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Monday, October 29, 2012

"It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words."

All the number-crunching, fact-checking research of the candidates' assertions about taxes, oil permits and women's pay in the last presidential debate somehow missed a blatant Orwellian newspeak statement by the President.
Regarding his coercive scheme for the government to mandate free contraceptives on demand nationwide, President Obama said, "You know a major difference in this campaign is that Governor Romney feels comfortable having politicians in Washington decide the health care choices that women are making. I think that's a mistake. In my health care bill, I said insurance companies need to provide contraceptive coverage to everybody who is insured."[1]
Actually, Mr. Obama--a "politician in Washington"--decided for women that they will no longer have a health care choice regarding contraception. The government is forcing women morally opposed to contraceptives to carry the coverage. The government is forcing parents to give up their authority to decide whether their children will receive contraceptives. And the government is forcing religious organizations morally opposed to contraceptives to cover them in their insurance plans--or pay draconian fines that threaten to cut vital services to those they serve.
If such government coercion, totalitarianism and punishment is the President's idea of choice, then freedom is slavery. As George Orwell's 1984 character Syme, a Research Department worker, gushed, "It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words."

[1] Presidential debate transcript, questions, Oct. 16, 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Christians in public policy: What to make of a startling new survey

A startling new survey report, “Nones”on the Rise, by the Pew Research Center, reveals that the number of Americans who decline to identify with any religion is quickly escalating. From the report:
One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.
In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15 percent to just under 20 percent of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6 percent of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14 percent).
This large and growing group of Americans is less religious than the public at large on many conventional measures, including frequency of attendance at religious services and the degree of importance they attach to religion in their lives.
These findings represent a continuation of long-term trends.The religiously unaffiliated population is less convinced that religious institutions help protect morality; just half say this, considerably lower than the share of the general public that views churches and other religious organizations as defenders of morality. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.
I've prepared an analysis of and strategies to respond to this poll's findings, which represent a wake-up call to Christians nationwide. We must not, however, conclude on the basis of this poll that Christians should get out of public policy.
First, many of those who disapprove of advancing Christian values through public policy--regarding homosexuality, abortion and premarital sex, for example--will naturally want Christians to get out of politics, so they themselves can prevail politically. Christian involvement in politics for such people is not somehow preventing them from embracing Christ; it is preventing them from pursuing their own ideological political agenda and personal values.
Second, if Christians were to leave public policy to those who do not share our faith values on the sanctity of life, defending the defenseless and caring for the poor, what kind of laws and policies do you think would result? Imagine where this nation would be today without the historical and continuing political influence of the faith community on issues such as slavery, abortion, civil rights, assisted suicide and religious liberty.
The first two chapters of the book of Romans teach us that when people defy God as revealed in nature and in their consciences, by making evil choices counter to God's principles, they end up with a depraved mind and a hardened heart. Consider that the reverse is also true: When individuals act in accordance with God's revelation through nature and their consciences, by making good choices consistent with His principles, they maintain an open mind and a softened heart toward God. They also experience God's principles working in their lives, which can lead them to embrace His fuller revelation through Scripture and the Good News of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Therefore, when followers of Christ help individuals (through relationships and counseling) and our society (through public policy) to make choices consistent with God's principles, we are actually participating in evangelism. We Christians participate in public policy--by voting, advocating politically and voicing views in the public square--not because we think that laws consistent with Christian principles will save people spiritually, but because we realize that such laws can help keep minds and hearts headed in God's direction, to the One who can save.
View PowerPoint analysis of and strategies to respond to this poll's findings
Register to vote
Contact lawmakers 
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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Nobel Prize given for ethical--not embryonic--stem cell research

Ethical alternatives to embryo-destroying stem cell research now appear to be winning the day, despite billions of dollars spent on embryonic stem cell research. 
We can thank intrepid scientists and courageous ethicists who dared to challenge the mantra of the scientific and liberal communities, which held that only embryonic stem cells offered the full range of possibilities for research and potential therapies.
At the December 3, 2004 meeting of the President's Council on Bioethics, Council Member Dr. William Hurlbut presented one of the first proposals challenging this mantra, offering the alternative of "Altered Nuclear Transfer." In May 2005, the Council published a white paper entitled, Alternative Sources of Pluripotent Stem Cells, in which Chairman Dr. Leon Kass noted,
Much of the ethical controversy over stem cells derives from the fact that, until now, the only way to obtain human pluripotent stem cell lines has been to derive them from living human embryos by a process that necessarily destroys the embryos. If a way could be found to derive such stem cell lines without creating and destroying human embryos, a good deal of that ethical controversy would subside.
Such writings may have encouraged objective scientists to explore options challenging their colleague's near-religious devotion to embryonic stem cell research. In December 2007, the New York Times--of all papers--published the following story:
Dr. [Shinya] Yamanaka was an assistant professor of pharmacology doing research involving embryonic stem cells when he made the social call to the clinic about eight years ago. At the friend’s invitation, he looked down the microscope at one of the human embryos stored at the clinic. The glimpse changed his scientific career.
When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters,” said Dr. Yamanaka, 45, a father of two and now a professor at the Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences at Kyoto University. “I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.”
This week, the Nobel Foundation--of all organizations--awarded Dr. Yamanaka a Nobel Prize for his work on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), writing the following:
Shinya Yamanaka discovered ... in 2006, how intact mature cells in mice could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells. Surprisingly, by introducing only a few genes, he could reprogram mature cells to become pluripotent stem cells, i.e. immature cells that are able to develop into all types of cells in the body. These groundbreaking discoveries have completely changed our view of the development and cellular specialisation. We now understand that the mature cell does not have to be confined forever to its specialised state. Textbooks have been rewritten and new research fields have been established. By reprogramming human cells, scientists have created new opportunities to study diseases and develop methods for diagnosis and therapy. 
Not long ago, many scientists, politicians and the media used their support for unethical embryonic stem cell research as a wedge issue, proclaiming that soon patients would be hopping out of their wheelchairs if only the Luddites who insisted on ethical alternative research would get out of the way.
Tragically, every dollar spent on embryonic stem cell research diverts critically needed funds away from ethical alternatives, including iPS cells and long-proven adult stem cell research, which is already providing real therapies for real patients.
Not too long ago, many scientists believed in God and saw their mission as discovering and exploring God's design in the natural world, in a way that corresponded with His ethical principles as prescribed in Scripture. Perhaps Dr. Yamanaka's success will encourage a revival of such a perspective, and we can once again begin to trust science to explore--not exploit--the natural order.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mira Sorvino and new movie raise awareness of human trafficking

My wife Amy and I recently attended the world premier in New York City of a dynamic new movie, Trade of Innocents. Starring Mira Sorvino and Dermot Mulroney, the action drama highlights the scourge of sex trafficking.
Besides starring in this her third film on human trafficking, Ms. Sorvino also serves as a United Nations ambassador for the cause of raising awareness. As she has noted in interviews,
"Trafficking is everywhere in the world, and the United States is one of the worst offenders. It’s tied with the illegal arms trade as the second largest criminal industry on the earth, just after drugs. It makes $32 billion a year worldwide. There are about 300,000 kids at risk in the US every year, and only one in 100 victims are ever rescued. Once you find out about it, you can’t look away, and once you’ve met someone who has been bought and sold as an object, been beaten and denied their basic human rights, you can’t ever forget that. You meet these survivors of human trafficking and they blow you away with their courage and the misery that they’ve lived through."

Mira Sorvino at world premier of Trade of Innocents (photo copyright 2012 Jonathan Imbody)
I spoke with Mira after the screening, and we discussed the need to raise awareness specifically among health care professionals. In fact, a physician, Dr. Bill Bolthouse along with his wife Laurie produced this film. The Christian Medical Association has developed its own courses that carry Continuing Medical Education (CME) credit, and last year alone physician volunteers on our medical mission trips ministered to over 4,000 victims of human trafficking. As CMA's liaison with our federal government, I have worked with the State Dept., Homeland Security and Health and Human Services to encourage outreach to the medical community (read more).
You can make a difference by learning more and supporting efforts to report, rescue and rehabilitate victims. Start by visiting the movie's web site and Facebook page.