On January 15, during a Sabbath service at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, four worshipers were taken hostage by Malik Faisal Akram. Thankfully, all four hostages were freed, but that does not erase the evil and hate surrounding this terrorist attack.
Using Jewish worshippers as hostages to force the release of an imprisoned convicted terrorist was the explicit motive of Akram, as made clear by his statements during the attack. The Washington Post reported, “Akram chose this place, according to people who heard him on the live stream, because it appeared to be the closest assemblage of Jews to a federal facility in Fort Worth where an American-educated Pakistani convicted terrorist is serving an 86-year sentence for shooting at U.S. soldiers and FBI agents.”
Ironically, the day after this horrific attack, the United States observed National Religious Freedom Day, which commemorates the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786. This law later inspired and shaped the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Timothy Keiderling’s decision to enroll in the Princeton Theological Seminary reflected his commitment “to give my life to work for justice and to live out the values of the Kingdom of God.” In a letter to the seminary’s president, Craig Barnes, he wrote that he “would sacrifice anything to make sure that my brothers and sisters see relief from their oppression.”
But the seminary’s concept of justice clashed with Keiderling’s conscience when PTS required him to attend “anti-racism” training sessions that he considered a form of indoctrination. He refused to participate in the sessions even after being reminded that they were mandatory. And then – early this year, with the potent support of the newly founded Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) – he convinced the seminary to exempt him from the training.
It was “a real victory which can advance the academic freedom cause substantially,” says Princeton Professor Robert George, a leader of the AFA who acted as an adviser to Keiderling, and whom the latter credits with making his victory possible. “Instead of a victim, we have a victor — one who stuck to his guns and persuaded his institution not only to respect his right of conscience, but to acknowledge the difference between education and indoctrination.”
In one of the most extraordinary passages of his most extraordinary book, C.S. Lewis, the 20th century’s greatest Christian apologist, wrote of Jesus Christ, that he was either the son of God, as he claimed, or a madman. In the Christmas season, believers take comfort in their faith and joyfully embrace the first alternative.
The United States has a tradition of separating church and state, but there is a competing tradition, equally venerable, that our government is only fit for a religious people, one that understands there is a divine order to which humankind ought to conform, and that, as Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett once explained, it is our task to contribute to the building of the Kingdom of God.
Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said Monday that “faith-oriented” people in Congress have told her they “don’t believe in science.”
The California Democrat spoke Monday on the house floor where she discussed coronavirus relief and the recently approved vaccines, accusing the White House of spreading “quackery” notions of herd immunity.
In his observations about 19th-century America, Alexis de Tocqueville pointed to religion as the first of the country’s political institutions—sweeping in its influence on our customs and powerful in its propensity to preempt and prevent tyranny.
Yet today, American religiosity is in decline. Weekly church attendance is trending downward, as is self-identification with a formal religion, denomination or belief system. The rise of the “nones” is increasing in speed and expanding in influence, replacing religious-cultural paradigms of old with a modern menu of personalized, à la carte “spiritualities.” Even where religiosity remains, it is often resistant or opposed to public expression, never mind institutional or cultural prominence.