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Templeton Project: Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics VIII–Mission to the Gentiles

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics VIII–Mission to the Gentiles.”

See also:

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In more than any other Gospel, Matthew uses the word Gentile or Gentiles, referring either to non-Christians or non-Jews.  Gentiles are unbelievers to whom the Christian mission is directed along with Israel.

The Gentiles fall short of those who follow Jesus.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” ((Matthew 5: 47 ESV)  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus calls on the disciples to a higher righteousness that includes greeting those who are not brothers (Christians).  In Matthew 6: 7 Jesus criticizes the Gentiles for how they pray.  “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (ESV)  The Gentiles’ religious practices falls below the standards of discipleship as described in the Sermon on the Mount.

In the section on anxiety in the Sermon Jesus says that the Gentiles seek after what to eat, drink, and wear.  The disciple is to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” (Matthew 6: 33 ESV)

Outside the Sermon later in the Gospel Jesus predicts, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”  (Matthew 20: 18-19 ESV)  In the same context Jesus responds to the mother of the sons of Zebedee who requested that they may sit at His right and left hands in the kingdom by saying that He does not grant such a thing, only the Father does.  Jesus then says to the disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”(Matthew 20: 25-28 ESV)

In the other passages where the Gentiles are mentioned, they are seen as those along with Israel who will be the beneficiaries of the Christian mission.  During Jesus’ ministry the disciples are to go only to Israel.  Mission to the Gentiles begins after His resurrection.  The resurrected Lord says to them on the mountain, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 19-20 ESV)  Here the Greek word translated “Gentiles” elsewhere is translated “nations.”

In the mission discourse in Matthew 10 Jesus warns the disciples: “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.” (Matthew 10: 17-18 ESV)  Here the Gentiles are distinguished from the Jews.  But, the Gentiles are also to be distinguished from the Christians that will be arraigned before them.

The word, Gentiles, is used in a prophecy from Isaiah that Matthew quotes (Matthew 12: 18ff).  There it says the servant will proclaim justice to the Gentiles, and the Gentiles will hope in Him.

These days we do not call non-believers Gentiles, but the situation is the same as it was during and after the ministry of Jesus.  Many people are non-Christians; some are atheists of which there seems to be a growing number.  The essential task of the church remains the extension of the message of the Gospel to others both in our immediate area and around the world.  Our witness needs to be attended by our defense of the faith.  While this task may turn unpleasant in a hostile world, we as disciples must continue to be committed to it.  An earnest view of our mission affirms the necessity of witness and defense until the end of time.

Michael G. Tavella

November 18, 2019

St. Hilda, Abbess of Whitby, 680

No ‘gay gene’: Massive study homes in on genetic basis of human sexuality

Nearly half a million genomes reveal five DNA markers associated with sexual behaviour — but none with the power to predict the sexuality of an individual.

The largest study1 to date on the genetic basis of sexuality has revealed five spots on the human genome that are linked to same-sex sexual behaviour — but none of the markers are reliable enough to predict someone’s sexuality.

The findings, which are published on 29 August in Science and based on the genomes of nearly 500,000 people, shore up the results of earlier, smaller studies and confirm the suspicions of many scientists: while sexual preferences have a genetic component, no single gene has a large effect on sexual behaviours.

“There is no ‘gay gene’,” says lead study author Andrea Ganna, a geneticist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Ganna and his colleagues also used the analysis to estimate that up to 25% of sexual behaviour can be explained by genetics, with the rest influenced by environmental and cultural factors — a figure similar to the findings of smaller studies.

“This is a solid study,” says Melinda Mills, a sociologist at the University of Oxford, UK, who studies the genetic basis of reproductive behaviours.

But she cautions that the results may not be representative of the overall population — a limitation that the study authors acknowledge. The lion’s share of the genomes comes from the UK Biobank research programme and the consumer-genetics company 23andMe, based in Mountain View, California. The people who contribute their genetic and health information to those databases are predominantly of European ancestry and are on the older side. UK Biobank participants were between 40 and 70 years old when their data were collected, and the median age for people in 23andMe’s database is 51.

The study authors also point out that they followed convention for genetic analyses by dropping from their study people whose biological sex and self-identified gender did not match. As a result, the work doesn’t include sexual and gender minorities (the LGBTQ community) such as transgender people and intersex people.

A need for more data

Scientists have long thought that someone’s genes partly influenced their sexual orientation. Research from the 1990s2 showed that identical twins are more likely to share a sexual orientation than are fraternal twins or adopted siblings. Some studies suggested that a specific part of the X chromosome called the Xq28 region was associated with the sexual orientation of people who were biologically male — although subsequent research cast doubt on those results.

But these studies all had very small sample sizes and most focused on men, says Mills. This hampered scientists’ ability to detect many variants associated with sexual orientation.

In the recent study, Ganna and his colleagues used a method known as a genome-wide association study (GWAS) to look at the genomes of hundreds of thousands of people for single-letter DNA changes called SNPs. If lots of people with a trait in common also share certain SNPs, chances are that the SNPs are related in some way to that characteristic.

The researchers split their study participants into two groups — those who reported having had sex with someone of the same sex, and those who didn’t. Then the researchers performed two separate analyses. In one, they evaluated more than one million SNPs and looked at whether people who had more SNPs in common with each other also reported similar sexual behaviours. The scientists found that genetics could explain 8–25% of the variation in sexual behaviour.

For their second analysis, Ganna and his colleagues wanted to see which particular SNPs were associated with same-sex sexual behaviours, and found five that were more common among those individuals. However, those five SNPs collectively explained less than 1% of the variation in sexual behaviour.

This suggests that there are a lot of genes that influence sexual behaviour, many of which researchers haven’t found yet, says Ganna. An even larger sample size could help to identify those missing variants, he says.

But Ganna cautions that these SNPs can’t be used to reliably predict sexual preferences in any individual, because no single gene has a large effect on sexual behaviours.

It’s complicated

Although the researchers have identified some of the SNPs involved in same-sex sexual behaviour, they aren’t sure what the genetic variants do. One is near a gene related to smell, which Ganna says has a role in sexual attraction. Another SNP is associated with male-pattern baldness — a trait influenced by levels of sex hormones, which suggests that these hormones are also linked to same-sex sexual behaviour.

The results demonstrate the complexity of human sexuality, says Ganna. They also presented a challenge to the study researchers, who knew that explaining nuanced findings on such a sensitive topic to the general public would be tricky.

To ensure that their results are not misinterpreted, the study researchers worked with LGBTQ advocacy groups and science-communication specialists on the best way to convey their findings in the research paper and to the public. Their efforts included the design of a website that lays out the results — and their limitations — to the public, using sensitive, jargon-free language.

Ewan Birney, a geneticist and director of EMBL European Bioinformatics Institute near Cambridge, UK, applauds that effort. “It’s a communications minefield,” he says.

Although some researchers and LGBTQ advocates might question the wisdom of conducting this kind of research, Birney says that it’s important. There has been a lot of sociological research on same-sex sexual behaviours, he says, but this is an incredibly complicated topic. It’s time to bring a strong, biologically based perspective to the discussion, Birney says.

References

  1. 1.

    Ganna, A. et al. Science 365, eaat7693 (2019).

  2. 2.

    Pillard, R. C. & Bailey, J. M. Hum. Biol. 70, 347–365 (1998).

By Jonathan Lambert and published in Nature on August 25, 2019 and can be found here.

Templeton Project: Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics VII–Repentance and the Forgiveness of Sins

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics VII–Repentance and the Forgiveness of Sins.”

See also:

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The life of a disciple is one grounded in repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  It is life in Christ that impels the believer to fulfill the imperatives of discipleship.  It is life in Christ that impels the believer to defend the faith when its is challenged and to witness to others so that they too can know the joys of God’s forgiveness.

Jesus tells us that He, the Son of Man, has the authority to forgive sins on earth.  One day the Lord encountered a paralytic whom some people brought to Jesus.  Instead of pronouncing words of healing, Jesus said, “Take heart, my son: your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9: 2b ESV) The paralytic was healed. Christ addresses these words to every son and daughter of His.

At the very beginning of the Gospel in the narrative regarding both the location and the manner of Jesus’ birth, Joseph decides “to divorce her (Mary) quietly,” because she was found to be pregnant “before they came together.” An angel came to Joseph to announce, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1: 21 ESV) Jesus’ mission is one of rescue for those dwelling in darkness:  ” . . . the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has shined.”  (Matthew 5: 16)  Then, immediately afterward, Jesus begins His ministry with the announcement, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  (Matthew 5: 17 ESV)

Near the end of the Gospel, where is recorded the Last Supper, Jesus says over the cup, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26: 27b-28 ESV)  The forgiveness of sins is granted through the expiatory death of Jesus Christ.  While Matthew contains large amounts of teaching material in five discourses, the purpose is to advise disciples on what they are called to do in their discipleship, not an encouragement to an attitude of works righteousness.  The foundation of discipleship is the forgiveness of sins granted by Jesus Christ, and by Him alone.

The great irony of the crucifixion is that in not saving Himself, Jesus saves others.  The religious leaders revile Christ with words that actually speak the truth, “He saved others ; he cannot save himself.” (Matthew 27: 42a ESV)  Jesus will not save Himself so that He can save others.  The end of the Gospel returns to the angel’s message to Joseph that the child will save people from their sins.  To save the people is Jesus’ mission.

Forgiveness of sins is accompanied by repentance.  At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus calls people to repentance in preparation for the coming of the kingdom of God.  Participation in the kingdom now means the assurance of forgiveness of sins for those who repent and entrance into heaven.

The life of discipleship is built upon God’s granting of forgiveness.  In our apology and witness we wish others, who have not known the mercy and compassion of God, also to participate in the kingdom Christ brings.

Michael G. Tavella

November 14, 2019

‘Luxury beliefs’ are the latest status symbol for rich Americans

A former classmate from Yale recently told me “monogamy is kind of outdated” and not good for society. So I asked her what her background is and if she planned to marry.

She said she comes from an affluent family and works at a well-known technology company. Yes, she personally intends to have a monogamous marriage — but quickly added that marriage shouldn’t have to be for everyone.

She was raised by a traditional family. She planned on having a traditional family. But she maintained that traditional families are old-fashioned and society should “evolve” beyond them.

What could explain this?

In the past, upper-class Americans used to display their social status with luxury goods. Today, they do it with luxury beliefs.

People care a lot about social status. In fact, research indicates that respect and admiration from our peers are even more important than money for our sense of well-being.

We feel pressure to display our status in new ways. This is why fashionable clothing always changes. But as trendy clothes and other products become more accessible and affordable, there is increasingly less status attached to luxury goods.

The upper classes have found a clever solution to this problem: luxury beliefs. These are ideas and opinions that confer status on the rich at very little cost, while taking a toll on the lower class.

One example of luxury belief is that all family structures are equal. This is not true. Evidence is clear that families with two married parents are the most beneficial for young children. And yet, affluent, educated people raised by two married parents are more likely than others to believe monogamy is outdated, marriage is a sham or that all families are the same.

‘Upper-class people don a luxury belief to separate themselves from the lower class’

Relaxed attitudes about marriage trickle down to the working class and the poor. In the 1960s, marriage rates between upper-class and lower-class Americans were nearly identical. But during this time, affluent Americans loosened social norms, expressing skepticism about marriage and monogamy.

This luxury belief contributed to the erosion of the family. Today, the marriage rates of affluent Americans are nearly the same as they were in the 1960s. But working-class people are far less likely to get married. Furthermore, out-of-wedlock birthrates are more than 10 times higher than they were in 1960, mostly among the poor and working class. Affluent people seldom have kids out of wedlock but are more likely than others to express the luxury belief that doing so is of no consequence.

Another luxury belief is that religion is irrational or harmful. Members of the upper class are most likely to be atheists or non-religious. But they have the resources and access to thrive without the unifying social edifice of religion.

Places of worship are often essential for the social fabric of poor communities. Denigrating the importance of religion harms the poor. While affluent people often find meaning in their work, most Americans do not have the luxury of a “profession.” They have jobs. They clock in, they clock out. Without a family or community to care for, such a job can feel meaningless.

Then there’s the luxury belief that individual decisions don’t matter much compared to random social forces, including luck. This belief is more common among many of my peers at Yale and Cambridge than the kids I grew up with in foster care or the women and men I served with in the military. The key message is that the outcomes of your life are beyond your control. This idea works to the benefit of the upper class and harms ordinary people.

It is common to see students at prestigious universities work ceaselessly and then downplay the importance of tenacity. They perform an “aw, shucks” routine to suggest they just got lucky rather than accept credit for their efforts. This message is damaging. If disadvantaged people believe random chance is the key factor for success, they will be less likely to strive.

‘The key message is that the outcomes of your life are beyond your control’

White privilege is the luxury belief that took me the longest to understand, because I grew up around poor whites. Often members of the upper-class claim that racial disparities stem from inherent advantages held by whites. Yet Asian Americans are more educated, have higher earnings and live longer than whites. Affluent whites are the most enthusiastic about the idea of white privilege, yet they are the least likely to incur any costs for promoting that belief. Rather, they raise their social standing by talking about their privilege.

In other words, upper-class whites gain status by talking about their high status. When laws are enacted to combat white privilege, it won’t be the privileged whites who are harmed. Poor whites will bear the brunt.

It’s possible that affluent whites don’t always agree with their own luxury beliefs, or at least have doubts. Maybe they don’t like the ideological fur coat they’re wearing. But if their peers punish them for not sporting it all over town, they will never leave the house without it again.

Because, like with diamond rings or designer clothes of old, upper-class people don a luxury belief to separate themselves from the lower class. These beliefs, in turn, produce real, tangible consequences for disadvantaged people, further widening the divide. Just as fashionable clothing will soon be outdated, so will today’s fashionable beliefs. In the future, expect the upper class to defame even more values — including ones they hold dear — in their quest to gain top-dog status.

By Rob Henderson and published in The New York Post on August 17, 2019 and can be found here.

Divorce After Death?

Historically, when a husband and wife were in the process of being divorced and one died their status remained as if married, and division of the probate marital property would occur under the probate rules of Title 20.  Effective January 28, 2005, the foregoing changed, and equitable distribution under certain circumstances may now occur even after one of the spouses has died.

            Title 23 now provides that “[I]n the event one party dies during the course of divorce proceedings, no decree of divorce has been entered and grounds have been established as provided in subsection (g), the parties’ economic rights and obligations arising under the marriage shall be determined under this part rather than under 20 Pa.C.S. (relating to decedents, estates and fiduciaries).”  23 Pa.C.S.A. § 3323(d.1).   The Official Note indicates that the primary reasons for the changes is so that parties who are divorcing would need not choose between equitable distribution or electing against the Will of the other spouse.  Indeed, the Official Notes state that “[T]he parties’ economic rights and obligations are determined under equitable distribution principles, not under the elective share provisions of Chapter 22 of Title 20 (Decedents, Estates and Fiduciaries Code).”  Importantly, the change to Title 23 leaves several questions unanswered, that have yet to be clarified by the courts.

            It is universally accepted that a divorce decree cannot be entered, regardless of the approval of the divorce grounds, when one of the spouses in the divorce action dies, because a divorce action abates immediately upon the death of one of the parties.  The changes to 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 3323(d.1) does not alter the foregoing.  Taper V. Taper, 939 A.2d 969 (Pa. Super., 2007), Yelenic v. Clark, 922 A.2d 935 (Pa. Super., 2007), In Re Estate of James A. Bullotta, Jr., 838 A.2d 594 (Pa., 2003).  Therefore, regardless of the approval of divorce grounds, the parties remain married.

            If the parties remain married, regardless of grounds of divorce being established, then any item of property that passes by law to the surviving spouse, because they are the surviving spouse, must supercede equitable distribution.  Of particular note are retirement plans, such as IRA or 401(k) plans that are generally governed by ERISA, which of course is a federal statute that does not fall within Title 20.  Frequently, pension plans stipulate that if a spouse is named as a beneficiary, their name cannot be removed without their consent.  The same might be the case for life insurance provided as an employment benefit through the decedent’s employer.  Likewise, a tenancy by the entireties is created and governed by common law and not Title 20.  Consequently, assets passing outside Title 20 may not be subject to equitable distribution after the death of a spouse.

            23 Pa.C.S.A. §3323(d.1) did not take effect until January 28, 2005.  Left unresolved is whether the change to Title 23 effects parties who separate prior to the effective state of the statute, and whether the change to Title 23 should be applied to parties when one of the parties filed for divorce prior to the effective date of the statute.  Under 1 Pa.C.S.A. §1926, no statute is to be considered retroactive unless it is clearly and manifestly so intended by the General Assembly.  Indeed, “in the absence of clear language to the contrary, statutes must be construed to operate prospectively only.”  Budnick v. Budnick, 419 Pa.Super. 172, 615 A.2d 80 (Pa.Super.,1992.)  citing Flick v. Flick, 408 Pa.Super. 110, 115-117, 596 A.2d 216, 219-220 (1991).  There is nothing in §3323(d.1) that even hints at retroactive effect; therefore the statute may not apply to those individuals who separated prior to January 28, 2005.

            Attorneys who practice in the field of family law should be aware that if the parties separated after January 28, 2005, and one of the spouses is ill, consideration should be made to obtaining a finding of grounds for divorce, depending on the assets involved and how they are held.  Those attorneys who practice in the field of estate law need to make certain they are aware of this change in the law, the need to update wills, and the need to check the records of the Register of Wills to determine if a Personal Representative is appointed.  Consideration should be made to filing an informal caveat to block probate of any will, and a formal caveat then filed and a petition filed to appoint an independent administrator pendente lite to marshal the assets of the deceased spouse’s estate, to ensure that the other spouse is not left with nothing.

Here is yet another an article, by Adam S. Bernick, Esquire, who is of counsel to my firm, providing some sound advice and insight into the estate planning process.  This article was originally published in Upon Further Review on December 8, 2009, and can be seen here.

Templeton Project: Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics VI–A Sword, Not Peace

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics VI–A Sword, Not Peace.”

See also:

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We call Jesus the “Prince of Peace,” (Isaiah 9: 6) but He said that He brings a sword (Matthew 10: 34).  How can we reconcile these two? Because of Jesus, division will occur, even in families. Christ requires us to make a choice of following Him or not. ” . . . and whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10: 38 ESV) No other choice is more important in our lives.  The disciple must place Christ above all things and all others, even at the expense of peace.

Christ’s call is urgent and requires an immediate response.  He tells a man who wished to bury his father before becoming a disciple, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”  (Matthew 8: 22 ESV)  The fisherman at the sea and Matthew, the tax collector, follow Jesus immediately upon their call. “Immediately they (James and John, the sons of Zebedee) left the boat and their father and followed him.” (Matthew 4: 22 ESV) Jesus said to Matthew, ” ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.”(Matthew 9: 9b ESV)

So in the battle in which Jesus is engaged, and in which we are to participate (See Gregory Boyd, God at War regarding Jesus’ conflict and eventual victory over cosmic and human enemies), we must take up our cross. “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” (Matthew 16: 24 ESV)  We bear our own cross of suffering, knowing that the cross of Christ, that only He bears and can bear, is our shield and defense and our weapon against evil (See the hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers). Our commitment to Christ involves a willingness to die in the cause of the kingdom.  “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16: 25 ESV)

The account of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels is one of conflict from beginning to the end.  If we would be disciples, we must be willing to face the conflict that arises from our confession of Jesus’ name. Each disciple must bear his/her cross of suffering as he/she serves Jesus Christ in the battle.  Those who would eliminate war and battle language in our hymns are gutting the meaning of the ministry of Jesus and of our discipleship.  We are soldiers in full panoply (Romans 13: 12) in the cause of Christ, in the battle of light against darkness.  We are soldiers who avoid violence!  Our weapons are those of the Holy Spirit (See Luther’s battle hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God).

We are peacemakers, but we do not make peace with darkness and evil.  We do not give up our faith for those who oppose it, even in the family.  We make peace where we can but not at the sacrifice of our following of Christ.  The church is an instrument of God’s peace in the world.  It is important that the church manifests peace in its own life as example to the world.  The Church must also be always prepared for battle, and fight the way Jesus fought.

External peace is not achieved until God through Christ wins the day against the foe.  Complete and utter peace is an eschatological gift; that is, it is established in all its fulness with the full coming of the kingdom.  Let us pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” as we engage in the battle.

Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;

Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;

Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Oh, may Thy soldieer, faithful, true, and bold,

Fight as the saints so nobly fought of old

And win with them the victor’s crown of gold!

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Th (Lutheran Service Book, Hymn 677)

Let us extend the peace of God as soldiers of the Lord.

 

Michael G. Tavella

Saint Martin, Bishop of Tours, 397

November 11, 2019

U.S. Supreme Court Weighs in on Beneficiary Issues in Savings and Investment Plans

What happens when an individual never removed his divorced spouse as a beneficiary of his employer’s Savings and Investment Plan (SIP) and then dies? The recent U. S. Supreme Court case of Kennedy v. DuPont, 129 S.Ct. 865, 172 L.Ed.2d 662 (1/26/2009) answered this question in a unanimous decision authored by Justice Souter. The Court determined the plan document controlled what happened to the benefits. If the plan document stipulated release of the money to the divorced spouse, regardless of a non-QDRO divorce decree directing otherwise, because the decedent neglected to change the designated beneficiary from the now divorced spouse to another individual, then the plan administrators acted correctly when they released the money to the divorced spouse and not to the estate.

The decedent, William, worked for DuPont and participated in a SIP. Under the SIP, William retained the power to designate any beneficiary or beneficiaries to receive all or part of the funds upon his death, and to replace or revoke such designation. Importantly, under the SIP when William died, if he did not have a surviving spouse and a beneficiary designation was not in effect, distribution would be made to the executor or administrator of his estate. Implicit in the foregoing, of course, is that if William never amended his beneficiary designation to remove his now divorced spouse, it would remain in effect.

In 1971, William married Liv, and, in 1974, he signed a form designating her to take benefits under the SIP. William did not name a contingent beneficiary to take if she disclaimed her interest. William and Liv divorced in 1994. The divorce decree (apparently non-QDRO) provided for divorce of the parties, and specifically divested Liv of her rights in any of William’s retirement plans. However, William did not execute any documents removing Liv as the beneficiary of the SIP, although he did execute a new beneficiary-designation form naming his daughter, Kari, as the beneficiary under DuPont’s Pension and Retirement Plan. On William’s death in 2001, petitioner Kari was named executrix and she asked DuPont to distribute the SIP funds to William’s Estate. DuPont relied on William’s designation form and paid the balance of some $400,000 to Liv.

Litigation occurred and the matter eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court granted certiorari to resolve a split among the appellate courts and state supreme courts with regards to a divorced spouse’s ability to waive pension plan benefits through a divorce decree not amounting to a QDRO and whether a beneficiary’s federal common law “waiver” of plan benefits would be effective where the waiver was inconsistent with plan documents.

The Court held that regardless of any waiver under federal common law, the plan administrator was correct in not granting Liv’s “waiver”. Instead the Court held that the plan administrator “did its statutory ERISA duty” by paying the benefits to Liv in conformity with the plan documents. The Court reasoned that ERISA compliance is governed by the plain language of the written documents, and that plan administrators should not have to review a multiple amount of documents prior to release of the benefits.

Family law attorneys need to make sure that if there is no QDRO they take action to make their clients aware if the consequences of not changing the beneficiary designation. If there is a QDRO, the plan administrators must be made aware of the QDRO promptly so that the plan records/beneficiary designation is modified to reflect the terms of the QDRO. Estate planning attorneys need to review their clients’ beneficiary designations to make sure that they still comply with their estate plan goals.

By Adam S. Bernick, Esquire, Law Office of Adam S. Bernick and of counsel to the Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C. and published in Upon Further Review on November 10, 2009.

Templeton Project: Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics XII–The Tree is Known by Its Fruit

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics XII–“The Tree is Known by Its Fruit”.”

See also:

_____________________________

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells His disciples that the tree is known by its fruit.  The Sermon on the Mount in which this text is found emphasizes the importance of doing good works, even toward the enemy.  Programmatic to the Sermon is the text: “. . . let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 16 ESV)  These works of the disciple serve as a witness to the light who is Jesus Christ.  Christ commands certain actions  among them being: do not retaliate against violence with counter-violence; love your enemy;  and “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” (ESV)

Christ condemns lip service when he says: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7: 21 ESV)  Jesus condemns the religious leaders of the time when He says, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you–but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” (Matthew 23: 2-3 ESV) Moses’ seat was a chair of honor and authority for interpreters of the Law.

Healthy trees bear good fruit, says the Lord.  No diseased tree can do this. The disciple is true from inside all the way out, from internal condition to good works.

Now this condition of a healthy tree bearing good fruit is not a human achievement but comes as a result of divine action in the forgiveness of sins. The disciple is the one Jesus saves for good works. From the inside out the disciple conforms to the will of God.  When the follower fails, he repents and is forgiven.  Christ’s final words to the disciples indicates this thought. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 19-20 ESV)  In Baptism forgiveness of sins is granted to the person who will then follow Jesus’ commands. The dynamic of repentance continues throughout life and is granted, for example, in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26: 27 ESV)

The disciple expresses in life the unity of internal condition and outward behavior in conformity to the Lord’s commands, and the unity of word and action in all that he does.

Witness involves doing the will of God. It requires a unity of words and deeds.  It comes from the heart to public awareness for the conversion of those who do not believe.

Michael G. Tavella

December 10, 2019

Johns Hopkins Research: No Evidence People Are Born Gay or Transgender

Scholars at Johns Hopkins University released a new report on Monday which argues that there is not sufficient evidence to suggest that lesbian, gay, or transgender people are born with this sexual orientation or gender identity.

The three-part, 143-page report, which appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of The New Atlantis, also investigated other commonly accepted ideas about homosexuality and transgenderism. Mayer and his co-author Paul McHugh, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins, challenged the claim that discrimination and social stigma are the only reasons why homosexual and transgender people suffer higher rates of mental health problems and are more likely to commit suicide.

The study breaks down in three parts: First, Mayer and McHugh examined whether homosexuality is an inherited trait, and concluded that people are not simply “born that way.” Second, they looked at the causes of the poor mental health associated with gay and transgender people, concluding that social stress does not explain all of it. Finally, they studied transgenderism, concluding that it is not innate and that transgender “treatments” are associated with negative outcomes.

“Studies of the brains of homosexuals and heterosexuals have found some differences, but have not demonstrated that these differences are inborn rather than the result of environmental factors that influenced both psychological and neurobiological traits,” the report explained. “One environmental factor that appears to be correlated with non-heterosexuality is child sexual abuse victimization, which may also contribute to the higher rates.”

The report cited the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, which tracked the sexual orientation of children aged 7 to 12 in 1994-1995 and again in 2007-2008. Eighty percent of male respondents who had reported same-sex attraction and both-sex attraction in childhood later identified as exclusively heterosexual, while more than half of the females who reported both-sex attraction as children reported exclusive attraction to men as adults.

“Summarizing the studies of twins, we can say that there is no reliable scientific evidence that sexual orientation is determined by a person’s genes,” the researchers wrote. “But there is evidence that genes play a role in influencing sexual orientation.”

“So the question ‘Are gay people born that way?’ requires clarification. There is virtually no evidence that anyone, gay or straight, is ‘born that way’ if it means that their sexual orientation was genetically determined,” the report explained (emphasis added). “But there is some evidence from the twin studies that certain genetic profiles probably increase the likelihood the person later identifies as gay or engages in same-sex sexual behavior.”

The scholars also investigated potential links between transgender identity and neurological differences. While some studies found brain-activation patterns associated with transgenderism, the report found that “these studies do not offer sufficient evidence for drawing sound conclusions about possible associations between brain activation and sexual identity or arousal. The results are conflicting and confusing.”

The researchers concluded that there is not enough evidence to come to firm conclusions about the causes of gender identity. “There are no serial, longitudinal, or prospective studies looking at the brains of cross-gender identifying children who develop to later identify as transgender adults,” and the “neurological differences in transgender adults might be the consequence of biological factors such as genes or prenatal hormone exposure, or of psychological and environmental factors such as childhood abuse, or they could result from some combination of the two.”

The report also found that gay and transgender people are at elevated risk for a variety of mental health risks, including anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, and suicide. The transgender rate of lifetime suicide attempts is estimated at 41 percent, compared to under 5 percent for the overall population.

Mayer and McHugh also disputed the argument that these mental health disorders are caused by social stressors like discrimination and stigma. While they found some evidence for this widely proclaimed “social stress model,” it ended up being “limited, inconsistent and incomplete,” and it is not yet “a useful tool for understanding public health concerns.”

When asked about likely criticism from liberals and conservatives, Mayer said he suspects critics will claim the report was only issued to serve the biases of his co-author McHugh. McHugh has spoken out against transgenderism in the past, but the study was emphatically not intended to merely back up his ideas.

“Every line in this I either wrote or approved of,” Mayer told The Christian Post. “There is no bias either way. The bias is just towards science.”

“I think we get into these very high volume battles, particularly in this current environment,” the author explained. “When science supports our position, sometimes it is better to tone down a bit. In other words, conservatives have been highly critical of the report too already because it didn’t support this or didn’t support that. The idea is that let the science speak and then see how they respond to it.”

By Tyler O’Neil and published on August 23, 2016 in PJ Media and can be found here.

The Medical Authorization Process Under HIPPA: Protection or Burden?

We will not accept the authorization for the release of medical records that you had your client complete; he must complete our authorization instead, because of HIPAA. “The patient must physically come to our office and sign our authorization in person in order for our office to release medical records to the patient or anyone else because of HIPAA. “I can’t talk to you at all about your client’s health condition because of HIPAA. These are common phrases I have heard from health care providers when trying to gather evidence for a client’s case.

The word “HIPAA” has become synonymous with patient privacy. This privacy concept comes from the Privacy Rule, which developed out of a Congressional mandate for the adoption of Federal privacy protections for individually identifiable health information. In the Administrative Simplification provisions, Sections 261-264, of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) of 1996, Public Law 104-191, Congress directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish these Federal privacy protections.

The HIPAA Administrative Simplification provisions directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to adopt national standards for electronic health care transactions. To ensure that this new information sharing would not jeopardize patient privacy, Section 264 of HIPAA directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish Federal privacy protections for individually identifiable health information. Thus, the Secretary drafted the Privacy Rule and required compliance, for most covered entities, by April 14, 2003. Covered entities include health plans, health care clearinghouses, and health care providers.

According to the Privacy Rule, a valid authorization for the release of protected health information is required when an attorney is requesting his client’s medical information from a health care provider. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.508 (2003). The general requirements for a valid authorization include:

  • a description of the protected health information to be used or disclosed
  • the names of person(s) or class of persons authorized to make requested use or disclosure
  • the names of person(s) or class of persons to whom the covered entity may make the requested use or disclosure
  • a description of each purpose of the requested use or disclosure
  • an expiration date or expiration event
  • the patient’s signature and date
  • notification to the patient of his right to revoke, how to exercise that right, and the exceptions to the right to revoke
  • notification of the ability or inability to condition treatment, payment, or enrollment for benefits on signing the authorization
  • an explanation of the potential for the information to be disclosed to another by the recipient and no longer be protected

Although these authorization rules may be followed by an attorney’s office, it does not guarantee cooperation from health care providers. Any attorney, or support staff, who has attempted to gather a client’s medical documentation to prove his case has undoubtedly heard the phrase “HIPAA” countless times, as a rebuttal to providing documentation.

Some may say that the Privacy Rule has empowered patients to have more control over their health information. However, the way the Privacy Rule functions in the attorney-client context is anything but empowering, because clients who want their attorneys to have unlimited access to their health information are burdened by the barriers their health providers place on the collection of this important information. Fear of penalties, misunderstanding of the Privacy Rule, and possibly a general dislike of the legal profession may all contribute to the apprehensiveness or unwillingness of certain health care providers to assist a law office with the development of a client/patient’s case. Whatever the rationale may be, this lack of cooperation can disadvantage a client’s case by delaying the receipt of essential evidence.

One example of how this lack of cooperation can disadvantage a client’s case occurred when our office was attempting to gather medical records from a hospital for a Social Security Disability case. These records illustrated when and how our client began suffering from auditory hallucinations, paranoia, and depression. The client spent a week at the hospital in an attempt to stabilize her psychiatric symptoms. These records were imperative for proving to the administrative law judge that this client was no longer able to work due to the onset of her mental conditions.

Our office went through the standard process of calling the hospital to inquire as to where to send a request for medical records. We prepared a detailed request and sent it to the medical records department along with a HIPAA compliant authorization that we had our client review and sign. In response to this request, the medical records department refused to accept our authorization and informed us that a hospital authorization would need to be completed by the patient (even though it is extremely difficult to even get this client to answer her telephone, let alone fill out more paperwork). The client also had a disability advocate, who in the meantime hand delivered a request for medical records. When she followed up with her request, she was informed that there was no record of such a request.

Our office continued to attempt to receive these much-needed records. We made sure all of the requested paperwork was completed and sent another request for medical records to the medical records department. We called their office daily to ensure that our second request was received and responded to. When we finally were told that it was received, we were informed that we were missing the required hospital authorization. We explained that the requested authorization was enclosed and that now the hearing was quickly approaching, so we needed their assistance with this matter. We spoke with the supervisor who could not assist us further because of “HIPAA”. The department would not expedite the process in any way and their only suggestion was to resend everything again and then wait to see what happens.

Since we had our client’s interest in mind and wanted to make sure the judge had ample time to review these important medical records prior to the hearing, we were forced to go beyond the medical records staff and talk to hospital administration. After several telephone calls and letters, we were able to set up a time to pick up these medical records. We were glad we went through all of the trouble of obtaining this documentation because we ultimately won the case for the client and these records assisted us in proving the elements of her case. However, our office was forced to spend a great amount of time and energy conducting the seemingly simple task of gathering a client’s medical records. This type of delay obviously can have a negative financial impact on a client and could be extremely detrimental to a client’s case. Unfortunately, this hospital staff’s behavior is just one example of how some health care providers function under the guise of protecting patient privacy.

Although it would be ideal for patients to be able to gather their medical information without the assistance of an attorney, often times it is necessary for an attorney to handle this part of the legal process on behalf of their clients (e.g., handling disability cases where a client has difficulty remembering tasks or physically visiting a doctor’s office).

Attorneys are required to provide diligent representation to their clients and need the cooperation of health care providers to meet this obligation. Although the protection of patient privacy is clearly an important goal, in practice it appears that the real world application of HIPAA’s Privacy Rule is more of a burden on clients and their counsel than a protection of clients’ rights.

By: Samantha Bogin, Esquire and published on July 10, 2006 in The Legal Intelligencer.

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