When I first read that a “Pastor Pinckney” had died in the killing spree at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, I ran immediately for the guest book at our ministry house on Capitol Hill. I knew that several months before we had hosted an African-American minister from the south by the same name—even with its peculiar spelling. The thought that it may have been him sickened me that much more.
But, it wasn’t the pastor I had hosted that had been killed. I found Pastor “Glenn Pinckney” alive and well in Hickory, North Carolina. I told him on the phone I was concerned the slain pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, may have been his relation. “Not exactly,” the pastor said. He explained the name Pinckney, “spelled with the c, goes back to a common plantation owner. It was customary in the south for freed slaves to assume the names of their former owners, so, while the two Pinckneys were not related by blood, they did share in a common and ugly historical line.
The Pastor Pinckney I talked to in Hickory does happen to have a son that is a pastor in Charleston. In fact, Charleston is the family’s original home. At the behest of his father, the son, Reverend Philip Pinckney, would end up hosting Rev. Pat Mahoney and me on a whirlwind visit to his stricken community, but what we found there was nothing less than a fountain of Christ-like love and life-giving hope. In the midst of their suffering, the people of Charleston, particularly those related to Emanuel AME Church, where the tragedy took place, were having nothing short of a love fest in the street.
When we got there, clusters of black, white, and brown, young and old, including passers by, were clustered together, singing hymns, raising their hands in praise, and praying loudly and in turn. If the perpetrator of that heinous act had intended to wipe out a center of the black community in Charleston, he ended up to doing the opposite. The next morning, when Rev. Pinckney, Rev. Mahoney, and I, led a special prayer service in front of the church, I thanked the people of Beautiful Mother Emanuel for teaching us all how to live out the Gospel. The church that one man wanted to destroy has now become a life-giving model to the whole world.
The downside to Charleston is, of course, the enormity of pain and loss experienced by the loved ones of those that died. They will carry that agony for the rest of their earthly lives. But there is something else lamentable for all of us in the Charleston calamity; it is the grotesque reminder that racial hatred has not yet disappeared from the American fabric. This deep, devilish, and dangerous flaw that dates to before the very inception of our country—and was even codified into our constitution at the nation’s founding—persists to this day. It lingers in the recesses of America’s psyche and continues to drive so much injury, death, anxiety, and fear for people of all races.
The voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. played in the background of all of my formative years. I can still hear the fuzzy transmission of his eloquent voice thundering his dream for America:
. . . that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
My prayer on Calhoun Street in front of Mother Emanuel, arm-in-arm with black and white church leaders, was that we could all live out this dream, in obedience to a Gospel in which there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but we are all one in Jesus Christ.”
Unwittingly, maliciously, murderously, one tortured young man may have helped this Gospel dream to come a little closer to reality. Joseph said to the brothers that sold him into slavery, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20) So the family members of the #EmanuelNine are teaching us by the example of love, forgiveness, and prayers toward the killer of their loved ones.
Thank you brothers and sisters of #EmanuelAME ; Thank you brothers and sisters throughout #Charleston ; Thank you dear departed Pastor Pinckney and all those who helped shape a Christian community that can help eradicate a persistent disease in the American body politic.
Thank you, Lord, for all we can learn form the #EmanuelNine .
Rev. Rob Schenck, D.Min., is an evangelical minister to top-level government officials in Washington, DC, president of the National Clergy Council, and chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance. Dr. Schenck is the subject of the newly released documentary, Armor of Light, directed by Abigail Disney, and focusing on Christians and the problem of gun violence in America.
Revelations and allegations against Washington personalities have lately made for scandalous headlines, as they should. Investigations of a former speaker of the House and former member of Congress should be taken seriously. Still, they are only investigations at this stage. I hope we still hold to a fundamental legal concept in this country that the accused is “innocent until proven guilty.” Simply comparing our history to that of most of the rest of the world should be enough to convince us of the importance of this principle.
Still, we all know, generally where there’s smoke, there’s fire. It certainly won’t be the first time. Scandal is such a standard here in Washington that it became the name of a very popular TV series about, well, Washington scandals. Until recently, you could take a guided “Scandal Tour” of the nation’s capital.
Every time a story breaks like the ones surrounding Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, Rep. Aaron Schock, or, even the former Family Research Council executive Josh Duggar, I don’t think about the salacious appeal of the story, or of the terrible straights those public figures find themselves in—I think about the possible victims. Maybe that’s because I’m married to psychotherapist who specializes in helping victims of sexual abuse and other forms of trauma. Make no mistake about it—sexual abuse is a life-long trauma, as is being implicated in any form of criminal activity—for example, the Schock office interns now being hauled in front of a grand jury.
When the subject of scandal is a person in high public office, or engaged in political or social action, or, more immediately relevant to my world, a religious figure—the victims are myriad. The pain and suffering just continues to emanate out from the perpetrator’s immediate circle of casualties to an enormous, almost limitless ring of likely never-to-be-named and even unknown sufferers. For a top elected official, it includes all those that put their trust and, sometimes, their time, energy, and money into a campaign. Those supporters feel they have a friend, an advocate that will help them, not someone that will turn and embarrass them. For donors to organizations that promote public virtue, only to discover gross hypocrisy, it feels like an utter betrayal.
I remember the day, years ago, when I led a delegation to Capitol Hill to present a beautiful plaque of the Ten Commandments to then Speaker Hastert. I knew little about him, except that he was an active layman in his evangelical church back in Aurora, Illinois. (Oddly, in mid-December 1999, I had been in then Majority Whip Tom DeLay’s office in the US Capitol on the day of Hastert’s election. I remember a frantic staffer rushed in to announce, “Denny’s going up to the big chair. It’s Denny. He‘s a good guy.” I didn’t know Rep. Hastert at the time, so it made no impression on me.)
Eight months later, at the conclusion of that ceremony when our group conveyed the tablets to the new Speaker, charging him to “always obey them and to display them,” he said something peculiar. He looked the plaque up and down nervously and said something like, You guys know these aren’t in force anymore. We’re under grace now, not the law.
At that moment, one of our delegates, the inimitable (and late) Reverend Dr. Edwin Elliott of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, said to the Speaker in his witty way with a wry smile, “Has anyone informed Mrs. Hastert of this?” Dr. Elliott used his famous bushy eyebrows to indicate he was alluding to the commandment against adultery. Speaker Hastert did not respond.
What we’re reading and hearing about in the news these days is the reason our ministry continues to distribute plaques of the Ten Commandments to elected and appointed officials, as we did just this past week when we gave them to a new US senator. The timeless Words of Sinai are a reminder to us all that no one is perfect and we all need a higher moral authority than ourselves to hold us in check and accountable. The Commandments are a gift to us from a loving God who saves us from ourselves, and, by doing so, spares others from suffering at our hands. I think of the Commandments as a defense against scandal and victimization.
My team and I are planning more Ten Commandments presentations in the days ahead. Perhaps the more plaques there are on walls in Washington, the less scandals there will be in the headlines, and the fewer victims there will be to suffer that trauma.
If you read me at all, you know I rarely prognosticate about Supreme Court decisions. First, the justices and their staff members are exceedingly good at keeping confidentiality and leaks virtually never happen. Second, in a technical sense, the justices can change their decisions at any point up to the day the opinions are announced from the bench—and, in an even more technical sense—afterwards, until those opinions are formally published in the federal record. So, predicting the outcome of any case is fraught with problems and is risky. Keep in mind, too, that I’m not a lawyer or legal scholar, but I have been observing cases closely at the High Court for over 20 years, and I’ve even been through my own in Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network. Notwithstanding all the caveats, I’m prepared to make my prediction on the impending same-sex marriage cases.
Before I announce my prediction, though, I’ll bring you up to date. First, you need to know the decision has already been made, for all intent and purposes. That happened on May 1, the Friday following the oral arguments by lawyers in front of the justices. After each of the justices and their clerks had read hundreds of pages of legal briefs, and after they listened to the presentations by lawyers from each side, grilling them with tough questions, the nine “Supremes,” as I affectionately call them, met privately to vote, without staff or security in their justices-only conference room. Then, either the Chief Justice, if he is in the majority, or, if he is not, the most senior justice among the majority, assigned the writing of the opinions, which they have all been doing since. The case is expected to be announced within the next few weeks, but likely not until the last week of June, when the Court will adjourn for the summer.
Now, to the heart of the matter: What I expect the Supreme Court will do with the question of same-sex marriage. To cut to the chase: They will make it the law of the land. That is, a majority of the justices (I am putting the number at 6-3) will order states to issue marriage licenses to couples of the same sex. But wait, NOT for the reason you might think.
What advocates of same-sex marriage want is the finding of a fundamental “right” to marriage for any two persons, same-sex or opposite sex. That would mean a constitutional right, which would result in three things: 1) The highest level of legal protection and the least amount of restrictions surrounding marriage; 2) The seizure of marriage regulation by the federal government, taking it away from the jurisdiction of the states; and, 3) The uncertain legal status of clergy who decline to solemnize same-sex marriages based on religious belief. (Due to the fact that in most states, clergy must be authorized, or even sworn-in, at some level of government—county court, county clerk, etc.—in order to legally solemnize, or legalize, a marriage. Such an authorization includes, implicitly or explicitly, promising to uphold the Constitutions of the respective state and United States. If same-sex marriage were found to be in the constitutions, government-authorized clergy would be forced to facilitate same-sex marriages or relinquish their legal ability to marry anyone.)
Before you panic, let me say these outcomes are highly unlikely. My prediction is that the majority will NOT find such a fundamental constitutional right to marriage. Instead, I see the court taking a different—and safer—route to get to universal same-sex marriage. Based on comments I heard from Justices Kennedy, Scalia, Breyer, and, most importantly, Chief Justice Roberts, as well as the people I have talked to behind the scenes, I see the Court basing its decision on another finding: sex discrimination. In other words, the majority will find that any law that says to a man, because you are male, you may only marry a female, and vice versa, telling a woman that because she is female, she may only marry a male, is patent sex discrimination. Such a finding will result in a federal order for the states to stop discriminating against marriage license applicants based on their sex, but it will not find a universal right to marriage, opposite-sex, same-sex, or anything else. While such a finding results in the national recognition of same-sex marriages, it keeps the adjudication of marriage in the states and away from the federal government, while it protects the First Amendment rights of clergy, based on religious freedom, to decline to marry a same-sex couple based on religious conviction. (It may also preclude claims to such a right by other marriage groups, i.e., plural marriage and human-animal marriage advocates, etc.)
I’m sure that, before this case even arrived at the Court, there was already a 5-4 majority for same-sex marriage (Ginzburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan—and, yes, Kennedy), so, it was a fait accompli. Here’s how my imaginative scenario goes: Chief Justice Roberts went to Justice Kennedy and said, “Tony, you can have your weak 5-4 majority that puts most religious groups in an enormous crisis and invites endless litigation that must inevitably come here, or, you can have a 6-3 strong mandate with me. Caveat: The 6-3 will be on the basis of sex discrimination, and, if that’s your position, you’ll write the opinion. You got this started ten years ago in Lawrence, and you can finish it now with Obergefell.”
On the last point, there’s another possible twist: Again, if the Chief joins the majority, he gets to say who writes the opinion—either himself, or whatever member of the majority he selects. Maybe the Chief wants to control the language of the decision. If so, he’ll write it. In either case (and here’s where I’ll take a great risk of being pilloried by my conservative cohorts) John Roberts saves the day for religious leaders across this country. If my presumed 5-4 majority gets it, there’s no protection for religious freedom or right of conscience. If my predicted 6-3 gets it, there is—because of John Roberts.
Whether you like it or not, my predicted outcome would be a Solomonic solution to a very natty problem. I’m convinced the Court was going to establish universal same-sex marriage one way or the other. If I’m right in my hunch, the outcome won’t be the worst of the possibilities. And, if I’m right, clerics like me will have John Roberts to thank for preserving our religious freedom.
Now my final caveat: I’m neither a prophet, nor the son of prophet (Amos 7:14). In other words, I could be completely wrong.
While global warming remains controversial among conservatives, something we can probably all agree on is a phenomenon I call, “Washington Warming.” The hot season has come a little early this time around, but as presidential campaigns get underway, the political atmosphere heats up; as it does, Christians need to keep our cool. Allow me to explain . . .
The best way for Christians to contribute to the political life of our country is to keep to the big picture. Faith informs politics, but not the other way around. Faith is bigger than politics, partisanship, and personalities. God’s ways (“faith”) are infinitely higher than man’s ways (politics). That doesn’t excuse apathy and disengagement. Faith propels us towards politics, but not beneath it.
Christians end up beneath politics when we let politicians and political powers drive our thinking, our actions, and our anxieties. This happens when we see the political as the be all and end all. I cringe when I hear Christians say, “If Congress doesn’t pass this law, we’re through,” and, “If the Supreme Court issues this ruling, we’re done!” or, “If the President orders that, we’re finished.” How could any of this possibly be? No earthly, human, limited potentate possesses absolute or ultimate authority over anything, let alone the future of humankind!
There is only, “one Lord.” (See Ephesians 4:5) and, “he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” (2 Thessalonians 3:3) When we assign ultimate and absolute outcomes to the machinations of human actors, we diminish in our own minds the absolute and ultimate power of God. This is a form of idolatry, and it is a sin and a heresy.
Christians need to be engaged in the political process at all levels, from simply being informed, to voting, to attending town hall gatherings, to running for office. In all of this, we must assiduously maintain a faith perspective. Our anchor must be the Bible, the model of Christ, historic Christian moral teaching, and prayerful reflection. These must must be our only ultimate reference points.
The dirty side to politics in unavoidable. After 21 years in Capitol Hill, I know it too well. Voting blocks will be identified, categorized, marketed to, exploited, and manipulated. It’s the nature of the business. Even if the candidate doesn’t approve of this activity, the thousands of businesses and individuals that stand to make millions of dollars off of campaigns will do what they need to do to outshine their competition, and that means yank you and me around.
We must not play their game or let them play us. Instead, we need to be the voice of conscience and confidence at the table. We know the rules, because they were given to us on Mount Sinai and at Capernaum. The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, together with all of Holy Scripture, constitute the only ultimate and absolute platform for every part of the Christian life, including the political.
When it comes to the anxieties attendant to the political season, we must remember to, “Never worry about anything. Instead, in every situation let your petitions be made known to God through prayers and requests, with thanksgiving. “ (Philippians 4:6) I love these words of Paul because they’re not only emphatic, they’re optimistic. He tells us to include “thanksgiving,” presumably because God will and does answer, but in His time and in His way.
As this political season continues, we must be informed and engaged, but we must also be cool. In the end, God will have His way, whether we like it or not.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)
You know by now I’ve been wary of the growing infatuation with guns in our society. My concern is for those that may face moral and ethical temptations to use them for the wrong reasons. The Christian has a much higher standard to answer to than the Second Amendment ( as important as it is), state gun laws (as good as they may be), and sloganeering by secular political and advocacy groups (as clever as they may be). So, I’ve issued a caution to Christians when it comes to equipping ourselves for deadly conflict.
This past week, though, I got another view of the gun question, when I visited chaplains of the Arizona Army National Guard. Of course, military chaplains are unarmed non-combatants, and for very good reasons. I’ll explore that virtuous philosophy in a future post. Instead, here I want to reflect on the women and men these chaplains serve. They are virtually all remarkably brave and professionally trained bearers of weapons. One soldier, who may have misunderstood my position on the issue, made an emphatic point of telling me, “I’m trained to kill those that want to kill you. I don’t shoot to take life, I only shoot to save life.”
His was a poignant remark, and one I quickly came to fully appreciate as I talked with the men and women in uniform that serve our country at great risk to their own safety and that of their families. Though I’ve been around military people for a long time–and I’ve done plenty of funerals at Arlington Cemetery–for some reason this visit brought the whole thing home to me in a way I hadn’t seen it before.
First, I came to realize just how highly trained, rehearsed, and restrained our military professionals are in the use of lethal weapons. The ones I met were extraordinarily self-disciplined and conscious of the moral gravity of their task. In a conversation with their senior chaplain, I learned how the vetting process goes on whether or not to use lethal force, how it can be done with the least amount of civilian collateral damage. Chaplains advise on these literal life-and-death decisions because along the entire chain of command there is a serious commitment to neutralizing dangerous, life-threatening enemies while protecting innocent non-combatants.
The average Christian will never have to think about these things, let alone execute decisions that will take human lives, sometimes on a grand scale. Only a miniscule number of us will ever need to process in prayer the affect of the killing of a fellow human being on the soul. One chaplain told me a soldier that mistakenly identified a car on the battlefield as filled with terrorists, but instead he killed an innocent couple and their small children. The soldier was so deeply traumatized by the tragedy that he committed suicide.
These highly skilled, but overwhelmingly compassionate and goodhearted souls, must not only risk their lives, but their consciences and reputations as well. They do it by taking on an onerous responsibility most of us would rather pass on. They must risk incurring guilt, shame, and sin, being labeled baby killers, monsters, and invaders. Worse yet, they risk being ignored by those of us that can’t relate to the otherworldly experiences that have permanently altered their lives.
In my humble estimation, there is a HUGE difference between the men and women in uniform that train exhaustively, operate under strict command and regulation, expose themselves to both grave danger and severe reprimand and punishment because of the use or misuse of their weapons and the rank amateurs like me that may want to empower ourselves like soldiers, but shirk all the taxing demands they willingly endure–again and again–to earn the right to bear arms to protect us and our country.
Pardon me while I say it like it is: Taking on the power of life and death over other human beings with no corresponding demand on our souls, psyches, and mental and physical prowess, cheapens the commitment of the exceptional men and women I spent time with this week.
God bless our military for taking our safety so very, very seriously.
“[T]he one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” — Jesus (Luke 12:48c)
This past weekend was surrealistic for me. You may have heard I literally walked a red carpet at one of the best-known film events in the world, the Tribeca Film Festival. I never thought I’d walk a red carpet. “Celebrity” was not in my life-plan.
The reason I did the walk, though, was because it’s more or less required of the principals in the major films that debut at this showcase of new and seasoned talent. In my case, I was the subject of the feature-length documentary, The Armor of Light, (titled for a sermon I preached from Romans 13:12) and directed by award-winning filmmaker Abigail Disney. In the film, I ask hard questions of others, but mostly of myself, about Christians, guns, and deadly force. I do not suggest legislative or policy solutions to the problem, but I invite Christians, especially pastors and ministry leaders, into a prayerful, biblically informed conversation about what it means to completely pro-life.
Abby’s film includes several voices along with mine, but she chose to center the film around my search for answers, my discussions with Christians of every opinion, and on my preaching. I hope you won’t jump to any conclusions until you’ve seen it and talked with me about it. I plan to travel the country as the film is shown in churches, special events, and on Christian university and seminary campuses. My prayer is that people will take away from The Armor of Light an open invitation to join this important national discussion on a literal life-and-death subject. You’ll hear me say a lot about that in the film.
Please watch for The Armor of Light to come to a film festival, movie theater, or church fellowship hall near you. And, after you see it, please post your thoughts at our new discussion space, www.narrowtheroad.org. Every comment helps me see this difficult challenge more clearly.
BTW: You’ll see in our photo gallery my hangout with some folks from the very liberal-left. (What else exists in New York City?) You know I’ve never been one to preach to the choir. I like to mix it up—and this film project has given me a beautiful opportunity to do so. Keeping company with people of the opposite opinion not only keeps me sharp, but it also affords moments of very meaningful ministry and unusual friendship. You’ll see that I share my testimony of salvation clearly in the film, something I’m very surprised the editors chose to leave in!
If I had been blessed to live during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, I would have been there right alongside him when he was with the tax collectors and sinners. (Well, that’s overstating it: Abby and her gang have hardly been riff-raff–they’ve been more like godsends to me!)
Abby has helped me and I’ve helped her to get an important message to two places that rarely, if ever, talk to each other. That’s when a message is needed—and often appreciated—the most!
Let’s stay in touch!
Rev. Rob Schenck +
Maybe you saw the adventure comedy-drama The Secret Life of Walter Mitty staring Ben Stiller. It’s the fun story of a very ordinary guy that works for Life Magazine and goes on an unlikely, action-packed, thrill-seeking quest to find a lost film negative he thinks will make the perfect cover photo for the last printed issue of the beloved journal. I watched the movie two weeks ago to kill some time on my 10-hour flight to Istanbul, Turkey for my first visit to that country. How apropos, really, because this trip was my own secret adventure.
You probably know me only for my work as a missionary to government officials in Washington, DC (which has been my most important ministry endeavor for the last 20 years), but there’s a whole other side to what I do. I’ve actually been to more than 40 countries since I was ordained 32 years ago. Most of this travel was for preaching ministry or to supervise Christian humanitarian efforts, but some of it was also to investigate and report on religious freedom crises around the world.
My first forays on the religious freedom front came some 10 years ago with my board membership at the Institute for Religion and Public Policy (IRPP), founded by my long-time friend Joseph Grieboski. Joe got me involved in a dialogue between American Evangelical leaders and Moroccan Muslim leaders that would last five years and become one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Joe also talked me into going with him to Sudan to investigate the state of religious freedom in that country, which turned out to be one of the most harrowing things I’ve ever done!
It was another long-time friend and colleague, though, Jay Sekulow, that got me to go to Turkey. I must admit, Turkey was not on my radar screen until Jay brought it to my attention. It happened in conjunction with my acceptance of his invitation to serve as a senior research fellow with the newly established Oxford Centre** for the Study of Law and Public Policy (**British spelling), located at Harris Manchester College, a school of Oxford University in England. My first assignment was to undertake an investigation of religious freedom in Turkey, particularly as it affects Evangelical Christians.
To stick with the “secret life” theme of this blog, my assignment had to do with my other “secret” post as chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance International, one of the oldest associations of Evangelical ministers, missionaries, and chaplains here in the U.S. and around the world. This leadership position, along with my doctoral work on Evangelicals at Faith Evangelical College and Seminary, qualified me as an “expert,” and, thus, as a candidate for the Oxford fellowship.
Taking on an investigation of this nature is a serious matter. To assist me in gathering data, I recruited three professional researchers. (Two Americans and one Turk doing graduate work here in Washington.) The two Americans traveled to Turkey ahead of me and conducted interviews with 24 subjects spread across the country, including on the Syrian border where they encountered gunfire. I interviewed five church leaders (mostly Turkish of Muslim background) and four government officials, two at the Turkish embassy here in Washington and two in the Turkish capital of Ankara. I submitted a 20-page academic paper to the Oxford Centre before traveling to Turkey, then gave an oral report and defense to the symposium at Harris Manchester College that included the findings of my field research. More than a dozen presentations were made at Oxford on a variety of subjects related to Turkey, so I learned a lot about the country and its culture in the process.
We cannot ignore Turkey or take it for granted. It is hugely consequential both to the stability of the region and to much of the world. Until recently, Turkey was known as perhaps the most moderate of Muslim majority countries. It is officially “secular,” with no singular state religion, but Islam is favored in just about every way and without apology.
What I found surprising was that Christian churches do meet openly throughout Turkey, there are Christian radio and television stations, active Christian social media pages and websites, and Bibles in Turkish are readily available to those that want them. Compared to other Muslim majority countries, the situation in Turkey is remarkably free and open. Still, there are grave problems. Christians do suffer social discrimination and they do not not have confidence that the current government will protect them against acts of prejudice, including violence.
For the next several years, I will be continue my study of Turkey, and will pursue advocacy for Christians there, as well as work for greater U.S. attention to Turkey over all. As the literal bridge between east and west (the country straddles Europe and Asia), and the freest of all Muslim majority nations, not to mention it’s long, albeit stormy, role as an ally to Europe and the U.S., Turkey is a terribly important player on the world stage. It is sophisticated, in many ways exotic, and somewhat socially progressive, but the government’s recent turn towards an Islamist orientation threatens religious minorities and portends its possible global realignment. Please pray for Turkey and its people, especially its relatively few Christian inhabitants.
Before I close, I want to thank Dr. Jay Sekulow and the board of trustees of the Oxford Centre for the Study of Law and Public Policy for their confidence in me. As a senior fellow, I am honored to be in their company. I also want to thank the Reverend Dr. Ralph Waller, principal of Harris Manchester College, Director of the Farmington Institute for Christian Studies, and Pro-Vice Chancellor of Oxford University, for his warm embrace of the Oxford Centre fellows.
This (now not-so-secret) adventure continues–watch for updates. There will also be another installment in the Secret Life of Rob Schenck next week. It may be an even bigger surprise, so, do watch for it!
It’s not easy being a missionary to a place so many people hate. Washington, DC (or at least what I call “Official Washington”) contains one of most unpopular, disliked, and ridiculed population groups in America: Congress. Just about as many Americans hold the current president in contempt, too. And, depending on what they’re doing, federal judges also get lots of raspberries.
Two recent events illustrate how contempt for government figures is universal: When federal judge Judge Callie V. S. Granade ordered Alabama to issue same-sex marriage licenses, conservatives cheered state Chief Justice Roy Moore for challenging that order, while liberals applauded Judge Granade. Less than two weeks later, when a different federal judge, this time in Texas, put a hold on President Obama’s executive order legalizing undocumented aliens, the two sides reversed their criticisms; conservatives applauded the federal court, while liberals decried it.
If we Americans are anything, we’re fickle. For a long time now, a large majority of Americans have disapproved of congress as a whole, but we each like what our own member of congress is doing. This is both human nature and the way the founders designed the country to work. They put this fickle-factor into the political equation to use it as a check against tyranny. Still, it’s affect is the same: People don’t like the people I’m called to serve.
Of course, loving the unlovely has always been at the heart of evangelism and disciple making. As any pastor knows, the greatest challenge of Christian ministry is to reach beyond the popular inner circle to the periphery, where desperate souls exist in the shadows. It’s not just preaching to the choir—or, worse, to the cheering fans that give you the ovations—but to the marginalized, the alienated, the lonely, and the despised.
It’s easier, of course, when the undesirables are down-and-outers. I started my ministry career in an outreach to drug addicts and gang members. Later I went to the inhabited garbage dumps of Mexico, to the “Pepenadores,” or “garbage pickers.” Raising money to relieve the temporal and spiritual suffering of people deep in the margins is relatively easy; they are the lepers of our day.
It’s harder to recruit support to reach the “up-and-outers,” people with power, influence, and the spotlight. Maybe it’s because we expect these people to know better and do better. I think some of also see these people as doing things that directly harm us. It’s harder to love someone that’s hurting you.
Still, the command is the same. Jesus said so in the greatest sermon ever preached:
“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46-48)
According to Jesus, if we only speak well of our own, if we only like those whose actions we like, if we only reach out with kindness to those that are kind to us, if we only speak well of those that do what we think is good, we’re no better than—well—according to Jesus—the IRS agents here in Washington, who are the least popular of the least popular!
All that to say, please pray for those I serve here in Washington—whether you like them or not. You just may find yourself falling in Christ-like love with them, as I have.
Predictably, both sides of the gun issue jumped to conclusions about my statement last week on gun violence in America. I spoke in the context of the National Memorial for the Pre-born and the annual March of Life. My statement was in the form of an Op-Ed essay, published in USA Today, and in my opening remarks at the Memorial service. To set the record straight, below you’ll find my essay (entitled by the newspaper’s editors, “Support life womb to tomb”), my statement to the clergy and attendees at the Memorial, and a follow-up clarification I released on Christian Newswire after my position on the issue was mischaracterized by the conservative blog, Breitbart. If you don’t have time to read all of it, I’ll summarize it here in brief:
I am not anti-Second Amendment. I do believe private citizens should be able to responsibly own and freely use firearms. I do believe it is morally permissible for a Christian to kill in self-defense, in war, and for capital punishment. However, the Commandments of God always trump Constitutional Amendments–so, the Christian must be more concerned with what God says than what the Founders said. The question I want to put on the table is how the Christian biblically and ethically approaches the question of gun ownership and use. My family has both a history of mental illness and gun suicide. Both have affected my decision about having a gun in the home. Other questions include: I it always proper for a gun to be used in self-defense? Pointing a gun means readiness to kill; is it proper to point a gun when someone is stealing your car? What about the person with an anger management problem, or an alcohol or drug addiction problem? Should they own a gun? What about families with histories of physical abuse? Should an abuser own a gun? Never mind what the secular experts say, what does the Word of God, the example of Christ, and a prayerful conscience say? As I meet more armed Christians across the country–and as our representatives in Congress wrestle with this issue, the President bears down on it, and the courts rule on it, I think Christians–and pro-lifers in particular–need to weigh in on the discussion. Here’s my two-cents:
Opening Statement at the National Memorial for the Pre-born and their Mothers and Fathers:
Welcome to this, the 21st Annual National Memorial for the Pre-born and their Mothers and Fathers, America’s premier, indoor, interdenominational pro-life prayer and preaching service here in Constitutional Hall, just opposite the White House, in Washington, DC.
I’m Reverend Rob Schenck and I’ve been at this podium since Day One, with Fr. Frank Pavone, my twin brother, Fr. Paul Schenck, and many others on this platform and in this auditorium.
We’ve been through a lot together these more than two decades, and, for some us, for over 30 years, as we’ve struggled with the forces of darkness to expose the light of God’s Truth when it comes to the Sanctity of Nascent Human Life.
We’ve marched (as we will again today), we’ve raised money, lobbied, sued, been sued, rescued and done jail time; a few of us have been roughed up, been spit on, had cigarettes extinguished on our scalps; been kicked and punched; maybe you were with me in New York in ‘92 when we were urinated on as we knelt to pray. And pray we have, ceaselessly, since this journey began.
Of course, no one paid more than Jim Pouillon, whom many of us knew. In 2009, Jim was was shot and killed on a sidewalk in Owosso, Michigan, for his prayerful witness to the Sanctity of Life.
If you were around this movement in the 1990s, you also experienced the other side of Jim’s murder, when some among our own did the shooting and killing, taking the lives of those on the other side, violating the very tenet we have all held to so deeply–that every human life is sacred: good, bad, friend or foe, every life is cherished by a loving God, who is the sole Author of Life.
So, today I’d like to issue a new challenge to all who treasure God’s good gift of life and to all that have bravely sought to advance, and to preserve, protect, and promote this fundamental God-given human right.
Let’s take what we have learned during these past decades of our struggle and enlarge our reach, as the famous prayer of Jabez has it in 1 Chronicles 4:10, “Oh that thou wouldst bless me and enlarge my border.” Let’s take this Gospel of Life, as Christ commanded us, “into all the world.”–everywhere life is threatened, disrespected, devalued, and disregarded. Our pre-born brothers and sisters have taught us the meaning of the mandate in Deuteronomy 30:19, to “choose life, that you and your descendants may live.”
The recent events in Paris, and just Tuesday in Boston, brought back terrifying images from the murder and mayhem in places like Newtown, Connecticut, Aurora, Colorado, and Fort Hood; in tragic and avoidable losses of life in Ferguson, Missouri, and Brooklyn, New York. For at least one person on this stage, these are not simply tragic news reports. My special guest this morning is Lucy McBath, whose 17-year old son, Jordan, was murdered outside a Florida convenience store for playing his music too loud. Lucy is pro-life to the core: She fought through a high risk pregnancy to bring her miracle baby to birth, then raised him as a home-school single mom, only to lose Jordan to a man that, because he carried a (legal) sidearm, thought he could end an argument with a lethal weapon.
As pro-lifers, we have long decried the use of instruments of death against the yet-to-be-born, but many survivors of abortion will go on to face the imminent threat of violent death in their own homes, in their schools, and as they walk or drive home.
It’s time for those of us that love and treasure life to loan our voice of conscience to the national debate over increasing gun violence, just as we have to the debate over scissor and suction violence. It’s all of a piece.
Most of you know I’m an evangelical minister and my twin brother is a Catholic priest. I tell my brother if evangelicals ever had a pope, it was John Paul II, the Billy Graham of Catholics. John Paul II won my heart when he confronted Bill Clinton with the Sanctity of Life in Denver during National Youth Day in 1993; He’s still my hero. This brave man, a shooting victim himself, warned of the grave danger posed by the “uncontrolled proliferation of small arms.” Let’s follow that good counsel into the future to ensure the Gospel of Life surrounds every human life, pre-born and born.
Now, let us once again kindle the Light of Life as we begin our service . . .
Now you’ve got the whole scoop!
“I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD . . .
“YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME . . .
YOU SHALL NOT MURDER.”
– The Great Words of Sinai, Exodus 20:2,3,13
The title of this post may seem like a statement that doesn’t need to be made. The brutal slaughter of unarmed civilians by heavily armed gunmen in body armor was a self-evident act of cold-blooded mass murder. Still, the provocative nature of the publication most of the victims worked for may be cause for some confusion. It shouldn’t be, and here’s why:
First, only the One True and Holy God is the judge of humanity. These assailants, whether or not their religion is sincere, took upon themselves the role of God in determining these cartoonists must die for their irreverence. If there was sin in this situation, the greater of it lies with the murderers who committed the ultimate sin, that of self-idolatry. This was, in fact, the first and satanic sin, urged by the serpent in the garden, “You will be like God . . .”
Second, the deliberate taking of human life outside due process of law is a direct violation of the commandment of God, “You shall not murder.” Murder is a flagrant disregard for the moral authority of the Divine and an affront to the Holy One.
Third, the murder of an individual is both a callous disregard for the sanctity of God-given human life and a contemptible dismissal of the sacredness of repentance, because it precludes the victims’ opportunity to repent of their sins and seek mercy from God. Murder essentially robs the sinner of the opportunity to seek salvation.
If these are not enough proofs that the acts of the Paris assassins are unequivocally immoral and reprehensible sins, then consider this: These three boy killers are not the brave martyrs they want to be, but, in fact, are cowards. They hunted and slaughtered unarmed, untrained civilians, then ran away from the scene like naughty school children; that’s not bravery or martyrdom, it’s shameful cowardice.
May God have mercy on the families and loved ones of the victims and may He bring the perpetrators to justice and repentance.