jasonbwatson

July 17, 2014

Imaging God

My wife and I are part of a small group right now that is going through the DVD presentation of The Family Project from Focus on the Family. This past Sunday we watched the fourth session, entitled “For This Reason.” One of the main thrusts of the session is that we are made in the image of God and that we are to image Him in our lives. In other words, the way that we live should demonstrate to those we interact with who God is and what He is like.

The next day, Joe Stowell’s daily devotional at Strength for the Journey was titled “Agents of God’s Glory.” In it, Stowell tells about a friend of his who is a sports agent. Some of the athletes the agent represents are “big names” and Stowell says he sometimes finds himself thinking, “Wow, you’re an agent for him? No way! That would be amazing.” Whether you are a sports fan or not, you can likely relate. No doubt most of us can think of some human being that impresses us through their position, accomplishments, talents, etc., that we would like to get close to or be friends with. There is nothing wrong with that, either, provided we maintain a proper perspective and do not allow ourselves to become inappropriately enamored with those individuals.

But Stowell goes on to make this point: “[W]hen I think about it, you and I have a far greater privilege and calling. We are agents of God—hired by the price He paid on the cross—to spread the “stats” of His glory everywhere we go.” Stowell has a pretty good point there. Anyone who has accepted Christ as Savior has a personal relationship with God–the Creator of the universe, the Almighty. Any athlete or celebrity pales in comparison. In fact, there is no comparison. Yet how often are we guilty of talking up the accomplishments of those humans we admire while failing to give any mention to the “accomplishments” of Almighty God, to tell others of the things He has done in our lives? Read some more of Stowell’s thoughts…

His “portfolio” of glory staggers the imagination. It encompasses His personal, unconditional love. It draws in His broad and limitless mercy—mercy that patiently holds back His hand of judgment. His credentials include perfect wisdom, undiminished holiness, unflinching faithfulness, perfect justice, and the realities that He is all-powerful and all-knowing. Simply put, His glory is all that He is in His all-surpassing, praiseworthy, stunning perfection.

I Peter 2:9 says that as a believer I have been chosen by God so that we “may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Psalm 92:1-2 says, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night.” Isaiah 43:21 says that God formed humans that they might declare His praise. These are but three examples among many we could find of the biblical imperative that God’s people are to declare His glory.

To repeat the question Tim Sisirich asks at the end of Session 4 of The Family Project, how did you image God today?

March 27, 2014

Corrective Lenses

In case you have not heard, World Vision has announced that it is reversing its decision on hiring homosexuals in same-sex marriages. Apparently the decision was made at a World Vision board meeting held within a few hours of my last post (a few hours before I posted, I might add–I am not suggesting any correlation between the two events!) This decision marks a quick turnaround by the parachurch ministry since the announcement that it would allow such hirings came just two days earlier.

WORLD Magazine news editor Jamie Dean broke the story of the reversal on Wednesday afternoon, saying that Columbia Theological Seminary president Stephen Hayner, who is a World Vision board member, responded to an e-mail inquiry from WORLD with this statement: “The Board of World Vision is just concluding a meeting and will be releasing a statement shortly reversing the decision that was made. It was never the intention of the Board to undermine our firm commitment to the authority of the Scripture.”

Approximately an hour and a half later Dean posted an update on the story, including the World Vision statement. The statement, issued over the names of World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns and World Vision U.S. board chairman Jim Beré, begins this way:

Today, the World Vision U.S. board publicly reversed its recent decision to change our national employment conduct policy. The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.

It is encouraging to see that the board acted so quickly to reverse this decision and to acknowledge that a mistake was made. At the same time, it still troubles me that a board of such intelligent individuals would have made the decision in first place, somehow believing that the decision was not undermining Scripture.

The statement continues, “We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority. We ask that you understand that this was never the board’s intent.” Therein lies the problem. I repeat, how could this board of intelligent and accomplished individuals honestly believe that its decision was not a “reversal of a strong commitment to Biblical authority”? When a decision is made to allow accept something that the Bible clearly and unequivocally states is wrong there is no explanation for it other than a reversal.

“We are asking for your continued support. We commit to you that we will continue to listen to the wise counsel of Christian brothers and sisters, and we will reach out to key partners in the weeks ahead,” the statement says. This, too, is encouraging, but begs yet another question; specifically, why was this “wise counsel” not sought before the decision was made? If somehow (and, in my opinion, inexplicably) the World Vision board truly was not sure how the announcement of the policy change would go over among the evangelical community why would they not have sought this insight and counsel before announcing their decision? The furor and backlash that poured forth in the few days between the announcement of the decision and its reversal could have been avoided completely. Yes, it is good to learn from one’s mistakes, but it is also good to avoid mistakes when common sense or, at the very least, a minimum amount of thoughtful reasoning would have prevented it in the first place. Stearns acknowledged as much according to a report from Religion News Service, stating, “We hadn’t vetted this issue with people who could’ve given us really valuable input at the beginning. In retrospect, I can see why this was so controversial for many of our supporters and partners around the country. If I could have a do over, it would’ve been that I would’ve done more consultation with Christian leaders.”

No doubt the possibility that contributions to World Vision would see a sudden drop was at least part of the reason why this decision was so quickly reversed. The Assemblies of God had already encouraged its members to consider dropping their support of World Vision and no doubt many other individuals and churches had or would have soon made similar recommendations. Ryan Reed tweeted on Wednesday, “My wife works for WV. In today’s staff meeting Stearns announced that so far 2,000 kids dropped.” If true, that figure would have equated a drop in World Vision donations of $840,000 since the monthly child sponsorships are $35. That was within two days of the announcement; no doubt the decrease would have ended up being considerably greater.

Richard Stearns did acknowledge in talking to reporters that the initial decision reflected poor judgement; “We believe we made a mistake. We’re asking them to forgive and understand our poor judgement in the original decision.” Still, Stearns also stated, “What we found was we created more division instead of more unity, and that was not the intent of the board or myself.” If that is an attempt to explain their poor judgment it really does not help since, I say again, it confounds understanding to imagine the World Vision board honestly believing that their decision would increase unity. In light of these events I believe that the World Vision U.S. board needs to seriously evaluate Stearns and itself in order to figure out how such an egregious lapse of responsibility could have happened in the first place; there may well need to be some changes made in order to prevent it happening again.

Russell Moore tweeted soon after the announcement, “World Vision has done the right thing. Now, let’s all work for a holistic gospel presence, addressing both temporal and eternal needs.” I think he speaks for many when he states that World Vision did the right thing. Jim Daly of Focus on the Family also released a statement. It says, in part, “I believe the Board of World Vision had the best of intentions when they cited a desire for ‘unity’ in making their original decision. But however well-intentioned, nothing is more important than adherence and faithfulness to the clear teachings of Christ. No matter how hard culture tugs, we cannot relinquish God’s truth.” Frankly, Daly gives the WV board more credit than I do; they may have had the best intentions in pursuing unity in some sense but it certainly was not, in my mind, a unity around biblical truth–and that should be preeminent.

Daly goes on to say that World Vision ought not suffer from this blunder. “I pray that Christians will now respond likewise with a spirit of grace and humility. World Vision does not deserve to be harmed by this incident. The security and fate of too many children are at stake to hold a grudge and punish them by withholding support.” He’s right about the children who are served by World Vision. They had no say in the decision of the World Vision board and they will be the ones who suffer if the World Vision contributions take a hit–and they should not be victims of poor decision making by the board. At the same time, there are many ways to help disadvantaged children around the world and sponsorship through World Vision is but one such way. My belief is that it would only be prudent for Christians who desire to help children in poverty to evaluate their options are to take the position and history of the organization into consideration when deciding where and how to give–and that consideration needs to include this decision and reversal by World Vision.

Of course the outcry that resulted after Monday’s announcement will now reverberate from the other side of the spectrum as World Vision will receive condemnation from those on the political and evangelical left who believe that support for the ministry should now be questioned because they have reversed their decision to embrace those in homosexual marriages. Read through the comments on the story of the reversal on the NPR web site and you will find plenty of comments like this one: “‘World Vision has a yearly operating budget of about $1 billion.’ According to Charity Navigator, $174 million comes from government grants. We should put a stop to that nonsense. … Why should any government be supporting organizations that discriminate?” It’s a no-win situation for World Vision–but one of their own making.

Bottom line, I am thrilled that World Vision has acted swiftly to reverse their decision. They recognized that their vision was blurred and they applied the corrective lenses of Scripture. I am still troubled by the poor judgment that the initial decision reflects and I would personally think carefully and give prayerful consideration to supporting World Vision financially. But I would absolutely continue to find ways to support children in need around the world if that was what I felt the Lord leading me to do.

November 7, 2013

What About Common Core? (part 3)

As I indicated at the end of the last post, all of the hullabaloo over the Common Core State Standards is really over a much deeper issue than these standards. One of these issues is one that was around long before CCSS, and if Common Core is going to alert people to it then that is a good thing. The second and third are problems with the government, not with the Common Core, though most people seem not to understand the difference. Perhaps I can shed some light…

First, the problem that has been around since long before Common Core is the issue of local control of public schools in general and textbook selection in particular. Public schools do not operate as agents of the federal government–or at least they ought not. Public schools are under the auspices of the various state departments of education and under the authority of local school boards. Most public schools have committees that deal with textbook adoption, and these committees often include educators as well as community members. Of course school boards are almost always elected bodies, with members of the community serving on the boards and deciding who the board members are. What anyone who takes the time to truly study what Common Core is (and is not) will discover is that individual states have adopted the Common Core; the federal government neither designed the CCSS nor forced them on anyone. Furthermore, as mentioned previously, the CCSS does not assign or dictate textbooks. Even in the English standards, the CCSS provide a recommended reading list, or what the CCSS call Text Exemplars. There is no mandatory reading dictated by the CCSS. There have been concerns raised by various people about some of the titles included on the reading lists. I consider that debate to be healthy. At the same time, the fact that Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye is one of the recommended texts does not mean that the entire CCSS is evil. After all, the recommended reading lists also include O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Patrick Henry’s “Speech to the Second Virginia Convention,” George Washington’s “Farewell Address,” and Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” among many other worthwhile titles. And again, the decision as to which titles will be read is to be made by the state, the school or the teacher, depending on how the particular system works–not by the CCSS. Bottom line, people who care about their children and the education being offered in public schools need to take every opportunity to be involved in the decision making process.

The second problem–the first of two with the government–is the federal government’s use of money to essentially bribe states into adopting the CCSS and the refusal of most states to even consider rejecting money. This is an issue that is much larger than the CCSS and would require much more space for me to address than you really want me to spend right now, so I will try to keep it brief and restricted to the CCSS. The CCSS were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers–not the federal government. Respected leaders and experts in mathematics and English were involved in the development of the standards, and feedback was provided by literally thousands of individuals, including teachers and parents. Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia expressed approval of the standards as they were being developed and reviewed. So where did the federal government come in? The 2009 stimulus package included $4.35 billion in education funding through the Race to the Top education program developed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The funding would be available to states that adopted some standardized (i.e., common) guidelines and benchmarks for student learning. Only the CCSS met the guidelines and benchmarks the Race to the Top program designated, so states were faced with (1) adopting the CCSS to receive their slice of the pie, (2) developing their own standards that would meet the Race to the Top guidelines, or (3) saying “no thank you” to the federal dollars. To my knowledge no state has yet attempted option number 2, and rarely are states willing to pursue option number 3, especially when money for education is such a hot topic already.

A number of individuals have cried foul over the federal government’s use of monetary incentives to push the adoption of the CCSS, but it is nothing new and is certainly not unique to Common Core. Jane Robbins of the American Principles Project has suggested that federal involvement in education violates the Constitution because education is not within the domain of the federal government but power shifts that way when states choose to accept federal funds. But again, no one is forcing states to accept federal dollars, the federal government does have the authority to offer financial incentives, and it has done so for decades and in various areas in which the federal government does not have authority on its own. If people are unhappy about this there is a built-in remedy for it called the ballot box. Common Core is an example of the “problem” but is not the problem itself.

The third problem–and the second one that involves the government–is the way in which questions about CCSS have been handled. For example, a couple of weeks ago Focus on the Family e-blasted an article called “Common-Core Chaos.” The article started with this question: “Are you tired of hearing the message that ‘we know better than you what’s best for your kids’ from liberal media pundits and overzealous government officials?” The article went on to describe the way in which Robert Small, a parent in Maryland, was “shut down” when questioning the adoption of Common Core at a public meeting for parents. According to the Focus on the Family article Small was then “shoved and dragged out of the meeting by a security officer. Once outside the doors, he was handcuffed and slapped with criminal charges carrying thousands of dollars in fines.” Apparently his charges were later dropped. “But still,” the Focus article continued, “the spectacle of a parent being manhandled for simply trying to express a relevant viewpoint was disturbing.” I absolutely agree. But again, the Common Core standards did not drag this man out of a meeting. The CCSS are simply standards that were lawfully developed and lawfully adopted. The problem that Focus on the Family needs to be focusing on is the way in which governments have responded when questioned. If Focus has issues with CCSS then by all means it should address them, but it needs to distinguish between problems with the standards and problems with the individuals handling questions about the standards.

Unfortunately Glenn Beck, his lieutenant David Barton, and other conservative talking heads are misrepresenting the facts about Common Core State Standards. Last summer Barton, filling in for Beck on The Blaze, said that CCSS wants to make every student the same. The reality is, though, that assertion cannot be supported with any actual evidence from the CCSS. In that same broadcast Barton, after highlighting some of the questions students were expected to be able to answer after completing 8th grade in 1895, said, “See, back then, students were actually required to use their brain.” The implication, of course, is that the CCSS do not want students to use their brains. There is nothing that could be further from the truth. In fact, one of the key areas of focus in the CCSS is reasoning and evidence. Compare these statements from teachers who have familiarized themselves with the CCSS and teach in schools that have adopted them with the assertions made by Barton… Andrew Jones, a Christian school English teacher in Indiana, told WORLD Magazine, “In a world that is telling kids that they make their own meaning, it’s encouraging to see Core standards encouraging methods like, ‘Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says.'” Lane Walker, a Christian who teaches in a public school near St. Louis, says of the CCSS math standards, “There’s a huge difference between getting kids to memorize a formula and getting them to understand a formula,” and the CCSS emphasize understanding. The same show on The Blaze where Barton made the wisecrack mentioned above featured a spot accusing the CCSS of wanting to eliminate instruction in cursive handwriting. As opposed to that line of thinking as I am, it is not original to the CCSS; there have been folks advocating that for years.

Again, I could keep going, but I will not. I should perhaps even point out that I serve in a non-public school, so we are not even required to adopt the CCSS. I am not spending all this time and effort to defend the CCSS themselves. Rather, what irritates me is the spin, the misrepresentation and the outright lies. Should there be a rigorous and vigorous debate over education in America? Absolutely. But the Common Core State Standards are not, in and of themselves, the real issue. Demand that your leaders learn and speak the truth, and seek the truth yourself! Be informed, be knowledgeable…and do not swallow hook, line and sinker anything anyone says…including me!

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