Gosnell and the Hypocrisy of Everything

[This appeared first at The Jagged Word on October 26.]

Halloween is almost upon us, and some people like to watch scary movies. But don’t see the new Halloween or Predator or The Nun. If you want a real horror show—because it’s true—go see Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer.

I saw it a couple Fridays ago and, while it’s not going to win any acting or cinematography awards, none of the cinematic shortcomings distract significantly from the story being told. This is one case where the story is so unbelievable, so horrific, so heart-rending, that everything else comes in second.

That’s not to say the acting is bad. Some scenes might seem more television’s Law and Order than award-winning film, but there are definite highlights. In particular, Sarah Jane Morris (as ADA Lexy McGuire) and Earl Billings (as Kermit Gosnell) are compelling and believable. Billings, especially, is convincing in his half-naive, half-psychopath portrayal. Nick Searcy does his thing (one of my favorites in every scene of Justified in which he appeared), though he goes a little over-the-top, big-time defense attorney at moments. But the best actors in this film are those who play the employees and patients of Gosnell’s clinic. These women are impressive in every sense. If they gave out awards for such short appearances on screen, they would deserve to win.

Continue reading

Last Men in Aleppo

[This first appeared at The Jagged Word on July 6.]

“Harrowing” is a word that was invented for a documentary like Last Men in Aleppo (streaming on Netflix). It follows a group of men who have come to be called the White Helmets as they go about their work of digging people, dead and alive, out of the rubble of the Syrian city.

These are not soldiers, not UN workers, not employed by anybody. They simply view it as their duty to do what they can in their city. They remain when most of the other citizens have gone. Khaled, in particular, sums up both the hopelessness and the determination of their cause. Looking around at a ruined and half-empty city, he says, “Nobody cares about anybody any more.” But he and his fellow White Helmets are the living proof against that proposition. They are there. They remain. They care.

Continue reading

A Hated Inheritance

[This first appeared at The Jagged Word on June 15.]

Since high school, I’ve been interested in the genealogy of my family. Nearly all of us German Lutherans as far back as I can trace, all of those generations are part of who I am. So far, there haven’t been any shocking discoveries, but there are certainly intriguing gaps in the records. At what point did my German ancestors settle in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (my father’s side) or Russia (my mother’s side)? What is the connection between the German town of Winterstein and my family? (One interesting speculation is that our ancestors were Sinti [Christian Roma or Gypsies] who took the Winterstein name after working as tailors for the minor nobility of Winterstein).

What about that one great-uncle who was kicked out of the pastoral ministry for some form of false teaching (and later reinstated)? What about that one cousin in my mother’s family who spent nearly her entire life in a mental institution? Why, on the same census, do my great-grandfather and his family appear to live in different locations?

Those sorts of questions are normal with the gaps in knowledge that open up when those who know the answers begin to die. But what if you were born with a last name like Goering, Himmler, Hoess, or Goeth, names infamously connected to the Nazi regime and particular concentration and death camps? I don’t know why it has never occurred to me that while no one (that I’m aware) shares the surname Hitler, many of the other significant members of the Third Reich would indeed have children and grand-children and other relatives sharing their names.

Continue reading

A (Not So) Wild Story

[This first appeared at The Jagged Word on June 8.]

On the one hand, Wild Wild Country (six parts, on Netflix) is about as strange a religious story as there is in the United States. On the other hand, it’s not very strange at all. The divisive nature of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (a name I would be okay never hearing again), the completely opposite stories told by the Rajneeshees and everyone else, and the weird, magnetic pull of the Bhagwan’s personality make this a compelling story. It’s salacious, with the (accurate) rumors of a sort of sex cult, but it doesn’t seem that the Bhagwan was all that involved in the sexual aspect of his commune, as you might expect a sex cult leader to be!

But even though the free-love aspect of the Rajneeshees seems to attract the attention, that’s only a side story to this documentary. The people interviewed are limited to four major people on either side of the controversy in Antelope, Oregon, in addition to law enforcement and legal participants. While normally I might want more breadth and more input from various people, the limited number of main players actually works well in a six-part series. You actually begin to get a pretty good feel for where they’re coming from and their individual personalities.

Continue reading

Really?

Seriously, what is our problem?  We just have to explain it, don’t we?  We just have to blame something or someone, don’t we?  We cannot help ourselves.  We blame guns, or video games, or movies, or psychology, or no prayer in schools, and we think ascribing blame will somehow accomplish something?  We think that will help the next time?  We think we can somehow slap some superficial band-aid on a gushing artery, and then we’ll all feel safe again?  How many times does some some “horrible,” “terrible,” “unthinkable,” “worst” “tragedy” have to happen before we’ll realize we can’t fix what’s wrong with people?  A new law won’t do it; more police won’t do it; more counseling won’t do it; school-sponsored religion won’t do it.  Are we really this stupid?  How long will we deny the evil that is in all our hearts?  How long will we pretend we don’t all sing in the black soul choir?  “Well, this was a ‘soulless monster’; I would never do that.”  That’s the kind of denial that perpetuates this garbage.

Really.  If you’re not praying with the Advent Church, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus;” if you’re not looking into your own black heart in repentance; if you’re not praying the peace and mercy of Christ’s resurrection for the families of those who died today, you’re just missing the point.  Dear God, how stupid and ignorant can we be?  Repent, hear the Word of the Savior who absorbed all violence into His own wounds, and pray, “Deliver us from evil.”  Anything else is naive, idiotic, or worse.

Timotheos

Pelosi On Contraception & Faith: “I Do My Religion On Sundays, In Church”

Pelosi On Contraception & Faith: “I Do My Religion On Sundays, In Church”.

Because it’s “private,” obviously.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with how she goes about her job.  But, really, then: why bother?  If what you believe and what you do have nothing to do with each other, one of them is a sham.  At least since the first Roman Catholic was elected as president, this issue has been at the center of politics.  If you look at how thoroughly what Washington and Lincoln, even Jefferson, believed suffused the way they governed, it is a serious deficit when people think that what they believe does not affect how they go about their vocations.  This is not necessarily about Christianity.  I expect atheists to govern as if there is no higher authority to which they owe obedience; therefore, the State or the good of the nation (however that might be defined by an atheist) will determine what he does.  (However, the work of the atheist politician may still, by his recognizing of some order in nature, align with what the Christian thinks the government should do.)   Likewise, if I serve in the government, and I believe human life is not mine to give, take, or manipulate–even for what I think are good ends–then I will work for laws that support that.  If I believe that it is necessary to, first of all, protect all human life by virtue of its being human, then all other goods will be ordered by the standard of that good, whether that be foreign policy, health care, the economy, etc.  What comes first in the order of goods determines how other goods will be ordered.

The fact is, Nancy Pelosi does govern by what she believes (it is literally impossible not to do so), but what she believes is not the same as what the Roman Catholic Church teaches.  She is, in fact, not separating out her Sundays and the days when she is at the Capitol; she just hasn’t recognized the conflict between what she really believes and what her Church teaches.  Actually, she probably does recognize the conflict, but she thinks her Church is wrong.  That’s why she wouldn’t answer the question about the teaching of the RCC on contraception.  She knows she’s on the wrong side of the Church on that question.  Further, her highest good must be something other than a Creator of human life, if she can, in any way, support the intentional taking of that life.  I don’t know what she would say is her highest good, but it’s clearly something different than the highest good of what she does on Sundays, in church.  In other words, she is deceiving either herself or her constituents about what she really believes.

How much simpler it would be if politicians would simply state their highest Good, so we could evaluate how that Good might work itself out in their particular policy decisions.  They all have one, and it unites their political positions into a whole (although, I admit, politicians may still hold contradictory positions because they haven’t thoroughly worked through what their primary goods mean for what they want to do).  For those, like Pelosi, who support the unlimited abortion license, their highest Good clearly is not the same as those whose religion on Sunday proclaims a Redeemer who was conceived, born, lived, died, and resurrected for every member of the human race.

Timotheos

They Keep On Chipping Away

The legal complications are beyond me (perhaps a certain lawyer could enlighten us), but I find it incredible that the New Mexico court system would require a photographer to take pictures at a lesbian commitment (I almost wrote “committal”) ceremony, especially in a state where homosexual “marriage” is not recognized.  The arguments seem to proceed in different ways, some based on religious, some based on artistic expression.  It seems that businesses do not have the right to refuse any customers because of their sexuality.  But do they have the right to refuse to, say, cater or photograph a ceremony with which they disagree?  In this case, it is the activity that is opposed, not the people (although the people are, by definition, engaged in the activity).

This is in line, however, with the City Council decision in Hutchinson, Kansas requiring churches who rent their property to the general public to rent also to homosexuals.  I’m not sure churches should rent their property to the general public, but it seems that those who don’t want to rent to homosexual couples will have to stop renting in general.  But who will decide if a church is renting to the general public?  What if either the bride or the groom is not a member of the congregation, but the other is?  Is that “the general public”?  Frankly, I can’t see this ending in any other way than a complete separation from the State in the areas of weddings, taxes, etc.  As long as we are connected in some way (the pastor as agent of the State at a wedding, tax-exemptions), churches will be pressed from multiple directions to align themselves with the wider culture, or risk penalties.

Perhaps it’s time we willingly give up tax-exemptions and State-sanctioned weddings, before a lawsuit forces us to do so.

Timotheos

 

Questions

Watching the testimony on religious liberty yesterday in the House Oversight Committee (I especially appreciated the testimony of my Synod’s President), and following Planned Parenthood’s Twitter feed at the same time, I have some questions.  I don’t need anecdotes or uninformed opinions–so keep them.   The only thing that I want to see is hard evidence one way or the other.

  • What percentage of women use some form of contraception primarily for reasons other than preventing pregnancy?  And what forms of birth control are they?
  • How much, on average, does the Pill cost with and without insurance?
  • How many insurance plans currently do not include coverage for the Pill?  How many include coverage for other forms of contraception?  What forms?  Update: Here are the Guttmacher (research arm of PP, let it be said) numbers for insurance claims (as well as a distilled version of the below CDC report).
  • How many people–actually–would the HHS Mandate affect?  In other words, how necessary does the Administration really think this is?  Update: Here’s a link to the CDC report that is often being cited or alluded to without attribution, which gives many of the statistics.  According to Table 15, only around 3% stopped using contraception because of the cost, around 2% stopped because insurance did not cover it, and around 2% because it was too difficult to obtain.  Also, notice that under Table 1ff., “contraception” includes NFP and other non-medicinal methods, and I think that’s been missed by the media citing a “99% of women and 98% of Roman Catholics use contraception” figure.  Further, if I read Table 4 correctly, the number of women using contraception currently is around 62%, while the other numbers are for those who have ever used any form of contraception.  That 62% is even itself misleading when nearly 25% of that is male or female sterilization.  So the media numbers appear to me to be highly misleading.

Also:

  • Who let Planned Parenthood and NARAL define contraception as “basic preventive health care”?
  • And what ever happened to self-control?  (That might take a dissertation.)

That’s probably a good start.  Even if the answers are unobjectionable, you might want to read this before you take contraception.  Further, none of this addresses the deeper point of religious freedom: even if most non-Roman Catholics do not find contraception to be a problem, do we really think that the intrusion into the fundamental religious beliefs of the largest church body in the country will end with them?  Do we really think that contraception is the issue here, or that the government will not continue its massive growth and its interference with what churches and religious organizations do and how they do it?  (By the way, I’ve got a couple nice bridges on the plains to sell, if anyone’s looking.)  But I would like these questions answered, so we can machete the undergrowth enough to see the trees.

One thing that should be mentioned is the difference in how PP and its ilk define “abortion” from how sane people do.  I saw more than once that the “morning after” pill does not induce abortions.  I assume that PP says that because the fertilized egg has not yet attached to the uterine wall.  But those who understand that once an egg is fertilized, a separate, unique human being has been formed, to which nothing will be added throughout the next nine months (the time in the womb will only develop what is already there), it is irrelevant whether or not that fertilized egg attaches: if a person does something (like take the morning after pill or other contraception) which can cause the lining of the uterus to thicken with the purpose of preventing pregnancy, a human life has been taken.  If that contraception had not been taken, the fertilized egg would (all else being equal) attach to the uterus and the baby would develop normally.  On this point, as on so many others, PP is simply being deceptive in its definitions.

But they are clear about one thing:

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) adopted recommendations for women’s preventive health care issued by the Institute of Medicine. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, drawing on these recommendations, requires new private health plans written on or after August 1, 2012 to cover contraceptive counseling and services and all FDA-approved methods without out-of-pocket costs to patients. However, existing plans are exempt from the requirement so long as no significant negative changes, such as cutting benefits or raising cost-sharing, are made to them; DHHS has said that most of these plans will likely lose this protected status within a few years. The agency has also proposed an exemption for some religious employers, similar to the exemption included in several state laws.

Additionally, federal law requires insurance coverage of contraceptives for federal employees and their dependents; it includes a limited but seldom used exception for religious insurers. In December 2000, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission made it clear that an employer’s failure to provide coverage of contraception, when it covers other prescription drugs and preventive care, is a violation of protections against sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; those protections for employees’ benefits include no exemption for religious employers.

Can anyone point me to the facts on those questions [obviously, I’ve found some of them]?  Without the answers, numbers and generalizations and “personal stories” are just being thrown around trying to sway the uninformed.

Timotheos

Does Planned Parenthood Do More Good Than Harm?

That seems to be the argument by seemingly otherwise pro-life people when discussions such as this come up.  It is irrelevant to me what the rabid abortion lobby thinks about this, since they are apparently unaware of any sort of rational discourse on the subject of abortion.  (E.g., simply scroll through some of the ad hominems and absolutely ridiculous claims by PP supporters on the Susan G. Komen Facebook page–click “Everyone (Most Recent)” at the top right of the Wall–my favorite is that “Planned Parenthood doesn’t preform [sic] abortions”).

The important question is how people who are against abortion can think that Planned Parenthood is not all about abortion?  Do they do some things that are not abortion-related?  Sure.  But who is naive enough to think that money that goes to an organization, even if those specific dollars are not used for abortion, does not allow that organization to do the thing for which it primarily exists: abortions and pro-abortion propaganda?  Say I have some money in an account that I use for microbrew, and I am spending the money in that account only on microbrew; if I run short in my microbrew fund, I might use some money from my book fund instead.  Well, if the federal government decides to subsidize my book fund, but not my microbrew fund, then if I stop using book money for microbrew, then technically I can say that I have not spent any federal money on microbrew.  Now stay with me, this might get complicated: if people give me money and they say use it for either books or microbrew, but the federal government is already subsidizing my book fund, then I can use all of that money on microbrew.  It hardly matters that I haven’t spent earmarked book money on microbrew: I still have more microbrew money.  Really, it’s not that hard to figure out.  So when Susan G. Komen decides not to give money to Planned Parenthood (which, for the fiftieth time, does NOT do mammograms), sure, they can say that the money does not go to abortions, but all that means is that more of their other money can.

Think I’m exaggerating Planned Parenthood’s emphasis on abortion?  Take a look at their webpage.  All you really have to do is plug in “abortion” for the euphemism “reproductive rights” and I think you’ll get a sense of it.  PP is not in favor of a single restriction on abortion.  Not one.  Not parental notification, not a waiting period, not full information, nothing.

Nevertheless, maybe you’re convinced that while abortion is wrong, Planned Parenthood does a lot of good in low-income areas.  Maybe you think they’re primarily there to provide “health care.”  Why, then, are African-Americans and other minorities the ones who have the highest abortion rates?  Why are there more abortions than births among African-Americans in New York City?  How many of those were done by Planned Parenthood affiliates?  I would like at least a few people to verifiably point out a single low-income area in the United States where Planned Parenthood is the only provider of basic women’s health care.

I don’t really care if Planned Parenthood has ever done some good for some people.  That sort of argument is like saying that Hitler was pro-family (which he was, as long as you were “Aryan”–not to be confused with “Arians”).  And maybe the similarities don’t end there.

You can decide for yourself if PP’s good outweighs its bad, but you actually have to examine the evidence, not just accept their talking-points and hysterics.  And you should watch this movie.

Timotheos

The Face in the Mirror

A while back, my wife and I watched an episode of Our America with Lisa Ling called “Pray the Gay Away?”  I thought the show itself did a good job of getting interviews with those who thought that homosexual sex and Christianity are fundamentally incompatible, as well as with those who thought they can be reconciled and that there is no fundamental contradiction.  Ling interviewed both the current head of Exodus International, which exists to lead homosexuals out of that life, as well as a former founder of Exodus, who now lives with his male lover.

That was all pretty much down the line, as far as someone might expect.  What I found most significant was the segment that Ling did with the counselors and campers at a camp in Minnesota, called The Naming Project ([TNP] held at an ELCA camp, and founded by two ELCA pastors and another ELCA-trained leader).  The impulse behind the camp is good: provide a camp for kids who have been bullied or otherwise marginalized by other people.  It does not help anyone to call them names or reject them because of their sin; they, like everyone, are individuals for whom Christ died–that, in itself, should be enough to end any form of aggression by Christians.  (Of course, this whole issue depends on what is or is not sin, which automatically determines what is and is not forgiveness.)  For TNP, Christianity is equated purely with acceptance and what amounts to greater self-esteem.  The entire segment with the mirrors and the affirmation of individuals no doubt feels good, and maybe those kids feel like no one has ever loved them unconditionally.  Unfortunately for this camp and for the kids who go there, unconditional love has been equated with acceptance of every person along with his or her every sin.  It seems that for every call to “hate the sin but love the sinner,” there is an equally loud call to love the sinner and the sin.

But the fundamental problem with the way that this camp goes about its “project” is symbolized by the very thing that the leaders think will show unconditional love: looking at themselves in a mirror.  “Look at yourself, don’t look at me.”  “You are a child of God.”  “We offer kids a place to be at peace with who they are.”  “Look what God has made: you are made in the image of God.”  This would fit very neatly at a free-will Baptist camp, but I see no way that it can fit at a so-called Lutheran camp.  For Lutherans, it doesn’t matter how you “self-identify,” and, for that matter, it doesn’t matter how others identify you.  It only matters how God identifies you; and how God “identifies” you is only good news if you are not a sinner.  And, for Lutherans, no one is not a sinner.  Gay, straight, married, single, there is no one righteous, not even one.  Looking in a mirror at what and who you are and saying that this is the fullness of who God has made is the opposite of everything the Scriptures say about human beings–unless one confines the Scriptures to Genesis 1 and 2, as the pastor in the clip seems to do.  We may have been made originally in the image of God, but unless we are remade by the Image of God, Jesus Christ, we are not children of God.  Instead, as our (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) baptismal rite says, “The Word of God also teaches that we are all conceived and born sinful and are under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as His own.  We would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation” (Lutheran Service Book, 268).  If you are at “peace” with who you are, you either haven’t been paying attention, or you’re lying to yourself.  Whoever is at peace with himself has given up the Holy Spirit’s fight with his own sinful nature, which is not eradicated until physical death and physical resurrection.  As much as looking at themselves means not looking at the one holding the mirror, it also means not looking at Jesus, whose judgment of us is the only one that matters.

Jesus does not say that we should just be ourselves, or be at peace with ourselves; He says we must deny ourselves (Matthew 1624-25; Luke 9:23-24).  He says not that the person is good, but that everything that comes from our own hearts is evil: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:19-20).  (No doubt this bible, listed under TNP’s resources, will help you understand these passages in a different “light.”)  To look in a mirror and accept oneself is the opposite of confession (which is essence of a wholly Christian life): it is pure narcissism.  It is much more Lady GaGa than Lord God Omnipotent.  Confession is to acknowledge that I am, along with all my impulses and desires, opposed to the God who made me originally in His image.  I have rebelled against that image.  I have nothing good in me.  I am, not to put too fine a point on it, evil.  That is the truth about me, and if it is not the truth about me, than I have no need of a Savior.  I may need a life-coach, or an encourager, or a self-esteem raiser, but I don’t need a Savior.  This camp teaches the opposite of everything that actual Lutherans believe.  And it’s not really relevant that these teenagers have identified themselves, or are being encouraged to identify themselves, as homosexual.  The relevant question is, what is the truth about human beings?  What is the truth about every human being?  And it is not good enough to “confess” that we are all sinners.  Christ did not die for generic “sin.”  He died specifically and particularly for sinners who do not “sin,” but who actually and specifically lie, lust, murder, steal, fornicate, commit adultery, covet, and make idols for themselves.  It is not good enough for the counselors and campers to confess that they are sinners in general, and then talk about God having made them that way.  What God made must be unendingly distinguished from what we are now.  To say that we are, without remainder, children of God who are “born this way” (it is a serious problem when a supposedly Christian camp’s slogans are indistinguishable from Lady GaGa’s), is to deny any doctrine of Original Sin.  If we are born “this way,” and if “this way” is okay with God, then either God is the author of sin; or we are not sinners, though we make mistakes.  I don’t know which one the leaders of the camp would choose, but they are alike denials of the entire Scriptural witness, not to mention a denial of Jesus Himself.

All it takes is a brief thought-experiment to highlight the (Christian) absurdity of accepting the person in the mirror: imagine if we were to do that with any other sin (for the sake of the progressives/enlightened, let’s call it a “negative behavior”).  Imagine an alcoholic who beats his wife: look in the mirror; you are a child of God; God made you this way; be at peace with yourself.  Or a chronic philanderer: be at peace with the person God has made.  Or an abuser of animals: look in the mirror and accept that you are made in the image of God.  Or even someone who lies or steals only once in a while: be at peace with the person in the mirror.  If we do it with LGBTQ youth, why not with those people?  What possible argument could be made?  There is at least as much or more public opprobrium connected to an alcoholic wife-beater than to a gay teenager.  The wife-beater is marginalized and oppressed, and it may even get him beat up by a better man.  Those are his impulses and inclinations, maybe even his orientation, and there are studies that connect alcoholism to genetics.  Why doesn’t he get a mirror in which to look and affirm what God has made?  Try to make an argument that could not also be applied to homosexual youth.

They are free to deny that we are sinners; but sinners don’t need a Savior.  Why not just say, we’re happy with who we are and we don’t need God to tell us that?  Why must we seek justification from some higher Power for our choices?  That’s a far more fundamental question than whether my personal god likes me or not.

Timotheos