Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Colossians 3:15

Friday, January 16, 2009

President's first duty: Pary at National Cathedral

Submitted to Cumberland Times-News January 16, 2009; not published.

"...the religious impulse runs deep and wide in us as a people. ... Coming the beginning of a new president’s term
and in the nation’s church, seems important and right.” -- Samuel T. Lloyd III, dean, Washington National Cathedral

So where does the new President of the United States go after his inauguration? To the Washington National Cathedral – for the Inaugural Prayer Service.

On Wednesday, Jan. 21, the National Cathedral (also known as the nation’s church and serving as the Episcopal Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul) at Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C., hosts the every-four-years event that was renewed by FDR in 1933, when, as Cathedral Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III notes in the January 2009 newsletter, “the world was in the depths of an even deeper economic crisis” than now faces Barack Obama.

On the first full day of his presidency, Mr. Obama and members of his Cabinet, Congress, the Supreme Court and more – who represent all of us -- gather in the nave and join in an ecumenical and interfaith service intended to bolster them “as they steer us through some of the most turbulent waters in decades,” writes Dean Lloyd.

“In some ways it may seem odd,” Dean Lloyd adds, “for a nation so committed to the separation of church and state to have an inaugural service. But the religious impulse runs deep and wide in us as a people. We pray to a God who is known by many names and is worshipped in many ways. Coming together in this way, at the beginning of a new president’s term and in the nation’s church, seems important and right.”

Nancy E. Thoerig
Mount Savage

Note: The Inaugural Prayer Service can be viewed from the National Cathedral web site. It's fantastic! Having sat in the choir at numerous Evensong services and felt the choir voices and organ pipes surge in my blood and bones, I can say, when viewing the inaugural service, I felt almost as if I were there. In front of the computer is the best seat in the house. The service lasts just a little more than 1 hour, 20 minutes. The full event program also may be viewed from the web site. A good companion to the video, it lists names and affiliations of participants.

by Nancy E. Thoerig 02.04.09

Secularism not legislated way in our land

Submitted to Cumberland Times-News Januar;y 16, 2009; not published.

"...the Supreme Court decision...does not make any board declaration
about governmental neutrality toward religion in general (and vice versa), which is the basis for a secular society...."

Brad Taylor (“Heed what JFK said about church and state,” Jan. 9) misconstrues the intent of Epperson v. Arkansas and may mislead the reader to believe that secularism is the legislated way in our land.

The quote he uses, when read in the full context of the Supreme Court decision (accessible at, does not make any board declaration about governmental neutrality toward religion in general (and vice versa), which is the basis for a secular society – and for Mr. Taylor’s argument. The ruling in this case applies narrowly to First Amendment rights and Fourteenth Amendment protections as they apply to teaching the theory of evolution in public schools.

The 1968 case considered a complaint brought by Susan Epperson, a 10th grade biology teacher in Little Rock, Arkansas, who supposed that she might lose her job if she taught evolution in her classroom. A law that had been passed in Arkansas by voter referendum in 1928 (following the Scopes “monkey trial” in Tennessee) prohibited any public school in the state from teaching evolution. (The law hadn’t been enforced in the 40 years it existed.)

The Supreme Court opinion on the situation concludes: “The law's effort was confined to an attempt to blot out a particular theory because of its supposed conflict with the Biblical account, literally read. Plainly, the law is contrary to the mandate of the First, and in violation of the Fourteenth, Amendment to the Constitution.”

The last sentence of the quote cited from the context of the opinion by Mr. Taylor reads: “The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.” The opinion expounds on this thought to explain that the state of Arkansas was found to be in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it favored the fundamentalist religious view of creationism over any other religious view of the origin of man; and, secondly, that the state law violated the Fourteenth Amendment because it interfered with the teacher’s right to teach, and the students’ right to learn, the nonreligions theory of evolution.

Nancy E. Thoerig
Mount Savage

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Seeking divine guidance not imposition of religion

"Why do we continue to deny the reality of our history? Many of
our leaders seek divine guidance in their decision making. That is not the same as an organized religion imposing her will on the government." -- Dr. Tom Gulbronson

Published in Cumberland Times-News Letters January 14, 2009. (Written by Dr. Tom Gulbronson, current senior pastor at Springfield, West Virginia, Assembly of God Church and distinguished national leader.)

To the Editor:

In a recent article published by the Cumberland Times-News, mention was made of President Kennedy’s speech to the Houston Ministerial Association in 1960 (”Heed what JFK said about church and state,” Jan. 9 Times-News).

We must understand the context of the times in order to properly interpret the speech.

At this time there was a lot of anti-Catholic sentiment in America. There was fear that if Kennedy were elected President, the Pope would impose the will of the church on the government. Mr. Kennedy was assuring mostly Protestant clergy that the church would not impose her will upon the government.

This was not an indictment against politicians who were people of faith that shared Judeo-Christian Values.

Our history is replete with men and women of faith who voiced their values in political speeches and policies. That is entirely different from the church imposing her will on the government. George Washington declared “You cannot rightly govern the world without God and the Bible”.

All politicians bring their background into office. Whether atheist, Jewish, Christian or whatever, their value system influences their policies and voting.

The first Continental Congress opened with prayer. Every session of Congress since then has begun with prayer. In March 1998, I opened a session of Congress with prayer. It is in the congressional record (pages H917 and H 918).

Why do we continue to deny the reality of our history? Many of our leaders seek divine guidance in their decision making. That is not the same as an organized religion imposing her will on the government.

The first amendment was also written to keep the government from imposing her will on the church. It has served as a protection for the church and the government.

Dr. Tom Gulbronson
Fort Ashby, W.Va.

Here is Dr. Gulbronson's prayer that opened Congress on March 10, 1998:

Our gracious Heavenly Father, the
one who gives grace to all people, we
exalt Your name and implore Your
righteousness. Thank You for this day
and this particular time in history.
You have blessed this Nation and we
trust that You will continue to do so.
May You draw together this great
country of many cultures under the
banner of love.

We thank You for these lawmakers
that have dedicated their lives to the
service of this great Nation. May You
continue to give each one of us
strength and the fortitude to make
choices according to Your divine will.
May we walk in love, humility,
gentleness, patience and peace, which
are the attributes that the Apostle
Paul described as worthy of our vocation
or calling. By faith, we receive
these blessings and glorify You.

In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

This TRIBUTE TO REVEREND THOMAS F. GULBRONSON was presented before Congress that day, following Dr. Gulbronson's prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, by Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia, former mayor of Alexandria:
Mr. Speaker,
I do not know when it was that Pastor
Tom Gulbronson realized what a
gift from God and a calling for God
that he had. It may have been when he
was serving in the United States Air
Force. I do know that since serving his
country in the Air Force, Pastor Tom
has been a pastor for 40 years. In fact,
20 of those years he has been Pastor at
the First Assembly of God Church in
Alexandria, Virginia.
Now, during that period of time he
has gotten all kinds of awards, and I
could list all of them, and he has spoken
on the 700 Club and he has become
nationally known, both for his sermons
and his books and his leadership. But
we know him because he is a dynamic
figure in our community. People gather
together under his leadership and
are inspired by his commitment to God
and to the principles that he has dedicated
his life to.
So it is a particular pleasure to have
him address this body this day. I thank
the majority leader for arranging it. I
thank Pastor Tom for all of the many,
many years that he has served our
community and our country. Thank
you, Tom.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Father Neuhaus, leading intellectual and writer, dead at 72

"Any religious believer who raises his or her voice in the public square today owes a debt of gratitude to the indomitable, irreplaceable
Richard John Neuhaus." -- from "Richard John Neuhaus, public intellectual,"
editorial in the Friday, January 9, 2009 Dallas News

Father Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran pastor turned Catholic priest and leading intellectual and writer on orthodoxy (founder of First Things: A Journal of Religion, Culture and Public Life and author of The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America and more than 20 other books and regular commentator on EWTN's World Over Live and named four years ago by Time Magazine one of "The 25 Most Influential Evangelicas in the America") died of cancer in mid-morning Thursday, January 8, 2009. He was 72.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

U.S. separation of church, state best model

Published in Cumberland Times-News Letters January 6, 2008.

"As France strives to progress beyond its stymieing century-old
secular politics, the United States would be unwise to regress to embrace them."

Brad Taylor (“Civility best preserved when government minds its own secular business," Dec. 26) presents two fallacies:

1. That government’s “task” is to provide that “individual believers holding diverse convictions may challenge one another without…interference”: Untrue. The First Amendment provides that government will not prefer one religion over another; and it forbids one’s harassment of another.

English Puritan theologian Roger Williams fled injustices of religious intolerance in 1630 to seek freedom of expression, without intimidation or coercion, in America. Williams’ utopia was ratified in 1663 by royal charter to establish the colony of Rhode Island “with full religious liberty” where no one shall “be in any wise molested or called in question for any difference in matters of religion.” (Source: “The metaphor of the wall of separation: Baptists and the First Amendment” by Mercer University President William D. Underwood, Baptist History and Heritage, Sumner-Fall 2008.)

More than 320 years later, the United States Supreme Court reiterated (Lynch v. Donnelly, 1984) hat the Constitution “affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any.” (Source: Wikipedia.)

2. That “[t]he greater the distance between church and state…, the greater our religious liberty”: False. Complete neutrality, or absence of religious involvement in government affairs and vice versa, is termed “laicite.” It is the political system of secularism, which suppresses expression of religious belief in public and oppresses those who do it. By definition, religious freedom is “the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance” (source: Wikipedia).

A leading secular state is France, where in 2004, religious symbols were banned in public schools. President Nicolas Sarkozy criticizes this type of “negative laicite;” and he intends to develop a “positive laicite,” which, as noted at Wikipedia, “recognizes the contribution of faith to French culture, history and society, allows for faith in the public discourse and for government subsidies for faith-based groups.”

As France strives to progress beyond its stymieing century-old secular politics, the United States would be unwise to regress to embrace them.

French historian Alexis de Tocqueville, in his 1835 work Democracy in America, finds the synergy of faith and politics that he experiences here remarkable; and he concludes that religion in society is necessary to temper government’s propensities to seize authority (or to impose priority) over peoples’ expression of their convictions, and to inhibit peoples’ tendencies to surrender it.

American sociologist Robert N. Bellah studied President Kennedy’s use of the name “God” in his 1961 inaugural address, and JFK’s statement that “separation of church and state has not denied the political realm a religious dimension,” to conclude that “American civil religion” is “the subordination of the nation to ethical principles that transcend it.” (Source: “Civil Religion in America,” 991 reprint; University of California, Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditionalist World.)

Bellah and Tocqueville agree that it is integral in our democracy that people be free always to worship their God rather than be forced to relinquish their convictions in the public square.

French philosopher Jacques Maritain, a drafter of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is quoted at Wikipedia praising the U.S. model of religious freedom in the mid-20th century as superior because it had both “sharp distinction and actual cooperation” between church and state. He called it “an historical treasure.” He begged: “Please to God that you keep it carefully, and do not let your concept of separation veer round to the European one."

by Nancy E. Thoerig 01.06.09

Listen to President Kennedy's inaugural speech: