Month Archives: March 2022

Real Men Don’t Bomb Women and Children. They Protect Them.

by Arielle Del Turco

March 10, 2022

Throughout his career, Russian President Vladimir Putin has cultivated the image of a “strong man,” in both the political and physical sense. He has projected a powerful masculine image for himself while reasserting Russian influence on the world stage.

Numerous photos published by the Kremlin show a shirtless Putin doing stereotypically manly outdoorsy things. Images of him hunting, fishing, horseback riding, and submerging himself in icy waters for the Orthodox observance of the Epiphany are accompanied by the Russian state media’s glowing reports of how physically fit the president is. Sure, Putin knows international audiences poke fun at these stunts, but he says he sees “no need to hide.”

Yet, with Putin’s unprovoked invasion into peaceful neighboring Ukraine, the humor of Putin’s self-made macho image is fading. Writing for WORLD, Andrew Walker points out, “Putin’s masculinity is one of cavalier ruthlessness and vainglory—one using raw strength to self-aggrandize, bully, destroy, denigrate, and suppress.”

Standing in stark contrast to the Russian president’s shirtless wilderness photoshoots is comedy actor turned politician, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Before the Russian invasion, Zelensky was a relatively unknown figure on the world stage. But now, he has risen to the task of being a wartime leader with determination, good humor, and fearlessness. Standing in the dark streets of Kyiv as the invasion was underway, Zelensky recorded a video on his smartphone reassuring his people and warning his adversaries that “We are here.”

The risks to his own life are great, but thus far, Zelensky has refused to leave. In an address from his office, he said, “I stay in Kyiv. On Bankova Street. I’m not hiding. And I’m not afraid of anyone. As much as it takes to win this Patriotic War of ours.” This is a strength and courage that Putin’s vacation pics can’t replicate.

Zelensky’s unwavering and passionate communications to his fellow Ukrainians and the outside world have earned him countless comparisons to Winston Churchill. His leadership has rallied Ukrainians to fight back against the Russian onslaught and stirred the hearts of world leaders to act. Neither Zelensky’s politics nor his lifestyle are a perfect model of masculinity. Yet, as he leads his country’s struggle to fight back against one of the most powerful militaries on earth, people around the world are drawn to his powerful example of what masculinity can look like when channeled in the right direction. He has shown he is willing to sacrifice his life for the good of his people and country after being offered an easy way out.

Instead of modeling sacrificial leadership, Putin chose to put the lives of his troops on the line—for some, perhaps even unknowingly—to assault a neighboring sovereign country without a legitimate cause. At home, Putin’s state media obscures the truth about the war he started in Ukraine, and authorities are severely cracking down on the Russians who are brave enough to protest it.

Meanwhile, Russian forces are ruthlessly targeting residential areas for missile attacks. Over the weekend, Russian forces fired mortar shells toward a bridge civilians were using to flee. Four people died, including an eight-year-old child. That’s what Putin is doing to his own soldiers and the innocent people of Ukraine. This is not masculine strength—it’s cruelty.

While Putin’s military indiscriminately harms women and children, Ukraine is making provisions for their safety. Ukraine instituted a policy that allows women and children to flee across the border but expects men to stay and fight. Extra concern for women and children will be all the more important as some fear increased vulnerability for women in the wake of Russia’s invasion and reports of abuses by Russian soldiers.

Of course, many Ukrainian women have been courageously volunteering to fight. Grandmas, members of parliament, teachers, and many others have taken up arms to defend Ukraine. Even so, the Ukrainian government isn’t placing the bulk of the burden to fight onto women, and that is appropriate. A culture expecting men to protect and defend women and children is an impactful display of healthy masculinity.

Zelensky, like the Ukrainian people, has inspired the world with unexpected bravery and resolve in the face of a seemingly impossible situation. In doing so, he provides a clear alternative to Putin’s faux, destructive masculinity. Real men don’t bomb women and children. They protect them.

Congressional Leadership Hijacks Ukraine Aid to Push Progressive Agenda

by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M.

March 9, 2022

Russia’s assault on Ukraine is saturating the news, airwaves, and the public’s focus. It’s understandable that people want to help, and are helping, provide relief and aid to Ukraine. It’s also sensible for Congress to want to help. It’s for this reason (the political pressure to provide relief) that Democratic leadership in Congress wants to combine aid to Ukraine with their domestic social policy preferences in one giant stew of government spending called “the omnibus.”

There are reasons to resist simply going along with this bill.

For one, the omnibus bill contains a problematic reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Congress passed VAWA in 1994 to improve the criminal justice response to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking and increase the availability of victims’ services. These are admirable aims. But when VAWA was last reauthorized in 2013, language was added (and is in the current reauthorization text) that mandates harmful gender identity ideology, maintains Planned Parenthood’s ability to obtain VAWA grants, selectively applies grant money, and could open the door to funding abortion more directly. You’ve probably heard about biological men competing in women’s sporting events on the basis of “gender identity” and how that is negatively impacting woman athletes. Under the VAWA reauthorization, battered and vulnerable women would face another threat of the same type—that of biological men who identify as women entering private spaces in women’s shelters.

The omnibus bill also turns a program designed to help women succeed financially around the globe into a “Gender Equity and Equality Action Fund.” This new program, backed by previous commitments by the Biden administration to promote gender ideology around the world, will open the door wide for the administration to push a harmful ideology in places like Eastern Europe at a time when security should be the focus. This program will also pave the way for the international abortion industry to continue erroneously promoting abortion as necessary for women’s economic empowerment.

Providing funds to Ukraine is a sensible and laudable goal, and we understand that our government also needs to be funded. However, there is a simple solution: peel off Ukraine (as the House appears to be doing) from other funding. And to completely fix the problem, cut all the substantive policy changes (like VAWA) that have been tacked on to what is supposed to be a spending bill. The current text is 2,741 pages long and has so many sections that it runs through the entire alphabet once and has to start over.

Streamlining the text (and process) along these lines will, in theory, prevent what should be a bipartisan appropriations process from turning into a fight for a partisan wish list.

Ukrainian Athletes Are Teaching the World a Lesson in Valor

by Mary Szoch

March 9, 2022

As Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin continues to wage war on Ukraine in the weeks immediately following the Olympics, sports stories continue to make international headlines. Ahead of and during the Beijing Winter Olympics, the terrible conditions for Olympic athletes dominated the news, while the Uyghur genocide was a second tier news story.  But now, it is the defense of Ukraine’s freedom that has placed athletics and athletes in the spotlight.

Last week, World Taekwondo pulled all future events from Russia. It also stripped Vladimir Putin of his honorary black belt in recognition that he is, as Ukrainian President Zelensky put it, behaving “like a beast.” Putin’s status as honorary president of the International Judo Federation (IJF) and the European Judo Union has been revoked, and he is no longer the recipient of the International Swimming Federation (FINA)’s highest honor.

In stunning displays of solidarity with the Ukrainian people, the National Hockey League announced they would suspend business partnerships with Russia; the Union Cycliste Internationale has banned Russian and Belarusian teams from competing; the World Curling Federation has removed the 2022 European Curling Championships from Russia; FIFA has suspended Russia from the World Cup; and multiple Russian athletes have voiced their support for Ukraine at great risk to themselves. Even the International Olympic Committee, which did not pull the 2022 Olympics out of China despite the ongoing genocide in that country, issued a recommendation that international sports federations not invite or allow Russian or Belarusian athletes to participate in international competitions.

But the most inspiring stories of all have been the Ukrainian athletes who have joined the fight for their homeland. The Ukrainian men’s fencing team withdrew from a World Cup event in Egypt, where they were set to face Russia. Wearing their national colors, the team announced, “Today, Ukrainian fencing team refused to fence team event against Russian Federation. This is our protest against the Russian aggression in Ukraine. Thank you for all international fencers for supporting Ukrainians in the world. Russia, stop war in Ukraine.” Instead of fencing, the team planned to return home and defend their country.

Ukrainian tennis star Sergiy Stakhovsky was vacationing with his wife and three children in Dubai when he heard the news of Russia’s invasion. He, too, decided to return home and defend his country. “I was born here, my grandparents are buried here, and I would like to have a history to tell to my kids,” he said. “Nobody here wants Russia to free them, they have freedom and democracy … and Russia wants to bring despair and poverty.” His three children, all under seven, believe he is at a tennis tournament.

Ukrainian soccer coach Yuriy Vernydub left at the height of his career to fight for his country. “My son called me at 4:30 am and he told me the Russians attacked us. I knew then that I would return to Ukraine to fight,” he said. “Football is my life. I hope this war won’t last for long. We will win, and I will go back to my beloved work.”

The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, and his brother, Wladimir, are former boxing champions who are ready to fend off Russian attacks. Waldimir commented, “I am Ukrainian, and I am a fighter…our strongest force is the will and desire to live in a free country.”

And the Klitschko brothers aren’t the only prizefighters bearing different arms. Champion boxers Vasily Lomachenko and Oleksander Usyki have returned to defend their homeland as well. When asked about his decision to fight, Ukrainian heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyki said, “My soul belongs to the Lord and my body and my honor belong to my country, to my family. So there is no fear, absolutely no fear. There’s just bafflement—how could this be in the 21st century?”

Across the country, Ukrainians—including three athletes, Vitalii Sapylo, Dmytro Martynenko, and Yevhen Malyshev—are willingly laying down their lives for their country to remain independent. These men and women are heroes—dying so that others may live free. 

One of the reasons sports are good is because they have the ability to teach life lessons. They teach men and women to work hard, be the best they can be, work as a team, be mentally tough and courageous, and die to self for a greater good.

As Ukraine continues to struggle to maintain its independence, Ukrainian athletes are proving they have learned much more from sports than how to win gold medals. It is time for the rest of the world to learn a few lessons from Ukrainians.

Congressional Democrats Trying to Cram Activist Bill into Spending Package

by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M.

March 8, 2022

While Ukraine burns, Democrats in Congress are busy looking for partisan opportunities, like trying to cram the radical Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization into the text of the Omnibus spending package currently under negotiation.

We all are familiar with the fallout of biological men competing in women’s sports on the basis of “gender identity.” Yet, battered and vulnerable women face another threat from the same ideological source—that of biological men who identify as women entering private spaces in women’s shelters.

As we have observed:

Congress passed VAWA in 1994 to improve the criminal justice response to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking and increase the availability of victims’ services. These are admirable aims, but unfortunately, when VAWA was last reauthorized in 2013, language was added that prevented it from achieving these important goals. The current reauthorization text of S. 3623 continues and exacerbates these problems by mandating harmful gender identity ideology, maintaining Planned Parenthood’s ability to obtain VAWA grants, cordoning off certain grant funds to be used for only limited purposes and limited pools of victims, and now possibly opening the door to fund abortion more directly. In short, S. 3623 would harm the very women VAWA should be protecting.

This bill is bad enough and should be opposed on its own terms. To try to rush it into last-minute spending negotiations is unconscionable.

Beware of False Prophets: Lessons from a “Pro-Choice Pastor” in the U.S. Senate

by David Closson

March 4, 2022

Monday night’s failed cloture vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act (or, more fittingly, the “Abortion on Demand Until Birth Act”) provided an important glimpse into the worldviews of America’s two major political parties. It also elicited some revealing comments from Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), an original co-sponsor of the bill. Although his staff told me they did not have an official reason for why Warnock missed the vote, the senator himself wanted to ensure everyone knew where he stood. Hours before the vote, Warnock tweeted, “I’ve always been a pro-choice pastor, and I believe a doctor’s office is too small for a patient, their doctors, and the U.S. government. I’m a proud co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, and the Senate should pass it as soon as possible.”

Senator Warnock’s Twitter feed routinely provides insight into how Georgia’s junior senator is thinking about various issues. Last April, Warnock (who also serves as the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta) tweeted an Easter greeting that claimed, “The meaning of Easter is more transcendent than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” He has tweeted support for the Equality Act (legislation that would severely erode religious freedom) and previously tweeted about his support for abortion.

Although Warnock’s position is not new, his repeated claim of being a “pro-choice pastor” merits a closer look. What does it mean to be a “pro-choice pastor”? The Bible clearly teaches the personhood of the unborn, that preborn babies are made in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect. How does Warnock square the Bible’s teaching with his support for abortion? In short, he doesn’t even seem to try. In fact, since joining the Senate, he hasn’t tried to tone down his support for abortion at all. The prospect of facing voters in a very competitive state in less than a year has likewise done nothing to moderate his views. Why is that?

Well, even before joining the U.S. Senate, Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (as he likes to be referred to) was staunchly pro-choice. His campaign website proudly notes, “Reverend Warnock has been an advocate for women’s health and reproductive justice his entire life and is proud to have been endorsed by NARAL and Planned Parenthood Action Fund.” Moreover, Warnock is a three-time graduate of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. As I’ve noted before, Union Seminary is theologically very liberal (for the 2021-22 academic term, students have the option to join the “Queer Caucus;” the “Seminarians for Reproductive Justice” and “Transgender Nonconforming” caucuses are inactive this semester).

Given Warnock’s liberal seminary training and membership in a political party beholden to the abortion lobby, it is no surprise that he is committed to abortion. But if it is no surprise, why is it important to draw attention to his view and public statements? Does it really matter what one liberal senator thinks about abortion? In my view, it matters a great deal because of Warnock’s role as a pastor and frequent use of the term “pro-choice pastor.”

Let me be clear. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a biblically faithful “pro-choice pastor.” Over 2,500 years ago, the prophet Isaiah addressed the people of Israel as they faced the prospect of exile because of their sin. Speaking to those who were committing intentional sin, Isaiah says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isa. 5:20). In Isaiah, “woe” connotes grief and consternation and is often directed at someone in grievous error. Calling something evil “good” is to invert the moral order and invite divine judgment.

This verse is relevant considering the heightened responsibility of pastors to provide sound teaching to their congregations. When giving instructions to Titus about the qualifications for pastoral ministry, Paul explained, “[A pastor] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” For Paul, one of the chief responsibilities of a pastor is teaching the Bible and rebuking those who are in error. Again, on the issue of abortion, the Bible is crystal clear (see Ex. 21:22; Ps. 139:13-16, 22:10, 51:5-6; Job 3:3; Jer. 1:4-5; Isa. 49:1; Luke 1:39-45; Gal. 1:15). Thus, a “pro-choice pastor” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Of course, there are many pro-abortion advocates who hold ministerial positions in churches around the country, but I believe the Bible’s requirement of adherence to sound doctrine disqualifies anyone from true gospel work who is fervently “pro-choice.” One simply cannot condone, support, and champion the killing of preborn children in the pulpit and satisfy the requirements for pastoral ministry laid out in the New Testament.

If this is true, what does this mean for how we should think about Reverend Warnock’s ministry? To use biblical imagery, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Consider Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:15-16a, where He says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” According to Jesus, false teachers will be recognized by their fruit. An obviously bad fruit is teaching that does not accord with sound doctrine. Moreover, using one’s title and position of leadership in the church to provide cover for wickedness is surely a sign of rotten fruit.

Abortion remains a significant feature in our political discourse, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will not be the final word. And although Christians must continue to pray that the Court will make the right decision and overturn Roe v. Wade, pastors and Christian leaders must remember their sacred duty to lead God’s people to think faithfully on these issues. In the Great Commission, Jesus famously commissioned His disciples to “make disciples of all nations.” He also instructed them to teach people “all that I have commanded you” (Mat. 28:19-20). Included within the “all that I have commanded you” is everything Jesus taught concerning the value and dignity of human life. Thus, rather than follow Senator Reverend Warnock’s lead, faithful undershepherds must recommit themselves to the task at hand, which is not abortion advocacy but contending for the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).

Senate Democrats Fail to Federally Enshrine Abortion on Demand Until Birth

by David Closson

March 3, 2022

While most of the world was preoccupied with watching Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unfold, Senate Democrats forced a vote Monday night on the deceptively-titled Women’s Health Protection Act. A more fitting name for this bill would be the “Abortion on Demand Until Birth Act” because it would codify Roe v. Wade’s precedent of allowing abortion throughout pregnancy. Although the bill failed to advance by a 46-48 vote, by bringing the bill to the Senate floor, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) sent a clear message to the country about where congressional Democrats stand on abortion in the lead-up to this fall’s midterm elections.

It is a dark, dark time for women’s reproductive rights,” Schumer said before the vote to invoke cloture (i.e., end debate and proceed to voting on final passage of the bill). “We cannot simply stand by and let this happen. There is too much at stake.” Of course, Schumer knew the cloture vote would be unsuccessful. Even if he had kept his caucus together—he didn’t; Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) joined the Republicans in voting “no”—Schumer didn’t have the 60 votes required to invoke cloture. But the Majority Leader forced a vote anyway, keen to placate the pro-abortion lobby that is anxiously awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that has the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Thus, even though it was doomed to fail, Senator Schumer forced 94 U.S. senators—including vulnerable Democrats up for reelection, such as Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), and Catherine Cortez-Masto (Nev.)—to officially go on the record on the most extreme abortion bill ever considered by Congress. But in one sense, Schumer’s political gambit was helpful in further highlighting the worldview divide between the major political parties.

Consider the legislation itself. The bill, which previously passed the House in September on a nearly-partisan vote (Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas was the lone Democrat to vote “no”), would eliminate almost every state-level restriction on abortion. Additionally, the bill would weaken conscience protections for medical professionals, jeopardize prohibitions on taxpayer funding for abortion, enshrine late-term abortion into law, strike down commonsense pro-life laws, and equate the death of unborn children with routine medical procedures. Furthermore, as I’ve highlighted elsewhere, if the bill were to become law, state laws requiring informed consent, waiting periods, or counseling prior to receiving an abortion would be overturned. The bill’s prohibition on protecting unborn lives at any point prior to fetal viability (generally set at 22-24 weeks gestation) means that laws like Texas’ Heartbeat Act (S.B. 8), which the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed to stand for the past six months, would be invalidated.

Additionally, the post-viability clause stipulates that health care providers (i.e., abortionists) could carry out abortions after 24 weeks if they determined that the health of the mother (the bill itself uses the term “pregnant patient” to appease LGBT activists) was in danger. Because the bill does not define the terms “health” and “risk,” the health exemption could be broadly interpreted to include mental or emotional health, effectively enshrining abortion until birth into federal law.

In short, the Women’s Health Protection Act, more aptly referred to as the “Abortion on Demand Until Birth Act,” is the most pro-abortion piece of legislation ever seen at the federal level. Its existence underscores the profound worldview divide between Republicans and Democrats, who increasingly disagree on the definition of personhood. Whereas Republicans routinely vote to recognize preborn babies as human beings deserving of the protection of our nation’s laws, Democrats now regularly vote in favor of “reproductive freedom” and a “woman’s right to choose,” euphemisms for abortion. Democrats continue to champion abortion despite advances in embryology and technology that make the medical and moral case of the humanity of preborn children undeniable.

Only two congressional Democrats, Rep. Cuellar and Sen. Manchin, voted against the Abortion on Demand Until Birth Act. Democratic senators Feinstein (Calif.), Lujan (N.M.), and Warnock (Ga.) did not participate in the vote but are all original co-sponsors of the bill. Although it comes as no surprise that Democrats are almost unanimously voting in line with their party’s platform, we should not become numb to the fact that one of America’s two major political parties sees abortion as a cause that must be taken up with a religious-like zeal. Monday’s vote highlights the current political landscape on abortion and underscores how much work the pro-life movement still has to do.

Beauty Will Save the World (Part 2): How Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride Reveals the Divine Potential of Marital Love

by John Sumereau

March 3, 2022

Fyodor Dostoevsky, the great Russian writer, famously observed that “Beauty will save the world.” In this spirit, this blog series focuses on great works of art and how they reveal new layers of meaning to the inexhaustibly rich themes of life and human dignity, marriage and family, and religious freedom. Read part one on Mary Cassatt’s The Boating Party.

***

Vincent van Gogh once wrote that he would gladly give up 10 years of his life for the chance to sit in front of Rembrandt’s masterpiece, The Jewish Bride (1665-1669), for two weeks, eating only stale crusts of bread. 

Often described as “a painter’s painting,” the technical brilliance and subtlety of the artist’s handling are best appreciated by those who know the medium firsthand and are familiar with the limitations which Rembrandt’s genius transcends.

The painting’s title was erroneously assigned by an undiscerning art collector in the 19th century who supposed that the subject was a father bestowing a necklace on his betrothed daughter. While controversy about the actual subject persists, most scholars identify the sitters as husband and wife, and there is strong evidence that they are intended to represent the biblical figures of Isaac and Rebekah. 

Beyond the technical brilliance of this painting, what did van Gogh, a spiritually sensitive man and at one point a Protestant missionary, see in this work that so captivated him? His avowal carries a religious fervor out of proportion to even the most ardent connoisseur’s admiration of the master’s technical skill. 

The answer lies, no doubt, in the spiritual element that radiates from the encounter of its two subjects. Without any extravagant display of affection, Rembrandt communicates a mutual devotion of unfathomable depth. Art historian Sister Wendy Beckett calls their expressions “infinitely moving.” 

In his depiction of this loving couple, Rembrandt points to a reality that perhaps only those who have been blessed to personally experience it will recognize. This husband and wife, we feel, have each made of themselves a total gift. Their mutual exchange is complete. We immediately notice that the figures are not idealized. If anything, they are slightly unattractive, but this only serves to authenticate the depth of their love. We may be surprised to see that their gazes are not fixed on each other; instead, they look into the distance, as if reflecting on something past. And yet they are fully present to each other. In an extraordinary echo of the Holy Trinity, we see emerge from the profundity of their devotion what could almost be called the third character of the painting. The man and woman look not at each other but, it seems, at the very love that mysteriously springs from their union. 

God the Father eternally beholds His divine Son, and the Holy Spirit is the personification of Their Love; a third Person. God, Himself, is love, and the nearer our love comes to true holiness, the more fully is the Person of God, the Holy Spirit, present in our love. The expressions of the husband and wife are “infinitely moving” because they behold the infinite God to Whom their love points and in Whom it participates. 

In The Jewish Bride, we see a tender embrace without clinginess. We see an attraction that has little to do with attention to physical appearance. We see a love that rejoices in self-gift and a cherishing of the deepest identity of the other.

An earlier sketch by the artist depicts Isaac and Rebekah in similar postures with the figure of King Abimelech in the background accidentally witnessing their moment of intimacy. 

In the Genesis narrative, Isaac and Rebekah came to settle in the land of Gerar. Like his father Abraham had done years before, Isaac tells the inhabitants of this foreign land that his wife was his sister, for fear they would kill him and steal Rebekah if they knew she was his wife. When Abimelech happened to see them embracing, he sent for Isaac and rebuked him for putting his people in danger of unknowingly committing the serious sin of sleeping with another man’s wife. However one interprets this story, it is clear that Isaac is a flawed character. He is apparently unwilling to defend his wife, preferring to watch her be stolen than to put his own life at risk. This context adds even greater significance to the loving encounter Rembrandt presents, as a truly blessed and holy marital love transcends even serious faults. It is a love that participates in God’s love for us, aware of our sinfulness and misery, yet seeking the most intimate union. In this painting, Abimelech is absent, and we, the viewers, take his place. We are the discoverers of the couple’s secret and holy love.

The Jewish Bride exhibits the most extraordinary facet of Rembrandt’s genius: his ability to capture fleeting and elusive expressions along with the full weight of the psychological realities that underlie them. As he builds up layers of richly textured, opaque paint, he makes transparent the window to his subject’s soul.

There is little doubt that this is the beauty van Gogh identified and revered.

John Sumereau graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Art from the Penn State School of Arts and Architecture in 2013. John lives in Winchester, Virginia with his wife and three children, whom he currently supports by working as an ultrasound tech at a local hospital. His artwork can be seen on the John Sumereau Art Facebook page.

Remembering America’s Pastor

by Worth Loving

March 2, 2022

As the nation focuses on inflation crises and the ongoing turmoil in Ukraine, perhaps it would do us good to pause and reflect on the life of Billy Graham, whose heavenly homegoing happened four years ago on February 21, 2018.

As a young boy, I remember well watching some of his last crusades on TV with my grandparents. For 76 years, God used a country boy from Charlotte, North Carolina to change the world. During his ministry, Billy Graham preached the gospel to nearly 215 million people in 185 countries. He met with every U.S. president from Harry Truman to Donald Trump as well as countless world leaders. Wherever he went and with whomever he met, his message was simple: We are all sinners in need of a Savior, and Jesus died so we might have eternal life. Even after his death, Billy Graham’s legacy continues to live on.

Humble Beginnings

Born on November 7, 1918, just four days before the end of World War I, Billy Graham was raised on a dairy farm just outside Charlotte, North Carolina. His parents instilled in him the value of hard work as well as a love for God. When he was 12, Graham gave his first speech in a school pageant. The speech made him so nervous that he vowed to never become a public speaker. A few years later when he was 16, Graham attended a tent revival where Rev. Mordecai Ham was preaching. Although Graham had been raised in a Christian home and attended church, he suddenly became aware of his need to accept Christ as his personal Savior. From then on, Graham marked this time in his life as the moment when he trusted Christ as his Lord and Savior.

After graduating from high school, Graham attended Florida Bible Institute near Tampa. Though he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life preaching, he often found himself preaching in trailer parks, street corners, and jails, with many people responding to his sermons by turning to Christ. One night while on the golf course, Graham fully surrendered to God’s call on his life to preach the gospel. Over the next two years, Graham received many requests to preach at churches, missions, and camp meetings, further confirming God’s call on his life. In 1940, he graduated from the institute.

Upon hearing him preach, one of Graham’s friends offered to send him to Wheaton College in Illinois for a year. In 1941, while still taking classes, Graham became pastor of United Gospel Tabernacle. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Graham attempted to become a military chaplain but was turned down by the War Department because he lacked a college degree and the necessary seminary courses. But God had other plans. Graham soon met Ruth Bell, a missionary daughter from China, whom he would eventually marry.

Sensing God’s Call

In January 1943, Graham became pastor of Western Springs Baptist Church near Wheaton. In June, he and Ruth graduated and were married in August. At first, it was difficult for them to manage Graham’s already busy schedule, especially for Ruth as he was away much of the time. But they quickly adapted, no doubt through the grace of God. Soon thereafter, a minister named Torrey Johnson asked Graham to take over his 45-minute Sunday night radio program. Graham soon convinced a well-known voice named George Beverly Shea to begin singing on his new radio program.

As Graham became more and more popular, he grew increasingly restless and sensed God calling him into evangelistic ministry. Around this time, Torrey Johnson asked Graham to take over a new initiative called Chicagoland Youth for Christ, where Graham would preach at Christian rallies for soldiers and young people who poured into Chicago every weekend. On May 27, 1944, Graham preached to nearly 3,000 people at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall; 40 people gave their lives to Christ. Johnson eventually started Youth for Christ rallies in other cities, and Graham preached at those as well.

Although Graham received many offers to pastor churches, he never felt God was calling him in that direction. As World War II continued, he was finally accepted into the army chaplaincy program but was forced to withdraw due to illness, yet another sign God was leading him toward a specific type of ministry.

In 1945, Graham began working again with Torrey Johnson, as he renamed his ministry Youth for Christ (YFC) International and expanded his rallies across the United States, Canada, and Europe. Realizing that Ruth would be alone while Billy traveled, the couple moved to Montreat, North Carolina to be near Ruth’s parents as she was expecting their first child. In 1946, Graham spent several months holding rallies in war-ravaged Europe and found desperate young people very receptive to the gospel. In 1947, Graham preached YFC rallies across the United States and continued to believe God wanted him to be an evangelist.

An Unparalleled Crusade Ministry

Graham was catapulted to national fame in 1949 when he preached his first crusade at the “Canvas Cathedral” in Los Angeles, an event organized by 200 churches calling themselves Christ for Greater Los Angeles. Although the initial results were disappointing, Graham’s crusades quickly gained more traction after Stuart Hamblen, the most popular radio host on the West Coast, was saved at one of the rallies and talked about it on air, urging others to attend. The renowned publisher William Randolph Hearst also encouraged his Los Angeles editors to give Graham good press. After the publicity, some 350,000 people attended this crusade. In the final week of his Los Angeles crusade, Olympic runner and WWII POW survivor Louis Zamperini was saved.

In 1950, Graham formed the non-profit Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and began his weekly Hour of Decision radio program. As the civil rights movement heated up, Graham declared that seating at his crusades would not be segregated, even inviting the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to offer a prayer at one of his crusades.

In 1954, Billy and Ruth traveled to England for a 12-week crusade. By the end, over two million people had heard the gospel. Before leaving to vacation in Scotland, Graham was invited to 10 Downing Street to meet with Prime Minister Winston Churchill. There, Graham was able to pray with Churchill and offer him the hope found only in Jesus Christ. It was the first of many meetings Graham would have with prominent political figures. Graham returned to Europe the following two years and even preached in the same Berlin stadium where Adolf Hitler had delivered his maniacal speeches just two decades prior. Queen Elizabeth even invited Graham to preach at Windsor Castle. This was the first of a dozen friendly meetings between the monarch and the minister.  

After the success of his 1955 London crusade, Graham began preaching all over the world—ultimately in 185 countries. He became acquainted with many world leaders and at times even hand delivered letters from U.S. presidents to them. In 1956, Graham preached crusades in southeast Asia, where he spoke hope into the hearts of many people weighed down by unjust caste systems. He spoke about Jesus, “a Man who was born right here in your part of the world… where Asia and Africa and Europe meet. He had skin that was darker than mine, and He came to show us that God loves all people.” While here, he also met with several heads of state and returned to southeast Asia many times during his decades of ministry.

In 1959 and 1960, Graham conducted crusades in Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and the Middle East. By the end of this tour, over three million people had heard the gospel. In 1967, Graham preached in Yugoslavia, his first visit to a communist country. In 1973, Graham preached to one million people in Seoul, the largest live audience of his entire ministry.

In 1972, Graham visited Belfast, Northern Ireland, where a bitter war was occurring between Protestants and Catholics. Though he couldn’t hold a crusade for security reasons, he did preach at one church. He even visited the Catholic area of the city and ministered to anyone who would listen. He even risked his life as a bomb went off close to where he was. Rather than fleeing, he ministered to the injured and to those who had lost loved ones. During this time, a Catholic woman told Graham that he was the first Protestant minister she had ever met.

In the late 1970s, Graham began preaching behind the Iron Curtain in eastern Europe, speaking in Czechoslovakia, Germany, Poland, and Russia. Many credit Graham’s ministry as one of the many factors that brought about the fall of the Soviet Union. When Graham returned to Moscow in 1992, crowds of 45,000 gathered each day to hear him, with a quarter of them being saved.

In 1980, Ruth’s long-desired wish to return to the country of her birth—China—was fulfilled. She and Billy had prayed that he would one day be able to hold a crusade there. That prayer was answered in April 1988 when Graham preached in five cities and ministered in many house churches as well. Graham was even able to preach to students and government leaders in North Korea in 1992 and 1994 as well.

More Alive Than Ever Before”

During his decades of ministry, Billy Graham met with every U.S. president from Harry Truman to Donald Trump. Dwight Eisenhower twice called for a meeting with Graham to ask him his beliefs on the afterlife, once while he was president and just a few months prior to his death while he lay in a bed at Walter Reed Hospital. Lyndon Johnson asked Graham to preach his funeral, which he did. Richard Nixon invited Graham to speak at a number of services held at the White House. Ronald and Nancy Reagan shared a warm friendship with the Grahams. Reagan invited the Grahams to several state dinners during his presidency. The Grahams were also close to George H.W. and Barbara Bush. The Bushes invited them to the White House for prayer the day before launching Operation Desert Storm. The Bushes also invited Billy to host Bible studies with their extended family at their vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine.  Graham also had a warm relationship with Bill Clinton, stretching back to Clinton’s time as governor of Arkansas (Clinton first heard Graham speaks as a young boy at a Little Rock crusade). George W. Bush recalls meeting Graham as a young man at a family gathering when Bush was struggling with a drinking problem. Graham offered to send Bush a Bible, and this marked a turning point in the future president’s life.

Billy Graham’s one regret was the amount of time he spent away from home during his ministry and the toll it took on his wife and children, especially his two boys. Near the end of his life, he warned Christians who were just starting their careers to learn from his mistakes. Fortunately, all five of the Graham children turned out well and serve in his ministry. The best known of these is Franklin who runs Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  

Graham’s health began declining in the early 2000s. Franklin took over the BGEA in 2002, and Billy preached his last crusade in New York City in July 2005. Just two years later, Graham grieved deeply when his wife of 64 years was called home to Heaven.

On February 21, 2018, God called his servant home as he passed peacefully in his sleep at his log cabin in Montreat, North Carolina. His casket, a simple wooden box made by prisoners at Angola Prison, lay in repose in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. I had the privilege of paying my respects in-person and was impressed by how several members of the Graham family personally greeted every person in line. I’ve also had the privilege to visit the grounds of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte where the evangelist was laid to rest next to his dear wife Ruth. At his funeral, Billy’s son Franklin gave a gospel message, inviting those in attendance to repent of their sins and turn in faith to Christ. Graham chose the Scripture reference John 14:6 to be engraved on his tombstone. The passage, which reads, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,’” embodied the message he preached for decades.

Of death, Billy Graham, paraphrasing D.L. Moody, often said, “One day you’ll hear that Billy Graham has died. Don’t you believe it. On that day, I’ll be more alive than ever before! I’ve just changed addresses.” Graham spent his entire adult life proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Although he was born from humble roots, he rose to fame and prominence; but he never let that get to his head. No matter who he met, his message was the same. He saw all men, women, and children as sinners like himself in desperate need of a Savior. That is the same message we must proclaim today. Amidst all the turmoil in our world, Jesus is the only answer.

Forced Marriage in Pakistan and Why It Matters to the U.S.

by Arielle Del Turco , Hannah Waters

March 1, 2022

For nearly a year, Nayab Gill has been forced to live with her kidnapper. 

In early 2021, 13-year-old Nayab and her father were approached by Saddam Hayat, a 30-year-old married Muslim man and father of four. Hayat offered to train Nayab in his beauty salon and give her a much-needed job. For weeks, Hayat faithfully picked up Nayab, brought her to his salon, gave her lessons in cosmetology, and brought her home each day. 

On May 20, however, Nayab never came home.

Nayab’s frantic parents searched for their child for over a week with no success. Eventually, local police contacted the Gill family, informing them that their daughter had registered as a willful convert to Islam and had married a Muslim man—Hayat. In reality, Hayat and six others had kidnapped Nayab from her home, raped her, forced her to convert to Islam, and coerced her into marriage.

After a long legal struggle and many nights spent trapped in her abuser’s home, Nayab’s case finally went to court. Although her parents presented her birth certificate, which proved she was a minor, the judge accepted Hayat’s forged documents—documents that claimed he had recently celebrated his 18th anniversary with his 19-year-old bride. Shockingly, the court ruled in the kidnapper’s favor, declaring that Nayab had willingly converted to Islam and married Hayat. At the ruling, Nayab’s parents broke down in tears as she was led by police back into the arms of her abuser.

Sadly, this horrific account is a reality for hundreds of Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan. Although there are no official records, it is estimated that over 1,000 cases like Nayab’s occur in Pakistan every year. Despite the clear human rights violation, the practice of forced conversion and marriage still thrives in Pakistan.

The newly-updated report from Family Research Council, “Combatting Forced Marriage of Young Women in Pakistan,” exposes the ongoing tragedy in Pakistan and presents ways in which the U.S. government can begin to address the problem.

The U.S. State Department designates Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for its “particularly severe” religious freedom violations—and with good reason. Religious minorities hold a marginalized position in Pakistani society, a relic of the former Indian caste system.

The tension between religious groups provides a convenient means by which Muslim perpetrators can protect themselves from just punishment. Although the perpetrators of forced conversions and marriages are in violation of Pakistani law, the religious dynamics of Pakistan are such that a ruling in favor of a Christian or Hindu victim can often be seen as an attack on Islam itself. This creates an environment in which perpetrators can target their victims and commit crimes with impunity. 

When local police are informed of forced conversion and marriage cases, they are often reluctant to help find victims or bring perpetrators to justice. At times, authorities have even been hostile toward the victim’s family and often bend to the pressures of the extremist or influential abductors. Police have also interfered with investigations by discouraging Christian and Hindu families from filing formal complaints.

Pakistani courts aggravate this tragedy when they neglect to follow fair legal procedures. Investigations into the circumstances of an alleged conversion rarely take place; instead, the existence of a conversion certificate—which is often forged—is taken as sufficient proof. Furthermore, the threat of Islamist mob violence often makes judges afraid to do the right thing.

The issue of forced conversion and forced marriage in Pakistan is tragic. As a long-standing leader in upholding international human rights, the United States faces a critical moment. Continued silence will only embolden those who wish to violate human dignity and restrict religious freedom.

By taking a few simple steps, the U.S. government can go a long way toward holding the perpetrators—and the government that tolerates them—accountable. To start, American diplomats should raise this issue with their Pakistani counterparts. Congress can pass a resolution condemning this practice and calling on the Pakistani government to address it. The United States should also apply targeted sanctions on Pakistani officials responsible for committing or tolerating human rights abuses.

Forced conversion and marriage in Pakistan are enabled by social discrimination, corrupt authorities, and unjust courts of law. America’s diplomacy with Pakistan should address all these concerns. The United States must demonstrate an unwavering commitment to international human rights and advocate for the defenseless. Addressing this tragedy in Pakistan is a good place to start.

Arielle Del Turco is assistant director of the Center for Religious Freedom. Hannah Waters is the research assistant for the Center for Religious Liberty.

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