By / Aug 1

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently made national news when she argued that the government should shut down women’s health organizations she labeled “deceptive.” “We need to shut them down here in Massachusetts and we need to shut them down all around the country,” Warren told reporters. “You should not be able to torture a pregnant person like that.” However, she was not referring to abortion clinics that exploit vulnerable women and take the lives of preborn children. Rather, the senator was speaking out against pro-life pregnancy resource centers.

The Stop Anti-Abortion Disinformation Act

In June following the landmark Dobbs decision, congressional Democrats introduced the Stop Anti-Abortion Disinformation Act. This bill would empower the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on crisis pregnancy centers for advancing purportedly false claims about abortion. If passed, these pro-life centers could be fined $100,000 or 50% of their revenue for violating the “prohibition on [abortion] disinformation.”

The text of the bill fails to define what exactly qualifies as “abortion disinformation,” but statements by the legislation’s sponsors illuminated their intentions. “It’s more important than ever to crack down on so-called ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ that mislead women about reproductive health care,” Warren said, claiming that pro-life pregnancy centers “lie” to mothers by encouraging them to choose life and should therefore face punishment. 

Rep. Carolyn Maloney told reporters, “It is truly disgusting that reproductive rights are being threatened and attacked by crisis pregnancy centers whose guiding principle is to mislead, misinform, and outright lie to pregnant people in order to dissuade them from having an abortion. It is long past time that we prohibit these predatory tactics to undermine reproductive rights.”

Sadly, this legislative attack on pregnancy resource centers is not an isolated incident. Rather, it consistently tracks with the ethos of postmodern secularism—an unmooring from absolute truth that is reshaping the very moral frameworks that undergird our individual actions, cultural discernment, and political engagement. To discover what drives such legislative efforts, we should take a look under the hood of the religion of secularism.

Epistemology in a secular age

What is true? What is false? And who decides what is true? These epistemological questions frame our postmodern age and haunt Christians and secularists alike.

The prevailing doctrine of expressive individualism offers one possible take on the question of truth by advancing a system of truth claims that have influenced our modern moral order. We live in the “age of authenticity,” an era that the philosopher Charles Taylor characterizes as a “social imaginary of expressive individualism.” In our postmodern culture, authenticity is the prize, and self-actualization is the good life. By acting on the fundamental freedom to express oneself, the individual discovers his true purpose and place in the world.

In an age of expressive individualism, the pursuit of truth is no longer a quest for universal standards. Rather, culture has cast aside the universal value of human life to make way for a postmodern revelation: the individual is king. This secular revival rejects traditional institutional structures and communal senses of truth, instead heralding individual feelings and self-expression as sources of personal truth. The only prevailing truth is that each individual may choose for himself what is right, and the highest virtue is tolerance—celebrating each person’s “truth” while disdaining any truth claims that reach beyond the boundaries of the isolated, buffered self. 

To a culture that sacralizes tolerance and venerates individual choice as an inviolable good, anyone who believes in the inherent value of all human life, including the preborn, presents a threat to the core values of the modern moral order. The pro-life ethic is rooted in human dignity and the image of God, which are fixed realities and transcendent truths that run counter to the secular norms of moral autonomy and individual choice. To the postmodern secularist, then, pro-life advocates appear to intrude on the individual’s autonomy by intentionally spreading false information about the nature of reality.

Technology experts label this “manipulation and distribution of facts” as disinformation. Disinformation, in contrast to misinformation, is false information intentionally meant to distract or dissuade the intended audience. Warren isn’t politely disagreeing with the pro-life movement; instead, she is actively assigning foul motives to pro-life pregnancy centers. But secularists aren’t the only ones tempted to label others as their “enemies.” Many of us struggle to navigate this world of disinformation, and labeling opposing opinions as “fake news” often serves as an easy escape from the difficult task of engaging faithfully in personal relationships and the public square.

While Warren’s recent actions are disappointing, it’s not surprising that she leveled charges of disinformation against pregnancy resource centers. The senator is acting in step with her secular ethic, advancing personal choice and autonomy at the steep cost of devaluing preborn lives. To the postmodern secularist, pro-life counseling provided by pregnancy resource centers can only be a restrictive, intolerant lie masquerading as healthcare that denies women the right to express themselves through abortion. And since these pregnancy centers bar women from exercising allegedly fundamental rights, then the government must be right to intervene, label heterodoxy as disinformation, and enforce a (twisted) interpretation of the common good.

But over and over, the postmodern ethic of expressive individualism is tested and found wanting. By rejecting God’s creation order and design for humanity, secularists are left directionless and hopeless, lost in the wilderness with no map. Their ethic proclaims freedom and autonomy for the individual but enslaves the soul either to the ruthless, all-consuming desire for more, or to the hopeless, empty feeling that there is nothing more. The heralded eschaton of self-actualization seems to always be a false peak, a disappointing mountaintop experience that always leaves the ambitious climber with nothing but unfulfilled longings and hollow regrets. Countless regretful mothers who now mourn their abortions agree: the view from the top isn’t nearly as pleasant as it looked in the travel brochure.

Truth under God

But there is another way. Jason Thacker writes that this fruitless pursuit of expressive individualism “is fundamentally at odds with a Christian understanding of truth and ultimate reality.” Scripture counters the rise of postmodern secularism by offering a radically different take on reality: truth is not decided by the individual but rather is founded in the nature and commands of almighty God (John 14:6). The psalmists sing that the Lord delights in truth, so our every endeavor ought to align with his heart for wisdom (Psalm 51:6). God created man not to live free of all constraints but rather to submit to his lordship and perfect design for our lives; therefore, we align with truth by reflecting God’s character and living by his Word (Psalm 119:160, John 17:17).

A Christian approach to disinformation, then, should consider the biblical principles of God’s created order, Christ’s lordship, and our responsibility to faithfully order our lives in light of both. Because the King of the universe has revealed universal standards of truth, disinformation is not just in the eye of the beholder. We can discern truth revealed in Scripture, and God also endowed men with a sense of reason to understand the created order and apply lessons revealed by common grace. 

We can boldly speak the truth that life is worthy of protection and celebration, for each person is lovingly created in the very image of God. Pro-life pregnancy resource centers are not disseminating disinformation; they are working out their convictions in the public square in order to serve and love their neighbors. Senator Warren ignores that these centers serve women everyday by providing clothing, diapers, baby formula, and counseling. Pregnancy resource centers are an invaluable asset to their communities, and condemning them as disingenuous agents of disinformation does nothing but harm the very women that these politicians claim to serve.

Sen. Warren’s sweeping proposal aims its sights at legitimate pro-life speech, and it also opens the doors for the government to selectively weaponize speech codes to quash any other speech that the ruling party may find disagreeable. While it is good to combat legitimate disinformation and curtail its dangerous ramifications, we must also vigorously protect the right to free expression for all people, especially those with whom we disagree. An unhealthy public square forcefully cancels disagreeable speech and silences minority voices, but a healthy, flourishing public square encourages all to speak from their convictions and persuade without fear of government coercion.

By / Jul 9

In one of his lectures to his students, Charles Spurgeon once stated, “Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust?” Without question, the present crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the weight that many ministers bear as stewards of the Bride of Christ. One can imagine that if Spurgeon had been lecturing his students in 2020, he would have lamented the pain of being separated from Christ’s sheep and noted how such situations weigh heavily on ministers.

Many ministers have admitted to feeling overwhelmed with the new “normal.” They are worrying about the long-term impact of the crisis on church finances, the day-to-day rhythms of pastoral care, and the near-overnight shift to online services. As the weight has increased, many have come face to face with cracks and weaknesses in the foundation of their pastoral work. They feel inadequate, struggle to sleep because of fear, and wrestle with the joy-stealing thief of comparison to other churches and ministers. Like looking upon the shallow roots of a fallen tree that were exposed after a storm, many ministers are facing the eerie, quiet stillness of ministry during the COVID-19 crisis with a Mark 9:24-like faith: Lord, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief. All of these factors weigh heavily on many ministers, often leading to a sense of despair and depression that feels like approaching tsunami waves that cannot be outran or avoided, only weathered.

For ministers with any acquaintance with the Apostle Paul’s ministry, though, finding oneself to be a servant of Christ in hard circumstances should not come as a surprise. While the minister’s task is certainly noble (1 Tim. 3:1), no one ever claimed it would be easy. The minister bears not only the weight of his own soul, but the weight of others’ souls, which includes his family, his congregation, and often others in his community. In the case of the COVID-19 crisis, however, I believe that this crisis which has been the source of despair and depression in ministry can also serve to renew and revitalize our ministries.

An opportunity for a renewed vision of ministry

An opportunity for renewal exists in at least three areas of our ministry: our health, our hearts, and our hope.

Health

In the past, ministers have often been tempted to evaluate the health of their ministries based upon visible metrics like attendance and giving. To be sure, such metrics are not a bad thing in and of themselves, but the pandemic is teaching us that the health of our ministries is more than these things. By reorienting the way that ministers think about a “healthy ministry,” one may find that their anxiety and despair dissipate because they are using more faithful measures to evaluate the effectiveness of their ministry. As more than one pastor has explained to me, “Seeing the church serve the community during this crisis has refreshed my heart.” A more biblical perspective about the health of ministry, which COVID-19 has forced upon us, may result in ministers being more encouraged about their congregation.

Hearts

In terms of our hearts as ministers, the requirement to be physically separated from one another can reveal a lot about the way that ministers view their work. Ministers bear the title of “servants of Christ,” which assumes a nearness to Christ’s people. As Harold Senkbeil wrote, “The title ‘servant of Christ’ does not isolate pastors in a sterile bubble, but it connects them all the more intimately with people in all their earthy humanity.” (The Care of Souls, pg. 24). Yet, in the context of this crisis, nearness has all but been forbidden. Shepherds and their sheep have been isolated from one another not because of fear, but because of love. As ministers, we find that we ought to “yearn for” church “with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:8). 

It is a gracious thing when God exposes our false hopes in order to replace them with the solid rock of his promises. 

Thus, as ministers navigate the water of this difficult time, it would be helpful to ask themselves: What do I miss during this time? Do I miss the people that Christ has entrusted to me? Or do I simply miss preaching in front of an audience? Do I miss praying with the people, serving the Lord’s Supper, or do I like not being around them? Such questions can be helpful for exposing the perspectives that we have unknowingly harbored about ministry for years. Fortunately, ministers are sheep, too, and can find rest and forgiveness in the Good Shepherd.

Hope

Finally, COVID-19 has taught ministers what we should have already known regarding our hope. We are learning once again that we are not ultimately in control of anything. We are stewards of Christ’s sheep, not owners. Just as his ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts, so also, his plans are not our plans. If our hope for fruitfulness in ministry has been our plans and our performance, then COVID-19 has granted us a merciful exposure and allowed for us to refocus on being faithful to Christ in the time that we have left on this earth as shepherds to his flock. 

It is a gracious thing when God exposes our false hopes in order to replace them with the solid rock of his promises. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church of Jesus Christ, not because we are such good ministers, but because Christ is unwaveringly committed to the sanctification and glorification of his bride. He will present her without fault.

Thus, as ministers, as stewards of the Bride of Christ, we have nothing to fear. We can be sure about the destiny of our work. The various sources of our pain and our despair during the COVID-19 crisis are overcome not by our own strength or might, but by the Spirit of God that is at work within the church (Zech. 4:6). We are not in this work alone. Christ will stand by us (2 Tim. 4:17). His power will be made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

Maybe this crisis will cause us to be still before God and be reoriented to the good, life-giving aspects of our work as ministers. Spurgeon himself, a man often tormented by depression and despair in ministry, was often aided by reconsidering his own ministry in relationship to that of Mr. Great-heart from John Bunyan’s work, Pilgrim’s Progress. Spurgeon writes,

“I am occupied in my small way, as Mr. Great-heart was employed in Bunyan’s day. I do not compare myself with that champion, but I am in the same line of business. I am engaged in personally-conducted tours to Heaven; and I have with me, at the present time, dear Old Father Honest: I am glad he is still alive and active. And there is Christiana, and there are her children. It is my business, as best I can, to kill dragons, and cut off giants’ heads, and lead on the timid and trembling. I am often afraid of losing some of the weaklings. I have the heart-ache for them; but, by God’s grace, and your kind and generous help in looking after one another, I hope we shall all travel safely to the river’s edge. Oh, how many have I had to part with there! I have stood on the brink, and I have heard them singing in the midst of the stream, and I have almost seen the shining ones lead them up the hill, and through the gates, into the Celestial City.” (from Spurgeon’s Autobiography, II, 131)

May that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip us with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen (Heb. 13:20-21).

By / Oct 30

Jeff Pickering and Travis Wussow welcome Mindy Belz of World magazine to the podcast to talk about Islamic extremism and the future of ISIS after the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by US Special Forces. We also cover the rising instability in the Middle East as Turkish aggression threatens the Kurdish and Christian people in Syria.

Guest Biography

Mindy Belz is senior editor of World magazine and author of They Say We Are Infidels: On the run from ISIS with persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Writing for the publication since 1986, she has covered war in the Balkans, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, and has given on-the-ground news coverage from Nigeria, Egypt, Turkey, and elsewhere. Her reporting has been published in the United States and overseas. Belz and her husband have four children and live in Asheville, North Carolina. Follow her on Twitter @mcbelz.

Resources from the Conversation

By / May 8

Nathan Lino discusses how churches can minister most effectively during natural disasters.

By / Sep 5

Every Monday, we bring  you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues, and geopolitical issues that affect liberty and justice.

1. Egyptian Parliament finally passes church construction reform law. The new law gives the authority to approve new churches to provincial governors, at least on the surface limiting the role of Egypt’s security apparatus, known as the “deep state.” The security services have been negotiating with government officials and the Coptic Church to preserve its role in approving new churches in the name of maintaining social tranquility. However, many human rights activists criticized the law, which is more restrictive for church construction than for mosques. For instance, the new law limits church size to official records of the number of Christians in the area; Christians have long complained that they are underrepresented in Egyptian census data. The new law is an important step, and the extent to which it will result in greater religious freedom depends on its implementation over the coming months and years.

2. Uzbekistan’s President-for-Life dies from stroke . . .  maybe. Reports from a Central Asian news agency early this week indicated that Uzbekistan’s first—and only—president died early this week. But the story immediately became more complicated as the Uzbek government made no public confirmation of Islam Karimov’s death. On Wednesday, President Karimov’s youngest daughter posted on Instagram that her father was alive and well. Karimov was one of the world’s most brutal dictators, and Uzbekistan has a perennial place on lists of the worst offenders of human rights, including religious freedom. As rumors swirl about potential successors, let us hope that the next president is reform-minded and provides greater freedom for Uzbeks.

3. Violence erupts in Gabon over contested presidential election. Gabon’s incumbent president Ali Ben Bongo narrowly won the election—49.8 percent to 48.2 percent—triggering allegations of fraud from the challenger, Jean Ping. Three people have been killed, and more than 1,000 people have been arrested as a result of the clashes. Serious questions have been raised about the election, in which 99 percent of registered voters in one province voted for Bongo by a margin of 95.5 to 4.5. Bongo’s father was president for 41 years, many of which were marred by allegations of corruption and abuse of power. The situation in Gabon remains tense, and it is unclear whether Ping supporters will be willing to accept the election results.

4. Chief propagandist of so-called Islamic State is dead. Abu Muhammad al-Adnani was apparently killed in a coalition airstrike in Al-Bab, Syria, close to the Turkish border. Al-Adnani was the “voice of ISIS,” responsible for making some of the organization’s most repugnant comments. In 2014, al-Adnani issued this infamous call to Western sympathizers of ISIS: “If you are not able to find an I.E.D. or a bullet, then single out the disbelieving American, Frenchman, or any of their allies. Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.” However, some analysts predict that the media organization al-Adnani constructed will live on past his death.

5. U.S. reaches milestone of resettling 10,000 refugees to American soil. To ease the integration into American life, the refugee families were settled in areas where there is already a Syrian immigrant population and in areas where the cost of housing is low and jobs are available. The NY Times has an interesting infographic detailing where families were ultimately resettled. San Diego has accepted more Syrian refugees than any other city since 2012. In St. Louis this year, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution urging churches and families to “welcome and adopt refugees into their churches and homes.”

Bonus longread: Saudi Arabia, Both firefighter and arsonist.

Have suggestions for a top five article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected].  

By / Nov 19

Recently more than half the nation’s governors—27 states—have expressed opposition to letting Syrian refugees into their states. Many lawmakers in Congress are also considering legislation that would suspend the Syrian refugee program. Here is what you should know about the current controversy:

Why is there a new concern about allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S.?

According to the French government, at least one of the terrorists in the recent attack on Paris is believed to have entered the country by posing as a refugee. The concern is that through inadequate screening procedures, similar would-be terrorists may be able to enter the U.S.

What is the Syrian refugee crisis?

For the past four years, Syria has been in a civil war that has forced 11 million people— half the country’s pre-crisis population—to flee their homes. About 7.6 million Syrians have been internally displaced within the country and 4 million have fled Syria for other countries. The result is one of the largest forced migrations since World War Two.

Are all the refugees fleeing Islamic State (ISIS)?

Not necessarily. The crisis is mostly caused by the civil war in Syria. In 2011, during the Middle Eastern protest movement known as the Arab Spring, protesters in Syria demanded the end of Ba’ath Party rule and the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has held the presidency in the country since 1971. In April 2011, the Syrian Army was sent to quell the protest and soldiers opened fire on demonstrators. After months of military sieges, the protests evolved into an armed rebellion and has spread across the country.

Although the conflict was originally between factions for and against President Assad, the civil war has broadened into a battle between the country’s Sunni majority against the president’s Shia Alawite sect. The conflict has drawn in neighboring countries and world powers and lead to the rise of jihadist groups, including Islamic State.

What makes a person a “refugee”?

The U.S. government defines “refugee” as any person who is outside any country of such person's nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Are all of the people fleeing the Middle East refugees?

No. Both refugees and “migrants” have been leaving the Middle East and Central Asia for Europe. Generally speaking, a migrant is any person who leaves one country for another and is not a refugee. There is an important distinction between the two categories, because the two groups of people have different rights under international law. Refugees are given a number of protections under international law, the most important of the which is the right to not be deported and sent back to the conditions which led the refugee to flee in the first place. On the other hand, migrants are subject to the immigration laws of the country to which they are migrating.

While Europe has been accepting both migrants and refugees, the U.S. refugee resettlement program has only been accepting individual and families that can prove that they are refugees under international law.

What is the U.S. doing about the refugee crisis?

Since the start of the conflict, the U.S. has admitted approximately 2,100 refugees from Syria. At a press briefing September 10, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that the Obama administration is making plans to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next budget year. (There is currently cap of 70,000 refugee visas a year that U.S. officials can issue for all countries.)

What is the screening process for refugees?

Every refugee goes through an intensive vetting process, notes Time magazine, but the precautions are increased for Syrians. According to Time:

Multiple law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies perform “the most rigorous screening of any traveler to the U.S.,” says a senior administration official. Among the agencies involved are the State Department, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. A DHS officer conducts in-person interviews with every applicant. Biometric information such as fingerprints are collected and matched against criminal databases. Biographical information such as past visa applications are scrutinized to ensure the applicant’s story coheres.

How effective are the U.S. refugee screening processes?

The screening process has a very good track record. The U.S. has resettled 784,000 refugees since 9/11, and many of these refugees came from the Middle East. According to Kathleen Newland of the Refugee Policy Institute:

In those 14 years [since 9/11], exactly three resettled refugees have been arrested for planning terrorist activities—and it is worth noting two were not planning an attack in the United States and the plans of the third were barely credible.

Any screening process cannot guarantee a 100% success rate. But there are much easier ways for a terrorist to enter the United States, since asylum seekers must present themselves for identification, fingerprinting, and other biometric scanning.

How many of the refugees admitted to the U.S. are Christian? Are Muslim?

According to an analysis by CNS News, of 2,184 Syrian refugees admitted into the U.S. since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, only 53 (2.4 percent) have been Christians while 2098 (or 96 percent) are Muslim. The remaining 33 include 1 Yazidi, 8 Jehovah Witnesses, 2 Baha’i, 6 Zoroastrians, 6 of "other religion," 7 of "no religion," and 3 atheists.

Why do the Republican lawmakers want to suspend the Syrian refugee program?

Congressional Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, said there were grave reasons to fear that terrorists would be permitted to enter the country posing as refugees, according to the New York Times.

Michael McCaul (R-TX), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he was drawing up legislation to suspend the refugee resettlement program.

“I call on you to temporarily suspend the admission of all additional Syrian refugees into the United States pending a full review of the Syrian refugee resettlement program,” Mr. McCaul wrote in a letter to Mr. Obama.

“Our nation has a proud tradition of welcoming refugees into our country, but in this particular case the high-threat environment demands that we move forward with greater caution,” Mr. McCaul added.

Who is in charge of the resettling refugees into the U.S.?

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is the federal government agency charged with providing benefits and services to assist the resettlement and local integration of refugee populations. The ORR often works closely with non-governmental organizations, such as World Relief, in the relocation of refugees. Some of the ORR programs include Refugee Cash Assistance and Refugee Medical Assistance (for up to 8 months); Refugee Social Services, such as job and language training (for up to 5 years); and temporary custody and care to unaccompanied refugee children.

Which state have refused to accept Syrians refugees?

The 27 states whose governors have said they will not accept Syrian refugees are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Can governors refuse to accept refugees in their state?

Not exactly. According to the Refugee Act of 1980, resettlement efforts coordinated by the federal government “should be conducted in close cooperation and advance consultation with State and local governments” and “meet with representatives of State and local governments to plan and coordinate in advance of their arrival the appropriate placement of refugees among the various States and localities.”

Additionally, the law says, “With respect to the location of placement of refugees within a State, the Federal agency administering subsection (b)(1) shall, consistent with such policies and strategies and to the maximum extent possible, take into account recommendations of the State.”

So while the state and local governments can refuse to cooperate with the federal government, they can’t expressly forbid refugees from being allowed into their states.

By / Sep 10

Every pro-life Christian has heard the bad news: since 1973 there have been more than 57 million abortions in America. But what is less known is that thousands of lives are saved each year through the valiant efforts of pregnancy resource centers (PRCs). One PRC network, Care Net, reports that in 2014 eighty percent of women (388,691) who visited their centers and who were at risk for abortion chose life.

Here are five facts you should know about PRCs and the effect they are having on our communities:

PRCs began before Roe v Wade — The first modern crisis pregnancy center began helping women in California in 1968. Within three years there were 70 centers, many of which joined together to form Alternatives to Abortion (later known as Heartbeat International). In 1975, two years after the nationwide legalization of abortion, theologian Harold O. J. Brown formed the Christian Action Council, a group which would later adopt the name “Care Net.” Care Net opened it’s first PRC in 1983. In 1994 the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) was established to provide legal counsel to PRCs. NIFLA later became the first national pregnancy center organization to promote the acquisition of ultrasound technology. Today, Heartbeat International, Care Net, and NIFLA are the three major PRC networks, operating nearly 2,000 pregnancy centers.

PRCs spread the good news about Jesus — PRCs serve more than 2.3 million people each year, providing such services as pregnancy tests, ultrasound and medical services, abstinence education, options consulting and education, and parenting and childbirth classes. Many PRCs also share the gospel with their clients. Over the past seven years, more than 1.2 million people heard the gospel from Care Net centers.

PRCs are supported by volunteers —Care Net, Heartbeat, and NIFLA affiliates are staffed by more than 70,000 volunteers who do everything from bookkeeping to pregnancy counseling. At most PRCs, The medical services are also supplied by doctors, nurses, and other medical and management personnel who volunteer their time and talents to help women at risk for abortion.

PRCs use ultrasound to change hearts and minds — About half of PRCs in America offer ultrasound services to the women they serve at little or no cost. In 2010 alone, close to 230,000 ultrasounds were performed at PRCs. The use of ultrasounds helps to provide confirmation of pregnancy, verifies the developing baby’s gestational age, and provides essential information that can provide a new perspective for women thinking about having an abortion. As Barbara Shoun says, “Ultrasound technology is proving to be the most convincing piece of evidence the pro-life community has to offer young women who think their unborn children aren’t babies.”

(Through the Psalm 139Project, ERLC seeks to save lives by donating an ultrasound machine to a PRC in the city hosting the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting.)

PRCs use communications technology to save lives — Many PRCs are starting to use communications technology to reach clients even before they come to the clinics. Care Net, for example, operates the Pregnancy Decision Line (PDL) website and real-time call center, which provides “caring, confidential, free support to anyone making choices about an unexpected pregnancy.” PDL is currently the only national call center and Internet website designed to reach people considering abortion with immediate pregnancy decision coaching, information, and referrals. An estimated 81 percent of PDL contacts are at risk for abortion, making PDL an invaluable tool for reaching women and helping them to choose life.

For more information on the impact of PRCs, see the 2015 Care Net Impact Report

By / Oct 27

Southern Baptist pastors struggling through personal or professional crisis now have a confidential place to turn, thanks to a new partnership between the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and Focus on the Family

The care line launched Oct. 1 dedicated exclusively to Southern Baptist pastors, chaplains and missionaries by calling 844-PASTOR1. Calls are answered by Focus on the Family’s Family Help Center and remain completely confidential. No information about the calls—including the name of the pastor or the church or the nature of the call—will be provided to NAMB.

“The North American Mission Board cares for pastors, and we want to be a part of the compassion of Christ for them and their families,” said Michael Lewis (@pastor4pastors), NAMB’s executive director of pastoral care and development. 

Lewis says the phone line is another way NAMB is attempting to resource and support pastors—along with marital and family help, providing pastor appreciation resources and initiating Pastors-in-Covenant groups, among other efforts.

NAMB partnered with Focus on the Family in part because the ministry has more than two decades of experience hosting a pastors in crisis care line. Focus began the pastor care line ministry in 1992 under the leadership of H.B. London. 

“Focus on the Family recognizes the sacrifices and hard work of Southern Baptist pastors,” said Jim Daly (@dalyfocus), president of Focus on the Family. “Many of them give up their own time to be there for their flock—giving up holidays to visit with sick people at the hospital, counseling couples through the tough times in their marriages and helping their congregants pray through milestone decisions.

“This commitment not only takes time, but it also takes its toll on pastors—physically, emotionally and spiritually. Because they have always been there for others, it’s our privilege to be there for them. Our licensed counselors are eager to provide an ear and biblically-based counsel that will help and give hope,” said Daly.

Dr. Jared Pingleton, director of the counseling team for Focus on the Family, says pastors call the care line for a variety of personal and professional reasons, such as family problems, emotional issues and leadership crises—any issue for which a pastor needs safe, biblically-informed counsel. 

The phone line is available weekdays between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. Eastern Time. The agent answering the call will listen to and pray for the pastor. If there is a further need, the agent will refer the call to a counseling team. A chaplain or a counselor will return the pastor’s call within 24 to 48 hours for an initial consultation. Because of the NAMB-sponsored prayer line, SBC pastors will get a priority in this process. Crisis calls—if a pastor mentions imminent danger of harm to himself or others—will immediately get routed to the counseling team. 

Pingleton noted that at times pastors call the care line for counsel about how to deal with tough mental health problems that go beyond their training and have arisen in their congregation.

“Research shows that the average person goes to their pastor first—even before a medical professional at times,” Pingleton said. “They’re the first line of defense, and they’re not trained well for that typically. It can be overwhelming. We want to come along side of them, support them, encourage them, educate and equip them—anything we can do to consult with them, to give them tips, tools and techniques about how they can minister more effectively in their role. They don’t have to feel like they are out on their own and over their head. We can give them clear and concise consultation that will be of immediate help.”

Pingleton reiterated Focus on the Family’s deeply held commitment to confidentiality. He notes the only instances for which they would breach the confidentiality of a counseling session would be the two cases when counselors are legally mandated to do so—if they receive information on the abuse or neglect of a child, disabled person or elderly person or if the caller presents an immediate danger to themselves or others. 

Lewis, who spent more than two decades as a pastor before coming to NAMB in 2013, noted that often pastors spend much of their energy serving and supporting others through personal crises, but they often have little left to care for themselves. 

“This care line will provide sound counsel for pastors,” Lewis said. “My encouragement to pastors is to allow this care line to be a source of God’s grace and comfort to find support through major difficulties.”

For a short video introduction to the pastoral care line, click here. For additional NAMB resources to help pastors, visit sendnetwork.com/pastor-for-pastors.

This article was originally published by NAMB.

By / Jul 23

The news stories and pictures of the border crisis in Texas all became personalized for me on Tuesday. The children and young people we saw are real children and real young people. We saw children from seven to seventeen years of age, from the countries of Honduras, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.

On Friday, July 11, I issued a Call to Prayer: Responding to the Crisis on the Texas Border, and addressed the border crisis as President of the Southern Baptist Convention. When I was called upon to accompany Dr. Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and Dr. Jim Richards, Executive Director of the Southern Baptists of Texas to the border of Texas, I cleared my calendar and joined them. Dr. Moore and I were together in McAllen, and Dr. Richards joined us in San Antonio. We were accompanied and escorted into these places by Mr. Ali Noorani, the Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum.

What did we do?

We began yesterday morning by touring a Texas Border Patrol facility in McAllen, Texas. Within twenty hours of entering our country, children are brought to facilities like this and cared for until they are taken elsewhere, depending on their situation and physical condition. This facility has just been renovated and can facilitate the care of approximately 1,000 children. Following this forty-five minute tour, we held a press conference that was very well attended by the media.

Then, we drove 270 miles to San Antonio, Texas. Upon arrival at Lackland Air Force Base, we toured the Health and Human Services Facility for migrant children, ages twelve through seventeen. This facility houses up to 1,200 young people. They are usually at this center less than one month before being assigned to their next location. Following this forty-five minute tour, we held another press conference for the media in San Antonio, as well as other media outlets that called into the conference.

Due to flight schedules, we quickly headed to the San Antonio International Airport, and began to make our way home. Before boarding for my flight to Dallas, I was interviewed by no less than five media outlets from around the country. The attention the media is giving to this crisis tells us one thing: It is a major crisis in our nation.

What did we see and hear?

As I said earlier, the children we saw in McAllen were as young as seven years of age, and in San Antonio, the young people we saw were twelve to seventeen years of age. We have six grandchildren, of which the oldest is eight years of age. When I saw these little boys and girls, I thought of my granddaughter, Reese Caroline, who just turned seven. When I heard a seven year-old boy asked a question about his family and he stated, “I have no family”, my heart melted.

My mind immediately went to our Reese Caroline, who was the same age as this seven year-old boy, and our Parker, who will be seven years old in August, and I thought: I cannot imagine how a seven year-old child could leave his country in Honduras, Guatemala, Ecuador, El Salvador, or Mexico and make the trek here safely, ending up in McAllen, Texas. There is no way I can even think of our Peyton, Reese, Parker, Beckham, Jack, or Nora making the trek across a dangerous terrain, entering into a different country than their own. But friends, it is happening every day in this world.

Why are they doing this? Through translators, these children from age seven to seventeen told us why:

  • A better life
  • Fear of gangs
  • Violence
  • Human Trafficking
  • Poverty

When conditions are bad enough, people will do anything. I stated in our San Antonio Press Conference: “People will go a long way and tackle obstacles when they feel that hope is possible. They are hoping for a better life.” Hope will drive even a child to pursue a better future. This is why gospel churches need to step up to this moment and present the powerful hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What do we need to do now?

Yes, the border crisis is personalized. Now, I reflect upon the faces of these children and young people. Christ-followers, what do we do now?

1. Pray for the leaders of our nation diligently. We need to humbly call upon the leaders of our country to fix the immigration system in our nation. Since we have elected them to lead us, we need to pray for them to come together and agree upon what needs to be done in reforming our immigration system. I want to request that you lead your church to do the following: Next Sunday, ask your church to pray with you about this major crisis in our nation. We have done this for the past two Sundays in our fellowship.

2. Pastors, especially the pastors who lead churches located on the borders of our nation, lead your church to do whatever you can to demonstrate compassion to all immigrants, meeting their needs, and proclaiming the hope we have in Jesus Christ. The great news is that God is moving and changing the lives of many of these children and young people, as they are coming to know Jesus Christ personally. God is committed to bringing people unto Himself, so let’s get involved with what He is doing.

3. Prepare to engage in helping others through this crisis. I stated in our press conferences yesterday that our Southern Baptist churches are ready to help all persons in need if we are given the opportunity to do so. Many of our churches that are located on the border of Texas are doing as much as they are permitted to do to help right now; thanks to each of these pastors and churches as well as our Southern Baptist National Disaster Relief Ministry that was very involved in this crisis until they were no longer permitted. We pray for the open door in the future for all of us to be able to help.

For me, the border crisis is now personalized. I hope that after reading this and praying about it, it will become personalized for you.

NOTE: This was originally published here.