BP_blog

floodsThe Power of the Middle. It took some chiding for President Obama to finally visit flood-ravaged Louisiana.  Donald Trump flew in for a photo-op.  But the real story there is neighbor helping neighbor.  Nearly a third of the homes in Baton Rouge were affected by the flood.  Many residents did not have flood insurance.  Some of the uninsured dropped flood insurance because the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) re-drew flood maps in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and sent letters to thousands of Louisiana residents telling them they no longer needed flood insurance.

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Semper Quaerens

612z-9cvnEL._SX330_BO1204203200_Terrorism is not yet a daily occurrence, but this summer, it almost began to seem that way. On July 26, a Catholic priest in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvay had his throat slit. A few days earlier, nine people were murdered in a Munich shopping mall. A few days before that, a terrorist attempted to hack to death four people traveling on a German train. And a few days before that, in Nice, 84 innocents celebrating Bastille Day were mowed down by a terrorist in a truck, who swerved back and forth to kill as many people as possible.

And that was just in July. Just a few days ago, ISIS terrorists blew up a wedding party in Turkey, killing fifty people, around half of them children, and wounding the bride and groom.
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Here Goes -- I Mean Amen

ThinkstockPhotos-180407702In part 1 of this piece, I concentrated on ways in which the Internet has harmed our sexuality. Now I want to look at some other areas of concern.

It’s destroyed news.

John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” show doesn’t often deviate from the late night liberal choir-preaching format that Jon Stewart pioneered. But in a recent segment, Oliver makes some incisive points about the state of journalism, particularly the sad fate of the local newspaper. No surprise, the Internet is the driving force behind this extinction event.
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Signs and Wonders

Ebola-Free. Two years ago this week, Dr. Kent Brantley and Nancy Writebol, who had contracted Ebola while working with Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia, were released from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Just over one year ago, Liberia was declared Ebola-free. Ebola is a terrible, frightening disease that is almost always fatal, so both these statements—that these two Americans were cured and that the country is now Ebola-free—are remarkable testimonies to God’s grace and the heroic work of Samaritan’s Purse, SIM (Nancy Writebol’s missions agency) and Doctors Without Borders. To commemorate these accomplishments, I am in Monrovia, Liberia, this week, observing the work, doing interviews, and trying to understand what happened and how we can keep it from happening again. I’ll be posting more on this in the days ahead.

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Here Goes -- I Mean Amen

ThinkstockPhotos-122584470Late last month, the World Wide Web quietly celebrated its 10 thousandth day of existence, making it almost exactly my age. This information space makes up the vast majority of the Internet, which, though technically much older than the Web, didn’t become popular until my lifetime. At this juncture, the two terms are synonymous for most people, and no one knows or cares what “HTTP” stands for anymore. The point is, the slice of the Internet where billions of people spend most of their screen time has had a lengthy test run, and it’s reasonable to evaluate the effect it’s had on us.

The diagnosis isn’t good. And for all its benefits, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’d be better off if the Internet had never been invented. Here’s why.
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Signs and Wonders

ThinkstockPhotos-77749524China’s Revival. Despite relentless persecution for at least the past 70 years, China’s Christian church continues to grow dramatically. According to WORLD’s Mindy Belz, “China’s Christian population has grown from half a million to more than 60 million, arguably one of the greatest stories of the century.” But, Belz also says, “the current nationwide crackdown on the church is real,” because President Xi Jinping “seems rather insecure. He is suspicious of civil society and sees Christianity as a threat: It is the largest force in China outside the Communist party.”

Little Impact. The mainstream media in North Carolina and elsewhere have said repeatedly that the state’s sensible law regarding transgender bathrooms is costing the state money. They cite the National Basketball Association’s decision to pull the upcoming All-Start Game from Charlotte as an example. But the state’s budget director begs to disagree. Andrew Heath said on Monday that the North Carolina economy is doing just fine, thank you. The state has added 300,000 new jobs in the past two years. And even with a recent tax cut, the state will take in 3.9 percent more in revenue next year than this year.
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Internally Displaced Person

ThinkstockPhotos-537605938“El día en que lo iban a matar, Santiago Nasar se levantó a las 5.30 de la mañana para esperar el buque en que llegaba el obispo. Había soñado que atravesaba un bosque de higuerones donde caía una llovizna tierna, y por un instante fue feliz en el sueño, pero al despertar se sintió por completo salpicado de cagada de pájaros.” —Gabriel Garcia Márquez, “Chronicle of a Death Foretold

The Nobel laureate's novella tells the story of a crime everyone (save the victim) knew was going to happen and no one did anything to prevent, largely because they thought that it couldn’t happen. The victim, Santiago Nasar, woke up having dreamt that he was strolling through a forest in a gentle shower, only to discover that he was covered in bird poop.

Sort of like us. We are all stunned at the speed with which religious freedom, which for our purposes means the ability to practice your faith outside your home and church, has unraveled. Yet, we shouldn’t be stunned—this state of affairs has been at least 25 years in the making.

What follows is a chronicle of a death we should have all seen coming.

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Signs and Wonders

51PYIlQCRTL._SX333_BO1204203200_R.I.P., ObamaCare? The Affordable Care Act, better known as ObamaCare, is perhaps the most significant legacy of the current president. However, that legacy may be unraveling. According to an article in Investors Business Daily, Aetna, one of the nation’s largest insurance providers, said it was abandoning plans to expand into five new states, and is “reviewing whether to stay in the 15 states” where it currently sells ObamaCare plans. Aetna’s CEO Mark Bertolini said the company will lose $320 million on ObamaCare plans this year, which was a year it expected to break even after already incurring huge losses to ramp up its ObamaCare program. UnitedHealth Group, Humana, and Blue Cross Blue Shield have already announced plans to scale back or abandon ObamaCare plans. Not only that, according to IBD, this announcement follows “the failure of most of the 23 government-created insurance co-ops . . . and news that insurance companies are putting in for double-digit rate hikes that in some cases top 60 percent, and news that the Congressional Budget Office has sharply downgraded its long-term enrollment forecast for the exchanges.” The IBD says ObamaCare should move toward “free market competition.” It concludes: “How about instead policymakers listen to the original ObamaCare critics? For decades, they've been calling for reforms that lift myriad anti-competitive government regulations, as well as fixes to the tax code so that it no longer massively distorts the insurance market. The resulting free market competition in health care would do what it does everywhere it's allowed to function—improve quality while improving affordability. In other words, it would achieve the things ObamaCare promised but miserably failed to deliver.”

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Priorities

ThinkstockPhotos-516602074It’s been a rough few years for religious liberty, the global church, and world missions, to say the least. Unfortunately, the road ahead looks even rougher.

The recent execution of an 86-year-old Catholic priest in Normandy, France, is just one of the more recent attacks against Christians by the Islamic State or its surrogates. Christians worldwide cheered in the spring when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry finally admitted that ISIS attacks against Christians in the Middle East amounted to “genocide.”

According to Open Doors, Christians are being martyred at an accelerated pace over the last three years, by a variety of groups, including ISIS. Open Doors counts more than 7,000 Christians killed for their faith last year, a substantial increase from 4,344 in 2014 and 2,123 in 2013. These figures do not necessarily include Iraq, Syria, or North Korea, where accurate numbers are hard to come by.
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Signs and Wonders

ThinkstockPhotos-486796916A Day in Court. After all the hubbub and drama, North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” is finally being heard in court. On Monday, according to WORLD, “a district judge [was] considering whether to block its enforcement while courts determine its constitutionality.” The North Carolina law says men must use men’s restrooms and women must use women’s restrooms, regardless of “gender identity.” The law became necessary when Charlotte, the state’s largest city, passed an ordinance that would allow transgender people to choose which bathroom and locker room they wished to use in schools and government buildings. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder will preside over the case in November. The purpose of Monday’s hearing was to give him enough information to make a decision about implementation of the law until there can be a full trial. “I will endeavor to make a decision as soon as I can,” he said. “I know school is about to ramp up.”
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Signs and Wonders

21X-T3RU9CL._UX250_Tim LaHaye Dies. Pastor, author, and activist Tim LaHaye died yesterday at the age of 90. I had the privilege of knowing Dr. LaHaye a bit. One day about 15 years ago I was at a conference with him, and I had my then 10-year-old son Cole with me. Cole was reading "Left Behind" in those days, and on the first day of the conference I introduced him to Dr. LaHaye, who greeted Cole warmly and signed his book. There were a lot of big-name Christian celebrities at this conference, but every time we saw Dr. LaHaye the rest of the weekend, he would pause his conversation with whomever he was talking to and greet Cole by name. I will always have a warm spot in my heart for Tim LaHaye because of that weekend and the way he treated a 10-year-old boy.
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Signs and Wonders

ID-100137511A Grim Anniversary. Last week marked the first anniversary of the release of the first videos by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). The videos captured Planned Parenthood officials bartering and selling body parts of unborn children. Sen. Ted Cruz released a statement on the anniversary, July 13, saying, “The horrifying videos released last summer revealed the grim reality of Planned Parenthood’s barbaric practices. The footage shows senior Planned Parenthood officials laughing and swilling chardonnay as they casually and callously discuss the killing of unborn children in order to sell their body parts.” Since the release of the videos, however, not much has happened to stop government funding of Planned Parenthood. The organization still gets hundreds of millions of dollars each year in government funding, despite the efforts of Cruz in the Senate, and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) in the House, to defund Planned Parenthood. We did recently see one positive development, however: David Daleiden, the man responsible for the videos, recently had criminal charges against him dropped—charges that most legal observers say should never have been brought in the first place.
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Signs and Wonders

Abdu_Murray_750x499Societal Breakdown. Key indicators of social wellness in the black community are discouraging. As a percentage of the population, abortions among African-Americans are two or three times the national average. Nearly 75 percent of African-American children have unmarried parents. Many commentators say these melancholy statistics are the residue of slavery and other forms of racism. Others point to a breakdown of civil society—churches and other institutions—within the African-American community. Ismael Hernandez, founder and executive director of the Freedom & Virtue Institute, blames the “New Deal” and the “Great Society” of the 20th century. His new book is “Not Tragically Colored: Freedom, Personhood, and the Renewal of Black America,” and it’s worth a read. If you want to sample before you buy, our friends at WORLD have posted an excerpt here.
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Priorities

papyrus_front_lgWhen it comes to conspiracy theories about Jesus, sometimes fiction really is stranger than truth.

Just ask Karen King, who allowed herself to be taken in by one of the most spectacular forgeries related to the academic study of Jesus and early Christianity. An unmasking of the fraud is recounted in Ariel Sabar’s article “The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife,” in the June 23 edition of The Atlantic.

King holds Harvard University’s 295-year-old Hollis Professorship of Divinity and is author of the 2003 book “The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle.” She sent shock waves through the academic and religious worlds nearly four years ago when presenting a 1,300-year-old papyrus fragment that she had dubbed “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” to a conference in Rome.

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Here Goes -- I Mean Amen

screwtape_6A few days ago I stumbled across this 2013 panel discussion on Australia’s “Q&A” with guests including Peter Hitchens and Dan Savage. Savage is a gay activist and columnist; Hitchens, as many of you will know, is younger brother to the late New Atheist rock star Christopher Hitchens. He’s also a devout Christian who, aside from some political issues, stands in diametric opposition to everything his brother believed.

The discussion is lengthy but well worth watching for a couple of reasons. First, it shows what a remarkable person Hitchens is in his own right, not just as the religious version of everything people admired about Christopher. But more importantly, it’s the best demonstration I’ve ever seen of the reality distortion field that forms when large numbers of people believe a naked lie.

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Semper Quaerens

ID-100415471My mother, who died two years ago, would have been 85 years old last Thursday, June 23. She died just 10 months after my father passed away. And then came the terrific shock of losing my younger brother, who died unexpectedly and far away, 16 months ago.

Chuck Colson, with whom I worked for nearly 18 years, had died in 2012, which was also a jolt. And my 13-year-old dachshund, a “little heartbeat at my feet” (to slightly paraphrase Edith Wharton), died last year. (Those of you who have beloved pets will understand how intense and long-lasting the grief of losing them can be.)

My pastor told me that many of us experience two kinds of loss: the grief of losing the loved one, and the loss of any chance to do things differently, vis-a-vis our interactions with them. Both kinds are awful.
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Signs and Wonders

ThinkstockPhotos-526564090A "Repulsive" Way. United Way affiliates provide almost $3 million a year to Planned Parenthood, according to the conservative watchdog group 2nd Vote and The Daily Signal. “Last year, 2nd Vote compiled an exhaustive list of United Way affiliates that helped fund the world’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood,” 2nd Vote spokesman Robert Kuykendall said in a statement. “The latest available financial documentation for each of these affiliates indicates that United Way funnels almost $3 million to Planned Parenthood every year.” A total of 76 United Way affiliates donated to Planned Parenthood, according to 2nd Vote’s analysis. 2nd Vote conducted its analysis by reviewing Form 990 filings for United Way affiliates in tax years 2013 and 2014. “Financial support for Planned Parenthood from nonprofits like United Way helps fund an organization that engages in repulsive practices and is an advocate for policies that allow the destruction of innocent lives,” Kuykendall said. The only good news in the analysis: the amount donated in 2014, the last year for which Form 990s are available, was slightly less than in 2013.
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Internally Displaced Person

Lately, I’ve been binge-watching nature documentaries on streaming services and, to a lesser extent on Blu-ray. For those of you old enough to remember “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” the stuff I have been watching is nothing like the adventures of Marlon Perkins, or to be more accurate, the adventures of Jim Fowler and, later, Peter Gros, as Perkins kept a safe distance.

vulturesThese documentaries, the best of which are produced by the BBC, are “nature red in tooth and claw.” (It’s fascinating that the same poem that gave us that phrase also gave us “Tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” But I digress.) Lots of animals die in these documentaries, from baby caribou to baby whales. There’s nothing sentimental about them.

The lack of sentimentality includes seemingly-mandatory scenes of scavengers, like vultures, crows, and perhaps the most disquieting one I’ve seen, the hagfish. To be fair, scavengers get a bad rap. For starters, very few renowned predators, such as the big cats, will turn their noses up on a carcass if they’re hungry enough, and even if they’re not. And, as the people of India have learned the hard way, scavengers play an important, even vital, role in the ecosystem.

Still, it’s impossible to love scavengers, or even like them. Watching them quarrel over gnarly remains, as in this segment (starting at about the 17:20 mark) from one of my favorite nature documentaries, “Ganges,” is, if anything, even more distasteful than what they’re quarreling over.

Which is why I’m distressed by the way some of my brethren and friends have been carrying on like so many lammergeiers, vultures, and crows fighting over a goat carcass.

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Signs and Wonders

ID-100106434Not Necessarily News. It is probably no surprise that professors registered as Democrats outnumber those registered as Republicans by a ratio of roughly 12 to one at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, the state’s flagship educational institution. A conservative publication called The College Fix got a faculty directory and then compared it to the state’s online voter database, maintained by the State Board of Elections. The publication looked up the names of 1,355 UNC Chapel Hill professors. Of those, 615 were registered Democrats, while only 50 were registered Republicans. The remaining party affiliations included 299 professors who are unaffiliated (in North Carolina, voters can register as unaffiliated), 291 whose names could not be found in the database, and 98 whose party affiliations could not be determined. Two professors are registered libertarians. According to The College Fix: “Democrat professors outnumber Republican ones in every single department surveyed, and what’s more, nearly half of the 34 departments probed found no registered Republicans at all.”
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Internally Displaced Person

ID-100350919The bodies at Orlando’s Pulse club were still far from room temperature when people started “explaining” what had happened. By the time I was at church on Sunday morning, there were four “alternative” “explanations” vying to control how people interpreted what happened: Radical Islam/Jihadism, including a critique of the Obama administration’s response to the threat they pose; the availability of guns; homophobia; and mental illness.

Those quotations marks in the previous paragraph are scare quotes. For starters, the four things listed are not, logically speaking, alternatives. As Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic tweeted out, the “Orlando massacre can be about Islamism, access to guns, homophobia and mental illness, all at the same time.”

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