The Point - September 2014
In this edition:
- Christian campus groups face persecution
- Ice bucket challenge raises ethical concerns
- CVS stops selling cigarettes
Excerpted from “The Wrong Kind of Christian,” Christianity Today. August 27, 2014 — Two years ago, the student organization I worked for at Vanderbilt University got kicked off campus for being the wrong kind of Christians. In May 2011, Vanderbilt's director of religious life told me that the group I'd helped lead for two years, Graduate Christian Fellowship—a chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship—was on probation. We had to drop the requirement that student leaders affirm our doctrinal and purpose statement, or we would lose our status as a registered student organization.
In writing, the new policy refers only to constitutionally protected classes (race, religion, sexual identity, and so on), but Vanderbilt publicly adopted an "all comers policy," which meant that no student could be excluded from a leadership post on ideological grounds.
Like most campus groups, InterVarsity welcomes anyone as a member. But it asks key student leaders—the executive council and small group leaders—to affirm its doctrinal statement, which outlines broad Christian orthodoxy and does not mention sexual conduct specifically. But the university saw belief statements themselves as suspect. It didn't matter to them if we were politically or racially diverse, if we cared about the environment or built Habitat homes. It didn't matter if our students were top in their fields and some of the kindest, most thoughtful, most compassionate leaders on campus. There was a line in the sand, and we fell on the wrong side of it.
Those of us opposed to the new policy met with everyone we could to plead our case and seek compromise. But as spring semester ended, 14 campus religious communities—comprising about 1,400 Catholic, evangelical, and Mormon students—lost their organizational status. After we lost our registered status, our organization was excluded from new student activity fairs. So our student leaders decided to make T-shirts to let others know about our group. Because we were no longer allowed to use Vanderbilt's name, we struggled to convey that we were a community of Vanderbilt students who met near campus. So the students decided to write a simple phrase on the shirts: WE ARE HERE.
And they are. They're still there in labs and classrooms, researching languages and robotics, reflecting God's creativity through the arts and seeking cures for cancer. They are still loving their neighbors, praying, struggling, and rejoicing. You can find them proclaiming the gospel in word and deed, in daily ordinariness. And though it is more difficult than it was a few years ago, ministry continues on campus, often on the margins and just outside the gates. God is still beautifully at work. And his mercy is relentless.
CMDA’s National Director of Campus & Community Ministries J. Scott Ries, MD: “It is a remarkable story, but unfortunately not an isolated one. Just this week, InterVarsity announced that it has been booted off of all California State University campuses for the same reason, because they insist on a rational basis of faith as criteria for holding a leadership position.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg. In the last 18 months, two CMDA chapters have also been de-recognized for, yes, the exact same reason. At the University of Illinois, Chicago, we were told that because we require our student leaders to agree with CMDA’s statement of belief, we therefore violate their anti-discrimination policies. At the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine, our CMDA group was denied official recognition “because of the emphasis on God and especially because of the Bible sessions.”
"Thankfully, in both cases the Lord gave us favor after I sent a letter with assistance from Kim Colby, Sr. Legal Counsel for Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom to the respective deans, explaining that this misapplication of their policy actually was, in fact, discrimination at its core. Both universities promptly reversed their positions, and CMDA is thriving on both campuses. But it will get worse. Our 280 campus chapters will be a lightning rod as this storm builds.
“So why is official recognition important after all? Why not just exist under the radar, meet off campus and avoid the toil, expense and pain of fighting what has become a cultural landslide smothering both orthodox beliefs and religious pluralism? Because lack of recognition impedes ministry and increases the cost of doing ministry. Greg Jao, attorney and National Field Staff Director for InterVarsity, explains it well.
“When one group loses religious freedoms, we all lose religious freedoms. Historically, what starts at the university campus trickles into all of society. That remains true, but what has changed is the rapidity with which it now happens. It seems as though someone has poured accelerant onto the fire of intolerance that is consuming those who share the very faith that brought tolerance to this world.”
Excerpted from "Send Your Ice Bucket Challenge Donation to Ethical, Successful Adult Stem Cell Research," LifeNews. August 21, 2014 — You’ve probably heard of it by now, the Ice Bucket Challenge. Those challenged are supposed either to dump an ice bucket of cold water over their head, or donate to ALS research. Most people do both, posting a video of their icy bath. It’s a stunt, but has successfully raised awareness of ALS as well as donations for research. But people should consider where their donations go and how the money is used.
ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a.k.a. “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) is a fatal, progressive neurological disease. It attacks the nerves that control voluntary muscles, so it is sometimes termed “motor neuron disease”. As the nerves die, muscles weaken and atrophy, including the muscles for breathing; most people suffering from ALS die of respiratory failure. The cause is unknown and at this point there is no cure, and very little that can even slow disease progression.
So, raising awareness about ALS and increasing support for ALS research is a good thing. But whether you participate in a challenge or just donate to important research, where should your donation go? So far, most of the attention and millions of dollars in donation have gone to the ALS Association. However, the ALSA has admitted that it gives some of its money to embryonic stem cell research and has no qualms about doing so in the future.
But there are alternatives for donations that use only ethical stem cell sources! Here are a few of my favorites: The Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center (MSCTC) at the University of Kansas Medical Center is only a year old, but is starting an increasing number of clinical trials and educational efforts. The MSCTC does not do any embryonic or aborted fetal stem cell research. The John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City is doing research in several areas including ALS, and does not support embryonic stem cell research.
CMDA Member and Senior Fellow for Family Research Council David Prentice, PhD: “As healthcare professionals, it’s heartening to see excitement for support of research into treatments for disease, and to raise empathy and awareness for people who suffer with life-threatening conditions. Let’s make sure that excitement is channeled in ways that maintain bedrock principles of medicine—to preserve and protect life.
“Research in particular runs the risk of venturing into paths of ‘progress by any means,’ so it’s important to keep principle first. The ALS ice bucket challenge fired the imagination and support of many and provided a fun way to get more people involved, but questions about where the donations were going and for what uses showed that some organizations were not committed to life-preserving principles in their supported research, but rather to that ‘progress by an means’ ethic.
“Research using embryonic stem cells or aborted fetal tissue relies on the willful destruction of young human lives. Let’s keep our eyes on the real prize and promote only life-affirming research, such as adult stem cells. We don’t have to sacrifice lives or ethics for medical progress.”
Excerpted from “CVS Stores Stop Selling All Tobacco Products,” The New York Times. September 3, 2014 — As of midnight on Tuesday, all 7,700 CVS locations nationwide will no longer sell tobacco products, fulfilling a pledge the company made in February, as it seeks to reposition itself as a health care destination. The rebranding even comes with a new name: CVS Health.
The decision to stop selling cigarettes is a strategic move as pharmacies across the country jockey for a piece of the growing health care industry. Rebranding itself as a company focused on health could prove lucrative for the drugstore as it seeks to appeal to medical partners that can help it bridge the gap between customers and their doctors.
CVS already operates 900 walk-in medical clinics, or “minute clinics,” where customers can get relatively simple services like blood pressure tests and flu vaccines. By dedicating space for these services, CVS and other major retailers like Walmart are diving into the pool of competitive health care dollars available for helping manage customers’ illnesses.
As the medical industry braces for the flood of new patients with insurance through the Affordable Care Act, drugstores see an opportunity to provide basic care to consumers who may not want to wait to see a doctor, if one is available in their area at all. And major chains like Walmart, the country’s largest retailer, can offer such services for prices that may appeal to patients on the fringes of the health care system.
CMDA Member and Internal Medicine and Geriatrics Specialist Delores Kotschwar, MD: “CVS’ decision to implement a cigarette-free enterprise at first seems to be a healthful and welcomed venture which I can applaud. But at a second glance, it raises some serious questions about the company’s intentions and our society as a whole.
“If this is a marketing ploy, is CVS trying to capture a health-minded customer base? And if so, are they also going to stop their sales of alcohol, carbonated beverages and nutrient-deficient and calorie-dense snacks? Will they also censor their magazine racks for those who struggle with alcoholism or pornography addictions?
“If this is a moral move, will CVS be willing to risk less vilified behaviors? It is easy to jump on the band wagon to denounce smoking as its health risks have been in the news for years. Yet nicotine, for all that it harms, is also a wonderful antidepressant, increases dopamine, decreases hunger and makes one feel empowered. However, because smoking is associated with heart, lung, cancer, hearing and memory issues, it is appropriately to be avoided. It is simplistic to criticize cigarettes alone. Our culture has the odd schizophrenia to vilify nicotine cigarettes which stimulate and enhance performance, while at the same time legalizing marijuana which causes time and space alteration, appetite stimulation, boundary violation, grandiosity and sleepiness.
“Other retailers have refused to sell alcohol or use certain products. But we have not yet addressed these other addictions. This probably wouldn’t be a financial boon and taking on these issues would likely result in business ruin. To be present at a stockholder’s meeting for CVS might be enlightening.
“We are a highly addicted society, palliating our pain and our altered limbic systems with many substances, including nicotine, alcohol, food, exercise, work, sex and pornography—all the while ignoring our desperate need for a God who heals.”