My family is traveling, with our home base in Cincinnati, Ohio this week. Yesterday, we got the opportunity to visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, located on the riverfront here in Cincinnati. It was sobering, uncomfortable, and inspiring - all at the same time.
Our 20/20 hindsight makes it difficult to understand how slavery was defended. Politicians defended it as right and necessary (and we think that awful politicians are a new invention…). Businessmen claimed it fueled the economy; and, in large part, they were correct. Scientists claimed that people of African descent were inferior; while they were often stronger and more resilient, they drew the short straw when it came to intelligence. That’s why owning them is OK. (Beware of “settled science”…) Even Africans themselves would raid other villages and tribes, capture people to sell to the white man, for their own financial gain.
That being said - the most uncomfortable part of this was how the preachers provided supposedly biblically-based cover for all this. Sermons were preached about the inferiority of those with darker skin, and how they are ordained by God to be subservient to the white man. (This was throughout North, Central, and South America - this isn’t just a U-S-of-A sin.)
Why was that uncomfortable? It’s no secret that I’m a Christian, recently coming on staff with my church. We, as Christians, must be sure that we faithfully divide the Word of Truth so that our ancestors do not look back on us with the same shame I felt when I heard my ancestors. They got it wrong - from the bottom to the top, point-blank, wrong. We are all made in the image of God, not a one of us more or less valuable or worthwhile than another. This does not mean that we completely capitulate to the current cultural zeitgiest, deciding that abortion is A-OK or that the clear prohibition of homosexual behaviors were somehow misconstrued. It means that we, as people of the Word, must make sure that when we stand up and say “thus saith the Lord,” that we’re correct.
The most sobering part of the museum had to be the “modern day slavery” section. I knew that slavery still existed under different names, but the prevalence statistics were quite sobering. (I didn’t memorize them, so I can’t quote them; suffice it to say, unless you’ve looked into it, it’s higher than you think.) We must ensure that, while we’re looking for the best deal, or the least expensive way to get something, that we’re not enabling modern-day slavery. From unfair labor practices (a big reason I’m against illegal immigration, BTW), to excessively cheap textiles, to service staff, to prostitution and pornography - the market for these things are the current demands that run the engine of modern-day slavery.
Now, apart from the statistics I mentioned in the last paragraph (and some of the details of the “regulated” slave trade), none of what I’ve mentioned above was new to me; it was just sobering (and good) to be reminded of it. I was also impressed with the even-handed display explaining the 3/5 compromise. (For those unaware, it was Southerners who wanted slaves counted as whole people; Northerners didn’t want them counted at all, but agreed to 3/5 to placate the South. It was about apportionment of seats as it related to proportional representation, not an indication of one’s humanity.) As with anything, there were a few places where this language was inappropriately applied, but all in all, I was greatly enriched from our visit there.
Let freedom ring; let us Christians amplify the sound, whether others use that freedom to choose the way we hope they would - or not.
Earlier today, I saw a link to a blog post about a man, Michael Salman, who had been thrown in jail and fined for hosting a Bible study in his home. We’ve seen things like this before, but what made this one unique is that it was in Arizona; yes, this is happening right here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. I shared the link with others, voicing my support for him if the situation was as it was presented. However, a friend followed up with a link to a news story that gives more of the history and what has happened. As it turns out, the original post is highly-slanted advocacy that left out some key details. The more I’ve thought about it, the angrier I’ve become, to the point where I now hope that Salman comes to his senses while he’s in jail.
Here is the Cliff’s Notes version of the first post (feel free to read it if you’d like). This man and his wife were having family and friends over for a Bible study on a weekly basis. Neighbors complained about the extra cars and the traffic, and the fire department broke up one of their studies. The man then gets building permits for a 2,000 square foot building where the number of people could be without causing a fire hazard. Since erecting that building, he has been continually harassed and accused of running a church on his residential property. He maintains that these are simply guests in his home and new out-building, and that they have as much of a right to be there as would a birthday or Super Bowl party. Salman is now facing 30 months in jail and $12,000 in fines.
Sounds pretty bad, huh? Well, my opinion began to turn when I saw a picture of his yard…
OK - the “this is not a church” claim just became very, very hard to swallow. From the above link, plus another from the DailyMail, we learn some other interesting facts. First, Salman is an ordained minister. Second, this out-building, contrary to the restaurant-looking picture from the Freedom Outpost article, is equipped with a pulpit, stage, and chairs. Third, these Bible studies were hosted on the weekend. A time of Bible study on the weekend in a building with a pulpit on a stage… If only there were a word that would be more succinct to describe that sort of thing! There is, and it’s the one the city of Phoenix used - church.
This brings me to the angry part. My anger is based in the blemish to the name of Christ that this has caused, and for the people who are going to look like fools for supporting this when the first, incomplete, biased, and dishonest story came out.
Yes, dishonest; candor is a part of honesty, and involved disclosing information that the hearer, upon learning that it was not disclosed, would feel wronged. There is real religious persecution going on all around the world; this does NOT rise to that level. In the realm of ideas, honesty is paramount. This is why so many arguments fall flat on their face when all the facts come out; even those who claim that their are no absolutes tend to still hold honesty as a moral character trait.
Secondly, what happened to “love your neighbor as yourself,” Mr. Salman? A Super Bowl party and a birthday party are both once-a-year events, and even those have been broken up by police and fire officials if they cause a safety concern. You knew that your neighbors did not like the extra traffic, particularly when your study expanded from 15 to nearly 40. I’m sure there is a restaurant in Phoenix that would love to have a weekly banquet room reservation for 30 people; there are two I could attend in the Albuquerque area every week. But, rather than show peace and love, you extended “the middle finger of the Lord” to your neighbors and the city. You are now reaping what you have sown; how can you expect your neighbors or the city to have mercy on you when you were not interested in giving it to them?
Thirdly, Mr. Salman, did we miss Romans 13:1-2?
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
The city told you what you needed to do. They did not prohibit you from continuing to have meetings; they told you the codes with which you must comply if you wanted to continue doing so. All churches have to meet building codes; if you have any doubts regarding their importance, compare the earthquake devastation in countries with them to the devastation in countries without them. They ensure public safety where large numbers of people are present on a regular basis; a building does not have to be a public building to meet this criteria. You chose to call your meetings something other than church to get around that (see how that honesty thing keeps cropping up?), you got called on it, and now you have, to quote Paul, “incur[red] judgment.”
Mr. Salman, I hope you use your time away to think about what you have done. Will the world be better off if your 5 children show the world the love of God the way you’ve modeled it for them in this situation? And please, be HONEST when asking for help. There are good people who will support you, but we don’t want to be played for fools. By doing what you have been doing for the past several years, YOU ARE HARMING THE CAUSE OF CHRIST. Christ did not come to give us freedom of religion; He came to free us from sin. He chose to place us in a country where we have very few limits on the free exercise of religion; don’t lose sight of that because you happen to have bumped up against what you view as an impediment on that free exercise.
The good thing in all this is, Mr. Salman, that grace is always there. You can receive it, and you can extend it. This cause is not hopeless, especially if you change the focus from “I have a right!” to “where does God want me to hold this study?” Who knows the ministry God may have for you if you get out of a landlocked residential neighborhood and into some place with room for growth?
Earlier this year, I wrote about my experience in switching to Family Life Radio as my day-to-day radio station. In that post, I mentioned befriending Dan Rosecrans, their morning show guy. FLR has a national morning program, but in Albuquerque, we got Dan (and Nathan the Station Engineer) from 0600 to 0900. While I’m new to FLR, and relatively new to Albuquerque considering how long others have been here, I quickly grew to enjoy the information that he would pass along during his morning program. It had to be God working through him, as well, because my drive to work is short; how else would Dan have known not only what I needed to hear, but when I was actually in the car?
Dan has been serving faithfully in this position that for over 20 years; however, this past Monday, he announced that this will be his last week on the air doing the morning show. He’ll still be involved with the Albuquerque FLR station, and will still have the All Praise show on Sundays (4-12 MT), but as he said this morning, “This means I don’t have to get up at 4 every morning.” :) (Congratulations on that!)
So, Dan - I just wanted to take a few minutes and publicly thank you for your many years of service, and to thank you for allowing God to work through you. I know the positive effect that your ministry has had on my life in these past 11 months, and I’m sure I’m not an exception. Your dedication to inspire, inform, challenge, and entertain those of us out in radio land is something for which I’ll always be grateful. I’m glad that you’re not completely stepping back from the ministry, and I’ll enjoy hearing the music you play and the encouragement you give during All Praise. I pray that God blesses you many times over as you move into this new phase in your ministry.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
This is part 2 (either way you read it) in this year’s “2008 Year in Review - The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous” series. The bad things are things that either were bad, or will be in the future. All opinions are mine, obviously, and you are welcome to adopt them as your own. :)
Where do I begin? There was not much about this election that I liked. The campaign was way too long. The Republicans nominated the wrong guy. The outcome was bad. I’ve already covered Sarah Palin’s treatment in the “Ridiculous” entry. My biggest problem with this election was how it was spun. It’s safe to say that the majority of Obama voters didn’t know what they were voting for; how could they, when he wouldn’t get any specifics? His campaign of “hope” (who doesn’t want to have hope?) and “change” (which would have happened either way) struck me as a focus-group phrase that got way out of control.
Then you have the last few months of the campaign itself. First, there was a hurricane at the same time as the Republican convention, with people saying “How can they have a convention at a time like this?” Next came the “crisis” that had been brewing for years in the sub-prime mortgage market. McCain foolishly decided to suspend his campaign to deal with it, which gave Obama the chance to make the speech where he said “A president has to deal with more than one thing at a time” (which is very, very true). It seemed the Republicans were “darned if they did, darned if they didn’t” during this cycle! Personally, I thought that both things should have continued on schedule.
Then, there was “Joe the Plumber,” roundly ridiculed for asking a question that elicited the “spread the wealth around” response from Obama. All of a sudden, we have all these reports popping up. “His name isn’t even Joe!” (as if they’ve never heard of someone who goes by their middle name) “He doesn’t even make enough money to have to pay more!” (which didn’t matter - he one day wanted to make that much money) “He’s not even a licensed plubmer!” (but was working towards that - all part of his plan to better his life) In the end, a government worker was dismissed from her job for digging up dirt on Joe using government resources. (Speaking of government, an organization called ACORN submitted thousands of voter registrations, hundreds of which were found to be fraudulent. However, the governments continued to accept these registrations from them, and courts ruled that they could be accepted.)
Regarding the actual outcome, I’d describe myself as skeptically optimistic. Obama’s selections for his cabinet haven’t been quite what I would like, but I didn’t really expect that they would be; however, they’re not nearly as left-leaning as he could have made them. He does seem to be actually trying to govern towards the left side of the middle. I can’t help but think that maybe he outsmarted everyone in the Chicago political machine, where there’s as much corruption as there is snow off the Great Lakes. Could it be that he joined their machine to use it to get to the top, only to jettison it once he got there? We’ll see.
RIP, Tim Russert and Tony Snow
People die - that’s part of life. However, this year saw the somewhat-unexpected deaths of both Tim Russert, long-time anchor of Meet the Press, and Tony Snow, Fox News anchor and former White House spokesman. Both these men had a gift for journalism, and were not afraid to ask balanced questions of their interview subjects. I remember Tim Russert’s expert analysis in both the 2000 and 2004 election seasons, opening the 2000 election coverage saying “Florida, Florida, Florida” and the 2004 coverage with “Ohio, Ohio, Ohio” - both the eventual states that decided the election. And, I remember Tony Snow as the first anchor of Fox News Sunday, as Fox decided to get into the Sunday morning political show alongside Meet the Press on NBC and This Week on ABC. (Am I old if I remember the latter as This Week with David Brinkley?) Tony also did an excellent job as spokesman during Bush’s second term, deftly handling the questions he was asked, and clearly expressing the intents and desires of the administration. (If only GWB would communicate that clearly…)
Terrorism Reminds Us that It Isn’t Gone Yet
This was a pretty quiet year on the terrorism front - Iraq is going well, the surge seems to have stamped out the final pockets of resistance, and rival factions are now participating in the democratic process. Afghanistan has been hit-or-miss, with a bit of instability still there as this year draws to a close. However, in late November, terrorists struck in Bombay, India, killing over 100 people, citizens of several different nations. This was a stark reminder that the quiet that we have experienced did not happen by chance, and that we need to keep our nose to the grindstone to protect our nation.
Wings of Wind Crash
We’ve enjoyed the International Balloon Fiesta here in Albuquerque the past two years. On the final Friday this year, the balloon Wings of Wind crashed into some power lines, catching fire. Both pilots jumped from the balloon, fearing that the fuel tanks would explode. One survived, one did not. It was the second year in a row that there has been a fatality at the Fiesta, but this one touched our family somewhat closely, as Michelle and Jordan had spent Thursday evening set up right by that balloon, and talking with its’ pilots and crew. Then, to add insult to injury, a truck belonging to the balloon crew was stolen before they left town, causing them to lose their pictures of that week. (I hope that whoever stole that truck gets some special attention from God over the next year.) Keep the family of Stephen Lachendro, the pilot who perished, and Keith Sproul, the primary pilot and the pilot who survived, in your prayers.
So, there are some of the things that I thought were bad about this past year. What did you think was bad?
This Sunday, April 27th, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition will be featuring the Martinez family from Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is the build that we saw happening, and the genesis for the idea of the Not So Extreme Makeover: Community Edition (NSX) that we took part in last month. Gerald Martinez is the pastor at Joshua’s Vineyard, an outreach church in one of the least-desired areas of Albuquerque. Through NSX, we became acquainted with him, and, while I can’t vouch for the other families that have received these, I can say that he is very deserving of the home he received. He has been working in that area for years, and when he wasn’t ministering to the people, he was trying to figure out how to get others in the community involved and engaged. This did it - it was truly an answer to prayer unfolding before our eyes.
On a personal note, our family was lining the street as Ty and Gerald walked around the corner to see another building they had built. They were talking, but who knows what will stay in or be left on the cutting room floor. We were standing just before the people in blue shirts - I can’t remember what I’m wearing, but I do know I was wearing Jameson on my head. Michelle was wearing a green shirt, and was right behind me. Our other two boys were standing in front of me. Who knows - you may see us if you watch closely!
Another exciting turn is that, according to popular local rumors, ABC has requested footage from NSX, so they may be showing some people who participated in that as well.
It will come on early this week - 6pm EDT/PDT, 7pm CDT/MDT - and it’ll run for two hours. Be sure to catch it!
This past weekend during Sunday School, we briefly discussed the raid of the polygamist compound in Texas. During this discussion, one very good point was raised - those handling this situation need wisdom. Previously decided cases hold a lot of weight in the judicial realm, and while, by all accounts, what was going on at that ranch was illegal and immoral, they are claiming it is part of their religion. It is good that those people have been stopped - however, what is to stop the government from deciding that something most mainstream churches do is illegal?
That led the discussion to this story about a photographer in Albuquerque, New Mexico who refused to photograph a “commitment ceremony” between two people of the same gender. There are lots of ironies in this story, and I would expect that this decision would be quickly vacated / overturned / made null. Can you really legally force someone to photograph an event that’s illegal by nature? However, if it stands, there are much more troubling questions, some of which we have already seen. In California, a Catholic-run hospital was sued for refusing to perform gender reassignment surgery, and the state has sued the US government over a provision that strips Federal funds from states that force medical practitioners to perform or refer abortions.
During the course of the discussion, I took the (somewhat unpopular) opinion that a business should have the right to refuse service to whomever the business owner wanted. (I also did that a bit strongly at one point - if you’re reading this, sorry about that.) Someone asked “What if they say they’re not going to serve Jews?” My reply was that, if that was their stance, the word would get out, and those who found that abhorrent would also not patronize them, and they would go out of business. (And yes, I think I did actually use the word “abhorrent” in class… heh…) In further discussions with other people, including my wife, my position continued to be unpopular. I heard things like “What about people in the South not serving blacks?” and “I just think discrimination is wrong.”
I still cannot see the government requiring a private business to serve, sell, or perform any good, service, or person that the owner does not want. Why should I invest my money and time in an enterprise if the government is going to come and mandate to me how I do it? However, by the same token, I also feel that racial discrimination is bad. However, for anyone to say, unqualified, that “discrimination” is wrong simply doesn’t realize how much discrimination occurs on a day-to-day basis.
Let’s imagine I’m a photographer. I don’t like trying to get kids posed for a picture, so I create a policy of no more than one child per pose. That’s discrimination - I am discriminating against large families (though not completely - they’re just not going to get an entire family portrait from me). Maybe I don’t want to photograph some people because I feel they’re unattractive - do “Uglo-Americans” have a right to have me photograph them? Maybe I’m a really popular photographer, and I can’t be in two places at once. I’ll have to be discriminating in how I set up my schedule. There simply isn’t a scenario that convinces me that the government has an overriding interest in forcing me to photograph someone I don’t want to. The “right to photography” is nowhere in the Constitution.
Now - let’s put the brakes on that and look at the government. While I believe that a business owner has the right to discriminate pretty much however he or she feels like, I also just as strongly believe that the government should not be in the discrimination business. Equal protection under the law should be just that - equal. Firefighters should (and do) respond just as quickly to fires in desirable neighborhoods as they do to fires in undesirable neighborhoods. Everyone should (and does) have access to their legislators, and the right to vote for the ones they think will best represent them. Everyone should have access to government-run educational facilities, with the same requirements for everyone. (OK, we need to work on that last one…) The bottom line is, government should not discriminate on anything other than merit and scarcity (i.e., we can’t give everyone $1k if we don’t have it).
But, in reality, this isn’t the way it is; I alluded to it above regarding education. When the government starts trying to play identity games, “level the playing field,” or any other sort of tinkering, they invariably get it wrong. According to the NM government, this photographer “violated human rights” by refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. Would the pastors of my church be guilty of the same if they refused to officiate one? In finding this photographer guilty of discrimination, the state is, in effect, discriminating against her free exercise of religion. (See? Every choice is discrimination!) This is the danger of giving the government the power to decide what’s “good” discrimination versus what’s “bad” discrimination.
The solution? From my view, I believe that there are very powerful forces at work in the economic marketplace. Eliminating “Jim Crow” laws was a good thing - they were a violation of the equal protection clause. Forcing state-run universities to integrate was a good thing - again, equal access to government resources. Forcing businesses to cater to those to whom they do not wish to cater? That’s bad. Sure, I believe that businesses shouldn’t discriminate based on race - but is it the government’s place to tell them they can’t? Some people think that discrimination based on gender is wrong; in fact, a few years back, there was a big kerfuffle over Augusta National not allowing women to become members. How many of those people would advocate my joining Curves? It’s all perspective, and because one person’s perspective may be different than another’s, the government should stay out of it.
To me, this is a heart thing. Sure, you can pass a law and make people comply, but all you’ve done is made people upset by forcing them to do something that they didn’t want to do. I believe in giving people enough rope so that they can hang themselves (figuratively speaking, of course) - if someone wants to open a racially-discriminatory business, that’s their own stupidity in eliminating a big chunk of their potential customer base. If someone wants to open the “No Purple Pants Club” and refuse to admit anyone wearing purple pants - well, it’s their money and time they’re pouring into the business. And, if someone wants to refuse to provide their goods and services to those they find morally reprehensible, more power to 'em.
In each of these cases, one of two things will happen. One, they may flourish as a business, which will prove there was a market for their goods and services, even without the people they excluded. Two, they will fail, and learn via the “school of hard knocks” that they shouldn’t restrict their pool of potential customers. Either way, the business owner gets out of his business exactly what he put into it, and I really don’t have a problem with that.
Do you spend 28 minutes a day commuting? Doing housework? Reading e-mail? If so, you’ve got the time to listen to the Bible. Faith Comes by Hearing has created a dramatized reading of the New Testament, that can be completed in 40 days, 28 minutes each day. Starting February 11th, running through Good Friday on March 21st, Albuquerque is encouraged to listen - and you don’t have to be in Albuquerque to do it, either! They offer a free download on their website - I encourage each of you to join me in listening to the Bible over 40 days.
There will be a list on this blog of the chapters that make up each day - at the top of the page, just below the Verse of the Day, there will be an entry with that day’s chapters. Also, if you’re using Linux, I was not able to get the free download to work. However, I did get my paws on an actual CD, and you can download the ISO here. (Edit: This is no longer hosted here.) (Please try to get it from them first - only download this if you can’t.)
Today’s Albuquerque Journal (website) had a couple of front-page stories that caught my eye. First, the one full of good news was titled “Others’ Message to Illegal Immigrants: Leave!” The Journal doesn’t put their stories online to link to, so I’ll quote enough of it to give you the idea…
States surrounding New Mexico have recently passed laws aimed at cutting off illegal immigrants from social services and jobs.
The goal? To drive them away.
In Oklahoma, where a set of laws known as the Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act took effect Nov. 1, Latino churches have reported losing up to 20 percent of their members and Tulsa County alone estimates a population exodus of 25,000 people, mostly foreign born.
Sounds like that’s a law that has actually done what it set out to do! And kudos to the Journal reporter, Leslie Linthicum, for including that oft-excluded qualifier illegal when describing the people being targeted by the legislation. (That wasn’t the case through the entire article, but it was refreshing to see it.)
The instructive article was the one beside it entitled “Fast Track: Critics Say Rising Rail Runner Tab Slows Road Work.” The Rail Runner is pretty cool - I’ve ridden it with our Cub Scout pack. It’s a light rail passenger train that goes from about 20 miles south of Albuquerque to about 15 miles north of Albuquerque, but will eventually extend to Santa Fe. It’s been in operation just over a year.
The article had a lot of information about how it (and lots of highway improvements) came about, through legislation passed in 2003 called Governor Richardson’s Investment Partnership (GRIP). The initial estimates for the Rail Runner was $90.2 million, but the current expected total cost is $420 million (plus $50 million in escrow, to address “issues” that may arise). This in and of itself has some folks upset. However, the way the GRIP legislation was written, funding can be shifted amongst the several projects - and, because the Rail Runner has such high visibility, money has been diverted from highway improvements to the Rail Runner.
The instructive part, to me, is the cost balloon. Whether the Richardson administration willfully underestimated the cost, or whether it has simply grown due to unanticipated costs, I don’t know. It’s probably some of both, and it’s not really important to the lesson I think we can learn. As an example - New Mexico did not even apply for federal funding of the Santa Fe leg of the Rail Runner. Why?
Rail Runner officials last summer cited problems with grant program rules and the limited federal funds available as reasons for not applying for the money.
And the state was working on a fast track.
A legislative analysis from 2005 stated that the process of applying for federal funds could have delayed the second phase for up to several years - beyond the December 2008 deadline the Richardson administration had set.
“The project needs to be proposed and there are a lot of requirements necessary,” [Federal Transit Administration spokesman Paul] Grasso said. “There’s an environmental review that has to be done; there’s a cost effectiveness standard that has to be met. There are all kinds of things that have to be worked out in advance.”
Any government entitlement program costs more than originally estimated - every single one. It will take longer and cost more than the original estimate every time. So, when you hear politicians (especially now during campaign season) pitching their programs, remember that. $400 million today is probably $3 billion once implemented.