Author archives: Dan Hart

The Chosen: A Fresh, Personal, and Faithful Presentation of the Gospel

by Dan Hart

April 15, 2021

If ever there was a time that needs fresh witness to the truth of the gospel, it is our current moment. As the uncertainties of government overreach and simmering social and political tensions continue, the human heart can’t help but yearn for stability and reassurance. It’s a time when Jesus’s beautiful words in Matthew’s Gospel have never been more desperately needed: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Depicting the fulfilment and peace that only Christ can bring to a post-Christian culture in a compelling and original way is no easy task, but one filmmaker has found a remarkable way to succeed. With The Chosen, a new drama series based on the life of Christ, writer/producer/director Dallas Jenkins has breathed new life into the biblical epic genre in a groundbreaking way.

The Chosen is the first ever episode-based series about the life of Christ. In order to produce the series, streaming video company VidAngel and Jenkins decided to use online crowdfunding. It became the biggest crowdfunded film project ever, with over $10.2 million raised by January 2019. In April and November of that year, the first series of eight episodes was released online, and they have been viewed almost 50 million times in 180 countries. The Chosen’s producers have already raised another $10 million for the production of the second season, with the first three episodes now released. The producers are planning to continue crowdsourcing for the foreseeable future, with the goal of producing seven seasons in all.

The great strength of The Chosen is its emphasis on relationship and relatability. The series starts by portraying the disciples and Christ’s other followers as honest, searching, flawed, and often humorous men and women who are trying to make their way as faithful Jews in a harsh Roman-occupied world. Peter and Andrew struggle to figure out how to pay their taxes as poor fishermen, Mary Magdalene grapples with demons and finding direction while trying to move past her former sinful lifestyle, and Matthew is a highly eccentric and reviled tax collector who wrestles with social stigmatization. With great emotional depth and feeling, The Chosen beautifully shows how Jesus breaks into the lives of these ordinary men and women and sets their hearts ablaze with a longing for truth and a burning desire to follow Him.

Much of the success of The Chosen can be attributed to the deeply human and pastorally empathetic portrayal of Jesus by actor Jonathan Roumie. With past film depictions of Jesus often emphasizing His stoic authority and divinity, the great strength of Roumie’s depiction is that he lets Jesus be approachable and sympathetic without sacrificing Christ’s sovereignty. In a scene drawn from Luke 5, Roumie’s Jesus laughs with joy and revels in the moment as He watches Simon and his brother whoop and holler as they struggle to drag in the miraculous catch of fish. In one poetic shot, Jesus is so moved that He glances up to the heavens, as if He Himself is in awe of the wonderful work of His Father. A few moments later, Simon cannot help but fall at Jesus’ feet and mumble about his unworthiness. Jesus’s face is seen from a low camera angled up, clearly establishing His divinity as He responds to Simon’s inquiry (“You are the lamb of God, yes?”) with a simple, “I Am.” But then Jesus crouches down to Simon’s level, and with a penetrating yet compassionate gaze, extends an invitation: “Follow Me.” The scene masterfully combines the human and the divine.   

Other scenes breathe new layers of meaning into familiar gospel stories. As Jesus stands in front of the stone jars of water at the wedding at Cana, the scene is intercut with a wedding guest describing the work of a sculptor: “Once you make that first cut into the stone, it can’t be undone. It sets in motion a series of choices. What used to be a shapeless block of limestone or granite begins its long journey of transformation, and it will never be the same.” The metaphor is a perfect one: by turning the water into wine, like a sculptor’s first cut, Jesus knows that his public ministry will begin, and there will be no turning back. “I am ready, Father,” Jesus murmurs, before dipping his hand into the water, and taking it out with wine dripping from it.

The most pivotal scene from the first season is the encounter at night between Jesus and Nicodemus from John 3. Actor Erick Avari perfectly captures how a member of the Sanhedrin would have been torn between his position in Jewish society as a scholar of the law and what his heart is telling him about who Jesus really is. As Nicodemus’s incredulity and questions turn into awe and trembling before the Messiah as He unveils the heart of God’s salvific plan, the viewer can’t help but empathize with the Pharisee’s predicament but also be spellbound all over again by Christ’s immortal words of John 3:16. 

The Chosen isn’t without its flaws. Scenes early in the first season, particularly ones with Roman characters and costumes, come off as a bit gimmicky, and at times, the tone of some scenes in the first two seasons feel a little too comic and unserious. 

Still, for believers, The Chosen will deepen the vision of the gospels in your mind’s eye, and in the process may even deepen your faith. And for unbelievers, The Chosen is a personal, welcoming invitation to explore the Truth of the gospel. As the Scriptures say, time is short (1 Corinthians 7:29; James 5:8; Revelation 22:12), and the need for cultural renewal in Christ is staggeringly great. A tech-savvy, revitalized, and imaginative yet faithful presentation of the gospel could not have come at a better moment.

The Crisis of Fatherlessness and the Opportunity of Mentorship

by Grant Elledge

March 12, 2021

One in four.

It’s hard for many of us to grasp the extent of the silent social crisis of fatherlessness, but in the United States almost exactly one quarter of all children are growing up without a dad. This fraction doesn’t include children growing up with a stepdad, living in a co-parenting arrangement where dad is present at least a few days a week, living with adoptive fathers, or in any other non-traditional family structure—over 20 million U.S. kids are living without a man they can point to and say, “That’s my dad.”

The natural question that flows from this is, “Does it matter?” Both the research and anecdotal evidence shout a resounding “yes.” To take just a few examples, we know that fatherless individuals are:

And beyond this, the issue is itself cyclical and generational. Over 70 percent of unplanned pregnancies involve at least one parent who is themselves fatherless, and the vast majority of fatherless children are born out of unplanned pregnancies.

And so another natural question arises, “How do we break this cycle?” And this is where hope enters an otherwise-dismal picture: mentorship has been proven to have a categorical impact on fatherless individuals.

Thanks to a doctoral thesis from 2003, we can demonstrate just that based on a somewhat unusual metric: homicide rates. The only external context you need is what the author refers to as “old heads”—these are older individuals invested in their community and the lives of the young adults they’re connected to.

The thesis points out that the rate of male homicide is much higher than the rate of female homicide. Also, the influence of old heads (mentors) is relatively small on people growing up with dads, but significant on people growing up without dads. As a result, we can see that:

  • The relative risk of fatherless males committing a homicide without the presence of old heads is six compared to only four for females.
  • The relative risk of fatherless males committing a homicide with high presence of old heads is one—no more likely than their fathered counterparts—compared to two for females.

Combining these insights is dramatic: the influence of mentorship on fatherless males is significant, even significantly greater than the influence of mentorship on fatherless females. And combining this observation with the much higher homicide rate committed by males leads us to something incredible: effective mentor presence just for fatherless males (one in eight people, half of the one in four fatherless kids) may significantly reduce the homicide rate, perhaps cutting it in half—not to mention helping to reverse the myriad other trends we sampled earlier.

And so we arrive at the burning need: committed, loving men to support young dads. I’ve been blown away by the immediate connection in my personal mentorship relationship. The first time we spent meaningful time together in person (admittedly, after a long period of time pursuing him), he remarked, “I’ve never had someone who knows me so little care about me so much.” What a profoundly kind and encouraging statement! This young man is wrestling through the prospect of going to college while supporting a young family after graduating near the top of his class. It’s been a thrilling opportunity to support this young man who lives just three blocks from me.

How encouraging, how surprising, how exciting to have the prospect of this breadth of impact within all of our reach!

Grant Elledge is the CEO of fathering.me, a growing nonprofit committed to mentoring young fathers of unplanned babies and meeting the needs of those new dads with accessible online resources. He lives in Harrisburg, Pa. with his wife, Elaine, and their precocious 2.5-year-old, Peter.

Roe is Legally Flawed and Should Be Overturned

by David K.

February 26, 2021

On the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President Biden reaffirmed his desire to codify Roe into federal law, reflecting the Democratic Party’s fear that Roe is nearing its end.

While the Supreme Court has yet to add an abortion case to its docket, the number of pending cases challenging key provisions in Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (which affirmed the central holding of Roe, that a woman has a constitutional right to abortion) continues to grow. In light of Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, legal, and legislative trends support a future reversal. This is due, in part, to Roe’s inherent legal inconsistencies. Not only did Justice Blackmun contradict himself in his majority opinion in Roe, new bodies of criminal law are incompatible with Roe’s foundational assumptions.

Former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself criticized Roe’s rationale, stating that it “went beyond the extreme ruling of the statute before the court.” Abortion advocates similarly recognize Roe’s critical flaws, mainly a lack of reasonable inference from a constitutionally enumerated right.

The contradiction within the Court’s rational is another reason to reevaluate its holding. First, it rejected the existence of an absolute right to privacy, then nine pages later made that right absolute in the first trimester of pregnancy. Two interests were at issue, the mother’s privacy interest and the state’s interest in protecting unborn persons. The Court should have ended the analysis there recognizing the compelling interest in protecting unborn persons.

The inconsistency of legal personhood is highlighted in criminal feticide laws. This is yet another indicator of its inherent incongruity. Unborn children are recognized as humans in other situations outside of abortion. For example, in 1984, the Massachusetts Supreme Court recognized unborn persons in vehicular homicide cases. Since then, 38 states have passed laws recognizing unborn victim status. Federal lawmakers followed suit, passing the 2004 Unborn Victims of Violence Act. Legal scholars recognize the dilemma this legal trend poses. How can courts grant the unborn personhood in criminal law while refusing it in the context of legal abortions?

Lawsuits in response to the 2020 presidential election, civil unrest, and the Covid-19 pandemic have captured the Supreme Court’s attention for the moment, but the abortion issue will soon have its day in court. If the Court with three new justices corrects the legal inconsistencies in its previous holding, the abortion issue will likely return to the 50 state legislatures, allowing states like Alabama to reinstitute significant protections for the unborn. So long as Congress refrains from packing the Court, it will likely not be a matter of if Roe will be overturned, but when.

David K. is an intern at FRC Action.

Kindness: The Glue that Holds Marriages Together

by Dan Hart

February 11, 2021

In America, most marriages fail, either ending in divorce/separation or degenerating into turmoil and resentment. However, three out of 10 people who are married remain happily married for the rest of their lives. A natural question arises here: Is there something that is missing from failed marriages that is common to successful ones?  

In 1986, psychologist John Gottman began an illuminating study of married couples, which was summed up by Emily Esfahani Smith in an excellent Atlantic article a few years ago. In the study, Gottman observed how newlywed couples interacted with each other while asking them questions about their relationship, like how they met, good memories, and how they handle conflict. While asking these questions, he measured their vital signs in order to gauge their physiological reactions as they talked about their relationships. After gathering this data, Gottman sent the couples home and followed up with them six years later to see if they were still married.

The data revealed that there were two distinct types of couples. One group, nicknamed the “masters,” were the couples that were happily married six years later. They felt calm in each other’s presence and were almost always warm and affectionate in their interactions. These couples made it a habit of finding positive ways to compliment their spouse in their day to day lives, even down to seemingly “mundane” things like acknowledging and responding positively when their spouse tries to connect in a small way (e.g., “Honey, aren’t the stars especially clear tonight?”).

In contrast, the other group, nicknamed the “disasters,” often found ways to nitpick each other with criticisms. During Gottman’s study phase, their physiologies showed signs of being in “fight-or-flight mode,” as if they were always prepared to verbally attack or be verbally attacked by their spouse. Not surprisingly, these couples had either divorced or had highly dysfunctional marriages when Gottman followed up with them six years later.

The main takeaway from Gottman’s studies and other research on married couples is clear—it all boils down to kindness:

Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility?

Kindness … glues couples together. Research independent from theirs has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved.

For believers especially, the results of these kinds of studies about marriage should come as no surprise, but they do validate what we Christians know from the truths of Scripture. In Ephesians 5:28-30, Paul wrote:

Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.

Paul gives an intimate and evocative description of the type of love that should be shared between spouses—to “nourish” and “cherish” one another as one would their own body. Interestingly, this image of nurturing love as one would nourish their own body matches up well with how Emily Esfahani Smith sees the nature of kindness—as a muscle that needs to be exercised:

There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: Either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters [those in healthy marriages] tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.

During this National Marriage Week, the theme of kindness is an especially fitting one to ponder for all those who are discerning marriage and who are married, particularly those who may find themselves stuck in a rut of marital dysfunction. As Emily Smith has observed:

There are many reasons why relationships fail, but if you look at what drives the deterioration of many relationships, it’s often a breakdown of kindness. As the normal stresses of a life together pile up—with children, careers, friends, in-laws, and other distractions crowding out the time for romance and intimacy—couples may put less effort into their relationship and let the petty grievances they hold against each other tear them apart.

However, there is always hope, and a chance to begin again. For believers, the centrality of kindness in the Christian life is encapsulated in the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31). It’s a tall order, and we often fail at it. But if spouses keep working toward incorporating kindness into their daily lives together, they will keep the “muscle in shape” and make it the animating quality in a harmonious marriage, year after year.

Joe Scheidler, RIP

by Michael J. New

January 28, 2021

Last week, pro-lifers across the country were saddened to learn of the passing of pro-life activist Joe Scheidler. Scheidler, who started the Pro-Life Action League, is thought of as the godfather of the direct action wing of the pro-life movement. Scheidler’s tactics, which included pickets of abortion facilities, graphic image displays, and public events featuring former abortionists, succeeded in placing a human face on unborn children and generated a great deal of publicity. During his life, Joe Scheidler succeeded in raising the salience of sanctity of life issues and persuaded many people to join the pro-life movement.

The pro-life movement has not always devoted a great deal of resources to chronicling its own history. As such, many are unaware of the risks and sacrifices that early pro-life activists like Joe Scheidler made to pursue full time pro-life work in the 1970s. Indeed, when Scheidler devoted to himself to the pro-life cause after the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, he took a real leap of faith. He was working in a stable advertising job with a wife and children. At this time, it was by no means clear how one could raise money to engage in full-time pro-life work. The internet was not around and direct mail was in its infancy. Thankfully, Scheidler was able to receive some compensation from Illinois Right to Life and then successfully launched the Pro-Life Action League in 1980.

Additionally, when Scheidler started doing pro-life work, there was no clear pathway forward to restore legal protection to the preborn. While Scheidler did not dismiss the importance of politics, he thought that direct action was necessary to keep the abortion issue in the public eye. As such, as he describes in his fine book Racketeer for Life, he largely improvised. He would call talk shows and try to get some airtime to discuss sanctity of life issues. If he learned of an abortion facility opening, he would organize a protest. He would often meet with abortionists directly and persuaded many to quit doing abortions. Scheidler’s book Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion documents numerous tactics that succeeded in closing down abortion facilities.

I still remember the last time I saw Joe Scheidler in person. It was the March for Life weekend in 2020. Even though Joe was 92 years old, he made the trip to Washington, D.C. and his schedule was full. We attended the Pro-Life Leadership Mass and reception sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. We then shared an Uber to head downtown to the Law of Life Summit sponsored by Americans United for Life. Joe and his wife were as lively and as gracious as ever. He will certainly be missed. Rest in peace, Joe.

Michael J. New, PhD is a Research Associate at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and an Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New

How Biden’s Therapy Bans Will Harm “LGBT Youth” Like Me

by Erica

January 26, 2021

A recent Washington Post headline proclaims that “Biden’s ambitious LGBT agenda poises him to be nation’s most pro-equality president in history.” He allegedly earns this title by supporting several pro-LGBT policies. Specifically, one of Biden’s promises states that he will support legislative efforts to ban what critics of the practice call “conversion therapy”—counseling to help a person resist and overcome unwanted same-sex attractions. As someone who has greatly benefited from practices that would be outlawed or restricted by this legislation, I adamantly believe that Biden’s LGBT platform will cause harm to the very people it aims to help. 

High school and college years are a season of life where identity formation is so critical. Gen Z is currently entering adulthood in a world where the media and culture encourages us to explore every aspect of our identity. And believe it or not, I am all for learning different sides and opinions of any topic. I believe that young people are smart and equipped to weigh alternatives and make decisions for themselves. We owe it to them, as a nation founded on freedom, to have the opportunity to explore what they want their life to look like. 

The issue is that when it comes to sexuality, this freedom to explore only seems to extend as far as what fits within the pro-LGBT agenda. With the push of legislation like the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act that seeks to ban all sexual orientation change efforts, youth will be left hearing only one view and one set of answers when it comes to sexuality. These bans will eliminate the ability for Christians like me with questions about same-sex attraction to hear a perspective that greatly helped me to find freedom and grow in my faith.

Accessing resources to help me discern a biblical sexual ethic and receiving discipleship on how to live that out, from both staff at my college and a ministry group, has been far from the harmful experience often depicted in media and promoted by LGBT activists. In stark contrast to these dramatic and harmful stories of “conversion therapy” often told, my experiences in these communities are where I have found some of the most Christ-like love. Ironically, the word that I would use to sum up my experience would be “acceptance.” Those supporting bans on sexual orientation change efforts are claiming to want to provide acceptance to LGBT youth. While I believe they may have their hearts in the right place, these supporters need to know that the actual result of these policies being put into place will not be true inclusion. 

Through enacting these proposals, Joe Biden will be opposing the very places and people that have embraced me in deep and meaningful ways. Had there been a ban on “conversion therapy” while I was seeking these resources, I firmly believe my story would be drastically different—and I would identify as gay. This is something that I now believe is incongruent with my faith and I have found deeper satisfaction and overall well-being in walking out my biblical convictions. Yet, stories like mine are not often told or accepted since they do not fit the common, Hollywood-ready narrative being promoted. 

In light of President Joe Biden’s LGBT platform, I urge you to ask yourself a foundational question: what really is “equality”? Is it boxing every person with questions like mine into coming to the same conclusion, to labeling ourselves simply as an “L” or a “G” or a “B” or a “T”? Or is it allowing true freedom of opportunity to seek out the places and support we believe are best for our convictions, to allow us to put more than just one letter to our story? 

The Media Still Doesn’t Get It: Conservatives Tend to Vote Conservative

by Dan Hart

November 6, 2020

Four years after one of the most shocking presidential upsets in American history, and three days after another election that is too close to call, a vast swath of the mainstream media still has not figured out (or perhaps simply chooses not to acknowledge) why almost half of American voters filled in the oval for Donald Trump.

While it is certainly true that the motivations of Trump voters remain diverse, the primary motivating factor is as plain as day: millions of Americans are conservative, and they in fact voted for a president that has enacted conservative policies. This isn’t rocket science.

Two recent articles in The Atlantic particularly highlight how myopic, and even dangerously prone to vilification (as will be discussed later) so many mainstream media writers remain. In an otherwise insightful analysis of the state of our country, George Packer refers to Trump rallies as “red-drenched festivals of mass hate.” Hmmm. It seems that Mr. Packer has himself fallen prey to becoming, in his own words, an “influential journalist” who “continue[s] to fail to understand how most of their compatriots think, even as these experts spend ever more of their time talking with one another on Twitter and in TV studios.”

Does Mr. Packer really think that those thousands of people who attend Trump rallies are full of “hate”? Or could it be that they simply appreciate Trump for his public policy accomplishments that have helped keep blue collar jobs in America and unemployment low by deregulating the economy, supported the family and religious liberty, respected the value of the unborn, etc.?

Then there is “A Large Portion of the Electorate Chose the Sociopath” by Tom Nichols. Over and over again, without citing any actual proof, Mr. Nichols and many others on the Left continue to carry on the narrative that a massive swath of Trump voters are driven primarily by racism. Mr. Nichols makes this stunningly nauseating assertion: “The politics of cultural resentment, the obsessions of white anxiety, are so intense that his voters are determined not only to preserve minority rule but to leave a dangerous sociopath in the Oval Office.”

Is it possible that intelligent intellectuals like Mr. Nichols, who holds a Ph.D. from Georgetown, actually believe in their heart of hearts, that racism, not policy, is what is driving Trump voters? Again, without citing any actual evidence, he asserts that “far too many of Trump’s voters don’t care about policy.” Once more, Mr. Nichols has apparently not bothered to notice the policies that President Trump has put in place, policies that reflect the goals of the Republican Party platform on protecting the unborn, preserving religious liberty, advocating for school choice, promoting free enterprise and job growth through deregulation, appointing originalist judges, etc.

Millions of American voters also saw through the false façade that Biden is somehow a “political centrist,” as Mr. Nichols described him. How does a “centrist” run on “the most progressive platform of any Democratic nominee in the modern history of the party”? That’s a quote from a Democratic operative in The Atlanticthe very publication that Mr. Nichols is writing for. How does a centrist have a vice presidential nominee that is, according to the left-leaning Newsweekmore liberal than Bernie Sanders, and who openly advocates for public policy that enforces equality of outcome?

But beyond the patent dishonesty of this kind of writing, something much more dangerous is occurring here. The Atlantic is continuing to publish opinion pieces that grossly and disturbingly mischaracterize and demean the motivations behind Trump voters, which will only further demonize conservatives in the minds of liberals, further contributing to the breakdown in mutual respect and assumption of good faith that is critical for a functioning democracy.

Having said that, all of us, whether conservative or liberal, have a lot of work to do in order to assume that most of our fellow compatriots hold their political views in good faith—because they honestly think they are what is best for our country.

The mainstream media, though, which has so much power to shape prevailing patterns of thought, has a particularly important responsibility to do better in this area. If George Packer, Tom Nichols, and the vast majority of their mainstream media colleagues did some actual research into the true motivations of most Trump voters, they just might discover that they are actually pretty ordinary: decent, hardworking people who simply want to preserve America as a free republic.

And to the Oligarchy for Which It Stands

by Ben Householder

August 17, 2020

The average American would likely say that our country is a democracy, ruled by the people. Historians would explain that it is a constitutional democratic republic, ruled by the representatives of the people, whose power is defined and constrained by the Constitution. Many cynical observers, particularly in and around Washington, D.C., might argue that it is really a bureaucracy, ruled by the endlessly expanding regulatory agencies.

In reality, however, in many cases nine unelected individuals who hold their positions for life can effortlessly overturn, with a simple majority vote, the will of the people, their representatives, and the executive agencies—thwarting our constitutional structure itself. A government where that is true can only be described as an oligarchy.

All governing bodies tend to work towards the expansion of their own power. It is no surprise that presidents try to overstep their authority, that regulatory agencies continually expand, or that the federal government tries to encroach on the powers of the states.

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has assumed a level of authority that significantly alters the contours of our constitutional structure and threatens the very notion of our republic. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “republic” as “a state in which power rests with the people or their representatives.” Accordingly, Article I, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution explicitly places “all legislative power granted herein” into the hands of Congress. The representatives of the people were intended to wield the power over the content of the law, limited only by the Constitution itself. This is far from being the case today.

The Supreme Court has demonstrated that it is willing and able to successfully oppose both Congress and the direct will of the people. Consider the example of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was perhaps Congress’ strongest effort to regain its power from the clutches of the judiciary. The act was unanimously passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in response to the 1990 case of Employment Division v. Smith, in which the justices limited religious freedom in a manner that alarmed much of the American public. The law was meant to provide a more expansive definition of religious freedom.

However, the will of our elected representatives in the House and Senate, in tandem with that of the president, proved no match for six justices, who struck down aspects of RFRA in the 1997 case of City of Boerne v. Flores on the grounds that it contradicted their earlier opinion and exceeded Congress’s enforcement authority under the Constitution. Justice Kennedy, in the majority opinion, brazenly asserted judicial supremacy, saying that “[w]hen the political branches of the Government act against the background of a judicial interpretation of the Constitution already issued, it must be understood that in later cases and controversies the Court will treat its precedents with the respect due them under settled principles … and contrary expectations must be disappointed. It is this Court’s precedent, not RFRA, which must control.” In other words, the justices ruled that decisions of the Court supersede those of Congress.

The Supreme Court hasn’t hesitated to overturn the direct will of the American people on other issues either. The overwhelming majority of Americans support the idea of term limits for Congressmen. However, when 23 states passed term limit legislation—15 of them by referendum—five justices overturned the will of those millions of voters. In the 1995 case of U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, the Court ruled that states cannot add requirements to their Congressmen beyond those prescribed by the Constitution. In his heated and potent dissent, Justice Thomas said:

It is ironic that the … majority … defends the right of the people of Arkansas to ‘choose whom they please to govern them’ by invalidating a provision that won nearly 60% of the votes cast in a direct election and that carried every congressional district in the State. … Nothing in the Constitution deprives the people of each State of the power to prescribe eligibility requirements for … candidates … And where the Constitution is silent, it raises no bar to action by the States or the people.

Nevertheless, five justices disliked the idea of term limits and ignored the direct will and votes of the citizens who opposed them. This is not democratic at all.

Examples of similar cases abound. Just this year, in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County, the Supreme Court decided to dramatically alter the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by expanding the obvious meaning of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” In this case, the Court was obstructing the will of the people by tampering with a legislative and not a constitutional provision, and if Congress wishes, it can pass a law responding to Bostock. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri accurately described the majority opinion as an “historic piece of legislation.”

It is clear that in many cases, the justices of the Supreme Court have openly transformed themselves into legislators. On certain issues, the judiciary has wielded absolute and unquestioned power over the content and meaning of the law. Whether this is to be celebrated or mourned is a question for another time. However, we can no longer deny it is occurring. We may not have fully lost the notion of our republic as of yet, but we are on the treacherous road toward doing so.

Ben Householder is an Honors student at Regent University.

Can the Pandemic Help Renew Home and Family Life?

by Dan 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.

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