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Austin forum unpacks family values issues

September 24th, 2020 / By: Bonnie Pritchett | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

Austin forum unpacks family values issues

Southern Baptists were among several invited speakers at a public policy forum presented by Texas Values and hosted by Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin Sept. 18-19. Topics at the Faith, Family, and Freedom Forum included the state of religious and personal liberties, education, abortion, identity politics and the role of the church in each arena, especially, in the midst of a pandemic.

“There’s got to be that education,” Jonathan Saenz told the TEXAN. “They’ve got to understand what’s happening and have a true appreciation of it before they’ll ever make a decision to care about doing something and then decide to back that up with some action.”

Saenz is president of Texas Values, a non-profit, conservative public policy advocacy organization.

Is the Church Essential?

Danny Forshee, pastor of GHBC, joined fellow pastor and state representative Scott Sanford, and religious liberty attorney Hiram Sasser in a panel discussion about the essential role of the church in society. In March and April government authorities ordered all “non-essential” businesses to shutter, including churches, in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Churches had to convince authorities of their essentiality.

Sanford said the church’s role in promoting a civil society and caring for their communities often goes recognized and, therefore, unappreciated. The oversight contributes to the notion of whether or not a church is “essential.”

“It helps feed the poor. It helps alleviate poverty and hunger and serving the widow and the orphan,” Sanford told the forum audience. “So, the government needs to take a hard look at the very practical things that churches do through its ministries day in and day out that reduces the cost and excessive services that the government has to provide.”

Forshee said the church’s essential nature might be more recognizable if churches were “more conspicuous” about serving their communities.

Getting Schooled

The pandemic has given parents and teachers unprecedented views into each other’s worlds – for better or worse. Remote learning made the classroom accessible to parents like never before said Texas Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney.

Parents who don’t like what they see in their child’s virtual classroom have told school administrators. But Paxton, a former math teacher, said the feedback can be constructive as she reminded the audience that some of their students’ teachers and principals are fellow believers.

“One of the things we need to recognize is that [their] ministry and they are under attack from both sides many times. We have to remember to give our public schools support to do the right thing,” she told the audience of 500 that attended in-person and on line.

“I think we are seeing, because of the COVID situation, public schools are more responsive and engaged with parents, and parents with their kids’ schools more than I’ve ever seen,” she said. “I think parents are more aware of what’s happening in the schools these days. They’re more aware of their own responsibility.”

But some criticism is well-deserved, according to speakers on two separate panels discussing sex education.

Critics decried the graphic nature of the material making its way into the classroom and Texas textbooks. They reserved their harshest criticism for the Austin Independent School District. Last year AISD approved K – 12 curriculum created by Planned Parenthood.  But legislation authored by Sen. Donna Campbell, R – New Braunfels, ended taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood and its affiliates.

AISD sought to circumvent that law by using sex education material crafted by a Canadian abortion provider. But AISD withdrew the curriculum after it was discovered they did not obtain permission to use the copyrighted material.

Paxton and Saenz praised a group of well-informed and determined school district residents who fought against both plans. Their work should serve as an encouragement to others to stay informed and engaged they said.

Life issues 

Pro-life discussions covered protecting human dignity from assaults by abortionists and transgender ideologues.

Former Bryan, Texas, abortion clinic director Abby Johnson and Central Texas Coalition for Life director Heather Gardner recounted their story of being on opposite sides of the abortion debate until God convicted Johnson of abortion’s harsh realities.

Johnson founded And Then There Were None, an organization that has helped 600 abortion industry employees, including physicians, leave that trade.

Janet Porter, president of Faith2Action, and Rep. Briscoe Cane, R – Baytown, discussed heartbeat laws that ban abortion after a heartbeat can be detected in an unborn baby. Porter’s pro-life organization secured passage of a bill in Ohio. Cane authored the Texas Heartbeat Bill in 2019 that never made it out of committee.

Two panel discussions addressed the rapid accommodation of transgender ideology into society, courts and the law.

One discussion featured Walt Heyer and Jeff Younger. Thirty years separate the beginning of their stories, but their tales illustrate the rapid cultural shift that has taken place in that time.

When Heyer was 42, he succumbed to his gender dysphoria and underwent “gender reassignment surgery.” He lived as a woman for eight years. But, according to his biography “through effective psychotherapy and faith in God,” he accepted his God-created male body. He shares his sex-change regret story and his faith in Christ – much to the chagrin of transgender activists who deny the reality of transition regret.

Thirty years later, Jeff Younger, is fighting to save one of his twin sons from their ideologically driven mother, doctors, counselors, courts and activists. When Younger and his wife, Anne Georgulas, divorced, Georgulas began presenting one of their now-8-year-old sons as a girl. The mother insists it is at the boy’s request.

Younger contends his son has not indicated to him that he wants to live as a girl. The parents are waging a custody battle and Younger is asking the courts to give him a say in their son’s medical treatment.

When Heyer sought medical transitioning three decades ago, his counselor advised therapy first. Today, some states have outlawed counseling that allows patients to discuss their gender confusion before beginning “gender reassignment” that can leave them sterile. Not ironically, a court ordered Younger and his sons to attend weekly counseling with a judge-appointed therapist.

High ranking Texas politicians have advocated for Younger and his son. But whether those same politicians will support legislation prohibiting “gender reassignment” for minors is yet to be seen.

Some measure of protection against transgender ideology was introduced, and passed, in Idaho. The bill, signed by Gov. Brad Little and immediately challenged by transgender-affirming American Civil Liberties Union, requires student athletes to compete on teams according to their biological sex and not gender identity. (See sidebar “Fair Play Act”). Similar bills have been introduced in other states and would prohibit biological males from competing in girls’ and women’s (college level) sports.

Trusting God or Caesar?

The Texas Values forum starkly contrasted the divide between secular and Christian ideology. Participants were encouraged to stay informed and engage their local authorities.

But how do Christians strike a balance between civic engagement and relying on God’s will for the outcome?

It begins with a high view of Scripture, not politics, the pastors said.

“The Bible has become, regrettably, one of the most neglected sacred books in the church today,” said Forshee. “While affirming what we can in the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Magna Carta, etc. is always helpful, our allegiance must always be first and foremost to Christ and the Word of God.”

And leave the results to God.

“By staying focused on God's word and teaching it faithfully with love, the Holy Spirit will honor and move in the hearts and minds of those who would hear,” said Sanford.