MY MEMOIR IS DONE! (Well, almost . . . )

The Cross and the Capitol

It was two years in the making, with lots of prayer, endless reflection, research, writing, laughing, and crying, but it’s done: Just about 100,000 words constitutes The Cross and the Capitol: A Memoir of Twenty Adventuresome Years as a Missionary to Top Government Officials in Washington, DC.

What I have now is the first rough draft. It’s already undergoing a complete style edit (for continuity of voice, etc), after which it will be subjected to a “line edit” for spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc., etc. (If you’re part of my Readers Circle on Google +, you already have access to the rough draft.)

For my blog readers, I’ll be posting short excerpts here. They’ll be in no particular order, because I don’t want to be a spoiler! By picking random sections, it won’t give away what’s coming next at any given point in the story!

A memoir is far more demanding than I had imagined it to be. First, I had to decide what parts of the overall story to tell, and what parts to leave out. That required determining which ones could be told and which ones must remain forever in the confidential category. I also knew that I couldn’t write endlessly or forever, so, I had to limit the scope of the story and its content.

When should I begin a particular account–and when should I end it? Who are the main players in it, and who are in bit parts? Should I name all the personalities, or just the ones that matter? How do I decide what details are necessary and what details make the telling pedantic or confusing?

None of this was easy. There were also the really big and consequential questions, like, Why tell this story at all? Similarly, Why not tell this particular part of the story? And, of course, there’s always the haunting question, Am I remembering this accurately and telling it right?

Crafting a memoir required a lot more research, fact checking, and deliberate memory exercises than I ever thought it would. While rummaging through old photos, newsletters, correspondence, and notes, I came across incidents and people I had long forgotten. It was like going back in time and reliving events and experiences that, in so many ways, I didn’t think had happened.

There was also another big hurdle to get over: Should I tell this story as a sort of sanitized hagiography, scrubbed of the bad, non-complimentary parts? Or, should I tell it with all the raw, real-life, sometimes-disappointing–even disillusioning–elements?

The answers did not come easily, nor did I ever get it completely right. The story is a mix of my feelings about memories, the facts surrounding real historical events, and redacted history based on my bias in preserving relationships, access, and promises of confidentiality.

More than anything, I wanted my memoir to show the friends and supporters of my ministry in Washington just how fruitful their contributions have made it, whether those contributions were their prayers, their moral support, or their money. I think my finished product will achieve that goal.

I hope you’ll buy the book when it comes out. For now, I’ll tease you with snippets. Here’s the opening of Chapter I, entitled, “Calling.”

* * *

“Reverend, the Congressman needs to see you right away. I’m afraid if he doesn’t talk to a minister immediately, he’ll take his own life. He owns a gun and he’ll use it.”

The voice belonged to the chief of staff to a well-known Republican representative. I had heard many disturbing things as a missionary to top government officials in Washington, D.C., but the threat of suicide by a sitting member of Congress was one of the worst. This lawmaker was a rising star in his party with a storied military background and a successful career in business. Now in his second term in office, he was preparing for his next election run.

“I’ll come now,” I said, simultaneously typing an email to my assistant, directing her to cancel my day’s appointments. “Just tell me where to meet you.”

“Enter the Capitol at the southeast door, pass through security and turn to your left. You’ll see an alcove. There’s a staircase in it guarded by an officer. Tell him you have a meeting upstairs. Go to the fourth landing and through the door. On the opposite wall you won’t see a door, but you’ll see a pencil-thin line and a metal plate where a handle would normally be. Press the plate and the panel will pop open. We’ll be inside. Come quickly.”

It sounded eerily like a scene from a Robert Ludlum novel. There was no time for questions. I hung up, sprang out of my chair, dashed down the two flights of stairs at our ministry center, and ran the one block to the Capitol building. In a few minutes, I was at the southeast door. I’ve learned to leave behind cumbersome electronics and keep my pockets empty so I can pass through security checkpoints quickly. Thankfully, the line of people going through was short. On the other side of the metal detector, I looked to my left. There was the alcove with the guard posted at the staircase.

“Officer, I’m meeting somebody upstairs. It’s urgent.”

“Where?” he asked quizzically.

“On the fourth landing. I guess that’s the second floor. Not sure.”

“Been here a long time, bud, and there’s no meeting room up there, but you can check it out.”

Breathlessly thanking him, I bounded up the tightly configured, zigzag staircase, counting the landings as I went. Reaching the fourth level, I pulled open a heavy mahogany door, looked out to a curved wall, and quickly scanned it for that pencil-thin line. There it was, like a seam in the wallpaper, and the metal plate at waist-height. As I pressed it with my palm, a door panel sprang open to reveal a closet-sized room with a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Standing under it was the man who had called me. Next to him was the Congressman, seated behind a drab government-issue metal desk. His head was turned downward, eyes closed, as he rested his chin atop enfolded hands, his arms propped up on the desktop. An invisible hand seemed to crush him. His eyes were reddened.

The chief of staff said softly, “Please close the door, Reverend.”

I complied.

Looking down, I could now see only the top of the distressed man’s head, but I asked gently, “How can I help you, Congressman?”

Before he answered, the staff member gestured toward a chair facing the desk. I took it as I waited patiently for a response. It seemed an eternity before the congressman looked up from under swollen eyelids and spoke haltingly.

“Reverend, everything that means anything to me has come crashing down. My marriage, my family, my career, my good name are all gone. I’m left with nothing. I own a pistol. Maybe it’s the best way for this to end.”

This sad story actually has a happy ending, but you’ll need to buy the book!

Watch here for more posts from my memoir–and keep an eye out for it:

The Cross and the Capitol: A Memoir of Twenty Adventuresome Years as a Missionary to America’s Top Government Officials in Washington, DC

Due out before Christmas 2015.

Here’s to our shared adventure!

Rob +





At this year's Red Mass in Washington: Cardinal Donald Wuerl and White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough.

At this year’s Red Mass in Washington: Cardinal Donald Wuerl and White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough.

It’s wonderful to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed to the Attorney General of the United States and the White House Chief of Staff, along with hundreds of other top-level government officials. It’s also nice to see a Supreme Court justice kneel and pray.

That’s just some of what what happened on Sunday, October 4, here in Washington, DC.

The occasion was the annual Red Mass held at beautiful St. Matthew’s Cathedral on Rhode Island Avenue, where the week before, Pope Francis had addressed an assembly of U.S. bishops.

It was a great honor for me to be a part of the Red Mass ceremony by joining with legal scholars from the around the country in a procession at the beginning of the service. Actually, it was a little odd for me to pass by several of the Supreme Court justices, including the Chief Justice of the United States, who were standing in respect for the clergy and other celebrants. I’m used to standing in the justices’ presence as they process into their courtroom in robes, but at the mass it was the other way around. I was in my academic robe and hood (as Senior Fellow with the Oxford Centre for the Study of Law and Public Policy), while the justices were in business wear. Strange inversion

There was a much more important reason that the Red Mass is so meaningful to me and to our ministry team. Since 1995, the primary focus of my mission at Faith and Action has been the judicial branch of government, beginning with the United States Supreme Court. There are approximately 850 federal judges, magistrates, and other hearing officers in the federal system, but none more powerful than the nine that sit on the nation’s highest court. To see five of them together in church, listening to God’s Word while prayers are said, “in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord,” is both encouraging and a relief!

This time of year is especially important to my team and me because the Supreme Court begins its annual term on the first Monday of each October. For several decades, the Red Mass has been held the Sunday before the Court’s opening day. The justices consider cases over approximately a nine-month period. (There is no set termination date, but they almost always complete their work by the last week of June.) Of course, emergency appeals, like those filed by death row inmates, are heard even in the off-season. At the Red Mass, prayers are said for the justices, as well as all judges and magistrates, together with all other professionals responsible for the administration of justice throughout the coming year.

Beginning in 1953, the John Carroll Society (named for the first Catholic bishop in the United States, whose brother, Charles, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence), was originally founded to enhance fellowship among Catholic civic leaders, but it now opens its arms to non-Catholics as well. The Red Mass is the Society’s signature event. Over time, it became a custom for the Supreme Court justices and other top government officials to attend.

During this year’s mass, readings were done of Genesis 11:1-9 and 1 Corinthians 12: 3-7, but it was the gospel portion that really packed a wallop. Deacon Keith Burney took to the pulpit to read John 15:26-27 and 16:12-15. Included in the text are these words of Jesus about the Holy Spirit, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

Could there be anything more relevant to an attorney general or a federal judge than the pursuit of “truth”? Keeping in mind who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), the gospel reading was a potent reminder to all of us assembled in that sanctuary that truth can ultimately be found in only one place—one person—the Lord Jesus Christ.

In his sermon, Archbishop Wilson Gregory of Atlanta also stressed to his listeners that the law, “always must include the very basic right to religious freedom.”

At one point during the mass, I looked over toward the area where the guests of honor were seated to see one of the Supreme Court justices kneeling quietly in prayer, with his head bowed. In our nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, the signers referred to God as the “Supreme Judge of the World.” It was nice to see at least one of our earthly supreme judges bowing to acknowledge the far greater Supreme Authority.

Please pray for those that attended the Red Mass: Attorney General Loretta Lynch, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Stephen Breyer, as well as the scores of lower court judges, government officials, law school deans, professors, and attorneys that were present. And please pray for the entirety of the High Court as it begins it’s new session.











Pope Francis "Preaches" to Congress

Pope Francis “Preaches” to Congress

Pope Francis blew though Washington, DC, like a monsoon after a drought. No matter what you think of Catholic polity and style, Francis brought talk of God, Jesus, love, compassion, grace, and church to the nation’s capital. In fact, in so many ways, for three days, it was nearly all-gospel, all the time!

There are so many lessons in the aftermath of last week’s papal whirlwind, but, for me, the most important one is the critical difference between “message” and “method.” A lot of my very conservative friends (which is the majority of my friends) are suspicious of Francis. Some even refer to the pontiff as a “socialist,” “communist,” “radical,” and “liberal.” Strange, because my liberal friends (I do have a few), see Francis and the Catholic church that, in so many ways, he embodies, as anything but progressive. They see Catholicism as ultra-conservative, rigid, tradition-bound, and patriarchal.

What do these two, diametrically opposite opinions about Francis and the institution he represents, tell us? I think they suggest that it’s all too easy to confuse message with method. The message carried here to Washington by Pope Francis was the same I’ve always heard from popes: The need to turn to God as our ultimate source of help and wholeness; salvation is found in Jesus Christ, who is only Lord, Savior, and risen King; that our best and highest guidance is found by prayer, Bible reading, and through the model of Christ and of the early disciples; that faith, hope and love define the good and most satisfying life—and, echoing the Apostle Paul, that the greatest of these attributes of the good life is love.

The method of popes has changed with the course of time, with the needs of those they seek to communicate to, and with the personalities of the respective occupants of the office. The method of Pope Francis is to gently introduce an idea for consideration and contemplation, rather than to deliver that idea as simply undebatable dogma. Part of Francis’s method is also more of a matter of style. Instead of the prophetic pronouncements of John Paul II (as pleasant as they were), or the pedagogical instruction of Benedict, Francis delivers his message with a fatherly, gentle pastoral concern and patience.

After my 21 years of missionary work on Capitol Hill—the first ten in a prophetic mode, and the second ten in an instructive mode—I find myself now shifting to a more pastoral mode. I think it’s what’s needed for our times, especially if we hope to reach a new generation with the old message of the gospel of life and salvation.

Methods for communicating the old-time gospel message will constantly need to be changed, but the heart of the message always remains the same. As the content of Francis’s homilies and prayers during his visit consistently reminded us, the heart of the message is always, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” (Hebrews 13:8 KJV)

- Rob



Over Twenty Years In Washington Has Taught Me the Value of an Unlikely VALUE

From time to time I simply leak my thoughts at this blog. Now is such a time. With the presidential campaign season already started, and lots of blood boiling as a result, I thought about this and decided to share it with you. I’d love to read your thoughts. Please leave a comment below.



Somebody recently accused me of having caught the “beltway fever.” That’s the phrase a lot of people use to refer to what they perceive as a certain detachment from the real world caused by living too long in Washington, DC, and the resulting “compromise” by so many law and public policy makers.

Well, I have been here for over twenty years—and Washington does have a distinct culture—like Dallas has a culture, or Fargo has a culture, or Gobblers Knob has a culture. (And, yes, I’ve been to them all.) After being here more than two decades, I’ll admit—without apology—that I have assimilated–at least in part–into the DC culture.

Now, I need to be clear that the culture I’m referring to relates to what I call, “Washington-by-Day.” There are two cities of Washington that exist simultaneously in the same location. The hundreds of thousands of outsiders that commute in daily or drop in once in a while to do business in or with government here dominate “Washington-by-Day”. There’s a different crowd that makes up “Washington-by-Night,” though that is changing rapidly.

For most of the time I’ve been here, Washington-by-Day has been overwhelmingly white, middle to upper class, and highly educated. Meanwhile, Washington-by-Night has been predominantly African-American, poor to working class, and has suffered because of mismanagement,  corruption, and incompetence in the educational system.

Both of these trends are changing. Washington-by-Night is becoming more diverse, more prosperous, and a lot younger. Millennials are driving this shift. The upside is that the nation’s capital city is looking, feeling, and, for the most part is, better in most ways. Still, it has come at the cost of displacing too many long-time residents that can’t afford the new costs of housing. But, I digress—back to my point . . .

Even with the big demographic changes in Washington, there remain two versions of it, albeit less different than they were when I arrived over twenty years ago—and it’s still that daytime one I most closely identify with because it’s the mission field I was called to serve.

As with any mission, you must not only understand the culture of your target population group, you must embrace it, at least in part, and I have done so, prayerfully and carefully. Now, here’s where I ask that you take a deep breath and give me a chance to defend my next statement: The core element to the culture club I minister in is (drumroll) . . . is . . . is . . . COMPROMISE!

That’s right: One of the core values—maybe even the single most important value—in the Washington-by-Day culture is: C-O-M-P-R-O-M-I-S-E.

I know, it sounds like an oxymoron—compromise as a cultural value? Doesn’t one cancel out the other?

The answer is—not in Washington (-by-Day).

For all the vilifying of wishy-washy, finger-in-the-air, spineless, sell-out politicians and their namby-pamby do-nothing negligence—or worse, anti-patriotic malfeasance—I think compromise is not only a good quality (here—during the day hours), it’s also the one necessity in governing such a large and diverse people.

There are, of course, things no one dares compromise on, but they are few in number. For the most part, if you’re going to get folks in Tulsa to stay united (in the national sense) with folks in Chicago or in New York or in Miami, you’ve got to learn the art of ethical compromise. In this sense, I mean, of course, that our duly elected representatives must learn when, where, and how to accept all or part of a legislative or policy initiative they may not prefer (at least in its entirety), or, even want. In the interest of the greater good, though (which includes holding the country together), they put aside their own demands (or the demands of their constituents) and render a compromise decision.

A note on that last parenthetical comment: I know a lot of people are outraged by politicians they perceive to have welched on their campaign promises to the people that elected them, often by compromising once they’re in office. Well, first of all, in a republic, we elect representatives that we charge with using their own good judgment in governing. The United States of America is not a raw democracy. The founding generation presaged what raw democracy—or mob rule—would do in places like France, and it wasn’t pretty.

If you believe, as I do, that part of the genius of America is that it is a magnificent whole made up of smaller parts—states, counties, cities, towns, neighborhoods, private societies, churches and other communities of faith, families, individuals—then you have both the bane and blessing of it. The bane of it is in its differences—culturally, economically, historically, religiously, and experientially. Even when we speak English, we can’t always understand each other (and that’s not just because of the pronounced accents some of us sport). The blessing of it is also in its differences—and what they bring to the enrichment of culture, economics, history, religion, and the American experience.

Maybe you’ve been to countries—as I have—that do not compromise on anything. Severe societies where one culture, one economic system, one “history” is told, one religion only is allowed, and one kind of experience is valued—and no other. That is not “liberty,”—the basis of the American ideal.

You may already be writing me off as lost to the disease that is “Washington,” but think about it. When was the last time you “compromised” on where to go on a vacation—or what restaurant to head to for dinner—or what time to meet up with friends for a movie? When was the last time the pastor or worship committee decided to add a few more choruses in place of hymns—or hymns in places of choruses?

it’s not just secular governments and societies that benefit from the virtue of compromise, it’s also families, groups of friends, even churches—and clubs—and businesses—and schools, and on and on it goes.

Of course, maybe there were no compromises and the kids hated the vacation, or, the family hated the menu, or the attendees hated the song service. Maybe nobody wanted to go on a vacation again, or go out to eat again, or go to that church again.

That’s the point of compromise—to include as many as you can, and to serve as many as you can, by meeting the needs and desires of as many as you can, as closely as you can do it, morally, ethically, and, in our form of republican government, constitutionally.

All this to say, if by compromising on some things, I show symptoms of the dreaded “beltway fever,” well, give me more of it. Fevers can be dangerous, but there is also a theory that fevers are the body’s way of fighting off certain infections. If the infection is the exclusion of some from the American dream, or is the rigid domination of a few over the many, then I’m all in favor of letting the fever of compromise rage on.

“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:19)

Just something to think and pray about . . .

Rob +

(Please leave a comment below.)







































The Planned Parenthood Mess–Today the Senate Votes

Today the United States Senate is scheduled to vote on the defunding of Planned Parenthood. The action came after videos surfaced showing medical executives at the 100-year old birth control organization callously referring to the procurement of fetal body parts for research purposes and naming dollar amounts for compensation. Even USA Today, the national newspaper (and no conservative journal) condemned the behavior in today’s editorial.

Whether or not the practice of Planned Parenthood’s personnel violates federal laws regulating medical procedures or the sale of human organs is one thing; whether they violated human dignity and decency is another. To me, the latter is of the utmost importance.

Treating human beings with dignity is a constant challenge for fallen humankind. The bland chatter by Planned Parenthood doctors and lab technicians about hearts, livers, lungs, and how they can “evacuate an intact calvarium at the end” (“calvarium” is the technical term for “head’) is, for most of us, the most shocking and egregious form of contempt for fellow humans—and they include the children being exploited and the mothers that are unaware of what is being done in the aftermath of their emotionally distressing experience.

This kind of contempt for God-given human dignity is not, sadly, limited to the staff of Planned Parenthood. Many others are just as dismissive of the Crown of God’s Creation. Over my 33 years of ordained ministry I’ve heard lots doctors speak contemptuously of their patients; I’ve heard morticians mock cadavers; and I’ve watched cemetery workers kick coffins.

With reference to Planned Parenthood, criminal and civil investigations and actions will need to be undertaken by state legislatures and attorneys general, local prosecutors, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Congress to determine whether or not laws were broken. However, even if they weren’t, there are ethical questions that need to be pursued, particularly by Christians.

If nothing else, the young activists behind this video expose have opened a national discussion on more than abortion and commercial trade in human body parts—as bad as all that is. They’ve opened for us a wider conversation about how we are to treat one another as members of the human family and creations of God.

Jesus was asked by the scribe, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mark 12:28b) Do you remember his answer?

“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’” (Mark 12: 29b-31)


Loving God and loving neighbor—our fellow human beings—no matter who they are or what state of being they are in, are paramount in the Christian life. Imagine God-in-the-Flesh, Jesus Christ, the Image of the Father, speaking directly and unequivocally to us on this question: Nothing—absolutely nothing—is more important than these two things: Love God—and love the crowning creation of God—human beings—with every capacity God has given you!

One of the greatest expressions of love is showing respect and honor for another. Respecting and honoring our fellow human beings is as close to the worship of God as one can get in this earthly dimension. We are to respect and honor one another in life and in death.

Before we’re too quick in pointing the finger at the doctors in the Planned Parenthood videos, we need to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask, How do I treat my fellow human beings?

If you’re a medical professional, ask yourself, How do I treat my patients? If you’re a researcher, ask yourself, How do I treat my subjects? If you’re a politician, ask yourself, How do I treat my constituents? If you’re a boss, ask, How do I treat my employees? If you’re a business owner, ask, How do I treat my customers? If you’re a teacher, ask, How do I treat my students?

And the operative question is, How do you do this when no one is looking? How would your behavior appear if caught by a hidden camera?

No matter what happens in the wake of this jarring and disturbing episode with Planned Parenthood, my prayer is that all of us—from preachers to politicians, from medical professionals to morticians, from cemetery workers to social workers—will all recalibrate ourselves to follow the Golden Rule:

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12 NASB)

Rob +

Rev. Rob Schenck is an evangelical minister to top elected and appointed officials in Washington, DC. He is president and lead missionary of Faith and Action in the Nation’s Capital, a Christian missionary outreach to those serving in federal government. He is also the first appointed chaplain to the Capitol Hill Executive Service Club, the only private association allowed to meet regularly in the U.S. Capitol. He is in his second term as elected chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance, America’s oldest association of independent ministers, missionaries, and military, police, prison, and civilian institutional chaplains. He holds degrees in Bible and theology, religion, and Christian ministry, and is a Senior Fellow of the Oxford Centre for the Study of Law and Public Policy at Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford.






My Thoughts After the Same-Sex Marriage Case, Part II

You may have been waiting for Part 2 of my comments on the recent same-sex marriage decision by the Supreme Court. Thank you for your patience with me. Before writing another installment, I wanted to be sure to understand completely what the Court had done and how they did it; I wanted to consult with the best and most experienced lawyers in the country to find out the legal implications of this epic decision; and I wanted to talk and pray with Christian leaders on several levels to see what guidance they would give to the people of God as we face this challenge together.

First, let me again clarify what the High Court did on June 26, 2015: In a case called Obergefell v. Hodges, five of the nine justices decided that state laws or constitutional provisions restricting civil marriage to a man and woman violate the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, they said, states must recognize same-sex marriages just as they do opposite-sex marriages.

It’s important to note that this order is directed at states and state actors, or government officials. It does not order the clergy—pastors, priests, ministers, rabbis, or imams—to solemnize same-sex marriages. In fact, there is some language in the Court’s official opinion that seems to safeguard the right of religious people to teach what their religion believes about the nature and definition of marriage. Notwithstanding that assurance, the Chief Justice, John Roberts, warned in his dissenting opinion (his disagreement with the majority) that the majority opinion “ominously” leaves out the word “exercise” when discussing the First Amendment rights of religious people to hold to their beliefs on marriage. In this way, Chief Justice Roberts implies that religious people may be guaranteed a right to believe what they want about marriage, but not be protected in the practice of that belief. We won’t know until it is tested in court.

Here’s how this may be tested: In order for most pastors to legally officiate at a wedding ceremony and sign a marriage license, he/she must register with their local government. There may come a time when state or local government officials require these clergy members to swear or affirm to uphold the constitution of their state and of the United States. That could mean not just upholding the letter of the law, but the “meaning” of the law. If this is the case, it may mean that those members of the clergy will be required to at least agree to same-sex marriage, if not be compelled to solemnize those marriages. Again, this is speculation. Right now, no member of the clergy is being forced to perform a wedding ceremony that would violate either that pastor’s church law or teaching, or his/her own conscience. Of course, that could change. If it does, it will start at the state or local level. The next move belongs to local officials, not Washington politicians or judges.

Another way this could be tested is when a church that would normally make its facilities available for opposite-sex couples outside its own membership refuses a same-sex couple. In this instance, the church could be sued or in some other way charged with violating equal protection laws and human rights ordinances, etc. To cure this, churches may fist consider limiting use of their buildings to only its membership and regular attendees. Another way is to require all couples to attend marriage classes before using the building. Still another way is to define precisely what kind of weddings will be allowed in the church’s facilities and to credibly justify that policy with doctrinal, theological, and dogmatic explanations that have historically been part of the church’s teaching and practice. Of course, I’m not a lawyer and all churches should now seek the very best of legal counsel before they proceed to do any of these things.

As far as Christian business owners that serve wedding parties, like caterers, photographers, printers, and so forth, the implications of this Supreme Court ruling are uncertain. Each case will need to be tested on its own merits. It’s very possible that a situation like the one in Oregon, with bakery owners Aaron and Melissa Klein, who lost their business and were strapped with a $135,000 penalty for refusing to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple, will make its way up to the Supreme Court. If so—and based on how Justice Kennedy voted in the Hobby Lobby and Greece, NY public prayer case—they may, in fact win. The sad part of it is, they may lose everything in the years leading up to a victory at the highest court—and the even sadder truth is, it doesn’t mean that any penalties or legal costs they pay along the way will be returned to them. That’s not how it works with the Supreme Court. If the Kliens win, it doesn’t mean they’ll get back anything they’ve lost; just that others will not have to endure what they did. This is all in a hypothetical future, though. Let’s get back to the present.

As for the options these business owners may have, here’s one: In order to stay safe from penalty, businesses must treat all customers equally. I suggest that Christian businesses that serve the wedding market institute a practice across the board: Before filling customer requests, all wedding-related clientele must attend a one-hour seminar on “The Meaning and Purpose of Marriage.” Providers can do the session themselves, or bring in a minister, counselor, or other instructor to teach. Not only would it be a wonderful evangelistic tool to reach same-sex couples with the Gospel and biblical truth, but it would also help many opposite-sex couples that don’t understand Holy Matrimony any better than their same-sex counterparts. (Such a practice would also weed out a lot of people!) The key would be in being absolutely consistent and universal: No exceptions, ever. All wedding service or product customers must attend the seminar before their orders would be processed. This could be just one way to be as “wise as serpents,” but remain “harmless as doves.” Again, as with churches, business owners should seek legal advice before taking any action.

As it stands now, though, the only thing that has changed is state practice—and the only people directly affected by this same-sex marriage decision are local and state government officials that are now compelled to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Government employees that have a conscientious objection to the issuance of licenses to same-sex couples will have the option of complying, but registering a complaint with their superiors or filing a lawsuit on the basis of religious discrimination, refusing to comply with court directives or the directives of superiors–and taking what penalties come as a result, or, quitting their jobs.

Many people have asked if this Supreme Court decision can be overturned. The answer is, of course it can. Any court decision can be overturned by a higher court. In the case of the Supreme Court, the Court itself must overturn itself. Any law—even state or federal constitutional law—can be overturned. On the federal level, the Congress can take certain actions to nullify Supreme Court decisions, and, the states can call for a constitutional convention and adopt a whole new federal constitution! That’s the way self-government works. Now, is any of this likely to happen? I don’t think so—and I’ll tell you why.

In my opinion, at the core of American secular values is this one: “Live and let live.” I think that’s the way most Americans feel in their heart of hearts. As a people, we don’t like to tell each other how to live our most private lives. Remember, while most Americans would identify themselves as “Christian,” true believers have always constituted a minority in this country. The majority of people would not be “Bible believers” or “orthodox Christians.” And that majority is, for the most part, libertarian—the “Don’t tread on me” bunch!

So, as I read it, and after having spent over 20 years of ministry here on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, there is not a will in Congress—or anywhere in the federal government—to reverse this decision. I may be a man of little faith, but I simply don’t see it happening on the federal level—not even by a conservative majority in Congress or in the courts. As for a future president, there is nothing he/she could do to reverse this. The executive branch could drag its feet in implementing pro-same-sex marriage policies, but that’s about the extent of executive power and it would only delay the inevitable.

Having said that, this court decision is currently being challenged on the state level. Not all state or local officials are complying with the order. Theoretically, they can ignore it, but they will likely pay serious penalties for doing so. Federal courts will eventually order state, county, and local officials to comply or face fines and maybe even imprisonment. Federal funds may be cut off to states that refuse to implement the Supreme Court’s order. At some point, state officials will capitulate to the pressure.

What are the consequences for each of us in this? Two-fold: The clergy needs to be strong and confident about what the Christian church has historically believed and practiced about marriage since the beginning. The Supreme Court does not speak for the church. It may have redefined civil marriage, but it has done nothing to change sacred marriage. Still, denominational authorities will need to protect their clergy by strenuously defending the church’s right to believe and practice its faith. Church bodies will need to clearly assert rules on who may use its facilities for weddings and place it in the official records of the church’s proceedings. Now is the time for church judicatories, councils, boards, vestries, etc., to place in writing exactly what wedding ceremonies may be performed under its auspices. Churches and ministers should join in cooperative fellowship, collaboration, and in strategic planning because there is always safety in numbers.

On the other hand, and as I wrote in Part 1, in the wake if this decision there will be a temptation for churches to withdraw into isolation from the culture. Some will want to batten down the hatches of the church’s ship, and hope to go unscathed by the cultural storm that surrounds it, sailing by itself safe and secure until Jesus returns.

In my opinion, that would be a bad move.

This happened once before, after the infamous Scopes monkey trial of 1925. Back then a populist movement of Christians challenged the teaching of atheistic evolutionary Darwinism in the public schools. The Christians lost in court and subsequently withdrew into a cultural hole in the ground—essentially going into hiding. That wasn’t good for the progress of the Gospel or for spiritual health of the country. It took almost 20 years for that error to be corrected and for Christians to come out of hiding and re-engage the culture. I believe we face the same challenge now.

We must resist the temptation to become so highly defended that we keep away from the church those that need the Gospel the most. The Bible commands us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15) That includes everyone—not just friendly audiences! To turn defensively inward while keeping others out is the opposite of the Great Commission!

Like the Apostle Paul in Mars Hill, we must skillfully and lovingly proclaim the truth as it is revealed in Holy Scripture and practiced by the church (see Acts 17:22-23). There is a way to engage the culture winsomely and persuasively. If the Apostles could do it in the hostile, pagan world in which they lived and ministered, we can certainly do it in this country.

None of this is to say there won’t be a price to pay. American Christians are spoiled. Most Christians in the rest of the world face severe trials and tribulations because of their witness to Christ and His Gospel. Our fellow believers around the world face complete social ostracism, rejection from family and friends, physical and emotional abuse, assaults, fines, imprisonment, and even death. The threats we only potentially face after this Supreme Court decisions are light afflictions—perhaps only inconveniences. Let’s keep this all in perspective and continue to thank God that we live in free country—even if it’s just slightly less free than it was a few months ago!

As we face these new challenges, let us also pray for wisdom. In the days ahead we will need to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) Let us pray for those that are shrouded in spiritual darkness and ignorance, that they will see the light of God’s Truth. Let us pray for those in bondage, that they will come to be free in Christ. Let us pray for ourselves, that we will remain humble and grateful for God’s grace—and that we will be protected from Pharisaical sanctimoniousness.

The Lord has kept His people until now and will continue to do so in the days ahead. “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more,” says St. Paul in Romans 5:20.

Let’s keep on loving God, keep on loving people, and keep on loving the country that has done so much good for so many people for so long!

Your always hopeful and prayerful missionary in Washington, DC,


Rev. Rob Schenck


My Thoughts After the Same-Sex Marriage Case

Part I: How Shall We Then Live?

By Rev. Rob Schenck, D.Min.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.’ — Jesus Christ in Matthew 7:12

It could be argued that Protestant Evangelical culture dominated American civilization for 150 years, from the mid-nineteenth to the late-twentieth centuries. This was due mostly to the popularity of the then Bible-believing Methodist Church. Second only to the influence of the Methodists was that of the Presbyterians–and later the Baptists–including the Social Gospel movement–but finishing with Billy Graham and the resurgence of a stricter evangelicalism which segued to a neo-fundamentalism with Jerry Falwell. Together, they formed a cultural juggernaut that resulted in what was, until recently, a common set of American mores including more-or-less regular church attendance, personal modesty, even a slate of television broadcast restrictions and movie ratings. Something has changed in America, though, and it has resulted in a tectonic shift of moral sensibilities. Out of this new American landscape have come a number of phenomena, paramount among them, same-sex marriage.

Some 100 million Americans—or roughly one-third of the population—grew up in a time when homosexuality was classified as a psychological disorder and, in most places, a criminal behavior. During that same period, the majority of Americans certainly considered homosexuality immoral, if not a sin, and, more likely than not, an abhorrent one at that. In the environment I grew up in, most “self-respecting” people did not openly talk about the stuff of those that were politely referred to as “playing on the other team,” “light in the loafers,” or contemptuously derided as “fags,” “perverts,” or “homos.” Those that engaged in homosexual lifestyles were mocked, denigrated, marginalized, and, in some cases, physically abused, jailed, or even murdered.

Then came visible gay and lesbian activists of the late 1970s. (Though they had been quietly active since the 1920s.) As American popular culture shifted away from the Methodist-Presbyterian—vanilla Protestant–and later evangelical /Baptist fundamentalist leaning—social models, “gay,” “lesbian,” “queer,” and, eventually, “LGBT” (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender) individuals and organizations gained strength, obtained social, legislative, and legal victories, and came into a certain but limited favored social status, at least in major urban areas and in arts and entertainment.

On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued the majority opinion in Obergefell et al v. Hodges, a consolidation of four cases testing whether state bans on same-sex marriage were constitutional. (Read the majority opinion and dissenting opinions here. I urge you to read all of them, as weighty as they are.) Five of the justices, led by Anthony Kennedy, found the bans unconstitutional; ipso facto, all states are now to recognize the marriages of two persons of the same-sex in exactly the same way as they recognize marriages to two persons of the opposite sex. In the opinion he authored, Justice Kennedy writes, “It demeans gays and lesbians for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society.”

The Obergefell decision marks a new epoch in the American definition of what constitutes “marriage.” Until June 26, the common assumption remained that marriage was the legal union of two persons of the opposite sex—notwithstanding that some 11 states had already legalized same-sex marriages by one method or another; another 26 had been ordered to do so by courts. After June 26, though, the American legal definition of marriage became, universally and by a razor-thin judicial order, the union of two persons of the opposite or same sex.

Public reaction to this decision has ranged from euphoria to despondency. Gay rights activists literally celebrated in the streets outside the Supreme Court, as traditional marriage advocates denounced the Court’s opinion as treachery. The winning side saw their legal victory as an optimistic sign of human advancement, while the losing side saw it as a harbinger of national doom.

Here’s are six things I see about this decision:

First, it is no surprise. This question was first presented to the courts in 1972. It has resurfaced periodically since then. After the Supreme Court ruled two years ago that federal marital benefits applied equally to same-sex couples, Justice Antonin Scalia announced this decision would come inevitably, and sooner rather than later. It did. While I had held out hope—and even saw signs—that Chief Justice John Roberts would weigh in on the actual decision, and thereby tame it—I was wrong. He did, of course, dissent, but not on the actual question of same-sex marriage itself. He, like three other of his colleagues (Scalia, Alito, and Thomas) strenuously objected to how the decision was rendered, as well as its deleterious affect on self-governance, but they have no problem with its social outcome. (Although Justice Alito did warn that those who hold to the traditional definition of marriage could face seriously negative social consequences.) All of this is interesting to me, but, again, not surprising. As their dissents indicate, Justices Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas believe in the robust democratic process. According to them, if the people of the states want same-sex marriage, why, let them have it, but by their own doing, not by judicial imposition. In other words, the dissenters in Obergefell are not asserting a moral position on marriage, only a legal one for achieving it, and that legal position is agnostic on the sex component of the union.

Second, the legal question of same-sex marriage is, I believe, now a settled one. As Roe v. Wade set the basic framework for abortion laws well into the future, so Obergefell has set the basic framework for marriage laws. This will be for a long time to come—maybe even for the remainder of the existence of the American republic. Some states will, no doubt, play around the edges of Obergefell, but they won’t blatantly or successfully defy it. And, it’s hard to imagine a major political candidate campaigning on a call to reverse Obergefell, other than a rare someone, running in a small, anomalous district. Same-sex marriage is the new social reality and Christians must face it head on. The church has never been served well by heading to the hills to hide out until Jesus returns. Instead, heeding His charge, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:4)

Third, the realization of same-sex marriage will mean virtually universal acceptance of same-sex couples, families, and, by extension, homosexual individuals everywhere. Already, just about anyone under the age of 50 finds it hard to believe that a gay person could have ever been ostracized, harassed and arrested by the police, charged with a crime and jailed or worse, simply because of their sexual orientation. The younger the audience is, the more incredulous they are when they read or hear of these one-time practices. Gay people, gay couples, gay families, are simply a fact for the younger generations, and that will now become even more so. Decrying perversion, grousing over acceptance of gay people and their lifestyles, labeling them as wicked and satanic, will neither win them, nor their friends and family. It may leave us feeling better about ourselves, but that’s not what the Gospel is about; the Gospel is for the other, not against the other.

Fourth, gay families will now come to churches—all different kinds of churches—seeking benefits, as they did from the states, only this time it will be for spiritual affirmation and nurture, membership in the community, religious instruction and ritual, pastoral care and crisis intervention. The people of God will need to wisely and generously react and respond to this new mission field. The temptation will be to defensively deny its existence by simply battening down the hatches, closing up the sealed ship of the church, and hoping to ride out the storm untouched. In contrast, as the great 19th-century evangelist D.L. Moody said of his ministry, “I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a lifeboat and said, ‘Moody, save all you can.’”

Fifth, as lawyers, lobbyists, and legislators hash out the legal and political ramifications of Obergefell, I want to give myself to evangelization and disciple-making. To do that, I need to look at people as Christ did, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them . . .” (Matthew 9:36) The word “compassion’ comes from the Old French and Late Latin meaning “to feel with,” or, “to suffer with.” This is the essence of the incarnation, as the writer of Hebrews says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

When Jesus looked out at the multitude, with its mix of saints and sinners, he felt what they felt and he cared for them “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

As I considered this new challenge in front of us, I thought about the people whose lives have been upended by this event. There are my fellow Christians, of course, who feel their country is drifting away from them, that society is courting spiritual ruin, that the devil is getting the better of everything, and that the world as we know will soon come to an end with the return of Jesus Christ. Some feel personally offended, reading the Court’s decision as a wholesale rejection of everything they consider sacred. I want to feel with all these folks in their time of spiritual and emotional distress.

Then there are the gay people I know. Most are ecstatic, but some are disoriented by this development. They’ve learned to live their lives mostly in the shadows and as outsiders, at least when it comes to legal marriage. Some are both exhilarated and anxious about what this means for the way they will live their lives going forward. Portentously, at least one legal practice has opened specializing in same-sex divorce.

Because my gay friends have been the furthest from me on this issue, I have intentionally put myself in their place and tried to look out at the world from their vantage point, and from their experience. During the arguments in the Supreme Court chamber, I actually “happened” to sit next to Jim Obergefell, the man at the center of the case, whose long-time partner, John Arthur, died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Jim’s story of being denied access to help John during his many health crises, and, later Jim’s being denied death benefits, helped me to appreciate the intensely human dimension to this drama.

Even though I can’t naturally identify with gay people, as I’ve prayed for them, I’ve intentionally put myself in their place, and thought about what it must be like to experience your most intimate longing not for a person of the opposite sex, as I do, (that, for them, is a repulsive thought), but for a person of the same sex, and then to be told you can never have that; intimate human companionship must be tentative, fragile, uncertain; you cannot have physical intimacy, and you are not allowed family bonds of your own. This is what life was like for individuals with same-sex attractions for most of human history—and certainly for all of American history until now.

Whether any of this is an accurate assessment of their situations, or, is right and good, are other moral questions. My only point is that it is a painfully real history for some people, and they are not, as I had long assumed, simply motivated by a deviant attitude towards nature and a defiant attitude towards God. No doubt some people are motivated in these ways, but heterosexuals share those vices, too. I’m talking about the gay people I know, and they are not motivated by hatred toward God. They are motivated by the same longings that drove me to my wife of 37 years. I want to simply understand what they feel. I want to appreciate the isolation and marginalization they experienced in the past, and their consequent feelings about what has just happened. I believe compassion—feeling with them and for them—will help bridge the cavernous divide that separates people from each other, and, more importantly, from God.

At the same time, I want to appreciate what so many others feel in the aftermath of Obergefell: fear, desperation, alienation, anger, and betrayal.

So, sixth, and finally, I think we all need to do a “fear check.” How afraid has this decision made you? Are you afraid you will now be the one isolated and marginalized? Are you afraid you will be punished socially or economically? Are you afraid you’ll lose your liberties? Are you afraid you’ll be criminalized? Are you afraid your children or grandchildren will be taught values contrary to your own? These are natural feelings, common to all human beings during times of extreme social change and spiritual upheaval, but remember what Jesus said to His disciples when they feared for their lives, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27)

There is nothing simple or easy about what has happened with the Supreme Court and marriage. It’s complicated, difficult, even painful, but it’s far easier than what most of the world’s Christians must face every hour of every day. When I was recently with believers that work in the Middle East, they could not understand why we make such a big deal out of what they see as fairly small things. “You will know the real cost of the Gospel when you face martyrdom,” one young pastor told me. “America needs martyrdom.” It was sobering.

Let’s keep all of this in perspective. This new challenge will demand more from all of us: More faith in our Lord, more love of other people, more wisdom in our witness, more risk in relationships.

There are practical implications for Christians that hold to the biblical definition of marriage, and I’ll be addressing those things in the days ahead. I even have some advice for photographers and cake-bakers. For now, though, let’s take time to pray and to reflect on the new world God has given to us. Let’s face this new time with confidence in the resurrected Christ!

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (Jesus, John16:33)


Rev. Rob Schenck is an evangelical minister to top elected and appointed officials in Washington, DC. He is president and lead missionary of Faith and Action in the Nation’s Capital, a Christian missionary outreach to those serving in federal government. He is also the first appointed chaplain to the Capitol Hill Executive Service Club, the only private association allowed to meet regularly in the U.S. Capitol. He is in his second term as elected chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance, America’s oldest association of independent ministers, missionaries, and military, police, prison, and civilian institutional chaplains. He holds degrees in Bible and theology, religion, and Christian ministry, and is a Senior Fellow of the Oxford Centre for the Study of Law and Public Policy at Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford.











Praying and Seeking Counsel

“Do you see a man hasty in his words?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Proverbs 29:20)

I sure don’t want to be a fool. That’s why I’ve been taking premium time to pray, seek counsel, and reflect on what happened a week ago.

Last Friday was enough to remind me I’m called to a difficult mission field. A whole lot of people are now angry and disappointed with some prominent occupants of my field of ministry, namely, five justices of the Supreme Court.

There are others in the country are now afraid they may be forced to accept something they don’t believe in—on pain of being sued or even imprisoned.

Still others see in all this the end of not only marriage, the family, and our nation, but, maybe even the end of the world.

Both these groups are of equal concern to me. I’m called to evangelize the ones that made this upsetting decision—and to encourage and inform those affected by it. That’s not easy. Still, I wouldn’t trade my calling for anything.

Since the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling on same-sex marriage, I’ve been in Oxford, England, where I’m working in my capacity as a senior fellow with the Oxford Centre for the Study of Law and Public Policy, chaired by my long-time friend, Jay Sekulow. My ongoing work with the Centre has been a study on international religious freedom, but it’s even more relevant in the wake of this decision.

The timing of my visit to Oxford was perfect. I needed to get some distance from the controversy so I can reflect on what our ministry should do in the days ahead—and what our supporters should do. Jay and his team have been invaluable in giving me their highly skilled legal interpretation of this opinion. I’ve also had time alone here to pray and to meditate on Scripture.

And there’s been one other factor here: A vibrant, growing, evangelistic church called St. Aldate’s. This biblically faithful congregation has been proclaiming the Gospel and forming Christian disciples in Oxford for over 1000 years! Imagine what they’ve faced in a millennium—wars, famines, plagues, paganism, apostasy, and martyrdom—just to name a few. If the Lord preserved St. Aldate’s until today, he can certainly preserve all of us.

In the days ahead I’ll share with you what I’ve learned about the nature of the same-sex marriage decision and what I think we should do in the wake of it. I won’t do this too quickly, though, because this thing is just too big and too consequential.

Please be patient with me. I want to be wise and not foolish, so I can be of the most help to you and to the work of God.












Learning from the #EmanuelNine of Charleston

Learning by the side of those who know.

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.




Defense Against Scandal and Victimization, or, My Odd Experience with Speaker Hastert



This photo appeared in our Sept 1999 newsletter. Then newly elected Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert studying the Ten Commandments we asked him "to obey and display."

This photo appeared in our Sept 1999 newsletter. Then newly elected Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert studying the Ten Commandments that I asked him to “always obey and to display.”

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.

R +