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What The Bible Says Good Samaritan's Penny Pulpit by Pastor Ed Rice
2015 Refined and Written
What The Bible Says Good Samaritan's Penny Pulpit by Pastor Ed Rice
I have already written several times about the Supreme Court’s recent Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, in which the Court struck down Colorado’s discrimination charge against a Christian baker who declined to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The majority’s ruling rested on its finding that the proceedings against baker Jack Phillips in Colorado were tainted by anti-religious bias. I described each of the five opinions written in the case here, and explained why media referred to a 7-2 decision as “narrow” (in its reasoning, not its margin) here.There is one more aspect of the Masterpiece case that I found interesting. The key parties to the case were the baker, Jack Phillips, and the same-sex couple, Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins. The experiences and perspectives of these men had been discussed and recounted repeatedly as the case made its way through Colorado’s adjudicatory process and then through the appeal to the Supreme Court.In the end, however, there were two lesser-known figures who played a key role in the outcome of the case. From the pro-family perspective supportive of the baker Phillips, one—a man named William Jack—helped to expose the hypocrisy of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The other—a woman named Diann Rice—may have unwittingly doomed the state’s case by verbalizing the anti-religious hostility that was fatal to their side.Diann Rice was a member of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that heard the complaint against Masterpiece Cakeshop. During a July 25, 2014 meeting of the Commission, she made the following statement, which was recounted by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in his majority opinion in the 2018 case:I would also like to reiterate what we said in the hearing or the last meeting. Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we—we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to—to use their religion to hurt others.The quote was originally found on an audio recording of the meeting, and a transcript from that recording only identified the speaker as a “female speaker.” It was not until six months later that Phillips’ attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom identified the speaker as Rice.Justice Kennedy explained the problem with this remark:To describe a man’s faith as “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use” is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical—something insubstantial and even insincere. The commissioner even went so far as to compare Phillips’ invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust. This sentiment is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law—a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.The sad thing is that the kind of contempt for “freedom of religion and religion” voiced by Rice, including the over-the-top comparison of a belief in one-man-one-woman marriage with defenses of slavery and the Holocaust, is not even considered extreme on the Left today. On the contrary, that view is utterly commonplace. For example, writer Zack Ford of ThinkProgress openly defended the remark. That is why it was so welcome to have the Supreme Court declare that such contempt is not permissible as a part of government decision-making.The other person who surprisingly proved central to the case was William Jack. (William Jack is not to be confused with Jack Phillips, the baker at the heart of the case.)Even after he was cited in the Court’s ruling, little has been written about Mr. Jack’s background. The liberal magazine Mother Jones wrote the most detailed article about him, referring to him as “a foot soldier in the religious-right evangelical movement.” They also linked to a brief he filed in the case in support of Phillips, which describes him as “a Colorado citizen and Christian educator who teaches nationally on issues of Christian worldview, apologetics, and leadership.”In a sort of reverse parallel of what happened to Craig and Mullins when they requested a wedding cake from Masterpiece Cakeshop, William Jack visited three Colorado bakeries requesting that they bake him cakes with a message of opposition to same-sex marriage. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg described Jack’s request most explicitly in her dissenting opinion. He wanted cakes:“made to resemble an open Bible. He also requested that each cake be decorated with Biblical verses. [He]requested that one of the cakes include an image of two groomsmen, holding hands, with a red ‘X’ over the image. On one cake, he requested [on] one side[,] . . . ‘God hates sin. Psalm 45:7’ and on the opposite side of the cake ‘Homosexuality is a detestable sin. Leviticus 18:2.’ On the second cake, [the one] with the image of the two groomsmen covered by a red ‘X’[Jack] requested [these words]: ‘God loves sinners’ and on the other side ‘While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8.’ ”All three bakeries declined to bake the cakes requested by Mr. Jack, on the grounds that they considered the message (especially, it seems, the image of the grooms with the red “X” and the word “sin”) to be offensive. Mr. Jack brought discrimination charges against each of the bakeries, asserting that they had discriminated against him because of his “creed” (that is, religion), which is a protected category under Colorado’s public accommodations non-discrimination law. Yet the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in Mr. Jack’s case found the bakeries not to have been guilty of discrimination—in direct contrast to the outcome for Masterpiece Cakeshop.Mother Jones referred to Jack’s requests as a “stunt.” Jack himself admitted, according to World magazine, that he made the requests in response to the Masterpiece case, “to see if those charging discrimination against gays would care about discrimination against Christians.” He never indicated that the cakes were intended for a particular social event. On the other hand, even Mother Jones admitted such experimentsaren’t uncommon among activist groups of all political leanings seeking changes in the legal system. Civil rights organizations use testers, for instance, to see whether a landlord is refusing to rent to people of color or a car dealer is charging them higher interest on auto loans. Activists who use wheelchairs visit businesses to see whether their buildings comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and file complaints if they don’t.The point, of course, is not that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission should have punished the bakers who refused to make cakes for Mr. Jack with a message opposing same-sex marriage. Instead, it is the opposite. They should have allowed Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop the same freedom—to refuse cakes with messages to which he has a conscientious objection—that they allowed to the bakeries approached by William Jack.The message William Jack requested on his cakes may have seemed unusual, odd, or even, yes, offensive to some. But Justice Kennedy warned that “it is not, as the Court has repeatedly held, the role of the State or its officials to prescribe what shall be offensive.”William Jack did not get his cakes, but he did prove a point—possibly turning the tide of a Supreme Court case in the process.
by Hohn Chon my pre-Christian life, I was a political leftist who considered identity politics to be the pathway to a more enlightened future. I was deeply invested in what I like to call a "race-centric" view of the world, so much so that I would bristle and correct anyone who dared to use the word Oriental in my presence—with a toxic blend of self-righteousness, condescension, and pique that is sadly so common in much of today's political discourse.If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in "wokeness", I far more. As a student, I marched and protested and helped occupy buildings for the cause of affirmative action in faculty hiring, and my course of study was all about ethnicity in America. I was steeped in concepts of critical race theory at one of the most liberal campuses in the nation, and considered myself to be a full-blown socialist (not the weak-tea Bernie Sanders types that we see these days).Fast forward to today, and thanks to God's free gift of salvation, followed by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit working through the perfect Word, I can honestly say that verses such as Galatians 3:27-28, Colossians 3:11, 1 Peter 2:9, 2 Corinthians 5:16, and John 3:30, among others, have thoroughly demolished my race-centric worldview. And so it is that I marvel when I see significant portions of the conservative evangelical church appearing to move more and more toward a race-centric worldview, while the Gospel is seemingly emphasized less and less.Now, I will readily admit that even the most race-centric evangelicals would likely dispute that characterization quite vigorously, but the reality is that when race seems to be all that a person talks about, other topicsincluding the Gospelstart to recede into the background. This is the very point that Phil made to Thabiti Anyabwile in his article, "Against Mission Drift."As it has been in the world, this discussion is fraught with challenges in the church. Some people object to using the term "race" while others might prefer or actually insist on it. There are explicit or implicit questions about who is allowed to speak on the topic, or at least speak with any degree of perceived credibility. Actual data and even Scripture are sometimes minimized or ignored in favor of emotions and experiences. Positions are staked out, often at increasing distances from one another, the temperature rises, cognitive biases hinder understanding, unfair generalizations abound, and soon you realize that you're in the middle of a giant mess and you've lost sight of the exit.And very often, you see people bemoaning others' tone and diction. Offense is taken, accusations fly, people become defensive, and the odds of having a meaningful discussion plummet. This is a real shame, because in order to make any progress on an issue as intense and emotionally charged as race, the order of the day must be level-headed civil discourseand in the church, always keeping central what the Word of God says.As with any passionate endeavor, however, if one decides to engage, there must also be a willingness to have a thick skin and "overlook a transgression" as we know from Proverbs 19:11 and 1 Peter 4:8Which brings me to the subject of my post. The often hair-trigger reactions to others' tone and diction are unsurprising in a world where "microaggressions" are actually a thing.Merriam-Webster defines a microaggression as "a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority)." I can understand why the world would buy into this concept, as it pushes all of the worldly buttons: the elevation of self, the smug moral righteousness that can come along with self-positioning as a victim, the clinging onto offense and unforgiveness, the rhetorical escalation of small slights into matters of first importance, and ultimately, the great sin of pride.In the church, however, this really ought not be, as we have the perfect Word to guide us. In that sense, even the very nature of the secular word "microaggression" is telling, because micro admits that the behavior being complained about is tiny, while aggression is self-refuting, as it typically requires overt hostility or violence, and not acting merely "subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally".Instead, I would argue that a more biblical term for calling out small slights of this nature would actually be speck-plucking from Matthew 7:3, representing a microscopic focus on others' shortcomings while ignoring one's own. When we apply the concept of speck-plucking to race, seemingly the most common source of "microaggressions" today, the concern comes into stark focus, especially in light of the worst race-centric pundits' own propensity to make sweeping race-based generalizations (see, e.g., "white evangelicalism", "white fragility", "white guilt", "white privilege", etc.). They really ought to remove the planks from their own eyes, before critiquing others' subtle, unconscious, or unintentional comments or actions!This dynamic of racial speck-plucking is all the more puzzling when one understands that gauging whether or not someone else "subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude" involves a significant likelihood of false positives, so much so that the first question should never be, "Are you offended?" but rather, "Did the other person intend to offend you?"Among Christians, hopefully the answer in the vast majority of cases will be, "Of course not!" If the world will know us by our love for one another (John 13:35), then we should exercise love toward one another, which according to 1 Corinthians 13:7 "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." And ultimately, 1 Corinthians 4:5 tells us that we are not to pass judgment upon another person's heart motives toward us; it is instead the Lord who will reveal and judge.But the practice of fixating on speck-plucking carries with it another grave spiritual danger, and that is the sin of unforgiveness. In the Parable of the Unforgiving Slave in Matthew 18:21-35, after a slave's plea for mercy, the Master forgives his debt of 10,000 talents, which is billions of dollars in today's currency. This slave then proceeds to physically abuse another slave for not repaying a debt of 100 denarii, or 100 days of wages for a laborer. The debtor slave makes a nigh-identical plea for mercy, which is heartlessly rejected, and the debtor slave is thrown in prison. Upon hearing of this, the Master then hands the unforgiving slave over to the torturers.The entire passage is a beautiful but sobering picture of a Christian's response to salvation, as well as the reality that we who know that we have been saved from an unpayable debt and an eternity in Hell are to be kind and patient and forgiving even when wronged by others. I think many Christians understand this parable reasonably well as an abstract concept, but moving into the details, it's noteworthy that the example chosen as a debt to forgive, 100 denarii, is actually several thousand dollars by today's currency. This is not an insignificant sum!In light of this, I would be deeply concerned for any Christian who would seize upon a perceived "microaggression" and elevate it to the level of a confrontation, an issue between brothers. The way that we handle personal offense, suffering wrong, and being sinned against can be a powerful reflection of our own spiritual maturity. And to the extent a person escalates speck-plucking to the level of offenses or censorious accusations, were I shepherding that person, I would gently attempt to demonstrate from the Scriptures I describe above that responding to a perceived offense is actually an area where the person could grow spiritually.Bringing it back to the example of the speck, immediately prior to the famous speck-plank reference in Matt. 7:3-5, we see our Savior say in Matt. 7:2, "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you." So if we're actively engaged in speck-plucking toward others, we will have that returned to us in full measure . . . something that any rational person would want to avoid.James 2:13 is arguably an even more directly applicable verse along these lines. As a closing comment on a passage about the sin of showing favoritism to people based on their wealth and social classand analogously, any class, such as raceJames exhorts Christians to show mercy to each other, and warns that "judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy."This warning was an especially apt one for early Christians who were overtly favoring the rich over the poor, in keeping with the heavy social stratification of Rome and the Ancient Near East. But I believe it's just as apt for today's environment, where hypersensitivity over race has led to a social media uproar over a high school girl's wearing of a Chinese dress, excoriations of a Jewish journalist for complimenting immigrants, and the mob-demanded firing of two former employees at a Portland bakery who appear to have done nothing objectionable. If there is mercy in any of these judgments, I am unable to see it.Sadly, even some within the conservative evangelical church appear to be heading down a similar path to the world. The race-centric nature of much of the recent discussion has seen prominent leaders such as Anyabwile saying, "My white neighbors and Christian brethren can start by at least saying their parents and grandparents and this country are complicit in murdering a man who only preached love and justice" (which Phil has already commented on). And Matt Chandler calling 300 people who left his church over his view on the topic of race "fools," in a manner that reminds me of the warnings in Matthew 5:22. . . because obviously, he spoke to all 300 people who departed, and none of them had any valid reasons to leave. And Eric Mason declaring that "pushback from a privileged position will get shut down," which could perhaps be summarized as "disagreeing while white". Although these types of statements are not (yet) to the level of the ones in the prior paragraph, the amount of mercy shown to their targets is still depressingly thin, especially in light of James 2:13.I take no joy in highlighting these public, unambiguous comments, all of which remain to this day without retraction. These men are conference speakers, authors, and most of all pastors accountable to James 3:1 who have significant influence in the conservative evangelical church, and their comments do not represent "microaggressions" nor are they merely specks to be plucked. They have not personally offended me; rather, I am deeply grieved to see even some men who preach a faithful Gospel seemingly following a path cut more by the world than by Scripture.The current controversy over race-centric worldviews in the church is one that will require civil but robust discussion in order to attempt to make progress. May we do so with charity, yes, but also with stamina and perseverance, and without sweeping generalizations or hypersensitive speck-plucking.Hohn Cho
Courtesy of State Library of QueenslandMy one-and-a-half-year-old son imitates everything I do these days. “Hey, babes,” I said as I greeted my wife a number of weeks ago. “Hey babes,” he garbled from his high chair a few seconds later. When I left a garbage bag next to the front door one day, he toddled over to it and began attempting to tie the drawstrings together, just as he had seen me do minutes before. Now, to my amazement, he is feeding himself with a spoon. It brings me great joy to watch him carefully position the spoon in his fingers so that he can angle it correctly into his bowl and scoop up food, which he then brings to his mouth with remarkable control and efficiency. It’s as if he saw someone else doing the same thing.To see my son constantly imitate me is thrilling, humbling, and a bit frightening all at once. It’s exhilarating to know that another human sees me as such an influential presence and role model—I’m excited by the prospect of passing on the passion I have for reading, music, sports, and the knowledge and love of our Father up above. At the same time, I’m realizing more and more the extent to which my words and actions can influence his behavior, which means I really do need to watch what I say and do.As Father’s Day approaches, I’m reminded of all the ways I imitated my own father when I was growing up. I’ll never forget the Saturday he brought me along with him to the local rec center to play pickup basketball when I was around 10. I watched in awe and a little trepidation at how quickly the much larger men moved and passed the ball. I was soon thrown into the mix, and found myself panicking as I tried to keep up. “Stay between your man and the basket,” my dad said. I could tell by the way he played that he took pride in playing good defense. Something clicked for me after that, and I’ve loved playing basketball ever since.Then there was the beautiful sunny day my dad first showed me how to swing a golf club in our front yard. He explained the proper grip to take, how far away to stand from the ball, how to bring the club back, and the appropriate motion to take on the downswing. As I imitated his golf swing for the first time, I remember a feeling of comfort come over me. Playing golf has been a natural fit and a great source of fulfilment for me from that day on. What I am most grateful to my father for is his determination to keep his Catholic faith central in his life. He always wore a dress shirt and tie on Sundays while a large percentage of other men wore jeans and t-shirts. During Mass, he would always sing out the hymns with passion, while many other men in neighboring pews would stand silently with seeming indifference. The reverence he showed during Mass always struck me—his head was often bowed forward, his eyes closed, and his hands clasped together. After the gospel was proclaimed and the congregation took their seats, he would often remain standing for a beat longer than everyone else, as if to take an extra moment to let Christ’s words soak into his soul. I could feel the devotion emanating from within him during Mass, and it rubbed off on me.The car ride home from Mass would usually entail a heartfelt commentary from him about the priest’s homily. Countless conversations at home about the nature of faith and reflecting on the life of the Holy Family are some of my fondest memories. There were also numerous times that I recall him witnessing to friends and acquaintances who did not share his faith. This has always been something I have greatly admired in him—there was an energy and joy that his faith gave him that he did not want to contain, compelling him to share it with others. There was also fearlessness in the indifference he had to what others might have thought of him. Seeing him take his faith so seriously clearly made a great impression on me. I can see now that it was through my imitation of my father at a young age that I first began to make the Catholic faith my own.Every father knows that they set an example for their children, but what they perhaps don’t know is how much of an impact they can actually have on them. Part of the reason for this is that it is easy for parents to underestimate how observant their children are, which I have discovered with surprise at my own son’s remarkable ability to imitate me. I doubt that my dad knew the extent to which I was watching him as I grew up. What I have noticed is that this is a common experience. I remember numerous occasions where my sister and I have related our experience of a childhood memory, to which my parents have responded, “Really? You remember that? I didn’t think you noticed” or “That’s funny—I don’t remember it that way!” I have also seen this same interaction happen with my friends and their parents. I have no doubt that when I am advanced in years and I listen to my son’s experiences of childhood, I will be blown away.In the first verse of 1 Corinthians 11, Paul states plainly: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” For me, this is the perfect encapsulation of what authentic fatherhood should be. God created us in such a way that the father of a family is to be the image of Himself—God the Father. We see this in how a father and mother welcome a newborn child—with love. The first experience of God’s love that a newborn encounters is through the love of their father and mother. As Paul says, the model that fathers need to follow is Christ, the Incarnation of God Himself. But since Christ no longer physically walks the earth, His followers must imitate Him in order to allow His presence to abide in the world. Paul stood as an amazing model for Christ in the early Christian church, and his example was imitated by his followers, who were then imitated by their followers, and so the faith was passed down through the generations. This mission has been passed down to all Christian fathers today—to imitate Christ in order to lead by example for the good of their children and for the good of everyone they encounter.Thank you, Dad, for your example of Christian manhood. Your witness of faith is something I hope to pass down to my own son, just as you did for me. Happy Father’s Day!
A study published recently in the American Journal of Psychiatry online claims that abortion does not increase the risk of suicide. If only that were true. The study by M. Antonia Biggs and colleagues (which I will refer to as “the Biggs study”) used data from the University of California San Francisco’s Turnaway Study. But the results are very questionable because they are inconsistent with many other studies, and the final results of this study are based on only 18 percent of the original sample.The Turnaway Study was intended to provide a comparison between women who aborted and those unable to obtain an abortion due to waiting to come to the clinic until the pregnancy was too advanced (past the limits for the clinic chosen, or for their state). But only 38 percent of eligible women consented to participate in the research, with 15 percent of those dropping out before the first interview (see study). With further dropouts over the five years of the study, only 18 percent of the original sample remained—even though women received a $50 gift certificate for each telephone interview (see study).The low participation rate and the additional dropouts make the results questionable, because it is well known that the most distressed individuals are more likely to avoid participating. This has been reported in research on abortion and other reproductive losses, and in more general trauma research.*The Biggs study concluded that rates of suicidal ideation were comparably low in women who obtained abortions and those who were refused abortions. The authors further conclude that their results show that state laws requiring informed consent about suicide risk should be scrapped as unnecessary. But we lack information on 82 percent of the women who either declined to participate or dropped out. The results may be meaningless if those women included those who were most distressed.In addition, the Biggs study contradicts a large body of research on suicide and abortion. A study from Finland published in the British Medical Journal linked medical records to death certificates, showing that women having abortions had a 650 percent increased risk of suicide compared to women who gave birth.One of the highest quality studies of abortion and mental health was done by Donald Sullins of the Catholic University of America in 2016 using data from The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (“Add Health”) which was funded by 18 different federal agencies and which provided a nationally representative sample of 8,005 women, with 81 percent of the sample completing this 13-year longitudinal study. In his analysis, Sullins controlled for 13 different potential confounders, and showed increased suicidal ideation in the women who had abortions compared to those who completed pregnancies. In addition, Sullins showed that women having abortions had increased risk for a total of seven different mental health outcomes. The results were statistically significant.The Biggs study is an outlier, giving results that are very different from the results of a number of high quality studies of suicide risk and abortion. The truth is, we have the words of actual women who have attempted or completed suicide. The British artist Emma Beck said in her 2007 suicide note: “I told everyone I didn’t want to do it, even at the hospital . . . now it is too late . . . I want to be with my babies.” The authors of the Biggs study show their political bias in their conclusion that women like Beck have no need to be warned about suicide risk before their abortion.Martha Shuping, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist who lives in Winston-Salem, N.C. *Broen, A.N., Moum, T., Bødtker, A.S., & Ekeberg, Ø. (2005). The course of mental health after miscarriage and induced abortion: a longitudinal, five-year follow-up study. BMC Medicine, 3,18. doi: 10.1186/1741-7015-3-18. Retrieved from http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/3/18 Shuping, M. (2016). Counterpoint: Long-lasting distress after abortion. In R. MacNair (Ed.), Peace Psychology Perspectives on Abortion. Kansas City: Feminism and Nonviolence Studies Association.Weisaeth, L. (1989). Importance of high response rates in traumatic stress research. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica Supplementum, 355, 131-137.
It seems that we have gone from the culture wars to the “fact-check” wars. One has been underway in recent weeks over a bill making its way through the California legislature.Put the words “California Bible ban” in a Google search and you will see what I mean.The California Family Council and Alliance Defending Freedom were among the first to raise the alarm that Assembly Bill 2943 could be interpreted to ban sales of the Bible. Snopes, FactCheck.org, and PolitiFact all tried to debunk the claim. The FactCheck piece reproduces an April 22 tweet from the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Evan Low, stating, “It does not ban bibles nor does it ban the basic sales of books as some would have you believe.” But a number of careful and thoughtful conservative writers—such as Michael Brown, David French, Rod Dreher, my colleague at Family Research Council Travis Weber, and Robert Gagnon (here and here) have continued to express alarm about the bill (albeit with slightly different emphases). Does Assembly Bill 2943 actually “ban the Bible” in California? In one sense, no—but in another sense, maybe. Sometimes, what is needed is a not a “fact-check” with a simple true or false answer, but a “perspective check,” explaining why some people make a particular argument and what evidence they cite to support it.What AB 2943 Does Not DoLet me state a couple things that are definitely not true about AB 2943 and the Bible, which some of the more sensational headlines about “California wants to ban the Bible” might be misinterpreted to imply.First of all, “banning the Bible” is definitely not the main purpose of AB 2943. Its purpose is to greatly expand an existing restriction (the first in the nation when enacted in 2012) upon the practice of “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE), now routinely referred to by critics (but rarely by practitioners) as “conversion therapy.” I have had concerns about some of the “Bible ban” talk, if only because the core issue—a ban on therapy for those with unwanted same-sex attractions—has sometimes been almost forgotten.It is a fact that some people with same-sex attractions experience those feelings as unwanted; some of those have sought therapy or counseling to overcome those attractions; and some of those have testified to the success of such therapy in helping them overcome those attractions, and now identify as “ex-gay.” LGBT activists are offended that some people with same-sex attractions don’t want to be “gay,” so they are attempting to eliminate that option by claiming that such therapy is ineffective, as well as harmful to those who undertake it. (Family Research Council disputes those claims.) California’s 2012 law prohibited SOCE only for clients who are minors, and only when conducted by licensed mental health providers. AB 2943 would expand the ban to apply to clients of any age (including consenting adults), and any type of counselor (including religious ones), as long as there is an exchange of money for the service.Secondly, there is no legislative language in AB 2943 that refers specifically to the Bible. As Snopes explained in its article debunking the supposed “Bible ban” claim, “California Assembly Bill 2943 does not mention the Bible, Christianity, or religion at all.” That sentence—with the key word being “mention”—is correct. (That does not mean it would not affect them, however.)Thirdly, even if AB 2943 could have an effect upon the Bible, it would only be upon the sale of the Bible. The bill is in the form of an amendment to the state’s consumer fraud laws, so there must be some commercial transaction (involving an exchange of money) to trigger its provisions. The bill does not prohibit the possession, reading, publication, teaching, or free distribution of the Bible.How Could AB 2943 Ban Sales of the Bible?The concern that AB 2943 could be used to ban sales of the Bible is an inference from, rather than an explicit statement in, the language of the bill. However, the bill is thirteen pages long, most of which is just a recapitulation of the existing consumer fraud law. To understand the change that is being proposed, one has to search and extract the substantive language from the bill. Here are the key segments, with ellipses ( . . . ) where text has been omitted. First is the bill’s definition of “sexual orientation change efforts” (emphasis mine):(i) (1) “Sexual orientation change efforts” means any practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.Here is the actual language prohibiting SOCE:1770. (a) The following unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices undertaken by any person in a transaction intended to result or that results in the sale or lease of goods or services to any consumer are unlawful: . . .(28) Advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual.Key Words: “Behaviors” and “Goods”How does this apply to the Bible? Likely through two key words, highlighted in the bill text above.The first of these is “behaviors.” When most people think of “sexual orientation change efforts,” they probably think of the second part of the bill’s definition: efforts “to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.” LGBT activists claim that such “attractions or feelings” are innate and immutable. The same, of course, cannot be said about “behaviors,” which can be changed at will. I suspect, however, that those activists worried that if therapy to help people change their “behaviors” were permitted, it would constitute a loophole that would allow SOCE to continue.The problem with outlawing “efforts to change behaviors,” however, is that almost all moral and religious teaching about how we should live involves “efforts to change behaviors.” “Don’t lie.” “Don’t steal.” “Treat your father and mother with respect.” There are all sorts of religiously-rooted assertions directing people to modify “behavior.” Let us not forget the age-old admonition: “Behave!” When Leviticus 18:22 cites God telling Moses, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female” (NASB), that clearly seems to be an “effort to change behaviors.”The second key word is “goods.” As noted above, the main purpose of the bill is to outlaw a certain type (or more accurately, a goal) of therapy, which would generally be considered a “service.” However, the ban on change efforts applies to any “transaction intended to result or that results in the sale or lease of goods or services to any consumer.” Although one bill critic has suggested that the language about “the sale or lease of goods” does not apply to SOCE, the term “any practices” in the definition of SOCE appears to be broad enough to encompass the practice of selling books.No, the text of AB 2943 does not mention the Bible. But since the “sale . . . of goods” could include the sale of books (such as the Bible), and since the moral teachings of the Bible include “efforts to change behaviors” (such as homosexual behavior), critics of AB 2943 have warned that it could, at least theoretically, be used to ban the sale of Bibles in California.Possible vs. LikelyNow, if AB 2943 is enacted, is California likely to leap directly to banning sales of the Bible? Perhaps not, for several reasons. As noted above, banning Bible sales is not the main purpose of the bill, and while the Bible supports sexual orientation change (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11), that is hardly its main theme. At least initially, a prosecutor would likely seek an easier target, and one more directly relevant to sexual orientation change efforts. In addition, it is likely that the Supreme Court (at least in 2018, as currently constituted) would strike down any effort to ban sales of the Bible.Still, the argument that AB 2943 could, even theoretically, be used to ban sales of the Bible is an important one, if only because it demonstrates how sweeping and poorly written the bill is. That should be reason enough for California legislators to oppose it.While the Bible may be safe in the short run, I have less confidence in the long run. Zack Ford is a homosexual activist and writer with ThinkProgress who wrote a piece claiming it is “nonsense” that AB 2943 would “ban the Bible.” Yet ironically, that same piece links to a 2016 article Ford wrote asserting that “When Gay People Are Told That Homosexuality Is A Sin,” that “message alone is harmful.” The assertion that a piece of moral teaching from the Bible is not merely incorrect, but is tangibly “harmful,” seems like a way of laying the groundwork for legal restrictions upon that very biblical teaching.Which Books Would Be Banned?Even if sales of the Bible in California continue unhindered (for now), what about other books? As I have already stated, I think the argument is strong that AB 2943 could be used, generally, to ban the sale of certain books.Take a look, for instance, at the books in the photo at the beginning of this post. This is just a sample of the books I pulled off my bookshelf, from the library I have accumulated in 17 years at Family Research Council. The books pictured are not just ones that deal generally with Christian moral teaching on sexuality. Unlike the Bible, these eight books are specifically and entirely about sexual orientation change efforts.There can be no question that the sponsors of AB 2943 would prefer that books like this did not exist. Could the bill be used to ban their sale?Some supporters of therapy bans (a number of which have been enacted in the wake of California’s action in 2012) have argued that they do not prevent someone from expressing the opinion that homosexuality is undesirable, or expressing the opinion that it can change, or even expressing the opinion that therapy can facilitate such change. All they ban is someone actually undertaking such efforts. So maybe a few of these books would escape California’s new censors.But what about James E. Phelan’s Practical Exercises for Men in Recovery of Same-Sex Attraction (SSA)? This book appears to have no purpose other than actually bringing about sexual orientation change in the men who read it. Under AB 2943, how could California allow “any practice” that includes the “sale of” this particular “good?”Banning Books is TotalitarianIn the past few weeks, Christians have been shocked by the possibility of a state banning the sale of the Bible.But shouldn’t every American be shocked at the thought of a state banning the sale of any books based on their philosophical, religious, or moral viewpoint?Banning books because one doesn’t like their message?In the United States of America?In this country, you can sell all kinds of books.You can sell Mein Kampf, and The Communist Manifesto. Bookstores sell the celebration of sado-masochism of Fifty Shades of Grey, and the celebration of sodomy in Allen Ginsberg’s Howl.But now, California might ban the sale of Practical Exercises for Men in Recovery of Same-Sex Attraction? Or ban Coming Out Straight—just because it says that for “those who struggle with their own same-sex attractions,” it will “open the door to a new, happier, and fulfilling heterosexual life”?The idea of banning books—any books—because the authorities don’t like their message is totalitarian. In the United States of America, it should be unthinkable. California legislators should affirm that it is unthinkable—by voting “No” on AB 2943.Banning Therapy is Totalitarian, TooWhile the prospect of the Bible—or any books—being “banned” from sale has focused attention on AB 2943, I hope it will also bring people’s attention to the central issue:Banning a client-chosen goal of therapy is just as totalitarian.By framing their assault upon the freedom of therapists and clients as an exercise of the state’s power to regulate health care or (in the case of AB 2943) to prevent “consumer fraud,” LGBT activists have masked how unprecedented these therapy bans are in the history of American law or counseling.Note that what these bills seek to outlaw is not a particular therapeutic technique. While advocates will tell stories (some of them far-fetched) about being victims of “aversion therapy” techniques that have not been used in 40 or 50 years, the prohibition is not limited to “aversion therapy.” When pressed, sponsors must admit that they seek to outlaw ordinary talk therapy as well. What these laws and bills target is nothing more or less than a goal: “to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.” This is extraordinary.Supporters of the bans will also imply that people are “coerced” into undertaking SOCE. That problem (if it exists) could be resolved by requiring “informed consent” before therapy. The prohibitionists reject that, insisting on banning all therapy, even if the client desperately wants it. (Can you imagine the outcry from some of these same activists on the Left if conservatives argued, “Because some women are coerced into having abortions, the only solution is to prohibit any women from obtaining them”?)Therapy bans violate freedom of speech for therapists, freedom of religion for clients and therapists, and the privacy of the therapist-client relationship.They should outrage every freedom-loving American, and should be opposed by every legislator.
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