jasonbwatson

February 9, 2020

Strange Bedfellows

You’ve no doubt heard the old proverb that politics makes strange bedfellows. Never have I experienced the reality of that on a personal level more than I have over the past couple of months, thanks specifically to the impeachment of Donald Trump.

Back in December, Mark Galli, who was the editor in chief of Christianity Today, wrote an editorial advocating for the impeachment of President Trump. I do not disagree with what Mark Galli said about Trump as a person, but being immature and nasty on Twitter is not an impeachable offense. Galli’s assertion that the “facts are unambiguous” about Trump’s phone call with Ukraine shows his lack of political understanding and his fervent desire for Trump to go. Sadly, he failed to realize that using impeachment to remove Trump because you don’t like him is just as wrong for evangelicals as it is for Democrats.

Shortly thereafter, Timothy Dalrymple, CT’s president, wrote to effectively defend Galli’s editorial. Dalrymple made some valid points, but he politicizes the term “evangelical.” What Dalrymple fails to acknowledge, and what was a huge problem with Galli’s editorial, is that if those who dislike Trump’s character and personal baggage–and I count myself in that group–allow that to become justification for impeachment, an incredibly dangerous precedent will be set. Impeachment has to be reserved for that for which it was intended or we risk seriously weakening our form of government. Does Trump have flaws? Absolutely. Should we jump on board the silly allegations from House Democrats to remove him? Absolutely not. The ends do not justify the means.

That whole situation left me, in the eyes of many anyway, defending President Trump, which is not something I have been inclined to do. He has done some wonderful things as president, including recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, appointing pro-life justices to the Supreme Court, defending prayer in schools, attending the March for Life Rally, etc. But he has also demonstrated immaturity, lack of tact and badgering/belittling behavior toward his opponents. In short, he has usually been anything but presidential. For those reasons, I cannot say that I like President Trump. It is almost a reversal of what the situation was like when Ronald Reagan was president. Many people who did not agree with Reagan politically liked him personally. Now, I agree with Trump politically quite often, but I cannot stand him personally.

Last week my proverbial bedfellow changed when I asserted my respect for Mitt Romney’s decision to vote to convict President Trump on one charge of the impeachment. I said then, and I say now, I do not agree with his conclusion, but after listening to Mitt Romney’s interview with Chris Wallace I do respect his decision to vote his conscience. Is that not, after all, exactly what we expect our elected officials to do?

Well, that position met with some opposition among my own friends but it met with far more opposition among Republicans and conservatives around the nation. One friend insisted to me that conscience was not what senators were to use to inform their vote; instead, they were to rely on the Constitution and on the facts that were presented. But I disagree; the two are not separate. Obviously, Mr. Romney felt like the actions of Mr. Trump were consistent with the constitutional threshold for impeachment. He said as much in the interview. Accordingly, he was voting his conscience and the Constitution by voting guilty on one charge. Article II of the Constitution specifically says “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Romney thought Trump’s actions rose to that level. He interpreted the “facts” as rising to the level of impeachment and thus, based on those facts, he believed guilty was the right vote. His conscience dictated that he vote accordingly–according, in other words, to his understanding and interpretation of the facts. He interpreted the Constitution strictly and that is precisely why he voted the way that he did–he believed that an impeachable offense had occurred, based on the facts and evidence he had received.

So, whether we agree with him or not–and as I said, I don’t–Romney’s conscience dictated that he do what he thought was consistent with his oath. Romney heard the facts that were presented, and in his interpretation, they met the threshold for impeachment. He then voted what he thought the facts warranted–guilty on one charge, not guilty on the other. He did what he thought was right, not what he knew his party wanted him to do. And that, by the way, is constitutional. He was faithfully executing his responsibility, just as he swore he would do. The fact that I, or seemingly most any other Republican, did not agree with his interpretation of the facts does not mean that he was wrong. (To throw another strange proverbial bedfellow into the mix, for these same reasons, I also respect Tulsi Gabbard’s earlier decision to vote “present”).

No “high crimes” are found in the Constitution. Article II, Section 4 says, “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” (emphasis added). Obviously, then, impeachment can occur for offenses other than treason and bribery, but what those other offenses are is no spelled out. Abuse of power would certainly be one of them. If I thought Trump had abused his power then I might even agree with Romney. Based on the testimony I heard, I do not think he did, so I disagree with Romney. But I still respect his willingness to vote what he thought was right, knowing full well—as he was reminded by Chris Wallace—that he would face the full wrath of Donald Trump and an ongoing cold shoulder from his party. In short, there was no good reason, politically, for Mitt Romney to vote the way that he did. He knew that President Trump was not going to be convicted because there was no way there were going to be enough votes to meet the required two-thirds supermajority. So while others have chosen to attribute his vote to his personal animosity for Donald Trump, I am choosing to take Mitt Romney at his word. I cannot fathom any other reason why he would take the political risk he took to vote that way. And those consequences came swift and heavy. One person who had the audacity to say “Good for Romney” in response to a post on the Huck’s Army Facebook page stating that Romney was going to vote to convict, and asking for comments, received an immediate response from another individual saying “You are a jerk.” Really? Having a difference of opinion on Romney’s actions from the expected condemnation makes him a jerk? Why? Plenty of others called Romney pathetic, a disgrace, a traitor, a turncoat, a snake, a moron, a RINO and a Democrat masquerading as a Republican. Let’s not forget that just eight years ago Mitt Romney was the Republican nominee for President of the United States!

Furthermore, I was deeply troubled by how many people—professional pundits and social media commentators alike—who ridiculed Romney for invoking his faith as one of the reasons for doing what he thought was right regardless of the political consequences. We cannot want a politician to be both influenced by his faith and to ignore his faith. Many Republicans, and particularly many conservative Republicans, advocate for political positions, and even political action, that is based on and derived from a sense of morals that is often rooted in Judeo-Christian faith. Romney is a Mormon, of course, but most Mormons are quite conservative morally and socially. Would we really want a candidate or an elected official who was not influenced by his faith? How deep, sincere or meaningful would such faith be, anyway, if an individual were able to set it aside when considering some of the most important decisions he would ever make?

Finally, Romney’s vote also brought to light another matter that is worthy of serious consideration. Much has made of the fact that with his vote to convict, Romney became the first U.S. senator ever to vote to convict a president of his own party. That’s troubling to me, but not for the reason you probably think. Many seem to be taking the position that Judge Jeanine Pirro so obnoxiously took yesterday on her FOX show “Justice with Judge Jeanine.” “Permit me to introduce you to a non-leader,” Pirro began, before reminding viewers that Romney was the first senator to ever commit such a perfidious act. “How dare he!” she went on. “How could he? And why would he?”

Pirro went on to call Romney an “embarrassment” and to say, “Your jealousy of this man [Trump] is a constant rage burning within you because you can never rise to the heights that he has. Because guys like you fold like wusses and you don’t have any selflessness or the ability to think about others, as Donald Trump has thought about making America first.” Pirro later concluded her childish rant saying, “How about you get the hell out of the United States Senate?”

(By the way, add Pirro to those who lambasted Romney’s reference to his faith. She said, “Do you ever wonder why people never mention God or religion — only bring it up when they get caught doing something or when they need an excuse for something they did? What a bunch of phonies.” I don’t know how often Pirro expects Romney to mention his faith in order for it to satisfy her standards, but this is certainly not the first time he has mentioned it).

By now you have likely gathered that I was not only unimpressed with Pirro’s monologue but also with her position. I said that I am troubled by the fact that Romney is the first senator to vote to convict a president of his own party—but the reason that troubles me is because it hasn’t happened before. Donald Trump is the third president to be impeached, joining Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton on that short list. There were eleven articles if impeachment filed against Andrew Johnson, though senators decided that eight of them were objectionable and only considered three. Like Trump, Clinton faced two charges. Why would it take until the sixth impeachment charge for a senator to vote for conviction of a president of his own party? That fact reveals two possibilities, neither of which are appealing.

On the one hand, it could indicate that impeachment charges thus far have always been politically motivated. That would be tragic. As I have already argued in this space, impeachment is to be used for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Those are not political matters. If we allow our elected officials to pursue impeachment out of political motivation then we will have a serious problem.

On the other hand, if impeachment articles have been legitimate and not motivated by politics, Romney’s first-ever vote could indicate that senators are more loyal to their party than they are to what is right. How did I reach that conclusion? Well, it seems improbable that there could be six articles of impeachment that were not politically motivated and yet all proved to be erroneous charges. But if the impeached presidents were actually guilty of even one of those charges, and the evidence supported that conclusion, but no senator of the president’s own party would vote accordingly, what other conclusion could there be? The votes on Trump’s impeachment actually confirm this likelihood, as it also was the first time ever that no member of the opposing party joined in support of the president.

George Washington warned sternly against “the baneful effects of the spirit of party” in his Farewell Address. Blind allegiance to party, said Washington, “serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.” In other words, no good can come of it! Washington’s advice then? “[T]he common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”

As he so often has, Washington proves once again to be prophetic. We are seeing unmistakable examples of the “spirit of party” in the United States just about every day. This does not bode well for our nation or for our future.

Oh, one more thing regarding strange bedfellows… I don’t even like Mitt Romney.

January 22, 2020

The Work of God’s Hands

Today is the 47th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade, a decision that made abortion legal across the United States and has resulted in tens of millions of innocent deaths. The ACLU tweeted today, “Abortion is healthcare. Abortion is a RIGHT.” Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) tweeted, “…we must redouble our resistance against attempts to take us backwards. Women’s health is not negotiable. Women’s bodies belong to no one but themselves.” Of course, those who are so adamantly committed to maintaining a woman’s right to kill her unborn child are celebrating today and reiterating their commitment to making abortion access even more available than it already is. Those of us who recognize that “pro-choice” is really just a more pleasant way of saying “pro-death,” however, mourn this anniversary.

I do want to address the evil of abortion specifically in this post, but before I do, I want to address abortion from a different—and necessary—other perspective.

Those of us who are pro-life are often very adept at articulating our commitment to the sanctity of life and our opposition to abortion. And I honestly do not know how anyone can claim to be a Christian and Bible believer and not be pro-life. At the same time, we do not tend to be nearly so articulate, or compassionate, when it comes to our treatment of those who have had an abortion. It is my commitment, and it should be the commitment of every believer and every church, that I will treat any woman who becomes pregnant, regardless of the circumstances of that pregnancy, with grace and compassion, not shame and rejection. Now, it is possible that someone is thinking that might serve only to condone or excuse sinful behavior, but that’s not what I am saying. Here’s what I am saying:

It is not sinful in and of itself to be pregnant. The actions that led to becoming pregnant may have been sinful. They may have been sinful on the part of the woman who is now pregnant and they may have been sinful on the part of the person who impregnated her. In other words, the woman who is pregnant may have sinned or she may be the victim of someone else’s sin. If her pregnancy is the result of her sin, there are biblical guidelines on how that is to be addressed. But there is nothing wrong with being a mother or with being pregnant. If we are to be a Bible-believers acting in accordance with the Scripture, then we must take that position that we love babies—unborn and born—and we hate it when any baby is killed.

I can tell you in no uncertain terms that I will not ever, regardless of circumstances, encourage a woman to have an abortion. ((And I am not going to go into the specifics here, but I can also tell you that abortion is never necessary to save the life of the mother. An early delivery of the child might be, but abortion is not). All children are a gift from God and every child bears the image of God—and no child, born or unborn, deserves to be killed for the actions of his or her parent, even if the actions were sinful.

If the actions of the pregnant woman were sinful and the women is repentant, then we are instructed to come along side her and restore her. If she is not repentant, we have instructions from the Bible on what to do in that situation, as well. But no where in the Bible can we find direction or support for rejecting, ignoring, condemning or abandoning that woman.

Josh Brahm, from the Equal Rights Institute, tells this story, with the permission of Monique, the woman involved:

She grew up with an absent father and thus a mother who worked multiple jobs to support her children. One of her mother’s jobs was as an administrator for the black Pentecostal church that Monique grew up attending. At the age of 17, Monique became pregnant because of a guy who took advantage of her.

Nobody at the church asked how she became pregnant. Instead, the church leadership told her mother that Monique was to sit in the back pew until the pregnancy was over. She was no longer allowed to talk to her friends, as the parents assumed that Monique would be a bad influence on them. Monique’s mother didn’t intervene on her behalf because she was so embarrassed about the situation, and she didn’t understand what had really happened to Monique.

Monique recalled a particular Sunday morning when she was singing loudly from the back pew during the worship time. Monique is one of the most gifted vocalists I’ve ever served with on a worship team, and that love of singing began in Monique’s childhood. It was one of the primary ways that Monique connected with God. But on this day, as she was singing, a woman in the pew in front of her turned around and said, “Don’t you wish you could be singing to the glory of God?” Monique went silent. She said that she had never felt as lonely or shamed as she did during that pregnancy. She distinctly remembers thinking, “If this is church, then I don’t want to have any part of it.”

It is certainly my hope and my prayer that such a response would never come from me or from my church—or any church.

Now, having discussed how we are, and are not, to respond when a woman becomes pregnant outside of marriage, let me also make clear that we must respond similarly if we ever meet someone who we know, or we learn, has had an abortion or has paid for someone to have an abortion. I believe absolutely, 100%, without a doubt, that abortion is murder and abortion is sin. But I also know absolutely, 100%, without a doubt that I am a sinner, and so are you, and that Jesus loves sinners—and commands me to do the same.

If you are reading this and you have had an abortion, or you paid for someone else to have one—you need to know two things: God knows that…and God still loves you. And if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, that sin has been forgiven. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The Phillips translation says, “No condemnation now hangs over the head of those who are ‘in’ Jesus Christ.” No condemnation means that—no condemnation, regardless of your past.

All of that was a necessary backdrop to the rest of what I am going to say about the evil of abortion. First, some basic facts…

According to the Guttmacher Institute (which, by the way, supports abortion rights):

• Eighteen percent of pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) in 2017 ended in abortion.
• Approximately 862,320 abortions were performed in 2017. That is just under the current population of South Dakota and greater than the populations of North Dakota, Vermont, Alaska or Wyoming.

Can I put those numbers into some perspective for you? Using 2017 numbers…

• Abortion killed more people in five days than drunk drivers did in a year.
• The increase in suicide rates gets a lot of attention…as it should…but in 2017, abortion killed more people in twenty days than suicide did all year.
• Abortion killed more people in 65 days than lung cancer did in a year.
• Abortion killed more people in 8.5 months in the U.S. than cancer of all kinds combined did in a year.
• The leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2017 was heart disease, with 647,457 fatalities. Abortion killed that many in nine months. Do you understand what that means? It means that abortion was, by a long shot, the leading cause of death in the United States in 2017—and that was a year in which abortion reached its lowest number since legalization in 1973!
• The total number of deaths, excluding abortion, in the U.S. in 2017 was 2,813,503. If abortion were included in that number, it would be 30% higher.

Since 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided., more than 55 million babies have been aborted. That’s 1.4 times the population of California. It’s double the population of Texas as of the last census.

That number is larger than the population of the 25 smallest U.S. states and Washington, D.C. Consider the maps included here to imagine what it might be like if the people in those 25 states were gone.

The United States

The United States with the 25 smallest-population states removed

If we were to have a ten-second moment of silence for every baby killed by abortion since 1973, we would have to be silent for more than seventeen years! (If you find that difficult to believe, see the footnote for the math).

All of this stems from the beliefs of what those who are in favor of the right to abortion call the “pro-choice” position. Of course, Ronald Reagan very succinctly and directly addressed the silliness of that terminology in a debate in 1980, when he said, “With regard to the freedom of the individual for choice with regard to abortion, there is one individual who is not being considered at all, and that is the one who is being aborted. And I have noticed that everybody that is for abortion has already been born.”

If you pay any attention to the news, the odds are good that you have seen or read the speech that Michelle Williams gave when she won a Golden Globe award two weeks ago. In it, she said, “And I wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose.” She was celebrating her professional accomplishment and announcing to the world that she could not have reached that accomplishment without the right to kill her unborn child.

Interestingly enough, in November of 2012 a woman named Jodi Jacobsen wrote an article entitled, “Life Begins At Conception. That’s Not the Point.” In that article she said,

Here is a startling revelation: I am a mother of two and a woman who earlier in her life had an abortion. I am unapologetically pro-choice. And I know life *begins* at conception (which itself is the product of a complex process), because I kinda already knew that having a child required, as a first step, the successful integration of a sperm and an egg, or fertilization. (emphasis hers)

She later writes, “The question is not when life begins. That just obfuscates the real issues.”

So, what are the real issues? Well, according to Jacobsen, the “fundamental” issues are:

• When does pregnancy begin?
• Does personhood begin at conception? Is a fertilized egg, blastocyst, embryo, or fetus a person with rights that trump those of the woman upon whose body it depends?
• Do women need “evidence” that if they are pregnant, odds are they are going to have a baby?
• Do women have the moral agency and fundamental rights to decide whether or not to commit themselves not only to the development of a life within their own bodies, but to a lifelong tie to another human being once a child is born?

Later in that article, Jacobsen makes the case that “life” and “personhood” are not the same thing. And Peter Singer would agree. Singer is a professor at Princeton, a philosopher and an atheist, and he has to be the most blunt pro-death individual I have ever come across. In 1979 he published a book entitled Practical Ethics, which was revised and reprinted in 1999. In it, Singer says that human worth should be determined by human capacity. Accordingly, he wrote this:

A week-old human baby is not a rational and self-conscious being, and there are many non-human animals whose rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, capacity, and so on, exceed that of a human baby a week or a month old. [Therefore] the life of a newborn baby is of less value…than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.

I imagine that concept is troubling to you. I hope that it is. After all, I cannot imagine anyone who ever held a newborn child and thought, “This isn’t even a person yet!” I could give you other examples of similar ideas held by others. Sadly, they are not in short supply. But the truth, for those of us who believe the Bible, who hold a theistic worldview, is clearly summarized in this statement by Rebecca McLaughlin:

From a theistic perspective, there is such a thing as a child—who might make moral demands on us—only because God created children. … With a theistic worldview, morality and reality spring from the same source.

And that, of course, is what this entire thing really comes down to. “God created children.” God created each and every human being that exists, that has ever existed and that ever will exist.
In Isaiah 64, Isaiah is asking God to manifest Himself to the people of Israel and show His power in a very real way. And I do not generally like to handpick a verse to focus on without providing the full context, so forgive me for doing so this time, but I want to zero in on verse 8. Isaiah writes, “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

I want to make three points from this verse about the creation and value of each human being. I want us to grasp the intimacy, the intentionality and the individuality of each human life.

Isaiah is using the imagery of a potter shaping clay. If you have ever tried your hand at pottery, or ever watched someone else do it, you realize that it is an intimate act. It is up-close and personal. The hands of the potter are working the clay, feeling the clay, shaping the clay… God’s design and creation of every human being is similarly intimate and personal.

A potter does not just haphazardly shape the clay on the wheel. He or she is intentional about the design—where to apply pressure, and how much pressure to apply; how tall to make it, how wide or narrow. It all depends on the intended design and purpose of the pottery being made at that moment. God’s design and creation of each human being is intentional.

And thirdly, a potter makes each piece of pottery individually. Even if making similarly designed pieces, each is special and unique. God designs and creates each human being individually, as well. He does not have an assembly line that cranks us out. We are each, in the words of the psalmist, wonderfully made.

We are each made intimately, intentionally and individually. We are the work of God’s hands. And we are made in the image of God. Every life is sacred. Every life has worth.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

60 seconds x 60 minutes = 3,600 seconds per hour
3,600 seconds x 24 hours = 86,400 seconds per day
86,400 seconds x 365 = 31,536,000 seconds per year

55,000,000 million abortions x 10 seconds = 550,000,000 seconds

550,000,000 seconds / 31,536,000 seconds = 17.44 years

January 1, 2020

My Year in Books – 2019

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After missing the mark in 2018, I once again met my goal of fifty books for the year, finishing with 54 books read in 2019. Here’s the rundown…

As it always does, last year’s reading included a regular helping of fiction, including titles from authors I enjoy and read a lot of as well as new authors I decided to try. In that first category would be Mark Pryor’s The Crypt Thief, The Sorbonne Affair, The Reluctant Matador and The Book Artist. They are all part of his Hugo Marston series and I have now read all eight of that series. James Patterson’s Target Alex Cross, Ambush, The Inn and Mary, Mary provided a range of Patterson, with the first and last both being from the Alex Cross series (the first being the most recent and the last being from 2005 but one I had not read); Ambush being from the Detective Michael Bennett series and The Inn being (at least so far) a stand-alone novel. I have never read a Patterson book and considered it great literature, but they make for quick reads that give the brain a rest…and the good guys always win.  I read John Grisham’s latest, The Guardians, and, because I read all of Grisham’s books, Theodore Boone: The Accomplice, the latest in his series for young readers. The Guardians is a typical Grishamesque novel, but I am sure that it gives a fairly accurate picture of what some attorneys committed to ensuring that those on death row received fair trials and were justly convicted do indeed go through in their pursuit of justice. The New Girl is the latest in Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series; it is as enjoyable as all of Silva’s books, and it provides a unique story loosely based on the current Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but it makes some highly unlikely moves that strain credulity, even for a work of fiction. And, having completed his Clifton Chronicles, Jeffrey Archer launched the Detective William Warwick series with Nothing Ventured. If you have read Pryor, Patterson, Grisham, Allon or Archer then you know what to expect from their writing, and these books all follow suit.

Other fiction this year included two books about quiet heroism in WWII Paris. Charles Belfoure’s The Paris Architect is an intriguing novel about (surprise!) an architect in Paris during who winds up—first reluctantly and then devotedly—designing architecturally-brilliant hiding places for Jews seeking to avoid capture by the Nazis, and Kristin Harmel’s The Room on Rue Amélie tells of an American woman who married a Frenchman who, unbeknownst to her, was part of the French resistance. When he died and she discovered his role, she commits to continuing his work. This story interweaves the incredible risk and sacrifice of so many “everyday people” during war with a love story. Transcription, by Kate Atkinson, is another WWII-era story, though one set in England. It focuses on a young woman who winds up working for MI5, transcribing the recorded conversations of Fascist sympathizers, and interweaves that story with one that took place ten years later when the main character was working at the BBC. All three of these were interesting reads and I would recommend them all, probably in the order they are listed here for anyone wanting them in rank-order.

The Other Side of Silence is the second Philip Kerr novel I have read, and both have featured Bernie Gunther, a former homicide detective in Nazi Germany. This story takes place a decade after WWII and finds Gunther working as a concierge along the French Riviera. The tale also features Somerset Maugham and his work for the British Secret Service during WWII, though the details of the plot rely heavily on Maugham’s homosexuality.

Graham Moore’s The Last Days of Night is a delightful work of historical fiction that features young lawyer Paul Cravath and his work on a lawsuit filed by Thomas Edison against George Westinghouse over a lightbulb patent dispute. The story also features J.P. Morgan and Nikola Tesla, as well as an opera singer whose story is not what she presents. A fun and fascinating read that would also prompt interest in the real historical facts among many readers, I am sure.

The classic work of fiction I read in 2019 was James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer. It is a slow read, and there is a legitimate reason why Mark Twain said that Cooper “persistently violated” the rule to “eschew surplusage” with this tale, but all in all it was not as bad as Twain made it out to be.

Moving on… I read a number of biographies in 2019, starting with Maxwell King’s The Good Neighbor. I would call this a must-read for fans and admirers of America’s favorite neighbor, Fred Rogers. King provides an insightful look at the life of the man who committed his adult life to communicating kindly and truthfully with children. Randy Peterson’s The Printer and the Preacher is a dual biography of Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield that also tells the story of their mutually-beneficial friendship, and Jason Lane’s General and Madame de Lafayette is a dual biography of the Marquis de Lafayette, whom every good schoolboy and schoolgirl learned about from an early age while studying American history, his wife, and the interesting way in which Lafayette’s commitment to liberty and equality made him both a hero and a scoundrel, depending on the year and the one giving the verdict. Tim Hornbaker’s Fall From Grace is an engaging biography of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, one of the famous Chicago “Black Sox.” Susan Page provides a detailed, but not cumbersome, look at the life of Barbara Bush in The Matriarch and Scott Lamb gives an excellent biography of Mike Huckabee, and keen political insight, in Huckabee. Lamb gives readers a glaring reminder that the American evangelical community all but ignored Mike Huckabee in 2008 despite the fact that he was the most evangelical presidential candidate ever. If the fictional works about WWII mentioned above are of interest to you, then I strongly recommend Tilar Mazzeo’s Irena’s Children, the true story of the incredible work done by Irena Sendler and her colleagues in the Warsaw ghetto.

Nancy Koehn’s Forged in Crisis is a blending of biography and leadership study. Koehn looks at the lives of Ernest Shackleton, Abraham Lincoln, Fredrick Douglass, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Rachel Carson and offers insights from the way each handled “turbulent times” (part of the book’s subtitle) in their lives.

There were two autobiographies on my 2019 list, an old one and a new one. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs is the true story of a woman born in slavery, the abuse she endured from her owner, her escape—and subsequent seven years spent living in her grandmother’s attic—and the difficult decisions Jacobs made in her pursuit to be near, and do what was best for, her children. The new one was Gary Sinise’s Grateful American. It tells Sinise’s personal story, which is interesting, but also tells the story of how the part of Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump led him to start the Gary Sinise Foundation. The work that that organization has done on behalf of American veterans is absolutely incredible and incredibly admirable. How TIME has never selected Sinise as its Person of the Year is beyond me.

There is always a good bit of American history on my reading list, too, and 2019 was no different. Ben Macintyre’s The Spy and the Traitor is an intriguing story of Cold War espionage and a captivating spy thriller—and it is a true story! Ellen Wayland-Smith’s Oneida is a detailed look at the attempted utopian community by that name, including all of its strange ideas and living arrangements. Allen Guelzo’s Gettysburg is the best and most thorough single-volume look at that Civil War battle that I have encountered, despite the fact that Guelzo sometimes inserts opinion and commentary that is not really befitting the book’s overall approach. I always enjoy David McCullough’s writing, and he brought his usual style to the history of the settlement of the Northwest Territory in The Pioneers.  Bruce Chadwick’s I Am Murdered tells the story of the murder of George Wythe and the subsequent trial.

Due largely to taking a couple of graduate courses on the subject, I read a great deal about slavery during the past year, including these books in their entirety: Daina Ramey Berry’s The Price for Their Pound of Flesh, Heather Andrea Williams’s American Slavery: A Very Short Introduction, Calvin Schermerhorn’s Unrequired Toil and Educated in Tyranny, edited by Maurie McInnis and Louis Nelson. I would recommend all four. Berry introduces the concept of “soul value” in her work, a valuable approach to considering the lives of the enslaved; Williams’s work is indeed short but it is comprehensive too, making it a very effective overview and a great starting point; Schermerhorn’s book contains a chapter entitled “Geopolitics” that is the most insightful look at the causes of the Civil War I have probably ever seen; and Educated in Tyranny provides a fascinating examination of the role of slaves in the construction and early operation of the University of Virginia.

Some books do not really fit into any other category. For 2019 that would include Millard Seaman’s Gumbo, Gumption and God, a combination history of the founding of Sunshine Bible Academy, where I have served since 2011, and thoughts on the philosophy of Christian education. In Allow the Children Susan Cook explains how the ministry of that name was started and has grown to include the support of orphaned, abandoned and disadvantaged children in several countries around the world, as well as children’s homes and pastoral training. Another in that category would be Lauren Winner’s Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity was honest and thought provoking, and consistent with the assertion Winner made in a 2000 column for Christianity Today that many evangelicals did not take chastity seriously. The book certainly loses some of its value when considering that Winner is now divorced and an ordained Episcopal priest, and it is worth noting as well that Real Sex is not listed among her works on her faculty profile page for Duke Divinity School, where she is an Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality. Cal Ripken, Jr.’s Just Show Up applies Ripken’s approach to baseball to other areas of life and Hans Rosling’s Factfulness stressed the importance of accurately understanding the “facts” that we are confronted with on a regular basis throughout our lives.

Last, but not least, would be those books that fall into the categories of Christian living and the practice of Christianity. Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Worship explains how the gospel message should shape corporate worship. Daniel Henderson’s Old Paths, New Power focuses on the importance of praying and preaching the Word of God. It had some good reminders and interesting personal accounts but also seemed to stray at times from what I would personally be comfortable with. In It’s Time to Pray, Carter Conlon emphasizes the importance of prayer, as well, personally and corporately, and he also tells personal stories of seeing the power of prayer at work in incredible ways. Eugene Peterson’s The Jesus Way describes the way Old Testament figures prepared the way for the coming of Christ but also shows how often we, in contemporary America, emphasize things that have very little to do with the “Jesus way.” Jeremy Walker’s Life in Christ is a short book on discipleship, and Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission addresses both being a disciple and making disciples. Balanced Christianity by John Stott emphasizes not veering too far one way or the other in various areas of tension in the Christian life. Your Victory in Christ is the only book by John Bunyan that I have ever read other than Pilgrim’s Progress, and there is a reason that the former is not anywhere near as well known as the latter. It uses the same style as Pilgrim’s Progress and the message is worthwhile, of course, but it is not nearly as effective. In The Secret Battle of Ideas About God Jeff Myers provides an update to the various worldview ideas presented in Summit Ministries’ Understanding the Times materials while interlacing accounts of his personal struggles. Stop Loving the World, by Puritan William Greenhill, addresses the problem of worldliness—and even greater problem now than when Greenhill wrote in the seventeenth century—and the biblical antidote to that sin. Joseph Stowell’s Radical Reliance is adequately summed up in the book’s subtitle, “Living 24/7 with Christ at the Center,” and his Simply Jesus is a concise book with much the same theme.

So, there’s another annual recap. When I ended last year’s Books in Review post I said that when it came time to write the next one I would hopefully have once again exceeded my goal of fifty books—which I did—and would maybe even have posted more than three times during the year—which I did not. Well, .500 is not bad, is it? And there’s always next year…

November 20, 2019

Monopoly Miss

A week ago Saturday I was at one of my least favorite places. It need not go named, but you probably have one not too far from you. (Indeed, proximity to these super stores seems to be how many Americans measure how far they are from civilization). While there, my son and I, as e often do when we are there, wandered around a bit. Our wanderings took us to the aisle with board games. As someone who enjoys board games, I will often look to see what new games might be out. On this particular visit I did, in fact, find a new game. Or a new version of an old game, to be precise. It is called Ms. Monopoly.

This latest installment in the Monopoly franchise features the cartoon version of a young woman on the cover. She is wearing a shirt with the iconic Monopoly “Go” space on it and even supporting “M” earrings. She is holding a coffee cup with “Boss” on the cup’s holder. The caption on the cover reads, “The first game where women make more than men.”

Elsewhere on the box I discovered that Ms. Monopoly is Mr. Monopoly’s niece. She is a “self made investment guru” and she has arrived to “change a few things. (It’s about time).” That’s what the box says. “It’s about time.” About time for what, one might logically ask? Well, apparently time for women to be paid more than men, I guess.

The back of the box says, “Without women we wouldn’t have wi-fi! Or chocolate chip cookies!” Underneath it says, “Buy these and other essentials invented by women.” Let’s set aside the implications that (1) chocolate chip cookies are essentials, (2) that chocolate chip cookies are on the same level of importance as wi-fi, and (3) that neither chocolate cookies nor wi-fi would exist if women had not invented them. That third point is tantamount to saying that anything invented by men would not exist if men had not invented them, and that’s just silly. The Los Angeles Times, by the way, asserted in its headline that a woman invented the Monopoly game in the first place. I did not know that. Nice to know, maybe, but not really relevant.

In a statement on the release of the game, Hasbro said, “The Ms. Monopoly game marks the first time in the franchise’s history where a new character will grace the cover — and while Mr. Monopoly is a real estate mogul, Ms. Monopoly is an advocate whose mission is to invest in female entrepreneurs.” Investing in women entrepreneurs would be great. Is great. But that is not really the message the game presents. CNN said, “Ms. Monopoly is meant to celebrate women’s empowerment by giving women a head start in the game.” Interesting…. The game also, supposedly, addresses the pay gap between men and women. Again, interesting….

Why do I find this all interesting? Because creating a game in which empowerment is defined as a head start is to undermine exactly what empowerment is all about. Go to educategirls.org and read their page “What is Empowerment?” You will find that it reads, in part, that empowerment “is an act of building confidence and strength in others to enable them to obtain basic opportunities and maximize the quality of their lives.” In other words, giving someone a head start or an unfair advantage is the antithesis of empowerment.

Why do I find this interesting? Because the pay gap between women and men has always emphasized the problem of men being paid more than women simply because they are men. Go to the web site for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and you will find that, “In 2018, female full-time, year-round workers made only 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 18 percent.” IWPR explains that there are a variety of reasons why women earn less than men—none of which are really legitimate reasons—and that explains that if the change in wage disparity continues to proceed as it has been that it will take until 2059 for there to be true wage parity. Check out the web site for the American Association of University Women and you will see that they proclaim, “No matter how you analyze it, the gender pay gap is real, persistent, and harmful to women’s economic security.” No one is suggesting that different jobs should have different wages. The suggestion is that men should not be paid more than women just because they are men.

I am not generally a proponent of these sites I have cited, nor do I by any means agree with everything that they promote or assert. I reference them here to point out that this game is a foolish concept. This is why Ms. Monopoly is a complete failure at doing what it allegedly is intended to do. It undermines the very arguments for empowerment and equality by creating a game in which women earn more just because they are women. In Ms. Monopoly, women get $240 when they pass go; men get the standard Monopoly pay day of $200.

The irony in all of this is that Monopoly in its original form was a perfect example of empowerment and equality. Everyone was able to “obtain basic opportunities” regardless of their gender. Everyone received the same level of pay regardless of their gender. The only advantages or disadvantages in Monopoly that are not based solely on skill and shrewd investing are literally the result of the roll of the dice. So Ms. Monopoly may mark a significant milestone by putting a female character on the cover of the game. But other than that, Ms. Monopoly is a complete miss.

October 30, 2019

The Illegitimacy of “Identification”

In 1972 the United States Congress passed education amendments that included Title IX. Title IX prevents discrimination against females in federally-funded education, including in athletics programs. The impact of Title IX on sports is hard to argue with. According to the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), “Women who were under 10 when Title IX passed have much higher sports participation rates than women who grew up before Title IX. Fifty-five percent of the ‘post-Title IX’ generation participated in high school sports, compared to 36% of the ‘pre-Title IX’ generation.” Despite that, the FMF also states that “progress women and girls have made under Title IX falls far short of gender equity.”

It is on that note that I wish to comment. Any and all progress made by Title IX and other efforts to ensure that females have equal opportunity to participate in athletics is being negated by the current transgender nonsense that is sweeping the country.

In August, Juniper (June) Eastwood, formerly known as Jonathan, became the first transgender athlete to compete in Division I Cross Country. Eastwood runs for the University of Montana. According to an article on Runner’s World by Taylor Dutch, “Eastwood, now a 22-year-old senior, says she has identified as female since middle school and made the decision to transition during her third year competing on the men’s track team at Montana.”  Dutch also wrote that Eastwood’s hope was that making this move would “be a step forward for trans athlete inclusion and an important phase of self-discovery.”

Keep that term “self-discovery” in mind as I will return to it shortly.

The NCAA has a lengthy policy on transgender inclusion for athletics. In fact, it runs to 38 pages. It begins with this statement about inclusion:

As a core value, the NCAA believes in and is committed to diversity, inclusion and gender equity among its student-athletes, coaches and administrators. We seek to establish and maintain an inclusive culture that fosters equitable participation for student-athletes and career opportunities for coaches and administrators from diverse backgrounds.

The policy goes on to define what transgender means. “‘Transgender’ describes an individual whose gender identity (one’s internal psychological identification as a boy/man or girl/woman) does not match the person’s sex at birth.” It goes on to state, “It is important that all people recognize and respect the transgender person’s identification as a man or a woman.”

The policy requires that trans females must be treated with testosterone suppressing drugs for at least a year before they can participate in women’s sports. Be that as it may, males—even with testosterone suppression—often have physical advantages over females. Eastwood is a case in point. In the August 31 race referred to above in the Runner’s World article, a 4K, Eastwood finished seventh, 19.3 seconds behind freshman teammate Beatrix Frissell. But on September 21 Eastwood finished third in a 3M race, just one second behind Frissell. On October 4 Eastwood finished first, besting Frissell by one second. They finished nearly thirty seconds ahead of the third place finisher. Then in a 6K on October 19 Eastwood finished in second place, just under one second behind first place finisher Jenny Sandoval and seven-and-a-half seconds ahead of the third place finisher. Frissell, by the way, finished more than fourteen seconds behind Eastwood.

Last week the Big Sky Conference names Eastwood the Big Sky Women’s Cross Country Athlete of the Week. According to the press release, “June Eastwood finished second in a field of 204 runners at the Santa Clara Bronco Invitational at Baylands Park in Sunnyvale, Calif. Eastwood clocked a time of 20:18 in the 6k race to help Montana place seventh as a team.”

At the high school level the problem is usually even worse. Connecticut has been getting significant attention in recent months, since the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference allows students to compete based on the gender they identify with. Transgender runners Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood have been cited in a Title IX complaint that essentially alleges that they are denying biological females the opportunity for fair competition—and this for scholarships. Yet, the CIAC stands by its policy, with its executive director Glen Lugarini even stating,

The CIAC is committed to equity in providing opportunities to student athletes in Connecticut. We take such matters seriously, and we believe that the current CIAC policy is appropriate under both Connecticut law and Title IX.

So what is my point? Simply this. Allowing male athletes who have gone through “self-discovery” to determine that they do not identify with the gender they were born to compete against biological females is unfair and flies in the face of the intent of Title IX. The Feminist Majority Foundation, of which I am not fan, asserts that Title IX has not successfully corrected the gender inequalities it was crafted to address. Allowing biological males to run as women, with women, serves only to increase the inequality.

Notice, by the way, the vagueness of the terms “self-discovery” and “identification.” The NCAA policy states that it is important to recognize and respect someone’s identification as a man or a woman. Self-discovery and identification leave the canvas wife open. If we have to include people based on their self-discovery or their identification when it comes to their gender, why not when it comes to their race? Their age? Where do we draw the line? Suppose a teenager, or even an adult, through the process of self-discovery, chooses to identify as a 12-year-old. Do we allow them to play Little League baseball or Pop Warner football? Of course not. But that is the track down which we are headed. Once people are allowed to self-identify, and everyone else is forced to accept that identification, we eliminate the possibility of any restrictions of any kind.

Since we are talking sports here, next time you go to a professional sporting event buy whatever ticket you want and then try to sit in the really expensive seats. You know—the sky box, or the 50 yard line, or courtside. If denied entry to those seats just tell them you identify with those seats. Then let me know how that goes over. I feel quite certain that it will come down to what it says on your ticket—regardless of how you identify.

January 7, 2019

My Year in Books – 2018

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Well, I suppose it was bound to happen eventually, and it did in 2018. I did not read fifty books during the year. It is the first time since 2007, when I started keeping track, that I did not make it. I finished the year with forty-five. As you can probably tell by the fact that I only blogged four times during 2018, and not at all since March 8, I have been a little busy.

But, as always, my reading for 2018 was mostly in the categories of 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.

The first book I finished in 2018 is one I had started in 2017 and even mentioned in my 2017 book review post, Phoebe Maltz Bovy’s The Perils of “Privilege”. I certainly do not agree with everything that Bovy said in the book but it is an enlightening look at the utter ridiculousness that is the ways in which we have endeavored to sanitize our own language and interactions (even our lives) in order to avoid possibly offending anyone. Everett Piper’s Not a Daycare and Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult also offer glimpses of the direction America has taken in recent years. Piper writes from the perspective of a college president and focuses on the trigger warnings and other such stupidity on college campuses. Sasse writes as a homeschooling parent who is also a U.S. senator and who wants his children to become responsible, capable adults. Some of his ideas are almost radical and will likely make parents with even a hint of cautiousness say, “No way!” but he has a lot worth considering.

Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family presents some interesting ways families can minimize the infiltration of technology into every aspect of their lives. Some people would likely find many of Crouch’s ideas akin to torture given the nearly inseparable way in which so many cling to their phones. Worth a read, for sure, if you sense that you and/or your children are finding it harder and harder to look each other in the eye and have an actual conversation. In The Flipside of Feminism Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly provide a conservative counter to feminism, arguing that women have actually become less happy despite all of changes that have come about through the feminist movement.

The first history book I read in 2018 was The Golden Age of Piracy. In it, Benerson Little seeks to debunk many of the most familiar images of piracy (walking the plank, flying the Jolly Roger, etc.) that we see in film and fiction and tell, instead, the true stories of some of the world’s most effective pirates. A recommended read for anyone interested in knowing more about pirates that Johnny Depp and friends will ever tell you. Liberty’s Torch by Elizabeth Mitchell is a fascinating look at the process which culminated in the installation of what we now know as the Statue of Liberty. Jack Kelly, in Heaven’s Ditch, weaves together accounts of the building of the Erie Canal, the founding or Mormonism and the devoted secrecy of the Masons in an engrossing read. Presidential Courage by Michael Beschloss looks at courageous acts and stands by two hundred years of American presidents, while David McCullough puts together decades of his speeches in one volume entitled The American Spirit. As someone who has enjoyed everything I have ever read by McCullough, I enjoyed this thoroughly.

In Defiant Brides Nancy Rubin Stuart simultaneously tells the life stories of Peggy Shippen, who went on to become Mrs. Benedict Arnold, and Lucy Flucker, who married Henry Knox, an important figure in the Revolutionary War and the Secretary of War under President George Washington. In A Kingdom Strange James Horn offers his take on Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke Colony, more commonly known now as the Lost Colony, including his thoughts on what happened to the colonists who disappeared before Governor White could return.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo sat on my shelf for years before I finally read it. There is a reason why it was a National Book Award winner. It is a compelling look at life in a slum (what Boo calls an “undercity”) of Mumbai, just steps from an international airport and luxury hotels.

Susan Orlean, in The Library Book, simultaneously provides a look at the inner workings of a massive library system and tells the story of the 1986 fire in the Los Angeles Public Library that damaged or destroyed more than one million books. This was a captivating read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

In biography, I first read Jon Kukla’s Patrick Henry. Kukla and I used to be neighbors, while he was the director of Patrick Henry’s Red Hill, and I had been anticipating this book for some time. I had actually forgotten about it, though, until I saw it while browsing through a bookstore in Corolla, NC. It is well researched, well written, and a solid contribution to the expanding scholarship on one of America’s lesser-known founding fathers. I have fascinated by the story of Alvin York ever since I saw the Gary Cooper film as a child; thus, John Perry’s Sgt. York: His Life, Legend & Legacy was a delightful read. It tells the story of York’s heroism in World War I, but goes far beyond that, telling the story of York’s work after he returned home and the legacy he left for the people of the Tennessee hills.

After a visit to Hershey, PA, last summer I found myself wanting to know more about Milton Hershey. Michael D’Antonio provided that for me in his book Hershey. It is an intriguing read about an intriguing life. Meeting Sue Thomas last spring, and then visiting her last summer, caused me to want to know more about her story, as well, and her autobiography, Silent Night, provides an unvarnished look into her life. If all you know of Sue Thomas is the television series Sue Thomas: FBEye, you don’t know Sue Thomas!

Having watched the series Castle, I decided to finally try one of the books supposedly written by Richard Castle, Driving Heat. The book reads like the show. Somehow, that worked for me as a television show but not as a book. Breaking Point is part of Dana Haynes’ series on airplane crash investigators, though it is the first one I have read. It was interesting overall, though parts of the conclusion were like the ending of so many movies—taken too far. The Promise by Robert Crais is a typical Crais novel, but it has the irritating feature of including a number of chapters told from the perspective of a police dog. In Under a Silent Moon Elizabeth Haynes (no relation to Dana, that I know of) introduces Louisa Smith, a Detective Chief Inspector tasked with solving two seemingly unrelated murders. Nadine Gordimer’s The House Gun is another book that sat on my shelf for years. Set in South Africa, it shows how a single act, in a moment of passion, impacts so many people. Jhumpa Lahiri, in The Namesake, tells the story of immigrants from India making successful lives for themselves in the U.S., and how the definition of success for their children looks different than that for their parents.

The People vs. Alex Cross by James Patterson is exactly what you would expect from a James Patterson Alex Cross novel. Likewise, The Blood Promise and The Paris Librarian are just what you would expect from Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston novels.  The Reckoning by John Grisham was one of his better books, I thought. It is very different from most of what he has written before, though it takes place in a familiar setting. Like The House Gun it clearly shows the impact a single decision can have on so many lives. Jeffrey Archer’s Heads You Win was another good read in typical Archer-style. It could easily become a series; I guess we’ll see. Daniel Silva continues to impress me in the second of  his books I’ve read, The Other Woman. And of course, The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux, is a story many people think they know. Suffice it to say that if you have only seen the musical and/or the recent film adaptation, you do not really know the story.

Sing! By Keith and Kristyn Getty is a short book, easy to read, but does a wonderful job explaining the importance of singing in giving praise to God. I would recommend this book for every pastor and worship leader. Jonathan Leeman’s Word Centered Church is a good reminder about the singular importance of Scripture in churches. Donald Whitney’s Family Worship is also a short, easy to read book with good tips for developing family worship times. The Imperfect Disciple by Jared Wilson has some good parts and some good reminders for those who may struggle with frustration when they just cannot seem to get the Christian life “right” consistently, but I am not a fan of the smug, smart-alecky, and even sometimes snarky asides that Wilson felt it necessary to include throughout the book. I find this to be an unwelcome trend among too many contemporary, “next-generation” Christian authors.

But there is nothing smug or snarky in R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. There is a reason this is considered a classic work and perhaps Sproul’s best out of the scores of books he wrote. It is recommended reading for every believer. In The Great Omission Dallas Willard addresses the importance of making disciples of all nations, the last command Jesus gave before His ascension. John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to God is a magnificent exposition of Isaiah 53. Discovering God’s Will by Sinclair Ferguson provides some helpful guidance for those seeking to know God’s leading in their lives. Barnabas Piper’s The Curious Christian is a wonderful reminder of the importance of wonder in our lives. If you have read anything by Ken Ham before then not much in Gospel Reset will be new to you, but there are good reminders in the book about the importance of foundations. In Expository Exultation John Piper clearly explains that preaching is worship and he provides terrific guidance for preachers on sermon preparation and delivery. Highly recommended for any pastor.

That’s it for my 2018 recap. I hope you enjoyed my quick overview of my year in books. If you have book recommendations I would love to hear them; please write a comment or send me a message. Hopefully, when the time comes to write next year’s post, I will once again have surpassed my annual goal of fifty books. And just maybe I will have posted more than three times in the interim!

March 8, 2018

Lesbian Weddings and Assault Rifles

“We’re going to take a stand and step up and tell people our view.”

“We don’t want to be a part of this.”

“We deeply believe….”

No doubt you have heard about Melissa and Aaron Klein, the couple that owned a cake shop in Gresham, Oregon, refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple, and was fined $135,000 for their refusal. According to a December 28, 2017 article by Whitney Woodworth in the Statesman Journal, “When Aaron Klein found out the cake was for two brides, he told Bowman-Cryer he and his wife did not make cakes for same-sex weddings because of their religious beliefs.” After the lesbian brides-to-be filed a complaint with the Bureau of Labor and Industries claiming that they were denied public accommodation by the Kleins due to their sexual orientation, an investigation by that bureau determined that the Klein’s refusal to make the cake for them “constituted unlawful discrimination.” As a result, the Kleins were ordered to pay a $135,000 in damages. The Oregon Court of Appeals unanimously upheld that decision.

The lesbian couple, which is now married, “said the case was not simply about a wedding cake, their marriage or their wedding. It is about whether it is OK for a business to refuse to serve people because of the owner’s religious beliefs,” Woodworth reported.

The Kleins have since closed their cake shop. Melissa Klein said, “I was happy to serve this couple in the past for another event and would be happy to serve them again, but I couldn’t participate in the ceremony that goes against what I believe.” She said the government violated her freedom of religion and, in essence, told her what to believe. According to Woodworth, the Kleins attorney, Adam Gustafson said, “The Kleins did not discriminate based on sexual orientation; rather, they chose not to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony because they believe marriage should only exist between a man and a woman.”

According to Carson Whitehead, the Oregon Department of Justice attorney who represented the Bureau of Labor and Industry, “the case turns on two simple facts: The Kleins refused to provide the exact same service for a same-sex couple that they would with a heterosexual couple, and the denial of services was based on sexual orientation.”

Woodworth ended her article this way:

In a statement issued Thursday, the Bowman-Cryers [the lesbian couple] said now all Oregonians can go into any store and expect to be treated like any other person.

“It does not matter how you were born or who you love,” they said. “With this ruling, the Court of Appeals has upheld the long-standing idea that discrimination has no place in America.”

I hope you noted in the above how many times the word “believe” appeared. And I hope you also noted that the beliefs of the Kleins were not considered a legitimate reason for them to decline making a wedding cake for the lesbian couple. Lastly, I hope you noted that the lesbian couple proclaimed that now anyone in Oregon could go into any store and expect to be treated like any other person because discrimination has no place in America (emphasis mine).

But I would like to point out that the three quotes I led this post with were not made by the Kleins and had nothing to do with homosexual marriage.

Instead, I would like to direct your attention to another story that has been in the news of late: the decision of Dick’s Sporting Goods and Wal Mart to no longer sell firearms to anyone under the age of 21. Why? According to the statement released by Dick’s on Twitter, “We deeply believe that this country’s most precious gift is our children.” And, because children are the future and must be protected, Dick’s also stated, “We believe it is time to do something about it.”

Did you notice that word “believe” again?

Dick’s CEO, Edward Stack, said, “We’re going to take a stand and step up and tell people our view and, hopefully, bring people along into the conversation.” And one other thing he said? “We don’t want to be a part of this any longer.” (See this article in the New York Times to read more of Stack’s thoughts and comments).

Here, then, is the real issue: if a small business owner in Oregon cannot refuse to make a wedding cake for a lesbian wedding because of the owner’s beliefs, then a huge business cannot refuse to sell guns to 18, 19 and 20 year olds just because the companies’ executives “believe” that it is time for them to restrict guns getting into the hands of those individuals. If a baker who believes that homosexual marriage is wrong cannot “take a stand and step up and tell people” their view, then neither can Dick’s or Wal Mart. If Aaron and Melissa Klein cannot say “we don’t want to be a part of this” and run their business accordingly, then neither can Edward Stack.

Jeff Jacoby wrote an excellent piece in the Boston Globe entitled, “The same-sex wedding cake case isn’t about same-sex marriage.” His article is not about Aaron and Melissa Klein but about Jack Phillips, a cake baker in Oregon who also refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple and whose case was heard by the Supreme Court this past December. You can read Jacoby’s article in its entirety if you would like, but here is his conclusion: “One needn’t share Phillips’s opinion of gay marriage to support his right to unmolested freedom of expression.”

No cake baker should be required to make a cake to celebrate a marriage that he or she believes is wrong. No company should be required to sell guns to anyone under 21 if that is what the company leadership believes is right. A wedding cake can be purchased elsewhere by a homosexual couple, just like a rifle can be purchased elsewhere by an 18-year-old. At least, that’s how it should be. How the Dick’s and Wal Mart lawsuit turns out (oh yes, they’ve already been sued) and how the Jack Phillips case ends are still to be determined. What is not still unknown, though, is this simple truth: if we, as a nation, allow some companies to choose not to comply with some laws based on their beliefs we cannot disallow the same privilege to other companies. If we do, we will soon find that we have contradicted ourselves into an absolute disaster.

January 30, 2018

A Lesson for the Church: The Other Example We Have Been Given by Rachael Denhollander

Rachael Denhollander is a name probably not many people knew until a year and a half ago. That is when she became the first person to come forward and publicly accuse Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. Even then her name was not nearly as well-known as it is now. After her victim impact statement on January 24, it is probably fair to say that not many people have not heard of her.

In 2000, Denhollander was a club level gymnast when she met Nassar at the age of fifteen due to a back injury. Nassar was, in the words of the Boston Globe, “the despicable doctor who systematically, for decades, used his position as a renowned, sought-after, and respected physician in the gymnastics world to sexually abuse countless young athletes under the guise of medical treatment.” Only at that time, no one knew—or, I should say, no one acknowledged—that Nassar was a predator. Others had complained about Nassar before 2000, but nothing had been done. By the time he was arrested his victims numbered in the hundreds. One hundred fifty-six of them spoke at his sentencing hearing, which resulted in a sentence of 40 to 175 years in prison.

Denhollander’s courage in coming forward and opening the door that gave voice to so many other victims has received plenty of attention in the media and I am not going to focus on that here. I would simply echo what Tara Sullivan wrote, that Denhollander is “Larry Nassar’s most important victim, his loudest and bravest opponent in the fight to expose his depravity as a serial pedophile disguised as a respected physician.”

What brought perhaps the most attention to Denhollander was her impact statement, nearly forty minutes long, in which she clearly spoke of what Nassar had done, the physical but, more importantly, emotional, damage it inflicted on Denhollander and others, and then shared the gospel with Nassar. Writing on The Gospel Coalition site, Justin Taylor said, “What she said directly to the man—who gratified himself off of her innocence and abused countless other girls in a malicious and manipulative way—is an incredible testimony to the grace and justice of Jesus Christ.” I agree. When I first heard it later that same day I described it as “an extraordinary presentation of the gospel to someone Rachael Denhollander has every human reason to hate and wish eternal condemnation in hell upon!”

Her bold stand against Nassar and her equally bold statement of the gospel to Nassar—and a watching world—has drawn tremendous attention, and rightfully so. In his edition of The Briefing the day after Denhollander spoke, Albert Mohler said,

…what so many in the world missed is that the moral clarity that was so evident in that courtroom yesterday cannot really emerge from a secular worldview. It can only emerge from a biblical worldview. And yesterday it wasn’t just the witness to good and evil that appeared. In the voice of Rachael Denhollander, there was a powerful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Gospel that speaks so honestly about sin, and the Gospel that so honestly promises in Christ salvation from sin.

Denhollander has, indeed, set a beautiful example of what it means to be like Christ. To hate the sin but not the sinner. To extend mercy and forgiveness when it is not even remotely deserved—and never could be. Evangelical Christians are sharing her statement and celebrating her testimony and all of that is good. It is as it should be.

Sadly, there is something else about Denhollander’s experience that Christians seem to be overlooking, and we must not do so.

In her statement, Denhollander said,

Even my status as a sexual assault victim has impacted or did impact my ability to advocate for sexual assault victims because once it became known that I too had experienced sexual assault, people close to me used it as an excuse to brush off my concerns when I advocated for others who had been abused, saying I was just obsessed because of what I had gone through, that I was imposing my own experience upon other institutions who had massive failures and much worse.

 

My advocacy for sexual assault victims, something I cherished, cost me my church and our closest friends three weeks before I filed my police report. I was left alone and isolated. And far worse, it was impacted because when I came out, my sexual assault was wielded like a weapon against me.

 

In her op-ed for the New York Times, Denhollander wrote, “I lost my church. I lost my closest friends as a result of advocating for survivors who had been victimized by similar institutional failures in my own community.”

 

As incredible and beautiful as Denhollander’s courage to come forward and willingness to share the gospel with Nassar may be, that she “lost her church” through coming forward is just as incredible and hideous. I do not know exactly what transpired between Denhollander and her church, but the details here are not important. For her to say, twice, that she lost her church as a result of taking a stand against Nassar says all that we need to know. There is no justification anywhere in Scripture for abandoning a victim. Quite the contrary, in fact. Romans 12:15 says, “When others are happy, be happy with them. If they are sad, share their sorrow” (Living Bible).

 

In Matthew 25:40 Jesus said that whatever is done “to the least of these my brothers, you have done it to Me.” Commenting on that verse Matthew Poole wrote, that charity, or love, “must be chiefly shown to those of the household of faith.” Denhollander is clearly of the household of faith, yet her church abandoned her. Take note, fellow Christian: that means her church turned its back on Christ.

 

I do not focus on this to condemn Denhollander’s former church alone. I do not even know the name of the church she attended. I emphasize this to bring attention to such behavior that has gone on for far too long, and has been far too tolerated, in the Church in general. How can we claim to follow Christ if we abandon our brothers and sisters who are hurting? John Tillman wrote the following in a devotion on The Park Forum:

 

As the #MeToo movement sweeps around the world, Jesus stands with the victims, claiming their pain as his own, identifying with their feelings of powerlessness, of isolation, and of being silenced for so long. …

 

No environment, from Hollywood offices to the sanctuaries of our churches is untouched by the culture of degrading sexual manipulation and abuse. Christians have an opportunity to drop partisan loyalty, abandon “what-aboutism,” and step into this cultural problem with the perspective of the Gospel.

Christians can uniquely offer condemnation for abusive actions and the systems which allowed them, while offering compassion and protection for victims, and even forgiveness and redemption (though not necessarily reinstatement) for perpetrators.

 

Compassion for the victims is precisely what Christians should be offering. Compassion and support and encouragement. There is no room for abandonment or rejection or judgment of victims. In an April 2016 blog post entitled “4 Common Ways Churches Fail Abuse Victims (And What to Do Instead)” Ashley Easter states that the Church must take accusations of abuse seriously, whether made against someone inside or outside of the church, and “recognize how difficult it is for a victim to come forward.” Furthermore, the Church, and those within it, need to “believe and reassure the victim that there is nothing they could ever do to cause someone else to hurt them.”  In July 2015 Boz Tchividjian wrote of his own abuse as a child and the way churches so often respond inappropriately to abuse victims. “A primary reason why victims are afraid of the church is because of the level of immaturity and ignorance they have experienced in how they are treated or handled by the community and leadership of a church,” Tchividjian wrote. He continued, “There is now an entire generation that has left the church and might not ever return because of the negative impact that the church has had in the lack of understanding and compassion for the broken and the wounded.” Abuse is horrific and cannot be tolerated. But just as wrong and intolerable is this kind of response within the body of Christ.

 

I pray that Rachael Denhollander will be embraced and encouraged and prayed for by the Church even though she was not treated that way be her local church. I pray that she will remain a passionate and articulate voice for abuse victims and for the gospel. I also pray that she will prove to have taught us a significant lesson about abuse and how not to respond to it.

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?”

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