We live in a time in which many people who wear the name “Christian” are being killed. Various groups who keep track of Christian martyr data have wildly different counts of how many have died for their faith.
The Center for the Study of Global Christianity says that 90,000 Christians were martyred in 2019. The International Society for Human Rights says that 10,000 were martyred. Open Doors puts the number at 4,305. The problem here is that the definition of a “martyr” is not the same for everyone.
The Nazis killed Dietrich Bonhoeffer in World War II because he was involved in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. His Christian faith was the reason he became involved in the plot. Does that make him a martyr? Christians were killed in civil wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. Should they be classified as martyrs? There is a monument in Bicknell Park in Montebello, California, in memory of one of the worst genocides of the 20th century. Between 1915 and 1921, the Turkish government killed 1,500,000 Armenian Christians. Does that make all of them martyrs?
Martyrs have always been held up as examples of faithfulness. In today’s world, there are many countries where converting to Christianity is a sure way to be executed. The early Roman persecution of Christians is undeniable and uncontested. Determining Christian martyr data in our modern world varies by how we define “martyr.”
Those of us who live in the United States should be thankful that, so far, we don’t have to be worried about being singled out or killed by the government because of our worship. That may change, but we should thank God for the freedom Christians enjoy now in the U.S. and other countries.
Yesterday we discussed the push for euthanasia in secular society.We have received a massive reaction to the euthanasia article. Several people have asked what states in the U.S. allow assisted suicide. In addition to Washington, D.C., those states are California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.
We received information about Professor Theo Boer, a Dutch ethicist who was a major supporter of the Netherlands’ 2002 Euthanasia legislation. Boer wrote to the British House of Lords in 2014, “We were wrong, terribly wrong. Assisted dying in the beginning was the odd exception, accepted by many including myself as a last resort.” He pointed out that what happened was that many patients who received euthanasia were patients who were depressed, lonely, or in bereavement. In Switzerland a woman paid to be euthanized because she no longer felt pretty. He concludes by saying, “Public opinion has shifted dramatically toward considering assisted dying a patient’s right and a physician’s duty.”
In Oregon, physician-assisted suicide was legalized in 1997 “for cases of suffering from terminal disease.” In 2018 a followup study found that 75% of the people who died by assisted suicide said their pain control was adequate, but over 50% were concerned about being a burden to their families.
We also received a story of Karen Welch, who was a missionary in Belgium. During a routine surgery, blood was cut off to her brain resulting in a stroke. After several days, doctors told her husband that her MRI showed dead brain cells and that there was no hope for her recovery. “Your wife will be a vegetable,” Mr. Welch was told. The medical establishment recommended euthanasia. To make a long story short, Karen Welch eventually walked out of the hospital, and that December, she played the piano and sang at the Belgium School Chapel Christmas program.
As we said in our original article, euthanasia is a highly complex issue. The reaction to the euthanasia article we posted indicates that people are concerned about the issue. Until you are involved in a personal situation where euthanasia is offered as a simple and inexpensive solution, it is easy to give simplistic answers. The critical thing to remember is that humans are not just animals. We are created in the image of God, so we must treat every human life as special.
One of the spin offs of the approval of abortion has been the advancement of euthanasia. In virtually every country that has approved abortion, there has been an eventual acceptance of euthanasia, allowing a doctor to administer fatal drugs to a patient.
Abortion was instituted in Portugal in 2007, and in February 2020, Portugal’s parliament approved euthanasia for terminally ill people. Portugal now joins six other countries in sanctioning euthanasia – Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. In the United States, medically assisted suicide is permitted in which patients administer the lethal drug themselves.
The issues involved in the advancement of euthanasia are very complex. No one wants a loved one to continue suffering when eventual recovery does not seem to be possible. I have a family member who is in that situation. Prostate and Bone cancer have progressed to brain cancer, and the burden to family caregivers, the expense, and the level of pain present are all huge issues. In the progress of the disease, who would decide to administer euthanasia? The patient may not be able to make it. Family members may not want the emotional strain of making the decision, and who would trust the decision to the state? Other factors include when did the patient realize they were going to die? How important is closure for those left behind, especially children? Can doctors be wrong about a terminal diagnosis?
First Corinthians 3:16-17 tells us that the Holy Spirit dwells in us. The context of that passage and others is that God uses His children to reach out through His Spirit to help others. Paul, in Philippians 1:20-30, talks about being ready to die. He wrote, “For I am in a strait between the two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ which is far better. Nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” He talks about how he can help others and, for that reason, wants to continue to live.
One of the banners carried by protesters in Portugal says, “Euthanasia doesn’t end suffering, it ends life.” That is so very true. It isn’t the end of suffering for family, for friends, for those you have tried to teach, for those considering their own lives. In this day, there is no reason for physical suffering because medical science has ways to stop the physical pain. Ending life prematurely will generate pain for others. How long will it be after euthanasia is accepted before the state will determine who should survive and who should be euthanized?
The fundamental factor in the advancement of euthanasia centers around the value of a human being. If we consider humans to be special and created in the image of God, then human life is sacrosanct. Animal life does not have that same image of God, and survival of the fittest is in control in the animal world. If humans are just animals, then killing a human is no more of a problem than killing a bug. In that case, inconvenient or unfit humans, like all other animals, can just be eliminated. This is not a trivial issue, but one that deserves thoughtful attention.
As a public high school science teacher with 41 years of experience, I have watched with interest the struggle over school prayer. We recently reported on the United States government easing restrictions. At the same time, we must be cautious about potential problems of prayer in public schools.
At one time, I taught at Jackson High School in South Bend, Indiana. The school was aware that I traveled on weekends giving lectures on why I believe God exists. They decided to allow the students an opportunity to hear my presentations. There were some atheist attempts to get me fired for doing that, but they had failed. Even though I traveled on weekends, I never missed a day of school because of the lectureships. I also never brought my material into the classroom. I was hired to teach physics, chemistry, and earth science, and that is what I did. I gave my presentations during what was called “mini-courses” during the homeroom period. The students could choose to hear me in the school auditorium, or use the swimming pool, or shoot baskets in the gym, or attend a class on ballroom dancing, or play cards in the cafeteria. The school enrollment was around 1600, and we had over 1000 who came to the auditorium.
1) Students can pray, read their Bible and other religious material, and talk about their faith at school.
2) Students can organize prayer groups or religious clubs and promote the meetings.
3) Students can express their faith in classwork and homework.
4) Teachers can organize prayer groups and Bible studies with other teachers.
5) Students may be able to go off campus to have religious studies during school hours.
6) Students can express their faith at a school event.
7) Students can express their faith at their graduation ceremony.
I’m sure that the FRC had lawyers involved in preparing this, and many of their ideas are very good. But they may be an invitation to potential problems of prayer in public schools. They may not understand what goes on in a public high school like James Whitcomb Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana, where I taught in for 41 years. For example, how do you control students going off campus? Maybe their religion promotes free love and rejection of parents. Are kids allowed to go for all religious classes? If not, which ones? Is the school facility going to be used to have meetings of religious clubs, and, if so, who is responsible for what goes on? If one student expresses their faith at a school event, do you have to allow every student who has a faith of any kind to share it? These are a few of the potential problems of prayer in public schools.
Jesus made it clear that the Church is not to be a part of the state (Matthew 22:21 ). If the state is providing education in math, English, science, etc., it cannot become an arena of religious conflict. A politician can have a religious faith, but the floor of the congress is not the place to promote doctrinal principles. The public school cannot be that either.
We have heard horror stories about Planned Parenthood for many years, but haven’t seen documentation of the financial abuses of this organization. Now a group called “Students for Life” has begun a campaign to make this information about Planned Parenthood abuses public. Here are some of the facts in their releases:
1) Planned Parenthood receives more than $550 million from taxpayers every year giving the organization a budget of $1.2 billion.
2) 79% of Planned Parenthood’s 548 abortion facilities are located next to college campuses and high schools.
3) The president of Planned Parenthood makes over $600,000 a year.
4) Planned Parenthood charges an average of $450 for an abortion with 320,000 abortions a year making this business earn $144 million a year.
5) Selling body parts from aborted babies is a major business for Planned Parenthood. Their Gulf Coast facility makes $120,000 a month selling hearts, livers, lungs, eyes and other body parts.
One of the great teachings of Jesus Christ is the separation of Church and State. The issue came up many times in His ministry and during the life of Paul. Christ’s enemies raised it directly to Him in Matthew 22:17-21. Jesus’ response was, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” Secular rulers have often tried to use the Church to validate what they did. A classic example of how far astray things can go is blessing nuclear bombs.
Vladimir Putin has made the Russian Orthodox Church an arm of the state, and for some time now, he has had the priests blessing nuclear bombs. They do it by splashing “holy water” on the nukes. Previously the Church was doing the blessing on all arms as well as seeking divine protection for soldiers. A church commission has been set up by the Russian Orthodox Church to investigate whether weapons of mass destruction should be included in the blessings.
The Russian military is building a cathedral in a military park outside Moscow, further emphasizing the close connection between the state and the Church. Jesus did not confront the Roman authorities of His day. Paul taught the importance of Christians being subject in civil life to civil authority (Romans 13). The idea of Christians blessing war and destruction flies in the face of all Jesus taught.
Atheists can justifiably complain about abuses like this one, but we must separate what Jesus taught from what various denominations teach and do. We can defend everything Jesus taught and show its wisdom, but blessing nuclear bombs is not defensible.
As we enter an election year, the issue of abortion once again rises to the attention of politicians, women’s rights activists, Christians, religious fundamentalists, and the medical establishment. The issue is complicated, but we must not overlook the alternatives to abortion.
We can understand the rhetoric that a woman should have control of her own body. But from a scientific standpoint, there is no question–a baby is NOT just an extension of the mother’s body. Morning sickness is the body’s reaction to an invasive foreign object that has entered the woman’s body. When the sperm meets the egg, a unique individual is produced. It is not a dog or a cat or something unknown–it is a human. Mountains of evidence exist that show the baby does human things long before birth. The preborn child hears, feels, reacts, and responds to outside influences on its environment.
Do we, as a culture, wish to sanction infanticide? Is a baby better off dead than born to a mother who doesn’t want it? Is infanticide a slippery slope to horrible misuse–harvesting organs or paying for organs from a baby not yet conceived? These questions are complicated, and in an election year, inflammatory literature abounds on all sides. Working together to provide alternatives to abortion can help to settle this issue. Here are three points to consider:
*Easy abortion as a method for birth control is foolish. Abortion does physiological and psychological damage to most women. Repeated abortions can lead to serious health problems even when the abortion is done in an ideal environment by competent doctors.
*Reproductive healthcare is needed for all women, and abortion is not the sum total of that care. This healthcare can and should include modern contraception methods, moral teaching about sexual relationships, prenatal care, family planning, and options about alternatives to abortion. Adoption is an option that is used far too infrequently. Abortion should not be the first or only choice given to women.
*World population growth is also an issue. Every day the world population grows by 225,000, adding up to 82 million per year. God has told us to “take care of the garden, dress it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). He also gave us the family as the proper vehicle to populate the Earth. Dumping unwanted children into the world without family, love, care, or the physical things they need to survive violates God’s commands (James 1:27). However, abortion (infanticide) is a poor alternative to education and moral teaching.
We need to join hands and work for alternatives to abortion and solutions to this issue on this 47th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by the US Supreme Court.
In 2003, the United States Education Department issued a document called “Guidance on School Prayer.” It contained very restrictive rules for prayer in a school setting. We have reported on some cases where a student was prohibited from giving a talk connected to an earned award because they insisted on including a prayer. Now, we see the government easing restrictions on prayer in school.
The 2020 release by the Education Department states that “student speakers can pray at assemblies or sports games as long as they were not chosen to speak based on their religious perspective.” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says, “Our actions today will protect the constitutional rights of students, teachers, and faith-based institutions.”
The new rules also expand the ability of faith-based groups to participate in government programs, and it “aims to put religious groups on equal footing when competing for federal grants and other funding.” We have recently pointed out the problems with accepting government money when it means the government gets to decide what you can teach, preach, and do.
Since this new set of rules comes in an election year, some may impugn the motives of the government rule-makers. I am sure it will generate a lot of reaction from atheistic groups. At the very least, the government easing restrictions on prayer in school will move it away from a totally atheistic stance on the rights of young people.
Not long ago, we were appalled at the horrendous fires in California, and now we hear about terrible fires in Australia. In our August 16, 2018, post we talked about the California fires, and we discussed why they happened. We pointed out that blaming God for the wildfires in California was not logical, scientifically correct, or biblical. (You can read that again by clicking HERE.)
Our primary resource for that discussion was Keith Crummer, whose whole career with the United States Forrest Service revolved around managing the forests in California. His main point was that the cause of the fires was mismanagement by people who thought they were protecting the forests. They were stopping the natural fire-preventing design from operating. Now we see this again with the fires in Australia.
Before we go any further, let us state that our hearts go out to our friends in Australia, who, like the victims in California, have suffered an unimaginable loss. To watch everything you own go up in flames is a heart-wrenching tragedy no matter what the cause. There are two points we want to make:
#1) The fires in Australia are not a retaliatory act of God. Some religious figures are saying the fires are God’s punishment for Australia’s movement away from belief in God and its immersion in secularism. There is no question about the contributing factors to the fires, and none of them include miraculous acts of God. That is also not the way God operates. If God retaliated every time a group of people deliberately defied Him, Washington D.C. would have gone up in flames long ago. Passages like James 1:13 tell us that God is not the source of the bad things that happen to us. The following eight verses identify the cause as human greed and selfishness.
#2) Like the California fires, the fires in Australia are a consequence of human mismanagement of resources. In its natural state, the environment prevents such massive fires. Water storage in the soil, small fires that clean up underbrush so it can’t erupt in huge, hot fires, plants that are resistant to fire and don’t burn well all reduce the fire hazard. Imported plants, inadequate management of water resources, and overuse of the land are the main contributors to massive fires . Today you can go back to the areas in California that were scorched so severely in 2018 and see that the land is recovering. Hopefully, the bad management practices of the past won’t be repeated, but sometimes humans fail to learn from past mistakes. God doesn’t cause tragedies like this, but He also doesn’t force humans to manage intelligently, and He doesn’t take away the results of mismanagement.
Yesterday we reported on the LGBT conflict which is breaking the United Methodist Church apart. The dispute over sexual morality is also affecting one of the oldest and most highly regarded theological seminaries in the United States–Fuller Theological Seminary. The conflict involves Christian seminary students in same-sex marriages.
Fuller has a “Sexual Standards Policy,” which states that the seminary “holds marriage to be a covenant union between one man and one woman.” The policy also says that “homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct” are “inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture.” Two students, one man and one woman, were expelled because the seminary learned that they were in same-sex marriages. They are both suing the school for one million dollars each.
The problem here is that Fuller and many other Christian colleges and seminaries receive government assistance in scholarships and other educational funding. Title IX government funding rules bar “discrimination based on sex.” The original intent of this rule was that women could not be refused participation in educational programs just because they were women. Now LGBT supporters are mounting legal efforts to expand Title IX protections to gender identity and sexuality.
What happens here will have a profound effect on Christian colleges who participate in any scholarship program where government grants or loans allow students to get an education. This would include those with minority and military scholarships. It will also affect those schools and churches that use government commodities in benevolent programs or minority support programs.
Christian seminary students in same-sex marriages is only one aspect of a growing problem. It seems that the government’s beliefs about morality are dictating what Church programs can teach. The only option is for churches and schools not to use government support in any way, or else they must change their moral teachings.