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Dear Friends,Over and over, the New Testament gives us a “simple” commandment: love one another (John 13:34, 15:12, 1 John 3:11, Romans 13:8, Ephesians 4:4, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, etc.). It sounds simple, but we all know that putting this commandment into practice is anything but.When we are reminded to love one another, it’s easy to get discouraged by thinking of all the times we have failed to show love to our neighbor. C.S. Lewis provides an insightful way to think about how we can develop a habit of love by using the metaphor of mathematics. When we study math, we don’t begin by trying to understand calculus—we start with basic addition. In the same way, we learn to love by first loving our family—the basic unit of society from which we come from. This plays out in small, everyday acts of love, like forgiving your spouse for leaving the sink piled high with dirty dishes, or forgiving your child for blurting out an insult.Once we gain this habit of love in our families, we can more easily transfer the habit to everyone we meet in our everyday lives. But it is still quite difficult, as we all know, because unloving feelings seem to naturally bubble up within us out of nowhere, and they are often difficult to shake. One example is when we are driving on a highway, and we are abruptly cut off by another driver who changes lanes right in front of us, forcing us to slow down. The immediate reaction is one of resentment, and we are often tempted to react in equal measure, perhaps by speeding up to tailgate them. But this is a failure to love one another. As C.S. Lewis has written, “The feeling of resentment, the desire for payback, must be simply killed. It is hard work, but the attempt is not impossible.”When we feel the inklings of resentment building up within us, we must stop them before they become worse. Instead of letting your anger rise, take a deep breath and ask Jesus for the grace to forgive the person who has wronged you. Say a prayer for the person, asking the Lord to help them see the truth. When we begin to form this kind of habit of forgiveness and practice it over and over again, it will with time blossom into a way of life. When God sees our attempts at love, however small they may be, He pours His grace into our lives, giving us continued strength to persevere in love.On this Martin Luther King Day, let us be especially mindful of the importance of loving one another in order to bring about increased harmony between those of different ethnicities and cultures.Thank you for your prayers and for your continued support of FRC and the family.Sincerely,Dan Hart Managing Editor for Publications Family Research Council FRC ArticlesVoices From The Grave Cry Out For Justice In Iran – Ken BlackwellEvery Vote Really Does Count – Ken BlackwellWill Republicans Finish The Job for Seniors And Small Businesses? – Ken BlackwellChai Feldblum Should Not Be Reappointed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – Peter SpringWhat You Can Do to Fight Sex Trafficking – Dan HartOregon State Appeals Court Rules Against Aaron and Melissa Klein – Travis WeberHow the New Tax Bill Helps Families – Andrew GuernseyA Pastor’s Take on the Sex Abuse Scandals of 2017 – Andrew HebertThe Rich History of Christmas Traditions – Dan Hart Religious LibertyReligious Liberty in the Public SquareIs Your Church Prepared to Handle a Challenge to its Religious Liberty? – Erik Stanley, Ethics & Religious Liberty CommissionWhat the Founders Understood About Religious Freedom That We Must Recover – Michael Berry, The Daily SignalChristian school fights Michigan Township for right to operate out of a church – Joe Carter, Ethics & Religious Liberty CommissionFEMA to Allow Churches to Receive Disaster Relief After Key Policy Change – Samuel Smith, The Christian PostCalif. County Allows Christian Group to Display Nativity Scene on Public Property for Epiphany – Michael Gryboski, The Christian PostTop 5 religious liberty stories of 2017 – Joe Carter, Ethics & Religious Liberty CommissionAtheist Group Forces Louisiana Sheriff's Office to Remove Christian Facebook Posts – Samuel Smith, The Christian Post"Free to Believe"Judge Gives Partial Victory to Fired Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran – Michael Gryboski, The Christian PostChristian Couple Who Lost Bakery After Heavy Fine for Not Making Lesbian Wedding Cake Loses Appeal – Stoyan Zaimov, The Christian PostNJ Gives Christian Teacher 3-Year Suspension After Facebook Post on Homosexuality – Samuel Smith, The Christian PostInternational Religious FreedomItaly Faces ‘Dark Future’ After Passing New End-of-Life Law – Edward Pentin, National Catholic RegisterUnder Justin Trudeau, Canada marches towards totalitarianism – Dorothy Cummings McLean, LifeSiteNewsChristians in Egypt Celebrate Christmas Amid Tight Security – The Christian PostChina church demolition sparks fears of campaign against Christians – Benjamin Haas, The Guardian LifeAbortionThe new pro-life generation – Leigh Jones, WORLDFrom Ireland to Africa: What Happened in the Pro-Life Movement in 2017 – Liberty McArtor, The StreamPlanned Parenthood: We Did 321,384 Abortions; Got $543.7 Million in Tax Dollars – Terence P. Jeffrey, CNS NewsPath to pro-life: Overcoming pro-abortion peer pressure with facts – Marvin Olasky, WORLDOhio passes Down syndrome abortion ban – Samantha Gobba, WORLDUnsafe: Ambulance calls to abortion facilities doubled in 2017 – Rebecca Downs, Live ActionCourt strikes down Baltimore law on pregnancy centers – Associated PressWomen Describe Trauma of Abortion in Survey; Nearly 3 in 5 Abortions Done 'To Make Others Happy' – Brandon Showalter, The Christian PostHow Abortion Pills Upend the Politics and Practice of Abortion – Rebecca Oas, C-FamAdoptionMother records heartfelt message for her son before he's placed for adoption – KOATBioethicsSix Things You Need to Know about Physician-Assisted Suicide – Nancy Valko, Public DiscoursePhysicians Cannot Serve Both Death and Life – Gerard T. Mundy, Public DiscourseHealth CareTrump Rule Aims to Extend Health Care Option to 11 Million Uninsured – Fred Lucas, The Daily Signal FamilyEconomics/EducationTaxes and Parental Educational Autonomy – John Grondelski, Ethika Politika4 Of The Biggest Myths About The Tax Cuts And Jobs Act – Justin Haskins, The FederalistA Good Guide: A Winsome Argument for Virtue in Business – John Yoest, The StreamHow Common Core Taught Me Bureaucrats Will Always Win Unless We Slash Big Government – Jenni White, The FederalistCommunicating Key Truths About Marriage and Family in the University Classroom – D. Scott Sibley, Family StudiesMarriageWhat's the Secret to Great Marriage in the New Year? – Erin Smalley, Focus on the FamilyIf Women Want A Family, They Need To Prioritize Marriage Above Their Careers – Suzanne Venker, The Federalist7 New Year’s Resolutions for a Healthier Marriage in 2018 – Alysse ElHage, Family StudiesHow to Live Out the Gospel in Your Marriage – Kaitlin Curtice, RelevantFaith/Character/CultureWhy MLK's Vision of Love as a Moral Imperative Still Matters – Joshua F.J. Inwood, Intellectual TakeoutThe Anomaly of Being an Anti-Drifter – Jared Zimmerer, Word On FireCreation waits: Incarnation and resurrection are the pulse of the world – Janie B. Cheaney, WORLDA Modest Suggestion: Perhaps Things Aren’t That Bad – Heather Wilhelm, National ReviewThe Supernatural Foundation of Charity – Gary A. Anderson, PrinciplesThe Fatal Flaw of Going It Alone – RelevantBe True to Yourself – Jon Bloom, Desiring God6 Ways to practice being kinder – Cynthia Dermody, AleteiaModesty and Charity – Anthony Esolen, The Catholic ThingHuman SexualityManhood Is Not Natural – Glenn Stanton, Public DiscourseA great sexual reckoning – Mindy Belz, WORLDIn Defense of Prudery – David Sandifer, TouchstoneMilitary to begin accepting transgender recruits after Trump delays appeal – Julia Manchester, The HillThe Cure for Toxic Masculinity is Real Masculinity – Robin Koerner, The StreamPsychologist Says Teens Need to Stop Asking for Nude Texts – Katherine Blakeman, National Center on Sexual ExploitationCDC study shows decline in teen sex during abstinence education period – Fr. Mark Hodges, LifeSiteNewsHow Their Refusal To Tolerate Dissent Is Creating A Global Backlash Against LGBT People – Stefano Gennarini, The FederalistHuman Trafficking5 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Sex Trafficking In Your Daily Life – Fight the New DrugHow to Participate in National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month 2018 – Haley Halverson, National Center on Sexual ExploitationHarvey Weinstein Isn't Unusual: Sexual Abuse and Trafficking in the United States – Mary Rose Somarriba, Public DiscourseBill to Aid Victims of Child Pornography Passes Senate Judiciary Committee – National Catholic RegisterPornographyYour Brain on Porn – Katherine Blakeman, National Center on Sexual Exploitation16 Need-To-Know Facts About How Porn Is Impacting Our Society – Fight the New Drug
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. There are an estimated 20 to 30 million human trafficking victims in the world today, with an estimated 4.5 million of those forcibly involved in sex trafficking. In the U.S., an estimated 640,000 are being trafficked for sex.These numbers are profoundly disturbing, and it can be tempting to feel discouraged that ordinary citizens like us are powerless to help these victims and to help stop the demand for paid sex. In reality, there are a number of ways that all of us can help in the fight. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation and Fight the New Drug have both published a list of practical ways we can all join the cause. Here is a brief summary of what you can do:1. Do Not View or Pay for PornAs we have written about previously, porn and sex trafficking are inseparably linked. Each click of pornography creates a demand for more pornography and brings in a profit to the industry. The demand causes traffickers, pimps, and those involved in the sex industry to abuse their victims by filming them in sex acts.2. Learn How to Identify Potential Victims and Report Suspicious ActivityIf you think you see suspicious activity happening wherever you are, be sure you have learned about what to look for. The Department of Homeland Security has published Indicators of Human Trafficking—be sure to look for these warning signs particularly in airports, gas stations, rest stops, and hotels. If you think you see something suspicious, call local law enforcement, or you can contact the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.3. Use a New App to Take Pictures of Your Hotel RoomHotel rooms are a hotspot for sex trafficking. Victims are often advertised online through pictures taken of them in hotel rooms. As Fight the New Drug has written on, there is a new app called TraffickCam that catalogues details of different hotel rooms like wallpaper and furniture to help create a database of identifiers, which can then be used by TraffickCam’s algorithm to match images of sex trafficking victims that will help law enforcement identify the possible locations of victims.4. Participate in Online ActivismThe National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE) has organized a number of ways that you can participate in online activism. Here are two:Joining NCSE’s #TACKLEDEMAND social media campaign before the Super Bowl is a way to bring awareness about the problem of large commercial sporting events being used by sex traffickers and buyers for sexual exploitation.Netflix is producing a show called “Baby” that normalizes the sexual exploitation of young teenagers by portraying it as a kind of “edgy” coming of age story. You can protest this repulsive show by sending an email or Facebook message to Netflix executives demanding that they stop producing it.
On December 28th, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled against Aaron and Melissa Klein, upholding a determination under state law that forced them to create a cake for a same-sex wedding against their consciences.The court threw cold water on the Kleins’ First Amendment defenses, claiming that if it allowed them to proceed, then others seeking to defend racial discrimination through religious freedom claims would also be allowed to prevail.The Court also goes overboard by accepting and recounting wholesale the feelings and perceptions of the upset same-sex couple, coloring bias into the entire narrative—while failing to do the same courtesy for the feelings and perceptions of Aaron and Melissa, who no doubt have been seriously harmed throughout this case. Moreover, Aaron and Melissa had to endure a barrage of hateful rhetoric directed at them as this incident developed, yet none of this is built into the court’s recounting of events, which ultimately supported highly excessive damages against the Kleins built on nothing more than the couple’s flimsy emotional narrative.Yet there were a couple of bright spots in the opinion.The one finding the court reversed was the part of the administrative ruling which acted as a “gag order” on the Kleins being able to speak about what happened to them. This finding was outrageous, and rightly reversed by the court of appeals.Second, even though the court ruled against the Kleins’ freedom of expression claim, it recognized that to the degree such cake creations are artistic, they are very likely protected. Noting that “[i]t appears that the Supreme Court has never decided a free-speech challenge to the application of a public accommodations law to a retail establishment selling highly customized, creative goods and services that arguably are in the nature of art or other expression,” the court said that “[i]f BOLI’s [Bureau of Labor and Industry—the administrative entity which ruled against the Kleins] order can be understood to compel the Kleins to create pure ‘expression’ that they would not otherwise create, it is possible that the Court would regard BOLI’s order as a regulation of content, thus subject to strict scrutiny, the test for regulating fully protected expression.” This also “would be a different case if BOLI’s order had awarded damages against the Kleins for refusing to decorate a cake with a specific message requested by a customer (‘God Bless This Marriage.’)”Well, the Supreme Court is about to decide this very issue in Jack Phillips’ case—Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission—in the upcoming months. When his case is decided, the Kleins’ case may be too. Indeed, at oral argument in Phillips’ case, the exact message “God Bless This Marriage” was mentioned by the justices as implicating protected expressive conduct (one wonders if the Oregon Court of Appeals specifically cited it in order to leave itself an “out”).Finally, in another bright moment in its opinion, the Oregon Court of Appeals observed that the Kleins’ case (and therefore many of these wedding vendor cases) are unlike FAIR v. Rumsfeld, in which the Supreme Court said law schools must allow military recruiters (the military was under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy at the time) access to campus if they wanted to continue to receive federal funds. Opponents of the Kleins and others often claim their cases are like FAIR, and it was good to see the Court here dismiss that notion, observing that the law schools never objected to being forced to speak a message with which they disagree, while the Kleins and other wedding vendors do.Despite these few promising points, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruling is a blow to freedom for all, and will only perpetuate the current culture war by suppressing the religious freedom of many people of good will who just want to live their lives in peace. The Kleins’ opponents could have easily obtained a cake from a nearby bakery, and the problem would be solved. Instead, once again, everyone has been dragged into years of litigation. Until a different approach to these conflicts is taken, we can only expect more of the same results.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1 “TCJA”), signed into law by President Donald Trump on December 22, 2017, provides numerous provisions that benefit working families.Child Tax CreditThe Child Tax Credit (CTC) has a positive impact on individual families and the economy as a whole and helps parents bear the costs of raising their children.The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act increases the CTC for 2018 through the end of 2025 (unless Congress renews it) by:Increasing the CTC to $2,000 for children under 17;Making the CTC refundable up to $1,400 (indexed for inflation) for low-income working families based on15 percent of earned income in excess of $2,500; or(if greater) the amount of payroll taxes in excess of the earned income tax credit, for a taxpayer with three or more qualifying children;Removing the CTC marriage penalty for the income phase-out, and increasing the income threshold to $200,000 for single filers and $400,000 for married couples filing jointly;Providing a $500 non-refundable Family Care Credit credit for dependents who don’t receive the CTC; andRequiring a qualifying child to have a Social Security Number for a taxpayer to claim the CTCObamacare’s Individual Mandate PenaltyStarting in 2019, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminates Obamacare’s individual mandate penalty. This helps many working families obtain relief from being forced into an Obamacare health insurance plan. Repealing the individual mandate penalty also allows individuals to forgo purchasing coverage if doing so violates their conscience. This is especially relevant for individuals who live in the states where there are few or no pro-life health insurance plans that exclude coverage of abortion.Marriage PenaltiesMarriage penalties exist in the tax code and also in welfare programs. The penalty generally applies in the tax code when a tax deduction or credit applies to single and married persons based on income, but a married couple is eliminated from receipt of the benefit making less than 200 percent of an eligible single person’s income.Income Tax BracketsThe Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has no marriage penalties for five of seven tax income brackets for 2018 through the end of 2025 (unless Congress renews it).Marriage bonus in the 22 percent bracket. Married couples filing jointly have a 2 percent lower rate than single filers for the first $25,000 they make over $140,000 in taxable income. This is a maximum $500 bonus, decreasing income taxes by up to 1.41 percent.Small marriage penalty in the 32 percent bracket. Married couples filing jointly have an 8 percent higher income tax rate than single filers for the first $5,000 they make over $315,000 in taxable income. This is a maximum $400 penalty, increasing income taxes by up to 0.61 percent.Large marriage penalty in the 37 percent bracket. Married couples filing jointly have a 2 percent higher income tax rate than single filers for the first $400,000 they make over $600,000 in taxable income. This is a maximum $8,000 penalty, increasing income taxes by up to 2.59 percent.Alternative Minimum TaxThe Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduces marriage penalties for the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) for 2018 through the end of 2025 (unless Congress renews it) by removing the marriage penalty for the AMT income phase-out ($500,000 for single filers and $1 million for married couples filing jointly). TCJA retains the marriage penalty for the AMT exemption ($70,300 for single filers and $109,400 for married couples filing jointly).Due to the marriage penalty in the AMT exemption,Married couples filing jointly are taxed at 26 percent higher rate than single filers for the first $31,200 they make over $109,400 in taxable income. This is a maximum $8,112 penalty, increasing the AMT by up to 22.19 percent.Married couples filing jointly have a 2 percent higher AMT tax rate than single filers for the first $31,200 they make over $295,700 in taxable income. This is a maximium $624 penalty, increasing the AMT by up to 0.71 percent.Other Marriage Penalty ProvisionsRetains a marriage penalty for the $10,000 State and local income tax (SALT), property tax, and/or sales tax deduction, which is equal in amount for single filers and married couples filing jointly. This is a maximum $3,700 penalty.Removes the marriage penalty in the Child Tax Credit phase-out ($200,000 for single filers, $400,000 for married couples filing jointly).Fails to address the marriage penalty for the Earned Income Tax Credit.Alimony DeductionThe Tax Cuts and Jobs Act permanently repeals the alimony deduction, which subsidizes divorce. A divorced couple can often achieve a better tax result by receiving a tax break for payments between them than a married couple can. Removing the alimony deduction restores equitable treatment for divorced and married couples’ expenses for child support.529 Education Savings AccountsThe Tax Cuts and Jobs Act permanently allows 529 education savings accounts to be used for up to $10,000 per year per child for K-12 tuition expenses at an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school.529 plan contributions have tax-free earnings and are exempt from the annual federal gift tax if under $14,000 for that year ($28,000 for married couples filing jointly). Contributions to 529 plans receive significant tax breaks in many states. Previously, the 529 plans were only allowed to be used for higher education related expenses.Death TaxThe Tax Cuts and Jobs Act doubles the tax exclusion from the estate tax, also known as the “death tax,” thereby shielding from taxation the first $11.2 million (indexed for inflation) of bequeathed assets. This provision applies for 2018 through the end of 2025 (unless Congress renews it).The death tax is double taxation that handicaps families, and particularly family-owned businesses, by imposing heavy and burdensome taxes on bequeathed assets. Families often work as a unit to build their small businesses, but when a parent dies with the intention of leaving his or her small business to the children who helped build it, that transfer of assets is often taxed at such high rates that the business cannot continue operating and pay the government, causing the grieving family to close the business’s doors.Adoption Tax CreditThe Tax Cuts and Jobs Act retains the adoption tax credit in current law, which is currently a $13,570 non-refundable credit per eligible child (with a phase out for wealthier individuals). According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, in 2015 over 111,000 children were waiting to be adopted. Maintaining the adoption tax credit in current law helps adoptive children find loving families.Standard Deduction and Charitable GivingThe Tax Cuts and Jobs Act repeals the deduction for personal exemptions, including the taxpayer, the taxpayer’s spouse, and any dependents. The legislation consolidates the personal exemption for the taxpayer and taxpayer’s spouse into a larger standard deduction. The standard deduction is substantially increased from $6,300 to $12,000 for individuals and from $12,700 to $24,000 for married couples (and surviving spouses), giving working parents more take-home pay to provide for their families. The legislation consolidates the personal exemption for children and dependents into the expanded child tax credit and a new family tax credit to care for non-child dependents. However, increasing the standard deduction could harm charitable giving, including to nonprofits and churches, since fewer people will likely itemize.
Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Matt Lauer. Charlie Rose. Al Franken. What do these men have in common? They, along with over one hundred others, were accused in recent months of sexual misconduct. The list of names spans the east and west coasts, the media and politics, Democrats and Republicans. The revelation of widespread sex abuse was one of the most important developments of 2017. It brought darkness to light and uncovered a societal cancer that has been kept secret for far too long.Some have expressed shock that people can indeed be so evil. Some wonder if this kind of depravity has always happened but remained concealed. Is the extreme nature of this abuse a new phenomenon?As Christians, what are we to say about these things? Who’s to blame? And more importantly, how do we get out of this mess?For Christians, none of this twisted sexual behavior should come as a surprise. Humanity has been this broken all along. The Bible gives both a framework for understanding why all of this is happening as well as a clear way out of the mess. Christians have believed for a long time in the depravity of mankind, that every human person is sinful and broken. This view of depravity does not mean that we are as bad as we possibly can be, but rather that any one of us is capable of doing anything.Of course, this theological understanding of mankind does not in any way excuse the behavior of these men, any more than a compulsive liar’s proclivity to tell untruths justifies the lies he or she tells. We believe in protecting the innocent, fighting injustice, and guarding those who are most vulnerable in our society. We also believe that the government’s job is to punish evildoers, as the Apostle Paul states in Romans 13. If any of these men are guilty of the crimes of which they are accused, they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.But while justice must be done, to what extent does our society also share some of the blame? Since the sexual revolution, American sexual mores have been alarmingly and harmfully fluid. Coupled with the moral relativism that has been espoused in many public forums—especially the media, the arts, and the classroom—the sexual revolution effectively taught boys and girls that personal expression supersedes “restrictive” traditional ethics. Those boys and girls grew up to be some of the same men and women who decided that love of self-expression is to be valued more than love of neighbor.Currently, even our elementary aged children are exposed to sexual education where traditional sexual boundaries are pushed. Whether it is the issue of gender identification, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, or polyamory, the culture has enabled the sexual confusion and dysfunction we are experiencing. There is little doubt as to why we are where we are. Ideas have consequences. Failing to recognize any moral absolutes, society has left the door open for a host of unethical behaviors. It is time for our society to look in the mirror when leveling blame for these tragedies.These scandals simply reflect the outcome when a society rejects the Christian notion of moral absolutes, which are grounded in the creative design of God. The British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge once famously remarked, “If God is dead, somebody is going to have to take his place. It will be megalomania or erotomania, the drive for power or the drive for pleasure, the clenched fist or the phallus, Hitler or Hugh Hefner.” In this cultural moment, we are seeing what happens when people try to fill the void in their lives that is left when there is no room for God. We are sex-obsessed. Sex has become a god, and as all idols do, it has left us hurting and broken.So, amidst the very apparent brokenness we are experiencing as a society, how should we respond, particularly from a Christian perspective?Scripture calls us to humility and hope. We must have humility, because we believe “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “Let him who thinks he stands beware lest he fall,” Scripture warns us (1 Corinthians 10:12). While not everyone has committed sexual assault, everyone stands equally sinful before God. Furthermore, most people struggle with sexual dysfunction in one way or another. We are all sexually broken and our sexuality needs to be healed. This recognition should give us humility.Beyond humility, the gospel also says that there is hope. For the victims there is hope that justice will be done, if not on earth then in heaven. There is hope for those who feel used, hurt, dirty, and perhaps even full of shame. Regardless of what has caused that shame, cleansing is possible. The Christian gospel is clear: you are not the sum total of what you’ve done or what’s been done to you. People do not have to be defined by their mistakes, or the destructive actions of others. Psalm 147 tells us that God heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. Restoration is possible through Christ.A more scandalous notion is that those who have been accused have hope as well. Regardless of the crime they may have committed, any of these men who turn to Christ in repentance and faith can be forgiven and made new. This is the hope of the gospel: because of Christ crucified, our sin—past, present, and future—has already been judged at the cross. God reckoned Jesus as guilty so He could reckon us as innocent. The good news of the gospel is that no matter the mistake, forgiveness can be received in Jesus. What’s more, Christ rose from the dead, enabling us to walk in newness of life. Christ can restore us in such a way that we can pursue all of life, including our sexuality, in the way God designed it. We don’t have to be who we’ve been. That’s a message that Harvey Weinstein needs to hear. That’s a message that we all need to hear.Dr. Andrew Hebert is the lead pastor of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas. You can follow him on Twitter at @andrewhebert86.
Have you ever wondered why it became such a common tradition for Christians to bring a tree into their homes for Christmas? Or why certain plants like holly and mistletoe are often used as Christmas decorations? As it turns out, there is a rich history behind many of the Christmas traditions that seem so common to us now.Christmas treesSt. Boniface traveled to Germany from England in the eighth century to try and convert the pagans that lived there. He discovered that many of the people there were open to his message of Christ’s salvation, but still insisted on worshipping their pagan gods, including an oak tree that they considered to be sacred. Boniface was uncertain about how he could convince the people that the tree was not a god; finally, he decided to cut the tree down. The people were angered by this, so he gave them a young evergreen tree instead. Unlike the oak tree which lost its leaves each year, the evergreen tree kept its green needles all year around. Therefore, the evergreen tree is richly symbolic of the everlasting life that Christ offers us.Christmas plants Holly, ivy, and mistletoe are often used as decorative ornaments for Christmas. So how did these traditions originate? Holly has been used for hundreds of years for making wreaths and for decorating tables and mantelpieces. The sharp, thorny edges of holly leaves are a reminder of the crown of thorns that was placed on Christ’s head, and the red berries symbolize drops of his blood. Ivy was once used by pagan religions to form crowns that were placed on the statues of pagan gods, but has since been adopted by Christians for use in wreaths and ornaments, with the white berries of some varieties of ivy representing purity and innocence. Before Christianity arrived in Ireland, mistletoe was once used by Celtic Druids (pagan priests) in their ceremonies. It was eventually adopted by Christians to decorate their homes and to act as a symbol of marriage. This is how the custom of kissing a person standing under the mistletoe began.Christmas cardsThe earliest forms of Christmas cards date back to the fifteenth century, when sheets of paper were used to print the Christmas story on. The first Christmas cards to appear as we know them today were made by Henry Cole in England in 1843. The cards featured scenes of Christians doing acts of charity, and said “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year to you.” In the U.S., Louis Prang of Boston was one of the first to produce Christmas cards in 1875, and they proved to be very successful. Today, over two billion Christmas cards are mailed in the U.S. each year.Christmas DayThe exact date of Christ’s birth was not known by the early church, but one of its earliest traditions is that the Annunciation of Mary (when the Archangel Gabriel appears to her with the news of her motherhood of God) happened on March 25th. It is believed that since December 25th is exactly nine months later, the church decided that this would be the appropriate date of Christ’s birth. Another possible reason why this date was chosen was that in Rome during this time, the pagans celebrated December 25th as the birth of the sun (the winter solstice) with a large feast. As a way to persuade the pagans to become Christian, the Christians decided to celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th as well. This was also very appropriate since Christ was prophesied in Malachi 4:2 as the “sun of righteousness”: “But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go forth leaping like calves from the stall.”The Christmas traditions that we often take for granted do indeed have a rich history grounded in the traditions of many different peoples and cultures. As the Lord of history and the Savior of all mankind, Christ has and continues to transcend, enrich, and fulfil our earthly traditions and lives with his salvific grace.Sources: Celebrating Christmas by Rev. Jude Winkler, OFM Conv.; “Why is Christmas Day on the 25th December?”; “Christmas”
Dear Friends,For many Americans, the time off from work and school that Christmas allows is a wonderful opportunity to reunite with family and friends. It can be a joyous time of catching up on new developments and accomplishments that have transpired over the last year, exchanging gifts, and partaking in delicious Christmas hams and cookies.As we enjoy this delightful time of year with our loved ones, let us not forget the true reason for why we gather and make merry: the coming of God into our lives. Since many of us have family and loved ones that do not share our faith, Christmas provides us with an invaluable opportunity to witness to the faith that God has gifted to us through the person of his Son Jesus. This doesn’t mean that we need to try and proselytize, which can easily cause tension and conflict and distract away from the spirit of the season. Witnessing to our faith should instead take the form of invitation. For example, simply invite a non-practicing loved one to come with you to your Christmas Eve church service without any expectations or obligation. Another option could be to invite them to join in singing Christmas carols with a group in the local neighborhood, or you could simply make it a fun family activity and sing carols as you sip hot chocolate and munch on cookies.It can be easy to slip into the habit of thinking that we have to organize an elaborate intellectual argument in order to witness to our Christian faith. But that’s not how God invites us into His divine life. Think of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew—when he comes upon Peter and Andrew casting their nets into the Sea of Galilee, he doesn’t launch into a philosophical discourse about the reasons why the two men should follow him. Instead, he offers them a simple invitation: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19). Let us imitate Christ by inviting our loved ones to join us in a joyful spirit of love, free from expectation and obligation. For it is only in true freedom and joy that hearts are truly and joyfully converted.Thank you for your prayers and for your continued support of FRC and the family.Sincerely,Dan Hart Managing Editor for Publications Family Research Council FRC ArticlesThe ‘War on Christmas’ Is Real – Travis WeberSessions’ First Year: A Breath of Fresh Air After Years of Obama Scandals – Ken BlackwellIn Masterpiece, the Supreme Court Grapples With a Problem of Its Own Making – Travis WeberSupreme Court Justices Grill ACLU and Colorado in Christian Baker’s Case – Travis WeberFranken’s Senate Replacement is a Former Planned Parenthood VP – Kelly MarcumKicking Jesus Off the Bus? – Travis WeberA Three-Dimensional Case for Masterpiece Cakeshop — from Justice Kagan, No Less – Peter Sprigg5 Great Resources That Help Kids Keep Christ in Christmas – Peter Witkowski5 Great Resources that Help Keep Christ in Christmas – Peter WitkowskiPlanned Parenthood’s Tacit Support of Physical Assault – Kelly MarcumCan American Higher Education Be Salvaged?Will the Supreme Court Recognize Consumable Beauty in Wedding Cake Case? – Peter SpriggRemembering Mike Penner – Peter Sprigg Religious LibertyReligious Liberty in the Public SquareHere's why I can’t custom-design cakes for same-sex weddings – Jack Phillips, USA TodayReligious Exemptions Aren’t Special Privileges – Stephanie Barclay, Public DiscourseJudge Denies FEMA Relief For Three Texas Churches – Brien Straw, Houston Public MediaDC buses can ban ‘religious’ Christmas ads, judge rules – Doug Mainwaring, LifeSiteNewsLiberals attack doughnut shop's good deed – Todd Starnes, Fox NewsReligious Freedom in 2018: What to Watch – Nancy Flory, The StreamInternational Religious FreedomCanada’s Free Speech Wars – Scott Ventureyra, CrisisNations Speak Out for Life and the Family in UN Human Rights Mechanism – Rebecca Oas, C-FamMilitary Religious FreedomOver 77,000 Sign Petitions Supporting Air Force Colonel Punished for Opposing Gay Marriage – Michael Gryboski, The Christian Post LifeAbortionFighting taxpayer-funded abortion in Illinois – Samantha Gobba, WORLDAbortion is Traumatic, Not Empowering – Marcia Segelstein, National Catholic RegisterFirst trimester babies aren’t blobs of tissue — they’re amazingly complex – Live Action7 Shocking Facts Americans Learned About Planned Parenthood in 2017 – Brandon Showalter, The Christian PostAbout That New York Editor Who Would End Lives Like My Children’s – Kristan Hawkins, National ReviewOhio Legislature votes to ban abortions on babies with Down syndrome – Becky Yeh, Live ActionAdoptionPolice officer adopts homeless heroin addict’s baby – Ashley Jonkman, AleteiaBioethicsAssisted Suicide Is No Choice At All – Lawrence Carter-Long, RealClear PolicySelf-Sacrificial Love in the Bioethics-Sphere – Wesley J. Smith, First ThingsBasic Bioethics: What Christians should know about embryo destructive research – Joe Carter, Ethics & Religious Liberty CommissionThe Inalienable Right to Life: An Update on Assisted Suicide in the United States and Canada – Arthur Goldberg, Public DiscourseSuicide prevention organization: Assisted suicide is not suicide – Cassy Fiano, Live ActionObamacareEight Insurance Companies in 5 States Fail to Disclose If Their Obamacare Plans Fund Abortions – Mallory Quigley, LifeNews FamilyEconomics/EducationHalf the World’s Population is Reaching Below Replacement Fertility – Tomas Frejka, Family StudiesPower to the parents – Leigh Jones, WORLDIt’s Time to Fully Repeal the Unjust and Immoral Death Tax – Daren Bakst, The Daily SignalWhy the Humanities Must Remain Human (Or Die) – Joshua Mayo, First ThingsHow Affirmative Action Hurts Asian-Americans in College Admissions – Helaina Hirsch and Mike Gonzalez, The Daily SignalMarriageThe one thing you need to do to make sure your child marries well – Luz Ivonne Ream, AleteiaFor a Happy Marriage: Speak With Kindness — Especially When You Want to "Tell It Like It Is" – Shaunti Feldhahn, Focus on the FamilyWhen You and Your Spouse Can't Agree – Teri Reisser, Focus on the FamilyCohabitation Agreements: Better Than Nothing? – Mary Rose Somarriba, Family StudiesPodcast: Failure of Fatherhood – Mark Bauerlein, First Things11 Rules on Marriage You Won't Learn in School – Dennis Rainey, FamilyLifeFaith/Character/CultureSin, Happiness, and Breaking Out of Spiritual Boredom – Chris Hazell, Word On FireIf You’re Feeling Too Frantic, Genuine Leisure Can Restore Your Soul – Aphrodite Kishi, The FederalistIn the Age of Amazon Sundays Can’t be Sacred – Mattias A. Caro, Ethika PolitikaThe Danger of Talking Over Others – David Stavarz, Word On FireWe are desperately in need of boredom – Tom Hoopes, AleteiaLoneliness: An old way to solve this modern problem – Calah Alexander, AleteiaWhat Made ‘Fixer Upper’ a Hit? – Dean Abbott, The Gospel CoalitionHuman SexualityThank Separating Sex From Morality For The Great American Sexual Meltdown – Curt Anderson, The FederalistNew Study Finds Hormonal Birth Control Triples Women’s Risk Of Suicide – Kelsey Harkness, The FederalistLauer, and Franken, and Louis CK: The crisis within them, and in us – Tom Hoopes, AleteiaWill the Trump Administration Push Back Against Transgender Ideology in Schools? – Jane Robbins and Emmett McGroarty, Public DiscourseA great sexual reckoning – Mindy Belz, WORLDGod is not silent: What the Bible teaches about sexual assault – Katie McCoy, Ethics & Religious Liberty CommissionFiguring Out Faithfulness with Same-Sex Attraction – Ed Shaw and Rachel Gilson, The Gospel CoalitionThis Formerly Trans 14-Year-Old Has A Message For Questioning Kids – Walt Heyer, The FederalistThe Truth about Men, Women, and Sex – Mark Regnerus, Public DiscourseHuman TraffickingMom Posts Viral Warning After Sex Traffickers Try Kidnapping 2-Yr-Old in Grocery Store – Kelsey Straeter, FaithitMan Sentenced To Longest Human Sex Trafficking Sentence In US History – Fight the New DrugCare about Cyntoia Brown? Stop normalizing “teenage prostitution.” – Haley Halverson, National Center on Sexual ExploitationPornographyVideo: Neurosurgeon Dr. Donald Hilton Reveals Shocking Scientific Truths About Porn – Fight the New Drug40 Reasons To Start Off The New Year By Ditching Porn – Fight the New Drug
NOMINEE: Tina SmithBIRTH DATE: March 4, 1958EDUCATION: B.S. in Political Science, Stanford University, 1980. M.B.A. from Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, 1984.FAMILY: Lives in Minneapolis with her husband of thirty years, Archie Smith. They have two grown sons, Sam and Mason, who also reside in Minnesota.EXPERIENCE: Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota (2015-present); Chief of Staff to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton (2011-2015); Chief of Staff to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak (2006-2011); Vice President of External Affairs, Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota (2003-2006); Involved with Minnesota’s Democratic-Famer-Laborer (DFL) party since 1998; Founded a political and campaign consulting firm, Macwilliams, Cosrove, Smith, Robinson, (1992); General Mills’ marketing department (1984-1992) AbortionPlanned Parenthood connection:Smith’s abortion advocacy runs in the family. Her father, Harlan Flint, was a board member for Planned Parenthood Ohio. In 2003, Smith became the Vice President for External Affairs, at Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, functioning as their lead registered lobbyist. Smith has said that Planned Parenthood provides “critical care” and that she is “proud of that work.” During her tenure at the organization, it had an increase in abortions by 22 percent, performing 9,717 abortions in Minnesota. 1,892 of these abortions were performed on low-income women, allowing the organization to be reimbursed $458,574.74 by Minnesota taxpayers. In 2004, Planned Parenthood became the state’s largest abortion provider, a title it maintains to this day. Between 2003 and 2005, Planned Parenthood Minnesota received $12.65 million in government grants.As a Planned Parenthood Vice President, Smith lobbied against pro-life legislation, including informed consent laws for mothers and one-day waiting periods for abortions. Specifically, she led the organization’s fight against the Woman’s Right to Know Act in Minnesota, which became law in 2003. The Act requires women to be informed of the gestational age of their child as well as of the associated risks with any procedures, and it requires the physician to provide information to the mother on resources for available prenatal, childbirth, and neonatal care, as well as resources for financial support. The Woman’s Right to Know Act also requires a 24-hour waiting period after the woman has been properly informed before she can give consent to undergo the abortion.Smith also lobbied against the Positive Alternatives Act of 2005, which provided state grants to nonprofits that supported women who chose not to abort by providing services such as housing assistance, adoption services, child care, parental education, and employment assistance. The purpose of an eligible grant applicant had to be to “maximize the potential” of the mother and support her after childbirth. Despite Smith’s efforts to convince legislators that pregnancy care centers that don’t refer women for abortions should not be eligible for state grants, the law passed in 2005.Smith continues to have the political support of her former employer. In 2012 the Planned Parenthood Action Fund honored Smith “for her passion and commitment to Planned Parenthood.” Sarah Stoesz, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota stated: “[Tina Smith] really built our education and outreach efforts. She’s got a pretty strong legacy around here.”When asked about Congress’ attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, Smith replied: “I think it’s almost totally political...It’s just a bad idea.”Following Governor Mark Dayton’s announcement of Smith as his appointee to replace Senator Al Franken upon Franken’s resignation, Stoesz publicly endorsed the move, saying Smith “will be a powerful, moving force for justice” due to her “business acumen and passion for women’s health and rights.” Stoesz added: “As the Chief of Staff to Governor Dayton and as Lieutenant Governor there simply hasn’t been a stronger voice for women‘s health and rights...Tina Smith [understands] that women can’t earn a living or support their children if they don’t have access to the reproductive health care they need.”Pro-Choice PoliticsSince 2011, Smith has served in the administration of Governor Mark Dayton, after having served as one of his campaign advisors leading up to his 2010 election. Dayton enjoys a 100 percent rating by NARAL. During Dayton’s first term, in which he vetoed seven different pro-life measures, Smith served as his Chief of Staff. Among the legislation Dayton vetoed was the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which bans abortions occurring after 20 weeks, when unborn children can feel pain.When Dayton successfully ran for reelection in 2014, Smith was his running mate. During Smith’s time as Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota, the Dayton administration continues to be unequivocally pro-abortion. In March 2017, the governor vetoed two bills, which would have denied taxpayer dollars from funding abortion, as well as required licenses for abortion clinics. Planned Parenthood Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota applauded the veto, saying in a statement that “Minnesota women are deeply grateful that Gov. Dayton is once again using his veto pen to protect a woman’s constitutionally protected right to abortion.”Although Planned Parenthood is thrilled that their former lobbyist is heading to Washington, pro-life Minnesotans continue to be displeased at their lack of pro-life representation in the Beltway. “Tina Smith is, without a doubt, the Abortion Senator,” said Leo LaLonde, President of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.Religious Liberty and Reproductive RightsTina Smith has explicitly maintained that women’s so-called “reproductive rights” should trump religious liberty protections. Following the release of the new Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations which rolled back the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act, providing conscience protections for institutions with stances opposing birth control, Smith called the action an “outrageous assault on the health and well-being of women and families.” She also stated that “birth control is essential health care for women” and vowed to “keep fighting to protect the rights of every person to make decisions about their own health care.” LGBT AgendaTina Smith is viewed incredibly favorably by the Left for her stances on LGBT issues. Governor Dayton’s administration is very friendly to the LGBT community, and September 24, 2016 was declared Human Rights Campaign Day, in honor of the LGBT advocacy carried out by the Human Rights Campaign.Same-Sex MarriageSmith’s activism and career primarily point to her pro-abortion views. However, she is also pro-same-sex marriage, and released the following statement following the Supreme Court decision of Obergevell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states: “Today, the Court upheld that basic promise in all 50 states, and confirmed what Minnesotans have known for years - that love is love. While this is a major victory, there is more work to be done. We need to continue fighting until all Americans have equal rights and protections guaranteed by our Constitution.”Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) PositionsTina Smith stands vehemently opposed to President Trump’s decision to roll back President Obama’s transgender bathroom policy. She has called the Obama-era policies “reasonable protections” designed to “assure the basic dignity of all transgender students.” In her statement decrying the Trump administration’s decision to reverse the bathroom policy, she assured Minnesotans that she and Governor Dayton “will continue to do all we can to defend the rights and dignity of every young Minnesotan, including transgender students.”
Last week, a federal court ruled that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) was permitted to reject an ad (pictured above) that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of D.C. wanted to run on the sides of area buses during the Christmas season.Now why would such an ad be excluded?In holding that WMATA’s commercial advertising guidelines (under which the ad was excluded) did not violate the First Amendment and could be permitted to stand, the court reviewed the guidelines under a standard for speech in nonpublic forums (which public buses are generally considered to be). For nonpublic forums, the government can discriminate based on content but not on viewpoint, and here, WMATA has a policy of not allowing certain types of content on its buses, including religious content.While WMATA would be able to eliminate religious content from its buses, the Archdiocese had argued that WMATA was discriminating based on viewpoint because it was happy to have other Christmas ads which are religiously related and which convey the view that Christmas is a commercial holiday, but that WMATA didn’t want to accept the Archdiocese’s view that Christmas is noncommercial and should be focused on the gift of Christ (as the above poster does).The court rejected this view, ruling that the bus guidelines did not discriminate based on viewpoint but only on content—noting that “religion is excluded as a subject matter.”But is all of “religion” really being excluded? It doesn’t seem so. WMATA permits Christmas-related ads from the Salvation Army, and ads from a religiously-focused yoga group.Yet, as the court recognizes later in its opinion, the guidelines prohibit ads that “promote” or “oppose” religious beliefs. The court relies on these guidelines to distinguish the Archdiocese’s proposed ad from ads by the Salvation Army and a yoga studio, which WMATA permitted despite their religious overtones, claiming they don’t promote specific beliefs. So it is not religion per se that WMATA wants to prohibit, but rather messages opposed to or promoting religious belief. And since the Archdiocese is understandably seeking to promote its own religious belief in its own ad which it would be paying for, WMATA declared it off limits (thus, the court’s comment that “religion is excluded”—seeming to refer to religion generally—isn’t even correct).We should be especially wary of government restrictions on one’s viewpoint. They are the most dangerous at their core, and go to the heart of why we have the First Amendment. In ruling for WMATA here, the court observed that under the lower standard of scrutiny applied, the government could rely on administrative convenience and the avoidance of controversy as a legitimate basis to exclude ads—as it and other authorities have done in response to Islam-related ads (indeed, the whole reason WMATA and other authorities have chosen to lower the level of scrutiny they have to meet and eliminate whole areas of discussion from their buses is to avoid legally having to host controversial Islam-related messages—now, the same ad which has run in years past in the D.C. metro system is not being permitted on buses). But suppressing a message for fear of the response is the essence of the heckler’s veto, and is no way for a free country to act.If for no other reason, this is perhaps why the courts should be inclined to rule for the Archdiocese here, and be loath to affirm any policy which could be used to justify views the government doesn’t like.
I am not generally a fan of liberal Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. But after reading the entire transcript of the December 5 oral arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case (in which a Christian baker was found guilty by Colorado of discrimination for declining to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple), I thought one question she asked was especially insightful.Most of the discussion on Jack Phillips’ free speech claim centered on a question distilled by Justice Stephen Breyer. Baker Jack Phillips argues that his First Amendment right to be free from compelled speech was violated by Colorado’s application of its public accommodations law to him, but Breyer asked, “[W]hat is the line? . . . [W]e want some kind of distinction that will not undermine every civil rights law.”Kagan elaborated on that concern in a question posed to U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who was arguing in support of Phillips:JUSTICE KAGAN: General, it -- it seems as though there are kind of three axes on which people are asking you what’s the line? How do we draw the line? So one axis is what we started with, like what about the chef and the florist -GENERAL FRANCISCO: Speech, non-speech.JUSTICE KAGAN: -- and -- and, you know, everybody else that participates in a wedding? A second axis is, well, why is this only about gay people? Why isn’t it about race? Why isn’t it about gender? Why isn’t it about people of different religions? So that’s a second axis.And there’s a third axis, which is why is it just about weddings? You say ceremonies, events. What else counts? Is it the funeral? Is it the Bar Mitzvah or the communion? Is it the anniversary celebration? Is it the birthday celebration?So there are all three of these that suggest like, whoa, this doesn’t seem like such a small thing.1. “Speech” vs. “non-speech” in the wedding industryThe core of the argument made by Kristen Waggoner, the Alliance Defending Freedom attorney representing Phillips, related to the first “axis” Kagan mentioned. The courts have previously found that under the First Amendment’s free speech protections, not only may the government not punish an individual for speaking his own opinions, but the government also may not compel an individual to communicate a message he disagrees with against his will. Using his talents to create a custom wedding cake is a form of artistic expression which is protected as “speech” under the First Amendment, Waggoner argued. Doing so for a same-sex wedding would constitute a message of endorsement of a homosexual relationship and of same-sex marriage, which violates Jack Phillips’ religious beliefs. Therefore, the state of Colorado may not compel Phillips’ to create such a cake without violating his First Amendment rights.The justices demanded to know what other vendors providing goods and services for a wedding would or would not enjoy similar free speech protections. What type of commercial conduct constitutes “speech,” and what is “non-speech,” as Francisco put it? Waggoner suggested that the exemption would apply to a baker, florist, or calligrapher creating invitations; but might not apply to a hair stylist or makeup artist (more on that later).Yet I think Kagan’s other two “axes” (plural of “axis,” not “ax”) are also significant. Unlike Kagan, however, I think they make the case easier to decide, not harder.2. “Why is this only about gay people?”The second axis of line-drawing has to do with any distinctions between various protected categories. Is there a difference between “discrimination” that is based on sexual orientation (“gay people”), and that based on race, sex, or religion? Attorneys on the other side and the more liberal justices hammered on the race analogy—if we allow a baker to refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, can he also refuse to bake a cake for a black child’s birthday?Now, before discussing the question of whether “discrimination” based on “sexual orientation” is the same as racial discrimination, let me state my own view that refusing to participate in a same-sex wedding does not constitute discrimination based on “sexual orientation” at all. Phillips’ principal objection stems primarily from his religious beliefs about the definition of marriage (that it is inherently a union of one man and one woman) and his beliefs about the appropriate boundaries of sexual conduct (that it should only take place in the context of a marriage so defined). This has nothing inherently to do with the “sexual orientation” of the individuals involved.Phillips would bake a cake for a wedding of two people who self-identify as homosexual—if they were of the opposite sex. And he would not bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, even if the individuals involved identified as heterosexual. If those examples sound absurd, it is only because in our time we have a cultural assumption that an indispensable purpose of marriage is the gratification of sexual desires. Yet that is an assumption about marriage that has by no means been universal in all times and all cultures, and the Court need not adopt it as a legal assumption today.The Colorado public accommodations non-discrimination law that Phillips was charged with violating makes no distinctions among its protected categories. But that is not the legal question at issue. Phillips is asserting a claim under the U.S. Constitution, which (if successful) would override a state statute. The question is whether the “discrimination” he is accused of gives the government a compelling interest in overriding that federal constitutional claim. Under federal court precedents, there is a distinction to be made between race and sexual orientation. Classifications of individuals on the basis of race are subject to “strict scrutiny,” which means that they can very rarely be justified. The Supreme Court has never said that classifications based on “sexual orientation” are subject to the same high level of scrutiny.I have argued elsewhere that the reason classifications based on race are subjected to the highest scrutiny is because race is, indisputably, a characteristic that is inborn, involuntary, immutable, innocuous, and in the Constitution. “Sexual orientation” does not meet the same criteria. In fact, its definition is not entirely clear, since depending on the context, it may refer to a person’s sexual attractions, their sexual behavior, or their self-identification, or some combination of the three. The three aspects of sexual orientation are also not always consistent in one individual at one time, or over the life course. A person’s sexual attractions may indeed be involuntary (I am not saying people “choose to be gay,” if “being gay” is defined based on attractions alone). However, a person’s sexual behavior and self-identification do not meet any of the criteria which justify strict scrutiny of racial classifications. For those who disapprove of homosexuality, it is almost entirely the conduct—not the attractions or even the self-identification—which is seen as problematic.I realize that in a 2010 case (Christian Legal Society v. Martinez), Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the 5-4 majority, “Our decisions have declined to distinguish between status and conduct in this context.” The “context” she referred to was a sexual orientation classification. (In that case, the University of California’s law school had denied recognition to a Christian student organization because they did not permit people who engaged in “unrepentant homosexual conduct” to serve in leadership positions.) “CLS contends that it does not exclude individuals because of sexual orientation,” reported Ginsburg, “but rather ‘on the basis of a conjunction of conduct and the belief that the conduct is not wrong.’” An analysis in the New York Times described Ginsburg’s sentence rejecting the distinction between “status and conduct” as a “time bomb” which could explode with broader implications in later cases (as it did in the later cases involving the definition of marriage).Justice Anthony Kennedy himself, however (despite having been the decisive vote in the decisions striking down both federal and state definitions of marriage as the union of a man and a woman), seemed to hint that he might be willing to defuse the status-conduct “time bomb” in the context of the Masterpiece case. Here is part of an exchange with David D. Cole, the attorney representing the same-sex couple, after Cole repeatedly asserted that Jack Phillips’ action was “identity discrimination”:JUSTICE KENNEDY: Well, but this whole concept of identity is a slightly—suppose he says: Look, I have nothing against—against gay people. He says but I just don’t think they should have a marriage because that’s contrary to my beliefs. It’s not –MR. COLE: Yeah.JUSTICE KENNEDY: It’s not their identity; it’s what they're doing. MR. COLE: Yeah.JUSTICE KENNEDY: I think it’s -- your identity thing is just too facile. [Emphasis added.]Whether the court has distinguished between homosexual conduct and an “identity” or “status” as “gay” in prior decisions or not, the distinction clearly exists in the real world, and it makes sexual orientation different from race (or sex). It would be salutary for the Court to acknowledge that now.3. “Why is it just about weddings?”The third axis of line-drawing posited by Kagan has to do with the type of events which, hypothetically at least, might trigger a religious objection and therefore a religious or free-speech exception to anti-discrimination laws.However, it is clear that the liberty Phillips is seeking in this case has specifically and narrowly to do with weddings because of the nature of that event. He and his attorneys have repeatedly made clear that Jack Phillips regularly serves customers who openly self-identify as gay. His policy of not creating custom cakes for same-sex weddings therefore bears no resemblance to racially segregated businesses in the Jim Crow south, which either did not serve black customers at all, or would only serve them in physically segregated facilities.Phillips’ attorney Kristen Waggoner described his objection regarding weddings most succinctly in her final summation, when she said this:A wedding cake expresses an inherent message that is that the union is a marriage and is to be celebrated, and that message violates Mr. Phillips's religious convictions.This single sentence makes two distinct points. The “message . . . that [a same-sex] union is a marriage . . . violates Mr. Phillips’s religious convictions” (because his Christian faith teaches him that “marriage” can only be defined as the union of a man and a woman). In addition, the “message . . . that [a homosexual] union . . . is to be celebrated” also “violates Mr. Phillips’s religious convictions” (because his Christian faith teaches that homosexual relationships are sinful—that is, always contrary to the will of God).Neither of these objections, however, would apply to providing baked goods for a birthday celebration or a funeral reception for someone who identifies as gay, because neither a birthday nor a funeral sends “an inherent message” that marriage can be between people of the same sex, nor that sexual relations between people of the same sex are to be celebrated. Only a wedding (and potentially a wedding-related event, such as a shower or anniversary) sends that particular, and particularly objectionable, message.In fact, Solicitor General Noel Francisco seemed to me to at least hint at an argument for an even broader exemption than what Phillips’ own attorney, Kristen Waggoner, was requesting. Waggoner argued narrowly that the specific act of creating a custom wedding cake was a form of creative, artistic expression that merits free speech protection. Francisco, however, made repeated reference (seven times, by my count) to the wedding itself as an “expressive event.” This, it seems to me, would suggest that any participation in the celebration of a same-sex wedding—even if it involves less creative artistry than the creation of a custom-made cake—could constitute implicit endorsement of the message in support of same-sex marriage and in support of homosexual unions that is inherent in the event itself.The Three-Dimensional SolutionJustice Kagan’s concern was that drawing lines too broadly on all three axes she described would result in exceptions that would completely swallow the rule of Colorado’s public accommodation non-discrimination law. If we allow exceptions for bakers, what about other vendors? If we allow exceptions for sexual orientation, what about other protected categories? And if we allow exceptions for weddings, what about other events? If broad exemptions are granted in all three areas, then, as she said, “whoa, this doesn't seem like such a small thing.”I believe, however, that there are sound reasons for narrowing the exemption regarding protected categories only to sexual orientation—logically, because it involves primarily conduct, and legally, because it is not subject to strict scrutiny and is never mentioned in the text of the Constitution. As noted above, there are also reasonable grounds for treating a wedding differently from other events.With the lines drawn narrowly with respect to those categories, I think there would be room for the line regarding which vendors can claim free speech protection to be drawn a bit more broadly. I would like to see the Supreme Court adopt Solicitor General Francisco’s view of a wedding itself as an “expressive event”—and therefore extend the protection against “compelled speech” to any vendor who provides wedding services—whether baker, florist, or photographer, or calligrapher; or even chef, hair stylist or makeup artist.Such a decision would leave Colorado’s non-discrimination law intact, while still recognizing the elevated threat to freedom of conscience that arises in the narrow and unique situation of participation in celebrating a same-sex wedding.
The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoungKevin DeYoung covers the entire Bible in ten amazingly succinct and beautifully illustrated chapters. DeYoung created the book to be the one resource you use to tell your family about how Christ came to us as a baby to bring us back to Eden by dying on the cross. I encourage you to read this book with your young children during the days leading up to Christmas. You could also cuddle up by the fire and read the entire volume in one sitting with kids of all ages. All members of your family will enjoy reading The Biggest Story. And if you want to watch the story, you can buy the animated video of the book.A Family Christmas Treasury by Adrian RogersAdrian Rogers desires for everyone to experience the joy of Christmas found through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He begins each devotion with reflections on a Bible verse and ends each devotion with a family activity such as writing a Christmas card to someone you love or creating a jar to collect money for church. Each devotion is designed to engage both you and your children. If you are looking for a Christmas devotion for you family, I encourage you to try A Family Christmas Treasury.The Expected One by Scott JamesScott James wrote this great little book specifically with your kids in mind. Each devotion contains a Scripture passage, a small explanation of the verse(s) and 2-3 questions (with answers) to prompt some family discussion. The chapter also features a small question to help you apply the passage to your life. This book begins on December 1st and ends on December 25th so it does not follow the traditional Advent calendar and does not come with song suggestions. But if you are a touch creative and have young children with short attention spans, I think you will really like The Expected One.Prepare Him Room by Marty MachowskiMarty Machowski shows your kids the beauty of the Christmas story by having you light candles, look at nativity scenes, and reflect on Scripture. He built each week’s devotion around key passages from the Christmas story. He placed a chapter from his original Christmas story about the orphan Bartimaeus at the end of each Advent week. In addition to being biblical and easy to understand, the devotions are also infused with object lessons, Christmas carols, and crafts. Marty Machowski has helpfully planned out your entire family’s Christmas devotional calendar. Moreover, you can download the music mentioned in the book here. And you can buy a teacher’s guide here if you want to bring this study into your Sunday school class room. If your family likes Christmas traditions, grab a copy of Prepare Him Room.All Is Bright by Nancy GuthrieNancy Guthrie created a devotional that your kids can do. Each day features a one page devotion and a coloring page that accents the lesson. If you have a child who loves to color and who wants to explore the Christmas season on their own, you will want to grab a copy of All Is Bright.Peter Witkowski is the Associate Pastor of Preschool and Children at First Baptist Church in Eastman, Ga.
The Christmas season can be a stressful time filled with a barrage of parties, shopping trips, and community events. Christmas is often crazy busy for families, but it can and should also be a time of great refreshment.Is there better news than Christ has come to save us from our sins?If we hope to focus on spending quality time with our families and reflecting on the gospel this Christmas, we must first focus our hearts on the beauty of Christ. We must first bolster our walk with the Lord and then bolster our family worship times. In Deuteronomy 6:1, parents are told to keep God’s word in their hearts. To teach our kids about God, we must be learning about God and growing in our faith.Finding good devotional resources for Christmas can be taxing. Below are five great options. While not an exhaustive list, I hope my reviews will get you started in the right direction.If you have a favorite Christmas devotion, I encourage you to mention it in the comment section below.Come Let Us Adore Him by Paul David TrippPaul David Tripp masterfully interacts with the Christmas story, providing his readers with a wealth of practical applications. His book seeks to help keep us from losing sight of Jesus during the holiday season. Derived from a series of Christmas tweets, each devotional includes a scripture reference and ends with a parent’s section that will help mom and dad bring the devotional into family worship times. If you are seeking to warm your heart and your family’s heart towards the gospel, I encourage you to grab a copy of Come Let Us Adore Him.From Heaven by A.W. TozerA.W. Tozer’s book reflects on his love for the Lord and for poetic expression. The author masterfully paints pictures and shares illustrations that help readers understand that the Scriptures associated with Christmas are plum with meaning. The devotions which have been compiled from Tozer’s sermons and editorials cover all 28 days of the Advent season. I encourage you to read From Heaven this Christmas.Hidden Christmas by Timothy KellerTimothy Keller beautifully reveals how the Christmas story pierces our dark and broken world with the light of the gospel. Though not designed as a devotional, the 145-page book will help you grasp the major themes of the Christmas story and will fit nicely into your devotional life with heartwarming reflections on the gospel. If you want to refocus your heart this Christmas or desire to be a better witness during the Christmas season, I encourage you to read Hidden Christmas.The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John PiperJohn Piper helps his readers grasp the important themes of the Christmas story by focusing on the secondary or theological texts of Christmas found in Acts, Hebrews, and the Pauline Epistles. It is a great resource, highlighting the beauty of our savior in short, two to three-page devotions. My wife and I have found Piper’s works encouraging and thought provoking. You will greatly benefit from reading The Dawning of Indestructible Joy.God is in the Manger by Dietrich BonhoefferDietrich Bonhoffer’s words point the readers’ hearts to the true meaning of Christmas. Featuring the martyr’s sermons, poems, and personal letters, the book challenges readers to grapple with the Christmas story for the purpose of knowing God more. Arranged according to the traditional church calendar, the first four weeks are devoted to the themes of waiting, mystery, redemption, and incarnation. The final section features devotions for the twelve days of Christmas. If you are looking for a new and thought-provoking devotion, I encourage you to grab a copy of God is in the Manger.Peter Witkowski is the Associate Pastor of Preschool and Children at First Baptist Church in Eastman, Ga.
Planned Parenthood, much like the Left in general, has always had a problem with consistency. Call it a professional hazard of purporting an ideology that relies on feelings rather than reason.Here are some examples:A child is a “clump of cells.” Unless it’s wanted, then it’s a baby.A woman is empowered to make her own choices, unless she makes the wrong one; then she’s coerced, misguided, or manipulated.A woman’s rights are to be protected zealously, unless those rights conflict with Planned Parenthood’s prized cash cow of abortion on demand; then they’re to be silenced at all costs.Hitting a minor is never okay, unless that minor is protesting abortion outside one of their clinics. Then it’s fair game to punch her in the face.Admittedly, that last one sounds far-fetched. But, alas, that’s precisely what occurred outside of Planned Parenthood Roanoke this past Saturday.Purity Thomas, a local pro-life high school student, was standing on the public strip of land across the street from the clinic with students from nearby Liberty University. The group frequently congregates outside the clinic on Saturdays, when most such centers perform their surgical abortions, to provide prayerful witness and counseling outside of the clinic.Shortly into their vigil, a woman approached and began heckling the group. That heckling escalated until she stole a sign bearing the claim that “All people are made in the image of God.” Thomas called out to the woman, saying that she would pray for her. That proved too much for the abortion vigilante, who turned and walked back towards the group, this time attempting to rip Thomas’s sign out of her hand before striking her across the face, knocking her down.When a minor is punched by an adult, it should not be a difficult action to condemn.Unless of course, you’re Planned Parenthood, and thus privileged with the ability to turn any situation into a rabid defense of a woman’s right to have her unborn baby killed.Planned Parenthood put out a statement clarifying they were not affiliated with the woman. However, at no point did they condemn the violence inflicted against Thomas, a troubling—though not surprising—inconsistency given their determination to paint themselves as heroes of downtrodden women everywhere. Instead they wrote:“Planned Parenthood adheres to a strict non-engagement policy in the presence of members of the opposition. Consistent with that policy, the person involved in the December 2nd incident was not a Planned Parenthood staff member. Oppositional protests are designed to intimidate the many patients who seek basic health care services from Planned Parenthood...” (emphasis added)Thank goodness they were here to clarify that the 15-year-old girl, who suffered a concussion from the blow, was an “intimidat[ing]” “member of the opposition.” In other words, she had it coming.Planned Parenthood doesn’t make the claim that they adhere to a policy of respect or non-violence (except of course the violence inflicted on the children in the womb). They only have a policy of “non-engagement.” They fail to mention that the so-called intimidator was holding a sign that called for a prayer to end abortion. Apparently they’d already determined that simple prayerful request to be more offensive and insidious in nature than the woman telling Thomas and her peers that she would “f*** them up.”Planned Parenthood may not be directly responsible for what happened to Purity Thomas last Saturday, but if the situation were reversed, with a conservative assailant attacking a progressive victim outside of a church, there is little doubt that they would be calling for an utter repudiation of the senseless violence, regardless of affiliation to the church itself.But then, the standards have never been the same when it comes to our nation’s largest abortion provider.Perhaps that is why there is still a bust of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood who has clear ties to the eugenics movement, in the “Struggle for Justice” exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, the same hall where Martin Luther King Jr. is honored. To date, Sanger’s life’s work has resulted in the deaths of over 19 million black children, and it remains increasingly unsettling what kind of “justice” Sanger was struggling to achieve.Maybe these malleable standards are why the organization still receives millions of federal dollars every year, despite being currently investigated by the FBI for the illegal sale of fetal tissue. One would think our nation’s legislators on the Left, to say nothing of the few troubling votes on the Right, would be more willing to stop funding an organization that flaunted the law and engaged in such macabre activity. Unfortunately, when the abortion debate comes up, reason, logic, and integrity are the first elements of the discussion to be discarded by the Left. In its place is nothing but vitriol, hypocrisy, and moral fungibility.Thus, Planned Parenthood can hide behind words like “intimidation” and “opposition” to show tacit support for punching a young girl in the face, as long as it was done in the name of women’s rights.
American higher education is in crisis.At an FRC Speaker Series event on December 5th, this important issue was explored in a discussion with Dr. Richard Bishirjian Dr. Peter Wood entitled “The Anti-American Bias of American Higher Education.” Here is a summary of some key points that were made during this event:College education costs have increased exponentially over the past 30 years. Tuition debt currently stands at over $1.2 trillion. Yes, that’s trillion. About half of students default or fail to pay down their debt within seven years of graduation.Sixty percent of college faculty are politically on the Left, while less than 15 percent are conservative, displaying a disturbing absence of intellectual diversity.Core curriculum requirements at most universities have been drastically slashed. This means that a large percentage of students are not exposed to courses in history, western civilization, economics, American government, English literature, and foreign language.There is a huge disparity in how conservatives and liberals view higher education. A recent Pew study found that 58 percent of conservatives think that colleges and universities “have a negative effect on the country,” while 72 percent of liberals say that higher education has a “positive effect on the country.”College presidents are initiating programs for students to become community organizers so that they can eventually engage in political activism for the Left.Higher education has from the beginning set out to serve four public functions: (1) The pursuit of truth; (2) Shaping the next generation with the knowledge and values already obtained by civilization; (3) Preparation for a career or vocation; (4) Preparing students for public commitment to become citizens. These goals are difficult to accomplish when much of higher education is centered on the idea that America is bigoted and colonial, and whose foundations must be completely changed.A recent survey found that 44 percent of millennials would prefer to live in a socialist country.A study found that 78 percent of American history courses at Texas A&M were race/class/gender related.The $600 billion higher education industry built almost entirely on borrowed money is not sustainable.Despite being in dire straits, the speakers also made it clear that they are hopeful for the resurrection of American higher education. The growth of online courses is a means by which people can opt out of the higher education paradigm and experiment to other tracts. Another hopeful sign is the enduring popularity of biographies and other historical books (much of which is ignored in modern higher education), which indicates peoples’ continued thirst for expanding their knowledge outside of the college paradigm. The expanding popularity of publically available online lectures and podcasts may provide a glimpse as to what the future may hold for higher education.View the entire event to learn more about this important issue.
On Tuesday, December 5, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The latter agency ruled that baker Jack Phillips, a Christian, had violated a state law against discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations when he declined to design a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.One of the key arguments being made on Phillips’ behalf is that the creation of (or decision not to create) a custom-designed wedding cake is quite different from simply buying a product off the shelf, because it is an act of creative artistic expression—and is therefore protected by the First Amendment.In light of that, one of the more fascinating briefs filed in the case came from a group of “cake artists as amici curiae in support of neither party.” While taking no position on the other arguments in the case, this brief does assert that “this Court should make clear . . . that cake artists are indeed practitioners of an expressive art and that they are entitled to the same respect under the First Amendment as artists using any other medium.”Among the unique aspects of this brief are that it includes full color photographs of a number of unique, creative, and beautiful cakes for both weddings and other events. However, I also thought that this paragraph (on p. 33)—challenging the argument that cakes are not “art” because they are designed to be eaten—was a work of beauty in itself:For example, cakes are perishable, designed to radiate beauty but for a moment, and then to be consumed. But the fact that any given cake is a vanishing work does not distinguish it from artistic performances on the stage (or, indeed, protests on the street). Nature’s beauty is no less revealed through the flower that blooms for a single day than through the tree that lives for a thousand years; likewise, an ice sculpture is not inherently less artistic than one carved from stone. The same is true of cakes—they are made from a canvas designed for consumption rather than permanent display. And like other vanishing works of art, cakes can be given a measure of permanence by being recorded—as with the pictures in this brief. Cake is not the only “art” than can be consumed—but the consumption of cake merges more senses (sight, taste, touch, smell) than the consumption of a speech or a song.
On November 20, LGBT activists observed this year’s “Transgender Day of Remembrance.”For the most part, they call upon people to remember those who identified as transgender who have been murdered in anti-transgender hate crimes. Such crimes deserve clear condemnation—like that offered in May by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who declared “the importance of holding individuals accountable when they commit violent acts against transgender individuals.”More numerous than those murdered in hate crimes, however, are those who have identified as transgender but died by their own hand.So on this Day of Remembrance, I was remembering Mike Penner.Mike Penner was a well-respected sportswriter at the Los Angeles Times. On April 26, 2007, Penner became the story instead of the reporter, by announcing to readers in his column that after a vacation, he would return to his work as a woman. He adopted the name Christine Daniels.In some ways, Penner’s “gender transition” went as smoothly as he could possibly have hoped. The Times—both management and his colleagues—were supportive. He was anxious the day his column (headlined “Old Mike, new Christine”) appeared, but his editor had urged him to write it in order to control the release of the news. In advance of the article, Penner’s editor reportedly shared the news individually with 45 other members of the staff, and “not one person expressed discomfort.” According to an account in the Times the next day, “by day’s end, Daniels said she had received only two negative responses out of 538 e-mails.” Nearly a thousand readers commented online, and the responses “were overwhelmingly positive.” Penner/Daniels told a staff writer that “a day I dreaded all my life has ended up being one of the best days I’ve ever had.”It didn’t last. Penner’s last column under the name Christine Daniels was published on April 4, 2008, after which he went on disability leave. When he finally returned to work in October, it was as Mike Penner. Penner wanted every trace of his female alter ego erased from the Times’ website. He was told it couldn’t be done, that it violated their policy on archived material. But eventually, the material disappeared. Christine was gone.A little over a year later, so was Mike. On the day after Thanksgiving in 2009, Mike Penner took his own life.There have been at least three long feature articles on the tragic story of Mike Penner. Christopher Goffard wrote one for the Times, Nancy Hass for GQ, and Steve Friess for LA Weekly. This post is based primarily on information drawn from those three articles.Of course, every person’s story is unique, so there are limits to how much you can generalize about a group of people from what happened to one individual. Nevertheless, Penner’s sad story should serve as a cautionary tale to those—whether transgender or not—who assume that a “gender transition” is automatically the best solution for someone experiencing “gender dysphoria” (an unhappiness with their biological sex at birth).According to the Friess account (told mostly from the perspective of others who identify as transgender who knew Penner as “Christine”), Penner’s feelings of gender dysphoria began in childhood, when “[h]e would sneak into his mother's closet in their Anaheim home to try on shoes and dabble with her makeup, then scrub it off shamefully before vowing never to do it again.” According to the Hass account, “Christine” told friends about “playing princess dress-up with her male cousins as a child.”However, the transgender community in Los Angeles was unaware of Penner until 2004, when he first showed up at “Countessa’s Closet”—essentially a women’s clothing store that caters to men. In August of 2005 he made his first appearance in a public place as a woman, going out to a restaurant with Susan Horn, another male-to-female transgender friend whom Penner met at Countessa’s.Between that time and Penner’s public “coming out” as transgender in April 2007, he apparently did not reveal his real (male) name to others who identified as transgender. Horn deduced that “Christine” was actually the sportswriter Mike Penner in June of 2006—but when confronted, Penner became frightened and angry.By early 2007, however, it appears that Penner had begun dressing as Christine full-time, and had begun taking female hormones. He had also started attending the Metropolitan Community Church, which is actively affirming of LGBT lifestyles. In February, he spoke to his boss, the sports editor of the Times, Randy Harvey, about transitioning (Penner usually worked from home). It was Harvey—in a recommendation some later questioned—who urged Penner to explain the transition publicly in a column. It was bound to become a subject of comment, and Harvey said, “I think you need to write it. Don’t let anybody else write it first.”After the column appeared, “Christine Daniels” was widely celebrated. While remaining in the sports department, Penner also began a blog for the Times about his transition, titled “A Woman in Progress.” In a June interview with an LGBT website, Penner was asked, “Money can buy hormones and a closet full of fabulous shoes, but does it buy happiness?” He responded, “Hormones + legal name change + setting the stage for a new life = happiness, no doubt about that.”In July, Penner’s friend and noted sportswriter Rick Reilly wrote a supportive piece for Sports Illustrated. That same month, Penner made his own public debut as “Christine” when covering the Los Angeles debut of British soccer star David Beckham, who had been signed to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy. And on July 19, 2007, Penner’s name was legally changed from “Michael Daniel Penner” to “Christine Michelle Daniels.”Christine received many invitations to speak and to attend fundraisers. Perhaps a high point was speaking at the convention of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association in the late summer. In September, Christine met Dr. Marci Bowers, a gender reassignment surgeon who had transitioned from male to female himself, and began making plans to have surgery, which was scheduled for July 2008.Why did things go downhill? One related to something unique to Penner—his relative celebrity. Even before his coming-out column appeared, he told one friend, “I feel as if I am being used as a pawn by the trans community (and maybe the Times as well).” That feeling would increase as the months went on.Two other factors, however, were ones that may often, if not always, be relevant to others who change their public gender identity as well.One was the question of Christine’s appearance. The first to say publicly what many may have thought was Paul Oberjuerge, a writer for the San Bernardino County Sun. After the Beckham press conference, he commented on the paper’s website:She looks like a guy in a dress, pretty much. Except anyone paying any attention isn't going to be fooled — as some people are by veteran transvestites. Maybe this is cruel, but there were women in that room who were born women in body, as well as soul. And the difference between them and Christine was, in my mind, fairly stark. It seemed almost as [if] we’re all going along with someone’s dress-up role-playing.More troubling to Christine was an October 2007 photo shoot for a planned article in Vanity Fair (recall that Olympic star Bruce Jenner first came out as “Caitlyn” in a 2015 cover story for Vanity Fair). According to Friess, “Accounts of what occurred there vary so starkly that they are hard to reconcile.”But the photographer, Robert Maxwell, said later, “I was trying to say all the right things. How do you tell someone who looks like a man, ‘You’re a beautiful woman’? I don’t know.” Goffard’s piece for the Times noted:The profile writer, Evan Wright, said that to write an honest article, he would have to observe that the sportswriter did not pass as a woman. “I thought, ‘Bottom line, she has a fantasy conception. She doesn’t accept who she is.’”In an email to friends, Christine lamented:It was a total debacle, probably the worst experience of my transition. [The] photographer apparently wanted to portray me as a man in a dress, my worst fear, as I expressed numerous times.After Penner abandoned his female persona, but before he committed suicide, writer Steve Friess wrote about the phenomenon of “sex change regret” in an article in USA Today. He quoted Denise Leclair of the International Foundation for Gender Education, who acknowledged, “The average male-to-female transsexual is taller, has bigger hands and feet, has more facial hair than most women. There are a lot of physical attributes that are hard to hide . . .” One friend recalled of “Christine,” “She would say that she had spent forty-five minutes putting on her makeup and still she saw Mike staring back.”The other crucial factor in the “failure” of Penner’s transition was the end of his marriage. When he made the announcement that he was becoming a woman, he had been married for twenty years to a woman who also wrote for the Times (I am choosing not to identify her here, out of respect for her privacy). She has never spoken publicly about Penner—neither after his transition, nor after his death. The published reports are somewhat unclear, but it appears that the two separated at the beginning of 2007, after Penner began hormone treatments and started dressing consistently as a woman. According to Friess, Penner's wife filed for divorce on May 23, 2007—the same day that Penner first appeared in the Times’ offices as a woman.Penner—naively—seemed not to accept that his gender transition would mean the end of his marriage. But his wife reportedly was blunt: “I don't want to be associated with it. I don't ever want to see you that way.”And according to Friess, “Penner repeatedly told friends his return to a male lifestyle was a last-ditch effort to reunite with his wife in some way.” Hass says that after Penner returned to a male identity, his wife “was willing to see him again, to have lunch or a cup of coffee.” But even those contacts became less frequent—“She’s moved on,” he told one friend. “I had the perfect life with [my wife], and I threw it all away,” he lamented.Finally, Penner’s mental health was clearly fragile for most of the last two years of his life. It is clear that after the euphoria of his first six months living openly as a “woman,” Penner’s mental state went downhill, and resuming his male identity did nothing to stabilize it. It appears that stress was manifesting in abdominal distress with no clear organic cause. Goffard reports that when Penner went on disability leave in April 2008, “close friends knew [he] was manic depressive.” Manic depression is an older term for what is now known as “bipolar disorder,” and it is unclear whether Penner was ever treated for that specific condition. Friess reports that in the summer of 2008, Penner “was diagnosed as severely depressed. Doctors prescribed a regimen of powerful psychotropic drugs that included the antipsychotic Zyprexa and the antidepressant Elavil.” He was also hospitalized at least once in 2009 in a psychiatric hospital, and friends reported “wild mood swings and suicidal chatter” well before he finally took his life.Friess reported, “No studies have been conducted to determine whether withdrawal from the hormones can cause depression, but mental-health professionals who work with transgender people say patients who have stopped taking the drugs report feelings of distress.” Friess also reports that Bowers, the transgender surgeon, “believes Penner put one foot in the grave by abandoning the transition.” In a thoroughly self-serving statement, Bowers declared, “If we had done surgery, it probably would have saved her life. Now she died as an unhappy soul who never got a chance to align her body and soul.”The opposite would seem to be the case. As Hass reports, Penner “had been convinced that becoming a woman would solve everything.” Even a transgender-identified friend had tried to warn him “that the act of becoming a woman itself wouldn’t make you happy.” Yet this fiction seems to be at the very heart of the transgender movement and the growing mania for self-defined “gender identity.”I would suggest that the tragic story of Mike Penner holds three key lessons for those struggling with gender dysphoria and considering a “transition” away from identifying with their biological sex at birth:Completely erasing your inborn sex in the eyes of others may not be possible. Clothes, hormones, and even gender reassignment surgery do not make a woman. There are aspects of appearance—size, bone structure, muscle mass, etc.—that simply differ between the sexes and are not amenable to change.You may be forfeiting important relationships in your life. It is naïve to suppose that someone who has always known you as a son or brother will readily define you as a daughter or sister instead. And it is even more naïve to suppose that a beloved spouse who married someone of the opposite sex will suddenly be fine being in a “same-sex” marriage.Finally, mental health problems such as depression or bipolar disorder, which frequently accompany gender dysphoria, need to be treated in their own right before considering a “gender transition.” Even the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), in their “Standards of Care,” warns, “If significant medical or mental concerns are present, they must be reasonably well controlled.”In his “coming out” column in 2007, Mike Penner said the decision followed “hundreds of hours of soul-wrenching therapy.” He had reportedly sought counseling at the Los Angeles Gender Center—yet it is possible that such overtly pro-transgender facilities place greater emphasis on facilitating a client’s desired gender transition than on “controlling” co-existing mental health problems.Anyone who thinks that undergoing a “gender transition” is the only and obvious response to the presence of gender dysphoria should look closely at the tragic story of Mike Penner.
Dear Friends,The great season of Advent, a time of waiting and preparation for Christians in anticipation of Christ’s birth, is about to begin.One beautiful way of reflecting on this season is to think about the first Advent, when an expectant Mary and her husband Joseph awaited the birth of God’s Son. For expectant mothers and soon-to-be fathers, pregnancy is often a time when careful preparations are made around the house for the coming baby—the nursery is rearranged to accommodate cribs and changing tables, diapers and wipes are stockpiled, baby clothes are carefully organized in drawers, linens are freshly washed, etc.In the same way, Christians should spend Advent carefully preparing their hearts and minds for the coming of the Savior. This can take on the form of a kind of spiritual reinforcement and house cleaning—spending a little extra time in prayer each morning to prepare ourselves to live for Christ in the day before us, and to make peace with anyone we may have ill will toward and repent of our sins. Just as soon-to-be parents desire to make their home as clean and comfortable as possible for their newborn, Christians should desire to prepare and cleanse their hearts to fully welcome the coming Christ child. This may require us to detach ourselves from worldly attachments to obtain the true freedom that God desires for us. Is a nightly TV-watching habit cutting in to our prayer and family time? Is a regular habit of eating out cutting in to our budget so that we have less for gift-giving and those in need?Thinking about the first Advent is also to contemplate the Holy Family traveling from Galilee to Bethlehem, and the difficult journey that must have been for them. Imagine the exhaustion that Mary must have felt in her third trimester on such a long and arduous journey over rough roads on the back of a donkey, with Joseph enduring mile after mile of dust and rocks in leading her and the animal along. Amongst this shared suffering and journeying, the Holy Family must have grown ever closer to each other. In the same way, Advent is an opportunity for us to draw ever closer to our own families. Maybe this could take the form of creating hand-crafted gifts for loved ones, baking Christmas cookies, assembling care packages for those serving in the military, or perhaps joining a Christmas carol troupe that your church has organized—the point here is to spend quality time together as a family doing acts of service and growing in virtue.The season of Advent points to the coming of our Lord. Let us make the most of this wonderful time and prepare our hearts to receive the perfect gift of Christ.Thank you for your prayers and for your continued support of FRC and the family.Sincerely,Dan Hart Managing Editor for Publications Family Research Council FRC ArticlesLGBT advocates seek to scuttle a vital Constitutional right – Travis WeberACLU: Forcing Faith Out of Adoption – Travis WeberLove to Give: An Adoption Story – Alison ContrerasAdoption: Multi-Racial, Multi-National, Heaven-Blessed – Rob SchwarzwalderThe Unexpected Blessing of Adoption – Harold Harper10th Circuit Lets Police Officers Off the Hook After Telling Woman She Could Not Pray in Her Own Home – Travis Weber and Natalie PughWhy It Is Unnecessary to Force Jack Phillips to Bake a Wedding Cake – Travis Weber Religious LibertyReligious Liberty in the Public Square2 Gay Men Explain Why They Support Baker’s Refusal to Make Same-Sex Wedding Cakes – Ian Snively and Peter Parisi, The Daily SignalStop Misrepresenting Masterpiece Cakeshop – David French, National ReviewDesignated haters – Juliana Chan Erikson, WORLDUNL campus not ‘safe’ for conservatives, public records reveal – Conservative ReviewWhy the Conscience Protection Act is critical – Jeff Pickering, Ethics & Religious Liberty CommissionLittle Sisters of the Poor Are Returning to Court – Rachel del Guidice, The Daily SignalGOP senators defend military officer disciplined for refusing to sign same-sex certificate – Diana Stancy Correll, Washington ExaminerAmerican Muslims, Lot’s Wife, and the Christian Baker – Ismail Royer, Public DiscourseInternational Religious FreedomThe UN doesn’t recognize the Christian genocide in Iraq. This new documentary does. – Miriam Diez Bosch, AleteiaCanada rejects Christian couple for adoption – Kiley Crossland, WORLDAfricans Put Parental Rights Back in UN Sex Ed Policy – Stefano Gennarini, C-FamRepairing the Ravages of ISIS on Iraq’s Nineveh Plains – George J. Marlin, The Catholic ThingMilitary Religious FreedomSenators Cruz, Rubio demand justice for Air Force colonel fired for standing up for pro-family values – Fr. Mark Hodges, LifeSiteNews LifeAbortionWorld-famous supermodel gracefully obliterates every argument for abortion – Save the StorksAbortion rates in US hit historic low, CDC report finds – Fox NewsThe push to force pro-life centers to provide free advertising for the abortion industry – Ken Connelly, Ethics & Religious Liberty CommissionIt’s Official: Arkansas Cuts Medicaid Funding for Planned Parenthood – Jerry Cox, Arkansas Family CouncilAdoptionLet Foster Children Wait No More – National Review10 Things You Should Know about Adoption – Russell D. Moore, CrosswayDo you believe these 5 myths about adoption? – Sophia Swinford, Aleteia‘Open your heart’: Adoptive mom debunks three modern adoption myths – Natalie Brumfield, Live ActionBioethicsBasic Bioethics: What Christians should know about surrogacy – Joe Carter, Ethics & Religious Liberty CommissionThe Overlooked Risks of Surrogacy for Women – Mary Rose Somarriba, Family StudiesFrom Darwin to Iceland: The Eugenic Solution to the ‘Undesirable’ – Roberto Rivera, The Stream FamilyEconomics/EducationUndoing the Dis-Education of Millennials – Adam J. MacLeod, NewBostonPostThis may be one of the biggest benefits to marriage we’ve ever seen – Catey Hill, MoneyishThe state of marriage as an institution – The EconomistMarriageOver One-Quarter of Children Under Age 18 Live With One Parent – U.S. Census BureauWhen Your Partner Is Down and Can’t Get Up – Glen Scrivener, The Gospel CoalitionUnderstanding Your Feelings to Stay Connected In Your Marriage – David and Jan Stoop, Focus on the FamilyCan Marriage Help Prevent Dementia? – Carolyn Moynihan, Intellectual TakeoutYour Spouse Doesn’t Need Your Unconditional Support – Dorcas Cheng-Tozun, Christianity TodayWhy I Stopped Comparing My Marriage to My Parents’ Marriage – Laura Triggs, VerilyFaith/Character/CultureNetflix Thinks You’re Bored and Lonely – Trevin Wax, The Gospel CoalitionDo You Talk to Your Children About Race? – Trillia Newbell, Desiring GodThis Is a More Important Goal Than Being Happy – Julia Hogan, Verily3 Creative and impressive ways people are helping the homeless – Elizabeth Pardi, AleteiaPolitics is About More Than Winning – Rob Schwarzwalder, The StreamJesus: the Heart of Christian Morality – Fr. Timothy V. Vaverek, The Catholic Thing4 things I want a new mom to know – Jill Waggoner, Ethics & Religious Liberty CommissionHuman SexualityYou Can Protect Your Kids from Hyper-Sexualized Culture – Eliza Powell, National Center on Sexual ExploitationHow to talk to your kids about sexual assault and harassment scandals – Phillip Bethancourt, Ethics & Religious Liberty CommissionSeven Questions for Couples to Consider Before Moving In Together – Rhonda Kruse Nordin, Family StudiesMen, Stop Virtue-Signaling and Return to Rules – Ben Shapiro, National ReviewLet’s rethink sex – Christine Emba, The Washington PostScam Artists and Sex Education – Carl R. Trueman, First ThingsConsent is Not Enough: Harvey Weinstein, Sex, and Human Flourishing – Angela Franks, Public DiscourseThe Pragmatic Benefits of God-Given Sexual Boundaries – Melinda Penner, The StreamHuman TraffickingTackling Modern-Day Slavery, Online Sex Trafficking – Lisa L. Thompson, National Center on Sexual ExploitationPornographyPorn Epidemic Hampers Fight Against Child Pornography – Stefano Gennarini, C-FamThe Pathway from Porn to Adultery – Kent Butterfield, Desiring GodPorn is the Missing Piece in the Louis C.K. Story – Mary Rose Somarriba, Public DiscourseBehind the harassment scandals, another dirty little secret: pornography – Zac Crippen, Los Angeles TimesLouisiana is the 5th State to Formally Recognize Public Health Harms of Pornography – National Center on Sexual Exploitation
We weren’t a couple that “always knew they wanted to adopt.” It’s not something that we discussed before we were married.What we definitely did discuss was our desire to be parents. I married my husband because he helped me be the better person I’d always wanted to be. In fact, that was the thought that made me giddy on the night we were engaged. This was the man who would father my children! Yes, children, plural. We both hoped to have a large family.I do remember, however, the first time we discussed adoption. We were living in Mexico City, sitting in the pink living room of our tiny apartment that would shake every time a truck drove by, momentarily causing us each to wonder if it was actually an earthquake. The sunlight was streaming through the windows and I brought it up. “What do you think about adopting?” Like many couples who first have this conversation, we were waiting for children. At that point it had been over a year of trying to grow our family, which for NFP (natural family planning) teachers, we knew signaled something might be wrong.“What about international adoption? Do you think we could parent a child that didn’t look like us?” Those were some of the first overwhelming questions that we pondered. We didn’t exactly come to any conclusions, but I do remember my husband’s response. If we have love to give, why wouldn’t we adopt?Fast forward a year. It was the summer of 2011 and we were back to living in the states. I was able to receive medical care to remove endometriosis. Three months after that surgery, during a dark and hopeless time if I’m honest, we conceived. Our son, Samuel, is now five. He was a blessing from God, a healing balm for my soul. It was when I was holding him in our rocker when he was just days old that I had one of the most profound spiritual moments of my life. “Enjoy this child I sent you and this moment, right here. You do not love him because you bore him, but because he was meant to be your son. You will love your other children in the same way.” In that moment the message I heard was blindingly clear. I’ve gone back to savor the peace that moment brought me many times during our adoption journey. God is faithful. He could be trusted, completely. We were called to adopt.Now, if only God would have told my husband that so clearly!What was so evidently a call from God needed more time to grow in my husband. And its not as if anyone “just adopts,” as our story is evidence of. He was right to see the many logistical hurdles to reconcile. So we began pursuing adoption as we do most things: researching as much as possible. Over the next few years we attended several in-person sessions and orientations of local agencies, trying to figure out what would be the best avenue for our family. Foster to adopt? Domestic adoption? International? If international, what country? Through a long process of elimination, including a desire to honor birth order, we eventually decided to adopt a toddler from China. I had lived in China during a summer in college and was always drawn to the country. Plus, I already spoke some Chinese.Then, in August 2015, just a week after we made the decision to adopt from China, my husband was unexpectedly let go from his job. Fortunately, he found another one rather quickly and just three months later, within a week of starting his new job, we began our homestudy. It was November 2015, and we were beyond excited to finally be starting the adoption process.Then came a massive swerve in our plan. In January 2016 we got the sudden call about a potential domestic adoption situation from a friend. Here was a woman making an adoption plan. Would we be willing to adopt a baby to be born in two months? This was much faster than we’d planned, but God wouldn’t ask it of us if it wasn’t possible.We said yes.I met the mom and we hit it off. Meeting her and learning how facing an unintended pregnancy took such courage in every aspect of her life was humbling. This adoption was not about our desire for a child, but about her plan for hers. We just happened to be two people who fit together in this puzzle of loss, creating something so much more than our individual parts. Planning an open adoption, we were in contact over the next few months and I was actually able to be there for the birth of her daughter, our daughter, and spend three amazing days in the hospital with her. With input from her first mom we named her “Evangeline,” or “Good news.” There we were cocooned up in our little world of mutual love for this little baby, protected from the outside world. We loved this baby girl incredibly during those first few days of her life, and our original questions about adoption became suddenly irrelevant as they were undoubtedly answered. With a resounding yes, we learned first hand just how quickly we could love a baby that we didn’t birth, who didn’t look exactly like us.However, we were not meant to parent Evangeline for long. Her mom changed her mind and we relinquished Evangeline back into her care not a week after leaving the hospital.This was another incredibly dark time. Just writing that sentence hardly captures our emotions at the time. Had we done something wrong? Had we misinterpreted the call to adopt? What was so wrong with us that we couldn’t conceive and now we couldn’t even adopt to grow our family? My life felt so bleak and my faith was full of doubts. I was crumpling inwards, but God was constantly pulling me outside of myself. This wasn’t about me. Adoption wasn’t just about us. Yes, we had love to give, but our first promise was about treating everyone involved with dignity and respect, and trusting in God’s plan enough to know that we were where we should be. We wanted to adopt because we had love to give to a child, and this situation hadn’t depleted that love. We had more to give. So after taking a few months to get our bearings and heal, we continued on with our Chinese adoption.We were able to update our homestudy for an international adoption and get our complete dossier submitted by October of 2016. We settled in for a long wait. I was thankful for our domestic adoption situation because with international adoption we wouldn’t have the same opportunity to meet our child’s mom and experience first hand what exactly it took to make a decision to place your child for adoption. We were adopting a “waiting child,” a child whose parents couldn’t be found and who needed parents. The laws in China are different than the U.S. in that parents can’t legally place a baby up for adoption, forcing mothers and fathers who can’t parent to abandon their children in public places so they will be found and hopefully cared for. We would likely never meet our child’s first parents.We got a call about our son on December 7th, 2016, just a few weeks after being eligible. Here was the face and file of a child who needed parents. He was so obviously our son. But would this really happen? Would we get to parent him forever? Looking at his file I saw his birthdate. Somewhere on the other side of the world, he was making his entrance at almost the exact moment we finally jointly decided to pursue adoption back in 2015. It had been him all along.There was more paperwork (mostly immigration paperwork at this point) and waiting, and we were finally able to board the plane to China to meet him in March 2017. We met our 18-month old son one year to the day that Evangeline had been born, St. Joseph’s feast day. His Chinese name given to him by his caretakers was “Zi Zhong” or “faithful son” which we found especially compelling and it remains his middle name. We chose Mateo for his first name: “God’s gift.” Our older son was thrilled to have a sibling that would stay with us “forever and ever” and immediately began learning all that being a big brother entailed. The laughter we heard those first few days in the hotel in China was a long-awaited gift.Adding a toddler to your family is not the typical route, and we definitely had challenges those first few months adjusting to our new family. While we had been waiting for Mateo for years at this point, this adjustment came with grief for him. Although he gained parents and a family, he also suffered an incredible loss of all that was familiar to him those first few months of life. However, his resilience and infectious laugh are reminders that God does make all things new. We’ve been home eight months now as a family of four and it’s still a gift each day to consider how it came to be. With all of our waiting and seemingly wrong turns and dead ends, Mateo would not have been here as our son had anything else happened.Adoption has shaped a family, created brothers, and allowed us the privilege to parent a beautiful child carefully created by God. But the effects of adoption extend far beyond our family unit. Adoption has given grandparents another grandchild to dote on, aunts and uncles another nephew, and our neighbors another explorer to adventure with. So many people are richer because Mateo is in our family. We are the lucky ones.Adoption has brought life to our home once again and we’re praying we get the opportunity to adopt again. We couldn’t have adopted again so quickly had it not been for the generous support of friends who helped us crowd-source our adoption funds after experiencing our failed adoption. Please consider how you can help promote adoption in your community, especially over this giving season!Alison Contreras lives with her family in Hyattsville, Md. She teaches couples in the D.C. area about their natural signs of fertility as a Creighton Practitioner at Caritas FertilityCare.Photograph by Melissa Green
Editor’s Note: This article was adapted from “National Adoption Month: My Family’s Adoption Story,” published in The Stream November 26, 2017.On Thanksgiving this year, gathered around our table were people whose ancestors came from Africa and Europe, South America, and Southeast Asia.I’m talking about my wife’s and my children.Our multi-racial sons and daughter were adopted. Race and ethnicity are acknowledged in our family, but as benign issues. Love and laughter, firmness and faithfulness: these have been the integrating factors of our family life, not hair texture or skin complexion.Children create family. Whether adopted or biological, children bring disparate people together into a small human community of affection, support, enjoyment, and wisdom.About 110,000 children are adopted every year in America. About 52,000 are adopted from the foster system, the others through private agencies. Most adopted privately are Americans, but a significant but shrinking percentage are adopted from other countries.Of those 110,000, about 18,000 are infants.Thousands of loving and committed American families have sought to adopt from abroad, but it’s become tougher in recent years. The State Department provides troubling numbers: In 2004, 23,000 children born abroad were adopted by Americans. In 2016, that number had fallen to just under 6,000.Why? Because the five countries from which American families adopted the most—China, Russia, Guatemala, South Korea, and Ethiopia—have revised and tightened their adoption policies. There are a variety of reasons, ranging from stupid national pride (“we can care for our own!”) to bureaucratic corruption.There are more than 400,000 children in foster care. Of them, roughly 112,000 await adoption.Children with developmental problems languish in foster care or orphanages. Older children, virtually all of whom have been abused in ugly home environments, await loving homes. Often, they wait in vain, as potential adoptive families are wary of bringing into their homes children who might bring serious problems. This is where the church needs to step in. If a family adopts a particularly needy child, be he six months or 16 years, the local church must do more than just hold a dedication ceremony and bless the family with prayers and smiles. Those families need help. They need the services of professional counselors, therapists, remedial educators, developmental experts, and health caregivers. Churches need to be prepared to support, financially, families whose children need that kind of help, possibly for years. Churches are not banks—resources are limited, admittedly. But when “bigger and better” church buildings are under construction in every state in the union, surely some money can be dedicated to help with needs far more profound than another 30 spaces in a parking lot.Thankfully, the adoption tax credit ($13,460 per child) has been restored to the new Republican tax reduction plan. In 2015, about 64,000 American families used the tax credit to help them adopt. The tax credit has been a blessing to hundreds of thousands of middle-income families throughout the country—including mine.The credit helps, a lot. But it still leaves a lot to be done. The churches need to be front and center in helping families adopt children who need homes. One of the many blessings my wife Valerie and I experienced when we adopted our children was receiving financial assistance from the adoption fund my church had set up. This remarkable ministry comes alongside church members who adopt and helps them pay the substantial up-front costs.There is so much more to say, but for now, a final note: Valerie’s and my children are not adopted. They were adopted. Now, they are just our children. And, with each of them having come to know Christ, are God’s. At this Thanksgiving and always, these are truths for which we are eternally grateful.Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer at Regent University. He previously served as Senior Vice-President at Family Research Council.
“Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes.” – Excerpted from Radical by David PlattIt is not surprising to me that the month we celebrate Thanksgiving is also the month that is recognized as National Adoption Month. Our call to adoption is one of the things I am most thankful for in my life. As unexpected as our adoption assignment was, I remain grateful that we were attentive to the voice of God and the call to adoption that he had for our family. We are forever changed by that invitation from the Lord!The holidays are also a time to reflect on another gift that I am so very thankful for and that is the gift of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I can’t imagine how Joseph must have felt when he found out that he was invited by God to take Jesus into his life and family. God’s plan was for Jesus to have an earthly father and mother in Joseph and Mary. This special couple had the privilege of joining God to provide for and care for Jesus until He was old enough to start His earthly ministry.In 2010, after much prayer and research, God confirmed His plan for our family to move forward with international adoption and specifically, special needs adoption in China. We learned of so many waiting children with medical needs that needed the love of a family and medical care. After many months of prayer and mountains of paperwork, we found ourselves matched with an incredible little boy living in China that needed a family. As crazy as it sounded at the outset, it was God’s plan that we adopt him and bring him back to the United States as a member of our family. We soon learned that we were set to travel and that he would become a part of our family on Valentine’s Day of 2011—a plan from God we could never have foreseen or imagined.When adoption day arrived, we found ourselves surrounded by Chinese government officials, travel guides, interpreters, nannies, and a dozen other children waiting to be adopted. Squeezed tightly in a small government office, we signed page after page of official papers to become the parents of Josiah James Harper. A translator interviewed my wife and I, asking numerous and sometimes odd-sounding questions, such as why we would want to adopt this child. Why wouldn’t we, we thought? We were asked to promise never to harm or abandon him—a commitment we could easily make. Fingerprints were taken, as well as a footprint of Josiah. After signing the papers with a notary official at our side and completing the extensive questioning, we were finally finished. Josiah James was our son. The meeting lasted less than an hour, but God’s assignment had been many, many months in the making. What an awesome privilege to receive and complete God’s “Josiah James” assignment. The more I watch God at work in Josiah’s life, the more I understand why God sent us to China. His plan was clear. God has especially great things in store for our son just like He had for the Josiah we read about in 2 Chronicles 34. What an honor for us as a family. Josiah has brought so much joy to our family and to all those who know him. We expected to be the ones blessing Josiah, yet it is Josiah who has quickly proven to be a profound blessing to us. God has done a great work in our midst, and we are humbled and grateful as He pours out His love on our family.What might God be asking of you and your family? Is He inviting you to join Him and embrace a child in need? I encourage you to follow His leading. You will be forever changed.Harold Harper is Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff at Family Research Council.
First Liberty, a non-profit law firm, recently filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court on behalf of their client, Mary Anne Sause, after the 10th Circuit ruled that the police officers who told her she could not pray did not clearly violate her rights. As recounted by the court, and alleged in her complaint, the police officers entered Sause’s house to investigate a noise complaint. When one officer left to search the house, an action he did not provide a valid reason for, Sause became frightened and asked the officer with her if she could pray. The officer said she could and Sause knelt on her prayer rug and began to pray. Once the other officer returned to the room he allegedly ordered Sause to get up and stop praying as he and the other officer began to mock Sause for praying and tell her that she should leave the state since no one liked her. As recounted, the behavior of these officers is reprehensible in multiple ways. Yet it is also troubling that the 10th Circuit let the officers off the hook for their actions in this case.In its opinion, the court held that even assuming the police officers violated Sause’s First Amendment rights when they told her to stop praying, the officers had qualified immunity and therefore could not be held responsible.Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that protects public officials, such as police officers, from liability if their actions did not violate a clearly established law or constitutional right. Because the specific circumstances of this case had never been presented to the 10th Circuit before, that court claimed the officers did not violate a clearly established law and were protected by qualified immunity.Yet the right to exercise your religion, in this case the right to pray, is clearly established—in the Constitution. While it is difficult to expect police officers to perfectly understand the legal dynamics of every possible situation they might encounter with a civilian, and thus qualified immunity may be necessary in some contexts to allow police officers to do their jobs effectively, the violation in this case is nevertheless obvious and the officers responsible should not be allowed to hide behind qualified immunity.It is essential that officers understand basic rights—including our First Amendment rights—named in the Constitution, which every student learns in public school. To claim that a police officer shouldn’t be expected to know that an American citizen has the right to pray in a context like that alleged in this case is a dangerous turn.The Supreme Court should take up this case and declare to the nation that religious freedom is a vital constitutional right which should be respected by all public officials. No individual in a country which claims to protect the religious liberty of its citizens should ever be told that they cannot pray.
There are actually a number of answers to this question, but one of them is quite simple: because there are so many others nearby who are happy to do so.One amicus brief filed in support of Jack Phillips by numerous law and economics scholars, including the esteemed Richard Epstein, makes this point quite nicely.That brief points out that according to a search on Gayweddings.com, there are 67 other bakeries in the Denver area alone that are willing to create a same-sex wedding cake, including one that is only 1/10 of a mile from Jack Phillips’ Masterpiece Cakeshop. Forty-two of these bakeries are shown below; notice where they are compared to Jack’s shop, marked by the orange circle:Given all these shops that are happy to create a wedding cake for a prospective same-sex couple, is it really necessary to force Jack Phillips to be the one to do so?While the prospective customers may be offended at Jack’s beliefs, part of living in a free country is that we interact with people who believe differently than us.Yet they can easily travel nearby and obtain the cake from someone else—someone happy to help create it.Meanwhile, forcing Jack Phillips to create the cake comes with the heavy cost of forcing him to violate his conscience or stop designing wedding cakes (and potentially go out of business).Regardless of our personal views on the issue, that is not a vision of American “freedom” that any of us should want to be a part of.
Dear Friends,In our current cultural age of distraction and brokenness, it’s important to remember a fact of life that is often ignored: actions have consequences.This essential principle becomes startlingly obvious in light of FRC’s newest publication, “The Link Between Pornography, Sex Trafficking, and Abortion.” As this paper establishes, a single click of internet pornography by the public indicates to the pornography producer that their material is in demand, which will then fuel the continued production of porn, which then fuels the continued exploitation of women who are often pressured into being filmed doing sex acts, which then fuels the lustful desires of the pornography consumer to seek paid sex from women who are often being sex trafficked themselves, which often leads to them having forced abortions.This is just one example of the horrific chain of consequences that can happen as a result of one poor choice. Happily, however, good deeds also have consequences, or more fittingly, fruits. When we give of ourselves generously, the person who receives this gift (or even someone who just observes the good deed) will often feel grateful and humbled, and even feel inspired to act generously themselves in response.This reflects the nature of God—He exists in the form of gift. In other words, everything that we have—our lives, our breath, our material possessions—are a gift from Him. Therefore, we are all called to give ourselves away, just as God has done for us. May we always remember this principle and live by it, that selfish actions have dire consequences, but selfless deeds bear plentiful fruit.Thank you for your prayers and for your continued support of FRC and the family.Sincerely,Dan Hart Managing Editor for Publications Family Research Council FRC ArticlesThe Link Between Pornography, Sex Trafficking, and Abortion – Arina GrossuThe First Amendment Protects a Dissenting Cake Baker, Not State Coercion – Travis WeberSchool Worker Was Told She Could Be Fired If She Offered to Pray for Someone Again – Tony PerkinsSen. Cassidy Was Right: Most Planned Parenthood Businesses Are in Urban Areas – Arina GrossuAtheists, Courts Mark Veterans Day While Demanding Demolition Of Veterans Memorials – Travis WeberObamaCare 2018: Unaffordable, fewer options, still covers abortion – Arina GrossuWhat This Disabled Navy Veteran Told NFL Team When They Tried to Honor Him – Tony Perkins66% Don't Believe Bakery Should Be Punished for Not Baking Cake for Same-Sex Wedding – Tony PerkinsConservative Group Claims YouTube Is Censoring Its Videos – Tony PerkinsJudge Usurps Power, Ignores Real Issues in Transgender Military Injunction – Lt. Gen. Jerry BoykinReligious Freedom for Bakers is Common Ground for Most Americans – Natalie PughFrom Zero to Zelie: Our Adoption Journey and What We’ve Learned – Daniel and Bethany MeolaConcern for “Rights” Is Nothing New for Social Conservatives – Peter SpriggFollowing God’s Call to Adopt in Ethiopia – Maggie BangaDid the ACLU Hide the Ball and Rush an Abortion? – Travis WeberScalise Shooting Declared to be an Act of Terrorism Under Virginia Law, So Why is the FBI Confused? – Chris Gacek Religious LibertyReligious Liberty in the Public SquarePoll: 71% of Americans Say Political Correctness Has Silenced Discussions Society Needs to Have, 58% Have Political Views They’re Afraid to Share – CATO InstituteMost Americans Believe Christian Bakers Should Not Be Forced to Make Cakes for Gay Weddings – Stoyan Zaimov, The Christian PostAtheist Group Demands School District End Evangelical Group's Mentor Program – Michael Gryboski, The Christian PostMinnesota officials attempt to control the message of Christian filmmakers – Joe Carter, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission"Free to Believe"Georgia School District Bans Coach From Praying With Team After Atheists Complain – Samuel Smith, The Christian PostVictory for Special Education Employee Reprimanded for Telling Coworker, “I will pray for you” – First LibertyShe publicly turned from her lesbian lifestyle, so this college refused to hire her as a coach – Aaron Colen, TheBlazeDepartment of Agriculture Religious Freedom Policy Resolves Case of Christian Meat Packer – Dr. Susan Berry, BreitbartInternational Religious FreedomEgypt's President Sisi Meets With US Evangelical Leaders for First Time in Cairo – Samuel Smith, The Christian PostFrench court orders removal of cross from statue of John Paul II – Zelda Caldwell, AleteiaChristians Called to Take Action on International Day of Prayer for Persecuted Church – Anugrah Kumar, The Christian Post LifeAbortionOhio House votes to ban abortions on babies with Down syndrome – Nancy Flanders, Live Action7 Things I Learned At The Women’s Convention About Feminists And Abortion – Abby Johnson, The FederalistSupreme Court to hear case against California law forcing pro-life centers to advertise abortion – Pete Baklinski, LifeSiteNewsPro-life student impeached for her views speaks out: I will never lose my passion for protecting life – Cassy Fiano, Live ActionAdoptionAdoption Tax Credit Saved by Both House and Senate – Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, Christianity TodayWhy the Adoption Tax Credit matters – Ethics & Religious Liberty CommissionAdoption Videos & Documentaries – BraveLove.orgNational Adoption Awareness Month: one family’s adoption story – Julie Bourdon, Mission Network NewsVideo: Older Child, Foster Care Adoption – Bethany Christian Services5 Facts about orphans – Joe Carter, Ethics & Religious Liberty CommissionSinger Sarah McLachlan, other celebs explain what it feels like to be adopted – Kelli, Live ActionBioethicsContract Pregnancies Exposed: Surrogacy Contracts Don’t Protect Surrogate Mothers and Their Children – Jennifer Lahl, Public DiscourseWhy are attempts to legalize assisted suicide failing across the United States? – Cassy Fiano, Live ActionEmbryology and Science Denial – Patrick Lee and Melissa Moschella, Public DiscourseDown Syndrome and Eugenics – Roberto Rivera, BreakPointObamacareObamacare Won't Pay for His Back Surgery, but Will Cover Opioids – Lorie Johnson, CBN NewsHits keep on coming: Obamacare premiums rising by $1K per month – Daniel Horowitz, Conservative Review FamilyEconomics/EducationThe Missing Ingredients in Modern Education – Dwight Longenecker, Intellectual TakeoutA Record Share of Men Are “Marrying Up” Educationally – Wendy Wang, Family StudiesMarriageThe Research Proves The No. 1 Social Justice Imperative Is Marriage – Glenn T. Stanton, The FederalistCheap Sex is the “Inconvenient Truth” in the Retreat from Marriage – Mark Regnerus, Family StudiesI Married a Same-Sex Attracted Man. And I Am Blessed. – Jaclyn S. Parrish, The Gospel CoalitionCheap sex and tumbling marriage rates – Kiley Crossland, WORLDMarriage is a dance of growing together, apart, together – Dani Shapiro, PBS NewsHourFaith/Character/CultureIt's Time We Got Loud About Love Again – Matthew Archbold, National Catholic RegisterNo. 1 Thing Parents Can Do to Ensure Kids Are Faithful Christians When They Grow Up – Stoyan Zaimov, The Christian PostBy Rejecting God, Modern Man Rejects His Humanity – Paul Krause, CrisisPassions' Republic: The Christian Cure for What Ails Modern Politics – David Bradshaw, TouchstoneThe Science About Motherhood Liberals Don’t Want to Hear – Kelsey Harkness, The Daily SignalDo Men Owe Women a Special Kind of Care? – John Piper, Desiring GodAttacking the Ties That Bind – Wesley J. Smith, First ThingsHuman SexualityOpen secret: The one thing that can prevent sexual harassment – Elizabeth Scalia, AleteiaChildren fast-tracked into gender transition – Kiley Crossland, WORLDLet’s Cast a Vision for Mere Sexuality – Todd Wilson, The Gospel CoalitionTrump Administration To Conduct New Research On Sex Education Programs – David Brody, CBN NewsHuman TraffickingUnder Pressure, Tech Giants Drop Opposition to Anti-Trafficking Bill – Lisa Correnti, C-FamPornographyYou won’t believe how many kids under 10 are watching porn – Calah Alexander, AleteiaPodcast: Jimmy and Kelly Needham discuss overcoming pornography – Ethics & Religious Liberty CommissionCould Porn Be One Explanation for Sexual Predators Like Louis C.K.? – Naomi Schaefer Riley, Family Studies
The Cato Institute published their Free Speech and Tolerance Survey for 2017 at the end of October. In their research, they asked over 2,000 United States citizens about their opinions on free speech. Their study revealed that 50% of Americans think businesses with religious objections should still be required to serve those who identify as gay and lesbian as a general rule (which the wedding vendors who have been sued are happy to do), but 68% believe a baker should not be required to bake a custom wedding cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony. These results show that, at least on this issue, Americans can identify and support a genuine desire to live according to one’s religious beliefs.The survey also revealed that most Americans feel that political correctness is preventing important discussions (71%) and feel afraid to voice their opinions (58%). Additionally, while an overwhelming majority (79%) of Americans find hate speech “morally unacceptable,” only 40% believe the government should prevent public expressions of hate speech.If most Americans believe in the value of free speech, even to the point of allowing hate speech, why is there so much outrage over speech in our society? The problem lies in the conflicting ideas of what Americans find offensive. In the survey, people’s answers followed closely to party values. Despite their support for free speech as an idea, most strong liberals (51%) think it’s acceptable to punch Nazis; and most conservatives (53%) support revoking citizenship status of individuals who burn the American flag. While both sides of the political spectrum would like to punish specific speech that they find offensive, they need to recognize that taking away free speech would hurt each other equally.There is no clear consensus on what classifies as “hateful” or “offensive” speech among Americans. A majority of liberals (59%) think saying people who identify as transgender have a mental disorder is hate speech, however the majority of conservatives disagree. While 39% of conservatives think saying the police are “racist” is hate speech, only 17% of liberals agree. Given the highly partisan viewpoint that individuals are placing on speech, any laws to censor speech would be completely dependent on which political party was currently holding a majority on Capitol Hill. This would destroy the basic principle of free speech.The right to speak freely is a foundational right of our nation. It allows citizens to voice their displeasure with our current government, society, or situation, and through dialogue, devise a plan for improvement. Without this right, citizens would lose the ability to hold their government accountable or merely express their opinions, as the party in power could suppress the spread of any ideas they disliked. This could have devastating effects on Americans’ right to assemble, right to protest, freedom of the press, and religious freedom.Has society already destroyed the acceptance of free speech? A majority of Americans are afraid to publicly voice their opinions. It’s not hard to imagine why when 59% of Democrats believe employers should punish their employees for offensive Facebook posts. However, freedom of speech is still a constitutional right for every American citizen. While an argument for censorship can sound convincing in today’s divisive climate, it is important to remember the equality that freedom of speech gives to each citizen.Ultimately, we need to remember the origin of the Bill of Rights that our Founding Fathers fought so hard to achieve. Being occasionally offended is a small price to pay to ensure freedom of speech for all citizens, regardless of their political party.
November is National Adoption Month. To recognize this important issue, we are publishing personal adoption testimonies this month.Adoption is very near and dear to our hearts. After six years of marriage, and many prayers for a child, earlier this year we welcomed our daughter Zelie-Louise Layla Rose into our family through adoption. This experience has been a profound journey of faith for us—a pilgrimage—and God has taught us so much through it, and through the people we’ve encountered along the way.Our adoption story, in a nutshell: we were married in 2011, experienced the heartache of infertility, and in 2015 discerned a call to adopt. Adoption is a calling; not every couple without children is called to pursue it, but all couples should discern it. We then completed our home study (the state’s approval process for pre-adoptive parents) for domestic, infant adoption and after a year and a half of actively waiting, we were chosen by our daughter’s birthparents in February 2017. Zelie was born on April 6, 2017, and we were blessed to be with her from her very first moments after birth. She is a beautiful, energetic, delightfully happy baby who brings immeasurable joy into our family!Being so personally close to adoption, and being such a new adoptive family, there is both so much to say and at the same time no way to adequately capture all that adoption means to us. Nonetheless, here are a few things we have learned about adoption so far.Adoption is……an act of heroism. And by that we are not talking first about adoptive parents like ourselves, but of birthparents. Selfless love means putting another’s needs ahead of your own desires, and that is exactly what birthparents do. It’s crucial to say that birthparents don’t “give up” a child for adoption, but rather “place” a child or “make an adoption plan.” The latter speak to the proactive love and generosity shown by birthparents in choosing a family for their child, despite the pain and heartache that it can mean for them. We will always teach Zelie that her birthparents are her heroes for their loving decision to place her in our family.…a response to a loss. This truth is necessary to acknowledge, that adoption happens because there is some crisis or difficulty so grave that a child cannot be raised by his or her birthparents; this is undeniably a tragedy. In a perfect world, we’d have no need for adoption (nor would infertility exist), but in this actual world, adoption is a loving response to a difficult situation, and a powerful example of bringing hope and beauty out of very hard circumstances. It’s important for all involved in adoption to be mindful of the losses involved, especially as an adopted child grows and processes his or her feelings about it. Here, open adoption (some level of ongoing contact between the adoptive and birth families) can help answer a child’s questions, provide connection with his or her heritage, and offer an opportunity for the child to stay connected to the birthparents.…a powerful act of hospitality. Borrowing from this beautiful piece by adoptive father Timothy O’Malley, adoption expresses great hospitality and welcome. There is a reason why Scripture speaks so often of us as God’s adopted children! “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son . . . so that we might receive adoption” (Galatians 4: 4-5). Zelie will always have her precious heritage from her birth family, including genetic connections, her looks, and so forth, and we will help her cherish that part of her identity. But when we adopted her, she became fully and truly a member of our family as well. She is forever our daughter. (Side note: this is why adoptive parents bristle when asked, “Do you have any of ‘your own’ children?”) As Timothy O’Malley explains, the hospitality of adoption is a message that speaks to the heart of all parenting: “Adoption reminds us that every act of parenting is a moment of hospitality, a moment that allows love to flourish anew in the world… a love that always comes as gift.”…a challenging process. Adoption is not for the faint of heart! For potential adoptive parents, the process involves lots of paperwork and an examination of all areas of your life, at times feeling excessive or downright invasive; likely lots of waiting as you hope day after day for “the call”; and a deep vulnerability as you entrust your family’s growth to the Lord, mediated through the very earthly realities of agencies, lawyers, and prospective birthparents. Seen in the right way, trying to adopt is an incredible opportunity to grow as a couple in patience, humility, and trust. The delicacy of the adoption process, and the strong emotions involved, means that it’s also crucial to work with ethical adoption professionals who safeguard the rights and dignity of all those involved: adoptive parents, birthparents, and the child. For couples hoping to adopt, prayer is so important every step of the way.…a miracle of love. The sacrifices given do not compare to the great gift received—a blessed, unique child—who is a miracle of God’s love never before seen on this earth! When we received Zelie into our arms, you could say we went from “zero” to a fullness of love who smiles and dances around with the wonderful name of Zelie. We marvel at how such a tiny infant can not only draw love and laughter out of us, but also so wonderfully love us in return. Zelie is an unrepeatable miracle of love entrusted to us by her birthparents and by God. For this unfathomable responsibility, we will be forever grateful and we will love Zelie every day of her life.Daniel Meola is a catechetical specialist at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C.; Bethany Meola is a stay-at-home mom who loves being with Zelie full-time. The couple lives in Bowie, Md. and blogs about their adoption at http://www.adoptionpilgrimage.blogspot.com

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