FRC Blog

Kicking Jesus Off the Bus?

by Travis Weber

December 13, 2017

Last week, a federal court ruled that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) was permitted to reject an ad (pictured above) that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of D.C. wanted to run on the sides of area buses during the Christmas season.

Now why would such an ad be excluded?

In holding that WMATA’s commercial advertising guidelines (under which the ad was excluded) did not violate the First Amendment and could be permitted to stand, the court reviewed the guidelines under a standard for speech in nonpublic forums (which public buses are generally considered to be). For nonpublic forums, the government can discriminate based on content but not on viewpoint, and here, WMATA has a policy of not allowing certain types of content on its buses, including religious content.

While WMATA would be able to eliminate religious content from its buses, the Archdiocese had argued that WMATA was discriminating based on viewpoint because it was happy to have other Christmas ads which are religiously related and which convey the view that Christmas is a commercial holiday, but that WMATA didn’t want to accept the Archdiocese’s view that Christmas is noncommercial and should be focused on the gift of Christ (as the above poster does).

The court rejected this view, ruling that the bus guidelines did not discriminate based on viewpoint but only on content—noting that “religion is excluded as a subject matter.”

But is all of “religion” really being excluded? It doesn’t seem so. WMATA permits Christmas-related ads from the Salvation Army, and ads from a religiously-focused yoga group.

Yet, as the court recognizes later in its opinion, the guidelines prohibit ads that “promote” or “oppose” religious beliefs. The court relies on these guidelines to distinguish the Archdiocese’s proposed ad from ads by the Salvation Army and a yoga studio, which WMATA permitted despite their religious overtones, claiming they don’t promote specific beliefs. So it is not religion per se that WMATA wants to prohibit, but rather messages opposed to or promoting religious belief. And since the Archdiocese is understandably seeking to promote its own religious belief in its own ad which it would be paying for, WMATA declared it off limits (thus, the court’s comment that “religion is excluded”—seeming to refer to religion generally—isn’t even correct).

We should be especially wary of government restrictions on one’s viewpoint. They are the most dangerous at their core, and go to the heart of why we have the First Amendment. In ruling for WMATA here, the court observed that under the lower standard of scrutiny applied, the government could rely on administrative convenience and the avoidance of controversy as a legitimate basis to exclude ads—as it and other authorities have done in response to Islam-related ads (indeed, the whole reason WMATA and other authorities have chosen to lower the level of scrutiny they have to meet and eliminate whole areas of discussion from their buses is to avoid legally having to host controversial Islam-related messages—now, the same ad which has run in years past in the D.C. metro system is not being permitted on buses). But suppressing a message for fear of the response is the essence of the heckler’s veto, and is no way for a free country to act.

If for no other reason, this is perhaps why the courts should be inclined to rule for the Archdiocese here, and be loath to affirm any policy which could be used to justify views the government doesn’t like.

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A Three-Dimensional Case for Masterpiece Cakeshop — from Justice Kagan, No Less

by Peter Sprigg

December 12, 2017

I am not generally a fan of liberal Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. But after reading the entire transcript of the December 5 oral arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case (in which a Christian baker was found guilty by Colorado of discrimination for declining to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple), I thought one question she asked was especially insightful.

Most of the discussion on Jack Phillips’ free speech claim centered on a question distilled by Justice Stephen Breyer. Baker Jack Phillips argues that his First Amendment right to be free from compelled speech was violated by Colorado’s application of its public accommodations law to him, but Breyer asked, “[W]hat is the line? … [W]e want some kind of distinction that will not undermine every civil rights law.”

Kagan elaborated on that concern in a question posed to U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who was arguing in support of Phillips:

JUSTICE KAGAN: General, it — it seems as though there are kind of three axes on which people are asking you what’s the line? How do we draw the line? So one axis is what we started with, like what about the chef and the florist -

GENERAL FRANCISCO: Speech, non-speech.

JUSTICE KAGAN: — and — and, you know, everybody else that participates in a wedding? A second axis is, well, why is this only about gay people? Why isn’t it about race? Why isn’t it about gender? Why isn’t it about people of different religions? So that’s a second axis.

And there’s a third axis, which is why is it just about weddings? You say ceremonies, events. What else counts? Is it the funeral? Is it the Bar Mitzvah or the communion? Is it the anniversary celebration? Is it the birthday celebration?

So there are all three of these that suggest like, whoa, this doesn’t seem like such a small thing.

1. “Speech” vs. “non-speech” in the wedding industry

The core of the argument made by Kristen Waggoner, the Alliance Defending Freedom attorney representing Phillips, related to the first “axis” Kagan mentioned. The courts have previously found that under the First Amendment’s free speech protections, not only may the government not punish an individual for speaking his own opinions, but the government also may not compel an individual to communicate a message he disagrees with against his will. Using his talents to create a custom wedding cake is a form of artistic expression which is protected as “speech” under the First Amendment, Waggoner argued. Doing so for a same-sex wedding would constitute a message of endorsement of a homosexual relationship and of same-sex marriage, which violates Jack Phillips’ religious beliefs. Therefore, the state of Colorado may not compel Phillips’ to create such a cake without violating his First Amendment rights.

The justices demanded to know what other vendors providing goods and services for a wedding would or would not enjoy similar free speech protections. What type of commercial conduct constitutes “speech,” and what is “non-speech,” as Francisco put it? Waggoner suggested that the exemption would apply to a baker, florist, or calligrapher creating invitations; but might not apply to a hair stylist or makeup artist (more on that later).

Yet I think Kagan’s other two “axes” (plural of “axis,” not “ax”) are also significant. Unlike Kagan, however, I think they make the case easier to decide, not harder.

2. “Why is this only about gay people?”

The second axis of line-drawing has to do with any distinctions between various protected categories. Is there a difference between “discrimination” that is based on sexual orientation (“gay people”), and that based on race, sex, or religion? Attorneys on the other side and the more liberal justices hammered on the race analogy—if we allow a baker to refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, can he also refuse to bake a cake for a black child’s birthday?

Now, before discussing the question of whether “discrimination” based on “sexual orientation” is the same as racial discrimination, let me state my own view that refusing to participate in a same-sex wedding does not constitute discrimination based on “sexual orientation” at all. Phillips’ principal objection stems primarily from his religious beliefs about the definition of marriage (that it is inherently a union of one man and one woman) and his beliefs about the appropriate boundaries of sexual conduct (that it should only take place in the context of a marriage so defined). This has nothing inherently to do with the “sexual orientation” of the individuals involved.

Phillips would bake a cake for a wedding of two people who self-identify as homosexual—if they were of the opposite sex. And he would not bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, even if the individuals involved identified as heterosexual. If those examples sound absurd, it is only because in our time we have a cultural assumption that an indispensable purpose of marriage is the gratification of sexual desires. Yet that is an assumption about marriage that has by no means been universal in all times and all cultures, and the Court need not adopt it as a legal assumption today.

The Colorado public accommodations non-discrimination law that Phillips was charged with violating makes no distinctions among its protected categories. But that is not the legal question at issue. Phillips is asserting a claim under the U.S. Constitution, which (if successful) would override a state statute. The question is whether the “discrimination” he is accused of gives the government a compelling interest in overriding that federal constitutional claim. Under federal court precedents, there is a distinction to be made between race and sexual orientation. Classifications of individuals on the basis of race are subject to “strict scrutiny,” which means that they can very rarely be justified. The Supreme Court has never said that classifications based on “sexual orientation” are subject to the same high level of scrutiny.

I have argued elsewhere that the reason classifications based on race are subjected to the highest scrutiny is because race is, indisputably, a characteristic that is inborn, involuntary, immutable, innocuous, and in the Constitution. “Sexual orientation” does not meet the same criteria. In fact, its definition is not entirely clear, since depending on the context, it may refer to a person’s sexual attractions, their sexual behavior, or their self-identification, or some combination of the three. The three aspects of sexual orientation are also not always consistent in one individual at one time, or over the life course. A person’s sexual attractions may indeed be involuntary (I am not saying people “choose to be gay,” if “being gay” is defined based on attractions alone). However, a person’s sexual behavior and self-identification do not meet any of the criteria which justify strict scrutiny of racial classifications. For those who disapprove of homosexuality, it is almost entirely the conduct—not the attractions or even the self-identification—which is seen as problematic.

I realize that in a 2010 case (Christian Legal Society v. Martinez), Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the 5-4 majority, “Our decisions have declined to distinguish between status and conduct in this context.” The “context” she referred to was a sexual orientation classification. (In that case, the University of California’s law school had denied recognition to a Christian student organization because they did not permit people who engaged in “unrepentant homosexual conduct” to serve in leadership positions.) “CLS contends that it does not exclude individuals because of sexual orientation,” reported Ginsburg, “but rather ‘on the basis of a conjunction of conduct and the belief that the conduct is not wrong.’” An analysis in the New York Times described Ginsburg’s sentence rejecting the distinction between “status and conduct” as a “time bomb” which could explode with broader implications in later cases (as it did in the later cases involving the definition of marriage).

Justice Anthony Kennedy himself, however (despite having been the decisive vote in the decisions striking down both federal and state definitions of marriage as the union of a man and a woman), seemed to hint that he might be willing to defuse the status-conduct “time bomb” in the context of the Masterpiece case. Here is part of an exchange with David D. Cole, the attorney representing the same-sex couple, after Cole repeatedly asserted that Jack Phillips’ action was “identity discrimination”:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Well, but this whole concept of identity is a slightly—suppose he says: Look, I have nothing against—against gay people. He says but I just don’t think they should have a marriage because that’s contrary to my beliefs. It’s not –

MR. COLE: Yeah.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: It’s not their identity; it’s what they’re doing.

MR. COLE: Yeah.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: I think it’s — your identity thing is just too facile. [Emphasis added.]

Whether the court has distinguished between homosexual conduct and an “identity” or “status” as “gay” in prior decisions or not, the distinction clearly exists in the real world, and it makes sexual orientation different from race (or sex). It would be salutary for the Court to acknowledge that now.

3. “Why is it just about weddings?”

The third axis of line-drawing posited by Kagan has to do with the type of events which, hypothetically at least, might trigger a religious objection and therefore a religious or free-speech exception to anti-discrimination laws.

However, it is clear that the liberty Phillips is seeking in this case has specifically and narrowly to do with weddings because of the nature of that event. He and his attorneys have repeatedly made clear that Jack Phillips regularly serves customers who openly self-identify as gay. His policy of not creating custom cakes for same-sex weddings therefore bears no resemblance to racially segregated businesses in the Jim Crow south, which either did not serve black customers at all, or would only serve them in physically segregated facilities.

Phillips’ attorney Kristen Waggoner described his objection regarding weddings most succinctly in her final summation, when she said this:

A wedding cake expresses an inherent message that is that the union is a marriage and is to be celebrated, and that message violates Mr. Phillips’s religious convictions.

This single sentence makes two distinct points. The “message … that [a same-sex] union is a marriage … violates Mr. Phillips’s religious convictions” (because his Christian faith teaches him that “marriage” can only be defined as the union of a man and a woman). In addition, the “message … that [a homosexual] union … is to be celebrated” also “violates Mr. Phillips’s religious convictions” (because his Christian faith teaches that homosexual relationships are sinful—that is, always contrary to the will of God).

Neither of these objections, however, would apply to providing baked goods for a birthday celebration or a funeral reception for someone who identifies as gay, because neither a birthday nor a funeral sends “an inherent message” that marriage can be between people of the same sex, nor that sexual relations between people of the same sex are to be celebrated. Only a wedding (and potentially a wedding-related event, such as a shower or anniversary) sends that particular, and particularly objectionable, message.

In fact, Solicitor General Noel Francisco seemed to me to at least hint at an argument for an even broader exemption than what Phillips’ own attorney, Kristen Waggoner, was requesting. Waggoner argued narrowly that the specific act of creating a custom wedding cake was a form of creative, artistic expression that merits free speech protection. Francisco, however, made repeated reference (seven times, by my count) to the wedding itself as an “expressive event.” This, it seems to me, would suggest that any participation in the celebration of a same-sex wedding—even if it involves less creative artistry than the creation of a custom-made cake—could constitute implicit endorsement of the message in support of same-sex marriage and in support of homosexual unions that is inherent in the event itself.

The Three-Dimensional Solution

Justice Kagan’s concern was that drawing lines too broadly on all three axes she described would result in exceptions that would completely swallow the rule of Colorado’s public accommodation non-discrimination law. If we allow exceptions for bakers, what about other vendors? If we allow exceptions for sexual orientation, what about other protected categories? And if we allow exceptions for weddings, what about other events? If broad exemptions are granted in all three areas, then, as she said, “whoa, this doesn’t seem like such a small thing.”

I believe, however, that there are sound reasons for narrowing the exemption regarding protected categories only to sexual orientation—logically, because it involves primarily conduct, and legally, because it is not subject to strict scrutiny and is never mentioned in the text of the Constitution. As noted above, there are also reasonable grounds for treating a wedding differently from other events.

With the lines drawn narrowly with respect to those categories, I think there would be room for the line regarding which vendors can claim free speech protection to be drawn a bit more broadly. I would like to see the Supreme Court adopt Solicitor General Francisco’s view of a wedding itself as an “expressive event”—and therefore extend the protection against “compelled speech” to any vendor who provides wedding services—whether baker, florist, or photographer, or calligrapher; or even chef, hair stylist or makeup artist.

Such a decision would leave Colorado’s non-discrimination law intact, while still recognizing the elevated threat to freedom of conscience that arises in the narrow and unique situation of participation in celebrating a same-sex wedding.

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5 Great Resources That Help Kids Keep Christ in Christmas

by Peter Witkowski

December 11, 2017

The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung covers the entire Bible in ten amazingly succinct and beautifully illustrated chapters. DeYoung created the book to be the one resource you use to tell your family about how Christ came to us as a baby to bring us back to Eden by dying on the cross. I encourage you to read this book with your young children during the days leading up to Christmas. You could also cuddle up by the fire and read the entire volume in one sitting with kids of all ages. All members of your family will enjoy reading The Biggest Story. And if you want to watch the story, you can buy the animated video of the book.

A Family Christmas Treasury by Adrian Rogers

Adrian Rogers desires for everyone to experience the joy of Christmas found through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He begins each devotion with reflections on a Bible verse and ends each devotion with a family activity such as writing a Christmas card to someone you love or creating a jar to collect money for church. Each devotion is designed to engage both you and your children. If you are looking for a Christmas devotion for you family, I encourage you to try A Family Christmas Treasury.

The Expected One by Scott James

Scott James wrote this great little book specifically with your kids in mind. Each devotion contains a Scripture passage, a small explanation of the verse(s) and 2-3 questions (with answers) to prompt some family discussion. The chapter also features a small question to help you apply the passage to your life. This book begins on December 1st and ends on December 25th so it does not follow the traditional Advent calendar and does not come with song suggestions. But if you are a touch creative and have young children with short attention spans, I think you will really like The Expected One.

Prepare Him Room by Marty Machowski

Marty Machowski shows your kids the beauty of the Christmas story by having you light candles, look at nativity scenes, and reflect on Scripture. He built each week’s devotion around key passages from the Christmas story. He placed a chapter from his original Christmas story about the orphan Bartimaeus at the end of each Advent week. In addition to being biblical and easy to understand, the devotions are also infused with object lessons, Christmas carols, and crafts. Marty Machowski has helpfully planned out your entire family’s Christmas devotional calendar. Moreover, you can download the music mentioned in the book here. And you can buy a teacher’s guide here if you want to bring this study into your Sunday school class room. If your family likes Christmas traditions, grab a copy of Prepare Him Room.

All Is Bright by Nancy Guthrie

Nancy Guthrie created a devotional that your kids can do. Each day features a one page devotion and a coloring page that accents the lesson. If you have a child who loves to color and who wants to explore the Christmas season on their own, you will want to grab a copy of All Is Bright.

Peter Witkowski is the Associate Pastor of Preschool and Children at First Baptist Church in Eastman, Ga.

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5 Great Resources that Help Keep Christ in Christmas

by Peter Witkowski

December 8, 2017

The Christmas season can be a stressful time filled with a barrage of parties, shopping trips, and community events. Christmas is often crazy busy for families, but it can and should also be a time of great refreshment.

Is there better news than Christ has come to save us from our sins?

If we hope to focus on spending quality time with our families and reflecting on the gospel this Christmas, we must first focus our hearts on the beauty of Christ. We must first bolster our walk with the Lord and then bolster our family worship times. In Deuteronomy 6:1, parents are told to keep God’s word in their hearts. To teach our kids about God, we must be learning about God and growing in our faith.

Finding good devotional resources for Christmas can be taxing. Below are five great options. While not an exhaustive list, I hope my reviews will get you started in the right direction.

If you have a favorite Christmas devotion, I encourage you to mention it in the comment section below.

Come Let Us Adore Him by Paul David Tripp

Paul David Tripp masterfully interacts with the Christmas story, providing his readers with a wealth of practical applications. His book seeks to help keep us from losing sight of Jesus during the holiday season. Derived from a series of Christmas tweets, each devotional includes a scripture reference and ends with a parent’s section that will help mom and dad bring the devotional into family worship times. If you are seeking to warm your heart and your family’s heart towards the gospel, I encourage you to grab a copy of Come Let Us Adore Him.

From Heaven by A.W. Tozer

A.W. Tozer’s book reflects on his love for the Lord and for poetic expression. The author masterfully paints pictures and shares illustrations that help readers understand that the Scriptures associated with Christmas are plum with meaning. The devotions which have been compiled from Tozer’s sermons and editorials cover all 28 days of the Advent season. I encourage you to read From Heaven this Christmas.

Hidden Christmas by Timothy Keller

Timothy Keller beautifully reveals how the Christmas story pierces our dark and broken world with the light of the gospel. Though not designed as a devotional, the 145-page book will help you grasp the major themes of the Christmas story and will fit nicely into your devotional life with heartwarming reflections on the gospel. If you want to refocus your heart this Christmas or desire to be a better witness during the Christmas season, I encourage you to read Hidden Christmas.

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper

John Piper helps his readers grasp the important themes of the Christmas story by focusing on the secondary or theological texts of Christmas found in Acts, Hebrews, and the Pauline Epistles. It is a great resource, highlighting the beauty of our savior in short, two to three-page devotions. My wife and I have found Piper’s works encouraging and thought provoking. You will greatly benefit from reading The Dawning of Indestructible Joy.

God is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoffer’s words point the readers’ hearts to the true meaning of Christmas. Featuring the martyr’s sermons, poems, and personal letters, the book challenges readers to grapple with the Christmas story for the purpose of knowing God more. Arranged according to the traditional church calendar, the first four weeks are devoted to the themes of waiting, mystery, redemption, and incarnation. The final section features devotions for the twelve days of Christmas. If you are looking for a new and thought-provoking devotion, I encourage you to grab a copy of God is in the Manger.

Peter Witkowski is the Associate Pastor of Preschool and Children at First Baptist Church in Eastman, Ga.

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Planned Parenthood’s Tacit Support of Physical Assault

by Kelly Marcum

December 7, 2017

Planned Parenthood, much like the Left in general, has always had a problem with consistency. Call it a professional hazard of purporting an ideology that relies on feelings rather than reason.

Here are some examples:

  • A child is a “clump of cells.” Unless it’s wanted, then it’s a baby.
  • A woman’s rights are to be protected zealously, unless those rights conflict with Planned Parenthood’s prized cash cow of abortion on demand; then they’re to be silenced at all costs.
  • Hitting a minor is never okay, unless that minor is protesting abortion outside one of their clinics. Then it’s fair game to punch her in the face.

Admittedly, that last one sounds far-fetched. But, alas, that’s precisely what occurred outside of Planned Parenthood Roanoke this past Saturday.

Purity Thomas, a local pro-life high school student, was standing on the public strip of land across the street from the clinic with students from nearby Liberty University. The group frequently congregates outside the clinic on Saturdays, when most such centers perform their surgical abortions, to provide prayerful witness and counseling outside of the clinic.

Shortly into their vigil, a woman approached and began heckling the group. That heckling escalated until she stole a sign bearing the claim that “All people are made in the image of God.” Thomas called out to the woman, saying that she would pray for her. That proved too much for the abortion vigilante, who turned and walked back towards the group, this time attempting to rip Thomas’s sign out of her hand before striking her across the face, knocking her down.

When a minor is punched by an adult, it should not be a difficult action to condemn.

Unless of course, you’re Planned Parenthood, and thus privileged with the ability to turn any situation into a rabid defense of a woman’s right to have her unborn baby killed.

Planned Parenthood put out a statement clarifying they were not affiliated with the woman. However, at no point did they condemn the violence inflicted against Thomas, a troubling—though not surprising—inconsistency given their determination to paint themselves as heroes of downtrodden women everywhere. Instead they wrote:

Planned Parenthood adheres to a strict non-engagement policy in the presence of members of the opposition. Consistent with that policy, the person involved in the December 2nd incident was not a Planned Parenthood staff member. Oppositional protests are designed to intimidate the many patients who seek basic health care services from Planned Parenthood…” (emphasis added)

Thank goodness they were here to clarify that the 15-year-old girl, who suffered a concussion from the blow, was an “intimidat[ing]” “member of the opposition.” In other words, she had it coming.

Planned Parenthood doesn’t make the claim that they adhere to a policy of respect or non-violence (except of course the violence inflicted on the children in the womb). They only have a policy of “non-engagement.” They fail to mention that the so-called intimidator was holding a sign that called for a prayer to end abortion. Apparently they’d already determined that simple prayerful request to be more offensive and insidious in nature than the woman telling Thomas and her peers that she would “f*** them up.”

Planned Parenthood may not be directly responsible for what happened to Purity Thomas last Saturday, but if the situation were reversed, with a conservative assailant attacking a progressive victim outside of a church, there is little doubt that they would be calling for an utter repudiation of the senseless violence, regardless of affiliation to the church itself.

But then, the standards have never been the same when it comes to our nation’s largest abortion provider.

Perhaps that is why there is still a bust of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood who has clear ties to the eugenics movement, in the “Struggle for Justice” exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, the same hall where Martin Luther King Jr. is honored. To date, Sanger’s life’s work has resulted in the deaths of over 19 million black children, and it remains increasingly unsettling what kind of “justice” Sanger was struggling to achieve.

Maybe these malleable standards are why the organization still receives millions of federal dollars every year, despite being currently investigated by the FBI for the illegal sale of fetal tissue. One would think our nation’s legislators on the Left, to say nothing of the few troubling votes on the Right, would be more willing to stop funding an organization that flaunted the law and engaged in such macabre activity. 

Unfortunately, when the abortion debate comes up, reason, logic, and integrity are the first elements of the discussion to be discarded by the Left. In its place is nothing but vitriol, hypocrisy, and moral fungibility.

Thus, Planned Parenthood can hide behind words like “intimidation” and “opposition” to show tacit support for punching a young girl in the face, as long as it was done in the name of women’s rights.

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Can American Higher Education Be Salvaged?

by FRC

December 6, 2017

American higher education is in crisis.

At an FRC Speaker Series event on December 5th, this important issue was explored in a discussion with Dr. Richard Bishirjian Dr. Peter Wood entitled “The Anti-American Bias of American Higher Education.” Here is a summary of some key points that were made during this event:

  • College education costs have increased exponentially over the past 30 years. Tuition debt currently stands at over $1.2 trillion. Yes, that’s trillion. About half of students default or fail to pay down their debt within seven years of graduation.
  • Sixty percent of college faculty are politically on the Left, while less than 15 percent are conservative, displaying a disturbing absence of intellectual diversity.
  • Core curriculum requirements at most universities have been drastically slashed. This means that a large percentage of students are not exposed to courses in history, western civilization, economics, American government, English literature, and foreign language.
  • There is a huge disparity in how conservatives and liberals view higher education. A recent Pew study found that 58 percent of conservatives think that colleges and universities “have a negative effect on the country,” while 72 percent of liberals say that higher education has a “positive effect on the country.”
  • College presidents are initiating programs for students to become community organizers so that they can eventually engage in political activism for the Left.
  • Higher education has from the beginning set out to serve four public functions: (1) The pursuit of truth; (2) Shaping the next generation with the knowledge and values already obtained by civilization; (3) Preparation for a career or vocation; (4) Preparing students for public commitment to become citizens. These goals are difficult to accomplish when much of higher education is centered on the idea that America is bigoted and colonial, and whose foundations must be completely changed.
  • A recent survey found that 44 percent of millennials would prefer to live in a socialist country.
  • A study found that 78 percent of American history courses at Texas A&M were race/class/gender related.
  • The $600 billion higher education industry built almost entirely on borrowed money is not sustainable.

Despite being in dire straits, the speakers also made it clear that they are hopeful for the resurrection of American higher education. The growth of online courses is a means by which people can opt out of the higher education paradigm and experiment to other tracts. Another hopeful sign is the enduring popularity of biographies and other historical books (much of which is ignored in modern higher education), which indicates peoples’ continued thirst for expanding their knowledge outside of the college paradigm. The expanding popularity of publically available online lectures and podcasts may provide a glimpse as to what the future may hold for higher education.

View the entire event to learn more about this important issue.

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Will the Supreme Court Recognize Consumable Beauty in Wedding Cake Case?

by Peter Sprigg

December 4, 2017

On Tuesday, December 5, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The latter agency ruled that baker Jack Phillips, a Christian, had violated a state law against discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations when he declined to design a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

One of the key arguments being made on Phillips’ behalf is that the creation of (or decision not to create) a custom-designed wedding cake is quite different from simply buying a product off the shelf, because it is an act of creative artistic expression—and is therefore protected by the First Amendment.

In light of that, one of the more fascinating briefs filed in the case came from a group of “cake artists as amici curiae in support of neither party.” While taking no position on the other arguments in the case, this brief does assert that “this Court should make clear … that cake artists are indeed practitioners of an expressive art and that they are entitled to the same respect under the First Amendment as artists using any other medium.”

Among the unique aspects of this brief are that it includes full color photographs of a number of unique, creative, and beautiful cakes for both weddings and other events. However, I also thought that this paragraph (on p. 33)—challenging the argument that cakes are not “art” because they are designed to be eaten—was a work of beauty in itself:

For example, cakes are perishable, designed to radiate beauty but for a moment, and then to be consumed. But the fact that any given cake is a vanishing work does not distinguish it from artistic performances on the stage (or, indeed, protests on the street). Nature’s beauty is no less revealed through the flower that blooms for a single day than through the tree that lives for a thousand years; likewise, an ice sculpture is not inherently less artistic than one carved from stone. The same is true of cakes—they are made from a canvas designed for consumption rather than permanent display. And like other vanishing works of art, cakes can be given a measure of permanence by being recorded—as with the pictures in this brief. Cake is not the only “art” than can be consumed—but the consumption of cake merges more senses (sight, taste, touch, smell) than the consumption of a speech or a song.

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Remembering Mike Penner

by Peter Sprigg

December 4, 2017

On November 20, LGBT activists observed this year’s “Transgender Day of Remembrance.”

For the most part, they call upon people to remember those who identified as transgender who have been murdered in anti-transgender hate crimes. Such crimes deserve clear condemnation—like that offered in May by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who declared “the importance of holding individuals accountable when they commit violent acts against transgender individuals.”

More numerous than those murdered in hate crimes, however, are those who have identified as transgender but died by their own hand.

So on this Day of Remembrance, I was remembering Mike Penner.

Mike Penner was a well-respected sportswriter at the Los Angeles Times. On April 26, 2007, Penner became the story instead of the reporter, by announcing to readers in his column that after a vacation, he would return to his work as a woman. He adopted the name Christine Daniels.

In some ways, Penner’s “gender transition” went as smoothly as he could possibly have hoped. The Times—both management and his colleagues—were supportive. He was anxious the day his column (headlined “Old Mike, new Christine”) appeared, but his editor had urged him to write it in order to control the release of the news. In advance of the article, Penner’s editor reportedly shared the news individually with 45 other members of the staff, and “not one person expressed discomfort.” According to an account in the Times the next day, “by day’s end, Daniels said she had received only two negative responses out of 538 e-mails.” Nearly a thousand readers commented online, and the responses “were overwhelmingly positive.” Penner/Daniels told a staff writer that “a day I dreaded all my life has ended up being one of the best days I’ve ever had.”

It didn’t last. Penner’s last column under the name Christine Daniels was published on April 4, 2008, after which he went on disability leave. When he finally returned to work in October, it was as Mike Penner. Penner wanted every trace of his female alter ego erased from the Times’ website. He was told it couldn’t be done, that it violated their policy on archived material. But eventually, the material disappeared. Christine was gone.

A little over a year later, so was Mike. On the day after Thanksgiving in 2009, Mike Penner took his own life.

There have been at least three long feature articles on the tragic story of Mike Penner. Christopher Goffard wrote one for the Times, Nancy Hass for GQ, and Steve Friess for LA Weekly. This post is based primarily on information drawn from those three articles.

Of course, every person’s story is unique, so there are limits to how much you can generalize about a group of people from what happened to one individual. Nevertheless, Penner’s sad story should serve as a cautionary tale to those—whether transgender or not—who assume that a “gender transition” is automatically the best solution for someone experiencing “gender dysphoria” (an unhappiness with their biological sex at birth).

According to the Friess account (told mostly from the perspective of others who identify as transgender who knew Penner as “Christine”), Penner’s feelings of gender dysphoria began in childhood, when “[h]e would sneak into his mother’s closet in their Anaheim home to try on shoes and dabble with her makeup, then scrub it off shamefully before vowing never to do it again.” According to the Hass account, “Christine” told friends about “playing princess dress-up with her male cousins as a child.”

However, the transgender community in Los Angeles was unaware of Penner until 2004, when he first showed up at “Countessa’s Closet”—essentially a women’s clothing store that caters to men. In August of 2005 he made his first appearance in a public place as a woman, going out to a restaurant with Susan Horn, another male-to-female transgender friend whom Penner met at Countessa’s.

Between that time and Penner’s public “coming out” as transgender in April 2007, he apparently did not reveal his real (male) name to others who identified as transgender. Horn deduced that “Christine” was actually the sportswriter Mike Penner in June of 2006—but when confronted, Penner became frightened and angry.

By early 2007, however, it appears that Penner had begun dressing as Christine full-time, and had begun taking female hormones. He had also started attending the Metropolitan Community Church, which is actively affirming of LGBT lifestyles. In February, he spoke to his boss, the sports editor of the Times, Randy Harvey, about transitioning (Penner usually worked from home). It was Harvey—in a recommendation some later questioned—who urged Penner to explain the transition publicly in a column. It was bound to become a subject of comment, and Harvey said, “I think you need to write it. Don’t let anybody else write it first.”

After the column appeared, “Christine Daniels” was widely celebrated. While remaining in the sports department, Penner also began a blog for the Times about his transition, titled “A Woman in Progress.” In a June interview with an LGBT website, Penner was asked, “Money can buy hormones and a closet full of fabulous shoes, but does it buy happiness?” He responded, “Hormones + legal name change + setting the stage for a new life = happiness, no doubt about that.”

In July, Penner’s friend and noted sportswriter Rick Reilly wrote a supportive piece for Sports Illustrated. That same month, Penner made his own public debut as “Christine” when covering the Los Angeles debut of British soccer star David Beckham, who had been signed to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy. And on July 19, 2007, Penner’s name was legally changed from “Michael Daniel Penner” to “Christine Michelle Daniels.”

Christine received many invitations to speak and to attend fundraisers. Perhaps a high point was speaking at the convention of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association in the late summer. In September, Christine met Dr. Marci Bowers, a gender reassignment surgeon who had transitioned from male to female himself, and began making plans to have surgery, which was scheduled for July 2008.

Why did things go downhill? One related to something unique to Penner—his relative celebrity. Even before his coming-out column appeared, he told one friend, “I feel as if I am being used as a pawn by the trans community (and maybe the Times as well).” That feeling would increase as the months went on.

Two other factors, however, were ones that may often, if not always, be relevant to others who change their public gender identity as well.

One was the question of Christine’s appearance. The first to say publicly what many may have thought was Paul Oberjuerge, a writer for the San Bernardino County Sun. After the Beckham press conference, he commented on the paper’s website:

She looks like a guy in a dress, pretty much. Except anyone paying any attention isn’t going to be fooled — as some people are by veteran transvestites. Maybe this is cruel, but there were women in that room who were born women in body, as well as soul. And the difference between them and Christine was, in my mind, fairly stark. It seemed almost as [if] we’re all going along with someone’s dress-up role-playing.

More troubling to Christine was an October 2007 photo shoot for a planned article in Vanity Fair (recall that Olympic star Bruce Jenner first came out as “Caitlyn” in a 2015 cover story for Vanity Fair). According to Friess, “Accounts of what occurred there vary so starkly that they are hard to reconcile.”

But the photographer, Robert Maxwell, said later, “I was trying to say all the right things. How do you tell someone who looks like a man, ‘You’re a beautiful woman’? I don’t know.” Goffard’s piece for the Times noted:

The profile writer, Evan Wright, said that to write an honest article, he would have to observe that the sportswriter did not pass as a woman. “I thought, ‘Bottom line, she has a fantasy conception. She doesn’t accept who she is.’”

In an email to friends, Christine lamented:

It was a total debacle, probably the worst experience of my transition. [The] photographer apparently wanted to portray me as a man in a dress, my worst fear, as I expressed numerous times.

After Penner abandoned his female persona, but before he committed suicide, writer Steve Friess wrote about the phenomenon of “sex change regret” in an article in USA Today. He quoted Denise Leclair of the International Foundation for Gender Education, who acknowledged, “The average male-to-female transsexual is taller, has bigger hands and feet, has more facial hair than most women. There are a lot of physical attributes that are hard to hide …” One friend recalled of “Christine,” “She would say that she had spent forty-five minutes putting on her makeup and still she saw Mike staring back.”

The other crucial factor in the “failure” of Penner’s transition was the end of his marriage. When he made the announcement that he was becoming a woman, he had been married for twenty years to a woman who also wrote for the Times (I am choosing not to identify her here, out of respect for her privacy). She has never spoken publicly about Penner—neither after his transition, nor after his death. The published reports are somewhat unclear, but it appears that the two separated at the beginning of 2007, after Penner began hormone treatments and started dressing consistently as a woman. According to Friess, Penner’s wife filed for divorce on May 23, 2007—the same day that Penner first appeared in the Times’ offices as a woman.

Penner—naively—seemed not to accept that his gender transition would mean the end of his marriage. But his wife reportedly was blunt: “I don’t want to be associated with it. I don’t ever want to see you that way.”

And according to Friess, “Penner repeatedly told friends his return to a male lifestyle was a last-ditch effort to reunite with his wife in some way.” Hass says that after Penner returned to a male identity, his wife “was willing to see him again, to have lunch or a cup of coffee.” But even those contacts became less frequent—“She’s moved on,” he told one friend. “I had the perfect life with [my wife], and I threw it all away,” he lamented.

Finally, Penner’s mental health was clearly fragile for most of the last two years of his life. It is clear that after the euphoria of his first six months living openly as a “woman,” Penner’s mental state went downhill, and resuming his male identity did nothing to stabilize it. It appears that stress was manifesting in abdominal distress with no clear organic cause. Goffard reports that when Penner went on disability leave in April 2008, “close friends knew [he] was manic depressive.” Manic depression is an older term for what is now known as “bipolar disorder,” and it is unclear whether Penner was ever treated for that specific condition. Friess reports that in the summer of 2008, Penner “was diagnosed as severely depressed. Doctors prescribed a regimen of powerful psychotropic drugs that included the antipsychotic Zyprexa and the antidepressant Elavil.” He was also hospitalized at least once in 2009 in a psychiatric hospital, and friends reported “wild mood swings and suicidal chatter” well before he finally took his life.

Friess reported, “No studies have been conducted to determine whether withdrawal from the hormones can cause depression, but mental-health professionals who work with transgender people say patients who have stopped taking the drugs report feelings of distress.” Friess also reports that Bowers, the transgender surgeon, “believes Penner put one foot in the grave by abandoning the transition.” In a thoroughly self-serving statement, Bowers declared, “If we had done surgery, it probably would have saved her life. Now she died as an unhappy soul who never got a chance to align her body and soul.”

The opposite would seem to be the case. As Hass reports, Penner “had been convinced that becoming a woman would solve everything.” Even a transgender-identified friend had tried to warn him “that the act of becoming a woman itself wouldn’t make you happy.” Yet this fiction seems to be at the very heart of the transgender movement and the growing mania for self-defined “gender identity.”

I would suggest that the tragic story of Mike Penner holds three key lessons for those struggling with gender dysphoria and considering a “transition” away from identifying with their biological sex at birth:

  1. Completely erasing your inborn sex in the eyes of others may not be possible. Clothes, hormones, and even gender reassignment surgery do not make a woman. There are aspects of appearance—size, bone structure, muscle mass, etc.—that simply differ between the sexes and are not amenable to change.
  2. You may be forfeiting important relationships in your life. It is naïve to suppose that someone who has always known you as a son or brother will readily define you as a daughter or sister instead. And it is even more naïve to suppose that a beloved spouse who married someone of the opposite sex will suddenly be fine being in a “same-sex” marriage.
  3. Finally, mental health problems such as depression or bipolar disorder, which frequently accompany gender dysphoria, need to be treated in their own right before considering a “gender transition.” Even the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), in their “Standards of Care,” warns, “If significant medical or mental concerns are present, they must be reasonably well controlled.”

In his “coming out” column in 2007, Mike Penner said the decision followed “hundreds of hours of soul-wrenching therapy.” He had reportedly sought counseling at the Los Angeles Gender Center—yet it is possible that such overtly pro-transgender facilities place greater emphasis on facilitating a client’s desired gender transition than on “controlling” co-existing mental health problems.

Anyone who thinks that undergoing a “gender transition” is the only and obvious response to the presence of gender dysphoria should look closely at the tragic story of Mike Penner.

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Social Conservative Review - December 1, 2017

by Daniel Hart

December 1, 2017

Dear Friends,

The great season of Advent, a time of waiting and preparation for Christians in anticipation of Christ’s birth, is about to begin.

One beautiful way of reflecting on this season is to think about the first Advent, when an expectant Mary and her husband Joseph awaited the birth of God’s Son. For expectant mothers and soon-to-be fathers, pregnancy is often a time when careful preparations are made around the house for the coming baby—the nursery is rearranged to accommodate cribs and changing tables, diapers and wipes are stockpiled, baby clothes are carefully organized in drawers, linens are freshly washed, etc.

In the same way, Christians should spend Advent carefully preparing their hearts and minds for the coming of the Savior. This can take on the form of a kind of spiritual reinforcement and house cleaning—spending a little extra time in prayer each morning to prepare ourselves to live for Christ in the day before us, and to make peace with anyone we may have ill will toward and repent of our sins. Just as soon-to-be parents desire to make their home as clean and comfortable as possible for their newborn, Christians should desire to prepare and cleanse their hearts to fully welcome the coming Christ child. This may require us to detach ourselves from worldly attachments to obtain the true freedom that God desires for us. Is a nightly TV-watching habit cutting in to our prayer and family time? Is a regular habit of eating out cutting in to our budget so that we have less for gift-giving and those in need?

Thinking about the first Advent is also to contemplate the Holy Family traveling from Galilee to Bethlehem, and the difficult journey that must have been for them. Imagine the exhaustion that Mary must have felt in her third trimester on such a long and arduous journey over rough roads on the back of a donkey, with Joseph enduring mile after mile of dust and rocks in leading her and the animal along. Amongst this shared suffering and journeying, the Holy Family must have grown ever closer to each other. In the same way, Advent is an opportunity for us to draw ever closer to our own families. Maybe this could take the form of creating hand-crafted gifts for loved ones, baking Christmas cookies, assembling care packages for those serving in the military, or perhaps joining a Christmas carol troupe that your church has organized—the point here is to spend quality time together as a family doing acts of service and growing in virtue.

The season of Advent points to the coming of our Lord. Let us make the most of this wonderful time and prepare our hearts to receive the perfect gift of Christ.

Thank you for your prayers and for your continued support of FRC and the family.

Sincerely,

Dan Hart
Managing Editor for Publications
Family Research Council

 

FRC Articles

LGBT advocates seek to scuttle a vital Constitutional right – Travis Weber

ACLU: Forcing Faith Out of Adoption – Travis Weber

Love to Give: An Adoption Story – Alison Contreras

Adoption: Multi-Racial, Multi-National, Heaven-Blessed – Rob Schwarzwalder

The Unexpected Blessing of Adoption – Harold Harper

10th Circuit Lets Police Officers Off the Hook After Telling Woman She Could Not Pray in Her Own Home – Travis Weber and Natalie Pugh

Why It Is Unnecessary to Force Jack Phillips to Bake a Wedding Cake – Travis Weber

 

Religious Liberty

Religious Liberty in the Public Square

2 Gay Men Explain Why They Support Baker’s Refusal to Make Same-Sex Wedding Cakes – Ian Snively and Peter Parisi, The Daily Signal

Stop Misrepresenting Masterpiece Cakeshop – David French, National Review

Designated haters – Juliana Chan Erikson, WORLD

UNL campus not ‘safe’ for conservatives, public records revealConservative Review

Why the Conscience Protection Act is critical – Jeff Pickering, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Little Sisters of the Poor Are Returning to Court – Rachel del Guidice, The Daily Signal

GOP senators defend military officer disciplined for refusing to sign same-sex certificate – Diana Stancy Correll, Washington Examiner

American Muslims, Lot’s Wife, and the Christian Baker – Ismail Royer, Public Discourse

International Religious Freedom

The UN doesn’t recognize the Christian genocide in Iraq. This new documentary does. – Miriam Diez Bosch, Aleteia

Canada rejects Christian couple for adoption – Kiley Crossland, WORLD

Africans Put Parental Rights Back in UN Sex Ed Policy – Stefano Gennarini, C-Fam

Repairing the Ravages of ISIS on Iraq’s Nineveh Plains – George J. Marlin, The Catholic Thing

Military Religious Freedom

Senators Cruz, Rubio demand justice for Air Force colonel fired for standing up for pro-family values – Fr. Mark Hodges, LifeSiteNews

 

Life

Abortion

World-famous supermodel gracefully obliterates every argument for abortion – Save the Storks

Abortion rates in US hit historic low, CDC report finds – Fox News

The push to force pro-life centers to provide free advertising for the abortion industry – Ken Connelly, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

It’s Official: Arkansas Cuts Medicaid Funding for Planned Parenthood – Jerry Cox, Arkansas Family Council

Adoption

Let Foster Children Wait No MoreNational Review

10 Things You Should Know about Adoption – Russell D. Moore, Crossway

Do you believe these 5 myths about adoption? – Sophia Swinford, Aleteia

Open your heart’: Adoptive mom debunks three modern adoption myths – Natalie Brumfield, Live Action

Bioethics

Basic Bioethics: What Christians should know about surrogacy – Joe Carter, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

The Overlooked Risks of Surrogacy for Women – Mary Rose Somarriba, Family Studies

From Darwin to Iceland: The Eugenic Solution to the ‘Undesirable’ – Roberto Rivera, The Stream

 

Family

Economics/Education

Undoing the Dis-Education of Millennials – Adam J. MacLeod, NewBostonPost

This may be one of the biggest benefits to marriage we’ve ever seen – Catey Hill, Moneyish

The state of marriage as an institutionThe Economist

Marriage

Over One-Quarter of Children Under Age 18 Live With One ParentU.S. Census Bureau

When Your Partner Is Down and Can’t Get Up – Glen Scrivener, The Gospel Coalition

Understanding Your Feelings to Stay Connected In Your Marriage – David and Jan Stoop, Focus on the Family

Can Marriage Help Prevent Dementia? – Carolyn Moynihan, Intellectual Takeout

Your Spouse Doesn’t Need Your Unconditional Support – Dorcas Cheng-Tozun, Christianity Today

Why I Stopped Comparing My Marriage to My Parents’ Marriage – Laura Triggs, Verily

Faith/Character/Culture

Netflix Thinks You’re Bored and Lonely – Trevin Wax, The Gospel Coalition

Do You Talk to Your Children About Race? – Trillia Newbell, Desiring God

This Is a More Important Goal Than Being Happy – Julia Hogan, Verily

3 Creative and impressive ways people are helping the homeless – Elizabeth Pardi, Aleteia

Politics is About More Than Winning – Rob Schwarzwalder, The Stream

Jesus: the Heart of Christian Morality – Fr. Timothy V. Vaverek, The Catholic Thing

4 things I want a new mom to know – Jill Waggoner, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Human Sexuality

You Can Protect Your Kids from Hyper-Sexualized Culture – Eliza Powell, National Center on Sexual Exploitation

How to talk to your kids about sexual assault and harassment scandals – Phillip Bethancourt, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Seven Questions for Couples to Consider Before Moving In Together – Rhonda Kruse Nordin, Family Studies

Men, Stop Virtue-Signaling and Return to Rules – Ben Shapiro, National Review

Let’s rethink sex – Christine Emba, The Washington Post

Scam Artists and Sex Education – Carl R. Trueman, First Things

Consent is Not Enough: Harvey Weinstein, Sex, and Human Flourishing – Angela Franks, Public Discourse

The Pragmatic Benefits of God-Given Sexual Boundaries – Melinda Penner, The Stream

Human Trafficking

Tackling Modern-Day Slavery, Online Sex Trafficking – Lisa L. Thompson, National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Pornography

Porn Epidemic Hampers Fight Against Child Pornography – Stefano Gennarini, C-Fam

The Pathway from Porn to Adultery – Kent Butterfield, Desiring God

Porn is the Missing Piece in the Louis C.K. Story – Mary Rose Somarriba, Public Discourse

Behind the harassment scandals, another dirty little secret: pornography – Zac Crippen, Los Angeles Times

Louisiana is the 5th State to Formally Recognize Public Health Harms of Pornography – National Center on Sexual Exploitation

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Love to Give: An Adoption Story

by Alison Contreras

November 30, 2017

We weren’t a couple that “always knew they wanted to adopt.” It’s not something that we discussed before we were married.

What we definitely did discuss was our desire to be parents. I married my husband because he helped me be the better person I’d always wanted to be. In fact, that was the thought that made me giddy on the night we were engaged. This was the man who would father my children! Yes, children, plural. We both hoped to have a large family.

I do remember, however, the first time we discussed adoption. We were living in Mexico City, sitting in the pink living room of our tiny apartment that would shake every time a truck drove by, momentarily causing us each to wonder if it was actually an earthquake. The sunlight was streaming through the windows and I brought it up. “What do you think about adopting?” Like many couples who first have this conversation, we were waiting for children. At that point it had been over a year of trying to grow our family, which for NFP (natural family planning) teachers, we knew signaled something might be wrong.

What about international adoption? Do you think we could parent a child that didn’t look like us?” Those were some of the first overwhelming questions that we pondered. We didn’t exactly come to any conclusions, but I do remember my husband’s response. If we have love to give, why wouldn’t we adopt?

Fast forward a year. It was the summer of 2011 and we were back to living in the states. I was able to receive medical care to remove endometriosis. Three months after that surgery, during a dark and hopeless time if I’m honest, we conceived. Our son, Samuel, is now five. He was a blessing from God, a healing balm for my soul. It was when I was holding him in our rocker when he was just days old that I had one of the most profound spiritual moments of my life. “Enjoy this child I sent you and this moment, right here. You do not love him because you bore him, but because he was meant to be your son. You will love your other children in the same way.” In that moment the message I heard was blindingly clear. I’ve gone back to savor the peace that moment brought me many times during our adoption journey. God is faithful. He could be trusted, completely. We were called to adopt.

Now, if only God would have told my husband that so clearly!

What was so evidently a call from God needed more time to grow in my husband. And its not as if anyone “just adopts,” as our story is evidence of. He was right to see the many logistical hurdles to reconcile. So we began pursuing adoption as we do most things: researching as much as possible. Over the next few years we attended several in-person sessions and orientations of local agencies, trying to figure out what would be the best avenue for our family. Foster to adopt? Domestic adoption? International? If international, what country? Through a long process of elimination, including a desire to honor birth order, we eventually decided to adopt a toddler from China. I had lived in China during a summer in college and was always drawn to the country. Plus, I already spoke some Chinese.

Then, in August 2015, just a week after we made the decision to adopt from China, my husband was unexpectedly let go from his job. Fortunately, he found another one rather quickly and just three months later, within a week of starting his new job, we began our homestudy. It was November 2015, and we were beyond excited to finally be starting the adoption process.

Then came a massive swerve in our plan. In January 2016 we got the sudden call about a potential domestic adoption situation from a friend. Here was a woman making an adoption plan. Would we be willing to adopt a baby to be born in two months? This was much faster than we’d planned, but God wouldn’t ask it of us if it wasn’t possible.

We said yes.

I met the mom and we hit it off. Meeting her and learning how facing an unintended pregnancy took such courage in every aspect of her life was humbling. This adoption was not about our desire for a child, but about her plan for hers. We just happened to be two people who fit together in this puzzle of loss, creating something so much more than our individual parts. Planning an open adoption, we were in contact over the next few months and I was actually able to be there for the birth of her daughter, our daughter, and spend three amazing days in the hospital with her. With input from her first mom we named her “Evangeline,” or “Good news.” There we were cocooned up in our little world of mutual love for this little baby, protected from the outside world. We loved this baby girl incredibly during those first few days of her life, and our original questions about adoption became suddenly irrelevant as they were undoubtedly answered. With a resounding yes, we learned first hand just how quickly we could love a baby that we didn’t birth, who didn’t look exactly like us.

However, we were not meant to parent Evangeline for long. Her mom changed her mind and we relinquished Evangeline back into her care not a week after leaving the hospital.

This was another incredibly dark time. Just writing that sentence hardly captures our emotions at the time. Had we done something wrong? Had we misinterpreted the call to adopt? What was so wrong with us that we couldn’t conceive and now we couldn’t even adopt to grow our family? My life felt so bleak and my faith was full of doubts. I was crumpling inwards, but God was constantly pulling me outside of myself. This wasn’t about me. Adoption wasn’t just about us. Yes, we had love to give, but our first promise was about treating everyone involved with dignity and respect, and trusting in God’s plan enough to know that we were where we should be. We wanted to adopt because we had love to give to a child, and this situation hadn’t depleted that love. We had more to give. So after taking a few months to get our bearings and heal, we continued on with our Chinese adoption.

We were able to update our homestudy for an international adoption and get our complete dossier submitted by October of 2016. We settled in for a long wait. I was thankful for our domestic adoption situation because with international adoption we wouldn’t have the same opportunity to meet our child’s mom and experience first hand what exactly it took to make a decision to place your child for adoption. We were adopting a “waiting child,” a child whose parents couldn’t be found and who needed parents. The laws in China are different than the U.S. in that parents can’t legally place a baby up for adoption, forcing mothers and fathers who can’t parent to abandon their children in public places so they will be found and hopefully cared for. We would likely never meet our child’s first parents.

We got a call about our son on December 7th, 2016, just a few weeks after being eligible. Here was the face and file of a child who needed parents. He was so obviously our son. But would this really happen? Would we get to parent him forever? Looking at his file I saw his birthdate. Somewhere on the other side of the world, he was making his entrance at almost the exact moment we finally jointly decided to pursue adoption back in 2015. It had been him all along.

There was more paperwork (mostly immigration paperwork at this point) and waiting, and we were finally able to board the plane to China to meet him in March 2017. We met our 18-month old son one year to the day that Evangeline had been born, St. Joseph’s feast day. His Chinese name given to him by his caretakers was “Zi Zhong” or “faithful son” which we found especially compelling and it remains his middle name. We chose Mateo for his first name: “God’s gift.” Our older son was thrilled to have a sibling that would stay with us “forever and ever” and immediately began learning all that being a big brother entailed. The laughter we heard those first few days in the hotel in China was a long-awaited gift.

Adding a toddler to your family is not the typical route, and we definitely had challenges those first few months adjusting to our new family. While we had been waiting for Mateo for years at this point, this adjustment came with grief for him. Although he gained parents and a family, he also suffered an incredible loss of all that was familiar to him those first few months of life. However, his resilience and infectious laugh are reminders that God does make all things new. We’ve been home eight months now as a family of four and it’s still a gift each day to consider how it came to be. With all of our waiting and seemingly wrong turns and dead ends, Mateo would not have been here as our son had anything else happened.

Adoption has shaped a family, created brothers, and allowed us the privilege to parent a beautiful child carefully created by God. But the effects of adoption extend far beyond our family unit. Adoption has given grandparents another grandchild to dote on, aunts and uncles another nephew, and our neighbors another explorer to adventure with. So many people are richer because Mateo is in our family. We are the lucky ones.

Adoption has brought life to our home once again and we’re praying we get the opportunity to adopt again. We couldn’t have adopted again so quickly had it not been for the generous support of friends who helped us crowd-source our adoption funds after experiencing our failed adoption. Please consider how you can help promote adoption in your community, especially over this giving season!

Alison Contreras lives with her family in Hyattsville, Md. She teaches couples in the D.C. area about their natural signs of fertility as a Creighton Practitioner at Caritas FertilityCare.

Photograph by Melissa Green

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