Court rules religious groups can consider religion in hiring

The Ninth Circuit Court, a rather unpredictable group, has ruled in favor of the Christian relief organization World Vision, allowing religious organizations to hire only employees who are in accord with that religion.  From Christianity Today:

In most cases, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits private employers from hiring and firing based on religious beliefs. But a 1972 congressional amendment established that churches and religious associations could use faith-based criteria in hiring.

The Ninth Circuit ruling affirmed that an organization can fulfill a religious purpose without confining itself to worship-like activities, Carlson-Thies said. “An organization can be humanitarian and religious at the same time,” he said of the message sent.

As Ninth Circuit Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain put it in his majority opinion, “World Vision is a nonprofit organization whose humanitarian relief efforts flow from a profound sense of religious mission.”

But journalist Bobby Ross points out that the issue is not entirely settled.

HT: Sarah Pulliam Bailey

North Korea will release Christian prisoner after suicide threats

Amidst the happy news that North Korea will release a Christian activist from prison, thanks in part to the intervention of former president Jimmy Carter, are some curious details. From Christianity Today:

From a hospital in Tucson, Arizona, former North Korean prisoner Robert Park prays for the release of his friend Aijalon Mahli Gomes.

On Christmas Eve, Park crossed into North Korea in hopes of drawing attention to the Communist nation’s human rights violations and persecution of Christians. Park was arrested and imprisoned in North Korea and released after six weeks.

Gomes, 31, an English teacher turned Christian activist who attended the same church as Park in Seoul, followed in Park’s footsteps, crossing into North Korea on January 25. In April, the North Korean government sentenced the Boston native to eight years in a hard labor camp and fined him $700,000.

Park, who has been hospitalized several times since his February release, has not spoken about his imprisonment.

“I didn’t want to cause anything to happen to Aijalon,” Park told ChristianityToday in an exclusive interview. “I want him to come out first.”

Amid carefully selected answers during the phone interview from the behavioral health center where he has been since making suicidal statements in July, Park prayed several times, not for himself, but for Gomes’s return home.

“Father, restore Aijalon to his loved ones in America,” Park prayed, his voice laced with urgency. “Show us great and mighty things through the deliverance of Aijalon Gomes.”

Park’s prayers may finally have been answered.

Former President Jimmy Carter arrived in Pyongyang on Wednesday, according to the government-controlled Korean Central News Agency. North Korean officials agreed to release Gomes to Carter, 85. The two are expected to return to the United States by Friday. . . .

Park said his concern for Gomes and frustration over the lack of media coverage and response to his friend’s imprisonment have led him to speak out—and were the cause of his plans for a July 16 suicide demonstration.

Park said he was ready to end his life because nothing was being done, “but God stopped it through the intervention of a friend.”

“I was planning to kill myself with a suicide note to bring attention to Aijalon—I feel responsible for him being there,” Park said. “He is one of my best friends, and I prayed for my life to be taken and not his.”

Park said he feels a burden and responsibility for his friend’s release. He was told that Gomes was very emotional when attending several demonstrations for Park’s release.

“He wept and prayed fervently and intensely, but he did not say much—I don’t think he told his plan to anyone,” Park said. “I think he went in, in part, because he was my friend and he wanted to help me.” . . .

In July, the Korean Central News Agency reported Gomes had attempted suicide. Park said he also fears his friend would be treated as a political prisoner or become lost in the politics of the relations between the U.S. and North Korea.

Observers speculate that North Korea was using Gomes as bargaining leverage with the U.S. over its nuclear program.

The seeming acceptance of suicide by both of these Christians is startling.  Perhaps they are combining their Christian faith, which I don’t doubt for an instant, with the relative acceptance of suicide found in Asian cultures.  (Gomes, though, is an American.)   We certainly shouldn’t accept the old Roman Catholic teaching that suicide is an unforgiveable sin; and yet, I wonder if the attitude against suicide is shifting.

HT:  Sarah Pulliam Bailey

The Gulf oil spill in perspective

Paul Schwennesen puts the environmental disaster in perspective:

Picture your neighbor’s pool. Unless you live in Malibu, it’ll contain about 6,000 gallons. That’s the “Gulf” for purposes of discussion. Now go to your garage, get a quart of oil and pour it in when he’s not looking. Pretty good sense of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, right?

Nope, not even close. Put a drop of that oil onto a sheet of paper and carefully cut it in half. Now do it again and toss that quarter of a drop into the deep end. Even this quarter droplet (about the size of the comma in this sentence) is about 10% too large, but NOW you have a sense of what 4.9 million barrels of oil in the Gulf looks like.[1]

Now that we’ve grappled with the issue of scale, let’s look at the aftermath of this ‘catastrophe.’ According to the government scientists, seventy-five percent of that sliver of a droplet has now evaporated, been eaten by microbes, skimmed or burnt. (This estimate is in dispute, but every day the released oil is being reduced to get to that figure, if not beyond it.)

Now, you’re going to need to borrow your kid’s microscope for the rest of this exercise….

“Ah,” says the ecologist in you, “but oil is like poison to an ecosystem, and so any amount is disproportionately harmful.” Well, the science doesn’t agree, but let’s assume for the moment that you’re right. Ignoring that the vast majority of this poison-oil has already been happily consumed by portions of this delicate ecosystem, let’s pretend that oil is to the Gulf what botulinum toxin is to man (really bad news, as it’s the deadliest substance known). Distributed uniformly, oil would contaminate the water of the Gulf at a ratio of eight thousand millionths per gallon. If the same concentration of botulinum existed in your swimming pool, you could safely spend the day in it without a second thought.[2] Sure, oil is not distributed uniformly, but shrill cries about the “collapse” of the Gulf’s ecosystem imply that it effects are. It is indeed true that every action has reverberating ecological consequences, but if we delude ourselves into thinking this means disintegration then we risk making poor policy choices.

Please don’t misunderstand. I am firmly in the camp of those who think the Gulf ecosystem is a wonderful and valuable thing that we should never take for granted. Furthermore, it’s not my intention here to dismiss or minimize BP’s bungle. Neither am I suggesting cleanup shouldn’t continue with the utmost diligence. After all, “scale” matters not one whit if that sliver of oil washes into your crab pots. Legally, BP should be held to account for their negligence and must make whole anyone whose property or livelihood they have harmed.

But two lessons rise to the surface here. The first is to never underestimate the power of ecosystems to absorb shocks and adapt to change. While we should not treat Nature with reckless disregard, we should also not dishonor her by intimating that she stands in precarious balance, perennially on the brink of human-caused collapse. As ecology continues to develop as a science, I expect that it will be the extraordinary resilience of natural systems that will become the prevailing acknowledgment.

The second lesson is that we must demand a sense of perspective when dealing with issues of environmental concern. The natural inclination when faced with torrents of extremely focused media coverage is to extrapolate broadly to “the ecosystem” at large. Hysteria and fear do not make for good policy, however. An inability to properly understand ecological sensitivity leads to dire predictions which fuel misguided regulatory reaction.

via The Catastrophe That Wasn’t: The Gulf Oil Spill in Perspective — MasterResource.

HT:Joe Carter

Youth group madness

I was on Issues, Etc., yesterday. You can listen here. Somehow Todd Wilkens or Jeff Schwarz got ahold of a WORLD column I wrote way back in 2002. They seemed to think it is still relevant. Here it is:

Stupid church tricks

Many church youth groups are teaching young people exactly what they don’t need to learn | Gene Edward Veith

Four sets of parents are suing a church in Indiana for what happened at a New Year’s Eve lock-in. A youth leader chewed up a mixture of dog food, sardines, potted meat, sauerkraut, cottage cheese, and salsa, topped off with holiday eggnog. As if this spectacle were not disgusting enough (let the reader beware), he then spit out the mixture into a glass and encouraged the members of the youth group to drink it!

Some of those who did, of course, became sick, whereupon their parents sued the church. According to an Associated Press account, the youth pastor said that the “gross-out” game, called the Human Vegematic, was just for fun and that the church forced no one to participate. The lawsuit accused the adults in charge of pressuring 13- and 14-year-olds into activities that caused them physical and mental harm.

Such “gross-out” games have become a fad in youth ministry. Since adolescents are amused by bodily functions, crude behavior, and tastelessness—following the church-growth principle of giving people what they like as a way to entice them into the kingdom—many evangelical youth leaders think this is a way to reach young people.

The Source for Youth Ministry, a popular and widely used resource center, posts scores of games on its website, many of which were contributed by youth group leaders in the field.

There is Sanctuary Softball, which involves whacking a nerf ball in church, with home plate being the area of the altar, and running through the pews, as the fielders then try to hit the batter with the ball to make an out. Another fun activity is Seafood Catch, which involves putting minnows in the baptistry, then catching them by hand. (“Extra points for eating them after it is done.”)

Then there are games designed to appeal to adolescents’ hormones. These include kissing games like “Kiss the Wench.” “Leg Line Up” has girls feel boy’s legs to identify who is who. Some of them have odd homosexual subtexts, like “Pull Apart,” in which guys cling to each other, while girls try to pull them apart. Another has girls putting makeup on guys, leading to a drag beauty show. Then there is the embarrassingly Freudian “Baby Bottle Burp,” in which girls put a diaper (a towel) on a boy, then feed him a bottle of soda, and cradle him until he burps!

These are presented as just ordinary games, good ways to break the ice at youth group. But there is another category of “Sick and Twisted Games.” Many of these involve eating and drinking gross things, like at the Indiana church. (“Toothbrush Buffet” has youth group leaders brushing their teeth and spitting into a cup. Each then passes it along to the next in line, who uses what is in the cup to brush his teeth. The last one drinks down everyone’s spit.) Others are scatological, and are too repellent to describe.

What do teenagers learn from these youth group activities? Nothing of the Bible. Nothing of theology. Nothing of the cost of discipleship. But they do learn some lessons that they can carry with them the rest of their lives:

* Lose your inhibitions. Young people usually have inhibitions against doing anything too embarrassing or shameful. These exercises are designed to free people from such hangups. For some reason, post-Freudian psychologists—whose “sensitivity groups” are the model for these kinds of exercises—maintain that such inhibitions are bad. Christians, though, have always insisted that we need to feel inhibited about indulging in things for which we should feel ashamed. This is part of what we mean by developing a conscience.

Though being “gross” may not be sinful in itself, overcoming natural revulsions can only train a child to become uninhibited about more important things.

* Give in to peer pressure. Defenders of these kinds of activities maintain that they help create group unity. The way they work, though, is to overcome a teenager’s inhibitions with the greater desire to go along with the group. In other words, these exercises teach the teenager to give in to peer pressure. Instead, youth groups need to teach Christian teenagers not to go along with the crowd and to stand up against what their friends want them to do.

* Christianity is stupid. Status-conscious teenagers know that those who are so desperate to be liked that they will do anything to curry favor are impossible to respect. Young people may come to off-the-wall youth group meetings, but when they grow up, they will likely associate the church with other immature, juvenile phases of their lives, and Christianity will be something they will grow out of.

Teenagers get enough entertainment, psychology, and hedonism from their culture. They don’t need it from their church. What they need—and often yearn for—is God’s Word, catechesis, and spiritual formation.

via WORLD Magazine | Stupid church tricks | Gene Edward Veith | Aug 24, 02.

Am I right, or am I over-reacting?  What are your memories of church youth group?  Was it like this, or more helpful?  Did it help keep you in church and make you grow in your faith, or did it drive you away?

What kind of libertarian are you?

Christianity is  not the only belief system that divides itself up according to fine nuances of theology.  Virtually all religions do that.  And so do secular ideologies.  For example, the Wikipedia article on “Libertarianism” cites six varieties.  So if you are a libertarian, are you a libertarian conservative, a left-libertarian, a minarchist, an anarcho-capitalist, a geolibertarian, or (my favorite) a libertarian transhumanist?

Go here to see what each of those means: Libertarianism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Horror in Mexico

Mexican drug lords, having diversified into human smuggling, have committed a monstrous atrocity:

Gunmen from a drug cartel appear to have massacred 72 migrants from Central and South America who were on their way to the U.S., a grisly event that marks the single biggest killing in Mexico’s war on organized crime.

Mexican marines discovered the 72 bodies—58 men and 14 women —on Tuesday after the lone survivor of the massacre, a wounded migrant from Ecuador, stumbled into a Navy checkpoint the previous day and told of being shot on Monday at a nearby ranch, Mexican officials said on Wednesday.

When the marines went to investigate, they were met with a hail of gunfire from cartel gunmen holed up at the ranch, which sits 90 miles from the U.S. border. One marine and three alleged gunmen died during a two-hour battle, which ended when the gunmen fled in a fleet of SUVs, leaving behind a cache of weapons.

The Ecuadorean migrant told investigators that his captors identified themselves as members of the Zetas drug gang, said Vice Adm. Jose Luis Vergara, a spokesman for the Mexican navy.

An Ecuadorean citizen escaped from a remote ranch in eastern Mexico and stumbled wounded to a highway checkpoint, where he alerted Mexican Navy marines. One marine was killed in a firefight after marines went to investigate the ranch.

“This illustrates that organized crime has no limits or moral qualms about what they are prepared to do,” Alejandro Poire, head of the government’s national-security council, told a news conference.

The incident highlights the extent to which Mexican drug gangs, which used to focus exclusively on ferrying narcotics such as cocaine to the U.S., have diversified into other lucrative criminal activities such as human smuggling and extortion.

At the going rate of $5,000 to $7,000 charged by smugglers to cross the U.S. border, the 72 people represented about $500,000 to the drug gang, said Alberto Islas, a Mexico City-based security consultant. The gang may have simply killed the migrants after they refused to give them more money than they had already given them, he said.

Mexican officials said they didn’t know why the migrants—believed to be from El Salvador, Honduras, Ecuador and Brazil—were killed. Mexican newspapers, citing an unnamed federal official, speculated that the migrants were killed for either refusing to give the drug gang more money to cross the border, or for declining to join the gang’s criminal activities as drug couriers, gunmen or prostitutes.

via 72 Bodies Found in Rural Mexico – WSJ.com.