A Pastor’s Take on the Sex Abuse Scandals of 2017

by Family Research Council

January 3, 2018

Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Matt Lauer. Charlie Rose. Al Franken. What do these men have in common? They, along with over one hundred others, were accused in recent months of sexual misconduct. The list of names spans the east and west coasts, the media and politics, Democrats and Republicans. The revelation of widespread sex abuse was one of the most important developments of 2017. It brought darkness to light and uncovered a societal cancer that has been kept secret for far too long.

Some have expressed shock that people can indeed be so evil. Some wonder if this kind of depravity has always happened but remained concealed. Is the extreme nature of this abuse a new phenomenon?

As Christians, what are we to say about these things? Who’s to blame? And more importantly, how do we get out of this mess?

For Christians, none of this twisted sexual behavior should come as a surprise. Humanity has been this broken all along. The Bible gives both a framework for understanding why all of this is happening as well as a clear way out of the mess. Christians have believed for a long time in the depravity of mankind, that every human person is sinful and broken. This view of depravity does not mean that we are as bad as we possibly can be, but rather that any one of us is capable of doing anything.

Of course, this theological understanding of mankind does not in any way excuse the behavior of these men, any more than a compulsive liar’s proclivity to tell untruths justifies the lies he or she tells. We believe in protecting the innocent, fighting injustice, and guarding those who are most vulnerable in our society. We also believe that the government’s job is to punish evildoers, as the Apostle Paul states in Romans 13. If any of these men are guilty of the crimes of which they are accused, they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

But while justice must be done, to what extent does our society also share some of the blame? Since the sexual revolution, American sexual mores have been alarmingly and harmfully fluid. Coupled with the moral relativism that has been espoused in many public forums—especially the media, the arts, and the classroom—the sexual revolution effectively taught boys and girls that personal expression supersedes “restrictive” traditional ethics. Those boys and girls grew up to be some of the same men and women who decided that love of self-expression is to be valued more than love of neighbor.

Currently, even our elementary aged children are exposed to sexual education where traditional sexual boundaries are pushed. Whether it is the issue of gender identification, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, or polyamory, the culture has enabled the sexual confusion and dysfunction we are experiencing. There is little doubt as to why we are where we are. Ideas have consequences. Failing to recognize any moral absolutes, society has left the door open for a host of unethical behaviors. It is time for our society to look in the mirror when leveling blame for these tragedies.

These scandals simply reflect the outcome when a society rejects the Christian notion of moral absolutes, which are grounded in the creative design of God. The British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge once famously remarked, “If God is dead, somebody is going to have to take his place. It will be megalomania or erotomania, the drive for power or the drive for pleasure, the clenched fist or the phallus, Hitler or Hugh Hefner.” In this cultural moment, we are seeing what happens when people try to fill the void in their lives that is left when there is no room for God. We are sex-obsessed. Sex has become a god, and as all idols do, it has left us hurting and broken.

So, amidst the very apparent brokenness we are experiencing as a society, how should we respond, particularly from a Christian perspective?

Scripture calls us to humility and hope. We must have humility, because we believe “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “Let him who thinks he stands beware lest he fall,” Scripture warns us (1 Corinthians 10:12). While not everyone has committed sexual assault, everyone stands equally sinful before God. Furthermore, most people struggle with sexual dysfunction in one way or another. We are all sexually broken and our sexuality needs to be healed. This recognition should give us humility.

Beyond humility, the gospel also says that there is hope. For the victims there is hope that justice will be done, if not on earth then in heaven. There is hope for those who feel used, hurt, dirty, and perhaps even full of shame. Regardless of what has caused that shame, cleansing is possible. The Christian gospel is clear: you are not the sum total of what you’ve done or what’s been done to you. People do not have to be defined by their mistakes, or the destructive actions of others. Psalm 147 tells us that God heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. Restoration is possible through Christ.

A more scandalous notion is that those who have been accused have hope as well. Regardless of the crime they may have committed, any of these men who turn to Christ in repentance and faith can be forgiven and made new. This is the hope of the gospel: because of Christ crucified, our sin—past, present, and future—has already been judged at the cross. God reckoned Jesus as guilty so He could reckon us as innocent. The good news of the gospel is that no matter the mistake, forgiveness can be received in Jesus. What’s more, Christ rose from the dead, enabling us to walk in newness of life. Christ can restore us in such a way that we can pursue all of life, including our sexuality, in the way God designed it. We don’t have to be who we’ve been. That’s a message that Harvey Weinstein needs to hear. That’s a message that we all need to hear.

Dr. Andrew Hebert is the lead pastor of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas. You can follow him on Twitter at @andrewhebert86.

The Rich History of Christmas Traditions

by Daniel Hart

December 18, 2017

Have you ever wondered why it became such a common tradition for Christians to bring a tree into their homes for Christmas? Or why certain plants like holly and mistletoe are often used as Christmas decorations? As it turns out, there is a rich history behind many of the Christmas traditions that seem so common to us now.

Christmas trees

St. Boniface traveled to Germany from England in the eighth century to try and convert the pagans that lived there. He discovered that many of the people there were open to his message of Christ’s salvation, but still insisted on worshipping their pagan gods, including an oak tree that they considered to be sacred. Boniface was uncertain about how he could convince the people that the tree was not a god; finally, he decided to cut the tree down. The people were angered by this, so he gave them a young evergreen tree instead. Unlike the oak tree which lost its leaves each year, the evergreen tree kept its green needles all year around. Therefore, the evergreen tree is richly symbolic of the everlasting life that Christ offers us.

Christmas plants

Holly, ivy, and mistletoe are often used as decorative ornaments for Christmas. So how did these traditions originate? Holly has been used for hundreds of years for making wreaths and for decorating tables and mantelpieces. The sharp, thorny edges of holly leaves are a reminder of the crown of thorns that was placed on Christ’s head, and the red berries symbolize drops of his blood. Ivy was once used by pagan religions to form crowns that were placed on the statues of pagan gods, but has since been adopted by Christians for use in wreaths and ornaments, with the white berries of some varieties of ivy representing purity and innocence. Before Christianity arrived in Ireland, mistletoe was once used by Celtic Druids (pagan priests) in their ceremonies. It was eventually adopted by Christians to decorate their homes and to act as a symbol of marriage. This is how the custom of kissing a person standing under the mistletoe began.

Christmas cards

The earliest forms of Christmas cards date back to the fifteenth century, when sheets of paper were used to print the Christmas story on. The first Christmas cards to appear as we know them today were made by Henry Cole in England in 1843. The cards featured scenes of Christians doing acts of charity, and said “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year to you.” In the U.S., Louis Prang of Boston was one of the first to produce Christmas cards in 1875, and they proved to be very successful. Today, over two billion Christmas cards are mailed in the U.S. each year.

Christmas Day

The exact date of Christ’s birth was not known by the early church, but one of its earliest traditions is that the Annunciation of Mary (when the Archangel Gabriel appears to her with the news of her motherhood of God) happened on March 25th. It is believed that since December 25th is exactly nine months later, the church decided that this would be the appropriate date of Christ’s birth. Another possible reason why this date was chosen was that in Rome during this time, the pagans celebrated December 25th as the birth of the sun (the winter solstice) with a large feast. As a way to persuade the pagans to become Christian, the Christians decided to celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th as well. This was also very appropriate since Christ was prophesied in Malachi 4:2 as the “sun of righteousness”: “But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go forth leaping like calves from the stall.”

The Christmas traditions that we often take for granted do indeed have a rich history grounded in the traditions of many different peoples and cultures. As the Lord of history and the Savior of all mankind, Christ has and continues to transcend, enrich, and fulfil our earthly traditions and lives with his salvific grace.

Sources: Celebrating Christmas by Rev. Jude Winkler, OFM Conv.; “Why is Christmas Day on the 25th December?”; “Christmas

Social Conservative Review - December 15, 2017

by Daniel Hart

December 15, 2017

Dear Friends,

For many Americans, the time off from work and school that Christmas allows is a wonderful opportunity to reunite with family and friends. It can be a joyous time of catching up on new developments and accomplishments that have transpired over the last year, exchanging gifts, and partaking in delicious Christmas hams and cookies.

As we enjoy this delightful time of year with our loved ones, let us not forget the true reason for why we gather and make merry: the coming of God into our lives. Since many of us have family and loved ones that do not share our faith, Christmas provides us with an invaluable opportunity to witness to the faith that God has gifted to us through the person of his Son Jesus. This doesn’t mean that we need to try and proselytize, which can easily cause tension and conflict and distract away from the spirit of the season. Witnessing to our faith should instead take the form of invitation. For example, simply invite a non-practicing loved one to come with you to your Christmas Eve church service without any expectations or obligation. Another option could be to invite them to join in singing Christmas carols with a group in the local neighborhood, or you could simply make it a fun family activity and sing carols as you sip hot chocolate and munch on cookies.

It can be easy to slip into the habit of thinking that we have to organize an elaborate intellectual argument in order to witness to our Christian faith. But that’s not how God invites us into His divine life. Think of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew—when he comes upon Peter and Andrew casting their nets into the Sea of Galilee, he doesn’t launch into a philosophical discourse about the reasons why the two men should follow him. Instead, he offers them a simple invitation: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19). Let us imitate Christ by inviting our loved ones to join us in a joyful spirit of love, free from expectation and obligation. For it is only in true freedom and joy that hearts are truly and joyfully converted.

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

The ‘War on Christmas’ Is Real – Travis Weber

Sessions’ First Year: A Breath of Fresh Air After Years of Obama Scandals – Ken Blackwell

In Masterpiece, the Supreme Court Grapples With a Problem of Its Own Making – Travis Weber

Supreme Court Justices Grill ACLU and Colorado in Christian Baker’s Case – Travis Weber

Franken’s Senate Replacement is a Former Planned Parenthood VP – Kelly Marcum

Kicking Jesus Off the Bus? – Travis Weber

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

5 Great Resources That Help Kids Keep Christ in Christmas – Peter Witkowski

5 Great Resources that Help Keep Christ in Christmas – Peter Witkowski

Planned Parenthood’s Tacit Support of Physical Assault – Kelly Marcum

Can American Higher Education Be Salvaged?

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

Remembering Mike Penner – Peter Sprigg

 

Religious Liberty

Religious Liberty in the Public Square

Here’s why I can’t custom-design cakes for same-sex weddings – Jack Phillips, USA Today

Religious Exemptions Aren’t Special Privileges – Stephanie Barclay, Public Discourse

Judge Denies FEMA Relief For Three Texas Churches – Brien Straw, Houston Public Media

DC buses can ban ‘religious’ Christmas ads, judge rules – Doug Mainwaring, LifeSiteNews

Liberals attack doughnut shop’s good deed – Todd Starnes, Fox News

Religious Freedom in 2018: What to Watch – Nancy Flory, The Stream

International Religious Freedom

Canada’s Free Speech Wars – Scott Ventureyra, Crisis

Nations Speak Out for Life and the Family in UN Human Rights Mechanism – Rebecca Oas, C-Fam

Military Religious Freedom

Over 77,000 Sign Petitions Supporting Air Force Colonel Punished for Opposing Gay Marriage – Michael Gryboski, The Christian Post

 

Life

Abortion

Fighting taxpayer-funded abortion in Illinois – Samantha Gobba, WORLD

Abortion is Traumatic, Not Empowering – Marcia Segelstein, National Catholic Register

First trimester babies aren’t blobs of tissue — they’re amazingly complex – Live Action

7 Shocking Facts Americans Learned About Planned Parenthood in 2017 – Brandon Showalter, The Christian Post

About That New York Editor Who Would End Lives Like My Children’s – Kristan Hawkins, National Review

Ohio Legislature votes to ban abortions on babies with Down syndrome – Becky Yeh, Live Action

Adoption

Police officer adopts homeless heroin addict’s baby – Ashley Jonkman, Aleteia

Bioethics

Assisted Suicide Is No Choice At All – Lawrence Carter-Long, RealClear Policy

Self-Sacrificial Love in the Bioethics-Sphere – Wesley J. Smith, First Things

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

The Inalienable Right to Life: An Update on Assisted Suicide in the United States and Canada – Arthur Goldberg, Public Discourse

Suicide prevention organization: Assisted suicide is not suicide – Cassy Fiano, Live Action

Obamacare

Eight Insurance Companies in 5 States Fail to Disclose If Their Obamacare Plans Fund Abortions – Mallory Quigley, LifeNews

 

Family

Economics/Education

Half the World’s Population is Reaching Below Replacement Fertility – Tomas Frejka, Family Studies

Power to the parents – Leigh Jones, WORLD

It’s Time to Fully Repeal the Unjust and Immoral Death Tax – Daren Bakst, The Daily Signal

Why the Humanities Must Remain Human (Or Die) – Joshua Mayo, First Things

How Affirmative Action Hurts Asian-Americans in College Admissions – Helaina Hirsch and Mike Gonzalez, The Daily Signal

Marriage

The one thing you need to do to make sure your child marries well – Luz Ivonne Ream, Aleteia

For a Happy Marriage: Speak With Kindness — Especially When You Want to “Tell It Like It Is” – Shaunti Feldhahn, Focus on the Family

When You and Your Spouse Can’t Agree – Teri Reisser, Focus on the Family

Cohabitation Agreements: Better Than Nothing? – Mary Rose Somarriba, Family Studies

Podcast: Failure of Fatherhood – Mark Bauerlein, First Things

11 Rules on Marriage You Won’t Learn in School – Dennis Rainey, FamilyLife

Faith/Character/Culture

Sin, Happiness, and Breaking Out of Spiritual Boredom – Chris Hazell, Word On Fire

If You’re Feeling Too Frantic, Genuine Leisure Can Restore Your Soul – Aphrodite Kishi, The Federalist

In the Age of Amazon Sundays Can’t be Sacred – Mattias A. Caro, Ethika Politika

The Danger of Talking Over Others – David Stavarz, Word On Fire

We are desperately in need of boredom – Tom Hoopes, Aleteia

Loneliness: An old way to solve this modern problem – Calah Alexander, Aleteia

What Made ‘Fixer Upper’ a Hit? – Dean Abbott, The Gospel Coalition

Human Sexuality

Thank Separating Sex From Morality For The Great American Sexual Meltdown – Curt Anderson, The Federalist

New Study Finds Hormonal Birth Control Triples Women’s Risk Of Suicide – Kelsey Harkness, The Federalist

Lauer, and Franken, and Louis CK: The crisis within them, and in us – Tom Hoopes, Aleteia

Will the Trump Administration Push Back Against Transgender Ideology in Schools? – Jane Robbins and Emmett McGroarty, Public Discourse

A great sexual reckoning – Mindy Belz, WORLD

God is not silent: What the Bible teaches about sexual assault – Katie McCoy, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Figuring Out Faithfulness with Same-Sex Attraction – Ed Shaw and Rachel Gilson, The Gospel Coalition

This Formerly Trans 14-Year-Old Has A Message For Questioning Kids – Walt Heyer, The Federalist

The Truth about Men, Women, and Sex – Mark Regnerus, Public Discourse

Human Trafficking

Mom Posts Viral Warning After Sex Traffickers Try Kidnapping 2-Yr-Old in Grocery Store – Kelsey Straeter, Faithit

Man Sentenced To Longest Human Sex Trafficking Sentence In US History – Fight the New Drug

Care about Cyntoia Brown? Stop normalizing “teenage prostitution.” – Haley Halverson, National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Pornography

Video: Neurosurgeon Dr. Donald Hilton Reveals Shocking Scientific Truths About Porn – Fight the New Drug

40 Reasons To Start Off The New Year By Ditching Porn – Fight the New Drug

Franken’s Senate Replacement is a Former Planned Parenthood VP

by Kelly Marcum

December 14, 2017

NOMINEE: Tina Smith

BIRTH DATE: March 4, 1958

EDUCATION: B.S. in Political Science, Stanford University, 1980. M.B.A. from Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, 1984.

FAMILY: Lives in Minneapolis with her husband of thirty years, Archie Smith. They have two grown sons, Sam and Mason, who also reside in Minnesota.

EXPERIENCE: Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota (2015-present); Chief of Staff to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton (2011-2015); Chief of Staff to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak (2006-2011); Vice President of External Affairs, Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota (2003-2006); Involved with Minnesota’s Democratic-Famer-Laborer (DFL) party since 1998; Founded a political and campaign consulting firm, Macwilliams, Cosrove, Smith, Robinson, (1992); General Mills’ marketing department (1984-1992)

 

Abortion

Planned Parenthood connection:

Smith’s abortion advocacy runs in the family. Her father, Harlan Flint, was a board member for Planned Parenthood Ohio. In 2003, Smith became the Vice President for External Affairs, at Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, functioning as their lead registered lobbyist. 

Smith has said that Planned Parenthood provides “critical care” and that she is “proud of that work.” During her tenure at the organization, it had an increase in abortions by 22 percent, performing 9,717 abortions in Minnesota. 1,892 of these abortions were performed on low-income women, allowing the organization to be reimbursed $458,574.74 by Minnesota taxpayers. In 2004, Planned Parenthood became the state’s largest abortion provider, a title it maintains to this day. Between 2003 and 2005, Planned Parenthood Minnesota received $12.65 million in government grants.

As a Planned Parenthood Vice President, Smith lobbied against pro-life legislation, including informed consent laws for mothers and one-day waiting periods for abortions. Specifically, she led the organization’s fight against the Woman’s Right to Know Act in Minnesota, which became law in 2003. The Act requires women to be informed of the gestational age of their child as well as of the associated risks with any procedures, and it requires the physician to provide information to the mother on resources for available prenatal, childbirth, and neonatal care, as well as resources for financial support. The Woman’s Right to Know Act also requires a 24-hour waiting period after the woman has been properly informed before she can give consent to undergo the abortion.

Smith also lobbied against the Positive Alternatives Act of 2005, which provided state grants to nonprofits that supported women who chose not to abort by providing services such as housing assistance, adoption services, child care, parental education, and employment assistance. The purpose of an eligible grant applicant had to be to “maximize the potential” of the mother and support her after childbirth. Despite Smith’s efforts to convince legislators that pregnancy care centers that don’t refer women for abortions should not be eligible for state grants, the law passed in 2005.

Smith continues to have the political support of her former employer. In 2012 the Planned Parenthood Action Fund honored Smith “for her passion and commitment to Planned Parenthood.” Sarah Stoesz, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota stated: “[Tina Smith] really built our education and outreach efforts. She’s got a pretty strong legacy around here.”

When asked about Congress’ attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, Smith replied: “I think it’s almost totally political…It’s just a bad idea.”

Following Governor Mark Dayton’s announcement of Smith as his appointee to replace Senator Al Franken upon Franken’s resignation, Stoesz publicly endorsed the move, saying Smith “will be a powerful, moving force for justice” due to her “business acumen and passion for women’s health and rights.” Stoesz added: “As the Chief of Staff to Governor Dayton and as Lieutenant Governor there simply hasn’t been a stronger voice for women‘s health and rights…Tina Smith [understands] that women can’t earn a living or support their children if they don’t have access to the reproductive health care they need.”

Pro-Choice Politics

Since 2011, Smith has served in the administration of Governor Mark Dayton, after having served as one of his campaign advisors leading up to his 2010 election. Dayton enjoys a 100 percent rating by NARAL. During Dayton’s first term, in which he vetoed seven different pro-life measures, Smith served as his Chief of Staff. Among the legislation Dayton vetoed was the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which bans abortions occurring after 20 weeks, when unborn children can feel pain.

When Dayton successfully ran for reelection in 2014, Smith was his running mate. During Smith’s time as Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota, the Dayton administration continues to be unequivocally pro-abortion. In March 2017, the governor vetoed two bills, which would have denied taxpayer dollars from funding abortion, as well as required licenses for abortion clinics. Planned Parenthood Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota applauded the veto, saying in a statement that “Minnesota women are deeply grateful that Gov. Dayton is once again using his veto pen to protect a woman’s constitutionally protected right to abortion.”

Although Planned Parenthood is thrilled that their former lobbyist is heading to Washington, pro-life Minnesotans continue to be displeased at their lack of pro-life representation in the Beltway.  “Tina Smith is, without a doubt, the Abortion Senator,” said Leo LaLonde, President of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.

Religious Liberty and Reproductive Rights

Tina Smith has explicitly maintained that women’s so-called “reproductive rights” should trump religious liberty protections. Following the release of the new Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations which rolled back the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act, providing conscience protections for institutions with stances opposing birth control, Smith called the action an “outrageous assault on the health and well-being of women and families.” She also stated that “birth control is essential health care for women” and vowed to “keep fighting to protect the rights of every person to make decisions about their own health care.”

 

LGBT Agenda

Tina Smith is viewed incredibly favorably by the Left for her stances on LGBT issues. Governor Dayton’s administration is very friendly to the LGBT community, and September 24, 2016 was declared Human Rights Campaign Day, in honor of the LGBT advocacy carried out by the Human Rights Campaign.

Same-Sex Marriage

Smith’s activism and career primarily point to her pro-abortion views. However, she is also pro-same-sex marriage, and released the following statement following the Supreme Court decision of Obergevell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states: “Today, the Court upheld that basic promise in all 50 states, and confirmed what Minnesotans have known for years - that love is love. While this is a major victory, there is more work to be done. We need to continue fighting until all Americans have equal rights and protections guaranteed by our Constitution.”

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Positions

Tina Smith stands vehemently opposed to President Trump’s decision to roll back President Obama’s transgender bathroom policy. She has called the Obama-era policies “reasonable protections” designed to “assure the basic dignity of all transgender students.” In her statement decrying the Trump administration’s decision to reverse the bathroom policy, she assured Minnesotans that she and Governor Dayton “will continue to do all we can to defend the rights and dignity of every young Minnesotan, including transgender students.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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