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Video: Jim DeMint tells CPAC 'we cannot' stop talking about social issues

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(Gov. DeMint's speech begins at approximately one hour, 10 minutes into the video.)

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The following is the text of a speech given by former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, now the president of the Heritage Foundation, to the opening night dinner of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) on Thursday, March 14. His forthright defense of life and marriage underlies an intensifying conflict within the ranks of the Republican Party between its Beltway leadership, which has urged the party to jettison social issues, and its grassroots voters, whose opposition to abortion and redefining marriage is intense and definitive. DeMint previous clashed with his colleagues in the U.S. Senate by supporting more conservative challengers in the GOP primaries, many of whom were successful. We are grateful someone in such a position of leadership sees the clear connection between a self-governing society and smaller government. -- Ed. 

You may have heard that I recently received a big promotion. That’s right. I was promoted from the U.S. Senate and ranking member on the powerful Commerce Committee to The Heritage Foundation. Some people have wondered why I would leave the most debilitated body in the world to help lead the freedom movement in America. The answer is simple. The President and the Congress will not solve America’s problems unless the people force them to. Washington is America’s problem. We are the solution. And the situation is too urgent to wait until the next election. The conservative movement must get its act together and act now to save our nation.

Ed Feulner, the current President and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, recently joined me and a team of Heritage freedom-fighters on a cross-country tour that covered 12 cities. Thousands of people came out for rallies and meetings. We told them how we were working with a large coalition of conservative organizations and state policy groups to build public support for conservative ideas. We told them how Heritage Action is working with coalition partners to hold lawmakers accountable and to organize grassroots support for congressmen and senators who stand for conservative principles.

The people who came to our rallies were a little discouraged when they showed up, but by the time they left, they were full of hope and ready to jump back into the ring to fight for their country. All they want is leadership. They want champions who will stand up to the progressives, take on the liberal media and push back against the Republican leadership when they go wobbly. Their message to us is … if we will be their champions – and lead with courage and bold ideas — they will join us.

Speaking of champions, did any of you happen to see Rand Paul on C-SPAN last week? Senator Paul, along with Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio and others took a courageous and principled stand. Their courage inspired the nation. Americans are hungry for some genuine conviction and passion. And there are many new champions of freedom with conviction and passion in the House and Senate. It is our job to make sure they are heard and that their ideas are supported by the American people.

Rand Paul’s filibuster should remind us that one person with the courage of his convictions can inspire the American people — including young people, women and minorities — and it should also remind us that a national conservative movement with leaders who have the courage to stand for bold, visionary ideas can change the course of our nation and save freedom for the next generation.

After the last election, a group of downcast conservative leaders here in Washington asked me to speak to them about the future of the conservative movement. They wanted to know what conservatives should do. My answer was simple: get up, spit out a few teeth, wipe the blood off your lip and get back in the fight.

Our situation is a lot like the boxer who had been knocked down multiple times in the third round, he was bloodied and could barely pull himself off the canvas before the referee counted him out. He was about to get knocked down again when he was saved by the bell. He stumbled to his corner and collapsed on his stool. Then his manager whispered in his ear, “You’ve got him right where you want him.”

Tonight, you are the boxer and I am the manager. I’m here to tell you how we have President Obama and the whole liberal progressive movement right where we want them.

To understand where we are as a movement and our path forward, we must remember that there is a distinction between the Republican Party and the conservative movement. National Republican leaders have not advanced a conservative agenda for almost 20 years. Not since the first few years of the Republican revolution in the 1990s – when welfare reform and a balanced budget were passed – have Republicans in Congress seriously championed conservative ideas. By the time I arrived in the House in 1998, my party was increasing spending and handing out earmarks like candy to help our members get re-elected.

Two years later, when George W. Bush was elected and Republicans still controlled both houses of Congress, spending and earmarks exploded, the federal role in education was vastly expanded with No Child Left Behind, Medicare was expanded to include prescription drugs, and numerous other new federal programs were created.

In 2004, when I was elected to the Senate, the spending binge continued. By 2006, Americans had seen enough and Republicans lost the majority in both houses. This was not a rejection of conservative policies. In 2008, things got even worse as Republicans helped pass bailouts for big banks on Wall Street and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Barack Obama was elected and Republicans lost more seats in the House and Senate.

But it wasn’t long before the far-left policies of Obama and the rudderless Republicans finally woke Americans from their apathy. Americans from all walks of life – conservatives, libertarians, independents, and even recovering liberals – came together in groups called Tea Parties all across the country. They had a unified, simple message. “Stop the spending, borrowing, bailouts and government takeovers … and restore constitutional limited government.”

The majority of Americans agreed with these ideas. This was the opportunity for Republicans to embrace the movement and build that big tent our leaders have been talking about for years. Instead, the national Republican leadership rejected the Tea Party and, along with the liberal media, participated in vilifying the movement.

But many Republican candidates did embrace the Tea Party and the ideas that were uniting America. Many of them defeated establishment Republicans and went on to help Republicans take the majority in the House and gain seats in the Senate. This was the election that brought us Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Pat Toomey, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson and many champions in the House who ran their campaigns on cutting spending, banning earmarks and balancing the budget.

But even after these remarkable gains, some establishment Republicans blamed the Tea Party for keeping them from winning the majority in the Senate.

In 2012, with the Presidential election on the line, national Republican leadership rejected the lessons of 2010 and went back to the old way of campaigning – millions of dollars of negative television advertising telling Americans all the bad things about President Obama. They didn’t even try to inspire America with a bold positive vision. The Democrats, on the other hand, used the lessons of the Tea Party, built a grassroots network with voter registration in key demographics and states, and used a high-tech get-out-the-vote campaign to destroy Romney and defeat many Republicans.

As the leaders of the conservative movement, we need to recognize what worked in 2010 and build on it.

First: Republicans didn’t lead in 2010 … conservatives did. Conservatives from all walks of life made our ideas so persuasive and so pervasive across America, that many Republican candidates embraced them and rode our backs to victory. When we take control of our ideas and our message and convince Americans that these ideas will make their lives better, their futures brighter and their country stronger – the politics will follow us. If we do our job, candidates from all political parties will have to embrace our ideas and principles to get elected.

Second: We must have a permanent, from the ground up grassroots organization. That’s why Heritage created Heritage Action. They are promoting our ideas and holding Congress accountable by working with coalition groups across America to organize grassroots activists.

Third: We must learn how to communicate our ideas to all demographic groups and explain how conservative policies benefit 100 percent of Americans. School choice is a conservative policy that is specifically designed to help low income, minority students escape the shackles of failing public schools. Workplace freedom is a policy designed to increase the freedom of union members, to join or not join a union. Entitlement reform is designed to ensure low-income and middle-income Americans have the same freedom in retirement that wealthy Americans enjoy, the chance to control their own health care and income.

Fourth: We must tell the stories about real people whose lives have been transformed by conservative policies and contrast them with the stories of the people who are being victimized by liberal progressive policies.

People like Joe Kelley, a single father here in Washington, calls the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program a “blessing” for his children. By the fifth grade, his son Rashawn was three years behind in the public school system. Kelley had to get a court order for the school to provide Rashawn with a tutor after finding out that the school hadn’t fulfilled its requirement to update his son’s individual education plan.

Beyond the academic failures, Kelley says the school was so bad that “eight police officers patrolled it every day, yet kids were still scared of getting jumped.”

As a result of the scholarship, Rashawn was able to switch to a private school. He caught up to his grade level within two years and is today a high school graduate attending the University of the District of Columbia.

We must do more for the other Rashawns out there who need our help. The good news for us is that conservatives now control more states than ever before. Bold governors and state legislators are proving that our ideas work.

States like Tennessee that have eliminated their income tax and replaced it with a consumption tax have seen their economies boom. States like Indiana that have adopted freedom in the workplace and states like North Dakota that have opened their own energy resources have created new jobs and more opportunities for their citizens. States like Florida that have promoted education freedom have seen more students succeed … especially minorities. And states like Texas that have passed tort reform have seen the best doctors from all over the world move to their state – improving healthcare and lowering costs for everyone.

Our ideas work!

We know where Obama’s policies end up. Look at Greece and Europe. Look at California and Illinois. And look very closely at Detroit where big government liberals and union bosses have controlled city government for over 50 years. Detroit is bankrupt and elected officials have been replaced with a dictator … I mean director. Their population has decreased by more than half in the last 50 years. Only 7 percent of eighth graders read at grade level. Unemployment for Hispanics and African Americans is near 40 percent. Gangs and violence are rampant. There are over 400 liquor stores in Detroit, but not one chain supermarket. Detroit is a showcase for the liberal agenda. Like I said, “we’ve got em right where we want ’em.”

Our ideas make life better for everyone. Their ideas destroy lives and bankrupt cities, states and nations. If we can’t convince people of these facts, we are failing our fellow citizens.

Conservatives are committed to serve 100 percent of Americans – whether they vote for us or not. We will not rest until every American can reach the ladder of opportunity and climb as high as they can dream.

But none of our ideas, our policies or our communications will make any difference unless we show up. People won’t care about what we say until they are convinced that we care about them. We must engage Americans from all walks of life where they live. We must meet with those who are voting for policies that hurt them, listen until we understand why … and learn what words we must use to connect the right ideas with their hopes and dreams.

This is what I plan to do at Heritage. Our plans are bold and it will take several months before we can ramp up to full speed. In the meantime, there are at least four important things we must do right now.

First: We cannot give up on repealing Obamacare. Accepting Obamacare is giving up on America. We must cut the funding for Obamacare and support all the governors who reject the expansion of Medicaid and the creation of healthcare exchanges.

Second: America’s proud heritage of immigration has fueled our nation’s strength and diversity, but today we have a broken and politicized system that makes it easy to come here illegally. We have to fix the system, but we cannot design our national immigration policies to accommodate those who broke our laws. Granting citizenship to those who came here illegally violates the basic principles of freedom. It is wrong because it undermines the very reason immigrants flee other countries and come to America: our rule of law. And we know from history amnesty and citizenship does not solve the problem, it only encourages more law breaking. There were 3 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. in 1986 when they passed the first amnesty. Today, there are an estimated 11 million illegals immigrants. Congress should take a step by step approach that streamlines our legal process to encourage those yearning for freedom and opportunity to come here the right way.

Third: Conservatives must lead with a plan that balances the budget in the next decade without raising taxes. My oldest grandson is 6 years old. Is it too much to expect that by the time he gets his drivers license, we will stop borrowing money from his future? The next battle over the debt will be in a few weeks when we reach the debt limit … again, and we know the chicken littles will squeal and tell us how the sky will fall if we don’t let the President borrow more money. The debt limit is simply a balanced budget. It prevents us from spending more than we take in.

So, we have three options. The first, and my preferred option, would be to balance the budget within 10 years. The second option, which is the President’s preferred option, is to never balance the budget … ever! Just keep borrowing and taxing and spending. The third option, which is ironically the easiest option, is to balance the budget immediately. In other words, just don’t pass the debt limit increase.

Here’s the conservative proposition: Mr. President, we reject your plan to never balance the budget, so you have two options. We can either balance in 10 years — without raising taxes — or we can balance immediately. It’s your choice.

And lastly: We cannot hope to limit government if we do not stand up for our core civil society institutions, beginning with marriage. Marriage is the foundation of America’s cultural stability and economic prosperity and the courts have no business overruling the people’s democratic decisions in the states. People can love whom they want and live the way they choose, but no one is entitled to redefine a foundational institution of civil society that has existed for centuries.

In two weeks, the Supreme Court will hear arguments against the right of states to protect marriage and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Judicial activism is to blame for the Court even considering these cases. The Supreme Court should uphold these laws. It must recognize that the American people should make these decisions, not unelected judges.

We are told that the social issues divide Americans and that we should stop talking about them. We cannot.

Economic and social conservatism go hand-in-hand. They’re natural allies. Strong families, churches and voluntary institutions build strong character and economic independence. And government must always remember we are endowed by our creator with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That is true for you and me, and it is true for the unborn. When government understands its limited role, it can be smaller, people can be freer and our economy can create prosperity for everyone. And when government grows larger with programs like Obamacare that consume so much of our lives, it tramples on both economic freedom and religious liberty. This has united conservatives of all stripes to fight to end Obamacare so we can all be free to live our own lives.

Conservatives can unite America with a platform of federalism that moves dollars and decisions back to the states and the people. Let’s encourage the states to compete for the best business environment and quality of life. States should have the freedom to determine how best to meet the needs of their students. For health care, let states use private contracting for Medicaid to deliver better health care for more people at lower costs. Federalism means letting more states have Medicaid waivers to serve those most in need more effectively and efficiently.

More dollars would be available for roads and bridges if states kept more of their own gas tax dollars and made their own decisions about infrastructure. States could grow their economies if the federal government would get out of the way and let them develop their energy resources.

The less we try to do at the federal level, the more we can unite the country around our ideas. Federal programs are failing and they are bankrupting our nation. The states are proving that conservative ideas deliver better results for all of our citizens.

Another area where conservatives can unite America is foreign policy and defense. Americans want a strong defense, but they are tired of endless wars. The conservative platform for defense and foreign relations can be summarized with two words: strength and focus. The White House, by contrast, has created confusion around the world by not leading and threatened our security by gutting defense.

If we want a strong defense and a foreign policy that serves the interests of the American people, we must act with clarity and judgment. We must defend our homeland, protect American interests abroad and limit foreign entanglements. The world expects us to lead, but we must do it with strength and focus.

I’ve talked a lot tonight about what conservatives need to do to take control of our ideas, our message and how we need to connect with the American people. We can’t wait for Republicans to advance the conservative cause, it is our job to make our ideas so winsome to the American people that they become irresistible to the politicians. The voices of the new and bold conservatives in the House and Senate will certainly help, but it is our responsibility as conservative leaders to build support for our ideas among the voters.

Milton Friedman explained it this way when he said: “I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or, if they try, they will shortly be out of office.”

That’s my main point today. It’s why I left the Senate to lead The Heritage Foundation and to help lead the conservative movement. We must take control of our ideas and our message. We must win the hearts and minds of the American people … all of the American people. We must help Americans see the connection between their hopes and dreams and the public policies that will help them achieve their goals. Then they will vote for the right ideas and the candidates who support them.

We can and we will unite America around the principles of freedom. We will develop a simple inspiring platform based on competitive federalism that unites rather than divides Americans. That is my hope and dream and it is my commitment to you. Please pray for our country and all those who defend it – those in uniform and all those who stand with us for the cause of freedom. Thank you.

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Jeb Bush has already ‘evolved’ on marriage, and his advisers are at war with social conservatives: analysts

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By Ben Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The fact that Jeb Bush has surrounded himself with campaign advisers who have been hostile to social conservatives is just one sign that the former Florida governor has secretly “evolved” in his views of gay “marriage,” according to several figures who have spoken with him privately.

Bush, a leading candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, has been hiring national staffers who have actively campaigned for the GOP to capitulate and embrace the redefinition of marriage or at least capitulate to judicial rulings that overturn the will of voters.

“When Bush officially launches his presidential bid later this year, he will likely do so with a campaign manager who has urged the Republican Party to adopt a pro-gay agenda; a chief strategist who signed a Supreme Court amicus brief arguing for marriage equality in California; a longtime adviser who once encouraged her minister to stick to his guns in preaching [marriage redefinition] for same-sex couples; and a communications director who is openly gay,” writes McKay Coppins in BuzzFeed.

The Bush 2016 campaign staffers include:

“In a word, if personnel is policy, Jeb is telling the pro-family community to drop dead,” said Bryan Fischer, host of Focal Point on AFR Talk.

Campbell told Buzzfeed that the staffing decisions reflected Jeb Bush's ideas of who would be best for the position, and “Gov. Bush’s position on gay marriage is clear. If he pursues a run, it will be premised on his agenda and views, not anyone else’s.”

But insiders say it is not merely his closest advisers and operatives who embrace a redefinition of marriage; several people who have spoken with Jeb say he secretly supports gay “marriage” or, at least, will offer no opposition to it.

One such donor, namely David Aufhauser, who signed the amicus and has co-hosted a fundraiser for Bush in Virginia, said, “His thinking [on marriage equality] appears to have evolved.” Other donors, who preferred to remain anonymous, agreed.

Bush's public stance has certainly shifted. As a conservative candidate running for governor of Florida in 1994, Jeb Bush wrote that he opposed conferring special rights on homosexuals: “[S]hould sodomy be elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion? My answer is No.”

But according to the New York Times, Sally Bradshaw “helped recalibrate Mr. Bush as a more moderate candidate” in 1998. Today, donors who have spoken with Bush tell Buzzfeed they have walked away convinced that he quietly supports same-sex “marriage” or is ambivalent on the subject. They hope he will announce his support for redefining marriage after the Supreme Court issues its ruling on the subject this summer.

A senior Republican fundraiser said fleeing any opposition to homosexual “marriage” is a necessity to get any funding from the party's donor class. Although support for redefining marriage “hasn’t become a litmus test yet,” a senior Republican fundraiser said prospective candidates “have to be approaching the LGBT issue with a new mindset in order to be taken seriously” by the party's megadonors.

Sen. Rob Portman, as vice chairman of finance for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, announced his newfound support for gay “marriage” shortly after holding a dozen meetings with major campaign donors in New York who were unhappy with the party's pro-family platform.

Bush, who hopes to raise as much as $100 million before he formally enters the presidential contest, is the elite contributors' favorite now that Mitt Romney has declined a third presidential bid and Chris Christie stumbled during a meeting with billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

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Billionaire Paul Singer, who has devoted more than $13 million of his own money to promote homosexual "marriage" in the GOP, is said to view Bush in a positive light.

Bush has also attracted the support of former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a pro-abortion Republican who ripped pro-life and pro-family conservatives as “narcissists and ideologues” imbued with an “unacceptable rigidity and self-righteousness on social issues” and who secretly promote “tyranny.”

The split between the Republican Establishment and its grassroots conservative base foreshadows a harder than expected fight for Jeb Bush in the primaries. “Endorsing gay marriage would make it difficult to win Iowa, even with Kochel on board,” conservative political analyst Jim Antle writes at The Week, “and would probably prevent Bush from emulating his brother's 2000 nomination strategy: combining establishment and evangelical support to prevent the emergence of a viable conservative alternative.”

But others warn it forebodes something more serious – yet another Republican presidential loss in 2016. Mike Huckabee and Gary Bauer, among others, have threatened to leave the Republican Party if it abandons its support of traditional marriage – one of two reasons the GOP was founded in the 1850s.

“Not all social [conservatives] will feel that way but a few hundred thousand spread across swing states are potentially the difference between winning and losing,” the blogger Allahpundit wrote at HotAir.com. “The right’s perennial fear of 'moderate' Republicans is that they campaign as conservatives and govern as independents. Jeb’s not even campaigning as a conservative.”

Fischer foresees another Bush candidacy depressing voter turnout and handing the election to a Democrat like Hillary Clinton.

“If conservatives want to save their party, and more importantly save America, step one is stopping Jeb Bush dead in his tracks,” he said. 

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When he began shooting a film on a pastor saving disabled babies, he had no idea God was planning to save him

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By Pete Baklinski
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Babies Pastor Lee has brought into his home through the drop box. Arbella Studios

March 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Brian Ivie, 25, grew up in California dreaming about making movies. He loved making homemade movies with his friends and eventually went to school to learn how to make them professionally. He was always on the lookout for that one story that he would turn into a movie that would be his ticket to the Sundance Film Festival and rocket him to fame and fortune.

While flipping through the L.A. Times one morning in June 2011, Brian came across the story of a man in Korea who saved unwanted babies by having a baby box installed on the side of his home where parents could drop them off anonymously.

“That alone was compelling to me, the fact that this existed at all,” he told LifeSiteNews in a telephone interview.

Brian immediately saw the story’s potential. Here was the golden opportunity he had been looking for. He contacted the reporter who put him in touch with Pastor Lee Jong-Rak of Seoul, South Korea, the man behind the drop box.

Six months later he was flying to Korea with a team of friends to film a documentary.

“I went to Korea, planning to use this family to be my golden ticket to Sundance,” he said.

Before leaving, Brian picked up a cheap cross necklace so he could wear it to create “some sort of trust between me and this Pastor.”

“I didn’t really know what the cross meant. I just knew that it was this rallying cry for Christendom,” he said.

Brian had grown up thinking he was basically Christian, but having a real relationship with God was something that he had never factored into his life.

“I honestly thought I was a Christian, because I wasn’t a Muslim. I thought I was a Christian because, you know, it’s like you’re American, you’re a Christian, like apple pie and the Bible.”

“I just figured I was a Christian because I didn’t smoke cigarettes, and I watched Fox News with my mom. It was a very cultural label for me. It was a very decorative thing, like a decorative cross you put in the house, but you have no understanding of what it is.”

“My understanding of God, because of the media, was very warped,” he said.

When Brian arrived at Pastor Lee’s home in Seoul, what he experienced made him rethink his entire life. In Pastor Lee, Brian encountered a man who had been rescued out of the gutters of alcoholism and rage to do a work that most people would recognize as utterly selfless and heroic.

“He was not a natural born hero. This is an ordinary man who made a lot of mistakes and needed forgiveness, and once he received that and was saved from his own sin and from hell, then he went out and saved and rescued other kids,” Brian said.

Pastor Lee created the baby box because of the number of babies being abandoned on the streets, many of them dying from exposure before help arrived. The baby box would be a safe harbor to welcome and care for these babies. More than 600 babies have now come through the baby box.

“They’re not the unnecessary ones in the world. God sent them here for a purpose,” Pastor Lee says in the film.

Brian returned to California with his footage, but he was constantly haunted by what he had witnessed in Pastor Lee. He felt like something was missing from his own life, but he could not put his finger on it. Then one day while listening to a podcast about why Jesus died, he suddenly realized what that was.

“This podcast was all about how Jesus Christ took our place. When I heard that, it was like a movie through my own head.”

Brian started imagining Jesus suffering in his place for the six years he had been addicted to pornography, for his abusive relationships with girls, and for his loud and violent outbursts of anger toward his friends, girlfriends, and co-workers. He saw Jesus take it all upon himself and suffer for it all on the cross.

“So, I broke down. I started crying. All I could say was: ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ Even for a guy who didn’t lead some extreme life — I wasn’t the leader of some Mexican cartel, I didn’t almost overdose on heroine, I didn’t murder anybody in cold blood — but I needed to be forgiven, because I had done some shameful things, especially towards God. I realized all that, and knew that I needed to be saved too.”

“I hated myself for a while. But what changed all that was the Father’s love which said ‘I still want you, and in fact, I want you so much that I sent my Son because I’m willing to give everything for you, even though you don’t deserve it.”

Brian began connecting the dots between his filming in Korea about the drop box for babies and his own need to be saved.

“The drop box is the place we all belong. It’s the place we find ourselves when we go: ‘You know, gosh, I need to be saved. I need to be rescued from sin and from this place I’m running to which is called hell, which is the place where I am separated from God. I’m running there and Jesus can save me.”

“The drop box symbolized that to me because it’s the place where you are bound up in the dark, totally helpless and incapable of doing anything about it, and you need a father to come pull you out through the laundry room and into the light,” he said.

With his new spiritual insight, Brian traveled back to Korea in August 2012 to retell the story, this time from the perspective of love.

“The goal was to tell the story that I had experienced of the Father’s love as shown through this man, Pastor Lee.”

Brian’s film The Drop Box, released through Focus on the Family and Pine Creek Entertainment, has already won numerous awards at film festivals. It is opening this week in 800 theaters across North America.

Brian now realizes that his biggest mistake in life is thinking he was too good to need God’s forgiveness.

“My hope is that people realize that they need to be saved and that they would see themselves in these kids and God as Pastor Lee. Because to me, he's living proof of a loving God, and God is putting himself on display through this man.”

“What I see in this film is a man who has given up everything in his life for these children who have been lost on the street. I hope what people see is a picture of something much higher than that, which is really God giving everything on the cross for all of us lost people,” he said.

The Drop Box opens in U.S. cinemas today and in Canada tomorrow. Find a list of U.S. theaters here. Find a list of Canadian theaters here

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San Francisco archbishop under attack: critics of Catholic school reforms hire high-profile PR guru

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By Lisa Bourne
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Public relations specialist Sam Singer

SAN FRANCISCO, March 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Critics of San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone have raised the stakes in their opposition to improving the Catholic identity of the city’s Catholic high schools by hiring a high-profile PR strategist.

“Concerned parents are footing the bill” to hire “media relations heavyweight” Sam Singer, reports SF Weekly.

Singer specializes in crisis communication for high-profile figures and describes himself as The Fixer and Top Gun for Hire on his website. He’s also been called The Master of Disaster for his public relations work, which includes representing the San Francisco Zoo in the 2007 killing of a young man by the zoo’s Siberian tiger, and where, according to the news outlet, Singer “shaped hearts and minds to sympathize with the tiger.”

While media reports are not clear about who specifically is behind hiring Singer, the move shows the broad nature and depth of the battle against the archbishop’s efforts to uphold Church teaching.

At the same time Singer told SF Weekly, “he hopes the archbishop sees that the ‘loyalty oath’ he's asking of teachers does 'not keep with Catholic values'," he also said he didn’t accept the job of countering the archbishop’s efforts to maintain Catholic identity because “he himself is religious, necessarily.”

"I'm half Catholic, half Jewish," Singer said. "I like to say I'm the most guilty, most worried man alive." 

The archdiocese announced February 3 that they would add statements on morality to faculty handbooks, as well as three new clauses to teacher contracts, all derived from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Archbishop Cordileone explained at the outset that the intent was not to target anyone, but rather to clarify Church teaching and the long-established expectation of Catholic school employees to not publicly contradict the faith.

It is something he has continued to emphasize, along with the need for Catholic schools to be clear in imparting Catholic principles.

“We’re not on a witch hunt; we’re not looking to terminate teachers,” Archbishop Cordileone told the New York Times this week.

He said he was introducing the new language because “young people are under intense pressure today to conform to certain standards that are contrary to what we believe,” and he had focused on “hot-button issues” to clear up “the confusion.”

The archbishop also told the newspaper that he knew that not all teachers at the schools were Catholic, and he affirmed again that a teacher’s private life would remain private. He said his concern was that in their public lives faculty “don’t do anything to compromise the mission of our schools.”

Eight Democrat California lawmakers wrote a letter February 17 pressuring the archbishop to back down on the efforts. But the archbishop responded, “Would you hire a campaign manager who advocates policies contrary to those that you stand for, and who shows disrespect toward you and the Democratic Party in general?” 

“My point is: I respect your right to employ or not employ whomever you wish to advance your mission,” he said. “I simply ask the same respect from you.”

Two of the lawmakers then called for an investigation of working conditions at high schools administered by the archdiocese by the state’s Assembly Labor and Employment Committee and Assembly Judiciary Committee.

“California cannot become a laboratory for discrimination under the guise of religion,” the two Democrats told CBS San Francisco.

They said the archbishop’s measures to uphold Church teaching “set a dangerous precedent for workers’ rights through manipulations of law that deprive employees of civil rights guaranteed to all Californians.”

After a meeting with the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board on February 24, the paper reported that Cordileone was backtracking, but the archdiocese denied it in a follow-up statement.

The archbishop did agree, however, that they would not classify teachers as “ministers,” which teachers feared would remove them from federally-recognized civil rights protection.

“The Archbishop has not repealed anything,” Father John Piderit SJ, Vicar for Administration for the archdiocese and Moderator of the Curia said in the statement. “He is adding explanations, clarifications, and material on Catholic social teaching, via a committee of religion teachers he is establishing.” 

“The committee is to expand some areas of the material to be included in the faculty handbook, and clarify other areas by adding material,” said Father Piderit, who was also present at the meeting. “Nothing already planned to go in is being removed or retracted or withdrawn.”

The archdiocese stated the word “ministers” is no longer being considered to classify faculty, however the word “ministry” remained part of the language, and the archbishop was working to identify language that satisfies two needs, one to protect teachers’ rights and the other the right of the archdiocese to run Catholic schools that are faithful to its mission.

“Even if a substitute for ‘ministry’ is found,” Father Piderit said, “the substitute must guarantee that the teachers in the Catholic archdiocesan high schools promote the Catholic mission of the institutions."

Singer persisted in the apparent push for the archbishop to back down after the meeting.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Singer told the online magazine Crux. “So we’ll have to take a look at what the archbishop comes back with. But this is certainly a step in the right direction, and is welcomed by many of the parents, teachers and alumni. But there is still much work to be done.”

The Chronicle subsequently made a video of the meeting available, which was published by the archdiocese.

“The point I want to emphasize most of all though, is that everything that we do is for our students,” Archbishop Cordileone said in the meeting with the newspaper. “My primary concern and the most important thing, and that of everyone involved in the educational ministry of our archdiocese, is for the good of our students.”

Media reports also continue to highlight resistance to the archbishop’s efforts, and misunderstanding of Church doctrine in the moral issues the Church statements concern, such as homosexuality.

The Church teaches that while all people are deserving of respect as children of God, homosexual acts are immoral and can never be accepted.

“We pray for the archbishop that his heart is changed,” Gus O’Sullivan told the New York Times. The openly gay senior at one of the schools spoke at a candlelight protest, reportedly part of the Singer campaign.

Michael Vezzali, a teacher at one of the schools and a union official, said the archbishop was “a very wise man,” but “we feel our schools are places where we’re supposed to share the gospel of Jesus and love, no matter what.”

“Our community is in pain; our teachers are scared,” said Jessica Hyman, another senior at one of the archdiocesan high schools.

“We sent our kids to these schools because they uphold the fundamental principles of our faith of love, acceptance and respect,” said Kathy Curran, a mother of freshman. “This language says some people are not O.K. — and that’s not O.K.”

Archbishop Cordileone’s language “is very, very hurtful,” but “he is representing exactly the Roman Catholic sexual doctrine,” Santa Clara University Associate Professor of Moral Theology Lisa Fullam told the New York Times. “Bishops do have a lot of authority in their own diocese.”

Michele Dillon, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire, and co-author of the book American Catholics in Transition, which chronicled changes in Catholics’ attitudes and behavior from 1987-2011, said what’s happening in San Francisco reflects the attitudinal wavering among Catholics.

“The church wants people to be aware of official church teachings because they think there is confusion in the culture,” Dillon told the New York Times. “A lot of Catholics aren’t confused. They simply ignore the church’s teachings.”

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