letting my thoughts be known. In fact, I prefer to think out loud and get feedback to I can perfect my ideas. I did just that this past week in Branson, Missouri.
I was in the “Live Entertainment Capital of the World” for the annual conference of the Evangelical Church Alliance International, one of America’s oldest associations of evangelical clergy. The “ECA”—as it’s known—is where I keep my ministerial affiliation. (In other words, it’s my membership in the ECA that empowers me to do all those ministry things like marry and bury people, preach and teach, and make pastoral visits to hospitals and other institutions.) I was re-elected this past week as chairman of the board of directors; it will be my second two-year term.
Being with colleagues, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ and in ministry is one of the most enjoyable things I do. During my 32 years of full-time Christian service, I’ve met countless thousands of pastors, missionaries, chaplains, and other Christian workers, and I find them all so interesting.
This past week I caused a few wrinkled brows among my fellows, though. In my annual Chairman’s Address I—well—addressed a very sensitive subject: Christian attitudes towards guns and violence in our culture. Now, I don’t take one absolute position on gun ownership and use. I realize the significance of the Second Amendment—but I also know it doesn’t trump the Second Commandment. The main point I made in my speech was that the ultimate authority for Christians on everything is not a legal document, not public opinion, and not politicians and political groups—but the Bible, the Word of God alone.
My point in addressing the gun issue was to open a prayerful, biblically guided, open and honest conversation about a critical issue that involves life and death, not matter which side you favor. Christian opinion runs the gamut from blanket bans (Anabaptist pacifists) to firearm enthusiasts (Christian Gun Owners Association).
Because of my own nuanced position on gun use by Christians, I’ve become the focus of a documentary film being made by Abigail Disney (of the famed entertainment family) and her Fork Films enterprise. Abby makes no bones about the fact that she’s basically anti-gun. She believes they only add to violence in society. I’m not with her on that score. Still, neither do I think that the panacea for every threat to personal wellbeing is a sidearm. I certainly don’t think that a semi-automatic weapon in the hands of a mentally ill person is a good idea. And, I most certainly don’t believe that being ready and able to shoot people dead is the best Christian answer to the problem.
So, we need to pray this through—search the Scriptures—and talk, honestly and candidly.
Neither Michael Bloomberg nor Wayne LaPierre can tell Christians what we should do on the question of guns and their use. I believe the final answer will come only from God, in a still small voice, consistent with Scripture.
The audio of my speech in Branson should soon be available at www.ecainternational.org . I’ll be very interested in what you think . . .
Contact on site: Peggy Nienaber, 202-236-0953
Today the Supreme Court will announce its decision in the case known as “Hobby Lobby.” Without rehearsing again all of the details, I’ll simply say that at the heart of it is the question of whether corporations have religious rights, specifically as they are protected by a federal law called “RFRA” (Religious Freedom Restoration Act).
I believe corporations do have religious rights and ought to be governed by them. In the case of the retail chain Hobby Lobby, the corporation really boils down to one family, the Greens of Oklahoma City. There’s another family in this, too, the Hahns of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who, like the Greens, chose to incorporate their cabinet making business. The Court should have an easier time with these two entities because they’re not multinational operations with hundreds or thousands of stockholders. They’re made up of just two families that own each business, respectively, and entirely.
With each day I grow more confident the Court will rule in the favor of these two families, but I’m hoping it goes further. Christian investors typically want their business interests to reflect their most deeply held convictions, and the First Amendment protects them in doing just that.When someone starts a business it’s an extension of themselves–it’s a part of their being. For virtually all entrepreneurs, they and their businesses are one in the same. That’s equally true for conscientious investors of every stripe. There are even “socially responsible mutual funds” that assure clients their money will be used in ways that are consistent with their values. The Court should affirm all this in its ruling.
The Bible makes no distinction between someone’s private, personal life, and their business activities. Numerous passages address the moral and spiritual obligations that attend to business, such as Proverbs 11:1, “Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight.” The Ten Commandments apply equally to businesses and individuals. In his book, Why Business Matters to God, author Jeff Van Duzer writes, “[F]or Christians interested in advancing God’s agenda of peace, justice and reconciliation, a focus on business and its role in society is critical.”
After sitting through the oral arguments in this case March, it was clear to me that several of the justices understand this important principle of Christian business ownership. Others do not get it. I’m convinced, though, enough of them are skeptical of the government’s claim that the new health insurance regime requires forcing businesses to comply with the contraception mandate that they will strike it down in these two instances. But, if the right justice authors the opinion, we might get something a little closer to the biblical mandate on business ethics. That’s the focus of my prayer today. In any case, after 20 years observing court decisions, even if today isn’t so good for the First Commandment, I think it will be a good day for the First Amendment.
The House and Senate have passed a law directing that the famous D-Day prayer offered over radio by President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt be inscribed on the World War II monument here in Washington, DC.
Here’s the prayer:
My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas — whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them–help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.
Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.
And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.
As you can see, this prayer is no “quickie.’ This is a well thought out, well constructed, theologically deep orison. I suspect even the eloquent FDR had some help with it. If you know the older Episcopalianism of which Roosevelt was part, you may detect the ring of a bishop. Presidents rarely have time to craft their own words, especially presidents at war. Perhaps a call to the Washington Cathedral yielded a ready writer. In any case, Roosevelt did offer the prayer, in its entirety, and read it quite sincerely. It was a wonderful gift of faith and hope at the end of an exhausting, terrible, and very costly war.
I’m hopeful the current president (at war) will quickly sign the legislation and order up the engravers. There is a certain urgency about this. World War II veterans–the very ones the Commander-in-Chief prayed for in 1944–are passing away rapidly. They should be given the pleasure of seeing that beautiful presidential prayer for them incused on that breathtaking granite tribute to their many sacrifices.
The FDR prayer would also accomplish something else meaningful: It would telegraph a message that prayer is neither partisan (Democrats pray, too), nor alien. It has been part of the American experience and culture since before we were a Republic, and it has served us well in every way, particularly during times of crisis. Should the current president not sign this act, it will say something very different; something I’m sure he does not intend to say.
I add my “Amen” to the to the posting of the FDR D-Day prayer!
P.S. You can listen to the prayer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLnEmdXaFYE
It really grates on me. I cringe every time I hear a pundit or politician say, “An overwhelming number of Americans want this.” Equally irritating is, “The numbers are with us on this. It’s a no-brainer.” Maybe it’s because I spend my time on issues that are not numbers related. When it comes to questions of right and wrong, good verses evil, morality and ethics statistics are utterly irrelevant. This is even more true when it comes to the will and command of God. We don’t say something is right, or something is good, because a majority of the people think it is.
There are a lot of criteria for determining the right and the good, but they do not include, “Lots of people want this.” Jesus said, “For the gate is wide that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13b-14)
Often only a very few will represent the right and the good. In this country, the abolitionists were very small in number—until it became socially trendy to oppose slavery. The same was true of the patriots that advocated for separation from Great Britain. (In fact, as I read history, they remained a minority of the colonial population. Throughout the War for Independence, the vast majority either favored loyalty to the crown, or, at best, was apathetic.) Follow the patterns up to the present day: The temperance movement against alcohol and domestic abuse, campaigns against child labor, women’s suffrage, civil rights, pro-life causes—and now—religious freedom. All these have nothing to do with majorities of anything.
We can take for granted that majority numbers should certainly not concern ministers of the Gospel, but there are others for whom statistical advantage should be irrelevant. Among others, how about duly elected officials in a representative Republic? One of the biggest mistakes people make about our country, the United States of America, is to call it a democracy. It is not. Our nation is a republic—very different from a democracy. Democratic rule means majority rule. Majority rule can equate to mob rule. In a republic, we elect representatives that we the charge to use their best judgment to do what is right and good for the country—not simply do what we want. Just because the biggest numbers can get their way doesn’t mean they should get their way. And even if they manage to get their way, it doesn’t mean their way becomes is right way.
The rule on right and good and majority / minority applies everywhere, including at the United States Supreme Court. Observers like to say the federal courts are “non-political.” They are anything but non-political. If they aren’t the direct product of the political process, they most certainly have their own internal political dynamics. The majority / minority rule applies just as well to them as any other entity. Just because the majority says it’s right, doesn’t make it right—or good.
You may want to keep all this in mind as we await the big decisions of the Supreme Court this week and next. The two we’re most concerned about, McCullen v. Coakley and Hobby Lobby-Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius, are about the right of free speech and religious liberty, respectively; two issues that are never decided by majorities of anything.
Watch for more as I explore this question of right and wrong, good and evil, yeas and nays.
I grew up with the Beatles. That era wasn’t the best of times, but the Fab Four sure made it sound like it was. I still like the song that John and Paul wrote for Ringo, “With a little help from my friends.” Another British rocker–named Joe Cocker–took that tune way up the charts. What I liked so much about the lyrics is the simplicity of the message. After all, everybody needs help and everybody needs a friend. Even Jesus had friends. He told the disciples, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends . . .” (John 15:15)
One particularly profound moment in the life of Jesus was when he approached the tomb of his friend, Lazurus, who had died in Bethany while Jesus was in Jerusalem. By the time Jesus reached the village, the man who was the brother of Mary and Martha had been dead four days. This is when we get the shortest but one of the most meaningful verses in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) Based on Jesus’ complete life of holiness (Hebrews 4:15), everything He did was sacred. Jesus’ deep feeling at the loss of his friend was sacred. Jesus’ need for his friend was sacred. His healing of Lazurus, and His consequent raising of His friend from the dead were sacred.
Lazurus needed Jesus, but Jesus also needed Lazurus. Friendship, brotherly and sisterly love, the need for one another, are holy and powerful. These are the reasons why, here in Washington, my team and I practice what we call “the ministry of friendship.” Ironically, people that serve in high public office are often lonely and isolated. Washington is a difficult place to have friends. It’s highly competitive, combative, even cut-throat. People are often out to get others before others get them. It’s a tough place to trust anyone. So, my team and I spend a lot of time prayerfully building trusting relationships. Often, someone needs a Christian friend in order to discover that Christ is their friend. For my team, this friendship is an end in itself, but God often uses it for something even greater.
Last week we had a bunch of people in town that have invested themselves deeply in friendships on Capitol Hill, including in the Congress and at the Supreme Court. Over the twenty years I’ve been here, I’ve seen over and over again just how important this ministry of friendship is, especially in strengthening the resolve of those that hold to the principles and convictions that will truly benefit our country. We’ve seen the abundant fruit of this Christian bonding and will see more of it in the immediate days ahead.
Please pray for our friendly missionaries and for the friends they have made in this town. We’ll all soon feel the effects of their important work!
Looking out the front door of our ministry center last week, a visitor who grew up in Washington, DC, and knows a lot about this town said, “Wow. You’re really right here where it all happens!”
The visitor was actually looking at the Supreme Court which sits almost diametrically opposite of our building. Just beyond it, by one block, is the United States Capitol. To the right, by two blocks, are the three U.S. Senate office buildings, and just a short walk to the left are the three office buildings of the House of Representatives. Ten minutes to the northeast is the White House, and the Pentagon is just a 15-minute ride over the Potomac. The avenues and streets in between all these points are lined with the headquarters for most of the various departments of government.
Our visitor was right. We are “where everything happens.” I’m grateful to God for that. So much of the ministry we do in Washington is based on proximity. Just like a church needs to be near the community it seeks to reach with the Gospel, we need to be near those we seek to reach with the truth of God’s Word. Most top-level officials in our federal government are within an easy walk of our front door–not to mention the hundreds of thousands of employees that assist these officials.
I’m especially reminded of the importance of our location when June rolls around. The Supreme Court is in session October to June. As an unofficial rule, cases heard by the justices are generally decided and published in the term in which they were argued. (Although, technically, a case may be held over to the next term, ordered to be re-argued, or simply ignored.) Generally speaking, June is the last month in this term for decisions to be released. The later it gets in June, the greater the tension over impending opinions. And that means my team must be ready to respond at literally a moment’s notice. (I think I’ve posted before on how there is no advance warning of any Supreme Court decision.)
My team and I respond to Supreme Court cases because it’s our obligation to “speak the truth.” (Ephesians 4:25) You’ll often see me in front of the Court, with a bank of microphones in my face, addressing the media. That’s not as easy as it seems. People on the opposite side of every issue try to crowd out our voices. To be heard we need to be first in position. To be first in position we need to be right “where everything happens.”
Maintaining a center of ministry activity immediately across the street from the highest court in the land, just a stone’s throw from the center of federal government at the US Capitol, and in the corridor traveled often by the President of the United States is not easy or cheap. It is, in fact, costly in every way. That’s why we need you and your generosity.
This week I will host several extraordinary friends to this ministry for a very unusual visit to the U.S. Capitol and to the Supreme Court. They will see and hear things no tourist to Washington will ever be exposed to, and they will meet some of the main players in Washington. We do this as a way to demonstrate to our top supporters that their efforts are bearing great fruit for the work of God in the nation’s capital city.
It’s always frustrating to me that we can only bring a very limited number of people to these events. I’d love to include every person that has ever prayed for us or has ever given a dime to help us, but the powers that be just won’t permit it. Please know, though, that you and every friend of Faith and Action counts equally in the plan and purpose of God for this Gospel outreach to our top government officials. As our group gathers today and tomorrow, we will take time to thank God for you as a member of our extended missionary team. Please pray for us as we represent you as your missionaries here in Washington. I’ll be sure to send you a complete report.
Always thankful for you in Christ,