Standing for Faith in the Public SquareJune 13, 2014
Are our religious liberties being pinched? Or slowly being abolished? FOX News Commentator Todd Starnes shares some of the latest eye-opening stories you may or may not have heard on the 6 o'clock news.
Are our religious liberties being pinched? Or slowly being abolished? FOX News Commentator Todd Starnes shares some of the latest eye-opening stories you may or may not have heard on the 6 o'clock news.
Standing for Faith in the Public Square
Bob: Fox News contributor, Todd Starnes, believes we’re entering an era when religious free speech may be curtailed, and he believes the marriage issue is the tip of the spear.
Todd: There’s going to come a time when someone finally says: “Well, wait a second. Where are people getting all this information about this belief system about marriage?” Well, they’re going to look at the Bible. When they look at the Bible, I believe that they are going to have to start putting limitations—they’re going to have to start curtailing religious freedom—all for the sake of tolerance and diversity here in the United States.
And it’s really causing a number of Christians to step back and start asking: “Well, how do we respond to this? What happens if they come after us? What are we going to do?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, June 13th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll talk today with Todd Starnes about the erosion of religious liberties in our country today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Now, you’ve got to be honest. You occasionally flip over and watch Fox News; don’t you?
Dennis: I do.
Bob: Because you come in here and you say, “Did you see that last night on Fox News?” Sometimes, I did; and sometimes, I didn’t.
Dennis: Yes; and sometimes, I get angry with Fox News and turn it off—[Laughter] —just like I do with—
Bob: —anybody else. [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes. Well, how does that feel, Todd Starnes, to be introduced like that?
Todd: Geez-aloo! [Laughter]
Dennis: Todd is the host of Fox News and Commentary. It’s a radio show heard daily on more than 400 stations across the country. He’s written a book that I predict is going to create a few emails and phone calls across the country. It’s called God Less America—and the “B” of Bless—well, it used to be there.
Yes, that’s kind of the symbol there of what the title of this book is.
And I know this is kind of a standard question, but why did you write this? I mean, I know you’re doing commentary every day; but what are you attempting to accomplish by writing this book?
Todd: Yes, that’s a great question. I live in a very liberal part of Brooklyn—home to many vegan restaurants and yoga shops. I sort of feel like an outcast in my neighborhood because I love barbeque and I don’t do yoga. So—
Bob: Haven’t you tried vegan barbeque yet?
Todd: You know, it’s funny you should bring that up. I was in Asheville, North Carolina, and came across a restaurant that actually served barbeque tofu—and I rebuked them in the name of Jesus—right there. [Laughter]
Dennis: I loved your comment about—you went to the movie, Noah. According to you, what did you say that Noah did in the opening scene?
Todd: Well, in the opening scene, it became very clear that, according to this Hollywood version of Noah, that God destroyed the earth because of the florists and the meat-eaters. So, you know, he rebuked a child—his child—for plucking a flower. Then, they had all these people who were eating meat—and apparently, those were the bad guys. So, to affirm my faith in the Lord—after the movie, I went to go eat some barbeque—[Laughter] —very good.
Dennis: So, back to why you wrote the book.
Todd: Pardon me for that tangent. You know, one of the things that—the common phrases I hear, whenever I write a column or a commentary, is this: “We had no idea this was going on in our country.”
And the reason why is because the mainstream media just—they won’t cover this stuff. They just—it’s not on their radar. They don’t care about this kind of stuff. It’s a non-issue for them. So, I wanted to put together a collection of some of the most egregious examples of religious liberty under attack—put those together in book form so that people could see.
To borrow a phrase from a very well-known Christian author: “This is the evidence that demands a verdict. This is what is happening in your country. What are you going to do about it?”
Bob: Okay, I read a Christian blog talking about you. You may have seen this. It was taking you to task—saying you are blowing some of these stories out of proportion. Have you seen that?
Todd: Oh, yes. [Laughter]
Bob: Yes. So, would you—what would you say to the blogger?
Todd: Well, first, I want to thank them for reading me. I appreciate the click—[Laughter] —but look, I understand that there are some in the Christian community and the evangelical Christian community who believe we shouldn’t be talking about these things—that, as a Christian, we have a responsibility to accept the persecution that’s coming our way.
I understand that, and I respect their belief system; but I disagree with it. I believe that, as citizens in this country, we have religious liberty. If we want to maintain religious liberty—well, we need to do something about it.
We have to stand up and do our part as, not just Christians, but as citizens.
Bob: So, let’s say a baker—like the one you’ve talked about in your book—who lived in Portland, who got persecuted and shut down because they would not bake a cake for a gay wedding, and their kids got death threats—now, they came to you and said: “Todd, give us advice. What should we do, and how should we do it?” Now, you’re their counselor—not just the news reporter telling what happened. How would you counsel them?
Todd: Well, fortunately, there are many religious liberty law firms that have started popping up across the country. The reason why is because there are so many of these cases where people’s faith is coming under attack. It’s not just in the business community—it’s also happening in the public school system.
Why do you think—and a lot of people have been posturing about this and offering opinions about this—but why do you think, on the issue of gay marriage, there has been such a massive swing in support for gay marriage in just a short amount of time?
I believe the answer is because the kids are being taught that in schools and that we have seen a generation of kids coming up through grade schools that have been taught something that is perhaps contrary to what they’ve learned at home or what they’ve learned at their church. As a result, now—what’s happening in the public school system is now impacting the culture at large.
Bob: Well, and certainly—even if they are not being taught that gay marriage is acceptable—those who would hold a different view are finding themselves holding their tongue in a public school environment for fear somebody is going to be offended by what they say.
Todd: Most certainly. I tell a story of a group of school teachers in Florida, who were told they could not pray together, as teachers, in their classrooms and that students could not see them praying or talking about faith. Some of these teachers actually had to go and pray inside a closet. This is where they had their morning quiet time—to pray in a closet—lest they be punished by the school system. This is a very, very dangerous environment for them.
Many of them want to keep their jobs—they love their jobs. They are trying to find ways to live out their faith within the confines of the law.
Dennis: It seems to me that as you watch what’s happening across the country—that those of us who have a biblical worldview—that there is an increasing intolerance for anyone who holds to that kind of standard and that is going to be singled out as unacceptable under the banner of being a person who embraces tolerance.
Todd: Most certainly. One of the most compelling stories for me happened at the steps of the United States Supreme Court. A middle school—private school from Arizona—they would always bring the eighth grade class to Washington, DC, to take the tours and look at the monuments.
They had gathered on the plaza of the Supreme Court to pray for the President, and the Justices, and members of Congress. This group of 12-/13-year-old kids were gathered in a small circle—and their teacher—
—they all held hands. The teacher led them in a prayer. As they were praying, a member of the Capitol police force came over and interrupted the prayer and told the teacher that they were violating the law and that they were not allowed to pray on the steps of the Supreme Court—this plaza.
So, this teacher gathered up her young kids. They stood on a sidewalk—and some of the kids had to stand on a gutter—they joined hands again. They continued to pray for the very people they were told, “You can’t do that here.”
Dennis: And the law says, “They can pray there”; can’t they?
Todd: Well, again, it really depends because what they’ll say: “Well, you can’t—you have to have a permit. You’ve got a large gathering. If you’ve got 10 to 15 to 20 people, you have a gathering. You have to have a parade permit, or you have to have some sort of a permit to meet there to have some sort of a rally.”
So, it really depends on the police officer and how that police officer interprets the law.
That’s why we’ve had so many cases filed because of the way people are interpreting the law—
—whether it’s a Capitol police officer or whether it’s a local school system.
Bob: Todd, you’re aware that, I think—FamilyLife produced a video series called The Art of Marriage®. This has been used in churches and communities all, across the country, over the last three years.
One of the most high-risk areas for marriage is the US military. If somebody is in the service, it adds additional strain and stress to their marriage. The divorce rate among military personnel is higher than it is in the general public. So, at an Air Force Base in Arkansas—our home state—they had decided that they were going to offer our Art of Marriage video series to the service personnel as a way to try to help strengthen their marriages.
I think it was an optional offering for those who wanted to go through it. There was a protest lodged because our video series represents only one view on marriage—
—the biblical view of marriage. The protest was launched by somebody from out of state—the Freedom from Religion—
Todd: Freedom from Religion Foundation.
Bob: Yes. He got, apparently, some Corps men who said, “Yes, I don’t like this.” So, they lodged it, and the military here made the decision that they would show a different video series that had—I don’t know what viewpoint it represented—but something with more diversity, I think.
We heard about that. We kind of went, “Really?” So, what we’ve created—that presents a biblical view of marriage—is offensive to some group as an optional offering.
Todd: Congratulations! You guys are intolerant! [Laughter] I mean, really, that’s—I mean—when I heard that report—I’m sitting in my office at the Fox News corner of the world. I’m shaking my head because—“FamilyLife…really? I mean, give me a break!”
But at the same time, you have to understand something—that under this administration / under this government—they audited Billy Graham because of their defense of marriage in North Carolina. So, if they are going to audit and investigate “America’s pastor,” the rest of us may as well give up. I mean, it’s really rough out there.
Dennis: It really is, but it’s all the more reason why—whether you are a businessman, or a husband, father, wife, mom—we’ve got to be training our children and make sure they know what they believe and what the Bible teaches around the major issues that our culture is throwing at them. You’ve got to take these issues on. You’ve got to talk about them within your home and also teach your kids how to love others who may not believe as they believe.
I think—I look back on our training of our kids—this was not a hot issue when we were raising our kids—other things were—but we could have done a better job about teaching our kids how to love people who don’t believe as we believe.
I think that’s a mandate—an absolute mandate from Scripture today—not just to teach the truth of God’s Word—but to also teach about the love of Jesus Christ as well.
Bob: Well, and I keep coming back to 1 Peter, Chapter 2, verses 11 and 12. I reflect on this often because this passage talks to a group of people who are living in a more oppressive system of government than the one we live under; right? I mean, the folks who were living in ancient Rome—standing up for your faith was not just something that would get your business shut down—it would get you tossed to the lions.
Peter says to his readers in verse 11, “I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul.” Then, he says, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable so that when they speak against you as evil doers, they may see your good deeds and glorify your God on the day of visitation.”
We do have to represent Christ, as ambassadors, in a way that people go, “Well, the way they are acting is the way I would think Jesus would act”; right?
Todd: Well, you’re absolutely right. And again, this is not an angry book. This is: “Hey, here is what’s happening. Here is what we need to be doing, but here is what I see happening in the future.” I see young Christians that are starting to stand up for their faith, and it’s the way they are standing up in their faith that impresses me.
I tell the story of Roy Costner, who grew up in Liberty, South Carolina—of all places—and was the high school valedictorian. His father is a youth pastor. Roy was called into the principal’s office and said, “You get to deliver a speech, but you have to turn your speech in so that we can edit your speech for you.” There were four or five government officials, at that school system, that went through and crossed out every reference he made to God—every Bible verse.
Anything religious was removed and censored.
So, Roy was rather perplexed because he wanted to deliver the speech that he believed God had given him to deliver. So, instead of just going out there and doing something, he sat down with his parents. He discussed what he felt like God wanted him to do. Roy felt like God wanted him to deliver that speech. So, his father said, “Well, you need to pray about it; but you also need to go talk to the senior pastor and talk to him about it.” So, they prayed about it.
Come graduation day, Roy got up there. In an act of civil disobedience, he respectfully tore up the speech that the government had approved and set it aside. He told me—he said, “Mr. Starnes, there was this—I just felt the Holy Spirit doing something inside of me.” Then, Roy delivered the speech that he believed God wanted him to deliver; but he did so in a very respectful manner.
And I tell many other stories about young people—teenagers just like Roy—that are facing those decisions in their public schools right now.
Bob: Are there not cases—have I not heard about cases—where a public school has stepped in and said, “This is got to stop,”—and somebody has raised their hand and said, “No,” or they’ve called the Alliance Defending Freedom, or they’ve called Jay Sekulow’s group? And the school has said: “Okay, we were wrong. We are going to allow these religious activities to happen.” There are some victories; aren’t there?
Todd: There certainly are. And that’s the exciting thing—that some school districts are deciding to take a stand and say: “You know what? We’re not going to be bothered by the Freedom from Religion Foundation,”—they are based in Wisconsin. This organization is specifically targeting smaller communities and towns that do not have the financial resources to hire attorneys and to fight back. But some communities are starting to stand up and say: “You know what? That’s not what the Constitution says. We believe that we do have the freedom of religion and that we have the right to do ‘x,’ ‘y’, and ‘z.’”
Dennis: There are over 40 million children being educated in our public schools.
A lot of moms and dads, listening to this broadcast, who’ve got their kids in there—and they’ve got to know: “How, then, shall we live? How do we operate in this increasingly secularized, intolerant culture?” What would be a couple of key points of advice you would give them? I mean: “Are we to start filing lawsuits, left and right, just because somebody pushes back against us?”
Todd: Well, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. You know, I think that groups like Alliance Defending Freedom, and Liberty Institute / Liberty Counsel—those groups are there to offer advice, and to offer counsel, and if need be, step in if the law demands it.
But I believe that, most importantly, parents—moms and dads—should understand and know what their kids are being taught. That’s going to take a little bit of work because, let’s be honest, a lot of parents don’t have time to go through the 700-page history book and read every single word; but it’s going to be very important for moms and dads to be so diligent. I think that’s why we’re seeing a number of parents taking their kids and homeschooling their kids or putting them in private Christian schools—
—as an alternative—rather than keeping their kids in the public schools.
Dennis: I think that it’s going to demand parents be highly-engaged and very involved with their kids—getting a debrief on what’s going on in their school / what’s being taught—almost on a daily basis.
We did this. It was a different day when we educated our kids in the public school; but nonetheless, there were a lot of things that we found out about that we had some problems with. Interestingly, we would go have a conversation with a teacher in a very polite, respectful manner and see if there was another option that our child could choose—another book rather than this book or this movie—that they were being asked to view. I think there is a way to be respectful and be the salt and light, I think, that Christ calls us to be and be as Jesus said, “Be as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove.”
Todd: You know, there is a great song that I listened to when I was in school by Steve Green. So, I’m going Christian old school.
Bob: Yes, you are.
Dennis: Yes, you are.
Todd: You guys remember the song, Find Us Faithful?
Todd: “May the fires of our devotion light their way. May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe, and the lives we live inspire them to obey.” You know, that is a really challenging passage of verse there—that, in this day in age, the flame may be flickering and the footsteps may be few—but there is still hope because there is still a flame / there is still a spark, and there are still footsteps out there—people that are willing to be faithful to the calling of God on their lives. I think, moving forward, that’s what we have to hold onto as we go through this very difficult stage in our country’s history.
Dennis: And what I want moms and dads to hear is: “Regardless of how powerful media is / the internet, the family still is the most powerful unit God has every created to shape the conscience, the soul, the mind of a child.”
And it’s time for parents to do their duty—not shrink back / not capitulate and let the world take over their child—but to stand firm and to teach your children how to think, how to believe, and how to base how they live on the Scriptures and a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Todd: I’m in Dr. Rainey’s foxhole. [Laughter]
Dennis: Are you in there?
Todd: I’m in there with you.
Dennis: I mean, seriously, what else have we got?
Todd: That’s true.
Dennis: I mean as a follower of Christ, I’m not going to do it perfectly; and I’m not going to throw stones at other people who don’t do it perfectly either. And I’m sure not going to throw stones at people who don’t know God and don’t have a relationship with Him, and therefore, be suffering from all kinds of things.
Todd: I’m not a pastor, and I’m not a theologian. So, really, my book is a view from the pew. You know, I’m telling our stories—what’s happening to people of faith in this country. At the end of the day, I hope it’s up to the pastors to educate their congregations and to let them know: “Here’s what’s happening in our country,” and, “Here is what we need to do as a people under God.”
Bob: Well, and I think there is a lot we can learn from the book of Daniel in terms of how to respond in the midst of persecution and civil disobedience because Daniel certainly said, “There are some things that the king’s asking me to do that I can’t do,” and he respectfully—
Bob: —refused and faced some consequences, willingly, and trusted God in the midst of those.
Dennis: But he didn’t arrive at that point of conviction suddenly, with some kind of lightning bolt of conviction. He had lived a life of basing his life on the Scripture.
Dennis: And so, he was building on the Rock that he’d been building his whole life on; and when called upon at an instant to obey, it was natural because that’s what he’d always been doing. And that’s what I think we’ve got to do! We have to realize that how we’re living today—who we’re obeying / our choices we make—are we living according to this Book? Are we living in that? Are we passing it on to our kids?
Because our days are numbered—we’re going to be out of here someday—we must leave a spiritual remnant of Christ-followers who radically follow Him all their days.
Bob: Our listeners didn’t see you pick up the Bible when you said, “Living according to this Book.” They might have thought you were talking about Todd’s book. So, I just—
Dennis: Well, Todd’s book—
Todd: Oh, no!
Dennis: —it’s a good book, but I’m not going to put it up against the Scriptures. And he’s got his hands, pushing back, at this point, going:—
Todd: “Whoa!. ‘Verily, verily…’”
Dennis: —“No way—no way!” Todd, it’s been good to have you with us.
Todd: Thank you very much.
Dennis: I appreciate you. Thank you for standing on behalf of Jesus Christ where you are—in media. I mean, what a tough assignment; but I admire your courage. I admire what you are up to there. I pray God’s favor upon you and length of days. I know you’ve had some health challenges over your life; but God’s got you in a spot, and He’s using you for His purposes.
Todd: Life is a blessing—
Dennis: It is.
Todd: —a blessing from God.
Dennis: Thanks for being here.
Todd: Thank you, sir.
Bob: We have copies of your book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. So, let me let our listeners know—
—if you’d like a copy of Todd Starnes’ book, God Less America, go to FamilyLifeToday.com; and you can request a copy. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “Go Deeper,”—top of the page—and that’ll take you right to where you can order a copy of Todd’s book. Or call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329.
One other thing I just want to make sure our listeners know about. This month, we’re trying to encourage guys to take other guys through the Stepping Up® video series that FamilyLife has put together—maybe guys and dads / maybe it’s fathers and sons that you want to take through this material—but our team has agreed, this month, if you order the DVDs from us, we will ship you five workbooks so that the guys you take through it all have the workbook available at no additional cost. Find out about the special offer for the Stepping Up video series when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com as well. Click the link that says, “Go Deeper.”
The information about the Stepping Up special offer is available right there.
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