An Open Letter to Wes Bryant

An open letter to Wes Bryant in response to the article, “Houston County School System Receives Complaint Regarding Graduation Prayer”.

Mr. Bryant,

First, thank you for your service to our country. Any man who willingly puts himself in harm’s way in order to defend my freedom as an American citizen is a man whom I respect. It would be my preference to correspond with you personally regarding the issues I will address in this letter because of the deep respect I have for your service in the military. However, since your complaint regarding recent graduation services in Houston County has become a subject of public debate I felt compelled to respond publicly. Additionally, it seems the intent of the filed compliant is for a public discourse on the subject, so, again, I will respond in that manner.  I fully admit that I am basing my response off just a few quotes from the local newspaper, so if in the following letter I assume too much or misstate your position I apologize and would gladly receive correction.

Let me first define your position as an atheist, as clarity on the position is imperative to a meaningful dialogue. Atheism is a belief in the absence of God. While atheism is a secular worldview, it is nonetheless a worldview that shapes the way people see the world around them. It is secular, but not a scientific discipline (while it may be informed by science like other worldviews and religions). Additionally, atheism defines itself in comparison to religion. The word “atheist” means “without God.” In this regard, atheism, though not holding to a religion, is a statement on religion. Again, if this is an unfair definition of your position, I would accept appropriate correction.

From this worldview, you are advocating an absence of the mention of God from the graduation services in our county. This is an understandable position for you to advocate, since it is consistent with your worldview, atheism. The absence of God (or mention of God) is the foundation for the way you see the world.  It could be argued that since atheism is a denial of God, it is also a statement concerning religion. Therefore, the absence of religious prayers and activities at a high school graduation is a statement or stance on religion, in a similar way to including them. To advocate for the absence of God from a ceremony that has traditionally included prayers, is to advocate for a particular stance on a religious issue.

And here is the rub, you are actually not campaigning for legality or fairness, but for your worldview to be the worldview of the Houston County Board of Education. In other words, you are fighting for your personal belief system to be the one supported and espoused above other possible worldviews or positions, religious or irreligious. The request seems to be for the school board to advocate an atheist position over any other belief system. Understandably, you may disagree with this point, so let me explain my understanding of the legal and Constitutional issue, which may help clarify this position as well.

The beauty of the Constitution is it does not prevent the influence of religion or promote the absence of religion in the public square or the private lives of American citizens. It does confine the state’s ability to restrict an individual’s right to hold whatever religious beliefs they choose. This means you may hear people talk about God, but you do not have to believe in that God. You may hear Tom Cruise discuss secretly revealed divine inner truth or, even, in the classroom, hear positions taught that have clear religious or worldview implications. The government does not, however, require its citizens to hold one certain religious position. Neither does it restrain civil liberties from those who reject a certain religious position.

In our case, religious affiliation does not determine whether a student may or may not graduate from high school. A belief in the Christian God is not necessary to be able to attend a school in Houston County. Participation in a public prayer directed toward the Christian God is not mandated, either. In school, like other arenas, students are not free from the influence of religion, neither are they free from the influence of secular humanism, or naturalism, but they do get to make their own choices about what they believe.

Additionally, the Constitution does not promise that American citizens will not be personally offended. In fact, it almost does the opposite. Allowing everyone the freedom of speech insures that during my life as an American citizen I will hear viewpoints that I disagree with and will find offensive. The difference is that in the United States I am guaranteed the freedom to personally reject any viewpoint, religious belief, or worldview. I believe you will want to agree with me on this point because the implications of denying this freedom are as grave for an atheist as they are for a theist. If, for example, an atheist student intended to include remarks about the moral relativism or the self reliance of enlightened free thinkers in a valedictorian address, they could  be censured for making statements concerning religion, namely the exclusion of God. As argued above, these are religious statements.

Finally, I would also like for you to help me understand the nature of the offense in this particular instance. A student prayed to God, which an atheist believes to be a mythical creature. I can understand your disagreement with the prayer, but not your anger. Someone talking to a non-existent creature has never offended me. I might think they are crazy or smoked too much pot in college, but I wouldn’t find it offensive or be angered by it. If the student had prayed to the Tooth Fairy or if Dr. Hines had encouraged students to maintain a strong faith in the Easter Bunny, would you have found it equally offensive? It would seem that the proper response of a consistent atheist to such a prayer would be sympathy or pity for the misguided, uninformed, and ignorant babbling of a theist high school student to his or her imaginary friend.

These three observations lead me to the following conclusion. Your appeal to the Constitution is a smoke screen for the true motivation, which is for your personal preference on religion to be advocated by our school board. I would also conclude that the organization you contacted to assist in your complaint, Freedom From Religion Foundation, has a similar intention. In fact, it is implied in their name, which changes the wording of the constitutional principle from “freedom of religion” to “freedom from religion,” telegraphing their agenda. The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” As a citizen of this county I feel very strongly that fairness and freedom should be upheld. However, I do not regard personal, politically motivated agendas as an appropriate basis for our local government making changes of this magnitude. Especially, when the true intent to such appeals are as evident as in this case. I would urge you to reconsider your position on this matter.

Looking forward to a further dialogue,

Brandon Nichols
Graduate of Houston County High School, Class of 1998


Biblically Understanding Homosexuality

Here are a few resources I used while developing the message this past week.

Theology and Culture: Homosexuality: This is a fantastic message on the subject from Matt Chandler, Pastor of the Village Church.

Jesus and Homosexuality: A great and short paper on what Jesus taught on homosexuality from Geoff Ashley.

How I Wish the Homosexuality Debate Would Go: Great blog from Trevin Wax that aims to help believers clearly communicate what the Bible teaches about homosexuality.

Jesus On Homosexuality: Another great blog on what Jesus taught on homosexuality. This one is written by JD Greear, pastor of the Summit Church in Durham, NC.

RC Sproul on Homosexuality: A message from RC Sproul on the issue.

Just for Girls: Guest Post by Katie Creery

Great guest blog just for the ladies from my unbelievable assistant, Katie Creery. Enjoy!

Why Be Modest?
by Katie Creery

OK ladies, have any of you been shopping lately?  Probably all of us have! What did you shop for?  Shirts, pants, jewelry, shoes (my personal favorite!)…there are lots of items to choose from out there. Well, if any of you are like me, sometimes I actually go shopping with a mission, looking for a very specific item. For example–last summer I decided I was going to shop for the perfect pair of shorts. I left pretty excited and energized thinking, “Yep, today is a good day to buy shorts, and the perfect pair will be waiting in the first store just for me”.  You’re thinking ridiculous, right?  Well, you would be correct…not only were there not shorts out there waiting for me at the first store, but there were no shorts at all in that store unless you just count the small (very small!) shorts-shaped pieces of jean or cotton cloth hanging on  hangers or lying on tables.

Was this a joke? Is that really what those stores expected me to wear?  These garments did not contain enough fabric to cover even some underwear !

So, after that disappointment I went to a different store thinking, “Surely not all clothing stores have bought into this type of totally immodest “clothing” …OK, not this store either…OK, not next store…now totally next shopping center…still nothing!  The shopping trip for that particular day was officially a “fail”. I started to wonder, “What is a girl supposed to do who really cares about the appearance and appropriateness of the clothing she puts on, and the image she projects?” What can we do to find appropriate, but still cute, clothing (cause let’s be honest, girls, we want to look cute, don’t we)?  Well, I guess the short answer to that is to be patient until we do find the right look. There are stores out there that sell cute, but appropriate clothing. It may just mean we have to look a little bit harder to find them. I was eventually able to find a pair of shorts that were a length I was comfortable with, but still stylish.

I really don’t need to tell you where to find your clothes–you and your parents can do that together. I just want  you girls to understand why the length of my shorts mattered to me in the first place. If stores were “telling” me by the inappropriate clothing they stock, “buy short shorts” why didn’t I just go ahead and buy what was easily available?

Well, here’s my answer to that. God created me in His perfect image (Genesis 1:26 reminds us of that), in order to glorify His name throughout the earth. Being a young woman in today’s society, I am in a unique position to glorify Him by how I act and dress in my daily life, especially if that (as it so often is) is counter to the culture in which we live today. 1 Peter 2:12 states to “keep your conduct honorable…that they may see your good deeds and glorify God..” In other words, if my faith is as important to me as I say, then I need to live a life that reflects Him, and that includes every daily choice that I make, including how I dress. Wearing immodest clothing will distract from the message God gave me to share with the world, His love. The Bible (1 Timothy 2:9) specifically instructs us that as young women of God we should “dress modestly with decency and propriety” When my physical appearance distracts from His message of love, it means that others, especially boys, may be looking at me as an object, and thinking about how I am dressed (or, in the case of some of today’s fashions, more like undressed!) rather than seeing me as the person God created me to be. Now understand girls, that you are not usually to blame when men’s thoughts are inappropriate, but it is wrong if we  unthinkingly or purposefully dress in such a way to lead guys into thinking ungodly, sexually inappropriate thoughts. If we do, we share in the responsibility of contributing to their sin. It is wrong of us to do anything that would cause another Christian to stumble and fall (See Romans 14:13-21 for a good explanation of this).

Finally, girls you deserve better than having guys only thinking about the way you look and the way you dress.  That’s all surface, all external.  You are beautiful, “knit together by God before you were ever born” (Psalm 139:15) and you don’t need to compromise who God made you to be by what you wear in order to get guys attention. 1 Peter 3:3-4 says “Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in”.  You get God’s attention simply by being you (after all, He created you and He loves you enough to send His Son to die for you!)

That is the kind of spirit that others will be blessed by and that you are worthy of.  Paul puts it this way: “Women should be in humility before God, not primping before a mirror, or chasing the latest fashions, but doing something beautiful for God and becoming beautiful doing it:” (1 Timothy 2:10, The Message)

Myths, Fables, & Sex: Stuff for Parents

Parents, I know this issues we’re discussing on Wednesday nights are important for you to hear about also. Here a a few articles that you should definitely check out.

Tending…Pornography…: Walter Mueller shares 10 stats about teens and internet pornography that are unbelievable. If you think your teen would never look at porn, click the link. If you are concerned that your teen might be looking about porn, click the link. These stats show it is a problem for guys and girls.

5 Internet Monitoring Approaches For Parents: Good article with helpful tips about how to create online accountability for your teen vs. spying on your teen.

Saved Sex: Interesting Article that I quoted from in my message last night. If your teen came home freaked out about a quote I read, it was more than likely one from this article. Check it out for yourself.

I hope these help!


Good Resource for Parents

This week we’re beginning a new series at The Link on Wednesday nights called “Myths, Fables, and Sex.” The goals are to help students understand a biblical worldview about sex, establish healthy boundaries in their relationships, and to breakdown current myths about sex. I know as a parent, this topic can be overwhelming to discuss with your student. Our students are surrounded with sex constantly and it can be difficult for us to discern what is really going on with your student.

I’d like to recommend a great resource to you, An Expose on Teen Sex and Dating by Andy Braner. In this short book, Andy explains what is going on behind the scenes in the teen dating world. Why would this be a good read for parents?

First, at the risk of being overly simplistic, we read about things that are important to us. I read about bikes, guitars, music, Atlanta Braves, Georgia football, and God (not necessarily in that order). I know that, as a parent, your student is important to you. And your student making great decisions about sex and dating is improtant to you, too. So I think that this book would be worth reading.

Second, while I don’t agree with everything Andy says in this book I think it will be helpful to you.  There are a few times in the book when he seems to water down biblical truth in light of how to communicate that truth with teens, which I think it one major drawback. But overall, this is a great resource, especially in describing what is going on in the teen dating scene and how to communicate with students about it.  Chapter Six, “Parental Involvement,” and Chapter 10, “Communication,” are fantastic and would be extremely beneficial to you.

So pick up a copy of the book. Read it discerningly. Hopefully, it will help you talk to your student.

Why Small Groups Are For Parents, Too

I love our small groups! I tell my leaders all the time that I believe small groups are the most crucial aspect of our student ministry. Don’t get me wrong I love teaching students the Bible every Wednesday night, but I’ve come to see that small groups make a much bigger impact than anything I could ever say from the stage. As a parent I think in a strange way that our small groups are also for you. What I mean is that your kid attending a weekly small group will actually benefit your relationship with your student. Here are a few reasons why I believe that.

1. We teach our small group leaders to partner with parents. Our goal is not to work against you, but to work alongside you. Our small group leaders want to be another encouraging voice in the life of your student. You want the best for your student, so do we. As a parent, if you think a little help in guiding your child would be a great thing, then our small groups are for you.
2. Small Groups teach students about relationships. This generation of students is more connected via technology than previous generations, but they also feel more isolated. A small group is a great place to help your student learn how to develop great relationships over time. I think most parents want healthy peer relationships for their kids, which is one of our goals in our small groups, too.
3. Small Group Leaders are clutch in crisis situations. When a crisis hits your kid’s life, having a caring adult who is there for them and willing to listen to them is crucial. Its a great comfort to know your student has a great encourager in their corner when life gets messy. But you know those types of relationships are built over time, so having your student actively involved in a small group prior to the crisis is the key.
4. Small Group Leaders talk about Jesus. I believe (and I hope you do, too) that the most significant relationship in your student’s life is his/her relationship with Jesus. In fact, I believe that relationship influences all of our other relationships. The best thing for your relationship with your student is for them to have a growing relationship with Jesus.  Priority number one for small group leaders is to point your student to Jesus.
So, these are just a few of the many reason why I think that small groups are beneficial for parents, too. I know you’re busy. I know you’re family schedule is nuts. I know your student has homework, school activities, and traveling whatever. But I think small groups are important enough for you to make time for Wednesday nights, 715-800. If you need to make a choice, skip The Link, skip my teaching, skip worship, or skip summer camp to make time for small groups. I honestly believe small groups make more impact on our students lives than anything else we do. To register your student for a small group click here.
If you are a parent who loves your kid’s small group leader, please post a comment below and tell us why.

Another World

“At the root of the Christian life lies belief in the invisible” (Tozer, Pursuit of God, p. 54).

I lose track of this truth constantly. I think because I’m constantly surrounded by and interacting with this world. And let’s face it, its not real trendy or hip to talk about other invisible worlds. But it is a reality!

Tozer says, “Every man must choose his world” (p. 55). We can get caught up in this world and base our entire lives on finding contentment here. When a man makes the choice to live in this world he may be enticed by the short-lived glitz and glamour pushing all his chips on the table, betting his life on fun and excitement. Or he may be overwhelmed with this world, unable to conquer it, and deeply depressed by the lack of meaning offered by it. There are dozens of options for living this life for this world only and many will make this choice.

But, there is another option, another world. The man who chooses to live his live for a heavenly realm remains in touch with the reality of an invisible spiritual world. Another way to say it is that there is an unseen reality is more real that this world and is in fact, what gives this world its meaning. The invisible world is where everything important is: love, joy, purpose, meaning which all flows from God. This is the world I long to choose.