Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sorry, Rush, Bible calls for civil debates

The political discourse has grown increasingly hostile as the election season ramps up.
Radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh recently called a Georgetown law student a "slut" and a "prostitute" after she testified before an unofficial hearing that the university’s refusal to cover contraceptives as part of its health-insurance plan has a negative impact on female students.
In the same week, Montana’s chief U.S. district judge, Richard Cebull, acknowledged forwarding an email joke that implied that President Barack Obama’s mother had sex with a dog.
Both men have apologized, but the incidents reflect a loss of civility in the political arena.
In a democracy, disagreements are expected, if not encouraged. To preserve our ideals and propel our country toward a "more perfect union," we must debate the issues. The policies that our politicians enact have social and moral consequences that determine the nation’s future and reverberate in all our lives. Thus, some conversations will be emotionally charged.
The Bible does not discourage Christians from voicing their opinions, especially when doing so would help preserve the faith. Apostle Paul cautions the church not to be deceived by false doctrine. As a counter, he encourages Christians to "speak the truth," but adds that such utterances should be expressed "in love." Peter tells Christians to be prepared to defend the faith, but "with gentleness and respect."
Free speech is one of the principles that make our country great. We should never attempt to silence or restrict citizens from stating their views, no matter how much we may disagree. But it is possible to differ in our opinions without degrading one another. Derogatory comments, such as those put forth by Limbaugh and Cebull, have no place in a political discussion. They detract us from the real issues and divide our nation.
The debate will get increasingly contentious as we move past the primaries to the general election. There will never be a time when every citizen is completely satisfied with our elected leaders and the nation’s policies. If need be, we should oppose the ideology, not the individual. America’s beauty is we can differ in our political opinions yet remain united.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Lent may not be necessary, but it’s nice

This week began the season of Lent. The 40 days leading up to Easter (excluding Sundays) are intended to be a time of prayer and penance demonstrated by some form of self-denial. In many countries, the day before Lent is celebrated with overindulgence in anticipation of the solemn season. Ash Wednesday then officially begins Lent.

Lent dates back to the church fathers. In its earliest form, it is believed that Christians fasted only for the few days before Easter. By the end of the fourth century, the period of preparation had been extended to 40 days.

A 40-day observance was likely selected because of its spiritual significance in connection with preparation. The Scriptures tell us Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai, without eating or drinking, as he prepared to receive the Ten Commandments. Before beginning his public ministry, Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert.

While strict fasting rules have been eliminated in Western Christianity, Lent continues to be observed in Roman Catholic churches and some mainline Protestant denominations, including Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican. Ash Wednesday and much of the Lenten season go largely unnoticed in many Christian churches.

Some evangelicals object to Lent because it is not found in the New Testament. This argument is baseless. Christmas and Easter are not celebrated in the Bible either, yet they are widely accepted as sacred Christian holidays.

Perhaps a more valid objection is to the ritualistic practices that characterize Lent, such as the rubbing of a cross with ashes on the foreheads of worshippers on Ash Wednesday. In the Hebrew Bible, humility and deep remorse for one’s sin were displayed by wearing sackcloth and ashes, accompanied by a period of fasting. After Christ’s resurrection, many such rites were abandoned and the apostles encouraged prayer as the means of repentance. Further, Jesus cautioned his followers against advertising a fast: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.” The warning here is against wrong motivation.

The Lenten fast is not a biblical mandate; nevertheless, all Christians can benefit from observing the season. Prayer and fasting affirm Christians’ devotion to and dependence on God. The act of self-denial is intended to allow individuals to focus more on spiritual things — not always an easy task in hurried and harried lives. This need not happen during Lent, but in the days leading up to Easter, when we celebrate the sacrifice Jesus made to atone for sin, it seems fitting to renounce sin and reaffirm commitment to God.

Evangelicals still candidate shopping

Evangelical voters are having a difficult time settling on a Republican presidential candidate. With Texas Gov. Rick Perry out of the race, none of the remaining viable candidates is an evangelical. Mitt Romney is Mormon; Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are Roman Catholic.

Santorum snagged the evangelical vote in Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado, Romney in New Hampshire and Nevada, Gingrich in South Carolina. In Florida, Romney and Gingrich split that support.

The top issues for evangelical voters typically have been abortion and gay marriage. To varying degrees, all three of those candidates hold positions consistent with Christian conservatives. However, other factors prevent full support of any one of the contenders.

Gingrich’s past marital infidelities pose a problem not just for evangelicals, but also for Republicans who tout themselves as champions of family values. While some evangelical voters may be willing to forgive Gingrich, if selected as the party’s nominee, he would arguably be running against one of the most family-oriented presidents the country has ever had.

Some evangelicals remain leery about Romney because of his religion. Also, the former governor of Massachusetts has not always been pro-life, raising questions about his conservative credentials.

Santorum would seem to be the clear favorite. He is the most consistent social conservative. However, in a head-to-head battle with President Barack Obama, many doubt Santorum could prevail.

None of the GOP candidates has been especially vocal about his faith. Presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush openly professed their religious beliefs, making them attractive candidates to evangelicals. The general belief is a candidate who makes his or her faith a priority during the campaign is more likely to support biblically aligned policies.

“If [the candidates] don’t ever get around to talking about the Lord and about biblical principles and about their determination to defend those things in the culture,” said Christian leader James Dobson, according to The Christian Post, “then we better find another candidate.”

The quandary this year for evangelical voters is whether to back a candidate who most closely reflects their values or one who can defeat President Barack Obama. So far, the base appears to be split.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Utah court gets it right on right to life

The Utah Supreme Court recently ruled that an unborn child qualifies as a minor and wrongful-death claims can be filed on behalf of a fetus who dies before birth.

The decision stemmed from a 2006 medical negligence lawsuit filed by a Utah County couple after their baby was stillborn.

A few other states have also extended liability for wrongful death of unborn babies, and some states are proposing ballot initiatives to recognize the legal personhood of a fetus.

I applaud the Utah court’s ruling. The recognition of a fetus as a person promotes the sanctity of life.

The crux of the pro-life argument is that life begins at conception and thus terminating a pregnancy is equivalent to ending a life.

Scriptures teach that a fetus in the womb is a living being who has a divinely ordained purpose. The prophet Isaiah said, “The Lord called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name.” God said to the prophet Jeremiah, “I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart.” The psalmist declared to God, “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”

From a biblical perspective, ending a life in the womb is unthinkable.

While the pro-life premise has scriptural backing — and the termination of a pregnancy violates the tenants of many faiths — opposition to abortion is not simply a religious issue. These recent decisions are giving the movement legal merit.

Abortion-rights advocates base their arguments on the right of women to dictate the course of their own lives. By opting to have an abortion, the woman elevates her right to choose over her child’s right to live.

Courts have asserted in several cases that children under a certain age suffer a legal disability because they are unable to make sound judgments. For this reason the government has an interest in protecting the well-being of minors. At times this may require infringing on the personal freedoms of adults. For example, the law mandates that parents secure their children in car seats while riding in vehicles. The protection of children from physical harm outweighs the parents’ right to do as they please in their own car.

If Utah and other states acknowledge the personhood of an unborn child, then it stands to reason that a fetus deserves the same legal protections as minors. Thus, the unborn child’s right to live should be safeguarded — even if it may violate a parent’s freedoms.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Keep tax money out of abortion

Published November 13, 2009
The House's recently passed health-care bill includes a provision banning the use of federal funds for abortion services in the public insurance option and government-sponsored health-care exchange.

The measure prohibits abortion coverage as part of a minimum benefits package except in cases of rape, incest or if the mother's life is in danger. The restriction, a big victory for anti-abortion forces, has ignited a fiery debate, and abortion-rights advocates are determined to strip the amendment. Many doubt the Senate bill and any final legislation will contain a ban on government-financed abortions.

Abortion-rights groups call the funding restriction an underhanded attempt by opponents to ban legal abortions in the United States. This is a gross exaggeration. The amendment does not prohibit a woman from having an abortion; it merely forbids government funds paying for one (women would be required to buy separate insurance riders with their own money to cover abortions).

Health-care reform is long overdue. Access to medical care for all Americans is a moral issue and lawmakers must find a solution. But the possibility of government-subsidized abortions is unconscionable. Federally funded abortions are essentially taxpayer-funded abortions. Some have argued this would not be the first time the government has used taxpayer money to pay for programs that some Americans oppose. This may be true, but few issues are as divisive; both sides of the debate hold deep convictions.

Abortion foes ascribe to the belief that life begins at conception. Terminating a pregnancy thus is equivalent to ending a life. This is considered not only morally wrong but also a clear violation of the tenets of many faiths. Rearing children, whether planned or unplanned, can be challenging, but every life has a purpose and deserves to be protected. Adoption is a viable alternative to abortion.

Abortion-rights advocates base their arguments on the right of women to dictate the course of their own lives. Ironically, by choosing to have an abortion, the woman elevates her right to choose over her child's right to life. If abortion opponents are expected to respect a woman's right to choose to abort her child, those on the other side should respect our right not to want to pay for it with tax dollars.

Like many abortion opponents, I continue to support nonviolent efforts for legislative reform. However, until the law changes, abortion foes are forced to acknowledge that abortion is legal. As a person of faith, I find this a harsh reality. But forcing anti-abortion taxpayers to fund a practice so contradictory to our moral and religious beliefs crosses the line. It is callous and infringes on our rights.

Murder of abortion doctor a tragedy on both sides of the debate

Published June 12, 2009
On May 31, George Tiller, a physician who performed late-term abortions, was gunned down at his church. The suspect being held for the murder is an anti-abortion activist, Scott Roeder, who is reported to have regularly protested outside Tiller's clinic.

This week, Tiller's family announced that his clinic would close permanently. Under normal circumstances, the closure of an abortion clinic may be a victory for the pro-life movement, but Tiller's murder is a tragedy for both sides of the abortion debate.

The crux of the pro-life argument centers on the sanctity of human life. While many people who consider themselves pro-choice agree that life is sacred and should be protected, some do not agree that a fetus is a living organism and thus, terminating a pregnancy does not equate to ending a life.

Some may consider a fetus to be a life but believe there are extenuating circumstances, such as rape or possibility of giving birth to a severely disabled child, that justify abortion. Still others hold that the woman has the right to make a decision on the fate of the fetus (whether it is a life or not), since it is taking residence in her body. Some people are pro-choice simply because they do not believe in legislating morality.

On the other hand, pro-lifers ascribe to the belief that life starts at the time of conception. In Jeremiah 1:5, God says to the prophet Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart."

Based on this text alone, it seems safe to conclude that God's acknowledgement of human life begins long before birth. This thought is also the premise of opposition to so-called "justifiable abortion." While the circumstances surrounding rape are traumatic and raising a disabled child is challenging, every life has a purpose and deserves to be protected; adoption should be considered in place of abortion.

But be that as it may, if sanctity of life is the basis of Roeder's ideology, it is hard to miss the inconsistency. By committing murder, Roeder is guilty of the very act that he so vehemently opposes. It is these sorts of contradictions that contribute to the delegitimization of the pro-life movement. Most of the leading anti-abortion groups have condemned Tiller's murder, but no movement is devoid of fringe people.

In recent years, the pro-life debate has been dominated by extremists, many of whom have committed senseless crimes in the name of religion. The irony in this instance is Tiller was shot while serving at his church, making it more difficult to turn this into a religious versus irreligious discussion.

No one claiming to value life can condone Tiller's murder. Even though his decision to perform late-term abortions went against pro-life beliefs, his life deserved just as much respect and consideration as the life of an unborn child.

Canceling church on Christmas makes no sense

Many churches see a surge in attendance around Christmas, but this year the holiday falls on a Sunday, leading some congregations to cancel their worship services.

Some pastors doubt parishioners will take time to attend a church service on Christmas Day. Others want to allow their staff and volunteers to spend time with their families.

The purpose of a Sunday service is for Christians to gather and worship Christ. It is ironic, then, that churches are scrapping services on CHRIST-mas. It seems as unthinkable as shelving an Easter service.

Churches have long voiced concerns about the growing trend to remove Christ from the celebration of Christmas. Retail stores have replaced “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays.” Nativity scenes in public places draw controversy and court challenges. The commercialization of Christmas has led to excessive consumer spending, landing many in debt and overshadowing the religious aspects of the holiday. Some argue that Christians should not even observe the Christmas holiday because many of the season’s traditions have pagan origins. Further, historians do not believe Jesus was born on Dec. 25.

Be that as it may, Christmas is the day the Christian church has chosen to mark the birth of Christ. The day is significant because the faith hinges on the incarnation of Jesus. If the Messiah had not been born, he could not have died and there would be no promise of eternal life. The Bible says shepherds tending their flocks stopped their labor and made their way to the manger to see the babe. Wise men traveled a far distance to see the child. This was a momentous occasion. The promised Messiah had come. No distance was too great, no task too important.

Although many parishioners may not attend services on Christmas, canceling worship would perpetuate the idea that the spiritual meaning of Christmas is secondary. It makes no sense to defend the religious roots of the holiday if we are so entangled in the secular ones. There’s nothing wrong with exchanging gifts or spending time with family, but these activities should not draw Christians away from manger. If Jesus is the reason for the season, then taking time to remember his birth should never be an inconvenience, no matter what day it falls.