Tag Archives: Christian values

Beware! Having Faith May Disqualify You for Admission to College

When Bryan Jenkins applied to study radiation therapy at Baltimore Community College, he never thought it would matter to anyone what his religion was. He presented a 3.2 GPA, he passed the entrance exam, and then he was interviewed. During the admissions interview, the interviewer asked, “What is most important to you.” This is not a question about academics. This question asks for the source of a person’s values. Bryan Jenkins responded with an honest answer: “My God.”

Any Christian who believes that he is called to live according to his faith in every part of his life might well have answered the same way. To be sure, the questioner did not ask what Bryan’s religion was, and it is probably considered inappropriate to ask that precise question, given that the school would not want to be accused of religious discrimination. It is not possible to guess what the interviewer thought he (or she) would learn by asking this question, but Bryan’s answer makes complete sense to people who determine their values and their standards from within their relationship with God. If their values grow out of the teachings of their faith, then God is more important than anything else. Bryan answered in accord with his personal standards.

It is, therefore, quite shocking to hear that the school chose not to admit Bryan Jenkins to a radiation therapy program because, in their view, his chosen field of radiation therapy “is not the place for religion.” Students of secularism will recognize immediately that this statement expresses the familiar secular concept that religion belongs inside designated worship spaces and nowhere else.

The people who brought the USA to birth would be astonished to discover that there is some place in a human life where a person’s religion and the values it teaches should not be permitted to apply. Those who wrote the Declaration of Independence, fought a bloody war against oppressive government, and wrote the Constitution believed that the nation they created required people of character, and they believed that character was rooted in religious faith. The very idea that religion belongs in a box excluded from the public discourse and the decisions that shape medical treatment or any other human endeavor would be outrageous to them.

The American Center for Law and Justice has taken the case of Bryan Jenkins and has filed suit against the college. This lawsuit is a terrible intrusion into the life and future of Bryan Jenkins, who simply wants to help patients get better if they need radiation therapy. His faith in God is certainly no reason to refuse to admit him. Every person’s values come from somewhere. Bryan Jenkins says that his values grow out of his relationship with God. How does that relationship and that source of values disqualify him as a therapist for patients who need radiation? Most people would be happy to discover that their medical treatment team included someone with values based on something greater than themselves. But here is the real truth: it is rare for a patient ever to know the origin of the values of people who treat him (or her) medically. A patient with a major problem might encounter more than 200 people in the course of a hospital stay that included major surgery, and the likelihood that this person would have the slightest clue about the religion of even one of those individuals is very small.

It is not clear why the college asks the question, “What do you value most?” but if their intent is to discover and reject religious faith, they need to stop doing so. This college is funded by public tax money. The public at large thinks that it is a sign of character for someone to root his values in religious faith. If they discover that a therapist in a treatment team is a person who lives by the principles of his faith, they will mostly applaud that fact and be grateful to have such a person in their lives.

Yet it needs to be reiterated that the source of Bryan’s values is not a legitimate reason to disqualify Bryan from studying any subject at the college whatsoever. The source of Bryan’s values is not a legitimate reason to disqualify Bryan from working as a radiation therapist. Any employer who tried to filter out Christians or Muslims or Hindus or any other religion would be called to account for the bona fide occupational qualification that made it unacceptable for a Christian to work in this occupation. The college is pre-empting a decision that they have no right or justification for pre-empting.

Christians everywhere need to applaud Bryan Jenkins. He did what every Christian intends to do: he spoke honestly about his faith. Every Christian means to do that when asked about faith or values or moral foundations. Every American needs to deplore and reject the behavior at this college and any others where admissions staff attempt to filter out any religion of any sort. The truth is that qualification for admission to any public educational institution may not be based on any religious test, and the interpretation of the question asked of Bryan Jenkins makes it a religious test. The college did not say that values based on the Christian religion conflict in any way with competence as a radiation therapist. The college only suggested that patients might disagree with Bryan’s religion. They assumed things they cannot possibly know about attitudes that have no relevance to Bryan’s values.

Pray for Bryan Jenkins and for the American Center for Law and Justice. This is not the American way. In the USA, people are free to live according to the tenets of their faith, and they are free to live according to the values taught by their faith, and they are free to work in occupations for which they qualify regardless of their faith. This wrong must be righted.

 

Advertisements

Can Christians Impact Cultural Change?

The culture of the USA is a toxic stew of issues that challenge Christian values. Some of the issues challenge the values of other religious groups as well. Without any intent to diminish the concerns of other groups, this blog focuses on the concerns of Christians. The purpose of this blog is to inform Christians about the issues that challenge Christian faith and to inspire Christians to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their responses. It is a call to Christians in the USA to recognize their civic duty as voters to be informed of the issues that make our country more free or less free, especially relevant to religious liberty, It is a warning to Christians in the USA of the parallels between social and political developments in the US and similar developments which lead to cultural restriction and religious persecution in other countries. It is an exploration of the fine line between the legitimate expression of the views of a citizen with Christian moral views and the illegitimate attempt of a citizen to assert a “right” to win the discussion simply because his views are Christian. Here you will find discussions of issues on which Christians are as divided as the rest of the country. This blog will advocate a viewpoint believed to be in accord with Scripture, but you will not find any advocacy for abrasive, abusive, or aggressive language in the discussion of this viewpoint.

It is very challenging to live by Christian values in a culture that increasing devalues any idea associated with Christian teaching. It is very difficult to discuss issues with other citizens when those citizens attempt to turn the conversation from a discussion of ideas to an assault on every opponent as a selfish, bigoted, brain-dead throwback to prehistoric times. Laws are actually being written that Christians may not be able to obey. If cultural pressure produces legislation in keeping with all the social changes, it may soon be very difficult to live by Christian teaching in the USA.

US Christians who feel threatened by such developments can learn something by looking at what Chinese Christians are doing. Chinese Christians have lived with severe cultural and governmental restrictions since 1949. In 2013, small changes are encouraging Christians in China. There is some light on the horizon both culturally and legally. The government is becoming somewhat less aggressive against Christians. The culture is becoming somewhat more open to the expression of Christian faith. Open Doors International is suggesting to Chinese Christians that they begin to take advantage of tiny openings where they may be able to impact culture and government. The pressures that seem to be slightly subsiding in China are actually increasing for US Christians, and this situation represents a shrinking window of opportunity to influence government and culture, but the same strategies recommended for China should have value in the US. In fact, these strategies have always been part of the way Christians affect culture and government around them.

The key recommendation to Chinese Christians is “to impact their society by embedding Christian values through contextualization and community engagement.” US Christians might argue that Christian values are already embedded in the society, and that Christian values are dominant in most communities. The nation was founded by people who held Christian values, a fact expressed in the Founding documents repeatedly. However, due to major changes in the way the history is taught in schools, many children graduate from public education without a firm grasp of those facts. Due to massive changes in both culture and government during the past fifty years, the curriculum, the standards, the employment policies and the administrative regulations for education are all established at state or federal levels, far from the communities where the schools operate. Media, social and political activist organizations, and even government promote definitions of Constitutional terms and principles that are at odds with the historical interpretations, resulting in growing restrictions on Christian faith expression. Christians must be realistic about the fact that there are and will continue to be changes in the culture and the government. It is not easy for one Christian or even all the Christians in a small community to make an impact in Washington DC.

Christians may need to think creatively about ways to embed Christian values in the society. Probably the first idea that comes to mind is to be sure they rear their children according to Christian values. Unfortunately, there is actually a movement under way to make that plan difficult. Just last week it was suggested that children do not belong to their parents and that the “collective” should take more authority in the way children are brought up. Further, the President of the United States wants children to start school at the age of four, an age when children are extremely malleable. God created children to want to learn, and they most naturally learn from the people with whom they spend their time. In God’s plan, the influential people in a small child’s life would be his parents. Moses warned the Israelites about the importance of teaching the faith to children when he said,    

These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Making government kindergarten the major influence in the lives of four-year-olds would vastly reduce the ability of parents to shape the values and perceptions of their children according to Christian teaching.

The most important statement in the Open Doors suggestions for Chinese Christians is the most important thing every Christian needs to remember: “Christians need to be encouraged to live out biblical values and show people what it looks like to be followers of Christ.” This is something every Christian ought to write on his heart. In fact, it is so important that a failure to do it is probably at the root of many social and political evils in the US today. Timothy Dalrymple recently wrote, As our nation struggles to clarify the status of same-sex relationships, it’s all too easy to ignore the fact that the foundation of America’s social, economic and military success has been our society’s broad, voluntary commitment to Judeo-Christian morality.” He develops a strong case for the failure of Christians to live by their own values as a major enabler of the cultural momentum to revise the whole concept of marriage and family, a change of cosmic proportions and apocalyptic portent for human society.

If the future depended on human ability to live like Christ, all hope would be lost. Fortunately, Christians do not believe that the future of the human race is dependent on human perfectibility, as secular thinkers do. The book of Revelation, terrifying images notwithstanding, is actually filled with inspiration and hope for the future. It isn’t a book of pep talks: Hang in there. Never give up. Just do it. Instead, the author of Revelation warns that terrible cataclysms will be the expression of the ultimate war between good and evil in time and space. Hope for the future, however, resides in God’s complete victory over Satan through Christ’s death on the cross. Because Satan himself has already been defeated in the realm of eternity and infinity, the horrific clashes between good and evil in time and space are simply the dying gasps of a defeated enemy. The apparent reality of Satan’s power is transcended by the real reality of Christ’s power through his death and resurrection. Revelation reminds us not to limit our understanding to the measure of our senses.

How does this truth shape our interaction with our culture? Why should we suffer if it is all up to God? The answer is that our battles are important. Our suffering matters in the eternal scheme of things. That is why we go ahead and stand up to socialist activism that wants to snatch children away from their parents, that wants to redefine marriage and family in self-indulgent terms, that demands that we lock God and all references to him inside buildings. God’s purpose for time and eternity requires that we live so close to Christ that he is our only treasure, so that we testify with Paul,

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. Philippians 3:8-10

Secular religion. Yes there is such a thing.

We normally do not think of the debates between candidates for public office as a source of spiritual education, but last week we received an important lesson. The debate between the candidates for vice-president surprised me by providing a vivid example of the difference between a biblical definition of commitment to faith in Christ and the secular definition of religion.

People who enter into a relationship with Christ discover immediately that it permeates their lives. In relationship with Christ, everything is touched by that experience. In baptism each new believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, just as the Holy Spirit descended into Christ at baptism. Each of us, like Christ, is the visible in-breaking of the kingdom of God into the world.

In the book of Mark, Jesus found himself in constant conflict with Satan and other secular powers around him as he literally carried the kingdom around to the people of Galilee. Today, Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit, do the same thing at work, at school, in the grocery store, in the voting booth, in the halls of Congress, and so forth. People living in relationship with Christ cannot turn off that relationship when they leave the church building on Sunday morning any more than married people can turn off that relationship when they exit their homes.

Last week at the end of the vice-presidential debate, the moderator asked each candidate to describe how his faith affected his views and actions relative to the issue of abortion and how it would affect his actions in office if he were elected. Paul Ryan said simply that his views and his values are shaped by his faith, and his views would not be changed if he were elected to public office. He said nothing about trying to force anyone to agree with him. He simply stated his position. Joe Biden said that his faith shaped his views, but he wouldn’t try to force his views on anyone. Joe Biden’s words made it very clear that his religious life takes place exclusively inside the walls of church buildings and has no relevance whatsoever to his behavior outside of those buildings. It is reasonable to conclude that he would say that religion is a private matter. The concept that religious people try to “force” their views on others is a common thread in secular comments about religion. When an individual advocates for views rooted in religious conviction, secular thinkers believe that he is “forcing” those views on people who advocate for views rooted in something other than religion. Secular thinkers dismiss values and views rooted in religion, because they view religion as a fairy tale. They demand that religious people find some other source for their values in order to deserve serious consideration in public life.

I describe this observation not to support or attack either candidate. I describe this observation, because the federal government has defined what is religious as the worship, evangelism and teaching that take place in church buildings. Period. The executive administration currently in power has written into regulations a clear definition of religion that confines its scope to religious activities that take place on church property. Joe Biden accepts that definition. Paul Ryan does not. To say this is not to say that Paul Ryan is the perfect candidate, or even to say that Paul Ryan is the perfect Christian. Both Joe Biden and Paul Ryan are imperfect and unsaintly human beings. This small segment of the debate was only one view of each candidate, but it is the view that relates to this blog. Every Christian lives in a world where secular thinkers want to confine faith and the views and values of faith inside church buildings. If I had tried to write a dramatic script to show what it means to think about faith from the secular perspective and what it means to think about faith from the Christian perspective, I could not have written a scene that portrayed this difference any more clearly.

Secular thinkers consistently reject the existence of supernatural or “spirit” power. Some secular thinkers tolerate religion within bounds, that is to say, they think people have a right to enjoy the singing, the prayers, the beautiful buildings, the artistry of ancient texts and so forth that are associated with religion. However, even the most religiously tolerant secular thinker rejects any hint that someone’s religious values should play any role in public life. This is Joe Biden’s position. Joe Biden is Catholic in his religious choice, but he restricts the influence of his Catholic values to his life within the church. He has every constitutional right to do that, and voters have no right to say he can’t do that, but every voter has values, too. If voters consider Joe Biden’s candidacy seriously, they need to recognize from his own statements that in his elected office, he operates by secular values, not by Christian values. A voter who chooses the secular worldview will admire Joe Biden for this stance. A voter who believes that a Christian is a little Christ bringing the values of the kingdom of God with him wherever he goes will not admire Joe Biden’s position.

Paul Ryan expressed a view much more in keeping with traditional Christian teaching. He said that his views and values do not change when he acts as an elected official. He did not suggest that he will scoff at or ignore laws that contradict his views, but he did say that he would act in accordance with the views shaped by his faith. A voter who chooses the secular worldview would regard this statement with concern, because he would know that Paul Ryan is unlikely to conform to secular views, even if most of the people want the secular views. Secular thinkers believe that when a group of people gets together to hammer out laws for society, they should recognize that no member of the group has more understanding of what is right than any other. Secular thinkers reject revealed, absolute truth. Secular thinkers believe that society is evolving and that the rules about what is right and what is wrong must evolve with it. Christians, who believe that there are absolute truths revealed by God in the sacred text of the Bible, appear hard-headed and hard-hearted to secular thinkers who want to legislate in keeping with the evolving culture.

You can find comments expressing a secular analysis of the debate here .

You can find comments expressing a Catholic analysis of the debate here.

American culture is definitely changing. A recent Pew study showed that the number of people who are disconnected from any religion is growing rapidly. In this culture, it takes courage for anyone to say that his religion shapes his views and values. What this trend will mean for Christians in the next few years is not clear. It is also not clear how this trend will affect the outcome of elections. After all, values and views certainly shape people’s positions on the issues, but in the end, it is the position, not the philosophy or religion that is important to voters. This blog discusses this issue as a way of asking each reader to do some self-examination. Each reader needs to look within and ask, “Where do my values, my views, my choices come from?” Each reader should look within and ask if Christ sits on the throne of his/her heart, or if self is enthroned at the center of life. As voters, people must evaluate candidates such as Joe Biden and Paul Ryan and make important decisions with impact on the future of a nation. Please do that. But don’t forget to take a look within and ask if the values and views you express in public life are consistent with the values and views you claim when you are in church.