A lot of people ask me why we do the things we do in Washington. Why the annual events: National Memorial for the Pre-born and their Mothers and Fathers, Bible Reading Marathon, National Day of Prayer at the Supreme Court, and Live Christmas Nativity?
There are two simple answers that have to do with the “two sides” to our Faith and Action ministry: The public and the private.
The public side is exactly that: Special events and programs that are visible and accessible to–well–the public. Almost anyone can see them, experience them, respond to them–even participate in them. They’re meant to publicly telegraph a message, or, should I say THE MESSAGE. Our ministry is evangelistic. We are not lobbyists. That is, we don’t lobby or advocate for certain policies or laws. (On occasion we’ll support such efforts if we feel they’re good for what we call “the soul of the civilization,” but that is the rare exception to the rule.) We’re not lawyers. That is, we don’t sue people in court, or defend them. (Of course, on occasion we’ve been sued for ministry actions we’ve taken–and, we’ve joined in lawsuits if they involve our First Amendment and religious rights, but again, it’s very rare.) Our mission is to be evangelists–to announce the Good News that God has provided a way and issued an invitation to be reunited with Him through the saving work of Jesus Christ on the Cross and in His Resurrection.
The private side of our work is pastoral in nature and involves intensely personal ministry to individual souls and small groups. Because this type of work is built on a foundation of trusting relationships, we don’t say a lot about it. We certainly don’t publish or broadcast anything on it. To give this part of our work public exposure would betray the confidentiality and trust that makes it effective. I’ll explain more about this side to our ministry in another post, but for now, I’ll get back to the matter at hand: The annual US Capitol Bible Reading Marathon, April 28 – May 2.
The “Marathon” (as it’s affectionately nicknamed) is a four-day, 90-hour continuous and uninterrupted public reading of the Bible from the famous West Steps of the US Capitol. This is where the president swears the oath of office on Inauguration Day. It’s at the heart, or, seat of our federal government. The Capitol is where members of Congress stand on the floor of the their respective chambers (the US Senate chamber on the north end and the House of Representatives chamber on the south end) to debate proposed laws and to amend existing ones. It’s also where they meet for special committee conferences and other deliberative exercises, where they stage events such as awards ceremonies, speeches, even rare church services! The West Lawn of the Capitol, where the Bible Reading Marathon podium looks out to, is the site of countless demonstrations during the course of any year. It’s this side of the building, too, that is the iconic representation of the United States. The grand steps leading up to the various terraces and balconies, and all under the looming and luminously unmistakable columned and rotund dome capped by the statue of Freedom.
It’s this bedazzling architectural tableau that draws innumerable tourists and other site-seers from around the world.
It’s for these reasons that the Bible Reading Marathon is situated just in front of the central fountain at the base of the Capitol building’s West Facade. First, you can’t miss it; and second, it just can’t be ignored! But, back to the original question: Why a Bible Reading Marathon? Well, there’s two aspects to that answer, too. First, because I don’t believe anyone can improve on the message of the Bible. How can we improve on God’s Word as it is expressed in Holy Scripture? It’s far better than a sermon, a poem, or even the best Gospel song. And, in the Bible Reading Marathon, the whole redemption story is told, from beginning to end! This is the entirety of God’s written revelation to humankind. All the answers are found here. The second aspect to the answer is because reading the Bible in public at the US Capitol is a robust exercise of our God-given freedoms as protected in the First Amendment to the Constitution: Freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion. These are our most basic and fundamental human rights, and the quintessence of those rights endowed to us by the Creator, as the Declaration of Independence so eloquently states. I often say rights are like muscles, if we don’t use them, we’ll lose them. It’s important to exercise our rights deliberately, dramatically, and frequently. Only then can we ensure they’ll remain strong!
So, I think we have some pretty good reasons to do a Bible Reading Marathon at the US Capitol this year, as has been done for the last 24 years. I hope you agree–maybe even enough to get personally involved! Why not come to Washington with your family, friends, or fellow church members to take a turn at reading the Bible from the podium on the famed West Terrace of the US Capitol? It’s very safe, very fun, and very satisfying! Check out our website for details: www.faithandaction.org . To sign up to read, visit www.dcbiblemarathon.org or write to email@example.com
I’ll post more on Marathon over the next few days, so keep checking in here at my blog. In the mean time, please herald the news everywhere you can: on all your social media, list serves, websites, in your church bulletin, via your e-mail lists–and even in in-person conversation! Spread the word and help Spread the Word!
Hope to see you sometime between April 28 and May 2!
To be honest, it was a bit disconcerting: I was the first to the microphones in front of the largest pool of reporters I’ve ever faced. I had just stepped outside the Supreme Court building after arguments in the second day of cases on the question of same-sex marriage in America. Over a two-day period, I had listened attentively and taken careful notes–even paused to pray with my eyes and ears open–as lawyers for and against a constitutional right for homosexuals to marry presented their cases, seemingly without taking a breath–in front of the nine justices perched atop their imposing bench. All but one justice interrupted each of the attorneys numerous times, peppering them with questions–sometimes dry and academic–at others time acerbic and even denunciatory. In the nearly twenty years I’ve been monitoring the High Court, it was one of the most spirited courtroom exchanges I can remember.
Of course, I approached the whole exercise in strong support of marriage as defined by one man and one woman in a sacred and exclusive union before God and man–what I prefer to call these days, Holy Matrimony. Notwithstanding this deeply held conviction, I do understand the confusion in our culture over the element of love and bonds of affection, sometimes between persons of the same sex, and the longing to express those feelings in the form of marriage. While I seek, in a pastoral way, to appreciate those important feelings, I remain convinced Christian marriage is not an option for a man with a man or a woman with a woman. This is a pastoral challenge to me and to all my ordained colleagues, but that’s a different topic. Let me return to the matter at hand.
It was clear from the start of these two historic marriage cases that the proponents of same-sex marriage vastly outnumbered proponents of opposite-sex marriage, both inside and outside the courtroom. It was also easy to identify where each of the nine justices stand on the question: Clearly Justices Sotomayor, Breyer, Ginsburg, and Kagan are squarely for making some constitutional path for recognition of same-sex marriage. Justices Thomas, Scalia, and Alito clearly are not. While I expected Chief Justices Roberts to be ambiguous in his disposition toward the matter, he wasn’t during questioning. He seemed very skeptical of the claims made in both cases that limiting marriage to male with female violates the Constitution. That leaves Justice Kennedy, who at times sent firm signals of being pro-same-sex marriage rights, and at other times projected mildly skeptical ones, but, still, on the whole, appeared to be sympathetic to the argument that prohibiting gay marriage does violate equal protection. So, based on what I saw and heard, and considering other intelligence data I gathered from very good sources, here’s my prediction:
A slim majority will affirm that states retain the right to define for themselves what constitutes marriage, but only for now. In other words, the Court will reserve the right to step in again in the future–and at any time–if social progress on this issue lags too much. This will likely be a very narrow and limited allowance and one that is uncertain at best. In other words, they will punt on the question of the states, encouraging the continuance of “social evolution” through the democratic process, but not forever.
On the other hand, a slim majority will strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as an unconstitutional meddling of the federal government in the matter of legal marriage, thereby granting federal recognition to same-sex marriage and indirectly encouraging it along. In other words, by a slim majority, the High Court will likely assist in the acceptance an institutionalization of same-sex marriage in American public life–and they’ll do so as early as this spring.
Now, where does that leave Christians–and other religious believers–who hold strictly to marriage as defined only by one man and one woman in a sacred bond before God and man? Well, in the same place we’ve always been: as a minority in society. Because Christians (of every tradition) had gained the social and political ascendency in the US over as much as the last 200 years, we became spoiled. We started thinking of ourselves as the final arbiters of social mores, practices, and principles, but we have never really been that in world history. Even in the biblical record, believers have always been a minority. Jesus made this quite clear when He said,“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Becausenarrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
Minorities must behave very differently than majorities, and we must re-learn what that means. We must also fully engage a new reality and prayerfully meet all of its challenges, as the church has always done. The new reality includes same-sex couples, married and otherwise, who are parents to children, who are growing up in a world that includes their same-sex parents and those of others. That’s the new cultural landscape in America. For those in Christian ministry, we must reach out to same-sex couples and to their children, just as we do everyone else. We must also find a new language through which to convey timeless truths. In all cases, we must do it with Christ-like love and Christian compassion.
The people of God have always been challenged in the world, and we must prayerfully rise to this challenge, not withdraw from it. I must admit, it’s a bit daunting. I felt that yesterday when I stood alone in front of scores of reporters at the Supreme Court. All the other proponents of traditional marriage had flown the coop and left me by myself to defend our position. At first, I resented it, but then I thanked God for it. It was a good rehearsal for what’s coming in the days ahead.
Life in New York with Ed Koch as mayor was anything but boring. I arrived in the Big Apple in September of 1981 to take up my post on the pastoral staff of the Community Gospel Church in Queens, not far from the 59th Street Bridge that would later be named for “Hizzhoner.” It was the apex of the Mayor’s reign.
Few city executives achieve the national name recognition–much less face and voice recognition–that Ed Koch did. When he died this morning of heart failure, he had long been an American icon. Though only a “local official,” he was in every way a national politician and a national political force.
Though I only met the Mayor once during my time in New York, I always felt like I knew him. What you saw–and heard–was what you got with Ed Koch. He was bombastic, opinionated, unreserved, politically incorrect, unapologetic, and quintessentially Noo’-yauwk. The only mystery that persists about the man New York congressman Peter King called, “Mayor-for-Life” and now “Mayor-for-Eternity” is his life-long bachelorhood, which he purposefully never explained.
I must say I felt very secure in New York because Ed Koch was in charge, even with my young family. He was a larger-than-life father figure for the whole metropolis. Of course, my father came from the same immigrant stock–Polish Jews–so the Mayor always seemed like family to me. He could go over the top with his language and brusque–make that outrageous–manner, but I understood that culturally and geographically.
Of his many achievements (and failures) in office, one stands out for me. In the early 80′s homelessness was out of control in New York. You could hardly pass a doorway or an alleyway and not see one, or even several bodies wrapped in blankets or sprawled out from building walls. Sorry to say it, but rivulets of urine snaked across sidewalks several to a block. We often spoke about the homeless at our church staff meetings, and I coordinated an outreach ministry that–among other things–deployed ministerial interns to care for the poor on the streets. One day, a letter arrived at the church from the Mayor. I wish I would have kept it, but, as I recall, it was typical Koch. It was clear the missive had been sent to all pastors in the city and it basically said–in Koch’s inimitable style–The homeless aren’t my problem, they’re yours. Then he quoted Isaiah 58:6-8,
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house? when you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you hide not yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth as the morning, and your health shall spring forth speedily: and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
As was his custom, Mayor Koch didn’t leave it at simply a sermonic lambast. Instead, he offered to pay for homeless programs, so long as the churches ran these programs and provided the facilities for them. That was Koch: Wag a finger, scold and browbeat, then put his arm around you and say, “Now let’s get this done.”
Many churches like ours took up the mayor on his offer. I thought it was biblical, brilliant, and fiscally sound. Though I was a Republican at the time, I loved his Democratic solution and took it as a word from God.
As for Koch’s quotation of the Prophet, it doesn’t seem to have been cynical. He was passionately Jewish and directed that his tombstone include the inscription, “He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith.”
As for why a fiercely proud Jew will be interred in Manhattan’s Trinity Church cemetery, it’s simply because Trinity was one of the very few graveyards with space left for him to purchase. “This [New York] is my home,” he told a reporter at the time of the acquisition. “The thought of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me.”
I really–really–get the joke–having been born in New Jersey of a father from Manhattan and a mother from Brooklyn. And, I really–really–really get Mayor Ed Koch. As the Jewish prayer goes, “May he live in blessed memory.”
When Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father, author of the Declaration of Independence, and the third president of the United States, left his directives for the design of his tombstone, he ordered that his legacy be listed. The epitaph was to say specifically, “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of Independence, of The Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, And Father of the University of Virginia.”
These three accomplishments were what Jefferson valued the most. His Statute for Religious Freedom was passed (with only slight modifications) on January 16, 1786. It was an historic break with what had been the virtually universal practice of state-established religions. Jefferson’s legislation would serve as a model for eventual disestablishment in every state, and also as the basis for the establishment clause to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The concept of “separation of church and state” has been gravely misunderstood and misappropriated by the courts and politicians over the last 50 years. Jefferson’s action in Virginia was meant to foster more religious activity in the public square, not less. At the time, the Commonwealth of Virginia had one “official,” state-recognized and subsidized church, the Church of Virginia, patterned after the Church of England. All other churches, Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Quaker, Mennonite, and so forth, were either severely marginalized or even suppressed. Jefferson and those that sympathized with him wanted a robust and varied religious landscape. He had worshiped at a number of different denominational churches and appreciated them all. While he was at first unsuccessful in getting his bill passed, he never gave up the pursuit of religious liberty. It would eventually fall to James Madison to get the measure through the Virginia legislature, but Jefferson considered it one of his greatest lifetime achievements.
Each year since 1993, the President of the United States has issued a proclamation urging all Americans to remember and observe Religious Freedom Day. The proclamation for 2013 had not yet been released at this writing, but is expected to be posted on the official White House website as soon as it is published: www.whitehouse.gov
That’s the literal inaugural platform–as in the actual stage at the US Capitol on which the President and his guests will stand and sit during the swearing-in ceremony on January 21. Just as I did when Mr. Obama was first sworn-in, I recently went to the ceremonial door on the West Terrace of the United States Capitol Building to pray and to anoint the archway through which the President will walk on his way to the podium on Inauguration Day. Not everyone will agree with me on what I did, or why I did it, but I’d like to explain both here.
First, I went to pray for the President and his administration because the Apostle Paul urged that, “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (First Letter to Timothy, Chapter 2, verses 1-2) In case you think this applies only to likable potentates, keep in mind St. Paul wrote this when Nero was on the throne–he, of brutal persecution, including the infamous burning of Christians as human torches for his backyard barbeques. So, prayers are not just for the “good guys” or the politicians we like.
Second, I went to pray for the President, his family, and the members of his administration because they need prayer–badly. You may not like what a president stands for, but he is the chief executive and commander-in-chief, and in that way he serves all of the American people. It’s one of the most stressful jobs in the world and it takes its toll on him and his family. Whether you like his administration’s political platform or not, much of what you benefit from, including a federal security apparatus that keeps you safe, a military that keeps our nation strong, highway, rail, sea, and air traffic control systems, Social Security, etc., etc, are all administered by the executive branch. (I know, they also collect the taxes, fuel Planned Parenthood, etc, but that only means they need even more prayer, the only thing that can lead them to conviction and repentance!) Prayer is both the most powerful agent we can bring to bear on the conscience of our national leaders–and the most generous gift we can give to them. In case you think that politicians are not deserving of kindness, think about how gracious God was in offering up his only Son for each of us, “while we were yet sinners.” (See Romans 5:8)
Third, I went to pray for the President and his administration because the inauguration of a president is a momentous and enormously consequential time for our nation and for the world. A president is charged with carrying out the laws passed by the Congress, that in turn represents the American people. A president wields significant power through his command of the Armed Services and the federal police power. The president conducts global diplomacy on behalf of the American people. The presidency is anything but inconsequential. That would seem justification enough to pray for every president.
Fourth, I anointed the archway through which the president will walk on his way to raise his right hand before the Chief Justice of the United States because the application of oil suggests the setting apart of physical space for the purposes of God. Anointing is an act of consecration. The people and places anointed throughout the Bible were far from perfect–and anointing did not cure that deficiency. It simply meant that the anointed person or object was consciously held accountable to God’s intended use. Plenty of “anointed” persons and things turned out to be misused, but that never changed the intention.
Finally, I prayed for the President and all those in authority with him because–to put it simply–such prayer pleases God. Need I say more on that?
I know it’s tough for many to pray for President Obama, but for the sake of his soul, for the sake of the souls in his family, for the sake of the souls that work for him, and for the sake of the soul of our American civilization, I urge you to follow the urging of the Apostle and obey the command of God. Here it is again in its entirety:
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time. (1 Timothy 2: 1-6)
Just in case you’re still uncomfortable with my actions, let me assure you they don’t stop with a prayer and some oil. I’ve written a long and heart-felt letter to the President that will shortly be hand-delivered to him at the White House. After it’s safely there, I’ll share it here with you.
Oh, and watch, too, for the big banner soon to be unfurled on the front of our ministry house just a stone’s throw from where the Inaugural Ceremony will take place. I call our banners “two-story Gospel tracts.” This one will send a very important message to the President and to all that support him.
Oh, and one more thing: Yes, I plan to be at the Inaugural Ceremony, God willing, and I will be praying . . .
Little is ever said about the religious sentiments of our Supreme Court justices–at least the ones currently sitting on the bench. My good friend and Supreme Court advocate, Jay Sekulow, who did his PhD work in the general subject, examines historically how the personal beliefs of “Supremes” (as we affectionately call them in my world) have affected their legal opinions over the years. (For the very interested reader, I highly recommend Jay’s book, Witnessing Their Faith: Religious Influence on Supreme Court Justices and Their Opinions, available at our online bookstore.) As with anyone, religious beliefs–or the absence of them–play a significant role in how the justices see the world, see the constitutional questions placed before them, and render the opinions that they do. So, here’s a religious profile of the current nine justices–and the world they inhabit. I’ll begin with the latter; that is, the world the justices inhabit.
Unlike the two elected branches of federal government–the legislative (congress) and the executive (the president), there are no chaplains or identifiable clergy present in the professional world of the Supreme Court justices. In comparison, the Congress has it’s chaplains (the House of Representatives has a Catholic priest and the Senate has a Seventh Day Adventist minister), and virtually every president has had a selection of spiritual advisers, usually pastors they know. None of the federal courts have official–or even unofficial–spiritual advisers of any kind. This is in keeping with the idea that the courts are religiously “neutral.” But, like any human institution, the courts are–well–occupied by humans. That means religion–or the lack thereof–does play a role in the lives and decisions of the justices–but not as blatantly as it does in the other branches.
I’m happy to tell you that at the Supreme Court–which is the epitome of the judicial branch (there are hundreds and hundreds of lesser federal courts spread all over the country)–some religious exercises do occur. For example, every time the Supreme Court “sits” to hear a case, the marshal of the court stands at the side of the imposing bench, strikes the gavel and proclaims, “Oyez, Oyez! [Old French for "Hear Ye! Hear Ye!] All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this Honorable Court.” (You can listen to a sample here: http://www.oyez.org/node/62977) This is sometimes controversially referred to as the “prayer” of the Court. The announcement does invoke the name of God and His saving action; so, whether one considers it to be a prayer or not, it actually is. The Supreme Court building itself includes religious elements. Moses, along with other religious figures, is found in the bas-reliefs along the frieze above the justices and to their left. The Hebrew Lawgiver is also found at the center of the East Pediment on the outside of the building and above it’s less-known but ceremonial East Façade. The obvious rounded-top tablets of the Ten Commandments, complete with Roman numerals I-X, decorate many of the bronze gates inside the actual courtroom itself. (In an official court brochure, the Court’s curator associates these tablets with the Decalogue.) The current Chief Justice, John Roberts, has continued a tradition begun by his predecessor, the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in leading an annual Christmas carol sing for invited guests in one of the High Court’s conference rooms–and, yes, there is a Christmas tree displayed for a short time right outside the courtroom in the Great Hall. Our ministry conducts the only National Day of Prayer observance on the plaza of the Court each year, something that was expressly forbidden and punishable under law just a few years ago. Every year several of the justices attend the Red Mass, a special service held in their honor at Washington’s St. Matthew’s Cathedral the Sunday before each new court term. Only Justice Ginsburg refuses to attend, citing as a reason a past sermon she sat through that was, in her words, “outrageously anti-abortion.”
As far as personal behavior, at least one of the justices makes an almost daily pilgrimage to a church near our ministry house and we often encounter him on his way to or from morning prayer. Bibles can be seen on the desks and tables in the chambers of some of the justices, as well as in the offices of other court personnel. Here’s what I know about the religious sensibilities of the nine justices themselves:
Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, and Sonya Sotomayor are baptized Catholics, but they vary greatly in their religiosity and personal commitment to faith. (More about that further down.) As for the others, Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan are born Jewish, but are largely non-practicing. An interesting note on Justice Breyer: While he was raised nominally Jewish, he married a non-Jewish English woman, presumably an Anglican. I’ve met their daughter, Chloe, an Episcopal priest who often attends court social functions in her clerical collar. Justices Ginsburg (a widow) and Kagan (a life-long single) are known to be non-religious. (Although in her youth, Justice Ginsburg once served as a summer camp “rabbi.”)
In my opinion, those of serious Christian faith include John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. Antonin Scalia is in a class by himself as a classical, Latin-rite, terribly devout Roman Catholic with a son, Paul, who is a much loved and admired priest in the Washington, DC, area. (As I write this, I must say that Clarence Thomas impresses me as a “Pente-Bapti-Catholic.” By that, I mean he has the passionate Christian faith of a Pentecostal, the language, demeanor and Bible-knowledge of a Baptist, and the liturgical reverence of the Catholic that he is!) Anthony Kennedy is somewhere toward an observant Catholic, while Sonya Sotomayor appears to be wholly non-religious. (Though her mother–with whom I said a prayer in the backroom of the US Senate hearing chamber on the first day of her daughter’s confirmation process–is a devout woman of faith.)
That’s about the picture of it. Again, Jay Sekulow has proven the point in his research: faith–or the lack thereof–does matter with the Justices and their opinions, therefore it matters to the state of the law and to American culture, and thereby, to Western civilization. Pray for the Justices–they need it!
On January 3, a new Congress was sworn in to do the work of making law in America. I met many of these new legislators at a special prayer service held for them just hours before they took their oath of office. Just as a quick refresher: There are 433 members of the House of Representatives in the 113th Congress, and, of course, 100 members of the Senate. Together they form the legislative branch of our federal government. Their job, principally, is to craft law. (Each house has other constitutional duties, such as impeachment of judges and presidents, advisement and consent to presidential appointments, ratification of treaties, etc.) The idea behind the Congress is that it represents the interests of individual American citizens and of the respective states and territories, and brings those interests to bear on the legislative process. It doesn’t always work out that way–and one could argue it shouldn’t always work that way because we’re a Republic and not a democracy–but that’s another discussion to be had.
The issue I’ll address here is the religious makeup of the new congress. That’s always been very interesting to me–and very relevant to my work here as a missionary to elected and appointed officials. Here’s the profile of the 113th Congress that will serve a two-year term until 2015:
According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (a source I trust), this congress is the most religiously diverse ever. Although the overall difference from the last congress isn’t that big–by actual numbers–it is significantly different by percentages.
Of the 533* total members in both houses (*2 vacant House seats):
299 are “Protestant”
163 are Catholic
15 are Mormons
5 are Orthodox Christians
33 are Jewish
2 are Muslim
2 are Hindus
1 is Unitarian
Big news includes the first Buddhist elected to the US Senate (that brings to three the total number of Buddhists in Congress, with two others serving in the House), and, with the election of Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the House gets its first member to say she has no religion at all. (The only ever self-confessed congressional atheist, Rep. Peter Stark of California, was defeated by Eric Swalwell, who publicly identifies himself as a “Christian.”)
A related fact: The 113th Congress has the largest number ever of members reporting they are religiously “non-affiliated,” with a total of 10 in that category. (Apparently the three Buddhists report that way, as they do not show specifically in the Pew Forum’s official tallies.)
A final comment: I think if you were to ask many of these members more specifically about their religious sensibilities, many would take issue with narrow classifications such as “Protestant,” “Catholic,”, etc. At least on the Protestant side, you have a huge spectrum of beliefs lumped under that generic heading. Evangelicals, for example, might take issue with being dubbed “Protestant,” as many evangelicals–like myself–aren’t “protesting” anything. But, alas, that, too, is a topic for another post.
Well, there you have the “official” religious profile of the new–and current–United States Congress. This says nothing about the other two branches, the executive (president) and the judicial (Supreme and other federal courts). If you’d like to know their religious profiles, let me know and I’ll post on them, too.
To read the Pew Forum report and it’s greater detail, go to”Faith on the Hill: The Religious Composition of the 113th Congress.” http://www.pewforum.org/government/faith-on-the-hill–the-religious-composition-of-the-113th-congress.aspx#first
PS You might ask, Do these labels really matter? Do they in any way truly reflect the spiritual beliefs and practices of these members? My answer is very definitely, Yes–and very definitely, No. The nuances of belief are myriad and idiosyncratic to each, but on the whole it does describe the general and broadest beliefs and practices of our federal legislators. Their identities also give me and my ministry team a lot of ways to minister to them; a way into their hearts and souls. I won’t say anymore about that, here, though.
We evangelicals have a saying, “Everyone stands equal at the foot of the cross.” I watched that aphorism play out literally just moments ago as I sat behind Congressional Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in church, who was directly across the aisle from her political nemesis, Speaker of the House John Boehner. In front of them was Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who is Jewish, and beside him Rep. Keith Ellison who is Muslim. We were together this morning in the pews of St. Peter’s Catholic Church for a special invitation-only Bipartisan Prayer Service for the 113th Congress, the new body of federal lawmakers being sworn in and seated today.
There’s something that takes place in church that just doesn’t happen anywhere else. First, Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Mr. Boehner and Mrs. Pelosi, the other congressional leaders and members present, and the incoming members-elect, along with the others of us who were there, were certainly gathered together in Jesus’ name, whether everyone knew it or not, or liked it or not! We were all gazing into a likeness of Jesus that hung above the altar, and into an impressive, impossible-to-ignore arch above the altar area, where in three-foot high letters were incised the words, “CHRIST HAS DIED. CHRIST IS RISEN.” Of the several Bible readings proclaimed from the pulpit this morning, the crescendo came in the words of Jesus Himself from the Gospel of John, Chapter 13.
So, was Christ present today in this prayer service of Congress? I would say, Yes. I know I felt His presence. His Word was certainly heard. There were memorials to Him visible everywhere. There were sincere intercessors present praying intensely, as was I–and all in Jesus’ name. I have no doubt Jesus was present in that service. For me, that is a very hopeful sign.
In his sermon today, Chaplain to the House of Representatives Patrick Conroy jokingly told of how a reporter once asked him what it was like to be the pastor to the most reviled congregation in America. He quipped, “Well, I was once the chaplain to San Quentin prison.” I found that joke-line more than humorous–I found it profound. If God can do His work changing hearts and minds at San Quentin, then I suppose He can do the same among the members of the 113th Congress.
Here’s to our only Hope–Jesus Christ our Lord–who gave Himself for members of Congress as much as He gave Himself for us all.
By now you probably know one of the things we do at Faith and Action in Washington, DC, is to stage a live nativity vignette in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and in view of the U.S. Capitol. I’ve been asked by lots of reporters why we do this. The answer is, for several reasons.
First, we stage a live nativity because it is literally a beautiful way to convey the true “reason for the season,” as they say. The message of Christmas–or as we like to call it, CHRIST-mas–is often lost in the hurly-burly of the frantic and commercialized western holiday. Here in Washington, it happens even more so because members of Congress, and the people who work for them, are always in a terrible rush to get out of town and back to their own families and constituents. The Live Nativity program is a spectacle that stops people in their tracks and invades their frenetic day for just enough time to give them pause, and allow them to think about the reason we even have Christmas on the calendar. There is also enough fragmentary knowledge of this Holy Day–and enough sacred memory in our culture–that just about everyone instantly recalls the true Christmas story when they see Mary, Joseph, the Christ Child, the shepherd boys, and the Wise Men (not to mention the townsfolk, live camels, donkeys, sheep, and oxen–ahem–calf-posing-as-an-oxen) marching down First Street between the Plaza of the High Court and the esplanade on the East Lawn of the Capitol Building. This is the most powerful way to convey the timeless message, “For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
Second, in all the franticness of Washington, DC, “seeing” something is far more attention-grabbing–and lasting–than hearing something. After eighteen years in this city, I’ve come to the conclusion that official Washington suffers from ADD on a grand scale! Plus, with Washington’s main export being “words,” another word jumble kind of gets lost in the soup. Here, preaching can become just another interest group’s soap box. But a drama, with actors in period costume–and live animals–and the melodic harmonies of carolers–become an irresistible distraction from the usual. It literally “arrests” attention. People have to stop and look, and talk, and take photos and videos with their phones. Police officers walk up to touch a camel for the first time. Clerks come streaming out of their offices to gaze, point, and chatter with others. The smoked-glass executive sedans with their unseen VIP passengers, slow down as they pass by. Let’s just say, it’s a great way to put the attention of Washington on the message that really matters–and in the process, remind our top elected and appointed officials they are not the world’s saviors–but, in fact, are in need of the only True Savior born in Bethlehem.
Third, we stage this live nativity drama in front of the Supreme Court as a very important statement about the inalienable God-given rights we enjoy as His creatures–and as a reminder to the Justices of the Supreme Court that they are the guardians of these rights. The freedom to practice one’s religion, to express oneself in the public square, to peaceably assemble with others, are enshrined in the Constitution–and the Justices are the guardians of that Constitution. Our Christmas procession is an aesthetically pleasing and poignant reminder of the duties with which the members of the Court are charged. Plus, our presence in front of the highest court in the Land telegraphs a message to all American citizens and to the elected and appointed officials that govern them: If we can do this in front of the United States Supreme Court in Washington, DC, than citizens across the country can certainly do this in front of their town or county courthouses, town or city halls, or state Capitol buildings!
So, now you know why we stage our annual Live Nativity on Capitol Hill. Maybe it will inspire you and your church, school, or community group to do the same in your locale. Maybe you’ll join us tomorrow morning at 10:30 AM ET–at least in prayer, if not in person–to help herald the “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” Here are the details:
Faith and Action Production of the Live Nativity, Wednesday, December 5, 2012, 10:30 AM ET
Beginning at the Faith and Action Ostrowski Ministry House (109 2nd St NE, Washington, DC 20002) and proceeding to the US Supreme Court and US Capitol. For more information, see our website: www.faithandaction.org