LETTER FROM AMERICA: The relationship between the US and Korea

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On June 12, 2018, the President of the United States, Donald Trump met with Kim Jong-un, the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in a special summit meeting in Singapore to discuss foreign relations between the two countries.

While the United States has often sought to come to a peaceful agreement with DPRK in regard to nuclear weapons, a meeting of this calibre is unprecedented: never have the two leaders of the countries met in person before. At the close of the summit, both men signed a joint agreement which in part stated,

‘Convinced that the establishment of new U.S.-DPRK relations will contribute to the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula and of the world, and recognizing that mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un state the following:

  1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
  2. The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
  3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
  4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.’

(Full text of statement on CNBC website, 12/06/18)

 

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President Donald Trump and President Moon Jae-in Republic of Korea at United Nations General Assembly

Whether North Korea will uphold its promise, only time will tell. Perhaps this move towards peace on the Korean peninsula will usher in new opportunities for the gospel to be spread in North Korea. This historic event as well as unique events that took place at the Presbyterian Church in America’s General Assembly brought to my attention the impact and history of the Korean American church. Though it is perhaps not as prevalent in the region in which I live, the Korean American church is a substantial body of believers with a very unique history and situation.

Introduction to the Korean church

When Korea opened its borders to the Western world in the late 19th century, Presbyterian missionaries such as Horace Allen and Horace Underwood found the mission fields white with harvest. Korea had been closed off to the world and had been under the shroud of Confucian thought and teaching throughout much of its history, earning it the epithet ‘The Hermit Kingdom’.

However, as the Confucian system began to fail and Korea felt threatened by neighboring Japan, they began to open to the West for help. ‘Progressive Koreans sought to modernize the country and pressed for the entry of foreign missionaries to help with medicine and education. Some saw Christianity as the religious or ideological basis of Western society, believing the nation would benefit from a spiritual renewal of the people’ (Christianity Today, ‘Who Brought the Gospel to Korea? Koreans did.’ Kirsteen Kim and Hoon Ko, February 2018).

Although the number of missionaries during this time were few, the growth of the Korean church from that time onward was unlike anything else seen on the Asian continent. Part of this was due to the ‘Nevius plan of missions’ adopted by the missionaries in Korea.  This vision for missions ‘emphasized the self-supporting, self-propagating, and self-governing goals of the newly evangelized church.’ (Reflections of a Korean-American Presbyterian, Julius Kim, Westminster Seminary California, 7-26-10).

President-Joel-Kim

This would not only have lasting impacts on the church in Korea but on Korean immigrants who brought their faith to other parts of the world. Through the providence of God, the church in Korea has blossomed through intense persecution to become one of the largest strongholds of the church. Over a third of the population professes to be Protestant and out of that 15 million or so, 9 to 10 million are Presbyterian (Chris Meehan, Touched by Devotion in South Korea, October 4, 2010).

Not only are Koreans passionate about Christ and his church being established in Korea but they are enthusiastic to spread God’s kingdom across the globe as well. In 2004, South Korea sent over 12,000 missionaries to over 160 countries, many of them in the 10/40 window (South Korea Becomes Second Largest Missionary Source, Lillian Kwon, 11-05-2004). With that being said, one of the largest concentrations of Korean Christians is actually in the United States.

Issues faced by Korean American Christians

According to the Pew Research Forum, ‘the share of Christians in South Korea (29%) is much smaller than the share of Christians among Korean Americans living in the U.S. Nearly three-quarters of Korean Americans (71%) say they are Christian, including 61% who are Protestant and 10% who are Catholic’. (6 facts about South Korea’s growing Christian population, Pew Research Center, Philip Connor, August 12, 2014). Of that 61%, two-thirds would describe themselves as evangelical (cf. christiantoday.us via fb, based on data from koreanchurchyp.com).

In 2014, there were 4,233 Korean churches in the US, with 1,358 of those churches in California alone (cf. christiantoday.us via fb, based on data from koreanchurchyp.com). Though you don’t often hear about them, Korean churches are by and large conservative churches which are scattered throughout the United States, largely focused in major cities along the Atlantic and Pacific seaboard. There are many interesting characteristics of Korean American churches which make them quite unique as a church body.

When Koreans immigrated to a particular area, they would either find a Korean-speaking church like the Korean American Presbyterian Church or assess which US denomination was similar to what they knew back home in Korea. For those that join an American denomination, they typically plant Korean-speaking churches that run independently of the main governing body. Within the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), nearly 12 per cent of the churches are Korean-speaking with nearly 700 ministers (14 per cent of the number of teaching elders in the PCA).

Case in point, Rev. Joel Kim, a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America and President of Westminster Seminary California, was raised as the son of a Presbyterian minister in South Korea but when his family moved to the US in 1982, they joined the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). ‘[W]hen we moved over in 1982, [my father] had to make a decision. He had to make a decision as to which denomination he would join. And at that time, the PCA was relatively unknown to Korean Americans. The churches that were options for them were like a Korean speaking denomination in the states called the Korean American Presbyterian Church (KAPC) or churches like the CRC which is a Dutch Reformed denomination. He joined the CRC and he retired as a CRC minister a while back. All that to say, within the CRC currently there are about a hundred Korean American churches and I grew up in one of those churches.’

Assimilation is difficult for Korean Christians

Like the Dutch, the Koreans established Korean speaking churches wherever they settled and those churches became not only centres of preaching and teaching but also social and cultural centres and havens as well. Worship services and church business/presbytery sessions are all done in Korean and bear the marks of Korean culture as well. Yet unlike the Dutch, because of their Korean ethnicity and language, they are not able to assimilate into church society as easily.

Those who make up the Korean American church typically fall into three categories: 1st generation immigrants, 1.5 generation immigrants, and 2nd generation immigrants. Rev. Kim explains it Thus: ‘there are Korean Americans, who are what they call first generation Korean Americans who are born and raised and educated in Korea. So they usually immigrate to the States [during] high school, post-high school, college and graduate school. And then you have what they call second generation Koreans. Alex [Jun] is a second generation Korean, meaning that he was born here in the States; he was born and raised and educated in the States. So that’s the counterpart to the first generation Korean Americans. I’m what they call an “in-betweener” so they usually refer to me as a 1.5 generation. What that means is I was born in Korea but came here at a relatively young age and educated in both Korea and in the States’ (interview with Rev. Joel Kim, President of Westminster Seminary California).

With these three groups congregating together in Korean churches, this poses several challenges. As Korean immigrants were not allowed to come over to the United States until the 1960s and 1970s, there are still a large number of first generation Koreans here in the States and that explains why most Korean American churches are still mono-lingual. Since services are largely conducted in Korean, this often causes a disjoint between the first and second generation Koreans.

Alex Jun, the Moderator of the 45th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church and ruling elder in a Korean PCA church, was born and raised and educated in the US and his first language was in fact English. Becoming born again in college, Jun was discipled by Korean Americans and then learned Korean in the church. It was only until the 1990s when English ministries began to be offered by Korean American churches. It was then that the Lord used the ‘in-betweeners’ as cultural bridges between the first and second generations.

Within the PCA, there are currently nine Korean- speaking presbyteries making up 221 of its 1,545 churches and 700 of its 4,882 teaching elders (http://www.pcaac.org/resources/korean/).

While that may seem really small, the Korean presbyteries have grown the fastest compared to the English speaking presbyteries in the PCA (How the Second Generation of Korean-American Presbyterians Are Bridging the Gap, Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, The Gospel Coalition, 7/3/17). During this year’s General Assembly (GA), presbyters from the Korean presbyteries met for an historic ‘pre-conference’ meeting just before the regular General Assembly convened. They were also invited to attend the GA and made up 10 per cent of those gathered. It was the largest participation of Korean pastors and elders ever to a GA.

While assimilating Korean-speaking churches into the PCA has been on the table since the 1990s, there are still large hurdles especially in regard to language and cultural barriers. Parliamentary procedure at GA is a shock to many, even if English is your native tongue.

Generational issues related to church growth

As with any church, there are other generational issues relating to church growth. Korean American churches do undergo growth issues where young people are leaving the church, albeit for different reasons at times. Often referred to as the ‘silent exodus’, covenant children in Korean churches are leaving in unbelievable numbers. ‘Estimates of second generation Koreans leaving the church vary from 55% to 90%, depending on whether you count those who leave Korean-language churches but join Anglo or multi-ethnic churches, those who still call themselves Christian but don’t act on it, or those who completely leave church and faith behind.’ (Joan Huyser-Honig, July 2005).

These three reasons highlight the difficulty in providing accurate statistics. Rev. Kim believes that many Korean Americans who leave early on, do end up coming back to the Korean American church though not always to the one they grew up in. This typically happens when they reach their 30s and 40s and have children (interview with Joel Kim).

Korean churches also face leadership transition struggles. Rev. Kim notes that there are over 4,300 churches in the United States that are Korean speaking. Out of that number, 15 per cent have over 100 members while the rest have less than 100 members. That poses great challenges for the future of these smaller churches as they get older and the number of Korean first-language speakers ages out. Even though many churches might have the financial viability to continue, there are still gaps in the leadership as most of the leaders are first generation Korean speakers. ‘Where will the future generation of leadership for those churches come from?’, asked Rev. Kim. ‘Is it from Korea? Are there even enough Korean-speaking pastors in the States? Is this going to transition like the Dutch church did? No one is certain how that transition will take place’ (interview with Joel Kim). This a crucial issue for the Korean American church and one we need to be praying for.

Outlook on the gospel reaching North Korea

Another interesting dynamic with the Korean American church is their outlook on the gospel going to North Korea, compared with the view shared by their brothers and sisters in Christ in South Korea. Alex Jun, in his address before the start of the 46th PCA General Assembly spoke of the hopeful prayers and desires of his fellow Korean Americans in regard to the unification and independence of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

He said that growing up in the United States, ‘ethnic Koreans who maybe never lived in the Korean peninsula [have] a deep sense of connection with our ethnic bloodline. So we only think of North Korea and South Korea as being of the same blood and not being caught up with nationalism. Australian Koreans, Canadian Koreans, and American Koreans all seem to hold that same thought. We have the same desire to share the gospel with North Korea.’ (Interview with Alex Jun).

This is contrasted with the view that many South Koreans have, where they view any possible liberation of North Korea as being a possible threat to national and economic security and stability. Much of this is based on a regular education or propaganda movement in South Korea that fears the communists. There is much doubt and fear of whether the economy would be decimated by opening the border with North Korea. Since Korean Americans were not brought up with that education, their desire for the gospel to go to North Korea is unbridled. That being said, Americans are not without our own nationalist fears, even among Christians, towards other ethnic groups that might come to the US and ‘take our jobs’.

We certainly need to pray for the gospel to go forth into all the world, especially those places where it is so dark and opposed to it. We need to pray that the Lord would give us gospel eyes to let go of our national pride so that we may see that we are all citizens of a heavenly kingdom, whether we are American, British or ethnically Korean. It is encouraging to note the growth of the immigrant church within the United States. The church during the days of the apostles was not much different, scattered throughout the Roman Empire.

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in September 2018 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

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The life and legacy of William Cameron Townsend

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‘The greatest missionary is the Bible in the mother tongue. It needs no furlough and is never considered a foreigner’ (William Cameron Townsend).

Since the days of the early church, scholars and pastors have sought to provide updated translations of the Holy Scriptures for the common man. What began as the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament epistles slowly became one book, encompassing the inspired and inerrant Word of God.

In its early days the Bible remained in Greek, until Jerome translated it into Latin for the Western church. ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures’, he said, ‘is ignorance of Christ’. A few centuries later his wise words had been forgotten, with the Bible only understood by priests and scholars. While there were some early exceptions, it was not understood in vernacular tongues until the 14th century.

Those exceptions included men like John Wycliffe and John Huss, who translated the Scriptures into English and Czech, respectively. John Wycliffe wrote: ‘The laity ought to understand the faith, and, since the doctrines of our faith are in the Scriptures, believers should have the Scriptures in a language familiar to the people, and to this end the Holy Ghost endued them with knowledge of all tongues’.

This was the vision that inspired William Cameron Townsend nearly 500 years later to pursue translating the Scriptures into native languages, and to found the Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Language (SIL) in pursuit of that goal.

Translation

William Cameron Townsend was born into a humble farming family in California on 9 July 1896 and grew up in the Presbyterian Church. While not much is known of his origins, he attended Occidental College from 1914 to 1917.

During that time, he became involved with the Student Volunteer Movement and became deeply interested in mission work after hearing sermons on that subject. After graduating from the college, he and a friend visited Guatemala to sell Spanish Bibles to the locals.

To their surprise, they found that most of the local people spoke other minority languages. One man even rebuked him when Cameron tried to sell him a Spanish Bible, ‘Why, if your God is so smart, hasn’t he learned our language?’ (Brummel Allen, William Cameron Townsend: father of Wycliffe Bible translators and Summer Institute of Linguistics, Reformed Free Publishing Association, 3/1/2011).

This so impressed Townsend that he soon began working to learn and translate the Bible into the Cakchiquel language. During the early days of trying to transliterate this Latin American tongue into a written form, he met with an archaeologist who suggested he stop trying to impress a ‘Latin mold’ on the language and instead look for a pattern within the language.

This helped Cameron tremendously and he was soon able to make progress translating the Scriptures into Cakchiquel. This became the standard method Townsend taught other translators for the rest of his life and the model for Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL.

SIL

Cameron joined the Central American Mission (CAM) to continue his work translating the Scriptures. After he completed the New Testament in Cakchiquel, CAM urged him to stay and pastor the Cakchiquel Indians in the faith.

However, Cameron had a greater urge to translate the Scriptures than pastor a church, so he left CAM in 1934 and founded Camp Wycliffe, located in Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, at Breezy Point.
Students learned phonetics and how to transcribe difficult sounds into an orthography. It was during this time that Townsend’s ‘psychophonemic method of teaching reading was formalised. A sympathetic understanding of minority peoples and cultures was stressed’ (SIL.org).Townsend worked with L. L. Letgers and developed a curriculum for linguistics. He also used the nearby woods to train his first students in ‘wilderness living’. Although he only started out with three students and one Cakchiquel native speaker, the school gradually gained more students and was in session from 1934 to 1941, when Cameron Townsend renamed it Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), which it remains to this day.

After his second year of teaching (1935), Townsend returned to Latin America (Mexico, specifically), where he worked with local governments to promote literacy and linguistic study in the minority languages. Even the president of Mexico, General Lázaro Cárdenas, visited the Townsends to see the marvellous work they were doing in the Náhuatl language.

Other skills

Not only were the Townsends teaching linguistics students how to teach and translate, but were also teaching local native speakers of Náhuatl how to read their own language. They taught them other valuable skills, such as planting orange trees and teaching women’s sewing classes.

This became a lifelong vision of Townsend, not only to translate and teach literacy, but to teach the ethnic tribes marketable skills. Today, SIL is an organisation that serves to train professionals in linguistics, whether involved in business, government work, or mission work, and to work in harmony with local governments and education boards.

When his first wife Elvira died in 1944, Cameron returned from the US to Mexico to continue translation work. After marrying his second wife, Elaine, in 1946, Townsend entered Peru to begin translating there, along with 20 other SIL students.

Due to the impenetrable rainforest, transporting supplies into the remote area of Yarinacocha was nigh impossible. However, friends donated a Catalina flying boat to Townsend and the work proceeded.

In 1947, Cameron was involved in a serious accident. Cameron, his wife and six-month-old son were in a plane heading for Mexico, when the inexperienced pilot crashed the plane in a tree. Cameron became convinced that he needed trained pilots for SIL. The following year, Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS) was born and has served to train pilots and supply transportation and training in remote areas.

Seventy years on, JAARS works with Wycliffe to build airstrips in remote mountain jungles, that help speed translation and the spread of the gospel in native languages.

Wycliffe Bible Translators

As the work of Townsend and SIL was growing in the 1940s, others wanted to start an organisation totally involved with Bible translation. In 1943, Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT) was begun in the garage apartment of Bill Nyman.

Over the next several years, Wycliffe served as a sending agency for Bible translators trained at SIL, to translate languages into the Scriptures the world over. As SIL began teaching linguistics courses in various countries, by the start of the 1950s interest in Bible translation grew and national Wycliffe offices sprang up in the UK, Australia and Canada.

Over the next 40 years the number of translations grew as more countries opened up. By the 1990s, many Asian and central European countries were open and primed for the translation of the gospel in their mother tongue.

While SIL and Wycliffe remained historically close and often shared the same board, today they are two separate entities, working together to train people in linguistics.

People groups

Throughout his life, Cameron devoted himself to teaching linguistics and pursuing the translation of Scriptures into every language on earth. Early on, he was a pioneer in the idea of treating missions in an ethno-linguistic fashion.

By understanding the Great Commission as it related to people groups, he had the vision of reaching every people group — not just every nation — with the gospel. Today, out of over 7,000 living languages, WBT have translated portions of Scripture into over 3,300 languages.

As his work with SIL grew into other countries, Cameron Townsend was a busy man. He continued to teach linguistics and translate the Scriptures throughout Latin America, until 1968 when he moved to his home in Waxhaws, North Carolina (the home of JAARS). From there, he would often visit the former USSR to pursue the translation of the Scriptures.

Hundreds of languages were translated into the Scriptures during his lifetime. What a tremendous legacy! Cameron was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize shortly before his death from leukemia in 1982.

His other great legacies are the three institutions he founded or helped start: Wycliffe Bible Translators, Summer Institute of Linguistics and Jungle Aviation and Radio Service. Let us pray that more labourers will be raised up to translate the Scriptures and preach the good news of Jesus Christ to all unreached people groups.

 

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in August 2018 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

The US Military Chaplaincy

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070408-N-7415V-005As Christians live hemmed in on every side by the world and its cultural agendas, we know we are in a battle. Paul stated that we do not fight against flesh and blood, but ‘against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 6:12).

There are, however, those in the military who face both cosmic spiritual powers and ‘flesh and blood’ enemies. By God’s providence, chaplains have served the American military since the onset of the Revolutionary War and are currently serving our armed forces, counselling and pastoring them as they defend our nation.

While this chaplaincy has been there since the nation’s inception, it has over recent decades borne the brunt of many debates in court. I hope here to explain briefly its history and some of its current difficulties.

History

While the practice of having priests or ministers present with an army has existed since the days of the Israelites’ conquest of the Promised Land, the practice of chaplains serving with the US military is as old as the United States itself.

The US Chaplain Corps dates back to 29 July 1775, when the Continental Congress authorised one chaplain per regiment. It instructed army and navy commanders to give ministers and chaplains great freedom in shepherding the soldiers.

George Washington wrote to Benedict Arnold: ‘[As] far as lays in your power, you are to protect and support the free exercise of the religion of the country and the undisturbed enjoyment of the rights of conscience in religious matters, with your utmost influence and authority’ (‘Why does the US military have chaplains’, Hans Zieger, Pepperdine School of Public Policy website). General Washington furthermore delegated that 16 May 1776 be designated a day of rest and worship (Ibid.).

This continued through subsequent American wars. James Madison, during his term in Congress, voted in favour of chaplains in 1791, 1794 and 1797, and authorised the maintenance of chaplains in the army during his presidency, in 1814.

During the American Civil War, the office of chaplain was further defined and the numbers serving the armed forces grew considerably. Both the Confederate and Union Congresses authorised chaplains in their armies and there was significant growth in their influence.

Revivals

During the Civil War, over 2,300 men served as chaplain to the Union army and at least 1,300 to the Confederates. While Catholic priests and Jewish rabbis served, most of the chaplains were Protestant.

It is worth noting that significant revivals occurred in both armies and their Protestant chaplains were kept incredibly busy. It is estimated that over 150,000 men were baptised in the Confederate army and nearly 100,000 in the Union army.

After the Civil War, chaplains have continued to serve sacrificially for the physical and spiritual wellbeing of fellow soldiers. In World War I, a chaplain named Francis P. Duffy served with distinction during the heavy fighting in France. He was often seen in the thick of battle, caring for the wounded as they were carried out on stretchers. He received the Distinguished Service Cross.

Chaplains in World War II too, were noted for their ministry. There were four aboard the USS Dorchester who comforted and evacuated many men after a U-boat torpedo hit and sank their vessel. They died in the midst of the evacuation.

Chaplaincy service to the armed services won respect from both World Wars’ leaders. General Pershing said, during World War I: ‘Their usefulness in the maintenance of morale, through religious counsel and example, has now become a matter of history’ (Ibid.). General MacArthur, during World War II, stated: ‘Moral leadership devolves, in large measure, upon the corps of chaplains working in close understanding and cooperation with all unit commanders’ (Ibid.).

Chaplains continued to serve with great bravery and love throughout the Korean and Vietnam wars. During the latter, they also began to counsel troops on drug abuse.

Difficulties

But the role of the chaplaincy within the US armed services has not been without political and moral struggle. Even as early as 1818 the chaplaincy’s constitutionality was questioned.

On 11 December 1818 there was an appeal from the Kehukee Primitive Baptist Association for the ‘repeal of all laws authorising the appointment of chaplains to Congress, the army, navy, and other public stations’ (Ibid.). The remarkable thing was that Congress didn’t even consider the appeal.

There have been other appeals by lawyers over the years questioning the chaplaincy’s constitutionality. The reason behind these challenges often derive from a literal reading of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

In 1985, the Second Circuit Court defended the chaplaincy, stating that the Free Exercise Clause ‘obligates Congress, upon creating an army, to make religion available to soldiers who have been moved to areas of the world where religion of their own denominations is not available to them’.

But with that liberty comes certain moral dilemmas. In direct response to the Free Exercise Clause, there are all sorts of chaplains within the US military. While, over the years, there have always been a large number of Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish chaplains in the military, you will also find Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu chaplains.

There are even ‘religious groups’ that focus on exercising atheism. According to a Military Times poll in 2012, 60 per cent of the military affirmed being Christian, but 20 per cent of the remainder were either non-religious or atheistic.

DADT policy

While evangelism is not prohibited in the military, speaking up for one’s particular views is not looked on favourably. This was especially the case in relation to the repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (DADT) policy.

Issued in 1993, DADT policy prohibited military personnel from harassing or discriminating against homosexuals, and also prohibited anyone openly homosexual from serving in the military.

The policy was repealed in 2011 and there has since been quite a media stir as homosexual military personnel married in quick succession and even participated in uniform in gay pride parades. While public opinion (according to the Pew Research Centre) was largely in favour of allowing homosexuals to enlist in the military, chaplains’ feelings were mixed on the matter.

The Southern Baptist Convention considered removing their chaplains from service since speaking openly against same-sex attraction and marriage was prohibited. The Roman Catholic Church was concerned, but has not pulled any of its priests from service. Other denominations, especially liberal ones, have stated that the repeal of DADT is not an issue.

Some chaplains were discharged for speaking out about this issue. Such was the case for Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder, a naval officer and chaplain who was initially removed from his office and given a ‘detachment for cause’, when a junior officer brought two Equal Opportunity representatives and complained that Modder had a ‘behavioural pattern of being anti-discriminatory of same-sex orientation’ (Fox News, ‘Former SEALs chaplain could be kicked out of Navy for Christian beliefs’, 9 March 2015).

However, Chaplain Modder was reinstated in September 2015, after several attorneys from the Liberty Institute defended him. The Naval Personnel Command (NPC) cleared him of all charges and he was able to retire upon his 21st year of service. The NPC stated that there was not enough substantial evidence to issue the detachment for cause.

Conclusion

Chaplains in the US military certainly carry a heavy responsibility, as they seek to love and pastor soldiers under their care while treading a thin line in regard to the pluralistic policies of the military.

They have served and are continuing to serve with distinction, offering solace, counsel and teaching to those who are in the front line. They have been close to the battle, tending the wounded, serving the Lord’s Supper, and standing as beacons for the gospel, in the midst of one of the greatest difficulties a man can endure on this earth — the hardship of war.

Let us continue to pray for them, that they may be strong and courageous, and that above all they may have a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, which they can communicate effectively to the many soldiers under their care.

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in July 2018 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

Billy Graham and the American Presidents

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Reagans_with_Billy_GrahamOften regarded as ‘America’s pastor’, Rev. Billy Graham was vastly influential in the United States and around the world as a minister and evangelist. Ever a simple and humble man, he was close friends with nearly every US president since Truman.

Born in 1918, he was alive from the presidency of Woodrow Wilson to that of Donald Trump. Graham treated each president with transparency and grace. His goal was ‘to bring out the best in people, even presidents, because that tended to be all that he saw in them. Whatever faults they had, he would not be the one sitting in judgment’ (Time, 21 Feb. 2018). Over the course of befriending nearly 12 presidents, his interactions with them had both positive and negative aspects.

Truman

In July 1950, Billy Graham met President Harry S. Truman. The Korean War had just started and Graham entered the White House as the president’s guest. They met for only 15 minutes, after which Graham placed his arm around the president and asked if he could pray. Later, Graham went outside and recounted his visit to the press, including many details of their conversation.

President Truman was indignant, angry that Graham would share details of their private conversation. Many years after, Graham sought Truman’s forgiveness in the matter. He recalled, ‘It was a terrible mistake on my part’.

Graham wrote later, adding that ‘national coverage of our visit was definitely not to our advantage. The president was offended that I had quoted him without authorisation … I knew that you didn’t quote famous people’ (St Louis Post-Dispatch, 28 Feb. 2018).

Eisenhower

But Billy Graham became a close friend and mentor of the next president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. According to a poll by The Washington Post, during this era ‘church membership rose from 49 per cent in 1940 to 69 per cent in 1960’ (28 Feb. 2018). Something like a religious awakening was sweeping across America. Everywhere, there was an aura of religious fervour.

During this time, which was also in the midst of the Cold War, a humble Mennonite general from Kansas became the 34th president of the United States. It was during Ike’s term that the motto ‘In God we trust’ and the National Prayer Breakfast became American icons. Eisenhower soon made fast friends with Graham.

Although their friendship had begun earlier in 1952, Eisenhower confided in Graham during his presidency and invited Graham to preach on 6 March 1955. Graham’s counsel was most sought by Eisenhower at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, in the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education case.

Eisenhower asked Graham whether Southern churches might help with racial reconciliation. Graham didn’t give a definite answer, but said he would talk to church leaders. Though he had been supportive of efforts to bring racial reconciliation, he urged Eisenhower to stay ‘out of this bitter racial situation that is developing’ (Washington PostIbid.). Both men thought the African American advocates of civil rights wanted to move things too quickly, and that delay would lead to heart change — a better way forward.

He remained friends with Eisenhower after his presidency and was present at Ike’s deathbed, speaking the truth of the gospel and giving him comfort in his last hours.

Graham, a long-standing Democrat, was first invited to meet with John F. Kennedy during the president’s visit to Palm Beach, Florida, and played a round of golf with him. Graham was not as close to Kennedy due to his Catholicism, though their conversations helped allay some differences between American Catholics and Protestants.

Kennedy and LBJ

Graham became very close to President Lyndon B. Johnson. He was with Johnson shortly after Kennedy’s assassination and prayed with him before he took the oath of office. From 1963, Graham would visit the White House at the president’s behest to give spiritual counsel. He would pray at Johnson’s bedside and stay at the White House during his visits.

He even discussed political matters with him. As reported in the Charlotte Observer, the president and Graham were looking at a list of potential running mates, at dinner in the White House in 1964. ‘At that, Ruth Graham kicked her husband under the table, an assault the president noticed and asked about. “Billy ought to limit his advice to you to religious and spiritual matters”, she said. They dropped the topic.

‘Until “Lady Bird” Johnson and Ruth left the room, that is. Then the president asked again. “Hubert Humphrey”, Graham replied. That November, the Democratic Johnson-Humphrey ticket won by a landslide’ (Charlotte Observer, 21 Feb. 2018).

While their friendship was observed by all, there were benefits that both acknowledged. Texas Monthly says: ‘If Billy Graham was the president’s friend, then millions of Americans would conclude that the president must be a good man, a decent man, a noble man, perhaps even a Christian man.

‘And if he possessed those qualities, then his causes — his war on poverty, his Civil Rights Act, his effort to preserve freedom and democracy in Southeast Asia — must also be good, decent, noble, perhaps even Christian, and therefore precisely the causes Christian folk ought to support. For his part, Graham understood that he served to legitimate Johnson to an evangelical constituency, particularly in the South and Southwest’ (Texas Monthly, ‘Billy and Lyndon’).

Nixon
As Johnson neared the end of his term, he worried who would carry on his ideals regarding the Vietnam War. Billy Graham was drawn into the political manoeuvering when persuaded to carry a message from Richard Nixon to Johnson. Nixon promised, via Billy Graham, that should Johnson win the Vietnam War, Nixon would give Johnson ‘a major share of the credit’ for a settlement and would ‘do everything to make you … a place in history’ (Politico, 21 Feb. 2018).

When Richard Nixon became the next president of the United States, he moved rapidly to secure the friendship and popular appeal that Graham possessed. Both were united by their zeal to end Communism, and Nixon saw Graham as a means of securing voting districts and electoral support. Trouble seemed sure to come of this alliance, and it began in 1972, when President Nixon was perceived to have anti-Semitic views.

Graham didn’t rebuff the president, but said, ‘A lot of Jews are great friends of mine … They swarm around me and are friendly to me because they know I am friendly to Israel and so forth. But they really don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to handle them’. Nixon replied, ‘You must not let them know’ (Quoted in PoliticoIbid.). It is worth noting that Graham repented of this comment later in life.

By the time of the Watergate debacle, Billy Graham was fast friends with Nixon and a prominent, if unofficial, advisor to the president. However, Graham was dumbfounded by Watergate. A Washington Post article describes that when Graham read the recorded exchanges between Nixon and his operatives, ‘he became physically, retchingly sick — a nausea that clung in his vitals through the rest of that afternoon’ (21 Feb. 2018).

Afterward, Graham never condoned Nixon’s actions, but tended to excuse them, blaming his advisors and even his sleeping pills. At Nixon’s funeral he stated the president’s faith was unshakable and always growing. He continued: ‘For the person who has turned from sin and has received Christ as Lord and Saviour, death is not the end … For the believer, there’s hope beyond the grave’ (Ibid.).

Later presidents
After Nixon, Graham was never as close to, or so politically involved, with US presidents. As Newsweek said: ‘Graham befriended and even loved the presidents and their families — the Reagans, the Bushes, the Clintons — but he never again flew so close to the flame’ (5 March 2018).

He had known Reagan long before he became president and remained a close friend even as Reagan battled with Alzheimer’s. Reagan was said to have told his family to wait to pray until Billy Graham could arrive.

Graham continued to meet with presidents until his death. He defended Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky debacle and was later criticised for that. He was a friend to the Bush family, and President George W. Bush credited Graham with turning his personal life around (Citizen Times, 8 March 2018).

The time Graham spent with Presidents Obama and Trump were fleeting, but he met them on a few occasions. In all, he was a pastoral friend, mentor and confidant to twelve US presidents. But, at Nixon’s downfall, Graham learned the hard truths of political power and never again sought to be at its centre.

Pastoral care
Over the years, Billy Graham visited and stayed with presidents at the White House, prayed with them, preached to them, and enjoyed recreation with them. He was often at their bedside and called upon to console the families of dying presidents, from Eisenhower onwards. George Bush Jr. was the first president whose inauguration he missed, due to hip surgery. Over 60 years, he loved, prayed for and encouraged them.

It must be acknowledged that there was, at times, a ‘babe-in-the-woods’ innocence and naivety in his relationship with political power, which tarnished his reputation during the 1960s and 1970s.

His desire to influence his country’s leadership and his nation for the cause of Jesus Christ and the gospel indeed caused him to fly too close to the flame and his ministry suffered as a result. But Rev. Billy Graham will be remembered as the pastor to US presidents, as well as the preacher to millions.

 

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in May 2018 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

Christian Zionism in America

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Early in December 2017 President Trump announced that the United States would recognize that Jerusalem was the capital city of Israel, and not Tel Aviv.

He said: ‘Today we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital … This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done’ (New York Times, 6/12/17). He also stated he would move the US embassy to the Holy City.

This pivotal and heavily analysed statement dramatically changes United States’ foreign policy towards Israel and has drawn much criticism from Western and Arab nations.

Since Israel’s founding as a nation in 1948, no other nation has declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, due to the delicate political, ethnic and religious situation in Palestine. It is a move that may yet bring violence to the city.

Jerusalem has been contested for millennia and there are many — Jews, as well as Christians — who want Jerusalem, as well as the entire territory of Israel and Palestine, to belong to Israel.

 

This has given birth to the Zionist movement, with a large following in the world, and especially the United States and United Kingdom. Christian Zionism has greatly influenced the past 70 years of American-Israeli relations.

Puritans

While Zionism has many different strains and ideologies, these were united by a central purpose: to restore the Jewish homeland and bring Jewish exiles there, free of persecution. The impetus for many Christians has been the dispensational belief that the Jews’ return to Israel is a prerequisite for Jesus’ Second Coming.

Christian sympathy toward the restoration of Israel did not begin in earnest until the seventeenth century among Protestants in England. The Reformation brought a renewed vigour for the literal interpretation of Scripture, which led the Reformers to understand many passages concerning Israel’s restoration as a physical restoration to her homeland.

Many notable theologians argued for this. One was John Owen, who, in his commentary on Hebrews, stated: ‘Moreover, it is granted that there shall be a time and season, during the continuance of the kingdom of the Messiah in this world, wherein the generality of the nation of the Jews, all the world over, shall be called and effectually brought unto the knowledge of the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ; with which mercy they shall also receive deliverance from their captivity, restoration unto their own land, with a blessed, flourishing, and happy condition therein’.

Others, such as Samuel Rutherford, Thomas Draxe, Joseph Mede, and Henry Finch predicted the return of the Jews, the defeat of the Ottomans, and the Jews coming to faith in Christ. This conviction spread in the American colonies under the teaching of Cotton and Increase Mather, and, most notably, Jonathan Edwards.

Gerald R. McDermott in his article, ‘The Reformed tradition on Israel is diverse’ (this ET, page 19) says that Increase Mather ‘wrote in his The mystery of Israel’s salvation (1669) that the future conversion of “the Jewish nation” was “a truth of late [that] hath gained ground much throughout the world”. This widespread acceptance was a sign that the times of the end were near, a time when “the Israelites shall again possess . . . the land promised unto their Father Abraham”.’

Jonathan Edwards taught that, though God had ‘abandoned’ literal Israel for a time after the resurrection, there would be a second outpouring of grace just after the millennium. ‘Nothing is more certainly foretold than this national conversion of the Jews in the 11th chapter of Romans’ (Ibid.).

Dispensationalists

This concept was soon espoused by more than preachers. John Adams, the second president of the United States, wrote in a letter to Mordecai M. Noah, a Jewish American leader, in 1819: ‘I could find it in my heart to wish that you had been at the head of a hundred thousand Israelites indeed as well disciplined as a French army, and marching with them into Judea, and making a conquest of that country, and restoring your nation to the dominion of it … For I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation’. The son of Puritan parents, Adams knew the Scriptures, but sadly became a Unitarian.

Christian Zionism gained a larger following during the nineteenth century, due to the influence of dispensationalism and the Scofield Bible. Dispensationalism began in the United Kingdom through the teaching of John Nelson Darby and spread to the United States during Darby’s tours beginning in 1862.

Darby taught a variant of premillennialism, that can be summed up as: ‘We believe that the world will not be converted during the present dispensation, but is fast ripening for judgment, while there will be a fearful apostasy in the professing Christian body.

‘And hence that the Lord Jesus will come in person to introduce the millennial age, when Israel shall be restored to their own land, and the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord; and that this personal and premillennial advent is the blessed hope set before us in the gospel for which we should be constantly looking’ (Ernest R. Sandeen, The roots of fundamentalism, British and American millenarianism, 1800-1930).

While Darby’s Brethren church practices did not catch on in the US, his dispensationalism did. He spoke at numerous conferences, including the Niagara Bible Conference of 1878. Evangelicals William Eugene Blackstone, Charles Erdman and C. I. Scofield were influential, and nothing influenced the American church like the Scofield Bible.

First published in 1909, this contained annotations by Scofield, teaching premillennialism and dispensationalism. Among other things, Scofield taught that God has two different peoples whom he loves — Jews and the Christian church — and that he has two separate plans for them. His notes on Revelation teach premillennial eschatology and the restoration of the Jewish people to their own land.

Not long after, Israel was declared an independent nation (1948) and many believed Scofield had been right in his predictions. By the end of World War II, over two million copies of the Scofield Bible had been sold. Today there are many denominations in America that espouse a dispensational view and have Zionist tendencies.

Politicians

William Eugene Blackstone was also inspired by the Niagara Conference and influential in turning the mind of the American church towards Zionism. He firmly believed that the Jews would be restored to their homeland and would not need to come to a saving knowledge of Christ.

He hosted a conference in Chicago in 1890, where several prominent leaders of the church met to discuss the restoration of the Jews. Finding this did little to garner real support, he wrote what became known as the Blackstone Memorial: a document signed by 413 prominent leaders that petitioned American president Benjamin Harrison to intervene in restoring Russian Jews to Palestine.

While his first petition did not gain the result he desired, his second was warmly received and wholeheartedly supported by Woodrow Wilson, some 25 years later. Louis D. Brandeis, a Jewish lawyer from Boston and friend of Blackstone, was a pivotal leader among American Zionists and influential in securing the president’s support for the Memorial, as well as the president’s consent to the Balfour Declaration. Blackstone died in 1935, just 13 years shy of Israel becoming a nation.

American involvement with the Jews goes back to the beginning of the nation. George Washington supported religious freedom for a synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790 and John Adams advocated a Jewish return to their Holy Land.

Zionist political support from the US government was little heard of during the nineteenth century, but in the twentieth there was no shortage of it. Beginning with President Wilson’s support of the Blackstone Memorial and Balfour Declaration, it continued through Harry Truman’s and Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidencies.

In 1942, Zionist leaders met at the Biltmore Conference and called for the ‘fulfilment of the original purpose of the Balfour Declaration’, with the unfettered immigration of persecuted Jews into Palestine.

Truman, affected by the horrors of the Holocaust during WWII and his own dispensational convictions, was pivotal in the establishment of Israel as a nation in 1948. When Marx Jacobsen quipped, ‘This is the man who helped create the State of Israel’, Truman responded, ‘What do you mean “helped” create? I am Cyrus; I am Cyrus!’ (Quoted in Moshe Davis, America and the Holy Land, Greenwood, 1995).

Problems

From 1979 onwards, American political and financial support for Israel continued, especially in view of the ‘Palestinian problem’ and the hostility of Arab Middle Eastern nations to Israel.

While earlier American support for Israel stemmed from religious convictions, today things are largely viewed from a different perspective. According to Michael Koplow, a Middle East analyst at the Israel Policy Forum, ‘the US’s alliance with Israel owes to two key factors — intelligence-sharing and ideological unity’ (Business Insider, 18/2/17). Koplow asserts that Israel is unrivalled in its knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs and has collaborated with the US on many occasions; both share a passion for democracy, in the midst of a region dominated by Islam.

The political problems involving Israel and Palestine today are very complex, but Christians must pray for peace in that region, and for salvation in Christ for Jews, Muslims and atheists throughout that troubled region.

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in April 2018 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

Letter from America: New Alliances

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Alabama, a state known to be a stronghold of conservatism and evangelicalism, has voted in Doug Jones, a member of the Democratic party, to fill the empty chair for Alabama in the United States Senate. Doug Jones

For the first time in 25 years, Alabama will have a Democrat senator. It is one of the few times a senate seat has ‘flipped parties’ during a special election. This outcome is the more surprising when considering the role of Alabama’s ‘evangelical’ voters.

Background

On 8 February 2017, Jeff Sessions, a Republican senator from Alabama, took up President Donald Trump’s nomination as Attorney General, leaving his seat for Alabama open. The United States Senate is made of 100 senators (two from each state), with the Vice President serving as the Senate’s president.

The Senate makes up one of the legislative bodies of US government (the other being the House of Representatives) and is responsible for many tasks, including the ratification of treaties, confirmation of federal appointees and passing of bills.

Upon Sessions’ nomination as Attorney General, Governor Bentley of Alabama appointed Luther Strange, a Republican, to hold the seat until a special election could take place in November. During the next few months, many political candidates came forward for both Democrat and Republican parties, with Strange at that time being Trump’s favourite.

Despite heavy endorsement and Trump’s approval, Roy S. Moore defeated Strange in the Republican primary and was slated to run against Doug Jones for the seat in the Senate. Jones, a former US attorney, won his primary outright in August. In the early fall, it looked as if the Republicans would win the senatorial seat for Alabama again.

Roy Moore

Former judge Roy S. Moore has been a favourite among evangelicals and conservatives in Alabama for many years. His positions on same-sex marriage and prayer in politics and his refusal to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments have made him a definite favourite in the eyes of conservatives.

During his tenure as a circuit court judge, Moore was faced with lawsuits because he kept a homemade, wooden copy of the Ten Commandments in the courtroom and prayed before each session in court.

When he ran as justice in the Alabama Supreme Court, he built his platform on religious principles and installed a massive monolith of the Ten Commandments outside the courthouse. His reputation as a political representative for evangelicals was further defined by his removal from office because he refused to take the monument down.

In the eyes of many white evangelicals, this sort of record made him a saint if not a martyr. That is why, prior to 9 November, Moore was on track to win a seat in the US Senate.

However, on 9 November, a total of nine women came forward making allegations against the former judge, stating that Moore had either sexually assaulted them or made unwanted sexual advances toward them when they were teenagers. The age of consent in Alabama is 16, and many of the women stated that they had been under that age when Moore allegedly made these advances.

Moore denied the allegations, stating he had never made any advances toward them and the allegations were ‘a result of ‘dirty politics’ (‘Alabama to certify Democrat Jones winner of Senate election’, Reuters, 22 Dec. 2017).

On hearing of the allegations, several prominent Republicans, including John McCain, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, withdrew their endorsements and urged Moore to withdraw from the election. However, by the time the accusations were made public, it was too late for him to withdraw his name from the ballot.

Other Republicans accepted his denials and continued to support him. By this point Trump was an avid Moore supporter and stated on Twitter: ‘Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive tax cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama. We need his vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, V.A., Judges 2nd Amendment and more. No to Jones, a Pelosi/Schumer Puppet!’

Democrat victory

While the Republican party seemed torn on whether to support or withdraw from Moore, the voting citizenry of Alabama decided whom they wanted as senator. In a surprising but narrow victory, liberal, Democrat Doug Jones won the election by a narrow 1.5 per cent margin (Reuters, Ibid.).

However, when one looks at the demographics of the 40.5 per cent of Alabama citizens who voted, the statistics are surprising. Of those who identified as ‘white, born again evangelicals’, 18 per cent voted for Jones over Moore (Washington Post, ‘Exit poll results’, 13 Dec. 2017).

Those with more liberal views voted with Jones, while mostly white evangelicals over the age of 45 voted for Moore. However, those from the younger age brackets (18-29 and 30-44 years) voted over 60 per cent in favour of Jones. All in all, it showed a turning of the political tide in Alabama from those traditionally aligned with conservatism and evangelicals.

Simply put, ‘white Christian America’ is in decline, according to Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and author of The end of white Christian America (Vox, ‘What Roy Moore’s loss can tell us about American evangelicals’ future’, 14 Dec. 2017).

In his interview with Vox, Jones cautioned against seeing Moore’s loss as justification of the idea that there’s been ‘a pullback among evangelicals’. Rather, voting patterns among white evangelicals ‘confirms the trajectory white evangelicals were on when they elected Trump’ (Vox, Ibid.).

Vox’s explanation was that ‘half of all new Southern Baptist churches — to name just one prominent evangelical umbrella group — are primarily non-white. Likewise, while seven in 10 seniors identify as white Christians, that demographic flips to just three in 10 for young adults. Demographic shifting, in other words, means that while white evangelicals might still vote for candidates like Moore, there will be fewer and fewer of them to vote’ (Ibid.).

Another interesting thing to note is that Doug Jones is a Methodist and was elected in a state that is unique, because 80 per cent of both Democrats and Republicans identify as Christians (Vox, Ibid.). Evangelical Christians were most likely the majority of those voting in the polls, but they weren’t white.

Changed meaning

Evangelicalism was once considered a strong bastion against the theological liberalism of mainline Protestant denominations. It was associated with belief in the inerrancy of Scripture and the deity of Christ, and a strong insistence on the identifier ‘born again’. It meant you were passionate about sharing your faith, and it was not inherently associated with politics.

However, the term ‘evangelical’ does not carry the same meaning for many as it once did. Tim Keller in an article in The New Yorker differentiated between the ‘smaller, let’s call it “big-E Evangelicalism”, which gets much media attention, and a much larger, “little-e evangelicalism”, which does not’ (Keller, ‘Can Evangelicalism survive Donald Trump and Roy Moore?’, 19 Dec. 2017).

Sadly, the big E evangelical is synonymous with the one who voted for Trump and Moore and is associated with the church at large. But Keller makes the point: ‘In many parts of the country, Evangelicalism serves as the civil or folk religion accepted by default as part of one’s social and political identity.

‘So, in many cases, it means that the political is more defining than theological beliefs, which has not been the case historically. And, because of the enormous amount of attention the media pays to the Evangelical vote, the term now has a decisively political meaning in popular usage’.

The little-e evangelicalism is scattered across the globe. These are the churches that are popping up all over the globe and are seeing tens of thousands come to know Christ in areas of the world like Asia, Latin America and Africa. They are marked by true repentance and faith, sharing the gospel and adhering to the doctrines of the faith.

Many little-e churches are of multi-ethnic composition within large American cities and are more likely to be more moderate, when it comes to social issues, than white Protestant churches. This is becoming the new face of Christianity in America and is decidedly not on board with the white, big-E evangelicalism associated with its political agenda. This was blatantly the message driven home by the Alabama senatorial election.

Obstacle

Unfortunately, the ‘white Evangelical’ agenda has become so closely aligned with Republican political agendas that it is standing in the way of the gospel. A Mr Will Hinton from Atlanta stated in an interview for New York Times: ‘I have dozens of conservative evangelical friends who were so happy that Roy Moore did not win, because the evangelical support for Trump and Roy Moore is ruining the witness for Christ for generations in this country’ (‘Has support for Moore stained Evangelicals? Some are worried’, 14 Dec. 2017).

Our political agendas should not hamper our relationship with others nor get in the way of the gospel. The way in which we vote definitely shows where our hearts are. Surely we should not place our political agendas higher than our moral compass? I would call upon my brothers and sisters in Christ not to stand where their political agendas alienate themselves from others, but rather to love their neighbours and love Christ most of all.

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in February 2018 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

Letter from America: Coping with hurricanes

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Members of the South Carolina’s Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (SC-HART) perform rescue operations in Port Arthur, Texas, August 31, 2017. The SC-HART team consists of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from the South Carolina Army National Guard with four Soldiers who are partnered with three rescue swimmers from the State Task Force and provide hoist rescue capabilities. Multiple states and agencies nationwide were called to assist citizens impacted by the epic amount of rainfall in Texas and Louisiana from Hurricane Harvey. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez)

Late on Friday 25 August 2017, Tropical Storm Harvey made landfall as a category 4 hurricane in south Texas, after gathering force in the Gulf of Mexico.

With wind gusts of 130 mph, it hit Rockport, Texas, and then moved back into the Gulf, only to make a second landfall in Corpus Christi as a category 3 hurricane.

The storm soaked the Houston area with over 50 inches of rain. While many hurricanes break up after making landfall, Hurricane Harvey parked itself over southeast Texas, especially the Houston area, for five gruelling days with little signs of dissipating.

The combined effect of record-breaking rainfall and the overflow of reservoirs, bayous and levees caused massive flooding in the streets. In many places the floodwaters were over 10 feet deep and people had to take shelter in trees or on rooftops.

Nearly a quarter of Harris county was submerged under floodwater. The storm caused widespread power loss in the Houston area and shelters were scrambling to find adequate food and water for thousands of refugees.

By 29 August, over 13,000 people had been rescued and more than 30,000 were displaced across the state. Houston airport was shut down and hundreds of flights cancelled.

Since its advent in the Caribbean, Hurricane Harvey has caused the deaths of over 80 people and billions of dollars in damage. It is probably the worst storm to have made landfall in the United States.

Soldiers with the Texas Army National Guard move through flooded Houston streets as floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey continue to rise, Monday, August 28, 2017. More than 12,000 members of the Texas National Guard have been called out to support local authorities in response to the storm. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Zachary West)

Civil response

As floodwaters began to rise in Houston, people scrambled to get above water. The city police, National Guard and many other first responders rescued thousands. Many looked to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to issue a mandatory evacuation, but the mayor declined, stating, ‘You literally cannot put 6.5 million people on the road. If you think the situation right now is bad, you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare’ (CNN, 8-29-17).

Other city officials and even CNN meteorologist Chad Myers agreed with the mayor: ‘He was right when he said, “I don’t want 6.5 million people on flooded roadways and dying in their cars”.’

The mayor of Houston did order a city-wide curfew and positioned high-water rescue boats near critical areas for immediate evacuation. The George R. Brown Convention Center was opened as a shelter, with hundreds assisting evacuees with food, water, first aid and other needs.

The Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, issued an order to the National Guard to assist with evacuation and rescue efforts and the Army Corps of Engineers worked hard to manage the large reservoirs brimming with water from the rains.

With nearly 6.5 million people in the Houston metro area alone, rescue and aid efforts were overwhelmed and in desperate need of manpower. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was also involved in coping with the disaster.

Civilian response

One of the amazing things about this tropical storm was how so many civilians were instrumental in aiding the rescue efforts. Locals in the Houston area with boats, fired up their motors or used their canoes and kayaks to help neighbours out.

Federal groups like FEMA welcomed this aid. An article in The Atlantic put it this way: ‘That isn’t necessarily a sign that FEMA was unprepared for the hurricane, or that it’s unusually overwhelmed. In fact, the expectation that civilians will spring to action is central to the way federal, state, and local governments approach huge disasters like Harvey.

‘There’s simply no way for those levels of government to marshal the resources fast enough to do all that needs to get done. Roads are impassable; resources are spread out; and manpower is limited’.

While government cannot provide a response as quickly as needed, a top-down response from the government probably wouldn’t have been the best answer anyway. Local people know much better what they need and benefit from being involved.

Groups from all over Texas drove down to help out. Men from the Fort Worth area fired up their airboats to help out. When asked why he volunteered, one boater commented, ‘We’re Texans, dude. We’re … crazy. We help each other’ (‘As Harvey moves east’, Los Angeles Times).

Cajun Navy 

Not only were locals involved, but volunteers from other states came to help. The ‘Cajun Navy’, a flotilla of boaters organised through Facebook from neighbouring Louisiana, drove down, with their boats in tow, to assist with rescuing those displaced by the floods.

Experienced in navigating the waterways in Louisiana and having helped out during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the boaters drove nine hours from Baton Rouge, through heavy rain, to the edge of the floodwaters in Humble, Texas, about 20 miles north of Houston.

One group of the Cajun Navy, led by Todd Terrell, had organised 763 boats and had over 1,500 volunteers spread out over Texas. Using map and walkie-talkie apps on their phones, they spread out on the flooded roads looking for those who needed rescue.

During one such rescue effort, the Cajun Navy came to the aid of stranded residents at an assisted living home in Port Arthur, where elderly folks in wheelchairs were waist deep in water.

One pastor from Louisiana was asked why he came. ‘I lived through Hurricane Katrina, and, in some ways, this is worse’, he said. ‘It’s going to take Texas a long time to come back from this. When we were in trouble twelve years ago, Texans came down to help, and so we are just loving our neighbour back’ (Ibid.).

Church responses

Since Harvey’s catastrophic touchdown in southeast Texas, churches have been at the forefront in giving aid and providing shelter. USA Today interviewed two members of City Church in Houston, who loaded 30 vehicles with blankets and other supplies and distributed them at local shelters.

One of the church’s members, Joe Looke stated: ‘Christ says the two biggest charges are to love your neighbour and to love Him, and that’s what we’re trying to do’. One local children’s minister saw 16 refugees huddled together in a gas station and invited them all, including their dogs, to her home (‘In a storm the church is bigger than Joel Osteen’s building’, USA Today, 8-30-17).

Many criticised Lakewood Church, the 16,800-seat megachurch pastored by Joel Osteen, for not opening its doors to refugees during the flooding. The church closed its doors over the weekend and did not open them until Tuesday morning.

Local social media users posted pictures of the megachurch with little damage from the storm and apparently in excellent condition to host refugees. Someone tweeted, ‘Worth noting that some of their parking is underground (note flood gates) but they could still drop ppl off at the door easily’ (@cmclymer).

Due to such criticism, many statements were made by the church in defence of their decision. Don Iloff, Osteen’s brother-in-law and church spokesman, stated that there were safety concerns over flooding and the church posted pictures of standing water in the hallways and car park. Iloff also reported that the area around the church was flooded and three flood victims had come to the church before being taken to the George Brown Convention Center.

The church officially stated: ‘We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution centre for those in need’ (CNN, 8-30-17). When Lakewood did finally open as a shelter to flood victims, they posted pictures of donated items that had been brought to the church.

Wider help

Other churches around the USA sent funds and fresh supplies to the refugees in Texas, Louisiana and other affected areas. Organisations such as the Presbyterian Church in America’s Mission to North America and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Disaster Relief raised monies to help provide supplies for the flood victims.

Please be in prayer for your American brothers and sisters who have experienced the loss of homes, businesses and even family members. May God use this disaster as a means of bringing people closer to himself.

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in November 2017 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

North America and Reformation in the Netherlands

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Perhaps the Reformation’s most lasting impact on the American church has come from the Netherlands.

The Reformation came later to the Netherlands than Germany and England, perhaps because of extreme persecution. The German states retained some autonomy, but there was no such protection in the Netherlands. During the Reformation era, over 50,000 Protestants were martyred for their faith.

When Philip II ruled over the Low Countries (Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg), he persecuted the Dutch, through his Spanish bishops and veteran armies. He also stripped the nobles of their power and imposed heavy taxes on the people, thereby solidifying the Dutch against the Spanish, politically, economically and spiritually.

As James E. McGoldrick has written: ‘Economic and political factors provoked resistance to Spain, and Protestantism infused it with spiritual energy and dedication. The history of the Reformation in the Netherlands is therefore the story of a struggle not only against religious despotism, but against political tyranny also’ (Presbyterian and Reformed churches: a global history, p.56).

Treaty of Westphalia

War broke out between the Dutch and their Spanish overlords. Led by William of Orange, the Dutch eventually secured freedom for the Netherlands, after the Eighty Years War, at the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.

The Dutch then began establishing their own church. One of its principal leaders was Guido de Brés, a pupil of Calvin. He was one of the main writers of the Belgic Confession of Faith. This, along with the Heidelberg Catechism and Canons of Dort, comprise the ‘Three Forms of Unity’, the theological backbone of the Dutch Reformed Church and Dutch Reformed Churches in America.

Some other factors marked out the Dutch Reformed from other Protestant churches. The Dutch extended freedom of religion to Catholics and Jews, and desired the state to advise in spiritual and moral matters. Its church was also characterised by a strong vision for Christian education.

Because of their policy on religious freedom, many other Protestant groups, such as the Scottish Covenanters, French Huguenots and English Separatists found refuge in the Netherlands. However, over time, threats to Christian orthodoxy crept in from the state. Influential men, such as Grotius and Descartes, were to have a devastating effect on the church’s theology.

Though efforts at reviving and reforming the Dutch Reformed Church came at different intervals, the Great Secession (Afscheiding) occurred in 1834, when many pastors left to eventually form the Christian Reformed Church (1869). Since then, the Reformed church in the Netherlands has split and re-formed many times. Some of the strongest and most orthodox branches of the Dutch Reformed movement are now in the United States.

Early Dutch influence in America

The Dutch joined other European nations in colonising America. The first Dutch settlements began in 1621, when the Dutch West India Company bought land from native Americans along the Hudson and Delaware Rivers, and called it New Netherlands. This eventually became New York city.

Many of those who settled here were Protestant refugees uprooted by the Eighty Years War. The first governor of New Netherlands, Peter Minuit, was an elder in the colony’s first church and a devout believer. Jonas Michaelius was pastor of the church and sought to share Christ with native Americans in the region.

Like their homeland, the colony stood for religious freedom and became a haven for Puritan dissidents and others. It remained Dutch until 1664, when, as ‘New York’, it became Great Britain’s colony. The church would almost certainly have come under threat with the change, had not William III (of Orange) been a native Dutchman.

Dutch influence remained strong in New York until 1820 when the use of the Dutch language in churches died out. Dutchmen who had a gospel influence in America during the Great Awakening included Theodore Frelinghuysen and John Livingstone (a Scot educated in the Netherlands).

The Dutch Reformed Church in America has been zealous for Christian education and the church has remained a strong Calvinist stronghold, closely allied with the Presbyterian Church (especially its ‘Old Side’). In 1867 it became the Reformed Church in America and began sending missionaries to China, India and Japan.

Abraham Kuyper

During the late 1890s, America received its greatest Dutch influence in the person of Abraham Kuyper. As heterodoxy gripped the Dutch Reformed Church in its homeland, orthodox believers continued to hope that the church would revive again. But then ‘Groningen theology’ emerged, a liberal movement that rejected the doctrine of the hypostatic union of Christ.

The orthodox were led in opposition to this heresy by Abraham Kuyper, who himself once espoused a modernist interpretation of Scripture and even rejected the resurrection. But, converted while pastor of a Dutch Reformed Church, Kuyper had become a sound Calvinistic theologian and preacher.

Not only was he instrumental in refuting Groningen theology, he also founded the Free University of Amsterdam, a Christian newspaper and a Reformed political movement in his homeland. However, he concluded that reformation was not possible in the Dutch Reformed Church and so left it to start the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, in 1886.

Perhaps Kuyper’s greatest influence on the United States today is through his theology. In 1898, he delivered the Stone Lectures at Princeton, setting forth his Calvinistic beliefs. Kuyper’s assertion was that: ‘There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, “Mine!”’

This means that Jesus Christ is Lord over all areas of life, including science, art and politics. This was Kuyper’s covenant-kingdom worldview that shaped his writings, lectures and life. During his lifetime, he was an effective professor of theology, a journalist, pastor, and politician. He even became prime minister of the Netherlands.

Pillarising

Kuyper was also a pioneer of ‘pillarising’, a societal system, in which social differences are measured against ideological rather than socio-economic factors. Each religious or political group (Catholic, Protestant, Liberal, Socialist, etc.) had its own social and political institutions, free from state meddling. This approach is still pivotal today in Dutch politics and society.

Kuyper was progressive in his thinking and sought to distance himself from the stigma of Enlightenment thinking and be innovative in all things, especially in the social, spiritual and political freedom of minority groups. He sought to marry theological orthodoxy and cultural progressiveness.

Kuyper’s influence in the US is also felt in his ‘neo-Calvinistic’ thinking. He maintained that Calvinism was not merely a type of theology, but a way of thinking and life with a profound impact on practical life. It was the ‘only decisive, lawful and consistent defence for Protestant nations against encroaching, and overwhelming modernism’ (Lectures on Calvinism, p.12). It is the ‘most consistent form of Christianity, and indeed Christianity’s highest expression’ (Ibid., p.190).

Kuyper said, we should view all academic subjects through the lens of God’s truth. Scholarship is a ‘sacred calling’, where we are cultivating our minds around God’s truth, and, in so doing, glorify and honour him. This idea has greatly influenced Reformed Christians in America.

Kuyper also promulgated the idea of sphere sovereignty, in which each of us has their own sphere of influence: work, family, church, state, etc. Each sphere interacts, but stays separate.

Kuyper urged that, since all spheres are created by God, they are all under his sovereignty. However, each sphere has its own sovereignty. So, the state should not exercise power over the church, and the church does not have authority over the state. This does not mean that churchmen cannot be involved in politics (he held political office for many years). Rather, it means that the church shouldn’t dictate on laws and other matters to the state.

Calvinist worldview

This philosophy has influenced many American educators, pastors and theologians, including Tim Keller, Cornelius Van Til, Francis Schaeffer and Chuck Colson. It has also influenced academic institutions like Covenant College, Calvin College, Dorothy College, the Clapham Institute and Redeemer University College.

In summary: Calvinistic Dutch influence has instilled a great sense of the importance of sound education as being to the glory of God among Reformed believers (Kuyper himself was home-schooled by his father); the Three Forms of Unity have left a lasting impression on the Reformed American church — my own church, for example, (which is not Dutch Reformed), uses the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism for corporate confession, along with the Westminster Confession and Catechisms — and we owe much to the tenacity and fervour of the Dutch Reformed, their love for education and desire for a Christian influence in politics.

Today the largest Dutch churches in America are the mainline Reformed Church in America (RCA), with over 138,000 communicant members, and the conservative Christian Reformed Church in America (CRCNA), with over 235,000 members. The latter is Calvinistic and many of its members embrace Kuyper’s Calvinist worldview.

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in October 2017 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

Letter from America: Women’s roles in the Presbyterian Church in America

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This June, the 45th General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) met in Greensboro, North Carolina, to carry out the business of the church.

The previous year had been a landmark year in the life of the church, as elders from the conservative Presbyterian church voted to usher in racial reconciliation in a historically Southern denomination, that had once been prejudiced against African Americans.

Further issue

While Overture 43 in the 2016 assembly brought about an incredible time of repentance and prayer by the brothers (see report in Evangelical Times, September 2016), the assembly was overshadowed by the appointment of a committee to study women’s roles in ministry.

This appointment garnered intense debate, as many feared that this study committee, made of women and men, would encourage the full inclusion of women as elders and deacons, such as the liberal Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA) practices.

However, a ‘Committee on women serving in the ministry of the Church’ had been commissioned, to examine the role of women in ministry, with five study goals: the biblical basis, theology, history, nature and authority of ordination; the biblical nature and function of the office of deacon; clarification on the ordination or commissioning of deacons/deaconesses; and, should the findings of the committee warrant Book of church order changes, to propose the necessary changes for the GA to consider.

The committee was also charged with composing a pastoral letter, to be approved by the GA and sent to all churches, encouraging them (within the parameters of the PCA’s doctrinal standards) to: promote the practice of women in ministry; appoint women to serve alongside elders and deacons in the pastoral work of the church; and hire women on church staff in appropriate ministries.

History

The PCA was founded in 1973 to stand fast against the advances of theological liberalism and remain pure to the Scriptures and Reformed doctrines. One of the pivotal issues that caused this split from the liberal Presbyterian Church was the issue of women in church leadership.

While the Presbyterian Church in the Southern US was slower than that in the North in its progress toward liberalism, the ordination of women as elders and deacons became the norm, during the 1960s as America was caught up in the civil rights debate.

As the above committee stated: ‘When the PCA was formed, objection to the ordination of women as pastors and elders was an animating issue. We agreed upon it and rallied around it (all of us, men and women), because we rightly saw that it was an issue of biblical authority. Today, that commitment remains dominantly embraced’.

Today, the PCUSA ordains women as elders and deacons in accordance with the culture’s mandate for the full inclusion of women in every sphere of leadership. The PCA has maintained that the role of elder is only open to men. But, in recent years, some churches have practised the commissioning of women as deaconesses or forgone the practice of ordaining deacons, by informally selecting men and women for the service of the church.

This is not the first time a study committee on this subject has been approached. During the years 2000-2011, the PCA’s GA was busy debating and judging cases where presbyteries had commissioned or ordained women as deaconesses.

Overture

One such instance was in 2009, when the Philadelphia presbytery presented an overture concerning this issue, since they had licensed a candidate who took exception to the Book of church order 7-2, which states that, ‘In accord with Scripture, these offices are open to men only’.

The presbytery presented an overture to the GA to examine this subject, but the GA answered in the negative. It was ruled that, ‘The question of the role of women in the Church is not a new or unstudied issue … the proposed study committee is unlikely to break new ground or shed new insights’ (37th GA, 2009).

While the suggestion to form a study committee lay dormant since 2011, the issue of women as deaconesses did not. Pastor Phil Ryken of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia wrote an article on the subject, stating Tenth’s stance as: ‘Nor do we ordain women as deacons. Although this was our former practice, since joining the PCA in 1982 we have sought to honor the teaching of Scripture and our adoption of the Book of church order by ordaining men only as deacons — a useful and dignified office.

‘At the same time, we have appointed gifted women to assist the deacons in their ministry. Each year women are nominated for service, approved by the session, and presented to the congregation for election at our congregational meeting in December.

‘In January they are commissioned for their service through prayer, much the way we commission our Sunday school teachers and short-term workers, which includes neither the laying on of hands by the elders — a rite of ordination — nor the congregational vow of obedience which church members make to deacons as officers of the church’ (‘Brief statement on deaconesses in the work of Tenth Church’).

Other pastors, such as Tim Keller, Jim Hurley and Ralph Davis, agreed with Ryken, though others like Ligon Duncan differed on this subject. While the subject was approached through writing and much internal discussion, the question of women’s roles in ministry still came to the forefront in 2016’s GA.

Report

The committee, made up of men and women from the PCA with all sorts of views on the subject, worked extremely hard over the course of the year to bring forth nine recommendations and a statement to the 2017 GA.

They presented their report and the GA accepted it with thanks and worked, over the course of two days, to debate the nine recommendations.

To be brief, the report confirmed the confessional standards of the PCA, that only men were to be ordained as deacons, and gave an extremely helpful exegesis of the scriptural basis of ordination.

One of the major events in the GA’s business was the debate over Overture 3, where the Westminster presbytery made an overture to, ‘Declare that the 44th General Assembly erred in the formation of an ad interim committee on the role of women as not being properly before the court, and dismiss the ad interim committee with apology’.

After much debate (in which a motion almost prevailed to dismiss the whole report), this overture was answered in the negative.

The GA took each recommendation one at a time and much time was spent in debate. The assembly adopted Recommendation 5, which stated that sessions (elders of the church) should ‘consider how to include non-ordained men and women in the worship of the church, so as to maintain faithfulness to Scripture, as well as utilising the gifts God has poured out to his entire church’.

Furthermore, the GA voted to approve an amended Recommendation 6, which reads, ‘that sessions and presbyteries select and appoint godly women and men of the congregation to assist the ordained diaconate’. They also affirmed Recommendation 8, which stated that ‘sessions, presbyteries and the General Assembly consider how they can affirm and include underprivileged and under-represented women in the PCA’.

Conclusion

While many in the PCA were concerned about this committee and the complexities it would present the conservative denomination, the committee must be thanked for their due diligence in searching the Scriptures and providing a concise report for the assembly.

This issue of the role of women is a tough one, to be sure, especially since the PCA is much broader in its views than other smaller conservative Reformed denominations. We must praise God that the committee’s report remained biblically orthodox in deciding that only men should be ordained to the office of elder and deacon.

Women’s gifts are so often under-represented and under-appreciated in Reformed denominations and I’m thankful the report gave such recommendations at presbytery level.

The report may not have given specific biblical or confessional definitions for their recommendations, but at least they encouraged presbyteries to work these matters out, so that these issues may come to the assembly through their proper channels.

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in September 2017 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

Letter from America: President Kennedy’s Assassination

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Minutes before assassination

On Friday 22 November 1963, the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated while riding in a presidential motorcade in Dallas, Texas.

Then Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson’s immediate succession and Kennedy’s sudden death spurred worldwide controversy and raised suspicions of conspiracy, that were increased by the nature of the investigations that followed.

This year, thousands of documents not previously released (many thousands were released in the 1990s) were published after a directive from President Trump.

Motorcade

President Kennedy’s purpose in coming to Dallas was primarily to reconcile divisions that had arisen within the Democratic Party in Texas before the 1964 election (the following is based on archives.gov).

Tensions had arisen between the current governor John Connally and Ralph and Don Yarborough (no relation). While meeting with the governor in El Paso earlier in June, the president decided to visit Texas again in November and it was agreed the governor handle the planning and details of the president’s visit, with presidential special assistant Kenneth O’Donnell acting as coordinator for the trip.

Originally the plan was for the president to visit four major Texas cities in one day. Later, the trip was extended to last from the afternoon of Thursday 21 November to Friday 22 November. It was also agreed that a motorcade through Dallas would be the best way for the public to see the president.

Initially, the governor was not in favour of this plan, since he thought there would not be enough time, but later agreed. ‘Once we got San Antonio moved from Friday to Thursday afternoon, where that was his initial stop in Texas, then we had the time, and I withdrew my objections to a motorcade’.

All the necessary security measures of the time were taken into account and local police and federal security officers were apprised of possible threats to the president. There had been no mention of Lee Harvey Oswald.

When the president made his visit to Dallas on that fateful day, thousands of people lined the street designated for the parade, awaiting his arrival. The planned route of ten miles meandered from Love Field, through suburban Dallas, and downtown to the Dallas Trade Mart.

Shots

As the president’s motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza at 12:30 CST, two shots (and many thought a possible third) were fired from the Texas Schoolbook Depository. The first shot passed through Kennedy’s throat, while the second shattered the right side of his skull.

‘Governor Connally sustained bullet wounds in his back, the right side of his chest, right wrist, and left thigh’. He had heard the first shot and turned to his right to shield the president, but never was able to, because the second bullet hit him in the back.

After the second shot, the driver accelerated the vehicle and drove to the hospital. ‘Other secret service agents assigned to the motorcade remained at their posts during the race to the hospital. None stayed at the scene of the shooting, and none entered the Texas School Book Depository building at or immediately after the shooting. Secret service procedure requires that each agent stay with the person being protected and not be diverted unless it is necessary to accomplish the protective assignment’.

The president was still breathing when they arrived at the hospital, but soon died in the trauma operating room at approximately 1.00 pm. It was surmised by the medical staff that ‘President Kennedy could have survived the neck injury, but the head wound was fatal’.

President Kennedy’s body was then taken to Love Field and placed in the back of the aircraft. Just before take-off, Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the 36th president of the United States, with Jacqueline Kennedy looking on in shock at his side.

Jack Ruby shoots Lee Oswald

Aftermath

No one saw it coming. Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who murdered President Kennedy, was not even on the list of suspicious persons before the president’s visit to Dallas.

Some 70 minutes after the assassination, Oswald was arrested near a theatre, for the murder of the president and of Officer J. D. Tippit, and was questioned by Dallas police and the FBI. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and was held in custody for two days.

Upon being transferred to a vehicle that would take him to jail, Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner, shot Oswald in front of live television. This sequence of harrowing events, followed by the conflicting reports of witnesses of Kennedy’s assassination as to the number of shots fired, or the location from where they were shot (the depository or ‘the grassy knoll’), made the whole event seem like conspiracy.

The gun recovered on the sixth floor of the depository had indeed been Oswald’s, but no other shooters were found that may have shot from the grassy knoll. The Warren Commission, primarily responsible for reviewing and investigating the assassination, found that Lee Harvey Oswald:

‘(1) Owned and possessed the rifle used to kill President Kennedy and wound Governor Connally,

(2) brought this rifle into the depository building on the morning of the assassination,

(3) was present, at the time of the assassination, at the window from which the shots were fired,

(4) killed Dallas Police Officer J. D. Tippit in an apparent attempt to escape,

(5) resisted arrest by drawing a fully loaded pistol and attempting to shoot another police officer,

(6) lied to the police after his arrest concerning important substantive matters,

(7) attempted, in April 1963, to kill Major General Edwin A. Walker, and

(8) possessed the capability with a rifle which would have enabled him to commit the assassination’.

On the basis of these findings the commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin of President Kennedy (archives.gov).

Other committees

However, the Warren Commission was not the only party involved in investigating the murder of President Kennedy. Other committees researched the assassination and provided other insights (some contradicting the Warren Commission’s report).

The ‘United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities’ (also known as ‘The Church Committee’) reported that there were many deficiencies in the information the CIA and FBI gave the Warren Commission, that therefore made their findings and conclusion incomplete.

Another committee, the ‘United States House Select Committee on Assassinations’, was also involved, but at a much later date (September 1976). This committee studied the deficiencies of the federal investigative branches in the assassination case in great detail and stated they did not rule out a conspiracy.

Their reasoning was because the CIA and FBI only gave information for specific requests and their findings were often inadequate. Furthermore, they concluded that the secret service did not adequately protect the president before or during his fateful November trip to Dallas. Four committee members wrote dissenting reports to the suspicion of a conspiracy.

A police dictabelt recording was re-examined, along with the facts, and the Justice Department made the judgment ‘that no persuasive evidence can be identified to support the theory of a conspiracy in … the assassination of President Kennedy’ (Letter from Assistant Attorney General William F. Weld to Peter W. Rodino Jr., undated).

Though their findings did not substantiate the likelihood of a conspiracy, the public was not convinced. Even since 1992, the date when records of the assassination were mandated to be released to the public, citizens were convinced that the case was not cold and that conspirators were to blame.

The federal government did not help sway public opinion on this matter, as the documents and substantial evidence for the assassination were held under lock and key, since it was deemed the documents were too sensitive for the public.

Assassination papers

It was not until 26 October 1992 that the United States Congress issued a law, first, establishing the creation of files associated with the assassination, and, second, mandating final and total public disclosure in 25 years’ time.

About 98 per cent of the files were released to the public in the 1990s and still more were released after the JFK Records Act, in October 2017. Conspiracy theorist and historians are now able to review the tantalising documents for possible clues of conspiracy.

The New York Times described the files as ‘a treasure trove for investigators, historians and conspiracy theorists, who have spent half a century searching for clues to what really happened in Dallas on that fateful day in 1963. They included tantalising talk of mobsters and Cubans and spies, Kremlin suspicions that Lyndon B. Johnson was behind the killing, and fear among the authorities that the public would not accept the official version of events’.

However, there are nearly 3,600 files still held back, most of them privy to the CIA and FBI, who have requested the president keep them back for sensitive reasons. They are currently being reviewed for 180 days, and the president has stated that any agency wanting to continue withholding documents after 26 April ‘should be extremely circumspect in recommending any further postponement of full disclosure of records’ (Washington Post, 27 October 2017).

While the agencies involved, especially the CIA, have declared that nothing in the withheld documents purports conspirators, the fact that the documents have been withheld has only emboldened the hopes and assumptions of conspiracy theorists.

Lessons

So what is to be learned from this history? First, it teaches that the heart of man ‘is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9). Lee Harvey Oswald was utterly deceitful in his actions.

He murdered the president and he lied about that action, as well as about his possession of the murder weapon. We do not know what possessed him to murder Kennedy, since he never confessed his reasons to the authorities.

Second, we can remember that God is in control of all circumstances, even in horrible tragedies such as this one. John F. Kennedy strove to create and enforce laws that gave equal rights to all mankind, no matter what colour their skin was or whether they were a man or woman.

America was still groaning under the horrors or segregation and racism (as it is today) and many were brazenly opposed to freedoms for African Americans. After Kennedy’s death, President Lyndon B. Johnson subsequently passed the Civil Rights Bill, stating, ‘No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honour President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the Civil Rights Bill, for which he fought so long’.

It could be said that, were it not for Kennedy’s sudden death, the Civil Rights Bill may not have been enacted so quickly. That enactment, at least, is something to praise God for.

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in December 2017 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.