By / Nov 2

Proposition 1 is a ballot initiative on HERO—Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance—a proposed sexual orientation, gender identity, nondiscrimination law. The ordinance is more commonly known as “the bathroom ordinance” as it includes regulations for the use of restrooms and locker rooms in the city limits. Any individual in our city would be allowed to use whichever gender based restroom or locker room they most identify with that day. For example, any male in our city would be free to enter a women's restroom or locker room simply by claiming he self-identifies as a female. Churches would be exempt from the proposed ordinance.

Proposition 1 is an unacceptable proposal on at least two major levels:

First, it is a clear infringement on religious liberty in our city. Every private business owner should be free to operate their business according to their personal beliefs without the fear of unjust government punishment. The government was formed to be freedom's greatest protector, not its greatest threat. We surrender to Caesar what is Caesar’s: tax money. But we surrender to God what is God's: our conscience. If Prop 1 passes, private business owners who are Catholic, Muslim, Mormon, Christian and more will be forced to operate their private businesses contrary to their personal convictions.

Proposition 1 is also a significant infringement on the safety and privacy of many people in our city. All women and young girls should be free to use public restrooms and locker rooms in Houston without fear of a man watching them in their most vulnerable state. This ordinance will provide cover for perverted and malicious individuals to access our women and children. Surely there are solutions to sexual orientation, gender identity and public service challenges whose costs do not have to be carried by the young girls of our city.

Evangelicals nationally may not realize this ordinance is directly related to the Houston city government issuing sermon subpoenas to five Houston pastors in the Fall of 2016; the fight over this matter has been going on for eighteen months. The Mayor of Houston had this ordinance put into law by the City Council. Fortunately, city law also allows Houston citizens to collect a certain number of signatures on a petition and force a city council decision to be brought to a public vote. Thousands more signatures were collected than the minimum necessary. Every signature was accompanied by detailed and verified information. The petitions were notarized. The Mayor promptly had her City attorney invalidate the signatures. She simultaneously attempted to bully Houston pastors by issuing far-reaching subpoenas to five high profile pastors, demanding all sermons, emails, letters and text messages. Houston pastors were undeterred. The petitions were appealed all the way to the Texas Supreme Court who ruled 7-0 that the signatures are indeed valid and ordered the Mayor to repeal the ordinance or put it up for a city vote. The Proposition 1 vote on November 3rd is the result of this eighteen month process.

Eighteen months ago, a poll showed the vast majority of our city opposes this ordinance. But in the end, it won't matter how many city residents oppose the ordinance—it will matter how many voters oppose the ordinance. The evangelical pastors of our city, including myself, are highly motivated to defeat Prop 1 as religious freedom is clearly a gospel issue, and the protection of our city's little girls is clearly a fundamental human right. For people in our city who are tired of the attack on religious liberty, this is a clear target to shoot at: “Vote no on Prop 1.” Northeast Houston Baptist Church is mobilizing our members, utilizing stage announcements and social media. Our pastors participated in a press conference with over 100 other evangelical pastors, asking our city to “Vote no on Prop 1.”  The Houston Area Pastor's Council is running television commercials and social media advertisements and yard signs are peppered in many yards.

Lord willing, voters will force our government to find a way to provide public services to our city without infringing on religious liberty or exposing many of our citizens to harm.

By / Aug 10

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Genesis 32. Jacob is fleeing his father-in-law Laban after spending twenty years in his household. As he flees, Jacob is anticipating meeting his elder brother Esau, whose birthright he stole prior to leaving home. The first 21 verses of chapter 32 relay Jacob’s fear of his brother Esau because of the anger he expects to find in him. Chapter 33 discusses the meeting of the two brothers, and the remarkable grace Esau extends to Jacob. Jacob’s fear and the meeting with Esau bookend the final 11 verses of chapter 32, where Jacob physically wrestles with God, seeking to obtain His blessing. It is only after this wrestling and the blessing of God that Jacob is prepared to move forward and approach Esau.

I love this passage because I see its pattern of fear, wrestling and ensuing blessing in much of life. Perhaps more than any other time in our lives, this Genesis 32 model applies to the college years for young Christians. As a rising junior at a large public university, I have experienced this pattern of fear, wrestling and blessing in my own life. I believe that my experiences and relationships have given me insight into some of the biggest inhibitors to faith for college students.

I have seen two primary forces in the college experience that sidetrack, and in many cases, derail, the faith of Christian students: the persistent and ubiquitous presence of doubt and the constant affirmation and promotion of a self-centered lifestyle. An understanding of both of these forces sheds light on the lies that students believe and leads to a deeper understanding of the God who enables his children to grow in their relationship with Him through their earnest wrestling.

The inevitability of doubt

From the day I stepped on campus, I began to learn that doubt is at the very core of the college student’s life. I experienced this with the people I encountered during my first month at school. When weeks passed and I did not immediately find a group of friends that I wanted to identify with, the self-doubt set in. I think this is an experience that resonates with many students.

Though including doubt regarding the nature and presence of God, the doubt in the mind of the college student extends far beyond that. College provides an endless source of questions, some trivial and some important: Do I fit in here? Do I have the right clothes? Who do I spend my time with? What will people think if I eat dinner by myself in the dining hall? What am I going to do with my life? They are endless and persistent. All this questioning can lead to doubt within, including doubting the nature and presence of God. The pervasive presence of doubt challenges even the strongest confidence in the truth of the gospel.

The lure of the self-centered life

Additionally, college is inherently a self-centered time of life. It’s designed to be a time to prepare yourself for your future, and so it should be. However, this necessary focus on bettering yourself creates a deeply self-serving lifestyle. The good of learning and developing skills frequently degenerates into grade competition, resume’ padding and activities and connections pursued because they look good.

In this environment, the self becomes far more salient than all others. This is entirely contrary to the truth of the gospel. The teaching of the Bible, in the words of 1 Corinthians is that you are not your own. And the very nature of Jesus is self-sacrificing. The dichotomy between the self-serving nature of college and the self-denying nature of the gospel produces a serious conflict in the minds of college students.

The honest way to wrestle with doubts

These are both issues that college students, myself included, need to wrestle with deeply, praying for the Lord to bless our wrestling. How can we honestly wrestle with the temptations doubts and self-centeredness present during our college years and remain in a posture of dependence on and trust in God?

It is necessary to recognize that uncertainty is not exclusive to Christianity. You should not abandon Christianity solely on the basis of uncertainty or doctrinal questions because those are not qualities produced by Christianity, Instead, they are qualities that are intrinsic to human nature. Whatever alternative you choose will also produce deep uncertainty and questions; whatever doctrine you accept (and you will accept one) will have its grey areas. As Tim Keller puts it in his introduction to The Reason for God, “The only way to doubt Christianity rightly and fairly is to discern the alternate belief under each of your doubts and then to ask yourself what reasons you have for believing it.”

We can pursue answers to our questions without our faith depending on finding them. But, what do we need to understand about God to help us do that? College students need to believe that the God of the Bible is big enough to speak contrary to their beliefs. He is not merely an advocate for specific issues; He is a God of the fathomless, eternal big picture. Instead of specifically speaking to most of the issues that confront us daily, His teaching and His story tell us the nature of God, the truth about the fallenness of man, and the story of redemption, providing us with truth of cosmic proportions.

When college students come to know a God who is a moralist do-gooder, they find a God too small and unworthy to correct them. When college students come to know a God whose truth, rooted in the gospel, touches every issue and extends far beyond any single issue, they find the one true and worthy God, the only one big enough to contradict them.

Praise God that He does not begin and end with an issue; instead, He begins and ends with love and truth, the reality for which college students are perpetually yearning. May the college years not cause us to turn away from the truth we crave but instead lead us to wrestle with God through our questions, finding Him in that wrestling.

By / Jul 28

Trillia Newbell interviews Jen Wilkin about teaching our daughters to fight fear and learning how to study the Word.

By / Aug 25

NOTE: Sherif Girgis will be one of the speakers at the ERLC National Conference: “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” The conference is designed to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches. This event will be held at the iconic Opryland Hotel on October 27-29, 2014. To learn more go here.

We are all called to defend marriage so that the truth can change hearts, minds, and lives. As the early pro-life activists did, we must invest the long-term political, legal, cultural, and spiritual capital to win down the line.

One might grant, as I argued in my last two articles (here and here), that philosophy matters in general and on marriage—and that, with the right help, it can influence culture—but still wonder whether the marriage fight is worth waging. Isn’t it lost, given political and legal trends? Isn’t it peripheral to the Christian mission anyway?

A Live Battle

The pro-life cause was doing worse in the 1970s than the marriage cause is now. We are winning the first because an earlier generation refused to give up. Why, then, give up on marriage?

Around the time of Roe v. Wade, public opinion was moving swiftly for abortion on demand. Pro-life politicians (like Ted Kennedy and Bill Clinton) were “evolving,” and pro-lifers were aging. They were accused of being anti-woman, warned of being caught on history’s bad side. And of course, the Court’s decision in Roe made substantive protections impossible for the foreseeable future.

But a few pro-life leaders were undaunted, and their intellectual and cultural work has paid off. My generation is more pro-life than my parents’, and my children’s will likely be still more.

While the spirit of the Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down DOMA’s federal definition of marriage gives liberalizing judges all the premises they need to remake state marriage laws, it doesn’t require this, as Roe required abortion on demand.

Maybe it was meant to trigger a cascade of successful challenges to state laws so that when the Supreme Court later returned to impose genderless marriage nationwide, it would be riding faster cultural currents. But this would mean that Justice Scalia’s dissent was right: the Court will do on marriage just whatever it thinks it can get away with. Might it flinch from imposing redefinition if it fears the fury of a vibrant marriage movement? The answer depends not on impersonal currents of history but on what we do. That is why continued argument and advocacy on the whole range of marriage and family issues—including this one—remain crucial.

A Battle Worth Fighting

Not only does social action make long-term legal defeat less likely; it also serves the broader value for which legal victory is just a component and condition: the shaping of hearts and minds—and lives—in line with the truth.

After all, our freedom to live out and pass on our views of marriage is also more threatened after the DOMA decision. By deeming conjugal marriage supporters bigots, the Court makes it easier for lawmakers and courts to use anti-discrimination laws and public education to drive us to the margins of public life. And then it will be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than, say, for my own (future) children to pass through college with a sound marital ethic—even as an earlier generation’s efforts made it easier for me to be pro-life.

So the DOMA decision heightens the value of winning, while lowering the odds of a near-term win. What to do then? Christians can’t pick and choose what to defend; the Great Commission is not selective, nor subject to judicial veto. Moreover, this isn’t just about theological witness, but about duties we owe to the least of our brothers and sisters, Christian or otherwise—especially to see to it, by our cultural norms, that children know the care of the man and woman whose love gave them life.

Indeed, though some try to draw a razor-sharp line between them, the fight for marriage serves the fight for life. The redefinition of marriage and the abortion license flow from the same cultural lie: That the individual, but not the family, is of basic social and moral value. That personal adult fulfillment trumps the needs of children—who can be deliberately deprived of their own parents, or extinguished, if only our sense of fulfillment demands it. That sex has no inherent procreative significance and no value besides its power to please.

Redefining marriage would more formally and finally elevate those untruths into law, giving them greater cultural currency. It would also make it harder to rebuild the broken marriage culture that increases the demand for abortion. Just as family life fulfills marriage, so robustly protecting life calls for protecting marriage. That is another reason we can’t give up on the latter.

Nor, to tie this discussion to the first essay in this series, does any Christian principle diminish the importance of a good philosophy and policy of marriage. Yes, Christians have the broader mission of bringing all into God’s household, his endless feast of life and love for the marriage of Christ and the blessed. But as I have argued, even that mission is served by good moral philosophy—and by the freedom to preach, and the healthy culture on which grace can build, that just laws promote.

Yes, for the Christian, truth is prior to action. But it’s quite another thing, hardly Christian, to posit a divorce of truth from action. Christ did not show us the Father so that we might have better seminars. The early Christians didn’t wage battle and shed blood over solemn dogmas and definitions just to preserve an “enchanted” metaphysic. As with any invitation to love, every bit of God’s self-revelation is meant to shape our lived response. That response includes claiming what we can of this culture for the moral as well as spiritual truths revealed in Christ.

Yes, for the Christian, too much focus on public affairs has risks. The allure of Caesar’s courts, the love of money or applause can choke spiritual life. Our modern bureaucratic bent can promote an idolatry of the national and contempt for the local that undermine the very love of family and neighbor we would champion. The lecture circuit can enable the peculiar hypocrisy of preaching the values of family at the expense of one’s own. These are arguments for encouraging prayer and ascesis by and for cultural advocates—not against the advocacy.

In short, my disagreement is not with those who want the Church to tend more to her own, or with those who want it to be more aggressively evangelical, but with their shared assumption that we can best do just one or the other. We must do both.

But if we cannot forfeit the cultural fight on marriage, and recent developments block any immediate victory, we must take the long view. We must do on marriage, even before we get a full-on “Roe on marriage,” what we’ve been doing for years on life issues, even after the actual Roe: investing the long-term political, legal, cultural, and spiritual capital to win down the line. And if redefined marriage is built upon a lie—about the human good and the common good—then it will eventually take its place on the ash-heap of history alongside so many other “inevitabilities” (like Marxism, or settled support for abortion access) built on lies. But to play our own part in dismantling the lie, we can never flag in bearing witness to the truth.

Even before we achieve visible success—broad impact in this world—we know that the fight, the witness, even the peaceful endurance of defeats will make its own lasting contribution, through character and other spiritual fruits, to thelongest-term project of all, for that greatest of common goods called the Kingdom. This greater battle is not one that our temporal opponents can make us lose; it is won if we stay on the field, and lost if we flee.


One critique of natural-law argumentation, by theologian David Bentley Hart, ends with this:

For what it is worth, I am in the end quite happy for believers in natural law theory to continue plying their oars, rowing against the current (so long as they do so in keeping with classical metaphysics), but I do not think they are going to get where they are heading; so I shall just watch from the bank for a while and then wander off to the hills (to look for saints and angels).

He doubts the “rowing” philosophers will get where they’re heading but declines to jump in. He boasts of “wander[ing] off” in search of “saints and angels,” as if his freedom to search weren’t secured by those going “against the current” in the courts and the public square.

No doubt we are all called to contemplation amid the saints and angels. But for most of us, desire for their everlasting hills bids fidelity, here and now, to a call in the world: to stay in the boat, and put out into the deep, at the demand of the Lord who commands the wind and the seas of history.

Originally published at Public Discourse. Reprinted with permission.