jasonbwatson

January 20, 2018

The Sanctity of All Human Life

Tomorrow is national Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Sanctity of Human Life Sunday is held on the Sunday closest to the date when the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973. In the United States, and indeed around the world, the sanctity of life has become a political issue. Legislatures and courts debate and rule on whether life is indeed sacred and whether or not life can be ended at the whim of a mother or the wish of an old or ill individual. But I am not going to address it politically. It does not matter if you are Democrat or Republican or Independent. I am addressing the sanctity of life because it is a biblical issue. It is, quite simply, a matter of knowing and defending biblical truth.

Since 1973, when abortion became legal under Roe v. Wade, approximately 60 million babies have been aborted in the United States. I live in the Midwest, so to try to put that into context, that would the equivalent today of the combined populations of South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Colorado, and Texas.

If each of those babies was represented by an 8×10 photo, their photos would cover 765 acres, almost the exact size of New York’s Central Park, or enough to cover the National Mall five photos deep. Or, put differently, it would be enough photos to paper over Mt. Rushmore.

The good news is that, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate is now the lowest that it has been since abortion was legalized in 1973. The not-so-good news is that it cannot truly be considered celebratory to finally kill less than one million babies a year in the U.S. As Jamie Dean put it in WORLD, “When we mark finally killing less than a million children in a single year, such a victory seems as tragic as it is sobering.” Every life saved is worth celebrating, and every woman who chooses not to abort is to be commended and encouraged. But to say that we finally killed fewer than one million children in a year serves really only to show us (1) how depraved and murderous our nation had become and, (2) how much further we still have to go.

According to the American Life League, thirty-two Planned Parenthood facilities closed in 2017. That is wonderful news. Not so wonderful is that Planned Parenthood still operates more than six hundred facilities within the U.S. and partners with twelve other countries around the world. The May 30, 2017 issue of The Washington Times reported on Planned Parenthood’s annual report, released nearly six months late at the end of May. In that report, Planned Parenthood reported that saw fewer patients but performed more abortions than in 2016. How many? According to their own report, 328,348. That is about 900 a day, 37.5 per hour, or one every 1.6 minutes—every day of the year. And you and I helped them do that, since the federal government supports Planned Parenthood to the tune of $500 million annually. That is despite the fact, by the way, that the organization reaped a $77.5 million profit in 2016. Planned Parenthood has infiltrated public schools across the country through sex education curriculums—and in some of those schools it is Planned Parenthood staffers that teach the material. Due to the explicit nature of that curriculum and those sometimes teaching it, Planned Parenthood has tried to go a step further and get itself a permanent space in public schools. In Reading, PA, for example, Planned Parenthood proposed opening a health clinic inside Reading High School. The Reading school board postponed its decision and eventually rejected the idea, but that it was ever even seriously considered is incredibly alarming.

Many who defend Planned Parenthood, and particularly tax payer support of the organization, like to tout all of the other services the organization provides—things like birth control, HIV services, patient education, pelvic exams, cancer and screenings. Does Planned Parenthood do some good things? Sure. So, did Adolph Hitler. Think that’s an unfair comparison? Hitler was responsible for the execution of approximately six million Jews. According to an October 2016 report on CNS News, Planned Parenthood had, at that time, executed 6,803,782 children since 1978 through abortion.

I could go on providing many more facts and figures about abortion in the United States—and around the world—but my primary purpose in this post is not to confront you with those staggering numbers, as important as I think that is. My primary purpose is to explain, from Scripture, why human life—every human life—is sacred. Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion, and abortion is an enormous portion of the fight to defend the sanctity of all human life, but it is not the only portion. A biblical view of the sanctity of life means recognizing, defending and advocating for the sanctity of all life from conception to natural death.

Genesis 1:27 reads, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Humans are created in the very image of God. We are God’s image-bearers. That, by itself, ascribes tremendous value to each and every human being. Nothing else in all of creation bears the very image of God—only humans. Man, woman, boy, girl, every human being who has ever been conceived has borne the image of God.

Now one chapter later, in Geneses 2:7, it says, “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

There are two important truths in this verse that I want to focus on. The first is the statement that God formed man. In chapter one of Genesis the emphasis is on the fact that God created everything—the universe, the earth, the skies, the oceans, the mountains, the trees, the animals, humankind—out of nothing. God created everything ex nihilo, from nothing. Nothing in creation is the result of a cosmic explosion that conveniently resulted in parts coming together just so to form the world and the universe around us, and human beings are certainly not the result of incredible accident and happenstance.

According to a BBC report entitled “The 25 Biggest Turning Points in Earth’s History,” this is what happened 4.5 billion years ago:

Earth grew from a cloud of dust and rocks surrounding the young Sun. Earth formed when some of these rocks collided. Eventually they were massive enough to attract other rocks with the force of gravity, and vacuumed up all the nearby junk, becoming the Earth.

Then, after all of that collision and whatnot, life emerges:

Nobody knows exactly when life began. The oldest confirmed fossils, of single-celled microorganisms, are 3.5 billion years old. Life may have begun a bit earlier than that, but probably not while huge rocks were still raining down on Earth. Life may have begun in warm alkaline vents on the seabed, or in open water, or on land. We don’t know, and we don’t know what the first organisms were like.

There are many other fantastic claims that follow, but then, 65 million years ago,

…a huge chunk of rock from outer space smashed into what is now Mexico. The explosion was devastating, but the longer-term effects were worse. Dust was thrown into the upper atmosphere and blocked out sunlight, and in the ensuing cold and darkness Earth suffered its fifth and last mass extinction.

And then, finally, humans come along:

Almost immediately after the dinosaurs were wiped out, mammals evolved the ability to nourish their young inside their wombs using a placenta, just like modern humans. Soon, some of these early placental mammals evolved into the first primates. They would ultimately give rise to monkeys, apes and humans.

This is all balderdash! Human beings were created by God, in His image. Genesis 2:27 says God formed man. God shaped and molded humans to be precisely what He wanted and He designed. It is the metaphor of the potter and the clay, applying pressure where necessary, pushing, pulling, pressing, forming. This Hebrew word is not used in connection with any other creature. Joseph Benson said it “implies a gradual process in the work, with great accuracy and exactness.”

God created the universe, the world, and humans. He created humans in His likeness and He formed humans to His precise desires and specifications.

But the second key truth of Genesis 2:27 is that God breathed into man the breath of life.

According to the Cambridge Bible, “The preceding clause having explained man’s bodily structure, the present one explains the origin of his life. His life is not the product of his body, but the gift of God’s breath or spirit.”

It says God breathed into man the breath of life. The Hebrew word from which we get “breath of life” literally means “the soul of lives.” God breathed into humans a soul—a soul that is different from any other aspect of creation, from any other animal. Humans are both physical and spiritual, both temporal and eternal. God formed our physical aspects and then He breathed into us our spiritual nature. Job references this wonderful truth. In Job 27:3 you will see Job said, “as long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils….”

The Pulpit Commentary puts it like this: “Man received his life from a distinct act of Divine inbreathing; certainly not an in-breathing of atmospheric air, but…a communication from the whole personality of the Godhead.”

Are you with me? You and I and every human being who has ever been conceived have within us the soul of lives, the whole personality of the Godhead, breathed into us by Almighty God! No other living creature ever has, does have, or will have that. It is that breath of life, breathed into us by God, that separates us, that makes us unique, that is the very reason that all human life is sacred.

Now, having established that, what does it mean for us practically? What does it have to do with abortion or euthanasia or anything else? What impact does that have on our worldview? Quite simply this: everything. The fact that human beings are created in the image of God, formed by God, and animated by the very breath of God, means that every—mark that, now, I said EVERY—human life is sacred. If you believe what I have just shown you from the Scripture you cannot be content with a theoretical knowledge of those facts alone. The application or implication of that knowledge must be a recognition and a defense of the sanctity of all human life.

That has several practical, real life implications.

First, we must be, in the contemporary political parlance, pro-life. You cannot believe that human beings are everything we just saw that they are and also believe that it is acceptable or permissible for any human being to, for whatever reason, decide that a human life in the womb is disposable. Abortion is a violation on the very character of God. It cannot be anything but that if you believe what we have just seen in Scripture. If God created and formed and breathed into humans, and humans are the image-bearers of God, then we dismiss that completely and disregard His character if we support the idea that an unborn child is disposable.

I am not going to go into the details of when life begins. Suffice it to say that both Scripture and science make it clear that life begins at conception. It is, to borrow a phrase from Al Gore, an inconvenient truth for those who defend the right to abortion, but it is, nevertheless, the truth. There is no avoiding the fact that abortion is the killing of a child.

We are making progress in the United States in restricting selective abortions. For example, Ohio recently passed a law banning abortions of children with Down syndrome. That’s a wonderful thing—on one hand. On the other, think about the totality of what that means: if you are going to have a baby that the doctor says will have Down syndrome, you many not abort it. But if you are going to have a baby that the doctor believes will be perfectly healthy and you want to abort it anyway, you’re free to do so. Several U.S. states have laws banning sex-selective abortion. That’s good, too—on one hand. On the other, it means that abortionists must ask a woman if she knows what sex her child will be and then, assuming she tells the truth, tell her that it is illegal for her to abort her child based on that information. And what then are the odds that the mother will say, “Oh, that was my reason. I guess I will have to keep the baby.” I feel confident in saying the likelihood of that is zero. Do not get me wrong, I think any restriction on abortion is a step in the right direction. If nothing else, each restriction makes it all the more noticeably ridiculous that abortion is permitted at all.

Second, we must support options and assistance for those who find themselves unwilling or unable to care for a child once it is delivered. We cannot wholeheartedly and passionately defend the right of a child to be born and leave it at that. We must support assistance for the mother who does not want to have the child, but does anyway. We must support—prayerfully and yes, sometimes even financially, the woman or the family that gives birth to a child and keeps it but is not quite sure how to take care of it. We must support adoption—and the families who adopt.

Christians have been pro-life from the beginning. Indeed, in ancient Rome, it was their willingness to take in and care for the rejected newborns that marked them as unique and unusual. In his book The Christian Conquest of Pagan Rome, Michael Craven writes:

The Roman world was brutal and generally indifferent to suffering. Sympathy and mercy were weaknesses, virtues anathema to those of Rome. The ancient world was both decadent and cruel. The practice of infanticide, for example, was widespread and legal throughout the Greek and Roman world during the early days of Christianity. In fact, abortion, infanticide, and child sacrifice were extremely common throughout the ancient world. Cicero (106-43 BC), writing in the period before Christ, cited the Twelve Tables of Roman Law when he wrote, “deformed infants should be killed” (De Ligibus 3.8). Similarly, Seneca (4 BC-AD 39) wrote, “We drown children who are at birth weakly and abnormal” (De Ira 1.15). The ancient writer Plutarch (c. AD 46-120), discussing the casual acceptance of child sacrifice, mentions the Carthaginians, who, he says, “offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds while the mother stood by without tear or moan” (Moralia 2.171D). Polybius (ca. 200-118 BC) blamed infanticide for the population decline in Greece (Histories 6).

Historical research reveals that infanticide was common throughout India, China, Japan, and the Brazilian jungles as well as among the Eskimos. Dr. James Dennis, writing in the 1890s, showed how infanticide was common in many parts of Africa and was “well known among the Indians of North and South America” (Social Evils of the Non-Christian World, 1898). Suffice it to say, for much of the world and throughout most of its history the culture of death and brutality has been the rule, and a culture of life, love, and mercy has been the exception. It is to the cause of this exception that we now turn. . . .

These early Christ-followers did not organize special interest groups or political parties. They never directly opposed Caesar; they didn’t picket or protest or attempt to overthrow the ruling powers. They didn’t publicly denounce or condemn the pagan world. Instead, they challenged the ruling powers by simply being a faithful, alternative presence—obedient to God. Their most distinguishing characteristic was not their ideology or their politics but their love for others. They lived as those who were, once again, living under the rule and reign of God, a sign and foretaste of what it will be fully, when Christ returns.

They expressed their opposition to infanticide by rescuing the abandoned children of Rome and raising them as their own—an enormously self-sacrificial act at a time when resources were limited and survival was in doubt.

We must, today, be willing to practice the same sort of self-sacrificial actions.

Third, we must change the concept that a child is a hindrance to a woman pursuing her goals and dreams in life. U.S. track Olympian and medalist Sanya Richards-Ross wrote a book that came out last summer entitled Chasing Grace. In that book she wrote, “I literally don’t know another female track and field athlete who hasn’t had an abortion, and that’s sad.” I do not know how many track athletes Richards-Ross knows, but I assume that for someone who has competed on the world stage the number is high. And she is right, it is a sad statement. Sadly, though, it is not only female athletes who see potential childbirth as a roadblock to the accomplishment of their career goals. Planned Parenthood, on its website, lists among the reasons someone may choose to have an abortion these two: it’s not a good time in life to have a baby or they want to focus on work or achieve other goals before having a baby. A May 2017 post on Save the Storks cited a 2004 survey of more than 1,200 post-abortive woman that indicated that “three-fourths of aborting women have an abortion because a child would interfere with their life (work, school, etc.).” We must change this mindset. Women who do choose to give up a job in order to stay home and care for their children full time must be celebrated and encouraged. But women who choose to maintain a career and have children must also be celebrated for choosing life.

Fourth, we must forgive, accept, and love those who have had abortions. Abortion is a horrific evil and one that violates the very character of God in a way unlike many other sins. But God does not rank sin. God forgives those who seek His forgiveness. And we must do no less. There is great truth in the cliché that we are to hate the sin but love the sinner. We should hate abortion with a passion. We should do anything we can to oppose it and to try to eliminate it. But we must just as passionately love those who have experienced abortion. Please hear me on this: while abortion is an assault on the character of God, so too is an arrogant, judgmental attitude that refuses to show love and forgiveness toward those who have had an abortion!

Fifth, we must recognize, articulate and defend the truth that every life is sacred. The word “every” leaves nothing out. What this means in practical terms is that there is no differentiation among human beings; no individual and no group is any more important or any more valuable than any other individual or group. All humans were created in the image of God, fashioned by Him and received the breath of life from Him and therefore all human life is sacred. Let me be even more clear:

  • The sanctity of human life is not dependent on gender—male and female are equally sacred
  • The sanctity of human life is not dependent on race – every human life is sacred regardless of whether that life is Asian, Latino, African, Caucasian or any of the innumerable hyphenated options
  • The sanctity of human life is not dependent on ability, whether physical or intellectual – every human life is sacred regardless of intelligence level or physical capability—or limitation. That means the one with the IQ of 50 is as sacred as the one with the IQ of 180. The one with a physical handicap is as sacred as the one with incredible athletic prowess. The one that is blind is as sacred as the one with 20/20 vision.
  • The sanctity of human life is not dependent on age. The child that was just conceived moments ago is as sacred as the infant that was born last month. That infant is as sacred as the kindergartener, as the high schooler, as the college graduate, as the 40-year-old, as the retiree, as the senior citizen, as the one who is approaching the age of 100. There is no biblical support for the idea that any life ever ceases to become worth living until such time as God Himself makes that decision. Murder is wrong. But so is suicide, assisted suicide and euthanasia. The Bible does not differentiate between the sacredness of the individual that is still fully coherent and capable of caring for him or herself and the one that has lost most of his mental faculties or is confined to a wheelchair or a bed.

I realize that it is difficult from our finite human perspective to accept and understand why some things happen the way they do in this life. Why are some children born with incredible limitations or disabilities? Why are some born healthy and then experience an illness or an accident that strips them of some of those abilities that they once had? Why do some live to a ripe old age with full physical and mental capabilities and others seemingly lose all memory or rational ability at a relatively young age? I do not know the answers to those questions. Accepting that God is sovereign and allows what He allows for reasons that only He may understand is indeed a large part—though an incredibly difficult part—of faith. But I do know that the Bible makes it unmistakably clear that every life has value and purpose. Let me give you quickly just eight verses out of many that could be shared:

  • Psalm 139:13-14 says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
  • Job 10:11 says, “You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews.”
  • Leviticus 19:14 says, “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”
  • And then Leviticus 19:32 says, “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”
  • Luke 12:7 says, “Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
  • Proverbs 16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory;it is gained in a righteous life.”
  • Exodus 4:11 says, “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’”
  • In John 9, His disciples asked Jesus why a man was blind—whether it was he or his parents that had sinned, and Jesus responded, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Every human life is created by God, formed by God, and given the breath of life by God. Every human life is sacred.

Ephesians 5:7-11 says this:

Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

We can expose them through our words, but we can also expose them through our actions, and we must. We are to be salt and light in the world, and that includes defending the sanctity of all human life.

Our responsibility, as children of God and His ambassadors in this world, is to honor and respect the dignity and sanctity of every human life, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. We must do this through our words and our deeds, within our churches, our homes, our communities, our state, our nation and the world.

Someday, the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday may be unnecessary. I certainly hope so. I agree with Russell Moore, who wrote, “I pray regularly that for my future great grandchildren, a Sanctity of Human Life Sunday would seem as unnecessary as a Reality of Gravity Emphasis Sunday.” But unless and until that day comes, we are called to defend the sanctity of human life—every human life—because God has given every human the very breath of life.

January 1, 2018

My Year in Books – 2017

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Somehow in a year that has perhaps found me busier than ever, I managed to read more books that I have since 2012, finishing the year with 59. Apparently, books are still both my inspiration and my relaxation, my motivation and my escape, the best means of broadening my mind and giving it a break.

As always, my reading for 2017 was primarily in these categories: theology and Christian living, history, politics/current events, autobiography/biography and fiction. My summary thoughts here will be classified by category and not by the order in which the books were read.

Having said that, I do usually indicate which book was the first one I finished in a year, and last year that honor goes to Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII, by Chester Nez and Judith Schiess Avila. I have seen the movie Windtalkers and I mention the code talkers every year in my U.S. History course, so I found this book very interesting. The way of life for many of the Navajo boys growing up is hard to imagine—and then for those same boys to willingly serve in the armed forces of a country that had not treated their people well historically or personally is something difficult to wrap one’s mind around. Imagine being told that you cannot speak your native tongue in school—to the point of being physically punished for doing so—and then being asked by the government to use that same prohibited tongue to develop a code that the enemy could not crack. I cannot help but think that my natural inclination would be something along the lines of “no thanks,” although probably not quite that polite. The way in which the code was developed, the speed with which it enabled messages to be communicated and the accuracy the code demonstrated over the course of the war is incredible.

This post will be about 13,000 words long if I devote that much time to each of the books I read last year, so I better transition to shorter summaries and opinions—for my sake and yours.

I will start with history. I read Alexander Rose’s Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring, which I would recommend as reading for anyone interested in espionage during the Revolutionary War and particularly for anyone who has also watched the AMC series Turn: Washington’s Spies. (Another excellent book for anyone in either of those categories would be Tim McNeese’s Revolutionary Spies: Intelligence and Espionage in America’s First War).

Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse by Eric Jay Dolin was a fascinating look at what it was like to be a lighthouse keeper but also at what it took to build a lighthouse. I have long been interested in both lighthouses and keepers but I had never given all that much thought to what it took to build the lights. Dolin’s book served only to confirm my notion that other than those individuals with a particular interest in lighthouses, the importance of the lights and the keepers is an often-ignored aspect of American history that really should be more well-known. Tyler Anbinder’s City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York is a compelling narrative about the island purchased from the Native Americans by Peter Minuit in the early seventeenth century became the largest city in the U.S. and a magnet for immigrants from around the world.

Kate Moore’s The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women is another gripping read. This one tells the stories of women in early twentieth century America who worked in factories applying radium paint to watch dials—only no one grasps the dangers of ingesting radium, which these women do through the process of pointing their brushes. Indeed, they find themselves covered with radium dust, literally glowing when they go home each evening. This is another often-ignored part of American history, one I had never even heard of until seeing a one-act play based on the story last winter and then acting in a full-length version of the same play. Moore’s book has more than five hundred five-star ratings on Amazon, which should serve as proof positive that it is not a dry historical narrative.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown is far more than a sports story. It is a look into the realities of life during the Great Depression, the rivalries and attention given to collegiate rowing—a sport a distinct minority of people likely pay any attention to—and the politics of the Olympics in Hitler’s Germany. I highly recommend this book.

John Eisenberg’s The Streak: Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken Jr., and Baseball’s Most Historic Record is a great read for baseball fans in general and Gehrig or Ripken fans in particular.

I read Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower in February. I had not read it since my sophomore year of high school, though I have thought of it and referenced it often in the interim. Anyone interested in thought provoking contemplation of forgiveness should read this book.

Condoleezza Rice’s Democracy is a unique look at attempts—some successful, others not—for democracy around the world, including some front row perspective from this former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State. Rice offers a look at America, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Kenya, Colombia and the Middle East, as well as chapters on authoritarians and on what democracy must offer in order to take root.  The New York Times said, “Both supporters and skeptics of democracy promotion will come away from this book wiser and better informed,” and I agree.

Mindy Belz, editor and Middle East reporter for WORLD, wrote They Say We Are Infidels, and it provides a glimpse into everyday life in the Middle East among those persecuted by ISIS. It is riveting, saddening, aggravating and infuriating, and a book I strongly recommend for anyone who wants a deeper perspective on this conflict than that offered by the nightly news.

In the autobiography/biography genre last year I read some contemporary first offerings by names very-well-known and some not-quite-so-well-known, second go-rounds by entertainers now in their nineties, an insightful look at a couple of classic American entertainers now both deceased, and a looks at two influential men in Christian history, who died nearly 500 years ago and another who died 280 years ago.

Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show is an insightful look at the lives of both Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, before that classic American TV show, during their time together working on it, and after. A word of caution: if you are not prepared to see Griffith and Knotts as they were in real life, preferring instead to think of them always as their affable Mayberry characters, don’t read this book.

Tony Bennett’s Just Getting Started and Dick Van Dyke’s Keep Moving are the two second go-rounds I referred to above. In reality it is Bennett’s third go-round, as he wrote The Good Life in 1998, but I have not read that one. I did read 2012’s Life Is a Gift, and the 2017 offering mostly recounts the people who influenced Bennett and taught him the lessons he described in 2012. Having turned 91 in August it is certainly unlikely that Bennett really is “just getting started,” but his output does not seem to be slowing down any. In 2011 Van Dyke wrote My Luck Life In and Out of Show Business. In 2017 he followed up with Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths About Aging. It is an engaging and humorous book that does offer insights into growing old, though Van Dyke still seems to have the energy and enthusiasm of a kid. Some of his insights on life are very insightful indeed. Some of his thoughts on politics are misguided but not surprising for someone who has spent most of his life among the Hollywood entertainment crowd. His thoughts on faith and what happens after death are confused at best, and saddening for those who have read the 2011 book and know that racism within it is what drove Van Dyke out of the church in the 1960s. But anyone who loves ice cream has to love Van Dyke’s recommended daily helping (with chocolate sauce). Van Dyke, who just turned 92 last month, is married to his second wife (though he had a long relationship that never culminated in marriage with a third woman) and she is 45 years his junior. Bennett is married to his third wife and she is 40 years younger than he. Thankfully there are other seasoned celebrities with long-lasting marriages (92 year old Angela Lansbury was married for 54 years before her husband died in 2003, for example; 87 year old Sean Connery has been married for 42 years and Kirk Douglas, who turned 101 last year, has been married for 63 years, just to name a few) to counter anyone supposing that the secret to Bennett and Van Dyke’s longevity is young spouses!

Megyn Kelly’s Settle for More is well-written. It tells her story as a successful attorney deciding she wanted to do something else—namely, the news business—and how she has persevered and found success in both careers. If for absolutely no other reason, the book’s section on the conflict that emerged between Kelly and Donald Trump after Kelly’s questioning of Trump during the presidential debate provides an inside look at how difficult life can be for someone who appears to have it made when our perspective is limited to their daily time on television. I have met Olympic champion Shannon Miller, so my interest in her book It’s Not About Perfect was a combination of sports fan and personal interest. The book does, of course, tell about Miller’s growing up, training and Olympic success, but it also describes struggles in her personal life and her successful fight against ovarian cancer. Missy Franklin’s Relentless Spirit was written before the Rio Olympics, which certainly did not go the way she would have liked, but it is not written as simply the story of an impressive athlete. While it does include some of that, this book is Missy and her parents talking about sports, childrearing, family and faith.

Lauren Green is the Religion Correspondent for Fox News though, to my knowledge, I have never seen her on television. She is also an accomplished pianist. But her book Lighthouse Faith Green frequently references her pastor Tim Keller and seeks to answer the question of how to have a personal relationship with God in a world, as she describes it, “immersed in fog.” Some of Green’s insights are spot-on. Others tend to ecumenism. Rebekah Gregory was a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing and eventually lost her left leg below the knee after scores of medical procedures and surgeries. Her five-year-old son was sitting just in front of the standing Gregory at the finish line when the bomb went off behind her; fortunately, she took the brunt of the blast and her son suffered only minor injuries. She tells this story, along with the lessons she learned through the experience as well as the rest of her life, and how she has come to realize that God is ultimately in control, in her book Taking My Life Back.

Since 2017 marked the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation I thought it appropriate to read a biography of Martin Luther. I chose Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand, originally published in 1950, which TIME called “easily the most readable Luther biography in English” and R.C. Sproul called “an inspiring summary of the life of the great reformer.” George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life is a comprehensive biography (more than 600 pages with small print) that provides insight into Edwards as well as his time and place. I also read J.W. Hanson’s The Life and Works of the World’s Greatest Evangelist: Dwight L. Moody. This book was republished in 2015 but it was originally published in 1900, and the copy I read was printed not too long after that. A friend came across it and loaned it to me to read.

For theology and Christian living my 2017 reading included several books. Carolyn McCulley’s Radical Womanhood examines the three waves of feminism and how each has attacked God’s design for womanhood, giving readers a clear presentation of the complementarian position. Courtney Reissig’s The Accidental Feminist is another excellent book along the same lines, identifying how the feminist movement has influenced the entire culture whether we readily recognize it or not, and seeking to restore a correct, and joyful, understanding of God’s design.

I read two books by Carter Conlon, lead pastor of Times Square Church, The 180° Christian and Fear Not. The subtitle of the first book is “Serving Jesus in a Culture of Excess” and that gives you an idea of what the book is about. Conlon examines the church in Corinth and the self-centeredness that infected that body. He then suggests that twenty-first century America is not much different, calling on the church to do a 180 and live lives instead focused on serving others. Pastoring in Times Square, Conlon has a perspective on this that few others will have. Fear Not addresses the many ways that Satan tries to put fear and doubt into the hearts and minds of believers, reminding readers that perfect love casts out fear.

Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? Is subtitled Making Sense of the Old Testament God, and that is what Copan attempts to do here. I do not agree with all of Copan’s conclusions but the book does offer unique insight into what often seems like a God of wrath and even hatred in the Old Testament, seemingly conflicting with the New Testament God. Richard Phillips argues that the five points of Calvinism are comforting in his short book, What’s So Great About the Doctrines of Grace? But unless you are a committed five-point Calvinist you will likely come away from the book thinking something along the lines of “not much.” In None Other John MacArthur shows how to study Scripture to discover who God really is. This, too, is a short book and not theologically complex.

In You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith shows how easily we may be led astray from worshipping God and God alone. The book’s subtitle is The Spiritual Power of Habit, and initially I did not see the book in that light, but Smith ultimately is asking readers to evaluate whether they really love what they think—and say—they love, which is often revealed in habits, so the subtitle fits.

Jacquelle Crow is in the last of her teen years, so her book This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years has an extra level of authenticity for teenager readers. It is a book along the lines of Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris or Totally Infatuated by Jacqueline Pierre. It is short but full of rich truth and I would recommend it for any teenager.

In Why Jesus? Ravi Zacharias calls for an abandonment of relativism and tolerance and a return to biblical truth. R. Albert Mohler, in We Cannot Be Silent, takes that a step further and calls on Christians to embrace biblical truth and to engage the culture with that truth.

Parenting by the Book by John Rosemond is about exactly that and provides valuable insight for parents. Charles Swindoll’s A Life Well Lived is a short book drawing lessons from the book of Micah. J.I. Packer’s Concise Theology is exactly that, proving short (usually two to three page) chapters on almost one hundred questions about theology. There are a handful of those questions on which Packer and I do not agree, but it is a user-friendly and easy to read introduction or overview to theology. The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges is a book I have read before and will likely read again. There is a reason this book has sold more than 1.5 million copies. It is a succinct look at what holiness look like in everyday life. Max Lucado’s Because of Bethlehem provides a Lucado-esque look at the promises of Christmas. Lucado reminds readers that Christ was born to die—the Christmas is only the beginning of what culminates with Easter. I read this book a week or so after I preached a message on the humble birth and life of Christ, focusing in large part on Philippians 2, a passage I had never heard anyone use in a Christmas sermon, and found that Lucado too thinks it is a beautiful encapsulation of the Christmas message.

John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals is addressed at pastors and is specifically a caution to them to avoid seeking to be culturally relevant and “professional” at the expense of being biblically relevant and God-centered. Mark Dever’s Discipling is a short book and easy read and it is relevant for any pastor or lay leader but also anyone interested in what discipleship means. There is a reason why John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin is considered a classic. In it, this seventeenth century Puritan addresses how to deal with the sin nature, focusing primarily on Romans 8.

Andrew Telford’s Subjects of Sovereignty is a book I found among those I received from my grandfather’s collection after he passed away. It is short and I could not find a publication date in it, though Amazon tells me it was published in 1971. Apparently Telford pastored in Pennsylvania, and I am guessing my grandfather must have met him, as the book is signed. I appreciated much of what Telford had to say about adoption, predestination, election and foreknowledge. In seeking to learn more about Telford I found an excerpt of this book published on the site of the Society of Evangelical Arminians, and I definitely do not consider myself an Arminian. Further reason why I am not a fan of labels in general of Calvinism and Arminianism in particular.

Last, and perhaps least, are the works of fiction I read in 2017. I always seem to read James Patterson, David Baldacci, John Grisham and Jeffrey Archer, and 2017 was no exception. In Cross the Line Patterson continues the Alex Cross saga, this time putting his wife Bree into leadership position and creating some strain in their relationship as they seek to solve the latest crime spree in D.C. The Black Book, written by Patterson and David Ellis, is a stand-alone novel that centers around a cop who loses his memory after being shot but finds himself charged with a double murder. It is an interesting read with plenty of plot twists and an ending that I did not see coming. Haunted was written by Patterson and James Born and is the tenth book in the Detective Michael Bennett series. This one finds the Bennett clan vacationing in Maine in a small town that is, of course, caught up in serious drug crime and a local law enforcement officer/former Bennett partner needing Bennett’s assistance.

Baldacci’s No Man’s Land continues his John Puller series and in this book Puller and his brother seek to find out the truth of what happened to their mother. Grisham’s Camino Island was an intentionally different style for Grisham and I found it enjoyable, in no small part because it includes a look into the world of rare books and independent book shops. It does include casual sex but not as explicitly as Gray Mountain. The Rooster Bar, also by Grisham, returns to the classic Grisham model—simultaneously spotlighting the evils of for-profit law schools and the lost-in-the-shuffle madness that poor individuals find themselves facing when they are charged with a crime while also creating an outrageous but just-maybe-possible story of a few law students who profit from that madness and rake in lots of cash—temporarily. Jeffrey Archer’s Tell Tale is a collection of short stories that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The Button Man by Mark Pryor is a Hugo Marston novel and a prequel to The Bookseller, which I enjoyed. The Heist is the first of Daniel Silva’s books I have read and it is part of his Gabriel Allon series. It combines espionage and art, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more by Silva. Fatal Enquiry by Will Thomas is set in Victorian England. This book read like a blend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Alex Grecian. Opening Moves by Steven James is part of his Bowers Files series, but it is the first James novel I have read. This one is set around 1997 Milwaukee with a series of copycat crimes going on, including copying Jeffrey Dahmer. The story is well told and even, I suppose, riveting, but it is not for the faint of heart.

Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings tells the dual story of Sarah Grimké (and her sister Angelina) and Sarah’s slave “Handful.” The story is fictional, but Grimké was real—and she became a passionate abolitionist and member of the woman’s suffrage movement, despite coming from a prominent slave-holding family in Charleston. Kidd is a great story teller, and the book is engaging. It also provides a description of a (real) method of slave punishment I was not previously familiar with, something called a treadmill. Marilynne Robinson’s Lila is a return to the town of Gilead, though I have not read Robinson’s novel by that title, and it tells the story of a homeless girl named Lila who marries the local minister. It is an interesting read and provides unique insights into small town life, a Christian worldview and marriage. Amanda Hodgkinson’s 22 Brittania Road tells the story of Polish refugees in England after World War II, including the challenges of rekindling a marriage separated for years by war and of the impacts of war on not just soldiers but women and children—impacts felt long after the war is over.

I think that just about wraps it up. As usual, there are two or three other books I read that did not make it into the review because I did not have much to say about them or they did not fit neatly into these categories. I do want to mention briefly, though, a couple of books that I cannot include in the formal review above because I haven’t read them in their entirety so they are not included in my 59 books for 2017. First is Michael Burlingame’s two-volume Abraham Lincoln: A Life. I read most of these two volumes last summer while I was taking a course on Lincoln and I would recommend it to anyone interested in Lincoln. Burlingame has done extensive research and the provides great insight into Abraham Lincoln the man, as well as into Lincoln’s marriage to Mary Todd and his time as president.

Second is Phoebe Maltz Bovy’s The Perils of “Privilege”, which I am actually in the middle of reading right now, so it will likely be included more fully in next year’s annual review. The book is subtitled Why Injustice Can’t Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage and is addressed at the silliness of using the word “privilege” to shut down debate, and is among The Washington Post’s 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction in 2017. As I said, I am halfway through it (almost exactly), but I cannot help pointing out my fondness for a line on page 84 of the book. After quoting an article in which the authors write “students should also be taught how to live in a world full of potential offenses. Why not teach incoming students how to practice cognitive behavioral therapy?” Bovy writes, “Or: Why not teach incoming students? (Period. The end.)” I love it….

I hope 2017 found you with ample time to read as well. Perhaps something above will prompt you to pick up one of these books to read it for yourself. Until next year’s annual review, I leave you with this thought from Henry Ward Beecher, one I find to be painfully true for myself: “Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?”

October 21, 2017

Celebrating Halloween: Why Would I?

Tracy Krebs, a former colleague of mine began a recent blog post this way: “As soon as the leaves begin to turn, the anti-halloween-bloggers start popping up on my fb feed…” It is true that the changing colors of the leaves prompt those both for and against the celebration of Halloween to dust off their opinions and post them anew. It is not a topic I have ever engaged in with effort. When asked, I will share what I think. When challenged, I will respond. And I took the blog post of this former colleague, shared on Facebook, as a challenge. Her post was titled, “Can I love Jesus…and Halloween?” Tracy makes it clear that she thinks the answer is yes. I disagree with her on that. But it is precisely because of some erroneous explanations she gives for her position that I feel the need to respond.

She begins her post with a quick overview of the origins of the holiday we now know as Halloween. She correctly traces the beginnings to the Celtic celebration of Samhain, when the Celts “believed that the veil between the spirit realm and physical realm was at it’s [sic] thinnest and that ghosts of the dead (along with other spirit realm entities) wandered among the living” (Tracy’s words). She goes on to say that the Celtic people lit large bonfires in their fields and put candles in their hollowed-out gourds to guide these spirits and left food and wine on their doorsteps to appease them. Furthermore, they had large feasts “during which they purposely honored their dead relatives; speaking fondly of their memories, appreciation and love for them; and, yes, since they believed they were close by for a few hours, would usually try to commune with them” (again, Tracy’s words).

There are a few problems with this. First, supposing it were an accurate description, this practice is not harmless or biblically acceptable. Deuteronomy 18:9-11 says,

When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord.

Notice several things from this passage: (1) some practices—read religious practices, holidays, celebrations and traditions—of heathen nations are abominable to God; (2) consulting with the dead—which would include communing with, to borrow Tracy’s word—is also an abomination to the Lord. 1 Chronicles 10 makes it clear that Saul suffered serious consequences from the Lord for consulting with a witch—a medium—to summon the spirit of Samuel. There is nothing in Scripture to indicate that communicating, communing or consulting with the dead is permissible, let alone encouraged.

But notice that I said “supposing it were an accurate description,” when referring to Tracy’s overview of the origins of Halloween. The reality is, it is not. History.com, in its overview of Halloween, starts off the same way Tracy does: “Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.” After that, however, it takes a dramatically different route than Tracy does:

In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes.

When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

By this explanation, the Celts were not honoring their dead relatives, recalling fond memories or attempting to commune with them. Far from it. They were actually making sacrifices to Celtic deities, dressing up in weird costumes and telling each other’s fortunes, which could be “a source of comfort and direction” during the winter. Notice, as well, that the ghosts and spirits that were believed to return were not stopping by for a friendly visit; instead, they were “causing trouble and damaging crops.”

The problems with Christians celebrating such traditions should be immediately evident. First of all, it is not possible to make predictions about the future with any accuracy or legitimacy. James 4:14 says “you do not know what tomorrow will bring.” Second, fortune telling and other such predictions cannot be counted on for direction or comfort. Scripture makes it abundantly clear, in a plethora of passages, that believers are to find their comfort and direction in and from the Lord and His Word. Third, of course, is the offering of sacrifices to pagan deities, something repeatedly condemned in the Bible. And fourth is the trust that was placed in the flame from the “sacred bonfire.” Psalm 9:10 says, “And those who know your name put their trust in you,” speaking of the Lord. Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” It is not distorting the passage at all to say, speaking of the Celts, “Some trust in sacred bonfires and pagan traditions.”

Immediately after her description of Samhain, Tracy writes:

This is not unlike the many other cultures around the world that have a day of honoring the dead. Is setting aside a day to honor the dead a bad thing? I don’t see how it is. The Catholics religiously honor their dead and pray for them. Ireland, Scotland, England, Guatemala, Mexico, Brazil, Bolivia, China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Nepal, the Philippines, and many others cultures current and through history commemorate their dead with a holiday. (Actually, why DON’T we do that?)

Setting aside a day to honor the dead is not inherently a bad thing. We do this in the United States with Memorial Day, in particular, and many individuals and families honor the memory of the deceased relatives on their birthdays or the anniversary of their deaths. But there is a difference between honoring them as in remembering them and honoring them as in worshipping or exalting them. And to the Catholic practice, there is absolutely no point in praying for the dead. Once they are dead it is too late; there is nothing to pray for. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (KJV). Some Catholics, of course, go further and pray to the dead, usually saints, and/or ask them to pray for them, to intercede for them with the Father. This, too, is contrary to Scripture. 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Tracy continues in her defense of Halloween by writing, “A simple google [sic] search will tell you that when missionaries came to the Celts, the decision was made to join in their pagan holidays to make converting to Christianity less intimidating.” Um, yes and no. The use of the word “missionaries” is a bit misleading here. These were not people who had moved peaceably in amongst the Celts to spread the gospel. Instead, within just a decade or so of the death of Christ, the Roman Empire had conquered the Celtic territory. They ruled the area for 400 years, during which time two Roman celebrations were blended with the Celtic traditions—Feralia, which was a Roman commemoration of the dead, and a celebration of Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. History.com even suggests that this blending is what originated the still-extant activity of bobbing for apples at Halloween, since the apple was he symbol of Pomona.

In AD 609 the Pantheon in Rome was dedicated to honor all Christian martyrs and the feast of All Martyrs day was established. Originally celebrated in May, this was moved to November 1 by Pope Gregory III and expanded to include all saints as well as martyrs. However, according catholic.org, “In Ireland, the Church celebrated All Saints’ Day on April 20, to avoid associating the day with the traditional harvest festivals and pagan feasts associated with Samhain, celebrated at the same time.” An intentional avoidance of the pagan holiday is quite different than “joining in.” Then following the Reformation, “many Protestants retained the holy day, although they dismissed the need to pray for the dead. Instead, the day has been used to commemorate those who have recently died, usually in the past year, and to remember the examples of those who lived holy lives” (catholic.org). Even now the Catholic church emphasizes that October 31 is not a holy day; “It is important to remember these basic facts: Halloween is a secular holiday that comes the night before All Saints’ Day” (ibid).

It is worth noting that the Catholic celebrations in most parts of the world outside of the U.S. are not anything a Protestant would want any part of celebrating. Just a couple of weeks ago I was part of a group of people having dinner with a missionary in Mexico. He has experience ministering in some of the remotest villages in the country. There, celebrating the Day of the Dead is a requirement, and Protestants not participating face persecution. The people are kept in poverty—sometimes even in debt—by the amount of money they are expected to spend to celebrate their village’s saint.

What about Halloween in America? History.com says its celebration was “extremely limited” in New England due to the Protestant beliefs in those colonies. It was much more common in Maryland—which fits, given that Maryland was initially founded as a refuge for Catholics. Gradually, the celebration spread:

As the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups as well as the American Indians meshed, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge. The first celebrations included “play parties,” public events held to celebrate the harvest, where neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortunes, dance and sing.

Colonial Halloween festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds. By the middle of the nineteenth century, annual autumn festivities were common, but Halloween was not yet celebrated everywhere in the country.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with new immigrants. These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing the Irish potato famine, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally.

With the influence of these various traditions it became common practice to dress up in costumes. Then, in the late 1800s, there was an intention effort to eliminate ghosts, witchcraft and such from the Halloween celebrations and make them more about community. History.com says parents were even “encouraged by newspapers and community leaders to take anything ‘frightening’ or ‘grotesque’ out of Halloween celebrations. This would be similar to what many—including many churches—now call Harvest Celebrations. These are fun occasions with food and games and nothing at all related to the dead.

Tracy asserts that joining in pagan holidays is exactly what the New Testament apostles did in order to reach unbelievers, but she offers no evidence and I would challenge her to explain that statement. I know of no such “joining in” that took place.

She goes on to suggest that whether or not Halloween is celebrated as “the Devil’s holiday” comes down to identity and authority. She acknowledges that these is increased demonic and occult activity on Halloween, but she is not afraid of either because of her identity in Christ. Because she identifies as a Christian, claims the authority of Christ and carries the light of the Gospel, she has no fear of the darkness or evil of Satan and his minions. Tracy writes, “So, back to this being the devil’s holiday… Says WHO?? I didn’t give him the right to have a holiday. But every time you say that, YOU ARE! You are coming into agreement with his play to usurp your authority. STOP IT! Don’t give your authority away to that snake.”

Okay, so she admits that this day sees an increase in demonic and occult activity, but she will celebrate anyway because she does not fear that activity and she knows God is far more powerful than Satan. That does not really make any sense—especially when her celebration includes the décor and costumes commonly adopted by those who are celebrating evil and death. See, whether or not you fear evil, there is zero point in celebrating it. When you dress up as ghosts or goblins or zombies, how are you spreading the Light? Earlier this month the Chicago Tribune published a list of most popular Halloween costumes for 2017—for adults and children—based on the National Retail Foundation’s Annual Halloween Spending Survey. What were they? For adults, they included witch (1), vampire (6), zombie (7), and slasher movie villain (9). For children, witch (6) and ghost (9). Why go there? Even if you, like Tracy, do not fear evil, why celebrate it? Why surround yourself with depictions of it? Why think about it? There is certainly nothing here that would be consistent with Philippians 4:8. 1 Corinthians 13:6 says, “Love does not delight in evil” (NIV). 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says, “Keep away from every kind of evil” (TLB). Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good…” (NIV). Proverbs 8:13 says, “To fear the Lord is to hate evil” (NIV). None of these verses seem to leave any room for a harmless celebration of evil.

In addition, Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this [present] darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) places” (AMP). Why, pray tell, would any Christian want to celebrate the spiritual forces of darkness? I agree with Tracy that those in Christ have no fear of being defeated by the forces of evil, but I see no point whatsoever in celebrating them.

To the question of whether or not Christian should stand against the celebration of Halloween, Tracy writes,

Well, what is your commission in the Kingdom? Are you not an agent of Light? An ambassador of the King? Is it not your duty to draw the lost to their Savior? How best would that be accomplished when the lost come out of their homes once a year to walk the streets of your neighborhood? Are you attracting them to their Savior by turning off the lights of your house to let them know they are not welcome? Think about the message you are sending out… “Oh they are ‘Christians’ and they think we are evil and worshiping the devil because we are trick or treating…”

You could argue this point legitimately, I’ll admit. I do know some Christians who turn their porch lights on and welcome trick or treaters to their doors on Halloween. They smile and distribute candy and the children go on their way. I think it is possible to do that without condoning the celebration of evil. At the same time, I think it is equally possible to leave your light off and not participate without sending the message that you think those out and about are Satan worshippers. I also know some Christians who have their light on and give out gospel tracts to those coming to their doors. In my own opinion, this is not an effective means if witnessing, especially if no candy or other treat is given along with the tract. To the recipients this will come across as a trick while they were seeking a treat. It will not prompt them to read the tract and is unlikely to lead to their conversion to Christ. In my opinion, it would be better to leave your light off.

But Tracy has a point when she writes,

For the sake of all that is good, turn on your porch light and WELCOME these people! Put on your best costume and decorate your house better than anyone else! Hand out the GOOD candy bars! Everyone who trick or treats knows that there are a few homes that go above and beyond on Halloween and your night is not complete until you have visited THOSE homes… BE. THAT. HOUSE. Draw them in to you!! You have a unique opportunity once a year to meet, bless and pray for (even if just silently) EVERYONE in your neighborhood on Halloween night. At least turn on your light and be friendly… You are representing ALL of us.  Jesus did not shy away from the lost, He went to them. He engaged. (emphasis hers)

I think there can be merit in this. As I said, if you give out a tract along with candy, you may reach someone. You may at least, as Tracy said, have an opportunity to pray for those individuals or meet neighbors you would not otherwise interact with. Here is where she and I differ, though. I would vehemently suggest that if you do this you decorate and dress in such a way that has nothing whatsoever to do with evil. Be your favorite comic strip character or superhero. Stay far away from the zombies and vampires.

Scripture makes it clear that Christian liberty allows for a wide range of choices. Tracy may be within her Christian liberty to celebrate Halloween. I, and others, are certainly within our liberty to abstain. Scripture also makes it clear that not everything we can do is something that we should do, or something that is beneficial or fruitful. That is where I come down. Celebrating Halloween may not be sin (though I do think it could be, depending on the nature of one’s celebration), but I see little if any good in coming from engaging in an activity that is focused on celebrating death and evil. So, I guess the big question for me is this: even if I can celebrate Halloween, why would I?

(Except where otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version).

October 1, 2017

Powerless Protests

After all of the attention given to NFL players sitting or kneeling during the National Anthem over the weekend of September 24, I decided to share on Facebook this simple truth:

So, (federal) minimum wage is $7.25 an hour or about $15,000 per year. Each year the minimum salary in the NFL increases by $15,000; this year it is $465,000.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average household income was $73,298 in 2014. The average NFL salary in 2015 was $2.1 million.

If for no other reason than that, then, every player in the NFL should be standing proudly at attention every time the National Anthem is played, giving thanks that they live in a country where the lowest paid person in their profession can make thirty-one times the federal minimum wage…for playing a game.

I stand by that assertion. Whatever it is that NFL players are intending to protest or express their displeasure for by failing to show proper respect to the American flag, they are at the same time disrespecting a flag that represents a country in which they have the opportunity to make a very comfortable living for playing a game.

Not surprisingly, my post generated lots of attention—from both sides of the debate. Quite a few people agreed with my sentiments, “liking” or even “loving” the post. But certainly not all. While I did not receive any Facebook emojis symbolizing anger with the post, there were comments shared, and “likes” for those comments, that made clear the fact that there is definite difference of opinion on this matter as well as a clear lack of understanding over the real issue.

For example, one friend commented, “I know my view point is not a popular one, but here you go. Every NFL player has the constitutional right to take a knee for what they believe. It’s the same right that our president has to say they should all be fired. I do find it heartbreaking that there is so much divide in our beautiful country.”

Well, I agree with the last statement wholeheartedly. There is entirely too much division within our country, especially on matters of race, and there appears to be far more attention given to those who exacerbate that divide than to those who seek to heal it. But my friend’s comment missed the point. I was not saying that football players do not have the right to sit or kneel during the anthem. I agree wholeheartedly that they do. But not everything that some has a right to do is right to do. What are they accomplishing by sitting or kneeling? By failing to show proper respect for the flag of the country that allows them the opportunity to earn millions of dollars playing a game, are they contributing to a healthy discussion about whatever it is they are protesting? No. Are the bringing solutions to the table? No. I think the president’s comments were ill-advised too (but then what’s new?). I am not saying he is right and they are wrong. I am simply stating my opinion that what they are doing is not contributing to a solution and is, if anything, drawing attention to themselves, not the issues they are seeking to draw attention to—whatever they may be.

Then another friend chimed in. A former student of mine, in fact. She said, “They aren’t disrespecting the flag though and they aren’t protesting the flag.” To the second part of that statement, I agree, which is why I also said their protest is ineffective. By sitting or kneeling during the National Anthem they are not really addressing whatever it is they are trying to protest. To the first part of the statement though, all I can say is this: they aren’t? How is failing to stand for the National Anthem not disrespecting the flag? There really is no denying that fact. If someone fails to stand in court when the judge enters and the bailiff announces “all rise,” I guarantee you it will be seen as disrespect for the office the judge holds if not for the entire judicial system. That individual would either find himself sitting all day in court waiting for his case to be called (best case scenario) or find himself in contempt of court. Remember, the right to free speech is not absolute—and it is certainly not absolute within the four walls of a courtroom!

This friend went on to say, “And though our country does allow them the opportunity to make millions, it doesn’t allow everyone that right. In fact there are some pretty glaring injustices within our country and some pretty obvious failures staring us in the face.” Here we have another error. No one has the right to make millions of dollars. There is no government system on the face of the earth that could really grant or enforce such a right. However, everyone in the U.S. does have the opportunity to earn millions of dollars. That is what a free market economy is really all about—equality of opportunity. Any young man in the United States has the opportunity to make millions of dollars playing in the NFL. Very few of them will, because some do not have the athletic ability, others do not have the drive or passion to do so, and even some who have both of those things may suffer an injury that ends their chance to make it to the pros. Every man and woman (legally) in the U.S. has the opportunity to make millions of dollars per year in any number of fields. Sports is one, of course, but so is entertainment or writing or business or…fill in the blank! Last August, Bustle.com reported that Simone Biles, the 2016 U.S. Olympic team gymnastics phenom, has a net worth of $2.5 million. “Not too shabby considering that Biles can barely legally vote,” the report stated. The 2012 all-around gymnastics gold medalist, Gabby Douglas, has a net worth of $3 million according to a January 2017 article in Gazette Review, and she’s just 21.

More on these young ladies later. Back to my friend, though, her comment continued,

They aren’t contributing a solution as I imagine it’s difficult to present such a manifesto on the playing field but many nfl players are active in charities showing at least some concern for their fellow man off the field. Does it draw attention? Yeah that’s kind of the point to protest. And it does draw attention to them though in Kaepernick’s case it wasn’t exactly good attention. But everyone knows why he protested. A quick Google search tells you that. Plus it’s started all this conversation. So I’d say it got the point across pretty well because we’re still talking about it.

Well, let’s examine this line of thinking. Is it difficult to present a manifesto on a playing field? Perhaps so. Perhaps rightly so. After all, the playing field is for playing, after all. But if it is true that the players protesting are unable to adequately communicate the motives of their protest through their actions, the protest is, by definition, unsuccessful. Are many NFL players active in charities off the field, showing “at least some concern for their fellow man”? I am sure they are. What in the world does that have to do with anything, though? Does someone’s participation in a charity make it excusable for him to disrespect the flag of the United States? No. Do his attempts to show some concern for his fellow man allow him to behave in way that blatantly shows disrespect for both his country in general and others of his fellow men (and women) who fought, and died, for what that flag represents? No. And, for the record, there are plenty of people who are active in charities and show concern for their fellow man that are adamantly opposed to the flag/anthem protest. So, this is really a non sequitur.

Is the point of a protest to draw attention? Actually, no. Drawing attention may be a necessary element of achieving a protest’s real point, but the point of a protest is to address wrongs and bring about their correction. Protesting the American flag and the National Anthem brings attention to the individuals refusing to stand, not to whatever those individuals think they are protesting. My friend says everyone knows why Colin Kaepernick protested and then says, “a quick Google search will tell you that.” Well, those statements are contradictory. If everyone knows, a Google search would not be necessary. And if a Google search is necessary, then the protest was ineffective. If it is necessary for someone to look up the reason for a protest action, said action is a poorly-selected means of protest. When the Sons of Liberty tossed tons (literally) of tea overboard into Boston Harbor, no one had to wonder or ask around to find out what they were protesting. The parades, pageants and picketing that went on in the pursuit of women’s suffrage left no doubt what the protest was seeking to accomplish. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person, no one wondered what she was protesting. When the Montgomery bus boycott resulted, no one wondered what they were protesting. When sit ins occurred, individuals were respectfully, but immovably, sitting at the very lunch counters that would not serve them. They were protesting the wrong directly and in a manner that left no one wondering what they wanted.

Finally, in this quote anyway, my friend suggested that the protest started this whole conversation and therefore was pretty successful because we are still talking about it. But therein lies the rub. We are talking about it—the protest—not whatever it is that is being protested. That’s due in no small part to the fact that very few people seem to know what exactly is being protested!

My friend suggested a Google search to find out what motivated Kaepernick, so I took her advice. In doing so I found the explanation provided by Kaepernick himself, who said in an interview, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Eric Reid, who protested with Kaepernick, wrote in the New York Times, that they were protesting “systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system.”

Okay, so since Kaepernick started it, we might assume that is what is driving it. Last Sunday, however, the majority of those participating the protest were not doing so because of systemic oppression or police brutality but in response to the ill-advised words of President Trump.

The NFL, by the way, is not helping this situation. On that note, President Trump was right. The league is creating a double standard by allowing this “speech” that violates its rules yet fining players over other “speech” such as Brandon Marshall wearing green shoes to promote Mental Health Awareness Week, William Gay wearing purple cleats to direct attention to domestic violence, DeAngelo Williams being denied the right to wear pink cleats and accessories to bring attention to breast cancer, and being fined for wearing eye black stating “Find the Cure.” After the deadly police shooting in Dallas, the Dallas Cowboys requested that the league allow them to wear an “Arm in Arm” decal on their helmets to honor the slain officers; the league said no. The league threatened fines for players wearing custom cleats to commemorate 9/11, and only yielded after a strong public backlash. NFL players are not permitted to yell t officials, taunt other players or even dance in the end zone after scoring a touchdown. Apparently violating league rules about the National Anthem will bring no consequence, though. According to USA Today, an NFL spokesman said on September 25, “that players would not be punished for breaking a league rule that says they must appear on sidelines during the national anthem. Players on the Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers all skipped Sunday’s anthem.” Hmmm. Is it really free speech when the NFL is deciding whether or not it is permissible? No, it is not. It is sanctioned speech.

But back to the motivation for these protests. My friend who suggested a Google search for identifying Kaepernick’s motive focused on income disparity in her Facebook comments. When I replied to her comment above by saying that no one has the right to be a millionaire but everyone has the opportunity, she shot back with this:

No[t] everyone does not have the opportunity. I, as a white woman, make $0.85 to every $1 a white male makes. Black women earn $0.65. Hispanic women earn $0.58. Plus minimum wage isn’t even livable in most states which makes it rather hard to get the ‘opportunity’ to make millions. There are lots of reasons for this wage disparity, including discrimination. But my point is that the reality is not everyone had that opportunity. It’s why there is a top one percent and then the rest of us. It’s unrealistic to assume “well I’ll work hard and one day before a millionaire”. But for some it’s equally unrealistic to imagine a life outside poverty or a life reasonably comfortable.

Well, this is interesting. I don’t think it has anything at all to do with the anthem protests, but let me address it anyway. Is there some income disparity in the U.S.? Yes, there is. Is it as horrific as the liberal Kool-aide vendors would have us believe. In April 2017 the Pew Research Center reported that the gender gap in pay has narrowed since 1980 and that among young adults (ages 24-35) the gap is down to 10 cents per dollar earned difference between men and women. IN 1980 it was only 67 cents per dollar. That is a significant improvement. The disparity is not purely a result of some conspiracy to discriminate against women, however. The Pew Research report indicated that women were considerably more likely than men to take breaks from their careers to care for family members: 28% of fathers had reduced their work hours at one time or another to care for family while 42% of mothers had done so; 24% of fathers had taken a significant amount of time off, while 39% of mothers had done so; 10% of fathers had quite their job completely, but 27% of mothers had done so. It is not unreasonable to think that women who reduce work hours or temporarily leave employment completely will see their wages increase at a slower rate than men who do not, all other things being equal. After all, rarely can someone leave the work force for a time and re-enter at the same salary he or she left. The report indicated that women were almost twice as likely as men to say that they had been discriminated against at work because of their gender, but that was still only 18% to 10%. No gender-based discrimination is appropriate, but “only” is appropriate in that sentence because it indicates that gender-based discrimination alone cannot account for the disparity in pay.

And minimum wage? It is not supposed to be livable for a family, and not even for very long for an individual. By its very name the wage is the minimum someone can earn. That necessarily implies someone with minimum skills doing the work. There are innumerable studies to indicate that education and experience contribute mightily to improved earning power. And in a free market economy, the market is supposed to drive wages anyway. The very existence of a minimum wage goes against true free market economic principles and creates an artificial floor.

I do not want to get too side-tracked on this income disparity issue but I want to go back to Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas for a minute. I selected them as examples on purpose. They are both female and both African-American. What’s more, they both come from families that do not typify the likelihood of high earnings. According to what I have read and heard, Douglas was raised by a single mother. Biles’ mother was unable to care for Simone and her siblings due to her drug and alcohol addiction, and the children were in and out of foster homes before being adopted by their grandparents. Both of these young ladies persisted and worked hard to pursue their dreams, overcoming what could be seen as domestic obstacles, historic obstacles and even the obstacle of pursuing a sport that has had very few African American competitors at the highest levels. After all, Dominique Dawes, in 1996, became the first male or female black athlete to win an Olympic medal in gymnastics. So to my friend, I would suggest that both Douglas and Biles are proof that the opportunity to become highly successful—and highly compensated—is indeed available to all.

Sticking with the theme of the Olympics, by the way, ask Jordyn Wieber in 2012 or Douglas herself in 2016 what they think of artificially leveling the playing field. Both gymnasts were the victims of the ridiculous Olympic gymnastics rule that restricts all-around finalist competitors to not more than two per country despite the fact that their performances rightly earned them a place in the finals if only the highest qualifiers were allowed to advance. Given that both of them have experienced in an athletic context what it is like to have their hard work and legitimately-earned opportunity negated by a silly rule that seeks to level the playing field, I wonder if they would be in favor of silly rules leveling the economic playing field?

There are so many factors involved in economic disparity that it cannot be diluted down to a simple “white guys make more money than everyone else” conclusion. Location makes a difference, experience does, education does, skill does, industry does… So, by the way, does personal choice. I currently serve as the superintendent of a small Christian school in South Dakota. I also have three graduate degrees and nineteen years of experience. Yet, an African American female with no teaching experience and only a bachelor’s degree will make more money as a first-year teacher in New York City this year than I will in my position. Seeks like a disparity doesn’t it? Sure… But the cost of living in New York City is exponentially higher than it is in the middle of South Dakota. When I was the executive director of a non-profit ministry providing residential childcare for at-risk youth I was making more than twice as much money each year as I do now, with even more lucrative benefits than I have now. But it is not the fault of any person or any system that I am not in a position with lower compensation.

But, back to the flag protests. The same friend who brought up the wage disparity issue later in the Facebook exchange said that the problem was unfair sentencing practices.

African Americans and whites use drugs at about the same rates but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug related charges is almost six times higher than whites. The imprisonment of female African Americans is twice the rate of female whites. Total, African Americans are incarcerated more than five times the rate of whites. If African Americans were imprisoned at the same rate as whites, prison populations would decline by almost forty percent. African Americans make up thirteen percent of the population but forty two percent of death row inmates and thirty five percent of those executed. Forty eight percent of whites were able to receive a sentence less than death through plea bargaining but only twenty five percent of black and twenty eight percent of Hispanics were able to receive plea bargains in exchange for life sentences.

Okay, so this a completely different path now, but it needs to be addressed as well. Interesting, isn’t it, how someone who said that the reasons for the protests were obvious is now on her third different explanation for the reasons? My friend is quoting almost verbatim from the NAACP’s Criminal Justice Fact Sheet. Fair enough. It is true that African Americans and whites tend to use drugs at approximately the same rate. And it is also true that African Americans tend to be incarcerated more often than whites. Michael Tonry, an American criminologist, is the McKnight Presidential Professor of Criminal Law and Policy at the University of Minnesota Law School, and he explained to Politifact.com in February 2016, “Whites are more likely to sell to people they know, and they much more often sell behind closed doors. Blacks sell to people they don’t know and in public, which makes them vastly easier to arrest.” In July 2016, Politifact.com reported, “Blacks arrested for drugs are more likely to be sent to jail because they’re more likely to have had a previous run-in with the law. Police tend to patrol high-crime areas more aggressively, which tend to be the poor areas, which have a higher proportion of minorities. Thus, they’re more likely to be stopped for something and have a rap sheet once a drug charge comes along.”

Back in 1995, Dr. Patrick Langan, Senior Statistician for the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice did some research on this disparity, and his report was titled, “The Racial Disparity in U.S. Drug Arrests.” What did he find? Well, for starters, he said this: “Drug users are not all equally at risk of being arrested for drug possession. Certain factors (for example, frequent use) place some drug users at greater risk than others.” Those factors, Langan reported, included type of drug used, frequency of use and location of use. He then concluded, “Although blacks are 13% of drug users, they should comprise over 13% of drug possession arrests since the type of drugs they use, the frequency with which they use them, and the places where they use them, put blacks at greater risk of arrest.” He went on to state, “How much in excess of 13% cannot be precisely determined…but the data do allow estimates to be made.”

Before I give you his estimates, let me tell you this: the NAACP Criminal Justice Fact sheet states that “African Americans represent 12% of monthly drug users, but comprise 32% of persons arrested for drug possession.” Interestingly, those numbers have changed little from 1995 when Langan made his report; he wrote, “Blacks are 36% of drug possession arrests but 13% of drug users, a disparity of 23 points.” If the NAACP figures are accurate then there is now a disparity of 20 points. But what else did Langan find? He reported that “although blacks were 13% of drug users, given how they differed from whites with respect to increased risk, they should amount to 23% of arrests, or ten percentage points beyond the 13% figure.” And that disparity of 23% that he reported? “The analysis revealed that 10 of the 23 points were attributable to race-neutral factors,” he concluded. If that analysis holds true today, than the percentage points of disparity attributable to factors that are not race-neutral (i.e., racism and discrimination) have decreased from 13 points to 10 points since 1995. There is still much room for improvement, of course, but it would appear that progress is being made in the right direction.

It is true that African American make up 42% of death row inmates and only 13.3% of the population according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Those classified as “white alone, not Hispanic or Latino” make up 61.3% of the population and 42% of the death row population. Those who are Hispanic or Latino make up 17.8% of the population and 13% of death row inmates. But there are other factors to consider in this argument as well. For example, African Americans do make up 35% of those executed on death row, but whites, on the other hand, make up 56% of death row executions. So blacks and whites represent virtually equal percentages of those on death row, but the percentage of executions is 21% higher for whites than blacks. That part of the conversation seems to have been overlooked by my friend…. (All of those statistics, by the way, come from the Death Penalty Information Center).

Well, I need to quit. This has turned much too long already. Here’s my point, though. The American flag/National Anthem protests are not working. They are drawing attention to players, not to issues—as demonstrated by the fact that no one seems to even know for sure what the issue is! Furthermore, the en masse NFL protests last week were directed far more at President Trump than at racism or police brutality or wage disparity or incarceration disparity or whatever else the alleged issue being protested may be. What’s more the “take a knee” protest is spreading to colleges and even high school sports and, with all due respect, I doubt seriously that many of those high school students have any idea what they are really—supposedly—protesting. Is there room for improvement in race relations in the U.S.? Yes, there is. Is that going to be achieved by anyone, regardless of race, gender, profession, income, or numerical participation, taking a knee, taking a seat or refusing to take the field during the singing of the National Anthem? No. Every player for every team could take a knee every time for the rest of the season but it will, in and of itself, do no good. Therefore, I urge those who really do have a legitimate concern they would like to see address, to find a meaningful, productive and effective means of protesting or, more beneficially, engaging so that solutions can be found.

August 17, 2017

Intentional Idiocy

Fortunately I am not the leader of the free world and therefore no one has been criticizing me for not responding more quickly to the white supremacist nonsense in Charlottesville, VA five days ago. My delayed addressing of it in this space has nothing to do with me not condemning it as strongly as I possibly can and everything to do with being a wee bit busy with the start of a new school year. However, I feel I have reached a point of preparedness for the week ahead that I can pause for a while this morning and type out some of that which I have been thinking.

The first thing I would like to say is simply this: the idea that anyone could still hold to the idea of any race being superior to any other goes beyond upbringing and prejudice and serves as the strongest possible example of intentional idiocy. It is absurd and nonsensical for anyone in the twenty-first century to believe with any level sincerity that one race is superior to any other. The evidence against such a notion is so overwhelming that anyone who thinks it is truly characterized by mental dullness (part of the dictionary.com definition of “stupid”). In case that is not clear, let me be more specific: anyone who actually believes that one race is superior to another suffers from a mental defect. That does not, however, excuse anyone from their ludicrous notions because this is a mental defect that is entirely self-inflicted. Or, at a minimum, self-perpetuated.

Having lived in the south for a number of years I am well aware that there are still areas where people commonly refer to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression. There are people who still hold to the notion that the South will rise again. There are people who still believe that anyone that is not white is inferior, lesser and somehow other than fully, equally human with those who are white. I also recognize that many of those people were born into families and communities that perpetuate that nonsense and have simply been parroting the foolishness they received from their parents, who received it from their parents, and so on back up the family tree. But that does not excuse their stupidity. There have been examples throughout U.S. history of individuals who were born and raised in areas and families of strong white supremacist convictions who overcame that apparent disadvantage by recognizing and accepting the truth about human equality and choosing truth over prejudice. There are even individuals who were born into slave holding families and attended churches that taught that blacks were created by God to be in a condition of servitude to the whites who overcame that by embracing the truth of human equality. Sarah and Angelina Grimké would be two great examples but there are many others.

Sadly, the church does bear some responsibility for the racist notions of many white supremacists. Many Christian schools, especially in the American south, were birthed as part of the “white flight” movement after racial integration became the law. Many white churches in the south would not allow blacks to attend their services much less become members. Interracial marriage was forbidden in many churches–and in some it still is. Bob Jones University, in South Carolina, lost its non-profit status for a while over its refusal to give up its ban on interracial dating, claiming the Bible supported their position. I was present in a Southern Baptist church some twelve years ago when the church leadership announced one Sunday from the pulpit that after prayerful consideration their decision was that the church’s pastor had not done anything biblically wrong by officiating an interracial wedding. It blew my mind that that was still an issue in twenty-first century America. I was relieved that they reached the correct decision, but it should never even have been a question. There is simply no way to accurately interpret the Bible and come to any position other than full human equality regardless of race.

I have disagreed with some of what she has written since, but Dr. Christena Cleveland’s 2013 book Disunity in Christ provides excellent insight into why so many Christians continue to struggle with fully embracing equality in action even when they want to do so and can articulate those convictions verbally. She expresses what needs to happen succinctly on page 61 of her book when she writes this:

We must relentlessly attack inaccurate perceptions in our everyday interactions, weekly sermons, denominational meetings and dinner table conversations. Now that we are aware that categorizing is polluting our perceptions of other groups in the body of Christ, we must do the work of purifying our perceptions. What we need to do is really quite simple: rather than continuing on as cognitive misers who lazily rely on inaccurate categories to perceive others, we need to engage in what my friend Reverend Jim Caldwell calls cognitive generosity. We need to turn off autopilot and take time to honestly examine our polluted perceptions.

Parents, extended family members and communities bear responsibility for perpetuating the notion of racial supremacy or inferiority as well. We know this is true because racism and hatred are not naturally present–even in a world marred by the total depravity of man due to original sin. Jimmy Fallon started The Tonight Show on January 14 by speaking out against hatred and the nonsense in Charlottesville. In his comments he mentioned his 2 and 4 year-old daughters and said, “They don’t know what hate is. They go to the playground and they have friends of all races and backgrounds. They just play and they laugh and they have fun.” I have seen that childlike innocence of race demonstrated in my own daughter. My brother and his wife have four adopted children. All but one of them are of different racial backgrounds than my brother and his wife and that difference is immediately noticeable due to their varying skin tones. When my daughter was still a toddler they adopted their fourth child and she is only one who looks at all like she could actually be their child. My daughter was old enough to understand that the necessary steps and time had not occurred for this new cousin to have joined the family through natural means. As we explained that she was adopted just like the other three children in their family my daughter expressed shock that the three others were not the natural children of my brother and his wife. The varying skin tones meant nothing at all to her!

This is why I call racism and notions of racial supremacy intentional idiocy. It takes intentionality to accept that one race is superior to another. It takes intentionality to teach that to children. It takes intentionality to continue accepting it even in the face of reality and mature understanding that all humans truly are created equal. It takes a conscious commitment to and genuine intentionality to look at yourself in the mirror every morning and think that you are better than someone else simply because your skin color is different than theirs, to think that you deserve more or better than someone else simply because of your race. Doing that for a while, based on your upbringing and your surroundings, may be excusable. Continuing to do it when you’re old enough to know better makes you an intentional idiot.

The same day that Jimmy Fallon began his show by addressing the Charlottesville mess, an editorial by Cal Thomas appeared in The Washington Times. Thomas makes a number of excellent observations in the piece, but one of the most significant is his reminder that there is no such thing as a supreme race precisely because there is no such thing as racial purity. Thomas writes, “Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard professor, discovered in ‘Finding Your Roots,’ his PBS series on race in America, that there are no purebred humans. Mr. Gates himself discovered through a DNA test that he is descended from an Irish immigrant and a slave.”

The idea that there is no such thing as racial purity assumes, of course, that there is such a thing as race. A truly biblical worldview however goes even further and negates the notion of race completely. Are there various skin tones? Of course. But there is only one race and that is this: human. Answers in Genesis, the apologetics ministry that is most well known for its Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, has long taught that there is no such thing as race. Search “racism” on the AIG web site and you will find a page under their worldview section that beings like this:

The term race is often used to classify people based almost solely on physical characteristics. According to evolutionary ideas, these so-called races descended from different ancestors separated by location and time. However, based on biblical history, the term race must be incorrect. We are all one race (“one blood” in Acts 17:26), the human race.

It’s not just “black” and “white.” A person’s skin shade (what is on the outside) should in no way invoke any sort of prejudice or racist comments. What a difference we would see in our world if people reacted in accord with biblical principles, understanding all humans are equal before God, and all are sinners in need of salvation.

Anyone claiming to believe the Bible has to acknowledge that the Bible teaches several truths that fundamentally destroy any notion of race, let alone racial superiority. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 5:1 says, “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.” God made man–and woman–in His own image. That word man is all-inclusive. Every human being is created in the image of God. Every human being is descended from Adam and Eve, the first man and first woman. Every woman being is also descended from Noah, since only Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives survived the destruction of the earth by flood as described in Genesis 6-9. The Bible makes it clear that God does not show partiality and that He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to pay the penalty for human sin because He “so loved the world” (John 3:16), a statement which omits any reference to race. Jesus repeatedly commanded that those who follow Him are to love one another, that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. James condemning the showing of any partiality. There is simply no biblical justification for racism or attitudes of supremacy.

But what about Charlottesville specifically? CBS News posted a photographic story on line that included some fifty-five images and paragraph-length commentary or reporting on each one. The title of the story is “White supremacist rallies in Va. lead to violence.” The first picture and caption stated that the rally was planned by white supremacists and “advertised as ‘Unite the Right.'” Whether “the Right” was intended to refer to the political right or to the notion of right as opposed to wrong, it was an inaccurate label on both counts. As demonstrated here already racism and ideas of supremacy are never right. And there is no evidence that most individuals who identify with the right wing of the political spectrum are racists. That some claim that does not make it so for all. Cal Thomas said that David Duke claiming that he voted for Donald Trump does not make Trump a racist or the KKK representative of Trump’s positions or goals for America. “Mr. Duke claimed in Charlottesville that whites elected Mr. Trump,” Thomas wrote. “Sufficient numbers of white voters also elected Barack Obama — twice — so what’s his point?”

The CBS story reported, on the next slide, that in July “members of the Ku Klux Klan demonstrated in Charlottesville against the planned removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, and called for the protection of Southern Confederate monuments,” a demonstration that came “[a]mid heightened community outcries for the removal of monuments honoring Confederate heroes.” Removing those monuments is another example of stupidity but advocating their removal–or even removing them legally–is no justification for claims of white supremacy.

The Civil War is an important part of American history and there is absolutely nothing to gain by trying to erase all images or references or even monuments to it from our land. According to a Washington Times article published just today, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker “plans to introduce legislation that calls for the removal of Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol building.” The Capitol includes statues of both Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. There are, according to the Architect of the Capitol, “three times as many statues of Confederate soldiers and politicians as there are statues of black people in the entire Capitol complex.” Is that sad? Of course. But there are ways to fix that problem without eliminating the Confederate statutes. And the statues in Statuary Hall were placed there by the action of each state legislature (each state gets two), so it would make far more sense for state legislatures to reconsider whom they want representing their state in the Capitol than it would for Senator Booker to propose the removal by congressional action. Most Americans do not know who the Confederates in Statuary Hall are and would not recognize their names or historical significance even if they did. (Think I’m wrong? Without using Google or any other resource, tell me who Edward Douglass White, James Zachariah George, Uriah Milton Rose or Zebulon Baird Vance were, for example). The collection of one hundred statutes was not completed until 2005 when New Mexico finally sent its second statue. Seven states have replaced one of their first two since Congress authorized replacements in 2000, so if a state–or the people of a state–want to put a different individual in the collection to represent them let them do so. For Cory Booker or anyone else, however, to say that they have to do so is dictatorial and a clear violation of free speech and other constitutional rights. Alabama replaced Jabez Curry, who was a Confederate politician, in 2009. Florida approved replacing Edmund Kirby Smith, a Confederate, in 2016. So let the process run its course! (The collection, by the way, only includes nine women and a handful of Native Americans, so there are a number of other underrepresented groups as well).

According to CBS, the white supremacist protesters marching into the University of Virginia campus were shouting “Blood and soil”, a phrase used by Nazis. Demonstrators were giving “Nazi salutes and chant[ing] ‘You will not replace us’ (and alternately, ‘Jews will not replace us’).” One man said he was participating in the march because, “‘Our country has been usurped by a foreign tribe, called the Jews. We’re tired of it.'” Business Insider reported that on Monday, August 14,

“Vice News Tonight” published a chilling 22-minute documentary featuring interviews with several of the white nationalists who helped lead the “Unite the Right” rally that devolved into violence and chaos in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.

Most prominently featured throughout the episode is Christopher Cantwell, a white supremacist who provided an in-depth description of his beliefs and his movement’s goals at the rally to Vice correspondent Elle Reeves.

Cantwell offered racist critiques of black and Jewish people, confirmed that his movement was violent, and defended the killing of Heather Heyer — the 32-year-old woman fatally struck on Saturday by a driver identified as a white supremacist — as “justified.”

Later in the article Cantwell was quoted as saying that he wanted a president far more racist than Donald Trump, whose daughter Ivanka is married to a Jew, and that “a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here.” He went on to say,

This is part of the reason that we want an ethno-state. The blacks are killing each other in staggering numbers from coast to coast — we don’t really want a part of that anymore, and so the fact that they resist us when we say we want a homeland is not shocking to me. These people want violence, and the right is just meeting a market demand.

Cantwell’s statements are disgusting. They may even be construed as illegal and treasonous. The right to free speech and opinion must be protected. We cannot make being an idiot a crime. But actions can become crimes. Illegal marches and protests, inciting others to violence and destruction of public property are all crimes, not to mention actual violence, and they should be treated as such. Anyone who broke the law at the Charlottesville rally should be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Anyone who broke the law by yanking down a Confederate statue Durham, North Carolina should also be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. One good thing about modern technology like ubiquitous cell phone cameras and social media networks is that someone is almost always filming this nonsense–usually the idiots themselves–and posting it for all the world to see. Arrests and convictions should be rather simple.

There are very few things that will truly unite Americans anymore. Politics will never do it. Sports won’t. Religion will not. But the uncompromising and determined opposition of racial hatred and violence should unite us all. There is simply no place for it in this country. We should be just as united against the idiocy of Charlottesville as we were at the attacks of 9/11. The 9/11 attacks were attacks against the United States of America, against what we are, what we stand for and what we believe. The Charlottesville rally was no less such an attack.

 

 

August 7, 2017

There’s no such thing as free college

I have seen a few comments in social media over the past few days celebrating Rhode Island’s decision to offer “free college.” There is of course a little more to it than that, but the recent action by the Rhode Island legislature, signed by the governor, bears examination.

Last Thursday the Rhode Island legislature approved the Promise Scholarship, which will cover the cost of tuition and fees at the Community College of Rhode Island for new students starting this fall. The tuition and fees will be covered regardless of their income. According to CNN, it is a four-year pilot program for which the legislature appropriated, as part of the state’s budget, $2.8 million for the first year.

Community College of Rhode Island has some 15,000 students, but most of them will not be eligible for the Promise Scholarship because they are part-time students or are not recent high school graduates. The CNN report indicates that the college “expects an uptick in enrollment of first-time students next year by at least 200 because of the program. It estimates that between 1,200 and 1,300 students will receive the scholarship this fall.”

Full-time tuition for Rhode Island residents is currently $2,074 per semester. The Promise Scholarship will also cover a per-semester fee of $208 per student.

This all sounds very exciting, of course, especially to those who like the idea of free college education. But, just as there is no such thing as a free lunch, there is no such thing as free college. The Community College of Rhode Island will continue to receive the same $2,074 per student per semester (plus the $208 fee) I assure you–the money will just come from somewhere else. Specifically, it will be included in the state budget, paid for out of state coffers. But where does the state get its money? From taxes, of course, paid by the residents of Rhode Island.

Rhode Island is not the first state to offer “free” college education. It is, in fact, the fourth. The first three are New York, Oregon and Tennessee. It is worth noting, then, that according to the Tax Foundation’s rating of the top marginal individual income tax rates as of June 1, 2017 only California and Maine have a higher rate than Oregon, where the rate is 9.9%. New York is among the highest rates as well, at 8.82%. (Minnesota, Vermont, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. fall between Oregon and New York though, other than Minnesota at 9.85% those states are all between 8.82 and 8.97%).

What about Tennessee? It’s income tax rate is a middle-of-the-road 5.0%. Nine states have a lower rate, besides the seven states that have no state income tax. But Tennessee actually only taxes interest and dividends income, meaning it would effectively be lower than most of those nine states with lower rates. So how does Tennessee pull off its free college program? It simply shifts the tax burden. According to the Tax Foundation, only Louisiana has a higher sales tax than Tennessee (9.98% to 9.46%).

As of July, Rhode Island’s state income tax rate was only 5.99%–but its sales tax rate was 7.0%, making it 21st in the nation. Keep an eye on tax rates in Rhode Island over the next four years of this program because it seems likely that one or both rates will increase. In Oregon, for example, despite its high income tax rate and low rate of purchasing power (it ranked 33rd in 2015 in the Tax Foundation’s comparison of regional price parities, examining the real value of $100), their free tuition program is already being altered. When it launched in 2016 only recent high school graduates were eligible. But, the state budget suffered a shortfall, and starting this year students from high-income families are not eligible, CNN reported. New York has similar restrictions; its program starts this year but it excludes students from families earning $125,000 per year or more. That does not seem particularly burdensome probably, to expect a family earning $125,000 to be able to afford college tuition, but New York ranks 49th in real purchasing power; only Hawaii is worse. The real value of $100 in Rhode Island is $101.32. In Oregon it is $100.81. In New York it is only $86.73. The likely increase in Rhode Island taxes is further supported by the fact that, according to Ballotpedia, Rhode Island, in fiscal year 2016 (before the implementation of the Promise Scholarship), had higher per-capita spending that Oregon for total state expenditures. Additionally, the Pew Charitable Trust report on August 4, 2017 entitled “Fiscal 50: State Trends and Analysis” indicates that Oregon experienced an increase in tax revenue from FY 2016 to 2017–while Rhode Island experienced a decrease. (Interestingly, New York and Tennessee also experienced declines–leaving Oregon as the only state with a “free college” program that experienced an increase in tax revenue over the past year). If Oregon cannot continue its program then, why would Rhode Island think it can? The Pew report also ranked states’ rainy day funds, or financial reserves. According to the report, the “total balances in states’ general fund budgets—including rainy day funds—could run government operations for a median of 36.2 days” as of the end of FY 2016. Rhode Island fell just above that median, at 37 days. New York (47.9 days) and Tennessee (56.5 days) were well above the median.

One good thing about the Rhode Island scholarship is that it does have a string attached: according to The Hill, “Upon receiving the scholarship, students must also agree to stay and work in Rhode Island for as many years as they received tuition.”

It is telling that the state legislature did not go as far as Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo wanted it to go; she had favored covering community college tuition as well as covering two years of schooling at Rhode Island’s two public four-year colleges. Their refusal to do so shows at least some fiscal restraint among the legislature. Only time will tell, of course, how Rhode Island’s Promise Scholarship turns out. But even if it works (a possibility on which, I confess, I am skeptical) do not forget–neither lunches nor college educations are ever really free.

July 12, 2017

God-Given Nervousness

No one that I know enjoys getting nervous. In fact, most people do their best to avoid situations that they know will make them nervous. But I have come to the conclusion that being nervous is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think sometimes it is a God-given thing.

For example, being nervous is one of the biggest reasons so many Christians are reluctant to share the gospel with others. They are not sure they will say the right thing or know all of the answers to questions they may be asked.

Ken Currie wrote the following:

For the time being, it seems the greatest threat to gospel-telling in such a society [as ours] is not that we will be hauled before the city council, beaten, and have our property taken away. What we are really dealing with is some awkwardness.

Awkwardness is perhaps the biggest threat to evangelism for far too many of us.

I’ve done a little research and can confirm to you that there is not one documented case of someone dying, or even being severely injured, by awkwardness. Not one.

Awkwardness is one way of putting it. Nervousness might be another, because I think Currie’s awkwardness and my nervousness are referring to the same thing. We might be awkward and nervous because we don’t feel like we are ready to do a good job of sharing the gospel or we might be awkward and nervous because we aren’t sure how someone will react when we share the gospel and we don’t want them to laugh at us, shun us or whatever. Currie also said this:

God gives most of us this awareness of awkwardness so that we would never, not for a second, trust in or magnify ourselves and drift away from the magnificence of the gospel. This awareness in evangelism makes the gospel tangible. It means I need the gospel right now myself. Not only does my hearer need Jesus at this moment, but so do I!

Just last week I was having a conversation with a friend about a significant change about to take place in her life and even though she is at peace about it being how the Lord is leading her, she is, she said, getting more nervous by the day. And here’s what I told her: I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing to be nervous, because being nervous means that I realize I am not in control and I cannot make something successful by myself. God is in control and He is the only one who can determine success or “failure” in the end. As followers of Christ ours is not to determine the likelihood of success before we follow God’s leading. Our responsibility is to obey and let Him handle the outcome.

I think nervousness is normal when we are anticipating the unknown or the unfamiliar, when we are knowingly going outside of our comfort zone. Just don’t let yourself be overtaken by the nervousness! We must remember to use the nervousness as a reminder to put our trust in God and to meditate on His Word.

There is a difference between being nervous and being anxious or worrying about something. Scripture tells us worry and anxiety are not productive and indicate a lack of trust in God, but I do not know anywhere in the Bible that it says we are not to be nervous. Here is a quote from Charles Stanley that you may find encouraging: “As you walk through the valley of the unknown, you will find the footprints of Jesus both in front of you and beside you.”

Nervousness could be a sign that you need to carefully evaluate what you are about to do or thinking about doing in order to be sure that it is indeed how God is leading. But once you are sure it is, let the nervousness lead you to the Lord. Respond to that nervousness by leaning on His everlasting arms. In the words of Proverbs 3:5b, “trust the Lord completely; don’t ever trust yourself” (The Living Bible).

June 16, 2017

Respecting Religion

You have likely heard about, read about, and even watched or read the exchange that took place on June 7 between Senator Bernie Sanders and Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, during Vought’s confirmation hearing. There has been much said and written about the ridiculousness of Sanders’ questioning–not to mention the unconstitutionality of it–from all ends of the political spectrum, and I will link a few examples here if you would like to read them for yourself. Aaron Earls blogged about it on The Wardrobe Door, clearly making the point that “all roads lead to exclusion,” and that the opinions of Senator Sanders (and Senator Chris Van Hollen, who expressed an inclusivist view of Christianity during the hearing) are perhaps even more intolerant than Vought’s view that led to the questioning. Others on the conservative end of the political (and religious) spectrum made equally eloquent and passionate arguments against Sanders’ questioning.

Interestingly, those calling out Sanders’ intolerance were not confined to the usual ranks though. Emma Green, writing for The Atlantic, wrote, “It was a remarkable moment: a Democratic senator lecturing a nominee for public office on the correct interpretation of Christianity in a confirmation hearing putatively about the Office of Management and Budget.” She went on to state, “It’s one thing to take issue with bigotry. It’s another to try to exclude people from office based on their theological convictions. … This is the danger of relying on religion as a threshold test for public service, the kind of test America’s founders were guarding against when they drafted Article VI.” She concluded her piece by articulating exactly what so many on the other end of the spectrum have been saying about “tolerance” for years: “As the demands for tolerance in America become greater, the bounds of acceptance can also become tighter. Ironically, that pits acceptance of religious diversity against the freedom of individual conscience.”

Even Camila Domonoske, writing for NPR, addressed Sanders’ line of questioning. She provided a reasonable and balanced look at the issue from both sides, citing spokespeople for Sanders, legal experts, Muslim leaders and Russell Moore , president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. She correctly reported that views on hell differ, even among Christians: “Different Christian sects, and individuals, have varying interpretations of damnation. The traditionalist view is that eternal suffering awaits all who do not accept Christ; on the other end of the spectrum is the universalist belief that everyone will be saved. And then there are disagreements about what hell actually is.” But the very title of Domonoske’s piece asks the question that ultimately needs to be addressed in light of the Sanders-Vought exchange: “Is it hateful to believe in hell?” (And even if one feels that it is, is such a belief a legitimate subject of questioning in a political confirmation hearing and/or a legitimate reason to oppose or restrict someone from political office?)

I have linked only three examples here and there are many, many more, from all sides, so feel free to find and read those to your heart’s content. It will not surprise anyone who has read the blog with any regularity to know that I found Sanders’ questioning to be out of line and unconstitutional. But I actually want to take a different perspective on the entire exchange, looking instead at Vought’s responses to Sanders. I do not want to throw Vought under the proverbial bus, as he was no doubt surprised by the vehemence of Sanders’ questioning, but he seemed to be uncertain in his responses, unwilling to double down on what he had written and take a firm and unequivocal stance on biblical Christianity. In short, he seemed caught off guard, unprepared to give a defense for his faith.

The apostle Peter addresses the importance of enduring suffering for righteousness sake and being prepared to offer a defense for faith in 1 Peter 3:13-17:

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

Vought was certainly put in a position by Sanders to suffer for righteousness’ sake. He was, quite literally, asked for the reason for the hope that is within him, and he was indeed slandered and reviled during the exchange. Matthew Poole, in his commentary, said of verse 15, “either that hath authority to examine you, and take an account of your religion; or, that asks with modesty, and a desire to be satisfied, and learn of you.” Sanders certainly fell into the first category.

Again, it is impossible for me or anyone else to say what we might have done were we in Vought’s seat, so I do not wish for this to be seen as an attack on him. But I do wish it to be seen as an encouragement for all of us who claim the name of Christ and seek to be faithful to biblical Christianity. Should we ever find ourselves in a similar situation, will we be prepared to respond? Will we have a defense for our faith, for the hope that is within us, when we are literally in the spotlight? Russell Vought had an opportunity that very few people ever have had or will have, I suspect. He was seated before United States senators, with the opportunity to speak God’s Truth into the congressional record, not to mention to the ears of elected officials and to millions of people across the country and around the world.

Using the transcription of the exchange between Sanders and Vought provided by David French of National Review, I want to imagine what Vought’s answers could have looked like. I am giving Sanders’ questions/comments in blue, Vought’s real answers italicized in brackets and what I would like to imagine could have been said instead in more faithful adherence to Peter’s exhortation thereafter in orange.

Sanders: Let me get to this issue that has bothered me and bothered many other people. And that is in the piece that I referred to that you wrote for the publication called Resurgent. You wrote, “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned.” Do you believe that that statement is Islamophobic?

[Vought: Absolutely not, Senator. I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles based on my faith. That post, as I stated in the questionnaire to this committee, was to defend my alma mater, Wheaton College, a Christian school that has a statement of faith that includes the centrality of Jesus Christ for salvation, and . . .]

Absolutely not, Senator. Islamophobia is a fear or hatred of Muslims and I neither fear nor hate Muslims. I am a Christian and I believe the Bible–both Old and New Testaments–which clearly states that the only way to know God is through acceptance of His Son Jesus Christ as Savior.

Sanders: I apologize. Forgive me, we just don’t have a lot of time. Do you believe people in the Muslim religion stand condemned? Is that your view?

[Vought: Again, Senator, I’m a Christian, and I wrote that piece in accordance with the statement of faith at Wheaton College.]

The context of my statement in Resurgent was dealing with the Muslim religion because it dealt with a position taken by a professor at Wheaton College regarding the Muslim religion. But in reality I believe that all people who have not accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, regardless of their religion or their rejection of all religion, stand condemned. I believe that because that is what the Bible says. while there are others, John 3:18 would be perhaps the best example. It says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” So, in keeping with my Christian faith, I believe that many people stand condemned.

Sanders: I understand that. I don’t know how many Muslims there are in America. Maybe a couple million. Are you suggesting that all those people stand condemned? What about Jews? Do they stand condemned too?

[Vought: Senator, I’m a Christian . . .]

Sanders (shouting): I understand you are a Christian, but this country are made of people who are not just — I understand that Christianity is the majority religion, but there are other people of different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?

[Vought: Thank you for probing on that question. As a Christian, I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs. I believe that as a Christian that’s how I should treat all individuals . . .]

Yes, Senator, I do believe that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned because that is what the Bible says.

Sanders: You think your statement that you put into that publication, they do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned, do you think that’s respectful of other religions?

[Vought: Senator, I wrote a post based on being a Christian and attending a Christian school that has a statement of faith that speaks clearly in regard to the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation.]

I am not sure if that statement is respectful of other religions or not, Senator. To be honest I am not certain it was designed or intended to be respectful of other religions. That statement was made specifically to highlight the very clear, very important differences that exist between biblical Christianity and Islam. The Christian faith is, necessarily, narrow-minded and exclusive. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” I was articulating and defending that element of my faith, that portion of what the Bible says.

I think, however, that you are missing an important point, sir. I absolutely respect the right of every person to choose his or religion, or to choose no religion. I believe the Constitution of the United States explicitly grants a freedom of religion to everyone in this country. That means that I accept, respect–and would defend–the right of Muslims or Hindus or Jews or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons or Catholics or anyone else to believe, or not believe, as they so choose whether or not I agree with their religion. So in that regard I have complete and total respect for other religions.

But if by respecting other religions you mean that I have to agree with what they believe or keep quiet about areas in which my faith differs from theirs then I guess I would have to say no, I do not respect–by that definition–other religions. But given the incredible freedom of religion that we hold so dear in this country, Senator Sanders, I cannot imagine that is possibly what you meant.

Sanders: I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.

To which I would say, if I might Mr. Chairman, that the freedom to believe as we see fit and to speak as we wish–even about those differing and contradictory beliefs–is precisely what this country is supposed to be about.

 

June 7, 2017

Let’s Keep “Parents” Around

Last August Joanna Schimizzi, a National Board Certified Teacher, wrote a blog for the “The Standard – The Official Blog of the National Board.” The blog post’s title was “Ban the word ‘Parents’.” Here’s how she started:

This school year, I want to challenge you to ban certain words from your vernacular. We each have our own set of words and phrases that are taboo in our classroom, like “stupid” or “I can’t”, but this year I want to challenge you to stop using the word “parents”.

What was the reason for this peculiar notion? Schimizzi wanted to challenge teachers “to realize that many of our students live in settings where ‘parents’ are not the only figures who are important to their success.”

That’s true of course. Dictionary.come defines “parent” as a father or mother or a protector or guardian. We usually have the former in mind when we think or say “parent” I am sure, and for years it has been common practice for many forms and communications to utilize “parent or guardian” due to the fact that so many children do not receive their primary care from a biological parent. The reality, however, is that there are more children living with two biological parents than most of us would guess. Last November 17 the U.S. Census Bureau, in Release Number: CB16-192, reported, “The majority of America’s 73.7 million children under age 18 live in families with two parents (69 percent), according to new statistics released today from the U.S. Census Bureau. This is compared to other types of living arrangements, such as living with grandparents or having a single parent.” According to that same report only 4% of U.S. children do not live with any parent.

Schimizzi said her position toward the word “parent” came when she was talking to a guidance counselor at her school about the low number of responses she received on a Parent Survey she sent home with students at the beginning of the year. “Her support helped me realize that many of my questions had implicit bias that placed value on certain experiences not applicable to all families,” Schimizzi wrote. “And one of her best suggestions was to change ‘Parent Survey’ to ‘Family Survey.'”

Of course family used to mean parents and the children they cared for. In fact, the leading portion of Dictionary.com’s definition of the word still says, “a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not.” It becomes immediately clear therefore that if Schmizzi and her guidance counselor colleague felt that “Family” would be more appropriate to the realities of students than “Parent” that they must both have agreed, whether consciously or not, that “family” no longer means what it used to mean. Therein lies a huge part of why this recommendation to abolish “parents” is so dangerous–but I will get back to that.

Continuing in her blog, Schimizzi mentioned Al Trautwig’s statement during the Olympics that gymnast Simone Biles “was raised by her grandfather and his wife and she calls them mom and dad.” Biles was, in fact, adopted by her grandparents when she was just a toddler. But when Trautwig was challenged on Twitter about his statement he retorted, “They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents.” After being ordered by NBC to apologize, according to The Associated Press, Trautwig issues a statement that said, in part, “To set the record straight, Ron and Nellie are Simone’s parents.”

That situation, however, is a great example of why the word “parent” is so important–not grounds for banning the word. I think many people have long understood that there is an incredible difference between procreating and parenting. Whether by conscious choice to give up or abandon a child, by some kind of incapacitation or even by death, not everyone who contributes to the biological act of childbirth can or will fulfill the role of parent. The willingness of other people to step in and fill that role is to be celebrated and commended–and there is absolutely no need to differentiate their role by calling them anything other than parents. This is true when those voluntary parents are related to the child by blood, such as Biles’ grandparents, as well as when there is no genetic connection whatsoever.

Schimizzi wrote that when she distributes her now-revised survey she will “encourage… students to deliver it to whoever plays the biggest role in supporting them. It’s an interesting experience to watch students think about who in their lives offers them the most academic support.” That is a valid point and it is entirely possible (and sadly, in some instances, probable) that a child will receive greater support from someone other than their parent. That needs to be recognized as well but it is not grounds for abolishing the term “parent”–not by a long shot. Schimizzi ended her post by sharing examples from three classroom teachers for improving family engagement. All three of the ideas have merit but not one of them has anything to do with the definition or role of “parent.” Instead, they focus on language barriers, a parent’s own experience as a student and the failure of parents to do anything with information they receive from the school. Effective educators will look for ways to overcome each of those obstacles. Doing so, however, does not require banning a word.

Banning words is a big deal because words have meanings. We like to pretend they do not sometimes–especially when the word gets in the way of what we want to do–but that does not change the reality that they do have actual meanings. Homosexual activists did not like the idea that “marriage” was not permitted for homosexuals because it was restricted to a man and a woman. So what did they do? Get the courts to extra-legally change the definition. (Somehow extra-legal sounds less offensive than illegal, doesn’t it? The reality is they are the same thing. This is an example of how we also choose words carefully to make something sound other-than what it really is–but this does not change reality either). Once marriage was redefined to include homosexual unions the law began further redefinition. Just a few months ago, in March, a New York court granted three-way custody to what many have called a “throuple.” Slate‘s story on the ruling was headlined, “New York Court Affirms Poly Parenthood with Three-Way Custody Ruling.” Just that headline illustrates the point I am making; whoever heard of “poly parenthood”?

Interestingly, the same Slate article–which was very supportive of the decision, recognized that the ruling was simply a logical outgrowth of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

The victory of Dawn Marano and her child could set solid legal precedent for future custody claims of parents in queer or polyamorous families, a necessary next step in a vision of parenthood and child-rearing that extends beyond the boundaries of monogamous marriage. Funnily enough, this is the exact future predicted by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in his dissent on the 2015 equal-marriage ruling Obergefell v. Hodges. While arguing that the slippery slope of same-sex marriage could lead to the total breakdown of social norms and family structures, he cited the important legal-theory volume “Married Lesbian Throuple Expecting First Child,” a New York Post article from 2014.

We cannot play fast and loose with our words. Words matter precisely because they mean something. Banning the word will not change that reality. The Supreme Court has demonstrated that it can effectively change the definition of a word, and the New York court has proven that it can follow that example by changing the legal basis of custody, but that is why we must be so diligent to protect the words and definitions that we have in place. When we carelessly cast them aside we are opening the door for something else to take their place–and we may have no idea what that something else will be.

Of course we will find out eventually. Or our children will. I am reminded of this quote from Ravi Zacharias: “Our society is walking through a maze of cultural land mines and the heaviest price is exacted as we send our children on ahead.”

May 30, 2017

Gender Identity Anarchy

The January 2017 issue of National Geographic was “the Gender Issue.” The cover featured the title “Special Issue: Gender Revolution” over the picture of Avery Jackson, a transgender girl from Missouri who does yet appear to have reached teenage years. The issue’s main story was titled “Rethinking Gender” and it led with a page-and-a-half photo of twins Caleb and Emmie Smith. Emmie said, “When we were 12, I didn’t feel like a boy, but I didn’t know it was possible to be a girl.” She came out as transgender at 17 and has now undergone gender-confirmation surgery. But, she says, “I was no less of a woman before it, and I’m no more of one today.”

In other words, Emmie is saying that her gender is really all about how she feels about herself, what she thinks and how she chooses to identify. If having surgery did not make her more female then it must be the case that the surgery was purely for the purposes of providing her a body—an external appearance—to match the way she thinks and feels inside. This is a recurring factor in the entire transgender debacle. Not to be outdone by National Geographic, TIME used the cover of its March 27, 2017 issue to focus on the gender issue. The cover headline reads, “Beyond He or She” over a picture of Marie, an individual who appears to be a girl but, according to the caption, “identifies as queer and gender nonconforming.”

The feature story inside the magazine is titled “Infinite Identities,” and it quotes 18-year-old Rowan Little, who identifies as gender fluid, as saying, “Some days I feel like my gender could be like what I was assigned at birth, but there are some days when I feel the opposite way.” There is that issue of “feelings” again. Later, the article quotes Kyle Scotten, who identifies as a gay man, as saying that he sees sexuality as a spectrum. “I totally believe there are 100, 200 shades in the middle,” Scotten said, and even if he does not understand all of the nuances, “it makes sense to them in their own head and that’s enough.”

Really? If it is enough for something to make sense to someone in their own head then we are all in trouble. That is the very basis of anarchy—people being able to do whatever they want without rule, order or authority, based solely on what makes sense or feels good to them. In fact, Will Durant said, “As soon as liberty is complete it dies in anarchy.” The argument being made by many these days is that individuals have the liberty to decide for themselves what gender they will identify as—even if that changes from day to day. And when they decide, everyone else is supposed to accept it and accommodate it, even to the point of using their preferred pronouns lest we offend them by referring to them in a manner other than that which they prefer. Is it not interesting that their liberty then becomes constraining on the rest of us? English philosopher Jeremy Bentham knew that of which he spoke then, when he said, “Tyranny and anarchy are never far apart.” The anarchy of self-identification, and its resulting preferences and prescriptions, shall soon be the tyranny by which we shall all be ruled.

Further evidence of this liberty-to-anarchy progression comes later in the TIME article. It references a 2016 survey in which respondents were asked to provide the term that most accurately fit their gender—which produced more than 500 unique responses. Ritch Savin-Williams, professor emeritus at Cornell, said of the pure volume of labels being used, “It says, ‘Your terms do not reflect my reality or the reality of my friends.’” How many of us have not, at least one time or another, wished we could simply define our own reality? If we could, we would either be in a state of total anarchy or a state of total insanity, of course, because defining our own reality is simply not possible. Reality is, by definition, real.

Dictionary.com defines “reality” as “the state or quality of being real; something that is real; something that exists independently of ideas concerning it; something that constitutes a real or actual thing, as distinguished from something that is merely apparent.” Those definitions, of course, eliminate the possibility of anyone defining their own reality. Too, we recognize in almost every other area of life that we do not get to define our own reality. I would like to be a professional baseball player but I cannot simply say that is my reality, show up on the field and be allowed to play—or to collect a really big pay check. Try defining your own reality for your employer next time you are asked to do something at work. Even better, behold your own reaction when your next paycheck is a miniscule percentage of that which you expected (and earned) and when you ask the boss about it he says the paycheck you were given reflects his reality.

The TIME article ends with a perfect concluding statement to wrap up this absurdity, quoting Grace Mason, the president of the Gay-Straight Alliance in her high school. “I’d rather be who I am and be authentically me than try to fit in one of those crappy little boxes. I have a great box that I have made for myself.”

Of course all the rest of us have to accept and embrace that box—and everyone else’s boxes too—or else we will be labeled intolerant (at best).

The National Geographic story leads with a description of E, a 14-year-old girl who feels more like a boy. E still uses her birth name (choosing to go by E for the story) and still prefers the pronoun “she.” E does not think “transgender” fits her gender identity and she does not feel like she was born in the wrong body. “I just think I need to make alterations in the body I have, to make it feel like the body I need it to be,” she said. And what might that be exactly? Well, “a body that doesn’t menstruate and has no breasts, with more defined facial contours and ‘a ginger beard.’”

The article goes on to state that the XX and XY chromosomes that determine a baby’s sex do not always tell “the whole story.” Interestingly, though, the article says that that is true “on occasion.” It does not state how rare that occasion is, but is does provide an example of an individual with CAIS, complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, and describes a “small group of children born in the Dominican Republic with an enzyme deficiency” that causes genitalia to appear female at birth and male once puberty sets in. These are unusual situations to be sure, but there are, as the article states, occasional and small in number.

Also small in number are the individuals involved in scientific studies purporting to indicate that the brains of transgender individuals may be more like the brains of their self-identified gender than their biological gender. According to the article, some such studies include “as few as half a dozen transgender individuals.” That is an incredibly small number and rarely if ever would such a finite sample be considered sufficient for scientific conclusions. The article highlights another problem as well—that these studies sometimes include individuals already taking hormones for the opposite gender, “meaning that observed brain differences might be the result of, rather than the explanation for, a subject’s transgender identity.”

More interesting still though is that the article goes on to state that there has been a “robust” finding that there is a connection between gender nonconformity and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The article cites a pediatric neuropsychologist at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C. indicating that “children and adolescents on the autism spectrum are seven times more likely than other young people to be gender nonconforming. And, conversely, children and adolescents at gender clinics are six to 15 times more likely than other young people to have ASD.”

The reason this connection between gender nonconformity and ASD is so interesting is that ASD is—as its name states—a disorder. It is a spectrum, yes, because it includes a range of symptoms but and disabilities, but ASD is the catch-all label for an expansive range of developmental disorders. Might gender nonconformity be a disorder then? Indeed it is, though I doubt you will see National Geographic or TIME or any other mainstream publication state that anytime soon.

The National Geographic article includes a photo of a child named Henry, along with a caption stating that Henry considers himself to be “gender creative” and, at the age of six, “he is already very sure of who he is.” That, of course, is nonsense, as no six-year-old is very sure of much of anything, much less anything that could potentially have life-altering ramifications.  WORLD magazine ran a rebuttal of sorts to the National Geographic and TIME features with its April 15, 2017 issue. Its cover featured a boy looking into a mirror and seeing a girl, which the headline “Forgotten Victims.” Not surprisingly that feature article took a different approach to the story than the other two. In fact, that article actually cited the six year old quoted in National Geographic that I led this paragraph with, along with a response from Michelle Cretella, president of the American College of Pediatricians. “You don’t treat medical confusion by putting people, especially children, on toxic hormones and cutting off healthy body parts,” Cretella said. “Just because a person thinks and feels something does not make it true.”

In fact, the Bible makes it clear that doing what one thinks and feels, when not consistent with Scripture, is not only not true but is quite dangerous. Both Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 state that the way that seems right to a man will end in death. No doubt all of this gender nonconformity seems right to the people who are creating these great boxes for themselves. Proverbs 12:15a says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.” Proverbs 21:2 says that every man’s way is right in his own eyes.

By the way, there is a term for everyone doing what is right in their own eyes. It is anarchy.

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