“God bless America” vs. “God bless the whole world”

Kate Smith

Some people are saying we shouldn’t say or sing “God Bless America.” That is too exclusive.  Rather, we should say, “God Bless the Whole World.”

Matt Reynolds at Christianity Today explains why praying “God Bless America”–and the words are a prayer– is indeed appropriate.

Just as you pray for your grandmother, he says, and not all the grandmothers in the world, it’s right to pray for those who are near and dear to our hearts.  We can’t fully comprehend abstractions–like “humanity” or “the world”–so we pray for what is tangible, for actual communities that we are part of.

I would add the vocational point that this is why God tells us to love not the human race but to love our neighbor, that actual flesh and blood person whom our vocations bring into our lives.

Read the essay, excerpted and linked after the jump.  Then please join me in prayer:  “God bless America.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

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Patriotic Church Services?

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A big Baptist church in Texas held a special “Freedom Sunday” service, featuring patriotic music, flag ceremonies, military presentations, a sermon celebrating America, and other nationalistic celebrations.  The sort other congregations, I dare say, have planned for the 4th of July weekend.

Several observers are condemning the Baptist service for being “idolatrous.”

Conservative Methodist Mark Tooley describes the service, expresses some reservations, but defends the congregation against the charge of idolatry.   He doesn’t approve of non-traditional worship in general, but he says that there is nothing wrong with churches being part of the local culture and thanking God for their country.  This is his conclusion:  “Nonsacred music and other non-Gospel focused celebrations by churches are best hosted outside of worship.”

I think the main problem with this sort of thing is the same problem with other kinds of “contemporary worship” that says little about Christ or the reception of His gifts.  I hasten to say that not all contemporary worship does that, but this often happens when the impulse to appeal to the culture and thus sacralize it takes priority over Word and Sacrament.

Read the excerpt from Mark Tooley after the jump, along with his linked article.  Do you think this service constitutes idolatry?  Or are such patriotic observances fine outside the church, but not in the context of a worship service?  Or would that still constitute a non-Christian “civil religion”?  How could we apply the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms–which teaches that God reigns over both the spiritual and the temporal realms, but in different ways–to this issue? [Read more…]

How to criminalize Christianity

The United States has freedom of religion, and to say Christians are “persecuted” here is surely overblown, compared to how Christians are treated in other parts of the world.  And yet, overt persecution could conceivably break out even in this land of the free.  But how, given this country’s constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and freedom of speech?

We are seeing some of the ways this could happen and to a degree is already happening.  The right to religious freedom can be played against other rights that are considered more important.  Thus, religious opposition to certain kinds of sinful behavior can be treated as illegal discrimination.  A Christian’s disagreement with other religions can be outlawed as hate speech.

Another legal argument is taking shape in Georgia, where a college is being sued for not permitting a Christian student from preaching the Gospel, even though he had reserved space in one of the two campus “Free Speech Zones.”  (That a college allows free speech only in “zones” is itself a travesty, both of the ideals of higher education and of American law.  According to the Constitution, the whole nation is to be a free speech zone.)

The college is defending itself on the grounds that the preaching constituted “disorderly conduct.”  And that by calling people “sinners,” the preacher was using “fighting words,” which are legally outside the bounds of free speech.

One can envision a time when the freedom of religion applies only to religions that are universalist, permissive, non-proselytzing, and culturally-conforming.  That is to say, hardly any actual religions. [Read more…]

Euthanasia for “a completed life”

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First euthanasia was supposed to be for people who were terminally ill. Then for those who were suffering.  First physically, but then mentally. But euthanasia would only be for people who requested it.  Then for those unable to request it.  Including for children.

A new proposal in the Netherlands, the mecca of physician homicide, would allow euthanasia for any healthy person over 75 on the grounds of having had “a completed life.”

But that’s just the beginning.  Euthanasia activists admit that this is only the first step.  (Actually, there have been lots of prior steps.)  The real goal is euthanasia for any adult who wants it.
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Towards an OKC Thunder superteam

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Here in the Sooner State, Oklahomans have been feeling good about Russell Westbrook winning the MVP, while facing up to the fact that the Thunder is never going to be competitive against the Golden State Warriors, thanks to our previous hero, Kevin Durant, bolting for the big lights and championship rings of a superteam.

Then suddenly, against all expectations, one of the biggest NBA talents, four-time All Star Paul George joined the Thunder!

Everybody wanted him.  But Thunder General Manager and deal-making genius Sam Presti engineered a trade with the Indianapol, getting George in exchange for two players.  And in doing so, he saved money, getting under the salary cap and making possible even more acquisitions.

The basketball world is wondering how the Pacers gave him up for so little and why they took Presti’s offer instead of the better ones being made by other teams.

George is signed for another year, but told the Pacers he wouldn’t be resigning because he wants to end up the Los Angeles.  They traded him to get something for him.  Of course, the Thunder are now in the same position.   They will probably only have him for one year.  But this shows Westbrook that the team means to win and can be an incentive for him to sign the 5 year supermax contract.  Or, both players could go to L.A., where both of them are from.

But still, this gives the Thunder at least one year with two great players.

Paul George is said to be on the same level as Kevin Durant.  And he complements Westbrook perfectly.  He also makes up for Thunder weaknesses–namely, perimeter defense and 3-point shooting.

So maybe Oklahoma City will build a superteam.  Then again, by picking up another superstar with two first names, Chris Paul, to join James Harden, Houston may also become a superteam.

But at least Golden State will have some competition next year.

After the jump, some experts assess the trade.

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Lutheran Sociologist Peter Berger Dies

Peter Berger

Peter Berger has died at the age of 88.

One of the most prominent figures in the field of sociology, Berger was a pioneer in the sociology of religion.

Describing himself as an “incurable Lutheran” of the ELCA variety (though critical of much of that denomination’s liberal tendencies), Berger was sympathetic to evangelicals and other cultural conservatives.

After the jump, I will give some of his contributions, not only to sociology but to contemporary conservative thought and religion.

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