By / Jun 29

Free, downloadable bulletin insert for use by your church on Citizenship and Religious Liberty Sunday. 

To see additional SBC event dates, visit

By / Mar 22

News consumption does not merely inform us, it forms us, argues Jeffrey Bilbro in his new book Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry Into the News. Our daily scrolling of the news may seem routine, but it shapes our sense of who we are, our values, and how we see the world we live in. As such, Bilbro calls readers to gain perspective on the nature and purpose of news and the power it has to shape and form communities around its content. Reading the Times helpfully suggests practices, or “liturgies,” to offset the side-effects of our media-saturated habits and cultivate healthier rhythms of life and reading. Below are some of the insights Bilbro shared from his important book on our relationship with the news. 

Your latest book is a “literary and theological inquiry into the news.” What is the purpose of news, and why do we need a practical theology for how we consume it?

Part of the challenge with considering how to understand and relate to what we might classify as “the news” is that it serves so many roles in our lives today. The news can give useful information about the weather or local happenings; it can provoke outrage; it can help us understand complex and ongoing events like a pandemic or climate change or economic trends; it can amuse; it can foster a sense of community among those who share particular moral convictions or cultural affinities; it can relieve boredom; and it can direct our attention toward particular people or events. Some of these purposes are good and some aren’t so good. 

In this book, I reflect on how our citizenship in heaven and God’s call to love our neighbor might shape how we attend to contemporary affairs. What do we need to know to love our neighbors well? Or, to frame the question differently, to what do we need to attend in order to live faithfully in this place and in this time?

The title is inspired by a Henry David Thoreau quote, “Read not the Times, Read the Eternities.” What is the significance of this Thoreau’s words today?

Thoreau was writing during a time of rapid technological change when the telegraph and other technologies were rapidly increasing the speed and reach of the news. People were becoming inundated with information about distant events, and it was difficult to discern what they should pay attention to. Thoreau warned that our human tendency is to get distracted by unimportant, titillating news: he jokes that when the transatlantic telegraph cable is in place, “perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.” In response to this altered information ecosystem, Thoreau recommended dedicating most of our attention to words and ideas, and stories that have stood the test of time. 

In many respects, Thoreau’s advice parallels what the Apostle Paul writes in Philippians: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” If we are rooted in these eternal verities, we will be better able to discern which contemporary events are important for us to know about and how we should respond to them.

What are chronos and kairos, and how does the tension between these understandings of time affect how we interpret current events?

Chronos is basically our modern understanding of time as quantifiable duration. It’s linear and sequential. Kairos names a kind of propitious time, time that is right for a certain action: it’s time to plant a crop, time to drink a cup of coffee, time to celebrate Easter. Chronos names the horizontal timeline on which human history plays out, and kairos names the pattern of God’s redemptive work within creation. Christians are caught between these two times. The Old Testament prophets provide good examples of how to navigate this tension as they connect particular, historical injustice or sin with the recurring acts of divine judgment and redemption. 

Phrases like “the wrong side of history” or “the arc of history” indicate that chronos is the horizon against which the morality of particular events can be judged, and they suggest that humans are somehow morally progressing as history unfolds. Christians should be skeptical, I think, of this Hegelian view of historical progress, and such a view of time can lead us to overvalue the news. What happens in history does matter, but it matters not because it can be slotted into some arc of moral improvement. Rather, events matter because they are part of God’s ongoing work in his creation. The prophets judge current affairs against that divine pattern of action: idolatry or economic inequality is not on the wrong side of history, but they are on the wrong side of God’s character and commands. So the prophets—and the later heirs of this prophetic tradition—can guide us toward a better way of assessing the significance of current events. To put it in the terms of Thoreau’s dictum, they judge the times on the basis of the eternities.

You’ve included “liturgies” that media consumers can practice to offset common maladies tied to news intake. Why did you decide to include this in the book? What is one example of a helpful practice?

I’ve been encouraged by the recent theological retrieval of the importance of liturgies. The church has long known that what we habitually do with our bodies shapes our thinking, and more people seem to be remembering this reality of human nature. If we check our social media feeds the first thing each morning, we’ll inadvertently base our emotional posture toward the day on the latest outrageous story. If the TV is on in the background of our living rooms, it becomes the backdrop against which we understand the meaning of our lives. So the liturgies I recommend are meant to invite readers to reflect on how they might practice their theological convictions regarding the news—and how in turn their practices might be shaping their theological convictions. 

For instance, the simple act of taking a walk through your neighborhood can recalibrate your attention away from the distant dramas playing out on a screen and toward the neighbors among whom you live. What is happening in this place and with these people? What might you need to know to dwell more faithfully and redemptively here? We may still need to read and learn about events happening far away, but regularly walking among and talking to our neighbors might help us better understand the relative importance of distant events.

How can Christians better practice discernment while consuming the news?

Discernment is not an individual skill we can hone with a few mental tricks or technological hacks. It’s a communally-formed habit of mind. As I write in the book, belonging well precedes thinking well. Social psychologists such as Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Haidt have argued—persuasively, I think—that the vast majority of our reactions and decisions are based on socially-formed intuitions and biases rather than on deliberate, careful reasoning. If we imagine ourselves belonging primarily to a political party or an ideological group, we’ll filter all that we read through this identity. As Christians, however, our primary community should be the Church. We’ll be better able to discern the significance of the news that we read to the extent that we are formed as members of Christ’s body.

You discuss the ways that online and public communities have affected us in a digital age. What do you mean when you say, “What we really need is to be shaped by embodied communities that are rooted outside the public sphere and its unhealthy dynamics”?

Particularly in the wake of COVID-19, more and more of our relationships are mediated digitally. Some online communities can be genuinely life-giving, but the digital public square tends to foster unhealthy forms of belonging: it encourages swarms of outrage, virtue-signaling, and moral grandstanding rather than the patient, difficult work of building lasting friendships. We need such friendships and thick communities, however, both for the sake of our own spiritual formation and to help guide us as we seek to love our neighbors and participate redemptively in our broader communities. I point to Dorothy Day and Frederick Douglass as two examples of Christians who belonged well to embodied communities and wrote and published for a wider audience on the basis of that belonging.  

You can order Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry into the News here

By / Nov 3

Today is Election Day in the United States. As we cast our votes, may we also remember the importance of prayer. Communing with the Lord reminds us of our ultimate hope and comfort and teaches our hearts to trust in our Father. 

Below is a sample prayer for personal reflection, families, and churches to use:

Heavenly Father, we thank you for hearing our prayers and for caring about your children. We recognize and confess our utter dependence upon you. Scripture teaches us that we ought to pray without ceasing, and on a day when many of us are tempted toward despair or triumph, we ask that you reorient our hearts and our gaze toward you. 

Regardless of the outcome of this election, may we remember that you are on your throne, you are sovereign and in control. The nations may rage, but you remain steadfast. You are our true hope, security, rest, and safety. May we not give way to fear or pride, but instead rest in your presence. You have told us that your kingdom is not of this world. Teach our hearts to trust in you, our King of kings, rather than the rulers of the world. 

As you have instructed us in your Word, we ask for wisdom and guidance for our president, our Congress, governors, state officials, and mayors. We also lift up the newly elected officials around the country. Give them discernment and hearts of services for the people they lead.

Give us a renewed love for you and for our neighbor. After this day is finished, we will still live and work among friends and family with whom we might disagree. We repent and ask for forgiveness for harsh or unkind words we’ve spoken over the past few months, whether on social media or in person. Forgive us for being quick to speak and slow to listen. We ask that the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts would be pleasing in your sight.

May we not get so focused on politics that we overlook the commandment you’ve given us to share the good news of your gospel. We ask that we would be eager laborers in the harvest and boldly proclaim you to a watching and lost world. We ask that we continue to grow in godliness in all areas of our life.

Today, we also remember our brothers and sisters around the world who live under oppressive regimes. Many believers aren’t able to freely gather and worship you without fear of persecution. Would you change the hearts of those leaders and continue to give those Christians the boldness to remain steadfast?

Lord, we know that one day you will come and make all things new, and we eagerly await the day when you will bring us home and wipe away every tear. Give us the grace to trust you more.

In Jesus’ name, 


By / Jul 10

The COVID-19 pandemic has created serious challenges for leaders and citizens around the globe. The crisis is straining the abilities of churches to serve their communities, governments to protect their constituents, and healthcare agencies to mitigate the effect and spread of the virus.

One key to successfully confronting this crisis is for churches to conduct themselves as co-equal partners with civic entities to combat the spread of the coronavirus. As Christians, we are told to seek the welfare of the cities we serve (Jer. 29:7). Assuming this role in this season is paramount in loving our neighbors well, particularly the vulnerable (Mark 12:31). 

Civic leaders and public health experts have identified a number of helpful tools and procedures that can be followed to raise community awareness and protect individual health. One such procedure is known as contact tracing. The process calls for phone dispatchers to contact individuals who were potentially exposed to COVID-19 so they may take steps to limit their interactions with others, thus stopping the spread of the virus.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is committed to fostering partnership between church leaders and civic leaders as both have unique, complementary roles in this season. To help with such partnership, here are some considerations that civil authorities and churches could take into account as they deliberate on the best ways to work together: 

  • Churches should work to be a partner with state and local officials in the fight against COVID-19. We need to build relationships of trust with one other. As such, pastors and church leaders should proactively engage local officials and elected leaders to build pathways for dialogue and information sharing.
  • Civic leaders should view churches as essential institutions and helpful partners in serving their communities. The discourse from civic leaders should provide guidance and recommendations based on the latest medical analysis, not as directives that could run afoul of First Amendment freedoms or that could create the impression that the church is an extension of or subordinate to the state. 
  • Open lines of communication between the church and civic space are critical. Officials should make every effort to communicate with church leaders if contact tracing determines that transmission occurred at or during a church service. While many churches gather information about attendees at church services, health officials must recognize the serious religious liberty issues associated with such government involvement and act in ways that respect this first freedom. 
  • Churches should steward their unique role in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Public health officials have developed guidelines that dramatically lessen the likelihood of transmission of COVID-19 at churches if a person with the virus is present at a church activity. These will differ from area to area, at points, but usually involve physical distancing measures, the usage of masks or facial coverings, and best practices for communications to attendees, especially in the event of a potential exposure during church activities.
  • Civic leaders should treat houses of worship fairly. The procedures for contact tracing and information gathering must not single houses of worship out from other gatherings of similar size and activity. Civic leaders must regularly assess whether exemptions are applied consistently and in a way that respects First Amendment protections for churches. If contact tracing exempts some businesses or activities and not churches, this would be an instance of treating houses of worship unequally from other similarly-situated entities. 
  • Civic leaders should not create personal records that individually identify the church or religious affiliation of individuals. All effort should be made in public communications to allay concerns that the crisis presented by COVID-19 could in any way create a government “database” or surveillance of those who attend a house of worship or religious services. Religious liberty and freedom of association and peaceable assembly should be respected at all times. 
  • Civic leaders must approach the public release of information about exposures carefully and must not single churches out. Representatives of the government, including public information officials and media relations staff, should treat any public release of information about infections with caution that respects the First Amendment and HIPAA rights of all involved. In particular, health officials should not release information about COVID-19 infections without context that would be important to the public, such as when exposures happened and whether community spread occurred. The lack of context could lead to a “blacklist” of churches, which violates First Amendment protections and inhibits the spirit of cooperation that must be fostered between faith and civic leaders.
  • Church leaders should share information responsibly and efficiently. In an effort to aid a government’s contact tracing efforts, churches should create a process that utilizes all available means of contacting members and guests of the church’s activities to ensure widespread notice is made in the event of a potential exposure.
By / Jun 25

Free, downloadable bulletin insert for use by your church on Citizenship and Religious Liberty Sunday. 

To see additional SBC event dates, visit

By / Nov 30

Within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), resolutions have traditionally been defined as an expression of opinion or concern, as compared to a motion, which calls for action. A resolution is not used to direct an entity of the denomination to specific action other than to communicate the opinion or concern expressed. Each year, resolutions are passed during the annual meetings of the state conventions.

Highlighted below are some examples of resolutions on ERLC related issues from the 2018 conventions:

Alabama Baptist Convention

Resolution No. 1: On a Call for Prayer and Unity

RESOLVED, That we encourage all U.S. citizens to demonstrate unity in advocating freedom of speech and religious liberty for each other;

Resolution No. 2: On Christian Parenting for All Children

RESOLVED, That Alabama Baptists encourage all fathers and mothers to be equally committed to active participation in the challenges of raising their children in an atmosphere of healthy family life and that each play an effective personal role in the development of their children;

Arkansas Baptist State Convention

Resolution No. 2: On Opposition To Issue No. 4 – The Proposed Constitutional Amendment To Expand Casino Gambling To Four Arkansas Counties

RESOLVED, that should Issue No. 4 be approved and casino gambling is expanded in our state, we will endeavor to restore and rehabilitate individuals caught up in the destructive cycle of problem gambling, and will attempt to provide a safety net for the gamblers’ families and communities as we are called to do as Christ-followers.

Resolution No. 4: On Christian Citizenship And Civic Participation

RESOLVED, that we, the messengers to the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, meeting at Central Baptist Church, Jonesboro, Arkansas, October 23-24, 2018, encourage all believers to engage the culture by being informed and proactive citizens, by voting in all elections, by praying for all those in authority and positions of influence, and by participating appropriately in civic matters.

Resolution No. 5: On Christlike Communication And The Use Of Social Media

RESOLVED, that we guard our tongues, using caution and wisdom in our media and social media, and refrain from remarks that tear down others made in the image of God, including refraining from gossip and slander (Psa. 141:3; Prov. 6:16–19; 17:27–28; 21:23; James 3:10–12);

Illinois Baptist State Association

Resolution Concerning Churches’ Compassion Toward Infertility

RESOLVED, that said messengers urge IBSA churches to stand firm and together in helping parents during these times of struggle, indecision, and/or heartbreak so that everyone knows and understands they are part of the greater family of God and that their difficulty, problems, and/or struggles can be overcome through Christ. (Rom. 12:12)

Resolution Opposing the Teaching of LGBTQ Values in Illinois Schools

RESOLVED, that the messengers to the Illinois Baptist State Association meeting in Maryville, Illinois, November 7-8, 2018, urge IBSA churches and their members to stand against efforts to impose LGBTQ curricula and books upon the students, families, and citizens of the State of Illinois.

Resolution on Abuse and Prevention

RESOLVED, That we call on pastors and ministry leaders to foster safe environments in which abused persons may both recognize the reprehensible nature of their abuse and reveal such abuse to pastors and ministry leaders in safety and expectation of being believed and protected;

Missouri Baptist Convention

Resolution No. 4: On Pornography Being a Public Health Crisis

RESOLVED, that the Missouri Baptist Convention calls for education, prevention, research, strict enforcement of obscenity laws, and policy considerations where needed at the church, community and societal level in order to address the pornography epidemic that is harming the people of our state and nation.

Resolution No. 5: On the Prohibition of Legalizing Sports Gambling

RESOLVED, that we encourage our fellow Missouri Baptists and all other followers of Christ to refuse to participate in any form of gambling.

Resolution No. 6: On Marijuana Ballot Measures

RESOLVED, that we, the Missouri Baptist Convention, protect the people of our great state from the future legalization of recreational marijuana (through the initial step of legalizing medical marijuana) by urging a vote of “NO” on each of these three ballot issues;

Resolution No. 7: On Gun Violence

RESOLVED, that we affirm that it is the depravity, sinfulness, and wickedness of the human heart that gives birth to gun violence and mass shootings;

Resolution No. 8: On the Missouri Supreme Court’s Dred Scott Decision and Racial Reconciliation

RESOLVED, that the Missouri Baptist Convention call on the Missouri Legislature to formally denounce the decision of the Missouri Supreme Court of March 22, 1852, in that it contradicts the principle that “all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights”

Resolution No. 9: On Sexuality and Christian Identity

RESOLVED, that the messengers to the Missouri Baptist Convention meeting deny the validity of a “gay Christian” identity, recommit themselves to fight all forms of sinful temptation, and affirm the biblical portrait of the believer as one who has decisively broken with all sinful identity and practice and is with all Christ’s church a new creation who is being progressively sanctified by God

State Convention of Baptists in Ohio

Resolution No. 4: On Voting as an Expression of Christian Citizenship

RESOLVED, That we prayerfully urge the candidates for political office and the current officials to endorse the Biblical values upon which society should rest;

Resolution No. 6: On Biblical Sexuality and the Freedom of Conscience

RESOLVED, That we stand in solidarity with those whose jobs, professions, businesses, ministries, schools, and personal freedoms are threatened because their consciences will not allow them to recognize, promote, or participate in activities associated with unbiblical marriage;

Resolution No. 7:  On Reaching Refugees and People Groups in Ohio

RESOLVED, That we will be committed to extending Christian love and friendship to all people groups entering our state;

Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma

Resolution No. 3: For Foster Care and Adoption

Knowing that Christ calls us to minister to the vulnerable, and that Jesus modeled love and compassion toward all children and commands us to care for them, we call on Oklahoma Baptists to take an even more active role in foster care.

Resolution No. 5: For Sexual Integrity, Accountability

We deplore, apologize, and ask for forgiveness for failures to protect the abused, failures that have occurred in churches and ministries, including such failures among Southern Baptists. We condemn all forms of abuse and repudiate with a unified voice all abusive behavior as unquestionably sinful and under the just condemnation of our Holy God and should be properly reported to state/legal authorities.

Resolution No. 6: On Recreational Marijuana and the Abuse of Drugs

We pray that the citizens of Oklahoma will oppose the legalization of recreational marijuana and that the church will be proactive through Christ-centered ministries to reach people who are addicted to substances.

South Carolina Baptist Convention

Resolution on Medical Marijuana

RESOLVED, That we, the messengers of the South Carolina Baptist Convention meeting in North Charleston, November 13-14, 2018, are opposed to the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana;

Resolution on Racial Reconciliation

RESOLVED, That we profess our commitment to Build Bridges with the love of our Savior to make disciples of Jesus Christ across every cultural barrier to the glory of God the Father (Matt. 28:18–20, Acts 1:8).

Resolution on Sports Betting

RESOLVED, That we urge the members of the South Carolina General Assembly to reject state-sanctioned sports betting and any other expansion of gambling;

Resolution on Religious Liberty

RESOLVED, That we urge those in the legal profession to engage in defending the rights of those individuals, groups, or churches facing discrimination for their religious beliefs;

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC)

Resolution No. 1: On Pastors and Political Engagement

RESOLVED, that we refuse to compromise the reputation of Christ and the clarity of the gospel message, regardless of perceived political implications or potential loss of religious liberty;

Resolution No. 3: On Justice Reform

RESOLVED, that we ardently call upon and pray for decision-makers at every level in the United States judicial system to apply the law equally, irrespective of race or socio-economic status;

Resolution No. 5: On Abuse

RESOLVED, that we acknowledge that spousal abuse dishonors the marriage covenant and fundamentally blasphemes the relationship between Christ and the church;

Resolution No. 6: On Posture of Christians Toward Refugees

RESOLVED, that we repudiate any and all assaults on the dignity and humanity of God’s image-bearers, regardless of refugee status;

Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia

Resolution No. 2: Prayer for the President and Other Elected Leaders

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the SBC of Virginia Annual Homecoming meeting in Hampton, Virginia, November 11-13, 2018, urge the churches of the SBC of Virginia to pray confidently, regularly, and fervently for our President, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, and all local, state, and national governmental leaders.

Resolution No. 5: Condemning Religious Violence Against Jewish People

RESOLVED, That we will encourage churches of the SBC of Virginia to guard against and reject anti-Semitism and to be zealous to share the hope of Christ for all peoples.

West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists

Resolution on Violence

RESOLVED, [in opposition to] the use of violence or force against any person or group on the basis of political persuasion, racial background, gender distinction, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation

By / Jun 20

Free, downloadable bulletin insert for use by your church on Citizenship and Religious Liberty Sunday. 

By / Oct 31

From the 1800s to the mid 20th century, government-run lotteries in America were not only recognized as immoral but were banned in every state. That changed in 1964 when New Hampshire—a state without an income tax—reinstituted a state lottery. Over the next 50 years, 43 more U.S. states and three territories (the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) would legalize state-run gambling operations to pay for government programs.

Mississippi is one of only six states that do not have lotteries—but that may soon change. In 1992 Mississippi voters removed the prohibition on lotteries from the state’s constitution, and earlier this year the state legislature appointed a study committee to examine the issue. A bill proposing to implement a state lottery is expected in the 2018 session.

In the 1830s, evangelicals lead the way in opposing state lotteries. From 1844 to 1859, 10 new state constitutions contained lottery bans, and by 1890, lotteries were prohibited in every state except Delaware and Louisiana. Today, though, evangelicals—including Southern Baptists—are often leading the way in reinstituting state-run lotteries.

“I’m a Baptist. You know us Baptists don’t believe in gambling . . . ” said Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood this summer. “But I have to be a realist. The Legislature is not passing any revenue [tax increase]. That [lottery revenue] is money available for education—should be spent on education.”

Lotteries are predatory gambling that exploit our poorest citizens.

When it comes to economic and political issues, there are many areas on which Christians can legitimately disagree. But one area where the Bible is clear is that we must oppose the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable by the powerful. That is exactly why we must reject rationalizations about lottery financing: State-sponsored lotteries use government power to support a type of predatory gambling that exploits our poorest citizens.

Taking from the poor to give to the middle class

In 2013 lawmakers in North Carolina proposed making it illegal for lottery ticket merchants to knowingly sell a lottery ticket to a person on government welfare. At the time, Rep. Paul Stam said, “We’re giving them welfare to help them live, and yet by selling them a ticket, we’re taking away their money that is there to provide them the barest of necessities.”

The irony is that taking money from those who need government assistance to pay for government programs like education is a not a glitch in the system but a primary function of state lotteries. The middle class and the wealthy may occasionally buy lottery tickets, but the revenue they bring in is not enough to make state lotteries economically viable. To make enough money to pay for the lottery and to bring in additional revenue the state needs to rely on poor people to spend a disproportionate share of their income on lottery tickets.

“The state lottery is a tax, which is to say it is forced wealth redistribution,” says economist Mark Thornton. “The lottery tax is regressive. It takes a higher percentage of a poor man’s wages than a rich man's. Every study has shown this to be the case and there has not been one published study that contradicts this finding.”

An example of what Thornton is referring to is a 2008 report from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis on the relationship between income and lottery revenue. That study found that a large portion of lottery profits come from people who receive some financial subsidy from the government. Other studies have found that people who played the lottery with an income of less than $20,000 annually spent an average of $46 per month on lottery tickets. That comes out to more than $550 per year, and it is nearly double the amount spent in any other income bracket.

“A person making $20,000 spends three times as much on lottery tickets on average than does someone making $30,000,” says Jordan Ballor. “And keep in mind that these numbers represent average spending. For every one or two people who spend just a few bucks a year on lotteries, others spend thousands,” Ballor adds.

All of this is taking place in a system of legalized gambling that is monopolized and promoted by those in political power. Where state governments are supposed to be looking after the welfare of their citizenry, the commonwealth of all the people, the establishment of a lottery has in fact betrayed the citizenry.

What begins as a well-intentioned plan to provide for the needs of the people—education funding, for example—very often becomes just another source of revenue for a voracious state treasury. Lotto revenue is often diverted for new purposes through legislative and bureaucratic chicanery.

State-sponsored plundering of the poor

That the individual states establish predatory gambling is disturbing. Yet they compound the evil by promoting the lottery as a way for those with limited resources to secure their financial future. Unfortunately, many of our poorest citizens believe this exploitative advertising. A study by the Opinion Research Corporation for the Consumer Federation of America and the Financial Planning Association found that 38 percent of those earning less than $25,000 annually believed the lottery is the solution to accumulating wealth.

“Normally government would outlaw a business that offered such outrageously bad odds to its customers and it would tax away such ‘obscene profits’ but in this case it advertises the lottery as a way that everyone can get rich,” says Thornton. “This is a good lesson about government for the many among us who feel that the government is suppose to protect us from such deceit and plundering.”

I agree with Attorney General Hood and other Christian politicians who claim we must be “realists.” But the reality is state lotteries are a form of predatory gambling. Governments should be protecting the poor rather than exploiting them to fill the tax coffers. As Bob Terry has observed, a state-sponsored lottery is one of the cruelest and most callous proposals a state legislature can make.

Any politician who isn’t aware that state lotteries are a progressive tax on the poor simply hasn’t done their homework. And any politician who supports them knowing how they oppress the poor should remember they are showing contempt for our Maker (Prov. 17:5a).

By / May 26

Freedom of religion or belief is good for business. As outlined in Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights,

Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Why is it good for business? In short, because religious freedom:

Fosters respect
Reduces corruption
Engenders peace
Encourages broader freedoms
Develops the economy
Overcomes over-regulation
Multiplies trust

First, religious freedom fosters respect by protecting something that more than eight-in-ten people worldwide, 84 percent according to a recent Pew Research study, identify with – a religious faith. Given that so many people are attached to a faith, to violate the free practice of religion runs the risk of alienating the mass of humanity, something that certainly would not be ideal for morale and socio-economic progress. Indeed, forcing the 16 percent of people with no specific religious attachment to have a religion would likewise be alienating. Religious freedom ensures that people, regardless of their belief or nonbelief, are accorded equal rights and equal opportunity to have a voice in society.

Second, religious freedom reduces corruption, one of the key ingredients of sustainable economic development. For instance, research finds that laws and practices burdening religion are related to higher levels of corruption. This is borne out by simple comparison between the Pew Research Center’s 2011 Government Restrictions on Religion Index with the 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index. Eight of the ten most corrupt countries have high or very high governmental restrictions on religious liberty. Religious freedom also implies that business people can draw on religious values and moral teachings in their businesses. The attempt to force businesses to act as secular, neutral, value-free organizations may be one contributing factor to the corruption, greed and short-sighted decisions that lead to the global economic collapse of 2008 that still affects many people and nations today. Allowing religion to inform business ethnics certainly is an underused activity implied by religious freedom.

Third, research clearly demonstrates engenders peace by reducing religion-related violence and conflict. Conversely, when religious freedom is not respected and protected, the result is often violence and conflicts that disrupt normal economic activities. Religious hostilities and restrictions create climates that can drive away local and foreign investment, undermine sustainable development, and disrupt huge sectors of economies. Such has occurred in the ongoing cycle of religious regulations and hostilities in Egypt, which has adversely impacted the tourism industry. More generally, religious freedom is a key ingredient to peace and stability, which is particularly important for business because, where stability exists, there is more opportunity to invest and conduct normal and predictable business operations, especially in emerging and new markets. This is the topic of the 2011 Cambridge University Press book, The Price of Freedom Denied.

Fourth, religious freedom encourages broader freedoms that contribute to positive socio-economic development. Economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, for instance, argues that societal development requires the removal of sources of “unfreedom.” And restrictions on religious freedom are certainly a source of unfreedom. Removing impediments to religious freedom facilitates freedom of other kinds. And research finds empirical evidence or this relationship. Religious freedom is highly correlated with the presence of other freedoms and a variety of positive social and economic outcomes ranging from better health care to higher incomes for women. While correlations are not causation, the correlations suggest that a more robust future research agenda should focus on better understanding these connections because it appears the freedoms rise or fall together.

Fifth, religious freedom develops the economy. When religious groups operate in a free and competitive environment, religion can play a measurable role in the human and social development of countries. For instance, sociologist Robert Woodberry finds that the presence of proselytizing Protestant faiths, i.e., faiths competing for adherents, was associated with economic development throughout the world in the previous century. Even before that, Alexis de Tocqueville recognized that such Protestant associations in the early U.S. of these sorts established seminaries, constructed inns, created churches, disseminated books, and founded hospitals, prisons and schools. And these contributions are not just a legacy from the past. Katherine Marshall, former director of the Development Dialogue on Values and Ethics at the World Bank and former director in the World Bank’s Africa and East Asia regions, also recognizes that faith communities not only provide education and health services but they also provide social safety nets for orphans, disabled people and people who fall behind.

Sixth, religious freedom overcomes over-regulation that accompanies certain types of religious restrictions that directly limit or harm economic activity. A few current examples from the Muslim-majority countries – a set of countries with particularly high religious restrictions – are illustrative of how the lack of religious freedom contributes to worse economic and business outcomes. Religious restrictions among Muslim-majority countries impacting businesses take many forms. One direct religious restriction impacting economic freedom involves Islamic finance. For instance, businesses involved in creating, buying or selling Islamic financial instruments can find the situation that one Islamic law (sharia) board deems a particular instrument acceptable while another board does not, making the instrument’s acceptance on stock exchanges subject to differing interpretations of sharia. Religious restrictions also include legal barriers for certain import and export industries, such as the halal food market and outright bans of certain blockbusters from the film industry. And, certain government laws and restrictions on religious freedom can stoke religion-related hostilities that disrupt markets throughout the region. Examples range from employment discrimination against women over such things as headscarves to the misuse of anti-blasphemy laws to attack business rivals. And perhaps most significantly for future economic growth, research shows that the instability associated with high and rising religious restrictions and hostilities can influence young entrepreneurs to take their talents elsewhere.

And seventh, religious freedom multiplies trust. Religious freedom, when respected within a company, can also directly benefit a company’s bottom line. These include both lower costs and improved morale. An example of lower costs includes less liability for litigation. For instance, the clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch fought and lost a religious discrimination case in 2013 related to firing a Muslim stock girl for wearing a scarf in violation of the company’s dress code. The case resulted not only in substantial legal costs but also negative national publicity. Respect for reasonable accommodation of religious freedom in the workplace can improve employee morale, increase retention of valued employees, and help with conflict resolution. Moreover, businesses may gain a competitive advantage by engaging stakeholder expectations that are increasingly demanding that companies play a positive role in addressing environmental, social and governance challenges. As recognized by business consulting group McKinsey & Company, the ethical stakeholder has clearly emerged and is on the rise. Important business stakeholders include business partners, investors and consumers, and a growing segment of ethically sensitive customers tend to prefer companies that are responsive to human rights. Indeed, consumer and government preferences given to human-rights-sensitive companies may give a company an advantage in competitive markets and enable it to charge premium prices and land choice contracts. And recognizing this human rights impact on branding, companies such as Gap have assumed shared responsibility for the conditions under which its goods are manufactured.

Given that religious freedom contributes to better economic and business outcomes, advances in religious freedom are in the self-interest of businesses, governments and societies. While this observation does not suggest that religious freedom is the sole or even main anecdote to poor economic performance, it does suggest that religious freedom is related to economic success. Certainly, businesses would benefit from taking religious freedom considerations into account in their strategic planning, labor management and community interactions. For instance, when evaluating locations for future research and development operations, countries with good records on religious freedom may be a better environment to find societies open to innovation and experimentation.

By / Feb 27

American Christians are often dismissive of symbolism in politics. We’re interested in substance, by which we mean the nuts and bolts of policy, law, political principle, message and governance. We’re tempted to dismiss political symbolism as an unfortunate feature of our media-saturated age, when people are too distracted by their ubiquitous glimmering screens to pay much mind to gritty and unglossy realities.

This perspective is deeply unhistorical. Politics always has been infused with symbols. Punishment is as substantial a political act as you can find, as Michel Foucault noted, until the eighteenth-century public executions were forms of drama as much as deterrents. Ancient Romans crucified rebellious slaves, saying in effect, “You want everyone to look up to you. We can arrange that.” Later Romans flayed Christians alive, poured salt and oil in their wounds and burned them at the stake, in a quasi-sacrificial procedure. Christians refused to sacrifice to the emperor and claimed to be “living sacrifices” to Christ, so the Romans designed executions of Christians to parody Christian beliefs.

Rule by spectacle is an ancient practice. Caesars projected power with monuments, temples and coliseums. It wasn’t enough to win a battle—the victory had to be followed by the propaganda of a triumphal procession. When a king died in medieval France, his corpse sat on the throne, was served meals, and processed through the streets of Paris in full regalia until a successor was crowned. The macabre drama portrayed a basic principle of Christendom’s politics: Like Christ, the king is divine and human, human by birth and divine by anointing. Individual kings die, but “kingship” never dies.

In his Education of a Christian Prince, Erasmus, in good Renaissance fashion, satirized the sparkly pomp and gaudy clutter of medieval kingship: “What does the anointing mean, if not great mildness and civilized restraint on the part of the prince? What does the warm, rich purple mean, if not the essence of love for the state?” Erasmus was for substance and not symbol. In spite of Erasmus, the Renaissance didn’t eliminate symbolism from politics. It merely substituted new symbols, as a few moments with a biography of Elizabeth I or Louis XIV will be sufficient to demonstrate.

Christians today are often political Erasmians, and our oblivion leaves us politically vulnerable. We get out-flanked by opponents who know how to paint pictures and tell stories. Gay sex and gay marriage have been mainstreamed by activists who have slowly, deliberately created icons of gay normality. Obama laid out his version of American history in his second inaugural address with three symbolic movements of liberation—Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall.

Arguments won’t turn the tide. We need to fight symbols with symbols, stories with better stories, encouraged by the recollection that injustices and tyrannies have been toppled more often by symbols than by swords or bombs.

Above all, we need to grasp the political potency of courageous testimony or, to use the biblical term, martyria. We don’t have to reach back to the early church for examples. Time and again, Pope John Paul II, an actor in his youth, said just the right thing and made just the right gesture in just the right circumstances. Visiting Poland in 1979 was itself an act of witness, and his prostration to kiss the tarmac at the Chopin Airport in Warsaw emboldened the Solidarity movement that eventually brought down the communist regime. A decade later, Lech Walesa was president of Poland. Poland was the first domino to fall, and by the end of 1989 the Berlin Wall was down and the rest of Eastern Europe had wrested itself from Russia. The Pope’s courage in facing down the regime repeated the political message of the martyrs: As Paul Kahn of Yale Law School has put it, “The Western state actually exists . . . under the very real threat of Christian martyrdom: a threat to expose the state and its claim to power as nothing at all. . . . The state’s power is ultimately the power to threaten life, but Christianity begins with a sacrificial act that undermines that threat by announcing life to be death, and true life to be beyond death.”

The superhuman aura that surrounded the late Nelson Mandela was enhanced by his courtly sense of symbolism. Mandela wore a Xhosa leopard-skin cloak to his trial to visualize the fact that he was “a black African walking into a white man’s court.” After he became South Africa’s president, The Economist’s obituary recalled, he acted out reconciliation by “honouring of the Boer-war guerrilla, Daniel Theron, as an Afrikaner freedom-fighter,” by wearing “a Springbok rugby shirt, hitherto a symbol to blacks chiefly of white nationalism,” and by visiting “Betsie Verwoerd, widow of Hendrik, the uncompromising architect of apartheid.”

Mandela wasn’t an innocent. As a young Marxist, he led the military wing of the ANC and (reluctantly) endorsed violence against the apartheid system. Yet he witnessed against the injustice of apartheid without a flinch, even when it meant a lengthy imprisonment. When he emerged from Robben Island, he was like a man risen from the dead. He witnessed, refused to compromise, and was ultimately vindicated.

American Christians aren’t in immediate danger of being killed for their faith, but we will face pressures soon enough. After the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision, gay marriage is effectively the law of the land. No state limitations on gay marriage will stand up in court. The federal government aims to redefine human sexuality by fiat, an act of arrogance rivaled only by the most extreme totalitarian regimes.

Anyone who witnesses against this tyranny risks paying a heavy price. Speak out against sodomy, and you’ll lose your cooking show and never be a reality star on A&E. You’ll risk being labeled a bigot and having your reputation and life shredded. The GOP will buckle; if you pay close attention, you can hear it buckling as you read. Pastors and other Christian leaders will be tempted to hedge and accommodate to the new sexual orthodoxy. Christians who hold to biblical sexual standards will be mighty lonely.

But faithful witnesses will speak, and they will speak knowing that lasting political effects go to those who are willing to sacrifice reputation and stature and even their lives to tell the truth to and about power. Ultimately, the martyrs will wear the crowns.

Peter Leithart
Peter Leithart received an A.B. in English and History from Hillsdale College in 1981, and a Master of Arts in Religion and a Master of Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in 1986 and 1987. In 1998 he received his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in England. He has served in two pastorates: He was pastor of Reformed Heritage Presbyterian Church (now Trinity Presbyterian Church), Birmingham, Alabama from 1989 to 1995, and was founding pastor of Trinity Reformed Church, Moscow, Idaho, and served on the pastoral staff at Trinity from 2003-2013. From 1998 and 2013 he taught theology and literature at New St. Andrews College, Moscow, Idaho, where he continues to teach as an adjunct Senior Fellow. He now serves as President of Trinity House.