Tuesday, November 14 2006 @ 05:15 PM EST Contributed by: AIA
Just prior to President George W. Bush traveling to Vietnam, the US Department of State Monday removed the country from its list of countries that promulgate religious persecution, saying Vietnam no longer qualified as a country of particular concern (CPC) for egregious religious freedom abuses, a designation stemming from the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (RFA). State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said, "Vietnam is not being re-designated as a country of particular concern this year." He added, "The reason is that Vietnam has made significant improvement towards advancing religious freedom & no longer fits the criteria of severe violator as defined in the International Religious Freedom Act."
This does not mean that there is no religious persecution by the government in Vietnam; nor does it mean that Vietnam permits religious freedom across the board in the atheistic, Communist governed country. Vasquez added that Vietnam this year had released all religious prisoners, that is, those imprisoned primarily or solely because of their religious affiliations or actions.
Many religious freedom activists disagreed, however. Diem Do, chairman of Viet Tan a reform party that advocates democracy & economic development in Vietnam, declared, "I think religious persecution is still happening inside Vietnam right now. I don't think all religious prisoners have been released yet, & even if they have released a few or a number of people, that doesn't mean that these people are free." Do explained that often those released from regular prison are subjected to house arrest. Do concluded, "To say that they have made great improvement is to be very optimistic at the very least if not naive."
Tuesday, November 14 2006 @ 05:03 PM EST Contributed by: AIA
As sure as death, taxes, & American elections, the post-election complaints come in regarding Christian & other religious organizations' perceived entanglement with politics. Americans United for the Separation of Church & State (AU) has again asked the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate 4 churches it says illegally participated in political partisanship prior to the recent American elections. According to AU executive director Barry W. Lynn, at least 4 churches were in violation this year, 2 for supporting Republican candidates, & 2 for supporting Democratic candidates. According to Lynn, 1 church handed out a voters' guide that was not non-partisan (favoring Republican candidates), 2 churches hosted candidates (1 Republican & 1 Democrat) without giving the same offer to the opposing leading party candidates, & 1 church's pastor endorsed a Democratic candidate from the pulpit during his sermon.
The churches have denied the charges, stating in each case that their behavior was well within the IRS guidelines. In 2004, out of more than 100 cases investigated by the IRS, 58 were found to be in violation, but only 3 were recommended for revocation of their tax exempt status for what was termed repeated, persistent, & obvious violations.
Tuesday, November 14 2006 @ 02:07 PM EST Contributed by: AIA
What to do with the second half of a life dedicated to self, success, & security? An increasing number of baby boomers (those born between WWII & the Vietnam War) are turning to domestic & international missions as a way to build a rewarding retirement full of helping others who are in need. According to Wycliffe Associates, based in Orlando, Florida but sponsoring missions programs worldwide with special emphasis on translating the Bible into every living language, baby boomers make up 1/4 of the total population in the United States & are more likely than any other age group to volunteer substantial amounts of time to missions work. Time magazine says 33% of baby boomers volunteer, contrasted with 24% for those older than 65. Last year 65.4 million people in the United States volunteered for at least short-term full-time missions or community service work.
Wycliffe Associates, like many other non-profit Christian organizations, is creating programs specifically to take advantage of that group of volunteers. It is building a new Volunteer Mobilization Center in Orlando to recuit, train, & mobilize a growing influx of mature, skilled volunteers.
Wycliffe cites a number of factors encouraging the growth in older volunteers, including people's yen to serve others after a career-focused time where dedication to their jobs precluded much outside service. Other factors include greater health & wealth among those newly retired, lower costs of international travel, & cultural attitudes that value contribution of time & effort as well as mere "treasure" -- or cash donations.
In 2005, Wycliffe mobilzed more than 1,200 volunteers in 36 countries as part of its worldwide Bible translation team. This year the figures are predicted to reach 1,500 volunteers in 40 countries.
Tuesday, November 14 2006 @ 01:27 PM EST Contributed by: AIA
The United States Marine Corps (USMC) & its Marine Toys for Tots (MTT) program has refused a toy gift valued at $80,000 even though it is short of its goal to provide toys for 7.5 million children this year because the dolls, Barbie-sized figures of Jesus that spout Bible passages, could offend some recipient who was not a Christian. Even though 92% of the recipients of the annual Christmas program for needy children identify themselves as Christian, retired Major Bill Grein, vice president of MTT, said, "We have to be everything for everybody. We don't know if the kids we help celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. For us, it's just a matter of financial need." Grein continued, "We're not naive. We know most of these folks are celebrating Christmas, but there's always a chance that giving them a doll citing Scripture could be inappropriate."
The dolls were to be donated by the Southern California One2Believe division of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company. One2Believe says by refusing the donation, the MTT violated its own mission "to help needy children throughout the United States experience the joy of Christmas." Michael LaRoe, who heads the One2Believe division, commented, "I don't understand why they can't accept a toy that promotes good values. I just think that it shouldn't be that big of a deal." He noted that even thought MTT doesn't have a mechanism to direct certain gifts to certain children to avoid any offense, that doesn't stop them from distributing Bratz dolls, whose offensive costuming & comments have stirred substantial controversy among parents who don't want their children exposed to those values.
Company CEO David Socha said, "We targeted Toys for Tots because my dad was in the military. We've given more than a million dollars worth to various charities. This was just the first round. There are a lot of kids in need."
Monday, November 13 2006 @ 05:52 PM EST Contributed by: AIA
Pop singer & homosexual rights advocate Elton John told the British Observer's Music Monthly that organized religion fuels anti-homosexual discrimination & other forms of bias & should be banned. He remarked, "From my point of view, I would ban religion completely. Organized religion doesn't seem to work. It turns people into really hateful lemmings, & it's not really compassionate." He admitted that many homosexuals are very religious & that there are churches which advocate acceptance of homosexuals.
The following resources are recommended by Gretchen Passantino, Director of Answers In Action, as part of a responsible voter’s personal study & preparation to vote carefully & thoughtfully. I do not necessarily agree with any or all of the views, opinions, recommendations, or statements from these resources, but I have found them helpful in my own research & decision making & wanted to share them with others. No one can tell you how to vote, but I can share my personal opinions. This is not officially representative of Answers In Action or Prince of Peace Church.
Public Affairs news magazine television show from public broadcasting. It purports to be non-partisan & informational only, but with legal, educational, & PBS foundations, treat its objectivity dubiously. But it is a good resource for in depth background on each measure, its supporters, & its detractors.
Usually fair, non-partisan guide with excellent resources for answering questions about voting in general (where, how late to register, rights to paper ballots, etc.). I say usually fair because it tends to presume that government is better at making decisions for us than we are ourselves.
Official description, text, & pro-, anti- arguments for all propositions. This site also answers all of your general questions, like where & how to register, how to find your precinct, what a lot of the election terminology means, etc.
You may e-mail me (Gretchen.Passantino@answers.org) about any particular measure, & I will give you my opinion & a short explanation of why I am planning to vote for or against. If you are in Southern California, you may want to attend our Ballot Discussion Group on Sunday afternoon, November 5 (see the Calendar for the details).
John & Ken are proud that they are unquantifiable as either conservatives or liberals, but mostly that means that their independent, arrogant, & often ill-thought views are likely to madden practically anyone except their faithful listeners. Having said that, I do find that frequently I agree with their decision about an issue or candidate, even though their arguments don’t always hold water. They are passionate about restraining open borders & illegal immigration, so on that count alone, I frequently agree with them.
Roger is Rush Limbaugh’s #1 guest host, & he is a thoughtful, enthusiastic, principled, but easy to understand conservative. I nearly always agree with not only his views, but his arguments in support of those views. He is an under-appreciated, should-be-known better voice of conservative reason & Christian (Catholic) faithfulness.
Note: You may have trouble using the link above because your computer and/or browser may “censor” the “bad word” in the last part of Roger’s last name. To reach his website, hand enter the following URL, substituting the last syllable (“bad word”) of Roger’s name for the dashes (---): http://www.rogerhedge----.com/component/option,com_frontpage/Itemid,1/
This organization advertises itself as the voice of “progressives” (trans., liberals). Not only do its own views give me a guide on how I should not vote, but it collects the views of many other liberal organizations as well, so I can be septuptally confirmed in my opposite views. Sarcasm aside, it is truly useful to hold my own views & voting inclinations up to the reflective glare of completely contrary views.
Conservative Christian Organization with special interest in restraining special rights & inclusion for homosexuals.
General Considerations for Any Propositions
• We usually don’t need new laws. We have too many already.
• The initiative protocol should be for very unusual situations in which the normal legislative, representative system just cannot or will not deal with an urgent matter. Such as the California legislature being completely dominated & controlled by diehard liberal Democrats who will sacrifice the good of the state for their own partisan agendas.
• Any measure that includes words like “bond,” “tax,” “assessment,” “funding,” or similar synonyms means we have to pay more money, either directly or indirectly. The government has too much of our money already. It does not need more. It just needs to use what it has better.
• Any measures supported by lots of unions I usually don’t agree with.
• Families, local communities, businesses, & special interest groups are usually far more frugal & efficient in using their own money than are government agencies with somebody else's money. We almost never need to create a government agency to administrate a program that should be private or local to begin with.
• Any measure giving government more power, & individuals/families less, I usually don’t agree with.
• It’s usually better if our money & decision makers are very close to us. That is, if I’m going to give any of my money or my decision making to someone else, I would rather give it to my city than my county, my county before my state, & hardly ever to that city 3,000 miles east of here. Those who are close are more likely to have to deal with me (& my fellow voters) directly, & are more dependent on a small concentration of voter supporters.
• Prices & markets should generally be governed by the law of supply & demand, not by politicians, taxes, & regulations. Unless it is in the very narrow realm of national security & constitutional rights, government should generally stay out of our business & our lives.
• Read each proposition very carefully. It is often very confusing & has so many caveats & double negatives that a vote in favor turns out supporting what you dont want, & a vote against affirms what you do approve of.
• Double check the title of each proposition. It is always the case that the title sounds like something all reasonable, good people would want. That can be completely deceptive. It is the wording of the measure that counts, not its title.
• It is nearly always the case that 10% or fewer of the people decide for us all. For example, in Orange County, approximately 50% of the residents are old enough to vote. Approximately 50% of those old enough are qualified to register. Less than 50% qualified to register, are registered. Of those registered to vote, only between 8% – 60% vote in any given election. That 60% range only happens in hotly contested presidential elections or for extremely urgent public outcries (like the recall of Davis). 8% is typical for a non-candidate/office, non- hotly contested issue special election. If it rains or a crucial sporting event coincides with election day, it could be even less. So, for this election, it will probably be the case that only about 30% of the registered voters will vote. And only 50% + 1 of those who vote will determine the outcome. Look at your odds: If there were 1000 residents, 500 would be old enough, 250 would be qualified, 125 would actually register, 37 will actually vote, & 19 will decide the outcome. So the convictions of 19 will control the futures of 1000. And if you talk your spouse, your adult children, your neighbors on either side, your small group friends, & your co-workers into voting your way, you can end up having an enormous impact in this election. Get working!
How I'm Voting on November 7
These are only for the national, state, & Orange County, California races & issues. For your local issues, please do your own research. These are my own opinions, & you must make your own decisions about the issues & races that are important to you.
My reasoningSince I am conservative in my general outlook (less government is usually better, fewer laws are usually better, taxes should be minimal, people should be responsible), I tend to vote more often for Republican candidates than for Democrats. I am often impressed with American Independent & Libertarian candidates. But another of my basic principles comes into operation depending on whether the election is a primary or a general one. If it is a primary, I vote for the candidate I agree with the most, regardless of his/her party affiliation or chance of winning. If that candidate is not the perferred candidate of my party of registration, I always write a letter to my county party telling them why I didn't vote for their endorsed candidate & why I did vote for whomever I chose. This, I believe is the best way I can use my vote to influence my party's platform & choice of endorsements. If it is a general election, however, I always vote for the least objectionable candidate who has an opportunity to win. This is usually a Republican. My reasoning is that if I can't have the candidate I truly want, I should at least use my vote to ensure, first, that the most objectionable front runner doesn't win &, second, that someone who at least shares some of my values & has a chance to win is supported by my vote. I understand the commitment & consistency of my friends who will always vote for the candidate most supportive of their values, no matter how little his/her chance of winning, but my personal conviction is that while my friends are supporting their non-winning candidate, their lack of support for a less objectionable front-runner is contributing to the election of the candidate we both agree has nothing in common with us. Here is how my general principles are affecting my vote this time:
Governor -- Arnold Schwarzenegger; Lt. Governor -- Tom McClintock; Secretary of State -- Bruce McPherson; Controller -- Tony Strickland; Treasurer -- Claude Parrish; Attorney General -- Chuck Poochigian; Insurance Commissioner -- Steve Poizner; State Board of Equalization -- Michelle Steel. For my own district Member of the State Assembly -- Van Tran.
See my general principles above. Note that the U S Representative is for my own district where I live:
United States Senator -- Richard "Dick" Mountjoy; United States Representative -- Dana Rohrbacher.
Judicial Offices General Principles: Judges are elected to non-partisan court offices. They are not allowed to campaign in any partisan way. There is practically no way that anyone can find out what kind of a judge they will be or have been without professional legal research into their bench record. Consequently, I usually vote for or against a particular judge only on the basis of personal recommendation or warning from personal acquaintances who work in the court(s) or if a particular judge has been extremely high profile in the general press. Otherwise, I skip the judge section of the ballot. You do not have to vote all races, candidates, & issues on your ballot. You may vote for as many or as few as you like. Blank sections do not invalidate those sections where you do vote.
1A -- Transportation Funding Protection -- YES This restricts how money is used that has already been allocated for particular purposes. This gives the state less power, not more.
1B -- Highway Safety Traffic Reduction, Air Quality, & Port Security Bond Act of 2006 -- NO Bond means the government gets more money (in fact, borrows it & must pay interest), leaving us less money.
1C -- Housing & Emergency Shelter Trust Fund Act -- NO As Christians we have an obligation to help those who are in need, especially women & children. But that is best done by citizens, churches, & charity organizations, not by the government, which always takes a healthy chunk of anything allocated to run any program.
1D -- Kindergarten-University Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2006 -- NO The cost of educating students of any age in California public schools is sky high compared to private institutions, & the quality of the education is abysmal. Public schools do not need more money. They need to spend it better. Do not reward those who waste money by giving them more.
1E -- Disaster Preparedness & Flood Prevention Bond Act of 2006 -- NO See 1B above. If you were having financial problems, spending more than you made, would it be smart for you to borrow more money so that you could spend more & be further in debt not only for what you spent, but for the interest payments, too? Or should you examine your budget & learn to live within your means? What works for families works for government, in this regard.
Prop. 83 -- Sex Offenders, Sexually Violent Predators, Punishment, Residence Restrictions, & Monitoring -- YES Although this will cost money to implement, it is exactly the kind of responsibility government should have -- protecting its citizens from threats foreign & domestic. While some opponents say that its features are largely already covered by laws recently passed by the legislature & signed by the governor, it is generally stronger than what was passed. Habitual sexual predators cannot be trusted with the same freedoms of non-destructive citizens.
Prop. 84 -- Water Quality, Safety & Supply, Flood Control, Natural Resource Protection, Park Improvements Bonds -- NO Notice the last word of that proposition -- bonds -- that means "borrow & pay back with interest with inflation-lowered value of tax dollars." In other words, it will cost us more. My general principle is that government doesn't need more money, but better use of the money it has.
Prop. 85 -- Waiting Period & Parental Notification before Termination of Minor's Pregnancy -- YES This removes the special, unjustified, & dangerous exception to the general basic parental right to know & supervise their children's medical care. There are exceptions that will protect minors have reason to fear their parents, for example, a teen who has been impregnated by her abusive stepfather. In my own opinion, it does not go far enough because it still makes abortion the solitary dangerous medical procedure that a parent cannot forbid for his/her child. This only means the minor's parent must be informed, not that the parent can stop the procedure. This is the second proposition advocating similar parental rights. The first was passed by a large margin, but was immediately challenged in the courts, where it died without ever being implemented.
Prop. 86 -- Tax on Cigarettes -- NO If cigarettes are truly so dangerous & costly to the community, then why don't we outlaw them? If we are going to keep them legal, we should not colude with the government to tax by discrimination to pay for programs we don't think we can fund by an upfront, across-the-board tax on everyone. Again, the government has more than enough money. It needs to use what it has better.
Prop. 87 -- Alternative Energy Research, Production, Incentives, Tax on California Oil Producers -- NO Let me understand this -- we're too dependent on foreign oil, especially that from terrorist-linked Middle East countries, so we should make it too expensive to produce oil domestically? This flies in the face of my general princple -- the law of supply & demand should govern the market, not politics, taxes, & regulations (except limited to basic life, safety, & protection from enemies). It is delusional to think that the oil companies, profit-making corporations, are going to altruistically refrain from passing on the cost to the consumer.
Prop. 88 -- Education Funding, Real Property Parcel Tax -- NO See my basic principle about how much money the government needs.
Prop. 89 -- Political Campaigns, Public Financiing, Corporate Tax Increase -- NO Taxes usually means an automoatic "no" to me. Creating yet another government agency to administer a new program with other people's money (yours & my tax money) is usually an automatic "no" to me.
Prop. 90 -- Government Aquisition, Regulation of Private Property -- YES This one is attempting to recitfy the (in my humble opinion) atrocious Supreme Court ruling that redefined the constitutional "eminent domain" principle to include practically anything any government body wanted to do with anyone's private property. While it comes close to providing what I believe is a more constitutionally conservative position on private property rights, it does open government entities (especially cities) to what may be huge financial & legal burdens they did not have before that have little to do with a true "eminent domain" situation. This makes an automatic "YES" vote (less government power is better) difficult. What we truly want is a reversal of the Supreme Court ruling, & local or state remedies in the meantime. This is such a remedy, but it's not the best that could have been written, & it does have some dubious features. I think its protection for property owners outweighs its weaknesses, so I am voting for it, but I respect my friends who are voting against it & holding out for a better worded proposition.
Measure M -- Orange County Transportation Improvement Plan -- NO This is extending the life of a "temporary" sales tax increase that has already been renewed, reinvented, & rewritten more than once. Again, they don't need more of our money, they just need to spend it better. I don't care to continue paying higher sales tax just so we can add another HOV lane few people use or a rapid transit upgrade that few people ride. If we truly had a commitment to providing good highways for the majority of typical Caifornia drivers, we could do so with the money we already have for transportation. If we don't have that commitment (& history confirms that resoundingly), then just throwing more money at the wrong commitment won't magically transform it into the right commitment.
Remember, these are my personal opinions. This is the way that I am going to vote. I have many friends who are voting differently & I respect them, their faith, & their principles, although we disagree about certain candidates or propositions. You have to make your own mind up. The Bible commands us to participate in our government in truth, justic, & mercy. It does not tell us how to vote. That is up to each of us individually.
After complaints that BBC programming repeatedly errs on the side of sensitivity to Islam & other minorities (religious or otherwise) & bias against Christianity (especially Roman Catholicism), the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the United Kingdom government-controlled broadcasting agency, has admitted its guilt. A summit meeting of BBC officials culminated in admissions that "the BBC is not impartial or neutral," as BBC political editor Andew Marr put it.
The closed-door summit's conclusions were leaked to the British newspaper The Mail on Sunday. Executives discussed how they would react if the Bible & the Koran were thrown into a trash can on the program Room 101, which invites prominent people to offer their "pet hates" up for disposal. (The show derives its name from George Orwell's book 1984, in which Room 101 contains the most awful thing in existence.) According to the majority of the BBC executives in the discussion, the Bible could be trashed, but the Koran could not, for fear of offending Muslims. Executives also admitted they were more sensitive to the feelings of Muslims than of Christians.
"It's a publicly funded urban organization with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities, & gay people," continued outspoken Marr. "It has a liberal bias -- not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias."
In a wide-ranging speech Thursday from his summer estate in Ansa (Verona) Italy, Pope Benedict XVI described his understanding of the relationship between the Catholic Church & national governments, saying the Church was not to be a political player, but to oppose the advance of a Godless culture.
In his address, to an Italian bishops' conference, the pope said there were two central objectives for the Church in Italy: (1) to guide people in recognizing what is "right" & "just," & (2) to help people learn to put the needs of justice before those of personal interest.
"The Church is not and does not intend to be a political agent. At the same time it has a deep interest in the good of the political community, which has justice as its soul," the pontiff explained.
A new survey from Ipsos Reid, a Canadian marketing research company, on behalf of the Canadian Muttart Foundation, shows that Canadians trust church charities less than they do fundraisers for animal welfare, the environment, & social services. Charity leaders, however, fared better, coming in behind only nurses & doctors as the most trustworthy professionals.
The survey, Talking About Charities 2006, of nearly 4,000 Canadians conducted this spring & released Thursday shows that Canadians' trust in church-related charities has decreased over time, while trust in hospitals, children's charities, health research, & education have remained very high (89%, 85%, 84%, & 77%, respectively).
While the survey did not address why people did or did not trust kinds of charities or kinds of professionals, some leaders expressed theories of their own. Canadian Council of Christian Charities (CCC) CEO John Pellowe speculated that vestiges of doubt from churches' sex abuse scandals & well-known television evangelist scandals may play a part, as well as the fact that many recent immigrants to Canada are from non-Christian countries & therefore are unfamiliar with churches & church charities.
Even though trust in church charities is declining, it is still the case that 45% of all Canadian donations in 2003-2004 went to church charities, & 57% of those polled in this survey gave "at least some" trust to church charities.
Sounding at times more like the synopsis for a television soap opera with spiritual touches than a civil negligence case, the conflict between Peggy Lee Penley & her former pastor/therapist is being argued this week before the Supreme Court of the State of Texas. According to Penley's attorney, Darrell Keith, Penley had a counselor-client relationship with C. L. "Buddy" Westbrook, & therefore had the expectation that their sessions were legally protected for confidentiality. According to Westbrook's attorney, Kelly Shackelford of the Liberty Legal Institute, Westbrook was Penley's pastor & as such had a spiritual duty to his congregation to take biblical discipline steps -- including disclosure to the congregation -- against Penley, a congregation member, & his actions are protected by the Constitution's First Amendment from any legal liability for his exercise of his faith.
The facts are clear to all sides. Peggy Lee Penley was a counseling client of Westbrook, who was a state licensed counselor. Penley was also a member of the congregation of Crossland Community Bible Church, of which Westbrook was the founding pastor. Penley & her then-husband were experiencing marital difficulties & Penley began an affair with another man, whom she later married after divorcing her previous husband. None of that is at issue.
What is at issue is whether the marital counseling Penley sought & obtained from Westbrook was under the mantle of his state counseling occupation or his religious standings as a church pastor. If it was the former (Penley's attorney cites the secular nature of the group conseling sessions & the fees paid for them), then Westbrook violated his state-mandated code of confidentiality & could be subject to a negligence suit. If it was the latter (Westbrook's attorney cites general precedence for marital counseling by pastors, that the invitation to the group was given at church, & that the other members of the group were also church members), then Westbrook's overall responsibility to his congregation trumps his personal ministerial obligation to Penley, & his breaching of her confidentiality, which consisted of working with the elders to begin ex-communication steps against Penley for adultery, and are Constitutionally protected.
At the very least, the case points out the potential conflicts of interest in individuals practicing as both state licensed counselors & church commissioned ministers.
Westbrook's attorney's organization, Liberty Legal Institute, specializes in defending Christians whose religious First Amendment rights are being challenged in the courts.
In 2002 Penley's original lawsuit was dismissed by a district court for lack of jurisdiction, but in 2004, a ruling by the Texas Second District Court of Appeals stated that while the court could not hear a case against the church & the elders, Westbrook could be sued for professional negligence as a state-licensed secular counselor. A decision in the current case is not expected for several months.
The Lord's Servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will give them a change of heart leading to a knowledge of the truth
II Timothy 2:24-26