Understanding Religious Freedom

Memorial Day 2010

Memorial Day is a day to honor America’s heroes of war, our soldiers who have died in defense of liberty. After the Civil War, in several communities around the country, people gathered to commemorate and honor those fallen warriers of freedom. (According to Wikipedia, and Professor David Blight of Yale), it is believed that the first such memorial in the country occurred in Charleston, SC at what was then known as Washington Race Course, and is now known as Hampton Park. That gathering was on May 1, 1865, and was organized by formerly enslaved black people on the Washington Race Course, which had been used as a temporary prison camp for captured Union soldiers, and a grave site for those who had died there. At this first celebration, the Charleston newspaper reported that about ten thousand people, mostly black residents of Charleston, attended, including about 2800 children. It was reported that the celebration included sermons, singing, and a picnic on the grounds. The day was not called Memorial Day, but was called Decoration Day. So, I have no qualms in preaching today about Memorial Day.

Memorial Day grew out of such early, post-Civil War remembrances and celebrations, not only in Charleston, but also in Sharpsburg, MD (near Antietam Battlefield); Boalsburg, PA; Carbondale, IL; Columbus, MI; several communities in Vermont; and a couple of dozen other cities and communities around the country. These observances coalesced around days also honoring the Confederate dead and the several Confederate Memorial Days.

The name Memorial Day was first used in Waterloo, NY, for a celebration and memorial observance on May 5, 1866. The first official (really “unofficial”) “Memorial Day Order” was given under date of May 5, 1868, at the request of General John Murray, a prominent citizen of Waterloo, of his friend General John A. Logan. General Logan was commander-in-chief of a veterans’ organization called the Grand Army of the Republic. His order requested a national observance, although he had no governmental or military authority at that point. The order reads as follows:

General Orders No. 11, Grand Army of the Republic Headquarters.

“I. The30thdayofMay,1868isdesignatedforthepurpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and commanders will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances permit.

“We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, ‘of preserving and strengthenin those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.’ What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

“If our eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

“Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence

renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphans.

“II. It is the purpose of the Commander-In-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of commanders in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.”

“III. . . . .
“By order of
“John A. Logan “Commander-in-chief (etc.)

The date of May 30 was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any Civil War battle. Under the sponsorship of the Grand Army of the Republic, the tombs and graves of fallen Union soldiers were decorated in solemn remembrance.

There was, initially, some resistance to this celebration of Union soldiers in the South, with a notable exception being in Columbus, Mississippi, which on April 25, 1866, at its Decoration Day service, commemorated both Union and Confederate casualties buried in its cemetery.

Although the now, so-called Memorial Day Order was given by General Logan on May 5, 1868, the day “Decoration Day” did not give way to the name “Memorial Day” until 1882, and it did not become more common until after WWII, and did not obtain official status until 1967, by enactment into Federal Law. By a further change in Federal Law in 1968 (with effect in 1971), the date was changed to the last Monday in May of each year to accommodate three-day weekends. Within a few years thereafter, all 50 states adopted compliant measures for the celebration of Memorial Day on the last Monday in May.

So, here we are on Memorial Day weekend, 2010, and you ask why am I “preaching”, so to speak, about the Civil War origins of what we now call Memorial Day. I don’t know what they preached, as in Charleston, at those early 1860’s Decoration Day celebrations. But from its origins of celebrating the role of the military in liberating the enslaved, we can see that such liberation was vital in securing freedom of movement about the country, freedom of peaceable assembly, freedom of thought and speech, freedom of self-defense, freedom of person and security of personal property, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom to choose how to live life. In other words, we see, in that liberation from slavery, the same freedoms that our founding forefathers sought and fought to find in the wilderness of America, and its streets, waterways and farmlands, in the War for Independence.

Beginning with those who came over on the Mayflower, dissenters seeking religious freedom, from the constraints of Catholicism in Europe and the Church of England, and elsewhere, beginning with the creation of the Mayflower Compact, and going into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, and its annexed Bill of Rights, those principles of government which secure religious freedom have been the same principles that underlay freedom from slavery: freedom of movement about the country, freedom of peaceable assembly, freedom of thought and speech, freedom of self-defense, freedom of person and security of personal property, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom to choose how to live life. So, what is so valuable to know and to remember as we celebrate each Memorial Day, is not just freedom for slaves, secured in the 1860’s, but also freedom for Christians, and other believers of other faiths, secured by the founding principles of our great country, America — the United States of America.

But what we all need to see and understand is a hard, cold reality of life: Our freedoms in America, our religious freedoms, still exist because the American military is dedicated to the security of those freedoms and the maintenance of those freedoms, through force and death as needed. For that, today, and everyday of our lives, we must be grateful to them and to our God who inspired the creation of such a country as this, and inspired, and inspires, such men and women to defend, protect and secure these freedoms: our freedom to travel here today; our freedom to assemble here today to worship Jesus Christ, Jehovah God, and the Holy Spirit; our freedom to study the Word of God, the Holy Bible; and to speak freely about who the Trinity is, about what God’s Word commands, and about the reality of His Truth. Yes, without the principles of American government on which we were founded, and without the commitment, by the American military, and the dedication of each American household to align itself and to prepare itself and to participate when and if needed with the American military in such endeavors, to secure these freedoms, then darkness will cover our land and its people, and the light of Christ will dim away, even in our country.

In my life time, we have ended the war with Hitler and His Axis powers of Japan and Italy; we have ended the Korean Conflict (but if Kim Jong Il has his way that Conflict may be renewed); we have ended the Vietnam War; we have engaged in Grenada, in Panama, and in countless other places in the world. The Cold War has been ended, once, and the Wall in Berlin is down. Now, our focus is necessarily, but not or our making, on the middle east – the two wars in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, etc.

But, in this context of Memorial Day, what I want to talk to you about today, what I want you to pray about, is a war for the soul of America, indeed a war for the soul of the World. The aggressor in that War is named Islam. You can mince words about peaceful Islam or militant Islam, but I am not going to do that, and I decline to do that. I am going to give all Islamists the benefit of believing, myself, that they believe what is in their Qu’ran: the simple belief that it is their human, Allah-ordained duty to kill all humans who do not convert from whatever their beliefs are to a stated and practicing belief in Islam and his prophet Mohammed. In other words, I simply do not believe that Islamists/Muslims are dishonest enough to pick and choose which parts of the Qu’ran to believe and which to disbelieve or ignore (Indeed, if they do, their more zealous faith-companions have a “duty” according to the Qu’ran to kill them.) I take them at their word that they are honest people, fully committed to the Word of Allah given them by his prophet Mohammed. Thus, I believe that they believe that it is their duty to kill you, my wife, my children, me, and every other person in the world who refuses to convert to Islam and stay thus converted.

Now, this is a problem for me, and for every honest Christian, and for every American. The problem may be explained this way: American freedoms work, indeed the essential freedoms which God, the Creator, has endowed in all men, as rights, as inalienable rights, work only if we are allowed to practice those rights, and live in those rights.

As Christians, we proselytize, we evangelize, indeed we are commanded to do so (Matthew 28: 19-20), to go all over the world, to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the Gospel that no man cometh unto the Father, Father God, but by and through Jesus and his Blood spilled in atonement for man’s sin; the Gospel that there is no forgiveness of sins, no resurrection into eternal life with God except by Grace and repentance.

But Jesus explained (Parable of the Sower, and other parables in Matthew 13) that some plant the seeds, some water the seeds, and some seeds are successfully germinated and bear fruit, but not all seeds do. In I Corinthians 3: 6-9, Paul taught, and explained: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.” Between the rocky places, the tares and weeds, the lack of watering, etc., not everyone comes to the saving knowledge of the truth which is Jesus Christ, so not everyone we evangelize actually converts to Christianity.

That is not God’s desire, (I Tim 2: 1-6) for He desires all men to come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, but God gave us free will, free choice and that right is deeply embodied in American law and our Constitution and Bill of Rights – that right of free will, of free choice, is a right to a freedom from slavery of body and mind and Spirit. The Civil War is credited with freeing the American slaves in their bodies from the control of their owners, and bestowing upon the former slaves all the American rights and freedoms given each person, as inalienable rights, by God Himself.

What confronts us now, in Islam, is the threat of death if we do not convert to Islam, not merely the threat of slavery of our bodies. It is a far greater threat than mere slavery of our bodies. Murder is worse than slavery. The events of Sept. 11, 2001 should bear heavily into mind for each of us this Memorial Day 2010, and forever. Especially as we note the planned, and approved development of a mosque next to the World Trade Center site in Manhattan, scheduled to open on Sept. 11, 2011, the Tenth Anniversary of the attacks on America with hijacked airplanes.

In Mark 6: 10-12, as Jesus was instructing His Twelve, as He sent them out two by two to evangelize, He did not admonish them to kill those who did not convert to The Way of Jesus. Instead he said this: “In whatever place you enter a house, stay there until you depart from that place (village or town). And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.

In Europe, Islam is taking over. I will post on the church website a copy of a speech by a European government official, recently given in New York, explaining how by sheer population growth, even without physical war, those of Islamic beliefs will soon control the democratic process in most European countries. Even England already recognizes the right of Muslims to govern by Shira Law, not English Law. Put another way, in part, English law, the antecedent of American Law, does not exist anymore. That is the fulcrum of the threat to American Law, as the Muslims gain population control, and voting majorities, they will change the law and the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and we as Americans will lose our rights to be Christians, to live as free people in a free land.

My father used to tell me when I was a sometimes bragadocious young teenager, saying what I was going to do to someone whose actions I disapproved of, “Son, your rights stop where someone’s nose begins.” Islam really helps me understand this principle of basic human – and American – rights: that my rights have limitations, and so do everyone else’s rights.

The integrity and existence of religious freedom depends on the ability, not just the right, of a person to deny evangelism from another religion without suffering death as a consequence. What Islam poses is the threat that if one does not convert to Islam, the followers of Mohammed and Allah have not just a right, in their view, but a divinely-ordained duty to kill the one who has so disrespected their faith as not to convert to it. That is it in a nutshell. As the British, even the world, learned from the walkup to WWII, there are some forces with which appeasement will never work. Yes, you might, as a nation, negotiate with the snake, and delay the problem and as we say, “kick the can down the road, to deal with later, perhaps”. But even as Islam allows a delay, it is building populations with much higher birth rates than in so-called modern countries utilizing not just birth control but abortion, it is building military forces, it is building nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction to use against those who resist conversion to Islam, individually and nationally.

Our God says for us, as evangelists, merely to shake the dust from our feet as a testimony against those who reject Jesus. From Ephesians 6, the Armor of God, what do we understand to be our feet? It is the gospel of peace, the gospel of the good news of Jesus Christ! The Islamic god says that the followers of Islam must kill us if we reject Allah and Mohammed. Our God says for us to stamp the dust from our feet covered in shoes of peace, not war, because our God says “vengeance is Mine” (Romans 12:19). Yet, their God puts a duty of vengeance upon their followers.

We cannot allow in America any religion to have free exercise, even to exist , which does not honor the right of others freely to exercise their own religion. The right to religious freedom ends wherever it denies the right of religious freedom to exist in others. In other words, religious freedoms are limited by the “noses” of others, as my father would have said. Islam cannot be heard, as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, as a religion of peace, to be welcome in America. Islam must be recognized for what it is, the enemy of God, of Jesus, of the Holy Spirit, of all Christians everywhere, and indeed the enemy of America. To be an American, you have to live by American law, to play by the rules so to speak, and in its heart Islam is only scamming us by appeasement and an appeal to support their religious freedom in America, because Islam, in its religious suppression, does not support our religious freedom and therefore, Islam does not qualify to participate in the freedoms of America. You, individually, must grasp this concept, believe it and share it, if you are ever going to understand religious freedom and its significance in your life.

Thus, I see that we are in a season of national and international crisis. This Memorial Day 2010 puts it into focus, so sharply. In the Civil War, at least after the Emancipation Proclamation (which only applied in the so-called rebelling states, but did not apply in the Northern slave states) in 1863, two and a half years after the States Rights War actually started in April 1861, the War came to be said to be a war for the liberation of enslaved men’s bodies so they could exercise, as American citizens, all American Freedoms. We can talk about the history in another context, but the reality is that during and after the Civil War, slavery did disappear from America, and that is a good thing, though at the price of over 500,000 lives of young men, who, if they had reproduced would give us an even larger population buffer against Islam, today and in the future.

Today, the crisis is both the threat of overt attack by a belligerent Iran, and its supporters, because American and Israel are seen by them as affronts to Islam, but also the insidious threat of allowing Islam to exist, populate, spread and flourish, over time, in America as Islam, and I say so intentionally, is hell-bent, now, on doing in Europe.

The followers of Islam, at least at their leadership levels, are not stupid and they are out to get us.

Today, as we commemorate Memorial Day, I ask you to honor not just who fought to liberate American blacks from physical slavery, and then in other wars and conflicts to defend and protect the rights of freedom around the world, but now those who are fighting to protect religious freedom here and abroad. God bless them all, and those to come in wearing the uniform of our military, and those, with the military, defending from their own and their neighbors’ doorsteps, windows and backyards, and God bless you+