jasonbwatson

August 11, 2015

Would you jump too?

You may have heard or read already about City Church in San Francisco announced this past March that the church would “no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation,” by which the church meant that sexually active gay and lesbian couples in homosexual marriages would be permitted to become members of the church. This was a reverse of position for the church, which had taught the church “was holding and would hold to the historic Christian view of homosexuality,” according to a report in the July 11, 2015 issue of WORLD. This change “shocked” church members and “surprised” a group of some 40 pastors who subsequently sent a letter to Fred Harrell, the pastor of City Church, questioning the process by which the decision was made as well as the decision itself. I have written enough here at other times on the biblical position on homosexuality that I need not elaborate on it here, and that is not the main point of this post. Rather, I want to consider one of the reasons cited in the WORLD report for the City Church position change.

Marvin Olasky reported that in October 2014 City Church elders met and a majority of them decided to accept a gay man as a member of the church without any requirement that he remain celibate. However, the individual did not join the church and, according to Olasky, “almost all church members remained unaware of the imminent change.” It was in January that Harrell pushed the elders to make that vote the church’s official position, and the five elders present at the meeting agreed. Here is where my concern heightened. Olasky reports that there were “two developments” in January that prompted some at City Church to believe the time had come for the church to change its position on homosexuality in general and homosexual church membership in particular. What were those developments?

First, “two big evangelical churches in other cities–GracePointe in Nashville and EastLake in Seattle–announced they would now admit non-celibate gays.” That is the extent of Olasky’s commentary on that motivator and I do not know anything further about the impact that may have had on the City Church position change, but this rationale smacks of the age-old parent-to-child question, “If all of your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?” The decision by any church to compromise the teachings of Scripture should be an impetus for other churches to shore up their own position and ensure their own adherence to the Truth, not an excuse to join in and throw out the biblical instruction. This is why Paul instructed that believers need to test what they hear in church against the Bible, so that they are not misled by the “position of the moment” being espoused by any teacher or church when that position is contrary to Scripture. (This is also why, by the way, men literally gave their lives to see through the translation of the Bible into language the people could read for themselves–so that churches and church leaders could not mislead the people by ignoring parts of the Bible or claiming Scripture said something it does not say).

Second, Olasky reports, “An article in The Guardian on hip Bay Area churches focused on new entries: Reality, Epic, C3, and The Table. City Church didn’t receive even a mention.” Sadly, this too is an incredibly childish motivation. This reads like one child seeing that another was getting more attention than he, so he decided to throw a tantrum or do something outrageous in order to ensure that all attention shifted back his way. Churches that concern themselves with being labeled “hip” by any publication, much less a secular one that tends to lean to the left, are clearly churches whose priorities are in the wrong place. I do not know how much connection there is between the article and the church decision, but it troubles me deeply to think of any church suddenly embracing any position that contradicts Scripture even in small part in order to attract media attention or improve some kind of hip-ness rating. Jesus said that the world will hate His followers because the world hated Him first. Peter said that followers of Christ are blessed when they are insulted or persecuted for the name of Christ. I am unable to find anyplace in Scripture that commands, encourages or even suggests that Christians are to seek out the approval of the world.

City Church was not the first church to flip-flop on the issue of homosexual marriage or homosexual church membership and it certainly will not be the last. Anytime a church, a pastor or teacher or any individual Christian, for that matter, does a 180-degree change on any position to which he held previously there needs to be careful evaluation and examination of why the position or conviction was changed and whether or not that change was truly informed by Scripture–and a proper interpretation and understanding of Scripture, at that. Sometimes there may be legitimate reasons and sometimes the change will be one that needed to be made. When the change results in a new position that is clearly contradicted in Scripture, though, Christians need to take a stand and call the position change what it is–error, false teaching, heresy. When the change is motivated by a desire to follow the crowd or get back into the in-group, not only should the position change be questioned, so to should the very church making the change. Any church that changes a foundational position of the church’s faith for such shallow and temporal reasons will surely have other, far deeper problems.

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.

July 9, 2014

The Sanctity of Life

Caution: the contents of this post may sicken you and will no doubt offend you. Reader discretion is advised.

Sadly, there is a woman with an even more confused, twisted and disgusting view of abortion than Heather Ault. Her name is Amanda Marcotte and she is, according to her entry on Wikipedia, “an American blogger best known for her writing on feminism and politics.” She is just a few months younger than me, but we have beliefs and convictions that could not be further apart. On this past March 14 she wrote an article or blog post (is there a difference?) for the webzine The Raw Story entitled, “The Real Debate Isn’t About ‘Life’ But About What We Expect of Women.” Marvin Olasky, Editor-in-Chief of WORLD Magazine, called it “the foulest defense of abortion I’ve read in 30 years.” That is a sad commentary. Just to give you an idea of Marcotte’s views, take this… Her article leads with a picture of a very pregnant woman at a baby shower, surrounded by friends, presents, cupcakes and “Its a Girl!” balloons. Beneath the picture is the caption, “This is my idea of what hell looks like.”

Marcotte begins her rant by saying that the “atheist/skeptic” community was in an uproar over the issue of abortion. I am not sure of the details of their uproar but Marcotte thought she should “weigh in.” Here is how she begins her comments on the topic (though she used the expletives I am editing)…

The question isn’t whether or not legal abortion is moral—outside a few kooks, nearly all non-believers are pro-choice—but whether or not those anti-abortion kooks should be indulged and given the privilege of having everyone treat their [crap] arguments like they have value in free-wheeling discourse, or if they should be shunned on the grounds of being [crap] arguments the same way anti-gay or overtly racist arguments are shunned.

Notice that Marcotte begins from the same point so many who deny there is such a thing as absolute truth begins–by asserting that the issue has really already been settled and that anyone who does not agree with her is either a kook or a believer, and in her mind the two are no doubt synonymous. She begins by declaring the debate to be already over. Pretty easy to way to win, that.

Notice, too, though, that Marcotte goes further than simply declaring the debate over. She is not content to fling names at those who disagree with her. Rather, she speculates on whether or not those holding views contrary to her own should even be allowed to hold such views without being shunned. In the process of this speculation she once again insults their very position, of course, twice calling it an argument with merit equivalent to that of excrement.

Marcotte goes on, in her next paragraph, to state that she believes the pro-life argument should be shunned if for no other reason than that it is boring and has been used for the past forty years. “They’re still pooping out the same old crap argument they’ve been using for the past forty years—that an embryo or even fertilized egg that has no brain has more human rights than the woman who has been drafted into growing it against her will—that’s been debunked a million billion times,” she writes. Ignoring her apparent fascination with bodily functions that she seems to think will somehow enhance her argument, Marcotte is simply wrong in her position. Not only has the argument not be debunked at all, much less “a million billion times,” the scientific evidence that an embryo does have a brain and does feel pain at a very early stage of development has only continued to increase over the past forty years. Furthermore, no one, to my knowledge, has ever suggested that the unborn child has “more human rights than the woman” carrying it. Instead, those of us who hold to the pro-life position believe that the unborn child is entitled to the same human rights as the woman. That is what the sanctity of life is all about; no life is more or less valuable than any other. The woman carrying the child is doing it against her will, Marcotte suggests, but unless the woman was raped that simply is not true. Perhaps she did not choose to become pregnant, but choosing to engage in sexual intercourse is a de facto acceptance of the possibility of becoming pregnant.

To the suggestion that if society were more accommodating to women who are also mothers Marcotte has an answer; in short, it will not make any difference to her at all.

Well, let me just put a stop to this [crap] right now. You can give me gold-plated day care and an awesome public school right on the street corner and start paying me 15% more at work, and I still do not want a baby. I don’t particularly like babies. They are loud and smelly and, above all other things, demanding. No matter how much free day care you throw at women, babies are still time-sucking monsters with their constant neediness. No matter how flexible you make my work schedule, my entire life would be overturned by a baby. I like my life how it is, with my ability to do what I want when I want without having to arrange for a babysitter. I like being able to watch True Detective right now and not wait until baby is in bed. I like sex in any room of the house I please. I don’t want a baby. I’ve heard your pro-baby arguments. Glad those work for you, but they are unconvincing to me. Nothing will make me want a baby.

There’s no misunderstanding that position, is there? Of course what Marcotte is saying is that she is self-centered, but we all are as a result of our sin nature, so that is not unusual. What she is really saying is that her self-centeredness and her desire to keep her life exactly how she wants it for her own convenience trumps the right of the child she might carry to live. If that’s true, why does my convenience to get down the road in a hurry not trump the right of the guy in front of me going nowhere in a hurry to stay alive? I’ve often said (jokingly) that if I had a James Bond car I would have blown away an awful lot of morons on the highway. That is a joke but it points to the fact that I’m self-centered too and want whatever is convenient for me. The difference between Marcotte and me, then, is that I do not believe I, or anyone else, actually has the right to end the life of someone irritating or inconveniencing me. While Marcotte would no doubt agree with when it comes to the guy on the road in my example, she thinks that because the unborn baby would be temporarily residing in her body the situation is different and she can kill the baby if she wants.

Marcotte goes further in her argument though, stating that carrying the baby to term and putting it up for adoption is not a reasonable option, either, for a woman who does not want a baby at all.

And don’t float “adoption” as an answer. Adoption? [Screw] you, seriously. I am not turning my body over for nine months of gaining weight and puking and being tired and suffering and not being able to sleep on my side and going to the hospital for a bout of misery and pain so that some couple I don’t know and probably don’t even like can have a baby. I don’t owe that couple a free couch to sleep on while they come to my city to check out the local orphans, so I sure as [crap] don’t own them my body. I like drinking alcohol and eating soft cheese. I like not having a giant growth protruding out of my stomach. I hate hospitals and like not having stretch marks. We don’t even force men to donate sperm—a largely pleasurable activity with no physical cost—so forcing women to donate babies is reprehensible.

Forcing women to donate babies? Really? Again, unless the woman was raped, no one forced her to get pregnant. Society forces people to accept the consequences of their choices all the time; why should we not when it comes to carrying a baby to term?

When it comes right down to it, Marcotte’s position can be summed up in her own statement: “This is why, if my birth control fails, I am totally having an abortion. Given the choice between living my life how I please and having my body within my control and the fate of a lentil-sized, brainless embryo that has half a chance of dying on its own anyway, I choose me.” That is what it is all about. Whatever you may want to call it, Marcotte, and those who think like her, are one hundred percent self-centered and want to do whatever works for them. That is about the only thing about Marcotte’s article I can appreciate–she is bluntly honest about this fact that too many on the pro-death side try to avoid.

Just as I suggested with Heather Ault, we need to pray for Amanda Marcotte. But we also need to pray for our country, because we have, for more than forty years, made Marcotte’s position legal. Perhaps her argument will get enough attention that enough people will realize how incredibly stupid and inconsistent is the idea that the woman’s convenience trumps the baby’s right to live. We can pray for that, too.

July 7, 2014

“Abandoning the battle for the Bible”

A few months ago the board of trustees at Bryan College in Tennessee decided that it would insist that all of its faculty members adhere to a clarification to its statement of faith that makes clear that God created Adam and Eve in specific acts of creation–not through starting a process from which Adam and Eve eventually evolved.

According to a May article on insidehighered.com, this clarification has been deemed by many to be “too narrow” and has resulted in the departure of at least two faculty members, a vote of no confidence in the school’s president by the faculty and a variety of student protests.

The article explains that the Bryan College statement of faith previously included this statement on Adam and Eve: “that the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death[.]” Now I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty clear to me. Then again, I believe the Bible means an actual 24-hour day when it describes the days of creation in Genesis. Apparently a number of those who claimed that they agreed with this statement in the past do not agree, since they have been squawking ever since the school made this clarification: “We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms.”

The article also quotes some talking points presented at the faculty meeting prior to the no confidence vote by Phil Lestmann, a Bryan professor mathematics and head of its natural sciences division, in which Lestmann claimed that the clarification “pretend[s] that a very complex issue is really very simple and straightforward” and “possibly put[s] the college into too small a scientific or theological box.” Therein, of course, we find parts of the problem. The issue in fact is “very simple and straightforward” when you believe the Bible means what it says. Only by reinterpreting it or by trying to make the Bible (God’s Word) fit with science (man’s interpretation or understanding) does any complexity come into the matter. Speaking for myself, a “small…theological box” is exactly where I would want to be, and want my school to be, assuming that box is the one claiming the Word of God to be inerrant. After all, Jesus Himself created a “theological box” that could not be any smaller–when He said “no man comes to the Father but by Me” he was not leaving any room for discussion.

Apparently the student government at Bryan has objected to the clarification because the school’s charter says that its statement of faith cannot be changed. An open letter from the student government appearing in a February issue of the school’s newspaper said, “We believe that it is unjust that professors who gained tenure, published research, and served faithfully under this old statement of faith will be either fired or be forced to choose between violating their consciences or providing for their families.”

I would suggest that what is unfair is the very need for the clarification in the first place. After all, fiat means “an authoritative decree, sanction, or order” or “an arbitrary decree or pronouncement, especially by a person or group of persons having absolute authority to enforce it.” The original statement of faith asserts “the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God.” To suggest that fiat, act of creation and was created allow for some understanding other than that being made clear in the recent clarification is simply absurd. The reality is that Bryan has apparently been lax in enforcing its own statement of faith until this recent clarification and some faculty members have not felt troubled by the fact that they were annually signing a statement of faith with which they did not really agree. If someone consistently drives ten miles over the speed limit without getting a ticket he cannot then cry foul when a law enforcement officer finally does pull him over and issue the ticket. Getting away with something in the past is no justification for eliminating consequences for it in the future.

In the May 3 issue of WORLD Marvin Olasky, with whom I do not always agree, made a poignant and powerful statement about the importance of this issue. “Many Christian liberal arts colleges assert that their goal is to teach students how to think and not what to think. That is laudable in most areas, but should it mean that colleges do not care if students graduate with the belief that the Bible is merely a book compiling man’s fallible teaching rather than God-inspired wisdom?” Olasky asks. He answers his own question thusly: “In such an environment, a Christian college that proclaims it will just throw out to students a variety of theories and let them decide, is abandoning the battle for the Bible.” Olasky is exactly right, and his point is precisely why it is so imperative that Bryan College, as well as other Christian colleges, Christian schools and churches establish clear and accurate statement of faith and insist wholeheartedly that they are adhered to; anything else is a surrender to man’s reinterpretation and is inconsistent with Scripture.

January 21, 2014

Too broad a brush

Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. According to WORLD Magazine Editor-in-Chief she is “best known for her notable–and controversial–books about feminism and American culture.” The December 28, 2013 issue of WORLD includes excerpts of Olasky’s interview with Sommers on the topic of education and, specifically, the impact of today’s classrooms on the academic performance of boys.

Sommers makes a few debatable assertions in the interview, including the statement that boys are building “critical social skills” with their running around and mock fighting accompanied by sound effects. Now I do not have a problem with boys playing army or cops and robbers or superheroes or whatever else they may play; I did plenty of that as a youngster and my son does plenty of it now. Try as you might, there simply is an innate tendency among boys to enjoy shooting things, even in play! I am not quite sure that is a critical social skill, though.

What really bugs me about Sommers’ assertion though is that she goes on to suggest that schools have, in some instances, gone way overboard in suspending or otherwise disciplining boys for such activities, even, sometimes, drawings of such activities. I would tend to agree with her there. But then she states, “If the earliest experience a little boy has is disapproval, we threaten his social development and make him unhappy with school. This may be in part an explanation of why boys are so far behind in reading and writing.” To that, I would say, baloney! This sounds far too much like the position of those who advocate letting children do whatever they want and argue that the self esteem of young children is as fragile as an egg shell. “We must not discipline them!” these folks tell us. “If we tell them they are wrong, we will destroy them. An entire life of trauma and antisocial behavior will result!” Far from threatening his social development, parents and teachers alike will go a long way in helping to appropriately shape his social development in a healthy way when they do indeed express disapproval when appropriate. I am not suggesting that should be every time boys run around or pretend to be shooting each other, mind you, but Sommers is using much too broad a brush in her approach.

Sommers goes on to say that schools would be much different than they are today if teachers recognized these differences between boys and girls and were prepared to handle them differently. Specifically, she says, “teachers would learn in teachers’ colleges what they’re not learning today, that girls are readier for school.” I do not agree with this assertion, either. Sommers suggests that five-year-old girls are more mature than five-year-old boys and it is very difficult for a young boy to sit still. Difficult? Maybe. Impossible? Not even close. The problem is not in the gender of the child, in most instances, though, but in the parenting that child has received. Parents who teach their children how to behave–which includes how to sit still when necessary, to listen, to–dare I say it–obey, will have children, whether boys or girls, who are ready for school. And the fact that boys are “so far behind in reading and writing,” I might add, has very little to do with boys being told to stop running around. It, again, has far more to do with whether or not a love for and habit of reading is taught and modeled by the child’s parents. I have seen plenty of boys who love to read and plenty of girls who do not.

Sommers suggests that if teachers were aware of these gender differences and took them into consideration in their classrooms the result would be, “Lots of recess. Different classroom settings, not just one style that is sedentary, competition-free and risk-averse.” I would agree that different classroom styles are appropriate for any age group, and I am all for healthy competition and risk. Let’s not get too carried away with the “lots of recess” thing, though. Recess is indeed important, especially for younger children and perhaps most especially for boys, but when taken too far “lots of recess” looks a lot more like daycare than school.

Toward the end of the interview Sommers begins talking about the fact that more women than men go to college and that graduate degrees are awarded almost 2-to-1 to females. She uses that to support her assertion that high schools should be offering career and technical training course options, that high schools “should be partly career training that offers pathways into good jobs.” She will get no qualm from me there, either, but I do not see the correlation between boys running around as young children and the need for career and technical education courses in high school. First, it suggests that boys are incapable of pursuing more academic paths of study and careers, and that is simply false. Second, it suggests that the little boys who cannot sit still in kindergarten never grow out of that and therefore need a high school version of “lots of recess.” That’s false, too. The fact that high schools need to offer as diverse a selection of courses as possible, including traditional academic courses as well as fine arts, industrial arts, agriculture, home economics and more has far more to do with offering a well-rounded education and the opportunity for students to pursue areas of interest and skill (not to mention the opportunity to be exposed to new areas and skills) than it does with innate gender differences.

Sommers makes some good and points, but I am afraid too many people will swallow her whole approach because of the legitimately good points she makes. Be careful that you do not, though, because there are justifiable and legitimate reasons to tell little boys “no.”

January 15, 2014

Out of Order

The January 11 issue of WORLD Magazine includes an article by Warren Cole Smith entitled “Going Public.” The article is about the American Bible Society (ABS) and “years of troubles” that “suddenly came into the public spotlight” when ABS fired CEO Doug Birdsall in October 2013. Interestingly, WORLD headlined the section containing this article “2013 News of the Year.” Apparently that means that WORLD considers this story to be one of the most important, if not the most important, news events of the past year.

I am actually not going to delve into most of the “years of troubles” that the article describes because, in my opinion, that was not the most important thing, or perhaps even the most troubling thing, about the article. What troubles me is the way in which WORLD has depicted the ABS as being completely in the wrong and at fault in the matter of Birdsall’s dismissal when, based on the information provided in the WORLD article, it would seem that the dismissal was entirely justified.

Smith writes that the ABS board brought Birdsall in early in 2013, and that he brought along “impeccable evangelical credentials and a reputation for moving fast and for revitalizing large organizations.” A few lines later Smith reports than Birsdall met with “influential leaders” in April 2013 about his plans for ABS. The ABS building in New York City apparently has some extensive problems and bringing it up to New York building code standards is slated to cost some $20 million. Per Smith, Birdsall told his influential gathering about “his plans for a $300 million center for Manhattan’s growing evangelical church,” a project that would replace the current 12-story ABS building.

The proposed 30-story building would include “an Omni hotel, ABS expansion space, and room for special events and other ministries to work.” Bob Rowling, a billionaire Dallas developer whose TRT Holdings own the Omni Hotel chain, committed to finance the plan. (That is a major conflict of interest right there, but that is not even the biggest problem). Smith goes on to say that Birdsall “moved forward on other fronts. He went through an informal process of grading ABS board members with an A, B, or C. Board members who received an A were, in Birdsall’s opinion, in a position to lead and mentor others. Board members with a B were those who could be excellent contributors but who had areas in need of development. Those with a C should not have their terms renewed. Birdsall placed about a third of the board members in each category.”

Smith then reports that when the ABS board chairman found out about Birdsall’s “assessment process and his plans for the building, he saw it as insubordination. The board fired Birdsall in October.” Now, I do not have any independent information or further details of the sequence of events beyond what Smith reported, but the manner in which his article was written certainly seems to imply that Birdsall came up with this plan for the ABS building and presented it to “influential leaders” in a matter of only a few months, and apparently without having the plan approved by the ABS board, perhaps without even presenting it to the board. If that is not insubordination I do not know what is. Someone with the impeccable credentials Birdsall was supposed to have brought to the table would certainly know that he had no authority to devise and promote such a plan without board knowledge or approval. Furthermore, if any CEO is going to be so brazen as to rank the board for whom he works he better be very careful with what he does with said rankings. Having served three boards as a CEO I am of course well aware of the fact that CEO’s often have opinions about which board members are more or less effective, but ranking them the way Birdsall did, within months of taking over the leadership position, was foolish, particularly if he shared that ranking with anyone other than the board. Even if he did share it with the board, or board chair, only, how it was presented would make a tremendous difference in how it was received.

Earlier in the same issue of WORLD Marvin Olasky wrote that ABS and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities “chewed up and spat out presidents” during 2013. He said that ABS, the CCCU and other Christian ministries that closed in 2013, were “beakers containing more toxic chemicals” rather than “beacons of light.” Yet, he concludes that section of his essay claiming that WORLD is “not out to find scandals that finish off organizations with a loud bang. More often we’re called to report on small storm clouds that together create gloomy skies like those many of our readers see.” Perhaps Olasky, Smith and others at WORLD are not out to “finish off” the ABS, but the tenor of their reporting makes it clear that they feel Birdsall was right and the ABS board was wrong.

I wonder if WORLD CEO Kevin Martin would feel the same way if Olasky, WORLD Editor in Chief, tried something similar. It seems to me that Birsdall’s actions as CEO of ABS were out of order. It seems that WORLD‘s coverage of the situation is, too.

February 29, 2012

The College Question

In recent days the political news cycle has been crackling with two sides of the question of how important college is in the United States. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum attracted attention–most of it negative–for saying in Michigan that President Obama is “a snob” for saying that he wants everybody in America to go to college. Eugene Robinson, writing in The Washington Post, went so far as to say that “[o]nly a fool or a liar is unaware that higher education is all but a prerequisite for success in the post-industrial economy,” and went on to call Santorum hypocritical because Santorum himself has both an MBA and a law degree, and two of his own children are in college.

Santorum’s comments in Michigan, however, included this further elaboration: “There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day, and put their skills to test, that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them. Oh, I understand why he (Obama) wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image.” In other words, Santorum was espousing the position that a college education is not essential for success in America. He was, of course, also making the point that liberals may desire–abuse, even–the power of influence that comes with being a college professor, but I am not concerned here about the politics of this discussion. I am more concerned about the basic root issue of whether or not college really is important.

Marvin Olasky wrote an essay on this very subject that appeared in the January 14, 2012 issue of WORLD Magazine. Olasky asks several significant questions in the essay (i.e., “Do colleges help or hurt character formation?”) but he states, in his concluding paragraph: “I’m not at all suggesting that those called to be lawyers, doctors, professors, etc. should not go to college. I am suggesting that work as an electrician, landscaper, or X-ray technician, or in hundreds of other occupations that don’t require a four-year college degree, also glorifies God and should be honored by all of us.”

As someone who is a school superintendent, has three master’s degrees, and would gladly spend his life as a professional student if it were possible to do such a thing, one might (understandably) assume that I would come down on the side of urging students to go to college. It might surprise you, then, to know that that is not my position. On the contrary, I have seen more than enough evidence to know that college simply is not for everyone, and that pushing someone to go to college who either does not want to go or who does not know what he wants to do with his life is probably not a good idea–and is a potentially huge waste of money.

I am a firm believer that there are certain things that everyone needs to know in order to be, in the words of E.D. Hirsch, Jr., culturally literate. Beyond that, though, four (or more) additional years of education simply are not for everyone. Taking a year or two off to work and explore possible careers is not necessarily a bad idea for a high school graduate who is still unsure of the Lord’s calling for her future. Even if a student is certain he or she wants to get a college degree, starting in community college is not a bad idea, either. Classes are generally smaller, almost always are less expensive, and the credits will transfer to a 4-year school if a student does decide to go on for a bachelor’s degree.

It is also important to keep in mind that college is always going to be available. Perhaps now more than ever before it is easy for someone to take classes part-time, either in-person or through distance learning, and to get a college degree at any point. In other words, someone may get out of high school, work for a few years, and then decide that a college degree is essential in order to accomplish his or her career goals. I can just about guarantee you that that individual will be a much better student now that he has decided he wants to go get that degree than he would have been if he was forced/pressured to go to college when he was not ready or did not want to go.

I am certainly not anti-college, either. I think that if a young person knows what he or she wants to do, or at least has a strong idea, and is ready and desirous to go to college, then he or she should go, right out of high school if possible. I think college can be wonderful, both for the experiences and friendships as well as for the learning. The point is, we do not need to make this an absolute. Students who aren’t sure they’re ready for college should not be pressured to go. As Olasky suggests, there are plenty of positions in which someone can be very successful–and very happy–that will never require a college degree.

As an aside, I have not seen the full context of the remarks, but I don’t think President Obama was suggesting that everyone in America should have to go to college. More than likely he was simply suggesting that everyone in America who wants to be able to go should be able to do so. Just so happens, I agree with that, too.

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