jasonbwatson

May 30, 2017

Gender Identity Anarchy

The January 2017 issue of National Geographic was “the Gender Issue.” The cover featured the title “Special Issue: Gender Revolution” over the picture of Avery Jackson, a transgender girl from Missouri who does yet appear to have reached teenage years. The issue’s main story was titled “Rethinking Gender” and it led with a page-and-a-half photo of twins Caleb and Emmie Smith. Emmie said, “When we were 12, I didn’t feel like a boy, but I didn’t know it was possible to be a girl.” She came out as transgender at 17 and has now undergone gender-confirmation surgery. But, she says, “I was no less of a woman before it, and I’m no more of one today.”

In other words, Emmie is saying that her gender is really all about how she feels about herself, what she thinks and how she chooses to identify. If having surgery did not make her more female then it must be the case that the surgery was purely for the purposes of providing her a body—an external appearance—to match the way she thinks and feels inside. This is a recurring factor in the entire transgender debacle. Not to be outdone by National Geographic, TIME used the cover of its March 27, 2017 issue to focus on the gender issue. The cover headline reads, “Beyond He or She” over a picture of Marie, an individual who appears to be a girl but, according to the caption, “identifies as queer and gender nonconforming.”

The feature story inside the magazine is titled “Infinite Identities,” and it quotes 18-year-old Rowan Little, who identifies as gender fluid, as saying, “Some days I feel like my gender could be like what I was assigned at birth, but there are some days when I feel the opposite way.” There is that issue of “feelings” again. Later, the article quotes Kyle Scotten, who identifies as a gay man, as saying that he sees sexuality as a spectrum. “I totally believe there are 100, 200 shades in the middle,” Scotten said, and even if he does not understand all of the nuances, “it makes sense to them in their own head and that’s enough.”

Really? If it is enough for something to make sense to someone in their own head then we are all in trouble. That is the very basis of anarchy—people being able to do whatever they want without rule, order or authority, based solely on what makes sense or feels good to them. In fact, Will Durant said, “As soon as liberty is complete it dies in anarchy.” The argument being made by many these days is that individuals have the liberty to decide for themselves what gender they will identify as—even if that changes from day to day. And when they decide, everyone else is supposed to accept it and accommodate it, even to the point of using their preferred pronouns lest we offend them by referring to them in a manner other than that which they prefer. Is it not interesting that their liberty then becomes constraining on the rest of us? English philosopher Jeremy Bentham knew that of which he spoke then, when he said, “Tyranny and anarchy are never far apart.” The anarchy of self-identification, and its resulting preferences and prescriptions, shall soon be the tyranny by which we shall all be ruled.

Further evidence of this liberty-to-anarchy progression comes later in the TIME article. It references a 2016 survey in which respondents were asked to provide the term that most accurately fit their gender—which produced more than 500 unique responses. Ritch Savin-Williams, professor emeritus at Cornell, said of the pure volume of labels being used, “It says, ‘Your terms do not reflect my reality or the reality of my friends.’” How many of us have not, at least one time or another, wished we could simply define our own reality? If we could, we would either be in a state of total anarchy or a state of total insanity, of course, because defining our own reality is simply not possible. Reality is, by definition, real.

Dictionary.com defines “reality” as “the state or quality of being real; something that is real; something that exists independently of ideas concerning it; something that constitutes a real or actual thing, as distinguished from something that is merely apparent.” Those definitions, of course, eliminate the possibility of anyone defining their own reality. Too, we recognize in almost every other area of life that we do not get to define our own reality. I would like to be a professional baseball player but I cannot simply say that is my reality, show up on the field and be allowed to play—or to collect a really big pay check. Try defining your own reality for your employer next time you are asked to do something at work. Even better, behold your own reaction when your next paycheck is a miniscule percentage of that which you expected (and earned) and when you ask the boss about it he says the paycheck you were given reflects his reality.

The TIME article ends with a perfect concluding statement to wrap up this absurdity, quoting Grace Mason, the president of the Gay-Straight Alliance in her high school. “I’d rather be who I am and be authentically me than try to fit in one of those crappy little boxes. I have a great box that I have made for myself.”

Of course all the rest of us have to accept and embrace that box—and everyone else’s boxes too—or else we will be labeled intolerant (at best).

The National Geographic story leads with a description of E, a 14-year-old girl who feels more like a boy. E still uses her birth name (choosing to go by E for the story) and still prefers the pronoun “she.” E does not think “transgender” fits her gender identity and she does not feel like she was born in the wrong body. “I just think I need to make alterations in the body I have, to make it feel like the body I need it to be,” she said. And what might that be exactly? Well, “a body that doesn’t menstruate and has no breasts, with more defined facial contours and ‘a ginger beard.’”

The article goes on to state that the XX and XY chromosomes that determine a baby’s sex do not always tell “the whole story.” Interestingly, though, the article says that that is true “on occasion.” It does not state how rare that occasion is, but is does provide an example of an individual with CAIS, complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, and describes a “small group of children born in the Dominican Republic with an enzyme deficiency” that causes genitalia to appear female at birth and male once puberty sets in. These are unusual situations to be sure, but there are, as the article states, occasional and small in number.

Also small in number are the individuals involved in scientific studies purporting to indicate that the brains of transgender individuals may be more like the brains of their self-identified gender than their biological gender. According to the article, some such studies include “as few as half a dozen transgender individuals.” That is an incredibly small number and rarely if ever would such a finite sample be considered sufficient for scientific conclusions. The article highlights another problem as well—that these studies sometimes include individuals already taking hormones for the opposite gender, “meaning that observed brain differences might be the result of, rather than the explanation for, a subject’s transgender identity.”

More interesting still though is that the article goes on to state that there has been a “robust” finding that there is a connection between gender nonconformity and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The article cites a pediatric neuropsychologist at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C. indicating that “children and adolescents on the autism spectrum are seven times more likely than other young people to be gender nonconforming. And, conversely, children and adolescents at gender clinics are six to 15 times more likely than other young people to have ASD.”

The reason this connection between gender nonconformity and ASD is so interesting is that ASD is—as its name states—a disorder. It is a spectrum, yes, because it includes a range of symptoms but and disabilities, but ASD is the catch-all label for an expansive range of developmental disorders. Might gender nonconformity be a disorder then? Indeed it is, though I doubt you will see National Geographic or TIME or any other mainstream publication state that anytime soon.

The National Geographic article includes a photo of a child named Henry, along with a caption stating that Henry considers himself to be “gender creative” and, at the age of six, “he is already very sure of who he is.” That, of course, is nonsense, as no six-year-old is very sure of much of anything, much less anything that could potentially have life-altering ramifications.  WORLD magazine ran a rebuttal of sorts to the National Geographic and TIME features with its April 15, 2017 issue. Its cover featured a boy looking into a mirror and seeing a girl, which the headline “Forgotten Victims.” Not surprisingly that feature article took a different approach to the story than the other two. In fact, that article actually cited the six year old quoted in National Geographic that I led this paragraph with, along with a response from Michelle Cretella, president of the American College of Pediatricians. “You don’t treat medical confusion by putting people, especially children, on toxic hormones and cutting off healthy body parts,” Cretella said. “Just because a person thinks and feels something does not make it true.”

In fact, the Bible makes it clear that doing what one thinks and feels, when not consistent with Scripture, is not only not true but is quite dangerous. Both Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 state that the way that seems right to a man will end in death. No doubt all of this gender nonconformity seems right to the people who are creating these great boxes for themselves. Proverbs 12:15a says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.” Proverbs 21:2 says that every man’s way is right in his own eyes.

By the way, there is a term for everyone doing what is right in their own eyes. It is anarchy.

July 1, 2015

Truth Matters

I want to talk to you about truth. If I were to say that this was not influenced by recent events in Washington, DC I would be less than honest, and you would know I was. You may be very disturbed by the recent Supreme Court decisions -— and we should all be —- but the reality is that these decisions are but the latest in a long line of events in our country and decisions by our leaders that frustrate, sadden and even anger us. As I reflected on what has happened recently my mind flashed back to a message that I preached in the late 1990s in the midst of Bill Clinton’s impeachment. I went back through my files and I found that message and I found that it is entirely relevant today, as well.

Here is what I found in looking back at those notes: I did not set out to prepare a message which would deal with or even relate to current political events and the message I prepared was not going to deal specifically with that event. In fact, based on my notes for that message I had been working on something else entirely and in the process of looking up a cross reference to a verse I was dealing with this passage in Isaiah grabbed me. Have you ever heard someone say, or maybe seen in a book advertisement, “a gripping read”? Well, this was a gripping read. I turned to it and started reading and literally it was as if I had been grabbed by the collar and told, “read this!” It was a gripping read. In this instance I sought this out, but it is just as gripping and just as relevant today. This is not going to be specifically about the recent decisions, but it will relate to them clearly. We are going to talk about truth and why truth matters.

Look at Isaiah 59:1-15. This is what grabbed me all those years ago when I was reading. I am sure I had read this before, I imagine many of you have read this before as well, but never had it grabbed me like this—and that’s the thing about God’s Word, isn’t it? It never gets old, it is always new. This passage screamed to me then that it needed to be preached, because it is so much like the current situation in this country.

Look at verse 4. I read from the ESV, but I like the NKJV here better, and it reads like this: “No one calls for justice, Nor does any plead for truth.” Does that not sound like America today? We could give many examples of people in the United States, of all walks of life but particularly among our leaders, who have dismissed calls for the truth. “What difference does it make?” they may ask. The truth is not desirable for most people, they do not want justice. They would rather, as verse 4 says, “conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity”. Why is that? It is because truth and justice necessitate right and wrong, and right and wrong necessitate an unchanging, unalterable definition or determination. In other words, truth and justice, right and wrong require an almighty, sovereign God and humanity does not like that because truth and justice, right and wrong get in the way of us doing what we want to do, what seems expedient at the time, what we feel like doing, what makes us happy and brings us pleasure.

The skill in devising mischievous schemes – as the spider weaves its web, the comparison is made – will not save them. They shall not, verse 6 says, cover themselves with their works of iniquity. Why? Because no schemes of self-wrought salvation can avail in the light of God’s truth!

Still, we see in verse 7, their feet run to evil, they shed innocent blood, they think evil thoughts. I don’t know about you, but this reminds me of how we see the world described before the flood in Genesis 6:5, where we read, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” It reminds me of the description of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18.

Now look at verse 8 – “the way of peace they do not know.” You could certainly argue that we have not been in a time of peace since the 9/11 attacks, though we do live in a time of greater peace now than we have at some other times in our nation’s history in terms of day to day armed conflict on the international stage. But are we at peace within our own country? No. Far from it. Look at the chaos that has erupted around the country in recent months, of which Ferguson and Baltimore are but two examples among many. We have, as verse 9 says, shut our eyes to the truth. We have shut our eyes to the light of truth to the point where we stumble around at the brightest of day, groping for a wall like a blind man, because we have closed our eyes to the light. We wait for brightness yet we walk in darkness. When we have turned so much from God is it not just for God to hide from us the things which belong to peace? Why would we have peace when we have ignored the truth? How could we?

Verse 12 says that the transgressions of the people had been multiplied before God. He sees every single one, and they are multiplying—they are piling up before Him. “And our sins testify against us,” the verse says. Not only before God, by the way, but before man. Our sins testify against us around the world. The sins of those who profess to be God’s people are worse than the sins of others, and, like it or not, we still claim to be a Christian nation—though that is certainly diminishing and that claim is certainly becoming more difficult for anyone to make with any degree if sincerity. The sins of a nation are public and they will bring public judgement—especially when they are not restrained by public justice! How tragic it is when those individuals charged with overseeing public justice are the very ones committing the most heinous sins.

Verses 14-15 describe our country exactly. Justice is turned away backward. Righteousness stands far off. Truth has fallen in the streets. Equity, justice, uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lying dead in the streets of America. And, the second part of verse 15 says, “the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice.” God is displeased. There is no way around that, no other way to imagine it; God is displeased when we make a mockery of what He has created—and marriage, mind you, was created by God, to be between one man and one woman. And man and woman, mind you, were created by God as well, not as concepts or identities which we can choose for ourselves.

There are three things about truth and the wicked that we can see in Scripture that are important for us to note. First, the wicked do not ask for truth. In Isaiah 59:4 we see that none plead for truth. In 2 Timothy 4:4 we see that the wicked “turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” The wicked turn away from the truth, they do not ask for truth, because they do not want to hear it.

Second, the wicked do not defend truth. In Jeremiah 9:3, in the KJV, we read this: “And they bend their tongues like their bow for lies: but they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, saith the LORD.” The wicked do not stand up for the truth, they do not fight for truth.

Third, the wicked do not speak the truth. Jeremiah 9:5 says, “Everyone deceives his neighbor, and no one speaks the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity.” Quite simply, the wicked lie.

I could provide you with abundant examples of lies coming from the mouths of our elected officials, from our unelected judges, from celebrities and supposed role models, from preachers and professors and religious leaders, from common everyday people like you and me. I could, but I am not going to, because you have no doubt seen and heard them yourself and you do not need me to provide examples of something you already are aware of. I will tell you this, though: God does not like the lack of truth. Isaiah 59:15 tells us that God is displeased. In Hosea 4:1 we read these words: “Hear the word of the LORD, O children of Israel, for the LORD has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land.” God had a controversy with the people of Israel because there was no truth in the land. Yes, these passages are talking about the people of Israel, but the principles are the same. God is no less intolerant of wickedness and lies today than He was then. I will tell you, the last thing I would want is to have a controversy with God, but I believe our nation does…because there is no truth. We have turned our backs on truth.

Let me remind you that I would be the first one to stand up and point out that we have a biblical responsibility to pray for our leaders, and to respect them, because they are ordained by God. Scripture makes it abundantly clear, in a number of passages, that the powers and authorities over us are ordained by God and we are to respect them, to pray for them and to obey them—unless and until they instruct us to disobey God. So we must respect Barack Obama, we must respect the five justices of the Supreme Court who ruled in favor of homosexual marriage, because they hold offices that God has ordained. At the same time, we must also realize that God made us a people of free will and we elect who we wish. The very fact that we have turned so far from God and from truth is both a contribution to, and a result of, the fact that we have not elected for ourselves great leaders, godly leaders who desire to do what is right regardless of what is popular.
Do not doubt—the wicked will be punished. In Jeremiah 5:29 we read this: “Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the LORD, and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?” Jeremiah 9:9 says the exact same thing. God will visit this nation, I believe, just as He visited the nation of Israel, and He will be avenged. Why? Because there is no truth.
So what are our responsibilities, as those who follow Christ? As those who are to be lovers of truth?

First, Look at Jeremiah 9:1. “Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” We should be crying for our country. When was the last time you did that? When was the last time you wept in prayer because of the state of our union? I confess, I do not know the answer for myself. It is easy to become hardened and cynical and callous toward the sin around us, but we need to be praying for this nation. Some of us are faithful to pray for our nation regularly and consistently, and that is good. But we need to do it not just because we recognize our biblical obligation to do so but because we really think about and care about what is going on in our nation. If we think about it, really think about it, and care about it, it will bring tears. It will bring anger, too, by the way, and that can be good if it motivates us to do the right thing.

Second, we see from Isaiah 58:1 that we have a responsibility to identify the transgressions of our nation—to call them out. “Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins” it says. We who know the truth have a responsibility to point out the problems that exist. We should be able, figuratively speaking, to hear people yelling about the problems in this country, lifting up their voices like trumpets to call to repentance a nation that is all too content to pursue its own purposes and desires. We have to recognize the transgressions and point them out. Why? Because the national mindset is formed by one of two dynamics—propaganda or truth. Today it is being molded by propaganda. The church needs to respond to her responsibility in the formation of the national mindset. Churches must assume their responsibility for shaping the biblical mind and confronting the national mind. We must find ways to assert biblical values in the public square. If the secular mass media inundate the nation with propaganda, the church must counter with the truth.

Third, look at Psalm 51. This is a well-known psalm in which David cries out to the Lord after the prophet Nathan confronts him on his sin with Bathsheba. We need, as a nation as well as individually, to acknowledge our sin. We do not need to apologize for it; an apology is a verbal defense, and it does not bring forgiveness. Nowhere does Scripture say that we are to apologize for our sin. Rather, we need to acknowledge it, confess it, repent of it and turn around. 2 Chronicles 7:14 contains this instruction as well. That verse tells us that if God’s people call on Him, humble themselves and turn from their wicked ways, then He will hear, forgive and heal their land.

Finally, look at Malachi 3:5-7. The punishment will come. It most definitely will. That is not up for debate. But it is not too late to return to God. I believe it is still possible for a revival to sweep through this land. Look back to Isaiah 59, where we started. Verses 1-2 tell us that God’s hand is not shortened that He cannot save. God is not tired or weary of hearing our prayers. We as a nation, however, grown tired of praying. We have separated ourselves from God with iniquities and sin has hid our face from His. Truth is lying dead in the streets. It is not too late to turn back; God is ready to hear and He will forgive. No matter how disappointed, how frustrated, how saddened, how angered we may become, we must not give up our responsibility to stand for the truth. This is what we are called to do, no matter the cost, no matter the popularity, no matter the penalty that may result.

Keith Getty and Stuart Townend have written a hymn entitled “O Church Arise,” and the first verse reads like this:

O church, arise and put your armor on;
Hear the call of Christ our captain;
For now the weak can say that they are strong
In the strength that God has given.
With shield of faith and belt of truth
We’ll stand against the devil’s lies;
An army bold whose battle cry is “Love!”
Reaching out to those in darkness.

That is what we are to do; to go in the strength and armor of the Lord, standing against the lies of the devil. We may be spitting mad about the SCOTUS decision, the five justices or the people who pushed and fought for this decision. But Jesus died for them, too, and they are in darkness, and we are to reach out to them with God’s love.
The second verse of that hymn says this:

Our call to war, to love the captive soul,
But to rage against the captor;
And with the sword that makes the wounded whole
We will fight with faith and valor.
When faced with trials on ev’ry side,
We know the outcome is secure,
And Christ will have the prize for which He died—
An inheritance of nations.

We are called to war. Make no mistake about that; we are in the thick of a very real, very intense spiritual war! Our enemy, though, is the captor—Satan—not the captive souls who have fallen under his lies. We must fight on, faithfully and confidently, because even when we seem to be making no ground, even when we seem to be losing, we know, “the outcome is secure.” No decision by any number of human beings will ever change that, and we are on the side of victory.

September 16, 2014

Better or Worse?

Filed under: Biblical Worldview — jbwatson @ 3:42 pm
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USA Today periodically has a “Your Say” feature in the Opinion section of its web site. The idea is simple–a topic is posted and readers can share their thoughts–have their say–through Facebook and Twitter. Yesterday’s topic was whether churches are changing for better or for worse. The question was posed with this background: “Congregations are becoming more open to gays and lesbians in membership and leadership, according to the National Congregations Study.” As of this morning there were nine comments on the site, though I have no idea how many were submitted. Still, the thoughts contained in these nine are an interesting look at the varying opinions that exist today.

The first comment on the site was this: “This report shows how liberal churches have fallen away from the Scriptures and are accepting the views of the ‘world’ and society rather than the word of God. You cannot bless sin and be blameless.” I would agree with this individual. The increasing acceptance of homosexuals in church membership and leadership is not a movement that has any support in Scripture, meaning it has to be coming from the world. One could debate whether or not the churches are “blessing sin” but the implication is certainly clear, and certainly true–if churches are allowing individuals who are openly embracing a life that is contrary to God’s Word to be members of the church, and even to hold positions of leadership within the church, it is hard to take any position other than endorsement, or at the very least, acceptance.

The second comment came from an individual who had this to say:

Actually, these churches are following what Jesus taught: acceptance, humility and understanding. Perhaps it might behoove the self-righteous, holier-than-thou “Christians” to reflect on their hypocrisy.

One must remember that the Bible, while a good guidebook of moral tales and ethics, was written by many fallible men thousands of years ago, when mores and traditions were much different.

Traditions that were acceptable then are no longer acceptable or relevant because of intelligence and technological advancements.

It is readily evident that the individual who shared this thought is not a Christian–certainly not in any definition of the term that I would accept–because she has an entirely false understanding of what the Bible is. The Bible is not simply a “good guidebook” and it does not contain “moral tales and ethics.” Rather, it contains true accounts of events and teachings. It was written by fallible men, but only insofar as they were the instruments responsible for putting the ink on the paper, so to speak; the words themselves were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Sure, mores and traditions during Bible times are different than mores and traditions now, and there have been technological advancements and perhaps even advances in intelligence (though depending on how one defines this it may be questionable). But homosexuality is neither a more nor a tradition. It is a behavior that is chosen by those who practice it. Whether society deems it more acceptable or not makes no difference at all when examining how the church is changing. Society’s acceptance of, or rejection of, what the Bible teaches must never be the impetus for change within the church, must never be permitted to influence what the church believes, teaches or accepts. (And frankly, technological advancement has absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality, so that part of the comment is irrelevant).

The third comment echoes what I have said above. Here it is: “Either the Bible is, or it isn’t, the divinely inspired word of God. If it is, then read it and let it change your opinions that don’t match with God’s truth. If you think it isn’t, then find another book to admire, read or pick and choose from.” Bottom line, you either accept the Bible or you reject it; what society thinks, or what mores or traditions have changed, have nothing to do with what the Bible teaches.

The next comment: “Christianity is not about a building; it’s about those who follow Christ and his teaching. Although Christ loves everyone, he hates all sin, including homosexuality. There is no gray area.” This is exactly on point, and there is more contained herein that first meets the eye. The initial tendency is to see that this individual holds to the fact that the Bible is true and that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin, and that has not changed. That’s true. But the comment goes deeper; it implies more so than states that those “churches” that are changing to allow homosexuals to be members or leaders are not really churches in the biblical sense. If these groups of people are not following Christ and His teaching contained in the Bible then they are not really churches in the context the question assumes, or many of these bodies assume for themselves.

Here’s the simple truth: if entities calling themselves churches are changing in any way that is causing them to stray from the Bible, they are changing for the worse. When churches fail to change with the mores and traditions of the culture and choose instead to remain steadfast on the Truth of Scripture, regardless of how popular such a stand is not, that is not only for the better, it is the best. “Truth” and “change” are incompatible notions. If God’s Word is Truth, and God’s Word never changes, there is no room for change regarding the Truth within the church.

June 24, 2014

Ruining the Beauty of God’s Creation

One of the beautiful realities about truth is that it is timeless. Sure, some truths are circumstantial and those will change as circumstances change. For example, last year it was true that my daughter was in fifth grade. Next year that will not be true. Those are circumstantial truths. Absolute truth, though, is unchanging (hence the use of “absolute”). God’s truth is absolute and therefore anyone writing or speaking about God’s truth is also presenting timeless truth–truth that will be just as true, just as accurate and just as relevant days, years, decades and even centuries after it was written or spoken.

More than ten years ago Ravi Zacharias wrote a book entitled Recapture the Wonder. On page 36 of the hardcover version of that book Zacharias wrote, “Anyone who thinks he or she can place the boundaries arbitrarily will either destroy the enchantment of life or else wear him- or herself into exhaustion. God’s commands are there to protect what life is truly about, not the other way around. Implementing that truth in our lives keeps us from losing the wonder.”

Because Zacharias was writing about absolute truth that statement is still accurate today. Yet, we live in a world that wholeheartedly embraces the idea of placing boundaries arbitrarily–moving them whenever convenient or desirable, or even eliminating them altogether. We see this perhaps most clearly in the area of sexual behavior. There is an ongoing effort to shift or erase all God-given boundaries of sexual behavior, including God’s design for marriage (between one man and one woman), God’s design for sex (between a married man and woman) and God’s design for gender (male or female, as He created each individual). Much as they may claim to be thrilled with their behavioral choices I believe that many of those individuals who champion this boundary realignment, and/or who live their lives based on the realignment, have in fact destroyed the enchantment of life and are working themselves into exhaustion. They put so much effort into trying to convince the world that their redefinition of what God created is normal and acceptable that they cannot possibly be enchanted by life any longer.

When anyone can, with a few clicks of the mouse, see any manner of sexual activity and perversion imaginable it is nearly impossible for there to be any wonder left about sex as God designed it. When the world embraces the idea of doing whatever feels good or desirable at the moment there can be no sense of enchantment remaining.

The inside flap of Zacharias’ book includes this statement: “Our sense of wonder is a blessing from God, given so that we would be continually amazed at His beauty and creation. But for many of us, our wonder has diminished through the years, and we doubt that we’ll ever be able to experience the overwhelming sense of awe we once had as children.” I would suggest that no small part of the reason for that is that, unlike children who are discovering the world for the first time and are enchanted with each new discovery, we adults are, collectively, seeking to eliminate anything that might be undiscovered or secret or private.

Imagine, for example, if the most beautiful sunrise, or sunset, you have ever seen was available every day, any time you want to see it–and to anyone in the world, not just you. The beauty of that sunrise or sunset would begin to fade. It would gradually become less special, less awe-inspiring, less desirable. It could easily become commonplace, ho-hum or boring. That is what the world is doing, or attempting to do, to God’s design for mankind. This effort to eliminate the special, the private–the sacred, even–is painfully obvious when it comes to sex but is evident in many other areas as well.

What we need to do is return to the truth that the boundaries, “God’s commands,” have been given to us “to protect what life is truly about, not the other way around.” If the human body and sexual behavior was supposed to be open and available for anyone to see God never would have created clothing for Adam and Eve after they sinned. If sex was supposed to be whenever, wherever and with whomever, God never would have given instruction that the man and the woman were to cleave to one another and enjoy sex within the boundaries of their marriage. If sex between men or between women was perfectly acceptable God never would have called it an abomination or referred to it as abandoning the “natural” relationship between men and women. We have allowed Satan to delude us into thinking that by throwing back the curtain and openly celebrating and flaunting any and all varieties of behavior we are in fact celebrating and enjoying life. Quite simply, nothing could be further from the truth. Not only are we destroying the wonder and enchantment we are in fact ruining the beauty of God’s creation.

November 15, 2013

What About Common Core? (part 5)

I hate to do this. Really, I do. Quite frankly, I am irritated that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have taken up so much of my time and attention recently–especially when I am not (1) required to follow them at the school where I serve, and (2) even all that interested in defending the standards themselves! What bugs me is the misinformation and the manipulation of the facts that is so prevalent surrounding the CCSS. I wrote at length on these standards last week and then decided after four posts that I was done. I intended to walk away from the issue and leave it alone. Then I got today’s mail…

In today’s mail I received a letter from Concerned Women for America (CWA) which was accompanied by a pamphlet entitled “Stop Common Core ‘State’ Standards.” The pamphlet included a picture of an elementary school child wearing a safety patrol vest, holding a stop sign. At the top of the cover was this statement: “An Unconstitutional Experiment on Our Children.” The lower part of the cover says, “An experiment destined for failure, loss of local control, loss of parental rights, loss of privacy, high costs and more.” Now, I respect CWA and much of what they do. However, I cannot ignore the inaccuracies and spin of their propaganda piece. The only way to have healthy and meaningful debate is to stick to the facts, and conservative organizations need to hold themselves to that standard–particularly organizations that are also Christian.

The inside front page of the pamphlet provides this explanation in response to the headline, “What is the Common Core?”

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is a set of national K-12 standards in math and English language arts currently being implemented in 45 states and Washington, D.C. The CCSS were developed behind closed doors by a left-leaning Washington, D.C.-based non-profit group. Supporters of the CCSS claim that the development of the standards was a “state-led” effort, but that simply is not true. Neither state boards of education, state legislators nor local education officials, school leaders, nor parents were included in the development, evaluation, and adoption of CCSS.

That paragraph includes reference to an end note after the comment about the “left-leaning” non-profit group, and that end note directs readers to a report by the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve, Inc., entitled “Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-Class Education.” Interestingly, that report was published in 2008, and the CCSS were not even copyrighted until 2010. The suggestion, though, is that Achieve, Inc. is a “left-leaning” non-profit group responsible for drafting the CCSS. The report in question was outlining the arguments in favor of developing such standards. However, Achieve, Inc. (1) is a bipartisan organization that includes both Republican and Democratic governors on its board of directors, and (2) is not cited at all in the final CCSS.

Furthermore, that CWA paragraph states that there were no state boards of education, elected officials or local education officials involved in the “behind close doors” development of the CCSS. However, the CCSS were developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The CCSSO is “a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions.” The CCSSO board of directors has as its president Mitchell Chester, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education. The president-elect is Terry Holliday, the Commissioner of Education for Kentucky. The past president is Thomas Luna, the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Idaho. The board includes education heads from six other states. These individuals serve as the executive officers for their state departments of education and, in many states, also serve as secretary or ex-officio members of the state boards of education. It would therefore be difficult to suggest that neither state boards of education nor school leaders were involved in the development of the CCSS. Furthermore, the suggestion that teachers were not involved in the development of the CCSS is not true. There were teachers involved all along the way, and the National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) are among the groups that were involved. PolitiFact.com rates the assertion that teachers were not involved in the development of the standards as “false” on their truth-o-meter, and even identifies and quotes teachers who were involved in the CCSS development (see the article here).

The CWA pamphlet also states that many states agreed to adopt the CCSS and the accompanying assessments “sight unseen.” That may be true. Even if it is, though, that is a problem with the elected officials in those states, not with the CCSS. No state could adopt the CCSS without the approval of elected officials. It simply is not possible.

The CWA pamphlet also states that the CCSS violate the Constitution, specifically the Tenth Amendment. I addressed in a previous post the fact that the federal government did not impose the CCSS on the states because it cannot do so. It can incentivize the adoption of the standards, and it did do that, but that is not unconstitutional.

The pamphlet goes on to suggest that there are three federal statutes which “prohibit the federal government from guiding the educational curriculum of the states.” The first of those statutes is the General Education Provisions Act. This act reads as follows:

No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, or to require the assignment or transportation of students or teachers in order to overcome racial imbalance.

The problem with the CWA assertion, though, is that the individual states that are adopting CCSS have made their own decision to do so. When a state voluntarily adopts the CCSS it is the state, not the federal government, that is subjecting itself to the CCSS guidelines.

The second law referenced is the Department of Education Organization Act. This 1979 law creating the Department of Education contains basically the same language as the law quoted above. Section 103(b) reads…

No provision of a program administered by the Secretary or by any other officer of the Department shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any such officer to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, over any accrediting agency or association, or over the selection or content of library resources, textbooks, or other instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, except to the extent authorized by law.

The reasons why CCSS does not violate this law are already outlined above.

Finally, the CWA pamphlet references the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Now, the full act is some 600 pages. If you want to read it all, help yourself–it is public record and not hard to find. However, this act actually does more to support CCSS than to hinder it. After all, Section 1001 (1) states that the law’s purpose is to “ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education” by “ensuring that high-quality academic assessments, accountability systems, teacher preparation and training, curriculum, and instructional materials are aligned with challenging State academic standards so that students, teachers, parents, and administrators can measure progress against common expectations for student academic achievement….” And again, any suggestion that the CCSS violate the law is negated by the fact that the individual states have opted in to CCSS; they have not had it forced upon them.

The CWA pamphlet goes on to state that “local control of education is best, whereby parents, teachers and taxpayers have a voice.” I agree wholeheartedly, and I am on record as advocating the abolition of the Department of Education completely. Again, though, this is a separate issue from the CCSS.

CWA also suggests that the CCSS actually lower education standards. I think this is a real stretch. It would take quite a while to go through and address, standard by standard, why I disagree with this assertion, so I am not going to do it. But I will touch briefly on one specific assertion made by the CWA pamphlet regarding literature. The pamphlet states that the CCSS has a “prominence of nonfiction ‘informational texts’ such as technical manuals, government documents, brochures and menus rather than highly regarded classic literature.” This argument is really a nonstarter for me. First of all, a well-rounded education needs to include “informational texts” as well as classic literature. Informational texts are certainly going to be more practical for most students than classic literature. Second, though, the assertion is inaccurate.

The CCSS text exemplars (and again, these are recommendations– they are not mandated) include a healthy variety of both. Grades 9-10, for example, include recommendations for stories, drama, poetry and informational texts. Homer’s The Odyessey, O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Shaara’s The Killer Angels, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, Poe’s “The Raven,” Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 73,” and Dickinson’s “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark” are but some of the recommended reading for high school freshmen and sophomores. (One of the more bizarre rumors surrounding the CCSS, by the way, is that The Grapes of Wrath is recommended for second grade. Not true.)

What are informational texts recommended for grades 9-10? Speeches by Patrick Henry, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ronald Reagan are listed for Language Arts. The History/Social Studies information texts include works on Custer, art, fish, African Americans in the Civil War and great composers. Science, math and technical subject recommendations include Euclid’s Elements as well as works on stars, the circumference of the earth and a government document on recommended levels of insulation. Not only do the fiction recommendations exceed the nonfiction recommendations, there is nothing wrong or detrimental about the nonfiction recommendations!

So, to repeat my mantra yet again, please do not believe everything you hear or read about the CCSS. This topic has become quite the political hot potato and folks on both sides are using half truths and spin to support their arguments. Do the research and find the facts for yourself…and insist on candor and honesty from those who are arguing about these standards.

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