Why we Need Government to Manage Health Care in the US

It’s not unconstitutional for the government to develop and administer a system of providing, and financing, health care in the United States.  I see that argument, but it is based on the false philosophical and political perspective that health care is an “industry” based in a free market economy, and must be completely free of any kind of regulation.  Government’s role is the protection of its citizens, from foreign threats, and internal threats, and from the greed and exploitation of those who are more than willing to take advantage of people because they have the means to do so.

The previous article I wrote here establishes health care as a basic human right, rooted in the principle of the sanctity of human life.  I see no credible argument against that position, and since many of my readers claim to be followers of the Christian faith, there is no argument in that domain against this position.  Human pain and suffering should never be used for profit, period.

It is the government’s role, constitutionally, to protect its citizens from being exploited.  People will pay whatever it takes, down to their last dime, to relieve their own pain and suffering, or that of someone they love.  Survival instincts and the sanctity of life are strong forces that drive human behavior.  And we have as many examples as we need of seeing the cost of services driven well beyond the resources necessary to deliver them and include a reasonable, fair profit for providing them.  In the United States today, half of every dollar you pay for medical care goes to paying all of the people involved in delivering the care, including the doctors, nurses, employees of the medical offices and hospitals, and all of the direct and indirect costs associated with those services.  So where does the other half go?  That’s the profit margin.  Half of what you pay doesn’t do anything to provide care, it simply gets transferred from your bank account to the individuals who earn  dividends for owning the means of care, or of owning the insurance company.  Half.  Yes, that’s exploitation, caused by greed.

There’s even a question about the costs involved in the half that you pay which does cover your medical care costs.  The cost of supplies, equipment, and medications purchased for health care purposes are much higher than the same goods get when used for other purposes.  If you want to get involved in a good discussion of something that pulls in an inordinate amount of money for what it actually delivers, look at the prescription drug business in this country.  Even health care professionals are victimized by the business tactics and profiteering that goes on in that business.

Part of the current problem with the American health care “system,” is that it is really multiple systems, some competing with each other, some monopolizing the provision of health care in a particular area.  Three of the major hospitals in one particular metro area, which account for about half the patient population, are owned by the same corporation.  Two of them still go by the names under which they operated when they were owned by church groups, when they were not-for-profit, though that is no longer the case, and that’s another issue.  Rates are all over the place, and it is virtually impossible to shop and compare.  The more desperate the situation, the higher the rates you pay.

Getting this under control may be quite a problem.  The profit margins in both health care provision and insurance are staggering, higher than in any other business except energy, and the profiteers are well protected by friends in the government.  The removal of the few government protections that exist as a result of the ACA drew a massive amount of protest and response, and so there’s a glimmer of hope in that many legislators who seemed bent on continuing to help the profiteers backed away when it seemed that their constituents might support an opponent who held a different perspective.  It took seven years for people to catch on to how the ACA might benefit them, but it has gone from support by 46% of the electorate to 58% now supporting it.  Those are numbers that few politicians want to oppose.  So there is some hope.

It is not necessary to re-invent the wheel.  A single-payer, government operated system, with private health care providers regulated through control of how they receive compensation for their services, would provide this country with exactly what it needs, and would, as it has in virtually every other country where its been done, maintain health care quality at a high level.  With accessibility and research and development in countries with “socialized medicine” exceeding that of the US, most of the bugaboos that get raised are proven false.

This shouldn’t be a “partisan” issue.  Do what’s best for the people you serve, not the profiteers who want to take advantage of their pain and suffering.  Health care and health insurance are not part of the free market, at least, they shouldn’t be as long as human nature still bends to greed.

 

Health Care is a Sanctity of Human Life Issue

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Psalm 139:13-14

This is the most commonly cited verse in the Bible in reference to the sanctity of human life.  For Christians who believe that life begins at conception, this statement is both authoritative, and comprehensive.  It’s not a stand-alone proof-text either.  Jeremiah 1:5 carries the same implication, based on God’s omnicience with regard to his creation.   In that reference, God calls Jeremiah as a prophet, and says to him, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”  Mary’s cousin Elizabeth told her, “When the sound of your greeting came to my ear, the baby in my womb leapt for joy.” 

Those are not necessarily intentionally connected passages, but they all support the basic, foundational principle that human life fully exists before birth.  There is identity and purpose in human existence which is part of a divine plan emanating from the energy of divine creation itself, which we commonly refer to as the “will of God.”

There are differences of opinion about who has ultimate control over life before it is born, but for the most part, it would be difficult to believe in a beginning point other than conception if you accept the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing God, and if you believe his will included sacrificing his own son to conquer sin and reconcile his creation to himself.  Once a person comes into existence at conception, the sanctity of that life is equal to that of the mother, in spite of the physical control she may have over the situation.  As a Christian, I believe that’s a basic and foundational belief that goes to the heart of the faith itself.

When does that status, which we refer to as the “sanctity of human life,” end?  Does something change at birth which causes a life to require less care, and less protection of its sanctity?  Of course not.  Once conceived, a person has a divine purpose that extends throughout their entire life on earth.  There’s no difference in the sanctity of life before or after birth.

Many Christians have become intimately involved in politics in order to advocate for government legislation to protect human lives still in the uterus.  That advocacy includes making the artificial termination of a pregnancy illegal, and extending constitutional rights to any person, from the moment of their conception.  There are those who question whether or not this is a decision for the government to make, but if you believe that the life of a conceived child is equal to that of its mother, then government protection is not only warranted, it is required.

So why is it that so many Christians who believe this are willing to accept a political philosophy that devalues the sanctity of life after birth by relegating health care to nothing more than an economic commodity in which the life protecting, and life enhancing services of medical practice are relegated to the status of nothing more than an economic commodity competing in the “free market.”  Massive amounts of money and effort go into lobbying efforts to elect politicians who claim to share this foundational Christian belief in the sanctity of life, to the point of promising to actually do something to restrict or end access to abortion.  But many of the same politicians that they support with the expectation of protecting the sanctity of human life before birth support a position on health care that skews the value of life based solely on the monetary value of the care required to maintain it, and which often takes advantage of pain and suffering, or fear of death, to raise the price beyond its real value.

If you believe in the sanctity of human life, and you believe the government should protect that life from conception, then you must also believe that the government should protect life from economic exploitation.  Americans pay twice as much for health care as any other citizens in the industrialized world.  Half of that money doesn’t go toward supplying a single resource related directly to their health care, it pays dividends to the corporate interests that own both the means of providing health care, and the means of financing it.  A common expression, profit from pain, is an apt description of how this system works.  The more desperate the situation of the people seeking care becomes, the higher the price goes for the care that they are seeking.  That’s what the free market does when health care is nothing more than an economic commodity, and not a basic human right connected to the sanctity of human life.

If health care became a completely free-market enterprise, then it would be something from which most people would need to be protected.  Price of services would be governed by how desperate someone was to get care.  Many people would not be able to access medical care because the cost would be prohibitive.  Even with the ACA, that’s still the way it is for many people.  Are their lives sacred?  Do Christians care enough about others to put the same kind of effort into advocacy for the sanctity of human life that they do into figthting abortion?

They should.

 

The Baptist Standard Gets it Wrong on School Choice

https://www.baptiststandard.com/opinion/editorial/20008-editorial-tell-legislators-what-you-think-about-school-choice-vouchers

The Baptist Standard is the news journal of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.  The news stories are accurately and fairly covered, and the opinion pieces are usually fair and factual.  However, there are some glaring inconsistencies and errors in the editorial piece linked above, which appeared on February 22, 2017, written by editor Marv Knox, related to the issue of school choice and the proposals of vouchers for private schools being proposed at the time to the Texas Legislature.  It doesn’t appear that the editor did much more than cite commonly held, parroted beliefs about school choice of those opposed to it, without doing much research on the subject.

Mr. Knox makes some assumptions that are no longer true, and exhibits a degree of ignorance about Christian schools in particular, as opposed to “private” schools in general.

The assumption that support for the public education system is consistent with a somewhat vague interpretation of a general application of “historic Baptist principles” completely ignores the glaring reality that the public education system in this country, generally and specifically, is hostile to most of the beliefs Baptists hold to be essential to their faith.  The curriculum objectives are written around a wholly secular philosophical perspective that doesn’t acknowledge the existence of God, and as such, is not “religiously neutral” but is, rather, anti-religious and specifically anti-Christian.  Why would Baptists prefer teaching objectives to their children that are aimed at undermining their faith, rather than an education that undergirds and supports their values?  And why should they be required to support the undermining of their beliefs with their tax dollars?  Historic Baptist support for separation of church and state never envisioned a state that was hostile to the church, or an educational system that would become a platform for undermining it.

The quality of the education provided in the public school system is also a valid concern.  The public education system uses objectives aimed at achieving “minimum standards.”  Students are rarely challenged, and while you can find plenty of news items and magazine articles on high achieving public schools, they are rare, and even the best ones are not as good as most private schools.  Christian schools are right up there when it comes to the quality of instruction.  Of course, their critics have all kinds of reasons why, but it boils down to parent involvement, commitment that is motivated by that “religious purpose,” (like, perhaps, a desire to please God), and sound, instructional methodology provided by qualified teachers.  Why should parents have to support a poor-performing system with their tax dollars, and then pay extra to get their kids in a school with quality instruction?  Students whose parents don’t have the means to consider a choice are stuck in poor performing schools.

The assertion that vouchers “don’t help the poor” is speculation, and without foundation.  There are a number of states around the country, including the District of Columbia, that have operated voucher programs of various kinds for a long time.  The DC opportunity scholarship program is totally income based, and allows some of the poorest, and most educationally underserved children in Washington to attend some of the nation’s most elite private schools, many of them religiously-owned and operated.  Every indicator of student progress shows these students benefit tremendously from this program, from academic progress to the drop out rate.  Among those states that currently have voucher programs in place, virtually all of them are predominantly income based in their requirements, and serve populations of lower income families.

The basic tuition and fee rates for most Christian schools, 85% of them according to studies done within organizations like ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International) are less than the per-pupil expenditure of the public school systems in their state.  Some of those states with voucher programs are finding that providing funds for students to attend private, Christian schools saves them money because the per-pupil expenditure is less than what they must provide to public schools.  

The assertion that a voucher, provided to parents, violates the historic Baptist principle of separation of church and state just doesn’t hold water.  The federal government has been giving similar vouchers to college students, in the form of Pell Grants, for decades, and students at virtually every Baptist-owned and operated college and university in the country have used them.  The fact that they are provided to college students, getting an education that is not compulsory, compared to those in grades K-12, which is, does not negate the fact that these are vouchers, made up of public tax dollars, that go to support parochial education, including helping to pay tuition and fees for students who are studying for the ministry.  You can’t have this both ways.  A Pell Grant is public money that is, in many cases, going to fund parochial education.  They are based on income requirement and student need, and for the most part, they enable the student to choose a venue for their higher education that they might otherwise not be able to afford.  End of story.

Students in Christian schools aren’t sitting around with open Bibles in their laps all day long, singing “Father Abraham” and studying theology.  Most Christian schools exceed accreditation standards required to prove they are meeting the state’s minimum objectives and providing a quality education to their constituents that will allow them to graduate from high school and be admitted to a college or university.  As long as they are meeting, and in most cases far exceeding, those minimums, the religious content of their curriculum should be of no concern to the state with regard to a voucher or school choice program.  Do the research, and you’ll find that even the Christian schools that have loaded up their enrollment with children from low income families in inner city poverty are exceeding those state minimum standards, and are seeing higher standardized test scores, college admissions, lower dropout rates and better results than the public schools get.

There’s no disadvantage, and lots of advantages, for the Baptists who have opted to send their children to Christian schools, nor for their churches, who are reaping the benefits of a trained, committed core of leaders who graduate from them.  The position taken by the Baptist Standard and its editor reflects a lack of familiarity and knowledge with Christian schools, an increasing number of which are being started by, and affiliated with Baptist churches in Texas and elsewhere, and the increasing number of Baptists who are sending their children to them.  Times have changed and so have schools since the days of Thomas Jefferson and the Danbury Baptist Association.  If Baptists don’t adjust their historic principles to meet the challenges of the time, their denominations will struggle, their churches will decline and their influence will wane.  Look around.

 

 

 

 

Fixing Health Care: It’s Not as Difficult as you Think it is

There’s an easy way to fix health care.  Now that we’ve turned it into a complicated, partisan political fight, it seems like there is no solution in sight.  But there is.  It will take putting some perspective on it, answering some questions, and deciding to do what’s right.

A few observations.

Let’s talk priorities.  This is about each individual person, and their personal health care.  It is not about profit margins or tax breaks or anything else.  We have a sizeable group of people in this country who advocate for the sanctity of human life, a principle they primarily apply to the unborn.  But if life is sacred, and I certainly believe that it is, then access to health care, the best that society can provide, is a basic human right.  A book could be written substantiating that principle.  From a Christian moral perspective, it’s a no brainer.

If that’s the case, and I believe it is, then the patient is the priority in any health care arrangement.  That’s right.  It’s about providing the best care available to meet the physical, health needs of people.  I’ll bet most people who work in the medical profession would agree with that.  So any health care plan or program that we come up with needs to put the needs of people first, because its not about politicians or profits, it’s about the sanctity of human life.

The “free market” has proven itself incapable of providing a health care program that is equitable with regard to treatment, and affordable.  Human nature being what it is, greed spoils the balance between resources available for care, and what to charge.  The relief of pain, or the preservation of life, are not economic commodities with value determined by their intensity or severity.  In fact, profiting from pain is immoral.  Since it is the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens in their pursuit of “life, liberty and happiness,” developing and regulating an equitable, accessible health care system is its responsibility.  And we don’t have to re-invent the wheel on this.  Most European countries, along with Japan and Canada, have successfully figured out how to own, and effectively administer and operate both health insurance, and hospitals and other institutions that provide health care.  At least 17 of those countries have been able to achieve a higher standard of medical care than the United States, and they have done it for about half, or less, of the amount of money that Americans now pay for their health care.

By the way, we already have a government operated health care insurance plan in this country, into which people pay premiums and out of which they can pay for medical services.  It’s called “Medicare.”  The ACA, also known as Obamacare, is a more extensive effort to reform health care, make it accessible to all Americans, and attempt to keep the costs of both care and insurance, which were getting out of the reach of even middle class Americans, from limiting access to health care for even more people.  It has had a cumulative effect in accomplishing several of its objectives:

  • It has added more than 20 million Americans to the ranks of those who have health insurance.  This has cut losses that hospitals and caregivers have had to absorb, especially through emergency rooms and trauma care that they are required to provide, whether patients have insurance or not.
  • It has saved billions of dollars for employers who provide insurance as a benefit by slowing down the rate of increase of the cost of insurance premiums.  Most insurance policies were going up by an average of more than 15% prior to the ACA, that rate has now been cut to about 8%.
  • Millions of people have benefitted from being able to remain on their parent’s insurance until age 26, and from being able to secure insurance benefits in spite of pre-existing conditions.

And here’s some other news.  The plan is not “collapsing,” or “exploding,” as its critics keep saying.  There is absolutely no evidence to support that contention.  There are some companies who aren’t happy because they cannot raise rates higher than the contracts allow for, and they can’t profiteer off of the market changes that have occurred as a result.  But we’ve already discussed the fact that profits aren’t morally compatible with the belief that health care is a basic human right, directly resulting from the belief in the sanctity of human life.  The Affordable Care Act can, according to the Congressional Budget Office, continue to function indefinitely.  Costs could be reduced even further if states that have held out of the exchanges would get involved, and help spread the costs.

But let’s put first things first.  We must come to a broad acceptance in this country of the principle that health care is a basic human right, not a commodity that generates economic value by pain and suffering, or a privilege for those who can afford it.  If we believe in the sanctity of human life, then there is no other option but considering it as a basic human right, something which people should be able to access like clean drinking water.  When we get there, then we can discuss the best way to deliver it, and the first people we should ask about that are medical professionals who understand that their patient is the object of their care.

 

 

 

 

Southern Baptist Churches that Escrow Cooperative Program Money are not “In Friendly Cooperation”

Raised in a Southern Baptist church which I joined at age 7, educated in a college that belonged to a state convention, and a seminary that belonged to the denomination, in addition to years of ministry service through one of its mission agencies, I’m pretty familiar with how the Southern Baptist Convention works, and how it does business. There are times when its leaders can act in a way that is very provincial and backward, and get outside written documents prescribing how business is to be handled, but there are generally enough level headed people to require a level of accountability, and insist on going by the rules.  So I can claim expert status when I say that I know how the SBC works.

SBC churches operate from an equal platform when exercising denominational participation.  Actually, fewer than a fourth of the churches ever bother to send even one messenger to the annual meeting of the SBC.  However, all but a few churches have the ability, based on their financial support and membership, to send the maxiumum number of 10 messengers to any convention meeting.  The largest church is limited to 10, and some of the smallest churches have the ability to achieve the threshold for 10.

So when a large, influential church determines that it will escrow its denominational support to leverage some kind of denominational action, there are a couple of things that are happening.  One, they are breaking the commitment they made to the denomination, when they affiliated, which included their agreement to submit to the way the denomination does business.  Accountability of denominational agencies and their heads is through the trustees that have been nominated and elected to serve on their boards, a process in which every church has an equal opportunity to participate.  Two, they are arrogantly flashing their own sense of self-importance, and elevating themselves over other churches that are honoring their agreement,  using influence that most other churches don’t have,  or wouldn’t consider using, to force an action that goes against denominational policy any way you look at it.  They are saying, loud and clear, that they are too prominent, too big, and too important to have to follow the same rules that everyone else does.

The primary issue relates to Russ Moore, and his leadership of the ERLC.  From what I can gather from reports in the Baptist press, at least one of the more “prominent” churches that is putting its CP giving in escrow is citing their own disagreement with his actions, particularly during the 2016 presidential campaign, as the reason for their action.  I don’t see anything in the media reports about the church following Biblical principles by sitting down with Moore, and conversing him before publicly declaring their intentions, but they may have communicated with him in some way.  The disagreement is apparently over his lack of enthusiastic support for Trump’s presidential candidacy, and perhaps the church leadership’s interpretation of things Moore may have said about Christians who supported him.  Also mentioned is the position taken by the ERLC, supporting the religious freedom of a mosque in New Jersey.

Regardless of the content of the issues, as a Baptist entity, the ERLC is not directly accountable to any individual church.  It is accountable to a board of trustees, key word “trust”, who are selected by messengers sent from the churches, collectively, that contribute to the expenses of its work. I believe that an individual church, or an individual member of a church, can address the trustees regarding the way any issue has been handled by the ERLC, but the final decision or determination of whether or not the ERLC has followed its directives consistent with its policy is made by its trustees.  To support the SBC through the Cooperative Program is to agree to that way of doing things in advance.  Integrity demands following that procedure in the event of a disagreement, and accepting the outcome and decision of the trustees.

There’s nothing, except integrity, that prevents churches from taking their football and going home when an SBC agency or entity does something it doesn’t like, and the church prefers not to follow the policy.  But in making that decision, the church should realize that its actions are being interpreted as hostile to the denomination, because they are not following the prescribed method for dealing with these kinds of disagreements.  They are publicly stating that, as a congregation, they are no longer in friendly cooperation with the SBC.  If they were, they’d follow the rules to settle their differences, not attempt to force action using money as leverage, and not hold missionaries and seminary students hostage in order to get their own way.

Surely, among the messengers gathered for the next annual SBC meeting, there will be someone who rises, when the motion is made to seat messengers, and makes a motion to declare all churches that have escrowed CP funds during the past year as not being in friendly cooperation with the SBC, and therefore not eligible to be seated as messengers.  Add to that a motion that any current member of those churches currently serving as a trustee or committee member, as a member of a church that is not in friendly cooperation with the SBC, be removed from their current denominational service, and you’ve resolved the problem.

 

 

Evidence says School Choice can be Successful

 

Washington, DC has become one of the most vibrant cities in the nation.  Emerging from the 1960’s with large swaths of the city designated as slums and ghettos, and a high crime rate, the city’s public school system was also in a shambles.  It required a major effort at urban renewal and development to turn things around.  Gentrification has led to high property values, lots of new construction of high rise housing and business infrastructure, and the city is booming again, with a growing population and a rebuilt public school system.

With many of the city’s residents living on incomes well below the poverty rate, families with children were unable to flee the inner city for the suburbs and better schools.  The Opportunity Scholarship program was a federally funded initiative which gave vouchers to families who qualified by income, in order to get their kids out of failing schools and into a classroom where they would have access to quality instruction and the opportunity to succeed.  Most of the families who accessed the program were living on incomes well below the poverty line, and a majority of them were African American.

Families who qualified were able to obtain vouchers of varying amounts of money to use for providing educational services at a school which qualified to take the students based on meeting specific requirements, and where the educational standards were aimed at success.  Most of the students selected private schools within the city where empty seats were made available for students in the program.  Church-state separation hurdles were cleared, since many of the schools where families chose to send their children were church owned and operated.  The program serves about 1,800 students from kindergarten through 12th grade.  Here are some facts, provided by the US Department of Education, that give an overall idea of the success of the program.  These are based on data accumulated through the 2011-12 school term.

  • The high school graduation rate for opportunity scholarship students is 91%, while that of the DC public schools is just under 70%.
  • Students in the program are 25% more likely to attend college than students from the public school system.
  • The average cost per pupil of the program averages from $8,000 in elementary school to as much as $12,000 per student in at the high school level, which is significantly less than it costs taxpayers for one student in the DC public school system for a year.
  • At each succeeding grade level, test scores used to measure academic achievement are higher among the scholarship recipients than their public school counterparts.

The DC public schools have undergone a renovation and restructuring since the Opportunity Scholarship program began.  Buildings were renovated, ineffective teachers were let go, security and expectations for student behavior were improved, and expected student outcomes were raised.  Programs were introduced in schools that were designed to meet the interests and needs of students they served.  The attitude of the leadership was to provide educational services that would motivate families to leave their children in the public schools, and not migrate to other schools because they believed they could get a better education elsewhere.

The irony that one of the better models for school choice exists in the District of Columbia isn’t lost on those who understand the principle of school choice.  In spite of some of the objections, particularly to public funds going to religious-oriented schools, the fact that the program meets the expected student outcomes, and does it’s job is enough for both the parents who use the program, and the congressional leadership.  School choice works, and the success of the DC model, as well as that of other states who are trying it, has the potential to change the face of education in the United States.

  1.  Students from inner-city homes where the income is below the poverty level are successful in a Christian or other religious-based school, which puts to rest the myth about Christian school success being based on pre-selecting just those students who are potentially successful.
  2. Christian and other religious-based schools are able to develop students who achieve at a higher level than most public schools at a much lower cost per student, which proves that throwing money at a problem in education is not always the best way to solve it.
  3. Religious instruction clearly does not interfere with the academic achievement and quality of a Christian school, and in fact, it may prove to be a factor which enhances the expected student outcomes.
  4. The public schools in the District of Columbia were not harmed by taking students out of the classrooms, and redirecting the tax dollars that went with the students.

It’s something to think about.

 

School Choice and Public Funding

The controversial nomination and narrow, contested selection of Betsy DeVos has brought the topic of school choice back to the news circuit.  There is a lot of speculation about exactly what this appointment, and the new administration in Washington, means to American education.  There are a lot of strong opinions, but it is my perspective that opinion should be based on fact, and when it comes to discussions of school choice, fact seems to be elusive.

School choice, including public funds to assist with tuition and fee payments at private institutions owned by religious groups, has been around for a long time.  Federal and state governments have developed budgets and provided financial assistance to students in the form of vouchers based almost solely on financial need.  Few restrictions were placed on the kinds of schools where these vouchers could be used, other than maintaining some kind of recognized accreditation or system of granting credit.  Initially, they were called Basic Educational Opportunity Grants, but I believe they are now known as Pell Grants.  The basic qualifications to receive them are based on the student, not necessarily on the school they attend.  Students can use Pell Grants to attend a college or university with a distinctively Christian mission and purpose, major in religious studies, or take Bible classes.

The idea, and the legal defense, for voucher programs involving students in elementary, middle and high schools came from the government grant program, and several other similar programs which are based on financial need and provide assistance to students to attend school.  One of the more notably successful voucher programs is one funded entirely by the federal government, known as the Opportunity Scholarship program for students residing within the District of Columbia.  The poor condition of the public schools within the city of Washington prompted the development of a program to help kids from families who didn’t have the means to get them into a school that would teach them, and where they could learn.  Many of the vouchers provided to students are used by their families to pay tuition and fees at some of the city’s elite, private, church-related schools like Sidwell Friends, National Cathedral Academy, and St. Alban’s, along with Catholic schools, and several Evangelical Christian schools, or to attend private, Christian schools in the Maryland or Virginia suburbs.

Some of you reading this blog post had at least part of your education at a church-related college or university paid for by a government grant, or some kind of tax funded scholarship program.  Many Christian colleges and universities provide complete undergraduate theological training identical to coursework offered at seminaries, precisely because students can use need-based government assistance to take courses there, whereas they can’t get that kind of financial aid at a seminary.

The public schools in this country, collectively, have not earned a high level of confidence from parents of students who must attend them.  There are places where public schools perform at, or above, expected levels, but there’s not a lot of consistency in achievement levels.  Some states have very few public schools that perform at expected levels.  But school choice isn’t just about academic achievement.  Many of the students who receive Pell Grants choose a college because its philosophy of education and the principles which drive its mission and purpose are consistent with their Christian faith, and the values that being Christian cultivate in their life.  The school’s instructional objectives help to undergird and strengthen their faith.  That’s the same reason most parents choose a Christian school for their children.  And in this country, they should be free to make that choice, without having it restricted by their ability to pay for it.  After all, they’ve paid taxes, some of which have been committed to the education of children by the government.  They should be able to access some of what they’ve paid to provide the kind of education for their children that will support and undergird the values they possess because of their faith in Christ.

Most Christian schools, the vast majority of them in fact, operate with academic standards that far exceed those of the public school system.  But the bottom line is that most parents choose them as providers of their children’s education based specifically on the integration of Biblical values into the curriculum, and the Christian atmosphere of the school, and not specifically because of superior academics.  And most Christian schools would prefer to be selective about who they admit, based on their Christian identity rather than academic quality, in order to maintain a distinctively Christian atmosphere.  Since the government has assumed the responsibility for providing resources for the education of students, parents who choose a Christian school should also be allowed to direct the tax money that is spent on their child’s education to the school they’ve selected for their kids.  That’s the bottom line for school choice.  Parents who want their children to have a better education than their local public school provides should be able to use the tax money designated to provide their education at a place where they can get what they feel their children need.

The Catholic church in this country established a system of schools because they felt that the public school system was far to influenced by Protestants, and that the schools were, in effect, Protestant Christian schools.  The battles that Baptists fought to keep them from getting public funds were based on the fact that they were very influential, and had solid control over the content taught in public school classrooms.  Through local school boards, most public schools were controlled by Protestants, and were highly favorable to creating an atmosphere where Catholic kids could be evangelized.  So they strenuously objected to any kind of public funding for Catholic schools.  But they haven’t objected to accepting government grants that boosted enrollment and revenue at the colleges and universities they owned.  The principles being advanced by school choice advocates are based on those same arguments

 

 

 

Marching, Protesting and Passionate Voices

Cars were replaced with feet pounding the pavement of the streets in Washington, DC this week.  There was the inauguration, then the Women’s March, and yesterday, the March for Life.  Lots of people, in many cases on opposite sides of an issue.  I’m sure that people who live and work in Washington are used to the traffic and disruptions, but this is the way we do things.  Exercise of our constitutional rights, especially to assemble for a cause, and free speech, well, that’s the way we do things, and that’s where the words get heard, and attention is drawn to the issue.

The March for Life is an annual event.  As it turns out, it is made up largely of Christians from a wide variety of denominations and groups, and it is a faith based movement rooted in the Biblical teaching that human life begins at the moment of conception.  It is, therefore, as morally wrong to end that life before it is born as it is to end it afterward, and a large majority of Christians share the belief that the unique combination of DNA which occurs the moment a child is conceived is irreplaceable in the community of humans, and is a divine creation.  Science has discovered all kinds of ways to manipulate conception and genetic development, but it has been unable to replicate the generation of life itself, a fact that supports the Bible’s teachings about when life begins.

The spark of life that is generated when the genes and chromosomes come together, and a human egg is fertilized, is a mystery.  It is an act that transcends the temporal, and comes from the divine.  Every time it happens, what is created is instantly different from any other creation of the same.  The Bible’s writers didn’t discover that on their own, it was revealed to them, and their interpretation of what they learned was that life is sacred, from the point of conception.

While the march was concluding in the early afternoon, another group was gathering in Lafayette Park, across from the White House.  Most of these people were Christians of every possible denomination and background, while others were Jewish, Muslim, a few Buddhists, and some people who don’t profess any faith in particular.  They were gathering for a prayer vigil in support of the sanctity of life, just like those in the march did earlier.  Their concern, however, was for those people in the Middle East, hounded by authoritarian, dictatorial regimes, and terrorized by war and its effects on their families and children, who were on the verge of being freed from their terror and mortal danger, but who will now have to find a way to survive because the President’s most recent executive order slammed the door on their exit.

Sanctity of Human Life is a broad umbrella.  Yes, it absolutely does cover human embryos and fetuses, but it also covers those already born.  Some of those gathered in the park were a bit baffled as to how the remarks of the Vice President at the March for Life Rally could be representative of an administration that had, on the same day, slammed the door shut in the face of those who are trying to preserve their lives by taking refuge in a country that the world knows is a haven for the oppressed.  Almost all of those seeking safety and refuge in the United States from the seven countries named in the order are fleeing the very “radical Muslim terrorism” from which the President claims to be protecting Americans.

The premise of this action is to put a vetting process in place that will prevent terrorists from getting in with the refugees and getting into this country.  We keep hearing that we are just opening the gates to a flood of refugees and immigrants from the Middle East, that there is nothing but confusion surrounding it, and that it should be stopped until there is some kind of stringent vetting process put into place.  But that rhetoric is not factual, nor is it an accurate representation of a vetting process that is the toughest of any country in the world, that takes about 18 months on average to complete, and which, contrary to popular belief, does not discriminate when it comes to the religious background of the refugees who are applying.  Oh, and if you want to measure how successful it’s been at keeping terrorists out of the US, well, how many acts of terror have been committed in the US by an Iraqi, Syrian, Iranian, Libyan, Somalian, Sudanese or Palestinian refugee.  That’s not a rhetorical question.  The answer is, none.  The 9-11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, the UAR, Egypt and Lebanon.  The Boston Marathon bombers, the Tsarnaev brothers, came with their family as refugees seeking asylum from Russia.  The Orlando shooter, and the San Bernardino shooter were American citizens.

This is not the first time a presidential administration and the US government have attempted to prevent people, mostly of a single religious group, from entering the country.  Even though we were aware of the persecution of Jews in Nazi occupied Europe, an awareness that was supported by increasing evidence even before the US entered the war, the persecuted Jews of Europe were subject to restrictive immigration policy that limited their numbers and restricted immigration on the premise that terrorists and saboteurs would take advantage of generous exceptions for Jews, and would use the chance to come to the US to commit sabotage.  Anti-Semitism and prejudice against the Jews was behind that policy too.  Fear, and the eventual entry of the US into the war, kept Americans from letting their country become the refuge for oppressed and persecuted Jews, forcing those who could escape into European countries which eventually complained that “the lifeboat is full.”.  How many of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust that could have been saved by a more open US immigration policy toward them is debatable, but there were many who were turned away, including a whole ship full who actually got close enough to the shore to see the lights of American cities.  It’s fair to compare what’s happening now to American policy during the Holocaust.

I’ve heard many Christians over the years proclaim that God is withholding blessings of prosperity and protection from America, and that we are making ourselves subject to his judgment for our complicity in the sin of abortion.  I’m not sure that God’s promises, or his blessings are tied to anything but our own individual receiving of the covenant of grace which comes through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  If corporate, collective sin by the government, or the people of the country, has anything to do with judgment, then either the sanctity of human life applies to all, or it doesn’t apply to any.  It would not be consistent with the character of God, as he is described in the Bible, to judge and punish this nation for one sin, but let us off the hook for another that is equally evil.  Frankly, we need to repent from both.  I can’t get excited about a government that makes a vague, non-committal statement about the sanctity of life as it applies to the unborn, and at the same time ignores the sanctity of life when it comes to refugees.  We need to get this right, and this way of doing it isn’t working.

 

Celebrating the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King

Kids love holidays, especially during the school year.  Sometimes, they don’t understand that the number of days they must spend in school are controlled by their state department of education and mandated by law, and every day they aren’t in school means that there’s another day on the calendar that they must be there.  Being out of school is the big thing, and the significance of the holiday is usually lost on most of them.  Even as an adult, I must admit, having the day off sometimes gets ahead of the significance of the holiday.

Creating a holiday to celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King was not easy.  There are those who don’t have a clear understanding of the significance of the civil rights movement, and its leaders, and don’t feel that Dr. King’s legacy warrants a federal holiday.  Dr. King never served as President, or in any other capacity as a government leader, and there are those who feel that others should be further ahead in the line to receive this kind of commemoration.  And there are those who think that this was done simply to appease black voters, and it is a political move to create a holiday for African Americans.

When I taught at a Christian school in Texas in the 90’s, the school administration scheduled a school day on the MLK holiday.  They also scheduled school on Memorial Day in May, both, according to them, because it was necessary to fit the required number of school days within the dates allowed to being and end school by the state.  The school also only had a few African American students, so in their minds, there wouldn’t be enough interest to warrant taking a day off school.  On the other hand, the school did take a day off on the Friday when the county fair started, even though only a few students were actually involved in those activities.  African American students had to request, in writing, an excused absence in order to be able to attend the MLK celebration parade in Houston, and events at their local churches.

We were discussing this in a Bible class one day, at the Christian school in Texas where i was teaching, when a couple of the African American students pointed out that Dr. King’s civil rights work benefitted all Americans, not just African Americans, and it was a holiday for all Americans to celebrate.  I suggested that they go to the administration and respectfully ask for the day to be a school holiday, getting other students, not just the African Americans, to support them.  That wasn’t easy, but they did it.  Eventually, the administration relented, and the students were able to attend events without having to count the day as an absence from school.  Perhaps, in the long run, not many other students ever used the time to learn more about either Dr. King or the civil rights movement, but it wasn’t because the school didn’t give them the opportunity to do so.  It was the right thing to do.

The first time I ever visited the King Memorial on the national mall in Washington, DC, what I first noticed was that the majority of people entering it were African American.  I’d expect most African Americans would want to see it if they had the opportunity, but it’s not just a memorial for African Americans.  What Dr. King, and other civil rights leaders did,  benefitted all Americans.  If one racial minority group suffers inequality, bigotry and prejudice, no individual is free from the fear of persecution.  What does it say about a society that discriminates and disadvantages productive members of it because of the color of their skin and their racial origin?  And how safe are your rights, if those of a fellow American aren’t safe?

Christians should be particularly interested in the legacy of Dr. King.  He was, after all, an ordained minister of the gospel, the pastor of a large Baptist church in Atlanta with a long history of ministry in its community that made a difference in the lives of its residents.  Dr. King’s civil rights advocacy came straight from his Christian faith.  He wasn’t a congressman or a senator, a governor or a state legislator, he was a preacher of the gospel of Jesus, a pastor, and it was his preaching and his faith that motivated his push for civil rights equality for all Americans.  In the heritage that Christian influence has had on the founding of this country, and everything that has happened to it since, it is a legacy that has everything in common with America’s Christian heritage.

While visiting the King memorial, I noticed a couple of groups of students, mostly white, walking around.  They were clearly on a class tour of the city, and they were busy taking notes, answering questions that their teacher had given them to increase their observation of the memorial.  It would be difficult to walk through there, and see the symbols and read the words that characterized the work of Dr. King without seeing the clear influence of his faith in God, and his reliance on the gospel message of Jesus.  I hope those students were observant enough to see that influence.

So here’s a federal holiday that celebrates the life of a minister of the gospel.  It should be an opportunity for all Christians, not just those of one race, to determine that they can change the world around them by living out the gospel of Jesus.

Is it time to abolish the Electoral College?

For the second time this century, which is only sixteen years old, the popular vote in an American presidential election, which is theoretically “the will of the people,” has not lined up with the electoral vote to determine a winner.  It happened in the very first year of the century, 2000, when Al Gore got more than a half million more votes than George W. Bush.  And of course, 2016 will go down in history as Hillary Clinton has, so far, received over a million more votes than Donald Trump, a gap that will grow as the final ballots from California and Washington, where she won in landslides, are added to the total.

You’re reading the comments of a former high school history teacher, so I have an informed opinion.  I am also the resident of a “battleground” state which was absolutely bombarded by television advertising and campaigning.  The candidates and their surrogates held no less than 15 separate rallies and meetings in this general area.  That sheds some light on this issue.

The Electoral College was the result of negotiations resulting in a balance of state-based and population-based government.  The United States, emerging from a confusing period under the inadequate Articles of Confederation, which failed because states were too powerful, and which created conflicts that left the smaller states subject to the larger ones, was looking for a way to satisfy the state legislative bodies, which would, as a whole, ratify the constitution, and those who wanted a purer, more populist based government with weaker states.  The representative body, Congress, was balanced by staggered terms, two years for the House, six for the Senate, all directly elected by constituents, while the Presidency would be more subject to state by state preferences.  That reassured smaller states, especially those in the South, and eventually led to the ratification of the Constitution.

While arguments in favor of the use of the Electoral College tend to emphasize the “equalization” it brings to smaller states, the fact that the number of electors in a state is based on the total number of its members in Congress means that every state has at least three votes.   This means that general election votes for Americans across the board are not equal in their effect on the Presidential election outcome.  It takes fewer voters in Wyoming, which has three votes, to choose their electors than it does in California, which has 55.  So in Wyoming, a general ballot vote is worth more than one in California, or in any other state, for that matter.

The other argument that is used in favor of retaining the Electoral College is that it prevents the campaign from just focusing on the most populous areas, and brings it into different states and regions of the country.  That was true to a large degree when the electoral map was not predictable, up into the later part of the 20th century.  But shifts in demographics have created large majorities for each party in most states that are now considered “reliable” for one or the other.  So the focus of election campaigns comes down to a handful of states that are not predictable, and these are pretty reliable from year to year.  Florida holds the record for most Presidential campaign visits in the 21st century, followed by Ohio.  Pennsylvania sees a lot of campaigning, while neighboring West Virginia, or New York, rarely even hear a commercial.

If you really want to compare the inequity in the value of the votes of individual Americans because of the Electoral College, think of it this way.  Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in California by 2.5 million votes, the widest numerical margin in any state.  But those 2.5 million votes have far less individual and collective impact on the election than the margin of less than 125,000 votes in two states, Florida and Pennsylvania, who collectively have the electoral votes to change the election outcome.  2.5 million voters in California turned out to produce 55 electoral votes, while 125,000 voters in the two battleground states produced 49 electoral votes.  Any way you look at it, that’s certainly not the intention of the founding fathers with regard to the influence of the Electoral College.

If an election is an  expression of “the will of the people,” then each American vote must be equal.  The Electoral College is not meeting the practical test that is being played out in the 21st century.  It is showing its age.  So is the method prescribed for drawing Congressional districts.  Democrats have received a majority of the total vote for Congress in each election in the 21st century except 2010, when they lost by a narrow 1%, but lost more than 30% of their seats in Congress.  Even in the mid-term election of 2014, when Democrats lost even more seats, they won more votes.  So if votes are an expression of the will of the people, our election quirks that were once designed as checks and balances, are too easily corrupted to give us the results that square up with the voters.

So while we talk all the time about elections in America being one person, one vote, the fact of the matter is that through our history, particularly in our formative years, the fear of domination by the more populous states, or the more populous areas, tempered the principle to the point where a system was devised to appease the smaller states in order to get them to go along with the whole think.  The price tag of compromise was for those in larger states to give up some of the power of their votes to strengthen the hand of the smaller states.  Over the course of 250 or so years of history, population growth, expansion, migration, and demographic shifts due to massive influxes of immigrants and ethnic minorities, changed the map so much that the practical balances created in 1789 by thirteen states with just a couple million people don’t work out as well in 50 states populated by 320 million.  The difference between “big” and “small” states in 1789 could be counted in tens of thousands, while the difference in 2016 is 35 million.  That skews the value of each American vote considerably.

What we have, in terms of demographics, is an increasingly urban and suburban population, and a declining rural population.  I’ve seen maps and diagrams that herald the thousands of “red” counties all over the country, and the few blue spots here and there, mostly centered on large cities.  Impressive though they may be, the fact of the matter is that in most cases, it takes several hundred of those red counties to even come close to equal the population of just one of the blue ones.  Proportionately, more than 65% of the American people, and the voters, live in those blue counties, not the red ones.

The idea is to have a system that equalizes the vote, not one that skews it.  The issues that affect Americans and the impact of education, industry, the job market, and government, have on the American people will be felt in the cities and urban areas, not in rural counties with scattered population and more goats than human beings.  To put it in perspective, almost 75% of the campaign resources, and about that much of the candidates’ time, was spent in just three states–Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, and as absentee ballots and hand counts trickle in, the difference between the two can be boiled down to about 35,000 votes in five counties in four states, or fewer than that if Florida is one of them.  If the outcome depended on the popular vote, narrow as it might be, it would not be that narrow.

It is time for Congress to consider a change.  The culture and dynamics of the relationships of the states no longer warrant the kind of “equalizing” effect of the Electoral College.  The time has arrived for “one American, one vote.”