Do we need the assistance of saints or angels?

“To imagine that saints or angels can be influenced to intercede for us is not only delusion; it is to cast doubt on the perfect adequacy of the intercession of Christ on our behalf and thus to deprive ourselves of the fulness of the security which is available to us only in Christ. Our Lord clearly taught that no man can come to the Father except by him (John 14:6) and that our requests to God are to be made in his name (John 14:13f.; 15:16; 16:23, 24, 26), precisely because there is no other name which avails and prevails with God (cf. Acts 4:12) (Philip E. Hughes, Hebrews, p. 353).

Pope is wrong about the Church

In a recent interview, the Pope appeared to be offering some kind of olive branch in his comments about gay marriage, abortion and birth control.

The New York Times picked up on his message with a piece titled, “Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control.

I think I understand the Pontiff’s concerns about the dangers of becoming so focused on one or two issues that we lose sight of other pressing matters. But I also believe that his words were unfortunate, unnecessary and perhaps even misguided.

Let me explain.

On one level, the Pope played into the hands of a deceitful effort to paint the Church as overly preoccupied with things like abortion and homosexuality.  Yet remember that the Church has largely responded to the obsessive preoccupation of liberal media with promoting abortion rights and gay marriage.  

The Church is most often responding to the demands of liberal politics that the public conforms to only one view on these subjects. The Church is responding to a radical agenda on the left that uses the puppets of mainstream media to promote an ideology that they reinforce with deceptive polls.

We must not fall for efforts to promote a false image of Christians as obsessed with abortion and gays. We must not be blindly manipulated into misguided self-criticism.

Attorney David French summarized the issue well, writing that, “The criticism is so common that it’s often internalized and adopted by the church itself. Similar to our reaction to another leftist refrain (“Christians care about children until they’re born”), we act as if the critique is legitimate — as if it’s the result of some kind of empirical, good-faith analysis of Christian action in America. But it’s not. It is, pure and simple, a talking point. And it’s false. Demonstrably false.”

French argued that, “American Christians, in fact, are ‘obsessed’ with helping the poorest and weakest members of our society.”

“While the full scope and sweep of all Christian charitable activity (both in donations and volunteer time) would require book-length treatment, we can at least begin to isolate one critical factor: money. Our obsessions are reflected in our expenditures. Where do Christians put their charitable dollars? What is their charitable obsession?”

“We can find part of the answer by looking at the budgets of the largest and most influential Christian organizations. A website called Guidestar publishes the tax filings of most charitable organizations, so register (it’s free) and take a tour of Form 990s. First, you’ll notice that Christians do give lots of money to what I’d call “pure” culture war organizations, but not as much as the Left.”

A larger concern

On another level, given the gravity of abortion, why should we apologize for being obsessed with protecting unborn life? The occupant of a mother’s womb is a human life with the potential of becoming a mature human being. It’s a verifiable fact that abortion does not merely terminate a pregnancy; it terminates the life of a baby.

If you have children, look closely at them and remind yourself that had you chosen to abort any of them at any point from conception to birth, you would have ended the life of your child. 

More than 90 percent of induced abortions are performed for non-medical reasons. The large majority of surgical abortions are performed during the 7th through 10th week of pregnancy. By this time, a baby’s heartbeat, arms, legs and fingers are identifiable.

The thought of a mother’s womb becoming a baby’s death chamber is unconscionable. Perhaps our apology should be to the millions of babies whose lives should have mattered more to us.

But, here too, we must not forget that Christians are the majority (by far) on the front lines — leading the way by caring for the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of young women facing unplanned pregnancies. 

Steve Cornell

New Pope fails litmus test


As soon as the new pope was chosen, certain voices from the Democratic Party subjected him to the litmus tests. Although I am not Catholic, I was very disappointed to see how quickly these voices dismissed the new pope.

They strained to acknowledge anything good about Pope Francis I because of his views against gay marriage. What did these folks expect from the leader of the Catholic Church? Has the church ever been supportive of gay marriage? Why should they tell the church what it must believe?

The new pope’s reputation of love of the poor and caring for AIDS patients was quickly glossed over when he failed to meet the litmus test.

Does this upset anyone in the Democratic Party? Are there any brave members willing to say, “Enough of this spirit of intolerance”? How can it be wrong for conservatives to behave this way but permissible for liberals? This is the spirit destroying civil discourse.

No matter how people try to twist it, we’re not talking about things like racial discrimination here. This is an aggressive agenda to require everyone to adopt the sexual ethics of those who prefer a gay lifestyle. A very small vocal group is trying to tell the Catholic Church what it should teach.

It’s incredulous to hear people subject the new pope to savage diatribes and bizarre labels like homophobe and bigot simply for taking a different viewpoint. I hope many brave folks will be sensible enough either to ignore the extreme rhetoric or to ask those who use it to behave with civility.

Over at the Huffington Post, they admitted that the selection of the first Latin American pope “may be historic,” but immediately demurred that “it may also mean more of the same when it comes to gay rights in the Catholic Church.”

They quoted Herndon Graddick, (president of GLAAD) saying, “For decades the Catholic hierarchy has been in need of desperate reform. In his life, Jesus condemned gays zero times. In Pope Benedict’s short time in the papacy, he made a priority of condemning gay people routinely. This, in spite of the fact, that the Catholic hierarchy had been in collusion to cover up the widespread abuse of children within its care. We hope this pope will trade in his red shoes for a pair of sandals and spend a lot less time condemning and a lot more time foot-washing.”

Beyond the deceptive misrepresentation of the views of Jesus clearly outlined in Matthew 19:4-6 and measuring the papacy by a litmus test on gay marriage, Graddick pointed to the church’s sex scandal, “the pedophilia that has run rampant in the Catholic Church.”

But, as Rod Dreher wrote last year for The American Conservative, “In the mainstream media, it was common —and, let me say, appropriate — to critically examine the institution of celibacy, and how it may or may not have helped to create a culture of sex and secrecy. But among the media, you were not to discuss homosexuality in relation to the scandal, except to point out that it had nothing at all to do with the molestation, and those who said that it did were just outright bigots.”

This kind of coercive control is both a mockery to true journalism and a threat to civility and democracy. Why should 1 billion Roman Catholics and their leaders change to conform to the sexual choices of a small vocal group who prefer homosexuality? Shouldn’t the church be free to abide by its historic position? Again, we’re talking about sexual choices not legitimate civil rights issues like racial discrimination. Those who choose a gay lifestyle are lawfully free to do so, just as the Catholic Church should be free to oppose gay marriage.

Is anyone else bothered by the use of coercion to force people to affirm a politically approved set of morals and values? If you believe that the institution and benefits of marriage should extend to those who prefer homosexual relationships, you should make your case with civility and refuse to demonize people who disagree.

Not all laws that govern a free people will be approved by all people. This is part of the reality of living in democracy. If, in a free nation, laws do not permit gay marriage, consenting adults who freely and lawfully choose to live in gay relationships, should not be treated with disrespect or cruelty for their choices. But they also must respect those who choose to hold a different viewpoint on the morality of homosexual conduct.

Steven W. Cornell is senior pastor at Millersville Bible Church. He is also a correspondent for Lancaster Newspapers Inc.

In the News (Links to see)

Pro-choice and pro-life? On abortion, Americans say ‘it’s complicated.’

Last week, Gallup released new data that, at first glance, appeared to show a significant change in Americans’ perspectives on abortion. The number of Americans who identify as “pro-choice” has dropped six points since last July, from 47 percent to 41 percent, while half (50 percent) of Americans identify as “pro-life.”

Strong majorities of Americans say that abortion should be legal if the pregnant woman’s physical (86 percent) or mental (74 percent) health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy, if the woman became pregnant as a result of rape (79 percent), or if there is a serious chance of defect in the baby (66 percent). But fewer than 4-in-10 (39 percent) agree that a pregnant woman should be able to obtain a legal abortion if the principal reason for her choice is that she is not married and does not want to marry the man.

Massive religious liberty lawsuit, minor broadcast coverage

43 Catholic dioceses, schools, hospitals, social service agencies and other institutions issue one of the largest religious lawsuits in American history.

Notre Dame files legal challenge to HHS mandate

The University of Notre Dame filed a lawsuit Monday (May 21) challenging the constitutionality of a federal regulation that requires religious organizations to provide, pay for, and/or facilitate insurance coverage for services that violate the teachings of the Catholic Church.

“We do not seek to impose our religious beliefs on others; we simply ask that the government not impose its values on the university when those values conflict with our religious teachings,” (University of Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C.)

 Plotting about “religious liberty”

Some news organizations are working in their editorials and opinion pieces (if not elsewhere) — to downplaydenigrate or outright dismiss the religious liberty concerns some Americans have expressed recently.

Poll: Gay Marriage Opposition Drops — Politico

According to a Washington Post-ABC News survey 4 in 10 Americans said they are opposed to the legalization of gay marriage.

Survey: Nearly Half of Americans Lost Relative or Friend to War

45 percent of Americans said they have had a friend or relative who died while serving the country.

Steve Cornell

An uncomfortable tension with the Obama Administration

The recent uproar over the Obama Administration refusing religious organizations exemption from purchasing health insurance that covers abortion related drugs and procedures has left me feeling uneasy. My discomfort is partly due to the fact that churches are battling for freedoms unknown to our first century brothers and sisters (and to many contemporary followers of Christ).

While I value religious freedom, I am a concerned about the place we give it in the larger narrative of the Church (both historical and contemporary).

Herein lies a significant challenge for the Church in America. We simply have no explicit parallels in Scripture to a democratic form of government.

I realize that Biblical truths and principles about government reach God’s people in all places with both binding authority and overlapping application (Daniel 4; Acts 17:26-27;Romans 13:1ff; I Peter 2:13-14). We can look to the prophets and learn much about divine concern for justice and protection of the vulnerable. In Jesus, we find teaching on non-resistance as a personal ethic for His followers (although, I hesitate to apply this ethic too closely to how the followers of Jesus function in the context of government — particularly law enforcement). But none of this biblical instruction was delivered to people who lived in democratic forms of government.

So what does responsible citizenship look like for Christians when they are part of “We the people….” Are we called (by God) to be a voice at the table as a matter of responsible citizenship? Does non-participation equal disobedience? More importantly, what does Christian participation look like in attitude, posture, voice, and overall influence?

On the current matter, we can make deep connections with the commandments of God and the cry of the prophets when defending the life of the un-born. But things get a little tricky when the argument being used is focused on freedom of religion. What does one do when freedoms (perceived or otherwise) conflict?

 A big part of our challenge is the fact that we live in an age whose highest value is “the absolute liberty of personal volition, the power of each of us to choose what he or she believes, wants, needs, or must possess…”

When our defense of religious freedom appears to require others to give up their freedoms, we appear to be fighting for the same moral ground. I realize that we (Christians) connect our concerns to what we believe to be a divinely ordained, transcendent morality. Yet this kind of argument either falls on deaf ears or comes off as imperialistically oppressive in a pluralistic society.

How then do we establish laws and policies without jeopardizing someone else’s claim to freedom? More importantly, how do we fight for good freedoms while opposing an ethic of absolute personal liberty? This is part of our dilemma?

We’re right to believe that, “unconstrained personal license might actually serve to make society as a whole less free by making others powerless against the consequences of the ‘rights’ we choose to exercise…” (David B Hart, Ibid., p. 88). This is partly what drives our opposition to abortion. The rights of the unborn are being destroyed by those who defend their right to “choose.” But others see this argument as a threat to the god of unconstrained personal freedom.

David Hart stated well that, as a society, “we are devoted to — in a sense, we worship – the will; and we are hardly the first people willing to offer up our children to our god” (In the Aftermath: Provocations and Laments, p. 88).

Christian living and witness is more complex in a democratic society than many realize. But this complexity intensifies where the ethic of absolute personal liberty is widely embraced.

“…. a society that believes this (ethic) must, at least implicitly, embrace and subtly advocate a very particular moral metaphysics: the unreality of any higher value than choice, or of any transcendent Good, or of God, so that its citizens may determine their own lives by the choices they make from a universe of morally indifferent but variable desirable ends unencumbered by any prior grammar of obligation or value (in America, we call this the wall of separation).” (David Bentley Hart, In the Aftermath: Provocations and Laments, pp. 1-2).

Here are some well-stated concerns that raise matters deeply connected with Christian ethics.

“The very dynamism of modern democracy has contributed to profound short-term thinking that devolved into forms of self-serving individualism. Increasingly unable to discern how our liberated actions impacted others—neither recognizing our debts to the past nor our obligations to the future—we see ourselves as wholly free agents shorn of history or future.” (Alexis de Tocqueville)

“Without the virtue of moderation, thrift, and self-governance [that is, the willingness of each citizen to govern himself], democracy was an ideal whose reality was always in question.” Montesquieu

“We are free not merely because we can choose, but only when we choose well. For to choose poorly, through folly or malice, in a way that thwarts our nature and distorts our proper form, is to enslave ourselves to the transitory, the irrational, the purposeless, the (to be precise) subhuman” (David B. Hart, Atheist Delusions).

Steve Cornell

  For another excellent discussion of this topic, see:We Dare Not Defend Our Rights and Should Christians Really be Standing up for their Rights?