‘Under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s’

Just checking in after finally crawling out of my sick bed.

I’ve had something — Swine flu? — since Thursday. Whatever it is, don’t get it.

I don’t have any idea what’s been going on, but a few emails about the Manhattan Declaration caught my attention.

Looks like it could open a new round of the Culture Wars.

It’s a no-sense, strongly worded statement from Catholic, Orthodox and evangelical leaders that basically says they will give no ground when it comes to abortion, marriage and religious liberty.

The statement urges nothing less than civil disobedience if it comes to that.

You should read it for yourself. But here’s a piece:

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Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense. In this declaration we affirm: 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non­believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.

We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.

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And here’s the sword-waving close:

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Going back to the earliest days of the church, Christians have refused to compromise their proclamation of the gospel. In Acts 4, Peter and John were ordered to stop preaching. Their answer was, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Through the centuries, Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required. There is no more eloquent defense of the rights and duties of religious conscience than the one offered by Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Writing from an explicitly Christian perspective, and citing Christian writers such as Augustine and Aquinas, King taught that just laws elevate and ennoble human beings because they are rooted in the moral law whose ultimate source is God Himself. Unjust laws degrade human beings. Inasmuch as they can claim no authority beyond sheer human will, they lack any power to bind in conscience. King’s willingness to go to jail, rather than comply with legal injustice, was exemplary and inspiring.

Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo­destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti­life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.

Lobbying for Jesus

I’ve written a few times in the past about the work of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a conservative, evangelical lobbying group in Albany.

I just noticed a new motto on an email alert from the group: “Influencing Legislation and Legislators for the Lord Jesus Christ.”

That cuts to the chase, no?

Among other things, the email includes this: “On Tuesday, October 13, A State Senate Select Committee on Budget and Tax Reform will meet in Albany.  The purpose of the meeting is to evaluate the need for and costs of New York State property tax exemptions.  Christians should be paying attention to what sounds like a very droll subject, because it could have great impact on ministries across the State of New York.”

tomandbarbNYCF probably feels that it’s swimming against the tide these days. One of the group’s lobbyists, the Rev. Tom Stiles (that’s him with his wife, Barb), writes on the website that “America is becoming a socialist state.”

He writes:

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Socialism does not work because it provides no real incentive to work hard or produce, because no matter how hard you work, you get no extra pay or reward. People stop exerting themselves and become dependent on the State. Government replaces God.

The Federal government under President Barack Obama has taken over the banking, finance, and auto industries, and is now looking at the environment and health care. Both the President and Congress continue to push our country further in debt in an attempt to buy our way out of the recession.

It won’t work – America needs to come back to God and Biblical principles. But the evidence suggests that we are moving in the opposite direction. American Christians should heed the words spoken to Israel by the prophet Jeremiah, “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, [and] hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

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NYCF has banquets coming up across New York State, in Painted Post, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Oneonta, Binghamton and Long Island.

But none in NYC or the Lower Hudson Valley.

Breaking down the ‘unchurched’

At a time when lots of people are switching religious affiliations, dabbling in more than one tradition, seeking spirituality on the Web and who knows what else, the Barna Group has come up with some new categories for those who don’t attend church regularly.

Barna is an evangelical outfit and they’re basically talking about Protestants, but I think that other religious groups can also relate some of what they’ve come up with.

So here are their new measurements for how people “relate to faith communities:”

tjndc5-5b5elqsivyr4vzfkezi_layout2.jpgUnattached – people who had attended neither a conventional church nor an organic faith community (e.g., house church, simple church, intentional community) during the past year. Some of these people use religious media, but they have had no personal interaction with a regularly-convened faith community. This segment represents one out of every four adults (23%) in America. About one-third of the segment was people who have never attended a church at any time in their life.

Intermittents – these adults are essentially “under-churched” – i.e., people who have participated in either a conventional church or an organic faith community within the past year, but not during the past month. Such people constitute about one out of every seven adults (15%). About two-thirds of this group had attended at least one church event at some time within the past six months.

Homebodies – people who had not attended a conventional church during the past month, but had attended a meeting of a house church (3%).

Blenders – adults who had attended both a conventional church and a house church during the past month. Most of these people attend a conventional church as their primary church, but many are experimenting with new forms of faith community. In total, Blenders represent 3% of the adult population.

Conventionals – adults who had attended a conventional church (i.e., a congregational-style, local church) during the past month but had not attended a house church. Almost three out of every five adults (56%) fit this description. This participation includes attending any of a wide variety of conventional-church events, such as weekend services, mid-week services, special events, or church-based classes.

‘Born again Christians’ like Dems best

“Born again” voters favor Clinton and Obama over all the Republicans.

That’s the word from the Barna Group, an evangelical polling operation.

According to Barna:

If the election were held today, and all of the remaining candidates from both parties were on the ballot, the frontrunners among born again voters would be Hillary Clinton (favored by 20% of born again likely voters), Barack Obama (18%) and Mike Huckabee (12%). No other candidate reached double figures. Thirty percent of the born again likely voters said they were still undecided as to who they would choose.

Last time around, “born again” voters preferred Bush to Kerry by a 62% to 38% margin.

Barna defines “born again Christians” as “people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.”

barna_204.jpgGeorge Barna, the firm’s boss (that’s him), said:

Given the large percentage of undecided voters, it is possible that the Republican candidate might eventually win a majority of the born again vote. However, it will not be easy to win them over. Several factors are operating against the Republican’s prospects in this election, related to both social issues and the personal integrity of several of the candidates.