While You Were Sleeping
Friday, June 6, 2014, 8:10 AM

In recent days, my American readers have been focused on the abysmal care to our military veterans at a number of government hospitals, the mystery surrounding the prisoner swap with the Taliban and Sgt. Bergdahl, and the deepening concerns about the Mr. Obama’s foreign policy setbacks in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.  But mostly unnoticed was a small item in which the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) reversed a long-standing ban on gender reassignment surgery paid for by Medicare.  (Yes, really!)  Gender reassignment surgery is commonly referred to as a sex change operation.  Thus, taxpayer-paid sex change surgeries are now available for the elderly and disabled.

HHS has determined that it is “no longer reasonable” to expect older and disabled Americans to pay for their own sex change operations.  Instead, HHS now recognizes the surgery as “medically necessary” and “effective” treatment for people who cannot deal effectively with their own biological gender.  Mr./Ms. Denee Mallon, a 74-year-old Army veteran from Albuquerque, New Mexico, was the driving force behind the change in HHS policy, after he/she sued HHS for this special benefit.  In an emailed statement reported by ABC News, Mallon wrote:

Sometimes I am asked aren’t I too old to have surgery.  My answer is how old is too old?  When     people ask if I am too old, it feels like they are implying that it’s a “waste of money” to operate     at my age.  But I could have an active life ahead of me for another 20 years.  And I want to spend     those years in congruence and not distress.

(I wonder why he/she didn’t simply go to the Veterans Administration for the sex change operation?  After all, taxpayers we have been paying for sex change operations for military traitors and illegal immigrants throughout the Obama years.)  Each gender reassignment surgery can cost $50,000 or more.  Fortunately, Medicare has plenty of money to take care of the 10,000 seniors now retiring each day.  Gary Gates, a demographer with The Williams Institute, a think tank on LGBT issues at the University of California at Los Angeles, estimates that people who self-identify as “transgender” make up 0.3 percent of the U.S. adult population.  With over 49 million Americans now enrolled in Medicare, if Mr. Gates’ numbers are somewhat accurate, I would think that sex change operations for senior citizens and the disabled should not amount to more than 150,000 surgeries.  Thus, the new HHS policy clearly recognizes that it is a taxpayer responsibility to cover an elective body modification that reduces the mental, psychological, and physical risk arising from those suffering from gender confusion and dysphoria.

Technically, the HHS decision does not yet apply to Medicaid, which provides health coverage for individuals and families with low-incomes.  Although some states do not pay for sex change surgeries and the cost of sex hormones that transgendered people commonly take during their “transition,” other states evaluate such claims on a case-by-case basis.  However, as private health insurance companies and Medicaid programs often follow the federal government on what is considered medically necessary, this decision is likely to lead to sex change surgeries as a routinely covered insurance benefit.  After the HHS decision, Mallon said in a statement, “This decision means so much to me and to many other transgender people.  I am relieved to know that my doctor and I can now address my medical needs, just as other patients and doctors do.”  I am reminded of Mr. Obama’s response to a question at a town-hall meeting about one’s 100-year-old grandmother who received a pacemaker.  This was during the run-up to passage of Obamacare.  The questioner pointed out to Mr. Obama that her grandmother had badly needed a pacemaker, but had been turned down by a doctor because of her age.  A second doctor, noting the patient’s alertness, zest for life, and generally youthful “spirit,” inserted the pacemaker despite her advanced age.  Her symptoms, having been resolved, Grandma was doing well five years later.  The question for Mr. Obama was, “Under the Obama healthcare system, will an elderly person’s general state of health, and her “spirit,” be taken into account when making medical decisions – or will these decisions be made according to age only?”  Mr. Obama’s famous answer was clear: “it is really not feasible to take ‘spirit’ into account.  We are going to make medical decisions based on objective evidence, and not subjective impressions.  . . . Maybe you’re better off not having the surgery, but taking a pill.”  I guess he has now “evolved” on this as well.  I am glad that Mr./Ms. Mallon won’t have to just take a pill to deal with his dysphoria, or that he won’t have to pay for it either as those expenses are now foisted on taxpayers.  But as Tony Perkins from the Family Research Council observed, “While President Obama is busy financing senior sex changes, wounded veterans are dying for lack of medical care.”



Mere Links 06.05.14
Thursday, June 5, 2014, 10:00 AM

Can Science Tell Us When Life Begins?
Mathew Lu, Public Discourse

“Science” can tell us when life begins, provided that we already know what to look for. Empirical biology alone cannot tell us what that is. Once we establish a metaphysical account of life, then empirical embryology can tell us whether the relevant conditions are met.

Neo-Jim Crow in the Middle East
Gary Bauer, Washington Times

Sadly, a version of Jim Crow has been resurrected — but this time, his targets are the ancient Christian populations of the Middle East.

Baptist Missionary Sentenced to Life in Hard Labor by North Korea
Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times

The missionary, Kim Jong-uk, was also convicted of spying and other various “anti-state” crimes during a trial in Pyongyang on Friday, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said on Saturday. A large crowd attended Mr. Kim’s trial, the report said.

After 5 Months of Sales, Colorado Sees the Downside of a Legal High
Jack Healy, New York Times

Five months after Colorado became the first state to allow recreational marijuana sales, the battle over legalization is still raging.



Mere Links 06.04.14
Wednesday, June 4, 2014, 10:00 AM

Church-State Clash in China Coalesces Around a Toppled Spire
Ian Johnson, New York Times

“People are stunned,” said one member of the congregation, who asked that she be identified only by her English name, Mabel, out of fear of government reprisals. “They have completely lost faith in the local religious authorities.”

Building Strong Marriages, One at a Time
Rachel Sheffield, Public Discourse

If healthy marriage is the basis of a strong society, it is worth every effort to strengthen it. Marriage education should supplement other efforts to address social problems.

Starvation as the New “Death With Dignity”
Wesley J. Smith, First Things

Self-starvation has become the latest craze among the “death with dignity” crowd. This has been coming on for some time. Removing feeding tubes from cognitively disabled people who can’t swallow has been allowed for decades, under the right to refuse unwanted “medical treatment.” But what about people who can eat and drink by mouth? Assisted suicide advocates argue that it isn’t fair that they can’t die too.

Without Gloss: Francis of Assisi and Western Catholicism
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Crisis Magazine

Scripture tells us that God is utterly different from us, vastly higher than us. Then it tells us to become like him. Therein lies the paradox. The task seems impossible. And yet we know it to be possible.



Mere Links 06.03.14
Tuesday, June 3, 2014, 10:00 AM

Prisoners of Sex
Ross Douthat, New York Times

The culture’s attitude is Hefnerism, basically, if less baldly chauvinistic than the original Playboy philosophy. Sexual fulfillment is treated as the source and summit of a life well lived, the thing without which nobody (from a carefree college student to a Cialis-taking senior) can be truly happy, enviable or free.

Christian Leaders May Return to Nicaea: What Does It Mean?
Emma Green, The Atlantic

In 2025, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians could go back to the place where early followers of Jesus tried to create a consensus among all of Christendom.

Who, What, Why: What language would Jesus have spoken?
BBC

Israel’s prime minister has verbally sparred with the Pope over which language Christ might have spoken. Several languages were used in the places where Jesus lived – so which would he have known, asks Tom de Castella.

25 years after Tiananmen Square, China tightens grip on religious freedom
William McKenzie, CNN

Twenty-five years after Tiananmen Square – where on June 4, 1989, Chinese soldiers turned their guns on protesting students and activists – freedom remains elusive.



Mere Links 06.02.14
Monday, June 2, 2014, 10:00 AM

Medicare to Now Cover Sex-Change Surgery
Roni Caryn Rabin, New York Times

Medicare may no longer exclude sex-reassignment surgery from coverage, a government appeals board ruled Friday. It said the current exclusion was “no longer reasonable” because the surgery is safe and effective and can no longer be considered experimental.

Are Millennials Really Leaving the Church? Yes — but Mostly White Millennials
Bob Smietana, OnFaith

All the hand-wringing stories about young adults leaving religion overlooks the vibrancy and growth of multiethnic churches.

Pope Francis’s rollicking plane ride home: Rule of celibate priests ‘always open’ to change
Terrence McCoy, Washington Post

Priestly celibacy “is not a dogma of faith.” Last week, the pope got a letter. It was from a group of priests’ girlfriends. They pleaded with him to strike down rules prohibiting priests from marriage and sex. “Each of us is in, was or would like to start a relationship with a priest we are in love with,” the women wrote in the letter.

Drive-thru at church: The easy-pray lane
Terri Akman, Philadelphia Inquirer

In an age when convenience is king and religion is often ridiculed, some churches looking to widen their outreach efforts are embracing what community banks and pharmacies have utilized for decades: the drive-through.



Mere Links 05.30.14
Friday, May 30, 2014, 10:00 AM

Conservative Christianity and the transgender question
Russell D. Moore, OnFaith

As a conservative evangelical Christian, I believe the so-called transgender question will require a church with a strong theological grounding, and a winsome pastoral footing.

The Southern Baptist Convention: An Introduction
Baptist21

The SBC is made up of more than 16 million members who hold membership in 44,848 autonomous, local churches. By calling the churches autonomous, we mean that they make their own decisions on staffing, budget, and program. No one outside the churches holds this authority.

Amicable breakup of UMC needed, pastor group says
Sam Hodges, United Methodist Reporter

A group of United Methodist pastors and theologians is calling for an amicable split of the denomination, saying differences over homosexuality and other issues are irreconcilable.

For Middle East, Region of Religious Conflict, Pope Suggests a Respite in Prayer
Jodi Rudoren, New York Times

The meeting is not going to produce a treaty, of course. But could it at least bring the sides back to the negotiating table?



Some Thoughts on Our Federal Judiciary
Friday, May 30, 2014, 9:00 AM

Several weeks ago, I wrote about how the Southern Poverty Law Center (“SPLC”) identified anyone who was critical of the new Common Core educational standards as a right-wing extremist.  Further, if a Christian opposes Common Core, then we were identified by the SPLC as “Christian right-wing extremists.”  In my blog, I concluded that as a Christian and as one who is skeptical about Common Core’s efficacy, then I am deemed to be such in the eyes of the SPLC.  On this theme about how Christians are bad people, Federal judge John E. Jones III, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush in 2002, recently struck down Pennsylvania’s law stating that marriage is only between one man and one woman. You can read his opinion here.  (Prior to this decision, Judge Jones was best known for his 2005 decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, where he found that the teaching of “intelligent design” in public schools to be unconstitutional.)  Judge Jones’ decision regarding homosexual “marriage” comes on the heels of a string of legal victories for the homosexualists since last summer when the Supreme Court found that the Defense of Marriage Act’s definition of marriage to be only between one man and one woman was unconstitutional.  Since then, federal judges struck down laws preventing homosexual “marriages” in Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and now Pennsylvania.  Further, federal judges have ruled that out-of-state marriages must be recognized in another four states: Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.  Interestingly, Judge Jones concludes his opinion with the following: “We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.”   So now, according to Judge Jones, if you support traditional marriage, you are a bad person with archaic views.  Strangely to me, in his opinion, Judge Jones also rejected the “contention that concepts of history and tradition dictate that same-sex marriage is excluded from the fundamental right to marry. The right Plaintiffs seek to exercise is not a new right, but is rather a right that these individuals have always been guaranteed by the United States Constitution.  (Emphasis added.)  Wow, who knew?  I wish Jefferson and Madison had only let us know that homosexual “marriage” was there in the Constitution.  (Incidentally, the Founders could have also added a paragraph or two about abortion rights as well in their voluminous writings.)

Of course, the Constitutional framers supported judicial review; the Federalist Papers explained it; the ratification debates described it; and legal scholars confirmed it.  But the Founders also expected limits on judicial review. Alexander Hamilton said that courts were not to construe laws “according to the spirit of the Constitution” because this would “enable the court to mold [the laws] into whatever shape it may think proper” which was “as unprecedented as it was dangerous.”  Indeed!  James Madison noted, “Refusing or not refusing to execute a law, to stamp it with its final character . . . makes the Judiciary department paramount in fact to the Legislature, which was never intended and can never be proper.”  In addition, although this statement by Madison is not in the Bible, but it is so true that it could easily be, “All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.”  

One often hears that the answer for us is that we should vote.  But on the case of traditional marriage, we have already done this.  In a majority of states (31, including California in 2008), we the people voted to protect natural, traditional marriage in our state constitutions.  But Judge Jones and a number of other federal judges have simply disenfranchised the votes of archaic-thinking people of this nation.  One solution recently described by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is to use the power of Congress to impeach, try, convict, and remove federal judges from the bench.  Although we are taught that all federal judges have lifetime appointments, but the Constitution provides that they serve “during good behavior.”  Generally, we think that bad behavior is about corruption or taking bribes.  But it seems to me that bad behavior also includes ignoring the Constitution, or as did Judge Jones, making things up in the Constitution that have never been there.

Impeaching federal judges requires the courage of true leadership and statesmanship in the House of Representatives which seems to me, sadly, in limited supply.  When impeached by the House of Representatives, the judge is forced to stand trial in the United States Senate.  Even if the federal judge would not be convicted and removed by the Senate, it would be highly educational for the American people to hear and see federal judges, and even justices of the Supreme Court, explain their decisions before the people.  It is a sad truism that the purpose of our judicial system is not to render justice, but rather to render a verdict.  But in a constitutional republic, the decision of one person should not thwart the votes of tens of millions of citizens.  But unless federal judges are reined in, Christian traditionalists can expect more persecution for those of us who hold orthodox views, like the Benham brothers, former Mozilla CEO Mr. Eich, cake bakers, photographers, florists, and others.



Mere Links 05.29.14
Thursday, May 29, 2014, 10:00 AM

Too Scared to Cry: Social Media Outrage and the Gospel
Russell Moore, Desiring God

We must learn to lament, because once we no longer lament we turn instead to anger, outrage, blame, and quarrelsomeness. The louder and more frantic the anger, the more we feel as though we’re really showing conviction and grit.

Our Moral Obligation to Vote
Bishop James D. Conley, STL, Crisis Magazine

From the very beginning, Catholics have played a vital role in the success of the American experiment. And our involvement in public and political life is still essential to the well-being of our nation.

The Supreme Court on Prayer
Gerard V. Bradley, Public Discourse

Justice Kennedy’s opinion in Greece v. Galloway is the Court’s best piece of Establishment Clause work in decades—and a happy omen for religious liberty in our country.

St. Joan of Arc: A Guide for Every Age
Christopher Check, Crisis Magazine

Mark Twain, who considered his biography of Saint Joan of Arc, whose feast we celebrate Friday, to be his best work. He called the Maid of Orleans “easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced.”



Mere Links 05.28.14
Wednesday, May 28, 2014, 10:00 AM

A Load That Can Be Carried Without Violating the Sabbath
Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, Preachers Institute

Sometimes in the Gospels we find an abrupt transition of contrasting scenes to convey an irony fundamental to the Gospel itself. For example, strength made perfect in infirmity, or the wisdom revealed to the simple.

Sudanese woman sentenced to death for her Christianity gives birth in prison
Faith Karim and Mohammed Osman, CNN

A Sudanese woman sentenced to die for refusing to renounce her Christianity has given birth to a girl in prison, her lawyers said Tuesday.

On Thinking With the Church
Dale M. Coulter, First Things

The question is how to connect evangelicals to the Great Tradition, which brings me to Pope Francis’s appeal to the church as the people of God.

China’s Religious Persecution: How Will The World Respond?
Elise Hilton, Acton PowerBlog

Bob Fu, a former pastor from China and founder of ChinaAid, discusses the increasing persecution of religion, especially Christianity, in China. At FaithStreet, Fu says that both unofficial “house churches” and denominational churches struggle to exist.



Mere Links 05.27.14
Tuesday, May 27, 2014, 10:00 AM

Mere Consent and the Abolition of Human Dignity
Francis J. Beckwith, The Catholic Thing

[M]any today are suggesting that when it comes to some of the great moral questions of our time, individual autonomy (or “consent”) is the only principle we need in order to secure all the goods for which more ancient understandings, such as human dignity, have been employed.

Conservative United Methodists say split over sexuality is ‘irreconcilable’
Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

Will the United Methodist Church soon have to drop the “United” part of its name?

With New Bill, Abortion Limits Spread in South
Jeremy Alford and Erick Eckholm, New York Times

The Louisiana State Legislature on Wednesday passed a bill that could force three of the state’s five abortion clinics to close, echoing rules passed in Alabama, Mississippi and Texas and raising the possibility of drastically reduced access to abortion across a broad stretch of the South.

Pope, in Mideast, Stresses Urgency of Solving Crises
Jodi Rudoren, New York Times

Pope Francis called “urgently” on Saturday for a “peaceful solution” to the Syrian crisis and a “just solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as he started a three-day sojourn through the Holy Land at a time of regional turmoil and tension.


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