How To Talk With Others About Louisiana’s 10 Commandment’s Law.


Hello my friends!

I want to first start by saying how profoundly grateful I am for all of you. I sent out my two year anniversary email this week with some updates and asking for your feedback on what you’d like to see in my newsletter moving forward. I was then moved to tears by what happened. I hadn’t checked my email the day it went out so I had a ton of responses from all of you waiting for me the day after.

In the middle of the night after feeding my daughter and not being able to go back to sleep, I then checked my email. I was expecting a lot of constructive feedback and good criticism, yet every one of the emails mentioned how I needed to be sure to take good care of myself and my family. I’m getting emotional even as I type those words now. I didn’t know how much I needed to hear that in this rather chaotic, sleep deprived season of life I’m in right now. The amount of compassion I received was just so humbling and moving. So please accept my sincerest gratitude. Thank you.

With the recent events that happened in Louisiana regarding the posting of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms throughout the state by law, a lot of folks messaged me about how to talk about this this topic, especially with those who seem to support it without question. So today, I wanted to just think with you together about this issue, what it says about the bigger picture of Christianity in the United States right now, and some questions to consider adding to your conversations with others.

But before we get into that, here are some resources to consider:

-icuTalks: End the Stigma: June 2024 Ben Cremer As many of you know, I recently went to speak at icuTalks in Charlotte, NC. It was a profound experience. I shared my story of mental health and how we need to work to end the stigma around it especially within the church. My talk was just uploaded recently, so I wanted to share it here with you.

-Project 2025. Many of you have asked me about Project 2025, which is the nearly 1,000 proposal to be enacted if the former president were to win again in November. With this being outside of my area of expertise, I wanted to share a few resources I found helpful in learning about what it is and if it is even possible. I think it is important to understand these things as we head to November. I would recommend reading Sharon MCmahon's ongoing thoughts here as well as the episode on the topic over at All Over The Place Podcast.

-I have also found the folks over at FixUsNow.org to be incredibly helpful and insightful. If you haven't already, I would also recommend you checking out Christians Against Christian Nationalism. They have a petition you can sign as well as a lot of good resources.

-Into The Gray Podcast also, be sure to catch my sermon today over on my podcast. I preach on Jesus calming the wind and the waves and what that means for us who are struggling to trust God and each other today.

Okay, onto today's topic.

How To Talk With Others About Louisiana's 10 Commandment's Law.

As I am sure you have seen in the news, Louisiana became the first state in the nation to mandate that a poster of the ten commandments be posted in all public school classrooms. This bill has already been challenged by four civil liberty groups and counting. It is also getting a lot of pushback from people all over the nation, renewing the age old American topic of the separation of church and state.

I wrote about the separation of church and state last week and I also have an article distinguishing between symbolic Christianity and substantive Christianity, which I believe applies here.

As I received questions about this event in our public life, many wanted to know how to talk about it with people in their lives, especially with those who seem to support the bill without reservation.

Full disclosure, as a Christian, I believe in the right context and when read through the lens of Jesus, the Ten Commandments contain deep wisdom and truth for all humanity. However, I am deeply opposed to them being ripped out of context and isolated on their own to be used for the purposes of a nationstate. I believe our faith is too sacred and too profound to ever be reduced to a poster let alone be legislated over others. I believe our faith is too sacred to simply become a government's tool of enforcement. I believe our faith must be embodied and lived out. As we see in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

As an American, I am also deeply opposed to having any religion given preference by my government and mandated to be displayed in public spaces by force of law. Our government was founded on religious freedom, and it can only guarantee freedom for all religions when it is free from religious control, even from my own religion.

As a Christian and an American, I find actions like these in violation of both God’s intent behind the Ten Commandments themselves and the 1st Amendment of our constitution.

As a Christian pastor, I feel such actions also further compromise our already tarnished reputation as Christians within our society at large today. I feel it pushes more people away from Christianity than it does anything else.

So, my thoughts and questions about this topic will be rooted in these positions.

Thoughts:


As always, let's begin with scripture.

The first scripture passage that came to mind for me when I was reading all the news out of Louisiana was actually Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler.

It is an interaction that can be found in both Mark 10:17-27 and Matthew 19:16-22. The rich young man wants to know what he must “do” to gain eternal life. Jesus responds, “you know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not give false testimony, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”

The young man says to him “I have kept all these things since my youth!” Looking at him, Jesus showed love to him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But he was deeply dismayed by these words, and he went away grieving; for he was wealthy and owned much property.

Jesus ends this interaction by telling his disciples that famous line “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

In the first century context, wealth and status were seen as signs of God’s favor on someone. So Jesus’ message would have been seen as scandalous, as we can see from the reaction of both the rich young man and the disciples (Mark 10:23-27). Jesus is calling attention to the privilege status and wealth brings and how it can skew one’s perspective of the will of God and how we must treat our neighbors.

Notice how besides "honor your father and mother," Jesus had mentioned all the commands of what “not” to do, which are not God's only commands. God has many commands of what “to” do as well.

This highlights how easy it is to look at a list of things we are told not to do and say “well, I haven't “done” any of these things myself, so I am righteous in the eyes of God” much like the rich young man is doing. “I have kept them since my youth!” How easy it is for example to "not steal” when, because of your wealth, you’ve never experienced the desperate ethical dilemma of having to choose between “not stealing” and your family “not starving.” Such a command becomes rather easy to follow.

Yet Jesus responds with a command of what he needed “to” do. Jesus told him to go embody the heart behind all the commands, which is to allow your radical love for God to result in a radical love for your neighbor, especially the poor and powerless.

Some scholars suggest that Jesus “looks on him with love” because he is innocently unaware of how he is actually participating in breaking many of the commands Jesus just listed.

Much like in today’s world, one could not be as wealthy as the text is communicating this young man to be without the exploitation of other people. If you owned land and were wealthy, you most likely had numerous slaves in debt bondage to you who may never live to see their debts paid off. This would leave their children in debt bondage as well. "Do not steal” and “Do not defraud” don't seem so black and white anymore given that kind of exploitation.

It is understandable then why Jesus would say to the young man to go sell all his possessions and come follow him. By doing that he would literally be setting the very people he was exploiting free and sharing his own resources with them, as they would be "the poor." Moreover, he wouldn’t be destitute himself, because Jesus invited him to follow him and thereby join the community that was building around Jesus, where people’s needs were met through loving one another rather than exploiting one another.

The young man ultimately chose to remain in his wealth and status, going a way with a sad heart, possibly because he was hoping simply to be validated by turning the commands of God into and easy list he had completed, yet he found the cost of what he needed to do in order to actually be complete to be too high.

This is what I felt like I saw in Louisiana. It is easier to make a poster of God’s commands to be imposed on everyone else from a position of privilege than it is to use your position of power and wealth to actually love your neighbors well, especially the poor and the powerless who sit in America's public schools.

According to Jesus towards the rich young man, simply "keeping" the Ten Commandments isn’t enough. It must result in the most vulnerable among us being advocated for and lifted up. How many poor families will be better off because of a poster? How many hungry kids will be fed because of a poster? How many debts will be forgiven because of a poster? Or is the poster simply for those who hang them to feel like they are “keeping God’s commands” in the same way the rich young man was? I think so.

Some other scriptures that came to mind highlighted the reality that God never gave the commands to Israel so that they could tell everyone else how they should live but rather so that Israel could live by them themselves and become an example of a different way of being in the world for everyone else.

"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people." -Jeremiah 31:33

Now a word from Paul:

"You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." -2 Corinthians 3:3

Not to mention that Jesus gave the greatest commands upon which all the law and the prophets are fulfilled: "Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28).

Jesus even said this command to love one another was his new command, his new covenant with them. (John 13:34-35, Matthew 22:34-40. A love that can be so clearly observed in his beatitudes and the rest of his sermon on the mount. (Matthew chapters 5-7)

As many others have already said, this heavy lifting by Jesus to put the Ten Commandments into the context of his mission in the world makes it quite baffling as to why the Ten Commandments are the focus for some of the most vocal of Christians rather than the beatitudes and Jesus’ sermon on the mount.

I think this leaves more difficult questions for us Christians to ask ourselves about how we really want to approach this topic.

Difficult Questions:

The following are the questions I have been asking others over the past few days. Much of the questions I have gotten from those who support the decision are along the lines of “what is so bad about displaying the ten commandments in public schools?” and “how could you be against such a good thing?” These questions seem to foster critical thinking and a good conversation.

Note: I didn't ask them all at once of course. :)

If you have been feeling stuck on how to respond, perhaps you might find a few of these questions helpful.

  • How would you feel if the government showed preference to a different religious group than Christians?
  • If we don't want the government to infringe on our freedoms as Christians, why would we want to do that to others in the name of Christianity?
  • How does this fit Christ's teaching of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you?"
  • How would you feel if it were another religious group was doing this in our public schools? Would you want the Christian kiddos you love to have a text from a different religion put up in their schools by law?
  • Do you feel like legislating a poster of the Ten Commandments in classrooms filled with religiously diverse kiddos and nonreligious kiddos is the best way to represent our faith? What other ways might be better?
  • Do you think we should value our religious education more than just putting up a poster and foisting the responsibility to explain the Ten Commandments on school teachers who not only have so much on their plates as it is, but who may not be trained in Christianity let alone even be Christians themselves? Why are we putting the responsibility of our religious education on others rather than doing a better job of it ourselves within the church?
  • Many have said that young children shouldn’t be exposed to human sexuality or violence in their classrooms. How is putting a poster up that contains words like adultery and murder on it in front of kindergartners and elementary school kids helping to accomplish that goal?
  • What is the intent behind hanging these posters? Are they to be followed or just looked at? What is their purpose? Will the schools be taking off Saturdays from all sports and activities to “keep the sabbath holy" for example?
  • What do we want our Christian reputation to be? There is no denying that the Republican party has long proclaimed itself to be the “Christian party” and the “pro family" party. Whether we like it or not, the Republican Party shapes our Christian reputation in our country. This should matter to us when Republicans led the Ten Commandments bill to become law in Louisiana. It also should matter to us when 14 GOP led states, including Louisiana and my state of Idaho, denied a ton of federal funding to help keep hungery school kids fed over the summer. Not to mention, the proposed Republican budget for 2025 would cut the free lunch program nation wide. Ever since I was little, growing up in Idaho, I have heard both the demand for the Ten Commandments to be put in public spaces and the opposition to government sanctioned programs like free school lunches. So, what does it say about our public witness as Christians where we would rather have the Ten Commandments in schools but not food for hungry kids? How does that help our witness at all, especially with people outside of Christianity?
  • Much of the opposition to government sanctioned programs like free school lunches is in the name of people needing to learn “personal responsibility.” How then are we to explain ourselves to others who are watching an entire Christian movement rely on the government to enforce its values, especially when it claims to believe so strongly in personal responsibility? Isn’t this action making it everyone else’s responsibility to follow its own religious beliefs rather than taking it on as a responsibility themselves?
  • Of course, this isn’t even to mention that the presumptive nominee for president for the "Christian party” is currently standing trial for breaking some of the commandments himself, yet many in the party are saying this is unfair. How are we to understand holding everyday ordinary citizens accountable to these commandments when the presidential nominee for the “Christian party” is not even being held accountable to them?

Now please hear me, while I am focusing on the Republican party here, I’m not forgetting the many issues within the Democrat party. But the reality is, the democrat party has not identified itself as the “Christian party” for the last +50 years. The Republican Party has. Therefore, our public reputation is not as tide to the Democrat party as it is currently to the Republican party. This is something we must honestly reckon with in order to move forward. I'm thankful to personally know many republicans who are calling out these same things within their party, especially here in Idaho, even at the risk of their own political career.

The ultimate question will always be: what do we want to be known for as followers of Jesus?

Do we want to be known for our animosity towards others who believe differently than we do? Do we want to be known for using power for our own advantage rather than for the advantage of others? Do we want to be known for loving our own beliefs more than we ever actually love our neighbors?

Or do we want to be known as a people who do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but rather, in humility value others above ourselves, not looking to our own interests but each of us to the interests of the others? Do we want to be known for having the same mindset as Christ Jesus? (Phil 2:3-5).

I want to be known as a disciple of Jesus.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”-Jesus (John 13:34-35)

Now I'd like to hear from you!

What are your thoughts on what I have written here? What would you add to this conversation? Feel free to respond to this email and share your thoughts with me.

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As always, I really want to thank all of you for reading and for all the ways you support me and this project every single week. I'm thankful for the ways we are building this together and hope it creates a lasting, positive change in our world along the way!

I sincerely appreciate you all,

Ben

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Rev. Benjamin Cremer

I have spent the majority of my life in Evangelical Christian spaces. I have experienced a lot of church hurt. I now write to explore topics that often are at the intersection of politics and Christianity. My desire is to discover how we can move away from Christian nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and church hurt to reclaim the Gospel of Jesus together. I'm glad you're here to join the conversation. I look forward to talking with you.

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