Dancing with Devils

By Timothy Buchanan – May 31, 2019

Baseless criticisms foisted upon the Church are cyclic. They repeatedly appear, are confronted and debunked by one generation, only to reappear in a future generation. Some of these, like the wholesale condemnation of the Crusades, recur primarily as the result of historical ignorance by Christ-hating heretics and skeptics. Others, like the lie that “religion is responsible for more wars than any other cause,” are kept alive in part, by professors of the Christian faith who attempt to appease corrupt hearts and minds.

In our age of anti-truth, facts are ineffective in contending with the lies parroted by those whose view of reality is merely subjective. Nothing short of a personal encounter with the Divine will affect them. It’s a frightening situation that portends escalating violence and unfathomable wickedness for all involved.

Human history is replete with demonstrable proof that when man becomes the arbiter of morality, unspeakable carnage and suffering are the certain outcome. The hundreds of millions of murders and torturous deaths perpetrated by communist and socialist regimes in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America profoundly illustrate the consequence of human arrogance.

Statisticians can debate the body counts racked up by monstrous butchers: Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and American abortionists, but the numbers are so enormous that any comparison between them and the thousands of tragic deaths caused by the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Salem Witch trials, are silly and absurd. The God-rejecting man is supremely dangerous and miserable.

Now, the resurgent charge that “the Church is full of hypocrites” is being revived. Short-sighted pastors and teachers frequently attempt to befriend the lawless through self-flagellation. It always fails terribly. One of the best responses to the ludicrous accusation of hypocrisy in the Church, comes from Dr. Michael Youssef, who simply says, “Yes, and we have room for one more.”

The fact is that hypocrisy is most rampant—not in the Church but in our godless evil culture. After all, one who sets a high goal for himself or herself and occasionally fails to reach it, is no hypocrite. He is a hypocrite who claims to be sufficiently noble to judge the righteous, while rejecting defined moral principles. She is a hypocrite who aborts her child, and then screams about human rights. They are hypocrites who celebrate every form of sexual degradation while professing to care about children’s futures.

No righteous authority can exist apart from the absolute and unchanging standard of morality supplied by the Creator. As respect for the standard declines, the godless will always supplant timeless moral law with a personal subjective counterfeit that appeals to his or her capricious feelings.

The human eye cannot detect darkness unless there be a contrasting light. In like manner, people who keep large numbers of dogs are oblivious to barking noise and those who live with many cats disregard the odor of litter boxes. But their visitors are repulsed. Thus, worldlings cannot see their own hypocrisy because they have become accustomed to the moral sewer in which they dwell.

The truth is that the unbelieving secular culture is infinitely wicked and hypocritical. The Christian Church has civilized a barbaric world without resorting to the tyranny often employed in other cultures. Christian values provided the freedoms that Americans enjoy, abuse, and routinely take for granted.

Pastors and teachers who forfeit moral ground for the sake of a friendship, or, in a misguided effort to demonstrate love for the lost, are dancing with devils. And the dance always ends the same way, in stumbling confusion, loss, and a little bit of death.

Are sins, unfaithfulness, and heresies commonplace in churches today? Of course they are. But churches are purified by straining out the polluting influences of sin, by regular washing with truth, and by the disinfecting power of God’s Holy Spirit. These are tasks that many, it seems, would prefer to avoid.

It would be unthinkable to close a hospital simply because a few patients could not be saved. How much more absurd to condemn the Church—which holds the keys to eternal life—in order to garner the acclaim of the dead and dying? Perhaps it’s worth considering whether denying the Bride of Christ is not tantamount to denying Christ Himself.


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A D-Day hero makes a life-changing return to Normandy at age 94

June 6, 2019 By Martha MacCallum

WWII veteran on traveling back to Normandy for the first time since D-Day

The words used to describe the heroes of D-Day are not the current lexicon we tend to use for success. Humble, selfless, brave. Those are not words we attach in 2019 to superstars. They are words attached to warriors who are willing to die for a day they will never see, for the price of freedom, for those they do not even know.

Jack Gutman, who suffered from severe PTSD and the alcoholism it saddled him with, rejoiced this week because France was so beautiful and the people were so kind.

He never made it past the beach in 1944. He stayed down there while others went up and over the cliffs.


He was just 18, but he bore the heavy burden as a medic on the sands, of saving those he could and lying to those he could not.

He held their IV bag or their heads while they passed on. He says he knew in the frantic chaos of the beach that the boys who cried out for their mothers, had only him. That he would have to do. His face might be the last thing they saw on this earth. So he did the best he could to reassure them that they would be OK. That he was with them. That help was coming. Anything that would ease their pain, until they breathed no more.

He was 18.

rt, Jack went face first into his plate. He says it was so embarrassing. He felt terrible for his family and himself. Still, it had to happen. It was a low that changed Jack’s life.

After that that he finally listened to his daughter the therapist. She helped Jack get the help he needed. He is so honest about what happened because he wants some of those 20 vets who take their lives every day to know that there is another way.

Sobriety and therapy changed Jack into a man who at 94 decided it was time. Perhaps now that Normandy was no longer slamming wave after wave on him at home, he could go to Normandy.

Heroes of D-Day: Veterans remember storming the beaches of Normandy

So this week Jack and his son Craig, took a journey together to the place that had seared itself on Jack’s heart.  He got on the plane and took the long trip to Paris and then the bus to Normandy and then Jack saw that beach again for the first time in 66 years.

He walked the rows of white crosses and that was where he wept. Their pristine white shapes stand snapped at attention, tall and fresh like the boys below once did.

Jack saluted them. Promised he would never, ever forget them.

He thought about all the life he got to live. Marriage. Children. A daughter who saved him and a son who helped him heal by being at his side as he walked the rows.

He said, some of these boys I tried to save.

It always haunted me, said Jack, could I have done more?

But mostly Normandy transformed into a place of gratitude for Jack this week. He met the people of the villages they fought to liberate. Everyone was so nice. France was so pretty.

He’d only seen the beach.

He said of his return, it changed my life! Again. This time by softening his worries, laying them down.

Jack and others told me this week that at times they felt like celebrities. And celebrate them we should. Not because they are glamorous or athletic, but maybe because they are not. They are what we should all want to be, though.

Selfless, humble and my goodness, so astonishingly dashing and brave. These men are true heroes. They battled the Germans, and so many like Jack, silently battled their demons, wrestling with them all these years.

But Jack won. And we salute you, Jack. We salute you.


75th Anniversary of D-Day: Remembering Their Sacrifices, the Glory of Their Deeds


June 5, 2019 By Tom Kilgannon

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A few years ago, I read an account about a Seattle-area man who provides a dignified burial to veterans from his community who died homeless or indigent. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, reporter Michael Phillips introduced readers to James Lindley, a mortician who previously served as a Marine in Iraq and Kuwait. Mr. Lindley claims from municipal authorities remains of veterans who have died with no family and no financial means. He then recruits volunteers and arranges for an honored burial.

A more recent story also caught my attention. Hezekiah Perkins was 90 years old when he died on May 4 and was laid to rest at Spring Grove Cemetery over Memorial Day weekend in a plot he purchased for himself twenty years ago. His only relative couldn’t make it to the funeral because of illness. This veteran was destined to go to his grave alone – until the funeral home alerted the community. Perkins was a veteran of the Korean War – known as “The Forgotten War,” but in his death, Mr. Perkins was anything but forgotten. Hundreds in the community turned out to pay their respects to a fellow American they never knew.

These stories come to mind on this 75th anniversary of D-Day because I had the opportunity to visit Normandy last summer with supporters of Freedom Alliance to pay respects to our World War II generation. It’s impossible to step foot on Utah or Omaha Beaches, as we did, and not be humbled by the courage it took to advance the shoreline against a barrage of gunfire. We visited the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc and were awed at how Army Rangers scaled the vertical rock formation.

The visit helped me gain an even greater respect for veterans of World War II and their incredible accomplishments. But I also came away with a new appreciation for the effort to ensure their sacrifices are properly memorialized and perpetually remembered.

The heroes who died on those cliffs or in the sand of foreign shores deserved a fitting tribute. They got it with their interment at the American Cemetery in Normandy – an immaculate resting place for sacrificial souls. The grounds are beautiful, and despite the large numbers of tourists, it is quiet and peaceful.

The care of American heroes who died overseas is entrusted to the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) which maintains the cemetery and rightfully takes pride in acting as the “guardian of America’s overseas commemorative cemeteries and memorials.”

Since 1923, the ABMC has been charged with honoring the “service, achievements and sacrifice of the United States armed forces.” Among its many responsibilities, the Commission maintains 26 U.S. military cemeteries and 29 federal memorials in 15 foreign countries.

Our visit to France coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Belleau Wood – one of the most violent encounters of World War I – and a fight that catapulted the Marine Corps from a lesser known service to a deeply respected group of professional warriors. Their goal was to rid the 200-acre forest northeast of Paris of German soldiers and they did it, despite being out-manned, out-gunned, and taking on massive casualties. German officers couldn’t help but be impressed and in their reports to superiors referred to the Marines as “Teufel Hunden” – a moniker the “Devil Dogs” of the USMC still wear proudly.

The Marines who died at Belleau Wood rest in the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near the forest the French named “Bois de la Brigade de Marine” – “Wood of the Marine Brigade.” This hallowed ground is also maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission and offers tremendous insight into the heroism of those who fought in a war that doesn’t yet have a memorial in our nation’s capital.

At Freedom Alliance, we offer college scholarships to children of fallen or wounded military heroes. The financial assistance is important, but even more meaningful to many of our recipients, is the attention brought to their parent’s sacrifice. In a similar way, the ABMC ensures not only a dignified resting place for military heroes, but the opportunity for them to be remembered in history, as they deserve to be.

The sacrifices of different generations came together during our visit to France last year. David Smith and John Eggers were with us. They are the sons of fallen heroes and are Freedom Alliance scholarship recipients. We stood in a gentle rain and watched quietly as these two young men – whose fathers died in Iraq and Afghanistan and now rest in Arlington National Cemetery – paid tribute to the fallen heroes of a previous generation.

Seventy-five years from now, we hope young Americans will visit the graves of SFC Paul Ray Smith and Captain Daniel Eggers with the same respect their sons showed to our fallen heroes of Normandy. As General John Pershing, the first chairman of the ABMC, said, of heroes like these: “Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.”

Tom Kilgannon is the President of Freedom Alliance, a nonprofit organization that provides support to America’s military families and advocates for a strong national defense.


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Living the Great Eight


“Good is the enemy of great.” Those are the words of Stanford-educated consultant, lecturer, and author Jim Collins. His six books on leadership and corporate growth have sold more than ten million copies around the world and have been translated into scores of languages.

Perhaps his most well-known book was published in 2001: Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t. In this book, Collins and his researchers spent five years evaluating the performance of 1,435 companies to find the few that outperformed all the rest. That is, they were seeking to answer one critical question: “Can a good company become a great company—and, if so, how?”

Their conclusion? “Greatness is not primarily a function of circumstance but largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.” In fact, Collins co-authored a subsequent book on that very theme: Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck—Why Some Thrive Despite Them All.

I confess I love Collins’ two ideas: “good to great” and “great by choice.” In fact, the idea of “choice” has roots that go deep into biblical soil. Remember Deuteronomy 30:19: “Choose life”? And Joshua 24:15: “Choose for yourselves this day, whom you will serve”?

Combining all of the above threads, in this issue of Turning Points I’m going to challenge you to choose to move your Christian life from good to great. (And challenge myself at the same time.)

Why do we need such a challenge? I’ll borrow Jim Collins’ words again: “Good is the enemy of great.” Let me put it this way: When I think of “good,” I think of average; it suggests doing just enough to get by. And by “getting by,” I mean becoming a Christian and inheriting God’s promise of eternal life. Yes, that’s where we start in the Christian life. We make a conscious choice to ask God for forgiveness and place our faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. That’s a wise and excellent choice—but that represents only the beginning of the Christian life, not the end. To be a fruitful and flourishing Christian for the rest of our life, we need to keep making choices that help us to go deeper and further with God.

As Collins and his team found in their research, only a small number of companies will make the conscious decisions necessary to take them “from good to great.” The inertia of being good enough to get by—being average—is too great for many to overcome. And if we are not careful, the calendar can turn from year to year without us realizing that we are not making the kind of spiritual progress we should be.

So our challenge this month is to climb out of the rut, to jumpstart our growth engines, and to set our sights on moving from good to great in our walk with God. And just to forewarn you: This is a life-long challenge. There is no definition of “great” that tells us when we’ve arrived. Because God is always doing more and more for us, we want to incorporate that same perspective in our lives (Ephesians 3:20). We want to continually grow more effective, more faithful, and more fruitful for Him. But we have to make that choice!

So, where do we start? We can’t focus on all the ways in which we could become more like Christ. But we can look at eight areas of our walk with Him where we can make measurable progress in the days ahead. In fact, we’re calling them the “Great Eight”—fundamental areas of our spirituality that are the bedrocks of belief, the foundations for faithfulness, and the crossroads of our commitment.

Here are the “Great Eight” disciplines we’ll examine in this month’s magazine: discipleship, love, stewardship, service, holiness, trust, surrender, and boldness. You and I can both think of additional areas of the Christian life to add to this list. But trust me—these eight will keep our knees calloused and our hearts and hands occupied for months to come!

Consider the “Great Eight.” Make a mental list now of the ones in which you’d like to move from good to great for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom. And remember, there is no ceiling. If you’re already doing great in some areas, then set your sights on greater—from “good to great” to greater still!


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How We Have Forgotten God

Evangelical faith is no longer characterized by its initial passion.

MARK GALLI| MAY 29, 2019

How We Have Forgotten God

The longing to know and love God, to bask in his presence, is core to evangelical life and faith as I understand it. The famous Bebbington quadrilateral describes evangelicals as those who emphasize the authority of Scripture, Christ’s death on the cross, the need for conversion, and a life of service, in both word and deed. That is good as far as it goes, but it does not go deep enough, in my view. There is something that energizes our action, that initiates our first and sustains our ongoing conversion, that draws us repeatedly to the Cross, that compels us to read and obey Scripture. That something deeper is the yearning to know God. (My previous essay, “Monomaniacs for God,” outlines what that  looks like in Scripture and church history.)

One can still find this passion in our movement today, to be sure. But it is no longer something that characterizes us. It is not what we’re known for.

One reason I believe desire for God, as such, is core to what it means to be evangelical is what happened at our birth, when the desire for God did indeed characterize the movement. The following historical survey is woefully inadequate to prove this and the subsequent decline of our desire. But I nonetheless believe that, in broad strokes, it is a fair summary of where we’ve been and where we are today.

‘The town seemed to be full of the presence of God’

In the beginning, the American evangelical movement sprung up when, in the 1730s and ’40s, George Whitefield and John Wesley began preaching about the need to be born again. Their preaching revived a dying portion of Jesus’ church, which reanimated a people so that they might enjoy a vital, living, and loving relationship with our Savior. The movement blossomed as the message and experience of being born again spread (often with painful contractions as the larger body of Christ resisted the movement). But nothing could stop what was happening. Before long, there stood a movement of men and women, boys and girls, washed clean of their sin “by the blood of the Lamb.” They cried out with the joy of being alive, really alive for the first time. And they praised our Savior—and loved him more than anything, more than life itself.

The pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards did his best to describe what he saw happeningaround him:

This work of God, as it was carried on, and the number of true saints multiplied, soon made a glorious alteration in the town: so that in the spring and summer following, anno 1735, the town seemed to be full of the presence of God: it never was so full of love, nor of joy, and yet so full of distress, as it was then. There were remarkable tokens of God’s presence in almost every house. It was a time of joy in families on account of salvation being brought to them; parents rejoicing over their children as new born, and husbands over their wives, and wives over their husbands. The doings of God were then seen in His sanctuary, God’s day was a delight, and His tabernacles were amiable. …

In all companies, on other days, on whatever occasions persons met together, Christ was to be heard of, and seen in the midst of them. Our young people, when they met, were wont to spend the time in talking of the excellency and dying love of Jesus Christ, the glory of the way of salvation, the wonderful, free, and sovereign grace of God, His glorious work in the conversion of a soul, the truth and certainty of the great things of God’s word, the sweetness of the views of His perfections. …

Evangelical faith soon became characterized by a lively, personal relationship with God, grounded in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, with a deep and abiding trust in the Bible as God’s personal Word to us, with an active desire to spread this gospel to others. These emphases—especially that lively and personal relationship with God—can be seen in many eras of church history, and in this sense, evangelical religion goes back to the beginnings of the Christian faith. But its modern, American form finds its birth here, in a season when whole towns “seemed to be full of the presence of God.”

After the Revolutionary War, as the exhausted nation moved West in the late 1700s, the enthusiasm—en theos, the yearning to be in God and to know God in us—was replaced by more other concerns. On a trip to Tennessee in 1794, Methodist bishop Francis Asbury noted, “When I reflect that not one in a hundred came here to get religion, but rather to get plenty of good land, I think it will be well if some or many do not eventually lose their souls.” Andrew Fulton, a Presbyterian missionary from Scotland, observed anxiously that in “all the newly formed towns in this western colony [around Nashville, Tennessee], there are few religious people.” Others still worried that many Christians had become universalists and deists, the latter especially asserting God’s distance from this world. (See “Revival at Cane Ridge” for the above quotes and the description and quote below.)

Still, there were some who, at the first sign of a flagging spirit, prayed for God to make himself known again. They prayed at home, in their churches, at denominational meetings, and at retreats that would climax in the sharing of the Lord’s Supper. And their prayers were answered at Cane Ridge in 1801, when some 20,000 people showed up to be touched by the Spirit of God.

Their enthusiasm for God spread into what is now called the Second Great Awakening. It eventually found expression in circuit riders and Methodist camp meetings and periodic revival meetings of local churches. One observer at small revival previous to Cane Ridge described what was to happen to so many in the years to come: “No person seemed to wish to go home—hunger and sleep seemed to affect nobody—eternal things were the vast concern.”.”

From the Sublime to Technique

Historians have noted that these revivals were in some ways a reaction against Enlightenment rationality, which often marshaled reason and science to question and marginalize religion. The larger reaction—Romanticism—encompassed the arts, literature, music, and philosophy, which together exalted the role of intuition and emotion in human affairs. Many Christians expressed their disdain for Enlightenment values by pointing to revivals and noting that they could not be explained rationally but only as products of divine intervention.

But some Christians, already deeply influenced by the Enlightenment, looked at the revivals rationally and noticed sociological patterns. And they began applying them to their ministries. The most famous is Charles Finney. In his Lectures on Revivals of Religion,he argued that a revival was “not a miracle, or dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical [meaning, scientific] result of the right use of constituted means.” To be sure, he believed God gave these means to produce revivals, but as Tim Keller puts it, “Finney insisted that any group could have a revival any time or place, as long as they applied the right methods in the right way.

This morphed into a religion of crisis, a religion of decision, and a religion where the manipulation of emotion became the centerpiece. Instead of a genuine encounter with the living God, the movement became infected with too many who sought not so much to know and love God as to have a remarkable religious experience. This has been our Achilles heel ever since—more of that below.

Some were alert to this corruption early on and reacted against it. One reason: Try as they might, this genuine religious ecstasy never came to them. One such person, Phoebe Palmer, after a crisis of faith, determined that “She didn’t need ‘joyous emotion’ to believe—belief itself was grounds for assurance,” as a Christian History article summarized it. “Reading Jesus’ words that ‘the altar sanctifies the gift,’ she believed that God would make her holy if she ‘laid her all upon the altar.’” She fine-tuned John Wesley’s teachings about perfection into a three-step process: “consecrating oneself totally to God, believing God will sanctify what is consecrated, and telling others about it.”

Out of this grew the holiness movement, where complete sanctification stood erect at the center. The life of faith became for many not so much a pining after God but after moral perfection, not so much seeking grace as pummeling the will into submission. No question that there was a need to depend on the power of the Spirit, and to be sure, many rigorously pursued holiness that they might see God. This movement produced more than its share of Protestant saints. But much of it also predictably degenerated into religious narcissism. For many, it was more and more about the pursuit of personal holiness and not so much the pursuit of the Holy One.

This passion for personal reform soon spilled over into the social realm, so that evangelical believers also became known for striving for the reformation of society—from prison reform to abstinence to the abolition of slavery to care for the urban poor. And for some, this blossomed into the social gospel movement, whose gospel origins and godly motives one cannot deny.

Walter Rauschenbusch in his A Theology for the Social Gospel, said, “The new thing in the social gospel is the clearness and insistence with which it sets forth the necessity and the possibility of redeeming the historical life of humanity from the social wrongs which now pervade it.” Though evangelicals today reject Rauschenbusch’s theological liberalism, his emphasis on the nature of the church’s mission has woven itself into the very fabric of evangelical religion. Mission, and all the horizontal activity surrounding it, has become the very reason for the church’s existence. More of that in coming essays in this series.

It must be said—and I’ll say it over and over in these essays—such activity for God is laudatory. It is to be commended and encouraged. One of the jobs of the church is indeed to love the world. But when mission becomes the center, the focal point of the Christian life, I believe that life will inevitably degenerate into an active and busy religious life void of God. It will become a life increasingly fascinated with technique as it seeks to efficiently accomplish mission. We may begin and end our missional meetings with prayer, but we know deep down, we don’t even need God’s special blessing if, as Finney argued, we already have the means at our disposal to accomplish our ends.

From God to Spiritual Experience

In the midst of this drift toward action, another movement arose, a new spiritual romanticism that tried to check our fascination with the horizontal and re-engage us with the vertical. The Pentecostal movement exploded on the scene at the turn of the 20th century and made its way into mainstream churches as charismatic Christianity beginning in the 1960s. It began well enough—more than well enough—as men and women enjoyed the immediate presence of God as he came to them in the Holy Spirit. People came to these meetings in droves because they wanted God; they yearned for God.

But once again, it didn’t take long for the yearning for God to turn into a longing for an experience for many. Instead of God, people began wanting, and leaders began demanding, that people experience the gifts of God. Tongues became not so much a means of conversing with the living God as a sign of one’s spiritual condition.

This is not throwing stones, believe me. As a person who has been blessed with experiencing some extraordinary spiritual gifts, I have longed for a spiritual experience for its own sake, for a certain type of exquisite feeling and emotion—and truth be told, I wanted this more than I wanted God. Most people who have experienced such extraordinary gifts know of this temptation.

From Holiness to Virtue to Justice

Today we also see a contemporary expression of the holiness movement and its concern for the moral life. A fair number of evangelicals have become fascinated with virtue ethics or character formation. They are less interested in creating or adhering to a list of dos and don’ts than how habits and disciplines can shape a person’s character so that we are exemplified by love, joy, peace, patience and so forth.

This is to me a salutary development, but again as Christian virtue ethicists themselves acknowledge, such an emphasis can get stalled since there is a constant temptation to look at one’s self and one’s progress as one pursues the virtues. The emphasis is on my transformation. God too easily becomes a means to my end.

It’s not too much of a stretch to see that the newly rediscovered passion for social justice in many ways parallels virtue ethics but with the emphasis on the community rather than the individual. In its more extreme forms, we hear evangelicals adopting critical theory, in which power dynamics are front and center, especially in race and gender relations. Anyone with even a brief familiarity with history already is aware of these dynamics, as well as the role that class and economics can play in all this. One problem with critical theory is that everything is about power, just as class was everything with Marxism. Another is that it is impervious to criticism—those that disagree are considered trapped in power dynamics.

But as with virtue ethics, passion for social justice is tempted to forget God, in particular in three ways, which many social justice advocates are the first to acknowledge: First, there is increasing passion, and often anger, regarding justice between people, eclipsing the passion for justice, or justification with God. Second, there is an increasing assumption that it is our job to bring in the kingdom of God. Third, when there is an acknowledgment that God is critical to the work of social justice, God can become a means to an end. For example, prayer helps sustain my social justice efforts, the thing I’m really passionate about.

One cannot but be thankful for our newfound passion for social justice. Christians whose hearts don’t sink at the injustices that infect every society—well, it’s hard to believe they can truly love the God of the Bible. But the Enemy has a way of twisting our passions so that God slowly gets put in his place.

From God to Spirituality

One more feature of our common evangelical life needs to be noted: the spirituality movement, which seems to undermine the thesis of this essay! Again there is much to be lauded here, and one can only be grateful that, even if it engages only a small percentage of evangelicals, that is not nothing. But the fact that the interest is small and sporadic suggests that evangelicals are not much interested in practicing the spiritual disciplines in an effort to know and love God more deeply.

The same temptations apply here as to every one of our efforts—and again, it’s the very leaders of the movement who worry about “spirituality” becoming popular: All of us who have tried to practice the spiritual disciplines know these hazards. One temptation is to want to become spiritual, whatever we conceive that to be; we want to become a certain type of religious person more than we want to meet God. And, second, we start counting the number of disciplines we’re practicing and the amount of time we give to them as markers of our spiritual condition. This is all so silly, but as I said, anyone who has attempted to practice the disciplines knows whereof I speak.

A friend’s experience drives home our confusion today.

He explained to me that, indeed, he has been striving to make God his be all and end all, one for whom he pants after as a deer after water. So he’d given himself to punctuating his day with prayer, especially morning and at bedtime, and if possible once or twice during the middle of his busy days. The prayer time includes reading the Psalms and other Scripture, as well as quiet meditation and brief prayer. All of this lasts no more than 10 to 15 minutes, but he says he finds it is a practice he enjoys, not in the sense of checking off a box but in the sense that he is slowly but surely finding that his love for God is growing.

But he also told me how confused his heart remains. One day recently he left work early to take care of some personal business. On the way home, he determined to have a prayer time at home as he picked up a few papers. Yet he found himself in the car 30 minutes later, having completely forgotten about his intent to pray for a mere 10 minutes before he left home.

Why was he so intent on getting these tasks done that they consumed his mind? Why did his to-do list fill up his imagination rather than prayer or God?

And why is it, he also wondered, that many mornings he notes a reluctance in his heart to sit down to pray, especially when there are so many things to get done? Why doesn’t he consider prayer one of these absolutely necessary things to do, or why doesn’t he look forward to it if, in fact, God is the source of all life and joy and the deepest satisfaction of our deepest desires? If he loves and desires God, as he says he wants to, why do the loves and desires of so much else actually shape his day and his heart?

He concluded, “When it comes down to it, I’m a practical atheist. I’ve learned to live most of my life as if God is a nice add-on—when I have time and when I really want him—but otherwise I’m content with living as if he is not a living presence.”

As I noted in the introduction, I deeply identify with my friend’s dilemma. (That phrase “practical atheist” is from Anthony Bloom’s Beginning to Pray). In talking with many friends, I’d say we’re not alone. So it’s not quite true that we’ve completely forgotten God. But our spiritual Alzheimer’s has progressed to dangerous levels.

To let grace have a word: This is a common human condition and certainly no surprise to God, who is still willing to work with us despite our attempts to use him for our ends. It is not remarkably evil that we are so distracted by life and responsibilities and earthly desires that God takes a decided back seat. We needn’t whip ourselves with guilt and shame over this. This essay in particular and this series is intended not as wholesale condemnation but as a wake-up call, or at least the start of a larger conversation.

I think it is incumbent on evangelical Christians to take this with special seriousness. We have rightly prided ourselves in practicing a form of faith that emphasizes the personal relationship with Jesus one can enjoy. And among us are many who can be characterized in just this way. But overall I believe our movement has degenerated in ways I have described above, with the vast majority of us falling into patterns that emphasize the horizontal at the expense of the vertical.

We were once people whose lives were characterized by the presence of God, as if we “walk with him and talk with along life’s narrow way” as the old hymn puts it. Today, we are known for our politics (left and right), our voting patterns, our ethical hypocrisy, our compromise with materialism, church-planting techniques, growing churches, entrepreneurial skill, and a relentless activism to improve ourselves and our society. A living, vital, and personal relationship with God, a relationship that floods the heart and mind as it did the psalmists and so many others in the Bible and in our history—well it’s hard to find that among us today.

Mark Galli is editor in chief of Christianity Today. If you want to be alerted to these essays as they appear, subscribe to The Galli Report.


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Dismantling Atheists’ ‘Treaty of Tripoli’ Argument

Bill Federer recounts logic behind incendiary ‘America is not a Christian nation’ verbiage

May 31, 2019

Treaty of Tripoli-2


The Treaty of Tripoli is of particular interest as secularists attempt to use its wording as a definitive expression of the intent of America’s founders regarding religion and government.

An in-depth examination, though, may prove this untenable.

In March of 1785, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson met in France with Tripoli’s ambassador Abdrahaman regarding Muslim Barbary pirates attacking and capturing American ships in the Mediterranean and imprisoning American sailors. Jefferson asked what the new nation of the United States had done to provoke Muslims.

Jefferson wrote to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs John Jay: “The ambassador answered us that it was founded on the laws of the prophet, it was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise. He said, also, that the man who was the first to board a vessel had one slave over and above his share, and that when they sprang to the deck of an enemy’s ship, every sailor held a dagger in each hand and a third in his mouth; which usually struck such terror into the foe that they cried out for quarter at once.”

Jefferson bought a translation of the Qur’an to learn why Muslim pirates would perpetrate unprovoked attacks and enslaved captives.

Jefferson wrote to John Jay, 1787, explaining his efforts to ransom captured American sailors through the mediation of the Catholic Order of Mathurins, which was later disbanded during the French Revolution: “There is an order of priests called the Mathurins, the object of whose institution is to beg alms for the redemption of captives. They keep members always in Barbary, searching out the captives of their country, and redeem, I believe, on better terms than any other body, public or private. It occurred to me, that their agency might be obtained for the redemption of our prisoners at Algiers. … The General … of the order … undertook to act for us, if we should desire it. He told me that their last considerable redemption was of about 300 prisoners who cost them somewhat upwards of 1,500 livres apiece…that it must be absolutely unknown that the public concern themselves in the operation or the price would be greatly enhanced.”

Congress directed Jefferson and Adams to borrow $80,000 from Dutch Bankers to pay tribute, as Jefferson wrote to John Jay, 1787: “If Congress decide to redeem our captives … it is of great importance that the first redemption be made at as low a price as possible, because it will form the future tariff. If these pirates find that they can have a very great price for Americans, they will abandon proportionally their pursuits against other nations to direct them towards ours.”

John Jay, who later would be the first chief justice, wrote to the president of Congress Richard Henry Lee, Oct. 13, 1785: “Algerian Corsairs and the Pirates of Tunis and Tripoli (would cause Americans to unite, since) the more we are ill-treated abroad the more we shall unite and consolidate at home.”

In 1788, Jefferson arranged for John Paul Jones, referred to by some as the “Father of the American Navy,” to fight for Empress Catherine the Great of Russia against the Muslim Ottoman navy near the Crimean Peninsula during the 2nd Russo-Turkish War, 1787-92.

Jefferson wrote to General George Washington: “The war between the Russians and the Turks has made an opening for our Commodore Paul Jones. The Empress has invited him into her service. She insures to him the rank of rear admiral… I think she means to oppose him to the Captain Pacha, on the Black Sea. … He has made it a condition, that he shall be free at all times to return to the orders of Congress … and also, that he shall not…bear arms against France. I believe Congress had it in contemplation to give him the grade of admiral, from the date of his taking the Serapis. Such a measure would now greatly gratify him.”

John Paul Jones wrote in “Narrative of the Campaign of the Liman” of victoriously sailing his flagship Vladimir against the Turks near the Black Sea’s Dnieper River. The night before the battle, Jones and a Cossack sailor silently rowed out to scout the position of the Turkish fleet. On the side of one Turkish ship, Jones chalked in giant letters: “To be burned. Paul Jones.”

In the next day’s battle, that ship was among those destroyed by Jones.

Jones was then appointed U.S. Consul to negotiate the release of captured U.S. Navy officers held in the dungeons of Algiers.

When John Paul Jones died suddenly, Joel Barlow filled the post. U.S. Consul Joel Barlow tried to stop Tripoli’s Barbary Pirates from continuing to terrorize the seas and capturing American sailors.

In 1793, Muslim Barbary pirates captured the U.S. cargo ship Polly. The Muslim captain justified the crew’s brutal treatment: “… for your history and superstition in believing in a man who was crucified by the Jews and disregarding the true doctrine of Allah’s last and greatest prophet, Mohammed.”

In 1795, Muslim Barbary Pirates of Algiers captured 115 American sailors. The U.S. paid ransom of nearly a million dollars.

Tripoli followed Shari’a Law which prohibited them from making treaties with ‘infidel’ Christians:

  • Infidels are those who declare: “God is the Christ, the son of Mary” (Sura 5:17)
  • Infidels are those that say “God is one of three in a Trinity” (Sura 5:73)
  • Believers, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies (Sura 5:51)
  • Believers, do not make friends with those who have incurred the wrath of Allah (Sura 60:13)
  • Infidels are your sworn enemies (Sura 4:101)
  • Make war on the infidels who dwell around you (Sura 9:123)
  • Prophet, make war on the infidels (Sura 66:9)
  • When you meet the infidel in the battlefield strike off their heads (Sura 47:4)
  • Muhammad is Allah’s apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the infidels (Sura 48:29)

As Joel Barlow realized that Islamic law forbade Muslims from making friendship alliances with infidel nations, he tried to separate in their minds that they were not negotiating with the Christian religion, but with a “nation-state.” This was a necessary distinction to make, as Muslims had been at war with the “Christian nations” of Europe for over 1,000 years.

The concept of a “nation-state” where citizens had freedom of conscience to join or leave a religion as they wished was unfamiliar and unwelcome to fundamental Muslims, as it still is today among groups like ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The wording of the Treaty of Tripoli of 1797 was not intended to devalue Christianity’s historical contribution to the founding of America, but rather it was an attempt to negotiate with Muslims using phraseology which would oblige them to honor the treaty.

With that background, the wording of the Treaty of Tripoli was: “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion, – as it has in itself no character of enmity against the law, religion or tranquility of the Musselmen-, and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

Noted religious critic and anti-theist Christopher Hitchens admitted in his work “Jefferson Versus the Muslim Pirates” (2007): “Of course, those secularists like myself who like to cite this Treaty must concede that its conciliatory language was part of America’s attempt to come to terms with Barbary demands.”

In grammar, a comma indicates a qualifying relationship between a dependent clause and an independent clause. The phrase “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion,” is followed by a comma indicating that the preceding dependent phrase is qualified by the subsequent phrase which should always accompany it, “-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the law, religion or tranquility of the Musselmen.”

Additionally, where the Treaty of Tripoli says the “government of the United States of America” it was referring to the “federal” government. This is significant as Joel Barlow was negotiating on behalf of the “federal” government, which was prohibited by the First Amendment from having jurisdiction over religion, as religion was under each individual state’s jurisdiction.

(i.e., North Carolina Constitution, 1835: “No person who shall deny … the truth of the Christian religion … shall be capable of holding any office”; Maryland Constitution, 1851: “No other test … ought to be required … than a declaration of belief in the Christian religion. …”)

In fact, it was the states’ jealous desire to keep religion under their jurisdictions that motivated the states to insist that a First Amendment be added to the U.S. Constitution to prohibit the federal government from inter-meddling with restraints on religion.

This was not the case in most European countries which had established churches, or in fundamental Muslim countries which controlled citizens’ religious life through threats of death or dismemberment.

The original Arabic translation of the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli revealed the Islamic understanding of religion and government being synonymous: “Glory be to God! Declaration of the third article. We have agreed that if American Christians are traveling with a nation that is at war with the well preserved Tripoli, and (the Tripolitan) takes (prisoners) from the Christian enemies and from the American Christians with whom we are at peace, then sets them free; neither he nor his goods shall be taken. … Praise be to God! Declaration of the twelfth article. If there arises a disturbance between us both sides, and it becomes a serious dispute, and the American Consul is not able to make clear his affair, and the affair shall remain suspended between them both, between the Pasha of Tripoli, may God strengthen him, and the Americans, until Lord Hassan Pasha, may God strengthen him, in the well-protected Algiers, has taken cognizance of the matter. We shall accept whatever decision he enjoins on us, and we shall agree with his condition and his seal; May God make it all permanent love and a good conclusion between us in the beginning and in the end, by His grace and favor, amen!”

John Adams’ Secretary of War James McHenry protested the language of the Treaty of Tripoli, writing to Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott, Jr., Sept. 26, 1800: “The Senate … ought never to have ratified the treaty alluded to, with the declaration that ‘the government of the United States, is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.’ What else is it founded on? This act always appeared to me like trampling upon the cross. I do not recollect that Barlow was even reprimanded for this outrage upon the government and religion.”

Immediately after Jefferson was inaugurated president, the Pasha of Tripoli demanded $225,000 to keep his Barbary pirates from seizing American ships, confiscating cargo and selling crews into slavery. When Jefferson refused to pay, the Pasha declared war – the first war after the U.S. became a nation.

Jefferson stated in his first annual message to Congress, Dec. 8, 1801: “Tripoli, the least considerable of the Barbary states, had come forward with demands unfounded either in right or in compact, and had permitted itself to (announce) war on our failure to comply before a given day. The style of the demand admitted but one answer. I sent a small squadron of frigates into the Mediterranean, with assurances to that power of our sincere desire to remain in peace, but with orders to protect our commerce against the threatened attack. The measure was seasonable and salutary.

“The Bey (lord) had already declared war. His cruisers were out. Two had arrived at Gibraltar. Our commerce in the Mediterranean was blockaded and that of the Atlantic in peril. The arrival of our squadron dispelled the danger. One of the Tripolitan cruisers having fallen in with and engaged the small schooner Enterprise, commanded by Lieutenant Sterret, which had gone as a tender to our larger vessels, was captured, after a heavy slaughter of her men, without the loss of a single one on our part. The bravery exhibited by our citizens on that element will, I trust, be a testimony to the world. … We are bound with peculiar gratitude to be thankful to Him that our own peace has been preserved through a perilous season.”

On Dec. 29, 1803, the 36-gun USS Philadelphia was cruising the Mediterranean when it ran aground on an uncharted sand bar off the coast of North Africa. Muslims surrounded it and captured its crew. They imprisoned Captain William Bainbridge and his 307 man crew for 18 months.

To keep this ship from being used by Muslim pirates, Lieut. Stephen Decatur sailed his ship, Intrepid, Feb. 16, 1804, into Tripoli’s harbor and set the USS Philadelphia ablaze. British Admiral Horatio Nelson called it the “most bold and daring act of the age.”

After negotiations, for $60,000 and 89 Muslim prisoners captured in skirmishes, the crew of the USS Philadelphia was released, less six who had died in captivity and five who converted to Islam, much to the annoyance of the rest.

When the Pasha of Tripoli offered the five converts the choice of staying in Tripoli or returning to America, four decided to renounce Islam and return home. Horror covered their faces as the insulted Pasha ordered guards to drag them away, following the instruction in Hadith al-Bukhari: “Mohammed said, Whoever changes his Islamic religion, kill him.”

In April of 1805, Jefferson sent in the Navy and Marines, led by Commodore Edward Preble, Commodore John Rogers, Captain William Eaton, Lieut. Stephen Decatur, and Lieut. Presley O’Bannon. They seized the Barbary harbor of Derne and the terrorist attacks temporarily cease, giving rise to the Marine Anthem: “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli. …”

Many “mamluke” slave-soldiers had their curved scimitar swords confiscated, which became the Marine “mamluke” sword. Marines were called “leathernecks” for the wide leather straps they wore around their necks to prevent them from being beheaded, as Sura 47:4, stated: “When you meet the infidel in the battlefield, strike off their heads.”

Jefferson then had a new Treaty of Peace and Amity with Tripoli, April 12, 1806, but this time it was negotiated from a position of strength and therefore it did not contain the controversial conciliatory wording of the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli.

Francis Scott Key wrote a song to honor the Navy and Marines titled “When the Warrior Returns from the Battle Afar,” published in Boston’s Independent Chronicle, Dec. 30, 1805, being written to the same tune that nine years later Key would use for the “Star-Spangled Banner”:

In conflict resistless each toil they endur’d
Till their foes shrunk dismay’d from the war’s desolation:
And pale beamed the Crescent, its splendor obscur’d
By the light of the Star-Bangled Flag of our nation.
Where each flaming star gleamed a meteor of war,
And the turban’d head bowed to the terrible glare.
Then mixt with the olive the laurel shall wave
And form a bright wreath for the brow of the brave.

During James Madison’s term as president, Muslims broke the treaty and a second Barbary War began. In 1815, Congress authorized naval action with six European countries to fight Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli. Commodores Decatur and Bainbridge led 10 warships to the Mediterranean and forced the Dey (ruler) of Algiers to release American prisoners, to stop demanding tribute and to pay damages. Tunis and Tripoli also agreed.

Of the negotiations, Frederick C. Leiner wrote in “The End of the Barbary Terror – America’s 1815 War Against the Pirates of North Africa” (Oxford University Press): “Commodore Stephen Decatur and diplomat William Shaler withdrew to consult in private. … The Algerians were believed to be masters of duplicity, willing to make agreements and break them as they found convenient. … Commodore Stephen Decatur and Captain William Bainbridge both recognized that the peace could only be kept by force or the threat of force.”

The annotated “John Quincy Adams – A Bibliography,” compiled by Lynn H. Parsons (Westport, CT, 1993, p. 41, entry #194, The American Annual Register for 1827-28-29, NY: 1830): “Our gallant Commodore Stephen Decatur had chastised the pirate of Algiers. … The Dey (Omar Bashaw) … disdained to conceal his intentions; ‘My power,’ said he, ‘has been wrested from my hands; draw ye the treaty at your pleasure, and I will sign it; but beware of the moment, when I shall recover my power, for with that moment, your treaty shall be waste paper.’”

The Islamic term for treaty, “hudna,” has historically been observed, when weak make treaties till strong enough to disregard them.

In 1816, Muslims again broke their treaty. The Dutch and British, under Sir Edward Pellew, bombarded Algiers, forcing them to release 3,000 European prisoners. Algiers renewed its piracy and slave-taking, causing the British to bombard them again in 1824. It was not until 1830, when the French conquered Algiers, did Muslim Barbary Piracy cease.

Theodore Roosevelt wrote in “Fear God and Take Your Own Part” (1916, p. 351): “Centuries have passed since any war vessel of a civilized power has shown such ruthless brutality toward noncombatants … especially toward women and children. The Muslim pirates of the Barbary Coast behaved at times in similar fashion until the civilized nations joined in suppressing them.”

After an in-depth examination of the history surrounding the Treaty of Tripoli makes it is clear that its unique wording was simply a futile attempt to negotiate with Muslims whose Islamic law precluded them from honoring treaties with “infidel” Christians.

Secondly, the Treaty of Tripoli was negotiated on behalf of the “federal” government and, prior to the 14th Amendment of 1868 and Justice Hugo Black’s 1947 Everson decision, religion was considered to be under each individual state’s jurisdiction.

Finally, if one insists on considering the Treaty of Tripoli as an expression of the Founders’ intent regarding religion and government, then all other treaties and acts of Congress should also be examined, such as the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War, ratified by the Congress of the Confederation, January 14, 1784: “In the name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity. It having pleased the Divine Providence to dispose the hearts of the most serene and most potent Prince George the Third, by the Grace of God, King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith … and of the United States of America, to forget all past misunderstandings and differences. … Done at Paris, this third day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-three.”

The Congress of the Confederation, July 13, 1787, passed “An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States, North-West of the River Ohio,” which is listed in the United States Code Annotated as one of the nation’s four most significant government documents.

It was introduced in Congress by Rufus King, a signer of the Constitution, approved in the House, July 21, 1789; in the Senate, August 4, 1789; and signed by President Washington, Aug. 7, 1789, during the time the First Amendment was formulated.

Article VI prohibited slavery within the territory that was to become the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and the eastern part of Minnesota. The Northwest Ordinance included:

Section 13 … For extending the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty, which form the basis whereon these republics, their laws and constitutions are erected…

Article I. No person, demeaning himself in a peaceable and orderly manner, shall ever be molested on account of his mode of worship or religious sentiments in the said territory. …

Article III. Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

In 1787, the Congress of the Confederation designated special lands for: “… for the sole use of Christian Indians and the Moravian Brethren missionaries, for civilizing the Indians and promoting Christianity.”

There was no record of any objection to U.S. Constitution ending with the phrase: “Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the twelfth.”

This is of significant note, as just a few years later France had a bloody Revolution and established a Constitution without any reference to “our Lord.” The French Republican Calendar retroactively made 1791 the new “Year One” as their intent was to have a completely secular government.

On Dec. 3, 1803, the Congress of the United States of America ratified a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indian Tribe. Two similar treaties were made with the Wyandots, 1805, and the Cherokees, 1806: “Whereas the greater part of the said tribe have been baptized and received into the Catholic Church, to which they are much attached, the United States will give annually, for seven years, one hundred dollars toward the support of a priest of that religion, who will engage to perform for said tribe the duties of his office, and also to instruct as many of their children as possible, in the rudiments of literature, and the United States will further give the sum of three hundred dollars, to assist the said tribe in the erection of a church.”

In 1822, the United States Senate ratified the Convention for Indemnity Under Award Of Emperor Of Russia as to the True Construction of the First Article of the Treaty of Dec. 24, 1814, which began: “In the name of the Most Holy and Indivisible Trinity.”

On Jan. 20, 1830, Congress was addressed by President Andrew Jackson: “According to the terms of an agreement between the United States and the United Society of Christian Indians the latter have a claim to an annuity of $400, commencing from the 1st of October, 1826, for which an appropriation by law for this amount … will be proper.”

President Jackson stated in his second annual message to Congress, Dec. 6, 1830: “The Indians … gradually, under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community.”

Congress heard President Andrew Jackson’s third annual message, Dec. 6, 1831: “The removal of the Indians beyond … jurisdiction of the States does not place them beyond the reach of philanthropic aid and Christian instruction.”

In 1838, Congress stated in an Act: “Chaplains … are to perform the double service of clergymen and schoolmaster.”

In 1848, the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty ending the Mexican War, which brought into the Union California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming: “In the Name of Almighty God: The United States and the United Mexican States … have, under the protection of Almighty God, the Author of Peace … signed the … Treaty of Peace. … If (which God forbid) war should unhappily break out between the two republics, they do now solemnly pledge … all churches, hospitals, schools, colleges, libraries, and other establishments for charitable and beneficent purposes, shall be respected, and all persons connected with the same protected in the discharge of their duties, and the pursuit of their vocations. … Done at city of Guadalupe Hidalgo, on the second day of February, in the year of the Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty-eight.”

On Dec. 2, 1895, the U.S. Senate ratified a treaty attempting to end the Genocide of Armenians. President Grover Cleveland stated: “By treaty several of the most powerful European powers … have assumed a duty not only in behalf of their own citizens … but as agents of the Christian world … to enforce such conduct of Turkish government as will refrain fanatical brutality, and if this fails their duty is to so interfere as to insure against such dreadful occurrences in Turkey as have shocked civilization.”

There are also numerous Acts of Congress regarding chaplains, national days of prayer, national days of fasting, and national days of thanksgiving.

These acknowledgments of religion, God, and Christianity contained in official treaties and acts of Congress are sufficient enough to invalidate the out-of-context Treaty of Tripoli sentence-fragment from being used as the definitive statement of the Founders’ intentions regarding religion and government.

Brought to you by AmericanMinute.com.



Jesus’ parables endure because they bring the gospel to life, giving principles a human face. Sometimes we find similarly powerful stories in unexpected places. “Babette’s Feast,” a short story by the Danish novelist Isak Dinesen, is one such modern parable. It shows, in the life of its title character, how God’s infinite grace may shine in the everyday.

The story introduces Babette to a quiet, declining Danish Christian community led by Martine and Philippa, the spinster daughters of its founder and pastor. The sisters honor their father’s life and legacy by making food for the indigent and caring for the lonely. They eat simply, dress plainly, and avoid physical and emotional excess.

When Babette arrives, looking “haggard and wild-eyed like a hunted animal,” the sisters take her on as cook and maid. She grows in grace, learns their humble ways, and serves the sisters and community with love, a “dark Martha in the house of their two fair Marys.”

Then a surprising event reverses Babette’s fortunes, and she asks to prepare a full-course French dinner in honor of the pastor’s 100th birthday—a meal such as no one in the community has ever tasted. Though they fear the extravagance, the sisters and the community agree.

When the day arrives, however, their fear leads the community’s members to vow to eat in silence. But Babette’s culinary artistry transforms the diners as they eat. They rejoice, and laugh, and right old wrongs, receiving grace they didn’t expect. Babette, once a cook in Paris’s finest restaurant, enjoys grace too. She is allowed to cook her best again, to do her “utmost,” which proves as much a gift as the lavish meal was to the community. After the meal, the sisters learn that Babette has spent all her fortune on the extravagant gift.

As a parable, “Babette’s Feast” illustrates the limitlessness of grace. We should look for it in the everyday, as Babette did in serving the sisters. But we should also look for it in moments of extraordinary beauty. God’s grace comes to us, after all, both in the grand cosmic wonder of the incarnation and in the simple joy of a meal shared with friends.

Illustration by Makers Co.

Related Topics:  Gods Love

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