Month Archives: August 2019

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.

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).

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.”

A New Pro-Life Law in Missouri Was Partly Blocked. Here’s What You Can Do.

by Quena Gonzalez

August 29, 2019

On Tuesday, a federal judge blocked parts of Missouri’s “omnibus” pro-life law. Here’s what you need to know, and what you can do about it. First, what does this law say?

Missouri’s “Omnibus” Pro-Life Law, HB 126

This spring Missouri legislators introduced a slew of pro-life bills; these were largely rolled up into a single bill (hence the term “omnibus”), House Bill 126, which was signed into law by Governor Mike Parson on May 24th.

Here are the parts of the law that Planned Parenthood challenged:

  • Bans an abortionist from doing an abortion at the point when medical science indicates the unborn child is capable of feeling pain in the womb (20 weeks*), except in cases of a medical emergency for the mother, and requires that every effort be used (including the attendance of a second physician) to preserve the life of the baby (188.375)
  • Recognizing fetal heartbeat and other markers of fetal development (188.026), it bans an abortionist from doing an abortion after 8 weeks (188.056), 14 weeks (188.057), and 18 weeks (188.058)
  • Bans abortionists from doing an abortion if the mother is motivated by the sex or Down syndrome diagnosis of her baby (188.038)

(Each of these bans is “severable,” meaning the law was written so that if any of the bans at 8, 14, 18, and 20 weeks is struck down by a court, the remaining provisions stand. The clear legislative intent of the bill was to force the federal courts to consider each ban individually, in order to ban as many abortions as the courts will allow.)

Here’s what else the law did that Planned Parenthood didn’t challenge:

  • Expands parental consent to require other-parent notification for minors seeking abortions (with an emergency clause) (188.028)
  • Requires abortionists to first tell mothers that their unborn child can feel pain at 20 weeks (188.027)
  • Requires that all informed-consent materials be made available to women referred for an out-of-state abortion (188.033)
  • Increases the amount of medical malpractice insurance that abortionists must carry (188.043-44)
  • Increases reporting requirements for abortionists to include the gestational age, method of abortion, results of test for fetal heartbeat, etc. for each abortion (188.052)
  • Extends the existing 50 percent tax credit for donations to pregnancy resource centers (135.630)
  • Bans all abortions (except in cases of certifiable medical emergency for the mother) if Roe is overturned, or the Constitution is amended to permit this provision to take effect, or if Congress passes a law which would permit this provision to take effect (188.017; see also bill Section B)

All of the unchallenged portions of the law, as well as the ban on sex-selective or Downs diagnosis-motivated abortions, went into effect Wednesday.

What Did the Court Do?

On Tuesday, a federal district court preliminarily enjoined the first two provisions of the law mentioned above, preventing any of the bans on abortion at 8, 14, 18, and 20 weeks from going into effect while the law is being litigated in court. A preliminary injunction is not a final ruling; it means the judge finds it likely, at this stage, that—among other factors—the enjoined provisions will cause “irreparable harm” to Planned Parenthood, and that under current Supreme Court precedent those provisions will probably not be allowed to stand in the lower courts.

What Did the Court NOT Say?

The preliminary injunction is not a final ruling, and the judge could change his mind and rule differently based on further evidence or argument.

The judge declined to block the ban on sex-selective abortion and abortion on the basis of a Down syndrome diagnosis, at least for now.

And he did not enjoin those portions of the law not challenged—notably, an expansion of parental notification, two important expansions of the informed-consent law (making sure abortion-minded mothers have as much information as possible), increasing reporting requirements and insurance requirements on abortionists, and extending an existing state tax credit for donations made to pregnancy resource centers.

Perhaps most notably of all, Missouri’s post-Roe abortion ban is now on the books, looking forward to the day when Roe v. Wade (which improperly injected an abortion “right” into the Constitution) is overturned.

What Can I Do?

Average Americans do not have as much of a direct role in the court case, but you can always pray for justice to prevail, and for the travesty of abortion in America to become unthinkable. Missourians can also click here to thank their elected representatives for protecting life and passing HB 126!

Vermont Nurse Forced to Participate in an Abortion Despite a Conscience Objection

by Connor Semelsberger

August 28, 2019

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced today that they are issuing a violation notice to the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) because they forced a nurse to participate in an abortion despite a conscience objection.

In 2017, UVMMC (located in Burlington, Vt.) began performing abortions on site without notifying their employees. A nurse had expressed objection to assisting in abortions for many years, and was even included on a list of staff with objections. However, UVMMC purposefully assigned the nurse to assist in an abortion despite her objection to the horrific procedure. The nurse did not know that the procedure was an abortion until the nurse walked into the operating room and the abortionist said, “Don’t hate me.” The nurse then objected to assisting in the abortion. There were other staff on site who could have assisted with the abortion, but UVMMC forced the nurse to participate in the abortion or be subject to discipline that could include loss of licensure. In the end, the nurse decided to participate over fear of harsh retaliation by the health center.

Choosing between your sincerely-held religious or moral beliefs and your career is a decision that no health professional should have to make. When someone is pressured to violate their conscience or lose their livelihood, it leaves the health care provider in a situation that creates great emotional and spiritual turmoil. Even though abortion has been legal in America for over 40 years, our federal laws have fortunately protected the conscience rights of health care providers. In the 1970s, the Church Amendments were enacted to protect the conscience rights of individuals and entities that object to performing or assisting in the performance of abortion or sterilization if it would be contrary to the providers’ religious or moral convictions.

On May 9, 2018, the nurse from Vermont filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at HHS. HHS responded by fulfilling their duties to enforce the Church Amendments and launched an investigation into the complaint, contacting UVMMC to seek cooperation, but the hospital refused to conform its policies to the law and would not produce witnesses to be interviewed about this incident. Now, UVMMC has 30 days to notify HHS that they will change their current policies that force staff to participate in abortions and take steps to remedy the effects of their past actions. If they do not comply in this timeframe, they could be barred from the $1.6 million in federal funding they received.

This is now the third conscience compliant that OCR has investigated since President Trump took office. The other complaints dealt with the states of California and Hawaii forcing pregnancy resource centers to post materials that advertise for abortion. Because of action by OCR, both complaints have been resolved. The enforcement of these conscience protections is yet another example of how the Trump administration has followed through in protecting life, conscience, and religious liberty. These enforcement actions should encourage health care providers who feel like their employer is coercing them to participate in an abortion to file a complaint with OCR, for as we see above, the Trump administration will certainly enforce our conscience laws and defend their rights.

15 Apps All Parents Should Know About

by Cathy Ruse

August 28, 2019

Wow. I had no idea there was a calculator application that hides private browsing and photos. The home page of the app is a workable calculator but if you click on %, it opens up all that is behind it.

It’s the perfect way to hide what you are really doing.  

This is just one of 15 apps the Sarasota (Florida) Sheriff’s office is warning parents they should keep away from their children. Hats off to my friend Donna Rice Hughes at Enough Is Enough for giving their research wider exposure.

Others are much more obvious in their evil intent. MeetMe is obviously something you do not want on your child’s hand-held device. MeetMe is just as it sounds, an app for face-to-face meetings with people who live near you. No person, certainly no little person, should have this app.

Grindr is really a “meat” market. Used by men who want trysts with other men, like right now (“Port Authority second-floor men’s room, now”), this app uses GPS technology for locations and includes photos and sexual peculiarities.

I am not sure why Tindr is not on the list. It’s a degrading hook-up app for heterosexual trysts. Skout is another “dating” app every child should stay away from.

Others have better reputations, but can be used for bad conduct. You’ve heard of WhatsApp? You may even use it yourself for encrypted conversations with business associates or even family members. Its potential abuse by predators is clear.

SnapChat is all the rage. It allows users to send short burst messages including pictures that are supposed to disappear in minutes. But some have figured out how to save photos for up to 24 hours, copy them, and use them as they wish. It is also an obvious way for kids to have conversations with “friends” that parents may never see. The temptation to secrecy is huge.

Tiktok is a rather fun app that allows users to make funny videos of themselves singing and dancing or whatever. As parents scroll through the offerings, they are quite funny. But there is opportunity for danger.

There are others, mostly meet up sites: Badoo, Kik, Bumble, all cool and kicky names that attract kids, but attract them to what?

Why take the risk? Children do not need smartphones. Teens will survive without them.

The market for dumb phones is growing. There’s lots of cool new screen-free phones, and some keep a charge for a week!

I’m one parent that will be shopping this genre soon.

Religious Freedom Is at Stake in Hong Kong. We Must Not Look the Other Way.

by Arielle Del Turco

August 27, 2019

Hong Kong needs to win this fight. Or else it will soon be like China.” This was one student’s answer when asked why he participates in pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong even as the risks increase.

Pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong have captured international attention and their movement isn’t fading away, even in the 12th week of protests. Last Sunday, 1.7 million Hong Kongers took to the streets to protest in the rain—for reference, the total population is only 7.3 million. 

The protests were sparked by a proposed extradition bill that would allow people from Hong Kong to be extradited to China. Critics of the bill believe that it would provide a legal excuse for China to pick up anyone from Hong Kong and detain them in mainland China, where the legal system is corrupt and judges follow the orders of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The protests have since evolved to represent a larger pro-democracy movement as the city fears the possibility of mainland China’s encroaching influence in Hong Kong.

Those fears are not unfounded. Hong Kong has thrived with a high degree of autonomy since the city was returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” principle. It currently enjoys an independent judiciary, more protection of basic rights, and fewer restrictions on freedom of expression than mainland China. Churches in Hong Kong experience the same level of religious freedom experienced in the West, and Christian activists have been at the forefront of Hong Kong protests. 

Those in mainland China, meanwhile, are subject to the tight control of the Chinese Communist Party and human rights abuses. Nothing is sacred to the CCP—including religion. The CCP allows legal status for some religious organizations, but these state-sanctioned churches encounter government interference. Minors and college students have been barred from entering all churches. The government has also started to install surveillance cameras in churches.

Last year, the Chinese government started a “thought reform” campaign to promote what they call “Chinese Christianity.” The plan includes retranslating the Bible to find its similarities with socialism. China is fine with allowing Christianity as long as it can be used as a platform to advance the Communist party.

House churches, which lack government approval, are completely shut down by the government.

In 2018 alone, it is estimated that 100,000 or more Christians were arrested for violating China’s strict regulations for religious affairs.

Unlike their neighbors in mainland China, Hong Kongers have free access to information. They know what’s going on in China. And Christians in Hong Kong fear that if the Chinese government exerts more control over Hong Kong, they will begin to face the same religious freedom restrictions Christians face there.

Across the bay from Hong Kong, in China’s Shenzhen province, hundreds of armed Chinese police have been deployed in a show of force. Chinese officials warned that Beijing will forcibly suppress the protests if they become more chaotic. If China’s People’s Armed Police crackdown on Hong Kong protests, it would signal a significant loss of Hong Kong’s autonomy. To silently allow the encroachment of Chinese government control into Hong Kong would be to watch a regime that abuses human rights take over a flourishing city. And that would be a tragedy. As Hong Kongers cry out for democracy, their pleas should not fall on deaf ears.

There is a deep longing within mankind to be free. People throughout the ages have been willing to fight and die for their freedom. Yet, the communist-led Chinese regime believes its residents are fundamentally materialistic and can therefore be easily manipulated and controlled. In defiance of this, Hong Kong is now in its 12th consecutive week of protests.

U.S. leaders shouldn’t ignore this issue. Ultimately, we don’t want to see Hong Kong subject to the same human rights and religious freedom violations seen elsewhere in China. At the very least, that means sending the message to China that the U.S. would not look kindly upon Chinese intervention in Hong Kong. There’s too much at stake if we look the other way.

Excessive Smartphone Use is Dehumanizing Us

by Daniel Hart

August 23, 2019

Much has been written about how our society’s addiction to our smartphones, particularly among young people, is worsening our quality of life. I’ve lost count of the number of stories I’ve read about how our culture seems to have tiny attention spans due to social media addiction and about how kids these days don’t make eye contact anymore due to the smartphones that seem to be physically attached to their hands.

Recently, a friend described to me how during an orientation session for his new job, he sat next to two twenty-something fellow new hires who spent the entire time on their smartphones, only occasionally looking up at their supervisor who was giving the orientation.

While worrisome anecdotal stories like these abound, hard data is now emerging that only confirms these fears. In a sobering article at Family Life, Clay Routledge cites recent studies that show that extensive time spent on smartphones is leading to a host of alarming deficiencies in basic human relationships and interactions:

For example, in a field experiment, researchers found that having cellphones present during a meal with family or friends decreased enjoyment of that social experience. Another experiment that involved pairs of college students waiting together with or without their cellphones found that those who were phoneless were far more likely to smile at and interact with one another than those with cellphones. And one study found that having college students severely limit their daily social media use over a three-week period decreased both loneliness and depression. In short, a growing body of experimental research is providing empirical evidence that cellphones distract us from fully experiencing the real world.

Of particular concern are new findings that show that excessive smartphone use is negatively affecting the very fabric of family life. Routledge referenced another recent experiment involving parents and their interactions with their children at a museum in which “[t]he researchers found that parents in the high-use condition [of smartphones], compared to those in the low-use condition, reported feeling less attentive and less socially connected, and reported lower meaning in life while with their children at the museum.”

Perhaps most frightening is a Pew survey cited by Routledge:

Regarding smartphones and family life specifically, a Pew survey found that around half of teenagers say their parents are distracted by their phones when they are trying to talk to them, and over 70% of parents report that their teenagers are distracted when they are trying to have a conversation with them.

When screen addiction worsens even the most basic form of relational activity—talking to our family members—you know we have a serious problem. What Routledge alludes to, and what FRC has emphasized for years, is that family provides the most basic form of meaning in a person’s life through the love they receive, which in turn forms our core sense of self-worth. When this most fundamental source of meaning in our lives is compromised through the breakdown of familial communication and relationships, bad things happen.

A convincing argument has been made that the release of the iPhone in 2007 marked the beginning of a disturbing trend of mental health crisis in the post-Millennial generation. Indeed, a glut of mental health problems have sharply risen among young people since then, including rising rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

Less Screen Time, More Fulfillment

There’s no question that smartphones, tablets, and other internet-enabled portable devices have enhanced our lives in many ways. But as with any technology (or any worldly good, for that matter), believers know that moderation is key. In order to form healthy habits of technology use, we must see smartphones for what they are: a tool, not a necessity.

The primary way we can avoid smartphone addiction for our children and future generations is to limit the amount of time they spend looking at screens. How do we do this? Simply put, if they are out of sight, they are out of mind. If we diligently cultivate our homes as a place where learning and authentic leisure are the primary focus, the need for screens will rarely arise. This can also set an expectation of healthy use of screens that can enhance family life, like for communal viewing of movies or sporting events, for example.

At a certain point in a child’s life, they will see that their peers have smartphones, and they will naturally want to fit in. But if we raise our children with the understanding that they do not need a smartphone, and instead grow up with an expectation that they can work for and earn money to buy one at the age that they can get a job, they will be more likely to see smartphones not as necessities but as tools.

With this healthy perspective from a young age, it is far less likely that kids will form a smartphone addiction when they are older and have free access to them. As the emerging data suggests, and as we inherently know deep down, we are happier and more fulfilled when we spend less time engaging a screen and more time engaging each other.

What the LA Times Gets Wrong About Religious Freedom

by Travis Weber , David Closson

August 21, 2019

Last week, the Department of Labor issued a proposed rule clarifying the rights of religious employers to contract with the government without being forced to violate their religious beliefs. After decades of court decisions and disparate interpretations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is no wonder that some religious organizations are fearful of working with the federal government because they don’t have clarity on what they can and can’t do. It makes sense that the Department of Labor would want to clarify their rights now.

Yet yesterday’s Los Angeles Times’ Editorial Board threw cold water on this idea, claiming the proposed rule would “dramatically expand the [religious liberty] exemption,” which they believe makes “little legal sense” and threatens to erode what was “once broad and bipartisan support for the idea that the government should accommodate sincere religious convictions.”

Yet are these gripes accurate? Hardly. In reality, as the proposed rule makes clear, the Department of Labor is simply aligning its interpretation of religious exemptions with years of federal court decisions and the definitions in Title VII itself. For years, Title VII has protected religious people from a wide array of faith groups equally. So what is the LA Times so scared of? The reason seems revealed in the title: “Trump’s new ‘religious freedom’ rule looks like a license to discriminate.”

Unfortunately, the assumption of the LA Times appears to be that Christian conservatives are using religious freedom as a “pretext for discrimination.” Yet LGBT issues are not specifically addressed anywhere in the proposed rule. It is the idea that LGBT-related claims might be affected by religious freedom claims that has the LA Times up in arms. If the editors read the rule more carefully, they would see that it actually addresses sincerity as an important component of a religious freedom claim, and “conceal[ing] discrimination” has been dealt with by courts assessing these Title VII claims. The LA Times and others espousing this line of thinking don’t get to pick and choose when religious freedom applies. It either does or it doesn’t, and if the Title VII definitions were acceptable for decades, they should still be acceptable today.

Religious freedom is a virtue that benefits the common good; it does not favor Republicans over Democrats or Roman Catholics over Muslims. Thankfully, the Trump administration recognizes these basic truths and is protecting religious employers of all faith backgrounds. If the LA Times researched how the Title VII religious exemption has functioned in the past, it would see that it benefits various religious minorities in a host of different circumstances. Indeed, one of the cases referenced in the proposed rule—LeBoon v. Lancaster Jewish Cmty. Ctr. Ass’n—features a Jewish organization. Just a few years ago, the Supreme Court—in an opinion authored by Justice Scalia—applied Title VII to protect a Muslim employee’s rights against her employer.

Thus, to argue that faith-based organizations should not be able to run their business according to their religious beliefs represents a truncated view of religious freedom. There is no legitimate reason that a faith-based organization should lose out on a federal contract for simply adhering to their religious beliefs, and the proposed rule is right to remedy that.

The LA Times editorial is a reminder that people from all religious backgrounds must continue to help shed light on the reality that religious freedom is a good that serves all people.

Why It’s Wrong to be “Personally” Pro-Life and Publicly Pro-Choice

by Bailey Zimmitti

August 21, 2019

On my college campus, one of the most common pro-choice arguments that I hear from other students is that they are “personally pro-life,” but don’t think that they can tell women what to do with their bodies. While this may seem like a way to tip-toe around the abortion debate, it is still a dangerous ideology because it frames the abortion debate in a completely misleading context.

The “personally pro-life” perspective operates under the framework of moral relativism—the idea that there is no objective standard by which we can assess the moral quality of certain actions. This kind of “you do you” mantra encompasses an attitude which deems certain actions that were historically given moral quality as in fact morally neutral—right for some, wrong for others. Don’t get me wrong—there are some actions that are morally neutral. Taking evening walks, wearing sandals, listening to Beethoven’s Für Elise—these are all morally neutral actions. Some people may like these activities and some may not, but there is no moral consequence either way.

The question is this: is abortion a morally neutral action? Pro-lifers say no, and here’s why.

There are two premises that one must accept in order to be pro-life:

1.    The killing of an innocent human person is objectively wrong.

This premise is easy to accept. Killing an innocent human person is widely understood to be wrong—not only because of Scriptural authority like the Ten Commandments, but also because we recognize the inherent dignity of the human person under U.S. law.

2.    Abortion is the killing of an innocent human person.

This premise is a little harder for people to accept, but it is the key to being pro-life. Once the personhood and inherent dignity of all humans is recognized—even the unborn ones—then the logical conclusion that abortion is objectively wrong can’t be denied.

When we talk about the “right to choose,” we completely bypass this fundamental point of disagreement between pro-lifers and pro-choicers. When we dance around the abortion debate with words like “choice” that sound nice, we often fail to ask the key question that Lila Rose asks: “What is being chosen?” Pro-lifers believe that abortion is the killing of a human person. How then can someone who is “personally pro-life” call this a “right”?

What if we applied this kind of argument to other kinds of moral wrongs? What if we said, “I mean I personally wouldn’t rob a bank, but if you really need the money, you do you!” That obviously makes no sense. That’s because in 2019, we don’t politicize robbing banks in such a way where it is framed as a “right” or “choice.”

Those who take the “personally pro-life” stance may feel like it’s an empowering position to take, but it’s important to recognize that holding others to a lower moral standard than that to which we hold ourselves actually disempowers us by implying that we are worth more than others are and that our children are worth more than other people’s children are.

The bottom line is this: in order to have a true sense of the common good, one cannot believe that abortion kills an innocent person and also believe that others can claim it as a choice worthy of the title “right.”

Bailey Zimmitti is an intern at Family Research Council.

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