In 2013 we had a news item in our printed journal about Walt Tutka, a teacher in New Jersey who was fired because he gave a Bible to a student. After four years, this teacher Bible case is settled.
Tutka said to a student, “So the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” The student asked him where that came from. Tutka showed the student the statement in the Bible, and the student asked Tutka for a Bible of his own. Tutka is a member of Gideon’s International, an organization that distributes Bibles to hotels and hospitals. Naturally, Tutka gave the student a Bible. The school system fired him.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission backed Tutka saying that the school system had unfairly discriminated against him based on his religion. The case was going to be filed as a federal lawsuit in May, but the school district decided to settle out of court. Mr. Tutka is now back in the classroom.
When I was teaching in the public schools in South Bend, Indiana, groups brought books explaining their faith to the schools and gave them to kids who requested them. There were never any problems over that, but times have changed. We have even heard of cases where a teacher had a Bible in their book rack on their desk in a public school and was told to get rid of it or be fired. If a teacher had a copy of The Humanist Manifesto, that would be OK, even though it is a statement of faith–atheist faith.
Chinese scientists have conducted at least three experiments to create genetically modified human embryos. Now, MIT Technology Review reports that a team of scientists in the United States has edited the DNA of human embryos. The experiment was performed at Oregon Health and Science University, a public university in Portland, under the leadership of Shoukhrat Mitalipov. It is apparently the first time this has been done in the United States, and it involved a greater number of embryos than the Chinese experiments.
Mitalipov, who was born in the former Soviet Union and received his Ph.D. in Moscow, came to the U.S. because there was a lack of funding for genetic experimentation in his home country. Since coming to the U.S. he has cloned monkeys and human embryos. This is the first time for editing the DNA of a human embryo.
The scientists used a gene-editing tool called CRISPR, which we have reported on before. The goal of the experiment is supposed to be to find a way to correct genetic defects in humans. The sperm used to fertilize the embryos came from a man with a genetic defect. The embryos were destroyed after a few days because in the United States it is illegal to allow genetically modified human embryos to develop into full-term babies.
In February the U.S. National Academy of Sciences gave support for creating gene-edited babies if the purpose is the elimination of serious genetic diseases. Genetically modified human embryos can develop into gene-modified humans who will pass on the genetic changes to their offspring. This may offer hope for eliminating genetic defects. However, it also has implications for the nightmare scenarios of a science-fiction movie. When humans start to play God by manipulating the DNA of our children, what if they make a disastrous mistake? The United States Intelligence Agency listed CRISPR as a potential “weapon of mass destruction.”
Beyond the implications of Frankenstein-like creatures, there is the aspect of “designer children.” DNA could potentially be edited to select the sex, physical features, and even intelligence of an unborn child. So far that is illegal in the United States, but not in other countries. One of the problems the Chinese experimenters encountered is called “mosaicism,” in which the change to the DNA is not taken on by all of the cells. The implications of a person with multiple DNA codes in different cells is not fully understood. Other CRISPR errors referred to as “off target” effects could result in serious genetic defects. Mitalipov’s team claims to have those problems under control.
The report from this U.S. experiment should be published soon, and it will certainly be in the news. Christians should be concerned about where this is leading. Do humans have the right to play God with our DNA? What could be the result of “off target” mistakes? What about the ethics of creating human embryos for experimentation and then destroying them? Do the possible breakthroughs in the elimination of genetic diseases outweigh the dangers? What about the moral cost to our society as we go down this road?
One thing you can be sure of is that humans will continue to create genetically modified human embryos. If it doesn’t happen in the United States, it will happen in other countries. You can also be sure that there will be some scientists who will do so with less than pure motives. In Mary Shelley’s classic book telling about a scientist’s desire to create a new species, Victor Frankenstein said, “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs.” The power to become a god creating new species of humans can overpower pure motives as it did with Victor Frankenstein. The outcome could be even more tragic than in the novel.
Government and Christianity have not always been in harmony. Christianity began under the rule of the Roman government, which abused human rights and promoted immorality. Although persecuted, the Christian faith grew strong and brought many people to the realization that our real hope lies not in government, but in God. In spite of the oppression by the Roman government, the Apostle Paul instructed Christians to honor those in authority (Romans 13:1-6) and to pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1,2).
We have always pointed out that Christianity is not an American institution. When we argue for the validity of Christianity and attempt to provide scientific support for the existence of God, we do not bring American politics into the discussion. In spite of that, the Christian faith has played a vital role since the founding of this country and even before that.
God blessed the United States with a standard of living higher than the world had ever seen. We argue for the truth of Proverbs 14:34 which tells us, “Righteousness exalts a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” We sing “God Bless America” as a hymn to ask God’s continued blessing on our nation. We place “In God We Trust” on our money. But today America seems determined to reject God and His teachings.
Righteousness in our government seems to be eroding and several groups have been formed to fight against that trend. One of those groups is Judicial Watch (www.JudicialWatch.org). This organization seeks to expose corruption in the American government and in organizations that have government connections. It is bipartisan in its efforts exposing both Republican and Democrat corruptions.
Judicial Watch publishes a magazine, and in their July issue, they have a report of abuses in the Veteran’s Administration. Those who are interested or active in American politics may find this a useful resource. Paul wrote that “the one in authority is God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:4). Christians can serve to remind those in authority of their sacred duty. Government and Christianity can work together to benefit all Americans as well as those in other countries.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst
Sometimes when atheists attack churches and people who believe in God, their arguments border nonsense. In an earlier post, we told about a state program for child safety in Missouri that was denied to a church solely because it was a church. A Supreme Court decision finally settled the matter.
The state had instituted a grant program which allowed owners of playgrounds to make them safer by purchasing rubberized playground surface material made from recycled tires. In 2012 Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center in Columbia, Missouri, needed to replace the gravel on their playground with the safer material. The state denied their grant application saying that public funds cannot be given to religious organizations according to the Missouri state constitution. The case went to an appeals court where it ended in a tie vote. It was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 26, 2017, the court decided in favor of the church.
This case may sound frivolous, but it is an important issue. Churches run food banks, women’s shelters, street kitchens, relief agencies, counseling centers, and many other programs to help people. Churches provide those services more efficiently at less cost than government programs. The services that churches provide relieves the burden from taxpayers while providing more help for more people in need. If the government penalizes the work of the churches simply because they are “religious,” everyone suffers. Atheists provide none of those services to any great extent, if at all. We see foolish cases like this one increasing because of blind hatred for God.
The Alliance Defending Freedom represented Trinity Lutheran in this case, and they argued that Missouri’s “…religious exclusion sends a message that Trinity’s children are less worthy of protection simply because they play on a playground owned by a church.” The ADF also stated that “People of faith shouldn’t be treated like second-class citizens–every child’s safety matters. The government shouldn’t make children in religious preschools less safe on playgrounds than other children.”
The stated purpose of the American Civil Liberties Union is “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.” Founded in 1920, the ACLU was useful in racial conflicts and in situations where women were being abused. In recent years the leadership has veered off to become an atheist attack group. The ACLU has chosen almost exclusively to attack institutions and individuals attempting to have and promote moral values and individual rights compatible with Christian values.
In Missouri recently the ACLU settled with a school district that was attempting to put internet filtering software on their school computers to prevent children from accessing pornography. The school had to remove the filter. A major suit has been filed against Catholic hospital systems which do not want to participate in abortions.
Another situation involves Cynthia and Robert Gifford a couple who own a farm in New York called Liberty Ridge Farm. The Giffords host and coordinate weddings in their backyard. When they chose not to host a wedding they considered immoral; the ACLU sued them. The ACLU persuaded the New York State Division of Human Rights to fine the Giffords $10,000. It also ordered them and their employees to attend “re-education classes.”
God has always called us to pay attention to what has happened in the past. It is important for all of us to spend some time remembering how we got where we are. In the United States, we pause on the last Monday in May for Memorial Day remembering the sacrifices that others have made so that we can be free.
The celebration of this day began right after the American Civil War when people realized the carnage and sacrifice that had taken place. In the past, we put great emphasis on remembering the blessings that loved ones gave us by their sacrifice in wars with foreign powers. We visit graves and decorate them to emphasize that remembrance. In recent years, our secular society has drifted away from that emphasis. There has been a reduction in parades and services and an increase in recreational events. Instead of a time for remembering, Memorial Day has become a commercial promotion of the beginning of the summer season.
In the Old Testament, a great many holidays, feasts, and celebrations called ancient Israel to remember their blessings. As the New Testament came into existence, there was a whole new system of emphasis on remembering. God’s relationship was no longer with one nation and one system of living. Jesus called all nations to unity and oneness. Paul stated it this way: “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28).
The importance of remembering the basis of our freedom and our oneness was not lost when Jesus established the Lord’s Supper recorded in Matthew 26:26-29. The purpose was to establish a continuing memorial. Paul described it in 1 Corinthians 11:23-29. He quoted Jesus as saying, “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.”
The US Constitution guarantees religious freedom. At the same time, there have been constant attempts from a variety of sources to muzzle Christians and persecute those who openly profess their faith. Over and over we see Christians prevented from doing things that other religious groups or anti-religious groups are free to do. This can create a tendency for us to over-react when a problem arises.
The school board in Bartlett, Tennessee, shut down a Bible Club because of threats by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Bible Club was for first and second graders, and the stated purpose was to read the Bible and pray. When I was teaching at Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana, we had a Gospel Chorus made up of students that met in the school outside of class time. I was part of a before-school program where I presented my lectures to students who wished to hear them and discuss the content. When I taught at Jackson High School in South Bend, we had mini-courses where for a week during homeroom, students could choose from a variety of activities. They could listen to my presentations in Christian apologetics, go swimming in the school pool, attend a class on ballroom dancing, play basketball, or attend a variety of other classes including a class on Islam taught by a Muslim cleric.
So what is the difference between all of these cases and what was going on in Bartlett? The chorus, the mini-courses, and the before school classes were all initiated by the students. Attendance was their choice, and their parents could come and sit in on what was taking place. In the Bartlett situation, the classes were set up and taught by adults. Students did not elect to participate in the Bible reading. The teacher decided that. Adults also would lead the prayer and decide its content. At Jackson High, the students could choose whether to participate. In Bartlett, pressure on children to participate was an inevitable consequence of the program. One wonders as to who was reading the Bible, what translation they were using, and who chose what part of the Bible to study.
Climate change is a fact, as we have noted before. However, we have also noted before, that climate change has taken place in the past, and that humans are not the sole cause. Much of the media hype has been based on reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The problem is that the general public has no way of checking the alarmist claims of that group. Some of the dire predictions of what climate change would bring seem to be unjustified. The problem has been that because of limited data or no access to unbiased information most people had no choice but to believe what they were told.
Some scientists have formed an organization called the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate (NIPC). This group maintains that the reports of what climate change will bring are grossly exaggerated and based on bad data and shoddy science. They have released a book titled Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming.
Mike Pence is Vice-President of the United States. Before being elected to that job, he was governor of the state of Indiana. Being from Indiana, we have followed him rather closely. President Trump’s dismal record with the press and his relationship with women are well-known. What has not gotten much attention until recently is the fact that Mike Pence has always been extremely careful in his relationships with women. He will not put himself in a compromising position with his women co-workers in politics. Pence has always refused to dine alone with a woman other than his wife. He never works late with a female aide. He never attends any party where alcohol is being served unless his wife is with him. His basis for these careful controls of his personal life with female co-workers is that he is a Christian and he takes his Christian faith seriously.
The press has been extremely hostile toward Pence’s lifestyle. The Washington Post claims Pence is helpless in the face of female temptation. Slate.com calls Pence a radical retrograde and claims that Pence sees women as sexual temptations rather than as peers whose ideas might be worth discussing. Cosmopolitan claims that Pence’s Christian values put the women who work with him and a huge disadvantage and allow men to keep running the show.
One of the delicate areas in our culture today is the issue of the separation of church and state. It might appear on the surface that this is a no-brainer, but like most things, it isn’t that simple. Romans 13:6-7 instructs Christians to pay taxes and obey civil authority, and in Luke 20:25 Jesus tells us “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” The Constitution of the United States is clear about the government not sponsoring a religion but also guarantees religious freedom. Every nation with a state religion has had enormous problems with what evolved from that endorsement. It is biblical and logical to keep the state and religion separate.
The current crisis which appears to be headed for the Supreme Court is the situation where a church is handling an issue too big for the state and needs money that the state has available to meet the need. In 2012 Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center in Columbia, Missouri, needed to replace the gravel that was under their playground with safer and cleaner material made from recycled tires. This material was available from the state by simply applying for a grant to get the material. The state denied the grant to the church saying that public funds cannot be given to religious organizations according to the Missouri state constitution. The case went to an appeals court which had a tie vote.