Month: March 2014

Better that Sandy Hook shooter was never born?

The father of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza sums up his thoughts in an interview released last month by saying that he wishes Adam had never been born. If we look at his final act in a vacuum, that view is understandable: 27 murdered, including 20 children, and one more if you count his life, which he took after his killing spree.

Judging from interviews, Peter Lanza appears to be a man who wanted to love his son, not some lunatic father who created a monster.

If the inevitable was that this warped 20-year-old would massacre children and adults in an unfettered rage, where’s the good in Adam Lanza’s life? It’s a fair question. Perhaps the deeper question is if it was inevitable, then weren’t Adam’s actions only a matter of matter—a design defect or mental illness, perhaps a killing gene, which created a monster who was predestined to emerge, sooner or later, in a killing spree.

If that line of thinking about nature and nurture (and it’s not clear from interviews what his father believes) is true, it has scary implications for the realm of bio-ethics. Would genetic markers of mental illness or social disability, even mild autism that could result in anti-social behavior, warrant the same rejection in the form of abortion that Down syndrome babies (more than 90 percent are never born) get now?

I think we can do better by asking who Adam Lanza could have been in an intact, loving, nurturing family with a mom and dad under the same roof and living in a community of connected, involved people, be they extended family or neighbors or friends.

Peter and Nancy Lanza were normal by all accounts. And therein lies the problem. Normal won’t do. Especially for the Adam Lanzas of the world.

In an interview in the latest New Yorker magazine, Peter Lanza said he is certain Adam, whom he said he had not seen for two years prior to the Newtown, Conn., school shooting in December 2012, would have killed him too given the chance.

“You can’t get any more evil. … How much do I beat up on myself about the fact that he’s my son? A lot,” he told the magazine.

Peter and Nancy Lanza were separated in 2001 and divorced—eight long years later—in 2009. Adam was 20 when he shot his mother and then went to Sandy Hook Elementary and did the unthinkable.

In the interview Peter Lanza describes Adam in his early development as “just a normal little weird kid” but adds that his later diagnosis with Asperger’s syndrome, a type of high-functioning autism that was officially dropped from a list of diagnostic categories last year in favor of more generic terms, masked deeper, darker mental problems that were missed by doctors. Adam Lanza, according to the story, rejected and resented the Asperger’s diagnosis he received at age 13.

Reportedly, he spent his final two years largely alone, spending long hours despairing of existence in his bedroom, apparently clinically depressed, socially isolated and refusing to see his father despite his mother’s pleas. As with many kids on the autism spectrum, Lanza struggled with anxiety and depression, sensory-integration issues and obsessive-compulsive disorder. He became particularly fixated on mass murders.

There’s no evidence Adam Lanza was victimized in any purposeful way except through the pain of divorce. Many couples divorce. Many kids endure (Do they have a choice?) without becoming sinister. There are no born killers, nor a killing gene. Adam Lanza was in no way predestined to murder.

But one is left to ask “What if?” What if Adam Lanza had been taught from the cradle that he was fearfully and wonderfully crafted, emotional challenges and all, in God’s image? What if he’d had the benefit of a loving father in the home rather than estranged through the pain of divorce? Kids need both parents, especially kids like him. What if he had heard that there was hope beyond this life, which can seem relentless in its thorns and thistles?

A thousand “what ifs” could be posed, especially by those of us who have the power to influence people in our own sphere for God’s glory and purpose. We come bearing the only true, lasting peace.

Yes, Adam Lanza should have been born by virtue of the fact that he was conceived. But there was much more in his life that should have been. He chose to kill. He wasn’t predestined by God or biology to do it.

Gay marriage & religious freedom: a modest proposal

The efforts by several states to pass laws protecting the consciences of people with deeply held religious convictions against same-sex marriage have ignited a debate that has generated far more heat than light. Charges of state-sanctioned discrimination harkening back to the dark days of Jim Crow have been leveled at the proponents of such laws.

Such comparison to Jim Crow laws are not analogous. As The Christian Post’s Napp Nazworth deftly pointed out, Jim Crow laws were government-mandated discrimination based on race whereas the several state legislatures’ efforts merely sought to protect private citizens from being coerced by government mandate to violate their consciences.

So, what stance should early twenty-first century Christians advocate and support?

Perhaps we should begin by saying that homosexual activity between consenting adults should not be criminalized. As much as we may understand the desire of our Ugandan Christian brothers and sisters to protect their country from the moral excesses of the West, we should counsel them not to criminalize consensual homosexual activity. As our 16th-century Anabaptist forbearers testified, there should be spiritual penalties (in the church) for spiritual infractions and legal penalties (in the state) for legal infractions that harm others. Separation of church and state means among other things that the church should not use the coercive powers of the state to penalize consensual infractions it considers immoral. It also means that the state must not interfere with an individual church’s discipline of such behavior. Consequently, as a Baptist Christian I would oppose the Uganda laws there and here.

However, as a Baptist Christian, I continue to oppose changing God’s definition of marriage to include same-sex unions. Such a redefinition goes far beyond consensual behavior between adults in its social implications for society, including its impact on children. Even though it appears that the American public is increasingly coming to a different conclusion, does that mean that there are to be no legal protections for those people of faith whose religious convictions are, and will remain, at odds with the current cultural zeitgeist? Are such people (millions of American citizens who continue to hold the moral and sexual views that have dominated the Christian faith for two millennia), now to be coerced on pain of prison, fine, or going out of business to participate in ceremonies (often religious) that they find unconscionable?

Part of the problem in addressing this dilemma is a legal philosophy prominent in American jurisprudence today. This philosophy has been clearly articulated by Chai Feldblum, an Obama appointee to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law Center. In her article, “Moral Conflict and Liberty: Gay Rights and Religion,” published in the Brooklyn Law Review, 2006 and Georgetown Law Faculty Publications, January 2010, Dr. Feldblum argues that in conflicts between the rights of the LGBT community and people of sincere religious conviction that “society should come down on the side of protecting the liberty of LGBT people.” She believes that in such conflicts it is a “zero-sum” game in which one side must surrender rights to the other.

She is in disagreement with the constitutional scholar Michael McConnell who argues that in such cases the goal should be to “extend respect to both sides … much as we treat atheism and faith as worthy of respect” and define such respect as “the civil toleration we extend to fellow citizens and fellow human beings even when we disagree with their views.” (Michael W. McConnell, “The Problem of Singling Out Religion,” 59 DePaul Law Review I, 44, 2000.)

I believe McConnell’s “respect” and “civil toleration” are far more noble goals than a “zero-sum” game where religious rights are always constricted.

How would such goals be achieved? I would propose no law allowing cafes, restaurants, bakeries, or photographers, etc. to refuse to serve the LGBT community if they offer their services to the public. On the other hand, there should be laws protecting them from being coerced to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies. Surely, fair-minded people can see the difference between serving a couple in a restaurant or making them a cake and being forced to cater a same-sex wedding reception. There is a big difference between taking a couple’s photo and being coerced to attend the rehearsal, the rehearsal dinner, the wedding, and the wedding reception and contribute your artistic talent through photography to that which violates your conscience at the deepest levels. In the first cases you are serving the public. In the latter cases you are being coerced legally and economically into participating in a ceremony that violates your conscience.

The difference between serving gays and being forced to participate in a ceremony that tramples conscience is the very point that is most often missed in the heat of this debate.

It would be as if a bakery owned by a member of the LGBT community were coerced to cater a membership initiation ceremony at the odious and repugnant Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. It would be as if an orthodox Jewish butcher were required to cater a pork barbecue for the pig farmers of America. It would be as if the owner of an African-American restaurant was required to cater at an initiation ceremony for the Sons of Confederate Veterans and was required upon legal penalty to bake a cake with the Confederate “stars and bars” on it, a flag they believe symbolizes the subjugation and enslavement of their ancestors.

Surely, we can find a way to follow Dr. McConnell’s path of civil toleration that protects the deeply held convictions of American citizens from being coerced. It is not as if the LGBT community will have any difficulty finding Americans willing to provide any and all of these wedding services. Why would they want to coerce and trample the religious convictions and liberties of their fellow Americans? Such coercion will not lead to greater affirmation of same-sex marriage, only greater resentment, backlash, and incivility.

Surely, we can summon what President Lincoln called in his first inaugural address (March 4, 1861) “the better angels of our nature” to do better than that. May we all resolve to seek greater civility, toleration, and respect.

—Richard D. Land, a native Texan, is president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., and executive editor of The Christian Post, where this column first appeared.

Texas abortion law upheld, likely SCOTUS bound

In a case likely headed to the Supreme Court, the embattled Texas abortion law passed last summer in special session cleared another hurdle on Thursday (March 27) as the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld it. 

The much-anticipated ruling from the three-judge panel in New Orleans was unanimous but not surprising to those watching the case. In a Jan. 6 hearing, the tone of questions from the court hinted they were skeptical of arguments the law placed an unconstitutional “substantial burden” on women seeking abortions when weighed against state interest in protecting the health and safety of women.

The Dallas Morning News has one of the better definitive stories on the case. We will post a story later at texanonline.net.

Of course, Abortion activists decried the ruling, but Texans for Life’s Kyleen Wright had a different take via Twitter: “Happiness is 3 brilliant women on the 5th Circ! Justices Jones, Elrod & Haynes rock. #WomenRule #HB2 #Stand4Life.”

What’s at stake with SCOTUS and Hobby Lobby

The Supreme Court of the United States is now deliberating on something far more important than exempting a business from some elements of the Affordable Care Act. Hobby Lobby and their owners face a choice between fines that will destroy their business and a moral compromise founder David Green has already declared unacceptable. On one side advocates for Hobby Lobby say that forcing the company to provide abortifacient coverage for employees will violate the conscience of the people that own this business. The other viewpoint is that women’s healthcare will be compromised if this company or any other company is allowed to dodge the requirement to fund all of 20 different contraceptive drugs and devices specified in the ACA. Shriller voices say that a decision in favor of Hobby Lobby would be comparable to the “pro-discrimination” law recently vetoed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. That law, by the way, would have allowed businesses to decline participation in ceremonies and celebrations related to causes the owners find odious, as with a photographer or caterer who prefers to decline participation in a same-sex “wedding.” This really is not a disagreement between those who don’t believe in religious freedom and those who hate women–discrimination as some have expressed it.

It is a disagreement over the meaning of religious liberty. Increasingly, the popular and political notion of religious freedom is limited to private, very private, expressions of religious devotion—what you do within the walls of your church or home. A Bible on your desk at work, a cross necklace, Christmas songs with an actual Christmas theme—all these have been challenged more than once in our public institutions. In a well-known Texas example, an Air Force noncommissioned officer was canned for refusing to even say what his religious beliefs about marriage might be. This will have implications for a variety of subjects, nearly any subject on which we might be at odds with the culture.

A win for Hobby Lobby would not be a loss for women’s health. Of the 20 different contraceptives covered by ACA, only four are at issue with the Green family. These four can arguably cause early abortions. In fact, according Hobby Lobby’s website, 93 percent of women are covered by the 16 devices and drugs to which the Green family has no convictional objections. Hobby Lobby’s owners have no convictional disagreement with contraceptives, but rather with drugs and devices that prevent the live birth of human beings already conceived. Even so, Hobby Lobby employees can obtain for themselves these other four remedies without running afoul of their bosses. Using images of the employer intervening between a woman and her health is really overblown. There is also the option, rejected by the Greens, of giving no healthcare to employees and paying a fine approximately six percent as great ($26 million per year compared with $1.3 million per day) as the one they face for offering a plan deemed non-compliant by Health and Human Services. If they really did not care for their employees, that’s the way to go.

The ramifications of this Supreme Court decision are significant. A decision one way will accelerate the erosion and disregard toward religious liberty that we have all observed in recent years. A decision the other way will be a precedent that supports the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. RFRA put the burden on the government to show “compelling state interest” before abridging the free exercise of religion, and even then abridging that exercise as minimally as possible. The court may be deciding if that standard is constitutional. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the administration is now treating RFRA the same way they formerly treated the Defense of Marriage Act—disregarding it in hopes that the court will overturn or weaken it. They are at least using a pretty generous interpretation of “compelling state interest.”

During a recent forum at Georgetown University, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, while terming the government’s case in Sebelious v. Hobby Lobby “trivial and silly,” said that Christians are losing the cultural battle because they haven’t done a good job of convincing people that religion is relevant. Obviously that is a discussion we’ve had within the body for 30 years; but Dershowitz is mistaken to think that secularists have no dog in this fight. An atheist’s or Buddhist’s beliefs are in no less danger than my own. While I don’t expect a Christian majority to arise and persecute skeptics in America, a religious majority of some sort will always be present and it will only grant full liberty to minority beliefs if required by law. It is foolish for anyone to assume he will always be in the majority. That’s why the U.S. Constitution should be more durable than opinion polls. That’s why presidents should be required to obey, even enforce, its inconvenient precepts. That’s why we must all pray that the Supreme Court will uphold the most basic freedoms God granted to men.

Former Prestonwood star takes ‘solid’ faith into Final Four

ARLINGTON—When he takes the court Saturday in a Final Four matchup with Wisconsin, Kentucky forward Julius Randle will be close to home.

The freshman star who has led the eight-seeded Wildcats to an unlikely Final Four berth is a graduate of Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano, across the sprawling metroplex from AT&T Stadium in Arlington. PCA is a ministry of Prestonwood Baptist Church.

“Julius is a great young man who is solid in his faith,” Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, said. “He and his mother, Carolyn, have an incredible bond, and it is wonderful to see how he is devoted to her. Julius loves his family, and he loves his family at PCA, where he was a good student for six years.”

The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Randle is averaging 15.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game for Kentucky and leads the nations in double-doubles (games in which a player has double digits in both points and rebounds) with 24. He has posted double-doubles in all four NCAA tournament wins.

Some experts are projecting Randle to be a top-five pick in the NBA draft in June.

On multiple occasions, Randle has publicly expressed his faith in God and his love for the Bible.

“Depending on whether it’s a home game, I go to the team chapel,” Randle wrote in a blog article on Coach John Calipari’s website. “That’s just something that’s important to me that I spend time hearing God’s Word before I go out and play.”

Even as a 15-year-old in high school, Randle was willing to talk about his faith in the Lord. In a video interview with ScoutsFocus, Randle said God was “my everything” and that he appreciated the devotionals his PCA coach held for the team.

“He keeps us into the Bible and into the word constantly,” Randle said in the video.

As a senior at PCA, Randle led the team to the Texas 5A state title, even though he missed much of the season with a broken foot. He returned from the injury sooner than he expected and scored 34 points in the championship game.

“Honestly, I just think it was a blessing from God,” Randle said in an article at coachcal.com about the experience. “He gave me the power to go out there and do that stuff. I don’t know how I did it, but it happened. It was definitely God working through me.”

Larry Taylor, head of school at PCA, said one of his favorite memories of Randle took place off the basketball court.

“I asked Julius to speak at a Student Leadership Institute National Conference, where I heard him publically proclaim Jesus as his Lord and Savior,” Taylor said. “He graduated PCA having achieved many personal and team accolades, including meeting his goal of a GPA above 3.0. But I will always think of Julius as simply a kind and caring young man.”

“I truly love the joy that you see in Julius, regardless of what he’s doing,” Graham added. “He has a great smile, an infectious smile, that now the entire country has noticed. I am confident that Julius will honor Christ with his life and incredibly bright future.”

–30–

An unchanging gospel in an ever-changing world

The homosexual agenda has advanced at breathtaking speed.  The first domino fell when it became politically correct to hold the position that homosexuality is an inherited trait rather than a chosen behavior. Logically following the first step, its proponents say that since homosexuality stems from an inherited trait, the homosexual agenda is a civil rights issue. Now in Texas, as in other states, the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage has been declared unconstitutional with the Supreme Court to issue the final say in the not-too-distant future. Chief Justice Roberts wants to slow the process down so that the court does not get out too far in front of the people. Through the clutter and noise of political maneuvering, what I hear is the unspoken proclamation that the Bible is irrelevant, and therefore, so are those who believe it.  

Despite the waves of humanism crashing around us, those whose eyes are still on Jesus know that the Bible carries a relevance more poignant than today’s newspaper.  The Bible speaks to moral issues as well as all other ones, but in order to be heard, someone has to preach and teach that truth.  We can view the moral changes around us, not just those from the homosexual agenda, in several ways. We can bemoan the fact that corruption is all around us and exhibit a self-righteousness that is not becoming at all; we can engage in vociferous saber rattling, or, we can view these days as incredible opportunities to shine an ever brighter light in an ever darkening world. I think of two passages:

  • 1 Corinthians 16:8-9 … “But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened for me, and there are many adversaries.”
  • Romans 1:16 … “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

Let’s stay in the fight until Jesus comes, because there are wide doors open right now, though the adversaries are many.  It is my conviction that they will increase the intensity of their opposition in the days ahead. More now than ever, this world needs the “pillar and buttress of the truth” to do her job (1 Timothy 3:15).  In the face of these adversaries, let’s not be ashamed of the gospel.  It is still the power of God for salvation to all who would believe.

 The culture in which we live today will change, and likely change very quickly, but the gospel remains the same. Let’s not change it or adjust it. Let’s preach it, teach it and live it in a spirit of love, mercy and grace.

Christians as a marketing niche

The TEXAN turned down an ad for the upcoming Noah movie starring Russell Crowe. We’d heard enough stuff about the altering of the story and had enough doubts about other content to make us pass. When it comes to movies we have a “when in doubt, don’t” attitude. There are companies that market popular movies to Christian audiences, but some of the efforts are clumsy or even goofy. The first such effort I remember had to do with a television miniseries about a nuclear exchange that devastated the country (“The Day After”). The network provided discussion questions to help youth ministers deal with the trauma kids would experience after the broadcast. Shortly thereafter I got a similar packet for an R-rated western about a preacher who straightened things out with a Colt revolver. The entertainment industry doesn’t get Christians, especially those of us who believe the Bible to be God’s perfect revelation of himself.

Back to Noah. I’ve read with interest the articles discussing the response of Christians to a movie almost no one has seen yet. The director, Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan,” “The Wrestler”) was mortified that anyone would suggest, after a preview screening, that he change the movie to accommodate biblical literalists. The reports of those who’ve seen it suggest that the movie not only (understandably) fills the biblical narrative with drama not recorded in Scripture but also changes the message a bit to accommodate modern sensibilities regarding environmentalism and overpopulation. I’m not sure if all that is true but it wouldn’t surprise me. I don’t think it will annoy me as much as clumsy propaganda like “Avatar” does. 

I really like some of Russell Crowe’s movies. “Cinderella Man,” “Master and Commander” and “A Beautiful Mind” are “watch ‘em again” movies at my house. The idea that the story of Noah, or even some version of it, would be given a modern treatment with amazing special effects sounds pretty cool to me. Of course I expect I’ll be disappointed that the biblical story was not grand enough for Mr. Aronofsky. He could tell it with only modest embellishments but he won’t do that and will not understand why we care.

The reason I’m not offended is that the director is making no claim to represent the plain message of Scripture. He, like many of our co-religionists, feels free to make the text say what he thinks it should say. I look forward to seeing the movie but I’m not taking a bus full of church people to it as an alternative to Bible study. My hope is that it will be a ripping adventure story well played. If that is not to your taste, skip it, but also skip that vast majority of movies that play loose with the details of history.

A second issue has to do with Christians as a market. I’m uncomfortable with being a marketing niche for movies, music, TV or even books. For one thing it implies that Christian art is only for Christians, and along with it, the truth that it carries. Sometimes Christian art has been marketed with the assumption that it could not compete in terms of excellence with other books, music, etc. This has often been true and a few careers have flourished based on this “ghettoizing” of Christian culture. But imagine the calculus of Newton or the portraits of Rembrandt or the concerti of Bach, or the fiction of Tolkien or Chesterton relegated that little “religious” niche of the book store or gallery. Each of these works had religious intent—were founded on biblical assumptions about truth, virtue and beauty. But Western culture owns them in a way it will not own most modern musicians and writers who believe in Jesus.

But other artists have a religious message. Artists who scoff at reality or the ability to know what’s true are making a religious statement. I recently went into a small bookstore that featured the works of neo-atheists Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris under the subject “science and nature.” Atheism was to the bookstore owner simply the truth. That is a religious statement. Imagine the chaos of grouping every writer, painter and musician in sections according to his worldview. But in this country we do that only with Christians. Thus you’ll find Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” in the religion section but not the counterpoint, anti-religious children’s books of Philip Pullman (a movie called “The Golden Compass” was based on his books).

Where were we? Oh yes, the Noah movie. Of course I’d love to see the stories of Noah, Joseph, Caleb, Deborah, Gideon and other heroes told well and with respect to the Author of the story. I guess Christians are going to have to make those movies. In the meantime, I don’t expect non-Christians to treat the Bible as true or historical—especially not in a day when most who call themselves “Christian” and many who call themselves “Baptist” similarly disrespect it. We embarrass ourselves when we freak out because the lost and liberal do not understand the Bible. Of course they don’t; neither did we when we ourselves were lost and liberal.