By / Aug 4

A common critique of the pro-life movement has been that it only cares about preborn lives up until birth, not after, nor does it care about their mothers and families. Although this criticism is largely unfounded, as evidenced by the number of pregnancy resource centers operating around the country, adoptions by people of faith, and disproportionate support for foster care, detractors of the pro-life movement have often focused in on a seeming lack of support for public policy solutions that actively aid families, resource low-income individuals, and provide help to mothers in crisis. However, in the wake of the Dobbs decision, a growing coalition of legislators and pro-life supporters have taken an increased interest in these very types of policies. 

Financial insecurity is cited by 73% of women who choose to have an abortion as the primary driver of their choice. For Christians, that statistic should represent a sobering challenge. While we will continue to work relentlessly through policy and law to make abortion illegal across the country, that simply is not enough. We must also redouble our efforts to make abortion unthinkable to a woman in crisis because of the abundance of support and resources available to her. 

In light of that, this surge of policy proposals working to address this very issue is worth celebrating as we seek to establish a culture of life that wraps around women and families and provides the resources and support needed for them to flourish.

A biblical foundation for supporting families

God has spoken clearly throughout Scripture to the value and dignity of every human being as created in the image of God and to the goodness of his design for every aspect of human life in accordance with his will (Gen. 1:26-30; Matt. 19:4; Luke 12:22–31; 2 Cor. 5:17-21; 1 Pet. 1:13-16). Early on in Scripture, we see the foundation of the institution of marriage—one man and one woman for life—as something that God creates for our good (Gen. 2). The married couple is then instructed to bear fruit and multiply as part of God’s plan for their flourishing (Gen 1:28; Ps. 127:3). 

The biblical framework for the nuclear family is a desirable end and moral imperative, and the good work of protecting and celebrating the family in all its biblical forms is central to the ethic, life, and mission of the church. The work of local churches, parents, teachers, counselors, and foster care and adoptive families who walk alongside couples through difficult times, disciple their children in the way of Christ, and help bring healing to broken families and hope to forgotten children is invaluable and an essential part of our calling individually and collectively. Southern Baptists are committed to advancing a distinctly Christian vision for the family in the public square and safeguarding the integrity of this crucial biblical institution for the good of our neighbor.

For decades, Southern Baptists have evidenced that commitment through resolutions declaring their dedication to the family and their desire to see policies that promote its formation and flourishing. In 1978, Southern Baptists affirmed that “the nation and church are only as strong as the family” and resolved to consider “carefully the impact on families of proposed federal legislation” and “give attention to the importance of economic security to all families.” In 1982, amidst concern for the state of families across the United States, the convention resolved to “through local church congregations, be especially sensitive and responsive to the needs of each ‘church family’ member and attempt to provide, and if necessary, be a substitute for needed family relationships often missing among members.” In 1987 while discussing the crisis of children on the streets, the SBC acknowledged that it “has long had special concern for the needs of American children and their families.” Countless other resolutions have been passed outlining the commitment to families  and children in crisis and even “encouraging and empowering Southern Baptists to adopt unwanted children, by providing spiritual, emotional, and financial support for women in crisis pregnancies, and by calling on our government officials to take action to protect the lives of women and children.”

In addition to these declarations of support and calls for action from churches, other resolutions have laid out a role for government to play in meeting these needs. In 1991, the SBC agreed that families are “one of only three institutions which God established,” that “strong families are a vital part of a moral society,” and that “Government policies which have neglected and punished the institution of the family are a significant factor in the moral decay of American society.” In light of this, the resolution went on to reason that “Public policy should provide incentives which promote stable marriages and parental child-rearing, recognizing that these policies will contribute to a better society” and called for the adoption of “policies which encourage the establishment and development of strong families.” And most recently in 2022, in anticipation of the Dobbs ruling, the SBC once again voiced support for abortion-vulnerable women and committed to “partnering with local, state, and federal governments to enact pro-life and pro-family policies that serve and support vulnerable women, children, and families” in hopes of eliminating “any perceived need for the horror of abortion.”

Recent proposals to consider

Though our nation has an extensive web of programs that explicitly exist to alleviate poverty, it is important to note that many of these recent proposals are not primarily focused on that goal but rather are specifically pro-family plans that also hope to have a poverty-reducing impact. A consistent theme of reasoning in these proposals is that much of our current government assistance and tax structure can often actually disincentivize marriage and having children. Governments often use the economic tools at their disposal to incentivize what they want to encourage and penalize what they want to discourage.

These proposals, in differing capacities, work to reverse that trend and economically incentivize marriage, ensure families—with an emphasis on abortion-vulnerable women—have the resources to keep their children, and promote full participation of both parents in the raising of children. In pursuit of this goal, advocates have for many years called for actions such as expanding paid family leave or expanding the child tax credit. While the ERLC has not formally taken a position on these specific policy options or the more recent proposals, we affirm efforts to think creatively about helping those in need, supporting families, and resourcing abortion-vulnerable women and families to raise their children.

Some of these recent legislative efforts have been more narrowly focused. In response to the Department of Health and Human Services launching of reproductiverights.gov, which outlines where women may receive abortion services, nine Senate Republicans recently introduced the “Standing with Moms Act” that would create an alternative Life.gov, a federal clearinghouse of pro-life resources, services, and information for pregnant and parenting mothers. Another bill, the “Unborn Child Support Act,” would permit courts, at the request of the mother, to require child support payments from the father while the child is still in the womb, retroactively from the time of conception. Similarly focused on supporting parents directly around the time of the birth of their child, the “New Parents Act” would allow parents to use some of their social security benefits for up to three months of paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child, with the choice of either increasing their retirement age or temporarily receiving a reduction in social security benefits upon retirement.

Other proposals are seeking to take a more comprehensive approach to pro-family policy. Sen. Mitt Romney’s Family Security Act 2.0 would reform the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit to provide a fully paid-for, monthly, cash benefit for working families, beginning while the child is still in the womb. Another comprehensive policy framework is Senator Marco Rubio’s Providing for Life Act. This package would seek to expand the Child Tax Credit, create fiscally responsible options for paid parental leave, bolster child support enforcement, increase WIC funding, make the Adoption Tax Credit fully refundable, fund mentoring services for low-income mothers, post online resources for new mothers, direct federal funding to pro-life pregnancy resources centers, and enforce rights for pregnant college students.

Though there is much to still be debated on which of these policies are best and which can find bipartisan support to become law, it is encouraging that many members of Congress are beginning to recognize a need for programs that support families and are beginning to think creatively on how best to do that. The ERLC will actively engage in these debates and advocate for policies that promote life, marriage, family, and the flourishing of all of our neighbors.

ERLC intern Daniel Hostetter contributed to this article.

By / Jan 6

The Muslim call to prayer filled the Central Asian village. All the men in the house slowly rose from the floor cushions to cleanse themselves for prayer — all except the one Western visitor in a private guest room. Mohammed’s heart beat as fast as a hummingbird’s wings. He had waited years for this moment to transpire.

“I will stay with our guest,” he said, stroking his long black beard. Since hospitality and honoring guests are highly valued among Central Asians, the others nodded in agreement. Cultural standards dictated a guest should never be left alone. Mohammed could pray after the group returned.

Once he was certain the other men were gone, Mohammed leaned toward the guest and whispered, “All my life, I have wanted to be near to God.” With 10 minutes of privacy, the middle-aged Muslim man asked the visitor questions about a Bible passage he had read years ago. The guest wanted to give Mohammed a copy of the New Testament in his own language, but he wouldn’t be able to return to this newfound seeker’s far-flung village without raising suspicions. They would need to find a time when Mohammed could visit the city.

What is an unreached group?

The concept of a person or group being unreached can be difficult to grasp in America where multiple churches exist on the same block. But in many parts of the world, this is not the case. A people group is considered unreached when less than 2% of its population is Christian and when that group lacks the momentum to see their people discipled. Simply put, when a people group is unreached, this means that from the time a person is born until the day they die, they do not have a chance to hear who Jesus truly is. 

People who reside in an unreached country can’t walk down the street to a church to ask questions about Jesus, and it’s unlikely they’ll find a Christian in their community. If there are believers present, they are often not open about their new faith because of the persecution and high level of personal cost that comes with leaving their former faith behind. In parts of Central Asia, for example, it’s still illegal for a Muslim to become a Christian.

According to the Joshua Project, 42.5% of the world is unreached with the gospel. This includes 61% of people (about five billion) who reside in the 10/40 Window — an area between 10 degrees north and 40 degrees north latitude that stretches across Asia, the Middle East, and northern Africa. 

The Bible’s call to care for the unreached

Christians have a role to play in ensuring those without the gospel get access to it. Some believers go as missionaries to preach the gospel in hard places. But if we aren’t called to go to the unreached, then an important way we can participate in this work is through prayer (Isa. 49:6). In Acts 10, God leads the way for Gentiles to hear the gospel by sending two visions — one to Cornelius and another to Peter. While there are many important truths in this text, I want to point out three that relate to our responsibility as believers to care for the unreached.

First, Cornelius needed someone to share the gospel with him. Cornelius was not a follower of Jesus yet, but when we meet him in Acts 10, he was being drawn to God. Cornelius had “a zeal for God,” but he didn’t yet have the full picture. The Bible tells us that “no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11) — that no amount of morality or religious devotion can lead to salvation — but the seeking prayers of a person who hasn’t yet been made new can serve as a springboard to their later coming to know Christ. 

Acts tells us that Cornelius’ prayers and alms were acceptable to God (10:4). We can attribute this to God’s grace in his life (Eph. 2:8, Gal. 1:15) — grace that God brought to fullness when he sent Peter to Cornelius’s home. God handpicked the apostle to share the good news with Cornelius so that the Gentiles could repent, believe, and become a part of the global church (10:45; Rom. 10:17).

Second, Peter learned that God’s salvation plan includes the Gentiles. Through a vision, Peter learned that gospel was intended for every nation who fears God (10:35). The vision centered around food initially, but Peter quickly began to understand that God was talking about more than food. God was indicating that “all people are clean” and can become followers of Jesus (10:35). When Peter entered Cornelius’ home, it went against all the Jewish traditions and customs he’d been taught (see Lev. 20:24–26). But though he’d learned not to mingle with Gentiles, Peter now proclaimed the reality that God was making the two divided groups into one.

When Peter preached to Cornelius’ household, he emphasized the fact that God is the Lord of all — over everyone and everything (10:34, 43, and 47). Peter repeats the word “all” several times (10:36, 38, 43) in his sermon. He’s making the point that God’s plan — since Old Testament times — has been to save people from every nation (cf. Deut. 10:17; 2 Chron . 19:7; Job 34:19). God does not show partiality; his purpose is to save people from around the world, not just the Israelites (Gen. 12:3; Isa. 49:6; Psa. 67:2). 

Third, the inclusion of the Gentiles is a fulfillment of the Great Commission. It’s the mission mandate in action (Matt. 28:18–20). God was clearly orchestrating the Acts 10 events. He sent both Cornelius and Peter visions, and through both men’s obedience and the work of the Holy Spirit, many Gentiles were saved. Across the globe, God is drawing people from every tribe, tongue, and nation to himself. He works in a variety of ways: through dreams, visions, healing works, and through the witness of individual believers who share the gospel. 

How your family can pray for the unreached

As we see in Acts 10, God desires that all people to know and worship him. It is his purpose to include those without access to the gospel. As Christian parents, we can share God’s heart for the unreached with our children. Through our prayers, we can take an active role in caring for unreached people like Mohammed who waited years to meet a Christian. 

God wanted Cornelius to hear the gospel, and he sent Peter to proclaim the good news. If God cares about saving those in places where the gospel hasn’t reached yet, then we should find delight in praying for those still waiting to hear the good news. Here are five resources your family can use as you care and pray for unreached people:

  1. You can pray for Bible translation work using Wycliffe’s Bible Translators children’s book, Around the World With Kate and Mack: A Look at Languages From A to Z. This resource engages children with the impact Bible translation has on communities around the world, and it fosters a heart to pray for the Bible to continue to be translated into more languages.
  2. Pray through different countries and people groups around the world using Window on the World: An Operation World Prayer Resource. This made-for-kids missionary prayer book provides insight into what life is like for people in different countries and regions of the world, and it gives prayer prompts that families can use to pray for the people in each country to be reached with the gospel.
  3. Read Rivers Overseas, a children’s picture book that shares about how some are called to go overseas to share the gospel. The book will help children understand how God is faithful to those he calls to go.
  4. Download the free Loving Northern Africa and Middle Eastern Peoples Family Activities resource from the International Missions Board. This five-day devotion allows children to learn more about the culture and needs of unreached people in the NAME region.
  5. Finally, you can sign up for a Joshua Project newsletter and pray for an unreached people group each day. The daily email lists an unreached people group and a prayer focus for that group. During your dinner meal, on the way to school, or before bed — whatever fits your family’s schedule — you can incorporate the daily unreached group into your prayer time. 

Because Peter was a key leader in the Jerusalem church, God wanted him to be an early part of his new work among the nations. Later, when Paul was sent on his missionary journeys, he became known as the apostle to the Gentiles, but God also wanted those who were not working to reach unreached groups as their full-time work to understand God’s bigger plan. 

Peter’s ministry focus wasn’t shifting — he would still primarily focus on sharing the gospel with the Jews (Gal. 2:8) — but God wanted him to embrace the larger mission, so he gave Peter a front-row seat for the enfolding of the Gentiles into the church. God wants our families to have a front-row seat as well. We can teach our children that God is a God for all peoples by regularly praying for unreached people like Cornelius and Mohammed.

By / Oct 20

Choosing a school for your children can be one of the most difficult decisions that a parent makes. Our family’s choice was complicated by our kids’ particular needs. My wife Megan and I are deliberate people, and after taking some time to consider our options, we sent our oldest daughter, Rachael, to a two-day-per-week kindergarten at a classical school, one that we knew would emphasize reading old books, choral music, and learning ancient languages like Latin and Greek. The school was a great fit for her; she seemed to thrive.

But that same year, our second-born, Lucy, began her academic journey at a half-day Head Start program. Lucy had been diagnosed with what would now be classified as level 3 Autism. Her language, social, and self-care skills were already behind her 3-year-old peers, and she needed the behavioral, speech, and occupational support that our local public school system could provide. 

Choosing two different schools seemed like a wise decision at first. The two schools felt like just the right fit for our two daughters. But living in two different educational worlds at once was more difficult than we anticipated. Not only were our girls’ weekly schedules radically different, but the school calendars — the holidays, as well as the start and end dates for the two school systems — just didn’t mesh. Lucy also had daily therapy sessions after school in our home. Even if one child was on a break, another still had something going on. We felt like we were always on the go. In many ways, that was our first rodeo as parents, and Megan and I were exhausted trying to manage it. 

So, as the summer drew near, we pulled both girls out of their schools, went to Disney World with my in-laws (we found that restful!), and began a process of making certain that both girls would have the same school schedule the following fall. Our Lucy needed the public school system’s support for children with disabilities. So in order to unite our family around a shared routine (and actually enjoy family vacations!), we put both girls in public education.

A battle for minds and affections

Choosing public school is not a decision that any Christian parent should come to blindly. Megan and I sat down with a friend and advisor who walked us through a process of identifying our values, ranking them, and then finally making the decision. 

One thing that made the decision so hard is the reality that public education isn’t designed to reinforce Christian values. As James K. A. Smith has chronicled in his book Desiring the Kingdom, the rhythms of the public school and university campus are aimed instead at forming the next generation to value and worship competition, radical self-expression, and economic success.

And it’s not only that the secular worldview heralded in the public school curriculum seeks to regularly undercut a Christian worldview. Whether your kids attend a Christian school or a public one, the passion and regular rhythms of middle and high school extracurriculars —whether it’s athletics, academics, or the arts — will compete for your kids’ affections. 

Smith quotes Duke Divinity school professor Stanley Hauerwas’s striking observation that “Friday night high school football is the most significant liturgical event in Texas.” Now don’t get me wrong. I stand up and cheer for each touchdown pass as loudly as the next man (okay, maybe louder). Football, along with other sports, is a gracious gift from God, but that doesn’t mean Smith and Hauerwas are wrong when they see games and competitions as acts of worship that can compete with the faith. 

What makes this even harder in the public school context is that most public schools no longer take church activities into account. Gone are the days when sports and activities take a midweek pause so that students can be involved at their church on Wednesday evening. And when the band competition ends late on Saturday night, it’s hard to get up for church on Sunday morning. 

Why let Caesar educate your kids?

We know that young people are susceptible to the influence of their peers and cultural environment. So, if the public school environment is so hostile to Christian belief, why would any parent choose it? Why let Caesar educate your kids?

The truth is that without some vision for what it will take to navigate public school culture as a Christian, it’s unwise to make that choice. Ultimately, I believe that a Christian’s school choice is a Romans 14 matter — an issue of Christian freedom that will be worked out as each mom and dad weighs the options in light of their individual consciences. There are great reasons to choose a Christian school environment instead, but I believe there are also some opportunities that public education uniquely offers to Christian families. Here are three:

1. In public school, students typically experience greater diversity. After the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, many conservative white churches became bastions for segregationist opposition. Especially in the South, a number of private schools were founded by people who were committed to segregation and opposed to any possibility of interracial romance. As Michael Aitcheson observed on The Gospel Coalition’s As In Heaven podcast, “My grandmother in Orlando, Florida, remembers integration happening and our first private school was founded ‘six hours later.’”

Though they began as “segregation academies,” many of these schools have turned from their segregationist practices, and there are even efforts within Christian education to prioritize greater diversity. But on the whole, public education remains much more diverse than private education, and this presents lots of little opportunities for Christian kids to learn how to respect cultural differences and engage peers who differ with friendly curiosity rather than suspicion.

Public school exposes our children to ethnic and racial diversity, socioeconomic diversity, religious diversity, and ability diversity. It’s good to hear in a sermon about how we should honor the dignity of every human person made in God’s image. But the student in public school also gets the opportunity to practice showing honor when splitting a pizza with her Hindu friends. 

2. In public school, kids encounter pressing issues before they leave home. Christian kids who attend a public high school today are going to hear a Christian account of creation questioned in science class. And that Christian student probably knows at least one person in their classes who identifies as lesbian, gay, or transgender. Theologian Michael Krueger observes that too often Christian parents think their kids are best served by being sheltered and protected from any discussion or exposure to such non-Christian thinking. But it shouldn’t be that way!

It’s good to help your child wrestle with how, for example, to square what the Bible teaches about gender with the empathy she feels for a friend who experiences gender dysphoria. We need to give young people the basic biblical categories and tools they need to deal with non-Chrisitan belief while they’re still living under our roof. 

And just as it’s good for us to repent and ask for our children’s forgiveness when we lose our temper with them, it’s also good for parents to admit to their kids when they don’t know how to answer challenges to the Christian faith. When we’re honest about what we don’t know, kids will learn what it looks like to suspend judgement, do some research (pick up a book; ask a pastor), and think through how to give a reasonable defense for the faith. 

3. In public school, Christian students have the opportunity to be a witness. Some Christians ask, “Why put your children on a school bus to Babylon? Here’s the reality: No matter how much you’ve sheltered your child, they’re still living in Babylon. The question is whether they’re merely assimilating or living as bold exiles. 

On the one hand, it’s essential for students to have a Christian community beyond their nuclear families. Every Christian needs to know that he’s not alone. That’s one reason I’m so grateful for our church youth group that includes kids who are in public, private, and home school. 

But if a young person is only around people who share his beliefs and, as a result, his faith is never tested during his growing up years, that youth may trade cultural conformity in a Christian environment for a more dangerous cultural conformity in his college dorm. 

The public school environment certainly tests a young person’s faith. But when that faith is tested, there’s also an opportunity to see its true mettle. The student who chooses to dress modestly, not to participate in an event on Sunday, or share how her views of social justice involve convictions about hell and final judgment will be seen as socially awkward — perhaps even weird. She’s also a witness. 

The biggest reason we chose public school in the first place was for the specialized care it provided for our daughter Lucy. Staying in public education has meant greater intentionality about teaching and modeling a biblical worldview to our daughters at home. 

At the end of the day, a family’s educational choice for their kids is just one factor in a child’s formative years. In his book Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp warns against the danger of evaluating your parenting by your child’s educational success. He wrote, “Unfortunately, scores of disillusioned and broken people are thoroughly educated. It is possible to be well-educated and still not understand life.” For the Christian parents who help their students learn to celebrate other image-bearers, work through doubt, and stand for Christ even when it seems strange, public school can be a pathway toward gaining a heart of wisdom.

By / Aug 17

There has been much written lately about the declining rates of childbearing. Some argue that it is a good choice in light of economic and climate concerns, while others worry about the fact that men and women are delaying marriage and childbirth until later in life, leading to a population decline. Nowhere is this more acute than in Japan where a city of some two dozen adults have resorted to lifelike dolls as stand-ins for people because the last child born in the city was over 20 years ago. The recent COVID-19 epidemic has even contributed to what has been called a “baby bust” in the United States. This decline in births has serious implications for all areas of life, including religion.

In his new book, Faith and Fertility: The Demographic Revolution and the Transformation of World Religions, Baylor historian Philip Jenkins looks at the close connections between rates of fertility and religious adherence across the globe. His book explores the relationship between childbearing and secularization and the current ways that the religious landscape of the world is being reshaped, especially in Western Europe and North America where fertility rates have fallen precipitously in recent decades. 

In your introduction, you say that there is a direct relationship between the fertility rates of a society and its religiosity. Countries with high fertility rates also (typically) enjoy higher rates of religiosity, and vice versa. Is one feeding the other, or are these just predictors of the future?

Anyone who ever took a college course on sociology knows about debates over causation and correlation. If two things happen at the same time, does one cause the other, or are they both caused by something else altogether? Or, are they simply unconnected? What I am saying is that if you look at particular countries, or regions, that linkage between fertility rates and religiosity is very strong indeed. Moreover, sudden changes in the one trend correspond really neatly to changes in the other. In fact, as I argue, you can actually use fertility changes as a predictor of what will happen in the religiosity of a particular society, and those predictions are very likely to hold good. So is this causation or correlation? 

One problem is that the two trends happen in such short time periods — maybe five or 10 years — that it is close to impossible to decide which is cause and which effect. I think for instance of a country like Italy in the 1970s, which quite suddenly in just a few years experienced a very sharp fertility drop, and where in those same years, religious practice and commitment plunged. I can actually make a good case either way, for which trend is causing which. But in a sense, that does not really matter, because the basic linkage is so solid, and attested so widely. What we can say with high confidence is that high fertility societies are also high faith, and vice versa. When a high fertility society suddenly moves to a low fertility model — and those changes do tend to be sudden — then watch closely for the religious effects.

How do the changes in fertility and focus on child-centered families change other attitudes in the society? What are some areas of rapid shifts in public attitude that have coincided with the shift in fertility and religiosity? 

I use the example of Europe from the 1960s onward, although the changes that happened there have subsequently moved over much of the globe. When family size declines, and children are less on the scene, several things happen. Quite rapidly, people lose many of the ties that previously bound them to churches or other religious institutions. They are no longer sending children to church schools or first communion classes or bar mitzvah classes. But also, society becomes more open to arguments that separate sexuality from reproduction. In the older world, families might have listened closely to what religious institutions said about enforcing sexual morality through law, but that changes quickly. In Europe, so many of these changes have happened through referenda and public votes, rather than, as in the U.S., through judicial decisions. So, you can actually map quite revolutionary changes in public attitudes, with a new openness to contraception, divorce, abortion, and gay rights issues. 

As a result, countries that in 1960 were some of the world’s most morally conservative became some of the most liberal. At every stage, you can also link these developments to changes in fertility. As society becomes more liberal or even radical on these issues, so the churches lose ever more support as they are repeatedly depicted as the bad guys seeking to staunch progress. They face a kind of vicious circle. People are prepared to accept or tolerate the churches and clergy but only as long as they keep out of private lives. In terms of how religion has always been seen as a force in public life, that is a revolutionary development.

It is not, you argue, necessarily Marx or Freud whose work has reduced the appeal of religion, but possibly the work of Louis Pasteur and advances in medicine. Why has something like germ theory shifted our understanding of the family? 

One great force driving high fertility in past centuries was the very high death rate for babies and small children. Infant mortality rates were inconceivably dreadful, so people had to have lots of children to compensate for losses. That in turn severely constrained women’s lives. New insights about germs and infections meant that infant mortality rates fell incredibly fast, and that was the essential precondition for smaller family size. At the same time, knowing the causes of disease has massively reduced the role of clergy and churches in seeking to offer healing and protection against bodily ills. Whole areas of life have been transferred to the medical profession, which now can have a real and positive impact, which was certainly not true until the mid-19th century.

Also, higher standards of health mean that death has become a less familiar and visible part of our everyday lives, and that in turn has limited what was once one of the critical functions of clergy, namely in being present at deathbeds and funerals. Today, death is more medicalized, and is regarded as something for the very old, rather than something that can strike anyone at any time. We have had a revolution in death.

Your book deals a lot with secularization theory and the idea that religion will just generally decline and eventually disappear. However, you say that secularization is a self-limiting process. What do you mean by this?

Imagine a society that is low faith and low fertility, and as I say, the two trends go together. Societies age and become more stable. They also become more secular, and more liberal in their cultural and sexual attitudes. If those are your views, you might think that is a wonderful prospect, and we are all joining together singing John Lennon’s Imagine. But a society with a median age in the 40s — and that is much of Europe today — simply cannot survive economically. It needs people to do the working class jobs, to provide the human services, and to pay the taxes. That means drawing in immigrants, who come from young and high fertility lands in the Global South. In Western Europe, that means turning to North Africa or the Middle East, or South Asia. 

But high fertility societies are also high faith societies, and those new immigrants are likely to be strongly religious, not to mention very traditional in their morality. Many immigrants are Muslim, but plenty of others are passionately Christian. So, in that sense, a secular society will inevitably be transformed by those strictly non-secular immigrants. Over time, the immigrants will often come close to outnumbering the old-stock populations. The less religious a society is today, the more religious it will become in a generation or so.

While the secularization that you note about Europe is true, America has traditionally been a sort of outlier to the conversation because it resembles European nations in many respects but has also retained high levels of religious behavior and identity. Will that trend continue or will American begin to look more like Europe in the near future? 

The U.S. was long a problem for scholars of religion, because it was high faith and (relatively) high fertility. Some of us — including myself! — spent lots of time trying to account for this paradox. For better or worse, we no longer have to explain such things because the U.S. has now moved decisively to European levels of fertility. The big change was the economic crisis of 2007-8, which increasingly looks like a social revolution in people’s ways of life and expectations. 

Today, U.S. fertility rates track closely with those of famously low-fertility Denmark, and they may well go lower: it will be very interesting to see the long-term impact of the pandemic. And as we might have expected, low fertility rapidly implies low faith. The best evidence for this is the dramatic growth of the Nones, those who reject any religious affiliation. They already outnumber Catholics, and by 2025 should be the largest component of the U.S. population, above evangelicals.

Ronald Inglehart wrote recently that “Since 2007, the United States has showed the largest shift of any country away from religion and now ranks among the world’s least religious publics.” For anyone who recalls conditions even a decade ago, that’s amazing. So yes, I do think that “Europe awaits.”

This decline in religion though is not a complete rejection of faith. There is an increase as you note in pilgrimages to holy sites and even many of the Nones (as Ryan Burge has argued in his book on the growing religious group) display some continued adherence to religious belief. So, is this part of the larger conversation about a declining trust in institutions across culture, not just the church specifically? 

And that is an excellent point. When people talk about secularization, they often see it as the same as atheism, which it is not. When people cut loose from institutions, they often maintain the underlying codes and belief system, as in the case of the Nones. But here is the problem. If you cast off moorings from any and all churches, and live what you see as a religious life free of institutions, how long can you keep that up? Decades? A generation? And more important, is that something that can be passed on to the next generation. In Europe, it took a few decades, but those Nones gradually did turn into actual atheists, who see no reason at all for the survival of religion. I am not saying that trajectory is inevitable, but it seems like one we should be aware of.

How does the question of mass migration and immigrations contribute to this discussion? What effect does an influx of immigrants have on the religious behavior and fertility rates of a country? How do immigrants change over time in terms of childbirth and religious behavior? 

Right, I mentioned this earlier. Immigrants do tend to be younger than the historic population, because they are the sort of people who are likely to make such a dramatic move, and early on at least, they are very religious. As to what happens over two or three generations, that is a different matter. Certainly, people of migrant stock tend to move toward the norms of the host society, and their fertility rates do drop. Religion is a more complex matter. Christian migrants are a major part of church life in Europe, especially in countries like Britain, and we see a very similar pattern here in the U.S.

Muslims might tend to keep their religion even longer because it is so intimately bound up with every aspect of their lives, and their social realities. It is actually a very major and difficult step to move to be a real “ex-Muslim,” even if you abandon many aspects of the belief system.

In looking at Africa, you note that soon it will demographically lay claim to the title of the most populous Christian continent. What changes can expect to arise from this shift from Western Europe and North America to the Global South, and particularly Africa? 

Some areas of the world resist the drift to low fertility: Africa, and large portions of the Middle East and South Asia. These will increasingly dominate their respective faiths. By 2050 or so, around a third of all Christians will live on the African continent, and that does not include people of African stock living elsewhere in the world. The impact on Islam will be a bit less, because Muslim numbers are holding up very well in South Asia, but the African share will certainly grow for them too.

Common wisdom has often held that individuals go through stages of religiosity over the course of their lifetimes where they may leave in their young adult years but return when they have children. How does the shift in fertility affect that concept of the faith life cycle of individuals and their possibility of returning? How does it change the way that churches need to approach ministry and outreach in the future? 

I think about all the effort that churches put into studying and catering for children and young people, and I wonder if we are asking the wrong questions. The demographic revolution sweeping the world right now has its greatest impact on the numbers of the old and very old. Those numbers are soaring, both in absolute and relative terms. How do churches cope with them, apart from just holding helpful seminars on dying, death, and estate planning? That aging, that “graying,” poses questions that most churches have scarcely begun to contemplate. Those are some of the greatest challenges to ministry and outreach, and we scarcely have the vocabulary as yet with which to approach the problem. 

By / May 20

The Indispensable Podcast, hosted by Ethan and Michaela Holsteen, is a ministry of the Louisville Regional Baptist Association (LRBA). In the podcast’s second episode, Ethan and Michaela sat down with Robert and Hollie Brookman to hear about their family’s experience regarding the challenges and blessings of navigating special needs and the church. 

The LRBA was kind enough to allow the ERLC to transcribe a portion of that episode below. You can listen to season one of the podcast on their website or Apple Podcasts. Season two will be released soon. 

It’s exciting to be able to highlight a story about one local church’s ministry to a special needs family and also to celebrate how a local association of churches is working toward disability awareness.


Introduction: (00:00)
Grief can be isolating. When we go through loss, we often want to shrink back to put up walls and pull ourselves away from others. However, what we most often need is others around us, helping us to look up from our current situation to see how God is at work and be reminded of what is true, not ignoring the pain, but learning how to walk the path of suffering well while in Christian community.

Ethan Holsteen: (00:40)
In this episode, we had the privilege of sitting down with Robert and Hollie Brookman in their home to talk about their experiences wrestling with an unexpected diagnosis and realizing the value and necessity of the church community.

Michaela Holsteen: (01:04)
Robert and Hollie Brookman have three children. And at the time of this recording, Hannah was 3 1/2, Clara was 18 months, and they had another baby on the way. Hannah has Cri du Chat Syndrome. It’s also called 5p- (Five P Minus), and it’s a rare genetic disorder. According to the Five P Minus Society website, only 50 to 60 babies are born with this syndrome in the United States every year. Can you tell us a little bit more about Cri du Chat? What does that look like?

Hollie Brookman: (01:41)
Yes. So it is a rare genetic condition where she is missing a portion of her fifth chromosome. And really all that means is that it causes some developmental delays, and can cause some health problems too. It is a spectrum disorder. So it’s all over the map. One person with Cri du Chat may or may not have any of the same characteristics or qualities as the next person with Cri du Chat, but it does result in some developmental delays, both physical and cognitive, and for Hannah right now at 3 ½ , it looks like not being able to walk on her own without holding onto something and not being able to communicate verbally right now.

Michaela Holsteen: (02:45)
After Ethan and I heard a little bit more about Hannah’s disability, Hollie and Robert described the season of life before Hannah was born. Early on in pregnancy, physicians told Hollie and Robert that Hannah was developing slowly. At around 15 weeks, the doctors referred them to a high-risk clinic, thinking that Hannah might have had Down syndrome. However, after some noninvasive testing, Hollie and Robert received the news that Hannah likely had 5P-.

Robert Brookman: (03:14)
Results came back, and we got the phone call from the genetic counselor saying, “We think it’s Five P Minus. Our first reaction was to immediately go online and look up everything we could about that. She told us not to, but right off the bat we found a lot of resources from the Five P Minus Society, which is the national support society for families

So, we felt like we were going to wait to follow up with a lot of that stuff until the diagnosis was actually confirmed. But I mean, overall, our first reaction was, I don’t know how you would describe it, but . . . 

Hollie Brookman: (03:59)
Well, the testing that we did was not conclusive testing. I think that’s kind of important for that to be established that it was a screening, and they really couldn’t, say, give us a percentage of how likely it was going to be, but only that it was very possible. And so our reaction was, “Well, let’s just not tell anyone until we know for sure.” It would have been the day that she was born when we would have figured it out. So we had several months where our first reaction was that we’re just going to keep this to ourselves. And we’re not going to tell anyone outside of maybe our parents and siblings. We were just holding onto this on our own and not really sharing it with anyone or trying to reach out or anything like that. And we lasted, how long do you think we lasted?

Robert Brookman: (04:54)
We got that phone call on a Friday, and we said, “You know what, we’re not going to tell anybody; we’re going to keep this to ourselves until we get conclusive results. We’re just going to operate as if that phone call hadn’t happened. And, um, that lasted for a day and a half. I remember on that Friday, we did not want to be alone. We called pretty much everybody in our community group to see if we could go out to dinner with somebody just to get out of our house and stop thinking about it. But you can’t stop thinking about . . .

Robert Brookman: (05:59)
So, I led our family down a very bad path. I know that for a fact. That first day we found out about this thing, it was like, “We we’re just going to . . . I told you, “We’re not going to tell anybody about this. We’re going to hold onto this. We’re not going to talk to anybody about it until we find out.” That was totally the wrong thing to do. Like just totally backward. Then we felt, “We need to tell somebody. We can’t hold on to this. Like we’re already crumbling under it, and it’s been 36 hours.”

Robert Brookman: (06:30)
It finally just hit us that if we are in a community group with a church that keeps saying that community is meant to be a support and to help carry the load and bear a lot of those burdens, and yet we’re not willing to let community do what it’s supposed to do because we’re just going to hang on to this out of our own pride and out of our own, you know . . . It’s our first kid, what do you expect? You just kind of go into it with rose-colored glasses thinking everything’s going to be fine, because that’s most people’s deal. You don’t really ever think, “Oh, the first one’s going to have a genetic disorder.” So, yeah, we made it probably a day and a half before the first people we told, who were our parents.

Robert Brookman: (07:16)
It was something to finally start to unload that. And then, you know, Sunday, obviously, we met with our community group and it was just like, this is going to be difficult to even just tell people this, because of fighting a lot of those feelings of pride and of worry and anxiety and all of it. But you know, people surprise you with how they react to stuff and you think, Oh, well, I’m so focused on how I don’t want to share this that I’ve totally lost sight of how everyone else is going to react in an encouraging way. And that’s all that we received — just encouragement time and time again.

Hollie Brookman: (08:19)
It was several months of ups and downs of emotions. And I was so thankful that we did share with our community group, because I had a lot of women in our group who were pouring into me and pointing me to the truth and reminding me that God is still good in this and that he still has a plan for her life and that it’s to glorify him no matter what she looks like, no matter her genetic makeup, no matter if she can walk or talk. And it was just so important for me to be able to hear that, to hear something that was true rather than what a lot of people’s first reaction is when you tell them something like this: “Oh, well maybe, maybe the test is wrong or, well, maybe she’ll outgrow it, or maybe . . . or, man, that’s really stinks. You do not deserve to have this happen to you.”

Hollie Brookman: (09:15)
And so it was really good that we did share it, because there were people that we trusted who were wise that could be praying for us and could point us to biblical truth throughout those months when we just didn’t know what was going to happen, but we were still processing and mourning what we thought our child was going to be coming to terms with — what God was giving us — which in the end it was still good even though it didn’t necessarily feel good at the time.

… 

Michaela Holsteen: (12:11)
So what were some specific Scriptures or biblical truths that you were clinging to during that season?

Robert Brookman: (12:17)
The one passage that I constantly go back to, that I read very early on during the pregnancy after we found out about 5P- was John 9. It’s Jesus and the disciples walking along, and they come upon a man that was born blind. So, the disciples at the beginning of the chapter lean over and they’re like, “Hey, do you know who sinned, this man or his parents, to make him born blind?” And Jesus’s reaction is, “That’s not the point. The point is not that someone did something that caused this. The point is that God’s strength and power and plan would be shown through this person’s life because he was born blind.” And then, you know, the chapter continues on, but that first five or so verses of that chapter where that interaction happens, there’s so much you can pull from that.

Robert Brookman: (13:10)
I mean, the fact that it’s not the Pharisees that are asking this question, it’s the disciples. It’s the people that you would expect to have the right answer and to know what to say in that moment who are the guys that end up asking just a really ridiculous question. And the fact that Jesus says that the point is not something happened because of something they did. You know, I think some people have the idea that special needs or things that happen like that are born out of some kind of circumstance whether that’s spiritual or otherwise. I don’t think that has anything to do with it. God has predestined people to be born differently than us. And so you know, for us, that was a really huge piece of Scripture. It was just saying that Hannah was going to be born the way she was not because of anything that we did, not because of sin in our lives that caused God’s wrath to come down on us in the form of this special needs child. Instead, it was all about the fact that God wanted this to be a part of our family’s future. And there was a plan behind it all. 

… 

Hollie Brookman: (15:03)
Yeah, it definitely shifted our focus from being internal to asking, “What is the purpose of this?” Ultimately, it’s to glorify God somehow. We might not see it now. We might not be able to conjure up some reason why God would put this in our lives, but it’s to bring him glory. And we’re going to understand that someday. I don’t know when, but we will understand it someday. What helped me in the transition from mourning the idea of what my child, my first child, was going to be like and wrestling with those emotions that come with that but not wanting those emotions to take over and make me feel like I didn’t deserve this and that God was not being good and that God was punishing me for whatever reason was: I kept being pointed to this story that comes out of Mark 9, where there’s a boy with an unclean spirit and the disciples bring this father and the boy to Jesus because the disciples have been unable to cast the spirit out.

Hollie Brookman: (16:05)
And so the man says to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And then Jesus said to him, “If I can? All things are possible for one who believes!” And immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” And that was something that I had to cry out to the Lord about often when I was in tears and a complete mess —j ust in those spirals of emotions. And at the same time, knowing God is still in control and God is still good, but there’s parts of me that didn’t believe that in those moments. And so just crying that out over and over again was something that I did as we were working through this. And that stuck out to me. And that’s something that a wise woman that I had talked to about what was going on had pointed me to from the beginning. And it’s just something that I clung to throughout the whole season of our life, where we didn’t know what was happening.

Ethan Holsteen: (17:08)
After much anticipation and a challenging delivery, Hannah was born. Her diagnosis was quickly confirmed for Robert and Hollie when they heard their newborn daughter’s unique cat-like cry which is characteristic of Cri du Chat syndrome. Further genetic testing made the diagnosis official. However, instead of feeling the anguish of anxiety upon confirmation of Hannah’s diagnosis, by God’s grace, they felt peace as well as the excitement and joy of finally meeting their daughter.

Michaela Holsteen: (17:39)
Three years later, Robert and Hollie have welcomed another little girl into their family and are awaiting the arrival of a third. Their life is not what they originally expected, but the joy and hope that they have in the faithfulness of Christ is evident. Their days now are filled with lots of laughs, spilled oatmeal, trips to multiple therapies, and filling out endless Medicaid waiver forms, yet they wouldn’t change a thing.

Ethan Holsteen: (18:07)
What does church life look like for your family? Some of the positives, some of the challenges.

Robert Brookman: (18:12)
Yeah, so, our church doesn’t have a ton of special needs individuals in it to begin with. Especially in the kids’ ministry, there’s just not that many kids with special needs. And so, you know, us being the first, as we were looking for that John 9 purpose and asking, “What is the thing that God’s got in store for us as a family? Not only just for Hannah’s life, but for us,” we thought, “Maybe this is part of what God’s wanting us to do — to get our church involved in special needs.” Our whole mentality was leaning into our church family, not away from it. That’s what we did with our community group. I think most people’s first reaction when something hard happens is to lean out. You tend to draw away from church, because of either pride or hurt or feelings of isolation thinking, “I’m the only one dealing with this, so no one else will really understand it.” Our first tendency as people is just to get away from people, but the need is to lean in.

Robert Brookman: (19:58)
And so for us, that meant, “We’re not going to pull out of church or stop serving just because we have this child that’s medically complex, that has a lot more needs. We’re going to make it easy for our church to minister to her. So whether that was educating our leaders; I know we’ve met with our church leaders a bunch of times just to talk about how we as a church can better support special needs individuals. 

Robert Brookman: (20:47)
So we met with them to talk about that stuff. And we met with families that regularly served in Hannah’s classrooms to make sure that. . . . “Hey, I want you to understand that when she’s doing these things, here’s what these things mean.” We put together a book of signs after she had started signing, you know, most people don’t know ASL, “But in case she starts doing something where she needs to communicate with you, we want you to be able to understand what she’s trying to get you to do. And so here’s a little book of what the signs look like.” So for us, it was more about equipping the people that were there to serve us and make it as easy as we could on them so that we could continue to lean in.

… 

Hollie Brookman: (22:59)
People have been super gracious and just really wanting to serve our family in this area. And so that has been really encouraging for us — the way that our community group has come around us and adjusted the way we do things in our community groups so that we can still be involved but also not neglecting the needs of our children. But just that has been really, really encouraging for us, learning what the church body is actually supposed to look like. You know, just in general for me, that has been really helpful. I’ve just learned that, wow, this is what God is talking about when the early church is being formed in Acts and we see them bearing each other’s burdens and helping each other in all these different ways. We’re really experiencing that on a weekly basis.

Michaela Holsteen: (23:57)
Their church’s response could be summed up in two words, understanding and collaboration. First understanding that Hannah’s participation in Sunday school will look different than most and also understanding that she’ll need unique and individualized care when it comes to spiritual formation and discipleship into the future.

Ethan Holsteen: (24:17)
And second, collaboration, not in the form of a support group like Robert and Hollie originally thought but rather church members coming together with pastors to form what Robert described as a spiritual care team, a team of church members working together to help people with disabilities inside their church regarding their individualized needs, inclusion, and spiritual growth.

Ethan Holsteen: (24:41)
What would be one encouragement that you would share with families struggling to find their place in the church with a child with special needs?

… 

Robert Brookman: (25:49)
Sometimes it’s hard to hear, but you’re not a member of a club. You’re a member of a body. You are not meant to go and be a consumer and only be ministered to. The whole point of a church is, yes, you go and learn things and you can be ministered to, but every person in the church serves a different role. You know, some are meant to encourage, some are meant to go, and some are meant to speak. Some are meant to be encouraged and others are meant to be encouragers, but nobody in the church is meant to be an appendix — that part of the body that no one knows what it does. And if you got rid of it, no one would care. As a member of a church, you have a job. And that job is not just, “Oh, well, I serve, I sing on Sunday mornings. Oh, I do this thing.” That job is to be there and be a part of it. And it all comes back to leaning into church and leaning into community versus leaning out. The gut reaction in times of trials and trouble and things like that is to pull away. Emotionally, it’s the first thing you want to do because it protects you. Or at least it feels like it’s going to protect you.

Robert Brookman: (27:18)
We think, “If I pull away, then I don’t have to share the hard stuff. I don’t have to be vulnerable in front of people. I don’t have to have my pride hurt. I don’t have to share my life with anybody. And that all feels really okay in the moment. Then you get down the road a couple of weeks, a couple months, a couple of years. And it’s just like, “Man, why in the world did I pull away from that?” Or worse “Why didn’t they pursue me? Why didn’t they do all this stuff?” And it totally leaves off your responsibility to be a two-way street. Lean in. 

… 

Hollie Brookman: (30:18)
And I think along with that, just being willing to be that awkward person in your community group that starts crying when there’s a bunch of new people there and they have no idea what you’re talking about. But for me, this diagnosis has taught me so much about my own pride before Hannah was born. I didn’t really understand or value the church body or value a community group. And the way that God’s timing worked out is incredible because he got us involved in the community a couple of months before we got pregnant with Hannah, and he just used that whole situation to teach me that everyone is broken and everyone is dealing with something. And he has designed people to need other people, to need the church body and to work together to encourage, and to point one another to truth.

… 

Hollie Brookman: (31:42)
My encouragement to others is just as Robert was saying to lean into it and be willing to experience something that’s uncomfortable for the purpose of experiencing what God intended the church body and community to be. 

Michaela Holsteen: (33:43)
One of the things that I really appreciated about Robert and Hollie was their transparency when it came to their initial reaction to lean away from the community and to work through this on their own. Even in the early stages of finding out that their baby could potentially have a diagnosis and how they very early on realized that they actually needed to press into the community. And they found so much comfort and support, even in surprising ways, ways they didn’t expect it.

Ethan Holsteen: (34:17)
I think once they were in that community and were interacting with the church, the church’s response was what struck me was, “Let’s create a team of people with the parents, with other people from the church to help serve this family well.” And I think that’s a good example that you don’t have to have a special needs ministry, like a formal one, in order to care. Just get with the family and do something.

Michaela Holsteen: (34:45)
Right. And they also talked about using the skill set of members that are already within their church. So if you’re a part of a church, there’s probably going to be nurses there, there might be physical therapists, occupational therapists. There are so many different people that are already members of your church with skills that can be utilized in caring for those with varying needs.

… 

Michaela Holsteen: (36:10)
Thank you for listening to the Indispensable Podcast. For more information about Cri du Chat Syndrome, check out FivePMinus.org.

By / May 6

Pastor John received a phone call from his friend, Rodney, who serves in ministry in another state. Rodney is a jovial guy, and John always enjoys talking with him about ministry and family. This day, their conversation was different. When John picked up the phone, he could tell right away that something was wrong. Rodney’s pre-teen daughter had always been more of a tomboy — preferring sports and skateboarding to dolls, jeans and sweatshirts to dresses. But a few days before the call she’d given him a shock. She pulled her mom and dad aside to tell them that she now identifies as male instead of female. The revelation shocked Rodney and his wife. They were left spinning.

Living in a gender-fluid world

We live in a time that grows increasingly accepting of gender-fluid identities. At time of writing, the social media website Facebook gives users 71 different gender options. In a recent peer-reviewed study, Lisa Littman, assistant professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences at Brown University, suggests that within the particular friend groups she studied, adolescent and college-age girls experienced increased popularity after coming out as transgender.“1Why are so many teenage girls appearing in gender clinics?” The Economist (September 1, 2018), accessed online at https://www.economist.com/united-states/2018/09/01/ why-are-so-many-teenage-girls-appearing-in-gender-clinics.

Because of these rapid cultural changes, conversations like the one I’ve described above aren’t going away any time soon. Gender identity will continue to be a regular topic for Christian parents. Knowing this doesn’t necessarily make it easier to process. Christian parents feel a flood of emotions when their teenage daughter announces, “I want to be known as Joe instead of Joan.” It can be overwhelming and even devastating to hear such news. When a daughter announces that she now identifies as a boy, her choice to wear a baseball cap backward may take on new meaning. Before it seemed like a harmless fashion statement. Now it raises your blood pressure.

Beyond the uncomfortable emotions involved, navigating conversations about gender and sex with our children means exploring emotional, moral, personal, and theological matters — serious subjects. Most parents feel a lot of pressure to respond perfectly. We’re afraid if things go sideways and our children choose to reject our values and beliefs, it could be our fault for not handling the teachable moment well. It’s easy to feel paralyzed by what we should or shouldn’t say and do. If we’re honest, we feel desperate and ill equipped.

That’s why I wrote A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Your Children about Gender. My goal in the book is to help you navigate these difficult conversations. I want to link arms with you and search the Scriptures together to learn how to respond to our children biblically as we raise them in a broken world. But before you pick up the book and begin exploring how to help our kids navigate this gender-confused culture, it’s important to confess just how weak and desperate we are.


Gender Identity — A term that is used in our culture to refer to an individual’s personal sense of identity as masculine or feminine, or some combination of each. This involves my self-understanding — how I think about myself.2Definitions adapted from Andrew T. Walker, God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? (The Good Book Company, 2017), 167, 170.

Gender-Fluid — A term used for people who prefer to be flexible when expressing their gender identity

Transgender — An umbrella term for the state or condition of identifying and expressing a gender identity that does not match a person’s biological/genetic sex.


We are desperate

None of us are experts. None of us have it all together. The older my kids get, the more it becomes clear I can’t control their destiny. Their future, health, will and desires for life, whether or not they will marry, who they will choose as a spouse, and even how long they will live — all this belongs to God. My attempts to control outcomes are fruitless. 

Our children’s self-conceptions about their gender are ultimately out of our hands. There’s a part of me that’s afraid to write down my thoughts on this topic. What if my own children reject God’s path? I can speak truth but only God can turn their hearts. The pressures and deep emotions we feel at such difficult junctures reveal that we know the stakes. If you feel desperate, you’re normal. 

But these emotions can also expose a misplaced faith. Often, we’re trusting in our parenting — our methods of discipline or the choices we’ve made about screen time and education — to ensure our kids will turn out well. You know this is true. When our kids are cute and we’re posting fun pictures of our family vacation on Instagram, we feel like we’ve made it. But when we encounter something our favorite parenting book didn’t cover, or when the parenting method we’ve trusted begins to let us down, we start to freak out.

I’m learning that this place of weakness and desperation is precisely where God wants us. When we are most vulnerable, we find Christ’s abundant strength (2 Cor. 12:9). As Martin Luther once wrote, “It is certain that a man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.”3Martin Luther, “Heidelberg Disputation (1518)” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, ed. Timothy J. Lull, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 42.  I find it incredibly encouraging when moms and dads admit they need guidance. Honest parents know they need help, and asking for it is a holy thing.

In the e-book that’s linked, you’ll find a series of six conversation topics designed to help you communicate a biblical framework for gender and sexuality to your children. My prayer is that you’ll lead in these conversations with vulnerability about your own brokenness as well as the kind of gentleness that can only come from first experiencing God’s mercy yourself. As you press into these conversations, have confidence in God’s good plans for your children. In the midst of the brokenness and confusion of this life, God is faithful to keep those who trust him and to intercede for us, especially when we are weak (1 Thess. 4:3, 8; Rom. 8:26–27).

  • 1
    Why are so many teenage girls appearing in gender clinics?” The Economist (September 1, 2018), accessed online at https://www.economist.com/united-states/2018/09/01/ why-are-so-many-teenage-girls-appearing-in-gender-clinics.
  • 2
    Definitions adapted from Andrew T. Walker, God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? (The Good Book Company, 2017), 167, 170.
  • 3
    Martin Luther, “Heidelberg Disputation (1518)” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, ed. Timothy J. Lull, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 42. 
By / Mar 18

“Kids are cute but they’re not really eco-friendly.” This is the title of a troubling 2017 article making the rounds, and making waves, on the internet. With an image of a smiling family of five pasted front-and-center, oddly enough, Caroline Mortimer spends the entirety of her allotted space comparing having children to other “carbon emitting activities” like eating meat, driving a car, and traveling by plane. The implication is that having many kids is irresponsible and harmful to the planet. 

Leaning on a study performed by Lund University in Sweden, Mortimer concludes that “having children is the most destructive thing a person can do to the environment.” As readers, we must not rush past this statement too quickly. While the article goes on to quote the referenced study, championing the good that would come if families have just “one fewer child,” Mortimer’s conclusion is more cut-and-dry––having children at all is destructive. As Christians, what are we to say to Mortimer’s grim assertion?

What God says about children

Mortimer presents a sort of utilitarian view of children—they are worthwhile only so long as their usefulness outweighs their supposed liability to the planet. In her view, and in the view of the study, because children produce something like “58.6 tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions per year,” they’re more damaging to the environment than eating meat or traveling. That being the case, their existence should be limited, says Mortimer. A child’s value is not inherent in this view, but contingent on how many brothers or sisters he or she has and their cumulative carbon output. 

Christians should know that the underlying assumption put forth by Mortimer and those who share her sentiment is both mistaken and unbiblical. A child’s value cannot be reduced to the sum total of his or her carbon footprint, but what the Author of life declares it to be. Rather than taking our cues from the assumptions of this study’s researchers and their utilitarian philosophy, we should listen to how God speaks to us in his Word. 

Here are three things God says in the Bible about children.

  1. Children are loved by God

“The most foundational thing in God is not some abstract quality, but the fact that he is Father,” says Michael Reeves in Delighting in the Trinity. He goes on to say, “He is Father. All the way down. Thus all that he does he does as Father. That is who he is. He creates as a Father and he rules as a Father.” Children are loved by God, first and foremost, because God is Father, and God is love.

Likewise, because we know that God the Father loves his Son, the second person of the Trinity, we can be certain that he loves our sons and daughters. He sent his beloved Son into the world, after all, because he “so loved it” (John 3:16). The Scriptures are replete with references and allusions and illustrations of parental love precisely because God is not just a loving Creator, but a loving parent, “A father to the fatherless” (Psa. 68:5).

  1. Children are a gift from God

In Psalm 127, Solomon’s song declares that “children are a gift from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (v. 3). Contrary to what is implied in the article referenced above, there is no hint here of children being a liability or encumbrance of any sort, but purely a gift from a kind and gracious God. 

Furthermore, we read God’s words to Adam and Eve in the earliest pages of Scripture, telling them to “be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it,” a directive that still stands. Even the phrase itself, “be fruitful,” suggests that the offspring produced through the union of man and woman is good and to be desired (like fruit), and a process by which the cultural mandate and, relatedly, the Great Commission go forward. 

We are not meant to value our children based on their utility but because they have been created by God and given as a gift. We are to take joy in receiving the gift (John 16:21) and glorify our Father in heaven.  

  1. Children are welcome in the kingdom of God

In a scene that must have confounded Jesus’ disciples, Jesus spoke to his followers, after they had barked at a group of children and those who accompanied them, saying, “Leave the children alone, and don’t try to keep them from coming to me, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14). And before leaving, the text says that Jesus “placed his hands on them.” Children are not just welcomed into the kingdom of God, they are welcomed with a hug.

But, of course, the text does not suggest that children are only welcome in God’s kingdom. Jesus states that the kingdom of God belongs to such persons, an idea that would have been unthinkable in the first century. Children, according to Jesus, are not expendable or disposable in God’s kingdom based on some carbon output equation, but are to be emulated within the kingdom. They have something to teach us. In fact, we won’t enter God’s kingdom unless we enter as little children ourselves (Matt. 18:3).

Turn and become like children

We live in an “enlightened” generation so confused as to suggest that being fruitful and multiplying is more harmful than it is blessed. But we are not called to weigh the pros and cons of a child’s carbon footprint before we consider the unchanging words of God. This sort of equational logic has no place in ascribing value to a child. 

In fact, the crux of Mortimer’s logic is entirely backward, according to Jesus. His counsel to us is not to turn children away so we can make adult decisions, from discipleship to family planning, but for adults to “turn and become like children” (Matt. 18:3), the very ones Mortimer is suggesting we disallow. Children are a gift and a blessing and a heritage, not a liability. And we have much to learn from them.

The devaluing of children is fundamentally at odds with the Christian worldview. From Jesus’ proclamation that children are welcome in the lap of God to the Apostle John’s statement that the Father calls his saints “children of God” (1 John 3:1), both physical children and spiritual children are precious and loved by the God. Rather than employing equations that suggest we sacrifice our prospective children for the sake of the planet, we should “be fruitful and multiply,” bearing children for the cause of joy, for the sake of the gospel, for the good of the nations, and, yes, for the sake of our planet. So may the children of the world abound and teach us what it means to be “great in the kingdom of heaven.”

By / Mar 9

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a creeping global disaster is taking hold of families that can’t be fixed with a vaccine. A tsunami of children are at risk of being institutionalized in orphanages due to crippling poverty and loss of life as a result of the pandemic.

While churches may want to rush to help these displaced COVID-19 victims by donating to orphanages, it is also important to consider ways we might support these children and prevent them from being institutionalized in the first place.

A growing problem

In addition to the loss of parents and caregivers, the pandemic’s economic devastation is expected to pull as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty this year, according to the World Bank. This will be the first time this century that the number of people living in extreme poverty will increase rather than continuing its historic decline. An estimated 5.4 million children are already living in orphanages around the world—a number that will surely rise alongside the increasing number of impoverished families.

There is a direct connection between poverty and the institutionalization of vulnerable children. As much as 80 percent of children in orphanages today have a living parent. Furthermore, preliminary research shows that the children who have lost a parent due to COVID often still have a remaining parent and other family members to care for them. In times of crisis, without access to support, parents make the hard choice to place their children in an orphanage because they are unable to provide for them.

The proliferation of orphanages should concern every Christian because it is a direct affront to God’s design for families. With the right support, parents or close relatives can care for the majority of would-be orphans. If living with a biological family is not an option, local foster care and adoption are great secondary options that provide what a child needs most: a loving family. Decades of research show that children develop best in families, not orphanages.

The good news is, many churches are now choosing to move toward missions programs that support family-based care for orphans and vulnerable children. There’s something we can all do to help.

3 ways the church can help

First, it’s imperative that we know the facts and understand our role. Chances are, requests for more financial support for orphan care will rise along with the number of extreme poor. If you personally donate to a ministry that operates one or more orphanages, or your church does so with your tithe dollars, then it’s not just a distant concern. This question hits home for all of us: Is your charity answering the biblical call to care for the orphan by ensuring that they can live in a loving family? Or is it unintentionally tearing families apart?

Second, churches and other ministries in the United States have always played a crucial role in responding to global disasters. Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and other natural catastrophes consistently raise millions of dollars in donations to charitable relief efforts, as was seen with the response to Hurricane Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico. The economic impact of COVID-19 must be considered in this category of global emergencies worthy of our attention and donations. In emergencies such as this, it is critical to fill the funding gaps and support local recovery efforts before children are placed in orphanages.

Third, international ministries and organizations must lead in solving this global problem. In 2019, the United Nations unanimously passed the Resolution on the Rights of the Child, which confirmed a commitment to prioritizing strengthening families over placing children in institutions. A growing group of over 60 Christian nonprofit organizations, including my own, affirmed that priority with the creation of the Global Church Pledge to See Children Thriving in Safe and Loving Families. Little did we know that our resolve would be so greatly tested by a global pandemic.

It takes a village

The problems facing children and families around the world are enormous and can feel overwhelming, especially as we are still dealing with COVID-19’s toll on our own lives. No single organization, government, or other entity is going to be able to tackle the problem on its own, but we can all do something. You can start by signing the Global Church Pledge, where you will learn more about the specific ways you can help at the individual or local church level.

There are millions of COVID-19 victims who are not in hospitals. They are headed for—or are already institutionalized in—orphanages. It’s time for churches to mobilize on behalf of these vulnerable children so they can thrive within a loving family, either by staying with their own parents or by being placed with other family members or a foster family. Children need families, and families reeling from the devastating economic impact of COVID-19 need our support to care well for their children.

By / Feb 3

There’s a conversation that I keep hearing about over and over again. I’ve heard one side from my friends and fellow millennials. I’ve heard the other side from parents and grandparents who’ve engaged me for my thoughts. The conversation is about the divide that is emerging, especially among evangelical families, over politics.

Honestly, I’ve heard others recount some version of this conversation more times than I can remember. (And apparently I’m not alone. See the reader question here.) Each time, it is always marked by frustration and typically lament. Most of the young Christians I know take no pleasure in fighting with their parents or grandparents about politics. Likewise, in my experience, most of the men and women in the generations above my own also regret the relational cost that these conflicts often bear.

Principles vs. practice

This issue is difficult and increasingly common. And there are no easy answers. By that I do not mean that there isn’t any hope. What I mean is that neither the Scriptures, nor the Christian tradition, offer specific instructions to us in this area. Politics is often a prudential exercise. Yes, there are bedrock principles that we can lift directly from the pages of our Bibles to inform our political perspectives. But the truth is that even these points of clarity do not carry us all the way from the level of principle all the way to application.

Let me illustrate the point. Probably the clearest “political” question of our day that is directly addressed in Scripture is abortion. The Bible is astoundingly clear about the sanctity of human life, about the dignity of personhood, and that life begins in the womb (Psalm 22:10, 139:13-16, Jer. 1:5). And because this is so clear, few of the evangelicals that I know, regardless of their generation, are tempted to equivocate on the issue. Christians who hold fast to the Scriptures will consistently oppose abortion. But even this very clear issue, raises further questions about which Christians are divided. 

Some argue that the only policies a Christian should support concerning abortion are those that would bring about the total abolition of the practice. Others, who are equally opposed to abortion, argue that Christians are free to support any policy that would reduce the number of abortions being performed, even if such a policy represents only an incremental reduction. And there are further questions beyond these. For instance, whether legislation to curtail abortion should also increase public funding to help single mothers or families in financial distress.

This is only one example of how Christians can find themselves at odds over the implications of a belief they hold in common. And in this case the underlying principle is exceedingly clear. So you can easily imagine what happens when the connections between policies and biblical principles are even less direct: Are Christians bound to vote for this candidate? Are Christians sinning if they vote for that candidate? Should Christians even belong to a political party? 

Understanding political decisions

Such questions lead me back to the ongoing conflicts between Christians of different generations. I won’t pretend to know the whole cause for this. But I am confident that at least part of the reason lies in the fact that political decisions are made on the basis of multiple factors including knowledge, wisdom, and experience.

Thinking through the factors that shape our political decisions can help us show more grace and understanding when fellow believers come to different conclusions than our own. In terms of knowledge, when these disagreements show up among evangelicals, it is usually not because we are appealing to different sources of authority. Across these generations, we use the same Bible. We read the same passages. And as I mentioned, Christians of all ages are generally agreed at the level of principle when it comes to recognizing significant moral and political implications within the Scriptures.

Thinking through the factors that shape our political decisions can help us show more grace and understanding when fellow believers come to different conclusions than our own.

This is where wisdom comes in. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge. My favorite definition defines wisdom as “the proper application of knowledge.” And I think this is crucial for understanding these generational clashes when it comes to politics. Seeking to correctly apply knowledge is not just a matter of processing certain information; it is also a matter of experience. As we deliberate important issues and make consequential decisions, our knowledge is combined with our experience to help us choose the best path forward.

One fairly common thread in the many contentious conversations that have been relayed to me sounds something like this: “You haven’t seen what I’ve seen!” That’s actually more important than it first appears. All of us are shaped by our experiences. And because that’s true, it isn’t really surprising that some of these conflicts emerge along generational lines. To some degree, it makes sense that people who lived in the same culture through the same events would share similar assumptions or perspectives. It’s also not surprising that people who did not share such experiences may not share the same perspectives as those who did.

Reducing the tension

For Christians who have experienced these issues, here are several practices to consider that may help these conversations generate more light and less heat.

First, remember that politics should not disrupt Christian unity. Politics are deeply important. Political outcomes affect real peoples lives—our health, freedom, safety, even our ability to worship and practice our faith. But allowing politics, which is always a penultimate exercise, to create discord among believers is almost always a mistake. I say almost always because it is never acceptable for a Christian to jettison or violate the clear teaching of Scripture to advance a political agenda, and such error may warrant correction. But assuming this isn’t the case, it is surely a mistake to allow prudential matters to damage our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Second, remember that political decisions are rarely linear. Though it is often portrayed otherwise, addressing political issues as a Christian is more complicated than simply holding a ballot in one hand and a Bible in the other. Let me say clearly: when it comes to politics, the Scriptures are the very best tool we have at our disposal. But it’s important to acknowledge that each of us brings all kinds of assumptions and background knowledge with us when we approach any political issue. Assuming that all of the positions we hold, the party we belong to, and the exact candidates we support are the only legitimate (or biblical) options for Christians not only sets an impossibly high standard, but sets ourselves up as judges over the consciences of our fellow believers. And as pastor-theologian Kevin DeYoung reminds us, we must exercise great caution in attaching God’s name to our political pronouncements, lest we violate the third commandment.

Third, should political issues become contentious between younger Christians and their parents (or any older saints), I would encourage younger Christians to do their best to show deference and respect to their elders. Conflict between parents and their children is nothing new. After all, God addressed the issue in the Decalogue (Ex. 20:12). Age does not yield in infallibility. But younger Christians should seek to honor older saints, weighing their words carefully and assuming that their experience often brings benefits and insight. And perhaps both sides should have the humility to recognize that their own position could be in error, as well as the confidence to believe that the same Holy Spirit is actively guiding them both parties.

Finally, I would encourage any Christian to reevaluate the goal of these kinds of conversations. There is nothing wrong with political zeal. But I can only assume that less of these conversations would devolve into diatribes or shouting matches if Christians entered them seeking to learn instead of win. Browbeating another believer into submission may be cathartic, but is hardly praiseworthy. Rather than avoiding political issues entirely, Christians should engage one another with charity, seeking to learn and persuade instead of coerce or destroy.

By / Jan 12

It was just after my kids’ school shut last March, as the pandemic spread and our government locked us down, that my 5- and 7-year-olds asked me what would happen next.

“I don’t know,” I told them.

I saw my daughter’s expression change as she came to terms with a new thought: Daddy doesn’t know. Always before, mommy and daddy had known. Suddenly, they didn’t. Neither did our pastor, our city mayor, or our national leaders.

Don’t underestimate the effect that 2020 had on young kids. Much has been written, discussed and preached about how the pandemic has affected adults. But, as we stand at the start of another year, which has already brought its own measure of uncertainty and unforeseen challenges, perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves: How do we teach our kids to trust God when the world flips, when uncertainty swoops in, when even the grown-ups who love them don’t know what to do?

1. Teach them this is normal

The truth is, this is a fallen world. I realized through 2020 that although my theology tells me that this is a broken world, my working assumption was more Western than it was biblical—that things will always get better despite the odd blip, that technology triumphs, and that life will turn out okay.

Throughout 2020 I wanted to tell my children what I wanted to tell myself: that life will soon be back to normal. But the truth is that this is normal. We live in a world under the curse. Life is often painful toil, and one day we will return to dust (Gen. 3:17–19). Read Revelation and, whatever your view of the millennium, you’re not going to emerge with a view of this earth as a rosy, comfortable place.

There is no point in pretending things are basically fine to our kids when they can see the truth of fallenness all around us, as well as within us. As Christians, we have the opportunity to give our kids a worldview that accords with their lived reality, rather than a sugary secular fairytale that collapses at their first contact with experience.

2. Teach them that humanity is finite

I wonder if the greatest danger for humanity in this season is not the pandemic but the vaccine. (To be very clear: I do not mean that the vaccine is a physical danger, but that our societies’ response to its existence may be a spiritual danger.) It will be interpreted as humanity’s great victory over death, as proof that modern science knows no challenge it cannot overcome. We will celebrate our own awesomeness, and we will forget the reason we needed a vaccine in the first place—that there is no vaccine against death.

What should breed humility in us is more likely to prompt hubris. At that point, our kids will need a robust understanding that “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone” (Psa. 103:15-16). We will need, gently but clearly, to remind our kids that this is a vaccine against COVID-19—and that we should be very thankful for it—but that it is not a vaccine against death itself; that it extends life but does not save life. We will need to explain to them (and to ourselves) that science can help us navigate a fallen world, but it cannot overcome it. The serpent-crusher did his work on a cross, not in a lab.

3. Teach them that God is unchanging and sovereign

As C.H. Spurgeon famously said, “The sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which the child of God rests his head at night, giving perfect peace.”

God is not surprised by the pandemic, and he is sovereign over how and when it ends. He is not surprised by the tensions gripping the culture of so many Western nations in one way or another, and he will work out his purposes in and through them. He does not change, and so the endpoint of history is certain.

I need to teach my kids this, and the truth is, I need to teach myself this. They will learn more from what they see in me than they will in what they hear from me. When I am tempted to fear, to be impatient, to despair, I must preach God’s immutability to my own heart first, and then to theirs. When Daddy doesn’t know, that’s okay, because our heavenly Father does.

4. Teach them that Christ has triumphed

The pandemic shocked us because it has upset our basic modernistic assumption that we can keep death at bay. Again, rather than running from the truth that death happens, we can run to the one who defeated death—and lead our children to him, too.

While the world tells children things will be okay, we don’t. But we can tell them that in Christ all is ultimately, and eternally, okay. The empty tomb is the rock-solid certainty that no tidal wave can sweep away. Christ is risen, just as he promised; and so every other one of his promises will come true, too. “Christ is risen” is the three-word answer to the uncertainties of this life. He has triumphed over death, and so our kids can look the fallenness of the world and the finitude of humanity in the face, and smile.

Fear not

So no, kids, daddy doesn’t know what will happen in 2021. 2020 has humbled him sufficiently to know that he doesn’t really know. Curveballs will come. Life may not get better. And that’s okay. This is an uncertain world, with a certain end. And for the Christian, the route may not be clear, but the destination is sure.

Since 2020, my kids have lost a fair amount. They’ve lost out on some of their education. They’ve lost the ability to play with friends in the park and welcome them into their home. They’ve lost out on seeing grandparents and cousins. They’ve lost the idea that their dad knows what’s going on.

Nevertheless, this season will be one more of gain than of loss if it helps them to see through the Western assumptions that their father has found so hard to shed; if it gives them the chance to climb Mount Zion, stand before an empty tomb, and know that there is a risen, reigning Savior who they can trust when they cannot trust anything else. If as parents all we do in 2021 is lead them to that place, that will have been a great year.

“Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Rev. 1:17-18)