Tag archives: Culture

The Unintentionally Powerful Pro-Life Message of One Child Nation

by Laura Grossberndt

August 30, 2019

One Child Nation co-director Nanfu Wang stands with her son in front of a Chinese propaganda mural.

Faced with a national population approaching one billion, the People’s Republic of China instituted a one-child-per-family policy in 1979. This policy was in effect until 2015, when the government expanded the birth limit to two children per family. While the policy may have “succeeded” at slowing the national birthrate, it also forcibly violated the bodies of millions of women and resulted in the death or disappearance of millions of pre or post-born children, most of them female.

One Child Nation, winner of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize, is a heart-rending, eye-opening account of China’s one-child policy and the human rights violations that ensued. The documentary is narrated and co-directed by Nanfu Wang, a Chinese-American immigrant who was born in China while the policy was in effect. In the film, she conducts a series of interviews with victims of the one-child policy, former government officials and midwives entrusted with enforcing the policy, citizens who defied the policy, and members of her own family (some of whom supported the policy and others who opposed it). The result is a vivid portrayal of Chinese life and a compelling critique of government authoritarianism. Because of this, the documentary One Child Nation is the rightful recipient of much critical acclaim and deserves a wide viewership. However, a surprising moral inconsistency and a false comparison in the closing minutes of the film prevents this otherwise superb documentary from having its fullest impact.

A Heartbreaking Account of State-Enforced Brutality

Aspects of the film worth commending include Wang’s compelling first-hand experiences about the one-child policy. She explains that propaganda supporting the policy was woven into virtually every facet of life while she was growing up: from murals and advertisements to entertainment and music. She recalls feeling shame for having a sibling (some rural families were allowed to have two children). Her family felt immense relief when her younger brother was born—if he had been a girl, the family most likely would not have kept the baby.

Wang expresses frustration that her family and the Chinese people did little to stop the practices that she believes are morally reprehensible. In terms of presentation, little of the documentary’s runtime is dedicated to expressing her own feelings. Instead, she and her co-director Jialing Zhang allow the interviews to speak for themselves, without inserting commentary.

The people Wang interviews have varying attitudes towards the one-child policy. Some, like Wang’s mother, maintain that the Chinese government was right and that the policy was necessary to prevent wide-scale starvation. Others, like the village midwife, deeply regret the policy and their participation in its enforcement. This particular midwife performed an estimated 60,000 abortions in her career. Now she tries to atone for her past by offering medical care for infertile couples and delivering babies.

The first-person accounts of One Child Nation appeal to the viewer’s humanity again and again. The documentary successfully communicates an important moral point: What may have begun as a government’s sincere attempt to raise a nation’s standard of living has resulted in a human rights crisis. The blood of discarded children practically cries out from the ground. During one interview, Wang talks with an artist committed to documenting the horror of infant bodies left to rot under bridges and on top of trash heaps. The artist shows the camera one such body he has managed to preserve in a glass jar and marvels about how the baby resembles his young son.

An Incoherent Conclusion

As the documentary draws to a close, Nanfu Wang reflects on her journey, including the shocking brutality and human rights abuses perpetrated in the name of the one-child policy. However, as she discusses everything she’s learned about China, her family, and the one-child policy, she arrives at a surprising conclusion: the horrors of the one-child policy are parallel to abortion restrictions in the United States.

Despite over an hour carefully describing the horrors of forced abortions, sterilizations, and the horror associated with abandoning one’s child, Wang argues that both countries are guilty of policing a woman’s sovereignty over her body, albeit in different ways. In an interview with Vox, she expressed much the same sentiment:

I remember when I first came to the US and learned about the restriction on abortions in the US. I was very shocked. It wasn’t the free America that I had thought it would be. I was surprised by the government control on reproductive rights and the access to reproductive health care.

Making this film, I also had a lot of conversations with people about the topic, and I was surprised. Sometimes people couldn’t see how forced state abortions and the state limiting access to abortions are quite similar; they are both the government trying to control women’s bodies and trying to control women’s reproductive rights.

I hope that the film reminds people what would happen if their government takes away women’s choice, or any individual’s choice. And sadly I think it’s happening in China, it’s happening in the US, and it’s happening in a lot of countries throughout the world, where women do not have the freedom to make their own reproductive decisions.

These statements are stunning because of the inconsistency with the moral appeals for the humanity of the pre and post-born throughout the documentary. After seeing footage of babies preserved in jars and thrown onto trash heaps, is the viewer supposed to believe that the sole atrocity of the one-child policy is the violation of reproductive choice?

The policy’s crimes against adult women—such as forced abortions and sterilizations—are horrific, and Wang is right to expose and censure them. But as One Child Nation clearly depicts, adult women were not the policy’s only victims. The countless children killed in the womb or immediately after birth, as well as the children abandoned in marketplaces, on roadsides, or in dumps were also victims. Furthermore, the Chinese government’s one-child policy, paired with the culture’s preference for male children, practically guaranteed that most of the slaughtered or discarded children were girls. Women—both adult women and infant girls—were the victims most deeply harmed by the policy.

It is worth noting that sex-selective abortions are a type of misogyny that is often ignored by the pro- “reproductive rights” wing of feminism because it doesn’t neatly fit their narrative of abortion-on-demand. But as long as some cultures value male children over female, sex-selective abortions and other crimes against female children will continue to be a problem.

An Inadvertently Pro-Life Message

While One Child Nation adeptly exposes the tragedy of China’s one-child policy to a wide audience, a moral inconsistency and a false comparison in the closing minutes prevents this otherwise superb documentary from having its fullest impact. Both children and adults are clearly victims of China’s government-imposed birth restrictions. Furthermore, China’s birth restrictions and America’s abortion restrictions are far from parallel policies. The former kills children, while the latter seeks to prevent the killing of children. The Chinese policy violates women’s bodies with forced sterilization, while abortion restrictions seek to protect the bodies of all women: adult women from risky abortion procedures and pre and post-born girls from being aborted.

Harrowing and poignant, One Child Nation illuminates the problems with China’s one-child policy while making a strong pro-life case that perhaps its own directors do not even fully understand.

One Child Nation is rated R for some disturbing content/images and brief language (via subtitles).

Let’s Make Evangelism Part of Our Everyday Lives

by Daniel Hart

August 30, 2019

As believers in Christ, how much is evangelism part of our everyday lives?

It’s a question that I have been asking myself a lot lately, especially in light of yet another discouraging poll that was released this past Sunday showing that over the last 20 years, the number of Americans who see religion and having children as “very important” is in steep decline (from 62 to 48 percent for religion and from 59 to 43 percent for having children).

The same poll also shows a substantial difference in the outlook of Millennial/Gen-Zers (ages 18-38) and the Boomers/Silent Generation (ages 55-91), who see patriotism, belief in God, and having children as “very important” at substantially higher rates than the younger generation. This does not bode well for the future of our country.

Overall, the poll found that Americans are increasingly angry, anxious, and unsatisfied. As believers called to witness to the gospel, we clearly have our work cut out for us.

Plentiful Harvest, Few Laborers

Whenever I come across fresh evidence like this of our country’s increasing godlessness and indifference to family life, I often think about Christ’s words in Matthew’s gospel: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’” (Matthew 9:36-38).

They were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Isn’t that an incredibly fitting description of our culture right now? Christ’s next words haunt me no matter how many times I read them: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” There are so many souls out there who are lost, who are yearning for God without fully realizing what this hunger in their souls is for. Are we laboring amongst the plentiful harvest of these shepherdless sheep?

As believers, it’s easy to settle into a comfortable pattern in our faith lives. We find great solace and satisfaction in sharing our faith with our families, close friends, and church communities, as we should. While it’s true that a primary evangelistic responsibility is to pass the faith on to our children and to refuel our needy souls in our churches every week, it’s also true that many believers live their lives as though that is where their call to witness ends, myself included. What Jesus is calling us to is something even more far-reaching: to see the world as our mission field.

An Isolated and Lonely Culture

So how should we evangelize today’s culture? Should we stand on street corners with megaphones and loudly proclaim Christ while handing out leaflets?

I would argue that for most of us, this type of impersonal evangelism is not what we are called to. I believe we are called to a much more personal type of witness, one that focuses on individual connection and invitation during one-on-one interactions that happen in everyday life.

Why? Consider this: in one of the most astonishing studies released in recent memory, it was found that 46 percent of Americans reported “feeling lonely sometimes or always,” with 43 percent “feeling isolated from others, and the same number report[ed] feeling they lack companionship and their relationships lack meaning.”

Let’s let this sink in for a moment. Almost half of America is saying that they do not have meaningful relationships and often feel lonely and isolated. Now recall what the first study I discussed in the opening paragraphs found: fewer and fewer Americans consider raising a family and faith to be important. But families and faith communities are two of the biggest means by which people find true companionship and meaning in their lives, and thereby avoid loneliness!

Tragically, a large portion of the American populace does not appear to see the connection between what they value most in life and how those values affect their wellbeing. They are shunning society’s most fundamental institutions that provide authentic community and a sense of identity and belonging. Just how integral is family to this sense of identity? As Mary Eberstadt has written:

Up until the middle of the twentieth century (and barring the frequent foreshortening of life by disease or nature) human expectations remained largely the same throughout the ages: that one would grow up to have children and a family; that parents and siblings and extended family would remain one’s primal community; and that, conversely, it was a tragedy not to be part of a family.

As for faith, psychology professor Clay Routledge recently summed up his and his colleague’s findings about its unique importance:

Religion isn’t just like any organization or group that affords people the opportunity to socialize. Religion promotes a deeper feeling of mattering by teaching adherents that they have social duties to family, friends, and even strangers. Religious faith is an invisible thread that weaves individuals together into moral communities.

And yet, fewer and fewer Americans are seeing the value of family and faith. Is it any wonder that so many in our society are feeling increasingly isolated and alone?

The Essential Importance of Connection and Invitation

It is abundantly clear from all of this that there is a plentiful harvest of people in our culture who need to be reached out to. To reiterate: I would argue that the most effective way to evangelize a godless, lonely, and disconnected culture is to focus on personal connection and invitation in our interactions with people in our everyday lives.

So what does this look like?

Connection. For an introvert like me, I start getting nervous when I think about “reaching out” more. I’m the kind of person who, depending on the day, finds it quite difficult to merely ask a cashier at a store how their day is going. But these kinds of friendly interactions must be the starting points in our mission as believers to spread the gospel. A friendly “How is your day going?” to a grocery store clerk, fellow airplane passenger, or homeless person on the street can easily turn into a genuine connection if the moment is right. But unless we initiate this connection, we will never know if an evangelism opportunity could arise from it. 

Even if one of these everyday encounters does not result in a genuine connection being made, we can simply say, “God bless you” as we depart from the person we are engaging. These simple parting words are a way not only to impart a blessing on them, but also to emphasize the fact that we are Christian and that our good will is ultimately derived from our faith.

We should be especially open to opportunities for connection at our places of employment. Besides our homes, there is no place that we spend more time at than our jobs. The more time we spend at work with our coworkers, the more of a rapport we establish with them. This natural familiarity we develop with our coworkers can lead to an increased trust and openness with each other, which can then lead to excellent opportunities for evangelism.

We should also remember certain populations of people who are especially prone to isolation, particularly the elderly and those in prison. One in three seniors report feeling lonely, which underscores the need for us to visit our local assisted living facilities, where many elderly often do not have loved ones to spend quality time with. We should also spend time to discern if we have a calling for prison ministry. Organizations like Prison Fellowship provide great information and opportunities to minister to this often-forgotten population.

Invitation. Once we have established a connection with someone, we cannot afford to leave it at that. As we are seeing, our culture is starving for authentic community. This means we must extend an invitation to those we have connected with to continue the conversation, at a minimum. Depending on what we feel called to in a given situation, this could mean exchanging personal contact information, extending an invitation to our home for a shared meal, or inviting them to our church.

As Rod Dreher has written, evangelism in our time cannot be separate from discipleship. When we help those we witness to learn how to be faithful by continually inviting them into our own homes and faith communities, we not only build up their faith but also enrich our own families and communities with the fresh perspectives of newcomers.

We Are Not Called to Be Successful, But Faithful

During our journeys of witness, we will often feel like failures. In fact, we will probably not be able to see any lasting impact from most of our attempts to evangelize during our lifetimes. But this doesn’t matter. The Lord is simply calling us to be laborers in the harvest—He will take care of the rest.

In the end, evangelism is simply the act of showing love for our neighbor. Consider the words of Augustine, the mighty father of the early church, who described how Ambrose, a bishop, witnessed to him in his Confessions: “I began to love him at first not as a teacher of the truth … but simply as a man who was kind and generous to me.”

15 Apps All Parents Should Know About

by Cathy Ruse

August 28, 2019

Wow. I had no idea there was a calculator application that hides private browsing and photos. The home page of the app is a workable calculator but if you click on %, it opens up all that is behind it.

It’s the perfect way to hide what you are really doing.  

This is just one of 15 apps the Sarasota (Florida) Sheriff’s office is warning parents they should keep away from their children. Hats off to my friend Donna Rice Hughes at Enough Is Enough for giving their research wider exposure.

Others are much more obvious in their evil intent. MeetMe is obviously something you do not want on your child’s hand-held device. MeetMe is just as it sounds, an app for face-to-face meetings with people who live near you. No person, certainly no little person, should have this app.

Grindr is really a “meat” market. Used by men who want trysts with other men, like right now (“Port Authority second-floor men’s room, now”), this app uses GPS technology for locations and includes photos and sexual peculiarities.

I am not sure why Tindr is not on the list. It’s a degrading hook-up app for heterosexual trysts. Skout is another “dating” app every child should stay away from.

Others have better reputations, but can be used for bad conduct. You’ve heard of WhatsApp? You may even use it yourself for encrypted conversations with business associates or even family members. Its potential abuse by predators is clear.

SnapChat is all the rage. It allows users to send short burst messages including pictures that are supposed to disappear in minutes. But some have figured out how to save photos for up to 24 hours, copy them, and use them as they wish. It is also an obvious way for kids to have conversations with “friends” that parents may never see. The temptation to secrecy is huge.

Tiktok is a rather fun app that allows users to make funny videos of themselves singing and dancing or whatever. As parents scroll through the offerings, they are quite funny. But there is opportunity for danger.

There are others, mostly meet up sites: Badoo, Kik, Bumble, all cool and kicky names that attract kids, but attract them to what?

Why take the risk? Children do not need smartphones. Teens will survive without them.

The market for dumb phones is growing. There’s lots of cool new screen-free phones, and some keep a charge for a week!

I’m one parent that will be shopping this genre soon.

Excessive Smartphone Use is Dehumanizing Us

by Daniel Hart

August 23, 2019

Much has been written about how our society’s addiction to our smartphones, particularly among young people, is worsening our quality of life. I’ve lost count of the number of stories I’ve read about how our culture seems to have tiny attention spans due to social media addiction and about how kids these days don’t make eye contact anymore due to the smartphones that seem to be physically attached to their hands.

Recently, a friend described to me how during an orientation session for his new job, he sat next to two twenty-something fellow new hires who spent the entire time on their smartphones, only occasionally looking up at their supervisor who was giving the orientation.

While worrisome anecdotal stories like these abound, hard data is now emerging that only confirms these fears. In a sobering article at Family Life, Clay Routledge cites recent studies that show that extensive time spent on smartphones is leading to a host of alarming deficiencies in basic human relationships and interactions:

For example, in a field experiment, researchers found that having cellphones present during a meal with family or friends decreased enjoyment of that social experience. Another experiment that involved pairs of college students waiting together with or without their cellphones found that those who were phoneless were far more likely to smile at and interact with one another than those with cellphones. And one study found that having college students severely limit their daily social media use over a three-week period decreased both loneliness and depression. In short, a growing body of experimental research is providing empirical evidence that cellphones distract us from fully experiencing the real world.

Of particular concern are new findings that show that excessive smartphone use is negatively affecting the very fabric of family life. Routledge referenced another recent experiment involving parents and their interactions with their children at a museum in which “[t]he researchers found that parents in the high-use condition [of smartphones], compared to those in the low-use condition, reported feeling less attentive and less socially connected, and reported lower meaning in life while with their children at the museum.”

Perhaps most frightening is a Pew survey cited by Routledge:

Regarding smartphones and family life specifically, a Pew survey found that around half of teenagers say their parents are distracted by their phones when they are trying to talk to them, and over 70% of parents report that their teenagers are distracted when they are trying to have a conversation with them.

When screen addiction worsens even the most basic form of relational activity—talking to our family members—you know we have a serious problem. What Routledge alludes to, and what FRC has emphasized for years, is that family provides the most basic form of meaning in a person’s life through the love they receive, which in turn forms our core sense of self-worth. When this most fundamental source of meaning in our lives is compromised through the breakdown of familial communication and relationships, bad things happen.

A convincing argument has been made that the release of the iPhone in 2007 marked the beginning of a disturbing trend of mental health crisis in the post-Millennial generation. Indeed, a glut of mental health problems have sharply risen among young people since then, including rising rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

Less Screen Time, More Fulfillment

There’s no question that smartphones, tablets, and other internet-enabled portable devices have enhanced our lives in many ways. But as with any technology (or any worldly good, for that matter), believers know that moderation is key. In order to form healthy habits of technology use, we must see smartphones for what they are: a tool, not a necessity.

The primary way we can avoid smartphone addiction for our children and future generations is to limit the amount of time they spend looking at screens. How do we do this? Simply put, if they are out of sight, they are out of mind. If we diligently cultivate our homes as a place where learning and authentic leisure are the primary focus, the need for screens will rarely arise. This can also set an expectation of healthy use of screens that can enhance family life, like for communal viewing of movies or sporting events, for example.

At a certain point in a child’s life, they will see that their peers have smartphones, and they will naturally want to fit in. But if we raise our children with the understanding that they do not need a smartphone, and instead grow up with an expectation that they can work for and earn money to buy one at the age that they can get a job, they will be more likely to see smartphones not as necessities but as tools.

With this healthy perspective from a young age, it is far less likely that kids will form a smartphone addiction when they are older and have free access to them. As the emerging data suggests, and as we inherently know deep down, we are happier and more fulfilled when we spend less time engaging a screen and more time engaging each other.

Hollywood, The Hunt, and the Need for Self-Restraint

by Daniel Hart

August 16, 2019

Does Hollywood actually possess some amount of self-restraint? In the wake of the horrifying mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, Universal Pictures announced that it would “cancel” the release of The Hunt, a movie about people who are politically liberal hunting down and killing other people who are politically conservative (who later get revenge by killing the liberals in return). The film’s original title was Red State Vs. Blue State.

But wait. Universal is actually reserving the right to release the film at a later date, presumably when the public outcry over the film has subsided. So much for self-restraint.

Artistry Flourishes Within Boundaries

It would be very interesting to be a fly on the wall in the room where executives at Universal decided to go ahead and finance a movie like The Hunt. Out of all the movie scripts to choose from, out of all the historical and creative subject matter that could have been crafted into a compelling film, Universal decided that a movie about people murdering other people for sport based on their political views was the one to make.

It appears that the general principle that guides Hollywood these days is that if a movie script is predicted to make money at the box office, it should be made, no matter what the actual content of the movie is. The excuse that Hollywood often uses is “creative license,” where any idea—no matter how twisted and debased—can be made into a movie. This is not only deeply disturbing, morally offensive, and degrading to society, it’s also not a good recipe for a well-crafted movie with any redeemable merit.

During most of Hollywood’s Golden Age (1920 – 1960), there was a code of guidelines (called the “Motion Picture Production Code”) that filmmakers followed regarding the content of their movies, which included rules for how sensitive subject matters like sex or murder could be portrayed. The code included a number of antiquated rules such as a prohibition against scenes of childbirth, but for the most part, the rules merely guarded against the positive portrayal of gratuitous sex, violence, drug use, and other obvious societal evils.

Did this code end up suppressing the creativity and artistry of Hollywood? Quite the contrary. During this period, Hollywood produced what are considered to be some of the greatest and most iconic films of all time, including Citizen Kane, Sunset Boulevard, On the Waterfront, It Happened One Night, From Here to Eternity, Double Indemnity, Vertigo, Ben-Hur, and It’s a Wonderful Life, to name just a few.

I’m not suggesting that we should return to this kind of official content censorship being enforced on all films. I’m merely pointing out that filmmakers can make great movies while still practicing self-restraint in what they choose to put on film.

Evil is the Result of Unrestrained “Freedom”

Somewhere along the line, probably in the late 60’s, many filmmakers stopped believing that they had any responsibility for what they exposed the public to. In times past, particularly during the aforementioned Golden Age of Hollywood, there was an understood expectation that a movie would always have some kind of redeeming value for society. In other words, a film could deal with extremely serious and even disturbing subject matter, but in the end, there was always some kind of insight gained about the human condition that was edifying for the audience. There was an implicit understanding that the whole point of art itself is to portray inherent truths about the nature of humanity and existence in new, imaginative, and enriching ways.

This is in stark contrast to what many movies and TV shows do today. In the name of “realism” and “free expression,” murders are shown in full and unnecessary gratuitous detail, sex scenes and nudity are clearly used for titillation instead of suggestion, and vile profanity and blasphemy is spewed unflinchingly and continuously without a second thought. All of this is often included in modern films and shows without any thought to how it might negatively affect the minds and behaviors of the viewing public.

But something much more insidious and disturbing is now happening. With movies like The Hunt, we are seeing humanity’s darkest and most evil tendencies being dredged up from the depths of our basest subconscious imaginings and being made into a movie. In other words, our darkest and most evil human instincts are being expertly filmed and acted out by Hollywood’s professional directors, cinematographers, and actors and being presented to society for public consumption.

When creative license is left to its own totally unrestrained devices, this is often the result. In a society where mass shootings happen with disturbing regularity and where the coarsening of our public discourse and behavior continues unabated, making major motion pictures like The Hunt for wide release is, in a psychological sense, akin to dumping a bucket of red meat next to a pasture of sheep in the countryside where wolves are known to prowl. While I’m sure that the filmmakers of The Hunt didn’t make the movie to intentionally incite violence, do they not care about the movie contributing to a coarsening of our culture toward increased hatred and violence? Did they not think of its potential danger to inspire deranged individuals to commit violence and murder?

3 Steps to Take for Believing Viewers

As believers, we should pray often for the filmmaking and television industry, that all filmmakers, actors, and writers be given a basic sense of self-restraint. These people know in their heart of hearts that it is wrong to make movies like The Hunt, but they do it anyways to get a cheap thrill or to concede to financial and societal pressures. We must pray that their consciences guide them to make movies and TV shows that have redeemable value for society.

Second, we must put our resources where our own hearts are by supporting the aspiring artists in our own believing communities to enter the film and television industries and make a difference for true artistry that celebrates the true, the good, and the beautiful.

Third, we must carefully discern which movies we go to see at the theater and which movies and TV shows we choose to watch on platforms like Netflix and Amazon. These companies are carefully analyzing which kinds of movies and shows are the most popular so that they can make more content like them and consequently make more money. Our decisions to only watch movies and shows that have redeemable value are important in showing the industry that people actually want to see movies that have something valuable to say about the human condition instead of being mindlessly entertained by gratuitously graphic garbage.

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.

Helping Those in Need Should Not Be Political

by Bailey Zimmitti

August 5, 2019

On Wednesday, July 24, two FRC interns joined a group of pro-life interns in the office of Representative Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) for a briefing on current pro-life topics on the Hill. Students in attendance represented various colleges, organizations, and party affiliations, but all shared a common belief in the inherent dignity of all human life.

Rep. Lipinski gave the interns a synopsis of his political career in great humility, highlighting his desire to serve his constituents above any political agenda. He admitted that he is one of the very few Democrats who votes consistently and unwaveringly pro-life despite the increasing pressure among his fellow Democrats to oppose the Hyde Amendment and to support abortion expansion bills. He emphasized the importance of standing true to what is right even in the face of strong opposition: “If it costs me being a member of Congress, that’s a small price to pay.”

I had the honor of posing a question I have asked myself many times as a student caught in the midst of a political warzone known as the modern college campus:

How can we depoliticize abortion and come together for the sake of human rights?

Building a Coalition

The pro-life population consists mostly of conservatives, but that does not mean that being pro-life is an exclusively conservative position. Rather, pro-lifers from various creeds and parties should come together for the sake of human dignity and learn how to steer discourse about abortion away from politics and towards the truth of human dignity.

Rep. Lipinski agreed that there are a number of reasons to be pro-life—believing that every human is a child created in the image of God, believing in conservatism and the preservation and protection of the family under natural law, believing in science and the undeniable reality that life begins at conception, and even being a Democrat and believing that the government’s duty to protect the most innocent and vulnerable begins with the most innocent and vulnerable—children in the womb.

He explained that we have to dispel the myth that pro-life means “anti-woman.” We have to show that pro-life is pro-woman, and that it is a position that excludes no creed or group of people.

He cited a great example of what this coming together looks like: as a part of their Bottles to the Border campaign, New Wave Feminists, a secular pro-life group founded by Destiny Hernan de la Rosa, teamed up with Abby Johnson’s And Then There Were None (ATTWN) coalition along with other pro-life groups. They asked supporters for donations on two Amazon wishlists and were overwhelmed by pro-lifers’ eagerness to give.

The first list was completed within 48 hours. By the grace of God, a member of the ATTWN shared the mission with their church and ended up sharing with the owner of a trucking company who generously donated an 18-wheeler to deliver the supplies. In order to fill the rest of the truck, they launched another wishlist, which was also speedily bought out.

The two groups had delivered $120,000 worth of supplies and over $70,000 in aid funding to various different respite centers on the southern border.

In response, many conservatives have asked Abby Johnson if her work on the border meant that she supported open border policies, to which she responded:

No, I don’t support lawlessness, I don’t support an open border, I support legal immigration, doing it the right way, but the bottom line is I don’t have the answer, I don’t know the answer, but I can deliver these wipes so that babies’ butts are clean and they’re not getting infections. And I know how to make sure that a baby can get fed, and that’s really what this is about. And that’s what it is to be the Church, to meet the needs that are right in front of us.

This Is Not Our True Country

It seems that one mistake many conservatives make is loyalty to the party over the kingdom. We belong to no one else more than we belong to our Creator. At the end of the day, no matter how much we love the United States of America—and trust me, I do—this is not our true country.

20th century writer Flannery O’Connor wrote in a famous essay entitled “The Fiction Writer and His Country” of this concept of “true country.” Her treatment of writers may well also be said of public figures as well as the average citizen invested in his country’s politics:

The writer’s value is lost, both to himself and to his country, as soon as he ceases to see that country as a part of himself, and to know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against Truth, and not the other way around. The first product of self-knowledge is humility, and this is not a virtue conspicuous in any national character.

Social issues like abortion and serving at the border are not about politics—they are about human beings. Where there are people suffering, the church has a duty to serve in humility and loving kindness no matter what political no-man’s-land we must cross to do so. Democrats can fight abortion and Republicans can serve at the border, that we might all enter our true country and be greeted with these words:

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ … ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25: 34-36, 40).

Bailey Zimmitti is an intern at Family Research Council.

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.

Engaging a Culture in Crisis: Christians Gather to Discuss Strategies

by Cathy Ruse

July 30, 2019

Two hundred Catholics gathered for a two-day conference last weekend high in the hills above La Crosse, Wisconsin. Organized by Cardinal Raymond Burke, former Chief Justice of the Vatican Supreme Court. Cardinal Burke is one of the most important bishops in the Catholic Church and is seen by millions of Catholics as the torchbearer of Christian orthodoxy in what can be a very confusing time. The conference took place at a remarkable hilltop complex dedicated to Mary that includes a shrine to unborn children lost to abortion and miscarriage.

The conference heard from noted experts on the cultural and religious crisis of our time. Robert Royal, author of many books, editor in chief of The Catholic Thing, president of the Faith & Reason Institute, and talking head on Eternal Word Television Network, told the crowd about the mass Christian conversion of Aztec Indians in the 16th century and how our own time calls for a similar conversion.

My husband, Austin Ruse, president of the Center for Family and Human Rights, exhorted the audience to consider that there is no finer time to be a faithful Christian than right now, not in spite of the massive problems around us but precisely because of them. He said the apostles were not exactly the “A Team,” and maybe neither are we. But God knows what He is about, and He sent the likes of us, right here, right now, to defend His creation.

I discussed the competing visions of the Christian Gospel and the “Transgender Gospel.”

The “gospel” of Transgender is hypocritical, mendacious, and deceptive. It wraps itself in the mantel of science, even while it scorns all science that does not further its political goals. Biology is bigotry, according to the transgender ideology.

It speaks of “safe environments,” then forces open the private spaces of women and girls to biological males, including predators.

It calls for “non-discrimination,” then discriminates against women and girls by robbing them of sports victories, scholarships, and careers—and exposing them to physical danger on the playing field.

It calls itself “progressive,” but acts like a retrogressive tyrant, especially when it comes to the freedom of speech.

And worst of all, it preaches “acceptance,” then tells kids to reject their own bodies, even to the point of mutilation.

Our duty, as Christians, is to tell the truth about the human person, no matter what. We must tell all who will listen that to deny our human nature is to reject our human dignity. It is ultimately to reject God.

It is the Tempter’s promise of freedom, but it leads only to degradation and enslavement.

One small but important way to tell the Truth is to use truthful language. We should always use the word “sex” when referring to the biological reality of the physical nature of male and female.

Don’t say “gender” when we mean sex. Stella Morabito has it absolutely right: “Gender is a poisoned and weaponized word that has been used to legally de-sex and thus dehumanize us all.” 

As Christians, we are uniquely qualified to make the case for the truth about the human person. Because we are not confused. We know there are not 58 genders, but two sexes. 

Only a post-Christian culture could be so vulnerable to this kind of deception. As G.K. Chesterton wrote: “The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything.”

Ours is a different creed. We believe in a loving Father who created us in His own image: male and female. We believe that every person is born in exactly the right body.

What a joy to be called to bring this life-affirming, life-saving message to our culture, right now.

The Case Against Marijuana Legalization: 3 Myths Debunked

by Hugh Phillips

July 17, 2019

On July 10, the House Judiciary committee held a hearing entitled “Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform.” The pro-pot panel that testified before the committee made many fantastic and outlandish claims to support the legalization of recreational marijuana use.

Claim 1: “Teen use of marijuana drops with legalization.”

One of the claims the panel made about recreational marijuana legalization is that when a state legalizes marijuana, adolescent usage declines. Yet, this claim does not match logic. As Charles Stimson notes, when marijuana is legalized, use by minors will rise because all deterrents have been removed:

Marijuana’s illegal status “keeps potential drug users from using” marijuana in a way that no legalization scheme can replicate “by virtue of the fear of arrest and the embarrassment of being caught.” With increased use comes increased abuse, as the fear of arrest and embarrassment will decrease.

Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.) challenged the assumption that minors would be protected if the drug is legalized by pointing to the fact that legalization had “increased unintended exposure by young children” and “tripled” calls to poison centers for kids mistakenly “ingesting” marijuana. Thus, Rep. Cline asked Mr. Nathan, a member of the panel, “Have you seen youth access to legalization increase as a result of legalization?” Mr. Nathan was forced to admit that many more kids were mistakenly ingesting marijuana in legalized states. This shows that marijuana is much more accessible to minors and ripe for abuse in states were the substance is being made legal.

Claim 2: “The marijuana black market will be dismantled by legalization.”

The panel also made the argument that federal legalization would create a “regulated market” and take away the power of the black market. Yet, Neal Levine, representative of the Cannabis Trade Federation, was forced to admit that despite state regulation in states that had legalized marijuana, the black market was still the legal industry’s greatest “competitor.” This is backed up by research that shows the black market is the main seller in some legalized states. Even liberal California governor Gavin Newsom has admitted that the black market in California got more powerful after legalization. The governor has even recently deployed the California National Guard in an effort to halt illegal growers.

It is clear that government regulation does not stop the black market. In fact, if the federal government chooses to legalize and regulate pot, government intervention may very well increase the size and volatility of the black market as criminals seek to sell more potent strands of the drug than federal law allows.

Claim 3: “Marijuana is safer and causes less dependency than alcohol or tobacco.”

This claim made by a member of the panel is one of the most easily debunked myths about marijuana. The National Institute of Health has proven that marijuana is a gateway drug. Those who use marijuana become almost three times more likely to become addicted to opioids. The National Institute of Health also notes that, “Marijuana is associated with a six-fold increase in suicide.” This is just a fraction of the detrimental heath consequences associated with marijuana use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has noted that marijuana hinders brain development, can cause “paranoia,” hurts the respiratory system, and can cause permanent brain damage. The evidence is clear—marijuana is a dangerous drug and must not be legalized in the United States.

We Must Stand Against Marijuana Legalization

Legalization or decriminalization of recreational marijuana use on the federal level is bad policy. The STATES Act (H.R. 2093) and the SAFE Banking Act (H.R. 1595) are just steps in the road to complete legalization. Not only do they stand upon questionable constitutional foundations, but they would increase the many social detriments associated with marijuana, including rises in drug abuse, crime, criminal trafficking, and mental health problems. Family health and safety would be degraded across the United States if these two pieces of legislation were to pass and put the U.S. on the road to legalization. For the sake of America’s families, Congress should reject the STATES Act and SAFE Banking Act, keep marijuana illegal, and focus on more effective ways of stopping the interstate drug trade.

Hugh Phillips is a Government Affairs intern at Family Research Council working on pro-life legislation.

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