My reflections and musings on the struggle to leave a Christ-shaped impression on the world of law and public policy.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Tilted Gospel

If you follow my blog, you know that quite a controversy has been stirred up in Harrisonburg about the opening of "The Tilted Kilt" here in town.  A couple of weeks ago, following on the heels of two separate Op-Eds raising a variety of concerns about the business, an ad appeared on the back page of the newspaper.  It stated:

The River Church WELCOMES THE TILTED KILT TO HARRISONBURG.  We know that The Tilted Kilt has come under some fire from people who claim to speak on behalf of people of faith, but we at The River Church want to stand firm in support of business and job growth in our community.  While some may pray that the restaurant fail, we believe prayer is best suited to matters of love, hope, healing and peace.  ...  If you are interested in a church where love and tolerance reigns as it did for Jesus, check us out!  All our [sic] welcome!

Now first of all, just to be clear on the facts, my Op-Ed did not mention the word "pray" or "prayer."  It did not, in fact, even mention Jesus or Christianity, but focused on the various types of harms that businesses like TK pose to various members of the community and their relationships. 

But the clear implication of The River Church's advertisement is that my condemnation of the TK business model (exploiting women's bodies for profit, appealing to men's sexual appetite, damaging relationships) is directly at odds with the "love and tolerance" of Jesus.  Unfortunately, this isn't a novel idea, but one that plagues the Body of Christ at every turn.  Many Christians and churches have been cowed into silent retreat from the moral debates raging in our society by this stinging accusation that our rejection of certain systems, laws, lifestyles or ideas as "wrong" is a message of judgment and therefore unloving and not Christ-like.

To be sure, Jesus was loving, and He welcomed even the most notorious of sinners to His side.  But He never shrugged His shoulders at their sin.  His message to the woman caught in adultery was not, "Go, your sin doesn't matter."  It was, "Go, and sin no more."  He knew all along that her sin, and mine, would cost His life.

The idea of "tough love" sounds trite, but real love is tough.  In fact, it is impossible for one to really love another while condoning the other's sin, because all of God's laws have been given to us for our good.  And certainly love does not affirm sin as a virtue!  A Christian welcoming a business built upon lust into her community is like a mother welcoming a sexual predator into her daughter's bedroom.

How can we, having been rescued from the hopeless existence of a life apart from God, remain silent as friends and neighbors gorge themselves on the counterfeit pleasures of a darkened world?  How can we, having been rescued from the quicksand of our sin, tell others who are sinking that they are on solid ground?

When I attended Elkton Pride Day some time ago, I had a long conversation with a Unitarian Universalist minister.  I was seeking to understand how he reconciled his views on homosexuality with the Bible.  At one point I asked him, "How do you believe people can be saved?"  He responded that basically, we just do the best we can to be good.  Our conversation came to an end then, as I simply explained that this was a message of condemnation to me, because I know that I am not good.  Even the "good" that I try to do is tainted by sinful motives and pride.

And this, essentially is my point.  The message of "I'm o.k., you're o.k.," is candy-coated poison.  I'm not o.k., and you're not o.k., and that is why Jesus was tortured and killed.  But because He took our punishment, there is hope for us, and something so much more, so much better, than the rubbish this world is peddling.

    I know a place, a wonderful place
    Where accused and condemned
    Find mercy and grace
    Where the wrongs we have done
    And the wrongs done to us
    Were nailed there with Him
    There on the cross.


Friday, May 24, 2013

The Untold Story of House Bill 1 - The Unalienable Right to Life Act

Upon eagerly opening The Family Foundation’s latest “Report Card,” I was surprised to find no record of the votes on Delegate Bob Marshall’s House Bill 1, which figured so prominently into the highly-publicized weeping and gnashing of teeth by Virginia abortion lobbyists in 2012.  This legislation would clarify that, for purposes of construing Virginia law, every human being is considered a person with fundamental rights, from the time of conception until natural death. 

One of the practical effects of the legislation would have been the automatic creation of a civil cause of action for the wrongful death of an unborn child—allowing either parent of an unborn baby to bring a lawsuit against a person whose wrongful act killed the baby.  While this was important, and a laudable pro-life goal in and of itself, the implications and effects of House Bill 1 are much broader, deeper, and more significant. 

The goal with HB1 was never limited to the creation of a lawsuit, but was more fundamental:  the recognition of the humanity of pre-born babies for all legal purposes.  Such recognition makes a loud, clear pro-life statement, of course.  The statement is that abortion is the killing of a human baby—the killing of a person endowed with inalienable rights rather than the dignified disposal of impersonal, meaningless “products of conception.”

But there is more to HB1 than even that bold proclamation of truth.  By acting on the Commonwealth’s prerogative to decide for itself which “persons” are possessed of fundamental rights under the Virginia Constitution and Code, the legislature can significantly impact judicial decisions on legal challenges to future pro-life legislation.  In essence, while HB1 does nothing to directly erode the “reproductive rights” created by the United States Supreme Court, it would introduce a new category of “rights” to be considered by the courts:  the bundle of fundamental rights the bill explicitly acknowledges as belonging to every human being from conception until natural death.

I don’t know why HB1 wasn’t mentioned in the Report Card.  Maybe it was because the story was too big to be reduced to a few lines of print and evaluated with simple plus and minus symbols.  Maybe it was because The Family Foundation was content that a separate bill, Senate Bill 674, created the wrongful death cause of action that would also have resulted from passage of HB1– even though it omitted that critical recognition of the humanity and basic rights of the unborn child.  I don’t know the reason, but here is the untold story:

HB1 passed the House of Delegates easily, for the second consecutive year.  Then it headed to the Senate to be heard by the highly unpredictable Education and Health Committee.  When we arrived at the Committee room at around 7:30 a.m., lines were already forming.  It was Planned Parenthood's Lobby Day, and abortion activists turned out in droves.

Our hopes were not particularly high that HB1 would survive this Committee. In fact, we were convinced that it would be quite the miracle for that to happen after The Family Foundation had given its support to SB674, which many viewed (incorrectly) as an acceptable alternative. 

The hearing was long and heated. The spiritual battle in that room was almost palpable. A number of times, opponents of the bill (who, again, packed the sizeable room) were threatened with removal for their inappropriate comments and interruptions. At one point, someone was removed.

But when the vote was taken, it was 8-7 to report the bill to the full Senate (a win!). That was incredible!

In the lobby, opponents chanted and waved their arms menacingly. At one point, one woman took a swing at Delegate Marshall and had to be restrained by the police. I was verbally accosted by two different women, separately. After several minutes, police gave the order to "clear the lobby."  Opponents proceeded outside, where they lined the street with their signs, chanting, "My body--my choice!"

Just a few hours later, in a rare procedural move, the Senate leadership had expedited the bill to the Senate floor (where it was not expected until Monday). Senator Dick Saslaw, a Democrat from the Education and Health Committee, moved to send the bill BACK to the same Committee that had just passed it, for reconsideration in 2013. His motion was seconded by the Republican Majority Leader, Senator Tommy Norment.  

Senator Mark Obenshain courageously spoke against the motion and insisted that a recorded vote be taken on it.  However, five Republicans voted with the Democrats to send the bill back to Committee.  These five were Tommy Norment, Frank Ruff, Frank Wagner, John Watkins and Harry Blevins, who had voted to report the bill from Committee only hours before!  (Ponder the motivations of these five.  Are they not pro-life?  Do they believe life begins sometime after conception?) 

This effectively killed the bill for the year.  While Senator Steve Martin could have convened a special session of the Committee last fall to revive the bill, he declined to do so.

The rest of the story remains to be written. 

The pro-life community should thank Delegate Marshall for doing the hard, unpopular work of carrying strong, meaningful legislation that holds real potential to change the game in abortion law.  I am unspeakably sad about the fact that his valiant efforts appear to have been ignored by those who should be providing the strongest support. 

We should also thank Senator Mark Obenshain for taking a courageous stand on the Senate floor, resisting the efforts of some politicians (including Republican leaders) to pervert the normal legislative process by avoiding a full, recorded floor vote on the legislation itself. 

These legislators deserve to have this story told.

I am hopeful that all those who care deeply about the sanctity of human life will coalesce around the few champions we have in the General Assembly, and that House Bill 1--broadly recognizing the unique, inherent value of every human life--will yet become the law of Virginia.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

This is Abortion.

The recent conviction and sentencing of Kermit Gosnell, along with the national attention it ultimately commanded, marks an important chapter in the contentious debate about abortion.  Many in the pro-life camp were initially outraged about the media’s conspicuous decision to ignore the whole story.  But the sad truth is that the silence reveals greater logical consistency than the outrage.

Gosnell’s clinic existed to perform the perfectly lawful service of killing human babies inside their mothers’ wombs.  While that act will always be horrific in the minds of some, to many others it is--though perhaps sad and unfortunate--a necessary reality in a world of “reproductive rights.” 

If we are honest about it, we must admit that the lawful acts we knew Gosnell to be doing and passively accepted (the same acts that will end the lives of over 3,000 babies in the U.S. today) are only marginally distinct from the unlawful acts that have forever branded Gosnell so deviant as to be practically sub-human.

How arbitrary we are, as a society, in our moral judgments!  One physician performs an intentional act that ends the life of a tiny human being, and an army of elite, educated, activists will dedicate their lives to applauding and defending his ability to legally do so.  Another physician performs the same act on a tiny human being who has emerged from the woman’s womb, and he is roundly deplored as the brutal criminal of the year. 

How is it that a matter of spatial inches or relative anatomical positioning could ever be the dividing line between an act that is celebrated as the facilitation of civil rights--the empowerment of women--and an act that is condemned as heinous murder?   How is it that if an angry boyfriend kills an unborn child he can be prosecuted for homicide, but if the mother kills the same child, it is a private, protected “choice”?

This is the absurdity of legalized abortion.  Where do we go from here?

As a modest starting point, we might seek means of investigating claims that Gosnell’s practices were an aberration from the allegedly clean, safe, and dignified business of abortion.  Under present circumstances, it is difficult to do so systematically.

In a recent article that appeared in the Washington Post, reporters cited statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to demonstrate the alleged safety of abortion.  According to CDC numbers, 10 women died from abortions in 2010, compared with 793 deaths from bicycle accidents.

The comparison is misleading and irresponsible because, in the case of CDC abortion statistics, the numbers that tell the real story are the numbers that aren’t there.   Even states that require abortion reporting do not require reporting to the CDC.  The Alan Guttmacher Institute has estimated that the voluntarily reported information excludes data on as many as 45-50% of annual abortions.

Awareness of this “missing data” problem seems to be growing.  For instance, a 2011 Chicago Tribune story by Megan Twohey flagged the disparity between the number of Illinois abortion providers that reported required data to state officials (26) and the number of providers actually in business (37). The article also suggested that the state’s data failed to account for as many as 17,000 abortions annually.

Rather than burying deadly realities in spurious statistics, let’s have the intellectual honesty to admit that abortion politics have paved the way for a new kind of “back alley.”  Let’s take what we have learned from the Gosnell tragedy and insist, at the very least, upon meaningful oversight of businesses built upon human demolition. 

But let’s not stop there.  Let’s be “enlightened” enough to admit that we are hypocrites when we accept legalized abortion as a paragon of civil rights but we cringe in horror at the mention of snipped baby spinal cords.  We have strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel.

Yes, our judiciary has hijacked our ability to maintain morally consistent, life-honoring laws.  But we, the people, must never rest in our efforts to reassert our authority and restore our collective integrity.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

An Issue of Modesty (Confessions of a Reformed Bikini Wearer Who Still Aspires to Be Fashionable)

First a disclaimer.  As suggested by the title of this post, the only thing that "qualifies" me to be blogging on this topic is the fact that I was once dismissive of the virtue of modesty, but have since examined my former thoughts and attitudes on the subject and found them wanting. 

A number of the online comments to my Op-Ed on The Tilted Kilt raised a great point:  what is the difference between patronizing the TK, where busty waitresses wear bikini tops, and going to the beach or pool, where lots of women wear bikinis? 

Well, I believe there are some differences.  Perhaps foremost among them is that businesses like the TK are capitalizing on consumers' sexual appetites and exploiting vulnerable young women who are in need of cash and might not fully recognize the extent to which they debase themselves by putting on the tawdry "costumes."  At the pool or beach, ladies are not paid to dress scantily, less material coverage serves an actual, practical purpose for the swimmer or sunbather, and a woman's (or girl's, in some cases) choice of attire is therefore more essentially her own.

And yet, I must in all honesty admit that I AM concerned about our culture's acceptance of a swimming dress code in which females are basically undressed.  We can talk about free choice all we want, but we can't ignore the external pressures and internal longings that influence those choices.

There is a battle raging in every woman's heart and mind as she embarks upon the dreaded "swimsuit shopping" trip.  As a woman who has endured countless such shopping trips with friends and family members, I can assure you that even the most beautiful women struggle with "body image."  We learn from television, movies, songs, magazines, books, friends, and from history, for goodness' sake, that men are drawn to beautiful women.  And I have never known a woman who didn't want to be considered beautiful by, well, everyone.  But most of all, she wants to be attractive to men.

In my experience, when a girl comes to understand that what most men want is a toned, tanned body in a skimpy bikini, she reacts in one of two ways:  she either covers up a body that she feels can never measure up, and carries around the conviction that she is simply not beautiful, or she arms herself in the suit she feels best displays her "assets," and settles in for a poolside race to the bottom.

The sad thing is, this is an arms race that can never be finally won.  Male attention won through a physical beauty contest is quickly lost to exciting new competitors.  And the inevitable aging process means that our winning attributes are fleeting. 

I have only given up my bikinis in the past several years (well, I haven't given them up entirely: I now reserve them for private hot tub use with my husband!).  My decision, initially, was a practical one.  Believe me, chasing after a toddler at the swimming pool whilst wearing a bikini is not ideal.   But once covering up was no longer a practical necessity, I began to reconsider my prior swimwear choices and the fearful, selfish, and impoverished thinking that led to them.

My thinking was fearful because it was, in part, based on my fears that in order to earn male attention and appreciation, I had to compete (as best I could) with the other body displays at the pool.  For me, then, wearing the bikini with whatever pride I could muster in my appearance was really a signal of deeper insecurities.

It was selfish because it did not consider the possibility that I may have been a source of temptation for some men, a source of discouragement for a young girl struggling with her own body image, or simply another gear in the machinery that perpetuates this communal undressing. 

But finally, my thinking was impoverished because it did not allow for the possibility that this was a competition I didn't need to win; that I am a unique, valuable, significant--and, yes, beautiful--person who is fully loved and understood.  It didn't allow for the possibility that poolside admiration by one and all was not something I had to have.  In this regard, my thinking was a failure to find my identity in Christ. 

Please hear this:  I am not advocating a Christian crack-down on bathing suits.  I am well aware that modesty in dress is one of those issues that can quickly turn into legalism, and that is a BAD thing for everyone.  But I do believe that every Christian, and Christian ladies in particular, should think through the issue of modesty very carefully.  When it comes to modesty, my belief is that it should not be about rules but about love.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

To Betty Cook, et al.

If you read my last post about The Tilted Kilt, which was published by the Daily News Record, you won't be surprised that I've been receiving some online comments about it and about the interview I did with our local television station.  Now I am certainly no stranger to the feeding frenzy that is the online comment venue.  But I must say that I was a bit taken aback by some of the commentary on this particular issue.

Of course, many of the remarks stuck with the tried-and-true, unimaginative line of accusations that are trotted out as a matter of course against any person who dares to encourage societal evaluation of the morality of any law, business, or practice.  You've heard these ad nauseum, and they were certainly on parade last week:
  • "I cannot believe the narrow minded, holier than thou attitudes of some [people]..." [This author goes on to suggest that I become amish because, after all, "it's not like they're working in the nude."  Um, no, they're working in their underwear...]
  • "What a prude."
  • "I think this lady just needs to get over he [sic] self and go join the Amish families because she is so worried about 'preserving' family values???"

Somewhat more interesting, or at least more telling about our society's attitude toward issues of morality, were the numerous comments of the "live and let live" variety.  "If you don't like it, don't go there." 

What's interesting about this is that it is precisely what I suggested in both my Op-Ed and my television interview.  I have not called for a government shut-down, police raid, or tighter zoning restrictions.  I have not even called for a picket (although I did consider that!).  I have merely suggested that members of this community refuse to patronize this business out of an awareness of the various harms that it will cause to people and relationships. 

So what is implicit in the outrage about my speaking out is that these commenters would have me be silent about my concerns.  In other words, "If you don't like it, don't go there, AND keep your opinions to yourself while you stay home." 

This viewpoint is troubling to me, in that it signals an utter lack of desire to engage in a genuine, meaningful debate about an issue.   A couple of commenters said things like, "I am a member of this community too, and Rita does not represent my values."  But they didn't say what their values are, as they relate to this issue.  Even Tony Williams, the manager of the establishment, stated that the Tilted Kilt is founded upon core values and principles.  But he neglected to mention what, exactly, those are. 

The most shocking line of comments (although not, ultimately, the most troubling) were the hateful personal attacks, led by a woman named Betty Cook.  Betty said, "This women [sic] is just upset because of her plain Jane look..."  Ouch!  Several other remarks of this ilk suggested that I was refused a job at Tilted Kilt, insulted my clothing, and chided me for being unable to "inspire lust with [my] ankle length garb." (I was wearing slacks and a sweater on the television interview). 

One commenter stated simply, "Rita Dunaway, I hope you fail!"  Yet, ironically, one person instructed me to "STOP HATING..."

Betty Cook et al., you got me.  I will never be anything more than a plain Jane to a Tilted Kilt manager.  Most women won't.  I probably couldn't get a job there if I tried.  Most women couldn't.

But to my Heavenly Father, I am beautiful, precious, and lovely.  I was created for real intimacy and meaningful relationship.  I am understood.  I have dignity, worth, and value.  I was designed, individually, for a purpose.  And the thing is, Betty, so were you.  So were they.

The Tilted Kilt is in business because so many hurting people have swallowed the lies of this world.  They have settled for the fleeting and the superficial.  They have settled for bondage.  But I have hope that we need not settle. We are created for MORE.  And I won't leave off reminding people of that.