Author archives: David Closson

Prayer Point #3: Pray for Church Leaders

by David Closson

March 24, 2020

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

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

As Americans continue working from home and abiding by the government’s request for social distancing, churches around the country are coming up with creative ways to serve their congregations and communities. These include hosting “drive-in” worship services; live-streaming services and church gatherings through Facebook Live, Zoom, YouTube Live, or other services; sending short videos and devotionals to church members; and using their facilities and parking lots as staging areas for food distribution.

These ideas, and others, can be found on FRC’s new resource page for churches: FRC.org/church 

As the work of the church continues, Christians need to pray for their pastors and church leaders. Specifically, we should pray for wisdom as these leaders continue to evaluate best practices for caring for their members during these anxious times. Pray that they will have the discernment to faithfully shepherd the congregations under their care, even if they are unable to physically gather for the foreseeable future (1 Peter 5:2). Pray also for creativity, as pastors and church leaders think of innovative ways to engage and serve their members.

For many churches, the interruption in weekly gatherings has impacted giving. While most medium and large churches already utilize online platforms to facilitate tithing, many smaller churches have not used this technology before, or their members are unfamiliar with it. Therefore, pray for the financial well-being of churches and sacrificial giving among Christians. A national crisis presents many opportunities for the church to engage in mercy ministry, but the church cannot do this work without enough financial support.

Christians should also pray for the physical health and safety of their pastors. Many pastors are working around the clock to care for their members. Whether visiting them in-person (while following CDC social distancing guidelines), calling them on the phone, or using other means of communication, church leaders are working hard to stay connected to their members. Pray for their strength and stamina. And pray for their families who are making tremendous sacrifices during this time as well.

Also, pray for clear gospel proclamation. As many churches turn to digital media to broadcast their worship services, pray that preachers will faithfully teach God’s Word and that many will hear and respond to the gospel. Amid the busyness of caring for their members and the changes in their routine, pray that pastors will have enough time in their week to study Scripture and prepare faithful sermons. Pray that these sermons will be the means God uses to save sinners.  

Finally, the coronavirus outbreak has forced churches to hold services in new, creative ways. This interruption in our routine should remind us that the persecuted church around the world is regularly forced to gather in unconventional ways. As we pray for our local pastors and church leaders, let us also remember persecuted Christians and their leaders around the world.

Prayer Point #2: Pray for Government Leaders

by David Closson

March 20, 2020

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

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

Christians are called to pray for those in positions of authority at all times (1 Tim. 2:2). This is especially true during a national emergency. Pray for President Trump, Vice President Pence, governors, mayors, and all those making decisions related to public health and safety. Pray for a spirit of bipartisanship as lawmakers work together to protect people.

As the world faces mounting social and economic pressure related to the spread of the coronavirus, Christians need to pray for those who are responsible for crafting their nation’s response. In the days ahead, government leaders will have to make difficult decisions regarding public health and safety. They will have to make decisions about the economy, as the markets continue to fluctuate, and businesses and non-profits face an uncertain financial future. Decisions about transportation, education, the use of public facilities, and upcoming elections must be made as well.

Trying times require wisdom. And those making decisions at the highest levels of government need divine wisdom as they make decisions that affect millions of people. As Christians, we know God calls us to pray for our political and civil leaders. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Paul writes, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Christians should pray for our government leaders every day—especially in the current crisis.  

Christians should commit to frequently praying for the following leaders:

  • President Trump
  • Vice President Pence
  • Secretary Alex Azar (HHS)
  • Secretary Steven Mnuchin (Treasury)
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci (Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)
  • The White House Coronavirus Task Force
  • Governors and mayors across the country
  • All health care workers and public health officials

Specifically, we should pray they’ll have the wisdom to process all the information they receive about the virus, courage to make the right decisions, and stamina as they work long days. We should also pray for their physical, emotional, and spiritual health. And we should pray for the families of these leaders who are making tremendous sacrifices as well.

We should also pray for government leaders around the world as they fight the coronavirus in their own countries. We should pray that leaders will work together in a spirit of cooperation. And along these lines, we should pray for a spirit of bipartisanship as American lawmakers work together on legislation designed to help and protect people. Pray Republicans and Democrats put partisan politics aside and unite in common purpose to address a wide range of issues.  

A powerful verse on the power of prayer is James 5:16. In this verse, James writes, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (KJV). James’ encouragement to Christians is that our prayers are powerful and effective. God promises that He hears and acts on the prayers of His people (Psalm 34:15). Claiming these promises, let’s lift up our government leaders in prayer during this crisis.

Be Not Afraid”: How Christians and Church Leaders Can Respond to the Coronavirus

by David Closson

March 19, 2020

At Family Research Council, our mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. This mission guides all our work, including our advocacy for religious liberty, life, and biblical values. It also informs our response to the coronavirus, which, as we are well aware, is now a pandemic.

President Trump has declared a national emergency and released new guidelines aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, including avoiding discretionary travel, discouraging eating out at restaurants, bars, and food courts, practicing good hygiene, and limiting social gatherings to 10 people or less. We believe if the steps recommended by the CDC and the White House are followed, there is a good chance we can “flatten the curve” and lessen the impact of the spreading virus on our health care system.

Over the past week, Christians from around the country have asked important questions about how to respond faithfully to the threat posed by the coronavirus. Specifically, many are wondering how churches should respond to the ongoing crisis. We believe there are a few appropriate responses to all of this.

First, Christians must pray. On Sunday, March 15, President Trump called for a National Day of Prayer in response to the calls of evangelical leaders. We must continue praying that God’s grace and mercy would fall upon us and that we would turn our eyes toward Him in this time of great need. To guide our prayer (which should be ongoing), FRC’s President Tony Perkins outlined several ways we can pray for the ongoing threat posed by the coronavirus in the days and weeks ahead. We encourage everyone to read these prayer points and use them to guide your own prayers.

Specifically, Christians should commit to frequently praying for the following leaders:

  • President Trump
  • Vice President Pence
  • Secretary Alex Azar (HHS)
  • Secretary Steven Mnuchin (Treasury)
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci (Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)
  • The White House Coronavirus Task Force
  • Congressional leadership
  • Governors and mayors across the country
  • Other officials in the administration and those at all levels of government who are dealing with this crisis
  • All health care workers and public health officials

Second, we should comply with mandates and recommendations from those in authority. Under normal conditions, it would be impermissible under our laws and the Constitution for the government to tell a church when it can or cannot meet. But certain emergencies, such as natural disasters and pandemics, do present temporary but substantial risks to public health and safety. As long as the government is not singling out and targeting religious gatherings for restriction (while permitting non-religious gatherings to take place), it is allowed to enact policies restricting all gatherings of a certain size in cases like this.

Biblically, Romans 13 reminds us that God instituted the governing authorities whom we should obey so long as they do not require us to disobey God. And while gathering for regular worship is not an optional part of the Christian life (Hebrews 10:25), FRC does not believe it is wrong to temporarily suspend corporate in-person meetings if the authorities believe it is in the community’s best interest. In the Old Testament, God gave Moses and Aaron detailed instructions about quarantines in cases of infectious disease (Leviticus 13-14). When there were outbreaks of disease, the priests served as public health officials and imposed guidelines for quarantining people, infected garments, and even houses. In the New Testament, Jesus called us to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31), and we believe in a case like this, the best way to practice neighborly love is by following the guidance of health and public safety experts.

The church can still meet and gather together in different ways. While not every church need adopt all these practices, there are ways we can still “gather” in the days ahead while ensuring we don’t contribute to the spread of the virus:

  • Encourage church members to drive to a parking lot, but stay in their cars and tune into shortwave radios used to broadcast church services.
  • Meet in small groups instead of one large gathering.
  • Suspend larger gatherings but keep the church office open.
  • Livestream services or other church gatherings and use texting or online chat groups to stay connected (churches with more advanced technological assets such as teleconferencing capabilities or other established systems to livestream events may partner with other churches to help them stay connected to their congregants).

Here are some ways churches can think about serving in the current times:

  • Offer benevolent funds to those facing financial hardship.
  • Provide housing for students who are being required to vacate school housing.
  • If possible, keep food pantries well stocked and include cleaning and sanitizing products.
  • Think of creative ways to serve older members, such as picking up groceries and prescriptions. Establish a way to check in on those who may be living alone, the elderly, or other vulnerable people.

Here are some practical tips that churches can implement, and educate their members on, to help prevent further spread of the virus:

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Provide and require members to use hand-sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol while on church property.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Thoroughly and repeatedly clean high-contact surfaces and objects.
  • Encourage sick or at-risk members to stay home and seek medical care.
  • Minimize panic by educating members and preparing for disruptions in service.

The Department of Health and Human Services has also released a list of Recommended Preventative Practices for faith-based and community leaders, which we encourage you to read.

We also encourage you not to neglect your regular financial offering to your place of worship. The church as an institution is always crucial to society, but at times like these, its care for communities in need is especially needed. Your financial support helps do that. If you don’t have electronic banking, most church offices remain open, so please drop your contribution off with your church so that ministry can continue.

Finally, followers of Jesus should maintain a posture of trust while taking appropriate precautions. In times like these, when anxiety, misinformation, and uncertainty abound, it is tempting to become fearful. But while it is important to take all precautions and follow the latest updates from the authorities, Christians should not panic. During this time of increased fear, we must remember that we have been given a “spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7).

Our God is sovereign. The coronavirus did not take Him by surprise. He is still governing and sustaining the world (Col. 1:17). Human tendencies naturally pull society’s discussion of all this in the direction of panic and fear. But the Scriptures are clear: “Be not afraid.” Bible-believing Christians can model a spirit of trust as they remind each other of God’s promises and character. This grounding will enable us to care for and serve those around us.

Prayer Point #1: Pray for an End to the Spread of the Virus

by David Closson

March 18, 2020

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

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

The first prayer point is that Christians should pray for an end to the spread of the virus. The Bible teaches us that God is the Creator and Sustainer of the world (Gen. 1-2; Col. 1:17). Because God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and omnipresent, nothing—including the coronavirus—ever takes Him by surprise or is outside His control. For Christians, this is an important and precious truth to remember in this time of uncertainty. Although the future is uncertain, we know and trust the One who controls it.

The coronavirus did not take God by surprise; He is still governing and sustaining the world (Col. 1:17). Pray for God’s healing mercy and that He would graciously bring this pandemic to an end. Pray for healing for all those affected by the virus.

God Delights in Prayer

Throughout Scripture, God’s people are given constant reminders of His care for them. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” In Matthew 6:26, Jesus says, “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?” Jesus teaches here that God cares for every single person made in His image. Nothing happens to His children—good or bad—without first passing through God’s gracious hand. 

In addition to stressing God’s care for His people, Jesus often encouraged His followers to pray (Mat. 6:5; Luke 18:1). For example, in Luke 11:9, Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Elsewhere, the New Testament is clear that Christians are expected to pray. Colossians 4:2 says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul exhorts the church to “pray without ceasing.”

But the Bible does more than encourage believers to pray; it says God delights in the prayers of His people. Consider Proverbs 15:8b, which says, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight.” Because God delights in our prayers, we ought to readily bring them before Him.   

God Answers Prayer

A second truth is that God answers prayer. The Bible is full of examples of men and women who cried out to God and received answers to their prayers. For example, when the Israelites were sojourning in the wilderness, their sin resulted in a severe punishment: fiery serpents released in their midst. In response to the peoples’ desperate cry and Moses’ prayer, God provided a bronze serpent that the people could look at and receive healing (Numbers 21:6-9).

Another example of remarkable healing in response to prayer is 2 Kings 20. In this passage, Hezekiah, the King of Judah, falls ill, and the Prophet Isaiah tells him that he is going to die. Hezekiah immediately cries out to God. Before Isaiah can leave the room, God tells him to return to the king with the good news: “Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you” (2 Kings 20:5). The answer to Hezekiah’s prayer was 15 more years of life. 

There are many examples in the New Testament of Jesus healing people. Often, Jesus healed men and women who asked Him for help. For example, in Matthew 8:1-4, Jesus heals a leper who asks for healing. Additionally, Jesus healed the Centurion’s servant (Mat. 8:5-13), the synagogue ruler’s daughter (Mat. 9:18-26), two blind men (Mat. 9:27-31), a deaf man with a speech impediment (Mark 7:31-37), and the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30) in response to personal requests for deliverance. In one significant passage, Jesus himself prays before raising Lazarus back to life (John 11:41-42). These examples underscore the significance of bringing our requests for healing and deliverance to God. He not only hears our prayers, oftentimes He chooses to provide healing and relief.

Finally, in Hebrews 4:16, Christians are encouraged to “draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” In this current time of need, Christians should pray that the virus would stop spreading, the affected would be healed, and all those quarantined and feeling alone would be comforted. Pray also that doctors and scientists will be successful in creating a vaccine for the coronavirus.

These are difficult times, but Christians serve a God who hears, delights in, and answers our prayers. Let us approach Him humbly yet with confidence, asking Him to graciously bring this pandemic to an end.

Callous and Cruel: The Senate Fails to Uphold Human Dignity

by David Closson

February 26, 2020

Yesterday, the United States Senate voted on two significant pieces of legislation: the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. Although a majority of senators supported the bills, both fell short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture (i.e., end debate and move to a vote on the bill) and overcome a Democrat-led filibuster.

The Senate voted 53-44 on the Pain-Capable cloture vote and 56-41 on the Born-Alive cloture vote. The votes were largely along party lines. Two Democrats (Casey and Manchin) voted in favor of Pain-Capable, and three (Casey, Manchin, and Jones) voted in favor of Born-Alive. All Republicans voted for Born-Alive, while two Republicans (Collins and Murkowski) voted against Pain-Capable. The three Democratic senators currently running for president (Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren) were not present for the vote, though all have voted against both measures in the past.

From a Christian worldview perspective, the Senate’s inability to pass these pieces of common-sense legislation represents a massive moral failing. Unfortunately, opponents of the legislation—including the abortion lobby—launched a massive misinformation campaign to deny the need for these bills.

First, they denied scientific evidence that babies in utero can feel pain at 20 weeks. Doctors understand this scientific reality, which is why they administer pediatric anesthesia during fetal surgeries. This reflects an understanding that fetal surgeries have two patients: the mother and the child.

Moreover, the legal framework under Roe v. Wade allows abortion up to the moment of birth. Currently, unless individual states take legislative action to restrict abortion later in pregnancy, abortion on demand is legal through all nine months of pregnancy. According to FRC’s new pro-life map, 22 states allow abortion on demand right up until birth. The United States is one of only seven countries in the world (including North Korea and China) that allow abortion after 20 weeks.

Considering these facts, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is a necessary bill, and the Senate’s failure to pass it reflects a callous and cruel disregard for the dignity and value of human life.

Second, opponents of Born-Alive denied that infants can be born alive following an abortion procedure and claimed the bill was a solution in search of a problem. However, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2003 and 2014, at least 143 infants were born alive after an abortion procedure and later died. Moreover, only eight states require reporting data on infants who survive abortion, meaning the available data is almost certainly an underestimate. FRC has identified at least 170 additional born-alive abortion survivors, beyond the 143 abortion survivors reported in the CDC’s death statistics. This means there are, at an absolute minimum, over 300 cases of infants surviving an abortion.

Born-Alive explicitly requires health care practitioners to exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to an infant who survives an abortion as they would for any other baby born at the same gestational age. To reiterate, children who have already been born are the focus of this legislation. Thus, this bill is not even about abortion; it’s about born-alive infants!

Moreover, the legislation would create criminal penalties for any health care provider who fails to render medical aid to infants born alive and for any health care facility that does not report a failure to provide care. Although a 2002 federal law defines born-alive infants as full persons, there are currently no provisions in the law to hold abortionists accountable for killing or denying medical care to infants who survive abortion.

The failure to pass the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act amounts to a moral dereliction by every senator who voted against it. The fact that 41 senators could not take a stand on infanticide is horrifying.

A person’s worldview has consequences. In the political arena, this is certainly true; a legislator’s worldview provides the framework for his or her policies and political positions. Yesterday, a minority of United States senators disclosed a worldview with a deficient moral framework when it comes to caring for the most vulnerable members of society. The worldview divide in the Senate on this issue could not be starker, as evidenced by yesterday’s votes.

The Trump administration revealed its own worldview with the issuance of a statement of administrative policy shortly before the Senate’s vote. In part, the statement said: “Our most helpless Americans cannot protect themselves from pain or from those who would callously allow them to die. The government, therefore, has a compelling responsibility to defend the rights and interests of these babies, including to be free from excruciating or unnecessary pain. All babies have the same dignity. They should not have to endure pain, and they should receive critical life-saving care regardless of whether they are born in a hospital, at home, or in an abortion clinic.”

Christians should pray for every senator who voted yesterday. We should thank God that most senators voted to protect babies who feel pain and babies who are born alive following abortion procedures. We should also grieve that so many senators lack the compassion to stand up for children who need their help. We should lament their decision to vote “no,” and commit to praying that their hearts and minds will change.

Netflix’s Mocking of Christians Is Not Sitting Well With Brazilians

by David Closson

December 18, 2019

Netflix is facing considerable pushback following its release of a film that contains profane, anti-Christian content. The film, titled The First Temptation of Christ, was produced by a Brazilian YouTube comedy group called Porta dos Fundos, which is known for producing irreverent content. The film depicts God and Mary as illicit lovers and Jesus as a closeted homosexual, among other things.

Outraged Netflix subscribers in Brazil and around the world are calling for the film’s immediate removal. One petition protesting the film has already collected over two million signatures since the film debuted on December 3.  

Described by the filmmakers as a “Christmas Special Show,” the plot follows Jesus as he returns to Nazareth for his 30th birthday party. Accompanying Jesus to the party is an effeminate and flirtatious character named Orlando. Conversations with Jesus’ family strongly imply that Orlando is romantically involved with Jesus.

Explicit and sexually suggestive language is used throughout the film, and many scenes are scandalous and outright blasphemous from the perspective of biblical Christianity. For example, Mary smokes marijuana, one of the wise men hires a female escort, and Jesus gets high off a “special tea.” God is depicted as a good-looking, talented, and likable character, while Joseph is portrayed as an incompetent carpenter. Furthermore, the film portrays Joseph as being jealous of God for the relationship he has with Mary. In one shocking scene, God reveals to Mary, Joseph, and Jesus that he had intercourse with Mary, which resulted in her pregnancy. In a subsequent scene, God and Mary appear ready to kiss before Joseph interrupts.

Toward the end of the film, it is revealed that Orlando is Lucifer—evidently, he successfully seduced Jesus in the desert. While Jesus is summoning up the courage to fight him, Orlando/Lucifer forcibly kisses Mary. The movie concludes with Jesus killing Lucifer and accepting the call to spread God’s message.

From the perspective of a biblical worldview, there are a few points to be made. First, the film intentionally seeks to provoke and offend Christian sensibilities. The notion that Jesus is gay and has a homosexual lover contradicts the evidence of Scripture and its clear teaching on the immorality of homosexuality (Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10).

Second, the portrayal of God as a sex-obsessed deity is reminiscent of the sordid escapades of Greek gods and goddesses and in no way resembles the God of biblical Christianity. The depiction of God in this film is utterly blasphemous. In Christianity, blasphemy is the act of showing contempt or lack of reverence for God. The third of the Ten Commandments prohibits such irreverence: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). Christians believe the name of God is holy and how we use God’s name ought to express the reverence that is due to him. The commandment forbids more than just the verbal misuse of God’s name (e.g., as an expletive): it also condemns any abuse of God’s name in “ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious, or wicked” ways. Without a doubt, the film misuses God’s name by portraying Him in a manner that is diametrically opposed to how He is presented in the Bible.  

While Porta dos Fundos insists The First Temptation of Christ is merely satirical, the film has proven divisive in Brazil, a nation that is home to 120 million Catholics—more than anywhere in the world. The controversy is not surprising, then, as the film depicts Jesus in ways that are alien to Scripture.

It is worth noting that caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that are much less profane than how God and Jesus are portrayed in The First Temptation of Christ have provoked massive protests in Islamic countries. Most famously, Muslim terrorists attacked the office of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in 2015 after the magazine depicted Muhammad in an unflatteringly light. Twelve people were killed and 11 wounded in the attack.

When films with sacrilegious content offend the sensibilities of believers, the question of free speech and censorship often arises. The First Amendment protects offensive speech, certainly. However, important questions ought to be asked. Such as, why do companies like Netflix think it is acceptable to violate basic standards of decency when it comes to religion? Why do many producers and directors think it is acceptable to attack the beliefs of millions of devout Christians in the name of “art”?

While it is no longer socially acceptable to malign people for their sex, race, or nationality, it is unfortunately still acceptable to bully and make fun of Christians and their beliefs. That is why Netflix and other media companies do not hesitate when providing a platform for a film as profane as The First Temptation of Christ. These companies think Christians are easy targets who will not fight back. Therefore, they believe they can continue to belittle and mock Christians through their films, art, and music with few repercussions.

However, it appears that Christians in Brazil have had enough and are pushing back. They should be applauded for voicing their objection to this offensive material. By uniting their voices, they are sending a clear message to Netflix that sacrilegious content like The First Temptation of Christ has no audience in Brazil and that movie makers should respect religious belief if they want an audience.

What the LA Times Gets Wrong About Religious Freedom

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

August 21, 2019

Last week, the Department of Labor issued a proposed rule clarifying the rights of religious employers to contract with the government without being forced to violate their religious beliefs. After decades of court decisions and disparate interpretations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is no wonder that some religious organizations are fearful of working with the federal government because they don’t have clarity on what they can and can’t do. It makes sense that the Department of Labor would want to clarify their rights now.

Yet yesterday’s Los Angeles Times’ Editorial Board threw cold water on this idea, claiming the proposed rule would “dramatically expand the [religious liberty] exemption,” which they believe makes “little legal sense” and threatens to erode what was “once broad and bipartisan support for the idea that the government should accommodate sincere religious convictions.”

Yet are these gripes accurate? Hardly. In reality, as the proposed rule makes clear, the Department of Labor is simply aligning its interpretation of religious exemptions with years of federal court decisions and the definitions in Title VII itself. For years, Title VII has protected religious people from a wide array of faith groups equally. So what is the LA Times so scared of? The reason seems revealed in the title: “Trump’s new ‘religious freedom’ rule looks like a license to discriminate.”

Unfortunately, the assumption of the LA Times appears to be that Christian conservatives are using religious freedom as a “pretext for discrimination.” Yet LGBT issues are not specifically addressed anywhere in the proposed rule. It is the idea that LGBT-related claims might be affected by religious freedom claims that has the LA Times up in arms. If the editors read the rule more carefully, they would see that it actually addresses sincerity as an important component of a religious freedom claim, and “conceal[ing] discrimination” has been dealt with by courts assessing these Title VII claims. The LA Times and others espousing this line of thinking don’t get to pick and choose when religious freedom applies. It either does or it doesn’t, and if the Title VII definitions were acceptable for decades, they should still be acceptable today.

Religious freedom is a virtue that benefits the common good; it does not favor Republicans over Democrats or Roman Catholics over Muslims. Thankfully, the Trump administration recognizes these basic truths and is protecting religious employers of all faith backgrounds. If the LA Times researched how the Title VII religious exemption has functioned in the past, it would see that it benefits various religious minorities in a host of different circumstances. Indeed, one of the cases referenced in the proposed rule—LeBoon v. Lancaster Jewish Cmty. Ctr. Ass’n—features a Jewish organization. Just a few years ago, the Supreme Court—in an opinion authored by Justice Scalia—applied Title VII to protect a Muslim employee’s rights against her employer.

Thus, to argue that faith-based organizations should not be able to run their business according to their religious beliefs represents a truncated view of religious freedom. There is no legitimate reason that a faith-based organization should lose out on a federal contract for simply adhering to their religious beliefs, and the proposed rule is right to remedy that.

The LA Times editorial is a reminder that people from all religious backgrounds must continue to help shed light on the reality that religious freedom is a good that serves all people.

Isolation, White Supremacy, and Despair: A Christian Response to El Paso

by David Closson

August 7, 2019

Two horrifying mass shootings over the weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio shocked the nation and renewed an ongoing discussion about domestic terrorism, mental health, violent video games, and gun control. While details are still emerging about what motivated the Dayton shooter, a manifesto posted online by the El Paso shooter lists a litany of grievances and conspiratorial ideas underlined by white supremacist ideology.

Addressing the attacks in a speech to the nation on Monday, President Trump directly repudiated white supremacist ideology which has been linked to other domestic terrorist attacks around the world including Quebec (2017), Charlottesville (2017), Pittsburgh (2018), and Christchurch, New Zealand (2019).

The president explained, “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul.”

In the wake of such tragedy, many are asking why mass shootings keep happening in America. Since Sunday, political leaders, pundits, and commentators have taken turns focusing on video games, congressional inaction, political rhetoric, the deinstitutionalization of mental health, gun laws, and the breakdown of the family.

While some of these factors may help create a toxic environment, none of them explain why mass shootings and other violent attacks occur. This is because these explanations overlook the underlying spiritual reality of human sin.

Objective Hatred Is at the Root of Ethnic Animus

Intuitively, something is clearly not right in the world; the reality of evil is evident and confronts us daily. In fact, evil is so pervasive that it is tempting to despair and become numb to the pain around us. However, the Bible explains that the intractable evil in society and our own disordered desires and corrupt wills are the result of the fall and humanity’s rebellion against God (Gen. 3). Sin separates us from God and each other.

Jesus warned about the evil that would spring from within us and be directed at fellow human beings: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). He warns even against anger with one another: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matt. 5:21-22).

Tragically, one of the manifestations of sin is hatred directed toward others based on our perception that they are from a different ethnic background from us. Referring to the El Paso shooting, Albert Mohler made the connection between the human heart and this type of animus, explaining, “Hatred has an object, in this case, a human object. It appears that Hispanic immigrants were at the center of that young man’s hatred.”

The Christian worldview speaks directly to the issue of the walls our sinful hearts might erect based on skin color and ethnicity. The Bible teaches that everyone is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Additionally, the gospel is for all people; Christ died for everyone, and in him believers from every tongue, nation, and tribe are reconciled to God and each other in “one new man” (Eph. 2:14-16). In terms of access to God, the Bible is clear: distinctions based on background and ethnicity are abolished in the new covenant (Gal. 3:28-29, Col. 3:11). In heaven, people from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and language” will praise God (Rev. 7:9). Consequently, any ideology that re-erects distinctions based on ethnicity are sinful, and most be strongly repudiated by the church.

The president is right to point out that this type of hatred “warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul.” Christians, who worship Jesus, a Middle Eastern Jewish man, must be clear that white supremacy—the absurd belief that those of European descent with lighter skin pigment are superior to others—is antithetical to the gospel and has absolutely no place in the church.

Social Isolation Dehumanizes Us

Another aspect of this story is the epidemic of young, white men who are increasingly disenchanted with society. This is clearly seen in the shooter’s manifesto where he reportedly talks of his fears that his dream job will be “automated” and that ethnic groups other than his own “will take control” of the government “to better suit their needs.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board noted this disturbing trend of young men who feel left out of society. They write, “This is the rant of someone angry about a society he doesn’t feel a part of and doesn’t comprehend. It is all-too-typical of most of these young male killers who tend to be loners and marinate in notions they absorb in the hours they spend online. They are usually disconnected to family, neighborhood, church, colleagues at work, or anything apart from their online universe.”

This disenchantment with society, fueled by a lack of meaningful community, corrodes our ability to see dignity in other people. When we fail to appreciate the value of human life, it becomes easier to engage in dehumanizing behavior. Thus, at a time when the mediating institutions that formerly provided cultural and social cohesion are in fast decline, it is imperative for Christians to cultivate a culture in their churches that prioritizes relationships with those on the social periphery who feel alone, threatened, and upset.

Welcoming All into the Family of God

Along these lines, Andrew Walker issued a challenge to Christians:

The local church must be a place where a culture of love for God’s authority, God’s creation of humanity, God’s plan for an individual’s industry, and God’s design for the family are heralded without embarrassment. The church must be a place that speaks to the patterns of American culture that are failing people. This means that the church must be a place that is less concerned with bourgeoisie sermons about coaching Americans into a happier American dream and more concerned with pulling a culture back from the cliffs of despair.

Ultimately, human sin explains why mass shootings and other tragedies continue to occur in America and around the world. Moreover, human sin is responsible for the larger spiritual crisis that threatens to destroy unity in our nation and churches along ethnic, economic, and religious divides. In these defining moments, Christians must weep with those who weep and point to the hope of the gospel. Wicked acts of violence like the mass shootings over the weekend are the effect of a deep pathology that’s only cured by a relationship with Christ and inclusion in the family of God.

Finding Hope in the Joshua Harris Story

by David Closson

July 31, 2019

Joshua Harris, former lead pastor of Covenant Life Church and author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, announced over the weekend via Instagram that he no longer considers himself a Christian.

The post came a week after Harris surprised followers by announcing he and his wife were separating after 21 years of marriage.

Harris’ book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, advocated abstinence and an alternative approach to dating. It was widely influential in the purity movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s and sold a million copies. Released in 1997, Harris’ book argued that casual dating often causes emotional harm and that Christian singles should not pursue a romantic relationship until they are ready for marriage. Instead, singles should embrace courtship, a dating alternative where couples cultivate friendship and parents are given permission to guide the relationship. Strict physical boundaries—no holding hands, no kissing, limited time alone—should govern the relationship to protect the couple from sexual temptation.

A generation of Christian conservatives embraced Harris’ ideas and his book became synonymous with the purity movement.

Propelled by the success of his books (Harris published two additional purity advocacy books in 2000 and 2003), Harris’ profile rose, and he was called as pastor of Covenant Life Church, then a leading church in the Sovereign Grace church network. Harris was installed as senior pastor at age 30.

Harris left Covenant Life in 2015 to pursue formal theological education. In recent years Harris made news when he formally apologized for his famous book and what he now believes was the perpetuation of “an unhealthy view of romance and sexuality.”

Harris’ shocking announcements about his divorce and decision to renounce Christianity have garnered national and international attention. While media reports have generally been sympathetic to Harris, for many Christians, especially those influenced by I Kissed Dating Goodbye, the news is extremely disheartening and provides an opportunity to reiterate some important truths.

Apostasy

How should Christians struggling with this news think about these developments? Specifically, how should the question of apostasy—which this story has raised—be approached?

The question is fair—on his Instagram page Harris wrote: “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.” Elsewhere in his post he refers to his decision explicitly as “falling away.”

Harris’ rejection of Christ is clear and without equivocation. Tragically, he no longer believes the gospel he preached for two decades of public ministry. Thus, it would seem Hebrews 6:4-6 and its warning of apostasy applies to him:

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

However, Scripture is also clear that God preserves those he has called to salvation. In Philippians 1:6 Paul writes, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” In John 10:28, Jesus, referring to his true followers, promises, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” 

Thus, the Bible is clear that true believers cannot lose their salvation. Therefore, how does one reconcile Hebrews 6:4-6 with the rest of Scripture? As New Testament scholar Thomas Schreiner explains, the answer lies in the fact that the warning passage of Hebrews 6:4-6 is best interpreted as a means God uses to keep believers till the end. For those who belong to God, the warnings serve as stark reminders to stay faithful to Christ; they spur believers to persevere in the faith. In other words, no true believer truly and finally falls away from Christ; the warnings keep us within the family of God.

Thus, for someone like Joshua Harris, the Bible teaches that he never experienced conversion. All indications from Harris’ public statements are that 1 John 2:19 applies to him: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

Christian Celebrity Culture is Dangerous 

Another aspect of this story involves the celebrity culture that has developed within Christianity (especially American evangelicalism). With the rise of mega-churches and large para-church organizations, pastors, in many situations, achieve what amounts to celebrity status. However, with a platform and increasing influence comes a responsibility that many are unprepared for.

The phenomenon of celebrity pastors has led to ministries built around a personality rather than the gospel of Christ. As Leah Klett recently warned, people who attend churches led by well-known pastors need to be very careful that they are committed first and foremost to Christ rather than an engaging, influential pastor.

Consequently, in a personality driven culture, when celebrity pastors have a moral or financial scandal, or worse, renounce their faith, their congregations and ministries are shaken, and followers are often sent into an existential crisis about the nature of their own faith.

However, this should not occur. While a congregation should rightfully be grieved when their leaders fail to live up to the high standards set forth in Scripture for Christian leaders (1 Tim 1:1-7, Titus 1:5-9), the truthfulness of the gospel should never be based on the character or credibility of a person. Again, if one’s commitment to Jesus is grounded in an engaging personality rather than God’s Word, it is likely that that person’s faith was built on sand rather than rock (Mat 7:24-27).

Thus, although Christians are right to grieve at the news of Joshua Harris’ desertion of the faith, these revelations should not cause Christians to doubt or question their own faith, if indeed their faith is genuine and rooted in God’s Word.

As Kevin Rodgers, the interim pastor at Harris’ former church said to his congregation in a letter shortly after the news broke, “Paul’s primary instruction for us when leaders swerve from faith is that we make it an opportunity for greater resolve in our own faith, not less. Seeing leaders who taught us the gospel veer from it should deepen our commitment to ‘guard the good deposit’ entrusted to us. And ‘pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness’ (1 Tim 6:11).”

The Lord Will Hold Us Fast

Joshua Harris’ divorce and rejection of Christianity sent shockwaves through many Christian circles, especially those who benefited from his ministry and appreciated his writings. His rejection of the faith is shocking; Christians are rightly alarmed that someone who preached God’s Word for years has renounced the gospel. However, I believe it is important to reiterate that there is still hope for Joshua Harris. There is still time to turn to Christ in faith and repentance—likely for the first time—and experience a true relationship rooted in the unmerited grace that comes through a relationship with Jesus. Paul himself adamantly rejected Christ prior to his conversion—even devoting his life to persecuting Jesus’ followers—before recognizing his terrible mistake and turning to Christ.

A final point worth noting is that Harris’ apology to the LGBTQ+ community suggests underlying discomfort with the Bible’s clear teaching on marriage and human sexuality. This points to a common trend with those who “de-transition” from Christianity: rejection of the faith is often coupled with a repudiation of biblical morality that is increasingly viewed as suspicious or subversive in today’s culture.

Christians should rightly grieve over Joshua Harris’ announcement that he has kissed his faith goodbye. It should steel us to persevere to the end and plead that the Lord will indeed hold us fast.

Democrats Are Fixated on Climate Change. How Should Christians Respond?

by David Closson

June 28, 2019

In Wednesday night’s first Democratic debate, the first ten candidates made their pitch for why they should be their party’s nominee to take on President Trump in 2020.

While significant moral issues such as transgender rights and abortion were brought up repeatedly throughout the night—notably all of the candidates have promised to expand LGBT rights and advance the Democrat party’s extreme position on abortion—it was another issue with worldview implications that received a significant amount of attention: climate change.

Although climate activists were disappointed their issue did not receive more time in the debate, five candidates were asked specific questions about the climate. Moreover, when asked about what they considered the “greatest geopolitical threat to the United States right now,” four candidates (Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Julian Castro) named “climate change.”

However, as he has throughout his candidacy, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington ratcheted up the rhetoric by drawing special attention to the “climate crisis” in his closing statement. The Governor explained: “When I was thinking of running for president, I made a decision. I decided that on my last day on earth, I wanted to look [my grandchildren] in the eye and tell them I did everything humanly possible to protect them from the ravages of the climate crisis.”

Although stated melodramatically, Inslee’s comments and the relative unanimity among his primary rivals that climate change is an “existential threat” indicate the issue will feature prominently in the 2020 campaign. Thus, it is important for Christians to think through the issue carefully and approach the issue through the lens of Scripture.

Dominion and Stewardship

From the perspective of the biblical worldview, there are two theological truths that must be held together when “global warming” or “climate change” is discussed: dominion and stewardship.

First, the Bible teaches that when God created the world he created human beings in his image and charged them to exercise dominion by multiplying and filling the earth (Gen. 1:26-28). As the Creator’s vice-regent, man was tasked with the responsibility to rule the earth in a way that honors God.

Significantly, man’s dominion is designed to promote human flourishing. Examples of exercising dominion which necessarily require the use of natural resources include irrigating a garden, constructing a building, designing a power grid, and domesticating animals, just to name a few. The clear teaching of the Bible is that man is permitted, even commanded, to develop the earth and its resources for the benefit of humanity. Unfortunately, much of the rhetoric surrounding the environment loses sight of the biblical insight that man has a God-given responsibility to cultivate the earth.

History contains examples of how this authority has been handled well. In fact, in obedience to the creation mandate, gifted men and women have been able to do incredible things such as develop life-saving medicine from nature, increase crop efficiency, and create power sources that improve the quality of life of billions of people.

But the earth and its resources hold more than just instrumental value. This is why the second theological truth that Christians must remember in conversations about environmental ethics is the principle of stewardship.

Stated simply, Christians are called to exercise stewardship over creation. As Albert Mohler explains, “We are given a garden. We do not own it. We are called to tend it and to make it flourish. And we are going to give an answer to the owner of the garden for how we cared for it…”

Environmental Care Should Never Fall Prey to Naturalism

Christians should oppose the unfettered exploitation of natural resources because creation should be received and cherished as a gift; it is not merely a resource to be exhausted and consumed. However, because man is fallen, Christians should not be surprised when people go beyond good use of creation to sinful abuse. But concern for the environment should never prompt the pendulum to swing so far to the other side that man becomes subservient to the created order. The tasks of dominion and stewardship are not opposed. Rather, they are complementary and should be held together.  

Christians should care about the environment because it reflects the glory of God. In fact, Psalm 19:1 affirms, “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands.” Similarly, Psalm 97:6 says that “the heavens proclaim his righteousness; all the people see his glory.” God himself cares so much about his creation that he provided specific guidance for how the Israelites were to respect the land during war (see Deut. 20:19-20).

However, as witnessed in Wednesday night’s Democrat debate, much of the recent discussion about the environment has ventured beyond reasonable concern. In fact, when candidates for President of the United States list “climate change” as the “greatest geopolitical threat” over pressing issues such as terrorism, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, or China, they betray a worldview rooted in naturalism rather than biblical Christianity.

The Natural World Is Not All There Is

If the natural world is all there is, it is easy to get distraught about changes in the weather and obsess about how to reverse rising global temperatures. Although creation care should be a priority for believers and the scientific community should be taken seriously when they suggest solutions for addressing obvious misuses of natural resources, Christians must remember that God is sovereign and holds the earth in his hands. As Paul explained in his letter to the Colossians, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17).

Although the creation now groans under the curse of sin (Rom. 8:22), the Bible promises that one day it will be set free from its bondage and will obtain “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (8:21).

David Closson is the Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview at Family Research Council.

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