FRC Blog

BREAKING NEWS: Vice President Pence Revealed to Be Conservative!

by Peter Sprigg

September 13, 2019

News broke today that in 1993, Vice President Mike Pence—then with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, a conservative think tank—opposed an effort to add “sexual orientation” as a protected category in a Lafayette, Indiana human relations ordinance.

The biggest surprise here may be that anyone found this discovery—in an old issue of the Lafayette Journal and Courier—to be the least bit newsworthy.

After all, even in 2019, after decades of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) activism, most of the country—28 of the 50 states, plus the U.S. Congress—has rejected the idea that “sexual orientation” should be treated as the equivalent of race under non-discrimination laws involving employment and public accommodations.

Pence said in 1993, “It represents a very bad move in public policy”—and 26 years later, most of the country agrees.

Pence added, “It opens up from a legal standpoint … a Pandora’s Box of legal rights and legal difficulties once you identify homosexuals as a discrete and insular minority.” The use of the phrase “discrete and insular minority”—drawn from a 1938 Supreme Court decision—showed a sophisticated understanding of civil rights law on the part of Pence, who is himself a lawyer.

Can anyone really deny that the LGBT rights movement has led to “legal rights” (such as same-sex civil “marriage”) and “legal difficulties” (such as lawsuits against wedding vendors to compel speech the vendors disagree with) that might not have been obvious in 1993? This was a prescient, and entirely accurate, forecast.

Pence noted—again, correctly—a key factor historically in whether certain minority groups have been protected by “strict scrutiny” from the courts or by legislation. “Up to this point,” Pence told the paper, “our legal tradition has drawn a line over those things. I do not choose whether I am a black American . . .”

In other words, the characteristics which have merited the special protection of non-discrimination laws have usually been those which are inborn, involuntary, immutable, or innocuous. Those criteria apply to race and sex in a way they do not to “sexual orientation.” In the article, a Purdue political science professor made the same point—“that equating the path of sexual orientation ordinances with the civil rights movement, or to a lesser extent women’s rights, is misleading.”

A few of the quotes attributed to Pence could have used greater elaboration. For example, he is quoted as saying that “homosexuality at a very minimum is a choice by the individual.” LGBT activists insist, with reason, that most people do not choose to experience same-sex attractions. (This does not mean, however, that such attractions are innate. A recent study of the connections between genetics and homosexual conduct has disproved the claim, in an article to which CNN linked, that “homosexuality is largely determined by heredity.”)

Pence’s remarks seem to reflect what I have elsewhere referred to as the “homosexual conduct paradigm,” within which the word “homosexuality” is primarily a reference to homosexual conduct. Such conduct, along with self-identifying as gay or lesbian, clearly is a choice.

Pence is also quoted as saying, “Once you identify homosexuals as a … minority, then by definition they would need to be afforded constitutional protection.” Of course, homosexuals have, and have always had, the same rights under the U.S. Constitution that every other American has—rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. I’m sure that Vice President Pence would agree.

The constitutional question, however, is whether laws perceived as having some impact based on “sexual orientation” must be subjected to “heightened scrutiny”—rather than just a “rational basis” test—when analyzed under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Pence was right in forecasting that enshrining sexual orientation as a protected category in statutory law would have an impact on how courts would view it from a constitutional perspective—and might distort that view in cases like the one ordering a redefinition of marriage.

Pence also told the paper that the effort in Lafayette was part of “a grassroots-generated movement for recognition of homosexual rights …” This is no conspiracy theory—it was a simple and accurate statement that the push for such legislation was part of a movement active at both the national and local levels. Pence said, “I suspect [homosexual rights] will be one of the biggest issues of the ‘90’s”—which was true, and has continued to be true in the decades since.

Most of the arguments Pence offered in 1993 are the same arguments that we at Family Research Council and other social conservatives make today in opposing radical LGBT rights legislation like the proposed federal Equality Act.

What would be news is if Mike Pence had ever taken any other position.

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Senate Condemns China’s Abuses Against Religious Minorities

by Arielle Del Turco

September 13, 2019

The Chinese regime’s gross human rights violations against Uyghurs were recognized by the U.S. Senate late Wednesday night with the passage of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. The measure couldn’t come at a more critical time as the Uyghur crisis continues to deteriorate. In what one U.S. official has called China’s “war on faith,” the Chinese government is responsible for a brutal crackdown on Uyghurs, a Turkic, mostly Muslim ethnic group.

China has used a variety of measures to suppress the Uyghur community. The government monitors social media, and arrests Uyghurs for information found on their phones, including simply having religious content on them. It is estimated that China has forcibly detained at least 880,000 and possibly more than 2 million Uyghurs who are detained in what China calls “re-education” camps. Uyghurs at these camps are indoctrinated with Chinese Communist Party propaganda designed to pressure them to abandon their Muslim faith and their unique culture. Some detainees who have been released describe their experience being tortured in the camps.

This bill is the first piece of legislation from any nation that specifically responds to the Uyghur crisis. The provisions of this act will require U.S. federal agencies and foreign policy institutions to report on the Uyghur crisis, and how it impacts U.S. citizens and national security. Formal and routine U.S. recognition of the horrors of China’s treatment of Uyghurs will send a powerful message to Beijing—that the U.S. will not ignore the atrocities taking place in the Uyghur region, and that we will continue to highlight Chinese human rights violations on the world stage.

The Chinese government is already getting the message. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson responded yesterday to this bill passing in the Senate. Spokesperson Hua Chunying expressed China’s opposition to the passage of this bill and to U.S. criticisms of China’s Xinjiang policies. Though she accused the U.S. of misrepresenting the human rights situation in China, we know that Chinese leaders have a long track record of lying about their actions in the Uyghur region. Regardless of the spin from Chinese officials, their hostile response indicates that they have already felt pressure from this bill, which means it has done exactly what it was meant to do.

While the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act has passed the Senate, its companion bill in the House of Representatives is still in committee. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) demonstrated great leadership in getting this bill passed in the Senate. In the House, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) is leading the charge on this bill. As we commend the Senate’s action on this issue, the House should take note and work to swiftly pass the House version of this bill. It is vital that Congress take this step to hold China accountable for their egregious human rights abuses.

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The Real “Fairness for All” is Freedom from Government Coercion

by Peter Sprigg

September 12, 2019

Concerns about religious liberty are one of the chief obstacles to passage of “non-discrimination” laws that would make “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (“SOGI”) into protected categories at the local, state, and federal level. Only 20 of the 50 states have enacted SOGI protections for both employment and public accommodations, and a comprehensive (and radical) federal bill, the Equality Act (H.R. 5), has stalled in the Senate since its passage in May by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

Utah Rep. Ben McAdams, a Democrat who voted for the Equality Act, recently told that state’s Deseret News that he thinks the bill “still needs work”—and he supports a so-called “compromise” called “Fairness for All.” The theory is that both “LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights” and “religious liberty” could be protected by enacting a single bill that includes both SOGI protections and religious exemptions.

The model for “Fairness for All” proposals at the federal level is the “Utah compromise” that was adopted by that state’s legislature in 2015. It added SOGI protections to the state’s nondiscrimination laws regarding employment and housing (public accommodations were omitted), while creating exemptions for religious non-profit organizations and protections for some employee speech.

Unique factors in Utah—notably, the power and influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which endorsed the “compromise”—make it doubtful whether this approach could be replicated elsewhere. LGBT groups at the national level seem determined to press forward the existing Equality Act, which contains no religious liberty protections and explicitly strips away those that might be asserted under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Nevertheless, because some may be tempted to believe that such a “compromise” provides a “win-win” solution in the clash between LGBT rights and religious liberty, it is important to reiterate why we believe this would be a serious mistake.

First, the fundamental presumption behind “Fairness for All” is that there is a balance or symmetry between “rights” or “protections” for people who identify as LGBT and “rights” or “protections” for people of faith. This is a fallacy. The “free exercise” of religion is guaranteed by the First Amendment, but there is no provision of the Constitution that references sexual orientation or gender identity.

The fundamental rights found in the U.S. Constitution—such as freedom of speech and the press and the free exercise of religion—do not place any limits on the actions of private individuals and organizations; on the contrary, they protect such actions against interference by the government. “Civil rights” laws that bar discrimination in employment and public accommodations, however, do not merely limit the government; they place a restriction upon the action of private entities (such as small businesses) in carrying out their private activity.

There is a place for non-discrimination laws (especially regarding characteristics that are clearly inborn, involuntary, and immutable, such as race). However, the burden of proof in every case must rest on those who seek to increase the number of categories or characteristics protected under such laws. That’s because the extension of laws against private discrimination is less a “win-win situation” than a “zero-sum” game. When one (such as an employment applicant) wins more protection, another (the employer) actually loses a corresponding measure of freedom.

The most publicized cases highlighting the clash between LGBT non-discrimination laws and religious liberty in recent years have involved businesses in the wedding industry that are owned and operated by Christians who prefer not to participate in the celebration of same-sex weddings. (Although one such business, Colorado’s Masterpiece Cakeshop, won an important decision at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018, the decision was on narrow grounds and did not settle this area of the law.) It is not clear that religious liberty protections in any proposed compromise legislation would protect these businesses.

The wedding industry cases are by no means the only context in which this conflict arises, however. There have been cases challenging the right of Christian adoption agencies to decline to place children with same-sex couples; cases where Christian counseling students were punished for declining to affirm and support homosexual relationships; and cases in which Christian employees of government agencies were fired for privately expressing disapproval of  homosexual conduct. It is not clear that any of them would be protected by such “Fairness for All” proposals.

Further, “gender identity” protections would undermine the rights of organizations and businesses to set dress and grooming standards or have separate private spaces (e.g., in bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, dormitories, etc.) for biological men and women. These rights stand ready to be compromised by “Fairness for All” proposals.

Family Research Council believes that combining religious liberty and special privileges for sexual orientation and/or gender identity (SOGI) is unsustainable, for three primary reasons.

1)      It is wrong, in principle, to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories, because they are unlike historically protected categories such as race. Historically, protections were reserved for characteristics that are inborn, involuntary, immutable, and innocuous, such as race, and/or in the U.S. Constitution (such as religion). None of these criteria apply to the choice to engage in homosexual conduct or the choice to present one’s self as the opposite of one’s biological sex.

2)      There is no religious exemption that would be acceptable to LGBT activists and would also be adequate to fully protect against all the likely threats to religious freedom.

3)      Non-discrimination laws always implicate moral beliefs. They send the message that it is morally wrong to disapprove of homosexual or transgender conduct. For such laws to be endorsed by citizens who believe that it is morally wrong to engage in homosexual or transgender conduct is a logical contradiction.

What would truly reflect “Fairness for All” would be to reject SOGI laws containing special privileges, and allow real religious liberty—the freedom to hold to one’s personal beliefs and to act on them without government interference or coercion.

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4 Resources for Parents to Fight Transgender Ideology and Policy in Public Schools

by Family Research Council

September 9, 2019

As the new school year begins, parents are discovering that transgender ideology and policy has taken hold in schools across the country. Teachers are being disciplined and fired for refusing to use the preferred pronouns of transgender-identifying students, kids are being locked in to transgender identities that they would otherwise naturally grow out of, girls are having to fend for themselves after finding boys who think they are girls in their restrooms, showers, and locker rooms, and boys who think they are girls are competing in and winning girls’ sporting events.

Here are some resources to help parents advocate for their children and stand up to the transgender trend that has infiltrated our nation’s schools.

1. A Parent’s Guide to the Transgender Movement in Education

This brochure from FRC helpfully defines terms associated with the transgender movement and gives an overview of the cultural and political moment that we are in. It covers how to talk to your children about transgender issues, how to talk to your child’s teacher about your concerns, how to become a citizen activist, how to engage your church, and provides a listing of other resources.

2. Panel Discussion: Transgender Ideology in Public Schools: Parents Fight Back

This panel discussion features the perspectives of a school board member, parents of students, and legal and policy experts. This wide-ranging and thought-provoking discussion and Q&A session is a great resource for talking points on the scope of the transgender issue and strategies on how parents can effectively advocate for their children and approach school officials and teachers.

3. Parent Resource Guide: Educating and Equipping Parents on the Transgender Trend

The Minnesota Family Council (MFC) has put together a comprehensive guide for parents on how to navigate the transgender movement in schools. According to MFC, the guide “clarifies confusing terminology, describes the health consequences of the transgender trend, debunks popular myths, and offers a wealth of constructive ideas for parents who want to work with their schools to foster a genuinely inclusive climate based on truth and compassion.”

4. We Fought the Transgender Activists, and Lost. Here Are 5 Lessons for Every Parent.

This helpful article by Kristen Allen at The Daily Signal provides a great overview of the lessons she and her fellow activists learned after losing a battle with Arlington County School Board in Virginia.

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Recent Grad Exposes Sick University-Funded Sex Culture

by Cathy Ruse

September 6, 2019

Thanks to recent college graduate Kara Bell for shedding light on how today’s colleges promote sex, porn, condoms, lies, and a body-and-soul-killing hookup culture

Hello?? Are there any adults in the room at these publicly-funded institutions?

Take a few moments to read her columns. Be prepared to be furious.

Christian parents must be the adults in the room.

We must face the hard fact that ideologues at colleges and universities are actively recruiting our children to the cause of the sexual revolution.

Our responsibilities as Christian parents raising Christian children are not only to protect them from this ideology but to help them push back against it. Resolve to do that—today.

Then be grateful for people like Kara Bell and those who helped prepare her to face this madness, and then write about it.

Kara interned with Young America’s Foundation, a conservative youth organization founded in 1969 to inspire young Americans “by the ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values.”

Today, Kara is a public relations officer for the Clare Boothe Luce Center for Conservative Women.

My hope is that more conservative women will be inspired by Kara to “speak truth to power.”

My hope is also that more parents will demand responsibility and accountability from the adults on the receiving end of their tens of thousands of dollars!

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Eighth Circuit: Minnesota Can’t Force Small Business to Make Same-Sex Wedding Videos

by Peter Sprigg

September 5, 2019

National media gave scant attention to an important court decision on August 23. The ruling in Telescope Media Group v. Lucero, by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, was another landmark in the ongoing debate about whether governments can force small businesses in the wedding industry to participate in same-sex weddings, over the conscientious objection of their owners.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, a baker who had declined to create a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. However, the court ruled that Phillips had been a victim of specific anti-religious discrimination by the Colorado tribunal that sought to punish him, so they did not definitively address the fundamental free speech concerns that his attorneys had raised.

Telescope Media Group (TMG) is a business founded by Carl and Angel Larsen, videographers who wished to create a business that would make wedding videos, and in the process promote natural marriages between one man and one woman. They sued Minnesota public officials to prevent them from using the Minnesota Human Rights Act to force the couple to make videos of same-sex weddings as well.

In a 2-1 decision, the 8th Circuit panel ruled in the Larsens’ favor, saying that “the First Amendment allows the Larsens to choose when to speak and what to say.” Perhaps that’s why it was largely ignored by the national media.

The breakdown of the vote also shows how important judicial appointments are. The opinion was written by David Stras, a 45-year-old Trump appointee, on the bench since January 2018. He was formerly on the Minnesota Supreme Court (having been appointed by former Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty). The other judge in the majority was 67-year-old Bobby Shepherd, appointed by George W. Bush and on the bench since 2006. Meanwhile, there was a dissent by Judge Jane L. Kelly, a 54-year-old Obama appointee who has been on the bench since 2013.

This was on appeal of the District Court’s decision to deny a preliminary injunction, so it is not a final decision on the merits. However, it is an encouraging decision in that it is based squarely on the free speech claims (or in this case, the right to be free from government-compelled speech) made by the plaintiffs. The court also accepted a “hybrid rights” claim incorporating the free exercise of religion.

Since precedent has established that videos represent a form of speech, whether the principles articulated would apply with equal force to bakers or florists may still have to be argued in other cases. However, the fact that this case was decided (at least for now) on free speech grounds, rather than the anti-religious discrimination grounds used in Masterpiece, makes it a stronger precedent for those concerned about protecting free speech and religious liberty.

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Fear Not the Establishment Clause When Engaging with Religion Abroad

by Andrew Rock

September 3, 2019

On the heels of the Trump administration’s successful second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted at the State Department, and in the throes of planning for the upcoming UN General Assembly later this month in New York City, there is ample opportunity to consider how the United States might engage to promote religious freedom abroad. As it does so, perennial concerns about engaging anything to do with “religion” are sure to arise once again.

Religious freedom is a well-established facet of international human rights law. Yet, many U.S. government officials are hesitant to engage on the issue for fear of violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Not only are their fears groundless, but our failure to engage religion as a serious topic when over 80 percent of the world is religious (a percentage which is growing) seriously hampers our foreign policy efforts. If we don’t understand the world, how can we engage with it?

On the contrary, the United States’ promotion of religious liberty abroad does not violate the Establishment Clause. It is well within the law, and an important foreign policy priority which should be advanced through the various measures, including training American diplomats to address religious discrimination as they serve on the frontline of U.S. foreign policy.

The Establishment Clause does prohibit the government from creating an “establishment of religion.” The many court decisions surrounding it are complex and seemingly contradictory. However, a look at relevant legal decisions shows that promoting religious liberty abroad is perfectly acceptable under the Establishment Clause.

The only court case directly addressing how the Establishment Clause applies abroad is a 1991 case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Lamont v. Woods. In Lamont, the court found that sending money to a religious school overseas did not violate the Establishment Clause, even if sending money to a similar school within the United States would. The court reasoned that although regular Establishment Clause doctrines apply abroad, there could be more flexibility overseas in order to accommodate a significant government interest.

Religious freedom abroad is in America’s national interest. Research shows that robust religious freedom protections allow countries to thrive economically. Religious freedom also mitigates regional security threats and is an essential aspect of a secure and stable society.

Religious liberty is also a key component of international human rights law. It is ensconced in documents such as the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and treaties like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United States specifically declared its interest in promoting religious liberty worldwide in the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. This means that promoting religious freedom is a valid secular interest of the United States government. Thus, it is not a violation of the Establishment Clause to train diplomats to engage in religious liberty issues. Rather, it is an important way that the United States can advance its foreign policy interests, and promote human rights abroad, in accordance with its long-stated interest in doing so.

Thus, promoting religious liberty abroad is a legitimate government goal that is well rooted in First Amendment precedent. The United States can train its diplomats in religious freedom issues without running afoul of the Establishment Clause. Just this year, the State Department and USAID both introduced mandatory religious freedom training for Foreign Service Officers. As a part of this effort, they will be taught to cooperate with faith leaders from diverse communities and promote religious freedom in the context in which they serve. This is an important step in fully integrating international religious freedom into U.S. foreign policy. Such training will give American diplomats the tools they need to advance our foreign policy and engage with some of the most pressing human rights issues in the world today—which are completely legitimate, constitutional, and necessary governmental objectives.

Andrew Rock is a law student at the University of Mississippi School of Law, and a former intern at Family Research Council.

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Landmark Study Determines There Is No “Gay Gene”

by Peter Sprigg

August 30, 2019

An all-star team of scientists has just published a new “genome-wide association study” (“GWAS”) in the journal Science, on a massive sample of nearly half a million individuals, that attempted to identify if genetic factors contribute to same-sex sexual behavior.

The key take-away? “[T]here is certainly no single genetic determinant [of same-sex sexual behavior] (sometimes referred to as the ‘gay gene’ in the media).” Eric Vilain, a genetic medicine researcher, agrees, telling the Washington Post that the study marks the end of “the simplistic concept of the ‘gay gene.’”

The study does suggest that all genetic factors put together may account for, at most, a third of the variation in same-sex sexual behavior in the population. What does that imply? That at least two thirds of the variation is accounted for by social, cultural, and environmental factors—not genetics. So much for the idea that people are “born gay.”

The media is conceding that there is not one “gay gene,” while still pushing the idea of genes being involved in homosexuality as far as they can. The New York Times begins its headline, “Many Genes Influence Same-Sex Sexuality,” while the Washington Post headline emphasizes that “genetics are linked to same-sex behavior.”

While these statements are true, where the media fails the public is in not adequately distinguishing the idea of genetic “influence” or a “link” from the popular idea of the “gay gene” (or “genes”)—the belief that there is some genetic factor that determines, inexorably and immutably, that some individuals are destined to become homosexual.

There is a huge difference between genetic “influence” and genetic “determination.” Science has shown that many personality traits and behaviors are “influenced” by genetics, but no one would ever say those characteristics are inborn and immutable.

For example, here is how the study actually reports that “one third of the variation” figure I mentioned above:

[W]e estimated broad-sense heritability—the percentage of variation in a trait attributable to genetic variation—at 32.4%.

Put in decimal form, that is a “heritability” of about .32. But here are the “heritability” rates that scientists have identified for some other psychological traits:

  • Conservatism                        .45-.65
  • Right-wing authoritarianism   .50-.64
  • Religiousness                        .30-.45

Yet virtually no one would ever say that these traits are inborn and immutable—even though their “heritability” is as high or higher than for same-sex sexual behavior.

Yet even the study’s 32% “heritability” rating may exaggerate the link between any specific genes and homosexual behavior. The study identified only five locations on the genome with a statistically significant link to same-sex sexual behavior. (None of those were on the X-chromosome—where the original “gay gene” was supposedly located in a 1993 study.) Only three of those associations could be replicated in an analysis of other (smaller) databases. The study reported that “all tested genetic variants accounted for 8 to 25% of variation in same-sex sexual behavior”—a broad range, and lower than the 32% “heritability” estimate. The genetic differences were so small that they “could not be used to accurately predict sexual behavior in an individual.”

One methodological problem with the study is that the primary measure of “nonheterosexuality” is whether the respondent answered yes or no to the question of whether they have ever had sex with a person of the same sex. A large percentage of that population does not self-identify as “gay” or “lesbian,” and may not engage exclusively or even primarily in same-sex sexual relationships, so it is not at all clear whether this is the best way of approaching the question. The study did find there was a genetic correlation with the proportion of same-sex sexual partners—but it did not involve the same genetic variants as the “binary” variable!

The New York Times report suggests—at length—that some pro-LGBT spokesman and scientists were concerned about even conducting the research. This seems a backhanded way of admitting that the findings do not serve the political purposes of the LGBT political movement.

For example, the study showed that same-sex sexuality correlated not only with certain genes, but with certain personality traits (“loneliness,” “openness to experience”), risky behaviors (smoking, cannabis use), and mental disorders (depression and schizophrenia). The study cautioned:

We emphasize that the causal processes underlying these genetic correlations are unclear and could be generated by environmental factors relating to prejudice against individuals engaging in same-sex sexual behavior, among other possibilities . . .

But if the “causal processes underlying … genetic correlations” with mental illness and substance abuse “could be generated by environmental factors,” then the same must be said about the correlations with same-sex sexual behavior itself.

That movement has depended for decades on the myth that people are “born gay” and cannot change, probably because of some undiscovered “gay gene” that immutably determines their sexuality.  Demands for LGBT “civil rights” have rested largely on assertions that sexual orientation, like race, is a characteristic that is inborn, genetic, and immutable.

Although evidence for those claims has always been lacking, this study debunks them more decisively than any previous one. It is ironic that those on the Left routinely accuse conservatives of being “anti-science”—yet in this case, it is they who fear the results of a serious scientific inquiry.

For our part, Family Research Council is happy to embrace the study’s conclusion about the “complexity” of same-sex sexuality, and “the importance of resisting simplistic conclusions.” The authors are correct in saying that “there is a long history of misusing genetic results for social purposes”—but on this issue, it is the LGBT activists who have long promoted the myth of the “gay gene” who are most guilty.

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The Unintentionally Powerful Pro-Life Message of One Child Nation

by Laura Grossberndt

August 30, 2019

One Child Nation co-director Nanfu Wang stands with her son in front of a Chinese propaganda mural.

Faced with a national population approaching one billion, the People’s Republic of China instituted a one-child-per-family policy in 1979. This policy was in effect until 2015, when the government expanded the birth limit to two children per family. While the policy may have “succeeded” at slowing the national birthrate, it also forcibly violated the bodies of millions of women and resulted in the death or disappearance of millions of pre or post-born children, most of them female.

One Child Nation, winner of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize, is a heart-rending, eye-opening account of China’s one-child policy and the human rights violations that ensued. The documentary is narrated and co-directed by Nanfu Wang, a Chinese-American immigrant who was born in China while the policy was in effect. In the film, she conducts a series of interviews with victims of the one-child policy, former government officials and midwives entrusted with enforcing the policy, citizens who defied the policy, and members of her own family (some of whom supported the policy and others who opposed it). The result is a vivid portrayal of Chinese life and a compelling critique of government authoritarianism. Because of this, the documentary One Child Nation is the rightful recipient of much critical acclaim and deserves a wide viewership. However, a surprising moral inconsistency and a false comparison in the closing minutes of the film prevents this otherwise superb documentary from having its fullest impact.

A Heartbreaking Account of State-Enforced Brutality

Aspects of the film worth commending include Wang’s compelling first-hand experiences about the one-child policy. She explains that propaganda supporting the policy was woven into virtually every facet of life while she was growing up: from murals and advertisements to entertainment and music. She recalls feeling shame for having a sibling (some rural families were allowed to have two children). Her family felt immense relief when her younger brother was born—if he had been a girl, the family most likely would not have kept the baby.

Wang expresses frustration that her family and the Chinese people did little to stop the practices that she believes are morally reprehensible. In terms of presentation, little of the documentary’s runtime is dedicated to expressing her own feelings. Instead, she and her co-director Jialing Zhang allow the interviews to speak for themselves, without inserting commentary.

The people Wang interviews have varying attitudes towards the one-child policy. Some, like Wang’s mother, maintain that the Chinese government was right and that the policy was necessary to prevent wide-scale starvation. Others, like the village midwife, deeply regret the policy and their participation in its enforcement. This particular midwife performed an estimated 60,000 abortions in her career. Now she tries to atone for her past by offering medical care for infertile couples and delivering babies.

The first-person accounts of One Child Nation appeal to the viewer’s humanity again and again. The documentary successfully communicates an important moral point: What may have begun as a government’s sincere attempt to raise a nation’s standard of living has resulted in a human rights crisis. The blood of discarded children practically cries out from the ground. During one interview, Wang talks with an artist committed to documenting the horror of infant bodies left to rot under bridges and on top of trash heaps. The artist shows the camera one such body he has managed to preserve in a glass jar and marvels about how the baby resembles his young son.

An Incoherent Conclusion

As the documentary draws to a close, Nanfu Wang reflects on her journey, including the shocking brutality and human rights abuses perpetrated in the name of the one-child policy. However, as she discusses everything she’s learned about China, her family, and the one-child policy, she arrives at a surprising conclusion: the horrors of the one-child policy are parallel to abortion restrictions in the United States.

Despite over an hour carefully describing the horrors of forced abortions, sterilizations, and the horror associated with abandoning one’s child, Wang argues that both countries are guilty of policing a woman’s sovereignty over her body, albeit in different ways. In an interview with Vox, she expressed much the same sentiment:

I remember when I first came to the US and learned about the restriction on abortions in the US. I was very shocked. It wasn’t the free America that I had thought it would be. I was surprised by the government control on reproductive rights and the access to reproductive health care.

Making this film, I also had a lot of conversations with people about the topic, and I was surprised. Sometimes people couldn’t see how forced state abortions and the state limiting access to abortions are quite similar; they are both the government trying to control women’s bodies and trying to control women’s reproductive rights.

I hope that the film reminds people what would happen if their government takes away women’s choice, or any individual’s choice. And sadly I think it’s happening in China, it’s happening in the US, and it’s happening in a lot of countries throughout the world, where women do not have the freedom to make their own reproductive decisions.

These statements are stunning because of the inconsistency with the moral appeals for the humanity of the pre and post-born throughout the documentary. After seeing footage of babies preserved in jars and thrown onto trash heaps, is the viewer supposed to believe that the sole atrocity of the one-child policy is the violation of reproductive choice?

The policy’s crimes against adult women—such as forced abortions and sterilizations—are horrific, and Wang is right to expose and censure them. But as One Child Nation clearly depicts, adult women were not the policy’s only victims. The countless children killed in the womb or immediately after birth, as well as the children abandoned in marketplaces, on roadsides, or in dumps were also victims. Furthermore, the Chinese government’s one-child policy, paired with the culture’s preference for male children, practically guaranteed that most of the slaughtered or discarded children were girls. Women—both adult women and infant girls—were the victims most deeply harmed by the policy.

It is worth noting that sex-selective abortions are a type of misogyny that is often ignored by the pro- “reproductive rights” wing of feminism because it doesn’t neatly fit their narrative of abortion-on-demand. But as long as some cultures value male children over female, sex-selective abortions and other crimes against female children will continue to be a problem.

An Inadvertently Pro-Life Message

While One Child Nation adeptly exposes the tragedy of China’s one-child policy to a wide audience, a moral inconsistency and a false comparison in the closing minutes prevents this otherwise superb documentary from having its fullest impact. Both children and adults are clearly victims of China’s government-imposed birth restrictions. Furthermore, China’s birth restrictions and America’s abortion restrictions are far from parallel policies. The former kills children, while the latter seeks to prevent the killing of children. The Chinese policy violates women’s bodies with forced sterilization, while abortion restrictions seek to protect the bodies of all women: adult women from risky abortion procedures and pre and post-born girls from being aborted.

Harrowing and poignant, One Child Nation illuminates the problems with China’s one-child policy while making a strong pro-life case that perhaps its own directors do not even fully understand.

One Child Nation is rated R for some disturbing content/images and brief language (via subtitles).

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Let’s Make Evangelism Part of Our Everyday Lives

by Daniel Hart

August 30, 2019

As believers in Christ, how much is evangelism part of our everyday lives?

It’s a question that I have been asking myself a lot lately, especially in light of yet another discouraging poll that was released this past Sunday showing that over the last 20 years, the number of Americans who see religion and having children as “very important” is in steep decline (from 62 to 48 percent for religion and from 59 to 43 percent for having children).

The same poll also shows a substantial difference in the outlook of Millennial/Gen-Zers (ages 18-38) and the Boomers/Silent Generation (ages 55-91), who see patriotism, belief in God, and having children as “very important” at substantially higher rates than the younger generation. This does not bode well for the future of our country.

Overall, the poll found that Americans are increasingly angry, anxious, and unsatisfied. As believers called to witness to the gospel, we clearly have our work cut out for us.

Plentiful Harvest, Few Laborers

Whenever I come across fresh evidence like this of our country’s increasing godlessness and indifference to family life, I often think about Christ’s words in Matthew’s gospel: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’” (Matthew 9:36-38).

They were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Isn’t that an incredibly fitting description of our culture right now? Christ’s next words haunt me no matter how many times I read them: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” There are so many souls out there who are lost, who are yearning for God without fully realizing what this hunger in their souls is for. Are we laboring amongst the plentiful harvest of these shepherdless sheep?

As believers, it’s easy to settle into a comfortable pattern in our faith lives. We find great solace and satisfaction in sharing our faith with our families, close friends, and church communities, as we should. While it’s true that a primary evangelistic responsibility is to pass the faith on to our children and to refuel our needy souls in our churches every week, it’s also true that many believers live their lives as though that is where their call to witness ends, myself included. What Jesus is calling us to is something even more far-reaching: to see the world as our mission field.

An Isolated and Lonely Culture

So how should we evangelize today’s culture? Should we stand on street corners with megaphones and loudly proclaim Christ while handing out leaflets?

I would argue that for most of us, this type of impersonal evangelism is not what we are called to. I believe we are called to a much more personal type of witness, one that focuses on individual connection and invitation during one-on-one interactions that happen in everyday life.

Why? Consider this: in one of the most astonishing studies released in recent memory, it was found that 46 percent of Americans reported “feeling lonely sometimes or always,” with 43 percent “feeling isolated from others, and the same number report[ed] feeling they lack companionship and their relationships lack meaning.”

Let’s let this sink in for a moment. Almost half of America is saying that they do not have meaningful relationships and often feel lonely and isolated. Now recall what the first study I discussed in the opening paragraphs found: fewer and fewer Americans consider raising a family and faith to be important. But families and faith communities are two of the biggest means by which people find true companionship and meaning in their lives, and thereby avoid loneliness!

Tragically, a large portion of the American populace does not appear to see the connection between what they value most in life and how those values affect their wellbeing. They are shunning society’s most fundamental institutions that provide authentic community and a sense of identity and belonging. Just how integral is family to this sense of identity? As Mary Eberstadt has written:

Up until the middle of the twentieth century (and barring the frequent foreshortening of life by disease or nature) human expectations remained largely the same throughout the ages: that one would grow up to have children and a family; that parents and siblings and extended family would remain one’s primal community; and that, conversely, it was a tragedy not to be part of a family.

As for faith, psychology professor Clay Routledge recently summed up his and his colleague’s findings about its unique importance:

Religion isn’t just like any organization or group that affords people the opportunity to socialize. Religion promotes a deeper feeling of mattering by teaching adherents that they have social duties to family, friends, and even strangers. Religious faith is an invisible thread that weaves individuals together into moral communities.

And yet, fewer and fewer Americans are seeing the value of family and faith. Is it any wonder that so many in our society are feeling increasingly isolated and alone?

The Essential Importance of Connection and Invitation

It is abundantly clear from all of this that there is a plentiful harvest of people in our culture who need to be reached out to. To reiterate: I would argue that the most effective way to evangelize a godless, lonely, and disconnected culture is to focus on personal connection and invitation in our interactions with people in our everyday lives.

So what does this look like?

Connection. For an introvert like me, I start getting nervous when I think about “reaching out” more. I’m the kind of person who, depending on the day, finds it quite difficult to merely ask a cashier at a store how their day is going. But these kinds of friendly interactions must be the starting points in our mission as believers to spread the gospel. A friendly “How is your day going?” to a grocery store clerk, fellow airplane passenger, or homeless person on the street can easily turn into a genuine connection if the moment is right. But unless we initiate this connection, we will never know if an evangelism opportunity could arise from it. 

Even if one of these everyday encounters does not result in a genuine connection being made, we can simply say, “God bless you” as we depart from the person we are engaging. These simple parting words are a way not only to impart a blessing on them, but also to emphasize the fact that we are Christian and that our good will is ultimately derived from our faith.

We should be especially open to opportunities for connection at our places of employment. Besides our homes, there is no place that we spend more time at than our jobs. The more time we spend at work with our coworkers, the more of a rapport we establish with them. This natural familiarity we develop with our coworkers can lead to an increased trust and openness with each other, which can then lead to excellent opportunities for evangelism.

We should also remember certain populations of people who are especially prone to isolation, particularly the elderly and those in prison. One in three seniors report feeling lonely, which underscores the need for us to visit our local assisted living facilities, where many elderly often do not have loved ones to spend quality time with. We should also spend time to discern if we have a calling for prison ministry. Organizations like Prison Fellowship provide great information and opportunities to minister to this often-forgotten population.

Invitation. Once we have established a connection with someone, we cannot afford to leave it at that. As we are seeing, our culture is starving for authentic community. This means we must extend an invitation to those we have connected with to continue the conversation, at a minimum. Depending on what we feel called to in a given situation, this could mean exchanging personal contact information, extending an invitation to our home for a shared meal, or inviting them to our church.

As Rod Dreher has written, evangelism in our time cannot be separate from discipleship. When we help those we witness to learn how to be faithful by continually inviting them into our own homes and faith communities, we not only build up their faith but also enrich our own families and communities with the fresh perspectives of newcomers.

We Are Not Called to Be Successful, But Faithful

During our journeys of witness, we will often feel like failures. In fact, we will probably not be able to see any lasting impact from most of our attempts to evangelize during our lifetimes. But this doesn’t matter. The Lord is simply calling us to be laborers in the harvest—He will take care of the rest.

In the end, evangelism is simply the act of showing love for our neighbor. Consider the words of Augustine, the mighty father of the early church, who described how Ambrose, a bishop, witnessed to him in his Confessions: “I began to love him at first not as a teacher of the truth … but simply as a man who was kind and generous to me.”

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