Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"In God We Trust" but the Sheriff Still Carries a Gun

First, let me state emphatically that I am a lifelong friend of Sheriff Gary Gulledge, of Paulding County, GA. We grew up together, played sports together, have had many meals together, and I consider him a good friend who would do anything to help me just as I would for him. What I am about to say in no reflects a break in that friendship.

But, Gary, what the heck were you thinking?

It seems the Paulding County Sheriff's Department is placing "In God We Trust" stickers on all department vehicles. While the movement seems to be one that many departments across the nation are now doing, it doesn't make it right.

Let's be clear on something: I firmly believe Sheriff Gulledge's heart is in the right place. He is doing what he thinks is a good gesture towards the community, his personnel, and a bit of patriotism, too. He is not in any way trying to break the law, marginalize anyone, or cause problems. He is simply standing up for what he believes and trying to do something good.

None of that excuses the seriousness of the mistake of these stickers.

First, the Sheriff was quick to point out (see his statement here) that the stickers were paid for by his personal money, or the money of the deputies that chose to place the sticker on their patrol car. No taxpayer money was used. No problem, right? Well, that is a big problem: it shows that this is recognized as a distinctly religious statement and using taxpayer money would never fly from a Constitutional stand point. Thus, if it is recognized as an entanglement of church and state if taxpayer money was used, then it must be viewed as still a religious statement if private money is used. And since these stickers are on county vehicles, paid for by the county taxpayer, why are religious statements allowed?

Second, it should be painfully obvious that reasonable people would see this as a definite religious advancement, and thus an establishment issue. This is evident in the statements of nearly everyone that is praising God these stickers are on the vehicles. The people of the county see this for what it is: a clear religious statement on county vehicles.

Third, the Sheriff was explicit that he did this because he was doing exactly what the nation was founded on, i.e., God. While I disagree with him that the nation was founded on God or any uniquely Christian principles (or any religious values at all, for that matter), his statement that this is what the United States of America was found upon and is one of the principles I live my life upon demonstrates clearly that this is his advancement of religion using the official arm of the sheriff's department.

Fourth, it is highly problematic that deputies are paying for the stickers out of their own pocket. What if a deputy is of a different religion than the Sheriff? Wouldn't there be at least subtle coercion for the deputy to spend the money on an obvious faith statement? What if the deputy is of no faith? Will there be retaliation? I'm certain my friend Gary Gulledge would never --- not ever --- retaliate against a deputy for being of a different or no faith. I'm certain that wouldn't happen. But what of others in the department? How will they treat a fellow deputy who is singled out for being different? Fact is, there is an immediate coercive environment towards minority faith deputies, whether overt, covert, or perceived. It is there and there is no denying that.

Fifth, how does the community see this? Judging by the comments, nearly everyone loves the idea as God is getting the glory. Amen, right? Well, how do minority religions feel? To people of different religions or no religion at all, the message is very clear: faith is given the nod because this is a God-fearing county and if you aren't in the majority religion, you are 2nd class and don't get the benefit of the doubt. Many citizens will be marginalized, either real or perceived, and they will always wonder if they are getting the same treatment as the majority faith gets. This looks like the law enforcement arm of Paulding County gives favor to one religion, and that is the religion of the Sheriff.

Sixth, the stickers on patrol cars have never been challenged in court with a ruling one way or the other, as far as I can tell. So that means this is probably legal until a judge says it is not. Still, that doesn't make it right and the problems noted should be enough to say this is not a good idea.

Just as a last point of reference, the statement In God We Trust is indeed the US national motto, as of 1956. That doesn't mean it is not a religious statement. While most today simply see it as a legal generic nod to a ceremonial and patriotic duty, that idea is rapidly changing in every day practice as evidenced by the positive comments for these stickers. And, yes, the statement is on our currency, but that, too, is very recent and, like the motto change, done for the expressed purpose of making a religious statement as an up yours to the Soviet Union and their godless system of government. Again, everyone knew it was a religious statement then, and we know it is a religious statement now: the legal challenge will come --- eventually.

In the meantime, the stickers stand. It's legal. It's viewed as the placing of the national motto and not a religious statement. Still doesn't make it right.

Remember: if we open the door to putting God on the patrol cars, that same door will allow Allah on that same vehicle in the future. The only way to prevent the latter, is to make sure the former is not allowed either. Giving the hint of a Most Favored Religion is clearly a violation of the 1st amendment. I just pray that in our zeal to stand for God we don't forget that the majority faith in Paulding County, GA, once fought against this very thing when the Congregationalists, Anglicans, and Papists wanted their version of God given the nod of being more favored.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Shooting Ourselves in the Foot


Unfortunately, those to whom this is aimed will not recognize it in themselves, instead reciting that same phrase as the Pharisee of old, "Lord, I thank you I'm not like other sinners ..." (LK 18:11). They portray the carpenter from Nazareth as the All-American boy, draped in a flag, and agreeing with their politics, economics, and social constructs.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Prayers Before Football Games: Fact is, it's just rude

I am a Christian, though I readily admit I'm not a very good one despite my best attempts. Truth is, most of the time, I am envious of other believers who do a much better job at The Faith than I do. Still, I give it a good shot.

I'm also a Baptist. And not just any Baptist, but a Southern Baptist. From GA. From a small town that has more Baptist churches than people (that is an exaggeration, but not by much). And I am even a former pastor while still doing some pulpit supply even today.

So when I write this entry, I don't do so lightly. I fully understand I may be taking Sunday-Dinner-on-the-Grounds out of my life entirely.

I'm just going to put it out there: we're rude. Yes, rude. Christians have gotten accustomed to the privileged status that comes from being the majority faith and we have been throwing our weight around in ways that are rude.

Let's start with prayer at school functions, particularly at Southern football games. Yes, we all know the Supreme Court ruled that school sponsored prayer was illegal way back in 1962 (Engle v. Vitale), but news travels slowly to many school boards in the South. Even when the court expressly said pre-game prayer over the loud speakers was illegal in 2000 (Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe), many parts of the South just ignored it. The court said that official school prayers or school directed / sponsored prayers are an endorsement of religion and thus a violation of the 1st Amendment. This doesn't mean students may not pray, but it does mean the prayer may not be lead by, endorsed by, sanctioned, or promoted by the school.

Basically it says the pastor of the largest church around, and who happens to be good friends with the coach or principal, can't get a few minutes on the loud speaker with a few thousand people to promote his church and invoke his version of God.

But students and those few thousand people at the game may pray. And they may pray in unison. And they may pray without asking those who don't want to pray to step outside until the prayer service is over.

So envision all those Christians spontaneously reciting the Lord's Prayer as soon as the National Anthem is finished over the loud speaker (the time everyone knows is where the prayer over the loud speaker is always given but is now not allowed). Yes, it is beautiful to hear and see and experience --- unless you're one of the few who doesn't believe as the thousands of others do and are now forced to sit through a prayer time in order to watch your kid play football.

An unwanted prayer is forced on you and your kids, and you had to buy a ticket to be there, too.

It is rude for us to do that to people. Very, very rude.

How would we Christians feel if the majority were Muslim and before the kick off, nearly everyone bowed towards Mecca? There you are waiting to watch your child play football, but the coaches, players, cheerleaders, band members, teachers, administrators -- everyone -- are all praying to Allah, while you sit silently waiting for it to be over. Don't you think maybe your kids are getting the impression that being Muslim is the preferred identity in the community and that you as a parent have forced him or her to be a social outcast? Don't you think your son or daughter would feel the pressure to conform to the majority's faith in order to be part of the team? Wouldn't you be very uncomfortable?

It is just rude.

And it certainly doesn't treat others the way we would want to be treated.

So for Oneida High School in TN, or for West Laurens High School in Dublin, GA, may I say God bless your zeal, but honestly you're setting the stage for Muslims or some other religion to perhaps return the favor upon your grandchildren one day.