Pastor spreads message of Ten Commandments

He wants them posted in courts and schools

April 09, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Whether visiting members of Congress or a country parish, the Rev. Rob Schenck utters the same familiar words and presents a gift that he wants prominently displayed.

The pastor, who calls himself a missionary to the nation's capital, delivers a message on the Ten Commandments. He leaves his audience with a sculpted stone tablet imprinted with them -- and asks that the inscription be displayed and obeyed.

"I always tell them the latter part is the toughest," the evangelical minister said.

His Ten Commandments Project is an effort "to reintroduce the American people to the great words of Sinai," said Schenck, who will lecture at St. Stephen's Reformed Episcopal Church in Eldersburg this weekend. "These are the 10 statements that will change a nation."

The Washington-based pastor is trying to do just that. Through his efforts, tablets are on the walls of many congressional offices, including that of Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, who represents Western Maryland. The Frederick County Republican hung the tablets next to a picture of the first Congress in prayer.

"The display makes a statement our forefathers would appreciate seeing on the walls of their successors," Bartlett said. "It is important to make a statement on religion. It was the first thing our forefathers addressed. In the First Amendment, they sought freedom of religion, not freedom from religion."

Schenck launched his endeavor five years ago "to bring the laws of God into public view and into the debate over public policy," he said. He delivers the same message to churches of all denominations.

"He has such a grasp of the original language that he can give you the Hebrew word and explain the wording so well that you are on the edge of your seat," said John McClure, a parishioner who invited Schenck to St. Stephen's.

Schenck would like to post the commandments in the halls of governments, courts and schools.

"It is against the Constitution to use public space for religious purposes," said Donald R. Jansiewicz, political science professor at Carroll Community College. "As deep as their devotion was to religious values, the founding fathers had a general fear that one particular religion might gain control and try to drive other religions out. That is why they put up a wall between church and state."

While critics say his efforts breach that wall, Schenck remains convinced "most elected officials and Supreme Court justices are terribly ill-informed" on that law.

The founding fathers never meant to exclude religion, he maintains. As evidence, he lists the motto "In God We Trust" that appears on U.S. currency, and the fact that the president swears on the Bible while taking the oath of office.

Rob Boston, assistant director of communications for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said he accepts Schenck's sincerity but doubts the effectiveness of his efforts.

"Merely sticking a piece of paper on the wall isn't likely to affect human behavior, no more so than the presence of the Bible in hotel rooms stops adultery," Boston said.

The Rev. Eric W. Jorgensen, pastor of the Eldersburg church, has opened the seminar tonight to the public.

The discussion will begin at 6: 30 p.m. today at the church, 2275 Liberty Road. Information: 410- 795-1249 or 410-833-5389. Admission is free.

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