“Six months ago, I traveled to India to see firsthand what the prime minister of that country calls a national shame. It is the systematic, widespread, shocking elimination of Indias baby girls. Some 50,000 female fetuses are aborted every month in India. Baby girls are often killed at birth, either thrown into rivers, or left to die in garbage dumps. Its estimated that one million girls in India disappear every year.”
Ms. Vargas describes what she calls the “dirty little secret” related to ultrasonography in India. “We walked down street after street and saw signs everywhere advertising ultrasound services. There are even technicians who pack portable ultrasounds and travel to villages offering their services. The dirty little secret is that many couples use the ultrasound to find out the sex of their baby.”
She explains the gendercide’s primary motivating factor: money.
“The reason so many Indians do this is financial. A family with a girl will pay a dowry to her husbands family when she marries. It is a long cultural tradition in India that new laws cannot seem to break. So a girl means the family will lose money, property, or cattle on the wedding day. A boy means the family will gain those things. The illegal ultrasounds and the illegal gender abortions are used by Indias middle class to guarantee they get sons.
Poor women who cannot afford these services will simply kill or abandon their babies. Some will take their newborn girls to a drop box, usually in the middle of the night, and leave the baby there. One drop box is at a place called the Unique Orphanage in Punjab. We went from the village with no women, to the orphanage with no boys. There are only girls here…60 of them…all cared for by a wonderful woman who will raise each and every one. It is striking to see all those little faces, some two days old, others teenagers, all unwanted by their biological families. They are actually the lucky ones. Their parents didnt kill them. They now have someone who loves them.”
Vargas also describes the disproportionate number of males to females in certain Indian localities. “50,000 girl fetuses are aborted every month in India. It is a staggering number. And it has created whole villages where there are hardly any women. We went to one such village in the province of Haryana. Everywhere we looked, we saw boys, young men, old men, but very, very few women. It was unsettling, especially because we knew this was not some freak of nature, but a result of the deliberate extermination of girls.”
The unlamented death of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Il, the brutal thug who ran an entire nation like a Stalinist mind-experiment, has ushered his son, Kim Jong-Eun, to the helm of the North Korean regime. Calling it a “government” seems too flattering, as governance implies order, justice, and some kind of representation; none of these are characteristic of North Korea.
Of the reported 200,000 North Koreans in prison camps, Open Doors estimates 50,000 to 70,000 are Christians. Both Open Doors and the U.S. State Department report religious adherents are generally treated worse than other prisoners. Extreme forms of torture and execution, as well as forced abortion and infanticide, have been reported in the camps, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
North Korea likes to downplay its record of abuse, and even minimize the number of Christians living there (claiming fewer than 13,000 total). Yet a survey released yesterday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life argues that of roughly 24 million people living in North Korea, there are more than 490,000 self-identified Christians in The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (thats Orwell-speak for the dictatorial rule in the North).
From a human standpoint, the outlook in North Korea is not good. According to Christianity Today,
When Jong-Eun was named Jong-Ils successor last year, Sam Kim, executive director of the Korean Church Coalition for North Korea Freedom, told CT that Christians in North Korea would likely not see a decrease in persecution. Kim Jong-Eun has not earned the true respect from North Koreas communist party leaders to effectively govern North Korea. As such, he will be nothing more than a figurehead and his uncle, Chan Sung Taek, will be the person who is really in control, Kim said. Unfortunately, Chan Sung Taek is just as ruthless as Kim Jong-Il. As such, Christians can expect to face the same level of persecution.
Now is the time for Christians to pray for North Korea: That God would protect and provide for the tens of thousands of believers in the nations massive political-prison system; that the new leader, his uncle, and their associates will humble themselves before the Judge of all the earth and transition their country from being a global focal point of oppression into an exemplar of religious and political liberty; and that Christian ministries within North Korea can continue their work and even expand it.
In October, FRC hosted a panel of several distinguished experts in the field of international religious liberty. The event can be viewed here.
As the year ends there is more news on the education front. An article by Ben Wolfgang in the Washington Times (12/15/2011, Record Numbers Fail to Clear No Child bar). At the outset of the article, Wolfgang notes, The numbers keep getting worse for the nations education system. In the 2010-11 academic year, the No Child Left Behind statutes standards were not met by 48% of public schools.
There is a great deal of debate even among conservative education scholars whether the NCLBs standards have become increasingly unrealistic. There is disagreement over whether NCLB should continue as a national guide. Whatever ones feelings about NCLB, it seems clear that many schools and students are not proficient in reading and math. Proponents note that the law require[s] states to publish test-score results in math and reading for each school in grades 3 through 8 and again in grade 10. Parents can see how their childrens school is doing, but see this article that argues the federal yardstick is defective.
The debate will continue next year as the NCLB law needs to be reauthorized by the Congress. That may not be possible in an election year. As with many other things much depends on the outcome of the presidential election.
One area in which there seems to be positive news is in virtual schooling. Virtual education refers to taking classes online using the internet as the teaching device. It seems completely obvious that online learning if packaged properly will revolutionize education. See the Khan Academy. A recent article notes the rapid growth in this new avenue for learning. I think it is a positive development for a market-based approach to make an appearance in schooling.
The New York Times published a lengthy incredibly negative article on virtual learning recently. Virtual learning probably has its difficulties, but it also strikes at the core of the modern public school power structures by giving parents more choices. Lindsey Burke at the Heritage Foundation has some good observations on this debate. One wonders if the Times is more worried about that than learning.
FRC staff, visitors, and friends on the Web had an extraordinary opportunity this week to hear a lecture by Leticia Velasquez. Mrs. Velasquez is the mother of a Down Syndrome child. She spoke movingly of her experiences and how she viewed this child as a special blessing from God. Nurses told her eight years ago, “we regret to inform you that…” It started off that coldly, that clinically. “Mongolita,” her husband told her, using the Spanish word for Mongoloid. But Leticia is a feisty New Yorker. She answered back: “This beloved child will never shoot up her school or do drugs.” And she’s right about that.
Sitting in the audience, I remembered my first encounter with this subject. I was a graduate student reading the biography of Charles de Gaulle. De Gaulle had then only recently retired as President of the Fifth Republic of France.
A military hero during World War I, de Gaulle at 6‘5” towered over most of his countrymen, both figuratively and literally. In the interwar years, Col. de Gaulle taught at Saint-Cyr, the French military academy, and was an outspoken advocate for tank warfare. His theories were considered too radical, and he was shunted aside. Only in 1940, did de Gaulle see his ideas put to devastating use—by the Nazis panzers as they plowed through the Ardennes forest. While the divided French Cabinet argued about whether to surrender or keep fighting, the newly promoted Gen. de Gaulle escorted a British friend to the airport outside threatened Paris. Then, without so much as a toothbrush, he closed the door to the aircraft and flew to England. He watched from the air as the battered French towns below burst into flames. His own wife and daughter Anne were down there.
He rallied the French people with a speech delivered over the BBC. And he led the Free French throughout the war. Afterward, he briefly led the government before going into retirement. But in 1958, France was wracked with internal divisions over Algeria, communism, and much else. Called out of retirement, Charles de Gaulle became President of France. He re-wrote the constitution, creating the Fifth Republic that governs France to this day. In World War II, he restored French honor after the debacle of Hitler’s invasion and occupation. As President, he sought to make France respected again throughout the world.
Retiring for a second time in 1969, de Gaulle was asked by an interviewer what gave him the courage, the stamina, and the vision to fight so hard for his country. Unhesitatingly, he answered: “The love of Anne de Gaulle.”
As a student, I was puzzled. But I soon found out what he meant. Anne was born with Downs Syndrome. Charles and his wife Yvonne raised Anne at home. What’s so unusual about that? At that time, most of France’s upper classes, and certainly most ambitious military figures, would quietly place such a daughter in a convent school, where loving and devoted nuns would care for her. There would be visits several times a year, of course, but the child would effectively be banished from the family.
Not the de Gaulles. They rearranged their entire domestic life around the need to love and care for Anne. And Anne returned that love in abundance. One of the most moving scenes I ever read showed Charles and Yvonne standing at the gravesite in a small country churchyard in Colombey Les Deux Eglises. Embracing his grieving wife, the world leader said: “Now she is like all the others.”
As an historian, I’m often asked why it is we don’t seem to have leaders on the world stage who are like the giant figures of World War II. In France today, 96% of unborn children diagnosed with Down Syndrome are killed. In the U.S., it is 92%. These lethal rates are even higher among the elites from whose ranks we draw our leaders. Might it be that we no longer produce leaders who can love as unconditionally as the de Gaulles? Anne’s love inspired and motivated one of the greatest leaders of the Twentieth Century. Perhaps we need more such lovers. And more capacity to love.
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We at the Family Research Council hope you and yours have a Christmas season that is rewarding, memorable, and Christ-focused.
Perhaps few have captured the magnitude of the Incarnation better than poet Christina Rossetti. In the second verse of her poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” she writes:
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
He came as a baby, and went on to grow “in wisdom and stature” (Luke 2:52). That growth began in the womb: As science documents, babies in the womb are capable of absorbing much information. In the words of science writer Annie Murphy Paul:
The fetus, we now know, is not an inert blob, but an active and dynamic creature, responding and adapting as it readies itself for life in the particular world it will soon enter … The recognition that learning actually begins before birth leads us to a striking new conception of the fetus, the pregnant woman and the relationship between them.
The Savior Who was virgin-born was unique: Fully God and fully man. Yet all infants share a remarkable commonality with Him—they are sacred to God. Whether in the womb or outside of it, they deserve protection in law and welcome in life. The Bible teaches it. Science proves it. The Incarnation vindicates it.
Joseph Bottum argues in a rather grim new piece in The Weekly Standard that the Anglican Church is on the verge of falling apart, irrevocably, due to the serious theological divisions between Western communions (specifically the U.S. and the U.K.) and much of the rest of the Episcopalian world.
He notes that such things as abortion, homosexual “marriage,” and the ordination of practicing homosexuals are the drivers of the Anglican crack-up. While these are the immediate causes, they are not the only ones. For example, the theologically notorious John Shelby Spong, former Bishop of Newark, NJ, denies the authority of Scripture and all the essential doctrines of orthodox faith, including the existence of a theistic God and the resurrection of Jesus. He remains an Episcopal priest in good standing.
The presiding Bishop of the American Episcopal Church, Catherine Jefferts Schori, commenting on Jesus claim to the only way to God (I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me, John 14:6), tells us the following:
I certainly dont disagree with that statement that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. But the way its used is as a truth serum, or a touchstone: If you cannot repeat this statement, then youre not a faithful Christian or person of faith. I think Jesus as way thats certainly what it means to be on a spiritual journey. It means to be in search of relationship with God. We understand Jesus as truth in the sense of being the wholeness of human expression. What does it mean to be wholly and fully and completely a human being? Jesus as life, again, an example of abundant life. We understand him as bringer of abundant life but also as exemplar. What does it mean to be both fully human and fully divine? Here we have the evidence in human form. So Im impatient with the narrow understanding, but certainly welcoming of the broader understanding … in its narrow construction, it tends to eliminate other possibilities. In its broader construction, yes, human beings come to relationship with God largely through their experience of holiness in other human beings. Through seeing God at work in other peoples lives. In that sense, yes, I will affirm that statement. But not in the narrow sense, that people can only come to relationship with God through consciously believing in Jesus.
Got that? Jesus didnt mean what He said, and what He apparently meant is so intrinsically meaningless that He might as well not have said it.
Many in the global Anglican communion have retained an orthodox theology, but the combination of theological heterodoxy and sexual libertinism has doomed its Western branch to ecclesiastical oblivion.
So, if Bottum is correct, one of the world’s great Christian traditions is about to founder on Western insistence that biblical morality be cast off as worn, bigoted and archaic. And it is those in the non-Western Anglican community who are most stoutly defending both orthodox theology and orthodox practice (e.g., marriage really is between one man and one woman—imagine that).
In his telling conclusion, Bottum writes: “Freed from their African anchor, the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in America will move even further in a pro-Muslim, anti-Israel direction, providing yet more cover for fashionable liberal anti-Semitism. Let loose from their allegiance to Canterbury, the African churches will quickly move toward forming pan-African denominations that will feel entirely distanced from Europe and Americaand will help build the belief the global South owes nothing to the West.”
What the “global South owes … to the West” is debatable and secondary, even tertiary. What Christians owe to their professed Lord is allegiance to His Word. It is the latter debt that Western Anglicanism seems intent on not repaying.
Thanks to theologian and author Scot McKnight for linking to my recent article on CNNand to the women at Her*menutics for tweeting on it. My article was related to Jesus’ command to occupy until he returns as contrasted with the nebulous goals and demands of the Occupy movement. The text I explored was Jesus’ parable of Ten Minas from Luke 19.
At the outset, it should be stated that the provocative title, “Jesus was a free marketer, not an Occupier” wasn’t chosen by me or my team at FRC. CNN changed the title which was originally “Jesus: Occupy Wall Street.” CNN’s title doesn’t capture the nature of my argument, which was simply that given the Biblical affirmation of work from Genesis through Revelation, Jesus’ use of a market-based system of remuneration in this parable is instructive. Unlike some of those currently “occupying” around the nation, Jesus did not condemn the distribution of wealth based on initiative and diligence.
During my recent appearance on CNN I reiterated that parables use common activity to express a spiritual message. In this particular parable, Jesus is telling his followers that the kingdom of God they believed he was going to set up on earth was not going to happen for a while, and he goes on to give instructions on what they should do with their lives until His return. To do this he draws a parallel to certain positive functions of the business world. He says, Occupy until I return. In the Greek the term actually means be engaged in business. This positive portrayal suggests that return based on honest effort is a just outcome.
Of course, this is in no way an endorsement of unethical or illegal activity that some on Wall Street and in business have engaged in. Instead, Jesus’ parable refutes the idea that we will or should all be given the same outcomes regardless of what we do
“Read K Snodgrass, Stories with Intent. The parable has nothing to do with free enterprise but with kingdom responsibility.”
I agree with McKnight that the spiritual lesson here is primarily about kingdom responsibility. However, implicit in the parable is the idea that merit justifies greater reward a principle essential to free-market capitalism.
Where greed, graft, and abuse have distorted the marketplace and exploited the vulnerable, Christians should rightly be brokenhearted and pursue justice. Yet to advocate, however, a government system which redistributes wealth en masse as a response to the abuses of the few, would mean losing the benefits of free moral agency available in a free market. One need look no further than levels of charitable giving prevalent in America as compared to socialized Western Europe.
The way to remedy exploitation and injustice is not by destroying the free market but repairing those elements of it which need restoration. We cannot change human nature, but we can provide safeguards that restrain the excesses of human evil in the context of economic liberty —- a liberty that promotes prosperity, freedom, and the health and well-being of individuals, families, and society.
In a recent column on CNN online, science writer Annie Murphy Paul discusses her astonishment at finding myriad studies about what babies can learn in the womb.
Once considered a mundane field for the researcher, [n]ow the nine months of gestation are the focus of intense interest and excitement, she writes, pregnancy is not a nine-month wait for the big event of birth, but a crucial period unto itself.
Researchers are learning that much of what a mother experiences in her daily life is communicated to developing child, from the air she breathes and the food and drink she consumes even to the emotions she feels. Paul likens it to biological postcards from the world outside.
The fetus, we now know, is not an inert blob, but an active and dynamic creature, responding and adapting as it readies itself for life in the particular world it will soon enter. Amen to that.
The findings wont shock the pro-lifer, but the fact that theyre gaining attention in the scientific community and are being reported in places like CNN online should cheer the pro-life soul. The recognition that learning actually begins before birth leads us to a striking new conception of the fetus, the pregnant woman and the relationship between them.
Some of Pauls conclusions, though, seem to be a stretch. By attending to such messages, she writes, the fetus learns the answers to questions critical to its survival: Will it be born into a world of abundance, or scarcity? Will it be safe and protected, or will it face constant dangers and threats? Will it live a long, fruitful life, or a short, harried one? A bit deterministic, if you ask me, but I welcome her acknowledgment of the growing childs sentience.
This Christmas season has been very memorable for me and my wife especially now that Audrey, our 2-year-old, is old enough to participate in festivities such as decorating the Christmas tree. Since Thanksgiving, Audrey has danced around the house singing Jingle Bells and humming the tunes of Christmas carols that she hears throughout the day. Last Saturday, Audrey almost had the opportunity to experience another Christmas tradition for the first time —- caroling. The three of us stood in line along with dozens of other customers at the U.S. Post Office located in the Aspen Hill Shopping Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. We were preparing our packages when Audrey tugged on my sleeve, saying Daddy, Daddy, look. I turned to see a bright smile on her face as she pointed to a trio of Christmas carolers entering the post office who looked like they had stepped off the theatre stage of A Christmas Carol. The gentleman of the group wore a top hat and the ladies were arrayed with shawls and bonnets. Dickens would be proud. Everyone turned their attention to the carolers in anticipation of that annual tradition that weve all experienced.
They were only a few notes into their carol when suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I saw a scowling postal manager rushing to confront the carolers. He angrily told them that they had to leave immediately because they were violating the post offices policy against solicitation. Everyone was momentarily frozen in astonishment before customers began booing the manager. Even in the face of protests from his customers, the manager wouldnt back down.
The carolers explained that they were going to each business within the shopping center to sing a couple of carols — as they have done for many years. However, this was the first time that they had been turned away. The manager said he didnt care and that they could take it up with the postmaster if they had a problem. You cant do this on government property, he said. You cant go into Congress and sing and so you cant do it here either, he said smugly as the carolers turned sadly to leave. I encouraged them to file a complaint but they had little hope that a complaint would resolve anything and felt they had no choice but to acquiesce.
Over the last several years, we have watched militant secularists team up with federal bureaucrats in the effort to sterilize the public square of anything remotely connected to anything religious. This postal manager has clearly received the memo which has led him to stamp out Christmas caroling. But I have my own memo to all the Christmas carolers out there. Lets not surrender to the secularist version of Christmas future. Lets hold onto Christmases of past and do our part to pass that on to our children. As for me, I am taking at least one piece of advice from the postal manager and will send my own comment to the General Postmaster. The U.S. Constitution in no way prevents the government from accommodating Christmas caroling. I invite you to send your own memo (or email in this case) to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-275-8777.
Ben Franklin, the founder of the U.S. Post Office once said, So shalt thou always live jollily; for a good conscience is a continual Christmas. The U.S. Post Office and all of us would do well to heed Franklins advice.