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NEW WHITE HOUSE FAITH AND OPPORTUNITY INITIATIVE
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, I want to take you to an article out of World Magazine, headline “Donald Trump Announces New White House Faith Initiative.” The president marked the National Day of Prayer last Thursday with a Rose Garden ceremony announcing the creation of a new White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative.
“The office will focus on protecting religious freedom, guaranteeing the faith-based and community organizers that form the bedrock of our society have strong advocates in the White House and throughout the federal government,” the president said. The White House later will appoint a special advisor who will lead the office and make recommendations to the administration.
IS THIS A NEW ERA?
Harry, indeed, we’ve gone through an era where it seems there’s been a real hostility from the federal government toward evangelical Christianity. While we don’t know the final outcome of creating this new office at the White House, nonetheless, it looks like it is a positive sign.
Harry, I also know that Briarwood has recently been involved in a faith forum and you had both national and state officials in attendance talking about many of the issues that affect our nation and how the church might be involved in those issues.
DR. REEDER: Coming out of the Reformation was a glorious, wonderful insight that the three spheres — church, state and family — are interdependent but should never be hierarchal and one should not use the other, although all three affect each other. You don’t use the power of the state to enforce the church and the church does not co-op the power of the state for itself.
That was understood and that’s been developed and the fruition of it was this marvelous American experiment which says here are the three spheres — church, state and family — and individuals operate in those three spheres and the state’s job is to protect the free exercise of religion and then, in the free exercise of religion, you speak to the matters of the state in order to maintain and mature those basic principles of freedom and law.
The founding fathers said, “We don’t want a national church, but we want the church to speak to the nation.” Evangelicals, while they have personal and moral concerns in the present administration, on the other hand, they see some wonderful advancement in policy and appointments.
IT’S WISE TO ALLOW CHRISTIANS TO CONTRIBUTE TO GOVERNMENT AND LIVE OUT THEIR FAITH
Some very thoughtful and effective believers that find themselves in these positions by appointment in this administration and then some initiatives like the one that you’ve mentioned in which Christianity, in general, and evangelicals, in particular, are invited into the public square because the administration is declaring: We need your input in some of these matters and we want to support you in that.
And we actually had that experience on a local level. We were asked by the state attorney general in Alabama, Steve Marshall, he wanted to host about five forums reaching out to “people of faith” and reaching out to the churches on some of the issues facing the nation, in general, and the state, in particular. Some of those would be security and safety and another one would be the opioid epidemic. We hosted it.
Tom, it was an amazing time — I’m still amazed by it. And I don’t know whether simply to tip my hat to Washington, or Montgomery or to both but, most of all, I tip my hat, of course, to my Savior and His kind providence that lets events like this happen.
GREAT FOCUS ON HOW CHURCHES CAN HELP IN OPIOID EPIDEMIC
Our attorney general, Steve Marshall was very clear and he said, “We need the churches involvement in this opioid epidemic. You have no idea the depth of the problem that we’re facing in Alabama and even more in some states.” And he said, “Now, here’s what you can do for us,” and then when he finishes, he said, “Most of all is your work of evangelism.”
And then, from Washington, this very articulate and insightful lady began to give us the challenges and, three different times, she said this, “Now, look, our programs can help, our programs can retard the opioid epidemic, our programs can assist in all of those things but we can’t solve it.” And she just said, three different times, “It takes the Gospel of Jesus Christ to convert someone.”
And then they had a guy come in who gave a testimony. I’ll tell you, it took a long time to get through his testimony because there was a deep, dark path. This opioid epidemic is unbelievable in its devastation and how it’s accessed so quickly through prescription drugs. And then he gave this and how he got into it, and how easy it was to go deeper and deeper, and the destruction in his life, his marriage, his family, his children, his job, everything. And then God, by His grace, brought someone with the Gospel and another person into his life brought him to saving faith in Christ and now his life has been rebuilt.
It was a wonderful testimony and then, basically, she says, “See what I mean? Now, we were doing many things to help him, but that’s what it takes. We need you.” Now, she not only was right, but to hear someone from Washington saying that to us — articulate, insightful.
PREPARE FOR EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL THREATS TO CHURCHES
Then the expert that comes in about security in churches and he says, “Now, listen, there’s an external threat that people can come in with a gun,” and then he said, “Now here’s how you can set up your church.” And then he said very insightfully, “But your greatest threat is not from the outside.”
Now, as you know, Tom, I’ve had death threats — I understand all of that. He said: You know your greatest threat’s not from the outside; it’s from the inside. Let me tell you where it is. Churches are volunteer societies. You’ve got volunteers in your youth ministry, your children’s ministry and the nursery ministry and your greatest concern is to set up a proper process that doesn’t inhibit volunteers but does rightly screen them.
We work on the basis of volunteers. That can be a point of entry for someone who wants to manipulate the process in terms of predatorial behavior.
SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT BE IN OUR CHURCHES?
TOM LAMPRECHT: Is there anything that the church ought to be leery of with the federal government coming into the church? For example, I know a lot of people say, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get prayer back into schools?” The problem is who’s going to be leading the prayers?
HARRY REEDER: Here’s what you need to understand: You don’t want the government to fund religion because, once they fund it, they’ll control it, but you don’t want them to prohibit religion. And, if there are public funds that are accessible, then it’s fine to make those accessible but you’ve got to realize that it’s accessible to you, then they’re accessible for the Jewish synagogue and they’re accessible for the Islamic temple so you’ve got to understand that the government cannot pick winners and losers.
However, for me, that’s not a problem. I love to get in the game and compete. Let’s see what the Gospel does for people who are in addictive behaviors and let’s see what the man-made religions do for those in addictive behaviors. I’m all for that. Just give us access to the prison, give us access to the schools.
Don’t mandate people to have to participate in a “religious initiative,” but open the door for it and let’s see what that does in those institutions. We don’t want formal funding, but if there are facilities and things that are available, let’s get in and let’s all compete in the matters of life — just keep the public square open. And that’s what the government is supposed to do.
IT’S PROGRESS THAT THE GOVERNMENT REALIZES FAITH MATTERS AND CAN CHANGE SOCIETY
And I’m thankful for a government that understands this is not going to be solved by prisons and sentences and regulations. We need prisons, we need sentences, we need regulation — we need all of those things, but what it’s going to be solved is with what gets to the heart and these people had enough sense to say the Gospel gets to the heart. It doesn’t cosmetically change things through manipulative therapies; it is a heart change and that means a life change. When the heart changes, then lives change. When the heart changes and lives change, then communities change.
We don’t see changes unless people’s hearts get changed and the only thing we see changing that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What a glorious time it was and I’m grateful we could do that.
And, again, I want to say to all of our listeners that any time that we can be of help by sharing our screening process and evaluation tools, we are more than happy to do that because we do need to understand the statistical likelihood of somebody walking in with a gun — not that that doesn’t need to be a concern — but that’s very small compared to people that would come into churches looking for volunteers and use that as an access for predatorial behavior. And any way that we can help our brothers and sisters, we would love to do that.
COMING UP FRIDAY: A CONTROVERSIAL BIRTHDAY
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, on Friday’s edition of Today in Perspective, we’re going to recognize a birthday — the 200th birthday of an individual that, when his name comes up, there are a lot of different responses.
DR. REEDER: There were statues to this man that were torn down in the 1980s and now we have an 18-foot statue that was financed and erected in Germany to him last Saturday so let’s take a look at that individual and that celebration from a Christian world and life view. And let’s let our folks just think about now who are we talking about? We’ll tell you tomorrow.
Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.
This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin, editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News, who has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and whose work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.