Reflections on the Passage, Veto and Override Veto of HB1037-The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act
This week has been an interesting week regarding our Arkansas Legislature, as the House of Representative voted to override Governor Mike Beebe’s veto of HB1037-The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Thursday the bill is anticipated to head to the Arkansas Senate for a vote.
Just to provide you some transparency, I am pro-life. I believe on moral, natural and theological grounds that life begins at conception. Yet I don’t stop there. I am coming to believe in order to be consistently pro-life one has to carry this through the entire life of an individual created in the image of God. Now where I am thinking hard is how this plays out in capital punishment and war. The former because I believe our judicial system is in need of desperate reform and the latter because I have led Soldiers in war and it’s not a game. With that said, here are some reflections on HB1037.
God mediates his rule through our elected leaders
In the New Testament, Paul writes to Christians in the first century who lives under the shadow of the Roman Empire. With Caesar and his procurators, Christians maintained a tenuous relationship as they declared that a Galilean carpenter who died under the hand of Pontius Pilate was kurios or Lord. This was tenuous because there was one declared Lord in Rome and his name was Nero.
In Paul’s letter titled Romans, Paul instructs the believers that they are to be “subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). Our elected officials do not exist solely on desire and personal ambition. They exist primarily because our higher authority-God-placed them in their executive, legislative and judicial positions. Furthermore, we see that not only are they subject to God but we are subject to these elected officials as a response to our subjection to God.
God mediates his rule through these elected leaders by using them to be our servants for our good and to carry “out wrath on wrongdoers.” Yes that is right. Elected officials exist for the good of all citizens and this must include our unborn citizens as well. But what has happened and the reason for a bill such as HB1037 is that elected officials have determined to visit wrath on its most defenseless of citizens-the unborn.
What would discussions in caucuses, committees and on the chamber floors look like if elected officials began here? I would encourage elected officials to begin with a solemn reminder to themselves that their power does not emanate from themselves but power is bestowed upon them for a season by an authority greater than themselves, those they serve and our state constitution.
Our attentiveness to the use of power by elected officials
Power is available to everyone. We have the power to influence our personal lives and those close to us. Elected officials have a greater degree of power as they influence not only their immediate constituents but our entire state. These men and women are placed into their position by God through means of voting to wield power for the good of the citizens of our state.
Yes they were sworn into office but the ability to use this degree of power-to legislate and enact laws- does not legitimize them as being servants for the good of its citizens. I put forward that one’s legitimacy as a servant for the good of people; including the unborn, does not rest on the votes that put them in office but on the votes the elected official casts in office.
The final vote that is cast confirms the position of our servant representatives. This is why bills must be discussed theologically, economically, socially, and constitutionally. Bills discussed in such a manner provide readers and hearers a greater degree of information to determine if an elected official is seeking the good of people. Therefore, we must be attentive to our elected officials as bills are put forward and the votes are cast to determine if our servants are using power appropriately to bless those doing good and punish those who seek to do evil. Their votes reveal much about themselves and our response to their votes will reveal much about us.
HB1037 reveals much about our elected officials and us
This evening, two things of note standout today for me regarding HB1037; one is integrity and the other is forgiveness. HB1037 passed the house with bipartisan support on February 21, 2012 with 80 votes. Then for whatever reason the bill was voted on to override the Governor’s veto with only 53 votes. I bring up integrity first because why would an elected official vote to send the bill to be signed into law the first time and then vote against it? What higher law is there than the protection of life? Such a shift in voting reveals either indecisiveness or worse.
This leads to my second note that we as Christians must remind ourselves of. The presence of the people of God in our state is the presence of forgiveness. We carry in ourselves the name of the precious God who washes us daily in the grace of forgiveness because of Christ. Forgiveness is in our daily bible readings, songs, liturgies and prayers. Forgiveness was accomplished because God loved his people in such a manner to not allow us to get away with evil and reveal that he takes evil seriously. Forgiveness stands in between these two extremes. Just as God shamed evil, reconciled with us and led us to not be defined by evil; our forgiveness must follow the same pattern.
We must forgive those elected officials who used their divinely bestowed power in such manner that their integrity is now in question. Forgiveness requires us first to shame the evil of abortion but also a lack of integrity. Secondly, forgiveness leads us to reconciliation. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” Forgiveness is driven by the love of God that seeks to take one who is our ideological and political enemy into our friend. Finally forgiveness leads two new friends no longer to be defined by an evil but by the powerful reality that evil can be overcome and produce lasting fruit.
Therefore, seek to forgive those elected officials who lacked the integrity to stand for the good of its unborn citizens. Pray for all men and women in such positions in our state because God desires all types of people to be saved and come into the knowledge of him.
This short look at the life of Richard Allen began with two questions and how the answers to those questions can become a practical application in our Christian lives. How was Christ glorified in this 18th century pastor during the time of slavery? For reformation to take place in our time, what responsibilities are before us, in order that Christ will be glorified?
Christ was glorified in this 18th century pastor through Richard Allen’s personal walk with Christ and the gathering of the community of African American believers. Allen’s Christian life can be characterized as one who was constrained and compelled with the desire to make Christ known to the people. Through the realization of his own state of sin which was worse than the man made slavery into which he was born and then the proclamation of sin and atoning work of Christ, this was the message that Allen proclaimed everywhere he went. Our pattern of conduct must be the same. We as believers must have the eagerness in prayer and proclamation of the Gospel, to those who are unconverted. Men are slaves to sin, bound in the wickedness of their thoughts, words and deeds. The words of our Saviour ring true, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (John 8:34) and the same also rings true to all slaves of sin, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Next the community of believers must unite, under the common purposes of equipping the saints and building up the body of Christ. The African American believers led by Allen, provided each other with the Scriptural support, prayer support and fellowship flowing from Christ grace to endure the trials they were facing. Secondly the believers were being built up. Suffering was building their faith. Persecution was refining their Godly character resulting in their confession that God alone would be their source. Believers, there will be times when you will suffer when you stand to exalt the glory of our God and His Son Jesus Christ. It must not be an experience in which we retreat and hide, “but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy”(1 Peter 4:13).
Now to our second question of what responsibilities are before us? I speak to those who call themselves pastors, teachers, elders, etc. The highest lesson, the greatest example we find in the life of Richard Allen and the glory that God received out of his life is the following: The importance of the sufficiency of Jesus Christ alone and the sufficiency of Scripture alone. At their greatest trial, at the moment when they face exclusion, Allen and the African American believers proclaimed Christ alone and Scripture alone. Those who hold yourselves to be leaders in your local body, declare, Christ alone. The pastor who will not labor in the Word of God, dig into each book, chapter and verse, teaches others not to be diligent to labor in the Word of God. If you are teaching anything than what is clearly outlined by Christ and the apostles, turn from your man made doctrines and back to doctrines of Jesus Christ.
The establishment of the first African American fellowship which would eventually become independent of the Methodist church in 1815, was a reformation orchestrated by Christ Himself. Christ, using Allen’s slavery, freedom, conversion and preaching, brought about a change in the visible church and America reminiscent of Luther’s work in Europe. The African American body of believers were the recipients of God’s grace, through the exaltation of Christ, a knowledge of the sufficiency of Scripture and gaining a true understanding of their equality in Jesus Christ.
The modern day local churches, that have large are predominantly African American must learn the lessons of these free and bond people. Zeal for the worship of Christ, freely, was contained within the bounds of exalting Christ and learning the Scriptures. What is the solution for the decline in African American churches? It is the return to the centrality of Jesus Christ. Secondly, the local church must return to seeing Scripture as the sole source of how God instructs His people(2 Tim 3:15-4:1-3).
The glory of Christ will be revealed in the African American community. Community leadership, with all its good deeds, will not measure up to the eternal weight, work and worth of Christ, who must be the object of all our affections. Pray that God would revive hearts to exalt Christ alone. Pray that God will use men and women, the priesthood of believers to herald the risen King in the public square, in their home fellowships and church buildings. God, His Son Jesus Christ is to be gloried as our supreme joy in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Christ the Redeemer, was Richard Allen’s joy. Through every aspect of life, Christ must be the all satisfying center to bring lasting change to our local churches.
All quotes are from:
Allen, Richard, The Life, Experience and Gospel Labours of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen. Martin and Boden, Philadelphia, 1833.
Richard Allen is a man who is constantly on the move. Allen is constantly moving from Baltimore, Radnor, Lancaster and Philadelphia from 1785-1786. Where ever Allen went, it was a priority that He was preaching the Gospel. Allen joined a Rev Richard Watcoat to preach on the Baltimore circuit and when he moved into Pennsylvania, Allen joined with a Rev Peter Morratte and Irie Ellis along the Lancaster circuit.
In 1786, Allen is in Philadelphia and begins preaching from time to time at St. George’s Church to which he became a member. Allen had only intended to remain in Philadelphia for about two weeks, but God had a different plan. Allen saw a great need to preach to a great many of Africans in the city, therefore he began conducting open air preaching twice a day. Morning and evening and sometimes four to five times a day, Allen was out, in the public declaring the Word of God, unashamedly. As many began to gather, Allen began discipleship of African believers, established prayer meetings, ministering with at least 42 individuals. It was at this point that Allen realized these believers needed a place to gather and worship.
Richard Allen planned this to be a two week trip and it became a labor for the glory of Christ. He saw a great need for ministry. He labored daily to see Christ formed in people. Here was a free slave, going abroad executing the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. Here we see the move of the Holy Spirit upon a believer to do a work for the glory of God and the joy of believers. Overall we continue to see the compelling, unfettered desire to preach Christ. Let us all pray to the Lord to stir our hearts, to leave our pews, our home fellowships, to declare the glory of the Gospel of Christ to men in the public square.
Brother Allen forms a bond with three other African American men at St Georges; Rev Absalom Jones, William White and Dorus Ginnings. The four sought support within their local church, St Georges to establish a place of worship for the African believers but were vehemently denied. Yet the group remained faithful.
Allen records that, “We felt ourselves much cramped; but my dear Lord was with us, and we believed, if it was his will, the work would go on, and that we would be able to succeed in building the house of the Lord. We established prayer meetings and meetings of exhortation, and the Lord blessed our endeavours, and many souls were awakened; but the elder soon forbid us holding any such meetings; but we viewed the forlorn state of our colored brethren, and that they were destitute of a place of worship.”
What example do we see in this body of believers? They kept their eyes fixed on Christ. They continued to do the works of the ministry, equipping the saints and building up the body of Christ. The believers followed the example of the early Church of Jerusalem, continuing “ steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers… Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved”(Acts 2:42,47).
The African American believers experienced an unfortunate event during corporate worship at St George that would encourage their faith in Christ through suffering. In the midst of prayer time, Absalom Jones was told to move in the middle of prayer because he was in the seating reserved for Whites. Absalom Jones requested to move upon the completion of prayer. Two members of the church rejected his request and proceeded to drag him on his knees out of the church. Reverend Allen remembers this as the critical event in the birth of the African Methodist Episcopal Church:
"we all went out of the church in a body, and they were no more plagued with us in the church. This raised a great excitement and inquiry among the citizens, in so much that I believe they were ashamed of their conduct. But my dear Lord was with us, and we were filled with fresh vigor to get a house erected to worship God in.”
Out of this unnecessary and unconceivable incident, Allen saw this as an opportunity for his people to move forward to worship God unhindered.
The African American believers gathered some money and purchased a storage room to meet in. The believers were threatened and told they would be publicly disciplined if they would not cease their gatherings. Allen and the believers would eventually receive some support from one Dr. Benjamin Rush and Mr. Robert Ralston of whom Allen states, “I hope…will never be forgotten among us.”
So Allen has been in Philadelphia since 1786 and been ordained by God to establish a local fellowship for African American believers. Receiving opposition from within their own local church, St. George and without, they continued steadfastly trusting in Jesus Christ.
It is on or about 1794 and the Methodist Conference sends and elder Mr. J-M- to demand the African American believers to stop raising money to build their own place to worship. Two separate times this meeting occurs, and on the last meeting, God’s sovereignty is manifested. The African American believers declared to the elder,
“We told him we had no place of worship; and we did not mean to go to St. George's church any more, as we were so scandalously treated in the presence of all the congregation present; "and if you deny us your name, you cannot seal up the scriptures from us, and deny us a name in heaven. We believe heaven is free for all who worship in spirit and truth." And he said, "so you are determined to go on." We told him--"yes, God being our helper." He then replied, "we will disown you all from the Methodist connexion." We believed if we put our trust in the Lord, he would stand by us.”
What did they elevate as primary? Who did they see as the only one who would gain them entrance into heaven? Who did they see as their only sufficiency? They saw Christ as their only sufficiency. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God… And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work”(2 Cor 3:5, 9:8). They declared only Christ as the one who provided entrance to Heaven. “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die… I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn 11:25-26, 14:6).
Finally, they elevated Scripture as the final authority! “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works”(2 Tim 3:16-17).
In 1794, after raising a enough money to purchase a plot of land in Philadelphia, Bethel AME was officially opened with Richard Allen as the first pastor. Allen once again looks to God, giving Him the glory. “My dear Lord was with us, so that there was many hearty Amen's echoed through the house. This house of worship has been favored with the awakening of many souls, and I trust they are in the kingdom both white and colored.” The first African American church was birthed and more importantly, Christ was magnified.