Wednesday, February 01, 2017


“Hear this, you elders;
    listen, all who live in the land.
Has anything like this ever happened in your days
    or in the days of your ancestors?
Tell it to your children,
    and let your children tell it to their children,
    and their children to the next generation.”
-          Joel 1:2-3 (New International Version of the Bible)

January is a month that calls on people to remember. On January 22nd, hundreds of thousands of Americans, almost all women, marched in Washington, D.C. While many claimed they were coming to advance rights such as gender pay equity, gender identity equity, etc., the primary reason for the march was to show support for the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion on demand. The date chosen for the march was clearly significant. January 22nd was the date our Supreme Court legalized abortion.

In the 43 years since that decision, women have had about sixty million abortions, an average of one and a half million per year. The arguments made on behalf of the decision range from protecting women’s health, women’s choice in the matter, dealing with a problem pregnancy, etc. The most potent argument in the case for abortion is the health of the mother. After all, that’s what medicine is, or should be, all about. The health of the patient is the reason doctors also perform a half a million tonsillectomies and about three hundred thousand appendectomies every year. 

While the argument relating to the health of the mother appears relevant, it is in large part a fig leaf. In 2005, the Guttmacher Institute released a study that included data on the reasons women get abortions. The most common reason cited revolved around what Guttmacher termed “Having a baby would dramatically change my life.” When the data is stripped down further it becomes ever more revealing. 38% of women surveyed said a baby would interfere with their education or career. 19% said they would have to find a new place to live. Those who claim the pro-choice mantle claim that they’re trying to protect women in cases of rape or incest. Of course we should protect them in those cases, but the Guttmacher data reveals that only one percent of women get abortions in case of incest and less than one percent in cases of rape
As the march proceeded that day, there were plenty of signs expressing their outrage at Donald Trump, Roman Catholics, and anyone else who disagreed with them, including some that read, “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” “Keep abortion safe and legal,” or some that were quite clever like “This pussy has claws.”

Since 1973, abortion on demand has been legal. I doubt that it will ever be overturned. The pro-abortion lobby is very powerful. Organizations like NARAL and Planned Parenthood have convinced a lot of Americans that abortion is nothing more than removing a bit of problematic tissue. They’ve convinced many of us that the in-utero photos of children sucking their thumbs or responding to external stimuli are figments of our imaginations, that what we’re seeing isn’t a human being. We’re only seeing a conglomeration of tissue. Then, when the abortion is complete they sell the remains as human body parts to be used in laboratories. Useless tissue one moment….human body parts for sale the next.  Of course, they want us to believe their purposes are utterly altruistic. The hypocrisy and sleight of hand are astounding.

A week later there was another march held on January 27th. Since 1974, Americans have marched in Washington on behalf of the innocent unborn who have been sacrificed on the altar of choice. Their plea this year is the same as it has always been – “Give life a chance!” While Roe v Wade is still codified in law, they continue to march. While the body count continues to go ever higher, they march. They continue to march with signs that read, “We choose Life,” “We are a pro-life generation,” or “For those who can’t.” Some even carried signs that read, “I regret my abortion.” They’ll continue to march as long as the slaughter goes on. They’ll be mocked and vilified, but they will keep marching.

The date of the March for Life coincided with another commemoration this year. Throughout the world, and particularly in Israel, Jews have commemorated what has become known as the “Holocaust.” They’ve been doing so since 1953.  The solemn remembrance falls between the end of Passover and Israel’s Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers.  The date, January 27th, was chosen in a resolution passed by Israel’s Knesset in 1951.
Nancy and I have been to several of the world’s memorials to the Holocaust. We’ve walked around the six large glass columns in Boston’s Carmen Park. As we walked around the columns, we could see smoke or steam rising from the memorial’s floor. We spent some time reading the names of the six million Jews who were murdered in Hitler’s death camps. It was a moving experience.

We’ve been to our national memorial to the Holocaust in Washington, D.C.  Our visit started on the upper level, where there were artifacts, photos and other memorabilia that showed how innocently the Holocaust began. Then, as we made our way downstairs, the artifacts and photos got increasingly graphic. The temperature got colder and colder. By the end of our visit, one thing became very clear to us. Madness never elevates mankind. It descends, sweeping the innocent up in the apparatus of terror like chaff in the wind.

As moving and memorable as our visits in Boston and Washington, D.C, few can compare with three other sites we’ve visited. The first was Dachau. Until we had visited the extermination camp, I had always thought that the Nazis would want to hide what they were doing from public view, but Dachau disabused me of that notion. The camp is about 10 miles northwest of Munich. To put that in perspective, think in terms of what it would be like to have a death camp operating in Overland Park, Kansas, which is about 10 miles from downtown Kansas City, or Hoboken, New Jersey, which is just across the river from Manhattan with its vibrant theatre district along Broadway, opulent hotels, or the serenity of Central Park. As for the town of Dachau itself, it’s a short bus ride from downtown Munich. Again, I thought the Nazis would want to hide what they were doing, but I was wrong. The camp was just a short walk from the bus stop. It’s interesting to note that the town of Dachau had a long history of being a center for arts and culture. The people of Dachau were justifiably proud of the city’s twelve hundred year history of love for the arts. 

The camp itself was every bit as stark and foreboding as we had expected it to be. The barracks, now empty, seemed quite large until I considered how many Jews and other “miscreants” were housed in each unit. There was a large trench in front of the barbed war fence that encircled the camp. In the days before the efficiency of the gas chambers, Jews were taken to the fence and shot. The trenches conveniently swept all the blood away. When the Nazis discovered they couldn’t shoot the Jews fast enough, they set their engineers to the task of solving the problem. The answer was Zyklon B and incinerators to destroy all traces of those they considered vermin.  The ovens in the crematoria, with their metal doors squeaking when you moved them even slightly, were absolutely sickening. The idea that someone as civilized as the German people could strip another human being of anything they considered valuable, including hair, gold teeth,  money, books, jewelry, and yes, even their dignity, then gas them to death and incinerate them to ashes sickened me. I wanted to vomit. 

There were pieces of the Holocaust that couldn’t be considered large or grand, but it was every bit as much a Holocaust as the ghastly events taking place in the death camps. A few years ago, Nancy and I walked along the Danube River as it meandered through Budapest. Not far from the national parliament building we came across shoes that had been placed in neat rows along the riverbank. They were commemorating those Jews had been caught when the Nazis overran Hungary, rounded up as many as they could find, marched them to the river, shot them, and dumped their lifeless bodies in the river. Before disposing of the bodies, they took the shoes off the corpses. It was a testament to the strange mixture of human cruelty and efficiency that were hallmarks of the Holocaust.

The third memorable site was Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the Holocaust in Jerusalem. Translated, the words Yad Vashem mean “a place and a name,” They mirror a promise of God given to the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah - “Even unto them will I give in my house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.”  (Isaiah 56:5).

The museum holds hundreds of thousands of photos and other artifacts that give witness to the evil that was inflicted on the Jewish people. After touring the main museum, we walked to the Children’s Memorial net door. We entered a room that was dark. The darkness was occasionally pierced by a small flash of light, sort of like the light that emanates from a flash camera. Then, following the brief flash, a child’s voice reciting his or her name filled the air. I stood there, stunned, as flash followed flash and voice followed voice. I slumped over and began to sob uncontrollably. The process went on and on until the names of the one and a half million children who died at the hands of the Nazis were recited. Then, the process started all over again.

I occasionally look back on that experience and when I do I think of Jesus’ words from the gospel of Mark – “If anyone causes one of these little ones--those who believe in me--to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” A million and a half! A million and a half! If that can’t reduce a person to tears, nothing can. Were these children vermin? How much evil could a human heart hold to think such a thing? I can’t imagine, not even at my wickedest. Yet, today many consider the unborn child to be even worse than vermin. To them, they are nothing more than tissue to be discarded like yesterday’s garbage. 

Most of us think in terms of one Holocaust, a one-time event that is long since passed. To most of us it’s ancient history. But, the commemoration in Jerusalem and the March for Life in Washington, D.C. are both part of a whole. They are both holocausts. The commemorative events in Washington, D.C. and Jerusalem call upon us to remember, to heed, and to choose life. 

While one Holocaust has thankfully ended, another continues unabated.

Tragically, there have been other mini-holocausts going on all around us since the 1990’s. In the nineties we had genocide in the Balkans while the United Nations dithered. We had genocide in Rwanda when Bill Clinton and his diplomatic team debated the definition of genocide while they advocated pulling all peacekeeping forces out of the country. The result was hundreds of thousands of deaths in just a few short months.  The most recent holocaust is taking place right now in Syria. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, thousands more wounded and maimed, and millions displaced to forage for food and shelter like wild animals. In response, supporters of one President cheered when he drew a red line, ignored it, then capped it all off by turning the war-torn country over to two brutal tyrants to do with as they pleased, thus abandoning those caught up in the brutality of poison gas and barrel bombs. Many supporters of a new President cheered when he recently closed an avenue of escape to those who have been ravaged for far too long.

Are there other holocausts waiting in the wings? I pray not, but I fear they are, like sin couching at Cain’s door. 

The prophet Joel warned ancient Israel of the doom that was to befall them. He spoke of locusts devouring the land, vines dried up and fig trees withered. He told drunkards to howl, priests to put on sackcloth, and virgins to mourn. Yet, paradoxically, he told the people that God still loved them and would deliver them. In bringing his message, he told the people they were to remember the things that were about to happen   – “Hear this, you elders; listen, all who live in the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your day or in the days of your ancestors? Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.”

As it always is when God interacts with humanity, there are both warnings and blessings. That was the crux of Joel’s message to Israel. The meaning of his words should be clear to us today. We must listen to his voice and heed what he is telling us so that we don’t repeat, in our own unique ways, the evil that poisoned Israel. If America is to be, like Israel, a “light to the nations,” we too must tell ourselves, our children, and our children’s children. If we ever fail to do so or refuse to give heed and voice to the prophet’s words, we will be doomed.

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