Sunday, April 6, 2008

Penna Dexter: Creating culture warriors / Why marriage is good?

FIRST-PERSON: Creating culture warriors

Posted on Feb 16, 2006 | by Penna Dexter

DALLAS (BP)--A recent Newsweek story describes the emphasis evangelical universities are placing on training debaters. The debate team at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., ranks number one in the nation. (Harvard is number 14.)

Its success stems from Jerry Falwell’s vision to turn out debaters who become “the conscience of the culture.” These young culture warriors are gaining the skills to become lawyers and leaders who will take on what Dr. Falwell calls the “moral default on the other side.” One of Liberty’s freshman debaters, Cole Bender, defines his dream: “I think I can make an impact in the field of law on abortion and gay rights, to get back to Americans’ godly heritage.”

Where do kids like this come from? The statistics on the worldview of most Christian kids are pretty depressing. Dan Smithwick, founder of the Nehemiah Institute, has been studying this for years. His PEERS testing shows that, irrespective of whether they attend public or Christian schools, the opinions of Christian students on social issues are being shaped primarily from a secular humanist or socialist perspective. The Liberty University culture warriors are not typical products of our education system -- even our Christian high schools. The sad fact is many Christian kids walk away from their faith when they hit college.

This reality is behind the creation of a new position at a Christian school in Plano, Texas. Dan Panetti serves as Prestonwood Christian Academy’s worldview director. Dan has spent his career informing Christians about the social/moral issues that face America and encouraging believers to be involved in the political arena. He has used his law degree as a tool in his work battling a sexualized culture. He’s found his passion -- the next generation -- and he works in the thick of it at PCA where kids in grades 9 through 12 are free to come into his office to discuss issues that run the gamut, from "same sex marriage" to personal dating concerns. The question Dan teaches these students to answer is, “How does my Christianity apply to real life issues?”

What these kids won’t get from Dan is pat “Christian” answers. This hip father of four uses these spontaneous discussions and more formal teaching sessions to encourage PCA students to use biblical principles to make life decisions. And he develops programs to teach them how to formulate complex answers to the moral questions that face the culture. Dan tells students that, to engage the world, you don’t quote Bible verses; you bring the facts to bear with thoughtful, biblically informed arguments.

PCA’s emphasis on shaping students’ worldview did not begin with Dan Panetti. Headmaster Larry Taylor established the Student Leadership Institute to prepare students to be leaders in the culture. Many of the kids from this affluent community will become doctors, lawyers, broadcasters, educators and business leaders. Taylor and Panetti seek to provide them with tools to combine with their professional knowledge and stature to bring a Christian influence to the nation’s societal institutions.

Dan Panetti understands that, to most teens, relationships are “everything.” A strong Christian worldview grows from relationships with older adults who are willing and equipped to compassionately and lovingly help a young person to explore how his faith shapes his role in the world. Part of Dan’s task is to “influence the influences” on PCA students. He makes suggestions for coursework at PCA and aids in the selection of materials. He organizes worldview training for teachers. Together, PCA’s upper school staff members have studied Paul Little’s "Know What You Believe." Soon, they’ll read and discuss Nancy Pearcey’s "Total Truth." At least 50 percent of textbooks used in most Christian schools are no different than those used in public schools. So it’s the teacher that makes the difference. PCA is also developing a “Parent University” to sync up parents and school. And Dan stays in touch with PCA alumni. PCA is launching an online publication to provide encouragement and information for college students facing challenges to their faith and Christian principles.

There’s no silver bullet to ensuring Christian students develop a strong biblical worldview. But if there was one, Dan Panetti thinks it would be reading. “In a high tech world, most people don’t read,” he laments. Dan talks a lot about books. He helps choose the books in PCA’s library and often hands a student a book off the shelf in his office. Sometimes there’s fruitful discussion when the book is returned. On other occasions, there’s a twinkly-eyed scolding. “Each student is different,” he says. And each one is worth the effort.
Dexter is a conservative activist and an announcer on the new syndicated radio program "Life on the Line" (information available at She currently serves as a consultant for KMA Direct Communications in Plano, Texas, and as a producer for "Washington Watch Weekly," a broadcast of the Family Research Council. She formerly was a co-host of Marlin Maddoux's "Point of View" syndicated radio program.

Why marriage is good
Penna Dexter
Posted on Mar 15, 2007

DALLAS (BP)--Just for fun, my husband sat me down the other night and asked me some pre-marriage questions from a book, “Getting to ‘Really Know’ Your Life-Mate-to Be, by Bobb and Cheryl Biehl.

Examples were:

-- “Who do you think is responsible to do the following work around the home: Car repairs? Cooking? Fixing things? House cleaning?”

-- “Who will balance the monthly bank statement?”

-- “How do you feel about birth control?”

Some questions weren’t so easy, though. One asked, “How would you improve on either one of our social lives?” Hmm.

The exercise was fun and it got me thinking about how satisfying a good marriage is. In response to one of my Baptist Press columns (“Going Beyond Same Sex Marriage,” Aug. 17, 2006) I was e-mailed some thoughtful questions from a homosexual reader. One question challenged my contention that bringing homosexual couples into the marriage equation would result in the “deconstruction” of marriage and would remove something good and positive from the society. My critic argued that those of us in the battle to retain the definition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman have the singular goal of denying rights to same-sex couples, and that our efforts do nothing to “protect” and “defend” marriage and families.

As a matter of fact, he said, our efforts are accomplishing the exact opposite. Protecting the definition of marriage, in his view, prevents homosexual couples from “building a life and family” together. I am prevented from using biblical arguments in response to this critique because, according to the reader, any religion’s definition of marriage is completely separate from these “civil marriage rights.” My friend complained that the only way he can get the society to grant him certain “support” or “rights” is to fall in love with a woman and marry her, a scenario he describes as not even remotely possible.

But he has the wrong view of the purpose of marriage. The rationale for marriage is not so people can share in each other’s insurance and retirement benefits. It’s not about inheriting someone’s property or social security check. And, as compelling as the argument sounds, hospital visitation and end-of-life decision privileges are not core reasons to get married. (I don’t remember considering any of these things when I accepted my husband’s marriage proposal.) Arrangements can be made to bestow many of the benefits of marriage on another person. That, though, is beside the point.

Benefits are conferred upon married couples because marriage is important to society. Although the benefits of marriage certainly encourage marriage, they are not its purpose. The “marriage equality” argument says everyone is owed these benefits. That argument would have some merit in a purely socialist economy. In fact, the European governments that allow “gay marriage” or have marriage benefits for cohabiting couples, are now funding expensive programs to deal with the fallout.

Marriage is privileged because of the tremendous impact for good the institution has on the culture. Marriage, with its uniquely positive environment for procreation and the rearing of children, is worth maintaining for the perpetuation of society and the future of the nation. That’s why it is not simply a religious institution, but is protected in our body of law.

Attorney Glen Lavy of the Alliance Defense Fund handles marriage cases for the Alliance Defense Fund. In an article posted on, he critiqued last fall’s New Jersey Supreme Court decision in which the plaintiffs, in his words, “successfully argued that the state’s first obligation is to underwrite the romantic inclinations of its adults, rather than protect its children.” Three other top courts (the New York high court, the Washington state Supreme court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit) got it right, he says, when they held that government’s interest in the relationship between two loving individuals is derived from “the likelihood of that relationship producing children.”

Certainly, some homosexual couples raise children and, as my e-mail critic reminded me, those children “are part of the next generation.” But governments should not adopt radical changes in laws that benefit the society as a whole to accommodate atypical circumstances. National policy should be informed by the evidence -- buttressed by countless studies -- showing children do best physically, emotionally and educationally when living with both biological parents. Admittedly, increasing numbers of children are living outside the ideal, but the answer is to encourage the creation of that environment, not to undermine it.

A recent Washington Post story points out the sad fact that fewer children are living in families with their married biological parents than ever before. Divorce contributes to this situation, as does heterosexual cohabitation, which is on the rise. One-third of first births to white women occur out of wedlock; three-quarters of first births among black women take place outside of wedlock. These trends have terrible consequences for the next generation and will cost society dearly. The solution is to strengthen and encourage marriage to cope with these problems -- not to dilute the institution by redefining it as a package of benefits.

The attempt to amend the United States Constitution to protect marriage is on hold in the current congressional atmosphere. The battles over marriage continue in the states, and some of the ideas being floated are alarming:

A state legislator in Maine has introduced a bill to strip the clergy of the right to sign marriage licenses, essentially separating state-sanctioned marriage from religious ceremonies.

In New Mexico, lawmakers are looking at a proposal that would remove the words “bride” and “groom” from marriage licenses, and according to legislative analysts, replace these terms with “Applicant 1” and “Applicant 2.” And legislation is likely to pass in Washington state that will grant domestic partnership benefits to cohabitating homosexuals and seniors. Meanwhile, pro-family North Carolinians are facing some tough opposition in their attempt to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

Societies thrive or fade based upon how they structure their marriage and family policy. Marriage is not a private relationship. It is profoundly public, and the quality of the culture and future of the nation ride on the outcome of the ongoing struggle to protect it.
Penna Dexter is a board of trustee member with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, a conservative activist and an announcer on the syndicated radio program “Life on the Line” (information available at She currently serves as a consultant for KMA Direct Communications in Plano, Texas, and as a co-host of “Jerry Johnson Live,” a production of Criswell Communications. She formerly was a co-host of Marlin Maddoux’s “Point of View” syndicated radio program.

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