Sunday, October 7, 2012

Cultural Literacy: Kate Smith

I don't recall how it came up in conversation, but the other night I found myself asking my co-workers if they knew who Kate Smith was.  I was a little surprised to find out none of them (mostly much younger than I) had never heard of her.

Now, to be honest, since Smith retired from public life when I was still in high school, I must admit I am only familiar with her because of my enjoyment of television variety shows.  Not something your average teenager indulges in.  In fact, they are a relic of the younger days of television. Before I became familiar with her from her appearances on shows like those hosted by Dean Martin and the Smothers Brothers, she had a lengthy career as a recording artist and was one of America's most popular radio personalities - having top variety and news/commentary programs.

Kate Smith had a big voice, not one you would ever forget if you had once heard her sing.  She is most famous for making famous what Irving Berlin called his most important song:

That song was also to be the last one she performed in public, during bicentennial celebrations in 1976.  After that, she retired from public life.

Even though she was gone for 15 years when terrorists attacked on 11 September, 2001 -- that afternoon, as the terrible reality began soaking in and I realized that there were people on this planet that hated this country so very much they would commandeer full commercial airplanes and fly them into a pair of skyscrapers in New York City, the Pentagon and attempt a fourth attack on the White House -- that afternoon almost more than anything else I wanted to hear Miss Smith sing, "God Bless America".

Smith, in addition to her recording, radio and television work appeared in 7 movies herself and her voice is found on the soundtrack of 19 more, according to IMDB .  So, even though you may not know her name, you may have heard her voice.  

Go to YouTube and IMDB and get to know this American Icon.

Half the Truth

Carolyn Custis James is riding the Half the Sky movement for all its worth.  In the wake of this week's showing on PBS's Independent Lens of the movie based on the book, James has a piece in the Huffington Post this weekend.  See here.

One thing Mrs James forgets.  One thing Kristof and WuDunn deny.  One thing World Vision ignores in their partnership with Half the Sky.

Without the right to life, no other right matters.  It means nothing to have any other right if we do not first have the right to our own lives.

Nothing. Else. Matters.

James is "cut to the bone" by the accusation that Christians don't care as much about African women as we do about "the lives of unborn fetuses."  The first problem with that is that they are not merely "unborn fetuses".  They are human beings made in the image of God, same as the African women we Christians are accused of not caring enough about. 

I'm beginning to wonder where Mrs. James has really been for the past 40 years. In the 1970s I know I heard little, if anything, about sidewalk counseling and the horrors of abortion in my suburban, mostly white, Evangelical church. But I did hear about missionaries in Africa and I did wear a bracelet which helped me remember to pray for a woman who was imprisoned in the Soviet Union because she was a Christian. Since then, I've heard as much about child brides, female genital mutilation, acid attacks and a sort of enforced sati as I have about abortion.

I've been privileged to hear women (and men) who have risked their lives for the sake of others around the world. Women like Baroness Caroline Cox who has risked her life multiple times to redeem slaves -- a woman who continued the practice even when her own government (she was Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords) told her, "If you get caught, we've never heard of you".  And read about young women like Grace Akallo, a former child soldier from Uganda ( you will learn more about Grace in a week or two when I post a review of the book she wrote with my friend, Faith McDonnell).

So, if Mrs. James wants to say we haven't done enough, she'll get no argument from me.  But that's not what she says.  She uncritically uses the language of pro-abortion "family planners" to deny the humanity, the image-bearing status, of the child before birth. And then agrees with them that we have turned a "blind eye" towards other atrocities happening around the world.

And that's a lie.  It only looks that way to some because they  have turned a blind eye to the humanity and vulnerability of the child in the womb.  The have turned what should be the safest place on earth into a place of unspeakable violence, of tearing the most vulnerable members of the human family limb from limb and discarding them in the trash like so much offal (in fact, one abortionist is now facing charges for feeding the human remains of abortion to dogs).

We care about abortion, about children even before they are born, and we care about their moms because we know this comes first.  We act because we know that if we don't do this work, we won't do that work in a way that helps rather than hurts.

And hurting is precisely what Half the Sky and their partners and promoters do when they promote the myth of overpopulation and the necessity of "family planning" which harms women physically, emotionally and spiritually.

We know that the only way to really help women, instead of imposing an agenda that harms rather than helps, is to be unashamedly prolife in word and deed.

And to those who are not unashamedly prolife?  Well, I guess it probably does look like we care a whole lot more about "unborn fetuses" than we do women in Africa.  When the truth is, they are one and the same.  They are both victims of evil in this fallen world.

I wish to God they weren't.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

World Vision's Disturbing Partnership

The Independent Lens/Half the Sky movie premiered on PBS this week. The movie is the outgrowth of a movement sparked by a book of the same name from NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn.  I review the book here.  As I show in my review, the book is flawed by the premises of its authors who are staunch abortion rights supporters with a prejudice against Christianity.  Their aim is more than simply admirable but their approach is so flawed that their work and the organization cannot be commended to Christians.

In spite of this, the Half the Sky phenomenon has been heavily promoted by Carolyn Custis James (echoing it in the title of her own book, Half the Church) who invited WuDunn to speak at the last Synergy conference and has used her blog and twitter feed to regular promote the Kristof/WuDun work.  Half the Sky has also been promoted by Bill Hybels and Willow Creek who turned over all three services one weekend this past May to an interview with Kristof (my reaction and video of the event available here). Willow Creek also had WuDunn speak as "faculty" for their summer leadership institute.  While Kristof is more widely known as a NYT columnist, WuDunn is every bit as dangerous to the health and well being of women around the world as evidenced by her TED talk linked in this post . In that talk, WuDunn peddles the repeatedly discredited overpopulation myth while also advocating the putting aside of morality for pragmatics in "helping" women. Putting together the overpopulation myth with education advocacy, it becomes clear that WuDunn thinks the best way to help women is to ensure they have fewer babies.  Never mind that the overpopulation and  "reproductive rights" that WuDunn supports have overwhelming victimized (before they are even born) the littlest women on the planet to the point where demographers estimate the number of missing girls may be as high as 200 MILLION.

Even though I knew many Christians had been shocked into indignation by the atrocities Kristof and WuDunn reveal, in preparing to watch the documentary I was caught up short when I noticed on the bottom right corner of the page listing sponsors that World Vision is a featured partner of the Half the Sky Movement:

Holding onto a bit of disbelief, I telephoned World Vision and was asked to email them my concerns.  I sent an email including many of the same links I am including in this blog post here. I also contacted some friends for feedback, one of whom responded to World Vision with a letter of his own (he is a pastor, theologian and missionary in Africa who well knows the devastation and abuse that western aid agencies with a pro-abortion/birth control agenda visit upon women they deem in need of their help). My concern is not simply the abortion agenda, for I understand there are legitimate projects upon which Christian groups can work with secular groups without compromising the pro-life beliefs of the Christian group.  But this is not simply a limited cooperation for a particular project, this is a major partnership which World Vision is promoting on their own web site.  

By doing so, World Vision is not simply partnering with a new movement, they are partnering with the partners of Half the Sky as well. Other partners include Marie Stopes International and Center for Reproductive Rights the former is a major international abortion provider and the latter an international advocate for uninhibited "reproductive freedom". The abortion/overpopulation agenda is neatly tied together by having the Gates Foundation as a major funder .  Melinda Gates, you may know, has created some controversy by claiming there is No Controversy in contraception. 

Because of these concerns I have outlined above, it was with deep disappointment and sadness that I received World Vision's response to my concerns.  I include the body of their response here (excluding a few words of greeting and closing which are particular to my relationship to them and past sponsorship).  Please take note that, while they assert their pro-life views, they both defend their partnership with Half the Sky as well as making positive references to family planning:

World Vision is one of 32 partners with Half the Sky, and some of these groups may approach maternal health and family planning differently than World Vision. However, we are working together toward a common goal to help women and girls reach their God-given potential in a world that would allow them to freely live, work, and express themselves. As World Vision addresses serious issues that affect the poorest of the poor, we belong to advocacy and technical networks that may include groups with whom we disagree on theological grounds or certain issues. This does not mean we endorse their positions on other issues or support these organizations. However, we are working toward the same goal, which is preserving lives and advancing the cause of those in need.
We share your concern for the well-being of all children, including those in their mother's womb. For more than 60 years World Vision has been working to save the lives of these children who are so near our Savior's heart-not only to save their lives, but to break the cycle of poverty so that they, their children, and their children's children can live healthy, productive lives.
Please be assured that World Vision inexorably opposes the use of abortion, as it runs contrary to everything for which we stand. All of World Vision's efforts seek to save, extend, and enhance life. World Vision's policy denies the use or promotion of abortion as a method of family planning in any of its projects.
World Vision's survival programs have saved countless lives of children and their mothers. Through improved nutrition, diarrhea control, expanded immunization, and birth spacing, families are healthier and more of their children are surviving the first few perilous years of life.
We are concerned that much of the progress we have seen in the lives of mothers and their children might be reversed if families do not have access to maternal education on topics such as birth spacing methods and prolonged breast-feeding practices. Children born to mothers who are too young or too old have a diminished chance of survival. The health of the mother and all children in a family is affected when births are too close together.
World Vision believes that life begins at conception and encourages family planning programs, that are proven not to be abortive in nature, in areas where the programs are desired by individuals and acceptable to both the culture and government of the region. World Vision faces challenging issues of economics and culture in its sponsorship communities around the world. Our aim is to ensure the survival of each child through community development and health efforts. We believe family planning and child spacing are only part of our efforts to enable families to enjoy healthier lives.

Nearly half a century ago, the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae fell like a bombshell on the Catholic Church as well as the wider world.  It was widely ignored, condemned and a year later termed a dead letter.  And yet the intervening decades have shown that the four broad predictions Paul VI made have come to pass.  One of them was the prediction that there would be a coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.  Here is just one example of US foreign aid being tied to family planning.  In this, governments and foundations such as Gates work together to promote abortion, sterilization and birth control. It is not a beast you can tame, thinking you have forged a relationship of trust -- and then turn your back on it.  

Because of this, I have informed World Vision that I will not be sponsoring another orphan.  In fact, I will not knowingly give them one thin dime of my money so long as they are partnering with groups promoting practices that harm women, men and their children.  

I urge you to consider doing the same.  Contact World Vision and tell them you will not support an organization that joins hands with the Culture of Death.