Writing New Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bible makes no distinction between biological sex and gender.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What About Common Core? (part 2)

Indiana has been one of the states at the forefront of the Common Core debate. That is due in no small part to the fact that Indiana was among the early adopters of the CCSS and due to the fact that there has been a concerted effort in Indiana to un-adopt the standards.

One of the leading opponents of the CCSS in Indiana is Heather Crossin. So successful have Crossin and her grassroots organization been that Indiana decided this year to temporarily suspend Common Core adoption. But what got Crossin so worked up about Common Core in the first place? In 2011 her then-eight-year-old daughter brought home a math problem that struck Crossin as odd not because of the problem itself but because of the fact that despite getting the mathematical answer correct, Crossin’s daughter received only one point out of three. Why? Because she did not provide the correct reason for how she knew that a 448 foot bridge was longer than a 407 foot bridge. Crossin’s daughter answered said that she knew it was because 448 is a larger number than 407. The Common Core-aligned textbook being used in the classroom, however, wanted the student to compare the numbers in the ones, tens and hundreds columns individually and determine that 448 is larger than 407 that way.

From that one problem launched Crossin’s crusade, now formalized in the group Hoosiers Against Common Core. The group’s purpose, according to its web site, is to bring “together concerned people from all points of the political spectrum in order to effect legislation resulting in the reversal of its [CCSS’] adoption.” Why? “For some, the idea of violating states’ rights is important. To others, they oppose it strictly from a quality perspective. A majority oppose it because it stifles curriculum development and teacher/school autonomy in choosing what is best for their students.”

Therein lies the problem, though. The CCSS does not stifle curriculum development. It may well serve as an excuse for those developing curriculum or those adopting it, but the fact that the CCSS makes a convenient excuse does not make it the actual problem. Furthermore, the CCSS does not “negate teacher/school autonomy in choosing what is best for their students.” The reality is that teacher autonomy is, always has been, and almost surely always will be restricted by the fact that teachers have supervisors at various levels above them to whom they must report. Teachers, therefore, cannot use whatever books they want as the textbooks for their classrooms. That is not unique to CCSS and it will not go away if CCSS is trashed. There could be legitimate and healthy debate about the autonomy of public schools to exercise autonomy in textbook selection, but that is a debate that precedes CCSS and will still be around after CCSS, as well. In other words, CCSS has served to get Crossin’s attention, and the attention of others, but what they are really worked up about is a more deeply-rooted problem with public education (or any education aligning itself with any system that restricts its autonomy, since Crossin’s daughter was at a Catholic school).

See, when Crossin questioned the principal of her daughter’s school about the bridge problem and the approach used in the new textbooks, the principal told Crossin that the school had no choice but to use the books because they aligned with the CCSS. That is not true, though, at least not entirely. Whether or not that specific school had the autonomy to select its own texts I do not know. I do not know how textbook selection works at that school in particular or in Indiana in general. What I do know, though, is that the implication that the textbook in question was the only one aligned with CCSS and therefore had to be used is not true. There are many textbooks that align with the Common Core standards, and their number is growing. Furthermore, the math standards established by the CCSS provide plenty of room within the guidelines they establish for discretion in textbook selection.

The CCSS standards for mathematics begin with eight Standards for Mathematical Practice. What are those eight standards? That students should (1) make sense of problems and persevere in solving them; (2) reason abstractly and quantitatively; (3) construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others; (4) model with mathematics; (5) use appropriate tools strategically; (6) attend to precision; (7) look for and make use of structure; and (8) look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning. I am no mathematician, but I fail to see anything in those eight standards that should raise the hackles of any parent or educator.

To the specific problem that first made Crossin aware of the CCSS I would say this… The problem is ideally suited to address the second of the eight standards above. Crossin’s daughter provided the correct answer as to which bridge was longer, and her reasoning clearly demonstrated quantitative reasoning. She may not have accomplished the level of precision or abstract reasoning that the textbook’s authors wanted, but that would be a problem with the way in which the problem was written, not with the CCSS in general. It also highlights a problem with the teacher who graded the problem; it makes no sense to provide a student with only one-third of the possible credit when the student provides the correct answer!

Even when looking deeper into the specific standards for specific subjects within the field of math the standards are emphasizing only the facts and skills that students should master, such as this standard within the Geometry area: “Derive the equation of a circle of given center and radius using the Pythagorean Theorem; complete the square to find the center and radius of a circle given by an equation” (CCSS.Math.Content.HSG-GPE.A.1). This is, to my mind, a fairly basic standard that any Geometry student should be able to meet, CCSS or not.

The Hoosiers Against Common Core includes a gushing endorsement of a piece written in the New York Times in June “defending traditional mathematics.” That article, by an associate professor of philosophy and a professor of mathematics, asserts that most math instruction today is on “numerical reasoning” rather than the “more traditional focus on understanding and mastery of the most efficient mathematical algorithms.” However, the CCSS do not discount algorithms or the mastery of them. They do expect math teachers to explain to students the reasons why algorithms work, and they expect students to grasp the reasons, but this is not a knock on Common Core. As the Times article points out, this is not even new to math! The article states, “Although every decade has its bad textbooks, anyone who takes the time to look at a range of math books from the 1960s, 70s or 80s will see that it is a myth that traditional math programs routinely overlooked the importance of thoughtful pedagogy and taught by rote.”

In fact, the third grade CCSS standards specifically state that students should be able to use “algorithms based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction.” In other words, exactly what the Times article argues for and exactly what Hoosiers Against Common Core seems to decry about the CCSS.

So if the CCSS are not the problem, then where are we now? Oh, we are back at bad textbooks. The simply reality is that good textbooks, good teachers and good schools have been doing what the CCSS now outlines for years. The most effective teachers will find almost nothing in the CCSS that will alarm them because they have already been doing what the CCSS asks them to do. The best textbooks will require little if any adjustments because they already do what the CCSS ask them to do. Contrary to what anyone may say, the CCSS simply do not require specific textbooks! So the uproar over the CCSS is really over a much broader, and much deeper, issue…one I will continue to explore next time.

And we wonder…

The December 15 issue of WORLD magazine included a page with short articles about education issues (page 72). Collectively, these three articles reveal quite a bit about the problems with public education in America today.

The first article is entitled “School’s Out,” and looks at the battles going on in Chicago and Washington, D.C. over school closings. Of course, Michelle Rhee faced incredible pressure over closing underperforming (a very polite way to say “failing”) schools during her tenure as chancellor of D.C. schools. But the reality is that Chicago and D.C. are losing students at a considerable rate–Chicago’s student is down 6% over the last decade, but D.C. is down around 35%. (And while the percentages are staggeringly different, the difference in number of students is small: 25,270 students lost in Chicago, 27,681 lost in D.C.).

There are, of course, many factors that may contribute to the decrease in enrollment in urban areas, including families moving into the suburbs, more families choosing nonpublic schools, and the poor quality of the public school systems.

Regardless of the reason, though, anyone with any knowledge about business operations would recognize that maintaining things “as they are” in light of a 6% or 35% decrease in consumers is a recipe for failure. What restaurant would maintain the same number of locations or the same staffing levels after a 35% decrease in customers, for example? And yet the Chicago Teachers Union is vehemently opposing the closing of any schools. Of course this should not come as a huge surprise after Chicago teachers went on strike early this school year, and had the audacity to claim that their demands were in the interests of students. CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey stated, “If you close our schools, there will be no peace in the city.” Ah…how refreshing to see such a spirit of compromise, or even a willingness to acknowledge that sometimes tough decisions have to be made in order to save a sinking ship.

In Chicago half of the students drop out; in D.C. the figure is 40%. Eighty percent of fourth graders in both cities struggle to read. And in D.C. the opposition to embracing reality is not only among the public school teachers, but among city council members, who strenuously oppose the closing of schools in their wards, despite the fact that new Chancellor Kaya Henderson says that many schools are half-empty, resulting in a considerable waste of money.

Moving on, beneath “School’s Out” is an article entitled “Musical chairs.” This article begins by introducing Jessica Keskitalo, a high school history teacher in Beaverton, Oregon who is teaching seventh-grade math this year, after all of a “half day of math training.” And Keskitalo is not alone as she spends the year in unfamiliar territory; according to the article, she is one of 365 teachers in the Beaverton district who were “shifted by seniority” to replace teachers who were laid off. In other words, the school district needed to make cuts, and they did. But, “Oregon requires districts to lay off teachers with the least experience first, instead of assessing expertise and classroom needs.” Oh good…another example of putting the needs of the students first! (Sorry, sarcasm seems to be dripping out of me today).

According to Beaverton officials, some 160 teachers were placed in “significantly different positions” this year. Keskitalo, for example, had never taught mathematics, and her only experience teaching middle school students came during one month of her student teaching. The article states that neither the principals in Beaverton nor the teachers had any say over the new assignments. Another example provided? Beaverton “transferred district librarian Jenny Takeda into a third-grade classroom one week before the Oregon Association of School Libraries named her the Librarian of the Year.” Takeda opted not to accept the assignment, so she is now a substitute teacher as she tries to figure out what her future holds.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, as cited in the article, reports that, “the overwhelming majority of school districts use seniority as the only determinant of teacher layoff decisions.”

Lastly, the right column of the page contains an article entitled “Fox in the Henhouse.” This one describes the fact that union official Glenda Ritz was chosen by voters to be the new state superintendent of Indiana schools, ousting Tony Bennett (not the singer, but a “nationally recognized school reformer”). Why is that a problem? Because Indiana has in place one of the “biggest statewide voucher program[s], teacher evaluations tied to student test scores, and new grade-by-grade tests and curriculum requirements shared by 46 states.” Ritz, however, “dislikes evaluating schools.” Hmmm…I wonder why? As a union official, her focus was undoubtedly on maintaining teacher jobs and increasing teacher salary and benefits, not on student achievement.

If this news is illustrative of the condition of public education in America is it any wonder that our students consistently lag behind students on other countries on tests? Should we be surprised that so many students drop out when council members and superintendents are focused more on teacher jobs than on student learning? Should we be surprised that students struggle to learn when teachers are randomly placed in classrooms because they have tenure, not because they have any training or even any clue how to teach the age and/or subject matter they have been assigned? I think there are a lot of very capable and very dedicated teachers in the nation’s public schools…but I think, for the most part, they’re swimming against the tide. They’re trying to do something that, despite the rhetoric, simply has not been made a priority–actually teaching students to learn.