Author archives: Daniel Hart

Can the Pandemic Help Renew Home and Family Life?

by Daniel Hart

May 29, 2020

Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, a little-noted but interesting trend is occurring—home improvement stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot have seen their sales rise higher than expected as a result of people spending more time at home and deciding to take on new or long put-off projects around the house.

I can personally attest to this. My wife and I decided it would be great to raise our own chickens so we could have fresh eggs for our family and be more self-sufficient. We went about researching how to raise chickens and got five baby chicks, who are now two months old and are able to live outside. Our extra time at home has allowed us to devote more energy to our chicken project, which is now involving my retired parents and family friends who are all helping us build a chicken coop and put up fencing to protect them from predators.

All of this to say that the pandemic is leading myself and many around the country to think more about how we can cultivate our homes, which in turn can lead to new and perhaps unexpected projects that can draw our families closer together as we work with each other to accomplish them.

There is also something deeply satisfying about working with our hands to improve our homes. This reminds me of something profound recently written by John Cuddeback:

We have lost something today, but we can get it back. Our very humanity calls for living and working in our bodies, with natural things, regularly. This means all of us. We have been separated from our own humanity, from our proper homeland, and we are suffering, even if we have never known anything else.

I say we can ‘get it back’—not because we ourselves have necessarily had it before, but because it is our birthright. Our own ancestors had it; we need it; and we can still do it, even if differently, and by fits and starts.

It need not be the work of our profession, or work that makes money. It just needs to be real and regular, preferably in our home.

Each of us can make our daily lives more human by choosing tried and true forms of human work. Certain kinds of work have shown themselves to be rich and reliable as especially human modes of acting.

Here is a short list we might consider:

1. hand-crafting in natural substances: wood, stone, metal or fiber
2. caring for the earth, plants, or animals.
3. preparing and preserving natural foods
4. any aesthetic work with hand tools, such as drawing, painting, carving
5. Miscellaneous such as cutting, splitting, and burning wood for heat  

It seems to me that doing these kinds of projects by hand is intimately connected with family. When we share in these activities with our families and teach ourselves and our children to do them, we are not only helping our homes become more self-sufficient during uncertain times, we are also participating in a primal familial bonding and formative experience that has the great potential to increase love and unity amongst each other while at the same time building character.

Families in the modern age desperately need to share in this type of formative bonding with each other. As Yuval Levin has recently written, there is a distinct sense in which the breakdown of the traditional family structure in our time has contributed to a breakdown in character formation that is essential for an individual to become a healthy, thriving member of society. He writes:

…The family forms us by imprinting upon us and giving us models to emulate and patterns to adopt.

The family does all this by giving each of its members a role, a set of relations to others, a body of responsibilities, and a network of privileges. Each of these, in its own way, is given more than earned and is obligatory more than chosen. Although the core human relationship at the heart of most families—the marital relationship—is one we enter into by choice, once we have entered it that relationship constrains the choices we may make. The other core familial bond—the parent-child relationship—often is not optional to begin with, and surely must not be treated as optional after that. It imposes heavy obligations on everyone involved, and yet it plays a crucial role in forming us to be capable of freedom and choice.

In this sense, the institution of the family helps us see that institutions in general take shape around our needs and, if they are well shaped, can help turn those needs into capacities. They literally make virtues of necessities, and forge our weaknesses and vulnerabilities into strengths and capabilities. They are formative because they act on us directly, and they offer us a kind of character formation for which there is no substitute…  

One potential positive effect of the coronavirus pandemic is that it gives families an unexpected occasion to renew our focus on our home life and build strong, formative, and lasting bonds through shared home-cultivating activities. Let us not waste the opportunity.

Ethnic Cleansing by Assimilation: Religious Persecution in China

by Bethany Bachman

April 28, 2020

There is a saying in China: ‘If you are not one of our kind, your heart is toward another side.’ Being different is what is so threatening to the Chinese government.”

These are the words of Jewher Ilham, spoken during a recent event at Family Research Council. Ms. Ilham is the daughter of a well-known Uyghur economist, writer, and academic who was given a life sentence for speaking out about freedom of religion and thought, and for seeking reconciliation between his people and the Han Chinese.

Uyghurs are a predominantly Muslim ethnic community, the majority of whom live in Xinjiang province. It’s there that some of China’s most blatant abuses of religious liberty are currently taking place.

Eyewitness testimonies, leaked documents, and even Google Earth searches over the past year have all revealed a chilling reality: China has imprisoned at least a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other ethnic minorities in detention camps in Xinjiang. Initially, Chinese authorities flatly denied the existence of the camps. But as World Magazine reported, with evidence mounting, the Chinese authorities changed their tune to claim these camps were “vocational training centers for Muslim minorities with terrorist tendencies.”

According to Ms. Ilham, the family members of the missing are told that their loved ones are being “trained to be productive workers.” But she says many of the imprisoned Uyghurs are scholars or doctors who require no such vocational training.

Undercover footage from one of the camps under construction—obtained by a reporter for the website Bitter Winter who was later arrested by Chinese authorities and is still missing—revealed double-locked doors, barred windows fitted with metal screens, and surveillance cameras in every room, including bathrooms.Leaked government documents detail a daily regimen of indoctrination in communist thought, Han Chinese (Mandarin) language lessons, and strictly monitored activities from toileting to daily exercise, which takes place in a yard surrounded by barbed wire. Other documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists detail education in basic human interaction and daily living, reflecting a widespread Chinese belief that Uyghurs are “backward.”

Leaked specifications from one camp reveal a facility built to hold detainees for a year at a minimum. The detainees are permitted contact with their families, however this concession seems to have been engineered only to bolster the Chinese characterization of the camps as a benevolent social program. Testimony from ex-inmates reveals the reality: despite a stated goal of health and safety for “students,” ex-detainees relate having seen others die from poor living conditions and a lack of medical treatment. They have also reported experiencing or witnessing torture, beatings, and rape.

Some past incidents of violence provided Beijing with official reasoning for their “anti-terrorism” efforts among Uyghurs, but the methods they use to determine who is to be imprisoned reveal a goal of assimilation, not correction or rehabilitation. Using a massive network of surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition technology, access to utility and cell phone usage data, and monitoring other odd indicators of “suspicious behavior” such as entering one’s home through the back door, the government has largely used artificial intelligence to produce huge lists of “potential threats.”

According to reporting in Foreign Policy, when detainees complete their indoctrination, they do not return to freedom. Most, if not all, are involuntarily sent to work in sweatshops, even though many are skilled scholars, scientists, or businesspeople. This involuntary labor allows for continued state surveillance and control. Of particular concern for Americans is the mounting evidence that American apparel brands may be benefiting directly from the cheap labor Uyghurs are being forced to supply. The White House has yet to act, but experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies are recommending the Trump administration impose sanctions on companies engaged in human rights abuses.

Despite the state’s efforts to put a benevolent face on “re-education” efforts among Uyghur “students,” it is clear that this “re-education” is actually ideological ethnic cleansing enabled by technology from which there is no escape. President Xi Jinping himself is quoted in leaked documents, saying the government should use the tools of “dictatorship” to rid the region of Islam. Another government document likens the “unhealthy thoughts” of Uyghurs to a virus that must be eradicated.

Christians Come Under Communist Party Scrutiny

The detention camps are a horrifying example of the extremes to which China’s state-run religious persecution will go, but Uyghurs are by no means the only people group targeted by the Chinese Communist Party. As Ms. Ilham relates, Beijing in recent years has increasingly targeted Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong, and even non-religious groups like human rights lawyers. In fact, says Ilham, “China is the number one nation in the world for [numbers of] journalists and lawyers locked up in prison.”

Christians in the West have long been aware of China’s persecution of Christians. In recent years, however, many “unregistered” churches had emerged from secrecy—meeting in public, buying buildings or operating out of leased spaces, and erecting crosses to mark their church homes. Some congregations grew to be quite large, such as prominent house church Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu.

But as the church in China grew, Beijing once again took notice, and the crackdowns began. As International Christian Concern has reported, government forces have toppled crosses, demolished church buildings, arrested and intimidated pastors and church members, pressured landlords to terminate church leases, and installed facial recognition technology inside those church buildings that remain open.

Early Rain Covenant Church pastor Wang Yi, a former legal scholar, had been outspoken in his criticism of the Chinese government and its persecution of Christians. Wang, along with his wife and over 100 other church members, was placed under arrest last year. Most were released soon after, but those who were not natives of Chengdu were sent back to their hometowns. Pastor Wang’s wife was finally released in June of last year, but she remains under house arrest.

Wang, after a closed-door trial, was recently sentenced to nine years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” and “operating an illegal business.” According to Bob Fu of ChinaAid, this is the longest prison sentence given to a house church pastor in more than a decade. Pastor Wang remains in good spirits and health, but members of the Early Rain congregation continue to face the loss of their community and fear over future government action, even as they have been forced back underground.

It comes as no surprise that China’s persecution of Christians has spread to include the resources upon which they depend. As World Magazine reported, when users of the popular YouVersion app experienced the program crashing because of China’s firewall technology, three Chinese Christians developed their own Bible reading app called WeDevote. The app grew in popularity until it was the top-ranked Bible app in China.

WeDevote became a source for Bible study resources, reading plans, commentaries, devotionals, and—as the creators were thrilled to discover—an evangelism tool. Trouble began when officials contacted one of the creators and let him know they were monitoring his every move, as well as his wife’s. Authorities threatened to charge the company with creating an illegal app, so the creators elected to shut down and transfer ownership to Hong Kong.

This solved access issues for a time, but the app was recently removed from the Android App Store (operated by Google). It remains available in Apple’s App Store, but most cell phone users in China use Android-based technology.

Many Christians in China recently learned even death cannot end their persecution—as, in some provinces, only secular funerals are now permitted. World News recently reported how, in other areas, strict regulations now dictate who may participate in funerals and how many attendees may read from the Bible or sing. Authorities threaten arrest and, in some cases, have interrupted services and even arrested a family member of the deceased while she was praying.

In late December, Christians received news of yet another crackdown in the form of a nationwide mandate. According to the Catholic News Agency, the 41 articles of this new policy contain new threats to those who dare to pledge their allegiance to Jesus, rather than the Communist Party. Yet millions of believers remain faithful.

When the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with a question of government loyalty, He responded in wisdom, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17 ESV). Xi Jinping and the Chinese communist regime do not understand that the hearts and minds of Chinese Christians do not and never will belong to them. Christians have found freedom that transcends earthly circumstances and daily live out Jesus’ admonition: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:38, ESV).

Will We Let Them Stand Alone?

We must not abandon our brothers and sisters in Christ, nor the other vulnerable minorities subjected to oppression and persecution for their beliefs. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right upon which all other freedoms depend. Thankfully, some of our nation’s leaders recognize this right and have taken action in the following ways:

  • The U.S. Congressional Commission on China produced a lengthy report listing four acts that qualify the nation as committing crimes against humanity.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives approved the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which calls for targeted sanctions against officials in the Chinese Communist Party. The act encourages the U.S. president to condemn China’s persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and call for the closure of the detention camps there.
  • The Commerce Department has blacklisted 28 Chinese surveillance technology companies, barring them from buying technology from the United States without government approval.

As you consider the plight of Christians, Uyghurs, and others experiencing persecution for their beliefs in China, here are a few areas we encourage you to focus your prayers:

  • Pray for protection for Pastor Wang Yi and the rest of the Early Rain Covenant Church community, that they would find new joy and peace in their faith and that God would raise leaders to continue the work of the church.
  • Pray for revival in China and supernatural conversions within the Chinese Communist Party.
  • Pray for comfort for Uyghurs living abroad—according to Jewher Ilham, every Uyghur overseas has between one and ten family members in the detention camps. Pray they would encounter the hope that only Jesus can give.
  • Pray for the leaders of the United States, the international community, and governing bodies, that they would continue calling out injustice and using their influence to affect change for millions of vulnerable people.
  • Pray that the Chinese government will not use the coronavirus pandemic as a cover to place additional restrictions on the religious freedom of Christians and other minority groups.

Bethany Bachman is a Contributing Writer at Family Research Council.

To Abandon the Nuclear Family Ideal Is to Abandon Being Human

by Daniel Hart

March 12, 2020

With the publication of “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake” in the latest issue of The Atlantic, well-known commentator and journalist David Brooks ignited a raging debate in the blogosphere, which resulted in a symposium hosted by the Institute for Family Studies in which eight writers and scholars responded to Brooks’ article.

Putting aside the provocative title (for now), Brooks’ mammoth 9,000-word piece can be boiled down to one central idea: in our fragmented culture full of victims of detached nuclear families, our society must find better ways to take care of these victims through a renewed emphasis on extended families and “forged families”— communities of support that surround these children and adults so that they can, in Brooks’ words, “live and grow under the loving gaze of a dozen pairs of eyes, and be caught, when they fall, by a dozen pairs of arms.”

Brooks’ article is a fascinating read. He goes through the history of the societal trends that have affected the American family, starting in the 1800’s during the “era of the extended clans,” then moving to the golden age of the nuclear family in the 1950’s and early 60’s, then into the broad pattern of disintegration that affected the family starting in the late 60’s, and finally into our current era full of broken homes and ascendant individualism.

Brooks then launches into an impressive illustration of how “forged families” are sprouting up across the country, citing numerous examples of people forming common living spaces organically through websites like CoAbode, Common, and Kin as well as organizations that are helping those who are in particular need of a forged family like The Other Side Academy for felons and Becoming A Man for disadvantaged youths. He concludes by emphasizing the importance of expanding the idea of what we traditionally think of as a family, since “Americans are hungering to live in extended and forged families, in ways that are new and ancient at the same time. This is a significant opportunity, a chance to thicken and broaden family relationships…”

Is a “Communal Ethos” Supplanting the Nuclear Family?

Brooks’ article is an important contribution to the public discussion of the problems that plague the family and what we can do as a society to help this bedrock institution. But it is also riddled with puzzling generalizations and odd assertions. In his concluding paragraph, he says this: “But a new and more communal ethos is emerging, one that is consistent with 21st-century reality and 21st-century values.” The tone Brooks uses here is positive. But one has to wonder: Is this a good thing? Why should we be celebrating “21st-century values” when they are the result of the “21st-century reality” of disintegrated families?

Part of the problem with Brooks’ thesis is the confusing manner in which he frames it. He prefaces his article with this: “The family structure we’ve held up as the cultural ideal for the past half century has been a catastrophe for many. It’s time to figure out better ways to live together.” But later, he suggests that the nuclear family is a good option, albeit one option among many other equally good options: “The two-parent family … is not about to go extinct. For many people, especially those with financial and social resources, it is a great way to live and raise children.” This ends up being a backhanded compliment, implying that having a nuclear family is only a good option for people who are well off.

More problematic is the way that Brooks (perhaps unintentionally) seems to set nuclear families and “forged families” against each other, which makes his argument similar to a “chicken or the egg” dilemma. Brooks envisions a world in which forged families are in place around broken families so that children from these families have a better chance of being supported and don’t fall through cracks. This is certainly a laudable goal, but it also illustrates a central problem with his thesis: The kinds of people that one would want in a “forged family” are people who themselves came from a strong nuclear family with a supportive mother and father to begin with, because this family structure provides the best outcomes for children and society in general. Shouldn’t our focus be on trying to uphold and support these nuclear families?

In an excellent response to Brooks’ article, sociologist Bradford Wilcox acknowledges the important role that extended and forged families can play in supporting disintegrated nuclear families, but strongly cautions against the tendency of thinking that these structures can “replace” the nuclear family. Wilcox points to social science data showing that outcomes for children raised by a single parent and grandparent are no different than if they had been raised by a single parent alone, and that children raised by extended family without either parent fair even worse. In the case of forged families, Wilcox reveals a much more disturbing pattern:

Over the years, study after study has detailed the many possible downsides to introducing unrelated adults, especially men, into children’s lives without the presence of those children’s married parents.

This is because, sadly, adults who are unrelated to children are much more likely to abuse or neglect them than their own parents are. One federal report found that children living in a household with an unrelated adult were about nine times more likely to be physically, sexually, or emotionally abused than children raised in an intact nuclear family.

All of this points to what is most problematic about Brooks’ article—how he deemphasizes and discounts the nuclear family ideal. It is certainly true that we are living in an era in which the nuclear family has been abandoned in innumerable ways, but the fact remains: every person who has ever lived has a mother and a father—a nuclear family. Furthermore, every human being has an innate longing to know and love their biological parents, even if they don’t know them. We can no more abandon the nuclear family ideal than we can abandon being human.

It may be possible to reject the nuclear family through adultery, divorce, abortion, etc., and it is certainly true that millions of children have been tragically left behind by the failure of their parents, but all of this is not the fault of the institution of the nuclear family. It is the fault of the people within a nuclear family who often fail to uphold the institution through love—by staying true to their spouse and caring for and nurturing their children.

Where Human Flourishing Finds Its Source

Still, there are many brilliant nuggets of wisdom and fresh insights in Brooks’ “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake” and in his symposium response to those who critiqued him, particularly when he discusses how we should instill a sense in our children that we all have a variety “families” outside of our nuclear families that we should work to nurture: our churches, our friend groups, our places of work, our schools, community organizations, the military, etc. But taken as a whole, Brooks’ article casts a suspicious eye at the nuclear family ideal.

This is tragic, because despite Brooks’ best intentions with his article, he loses sight of the fact that in order to solve societal ills, we must focus on root causes. While it may be true that extended and “forged” families play an important supporting role in our larger societal life, they can never replace a mother and father. As study after study has shown, if we want to get at the root causes of our societal ills, we have to find ways of keeping moms, dads, and their children united as a loving family.

Brooks’ article is also a fresh reminder of the importance of ideals. When we deemphasize and sideline ideals, we sideline our most innate and aspirational yearnings and sell ourselves short as human beings. Far from being a mistake, the nuclear family ideal is the gold standard by which human flourishing finds its source.

Ending Abortion One Pregnant Woman at a Time

by Daniel Hart

February 19, 2020

Why do women have abortions, and what can the pro-life movement do to help these women so that they don’t have them?

In terms of directly saving unborn lives, this question should be at the heart of pro-life activism.

Numerous studies have been conducted asking women who have had abortions what their reasons were for going through with the procedure. The primary reason that most women give is financial hardship—depending on the study, between 40 percent and 73 percent say they could not afford the baby.

Emily Berning and her husband founded Let Them Live in 2017 to help solve this problem. In an interview, Berning described how she wanted to start an organization dedicated to helping women with unplanned pregnancies financially after she realized that “there is an untapped market for financial aid and financial support for women who are on the edge, about to have an abortion, to help bring them back and choose life instead.”

According to Berning, the pro-life movement needs to “refocus on these moms because, ultimately, they’re the ones walking into that abortion clinic and they’re the ones who [are] ultimately deciding to [have the abortion].”

Let Them Live’s unique approach to helping women begins with posting a story about a pregnant woman in financial need on their website, with the estimated amount of money the woman will need to get back on her feet and carry her baby to term. By gathering donations through their website (often called “crowdfunding”), Let Them Live has been able to save 26 babies from abortion in the last year. To protect the donations from being misused, Berning says that Let Them Live pays the bills of women in need directly to the utility company or the landlord.

Berning has also emphasized that paying for the short-term financial obligations of pregnant women in need cannot be where their help ends. “We never want to leave the moms we help high and dry so we also connect them with local resources, jobs, and financial literacy classes to ensure their future success.”

Let Them Live is an inspiring example of a startup pro-life organization that is meeting the needs of women with unplanned pregnancies where they are at in order to prevent them from aborting their babies. What is especially encouraging is that a similar strategy for saving unborn lives is being put into practice in a big way by Human Coalition, which has been in operation since 2009.

What makes Human Coalition so innovative is that they are able to provide a whole host of different services all within their organization. First, through the use of online marketing outreach on Google and other popular search services, they reach thousands of people who are looking for abortion facilities.

Once a contact is made, Human Coalition is able to direct the abortion-minded person to their own contact center which is staffed with trained counselors who give encouragement and guidance so that the woman (or boyfriend, husband, or family member) can be directed to services that can assist with helping the woman carry her unplanned pregnancy to term.

After Human Coalition has established this vital connection through their contact center, they can direct the person to one of over 45 pro-life pregnancy centers spread across the country in which they serve and support directly. In addition, Human Coalition owns and operates their women’s care clinics which are “specifically tailored to the abortion-determined client and their families, and offers a range of services designed to support women in crisis” and are now available in six major metropolitan areas. To date, Human Coalition has been able to save 4,483 babies.

But as discussed earlier, the care for women with unplanned pregnancies cannot end once their child is born. That’s why Human Coalition has a “Continuum of Care” program that “coordinates long-term assistance through a network of support services already in place.” These services include “financial, job-training, job placement, maternity housing, health care, etc.”

Let Them Live and Human Coalition are filling a gap in the pro-life movement that is overlooked but highly needed—to specifically target the needs of pregnant women who are seeking out abortion so that they carry their babies to term and are given the resources to thrive post-birth. Let us support organizations like these and pray that their ministries may continue to grow so that our culture will truly and authentically become one where every life is lovingly welcomed, every mother is supported, and abortion becomes unthinkable.

We’re Going to Succeed”: Kobe Bryant’s Inspiring Marital Steadfastness

by Daniel Hart

February 12, 2020

Following the tragic death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant (along with eight others including his daughter) in a helicopter crash on January 26, many stirring tributes have been written about his tenacity, relentless drive to always improve, and ferocious competitiveness on the court as a player. One of his most inspiring character traits was how he applied his legendary competitiveness and refusal to give up to all aspects of his life, particularly when dealing with the potential end of his marriage to his wife Vanessa.

After an incident in 2003 in which he was accused of sexual assault (and was eventually acquitted in court), Kobe publicly admitted to committing adultery and apologized to his wife at a press conference. Eight years later, his wife filed for divorce due to “irreconcilable differences,” but in 2013 the couple announced that they had called off the divorce. Clearly, Kobe and Vanessa went through some extremely challenging periods in their marriage, but they persevered and remained committed to their vows. In an interview, Kobe described his drive to succeed in his marriage in the same terms he often used to describe his work ethic in basketball: “Commitment and [the] competitiveness of ‘We’re going to succeed.’” He went on to describe his marriage in this way: “That’s all the beauty of it: having the persistence and determination to work through things — very, very tough things — and we’ve been able to do that.”

Kobe and Vanessa’s perseverance and tenacity to fight for their marriage no matter what the circumstances is a stirring example for all married couples to have the resolve to never give up on their marriage, no matter how insurmountable difficulties may seem.

In honor of National Marriage Week, here are some tried and true ways that couples can work through challenges and maintain peaceful and happy marriages:

  • In general, be kind. As written about in The Atlantic, numerous studies have all concluded that “kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage.”
  • When you see something that needs to be done around the house, do it as quickly and quietly as you can without mentioning anything to your spouse, even if you feel that they should have done it. This builds trust between spouses and is a visible sign of how much you love and care for them, which most likely will be noticed and appreciated the more you do it.
  • Be “teachable.” In other words, be willing to compromise or do things differently than how you grew up doing them or used to do them before marriage.
  • Acknowledge that your own shortcomings may be a result of wounds that you received in your past, likely in childhood from those closest to you. It is imperative that you seek the root cause of these wounds in order to be authentically healed, which will in turn create tremendous healing in your own marriage.
  • A key outlook during difficult times in marriage is to see suffering as having redeeming value, just as Christ suffered for us in order to redeem us from our sins. If you don’t see the cross as something bad, this changes everything. In order to have true love for our spouse (to will the good for them), we must be willing to serve them by practicing sacrificial love, to sacrifice our own wishes and desires for the sake of our beloved. It may seem like a paradox, but it’s true—when we sacrifice ourselves for the good of others, we find true fulfilment.
  • Express gratitude to your spouse on a regular basis. When you thank them for even the small things they do—washing the dishes, cleaning up the spilled oatmeal off the floor—your spouse will feel loved and appreciated. This goes a long way toward maintaining marital harmony.
  • Never stop trying. Even when things are not going smoothly in your marriage, always be willing to keep trying to make things right by putting in the effort, even if you don’t feel like it. Your spouse will almost certainly notice this. There’s nothing more disheartening for a spouse then when they feel like their own efforts are not being noticed and, even worse, are not being reciprocated. If your spouse feels like you are not trying your best in the relationship, they will feel less motivated to keep trying themselves, which can create a larger mess than before.
  • Don’t let small annoyances about your spouse anger you. Let them be an opportunity to grow in the virtue of patience. If there is a legitimate issue that needs to be addressed, bring it up as calmly and deliberately as you can so that you don’t hurt your spouse in the process.
  • When you feel hurt by the words or actions of your spouse, don’t swallow it and let it fester. Pick a good time to talk about how and why they hurt you as gently, honestly, and openly as possible. Depending on the severity of the issue, it may not be a good idea to immediately hash it out with your spouse just after the hurtful incident occurred, since this could lead to further insensitive words being said in the heat of the moment. It may be prudent to pick a time at least a day or two later after things have cooled down. You may even discover that your spouse had no idea that the incident in question hurt you, and will be glad to know about it so that they can be more thoughtful in the future.
  • Challenging times in marriage are opportunities to grow closer together. This can especially be achieved by praying together as a couple.

A Hidden Life Is an Unparalleled Depiction of Christian Discipleship

by Daniel Hart

February 4, 2020

Are we merely admirers of Christ, or are we followers?

For all Christians, this profound question should shake us to our core. It’s a question that runs through the heart of A Hidden Life, a powerful new film from acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick, who wrote and directed the three-hour epic that explores the calling and consequences of true Christian discipleship.

A Simple Life Shattered by War

A Hidden Life is based on the true story of an Austrian farmer named Franz Jägerstätter, a devout Catholic and conscientious objector martyred by the Nazis, who lived with his wife Fani and their three daughters in a small village in the mountains during World War II.

The movie begins by showing parts of an old Nazi propaganda film of Adolf Hitler touring a town in Germany and the adulation he receives from the people. In stark contrast, the film then envelopes its audience into the majestic beauty of rural Austria, where Franz and his family live an idyllic life as humble farmers. Scenes of hard farm work mixed with the simple joys of recreation with family early in the film establish the fact that Franz, Fani, and their girls are living a peaceful, happy, and fulfilled life. Other scenes of genuine comradery between Franz’s family and the other townspeople demonstrate that they are well-respected and even loved by the village.

It is in these opening scenes that the unique filmmaking style of director Terrence Malick becomes apparent. As in his past films, most of the scenes in A Hidden Life are presented as a kind of vignette, often with minimal dialogue. Sometimes, the dialogue is muted intentionally, with music or even a voice over being what you hear. Frequently, Malick will intersperse scenes with gorgeously rendered shots of nature—the mountains, fields of grain waving in the wind, a waterfall cascading down into mist. For the uninitiated viewer, this style can be a bit disorienting at first, but the film has a way of drawing the audience into its world after the first few minutes. One reviewer of A Hidden Life aptly described it as “a movie you enter, like a cathedral of the senses.”

Soon, the ominous sounds of Nazi airplanes flying high above the village convey a distinct sense that the simple lives of the farmers and townspeople will never be the same. Sure enough, Franz is conscripted into the German army, and at first he willingly complies with their demands that he complete basic training. After months away from his family, he is allowed to return home, but the possibility of Franz being called back into full duty as the war drags on hangs over him and his wife. From this point on, the central conflict that Franz faces becomes the focus of the film—he knows that he will be required to pledge an oath of loyalty to Hitler once he is called back up to service.

A Heroic Act of Conscience

As Franz seeks counsel from his parish priest on what to do, it is clear that many churchmen of the time could not muster the courage to make the principled stand that Franz is attempting to make. “We’re killing innocent people, raiding other countries, preying on the weak,” Franz pleads with his priest, asking for guidance. Instead of answering, the priest defers and directs Franz to ask his bishop for direction. When Franz is able to get an audience with the bishop, he asks him pointedly, “If our leaders—if they are evil, what does one do?” The bishop’s response clearly breaks Franz’s heart: “You have a duty to the fatherland. The Church tells you so.”

After this, Franz and Fani try to go about their normal life, but they are clearly mourning what they know is likely to come: Franz’s imprisonment and execution for his conscientious objection. Through extended scenes of the couple lying together in the countryside, sitting in their bedroom, or doing farm chores, it is clear that an internal battle is raging inside of them as they contemplate the consequences of the unthinkable—to forever lose their tranquil and joyful life together for the sake of sacrificing his life for the gospel.

As if this weren’t enough, Franz and his family begin to experience ridicule from their fellow townspeople. It seems that Franz is the only man in his village to publicly and openly question the Nazi war effort, which is clearly too much to bear for their guilty consciences. The town mayor, a close friend of Franz’s at the outset of the film, eventually ends up denouncing him: “You cannot say no to your race and your home. You are a traitor!” Franz and his family are publicly insulted, spat upon, and even physically threatened at various points in the film.

Despite the almost unimaginable pressure that Franz faces from his church, his peers, and even his own family (from his mother-in-law and sister-in-law) to give in to the Nazi’s demands, he refuses to take the oath to Hitler after his inevitable call-up to military service.

Once Franz is imprisoned, we begin to find out more about what is going on in his soul. In a series of interrogations by the Nazis and during interviews with his court-appointed defense attorney, Franz is challenged over and over again to give in. “You think your defiance will change the course of things?” “Words! [referring to the oath to Hitler] No one takes that sort of thing seriously.” Franz’s responses are simple and direct, but somehow their simplicity makes his motivations crystal clear: “I have that feeling inside me, that I can’t do what I believe is wrong. That’s all.” “If God gives us free will, we are responsible for what we do, what we fail to do.”

What will never be simple, though, is the toll that Franz’s sacrifice takes on his wife Fani and their daughters, which is illustrated through numerous scenes of toil and heartbreak as she undertakes difficult farm work and tucks their children into bed without him. Even still, the fortitude that Fani exhibits is every bit as heroic as Franz’s. Toward the end of the film, she is allowed to see Franz one last time in prison. In an almost unbearably emotional scene, Fani displays the epitome of spiritual union with her husband as she assures him of her solidarity even if his decision means death: “Whatever you do, I’m with you, always.”

As A Hidden Life draws to a close, it is clear that Franz’s experience of imprisonment, interrogation, physical abuse at the hands of the prison guards, and the mental anguish of his impending death has molded him into a Christ-like figure. When a Nazi major promises him that he will be free if he signs a paper oath to Hitler, Franz responds, “I am already free.” In one scene, he gives his tiny ration of bread to a fellow starving prisoner, who stares at him disbelievingly. In one of the most subtle yet surprisingly touching moments of the film, he carefully replaces an umbrella he had accidentally knocked over back to its original position. These actions show that he has indeed become a truly free man, unencumbered by worldly concerns, whose only goal is to do good with the little time he has left on earth.

An Unparalleled Depiction of Christian Discipleship

From a Christian perspective, watching A Hidden Life is an unparalleled film experience. In the words of one reviewer, it is arguably “the best evocation of the Gospel ever committed to film.” The deliberate, reverential style in which it is acted, filmed, and edited allows the viewer to truly immerse themselves into and contemplate the deep mysteries of some of the biggest questions that frame the nature of discipleship in Christ. How far must we go to become a true follower of Christ, and how do we reconcile this with our familial obligations? Is there meaning to our suffering for Christ when it causes us such indescribable pain? Does standing for the gospel really matter if no one seems to notice? Why does God seem to hide Himself from those who most desperately need Him?

The most pointed question this film asks of its audience is one that remains extremely pertinent in our own time, in which Christians remain the most persecuted religious group on earth. The question is this: When we are faced with the wrath of the world for our faith, will we shrink and make excuses, or will we stand for truth, no matter the consequences? In the film’s depiction of Franz Jägerstätter, we are a given a true-to-life role model for how to accomplish heroic virtue with grace and serenity.

But perhaps the greatest gift that A Hidden Life gives the viewer is three hours of space—space for reflection and contemplation of these most paramount of questions that probe the deepest mysteries of the faith life. In this age of distraction and anxiety, we desperately need it.

The Plea

by Judy Lamberson Smith

January 22, 2020

*Editor’s note: This poem was written by Judy Lamberson Smith of Lakeland, Florida. It is reprinted here with permission.

All I want is a chance
To see what I might become.
To run barefoot in the grass
Feeling the warmth of the sun.

All I want is a chance
To learn to read and write,
Gaze at a starry sky,
And try to fly a kite.

All I want is a chance
To see how tall I will grow,
Pet a pup, pick a flower,
Play in newly fallen snow.

All I want is a chance
To see how far I can go in school,
Make friends, sing a song,
And learn the Golden Rule.

But I didn’t get that chance.
It all ended one day.
Don’t know why or how,
PAIN
And then I went away.

You see, I died before I was born.
Did anybody cry for me or mourn?
There were so many things to see and do.
Above all…
To know your love,
And to show my love for you.

All I wanted was a chance!

What’s Wrong With American Boys?

by Daniel Hart

January 14, 2020

Why are adolescent boys and college-aged young men in America still so boorish and misogynistic?

Peggy Orenstein, a writer for The Atlantic, wrestles with this question in a recent feature-length article entitled “The Miseducation of the American Boy.” To her credit, she compassionately attempts to understand what is really going on in the souls of typical boys and young men in the wasteland of contemporary American secular culture by personally interviewing them.

What she finds is both intriguing and disturbing, but not very surprising. Most of the boys she talked to struggled with leading a kind of double life—on the one hand, they “could talk to girls platonically,” as a high school senior named “Cole” said (she uses pseudonyms to protect their identities). But then he admitted that “being around guys was different. I needed to be a ‘bro…’” Most of the other boys Orenstein interviews had similar views about the expectations their peers placed on them and the crushing pressure to conform to a hypersexual, misogynistic “bro” subculture.

So how did we get here? Orenstein admits that there seems to be a “void” in parental guidance of boys: “Today many parents are unsure of how to raise a boy, what sort of masculinity to encourage in their sons. But as I learned from talking with boys themselves, the culture of adolescence, which fuses hyperrationality with domination, sexual conquest, and a glorification of male violence, fills the void.”

It’s clear that Orenstein wants to find solutions for this problem. She prefaces her article by stating that “we need to give [boys] new and better models of masculinity.”

What are these “new and better models”? Unfortunately, Orenstein never really proposes any kind of coherent standard to which boys should strive for. After spending almost 7,500 words extensively quoting their frustrations, fears, and longings and cataloguing dozens of misadventures of boys hooking up awkwardly with female students, bragging about sexual escapades, laughing at rape jokes, and so on, she musters two paragraphs at the end of her article that offer some kind of path forward. She says that we need “models of manhood that are neither ashamed nor regressive, and that emphasize emotional flexibility—a hallmark of mental health.” She also challenges authority figures to step up: “Real change will require a sustained, collective effort on the part of fathers, mothers, teachers, coaches.” Her last tidbit of advice is this: “We have to purposefully and repeatedly broaden the masculine repertoire for dealing with disappointment, anger, desire. We have to say not just what we don’t want from boys but what we do want from them.”

Belief Systems Create Gentlemen

This is certainly all good advice. But what is striking about Orenstein’s guidance is what she does not say. It begs the question: what exactly do we want from boys? It’s all well and good to promote emotional flexibility and mental health, but if the goal is for boys to unlearn misogyny and start respecting girls more, as Orenstein and all people of good faith so desperately want, isn’t it going to take more than “emotional flexibility”?

The answer is unquestionably “yes.” Having respect for girls and women is an essential aspect of moral conduct that all boys and men should have, but obviously do not. That’s because it has to be taught and learned, just as all moral behavior must be, through a system of values, which must ultimately be derived from faith in a revealed moral order. In our politically correct culture, writers like Peggy Orenstein can’t seem to state this obvious fact, probably because they don’t want to be accused of promoting “religion.” It’s notable that the words “religion” and “faith” never appear once in Orenstein’s entire article.

It’s a sad but telling reality that in a culture still fully in the throes of grappling with the #MeToo movement and one in which boys are still so clearly gripped by a culture of sexual conquest, so many secular writers still can’t bring themselves to admit that certain belief systems have the antidote for misogyny built into them. As I have written previously:

[W]hat if more boys were taught from an early age that the context for the full expression of human sexuality is within the bonds of marriage between one man and one woman, as Christianity and other religions do? If this teaching were to be taught consistently throughout childhood and young adulthood, it would substantially increase the amount of gentlemen in our culture. Gentlemen treat women with respect, the kind of respect that inherently knows how to avoid looking at women with lust (see Matthew 5:27-28), the kind of respect that would never even consider making unseemly sexual comments in their company, much less harassing or assaulting them.

Since Orenstein never proposes a belief system with moral principles as an answer to counter misogyny, it appears that she along with most secular commentators are merely hoping that boys will somehow magically absorb sexual morality and respect for women from… friends who happen to have good values? Their parents who happen to be good people? Orenstein never says. She does at one point ask her main interview subject, a high school senior named “Cole,” why he doesn’t assert his “values” more with his peers. But what she never bothers to ask him is where he got his values from.

The Crucial Mentorship of Fathers

Who is it that should be the primary instiller of values in children? This most basic of questions is unfortunately passed over by Orenstein. The vital importance of a father in a boy’s healthy development into a gentleman is the elephant in the room that seems to escape the notice of many secular writers like her.

But perhaps Orenstein can’t be entirely at fault for this. As her article illustrates, the boys that she interviews don’t seem to think much of their fathers. “Cole” briefly describes his father as “a nice guy,” but he went on to say that “I can’t be myself around him. I feel like I need to keep everything that’s in here [tapping his chest] behind a wall, where he can’t see it.” Another 18-year-old named “Rob” described how his father merely told him to “man up” when he was having problems in school. “That’s why I never talk to anybody about my problems,” he said. Another young man, a college sophomore, described how he never felt comfortable talking to his father: “[T]here’s a block there. There’s a hesitation, even though I don’t like to admit that. A hesitation to talk about … anything, really.”

This is heartbreaking stuff. Is it any wonder our boys and young men are so lost and adrift when their primary role model and mentor—their fathers—never make themselves available to their own sons to just talk about life, about growing up to be a man, about anything?

Orenstein’s “The Miseducation of the American Boy” is revealing in a number of ways. Yet again, it reveals that when a belief system based on eternal moral truth is not instilled in boys from a young age, the secular adolescent culture of hypersexual narcissism and misogyny will fill the void. It also reveals that when fathers abandon their fundamental role as the primary mentor and confidant of their sons, their boys will be left emotionally numbed, less empathetic, and more prone to becoming a part of this secular adolescent culture.

Here at Family Research Council, we are doing our part to renew authentic masculinity and to help instill a culture of biblical manhood to stand as a bulwark against the dark cultural forces that promote sexual objectification and conquest, gender confusion, and emasculation. Learn about and consider attending our Stand Courageous men’s conferences, which are making a difference through teaching the principles of authentic manhood as providers, mentors, instructors, defenders, and chaplains.

The Birth Rate is Falling. But Why?

by Daniel Hart

December 16, 2019

Here in the United States, we are not having enough babies to replenish our population.

In the latest numbers from the CDC, there were just under 3.8 million births in 2018, down 2 percent from the previous year. This marks the fourth year in a row that births have declined in the U.S. The current rate of 1.7 births per 1,000 women is well below the 2.1 births needed to maintain a steady replacement level.

The decline in U.S. births mirrors a global decline since the 1950’s, which has seen the birth rate plummet from 4.7 to 2.4 over the last 70 years. Many secular commentators point to a handful of factors to explain why this remarkable decline is happening in America, including a lack of “suitable partners” for women and “economic instability.”

A Society’s Survival Depends on Its Values

But some secular writers are beginning to grow skeptical of these mainstream explanations that barely skim the surface of what’s really going on. In a fascinating recent piece in The New York Times titled “The End of Babies,” Anna Louie Sussman asks, “Something is stopping us from creating the families we claim to desire. But what?” She points to an intriguing study showing that in almost every European country as well as the U.S., the number of children that women want is well above the number of children they actually have. While Sussman does explore a bit of the standard excuses that many secular liberals give for not having kids, including climate change and economic inequality, she eventually hits on the root of what fertility hinges upon: the values that a society has.

For communities that do not hold to secular values, Sussman notes that low fertility is not a problem:

Where alternative value systems exist, however, babies can be plentiful. In the United States, for example, communities of Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, Mormons and Mennonites have birthrates higher than the national average.

Why is this? Sussman’s next paragraph is key:

Lyman Stone, an economist who studies population, points to two features of modern life that correlate with low fertility: rising “workism” — a term popularized by the Atlantic writer Derek Thompson — and declining religiosity. “There is a desire for meaning-making in humans,” Mr. Stone told me. Without religion, one way people seek external validation is through work, which, when it becomes a dominant cultural value, is “inherently fertility reducing.”

Perhaps unwittingly, Sussman has hit upon a transcendent truth: When we lose sight of God, we begin to lose our bearing on what it means to be human. When this happens, it becomes easier to overlook the essential building blocks that provide meaning, purpose, and continuity to our humanness: the institution of marriage (which is in steep decline) and the children that naturally result from this union.

Faith Casts Out Fear

After reading Sussman’s article, one can’t help but come away with a strong sense of the anxiety that so many in our culture carry with them when it comes to marriage and family. Her piece is peppered throughout with the worries and fears of those she interviews: “Young people say, ‘Having children is the end of my life’”; “If I become 50 or 60 and I don’t have kids, I know I’m going to hate myself the rest of my life”; “Everything is super expensive.” Sussman herself is not immune to this anxiety. She has convinced herself, rather sheepishly, that she must save $200,000 before she has a child. Why? Because she is single and plans to have a child via in vitro fertilization (IVF), and this figure is “an acknowledgment of the financial realities of single parenthood, but also the arithmetic crystallization of my anxieties around parenthood in our precarious era.”

Without getting into the troubling aspects of IVF, I’d love to be able to reassure Sussman and her fellow worriers, “It’ll be okay! God will provide!” One of the greatest benefits of faith is that it casts out fear of the unknown. For what does Christ himself tell his followers in the gospel? “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:26-27)

Even still, I must admit that I often forget Christ’s words. I struggle with many of the same fears that Sussman describes. As a husband and father myself, I often worry about finances and my ability to support and provide for my wife and our two young boys as they grow up, as well as any future children that God might bless us with. But guess what? God has provided for us. He always does. He is always faithful. I have found that the more I trust in God’s providence, the more my worries and fears fade away. For God, who is “Perfect love,” “casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

The Birth of a Child is the Rebirth of Hope

It is clear that the declining birth rate is intimately connected with anxieties about having kids that permeate our culture. When a society largely rejects religious values, it loses its ability to have hope in the future, most profoundly illustrated by the birth of new life. When God is forgotten, the world becomes a complicated, intimidating, and “precarious” place, as Sussman says, one which can seem inhospitable to rearing children.

But despite all this uncertainty and anxiousness, the desire for rebirth still lingers within us. In the candid and heartfelt conclusion to her article, Sussman can’t help but admit her own yearning to pass on the legacy of her father, with an implicit longing for motherhood:

But as I reflected on the immaterial gifts I like to think I inherited from him, it became clear I craved genetic continuity, however fictitious and tenuous it might be. I recognized then something precious and inexplicable in this yearning, and glimpsed how devastating it might be to be unable to realize it. For the first time, I felt justified in my impulse to preserve some little piece of me that, in some way, contained a little piece of him, which one day might live again.

Not even liberal New York Times columnists, it seems, can escape the primordial urge to pass on our humanity, to indeed “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).

An important lesson can be drawn from all of this for believers. When we work to spread the gospel, we are working to dispel worldly fear and break open hearts toward openness to new life. For the birth of every child is the rebirth of hope, the hope bestowed by a Creator who gives us the gift of life, smiles upon us, and calls us “good.”

Crimes” in the Criminal State of China

by Daniel Hart

December 5, 2019

The video is chilling. In a recently released clip from inside a Chinese police station, a lone man sits strapped into a metal cage-like contraption that looks like it is meant to subdue a wild animal, but is actually meant for the interrogation of ordinary citizens. With downcast eyes and a timid voice, he softly answers a series of questions from his interrogators, apologizing for drinking “a bit too much” and speaking “nonsense.” His crime? He apparently made a negative remark or two on social media about the police confiscating motorcycles.

What’s wrong with the police confiscating motorcycles?” the interrogator demands.

Nothing wrong with that,” the man feebly responds.

At the end of the video, after repeatedly expressing his sorrow for his “crime” in response to multiple demands by the interrogators to explain himself, the man makes a final plea for mercy. With a bow of his head, he solemnly declares, “Uncle police, I’m so sorry. I’m wrong. I know that now. Please forgive me. I won’t do it again, ever.”

Interrogations like these are now becoming a routine part of life in China. With no civil rights and an encroaching regime that monitors every aspect of daily life, ordinary citizens like this man know that if they say something on social media that the government doesn’t like and say the wrong thing to the police, they could end up in prison, tortured, or killed.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg of the human rights atrocities and abuses that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is perpetrating against its own people. Here is a brief list:

  • As we have written about previously, the CCP is forcibly harvesting the organs of religious minorities to fuel an organ industry to the tune of $10-20 billion, which provides up to 85 percent of the world’s organ transplants (more on that later).
  • The CCP has been persecuting and executing the traditionally Muslim Uyghurs since at least the 1990’s. Today, over 1.5 million ethnic Uyghurs are currently imprisoned in what the CCP calls “concentrated education and training schools,” in which detainees are subjected to indoctrination sessions, torture, sexual assault, and execution.
  • The CCP continues to mandate the number of children couples can have, which recently changed from a one-child to a two-child policy. This system is enforced through exorbitant monetary fines, forced abortions, and forced sterilizations. It is estimated that there have been more than 330 million induced abortions in China since the one-child was first implemented in the early 1980’s. A significant (but unknown) percentage of these abortions were forced.
  • The CCP’s reign of terror against religious practitioners has been ongoing since the 1960’s. Currently, religious practice is being suppressed by any means necessary.
  • The CCP is implementing a “social credit system” that rates the behavior of Chinese citizens so that their ranking fluctuates up and down. Depending on your score, you can be banned from buying plane and train tickets, your children can be banned from attending the best schools, you can be denied jobs, and you can be publicly named a “bad citizen,” among a host of other injustices.

As these human rights atrocities and abuses illustrate, China is in fact a criminal state. The final report compiled by the China Tribunal (which amassed definitive evidence of forced organ harvesting that has and is currently happening in China) makes this conclusion:

Governments and any who interact in any substantial way with the PRC [People’s Republic of China] including:

  • Doctors and medical institutions;
  • Industry, and businesses, most specifically airlines, travel companies, financial services businesses, law firms and pharmaceutical and insurance companies together with individual tourists,
  • Educational establishments;
  • Arts establishments

should now recognise that they are, to the extent revealed above, interacting with a criminal state.

FRC could not agree more. Organizations like the NBA, Hollywood, and other industries that have conveniently ignored the human rights atrocities and abuses committed by the CCP for financial gain must answer to the fact that they are dealing with a criminal state. And as we have repeatedly pointed out, the United States must address these atrocities and abuses in its current and future trade and diplomatic dealings with the CCP.

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