Writing New Rules

On December 1, a bill, Bill C-4, unanimously passed the Canadian House of Commons. On December 7, it passed the Senate and on December 8 it received Royal Assent. On January 8, it took effect.

Bill C-4 is titled, “An Act to Amend the Criminal Code” and it specifically addresses conversion therapy.

Now, in order to be as generous as possible, I am going to give you the definition of “conversion therapy” provided by GLAAD, the organization founded in 1985 as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Their definition is, “Conversion therapy is any attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”

The key words in that definition, and that lead to the problem I am now addressing, is “any attempt.” I will explain in a moment why that is so problematic.

First, however, I want to make it explicitly clear that I do not support anyone being forced to go through any kind of treatment against their will. You have quite possibly heard some horror stories about such so-called therapy and I do not in any way support such activity…nor do I believe that the Bible does so. There is no denying that some people have suffered considerable harm—emotional and in some cases maybe even physical—under someone’s guise of curing them of homosexuality. I condemn that and I believe that Christians have a responsibility to care for such victims if given the opportunity to do so. But conversion therapy can include much more than that—which is why the words “any attempt” are important. And while there may well be many legislators in Canada who were well-intentioned and want only to protect people against coercive so-called therapy, the Canadian legislation certainly includes more than that.

Why is this Canadian legislation such a big deal that I am talking about it—especially since I do not live in Canada?

One, because the U.S. has shown a tendency to follow in Canada’s footsteps in many areas of law. Canada, for example, legalized same-sex marriage ten years before the U.S. did. In 2018, cannabis became legal in all provinces and territories of Canada. Where are we headed?

Two, and more importantly, is that this is a big deal. It is serious. It is more than it initially meets the eye.

Part of why I say that is explained in this quote from CTV News, a Canadian news outlet. It says of C-4, “It includes wider-reaching vocabulary of what constitutes conversion therapy than what the federal government attempted to pass in the last Parliament, and expands beyond the past proposal which focused on outlawing the use of the practice against children and non-consenting adults.”

The article later says that conversion therapy “can take various forms, including counselling….”

The bill makes it a criminal offense to even promote conversion therapy—including counseling.

More than that, however, the bill includes specifically religious terms and attacks.

The preamble to the bill states that conversion therapy “causes harm to the persons who are subjected to it” and “causes harm to society.”


“[B]ecause…it is based on and propagates myths and stereotypes about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, including the myth that heterosexuality…and gender expression that conforms to the sex assigned to a person at birth are to be preferred over other sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.”

I don’t know if you are grasping the significance of that, but a bill, that has now passed the Parliament in Canada, received the approval of the queen, and been enacted into law, says that what the Bible teaches about sexuality and gender is a myth.

Right now, if you are in Canada and you believe what the Bible teaches about sexuality and gender, then, according to Canadian law, you and your belief are wrong. They are nothing more than myths.

So much for freedom of religion. And Canada does, by the way, have freedom of religion. Or at least it did. I am not going to go into the structure of the Canadian constitution, but a significant part of it is the Constitution Act of 1982, which includes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that states, in Section 2, that everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication….

And yet, the law now says that if you think, believe or are of the opinion that heterosexuality is right and homosexuality is not, or bisexuality is not, or that someone’s biological sex should coincide with their gender identity, that you are wrong. And not only are you wrong, but if you express that to anyone else in any form that could be considered therapy—despite the freedoms of expression press and other communication—you are breaking the law!

Later, the bill states that “[e]veryone who knowingly causes another person to undergo conversion therapy — including by providing conversion therapy to that other person — is (a) guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years.”

The information released by the Canadian Department of Justice about this law, and posted on the official website of the Canadian government, links to a policy statement from the Canadian Psychological Association, which says that conversion therapy includes “prayer or religious rites” and “individual or group counselling.”

A Department of Justice news release says that conversion therapy is discriminatory and proven to be harmful even for adults who consented to it.

And the government’s explanation of the changes to the criminal code says that “These proposed new offences would not criminalize interventions that assist a person in exploring or developing their personal identity, provided that they are not based on the assumption that a particular sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is preferable to others.”

So bottom line, what does all of this mean? If you are a pastor or a Christian counselor, and you believe that what the Bible teaches about sexuality and gender is correct, and you allow that to influence your counseling or your prayer with someone—even someone who has consented to counseling and therapy with you—you are breaking the law.

Now, that’s a lot of background. I realize that. But it was necessary because it, I hope, makes clear exactly how serious this matter is. If we sit idly by and bury our heads in the sand and think this is not a big deal we are going to find, very soon, that this is happening here. In fact, I dare say we would find that it would not be very long before what I am saying here would be illegal if I were saying it from a church pulpit or in a counseling session.

That is troubling. I am not, after all, looking to go to prison. Far more dangerous than the possibility of going to prison, however, is the possibility that any pastor, any church or any Christian might shy away from standing firm on biblical truth in the face of such a possibility. We must never allow the fear of persecution—and certainly not the fear of prosecution—to deter us from believing and proclaiming God’s Truth. Should that time ever come, we must, like Peter before the Jerusalem council in Acts 5, says, “We must obey God rather than men.”

That sex is intended for marriage and that marriage is intended to be between a man and a woman and that whether or not someone is a man or a woman is determined by their anatomy and their biology, not by their whims or their feelings…none of that is a myth. All of that is God’s design.

The Bible makes no distinction between biological sex and gender.

Genesis 1:27 – “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Genesis 5:2 – “Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Manwhen they were created.”

Mark 10:2-9 – And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Now, maybe I am missing something, but it seems to me that those three passages make it crystal clear that God created male and female. He did not create entities who could then decide. God, in His sovereignty, by His design, created two sexes. Two genders. Male. Female. If you are a male, you are not a female. If you are a female, you are not a male. You do not get to pick which one you will be—it is not multiple choice. You do not get to change which one you are.

And regardless of how anyone feels, it is a scientific fact that there are genetic differences between males and females. Their bodies are made differently—by design. Neither is better than the other, they are just different.

We see this clearly in sports, when the issue of biological males identifying as women and competing in women’s sports is revealing just how different they are. It has been in the news quite a bit recently with the transgendered swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania. That swimmer, who competed for three years on the UPenn men’s team and, after undergoing hormone therapy is now competing as a woman, has obliterated college records this year. This year, that swimmer has the fastest time by any “female” college swimmer, including a time 0.64 seconds faster than Olympian Torri Huske in the 200m freestyle and a time nearly three seconds faster than Olympian Brooke Forde in the 500-yard freestyle.

A few years ago, a study was done comparing the best elite female athletes to men and boys. That study gave a great example: Allyson Felix, the most highly decorated track athlete in U.S. history, male or female, and who holds the record for most gold medals ever at the track and field World Championships—more than Usain Bolt—and who specialized in the 400m sprint for the latter part of her career and had a lifetime best of 49.26 in that event—in  just the single year of 2017, men and boys around the world beat that time by more than 15,000 times.

Now, do all transgender individuals choose to pursue athletics? No, of course not. But these examples give very clear evidence that there are differences—real differences between men and women.

Of course, the most obvious difference is that men are biologically and anatomically incapable of giving birth. And, despite Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s claim to the contrary in September, only women menstruate.

God created male and female. There are only two options, despite what Facebook or others may say—some organizations claim there are as many as 72 gender options. There are two, male and female, and you don’t get to pick. God chooses for you.

The Bible is just as explicitly clear about homosexuality. The passage that we already looked at in Mark 10 makes it clear that marriage is to be between a man and a woman. Clearly, then, homosexual marriage is contrary to God’s design. Even if you were to take marriage out of the picture, however, homosexual activity is also outside of God’s design.

Leviticus 18:22 – “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”

Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

Romans 1:26-27 – “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

Paul includes homosexuality in I Corinthians 6 when he presents a list of behaviors that are not pleasing to God. Paul addresses homosexuality again in I Timothy 1:8-10. Not only does he specifically name homosexuality in addition to the broader category of sexual immorality, he states that such behavior is “contrary to sound doctrine.”

Homosexuality is not okay. It is not just an “alternative lifestyle.” And certainly no one is made by God to be a homosexual. Homosexual behavior is very real, but that’s what it is—a behavior, not an identity. Not who a person is. And homosexual behavior is sin. There is no other way to honestly and legitimately interpret Scripture.

Plenty of people—some of them prominent and influential—have argued that the Bible’s teaching about homosexual behavior is out of date and no longer relevant, but no one has ever argued sincerely that the Bible does not teach that homosexual behavior is sin.

Back to why I am addressing this even though I do not live in Canada…consider an ordinance under consideration right now in West Lafayette, Indiana. Proposed Ordinance 31-21 has an odd title: “AN ORDINANCE PROHIBITING THE PRACTICE OF CONVERSION THERAPY AND DISCOURAGING ITS USE BY LICENSED PROFESSIONALS.” Hopefully you noticed why I say odd; I do not think it is common to have a law that both prohibits and discourages something! But the ordinance begins with this as the first of its many “Whereas” statements: “contemporary science recognizes that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is part of the natural spectrum of human identity.” That is a bizarre statement because all of those things are anything but natural. Indeed, Scripture specifically refers to homosexuality as going against nature.

Further troubling is another assertion, citing the Committee on Adolescence of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 1993 claim that, “Therapy directed at specifically changing sexual orientation is contraindicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety….” Oddly enough, yes, when you tell someone that they are doing something wrong, they might feel some guilt. That is how it is supposed to work in a healthy mind, actually.

But the point of the ordinance is specifically to ban so-called conversion therapy being performed by unlicensed individuals—unlicensed, that is, by the State of Indiana’s Professional Licensing Agency. That would include many pastors and biblical counselors. And what exactly will they be prohibited from doing? The ordinance bans “any practices or treatments that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.”

The Lafayette Journal & Courier reported that Dr. Steve Viars, an area pastor, raised concerns about the proposed legislation. “Imagine a scenario where an area teenager voluntarily visits a self-identified faith-based counselor, but because the counselor used the Bible as their source of truth, the local police department imposed a fine of $1000 per day,” Viars said. The article further notes, “Concerns of protecting free speech and freedom of religion have been raised, and [David] Sanders [a council member and co-sponsor of the ordinance] assures that these protections are being considered as the ordinance’s wording is being reworked.”

I do not know anyone in West Lafayette and I am not going to assume anything about anyone’s motives. But the law in Canada and the proposed ordinance in Indiana are both examples of why it is so important to be aware of proposed legislation/ordinances and the consequences, intended or otherwise, of the language they contain. Hopefully the Indiana ordinance can be amended to ban what is truly inappropriate while protecting both the freedom of religion and the freedom to counsel someone from the perspective that homosexuality and alternative gender identities are sin.

Now, let me transition a little bit because there are two other important points to make.

First, plenty of people have criticized the Church for picking on or singling out homosexuality when there are so many other sins. I oppose that sentiment. Yes, there are many other sins in the Bible. And I both believe and hope that I would be just as adamantly opposed to those other sins if our society tried to normalize them and force us to accept them. If this afternoon a movement began to make some other sin acceptable and normal and legally protected—and also to prohibit Christians from speaking out against it and taking a stand for what Scripture teaches, I hope that we would stand up and oppose that.

I am not naïve enough to think that our society is going to embrace the Bible and build our legal code around it completely. In fact, I don’t even know that I would want that completely. After all, if you look at colonial New England where it was against the law to break the Sabbath, that wasn’t a very effective way to win people to Christ or to cultivate sincere faith in Christ.

But I will not—and we as Christians must not—allow the world or the government or any other entity or person to tell us that what God says is sin is not sin. If God calls it sin, it is sin. Period, full stop. It is not up for debate.

Finally, we must be careful not to treat those who support homosexuality or transgenderism as rejected by God. Meaning, therefore, that we cannot reject them. We do not have to approve what they do or stand for. In fact, we cannot approve what they do or stand for. But we must always remember that every human being is created in the image of God, God loves each and every person and He sent His Son to die on the cross for each and every person. We are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God and need a Savior. God detests all sin.

We must never compromise on the truth…and we must always share God’s truth in love.

Image credit: Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0Pix4free.org

A Division of the Republic

Today is January 6. I would love to say that is only noteworthy for those who celebrate Epiphany, those who, like my nephew, have a birthday today, or because of the historically significant events that occurred that day prior to last year. There are several of those by the way—Samuel Morse unveiled the telegraph, Theodore Roosevelt died, New Mexico joined the U.S. as the 47th state, and it is the day on which both George Washington and George H.W. Bush got married. For pop culture fans, it is the day on which “Wheel of Fortune” premiered. For sports fans, it is the day that Nancy Kerrigan got attacked in 1994. Hopefully in the long run at least some of those events will prove more memorable than what happened one year ago today.

On January 6, 2021, something happened in Washington, D.C. Sadly, what you think of the event, even what you call the event, seems to be heavily influenced by your political leanings. A riot seems to be the most frequently used term, as well as the term that I find to be accurate. Dictonary.com gives three definitions for the noun riot: “a noisy, violent public disorder caused by a group or crowd of persons, as by a crowd protesting against another group, a government policy, etc., in the streets; a disturbance of the public peace by three or more persons acting together in a disrupting and tumultuous manner in carrying out their private purposes; violent or wild disorder or confusion.” All three are fitting for what happened on that day.

History.com says that “a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters descend on the U.S. Capitol, attempting to interfere with the certification of electoral votes from the 2020 presidential election. The rioters assaulted the Capitol police force and ransacked the complex, destroying property and sending members of Congress and their staff into hiding in officers and bunkers. A protester who was shot by police, died in the chaos, and more than 100 police were injured.” None of that is really debatable, though there are plenty of attempts being made to spin those events.

Mike Huckabee, writing yesterday, said, “Get ready for a surreal couple of days during which the Capitol Hill breach will be presented as ‘one of the darkest days of our democracy’ (quoting Colorado Rep. Jason Crow) and worse than the Civil War, Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Combined.” Huckabee is noted for his wit and sarcasm, but trying to minimize what happened last year through hyperbole is not only ineffective, it smacks of disregard for the reality of what occurred. To be fair, Vice President Kamala Harris did say in her speech this morning, “Certain dates echo throughout history, including dates that instantly remind all who have lived through them where they were and what they were doing when our democracy came under assault. Dates that occupy not only a place on our calendars, but a place in our collective memory. Dec. 7, 1941. Sept. 11, 2001. And Jan. 6, 2021.” I don’t think last year’s riot rises to the level of Pearl Harbor or 9/11 in its magnitude or long-range impact, but at the same time, January 6, 2021 was the act of U.S. citizens and cannot be minimized.

 At least Huckabee used the word riot when describing the events later in his piece. Just that word sets some people off. One of the commentors on Huckabee’s web site is a perfect example; he wrote, “it distresses me to the point of anger when anyone refers to what happened last Jan 6 as an ‘insurrection’ or ‘riot’ Both of those involve violence and destruction of property of which there was little if any… at least not at the Capitol building.” Such is the denial of reality we see among Trump followers.

But Huckabee took issue with Brit Hume’s comments two days ago. ““We are not living in normal times. What we need is for people to calm down. The bitter divisions that we see in this country are exacerbated by this tendency to exaggerate, and to do so grossly,” Hume said. Huckabee seemed okay with that part of it. But he took exception (his words) with Hume saying, “It was a cockamamie scheme by Trump that was bound to fail and did.” Huckabee countered that with, “He had called for a peaceful protest that was PRO-democracy. And we certainly can’t blame him for the riot.”

That, of course, is the recurring theme among Trump supporters—he cannot be blamed for the riot.

In An AP article by Jake Coyle, published yesterday, it was reported that a Quinnipiac poll found that 93% of Democrats considered the riot an attack on the government while only 29% of Republicans felt that way. A separate poll found that 40% of Republicans saw the riot as violent while 90% of Democrats did so. In what has to be the most idiotic statement I have come across about the entire event, Representative Andrew Clyde, a Republican from Georgia who is in the pictures of a door to the House chamber being barricaded by men with guns drawn against the mob, said last May, “Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes, taking videos, pictures. You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.” Florida Representative Matt Gaetz has uttered plenty of baloney about that day, but then uttering baloney is what Gaetz does best.

I am not going to get into whether or not Trump provoked, or inspired, the riot. There are plenty of others out there who have commented on both sides of that. It is a fact, though, that as he concluded his speech that morning, Trump said, ““We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore. So we are going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue – I love Pennsylvania Avenue – and we are going to the Capitol.” We do know that Trump did not act to deter the riot or to distance himself from it. His first tweet during the event was to say that “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution….” Not until 4:17 p.m. did Trump release a video asking those in the Capitol to go home, while also calling them “very special.” That was more than two hours after the Capitol was breached and five minutes shy of two hours after Pence was escorted out of the Senate chamber. Trump’s tweet about Pence lacking courage went out, by contrast, two minutes after Pence was escorted out.

Albert Mohler, who has maintained his support for Donald Trump, opined about the riot in his WORLD Opinion piece posted today. He writes of three Americas revealed by discussions of the January 6 events and rightly suggests that “mainstream America” is probably in agreement that “the events were a national embarrassment, a riot against lawful order, a stark portrait of political violence, and a sobering vision of a crowd out of control.” I am pleased that Mohler has the courage to call the events “horrifying, and bizarre,” and to acknowledge the Capitol was broken into by force, that the lives of elected officials were threated and that the Capitol was desecrated. He said that American witnessed a mob “expressing total disdain for our constitutional order. A nation that tolerates this kind of behavior and lawlessness undermines its own legitimacy.” He even said that “the passions behind those events were incited and flamed by the 45th president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. The mob was encouraged by the president….”

Trump and others are trying to downplay the event even today. Conservative radio host Jesse Kelly tweeted that “All the January 6th stuff this week is a distraction technique….” Matt Braynard has asserted that “January 6th was America’s Tiananmen Square.” Trump himself said that President Biden’s speech this morning “used my name…to try to further divide America.”

In the midst of the riot I posted this on Facebook: “This nonsense in Washington, D.C. is not okay, folks…. Storming the Capitol is not a protest. This is no different, and no more excusable, than the CHOP foolishness in Seattle last summer. Anyone who really loves this country and really believes in the principles on which this country is founded should condemn this. Looking through the pictures of the hooligans inside the Capitol makes me sick…both angry and painfully sad.” I feel no differently now. The riot was exactly that—a riot. It was not a protest, it was not peaceful and it is nothing to be proud of, by any stretch of the imagination. I believe that there were peaceful individuals and events in D.C. that day, and I am sure that there were some people who got swept up into the crowd and even went into the Capitol who had no intention of defacing property, attacking anyone or engaging in criminal behavior. There is, though, a reason why “wrong place, wrong time,” is a cliché. The bottom line is that our nation is deeply divided. Donald Trump plays a considerable role in that division but neither he nor anyone else can bear the blame alone. Every one of us who truly cares about our country, about the ideals upon which it was founded and about basic, common decency must stand up for our convictions. We have to speak the truth and we have to demand the truth. We cannot allow ourselves to go along with unscrupulous individuals or to contribute to the division because it seems to be the best available option or the candidate most likely to win at the time.

Please note that I am not suggesting that we compromise on our convictions or beliefs. (Quite the opposite, in fact. Had more conservatives not compromised by deciding to support Donald Trump we would probably not be in this position right now). Convictions are good. The United States government was designed to allow for disagreement and to work slowly so as to prevent quick changes and knee-jerk reactions. Amy Gutmann, in the Fall 2007 issue of Daedalus, wrote, “In a democracy, controversy is healthy,” adding, shortly thereafter, “The public interest is well served by robust public argument.” She was absolutely right. But she was just as right when she said later, “when disagreements are so driven and distorted by extremist rhetoric that citizens and public officials fail to engage with one another reasonably or respectfully on substantive issues of public importance, the debate degenerates, blocking constructive compromises that would benefit all sides more than the status quo would.” That was published before Donald Trump was elected, indeed before Barack Obama was elected. And yet, in the fourteen years since it was published, we have seen her words come alive. Disagreements are distorted. Extremist rhetoric is used on both sides. Politics has become a zero-sum game, with both leading parties casting aside members who dare to hold to their convictions rather than party demands. Just look at Tulsi Gabbard, Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney as three recent examples or consider the opposition Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin have faced for refusing to support the repeal of the filibuster or the passage of Biden’s bloated spending plan.

Last year, shortly after the riot, John Horgan, Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at Georgia State, said in an interview, “The United States is in a very precarious spot right now. We’ve witnessed a steady erosion of democratic norms, with increased polarization and radicalization that has reached a boiling point.” He later added, “The country is now so polarized it will take years to heal. It will require positive, constructive leadership at many levels, bipartisan reconciliation and a very basic recognition that we came close to losing a sense of what it means to be a democracy. I don’t believe we realize just how perilous things are right now.”

Gutmann was right and so was Horgan. Sadly, President Biden has not brought positive, constructive leadership. Sadly, Donald Trump has not only continued to demonstrate the same kind of attitude he had while in office, but he is considered the front runner for the Republican nomination in 2024. We don’t need Joe Biden and we don’t need Donald Trump. Nor do we need political parties that pursue victory at any cost.

In 1780 John Adams wrote, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”  Two hundred and forty years later, I think we have seen that he was right.

Photo credit: Blink O’fanaye, Flickr.

My Year in Books – 2021

Another year has come to an end, which means it is time again for my annual review of books I read. As per usual, there is a variety of genres and subject matter included.

Laura Story’s I Give Up recounts Story’s gradual release of her desire to be in charge of her life and her realization that fulfillment comes through surrender to God’s working. Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission emphasizes the importance of discipleship. In Holy Sexuality and the Gospel, Christopher Yuan develops what he calls “holy sexuality,” which includes chastity in singleness and faithfulness in marriage. Yuan is probably not as well known as Rosaria Butterfield, but their personal testimonies have some similarities and he, like Butterfield, has written and spoken at length about faith and sexuality. While Butterfield is now married, Yuan remains single. Randy Alcorn calls Holy Sexuality and the Gospel “profoundly relevant in an age of toxic confusion.” I agree with that. I think Butterfield, though, goes too far when she says it is “the most important humanly composed book about biblical sexuality and godly living for our times.”

John Piper’s A Peculiar Glory is an important book about the reliability of Scripture. In The Dawn’s Early Light, an older book byJoe Stowell that I picked up somewhere, Stowell addresses the “deepening darkness” of our times and how to counter that darkness biblically. Impossible People by Os Guinness describes the challenges faced by Christians today and the task they have of continuing to display courage in the face of opposition. Jesus Unleashed by John MacArthur is an overview of the way that Jesus dealt with confrontation during His earthly ministry, providing a clear look at His willingness to stand firm in the face of opposition. (This book is an abridgement of MacArthur’s The Jesus You Can’t Ignore).  

Paul David Tripp’s Sex and Money examines the obsession of current culture with those two things and their inability to bring genuine satisfaction or fulfillment. The Entitlement Cure, by John Townsend, would be a good read for parents but also for anyone who is bothered by the sense of entitlement that seems to pervade modern culture. His recommended antidote is what he calls “the hard way.” Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be, by LeRoy Eims, was recommended by another pastor as an excellent book for developing men as leaders in the church. The book was fine, but given that it was originally published in 1975 there are more recent books that are just as good or better and would be more relatable for contemporary readers.

Uncoiling My Corkscrew is a book by a friend and former coworker, Marvin Williams, that recounts lessons he has learned in his life. Henri Nouwen’s Turn My Mourning Into Dancing is a short book with helpful biblical insight for finding joy even in the midst of difficulty. H.A. Ironside’s Full Assurance is probably about ninety years old now. It is a short, easy read, and is certainly of its time in terms of some of the language and illustrations, but it capably explains how and why Christians can have assurance of their salvation.

At some point last year I found myself wondering when African Americans first appeared in Coca-Cola ads. (The answer is Mary Alexander, in 1955). That led me to read Brenna Wynn Greer’s Represented, a fascinating look at the individuals who were influential in bringing African Americans into popular advertising and media and also, in the process, “reimagin[ing] African America citizenship.”

I read Melba Patillo Beals’ I Will Not Fear primarily because I had so appreciated A Mighty Long Way by Carlotta Walls LaNier when I read it five years ago. Both women were among the Little Rock Nine. Beals’ book does recount that experience but goes well beyond it in describing the experiences she has had in her life. There were a few times that I wondered how one person could have so many of the experiences she recounted, given how unusual they seem, and there is never an explanation given for why she moved so many times, but it was a worthwhile read for the most part. I suspect her earlier book, Warriors Don’t Cry, is probably more along the lines of what I expected.

Stephanie Grisham’s I’ll Take Your Questions Now provides a very interesting look at the Trump presidency. Grisham, who worked for First Lady Melania Trump and/or in the West Wing, including a stint as Press Secretary, from the beginning of the Trump presidency until she resigned on January 6 after Melania Trump declined to tweet out a condemnation of the invasion of the Capitol, provides a very different look at Trump and the Trump White House than Sarah Huckabee Sanders did in her memoir. It will be interesting to read Kayleigh McEnany’s recently-released book to see where it falls in comparison to those two, but I suspect that Sanders, who is running for office herself and has accepted the endorsement of Trump, opted not to include some of the less-flattering information that Grisham did not shy away from including.

There were a number of history books. Rosemary Zagarri’s Revolutionary Backlash offers a look at the role of women during the Revolutionary Era, particularly in the area of politics, and suggests that the women’s rights movement really began during that time period. David Waldstreicher’s In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes is an examination of political festivals in early American history and the rise of nationalism. It is an examination of an aspect of American history I had never considered before and has some notable insights.

Mark David Hall’s Did America Have a Christian Founding? has some merit, but I found it did not address the subject as clearly and carefully as it should have. Hall admits that it is the first book he wrote for the general public (not, in other words, for an academic audience) and it seems he may have erred to strongly on the side of not getting too deep.

Harold Holzer’s Lincoln at Cooper Union provides a fascinating look at the events surrounding Lincoln’s speech at Cooper Union in early 1860, as well as the speech itself, a speech that Holzer suggests made Lincoln president. Though it is not well known today, particularly compared to the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address, it was a very important speech for Lincoln. While the Gettysburg Address was supposedly written in haste, the address at Cooper Union was a thoroughly researched and thought-out rebuttal of the expansion of slavery.

Regarding slavery, Manisha Sinha’s The Slave’s Cause is an exhaustive look at abolition. It looks beyond the individuals and events usually included in studies of American abolitionism and thus includes valuable new perspectives. Unfortunately, I do not think that Sinha accurately represents the role played by those who believed that slavery was inconsistent with biblical principles. In a book that is just as voluminous, though, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese, in The Mind of the Master Class, examine the role that faith played among Southern slaveholders, including their belief that slavery was consistent with the Bible. The book also manages to touch on the impact that Christianity had on slaves themselves. The book does help to understand the worldview of the enslavers even if one does not come away agreeing with them.

Sarah Rose’s D-Day Girls presents the many ways in which women were involved in Nazi-occupied France in helping to defeat the Nazis. Much like books by Erik Larson, among others, this is a non-fiction book that reads like a novel. I recommend this book for anyone with even remote interest in WWII history. Similarly, Lynne Olson’s Madame Fourcade’s Secret War is also about spying and the Nazi resistance in France, but her book is specifically focused on the story of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, who held a more influential role among the French resistance than any other woman. Olson recounts the incredible personal sacrifices Fourcade made, including being away from her two children and being captured twice by the Nazis. I recommend this one, as well.

Alex Kershaw’s The First Wave tells the story of the men who were “the first wave” of the D-Day invasion. The book was published in 2019 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of D-Day. I have not read a lot about D-Day, but I am confident that this book belongs alongside any other histories of that day.

Ben Macintyre’s Agent Sonya is also about a female spy—a Soviet intelligence officer code named Sonya who served in China, Japan and England. It is a pretty incredible story, all the more so since it is true, but I did not like it as well as I liked Macintyre’s The Spy and the Traitor, which I read in 2019.

Molly Guptill Manning’s When Books Went to War is a delightful look at a very unique aspect of WWII. Specifically, it recounts the efforts involved by the War Department and the American publishing industry to produce millions of small paperback books that soldiers could carry with them throughout the war. The resulting Armed Services Editions, of which 120 million were eventually produced, were beloved by troops who would create waiting lists for popular titles and trade finished books amongst themselves. I have looked, and you can find some of these Armed Service Edition books on Ebay. I haven’t purchased one yet, but I suspect it is only a matter of time.

That makes for a good transition to the fiction I read in 2021, because one of the books I chose was Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I read it because it was one of the most popular books printed in Armed Services Edition format and I had never read it. It is a pleasant read, and I can understand why Manning reported that it helped soldiers remember “regular life” back home. That is, after all, what the book is about; it has no real plot or climax to speak of—it simply tells the story of the life of Francie Nolan.

I always try to read at least one classic book and this year that was Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In looking at a list of the most banned books during Banned Book Week I realized I had read three of the top five. Now I have read four; J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye will have to wait until another year. I have not seen the film, but I can imagine Jack Nicholson as McMurphy. I found it an enjoyable read and Chief makes a terrific narrator. I am somewhat surprised it is in the top five banned books; I can think of others that would seem more fitting for that honor, though I can also imagine why it is in that group. It is said that the book was influential in the closing of asylums, which, if true, could place the book alongside The Jungle in terms of influence, but I do not know enough about whether that is true to make that claim definitively.

Christine Mangan’s Tangerine is set in Morocco in the 1950s, is full of vivid detail and is a well written debut novel. It is not surprising that many reviewers called it “Hitchcockian” or that it has been optioned by George Clooney to become a film starring Scarlett Johansson. The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters, is set in 1920s London. The book’s main character and her mother are forced to rent out part of their home in order to afford to keep it following the deaths of the men in the family. The resulting story is well-written and provides evidence of why Waters is considered an excellent writer of historical fiction, but the book hinges on a lesbian affair that develops between the main character and the wife of the couple that move in as lodgers. The book does do an excellent job of portraying the costs of choices, especially choices that are intended to be secrets.

If you read these reviews annually then you know there are a few fiction writers whose work I read regularly. This year that included Jeffrey Archer’s Turn A Blind Eye and Over My Dead Body, books three and four respectively in the William Warwick series; John Grisham’s The Judge’s List, which brings back Lacy Stoltz of the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct who first appeared in The Whistler and is, in my opinion, the closest to Grisham’s early novels that he has been in a while; James Patterson’s Fear No Evil, the latest Alex Cross novel; and Daniel Silva’s The Cellist, a significant improvement over last year’s Gabriel Allon novel The Order.

At the end of Over My Dead Body there is a conversation with Jeffrey Archer in which he states that Stefan Zweig is his favorite author. I had never heard of Zweig, but I decided to read his novel Beware of Pity. Zweig was purportedly one of the most popular writers in the world in the 1920s and ‘30s, yet somehow his popularity has faded. Beware of Pity is the only novel that he published during his lifetime, though The Post Office Girl was published posthumously. In Beware of Pity Zweig tells the story of an Austro-Hungarian cavalry officer in 1914 (the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand occurs at the end of the book, though it is not significant to the story). As the title implies, the book is a cautionary tale about how pity can change someone’s life.

The Burglar is the first book I have read by Thomas Perry. I enjoyed it, and Perry does a nifty job of making a criminal—the burglar—a character the reader finds himself rooting for, and he never really addresses any negative to the fact that the main character makes her living breaking the law. Somewhat similarly, Colson Whitehead, in Harlem Shuffle, has a protagonist who breaks the law—willingly in terms of selling some stolen items and serving as a fence for others, and reluctantly in terms of some mischief his cousin gets him into. Whitehead, at least, depicts the negatives associated with criminal activity, and his main character also pursues a mostly honest living as a furniture salesman. Whitehead interweaves storylines about race and social status even among those of the same race in this story set in the 1960s. Whitehead is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, but this is the first of his books I have read.

Sharyl Attkisson’s Slanted is her account of the way in which the mainstream media manipulates and cherry-picks news stories to cover and angles to take. Given that Attkisson is a five-time Emmy Award winner, her insight has to be taken seriously.

During our family vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina I picked up two books primarily of interest to those who live there or who have, like me, spent a lifetime vacationing there. Amy Pollard Gaw’s Lost Restaurants of the Outer Banks and Their Recipes is exactly what the title says. It is also a fascinating look at restaurants that were notable and influential in the area for years, including a bit of history about the local culture. John Railey’s The Lost Colony Murder on the Outer Banks recounts the true story of the 1967 murder of Brenda Joyce Holland, who had gone to the area to work at the long-running outdoor drama “The Lost Colony.” The murder was never solved, and Railey did some investigating of his own, leading to his conclusion about the perpetrator. Since the man Railey thinks was responsible is now dead himself, it seems unlikely anything will come of it, but his theory certainly seems plausible.

Quite possibly in response to my growing frustration with the modern game of baseball (and particularly the commissioner) I found myself reading a number of autobiographies and biographies of baseball players of yesteryear. Say Hey, by Willie Mays with Lou Sahadi, tells the story of Mays’ life and career. Perhaps no greater evidence could be given of the way the game used to be to the way it is now than the fact that Mays used to play stickball in the streets of New York when he first started playing for the Giants, even forgetting about a home game once because he was so into the stickball game. Charles Leerhsen’s Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty is an excellent book and should be read by anyone who wants to know what Cobb was really like. He does not have a great reputation, and while he surely did have a temper, much of what is purportedly “known” about him is inaccurate. Thom Henninger’s Tony Oliva is a wonderful biography of a man who is finally, as of December 2021, getting his due, having been elected to the Hall of Fame by the Golden Era Committee. Oliva was an incredible player—a dominant player for a few years before injuries limited his effectiveness. It was fun to learn, as well, that Oliva, a Cuban, married a woman from a town just about an hour from where I currently live. They have been married 53 years now. Doug Wilson’s Pudge, a biography of Carlton Fisk, is all the more impressive for the fact that Fisk himself never spoke to Wilson during the book’s writing. For a player with the work ethic, grit and competitiveness that Fisk had, it is amazingly sad how poorly he was, in the end, treated by both Boston and Chicago.

There were two other baseball books, Bill Gutman’s It’s Outta Here!, an interesting history of the home run, and Kevin Cowherd’s When the Crowd Didn’t Roar. Cowherd’s book is not purely (or only) a baseball book but it was an interesting look at what, prior to COVID, no one could have imagined–a game played with no fans. Following the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, and the unrest in Baltimore, the Baltimore Orioles played a home game against the Chicago White Sox in an empty stadium. The gates were locked and no fans were allowed in the park.

Terry Teachout’s Pops is marvelous biography of Louis Armstrong. The Good Life is Tony Bennett’s 1998 biography and he has since written two more books, but I finally got around to reading this one. Perhaps most interesting is Bennett’s recounting of his battle with his record company over his desire to record the kind of music he liked—classic American songbook—and not to make what seemed popular at the moment. Given that Bennett, who now struggles with Alzheimer’s, just released his final album at the age of 95—recorded with Lady Gaga, whom Bennett influenced significantly—it would seem that he had the stronger argument.

I will wrap this review up with three books that deal with contemporary culture. We Too, by Mary DeMuth, is an effort to address the role that the church needs to play in addressing #MeToo—both in terms of listening to and affirming victims and proactively preventing future victimization. While the book makes some good and valid points, I didn’t really like it overall. I suspect that some other individuals have addressed this issue in ways that I would consider more effective. Because I never give any individual book lengthy space in these annual reviews, I will put additional thoughts on this one in a postscript.

Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is considered must-reading among many Christian thinkers. The book is a thorough overview of the philosophies and worldviews that shaped the thinking and actions that led us to where we are today, looking specifically, but not exclusively, at the sexual revolution. This is one of those books that I filled with highlighting and marginalia as I interacted with the text. It is well worth reading, but I think it does miss in a few areas. A couple of times Trueman seems to overreach, failing to adequately support the conclusion he reaches. I think he ascribes far too much influence to the Romantic poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley in particular. Oddly, around the middle of the book it almost seems that Trueman learned two new words and wanted to show them off, as he includes “adumbrate” and “lacuna” far more times than seemed appropriate—especially since very few people use either of those words ever. At the end of the book, as Trueman was making his conclusion, he suggested that he could have made the same arguments using art or architecture instead of sexuality and I think that was a significant error on his part. While there are certainly fads and influences that can be seen in those two fields, neither have inherent binary characteristics and neither is inherently moral. As a result, Trueman undermines the importance of the very argument he spent 400 pages making about sexuality—though I am sure he had no intention of doing so.

In part of his book, Trueman addresses critical theory. It is not a major element of his book, though, and it does not as a result, get a lot of space. For a better understanding of both what critical theory is and why it is so dangerous, read Cynical Theories by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay. This book is all the more powerful because Pluckrose and Lindsay are not conservatives. They fall into the categories that most would expect to embrace critical theory, yet the effectively show why critical theory should be opposed. Rarely will you find a book recommended by such disparate thinkers as Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It is about fifty pages shorter than Trueman’s book and, while they do not have the same purpose, I would probably have to recommend this one over Trueman if someone pressed me to select one over the other. Both, however, are timely and relevant.

I don’t think I said so at the top so, in case you were not counting, that was fifty-three books for 2021. Thanks for reading my thoughts. Hopefully you found a title or two you now want to read for yourself.


Postscript: further thoughts on We Too

Mary DeMuth’s We Too is a book that claims to be a “how to” manual for the Church to “respond redemptively to the sexual abuse crisis.” While it has elements of that, I suspect there are other, more helpful books on this subject. I actually found myself liking the book less and less as I read it. DeMuth suffered horrific sexual abuse as a child, so she knows whereof she speaks. At the risk of sounding like I am dismissing that, which I am surely not, she reminds the reader far more often than seems necessary of that fact. At times she comes across as condescending. At other times one wonders why she did not just publish a giant post-it note saying to refer to Boz Tchividjian to know how to effectively deal with abuse. The book is only about 200 pages, so she could probably have taken the time to deal with some matters more carefully. On the subject of forgiveness, for example, she spends about three pages, and as a result does not deal with it in nearly the detail and accuracy it requires. That error is exacerbated by the fact that she spends most of those three pages using Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers as her example. DeMuth also errs in oversimplifying other recommendations that could be valuable. For example, when suggesting that parents and churches place children into potentially dangerous situations by teaching them to respect adults, she says, “We strip children of their autonomy when we insist that they be kind to elders.” Well, children are not supposed to be autonomous. They are children. Effective parenting strips children of their autonomy on a regular basis. There are many ways in which children can be taught what is and is not appropriate behavior, and what to do if something inappropriate happens, while still teaching them to “be kind to elders.”

DeMuth also makes the valid point that those who are informed of abuse sometimes make it about them and thus diminish the victim, but it is important to recognize that someone who learns of abuse will understandably feel angry and guilty if the victim is someone they know and care about—particularly if they think they could have done something about it had they known sooner. It is foolish to suggest that such individuals can simply absorb the victim’s story and not have an emotional response to it. DeMuth references Rachael Denhollander several times throughout the book, including in the acknowledgements, but Denhollander is not the author of any of the more than twenty endorsement blurbs at the beginning of the book. This is pure speculation on my part, but it does make me wonder if that is because Denhollander recognized some of the same issues I am touching on here. The bottom line is that what DeMuth is addressing in the book needs to be addressed, but there have to be more effective books out there than this one.