Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

China and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Our local paper carried a story over the weekend describing how China enforces its strict family-planning policies. Hundreds of mothers heavy with child are forced into hospitals for late-term abortions. Chinese authorities frame their justification for such brutality in terms of the wider social good—an effort to control population growth; population size, they contend, impacts basic quality of life, including availability of food, shelter and work.

But the matter once again brings attention to China as a major violator of basic human rights. Jane Deren, Senior Advisor to the Roman Catholic Center for Concern in Washington, D.C., listed twenty areas in which China fails to measure up to basic human rights.

On December 10, the world will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the most important document of the twentieth century: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 30 brief articles, this 1772-word document sets forth the moral consensus of the post-war community of nations. Increasingly, the document functions to establish a behavioral norm by which governmental action is judged.

The Declaration was frequently quoted before, during, and after the games of the 29th Olympiad held in Beijing. Human rights activists widely protested the 2001 decision to allow China to host the games. But, as is often the case, money trumps morality; China is the fastest growing economy in the world, an important trade partner with all industrialized countries. An estimated $42 billion dollars was spent on the 2008 Olympics

Working conditions are high on the list human rights concerns in China. The Declaration sets forth the ideal in article 32, which says, in part: “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment… to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity… the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

The Declaration also declares that everyone, including the citizens of China, “has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…to change his religion or belief, and …to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Christians, especially, have been denied this right and there is widespread repression of both political and religious freedoms common in most places in the world.

While the Olympics brought increased media attention to these abuses, so also will the thousands of students who are flocking to China. Of the 241,791 Americans who studied abroad in 2006-7, more than 11,000 were in China, a one thousand percent increase from one decade ago. Many of these students will stumble upon occasions of human rights abuses; some will become grass-roots reporters in the campaign to hold China responsible for its manifold indifference to basic rights.

None of these will be more tragic, more traumatic that forcing mothers to abort their children. Decisions about marriage and family are fundamental to human rights, as the Declaration states: “Men and women of full age…have the right to marry and to found a family….The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”

China has a long way to go—economically, politically, and morally—before it is able to celebrate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Don’t Bring Your Guns to Town

Not two weeks ago a father took his eight year old son to a gun show in Westfield Massachusetts. While there and with the boy’s father giving his approval a vendor handed to the boy a fully–loaded Uzi submachine gun. The boy wanted to test fire the weapon. The Uzi was too much for the little boy to handle; he lost control of the weapon while it was firing and shot himself in the head. He died.

Of course, we were all grieved by this tragic accident but am I the only one who was astounded at the facts of this case: that an eight year old boy can attend a gun show, that the weapons at gun shows are loaded, that little boys are permitted to fire weapons, and that it is legal for a gun dealer to hand a loaded Uzi to an eight year old boy?

Good God! I am more than astounded. I have no word strong enough to express my shock and outrage. Yet I read not a single editorial, column, or letter-to-the-editor in protest of this death.

Then there was the episode in Texas. A man saw two men crawling out the windows of a neighbor’s house. He called authorities and told the dispatcher he was going to kill the men; which he proceeded to do, shooting both of them in the back. A local grand jury refused to indict him for any crime.

I imagine a similar scenario on own street in Lexington. What would I do if I saw two men crawling out of the window of the house next door? Certainly I would lock my doors and call the police. But when does burglary, even if I could assume that is what was happening—after all, my own boys have climbed in and out of my house on numerous occasions—justify capital punishment? A burglar found guilty might get five to ten years—but not death.

So how is that people can grab a shotgun and gun people down?

According to the National Education Association, between 1979 and 2001 gunfire killed 90,000 children and teens in America. In one year more children and teens died from gunfire than from cancer, pneumonia, influenza, Asthma, and HIV/AIDS combined. The rate of firearm deaths among kids under age 15 is almost 12 times higher in the United States than in 25 other industrialized countries combined.

Yet during the past decade the resistance to the gun culture in America has been muted; maybe suppressed is a better word. I am one citizen that supports stronger regulations on the gun industry. Like the warning of the mother to her young adult son in the Johnny Cash song, “Don’t Bring Your Guns to Town.”

The recent election may give us cause for hope. The cowboy Bush is being replaced by the urban Obama. On the range, guns are used to shoot targets and vermin, mostly; but in the cities, these weapons kill people. This difference in culture will bring a new attitude toward guns into the governing class. I can only hope.

Joe the Plumber in the Year of Jubilee

Joe the plumber is famous for asking the right question of Barak Obama: how will your policy impact my income? The presidential candidate stirred up a political storm with his reply, which included this general statement: “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

You can read the entire transcript at MSNBC but there is one other text that will shed light on this matter: in the Bible, the book of Leviticus, chapter 25. There, and in two other places, you will find a description of a year-long festival known as Jubilee. The name is taken from the Hebrew word for the ram’s horn; the year of Jubilee commenced with the blowing of the horn.

A Jubilee year occurred every 50 years, or at the end of seven cycles of seven years. Three things happened during the year of Jubilee: the fields were left untilled, land reverted to its original owner, and all slaves were freed.

These Jubilee practices were designed to keep the land—and therefore the means of wealth—distributed among the people. The purpose was to prevent a few landowners from accumulating most of the land while the many landless were without means of support. In other words, it is a biblical principle of distributing the wealth and preventing extreme gaps between the rich and the poor. It is an application of the very principal enunciated by Obama: when you spread the wealth around it is good for everybody.

Of course, Obama’s critics have taken his simple statement as a prescription for socialism and even communism. “Taking from some and giving to others,” they say, their words dripping with derision.

But, as former General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell pointed out on Sunday, all taxation is—in some sense—taking from some and giving to others—or giving to everyone, as in the case of public projects, like roads and bridges.

I for one am glad about this national policy of the many helping the few. My mother died in February and was buried in a military cemetery; there was no cost; all expense was born by the tax-payers. My dad has Alzheimer’s disease, lives in a nursing home, and draws a Social Security check. My grandson Sam is being raised by a single mother; he has a medical card from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. There are all very common examples of people in need being cared for by those with means.

Taxation helps to maintain some sense of fairness in the distribution of wealth in the country. It is not right for a few to live in luxury while the many live in want. The disparity between the rich and the poor, either in a country or between countries, is the chief cause of social instability in the world.

Taxation is one way to adjust this inequity; charity is another—as when governments give foreign aid or participate in international relief efforts; but the way described in the Bible is the Year of Jubilee.

Some denounce this as socialism. The Christian gospel simply calls it justice.

What’s A Father to Do?

My one and only daughter, whose wedding last year was the social highlight of the universe (see pictures at, earned bachelor and master degrees in theater but has found a wonderful place to work at the World Affairs Council of Louisville and Southern Indiana. So when somebody on their staff called me weeks ago to ask me to help I said “yes”—what’s a father to do?

What I said “yes” to was the responsibility to host in Lexington six legal officials from six countries: Armenia, Greece, India, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe. Judge, prosecutor, professor, solicitor, investigator, and administrator: they cover much of the vocational ground that lawyers do anywhere in the world.

They are here with a larger group—others are in Ohio and Indiana—as guests of the United States State Department. They are here to study the American legal system. Before coming to Lexington, they spent several days learning about the federal justice system in Washington, D. C. When they leave my care (on Sunday) they will travel to Arizona to learn about tribal justice and eventually end up in Miami being schooled in immigration law.

But for three days they are here: two professional days and one cultural day—on Saturday when we will visit the Kentucky Horse Park and Keeneland Race Track (where we will visit with Governor Brashear).

“How fortunate you are,” I said to them upon arrival, “to be in the United States during this historic presidential election.” They all concurred and stayed up late to watch the third presidential debate. Then this morning we spent one hour talking about it.

“How much interest is there,” I asked, “among your people in our political contests?” Quite a bit, they all said—except the human rights lawyer from Zimbabwe. “All television in our country is controlled by the government. We do not have CNN. We get little real information.”

We spent an hour with recently retired Chief Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court (a 1970 graduate of Georgetown College) and ate lunch with seven members of the International Law Society at the UK School of Law. I learned UK has no professor of international law and has not offered a class on the topic in three years. When I lamented this, Christos from Greece said, “This is very common in American law schools.”

Friday we take our seats in a Circuit Court session, talk with the Internal Affairs Director of the Lexington Police Department (and this should interest Joseph from Tanzania who is a federal prosecutor in the anti-corruption division of his justice department), and then meet with a regional manager of our public defenders office.

All of this is a rare treat for a man who gives most of his time to sermon preparation, hospital visitation, and church administration—and it is a welcome distraction from the unseen forces shuffling the economic cards around the world. Most of all it is a pleasant reminder of how interesting it is to talk with people from other parts the world, how similar are the problems we face, and how interconnected is this fascinating network of people we call the human family.

And I don’t have space to tell you what I have learned about administrative law, how the conversation about the death penalty evolved, and what was said when they learned their host is a Baptist preacher!!

Sarah Palin and Family Values

I am a feminist. I am an egalitarian. But a woman nursing a Downs Syndrome baby and parenting an unmarried pregnant teenager needs to tend to her primary calling as a mother and not run around the country raising money and giving speeches.

            Nobody in the country is more eager for a woman to take the oath of national office in January than I am. I have taught my own daughter, now 28, that there are no limits and no boundaries to her vocational aspirations. She is a better person for living in such an environment.

            Nobody is the church is more ready for women to take their place in the Christian pulpits than I am. For ten years I have nurtured female college students toward their personal goals of ordination as Baptist ministers.

            But the plain truth is this: being a mother is a more important vocation than being vice president. Circumstances not of her own choosing have created an urgent need for Mrs. Palin to put into practice the family values her party has so vociferously defended for the last twenty five years.  

            Sarah Palin can postpone her political ambitions while she gives primary attention to an infant who needs her constant care and a teenage daughter who needs her faithful counsel.

            Palin’s political network has touted her adherence to these values: she talks the talk—on life and abortion—and she walks the walk. By such language they refer to her decision to carry to term a Downs Syndrome baby and her daughter’s decision to carry to term an unmarried, unplanned pregnancy.  

            But Palin’s decision to re-interpret “maternity leave” is where I draw the line. Normally, that phrase is used for women who take time off from work to give birth and raise a child. Such leaves are common at the college where I have taught for the last eleven years. All places of business should have such policies.

            But Palin has decided to take a leave from parenting in order to work in politics. This will provide a new paradigm for the concept of maternity leave; it will give a fresh twist to what has been called Family Values.

            But her preference for politics over parenting is but one challenge to the traditional notions of Family Values. At the top of her ticket is a man with a personal testimony of promiscuity when he was young enough to do so, a man now living in seven houses purchased by the proceeds of his wife’s multi-million dollar beer-brewing business.

            My, how the allure of power tempts us to reinterpret our most cherished convictions!



Thursday: Ramadan and the Baptists