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 / Aug 11

The ERLC affirms that adoption is a central theological theme in the Bible that provides practical application in our families and communities. We ourselves have been adopted into the family of God, and Scripture provides many instances of God’s tender care for the orphan and vulnerable child, and urges His followers to do the same. (James 1:27, Psalm 68:5-6, Isaiah 1:17).

In a world full of children in need, inter-country adoption is an essential measure of the Christian faith. For many children in orphanages in foreign countries, their only opportunity for growing up in a safe and loving family is to be adopted internationally. When an adoption is finalized, the adoptee is treated by the law as if he or she had been born to the adoptive parents, and the adoptee should receive the same rights and privileges as natural born children. 

Prior to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, the administrative steps required of families adopting internationally were unnecessarily burdensome. The process included applying for and moving through a lengthy naturalization process for their children, in addition to the lengthy and costly adoption process. The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 granted automatic citizenship to all foreign-born children brought to the United States, who had at least one parent who was a U.S. Citizen. Unfortunately, that Act only applied to adoptees under the age of 18 when the bill was enacted, leaving an entire population of adopted children without full U.S. citizenship.

The Adoptee Citizenship Act closes the loophole to provide immediate citizenship to these children already adopted by U.S. citizens yet left out of the previous bill. This bill solves the innumerable problems these adopted Americans have had to endure in attending college, accessing banking services, or starting their careers because of a lack of citizenship. This bill provides equity to these children who should have every legal right of any other child of a U.S. citizen. 

Adopting from other countries is a privilege, not a right. The United States should respect sending countries by quickly securing permanent citizenship for the thousands of adoptees who do not currently have citizenship.

The ERLC strongly urges Congress to pass the bipartisan Adoptee Citizenship Act to provide a permanent legal remedy for the thousands of sons and daughters of U.S. citizens who were left in the gap of uncertainty. 

The ERLC strongly urges Congress to pass the bipartisan Adoptee Citizenship Act to provide a permanent legal remedy for the thousands of sons and daughters of U.S. citizens who were left in the gap of uncertainty. A great step you can take today on behalf of vulnerable children is to call your Representative and Senators to ask them to support the Adoptee Citizenship Act. To find your members of Congress and for more information on this bill, click here.

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 / 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 / Jun 22

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

By / Feb 1

We are in the midst of a presidential election that, even to this political junkie, becomes tiresome with the bombast and vitriol, cliques and platitudes, polls and pundits. Every election, brave candidates step forward for public vetting, reminding us of the deep flaw and corruption present even in the best of humanity.

At times, Christians are tempted to despair, wondering if it’s even worth voting, if the politicians and the programs offered are even worth engaging. Perhaps its better, some muse, to simply sit out an election. Others wonder if, by voting, they are usurping the sovereignty of a God who works through the affairs of men to put in power whom he will (Rom. 13:1; Dan. 2:21; Psa. 75:7).

I understand the temptation toward disengagement in the voting process, but I believe every Christian should vote. Here are three reflections from Scripture that might help inform your decision:

1. We should vote out of love for neighbor. The prophet Jeremiah told the Jewish exiles in pagan Babylon to “seek the welfare of their city” by building, planting, creating and cultivating. This was difficult instruction for the people of God, thrust into a culture where their way of life and their values were out of step with those around them. What’s more, false prophets were telling the Jewish exiles that soon they’d be delivered from Babylon and would have their kingdom back. Jeremiah was tasked with the job of telling them that, no, they would not get their kingdom back, that this exile would last for many years, and that the kingdom they sought would be fulfilled, ultimately, in the everlasting kingdom of Christ.

New Testament Christians are not Jewish exiles, but there is something we can learn from the words of Jeremiah. We, too, are exiles in a world that is at odds with our beliefs. We too face the temptation to withdraw into our ourselves and disengage from the world around us. But because we are born again into Christ’s kingdom, we are called to live on mission in our communities and in our country.

Thankfully, many evangelicals are beginning to see their surroundings, not as the Promised Land, but as Babylon, as a mission field, as a place where God has called them to reflect, in part, the coming Kingdom of God. This movement is a movement of God—but what I fear, when I talk to many missional Christians, is a reticence to engage the politics that affect the cities they love. Jesus told us that we should love our neighbor as ourselves—how can we love our neighbor, how can we seek the welfare of our cities, if we sheepishly abdicate the opportunity to choose the people who lead us? How can we love our neighbor if we ignore the policies and structures that affect him?

This doesn’t mean Christians should turn their church lobbies into political party headquarters. It doesn’t mean Christians should pledge allegiance to a candidate. It doesn’t mean the church should lose its prophetic voice to both political parties. What the Scriptures do teach us, however, is that taking our vote seriously is one way, an important way, in which we love our neighbors and love our cities.

2. We should vote because God has given us a stewardship for which we will be held accountable. In a representative republic like the United States, citizens are given a share of power—we are tasked with electing our local, state, and national leaders. This isn’t a perfect system and history has shown that even in a great country like the United States, the system can at times be gamed and manipulated. And even the best politicians often pander to the worst fears and base instincts of the people in order to win their vote. But this is the system we have.

In Romans 13, Paul reminds us that all civil authority is granted by God (Rom. 13:1-7). This power to vote—this is a God-given divestment of authority to the voter. This means that not only will government officials be held accountable for the way they rule—those who vote are also held accountable for the choices they made or didn’t make come election time. In a sense, Christian citizens in America are not only the subjects; they are also, in some sense, Caesar (Mark 12:17).

This responsibility should change the way we vote in two ways. First, it should move us away from the idea that to vote is to put your full faith and power in a candidate or movement. We vote, not because we believe our man or woman will usher in the Kingdom, but because we are fulfilling a God-given stewardship. Secondly, it should remind us that, even in the best election with the most inspiring of choices, we are choosing between two fallen sinners. Every election is about the lesser of two evils.

3. We should vote because it can help speak up for the vulnerable and help gospel advance. On issues of human dignity, a vote for or against a candidate can be a vote for or against human dignity. It is a way the powerful can speak out for the powerless on issues of life, dignity and religious liberty. It’s a way to love our neighbor by seeking the common good. We shouldn’t vote, of course, because a candidate or a party is going to make America a theocracy. We shouldn’t project onto the White House what only the church should fulfill. Civil government, at best, protects its people, seeks justice for the poor and vulnerable, and guarantees religious liberty.

Some well-meaning Christians take a defensive posture, arguing that Christians should not work for religious freedom—but this is at odds with Jesus, who told his audience that there are limits on the authority given by God to governments. The conscience belongs, not to Caesar, but to God (Mark 12:17). This is also at odds with Paul, who told Timothy to pray for a government that would protect the freedom of Christ followers so the gospel could advance (1 Tim. 2:1-3).

Sure, history has shown that the advance of the kingdom of God is not dependent on governments and has, at times, thrived under severe persecution. But Christians should not  wish for government pressure nor abdicate their God-given role in influencing the government. In some ways, those who advocate for freedom are “holding the ropes” for missionaries both here in American and overseas.  

Elections are messy and often unpleasant affairs. There is an incivility and dishonesty in some of our politics that is at odds with a Christ-shaped witness. But as Jesus said in his prayer in John 17, we have not been parachuted out, but have been sent into this world, as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.  

By / May 28

Free, downloadable bulletin insert for use on the topic of religious freedom and Christian citizenship.