Dr. Rick Shrader is the editor of Aletheia a monthly publication which helps meet the need for a balanced conservative voice among Baptists.
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Part 01 Prolegomena
NBC is taking a poll on "In God We Trust" to stay on our American currency.
NBC is taking a poll on "In God We Trust" to stay on our American currency.
Today's category: ScienceThe Beginning Of LifeÂ Â Â Â Â Â In a recent Round-table Discussion Group the question was asked of the Ministerial Panel, at what point does life begin.Â Â Â Â Â Â The Baptist Preacher spoke first and said "At conception, of course!".Â Â Â Â Â Â The Presbyterian Minister said "No, no, it's certainly begins at birth".Â Â Â Â Â Â The Catholic Priest tried to buffer the obvious argument point and suggested "Perhaps you're both wrong, and it's a compromise in that the fetus is not functional with a heartbeat until the third month".Â Â Â Â Â Â They had to prod the Jewish Rabbi for his answer, and he finally leaned forward to his mike and spoke softly "All of my friends here are wrong. Life begins when the last child leaves home, and the dog they left behind dies!!!".View hundreds more jokes online.Email this joke to a friend
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 WMATAâs 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 didnât want to accept the Archdioceseâs 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 contentânoting that âreligion is excluded as a subject matter.âBut is all of âreligionâ really being excluded? It doesnât 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 âpromoteâ or âopposeâ religious beliefs. The court relies on these guidelines to distinguish the Archdioceseâs proposed ad from ads by the Salvation Army and a yoga studio, which WMATA permitted despite their religious overtones, claiming they donât 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 courtâs comment that âreligion is excludedââseeming to refer to religion generallyâisnât even correct).We should be especially wary of government restrictions on oneâs 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 adsâas 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 messagesânow, 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 hecklerâs 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 doesnât 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 Phillipsâ 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 Coloradoâs application of its public accommodations law to him, but Breyer asked, â[W]hat is the line? . . . [W]e want some kind of distinction that will not undermine every civil rights law.âKagan 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 whatâs 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 isnât it about race? Why isnât it about gender? Why isnât it about people of different religions? So thatâs a second axis.And thereâs 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 doesnât seem like such a small thing.1.Â âSpeechâ vs. ânon-speechâ in the wedding industryThe core of the argument made by Kristen Waggoner, the Alliance Defending Freedom attorney representing Phillips, related to the first âaxisâ Kagan mentioned. The courts have previously found that under the First Amendmentâs 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 âspeechâ 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 Phillipsâ religious beliefs. Therefore, the state of Colorado may not compel Phillipsâ 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 âspeech,â and what is ânon-speech,â 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 Kaganâs other two âaxesâ (plural of âaxis,â not âaxâ) are also significant. Unlike Kagan, however, I think they make the case easier to decide, not harder.2.Â âWhy is this only about gay people?âThe second axis of line-drawing has to do with any distinctions between various protected categories. Is there a difference between âdiscriminationâ that is based on sexual orientation (âgay peopleâ), and that based on race, sex, or religion? Attorneys on the other side and the more liberal justices hammered on the race analogyâif 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 childâs birthday?Now, before discussing the question of whether âdiscriminationâ based on âsexual orientationâ 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 âsexual orientationâ at all. Phillipsâ 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 âsexual orientationâ of the individuals involved.Phillips would bake a cake for a wedding of two people who self-identify as homosexualâif 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 âdiscriminationâ 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 âstrict scrutiny,â which means that they can very rarely be justified. The Supreme Court has never said that classifications based on âsexual orientationâ 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. âSexual orientationâ does not meet the same criteria. In fact, its definition is not entirely clear, since depending on the context, it may refer to a personâs 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 personâs sexual attractions may indeed be involuntary (I am not saying people âchoose to be gay,â if âbeing gayâ is defined based on attractions alone). However, a personâs 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 conductânot the attractions or even the self-identificationâwhich 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, âOur decisions have declined to distinguish between status and conduct in this context.â The âcontextâ she referred to was a sexual orientation classification. (In that case, the University of Californiaâs law school had denied recognition to a Christian student organization because they did not permit people who engaged in âunrepentant homosexual conductâ to serve in leadership positions.) âCLS contends that it does not exclude individuals because of sexual orientation,â reported Ginsburg, âbut rather âon the basis of a conjunction of conduct and the belief that the conduct is not wrong.ââ An analysis in the New York Times described Ginsburgâs sentence rejecting the distinction between âstatus and conductâ as a âtime bombâ 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 âtime bombâ 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 Phillipsâ action was âidentity discriminationâ:JUSTICE KENNEDY: Well, but this whole concept of identity is a slightlyâsuppose he says: Look, I have nothing againstâagainst gay people. He says but I just donât think they should have a marriage because thatâs contrary to my beliefs. Itâs not âMR. COLE: Yeah.JUSTICE KENNEDY: Itâs not their identity; itâs what they're doing. MR. COLE: Yeah.JUSTICE KENNEDY: I think itâs -- your identity thing is just too facile. [Emphasis added.]Whether the court has distinguished between homosexual conduct and an âidentityâ or âstatusâ as âgayâ 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.Â âWhy is it just about weddings?âThe 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.Phillipsâ 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 âmessage . . . that [a same-sex] union is a marriage . . . violates Mr. Phillipsâs religious convictionsâ (because his Christian faith teaches him that âmarriageâ can only be defined as the union of a man and a woman). In addition, the âmessage . . . that [a homosexual] union . . . is to be celebratedâ also âviolates Mr. Phillipsâs religious convictionsâ (because his Christian faith teaches that homosexual relationships are sinfulâthat 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 âan inherent messageâ 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 Phillipsâ 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 âexpressive event.â This, it seems to me, would suggest that any participation in the celebration of a same-sex weddingâeven if it involves less creative artistry than the creation of a custom-made cakeâcould 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 Kaganâs concern was that drawing lines too broadly on all three axes she described would result in exceptions that would completely swallow the rule of Coloradoâs 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, âwhoa, this doesn't seem like such a small thing.âI believe, however, that there are sound reasons for narrowing the exemption regarding protected categories only to sexual orientationâlogically, 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 Franciscoâs view of a wedding itself as an âexpressive eventââand therefore extend the protection against âcompelled speechâ to any vendor who provides wedding servicesâwhether baker, florist, or photographer, or calligrapher; or even chef, hair stylist or makeup artist.Such a decision would leave Coloradoâs 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.
by John HendryxFrom the beginning to the end of John's Gospel, Jesus has a definitive train of thought regarding whom He came to save. In John 6 (for example) during a discussion about faith with some Jews, Jesus declared, "All that the Father gives me will come to me" (John 6:37) - From this text we understand that all the people that the Father gives to the Son will come to faith in him. It does not read "some" of those given by the Father will come to faith but instead reads "all" those the Father has given the Son will come to faith in Him. Note that it also teaches that the giving to the Son precedes their believing in Him. (also see John 6:63, 65)Lets make some other connections with this phrase from another part of the Gospel of John:
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 weekâs 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 familyâs Christmas devotional calendar. Moreover, you can download the music mentioned in the book here. And you can buy a teacherâs 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.
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