hobby lobby.

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Monday, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling in the case of Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby.  By now you have certainly heard that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, setting precedence that employers are not required to provide contraception, which was originally mandated as a result of the Affordable Care Act.  This ruling is a huge victory for religious liberty.

As I scanned the twittersphere yesterday, I came across many opinions that seemed to express outrage.  Predictably, the political left has now “lost faith” in the Supreme Court.  From what I gather, the primary liberal argument is twofold: 1) companies should not infringe on women’s sexual rights and 2) religious beliefs should not be forced on individuals.  However, just as the Supreme Court determined neither argument was valid, I too find myself agreeing with such logic.

I have never understood the attitude of entitlement within the United States.  Maybe that is because I had my first part-time job at the age of 12.  Early on I learned the meaning of discipline and hard-work.  As a result, I have always refused and resented handouts. Perhaps this is one reason I am emotionally opposed to companies being mandated to provide contraceptives.  I would never expect contraceptives to be provided to me.  If I was involved in a sexual relationship, it would be my personal responsibility to access and purchase contraception, not that of my employers.

On that token, logically, companies should not have to provide contraceptives to prevent the consequences of an individual’s personal behavior for the very reason that preventative measures can be taken by the individual to prevent 100% of the consequences (pregnancy and/or STD’s) of their behavior…that is if the individual was truly concerned about the consequences of their behaviors. This is why this issue is not so much a women’s rights issue as it is a fight to have businesses fund individual promiscuity. Hence, Hobby Lobby was well in their legal right to refuse to pay for contraceptives, regardless of religious affiliation.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruling does not diminish women’s rights, since the decision does not impact a woman’s choice to use any type of contraception she deems appropriate.  The argument then becomes an issue of affordability: If a woman cannot afford every type of contraception because her employer refuses to cover it, does this infringe upon her rights to have access to the contraception she wants?  However, the issue of affordability is separate from the issue of women’s rights.  Affordability does not eliminate freedom of choice.  Additionally, if affordability was such a concern, abstinence is a completely free form of contraception and it has been proven to be the most effective option.

Overall, I am satisfied by the High Court’s decision.  Not only was the decision logical, it also protects a very essential liberty guaranteed by the Constitution: religious freedom.

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return.

But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the sovereign Lord my refuge. – Psalm 73:28

My grandmother asked me if I had been ill.  I asked her why she thought that I had not been well.  And she said that my eyes gave me away.  I tried to play it off, but she was adamant and determined to understand what my heartache was from.  Part of my exhaustion was for the very reason I found myself in conversation with my grandmother that friday evening.  My grandfather had had a heart attack early that morning.  Though he was in stable condition when I had visited him, the situation weighed heavily on my heart.  Sadly, his health quickly deteriorated and Sunday morning he was whisked into the arms of Jesus.  I have certainly struggled with his passing, not because I lack hope, but because I truly miss him.  He was one of the most godly men I knew and we were very close.  In fact, I was named after him.  Though I intend to detail his life and what he meant to me later on this week, to honor his memory, there was a another situation that very same friday that truly shattered my heart, partly because of the close proximity of who it involved and partly because of its topical relation to all that I resolutely abhor and have been writing about as of late: the sex slave trade and abuse of children.

A Fox News article on sex trafficking details how this week marked the eighth week-long operation to terminate such crimes in the United States.  There were “168 children rescued from the sex trade… [and] 281 pimps…arrested during the same period on state and federal charges (2014).” This sex-sting was concentrated in 106 cities nationwide and was coordinated by state and federal officials from Homeland Security and the FBI.  But what makes this story hit home is not merely that fact that “these are not faraway kids in faraway lands,” as FBI Director James Comey stated, but the fact that one of the predators was a colleague.  It should be noted that I have purposefully omitted the word, “alleged,” as following his arrest friday, John Balyo confessed to raping a 12-year-old boy.

John, who was host of a widely popular Christian morning radio show in West Michigan, was attending and live-casting from a three-day Christian concert series – Big Ticket Festival – in Gaylord, Michigan, when he was arrested.  The radio station, which has since (appropriately, I might add) cut ties with John, is affiliated with the Christian university with which I am employed.  With shocked, disgusted, and humble hearts, the university staff and faculty gathered this morning to lament, pray, and seek the Lord – first, for the victims that have been terrorized, and, second, for the depravity of the human heart.

Though I might never be able to make sense of, or even fully process, the horrendous acts John committed, I think it appropriate to declare that he in no way acted in representation of authentic Christianity, nor in conjunction with the Person of Jesus Christ.  John deserves the full condemnation of the law that governs the United States of America, including the full extent of the consequences as a result of his actions.  My hope and prayer is that he is brought to justice.  Furthermore, I pray that his heart be truly shattered and that he seeks true repentance, for Christ withholds forgiveness from none that honestly seek it.

In addition to discussing John’s situation, I want to briefly discuss the media’s attention to this story, along with the saddening internet comments from every self-righteous “Joe Shmoe” with a computer and an opinion.  Certainly John Balyo committed gruesome atrocities and is deserving of all criticism hurled his way, however, I am also disgusted by lowly individuals who are using this situation as a platform to score political points by raking Christianity through the coals.  It is not Christianity that is the cause of such monstrous and destructive acts, so much as it is the sinful human being, imperfectly striving to live a Christian life (or maybe even lying about living a Christian life). Many call this hypocrisy, and it certainly is.  But the message of Jesus is not that those who are Christians will not mess up or act hypocritically, it is that despite our shortcomings, despite our inability to do right, God’s grace and love and mercy is greater than the wrong we commit.  Additionally, I find it appropriate to point out that despite the vast number of Christians caught up in such hypocrisy and sin, there are tens of millions of secular people caught up in the same acts.  This means that this is not an issue solely to be focused on the Christian, but rather on the whole of humanity.

So what is the lesson to be learned? Likely John Balyo, just like many other sex predators, did not intend to ever get to the point where he would rape the innocence and future of a child.  Instead, it very well likely began with a glance.  There could have been explicit material he stumbled upon.  For a while it satisfied.  But to retain the high, his tastes began getting more perverted.  And as more time was consumed with perversion, more opportunity began to present itself, until finally it led him to the sickening situation he found himself in, which has ultimately destroyed his life – rejection of his family, loss of a job, and loss of a future, as likely he will spend the rest of his life in prison.  So let this be a wakeup call in your life, just as it is a wake up call in my life.  If there is something you are dealing with, even if it is just at the onset, I urge you to end it.  Do not let the potential embarrassment of your honesty and candidness keep you from asking a friend, a counselor, or a pastor for help.

As I conclude, I ask that you pray for the victims of these predators.  They are our children.  And their lives have been marred by physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse.

Return Lord Jesus, return.

live in the sunshine.

My friend Beth and I made our way to the Metropolitan Rapid Transit (MRT) in Bangkok.  We had just stepped out of the taxi and began pushing our way through the crowds to catch our train deeper into the city in search of shopping and fresh Pad Thai. As we reached the stairway to bring us to our platform, we noticed a young girl who was dressed in rags, lying on a filthy blanket, eerily lifeless and completely alone.  Our hearts sank as we observed the cruel injustice that plagued this colossal city.

Now you do not need to travel to Thailand to realize how tainted and devastated our world has become.  In fact, the U.S. Representative from Illinois’ 14th District, Randy Hultgren, was addressing the House floor this afternoon regarding the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which is a bill the Congressman is sponsoring.  Every year, more than 100,000 children are trafficked every year in the United States.  But this is not merely a problem the United States faces.  It is of global proportions and of global importance in terms of needing to be addressed.

At any given time, an estimated 2.4 million people around the world are the victims of human trafficking, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Some of the facts of this practice, according to the International Labour Organizations, are:

  • 161 countries are reported to be affected by human trafficking by being a source, transit or destination country.
  • People are reported to be trafficked from 127 countries to be exploited in 137 countries, affecting every continent and every type of economy.
  • The majority of trafficking victims are between 18 and 24 years of age.
  • An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year.
  • 43 percent of victims are used for forced commercial sexual exploitation, of whom 98 percent are women and girls.
    (Half the Sky via PBS)

Recently, the book club I attend, “Apolitical,” concluded reading Half the Sky, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.  The premise of the text focused on three abuses at it relates to women’s issues on a worldwide scale: “sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence, including honor killings and mass rape; and maternal mortality, which still needlessly claims one woman a minute” (2009).

Though each of the aforementioned cruelties need to be rectified, my personal exploration, based on experience and reflection in the red light districts of many Southeast Asian counties, has led to a particular vendetta toward seeing an end to sex trafficking.  Of course, the statistics are overwhelming.  I find myself burdened and emotionally captivated by this issue, but I also find myself asking about the practicality of undertaking such a complex problem. Where does one even begin?  But in asking such a question I was reminded [and convicted] by an anecdote from Half the Sky about the impact one person can have:

A man goes out on the beach and sees that it is covered with starfish that have washed up in the tide. A little boy is walking along, picking them up and throwing them back into the water. “What are you doing, son?” the man asks. “You see how many starfish there are? You’ll never make a difference.” The boy paused thoughtfully, and picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean. “It sure made a difference to that one,” he said (2009). 

My mentor, a successful businessman and now Vice President of a major university, used to tell me, “The faith, courage, and integrity of one man is a majority.”  I know this to be true, even in relation to the issue of combatting sex trafficking.  One man, simply helping one person at a time, can make a positive influence.

Certainly I do not anticipate quitting my job and heading to Thailand tomorrow to rescue women from the brothels, but I do expect, along with the members of my book club, getting involved in a realistic way to make a small impact in the lives of women on a global scale. As a group, we have resolved to:

  • Continue educating ourselves on issues that oppress and suppress women. This includes reading relevant books, critically analyzing works and statistics, and brainstorming creative ideas to continue our involvement in ending abuse of women.
  • Bring awareness to the issue through sharing information and stories on blogs and social media.
  • Start a collaborative micro-finance fund to support women’s business ideas in impoverished economic nations. Our group will collectively determine micro-business ventures worthy of investing in that will positively increase the financial stability of women, hopefully having a congruent impact on the investment certain families make in the education for their children.
  • Volunteer regularly at a local organization that supports the fight against sex trafficking, such as Women at Risk.
  • Take a fact-finding and short-term mission trip to a country where sex trafficking is prevalent, possibly even attempting to connect with women that we have supported via micro-finance.

These are just a few of the small ways I plan to get involved with my book club to fight the sex slave trade.  I look forward to sharing the progress, experiences, and opportunities of our involvement.

The next book we plan to read is The Road to Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine, by Somaly Mam. And if you have any book suggestions or ideas of how a layperson, such as myself, can get involved in the battle of the sex slave trade, I would love to hear from you!

America! America! / God shed his grace on thee / And crown thy good with brotherhood / From sea to shining sea!

The Fourth of July is a reflective day of celebration for citizens of the United States of America. Patriots of this great nation pay tribute to the adopted declaration by the Continental Congress on July 4th, 1776. It is a day colored by red, white, and blue. It is a day sketched with iconic traditionalism – the Star Spangled Banner, apple pie, baseball, parades, flags, barbecues, family, and friends. Of course the day wouldn’t be conclusive without an exultant firework display.

Just thinking about Independence Day myself, so many phenomenal memories flood my mind. When I was young my family always went downtown Grand Rapids to see the firework display over the Grand River. I actually used to hate the sound of the fireworks and I remember curling up close to my father and making him cover my ears with his hands! As I grew tradition changed and we began spending the day in Grand Haven. We would soak up the sun, walk the pier, and at the end of the day join thousands of people as the largest musical water fountain displayed patriotic anthems to a choreographed H2O musical before a firework display lit the sky with fervor. Over the years there have been a few obscure memories. One spent in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and one spent in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. What I loved most of each of these experiences was the fact that our perched vantage point allowed us to see neighboring fireworks in surrounding cities and towns! Fortunately, like the majority of Americans, the celebration doesn’t cease with the impressive show of sky-fire, but instead we head home to celebrate with our own firework displays. Some even resort to their pistols and shotguns to signify the resounding battle won that birthed a nation. The cracks and pops and booms can be heard until the morning light.

This sense of patriotism is a display of who we are as Americans and the history that brought us to where we are today. Americans are sons and daughters of immigrants. Many of us are muts – an ancestral makeup of diverse backgrounds. I for one am part Native American, German, English, and Dutch. We were born of tough people. People who fought for freedom. People who fought to give their children freedom. We defeated the British’s cruel tyrants and unrepresented taxation. And a nation was founded that is accepting of all people. A nation was founded that allows individuality, grants opportunity, fights for liberty, and allows religious freedom. The toughness, the love of country, the fight to protect our land is in our blood. It is who we are.

It was George Williams Curtis that said, “A man’s country is not a certain area of land, of mountains, rivers, and woods, but it is a principle; and patriotism is loyalty to that principle.” Our principle in the land of the brave is truth. And “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, they they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And in honor of this nation’s 236th birthday, I have selected a few quotes by our founding fathers that signify love for country, love for freedom, and a love for Jesus Christ.

“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.” 
The Trumpet Voice of Freedom: Patrick Henry of Virginia, p. iii.

“Resistance to tyranny becomes the Christian and social duty of each individual. … Continue steadfast and, with a proper sense of your dependence on God, nobly defend those rights which heaven gave, and no man ought to take from us.” 
History of the United States of America, Vol. II, p. 229.

“I am a real Christian – that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ.” 
The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, p. 385.

“While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.”
The Writings of Washington, pp. 342-343.

May God continue to bless you and may God continue to bless the United States of America!

Let freedom ring.

the supreme court.

In an unexpected turn of events, with all eyes thoughtfully on Justice Kennedy, no one anticipated a court ruling in favor of the “Affordable” Care Act by Chief Justice Roberts.

I must say that I am bitterly disappointed by the High Court’s ruling but I will respect the decision. This does not mean that I will not do everything in my power to repeal Obamacare and elect Mitt Romney to the office of the President. As a country we must rise to the occasion, rally behind freedom and fight to limit the Federal Government. All men and woman who are furious with this Health Care mandate must overwhelm the government with civil disobedience. We must be peaceful in our actions, but we will destroy the antagonistic war on this country.

The United States of America has entered a new and unprecedented era. Freedom has lost the battle today, but the war will rage.