Worn out by a Freedom of Religion Rally…


A couple days ago I got a call asking if I might speak at a freedom of religion rally downtown Scranton that was being coordinated with another 130 rallys across the country. The president of our Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has been a key figure in objecting to the HHS guidelines that the Obama administration has been proposing as part of the new national health plan. Of course I have a problem with these guidelines and I think we need to work to change the way things are headed, so I said I would speak.

So this morning I spent some time researching and wrote about 3/4 of a page of considered words that I wanted to share. I showed up and there was a decent (not huge) and quite happy crowd in front of the federal court house downtown Scranton. I put money in the parking meter to cover 1 hour. “That should be enough time” I thought. I couldn’t imagine it lasting longer than that, since each speaker wasn’t supposed to speak for more than 5 minutes…. (you are supposed to start laughing at this point!)

OK, so things started off a bit differently than I thought with some effective opening remarks by a Baptist pastor. He really covered a lot of ground and said it all very well in 10 minutes – and it would have been great if everything would have ended right there. BUT then they had invited him to pray the opening prayer – which he did in the name of Jesus (as a Christian must). Grrr… You know, sometimes it just ISN’T appropriate to pray! This seems to be one of those times. We are supposed to be trying to defend the rights of people of ALL religions. When you are trying to be inclusive of ALL religions – it ISN’T a good idea to pray! Praying to a specific god separates and offends. So the thing that really bugged me about this whole event was that it ended up to be a Christian pep rally. I am all for Christians having a pep rally – but not cloaked as a religious freedom event!!!!!

The second speaker was a local doctor who really only talked out against contraception – which we were all informed NOT to speak on. I don’t understand why smart people like doctors can’t read the directions. The topic was religious freedom, not contraception.

The third speaker was the highlight of the event. And he was a Pagan Priest! (Sorry, I don’t remember names.) As a former military officer he related how he fought for the high ideals of our nation and took an oath to defend our constitution. He spoke of how the communist and fascist governments’ goals of stripping religion and religious values from the people was so that the government could then take the place of God and determine the values and thinking of the people. Excellent stuff, although he was proof that even Pagan Priests have trouble shutting up. But no one minded listening to this fellow.

From then on it was pretty much downhill. There were the annoying political tirades from a crazy Tea Party activist, the performance of the nice Christian song which didn’t have anything to do with religious freedom, sung by the obligatory pretty young girl, and the hysterical screaming of a hispanic minister who must have thought everyone was 100 years old and needed hearing aids (I think most people did need hearing aids AFTER his turn at the mike). There was a reasoned speech by the Catholic Priest, but it was at least 10 minutes too long too. So what started out as a nice event had finally worn everyone out completely after an hour and a half. I was SO, SO glad that the organizer called up the priest to say the closing prayer – having forgotten to call me up!!!! She saw me afterward and was so mortified that she had forgotten me, but the reality was that no one would have heard anything of what I had to say anyway.

I was reminded so very powerfully as to why I really dislike these kinds of events. The problem is that they tend to over-simplify the issues. Even though I am disturbed by the HHS problem, the reality is that the relationship between church and state is extremely complex. Just take THIS for instance: we could ask why we Christians are not in favor of letting Mormons or Muslims have polygamist marriages? They should have every right to it because that is what they believe in, right? It is their religion! But of course most folks don’t even notice such anomalies! It is a difficult thing to navigate the issues and nothing (NOTHING) is simple.

So in the end the thing that I was most thankful for was that there was no parking ticket on my car when I got back to it 45 minutes past its timer! Haha!


21 thoughts on “Worn out by a Freedom of Religion Rally…

  1. Well, at least TWO good things happened from this “event”: you didn’t get a parking ticket AND I learned something! Thanks for reminding me that “freedom of religion” is just that. I find that the few times I have been in a discussion on that healthcare issue re: mandated paid birth control coverage, the talk has degenerated to not even involve “all religions” (which might be offering healthcare coverage for employees). Again, thanks so much for reminding and teaching me/us that there ARE other religions, which we are bound to respect (by our Constitution) but with whose basic tenets we aren’t bound to agree!

    • Pastor Bjornstad,
      I am sorry for your troubles; we evidently see the rally day through very different eyes. While we were so happy to see the local clergy express their views on the situation and our responsibilities in the face of our First Amendment violations, you had to worry about your parking. Since it was scheduled for one and ½ hours, it seems odd that you would make such a determination.
      We, the faithful laity of the Catholic Church, very much enjoyed the talks of Fr. Eric Bergman and Fr. Sahd. Contrary to your statement, Fr Bergman’s statements needed to be said and more importantly, desperately needed to be heard. There are some things you don’t put a time limit on, and Pastor, since we may be going to jail, I believe this is one of those times.
      In addition, we were especially impressed by the non-Catholic clergy (including the Pagan as well as “the crazy tea party activist”) who vowed to stand with us. It is unfortunate that you do not feel the same, but I so hope you were listening! I am also sorry that you cannot see the difference between polygamy and the contraception, abortion, and sterilization issues. Most feel the contrast is apparent. It has been rumored that President Obama is scheduling several rallies in the Scranton area. From what I understand there are free refreshments and unlimited parking for free. Perhaps you would be more at home in this environment.
      I am especially sorry that you cannot understand that mistakes can be made in the organization of such a rally and that you cannot find it in your heart to forgive this error…as well as many other things. God bless you and we are praying that you will join the fight. Why not post your talk? By your own admission, it won’t take long, and the parking is free!
      PS I cannot think of a single instance when prayer cannot be said.

      • Well. I suppose I miscalculated (big understatement)! I usually have about 15 people read my blog who know me (i didn’t expect anyone else to read it, fool that i am!)

        Now, if you did know me you would know I really am a nice guy and I love the Lord and his people. I really don’t relish being on the “outs” with folks (especially fellow christians) and I am not one to purposely be nasty.

        But if you know me you also know that I do like a good and happy debate and I usually tell things like I see them – without taking myself or any issue too seriously. I am not right all the time. No doubt about that! That is why I love being a Christian – a forgiven child of God.

        Anyway. Thanks for reading my blog. I thought maybe I should take my previous post down if it causes offense. I certainly could have been more generous towards the speakers. I know everyone’s intentions were good and I do ask for forgiveness if anyone is offended. But I hold my ground on the issues I put forward. You don’t have to agree! And if you think that I was mean spirited I would ask that you don’t feel you have to be the same back! Believe me – I am on your side! 🙂

        You can find the text of what I had written to speak in one of the previous comments.

        Thank you and may God give us much wisdom and even more charity.

  2. Well…God truly works in mysterious ways…and he must have had a reason for you not speaking….as I truly see a mean streak in your heart. Let me tell you first…the entire rally was set up solely by one person. It was a HUGE undertaking…with tons of emails, conference calls, researching and then asking speakers to attend to she admired. It was very stressful to put together. The day of the rally she asked all speakers to line up under the tent so that she would remember to call each one up (as she had inadvertently left her schedule at home). She never saw you the entire event…until it was over. She profusely appologized and truly felt bad.

    As far as the speakers…every one is to be commended…they all did a beautiful job. It was such a beautiful day…people of all faiths coming together for one purpose…to fight for EVERYONE’S religious freedom….that is including YOURS…and YOURS TOO Marilyn. No was was a professional…everyone spoke from the heart…there was no dress rehearsal to make sure everything was timed exactly…there were no sound checks, etc. I’m sorry this wasn’t up to your standards…and I’m sorry if that was so traumatic for you…to spend a little over an hour for a very worthy cause.

    Marilyn…this was hardly a rally to make people believe the tenents of ANY religion. We had Baptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Catholics, Jewish…among others who were all there in solidarity to stand up for religious freedom!! Remember this Marilyn…while this particular issue may not concern you…the next one may. Once religious freedom means nothing….and that door is open…it’s wide open. Someday…there may not be anyone left to fight for you when it’s an issue that is near and dear to YOUR heart. We are all in this together. This was not about any particular faith. No one was asked to accept the tenents of anyone else’s faith.

    btw- why would no one have heard anything you had to say…had you spoken? I saw nothing but extreme enthusiam and appreciation for each and every speaker. Everyone was truly joyous and felt blessed to have been there.

  3. I would like to say that my friends and I attended the Rally and each speaker’s talk was part of a mosaic of different religions coming together to protest an attack on our Religious Freedom.

    I do not understand how a Pastor can be so critical? I feel that everyone spoke from their heart and they did a great job.

    I have several questions to ask:

    1. Why you didn’t you go over to the organizer when you arrived and tell her you were there?

    2. What did you mean when you said, “The reality was that no one would have heard anything of what I had to say anyway.” What were you planning to say?

    I have a suggestion. Why don’t you put your statement on your blog and we ran read what you planned to say. I, myself, am very interested because it seems like you are not on the same page as the other speakers and you do not agree with the points they made.

  4. Peace, Marina! Yes, I would have formatted it a bit differently than how it ended up. And I am not in the least upset at the organizer. She did the best she could under extreme circumstances, no doubt. And what I am pretty sure is that the format was at least somewhat formulated by the national organization – and not her. But, what I was the most frustrated with is that you just can’t seem to give a person a mike and expect anything but 10 minutes of their own personal agenda – however convoluted it might be. If the speakers would have just stuck to the script the whole event would have been 10 times better.

    Anyway, here is the text of what I would have said (And no it isn’t flashy or necessarily profound.):

    “We come here today and stand together as people of different denominations and even different religions, concerned about how a very important principle of our nation is being threatened. That principal is the freedom not only to worship, but to practice our religion.
    This principle is not particularly difficult to understand. Even the United Nations, as dubious an organization as some make it out to be, in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief… [and] to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
    But of course we shouldn’t need to reference the United Nations here in this country because we have the First Amendment which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

    But for some reason, having it in black and white in our constitution, does not necessarily mean that the freedom to practice our religion is defended. We need to be vigilant and willing to call the spade a spade. The reality is that freedom to practice religion is not a NATURAL concept – and it is extremely difficult to implement properly. We by nature feel the need to cloister and protect ourselves and exclude and control those who do not think like ourselves, or who practice other religions. Even the first colonists, even as they came to the shores of this great land 400 years ago because they did not have the freedom to practice their religion in Europe, set up their communities and in many cases did not afford their own people the freedom to practice another religion. They fell into the same sin as they were running from, and it took a lot of effort to overcome those initial impulses.

    I think a good number of the general public might look at the HHS ruling as a rather insignificant issue and can’t see the value in making so much hay over it. I understand that there is a law very similar to the HHS mandate that has been in effect in New Hampshire for several years now that no one even batted an eye about. We need to bat the eye. We need to nip this in the bud. If we don’t we can only assume how easy it will be for “group think” and “government think” to further diminish our right to practice our religion as we so choose.

    And so it is for this reason we stand here today. We do need to be vigilant! We need to call the spade a spade and make sure that this country does not end up like most of the rest of the world where religious freedom is in name only. It must remain a reality in practice here in These United States of America.”

  5. I did go and let the organizer know that I was there before everything started. We had a nice conversation. And, again, she was so very apologetic. I can’t TELL you how many times I have made the same kind of mistake… (anyone one who knows me knows I am ALWAYS apologizing for forgetting this and that!) I was NOT offended in ANY way for being forgotten. I am not well known or important. I am quite easily forgotten! I don’t mind it that way! 🙂

  6. What I meant by the remark that no one would have heard anything was simply that I sensed everyone was VERY tired. And, frankly, what I had to say wasn’t really THAT important. It wasn’t worth anyone’s extra time and effort. That is all!

  7. The general ruminations and interesting bits tossing around in the mind of a crazy pastor….

    Huh???? You call yourself a crazy pastor???

    You blast the entire program and then post comments with a totally different tone. WOW…

    Why didn’t u line up with the other speakers???? Where were you standing??? You acted like the program ran for 4 hours.

    There ia nothing funny about this mandate. Yet your posts talk about laughing and a parking ticket (ha ha).

    Maybe u should have organized the event. Then it would have been perfect!!! Very sad for a pastor to be so critical.

  8. I am posting this as a reply, even as I posted it as a blog entry… just for the record:

    Well. I suppose I miscalculated (big understatement) on my previous blog post concerning the Freedom of Religion rally! I usually have about 15 people read my blog who know me (i didn’t expect anyone else to read it, fool that i am!)

    Now, if you did know me you would know I really am a nice guy and I love the Lord and his people. I really don’t relish being on the “outs” with folks (especially fellow christians) and I am not one to purposely be nasty. But if you know me you also know that I do like a good and happy debate and I usually tell things like I see them – without taking myself or any issue too seriously. I am not right all the time. No doubt about that! That is why I love being a Christian – a forgiven child of God.

    Anyway. Thanks for reading my blog. I thought maybe I should take my previous post down if it causes offense. I certainly could have been more generous towards the speakers. I know everyone’s intentions were good and I do ask for forgiveness if anyone is offended. But I hold my ground on the issues I put forward. You don’t have to agree! And if you think that I was mean spirited I would ask that you don’t feel you have to be the same back! Believe me – I am on your side! 🙂

    You can find the text of what I had written to speak in one of the previous comments.

    Thank you and may God give us much wisdom and even more charity.

  9. Wow! Just goes to show that people (besides your friends/parishioners) read your blog!

    HOT TOPIC! And, I’m VERY impressed that one woman organized the whole thing – the rally at the courhouse. I have a lot to learn about this sort of thing – “rallies” and such regarding freedom of speech AND religion and their various sub-categories!

    I SO pray that EACH of us will work very hard to keep our tempers and give each other respect, not only when participating in events like this one, but truth be known, in our everyday lives.

    THAT is one thing which I believe we can greatly improve on: treating each other with RESPECT, whether we agree or not. I do understand that certain subjects are “hot topics”, to put it mildly. I do NOT believe that louder is “righter”. Fairness isn’t achieved by shouting or shooting, for that matter. I STRONGLY believe in public discourse, but RESPECTFUL public discourse.

    Respectful PRIVATE discourse would be nice, too, but that’s another soapbox.

    In general, many of us are quick to anger, to point fingers, to blame, to assume the worst, and so slow to be the opposite.

    I personally appreciate the general tenor of most of the responses to this blog.
    “Civil discourse” seems to be something that is far in our past. Debate, what’s that? Long gone are the days when debating was a skill sought by reasoned people, nevermind respected or appreciated!

    Keep the discourse going!

  10. Yes, Marilyn. Thank you! (But I do actually know how many times each blog is read, and it wasn’t just conjecture. Sometimes it is nice when no one reads your blog. haha!)

  11. Glad for your comment – and smiley face! We certainly DO have the freedom to pray, no doubt! But even as “all things are lawful… not every thing is advisable!” (1 Cor.)

    OK, now, as I check the email I received about the rally, the egg is on MY face again because it says ‘HYMNS AND PRAYERS” will be offered. I should have clued in a bit… that this wasn’t exactly the kind of event that I was thinking it was!

    But this is the point I am trying to make: even as we – AS CHRISTIANS – need to press this issue (hard) – we shouldn’t do it in any way that can be conceived as a whiny “look how persecuted we poor Christians are.” Just as we are having a hard time battling the media that is trying to make it a “contraception” issue, we can’t let the religious freedom issue be seen as just a “Christianity” issue. And it doesn’t help to reach that goal if your rally is thoroughly Christian in nature with prayers and songs in the name of Christ! Yes, we had a letter of support from the Rabbi read and the Pagan priest speak, and I am sure EVERYONE was thrilled with what they had to say, but they were “allowances” in what was most definitely a Christian event.

    We have to remember that our intended audience is most likely made up of those who are NOT Christians – who probably are embarrassed to have any association with the name of Christ. They are simply not going to listen to people they consider cave men. We have to present ourselves and our case in the PUBLIC SQUARE based on sound reason – apart from our faith.

    Thanks for reading. You don’t have to agree! 🙂

  12. Well, as a Christian, and as a pastor, I don’t see how I can divorce my life into various spheres of “sacred and secular” or something like that. If I’m asked to speak or pray, it’s obviously going to be fairly Christian and I don’t really apologize for that. Even in my “non-religious” things I do, it is always permeated by my faith.

  13. No argument from me on the need to have faith permeate all of life. I was showing up to what I thought was a “Public Square” event with my collar and as a Christian pastor (not apologizing for anything) – and with much prayer. I was there BECAUSE of my faith, but my argument for the government and the world are not based on faith, but reason. The world does not understand the mind of Christ. Just to clarify. 🙂

  14. I just caught up with this this morning. My employer is a good friend of the organizer’s daughter, and she came in to ask me what I thought. As I care for her mother who’s a shut-in, I couldn’t attend the rally because my opposite was attending it.

    Although she was pretty upset, I was inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt for four reasons.

    1.) I had met you 3 or 4 years ago, when I asked you to order Mother’s Day Carnations for the Pennsylvanians for Human Life’s fund raiser. I remembered that you really are a “nice guy”. We had a slight misunderstanding which you handled with grace.

    2.) I’ve learned over the years that the written word can be written in one tone of voice, and read in quite another. To me the tone seemed quite critical, and I was not alone judging by the firestorm it created. Then again, maybe it wasn’t meant that way.

    3.) My Pastor is continually emphasizing that when someone comes to us with a criticism, even if we don’t like the way they present it, we should look for the grain of truth it contains. God might be trying to get a message to us.

    4.) I enjoy debating myself, and I’m not always the most tactful person when it comes to making my point. I can hear my family and friends saying,
    ” that should be always not.”

    So I read through the whole blog, thought about it for hours, and came to some possibly erroneous conclusions which are:

    You received a phone call asking you to speak. You thought this was going to be an event that was going to be an opportunity to present the real problem (not the manufactured “contraception” one) to religious and secular people. Many of those attending might be unbelievers.

    You began to think about how to reach the crowd you expected. You probably put a lot of thought into this over a number of days. Your blog name shows you care about lost souls. “How do I present this so they’ll understand? How do I make sure I don’t turn them off?” In short, “How do ‘I become like a Jew, to win the Jews. … To those not having the law … like one not having the law. …’ How do ‘I … become all things to all men….?’ ” (1 Cor 9:20ff)

    You received an Email about the event which you didn’t open. Your time was limited and you thought you knew what you needed to know.

    So you arrived at the Rally expecting one thing and you ended up with a totally different one. NEPA’s population consists of 80 to 85% (I’m guessing) Christians nominal or otherwise, of various denominations. Probably 70% of these are Catholics. There are some Mormans (but they consider themselves Christians) and some Jehoveh’s Witnesses. If we have any Mosques I don’t know where. The Jews were evidently represented. Pastor Merkle obviously knew what kind of audience would be there, and he also must have thought this through for days. It seems he had a better idea of how to “become all things to all men” in this situation.

    So you came home tired and discouraged, and blogged your disappointment to the people (you say it’s a few) who regularly follow “From The Pastor’s Heart Blog”. They know you and understand you. It was safe. Ha, ha (I’m laughing with you – not at you.)

    We can all learn something from this. Indeed we MUST learn something from this. We’re in perilous times when our religious freedom is being assaulted with murderous intent. If we start fighting among ourselves the forces of evil will have won. Lets unite together and pray and work to preserve these freedoms.

    To All You Who Are Annoyed With Pastor Bjornstad’s Blog:

    I’d like to close with a story. A few months ago I Emailed my sister emoting about a family problem that I thought was being handled “all wrong”. I told her it was a “Heads Up” but that was an excuse.

    I didn’t hear anything back. About three weeks later, I was Emailing again and the computer wouldn’t accept an address because it had an extra << in it. (I'm really new at this.) In going thru my address book to correct all the wrong addresses, I found an extra << on her's. I corrected it and sent it out again, asking if she received the first one. I told her it didn't matter that I had just been blowing off steam and had calmed down.

    My unbelieving sister replied instantly. Very wisely she said, "I received this. I decided that it was something I could ignore, so I ignored it." Then she instantly began talking about something else.

    We're all on the same side. We're also COMMANDED to forgive. Let's "all
    hang together, or most assuredly we'll all hang separately." Benjamin Franklin

  15. Thank you for those words! Not making excuses for myself, but you describe how it was almost to a T. Hopefully it will be a long time before I push the “publish” button before I think about it twice – the NEXT day (because you just NEVER know what google is going to throw up at the top of a search page!!)

    Hopefully someone might gain a smidgen of new insight (whether you agree with it or not) from a “crazy” Lutheran pastor’s mind, and we can get on with making the best of our task ahead. I will try my best to be a better team player.

  16. Yes…I truly do hope you stop, think and pray before you publish remarks such as this in the future – not because of google or the fact that more than 15 of your friends will read it – but because the remarks were cruel and hurt people…and your assumptions baseless. Do you know the heart of the person that organized this? Do you really think she had a check list which included….obligatory pretty girl must sing song? In reality…that was a sweet homeschool girl that is very passionate about this issue and wanted to sing at the event. She DID preface her song with it’s relevence to the rally. That “crazy” tea party woman…did not bring politics into her speech and was very composed and well versed. The “lunatic” hispanic minister brought tears to my eyes as I watched him express his great love of this country and of God…and that he would be willing to go to jail to fight for them. As far as the “long winded” speakers…I can’t think of one word they should have ommitted…God was truly speaking through them.

    The organizer reached out to every religious group that was passionate about this issue. No one was an “allowance”…whoever was passionate and heartfelt on this issue was given a platform.I think it’s pretty safe to say that since there are more Christian religions in this area…that there would be more Christian speakers.

    And prayer was the most important part of this Freedom OF Religion Rally. We were not there to garner support of people with no faith or use for religion…as the majority aren’t going to care about religious freedom. We were there to gain strength from eachother, be inspired, learn all the facts, let our voices be heard across this country, sign petitions, and prepare for the battle ahead.

    I can assure you…the left has done a great job of getting rid of God and prayer everywhere they can…we surely aren’t going to cater to that as well. We WILL stand up and pray!!

    To any speakers that read this…the feedback that I have gotten (through many many circles I am involved in)…is that each of you were inspiring and just awesome…and that this was the best rally anyone had ever attended. Keep up the good fight and God Bless you all!!!

  17. You are right, Marina, I shouldn’t have posted this blog as it is because certain people might read it. I shouldn’t have written it (at least in the offensive way I did) because it just wasn’t the right and generous and Christian thing to do.

    And I do like your comment here:
    “We were there to gain strength from each other, be inspired, learn all the facts, let our voices be heard across this country, sign petitions, and prepare for the battle ahead.”

    There is nothing wrong with any of those things. They are all good.

    Perhaps for me, what got me into most trouble writing this blog is this gut cynicism of political events. Even as I am an AVID follower of politics, this is why I have never, ever, participated in anything like this before – except for the fact that I DO march in the March for Life in DC most years. (I can’t imagine anyone is going to invite me back again, so it will probably be my first AND last!)

    Whether it is the rocky music as the political candidate enters onto the stage, to the pretty faces, to the “Rah, rahs”, to the grandstanding and bluster… It is all so formulaic. I just can’t appreciate it. In my view these events cater to people’s base mentalities, pump up their adrenaline, oversimplify the issues, painting everything and everyone black and white. What we really need is extensive education, level-headed and critical thinking based on the Word of God and sound reason, effective debating skills, and a strong Christian love and respect for each other – even our “enemies” (yes, it seems I am as big a sinner as anyone at the moment on that issue).

    Thank you for your comments.

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