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 am not anti-NRA. In fact, I’m a Life Member. 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.
Funerals are not strange things to me. I’ve been to plenty of them and I have officiated as clergy at too many to count. Most funerals are basically the same: There are family members, sometimes few, sometimes many. There’s usually a wake—or viewing—followed by a service—and an interment. There are tears, or shock, or relief, or anger. It’s normally painful, but not always.
The funeral I attended over Friday and Saturday of last week, though, was something different. First, it was not for one of my loved ones, or for a friend, or for a parishioner, or even for an acquaintance. It was for a complete stranger. I wasn’t even thinking much about it, except that I was vaguely aware it was scheduled, until I got an unexpected text.
The text simply read, “Slain NYPD officer Rafael Ramos was a student here.”
“Here” meant Faith Evangelical College and Seminary, my alma mater, in Tacoma, Washington. The sender was the school’s president, Dr. Michael Adams.
It’s funny how even a tangential link with another unknown person can suddenly make you feel connected to that individual in some way. If you think about it, it does make sense. Education is complicated, demanding, and idiosyncratic. If someone picks the same educational institution as you do, it probably says you have more than one thing in common with him or her.
In the case of Officer Ramos, I would quickly learn we had a lot in common. More important than anything, he loved the Lord. He was a serious Christian; even more than that, he was an evangelical, born again, Bible-believing, charismatic Christian. Officer Ramos was devoted to his church where he served in a number of capacities—and it was the kind of church I have kept company with for nearly all my Christian life.
There was one more element that drew me toward this brother: he aspired to be a police chaplain. Since my election to the post of chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance (in part, a chaplain endorsing agency) I’ve come to deeply appreciate the work—and even temperament—of chaplains. Unlike pastors, who mostly minister to believers that adhere to a single expression of Christian faith, chaplains must serve the spiritual needs of believers and non-believers, as well as those of every kind of religion. Chaplains also must navigate difficult institutional and even legal waters. They are generally very capable and adaptable people.
After thinking about Officer Ramos and his connection to my alma mater, I texted Dr. Adams and offered to represent him and the school at the funeral. He called to accept my proposal and told me he had enough support from his faculty and board to proceed with a posthumous award of the B.A. in Religion for the fallen officer, who was just two courses shy of completing it when he was assassinated.
The plan was for me to deliver a letter to his widow, Maritza, at the funeral. After a few phone calls and emails to Christ Tabernacle in Glendale, Queens, the Ramos home church, the arrangements were made for me to make the presentation on Friday, December 26, just before the start of the first of two funerals.
A delegation of several always makes a bigger statement than a single messenger, so I quickly recruited people I thought would compliment the unusual exercise the best. They included my long-time friend and ministry ally, Rev. Pat Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, and my newer, but very special friend and colleague, the Reverend Dr. Suzan Johnson-Cook, who not only was the 3rd U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, but is also a retired NYPD chaplain, having served 21 years. I also asked another friend of more than 30 years, Pastor David Hernquist of Bronx, New York, to join, but he was out of town for the holidays, so he sent his very capable assistant, Rev. Jesus Goyco, who had connections to the host church through youth ministry networks.
The four of us arrived at Christ Tabernacle on Friday evening, December 26, at 6 o’clock, an hour before the start of the first funeral, meant mostly for the family and the congregation that knew Rafael “Ralph” Ramos the best. The second day’s service would be for the police family and would feature the Vice President, the Governor of New York, and the Mayor of New York City, among others. Friday night we were there in a more intimate setting, if that’s what you could call a wake that drew thousands, had an expansive platform filled with a large choir and several officiants, and where the sanctuary pews were filled to capacity with nearly 1000 invited guests. I don’t know how many were outside, but I was told it was in the tens of thousands.
Although at first I had planned to request a private room to convey the school’s honor to Mrs. Ramos (who later insisted I call her Maritza), the more public setting was ideal. First, Officer Ramos was laid out in an open casket, which allowed me to turn towards him and present the letter from President Adams announcing the degree would be awarded with honors. I then conveyed the document to his widow who was visibly excited and relieved to read it. She reiterated to us what she had told Dr. Adams in an earlier phone conversation, that her husband valued his pursuit of the degree very highly and eagerly looked forward to completing it. She tightly clutched the folio containing the letter to her heart and thanked us profusely. Meanwhile, her youngest boy, Jaden, held his father’s hand at the casket. We said a short prayer with the family and took our seats.
A church deacon, who was charged with hosting our delegation, spoke effusively about his close friendship with “Ralph,” as his church family called the New York native of Puerto Rican descent. He said Ralph was a “godly man,” “a man of prayer,” “a beautiful guy committed to the Lord.” The deacon choked up several times trying to express his feelings about the tragedy. We were also told by others that Officer Ramos was busy “doing ministry” until the very day—almost the very hour—of his murder. One man said Ramos had sought out a fellow officer in crisis who was a non-believer, offering a prayer for him, just an hour or so before the attack that took his life.
It was clear from what everyone said at the funeral, both publicly and privately, that Rafael Ramos was an extraordinary individual. He was a father praised by his two sons as the “best dad ever.” The boys were remarkably articulate, poised, exceptionally well groomed, and mature beyond their years. His wife, Maritza, who clearly loved him passionately, stood for hours greeting literally thousands of visitors, including many high-level dignitaries. And his pastors, who also struggled emotionally while conducting the services, couldn’t say enough about his service to the church.
Rafael (as he was known to the school) was, Dr. Adams told me, a hard-working, diligent, serious, and very good student. He had already completed a non-accredited Bible school diploma and Faith Evangelical College had made special accommodations to accept many of those credits because they could see he was unusually gifted and committed to his educational career, even while balancing his demanding personal, professional, and church responsibilities.
“I just think it’s right that we award the degree,” Dr. Adams had said on the phone. “He deserves it and it’s the right thing to do. After all, it’s Christmas, and this is a gift to him and to his family.”
The news of the school’s intention had spread rapidly and other feature stories began to appear in the media, noting that Officer Ramos had hoped to become a police chaplain. He was not only studying as a distance student at my alma mater in Tacoma, he had also taken courses locally at New York Divinity School and was to be commissioned a lay chaplain by the New York State Chaplain Task Force on the very day he and his partner, Officer Wenjian Liu, were shot in their patrol car.
Several journalists interviewed me about the Officer’s pursuit of the chaplaincy. As chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance International, an endorsing agency for chaplains in military, law enforcement, and institutional settings, I’ve grown to understand and appreciate the unique aspects to this complex field of ministry. By the time the very large police funeral for Officer Ramos was underway on Saturday, I felt I knew him personally and professionally. It was an honor for me to be seated on the platform with the NYPD chaplains he admired and emulated.
Many luminaries spoke at the second service, including Vice President Biden, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. They all gave very moving tributes to a humble servant of God and of his city. But I nearly lost my composure when New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton posthumously appointed Rafael Ramos to Chaplain of the 84th Precinct that he served. It was as if I was connected in some way to this spiritual odyssey that included the divine call on Brother Ralph, his pursuit of that call through his training at my school, Faith Evangelical College and Seminary, his service to the great city where both my parents were born and raised, the impact he had on the lives he touched, and now, the fulfillment of that life’s mission in his appointment to the chaplaincy.
In the VIP recessional from the church onto Myrtle Avenue where the hearse, the bagpipe corps, 400 motorcycle escorts, and some 25,000 officers waited to accompany the casket of Officer–now Chaplain–Ramos to its final resting place, I leaned over to Maritza, his widow, and her two boys, Justin and Jaden.
“Thank you for sharing Chaplain Ramos with us,” I said with my hand over my heart. “He’s a good chaplain and a gift from God to all of us.”
We will see, you dear Brother, before that magnificent altar . . .
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.
— Revelation 6:9-11
The college where slain officer Rafael “Ralph” Ramos was an online student preparing to be a chaplain will grant their student his degree posthumously.
“It’s only right,” said President Michael Adams of Faith Evangelical College and Seminary, located in Tacoma, Washington. “Officer Ramos was a very good student, earnest, dedicated. He was just two courses away from completing his program and he deserves to finish.”
Officer Ramos, who already possessed a non-accredited diploma, had been working toward an accredited B.A. in religion in order to meet requirements for the chaplaincy. His long-term plan was to enter full-time pastoral ministry after retirement. He and his wife, Maritza, were actively engaged in their church’s marriage ministry among other places of service to the pastors and congregation at Christ Tabernacle on Myrtle Avenue in Glendale, NY.
President Adams will be represented at the Ramos funeral by a delegation led by Washington, DC based minister, Rev.
Rob Schenck, D.Min., a distinguished alumnus of Faith Evangelical College and Seminary and president of Faith and Action in the Nation’s Capital. Dr. Schenck is a civilian chaplain on Capitol Hill and chairs the Evangelical Church Alliance headquartered in Bradley, IL, an endorsing agency for police, military, and institutional chaplains.
Other members of the delegation include the Honorable (Rev. Dr.) Suzan Johnson Cook, who was the first NYPD black female chaplain and, most recently served as 3rd U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, and other New York pastors.
“Officer Ramos and his partner, Officer Liu, represent the very best among us,” said Rev. Schenck. “They cared deeply about their city, their families, and their comrades. Officer Ramos also cared deeply for his church community and was actively engaged with it. He felt a special calling to be a chaplain but it was never to be realized because of a senseless act of violence. I’m honored to represent one of the institutions that worked with Officer Ramos to help him reach his goal.”
“The chaplaincy would have been enormously complimented by an officer like Rafael Ramos,” said Ambassador Johnson-Cook. “He had the call, the commitment, and the courage to be an excellent chaplain, wherever he would have served. We are all poorer for his absence, but we know Officer Ramos rests in peace having done his duty to love God and to love his neighbor.”
“This is especially tragic because Officer Ramos was scheduled to graduate a chaplain training program on the day he was brutally killed,” said Rev. Mahoney. “His family was so proud of him and he was admired by everyone that knew him. We are calling on Christians all over the country to remember these fallen heroes as we gather to celebrate the birth of the Savior whom Officer Ramos served above all else.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” – Luke 2:13-14
Peace is always a theme of the Christmas season, sometimes in sermons, sometimes on doormats, often on greeting cards. There are wonderful accounts of literal Christmas-time manifestations of peace, like the famous one about World War I German and Allied combatants laying down their arms, exchanging cigarettes and rations, and singing carols together—only to resume their barbarous warfare on December 26.
I am not a blithe peacenik. Conflict is natural among human beings and will be until God institutes a new order in the universe. Wars will continue and physical violence will persist on every level of human relations. Still, this angelic pronouncement is not the wistful fantasy of a Pollyanna, but the express mandate of the Creator of all things, including of humankind, and it is a central tenet of the Gospel.
How then do we reconcile the ideal of God’s intention for peace and man’s rejection of it? How does the prayer for peace on earth jibe with the horrors being perpetrated by ISIS, the death of a teen in Ferguson, a 12-year old in Cleveland, an asthmatic in Brooklyn? For that matter, the hammer-beating of a St. Louis man, or the looting and arson of stores in protest of “police brutality?” None of this comports with peace or the pursuit of peace.
When I contemplate these seemingly irreconcilable realities, my mind often goes back to a simple and very human story. It was the early 1960s. One of my early ministry heroes, Rev. David Wilkerson, had arrived in New York City as a naïve young preacher with an outlandish vision to win violent street gangs to Christ. His first convert was a knife-wielding punk named Nicky Cruz. After Nicky gave his life to Christ he assisted “Brother Dave” in his frequent evangelistic rallies. During one of those rallies, one of Nicky’s rival gang members, Israel Narvaez, was present. A brawl ensued and Nicky had Israel on the ground with a blade to his throat.
“Say ‘Praise God’ man,” Nicky threatened. “Or I’ll cut your throat!”
Israel complied, crying, “Praise God, man! Praise God!” Nicky relented, got himself back in order, and led his rival to the altar. Israel went on to become an evangelist, like his nemesis.
What I love about this story (whether it’s embellished or not), is that it illustrates how peace and violence can coexist in the same person, often in the same moment. That’s true of the world in general. The presence of God brings peace, and the future plan and purpose of God results in eternal peace. These are points of ultimate hope and the means toward realizing true, lasting, spiritual, and temporal peace—even while, in the moment, the fullness of that peace eludes us.
The great gift of the Gospel is in its proof that peace is not only possible; it’s inevitable. The Gospel—manifest in the peaceful Christ Child at Bethlehem—is the cure for man’s hopeless surrender to violence. Of course, that peaceful birth was met with violence, too, as Herod unleashed his infant-murdering hoards. So, while our peace is disturbed in the moment, it’s assured in the future—the not-so-distant future.
This CHRISTmas my prayer for you is for you to know the hope that is Peace on Earth—and Good Will toward men . . .
Merry CHRISTmas to you and all yours.
As a result of the 2014 elections, the landscape of our Faith and Action mission field will undergo tectonic changes. To begin with, the majority party in Congress sets the cultural tone of Capitol Hill. That has a significant affect on everything we do. The tone makes an impact on how we engage the people here, what access we have to them, and how we are received by them.
There’s more to this change. The longer people serve in office, the more susceptible they are to cynicism and isolationism. The cynical ones often see religious groups as either useful tools toward political ends, or threats to social progress and freedom. Isolationists are–well, just that–isolated. They hide behind layers of staff and closed doors, inaccessible to us and just about any other outsiders. These conditions have nothing to do with party affiliation. Democrats and Republicans are equally vulnerable, and Independents catch the disease, too. The remedy is found in intervening early–as in when new members to either the House or Senate arrive on Capitol Hill. That’s the time to begin building a relationship with them that can last throughout their tenure.
I’ve learned to see elections as fresh starts when it comes to ministry in Washington. When the newly elected land here, they’re often optimistic, open, excited, and ready to develop new friendships and establish new alliances. So, my team and I will be reaching out to the new members of Congress and the new United States Senators. Even if they’re simply making a move from one body to the other (as is true of five new senators that have been U.S. Representatives), it will still be an entirely new environment for them. Members and senators do not often mix and are rarely found on each others turf. Even though the three office buildings for the House of Representatives sit at a distance just the span of the Capitol building from the three Senate buildings (and their respective chambers are on either end of the Capitol Rotunda) the two bodies may as well be in different cities. The incoming representatives-cum-senators may know the scenery, but that doesn’t mean they know the rules, the rhythms, or the culture of the “upper house.”
Of course, it’s not just the principals (members of Congress and senators) that change after an election–it’s their support staff, too. Hundreds of existing staff members will change roles, re-locate offices, and literally switch chairs in this transition. There will be plenty that will lose their jobs entirely, move into the private sector, or leave the area. New faces will replace them. In so many ways, this is a sea change outside our front doors. It’s easy to think of Washington as a static, even stagnate, place, but it’s really quite dynamic. Our robust democratic Republic constantly calls for change, and change it did this past week. That change will be literally palpable outside our front door.
Speaking of change, I thought you’d be interested in the religious affiliations of the incoming United States senators. To a one they are “Christian”–no other religions among them. Here’s how they identify themselves religiously:
Cory Gardner of Colorado: Lutheran
James Lankford of Oklahoma: Christian
Joni Ernst of Iowa: Evangelical Lutheran
Thom Tillis of North Carolina: Protestant
Tom Cotton of Arkansas: Methodist
Gary Peters of Michigan: Episcopalian
Steve Daines of Montana: Presbyterian
Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia: Presbyterian
Mike Rounds of South Dakota: Catholic
Now is a good time to begin praying for these new senators. I’ll publish a similar list of incoming House members later.
Most of us that are Bible-believing, praying, church-attending, moral traditionalists have the idea virtually all media news organizations are hostile. That simply isn’t true. There’s actually lots of friendly media here in Washington, and it’s always such a relief to talk to their journalists. (CBN and Fox are just two agencies that immediately come to mind.)
The most recent “friendly” to come around here at Faith and Action is the new White House correspondent for EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network), Susanne LaFrankie. There’s a “God-incident” story behind my meeting Susanne, but first let me say a bit about EWTN.
It might surprise you, but the largest religious media operation in the world emerged from the ministry of a humble nun named “Mother Angelica.” Maybe you remember her. Until only five years ago when she was sidelined by a stroke, Mother Angelica was the understated but vibrant force behind this enormous Catholic enterprise. Beginning with simple televised exhortations, “Mother” would go on to launch interview and feature story components, then news and opinion platforms, and finally radio, Internet, and social media divisions. Millions of viewers around the world now routinely avail themselves of the many programs and ministries of EWTN.
Now, back to White House correspondent Sussane LaFrankie. I met her when I plopped down on an Amtrak train seat en route home to Washington, DC, after preaching for my long-time friend and Faith and Action board member Pastor Harry Thomas of Come Alive Church in Medford, New Jersey. Preaching takes a lot out of me and I was tired. All I really wanted to
do was close my eyes and snooze, but I found my seatmate impossible to ignore. There was something about Sussane that registered with my spirit. We got talking, she asked me what I do, and once that cat was out of the bag, so was her’s: She was on her way to Washington to interview for the White House post for, “EWTN. Have you ever heard of it?” she asked.
Of course I had heard of EWTN, I beamed. And off we went into a prayerful conversation about the call of God, about the good work of this extraordinary media network, and–as in so many “God-incidents”–the many people we have in common. The rest is, well, to use a hackneyed phrase, “His-story.”
It’s worth noting that some of my evangelical and fundamentalist friends may be uneasy with Catholic Christianity. That’s never been true for me. First, it was a devout Catholic woman that first clearly articulated the Gospel to me, assuring me as a young Jewish man that Jesus was Jewish and that God had promises for the “seed of Abraham.” Second, my formation as a Christian included a prayer community made up of Catholic and Protestant Christians that together discipled me, demonstrating in real life the desire of Jesus in His High Priestly Prayer, John 17:21, “That they may be one.” Third, there’s my history with the pro-life movement: Catholics have led the way in championing the sanctity of life and I discovered that Catholic passion for God’s gift of Life flows from their deep spirituality and strong moral theology.
My new collaboration with Washington journalist Susanne LaFrankie only strengthens a years-long relationship I’ve had with EWTN through close colleague Fr. Frank Pavone, friends Jim and Joy Pinto of the “At Home” radio broadcast, and–of course–my own twin brother Fr. Paul’s Schenck’s frequent appearances on any number of EWTN shows.
As one evangelical voice in Washington, I’ll go on record thanking God for EWTN and it’s friendly presence. May the Lord continue to use them mightily for good in our country and in our world.
Welcome to Washington, Susanne!
Not that Sargent Pepper taught his band to play–but that Rev. Schenck told his choir to sing. (Well, it wasn’t really his choir, but, that’s too much detail.) Let’s just say the choir struck up at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Washington, DC, and a new missionary outreach to government officials was begun!
The event was the inaugural service for National Community Church. Nearly 1000 guests filled the ballroom, some 20 visiting pastors and Christian leaders from all over the country joined my brother, Paul, Rev. Pat Mahoney, and me on the platform. And that choir–all 100 voices from the West End Assembly of God in Richmond–took us into the heavenlies with praise. Then, to top that, grammy award winning artiest Larnell Harris had the whole place swaying.
My position as a new church planting pastor would be short-lived, though. It wasn’t long before I realized the people I felt called to reach with the life-transforming message of the Gospel and with a prophetic witness to biblical truth do not generally attend church in the nation’s capital. Top ranking government officials like members of congress, U.S. senators, top-tier White House officials, and Supreme Court justices don’t live in Washington, DC. They’re either in the outskirts or they return on weekends to their home districts and states.
So, I needed a different strategy. I recruited a young minister named Mark Batterson to assume the new church’s pulpit while I turned my attention to Capitol Hill. It was about to get very interesting . . .
Can’t believe it’s been two decades. Watch here for the next installment of “Memorable Ministry Moments in Washington, DC.”
Each year as the anniversary of the September 11th attacks of 2001 comes around, I experience flashbacks.
Among them is my frantic call to my daughter, who, as a college intern, was living in our ministry center just a stone’s throw from the Capitol. Reports said another hijacked plane was headed in her direction. I yelled to her, “Get out of the building! Get out of the city! Get in your car and drive east!”
There’s the image of the giant smoking cavity in the south façade of the Pentagon, the light poles scattered on the lawn, sheared off by the underbelly of the plane as it barreled into its target; the endless parade of trucks collecting pieces of the aircraft, chunks of debris, and human remains.
There’s my later walk to Ground Zero in New York to do my duty as a relief chaplain to first responders. In my mind I see our prayer circles and their earnestly clasped, brushburned hands and dust-laden clothing—their filthy facemasks and bloodied eyes from the airborne pulverized glass and gypsum.
Nothing stands out in memory more, though, than that Friday when I led a multi-denominational prayer procession of pastors to a grass-lined ridge just opposite the attack site at the Pentagon. As we walked, quietly praying, passers-by spontaneously joined with us. They seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. We began as a group of eight clergy and soon had dozens of tourists, journalists, government workers, and emergency personnel in our wake. As we knelt to say the Lord’s Prayer, a middle-aged man beside me began sobbing. He later told me he was a reporter and that he hadn’t prayed since he was young boy.
September-the-eleventh is one of those super-charged moments in time when everything that is good meets everything that is evil. It is a consummately human moment when we see just how good—and just how bad—we can be. It’s a moment when humanity’s need for The Savior is not debatable.
The original 9/11 was very hard, very painful, very frightening, and very sad. Still, I’m glad I experienced it. The police officers, firefighters, construction workers, chaplains, and the myriad of ordinary volunteers that emerged in its aftermath became my heroes. The dead and the injured became my family. The rebuilding—literally and figuratively—became a sign of great hope and a reason for optimism in an otherwise troubled and pessimistic world.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” –Jesus in John 16:33
Your missionary to Washington, DC,
Rev. Rob Schenck
President, Faith and Action
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)