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Hope on Display in Texas

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 21:30

The first thing I noticed when I recently flew into Texas is the flags at half-staff. The second thing I noticed is churches with open doors. In Dallas, where I happened to be a few days after the Sunday shooting in Sutherland Springs, a funeral was going on when I walked through the doors of St. Catherine of Siena Church, looking for a midday Mass. It was holy business as usual, as it continues to be in churches throughout the country, many of them united in prayer with their brothers and sisters in Christ, who suffered the largest mass shooting in a church in United States history.

People of Hope

Listening to Frank Pomeroy, the pastor of First Baptist, the site of the shootings, we seem to see the antidote to evil: The witness of people of hope. Because they’ve encountered redemption, they have a freedom from fear, even as they confront some of the greatest of human fears. In the hours after the shooting, which included the murder of his youngest child, Pomeroy declared an act of faith in his most vulnerable state, still leading his church with example of trusting in God’s providence, telling reporters: “I don’t understand, but I know my God does.”

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Speaking of that Christian hope on display in Pomeroy, the now pope emeritus Benedict said in 2007:

It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love -- a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free.

‘A Safe Place’

On Thursday morning at St. Dominic’s in San Francisco (I was moving around a bit this week), the priest celebrating the 8 a.m. Mass said: “This is a safe place, where you can commune with God.” Days after the massacre in Texas, to anyone who just happened to be walking in without context, it may have sounded like an act of defiance or a tempting of fate. His homily explained the significance of the day on the church calendar, marking the dedication of the basilica of John Lateran in Rome, the official seat of the bishop of Rome -- the pope. This year, it seemed to have so much more added meaning -- about why we have such sacred spaces and what they’re meant for: a strengthening of mission, to show the world why faith is important and what it’s all about.

Vulnerability

Pope Francis visited Colombia this summer, and one night while in Bogota, a group of children and teenagers waited for him as he returned to where he was staying. One girl named Maria said to him: “We want a world where vulnerability is recognized as essential in the human. That far from weakening us, strengthens and dignifies us. A place of mutual encounter that humanizes us.”

“Vulnerability is the essence of the human person,” he responded to her, visibly moved. “We are all vulnerable,” he said, “all of us. Inside, in our feelings, there are many things that do not work inside us, but no one sees them. And others we see, all of them. And this vulnerability needs to be respected, caressed, healed as far as possible, so that it bears fruit for others. We are all vulnerable.”

Faith and hope mean seeing the world as it is and the human person as it was created, and wanting to love people while helping them reach that same understanding. We’re all united with the people of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in our vulnerability, and don’t we pray to display the same kind of hope in the face of all evil?

 

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at klopez@nationalreview.com.

Supreme Court to Hear Big Pro-Life Case Next Year

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 18:52

A major pro-life case will go before the Supreme Court next year.

SCOTUS announced Monday it will hear National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra. The case deals with free speech rights of pro-life pregnancy centers. The Court will decide whether California is violating such centers’ rights by making them promote abortion.

“We are very optimistic and hopeful that the Supreme Court will demonstrate to not only the state of California, but to other states, that forced speech … is just not acceptable,” said Kevin Theriot of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). 

ADF represents National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA). NIFLA is the group suing California.

The FACT Act

The case began in 2015 after California passed the FACT Act. Standing for “Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency,” the law forces pro-life centers to post signs promoting abortion. 

As National Review reported in 2016, pro-life centers must post the following wording:

California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at [insert the telephone number].

The sign must be posted in a “conspicuous place.” It also must be 22-point font or greater.

The law applies to both licensed and non-licensed pregnancy centers. Non-licensed centers must post that they have “no licensed medial provider.” Non-licensed centers cannot offer services such as ultrasounds, Theriot explained. He and ADF CEO Michael Farris spoke with press in a phone briefing Monday.

Punishing Pro Lifers

The law only targets pro-life pregnancy centers. “Information about abortion is just about everywhere,” Theriot says on ADF’s website. “So the government doesn't need to punish pro-life centers for declining to advertise for the very act they can't promote.”

Farris said California is elevating speech it favors over speech it doesn’t favor.

But the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t see it that way. Last year, it sided with California. According to Theriot, the Ninth Circuit incorrectly applied informed consent laws to pregnancy centers. Informed consent laws are generally meant for doctors and their patients.

“Pro-life pregnancy centers aren't cutting anyone, so these regulations shouldn't apply [to] them under this legal principle of state oversight,” Theriot told National Review. 

“This law goes way behind the informed consent for a medical procedure,” he added Monday. 

ADF asked the Supreme Court to hear the case earlier this year.

Big Implications

However the Supreme Court rules, the national impact will be huge. Other states have already adopted similar laws. The ruling could affect them as well. 

There is even a possibility that pro-life ultrasound laws could be affected. Twenty-six states require that women get an ultrasound before an abortion. Depending on how the Supreme Court approaches the case, those laws could come into question, Farris said.

However, he thinks the court will take a more narrow focus. Since the pro-life centers are not medical facilities, it will likely rule on “pure free speech grounds,” he said.

Plus, he noted, California doesn’t have ultrasound laws.

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No matter what happens, it’s sure to be a pivotal moment in America’s ongoing pro-life versus pro-choice battle. 

“The implications of the Supreme Court’s decision in this case will reverberate nationwide,” NIFLA president Thomas Glessner said in a press release Monday. He called the FACT Act one of the “most flagrant violations of constitutional religious and free speech rights in the nation.”

The Supreme Court will hear the case early next year. Expect a decision by late June.

Who is Alex Azar, Trump’s Pick for HHS Chief?

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 18:06

President Donald Trump announced Monday morning that he is tapping former Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar to replace Tom Price as as head of the department.

Azar served as both the general counsel and deputy secretary of HHS under former President George W. Bush. His tenure at the agency ran from August 2001 through 2007.

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After leaving the Bush administration, Azar went on to work at Eli Lilly and Company, an American-based pharmaceutical company, from June 2007 to January 2017. During his time at Eli Lilly, Azar served as the Senior Vice President Corporate Affairs and Communications, the vice president of managed health care services and the president of company.

Azar left Lilly to serve on the board of directors of two health care companies: HMS and Seraphim Strategies.

The former pharmaceutical executive support a number of Republican-backed health care initiatives, like repealing and replacing Obamacare.

 

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Copyright 2017 The Daily Caller News Foundation

God Blesses the World Through His Family

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 18:00

Contrary to a growing belief, the family was not a human social construct to facilitate interpersonal relationships and ensure economic survival. It was and is God's idea. History testifies and will continue to testify that the breakdown of the family will be the unwinding of society. Artificial means of organizing human relations by civil governments do not align with the divine design and they are doomed to fail. Those tempted by the lies of socialism and Marxism must wake up.

God’s Family

But the downward spiral of Western civilization does not cause God to despair. He has invested heavily in his creation and will not abandon it to the forces of evil. God did not throw up his hands when Adam and Eve sinned and messed up the Garden of Eden. He refused to destroy everything when the world became so corrupt in Noah's day.

When Abraham's descendants were enslaved in Egypt, he led them out. When Israel chose a bad king, God gave them a good one. When the nation violated his covenant, and ended up ruled by Babylon, the most pagan empire in the world, he brought them back to their homeland. For 400 years of turmoil as nations swapped control of the known world, he was silent until Jesus appeared. When Jesus was unjustly killed and laid in the grave, God raised him. When the church became corrupt in the Middle Ages, he caused a reformation.

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But we notice that God has always interacted with the nations of the world through his spiritual family. The people of God are called sons because of the authority they have been given to do his business. Adam, Isaac, Israel, David, and Jesus were all sons who acted in concert with the purposes of God to bless the world.

The astounding news is that in our time, we who have received Jesus as Lord by faith are the sons. We have the privilege of representing him and carrying out his work on earth. The hope of the nations is related to the activity of the sons of God. If the sons are ignorant of their identity, or negligent toward their calling, the whole world suffers. Another way of saying it; the blessings on the nations will come through the revival of the family of God.

As it was the 16th century, the recovery of the simple and pure gospel is the key. People do not become children of God -- sons by any means except through faith in Jesus alone. 

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. -- John 1:9-13 (ESV)

Spiritual Food

There are reasons to hope. God has not given up on his way of blessing. He still has sons on the earth, his family. Millions of those who have truly been born of the Spirit are hungry for the sound of the gospel of grace that initially awakened them to faith. They are starving for the nourishment that comes from the gospel. They have been fed the pabulum moralistic religion based on some form of transactional false gospel.

The corrupt church of the 16th century sold salvation through indulgences. Today's religious peddlers promise various forms of temporal prosperity, while the awe of the cross of Jesus loses it glow. But the imperishable seed of the gospel sown in people's hearts will not cease to cry for the sincere milk of the word.

Church leaders are growing tired of trying to water the dessert one cupful at a time. Many are returning to believing with the apostle Paul that "the gospel is the power of God for salvation..."

The internet is waiting. Evil forces are eager to use it for the dissemination of lies, but it allows any child of God to post their story of the grace of God. And the advantage goes to the sons, because God's word does not go forth without accomplishing what it was sent to do. It was sent to bring light to darkness and life to death.

Rise up, O Family of God. The world is waiting.

A Prayer for Those Who Bless Abortion

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 15:00

Christians pray outside abortion clinics, for the babies, the mothers, the workers. They pray that everyone will have life and have it more abundantly, as Jesus said. But on Thursday in Texas, a group of clergy went inside one abortion clinic with a different kind of prayer.

Not a prayer to end abortion. Not a prayer to save the unborn children’s lives. They didn’t pray for the mothers. Nor for the souls of those who perform them. They prayed a prayer of blessing -- over the clinic, its staff and its patients. 

Blessing the Abortionists

“Women seeking an abortion are largely women of faith,” said organizer Kentina Washington-Leapheart told the Texas Observer. “It's in many ways informing the decision they make.” She called the decision to abort their child “a God-given right." 

She is also a director of programs for “Reproductive Justice and Sexuality Education” at the Religious Institute. The Religious Institute is a “multi-faith organization dedicated to advocating for sexual, gender, and reproductive health, education, and justice in faith communities and society.” She holds a Master of Divinity degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

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“They're not having an abortion in spite of their faith,” Washington-Leapheart went on. “It's in many ways informing the decision they make. ... They have a God-given right to make decisions about their life."

In January, twenty “faith leaders” blessed Planned Parenthood’s new abortion facility. There the facility’s director called abortion “our sacred work.”

A Self-Centered Choice That Devalues Life

The pro-choice crowd argues that the choice to abort is often selfless. Even merciful. For instance, if the mother feels she cannot afford to feed another mouth. Or if she is too young to care for a child. Or if her baby has an illness that will likely cause suffering after birth.

Is it not her duty -- “God-given right,” even -- to make the responsible decision to end that baby’s life before it can begin? 

We live in deceptive times. We see it everyday. As biblical morality becomes less popular, many reject truth, even in Jesus’ name.

Many women make the decision to abort from such motivations. We can understand their fears. But such motivations still assert control over something that only God can be responsible for: the giving and taking of life. 

Any decision to abort, no matter the reason, devalues the life of the unborn child. It says that because the baby is too poor, too sick, or too inconvenient, he or she is somehow less valuable. Okay to kill. Often brutally, with limb torn from little limb while the baby is yet alive.

This is not of God. No “God-given right” justifies it. 

Calling Evil Good

And yet people who claim to serve God -- people like Washington-Leapheart -- continue to describe abortion as “reproductive justice.”

Scripture tells us we can expect this from this world. “Evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived,” 2 Timothy 3:13 says. 

And according to 2 Corinthians 11:14-15, “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as “servants of righteousness.”

But “Their end will correspond to their deeds,” the passage goes on. Indeed, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)

Praying for The Deceived

We live in deceptive times, just like Scripture warns. But we serve a God of powerful redemption. We have seen him transform the lives of abortionists, abortion clinic workers, post-abortive women. He saves the lives of children targeted by abortion.  

The religious leaders who blessed abortion on Thursday need to be transformed. They are obviously deceived, believing they labor for justice while supporting the worst injustice. 

We must combat that deception with the greatest weapon we have. So join me now in prayer.

Heavenly Father,

We know that you created all people in your image. And you love every life you have created. From the doctor performing abortions, the nurse facilitating them, the minister condoning them to the mother whose child is being killed and the unborn child dying. They are all souls precious in your sight.

As you remind us in Scripture, we are actively fighting spiritual forces of evil in this life. And that evil has deceived many into thinking that destroying unborn life is justice. That it’s good. Even godly.

Lord, it hurts and angers us to see such evil committed in your name, just as it hurts and angers you. But we know that your grace is sufficient for all. You can yet save the abortion doctor, the minister who blesses abortion, and the mother who chooses abortion. You can transform their lives into wonderful testimonies to your grace. 

We ask that you do that.

In Jesus Name,

Amen.

No, Rand Paul Didn’t Have It Coming

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 13:58

I read Elie Mystal's article on Rand Paul's assault, which suggests such violent encounters are the inevitable result of libertarianism in practice. He makes two errors. First, he contends Rand Paul ignores the rules of his HOA (homeowners’ association) based on his libertarian philosophy. Second, he contends that basing a legal framework on the libertarian non-aggression principle (NAP) is unworkable.

Private Contracts

Regarding the first error, libertarianism is based on the sanctity of voluntary contracts. An HOA is a perfect example of what libertarians would replace zoning regulations with -- an enforceable contract voluntarily entered into by every individual, instead of a set of rules imposed on the whole by a supposed majority. Mystal conflates voluntary contracts with regulations near the end of his piece, writing, "Rand Paul's broken ribs are a g*****n case study in why we need regulations." This begs the question, "Why do we need regulations, rather than just enforcement of the HOA?"

Even in the absence of a written agreement, libertarians recognize longstanding local conditions as binding on new property owners.

Neither Mystal nor I know the terms of Rand Paul's HOA contract, but if they prohibit either pumpkin patches or compost heaps, then Rand Paul appears to be in violation of that contract. Libertarians would side with the HOA, not Rand Paul. However, the HOA contract also provides penalties for violation of the terms, which I'm fairly certain don't include bum-rushing him and breaking his ribs.

This all assumes there is any truth to reports Senator Paul used his property in ways his neighbors found offensive, whether compliant with the letter of his HOA agreement or not. Several of his neighbors have come forward since Mystal's piece was written to refute those reports.

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Even in the absence of a written agreement, libertarians recognize longstanding local conditions as binding on new property owners. Thus, I cannot come into a quiet community and build an airport on my land, subjecting my neighbors to the noise and other inconveniences of having an airport border their land. By the same token, I cannot buy the land next to an existing airport and then demand the airport stop making noise or doing the other things an airport must do to conduct its business. This principle extends to all sorts of questions, including air pollution, zoning, etc. Murray Rothbard wrote about this concept many times. Here is an example.

The Non-Aggression Principle

Second, Mystal's article includes this passage:

You can do what you want and I can do what I want and, so long as we're not hurting anybody, the government can do nothing." It's ... cute, as theories of social interactions go. It's not a workable basis for law and governance.

I would refer the writer to this passage from Thomas Jefferson's First Inaugural address:

With all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens -- a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities. [emphasis added]

In fact, Jefferson reiterated the NAP as the basis for law and governance many times over the course of his life. Examples include thisthis and this.

Rather than a "cute theory of social interaction," the NAP was the guiding principle of American liberty for well over a century until Woodrow Wilson specifically called it out as no longer adequate for what he considered too complex a society for the NAP to govern. Libertarians disagree with Wilson. Mystal may not. But it would be a much more valuable discussion if libertarianism would at least be represented correctly when criticized, rather than presented in the cartoonish fashion our sound bite media so often resort to.

 

Reprinted from tommullen.net

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. For more information and more of Tom’s writing, visit www.tommullen.net.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Trump Embraces Duterte as Asia Trip Winds Down

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 13:28

MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- His lengthy Asia trip down to its final days, President Donald Trump praised Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, calling him by his first name, sharing a joke about the media and even complimenting Manila’s weather. 

Duterte has overseen a bloody drug war that has featured extrajudicial killings. He has even boasted about killing people with his own hands. But during brief remarks to reporters, Trump said he and Duterte have “had a great relationship” and avoided questions on whether he’d raise human rights issues with the Filipino leaders.

The White House later said the two leaders discussed the Islamic State, illegal drugs and trade during the 40 minute meeting. Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said human rights came up “briefly” in the context of the Philippines’ fight against illegal drugs. She did not say if Trump was critical of Duterte’s program.

That appeared to conflict with the Filipino version of the meeting. Harry Roque, a spokesman for Duterte, said “there was no mention of human rights. There was no mention of extralegal killings. There was only a rather lengthy discussion of the Philippine war on drugs with President Duterte doing most of the explaining.”

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On the sidelines of an international summit, Trump looked to strengthen ties with Pacific Rim allies, aiming to strike bilateral, rather than multinational trade agreements, and increase pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. He met with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday and highlighted their two nations’ “deeper and more comprehensive” ties, looking to strengthen a relationship that is vital to the U.S. vision of an Indo-Pacific region that attempts to de-emphasize China’s influence.

He jointly met with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with whom he had a contentious phone call last winter, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who hosted the president in Tokyo earlier in the trip. Trump raved about his accomplishments on his five-nation journey, particularly on trade and on North Korea, which the White House has suggested may be designated a state sponsor of terror.

Trump said he would wait until his return to Washington on Wednesday to elaborate with a “major statement” on those two topics but hinted at progress while in Manila.

“We’ve made some very big steps with regard to trade -- far bigger than anything you know,” Trump told reporters, pointing to business deals forged between U.S. and foreign companies.

“We’ve made a lot of big progress on trade. We have deficits with almost everybody. Those deficits are going to be cut very quickly and very substantially,” Trump said.

“Except us,” Turnbull chimed in, to laughs.

“You’re the only one,” Trump responded. Trump also said the trip had been “very fruitful” for the United States and pointed to the warm welcomes he had received in capitals like Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing.

“It was red carpet like nobody, I think, has probably ever received,” Trump said. “And that really is a sign of respect, perhaps for me a little, but really for our county. And I’m really proud of that.”

Trump met privately with Turnbull later Monday. But his interactions with Duterte drew the most scrutiny.

Advisers had said that while Trump was always unlikely to publicly chastise Duterte, he might offer criticisms behind closed doors. Trump would hold his tongue in public to avoid embarrassing Duterte, whom he is urging to help pressure North Korea and fight terrorism, and to avoid pushing him into the arms of China. Duterte has seemed less committed to the strategic partnership with the U.S.

Duterte’s war on drugs has alarmed human rights advocates around the world who say it has allowed police officers and vigilantes to ignore due process and to take justice into their own hands. Government officials estimate that well over 3,000 people, mostly drug users and dealers, have died in the ongoing crackdown. Human rights groups believe the victim total is far higher, perhaps closer to 9,000.

The opening ceremonies of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations conference began with pageantry, including a group photo of the leaders and the summit’s traditional handshake. That cross-body handshake, during which each leader shakes the opposite hands of those next to him or her, briefly baffled Trump, who then laughed as he figured out where to place his arms.

___

Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and Laurie Kellman in Washington contributed to this report.

__

Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Colvin at http://twitter.com/@Colvinj

Copyright 2017 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

US Army to Allow ‘Self Mutilators’ and Other Recruits With History of Mental Issues

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 13:27

The U.S. Army will now allow recruits with a history of mental health issues including self-harm and mutilation, USA Today reports.

The move is reportedly part of a major Army drive to increase recruitment and hit new quotas mandated until September 2018. It will allow candidates with a history of "self-mutilation, bipolar disorder, depression and drug and alcohol abuse."

"The decision was primarily due to the increased availability of medical records and other data which is now more readily available," Lt. Col. Randy Taylor told USA Today, adding that a stringent process would remain in place for recruits to receive a waiver.

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"The burden of proof is on the applicant to provide a clear and meritorious case for why a waiver should be considered," a memo obtained by USA Today reads. The decision to allow such candidates with a history of mental health issues however could pose a risk to the future of the force. High profile incidents have involved candidates with history of such issues.

These include the case of Bowe Bergdahl who walked off his base in Afghanistan in 2009 only to become a Taliban prisoner for 5 years. Bergdahl was freed after former President Barack Obama freed five high risk detainee's from Guantanamo bay. U.S. Army investigators found that Bergdahl suffered from delusions and naivete and discovered that he had been ejected from Coast Guard training in 2006 for mental health reasons. This history was not, however, reviewed prior to his enlistment.

 

Follow Saagar Enjeti on Twitter. Send tips to saagar@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

Copyright 2017 The Daily Caller News Foundation

After Texas Church Shooting, Governor Abbott Had Commonsense Words — That Sparked Outrage

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 13:03

After the horrendous mass shooting at a small church in Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 5, the state's governor, Greg Abbott, was asked if he had any spiritual, non-political words. He did. Good words, reasonable words. Commonsensical words. And yet they have sparked remarkable outrage.

Governor Abbott said:

Remember, even though we are facing these severe tragedies -- whether it be what happened in Sutherland Springs, or what happened in Las Vegas, or what happened in New York last week or what happened in London earlier this year -- we have acts of evil that are taking place and because they are close in time to us right now we think this is something heavy right now. But put this in the context of history. Look at what happened with Hitler during the horrific events during that era, and Mussolini and go back in time before that to the earlier ages, the Middle Ages, when people committed horrific crimes, and when you go back through the history of the Bible, there was evil that took place from earliest stages of the Bible to post-New Testament, so evil is something that has permeated this world. And that force of evil must be combated with the force of good that is offered by God, and it is so heartwarming to see the people of this community turn to God, turn to hope, turn to the promise of good overcoming evil.

It was a wise and sturdy call to come together and not lose heart. And yet many journalists somehow were appalled by the governor’s words.

Some suggested he was shrugging off the horrendous event. Christopher Brauchli at HuffPost says, "The fact that the United States has not yet descended to the levels of Hitler's Germany ... is of no comfort to most citizens. Someone should mention that to Greg Abbott." A Shareblue Media article by Kalli Joy Gray says, "It is not clear how Abbott thinks that putting recent tragic events in the context of history by comparing them to the millions of people who perished in the Holocaust somehow makes recent events less bad."

They weren't listening. In essence, Abbott said: A dark, tragic event has occurred, but remember, such horrors -- and greater ones -- are common in this vale of tears. We can fight this darkness. And isn't it encouraging to see us doing exactly this, together? This isn't downplaying current atrocities; it's simply pointing out that this is our human lot.

Fatalism?

Some journalists charged that the governor was offering an excuse for not trying to prevent future shootings. Laura Clawson at Daily Kos ends with the words: "Here's a thought: we can fight bad things now even though there were worse things in the past." But the question the governor was answering was phrased in such a way that excluded talk about guns or mental illness or security. And Abbott has talked elsewhere about these things.

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He was also labeled a fatalist. A Texas Observer subheading reads, "Abbott and company trumpet a Biblical version of "s*** happens" after a church shooting leaves 26 dead and 20 wounded." Never mind his call to "turn to God, turn to hope, turn to the promise of good overcoming evil."

Abbott was even rebuked by the Anti-Defamation League, in a statement that said, "diminishing innocent Texans' lives and calling for the tragedy in Sutherland Springs to be viewed in the 'greater context of history' is deeply insulting and irresponsible."

Basic Christianity

All this fuss. All because Gov. Abbott, when asked for a spiritual take on the tragedy, reminded people that, no, our society isn't suddenly going to hell in a handbasket but, yes, we do live in a fallen world and we should strengthen each other and combat evil with good.

All Christians believe that. And since Gov. Abbott wasn't talking about any Christian beliefs related to hot-button political issues, I wouldn't have expected journalists to be upset. Evil is nothing new. Only God and his goodness can defeat evil. God and his goodness will defeat evil. Those are shocking, fringe beliefs? Hardly.

Why the shock and outrage?

Some of the outrage may be mere partisan grandstanding -- an effort to damage a governor from an opposition party. But it's probably best to take the outrage at face value, to give the outraged the benefit of the doubt and trust that at least many of them genuinely are upset by Abbott's words.

So, why are they? My guess is this: The idea that violent tragedies are an inevitable feature of life in a fallen world is too much for some people to bear. It's especially too much if you believe this world is all there is.

And so there's a tendency to put our hope in politics: Pass this or that law and the problem will be solved. Abbott -- although a politician -- refuses to play that game. He won't make promises that God won't make. And God never promised us a rose garden.

I wouldn't have guessed people would condemn a politician for admitting he can't lead us back to Eden. But that is what just happened. And yes, I should have seen it coming. Because if people put their hope in politics instead of in God, they will put unrealistic demands on their politicians, and their government.

And they will be sorely disappointed.

Moore and More

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 12:00

Funny thing happens to me as I get close to a much-needed vacation. The noggin can’t keep focused on any one topic and wanders into weird crevices of thought.

With that in mind, let’s look at few stories making noise the past few days.

Roy Moore

I’ll let everyone else argue over whether Roy Moore should withdraw. Clearly, if he engaged in unlawful business with a minor, even if it was during the Carter Administration, he should exit the race. Equally clear, anyone who doesn’t think this was a well-orchestrated, deliberately timed, and likely financed hit job by the Post and the Swamp Creatures is a few croutons short of a stuffing. A plague on both houses. Unless either wants to come over and help pack.

What I’m wondering about is how long before there is pressure on oldies stations to remove all the classic pop odes to romancing teen girls. “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “16 Candles,” “Teen Angel,” “Young Girl,” just to start. Sam Cooke crooned, “She was only 16, only 16, and I loved her so. She was too young to fall in love and I was too young to know.” How soon before there are calls to kick Sam from the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame? I’m also wondering how this story has blown up like an ISIS bunker, yet there didn’t seem to be all that much noise in May when Miley Cyrus said Katy Perry’s hit “I Kissed a Girl” was about her. That song came out in 2008. Cyrus would have been all of 16. We’ll see what happens in 40 years when Perry runs for Congress as a Republican.

Meanwhile, the Destroy-the-Opposition Brigade ( aka Media Matters, a fully owned subsidiary of Soros Inc), is again trying to get Sean Hannity fired from Fox News while attacking his advertisers. Hannity’s crime? Daring to offer Moore the chance to answer for himself. (Which Moore didn’t do too well.) Hannity also said if the allegations against Moore are true, it is despicable. But the Brigade stiff arms such facts in its bull rush to crush its enemies. I use the word bull deliberately.

Megyn Kelly

Speaking of cable news, if I am CNN should I ring up NBC and ask if they want to cut their losses on their big Megyn Kelly deal? She fits in over there as well as Mike Tyson would fit in a BBC period drama. She’d give CNN a much needed boost. Plus, unlike Jim Acosta, Brian Stelter and increasingly Jake Tapper, she can challenge Trump without sounding like a whiny second-grader.

California NAACP Wants to Eliminate “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Did you know the National Anthem is racist? No one else did either, but that’s what the California NAACP now claims. Let’s remember what the song is about. An invading Army, after burning much of our capital city, moves on to pound Baltimore’s Ft. McHenry. All night the shelling continued, but Baltimore hung tough. And in the morning, Old Glory was still there. The fort had not fallen. A lawyer watching the bombardment, amazed at America’s ability to withstand such an onslaught, decided to write about it. Grab the melody of an Irish drinking song, and there you have it.

That’s racist? Here’s an idea. Instead of creating a false racist narrative, why don’t you deal with the fact that homelessness is exploding in your state and all along the West Coast, according to a new report by the Associated Press. Funny how the more progressive those states get, and the more asinine their protests get, the worse things get for the people living there. (It’s also funny the AP would describe the economy as “booming.” It never seems to do so when doing economic articles on Trump. But I digress.)

On the other hand, maybe the California NAACP has a point. We should find a National Anthem that everyone can sing. Come to think of it, we should have retired the song after Whitney Houston sang it at the Super Bowl. Nobody was ever going to sing it better, so why even try? Retire it like Jackie Robinson’s number. I suggest the California NAACP folks take another look at Whitney. That’s not racist. That’s America at its finest.

   

You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught

A college professor wondered in a New York Times editorial Saturday whether his young children could ever become friends with white kids. Ekow N. Yankah, a professor at Yeshiva University, said, “I will teach them to be cautious, I will teach them suspicion, and I will teach them distrust. Much sooner than I thought I would, I will have to discuss with my boys whether they can truly be friends with white people." Naturally, he blamed Trump for his bigotry. I hear what he’s saying and I don’t look towards the White House. I look towards the South Pacific. I hear the words of Rogers and Hammerstein:

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear You’ve got to be taught from year to year It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid Of people whose eyes are oddly made And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late Before you are six or seven or eight To hate all the people your relatives hate You’ve got to be carefully taught

Judging from the statements, I’d say the professor is carefully teaching his kids.

 

Waking and Responding to an Unwanted Era

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 10:00

Several weeks after 9/11 I went with a team of leaders gathered by the American Association of Christian Counselors to New York City to minister to pastors, their spouses, their fellow church leaders and various ministry leaders who'd served their city and congregations after a tidal wave of terror hit their shore. I can still picture their faces. Some of them had not yet wept. Others had not ceased to weep. We've come to speak often, with appropriate awe and appreciation, of the first responders among civil servants in outbreaks of violence or tragedy. The leaders who'd gathered in that sanctuary to be served and comforted after 9/11 were first responders among church servants.

Many of the pastors who met with us that day had done what their seminary training could hardly have prepared them for. They'd conducted a mind-numbing succession of memorial services for members of their churches. "With no bodies," one pastor murmured, his face almost as pale as death, his eyes hollow. We do not normally think of a casket as a tangible mercy in our grief but we realized that day with horror that cold metal can be warm comfort in terrible times. There was a pause, a giving way to the silence, a pleading for the Holy Spirit to plunge to the depths where no man can go, to intercede and bring a comfort not of this world to His very own servants. That day was a day for speaking the unspeakable. They could say anything they wanted or needed. They could voice feelings they were fighting that could not responsibly be uttered in such raw form to their congregations. Those of us serving them did our best to speak when speaking was appropriate. We held in our arms the ones who wanted holding. We sat near those who did not want to be touched.

As we search for words for what has befallen us, maybe 9/11 is the closest we can come to marking the birth of a different era, one distinguished by, of all horrific things, terror. Birth by stillbirth. Life in what we called a civilized world with a fire-breathing dragon of death coming out of hibernation. Terror from without and within. Global. Domestic. Evil. Environmental. We are not nearly as scared of death as we are of being scared in death. These things are unthinkable yet we must think of them. They are unspeakable and yet we must speak.

Our discipleship, generally speaking, is not matching the demand of our violent, unstable days.

Wise, responsive action must be taken in coming days. There are outcries for legislation that need to be heard and reasonable measures to be taken for church security but this is an outcry for the fortification of the souls of our people. This is a plea for an awakening to the demands for responsible discipleship in the generation that has been entrusted to us, for training up and equipping strong, able Jesus-followers, sturdy living stones, tenderized by the love of Jesus, strengthened by His divine power.

I've thought over and over in the last five years, "we're unprepared for what has befallen us." Our discipleship, generally speaking, is not matching the demand of our violent, unstable days. We who follow Jesus were timed for this exact era on earth. God thought we were capable of serving it or He would not have planted us in this bloody soil at this moment in history. He's a strategist. We leaders and teachers and mentors and communicators can either embrace what has been entrusted to us or answer for it when we see Him. We have churches doing no discipleship at all which would have completely flummoxed first century church planters and begged the question "Why bother?" Few of us have the patience or time to address for the millionth time all the ways we've flung our church doors open to the pandemic narcissism of our culture. Show them a good time. Do not dare call out sin or call for service or sacrifice or, God forbid, actual commitment. 

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Those are tired discussions and I'm not in the mood to have them this morning. The discussion I'm in the mood to have is about revisiting the paradigm for discipleship in the early church where Jesus-followers were equipped to both suffer and rejoice. Not one or the other. Both. Take a look back at Matthew 10 and Luke 10 where Jesus sent out His followers and warned them what kinds of conditions they'd encounter. Look back at Paul's letters to the Thessalonians. They were taught to serve one another in extreme hardship and that it would not finish them. Rather, it would flourish them. If it killed them, well, they'd be in the presence of the Lord. They were equipped for the inevitability of affliction and not just how to survive it but how to abound in it. This is the heritage of the saints. New Testament believers were trained -- not just told but trained -- to weep together and laugh together. To remember Christ's death together. To live out authentic resurrection life that could not be explained in natural terms. They were taught to battle demonic powers and principalities. They were taught how to grieve with hope. They were taught how to repent and be restored. How to turn from the sin that was hemorrhaging their witness and their tenacity in Christ. They were trained in prayer and taught how to keep the faith. They were taught to anticipate with great joy the vivid life awaiting them in Christ on the other side of death and that these are mere shadows compared to the substance to come.

The church in America is dying for this kind of discipleship, for the real, live fly-in-your-face thing that results in lives that matter greatly in their communities. I'm not pounding on something that I'm unwilling to put to practice. I have a long way to go and a lot to learn but I've made increasingly strong adjustments in Bible study curriculum in recent years. I hope the call to steadfastness, sacrifice, strength, love, faith and defiant joy in times of extreme duress and distress is blatant in the studies on James, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, 2 Timothy and, most recently, The Quest. I want to be like Paul described Epaphras who was "always struggling" on behalf of those he served, that they might "stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God." (Col.4:12)

We have the Holy Spirit. Now we need the training on how to allow Him to work effectively and fruitfully among us.

There is so much good news. Such a fresh embodiment of the increasingly disembodied Body of Christ. I've watched a slack-jawing awakening of service and sacrifice in churches in my own city in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. I have no doubt Floridians would say the same. I marveled yesterday as our pastor told us what our next phases of ministry would be. It included things like dropping off new mattresses in homes where beds were destroyed and families were sleeping on floors, hanging sheet rock, helping people fill out insurance claims. Serving in Houston has looked more like rebuilding a community after a war than the church of my young adulthood. What is this world we've awakened to???

It is our world. The only one we have for now. I'm the furthest thing from a pessimist but I don't think it's going to get better. I think we may get reprieves of mercy but I fear we have entered a travail we will not soon escape and that it will intensify. Here's where my optimism comes in handy: I may not think our conditions are going to get better but I think the church is. Jesus-followers have what it takes to serve this world. We have the Holy Spirit. Now we need the training on how to allow Him to work effectively and fruitfully among us. We need discipleship fit for our days. We need the Scriptures. We need to be taught in our churches not only how to deal with our personal suffering but how to deal with our community suffering as a people.  We need to be taught our right to joy and how it flourishes most beautifully and colorfully in a landscape of difficulty.

I've run out of writing time and I'm sure you've more than run out of reading time. I've got no great ending to this post. Just earnestness. We wish things were different. They're not. But we can be different. We can be disciples. Real ones. Trained ones. Tenderhearted ones. Fortified ones. Effective ones. Strong ones. Joyful ones. Courageous ones. Compassionate ones. And the world will be the better for it.

 

"Waking and Responding to an Unwanted Era." by Beth Moore, from The LPM Blog (blog.lproof.org).  All rights reserved.  Used by permission.

7.2 Earthquake Hits Near Iran-Iraq Border, Scores Reportedly Dead

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 01:22

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- A powerful magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit the region along the border between Iran and Iraq on Sunday, killing at least 61 people and injuring 300 in Iran, an Iranian official said.

Iranian state TV said Iraqi officials had reported six deaths and 200 injuries inside Iraq, though there was no official comment from Iraq's government.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centered 19 miles (31 kilometers) outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja.

The Islamic Republic of Iran News Network quoted the head of the country's emergency medical services, Pirhossein Koulivand, as saying early Monday that at least 61 had been killed and 300 injured on Iran's side of the border.

Iranian state TV also said Iraqi officials reported at least six people dead inside Iraq, along with more than 50 people injured in Sulaymaniyah province and about 150 in Khanaquin city. No reports were immediately available from Iraq's government.

Koulivand earlier told a local television station that the earthquake knocked out electricity in Iran's western cities of Mehran and Ilam. He also said 35 rescue teams were providing assistance.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a phone call with the Interior Ministry emphasized the need for maximum effort from officials.

Iranian social media was abuzz Sunday night with posts of people evacuating their homes, particularly in Kermanshah and Ghasr-e Shirin.

The semi-official Iranian ILNA news agency said at least 14 provinces in Iran had been affected by the earthquake.

Officials announced that schools in Kermanshah and Ilam provinces would be closed Monday because of the tremor.

Iran sits on many major fault lines and is prone to near-daily quakes. In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake flattened the historic city of Bam, killing 26,000 people.

 

Copyright 2017 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistribute

 

Using Grand Jury Testimony, Ferguson Stage Play Challenges Media Narratives

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 23:43

NEW YORK -- When it came time for Darren Wilson to testify about what happened after firing his gun from inside his vehicle, the Ferguson, Missouri, police officer told the grand jury that his assailant "had the most intense, aggressive face."

Wilson, then 28, is the white police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black male on Aug. 9, 2014, in Ferguson, a northern suburb of St. Louis.

It's all part of the stage play performance of Ferguson, which ran from Oct. 23 through Nov. 5 at the 30th Street Theater, located between 7th and 8th avenues in New York City, and makes use of a storytelling technique known as "verbatim theater."

The Advantage of Verbatim Theater

All of the play's dialogue is taken verbatim from the 25 days of  grand jury testimony. Phelim McAleer, the Irish-born filmmaker and investigative journalist who wrote the play, has launched a crowdsourcing campaign to help finance the play's production, which expired on Nov. 9. If enough funds are raised, the play could be restaged.

"This is as much about journalism as it is about the activists involved with the Ferguson incident," McAleer told The Daily Signal after the Saturday afternoon performance of the play. "This is about checking primary sources and looking into what these people actually saw and not what they said they saw. That's something many journalists failed to do."

The media narrative built around the widely reported "Hands up, don't shoot" scenario that fueled protests from Black Lives Matter and other groups directed against the police was contradicted by key witnesses and by physical and forensic evidence, according to what the grand jury heard.

Ian Campbell Dunn, the actor who played Darren Wilson. (Photo: The Daily Signal)

The confrontation between Wilson and Brown "took place over an approximately two-minute period of time at about noon," according to a U.S. Department of Justice report on the shooting. Brown had stolen several packages of cigarillos from a nearby convenience store a few minutes earlier and had strong-armed the store clerk when the clerk tried to stop him, the report explains.

Wilson's radio transmissions and dispatch records make it clear that he was aware of the robbery and had a description of the suspects.

The police officer first encountered Wilson and his friend, Dorian Johnson, 22, when they were walking eastbound on Canfield Drive in the "middle of the street," according to the Justice Department report.

After Wilson noticed that Brown had cigarillos in his hand and that Johnson was wearing a black shirt, consistent with the description he had of the suspects, the police officer reversed his vehicle and then angled the vehicle to cut Brown and Johnson off in the street. That's what Wilson told prosecutors and investigators, that's what he said in his testimony to the grand jury and that's what it says in the Justice Department report.

Of all the witnesses, McAleer said he was particularly impressed by Ciara Jenkins, a young black woman, who was positioned behind Wilson and Brown in the moments leading up to the shooting.

"What she delivered was just incredibly powerful," McAleer said. "She had been avoiding the subpoena and didn't want to testify, but when she did, she said Michael Brown did not raise his hands to surrender and that he charged the officer. This is a very intense, emotional part of the play. But that's what's in the grand jury testimony, and the media did not tell the truth about what happened."

Philadelphia College Students Bail Out at Last Minute

Ferguson is a 90-minute courtroom drama unfolding in one room on stage with 13 actors and with some of those actors playing multiple roles.

A staged reading of the play was first presented in 2015 in Los Angles, but nine of the cast members walked out in protest over the script. None of the New York City cast members walked out, but the Saturday afternoon performance did not escape controversy. A representative from the Community College of Philadelphia had contacted McAleer to see if accommodations could be made for about 50 students. McAleer obliged, but he was informed on Saturday morning that almost all of students had decided to back out at the last minute.

The Irish playwright explained what went down in an email that was sent to The Daily Signal and other interested parties.

Phelim McAleer, pictured in front of 30th Street Theater. (Photo: The Daily Signal)

"I was really excited, and so were the cast, so I organized a group discount and a Q&A afterwards with the cast and myself so we could all discuss the issues raised by the play," McAleer said in his email. "I thought the students would really benefit to hear verbatim what went on in the grand jury room during the Michael Brown investigation. In the end, 53 tickets were booked -- almost all the house."

A handful of students from the college did show up individually.

In the email McAleer received from the college's representative, he was informed that "almost all of the students decided not to come because of the controversy surrounding the play," he explained in his own email commenting on the incident.

"Don't forget Ferguson is verbatim theater. It creates the drama using only actual words from the grand jury transcripts," McAleer continued. "That is what these snowflake students were afraid of -- the actual words of eyewitnesses -- and many of these witnesses were minorities.

"What kind of country is this where students are scared of the 'controversy' created by the verbatim recreating of minority voices?"

The Daily Signal contacted the college representative who had been in touch with McAleer to ask if he wanted to comment for this article, but the representative did not respond.

Standout Performances Capture Divergent Testimony

Brown was under the influence of marijuana at the time of his confrontation with the police officer, a forensic toxicologist told the grand jury.

"I can tell you the drug is present at a significant concentration that represents a large dose into Mr. Brown," Dr. Brian Wilcox said in his testimony. "How he would have behaved and what he would have done, I cannot predict. I know the drug was having an effect and was impairing his nervous system."

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Ian Campbell Dunn, a native of Nashville, Tennessee, played the part of Officer Wilson. He poured a lot of emotion and intensity into his performance and even stepped off stage and into the audience during the climactic, final moments of the play.

"There's a difference between simply retelling the story and reliving it," Dunn told The Daily Signal. "As an actor, you are trying to bring out the humanity of each individual involved."

The altercation reached a critical turning point when Brown reached into Wilson's car, punched the officer several times, grabbed the officer's gun, and attempted to get control of the weapon, according to Wilson's testimony.

This happened after Wilson had tried opening his car door, only to have Brown slam it shut, the officer said in his testimony.

Johnson, the 22-year-old who accompanied Brown that night, said in his testimony that "the first, initial contact" Wilson and Brown had was when the officer's "arm came out of the window" and "grabbed a hold of Big Mike's shirt around the neck area."

Actor Cedric Benjamin, who played Dorian Johnson. (Photo: The Daily Signal)

Cedric Benjamin, who is from Florida and moved to New York to pursue a career in acting, played the part of Johnson. He sympathizes with his subject.

"Throughout the entire process, Johnson is the only one who is really unbiased," Benjamin told The Daily Signal. "He sees Mike [Brown] stealing in the store, and he testifies about what happened and what he saw, but what happened in the store and what happened with the shooting were two different incidents."

Benjamin used highly pronounced facial expressions as part of his portrayal of Johnson to help capture his subject's growing anxiety while he was being questioned by lawyers.

Johnson acknowledged in testimony that he had his own checkered history with the law and had been in jail before. When he recognized that "Big Mike" was not going to pay for the cigarillos, Johnson said in testimony that he tried to exit the store because he "didn't want any part of it."

Johnson also saw that "Big Mike kind of reverses the grab" when the store clerk tries to stop him.

"The grand jury was there to determine if there was enough evidence to go to trial," Benjamin told The Daily Signal. "That was the purpose, but the entire time it just felt like the lawyers were prosecuting Michael Brown. The injustice of the justice system is the story that needs to be told."

The testimony of Wilson and Johnson diverge sharply. Wilson tells the grand jury that it was Brown who reached into the police vehicle.

There was physical and forensic evidence presented to the grand jury that backs up Wilson's version of events. McAleer told The Daily Signal he does not view Johnson as a credible witness.

"Johnson was caught several times telling stories that just didn't hold up under scrutiny," McAleer said. "When he said the officer reached out of his car to grab Michael Brown, he was describing a physical action that defied common sense and one that didn't happen."

Oliver D'Anna, 13, a precocious eighth-grader from Westport, Connecticut, with an acute interest in theater, wanted to know why Wilson didn't just drive off when the situation escalated.

"Why didn't he just push on the gas pedal and drive away?" D'Anna asked. "It seems like he could have done something to avoid the situation."

Finally, after the shots were fired, Wilson is able to exit his vehicle and pursue Brown on foot while calling for backup.

Jenkins, the witness who made a strong impression on McAleer, was in a minivan with her family members when the final confrontation leading up to the shooting takes place. Jenkins tells the grand jury that Brown did not raise his hands to surrender and continued to charge the officer.

"I'm not, you know, really big on talking to the police or defending the police. I'm just being real honest with you," Jenkins said to one of the lawyers during testimony. "I feel like the officer was in the right, and that is a lot of saying. Because other than that, I ain't got nothing to do with them."

In one of his final dramatic testimonies, Wilson describes how Brown kept charging toward him even after Wilson fired his weapon.

"Well, he keeps coming at me after that again, during the pause I tell him to 'get on the ground, get on the ground,' he still keeps coming at me, gets about 8 to 10 feet away," the officer said. "At this point, I'm backing up pretty rapidly, I'm backpedaling pretty good because I know if he reaches me, he'll kill me."

Dunn, the actor who played the part of of Wilson, expressed skepticism toward the officer's testimony.

"I personally did not believe him, and I don't think the shooting was justified," he said. "The burden should be on the police to defuse the situation. But as an actor, you don't get to make a choice about whether or not you believe someone. You want to capture as much of what it must have been like in that situation, which was traumatic for everyone involved."

Benjamin, the actor who played Johnson, sees value in the verbatim approach to theater, but thought more of the verbatim material could be been used to show that Brown was a genuine victim in the shooting.

The Daily Signal asked McAleer if that was an option.

"No such additional verbatim material exists," he said. "Any more verbatim material I put in would have made Brown look more guilty and Wilson look more innocent."

Tensions flared after the final performance, when Benjamin asked audience members to activate their smartphones and record his criticisms of the play and what he regarded as an unbalanced presentation of the Ferguson shooting. But Jerry Dixon, the director of the play, interjected, describing Benjamin as "unprofessional" and telling the actor to leave the stage.

 

Copyright 2017 The Daily Signal

A Dozen Times Good Guys With Guns Stopped a Massacre

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 22:48

A man armed with a rifle walked into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, Nov. 5 and killed 26 congregants, fleeing in an SUV after exchanging shots with a church neighbor.

The neighbor, retired NRA instructor Stephen Willeford, and Johnnie Langendorff have been named heroes after the tragedy. Willeford shot the gunman and caused him to flee, while Langendorff drove his truck about 95 miles per hour in a high speed chase to catch the killer.

In honor of the Texas heroes and the Second Amendment that secures the right for good people to carry guns, The Daily Caller News Foundation has compiled a list of  11 other times in the past decade where a tragedy was cut short or wholly averted because of good people with guns.

Some of the following were originally gathered by Eugene Volokh for his column in The Washington Post:

July 2017 -- A politically motivated gunman attempted to massacre Republican congressman during a congressional baseball practice. He struck four people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. Congressional police attending the practice because of Scalise returned fire, pinning the shooter down until officers from the Alexandria Police Department arrived, eventually killing the shooter. September 2017 -- An immigrant shot and killed a woman walking to her car in a church parking lot after the service. He entered the church where 22-year-old Robert Engle confronted the killer. Engle fought the gunman, suffering a blow to the head. The gunman, however, accidentally shot himself in the chest during the brawl. Engle, permitted to carry a pistol, retrieved his gun from his car and held the shooter until police arrived. May 2015 -- Two gunman targeted a "Draw The Prophet" event in Texas where local artists were drawing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed. An off-duty traffic officer working security for the event saw the would-be killers pull up in a black van, and he got out of his police cruiser to investigate. The two gunman then exited their van and opened fire. The traffic cop answered with his handgun, killing both assailants. April 2015 -- An gunman fired into a crowd in Chicago's Logan Square. An Uber driver with a concealed-carry permit drew his pistol and shot the assailant six times, knocking him down and ending the threat. March 2015 -- An argument in a Philadelphia barbershop escalated until one man pulled a gun and began firing wildly. Another man with a concealed-carry permit brought out his own weapon, shooting and killing the attacker. July 2014 -- A psychiatric patient entered a "gun-free" hospital alongside his case worker. The patient had an appointment to see Dr. Lee Silverman, his psychiatrist. After arguing in the doctor's office, the patient took out a gun and began firing, trying to kill Silverman. The attacker killed his case worker instead, only grazing the doctor. Silverman took out his own gun, shooting and incapacitating his patient. September 2012 -- A man in a Plymouth, Penn., bar, angry at being kicked out, took out a gun and began shooting, killing one and wounding another. He then trained his gun on others when bar patron Mark Ktytor, who has a concealed-carry permit, took out his gun and shot the attacker several times, dropping him. March 2012 -- A man armed with a shotgun kicked open the doors to a church in South Carolina. Before any shots were fired, the pastor's grandson, Aaron Guyton, pulled his gun on the man and held him at gunpoint while several other parishioners disarmed him. Guyton has a concealed-carry permit. May 2009 -- Two armed robbers broke into an apartment filled with 10 people attending a party. The gunmen made everyone lie on the floor while they striped people of their valuables. The accomplices then took two women into a back room where one of the armed me intended to rape and kill them, and then the rest of the hostages. One of the partygoers, Marine Sean Barber who was participating in a military program for Marines to attend college, retrieved a gun he had hidden in the apartment. Barber shot one robber, who fled. Barber then went to the bedroom where the other robber was about to rape the women, shot the man and chased him out of the apartment, where he later died of his injuries. May 2008 -- A man killed two people in a bar in Winnemucca, Nev. When he stopped firing to reload his weapon, a concealed carry permit holding patron shot and killed him. December 2007 -- A disgruntled man entered a church in Arvada, Colo., and proceeded to kill four people before being shot himself by volunteer church security guard Jeanne Assam. The man committed suicide after Assam hit him multiple times.

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Copyright 2017 The Daily Caller News Foundation

New Mass Graves Found in Iraq Could Contain up to 400 Bodies

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 21:23

KIRKUK, Iraq (AP) -- Iraqi security forces have found mass graves in an area recently retaken from the Islamic State group that could contain up to 400 bodies, an Iraqi official said Sunday.

The bodies of civilians and security forces were found in an abandoned base near Hawija, a northern town retaken in early October, Kirkuk governor Rakan Saed said. He didn’t say when authorities will start exhuming the bodies from the mass graves.

Khalaf Luhaibi, a local shepherd who led troops to the site, said IS used to bring captives to the area and shoot them dead or pour oil over them and light them on fire. The area was strewn with torn clothing and what appeared to be human bones and skulls.

Iraqi forces have driven IS from nearly all the territory it once controlled. Authorities have already uncovered several mass graves in other newly liberated areas.

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U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have driven the extremists from nearly all the territory they once controlled, with some fighting still underway near the western border with Syria.

On Saturday, Iraq’s Prime Minister announced an operation to capture a patch of territory on the western edge of the country near the border with Syria. Hours later, Iraqi Defense Ministry announced capturing Romana area, saying the troops will head to nearby town of Rawa.

According to Ahmed al-Asadi, a spokesman for the Shiite-majority paramilitary forces, Rawa is the last Iraqi town held by IS who still control some scattered small villages in mainly desert areas.

 

Copyright 2017 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Problem With Pro-Life ‘Lite’

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 21:00

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is voting on a new chair of their Pro-Life Committee during their annual Fall assembly. J.D. Flynn rightly described the vote as a "referendum on what it means to be pro-life" last week in a CNA analysis. There will be political and real-life consequences to their choice for millions of unborn children.

Flynn helpfully sifts through the ideological pedigree of the two candidates. On one side is Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City. He’s widely seen as a champion of bold pro-life political leadership from the Catholic Church in the mode of New York Cardinal John O'Connor, who prayed at abortion clinics, confronted Catholic politicians who voted in favor of abortion, and founded the Sisters of Life. On the other is Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, a self-professed champion of the "seamless garment" approach of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. Bernardin looked at abortion as one of many social ills equally deserving of political attention from the Catholic Church without giving it any distinct moral or political weight.

The Francis Factor

The referendum may not just be about which of two prelates will chair the U.S. Bishop's pro-life committee. It is complicated by Pope Francis' own predilections. His address to Congress in 2015 could have been written by Cardinal Bernardin himself. He mentioned a wide range of social issues. The right to life was just one of them. The pope brought up the death penalty. But even though we were in the middle of a scandal involving Planned Parenthood selling aborted baby body parts, Pope Francis did not say a word about abortion. Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, whom he appointed to lead the Pontifical Academy for Life, is also taking the Bernardin approach.

The Seamless Garment may be noble, and even be inspired by Catholic social teaching. But as a political manifesto, it has not helped the pro-life cause here in the United States.

The Carrot Dangling on a Stick

My own alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, sadly played a pivotal role as "useful idiot" for the Democratic Party of Death in key moments. It’s a place where the seamless garment has long held sway. New York Governor Mario Cuomo famously spoke there in 1984 and said you could be publicly pro-choice but privately pro-life. He justified himself by appealing to the seamless garment, which he viewed as one and the same with the Democratic party platform. Cuomo promised Catholics that Democrats would one day get around to doing something about abortion. But that day has yet to come and seems farther away than ever before.

Another key moment was in 2009 when the University gave an honorary doctorate to Barack Obama, the most pro-abortion presidential candidate in U.S. history. He had even defended late-term abortions. With the typical inconsistency of those who promote the "consistent life ethic," the University cited its long commitment to the civil rights movement as justification for overlooking Obama's extreme abortion record. It caused scandal. Speakers withdrew. Students disrupted Obama's commencement speech. The school arrested peaceful protesters and prosecuted them for trespassing -- proving that even seamless garment proponents scrupulously guard private property when it is their own. Obama took it all in his stride and promised he would respect the conscience of Catholics. He lied.

Useful Idiots for the Party of Death

Michigan Representative Bart Stupak and 40 Democrats, mostly Catholic, held out on adopting Obamacare in 2009 because of abortion funding. President Obama told them he would not force Americans to pay for abortions. He lied again. Federal dollars paid for abortions under his signature legislation. Not only that. The President then went on to spend the better part of his presidency trying to force Catholics to pay for abortion and contraception through employer health insurance plans, including Notre Dame.

This was an "inflection point" in history for the pro-life cause and the Democratic party. It’s hard not to understate it. For a moment, it seemed like Catholic Democrats had understood the importance of taking a pro-life stand. But it was not to be. Instead of a pro-life hero, we will remember Stupak forever as a useful idiot of the party of death. Instead of helping the pro-life cause break new ground in his party, he ensured it would have no future in Democratic ranks.

But Stupak's epic fail was not all his fault. It was made possible by Notre Dame and the rest of the Seamless Garment crew. Touting the benefits of Obamacare overall, they chose to overlook nearly one million children who are killed in their mothers' womb each year. A pro-life rider to Obamacare would have been an incredible achievement. Instead, the Garment gave Stupak an easy way out. And when push came to shove he chose it.

The Pointless Garment

The Obamacare debacle is only the most recent example of the Seamless Garment’s failure when it comes to the pro-life cause. Another important historical fail was the attempt of Catholics to establish the pro-life movement in democratic ranks after Roe v. Wade. They founded American Citizens Concerned for Life (ACCL).

American Citizens Concerned for Life promoted support for pregnant mothers as an alternative to mainstream pro-life legislative efforts to protect children in the womb. They said this was less divisive and more consistent with the Gospel. They thought it would appeal to Democrats. It did not. The mainstream pro-life movement absorbed ACCL's focus on protecting mothers, but ACCL never turned to protecting children in the womb. Eventually it fizzled out.

Pro-life "lite," like all things lite, never really got off the ground. But it still did a lot of damage to the pro-life cause. Catholic politicians sided with Democrats in opposing pro-life riders in legislation because they did not want to be "obstructionist." Democrats of all creeds found pro-life cover with ACCL and denigrated other pro-lifers for being extremists involved in a "holy war." Catholics kept voting for them, and babies kept getting killed in the womb.

These Catholics Helped Keep Abortion Legal

The Seamless Garment is also arguably why Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land. The hitmen who did the Bork, Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden and John Kerry, were all Seamless Garment Catholics. It was they who got Anthony M. Kennedy on the Supreme Court. They ensured that Roe v. Wade could not be overturned for another two generations and that millions of babies would be killed as a result. This, and purging the Democratic party of any pro-life sentiment with the help of Nancy Pelosi, is their legacy. Today, abortion is a litmus issue for Democrats, not just in judicial nominations, but to represent the party in elections. Their leaders now openly say this.

And the religious freedom hot water Christians got into during the Obama years is also likely a result of the moral confusion caused by the Seamless Garment. Consider how Catholics held virtually all the most powerful positions in the Federal Government during the Obama presidency: the Vice-President, the Speaker of the House, the White House Chief of Staff, the head of the Department of Health and Human Services, and five Supreme Court Justices. These were just a few of the posts they filled. In spite of this, Obama imposed the HHS mandate. And he was the most anti-Christian president in U.S. history.

Prudential Judgments and Moral Imperatives

The bishops’ choice should be clear. Whoever leads the committee should continue to champion bold political action to protect children in the womb. And they should dispense ultimatums to Catholic politicians who are not on board. It’s not really even a prudential judgment about different strategies anymore. U.S. Bishops can opt to merely appear pro-life, or they can choose to defend the unborn.

Without a bold Catholic stand the unborn and our religious freedom do not stand a chance.

 

Stefano Gennarini (@prolifeadvocate) is the Director of Legal Studies at the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam) in New York. The views expressed in this article are the author's and are not necessarily the views of C-Fam.

Demoralized

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 19:00

Another week, another horrendous crime. Or another scandal. Or another natural disaster. When terrible becomes business as usual, then you know we're in big trouble.

Honestly, I don't know anyone who's happy with the direction our culture has taken, the tone it's so largely adopted, and the resulting cynicism. Watching its decay, both in stature and morality, combined with the relentless tragedies crashing over us like one angry wave after another, is like observing an aging parent who was once godly but has now chosen a debauched lifestyle. You want to scream, "You used to be better than this, and you taught me to be better, too! What happened?"

That's demoralizing. Of course, on the one hand, believers have always known that America and the Church are hardly the same. Rich in greatness of all sorts, our nation is still secular. It's always been part of the World, this fallen environment which Paul said is, by nature, in rebellion against God, filled with "the sons of disobedience," and governed by the original rebel, "the prince of the power of the air." (Eph. 2:2) Boatloads of temporary moral reform can't change that.

So OK, America's not a church nor, thank God, a theocracy. But you can't deny that it was also guided, largely and openly, by Judeo-Christian distinctives it now seems to disregard, minimize, or openly oppose.

That's why taking a glance at national security, economic stability, the erosion of Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, family and social standards, and the general tone of public discourse, makes me feel like I'm either at a deathbed or a funeral.

I don't think it's so much a case of us completely giving up. It's more like a kind of post-iceberg Titanic attitude.

I don't think it's so much a case of us completely giving up. It's more like a kind of post-iceberg Titanic attitude. It's so easy to say, "Looks like we're going down. If the hole can be patched, or more lifeboats built, or if there's anything else that I can do, text me."

At least, that's where I am today: a grumpy Evangelical Boomer trying to keep the right perspective during what seem to be such wrong times. Here are a few points I'm trying to keep in mind.

Kingdom above Country

 John the Baptist was unfairly facing execution for calling Herod out on his illicit union. At one point he seems to have hit a wall, and who could blame him? So he sent word to Jesus with what seems, in retrospect, an astounding question: Are you really the One, or did I get it wrong? (Matthew 11:3)

Wow. Here's a guy who leaped in his mother's womb in the presence of the not-yet-born Messiah. Later he recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God and insisted people follow Him. Yet even he, full of the Spirit from birth, had his doubts.

Jesus' response to him was, to my thinking, an encouragement coupled with a gentle rebuke: "The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them." (Matthew 11:5)

"The Kingdom continues, my friend," He seemed to have said, "despite the current bleakness. So long as God redeems, heals and liberates, there's solid reason for joy. My Kingdom, only partly manifest now, is alive and well, and coming in fullness."

So Memo to Self: "It's the Kingdom, stupid."

Never was that more true. So first, I will refuse to give up on my country. Because where there's life, there's hope. And what the heck do I know, anyway? Things may not be nearly as severe as I see them. They could turn around in astonishing ways, a miracle which has historical and Biblical precedent.

So Memo to Self: "It's the Kingdom, stupid."

Consistency above Criticism

 If I'm grieved at how unaligned so many people are with God's will, and despairing over the lack of concern so many seem to have with basic notions of rightness and decency, I need to remember that just because my surroundings aren't submitted to God, I can still be.

In fact, when Jesus said to check the log in your own eye first (Matthew 7:5), He hit on a principle which not only confronts hypocrisy. To my thinking it also offers hope today: nothing is preventing me from living an obedient life!

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The Holy Spirit is still wanting to transform. The Word still guides and edifies. Abiding in Him still guarantees good, eternal fruit. (John 15:5) So rather than despair over the wrong around me, I would do better by first addressing the wrong within me.

I can grow in grace, shed the dead, run the race, and conquer. Along those lines, here's a puddle I really want to roll around in for a bit this evening:

Every promise of God is still available, and potent, no matter who is or isn't taking Him up on them.

Every promise of God is still available, and potent, no matter who is or isn't taking Him up on them.

Well, I can, and I will. Because personal consistency is something I still have a say on; something I can commit to, continue in, and rejoice over when I give a final account for my own life and actions.

Love above All

I follow a Lord who has pretty strong feelings about my neighbor. He tells me to love that woman or man as I love myself. And He made no bones about what love entails when He described a Samaritan who applied himself to meeting needs and displaying concern, respect, and practical kindness. (Luke 10:25-37)

As long as I have neighbors, and as long as the love of Christ is shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Spirit, I can still love my neighbor and thereby do what I'm here to do.

So I'll prayerfully consider how to serve where service is needed, how to love when love is craved, and how to comfort, weep alongside, lend a hand to, and share eternal truths with the neighbors God's placed me among.

I feel a little better now, with some hope grounded in truth, and a commission which transcends the social and political trends I'm so blue about.

Because there's still my Father's business to be about. There always will be. And I'll always be able to be about it.

 

Originally published at JoeDallas.com. Used by permission.

How God — and Only God — Can Heal Our Divisions

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 17:00

Conservatives and progressives both desperately want to heal our divisions in America. Sometimes I get the sense that progressives don’t believe that of conservatives, but I think most progressives do, and I’m willing to say kudos to them for that.

Except the way they're going about it is hopelessly doomed to failure. Where unity is needed, their policies promote anger and division. Where truly human freedom of spirit is needed, they're being driven by guilt instead, and driving us along with them.

Answers That Fail

The pain in our land is deep, the anger is hot, the hurts are real and the danger of it all has risen way too close to the surface. The angle progressives typically take on mending that is to try controlling the people into getting along through policy and law. As if that ever worked!

No, the best high-control approaches could hope to produce is a surface pseudo-mutuality: everyone doing their best not to offend, forever looking back over their shoulder at the enforcers, always focused above all on making sure they won't break any rules that will get them in trouble.

You call that unity? I call it pretense. You call it freedom? I call it chains.

Some people think whites deserve those chains, in retribution for chains wrapped around black slaves' ankles and necks earlier in our history, and for continuing injustices against African Americans up to this day. It isn't just blacks who think so. It’s mood that seems to be just as common among progressive whites.

But a culture of punishment is still a culture of control, fear and anger. It isn't just the ones being punished who suffer in such an atmosphere. Everyone loses.

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Neither, however, would it be right to just shrug off the wrongs done against a large portion of Americans. Unfortunately there are whites who want to do that. Unfortunately (also) that’s partly attributable to extreme measures some people think it would take to make up for all the wrongs. It’s hard to think clearly about real problems when the only solutions you hear are completely over-the-top. And unworkable. And unlikely to solve the real problem anyway.

The Answer We Need

What we need instead is an answer that takes the wrongs seriously, but leads to a unifying solution, not a divisive one. We need an answer that doesn’t brush off guilt but resolves it and brings healing.

I’m convinced their answer is the same one our whole country needs.

I’ve seen that kind of answer in action. One of my best friends made a very serious mistake a few years back. It was a while before I met him, but I can attest to the whole story, especially its good outcome.

Brad had just moved from pastoring a large church in Michigan to another large church in South Carolina, when he chose to commit adultery. It devastated his family, forced him out of the one decent job he know how to do, and above all just about destroyed his marriage.

But not quite. For they all found healing together in Christ. Brad and his wife, Heidi, told their story recently in an interview with Lee Strobel. I’m convinced their answer is the same one our whole country needs. It’s about taking sin seriously, and then letting God do His healing work. Which we all need.

The interview here should pick up at the key moment, but if not, you might want to fast forward to about 11:30.

Will U.S. Catholic Bishops Choose Life?

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 13:54

We don’t look to The Wall Street Journal for its religion reporting. But a recent piece stands out. It shows American Catholicism at a crossroads. It's rare that a single decision decides the future of a church in a nation. But we face such a moment now. As the Journal explains, the bishops will vote on a crucial staff post. Who will lead the Church’s pro-life efforts?

The vote is down to two candidates -- Cardinal Blase Cupich, of Chicago, and Archbishop Joseph Naumann, of Kansas City -- who represent the ideological poles of the U.S. church and have articulated different visions of what being pro-life should mean.

“I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil.“

Read Christopher Manion at The Wanderer on what a fine pastor Archbishop Naumann is. Manion noted how

Archbishop Naumann ended diocesan ties to the Girl Scouts of America because it was pro-abortion. He and other Kansan bishops produced a video prior to the 2016 elections to be shown in all parishes that carried a statement to keep 'the human rights catastrophe' of abortion 'at the forefront of their minds when voting' as a 'moral obligation' for Catholics.

Cardinal Cupich represents the polar opposite approach. He has embarrassed himself repeatedly. How? Through blunt, foolish, partisan moralism on public policy. In a 2015 an Open Letter, Jason Jones called out Cupich. He cited Cupich’s

op-ed in response to the Planned Parenthood videos. As a victim of legal abortion who lost a daughter to it, I cannot imagine how you could have written this:

While commerce in the remains of defenseless children is particularly repulsive, we should be no less appalled by the indifference toward the thousands of people who die daily for lack of decent medical care; who are denied rights by a broken immigration system and by racism; who suffer in hunger, joblessness and want; who pay the price of violence in gun-saturated neighborhoods; or who are executed by the state in the name of justice.

Do you really not see what is uniquely evil about murdering children and selling their parts for profit? As Jesus told us, the poor we will have always with us, and we must advance their interests. But how can you compare the malice of organ-profiteering abortionists with the "indifference" that you (uncharitably?) attribute to fellow citizens who disagree with you about the optimal public policies helping the poor, reducing unemployment and violence and reforming immigration?

The Seamless Garment Is a Burial Shroud

I said it here three weeks ago. Cupich’s "Seamless Garment" or "consistent life ethic" is an intellectual fraud.

[It] pretends that on every possible topic, from gun rights to immigration, there is a "pro-life" position, and that it invariably entails all of the following:

More power for the government (i.e., grabbing guns). More seizure of wealth to be redistributed by politicians (raising taxes, lavishing money on welfare programs). Acting in what seems like the short-term interests of some people, without concern for long-term consequences (admitting millions of low-skill, left-wing, or sharia-loving immigrants). Enforcing "mercy" for some at the expense of justice for others (refusing to execute murderers).

Many on the Christian left pretend that you can't really be against killing unborn babies for our sexual convenience unless you favor open borders, gun confiscation, an end to capital punishment, single-payer health insurance and massive welfare programs. Oddly, in most of the countries that have all those other programs (see Western Europe), abortion is legal. In most, the pro-life movement barely exists.

A Fervent Partisan, But Lukewarm Pastor

LifeSiteNews recently published a very telling piece. Claire Chretien noted "the fervor with which [Cupich] defends liberal political causes.” She cited “the dispassion with which he speaks on abortion." Chretien continues:

No matter how concerned you are about the "budget" and political leaders "cooperating" to craft that budget to your liking, what you consider bad economics may be a social ill, but abortion will always remain an intrinsic evil.

St. John the Baptist didn't talk to Herod about his tax policies or whether he was giving enough government benefits to the shepherds.

No, Jesus' cousin told him the truth, that Herod was committing adultery. And he lost his life for it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer didn't fret about train ticket prices in Nazi Germany. He spoke truth to power about the genocide of Jews and eventually lost his life for it.

Debatable Policies vs. Human Sacrifice

At the beating heart of Catholic, Christian faith, two certainties stand:

Life is good, because God made it. Sex is sacred, because it generates human life.

Ending life to make sex more convenient is profoundly evil. It's not in the same ballpark as quarrels over optimal Medicaid budgets. Or background checks for guns. The latter's a plate of bacon. You might be eating too much of it. The former's a plate holding a human heart. An Aztec priest just plucked it out. Lumping the two together as "culinary issues" isn't just foolish. It's a lie.

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With this vote, America's Catholic bishops will decide something huge. Will the Church in America confront the culture? Will She hew to Her core convictions? You know, like the Amish, the Orthodox Jews, the Mormons, and other serious religious groups?

Ending life to make sex more convenient is profoundly evil. It's not in the same ballpark as quarrels over optimal Medicaid budgets. Or background checks for guns.

Or will it follow the example of the Episcopal and other Mainline denominations, which are quickly morphing into leftist NGOs?

 

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman: A Harbinger of Hope to Saudi Youth

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 13:27

As much as we try to paint things black and white in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), nothing is ever that simple.

Over the past week, the Anti-Corruption Committee in KSA, driven by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), effected a number of detentions of high-profile and wealthy Saudis on suspicion of various forms of corruption. Experts have argued whether the anti-corruption arrests are meant to be taken at face value, or interpreted as a move towards political power consolidation.

It seems unlikely to be a power play since, to be frank, MBS already held political power. A more interesting argument can be made if one removes politics from the equation entirely. Perhaps the Crown Prince is doing everything in his power to make sure his people remain optimistic about what the future holds.

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Instead of focusing on the geopolitical web Saudi is intertwined in, a domestic snapshot of Saudi Arabia reminds us that the country is on the verge of a cliff. It is easy to forget that the Kingdom known for its opulence is still a commodity exporter. It’s dependent on the sale, and price, of oil. Nearly 70 percent of the population is under the age of 30. The nation has an unemployment rate for those aged 15-24 over 30 percent. It also has low and stagnant oil prices, a substantial budget deficit and depleting foreign exchange reserves. So Saudi society is primed for unrest.

Enter MBS -- a young Crown Prince that the people can relate to, and he seems to get it. MBS did not cause the problems Saudi Arabia is set to face in the near future. He inherited them. But he is aggressively trying to remedy them.

Abandoning Destructive Ideas

At the Future Investment Initiative Forum held last month in Riyadh, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made a public promise to his Kingdom and to the rest of the world. "We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas,” he said. “We will destroy them today."

As much as MBS was addressing the thousands of foreign investors in the auditorium, he was also making a declaration to his people that things 'as is' need to change, and promising that he will make it happen.

The series of arrests over the past week was just one example of the bold moves MBS is willing to take to ensure his people have a fighting chance. Separate from the ethical basis for eliminating corruption, this was a message to his people that he hears them, he's on the case and to have hope.

Investors and Saudis alike can now rest assured that all opportunities are equal and there will be no favoritism.

It is no secret that corruption and nepotism have been intrinsic to Saudi society. Yet this breeds a feeling that there is no equality of opportunity. No potential for future success because of the way things are done. So this was a message to Saudi youth, in particular, that they are breaking the trends of the past. That the old ways of doing business will not be tolerated. Going forward, no one is above the law. And reactions from Saudis on the ground was accordingly positive.

This can only be accomplished with initiatives that are already set out as part of Vision2030. As ambitious as the plan is, it is a good plan with the potential to truly revolutionize the Kingdom. And again, the arrests last week showcase that MBS is not afraid to shock the system if necessary to get things moving. The Kingdom is in the middle of a very important transformation, and building trust is tantamount to its continued success. MBS is asking his people to trust him, and telling the rest of world that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is open for business -- legitimately.

Reassuring Foreign Investors

The Anti-Corruption Committee, and its mandate, addresses very specific concerns from potential foreign investors. The Committee has for years been gathering evidence against those detained. MBS's recent appointment to its Head finally gave it the credibility needed to make a move. Ultimately, the goal is for an increase in transparency and accountability in business that will foster an environment the international community can comfortably invest in. Estimates are that the Kingdom needs to create 3 million new jobs by 2020 alone. This can only be accomplished with a burgeoning private sector.

Investors and Saudis alike can now rest assured that all opportunities are equal and there will be no favoritism.

Attention and scrutiny into any major changes coming out of Saudi Arabia is to be expected. Yet it would be inappropriate to judge on the guilt of those accused, as that is not for us to determine. Instead, we must have faith that the judicial authority in Saudi Arabia -- one that is fully independent from royal influence -- will fairly and adequately evaluate the facts as they stand. Already we have seen evidence of some detained being released, which reinforces this.

Only time will tell if this transformation will take root. But what is clear is that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants his people, and all those watching, to know that he's in this fight for better or worse.

 

Ken Blackwell is a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. He is a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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