Faith IN Action
I wish you could’ve been with us yesterday when hundreds of onlookers inside and outside government offices stopped to watch, listen, and take endless photos of Mary, Joseph, a cooing Baby Jesus, and the rest of the Live Nativity players! What makes this spectacle on Capitol Hill so meaningful is that the Gospel of CHRISTmas is right at the heart of the display! We do no preaching during the Live Nativity–just a reading of the Gospel account of that first Bethlehem Christmas from Luke 2. But these powerful words are heard against the backdrop of the Manger Scene in the shadow of the Capitol Dome and US Supreme Court!
Today we re-staged the Live Nativity on the set of the Fox News Network in midtown Manhattan in New York City. Our actors and live animals–including Junior the Camel, his donkey friend, two sheep, and a calf–were featured live on Fox and Friends and were part of taping for the Fox Christmas Special to be aired later this month. Someone asked me why we do this Live Nativity program. Well, the answer is for two reasons: 1) Christmas is a unique time of the year when hearts and minds are open to the Christian message in ways they just aren’t at any other time. That’s as true here in Washington as it is anywhere else. 2) The Live Nativity is a compelling way of communicating the Gospel in a micro-burst of imagery–just what “This Town” needs with its incurable attention deficit!
Every year more people follow along as our Nativity procession winds its way in front of the offices of US senators and between the US Capitol and Supreme Court. The only time a voice was heard in the drama was when I read the nativity narrative from Luke 2, and when recording artist Nathan Kistler sang beautifully the classic Christmas hymns O Come, O Come Immanuel, O Holy Night, and Silent Night. Otherwise the event is non-stop iconography in motion.
One of our visiting pastors told me his impression of the Live Nativity was its completely positive witness. How could it be anything else? CHRISTmas is about the Good News that a Savior has been born to us, “Christ the Lord!” It’s about “Peace on Earth and good will to men.” It’s a positive message for a desperate people.
This “new tradition” we’ve started on Capitol Hill is fast becoming a much anticipated event. Throughout the year members of congress, White House officials, even judges have asked, “Are you doing the Nativity this year?” I want to assure them we will stage the Live Nativity again next year–and every year after until Jesus returns! I can only do that, however, if friends like you help us with generous financial support. Will you take a moment to make a tax-deductible gift for the Live Nativity? Your contribution will mean even more people in America’s capital city will see and hear the Christmas Gospel.
Please make your tax-deductible gift online now. You may also phone in your gift to Patty Bills at 202-734-8732, or mail your check or money order to Faith and Action, 109 2nd St, NE, Washington, DC 20002. If you believe it’s important to portray and proclaim the true Christmas message–the real reason for this season–please help with your online gift now!
A blessed Advent and Merry CHRISTmas to you and yours!
Your grateful missionary to Washington, DC,
Rev. Rob Schenck
The Live Nativity begins tomorrow, Tuesday, December 3rd, but we’re still $20k away from our fundraising goal for this off-budget expense. Will you give a gift (any amount helps!) that will enable millions to hear the story of Christ’s birth during the CHRISTmas season? You can give by using Paypal http://alturl.com/4mrb6 or by calling (202) 546-8329. Please share this with friends, and support us in prayer! We’ve raised $5k of the $25k total needed to fund this event and will give updates throughout the day of our progress as we countdown to the Live Nativity. It begins tomorrow morning in Washington, DC, then travels to New York City to be featured on the Fox and Friends national television program.
Just in case there’s somebody in Washington that still doubts whether our nation owes its existence to a source greater than ourselves, here’s what our Founders said:
By the United States in Congress assembled.
IT being the indispensable duty of all Nations, not only to offer up their supplications to ALMIGHTY GOD, the giver of all good, for his gracious assistance in a time of distress, but also in a solemn and public manner to give him praise for his goodness in general, and especially for great and signal interpositions of his providence in their behalf: Therefore the United States in Congress assembled, taking into their consideration the many instances of divine goodness to these States, in the course of the important conflict in which they have been so long engaged; the present happy and promising state of public affairs; and the events of the war, in the course of the year now drawing to a close; particularly the harmony of the public Councils, which is so necessary to the success of the public cause; the perfect union and good understanding which has hitherto subsisted between them and their Allies, notwithstanding the artful and unwearied attempts of the common enemy to divide them; the success of the arms of the United States, and those of their Allies, and the acknowledgment of their independence by another European power, whose friendship and commerce must be of great and lasting advantage to these States:—– Do hereby recommend to the inhabitants of these States in general, to observe, and request the several States to interpose their authority in appointing and commanding the observation of THURSDAY the twenty-eight day of NOVEMBER next, as a day of solemn THANKSGIVING to GOD for all his mercies: and they do further recommend to all ranks, to testify to their gratitude to GOD for his goodness, by a cheerful obedience of his laws, and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.
Done in Congress, at Philadelphia, the eleventh day of October, in the year of our LORD one thousand seven hundred and eighty-two, and of our Sovereignty and Independence, the seventh.
JOHN HANSON, President.
Charles Thomson, Secretary.
To you and all yours: A Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving!
Even though it’s only the first week of November, one of Faith and Action’s favorite Capitol Hill traditions is on the way: the US Capitol Christmas tree will soon arrive to Washington D.C. This year, the State of Washington has been selected to donate the Christmas tree that will stand through the holidays on the west lawn near the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
The 88-foot pinewill be cut from the Collville National Forest and then will travel across the country giving people the opportunity to place a small ornament or note on the tree before it arrives in our nation’s capital. The tree will be escorted by federal officials and have constant law enforcement protection along the way.
In 1964, the US Capitol Christmas tree celebration began when a Douglas fir was planted on the Capitol building grounds. Initially, only trees from Maryland were selected for the yearly celebration, but from 1970 forward, a different state has been selected each year to donate a tree to Capitol Hill.
Faith and Action encourages people across the country to contribute ornaments that center on both the theme of “shine” and the meaning of Christmas as centered on the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Perhaps a shining star in the East will provide an excellent ornament. Or, maybe depicting the theme of the effulgent beauty of the Incarnation will be the ornament that stands out this year.
To learn more about how to contribute ornaments and about the US Capitol Christmas tree in general, visit: http://www.capitolchristmastree2011.org/ornaments.html
It is extremely important that all Americans have the ability to express their faith publicly in every context without fear of any kind of persecution, least of which any government action.
We spent all day Wednesday on the ground both inside and outside the U.S. Supreme Court standing for religious freedom. Take a look at these photos from the day. We also have video of the day which we’ll highlight more of later, but you can see all the videos now on our YouTube channel here: http://www.youtube.com/
Thank you all for all of your support! We would absolutely not be able to be here without you. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, and you’re making our actions here to defend our faith possible. We thank God for you.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway this Wednesday, November 6. This case could affect how Congress as well as communities across the nation continue the tradition of opening legislative sessions with prayer. The case focuses on the town of Greece, NY, which has opened its meetings in prayer since 1999. In 2008, two local residents filed suit challenging the town’s practice, arguing that it is unconstitutional. Despite the fact that people of all faiths or no faith were welcome to volunteer to give the prayer, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the policy was unconstitutional because the prayers offered were predominantly Christian. In January of 2013, 49 members of Congress joined a brief asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, and the Obama administration is in support of the Town of Greece continuing town prayer in its meetings. Faith and Action filed an Amicus (Friend of the Court) Brief on behalf of the petitioners, the Town of Greece. Please keep this case in prayer, and tweet about it with #townprayer to show your support for legislative prayer in America. We’ll keep you informed with the inside look at this case through our posts on our Facebook page, as well as up to the minute news on our twitter feed, Faith and Action.
Just two days away! This Tuesday, October 29th at 10 am, we are holding a formal re-dedication ceremony for our Ten Commandments sculpture on Capitol Hill. We’ve got quite a few planning to attend as RSVPs from pastors, media, friends and visitors are coming in from all over. We’d love for you to consider making a trip to DC to join us for a very special time of prayer and fellowship. Please invite your friends – everyone is welcome. We’ll be right in front of our building, Faith and Action (109 2nd Street NE, Washington, DC 20002) on Tuesday, October 29th at 11:00am. Please invite your friends — everyone is welcome to celebrate this wonderful occasion! “Hallelujah! Happy are they who fear the Lord and have great delight in his commandments!” (Psalm 112:1) Pray that God would infect this event and the very place where these Ten Commandments are being re-dedicated with His grace, especially with us as we minister in the US Supreme Court, the US Congress, and the White House.
Most of us are familiar with the story of Joseph, the eleventh son of Israel, the firstborn of Rachel, who was sold into slavery by his own brothers (Genesis 37-41). The story is amazing enough in that Joseph goes from slavery and prison to the second most powerful man in Egypt. To the Jewish mind, though, it is not only a supremely instructive tale, it is a supremely ironic one. After all, Joseph is not just elevated from degradation to majesty, but, he, a Hebrew, a member of the ethnic group once despised, tormented, enslaved, and even mass murdered by the Egyptians, now rules over them. And who does he serve in such a capacity (at least in an earthly sense)? Pharaoh, who by definition, is not only the singular and tyrannical potentate, but fancies himself to be a sort of “god-in-flesh.”
I rehearse this story because it’s possible to compare the recent sojourn of my friend and colleague, the Reverend Dr. Suzan D. Johnson-Cook, to the Joseph account. Dr. Johnson-Cook, or “SuJay” (as Cheryl and I and all her friends know her) recently left her post as United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Freedom, the President’s top adviser on matters of religious freedom around the world. She was also the guardian of the persecuted: investigating, reporting on, and recommending what to do with countries where religious believers are directly or indirectly denied their paramount God-given right to practice their faith and are punished by their own governments because of it.
Before I say more, let me rehearse the astounding story of how I came to know and work with this extraordinary servant of God and public official:
It began back in 2009 when I was part of an ever-increasing number of people distressed over the fact that President Obama had failed to name an ambassador for this all-important diplomatic post. I’ve argued in the past that the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom is the most important ambassadorship that exists. After all, what’s more important than our freedom to worship God? Not only so, but what principle is more at the core of our American concept of freedom than this–the very first of all God-given human rights? Yet, the President was very slow to fill this critical position. Then, in early 2010, while I was in Bronx, New York, to lead a week of prayer for one of our anchor churches, I received a call from a colleague in Washington, who told me he had just come from a high-level meeting at the State Department. During that conference it was announced that President Obama had selected a New York pastor named Suzan Johnson-Cook as his nominee for the religious freedom post.
“You’re in Bronx now, aren’t you?” Me friend asked.
When I answered yes, he urged me to locate Dr. Johnson-Cook and get to know her. I asked my host pastor if he had ever heard of her, and he said,” Of course. I see her regularly at ministers’ fellowship meetings.” I asked if he would track her down and introduce me. He said he would try. On my last day in New York, the pastor and I had breakfast with Dr. Johnson-Cook.
After an initial exchange of niceties, I asked Dr. Johnson-Cook, “May I be one of the first to congratulate you on your appointment?”
She looked at me quizzically.
“What appointment?” She asked, wrinkling her brow and staring me down suspiciously.
“Why, your appointment to the ambassadorship,” I said.
“What ambassadorship?” She demanded.
“Well, your nomination as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom,” I said, now wrinkling my brow.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she responded, almost indignantly.
The exchange left me dumbstruck. I wasn’t sure if I had the wrong person, or if I had just committed a faux pas.
“I’m so sorry,” I told her, blushing and searching my mind for an explanation as to why I knew something about her she didn’t seem to know. “If you have contacts at the White House, perhaps you should call them,” I sheepishly suggested.
We both agreed to leave the table and make calls to our respective Washington people. I called the friend who had started all of this and demanded he confirm it. He asked me a series of questions:
“Is her name Suzan D. Johnson-Cook?”
“Is she a pastor in the Bronx?”
“Is she African-American?”
“Is she in her fifties?”
“I wouldn’t dare ask.”
“Well, that’s her,” he said confidently. “She’s the President’s pick for the post.”
To be honest, I was flabbergasted. I already knew Pastor Johnson-Cook was a born again, Bible-believing, Spirit-filled Christian with the same core doctrinal beliefs and moral convictions that I have. Frankly, I didn’t expect President Obama to pick her type of religious leader to represent his administration.
When we returned to the breakfast table after our respective calls to Washington, we were both shocked.
“Well,” Dr. Johnson-Cook said. “I have an important question. Now that I’m the nominee, what can you tell me about the job? What does an ambassador-at-large for international freedom do?”
I didn’t know the full answer to that question, so I recommended she come to Washington so we could spend a day talking to the people who wrote the law that created the post in 1998. Just a couple weeks later she did, and we went on a whirlwind itinerary. Every person who knew anything about this difficult diplomatic portfolio warned her that she was in for more than was apparent. Advancing the American concept of religious freedom in a post-9-11 world would be difficult enough, but the internal politics surrounding this controversial ambassadorial position would prove even more problematic.
They were right.
From the every beginning, Dr. Johnson-Cook was caught between three tectonic plates: An administration that was, at best, ambivalent about promoting religious freedom; a State Department that has resented the imposition of an office it considers highly politicized and redundant; and a Congress that has become so partisan that one side basically doesn’t want to give the other side any of its nominees, period. Exacerbating this predicament was the fact that the office was basically created by Republicans, who have always felt they have a certain proprietorship over it. The audacity of a Democrat selecting “their ambassador” became a real problem. One very conservative senator told me, “I will never, ever, vote to confirm this president’s nominee for this post. Never ever.”
As now Nominee Johnson-Cook and I made the rounds on Capitol Hill, we kept bumping into the same problem. Then came a breakthrough. Senator Jim DeMint, at that time the unofficial chairman of the unofficial “Tea Party Caucus” and Virginia congressman Frank Wolf, a long-time advocate for victims of religious persecution, got behind SuJay. So did a host of non-governmental agencies and leaders. At the same time, the White House seemed to become less interested in (and maybe even a bit hostile toward) their own nominee. They dragged their feet in promoting her and eventually allowed her nomination to lapse. Though she never said this to me, it seemed to me the very administration that nominated her now hoped she would withdraw. She didn’t. In fact, she became more convinced that God had called he to this post and that she had a divine mission to fulfill in it. I agreed. After watching previous ambassadors marginalized to the point of ineffectiveness, I knew it would take a strong and assertive believer to get anything done.
After an exhausting tour of offices, meetings, and public relations exercises, the White House did renew the nomination of Dr. Johnson-Cook and a second conformation hearing was held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. When the ultra-conservative Sen. DeMint joined the ultra-liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer in recommending SuJay to the whole Senate for confirmation, I knew it meant victory. In the end, Dr. Johnson-Cook received not just a majority or super majority of votes, she received a unanimous 100!
The victory didn’t mean a cake-walk. In fact, it only made her job harder by setting up often conflicting expectations from the two sides of a wide political divide. With lots of help, lots of prayer, and lots of support from even Christian conservative groups, the newly minted United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom eventually did get her footing. Internal and external resistance to her leadership was a constant frustration, but never before was a true “believer” needed so badly in this post. She would go on to tirelessly advocate for the persecuted, relentlessly work internally to keep religious freedom at the top of the list of American diplomatic concerns, and–I wish I could detail this but can’t–she kept the office from being abused, exploited, corrupted, and driven off its mission.
Sujay knew when she accepted this post that it would a thankless one, and many of my colleagues have proven her right in their unwarranted criticism. The media, of course, always complains, and, sadly, in this case, that includes the Christian media. I haven’t joined in their denunciations, though, because I know what went on behind-the-scenes–and just how bad things could have been if it weren’t for this courageous, determined, and sacrificial handmaiden of the Lord. Sure, we could have had a pompous, self-impressed blow-hard of an academic that may have bamboozled everyone with a lot of inflated talk, but what we got was a quiet, humble servant that did all she could do to keep the mission of this critically important diplomatic post on course. For that, I thank God and I thank her.
Well done, Madam Ambassador. I will miss your leadership.
It’s rare to worship in church with a Supreme Court justice, but hundreds took that opportunity this last Sunday at the 59th Annual Red Mass. This special service’s primary purpose is praying with and for members of the judiciary and anyone engaged in the law, including attorneys, legal advocates, paralegals, justices, and judges. Reverends Rob and Paul Schenck both attended the church service.
Included in the Red Mass church service is preaching, prayer, and bible readings. One particular emphasis of the Mass is to request guidance from the Holy Spirit for all people who seek justice. The name for the mass originated in Europe sometime during 1000-1300. It comes from the red vestments traditionally worn in symbolism of the tongues of fire that descended on the Apostles at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). The oft-neglected third person of the Holy Trinity, therefore, is an essential foundation and focus for the church service. Seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit are some of the most important judiciary leaders in America.
Significantly, the annual Mass often draws Supreme Court Justices. Faith and Action president Rob Schenck has attended the Red Mass for the last eleven years and has noted the attendance of Justices Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, Sandra Day O’Connor (even after retirement), and Antonin Scalia. What is meaningful about their presence is that the highest court in America is annually represented at a church service in which direction is being sought from God. The importance of their presence and participation at the Red Mass cannot be overstated.
The Red Mass is always held on the Sunday before the first Monday in October, is one of the better-known Red Masses – and usually well covered by the media.
May God be glorified as we seek to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8).