Rewriting the Amendments

John J. Newman and John M. Schmalbach’s United States History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination is an bestseller. In fact, it is Amazon’s number one bestseller in the History category for Teens and Young Adults. It is also one of the most Wished For books in that same category (users of can create personal “wish lists” of items they would like to have). As a U.S. history teacher and enthusiast, this should be music to my ears, right? Sadly, it is not to be. Just the opposite, in fact. The fact that this book is so widely read scared me. Why? Quite frankly, because the book is not accurate.

The Amazon listing says this of the book: “U.S. History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination presents the history of the United States from pre-Columbian times to the Obama administration. It follows the curriculum put out by the College Board for this course of study. Thirty chapters, each covering a different time period.”

That would be good news, and a book like this–a one-volume overview of U.S. history specifically designed to help students prepare for the Advanced Placement exam and/or to assist the student of U.S. history in understanding the events and people that shaped this nation–would logically be in demand, particularly when modestly priced (as this one is). However, a book like this can also be expected to accurately present the facts of U.S. history, and this one does not.

I have not had the opportunity to review the entire book, so I cannot speak for it en toto. Having reviewed just the books presentation of the Bill of Rights, though, I can say that the book is revisionist history at its best.

It strikes me as odd, quite frankly, that the book feels the need to summarize the Bill of Rights at all. Most history books that I am familiar with simply present the Constitution and its amendments as written. After all, why read a summary when it is easy enough to read the original? Nevertheless, Newman and Schmalbach decide to present a summary. Interestingly, they introduce that summary with a paragraph that includes this statement: “Together they [the Bill of Rights] provided the guarantees that Anti-Federalists wanted against possible abuses of power by the central (or federal) government.” While that is accurate enough in and of itself, the amendment summaries that follow are so twisted that they actually do the exact opposite of what that sentence states; the amendments described in the summary would give far more power to the federal government than even the Federalists wanted, let alone what the Anti-Federalists feared.

For example, the summary of the First Amendment reads, “Congress may make no laws that infringe a citizen’s right to freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. Congress may not favor one religion over another (separation of church and state).” The first amendment actually does not say that Congress cannot favor one religion over another, and there is an abundance of historical evidence that in its early years Congress clearly did favor Christianity over other religions. And the First Amendment certainly does not say anything about the separation of church and state. This a phrase that does not exist in any founding documents; it first appears in a private letter written from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association, and even Jefferson did not intend it in the way that judicial activist judges have used it in recent decades. What the First Amendment actually says is, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Accurate summary: Congress cannot create a state church and cannot pass any laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion. (What this amendment clearly does not say, by the way, is that the church must not influence the state, but that is a topic for another day….)

Move on to the Second Amendment. The textbook’s summary reads, “The people have the right to keep and bear arms in a state militia.” What does the Second Amendment actually say? “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Accurate summary? Since the people must have a right to defend themselves in a free state–and to preserve a free state–the government cannot pass any laws prohibiting law abiding citizens from owning firearms. It certainly does not say that only in a state militia can citizens bear arms.

As I said above, this rewriting (or intentional misinterpreting) of the first two amendments clearly gives the federal government far more power than the actual Bill of Rights gives it since this revision would allow the separation of church and state and would allow the restriction of gun ownership to anyone not in a state militia. These are powers that the federal government does not have. There are definitely members of the government, and people in the political realm, who would love to see the federal government have this power, and there are certainly those who will try to convince gullible students and citizens that these are powers the government does indeed have. Let us be ever vigilant in defending our freedoms and opposing wrong teaching in our schools!

Pagan Church

On June 21, 2013 the UK’s The Telegraph reported that the Church of England was creating a pagan church in order to recruit members. The sub-heading read, “The Church of England is trying to recruit pagans and spiritual believers as part of a drive to retain congregation numbers.” This news was released as thousands of individuals gathered for the summer solstice at Stonehenge.

No doubt the church should seek to reach pagans with the Gospel. However, I have to question the wisdom in trying to create a pagan church to do so. According to the article, the church is training ministers to create a church where Christianity is “very much in the centre.” How, pray tell, can one create a pagan church with Christianity at the center of it? Pagan means, by definition, either a follower of a polytheistic religion or “one who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods; an irreligious or hedonistic person.” So the plan is to create a church for people who are irreligious or pursue whatever makes them happy, and to have Christ and the Gospel at the center. Ummm, how?

Well, Steve Hollinghurst told The Telegraph, “I would be looking to formulate an exploration of the Christian faith that would be at home in their culture.” “At home” is a synonym for “comfortable.” When you visit someone’s home they may encourage you to “make yourself at home,” meaning get comfortable, help yourself if you need something, don’t feel like a guest. So Rev. Hollinghurst wants to create a church that will explore Christianity in a way that someone who is irreligious or hedonistic will feel comfortable with.

The article goes on to quote Andrea Campenale of the Church Mission Society as saying, “Nowadays people, they want to feel something; they want to have some sense of experience.” So the intent is to create a worship service that feels good? I think I have heard of that somewhere before…oh yes! The seeker-friendly movement….

The web site is the site of the Universal Life Church Monastery, which “strongly believes in the rights of all people from all faiths to practice their religious beliefs, regardless of what those beliefs are” (and also, by the way, offers free online ordination!). This site comments on the Church of England’s move by saying that the Church of England wants to create “a church which incorporates pagan styles of worship and ritual” even up to including “worship[ing] the Goddess inside a Christian cathedral.” The site goes on to comment that this move seems at first to indicate a growing acceptance of paganism among Anglicans but then goes to warn against the possibility of it being a “thinly-veiled attempt at proselytizing an increasingly secular British populace.”

Pagans do need to be reached with the Gospel; all unbelievers do. What the Church of England seems to be ignoring–and what many seeker-friendly churches before it have ignored–is that it is not possible both appeal to the world and stay true to the message of Bible. The cross is an offense to the world (Galatians 5:11). Of Paul’s preaching, Josef Urban writes, “He didn’t make his message smooth and soft in order to suit the fancies of the religious majority. His Gospel was a sharp word that exalted Christ, lifted the cross up high, proclaimed total commitment to Christ the King, and utterly stripped man of all self-reliance, shattering self-righteousness, tearing down false religion, and leaving men stripped bare before God in utter dependence on His free grace alone to save them.” That is exactly right. Whether we like it or not, it would be impossible to appeal to someone who feels self-righteous while shattering self-righteousness. Whether we like it or not, it is impossible to accommodate the practices, styles and beliefs of false religions while preaching and teaching the only true religion. It is not possible to leave people aware of their “utter dependence on [God’s] free grace to save them” while telling them they can achieve whatever it is they are seeking by worshiping “the Goddess.”

On The Christian Post Hollinghurst is quoted as discussing with various unbelievers “how Christianity can improve its flagging image.” In all honesty, I see two options here. One, Christianity may have a flagging image because it has compromised too much with the world rather than staying true to itself, and the world sees, and despises, that. Two, Christianity may have a flagging image because where it is still faithfully proclaimed it irritates the world to no end and the world would much rather have Christians adopt the “tolerance” of the world’s way of thinking. Either way, the world is the last place Christians need to look for suggestions on “improving their image.”

Christians are called to demonstrate Christ’s love toward all they encounter–and that means pagans, too, of course. Christians are called to follow Christ’s example and to reach out to sinners where they are with love and compassion. But Christians are never called to compromise the truth of God’s Word, and certainly are not called to adopt the strategies or styles or preferences of the unbelieving world or, even worse, the world believing in something else. Nowhere throughout history has any effort at blending Christianity with any false religion resulted in anything but the wrath of God. So, Church of England…watch out!

Word Games

Several weeks ago I wrote about the stupidity of so many of the labels that we tend to get hung up on these days, specifically when it comes to referring to people of different racial or ethnic backgrounds. Apparently the same stupidity exists among some people concerned about the very way in which the human race is addressed. Washington State has recently implemented legislation that uses gender-neutral vocabulary within the state’s laws. This would be silly but otherwise not worthy of notice if it simply meant adding “or her” and “she” to every “his” or “he.” Washington, though, was not content to simply make these little additions. Instead, the legislation brings to a conclusion a–get this–six year process of rewriting the state’s laws to ensure that they are all gender neutral to the point that contain virtually no reference to man or men at all, even when those words are gender neutral.

For example, the newly re-worded Washington legal codes will no longer make any reference to a signalman, journeyman plumbers, penmanship, fishermen or freshman. Instead, the laws now reference signal operators, journey-level plumbers, handwriting, fishers and first-year students.

Democratic state Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Seattle was the bill’s sponsor. Of her 475-page bill she told Reuters, “There’s no good reason for keeping our legal terms anachronistic and with words that do not respect our current contemporary times.” Give me a break… I think it would be far more accurate to say that there is no good reason to devote six years and multiple pieces of legislation to play such stupid word games. Washington’s legislators must have absolutely nothing important to do if they can devote so much time and money to this idiocy. Perhaps they could do themselves and their constituents a favor and disband the state legislature if that is all they have to do.

Kyle Thiessen, the state’s code reviser, was quoted in Huffington Post as saying that some words will not be replaced because there is simply no logical alternative. What else, for example, would you call a man hole? A person hole? A man or woman hole? A human hole? And apparently the state’s Washington Military Department objected to changing words such as seaman and airmen, so those will not be altered. (Watch out, WMD–the cries of anachronism and sexism surely cannot be far behind!).

Liz Watson (no relative of mine), a senior adviser to the National Women’s Law Center, said, “Words matter. This is important in changing hearts and minds.” She continued, “Words help shape our perceptions about what opportunities are available to women and men.” With all due respect, ma’am I think that’s a bunch of baloney. I do not know anyone who ever thought that women could not be law enforcement officers because we call them policemen or could not go fishing because people say fisherman rather than fisher. “Words alone are not going to achieve all of the things that need to happen. But this is one easy part for us to do,” Watson concluded. Sadly, more often than not, when we do what is easy we tend to stop there. Perhaps Senator Kohl-Welles and her colleagues in the Washington legislature think they are making strides toward equality for women with this landmark accomplishment. I beg to differ. Changing words like this will serve only to irritate people; I see no fundamental change in the opportunities available to women coming about because of this word game.

The feedback on was so overwhelmingly opposed to this ridiculousness that Senator Kohl-Welles responded on the site. She claims that she works on serious and important legislative matters, and I assume she does. However, she also claimed that this legislation neither wasted time nor money, and I would have to disagree with her on that. Even if, as she suggests, the changes in the wording of the state laws was handled easily with computer programs, such changes were ultimately made by someone who works for the state who could surely have been doing something more meaningful and more productive with his or her time.

There were some humorous responses to this whole business on Huffington Post. A Dave Warnick commented, “What are they going to do if you don’t use their words. Sentence you to five years with a dictionary?” Dan Lloyd queried, “What am I supposed to say when I am done praying? ‘A-people’ rather than ‘Amen’?” Probably the best comment I saw was posted by Mike Buscarino. He wrote, “This idiot governor should be improduced! Sorry, but the other produce (apples, oranges, lemons) may have gotten jealous and offended if i had used the word ‘impeached’ The last thing we need is a bunch of young and unripened fruit jumping off trees across the nation in protest.”

Based On…

I know movies based on books tend to take liberties with the author’s work, and the book is almost always better than the movie. (The only exception I can think of is The Firm. As implausible as the ending of the movie may have been, the ending of the book stretched credulity ever further, making it the only instance of the movie being better than the book that I know of). Still, movies based on books usually have the main points of the book in them.

Last night I watched the movie Alex Cross, a movie that, according to the credits at the end, was based on James Patterson’s book Cross. For those familiar with that particular book or Patterson’s Alex Cross series in general the movie will be a huge disappointment. Why? Because the movie is “based on” the book in the loosest possible sense. The movie uses some of the same names as the characters in the book, and Alex Cross in the movie is a psychologist and police detective, but there the similarities cease. In the books Cross grew up in and now works in Washington, D.C. In the movie it’s Detroit. In the book his partner is his childhood friend who is taller, heavier and more intimidating than Cross, and is black. In the book his partner is shorter, lighter, wimpier and white. The discrepancies only go on from there. I have never used this space to write movie reviews, though, and I don’t plan to start now, so why bring this up?

As I was bemoaning the pathetic effort by the film makers and wondering why James Patterson would have even allowed this movie to be made it occurred to me that there are an awful lot of things out there that are purportedly “based on” the Bible yet bear precious little resemblance to what the Bible actually says. This is surely cause for sorrow for God and it is cause for caution for us.

Anyone watching Alex Cross who had never read James Patterson’s books would not know that the movie was not faithful to the written word. Anyone in that category who then saw the book in a bookstore or library would assume they knew what the book was about; their opinion would have been influenced by what they had seen. Similarly, there are many people who have not read the Bible for themselves but have heard, read or seen things that claimed to be “based on” the Bible. These individuals will form their opinions of the Bible, of God and of Christianity as a result of whatever it was they saw, read or heard “based on” the Bible. That is a scary thought!

Flip through the “religion channels” on your television, browse the “Religion” section of your local bookstore or, listen to preachers on the radio, whatever your preference may be, and you will find plenty that claims a biblical basis but is nowhere near what the Bible really says or means.

This has two lessons for those of us claiming to be Christians. First, we need to test everything claiming to be “based on” the Bible against the Bible itself. In Acts 17:11 Scripture records that the believers in Berea, upon hearing from Paul and Silas, examined “the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” In other words they did not just accept that Paul was telling the truth; the tested his messages against the written Word of God. We must do the same thing, with sermons, books, songs and whatever else we encounter that claims to be “based on” the Bible. Second, we need to be extremely careful anytime we say, do or promote something that we are claiming is “based on” the Bible. In the Amplified Bible 2 Timothy 2:15 says that believers need to be “correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth.” There is no excuse for carelessly handling God’s Word, and such careless handling would include asserting that something is based on Scripture when in reality it is not.

The moral of this story: Beware of, and examine closely, whatever is “based on.”

They Do Exist

It is almost impossible to keep track of all of the designated months there are in the United States. Just a few of the many, ranging from the well-known to the obscure, include National Mentoring Month, American Heart Month, Black History Month, National Nutrition Month, National Women’s History Month, National Poetry Month, Child Abuse Prevention Month, National Pet Month, National Safety Month, Smart Irrigation Month, National Immunization Awareness Month, National Guide Dog Month, National Honey Month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, COPD Awareness Month, and, according to one list I’ve seen, there are three LGBT months–LGBT Awareness Month, LGBT Pride Month and LGBT History Month. So maybe it will not surprise you to know that September 2013 is the first of what is sure to become the annual Ex-Gay Awareness Month.

There is a dinner and reception to celebrate this special month being held somewhere in Washington, D.C. on September 30, but the exact location is not disclosed until you register for the event, as organizers no doubt fear opposition and disruption. The event will “celebrate the lives of former homosexuals and hear about how you can advance and bring awareness to their unique stories and achievements in our nation’s schools,” and is sponsored by PFOX, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays.

There is also a group called Voice of the Voiceless that exists to “defend the rights of former homosexuals, individuals with unwanted same-sex attraction, and their families.” The “About Us” section of their web site says, “It’s time to stand up, speak out, and unite! For too long former homosexuals, individuals who experience unwanted same-sex attraction (SSA), and their families have been marginalized and misrepresented. We have suffered enough abuse in the media who sing praises to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, and condemn former homosexuals and those who experience unwanted SSA.” The group calls educational and mental health organizations “one-sided clapping symphonies” that serve only to affirm homosexuals and homosexual behavior and to oppose those who believe homosexuality is both a choice and able to be overcome.

At the end of July a group of former homosexuals joined together outside the U.S. Supreme Court to demand that they be recognized and granted equal protection under the Constitution. Their assertion is that homosexuals and homosexual activists bully ex-gays and those who oppose homosexuality and even prey on children by introducing homosexuality in a positive light in children’s television programming. The group has a petition demanding (1) Media oversight and accountability to protect children from age inappropriate entertainment such as SheZow that violates their innocence; (2) Freedom of choice for youth to pursue counseling to overcome same sex attraction; and (3) Inclusion of former homosexuals under federal hate crimes law.

Petitions seem to be, at the moment, the groups activity of choice, and its web site includes links to the various petitions the group has started, including one to demand an apology from CBS for “Defaming Former Homosexuals, Persons with Unwanted Same-Sex Attractions, Their Families and Counselors, and the Judeo-Christian Community” in February 2013 episode of Criminal Minds, one that demands that Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray apologize to singer Donnie McClurkin (an ex-gay) for asking him to withdraw from singing at a 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington because the event was intended to “bring people together,” another demanding that television personality Dr. Phil “Publicly Apologize to the Ex-Gay and Faith-Based Community for his Intolerance Towards Traditional Biblical Views of Homosexual Behavior,” and more.

If you’re like me it no doubt strikes you as sad and, frankly, pathetic, that a group of ex-anythings would need to solicit protection for their right not to be abused or discriminated against for former lifestyle choices, but apparently this is the world in which we now find ourselves. Not only does the “tolerance” espoused by the political left and the political correctness police demand that those holding to a biblical perspective on homosexuality and lifestyle choices not speak out about their position, it further demands that those who have personally rejected that lifestyle choice keep their mouths shut. At the July gathering outside the Supreme Court Christopher Doyle of Voice of the Voiceless said, “Anti-ex-gay extremists say that I do not exist–that we don’t exist.” Of course they do exist, and trying to shout them down in the public arena will not change that…just like the oft-repeated position that homosexuals are “born that way” and have no choice in the matter does not make that position true.

Foolish Words

This is no longer news, so you may have seen it already. Back in July retired Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu made the statement that he would rather go to hell than worship a homophobic God. According to the report on Tutu said, “I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.” He also said, “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place.”

Those are foolish words indeed. I suspect Tutu was utilizing a bit of hyperbole there, but it is an incredibly ill-informed thing to say nonetheless.

Of course Tutu is not a newcomer when it comes to making foolish statements about God and the Bible. In December 2009 Tutu said, in a CNN interview, that while he reads the Bible everyday, he does not believe everything the Bible says. “[What] You have to understand is that the bible is really a library of books and it has different categories of material. There are certain parts which you have to say no to. The Bible accepted slavery. St Paul said women should not speak in church at all and there are people who have used that to say women should not be ordained. There are many things that you shouldn’t accept.”

The Bible, of course, does not “accept” slavery in the sense that it condones it. It does say that women should not be ordained, though. The fact that Tutu does not like that simply means that he would rather worship a God that fits his own image of what a loving God should be like.

In the same article in which Tutu said he would not worship a homophobic God he also said that the UN’s “Free and Equal” campaign–designed to raise awareness of discrimination and violence against homosexuals–is akin to “the fight South Africans waged to end the former white racist minority rule.” Only it is not. As I have addressed in this space on numerous occasions, homosexual “rights” is not a civil rights issue. There is nothing equivalent between the discrimination faced by South Africans during apartheid or by African Americans in the U.S. prior to desegregation and the discrimination being faced by homosexuals who are not allowed to marry. And when I say there is nothing equivalent that is exactly, specifically and precisely what I mean…nothing, zilch, nada, bupkis, zippo.

But that is not the real reason I sat down to type this entry. Tutu’s statement reflects that he wants to craft his own image of God. The Bible has plenty to say about people who take that approach. Perhaps the most notorious crime in human history was the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, one of His own disciples. Judas betrayed Jesus because Jesus did not fit the image he had in mind of what the Messiah should be, and Jesus did not come to do what Judas thought the Messiah should do. So Judas betrayed Him.

Desmond Tutu has decided that God is not opposed to homosexuality. Since the Bible speaks clearly against it this must be part of the Bible Tutu has decided need not be taken seriously. The problem is, if we start picking and choosing when we have to believe what the Bible says and when we do not we can make the Bible say just about anything we want. And if that is not what Tutu has in mind, his position still begs the question of who gets to decide which parts of the Bible are to be believed and which are not.

Fortunately, there is a very easy remedy to this entire conundrum–every word of the Bible is true, and we have to accept it all. If we are going to pick parts we do not believe we might as well throw out the whole thing. We must be alert for those who come in, like Desmond Tutu, claiming to know better than God does what God means and what God stands for and what God condones. I hate to have to be the one to tell him this, but God’s position on homosexuality did not change when Desmond Tutu said he would not worship a “homophobic God.” None of us can worship God on our own terms. If he worships a God different than the God of the Bible then Desmond Tutu has created his own god according to his own understanding and desires. God has given us the truth; what we do with it is up to us, but the truth does not change just because we do not like it.

God is not homophobic in the sense in which most people use the word. The definition of that word is “unreasoning fear of homosexuals and homosexuality.” God is certainly not afraid of homosexuality or homosexuals; God fears no man. God is homophobic in the sense that He abhors homosexuality, but He does not abhor homosexuals. He loves them, He desires for them to repent of their sin and He desires to forgive their sins. And that, by the way, is exactly what He calls His followers’ attitude toward homosexuality to be, too.

A childlike faith

Last Saturday my family and I went to the South Dakota State Fair. While we were there we walked through several campers that were on display. We are not in the market for a camper, but we thought it would be fun to look at the range of options and features (and prices) that were on display. After looking at several my son, age six, commented, “Next year when we come to the fair let’s bring some money and get a camper.” I had to laugh to myself at his thinking. Here we were in a camper that cost about twice my annual salary and his thought was simply, “This would be cool to have, Dad should get one.” He has a minimal understanding of money–he has been getting a small allowance since he turned five, and he sometimes has to save up his own money to purchase things he wants–but he does not really grasp the fact that his parents have finite resources, too, and cannot just “bring some money and get a camper.”

Now, there is a fair amount of debate about whether or not the Scripture instructs is to have a childlike faith. In Matthew 18 Jesus said to His disciples that unless they became like little children they would never enter the kingdom of heaven. Some interpret that to mean that believers are to have a childlike faith. Others suggest that that is not what Jesus meant at all, since children can be gullible and led easily astray and Scripture makes it clear that believers are to test what they hear and read, both within the church and without, against God’s Word, and that is not something children are prone to do. In advocating this second position I once read someone’s explanation that Jesus was instructing the disciples in the need for humility, and children are “characteristically humble and teachable.” I am not sure I would agree with that statement; having worked with children for the last fifteen years I would not suggest that many of them are naturally or characteristically humble. So I agree that we are not to have a gullible faith, but I would suggest that we are to have a faith that is simple, pure and complete–faith like my son demonstrated at the fair.

In Mark 10 Jesus says, “Whoever whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” So what does that mean? I think it means to have complete and total trust in God like a child does in his parent. As an adult, when hearing my son’s comment about the camper, my mind immediately thinks multiple things–no way can I afford this, I wouldn’t use it enough to justify the expense anyway, what kind of vehicle would I need to pull this thing?, and would I even want to pull it? are just a few of the thoughts my mind covers in a manner of seconds. Similarly, when it comes to faith, the adult mind can quickly think of many questions, objections, obstacles and arguments against the simple (but profound) message that God is holy and demands judgment for sin, He sent His Son to earth as a human being, Jesus lived a perfect life and died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins and rose again three days later, and only by accepting that can I have eternal life in heaven. A childlike faith, though, is one that accepts that, believes it and embraces it.

Needless to say, I will not be taking “some money” to the fair next year to buy a camper. But it was a touching moment for me to reflect on the faith my son has in me, and it was a powerful reminder of the kind of faith I need to have in my Heavenly Father.