Monthly Archives: May 2009

Confession of Accomplice in Tiller Slaying

As I write this, it’s Sunday afternoon, and I’ve just returned from church.  The Mrs. is taking our Sunday dinner off the stove, and our children are setting the table.  I sit in my recliner and open my laptop’s browser to a news website.  All around me is the peace of the Lord’s Day at the parsonage, but I am stunned by a headline:  George Tiller, the notorious abortionist from Kansas, has been murdered. 

            I decide to record how my response unfolds, in real time, as I ruminate over this news.  The story only broke 10 minutes ago, and I check a few other news sites.  I note that Matt Drudge posts the story with a blasé, single-line hypertext link in 12 point font:  “Abortion Doc Gunned Down at Church.”  The Drudge Report’s banner headline, reserved for only the most important breaking news, is devoted instead to Susan Boyle, the singing Scottish spinster, and the earth-shattering revelation that she only captured second place in some British talent show.  When a story like Tiller’s slaying goes up against the American obsession with television entertainers, even if it bleeds, it doesn’t lead. 

            Now it’s only been 25 minutes since the news broke, but evidently it’s high time for Tiller’s canonization to get underway.  Hagiographers are already describing him as a “crusader” and “hero,” but I note that they do so with an agenda:  His cadaver may not have cooled yet, but Kim Gandy, Harpy-In-Charge of the National Organization for Women, knows an opportunity to accrue some yummy political capital when she sees one.  Her shrill press release, eulogizing the victim as a “kind man and skilled doctor,” states that “Women across the country have lost a champion today. The cold-blooded murder of Dr. George Tiller this morning in church is a stark reminder that women’s bodies are still a battleground.”

            Gandy goes on to paint the suspect as a typical adherent to Pro-Life beliefs, representative of the movement as a whole, even before police have identified him or his motives.  With absolutely no information and with breathtaking bigotry, she declares that “Dr. Tiller’s slaying is the most recent in a string of murders in the service of the anti-abortion cause.”  Read that as, “All who believe in the sanctity of life have commissioned this killing.”

            It’s coming up on an hour now since the crime was announced, and Mike Hendricks of the Kansas City Star somehow manages to make Gandy’s rhetoric seem reasonable.  Hendricks indicts “every one who has ever called Tiller’s late term abortion clinic a murder mill” as an “accomplice” in this murder.  In the zany world of Gandy and Hendricks, I fit the description of an accomplice.  I have roundly criticized Tiller’s actions from my pulpit and on my radio program, yet I also know and declare that his slaying is a sin against God.  But Hendricks insists, “His accomplices know they have blood on their hands, which might explain why they were quick to issue statements today expressing disapproval of Tiller’s murder.”  Translation:  If you’re Pro-Life, but you condemn Tiller’s slaying, it’s really a confession of your own complicity in the crime!    

            It’s been 90 minutes now, and it occurs to me that by the time I learned of Tiller’s murder, he had already learned the truth of Hebrews 9:27:  “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.”  Tiller has faced God the Judge.  One day Tiller’s murderer will do the same.  As will I, and you.  And in every case, your acquittal to eternal life in Heaven or your condemnation to unending Hell pivots upon one critical point:  Have you repented of your sins and placed your trust in Jesus Christ alone?  In God’s economy we all stand condemned, unless we stand beneath the blood of the Lamb of God.     

            Three hours have passed.  The loony ravings of Hendricks and Gandy notwithstanding, I know that passionate advocacy on behalf of the unborn does not make one culpable in this or any other killing; I know I believe in the sanctity of all life – that of unborn babies, and that of this abortionist; I know that violence against abortionists is no solution for the violence of abortion; and I know without a doubt that the wrongfulness of infanticide can’t be demonstrated through a wrongful homicide. 

            But, God help me, I can’t say with any degree of integrity that I will ever mourn for the likes of George Tiller.

Evolution of a Foster Parent, Parts 1 & 2

Chapter 1:  Everybody Needs Somebody

It might seem inappropriate to start a column during National Foster Care Month with an account of how I, as a foster father, was physically attacked by one of the two young people in my care, but I do so only in the interest of full disclosure. Anyone who is considering foster parenting should enter into it with their eyes open. The unexpected can, and often does, occur.

On the night in question, an assault on my person was the last thing on my mind. I had merely entered my living room, searching for my reading glasses. I got down on my hands and knees to peer under the ottoman. While I was in that unsuspecting and all-too-vulnerable position, seemingly out of nowhere my foster son lunged at me in a senseless, unprovoked strike. His eyes, when they met mine for a split second, were ablaze. The young man’s speed and agility were simply too much – he was younger, faster and more cunning than I — and he overtook me quickly. It was all I could do to simply recoil and pray as the violence began. With a cry of rage, he began to pummel me, relentlessly battering my back and ribs with his determined, clenched fists. I tried not to panic as his arm tightened around my throat. I thrashed wildly, hoping to free myself from the chokehold. And it was at that very moment that an opportunity for escape presented itself: A momentary distraction, when he dropped his sippy cup, caused him to relax his grip. This proved to be his undoing. Seizing the moment, I arched my back and executed a swift roll of my shoulder. The tables had turned. The predator had become the prey. What began as a vicious onslaught of aggression then escalated into an all-out, hysterical tickle fight. Oh, the humanity! 

Did I forget to mention that my assailant is two years old and just loves to “wrassle” with his daddy? Please forgive the oversight.

I first became a foster parent more than three years ago. At the time, I was the father of eight kids — with six still at home — so it goes without saying that I would have a burning desire to augment that modest little herd by a few more head, right? Actually, making the decision to become a licensed foster parent only came through the painful conviction of the Holy Spirit, and breaching my impenetrable shield of armor-plated rationalizations would require a series of divinely choreographed incidents.

As pastor of Rozetta Baptist Church, I am, of course, a spiritual colossus whose altruism knows no bounds. Yet my heels were dug in against this absurd foster parenting idea. My darling wife, Missy, had long before embraced the calling, but godly woman that she is, rather than nag me like some headstrong harpy, she chose instead the 1st Peter 3:1 approach: Gracious, prayerful submission, hoping to win me over “without words” as I saw the “purity and reverence” of her life.
It’s not that I didn’t know the commands of scripture; indeed, I had preached on them. James 1:27, for example, which tells us: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” As far as a foster care ministry was concerned, though, I was living as a hearer of the Word, but I wasn’t doing what it says. In other words, I was a big, fat ol’ hypocrite, and quite comfortable in that, thank you.

The first blow to my fortifications was served up by, of all people, Jane Fonda. I don’t admit this easily, and here’s why: On the political spectrum, I’m an arch-conservative; I find Ann Coulter just a tad too open-minded and civil. With regard to my citizenship in this great republic, I’m a Marine Corps veteran of the first Gulf War. In terms of my Christian theology, I’m a fundy right down to my undies. And in the realm of social issues, I’m a passionate supporter of the Pro-Life movement. I am, in every sense, the “anti-fonda,” diametrically opposed to all she stands for.  To think that this unrepentant traitor, this subversive cultural Marxist, this rabid pro-abortion activist and, perhaps worst of all, this hollywood actor would have anything of value to say to me positively strained credulity. And yet, “God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise.”

Quite by accident, I caught her spouting her vile pro-abortion rhetoric on some cable news show and, as is always the case, my upper lip involuntarily curled into a sneer. Before I could change the channel, though, she said it. She said it. Right in the middle of extolling the virtues of Roe v. Wade at a N.O.W. rally, she said, “Conservatives only care about children until they’re born.” Touche’, Barbarella. Mea maxima culpa.

A few days later, I was talking with a member of my church about his son’s family. Though they had three children of their own, Stephen and his wife, Lydia, (not their real names) had answered Christ’s call on their lives to reach out to “the least of these,” and they resolved to become foster parents. Eventually a sibling group — twin baby boys and their older sister — was placed with them. They had been taken into the foster care system after physical abuse left one of the twins with mulitple broken bones. The other two exhibited the telltale signs of neglect. By God’s grace, the children were welcomed into their new home, loved and treated with generous care. They began to blossom.

The situation eventually took a horrifying turn, however, when a judge inexplicably ordered that the children were to be returned to their birth parents. It seems the biological mother and father had completed some parenting class and, somehow, that was going to negate a protracted, well-documented pattern of drug-fueled abuse and neglect against their kids. Just a few days following the children’s court-ordered return, the same baby boy who had sustained the broken bones had been hospitalized again. Yet another beating had left him with severe brain injuries. To this day, he remains in what essentially amounts to a vegetative state and must breathe through a tracheotomy. Obviously, he requires extensive care and constant attention. But this extraordinary couple was not only delighted to welcome the children back into their home, they immediately began the legal process of adopting these three precious gifts. Today, those little ones have a forever home.

My grip on my selfishness was weakened a bit after hearing this amazing story of Christian charity, but my campaign of cold-hearted resistance to the Spirit’s leading continued. I mean, hey — I’m no quitter.                         

At long last, the turning point for me occurred at a church senior citizen’s luncheon. I was deep in conversation with Harlan and Edith Lain, an Oquawka couple who had spent their lives caring for countless young children who had no other place to go. I had asked Harlan to explain the motive for all that sacrificial service to children in peril. He did so in four simple words, and Jesus took those four words and formed a supernatural key out of them. With an agonizing creak, that key turned in the rusty lock I had placed on my heart.  Harlan Lain had answered my question with a casual shrug and simply said, “Pastor, everybody needs somebody.”
Amen and amen, Harlan.

I returned to the parsonage that day and embraced my wife. “Okay. I’m in,” I said, with great fear and trembling.

Thus began one of the greatest adventures of our life together. I’ll give you the details in next Tuesday’s edition, but in the meantime: Prayerfully ask the Lord Jesus what he would have you do in response to his precious, endangered children. And when he answers, don’t be a foot-dragging hammerhead like yours truly. Serve your King in swift, joyful obedience and accept the undeniable truth: Everybody truly does need somebody.

Chapter 2:  Mephibosheth and Me

 If you read last week’s column, you saw how God freed me from my addiction to comfort so that I could, at long last, answer His call to serve as a foster parent.  What I didn’t mention was the role that a particular individual played in my day of reckoning.  One figure, since my own boyhood right here in Monmouth, has been setting the standard.  It’s to his example that I turn whenever I need courage in the face of a daunting challenge.  I have adopted his personal ethic as my own; indeed, the precious wisdom I have gleaned from him serves as my moral compass.  I credit him, in large part, with making me the man I am today.  In fact, he’s even the reason I started writing for a newspaper.  And yes, he was raised by foster parents.
 

I am referring, of course, to Superman.  Kal-el.  The Man of Steel, baby.  So, if the Last Son of Krypton was a foster child, who was I to tell my Lord Jesus that I had better things to do than caring for the fatherless?!

With that settled, I dove into foster parent training with uncharacteristic zeal.  Maybe I was hoping the Mrs. and I would be like Jonathan and Martha Kent, charged by fate with raising a very special child who possessed extraordinary powers.  Little did I know…

The ink was barely dry on our foster parent license when Mercy was placed with us.    Just six weeks old, tiny and frail, she was taken into foster care when tests revealed that her mother had used methamphetamine while pregnant with her.  Mercy also wore a heart monitor due to a family history of sudden infant death syndrome.  But as vulnerable as she appeared, it was only a matter of moments until her super powers emerged.  She changed the course of my mighty apathy.  She bent the steel of my selfish heart.  And she was able to leap my tall egocentricity with a single bound. 

 But what’s a superhero without a sidekick?  A year later, our case manager called. Mercy’s biological mother had given birth to a baby boy.  Again, she had used hard drugs during the pregnancy and this baby was taken into foster care too.  Sam was three days old when he came to us, every bit as angelic as his sister.  Our eight biological children have welcomed them with more sweet love and acceptance than I could have ever hoped for.  (And incidentally, despite some early developmental delays related to their drug exposure, both Sam and Mercy are now physically and cognitively sound, by the grace of God.)    

 Kidding aside, I truly was inspired by a foster child I read about, though not in a comic book.  His name was Mephibosheth and his story is in 2nd Samuel, chapter 9.  When David became king, he remembered the loyalty of his late friend, Jonathan.   Jonathan’s father, King Saul, wanted David dead; in defiance of his father, Jonathan protected and cared for David.  Once David was established as ruler, he asked, “Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”  

There was just such a person:  Jonathan’s own son, Mephibosheth, who had been permanently disabled since the age of five.  Unable to walk and fatherless, Mephibosheth lived in a wretched region called “Lodebar,” a Hebrew term which is translated variously as “land of no pasture,” “place of no bread,” and “land of desolation.”  David summoned this desperate young man out of this wasteland and into his opulent courts.

As grandson of the deposed king, Mephibosheth approached the throne on his face, expecting execution.  But “David said unto him, ‘Fear not: for I will surely show thee kindness for Jonathan thy father’s sake, and will restore thee all the land of Saul thy father; and thou shalt eat bread at my table continually.’”  Mephibosheth had come prepared to die; instead, he entered foster care as the child of the king.  Overwhelmed, he asked his royal foster father, “What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am?”  

It occurred to me that every follower of Jesus is a Mephibosheth.  Without our Savior, we dwell in spiritual desolation.  We too are dead dogs – dead in our sin, crippled by it – and we certainly have no claim to a royal inheritance.  But when we respond to Christ’s summons and turn in repentance from our desolate home of sin and come to Him, trusting in Him alone, we are given a free, eternal seat at His table.  We are adopted into the family of the King.

But as a Mephibosheth myself, why did it take me so long to finally ask, “Is there yet any that is left, of the house of God, that I may show him kindness, for Jesus’ sake?”  Why are so many Christians allowing these children to languish in their desolate Lodebars of abuse and neglect, just as I once did?  The foster care system is in the throes of a devastating parent shortage; what a golden opportunity for the body of Christ to do His work and to love his children!  If only we, like King David, could put aside our self-absorbed obsession with personal comfort and tell a child, “I will surely show thee kindness, and thou shalt eat bread at my table continually.”

Listen, I know all the excuses, and only because I personally have used them all.   Your favorite is probably the same one I hid behind:  “I could never welcome a child into my home and love and care for that child, only to have to give him up.”  It has a nice beat.  You can dance to it.  I give it a 79, Dick.

First of all, statistically speaking, it’s unlikely you’ll have to do that.  For example, Missy and I adopted Mercy and Sam in February, forever and ever, amen. Our daughter Krystal and son-in-law Nick are now in the process of adopting their foster son, Asher.  But yes, there is a small yet real chance you might have to say goodbye to your foster child.  And that most certainly would be painful.

But ask yourself:  Does the possibility of undergoing a painful experience justify your inaction and indifference to the plight of these kids?  Now, if you are not a Christ-follower, then I certainly would accept that excuse as a perfectly legitimate reason for you to stay out of foster parenting.  If you are not a Christian, then I believe that an aversion to risking that painful experience is an appropriate, understandable response.  I’ll even write a note to your gym teacher.

But if you are a Christian, just what do you think you signed up for?  Samba lessons and hors d’oeuvres on the Lido deck?  Jesus says, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”  That’s what following Him involves:  Your cross, your self-denial, and your pursuit of His way.  It’s pretty straightforward.  

Will being a foster parent disrupt your comfy routine?  It certainly will. Will you have to make some sacrifices?  Undoubtedly.   And is there a real but statistically small possibility you might suffer the pain of saying goodbye to a child you’ve grown to love?  Yes.  Okay, with this list of challenges, you’ve got an abundant supply of building materials.  

 Cobble them together into your very own cross.  

Then, take up that cross.  

Now, cross in tow, follow Jesus.  

 You just may find, as we have, that it’s the most ecstatically joyful, fulfilling, and hilarious cross you’ll ever carry.

(Call Lutheran Social Services in Galesburg at (309) 343-7681 and ask them for information on becoming a foster parent.)

“Ode to the Basement Barbershop of My Youth”

When I was a little kid, my dad always took me to a basement barbershop next door to the Rivioli.

The owner was named Jim Gipson, and he had a superb selection of comic books. In a lesser tonsorium, one was fortunate if one could find even a single, yellowed copy of “Weird Tales” whose previous owner had already clipped out the Johnson Smith Company order form. But at Jim Gipson’s, the library featured many Marvel and DC favorites and was kept meticulously current. I recall once begging to be taken in for a wholly unnecessary trim, just so I could read the denouement of the previous month’s “Hawkman” cliffhanger.

To spelunk one’s way into Gipson’s Barbershop was to enter a realm of old school masculinity. Had a woman or an effeminate male dared venture into that subterranean testosterone distillery, I believe they would have spontaneously combusted. The shop’s sole emblem of femininity was a prurient pin-up calendar, tame by today’s standards, but scandalous in its day. (Not that I cared, mind you: I was six, and there was a new issue of “Shazam” that required my immediate and undivided attention.)

Unlike today, when men get their hair “styled” in distaff dens perfumed by diffusing reeds and little pots of potpourri, the musk of Gipson’s was an aromatic anthem for all things manly: Clubman Aftershave, Lucky Tiger Hair Tonic, Barbicide and cigarette smoke. Jim clipped away at my mop, an unfiltered Camel in the corner of his mouth, while Dad chain-smoked his Old Golds and the two of them talked excitedly about the tax problems of someone named “Agnew.”

I remember peering over my comic book, watching intently as Dad underwent his own grooming. The advent of AIDS was timed precisely to coincide with the advent of my pubescent facial hair, so I never got to experience the lazy luxury of a professional straight-razor shave. The Old Man always treated himself to one, though. I enjoyed watching the mummification process as hot towels were wrapped around his face.

And oh, how I longed for the day when I, like him, would require scissor work on my eyebrows and in my nostrils and ears. Now that day has arrived, and I must say that I had grossly overestimated the thrill I would get from that particular badge of hirsute manhood.

Today, there’s no longer any smoking or straight-razors or Spiro; Gabels Brilliantine Pomade has been replaced by something called “Got2b Magnetik Styling Gel”; and the guy wearing a colorful cape isn’t in a comic book but is, in fact, the customer himself, with dainty clips in his hair after a dip into the shampoo sink. But I’ve still got my memories, and I can still I still get a world of satisfaction from that cooling talcum, applied to the back of my neck with a few brisk strokes of a horsehair duster.

So there’s that.

“Same-sex ‘Marriage’?! In IOWA?!”

May 8, 2009

I just read an article entitled, “8 Same-sex Couples Tie the Knot At Church,” on the front page of the May 4th Quad City Times. I was stunned by the story’s oblique and subjective tone.   

I find it amazing that an article covering one of the most controversial topics on the American cultural landscape featured not so much as a single dissenting voice. For example, no one was afforded the opportunity to respond to one person’s glowing praise for the “wedding” service, praises that were rooted in the fact that “It feels right.” Almighty God has already responded to that sentiment, however, in Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

It was equally disconcerting to find no alternative viewpoint offered to the quote, “This (ceremony) makes it (the homosexual relationship) legal in everyone else’s eyes.” Marriage, as God’s institution, is governed ultimately by God’s law. Counterfeits like adultery, unmarried couples co-habitating, fornication and same-sex “marriage” are anything but legal in God’s eyes. His Word is clear in 1st Corinthians 6:9-10: “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

With breathtaking disregard for objectivity, the reporter wrote that “The criticisms about such unions weren’t heard because ‘love’ was the theme of the day.” Implicit within that statement is the writer’s highly subjective personal opinion that anyone who has reservations about same-sex marriage could only be motivated by hatred. It seems the scribe can’t conceive of a same-sex marriage opponent who is motivated not by hatred but by, say, loving concern for the spiritual welfare of homosexuals, or by a desire to genuinely live out his or her own reverence for God, His Word, and His sacred institution of marriage. The quote reveals the author’s belief that refusing to embrace or celebrate same-sex marriage must constitute hate. I submit that to refuse to embrace and celebrate something (like same-sex marriage) does not constitute hate necessarily; however, the activist tone of the reportage is tantamount to narrow-minded prejudice against we who would dare express our reservations or criticism, regardless of what our motives might or might not be.

Incidentally, I would not be so disingenuous as to deny that some who are currently engaged in the ongoing conversation about marriage are merely rancorous. I would only suggest that this is seen on both ends of this debate. For every Tim Hardaway, there is a Perez Hilton. The death threats, incendiary rhetoric and assaultive behavior that followed the passage of Proposition 8 in California most certainly have their counterpart in the tactics of white supremacists who actively call for violence against homosexuals. The discourse on marriage can and should be kept reasonable, civil, and fair; but doing so need not require the suppression or vilification of opposing viewpoints, nor should it necessitate the sacrifice of truth. Yet sadly, that’s exactly what this news story does.

As disappointed as I was that so many truths were excluded from the story, I was most grieved by the outright falsehood that was included. A minister was quoted as saying, “The Bible never addresses same-gender relationships as we know them today.” This explosively inaccurate statement was published without challenge, question, or response. Allow me: Perhaps the Reverend has somehow missed the words of God the Son, Jesus Christ, who said in Mark 10:6-8, “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”’ This minister exemplifies the truth of an old theologian’s adage: “Scripture is like a prisoner of war – if one is willing to torture it long enough, one can make it say almost anything.” I shudder to imagine what kind of exegetical gymnastics this clergyman must have resorted to in order to reach such a specious conclusion, but taking liberties with God’s Word is an all-too convenient refuge for those who refuse to be convicted by God’s Word.

It should surprise no one, of course, that the purveyors of such distortions have followers. In 2nd Timothy 4:3-4, God Himself warned us this day would come: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” What should be surprising, though, is that a newspaper which purports to be a dispassionate source of accurate, comprehensive reporting does not confine articles like the one in question to the opinions page. If it belongs anywhere at all, it belongs there.

In fairness, I wanted to observe future reporting on this topic. Perhaps the absence of alternative points-of-view was merely due to an isolated editorial oversight. I didn’t have to wait long to find out. The next day’s edition on Tuesday contained another story, this one bearing the headline, “Out-of-State Same-sex Couples Wed in Iowa.” To my dismay, this story also provided not so much as a single, tiny shred of balance – none whatsoever. In fact, the second article’s author seemed positively giddy over the fact that the out-of-staters had spent some money locally while they were here.

What does this tell us? I fear that one of two things has happened: The best case scenario is that the Times has assumed that the Iowa State Supreme Court ruling in Varnum v. Brien not only legalized same-sex marriages, but somehow it also “won over” the millions of us whose deep personal convictions compel us to oppose this practice, thus magically resolving the once-contentious debate forever. This, of course, could only indicate that the editors are dangerously naive. On the other hand, the worst case scenario is that the editors are aware that the debate remains a vigorous one, but they’ve simply decided that it’s their duty to “enlighten” those of us who remain opposed to homosexual “marriage.” This, of course, could only indicate that they have abandoned journalism in favor of activism for — and fealty to — those who are orchestrating the redefinition of matrimony.

I believe people will eventually catch on; when and if that happens, a bleak future of irrelevance and obsolescence most certainly awaits newspapers like The Quad City Times.

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