General Robert E. Lee quotes abolitionist William Wilberforce

Wilberforce was the leading statesman in 18th and 19th century British Parliament who successfully, in the end, pushed for the abolition of the slave trade and of slavery in the British Empire. (Although the United States was the first major country to ban the slave trade, Great Britain became the first to almost fully ban the institution of slavery in 1833.)

“Read the Bible, read the Bible! Let no religious book take its place. Through all my perplexities and distresses, I seldom read any other book, and I as rarely felt the want of any other.” —William Wilberforce

The former commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, general Robert E. Lee, moved to Lexington Virginia after the Civil War where he was President of Washington and Lee College. Long known for his Christian devotion, while there he served as president of the Rockbridge Bible society, distributing God’s word to everyone in the region.

In a letter dated April 5, 1869 addressed to Rev. George Woodbridge, President of the Virginia Bible Society, he quotes the abolitionist Wilberforce in a positive sense, “I would, however, make the trial, did I think I could be of any service to the great object of the society. If the managers could suggest any plan, in addition to the abundant distribution of the Holy Scriptures, to cause the mass of the people to meditate on their simple truths, and, in the language of Wilberforce, ‘to read the Bible—read the Bible,’ so as to become acquainted with the experience and realities of religion, the greatest good would be accomplished. Wishing the society all success and continuous advancement in its work, I am, most truly yours. R. E. Lee”

Christ in the Camp, Jones, p 64.

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Against The Rioting Peasants —Martin Luther, 1525

In the former book I did not venture to judge the peasants, since they had offered to be set right and to be instructed, and Christ’s commands, in Matthew 7:1, says that we are not to judge. But before I look around they go on, and, forgetting their offer, they betake themselves to violence, and rob and rage and act like mad dogs. By this it is easy to see what they had in their false minds, and that the pretences which they made in their twelve articles, under the name of the Gospel, were nothing but lies. It is the devil’s work that they are at, and in particular it is the workof the archdevil who rules at Muhlhausen, and does nothing else than stir up robbery, murder, and bloodshed; as Christ says of him in John 8:44, “He was a murderer from the beginning.” Since, then, these peasants and wretched folk have let themselves be led astray, and do otherwise than they have promised, I too must write of them otherwise than I have written, and begin by setting their sin before them, as God commands Isaiah and Ezekiel, on the chance that some of them may learn to know themselves.

Then I must instruct the rulers how they are to conductthemselves in these circumstances.

The peasants have taken on themselves the burden of three terrible sins against God and man, by which they have abundantly merited death in body and soul. In the first place they have sworn to be true and faithful, submissive and obedient, to their rulers, as Christcommands, when He says, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” and in Romans 13:2, “Let everyone be subject unto the higher powers.” Because they are breaking this obedience, and are setting themselves against the higher powers, willfully and with violence, they have forfeited body and soul, as faithless, perjured, lyingdisobedient knaves and scoundrels are wont to do. St. Paul passed this judgment on them in Romans 13, when he said, that they who resist the power will bring a judgment upon themselves. This saying will smite the peasants sooner or later, for it is God’s will that faith be kept and duty done.

In the second place, they are starting a rebellion, and violently robbing and plundering monasteries and castleswhich are not theirs, by which they have a second time deserved death in body and soul, if only as highwaymen and murderers. Besides, any man against whom it can be proved that he is a maker of sedition is outside the law of God and Empire, so that the first who can slay him is doing right and well. For if a man is an open rebel every man is his judge and executioner, just as when a firestarts, the first to put it out is the best man. For rebellion is not simple murder, but is like a great fire, which attacks and lays waste a whole land. Thus rebellion brings with it a land full of murder and bloodshed, makes widows and orphans, and turns everything upside down, like the greatest disaster. Therefore let everyone who can, smiteslay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel. It is just as when one must kill a mad dog; if you do not strike him, he will strike you, and a whole land with you.

In the third place, they cloak this terrible and horrible sinwith the Gospel, call themselves “Christian brethren,” receive oaths and homage, and compel people to hold with them to these abominations. Thus they become the greatest of all blasphemers of God and slanderers of His holy Name, serving the devil, under the outward appearance of the Gospel, thus earning death in body and soul ten times over. I have never heard of more hideous sin. I suspect that the devil feels the Last Day coming and therefore undertakes such an unheard-of act, as though saying to himself, “This is the last, therefore it shall be the worst; I will stir up the dregs and knock out the bottom.” God will guard us against him! See what a mighty princethe devil is, how he has the world in his hands and can throw everything into confusion, when he can so quickly catch so many thousands of peasants, deceive them, blindthem, harden them, and throw them into revolt, and do with them whatever his raging fury undertakes.

It does not help the peasants, when they pretend that, according to Genesis 1 and 2, all things were created free and common, and that all of us alike have been baptized. For under the New Testament Moses does not count; for there stands our Master, Christ, and subjects us, with our bodies and our property, to the emperor and the law of this world, when He says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Paul, too, says, in Romans 13:1, to all baptized Christians, “Let every man be subject to the power,” and Peter says, “Be subject to every ordinance of man.” By this doctrine of Christ we are bound to live, as the Father commands from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son; hear him.” For baptism does not make men free in body and property, but in soul; and the Gospel does not make goods common, except in the case of those who do of their own free will what the apostles and disciplesdid in Acts 4:32. They did not demand, as do our insane peasants in their raging, that the goods of others, — of a Pilate and a Herod, — should be common, but only their own goods. Our peasants, however, would have other men’s goods common, and keep their own goods for themselves. Fine Christians these! I think there is not a devil left in hell; they have all gone into the peasants. Their raving has gone beyond all measure.

Since the peasants, then, have brought both God and man down upon them and are already so many times guilty of death in body and soul, since they submit to no court and wait for no verdict, but only rage on, I must instruct the worldly governors how they are to act in the matter with a clear conscience.

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In second century BC Judea, God‘s kindness shown in persecution

In the second century the Jewish nation suffered terribly under the occupation of the Macedonian king Antiochus Epiphanes. Many people had been slaughtered including children. The temple of the Lord was profaned with sacrifices of pigs to the Greek god Zeus and whores. It was illegal to keep the law God especially the Sabbath day, and those who broke this rule were martyred. Two women were cast off the wall with their nursing babies in their arms. Eleazar, a conscientious priest was put to the rack when he spit out pork that was forced into his mouth in violation of the Mosaic dietary laws. Jason of Cyrene writes,

“Now I urge those who read this book not to be depressed by such calamities, but to recognize that these punishments were designed not to destroy but to discipline our people. In fact, not to let the impious alone for long, but to punish them immediately, is a sign of great kindness. For in the case of the other nations the Lord waits patiently to punish them until they have reached the full measure of their sins; but he does not deal in this way with us, in order that he may not take vengeance on us afterward when our sins have reached their height. Therefore he never withdraws his mercy from us. Though he disciplines us with calamities, he does not forsake his own people.” Jason of Cyrene, circa 110 BC (2 Maccabees 6:12-16)

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The Hebrew-Spartan alliance

So I was reading from some second century BC Jewish tradition called the book of first Maccabees recording a history of events in the second century BC in Judea. An alliance is recorded between Jonathan and the leader of the Jews and the Spartans and the Romans against Syria and some of their correspondence is included. It is there affirmed that the Spartans are related to the Jews and sons of Abraham, which was apparently something that was commonly noted in antiquity. Fascinating.

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A story from being a first-year cadet.

It was 1997. I was a first year cadet at the US Air Force Academy and a part of Squadron 34 “loose hawgs.” I had got through basic cadet training without losing my personal dignity.

The academic year had been in session for a couple months but we were “smacks.” We were in our first year and were constantly standing at attention or running on the walkway and greeting upperclassman etc. In the evening after school was over we came back to the squadron and often had training sessions before a time that was dedicated to doing homework from 7 PM to 11 PM, at which point lights had to be out.

We were situated in dormitory rooms and there were two cadets to each room. It was male or female rooms. A pair of women or a pair of men. If you had someone of the opposite sex in your room, you were required to have the door open. Sometimes in the evening if we had time we would go to each other’s rooms and have some conversation. Friendship and camaraderie exists in the military. Once I was in the room of another male cadet and I expressed the view that women should not be serving in the military. I thought this was a private conversation and did not expect it to go anywhere. I trusted the individual that I was talking to. I counted him as a friend.

The next day an upperclassman accosted me about my supposed “bashing of women.” Then I was trained on the spot when I got back from class by two upperclass cadet women. To me this was not expected but I guess they must have planned it. They dropped me for about 100 to 200 push-ups, I’m not sure how many, while asking me questions like, “how dumb is it to bash women?” They were not actually asking for an answer so I gave the customary response they were looking for, “sir, it is very dumb!” As I “beat my face” a.k.a. continued doing push-ups.

The “training” ended and I was allowed to go back to my dormitory room. Later one of the female cadets involved with the “training session” expressed respect for my position. That’s the end of the story but it taught me a lot about what life would be like.

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Happy 500th Anniversary of the SWISS Reformation!


Dear Friends, Brothers, and Sisters,

Did you know that 2019 marks the 500th anniversary of the Swiss Reformation, that which birthed, not the Lutheran, but the Reformed churches?! We haven’t heard much about it this year, have we? But here it is.

On January 1, 1519, when a priest named Ulrich Zwingli began his ministry at the Großmünster cathedral in Zürich, Switzerland he did something radical. He began preaching through the gospel according to Matthew at the beginning of chapter one, and continued until he finished the book! In preaching through Matthew, Zwingli revived the ancient practice of the lectio continua, the continuous reading and preaching through books of the Bible as opposed to the lectio selecta, the selective lectionary noting different passages for different Sundays and holy days. The result was epic. It led to the Reformation in Switzerland, the most thoroughly biblical and intentional Reformation of them all, exerting tremendous influence in Scotland, England, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Hungary, and all over the world, conforming the belief and practice of the Church to the word of Christ and removing those unwarranted doctrines and practices which had crept in slowly over the ages in the Roman Catholic Church.

Luther’s Reformation in Germany in many ways tried to retain as much tradition from Rome as possible without contradicting the gospel, including its view of the corporeal (physical) presence of Christ in holy communion, feast days, altars, allowing vestments, and lectionary readings. In comparison to the German Reformation, to which we Reformed are nonetheless very much indebted, the Swiss Reformation was much more thoroughgoing in its Sola Scriptura “Scripture Alone” approach to the worship and government of the church, casting aside those practices that did not have a Scriptural warrant. And this emphasis on practicing only that form of worship and government that has Scriptural warrant, still guides the worship and government of our Reformed churches today in the OPC and in sister churches.

It is in commemoration of this providence of God 500 years ago that I have published a book summarizing the German and Swiss reformation, comparing and contrasting the two. At a mere 48 pages, it is accessible and possibly a helpful introduction for a churchgoer or other interested person who would like to have a basic grasp of the persons and events of the Protestant Reformation. It is written in a warm and affectionate tone as the fruit of my readings and study of this topic. I hope that this little book may be beneficial to some.

The Reformation in Germany and Switzerland is available for order here.

The paperback costs $5.45. The e-book is $3.99.

Be blessed! Give thanks for God’s work in history. And be Reformed!

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Attorney General William P. Barr Delivers Remarks to the Law School and the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame on Religious Liberty, Religion, Morality, and Civil Liberty

I am sharing these recent remarks by a sitting U. S. Attorney General, William F. Barr, who is a Roman Catholic. He gave them at a Roman Catholic University, the University of Notre Dame. No one should construe that there is any endorsement, promotion, or acceptance of Roman Catholicism intended by posting his remarks. I am posting them because he gives some insightful application of the lessons of history to our time regarding the relation of religion, morality, and liberty in a way that shows Protestants and some Roman Catholics do have some common views of civil morality, even though we differ on the basics of the gospel and many other important things. I dare say Mr. Barr seems to have been influenced heavily in his views on these topics by the distinctly Protestant culture, history, and political traditions of the United States of America.

You may also read it on the Department of justice website: http://www.justice.gov/opa/speech/attorney-general-william-p-barr-delivers-remarks-law-school-and-de-nicola-center-ethics

Attorney General William P. Barr Delivers Remarks to the Law School and the de
Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame

South Bend, IN
United States ~
Friday, October 11, 2019

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Tom, for your kind introduction. Bill and Roger, it’s great to be
with you.

Thank you to the Notre Dame Law School and the de Nicola Center for Ethics and
Culture for graciously extending an invitation to address you today. I’d also
like to express gratitude to Tony de Nicola, whose generous support has shaped –
and continues to shape – countless minds through examination of the Catholic
moral and intellectual tradition.

Today, I would like to share some thoughts with you about religious liberty in
America. It’s an important priority in this Administration and for this
Department of Justice.

We have set up a task force within the Department with different components that
have equities in this area, including the Solicitor General’s Office, the Civil
Division, the Office of Legal Counsel, and other offices. We have regular
meetings. We keep an eye out for cases or events around the country where states
are misapplying the Establishment Clause in a way that discriminates against
people of faith, or cases where states adopt laws that impinge upon the free
exercise of religion.

From the Founding Era onward, there was strong consensus about the centrality of
religious liberty in the United States.

The imperative of protecting religious freedom was not just a nod in the
direction of piety. It reflects the Framers’ belief that religion was
indispensable to sustaining our free system of government.

In his renowned 1785 pamphlet, “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious
Assessments,” James Madison described religious liberty as “a right towards men”
but “a duty towards the Creator,” and a “duty….precedent both in order of time
and degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.”

It has been over 230 years since that small group of colonial lawyers led a
revolution and launched what they viewed as a great experiment, establishing a
society fundamentally different than those that had gone before.

They crafted a magnificent charter of freedom – the United States Constitution –
which provides for limited government, while leaving “the People” broadly at
liberty to pursue our lives both as individuals and through free associations.

This quantum leap in liberty has been the mainspring of unprecedented human
progress, not only for Americans, but for people around the world.

In the 20th century, our form of free society faced a severe test.

There had always been the question whether a democracy so solicitous of
individual freedom could stand up against a regimented totalitarian state.

That question was answered with a resounding “yes” as the United States stood up
against and defeated, first fascism, and then communism.

But in the 21st century, we face an entirely different kind of challenge.

The challenge we face is precisely what the Founding Fathers foresaw would be
our supreme test as a free society.

They never thought the main danger to the republic came from external foes. The
central question was whether, over the long haul, we could handle freedom. The
question was whether the citizens in such a free society could maintain the
moral discipline and virtue necessary for the survival of free institutions.

By and large, the Founding generation’s view of human nature was drawn from the
classical Christian tradition.

These practical statesmen understood that individuals, while having the
potential for great good, also had the capacity for great evil.

Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites, and, if unrestrained, are
capable of ruthlessly riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at

No society can exist without some means for restraining individual rapacity.

But, if you rely on the coercive power of government to impose restraints, this
will inevitably lead to a government that is too controlling, and you will end
up with no liberty, just tyranny.

On the other hand, unless you have some effective restraint, you end up with
something equally dangerous – licentiousness – the unbridled pursuit of personal
appetites at the expense of the common good. This is just another form of
tyranny – where the individual is enslaved by his appetites, and the possibility
of any healthy community life crumbles.

Edmund Burke summed up this point in his typically colorful language:

“Men are qualified for civil liberty, in exact proportion to their disposition
to put chains upon their appetites…. Society cannot exist unless a controlling
power be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there
must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men
intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

So the Founders decided to take a gamble. They called it a great experiment.

They would leave “the People” broad liberty, limit the coercive power of the
government, and place their trust in self-discipline and the virtue of the
American people.

In the words of Madison, “We have staked our future on the ability of each of us
to govern ourselves…”

This is really what was meant by “self-government.” It did not mean primarily
the mechanics by which we select a representative legislative body. It referred
to the capacity of each individual to restrain and govern themselves.

But what was the source of this internal controlling power? In a free republic,
those restraints could not be handed down from above by philosopher kings.

Instead, social order must flow up from the people themselves – freely obeying
the dictates of inwardly-possessed and commonly-shared moral values. And to
control willful human beings, with and infinite capacity to rationalize, those
moral values must rest on authority independent of men’s will – they must flow
from a transcendent Supreme Being.

In short, in the Framers’ view, free government was only suitable and
sustainable for a religious people – a people who recognized that there was a
transcendent moral order antecedent to both the state and man-made law and who
had the discipline to control themselves according to those enduring principles.

As John Adams put it, “We have no government armed with the power which is
capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.
Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly
inadequate for the government of any other.”

As Father John Courtney Murray observed, the American tenet was not that:

“Free government is inevitable, only that it is possible, and that its
possibility can be realized only when the people as a whole are inwardly
governed by the recognized imperatives of the universal moral order.”

How does religion promote the moral discipline and virtue needed to support free

First, it gives us the right rules to live by. The Founding generation were
Christians. They believed that the Judeo-Christian moral system corresponds to
the true nature of man. Those moral precepts start with the two great
commandments – to Love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind; and to Love
Thy Neighbor as Thyself.

But they also include the guidance of natural law – a real, transcendent moral
order which flows from God’s eternal law – the divine wisdom by which the whole
of creation is ordered. The eternal law is impressed upon, and reflected in, all
created things.

From the nature of things we can, through reason, experience, discern standards
of right and wrong that exist independent of human will.

Modern secularists dismiss this idea of morality as other-worldly superstition
imposed by a kill-joy clergy. In fact, Judeo-Christian moral standards are the
ultimate utilitarian rules for human conduct.

They reflect the rules that are best for man, not in the by and by, but in the
here and now. They are like God’s instruction manual for the best running of man
and human society.

By the same token, violations of these moral laws have bad, real-world
consequences for man and society. We many not pay the price immediately, but
over time the harm is real.

Religion helps promote moral discipline within society. Because man is fallen,
we don’t automatically conform ourselves to moral rules even when we know they
are good for us.

But religion helps teach, train, and habituate people to want what is good. It
does not do this primarily by formal laws – that is, through coercion. It does
this through moral education and by informing society’s informal rules – its
customs and traditions which reflect the wisdom and experience of the ages.

In other words, religion helps frame moral culture within society that instills
and reinforces moral discipline.

I think we all recognize that over the past 50 years religion has been under
increasing attack.

On the one hand, we have seen the steady erosion of our traditional
Judeo-Christian moral system and a comprehensive effort to drive it from the
public square.

On the other hand, we see the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine
of moral relativism.

By any honest assessment, the consequences of this moral upheaval have been

Virtually every measure of social pathology continues to gain ground.

In 1965, the illegitimacy rate was eight percent. In 1992, when I was last
Attorney General, it was 25 percent. Today it is over 40 percent. In many of our
large urban areas, it is around 70 percent.

Along with the wreckage of the family, we are seeing record levels of depression
and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing
numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence,
and a deadly drug epidemic.

As you all know, over 70,000 people die a year from drug overdoses. That is more
casualities in a year than we experienced during the entire Vietnam War.

I will not dwell on all the bitter results of the new secular age. Suffice it to
say that the campaign to destroy the traditional moral order has brought with it
immense suffering, wreckage, and misery. And yet, the forces of secularism,
ignoring these tragic results, press on with even greater militancy.

Among these militant secularists are many so-called “progressives.” But where is
the progress?

We are told we are living in a post-Christian era. But what has replaced the
Judeo-Christian moral system? What is it that can fill the spiritual void in the
hearts of the individual person? And what is a system of values that can sustain
human social life?

The fact is that no secular creed has emerged capable of performing the role of

Scholarship suggests that religion has been integral to the development and
thriving of Homo sapiens since we emerged roughly 50,000 years ago. It is just
for the past few hundred years we have experimented in living without religion.

We hear much today about our humane values. But, in the final analysis, what
undergirds these values? What commands our adherence to them?

What we call “values” today are really nothing more than mere sentimentality,
still drawing on the vapor trails of Christianity.

Now, there have been times and places where the traditional moral order has been

In the past, societies – like the human body – seem to have a self-healing
mechanism – a self-correcting mechanism that gets things back on course if
things go too far.

The consequences of moral chaos become too pressing. The opinion of decent
people rebels. They coalesce and rally against obvious excess. Periods of moral
entrenchment follow periods of excess.

This is the idea of the pendulum. We have all thought that after a while the
“pendulum will swing back.”

But today we face something different that may mean that we cannot count on the
pendulum swinging back.

First is the force, fervor, and comprehensiveness of the assault on religion we
are experiencing today. This is not decay; it is organized destruction.
Secularists, and their allies among the “progressives,” have marshaled all the
force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and
academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.

These instruments are used not only to affirmatively promote secular orthodoxy,
but also drown out and silence opposing voices, and to attack viciously and hold
up to ridicule any dissenters.

One of the ironies, as some have observed, is that the secular project has
itself become a religion, pursued with religious fervor. It is taking on all the
trappings of a religion, including inquisitions and excommunication.

Those who defy the creed risk a figurative burning at the stake – social,
educational, and professional ostracism and exclusion waged through lawsuits and
savage social media campaigns.

The pervasiveness and power of our high-tech popular culture fuels apostasy in
another way. It provides an unprecedented degree of distraction.

Part of the human condition is that there are big questions that should stare us
in the face. Are we created or are we purely material accidents? Does our life
have any meaning or purpose? But, as Blaise Pascal observed, instead of
grappling with these questions, humans can be easily distracted from thinking
about the “final things.”

Indeed, we now live in the age of distraction where we can envelop ourselves in
a world of digital stimulation and universal connectivity. And we have almost
limitless ways of indulging all our physical appetites.

There is another modern phenomenon that suppresses society’s self-corrective
mechanisms – that makes it harder for society to restore itself.

In the past, when societies are threatened by moral chaos, the overall social
costs of licentiousness and irresponsible personal conduct becomes so high that
society ultimately recoils and reevaluates the path that it is on.

But today – in the face of all the increasing pathologies – instead of
addressing the underlying cause, we have the State in the role of alleviator of
bad fconsequences. We call on the State to mitigate the social costs of personal
misconduct and irresponsibility.

So the reaction to growing illegitimacy is not sexual responsibility, but

The reaction to drug addiction is safe injection sites.

The solution to the breakdown of the family is for the State to set itself up as
the ersatz husband for single mothers and the ersatz father to their children.

The call comes for more and more social programs to deal with the wreckage.
While we think we are solving problems, we are underwriting them.

We start with an untrammeled freedom and we end up as dependents of a coercive
state on which we depend.

Interestingly, this idea of the State as the alleviator of bad consequences has
given rise to a new moral system that goes hand-in-hand with the secularization
of society.  It can be called the system of “macro-morality.”  It is in some
ways an inversion of Christian morality.

Christianity teaches a micro-morality. We transform the world by focusing on our
own personal morality and transformation.

The new secular religion teaches macro-morality. One’s morality is not gauged by
their private conduct, but rather on their commitment to political causes and
collective action to address social problems.

This system allows us to not worry so much about the strictures on our private
lives, while we find salvation on the picket-line. We can signal our
finely-tuned moral sensibilities by demonstrating for this cause or that.

Something happened recently that crystalized the difference between these moral
systems. I was attending Mass at a parish I did not usually go to in Washington,
D.C.  At the end of Mass, the Chairman of the Social Justice Committee got up to
give his report to the parish. He pointed to the growing homeless problem in
D.C. and explained that more mobile soup kitchens were needed to feed them. This
being a Catholic church, I expected him to call for volunteers to go out and
provide this need. Instead, he recounted all the visits that the Committee had
made to the D.C. government to lobby for higher taxes and more spending to fund
mobile soup kitchen.

A third phenomenon which makes it difficult for the pendulum to swing back is
the way law is being used as a battering ram to break down traditional moral
values and to establish moral relativism as a new orthodoxy.

Law is being used as weapon in a couple of ways.

First, either through legislation but more frequently through judicial
interpretation, secularists have been continually seeking to eliminate laws that
reflect traditional moral norms.

At first, this involved rolling back laws that prohibited certain kinds of
conduct. Thus, the watershed decision legalizing abortion. And since then, the
legalization of euthanasia. The list goes on.

More recently, we have seen the law used aggressively to force religious people
and entities to subscribe to practices and policies that are antithetical to
their faith.

The problem is not that religion is being forced on others. The problem is that
irreligion and secular values are being forced on people of faith.

This reminds me of how some Roman emperors could not leave their loyal Christian
subjects in peace but would mandate that they violate their conscience by
offering religious sacrifice to the emperor as a god.

Similarly, militant secularists today do not have a live and let live spirit –
they are not content to leave religious people alone to practice their faith.
Instead, they seem to take a delight in compelling people to violate their

For example, the last Administration sought to force religious employers,
including Catholic religious orders, to violate their sincerely held religious
views by funding contraceptive and abortifacient coverage in their health plans.
Similarly, California has sought to require pro-life pregnancy centers to
provide notices of abortion rights.

This refusal to accommodate the free exercise of religion is relatively recent.
Just 25 years ago, there was broad consensus in our society that our laws should
accommodate religious belief.

In 1993, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act – RFRA. The
purpose of the statute was to promote maximum accommodation to religion when the
government adopted broad policies that could impinge on religious practice.

At the time, RFRA was not controversial. It was introduced by Chuck Schumer with
170 cosponsors in the House, and was introduced by Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch
with 59 additional cosponsors in the Senate. It passed by voice vote in the
House and by a vote of 97-3 in the Senate.

Recently, as the process of secularization has accelerated, RFRA has come under
assault, and the idea of religious accommodation has fallen out of favor.

Because this Administration firmly supports accommodation of religion, the
battleground has shifted to the states. Some state governments are now
attempting to compel religious individuals and entities to subscribe to
practices, or to espouse viewpoints, that are incompatible with their religion.

Ground zero for these attacks on religion are the schools. To me, this is the
most serious challenge to religious liberty.

For anyone who has a religious faith, by far the most important part of
exercising that faith is the teaching of that religion to our children. The
passing on of the faith. There is no greater gift we can give our children and
no greater expression of love.

For the government to interfere in that process is a monstrous invasion of
religious liberty.

Yet here is where the battle is being joined, and I see the secularists are
attacking on three fronts.

The first front relates to the content of public school curriculum. Many states
are adopting curriculum that is incompatible with traditional religious
principles according to which parents are attempting to raise their children.
They often do so without any opt out for religious families.

Thus, for example, New Jersey recently passed a law requiring public schools to
adopt an LGBT curriculum that many feel is inconsistent with traditional
Christian teaching. Similar laws have been passed in California and Illinois.
And the Orange County Board of Education in California issued an opinion that
“parents who disagree with the instructional materials related to gender, gender
identity, gender expression and sexual orientation may not excuse their children
from this instruction.”

Indeed, in some cases, the schools may not even warn parents about lessons they
plan to teach on controversial subjects relating to sexual behavior and

This puts parents who dissent from the secular orthodoxy to a difficult choice:
Try to scrape together the money for private school or home schooling, or allow
their children to be inculcated with messages that they fundamentally reject.

A second axis of attack in the realm of education are state policies designed to
starve religious schools of generally-available funds and encouraging students
to choose secular options.  Montana, for example, created a program that
provided tax credits to those who donated to a scholarship program that
underprivileged students could use to attend private school.  The point of the
program was to provide greater parental and student choice in education and to
provide better educations to needy youth.

But Montana expressly excluded religiously-affiliated private schools from the
program.  And when that exclusion was challenged in court by parents who wanted
to use the scholarships to attend a nondenominational Christian school, the
Montana Supreme Court required the state to eliminate the program rather than
allow parents to use scholarships for religious schools.

It justified this action by pointing to a provision in Montana’s State
Constitution commonly referred to as a “Blaine Amendment.”  Blaine Amendments
were passed at a time of rampant anti-Catholic animus in this country, and
typically disqualify religious institutions from receiving any direct or
indirect payments from a state’s funds.

The case is now in the Supreme Court, and we filed a brief explaining why
Montana’s Blaine Amendment violates the First Amendment.

A third kind of assault on religious freedom in education have been recent
efforts to use state laws to force religious schools to adhere to secular
orthodoxy. For example, right here in Indiana, a teacher sued the Catholic
Archbishop of Indianapolis for directing the Catholic schools within his diocese
that they could not employ teachers in same-sex marriages because the example of
those same-sex marriages would undermine the schools’ teaching on the Catholic
view of marriage and complementarity between the sexes.

This lawsuit clearly infringes the First Amendment rights of the Archdiocese by
interfering both with its expressive association and with its church autonomy.
The Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in the state court
making these points, and we hope that the state court will soon dismiss the

Taken together, these cases paint a disturbing picture. We see the State
requiring local public schools to insert themselves into contentious social
debates, without regard for the religious views of their students or parents. In
effect, these states are requiring local communities to make their public
schools inhospitable to families with traditional religious values; those
families are implicitly told that they should conform or leave.

At the same time, pressure is placed on religious schools to abandon their
religious convictions. Simply because of their religious character, they are
starved of funds – students who would otherwise choose to attend them are told
they may only receive scholarships if they turn their sights elsewhere.

Simultaneously, they are threatened in tort and, eventually, will undoubtedly be
threatened with denial of accreditation if they adhere to their religious
character.  If these measures are successful, those with religious convictions
will become still more marginalized.

I do not mean to suggest that there is no hope for moral renewal in our country.

But we cannot sit back and just hope the pendulum is going to swing back toward

As Catholics, we are committed to the Judeo-Christian values that have made this
country great.

And we know that the first thing we have to do to promote renewal is to ensure
that we are putting our principles into practice in our own personal private

We understand that only by transforming ourselves can we transform the world
beyond ourselves.

This is tough work. It is hard to resist the constant seductions of our
contemporary society. This is where we need grace, prayer, and the help of our

Beyond this, we must place greater emphasis on the moral education of our

Education is not vocational training. It is leading our children to the
recognition that there is truth and helping them develop the faculties to
discern and love the truth and the discipline to live by it.

We cannot have a moral renaissance unless we succeed in passing to the next
generation our faith and values in full vigor.

The times are hostile to this. Public agencies, including public schools, are
becoming secularized and increasingly are actively promoting moral relativism.

If ever there was a need for a resurgence of Catholic education – and more
generally religiously-affiliated schools – it is today.

I think we should do all we can to promote and support authentic Catholic
education at all levels.

Finally, as lawyers, we should be particularly active in the struggle that is
being waged against religion on the legal plane.

We must be vigilant to resist efforts by the forces of secularization to drive
religious viewpoints from the public square and to impinge upon the free
exercise of our faith.

I can assure you that, as long as I am Attorney General, the Department of
Justice will be at the forefront of this effort, ready to fight for the most
cherished of our liberties: the freedom to live according to our faith.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk with you today. And God bless you and
Notre Dame.
Attorney General William Barr

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Rendering to Caesar: Civil Religion in Transition — TheEcclesialCalvinist

Issues with some of the historical analysis, but overall there are some helpful thoughts.


I presented an earlier version of this material at Erskine College and Seminary three weeks after 9/11. In the wake of that horrifying event we Americans struggled to make sense of it all, to recover our national sense of equilibrium. One of the more visible ways that Americans sought to make sense of it […]

via Rendering to Caesar: Civil Religion in Transition — TheEcclesialCalvinist

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On this day in 1837, the plan of Union ended

On this day in church history, 1837, the Plan of Union was abrogated by the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly, meeting at the Central Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.  The Plan of Union was made in 1801 as an agreement between the Presbyterian Church and Congregational Churches to work together for planting churches in the west.  The Baptists and Methodists were outrunning both, establishing churches among formerly Presbyterian or Congregational settlers at a wildfire pace.  For them, it was enough to find a man with gifts, give him a Bible and one or two other books, put him on a horse, and smack the horse’s rear, sending him forth to preach and plant churches!  With their emphasis on an educated ministry, the Presbyterians and Congregationalists just could not compete.  It took them years to churn out a minister.  But they felt that there could be synergistic gains by working together.  After all, both denominations were Reformed, Calvinist, and Paedo-baptizers, with an emphasis on simple and reverent worship.  It seemed like a good idea.  And the Presbyterians were badly in need of ministers.  The majority of Presbyterian pulpits in the west were vacant.  They did not have the institutional strength of the Congregational churches such as the seminaries Harvard and Yale, (to which many Presbyterian students already went), nor the amount of giving to home missions and pool of young candidates that New England had.  The Presbyterians needed Congregational money and young men!  Men licensed to preach would go out and establish congregations, whether Congregational or Presbyterian, and the church plants could decide later upon being duly constituted, whether they were going to be Presbyterian or Congregational.  Presbyterian ruling elders or Congregational committeemen could join together in the regional presbytery/association in the mission regions.

A few decades later, the agreement was ended.  The Presbyterians to this day lament the New Haven Theology that came into the western presbyteries through men educated at Yale, and the Congregationalists lament that so much of their own members’ treasure and sons, in the end, had planted in the west, not so many Congregational as Presbyterian churches.  As the Rev. Mr. Lawrence proclaimed (to laughter) at the General Convention of Congregational Churches in Albany, New York, 1852, “They have often come from the West to our New England, and ranged over our fat pastures, and borne away the fleeces from our flocks; they have milked our Congregational cows, but they have made nothing but Presbyterian butter and cheese.”


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A French Huguenot minister in New York

A little family history. Here’s a letter written by a Dutch reformed minister in New York to the Classis of Amsterdam on September 30, 1696. His name is Domine Selyns. In the letter he mentions the French reformed minister who serves where my ancestors the Sicard family [bearing my paternal grandma’s maiden name] were settled in New Rochelle, New York. His name was Reverend (or Domine to use the Dutch title) Bondet, A Huguenot minister from France and a former professor at the famed Academy of Saumur. This was the pastor of some of our ancestors in of New York who had escaped France eight years before.  

Selyns writes, “Domine Brodet [Bondet], who was formerly professor at Saumur, and who lived among the Indians and preached to them for eight years, is at New Rochelle, 20 miles from here, and is very useful by his ministerial gifts and holy life.”

A History of the Reformed Church, Dutch in the United States by ET Corwin, 115.

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