jasonbwatson

April 7, 2014

Speaking Out

Back in January WORLD Magazine published its annual issue focused on right to life issues. One of the articles in that issue was titled “Still-silent shepherds.” The article, by Joe Maxwell and Stephen Hall, begins with this editor’s note: “In 1994, WORLD published “Silence of the shepherds,” an article addressing the reticence of many evangelical pastors to preach on abortion. Two decades later, a WORLD survey shows that many are still silent.”

Just that caveat by itself should be enough to spark outrage among anyone who believes that the Bible is absolutely clear on the subject of the sanctity of life. The article begins by explaining that John Piper did not preach on the subject of abortion until the late 1980s. A change came over him then, though: “It was a combination of seeing other people taking it seriously and then beginning to check my own soul, and God just mercifully taking away some blind spots, showing me in the Scriptures all kinds of reasons for standing up and defending these little ones,” Piper said. Since that time Piper has preached more than twenty sermons on the subject of abortion and has become so active in defending life that he was arrested in a sit-in. “I don’t regret it,” he said. The article goes on to quote Piper saying that pastors need to take abortion seriously and they need to address it biblically, including from the pulpit.

Shortly thereafter, however, the article provides a perspective from the other side. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, does not address abortion from the pulpit and that is by design. The article quotes an article Keller wrote for Leadership Journal in 1999: “Pushing moral behaviors before we lift up Christ is religion. …Jesus himself warned us to be wary of it, and not to mistake a call for virtue for the good news of God’s salvation.” The WORLD article includes the story of a woman who was approached several years ago by a woman who thanked him for not addressing abortion from his pulpit, saying, “If I had seen any literature or reference to the ‘pro-life’ movement, I would not have stayed through the first service.” Later she accepted Christ and asked Keller if he thought abortion was wrong. He said yes, and the woman–who has had three abortions–said that she was coming to see that perhaps it is wrong.

I think that’s a great story and a good example of the transformation that occurs when someone accepts Christ — the “renewing of the mind.” However, it is not, in my opinion, a justification for not addressing the issue of abortion in church and from the pulpit. Abortion is, plain and simple, the murder of a human being, albeit one that has not yet been born. Would any pastor argue that churches should avoid speaking out against murder? Of course not. Why, then, allow the culture’s pervasive efforts to define abortion as something other than murder to influence our willingness to stand firmly on the Scripture and state unequivocally that abortion is wrong? Billy Graham apparently once told Larry King, “I don’t get into these things like abortion,” suggesting that doing so might interfere with his main message of salvation. Of course salvation is the main message, and of course salvation will, hopefully, bring the renewing of the mind that caused the woman in Keller’s story to reexamine her previous beliefs about abortion, but that does not mean that we keep mum on the subject until after salvation. Franklin Roosevelt was unwilling to take a stand on civil rights issues during his presidency because he feared it would undermine the support he needed for his economic policies. Was that a reasonable justification for keeping silent on the discrimination that African Americans were facing? I think not.

WORLD‘s article reports that it conducted a random survey of forty pastors from seven different denominations within the National Association of Evangelicals. Interestingly, all forty said that life begins at conception and that pastors should preach against abortion. Despite that unanimous response, eighteen of the forty pastors had not preached on abortion in the past year and five more had never done so! Many of the pastors surveyed indicated that their churches work with or fund crisis pregnancy centers, provide pro-life information within their churches, participate in Right to Life marches or even–in 10% of the churches–picket abortion providers. That is all well and good but it is no substitute for addressing abortion from the pulpit.

One reason suggested within the WORLD article for the reluctance of pastors to address abortion is the impact it may have on giving within their churches. Another reason is the possibility of offending influential church members. Might I respectfully point out that the Bible itself is offensive? R.C. Sproul recounts creating materials to help pastors and churches address abortion several years ago. The response Sproul received was overwhelmingly consistent, he says. “It was like a broken record. Pastors said, ‘I can’t use this material. It will split our church.'”

Interestingly, those pastors who refuse to address abortion from their pulpits are ignoring a subject that an overwhelming number of Americans already believe is immoral. According to an August 2013 Pew study 85% of Americans believe that abortion is immoral. So why would pastors shy away from addressing it? The reasons WORLD received could be divided into four categories according to the article: (1) it might make some church members uncomfortable or “hurt women in congregations who’ve had abortions”; (2) addressing abortion should not be handled in an issue-specific manner, especially if expository preaching is the church’s focus; (3) addressing abortion might politicize the pastor or the pulpit and could scare off seekers; and (4) speaking out on abortion might be “uncool or anti-intellectual.”

If I may, I’d like to state in no uncertain terms that I find those four reasons ridiculous. There are very few subjects in the Bible that will not make someone in the church uncomfortable. When churches refuse to address those topics they cease to become biblical churches and instead become feel-good gatherings and support groups. There is no reason that abortion can not be addressed in a way that also extends forgiveness, love and support to women who have experienced abortions. Given that abortion is explicitly addressed in the Bible I disagree that it could politicize the pastor or the church. If it did, though, I would consider that a cost worth paying for taking a stand. If any pastor fears being uncool he better get out of the ministry now, because the Bible was never intended to be cool. In this increasingly hostile world there will never be a time when preaching the truth of God’s Word will be “cool.” The only one of the four reasons that even comes close to being legitimate in my mind is the second one, but even that is a stretch and is, in my opinion, a flimsy excuse for ducking the issue.

Mike Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor and Republican presidential candidate, provides some of the best comments on the issue of abortion being addressed in the church that I have seen. As to the possibility of addressing abortion being divisive, Huckabee asks, “How can you claim to proclaim a gospel that turns its back on the slaughter of innocent babies?” He accurately addresses the concern about hurting women who have had abortions, too: “We need to be careful and offer grace to people who’ve made bad decisions and give the gospel to them, while at the same time drawing a line in the sand and saying, ‘This is not something that can be acceptable.’ It’s forgivable, but not morally acceptable.”

To that I say simply, “Amen.” If your pastor speaks out against abortion from the pulpit, thank him. If he does not, ask him why, and challenge him to step up and defend life. There is simply no excuse to not do so.

March 6, 2014

Not the least bit helpful

Abortion is an emotional issue for many people on both sides of the debate. That is just the way it is, and there is no changing it. However, it is an issue that is emotional enough, contentious enough, without adding any unnecessary fuel to the fire. That is just what Alabama state congressman Alvin Holmes did on Tuesday, however.

The Alabama state legislature was debating a bill that would ban abortions in Alabama after a fetal heart beat can be detected. Holmes, a Democrat, proceed to make abortion a racial issue by claiming that white lawmakers–specifically white Republican lawmakers–would make their daughters get an abortion if they became pregnant by a black man.

The Independent Journal Review quoted Holmes from an audio recording of his speech it obtained from AL.com. Here is an excerpt:

If you ask the people in here now to raise their hands for those who are against abortion, 99% of all of the white people in here gonna raise their hands that they’re against abortion. On the other hand, 99% of the whites that are sitting in here now, if they’re daughter got pregnant by a black man, they’re gonna make their daughter have an abortion. They ain’t gonna let her have the baby.

You ain’t gonna have no black baby – if she got two other white children, and she gonna have a black baby – running around there in the living room, in the den with the rest of them. They’re not gonna let that happen – you know that and I know that. You will never admit it – you know that and I know that. All this stuff about abortion and this and that – that’s just a con game. That’s for whites, ain’t for blacks.

Holmes went so far as to ask a white woman in the chamber if she would allow her daughter to give birth to a mixed-race baby. When the woman replied that she would, Holmes said, “Well, I need to commend you, then. There wouldn’t be one out of 100,000 who would do that.” Really? Does Mr. Holmes truly believe that 0.00001 percent of whites would support their daughter and encourage her to give birth to her child if she became pregnant by an African American? I do not know if he believes it or not or if it is purely hyperbole, but his position is incendiary, offensive and not the least bit helpful.

The IJReview asks, “Why must Democrats resort to race baiting in order to try to win an argument?” Why, indeed? The issue of abortion is not a racial issue. Unlike homosexual marriage and other gay rights controversies the issue of abortion truly is a civil rights issue. If Mr. Holmes and others would allow themselves to debate the merits of an issue rather than tainting the matter by accusing those of another race of holding a position solely because of the color of their skin there would no doubt be much more beneficial discussion. If Mr. Holmes chooses to continue to support abortion on demand then I can take issue with him on that and he can take issue with me on my position that there is no constitutional right to abortion and that it is a practice that should be severely restricted. That he is black and I am white really doesn’t matter at all.

January 17, 2014

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.

November 4, 2013

Loud and Clear

Though I took a hiatus for a few posts from talking about education, I still have more to say about the subject, so I turn again to that.

One unfortunate reality of public education is the overwhelming influence of the National Education Association (NEA). The NEA describes itself as “the nation’s largest professional employee organization” and its purpose as “advancing the cause of public education.” That troubles me, and it should trouble you. Why? Because the NEA’s focus seems to be on almost everything but student learning. That is not to suggest that the NEA never addresses learning, but it certainly does not seem to take the focus.

Last July the NEA held its annual convention in Atlanta. At that convention the NEA adopted this resolution, listed as New Business Item 30: “NEA will encourage all states and NEA Affiliates to use existing means of communication to promote developmentally appropriate instructional resources in order to help all educators integrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) history, people, and issues into their instruction such as, but not limited to ‘Unheard Voices’ an oral history and curriculum project for middle and high school students created in collaboration by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and Story Corps.”

There were ninety-three new business items on the convention’s agenda, all of which can be seen on the NEA web site. Here are a few examples of those items that were adopted…

* The NEA shall encourage the Obama administration to ensure all legally married people have equal access to federal benefits regardless of their state of residence.
* Using existing resources and publictions, the NEA shall educate its members about the problem of homelessness among U.S. military veterans and publicize the work that organizations including “Soldier ON” are doing to combat it.
* A lengthy resolution on what the NEA could do to end the cholera epidemic in Haiti.
* NEA will gather stories of members who have been victims of age discrimination and other workplace harassment, share them using existing communication vehicles, and provide members with a toolkit they can use in this situation.
* NEA will support efforts to fully restore and extend to all states the effective protections of the Voting Rights Act, to fight state legislation that assaults voting rights, to support state legislation that expands voting access, to mobilize our members, to partner with other organizations to maximize civic participation, and fight voter suppression.
* NEA will use existing resources, assist state affiliates in urging policy makers on the district and state level to push for legislation similar to California’s FAIR Education Act (Senate Bill 48) that requires schools to integrate factual information about social movements, current events, and history of LGBTQ people and people with disabilities into existing social studies lessons along with all historically underrepresented groups.
* NEA will write an article through existing digital communication to elevate awareness around the need for state laws to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
* The NEA RA commend Texas State Senator Wendy Davis for her courageous filibuster to protect women’s rights and her continued ongoing advocacy on behalf of students and staff who serve in great public education.
* NEA stands in solidarity with striking Bay Area Rapid Transit Workers. NEA supports Service Employees International Union 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 now on strike against Bay Area Rapid Transit Management and will send a letter of support to them acknowledging the just demands of striking workers….
* The process for NEA’s approval of sponsors of major giveaways and corporate partners of the NEA shall include a preference for companies who have an active union presence among their workforce unless labor unions are not actively organized in an industry.

Not much in there about actual teaching and learning, is there? Now, there were a few things in the new business items addressing teaching and learning, but most of them were about high stakes testing, Common Core State Standards, and support for making physical education a mandatory subject nationwide.

By the way, what did Wendy Davis do in Texas? She filibustered for thirteen hours, attempting to derail a law that imposes some of the toughest regulations in the country on abortion clinics. A proposal submitted to the NEA convention to “prohibit the use of dues money to support abortions,” by the way, was squashed, after attendees booed that pro-life educators introducing the proposal. The NEA kept in place, though, its support for “school-based family planning clinics.”

I am incredibly tempted to comment further on the NEA, the influence it has on public education, and the warning sign that should be for any parent truly concerned about their children are taught at school, but I think I am going to take the less-is-more route here; I think the NEA has pretty well spoken for itself…loud and clear.

November 1, 2013

Sacrificing the Truth

The September 21, 2013 issue of WORLD Magazine includes the second part of an excellent interview with John Piper who, earlier this year, stepped down after 33 years of being the preaching pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. One of the things I admire greatly about Piper is how clearly he delivers his message and how unwavering he is in doing so; he does not beat around the bush or hedge his position or sound wishy-washy. When he is convinced of the biblical perspective on any issue he presents it and holds to it without apology. Whether you are familiar with Piper or not, his comments about the future of America are poignant and relevant. Some of what he says I have stated in this space before, but his words are worth repeating.

When asked what he thinks the United States will be like in ten or twenty years Piper responds that he is not optimistic, though he also believes that God could “move like a tornado through this land” and cause a spiritual coming-to-our-senses. More specifically, Piper says America needs to admit, “‘We’ve been insane.’ It’s insane to kill babies. it’s insane to define marriage as two men having long-term sex with each other.”

If we do not come to that realization, Piper says, we will have serious consequences facing our nation. “We are going to wake up after this marriage fiasco in 10, 15, or 20 years, and the fruit of it will be absolutely devastating for children, for all the legal implications we haven’t thought of, for thousands of people who tried their best to manage their undesired same-sex orientation and didn’t get any help from the leaders of their land. Who knows what will follow in terms of polygamy and other kinds of sex once you have said a woman who wants a baby not to exist has the right to make it not exist, and you have the right to call ‘marriage’ whatever you want to call it. Then there are no philosophical roadblocks to taking lives at lots of other times and calling lots of other things marriage.”

Piper is right on target here; as I have stated before, the legalization of abortion and the legalization of same sex marriage are but initial steps onto an extremely slippery slope. Where does that slope end? We do not know. As a nation we have begun removing the guard rails that were there to protect us from plunging over a cliff into a chasm of chaos and lawlessness. We do not know how far the fall will be, how many times we may “bounce” on the way down, how many bones will be broken or whether or not we will still be alive when we hit the bottom. And if we do survive the plunge, we have no idea if we will be able to climb out of that chasm.

Christians need to realize that silence in the face of this guard rail removal is both cowardly and dangerous. The reality is, the issues of abortion and marriage are not just “religious issues.” How one defines these things must not be dependent on which church one attends (if any). These are matters of national survival. Taking a stand for the truth is not going to be popular, but we must remain undaunted. In response to being questioned about so-called political correctness Piper said, “Political correctness means there is a way to talk that will prove least offensive to the cultural elite, or whoever you happen to be talking to with the authority and power to shut you down. … Therefore I abominate political correctness. I abominate calculating your words so that you get acceptance by sacrificing the truth.”

October 31, 2013

Barbaric

I do not know if I have ever done a movie review here or not. I think I did one once similar to the one I am about to do now, meaning a commentary on a movie that I have not seen, based on what I had read about the movie. The movie I am going to address now is actually a documentary, entitled After Tiller. This documentary focuses on the four late-term abortionists still practicing in the U.S. following the 2009 murder of Kansas late-term abortionist George Tiller.

The movie’s web site describes it this way:

AFTER TILLER intimately explores the highly controversial subject of third-trimester abortions in the wake of the 2009 assassination of practitioner Dr. George Tiller. The procedure is now performed by only four doctors in the United States, all former colleagues of Dr. Tiller, who risk their lives every day in the name of their unwavering commitment toward their patients. Directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson have created a moving and unique look at one of the most incendiary topics of our time, and they’ve done so in an informative, thought-provoking, and compassionate way.

Now, as I said, I have not seen the film, so I cannot comment on whether or not the film depicts the topic in a “compassionate way” or not, though I am sure that it does. After all, the web site’s Resources link is headed by a link to NARAL in response to the provided question of how to get involved in supporting abortion rights. If the film is intended to increase support for abortion there is no way it will depict late-term abortion or late-term abortionists in any way other than compassionately. Having said that, I have no reason to believe the film is not very well made. The movie review web site Rotten Tomatoes gives After Tiller 4.5 stars out of 5 based on thirty-eight reviews. The site includes this summary: “It’s an imperfect look at an uncomfortable subject, but After Tiller transcends its flaws by applying empathy, honesty, and graceful understatement to a discussion that all too often lacks them all.”

Now I will grant that the discussion over late-term abortion often turns unnecessarily ugly (on both sides of the debate) but I struggle to comprehend how “graceful understatement” can be used to address a practice as horrific as killing an unborn child in the third trimester of pregnancy. According to almost every survey and statistic I have ever seen the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that late-term abortions should be illegal. Lana Wilson–one of the directors of the film–believes, however, that it should not only be legal but should not even be that big of a deal. She has been quoted as saying that she wants the film to contribute to removing the “shame and stigma” around late-term abortion.

Interestingly, one of the women who works at one of the late-term abortion centers featured in the film said, “I think the reason I’ve struggled is I think of them as babies. I don’t think of them as a fetus. … You can’t say, ‘That’s some tissue.’ It’s a baby. It’s inside the mother and she can’t handle it for many, many extreme and desperate reasons. Unless you understand what’s going on for the woman, it’s impossible to support it, how could you? It sounds barbaric.” It sounds barbaric because it is barbaric. I have no doubt whatsoever that many women do indeed have “extreme and desperate reasons” why they do not want to be pregnant or they do not want to see a pregnancy through to delivery, but to suggest that by understanding those reasons we can somehow justify the taking of life is an extremely dangerous assertion to make. After all, if I have “extreme and desperate reasons” why I do not like my spouse, or my living child, or my neighbor, or my co-worker, or whomever else, would that justify my killing that person? Of course not. The unborn child is no different.

At one point the documentary presents a teenager who wants to have an abortion even though her boyfriend’s family have offered to adopt the child. The abortionist decides to perform the abortion because she wholeheartedly believes that women must make the decision to carry a child or not themselves. In other words, it is not right for another person or even for society to tell any woman that she cannot kill the child in her womb. So I must ask again, how then can we say society has the right to tell any person that they cannot kill any other person? Why in the world do the few inches separating the inside of the mother’s womb from the outside of said womb determine whether or not that person has a right to live?

According to a review of the film by Emily Belz every mother in the film justifies her decision to abort “by saying it is in the best interest if the baby.” It ought to jar anyone reading this to consider that supposedly rational human beings can convince themselves that killing a human is in that human’s best interest–particularly a defenseless infant. This entire way of thinking stems from the belief that some humans are superior to–and therefore know better than–other humans what is best. That perception and opinion would vary, of course, based on which side of the argument you might be on, but this way of thinking is what led to the justification for slavery, for racial discrimination, for the extermination of millions of Jews, for flying airplanes into skyscrapers, and for many of the world’s other horrific tragedies.

I agree with Belz when she writes that the one good thing about the documentary is the unimpeded access to abortion centers that the filmmakers received; as she says, “no unbiased, let alone pro-life, filmmaker would ever get such steady access into these late-term abortion centers.” My hope and prayer is that those who see this movie will see beyond the pleasant personas of the abortionists, beyond the ridiculous arguments that women have the right to make this decision themselves, beyond the assertion that a few inches difference in physical location makes the difference between a human with rights and a blob of cells with none. My hope and prayer is that everyone who sees this documentary will be completed revolted by the practice of late-term abortion and that the people of this country will stand up, take action, and make late-term abortion illegal everywhere.

October 3, 2013

Poor CHOICES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 19, 2013

On the side of life

In light of the trial of Kermit Gosnell going on now it is quite fitting that the theme of the April issue of Tabletalk magazine/devotional from Ligonier Ministries is “Defining Personhood.” The issue includes an article from Randy Alcorn, founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries and author of the excellent book Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments.

In the article Alcorn writes, “Each person, regardless of his parentage or handicap, has not been manufactured on a cosmic assembly line, but personally formed by God.” This is the foundational truth for anyone with a biblical worldview on defining personhood–the fact that God Himself has knit together each human being according to His will and His plan, and that life begins at conception.

Alcorn quotes Meredith Kline’s observation: “The most significant thing about abortion legislation in Biblical law is that there is none. It was so unthinkable that an Israelite woman should desire an abortion that there was no need to mention this offense in the criminal code.” Alcorn elaborates, writing that every Israelite “knew that the preborn child was a child” and therefore God’s command “You shall not murder” was all that needed to be said on the matter.

Alcorn challenges the assertion made by those on the “pro-choice” side that a fetus or an embryo is not a human being. “Like toddler and adolescent, the terms embryo and fetus do not refer to nonhumans but to humans at various stages of development. It is scientifically inaccurate to say a human embryo or a fetus is not a human being simply because he is at an earlier stage than an infant. This is like saying that a toddler is not a human being because he is not yet an adolescent. Does someone become more human as he gets bigger? if so, than adults are more human than children, and football players are more human than jockeys. Something nonhuman does not become human or more human by getting older or bigger; whatever is human is human from the beginning, or it can never be human at all.”

The article is full of other brilliant counters to the many arguments so often trotted out by those on the side of death…the side commonly referred to as “choice.” Alcorn mentions the response of Alan Keyes to a thirteen-year-old girl in Detroit who asked whether he would support an exception for rape. Keyes, who, in my opinion, is one of the most effective defenders of the right to life today, responded to her question with a question of his own: “If your dad goes out and rapes somebody, and we convict him of that rape, do you think it would be right for us to then say, ‘okay, because your dad is guilty of rape, we’re going to kill you’?” The class, of course, answered no, as would any rational person.

Alcorn expands on Keyes’ response, writing that “Imposing capital punishment on the innocent child of a sex offender does nothing bad to the rapist and nothing good to the woman. Creating a second victim never undoes the damage to the first. Abortion does not bring healing to a rape victim.”

I have quoted more extensively here than I usually do, because quite frankly I think Alcorn and Keyes communicate the pro-life position more clearly, more powerfully and more effectively than just about anyone else, certainly than me. But it is important to remind ourselves of the arguments in favor of life, since the culture and the media so regularly and so loudly communicate the arguments in favor of death. Kermit Gosnell is a monster; there is no other apt description for someone who willingly does the things he did–and does it for profit, at that. I hope that receives the penalty for his crimes that he deserves. But incarcerating Gosnell–while a definite step in the right direction–will not solve the problem; it will not change the fact that millions of babies are killed in the United States every year. We need to pray, but we also need to act. We need to communicate with legislators, we need to actively support the pro-life position and those who are on the front lines defending life. And, unpopular as it may at times be, we need to directly and firmly challenge those who disagree that it is simply not possible to adhere to the Bible and support abortion. The two are simply not compatible; indeed, they are unalterably opposed.

April 16, 2013

No comment

The realities of the Kermit Grosnell case are exceedingly gruesome, and there is enough information about the case out there that I did not feel the need to address it here–specifically since it is so gruesome that there is really no comment needed. I cannot imagine how any person who is not mentally ill could defend his actions. If you have not heard of him, or do not know what I am referring to, and you want to know, just Google his name and you will find out far more than you want to know. If you would like me to make it easier for you, you can read this article from USA Today. I’ll be honest, though, I suspect most people cannot read the article without becoming physically sick. Just read the opening line of the article and you will know enough to put the rest of what I am going to say in context.

At yesterday’s White House briefing White House Press Secretary Jay Carney made no announcements, instead opening the floor for questions from the White House press corps. One of the reporters present, Ed Henry (senior White House correspondent for Fox News), asked Carney about the Gosnell trial (he is on trial for murder) and the president’s reaction to the situation. You can watch the press briefing on the White House web site and/or read the transcript.

Initially Carney said that the president “does not and cannot take a position on an ongoing trial.” Interesting. If you check YouTube for the video clip of the press briefing you will see that most of the comments there correctly point out that President Obama has had no problem at all taking a position on ongoing trials in the past. Just over a year he ago he made comments on the Trayvon Martin shooting, specifically, according to The Huffington Post, because “he and his press handlers were feeling pressure, coming from black activists and others, to make a public comment on the Martin case.” In that instance Obama’s comments were cautiously guarded, because he said he did not want to “impair” the ongoing legal process, but that did not stop him from commenting on the matter.

In July 2009 President Obama did not let his unfamiliarity with all of the facts stop him from addressing the Cambridge, Massachusetts’ police department’s arrest of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In fact, in a press conference the president said, “”Now, I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly….and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there’s a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact.” Maybe so, Mr. President, but that kind of rhetoric did nothing to specifically address the problem, and in fact could serve only to inflame any hostility in and toward the matter. But here’s another fact for Mr. Obama and Mr. Carney–there again the President of the United States was making specific comments on an ongoing legal matter.

So, convenient though it may have been for Mr. Carney to dodge the question by saying the president cannot take a position, the facts speak for themselves and when pressured to do so, when convenient, or, more accurately, when it will play well in the African-American community, Mr. Obama has had no problem taking a position on an ongoing legal matter.

After saying there was no position being taken Mr. Carney said, “Certainly, the things that you hear and read about this case are unsettling, but I can’t comment further on an ongoing legal proceeding.” “Unsettling” is an understatement to say the least. Mr. Henry was not ready to let the issue go, though. He pressed Mr. Carney with this background and question:

I understand the legal proceeding. The President as a state senator in 2003 voted against a bill that would provide medical care, as I understand, to babies who would be born after a botched abortion like this. And the President at the time said he couldn’t support it as a state senator because he felt like any doctor in that situation would take care of a child.

When you hear this kind of evidence that suggests there’s at least one doctor who apparently did not, I understand you can’t comment — you can’t deal with the deliberations of the case, but is there some legislative solution or at least a conversation that needs to happen in Washington? Because on guns, you were just saying, we need common-sense reform, we need to save lives. In this case, do we need to be saving lives as well?

Carney’s response? “Well, again, you’re relating it to a case that I can’t comment on and the President can’t comment on. I would simply say that the President’s position on choice is very clear. His position on the basic principle that, as President Clinton said, abortions ought to be safe, legal and rare is very clear. I just don’t have comment that could shed light on this specific case.”

Mr. Carney was missing Mr. Henry’s point entirely. He was no longer asking for specific comment on the Gosnell case; he was asking whether or not President Obama has the same impetus to seek “common-sense reform” to save the lives of babies who survive abortions as he seems to wont to do with gun control.

The sad truth is that Mr. Carney, and President Obama, had no comment. When a black teenager is shot, he has a comment. When a black scholar is arrested–as it turns out, at his own home–he has a comment. But when a black abortion provider is killing babies who have been born alive, he has no comment. That’s the bottom line, and in my opinion it is inexcusable.

And quite frankly, their “no comment” speaks volumes.

November 12, 2012

New York, we have a problem…

My title, of course, is a play on the famous line from the Apollo 13 astronaut who informed Houston of the serious mechanical problem the shuttle crew had discovered…a problem that seriously jeopardized the likelihood that the crew would be able to return safely to earth. I chose to use that line as the title for this posting not to diminish the seriousness of the challenge faced by the Apollo 13 crew, but rather to emphasize the seriousness of the challenge faced by New York specifically, and America generally.

To what am I referring? New York’s CATCH initiative. CATCH stands for “Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Healthcare.” On its face that sounds noble, doesn’t it? After all, who would not want teenagers (or anyone, for that matter) to have access to comprehensive health care? Comprehensive means extensive, full or broad. Many people have comprehensive insurance on their automobiles, for example, so that a wide range of potential damage to the vehicle will be covered by insurance. The problem is, “healthcare” in America has been expanded way beyond the treatment of injuries and illnesses. In this instance, specifically, CATCH is a program that provides birth control pills and abortifacient Plan B to teenage girls as young as 14, and does not even tell the girls’ parents. The plan began in January 2011, and costs the city $100,000 per month. Not until the New York Post did an article on the program in September 2012 did it get much attention, though.

According to what I have read, CATCH marks the first time that Plan B has been provided to students directly by the city of New York (though privately run clinics at city high schools have apparently been offering it for several years). Called by some an “emergency contraceptive,” Plan B can prevent an embryo from being implanted if it is taken within 72 hours of intercourse. In other words, the pill causes an abortion, by killing a fertilized egg.

There are several interesting thing one discovers by exploring the web site for Plan B. First of all, it is advertised as “a simple, effective back-up plan” to “regular birth control.” The FAQ’s on the web site state that the drug contains the “the same hormone found in many birth control pills, levonorgestrel, to help prevent pregnancy. Plan B One-Step® works in a similar way to prevent pregnancy. Plan B One-Step® is not the abortion pill (RU-486), and should not affect or terminate an existing pregnancy.”

So what is the difference between Plan B and RU-486? A pregnancy is considered to be “existing” once the embryo has attached to the uterine wall. Since Plan B prevents that from happening, what the pill does is not considered abortion by definition, because there was never a pregnancy.

While this may be a true medical distinction, it is likely not one that comforts those who look at abortion as a moral issue rather than a woman’s personal choice about her body.

Even if one agrees with the technical definition used on the Plan B web site, though (which I don’t), this entire issue raises serious questions. First of all, the public schools in New York involved in this program supposedly informed all of the parents by letter and explained that they could opt out of the program. Remember the uproar over Texas governor Rick Perry’s defense of the HPV vaccination program? He argued that since parents could opt out, there was no problem. Many argued, however, that this was an overreach by the state, and that if anything parents should have the choice to opt in. I suggest that the same is true with CATCH.

Furthermore, even the Plan B web site states multiple times throughout the site that Plan B is available over the counter for consumers 17 and over, but that a prescription is required for anyone under 17. How does CATCH get around that? Doctors working with the schools sign prescriptions for the students who are given the pill. That should raise red flags all over the place! These doctors are being permitted to sign a prescription–more than likely for students they do not know and have never even seen before–and are not even required to inform the students’ parents. Yet, schools in New York (and around the country) are required to have signed parental consent on file to even give students an over-the-counter medication like Tylenol. So if a girl has a headache, the school can’t do anything without asking mom or dad first, but if she had sex last night and wants to make sure she doesn’t get pregnant, that’s fine.

So, back to the title, what is the problem? The problem is that the CATCH program is but a part of a growing trend in the U.S. that diminishes the sanctity of life and that allows children and medical personnel to bypass the parent in making serious, potentially-life-altering decisions, and unless we address this problem now, and reverse course, it will continue to get worse. And that should be a truly scary thought….

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