Archive for November, 2009

The Gospel According To Harley Davidson

            You might not have been taught the price our Founding Fathers paid to be free.  You might not remember the price paid by the first century church to set the body of Christ into motion in a manner in keeping with the calling God had placed on the body.  That might be because you have been listening to the new Gospel with its new pricing program.

We suddenly live in a place where we do not want to pay a price for anything.  We want it and we want it now.  It would be okay if this were an indictment against the secular side of America.  Unfortunately, it is also an indictment against the spiritual side of America.

            If we were founding America it would look more like Disney World than the country we love—one price gets you into everything, except the food is specially priced just to make sure we got you one more time.

            How do we move forward?  What can stop the slid into meaninglessness?

            There is really only one way—we have to get back to the basics.  We have to realize that we are not special; we are merely some of those called by God to a higher life, a life of giving and sacrifice instead of a life of taking and no pain.

            This also means that we have to quit talking the talk and start walking the walk.  We must find a way to live in the same manner as the Apostle Paul.  He counted all as loss.  The only thing that matter to Paul was the furtherance of the Gospel.  He could live in wealth and he could live in poverty—the moment does not matter, only eternity.

            We have to get past the pettiness of our culture and get back to real life.  That is one of the problems I see with the spiritual state of our world and especially our country.  We spend our time catering to the pettiness, how do we get more people to show up in the Church.  We spend our time trying to figure out how to get more people to raise their hand while nobody is looking. 

            In college we rewrote the lyrics to a famous hymn:  “Raise your hand, raise your hand for Jesus, put it down before anyone looks.  Praise God now you’re saved, your name is in the book.”  That sums up the current Gospel message.

            God wants you to have a Harley; He must because he gave me one.  No, wait, I am more special.

            We need to get back to living our life remembering that one day we will stand in front of God and give account for everything.  God might be love, but love is not syrup on your French Toast; love is justice.  Love is demanding of those to whom it is given.

            That might be a good thing to keep in mind the next time we are in the Harley shop thinking about living the good life.

New Ministry Book Available–People Making A Difference By Joel H. Thornton

Here is a sample chapter, you can buy this book directly from Joel by emailing him at jt1217@aol.com.  The book is $12, $15 including shipping.

INTRODUCTION TO THE WORK OF THE INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP

“Helping the helpless find justice—with you”

             Our work began from a bigger work that makes a huge difference in America.  While working for the American Center for Law and Justice (“ACLJ”) I realized that we needed to create a Christian religious freedom organization that concentrated primarily on Europe.  No one else was doing this; no one was giving the same standard of care to protecting religious freedom in Europe.

             I worked for 15 years with the ACLJ, working on cases from student-led Bible clubs on public school campuses in America, to pro-life cases, to the use of public buildings by religious organizations, and a number of other religious freedom issues.  During those years I was blessed to work with some of the most gifted attorneys in America and the world.  I was able to learn how to protect religious freedom through the legal systems of America and a variety of other avenues.  This included using the media to make sure that the discrimination and ultimately the persecution does not occur in darkness. Often the best solution to a problem involving religious freedom is simply to make the problem known.  No one wants to be considered a bigot.

             Pursuing my vision for Europe, the ACLJ set up the European Centre for Law and Justice (“ECLJ”).  I headed up their office in Strasbourg, France for over a year.  The ECLJ continues to concentrate primarily on political solutions to the problems facing religious people and institutions in Europe.  It is a valuable work, but it seemed to me that there was also a need for legal strategy along the lines that exists in America.

             So we stepped up and began to use the model we had learned and developed in America in Europe.  In these pages you will see the effects of this work.  You will see how we are working with some incredible people to do incredible things.

             I have had the pleasure of working with some of the greatest attorneys in the western world—both in America and around Europe.  It is always amazing to me that there are men and women who will take their vocation and make it their calling.

             I have made friendships and developed relationships that have changed how I view the world.  I have been given the honor of working with Christian lawyers from Russia, England, Norway, France, Germany, Greece, and a variety of other countries around Europe.  I have been permitted to look into these cultures in ways a tourist never gets to see.  Often they have invited me into their homes to share time with their families.  We have committed to pray for each other.  We are committed to work together to bring change to Europe where it is so vitally needed.

             After over twenty years in ministry, as a church planter, an associate pastor, and an attorney working for ministries, I have learned that it is not always the big things that make the biggest difference.  It is often the small things that make the biggest difference.  It is often a young girl standing firm in the face of great persecution.  It is just as likely to be someone you have never heard of doing nothing more than continuing to do what God has put before them.

             I am not called to proclaim the Gospel message in foreign lands.  I understand that we are all called to share our faith in the places where God leads us, but I am talking about going to a foreign land for the sole purpose of serving as a missionary.

             At the same time, I am called to be a door keeper.  Our ministry keeps the door open in various places so that missionaries, pastors, and church planters can proclaim the Gospel message without fear of being arrested.

             There is a time coming when our work will not be able to keep the doors open for the proclamation of the Gospel.  There is a time coming when men and women will again be asked to pay the ultimate price for their faith in the western world.

             My calling is to hold that day off for as long as we can so that as many as can are able to easily hear the word that Jesus, God become man, has come to set them free from the futility of modern life.

             The same Jesus who turned the world upside down two thousand years ago is still working to turn the world upside down again.  It is not ours to judge the work; it is only our responsibility to do what God has called us to do.  It is our responsibility to use the talents He has given us to bring about whatever He wants it to bring about.

             It is an honor for me to serve in this ministry.  I never would have believed that God would use me in such a dynamic way to bring change to such a large area.  When I first decided to attend law school I had no idea it would lead here.

             Placing one foot in front of the other, I have arrived here.  Being as faithful as I knew how to be at what was placed before me, I have arrived here.  I am not the right one to judge the work of our ministry.  I do believe, however, that we serve as a great encouragement to a large number of people in America and Europe.  I believe we are making a difference, keeping the door open for the proclamation of the Gospel in America and Europe.

             Whether or not we ever bring the change we are fighting to bring about, we are doing what we believe we are called to do.  The victory is not ours, it is the Lord’s.  We will leave the heavy lifting to Him.

             It would be easy to take the judgment of man and decide that some of these matters are not important enough to make a difference.  It is more difficult to see the real impressiveness of the smallest obedience which leads to great breaks in the most difficult lands.  There are countries in Europe where Christians are beginning to experience more than discrimination.  There are places where these simple people of the ancient faith are facing persecution—the loss of their freedom, the loss of their families, the loss of great amounts of money—for nothing more than being true to their Christian faith.

             These people are our clients, and some of the people who work along side us at the IHRG.  These people really are modern heroes of the faith.  Faithful like the saints whose commitment is recounted in Hebrews 11—men and women of whom the world is not worthy.  They have counted the cost and stood when many of us would have found the price to stand too high.

             In many cases, they have laid aside their own dreams and ambitions and done the hard work the Lord has asked of them.  They are struggling forward without the benefit of seeing the end of their labors.  Many of them will find the day ends without seeing the objects of their faith.

             Yet, everyday they stand in the face of persecution.  I know there are many more standing than just those mentioned here.  Their courage is a source of strength for us as well.  These reports are meant to encourage you; to let you know about men, women, and children who are standing for their faith without regard to the price that has to be paid.

             These stories are not the end of the battle we are fighting around the world for religious freedom.  These examples are merely the beginning.  We need to see hundreds more standing strong for their faith without concern for their own wellbeing.  It is time we returned to New Testament Christianity.  A Christianity where believers are more concerned with the wellbeing of the church than they are with their own wellbeing.

             These are by no means the only ones out there fighting for the faith in Europe.  These friends of mine are not the only fighters.  There are many we have not met yet.  There are many we have yet to connect with in the ministry.  Their work is just as valuable as those whose stories are retold here.  These are the ones we have seen first hand.

             This is their story.  Without them our work would be meaningless.

  Melissa Busekros

“I am not leaving until I finish my breakfast and brush my teeth.”

             Melissa Busekros is an average 15-year-old German girl.  She comes from a good home; her parents have provided her with a strong family environment in which to grow.  Their values have left her protected from much of the moral vacuum created by the modern secular world that permeates Germany and western culture.  She is also normal in her schooling.  She is a good student, but she struggled with some of the advanced math—who among us does not so struggle—and she was failing Latin.

             Gudrun Busekros has a college degree in Latin and she was confident that she could help Melissa in this subject.  Unfortunately, school officials were not willing to help Melissa overcome her difficulties.  The German school system is very complicated and it is closed to all but the top-level students.  The top level of the high school system is a college track; it is what we might call the accelerated program.  The middle level is designed for students who might still want to attend college but are not in the accelerated program for a variety of reasons.  The bottom level is for students who are on a technical track.  Students in the bottom level are not eligible to attend university in Germany by nature of their diploma.

             When Melissa first began having her problems she was in the top level.  School officials, refusing to work with this promising student, moved Melissa from the top level to the bottom level.  They could have placed her in the middle level and given her the chance to continue her education beyond high school at university, but they chose not to do that.  Melissa was suddenly being forced to give up her dream of going to university after she finished high school.  Her family was not satisfied, but they were not consulted in the decision by the German school officials.

             When Melissa’s father, Hubert, tried to get the school officials to help them keep Melissa on a university track, they refused.  All of their options were gone, so Hubert and Gudrun removed Melissa from the public schools and began a very deliberate home schooling program for her.

             Unfortunately, this is an unusual approach to children and parental rights in Germany.  The official law of the German Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees parents the right to control the education of their children.  The German courts have not treated these rights as straightforward as the law would suggest.

             In fact, in the past few years the German courts have chipped away at the rights of parents to control the education of their children regularly.  Sometimes we win the cases at the lowest court level; this requires a lot of legal maneuvering and there are exceptional German Christian lawyers who have proven to be very good in the courtroom.

             The movement to home school children is in its infant stages in Germany.  There are estimated to be about 400 children being home schooled right now.  That number is shrinking due to the persecution these families are facing on a daily basis.  In the past we have not used the word “persecution” in relationship to western Christianity because at best we have faced discrimination, not persecution.  That has changed with the battle the German government is waging against home-school families there.

             There has been a progression and slow increase of the pressure on home-school families.  Some of the first cases involved German judges removing children from the family home—using police officers to escort children to school and bring them home.  The first time this happened there was a public outcry that caused the court to immediately change their decision and leave the children at home after only one day of forced public schooling.

             The next step was to begin to levy fines against parents who refused to send their children to the public schools.  There is no law in Germany forbidding home schooling.  In fact, the law that exists is a compulsory education law like the law we have here in the States.

             Germany has an estimated 100,000 truant students inside the country at any one time.  That means that 100,000 children are not meeting the requirements of the compulsory education law and their parents are doing nothing to educate the children—or force them to attend school.  Yet, government officials have chosen to ignore this problem—spending their time trying to destroy the few families who are taking greater care with their children, sacrificing their life and time to see that their children receive a proper education.

             Then, the appeals courts or the Constitutional Court, the highest court on these matters in Germany, ruled that German culture requires, “for the sake of pluralism, the protection from parallel societies.”  Part of the problem with this logic is that pluralism is by definition the acceptance of parallel societies.

             Pluralism is the existence of more than one way of doing things within a society.  Parallel societies are cultures that exist side-by-side within one country or one region.

             Rather than let Melissa be moved into a track that would keep her from university, the Busekros family decided to educate her at home.  Their other school-aged children remained in the public school.  Virtually from the beginning, local school officials began to hassle the family.

             The Youth Welfare Office began to demand home visits to make sure the situation at home was up to their standards.  At one point they accused Melissa’s father of abusing her simply because the family was operating on the biblical model of father as the head of household.

             Distrusting the Youth Welfare Office, with good reason given some of the actions these government officials had taken against other families throughout Germany, the Busekros parents did not let officials into their house.  They were willing to submit their work to school officials for their review, but that was not acceptable.

             After months filled with attempts to resolve the situation, when the family was relaxing on January 30th at 7 in the morning, up to fifteen police officers surrounded the house and knocked on the door. 

             Melissa answered the door where several officers were asking if she was Melissa Busekros.

             “Yes, I am,” she replied.

             “Why are you hiding in the basement every morning?”  Clearly they had had the family home under surveillance for a number of days to learn Melissa’s morning ritual.  “Are your parents forcing you into the basement as punishment for something?”

             Melissa, calmer than any of us would have been, looked at the officers standing at her family home door and said, “every morning I practice my piano.  The piano belongs to the church and they keep it in the basement.”

             “We have come to take you for psychiatric evaluation in Nuremburg.”  The officer’s began to work their way into the family home.

             “Not until I finish my breakfast and brush my teeth.”  The idea that this young lady, who was, according to government officials, socially backwards and incapable of interacting with others appropriately, could stand up to this show of force is something that continues to give me chill bumps to this day.

             With the officers standing in the doorway, Melissa shut the door and returned to the breakfast table.  She finished eating, brushed her teeth, told her family good-bye and was escorted, like a criminal, to the Psychiatric Hospital in Nuremburg where she was subjected to nearly two hours of examination by a doctor Melissa had never met.

             Melissa did not know at the time that she was meeting with a doctor who was specifically selected because he was quick to separate children from their parents.  This step of the process was important because, until recently, the German government was required to have the approval of a licensed psychiatrist before they could remove children from their family.  Now the Germans have corrected this problem and removed the need for a psychiatrist’s evaluation before taking children from their parents.

             Like a common criminal, Melissa was led to a police car and escorted to the Nuremberg Psychiatric Hospital.  She was taken to a secure room and there she waited for someone to come.  At this time she did not know what was going to happen to her.  She did not know what the plans were for her.  She only knew that she was separated from her family and that she was going to be examined.

             The examination lasted about an hour and a half.  The biggest concern from the examiners was that Melissa did not have the right amount of separation from her family as they thought a 15–year-old girl should have.  Her answers on matters of moral and philosophical beliefs were in keeping with those of her parents.  The examiners felt this was strange because at fifteen Melissa should have been more independent in her thinking.  After all, her parents are Christians and that type of thinking is troubling in the modern German world.

             After this evaluation Melissa was brought home.  She was dropped off with her parents and nothing more was said by state officials about the events of the day.

             The next day, unknown to Melissa or her parents, the Youth Welfare Office, their attorney hired to represent the interests of Melissa, and the State-appointed psychiatrist appeared before a family court judge and had custody of Melissa transferred from her parents to the Youth Welfare Office.  All of this happened in a closed courtroom without anyone representing the interests of the parents.

             While the idea that the state takes children into custody, even in America, when the family is proven to be dangerous for the child is not unheard of, the standard for danger in Germany is so low that we must be careful not to justify these actions as necessary.

             We have to remember that the only reason for these actions is the state does not tolerate home schooling for any reason.

             Why does the German government work so hard to stop persecution?  How do 400 children present a threat to the sovereign nation of Germany?  Those are the questions I would most often face when sharing about our work fighting to protect the right of parents to exercise their freedom of religion to control the educational choices of their children through home schooling.

             Several experts in Germany have told us that they believe there are government officials who do not want strong, independent families such as those created by home schooling.  One of the greatest benefits of home schooling is that it builds strong emotional and familial ties.  Children taught by their parents have great bonds strengthened by the time they spend being taught.  Remember, most of our founding fathers were home schooled.

             Like most government school systems, the German school systems are designed to educate the children in the basics.  They are also designed to teach conformity to state standards—more so than American schools.  A large part of the mission of the German schools is to teach students how to be obedient members of the state.

             Then, to go one further, the German schools are also used by left over radicals from the Sixties, known as the School of 68 or the 68ers, to indoctrinate all the students on sex education issues and religious issues.  The message of the 68ers is that religion does not have a place in the modern world and sexual morals are dependent on the individual.

             As a result of the secret court hearing, the Youth Welfare Office was illegally granted custody of Melissa.  This is not the first time custody has secretly been taken from parents and given to the government—sadly it is also not the last time.  This has become a natural way for the government, particularly the Youth Welfare Office, to take children from home-school families.

             This move was illegal because, at the time, the law required a government-mandated psychological evaluation that met a high standard.  In this case, the state did not meet the existing standard and the court should have refused to shift the custody under the existing law.

             Since the time of Melissa’s case, this standard of evaluation has been lowered by the German Parliament so that it is easier for the government to take children from their homes and put them into state-run homes.

             Yet I digress.  On the day following the secret-court hearing, officers again showed up at the Busekros home.  This time they took Melissa and put her into the Nuremberg Psychiatric Clinic.  This clinic houses young people with a variety of serious psychological problems.  There are suicidal youth here.  There are young people with serious drug addictions here.  Mental patients and gothic youth can be found inside the locked doors of this mental hospital or clinic.

             The Youth Welfare Office’s evaluation of Melissa determined that she should be taken from her parents because she had “school phobia” and was “too close to her parents.”  In the mind of the German government, it is problematic that a girl of fifteen would share religious beliefs and a worldview with her parents.  Because of this she was taken from her parents and put into state custody.

             This is where Melissa suddenly found herself—ripped from her loving home.  Her siblings and parents were not allowed to see her without permission from the guards at the clinic.  This was given sparingly, leaving Melissa more isolated than ever.

             Yet, Melissa held firm to her convictions.  She shared her faith with her doctors.  She held firm to the belief that God was in her and with her and had not abandoned her.  Darkness would have covered most of us from head to toe.  Maybe it is Melissa’s inner peace and relationship with God that brought her here.  Jesus promised that we would never be given more than we could bear and Melissa was proving herself capable of bearing what few adults could bear.

             For twelve days Melissa was kept in the Psychiatric Clinic.  She was kept with young ladies who had serious issues, even though her only problem was that she was home schooled.


Books Worth Reading

C.S. LEWIS--Mere Christianity; CLAIRE BERLINSKI--Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's Crisis, Too; BRUCE BAWER--While Europe Slept: How Radical islam is Destroying the West from Within; DAVID LEVERING LEWIS--God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215; THOMAS SCHIRRMACHER--The Persecution of Christians Concerns Us All; PHILIP JENKINS--God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis

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