jasonbwatson

January 30, 2018

A Lesson for the Church: The Other Example We Have Been Given by Rachael Denhollander

Rachael Denhollander is a name probably not many people knew until a year and a half ago. That is when she became the first person to come forward and publicly accuse Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. Even then her name was not nearly as well-known as it is now. After her victim impact statement on January 24, it is probably fair to say that not many people have not heard of her.

In 2000, Denhollander was a club level gymnast when she met Nassar at the age of fifteen due to a back injury. Nassar was, in the words of the Boston Globe, “the despicable doctor who systematically, for decades, used his position as a renowned, sought-after, and respected physician in the gymnastics world to sexually abuse countless young athletes under the guise of medical treatment.” Only at that time, no one knew—or, I should say, no one acknowledged—that Nassar was a predator. Others had complained about Nassar before 2000, but nothing had been done. By the time he was arrested his victims numbered in the hundreds. One hundred fifty-six of them spoke at his sentencing hearing, which resulted in a sentence of 40 to 175 years in prison.

Denhollander’s courage in coming forward and opening the door that gave voice to so many other victims has received plenty of attention in the media and I am not going to focus on that here. I would simply echo what Tara Sullivan wrote, that Denhollander is “Larry Nassar’s most important victim, his loudest and bravest opponent in the fight to expose his depravity as a serial pedophile disguised as a respected physician.”

What brought perhaps the most attention to Denhollander was her impact statement, nearly forty minutes long, in which she clearly spoke of what Nassar had done, the physical but, more importantly, emotional, damage it inflicted on Denhollander and others, and then shared the gospel with Nassar. Writing on The Gospel Coalition site, Justin Taylor said, “What she said directly to the man—who gratified himself off of her innocence and abused countless other girls in a malicious and manipulative way—is an incredible testimony to the grace and justice of Jesus Christ.” I agree. When I first heard it later that same day I described it as “an extraordinary presentation of the gospel to someone Rachael Denhollander has every human reason to hate and wish eternal condemnation in hell upon!”

Her bold stand against Nassar and her equally bold statement of the gospel to Nassar—and a watching world—has drawn tremendous attention, and rightfully so. In his edition of The Briefing the day after Denhollander spoke, Albert Mohler said,

…what so many in the world missed is that the moral clarity that was so evident in that courtroom yesterday cannot really emerge from a secular worldview. It can only emerge from a biblical worldview. And yesterday it wasn’t just the witness to good and evil that appeared. In the voice of Rachael Denhollander, there was a powerful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Gospel that speaks so honestly about sin, and the Gospel that so honestly promises in Christ salvation from sin.

Denhollander has, indeed, set a beautiful example of what it means to be like Christ. To hate the sin but not the sinner. To extend mercy and forgiveness when it is not even remotely deserved—and never could be. Evangelical Christians are sharing her statement and celebrating her testimony and all of that is good. It is as it should be.

Sadly, there is something else about Denhollander’s experience that Christians seem to be overlooking, and we must not do so.

In her statement, Denhollander said,

Even my status as a sexual assault victim has impacted or did impact my ability to advocate for sexual assault victims because once it became known that I too had experienced sexual assault, people close to me used it as an excuse to brush off my concerns when I advocated for others who had been abused, saying I was just obsessed because of what I had gone through, that I was imposing my own experience upon other institutions who had massive failures and much worse.

 

My advocacy for sexual assault victims, something I cherished, cost me my church and our closest friends three weeks before I filed my police report. I was left alone and isolated. And far worse, it was impacted because when I came out, my sexual assault was wielded like a weapon against me.

 

In her op-ed for the New York Times, Denhollander wrote, “I lost my church. I lost my closest friends as a result of advocating for survivors who had been victimized by similar institutional failures in my own community.”

 

As incredible and beautiful as Denhollander’s courage to come forward and willingness to share the gospel with Nassar may be, that she “lost her church” through coming forward is just as incredible and hideous. I do not know exactly what transpired between Denhollander and her church, but the details here are not important. For her to say, twice, that she lost her church as a result of taking a stand against Nassar says all that we need to know. There is no justification anywhere in Scripture for abandoning a victim. Quite the contrary, in fact. Romans 12:15 says, “When others are happy, be happy with them. If they are sad, share their sorrow” (Living Bible).

 

In Matthew 25:40 Jesus said that whatever is done “to the least of these my brothers, you have done it to Me.” Commenting on that verse Matthew Poole wrote, that charity, or love, “must be chiefly shown to those of the household of faith.” Denhollander is clearly of the household of faith, yet her church abandoned her. Take note, fellow Christian: that means her church turned its back on Christ.

 

I do not focus on this to condemn Denhollander’s former church alone. I do not even know the name of the church she attended. I emphasize this to bring attention to such behavior that has gone on for far too long, and has been far too tolerated, in the Church in general. How can we claim to follow Christ if we abandon our brothers and sisters who are hurting? John Tillman wrote the following in a devotion on The Park Forum:

 

As the #MeToo movement sweeps around the world, Jesus stands with the victims, claiming their pain as his own, identifying with their feelings of powerlessness, of isolation, and of being silenced for so long. …

 

No environment, from Hollywood offices to the sanctuaries of our churches is untouched by the culture of degrading sexual manipulation and abuse. Christians have an opportunity to drop partisan loyalty, abandon “what-aboutism,” and step into this cultural problem with the perspective of the Gospel.

Christians can uniquely offer condemnation for abusive actions and the systems which allowed them, while offering compassion and protection for victims, and even forgiveness and redemption (though not necessarily reinstatement) for perpetrators.

 

Compassion for the victims is precisely what Christians should be offering. Compassion and support and encouragement. There is no room for abandonment or rejection or judgment of victims. In an April 2016 blog post entitled “4 Common Ways Churches Fail Abuse Victims (And What to Do Instead)” Ashley Easter states that the Church must take accusations of abuse seriously, whether made against someone inside or outside of the church, and “recognize how difficult it is for a victim to come forward.” Furthermore, the Church, and those within it, need to “believe and reassure the victim that there is nothing they could ever do to cause someone else to hurt them.”  In July 2015 Boz Tchividjian wrote of his own abuse as a child and the way churches so often respond inappropriately to abuse victims. “A primary reason why victims are afraid of the church is because of the level of immaturity and ignorance they have experienced in how they are treated or handled by the community and leadership of a church,” Tchividjian wrote. He continued, “There is now an entire generation that has left the church and might not ever return because of the negative impact that the church has had in the lack of understanding and compassion for the broken and the wounded.” Abuse is horrific and cannot be tolerated. But just as wrong and intolerable is this kind of response within the body of Christ.

 

I pray that Rachael Denhollander will be embraced and encouraged and prayed for by the Church even though she was not treated that way be her local church. I pray that she will remain a passionate and articulate voice for abuse victims and for the gospel. I also pray that she will prove to have taught us a significant lesson about abuse and how not to respond to it.

February 16, 2016

My trust and my hope

I know I am not the only one who has been thinking a lot about the unexpected passing of Supreme Justice Antonin Scalia over the past few days. His legacy will last for decades and his decisions, and minority reports, will no doubt be studied by law students, lawyers and judges for even longer. Albert Mohler was correct when he wrote, “Antonin Scalia is almost surely the most influential justice to sit on the Supreme Court in many decades. The loss of his influence, as well as his his crucial vote, is monumental.” I agree with Mohler, and I was very sad to learn of Scalia’s passing. I was sad for his family’s loss of a loved one but I was mostly sad for our country and for the impact that Scalia’s too-soon departure from the Supreme Court will potentially have on both the present and future of this nation. That is why I also found it necessary to reflect on the following thoughts.

First, the United States as a nation, conservatism as a movement, judicial restraint as a philosophy and respect for states’ rights and individual liberty as ideologies did not begin with Antonin Scalia nor will any of them end there. He was a great and influential figure in each of those areas but now that he is gone they must all go on. Someone else–or, ideally, multiple someone elses–must step up and fill the very large shoes left behind by Justice Scalia. This is much like a baseball team losing its star player. The face of the team may change, the strategy of the team may change, the success of the team may even change, but the other players do not pack up and go home.

Second, this has been a great opportunity for me to remember the importance of seeing things from someone else’s perspective. Right off the bat I was thinking that I hope there will be some way for the Republicans to delay the confirmation of a new justice until after the election. There is no guarantee how the election will turn out, of course, but there is at least a chance that a Republican will win, which would also greatly increase the likelihood of the new justice being more in line with the positions held by Scalia than any justice appointed by President Obama. Mitch McConnell announced right away that he thought the new justice should not be appointed until after the election, and others were saying the same thing. President Obama, of course, indicated that he would appoint a justice. On Sunday evening it occurred to me that if the situation was reversed and there were a Republican in the White House right now I have no doubt that I, Mitch McConnell, and many others would be advocating for an appointment and confirmation before the election. It was rather like remembering that I cannot only like and defend free speech when it is speech I agree with and approve of. The beauty of free speech is just that–it is free, meaning you can advocate whatever you want no matter how much I do not like it, and I can do the same no matter how much you do not like it. I am not saying I want President Obama to appoint the next justice, but I cannot in good conscience argue that he should not, or that his appointment should not be confirmed if qualified.

The third point is somewhat similar to the first one but is important enough on its own that it needs to be stated separately. No one’s hope is in–or should be in–originalism, conservatism or any other philosophy or ideology of man. Neither is it in any human being, politician, judge, theologian or anything else–including Antonin Scalia. Psalm 146:3 says, in the Good News Translation, “Don’t put your trust in human leaders; no human being can save you.” One reason not to put trust in them is that they, as Matthew Poole wrote, “are utterly unable frequently to give you that help which they promise, and you expect.” Antonin Scalia was a wonderful Supreme Court judge, but his power and influence was limited. He was also a flawed human being. In his Notes on the Bible Albert Barnes comments on Psalm 146:3 this way: “Rely on God rather than on man, however exalted he may be. There is a work of protection and salvation which no man, however exalted he may be, can perform for you; a work which God alone, who is the Maker of all things, and who never dies, can accomplish.” If Justice Scalia had lived to be 150 and remained on the Supreme Court for that entire time, he could not have ever accomplished anything that would save anyone, eternally speaking.

Albert Mohler was correct; a giant has fallen. But that giant was a human being. A giant in the legal realm, yes. Still–and Albert Mohler would wholeheartedly agree with me, so do not read this as me suggesting that he said anything otherwise–whether or not I like the person who assumes the seat vacated by Scalia, whether or not that person is an originalist or an activist judge, is not where my priority should be. Whether or not Antonin Scalia is on the Supreme Court does not matter, eternally speaking. What matters is that God is still on the throne–and in Him will I place my trust and my hope.

June 15, 2015

Real Idiocy

There were interesting observations contained in the Q&A feature in back-to-back issues of WORLD Magazine recently. In the May 30 issue J. Budziszewski, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin, author and “nationally known Christian social conservative”, was discussing evolution with Marvin Olasky. Olasky commented, “Lots of Christians don’t want secular friends and colleagues to think of them as idiots.” Budziszewski replied, “If you want to be protected against being considered an idiot you have to stop worrying about whether you’re considered an idiot. Come out of hiding. Stop avoiding the issues. Go on the offensive. Talk back. Demand that the other side present its reasons. Examine its logic. Don’t allow the opponent to define idiocy as not accepting the conventional opinions. Real idiocy is fear of following the evidence to its conclusions.”

Then, in the June 13 issue, Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was talking to Olasky about his purge of theological liberals from the faculty at the seminary when Olasky asked him, “How do you view the wider culture war now?” Mohler replied, “A lot of people have backed off of it. The problem is the issues are still there and, if anything, the issues are more stark. The culture war isn’t over because there was some kind of truce. If it’s over, it is because the secular left is in control of even more of the culture.” Mohler acknowledged, when asked what lessons could be learned from those losses, that some Christians did not handle themselves well, behave appropriately or articulate effectively when engaging in the culture war, but he ended by saying this: “[I]n terms of standing for what we believe to be true–not just because we believe it to be true but because as Christians we believe that is what leads to human flourishing–we have no option to back off on those.” Despite the fact that he has seen some back off, then, both Mohler and Budziszewski believe that Christians need to be involved in the culture war and in defending the biblical position on a whole host of issues that come up in our world.

If you look back over the past few decades it is not difficult to see the gradual yet persistent efforts that have brought us to where we are today. I suppose you could go back half a century, really, and look at the removal from prayer and Bible reading from public schools, the ruling that abortion is a right and a choice to be made by a woman, but I am thinking more recent, since those rulings were not gradual or subtle. I am thinking about the embrace of relativism and the notion that each person can decide what is true for him/herself. I am thinking about political correctness. I am thinking about the gradual mainstreaming of homosexuality, from print ads to television shows. Back in 2000 Alan Keyes stressed, during his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, the importance of the “marriage-based two-parent family.” Now, just fifteen years later, there is little such talk, and when there is the terms have been completely redefined. There was no need for Keyes to clarify that by marriage he meant a union of one man and one woman. There was no need for Keyes to stress that he meant a mother and a father when he talked about a two parent family. Now, in 2015, marriage, parent and family have all been hijacked and mean–at least in the vernacular of the mainstream–something completely other than they meant at the turn of the millennium.

Political correctness has certainly caused the timidity to which Budziszewski refers. Rather than be labeled bigoted, extreme, intolerant or closed-minded many who would hold to traditional values and oppose the redefinitions of marriage, parent and family have chosen to remain quiet. True, there are still some who have not learned the lessons to which Mohler refers (and many of them get paid handsomely to spout their positions on television and radio for shock value). The reality, though, is that very few of us individually, and even fewer collectively, have done what Budziszewski challenges us to do. Rarely do we go on the offensive in an articulate, considerate and effective way. Franklin Graham had an opinion piece in last weekend’s edition of USA Today explaining why the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association had stopped banking with WellsFargo and moved all of its accounts to BB&T. Graham has opportunities the rest of us would not have, but he used his opportunity to explain that while he believes all Christians should be friendly toward homosexuals, it would violate the beliefs of Graham and the BGEA to allow WellsFargo to profit from their business and then use that profit to promote a homosexual agenda. Graham is to be commended to articulating their position. Most of the time those who seek to take a stand for their convictions these days wind up facing legal charges, like the bakeries, photographers and print shops that have refused to make cakes or print shirts promoting homosexual messages or to photograph gay weddings. The truth is, if we do as Budziszewski says, and force the other side to present its reasons, and we really examine their logic, what we will find is that the reasons seldom have any merit other than that is what they want to do, what makes them feel good and what they think is right. Their logic will hold no water at all, since if the logic they use for their positions were applied to those positions which counter theirs they would also have to support the freedom of holding those positions. (Oops…there go the lawsuits!)

I would love to find the entirety of the following quote, but I cannot. I heard Erwin Lutzer share it in a sermon and a Google search produces only his sermon as a result. So while it is not complete, it makes the point. Lutzer did not say who penned this, either, saying only “someone wrote these words.” Whoever that someone is, here is how he defined political correctness:

If you can believe that there are no absolutes and believe that absolutely; if you can teach young minds that there are no objective truths, and yet you teach this truth objectively; if you can close your mind to the ideas of those who you consider to be close-minded; if you can refuse to tolerate anyone you choose to label intolerant; if you consider it immoral to stand against immorality; if you can make the judgment that judgmentalism is wrong and you can further make the judgment that others who judge things to be wrong are just too judgmental; if you can force others to conform to your idea of diversity…

That is the end of what Lutzer shared, ending with, “well, it goes on.” Whatever comes afterwards, though, the point is clear. Political correctness is self-contradictory, plain and simple. Mohler says too many of us have retreated from the front lines of the culture war, but we must, as he also says, stand for what is right and what is true. On that we do not have a choice if we truly claim to be followers of God. Budziszewski says we need to quit worrying about being thought an idiot by the liberal bullies and instead demand that they produce something more than name-calling to defend their positions, and he is right. Real idiocy is all around us. It’s time we start calling it what it is and take a stand for what’s true.

November 13, 2014

Good news for marriage

Believe it or not, there may be some good news for those of us who believe in defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. In late October, United States District Judge Juan Perez-Gimenez upheld the Puerto Rican law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Last week the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled, 2-1, that measures in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee limiting marriage to one man and one woman were constitutional. In both instances, the decisions held that the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, which struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, allows for states to define marriage.

Perez-Gimenez stated in his decision, “The Windsor opinion did not create a fundamental right to same gender marriage nor did it establish that state opposite-gender marriage regulations are amenable to federal constitutional challenges. If anything, Windsor stands for the opposite proposition: it reaffirms the State’s authority over marriage, buttressing Baker‘s conclusion that marriage is simply not a federal question.”

Baker v. Nelson, the other decision cited above, was a 1972 case in Minnesota in which the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that a Minnesota law limiting marriage to a man and a woman did not violate the Constitution. Baker appealed, but the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) dismissed the appeal “for want of a substantial federal question.” Because of the way in which Supreme Court cases work, the Baker case went to the Supreme Court by way of mandatory appellate review. The refusal of SCOTUS to hear the case therefore became precedent because the refusal to hear the case was considered a decision on the merits of the case. This is important, because Perez-Gimenez explained that the Windsor case did not overturn Baker but rather complements it. “Windsor and Baker work in tandem to emphasize the States’ ‘historic and essential authority to define the marital relation’ free from ‘federal intrusion.'”

The Sixth Circuit decision came after a refusal by SCOTUS on October 6 to hear appeals from states that have had their traditional marriage laws struck down by courts, making it an important decision and one that has received considerable attention and no doubt will continue to do so.

Perhaps even more encouraging to defenders of traditional marriage than either decision in and of themselves, though, is the fact that both decisions take aim at the position of those who argue that homosexual marriage is a constitutional right. Perez-Gimenez wrote, “It takes inexplicable contortions of the mind or perhaps even willful ignorance–this Court does not venture an answer here–to interpret Windsor‘s endorsement of the state control of marriage as eliminating the state control of marriage.”

Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton wrote the majority decision in the Sixth Circuit case. He stated early in his decision that recent decisions are mostly ignoring a very, very long history of defining marriage as between a man and a woman. “For better, for worse, or for more of the same, marriage has long been a social institution defined by relationships between men and women. So long defined, the tradition is measured in millennia, not centuries or decades. So widely shared, the tradition until recently had been adopted by all governments and major religions of the world,” Sutton wrote. Sutton also wrote that it is not the place of the judges of the Sixth Circuit to make policy decisions for the citizens living in its circuit; rather, its purpose is to interpret laws vis-a-vis the existing laws and precedents, of which Baker still is one. This is a breath of fresh air coming from a federal bench, especially since so many courts seem more than happy to assume the role of making, rather than interpreting, laws. Sutton went on to write, “A dose of humility makes us hesitant to condemn as unconstitutionally irrational a view of marriage shared not long ago by every society in the world, shared by most, if not all, of our ancestors, and shared still today by a significant number of the States.”

This element of Sutton’s decision is a unique perspective on the issue, as far as I know, and I think it is going to prove to be a very important component of future cases dealing with the definition of marriage:

What we are left with is this: By creating a status (marriage) and by subsidizing it (e.g. with tax-filing privileges and deductions), the States created an incentive for two people who procreate together to stay together for purposes of rearing offspring. This does not convict the States of irrationality, only of awareness of the biological reality that couples of the same sex do not have children in the same way as couples of opposite sexes and that couples of the same sex do not run the risk of unintended offspring. This explanation, still relevant today, suffices to allow the States to retain authority over an issue they have regulated from the beginning.

The reason why this is so important is that is establishes that states do have a compelling interest in defining marriage as between a man and a woman–something that others have argued is not the case. If states have no compelling interest to define marriage as between a man and a woman, the argument goes, then states have no reason or justification for restricting marriage to a man and a woman other than legalized discrimination. So keep an eye on this rationale, because it is going to be extremely important.

Sutton went on to reinforce his point by writing this: “If it is constitutionally irrational to stand by the man-woman definition of marriage, it must be constitutionally irrational to stand by the monogamous definition of marriage.” This is, of course, one of the keystone elements of the argument I have been making against homosexual marriage all along; if we change the definition of marriage to be other than between a man and a woman we eliminate any justification for prohibiting any definition of marriage, whether male-male, female-female, adult-child, human-animal, multiple spouses, etc. Albert Mohler included this observation in his blog post on the Sixth Circuit decision: “He [Sutton] also recorded that in the oral arguments the attorneys arguing for same-sex marriage had been unable to answer his question [as to why marriage should be defined in terms of monogamy]. They could not, he stated, because the only argument they could advance was moral tradition. They could not cite moral tradition as the authority for monogamy because they argued that moral tradition was not a rational basis for law when it came to limiting marriage to a man-woman union.”

Perez-Gimenez stated in his decision, “The people and their elected representatives should debate the wisdom of redefining marriage. Judges should not.” Similarly, Sutton wrote, “The theory of the living constitution rests on the premise that every generation has the right to govern itself. If that premise prevents judges from insisting on principles that society has moved past, so too should it prevent judges from anticipating principles that society has yet to embrace.” In other words, both judges are taking a stand for courts restricting themselves to interpreting law and letting the people make the decision about how marriage is defined. Interestingly, this is exactly what the Windsor decision meant, as well.

Mohler closed his blog with this statement: “Sometimes the right argument just has to be made, even if it does not win at any given hour. The truth will stand the test of time, and Judge Sutton deserves our gratitude and respect for making an argument in defense of both marriage and the Constitution–and for making it so well.” I echo his sentiment, and would add Judge Perez-Gimenez to that, too. In the words of Galatians 6:9, let us not grow weary in doing what is good–and in this situation, it means continuing to take a stand for marriage as God defined it, and praying for those judges who are courageous enough to defend the right of the people to make that determination.

February 5, 2014

The Debate

On Tuesday, February 4 an historic event took place in Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati. It was attended by more than 800 people and it was viewed live through Internet streaming by more than one million. Odds are, you already know what I am talking about. As I skimmed through comments on Facebook last night after the event was over it seemed that many people were referring to it simply as “the debate.”

The Debate was just that, an intellectual exchange of ideas between Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” and Ken Ham, co-founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis. Nye is an evolutionist and Ham is a young earth creationist. Their debate, at the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, was over the question of whether or not creation is a viable model of origins in today’s scientific climate. To no one’s surprise, Ham believes it is while Nye believes it is not.

No doubt many individuals far more articulate than I will dissect the various arguments and elements of the debate, and no doubt from both sides. I can assert with equal certainty that individuals on both sides will also no doubt make derogatory comments about the individuals and the arguments on the other side, though history bears evidence that far more of these will come from the evolutionist side than the creationist side. I will leave the analysis of most of the nitty gritty details to others, and I do not intend to call anyone names.

On the contrary, I would like to commend both Mr. Ham and Mr. Nye for their willingness to engage in such a public exchange of ideas, placing themselves literally and figuratively in the spotlight on an international stage. Regardless of one’s convictions, beliefs and training, being on the spot, live, in front of millions, tasked with defending a belief system held strongly by millions as their sole at-the-moment spokesperson is not a position many people would envy or be willing to assume. The event no doubt benefited both men and the organizations of both men. Answers in Genesis, for example, reported more than two million visits to its web site in the month leading up to the debate. So sure, publicity was no doubt part of the motivation on both sides. I do not believe, however, that it was at the heart of either man’s willingness to participate in the debate.

As Albert Mohler pointed out in his blog post today, “Nye was criticized by many leading evolutionists, who argued publicly that nothing good could come of the debate.” Criticism is never pleasant, and when it comes from your own camp it is even less so. Kudos, then, to Bill Nye for his willingness to stand on a stage beside one of the world’s leading apologists for the biblical account of creation, and to do it on the creationist’s home turf.

The debate was well planned, well executed and–in a rarity for many debates these days–well moderated. Ham and Nye were civil to each other and respectful. Nye even told Ham after Ham’s initial presentation that he had learned something. (Interestingly, he never said what that something was, though, and it may well have been that Ham holds even crazier ideas than Nye originally thought).

I am a young earth creationist, as is Ham, and I believe that God created the world in six literal, 24-hour days. Odds are good that if you have ever read my blog before that you already knew that. If you are a newcomer, there you go–full disclosure, I agree with Ham. Actually, if you want truly full disclosure, I am a charter member of the Creation Museum and have supported both the museum and Answers in Genesis financially. So it will come as no surprise that I agreed with what Ham said in the debate and disagreed with much of what Nye said. That I went into the debate with my mind made up puts in no small company, though; the same can be said of both Ham and Nye as well as many, if not the majority, of the folks who watched the debate. As Mohler wrote, “If you agreed with Bill Nye you would agree with his reading of the evidence. The same was equally true for those who entered the room agreeing with Ken Ham; they would agree with his interpretation of the evidence.” No one expected Ham or Nye to be convinced by the other or to change his mind. Neither, I suspect, did either man expect to change the mind of the other. One thing that came through loud and clear in the debate is that reason will not change the minds of individuals devoted to either position. Sure, there may be people who have not made up their mind either way, and they may have been swayed, but the debate was more a presentation of data and dogma than an effort to win votes or converts. Ham, by the way, admitted that he would never change his mind, since his beliefs are rooted in the Word of God. Nye suggested that he would if evidence was presented to sway him, but he almost simultaneously stated that such evidence could not exist, so his seeming openness to change was not entirely legitimate.

There were a couple of things that the debate made clear to me that I will comment on. One is that Bill Nye has apparently never read the Bible. His comments about it, and his apparent shock when Ham stated that some of the Bible is history, some poetry, etc, served as proof positive that he is, at best, unfamiliar with the Word of God. One point in favor of those with a biblical worldview is that they are willing to listen to and even study the other side in their defense of their faith.

Two, Nye’s own comments made it clear that the evolutionist position relies just as much on faith as the creationist position does. There were at least two times during the question-and-answer section of the debate when Nye responded to a question by saying, “We don’t know.” Translation: no proof exists for what he believe on this issue, we just believe it. Interesting, given how strongly Nye and others on the evolution side of the argument criticize Ham and those on the creation side for clouding their understanding of science with “beliefs.” Ham made the point early in the evening that the evolution position is just as much a “religion” as the creation position; I never heard Nye comment on that statement.

Three, Bill Nye seems scared to death that schools might actually consider allowing creation to be taught in schools, or at least allow evolution to be questioned or “critically examined.” There were times during the debate when he sounded like a political candidate, appealing to voters to save the United States from falling behind in the world. This was not a new position for Nye; in a widely-seen video Nye made last year he said of those who believe in the creation position, “[I]f you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can—we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.” In other words, Nye is suggesting, if you believe in the biblical account of creation you cannot be an intelligent, practicing scientist. You cannot accomplish great things within the scientific community. This position was why Ken Ham made such a point of quoting, mentioning and even playing video clips from accomplished scientists who hold to the creationist viewpoint, including the inventor of the MRI machine. I confess, initially I wondered why Ham kept including these references and dwelling on this point, because it did not seem to be a major tenet of the argument to me. As Nye went on though it became increasingly clear that it is a crucial part of the argument and Ham knew what he was doing. Oddly enough, perhaps, it had never occurred to me that someone would think that if you believe the Bible you cannot also be good at science. How naïve of me!

Albert Mohler concluded his blog post this way: “The central issue last night was really not the age of the earth or the claims of modern science. The question was not really about the ark or sediment layers or fossils. It was about the central worldview clash of our times, and of any time: the clash between the worldview of the self-declared ‘reasonable man’ and the worldview of the sinner saved by grace.” I really could not say it any better. Nye insists he is reasonable, and by default that Ham is not (nor are those who believe as he does). Interestingly enough, the Bible describes godly wisdom as “reasonable.” James writes, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). I am thankful that Ken Ham demonstrated wisdom from above in his debate with Bill Nye; my prayer is that Bill Nye will come to know that reasonable wisdom from above some day, too.

October 9, 2013

“…the answer is increasingly no.”

Al Mohler begins his article “Is Public School An Option?” with this questions and statement: “Should Christian parents send their children to the public schools? This question has emerged as one of the most controversial debates of our times.” As I suggested in the previous post, I would have said “sure” if asked this question anytime prior to the early part of this century, and that was even after I had spent three years teaching in a Christian school. I felt that I had turned out just fine having attended public schools my whole life and, frankly, what I had heard and seen of some homeschooling and Christian school education made me cringe. I was convinced that public school education was usually more rigorous and better prepared students to be lifelong learners. Bottom line, I thought public school education was more legitimate.

Mohler writes, “Until fairly recently, exceptions to this rule [the expectation that parents would send their children to public schools] have been seen as profoundly un-democratic and practically un-American. Homeschoolers were seen as marginal eccentrics, Catholics were seen as hopelessly sectarian, and those who sent their children to private schools were seen as elitist snobs.” Perhaps not exactly, but that fit my way of thinking pretty well.

Of course, as Mohler also points out, public education in America was under the oversight and influence of parents and the local community for hundreds of years; “public schools were public in the sense that they were community schools maintained for and by the citizens of a community.” That way of thinking has certainly changed, and beginning with John Dewey the influence of the parents and local community members on the curriculum and policies of the local schools has significantly diminished.

As Mohler states, “decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court secularized schools in a way that separated the schools from their communities and families.” Of course I am not old enough to remember when there was prayer and Bible reading in school, so that removal happened before I came along. And in that small Midwestern town where I went to high school there was still release time once a week when students could leave the public school during the school day and go for an hour to the church of their choice for “religious instruction.” Students who did not wish to go could stay at school for a study hall. My public high school choir performed their year-end concert in a church and the performances included doctrinally-sound Christian hymns like “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” So maybe my experience had not been the norm… And maybe the decreasing influence of the local community had not become the reality in the Midwest yet by the time I graduated high school.

What eventually changed my mind about public schools as a viable option and the legitimacy of homeschooling and Christian schools was the realization that schools were not ideologically neutral, which I had deluded myself into thinking they could be. Mohler writes, “The ideological revolution has been even more damaging than the political change. Those who set educational policy are now overwhelmingly committed to a radically naturalistic and evolutionistic worldview that sees the schools as engines of social revolution. The classrooms are being transformed rapidly into laboratories for ideological experimentation and indoctrination.” If I may be so bold I would disagree with Mohler on that last part, because I am now convinced that classrooms have not been transformed into “laboratories for…indoctrination” but rather always have been. “Indoctrination” means “the act of indoctrinating, or teaching or inculcating a doctrine, principle, or ideology, especially one with a specific point of view.” Public schools have always done that because it is impossible to teach without doing it. Christian schools do it, too; in fact, that is the whole reason most parents who send their children to Christian schools do so!

Am I suggesting that it is not possible to take a non-ideological position on any subject or that a teacher cannot impartially present information to students? No; that can be done–though it often takes real intentionality to do. What I am suggesting is that every teacher has a belief system, a worldview, that influences their way of thinking about every subject, and that worldview comes through in their teaching.

What has happened is that the right and wrong that public schools used to teach have become various versions of right and debate over wrong because everything is relative. What has happened to the public schools is the removal of certainty and absolutes and facts and the substitution of questioning and relativism and opinion. This is what has led to the ridiculous stories we hear and read about graphic sex ed classes, infringement of student rights to gather or pray or express a minority viewpoint and the support by public education leaders for teaching an acceptance and even and embrace of sinful behavior.

What caused me to change my mind about public schools, and to pretty well determine that my own children will never attend a public school, was the realization that what the schools teach–even the decent ones–is almost always taught from a perspective and toward and end that is completely at odds with what I believe and what I want my children to believe; specifically, what the Bible says. Local control of public schools is increasingly rare. There is more local (and school-level) control than many of the loudest conservative voices claim there is, but it is not enough. The tidal wave of mental manipulation and cconvictionless character has crashed into the public school system and as the water settles the ruins are increasingly visible.

Paula Bolyard, blogging for PJ Lifestyle, has responded to Mohler’s article, too. She correctly writes, “This is one of the most difficult questions a Christian family must wrestle with as school curriculum and speech and behavior codes increasingly stand in opposition to Christian teachings.” I am not by any means attempting to make light of this issue or suggest that it is an easy decision. There are people I know well and respect (indeed, people I am related to) who have chosen to send their children to public schools, and I am not sitting in judgment of them. I personally think that many of their reasons are flawed, but that does not mean they do not hold them sincerely. I will address some of these arguments in a future post.

I think what it comes down to is this assertion by Bolyard: “The stakes are very high. Consider the effects of thirty or more hours a week in a government school where you have no control over what your children are taught — where your local teachers have little or no control over the content of their lessons. Where the federal bureaucrats — many of whom have antipathy toward your Christian values — dictate what your children learn, all day long. How much time are you willing to invest in debriefing your children?” That’s just it. Students will spend some fifteen thousand hours of their lives–their most formative years–in school. Does it make any sense for me to knowingly and willingly place my children for that length of time into an environment that I cannot control and that I increasingly am in opposition to? I don’t think so. If I do, I will have to deal with these candid questions Bolyard asks: “How will you convince them that you are the authority on any given subject — that what you’re teaching them is right — and not their teachers? Is it fair to put a young child in the position of choosing between what their teacher is telling them and what their parents and Sunday school teachers say?”

Nearing the end of his article Mohler asks and answers the question that is the basis for the entire article. “Is public school an option? For Christians who take the Christian worldview seriously and who understand the issues at stake, the answer is increasingly no.” I absolutely agree. In fact, I may well have left the word “increasingly.”

October 8, 2013

Changing My Mind

Now back to our previously scheduled programming…I will resume my multi-entry look at education in America.

In the October-December 2013 issue of Answers Magazine Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler, Jr. wrote an article entitled, “Is Public School an Option?” The title of the article struck me for two main reasons: (1) As a Christian school administrator I was curious to read what Mohler would say, and (2) I am well aware that my own position on this question has changed completely in the past decade and a half. Mohler writes, “I spent every minute of my school life from the first grade to high school graduation in a public school.” I can say the same thing, but throw in kindergarten for me, too.

I had some cousins who attend Christian schools, but they did not live in my community. Other than them, I do not recall knowing anyone who went to a Christian school. I grew up being in church every time the doors were open. No one in the two churches our family attended between my ages five and thirteen attended Christian schools that I know of. I surely do not remember anyone who was homeschooled, either. When I was thirteen my family moved from just outside of Washington, D.C. to a town of 20,000 in the upper Midwest. (At the time I thought that had to be the smallest town in the country. Ironic, given that I now live thirteen miles outside of a town of about fifteen hundred people…not all that much bigger than my high school in that town of twenty thousand!) I was satisfied with my education in public schools. I had good teachers, there were minimal blatantly unbiblical influences that I recall, and only once do I remember my parents having me “opt out” of viewing a movie that was being shown in class. I went on to attend a private college, but not a Christian one.

Interestingly, after college I was teaching in a Christian school and even then I was adamant that there was nothing wrong with most public schools. Given that I was back in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. I was well aware that there were some poor public schools (and some dangerous ones) but I was not a die-heard devotee of the Christian school movement. I was even further away from the homeschooling movement. I was skeptical of the ability of most parents to effectively teach their children, skeptical of the quality of the education those children who were homeschooled were receiving, and skeptical of the futures those homeschooled children would have. I can remember telling my wife early in our marriage that if we ever had children we would not homeschool them and I was not even sure I would send them to Christian school. This was a bit brazen for me to say given that my wife had only ever attended Christian schools until she was in high school when her parents began homeschooling her and her five younger siblings. My in-laws were, in fact, still homeschooling until the end of the last school year.

In the years since then my mindset has changed dramatically. I have been married for fourteen years and now have two children, neither of whom has ever attended a public school. We have homeschooled and both are now in a Christian school where I am also the administrator. How did my mind change so completely? What does Al Mohler have to say in his article, and do I agree or disagree with him? Come back next time to find out….

March 16, 2013

A sad, unfortunate and poorly timed reversal

If you follow the news you have probably already heard that Ohio Senator Rob Portman has very publicly changed his position regarding gay marriage in recent days. Portman has always been a staunch opponent of gay marriage; in 1996, as a member of the House of Representatives, he was a cosponsor of the Defense of Marriage Act; in 1999 he voted for a measure that would have prohibited same-sex couples in Washington state from adopting children; in 2011 hundreds of students at the University of Michigan protested having Portman speak at the school’s graduation ceremony because of his position on gay marriage. In response to that protest, Portman’s spokesman said, “Rob believes marriage is a sacred bond between one man and one woman.”

So what changed? Well, two things. One, Portman’s son “came out,” informing his parents in 2011 that he is gay. Two, this revelation caused Portman to “think of this issue from a new perspective,” he told Ohio reporters.

Senator’s Portman’s son’s sexuality is none of my business; it is a private matter–or at least it was, until his father brought it into the public square to explain his own sad, unfortunate and poorly timed reversal on the issue of gay marriage. And I do not choose those descriptors lightly. Allow me to explain….

The reversal is sad because, based on his own explanations, Portman has allowed the circumstances of his life to cause him to reinterpret Scripture, and to do so inaccurately. Here’s how it worked: Portman believed the Bible was clear in its opposition to homosexuality and its teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman (he was right on both counts); Portman’s son informed his parents he is gay; Portman loves his son; Portman faces moral dilemma; Portman solves moral dilemma by deciding Scripture means something different than what it does, and what he had previously believed it did.

The reversal is sad because Portman decided that it was easier to embrace a false understanding of the very Word of God than it would be to stand firm in his convictions. It is easier to say God is love, and must surely want people to be happy than it is for Portman to tell his son that he loves him, but he hates his sin.

Yesterday Portman wrote a commentary in The Columbus Dispatch. In it he states that his son’s announcement has caused him to think about this issue in “a much deeper way.” Translation: I was opposed to gay marriage until I found out my son is gay, but my love for my son trumps my adherence to the Word of God. Portman writes that his son told him that “his sexual orientation wasn’t something he chose; it is simply a part of who he is.” I am sure Portman’s son may believe that, and Portman may believe it, too. I have written here before about the issue of “homosexual orientation,” and I am not going to rehash that now. (Desire and Deceit, an excellent book on the subject by Albert Mohler addresses this issue, too). According to Portman, “At the time, my position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in my faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman. Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years.”

Every parent wants–or at least should want–their children to love “happy, meaningful lives.” But part of tough love–in other words, part of being a parent–means standing firm when the way in which a child wants to live that life is contrary to what is God-honoring. Portman’s reasoning is exactly the same as that that I have challenged here repeatedly regarding the slippery slope that is the issue of gay marriage. Portman wants his son to be happy, Portman’s son is gay, so gay marriage should be okay? That’s absurd. What do we do when someone’s else’s son claims that what makes him happy is having sex with children? What do we do when someone’s daughter says that what makes her happy is the challenge of stealing and exploiting someone’s identity? What do we do when someone’s child says that what makes him or her happy is taking the lives of other humans whom they find to be unattractive, undesirable, or just plain irritating? Yes, yes, I know…those are not the same things, many will say. They are not the same actions, true–but they are all choices people make.

Portman continues, “I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister. Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.” There’s nothing wrong with such a wrestling match. What is wrong is realizing that the two cannot be reconciled and so deciding that the “Christian faith” should be reinterpreted in order to make it work out alright in the end. Does the Bible have an overarching theme of love and compassion? Yes. But only because the Bible also has an overarching theme of justice and holiness. We cannot accurately understand the love of God without accurately understanding the justice and holiness of God. Because He is a God of holiness, He cannot tolerate sin or have it in His presence. Because He is a God of justice, sin has a penalty that must be paid. Once we understand that, we can understand God’s love–His incredible, indescribable, truly awesome love that caused Him to send His only Son to pay the price for the sins of humanity because none of us can pay it ourselves. What the Bible clearly does not teach, Senator Portman, is that God’s love and compassion means God wants us to do whatever makes us happy. Are we all the children of God? In so far as He made us all, yes. In so far as we will all go to heaven? Not even close.

As far as I know all three of Portman’s children are grown, but can you imagine sitting down to tell them that what they had been taught and raised to believe was God’s Truth was actually wrong? “Well kids, your mom and I made a mistake. So did the pastor, and the Sunday school teacher, and, well, most of the Bible teachers we have respected over the years. Remember what we taught you about homosexuality? Turns out we were wrong. See, your brother is gay. Yes…that’s right. Your brother…our son. And he surely did not choose to be that way. It is just the way he is. It is the way God made Him, apparently. So, we have been wrong. Now that we know your brother is gay we can see it all clearly. We just never understood before. But gay people really love each other, and they deserve to happy just like everyone else. Just because your brother is attracted to men does not mean that he should be denied the right to marry when he finally finds the man he wants to spend the rest of his life with…..” You get the idea. Do you see it, though? Portman is saying that because his son is gay, God must surely think it’s okay.

Portman goes on to make one of the more idiotic statements on gay marriage I have ever heard: “One way to look at it is that gay couples’ desire to marry doesn’t amount to a threat but rather a tribute to marriage, and a potential source of renewed strength for the institution.” Uh, yeah…that’s one way to look at it alright. One very wrong, misguided, and–sorry, Senator–stupid way to look at it.

Portman’s lack of conviction (lack of spine?) is further evidenced in the following paragraph of his commentary, when he writes this: “Around the country, family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers have discussed and debated this issue, with the result that today twice as many people support marriage for same-sex couples as when the Defense of Marriage Act was signed into law 17 years ago by President Bill Clinton, who now opposes it. With the overwhelming majority of young people in support of allowing gay couples to marry, in some respects the issue has become more generational than partisan.” So, since most people think the idea is okay, it must be okay then. Sure. Another ridiculous argument. God’s Word does not fluctuate with the opinions of the people in America (or anywhere else). God’s Word is the same yesterday, today and forever, and it is absolutely clear on the fact that homosexuality is sin, it is an abomination. Of course, we do live in a representative democracy in the U.S., so the opinions of the people can change the law. If that does happen it will not make it right, though, and Bible-believers need to do everything we can to oppose such a change.

And herein is why Portman’s reversal is so poorly timed: the Supreme Court will soon be hearing arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act, and Portman joins the rising throng of people advocating it being overturned. The only thing Portman gets right in his commentary is his suggestion that the courts, and right now the Supreme Court in particular, should not decide this issue. “I believe change should come about through the democratic process in the states. Judicial intervention from Washington would circumvent that process as it’s moving in the direction of recognizing marriage for same-sex couples. An expansive court ruling would run the risk of deepening divisions rather than resolving them.” I agree with that statement. The Supreme Court needs to find only that the Defense of Marriage Act was passed lawfully and is constitutional, and leave the rest up to “we the people.” The Supreme Court must not legislate from the bench and declare gay marriage to be constitutional.

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