I Rest My Case

Alright, I’ve waited long enough. I cannot help it; I just have to say something. The way in which the Obama administration has handled the government shut down would be laughable but for the fact that it is actually incredibly offensive and, in fact, illegal. That’s right, illegal. Find that hard to believe? Read on…

This past Tuesday, October 1, the Obama administration ordered the closing of national parks as part of the shutdown. While unfortunate, that is understandable since park rangers and other park employees are not “essential” government workers. However, the National Park Service also erected barricades around the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. This memorial is an open-air monument on the National Mall. It is usually open 24 hours a day, seven days a week whether there are any Park Service personnel present or not. The around-the-clock accessibility of the memorial is clearly stated on the National WWII Memorial web site.

The sign posted on the barricades read, “Because of the Federal Government SHUTDOWN, All National Parks Are CLOSED.” The WWII Memorial, though, is not a national park. It is a memorial that is “operated” by the National Park Service, but that word “operated” means something entirely different for an open-air memorial with no services offered than it does for a national park requiring admissions collectors, custodians, park rangers, etc. There is absolutely nothing about the WWII Memorial that requires regular “operation.”

What’s more, the construction of the WWII Memorial was funded almost entirely by private donations, not by government money, as outlined in Public Law 103-32. Part of the $182 million cost of the monument included a National Park Service maintenance fee as required by the Commemorative Works Act. Interestingly, part of that act (40 USC ยง 8901) reads that the purposes of the act include, “to ensure the continued public use and enjoyment of open space in the District of Columbia and its environs, and to encourage the location of commemorative works within the urban fabric of the District of Columbia.” A bit difficult for the public to use and enjoy the memorial when the NPS erects barricades and will not let anyone in. So what is that maintenance fee and what is it for? According to the Commemorative Works Act, no permit for construction of a memorial will be granted “unless the sponsor authorized to construct the commemorative work has donated an amount equal to 10 percent of the total estimated cost of construction to offset the costs of perpetual maintenance and preservation of the commemorative work.” So there were funds–millions of dollars, in fact–that were privately raised and are on deposit with the U.S. Treasury specifically for the purpose of “maintaining” the WWII Memorial. And what does that mean exactly? “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, money on deposit in the Treasury on the date of enactment of the Commemorative Works Clarification and Revision Act of 2003 provided by a sponsor for maintenance pursuant to this subsection shall be credited to a separate account in the Treasury.” It would be extremely difficult for anyone to convincingly argue that maintenance of the memorial does not include keeping it open to the public, and the money to do that is sitting in the Treasury in a “separate account,” earmarked for that purpose.

A lapse in government funding and a temporary government shut down are not pleasant, but they are not unprecedented, either. There have been more than a dozen such lapses during my life time, ranging from a day to three weeks. According to the Office of Management and Budget and the Justice Department such shutdowns cannot interfere with essential government functions such as national defense and the protection of life and property. Neither can they interfere with the payment of government obligations like Social Security and veterans benefits.

However, President Obama has made it his mission to identify the most public displays of the consequences of the government shutdown in an effort to shift public opinion in his favor. That is why the Lincoln Memorial was also closed to visitors. National Park News has a photo depicting workers erecting barriers and temporary fencing to keep visitors off of the Lincoln Memorial despite that it, too, is usually open whether or not NPS personnel are present. In fact, a newspaper report about the 1995 government shutdown by Associated Press writer Cassandra Burrell includes this statement: “Tourists were free to wander the halls of the Capitol, touch the walls of the Vietnam Memorial and climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to read the Gettysburg Address–those and other similar sites don’t require supervision by federal employees.” Apparently the president thinks now, eighteen years later, such supervision is required. The problem is, all efforts at explaining why it is are nothing less that pathetic. To wit…the need for CPR-trained personnel to be present.

I am not making that up, by the way. CNN’s Jake Tapper reported on his blog, The Lead with Jake Tapper, this explanation for the WWII Memorial closing by National Mall and Memorial parks spokeswoman Carol Johnson: “I know that this is an open-air memorial, but we have people on staff who are CPR trained, (and) we want to make sure that we have maintenance crew to take care of any problems. What we’re trying to do is protect this resource for future generations.” Please… There are plenty of people around Washington, DC who are CPR-trained. It’s not as if the emergency services and hospitals are closed. As for the maintenance crews, see above.

So intent are President Obama and his appointees to provide the most public demonstrations possible of the shutdown’s effects that the NPS attempted to shut down George Washington’s Mount Vernon on Tuesday, too. The problem is, Mount Vernon is privately owned. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association owns and operates the historic site and has for some one hundred and fifty years. To be fair to the president, the parking lots at Mount Vernon are jointly owned by the NPS and Mount Vernon. Perhaps CPR-trained personnel need to be present in order for people to park their cars. The NPS removed most of their barricades once they were informed that they had no authority to blockade Mount Vernon.

Further evidence of the idiocy of the president’s strategic closing of federal property includes the shutting down of numerous hiking and biking trails around D.C. that typically have no personnel present and require no immediate maintenance. NPS officers were stationed along the 184-mile Chesapeake and Ohio Canal to make sure that no one used the bike paths. Please note that it is requiring more man power to shut the trails down than it ever would have to leave them open! The National Park Service, Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies have also taken the time (and spent the money) to create new pages on their web sites that visitors to the sites will see, informing them that due to the government shutdown the web sites are shut down as well. I kid you not; try to visit the NPS web site and you will get this message: “Because of the federal government shutdown, all national parks are closed and National Park Service webpages are not operating. For more information, go to http://www.doi.gov.” Funny how there were enough funds to keep the Department of the Interior web site up and running. Earlier today I tried to log on to an online survey from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences that the government has asked me, as a private school administrator, to complete. No can do, though: “Due to a lapse of appropriations and the partial shutdown of the Federal Government, the systems that host surveys.nces.ed.gov have been shut down. Services will be restored as soon as a continuing resolution to provide funding has been enacted.”

Believe it or not, I could go on, but I think I’ll stop. I think I have presented sufficient evidence, and I rest my case. I ask you, the readers of my blog, and millions of my fellow Americans, to find the president guilty of once again violating his oath of office, derelict in his duties, and actually breaking the law.

True Education

My plan is to spend the next several entries addressing education. For starters I would like to reflect on an article R.C. Sproul, Jr. wrote for the May 2013 issue of Tabletalk entitled “The School of Christ.”

Sproul correctly points out that “it is not hard to complain about the government’s schools,” and that just about everyone seems to have something to complain about–atheists complain about prayers, Christians complain about sex education and everyone complains about graduation rates and standardized test scores. From there, though, Sproul makes an assertion that many will undoubtedly find startling: he says that American schools “are not actually designed to train up scholars…their goal is neither intellectual nor moral giants. Rather, they function to prepare men and women to work.” He continues, “The entire system looks at children as if they were widgets, entering the education factory as toddlers and coming out the other side when they are grown.”

Sproul takes issue with this approach and, whether or not you agree that schools operate this way, I suspect you would, too. “This is not how God designed the rearing of children,” Sproul writes. “To be sure, our children must learn things, but they are not so much widgets in a factory as they are plants around our tables (Psalm 128). They are not products to be manufactured but lives to be nurtured.”

One obvious problem with the widget approach is that widgets are produced best and most efficiently when there is a system that treats every widget exactly the same, replicating the same process hundreds or thousands of times a day, day after day, month after month. Once in a while an improvement or adjustment comes along, and the improvement or adjustment is input into the system, calibrations are altered, and every widget thereafter has the exact same improvement or adjustment. The workers have no personal relationship with or attachment to the individual widgets; their sole concern is that the machinery works properly, the procedures are followed precisely, and the product output is maintained if not increased. Children cannot be treated this way. Well, they can be, actually, but treating children this way will have the exact opposite effect as treating widgets this way. Rather than increasing productivity, efficiency and consistency this approach will hinder learning, frustrate children and result in little if any learning.

Another problem with this approach though, and the one that Sproul dwells on, is that the Bible addresses the responsibility of raising and teaching children by using “natural and organic terms, rather than mechanical or industrial terms.” In other words, education, properly done, cannot be confined to the hours between the first and last bell of the school day like manufacturing can be restricted to the time between the first and last bell of the work day. Referencing Moses and Old Testament instruction for teaching children Sproul writes that parents are to provide their children with “an immersive educational experience–we are to talk about the things of God with our children always and everywhere. The things of God are to be the very warp and woof of our daily conversation.”

The greatest (read biggest) part of that responsibility for parents to recognize and accept that the education of their children is their responsibility. The education of children is not the job of the state, is not the job of the pastor, youth pastor or Sunday school teacher, and is not even the job of the tutor or teacher. Minus the state, each of those individuals can have a role and an influence on the education of children, but the responsibility is ultimately and preeminently on parents. As an educator I am obviously not opposed to schools or advocating that every parent homeschool their children (though homeschooling is a terrific option for many families). What I am advocating is the point that Sproul is making–that parents must see the school and the church the same way they see the doctor and the coach. The school and the church are important pieces of the education of children and they each play specific and necessary roles. So too does the doctor and the coach. These individuals have expertise (or, in the case of the coach, a willingness even if the expertise is lacking) that can benefit children when they are sick or are engaging in athletic activity. But those roles are finite and restricted. Parents, on the other hand, have a never-ending role.

Regarding the command in the Shema to talk to their children about the things of God all the time, Sproul writes, “in order to do this, of course, we who are parents first must be thinking about the things of God all the time. Most of us are the products of schools that taught us to divide our lives, to separate what we think about Jesus and what we think about our work, to separate what we think about our work and what we think about our play. We give time to Jesus on Sundays, perhaps on Wednesday nights, and, if we are particularly pious, every day during our quiet times. These all may be terribly good things, but not if they are hermetically sealed. We dare not believe that Jesus matters only during these times while he is beside the point the rest of our days.”

This is true education. Dictionary.com defines education as “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.” As significant a chunk of the early lives of children as the 15,000 hours they will spend in school may be, it is not sufficient by itself to accomplish that task, regardless of how terrific the school may be. Many of the next few entries will address the formal education that takes place in institutions of learning, but I felt it important to state that education is, first and foremost, the responsibility of parents. It is an incredible responsibility but it is also a tremendous privilege. Think about it…God Himself knits together little lives and then hands them to human beings and entrusts them with the power of molding and shaping that life, of educating that human being. Between you and me, if I were God I think I would deliver the little ones pre-programmed. But I am not God (for which we can all be grateful!), and He has chosen to give the task of educating children to the parents. Do not take that role lightly, do not abandon it to others. Seize it!

Poor CHOICES

This morning the Christian News Network reported on a Presbyterian church in Memphis, TN that has selected a local abortion provider as one of the recipients of the funds raised during their upcoming 5K race.

Shady Grove Presbyterian Church has decided that CHOICES, a Memphis “center for reproductive health” will be one of three non-profits to receive money from Shady Grove’s “Race for Grace.” What is CHOICES? Here is what it says under the “About” tab on its web site: “Choices provides comprehensive reproductive health care to women, men and teens. We offer adolescent reproductive health visits, adoption referrals, colposcopies, fertility assistance (including artificial inseminations), HIV testing and referrals, reproductive health services for people living with HIV/AIDS, birth control, Gardasil vaccinations, lesbian and gay sexual health visits, transgender healthcare, first trimester surgical and medication abortions, training of medical students and advanced nurse practitioners, miscarriage management, and comprehensive pregnancy options counseling.”

Pregnancy centers are very much needed, and many churches provide financial and volunteer support for such organizations in their communities. What makes this case unusual is that CHOICES states clearly and unapologetically that it provides abortions (not to mention other health services that many Christians would find objectionable).

On its website CHOICES includes “Race for Grace” under its “Get Involved” tab. Clicking on that link brings up this information: “CHOICES is honored to have been selected as one of three non-profits to benefit from the 2013 Race for Grace sponsored annually by Shady Grove Presbyterian Church in Memphis. Proceeds from any 5K registrations earmarked for CHOICES will benefit planning efforts to add prenatal care and midwife deliveries to our growing list of patient services. Specifically, Race for Grace funds will support the development of a Pre-Natal Services business plan. If you support CHOICES’ philosophy of comprehensive, integrated reproductive health care services, we hope you will register and participate in this year’s Race for Grace.”

Perhaps Shady Grove and its leadership have determined that prenatal care and midwifery are noble efforts and worthy of the church’s support. Perhaps so. However, there are surely other ways and other organizations the church could support such services without providing money to an organization that also provides abortions and supports other efforts that are unquestionably contrary to biblical teaching. After all, just above the “Race for Grace” on CHOICES’ “Get Involved” tab is another event called “CONDOMONIUM.” The logo for this event is a “C” shaped out of a condom. The CHOICES home page includes this announcement: “CHOICES is seeking designers to create fashions and accessories out of condoms for CONDOMONIUM.” The web site further states that this event is the “annual public awareness event and signature fundraiser for our small (but mighty) non-profit organization providing reproductive health care, education, and advocacy around reproductive rights & justice.” One of the stated purposes of the event is to share with the Memphis community that, “Our community will not be bullied into silence and shame around universal issues of sexuality and reproductive health.”

Is this really what Shady Grove Presbyterian Church wants to support? The logo for “Race for Grace” includes this statement: “Benefiting bright spots in Memphis.” So regardless of the fact that the funds given to CHOICES through “Race for Grace” are earmarked for prenatal and midwife services, the church is publicly announcing that it believes CHOICES to be one of Memphis’s “bright spots.” I find this incredibly troubling.

So, by the way, does John Brindley with the Abolitionist Society of Memphis. According to the Christian News Network report Brindley said that “Christians from the city have met with the ‘pastor’ on three separate occasions, but that he nonetheless decided to go forward with allowing funds to be sent to the CHOICES abortion facility.” As a result, Brindley and his organization are planning to take graphic reminders of the realities of abortion to the church this Sunday in the form of photos of aborted babies. Brindley further stated, “Just in case someone is thinking that it’s not a big deal since the money is earmarked for pre-natal care, consider that they are entering into a covenant relationship with an organization that believes it is alright to rip apart the unborn and throw them away like trash. What would you think of a church in Nazi, Germany that earmarked money to a local concentration camp restroom renovation project? They just want to be Jesus to the Jewish prisoners who should have clean bathroom facilities, right? It’s just that the people who are receiving the money are exterminating the Jews on the other side of the building.” A harsh comparison? I don’t think so. It’s in-your-face, no doubt; but the holocaust of abortion may require that kind of language at times to bring people to grips with the reality of what is going on, with the reality of how serious abortion really is. After all, since Roe v Wade was decided far more babies have been killed through legal abortions in the United States than were killed by Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

Unfortunately, this situation in Memphis serves as but one example of many, many instances of churches supporting organizations, positions and outreaches that are clearly in violation of Scripture. This should be a reminder to us all that just because a building or a group of people carry the name “church” does not mean that God is honored there or that the truth of the Bible is believed, taught or practiced. What little the Shady Grove web site has to say about the church’s “Philosophy/Spirit” leads me to question whether I would hear biblical truth if I were to attend the church this Sunday morning (or any other Sunday). I am sure I would hear some biblical truth, but I suspect it would be greatly diluted by the feel-good messages and “refreshing blend of the ephemeral and simple” that would be more prominent. (That phrase, by the way, comes from the church’s web site).

Let us pray for Shady Grove Presbyterian Church and other churches that are failing to stay faithful to God’s Word and His mandate for the church. Let us pray for discernment as we walk through this world and seek out churches and fellow believers that we would lovingly confront error where we find it and we would find co-laborers in the Lord to be our companions on this journey. Let us also pray for CHOICES and organizations like it. Most importantly, let us pray for women who are facing life-altering choices of their own, particularly regarding their unborn children, that they would find wise counsel and be encouraged to make the right choice, the choice for life.

“An environment welcoming all teens”

I would love to say that I have not blogged in nearly two weeks because there has simply been nothing so troubling as to warrant me taking to the keyboard to share my thoughts in the matter. As if! As the expression goes, “life happens,” and life for me the past couple of weeks has been extremely busy. But I am not going to talk about what’s going on in my life. I am not even (for now) going to talk about the government shut down. What I am going to talk about is the American Academy of Pediatrics.

This organization represents more than 60,000 pediatricians across the country. According to its own web site the AAP is “dedicated to the health and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.” In late July the AAP posted on its web site a technical report entitled “Office-Based Care for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth,” written by Dr. David Levine of the Committee on Adolescence, and also published in the July issue of Pediatrics. The article provides recommendations for pediatricians on how to answer questions from youth with questions about their own sexuality or that of their parents, relatives and friends.

Specifically, the article states, “Pediatricians should have offices that are teen-friendly and welcoming to sexual minority youth. This includes having supportive, engaging office staff members who ensure that there are no barriers to care.” Notice what this says if you read between the lines: not having an environment that is welcoming to “sexual minority youth” and not having staff members who are supportive of such behavior is a barrier to care. Furthermore, the article states, “For transgender youth, pediatricians should provide the opportunity to acknowledge and affirm their feelings of gender dysphoria and desires to transition to the opposite gender.” In other words, pediatricians and their staffs need to ” express agreement with or commitment to” and “support” the desire for a young person to transition to the other gender. That is the definition of affirm. And remember, failing to take this supportive approach is a barrier to care!

The article further states that LGBTQ youth are most damaged by the heterosexism that is the “societal expectation.” One has to wonder where Dr. Levine and his colleagues live, though, because he also writes, “Pervasive in our culture, homophobia is institutionalized in stereotypes promoted in the media and in casual conversation.” Oh really? I think what is promoted in our media aggressively and, unfortunately, successfully, is the notion that homosexuality and other “alternative lifestyles” are quite acceptable and normal.

Levine writes, “Pediatricians have a role in helping teenagers sort through their feelings and behaviors. Young people need information about healthy, positive expressions of sexuality, and pediatricians should assist adolescents as they develop their identities and to avoid the consequences of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), regardless of sexual orientation. Research suggests that LGBTQ youth really value these opportunities for discussions with their pediatricians or primary health care providers.” I would agree with the doctor if this statement could be taken at face value. However, we must remember what he writes elsewhere in the article. Remember, according to Levine and the AAP, pediatricians and their staff members cannot help adolescents through the difficult teen years and the sexual questions that may emerge unless they affirm and embrace every version of sexual relationship–Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning. They cannot help teens avoid sexually transmitted diseases unless they are willing to affirm that kind of behavior in any pairing. Forget encouraging abstinence or suggesting that sex should wait until marriage; after all, that might damage someone’s psyche and result in lifelong mental anguish.

Later on in the article Levine writes, “Pediatricians have the responsibility to provide culturally effective care to help reduce health disparities.” Seriously? I would think medically effective care would be the standard. It seems to me that the pediatrician’s foremost responsibility would be the health of the patient. Apparently not, or least not that exclusively. Now, the care provided must be “culturally effective.” Translation: do not even think about taking any attitude other than affirming the “alternative lifestyles.”

Levine writes, “Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning, is not a ‘problem’ or ‘risk behavior’ in itself.” That’s interesting. Let’s set aside the fact that homosexual behavior is a sin, which certainly qualifies it as a “problem.” Levine’s statement is interesting because prior to making this statement he spent a considerable chunk of his article addressing the mental health disparities, eating disorders, substance abuse, sexual and reproductive health disparities and general health disparities of LGBTQ young people. It would seem, then, to the uninformed (like me) that this is a risk behavior “in itself.” But as I said, I am evidently uniformed. The problem comes not from the behavior, but from the fact that parents, physicians and the culture as a whole fails to embrace and affirm LGBTQ youth, thus driving them to homelessness, despair, poor self esteem and, eventually, highly risky behaviors.

Levine says, “One of the challenges to health care is removing barriers to care and creating an environment welcoming all teens.” By that he means, of course, that LGBTQ teens must feel welcomed. One of the ways to do that is to use gender-neutral terms when questioning or discussing sexual topics with patients. Why? Well, because… After all, “A nurse asking a teenage girl who is in a relationship with another woman about her boyfriend may be interpreted as nonaccepting of her relationship.” Furthermore, the office needs to be decorated in such a way as to welcome LGBTQ youth. “The office environment can be made welcoming for all teens by placing in the waiting room items such as brochures on a variety of adolescent topics, including sexual orientation, posters showing both same- and opposite-gender couples, and notices about support groups, if available in the region. … Even a small ‘rainbow’ button (often a symbol of acceptance of sexual minority individuals) or decal on an office bulletin board or door symbolizes openness and acceptance of diverse sexual orientation and will be appreciated by sexual minority teens and their parents.” Of course what Levine overlooks, or ignores, is that this kind of behavior and this kind of decor will absolutely not make the office welcoming to “all teens.” Many teens and parents would be offended by the things Levine describes. But remember, that is our insidious heterosexism.

Levine concludes his article with these statements: “Pediatricians have an obligation to ensure that sexual minority youth have access to a full range of appropriate health care services. As with all adolescents and young adults, sexual minority youth need honest answers and compassion in dealing with issues and questions around sexual orientation, identity, and sexual behaviors.” Of course pediatricians must provide all necessary medical care for their patients, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation; no sane person would argue otherwise. Levine, however, completely misses the fact that his entire article goes about making sure that pediatricians their staff members do not provide honest answers about “sexual orientation, identity, and sexual behaviors.” We cannot both tell people what to think, what to say and how to act and encourage them to be honest. We cannot tell people that what is sin is simply an alternative and then ask them to be honest. But then neither can we tell doctors to do everything they can to welcome and affirm lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and simultaneously tell them make sure all patients feel welcome and comfortable.

Every human being is entitled to be treated with dignity and should be cared for when their health is endangered, regardless of who or what they think they are or claim to be. Beyond that, though, Dr. Levine and the AAP are no better than the elixir salesmen of the Old West; they’re saying a bunch of stuff that sounds good but has no legitimacy and no substance, and they’re promising something that just ain’t gonna happen.