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Pro-life - Abortion

Can Christians do pro-life undercover work?

Earlier this month pro-life undercover journalist David Daleiden lost a bid to get a $195,000 fine against him overturned when the Ninth Court declined to consider his appeal. The fine was related to the 15 felony charges Daleiden and his investigative partner, Sandra Merrit, were hit with for undercover work exposing how the abortion industry was selling fetal body parts. That work became public on July 14, 2015, when their organization, the pro-life Center for Medical Progress (CMP), released the very first of their secretly record videos. It showed Planned Parenthood’s Senior Director of Medical Services, Deborah Nucatola, calmly discussing over dinner the prices for harvesting body parts from the unborn children they were killing. For the next three months CMP released more videos, at a rate of about one a week, with each more gruesome than the one before it. Though the mainstream media was slow to cover the videos, the regular ongoing release of new videos made them impossible to ignore. Planned Parenthood’s murderous work became such a huge public political issue that it was discussed in the presidential candidate’s debates. By any measure, the impact of these videos was phenomenal. But some Christians criticized CMP and Daleiden, because their undercover work involved creating fake identities and pretending to be potential “fetal tissue” buyers so they could encourage Planned Parenthood employees to talk about the costs and availability of unborn children's various body parts. In plain speak, Daleiden and Merrit lied to, and deceived Planned Parenthood. And some think that, no matter the good that resulted, Daleiden and Merrit were wrong to do what they did because it is always wrong to lie. So can Christians, in good conscience, do undercover pro-life work like this? In his July 20, 2015, blog post “The Ethics of the Righteous Sting Operations” Douglas Wilson argues that: “Scripture fully allows (indeed requires) deception under certain conditions, while flatly forbidding it in others.” And if we want to discern the one from the other “then we have to do some Bible study.” Wilson takes his reader to Ex. 1:17-20 in which the Hebrew midwives lie to Pharaoh, in order to save Hebrew babies’ lives. Wilson notes there is a pretty direct parallel to the baby-saving activities of the CMP, with one difference. While the midwives were acting on behalf of their own people, the pro-lifers are acting on behalf of babies with no ties to them. “If there is a difference,” Wilson writes, “this video sting was even nobler.” He also references Nathan’s confrontation with David about Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12) describing Nathan’s activities here as “deceiving someone in order to be able to confront them with the truth.” He writes that Nathan’s point was “to deceive and then unveil the deception in such a dramatic way was as to unmask the unrighteousness being confronted….The point is to reveal, not hide.” The parallels to CMP’s activities are clear. We can and should thank God for the astonishing work this group has done on behalf of the unborn. And if you want to encourage CMP to continue those efforts, you can find out how to help on their website.

Culture Clashes, Theology

May I judge?

I hear repeatedly that we’re not supposed to judge another.  Young people express themselves this way, and that’s not surprising – after all, not judging others fits hand in glove with the postmodern dogma of tolerance that’s so rampant today. Different strokes for different folks, so let the other be; who am I to say that what you’re doing or thinking is wrong…. I’ve heard Christians appeal to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount to provide Biblical justification for the position, for Jesus told His disciples:

“Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1).

Case closed: do not pass judgment on another. Inconsistent But the Internet is full of comments passing distinctly unfavorable judgments. These leave me puzzled.  We’re quick to repeat the mantra "do not judge" but judgments abound. Something is not consistent here. This sort of thing happens more often. In our relatively small community we hear numerous details of what happens in the life of the person in the next pew, or in the congregation up the road.  And very quickly we have a judgment ready on what we hear. It affects what we say to one another, and affects too how we think about or treat the person(s) about whom we heard a story. Do not judge rashly A quick judgment is simply unbiblical. Solomon put it like this:

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17).

The Lord in the 9th commandment gave the instruction not to “bear false witness against your neighbor,” and the Heidelberg Catechism summarizes the instruction of this command with this confession:

“I must not … condemn or join in condemning anyone rashly and unheard” (Lord’s Day 43).

That counts for what we say on Facebook too. We do well to repent before God and man of our easy judgmentalism and seek to learn that God-pleasing habit of doing to others as we’d have them do to us (Luke 6:31). As we hate being on the receiving end of perceived gossip or slander, so we need studiously to avoid being on the giving end of gossip or slander. Test the spirits This does not mean, however, that I’m to be neutral concerning all I hear. The postmodern mantra that I’m to be OK with whatever anybody else thinks or does is simply not biblical. Consider, for example, John’s instruction to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). So much gets said, and people believe so many things.  But I’m to test whether what they say and believe is “from God.” John emphatically wants us to have an opinion on that – and then reject what is not from God. Testing, of course, involves so much more than hearing one thing and swallowing it dumbly as the final word on the subject. Testing involves listening carefully, understanding the details and circumstances, and then evaluating in the light of the revelation of the Lord of lords. You’re meant to have a considered opinion. That’s why, in 1 Cor. 5, the apostle Paul was emphatic to the Corinthians that they needed to pass explicit condemnation on the brother in their congregation who lived in sin, sleeping with his father's wife. They were not to be neutral on this man’s behavior but were to take a stand and excommunicate him. That’s because in this instance the details were abundantly clear (it wasn’t hearsay but indisputable facts evident to all parties), and so the saints of Corinth were obligated before God to form a judgment and carry it out. That obligation was so self-evident that Paul put the matter in the form of a rhetorical question: “is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (1 Corinthians 5:12). Judging: that’s your duty…. Jesus wrong? Is Jesus wrong, then, when He in the Sermon on the Mount tells His disciples, “Judge not, that you be not judged?” (Matthew 7:1). Actually, Jesus does not tell us not to have a judgment on what we hear or see.  Instead, Jesus’ point is that we’re not to judge rashly. That’s clear from Jesus’ next line, “For” – yes, note that connecting word!

“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged...” (vs. 2a).

If you are quick to condemn another, do not be surprised when others will be quick to condemn you;

“...and with the measure you use it will be measure to you” (vs 2b).

So if you hear one side of a story and condemn before you’ve heard the other side, be prepared to have folk condemn you on hearsay before they’ve heard your side of the story! Similarly, if you, from a self-righteous height, condemn others' behavior while you are yourself entangled in sin, do not be surprised that you’ll find no sympathy when others find out about your sin. Jesus puts it like this:

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (vs 3).

That, Jesus adds, is hypocrisy (vs 5). As long as you try to hide skeletons in your own closet, you are in no position to draw attention to skeletons you think you see in someone else’s closet. Clincher But Christians are not to hide skeletons in their closets! True Christians are repentant of their sins, and confess those sins to God and to those they’ve hurt by their sins. Then you’ve pulled the log out of your own eye – and at the same time have great understanding and empathy for another’s weaknesses and failures. Then you’ll test the spirits, and you’ll have an opinion on what you hear, and carefully avoid condemning the other in a spirit of lofty self-righteousness – and certainly avoid trumpeting your condemnation to John Public. The person who knows his own weaknesses and failures will instead sit down beside the sinning brother to show him his wrong and lead him on the way back to the Lord. It’s Galatians 6:1:

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”

Judge? May I judge another? It depends on what you mean by the word "judge."  I am not to condemn rashly and unheard. But I am to have an opinion on my brother and help him in the way the Lord wants him to help me.

This article was first published back in 2014. Rev. Clarence Bouwman is a pastor in the Smithville Canadian Reformed Church.

Religion - Roman Catholic

Jorge's Heresy

People might not think they know Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina. As a matter of fact, when asked, most will probably say they’ve never heard of the man. However, if you mention that the fellow changed his name from Jorge Mario Bergoglio to Francis and is currently residing in Rome in the Apostolic Palace, a light will go on and they will nod, “You mean the Pope.” Or perhaps they will use the familiar descriptor “Papa Francisco” to show that they indeed do know who the man is and that they rather like him. An affable looking, round-faced fellow, often smiling, Pope Francis has been touted in the press for humility; he has spoken out against abortion; and he seems not to care for wealth and material goods. Those are indeed virtuous marks with which no fault can be found. But ponder this: the man also prays the rosary three times a day. For those not familiar with praying the rosary, there is this clarification. To pray the rosary properly you begin at the bead holding the crucifix, starting there with saying the Apostles' Creed. Moving to the following bead the “Our Father” is recited. The next three beads take the Aves. That is to say:

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus, Sancta Maria, Mater Dei ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

Translated that reads:

Hail Mary, full of grace, The Lord is with thee, Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

The Gloria Patri follows, and so it goes on throughout the chain of beads. The usual number of beads on a rosary, by the way, is 59, although that can vary. Elevating Mary Pope Francis is very fond of Mary. In the 1980s, while studying in Germany, he found great solace praying in front of a baroque painting entitled “Mary, Untier of Knots.” The painting depicts Mary untying a knot while simultaneously stomping her foot on a serpent. He took the painting back to Argentina and urged people to be devoted to the Virgin. The pope sees her as an untier of problems. The knots represent sins to him, sins that separate people from God. Mary, as shown in the painting, unties these knots and brings sinners closer to God. The pope, and the Catholic Church, wrongly attribute mediatory qualities to Mary. The adoration of Mary is nothing new in Catholic circles. Many stories circulate with regard to her. One such story was reported on in the Nottinghamshire Guardian of September 9, 1864. In this article it was said that a soldier had appeared before the police court in Madrid, Spain. He had been charged with having stolen a gold cup, a gold cup of great value. Exacerbating this crime was the fact that this cup had been placed as a votive offering on one of the numerous altars dedicated to Mary in the city of Madrid. Hat in his hand, the soldier was his own defense lawyer. His family was in great need, he explained to the judge in the police court, and their straits so dire that he went to church to pray. We can imagine the judge regarded him rather blankly and ordering him to go on. The soldier spoke of how while he was engaged in prayer, before a statue of Mary, he beheld the jewels displayed on the statue's brocaded gown. And then, he said, the Virgin Mother stooped down to his person and "with a charming smile" handed over the golden cup to him. No one replied to the defense. It was decided that however inconvenient the admission of the miracle might be, it would be impolitic to dispute its truth. Consequently, the soldier was allowed to keep the cup to aid his needy family. He was also given the severe warning that, should a similar theft occur in the future, the court would be inclined to disbelieve his story. Not satisfied with Jesus alone On average, it takes fifteen to twenty minutes to pray the rosary. You keep track of the various prayers by using the rosary beads. Pope Francis is on record as saying that the Christian who does not feel that the Virgin Mary is his or her mother, is an orphan. The archives of the Vatican Radio tells the story that the pope met with a couple during the seventies, a young couple with small children who spoke quite beautifully of their faith in Jesus. At one point Pope Francis asked them, "And devotion to the Madonna?" They answered him, "But we have passed that stage. We know Jesus Christ so well, that we have no need of the Madonna." The archives then relate that because of their answer the future pope thought of the young couple as orphans, poor orphans, because Christians without the Madonna are orphans. And Christians without the Church are orphans. He said:

A Christian needs these two women, these two women who are mothers, two women who are virgins: the Church and the Madonna. And to make a “test” of a good Christian vocation, you need to ask yourself: How is my relationship with these two mothers going, with mother Church and with mother Mary? This is not a question of “piety.” No, it's pure theology. This is theology. How is my relationship with the Church going, with my mother the Church, with the holy mother, the hierarchic Church? And how is my relationship going with the Madonna, my mamma, my Mother? 

In a December 2014 address to Iraqi refugees, the pope said:

Dear brothers and sisters... You are in the hearts and prayers of all Christian communities, whom I will ask to pray in a special way for you on December 8, to pray to Our Lady to protect you; she is our Mother and will protect you...

That same December the pope sent Christmas greetings to prisoners: "May the blessed and Immaculate Virgin Mary keep you under her maternal mantle." And that same month, following the death of an archbishop, he wrote: "I entrust his soul to the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary." What is good? Pope Francis is viewed positively by many people around the world. His concern for the poor, his statements about the environment, abortion and same-sex marriage, and so on – whether right or wrong – resonate with many. Many view him as a moral and humanitarian spokesperson for the world, (regardless of the sexual allegations leveled on a seemingly monthly basis against many priests). But the fact remains that he abounds and leads in idolatry. And does it really matter how the world thinks about you? As a young boy in Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio suffered an infection and had half a lung removed. He is 80 years old and occasionally suffers from fatigue, sometimes has difficulty breathing and has lost some weight. How many more years does he have before his body turns to dust? How many more days does he have left before his soul will face the only Mediator between God and man - our Lord Jesus Christ? Will veneration of Mary stand him in good stead at that time?

Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, including an upcoming historical fiction novel, "Katharina, Katharina," about the times of Martin Luther. This article first appeared in the June 2016 issue. Some lines have been altered from the original version of this story to better reflect when statements are exact quotes.

Media bias

Proverbs 18:17: the antidote to Fake News

In the era of, not so much fake, but exaggerated, partisan, and selectively reported news, how can we discern the truth of a matter? God shows us the way in Proverbs 18:17, where we are told the first to present his case seems right until a second comes and questions him. What does it look like, to put this verse into action? Let’s take a classic example from the US gun debate. In the early 1990s Emory University medical professor Arthur Kellermann told Americans that owning a gun was associated with a 2.7 times greater risk of being murdered. Kellermann shared that in his study of three metropolitan areas they had found three-quarters of the victims were murdered by someone they knew, and nearly half by gunshot wounds. That raised the question of whether having a gun in the house might increase rather than decrease a person’s chance of being murdered. The New York Times, and other media outlets, spread these findings far and wide. But was the anti-gun case as compelling as it seemed? To find out, we have to continue on and hear from the critics – the first has presented his case and now we need a second to come and question him. Critics noted that Kellermann’s study showed an equal risk increase associated with owning a burglar alarm. National Review’s Dave Kopel pointed out, this study overlooks “the obvious fact that one reason people choose to own guns, or to install burglar alarms, is that they are already at a higher risk of being victimized by crime…. Kellermann’s method would also prove that possession of insulin increases the risk of diabetes.” The National Rifle Association wanted people to understand that a study of homicides couldn’t give a good measure of how effective guns could be for personal protection. "99.8 percent of the protective uses of guns do not involve homicides," explained NRA spokesman Paul H. Blackman, but instead would involve brandishing the weapon to hold off an assault, or perhaps firing the weapon to scare or wound the assailant. The first presenter might have had us thinking guns clearly needed to be banned. But that was only half the story. Even after hearing from the critics we don’t have the full picture – veteran newsman Ted Byfield once noted that to provide every side of a story we’d need more ink than exists in the whole of the world – but by hearing the two sides argue it out we have a much better picture. God tells us in Prov. 18:17 that if we hear only one side – even if it’s our side – then it’s likely we’re going to miss something. So if the truth matters to us we want to give even our opponents a hearing. At least the thoughtful ones (Prov. 14:7).

Economics, News

The $33/hr minimum wage?

As of January 1, the minimum wage in New York City was boosted to $15 an hour, a more than doubling of the $7.25 minimum wage of just six years ago. Three days later The New York Times published a piece with the provocative title:

The $15 Minimum Wage Is Here. Why We Need $33 an Hour.

Author Ginia Bellafante didn’t exactly demand $33 as a new minimum wage or at least didn’t set a timetable to reach that number. She did argue that the new $15 minimum wouldn’t do much to meet New York City workers’ needs and “the war” for an adequate living wage had to continue. Bellafante cited a report by New York’s largest food bank, City Harvest, which calculated that a “single parent with two school-age children…would need to make nearly $69,427 a year” which works out “an hourly wage of just under $33.”

But is need a good basis for a minimum wage? If a single mom needs $33, a married couple with two kids could get by with just half that. So maybe $15 is a good number after all? But then what of that single mom? And what if, instead of just two kids, she had four? Then she would need a lot more than just $33, so should we be looking at a $50 minimum wage, or even higher?

If you see a problem with that idea, you’re recognizing something that many minimum wage proponents do not – that the basis for wages isn’t employees’ needs.

Consider our own buying habits. We don’t buy a car from Ford because Ford needs the money – that’s not a consideration. When we head to Safeway and find out that a dozen bagels are on sale for $5 we might buy them. But not at $10 a dozen – they aren’t worth that to us. So whether we buy them or not depends on what value they return to us for the money we have to hand over.

It’s no different when employers buy labor. They aren’t buying our labor out of a charitable impulse – they are looking to get good value for their money. And like us, if something is overpriced, they aren’t going to buy. That’s why a minimum wage of $50 would be disastrous. Many of us aren’t worth $100,000 a year to an employer so if $50 were the minimum wage, we would be out of work. We would be unemployed because our labor was overpriced by government mandate.

While $15 is a lot lower than $50, not everyone is worth that either. Unskilled workers might not be able to produce $10 or even $5 an hour of value, or at least not until their employer trains them. If the law says they have to be paid $15/hr that makes them unemployable.

It may not even be the unskilled worker who pays the price. Take as example a business that employed high school students at minimum wage, and also employed a single mom who made a bit more. When the owner needed help running the business he began training the single mom to become a manager, and increased her salary to go along with the new responsibilities. Then the minimum wage went up and the owner had to increase the pay of all his high school students. That money had to come from somewhere and the end result was that the owner had to let his manager-in-training go, because he had to use her wages to pay the students. This government-mandated increase, legislated as a means of helping the poor, didn’t help her. High schoolers who had already been happy with their wage got more, but a single mom lost a good job. The government might have meant well, but they didn’t do well.

There is a Christian case to make against the minimum wage and any number of verses could be cited. Prov. 14:31 tells us to be kind to the poor, and while that is the professed intent of the minimum wage, that is not its effect on the least skilled. Just as relevant is Prov. 27:14 which tells us that mere good intentions are not enough – we actually have to be kind. In the online discussions of this article Luke 6:31 was raised: “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” as in employers should pay their employees what they would think fair, were their positions reversed.

True enough, but this verse is applicable the other direction too. Don’t want your job banned? Then don’t ban other people’s jobs. There are any number of reasons why someone might be happy to work for wages below a government-mandated minimum. Someone might want to work for free as an intern instead of spending thousands learning the same skills in university. Low-skilled or no-skilled workers might want to get a foot in the door so they can work their way up to higher paying positions. Some low-paying jobs have fringe benefits, like a parking lot attendant I knew who could do his university homework during his shift. Mentally handicapped people who can’t do as much as others might still enjoy work. Elderly folks who can’t move as quickly as they once did might appreciate a job that doesn’t demand a high output. And students might prioritize flexible hours over big bucks. Do these sound like positions that need to be banned? Should it be the government’s job to make working for less than $15 a crime?

God warns against arrogance (Daniel 4:30) but when a government makes minimum wage laws it is making decisions for millions and presuming it can price the value of people’s labor better than they can themselves, and better than individual employers can. Our governments are trying to manage our economy in a hands-on way that requires them to be near all-knowing and have miraculous powers. But they are not God, and they can not make everyone worth $15/hr. by government decree. In humility, our governments need to recognize that their powers and knowledge are limited, and they are simply not up to that task of running an economy. Is it any wonder, then, that God never asks them to?

This article has been expanded by a couple of paragraphs to answer some of the questions the original version prompted. 


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