The Briefing, Monday, November 19, 2012

TODAY: Conflict between Hamas and Israel intensifies / Monarchy out of step in the modern world / Mail order ordination in a secular age / The Twinkie goes the way of the Studebaker — extinct. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

The Rockets’ Red Glare — Israel’s New Challenge

Israel, which has endured periodic rocket attacks and similar assaults from Hamas terrorists in Gaza for years, is now facing an escalated conflict and a new danger — powerful rockets that originate in Iran.

Ethan Bronner of The New York Times is providing some of the most important coverage of this conflict. In both Saturday’s and Sunday’s editions of the paper, Bronner provided key insights into Israel’s new challenge.

Hamas has obtained ‘Fajr-5’ rockets capable of hitting Israel’s major cities. How has Hamas obtained such advanced weapons? Bronner reports:

“The rockets are assembled locally after being shipped from Iran to Sudan, trucked across the desert through Egypt, broken down into parts and moved through Sinai tunnels into Gaza, according to senior Israeli security officials. The smuggling route involves salaried employees from Hamas along the way, Iranian technical experts traveling on forged passports and government approval in Sudan, Israeli officials said.”

This is a major development and a dangerous escalation in the risk of an open ground war in Gaza.

On Saturday, Bronner reported that the Israeli government and a majority of its citizens have come to the conclusion that Hamas does not want peace. As he explains:

“Their dangerous neighborhood is growing still more dangerous, they agree. That means not concessions, but being tougher in pursuit of deterrence, and abandoning illusions that a Jewish state will never be broadly accepted here. ‘There is a theory, which I believe, that Hamas doesn’t want a peaceful solution and only wants to keep the conflict going forever until somehow in their dream they will have all of Israel,’ Eitan Ben Eliyahu, a former leader of the Israeli Air Force, said in a telephone briefing. ‘There is a good chance we will go into Gaza on the ground again.'”

Over the past two years, Israel’s security has been threatened in new and ominous ways. I discuss these threats in today’s edition of The Briefing.

Hereditary Monarchy in the Modern Age — Badly Out of Step

Reports out of Jordan indicate that the Hashemite dynasty headed now by King Abdullah II may be in real danger. Crowds of young men and boys, numbering in the thousands, have surged through the streets of Amman, calling for revolution and “the toppling of the regime.”

Much of this is surely due to the so-called Arab Spring that toppled governments in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. But a larger part of this picture may be explained by the fact that a hereditary ruling monarchy is just badly out of place in the modern world. We can sometimes forget just how strange it is that the ruler of a people is simply the biological offspring of a previous ruler.

When protests against monarchy hit the streets like this, it seldom goes well for the monarch.

Mail Order Ordination — So What’s the Problem?

It seems that the issue of mail order ministers has become something of a problem in New York State, and probably elsewhere. As Vincent M. Mallozzi of The New York Times reports,

“An increasing number of couples are steering away from traditional religious and civil wedding officiants in favor of friends and relatives who become ordained through online ministries. But many couples are unaware that while New York State recognizes marriages performed by those who became ministers by the power vested in a mouse, there are five downstate counties where such officiants are not technically legal.”

The very existence of these mail order ministers is evidence of an increasingly secular age. As Mallozzi reports, the couples wanting their friends to officiate at weddings, complete with mail order ordination, simply do not want the presence of a recognized minister with “a lot of formulaic vows.” What they want is intimacy and secular affirmation.

The report reveals something of the extent of the mail order ordination business, with firms such as the Universal Life Church, the Church of Spiritual Humanism, and the Temple of Earth offering online ordination, for a fee.

New York State may be confused about who is and who is not a “real” minister, but the faithful church cannot be confused on the question.

The Twinkie is Terminated?

News out of Chicago indicates that the Twinkie, that iconic form of American snack food, is about to go extinct. Hostess, maker of the Twinkie, has decided to liquidate rather than face defeat by strangulation. The company’s labor unions have been strangling the company, which lost $341 million in 2011.

Labor unions held the company to 372 different collective-bargaining agreements, that required the company to offer 80 different health and benefit plans, dozens of pension plans, and more than $30 million in wage increases for next year.

The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal declared the death of the company a suicide. More than 18,000 Hostess employees killed their own company — and their own jobs.

According to The Chicago Tribune, the Twinkie was born on April 6, 1930 at Chicago’s Continental Baking Company. Hostess will attempt to sell the company’s recipes — including the recipe for the Twinkie.

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. Listen here.     Links to all articles cited also provided.

The Briefing, Friday, November 16, 2012

TODAY: Violence in the Middle East and the future of Israel / A moral crisis in the military? / Why is adultery still a crime? / Another step toward designer babies, and another threat to the unborn. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. Attack and Counterattack in the Middle East

Violence broke out in the Middle East once again, as the forces of Hamas in Gaza attacked Israel with rockets. The rockets, which in the past have killed scores of Israelis, were fired into inhabited neighborhoods. Hamas, a terrorist organization which calls for the end of Israel, may be attempting to sabotage efforts by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to gain international recognition for the Palestinian State at the United Nations.

As expected, Israel responded with force. On Wednesday, Israeli forces killed the Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari and his assistant. The two were killed by a targeted missile attack that was filmed by satellite and released to the international media as a warning to others. Israel’s leaders warned other Hamas leaders to stay underground, or face a similar fate. (more…)

The Briefing, Thursday, November 15, 2012

TODAY: Social engineering in Sweden means toddlers can’t say “him” and “her” / France debates same-sex marriage, eliminates “mother” and “father” / Turkey’s Islamist turn, ten years later. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. Just “Friends” — No More Gender References for Swedish Toddlers

Social engineering is usually the legacy of a revolution. In revolutionary France, aristocratic titles were out, and the French were told to refer to each other as merely “citizen.” In the USSR and other communist states, the revolution’s new title for all was “comrade.” Now, the Swedes are teaching their children to call each other simply “friend.”

As The New York Times reports, the words “him” and “her” are out at Nicolaigarden, a tax-payer financed preschool in Stockholm. (more…)

The Briefing, Wednesday, November 14, 2012

TODAY: Has America made a great moral shift?  / How democracies decide divisive questions. / Was Gen. Petraeus a victim of “Sexual McCarthyism?” / When Football and fatherhood collide. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. Has America Experienced a Moral Shift on Marriage?

Same-sex marriage is back on the front page of The New York Times, with reporter Erik Eckholm presenting a major story in which the advocates of same-sex marriage argue that the national tide has turned in their direction.

Eckholm writes:

“Elated by their first ballot victories, in four states, advocates of same-sex marriage rights plan to push legislatures in half a dozen more states toward legalization as they also press their cause in federal courts. They are also preparing for what they hope will be another milestone: the electoral reversal of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman, in Oregon in 2014.”

Those pushing for same-sex marriage acknowledge low support for their position in regions such as the South, but they clearly think that a major shift is happening in the nation. They are targeting several states for new efforts to legalize gay marriage, including Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and New Jersey.

Eckholm explains that same-sex marriage advocates claim a fundamental change in national opinion:

“A rapid shift in public opinion is bolstering their cause as more people grow used to the idea of same-sex marriage and become acquainted with openly gay people and couples. “The pace of the change in opinions has picked up over the last few years,” said Michael Dimock, associate research director of the Pew Research Center in Washington, ‘and as the younger generation becomes a larger share of the electorate, the writing is on the wall.’”

This is exactly the kind of article we should now expect to appear, and this argument will become more and more familiar. Of course, there is good reason for the advocates of gay marriage to see a turning tide. They won four of four contests last Tuesday, after losing more than 30 consecutive votes in previous years. There is a clear sense that something fundamental is shifting, and the defenders of natural marriage had better understand this.

There is political advantage in claiming a sense of momentum, but this does not mean that their claims are without merit. It is far too early to argue that “the writing is on the wall” across the United States, but that prospect does now loom before us.

Moral shifts of this magnitude do not happen quickly, but the pace is fast at the end of that process. Marriage has been weakened by cultural, legal, and moral alterations over the last century — changes without which same-sex marriage would still be unthinkable.

This article in The New York Times — a fair and responsible piece of journalism — contains a sobering message for us all. It also contains a threat of sorts from one Republican strategist, who argues that his party should not sign a “death pact” with opponents of same-sex marriage.

2. How Democracies Decide Divisive Questions

The editors of The Wall Street Journal also addressed the same-sex marriage issue in light of last week’s election. They argue that the decisions made in Maine, Maryland, Washington State, and Minnesota were made by the right people — the voters.

They write:

“Whatever one’s views of a legally sanctioned union between people of the same sex, the process is itself a victory. A contentious issue is working its way through the political system and being resolved in a manner that both sides can accept as legitimate. This ought to give pause to judges who want to legislate a premature social consensus from the bench and the activists who cheer them on. Social change is more durable when it isn’t imposed from the top.”

This is an important argument. The editors implicitly warn the U.S. Supreme Court that it ought not to hand down a decision on gay marriage tantamount to a new Roe v. Wade. Intending to “settle” the abortion question. In that case the Court divided the nation.

The editors continued:

“As views on gay marriage change, and a growing number of Americans support it, politics will follow. This is how it’s supposed to work. Even if democracy can be slow or cumbersome, everyone plays by the same rules and lives with the result.”

There is wisdom in their remarks, and a message for the defenders of marriage. We will have to convince our fellow citizens of our cause. The evidence is that we face a huge challenge in this respect, but we must face it honestly and directly. Furthermore, we must face that challenge respectfully, as befits the democratic process.

At the end of the day, the side with the better argument wins. At the same time, there can be any number of sad setbacks along the way. Even if same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land, the argument is not over.

3. Was Gen. Petraeus Felled by “Sexual McCarthyism?”

Writing in Investors Business Daily, columnist Richard Cohen argues that Gen. David Petraeus was brought down, not by his adultery, but by the nation’s “sexual McCarthyism.” Cohen argues that Petraeus “only betrayed his wife.”

That is an amazing argument, but Cohen makes it boldly. He accuses Americans of a form of sexual extremism and hypocrisy, claiming that it is ruining the careers of good people. He is not the first to charge the nation with “sexual McCarthyism,” nor will he be the last.

Cohen argues that adultery is a merely private affair with no public significance. Petraeus betrayed his wife, not his country, Cohen argues. His adultery would have little or no public significance in other countries. “A Frenchman cannot be blackmailed on account of sex,” he asserts.

That is largely true of many European nations, and France especially. We will note, however, that French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn did recently ruin his career after revelations of a particularly lascivious sort. Even the French have their limits.

But is all this merely “sexual McCarthyism?” Americans retain a high respect for marriage, even in confused times. Beyond this, they recognize that adultery is never merely private. At no point in his article does Cohen concede the moral compromise that destroyed David Petraeus’ career, nor does he ever acknowledge that leadership and character are inseparable. We know better.

4. Football Collides with Fatherhood

Charles Tillman, who plays cornerback for the Chicago Bears, found himself on the field of controversy last week when he told an interviewer that, if his pregnant wife was ready to deliver their child over the weekend, he would not play in the Chicago game against Houston. As it turned out, Tillman did not miss the game, and the baby was born early this week — with Tillman present.

But many in the football world expressed outrage that Tillman would put fatherhood before the game. One NBC reporter went so far as to argue that NFL players should be considerate enough to schedule pregnancies so that births would not interfere with the season.

That argument is a breathtaking display if inverted values, but that inversion is not found only in football, or even in sports.

Any time a man stands to make a priority of supporting his wife and children, he should be celebrated, not second-guessed.

The story was well covered by Jason Gay of The Wall Street Journal.

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. Listen Here.

Links to all articles cited also provided.

The Briefing, Tuesday, November 13, 2012

TODAY: Adultery in the digital age, worldview and demographics strike again, teenagers ready to vote, religious liberty undermined, and a new reason to elope. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

Hubris and High Tech: Adultery in the Digital Age

The digital revolution has altered just about every dimension of contemporary life, including adultery. One one hand, digital technologies and social media have facilitated the kinds of connections that have encouraged adultery, with individuals developing relationships online that often do not stay merely online. Flirtation via social media has often led to adultery.

On the other hand, many of these same technologies have made hiding a clandestine affair increasingly difficult, if not impossible. Writing in The Washington Post, columnist Ruth Marcus said that the downfall of former Gen. David Petraeus is a case of hubris brought down by high technology. As she writes:

“The technological part is something that we have not yet fully internalized, although Petraeus, of all people, ought to have known: There are no true secrets in the modern world. Privacy is an illusion that we allow ourselves to avoid the alternative of paralysis. Every communication is potentially public. Like the gift of fire, technology is a magical device that, if not used carefully, contains the seeds of our own destruction.”

There is great wisdom in her assessment. Marcus cites novelist Ann Patchett, who complains that the constant chatter of social media has made the task of crafting convincing fiction far more difficult. “Plot twists fail in a world without secrets,” Marcus explains.

“If you don’t want to see it on the front page of The Post, don’t write it down,” she warns. The Petraeus affair underlines the fact that adultery still matters in the modern age, and that the digital world is no place to hide.

Worldview and Demography

Looking back at the election, The Washington Post offers a detailed analysis of the results with a keen demographic perspective. The data points to the fact that worldview is often tied to contexts and conditions.

First, gender matters. Men favored Mitt Romney for President, with 52% of men voting for him, while 45% voted for President Obama. Women flipped the equation. 55% voted for Obama, while only 44% voted for Romney.

Second, marriage matters. Married women favored Mitt Romney (53%) rather than Barack Obama (46%). Non-married women, in contrast, favored Obama (67%) over Romney (31%). Note the scale of that reversal.

Third, theological convictions matter. White Roman Catholics favored Romney by a huge margin, 59% to 40% for Obama. But white evangelicals preferred Romney by an even greater degree, with 78% voting for Romney and 21% for Obama. But, from the opposite direction, voters with “no religion” as preference preferred Obama, giving him 70% of their votes, leaving 26% for Romney.

As a recent Pew study indicated, fully one in five American adults is now a “none,” registering no religious affiliation of any kind.

All this affirms the vital importance of worldview, but we are also reminded of how worldview is related to gender, marital status, and theological conviction. That lesson is right there in the numbers.

Teenage Idiots to Vote?

Argentina is poised to give 16-year-olds the right to vote and Scotland is proposing to do the same. In Scotland, leaders of an effort to declare its independence from the United Kingdom recognize that they need the votes of younger teenagers. Meanwhile, in Britain and in the United States, some now call for 16-year-olds to be given the right to vote. Is this nuts?

Polly Hudson of the Daily Mail [London] sure thinks so. “This is the worst idea ever,” she argues. She wonders out loud if the adults pushing this proposal suffer from amnesia. Polly Hudson insists that she was “a complete idiot at 16,” and she provided her readers with ample proof. She recounted rebelling against her mother’s denial of permission to pierce her nose by attaching a stud to her nose with super-glue, and other tales of adolescent irrationality. She suggests that her readers were also idiots at age 16.

“It’s extremely obvious the very last thing I should have been given was any power in making important decisions that affect everyone,” she said.

In the United States, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 by ratification of the 26th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1971. President Eisenhower had called for lowering the voting age in 1956. There appears to be little support in the U.S. for lowering the voting age to 16.

The bigger issue in the United States is the lack of maturity among voters 18 and older. Recent studies indicate that a frightening percentage of Americans vote according to no rational principle at all, but merely on the basis of personal preference.

Religious Liberty Subverted

The Obama Administration has made a truly dangerous argument in a Federal court, signaling once again the fact that the contraception mandate handed down by the Department of Health and Human Services is a clear and present danger to religious freedom.

Responding to a suit filed by David Green, head of the Hobby Lobby chain, the Obama Justice Department argued that corporations have no religious liberty rights. The Justice Department lawyer argued in an Oklahoma courthouse that Hobby Lobby is a secular corporation, “and a secular entity by definition does not exercise religion.”

The clear point of this argument is to deny religious liberty to any normal corporation. David Green claims, quite understandably, that the new healthcare law and its contraception mandate violate his religious liberty. He is not trying to make contraception illegal. He simply cannot pay for certain forms of contraception without violating his Christian convictions.

The argument made by the Justice Department lawyer in this hearing are ominous indeed. We will watch this case closely.

A New Reason to Elope

Not too long ago, couples eloped for two main reasons — they wanted to escape parental opposition or legal jurisdiction. Now, a new wave of couples are eloping for a very different reason. They simply cannot afford an expensive wedding.

As the Sydney Morning Herald [Australia] reports, the price of the average wedding in Australia is now $48,296. In the United States, the average wedding now tops $29,000. This is insane.

Christians affirm the importance of a wedding as a public celebration and witness to a public event — the uniting of a couple in the covenant of marriage. Marriage is a public reality, and this is why states require witnesses at the ceremony. Furthermore, Christians understand the importance of celebrating the union. But the modern wedding is often a financial disaster, and many young couples say that they are forced to delay marriage due to the cost of the wedding. This points to very confused values. The point is the marriage, not the wedding.

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. Listen here. Links to all articles cited also provided.

The Briefing, Monday, November 12, 2012

TODAY: So, adultery does matter, a new law “vexes” the porn industry, Norway’s mass murderer complains of “inhumane” treatment, and Germany decides to subsidize moms and export grandmothers. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

Adultery Still Matters: The Downfall of a General

Even in our morally confused age, adultery still matters. Gen. David Petraeus, who until Friday served as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, had to resign when he admitted to a sexual affair with the woman who had written his biography. That biography is now significantly altered.

Gen. Petraeus was a four-star Army general, known simply as P4 to many insiders. His appointment to the directorship of the Central Intelligence Agency came after he retired from one of the most illustrious careers in the modern American military.

As The New York Times reported:

“He was the preeminent military officer of his generation, a soldier-scholar blazing with ambition and intellect, completing his meteoric rise as a commander in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Worshipful Congressional committees lauded him as a miracle worker for helping turn around the war in Iraq, applying a counterinsurgency strategy he had helped devise and that was widely viewed for a time as the future of warfare. Then, dispatched to Afghanistan to replace Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who had been fired by President Obama, he sought to apply the doctrine he had championed, while also applying an aggressive counterterrorism strategy. He was fiercely competitive and carefully protective of his reputation.”

Furthermore, the paper noted that “Mr. Petraeus had seemed all but indestructible.” All that came to an end on Friday, when his resignation was announced. In a letter to CIA employees, Petraeus stated the matter directly:

“After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.”

In the past several years, adultery has brought down two governors (Eliot Spitzer of New York, who resigned, and Mark Sanford of South Carolina, who did not), one presidential candidate (John Edwards), and numerous business leaders (including Harry Stoneciper, former CEO of Boeing). The same day that Petraeus’s resignation hit the papers, word came of the fact that the incoming CEO of Lockheed Martin, Christopher E. Kubasik, had been forced out under similar circumstances.

As The New York Times noted, none were more shocked about Gen. Petraeus’ downfall than his former colleagues in the military, who compared his fall to that of David and Bathsheba in the Old Testament.

Christians know that adultery is not merely a sin — it is the breaking of a covenant and a maligning of God’s good gift in marriage. This particular sin also comes with devastating consequences to individuals, families, and institutions. Beyond that, it leads to the unraveling of community.

Even in our day of moral confusion and uncertainty, adultery has consequences. Tellingly, some argued that Petraeus had not done anything worthy of resignation unless national security had been breached. Gen. Petraeus knew better than that, as do we.

The Pornography Industry is Vexed

So says The Wall Street Journal in an article reporting on the situation in Los Angeles after the county’s voters approved a measure requiring actors in porn movies to wear condoms in order to improve safety.

According to the paper’s report, fully 28% of porn actors were found to have a sexually transmitted disease within a recent 4 month period.

The porn industry is outraged, however, claiming that the use of condoms by actors will make their product less interesting to porn viewers. Some are threatening to leave Los Angeles altogether.

Embedded in the article is the fact that the porn industry means a combined $1 billion in economic impact in Los Angeles alone, providing some 10,000 jobs.

Of course, from a Christian perspective the whole picture is a parable. Sin cannot be made safe, and there is no way that pornography can be transformed into “safe sex,” no matter what laws may be passed.

Anders Breivik is Outraged

Another moral parable comes from Norway, where convicted mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik is serving a 21-year prison term for the premeditated murder of 77 people, mostly teenagers and young adults, in a 2011 rampage. Tellingly, liberal Norway lacks both the death penalty and anything like life in prison without parole. Even with 77 murder convictions, Breivik’s maximum sentence was 21 years in a rather comfortable prison in Norway. He may be held in custody after his sentence, but only if he is deemed a threat to others.

The New York Times reports that Breivik, who inhabits a 3-room cell complete with television and exercise equipment, has written a 27-page screed decrying the fact that he is being treated inhumanely. He complains about everything from the fact that he has no view to his lack of a thermos, which leads to cold coffee. The cold-blooded executioner of 77 human beings complained that his stab-resistant ink pen is a “manifestation of sadism,” even as he sat in his warm 3-room cell with television and all the rest.

Germany Passes a Child Care Subsidy

The German government of Chancellor Angela Merkel gave her what her constituents in Bavaria had been demanding — a monthly subsidy for mothers who raise small children at home. The subsidy had previously been made available only to moms who put their children into child-care facilities. This discriminated against stay-at-home moms, many complained. The most interesting part of this story is the fact that extending the subsidy to stay-at-home moms was so controversial, revisiting the “letting down the team” argument made by some American feminist leaders.

Germans Outsource the Elderly

The German newspaper Welt am Sonntag (World on Sunday) reports that many German families are sending their aged and elderly relatives to care facilities far away — as far as Slovakia, Poland, and even Thailand.

As the paper reports:

“Outside the door, it’s Slovakia.  Mrs Ludl doesn’t know anything about that, because of her dementia – or maybe in this case, one might say, thanks to her dementia. It’s been a month since her son and her daughter-in-law sat the old lady in their motor home and drove here to Zlatna na Ostrove near the Hungarian border. It’s 700 kilometres from her old home in Bavaria, and driving here took a whole day. A nursing home in Germany would have been too expensive. That at least is the argument of the son, who runs a toy store out of his home. For more and more Germans, the last journey is leading to a nursing home outside Germany. In countries such as Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary, and in Spain and Thailand too, there is a growing number of facilities that are geared towards Western Europeans and are often even run by German operators”

There are many issues at stake here, but the breakdown of the family, especially the extended family, makes developments like this almost certain. Furthermore, falling birthrates and longer life spans mean that exporting the aged may well become a practice elsewhere as well. This is a sad story with no silver lining.

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. Listen here.  Links to all articles cited also provided.

The Briefing, Friday, November 9, 2012

TODAY: A new Archbishop of Canterbury, Jared Loughner sentenced to life in prison, Mormonism after the election, can the law make us decent? I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

Anglican sources have confirmed that Justin Welby, currently Bishop of Durham, will be named today as the next Archbishop of Canterbury. The Crown Nominations Commission is expected to nominate the new Archbishop, with action to be taken by the Prime Minister as early as later today.

Bishop Welby has been a bishop for only a year, and his background has been mostly in the business world. He was for many years an oil executive before entering the ministry later in life. He is Eton-educated and considered to identify with the evangelical wing of the Church of England. As The Telegraph [London] reports, “Theologically, he is unashamedly part of the evangelical tradition, upholding a more traditional and conservative interpretation of the Bible than some in the Church of England.” (more…)

The Briefing, Thursday, November 8, 2012

TODAY: A revealing (and troubling) portrait of America in the 2012 election data, Obama’s “rainbow coalition,” the conservative gender gap, same-sex marriage, assisted suicide, and the U.S. election viewed from China. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

The 2012 election may well have changed history, but it also revealed a portrait of America in the present and the future. As Susan Page of USA Today reports, the election revealed a deeply divided nation, “not only along lines of political party and ideology, but also by race and ethnicity, gender and marital status, region and religion, education and age.”

Much of this divide was evident even Tuesday night as the election results were reported. Men voted for Romney by a double digit margin, while women (especially unmarried women), gave Obama an equal margin. Older Americans favored Romney, while younger Americans (especially young adults), voted overwhelmingly for Obama.


“On Obama’s side this time: More than nine of 10 African Americans and nearly seven in 10 Hispanics. A solid majority of women and two-thirds of unmarried women. About six in 10 of voters under 30. More than 90% of Democrats and nearly 90% of liberals. More than six in 10 of those who never attend religious services.”

Christians know that worldview matters, but fewer think of how demography and context shape worldview. Marriage matters, for example. Married women tended to vote for Romney, while unmarried women voted by a large margin for Obama. Clearly, the context of marriage exerts a conservative influence on those within its vows.

But look closely at the issue of church attendance. President Obama drew votes from more than 6 in 10 who never attend religious services. Given the increasing secularization of American culture, this will become a even larger portion of the electorate. Once again, worldview matters. The secular worldview leads to a lessened concern for many of the issues evangelicals hold to be of vital importance. As a matter of fact, Christians and secularists are deeply divided over an entire range of issues, often directlyopposing one another.

Susan Page then offered this contrast:

“On Romney’s side: Six of 10 whites and nearly six of 10 seniors. A solid majority of men and of married women, and nearly two-thirds of white men. More than 90% of Republicans and of conservatives. He won high-income voters, evangelical Christians, and those who attend religious services every week or more often.”

As you can see, the picture is almost directly reversed. Romney drew the votes of those who attend church regularly, including evangelical Christians.

Christians understand why this divide shapes up as it does. Worldview determines voting patterns. The significant shift seen in this election cycle tells us that Americans are deeply divided over worldview, and are almost certainly becoming even more so.

I also discuss the growth in the Hispanic portion of the electorate, the aging of white voters, and other demographic developments.

Reporter Simon Tisdall of The Guardian [London] calls Obama’s voters his “rainbow coalition,” and went on to argue that the newly re-elected President will find that leading a deeply divided nation in his second term may be even more difficult than his first. Pat Morrison of the Los Angeles Times points to the depth of the gender gap in the 2012 returns. The article makes clear that the shift to unmarried female voters threatens any hope of conservative ballot victories.

We now know that same-sex marriage won big on Tuesday, reversing a string of 33 consecutive victories when the voters of a state had their say. The voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington State approved the legalization of same-sex marriage while voters in Minnesota voted down a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. It was a total victory for the proponents of same-sex marriage, and a total catastrophe for the defenders of marriage. Honesty demands that we acknowledge the scope and scale of this disaster. The defenders of marriage face a far greater challenge than ever before. At the same time, we now know the true scale of our challenge.

A move to legalize assisted suicide failed in Massachusetts, but the victory may not last for long. The initiative is almost sure to return to voters there in short order, promising additional “protections” for the vulnerable. Polls indicate that a large majority of citizens there approve of assisted suicide, but many had concerns about this particular proposal.

Voters in Washington State and Colorado did approve the legalization of recreational marijuana, and voters in Massachusetts approved so-called medical marijuana. Understanding this issue requires a look at liberal, conservative, and libertarian worldviews.

Meanwhile, as frustrating as American elections can be, at least we have them. USA Today reports from China, where the 18th conference of the Chinese Communist Party is set to meet in order to anoint the next party leader. In China, politics is “an elite, forbidden zone, protected by crackdowns that range from the authoritarian to the seemingly absurd. (Among the absurd, the removal by police of pencil sharpeners from Beijing shops.) China’s totalitarian rulers are both harsh and paranoid — a potentially deadly combination.

There is also abject confusion among Chinese citizens. One man in China posted this on the Internet:

“Warm congratulations to the American people. Under the wise leadership of the Party Central Committee headed by the wise and brilliant Obama, you have crushed the attempted usurping of power by the counter revolutionary group led by Mitt Romney.”

America’s political system is far from perfect, but we should thank God that we have no “Party Central Committee.”

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. Listen here: Links to all articles cites are provided.

The Briefing, Wednesday, November 7, 2012

History has been made and the issues are becoming clear. The 2012 U.S. election is over, and President Barack Obama has won a second term in office. Massive political and cultural changes are now evident, and American Christians wake up this morning to a witness a seismic alteration in the nation’s moral landscape. At least three states have taken steps toward same-sex marriage and other great challenges come into view.

I discuss the 2012 election and its meaning in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. Listen here.

I also offer extended analysis in “Aftermath: Lessons from the 2012 Election.” Read it here.

The 2012 U.S. election is over, and more than 100 million Americans participated in the great exercise of democracy — fulfilling the franchise of the vote. Even with some votes not yet counted and some issues as yet clarified, a general picture of the election is clearly in view, and the impact of this election will be both massive and enduring.

Several lessons emerge in the immediate aftermath of the election and Christians should consider them carefully. [Continue reading]

The Briefing, Tuesday, November 6, 2012

It’s Election Day in America, and that fact alone presents us with a full range of issues to discuss in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

Millions of Americans will head to the polls today, participating in the drama of American democracy. All elections are important, but a vote to elect a President of the United States is particularly important and historic. Presidential elections establish a trajectory for the nation, and those trajectories often extend far into the future.

As Election Day dawns, President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney are effectively tied. Most polls indicate an easier path to 270 electoral votes for President Obama, but those polls are themselves now called into question. USA Today puts the race at a dead tie, with each candidate likely to receive 48% of the popular vote.

We will see. In the meantime, we should reflect on the fact that this election matters more than most, given three considerations. The first is the urgency of the issues. The second consideration is the significant divergence of the two candidates on these issues. The third consideration is the lasting impact of these policies in years and decades ahead.

If President Obama is re-elected, his signature health care reform will be certain to survive congressional attempts to repeal or even modify the plan. The election of Mitt Romney would mean, at the very least, a significant modification of the plan. Either of these decisions will have far-reaching implications.

As I discuss, a voting decision is usually not as simple as many think. Most of us likely think of ourselves as rational beings who make big decisions after applying a rational analysis. We can hope that this is true, but humans also make decisions on the basis of intuition. Furthermore, the simple issue of likeability is a huge factor. If honest, most of us could not fully interrogate our own hearts and minds when it comes to big decisions. Nevertheless, Christians must work hard to discipline the mind to make decisions consistent with our worldview and our deepest convictions.

The election is now a barometer of voter enthusiasm, and the candidate with the most enthusiastic voters is sure to win today. As I discuss, enthusiasm is a factor of worldview. Our worldview determines not only our position on issues, but the relative importance we grant to each issue.

I then turn to discuss the truth that every voter decides on the basis of a hierarchy of priorities. We decide which issues are most important to us, and work from there. I contend for the priority of three issues: the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage, and the urgency of religious liberty. Christians are rightly concerned about an entire (and expanding) range of issues, but some will inevitably have priority over others. Christians should carefully establish these priorities in light of conviction.

From there I turn to discuss the great divide between the two presidential candidates and their parties. There can be no doubt that this will be an election with huge consequences.

I discuss all these issues and more in today’s Election Day edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.    LISTEN HERE

The Briefing, Friday, November 2, 2012

TODAY: Human nature revealed by a storm, ill-timed climate arguments, U.S. birthrate at all-time low, 40% of all U.S. babies born to single mothers, ex-gay men decry enemies of “reparative therapy,” marriage on the ballot and a pressing question — Were evangelicals once pro-abortion? I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

Hurricane Sandy is now just a weakened storm headed northward through Canada, but there is horrible devastation in its wake. It is now clear that the state of New Jersey bore the brunt of the massive storm. Ocean-front communities along the Jersey shore were largely dismantled. Photographs after the storm reveal missing boardwalks, submerged roller-coasters, windowless hotels, and broken homes. Insurance analysts now estimate that total losses may exceed $50 billion — making Sandy the most costly storm after Hurricanes Katrina and Andrew.

In the aftermath of a devastating storm, a basic fact of human nature is revealed. Even in the midst of storm and tragedy, humans reveal themselves to be amazingly resilient. Within hours of the blasting winds and flooding rains, New Yorkers were already on the streets, clearing debris and salvaging what they could. God made us with an amazing capacity to respond to danger and loss with courage and determination. These will be desperately needed in days ahead.

Watch for this — You can count on a barrage of ill-timed arguments about climate change in the wake of a big storm. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo lost no time declaring that Hurricane Sandy was an omen of things to come, due to climate change. They may or may not be right. But this is not the time for either side in the climate wars to manipulate the issue.

Writing in The New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof said that Sandy now forced the issue: “Isn’t it time to talk not only about weather, but also about climate?” Even is this is the time for that talk, it is not due to Sandy. Kristof admits as much when he carefully (and rightly) notes that no one weather event is evidence of climate change. He cites William Solecki of the New York City Panel on Climate Change who admitted as much, but then stated: “But [Sandy] is illustrative of the conditions and events and scenarios that we expect with climate change.” That is a clear admission of intellectual opportunism. That kind of opportunism, we should note, can happen on either side of of the intellectual divide.

One problem with this kind of weather argument is our lack of historical awareness. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Roger Pielke, Jr. of the University of Colorado reminds us that Hurricane Sandy is not unprecedented in any sense. He then explains that in just two years (1954-1955) the Northeast and the Atlantic coast were assaulted by three deadly and devastating hurricanes (Carol, Hazel, and Diane). Each of these storms was twice as destructive as Sandy.

Furthermore, we are now in what Pielke calls a “hurricane drought.” The last category 3 storm to hit the U.S. was Wilma in 2005. The period since then, he reminds us, “is the longest such span in more than a century.”

Ominous news was released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. birth rate is now the lowest of the nation’s history. Only 3,953,593 babies were born in the U.S. in 2011, indicating the lowest birthrate ever reported for the nation. Add to this the fact that more than 40% of these babies were born to unmarried mothers.

These statistics point to a massive and potentially irreversible demographic trend, and that trend points to an even more dangerous moral shift.

In another development, “ex-gay” men who are upset at the denunciations of reparative therapy were given voice in The New York Times. The paper and its reporter, Erik Eckholm, deserve credit for this fairness.

In the article, men who were sexually attracted to other men, but considered this attraction sinful, spoke of the help they had received from reparative therapy — therapies designed to correct same-sex sexual attraction. This comes after California became the first state to criminalize the use of such therapies with adolescents. As one of the men stated: “If I’d known about these therapies as a teen I could have avoided a lot of depression, self-hatred, and suicidal thoughts.”

The psychological and psychiatric associations may condemn the idea that sexual orientation can be changed, but the New Testament insists that nothing is beyond the power of the Gospel.

As Paul writes:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

Note the past tense — “such were some of you.” This is a vital biblical teaching.

Writing at, a young medical student and author accuses evangelicals of a politically-driven change of heart on the question of abortion. He argues that evangelicals were one “pro-choice,” but changed their position in order to make common cause with Roman Catholics and the emerging New Religious Right. Instead of operating on pro-life conviction, Jonathan Dudley argues that American evangelicals were conned by “a well-organized political initiative only a little more than 30 years old.”

Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today responded to Dudley:

“A careful reading of our history suggests not that evangelical convictions are the result of a “well-organized political initiatve,” but that these initiatives grew out of our increasingly wide spread and deeply held moral convictions and deepening awareness of the number of lives being cast away (over a million a year since 1976). To be sure, once the evangelical anti-abortion movement got started, politics reinforced ethics, and vice versa. But as one embedded in the movement for nearly half a century–and one who has been often troubled by the ham-fisted anti-abortion politics of the Religious Right—there is no doubt that the ground of anti-abortion politics is moral conviction and a bloody historical reality.”

I discuss the issue and affirm that Dudley is at least partly right. Many evangelicals did hold to embarrassingly liberal positions on the abortion issue (including, I must admit, the Southern Baptist Convention). He is wrong, however, when he argues that the reason for the shift on abortion was political. Galli sets that record straight.

In Maine, Minnesota, Washington State, and Maryland, same-sex marriage is on the ballot. In an editorial, The New York Times decries the fact that same-sex marriage is on the ballot at all. “The freedom to marry is a fundamental right that should not have to be won or defended at the ballot box,” the paper argued. The problem with that statement is the fact that, in a democracy, every political or legal question is eventually a ballot question. Most issues are not decided by a direct citizen vote, but that vote does determine the eventual shape of the government. This is necessarily so if the government is truly “by the people.”

Similarly, the paper asserts that “ballot initiatives are a bad way to write or rewrite laws of any kind.” That is a truly unfortunate statement. Ballot initiatives are always clumsy, but the editors of The New York Times claim that citizen initiatives are the wrong way to go for “laws of any kind.” This is a dramatic overstatement, and it represents an undiluted and dangerous form of elitism

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. Listen here.    Links to all articles cited are also provided.

The Briefing, Thursday, November 1, 2012

TODAY: The human dimension of Hurricane Sandy, leadership lessons from Sandy, young millennials turn into economic conservatives, the French government decides to pay for all abortions, churches accommodate to short attention spans, and yet another (very strange) Halloween challenge. I discuss all these in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

Hurricane Sandy is now just a tropical depression moving into Canada, but the storm left a wake of devastation that includes over 50 deaths. Reporter James Barron of The New York Times revealed that the victims included 11 and 13-year-old boys who were killed in their home when a 90-foot tree crashed into the house. An off-duty police officer who helped a family get to safety drowned when he went to check the basement for others who needed rescue. Story after story will unfold with tragedy and grief.

Hurricane Sandy will join those storms that now reside in the nation’s memory of tragedy. Such storms become part of our life story, part of our family saga, and a communal memory that links generations in a shared experience of disaster and its aftermath.

The statistics of Hurricane Sandy are shocking — winds of 129 miles per hour clocked in New Hampshire, for example. Americans have learned a new vocabulary in the wake of the storm, including the word “dewatering,” which now is very much on the minds of those in the flooded region.

Many lessons will be learned in days and months ahead, but the importance of leadership is already very much in view. The good news is that most leaders across the political spectrum have led well, helping citizens to understand the scale of the danger and then to take responsible action. President Obama (a Democrat) joined New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (a Republican)  in mobilizing resources. Mayors like Newark’s Cory Booker (a Democrat) and New York City’s Michael Bloomberg (a Republican turned Independent) demonstrated why mayors still matter.

In other news, Martha Irvine of the Associated Press reports that those young Americans known as the millennial generation are turning increasingly conservative when it comes to economic policy. The reason seems simple enough — as these young Americans move into adulthood and face economic reality, this changes their worldview. They are looking for jobs and hoping to marry, have children, buy houses, and enjoy the fruit of their labor. The worldview implications for Christians are many, but one salient fact is that worldview often shifts with age and with the assumption of new responsibilities. This report adds new data to that evidence.

Other evidence of the importance of worldview comes from France, where the government is expected to approve full and direct government funding of all abortions and to make contraceptives totally free for teenagers 15-18. This highly secularized nation will now not only make abortion on demand fully legal – it will pay for all abortions, in full. The radical secularization of France explains how such a policy could come into place with widespread public support.

Lois K. Solomon and James D. Davis of the Sun Sentinel (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) report that many churches are offering shortened worship services designed to attract attendance from a generation marked by a short attention span. The Rev. Chip Stokes of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Delray Beach said: “We are increasingly aware of the time pressures on families, and they have been telling us that the traditional service is too long for them. We recognize that things are changing and we have to be more adaptive without losing our core.”

The article raises significant questions about the plausibility of conforming worship services to the tastes or attention spans of those too busy to attend a regular service. Christian worship requires an attention span, and churches that market to taste are likely to find that they gain little and lose much. The article also makes clear that when services are cut, the sermon suffers the greatest cut. Some churches have dispensed with the sermon altogether. For Evangelicals, preaching stands at the very center of biblical worship.

Finally, The Wall Street Journal reported that parents in Churchill, Manitoba in Canada had to warn their children of danger in bone-chilling detail last night. They were not kidding. The danger in that Arctic community is that the little trick-or-treaters would become what the locals call “bear bait.” Polar bears make their way through the area this time of year, eating in preparation for the long winter. The kids out last night were to be protected with helicopter cover, armed sentries, and bear traps loaded with seal meat.

The question that seems obvious to my mind is this — Why send kids out with the danger that they could become “bear bait?”

I discuss all these in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. Listen here.    Links to all articles cites are also provided.

The Briefing, Monday, October 29, 2012

TODAY: Lessons from the weather and the “adultification” of Halloween. Two huge issues frame our thoughts this Monday — Hurricane Sandy and the celebration of Halloween. Both issues will reverberate throughout the week. I discuss both on today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

First, as Hurricane Sandy approaches the Northeast coast of the United States, forecasters indicate the likelihood of severe damage and the danger of large-scale human casualties. The scale of preparations is evident in the fact that U.S. airlines have already canceled over 5,000 flights in light of the storm. There will be no commercial air traffic throughout much of the region at least through Tuesday. In New York City, mass transit systems are shutting down, even as Amtrak is canceling trains along the Atlantic corridor.

Over 50 million Americans live in the region most likely to be tormented by the storm, which is now 800 miles in diameter and has sustained winds of at least 75 miles per hour. Forecasters predict that the slow moving storm will collide with another system approaching from the West, prompting memories of the infamous “perfect storm” of 1991.

From a Christian worldview perspective, the finitude of human beings is never more apparent. Even with advanced technologies of prediction and forecasting, humans can do nothing to prevent the storm from hitting land. We cannot even mitigate its winds and rain.

But, what we can do is learn from the past and take advantage of the warnings these technologies allow. So, why are so many defying the warnings? Once again, human nature is at work. We often feel a false sense of security as we are surrounded by the familiar, but this can be fatal. Political leaders have learned from past mistakes and have been working hard to convince citizens to heed the warnings.

The rest of us can only pray that the storm will not bring the destruction and deadly consequences many now predict.

Second, I take another look at Halloween, turning first to reports that the holiday has been “adultified.” Though most of us remember trick-or-treating as kids in suburbia, today’s celebration of Halloween is decidedly adult. Halloween now ranks second in terms of holiday consumer spending — behind only Christmas.

As Bruce Horivitz of USA Today reports, Americans will spend $8 billion this Halloween, and most of that spending will be for adult entertainment and celebration. As Horovitz reports:

“A decade ago, fewer than three in 10 costumes purchased for Halloween at were for adults. Now, it’s more than six in 10. It should be no surprise that consumers will spend an average of $123 this Halloween, more than twice the average $53 that they spent on it a year ago, reports American Express Saving & Spending Tracker.”

Why? He suggests that Halloween has been transformed into an adult holiday because it lacks the obligations of other major celebrations:

“In the midst of this adult takeover, Halloween has emerged as the No. 2 holiday in consumer spending for decorations, after Christmas. Maybe it’s because Halloween is about friends, not family. Or perhaps it’s because there are really no gifts to purchase, no religious rituals to observe and rarely any red-eye plane rides involved.”

But the celebration has changed in character, too. With adult participation has come “adult” themes. The holiday is highly sexualized, with the most popular costumes for women related to sexual themes.

And it’s not just women. One mother has referred to Halloween as “sexualize our daughters season.” Deborah J. Tolman, writing at the Huffington Post, puts the matter frankly:

“In a perverse appropriation of “girl power,” mini versions of sexy women will be winding their way through the streets of America this Halloween. They’ll have bought their French maid outfits, pink pussycat heels, and midriff-baring Bad Girl University sweaters online or at a big box store near you.”

She continues:

“That Halloween has gone from scary to sexy in recent years is a reflection of a profound and problematic societal issue: the sexualization of girls. Such portrayals of young girls are so familiar to us and to girls themselves that it seems normal, harmless, and simply the way that girls are nowadays. In fact, it passes as liberation — just look at all the power girls have now: the power to shop, to look cute, to be “sassy.”

But, even after warning parents of these development, she dangerously lets them off the hook. Consider these words:

“But for various reasons, we as parents have not said “no” to the retailers, because too often in this ever more consumer-driven society, we do not say “no” to our children. We’re afraid of what can happen when our children don’t conform or we resist too much, like the six year-old kicked off her cheerleading team in Michigan because her parents protested a sexualized cheer.”

Well, parents who care about “what can happen” when parenting meets peer pressure are putting their children in grave danger.

Finally, deal with some of the historical and theological issues related to Halloween and the embrace of the “dark side.”

On that issue, you can read my full column, “Christianity and the Dark Side–What About Halloween?,” reposted here.

All these are discussed in today’s edition of The Briefing. Listen here: Links to all articles cited are also provided.

1 9 10 11 12 13 97