By / May 29
By / May 29

One of the blessings of the digital age is that we can connect with and find information regarding places all around the world, almost instantaneously. We can learn about cultures, customs, and the beauty of God’s created order with a few short swipes on our phones or devices. Alongside these wonders, we can also learn about natural disasters, wars, crimes, and a host of other things as they happen. While there are many dangerous and deleterious effects to this level of information overload, Christians can also embrace certain aspects of our information age and leverage it for good, especially on the international stage. 

One danger of this digital age is social media’s ability to redirect our attention in unhelpful ways. Because of the endless amount of knowledge and the overall tone online, we sometimes become desensitized to world events, with one tragedy supplanting the previous one at breakneck speed, or enraged by what’s going on nationally, all while forgetting the circumstances in our own backyard. Working for the good of our local communities is imperative—it is likely where we are able to make the most difference. 

However, the necessity of working for our local good does not dismiss our responsibility to our international neighbors. Like the rich young ruler of the gospels, we must not seek to minimize who our neighbors are and congratulate ourselves for the attention paid only to what is most immediate to us. Rather, in a global and interconnected world, we must ask what is required of us as we seek to fulfill the two great commands of Scripture: love God and love neighbor.

God’s Word and Global Responsibility

Frequently, discussions of the breadth of the Christian’s ethical responsibility devolve into unhelpful dichotomies. We either assume one must forsake our local communities in support of global issues or embrace a hyper-focus on local issues to the neglect or near abandonment of international affairs. These contrasts assume that Christians are unable to advocate for ethical behavior and a morally upright society on both fronts at the same time.

Some may criticize the simplicity of this point by saying that the debate is over which has priority for the believer. While this can be a helpful distinction at times, this does not mean that the Church should neglect one or the other, but prioritize when we have limited time, resources, and energies. For Christians, this must not be seen through a partisan lens or as competing concerns. The scriptures make clear that the priority of the Christian life is to first honor God as the Creator of all and to also love our neighbors—no matter their situation, perceived usefulness to society, or distance between us (Lev. 19:18b; Deut. 6:5; Luke 12:29-31). 

A main theme throughout the biblical narrative is the centrality of the imago Dei, or image of God, as the very root of what it means to be human. This is the foundation of the Christian ethic—both personal and social. The structure of a God-honoring society will stand for the dignity and worth of all people, regardless of how politically expedient it may be at the time to trample upon or neglect those made in God’s image.

The command to love God and love neighbor by speaking truth in grace is at the very core of the Christian ethic and has ramifications not only in our local communities, but also for those made in God’s image around the world who experience the dehumanizing play for social control or who live under unjust conditions for which we may have the power and opportunity to intervene on their behalf. 

This does not mean that Christians will agree on all the foreign policy particulars or the exact role of the state, but it does mean that we cannot limit our moral responsibility to love our neighbors simply to where and when it is convenient for us. We advocate and care for the most vulnerable among us, not out of a sense of power or duty but solely based on the fact that all people are made in the image of God and have an inherent right to be treated as such. The moral call on Christians in societies around the world must not be seen as an either/or but a both/and in terms of how we live out our calling both locally and globally. 

Natural Law and the Pursuit of Justice

In a globalized world, discussions of human rights—right to life, freedom of speech, religious freedom—can become complicated as various cultures and customs overlap and compete with one another. While the West has often placed human rights at the center of the democratic order, this is not true of other states and rogue actors. However, Christians believe that the natural order of creation, and the intrinsic worth of each person, speak to the pressing issues of our day and inform our approach to advocacy on the international stage. 

Central to Christian advocacy is the awareness that each person, by virtue of their humanity, has an internal sense of justice and dignity. As the apostle Paul relates in Romans 1-2, though we may suppress the truth, that does not negate the fact that we intrinsically know particular actions to be right and wrong. Abuses of human rights are one such area where we can make appeals across divergent cultures. This approach, drawing on natural law principles and scriptural revelation, recognizes that each person’s sense of justice is shaped and informed by their God-given conscience. 

Even though authoritarian governments may desire to erase the moral guidelines and declare that the state’s might makes actions right, Christians can declare that there is a God who sees and will bring justice on all wrong doing. As we advocate on the international stage, we bear witness to this truth, and to the ability of all peoples to recognize that abuses of rights are attacks on the dignity of fellow image-bearers.

A Voice for the Persecuted

As Christians look to international affairs and standing with the vulnerable around the world, we appeal to the Word of God and the God-given conscience that transcends fluctuating moral attitudes in order to call others to action. Just over this recent year, the international community has witnessed an unjust war in Ukraine, revelations of the true extent of the genocide of the Rohingya minority by the Myanmar military, and massive refugee crises around the world. These clear examples of the utter depravity of human nature become undeniable as we see so many of them unfold on our phones via social media and viral videos. 

The ERLC has responded emphatically to the ongoing brutal genocide in Xingjang of the Uyghur people under the Chinese Communist Party. We hosted an online event prior to the 2021 Beijing Olympics that featured Nury Turkel, Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and other panelists. We also sent a letter to NBC, urging them to be honest in the coverage of China. In addition, we advocated for the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and even sent a letter to Secretary of State Blinken urging its passage. Our advocacy against the Uyghur genocide will continue as we remain a voice for persecuted people.

Standing for human dignity and participating in global affairs need not, and truly must not, take away from our work in our local and national contexts. The Church advocates for justice and dignity throughout our societies, not because this will usher in some type of utopian social order but because this pursuit is in accordance with God himself. Dignity is not ours to assign, debate, or remove based on our political preferences or desires. Instead, in obedience to our Creator, it is ours to uphold, champion, proclaim—near and afar. 

By / May 29

It would be hard to find someone more conservative than Cal Thomas. Once an architect of the Moral Majority, Thomas has been a longtime pundit and a syndicated columnist.

It would also be harder to find someone more liberal than Bob Beckel. Bob campaigned for Al Gore and was a left-wing fixture on cable news. Beckel and Thomas worked together for years at Fox News and, surprisingly, became close friends. When Beckel recently passed away, Thomas wrote this tribute to his friendship: 

We traveled together, ate together, and got to know each other and our respective “stories” in ways that rarely happen in Washington these days. At the end of our presentation, I would say that I rejected the notion that Bob was on “the other side.” Both of our fathers were in World War II. They weren’t fighting for or against Franklin Roosevelt, but to preserve an ideal. America has always been an idea in search of the ideal. If we want to put someone on the other side, make them external enemies like the Ayatollah in Iran, or the leadership in China and Russia. Let’s not destroy each other. We are fellow Americans.

Bob would then get up and say how I had saved his life and introduced him to God and other nice things. We embraced, prompting wild cheers from the audience. People would say, “Why can’t we see more of this in Washington?” It helped that neither of us were interested in running for office, which would mean having to raise money and say things to satisfy various interest groups.

At his memorial service this week there will be Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. It will be a moment of common ground. Bob was my closest and dearest friend. His hope and mine is that our friendship will serve as an example to others of what can be and must be if we are to survive as a nation.1“Beckel and Me: An Odd Couple | Cal Thomas,” News-Herald (blog), March 6, 2022, https://www.news-herald.com/2022/03/06/beckel-and-me-an-odd-couple-cal-thomas.

Is it possible to have friendships like this, with people who don’t share your politics? It seems increasingly difficult in this polarized age. And yet Thomas and Beckel modeled something refreshing and, I dare say, biblical. So how should Christians approach people with whom they disagree ideologically?

This isn’t exhaustive, but I’d like to offer four principles of engagement: 

1. Don’t be afraid of substantive disagreement 

Following Christ in this age or in any age will require us to hold beliefs that are at odds, at some point, with the prevailing culture. This doesn’t mean we’ve done something wrong. Instead, it means that what Jesus said to his disciples about the controversial way of the cross is true. Christians need courage in this age to boldly speak the truth. What the Scriptures say, for instance, about the sanctity of human life, sexual ethics, or care for the immigrant is unpopular in many places.

Sometimes, in our well-meaning attempts toward civility, we can be tempted to soften some of the edges of Scripture. We shouldn’t do that. It’s not loving to speak untruth. So to be a Christian in the world will mean, at some points, we will have disagreements with those around us as we remain faithful to God’s Word. 

2. Understand that Christians can be both courageous and civil

While our biblical convictions will bring us to a place of disagreement with many, we should understand that the Bible doesn’t just care about the substance of what we believe and declare, but how we say it. The Apostle Peter, no stranger to conflict, who wasn’t afraid to go to jail for his faith, nevertheless, instructs believers to “have an answer for every man for the hope that lies within you, but do it with gentleness and kindness” (1 Peter 3:15).

Peter is writing this to an early church that is facing increasing marginalization and persecution. Christians were losing jobs, losing friendships, losing cultural influence, all because they had the audacity to declare that Christ, and not Caesar, was king. 

And yet he urges the people of God to both stand firm on the truth of the gospel and to treat those who disagree with them with gentleness and kindness. The rightness of their worldview didn’t excuse rhetorical sins. There are no exceptions in the New Testament for not growing in the fruit of the Spirit.

3. Recognize the dignity of those with whom we disagree

The Apostle James also has a word for the way we engage arguments. To the early church, he wrote, “With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in God’s likeness (James 3:9).” James is warning against speech that assaults the humanity of God’s image-bearers. Why should we respect our ideological opponents and treat them with kindness even as we disagree? Because they were made in the image of God. 

Too often we are tempted to reduce someone’s whole existence down to that bad argument they make or that bad opinion, but they are whole people, made in the image of God. The opinion they hold, that belief system that anchors them is only one part of who they are. 

This is where Christians can be unique as battles rage in the public square. We can show the world a distinctly Christian way of speaking, that even as we make forceful arguments, we can do it with a kind of heavenly grace, where those who hear us may not agree, but know that we respect their humanity and dignity.

4. Engage arguments and resist caricatures

Tim Keller, in his book, Center Church, writes:2“Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City – Kindle Edition by Keller, Timothy. Religion & Spirituality Kindle EBooks @ Amazon.Com.,” 376–80, accessed April 8, 2022, https://www.amazon.com/Center-Church-Balanced-Gospel-Centered-Ministry-ebook/dp/B005JSGB5Q. 

Do all the work necessary until you can articulate the views of your opponent with such strength and clarity that he or she could say, “I couldn’t have said it better myself.” Then, and only then, will your polemics have integrity and actually have the possibility of being persuasive.

The temptation is to caricature the views of those we disagree with, in order to get a rise out of an audience sympathetic to our own views. So much of our public debates are not designed to persuade the unpersuadable, but signal to our own constituency that we are sufficiently mad at the other side. But if we really desire to engage, to persuade, to make arguments that those who are on the fence might believe, we need to engage arguments our ideological opponents are actually making, not straw men we knock down for sport. This is what Paul is getting at in 2 Corinthians: 

Since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).

We engage arguments with the truth of Scripture, in the power of the Spirit, and with genuine love for those who disagree. I want to end with this quote, from the man whose name is affixed to the center I lead, about someone on the other side of the political aisle. After her passing, former ERLC president, Richard Land, wrote this about former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright:3Richard D. Land and Christian Post Executive Editor, “An Evangelical’s Appreciation of Madeleine Albright,” The Christian Post, March 29, 2022, https://www.christianpost.com/voices/an-evangelicals-appreciation-of-madeleine-albright.html.

Madeleine Albright’s life provides a truly inspiring story of the triumph of the human spirit. While, as you would imagine, Madeleine and I had significant disagreements on many important issues, I always loved and appreciated Secretary Albright’s deep and abiding love for America—her adopted country.

The example of Land honoring Albright, despite very real ideological differences, is one we should seek to emulate, especially in our outrage culture. For Christians, showing respect to our fellow image-bearers is not an option. As we entrust ourselves, and this polarized age, to our sovereign Father, we don’t need more hostility, which only leads to more division. We need more fruit of the Spirit as we seek to speak the truth in love and set our hopes on the kingdom that cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:28). 

  • 1
    “Beckel and Me: An Odd Couple | Cal Thomas,” News-Herald (blog), March 6, 2022, https://www.news-herald.com/2022/03/06/beckel-and-me-an-odd-couple-cal-thomas.
  • 2
    “Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City – Kindle Edition by Keller, Timothy. Religion & Spirituality Kindle EBooks @ Amazon.Com.,” 376–80, accessed April 8, 2022, https://www.amazon.com/Center-Church-Balanced-Gospel-Centered-Ministry-ebook/dp/B005JSGB5Q.
  • 3
    Richard D. Land and Christian Post Executive Editor, “An Evangelical’s Appreciation of Madeleine Albright,” The Christian Post, March 29, 2022, https://www.christianpost.com/voices/an-evangelicals-appreciation-of-madeleine-albright.html.
By / May 16

The Biden administration recently announced that they plan to terminate Title 42, a pandemic-era rule that closed the United States’ borders to asylum seekers and others who migrate, on May 23. Title 42 has been in place since March 20, 2020, and has been used extensively to immediately expel migrants once apprehended without allowing them to assert their legal right to request asylum. After the administration’s announcement of rescinding Title 42, bipartisan concerns were raised about its termination, and whether the U.S. government was prepared for the anticipated influx of migrants at the border.

In 2021, roughly 2 million individuals were encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border. Because most individuals were apprehended, often through voluntarily presenting themselves to border agents to seek asylum, then immediately expelled, many migrants attempted to cross multiple times. It is estimated that around 27% of these encounters were from repeat crossers. Of the 2 million apprehensions, about 1.1 million individuals were immediately expelled, with only some family units and unaccompanied children allowed to enter to pursue asylum claims. 

It remains unclear whether the Biden administration will pause its anticipated withdrawal of Title 42 to prepare for the potentially significant spike in attempted crossings and asylum requests this summer. Additionally, while many of these individuals have been and will continue to come from Central America, there have also been reports of growing numbers of migrants arriving to the border from Haiti, Cuba, Russia, Turkey, India, and even Ukraine.

Though each migrant’s journey to the U.S. looks different, many face some of the same tragedies and hardships on their journey. Horrific violence, extortion from cartels, emotional trauma, rape and sexual assault, and lack of basic necessities are commonplace for migrants on their journey to the U.S., especially for women and children. As we once again see headlines around immigration in the news, it is essential for us to stop and consider why so many still choose to come, given the difficulty of the journey and the uncertain futures that migrants face upon reaching the U.S.

The factors that cause each migrant to make the difficult decision to leave home vary for each individual situation and country. However, there are some consistent, widespread issues that are often cited as the root causes of migration: corruption, violence, and poverty. 

Corruption

Perhaps the most widespread root cause of migration is corruption. Corruption is especially damaging because where it persists, other evils can thrive. Where corruption is allowed to fester, it can easily spread to many institutions in a country and region: police, government, the judicial system, businesses, and even, in some instances, religious institutions. Once people have completely lost trust in their institutions, individuals are often relegated to despair and hopelessness. Many begin to believe that their situations cannot improve or that they will be unable to receive redress for injustices committed against them. While corrupt governments exist all over the world, they are currently particularly prevalent in the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) and Caribbean nations. Government leaders rake in huge sums of money while refusing to hold free and fair elections and failing to invest resources in the basic services that their citizens need to survive. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent natural disasters throughout the world, especially in Central America, have exacerbated and highlighted these issues to the watching world. The inefficiency and corruption of these governments have prevented vulnerable people from receiving the necessary recovery aid, adequate testing and PPE to fight the pandemic, and have severely hampered the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, leading to prolonged and heightened suffering at the hands of this disease and these natural disasters.

Violence

It is in these environments of corruption that violence is especially able to thrive. Cartels and gangs are enabled to act without fear of punishment and are able to easily bribe and infiltrate the institutions that should protect the vulnerable. These dynamics are particularly hurtful to women and children, who face increasing levels of violence, including femicide and sexual violence. Impunity for these crimes is typical, with conviction for violence against women under 3% in Central America. With no threat of meaningful retribution, gangs and cartels are allowed to terrorize the vulnerable.

In addition to these trends in Central America, many are being forcibly displaced due to violence all around the world. Following the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan this summer, thousands were forced to flee. As Russia has now waged war in Ukraine, it is estimated that as many as 10 million individuals might be displaced, with over 4 million already leaving the country, creating the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. 

Violence is also often a factor for those who face persecution because of their religion or ethnicity. Open Doors’ recent World Watch List, which analyzes where it is most difficult to be a Christian, highlights countries where believers are being forced to flee for their Chritian faith. While many of these people seek protection through the refugee resettlement program, its severe backlogs and lengthy processing time force some to attempt to travel to the southern border to seek asylum.

Poverty 

A third factor that often spurs emigration is poverty. As individuals struggle to meet their basic needs, face no economic opportunity, and receive little assistance and aid from their governments, many are forced to make the difficult decision to migrate. Parents who see no opportunity for their children or are unable to provide for their needs have to reckon with these harsh realities. Nearly 10% of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty, attempting to survive on less than $2 per day, with children accounting for two-thirds of the world’s most poor, and for those older than 15, about 70% have no schooling or only basic education.

Oftentimes, poverty is directly linked to these other factors of violence and corruption. According to World Vision, “Although countries impacted by fragility, crises, and violence are home to about 10% of the world’s population, they account for more than 40% of people living in extreme poverty. By 2030, an estimated 67% of the world’s poor will live in fragile contexts.” 

Why does it matter?

Understanding why people migrate is essential to addressing our broken immigration system wisely. While there are sharp disagreements on how exactly our system should be fixed, few would argue that it currently works effectively. Addressing the root causes of migration must be an integral part of our national strategy to reform our immigration system. 

The ERLC has joined other evangelical organizations in urging both Congress and the administration to prioritize addressing these issues through equipping local Nongovernmental Organizations and civil society organizations, including faith-based organizations and churches, to meet the needs of their communities and fight against these forces of violence, corruption, and poverty. One piece of legislation that works to do this in the Northern Triangle is the Central American Women and Children Protection Act. The ERLC is actively advocating for the swift passage of this bill which would allow the vulnerable, particularly women and girls, to find safety in their communities without having to face the dangerous journey to the U.S.

Secondly and primarily, for us as Christians, understanding why people migrate helps us to see the dignity of these migrants, to better understand their pain, and to respond with empathy and compassion, rather than with partisanship or suspicion. It is much easier to see migrants as something to be feared or hated when we don’t first stop to consider their individual stories and the forces that brought them to our borders. As migrants arrive to the U.S., churches have an opportunity to reach the nations without leaving our neighborhoods. Migrants have experienced tremendous difficulty, and it is imperative that the Church respond with compassion and rise up to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of the most vulnerable among us—in the same way that Jesus has cared for us. 

By / Jan 19

“Getting old is not for sissies!” That’s what Charlie, who’s north of 90 years old, tells me just about every time I see him. Despite his infectious smile and magnetic personality, there’s a tenderness in his eyes that says life is hard.

Driving a vehicle is tenuous. Preparing meals is a challenge. Sleeping through the night does not happen. Health challenges layer on top of one another. Tasks that used to be simple now require more effort, and new technology is frustrating.

But getting older doesn’t just come with physical constraints. Charlie and Barbara have been married for over six decades. They’ve reared three children. They were active in their church and community for decades. They traveled and built life-long friendships. Yet now because of health concerns and lack of mobility, being alone is a consistent part of their lives. 

The physical and emotional isolation among the aging can go largely unnoticed and underappreciated by those who are younger and still active in local church life. As we develop programs to engage children and young families and as our ministry efforts feature online or virtual connections, we can miss the opportunity to deepen in fellowship with our more senior brothers and sisters in Christ. As winter sets in and as COVID concerns persist, this reality is only magnified.

The church community simply isn’t as accessible to senior adults, and therefore, isn’t a part of the daily or weekly rhythms of their lives. Yet, a minister’s calling to “shepherd the flock” is a multigenerational calling. It’s also an amazing opportunity to walk with seasoned believers during a spiritually formative time of their lives.

So, as we consider our ministry to senior adults, perhaps these simple practices will help our congregations grow in grace together.

Elevate senior adults by offering visible expressions of honor.

“You are to rise in the presence of the elderly and honor the old. Fear your God; I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:32).

We find this verse tucked between the commands, “Don’t turn to spiritual mediums,” and, “Honor the resident alien.” Apparently, honoring senior adults is not a tertiary matter. And the specific command was to stand in their presence. Honoring the elderly isn’t just an attitude of the heart, but it is a visible and public expression of worship to the Lord.

The church exists today because of their sacrifice, so pastors and church leaders should honor seniors in various practical ways. For example, we can ask children to write “thank you” notes, or invite the congregation to rise and pray over senior adults during a morning worship service, or recognize the contribution of a senior adult’s tenured service. 

These visible and public acts of honor not only encourage the senior adults, but they train our hearts to honor our elders and emulate their devotion to the Lord. 

Elevate senior adults by inviting them to serve.

We often think about serving the practical needs of senior adults, and we should. No longer is it assumed that adult children live close enough to provide daily care for their aging parents. So it’s even more incumbent on the church to provide help when necessary.

Many senior adults, however, do not need extra help. What they do need is the opportunity to continue contributing to the kingdom during this season of their lives. The psalmist asked of the Lord, “Don’t discard me in my old age. As my strength fails, do not abandon me” (Psa. 71:9). Likewise, we shouldn’t forget these older saints. Rather than just considering how to serve them, perhaps we ask for their help in planning and executing the ministry of the church. Perhaps we invite seniors to co-labor in the gospel. 

Senior adults who have been walking with Lord for decades offer incredible wisdom. They have seen people and trends come and go. They have experienced God’s faithfulness over time. And while they may not be as active as they once were, their long obedience and proximity to heaven offer a perspective that is not only refreshing, but also extremely helpful as we make disciples of Jesus together.

Elevate senior adults by inspiring greater faith.

Our bodies are fading away, but the limits of our mortality do not limit our faith. The constraints on our physical usefulness do not diminish the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This is why Paul was able to write, “Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). 

Imagine the encouragement this letter was to the aging saints of Corinth. These were words of life to those who felt their physical bodies waning. In the same way, church leaders and members alike can infuse senior adults with fresh faith for the challenges they face. One way we do this is by learning to sit together on a front porch or in a living room. We can listen, share stories, discuss hopes and fears, celebrate successes, and grieve losses. And then we remind one another the Lord is near, that his mercies are new, and that he will hold us fast. 

Our presence with our senior brothers and sisters serves as an icon for the abiding presence of God in their lives. 

King Solomon wrote, “Gray hair is a glorious crown; it is found in the ways of righteousness” (Prov. 16:31). The award ceremony need not be delayed until heaven. It begins now in our congregations as we highly esteem the most senior among us. 

By / Aug 18

The Bible is clear that (1) Christians should care about injustice (Micah 6:8, 2 Chronicles 19:7, Prov 20:23) and (2) Christians should respect civil government and laws (Rom 13:1-2, 1 Tim. 2:1-2). Yet over the centuries, Christians have toiled over the dichotomy between a godly passion for justice and the biblical call to submission. 

Believers have often found themselves at odds with the rulers and laws of the land they live in. In America today, laws stand that threaten the lives of the unborn, diverge from the biblical understanding of gender and sexuality, and forsake the widow and orphan. Currently, the U.S. House of Representatives is considering 12 appropriation bills for FY2022 that propose the removal of pro-life riders from the budget such as the Hyde and Weldon Amendments. Thankfully, Christians living in the 21st century are not the first group of believers to find ourselves in disagreement with the laws and norms of their culture. Jesus prepared us to expect as much, when he prayed for the protection of his people in the garden of Gethsemane, “they are not of the world, even as I am not of it” (John 17:16). 

The book of 1 Peter was written as the church faced persecution and focused on instructing Christians about how to live faithfully in a time of extraordinary evil. Peter instructs believers to use good conduct and submission to those in authority as a testament to the gospel (1 Pet. 2:13). We have been made free by the blood of Christ, we must now use our freedom not to bring chaos but instead to show the world the gentleness and servant nature of our Savior (1 Pet. 2:16). This includes submission to human authority (1 Pet. 2:15). Peter gives us a beautiful framework for what living as a servant of God looks like, calling Christians to “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor (1 Pet. 2:17). 

Honor everyone. 

The first two principles at work in Peter’s framework inform how the Christian is to go about showing honor to those outside the church (the first principle) and those within the church (the second). The first portion reminds believers that we are to honor (or rightly respect) all people, which includes recognizing and standing up for their dignity as image-bearers. The way we treat people should reflect the inherent worth each individual possesses as one created by God. 

Regarding those who are particularly vulnerable, Proverbs 31:8-9 calls believers to: Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” The Bible is filled with accounts of brave men and women of faith who defied their rulers to hold fast to their faith and protect the innocent: the Hebrew midwives who resisted Pharoah’s command to kill the Israelite babies (Ex. 1), Rahab’s defiance of Jericho’s rulers and protection of the Israelite spies (Josh. 2), and Obadiah’s hiding of the prophets of God from the murderous queen Jezebel (1 Kings 18). This is rooted in the reality that the Lord is a God of justice, who hates abuses of the poor, vulnerable, and powerless.

Love the brotherhood.

The second principle — love of the brotherhood — calls Christians to love one another. This includes within our own local churches and Christian communities, but it also extends to the body of Christ across the world. This should also inform how Christians respond to cries for justice from within the church. It was the Black church and its advocacy, activism, and exercise of peaceful civil disobedience that called the United States to respect the full equality and dignity of Black Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. 

Christians should strive to see an expansion of God’s kingdom here on earth. We should seek justice in a way that displays the character of God and his compassion for the hurting, and especially those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ (Gal. 6:10). We should work to cultivate justice that points to the kingdom of perfect righteousness that is coming.

Practicing this principle can take many different forms. As we look to the Scriptures, we see that Paul spent a great deal of time collecting funds from other Christians for the relief of the church in Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15; Rom 15:14–32). We also see Paul instructing Philemon to treat Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother (Philemon 1:16). Today, showing love for the brotherhood could mean financially assisting a believer facing a medical crisis, volunteering for a Christian justice or poverty relief ministry, helping to repair a church building damaged by a natural disaster, or providing resources and support for a community of Christian refugees from another country. 

Fear God.

The final two principles are important because the first one controls the second. The fear of God is to take priority over our honor of the emperor, and it’s also our motivation for respecting the rulers he has set in place (Rom. 13:7). The same Peter who writes the epistle is the one who told the Jewish leaders in the early days of the church, “We must obey God rather than human men” (Acts 5:29). When the early church was forbidden from speaking or teaching in the name of Jesus, Peter and John refused and said, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-20). 

Similarly, during the reign of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, the young Israelites Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego courageously refused to worship the King’s statue and were thrown into a burning furnace (Dan. 3). Later, Daniel would be cast into a den of lions for his refusal to follow the king’s unjust command forbidding prayer (Dan. 6). 

Again, the Civil Rights Movement illustrates how Christians should be willing to accept punishment and consequences for refusing to obey unjust laws. Those who protested against the prejudiced treatment of African Americans under Jim Crow segregation were willing to face jailing (and often unlawful physical punishment) to demonstrate that the government’s policies were not only unconstitutional but unjust. It was in one such prison that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail as a plea to forsake silence and delayed justice.

Early Baptists in England and North America also faced persecution from the government on account of their religious faith. Men like Thomas Helwys and Isaac Backus refused to attend state-sanctioned churches and suffered retribution from the state. Like the apostles in Acts, because of our fear of God, Christians should be unwilling to submit to unjust laws that deny justice and equality to our fellow human beings. 

Honor the emperor.

First Peter 2:11-17 identifies Christians as sojourners and exiles in this world and urges believers to “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable” and to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” Therefore, Christians should instead give thanks and pray for those given authority over us “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Like Peter, Paul wrote Romans, his letter to the church in Rome, during a period of persecution from the Roman Emperor Nero, making his commands concerning government all the more powerful. Romans 13 clarifies that every person should be subject to their governing authorities because their authority has been instituted by God. Though we are often tempted to forget, government in general is a good gift from God intended to keep order and lead to the flourishing of society. And Paul warns that we risk incurring the wrath of God and violating our consciences when we disobey the civil authorities he has established (v. 5). As Christians, we should honor our rulers, pay taxes, and respect those in authority with our words and actions. And as we do so, we remember that we are actually submitting to and honoring our King.

So what now?

In his commentary of Acts 5, John Stott says, “We are to submit right up to the point where obedience to the state would entail disobedience to God. But if the state commands what God forbids or forbids what God commands, then our plain Christian duty is to resist, not to submit, to disobey the state in order to obey God.” 

As Christians, we should default to respect civil authorities and submit to the laws we are subject to. When a civil mandate contradicts our heavenly mandate, our allegiance to God’s kingdom should win. Christians should resist laws that command sin and constantly work within the existing rules to change evil laws and promote righteousness. Above all, we should do so as we remember that our effort and obedience is ultimately aimed at pleasing God.

By / Jul 1

Last week, the House of Representatives voted 218-208 to repeal the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s (OCC) 2017 ‘True Lender’ rule. Republican Rep. Glenn Grothman (WI-06) voted to pass this bipartisan Congressional Review Act (CRA) aimed at the OCC’s misguided rule. The bill now heads to President Biden’s desk for his signature or veto. 

The 2017 OCC rule allowed payday lenders to partner with out of state banks, thus evading state interest rate caps in their own state. This partnership is known as a “rent-a-bank” scheme, which allows banks to “rent” their name to lenders in an outside state in order to avoid consumer protection laws. The rule states that these partner banks operated as the ‘true lender’ and originator of the loan, so though the consumer and the payday lender are in one state, their state laws did not apply to the loan. The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to repeal rules promulgated by a federal agency, such as this 2017 OCC rule. 

The ERLC has long applauded states’ efforts to curtail unjust lending practices in their states. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have 36% interest rate caps. We believe that these common sense consumer protection laws should be respected rather than undermined by federal regulation. Predatory lenders should not be granted a loophole from state laws that promote responsible and honest lending practices and that represent the will of the voters of those states. 

As the Southern Baptist Convention affirmed in 2014, “predatory lending fails to respect the dignity of the person created in the image of God and interferes with human flourishing.” To learn more about the harms of payday lending and why Southern Baptists oppose it, read the ERLC’s explainer here

Six years ago, the ERLC joined the Faith for Just Lending Coalition (FJL) to advocate for an end to the payday debt trap. FJL has been working since the 2017 OCC rule was first proposed to oppose its implementation and released a statement yesterday applauding the House for its vote to repeal the harmful rule. 

The ERLC is grateful to both chambers of Congress for taking action to roll back this harmful regulation. Predatory lending is out of step with God’s design for financial relationships, and we celebrate this progress toward ending the payday debt trap. 

The ERLC will continue to advocate for legislation that curbs payday lending, including for the re-introduction of the Veterans and Consumers Fair Credit Act (VCFCA). To learn more about the VCFCA and why the ERLC supports it, read our issue brief here. The ERLC is proud to have advocated for the repeal of the OCC’s ‘True Lender’ rule and we urge President Biden to swiftly sign it into law. 

By / Apr 20

During the past 12 months at home, my children and I have enjoyed learning about and imagining faraway places through books and documentaries. We like to talk about where my three young sons would like to go, which animals they would see, and the people they would meet. This thought experiment is not far from the truth. I pray my children will have the opportunity to travel the world and meet many people from all walks of life. 

As a parent, it’s both thrilling and challenging to consider how my children will engage a future world, one they will inhabit without me by their side. How can I prepare them for the diverse experiences, opportunities, and relationships that lay ahead? In addition to instilling a faith in God, my husband and I are committed to teaching our children to see and value the inherent dignity of every person. We believe this reflects God’s character and his care. And we pray that our children learn to see those in need and respond in love and service for the vulnerable. Here are a few ways we are aiming toward this. 

Instill personal worth

Before a person can show honor to someone else, they have to live with a sense of personal dignity. Our children must understand that God made them, loves them, and sent his Son to redeem them. It’s important for Christian parents to prioritize this teaching right alongside the biblical teachings of depravity and sin, (Gen. 3; Rom. 5), not emphasizing one more than the other. 

We want them to know that no matter what they do, what happens to them, or what other people say about them, their worth is secure in Christ. We desire that they know the unchanging character of God so that they may proclaim it to themselves in times of doubt: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exo. 34). In addition, we want them to live with appropriate expectations of how they should be treated respectfully and kindly by those around them. 

Tell stories 

How do children learn? How did Jesus teach? Through stories! What an amazing gift God has given us in the medium of stories. Tell stories about when your children came into your family, how you prayed for them, and how you loved them before you met them. Teach about God’s plan for their lives and how he has chosen you to be a family. Demonstrate with your words how valuable they are to you and to the Lord.

Stories are also a great way to build a sense of identity and community. Tell stories about your family, especially the family members who have passed or those who live far away. Talk about what you love about them. What makes each person unique? How did God design them? Share stories about your family in the faith, about those who welcomed you into a new community, or who showed love to you when you did not deserve it. Explain how they made you feel, utilizing an emotional vocabulary that your children could use. Help your children to see themselves as a part of these groups—their family and the church—and how the characteristics you’ve discussed should inhabit their lives. 

Foster diverse relationships

Revelation 7 describes a crowd “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” We should seek to make our present relationships reflect our future ones—full of diversity. Look for opportunities to introduce your children to families and individuals who are culturally different than you. Help your child understand that although differences do exist, we are all made in the image of God intentionally (Gen. 1:27). Do this purposefully, with grace and humility. Otherwise, most of us will drift into monolithic spaces on our own. 

Intergenerational relationships are important as well. Your local church is a great place for these relationships to grow. If you have the gift of grandparents and great-grandparents, invest in those relationships. Watch as your children learn to love someone who is 80 years older than they. Let them ask their curious questions and ponder what it means to grow older, while also learning what it means to show respect.   

Store up good things 

In all of these places, in all of these ways, nothing is more important than you, the parent or guardian, leading by example. Your children will watch how you speak and how you act. Pray and ask the Lord to reveal to you any thoughts that do not reflect God’s love and the inherent worth of all people. Luke 6:45 says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” 

Take time to store up the good things from the Lord and his Word that demonstrate his love for all people (John 3:16). In a world where differences so often stir up division and anger, may we be and raise the people who will take the opportunity to marvel at the multifaceted beauty of God’s creation and demonstrate the gracious and compassionate love of our Savior to those around us. 

This article originally appeared here

Photo attribution: RyanJLane | Getty Images

By / Apr 16

He was a professional skier. During a competition he was favored to win, he lost control on the downslope, plunged 30 feet off course, and rolled like tumbleweed down a hill until a tree trunk broke his fall. When paramedics found him, he denied any pain, but repeated over and over, his voice taut with panic, that he couldn’t move his limbs. 

Days later, he lay in an ICU bed with metal screws and rods fixing his spinal column into place. We’d saved his life, but couldn’t save his spinal cord, and he remained paralyzed from the shoulders down. Hour after hour he stared at the ceiling, and when we examined him each morning, he’d answer “yes” or “no,” but said little else. 

Then one day, his nurse motioned for us to talk with her in private. She looked stricken. “I offered to brush his teeth, and he suddenly burst into tears,” she said. “He says everything he cares about is gone, and that he doesn’t know who he is anymore.” 

I am lost 

Although few experiences are as devastating as quadriplegia, outbursts like that of this young man echo in every hospital hallway. When an accident or sudden illness assails us, our first desperate pleas are for our survival, and when we escape with our lives we gush with gratitude. In time, however, the dust settles. We stare dumbfounded at our strange surroundings and realize that the lives through which we once absentmindedly strolled have disintegrated. The images we took for granted have burned up, and the elements of ourselves we most highly prized crumble into ash. 

In such moments we can lose sight of who we are. Severe injuries that leave us disabled not only impair us physically, but also can threaten our understanding of our identity, value, and dignity. 

I remember the lament of a man who survived a stroke, only to sink into despair when he could no longer provide for his family. 

A woman for whom I cared would moan through the night from searing pain in her dying limbs, but refused amputations because she could not fathom life without the freedom to walk. 

Another woman cried in anguish when an operation cured her thyroid cancer, but forever altered her singing voice. 

Such stories highlight that even when we escape a health catastrophe with our lives, every disaster leaves a mark. Some scars so disfigure us that we no longer recognize ourselves, and like Jeremiah stumbling through the ruins of Jerusalem, we cry out, “I am lost” (Lam. 3:54). 

Called out of the darkness

And yet, when we look with dread upon the pieces of our fractured lives, our worth derives from something far more permanent, far more precious than these scattered fragments. Our worth doesn’t derive from our self-reliance, our talents, or our independence. We can’t earn it via anything our trembling hands accomplish. Rather, our worth springs solely, wholly, beautifully, and immutably from Jesus. His blood, for ours. Our renewal, caught up in his. 

Our true and foremost identity has nothing to do with the vigor of our limbs or the keenness of our eyesight and everything to do with the truth that we are image-bearers of God (Gen. 1:26), loved by God (John 3:16), and made new through Christ (Rev. 21:5).

Consider the words of Peter:

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Pet. 2:9–10).

In Christ, when God looks upon us, even in our lameness, even when we cannot recognize ourselves, he sees righteousness and holiness, a reflection of his own marvelous light. 

A child of God

One day, after a horrific accident, you may glance in the mirror and struggle to recognize yourself. You may remind yourself that you are a spouse, a mother, or a father. You may remember that you were a lawyer, a teacher, or a bus driver. But first and foremost, remember that in Christ, you are a child of God. Revisit John’s declaration: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; And so we are!” (1 John 3:1).

Cleave to this truth if the steps you took for granted decades earlier now feel like labor. Revel in itw hen the person you envisioned yourself to be seems a distant memory. When the days unfold before you like a path plunging into the fog, the destination hazy, and the journey bleak, dare to rejoice that all meager, worldly identifiers shrink before who you are in Christ

As a follower of Christ your identity, now and forever, is as one called out of the darkness into his holy light. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). By that light, you conform to the image of God’s Son. By that light, God wraps you in his love. And nothing, not illness or death, not halting speech or a crippled limb, can snuff that light out, or enshroud you from its brilliance (Rom. 8:38–39). 

This article was adapted from Glimmers of Grace: A Doctor’s Reflections on Faith, Suffering, and the Goodness of God, Crossway, April 2021.