Tag archives: Church

Remembering America’s Pastor

by Worth Loving

March 2, 2022

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

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

Humble Beginnings

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

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

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

Sensing God’s Call

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

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

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

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

An Unparalleled Crusade Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Alive Than Ever Before”

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

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

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

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

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

Brave Truckers and Faithful Pastors: The Uprise Against Canada’s Champagne Tyranny

by Owen Strachan

February 18, 2022

Before there were the Canadian truckers, there were the Canadian pastors.

In case the preceding sentence is strange to you, here’s what has been happening in Canada lately. Truckers from across the nation streamed into Ottawa a week or two ago. They did so in order to peacefully protest the loss of liberties. Under the guise of COVID policy, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has altered the very nature of citizenship in Canada. Vaccine mandates, forced closure of all manner of institutions, and vaccine passports have meant that Canadians have suffered tremendously as they watched their freedoms dwindle. In the name of fighting a (real) virus, a once-great nation has fallen to its knees.

But it has not stayed there. The truckers have fought back. They have shown that the light of the West—freedom for the individual—has not gone out. Putting their livelihoods on the line, the truckers have acted as men must in the face of massive civilizational threat: boldly. They have not torched Ottawa or anywhere else. They have not caused violence and mayhem. Unlike the riots of the summer of 2020—riots fomented by Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and the mainstream media’s coverage, the winter of 2022 has featured protest of a peaceful kind. The truckers have given the world an example of how to advocate for liberty and defy tyranny—tyranny of a distinctly Trudeauian kind. Call it “champagne tyranny,” for although Canada’s foremost political leader projects a cosmopolitan air, if you look beneath the half-smile and the flowing locks, you see an emerging totalitarian.

The truckers have defied “champagne tyranny.” They were not the first to do so in Canada, however. Starting in the summer of 2020, Ontario pastor Jacob Reaume saw that he could not fail to gather his people for congregational worship. The flock of Trinity Bible Chapel in Waterloo needed the Word and the gospel. Sermonettes on Zoom and text messages to one another would not cut it. Reaume’s conscience told him that remotely gathering over Zoom was no substitute for the gathered church (Hebrews 10:25). Reaume knew instinctively what John MacArthur has proclaimed: “There is no such thing as a Zoom church.”

It is no bad thing for sick folks to be able to stream sermons, of course. Further, Christians do have real disagreements in charity over policies regarding lockdowns and governmental decrees. There are gray areas and hard questions that pastors have faced the last two years, and we have sympathy for their efforts to try to hold churches together in divided times. But with that noted, Reaume and his peers saw something vital: Caesar does not rule the church’s worship. Christ does. To gather together weekly, even in difficult and tempestuous days, even when Caesar says not to, is to render to him what is due him (Matthew 22:21).

So, not long after the lockdown began in spring 2020, Reaume—like many pastors—gathered the flock and “opened the church.” As he did so, he drew the wrath of Canadian officials. Over time in late 2020 and 2021, they fined his church millions of dollars. Yet Reaume and his elders refused to stop meeting. They did so not to spite the government; they did so to glorify God and love needy people. God has commanded that his people gather, so loving God means meeting for worship, which also happens to be the foremost way Christians love their neighbor (see Matthew 22:34-39). Yet today, we are tempted by our fallen world to break the first commandment (and not gather for worship) in order to keep the second commandment (and thus love neighbor).

These pastors knew that Christians need congregational worship and body life, even desperately. So, too, do unbelievers need the gospel. This becomes especially clear in a global lockdown when seemingly every comfort and pleasure of normal life has drained away. One woman who had no interest in church prior to the lockdown visited Trinity Bible Chapel during it. Her name is Jennifer. She was, by her own testimony, shooting cocaine, being promiscuous, and living without any hope at all. She was lost. But her son asked her to come to a gathering at Trinity, and she did. She heard biblical truth and experienced biblical love. God’s Spirit moved, and Jennifer was born again. She was baptized not long ago at Trinity and said these words in her baptismal testimony:

Most recently, I was smoking and shooting seven grams of cocaine a day, and my son asked me to come to a prayer meeting at Trinity. In my small group, I asked for prayer to stop… I know for a fact that I’d be dead right now if God had not used this church in my life.

The ministry of Trinity, Pastor Reaume, and the faithful elders of this church bore much fruit even in difficult days. The same trend—light advancing in darkness—was playing out in Western Canada as well. In Edmonton, at a church called GraceLife, Pastor James Coates and his elders had reached similar conclusions. Coates saw that his people needed the hope of the gospel and determined with his elders and the support of the church that GraceLife Edmonton would not close in 2020 and 2021. For doing so, James Coates and his church were targeted. Civil authorities put a fence around the church building. Coates refused to stop preaching the Word to his people (and hundreds more who came), and for doing so, was thrown into prison in February 2021.

The same happened to Tim Stephens, a pastor in Calgary, Alberta. In May and June 2021, Stephens went to prison for gathering his flock. The video of Stephens being taken by authorities from his family is heart-wrenching. His children weep, and Stephens was hauled off. Alongside Stephens, other faithful men have spoken up and taken a stand in Canada as well. Men like Mike Hovland, Steve Richardson, Aaron Rock, Joseph Boot, Samuel Sey, and Steve Bainbridge have put themselves on record as those who will not bow the knee to champagne tyranny. Still others, like Artur Pawlowski—a Protestant of a different religious stripe than the aforementioned men— have also paid a heavy price for defending religious liberty.

Yet here is something remarkable: the American church has been largely silent about the plight of the Canadian church. Rarely has so much communicative power gone so untapped. Very few pastors, theologians, and religious leaders have supported the persecuted and suffering Canadian church. In America, blessed with huge organizations devoted to the cause of religious liberty and freedom more generally, precious few have spoken in defense of the faithful leaders and congregations of Canada. In fact, over the last couple of years, when Americans (and some Canadians) have spoken up at all about the suffering Canadian pastors, they have done so to oppose them, nitpick their arguments, and generally discourage their bravery.

There is a great more to say about all this. Yet what we should not miss is this: courage is having an effect in Canada, a tremendous effect. It always does. Courage is how movements advance; freedom is what comes from the gospel of Christ, freedom of many kinds. God has done something unprecedented in Canada in recent days, and a nation falling under the shadow of tyranny has awoken. The truckers show us this, as does the massive cross-country opposition to Trudeau’s champagne tyranny.

Truly, at this hour, Trudeau is alone. He is not bolstered by a wave of popular opinion. He who has done so much to mask and muzzle the Canadian people is well and truly unmasked. In his common grace, God has let the world see—in Canada and across the world—the totalitarian nature of modern leftism. It is not “live and let live” as an ideology; it is “do what I say or suffer.”

Here is the story on the ground, then. Canada is not fallen—not yet. Amidst much travail and real suffering, the true Canada is rising. Long may it rise. We ask not for violence or destruction but a return to liberty, human flourishing, and justice. If it is brave truckers who have lately led the way here, know this: before there were the Canadian truckers, there were the Canadian pastors. Man may oppose them, but God is behind them. What is the emblem of the Christian faith, after all? Light has come into the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).

And, we may rightly say, it never will.

How Unmet Expectations Destroy our Faith

by Joseph Backholm

July 21, 2021

On “Worldview Wednesday,” we feature an article that addresses a pressing cultural, political, or theological issue. The goal of this blog series is to help Christians think about these issues from a biblical worldview. Read our previous posts on the Center for Biblical Worldview page.

If you are married, there’s a good chance you did some premarital counseling that included conversations about what to expect in marriage. These conversations hopefully encompassed much more than who is going to mow the lawn and manage the money. Ideally, these conversations fostered an understanding of what “in good times and bad” actually means. In marriage, as in all relationships, disappointment often results when our expectations don’t match reality.

The Christian life isn’t all that different. Many people turn to God because of problems they hope He can fix. Some of us are like the so-called “foxhole Christian” who promises to “live for God” if He will spare our lives and help us survive the battle. Of course, God can meet us in our moments of biggest need, but if we surrender to God because of what He might do for us (instead of what He has already done for us) we run the risk of our expectations not matching reality.

If we expect that serving God will make our lives easier, what happens when serving God makes life harder? Could this help explain why some Christians are walking away from their faith? Here is some research I detailed in a recent publication:

America is becoming less religious and has been for a while. In just the last decade, the number of people claiming to be Christian has declined 12 percent—from 77 percent to 65 percent. Not only is America less Christian as a percentage, the total number of professing Christians has declined from 176 million in 2009 to 167 million in 2019, even as the population increased by 23 million.

Further:

The fastest growing religious category in America is the “nones”—those who claim to have no religion at all. Over the last decade, the number of Protestants declined 15 percent and the number of Catholics declined 12 percent, while the “nones” grew 70 percent—from 12 percent of the population to 17 percent in 2019. That’s an additional 30 million people who now claim no religious faith. Of those, 78 percent grew up in the church. The church is losing its own kids.

Cultural shifts never have just one cause, but it’s worth considering whether people leave the church because, as with many marriages, their expectations didn’t match reality.

When we become Christians, we take sides in a spiritual war that has been raging on this planet since Adam and Eve first sinned. Taking sides in a war—particularly a spiritual one—has consequences. Although this might seem obvious, it is often not highlighted when the gospel is presented.

Of course, submitting our lives to Christ does fix our biggest problem: our sin. But many people are unaware of what their biggest problem is, and in many cases, people are more interested in solving their financial, social, or marital problems than their damnation problem. It’s easy to be more interested in the gifts than the Giver, but from God’s perspective, He is the prize: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Mat. 6:33).

The Christian life is filled with joy (Ps. 16:11), but the joy of the Christian life is counterintuitive to the world’s ideas about joy. Even our suffering can be a source of joy: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2, NKJV). 

In fact, we are blessed at the moments when life might seem most challenging, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake and the gospel” (Mat. 5:11). Being misunderstood and mistreated can not only be a source of joy but evidence that we are doing exactly what Jesus wants us to do: “Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mat. 5:12).

If we come to Jesus because the Lamb is worthy of His reward, we will never be disappointed. If we come to Jesus because we were hoping He could fix a few things, it could be unsettling if our lives become temporarily more difficult.

The reward of the Christian life is not the absence of pain. In fact, becoming a Christian may introduce even more pain and persecution into your life. But one of the rewards of following Jesus is seeing that our pain—even our deepest hurt and suffering—is temporary and that what awaits us on the other side of the pain is more than worth it. This was the apostle Paul’s point when he said, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). Moreover, as Christians, we gain the perspective that God is at work in our sufferings and uses them to conform us into the people He wants us to be.

Many Christians did not sign up expecting a war. For many, once being a Christian became more of a liability rather than an asset (culturally speaking), they sought a discharge from the service. If we come to Jesus more focused on this life than the next, it’s possible we’ll be disappointed. Based on the numbers, many people are.

How to Respond to Your Friend Who Is Leaving the Faith

by Molly Carman

July 13, 2021

In its annual American Worldview Inventory report, the Cultural Research Center announced the results of a nationwide survey that revealed, among other things, that only six percent of American adults hold a biblical worldview—an all-time low. For some, this statistic might be just another number. But for others, this statistic is deeply discouraging because it is indicative of their friends and family leaving the Christian faith.

Many Christians are taught how to share the gospel with non-Christians, but what’s often not taught is how to respond when those who were raised within the church, have heard the truth, and even perhaps once believed in the gospel walk away from the faith. Individuals may choose to leave Christianity for a variety of reasons, perhaps because of a painful experience (e.g., a church split or being a victim of abuse), doubts left unanswered (or feeling rejected when their doubts are voiced), or a sin they want to participate in. No matter the reason, Christians need to respond to our friends’ situations and choices with grace, humility, and compassion.

Here are four steps you can take when responding to a friend who has announced they are leaving the faith.

1. Listen and Learn

Listen to what your friend has to say. James wrote, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (1:19). If your friend is willing to share their reasoning for leaving the faith, it is best to hear them out rather than berating them or getting defensive. Choosing to leave the Christian faith is no small decision, one your friend has most likely wrestled with in private. Your friend’s heart will likely grow harder towards Christianity if you respond to their decision with hostility and rebuke.

Listening will also provide you with an opportunity to learn any areas in which your discipleship of them or fellowship with them as believers may have fallen short. Do not assume that you already know why your friend is making this choice. If they are willing to confide in you, be fully present and listen to their story.

2. Ask Questions

After your friend has confided in you, you can ask questions. Some of the best questions to start with are:

  • What has led to this decision?
  • What has been hard?
  • What has been good?
  • Tell me more about that.
  • What do you need right now?

By asking thoughtful questions, you can learn how your friend has been processing, thinking, and reasoning through this choice. Your job in these conversations is not to be right, win a debate, or convince your friend to change their mind. Instead, your job is to seek to understand how they came to their conclusions. Leaving the faith is a serious choice, and we must take our friends seriously and choose our words judiciously: “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble” (Prov. 21:23).

3. Offer Encouragement

Offer encouragement to your friend. That is to say, do not encourage them to leave the faith. Instead, encourage them by letting them know that they are not alone in struggling with their faith.

Being a Christian comes at a price. Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). He also said that the world would hate and despise those who love and follow Him (John 18:15-25). Being a Christian also does not mean never struggling with sin or having doubts. In Romans 7, Paul describes the struggle with sin that Christians will continue to have.

We should reassure those who are thinking of leaving the faith that it is okay to have doubts, falter, struggle with sin, or be weary or afraid. Be careful not to puff yourself up (1 Cor. 8:1). Instead, show your friend empathy, remembering that you are a human as well. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ask God for the words to say to encourage your friend.

4. Pray

Finally, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Only God can change your friend’s heart and mind. It is God who turns the heart of stone into a heart of flesh (Ezk. 36:26). Pray to have the self-control to listen, the wisdom to ask good questions and seek understanding, and the love and courage necessary to uplift your friend and speak life into their situation if invited. Do not give unsolicited advice but keep that door open and pray that the words of your mouth would be pleasing to God (Ps. 19:14). Pray for your friend’s healing and renewed trust. Pray that God would reveal Himself to your friend and that they would respond and not reject the truth. Also, invite other Christians to pray with you for those you know who are leaving the faith.

Our hearts should break for those who are discouraged, scared, or disillusioned and are considering leaving the faith. We must continuously build one another up in Christ:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb. 10:23-25)

The Church’s Central Role in Public Health

by Damon Sidur , Sophia Lorey

July 12, 2021

In March 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, church doors were closed—most voluntarily in response to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) recommendation—for the sake of public health and the unknown. Unfortunately, in retrospect, we are learning that closing churches for extended periods hurt public health in some ways, even as it protected it in others. Studies by the CDC now show that depression and suicide rose dramatically for teens and young adults, an age demographic considered to be at lower risk from COVID-19.

As the pandemic progressed, churches that had closed their doors voluntarily remained closed by state and local government mandates, with the aim of slowing the spread of COVID-19 and hopefully saving lives. Although most pastors willingly cooperated at first, it was not long until they began to see the negative repercussions of a prolonged closure, and many decided to reopen in spite of government mandates.

As the media pushed their round-the-clock coverage of COVID-19 deaths, they failed to address another health crisis facing the United States: death by suicide. Due to isolation, loss of jobs, fear, and other factors, depression, anxiety, and suicide rates skyrocketed in 2020, especially in teens and young adults. CDC Director Robert Redfield discussed in a Buck Institute webinar that suicides and drug overdoses have surpassed the death rate for COVID-19 among high school students. However, it was not just high school students that were being affected. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that:

substance use and suicidal ideation are particularly pronounced for young adults, with 25% reporting they started or increased substance use during the pandemic (compared to 13% of all adults), and 26% reporting serious thoughts of suicide (compared to 11% of all adults).

In May of 2019, 11 percent of adults 18 and over suffered from symptoms of anxiety disorder and/or depressive disorder, according to the CDC. In May of 2020, this number tripled as the CDC reported 34.52 percent of adults 18 and over suffered from symptoms of anxiety disorder and/or depressive disorder. Thus, the COVID-19 pandemic created a secondary crisis that the church could do little to help resolve while being shut down.

In a world full of hopelessness, the Bible offers genuine hope. Churches across America provide this hope by preaching the Word of God while also providing peace, community, encouragement, and so much more. Yet, their doors were closed during the pandemic, hampering their ability to fellowship and to serve. Theologically speaking, this is why Hebrews 10:25 commands us to gather for corporate worship: “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” As the pandemic and the mandatory closures stretched on, there was a need for churches to be open, and many pastors saw this and began to take a stand.

Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills addressed the increasing mental health issues as the church doors remained closed. On May 5, 2020, in a message directed towards all pastors in California, Hibbs observed that although churches can reach an immense amount of people online, “our local community has been spiritually starving.” He also underscored how the church needs to be a community again and be together now more than ever to provide prayer and hope for all those struggling. Opening his church in May of 2020 was difficult for Hibbs, as he defied California Governor Gavin Newsom’s restrictions, which were unjustly singling out churches and burdening them more extensively than their secular counterparts.

However, the response to the reopening of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills was overwhelming. His congregation grew quickly by the thousands, drawing people desperate for hope and Christ during the nationwide shutdown. While reaching people online was possible and important, our souls yearn for an in-person community. It is now clear that forcing churches to close for so long has had unintended consequences.

Thankfully, in February 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the complaints of California churches like Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena that claimed they were being unjustly discriminated against, lifting the state government’s ban on indoor worship.

While the world focused on the physical health crisis created by COVID-19, many overlooked the mental and spiritual health crisis it also created. In God’s gracious provision to His followers, He gave us the church. If the pandemic has taught us anything, surely it is that gathering for corporate worship and fellowship with other believers is essential—and a privilege we should never take for granted.

Damon Sidur is a Communications intern at Family Research Council.

Sophia Lorey is a Brand Advancement intern at Family Research Council.

Does the Bible Really Condemn Abortion?

by David Closson

June 30, 2021

On “Worldview Wednesday,” we feature an article that addresses a pressing cultural, political, or theological issue. The goal of this blog series is to help Christians think about these issues from a biblical worldview. Read our previous posts on the Center for Biblical Worldview page.

Editor’s Note: Instances of “Church” with a capital “C” refer to the Roman Catholic Church. Instances of “church” with a lowercase “c” refer to Christians at large.

In recent weeks, the topic of abortion and the church has returned to the news. This perennial issue has reemerged due to the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops’ decision to draft a document on the Eucharist. The controversy over this document is caused by the possibility that one section may reiterate the Catholic teaching that those who manifestly oppose Church doctrine on grave matters, such as abortion, should refrain from receiving the sacrament of Communion. Since the announcement of this upcoming document, news media personalities, politicians, and commentators have weighed in, debating the political and pastoral implications of denying Communion to lawmakers whose actions demonstrate their opposition to Catholic doctrine.

Many are questioning whether churches should enact church discipline against politicians implicated in the sin of abortion. I agree with Andrew Walker, who argues they should. Church leaders have an obligation to call to account those under their spiritual authority, especially those who are highhandedly flouting church teachings in the public square.

Questions related to church discipline and eucharistic coherence are serious, and it will be interesting to see what the bishops decide later this year. But it is worth noting that abortion is once again in the news and at the center of America’s cultural wars. Moreover, in reporting and conversations about the bishops’ forthcoming guidance, the Christian view on life is again being debated. Because of this, it is important to underscore the church’s consistent teaching on abortion, which is rooted in Scripture.

Some commentators have claimed that the Bible’s pro-life ethic is not clear, and neither is organized Christianity’s. In his widely circulated New York Times op-ed, historian Garry Wills, a Catholic widely known for his opposition to Catholic doctrine, claims the Catholic Church abandoned efforts “to connect abortion with Scripture” decades ago. According to Wills, “The Catholic Church no longer claims that opposition to abortion is scriptural.” Elsewhere in the piece, he argues that Pope Francis is “on the side” of women who “have had abortions and still consider themselves Catholics.” In reality, though, the Catholic Church has not abandoned efforts to connect abortion with Scripture. In fact, it has done the complete opposite.

The Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church are clear about Christianity’s historical position on abortion. For example, the Catechism explains in Part 3, Section 2, Chapter 2, Article 5, line 2271:

Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.

The following line of the Catechism adds:

Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life.

Citing first and second-century church documents and church fathers such as Tertullian, the Catechism shows the consistent teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on abortion.

Moreover, contrary to Wills’ suggestion that Pope Francis is softening his position on abortion, the current pontiff said in an Apostolic Letter in 2016:

I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father.

Additionally, in 2007, the Episcopal Council of Latin American Bishops—of which Pope Francis, then Cardinal Bergoglio, was a part—produced a document which explained that “eucharistic coherence” necessitated barring public officials who support abortion from taking Communion. In the key paragraph, the bishops wrote:

We must adhere to “eucharistic coherence,” that is, be conscious that they cannot receive holy communion and at the same time act with deeds or words against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and family are encouraged. This responsibility weighs particularly over legislators, heads of governments, and health professionals.

The Bible itself is unambiguous in its teaching on the sanctity of life. Contrary to Wills’ claim, opposition to abortion is deeply rooted in Scripture and is why Christians have opposed abortion for 2,000 years. For example, in one of the most well-known pro-life passages in the Bible, King David describes himself in utero:

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:13-16, ESV)

Worth noting is how David refers to his unborn life as fully personal. The entity in his mother’s womb was not an impersonal fetus with no moral value; it was David, whom God was forming and knitting together. Moreover, the personhood of the unborn child is highlighted with David’s repeated use of the personal pronouns “I” and “my.”

Another Scripture passage that affirms the personhood of the unborn is Luke 1, the narrative of Elizabeth and Mary meeting while pregnant with John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, respectively. A few details of this passage reveal a remarkable affirmation of the sanctity of unborn life. For example, upon hearing Mary’s voice, John the Baptist “leaped for joy” in Elizabeth’s womb. John’s response is an emotion that can only be ascribed to a person. Second, Elizabeth refers to Mary as the “mother of my Lord” at a time when most women do not even know they are pregnant (Mary may have been pregnant for less than a month when she visited Elizabeth). Significantly, Jesus, in His embryonic state, is recognized as Elizabeth’s “Lord.” Third, Elizabeth refers to her unborn baby with the same Greek word used for children after they are born. Finally, both Elizabeth and the unborn John are said to be “filled with the Holy Spirit,” meaning their reactions are appropriate and a fitting response to being in the presence of Jesus as a full person. These details point to the reality that Jesus’ incarnation began at His conception rather than His birth.

In short, the Bible is clear on abortion. From cover to cover, the Bible affirms the personhood of the unborn, which is why Christians have opposed abortion for 2,000 years. This is also why arguments denying the Bible’s teaching on the subject are simply not persuasive. Thus, any attempts to bully or intimidate Catholic bishops who believe they should enforce Catholic teaching with disciplinary action should be condemned. As Andrew Walker has argued, “To purport to be a Catholic while denying the sum and substance of so much Catholic moral teaching undermines the credibility that one’s faith bears any resemblance to its doctrine.” As Christians, we must adhere to Scripture and be unwavering in our convictions, applying the teachings of God’s words to every area of life, from the womb to natural death.

Southern Baptist Convention Defends the Hyde Amendment

by David Closson

June 28, 2021

This is the final part of a three-part series highlighting significant resolutions passed by the Southern Baptist Convention this year that apply a biblical worldview to critical cultural and political issues. Read part one and part two.

Last week, America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), held its annual meeting for the purpose of hearing updates from various seminaries, electing new leaders, and passing various resolutions.

Dozens of resolutions are submitted at every annual SBC meeting. Only a handful are accepted by the Resolution Committee and brought to a vote. If a resolution passes, that means the SBC is collectively agreeing to publicly affirm the statement contained in the resolution. Resolutions are traditionally in response to various cultural developments, social ideologies, or legislation under consideration by the United States Congress. One of the prominent resolutions passed during the 2021 convention was in defense of the Hyde Amendment.

The Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal tax dollars from being used to pay for abortions, has been included in every federal spending bill since 1976, when it was first passed by a 312-93 vote. The amendment has long enjoyed bipartisan support; however, the Biden administration did not include Hyde in its recent budget plan. The SBC’s resolution urges the administration to reconsider its position and uphold Hyde.

You can read all of the resolutions passed by the SBC here. Read the resolution “On Taxpayer Complicity in Abortion and the Hyde Amendment,” reprinted here:

WHEREAS, The Bible clearly and unequivocally affirms the sanctity of every human life made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27; 9:6), a truth to which Christians in every century have testified and are called to bear witness in every age and in every sphere of life; and

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists have historically affirmed biblical teaching regarding the sanctity of human life by supporting and funding pro-life initiatives and by adopting numerous pro-life resolutions at national, state, and associational meetings; and

WHEREAS, Since 1973 more than 60 million unborn children have had their lives tragically ended through the evil genocide of abortion as a result of the Supreme Court’s morally repugnant and unconstitutional ruling in Roe v. Wade; and

WHEREAS, The bipartisan, nearly half-century-old Hyde Amendment, enacted in 1976 and reinstated by every administration since, has heretofore prevented financial complicity in the sin of abortion by preventing federal tax dollars from paying for abortions or for health benefits that include coverage of abortion; and

WHEREAS, The Hyde Amendment has saved more than an estimated 2 million lives since its enactment and enjoys broad support from the American public; and

WHEREAS, Congress has consistently passed a wide range of Hyde-like amendments that protect taxpayer funds from being used for abortions in other federal programs (the Dornan and Smith Amendments), in international aid (the Helms, Siljander, and Tiahrt Amendments), in research (the Dickey-Wicker Amendment), and for medical providers and others who object to abortion (the Hyde-Weldon and Nickles Amendments); and

WHEREAS, The current administration has proposed eliminating the Hyde Amendment in its budget proposal, thus advocating to make taxpayer money available to fund abortion procedures; and

WHEREAS, Any party platform that explicitly calls for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment evidences a wanton disregard for human dignity and a culture of life; and

WHEREAS, Opposition to the Hyde Amendment represents an effort to make every American citizen complicit in high-handed moral rebellion against the Author of Life (Acts 3:15); now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, June 15-16, 2021, condemn any effort to repeal the Hyde Amendment as morally abhorrent, a violation of Biblical ethics, contrary to the natural law, and a moral stain on our nation; and be it further

RESOLVED, That Southern Baptists call on Congress and the President to uphold the Hyde Amendment and all pro-life Amendments, to protect life, and to prevent taxpayers from being complicit in the moral evil of abortion; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That Southern Baptists should work through all available cultural and legislative means to end the moral scourge of abortion as we also seek to love, care for, and minister to women who are victimized by the unjust abortion industry.  

With this resolution, the SBC is taking a stand not only for the sanctity of human life, but also for freedom of conscience and religion. If the Hyde Amendment is removed from federal spending bills, these essential human rights will be under threat.

Let us pray and do everything we can to end the injustice of abortion. We must remember to “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Eph. 5:11).

Southern Baptist Convention Opposes the Equality Act

by David Closson

June 25, 2021

This is part two of a three-part series highlighting significant resolutions passed by the Southern Baptist Convention this year that apply a biblical worldview to critical cultural and political issues. Read part one.

Last week, America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), held its Annual Meeting for the purpose of hearing updates from its entities, electing new leaders, and passing resolutions.

Dozens of resolutions are submitted at every annual SBC meeting. Only a handful are accepted by the Resolution Committee and brought to a vote. If a resolution passes, that means the SBC is collectively agreeing to publicly affirm the statement contained in the resolution. Resolutions are traditionally in response to various cultural developments, social ideologies, or legislation under consideration by the United States Congress. One of the prominent resolutions passed during the 2021 convention was to oppose the Equality Act, a piece of legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year.  

If passed into law, the Equality Act would undermine religious liberty by gutting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and elevating the contested categories of sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal law. Given the Biden administration’s aggressive support for the legislation, Southern Baptists believed it was necessary to go on record in opposition to one of the most dangerous pieces of legislation proposed in Congress.

You can read all of the resolutions passed by the SBC here. Read the resolution on the Equality Act, reprinted here:

WHEREAS, All persons are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), are made to glorify Him (Isaiah 43:7), and, based upon these truths, possess inherent dignity; and

WHEREAS, God’s design was the creation of two distinct sexes, male and female (Genesis 1:27; Matthew 19:4), which designate the fundamental distinction that God has embedded in the very biology of the human race; and

WHEREAS, The Bible gives us clear instruction and boundaries with regard to what constitutes God-honoring expression of human sexuality (Genesis 2:24; Hebrews 13:4; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Romans 1:26-27); and

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists resolved in 2014 “On Transgender Identity” that, “The Fall of man into sin and God’s subsequent curse have introduced brokenness and futility into God’s good creation,” and therefore, as a result some are tempted to question God’s gift of sexuality; and

WHEREAS, The Equality Act seeks to revise the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by adding a prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity; and

WHEREAS, The First Amendment of the Constitution prohibits the Congress from making any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion; and

WHEREAS, Congressman Chuck Schumer and Senator Ted Kennedy wrote that “governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification” in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), which President Bill Clinton signed into law after the act passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Congress; and

WHEREAS, If enacted, the Equality Act would explicitly exclude RFRA claims in relation to the Equality Act and would explicitly permit the government to place substantial burdens upon religious exercise without having to demonstrate any compelling justification in order to do so; and

WHEREAS, This change in the status of the right to free exercise enjoyed by all Americans, if it were to take place, would bring sweeping and historic changes to religious liberty with devastating effects to this foundational freedom; and

WHEREAS, Faith-based charities whose core religious beliefs about human dignity, sexuality, gender, and marriage shape their ministry policies would be forced under the Equality Act to choose between freely exercising those core religious beliefs or abandoning their ministries; and

WHEREAS, This sort of governmental punishment against faith- based charities for serving the common good according to their cherished beliefs would be unprecedented; and,

WHEREAS, The Equality Act would coerce healthcare providers to participate in and provide abortions, hormone therapies, and other procedures which may violate their deeply held religious beliefs; and

WHEREAS, The Equality Act would undermine the bipartisan, nearly half-century old Hyde Amendment, which protects federal taxpayer dollars from funding abortion; and

WHEREAS, The Equality Act would undermine decades of hard- fought civil rights protections for women and girls by threatening competition in sports and disregarding the privacy concerns women rightly have about sharing sleeping quarters and intimate facilities with members of the opposite sex; and

WHEREAS, By departing from our foundations of civic tolerance this divisive legislation would undermine the ability of Americans who disagree to work together for the common good; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, June 15—16, 2021, extend love and compassion to those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender and invite all members of this community to trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the gospel; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we proclaim that Christ offers forgiveness of sin for those who turn from their sins and believe on Christ; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we believe effective Gospel ministry to individuals who consider themselves part of the LGBTQ community requires that we speak to them and about them with respect and Christlike love, while holding firmly to our biblical convictions on these issues; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we, therefore, encourage our fellow Southern Baptists to engage discussion of the Equality Act and related issues with this in mind; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we strongly oppose the Equality Act and urge Congress to reject this dangerous legislation, which represents one of the greatest threats to religious liberty in our nation’s history; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we affirm the role of churches in providing compassionate care, biblical truth, and restorative hope to men, women, and children, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, while joyfully celebrating God’s good design in sexuality as clearly expressed in Scripture.

With this resolution, the Southern Baptist Convention is taking a stand for a biblical understanding of human sexuality, much like they did in the 2014 Nashville Statement. The Equality Act is pro-abortion, threatens the opportunities and safety of women and girls across our nation (especially in sports), and is a direct threat to American religious freedom. Because of these implications, Southern Baptists rightly identified the legislation as “one of the greatest threats to religious liberty in our nation’s history.”

Finally, the resolution makes it clear that Southern Baptist churches desire to love their neighbors who identify as LGBTQ and see them place their trust in Christ. The resolution also affirms the necessity of having gospel-centered conversations about LGBTQ issues in our homes and churches.

In conversations about contentious issues, our approach as Christians ought to be guided by Ephesians 4:15 where Paul encourages us to “speak the truth in love.” In their resolution on the Equality Act, Southern Baptists strike the right balance by telling the truth about a dangerous piece of legislation while encouraging Christlike love to those in the LGBT community.

Is it Time for Churches to Reopen?

by David Closson

August 13, 2020

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, churches have had to make difficult decisions. Now, as states reopen, church leaders are deciding whether to reopen for public services or continue providing live-streams and smaller, home-based ministry. Considerations such as protecting the health of worshippers, the public witness of the church, the spiritual and physical needs of members, and complying with government mandates are all a part of the conversation.

Across the country, churches are coming to different conclusions on these questions. In California, Pastor Jack Hibbs decided to reopen his megachurch on May 31. In late July, John MacArthur and the elders at Grace Community Church in California decided that the state and local government had overstepped their authority and opened the church for worship on July 26. Three days later, the church received a letter from a Los Angeles County attorney demanding the church stop holding indoor worship services. The letter threatened fines and imprisonment for noncompliance. On August 12, in an effort to block the state from enforcing its regulations, Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church filed suit against California Governor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. 

Conversely, J.D. Greear, pastor of Summit Church in North Carolina and current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, announced at the end of July that his church would not hold public worship services for the remainder of the year and instead will facilitate home-based gatherings. Greear cited the biblical admonition of neighbor-love as a reason for his decision.

Which approach is best? Should churches resume holding public worship services, or should they be cautious and wait to fully reopen?

Complicating matters are the strict reopening policies some overreaching state and local governments have ordered churches to follow. In some states, governors and mayors have appeared to single out churches for unfair treatment, and as a result, pastors in these areas are beginning to defy unconstitutional and overreaching mandates from the authorities. These incidents have raised questions about how pastors should respond to the government when it oversteps its authority. For example, can the government prohibit churches from holding worship services? Does a governor have the right to tell churches they can’t sing? More generally, what is the proper posture government should have towards religion? These questions have prompted further reflection on the theological rationale for civil disobedience.

How Churches Have Responded to the Pandemic

Before answering the question of how churches should navigate reopening amid a pandemic, it is important to recall how churches have responded thus far.

In early March, virtually all churches suspended in-person worship services and other activities in response to the pandemic. Throughout the spring and early summer, churches almost universally complied with government mandates. This is important to remember, especially considering the media’s hostile and misleading reporting about churches. For example, on July 9, the New York Times published an article with the alarming headline “Churches Open Doors, And the Virus Sweeps In.” Ominously, the writers reported, “More than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic.” While the report initially sounds distressing, an objective, clear-minded analysis of the total number of cases shows that 650 cases represent an incredibly small percentage of the overall confirmed 4.75 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States (as of July 9). While every case is serious, the disproportionate attention on cases emerging from churches betrays an underlining animus toward people of faith.

Churches were quick to follow initial guidance from federal, state, and local authorities. According to an April study by LifeWay Christian Resources, 99 percent of Protestant churches gathered for worship on March 1. By March 29, only seven percent were still meeting. Notably, most churches ceased in-person gatherings before most states instituted stay-at-home orders (only nine states had stay-at-home orders as of March 23; by then, 90 percent of churches had adopted the CDC’s non-binding recommendation to suspend in-person gatherings). Therefore, anyone arguing that churches were obstinate or unwilling to obey the governing authorities from the outset of the pandemic is wrong. With very few exceptions, pastors across the country followed the Bible’s teaching in Romans 13 to honor the governing authorities.

Constitutional and Legal Considerations: The Unequal Treatment of Churches

Churches have served their members and local communities in creative ways throughout the spring and early summer—including live-streams and “Drive-In” services. However, now that their respective states have reopened, many churches have resumed or wish to resume in-person meetings and services. But churches in some states and localities have been ordered by the governing authorities not to reopen, despite implementing health and safety measures consistent with CDC guidance. What are we to make of the legal restrictions and gathering bans being imposed on churches?

According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, as of July 27, worship services are prohibited or currently subject to unequal treatment (compared to nonreligious activities) in six states (California, Nevada, Washington, Maine, New Jersey, and Connecticut). Another 14 states have broad but equally applicable restrictions that limit churches’ ability to gather for worship or other activities.

Many of these restrictions are likely unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, which generally bars government from discriminating against religious entities in its policies and practices. For example, Nevada churches—regardless of size—are prohibited from admitting more than 50 people. Meanwhile, Nevada casinos can admit 50 percent of their maximum occupancy, allowing thousands of people inside. One church, Calvary Chapel, sued the state but was denied injunctive relief by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision. In his dissent, Justice Neil Gorsuch quipped, “In Nevada, it seems, it is better to be in entertainment than religion.” Justice Brett Kavanaugh, also in dissent, added, “COVID–19 is not a blank check for a State to discriminate against religious people, religious organizations, and religious services.”

In California, two-thirds of the state’s 58 counties are on a “county monitoring list.” Churches in these counties are not allowed to hold indoor services. Churches in counties not on the monitoring list are only allowed to admit 25 percent of their building’s capacity or up to a maximum of 100 people. As of July 29, California churches have been ordered to “discontinue indoor singing.” Notably, the same prohibition on chanting and singing did not extend to secular activities hosted indoors, including daycare centers, entertainment, schools, music, television and film production, and, most notably, public protests. In fact, Governor Newsom refused to ban protesters from chanting or singing, despite the risks posed by large gatherings in confined spaces.

Restrictions like those imposed on churches in California, Nevada, and elsewhere are even further problematic because the First Amendment gives religion a “privileged status” due to the societal good it provides and out of respect for the conscience of the citizenry. In his legal commentary regarding the First Amendment, Justice Joseph Story wrote, “It is the especial duty of government to foster, and encourage [religion] among all citizens and subjects.” The government is not to curtail religious exercise unless it demonstrates a compelling interest in doing so, and even then, the curtailment must occur in the narrowest way possible. This strong standard is in place in part because religion is something the American Founders knew ought to be safeguarded. Religion undergirds our nation and provides a vibrancy that must be preserved.

The First Amendment puts religious activity in a special category, and requires that it be protected. As Justice Kavanaugh noted in the recent Calvary Chapel case, even in a pandemic, the U.S. Constitution does not allow for casinos to receive privileged treatment over churches. As Kavanaugh explained, unlike gambling, the free exercise of religion is explicitly protected by the Constitution, and state laws that reflect “an implicit judgment that for-profit assemblies are important and religious gatherings are less so,” violate the Constitution. In America, religious liberty is often referred to as our “first freedom” because it is foundational to our other freedoms. Craps and poker simply do not merit the same protection.

Theological Considerations: The Christian Response to Religious Liberty Violations

What is a proper Christian response to what appears to be blatant religious discrimination and an unjust usurpation of authority by several states? Although Scripture teaches that government is a legitimate, God-ordained authority, is there a different calculus that pastors and church leaders need to make if it is clear the government has transgressed its constitutionally and divinely prescribed authority?

In a word, yes. In Romans 13, Paul teaches that the governing authorities are responsible for maintaining societal order and keeping the peace. However, God has not granted the government jurisdiction over the doctrine, liturgy, or practice of the church; pastors and elders, not magistrates, have been entrusted with this authority. In fact, there is biblical precedent for not obeying rulers who overstep their authority. When the corrupt religious authorities in Jerusalem ordered the apostles to stop preaching, Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Christians should honor the governing authorities as long as they are operating within their God-ordained role, but if the government is defying higher authority by imposing unconstitutional requirements on churches that want to reopen, pastors should seriously consider moving forward with plans to reopen their churches as safely as possible.

The roles of the church and state are complicated by the unique circumstances of a global pandemic. However, six months into the pandemic, we are faced with another type of health crisis. Experts are now warning of a mental health crisis due to the fear and anxiety sparked by the virus. According to preliminary data, depression, substance abuse, PTSD, drug overdoses, and suicide are all on the rise. A phenomenon that health experts refer to as a “shadow pandemic” is following the virus, manifesting itself in a variety of serious mental health concerns. For example, in Fresno, California, suicides were 70 percent higher in June this year compared to last year. According to the medical examiner’s office in Cook County (Chicago area), there have already been 58 suicides this year compared to 56 for all last year. And finally, the National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine has seen a 65 percent increase in calls and emails since March. Mental health experts have cited economic stress, social isolation, and, importantly, reduced access to church and worship services as factors driving this trend. Considering these factors, it is very reasonable to question whether the state and local governments truly have a compelling interest to impose on religion in the way they have.

How to Safely Reopen Your Church

Each church should ask themselves: What are the spiritual and practical consequences of remaining closed? What is the cost of only reopening a fraction of our outreaches and ministries?

Of course, in places where the virus has inflicted significant damage, churches should be wise and exercise good judgment. But most churches likely should move toward reopening, with safety precautions in place. This is true in states like California and Nevada, where churches appear to have been treated poorly with no justifiable reason. Churches within these states should continue to press their case—both at the local level and with the Department of Justice—that their constitutional rights are being violated. Constitutionally and theologically, churches have the right to continue the work they’ve been called to do. It is critical to our democracy that the government recognize and proactively protect the vital role religion plays in society. The pandemic does not alter this principle. As seen by the mental health epidemic, the need for the spiritual support of the church is only enhanced in the coronavirus era. It seems increasingly clear that by not opening, congregations and communities are at risk from other maladies besides the coronavirus.

Finally, safely reopening churches will require pastors and church leaders to exercise courage and faith, especially in areas where government officials have demonstrated hostility toward them. But Scripture reminds us that it is precisely for these moments that God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7). According to Ohio State Representative Jena Powell, this is exactly what we need from our church leaders today. As Powell explained, “Right now, we need pastors with courage to stand up against government overreach, which is blatantly usurping the power that God has given to His church alone. We need pastors who are unafraid to boldly follow the commands of Scripture, and lead their churches in discipleship, evangelism, and serving their neighbors. I’m grateful for the many pastors who are shepherding well and hope more follow their example.”

To help churches safely reopen, Family Research Council has released a resource titled Guidelines for Reopening Your Church, which outlines the best sanitation practices advised by the CDC. It also provides guidance on other precautions churches can take, such as providing masks for those who attend services, ways to hygienically collect tithes and offerings, tips for administering the ordinances such as the Lord’s Supper, ideas for seating configurations, and ways pastors can set the tone for their congregations.

For further discussion about reopening churches and how Christians can think about responding to overreaching government authorities, listen to my recent interview with Tony Perkins on Washington Watch. And don’t forget to take advantage of all of FRC’s COVID-19 and The Church Resources.

Kaitlyn Shepherd, a legal intern with Policy & Government Affairs at Family Research Council, contributed legal research for this blog.

All 9 Months and Beyond: Let’s Be Truly Pro-Life

by Hayden Sledge

July 8, 2020

I am a woman. I am also pro-life. Unfortunately, many people today see these identities as contradictory and antithetical. Over the past few decades, society has tried to force many women into a box: If you are a woman who is proud of your womanhood, you should support and advocate for abortion. If not, how can you be a true advocate for women? Supporting women has become synonymous with supporting abortion.

But truth be told, abortion is devastating to women. Abortion can cause physical and psychological complications to the woman obtaining the abortion and affect her ability to successfully carry future pregnancies to term. Not only that, but many of abortion’s unborn victims are female.

These considerations lead to an important question: What does it truly mean to advocate for women?

A true advocate for women supports God’s design for women

God specially designed women with the capacity of bringing life into the world. In the creation mandate given in Genesis 1:28, the first human couple was charged to fill the earth and exercise dominion. While both the husband and wife play a role in conceiving life, the woman has the privilege and responsibility of bringing the new life into the world. Thus, while not all women will be mothers, many will, and motherhood should be seen as a high calling worthy of respect, rather than an impediment needing to be overcome.

Unfortunately, the abortion industry presents a narrative that women can only assert control over their lives if they have the option to abort their children. However, God is ultimately sovereign over all aspects of our lives, including the pregnancy journey, the mother’s life experiences, and the development of unborn children. God’s hand is entirely evident throughout the process.      

Thus, as Christians we should support women in the unique callings God has given each of them, whether that calling includes a career, motherhood, or both. We should appreciate the variety of ways God works in and through each woman.

A true advocate for women helps women facing hardship

God is active during times of celebration and suffering. He reminds us that we will all experience suffering during our time on earth. In fact, Romans 8:22 tells us that the all of creation “groans” due to the curse of sin.  

We all experience various forms of hardship, which can include familial loss, illness, financial stress, mental illness, infertility, miscarriage, or unexpected pregnancy. The church ought to come alongside and help people in their most vulnerable stages of life. This includes actively loving and protecting mothers who have made the brave and courageous decision to keep their babies despite pressure to abort.

Many women experience confusion, shame, and difficulty throughout their pregnancies, especially if those pregnancies are unexpected or unwanted. Although pregnancy is ideally a time of celebration and rejoicing in a new God-given life, it is important to remember that many mothers need care and comfort during and after their pregnancy. It is not an easy journey and is even more difficult for single mothers who are already lacking support.

A true advocate for women supports mothers before and after pregnancy

The church should love and care for women in one of the most life-altering and vulnerable stages of life: the time during and after pregnancy. We should continuously remind mothers of Jesus’ steadfast love as we walk alongside them.

Too often, churches encourage mothers in the early stages of pregnancy but neglect to stand with them after birth. Although pregnancy can be a difficult time, there are a host of challenges that can arise after birth as well. So, it is important that we seek to encourage and help the mother and baby after birth.

In honoring the Lord, we are to care for all mothers and their unborn children, reminding them of God’s truth that they are—or by faith can become—the beloved daughters of a loving heavenly Father.

Here are some resources that seek to help mothers during their pregnancy and beyond. Although an online resource cannot address all the complexities and possible difficulties surrounding pregnancy, these are helpful places to start.

Hayden Sledge is a Coalitions intern at Family Research Council.

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