In Part 1, I documented more than 12 ways in just the past six months that the White House and U.S. Department of Defense is trampling on the religious liberties of America's finest military servicemen and women. (If you haven't, please read Part 1 before proceeding with Part 2).
I am very disappointed by the dissolution of religious liberties in the U.S. military. Times have sadly and radically changed since my father served in World War II, since I served four years in the Air Force, and since my two brothers, Wieland and Aaron, served in the Army in Vietnam and Korea. (Our brother, Wieland, paid the ultimate price in the line of duty.)
I thank God I served in the Air Force during a time in which moral absolutes and a deep reverence for God pervaded culture, and especially the military. No serviceman or woman was ashamed or afraid to express their faith in God or their Christian beliefs. In fact, the very thought that they would somehow have to protect or defend their Christian faith would seem ludicrous.
On Christmas night in the late 1950s, I remember standing guard at the main gate at Osan Air Force base in South Korea. And though I couldn't participate in that's night Christmas service led by one of several amazing Christian chaplains, I recall thanking God that I had a chance and the honor of serving a Christian nation, whose leaders all seemed devoted in their practice and piety. We prayed for one another and prayed in a group. Our military leaders even prayed.
Remember, it was only a few short decades ago when commanders in chief, like President Ronald Reagan, spoke passionately about their Christian faith, as he did again in this national Christmas greetings from the Oval Office on Dec. 16, 1982: "In this holiday season, we celebrate the birthday of One who, for almost 2,000 years, has been a greater influence on humankind than all the rulers, all the scholars, all the armies and all the navies that ever marched or sailed, all put together. … it's also a holy day, the birthday of the Prince of Peace, a day when 'God so loved the world' that He sent us His only begotten Son to assure forgiveness of our sins."
One thing is certain. About this, we can have no doubt. America's founders built this nation upon religious freedom. They valued denominational pluralism. They were unified in their diversity. They all believed in a Creator. They were almost all vocal about their Christian beliefs, and we should be as well, especially during this Christmas season.
So let me tell you what I believe, in hope of inspiring a courageous spirit among us all, whether military personnel or civilian and patriot.
First, I firmly believe in a Creator God, just as our founders did. Not only is He repeatedly acknowledged in fundamental documents, like the Declaration of Independence, but also in most of the founders' personal testimonies. As Benjamin Franklin noted in his 1787 pamphlet for those in Europe thinking of relocating to America: "To this may be truly added, that serious religion, under its various denominations, is not only tolerated but respected and practiced. Atheism is unknown there." (If you're an atheist or skeptic, I encourage you to check out the materials and videos at the website of once-atheist and award-winning Chicago Tribune journalist Lee Strobel.)
Second, I adamantly believe in the original intent of the First Amendment, which secures our religious rights and liberties: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. ..." The ACLU and like-minded groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation are not preserving First Amendment rights; they are perverting the meaning of the Establishment Clause (which was to prevent the creation of a national church like the Church of England) and denying the Free Exercise Clause (which preserves our rights to worship as we want, privately and publicly). Both clauses were intended to safeguard religious liberty, not to circumscribe its practice. The framers were seeking to guarantee a freedom of religion, not a freedom from it.
Third, I respect all religions but adhere to one. I believe what Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration and a member of the presidential administrations of Adams, Jefferson and Madison, wrote: "Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mohammed inculcated upon our youth than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. But the religion I mean to recommend in this place is that of the New Testament."
And in so doing, I believe in the collection of beliefs stated almost poetically in the Apostolic Creed: "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and buried; he descended to the grave: the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from where he will come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian church; the fellowship of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and eternal life. Amen."
No Holy Week hesitations here. My wife, Gena, I and our family celebrate Christ in Christmas. That 2,000 years ago, God sent a Savior named Jesus, born to die for the sins of mankind, that whosoever believes in Him shall have eternal life – just as I chose to do decades ago at a Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles, Calif.
Friends, now is not the time in the history of our republic to be sheepish about our patriotism or religious convictions as so many of our leaders are, but to demonstrate with boldness in what and whom we believe. That is the type of leaders and presidents that we need in America's future.
We need more God-fearing men and women like those portrayed in the inspiring story and film about everyday heroes, "Courageous," which was also expanded into another best-selling novel by my friend and prolific author Randy Alcorn (Epm.org). In the novel, one character speaks for many of us and challenges the rest: "But there are some men who, regardless of the mistakes we've made in the past, regardless of what our fathers did not do for us, will give the strength of our arms and the rest of our days to loving God with all that we are and to teaching our children to do the same. And whenever possible, to love and mentor others who have no father in their lives but who desperately need help and direction. We are inviting any man whose heart is willing and courageous to join us. …"
Whatever your religious persuasion, don't be ashamed of it. And don't hesitate to let others know where you stand, respectfully speaking. Freedom of speech and religious liberty are your First Amendment rights. This is America. And that's one of the things that still makes us a great nation. In God we trust.