FRC Blog

Looking for Good Family TV During the Quarantine? Here’s What We Are Watching

by Cathy Ruse

April 13, 2020

If your family is like ours, television is a rarity in our house. We gave up cable television years ago, but we stream movies on the weekends and can “earn” a television program or two during the week for good behavior (adults and children alike).

But now that COVID-19 is keeping us all at home all day and every night, there is greater demand than ever for “Family TV.” Believe it or not, there are some good options that are both entertaining and appropriate for children.

We have become very serious fans of The Great British Baking Show, and a new discovery is the television network produced by Brigham Young University, BYU-TV. It is a font of totally family-friendly fare. Our favorite program is Show-Offs, featuring a team of improv actors and special guests who are given script ideas from a studio audience. I have always loved improv, but it seems always to be geared to the raunchier side of things (where the cheapest laughs are). But this show is 100 percent “appropriate”—our family’s watchword—and the actors are really talented. It routinely has us in stitches. We also love Studio C, a sketch comedy team similar to Saturday Night Live, but totally clean and appropriate for all audiences. Our teen and tween daughters love Dwight in Shining Armor about a teen boy who travels back in time and returns with a posse of hilarious medieval friends. There are a dozen others. BYU-TV is the only network our children are allowed to surf freely. All great shows, all “appropriate,” no commercials. And for anyone who may be wondering, we have not seen any proselytizing of the LDS faith.

We research movies, old and new, and watch them as a family. Recent movies that we have watched and enjoyed include oldies like Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock, and new movies like Midway (lots of obscenities, but in context it was tolerable). We have 12 Angry Men ready to go, and Bird Man of Alcatraz. We also highly recommend anything with Rowan Atkinson, from his Mr. Bean features (my favorite is Mr. Bean’s Holiday, I could watch it every week) to Johnny English. We howl with family laughter.

My go-to review sites are Movie Guide and Dove, and I check both each time. Why? Because even the best review team can miss things, so you have to be vigilant. Generally, we have been happy with their reviews. They are very detailed, going beyond counting obscenities and profanities and describing violence and nudity to explaining storyline ethos and underlying messaging, with scene-based evidence to back up their conclusions. But once they both let us down. We like musicals, and were excited about watching the award-winning new musical, Lala Land. I read the reviews carefully, and thought I knew what to expect: some language, no nudity, no sex, no violence. Fine. Yet, as we watched, the two young lovers crawled into bed together. They were clothed. They only talked. But then, flash, it is the next morning, and they are sitting on the bed. Sorry kids, let’s turn on BYU-TV. (Movie Guide has revised its review to include a more detailed discussion of this scene.)

One service that has met with mixed reviews in our household is Vid Angel. I love it, my husband does not. For a low monthly fee, you can calibrate each movie that you stream to your family’s standards, based on that particular movie’s details. The service allows you to filter content in dozens of areas of concern, including language, violence, sexual content, and drug and alcohol use. You can literally take a PG-13 movie and turn it into a slightly shorter, sloppily-spliced G movie. Our first try with Vid Angel was hilarious. We rented Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing and just set all filters to ON. We watched it, or tried to watch, as it abruptly skipped from scene to scene like it had a terminal case of the hiccups. We realized, upon investigation, that a cleavage filter was responsible for much of the 30 minutes that were cut from the movie! If missing elements of plot and watching herky-jerky scene splicing are a problem for you (they are not for me, but they are for my husband), then this service is not for you. Another problem is the absence of Disney, or the “Evil Mouse” as we call it. The service does not work with any of the hugely-popular Disney-produced movies due to a protracted copyright lawsuit Disney slapped on Vid Angel. (Hey Evil Mouse, why don’t you just make your movies family-friendly and we won’t have to use this service!)

So, life is strange right now, but let’s look on the bright side. We all have more time to spend with our families, and with some attention and planning, that time can include the joy of watching good television, together.

Continue reading

Coronavirus-Related Change in FDA Blood Donor Policy Threatens Public Health Instead of Protecting It

by Peter Sprigg

April 13, 2020

On April 2nd, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced an easing of restrictions on blood donors. Concern has been raised that there may be a shortage of donated blood due to the cancellation of blood drives as a result of current social distancing rules.

Political pressure, not medical necessity, may have driven the most significant of the changes, however—involving the “deferral” as blood donors of men who have sex with men (“MSM”). Since 2015, the FDA has recommended excluding as blood donors any man who had sex with another man in the last 12 months. That deferral period has now been reduced to three months since the last male-male sexual contact.

Until 2015, however, MSM were subject to a lifetime deferral, prohibiting men from giving blood if they have had sex with another man even once since 1977. In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, it was discovered both that HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) could be transmitted via blood transfusions and that men who have sex with men are at extraordinarily high risk of being infected. The lifetime ban was imposed in 1985 and lasted for 30 years.

LGBT activists, however, lobbied vigorously for lifting the deferral because of the “stigma” it imposed on MSM (note: the restriction does not apply to women who have sex with women, as they are not at significantly elevated risk of HIV). Family Research Council was active in opposing the change to the lifetime deferral.

Despite the dramatic change from a lifetime deferral to a 12-month one, LGBT groups have continued to lobby for further easing of the restriction. Almost as soon as the coronavirus was declared a national emergency, they jumped to exploit the crisis as an opportunity to advance their agenda. GLAAD posted a petition demanding that the limit on donations by MSM be lifted altogether. Although an FDA spokesman told the Washington Blade on March 19 that the restriction remained in place, only two weeks later it was revised, “[a]fter weeks of pressure from GLAAD and others.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledge that “Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men are the population most affected by HIV in the United States. In 2017, adult and adolescent gay and bisexual men made up 70% … [of] new HIV diagnoses in the United States (US) and dependent areas.” And this is despite the fact that men who have ever had sexual contact with men represent only about three percent of the population. Prior to removing the lifetime ban in 2015, the FDA noted that HIV prevalence among MSM is “60 times higher than the general population in the U.S., 800 times higher than first time blood donors and 8000 times higher than repeat blood donors.”

It’s not as though men who have sex with men are going to be the solution to any potential blood shortages anyway. Out of that 3 percent of the population, one must still subtract any who have had male-male sexual contact in the last three months, and subtract any of this high-risk population who have ever had a positive test for HIV. The remainder would be so tiny that it would hardly make a measurable impact on the blood supply—except for making it somewhat more dangerous.

The most troubling part of the FDA’s announcement was where it said, “These changes are being put forth for immediate implementation and are expected to remain in place after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.” It would be a tragic irony if a public health crisis cements in place a policy that threatens the public health instead of protecting it.

Continue reading

Open the Doors? The Vast Majority of Churches are Not Defying Government Orders

by Quena Gonzalez , David Closson

April 9, 2020

On Sunday, the Washington Post ran a story on churches that are continuing to meet despite most states having banned assemblies of more than 10 people. The article cites only seven churches, yet suggests a nationwide pattern of recalcitrant Protestants who are defying government orders and continuing to meet.

But is this portrait accurate?

At first glance, the Post’s claims seem to be backed up by data from a respected polling firm. The article cites LifeWay’s recent report on whether Protestant churches are meeting. To be fair, the top-line numbers in LifeWay’s chart are striking; one religion reporter cited the 7 percent figure and mused, “if this is still happening in areas that have had outbreaks, it’s a serious, serious issue.”

Three questions need to be answered: Did Protestant churches defy government bans on public gatherings? Are a large number of churches continuing to meet in person? And, if not, what are they doing instead?

Did Churches Defy Government Orders?

The answer is, by and large, no. A quick search for recent news stories reveals that most of the headlines are traceable to a handful of high-profile churches, some of which (including at least two churches featured in the Washington Post article) stopped meeting weeks ago.

These findings are backed up by the LifeWay report, which notably only covers the month of March. Many states did not impose bans on public gatherings until only very recently, and according to the Washington Post, “more than a dozen states” exempted churches from stay-at-home orders as late as April 5th. State orders lagged behind the CDC’s March 15th recommendation to pause all gatherings of more than 10 people. Even so, the LifeWay data show that the sharpest drop-off of in-person meetings was on Sunday, March 22nd, suggesting that most churches took the CDC’s nonbinding recommendation (announced the previous Sunday night) seriously.

State bans on public gatherings were soon followed by stay-at-home orders, but according to a New York Times timeline, only nine states had a stay-at-home order as of Monday, March 23rd. By then, 89 percent of Protestant churches had stopped meeting. Furthermore, many state bans on public gatherings were amended several times and would have initially applied only to large churches. For example, Maryland initially banned gatherings of more than 250 people on March 12th; its March 16th order banning gatherings larger than 50 would not have applied to churches with fewer than 250 attendees that met on Sunday, March 15th.

This is an easily-overlooked point: Small congregations, which make up the vast majority of American churches, tend to be overlooked in media reporting in favor of megachurches. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research, for example, cites research indicating that half of all churches have an attendance of less than 75, that 59 percent of non-Catholic/Orthodox churches have less than 100 attendees, and that the average church size for all churches is 186. The Hartford Institute also estimates that there are 314,000 Protestant churches in the U.S., of which less than 1 percent are megachurches.

Stay-at-home orders rolled in throughout March: By Thursday, March 26th, 21 states had stay-at-home orders. By the following Monday, March 30th—one day after 93 percent of Protestant churches did not meet in-person—20 states still did not have statewide stay-at-home orders.

The study cited by the Washington Post does not necessarily support the notion that a significant number of Protestant churches were meeting in defiance of government orders.

Are a Large Number of Churches Continuing to Meet?

Less data exists on how many churches are currently meeting. However, despite the implication by the Washington Post story that this is a national phenomenon, the available data suggests that an overwhelming majority of churches are abiding by the CDC’s recommendation and are not holding in-person services.

LifeWay’s report only covers the month of March, but a deeper dive into their data is instructive. According to the report, 64 percent of churches met in-person on March 15th, 11 percent on March 22nd, and 7 percent on March 29th. Significantly, the report also shows that only 45 percent of churches with more than 200 attendees met on the 15th, fewer than 1 percent met on the 22nd, and 0 percent met on the 29th.

In other words, more than half of all churches with congregations numbering 200 or more had ceased meeting in person by the middle of March, 99 percent of them were not meeting by the fourth Sunday, and a statistically negligible number were meeting by the last Sunday of the month.

Clearly, churches still meeting after the end of March are statistical outliers. Yet the Washington Post story suggests that a significant number of churches are still meeting in defiance of government orders, despite strong evidence to the contrary. The very few churches that are still meeting are attracting outsized attention from the media.

How are Churches Adapting?

Instead of flaunting the government’s orders and continuing to meet in large groups, churches across the country are adapting to serve their congregations and communities in creative ways. For example, many churches are using live-streaming technology such as Zoom, YouTube live, and other streaming platforms to hold weekly services and prayer meetings with their members. Others, such as 3D Church, in Lithonia, Georgia, Genoa Church in Westerville, Ohio, and Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, are holding “Drive-In” services where members stay in their cars and listen to a message delivered by their pastor from a small stage (or even from a forklift!) near the front of the parking lot. These services allow churches to meet while still maintaining social distance and honoring the government’s ban on public gatherings.  

Churches are also looking outward, seeking ways to serve their communities in tangible ways despite limitations on public meetings. For example, Faith Life Church in New Albany, Ohio, has delivered lunch to nurses and doctors and has provided meals to needy people in the community. Resurrection Lutheran Church, in Juneau, Alaska, and Canyon Hills Friends Church in Yorba Linda, California, are running food pantries in their communities, and I-Town Church in Fishers, Indiana, set up a pantry at a local school. Trinity Church in Temple, Texas, set up a “prayer tent” and prays and ministers to anyone who pulls into the parking lot. OpenDoor Church, in Burleson, Texas, created a national hotline for people to call in to receive prayer or to submit requests for help with grocery shopping. Even smaller church plants, such as the Oaks Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, are providing free childcare to healthcare workers and buying groceries for those in need. 

Other churches are focusing on helping vulnerable people groups. St. Paul Lutheran Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is serving refugees with their food bank, and River City Church in Montgomery, Alabama, is providing showers and laundry services to the homeless. Still others, like the Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama, are serving their community by opening a virus testing site at one of their church campuses.  

These stories, and many others like them, represent the response of the vast majority of churches to the pandemic. Although the hearts of believers around the country are heavy because they cannot meet with their brothers and sisters on Easter, it is encouraging to see so many congregations walking in obedience to our risen Lord while also obeying Scripture’s mandate to honor governing rulers (Rom. 13:1-7).

Continue reading

In a Fallen World, Easter Reminds Us of the True Victory in the Battle to End Abortion

by Adelaide Holmes

April 9, 2020

While shelter in place and stay at home orders caused by the coronavirus have limited some forms of pro-life work, Christians should use this time to reflect on a needed change in their mindset to end abortion. We should continue to aim to eradicate abortion by making it illegal and unthinkable. But as Easter approaches, we should be especially reminded that we live in a sinful world and our work to end injustice may never be completed until Jesus comes again. If we believe that we can purge our world of sin, we buy into the lie that our world can be made perfect, and we will get burned out in our efforts to love our littlest neighbors and seek justice on their behalf.

We live in a fallen, Genesis 3 world which means there can be no return to a sinless Eden. Unfortunately, this means that abortion may continue to exist in some form until Jesus returns. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament affirm that everyone is sinful. In Romans 3, Paul references Psalm 14 by saying, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” He more explicitly says in Romans 3:23 that, “all have sinned.” With this perspective, Christians engaged in the pro-life movement should recognize that our work to end the sin of legalized abortion may continue for the rest of our lives.

Biblically, Christians understand that abortion is condemned in God’s command explicitly prohibiting murder. Therefore, violation of this command is sin. That is why from the very beginning of the church Christians have opposed abortion and infanticide. In fact, it was the pro-life ethic of the early church that motivated them to oppose infanticide in the Roman Empire. Because of their efforts, infanticide was eventually made illegal. Early Christians were also responsible for making adoption a mainstream practice.

Although the early church did much to reinstate a culture of life in Rome, tragically, it seems that the culture in America has returned to the old pagan practice of child-sacrifice on the altar of choice. In 2018 alone, Planned Parenthood murdered 345,672 babies through abortion. To a Christian, this shouldn’t surprise us. A sinful world will continue to sin until Christ returns.

This raises an important question: how should the reality of sin influence our perspective on ending abortion in America?

First, we should not believe the lie that our efforts are futile and thus quit fighting for justice (or for some, refuse to start). If pro-life advocacy failed to save even one unborn baby, it would still be imperative that we follow God’s command to do justice and advocate for the lives of the unborn. But having a proper understanding of sin requires that we refuse another subconscious lie that tells us our world can be made perfect. Romans 8:22 reminds us that “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth.” Only after the judgement day when God has gathered all believers into His kingdom will He “wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Rev. 21:4).

Our job as Christians isn’t to make the world perfect. Our job is to honor God. By obeying His commands to share the gospel, love our neighbors, and act justly towards every person, we are honoring God, showing our love for Him, and preserving His image in our world as reflected by His people. Because of these commands, Christians have a duty to advocate for the life of our littlest and most vulnerable neighbors. The best way we can seek to love our unborn neighbor as ourselves is to advocate for their life as if it were our own.

Second, Christians need to be committed to fighting the injustice of abortion. This means we aim to eradicate abortion, take whatever victories we can get, all while being aware that this fight may last us our lifetime or beyond. But we should not lose heart. We cannot quit. There is life-saving work being done across the country by local pregnancy resource centers and state legislatures. Earlier this year, President Trump became the first sitting president to address the March for Life. The pro-life movement is seeing progress! But while we are seeing progress, we know the abortion lobby and the culture of death will not bow out without a fight. Thus, having a biblically informed perspective on fighting this injustice will help prevent us from getting burned out. While we should pray and fight for a day when abortion is illegal and rare, we must realize that God has already ordained that day when He judges the world, and sin as we know it is no more.

In this Easter season, Christians remember and celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. For those of us engaged in the pro-life movement, Easter reminds us that our ultimate hope is the victory that Christ won on the cross. But we also remember that as we live in “the time between the times,” between Jesus’ first and second comings, there is gospel work for us to do. So, as we share the message of His death and resurrection, of His forgiveness and His desire to see the world reconciled to Him, we also commit ourselves to obeying His commandments, which include loving our unborn neighbor and seeking their justice, knowing that at the end of time, He will make it so that “death shall be no more.”

Adelaide Holmes is an intern for Life, Culture, and Women’s Advocacy at Family Research Council.

Continue reading

Ways to Read the Bible (Part 1): Devotional Bible Reading

by Patrina Mosley

April 8, 2020

Recently, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell announced at the White House that his company would repurpose their production facilities to make 50,000 face masks a day for health care workers combatting the pandemic. You would think there would be united praise for his patriotism. But left-wing, anti-God critics have ostracized him for simply encouraging Americans to use this extra time at home to read their Bible and connect with God.

He is right.

As many of us are doing our part to #StaySafeStayHome in the midst of the coronavirus, some of us have more time and fewer excuses to do the things we’ve been putting off for a while. Perhaps one of those things is reading the Bible more. There is no better way to get to know God than by spending time in his word. And there is no better time than now.

When it comes to studying the Bible, there are a lot of options. There are different methods, Bible translations, commentaries, podcasts, and sermons. Even within the Bible there are different genres (epistle, historical narrative, poetry, etc.) that can seem confusing if you are unfamiliar with how to interpret the particular genre. The goal of every Christian should be to rightly interpret the Bible.

My hope and prayer is that this blog series will help you learn to read the Bible and have it become a habitual part of your life. More tools will also be mentioned for going deeper in your journey to learning God’s word. It is a journey—not a destination.

So, let’s get started!

The first thing we should always do before reading God’s word is to pray.

Prayer: Starting with sincere prayer humbles us and focuses our heart to hear from God. When we are engaging his word, we are engaging God himself. Praying first helps eliminate distractions by pouring out our heart to God (Psalm 62:8) and laying our burdens down at his feet (Psalm 55:22). After praying, you will often find that God speaks to you through his word about the very things you prayed about. Knowing that he hears you will encourage your faith.

Before Bible study, pray that the Holy Spirit will guide you and help you understand God’s word. John 16:13-15 teaches us that the Holy Spirit is the one who reveals truth to us. Pray that he makes your time in Scripture fruitful.

You can pray the Scriptures as well. What better way to pray for God’s will in your life and others than by praying his word! For example, you can pray, “Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions” (Psalms 119:18).

Devotional vs. Inductive Bible Study

Two components essential to getting closer to God and having our lives transformed are devotional Bible reading and inductive Bible study. What’s the difference?   

Simply put, inductive Bible study (which will be covered in the third part of this series), is where you are spending time looking into the Bible to see what it says about itself, God, and humanity. Devotional Bible reading is time spent looking into your own heart to see where God’s truth needs to be applied to your current circumstances.

Let’s start with devotional reading.

Devotional: This is where we spend time meditating on God’s word to be encouraged and directed by God’s truth. Devotional reading can be done by reading a Bible-based devotional book, a passage of scripture, or both. During devotional time you are looking into your own heart and asking God to illuminate his truth and apply it to your present circumstances. Knowing and thinking (meditating) about God’s word is how we can learn to follow God more closely. Some good questions to ask while meditating on God’s word are:

  • What does this passage say about God? What does it say about me? My sin? My struggles?
  • What is the lesson I need to learn? What example is given that I need to follow?
  • What is the command I need to obey?
  • What fruit or character development needs to take place in my life?
  • What is blocking God’s work in me? What sins do I need to avoid? Consider how you are spending your time, your thought life, your motivations, and relationships.
  • What promise does God have for me to receive? How am I encouraged and strengthened?
  • What is God asking me to surrender or submit to him?

Write it Down: This is where I would encourage you to write down your reflections, pray, and ask God how you can implement his truths in your life. Writing down reflections and truths God reveals to us helps to focus our minds and disentangle our thoughts. By having this record, we can look back and remember what God has said to us. Psalm 1:1-3 tells us that meditating on God’s word day and night brings much fruitfulness in our lives. Beginning and ending our day by thinking about what we have read will bring us into closer fellowship with God and help us to become more like him.

Helpful Tool: The YouVersion Bible app is a free resource that is jam-packed with a variety of Bible reading plans that include devotionals; some even include videos. Take some time to scroll through the app and choose something that speaks to you.

Bible Translations: Remember that when you read the Bible you are reading a translation (the Bible was originally written in Hebrew (Old Testament; a few portions were written in Aramaic) and Greek (New Testament). Here is a short list of some easy-to-read English translations of the Bible: English Standard Version (ESV), Christian Standard Bible (CSB), New International Version (NIV), and New Living Translation (NLT). These Bible translations strike a good balance between literal word-for-word translation and contemporary phraseology.

Tip: There are study Bibles that provides helpful commentary and notes. You can choose a book or a passage from the Bible and read the accompanying notes as part of your daily devotional reading or study time!

Read Part 2

Continue reading

Prayer Point #7: Pray for a Spirit of Generosity

by David Closson

April 8, 2020

The world is reeling from the threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19). For many, our entire way of life has been upended by a novel virus that health experts say presents a particular risk to our elderly and immunocompromised friends and neighbors.

As Christians, we know that one of our greatest spiritual weapons is prayer (Eph. 6:18). But what exactly should Christians pray about amidst these trying times? FRC’s President, Tony Perkins, recently released nine prayer points to guide us in prayer. Each point provides a specific way for Christians to pray during the ongoing crisis.

Over the last few weeks, churches have responded to the coronavirus in heroic and creative ways. Across the country, churches have hosted “Drive-In” worship services, purchased meals for nurses and doctors, provided groceries for needy families, and ministered to their hurting neighbors. In this dark hour, God’s people have sacrificially served one another and their communities and demonstrated remarkable faith. As the pandemic continues to disrupt our normal rhythms of life, opportunities for the church to meet practical needs are increasing. While the government is providing support to churches in the form of forgivable loans (for more information about these loans, see our full analysis), churches are beginning to feel the pinch as charitable giving and tithing declines. Therefore, especially over the next few weeks, Christians need to pray for a spirit of generosity. Here are a few specific ways to pray.

First, pray that Christians will be faithful to give to their local churches. According to a recent poll from LifeWay Christian Resources, 52 percent of pastors have already reported a decrease in giving due to their church’s limited ability to gather. Of those who have seen a giving decline, 60 percent say it has dropped by at least 25 percent. This decline is significant because, according to a recent LifeWay study, 26 percent of churches only have enough operating reserves to cover seven or fewer weeks. For many churches, a sharp decline in giving represents an enormous challenge. Therefore, during these trying times, Christians should commit to praying for and financially supporting their churches.

Second, pray for ministry opportunities. Many people have fallen on hard times: unemployment claims are up, workers are being let go or furloughed, and there is a pervading uncertainty in many communities. As tens of millions of Americans comply with stay-at-home orders and practice social distancing, many are finding themselves lonely, afraid, and uncertain about the future. Amid this social context, the church has an opportunity to serve people and share with them the hope of the gospel. We should pray for Christians to think of creative, outside-the-box ways to generously meet the physical and spiritual needs of their friends and neighbors.

Incredibly, in many places, people are coming to faith as the result of church members thinking outside the box. For example, Trinity Church in Temple, Texas, has seen people put their trust in Christ after a member of the congregation suggested setting up a “prayer tent” in the church parking lot. Over the last two weeks, members of the community have pulled into the parking lot for prayer and counsel. As Senior Pastor Ed Dowell recently told me, “People have given their life to Christ” as a result of the prayer tent ministry.

Third, believers should remember what the Bible says about generosity. In the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi spoke for God when he said, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Mal. 3:10). A similar promise is found in Proverbs 11:25: “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” In the New Testament, Jesus tells His followers, “[G]ive, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Of course, Christians should reject the empty promises of the “prosperity gospel,” which falsely guarantees financial blessing in exchange for sowing a seed in a particular ministry. However, Scripture is clear that God honors the generosity of His people. Although some churches and ministries have tragically misunderstood, abused, and exploited these promises, we should not blunt the message of Scripture, which is that God honors and blesses those who are generous. As Christians are able, we should strive to give to our churches and other ministries engaged in gospel work.

Finally, in his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul addresses the issue of generosity and financial giving. He says, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).

As the country grapples with the realities of the coronavirus, Christians have opportunities to serve their neighbors and communities. In many of these communities, churches are on the front lines of meeting practical needs. Let’s pray for a spirit of generosity among God’s people, so the courageous, creative, and winsome witness of the church may continue to go forth during these uncertain times.

Continue reading

Coronavirus Crisis Crowns New Heroes: “The Forgotten Americans”

by Cathy Ruse

April 7, 2020

The great Lee Edwards of the Heritage Foundation considers “the forgotten American” in a recent column originally published by Fox News.

In times of crisis such as we face now with the coronavirus pandemic, presidents often speak movingly of the ‘forgotten Americans’,” he writes.  

Lee Edwards is not only a scholar of the modern American conservative movement but a participant present at every stage since founding Young America’s Foundation in 1960 and working on the Goldwater campaign in 1964.

In his essay, Edwards speaks of how different presidents have hailed the importance of a forgotten segment of the American people. From FDR’s “forgotten man” in bread lines to Goldwater’s “forgotten Americans” driving big rigs and sitting in churches to Nixon’s “silent majority” concerned about crime and busing to Ronald Reagan and the “five little words that can be found in every Middle American’s dictionary: family, work, neighborhood, peace, and freedom.”

President Donald Trump has his own vision of the “Forgotten American,” reflects Edwards.

Trump’s forgotten Americans, writes Edwards, are those middle-income families whose wealth “has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world.”

Trump wanted to reverse FDR’s course,” he writes. In his Inaugural speech, President Trump spoke of “transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the American people.”  

He promised that “the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”

During this crisis, every day I am grateful for the “forgotten men and women” who have become my new heroes.

Of course, I am speaking of the doctors and nurses and hospital administrators who put their lives on the line every day to serve others. I used to see their professions as one of service, but now I understand it is also one of sacrifice.

But there are many other Americans who have become my heroes. Truly “forgotten Americans” like those who stock the shelves at my grocery store, those who run the gas stations, those who deliver packages to our doorsteps, and those who literally place food at the door of my homebound mother!

None of those deliveries are possible without Americans in the freight industry, who drive those semi-trailer trucks. We drive to St. Louis a few times each year to visit family, and it can be a trial to endure all the trucks that clog the highways, drive too fast, or swerve too close.

But I am so grateful for them today.

Think about those who have worked out the supply chain of our food system. Have I ever had to think about this, even once? I believe it was Napolean who said an army marches on its stomach. This means an army marches on its supply chain. Break the supply chain and a great army can be defeated. And so can we, but here we are. Putting aside a few hiccups—toilet paper and that flour we are still waiting for—our supply chain has been amazing. And so are those who make it happen.

The next time a trucker comes roaring up to my back bumper on Highway 66 or 81 or 64 or 70, along America’s magnificent highway system, I will try to remember this moment of gratitude.

Thank you, truckers! God bless you! And keep on truckin’!

Continue reading

Coronavirus Relief: What Churches and Nonprofits Need to Know About Accessing SBA Loans

by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M. , Connor Semelsberger, MPP

April 4, 2020

On April 3rd, lenders began processing Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) relief loans around the country. As authorized by the “Phase 3” coronavirus relief legislation known as the CARES Act, the $349 billion PPP program will grant forgivable Small Business Administration (“SBA”) loans to small businesses and nonprofits for hardship they have suffered under the coronavirus-inflicted economic shutdown. These loans will cover eight weeks of necessary expenses during the coronavirus crisis.

In conjunction with the launch of the program, the SBA published an interim final rule, effective immediately, with further guidelines for lenders and borrowers—including guidance on religious freedom. SBA also issued an interim final rule on affiliation clarifying that faith-based organizations are exempt from SBA affiliation rules if those rules burden religious exercise. Finally, the SBA published a list of Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”) regarding the ability of faith-based organizations to access these loans—and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (“EIDL”). These FAQs bring significant clarity to many of the issues discussed below.

What follows are some key considerations for churches to understand and think through when applying for these loans.

Church Eligibility

The final text of the CARES Act and subsequent guidance make clear that a tax-exempt nonprofit organization—described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC)—is eligible to apply for relief. Under IRS guidance, the 501(c)(3) definition generally includes churches—even if they have not registered with the IRS—as long as they meet 501(c)(3) requirements. Members of Congress wanted to ensure the program included all churches and houses of worship, even those unregistered churches without a letter of determination from the IRS. To make this clear, a bipartisan group of members headed by Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Representative Mike Johnson (R-La.) sent a letter to key agencies to clarify that these churches are included within the program. Based on the most recent guidance, we can now say they are included.

Some questions have come up about church eligibility for different types of loans under the CARES Act. The PPP created a new SBA loan program based on existing Section 7(a) small business loans, which changed eligibility to include all 501(c)(3) nonprofits, including churches, which previously were not eligible for these small business loans. It had appeared that EIDL loans, which provide working capital for organizations during a time of declared disaster, were only available for small businesses and private nonprofits, which does not include public charities like churches.

However, the FAQs make clear that faith-based entities can receive both EIDL and PPP loans, and do not need a determination letter from the IRS to do so.

The bottom line: All churches, even unregistered ones, can qualify for both EIDL and PPP loans.

Religious Liberty Concerns for Churches and Religious Nonprofits

Based on the most recent guidance in the interim final rules and FAQs, virtually all religious liberty issues in this loan program have been addressed.

One of the concerns had been requirements reflected on the SBA loan application: “All businesses receiving SBA financial assistance must agree not to discriminate in any business practice, including employment practices and services to the public on the basis of categories cited in 13 C.F.R., Parts 112, 113, and 117 of SBA Regulations. All borrowers must display the ‘Equal Employment Opportunity Poster’ prescribed by SBA.” Certain of these religious and sex nondiscrimination provisions in the SBA code, based on the way courts have interpreted such provisions, could run counter to church statements of faith and hiring practices and violate their faith.

The interim final rule addresses these concerns in part by reiterating religious liberty protections, stating that “all loans guaranteed by the SBA pursuant to the CARES Act will be made consistent with constitutional, statutory, and regulatory protections for religious liberty, including the First Amendment to the Constitution, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” The rule also provides for the application of 13 C.F.R. 113.3-1h, an SBA regulation which states that “[n]othing in [SBA nondiscrimination regulations] shall apply to a religious corporation, association, educational institution or society with respect to the membership or the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution or society of its religious activities.”

The problem was that while 113.3-1h is helpful, it does not cover all relevant religious liberty concerns. As attorney Ian Speir, whose practice at Nussbaum Speir Gleason PLLC specializes in churches and religious nonprofits, points out: 13 C.F.R. 113.3-1h mirrors the Section 702 exemption in Title VII. That exemption has largely been interpreted to permit religious preferences in hiring, but not tolerate practices deemed to be other forms of “discrimination.” And “sex discrimination” may include firing an employee for out-of-wedlock pregnancy or for sex-related lifestyle choices contrary to the employer’s faith. Further, if a ministry has fewer than 15 employees, it’s not currently subject to Title VII; but if it takes SBA funds, it will be subject to the SBA’s regulations—so this ministry may find itself subject to new mandates as a result of accepting aid.

In the final analysis, however, any such outstanding concerns remain minimal.

The FAQs make expressly clear that:

  • Faith-based organizations can receive the loans regardless of whether they provide “secular social services.” (As the FAQs say, “no otherwise eligible organization will be disqualified from receiving a loan because of the religious nature, religious identity, or religious speech of the organization.”);
  • The religious instruction limitation referenced in 13 CFR 120.110 will not be applied, and will thus not inhibit religious organizations in how they use these loans;
  • Faith-based organizations can use the loans for anything that a secular organization can (no “additional restrictions on how faith-based organizations may use the loan proceeds”);
  • Churches are “not required to apply to the IRS to receive tax-exempt status” in order to access the loans; and
  • Faith-based organizations will not be required to sacrifice their “independence, autonomy, right of expression, religious character, and authority over [their] governance” in order to access these loans.

The FAQs also make clear that religious liberty protections are to be comprehensively applied throughout the loan program:

Consistent with certain federal nondiscrimination laws, SBA regulations provide that the recipient may not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, age, or national origin with regard to goods, services, or accommodations offered. 13 C.F.R.§113.3(a). But SBA regulations also make clear that these nondiscrimination requirements do not limit a faith-based entity’s autonomy with respect to membership or employment decisions connected to its religious exercise. 13 CFR §113.3-1(h). And as discussed in Question 4, SBA recognizes the various protections for religious freedom enshrined in the Constitution and federal law that are not altered or waived by receipt of Federal financial assistance. SBA therefore clarifies that its regulations apply with respect to goods, services, or accommodations offered generally to the public by recipients of these loans, but not to a faith-based organization’s ministry activities within its own faith community. For example, SBA’s regulations will require a faith-based organization that operates a restaurant or thrift store open to the public to serve the public without regard to the protected traits listed above. But SBA’s regulations do not apply to limit a faith-based organization’s ability to distribute food or clothing exclusively to its own members or co-religionists. Indeed, SBA will not apply its nondiscrimination regulations in a way that imposes substantial burdens on the religious exercise of faith-based loan recipients, such as by applying those regulations to the performance of church ordinances, sacraments, or religious practices, unless such application is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest.”

A few remaining concerns: It should be noted that these loans do constitute “federal financial assistance” and thus obligate the borrower to comply with any attendant requirements. However, as explained above, the religious liberty concerns regarding those requirements are almost all addressed, and the FAQs make clear that such requirements do not extend beyond the life of the loan in any event.

However, churches may be obligated by state and local nondiscrimination requirements due to taking these loans, a point also observed by attorney Ian Speir. This is likely something that churches will have to consider based on consultations with their attorney or other professionals familiar with the legal landscape in their state.

The bottom line: While a few, smaller concerns remain, churches and other faith-based entities can be generally confident their religious freedom will be protected in this loan program.

What to Know When Applying for These Loans

After weighing all these considerations, churches and nonprofits with fewer than 500 employees (or those who qualify under the interim final rule on affiliation) that want to apply for PPP loans can find information on the SBA website. To begin, interested organizations must find a local bank or credit union that is eligible to administer these loans. The SBA is working on adding many new lenders to expand the reach of the program. To apply with the lender, the organization must fill out this application form and provide payroll documentation. If approved, the lender will work to administer the funds promptly, with the goal of them being available the same day.

This program is administered as a loan, but if the funds are used on essential payroll expenses, it will essentially act as a grant, and the loan amount will be forgiven in full. Churches considering applying for the PPP loan should keep these key facts in mind:

In order to get forgiveness, the organization must use the loan for:

  • Payroll costs, including benefits;
  • Interest on mortgage obligations, incurred before February 15, 2020;
  • Rent, under lease agreements in force before February 15, 2020; and
  • Utilities, for which service began before February 15, 2020.

Payroll costs include:

  • Salary, wages, commissions, or tips (capped at $100,000 on an annualized basis for each employee);
  • Employee benefits including costs for vacation, parental, family, medical, or sick leave; allowance for separation or dismissal; payments required for the provisions of group health care benefits including insurance premiums; and payment of any retirement benefit;
  • State and local taxes assessed on compensation.

Requests for loan forgiveness will be submitted to the lender. They will include documents that verify the number of full-time equivalent employees and pay rates, as well as the payments on eligible mortgage, lease, and utility obligations. An organization will owe money on the loan if it is used for anything other than payroll costs, mortgage interest, rent, and utility payments over the eight weeks after getting the loan. No more than 25% of the forgiven amount may be for non-payroll costs.

There are also requirements to maintain payroll and staff:

  • Number of Staff: Loan forgiveness will be reduced if the number of full-time employees is reduced.
  • Level of Payroll: Loan forgiveness will be reduced if salaries and wages are reduced by more than 25 percent for any employee that made less than $100,000 annualized in 2019.
  • Re-Hiring: Employers have until June 30, 2020, to restore full-time employees and salary levels for any changes made between February 15, 2020, and April 26, 2020.

If the organization must pay back any loan amount, it will be paid back with 1 percent interest. All payments are deferred for six months; however, interest will continue to accrue over this period. The loan will be due in two years.

EIDL loans are another option for nonprofit organizations to consider if they have been met with financial hardship. This program provides eligible organizations with working capital loans of up to $2 million that can provide necessary economic support. Eligible organizations that need immediate help replacing lost revenues, can receive an advance of up to $10,000 that will not have to be repaid. Those interested in applying for EIDL loans can do so here.

It can be challenging to determine whether it is in your organization’s best interest to apply for federal financial programs like the Paycheck Protection Program. The coronavirus crisis has brought the American economy to a standstill, and many nonprofit organizations are struggling with financial instability. However, government aid programs that may help organizations financially may also come with some unintended consequences. Fortunately, Congress has intended to make the PPP open to religious organizations in the same way small businesses are—without additional government stipulations that dramatically change how religious organizations operate. The FRC team will continue to work alongside allied organizations to ensure that the congressional intent of the CARES Act (to not discriminate against religious organizations for financial aid) is carried out when implementing programs like the PPP.

To help the church navigate these and other challenges we are confronted with due to the coronavirus, we have created a resource page at FRC.org/church. Please visit us there and let us know how else we can be of help.

Continue reading

How Parents Can Create Loving Homes in a Time of Crisis

by Nicolas Reynolds

April 4, 2020

Worship leader Sean Feucht recently tweeted:

Our kids won’t remember much about the effects of this virus (social, economic, political, etc) but they will remember how HOME FELT while the world freaks out. Little eyes are watching how we handle this crisis. Let’s step it up and ¿#ProtectOurPeace

Feucht’s words could not be any more poignant during the COVID-19 crisis.

Now That You’re All Home

This is a time when the whole world is being affected by a phenomenon, comparable to the First and Second World Wars. And yet, our crisis is still different. We are not fighting a seen enemy but an invisible one—the coronavirus. But where is the commoner’s front line? Where can he or she make a difference? In the home.

With most schools closing their doors, and with most jobs either worked from home or suspended, families have been provided a rare opportunity. Families are home, together, indefinitely. Being together under the same roof, for days on end, is brand new to many families. There is plenty that can tempt us to become annoyed by during this time of national crisis. But family togetherness should not be one of those things. This is a blessing. This is an opportunity.

It’s About What You Have, Not What You Don’t

You’re unable to eat out, or spend time at the movies, or even buy the freshest produce at the grocery store. But it’s not about what you don’t have. It’s about what you do have—each other—your sons and daughters. When the absence of every-day luxuries you are used to leaves you frustrated, remember what you have, remember the precious individuals you have the privilege of raising. Unstructured time—what you usually have very little of—you probably have much more of now. You now have the ability to spend extra time with the little ones that you work hard to care for, provide for, and protect.

When your children grow up, they’re not going to remember the instability of the Dow Jones during the COVID-19 crisis. They’ll remember when you asked them to help you cook dinner, when you did puzzles with them, when you made cards to send to loved ones in light of not being able to see them face to face. Though the logistics of this crisis can be very concerning, don’t let it weigh on your children. Let them remember the joy-filled activities that replaced the normal cycle of their school buses and your 9 to 5.

You’re Always Teaching Your Children, Chalkboard or No Chalkboard

Most associate “homeschooling” with pencils, chalkboards, and curriculum. That is one form of it, yet whether or not you realize it, you are always homeschooling your children. They are home, and you are teaching—teaching them what learning, responsibility, and flexibility look like. You’re not at the front of their classroom, but you are now at the center of their focus, providing them an example of what it looks like to lead and to love. This was also the case prior to the virus, but now you’re on the clock 24 hours a day.

Your children have a front-row seat to your leadership. When you’re inconvenienced because Walmart grocery-pickup is out of your favorite brand of cereal, your children see how you respond, how you cope with inconvenience, and what you value. Children grow up to be adults that either want to follow in their parents’ footsteps or steer clear of their example. Take the opportunity to patiently endure the inconveniences and pressures of this crisis and be an honorable example that your children will want to follow.

The Outside World and Your Children’s World

The world certainly does not feel safe. This crisis has caused most to doubt their security and stability. Yet the world of your children, particularly when they are very young, is not the 50 states nor the seven continents—it’s you, their parents. Fear may permeate the outside world, but it doesn’t have to penetrate the world of your children.

Take this prime opportunity and raise your children with a cognitive understanding of where your home’s hope comes from. As Romans 15:13 reads, “Our hope comes from God. May He fill you with joy and peace because of your trust in Him. May your hope grow stronger by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Put this current crisis into perspective, pointing the eyes of your household toward the perfect example of a father—our supreme, perfect, loving, and gracious Heavenly Father (2 Corinthians 4:17).

The coronavirus presents the world with complications and worry, but we have also been blessed with opportunities that we may never have again. Little eyes are watching; little hearts are learning. Seize the opportunity—cherish, lead, and love your children with the time the Lord has given you.

Nicolas Reynolds is a former intern at Family Research Council.

Continue reading

Schooling at Home: Educational Resources for Parents

by Meg Kilgannon

April 3, 2020

With much of the nation under “shelter in place” or “stay at home” advisories, most school buildings have closed, some for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. There is a wide disparity among school districts in terms of how individual schools will help parents facilitate learning. American parents find themselves in an unprecedented situation: working from home (if they are so fortunate) while simultaneously serving as school teacher, administrator, and child wrangler.

Like many of you, many of us here at FRC are working from home during this crisis. Like you, we are managing family needs and school while working to protect and promote family values in our nation’s capital and across the country.

Some of our staff has always homeschooled. These families are challenged by canceled co-ops, classes, therapies, sports, and playgroups—just like traditional school families. Others on staff have children in Christian schools or public schools. And with all schools closed, these parents are navigating a variety of situations. Some schools have moved seamlessly to online studies; others are still figuring things out. But all of us are struggling with the same less-than-ideal situation and are challenged to make the best of it for ourselves, our families, and our country.

In this post, we will share some resources we have found useful, and would love to hear from you about what you are doing to manage your children’s education during this time. This is a very real way we can support each other and do our part to help keep America safe and healthy.

The U.S. Department of Education’s coronavirus page is jam packed with information for both schools and parents. Scroll down for the “At Home Activities” section which includes links to federal agencies with worksheets and virtual tours that can keep children both entertained and informed about our beautiful country’s natural resources, wildlife, space programs, geography, and the arts. There are also reminders and links about staying healthy and preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

Some of our favorite general advice has come from parents who are also leaders or educational advocates.

The videos on this website are fun, informative, and reassuring. Just a few minutes on this website will convince you that you really can do it—you really can work and school your children at home during this crisis (and maybe even anytime). The enthusiasm of these Texas moms is contagious and just what we need.

If your school district is on hold or you are taking the rest of the year off from school, these activities will keep children and teens busy while parents are working from home. As FRC is unable to vet each item on every website, we encourage you to trust your judgement in finding materials that are appropriate for your family and reflect your values.

Resources for Parents Who Find Themselves Schooling at Home, by Subject

In Virginia, for example, parents in some districts are still waiting for resources and lessons from schools. Other districts and states have moved nimbly to online learning. In case you’re waiting for school resources, want to supplement lessons provided, or just need additional help, we offer the following list of resources. FRC believes in the primacy of parental rights, and works to protect parents’ role as the primary educators of their children. We expect that parents will maintain vigilance in reviewing materials for use by children who are schooling at home.

For Math:

These websites have everything from math fact worksheets to projects and lectures that support higher level mathematics.

For Language Arts:

Take this time to read. Perhaps have a read aloud book for the whole family. Encourage each family member to keep a journal during this time. It will be a record of an important period in American and world history—the Pandemic of 2019-2020. Write letters to friends and loved ones who may feel isolated during this time.

If your school, library, or any organization recommends a reading list, carefully monitor those recommendations. As our friends at Parent and Child Loudoun can attest, there is problematic and even pornographic content lurking in children’s and young adult literature these days.

For Autistic/Sensory Integration Issue Children:

This resource from the UK is interesting and helpful for autism and sensory issues.

The University of Virginia has helps for parents of children on the autism spectrum, including webinars, zoom conferences, and scheduling ideas, just to name a few. Their most recent newsletter has helps and links.

Science and Nature:

Easy science projects can involve cooking and baking. What makes bread rise? What happens when you prepare a recipe but leave out an ingredient? Spring is a great time to start a small herb garden or take on a bigger project. Victory Gardens are back in style, which link American history to natural science and conservation. Take pictures of plants and trees on your walks and identify them from books or online resources. Teach children practical skills, like figuring out ordinal directions through clues from nature.

From the founders of ABCmouse is Adventure Academy, a resource suitable for 8 to 12-year-olds. While not free, it offers animated and interactive games, projects, and lessons geared toward elementary-aged students.

As with all subjects, science topics can be overly politicized or include concepts like Darwinism and “mindfulness.” Math word problems can include scenarios which subtly undermine Christian teaching on marriage, such as a same-sex couple planning a wedding, or reference to a student’s two dads or two moms. We remind you to be on guard for these types of messages in your children’s assignments.

Physical Education:

Getting fresh air and sunshine is important for everyone’s physical and mental health. Please maintain social distancing while on walks or runs. Jumping rope (sanitized ropes only please), skipping races, and scavenger hunts are all options for getting your heart rate up and burning off some energy. Here are a few links we liked:

Art Therapy:

How about coloring pages and connect-the-dots using characters from the Bible?

History:

Suitable for high school students and more advanced middle school students, WallBuilders—an organization dedicated to the accurate teaching and representation of American history—offers helpful links and resources on everything from Creationism, to Black History, to the Founding Fathers. While this site is recommended for older students, it does include links to YouTube, so parental supervision is recommended.

Virtual Tours – These websites host their own tours, making it a little safer than YouTube tours which also can come with objectionable advertising, suggested content you might not prefer, or an automatic continuation to a site you don’t approve. You can find tours of museums in Washington, D.C., Buckingham Palace, Musee D’Orsay in Paris, churches from around the world, and many more. But we remind parents to monitor children’s activities anytime they are online.

More Resources

Finally, with the disclaimer that we have not reviewed each and every item here, these links include resources for every school subject with multiple links for each. This is for parents to review themselves and decide if individual links are helpful to your family. For example, PBS has some problematic content, but that doesn’t mean everything on the website is dangerous. It’s important for parents to select materials from this list and direct children to your approved resources, not just let kids log on and click around.

Share Your Resources and Ideas With Us!

Please share your resources and ideas with us by going to the Contact FRC page and entering “Schooling at Home Resources” in the subject line, and we will post a follow-up blog with what everybody shared. We’d love to hear from you! We are all in this together, working, praying, and staying healthy. Americans will do what we must to defeat this virus and keep our families strong, safe, and free for generations to come.

Meg Kilgannon is an Education Research Associate at Family Research Council.

Continue reading

Archives