Miley was just the beginning

Not all that long ago everyone was all riled up over the lewd performance of Miley Cyrus at MTV’s Video Music Awards. The outcry against the performance came from all sectors, including Cyrus’s peers and other industry insiders. The mother of Cyrus’s partner in that performance, Robin Thicke, called her performance “misbegotten” and “not beneficial.” Lance Bass said he suspected that Cyrus shocked a lot of her fans, and commented that he had not expected to have to warn his nieces and nephews who tuned in to watch him perform on the VMAs that Cyrus would be “naked and humping a finger.” Cyndi Lauper called the performance “so sad, so sad” and said that it was “really raunchy. It wasn’t even art. It was raunch.” Given that those were the comments from others in the industry, you can imagine the responses from conservative groups like the Parent’s Television Council.

The VMAs were in September, though, so why am I bringing this up again now? Simple. The Grammys were just a few days ago, and that ceremony was proof positive that what got everyone so worked up in September has since become more acceptable. The sad truth is that–as with so many other things in culture–what was initially shocking gradually becomes less so and soon what once shocked becomes common place.

On Sunday night the 56th annual Grammy Awards ceremony was held, ostensibly to recognize outstanding achievement in the music industry. As Melissa Locker noted in her column for TIME‘s Entertainment section, however, the show “has become less about the awards and more about the eclectic and outlandish performances.” I did not watch the Grammys, so I am using news reports as the basis for my comments here, but it would seem that “eclectic and outlandish” might be putting it mildly. Those reports make it all the more confusing that the Washington Post‘s Alexandra Petri would have started her Monday column (the day after the Grammys) with this statement: “The Grammys were remarkably incident free.”


To quote NFL officials after an instant replay look-see, “after review” the ruling by Petri has been overturned. The Grammys were actually incident-full. Kristen Andersen of LifeSiteNews, in her column appearing on apparently has a very different perspective on what qualifies as an incident. (That, of course, is actually part of the problem–so much of what would have been shocking and entirely unacceptable not all that long ago no longer even rises to the level of an “incident” in the minds of so many). Andersen begins her column like this: “Sunday night’s Grammy Awards show was all about shock value.” I do not know about you, but “incident free” and “shock value” are really not synonymous in my book. So to what was Andersen referring? She continues with this: “Scantily-clad singers, same-sex ‘marriages’ set to anti-Christian lyrics, simulated sex acts and a performance full of demonic imagery by pop star Katy Perry – who used to be Christian artist Katy Hudson – were just a few of the on-stage stunts that seemed custom-designed to offend Christian believers.” Not to put words in Andersen’s pen, but it would seem that such antics would likely offend more than just Christians.

During the Grammys each of the following occurred: Katy Perry’s performance of “Dark Horse” included her pole-dancing around an inverted broom while flames and demons danced around her; rap artist Macklemore performed a song entitled “Same Love” while thirty-three couples of all sexual orientations were legally married on stage in a ceremony officiated by Queen Latifah; husband and wife Jay-Z and Beyoncé gave a performance in which Beyoncé “wore little more than a thong leotard and simulated sex acts with a chair, her husband, and herself” (Andersen); and Pink “shock[ed] with a sexy performance outfit” consisting mostly of “a sexy, long-sleeved lace bodysuit that hugged her curves” (

The UK’s Daily Mail apparently had a different take on the evening’s activities than did the Washington Post‘s Petri. It’s column on Monday ran under a headline snatched from the Twitter-sphere: “‘It’s a sad day when our kids can’t even watch the Grammys’: Beyoncé slammed by parents after VERY risqué performance.” The column began with the statement that many parents deemed Beyoncé’s performance “too explicit for children to watch.” The column went on to describe Beyoncé’s performance as “both seductive and risqué” and included “moves Miley Cyrus would have been proud of.” Based on the photos included in the Daily Mail column I would have to agree–there is no way to blast Cyrus’s performance as raunchy and inappropriate while also commending Beyoncé for hers.

The Daily Mail column included another interesting observation that provides further evidence of the contradictory responses to Cyrus and Beyoncé. First, the column states, “Beyoncé’s performance comes after she admitted in a recent mini-documentary that she is proud to embrace her sexuality. She said: ‘I don’t have any shame about being sexual. I’m not embarrassed about it. And I don’t feel like I have to protect that side of me.'” The column then went on to state that such “embracing” of her sexuality has not stopped President Barack Obama from praising Beyoncé as a role model for children. The column quoted Obama as saying recently, “Beyoncé could not be a better role model for my girls because she carries herself with such class and poise and has so much talent.'” She may have talent, but it is unfathomable to me that any father would encourage his daughters to model themselves after a woman who gave the performance the Beyoncé did on Sunday.

Part of the responsibility of Christians is to shine a light on the darkness in the world. Several Christian artists did that after (and during) the Grammys on Sunday. Natalie Grant tweeted, “We left the Grammys early. I’ve many thoughts, most of which are probably better left inside my head. But I’ll say this: I’ve never been more honored to sing about Jesus and for Jesus. And I’ve never been more sure of the path I’ve chosen.” Despite the fact that Grant did not identify any particular performance or indicate when she left the Grammys the backlash came swiftly, with many accusing her of hatred toward homosexuals. Responding on Facebook, Grant wrote that she would much prefer to use her platform to unite rather than divide, but “I do have my own personal convictions that I live by, and I will continue to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord. (Philippians 2:12)”

Grant went to the show and left early. Mandisa opted to not even go–and she won two Grammys on Sunday. She won for “Best Christian Contemporary Music Album” and “Best Contemporary Christian Music Song” but she was not there when her name was announced. Explaining her absence via Facebook, Mandisa wrote, “Both times I have gone to the Grammys I have witnessed performances I wish I could erase from my memory, and yes, I fast forwarded through several performances this year; but my reason is not because of them, it’s because of me. I have been struggling with being in the world, not of it lately. I have fallen prey to the alluring pull of flesh, pride, and selfish desires quite a bit recently. … I knew that submerging myself into an environment that celebrates those things was risky for me at this time. … Perhaps being alone with [Jesus] as my name was announced was protecting myself from where my flesh would have tried to drag me had I been up on that stage.”

If I may, Mr. President, I would like to suggest that Mandisa would be a much better role model for your daughters than Beyoncé.

Bottom line, the performances at the Grammys on Sunday are likely only evidence of what will continue to be; I am afraid things will get worse rather than better. I will leave it to you to prayerfully consider what, if anything, you will do about that, but I would humbly suggest that you consider Ephesians 5:11, which reads, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” That is what I am endeavoring to do here. My purpose is not to chastise or blame Pink, Beyonce, Katy Perry or Macklemore. My point is to expose what happened to expose the serious slide our nation is on away from any modicum of decency in the public arena. Miley was just the beginning….

School Choice

January 26 to February 1 is National School Choice Week. According to the NSCW web site this annual week of celebration is a “nonpartisan, nonpolitical public awareness effort.” The purpose of NSCW is to “shine a positive spotlight on the need for effective education options for all children.” The individuals and groups who participate in National School Choice “believe that parents should be empowered to choose the educational environments for their children.”

As an administrator of a non-public school and a parent who has never enrolled my own children in public school I certainly agree that school choice is important. It is not as if NSCW is fighting for something that does not exist–school choice exists in the United States now and has for quite some time. Of course the choice to which I am referring has always come with a cost–anyone who wanted to do so and could afford to do so could send their children to any school they wanted (assuming the student was accepted at the school). One of the positions of National School Choice is that all possible options need to be available to everyone, including public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, online schooling options and state programs allowing for private school choice–programs like scholarships, tax credits or deductions or vouchers that parents can use to pay for their child’s education at a private school. The idea of vouchers is that parents have the say in how part of the tax dollars set aside for their children gets used–even if that means the funds are used at a private school.

As a school choice proponent and private school administrator I have always been interested in the voucher idea. In the state where I live–South Dakota–spending per pupil in FY 2011 was $8,805, with perhaps 40% of that coming from the state. Across the United States, total spending per pupil in FY 2011 was $10,559.70, which includes federal, state and local spending. Evidence indicates that when voucher systems are in place many parents utilize them. They do not exist in my state, and I am not aware of any significant movement toward their adoption here, but it is a plan that truly gives parents a say in how the tax revenue earmarked for their childrens’ education is used.

Still and all, with or without vouchers more and more parents are choosing to exercise their right of school choice. According to the National Center for Education Statistics 5.2 million students were expected to attend private schools in 2013. That is about one-tenth of the number of students enrolled in public schools. According to figures released last August there are 1.77 million homeschooled students in the United States–about 3.4% of the school-age population. That, by the way, was an increase of 300,000 students over the last time the survey was completed in 2007. So there are a significant number of parents deciding that the best educational option for their child(ren) is not public school.

Now, as I have indicated here before, I am a product of public school. I never took a class anywhere other than a public school from the time I started kindergarten to the time I graduated from high school. I was–and still am–satisfied with the academic instruction I received. As I have also indicated here before, however, I have since come to realize that schooling is about far more than the acquisition of knowledge. Education involves worldview–the lens through which that knowledge is presented. That is the primary reason why my children are in a Christian school and why I serve at a Christian school.

I am not going to use the fact that this is National School Choice Week to reiterate the arguments I have made here before about the importance of Christian education; you can read previous posts if you want to do so. Rather, I am going to use this opportunity to remind parents that there truly is a choice when it comes to the education of your child. Do not just send them to public school because that is where you went or because that is what everyone else does or because it is convenient or it is “free.” Take the time to evaluate what you want your children to learn, from perspective you want them to learn it and in what environment you want them to learn. If, after giving that serious consideration, you determine that the local public school is probably not the place where you want that to take place, take advantage of the freedom you have to exercise school choice. Ultimately the education of your child(ren) is your responsibility; take it seriously.

The content of their character

On Monday Sarah Palin took to Facebook to ask President Barack Obama to stop playing the race card. She posted, “Mr. President, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and all who commit to ending any racial divide, no more playing the race card.” USA Today opined that while Palin did not specify how Obama “plays the race card,” her comments came on the heels of The New Yorker‘s profile of Obama by David Remnnick in which Obama makes reference to the issue of his race. Obama stated that there are surely some people who dislike him precisely because he is black and others who no doubt like him solely for the same reason. Sad though that may be, it is true, and I am not sure I would consider that “playing the race card.” However, that is not at all to imply that the race card does not get played, because it does.

As I reflected on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday I could not help but think that his dream that his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” has not been fully fulfilled. What I find most troubling about that–as, I suspect, would King–is that African Americans are just as responsible for that as whites. In some cases perhaps even more so. There are many instances in which African Americans–leaders and non-leaders–make race an issue.

Examples are, unfortunately, not hard to find, but an excellent one can be found just last week. Tamera Mowry is an actress most known for starring, with her twin sister Tia, in the 1990s television show Sister Sister. Mowry is bi-racial; in her interview with Oprah Winfrey she said, “My mom is a beautiful black woman and my dad is an amazing white man, and I grew up seeing a family. I didn’t grow up saying, ‘Oh, that’s a white man.'” Mowry is now married to a white man herself, FOX News correspondent Adam Housely. The two have been married for three years and, Mowry says, ever since the wedding she has been subjected to name calling and all kinds hatred due to her marriage. The UK’s Daily Mail said she has been “remorselessly attacked.” Mowry told Winfrey, “I have never experienced so much hate ever in my life, ever.” Providing specific examples, Mowry said, “I get called ‘white man’s whore.’ The new one was ‘back in the day you cost $300, but now you’re giving it to him for free.'”

This is not the kind of attitude or dialogue that Martin Luther King, Jr. would have encouraged. He would certainly disapprove. The vitriol Mowry describes comes predominantly, if not exclusively, from other African Americans according to her report. What makes the issue ever worse is that the racial hatred spewed at her seems to be intensified because of the fact that her husband is a correspondent for FOX News, widely seen to be the conservative television news channel. During the 2012 vice presidential debate Mowry re-tweeted a Twitter post from Greta VanSusteren referencing her frustration with Joe Biden’s interruptions of Paul Ryan. The Twitter-sphere erupted with comments about Mowry being Republican, being married to a white man, and being “a light skinned hoes boy.” Alfre Woodard is married to a white man, too; as far as I know she has never faced the kind of hatred Mowry describes. Compounding the problem is the fact that it seems widely accepted and even celebrated within the African American community for a black man to marry a white woman. Why the double standard?

There are of course plenty of other examples; sadly, prominent African American political leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton seem to bring race into almost any discussion, even when it does not conveniently fit. I know that Rev. Jackson was a colleague and friend of Dr. King; I cannot, though, help but think that Dr. King would frown at the rhetoric Dr. Jackson so often uses.

Bottom line, I agree with Dr. King’s dream; the content of an individual’s character matters much more than the color of their skin. And as I think about it it is indeed the “content of their character” that shines through when ignorant people attack Tamera Mowry for being happily married to a white man. It is the “content of their character” that shines through when Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton tries to manipulate a legitimate political discussion into a racial issue. Sadly, those individuals often insist on connecting “the content of their character” with “the color of their skin” and the two are really not connected. At the end of the day, there are people of all skin tones that are stupid, arrogant, bigoted or contentious. Likewise, there are people of all skin tones that are intelligent, compassionate, humble and gracious. The best way to fulfill Dr. King’s dream, I think, is simply to live skin color out of it altogether.

Too broad a brush

Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. According to WORLD Magazine Editor-in-Chief she is “best known for her notable–and controversial–books about feminism and American culture.” The December 28, 2013 issue of WORLD includes excerpts of Olasky’s interview with Sommers on the topic of education and, specifically, the impact of today’s classrooms on the academic performance of boys.

Sommers makes a few debatable assertions in the interview, including the statement that boys are building “critical social skills” with their running around and mock fighting accompanied by sound effects. Now I do not have a problem with boys playing army or cops and robbers or superheroes or whatever else they may play; I did plenty of that as a youngster and my son does plenty of it now. Try as you might, there simply is an innate tendency among boys to enjoy shooting things, even in play! I am not quite sure that is a critical social skill, though.

What really bugs me about Sommers’ assertion though is that she goes on to suggest that schools have, in some instances, gone way overboard in suspending or otherwise disciplining boys for such activities, even, sometimes, drawings of such activities. I would tend to agree with her there. But then she states, “If the earliest experience a little boy has is disapproval, we threaten his social development and make him unhappy with school. This may be in part an explanation of why boys are so far behind in reading and writing.” To that, I would say, baloney! This sounds far too much like the position of those who advocate letting children do whatever they want and argue that the self esteem of young children is as fragile as an egg shell. “We must not discipline them!” these folks tell us. “If we tell them they are wrong, we will destroy them. An entire life of trauma and antisocial behavior will result!” Far from threatening his social development, parents and teachers alike will go a long way in helping to appropriately shape his social development in a healthy way when they do indeed express disapproval when appropriate. I am not suggesting that should be every time boys run around or pretend to be shooting each other, mind you, but Sommers is using much too broad a brush in her approach.

Sommers goes on to say that schools would be much different than they are today if teachers recognized these differences between boys and girls and were prepared to handle them differently. Specifically, she says, “teachers would learn in teachers’ colleges what they’re not learning today, that girls are readier for school.” I do not agree with this assertion, either. Sommers suggests that five-year-old girls are more mature than five-year-old boys and it is very difficult for a young boy to sit still. Difficult? Maybe. Impossible? Not even close. The problem is not in the gender of the child, in most instances, though, but in the parenting that child has received. Parents who teach their children how to behave–which includes how to sit still when necessary, to listen, to–dare I say it–obey, will have children, whether boys or girls, who are ready for school. And the fact that boys are “so far behind in reading and writing,” I might add, has very little to do with boys being told to stop running around. It, again, has far more to do with whether or not a love for and habit of reading is taught and modeled by the child’s parents. I have seen plenty of boys who love to read and plenty of girls who do not.

Sommers suggests that if teachers were aware of these gender differences and took them into consideration in their classrooms the result would be, “Lots of recess. Different classroom settings, not just one style that is sedentary, competition-free and risk-averse.” I would agree that different classroom styles are appropriate for any age group, and I am all for healthy competition and risk. Let’s not get too carried away with the “lots of recess” thing, though. Recess is indeed important, especially for younger children and perhaps most especially for boys, but when taken too far “lots of recess” looks a lot more like daycare than school.

Toward the end of the interview Sommers begins talking about the fact that more women than men go to college and that graduate degrees are awarded almost 2-to-1 to females. She uses that to support her assertion that high schools should be offering career and technical training course options, that high schools “should be partly career training that offers pathways into good jobs.” She will get no qualm from me there, either, but I do not see the correlation between boys running around as young children and the need for career and technical education courses in high school. First, it suggests that boys are incapable of pursuing more academic paths of study and careers, and that is simply false. Second, it suggests that the little boys who cannot sit still in kindergarten never grow out of that and therefore need a high school version of “lots of recess.” That’s false, too. The fact that high schools need to offer as diverse a selection of courses as possible, including traditional academic courses as well as fine arts, industrial arts, agriculture, home economics and more has far more to do with offering a well-rounded education and the opportunity for students to pursue areas of interest and skill (not to mention the opportunity to be exposed to new areas and skills) than it does with innate gender differences.

Sommers makes some good and points, but I am afraid too many people will swallow her whole approach because of the legitimately good points she makes. Be careful that you do not, though, because there are justifiable and legitimate reasons to tell little boys “no.”

Putting the numbers in perspective

On November 7 the United States Food and Drug Administration issued a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the main source of trans fats in processed foods, are no longer “generally recognized as safe.” The FDA then issued a Federal Register Notice reiterating that, “Based on new scientific evidence and the findings of expert scientific panels…PHOs…are not generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for any use in food based on current scientific evidence establishing the health risks associated with the consumption of trans fat, and therefore that PHOs are food additives.” If this determination holds, PHOs would be considered food additives and would therefore be subject to premarket FDA approval. “Foods containing unapproved food additives are considered adulterated under U.S. law, meaning they cannot legally be sold,” the FDA announced.

WebMD reports that trans fats were once considered a great thing because they “enhance the flavor, texture and shelf life of many processed foods.” Unfortunately, they also come with a health risk. In fact WebMD describes that risk in highly technical terms: “Trans fatty foods tantalize your taste buds, then travel through your digestive system to your arteries, where they turn to sludge.” As a result of that health risk the FDA has required that trans fats be listed on food labels since 2006, allowing health-conscious consumers to carefully select whether or not they wish to ingest these sludge-creating PHOs. Interestingly enough, though, the FDA also decided that companies can advertise and label foods as having zero trans fats even if they have up to 0.5 grams of them per serving. (Sneaky, no?) Still and all, as a result of the potential health risks and the general desire among the American shopping public to eat healthier (or at least appear to) many restaurants and food manufacturers have already discontinued the use of PHOs. And, despite the fear that as they did so they would simply replace the PHOs with saturated fats, WebMD reports that that has generally not been the case except with microwave popcorn.

So what’s the big deal now? Why is the FDA trying to ban trans fats and literally make the sale of food containing them potentially illegal? The FDA claims that doing so would “prevent an additional 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year and up to 20,000 heart attacks each year.” That’s why.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for preventing death. I am, after all, pro-life. But therein lies the rub for me. These trans fats are, in the vast majority of instances, being purchased by adults and consumed by adults of their own free will or by children with adult consent. Should the FDA work with food manufacturers to limit if not eliminate potentially unhealthy food products or additives? Sure, I suppose so…but I think making the sale of those products illegal is a stretch of government authority, not to mention a real perversion of what government priorities should be.

The National Cancer Institute reports, “Every year, approximately 200,000 people in the United States get lung cancer, and more than 159,000 people die from this disease.” That is a far cry from the 7,000 and 20,000 figures being tied to PHOs, but I hear no one suggesting that the sale of cigarettes should be illegal. I see no classification from the FDA that cigarettes are “generally not recognized as safe.”

According to MADD, more than 10,000 people die every year as a result of drunk driving crashes. And when it comes to adults drinking too much and driving, the Centers for Disease Control reports that that happens about 300,000 times per day in the United States. How many people does that put at risk? Still, no one seriously suggests banning the production, sale or consumption of alcohol. After all, that did not work real well last time it was tried.

Of course, I can hear someone suggesting that there are laws against drinking and driving so that is not a good comparison. Okay…just for the sake of argument, I’ll grant you that. Consider this, though; WebMD also reports, “Every year, about 31,000 people in the U.S. die from cirrhosis, mainly due to alcoholic liver disease and chronic hepatitis C.” Thirty-one thousand is a lot more than the 7,000 the banning of trans fats is supposed to save. Do not even think about suggesting that a lot of that number can come from hepatitis C, either; the Centers for Disease Control reports that approximately 17,000 Americans become infected with hepatitis C each year. For every 100 of those infected, only one to five will die of cirrhosis or liver cancer. That means, even assuming the high end, 850 people per year die of cirrhosis as a result of chronic hepatitis C–leaving more than 30,000 dying from cirrhosis causes by the consumption of alcohol.

So, the FDA wants to ban trans fats because doing so might prevent 7,000 deaths per year caused by heart disease, but no one wants to ban cigarettes or alcohol, despite the fact that they result in far more deaths than trans fats do. And that’s fine by me, by the way; I am not suggesting that cigarettes or alcohol should be illegal, either. I am simply trying to point out the silliness of the justification for this government overreach.

While I am at it, I should also point out that trans fats, cigarettes and alcohol all pale in comparison to the leading legal cause of death in the United States. By that, of course, I mean abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute there were roughly 1.2 million abortions performed in 2008 (apparently the most recent year for which numbers are available). Shall we put that in perspective?

* Abortion takes more lives in three days than banning trans fats would save in a year

* Abortion takes more lives in four days than drunk driving crashes do in one year

* Abortion takes more lives in ten days than cirrhosis does in one year

* Abortion takes more lives in 48 days than lung cancer does in one year

Given the realities, maybe we should forget about trans fats and think a bit more carefully about the “right” to abortion in the United States.

“…not a woman’s rights issue but a human rights issue”

This coming Sunday, January 19, is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Since 1984 the the Sunday in January falling closest to the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision has been recognized as Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, having begun with a proclamation from President Ronald Reagan on January 13, 1984. Reagan’s proclamation asserted that the death of 15 million children by abortion from 1973 to 1984 was “a tragedy of stunning dimensions that stands in sad contrast to our belief that each life is sacred. These children, over tenfold the number of Americans lost in all our Nation’s wars, will never laugh, never sing, never experience the joy of human love; nor will they strive to heal the sick, or feed the poor, or make peace among nations. Abortion has denied them the first and most basic of human rights, and we are infinitely poorer for their loss.” President Reagan continued to issue proclamations for this Sunday of remembrance each year for the remainder of his presidency. President George H.W. Bush did so, too, as did his son, President George W. Bush. President Bill Clinton did not issue these proclamations, nor has President Barack Obama.

The National Right to Life has called the presidential proclamations and the designated Sunday “a wonderful statement of what the pro-life movement is really all about.” Not surprisingly, pro-abortion groups such as NARAL are adamantly opposed to the proclamations and the recognition of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, saying that they are in fact attempts to restrict women’s rights. This is not an argument restricted to NARAL and other extremist pro-abortion groups. An April 2009 article on quotes actress Amy Brenneman as saying, “Unless a woman really has sovereignty over her own body we really haven’t come that far.” In other words, denying a woman the right to kill the unborn child living in her womb, should she so desire, is akin to denying women the rights to own property or vote or pursue career paths previously restricted to men.

Fortunately, there are others that articulately explain and defend the right to life and the reasons behind the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, and not all of them are individuals that might be most commonly referred to by the mainstream media as right wing Bible bangers. For example, model Kathy Ireland presented her pro-life views very clearly in the same article that quoted Brenneman.

Ireland explained, “My entire life I was pro-choice — who was I to tell another woman what she could or couldn’t do with her body? But when I was 18, I became a Christian and I dove into the medical books, I dove into science. What I read was astounding and I learned that at the moment of conception a new life comes into being. The complete genetic blueprint is there, the DNA is determined, the blood type is determined, the sex is determined, the unique set of fingerprints that nobody has had or ever will have is already there.”

Interestingly, despite what she learned in her research, Ireland claims that she resisted becoming pro-life; it still did not line up with what she thought was right and it certainly did not line up with what most of the people in her world believed. So, she continued her research, calling Planned Parenthood for help. “I called Planned Parenthood and begged them to give me their best argument and all they could come up with that it is really just a clump of cells and if you get it early enough it doesn’t even look like a baby. Well, we’re all clumps of cells and the unborn does not look like a baby the same way the baby does not look like a teenager, a teenager does not look like a senior citizen. That unborn baby looks exactly the way human beings are supposed to look at that stage of development. It doesn’t suddenly become a human being at a certain point in time. I’ve also asked leading scientists across our country to please show me some shred of evidence that the unborn is not a human being. I didn’t want to be pro-life, but this is not a woman’s rights issue but a human rights issue.”

Ireland’s argument is well stated, and as we approach Sanctity of Human Life Sunday I urge you to take a stand for life however you see fit. You may do it quietly, you may do it privately, you may do it publicly or corporately. However you choose to do it I would ask that you do it respectfully–the name-calling, threats and violence that have been employed by same in the name of the pro-life movement do not help the pro-life cause nor do they reflect well on anyone engaging in such activity. This truly is a human rights issue. Take a stand for life!

Out of Order

The January 11 issue of WORLD Magazine includes an article by Warren Cole Smith entitled “Going Public.” The article is about the American Bible Society (ABS) and “years of troubles” that “suddenly came into the public spotlight” when ABS fired CEO Doug Birdsall in October 2013. Interestingly, WORLD headlined the section containing this article “2013 News of the Year.” Apparently that means that WORLD considers this story to be one of the most important, if not the most important, news events of the past year.

I am actually not going to delve into most of the “years of troubles” that the article describes because, in my opinion, that was not the most important thing, or perhaps even the most troubling thing, about the article. What troubles me is the way in which WORLD has depicted the ABS as being completely in the wrong and at fault in the matter of Birdsall’s dismissal when, based on the information provided in the WORLD article, it would seem that the dismissal was entirely justified.

Smith writes that the ABS board brought Birdsall in early in 2013, and that he brought along “impeccable evangelical credentials and a reputation for moving fast and for revitalizing large organizations.” A few lines later Smith reports than Birsdall met with “influential leaders” in April 2013 about his plans for ABS. The ABS building in New York City apparently has some extensive problems and bringing it up to New York building code standards is slated to cost some $20 million. Per Smith, Birdsall told his influential gathering about “his plans for a $300 million center for Manhattan’s growing evangelical church,” a project that would replace the current 12-story ABS building.

The proposed 30-story building would include “an Omni hotel, ABS expansion space, and room for special events and other ministries to work.” Bob Rowling, a billionaire Dallas developer whose TRT Holdings own the Omni Hotel chain, committed to finance the plan. (That is a major conflict of interest right there, but that is not even the biggest problem). Smith goes on to say that Birdsall “moved forward on other fronts. He went through an informal process of grading ABS board members with an A, B, or C. Board members who received an A were, in Birdsall’s opinion, in a position to lead and mentor others. Board members with a B were those who could be excellent contributors but who had areas in need of development. Those with a C should not have their terms renewed. Birdsall placed about a third of the board members in each category.”

Smith then reports that when the ABS board chairman found out about Birdsall’s “assessment process and his plans for the building, he saw it as insubordination. The board fired Birdsall in October.” Now, I do not have any independent information or further details of the sequence of events beyond what Smith reported, but the manner in which his article was written certainly seems to imply that Birdsall came up with this plan for the ABS building and presented it to “influential leaders” in a matter of only a few months, and apparently without having the plan approved by the ABS board, perhaps without even presenting it to the board. If that is not insubordination I do not know what is. Someone with the impeccable credentials Birdsall was supposed to have brought to the table would certainly know that he had no authority to devise and promote such a plan without board knowledge or approval. Furthermore, if any CEO is going to be so brazen as to rank the board for whom he works he better be very careful with what he does with said rankings. Having served three boards as a CEO I am of course well aware of the fact that CEO’s often have opinions about which board members are more or less effective, but ranking them the way Birdsall did, within months of taking over the leadership position, was foolish, particularly if he shared that ranking with anyone other than the board. Even if he did share it with the board, or board chair, only, how it was presented would make a tremendous difference in how it was received.

Earlier in the same issue of WORLD Marvin Olasky wrote that ABS and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities “chewed up and spat out presidents” during 2013. He said that ABS, the CCCU and other Christian ministries that closed in 2013, were “beakers containing more toxic chemicals” rather than “beacons of light.” Yet, he concludes that section of his essay claiming that WORLD is “not out to find scandals that finish off organizations with a loud bang. More often we’re called to report on small storm clouds that together create gloomy skies like those many of our readers see.” Perhaps Olasky, Smith and others at WORLD are not out to “finish off” the ABS, but the tenor of their reporting makes it clear that they feel Birdsall was right and the ABS board was wrong.

I wonder if WORLD CEO Kevin Martin would feel the same way if Olasky, WORLD Editor in Chief, tried something similar. It seems to me that Birsdall’s actions as CEO of ABS were out of order. It seems that WORLD‘s coverage of the situation is, too.

Pro-exploration is not anti-science

I know I really should not be surprised anymore, but for some reason it never ceases to amaze me how many people who claim that they believe in and stand for tolerance demonstrate anything but when someone on the other side of a position to which they hold suggests allowing for more open debate. The latest example is a proposed bill in Virginia that would allow students to explore “scientific controversies.”

Richard Bell, a Republican, represents Virginia’s 20th legislative district, and has introduced a bill calling for an amendment to Virginia’s science education policy. According to the bill, “[Faculty members] shall create an environment in public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific controversies in science classes.” Anyone who claims to value tolerance and open discussion and the free exploration of ideas should welcome such a bill, right? Sadly, no. Evolutionists are already crying foul, claiming that the bill is a thinly-veiled attempt to introduce creationism into the public school.

While the bill includes language stating that these scientific discussions are not to promote or discriminate against any religious beliefs, the bill also states, “[Faculty shall not] prohibit any public elementary or secondary school teacher from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in science classes.” That means that teachers could freely discuss with students the merits of all scientific controversies–which would, of course, include evolution versus creation.

Dr. Jerry Coyne is a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago and the author of the blog Why Evolution is True. He took to his site to explain why the bill is all wrong and why the bill is really just an attack on evolution and “anthropogenic climate change” (that’s a fancy word meaning caused by humans). In the title of his entry Coyne calls the bill the “first antiscience bill of the year.” Tell me, though–how in the world can “encourag[ing] students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific controversies in science classes” be anti-science? Is not this critical thinking and exploration of ideas and theories exactly what Coyne and others claim to want in schools and colleges?

Coyne goes on to state that while the bill makes it clear that “creationism and climate denialism” are to be “treated respectfully” because they are “differences of opinion,” “neither evolution nor anthropogenic climate change are ‘differences of opinion.’ They are scientific conclusions, and if teachers pretend that they’re merely ‘opinions,’ they’re sorely misleading the students.” Coyne says that the only acceptable response to the suggestion of creationism is to tell the offending student that creationism and anthropogenic climate change (he insists on linking the two) are facts, not opinions. Furthermore, he says, “if necessary, one can explain why the opposing opinions aren’t supported by science. But there should be no ‘respect’ implying that creationism and climate-change denialism are credible views.”

Interesting… Coyne thinks it is fine to explain the data, theory and so-called facts supporting macroevolution to any student who has the audacity to question it. This seems to be exactly what Bell’s bill has in mind when it states, in Section C, that teachers are tasked with “helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories.” If evolution and anthropogenic climate change are the scientific facts that Coyne claims they are he should welcome the discussion and encourage it in classrooms. However, apparently he is comfortable only with presenting the support for evolution and anthropogenic climate change, and anyone stupid enough to question or challenge it does not even need to be treated with respect.

Bell, on the other hand, in an article on the Christian News Network, says, “[W]e’re not asking everyone to believe the same thing; we’re asking for teachers to be protected when they allow discussions about different opinions to take place.”

When someone has facts on his side he does not fear the questions or arguments of the other side. If Coyne is so confident that evolution is established scientific fact he should have no problem allowing the kinds of conversations Bell’s bill is encouraging. The reality is that Coyne is hiding fear behind his guise of scientific certainty; quite simply, he does not want students and teachers to be allowed to critique evolution because under examination it tends to crumble. Imagine if there were a group of people who insisted that two plus two was five. I cannot imagine any math teacher or professor, or even any politician, insisting that math teachers not be allowed to consider that argument in the classroom or to evaluate its merits. Any real mathematician would welcome the discussion, because there are so many ways to prove that two plus two is four that it would be a very short and lopsided conversation. The conversation about evolution goes quite differently because, despite Coyne’s assertion, evolution is not a scientific conclusion.

Coyne ends his blog post with this: “Shame on you, Virginia. If they wanted teachers to simply teach accepted science, they wouldn’t need to pass bills like this.” I would, with all due respect, counter with this…

Shame on you, Dr. Coyne. If you were truly interested in real education and in the testing of theories and hypotheses (as scientists are supposed to be) you would support, encourage and welcome the discussions this bill would protect.

My Year in Books – 2013

I managed to keep my streak of reading fifty books per year intact in 2013, though I am not sure I would have done so had my wife not been hospitalized for sixteen days; I read ten books during that time! Given that I took two graduate classes during the summer of 2103 and traveled some 7,500 miles by car during my family’s two summer trips and read very little during that time I was prepared to excuse my falling short of the goal. I am glad I met the goal, though I would have preferred it to have been met in a different manner. But, without further ado, here is an overview of the fifty two books I read in 2013.

I think it’s fun to start my list with the first book I finished during the year. However, due to a computer crash suffered in the spring, the exact order of the first fourteen books I read is not known. Due to the fact that I am out in desperate need of more book shelves in my house and therefore stack most of the books in a pile as I read them these days, I do know what the fourteen books were, but I cannot guarantee the order. That’s because one of the books was loaned from a colleague and one or two others were already on a shelf and I put them back when I completed them. So, I will present my overview more by genre than by chronological order.

Let’s start with non-fiction, history. Ernest Grafe and Paul Horsted’s Exploring with Custer: The 1874 Black Hills Expedition is a fascinating book in that it provides a detailed overview of the 1874 expedition, including many first person and primary source accounts and photographs, but also provides contemporary photographs of the exact same spots and directions to get there. The result is that you could literally retrace Custer’s expedition yourself if you wanted to do so. I also read Nathaniel Philbrick’s The Last Stand. As Philbrick books go I liked it better than Bunker Hill and probably almost as much as Mayflower. It is a readable overview of the events leading up to, and including, the Battle of the Little Bighorn, including first person perspectives from both sides of that battle. If you have an interest in Custer personally or the conflict with Native Americans in general it is a good read. I also read Bunker Hill in 2013, by the way, and despite the fact that the American Revolution is perhaps the part of U.S. history that fascinates me most, and I even enjoy historical minutiae, I did not particularly enjoy this book. Though the specific reasons slip my mind at the moment I remember finding the book hard to get through and less than interesting in many parts. I can say the same thing for Kevin Phillips’ 1775. It was a book that I might not have even finished were it not for my conviction to never let a book beat me!

For those of you caught up in the international smash hit Downton Abbey you may enjoy reading Lady Fiona of Carnarvon’s Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey. I read it when my wife had finished it, and given that Lady Fiona is the current occupant of Highclere Castle (the setting of the show) she has access to a treasure trove of original documents and photographs. It was an interesting read, and she has a second book out now, continuing the exploration of the history of the castle and the families that have lived there. Another book I read that drew extensively from original documents and photographs was also loaned from a friend. E.M. Young: Prairie Pioneer tells the incredible story of one man’s pioneering farming experiences in the early 20th century.

I read David Montgomery’s The Rocks Don’t Lie in 2013, too, but I reviewed that at length in an earlier post, so I will not elaborate on it here.

I also read several biographies and autobiographies. Tony Bennett’s Life is a Gift is a fascinating look at his artistic life. Even if you do not particularly like Bennett (who I just realized, incidentally, I am listening to at the moment) his first-hand accounts of such now-hard-to-fathom incidents like seeing incredible and well known African American artists perform in clubs that they could not enter as patrons provide a unique perspective on that sad part of American history. David Green’s More Than A Hobby tells the story of the development of the Hobby Lobby juggernaut and the philosophies that have driven the Green family in its development. The book was written long before Hobby Lobby’s run in with the federal government over the contraceptive mandate but reading it leaves a good understanding of why the family would have challenged in the way that they did. Gracia Burnham’s books In the Presence of My Enemies and To Fly Again recount the experience of being taken hostage in the Philippines, the incredible ordeal she and her husband endured in their year-plus of captivity, and his death during the rescue (the first one) and the way in which her life has “moved on” since returning to the states and recovering from her injuries (including being short herself). Kisses From Katie by Katie Davis will no doubt leave you overwhelmed at the incredible things this young woman has done already to impact hundreds of lives in Uganda. The way in which the Lord has used her and the things that she has accomplished, and is doing, as a single young white woman in Africa will certainly prompt you to learn more about her Amazima Ministries, if not prompt you to take some action yourself! John Ownes’ Confessions of a Bad Teacher recounts the experiences of this publishing executive who decided to leave his skyscraper office to become a teacher in New York City. The book highlights the challenges faced by teachers everywhere when parents are absent or uninvolved but, even moreso, highlights the challenges teachers face when their administrators do not have the first clue about how what may seem like grand ideas or necessary policies actually play out in the classroom, and the challenges faced by teachers, students and parents alike when administrators are more concerned about rules than about students actually learning. The scenario Owens presents is not common, in my opinion, but he highlights important realities nonetheless. Finally, Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala provides a vivid first-person account of the realities of living in a region controlled by the Taliban and how incredibly repressive many of their rules are. That Malala survived when she was shot in the face is amazing, and she is an articulate advocate for education.

I actually read quite a bit of fiction in 2013. I made a conscious decision to read mostly fiction while my wife was in the hospital because I did not really feel like having to think too much! I also decided, thanks to the local library and the convenient proximity of a Barnes and Noble to the hospital, to read some authors I had never read before. So, by way of new-to-me authors, I read Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller, which I found to be a fascinating story and one that deals intriguingly with the question of forgiveness–what it is, who can give it, and more. There were parts of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief that I did not really care for or find necessary to the story, but in the end Zusak succeeds in presenting a very different kind of hero than is often seen in literature. Elliott Holt’s You Are One of Them was an interesting tale with an interesting perspective on Cold War U.S.-Soviet relations, from the perspectives of children becoming teenagers. Alafair Burke’s If You were Here has some nifty plot twists in it. While I have watched the show based on her books I had never read Tess Gerritsen until I read Rizzoli and Isles: Last to Die. Being familiar with a television version of characters before reading a book can have the same influence on the reader as being familiar with the book before seeing the movie or show can have on the viewer, but it was a good story overall. More than a few parts seemed a bit far-fetched but it is fiction, after all. I loved Mark Pryor’s The Bookseller, and I look forward to reading more of his Hugo Marston novels. Jonathan Cahn’s The Harbinger was given to me by a friend; it is not the kind of book I likely would have read on my own. It presented some interesting things, but it is correctly placed in the fiction section of bookstores. Chevy Steven’s Still Missing presents a graphic look at how we humans in our sin nature can get focused on things that really matter not at all and, as a result of that focus, can cause us to do things that no one in his or her right mind would ever even give a second thought. I also read two Robert Crais books, Taken and The First Rule. These are mostly typical crime drama/suspense books similar to many other authors.

My fiction reading was not limited to new-to-me authors, though. I read several books by those authors I tend to keep up with, too, including the following: Merry Christmas, Alex Cross; Alex Cross, Run; Private Berlin; NYPD Red; and Cross My Heart by James Patterson; The Racketeer, Theodore Boone: The Activist, and Sycamore Row by John Grisham; The Forgotten, The Hit, and King and Maxwell by David Baldacci; Best Kept Secret by Jeffrey Archer; and Threat Vector and Command Authority by Tom Clancy (with Mark Greaney). Clancy’s death late in the year means, I assume, that there will be no more true Clancy books (though there is always the possibility that he left behind some manuscripts) but I suspect it will not mean the end of Jack Ryan or The Campus.

Finally, in the area of spiritual growth, I read Jacqueline Pierre’s Totally Infatuated, a short book aimed mostly at teens (and Pierre is still a teen herself) highlighting the relevance of Scripture to our everyday lives; R.C. Sproul’s A Taste of Heaven and The Work of Christ; R. Albert Mohler’s Desire and Deceit (which I have also referenced in earlier posts); Joe Stowell’s Following Christ; John Piper’s God Is the Gospel, and Matt Chandler’s To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain. All of these books are very good and depending on where you are in walk with the Lord, what you want to focus on or dig deeper into may or may not be what you “need” right now, but Stowell’s book would be relevant and practical for any Christian at any stage of their Christian walk, I think.

So, there you have it, a quick run through of my year in books. Until next January…keep reading!

Back in the Saddle

Well, another unplanned hiatus from blogging has come and, now, gone. I have not posted anything in more than six weeks, the longest drought since I started blogging more than two years ago. That is not because I have decided not to blog anymore. In fact, if there was a “thought-to-text” capability I could have posted lots of times and about lots of things. Just think about all of the “stuff” that has happened in the last six weeks that I could have waxed eloquent about! Don’t worry, though, I haven’t accumulated a six-week mass of posts to dump on you. No, you’ll just have to spend the rest of your life wondering what I thought about the staged sign language interpreter at the funeral of Nelson Mandela, among other things. If I have a New Year’s resolution, though, it is to post at least 150 times in 2014, so you have plenty to look forward to in coming months.

So where have I been for six weeks, you ask? Well, more than two of those weeks were spent in a hospital. I was perfectly fine, but my wife had a cancerous mass removed. I learned a few things during that time, not least of which is that (1) there are some excellent nurses and doctors “out there” and (2) you can get extremely tired doing nothing but sitting in a hospital room all day! (Oh, and most of the things you have heard about hospital food are, well, true). Praise the Lord my wife is doing very well and the surgery appears to have been completely successful. After that it was a hectic few weeks getting caught up at work with the end of the semester and the activities of the Christmas season, then it was Christmas break, and then it was the start of the second semester. Now, other than the fact that I managed to get sick just before the semester resumed, things seem to be pretty much back to normal. That means, hopefully, that I will be posting regularly for the foreseeable future. I did not say daily, mind you, but regularly. And I have plenty to say! But I’ll start, next time, with my annual review of the books I read in the last year.

Thanks for coming back after my unscheduled absence… See you next time.