Signs and Wonders
Signs notifying visitors of the government shutdown hang at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Photo by J.C. Derrick
Signs notifying visitors of the government shutdown hang at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Signs and Wonders: Shutdown or slowdown?


Government slowdown. First of all, let’s be clear: The government hasn’t shut down. According to the government’s own Office of Personnel Management, the federal government had about 4.4 million employees in 2011. The so-called “shutdown” sends about 800,000 on what will likely be a temporary unpaid vacation. But it is important to remember that the median household income in America is about $54,000 per year, and the median federal employee salary is now $74,714, up from $69,550 in 2010. And that’s before figuring in a benefits and retirement package most Americans can only dream about. Add to this that government “shutdowns” are not unprecedented. We have had 18 government “shutdowns” since 1976. We had five during the Carter Administration. If you’re a federal employee, the inevitability of an occasional furlough is something you can and should plan for, just as factory workers must plan for furloughs when plants re-tool or construction workers and farmers must plan for reduced winter income. Popular media tropes for the past few days are these: Concerned pundits from the major networks lamenting with their most serious broadcast voices the closure of national parks and monuments. Or reporters all dewy-eyed with empathy interviewing federal employees as they tearfully describe the hardships a furlough will cause for them. I do not want to minimize what for some might be very real hardship. I have no doubt that among the 800,000, it is possible to find some for whom this furlough will create a real problem. But what about the 300 million Americans who do not work for the federal government who should be able to have some say in how the money gets spent?

While we’re at it. Another media staple has been to talk about how terrible it is that our national parks are closed. But I wonder this: Is USAID still passing out condoms? Is the National Endowment for the Arts still passing out grants for artwork such as Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ”? And about those national parks: Have you listened to a Ranger Talk recently? It’s full of evolutionary pseudo-science, climate change ideology, and other politically correct propaganda. My point is this: For every unfortunate national park closing, I wonder if there is not also some destructive activity of the government that we should all be happy has ground to a halt. Said another way: Is shutting down the non-essential functions of government really that big a deal, or that bad a thing?

Hiding in plain sight. Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly, the PBS television program about religion, took a hard left turn in its coverage of homosexuality and the United Methodist Church. The eight-minute piece, by Betty Rollin, featured five people who supported Thomas Ogletree, a retired clergy member and former dean for Yale Divinity School, who presided at his son’s 2012 same-sex wedding ceremony and who now faces a possible church trial. However, despite the fact that the United Methodist Church has a long-held position prohibiting homosexual conduct among clergy, Rollin interviewed only one pastor representing that view. As Walter Fenton of the United Methodist renewal group Good News wrote, Rollin’s piece “lacked a sense of curiosity, and it lacked balance.” These deficiencies turned what could have been interesting and helpful journalism into little more than propaganda.

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More pet insanity. When Graham Anley’s yacht ran aground on one of the most dangerous stretches of the South African coast, were his first thoughts of saving his wife Cheryl? Nope. Graham’s top priority was his Jack Russell terrier Rosie. According to an Australian newspaper, The Herald-Sun, the Anleys’ yacht was swept onto a reef in high winds and 20-foot waves. The Anleys put Rosie in a special life-jacket tailored just for him, complete with an emergency strobe light. According to Georff McGregor of the National Sea Rescue Institute, “As the incident happened Graham sent a mayday radio distress call and activated the EPIRB (Global Positioning Distress beacon) but they were immediately forced to abandon ship. He first swam Rosie ashore safely before returning for his wife, whose safety line had snagged on the steering gear.” All three made it safely ashore, though it would appear that chivalry died in the accident.

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren is vice president of mission advancement for The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and the host of WORLD Radio’s Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.


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