The Biblical Recorder recently interviewed Rit Varriale, pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C., about his book Reformation in Responsibility: A New Ethic for a New Era. The book was released in March. He shared the inspiration behind the book and why he believes Christians should not only read it but respond to the message.
In the book, readers will discover that Varriale is originally from Schendactady, N.Y. He graduated from The Citadel in Charleston, S.C. He was commissioned as an officer in the United States Army and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division from 1992-1996. Varriale served as a platoon leader and company executive officer and received the Outstanding Leadership award for U.S. Army Ranger Class 2-93, the Senior Parachutist Badge, and the Pathfinder Badge. In 1996, he entered the ministry.
He received a M.Div. from Campbell University Divinity School, a Th.M. from Duke University Divinity School, and a D.Min. from Princeton Theological Seminary. Since 1996 he has served three N.C. churches. Varriale lives in Shelby with his wife, Shannon. Go to rinr.org for more information about the book. Also visit amazon.com.
Q: What inspired you to write Reformation in Responsibility?
A: In January 2011, I read an article addressing the tensions between religious convictions and civil rights. The article expressed the views of Chai Feldblum (President Obama’s 2010 appointee to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). In her discussion, Mrs. Feldblum used the example of a Christian couple that operates their privately owned bed and breakfast.
Rit Varriale, pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C., is author of Reformation in Responsibility.
Feldblum believes that, regardless of the religious and moral sentiments of the Christian couple, the government has the obligation to force the Christian couple to provide lodging for homosexuals at their bed and breakfast. One might argue that such a move violates the separation of church and state, but Feldblum says that Christianity does not obligate one to start a public business.
Thus, when a Christian starts a public business, he/she moves into the public square and is obligated to follow the rules of the state – not the rules of the church – with respect to discrimination and human rights. I was disturbed by her line of thought. It demonstrates that the concept of the separation of church and state has evolved into a separation of the general religious sentiments of the people and the public square. If this line of thought continues to evolve, then the state will dictate – in the name of human rights – what the church can and cannot proclaim.
Nonetheless, the week after reading the article, I read another article from the BBC news about a judge in the United Kingdom that ruled in favor of a homosexual couple that was denied lodging at a privately owned Christian bed and breakfast. He ruled that the Christian couple violated the equality laws of Great Britain.
In reading the decision of the judge, his reasoning was precisely that of Mrs. Feldblum. I was deeply moved at such anti-religious judicial tyranny. At the time, I was working on two other writing projects, but I felt like the Lord said, “Put them down and address this.” I have not touched either of those projects since January 2011.
Q: Share some thoughts on why people should read your book, and how you hope the book will challenge them.
A: People who are concerned about the direction our nation is going should definitely read the book. In order to reform our nation, we have to reform our way of thinking. Reformation is what this book is all about. However, the book is more than conceptual. Reformation in Responsibility is a call to action.
The book is structured for group discussion because communication and cooperation always proceed action. There are four chapters with five short essays in each chapter.
Thus, the reader can go through one chapter during the work week, and over the weekend the reader can join a reading group, Sunday School class, or social networking site in order to discuss the chapter with others.
After going through the book, the reader will understand how our societal dysfunction is the logical result of our philosophy, theology and public policy.
Not only will the reader be able to understand why our society is in such a predicament, he/she will also be able to identify and call out the irresponsible philosophies and theologies that have led to irresponsible and destructive public policies. … The ultimate challenge of this book is for the Church to speak out [and] act.
Silence is no longer an option for the 21st century church. The Church must regain its prophetic voice in society.
The recent passage of the Marriage Amendment in N.C. is a perfect example of what the Church can do when it fulfills its God-given mission to society.
Q: If readers could pull one “nugget” or helpful suggestion from your book, what would that be?
A: Nothing will change until our way of thinking changes. Every era has what I call “trigger concepts,” that is, concepts that cause people to submit.
For example, in the 1500’s, the Catholic Church was the most powerful institution in Europe. … What revolutionized Europe was the free thinking of the reformers.
Men like John Calvin, Philip Melancthon, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli … stood up and called “time out.”
The reformers were promoting the idea that just because the Pope or the Church says something is biblical doesn’t mean it is biblical or that it has to be obeyed. This was a radical reform in the thinking of the people of Europe.
Likewise, we need a radical reform in our thinking today. In our era, the courts are the most powerful institution in our society. Our trigger concepts revolve around constitutionality. If the government wants to get the people to submit, they declare that something is unconstitutional and people stop doing it (e.g. prayer in schools).
What we need is for the people to call another “time out” and realize that just because the courts say something is unconstitutional doesn’t mean that it is and it doesn’t mean that it should be obeyed.
When influential lawyers and judges say that it’s unconstitutional for the religious sentiments of the people to influence politics and public policy, the people should challenge such rulings on the basis that they are not true.
… We need to reform our way of thinking with respect to our rights and responsibilities.
The rights of the individual are important, but they are not more important than the overall good of society. Thus, we need to reform our thinking from the belief that God and society are responsible for the happiness of the individual to the belief that individual is ultimately responsible to God and society – starting with one’s family. Hence, we need a reformation in responsibility.