“Make America Great Again” (MAGA) is a slogan used not only by Donald Trump, but before him by Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Hillary Clinton. But according to Democratic pollster Douglas Schoen, Trump used it the best. Schoen called Trump’s use of MAGA “the most resonant campaign slogan in recent history.” Why? Because in Schoen’s opinion, large majorities of Americans in 2016 believed our country was in decline. It seems likely that a post-COVID-19 poll would show people starting to feel that way once again.
If the MAGA message is so resonant, it’s worth asking: what does “making America great again” really mean? Is it just a campaign ad? Or can we actually achieve greatness and keep it? The answer may have been given to us in 1885 by a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville. As he toured America, he observed:
“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the Churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” [emphasis added]
Tocqueville recognized the strong influence of the Church in America. He was a strong supporter of the separation of Church and State, but also a strong supporter of the practice of religion. Rather than attempting to push faith out of the public sphere, he welcomed the practice of faith and its influence on the culture.
Rhode Island should take note. Churches have been largely shut down for weeks, and in the meantime depression, domestic abuse, suicide, and drug abuse have all increased. This is exactly where Rhode Island churches can be most helpful – and a critical reason our church doors must be allowed to reopen more fully.
Currently, restaurants can seat 50% of capacity – but Rhode Island churches remain at 25%. When churches are not being treated equally to other entities in the state, that signals a threat to our religious freedom – and with it, a threat to the “greatness” of our state. The right to gather together for worship is one protected by our Constitution, and one that should not be taken lightly.
That’s why we are asking Governor Raimondo to welcome religion in her Phase 2 COVID guidelines, just as Tocqueville welcomed it more than a century ago. We’re asking her to allow church doors to open at 40-50% capacity, and for her to recognize churches as “essential.” If you haven’t already, will you join with us by signing this petition, and sharing it with your Rhode Island friends? There is strength in numbers, and Governor Raimondo needs to hear from you!
Post it, tweet it and forward it. Let’s make Rhode Island a state where God is honored, religious freedom flourishes, life is cherished, and families thrive.
Chairman, Board of Advisors – Rhode Island
PLEASE FORWARD THIS TO YOUR PASTOR
While Governor Murphy was initially noncommittal about when NJ businesses can reopen, he announced just yesterday that he will release his “hard dates” for the reopening this Friday, May 15th.
This is an important step as we navigate the Coronavirus, and pastors need an opportunity to tell the Governor why churches should be allowed to reopen and how they are prepared to follow prescribed safety guidelines.
Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey® wants the Governor to hear from pastors before he makes this important decision. In an effort to make sure pastors can let him know their thoughts, we have prepared a letter to him from pastors.
We need your help to make sure as many pastors as possible take this opportunity. Please take a moment now and forward this entire message to your pastor so they have an opportunity to sign onto our letter to Governor Murphy.
Pastors must sign onto this letter by 3:00 p.m., Wednesday, May 13th.
I applaud you for your care and concern towards those within your congregation and your church’s community. There is no greater commandment than to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves. People of faith should lead by example in their practice of safe social distancing recommendations. I believe we have done that, thanks in part to your leadership among your church members.
We are now approaching a crucial time in the decision-making process of Governor Phil Murphy’s reopening plan. He stated on Monday, May 11, that NJ residents should expect “hard dates” in the coming days on when the state will lift restrictions.
Please add your name to this letter that will be sent to the governor’s office on Thursday, May 14. His administration must hear from the faith leaders of NJ. Your immediate action is necessary to ensure that churches are allowed to hold safe worship services following CDC or local health department guidelines. If your congregation prefers to worship through online platforms for a longer period, please add your support for other churches that are able to safely distance congregants.
Director of Advocacy
This Sunday, many churches remained closed and a good number closed their doors for the first time.
Many have adapted through online services, email updates, and other blessings of technology. But for Christians across the country, Sunday simply wasn’t the same. Believers are asking, how should we think about mandated closures? And, if the church can’t meet, how can we serve?
Our team has gathered information and stories to give you the answers to just those questions—and to start the week with some good news.
How should we think about mandated closures?
First, it’s important we all do our part during this week to stop the spread of COVID-19 so that America can get back to work and life as soon as possible. For best practices to do your part, check out the federal “15 Days to Slow the Spread” guidance.
Second, we must respect the government’s legitimate authority, while also understanding its limitations. These extraordinary mandates are a response to extraordinary circumstances, and are designed to protect life and preserve medical resources to avert the sort of crisis facing places like Italy. As long as these restrictions are temporary and evenly-applied (e.g., they do not single out religious bodies), they may be reasonable. Our friends at First Liberty offered a few practical guidelines for churches here.
Finally, church leaders should check out COVID Church Aid. The website, just launched today, provides churches with resources to navigate COVID-19, from how to talk about the crisis with congregants to practical tips on livestreaming worship services. It also provides a variety of resources and opinions for those interested in funds available through the new CARES Act.
If the church can’t meet, how can we serve?
Ever since the early days of the Church, the Body of Christ has ministered to the world around it in dire circumstances – including many plagues. COVID-19 has been no different. Here are a few examples:
- Providing food for the needy. Many individuals are finding themselves out of work, and children who depended on schools for meals are no longer in class. Churches are filling the gap. McLean Bible Church has enlisted its congregation to create care packages for the needy. Legacy Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico helped distribute 5,000 meals to homeless shelters. Colorado-based ministry YWAM Emerge donated 2,700 heads of lettuce to the community when they learned they would not be able to sell the produce which normally helps sustain their ministry.
- Offering space and supplies to medical personnel. Due to hospital capacity issues and social distancing concerns, drive-through testing centers are an important way to test for COVID-19. But that kind of operation requires space – and once again, Christians have stepped in. Alabama Church of the Highlands used their parking lots as a center and tested almost 1,000 people in just two days. Another church in North Carolina found over 7,000 N95 masks in its emergency response supplies, and donated them to a local hospital.
- Giving financial aid to those hurt by closures and support to local businesses. Economic downturn has created responses at all levels of government. In some cases, churches are readily equipped to be financial first-responders. Some have set up benevolence funds specifically to help those affected, while others are drawing on existing Deacons’ funds. Others have asked congregants to support one another’s small businesses as they are able. As Christians, we are called to bear one another’s burdens and this is an excellent chance to do that.
- Running errands for neighbors. For those who are elderly or immunocompromised, leaving the house can be a scary and dangerous step during COVID-19. Churches around the nation – including many of our own churches – have asked healthy congregants to help by picking up groceries and running other essential errands for those most compromised.
- Helping moms in need at Pregnancy Resource Centers. As the Left is pushing COVID-19 as a time and reason to have an abortion, Pregnancy Resource Centers are all the more important. They’re finding creative ways to continue offering services to moms in need. Some Louisiana centers are offering curbside delivery of supplies like diapers and wipes. They’re also offering counseling services over the phone due to COVID-19 concerns.
- Offering spiritual and emotional support. Many churches are asking congregants to share any requests for prayer or encouragement during this challenging time. Churches including New Life Church in Colorado, and Calvary Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico are calling every congregant to check in. This is especially important for the elderly, who are particularly isolated. Calvary Church is doing this as part of a broader “Kindness Campaign” which includes meeting physical needs of the community. One Army couple in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas has taken it upon themselves to text individuals diagnosed with COVID-19. RightNow Media has made more resources available for Christians who are self-isolating.
Christians, be encouraged. The Church may face new circumstances, but Christ remains the same. This is a special time to bless our fellow congregants and those hurting in our communities. We are blessed to live in a country where we have the religious freedom to openly practice our faith and bless others in the name of Jesus. Times like this remind of us of why we at Family Policy Alliance work to defend this precious freedom.
We’d love to hear from you about how YOUR local body of believers is serving as a light in the midst of darkness. Click here to share your story.
Communications & Policy Strategist
Lots of trends begin in California – not only in culture, but also in public policy.
That’s why it’s wise for all Americans to be aware of an alarming new push from the California legislature.
Remember when California politicians tried to keep pastors from counseling about biblical sexuality? Well, the legislature is at it again, with a twist. Last year, the legislature tried to pass a bill that would have made it a consumer-fraud crime for nearly anyone to communicate in a way that 1) encouraged someone away from homosexuality or transgenderism, and 2) involved a financial transaction. A huge groundswell of opposition helped stop that bill.
But now the legislature is attempting to silence pastors again through a strongly worded resolution. The resolution (ACR 99) browbeats churches and religious leaders to get on board with the LGBTQ agenda.
Specifically, it badgers the Church to avoid efforts to influence a person’s sexual orientation, including their “sense of identity based on attractions, related behaviors and membership in a community.”
In doing that, the state is essentially telling the Church to avoid the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul specifically described homosexuality and other sins as disqualifiers for inheriting the kingdom of heaven, but then immediately followed that with these hope-giving words: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Cor. 6:11).
Yes, this is just a resolution – a statement of the legislature with no force of law. But last year’s bill (authored by the same legislator) would have had the force of law, and it nearly passed. In pushing the resolution this year, the LGBT lobby may have paused its push for enforcement. But the language of this year’s resolution is even more pointed, making the long-term intent of the LGBT lobby very clear: Silence the Church on matters of sexuality.
The resolution implies that the state knows best what pastors should be saying from the pulpit and in counseling sessions. It is a false compassion that the Church must resist.
This sort of resolution could set the stage for a law similar to the 2014 Houston subpoenas that required pastors to turn over sermons that mentioned the Houston sexual orientation and gender identity ordinance (SOGI). The mayor of Houston eventually backed down on her request, but the sentiment that drove it is alive and well.
In Canada, a pastor was actually arrested this month for preaching publicly against homosexuality – even though he repeatedly expressed Christ’s love for all. Is this where these sorts of bills are headed? Either agree with our definition of love or else?
If you live in California, please contact your legislators. There will be a hearing on this resolution today (Tuesday, June 18th), and your state senator and assembly member are likely to face votes on it soon. Let them know that the Bible should not be censored. Pastors should be able to speak freely about sin, the Gospel, and the power of Jesus in changing lives.
If you don’t live in California, be aware that this is where the LGBT movement is headed. The right to freely live out our beliefs is daily under attack. We need to be prepared.
As Peter said in Acts 4:20 after being rebuked by the Jewish leaders, “As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” The Christian message is that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but that God in His grace and love has provided a path to salvation and redemption. This is the message of love and compassion that we bring to the world – not the message that the state of California wants us to preach.
Speaking in grace and truth,
By Brittany Jones, Policy Manager
Imagine a world where the facilities that were the staging ground for relief to others were not rebuilt following a natural disaster. The world you just imagined was actually the world we lived in until recently. Texas Governor Greg Abbott & Texas Attorney General Paxton pled with FEMA to allow churches to receive help rebuilding, and now FEMA agrees with them.
During the Obama administration, private nonprofits that were exclusively religious were not allowed to receive government assistance for disaster relief. Churches are sacred spaces that provide refuge and comfort to thousands effected by tragedies such as natural disasters. Churches were hit just as hard as other nonprofits in the recent storms, yet they were not able to access the same government resources to rebuild because of their religious nature—even though they were leading the way in providing relief to their communities. Check out our video briefing on this topic from last year.
Our friends at Becket, a public interest law firm, have been working tirelessly to ensure that churches are treated equally in many arenas. They filed several lawsuits in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. They argued that the government was discriminating against religion by denying access to generally available resources. FEMA finally saw reason and is now allowing churches to be reimbursed for their rebuilding expenses.
Churches are motivated by their faith to help those around them, especially in times of intense need like we saw this past summer. Receiving these benefits allows the church to continue to run its normal operations while helping those in its community. Across the nation, 80% of disaster relief comes from faith-based organizations. Churches should not be penalized because of their inherent religious nature, but rather should be encouraged to support hurting people.
Thankfully, in this situation, FEMA saw the importance of protecting the freedom of churches to serve those in need and access the same help generally available to the public. However, this is not always the outcome. As legislative sessions begin in state capitols across the nation this month, lawmakers in each state have the power to pass laws to protect the church from being discriminated against by the government or to punish churches and ministries who live out their faith. Will you join Family Policy Alliance and our state-based family policy allies as we continue to fight for good laws that protect religious freedom in every state?
Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill on Sunday that would otherwise have forced Christian organizations and institutions to face a devastating choice: Betray your faith or be prosecuted by the state.
Jonathan Keller, president of California Family Council, explains to Stuart Shepard in the Family Policy Briefing why AB 569 would have brought so much trouble to the state. Specifically, it aimed to criminalize any contracts or employee codes of conduct related to abortion and sex outside of marriage.
“Every organization that promotes a pro-life message must be able to require its employees to practice what they preach,” Keller said. “The right to freely exercise one’s religion is enshrined in our Constitution, and has always protected every American’s ability to freely associate around shared beliefs and practices.”
by Jerry Cox, president of Family Council of Arkansas
Family Policy Alliance is proud to work alongside Family Council of Arkansas. They are part of our alliance of 40 state-based family organizations. For more information, or to find one in your state, go to familypolicyalliance.com.
The other day as I was reviewing a slate of bills that have been proposed at the Arkansas Legislature, it occurred to me that there are so many ways that a church can be a force for good in a community. Churches serve their neighborhoods – especially the poor and needy. Churches are often some of the first to provide for the victims of natural disasters, such as floods and tornadoes.
I think we would all agree that Bible-believing churches share the gospel with nonbelievers and make their communities better. But what if I told you even a church building itself can make a community more wholesome? What if I told you those four walls do more than give believers a place to meet – they actually keep certain types of evil out of our neighborhoods?
Under Arkansas law, adult-oriented businesses cannot operate within 1,000 feet of a church. Liquor stores, likewise, cannot be located within 1,000 feet of a church. Penalties for certain crimes – such as illegal drug deals and drug use – are enhanced if they occur within 1,000 feet of a church. “Medical Marijuana” stores cannot operate within 1,500 feet of a church, and marijuana farms cannot operate within 3,000 feet of a church.
I realize the “church” is more than just four walls and steeple. Believers are the true church. I also realize you can’t completely rid a community of sin. However, just having those four walls and steeple in your neighborhood repels some types of evil. It keeps certain vices away from our children and our neighbors. It makes our communities more wholesome – often without anyone noticing.
I believe most people probably take good things churches bring to Arkansas for granted. But if the churches disappeared – along with all the good things they bring to the table – people would notice.
Our world is wrestling with some serious questions right now. From top to bottom, many days it feels like our nation is losing its mind. It reminds me of the prophet Amos, who wrote, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it” (Amos 8:11-12,KJV).
Now more than ever we need churches to engage the culture. Churches are already a powerful force for good simply by being present in our state. Many churches run food pantries that help families facing physical hunger. We need believers to help those starving for the Truth of God’s Word as well.
Now more than ever we need churches to engage the culture. In the past six weeks Family Council has issued more calls to action than I can count. We have asked people to call their state representatives and senators time and time again. That’s because our lawmakers need to hear the truth about the important issues they are voting on. They need to hear it from Family Council, but they also need to hear it from their neighbors back home.
Jerry Cox is president of Family Council of Arkansas. Family Council is a conservative education and research organization based in Little Rock, Arkansas. Their mission is to promote, protect, and strengthen traditional family values found and reflected in the Bible by impacting public opinion and public policy in Arkansas.
A pamphlet put out by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission has churches wondering if they may be forced to allow men access to women’s restrooms in places of worship.
The brochure argues that since churches are public places, they are required to comply with sexual orientation and gender identity laws.
First Liberty Institute is representing Cornerstone World Outreach, a church in Sioux City. Hiram Sasser is the group’s director of litigation.
“It (the Commission’s brochure) further compels our client to use specific pronouns when referring to certain gender identities,” he told Todd Starnes of Fox News, “and prohibits our client from even teaching its religious beliefs.
“Cornerstone World Outreach cannot be made to open its restrooms for use by individuals in accordance with their gender identities, rather than their sex assigned at birth.”
The Family Leader of Iowa is one of Family Policy Alliance’s nearly 40 state-based family policy groups. They’re concerned the free speech of pastors could be next.
“Banning what preachers can say? That kind of government intrusion into church doctrine is exactly what the Bill of Rights was written to prevent,” said Bob Vander Plaats, executive director of the group. “But when Iowa’s policy effectively becomes, ‘Call it a sin, and the government steps in,’ we no longer have a First Amendment. Even talking about God’s design for male and female might make someone feel ‘unwelcome’ and prompt government action. That’s wrong.”
Paul Weber, president and CEO of Family Policy Alliance, said it was clearly the next move by activists.
“We’ve known that this would never stop at civil unions, equal rights, or marriage,” he said. “This has always been on the agenda and churches must realize they are not immune from this fight. If they want to maintain their religious freedom, they’re going to have to stand up and say ‘enough is enough’.”
Family Policy Alliance, along with dozens of other groups, has signed a letter supporting the “Preventing IRS Abuse and Protecting Free Speech Act” in the U.S. House. HR 5053 would eliminate the requirement for non-profits to include information about their contributors in tax filings. It also prevents the IRS from punishing individuals exercising their free speech rights.
“Free speech has been under assault in recent years and the IRS has been at the center of the controversy,” the letter states. “In several well-documented cases, the agency leaked private and sensitive Schedule B information that should never have been made public. For example, the agency settled a lawsuit with the National Organization for Marriage after an IRS official emailed NOM’s Form 990, Schedule B to the Human Rights Campaign, which then published it.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Read the letter.