Tuesday, October 16, 2018

We should all support Cheney's Wilderness Study Area bill

Washakie Wilderness Area, Norton Point
Last spring the commissioners of three counties (Big Horn, Lincoln and Sweetwater) formally asked Wyoming’s congressional delegation to address a 40-year-old problem. They have asked that Congress act to remove over 386,000 acres of land from a limbo that was created by the Federal Land Policy & Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976.

The story begins with the Wilderness Act of 1964 that created the National Wilderness Preservation Service (NWPS) and gave Congress the authority to designate lands from the National Park Service and the National Forest Service as “Wilderness Areas.” Once designated, the federal government restricts most forms of human development including logging, mining, mechanized vehicles (including mountain bikes) and road maintenance.
Wyoming's 15 Wilderness Areas

Under the Wilderness Act, Congress designated 15 wilderness areas in Wyoming totaling 3,111,975 acres of land. These large tracts of land offer some of the best backpacking, horse packing and snowshoeing in the United States.

There is no better way to experience the rugged beauty of Wyoming than to hike a couple of days into these regions far away from the crowds and the sound of human mechanization. I know because as a young man just out of high school, I fell in love with Wyoming in the Washakie Wilderness Area just out of Dubois.

There is, however, a price to pay for the privilege of walking in undisturbed wilderness.

First, the ability to experience their enchantment is limited to those who are young enough and fit enough to hike rugged trails and camp in primitive conditions. Without vehicle access, large numbers of Wyoming citizens, and an even larger percentage of Americans will never have the joy of seeing one of these preserves.

Second, lands that once contributed to the local economy through multiple uses are now restricted to the single use of hiking. The people who once made a living through sustainable logging, or mining needed to find work elsewhere. As they were pushed off the land, counties lost revenue in the form of taxes.

Third, by restricting the use of mechanized equipment, trails fall into disrepair making even hiking and horseback riding difficult. With restrictions on power equipment comes the inability to clean out deadfalls and undergrowth. As a result, a wilderness area becomes a tinderbox ripe for the annual wildfire season. This not only threatens wildlife, but also property on the non-restricted lands surrounding them.

Despite these costs, wilderness areas are beautiful and important parts of Wyoming’s total land management. Most Wyomingites are willing to pay the price for a few carefully chosen tracts of land to be kept as nature preserves.

Because wilderness designations are always a balance between costs and benefits, the Wilderness Act of 1964 was careful to keep the authority for designating wilderness areas in the hands of our elected officials. Wilderness designations should be made judiciously and with the consent of the people who are paying the price.

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976 changed all that. This new law allowed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to suggest new areas for the NWPS but it also added a twist. The FLPMA instructed the Secretary of the Interior not only to identify possible areas for addition to the NWPS, but to designate these as Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) and to unilaterally apply wilderness area restrictions to these lands for up to 15-years while they were studied.

This Act represented an end run around the Wilderness Act of 1964. By giving temporary restrictive authority to the Secretary of Interior, it bypassed the requirement that wilderness areas be designated by elected representatives.

Thus, with the stroke of a pen the BLM designated over 700,000 acres of Wyoming land as WSAs. Suddenly, without input from our elected representatives, the people of Wyoming lost mining, logging—even mountain-biking—rights on these previously accessible BLM lands.

The story gets worse. In 1991 a new Secretary of the Interior released the long-awaited study of these WSAs along with a recommendation that Congress make about 41 percent of the 707,000-acre total into wilderness area and release the other 59 percent back to multiple use. But Congress never acted on this recommendation. Rather, 40 years after the unilateral restriction of three quarters of a million Wyoming acres, our elected officials have yet to weigh in.
Pete Obermueller

In 2015 Pete Obermueller, director of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, launched the most recent attempt to get these lands out of limbo. The Wyoming Public Lands Initiative hoped to capitalize on Wyoming’s unique situation under federal law in order to negotiate a resolution of the WSA problem.

That was almost three years ago, and the results are still projected for next spring. One of the problems that perennially discourages local attempts to negotiate with the federal government is that after countless hours of negotiation, heartbreaking compromises and herculean efforts the results of the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative will inevitably end up in federal court.

We have seen this with every good-faith effort to come together on wolves, sage-grouse, grizzly bears and a thousand other matters. When Congress gives broad authorities to unelected bureaucracies, bad things happen.

They begin by “clarifying” what Congress left unanswered. This produces mountains of red-tape and confusing guidelines. Each new guideline in nuanced language will become an invitation to some special-interest group to hijack the process of negotiation. Groups having no intention of compromising with anybody can cynically sit back and watch the process knowing that no matter what is decided, an army of lawyers can undo the deal and make the personal opinion of some unelected federal judge to be the only opinion that matters.

It’s no wonder that so many people are feeling disenfranchised and marginalized. The American ideal of self-governance offers the promise of good-hearted people dealing face to face to solve vexing and complex problems. It was designed to be both transparent to public scrutiny and responsive to the voting public. Its success depends entirely on elected people, not faceless appointees, writing the laws. For this reason, three Wyoming counties have decided to break out of the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative and go to the root of the problem.

Let’s be absolutely clear. Nobody is challenging Congress’ creation of 15 wilderness areas in Wyoming. Rather, Big Horn, Lincoln and Sweetwater counties are challenging the BLM’s authority to create an additional 42 wilderness areas without congressional action. These counties alone encompass over 54 percent of the lands that were unilaterally regulated by the federal government contrary to the 1964 Wilderness Act.

They have been convinced by 40 years of fruitless negotiation that unless Congress acts directly, the people of Wyoming will never be given the chance to work together. If special interests wield litigeous power to scuttle good-faith negotiations, only an act of Congress can enable good people to come together and resolve the problem.
Liz Cheney

Congresswoman Liz Cheney agrees with these three county commissions. On September 27, the “Restoring Local Input and Access to Public Lands Act” (H.R. 6939). This does not undermine local control of public lands but gives it back. Since local control and elected representation was taken away by a bad act of congress in 1976, only congress has the power to restore it once again.

Kudos to our lone representative in congress. Let’s help her succeed.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

America’s most prolific serial killer almost got away with murder

Dean Cain as Detective James Wood and AlonZo Rachel as his partner, Stark
What if I told you that a woman born and raised in Colorado and Kemmerer, Wyoming played a key role in taking down one of America’s worst serial killers?

The Green River Killer
H.H. Holmes used to be considered America’s most prolific serial killer. He is said to have murdered 230 victims during the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, is suspected of killing over 90 women between 1982 and the early 90s. Both are dwarfed by a killer whose victims began disappearing in the 1980s.

For years, the murders went largely unnoticed. Then, in 2010, the Philadelphia police combined with the DEA and the FBI to raid his place of business. They were looking for evidence of an illegal drug operation. What they found was an office filled with corpses—more than thirty of them. They also found evidence of hundreds, perhaps thousands, more.

For instance, an industrial-strength garbage disposal had been completely worn out. Evidently it was used to grind up bodies for disposal into the Philadelphia sewer system. A waste-disposal company unknowingly had hauled off countless more for incineration. Still others had been taken to his vacation home and used as bait in his crab cages.

The principle of habeus corpus requires that prosecutors have evidence of a body to prove murder. Because of his effective disposal of remains, we will never really know the final count. The sheer volume of his crimes was too physically taxing to perform alone. So, he hired assistants and trained them to help. They helped bring victims into the office and dispose of the evidence.

Some even performed murders on his behalf, but they were not prosecuted. Eyewitnesses could testify to what they had done but proving intent would be more difficult. The serial killer had trained girls as young as 15 years old in his own private medical school. There he taught as a legitimate medical procedure what anyone else would have recognized as murder in cold blood.

The name of America’s most prolific serial killer is Kermit Gosnell. He avoided the death penalty by waiving his right to appeal. He is currently serving life without parole. His story is told in the movie, Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer. It opens nationwide this Friday, October 12.

It is a riveting story on several levels. Perhaps uppermost is the question: how was he able to perform so many murders without getting caught? He had numerous witnesses with evidence literally piled up in the hallways, stored in freezers and refrigerators. How could all of this go unnoticed for decades?

Answer: he was hiding his murders in plain sight. This was made possible because they took place in an abortion clinic, giving him an almost impenetrable layer of protection. Nobody wants to scrutinize abortion clinics or think too carefully about them. They have become sacrosanct, so that their very mention freezes us in place.

Consider your own reaction to the paragraph above. If you’re like most, the sudden appearance of the word “abortion” made you hesitate to consider whether you wanted to continue reading this story. Until it was mentioned, you might have suspected who I was talking about, but it was less emotionally conflicting.

Words do powerful things to us, but none greater than this one. It does powerful things to politicians, too. Because of the “A-word,” Philadelphia authorities were reluctant—unreasonably reluctant—to inspect Gosnell’s clinic or follow up on numerous complaints. While nail salons receive health department inspections every year, Gosnell’s clinic had not been inspected by Pennsylvania’s Department of Health for over 17 years—not once.

This is a bi-partisan problem. It’s not only Democrat politicians who will move heaven and earth to block abortion-reporting laws, pro-life judges and health standards for abortion clinics. Republican politicians also work to frustrate common-sense legislation and minimal enforcement of the laws. Most are afraid that if they look too closely at abortion practices their political ambitions will be destroyed by powerful lobbyists.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge

In the case of Gosnell, it was a Republican governor, Tom Ridge, (later named the first Secretary of Homeland Security by George W. Bush) who prevented discovery of the murders. Grand Jury testimony alleged that his office instructed the Pennsylvania Department of Health not to inspect Gosnell’s clinic unless it received a complaint. This permitted the practices and conditions of the clinic on Lancaster Street to be effectively unaccountable to anyone but Gosnell.

Opening statements in Gosnell’s trial were held on March 18, 2013. He was charged with over 200 counts of violating Pennsylvania’s law requiring a 24-hour waiting period and 24 counts of illegal abortions after the viability of the child. However, none of these illegal abortions counted toward his title as America’s biggest serial killer. He was convicted of multiple murders because of his practice of having his nurses deliver alive-and-healthy babies who were later killed either directly or by neglect.

His defenders, both in the courtroom and in the press, sought to portray him as merely a sloppy practitioner of partial-birth abortion. That procedure kills the baby after it is mostly, but not quite completely, delivered. Gosnell couldn’t be bothered to observe that fine distinction. After all, if it is legal to kill a baby a few centimeters and a few seconds before birth, what magically makes it illegal a few feet and a few minutes after birth?

This defense cast a spotlight on a plainly indefensible idea: that humanity and the protection of law are bestowed on a person by his passage through space and time. This ridiculous logic inevitably leads to a blurring of all human decency. Those who are unable to see that a fetus is a baby have no reason to see a baby as a murder victim—for the very same reason.
Empty press seats, Photo: J.D. Mullane

America’s press corps went into vapor-lock. Gosnell’s actual practice was too sick to support. But there was no logical way to distinguish his practice from what they were already supporting. So, they just didn’t show up.

The most sensational trial of a serial killer in the history of America had virtually no reporters in the court room. The biggest crime since 1893 could not be covered because the reporters could not say why it was wrong.

One of those who noticed was Mollie Ziegler Hemingway who spent her earliest years in Kemmerer and later grew up in Colorado. As a reporter for GetReligion.org she watched local coverage on Gosnell’s trial for three weeks waiting for any coverage by the mainstream media. On April 7, 2013 she published a story about the blackout and followed up with six more, published between April 10 and April 16.

Meanwhile, J.D. Mullane, a reporter for Calkins Media, snapped a picture of rows of empty seats that had been reserved for the press. The photo went viral, prompting Kiersten Powers of USA Today to break the media silence. She published a column subtitled: “We’ve forgotten what belongs on Page One.”
Mollie Hemingway, Reporter at GetReligion.org

Once the dam broke, all the major networks and newspapers dispatched reporters to Philadelphia to cover the trial. This had a significant impact both on the strength of the prosecution and on American public opinion.

In the new Gosnell movie, the role of Mollie Hemingway and J.D. Mullane are woven together into a fictional character named Mollie Mullaney. In many ways she is the heroine of the story. She reminds us of the vital need for an unflinching press corps that will cover, and not cover up stories that challenge the media narrative. Only by exposing the darkness of our hidden inhumanities can the press help us regain humanity.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Science, History and Truth, Reflections from the Swamp

America has been transfixed by events in Washington, D.C. over the last two weeks. Allegations of sexual assault against a candidate for the Supreme Court have poured gasoline on an already-raging fire in the body politic.

Judging by the emotions on display last Thursday (September 27), both Christine Ford and Brett Kavanaugh have been deeply and irreparably harmed. As much as I grieve for both them and their families, I grieve even more for the damage that has been done to our community.

I am angry that so many politicians and pundits have done everything in their power to set Americans against one another. They have left us no place for peace. They have done their darnedest to fan the flames of contempt and hatred that their own side feels for the other.

There are three elements that make this possible. First, the question itself is binary. There is no middle ground between yes and no. Second, we cannot help but form an opinion about the question. Whether we speak it out loud, or not, it is there. Third, are the emotions. Satan is always busy stirring up feelings of outrage and scorn for anyone holding a contrary opinion.

We have had enough of the feelings. I don’t want to talk about them today. I will only say this much: Stop and think about your own emotions. When you have a different opinion from someone else, why do you become angry? Is that rational? Is it helpful? Is there another emotion that could be more helpful?

You can ponder these questions for yourself. What interests me today is the question of truth. The emotional urgency that has been stoked in all of us has produced some fascinating results that destroy one of the most commonly heard falsehoods of our day.

The postmodern worldview is a part of the air that we breathe. It claims that truth is subjective and relative. “You have your truth, and I have mine.” Facts and logic are swept from the field leaving emotion to rule the day.

This postmodern way of thinking at first was applied to religion. People would say, “you can believe in God if you want, but I choose not to.” Questions about the ultimate truth of God’s existence and nature were ignored in favor of questions about subjective choices in each person’s heart.

In this worldview, there is no room for the objective question of whether God exists quite apart from your belief. It is as non-sensical as saying “you can believe in gravity if you want, but I choose not to.” In fact, that is precisely where postmodernism has taken us. Once religious truth was denied, all truth claims were placed on the chopping-block.

In morality, values-clarification exercises teach that there are no moral truths at all. There is just a process that each person must find within the self. Process theology teaches that God Himself is always evolving so that one fixed and final Truth simply does not exist.

In the field of psychology, mental disorders are being redefined as mere differences. This denies the very existence of mental order. In the field of biology people are asserting crazy things about human sexuality that they would never dream of saying about animal sexuality. Last week, for instance, nobody ever thought to ask the female grizzly bear how she identified.

But if the furor of the past couple of weeks has done anything, it has exploded the myth that truth is subjective and relative. Nobody in his right mind can possibly say, “Judge Kavanaugh is speaking the truth; and Dr. Ford is speaking the truth.” No matter the side of the question on which you find yourself, you cannot say both things.

Pointy-headed philosophers may assert that truth is only a construct of the individual mind. But when “your truth” and “my truth” come into conflict, both must give way to “the truth.” Individual minds meet in the real world and what happens in the real world determines what is true.

That brings us to a second point. Truth is about history. Science can tell you what might have happened or what could happen in the future. But only history can tell you what actually did happen; and only tomorrow can reveal what will happen.

This week we have been inundated with the word “credible.” That comes from a Latin root and it means “believable.” To say that something is credible is not saying that it happened or that it didn’t happen. It is only saying that there is no known reason why it could not happen.

It is credible that the sun will rise tomorrow. But whether it actually does depends on whether or not Jesus returns in glory between now and then. On the other hand, it is not credible that I played a football game in 1960 for the simple reason that I didn’t exist then.

In our day we are fascinated by the ability of science to make predictions. We can calculate the motion of objects and land a human being on the moon. We can measure the erosion of a stream and project backward to what it looked like a hundred years before.

But we should never forget that the predictions and suppositions of science are never more than educated guesses. Whether they actually happened in history can only be known by history. Despite all the scientific predictions about Apollo 13, it did not actually land on the moon. All of science’s best calculations of stream erosion can only be validated by a photograph from the past.

This brings us to a third important point. The truth or falsehood of assertions about the past ultimately depends on people. People manned Apollo 13 and watched it from mission control. A person snapped the photograph of our hypothetical stream bed. More than that, only that person can tell us when he took the picture.

Truth is history and history is told by eye-witnesses. Absolutely everything that you know about history has been handed down to you through a chain of people. What we call prehistoric is actually “pre-people.” The history actually happened, but if nobody was there to witness it, we cannot truly know it.

The truth exists whether, or not you ever learn of it. But knowing the truth depends on the people around us. Some people are reliable witnesses who give us true history, and some are unreliable witnesses who give us falsehoods. Our lives are enhanced by those who tell us the truth. Our lives are made poorer by those who don’t.

That brings us back to the beginning. The deep sadness of our current turmoil is the fact that lies are being told with impunity, and not just in Washington. We have falsehoods taught in our schools, in churches, in the press, in Hollywood, in literature and in science.

With every lie, real people are hurt. The cancer is spreading and there’s only one way to combat it. We must each make a personal commitment to the truth, to seek it out diligently and to follow wherever it leads. Our very lives depend on it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Grizzly Details

Mark Uptain | GoFundMe page
The funeral of Mark Thomas Uptain was held last Wednesday at First Baptist Church in Jackson, Wyoming. He was a devoted husband and father of five children. He was an elder of the church, an outdoorsman, and a part-time hunting guide. He was killed by a grizzly bear on September 14, 2018.

Grizzly fatalities in Wyoming are not as common as one might suppose. Since statehood in 1890, there have been a total of twelve. The first was Phillip H. Vetter, killed in his cabin near Greybull in 1892.

Most have been killed within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. These include Frank Welch (1916), Martha Hansen (1942), Harry Walker (1972), Brigitta Fredenhagen (1984), William Tesinsky (1986), Brian Matayoshi and John Wallace (killed 7 weeks apart in 2011 by the same bear), Adam T. Stewart (2014), and Lance Crosby (2015).

Only three bear fatalities occurred outside the park boundaries. After Vetter in 1892 we did not have another one until June 17, 2010. Erwin F. Evert, a hiker and field biologist was in the Kitty Creek drainage of Shoshone National Forest. A bear research team was also operating in the area. Evert happened upon a bear that had been trapped, tranquilized and released earlier in the day. It killed him without provocation.

The third grizzly fatality to happen outside the park took place last Friday when Mark Uptain was slain. The hunting guide from Jackson Hole was retrieving an elk with his client, Corey Chubon, when a sow charged him and killed him after a prolonged struggle.

Details remain unclear. It would seem, however, that without either bear spray or his side arm, Uptain fended off the initial attack. He then walked about 50 yards uphill toward his horses when the bear returned with her cub killed him with an instantly fatal bite. In this second struggle he managed to douse the sow with bear spray.

Uptain’s body was found on the following afternoon. An empty can of bear spray was recovered nearby. Based on his injuries, wardens and biologists concluded that both the sow and her cub together attacked the guide. At that point, traps were set for the bears.
Dan Thompson | Photo by Mark Gocke

On Sunday, September 16, searchers returned to find that the cub had been caught in a trap. Suspecting that the sow was nearby, they approached cautiously. Suddenly, the sow appeared and charged the group of five. Dan Thompson, Game and Fish’s large carnivore chief, gave the order to fire. Two of them did, killing her instantly.

The she-bear smelled of bear spray, further confirmation that they had killed the culprit. After sedating the cub, Thompson decided that it should be destroyed as well.

“She was teaching an offspring that killing humans is a potential way to get food,” Thompson explained. “We’ve had 10 other human injuries [from grizzlies] in the past couple years, and we haven’t attempted captures in those situations because of our investigations and the behavior of the bear. This was completely different, dangerous behavior. It’s not something we want out there on the landscape.”

The investigators and wildlife biologists remain puzzled by the behavior of these bears. To be sure, grizzly bears are aggressive and inherently dangerous. However, it is highly unusual for them to attack human beings unprovoked. Almost every grizzly fatality can be traced either to a sow protecting her threatened cub, or either sex fighting for a carcass that it had claimed.

In this case, neither scenario was true. The downed elk that Uptain was dressing had been undisturbed and there was no sign that a bear had been nearby. As for her cub, the two men had been working in the area and making noise for an extended period of time before the bear attacked. There is no way they could have surprised an unsuspecting bear.

Rather, every sign indicates that the sow and her cub stalked the two men. Bears in the wild typically avoid human beings. With too much bear-human interaction they may become indifferent to human presence. But that a bear would hunt down human beings, and teach its cub this behavior, is a frightening development.
Sy Gilliland

Sy Gilliland, owner of SNS Outfitter and Guide, has 41 years of experience as a guide in Wyoming and Montana. He is currently a member of the governor’s Animal Damage Management Board. Commenting on Uptain’s death, he said, “I can only imagine how horrific this was. You’ve got a bear population that’s basically un-hunted, is an apex predator, and has no fear of humans.”

He speaks for many in the Yellowstone area who have been trying for more than a decade to return management of the grizzlies to local control. In 1975 the U.S. Game and Fish listed the Yellowstone grizzlies as a "threatened species." The National Park Service website says that, at the time, there were only 136 grizzlies in the entire Yellowstone ecosystem and that by March of 2018 the number was 690.

These numbers are quite different from a 2014 report of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team. That report estimated the population at 757 bears while admitting that “we are underestimating probably by about 40 percent.” Most believe the population to be closer to 1,200.

At any rate, a grizzly recovery plan was implemented in 1993 with three specific goals that needed to be met before the bears could be delisted. Those goals were met for six consecutive years by 2003. Nevertheless, it took four more years of legal wrangling to delist the bears in 2007.

Immediately, radical environmentalists filed lawsuits and, by 2009, a federal judge had ordered the relisting of grizzlies. After eight more years of study and a steadily growing population, U.S. Fish and Wildlife again delisted the bears in 2017.

Judge Dana Christensen
Wyoming planned a hunt to cull 23 bears from the Designated Management Area outside the Yellowstone. However, two days before it was to begin a federal judge in Missoula, MT (an Obama appointee) blocked the hunt, siding with the plaintiff who argued that the bears are still in danger of extinction

In the 43 years since first listing the bears, not only has the population grown far past the original recovery goal, but the range of the Yellowstone bears has extended far beyond the Designated Management Area where they are being counted.

Recently grizzlies with their cubs were sighted in the towns of Cody and Dubois. These bears and many others are not counted in any studies.

Something must be done.

Every year the number of grizzly-human encounters grows. It has become so common for hunters to be injured by bears that they are hardly reported any more. Gilliland said, “We’re at a point where the bears need to be under state management. If we don’t do it with sportsmen and hunters, we have to do it with control action. And that control action means government wildlife personnel killing rogue bears as they did last Sunday morning.”

Every year government wildlife managers kill 15-20 bears that have become dangerous. About the same number are killed by hunters in self-defense or by ranchers protecting their livestock.

Yellowstone National Park has long been famous for the dangerous possibility of grizzly encounters. It is one of the charms of America’s most famous playground. Since their 1975 listing as a protected species, the park has become increasingly dangerous.

But now that the delisting battle has been raging for fifteen years, people are increasingly threatened outside the park. Mark Uptain is only the latest casualty. After more than a century with no grizzly fatalities outside the park, we have had two in the last eight years. There will be more.

The 1993 grizzly recovery plan was designed to balance a healthy grizzly population with common-sense safety for Wyoming’s citizens. It’s time that we value human life enough to follow it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Why Religious Persecution in China concerns us all

The headlines these days read like something out of the books of the Maccabees. These books were written about 130 B.C. They recount the persecution of the Jews under Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

Antiochus IV was a Greek king in the eighth generation after Alexander the Great. He lived from 215-164 B.C., and is infamous for his attempts to Hellenize the Jews. This was a gruesome campaign to indoctrinate them with pagan Greek religion, culture and customs.
Antiochus IV Epiphanes

Mind you, the Jews already had been under Greek rule for a century-and-a-half. They were dominated physically and politically. But that wasn’t enough for Antiochus. He wanted to control not just their bodies, but their minds. So, he made a decree that “they might forget the law, and change all the ordinances” (1 Macc. 1:49).

The enforcement of this decree involved social pressure, economic pressure and, where those failed, torture and death. These awesome powers of the Greek state were used both to forbid Jews from practicing their faith and to coerce them into doing abominable things.

Jewish mothers were forbidden to circumcise their children. Rabbis were told to hand over Bibles to be burned, and if any were later caught with one they would be executed. All Jews were forced both to eat unclean foods and to perform sacrilegious ceremonies like sacrificing pigs to the Greek gods.

Antiochus also decreed that once a month the people of each city should be gathered to violate their consciences all over again. On that day they were made to re-perform their sacrilegious ceremonies. Then, any children that had been circumcised in the previous month were gruesomely killed along with their mothers and the rabbis who performed the ceremony (Macc. 1:60-61).

All of this seems long ago and far away. But it is not. Headlines from China today indicate that eerily similar things are happening right now. President Xi Jinping is consolidating power by ramping up pressure against religious liberty across the board. In April, 2016 he declared that religious groups “must adhere to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Christians are seeing a crackdown on the house-church movement. Muslim Uyghurs are being sent to internment camps for re-indoctrination. Tibetan Buddhists have seen their monasteries placed under state surveillance.

For Buddhists, this means that loyalty to the Dalai Lama is forbidden. To force compliance, the CCP has focused especially on the monasteries. They have set up “management committees” to control each monastery and have required them to fly the Chinese flag and display portraits of CCP leaders.
Sera Monastery (2013), monks watched by a special military
police officer (foreground). Photo by: Woeser

Surveillance cameras have also been installed inside the monasteries and regular police inspections look for any signs of loyalty to the Dalai Lama. If any are uncovered, the monks and nuns are subjected to “patriotic re-education,” arrest, torture and expulsion from the monastery.

The Muslim Uyghurs are a different matter. A recent report from Human Rights Watch suggests that as many as one million adult Uyghurs are being held in crowded detainment camps for re-indoctrination. They are detained indefinitely and promised release only on the condition that they denounce their Muslim faith. Meanwhile, their children are held in orphanages, and some are even being put up for adoption by non-Muslims.

Chinese Communist Party officials are also moving into the very homes of Uyghur Muslim families in order to keep a close watch on whether they observe the traditions of their faith. In particular, during the season of Ramadan they are expected to eat pork and violate other aspects of their Muslim faith in order to demonstrate their loyalty to the CCP.

Christian persecution focuses mainly on the house churches. Long ago, the churches registered by the CCP have been coopted into being arms of state propaganda. Since the CCP knows that “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,” Christians have been forbidden to bring anyone to church under the age of 18.

For reasons such as these, authentic Christians have gone underground. They gather in homes and listen to preachers who have not sworn loyalty to the CCP. These house churches are now in the crosshairs of Xi Jinping.

Last Sunday afternoon (September 9), Zion, Beijing’s largest house church, was raided by 60 CCP officials who sealed the building and confiscated pastor Jin’s personal assets and all church items that they deemed to be “propaganda.” Apparently, Bibles top of the list of propaganda materials. Only a week earlier in Henan province, numerous churches were raided, and worshippers were assaulted. At least one of these also reported that its Bibles and crosses were burned.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has confirmed that these are not just hyperbolic stories. On Tuesday, September 11, it released a statement saying, “These collective actions ... signal an alarming escalation in persecution of citizens in China under Xi Jinping. USCIRF condemns the Chinese government's ongoing brutal and systematic targeting of religious communities for their beliefs.”

The tactics of Antiochus Epiphanes are still alive and well. For the Chinese Communists, like the Soviet Communists, the Nazis, the North Koreans and others, it is not enough to control territory and bodies. Godless Materialism is threatened by anyone who believes that there is something or Someone who transcends the power of the state. For this reason, Materialists must control not only the body, but also the mind.

They still use the same barbaric methods of Antiochus. Bibles are burned. Piety is prevented. Communication is shut down. Vile acts and blasphemies are forced by fines, imprisonment, assault and death. It didn’t work for Antiochus. It won’t work for Xi. But in the meantime untold numbers of people must suffer under these inhumane attempts at mind control.

As terrible as this is for nearly half of the Chinese population that holds some transcendent faith, it is not isolated there. The Christian West, which was once the world’s last bastion of freedom, is beginning to see these barbaric ideas encroach on its humanity.

Just last week at Goldsmiths, University of London, a group calling itself “LGBTQ+ Goldsmiths” asserted that people who oppose their ideas should be sent to Soviet-style gulag camps for rehabilitation. These camps used starvation, cold, disease and execution to kill tens of millions of Soviet citizens over the course of decades.

“LGBTQ+ Goldsmiths” wanted not only to change minds, but to do so with punishing force. When called out, they doubled down, claiming that the gulags were a rehabilitory way “to correct and change the ways of ‘criminals.’” They assured us that nobody was locked away for life. The “longest sentence was 10 years” because if the reindoctrination “couldn’t be done in ten years, it couldn’t be done at all.”

One might assume that this broadside was directed at Muslims or Christians. It was not. Rather, it was directed at “Radical Feminists” who objected only to a few of their ideas. This incident is a clear reminder that once the attacks on religious freedom ensue, no one is exempt.

The USCIRF is standing with persecution-watch organizations to advocate for Muslim Uyghurs, Tibetan Buddhists and Chinese house churches. Their advocacy benefits not only the religious, but the secular as well.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

We all share in responsibility to protect from sexual abuse

Pennsylvania Attorney General Press Conference
It has been a terrible summer for my many friends in the Roman Catholic Church.

It should have been dominated by the 50th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae (July 25, 2018). This was a signal moment for all who stand for the nobility of the human body and the holiness of marriage. Even this Lutheran took a moment to tip his hat at the moral courage and foresight of Pope Paul VI.

Sadly, only days later, a lightning bolt touched off an unrelenting firestorm of contrary revelations.
Undeniable allegations of homosexual misconduct with countless seminarians forced the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Two weeks later, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury released a report revealing the sickening details of sexual abuse involving 300 priests and well over a thousand victims over the course of three decades. Then a scant two weeks after that the former papal nuncio to America released a memo alleging that the cover-up of McCarrick involved the very highest levels of the hierarchy, even the pope himself.

Through all these terrible revelations and accusations, I watched in silence. As the only columnist in Wyoming to write about Humanae Vitae, who regularly covers matters of sexuality, I felt obligated to address the issues. But for weeks, I could not bring myself to do so.

Empty Reasons for Silence

I justified my silence, in part, by recognizing that “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). There have been pastors and bishops in every church body who  were disgraced by sexual scandal. My own is no exception. Likewise, there have been plenty of cases of cover-up for sexual sins. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7).

Beyond this, it felt like bad form for a non-Catholic to speak on some very Catholic issues. Out of respect for my friends, I remained mostly silent, grimacing with each new revelation and hoping that their church’s hierarchy would move mountains to expunge the “velvet mafia” that perpetuated these evils. Many sincere and pious believers feel the guilt by association with the indefensible actions of others.

But the guilt by association is not confined to a single denomination. The conflagration in Rome affects all Christians. Even though Lutherans and Catholics remain divided by the most serious doctrinal differences, I am not so naïve as to think that those judging Christendom from outside will care to observe those distinctions.
But all of these concerns are empty. They are not worth the time of day because they are about institutions and reputations. They are not about people. It is when we place institutions and reputations above the care of souls that scandals like this arise in the first place. Self-defense and institutional cover-up have no place in a moment like this.

One Relevant Fact

Pope Francis and Cardinal McCarrick
The only relevant fact is this: the sins of sexual predators destroy the lives of real people. Let’s keep the proper perspective. It is not a tragedy that Cardinal McCarrick’s career came to a screeching halt. It is not a tragedy that attorney generals from New York, New Jersey and other states are using subpoenas to examine church records to follow up on abuse allegations.

The real tragedy is that even a single altar boy or seminarian has been scarred for life. The real tragedy is that even one girl or woman was propositioned by her priest.

When thinking about scars on the human soul, we cannot pretend that these were isolated moments. These hurting people grew up and carried their pain with them. Some found healing, but others didn’t.

Untold Stories of Lasting Pain

Who knows how many people were plunged into a life-long struggle with substance abuse, depression, unwanted same-sex attraction and various forms of PTSD? Who knows how many of these victims ended their struggles with suicide?

Who knows how many parents were confused and helpless to understand the sudden and drastic changes happening to their adolescent children. Many unwittingly sought help from the very priest who was the source of the problem. How could they know?

Who knows how these evils have prevented people from marrying and raising a family, or contributed to the breakup of families once formed? The tragedy of sexual abuse is not an isolated moment. Its effects are long-lasting—affecting entire families and generations in a thousand ways that we will never know.

These are the real tragedies—not the revelation of these evils and their cover-up years after the fact.

No institution, no human organization, no ideology, no personal privilege is worth protecting at the price of these precious people. So today I am writing, neither as an attacker of Rome, nor as a defender of Christendom, but as a Christian standing in defense of men, women, children together with their eventual spouses, children and extended families.

A Call to Action

I have a simple call to action for people from every church and from all walks of life. It is this: Do your job without partiality. Do not be swayed by the reputation of individuals or the power of institutions. Rather let your heart be moved by the victims alone—past and future.

If you are a law enforcement official—from the attorney general to a city cop—investigate sexual abuse with the full power of your office. It’s not just about shaming the perpetrator, it is about recognizing the human dignity of the victim.

If you are a church official call on law enforcement to help you investigate allegations. That’s why God gave us government. In doing so, you will not be destroying your institution, but cleansing it. Christ teaches that we must die in order to live. That applies here.

If you are a victim of abuse, speak up. We recognize how deeply you have been hurt. You need to recognize that too, and seek out healing. You also have an opportunity to prevent the one who hurt you from hurting still others.

If you know of the abuse of someone else, do not remain silent. Silence only abets  the perpetrator. It does not help the victim.

If you advocate for an anything-goes sexual ethic, it is time to look at where that leads. See the long-lasting damage experienced by many a man and woman who gave in and “consented.” Did that take away the damage to their psyche, or did it only add to the pain?
Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno

One of the first columns that I ever wrote for the Uinta County Herald was a response to the dismantling of the Penn State football program (“The NCAA’s Silent Sermon” July 24, 2012). Jerry Sandusky used his power to corrupt uncounted young men, while those in positions of authority knew but did nothing.
I wrote then:
“All of us should also be looking to ourselves. This lesson is not only for programs and institutions. It is a lesson for each and every one of us. You are your brother’s keeper. When your brother needs protection, no social program, no political loyalty, no peer pressure is a legitimate reason to fail him. Whatever the cost, whatever the inconvenience, whatever the sacrifice to success, reputation, friendship or social standing, every human being, no matter how small, is your brother; and you are your brother's keeper.”
Those words were never more true than true today.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Wildfires affect us all; let’s all lend a hand

So far this year 47,463 wildfires have burned 6,838,826 acres, according to a report released from the National Interagency Coordination Center on August 31. Although that’s eight percent fewer fires than average, it’s about twenty percent more acres burned.

Interesting statistics though they be, they don’t tell the human cost. We get a better sense of that when we bring it closer to home.

The Britania Mountain fire near Wheatland, Wyoming, is just one of these 47-thousand fires, and a rather modest one at that. Still, it has consumed more than 26,000 acres, 18 structures, and cost $2.6 million. As I write, it is still threatening further homes, sage grouse habitat and energy infrastructure.

And don’t forget the smoke. While the loss of property can be localized, the smoke blows where it will. It makes eyes water and throats burn far away from the fire itself. It obscures the beautiful vistas of Wyoming and is the visible residue of a massive injection of CO2 into the atmosphere. A 2007 study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research estimated that one wildfire season alone produces four-to-six percent of America’s entire carbon footprint.

Everybody has a stake

Everybody has a stake in reducing wildfires--from the CEO of an oil conglomerate to the soccer mom at the pump, hunters and bird-watchers, the elderly and parents of small children, those concerned with global warming and those not. No matter how distant the fires are from us personally, they affect us all.

They waste public resources, threaten wildlife, ruin beautiful vistas and destroy the homes of people we care about and the infrastructure that we have all paid for with hard-earned money. They create an atmosphere that no one wants to breathe but that we all must.


Cultural Wildfires

As we consider the cost of wildfires on our public lands, we should notice the parallels to the wildfires in our culture. These, too, may be raging in places that seem far distant from your own home and family.

They are played out in city council meetings and in school board meetings that most people never bother to attend. They are played out in court cases and legislative committee hearings. They are played out in letters to the editor, in obscure academic journals, and in op-eds across the country.

They are played out in kindergarten classrooms, high school assemblies and university lecture halls—speeches that we will never hear unless we take the time to ask our children what they are learning. 

Burning Reichstag
In all of these places, and a thousand more, there are constant fires lit that threaten to burn down institutions of our shared culture. Institutions like marriage, family, church and a free press are all threatened by the flames. Some have already been scorched to some degree.

Fighting the Flames or Fanning Them

There are fires raging in our educational institutions, in every governmental institution from our cities on up to the federal government. Some of these were set by cultural arsonists. Others are the accidental result of cultural carelessness. After they have been burning for a while, it doesn’t really matter who started the fire, it only matters whether you are fighting or fanning the flames.

Like fires in the wilderness, we oftentimes don’t notice them until they have been burning for a while. Like wildfires there are so many of them that we can hardly keep track of them all. Like wildfires, no one is their master—not even those who originally lit them. Fires and cultural ideas have a life of their own. Once let loose, they burn whatever is in their path.

Sometimes they burn the homes of those who just happen to be nearby. Other times they turn and burn the people who set the fire. Most often they burn the people who rush in and try to fight the flames.

As with firefighters, we like to send specially trained people in to fight the fires. Some of these are paid legislators. Others are elected to volunteer positions. After electing them, we send them into the places where the cultural fires are burning and ask them to extinguish the flames for us.

Don't Fire and Forget

That’s a good start. But there are three things we must never forget.

First, not everyone is wanting to extinguish the flames. Cultural arsonists run for public office just as surely as cultural firefighters do. We must know how to tell the difference.

Second, not everyone who wants to extinguish the flames knows how to do so. Just as some cultural fires are started accidentally, so also elected officials who do not understand the nature of fire may accidentally make matters worse. Well-meaning people also need to study and train to be effective firefighters.

Third, once we send people in to fight the fires, they still need our support. It would be unconscionable to drop smoke jumpers into a wilderness area and pay no attention to them afterwards. Conditions on the ground are always changing and we must communicate with them to find out what they need from us to do their job.

In the same way, we should be in constant contact with anybody we elect to fight the cultural fires. Without our constant support and resupply, they cannot do the job. Just because you are not on the front lines does not mean you don’t have a stake in fighting the fires.

Toxic Wastelands

Cultural fires scorch the land and destroy the beauty of the land. They turn once- wholesome places into toxic wastelands. Just think about how the torching of public obscenity laws has led to an internet that places every son or daughter within a single click of soul-corrupting images. This has isolated parents from any neighborly support in protecting their kids from the noxious fumes of our culture.

We also see households burned by the raging fires. Look at the children from broken homes and you will usually find that our cultural degeneration contributed to the tragedy. The cultural fires make it more difficult for well-meaning parents to hold their own families together.

We can and should do something about this. Governments, churches and educational institutions have a direct stake in making every decision in a way that supports the home and family. At the heart of our cultural wars is a false notion that individual freedom trumps the integrity of the family.

The opposite is true. The family is the basic building block of society. Every time there is a choice between strengthening the bonds of the family and absolute individual autonomy, the family should come first.

Don't forget about the smoke

Finally, don’t forget about the smoke. Even if your own family is not burning down. Even if you are able to keep yourself and your children away from the noxious wastelands that have been created by our cultural fires. Never forget that you are still breathing the same air.

It seeps into your home unbidden. It gets into your lungs and the lungs of your children. Worse, you soon get used to it and stop noticing that you are breathing noxious fumes. The only way to clean the air that we all breath, and build a healthy environment for your family, is to lend a hand in putting out the fires.