Month: September 2010

Sex ed: Parents have rights, input

Sex education in Texas public schools?and across the nation?has been a flashpoint of controversy. But Texas parents can avoid the angst associated with the subject matter by asking questions, reading curricula, and serving on a state-mandated local advisory board with direct influence over the content of health instruction in their school district.

A primer on sex education vocabulary could be helpful. School districts have two options for sex education curricula in Texas if they choose to teach it: abstinence-only or abstinence-plus. Parents can choose to “opt-out” their student. And those same parents should inquire as to whether or not their school district has a Local School Health Advisory Council as mandated by the Texas Education Code.

The consensus is that school districts are not legally required to teach sex education. Texas Eagle Forum stated in a newsletter last spring that it is not required, raising the ire of some. But an attorney with the Texas Education Agency, citing previous interpretations, stated as much in published reports when questioned about it. A spokesman for the TEA confirmed the attorney’s comments to the TEXAN, admitting there is some confusion on the issue.

According to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards drafted by the State Board of Education, high school students should be taught specific elements of human sexuality and reproduction. Under “knowledge and skills,” students should be able to “discuss abstinence from sexual activity as the only method that is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and the sexual transmission of HIV or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and the emotional trauma associated with adolescent sexual activity.” (For a comprehensive review of the subject matter go to

But the Texas Education Code, section 28.004, states that parents must receive written notice “regarding whether the district” will teach sex education. “If instruction will be provided,” the notice to parents must include content details and an enumeration of parents’ legal rights, including the right to review curriculum materials.

Whatever the case, the state Legislature has not mandated an abstinence-only curriculum, but according to Gail Lowe, a seven-year member of the State Board of Education (SBOE), “We believe the state Legislature has been clear that abstinence-only is the best way.”

The TEKS drawn up by the SBOE reflect that directive.

What is clearly mandated is the appointment of a local health advisory council of parents and community leaders. With the council’s input, districts may customize a curriculum? within the guidelines of the TEKS?that best suits their communities, emphasizing health issues stressed by them. Lowe suspects there are districts that do not have an advisory council in place and parents should inquire as to how to get one established.

A council may recommend the abstinence?only or abstinence-plus curriculum. In abstinence-plus, abstinence is to be taught as a best option but the literature could be supplemented with a wide range of material?from merely incorporating contraceptive and “safe sex” information into the program, to instruction about deviant sexual lifestyles and same-sex marriage.

Some of the earliest sex education curricula were written by Planned Parenthood, said Janice Crouse, senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the think tank for Concerned Women for America. Crouse, a former speechwriter for President George H. Bush, writes extensively about human rights, sex trafficking, and national and international cultural issues that concern women and children. Her latest book, “Children at Risk,” was published early this year.

Crouse said as the instructional agenda of Planned Parenthood, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SEICUS), and NARAL Pro-Choice America came to light, parents balked at what was being taught in the classroom under the guise of sex education.

“Parents gradually became aware that what their children were being taught wasn’t what they wanted them being taught,” Crouse said. Instead of an abstinence-is-best policy the curriculum portrayed sex more as a physical function and instructed students how to have “safe sex.” By comparison abstinence was given a cursory mention.

Crouse said in health classes students were instructed to avoid the harmful vices of smoking, alcohol and drug use but were not being deterred from sexual activity, which can cause any number of sexually transmitted diseases, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and emotional distress.

Advocates of abstinence-only sex education responded with the creation of curricula that, as it has been retooled over the years, has proven effective in delaying sex and curtailing such activity in those already sexually experienced. A study released in February and published in the American Medical Association’s Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine stated: “Theory-based abstinence-only interventions may have an important role in preventing adolescent sexual involvement.”

The study concluded that two-thirds of the students introduced to an abstinence-only curriculum had not initiated sexual activity after a two-year follow-up. But half of the students who received generalized health instruction were sexually active after the same time period.

School districts can create their own curriculum or use any number of sex education programs developed independently. The Heritage Foundation in 2008 released a comprehensive review of the top abstinence-only education curricula available to school districts across the nation. The study cited the growing efficacy of such programs and stymied, to a degree, criticism from the proponents of comprehensive sex education such as SIECUS.

Crouse said the pro-abortion and pro-comprehensive sex education lobbies cite older curricula when making claims that abstinence-only education is ineffective at preventing sexual encounters among teens.

She said abstinence

Our man in Alpharetta

The announcement of Kevin Ezell as the presidential candidate for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board answers a couple of important questions for our denomination. Those who thought much about NAMB knew this would be a hard slot to fill with the right man, because it has proven to be so since NAMB’s beginning in the 1990s. There was even some discussion regarding whether or not the SBC could justify having two mission boards. For now we know the name of NAMB’s likely president and we know that we will have two mission boards for the foreseeable future.

Our North American board is perceived in a very different way by most Southern Baptists than our international board. IMB has the romance of unimagined lands inhabited by people who’ve never heard the name of Christ. Many don’t know what to picture when they think of NAMB?maybe disaster relief. State convention workers know a bit more. NAMB’s partnership with state conventions is a big part of their work, even state conventions that do not receive a large percentage of their funding from NAMB. For a large state convention, even 5 or 10 percent is a million bucks or two. Those who serve the denominational structures built by our churches know NAMB and have watched closely the drama of the past few years. I hope you’ll read more about Kevin Ezell in this issue of the TEXAN. You’ll also glean a bit about what NAMB does as you read the story. As I’ve thought about it, here are some important things I believe NAMB’s new president should bring to his office.

?A focus on lostness: Maybe nothing original here. We talk about it a lot these days. But realizing the shocking degree of unbelief in some cities, states, and regions outside the South should move our missionary focus in a more drastic way. There is no question of abandoning work in a state like Texas, where at least 50 percent of our residents are lost. But we must recognize that this percentage of lostness is higher, 95 percent or more, in some other states, and without the accompanying presence of millions of evangelicals as we have in our own state. It was this very reality that provided some of the impetus for the forming of a new state convention in Texas back in 1998. Our awareness of this great need is one reason that the SBTC keeps a lower percentage of CP gifts for instate ministries than any other state convention. America is generally more lost than even Texas.

?Earnest advocacy for North American missions: Others are called to bang the drum for missions outside the U.S. I also know that the distinction between there and here is not so easy to see as it once was. But a leader who will relentlessly impress upon our people the need to reach the Northeast, Midwest, and West for Christ will help Southern Baptists take a more thorough view of the Great Commission. Our IMB president, when he appears, will grab onto his piece of the load and enthusiastically draw people toward other nations in giving, going and praying. Great, that’s his job. We’re not shocked to find that most people in Armenia aren’t Christians. I look forward to a day when our people also know as well and care as deeply that most people in Boston and Fargo are just as mindless of the gospel.

?A heart to champion the Cooperative Program: This is partly “dancing with the one that brung you.” NAMB depends on the Cooperative Program and has fewer plans and efforts to tap other revenue streams than does IMB. If they merely develop other streams they will not do as well as the IMB. We know that more hearts and imaginations are lit up by ministry in Uganda than by that in Sheboygan. Until an adequately funded strategic plan to reach less romantic locales in the U.S. is in place, we’ll fall further behind in nearly all of the U.S. Currently, the Cooperative Program is the adequate funding mechanism. In fact, the business and financial plan of the Southern Baptist Convention requires all our entities that receive CP money to work within and not around cooperative giving. It is self-interest, collegiality, constituent responsiveness, and forward thinking to sincerely work to prosper the CP. As president, Ezell will and should work first to ensure that his agency is effective and focused, but not at the expense of the SBC’s overall ministry. NAMB will not prosper without either a resurgent Cooperative Program or a new plan that is nearly identical. To my knowledge that new plan does not exist.

?A plan and a will to encourage and win over leaders in pioneer state conventions: Some of these guys have been a little spooked by recent discussions related to their work. I understand that. Several conventions do not collect enough money in-state to pay for any state staff member. Even the strongest of our northern and western conventions would find themselves seriously hobbled by the loss of funding currently provided through NAMB. These state convention leaders are as committed to their locations, people, and ministries as anyone anywhere in the world. The rough and tumble debate regarding the Great Commission Resurgence has often left them rightly doubting the good intentions of their stronger southern brethren. They need to hear a plan and believe in NAMB’s future intent to reach pioneer states in partnership with the state or regional conventions. I don’t believe it has to be the same plan currently in place but it does need to be a plan based on knowledge recently gleaned from those working in these mission fields. Remember, NAMB’s best reason for existing is to provide a thorough strategy for reaching all corners of America with the gospel?especially those places without a strong Southern Baptist presence or heritage.

?An infectious vision that will draw strong state conventions into NAMB’s national strategy: Our oldest, largest, most affluent state conventions also have leaders who look at the changes likely coming from NAMB with some anxiety. A few are already responding to this anxiety by preparing to re-sort their budgets so it looks like more money is leaving the state without that actually happening. Convention leaders are important to our missionary work in all locations. They are also men and women who came to their roles with the intent of helping churches address the Great Commission. Ignoring their valid concerns or handing down edicts from Georgia would be suicidal, but it would also be wrong. Many state convention leaders will join in the pursuit of a compelling vision to reach North America. Others may come along as that compelling vision captures the imagination of the churches that make up the state conventions. NAMB’s job, particularly Kevin Ezell’s job, is to develop and winsomely articulate that vision.

I could easily name a hundred men and women who also have a punch list for NAMB’s new president. He has a long string of brain-numbing meetings in his future. I pray God’s great wisdom for him as he sorts through all the requests, demands, pleas, agendas, and marvelous ideas great and small. May the Lord grant him the vision to establish appropriate priorities from the massive input he’ll recei

Seeking God in Hollywood, coming up short

What’s not to like about the movie “Eat Pray Love?” As it turns out, quite a lot. The PG-13 rating will attract a fair number of moviegoers for a date night or a girls’ night out, and the movie is drawing crowds, finishing fourth at the box office the last weekend of August.

Julia Roberts takes the lead in her 40th movie, cast as a heroine for those who have been taken by the surprises of life, unsure of where to turn for help.

The character of Liz Gilbert walks away from soured relationships in hopes of finally getting it right. It is a quest anyone could imagine if money were no object as she sets out to feed her soul in Italy, assume the posture of New Age prayer at an ashram in India, and play at love after studying with a medicine man in Bali.

Gilbert seeks God’s blessing for her life-altering journey, admitting her unfamiliarity with his ways.

“I’ve always been a big fan of your work,” she eeks out, struggling to find the right words to express her desire.

Captivated by her earnest plea, movie audiences will naturally echo, “Aren’t we all?”

With confession out of the way, it’s time to sit back and get comfortable with ridding our souls of any person or place that stands in the way of finding peace (even if it means casting off one’s spouse to find one’s self). It’s a path with which the 42-year-old Roberts is familiar, having converted to Hinduism after growing up with a Catholic mother and Baptist father. According to an interview by Eunice Oh in People Magazine, the entire Roberts-Moder family goes to temple together “to chant and pray and celebrate.”

Her quest leaves something to be desired.

Playing just across the hall is another story of a life tormented far longer than the 30-something Gilbert’s. In “Get Low,” Robert Duvall portrays a 1930s hermit confined to a prison of his own making after his life is altered forever by one deed gone bad.

Felix Bush emerges from his solitude of Caleb County, Tenn., ready to take on the world by staging a funeral party at which all grievances against him will be aired. To the surprise and delight of the funeral home director, played by Bill Murray, Bush is willing to hand over a wad of cash to redeem his reputation and salve his own soul.

While Gilbert gains a sense of balance from the Yoda-like healer named Ketut, Bush is thrown off-kilter by not one, but two reverends. Neither compromises by offering an easy path to salvation.

It doesn’t work that way, the first parson declares, forcing Bush to go a great distance to find a minister who will give him the desired eulogy. “After you left here did you do the right thing?” asks the second minister.

“I felt that I did the right thing,” Bush responds, offering the same humanistic solution on which Gilbert depends.
Neither tale is hard to believe as both stories are drawn from real-life events.

The story of Gilbert is taken straight from the bestselling autobiographical memoir and has found such favor with readers as to multiply the pilgrimages to Ketut’s hut where visitors offer a monetary gift for similar readings. Duvall’s character is inspired by the true story of a reclusive Tennessean named Felix “Bush” Breazeale who attracted over 8,000 people to his funeral while he was still alive. Seekers will find it difficult to locate the mythical Caleb County, but most every moviegoer will recognize the landscape of an ancestor who eventually got low.

The son of a Christian Science mother and a Methodist father, Duvall has managed four marriages, most recently to an Argentinean who ranks “Get Low” at the top of the more than 80 films starring her husband. Asked by television host Mike Huckabee if he consciously seeks to communicate a message through a film, Duvall said, no. “If there’s a message there, let it happen,” explained the 79-year-old actor who first starred in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“I think it’s tied with religion,” he said more specifically of his newest movie’s theme. Recalling that his character questioned why he needed to ask Jesus for forgiveness when he “‘never did nothing to him,'” Duvall added, “You can still believe in Jesus and say that.”

“Eat Pray Love” and “Get Low” both provide cryptic staccato titles while addressing the most serious issues of life. Viewers of each will either find what they want to find in each movie, or, hopefully, look a little deeper.

The Psalmist offers a clearer message than these two films, often in single syllables, in the fifth chapter:

“Give ear to my words, O Lord,
Consider my meditation,
Give heed to the voice of my cry,
My King and my God,
For to You I will pray.
My voice You shall hear in the morning,
O Lord;
In the morning I will direct it to You,
And I will look up.”