Monday, 27 September 2010


As my regular reader knows, I am a public school board trustee (and have been since 1983 which is either admirable or obsessive, I'm not sure which). In that time I have visited many schools and classrooms, evaluated numerous programmes for students, and listened to countless delegations from parents and advocacy groups. I've read peer-reviewed and popular articles, interpreted the results of surveys, attended professional development sessions, and been advised by top-flight professional educators.

What all of this boils down to is simple. No matter how difficult the challenge or the expense of meeting it, or the disruption it causes to others, every child deserves full and equal opportunity to be all that they were meant to be.

Is there anyone reading this who disagrees? Hands up? That's what I thought. No matter how big or small, whether "red or yellow or black or white" (to quote the politically incorrect old song), male or female (or both or neither for that matter), verbal or non-verbal, at whichever end of the bell curve, possessing however many of the seven intelligences from zero to eight (allowing for the unrecognized ones), regardless of the social station of the family, a child is a deserving child by definition.

It wasn't always this way, of course. There was a time when society considered only some children to be deserving of the best education, with others not really needing any at all. Think of the opening scene of the marvellous movie The Miracle Worker where non-verbal, deaf and blind Helen Keller (played by academy award winner Patty Duke) goes from person to person at the dinner table, taking food from their plates to eat with her hands. No one could imagine that she should be educated save for her parents and Anne Sullivan (Anne Bancroft).

As a society we place a high value on personhood, and in our egalitarian way of thinking, would not rob any person of the fullness that life has to offer them. Personhood is a treasure above all others. Nothing compares in significance to it. It is the terminus a quo (starting point) and terminus ad quem (end point) of every discussion of human worth.

Think of the individuals and groups who have been denied full personhood, not just in horrific societies created by people like Hitler (Jews, gypsies and homosexuals), but even here in North America (Indians as we called them, women and girls, blacks, Chinese, and so on). It seems incredible that only in 1971 did women receive the right to vote in Switzerland. Further afield, women in Bhutan were so empowered only in 2008. While Canadian women were allowed to vote in 1917, Chinese Canadians, even those who had fought for Canada in World War II, did not receive this right until 1947. First Nations people had to wait until 1960.

We shake our heads in wonder at such bias, such hatred, such injustice. Why? Because we feel that these persons already had such rights by definition. The government's job was not to deem them worthy, but rather to recognize what they already deserved morally, and stop blocking them from their rightful place in society.

The question for me is this: does the government confer personhood or recognize it? In other words, is a person only a person when a legislative body deems them so, or is every living being a person on moral merit, whether society and the government have yet recognized it or not?

The future of abortion and euthanasia hang on the answer to this question. We give Henry Morgentaler the Order of Canada because government deems the unborn baby to be a non-person (and therefore unprotected by the human right to security of the person), and we put Robert Latimer in jail because he is seen to have killed a helpless person.

Needless to say, I recognize the personhood of the unborn baby (and the comatose dying senior for that matter) on the moral principle of the sanctity of life from conception. This is not simply an academic exercise for me. My wife and I have experienced a problem pregnancy. And I have had to deal (along with my siblings) with what to do about my dying father as the doctor asked us to consider "pulling the plug," as it were.

What difference would it make if the government (this won't happen under the leadership of the feckless Prime Minister Harper) were to accept my moral principle and to extent personhood and the rights that go with it to unborn children?

Before someone throws out the red herring of the reappearance of (mostly mythical) back-alley butcherings, the obvious things would be the birth of many more native-born Canadians (right now there are 30 abortions for every 100 live births in Canada), some women re-arranging their plans (and some men as well), many more females born in cultures where male babies are preferred, as well as more babies with physical and mental challenges (e.g. 80-90% of fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted presently). Other examples readily come to mind.

What impact would this have on Canadian society? I think that the modern classroom contains most of the answers. As we have integrated into regular classrooms more and more children with challenges to being educated in the typical fashion, we have had to pass more educational policies, increase educational funding, provide help to the classroom teacher, and generally balance the rights of all members of the class so that all persons present benefit but with no one, perhaps, benefiting as much as they could if everyone in the class were "mainstream" students (as was the case during my boyhood).

Would anyone say that this is too much bother? Too expensive? Indefensible? Well, to be truthful some do, but most don't. They feel that the moral principle of personhood trumps the other concerns, and accept the necessity of cost, and the frustration of balancing rights.

We have not yet extended this same way of thinking to the abortion issue. I find this unacceptable because my principles are moral, not economic or political. My understanding of my faith (and as a Protestant I'm not obliged to hold this as are people from other faith arenas) is that life is sacred. That is why I hold to neither abortion nor capital punishment. That is why I don't think of the abortion question as primarily a political one, any more than did those thousands of church leaders in the nineteenth century who waged holy war with the government over the slavery issue.

I'm with Robert Fulghum, author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. As he put it, "Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living."

Amen and amen.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Women's rights vs. women's power

My blog-friend and sparring partner Suzanne (Big Blue Wave) made the following comment in response to my post on woman as life-giver (


No matter how you square it, men have power, and women have less because of their childbearing function. That doesn't mean it's wrong. It's just the way it is. Men and women will never have equal power. But God was never really big on insisting on equal power. God tends to love those who are less powerful
(emphasis added).

That got me thinking. I don't disagree that in our current cultural climate that childbearing and child-rearing can have an impact on a person's ability to influence certain kinds of events. But I hadn't equated rights and power. While they are related, the measure of one isn't necessarily dependent upon the exercise of the other.

What do I mean? First of all, some definitions. Here's a common one for human rights: "The basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled, often held to include the right to life and liberty, freedom of thought and expression, and equality before the law" (West's Encyclopedia of American Law).

Another from "Fundamental rights which humans have by the fact of being human, and which are neither created nor can be abrogated by any government....[They] were defined first by the UK philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) as absolute moral claims or entitlements to life, liberty, and property..."

Finally, from that magnificent document the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, this excerpt pertaining to motherhood:
1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Whether based on religious convictions or some other moral basis, such rights are seen as ours simply on the basis that we are humans (Jews and Christians might add "...humans made in the image of God").

These rights are ours. Morally, nothing can take them away from us. In liberal democracies it would politically unthinkable (and political suicide) to consider any significant diminution of them. Those among our neighbours to the south who want to deny the erection of the mosque near Ground Zero (however ill-advised such a building project would be from a human relations point of view) don't understand what they are demanding--an arbitrary limitation placed upon the fundamental human right of freedom of religion. It would be no different morally than taking away their right to vote, slapping them in irons, and sending them out to the fields to break rocks.

Obviously, having such inalienable rights should carry with it access to certain kinds of power. But first of all, let me define power.

Power takes several forms. First is position power, which has nothing to do with competence and everything to do with an office or position one holds. One has access to position power by virtue of being, as it were, the boss. Whether this person can actually wield any meaningful influence in the long run, however, depends upon other kinds of power.

The first of these is the power of competence. I am more likely to be motivated to readily obey a person who has proven expertise. I can be confident that I will not get into any personal trouble, and in fact will be part of a successful venture, by working with a person who knows what they're doing. In fact, someone with competence power may have considerable influence without a formal position.

Another high form of influence is personality power. People are attracted to others with certain traits or behaviours. People of character often have influence far beyond any formal position they might hold.

Thirdly, and this is a long-time management professor and consultant talking here, one's influence (or ability to wield power effectively) is greatly enhanced if one learns to delegate appropriate amounts of authority and responsibility to people closest to the situation with which the organization is dealing. Empowering others increases one's own power in terms of the results gained by the unit, department, team, etc. that one is in charge of.

One can't ignore three final sources of power: brute strength, the willingness to flout the law and hope to get away with it, and societal sanction.

Now, how would I relate human rights and power as challenged by Suzanne?

First of all, one can decide to forgo the power associated with a human right by not exercising it. I have been a municipal politician since 1983 and have seldom seen the participation of eligible voters in city elections rise above 30%. As another example, I have spoken to more than one young woman who quit their jobs, rather than lodge a complaint, because of sexual harassment. They just didn't want to go through the ordeal of appearing before a human rights tribunal to prove their case.

Secondly, one can can have the power that adheres to a right taken away illegally. People face all kinds of discrimination that are illegal but often very difficult to prove; e.g. discrimination based on age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and motherhood. When such are uncovered, the ramifications can be significant. Just ask Denny's and Shoney's, two restaurant chains that paid heavily for racial discrimination in the 1990s.

Thirdly, one can be denied access to position power for a number of good reasons (e.g., not willing to move, track record, lack of necessary education or expertise) or bad reasons (e.g., assumptions about women--too emotional; race--too lazy; age--too old or too young). The first are quite legal and defensible; the latter are not.

Then there is the interpretation of the extent or scope of the right. For instance, I noted the statement on motherhood and childhood in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Some would argue (I among them) that this would include the provision of generous maternity leaves and so-called "mommy tracks" (Wikipedia: Women are discriminated against for choosing to have children and society should force private enterprises to make allowances for childbearing. These typically include job protection, wage protection, child care, time off for birthing and pregnancy, and increased medical coverage). Life-giving should be honoured and protected, not treated like a disease.

But society allows for another (highly regrettable in my view) understanding of this issue that up till now has been deemed acceptable in law: Having children is a lifestyle choice as birth control and family planning are fully controllable by individuals. Nor should businesses be forced to pay wages and salaries to those that haven't earned them by putting forth the time and effort that others have done. Also, such desired benefits are an undue burden on companies with insufficient revenue to fully implement them, nor is it prudent for gender politics to be legislated to benefit the whims of a small, but vocal, lobbying group (Wikipedia).

Alright, to summarize, women (pregnant, child-rearing or otherwise), can have every bit as much power of competence and power of personality as anyone else. And as we know, these are highly effective forms of influence. Their access to position power continues to improve, although social sanction does permit pregnancies and child-rearing to be a major stumbling block to moving ahead in one's career. See this excerpt from The Washington Post as an example:

Why unpaid maternity leave isn't enough

By Sharon Lerner
Sunday, June 13, 2010

When it comes to paid maternity leave, the United States is in the postpartum dark ages.

One hundred and seventy-seven nations -- including Djibouti, Haiti and Afghanistan -- have laws on the books requiring that all women, and in some cases men, receive both income and job-protected time off after the birth of a child. But here, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides only unpaid leave, and most working mothers don't get to stay home with their newborns for the 12 weeks allowed by the law. Many aren't covered by the FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act); others can't afford to take unpaid time off. Some go back to work a few weeks after giving birth, and some go back after mere days.
So social sanction still limits women, and many women's groups are taking full aim at this, as they should. Illegal activities still play a role as well.

Suzanne is right in one sense when she says that men have more power than women. Is this a comment on their rights, however, or on the perverseness of some men, and some societies, to engage in unsavoury and illegal means of taking the power inherent in their rights from them? I say the latter. There is nothing in the theory of moral rights that suggests that women have fewer rights, even when they are bearing or raising children. It is the barriers to women's full exercise of their equal rights that we should be eliminating, not the unborn babies. Until the feminists get this, women will not progress as they should.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Women, equality rights, and life-giving

I like to do my postings in multiples of five; i.e., every five weeks or even five months. My goodness, one does get distracted. I know that I promised to say something about Ann Coulter, but that dubious character's many charms (logical and balanced reasoning, unfortunately, not being among them) were no match for selling our condo, purchasing and extensively renovating our new townhome, and entertaining company nonstop all summer.

But here I am, back at the old stand after once again taking a hiatus of considerable length. I really must get back to a schedule of frequent postings. Otherwise, I'm risking the loss of my reader.

I have much on my mind, but I'll start with this. I have been thinking for some time about the view of most modern secular feminists that women's rights are somehow subordinate to men's rights if women do not have full and convenient access to abortion services (often disguised with such ironic phrases as "maternal health"). I have emailed large numbers of Christian women in leadership capacities in the church and educational institutions about this matter, and have heard back from nary a one. Either I am too off-putting to correspond with, or else they consider the subject either too obvious or too baffling to address.

What is a poor oblivious male to do?

Well here's one sorry effort on my behalf. I preached at our church recently and shameless inserted into the sermon a reference to childbearing, which had little to do with the topic at hand. I went even further and suggested that the ability to give birth to children gave women more rights than men could ever have. I followed up with a question and answer session about the sermon, and no one in that sanctuary full of females brought it up.

So I'll try it here. I'm going to reproduce the first half of the sermon with the reference to having children, and ask you to comment.

Don't let me down.

Okay, here goes.

The Gospel as Simply as I Can Preach It (first half only)

I was a guest last month at the Empress Hotel in Victoria. In the men's washroom, of all places, I found a familiar booklet printed by Chick Publications. I say familiar because these dubious little booklets have circulated for decades, although it had been many years since I had last seen one.

This particular issue is entitled “This Was Your Life.” Someone had hand-written 'Free' on it,
although given that it was situated on the toilet tank, I was pretty sure it wasn't for sale. It depicts a middle-aged man, successful and wealthy, a pipe-smoker with drink in hand, stricken by a heart attack and now dead and buried. His spirit is bidden to rise from the grave by the angel of death who shows him what a sinful life of self-indulgence, carnality, and indifference to spiritual realities he had led. He is then handed over to a demon to enjoy the Devil's gentle ministrations for eternity.

Having now hopefully scared the you-know-what out of the reader, the tract goes on to offer a similar man the chance to make a better choice. This gentleman confesses his sins, receives Christ as Saviour, asks God to reveal his will, prays before meals, reads bible stories to his children, visits the sick, puts money in the offering, shares from the Bible with others, and becomes a champion employee. He too has a heart attack and dies, but is received directly into heaven.

The booklet ends with a prayer for you to recite to become a Christian yourself, and encourages you to, among other things, read the Bible in the KJV every day.

And that, in three short paragraphs, is the Gospel according to St. Chick.

It was Einstein who said that "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." I have entitled this meditation The Gospel as Simply as I Can Preach It.” As that will take me the twenty or so minutes that remain, I will never be asked to become a writer for Chick Publications, a lost opportunity that I will endure stoically.

Now to be completely candid, I was raised in a church whose depiction of God's good news was little different from what I quoted above from Chick. Perhaps your experience was the same. And I did, in God's grace, decide that I wanted to be a follower of Christ and a child of God at a relatively young age, although a broader understanding of what all of that actually meant did not follow for many years. I do not mean to disparage, in any way, the small slice of the Gospel that the booklet represents.

But it is narrow and disproportionate. Its depiction of the Christian life, the Christian mind, the nature and will of God, life's purpose and priorities, and the joy and challenge, and sometimes heartache—even heartbreak—of Christian experience is badly deficient. It's a gospel of bones with little meat. And a good number of the bones are missing as well. Not to mention much of the brain and heart.

Well, where do we start? As the Apostle Paul and the other early disciples set Asia and Europe ablaze with the good news, they had only the Old Testament as their Scripture. So for me, it's back to the beginning, the Garden of Eden.

I understand this story, and many of the others in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, the first book in the Bible, as theological parable or metaphor, not history. Whether you agree or disagree with me on historical matters, the theology is the same. So let's skip the arguing over minor details and get to what God wanted us to learn from the story.

Humankind is depicted in an idyllic state where she and he (Eve and Adam) are to steward the perfect creation handed to them by God. Work was to be as normal for our ancestors as it was for God. God is depicted throughout the Scriptures as a working Deity, and humankind was to be no different.

'Idyllic' didn't mean that there was little or nothing to do. It meant that humanity could realize all that we were created to be in an environment of full equality, peace, justice, love, joy, mutuality, respect and self-respect, challenge and creativity in full partnership with the Triune God, Him and Herself. This, I believe, is what heaven will be like.

It was only after the fall from grace, when Adam and Eve gave up their idyllic experience through trying to improve upon God's will, that economic scarcity entered the scene, and that work became a monotonous drudgery, with notions of equality and respect for others set aside in favour of exploitation, prejudice, greed and self-indulgence, murder, and so on.

While male and female were equal in Eden, and both were charged with stewarding the earth through pleasant and creative work, the woman was given an additional privilege that made her, in one glorious sense, even more like her Creator than man could ever be. She was made Life-giver!! Only the woman would participate in adding to God's perfect but incomplete Creation through the miracle of new birth. There is no better picture of this than the story of Mary, mother of Jesus, when apprised of her coming pregnancy by the angel Gabriel. You can read each thrilling word at your leisure in the Gospel according to Luke chapter one.

Do not underestimate the importance of this in God's eyes. St. Paul, the champion of female worth and equality in the New Testament, alludes to this special status for women in his rather obscure reference in 1 Timothy 2:15: “But women will be saved through childbearing.” I don't believe that this means that bearing children guarantees a spot in heaven. It is also obvious that it doesn't assure women that having babies will be a breeze or that every woman will make it through the event unscathed. So what does it mean?

In other of his writings, St. Paul tells us to “work out our salvation.” He means that salvation is both an experience of choosing to become a child of God, and then living for God by doing the kinds of things that God has empowered us to do in full partnership with himself and his people. Paul often describes women as having full equality with men in the reception of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and in the exercise of those gifts in even the most senior leadership positions. But as an additional act of the greatest honour, woman continues to partner with God as Life-giver.


This indescribable privilege was also marred as human imperfection and disobedience to God replaced the perfect state. God noted, with incredible regret I have no doubt, that the inevitable consequence of Eve’s choice would lead to this:

"I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master." There goes perfect equality with her husband as a spouse, and joyous partnership with God as a mother, in one fell swoop.

We have since seen a history of men suppressing and exploiting women while hogging all the top positions, whether in the family, the church, or in society generally. Most modern feminists have bought this nonsense that the man's life is somehow the superior one, and that life-giving is an unfortunate side effect of being female that must be controlled by having full access to abortion, in order to have full and equal rights with men. My goodness, in God’s perfect world they have more rights.