Refresher on the First Amendment

The First Amendment was primarily about protecting religion from government control (to keep government out of religion). The amendment prohibits congress from imposing a national religion. It doesn’t require a kind of separation of Church and Sate (a phrase not found in our constitution) aimed at removing God from all of public life and discourse.

The myth that the First Amendment separates church and state has grown to such ridiculous proportions that it must be debunked. Notably absent from the Amendment is the words ‘separation,’ ‘church,’ and ‘state.’

Those who demand removal of God and religious reference from public life actually violate the part of the amendment protecting freedom of speech. The founders aim was to protect freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.

Those who want to force God and religious influence out of public conversation and policymaking, shouldn’t pretend that it’s about the First Amendment. It’s not. And they should be honest enough to admit that they’re voicing their own moral and religious opinion when they reject those of others.

It’s relatively easy to find moral and religious sources or motives behind most policy and law. Any time we declare one action to be right and another wrong, or any time we demand a certain value as a human right, we’re using a moral code to influence public opinion, policy and law.

When we feel uncomfortable with a particular moral code, we should not make our case against it based on its’ source in a particular religion by claiming that it violates the First Amendment.

Steve Cornell

Supreme court case

Please pray as the Supreme Court begins to hear oral arguments in a case deciding whether the Obama Administration should be allowed to force business owners to violate their faith by paying for someone else’s abortion pills. Think about it: Imagine that Obamacare mandated provision of health insurance for the abortion procedure itself. Would you feel that companies like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties had a right to refuse to support it? Sound like a stretch? Don’t forget that abortion has been consistently framed in liberal politics as a healthcare issue for women. Why should this be a strange possibility? Beyond this case, I am personally not supportive of the role government is taking in healthcare but that’s an issue to address in the next two elections. Please pray and vote!

For thoughtful analysis

Follow the case

Live Blog: Contraception Cases at Supreme Court

Steve Cornell

Strong and Honorable leaders needed

After 30 years of pastoral work, one thing I learned about leadership is that leaders must sometimes make tough and unpopular decisions. While leaders should do their best to listen to those under their charge, they cannot be controlled by approval ratings. A helpful proverb warns that, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare” (Proverbs 29:25).

During my training for leadership, I attended a church that had an annual vote of affirmation for its senior pastor. A couple of months before the vote, the pastor had to win as many points with the people as possible to get a high approval rating. But this annual popularity contest finally led the pastor to a state of exhaustion and cynicism. He decided that he no longer cared who liked him because he had a job to do.

By this point, however, the pastor had developed a reactionary attitude that was not good for him or those under his leadership. Ironically, he went from one form of looking out for himself to another, while considering his new outlook noble. Was the pastor’s attitude entirely his fault or was the system set up to hurt everyone? I found myself asking if it was the best way to inspire greatness in leadership.

I feel the same concern today when I see the endless approval ratings of political leaders. How do politicians refuse to allow ratings to control them when faced with unpopular decisions? Does it potentially hurt the people when their leaders are always looking over their shoulders to maintain popularity?

A large majority of Americans do not trust their leaders. Perhaps the leaders brought it upon themselves but, whatever the source, it’s bad for everyone. But have we the people become too cynical to inspire greatness in anyone? What happens to us when we expect our lawmakers to look after the interests of wealthy corporations and individuals who contribute to their election campaigns rather than the best interests of their constituents?

Sometimes I fear that we’ve adopted a system that cannot inspire leaders to courage, integrity and honor. The current tone of bitter partisanship between Democrats and Republicans certainly doesn’t encourage respect for leadership. And it’s hard to see how it serves the good of our nation.

I am not opposed to our system itself, but what many have turned it into. I’ve been guilty myself. If we’re happy to find dirt on a member of an opposing party or even willing to misrepresent a leader to advance our side, we’ve become part of the problem. It seems that we all could benefit from serious conversations about what it means to respect our leaders — particularly when we disagree with them.

At the height of President Bill Clinton’s scandal with intern Monica Lewinsky, one of our children heard a news report about the president’s behavior and said, “He’s a jerk!’’ I quickly corrected the comment by reminding our child that, although we don’t agree with the man’s behavior, he’s still the president of our country and should not be spoken of that way. I admitted how hard it is to convey honor for the office of a leader when the one holding it is dishonorable. Yet if we fail to preserve some sense of respect and dignity, we cannot hope to inspire our leaders to be honorable.

We all could benefit from asking if some of our reactions contribute to and encourage distrust for leaders. Perhaps instead of inspiring honor, our endless criticisms and polls encourage our leaders to look out for themselves above everything else. While it’s tempting to see leadership problems as one-sided, let’s be willing to work harder to create an atmosphere that inspires trust and honor in our leaders and allows them to learn from their mistakes.

The Scripture offers a model when it encourages church members: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Hebrews 13:17).

Few would doubt that we need strong and wise leaders in these complex and challenging times. And most would agree that it takes a strong person to do what is right when it’s not popular. How, then, can we be part of a solution that encourages our young people to view leadership as an honorable calling for serving fellow human beings?

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

A disturbing pattern exposed

Did the governor of New York actually say that pro-life people have no place in the state of New York? Does he think he can speak for all New Yorkers?

During a radio interview, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo spoke about a schism among Republicans, saying, “Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right to life, pro-assault weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.’’

Was Cuomo referring mainly to politicians he labels as “extreme conservatives’’? Probably. But by claiming “that’s not who New Yorkers are,’’ Cuomo went too far. He arrogantly alienated a lot of New Yorkers who don’t see things his way.

Yet, as much as I disapprove of the governor’s arrogance, I am not surprised by it. This is the spirit that is starting to dominate the Democratic Party. It’s an insistence on only one way to think about a growing number of issues if you want to be accepted in the party.

There must be unquestioned support for abortion (disguised as women’s rights or health), full endorsement of gay marriage (disguised as civil rights with manipulative accusations of bigotry and discrimination toward those who disagree) and devotion to big government (disguised as income equality and compassion for the poor). These are litmus tests for the party faithful.

Even more disruptive to civility and tolerance is the condescending ridicule aimed at people who see things differently. Watch a discussion on something like CNN’s “Crossfire’’ and you’ll see the snarky smirks and hear the belittling tones. Who wants to be identified with this attitude of intolerance? I don’t like it among conservatives or liberals.

According to Cuomo, there’s no safe zone for Democrats if they oppose abortion, defend the 14th Amendment or disagree with homosexual marriage. Evidently, he also believes that there’s no place for them in New York if they want to be true New Yorkers. I couldn’t make this stuff up!

Cuomo was just parroting a media effort of more radical liberals to convince people that they belong to a crazy fringe if they see things differently. “It’s the way the whole nation is going,’’ we’re told. But this is an empty hope that saying something often enough will make it real.  

Although abortion on demand is a provision of federal law, for example, it’s not because the people had any say about it. The courts acted without the consent of the governed. It wasn’t democracy at work. The same is true of gay marriage. Do you think gay marriage is legal in a growing number of states because the democratic process led to it? Think again. In state after state, the courts thumbed their judicial noses at the public and forced their view of sexuality on entire states. Are we an oligarchy or a democracy? Is this what representation was meant to be?

And all of this has been done under a contrived sense of evolutionary progress. By changing terms from “baby’’ to “fetus’’ and from “sexual preference’’ to “sexual orientation,’’ people give themselves a delusional sense that they are progressive. There is no scientific evidence for denying that a fetus is a human life with the potential of becoming a mature human being. We might try to assure ourselves that we’re only terminating a pregnancy, but abortion terminates a human life in its early stages.

As for homosexuality, if you want a same-sex relationship as consenting adults, you’re free to have one in every state of the nation. But to ask the whole country to equate the kind of sex you desire with unalterable realities like race and gender not only removes sexuality from moral categories, it offends people who are turning away from the lifestyle and it lacks scientific evidence.

If the state offered gay couples benefits and privileges that come with legal marriage, it should not be done as a civil right for a special class of citizens. This is the wrong category, and using it would inevitably violate the religious and individual freedoms of those who disagree with homosexual behavior. If the state equates homosexuality with race, people will be obligated to honor it under threat of civil law.

Manipulating the category of civil rights like this will only cause deeper alienation between gays and society. Is this what we want? There must be a way we can rise above the divisive arrogance expressed by Andrew Cuomo, because our current approach is deeply dividing the nation.

Steven W. Cornell, senior pastor at Millersville Bible Church and a correspondent for Lancaster Newspapers Inc. 

Sexual preference or Sexual orientation?


Watch closely when the words change. Controlling the vocabulary is essential to controlling people.

Homosexuals once used “sexual preference” to talk about their sexual lifestyle. Now they reject the term “preference” and replace it with “orientation” in an effort to remove homosexuality from a category of choice. 

Homosexuals also use to say, “All we want is to be left alone to live the way we desire.” This was partly due to ways that gays were wrongly treated for choosing different sexual lifestyles. All decent citizens should oppose mistreatment and violence against others. Since same sex behavior between consenting adults is legal in every state, those who target gays for abuse or violence should expect to be punished for criminal behavior. 

But somewhere along the way, the effort moved from seeking protection to demanding normalization. A strategic change of terms from preference to orientation came as part of that move.  And the change has been largely based on an effort to promote the misleading and manipulative argument that equates race and gender with the kind of sex people want.

The change had noting to do with the emergence of any new scientific evidence but was solely based on a strategy to lead society to embrace the necessity and normalization of same-sex lifestyles. 

The entire agenda of gay marriage depends upon the comparison of same-sex behavior as an unalterable and necessary condition of a person’s nature equal with race and gender. The comparison, however, is false and manipulative. Ironically, this agenda has turned into a weapon to bully, intimidate and abuse anyone who dares to think or speak differently. Are homosexuals using the same behaviors toward others that were wrongly brought against them? 

As a matter of clarification, it should be understood that while a person can be born with many inclinations or desires — even a variety of sexual ones, it is foolish to elevate each person’s sexual desires to something intrinsically necessary to their nature.

While we can clearly argue that heterosexual behavior is necessary to the survival of humanity, this does not mean that we should validate all heterosexual choices as necessary and acceptable by claiming it to be part of one’s nature. Sexuality is inseparable from behavior — not a condition of birth like race or gender.

As with all sexuality, we should speak of homosexuality in a context of human choosing — not as a civil right. Two men could be caring friends with a deep affection for each other without being homosexual. Homosexuality is not part of their relationship unless they choose to engage in same-sex acts with one another.  

What do we say to the many people who have left a homosexual lifestyle on moral grounds? What do we say to people who willingly try to resist homosexual lust out of obedience to God? 

Even if I could prove that I was born genetically conditioned to be sexually attracted to women, it wouldn’t mean that acting on the attraction would always be the ethically right decision.

Sexuality is necessarily connected with volition. As long as we make laws that regulate sexual behaviors, we are implying that sexuality is not the same as race or gender (no matter how much one claims that the laws step on his rights by refusing him equality). 

Consider, as an example, an adulterous woman who complains that her act of adultery (i.e. her wrongful heterosexual behavior) was because of her distant and uncaring husband. Sympathy toward her for being in a troubled marriage is understandable but it doesn’t mean that her act of adultery was the morally right choice.

All law making involves impositions of morality to varying degrees — especially if someone can claim that the law excludes him or discriminates against him. Most laws also have religious connections. What do we mean when we talk about equality for all? The very nature of lawmaking easily conflicts with absolute options of equality.

Deceitful word games are not new. They’ve been used in similar ways when “fetus” was substituted for “baby” to push a pro-abortion agenda. The plan has been to use the terms often enough to change the way people think. Yet neither change (for same-sex preference or for abortion) was based on scientific evidence that required different terms. The changes are based on specific agendas to re-engineer culture around the morality of those using the new terms.

I realize that America is a free society where people are free to do this. But it doesn’t mean that everyone else must accept the deception and the agenda. This is where it gets ugly because a militant wave of hate has been directed from radical homosexuals toward anyone who dares to see things differently about same-sex behavior.

The more widely the false comparison is accepted, the more people fear being accused of racial or gender discrimination. Who wants to be label a bigot or a racist or a homophobe? 

Radical homosexuals are free to sell their agenda but when they get ugly, Americans need to stand up and say, “Enough is enough!” “We don’t buy the false comparison and we won’t let you use it to bully others with your sexual lifestyles any more than we would let Phil Robertson move from his beliefs to hateful treatment of homosexuals.”

So what’s the difference between Phil Robertson (from Duck Dynasty) and gay activists? True tolerance. 

Phil stated his beliefs but didn’t demand nationwide conformity to them. Gay activists state their beliefs and demand nationwide conformity. And then they quickly demonize anyone who disagrees — repeatedly accusing good people of being racists bigots for holding a different viewpoint. 

If homosexuals want a radical revision of historic marriage laws from the standard used for most of human history, American history and the only one validated by Jesus (Matthew 19), they should expect to have to make a very strong case and to hear why others disagree or do not accept their case. This is just the way it works. It’s not about discrimination, bias or intolerance. These accusations must be firmly rejected as tools of manipulation to coerce and silence others. 

Steve Cornell

See also:

Citizens deserve responsible government

Civilized people cannot remain civilized without government. This is a fact of history.

Among other important functions, federal, state and local government is essential to the security and liberty of the people. Yet there has always been widespread disagreement over how much government is needed and what it should do.

And many in the U.S. now view government as a growing threat to personal liberty. Many also no longer believe that it’s possible for government to reform — at least on the federal level.

It’s not difficult to understand this overwhelming feeling that federal government is beyond repair. Perhaps it has become too big and too complicated to reform. But it’s more likely that government is hard to change because it has become a complex synergy of bitter partisanship, corruption and reckless spending (built on a system of lies, denial and blame shifting).

All of this has produced a powerful dysfunctional family of Washington bureaucrats who are far too preoccupied with re-election to be able serve the long-term good of the people. 

I am certainly not accusing all politicians of corruption, but the American people apparently believe most politicians are corrupt. Many are deeply cynical about the possibility of separating corruption from politics. 

But since government is essential to civilized people, we must not allow cynicism to cause us to give up on it. There are no simple answers to renewing faith in the possibility of an honorable and competent government. We need a widespread restoration of Lincoln’s philosophy of government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Is it too idealistic to think that we can establish government without polarizing a nation around winners and losers? The answer depends on how we view the role of government. We must free ourselves from misguided expectations of government as an entity to meet our every need. Citizens must regain a grammar of responsibility and a large dose of self-respect that refuses to look to a nanny state to be our caretaker.

Of course, dislodging the prevailing entitlement mentality will remain a daunting challenge as long as we have a government that over taxes its citizens and recklessly spends their money for self-serving purposes. But how does such a government come to power? Instead of joining with corrupt politicians by clamoring for a bigger piece of the tax pie, let’s vote for leaders who will encourage individual responsibility by both their examples and their policies. Let’s ask them to simplify and prioritize the role of government around essential concerns of the majority of citizens. Let’s demand that government behave like a responsible family by functioning within their means — without unnecessary tax increases or borrowing. 

Americans have always been known for being able to rise to whatever challenges they face. This spirit must inspire us to work for the reform of government that we so badly need. Although we face daunting challenges, at least the U.S., unlike Europe, only has two primary parties to reform and reconcile. But we don’t have to wait for the federal government to change. 

We have some excellent examples of reform on state and local levels. Change can also happen through business owners who refuse to build their companies on the backs of their employees. Change is possible, but it will only happen when our families, communities, schools and churches take the lead role in restoring a grammar of responsibility based on core values of simplicity and generosity that have distinguished this nation.

The task is difficult, but this is not a time for pessimism. Like so many before us who sacrificed for a better nation, this is a time for renewal of hope and a restoration of the kind of brave optimism that fueled their dedication. 

by Steven W. Cornell, senior pastor, Millersville Bible Church. Steve was a correspondent for Lancaster Newspapers Inc. for 21 years.

Government doesn’t have to be the problem

Former President Ronald Reagan said, “The most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ “

The rollout of the Affordable Care Act has been another painful reminder of the truth of Reagan’s words. When you combine the absence of leadership and accountability with the amount of money spent on Obamacare, it defies comprehension and invites more suspicion about the unethical use of our money. 

And it is our money. As a friend of mine says, “The government does not ‘make’ anything, and it ‘creates’ no wealth. It simply takes from those who labor and redistributes the wealth to others.”

Reagan said, “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” 

The problem with oversized wasteful government and our national debt and tax burden must be addressed before we can effectively resolve something as big as national health care. Current efforts will prove to be symbolic and largely ineffective because of a failure to address need for deeper reforms of government itself.

This is not an exclusive problem of one political party but one that we all share and one we all created, either directly or indirectly. But, as times change, we find ourselves in significant need of a closer look at what we agree to be a reasonable and responsible role for government.

Although government doesn’t have to be the problem, when the large majority of Americans distrust their government, it’s time for significant changes. We face a disturbing combination in America of widespread voter apathy and citizen outrage regarding government. 

What does it tell us when a large majority of people either don’t care enough to vote or have become too cynical to believe that participation will make a difference? 

Most responsible Americans don’t trust our government to handle anything in an effective and cost-efficient manner. 

Perhaps a helpful step toward a different way of understanding government would be to change the way we talk about it. I think it would help if we stopped saying, “The government should pay for …” and instead said, “You and I should pay for … .” Since this is how it actually works, it would be a return to reality to talk this way. 

See if it changes your thinking by shifting the conversation back into reality. Instead of saying, “The government should pay for XYZ,” try saying, “You and I should pay for XYZ,” and see if it changes your opinion.

Do you feel our government is doing a good job at handling our money? Are you encouraged about giving them more money and trusting them to be responsible with it? Do you think the federal government should be required to live within their means without borrowing money or placing unreasonable tax burdens on citizens?

I think I know how most Americans would answer these questions. So what are we going to do about it? We can complain about government all day, but we need to ask hard questions about how to reform and refine it. In my 30 years of leadership, I’ve been committed to looking for solutions instead focusing on problems and obstacles. Yet I must admit that it’s hard to see a clear path to reforming our government. 

I am grateful for the efforts of those in government who serve with integrity by trying to keep costs down to protect citizens from unreasonable tax burdens. But I fear that bitter political and ideological partisanship and a polarizing 24-hour news media make it nearly impossible for good men and women to be effective servants of the people. Men like Dr. Ben Carson make so much sense when they talk about our problems, but actually implementing their ideas and solutions would take a miracle. Perhaps that is what we need. 

I’ll close with another warning from Ronald Reagan: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States, where men were free.”

Steven W. Cornell, senior pastor at Millersville Bible Church and a correspondent for Lancaster Newspapers Inc.