August 20, 2014
My friend Dan and his wife Judy are missionaries with SIM in Ethiopia.
Dan and Judy, a registered nurse, raised three wonderful children in the Seattle area, which is where we met. We served together for several years on the board of the Seattle-area Christian Action Council, the forerunner of what has become CareNet. Dan’s warmth, good humor, wide reading, and deeply held convictions about all the right things were marrow to my bones.
Dan retired as an engineer with Boeing a few years ago. He had retired as a Lt. Colonel in the Army Reserve some time before that. Had Judy and he wanted to, they could simply have lived a prosperous and pleasure-focused life in the Pacific Northwest.
Instead, Dan went to theological seminary, earning his Master of Divinity degree, and Judy and he moved to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to teach at a Bible college training indigenous pastors and Christian leaders (Dan) and serve babies in desperate need of good care (Judy).
Dan is now earning his Ph.D. (from a distance) at a prestigious British university as he continues to teach in Addis. They come back to the states every couple of years to visit their children, growing number of grandchildren, and friends, among whom my family and I are privileged to be counted.
They have “pledged their heads to heaven for the Gospel,” exchanging a life of quiet ease for a foreign culture in a not always safe place, thousands of miles away from those they love best. Why? Because they love Jesus Christ and are committed to making their lives count in the most effective way possible for Him.
Does every retiree need to become a missionary? Of course not. But to whatever God calls His people, we must obey, whether in Renton, Washington or Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
If ever I have the chance, I’d like to introduce Ann Coulter to Dan and Judy. Her disturbing, uninformed attack on SIM missionaries who, in service to their Lord and people, contracted the ebola virus, speaks to much that is twisted in the human heart. Christians should pray for Ann, that she would understand that when Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel” (Mark 16:15), He wasn’t making a suggestion but giving a command.
We can fulfill that command locally, regionally, or trans-nationally. It depends on how God leads. Dan and Judy know something about that. I hope that Ann will learn.
August 19, 2014
Here is one of the best quotes I’ve read in a long time; it’s by Courtney Reissig, writing at Christianity Today’s “Her.Meneutics” site:
Children are not a death sentence to our ambitions and goals. They may change them, postpone them, or even make them more difficult to attain—but they are always a blessing. We don’t earn the right to stay home or have children only after having done something important with our lives. We earn the benefit to have children simply by being created in God’s image.
Preach it, sister. Career dreams, professional attainments, academic achievements: All that are done for the glory of God are good and noble things. But to place children in apposition to them is a false alternative. I’ll let Mrs. Reissig have the last word:
Children also come to us — biologically or through adoption — at God’s timing. Despite my desire to start a family earlier, I didn’t give birth to my twins until I was 30. Even when we are open to having children, it doesn’t always happen right away and sometimes, they don’t come at all. But the church should be a place that welcomes expectant mothers regardless of what they have accomplished pre-pregnancy. Even if she never finishes her degree, lands a top client, or wins an Academy Award, bringing life into the world is a beautiful and God-honoring thing.
August 18, 2014
The recent conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip has reignited debates about moral culpability, civilian casualties, and the actual history of the relationship between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs. What drives both sides in the conflict? What are their ultimate goals? In a recent article, I examined the stated purpose of Hamas, a terrorist group with the self-articulated goal of destroying Israel and the Jews.
How can such a claim be taken seriously? In the West, we find it hard to grasp the fact that calls for genocide can be issued with utmost conviction and commitment. How can a movement of individuals desire the destruction of an ethnic group? Can it really be out of pure racism or hatred? Surely there must be another explanation.
And so we come to one of the darkest movements of our day: Islamism. The Islamist movement is defined by Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum as “an ideology that demands man’s complete adherence to the sacred law of Islam and rejects as much as possible outside influence, with some exceptions (such as access to military and medical technology). It is imbued with a deep antagonism towards non-Muslims and has a particular hostility towards the West… Islamism is, in other words, yet another twentieth-century radical utopian scheme. Like Marxism-Leninism or fascism, it offers a way to control the state, run society, and remake the human being. It is an Islamic-flavored version of totalitarianism.”
August 18, 2014
Robin Williams, the brilliantly talented comedian and actor, was found dead in his California home on August 11, the victim of an apparent suicide.
News coverage of his death reviewed his eclectic career, from the 1970’s TV hit Mork and Mindy to his Oscar for Good Will Hunting.
However, the media also reviewed his long history of drug and alcohol abuse. That began during his early days of television stardom. Williams reportedly gave up cocaine and alcohol, though, after his friend John Belushi died of an overdose and Williams became a father.
Williams spoke candidly about his addictions in a 2010 interview with the British newspaper The Guardian while on a publicity tour for his film World’s Greatest Dad (in which, ironically, he played a writer who fakes a suicide note and journal and attributes them to his late son).
August 14, 2014
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I’m not in the habit of quoting Osama bin Laden in The Social Conservative Review, but in light of the events in Iraq against Christians and other religious minorities, the words of this devout mass murderer seem apt: “There are only three choices in Islam: either willing submission; or payment of the jizya, through physical though not spiritual, submission to the authority of Islam; or the sword — for it is not right to let him (an infidel) live. The matter is summed up for every person alive: Either submit, or live under the suzerainty of Islam, or die.”
Not everyone would accept his interpretation of the Quran, but certainly the jihadists in Iraq do. Here’s how the respected journal Foreign Policy describes one Iraqi Christian’s story: “Salwan, an engineer and father of two from Mosul (said that) when he heard that France was ready to welcome displaced Christians, he joined the long queue of people in Erbil applying for asylum. Soon, he hopes to wave goodbye to his lifelong home. ‘There is no future for Christians in Iraq,’ he said. ‘Christians in Iraq are over’.”
What can Christians in America do? Groups like Samaritan’s Purse and the Knights of Columbus are working to provide aid to the Christians who have fled from their homes as the wave of Islamist terror continues. We can give to them, but we must also pray for those who identify as followers of Jesus as they experience such great loss and, in some cases, such great brutality. And we should pray for their persecutors, that they would turn from violence and instead find true peace in Christ.
Senior Vice President
Family Research Council
P.S. Next week, FRC President Tony Perkins will be in Israel to stand with that troubled nation during a time of great need. Tony will be broadcasting his daily radio show from Israel and will offer on-the-ground reports of what’s happening. Be sure to listen here.
Human Dignity and the Sanctity of Life
August 13, 2014
I was being pressed by the bright and persistent students at Grove City College last year. They wanted to know what President Reagan thought about the question of men marrying men. I had been invited to be a guest lecturer at the Center for Vision and Values annual conference honoring the achievements of our fortieth president.
I was prepared to talk about my hero’s courageous stance against an Evil Empire and its 27,000 nuclear missiles, all targeted on us. So, the students’ fixation on the marriage issue took me aback. I was tempted to answer with wisecrack: President Reagan didn’t have to think about that — lucky guy. But as earnest as these young people were, I realized it would not do to be flippant.
Then, I remembered Mrs. Phyllis Schlafly’s heroic stand against the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — and the fact that Ronald Reagan became the first Republican candidate for president since 1928 to publicly oppose the ERA. He had been admirably briefed by Mrs. Phyllis Schlafly.
Mrs. Schlafly was a Harvard-educated and Washington University Law School-trained attorney. She had done her homework about the ERA. She led a spirited campaign of American women to resist the siren song of the ERA. In the 1970s, many of the mostly male Members of Congress and male state lawmakers were afraid to stand up to strident feminists. They feared crossing self-proclaimed women’s spokespersons who threatened: “We’ll remember in November.”
Not Mrs. Schlafly. She feared God and no one else. She waded into the controversy. She exposed the hidden agendas of radical feminists who had crafted the ERA. It would mean abortion on demand. It would force all of us as Americans to pay for this slaughter of innocents with our tax dollars. It would result in women being drafted and ordered into combat if America ever had to resort to the military draft. And, yes, it would doubtless force all jurisdictions in the country to recognize as marriages of the coupling of persons of the same sex.
All of these social troubles would have sprung from the ERA as unwary legislators opened that Pandora’s Box. In the 1970s, both parties, the TV networks, the “prestige press,” business and labor groups, academic and law organizations, and far, far too many church and civic groups fell in line behind the ERA.
That formidable correlation of forces only served to spur on the indefatigable Mrs. Schlafly. She relished the chance to make a goal-line stance and save the country she loves. She inspired in her grassroots supporters a vibrant sense of the enormous issues at stake. Nothing less than the country she loved was in peril.
When Mrs. Schlafly’s effort kicked into high gear, the ERA had already been ratified by more than thirty of the necessary thirty-eight state legislatures. As was said of the Battle of Waterloo, this was “a near run thing.”
In Britain in those years, another strong woman came on the scene. Mrs. Margaret Thatcher won the leadership of a Conservative Party that had lost its way. The Tories were a party that offered the British electorate not a choice, but a mere echo of the pale pastel socialism of the ruling Labour Party. Mrs. Thatcher had the right stuff. She was a formidable figure in British politics and, soon, she became Britain’s strongest Prime Minister since Winston Churchill. Her Soviet adversaries called her the “Iron Lady.” Like Churchill, she made Britain great. And as Churchill said — in a phrase he coined — Mrs. Thatcher’s Britain could “punch above her weight.”
The movie “Iron Lady” was, to me, unbearable. I ejected the DVD and mailed it back. But I did value the remarkable movie trailer. That clip shows the talented Meryl Streep as Mrs. Thatcher, being coached on how to speak, how to move audiences.
It’s a valuable lesson in moving a public here, too. My own wife, a distinguished veteran of the U.S. Navy for thirty years, knows how to address a crowd and so does Mrs. Phyllis Schlafly.
I confess I have not always agreed with Mrs. Schlafly. She backed that solid champion of Midwestern Republicanism, Sen. Robert A. Taft, for president in 1952. No one could budge me from my enthusiasm for Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. I wore my “I Like Ike” button to school. I was in second grade.
Phyllis Schlafly never had to raise her voice to raise concerns. She never had to equal the stridency of the radical feminists to make her points convincingly. In many ways, Mrs. Phyllis Schlafly is America’s own Iron Lady. And I am proud on this significant day in her life, to salute her.
August 13, 2014
She was on a late night talk show in 1977. Actress Della Reese was being interviewed by Johnny Carson on NBC’s Tonight Show. I thought I was seeing a re-run because the host and Miss Reese were talking about the hit TV series, Chico and the Man.
This was shortly after the suicide of Freddie Prinze, the talented comedian who starred in the series. But, no, they came around to the subject. And Johnny, predictably, went on and on about the comic genius and the great tragic loss of Freddie Prinze. Della Reese spoke authoritatively and with finality. “I loved that boy, I hated that deed.” She would go on to become a familiar fixture in millions of American homes as “Tess,” the motherly figure in the popular series, Touched by an Angel.
I identified strongly with what this sensible woman said at the time. A few years later, I was tasked at the U.S. Department of Education with working on suicide among youth. As a project officer during the Reagan administration, it was my responsibility to study this troubling issue in American society. As part of my duties, I had a briefing book given to us by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta.
That large binder included suicide rates for many ethnic and demographic groups in American society. At that time, I was familiar with the rates for various sub-groups, from Ashkenazi Jews to Zuni Indians.
When I thumbed through the binder, I noted that the suicide rate for Black women was exceedingly low. Almost zero. Could this be a misprint? I called CDC to check on the figures.
“We’ve noticed that too,” said the desk officer in Atlanta, “we call it the BFPF.”
“What’s that?” I pressed.
“The Black Female Protective Factor — they’re very religious.”
Suicide experts going back to Emile Durkheim in the Nineteenth Century have noted the correlation between religiosity and suicide. Those who regularly worship have far lower suicide rates than the unchurched.
Those who join clubs and activities, too, are far less liable to take their own lives. So Volunteer Fire Departments, Rotary, scouting, 4-H, Anglers’ Clubs, etc., can be lifesavers as well.
In the Nineteenth Century, French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville studied American society and institutions. In his classic Democracy in America, Tocqueville wrote about Americans’ “genius for association.” We love to join clubs, it seems.
We cannot read of tragic suicides — like that of Robin Williams this week — without wondering why. One reason may just be the active efforts to suppress religion in America. How can it hurt to get rid of public prayer and open acknowledgment of God? Increased suicide rates is one way it hurts.
Let’s pray that Americans gain a greater understanding of the value to all of society of religious freedom. It used to be said: “The family that prays together stays together. “That was true in the 1950s. It’s true now. It might also be said: Blessed is the Nation whose God is the Lord.
August 13, 2014
Last Saturday in the Wall Street Journal I read about the dilemma of the European welfare state: its low fertility cannot sustain the welfare state and its anemic economy cannot offer jobs to young millennials. Yesterday, I read Fred Andrews’s New York Times review of Carbone and Cahn’s “Marriage Markets,” an unhappy recounting of the unappealing economics of marriage for all but the upper class. Last night, I started reading Mitch Perlstein’s wonderfully written book, “From Family Collapse to America’s Decline.” This morning I read Mark Regnerus’s latest analysis from his massively expanded survey, on the significant splitting in the nation regarding what is seen good and acceptable in sexual and family matters. Every author each in his own way sees the drift tending in the wrong direction away from marriage.
Regnerus has a wonderfully enlightening interpretation in his video graphic on the economics of sex. The price of sex has lowered. Before the pill it used to cost a guy his life, now just a date or two. By and large he (and she) can get away with it as never before but the price is being exacted in declining education, productivity and employability and stagnant near-poverty for more and more. This sets the next generation up for still further decline.
Charles Murray says we are Coming Apart and recently retired professor of political philosophy, Fr. James Schall of Georgetown, says we, as a polity, already are that nasty mix described by Aristotle: the classical combination of tyranny and democracy.
All this could be pretty depressing especially when the bottom line is that our civilization is clearly in deep trouble. Though Christianity gave us the traditional family based on monogamous fidelity of spouses and their dedication to their children as more and more Christians give up on their own moral code (see Regnerus analysis) nothing else is left — for no else has a better template.
However a ray of hope exists within recent writings: increasingly more and more see that how the sexual is negotiated is at the center of this decline. Even economists (some of them at least) are gradually beginning to see the connection between marriage and the economy.
The solution lies in the regrowth from within the collapse that is underway — among those who hold to “the template that works.” Though Christians in the Middle East may die of martyrdom Christians in the US will have their own heavy price to pay, first in the natural price of good family life and then in the extra costs, not least the extra taxes, to pay for the dysfunctions of a broken America. Though the price is high, the options are clear: live a life of meaning and love or live a life in pursuit of pleasure and things, but devoid of people. For those who reflect on it, it is a “no-brainer”.
Why do it: for the love that it all will take. For it is only love will conquer the tyranny built on the sexual gone wrong. Every wronged spouse knows that. Every former porn addict knows that. America will learn it all over again … but only from those who love. Though we will always need our brave military soldiers, a new type of soldier is emerging: the one pledged to chaste love. How medieval. Maybe history is about to repeat itself.
August 8, 2014
It’s now an easy to thing to say the much-publicized Common Core State Standards Initiative lacks educational exactingness. Once upon a time, Americans were led to believe that the standards were deeper, more rigorous, and internationally benchmarked. But if the implementation of the Common Core — its concrete use with actual students, in actual classrooms, actually subjected to the standards — has demonstrated anything, it’s that the failings of the Standards are myriad.
As the reality of the initiative reaches its zenith, school districts nationwide are watching their scores plummet. In my home county in Maryland — the highest performing in the state — a year of implementation resulted in the lowest math scores in seven years. And maybe that’s just how it was designed: as an effort to prove that we parents are “misguided” as to how much our children know, and that they have to fail against these (mediocre) standards before actual learning can take place, thereby promoting the U.S. to the level of global competitiveness that will ensure the salvation of our flagging economy.
We know the English standards promote informational and technical texts over the study of literary classics — up to a 70% preference by grade 12. We know there is more of a stress on writing, and not reading. There is no list of literary movements, no standards on British literature (aside from Shakespeare), and no standard on authors from the ancient world. We know handwriting is lost in the English standards, and that the standards themselves are unclear and poorly written.
But math standards are their own hornet’s nest of awful. It seems lost on the Common Core’s proponents that Jason Zimba, one of the leading drafters of the Math Standards, openly avowed before the Massachusetts State Board of Education that the standards do not prepare students for STEM careers, nor do they prepare children to attend the kinds of colleges that “most parents aspire to.” Because that, it would seem, is reason enough to re-visit the standards.
Not even Stanford University’s Dr. James Milgram and his passionate criticism of the standards he was retained to validate (and could not), not even his remarks that Common Core math is a “huge and risky experiment” on K-12 students has proven the definitive conclusion to the debate.
Now, some of the most credentialed mathematicians in the nation are witnessing the failings of the Core’s math as it comes home to roost. Marina Ratner, professor emerita of mathematics at the University of California Berkeley and recipient of both the international Ostrowski Prize and the John J. Carty Award from the National Academy of Sciences, is the latest to view the Core’s math standards for what they really are: sub-par.
A few days ago, Dr. Ratner wrote in the Wall Street Journal that she discovered the Common Core standards were several years behind California’s old standards, and that they are clearly not internationally benchmarked. She stated that “Common Core’s ‘deeper’ and ‘more rigorous’ standards mean replacing math with some kind of illustrative counting saturated with pictures, diagrams and elaborate word problems. Simple concepts are made artificially intricate and complex with the pretense of being deeper — while the actual content taught [is] primitive.” She went on to write that the Common Core standards “are lower in the total scope of learned material, in the depth and rigor of the treatment of mathematical subjects, and in the delayed and often inconsistent and incoherent introductions of mathematical concepts and skills.”
Her critique makes perfect sense. Even curriculum directors and Common Core cheerleaders are admitting the standards’ failings (whether wittingly or unwittingly). Just take the comments of Amanda August, Grayslake, Illinois D46 Curriculum Director explaining the focus of Common Core Math:
“But even under the new common core if even if they [the students] said 3 x 4 was 11, if they were able to explain their reasoning and explain how they came up with their answer … Really in words and oral explanation and they showed it in a picture but they just got the final answer wrong, we’re more focused on the how and the why.”
August 6, 2014
Others have written about the threats posed to religious liberty by the President’s Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of so-called “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” and by the White House’s refusal to provide a more robust religious liberty exception. However, the administration’s interpretation of the effect of the executive order is even more troubling. In fact, the administration’s interpretation could very well turn religious liberty on its head.
In a statement, the administration insisted that religious organizations can decide to hire only members of the same religion, but cannot refuse to hire someone “who is of [their] faith who happens to be LGBT.” What about those religions that would hold that a willfully practicing, unrepentant homosexual could not be a member of that religion? If such an individual claims to share the religion of a potential employer, must the employer hire the individual? The administration’s statement sure seems to suggest that. What’s more, Travis Weber, Director of FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty, asked the administration to clarify this important matter in an online Q & A session over a week ago and the administration has so far refused to do so — the White House instead responded to softball questions and platitudes about what a great job the administration is doing on a variety of topics, many irrelevant to the actual Executive Order.
The administration’s interpretation would upend one of the most fundamental principles in religious liberty law: The government cannot decide which religious doctrines are valid and which are not. But that is what the government would do if it forced a religious organization to employ a practicing homosexual in violation of the religious beliefs of the organization simply because the practicing homosexual “is of [its] faith.” The administration is telling millions of Americans that believe that homosexual behavior is a sin and that willful, unrepentant sins necessitate removing an individual from fellowship that those beliefs are unimportant. They are telling us that the government, and not we, will decide whether an individual who violates the tenants of our faith is still a member of our religion. That has been the very antithesis of religious liberty jurisprudence for decades, if not centuries. For the government to single out some beliefs for approbation and others for reprobation is to make government the arbiter of religious belief, something completely forbidden by the Constitution.
Because of these implications of the administration’s interpretation of the executive order, virtually every court that has ever considered religious exemptions in other non-discrimination laws has concluded that they must reach to employment decisions that are religiously motivated without considering whether the employer and employee share the same faith, even when the language of the exception appears limited to only decisions based on whether the employee belongs to the employer’s religion. These courts have recognized that to examine whether an individual shares the religion of an employer would require a court to examine the relative importance of beliefs within a religion (i.e. which beliefs about conduct, if violated, are enough to kick a person out) and would necessarily entangle courts in deciding questions of religious doctrine. Unfortunately, the administration is unwilling to acknowledge this problem; instead insisting that while it is permissible to not consider an individual a member of your religion for a multitude of reasons, if your reason is that individual’s unrepentant, willful homosexual practice, then your reason isn’t really religious enough to be protected. That turns religious liberty on its head, and was wisely forbidden in the Constitution.