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FRIDAY FIVE: Where Grace Abounds Ministry

Citizen Link - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 15:27

Mary Heathman came to Christ at the age of 27. She had dealt with sexual sin for years and through faith in Christ came to understand God’s plan for her as a woman. Ten years later, when her stepson came to her and told her he was gay, she turned to the Lord for guidance. She started Where Grace Abounds, a ministry to help those struggling with same-sex attractions and their families. Where Grace Abounds now has 6 staff members and reaches hundreds of people in Denver. Some of the staff sat down to talk with CitizenLink.

CL: We asked Roger Jones, the executive director, and Scott Kingry, the program director, what led them to the ministry?

Roger: In 1995, I came to Where Grace Abounds just as a participant. I was raised in a Christian home, realized that I had been struggling for a long time with same-sex attractions, and I didn’t know what to do with that. So, in the process of trying to figure that out, I found out about Where Grace Abounds and actually moved to Denver from Texas to participate in the program. I didn’t expect to find what felt like home there among people who understood what I was going through and could relate. It was a safe place to just talk and be myself and wrestle with my sexuality and my faith and how those interact together.

Scott:  I came to the Lord a little bit later, when I was 17, but by that time I had already been experiencing homosexual attractions since I was about 11 or 12. I had pretty much already solidified my identity as gay by the time I was about 14 or 15. I hung out with a pretty legalistic group of kids, so I lasted being a Christian for about a year and a half. More and more, I began to embrace the gay identity – I came out to my parents, I lived in the gay community for several years, I started trying to find a relationship. Still, there was some Christian overlap there. I started to think I needed to see a counselor or something and the Lord showed up on the scene through a gentleman I had met. We started meeting, and he said he didn’t agree with my lifestyle, but he’d like to get to know me. He didn’t really know what to do with that issue, but he did talk about Jesus and the Holy Spirit was doing His job just fine, and I realized I needed to make a decision about who Jesus was going to be to me. I did accept the Lord. Within a few months I came to Where Grace Abounds, and it was such a great thing.

CL:  Steve Huston and his wife Jill serve as chaplain and church liaison. Steve, shares bit of his story.

Steve:  Our oldest daughter came out nine years ago. We realized it wasn’t the relationship we wanted, but she said, “I’ve found my soul mate, and this is how I want to spend the rest of my life.” I had been very active in a conservative Christian church for many years, served in leadership, so when I heard that news I just kind of fell apart. I sought out a counselor, and the counselor directed us to Where Grace Abounds. Through this time I’ve experienced God’s grace in my life in a much deeper way, and then as a result, I’m able to show grace to her and her partner in a much deeper way.

CL:  What are the emotions that a parent feels when you get that news?

Steve: Overwhelming loss. We were very involved as a family in church, very involved in loving our kids uniquely. So there were times when I asked, “Where did I go wrong?” There was some disillusionment with God during that time, so that was the best part of being at Where Grace Abounds, I could just express those things and be at a place where the environment was very open and respectful.

Jill:  We think if we do this, this and this, then the results will be this, this and this. That isn’t true. It was disruptive when things didn’t turn out the way I thought they should. There was just something in my head that thought if I did things right, that everything would turn out the way I thought it should turn out. I know so much more now than I did when she first entered this relationship. Each one of us is on our own path. I’m sure there are things I did that affected her. However, it’s not my fault that she had struggles.

Roger:  One of the conflicts we see in families is the person who identifies as gay has a lot of time to sort through this in their own mind and when they get to the point of coming out, they’re ready to celebrate the fact that they’ve made a decision. They’re not blind to the pain that might cause. But when a gay person tells their parents that they’re gay, that’s the beginning of the parent’s journey. I guess I’m just asking for a little bit of grace for the parents.

CL:  What do you say to someone who says that those struggling with same-sex attractions should not receive counseling for those feelings?

Roger:  It can be damaging to say to someone that they’re not allowed to be in conflict with things that they feel conflict over. At Where Grace Abounds, our goal is to create a safe place where people can talk openly about what’s going on in their faith and sexuality. Not everyone ends up being on the same page about that. Sometimes that is painful, particularly if there is a change of mind that happens along the way. We really try to live life with people. But it’s also a joy to be walking alongside people as they wrestle through those things.

Scott:  You have to sort that out and try to understand your sexuality. There are lots of consequences with that which if frightening, but the Lord gives us freedom. The Lord will lead you into truth.

CL: The church is now trying to figure out how to walk with people through this and still stand on the truth of Scripture. How do we do that?

Mary:  This whole grace and truth thing and what that actually looks like has just been an ever-present question mark of mine. We had a man who came to the ministry in his 70s, and he was there because he was an elder in his church, but he was acting out sexually on a regular basis in some very risky behaviors.

He developed friendships at Where Grace Abounds and began to thrive.

One day the phone rang, and he said, “Mary, I just want to ask one question. If I act out tonight, will you still talk to me tomorrow?”

I knew that we had a strong enough relationship that I might be able to talk him out of it, but instead, I just heard this come out of my mouth, “You know, you don’t have to do this thing, but if you do, I’m here tomorrow, just like I am today.”

I didn’t sleep much that night wondering what I had given him permission to do.

The next day the phone rang, and he said, “Mary, I didn’t do it!”

I said, “You sound like you’re really thrilled about that, what happened?”

He said, “Just knowing somebody loved me enough to talk to me at my worst gave me the strength not to do what I was set to do.”

Confess your faults one to another and pray for one another that you may be healed.

There we have it, grace and truth in action.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Learn more about Where Grace Abounds

Listen to the Boundless podcast interview with more of the ministry staff

 

I’m Sorry You’re Not Sorry

Citizen Link - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 15:14

It’s important to understand how people on the other side of an issue think – although in this case, you may want some aspirin before we begin.

Okay, ready? Two of the activists who ultimately led to Brendan Eich’s hasty departure as CEO of tech firm Mozilla say on their blog that they’re “absolutely sad” about what happened. Why? They say all they really wanted was for Eich “to just apologize for the discrimination under the law that we faced. He can still keep his personal beliefs…”

See, Eich once gave money to support marriage in California. And the activists apparently believe this all would have been made better if Eich only had personal beliefs inside his head, but he had the audacity to live his life based on what he believes.

The suggested remedy: Publicly apologizing for the entire history of humanity during which marriage was defined as what it is – as opposed to what some have wrongly redefined it to be.

Dear Sad Activists: You might wanna think this through.

Imagine a nation where no one is allowed to act upon deeply held beliefs once they are deemed unacceptable by self-appointed “Judges of Others’ Personal Beliefs.”

What if, hypothetically – I mean this could never happen – people have differing ideas concerning an issue of public importance? What if – and I’m just guessing here – some people actually believe that what they believe is actually true?

The solution the activists are proposing, albeit unwittingly, is forced public compliance, including public shaming, job loss and, for the true believers, perhaps prison.

That’s not a country I would want to live in. And, I’m confident, neither would the sad activists. Especially once they realize someone else might take over as the “Judge of Others’ Personal Beliefs.” Someone who might demand something more ominous than “just an apology.”

But, thankfully, that’s not this country. This country was founded on public debate, not forced apology. The free exchange of ideas, not compulsory uniformity. E Pluribus Unum, not E Unum Unum.

The freedom to act according to your beliefs is essential to being an American. The Founding Fathers knew it would be complicated, imperfect and messy. But they also held the deeply personal belief that Truth would win out in the long run.

And they acted on it.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Learn more about protecting religious freedom

 

The Decline of Planned Parenthood

Citizen Link - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 15:12

As the nation’s abortion rate declines, its largest purveyor increasingly finds itself in the center of allegations of fraud and abuse.

Planned Parenthood is under siege over shoddy, fraudulent and dangerous practices at centers bearing its logo across the country.

Over the past few years, about a dozen former employees at Planned Parenthood facilities from coast to coast have blown the whistle on the atrocities taking place within their own walls. That has put the group on the defense in federal and state courtrooms and in the broad court of public opinion. The result is that it now is paying millions of dollars in legal settlements over serial abuses ranging from billing fraud to unsanitary operating conditions—even a botched abortion that was allegedly performed on a Colorado woman who was trying to get out out of the center after deciding to keep her baby.

Those are dire events for the most recognizable purveyor of abortion in the country. Planned Parenthood has $1.3 billion in net assets, and a huge chunk of its money comes from taxpayers—$540.6 million in FY 2012-13.It’s the very mainstream of abortion.

This pattern has accelerated the closing of many Planned Parenthood facilities, which have been falling into disuse. In response, Planned Parenthood decided last year to mandate that every one of its 820 remaining centers nationwide perform abortions.

“The tide is turning,” says Marilyn Musgrave, vice president for governmental affairs at the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List in Washington, D.C.  “People are seeing what Planned Parenthood is all about.”

Fraud and Abuse

Of the many undercover reports on Planned Parenthood conducted by pro-life organizations and alternative media outlets to date, the most successful have been done by Live Action, a five-year-old advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. Lila Rose and her team have videotaped evidence of Planned Parenthood employees using coercive and manipulative techniques to convince women to abort, facilitating sex- and race-selective abortions and discussing their willingness to cover up the sexual exploitation of minors. They’ve also caught Planned Parenthood workers misleading pregnant women about what will happen to their babies during the procedure.

The group’s investigations so far have resulted in about a dozen law enforcement investigations and changes in state and federal laws. An undercover video of a New Jersey Planned Parenthood facility resulted in Illinois passing a bill expanding protections for underage girls in 2011. And last year, Rep.  Trent Franks, R-Ariz., showed his colleagues one of Live Action’s videos, which helped a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks pass the chamber 228-196 in June.

“Planned Parenthood’s best strategy is to deceive people about the reality of their day-to-day activities,” Rose says. “Part of our role is to reveal that reality.”

Some of the most powerful revelations have come from those who worked inside the clinics—some of whom have gone not to the media, but to the authorities.

White-Collar Crime

In Texas, staff members at two Planned Parenthood facilities resigned in 2009, then blew the whistle on fraudulent billings to the state and the federal government.

In one case, Karen Reynolds, who had worked for Planned Parenthood for 10 years, gave testimony that resulted in the abortion seller paying a $4.3 million settlement to the government in July 2013. Her lawsuit alleged that Medicaid was billed for services and products that were unnecessary, not covered by Medicaid or never provided at all.

She claimed her bosses at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, which operates seven facilities in the Houston area and two in Louisiana, were under financial duress and told staffers to turn every visitor into a “revenue-generating client” and that several facilities in the organization falsified medical records for years to obtain the claims.

Reynolds’ case is settled. But Abby Johnson, who worked her way up to the position of clinic manager at Planned Parenthood’s Bryan, Texas, facility over eight years of employment, resigned after seeing an ultrasound of a 13-week-old baby fighting against being sucked out of her mother’s womb.

Johnson, who had two abortions herself before giving birth to a daughter, then became a pro-life advocate. In 2009, she filed a lawsuit with documents purporting to show more than 87,000 instances of fraud at Planned Parenthood facilities across Texas during her eight-year tenure there. The Bryan facility closed its doors for good in September 2013.

Victor Gonzales, former vice president of finance and administration for Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles, filed a lawsuit in 2008 alleging the clinic overbilled federal and state governments by $180 million from the late 1990s until at least 2008. The case was dismissed in 2009 but in 2010 was reinstated by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where it was still pending at press time.

In Iowa, Sue Thayer, who managed Planned Parenthood’s Storm Lake facility for 17 years, filed a lawsuit in 2012 claiming the group submitted false, fraudulent and ineligible claims for Medicaid reimbursements. The case is currently pending in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

These and other fraud allegations prompted the non-partisan federal Government Accountability Office last August to launch an investigation into how Planned Parenthood is spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. That investigation is ongoing.

“Throughout the country there are fraud schemes we see that appear to be nationally directed,” says Michael Norton, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious-liberties law firm based in Arizona that represents Johnson and Reynolds.

But fraud isn’t the only issue causing employees concerns. They’re talking about patient safety as well.

‘Unsafe’

Last July, two nurses at a Delaware Planned Parenthood facility resigned, saying they feared they would lose their licenses if the unsafe, unsanitary conditions prevalent there were allowed to continue.

One of the nurses, Jane Mitchell-Werbrich, told the local ABC affiliate in Wilmington, “It was just unsafe. I couldn’t tell you how ridiculously unsafe it was. (The abortionist) didn’t even wear gloves.” The operating table was “not washed down, it’s not even cleaned off,” she added. “It has bloody drainage on it.”

The other nurse, Joyce Vasikonis, told ABC, “They were using instruments on patients that were not sterile.” Both nurses remain pro-abortion but now say they believe all Planned Parenthood facilities should be shut down for mistreating women.

Melony Meanor, a former manager at the same Delaware clinic, testified in front of a state legislative committee in July that Planned Parenthood’s negligence went beyond abortion: Workers failed to report approximately 200 positive test results for chlamydia and gonorrhea to patients over a six-month period between 2011 and 2012. She urged women to get their medical care elsewhere.

“Those nurses were bold enough to step out and they’re not even pro-life,” says Anna Higgins, director of the Family Research Council’s Center for Human Dignity in Washington, D.C.

In February 2013, a Colorado woman sued Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, saying staffers at the Colorado Springs facility forced her to have an abortion after she changed her mind. According to the suit, when they couldn’t get an IV into her arm to anesthetize her, she told the abortionist she did not want to go through with the procedure, but he performed it anyway. Two days later she was forced to go to a hospital emergency room with an infection created by the fetal remains the abortionist had left in her body.

“This demonstrates that abortionists like Planned Parenthood are not concerned about the health and safety of women, but rather in their bottom line profits,” says Norton, whose organization is representing the victim. “That is why they so vigorously fight against common-sense abortion safety and sanitation regulations that serve to protect the health and welfare of women and do no more than require abortionists to abide by the same rules as apply to ambulatory surgical centers.”

Cash Cows and Counter Attacks

But Planned Parenthood is not an organization to go quietly into the night. It has a slew of powerful allies in its corner, a deep-pocket political action committee to spend on elections and ballot issues and an arsenal of cash with which to promote abortions. The group is pushing back on all three fronts.

“They have a very active and lucrative political action committee where they spent more than $15 million last election cycle,” Norton says. “It’s a 900-pound gorilla in the political arena.”

The abortion organization gets an enormous amount of money from taxpayers for its medical and marketing programs, which then frees up money from private donors to fund abortion activists running for office.

According to Planned Parenthood’s 2012-13 annual report, released in December, the group had more than $1.3 billion in total net assets. That includes $540.6 million it received from taxpayers that year—approximately $1.5 million per day.

And while it’s technically a non-profit organization, the fact is Planned Parenthood makes a pretty solid profit every year from abortion and other “reproductive health” services such as sales of the morning-after pill, gynecological exams, and tests for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Planned Parenthood’s activities are circular: By distributing condoms and maintaining a Web site for young people that is noted for its racy videos, it actively promotes a culture of casual sex outside of marriage. The group then reaps a financial profit from that culture by selling tests and “services” to people who have casual sex and then worry about pregnancy and STDs.

Planned Parenthood refers to those profits as “excess” revenues. According to its 2012-13 annual report, its excess revenues were $58.2 million. Since 2000, Planned Parenthood has had total excess revenues of $771 million.

While abortions overall are level or declining in the country, according to the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), Planned Parenthood is performing more than ever: Planned Parenthood’s 2012-13 annual report states that while its abortion rates dropped 2 percent from the record 333,964 abortions it performed in 2011-12—approximately 27 percent of the 1.2 million abortions performed nationwide during that time period—abortion still accounts for 93.8 percent of its pregnancy services. Prenatal care services fell 32 percent from 2011-12, and is now down 52 percent from 2009. And for every adoption Planned Parenthood helped facilitate in some way last year, it performed 149 abortions.

America Unaware

Despite these staggering statistics, a large percentage of Americans are unaware that Planned Parenthood dominates the abortion industry.

According to a survey conducted last May by The Polling Company, Inc., 88 percent of Americans said they are familiar with Planned Parenthood, but 55 percent said they did not know the group performs abortions.

“Planned Parenthood has done a really good job marketing themselves,” Higgins says.

But as that marketing success unravels with every report of fraud and abuse, pro-life lawmakers are becoming increasingly successful at scaling back abortion on demand. Thirteen states—Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Texas—have already passed bans on abortions after 20 weeks and more are considering doing so.

These bans are the biggest legislative steps forward since the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban, enacted in 2003. And they are the direct result of more knowledge of what is happening in the womb—and also and what is happening in abortion facilities.

“When you expose what is happening in abortion” centers, says Rose, “it creates a firestorm of media controversy and compels legislators to take action.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Read Planned Parenthood’s 2011-12 annual report.To learn more about the pro-life advocacy groups mentioned in this story, visit liveaction.org, sba-list.org, frc.org, nrlc.org or alliancedefendingfreedom.org. For more details on the declining rate of abortion nationwide, visit http://bit.ly/1iAfnKh.

Rod Thomson is the author of Living Threads: The Unbroken Connection of God’s People Through the Ages. He also runs The Thomson Group, a public relations and communications firm in Sarasota, Fla.

 

 

 

 

 

Texas: What the Christian Photographer Case Says About the Future of Religious Liberty

Citizen Link - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 15:09

CitizenLink is proud to work with Texas Values and other family policy organizations across the country to stand for marriage, life and religious freedom. Learn more about the one in your state.

This week, the U.S Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in the Elane Photography case. The case concerns a Christian photographer who was told by the New Mexico Supreme Court that she must use her gifts and talents to affirm and participate in a same-sex ‘commitment ceremony’ that she disagrees with or face punishment by the state.

The case began when Elaine Huguenin kindly declined to photograph a same-sex ‘commitment ceremony’ (same-sex ‘marriage’ was not legal at that time in New Mexico) because she did want to communicate a message at odds with her belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. One of the lesbians that reached out to Elaine, despite easily finding another photographer for the ‘ceremony,’ filed a complaint against Elane Photography under the states ‘anti-discrimination’ law. The New Mexico ‘Human Rights’ Commission ruled against Elane Photography and ordered her to pay thousands of dollars in fines. The New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the ruling with one of the justices writing that the photographers are now “compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives.” According to the justice, sacrificing your free expression and freedom of religion are now the “the price of citizenship.”

Outrage from national leaders about this egregious case and its future impact continues to build:

“The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear and uphold the First Amendment rights of Elaine Huguenin, a wedding photographer, are deeply disturbing. Does our nation’s highest court really believe the price of citizenship is the surrender of conscience?  The New Mexico Supreme Court’s decision to allow a state commission to fine her for acting out her conscience would stun the Framers of the U.S. Constitution and is a gross violation of the First Amendment…The Supreme Court ignored an opportunity to reaffirm the basic principle that the government may not trample on fundamental rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion.” – Family Research Council President Tony Perkins

“…At issue is the fundamental question of whether the state can pretend to be a god over the conscience. No one is seeking to outlaw photographers from working at same-sex marriage or civil union ceremonies. At issue is whether these persons will be forced by the coercive power of the state to participate in something they believe to be sinful. The audacity of the New Mexico Supreme Court in saying that the crucifixion of conscience is the price of citizenship is breathtaking. This ruling is more in the spirit of Nero Caesar than in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson. This is damaging not only to the conscience rights of Christians, but to all citizens. When we decide, as a country, that state power trumps the rights of conscience, we are treading on self-evident, inalienable rights, granted not by government but by God.” – Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention

“Today’s actions by the Supreme Court may unfortunately embolden some to expand their efforts to punish and humiliate publicly those who believe marriage is defined only as one man and one woman. The zealous followers of this ascendant orthodoxy supporting same-sex marriage are falling into the same error that many have stumbled into before them—when you gain power somewhere, punish the “heretics” and hound them to the outskirts of society.”  – Alliance Defending Freedom Attorney Jordan Lorence (representing Elane Photography)

The chilling reality of this court case, and other examples like it, must serve as a wakeup call to every Texan that values religious liberty. As national leaders have argued, the burden to protect our inalienable rights and our First Freedoms now falls on state and federal legislators. This case should bolster efforts by states to pass versions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that force the government to prove it has a compelling reason to force a person to act against their religious beliefs and further prove that any burdens to religion are done in the least restrictive manner. Just recently, Mississippi passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act similar to the one that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed.

But this case is also a caution that protection at the statutory level is not always enough. Texas has a Religious Freedom Restoration Act in statute – just as New Mexico does.  But the New Mexico Supreme Court evidently believes that its “non-discrimination” law trumps the religious liberty protection in statute. The strongest way to ensure that a rogue Texas court never has the opportunity to similarly trample our religious liberty is to secure religious liberty at the highest level we can in Texas – in our state constitution.

That is why we have led efforts to support the Texas Religious Freedom Amendment in past legislative sessions that would secure this important religious liberty protection directly in the Texas Constitution. We must never let our First Freedoms of religion and free expression become the “price of citizenship” in Texas. A government that can force a private individual or business to participate in a ceremony that directly violates their faith is a government that has no bounds on its power. And would forcing a pastor to officiate a same-sex ‘wedding’ really be that far of a leap from the twisted logic in this case?

Without securing our First Freedoms in Texas, all other freedoms we enjoy will surely fall.

by David Walls

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Learn more about Texas Values

 

 

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