A Letter to Our Leaders of Tomorrow, by Ms. Kim

Dear Children that I Love and Children I May Never Meet,

This world refers to you as our leaders of tomorrow, but I’m afraid we as grown ups are failing to teach you how to lead. Often your days are filled with scary news of people hurting each other or themselves. You hear meanness in the words adults speak. Sometimes those adults are someone you love. Technology has made our world a really cool place, but it too can be frightening. Your world seems darker than the childhoods of your parents or grandparents. But being discouraged is not the answer.

Boys, girls, young women, and young men, this world needs you. We need you for change to happen. We need you to remember that God expects us to love each other. Grown ups, sometimes really important grown ups, may say things you know are wrong. Maybe that is bad language or words meant to bully or hurt someone’s feelings. The world needs you to have courage to say those things are wrong. When that courage is too hard to find, and darlings some days it will be, just pray. Pray for the adult and pray for yourself and your friends, because this world needs you to be different. Kiddos, we need you to listen so that you can learn. Sadly, the grown ups in your life often need some help with this too. This world is made up of all types of people, all types of families, all types of religions, and all types of beautiful skin tones and heritage. People of this world also make choices in their lives. Even in your young lives you know that not everyone makes the same choices. This is tricky. You too will have the power to make choices about the way you live your life. Remember this, other people’s choices are important in your life, even when you don’t agree with them. Watching the choices of others will guide you to follow or go a different way. But, when you choose that different way, and many times you will need to, don’t make things worse by being unkind or hating the other person. This isn’t your job and it makes your, brain, heart, and body feel like you are carrying too many books in your backpack. Most importantly, listen to others. Just listen sweet ones. Listening doesn’t mean agreeing, listening means respect.

So precious leaders of tomorrow, you have such an important place in our world. Do not be afraid, but instead be different because that difference is power. I hope you are practicing all your basic manners, things like “please and thank you”, holding the door for someone older than yourself and always for a lady and sharing with others. Those are all important. Even more important is to remember that the person older than you might just have great wisdom. The women in this world have valuable minds and bodies worth respecting. The words you speak with politeness and care tell the world that you have character. By letting your light shine, you can lead by example those younger than you and hopefully some adults too.

Take your power,

Ms. Kim

Small Tent Versus Big Tent


In Waco, yesterday, delegates to the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) voted to exclude churches that allow LGBTQ Christians the full rights of church membership. Baptists have long been champions of local church autonomy, meaning each individual church possesses the authority to derive their own theological convictions and practices as their conscience dictates.  The churches that adopted a more inclusive policy were not asking the convention to affirm their decisions, but convention leaders felt they possessed the authority to demand conformity to their views or be excluded from fellowship.


There are a myriad of troublesome issues with this action, but I would like to begin with the small tent movement.  For what seems like decades now, Baptists have continued to adopt and practice a small tent approach to the Christian faith.  Through a practice of purging other Baptists using theological purity and political loyalty, leaders have shrunken Baptist tents to the extent they will have no space for future generations.  Current leaders in some Baptist entities practice a “conform and control” type of theology.  If any church that reads the Scriptures and comes to another conviction, then they are excused and excluded from fellowship.  


This type of theological process prevents Christians and churches from exploring the Scriptures; challenging their own preconceived notions; and drawing new understandings about God, how he relates to the world, and how we relate to each other.  In other words, it discourages a cognitive approach to faith.  Jesus instructs us to place our minds on heavenly things, which encourages us to cognitively engage faith so that we might discover a deeper appreciation and understanding of God’s ways.  If the church would have ceased to think and challenge its own doctrines previously, then our culture would still be excluding black people from water fountains and preventing women from voting.


Opponents will say that they are not shrinking the tent, but that those of us coming to a different understanding of ministry are stepping outside the traditional tent.  From my vantage point, they are both right and wrong.  They are correct that we appear to be stepping away, but not because we are rejecting them.  We are stepping away because we have decided to follow the Holy Spirit that is guiding us on a new journey of exploration and understanding.  We are simply attempting to live out our faith as we feel the Holy Spirit is convicting us.  They are misguided when they say the tent is not shrinking.  As more and more people from a younger generation want to be a part of a gracious and loving church that promotes social justice, the tent needs to expand to accommodate them.  In other words, the current tent needs to grow because the crowd is growing.  If it fails to grow by denying freedom and autonomy, then it is shrinking.

Finally, the actions of the Texas Baptist delegates have excluded more than just two churches this week.  They have excluded my church.  At NorthHaven Church we honor the priesthood of every believer and celebrate local church autonomy, therefore establishing and practicing a big tent approach to Christianity.  We have members on both sides of this issue, but we have chosen to cherish freedom above conformity.  Our LGBTQ members are granted the same rights as every other member, therefore fully affirming them as brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are certainly saddened by the BGCT’s decision, but many of us have been here before when the Southern Baptist Convention excluded us as we stood up for freedom.  As I step away from the BGCT, my prayers go with them as I join others in a continuing process of building a bigger tent.


Sanctuary

Jesus once said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Over two decades of ministry, I have come to discover the significant burden that many in our world carry around each day.  From the micro issues of everyday life to the macro problems we face in society, the burden continues to grow heavier as the years pass by.


At NorthHaven Church, we have worked hard at creating a sanctuary environment where individuals and families can find calm from chaos, love over hate, peace from despair, grace over judgement, and acceptance rather than rejection.  The word for “sanctuary” in the Old Testament comes from the Hebrew word, qodesh.  The word simply means, “a holy or sacred place.”  At NorthHaven, we take this sacredness seriously.  We believe in the sacred truths of the Bible, but more so in what the Bible actually says.  We are called to love God and love each other – no matter who they might be.


The world seems to be spinning faster these days, leaving some so dizzy they need a soft place to land.  Let me be very clear about what I am going to say: NorthHaven welcomes ALL people needing sanctuary.  We understand this big world of ours is comprised of a variety of individuals, but those of you who are hurting, struggling, mourning, scared, desperate, hopeless, and lost have a place to find peace and acceptance.  Jesus is our example, so those that need a shoulder to steady their walk can find others in their midst willing to walk alongside them offering encouragement and hope.


In NorthHaven, you will find sanctuary from a world trying to bring more divisiveness and destruction.  You will find gracious individuals offering intercessory prayer, warm hugs, and strong shoulders.  You will discover a truth that is counter to what you've grown accustomed to hearing.  You will find a loving community where belonging is just as important as believing.  Therefore, for those walking these days with heavy burdens on their shoulders, come and experience the sanctuary of NorthHaven Church.


Running in Circles

Because today is election day I should probably be writing something related politics, but to be honest, I’m sick of politics. What is truly weighing on my heart are the challenges people living everyday lives are facing. The brokenness, the decisions, and the uncertainty that you and I and those we love are facing can be overwhelming at times.

Recently, a young woman I care about lost her husband, the father of her children, her best friend to cancer. Before I can complete this blog, another friend has been diagnosed. Many families are struggling with the rising costs of raising children. Whether it is health insurance, sports, quality childcare, tutoring, or lessons, we want to meet our children’s needs and give them opportunities to grow. There is the competition of social media, thanks to the folks who use it as a platform to convince themselves and others that their life is perfect. I’m amazed by the number of parents that I come in contact with who are struggling with huge issues raising their kiddos. Attachment issues, learning disabilities, drug problems, medical and mental health issues, special needs, and so many other concerns touch many families, consuming their lives. Households face the demands of full-time employment while raising children or grandchildren or caring for aging parents. There is divorce and marital problems happening between couples you might least suspect. And, on top of it all, we live in a society where overbooking our calendars, comparing ourselves to others, and striving for perfection is the norm.

Friends, the world seems terribly harsh right now and I don’t think I am alone in my feelings. Like a hamster running on a wheel, sometimes I find myself in that circular pattern getting tired but going nowhere. Day in, day out I can easily become consumed by the trials of life. Without my faith, I would certainly find myself in the fetal position on the floor of my closet. And because of that faith I cannot help but wonder what God expects of us as His people.

Obviously, death will happen, struggles and tragedy will come and during those times it is our relationship with Christ that sees us through, often deepening our faith (“because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:3). Loss and illness are also opportunities for our earthly relationships to grow, whether we are giving or receiving support, but what about less obvious things? What about our everyday lives? How good of a job are we doing being transparent with our own feelings or letting those around us be transparent with theirs? God never intended for us to live life alone or handle everything on our own. How good are we at focusing on relationship, with Christ, with others, and with ourselves?

As God’s people, we are in this life together. May we be challenged to live authentically, holding each other up? It is time to step off the hamster wheel y’all!

Not My Enemy, But My Friend


At the Oklahoma State Capitol on Tuesday, a few lawmakers met to “study” whether radical Islam has infiltrated the state.  Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, accused local Muslim leaders of participating in terrorist activities, “The enemy must be stopped. We're going to be called bigots, and racists, and Islamophobes and a whole host of other things by the media after this is over. We're going to be called that by terrorists organizations like CAIR that is here today, but you know that is a small price to pay to put our foot to the tail end of these terrorists and these anti-American groups in the name of freedom” (NewsOK, 10/26/2016).


While Bennett stated his purpose for the meeting, he also revealed his objective, “We're going to do all we can to kick these terrorist organizations out of the state of Oklahoma” (Ibid.) When Rep. Bennett refers to “terrorists organization” he is referring to my good friends, Imam Imad Enchassi and Adam Soltani.  Enchassi is the local Senior Imam at The Islamic Center of Greater Oklahoma City.  Soltani is the Executive Director of CAIR-OK (Council on American-Islamic Relations).  Without any credible evidence by state or federal law enforcement officials, Bennett and his associates are attempting to create unsubstantiated and unfounded accusations against peaceful Americans whose faith happens to differ from his.  


There are numerous reasons why this line of legislative harassment is unacceptable.  As a Christian minister, I find the actions by Bennett and other legislators as egregiously opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   During Jesus life and ministry, he engaged and welcomed the strangers among his people, even when his people felt differently about them.  From the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42) to healing the servant of a Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13), Jesus practiced what he preached.  And speaking of preaching, he had these words to say, 


“for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” 

-Matthew 25:42-46


As a Baptist minister, I am absolutely terrified local magistrates are once again using faith as a tool for persecution and harassment.  In the 17th Century, Baptists were persecuted, imprisoned, and publicly whipped for advocating a faith different from that of the majority. This kind of religious persecution prompted Roger Williams to declare in 1644, “An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state, confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (brucegourley.com).


In that same year, Massachusetts “outlawed” being a Baptist altogether, declaring them to be a danger to the state, “some whereof (as others before them) denied the ordinance of the magistracy…bring guilt upon us, infection and trouble to our churches, and hazard to the whole commonwealth” (Leonard, Baptist Ways, 78).  The New England magistrates felt as though Baptists were a terror in their own right, causing chaos and mayhem among their commonwealth.  In my opinion, there is no difference between what 17th Century Puritan magistrates were doing and what Rep. Bennett is doing today.


Finally, as an American, I am appalled at this line of false inquiry and inquisition. Revolutionary Baptist Pastor, John Leland, expressed the sentiments of a liberal democracy when he declared, “The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians” (brucegourley.com).  


The charade that took place at the Oklahoma Capitol on Tuesday should make every American’s blood boil.  There is nothing more un-American than elected public officials making unsubstantiated accusations against law abiding and peaceful citizens of a different faith.  This line of inquiry and investigation must cease immediately.  If allowed to continue, the echoes of a new McCarthyism will grow louder over time.  


Therefore, as a Christian and Baptist minister, I stand beside my Muslim brothers and sisters because I truly believe this is what Jesus would do.  As an American citizen, I stand beside you because I still believe that the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land for every citizen, not just the powerful elite.  In closing, to my Muslim brothers and sisters, I, for one, do not consider you an enemy, but a friend.  

Harry Caray, The Cubs, and the Summer of 1983

Over the weekend, the Chicago Cubs laid to rest the “Curse of the Billy Goat” by winning the National League pennant over the Los Angeles Dodgers and moving on to this year’s World Series.  The curse stretches all the way back to 1945, when Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, was asked to leave Wrigley Field because his goat’s odor was bothering fans during the fourth game of the 1945 World Series.   Offended, Sianis quipped, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more!”


Sianis turned out to be a modern prophet of sorts.  His very accurate prediction takes me back to the summer of 1983.  The Randall family was living on the east side of Tulsa.  My dad worked at an insurance company, my mom was enrolled in a Master’s program at Northeastern State University, my younger brother was being taken care of by grandmother, and I had the run of the house.  Needless to say, as a soon-to-be teenager, I did not get up that early during the summer.  However, I always made certain to be wide awake when the Chicago Cubs had a home game.


Back in those days, the Cubs played all of their home games during the day since Wrigley Field was not fitted for lights.  Therefore, for an eleven year old baseball fan, it was a perfect scenario.  Tuned into WGN out of Chicago, I would pop a frozen pizza into the oven, and listen for my summer caretaker, Harry Caray, to welcome me to the game.


“The starting line up for today’s Chicago Cubs,” Caray would announce, “Bill Buckner at first, Ryne Sandberg at second, Ron Cey at third, Larry Bowa at shortstop, Leon Durham in left, Mel Hall in center, Keith Moreland in right, Jody Davis behind the plate, and Fergie Jenkins on the mound.”  Now, the Cubs were terrible that year, winning only 71 games while losing 91.  Poor Harry would get so disgusted with them, by the seventh inning stretch his rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” might have been slurred just a bit.  


Nevertheless, those summer days filled my heart.  I loved watching baseball and listening to Harry Caray make his sidekick, Steve Stone, so uncomfortable with his questions and remarks.  It was a baseball kid’s dream.  Now, today, the Cubs are headed to the World Series.  Caray’s mic has long since been silenced with time, but his voice still echoes around Wrigley Field.  A few decades ago, my grandfather went to Chicago and caught a game.  Amazingly, he ran into Caray outside the park.  My grandfather removed his new cap he had purchased at the game and Caray signed the bill of it.  Today, that cap sits on a bookshelf in my study.  It is worn and faded over the ages, but when the first pitch of the World Series is thrown out this year, I will be wearing it with pride.


 

Go Cubs!

Pooh Bear is Back!


On a blustery winter’s night near the Hundred Acre Wood, a father and his two sons nestled in a cozy bed just before it was time for sleep.  The wind outside the boy’s bedroom kept knocking up against the window, causing the boys to scurry under their covers each time they heard it.  A warm light cast shadows on the wall, reminding the two boys of the heffalumps and woozles they had run across in their book.  It was getting late.  “One more story,” they beseeched their father.  With a wry smile, knowing he would give into their request, the father cracked open A.A. Milne’s wonderfully written and imaginatively created, “Winnie-the-Pooh.”  Delightfully warm and at peace, they read one more story.


For several years, when the boys were young this routine played out each night.  Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo, Owl, and Eeyore would join Christopher Robin for one adventure after another in the Hundred Acre Wood.  Pooh and his friends were reading staples for my boys.  A.A. Milne’s characters filled their minds and hearts with simple adventures, unending kindness, remarkable decency, and honey pots full of love.  There were no greater influential fictional characters for my small children than these simple personalities portraying foundational human attributes.


My heart is bursting today, because I just learned that a new Winnie-the-Pooh book is being released on October 25, 2016.  There have only been two sequels sanctioned by Pooh Properties, the first released in 2009 called “Return to the Hundred Acre Wood.”  Now, this new publication, “The Best Bear in All the World,” is conceding with the bear’s 90th birthday.  A new chapter will be introduced.  Penguin will make an appearance during the winter setting.  Brian Sibley, who wrote the story, said he was inspired by seeing a photograph of Milne and his son, Christopher, playing with a bear and toy penguin (Shea, New York Times, 10/14/2016).  


I am thrilled at the idea that this winter parents will be snuggling up with children at night and cracking open this new adventure staring Pooh and his friends.  Parents, if you wish to raise kind and compassionate children, buy this book and read it to them as often as you can.  Pooh Bear is back!  I, for one, am thrilled!  Where’s my hot chocolate?  Where’s my blanket?  Where’s my book?  It’s time to return to the Hundred Acre Wood.

Bob Dylan, The Prophet

Bob Dylan has won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature.  Born Robert Allen Zimmerman, Dylan’s family called Hibbing, Minnesota home.  They lived in a small Jewish community outside of Duluth, after Dylan’s father contracted polio.  Dylan experienced a typical childhood for a young Jewish boy growing up in the 1940’s and 1950’s. As a young boy, Dylan recalled listening to a blues radio station broadcast from Shreveport, Louisiana.  Soon, he was listening to musical icons Little Richard and Elvis Presley.


Bob Dylan has been creating amazing music over a span of seven decades.  Some of his greatest hits include “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and “Like a Rolling Stone.”  There were these, and many others, that spoke both realism and peace into generation after generation of fans.  However, for me, my favorite Dylan hit has always been, “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”


The song was released in 1964 during a time when President Lyndon Johnson escalated the Vietnam War and signed the Civil Rights Acts.  During this period of the 1960’s, people felt like the world was spinning so rapidly that each day brought something shocking and/or revolutionary to the front pages of their newspapers.  For the generation from which I was born, Dylan’s song captured the time perfectly.


Come gather ’round people where ever you roam

And admit that the waters around you have grown

And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone

If your time to you is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone,

For the times they are a’ changin’!


Come writers and critics who prophesy with your pen

And keep your eyes wide the chance won’t come again

And don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin

And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’

For the loser now will be later to win

For the times they are a’ changin’!


Come senators, congressmen please heed the call

Don’t stand in the doorway don’t block up the hall

For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled

There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’

It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls

For the times they are a’ changin’!


Come mothers and fathers throughout the land

And don’t criticize what you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command

Your old road is rapidly agin’

Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand

For the times they are a’ changin’!


The line it is drawn the curse it is cast

The slow one now will later be fast

As the present now will later be past

The order is rapidly fadin’

And the first one now will later be last

For the times they are a’ changin’!


While Dylan brilliantly and poetically captured the realities of the 1960’s, his lyrics and music are timeless.  Read the words again, but this time apply them to our day.  Indeed, the times are a changing and the waters are swelling.  We need prophets to take up their pens once again.  We need statesmen more concerned about the wellbeing of our country than their reelections.  We need families that place love above everything else, even when they don’t understand.  As the old poet reminds us, these days  are quickly fading.  Therefore, we need to act today, not tomorrow.  


Congrats Bob Dylan on your Nobel Prize and thank you for being a prophet among us!

KEEPING CHURCH AND STATE SEPARATE: Legal Response

Keeping Church and State Separate

Essays in Response to Oklahoma State Question 790


Stating the Problem

Oklahoma State Question 790 is asking citizens to remove Article 2, Section 5, of the Oklahoma Constitution.  Article 2, Section 5, reads, “No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.”  This set of essays will provide a clear understanding of the issues and an argument why eliminating Article 2, Section 5, would be unbiblical, historically demeaning, legally indefensible, and impractical to implement.   


Essay #3

“Legal Response”


Colonial America

During Colonial America, religious liberty for all colonists was thwarted through legal entanglements between the established church and local magistrates.  The precedent of separation between church and state was unheard of in Colonial America, making life very difficult for the likes of Baptists, Quakers, and other non-conformist faiths.  Individuals like Roger Williams, Anna Hutchinson, and Mary Dyer were banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony because based on the local laws, they practiced a faith contrary to the established church.  Dyer was actually executed at the Boston Commons on June 1, 1660.


Baptists Obadiah Holmes, John Clarke, and John Crandall were arrested in Massachusetts for preaching and proclaiming believer’s baptism.  Eventually Holmes was convicted and publicly whipped for his part in the matter. Under the governance of ruling authorities in the Bay Colonies, individuals fleeing persecution from the throne of England landed in America only to discover another oppressor.  Baptist and other dissenters’ stories served as essential evidence for the birth of a national policy on religious liberty.


Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty

At the final resting place of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, visitors will read the following on his tombstone, “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.”  Jefferson, along with fellow Virginian, James Madison, felt very strongly about the the right for every citizen to legally have religious liberty within the new United States of America, as well as solidifying that very same liberty for his beloved state of Virginia.  Thus, he authored the “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom” and sent it to the state assembly in 1779, twelve years before the First Amendment was adopted as part of the U.S. Constitution.  


Jefferson wrote, “That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time; That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions, which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.”


He continued, “Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities” (Ragosta, 223-224).


In other words, Jefferson and Madison (who actually lobbied for the bill’s passage in 1786, while Jefferson was Minister to France) were successful in their attempt to separate church and state.  The two Founding Fathers from Virginia believed that no person should ever pay taxes to support any church.  Unknowingly, Jefferson’s statute would be the precursor to his more famous metaphor of establishing a wall between church and state.


Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments

Jefferson’s bill did not come without controversy though.  Fellow Virginian Patrick Henry attempted to pass a state bill that would have taxed Virginians in order to support “Teachers of the Christian Religion.”  With Jefferson out of the country and the Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom still being debated on the Virginia House of Delegates, James Madison took up his pen in 1785 to author a stinging rebuttal to Henry.  It was called, “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments.”


Madison argued, “Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, "that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." [Virginia Declaration of Rights, art. 16] The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”


He turns up his argument, “The preservation of a free Government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people. The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment, exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants. The People who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by an authority derived from them, and are slaves.”


Madison’s words sting.  The great author of the U.S. Constitution proclaimed that any government seeking to take away the conscience of the individual by requiring intellectual or financial submission to religion, perverts conscience and is a tyrant.  However, his most pointed words are for those who allow themselves to be governed by tyrants and are so willing to prostitute their consciences.  They are mere slaves to these tyrants.  


U.S. Constitution – No Religious Text Clause

With Virginia securing religious liberty and church/state separation in 1786, Madison and his fellow delegates began to take up the idea of creating a federal government on May 25, 1787 in Philadelphia.  After decades of religious and civil entanglements, the delegates had to make a clear statement regarding religions proper place in the new government they were forming. 


Before James Madison penned the first sixteen words of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Constitutional Congress had to settle the election of federal legislators.  In Article VI, they addressed the issue of a religious test, “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”


It is evident that the Founders were adamant that church and state were to be separated when it came to electing officers of the new government.  By making this declaration, the Founders created a secular government where religion would be able to thrive in a free market void of government intrusion.  However, they also secured religions proper place by stating that religion can influence government from outside the wall, but that the election of legislators and the work they conduct should be in the interest of the government and not religion.


Bill of Rights – First Amendment

Immediately, the Founders understood the need for Amendments to the Constitution.  There were glaring generalities that needed to be secured through offering clearer meaning.  Therefore, Madison picked up his pen once again and began to craft the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  The first sixteen words of the First Amendment speak loudly and clearly to what the Founder’s beliefs were when it came to religion’s place in the United States of America.


It reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  With the brilliance of these two clauses, known as the Establishment and Free Exercise Clause, the founders ensured the separation of church and state.  The government should not establish, endorse, or favor any religion.  However, the government also has the responsibility to ensure each citizen is able to practice or not practice their faith as their conscience dictates.  Both the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses have steered church and state issues since America’s founding.  The Supreme Court has heard and ruled on numerous cases regarding the practice of religion in America, but they all have had to measure those decision agains the Founder’s first sixteen words of the First Amendment.


Even when the Court ruled for a broader understanding of the Free Exercise Clause than separatists would prefer, there still remained a high level of respect for church/state separation.  In the 1947 case of Everson v. Board of Education, the Court ruled that New Jersey law allowed reimbursement of money to families who sent their students to school using the public transportation system.  In the majority opinion (5-4 decision), Justice Hugo Black and fellow Baptist, declared, "in the words of Jefferson, the clause (First Amendment) against the establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between church and state.'…that wall must be high and impregnable.  We could not approve the slightest breach."


Treaty of Tripoli

After ratification of the Constitution, the country still muddled through the muddy waters of implementing their new adopted measures for self-governance.  Religious persecution still existed after the Constitution was adopted and ratified, so the country continued to debate the proper relationship between the church and state.  Many still felt like the U.S. Government should somehow acknowledge the institution was governed by the people, but with a direct influence of the Christian religion.


It has never been more apparent that America was not intended to be a “Christian nation” than when President John Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli in 1797.  American merchant ships were being terrorized by Barbary pirates within the Mediterranean Sea.  To secure safe passage for the merchants, President Washington sent a delegation to negotiate peace in 1795.  By 1797 during the Adams’ Administration, a treaty was agreed upon, ratified by the Senate, and signed by Adams.


The important part of the treaty dealing with religion is found in Article 11.  It reads, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen (Muslims); and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan (Mohammedan) nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”


The conclusion is clear, America has never been nor should ever be, a government founded on religion.  While the Christian religion has always been influential to our Founders and citizens, the government is prohibited from establishing religion as a foundation for laws that govern the people.  When religion is used as a pretext to the laws and treaties of the country, a violation of the First Amendment is at stake, not to mention a barrier to treaties with other countries where their religion differs from the religion practiced by a large number of Americans.


Oklahoma Constitution & the Enabling Act

The Oklahoma Constitution was ratified by the U.S. Constitution on November 16, 1907, making Oklahoma the 46th U.S. state. When Oklahoma entered statehood, our state leaders understood they needed to comply with federal mandates to join the United States.  One such mandate is known as the Enabling Act of 1906.  According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, “The Enabling Act empowered the people of the Oklahoma and Indian territories to elect delegates to a constitutional convention and set up a state capital temporarily at Guthrie, in former Oklahoma Territory. The capital was to remain at Guthrie until 1913 and thereafter would be located permanently by electors chosen at a statewide election that would be called by the legislature.”


More so, the Act included several stipulations that were required laws in order to enter statehood.  Again, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society, there were two specific requirements dealing with religion, “Freedom of religion was to be preserved…and…the establishment of public schools, which were to be nonsectarian.”  By agreeing to these terms, Oklahoma was adopting the principles defined by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  


In addition to the Enabling Act, territories requesting statehood had to also agree that the U.S. Constitution reigned supreme over any state constitutions, as spelled out in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  It concludes, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”


While none-legal but still important, state legislators also heard testimonies from Native American children being whipped and forced to attend Christians worship services at agricultural schools funded by the government.  The new state was well aware of the evils conducted by coerced religion. In the new state of Oklahoma, the notion of “killing the Indian to save the soul” would not be acceptable for a state seeking to enact freedom for all of her citizens. The establishment and promotion of religion by the state would not be tolerated. Thus, when the Oklahoma Constitution was adopted in 1907, Article 2, Section 5, was included to protect the rights of every Oklahoma citizen, especially those coming from Indian Territory.


Conclusions

The previous arguments touch upon the overarching legal history as to why religious liberty and church/state separation are so crucial to the health and well being of our country.  While there remains numerous court cases that can be analyzed and discussed by legal experts, this essay attempted to demonstrate the legislative history of religious liberty.  Religious liberty has always been a bedrock for American principles and the wall separating church and state has been a wise and respectable barrier between the two.  If State Question 790 passes, there will be two immediate consequences.  First, Oklahoma will be seen as a state that does not respect its previous promises of what it means to be part of the United States.  Second, the law will be immediately appealed where it will be ruled unconstitutional based on both the Oklahoma Constitution and the United States Constitution.  This futile exercise conducted by lawmakers is nothing more than a veiled attempt to score political points and cause harm to state agencies (particular public education), but it is also an enormous waste of tax payers money and in direct violation with the founding principles of Oklahoma and the United States of America.

The Two Al’s: Regret and Peace

Al was a chemist, engineer, inventor, businessman, and philanthropist.  Born on October 21, 1833 in Sweden, later moving to Paris, Al grew up a devote Lutheran.  His faith was always important to him, as he learned to lean on it during times of struggle.  His most perplexing struggle came later in life when he realized one of his inventions had caused more harm than he could have ever imagined.

In 1867, Al patented an invention that truly changed the world.   He discovered that when nitroglycerin was incased in an absorbent insert like kieselguhr that it became much safer to handle.  Up to this point, nitroglycerin had been used as an explosive but it was so dangerous that many times it killed or maimed its handler.  In submitting his patent, Al decided to name his new invention after the Greek word for power, dynamite.

Decades later, there was another scientist named Al who discovered a formula that was later used to create the atomic bomb.  Albert Einstein’s, Theory of Relativity, e=mc2, was crucial to those working on the bomb during World War II.  In his biography on Einstein, Walter Isaacson, notes that when hearing about the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Einstein grew somber knowing his formula resulted in such catastrophic death.

Isaacson notes, “Einstein’s efforts to prevent future death were motivated not only by his old pacifist instincts but also, he admitted, by his guilty feelings about the role he had played in encouraging the atom bomb project” (Isaacson, 490).  After the war, Einstein gave a speech at a dinner in New York City on a cold December night.  The aging theorist admitted he felt a great kinship with the scientist for which the event was named after, The Alfred Bernard Nobel Peace Prize Gala. 

Alfred Nobel created the peace prize “to atone for having invented the most powerful explosives (dynamite) ever known to his time” (Isaacson, 490).  Einstein felt as though he were in a similar situation, “Today, the physicists who participated in forging the most formidable and dangerous weapon of all times are harassed by an equal feeling of responsibility, not to say guilt” (ibid.).

How often do we carry around these same feelings?  How many times have we been part of something that felt right at the time, only to produce unknown consequences we wish had not occurred?  How many times have we made a mistake we wish we could go back and change, but realize we must now live with the consequences?  For those of us that carry these burdens over our shoulders, there is hope.  Like Nobel and Einstein, we too can live with our pasts as we strive after justice and peace for the future.  Listen to the words of James 3:17-18, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of justice is sown in peace for those who make peace.”