Randy Stinson speaks on Building a Peaceful Home at the 2018 ERLC National Conference.
Editor’s Note: Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, where Bryant Wright, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is pastor, was recently featured in The Atlanta Journal Constitution for their work in helping to resettle a Syrian refugee family. The ERLC reached out to Dr. Wright to ask him why, despite the controversy surrounding refugee settlement, their church decided to assist this family.
Why is it important for JFBC to help refugees like the Syrian family you are currently assisting?
As a church, we take seriously Christ’s command to share his love and spread his gospel to all nations. We go to great lengths to empower our people to live out Christ’s Great Commission to the ends of the earth. In that light, we send numerous mission teams all over the world—in 2015 alone we sent out 1,922 people on 80 teams to 31 countries.
And yet, we cannot ignore the needy in our city, such as the homeless and now the refugee population. We are astounded by the number of refugees who have made it to our city in recent years, people from war-torn countries like Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Burma, Colombia and now Syria.
How could we ignore these people?
Christ clearly commands us to be his ambassadors, his hands and feet among these poor and vulnerable families. We are compelled to help meet their physical needs, and we also are compelled to address spiritual needs. In addition, Jesus, along with Mary and Joseph, were refugees in Egypt when an evil and cruel King Herod ordered the massacre of Jewish boys younger than two years old in Bethlehem. Jesus also teaches us in Matthew 25 that how we treat the “least of these” is how we show our love or lack of love for Him.
The gospel is the “power of God for the salvation of all who believe,” including refugees fleeing the horrors of war and seeking a new life. As great as America is, our country cannot truly satisfy their needs. The new life these families seek can only be found in Jesus. It is for this reason that we serve them.
Laura Valentine joins Trillia Newbell to share her fascinating story and her passion for reaching abandoned children of the world through adoption.
You can learn more about Valentine, her mininstry and her passions at laura-valentine.com.
National Adoption Month. It’s a time for celebration.
The word “adoption” evokes so many beautiful images:
- Lonely children received into open, loving arms
- Judges banging gavels declaring formerly orphaned children officially “yours”
- The wonderful diversity of multi-ethnic families
Adoption is beauty from ashes. It’s redemption. It’s hope. It’s grace. It’s unconditional love. And sometimes, like all good things, it’s really, really hard.
Getting honest about adoption
This year marks our family’s 15th anniversary of celebrating National Adoption Month in a deeply personal way. God made us a family through the blessing of adoption, and each of our four kids has enriched our lives in ways too numerous for us to ever recount.
But the journey has also been much more difficult than we could have ever imagined.
I’ve noticed that this admission sometimes makes people uncomfortable. As a people-pleaser, that used to unsettle me. Sometimes it still does. But it’s important that we look at this issue with eyes wide open.
This Adoption Month, as the Church, we need to be committed to telling the truth—the truth that encapsulates both the difficulty that can accompany adoption and the “completely worth it!” reality that permeates even the hard stuff. And flowing out of that, we also have a chance this November to embrace the idea that everyone has a role to play in adoption—even if they aren’t actually called to adopt.
God loves the orphan
But first things first: God’s view. As believers, we know that “In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:5). Each one of us belongs to the family of God through the gift of adoption. This is a good thing—a very good thing! Adoption on earth represents the most powerful spiritual reality there is—a reality seen throughout the whole arc of the Scripture—that God welcomes us into his family through Christ.
It only takes a casual familiarity with Scripture to understand God’s deep love for orphans. He constantly pleads their cause in his Holy Word, and he tells us to do the same. The verses are probably familiar. God is “A Father to the fatherless…and he sets the lonely in families” (Ps. 68:5). “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress…” (James 1:27a—probably the favorite verse of orphan advocates worldwide). Another one that resonates strongly with me is the admonishment “not to encroach on the fields of the fatherless because their defender is strong and he will take up their cause” (Prov. 23:11). In other words, don’t mess with God’s children!
God is with us in adoption
But Scripture is also chock-full of warnings to count the cost, to expect suffering, and to be joyful in the trials that will inevitably come. Why should we be joyful? Because God is with us. And he’s not just “with us” in a general, esoteric sense. He’s actually near to the broken-hearted. What does that mean? And how does it apply to adoptive parents (and indeed, all parents)?
Families who welcome children through adoption realize that, in many cases, those children come from very traumatic backgrounds—whether it’s from an orphanage in a developing nation where kids are left in dirty cribs and rarely experience the touch of another human being, or from foster care where they are sometimes abused, neglected or abandoned. Many are exposed to drugs or alcohol in utero. And all have been separated from God’s original plan: to experience comfort, protection, love and a sense of belonging from their birth mothers. Early trauma like this changes a child’s brain and may bring significant challenges later in life. These challenges accompany the child into their new family. And sometimes, those challenges stretch parents to their limits and beyond.
You can help without adopting
But here’s the great news. If you can pray, cook, clean, drive, shop, or babysit, you could be used by God to help these families! You can be a part of God’s plan to be near to the broken-hearted. If you’re one of those wonderful folks who has always loved the redemptive, life-affirming aspects of adoption but never known where you fit in, you have a wonderful opportunity to reach out to the adoptive parents in your circle of influence and offer them some much-needed margin.
All of us in the adoption world want to encourage, catalyze and galvanize those in the Church who are not called to adopt to get involved by supporting an adoptive family in their congregation.
- Enlist your whole family to provide support for another family.
- Enter in, and commit to help them along the way.
- Bring a meal every Friday night for three months.
- Invite their kids to spend time at your house.
- Offer to drive them to regular doctor appointments or other activities.
While many parents are busy with sports, music, and enrichment activities for their kids, adoptive families are consumed with medical appointments, therapist visits, and IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings at school. They wouldn’t change that for the world, because again, it’s so worth it. But knowing there are other families to support them through prayer, encouraging words, and practical help can feel like a gift from heaven.
When Christ-centered community happens, everyone thrives—kids, families, and those offering support. It may seem like a small thing, but it’s not. The more the Church steps up to fill in the gaps, the more adoptive families will thrive, rather than just survive. More thriving adoptive families mean more people willing to consider adoption themselves, resulting in fewer lonely kids waiting for families to call their own. That’s what it’s all about! Each one of us has a role to play in God’s wonderful plan to set the lonely in families.
For more information about how to support adoptive families in your church or community, visit Focus on the Family’s website.
I went to the dermatologist the other day for my yearly checkup. In the course of my appointment, I mentioned that I had broken my arm this summer. The doctor paused and looked at me, asking how it happened. I knew why she asked. It wasn’t simple curiosity that prompted the question. Rather, she is a health professional, trained to look out for signs of abuse in her patients. As soon as I told her I fell while trying to teach my kids how to roller skate, she moved on with the exam.
Educators, counselors, those in law enforcement, and health professionals all receive training in how to identify a victim of domestic violence. Many states require such training for licenses. But for those who work in ministry, too few are aware of the signs of domestic abuse or what to do when they hear about such abuse from one of the members of their congregation.
The U.S. Department of Justice defines domestic violence as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.”
Statistics report that one quarter of all women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives. While men can also be victims of domestic violence, the numbers are significantly higher for women and for the sake of brevity, this article will focus on violence against women. Women that we see in church on Sunday mornings may have witnessed such violence in their homes of origin. Some may have been in such a relationship in the past. And others may even now be married to or dating someone who is abusing them.
Pastors and ministry leaders need to be prepared to hear a woman’s story of domestic abuse and know what do to help her. It’s not only important to know what such a relationship looks like but also what resources are available in the local area that can offer services to abused women and their children. Additionally, a church’s diaconate or mercy ministry should be prepared to help practically and financially if needed.
Carefully ask questions
If you have a woman in your congregation you suspect might be in an abusive relationship, here are some questions you can ask to help you learn more. It important that you ask such questions of her in private and in a place where she feels safe.
- All couples disagree about things. Tell me about some things that you and your spouse disagree about. Describe a recent one. What do they look and sound like? How do you feel in the midst of them? Do you ever feel frightened during a disagreement? Why were you frightened?
- Does your spouse ever call you names, curse at you, put you down, make you feel stupid or inferior, or humiliate you? Give me some examples.
- Do you ever feel controlled by your spouse? Does he keep track of what you are doing? Does he follow you or monitor your phone calls? Does he restrict you from seeing friends or family? Does he control the finances and not allow you any access to it?
- Does your spouse throw things, punch things, or do other things that frighten or intimidate you? Do you ever fear that he might hit you? Has he ever hit you? Has he ever threatened you with a weapon? Has he ever shoved you, restrained you, grabbed you, choked you, or pinned you down? How often has this happened?
- Does he threaten you? Does he threaten to take your children away, call authorities on you, or threaten to say things to your family or others that isn’t true?
Consider her safety
Safety is of primary importance and if you learn that the woman you are meeting with is being abused, you must take every precaution to help her stay safe. This is not a situation where you go to her spouse to double check her story. If her spouse knows that she has spoken to you or that she plans to leave, the risk of harm for her and her children increases. Contact your local authorities to find out how they handle domestic abuse in your area. They may suggest that she file a report on the abuse. They might also suggest she get a restraining order. Many areas have local shelters that will take women and children for an extended period of time.
Above all, a woman who is being abused needs to know that what is happening to her is wrong and that the way she is being treated is not love. She is not to blame; no one ever deserves to be abused. What she needs most is someone who can stand up for her and defend her. May the Church be a place of help and support for those who need it most.
When your job is to talk and you talk as much and as bombastically as Stephen A. Smith, you’re bound to say some things that get you into trouble. Usually Smith doesn’t care one bit. But last Friday the ESPN commentator made some comments about domestic violence that has him back pedaling and trying to explain himself.
For context, Ray Rice, a running back for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, received a two-game suspension in connection with a hotel video that shows him dragging his unconscious girlfriend from an elevator. The woman in question and the authorities reporting to the scene allege Rice knocked her out on the elevator. Following review of the video, the Ravens issued Rice’s suspension. Smith’s comments come in the wake of the suspension.
What did Smith say? To be fair, Smith got some things correct. He was unequivocal in repeatedly saying men “have no business putting [their] hands on a woman.” He expressed empathy and a protective concern for the women in his life—his mother, sisters and others. He suggested that a two-game suspension was not severe enough.
So why did the internet erupt last Friday following Smith’s comments? Why were his comments described as a “rant” and Smith himself as going “off the rails”? (see here) Well, it’s not because Smith was actually ranting. Anyone familiar with ESPN’s First Take can identity a Stephen A. Smith rant—he does it all the time. And we’ve seen Smith nearly come undone. But this was Smith delivering a sober and, for Smith, measured reply. He was serious and, from what I can tell, intended to send a message about the complete inappropriateness of men battering women.
The controversy stems from Smith’s comments about women needing to take measures to not provoke abuse or put themselves in situations with potential to end in abuse. Rambling and searching for words, Smith said:
“What I’ve tried to implore the female members of my family, some of whom you all met and talked to and what have you, is that again, and this is what, I’ve done this all my life, let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions, because if I come, or somebody else come, whether it’s law enforcement officials, your brother or the fellas that you know, if we come after somebody has put their hands on you, it doesn’t negate the fact that they already put their hands on you. So let’s try to make sure that we can do our part in making sure that doesn’t happen.”
That’s one daddy of a run-on sentence, full of asides and qualifications, so it’s difficult to interpret precisely what Smith means. But here’s my best guess. He’s attempting to say three things, I think:
- He’s always encouraged the women of his family not to “provoke wrong actions” from men (i.e., abusive actions).
- If a man abuses a woman, then the response of law enforcement and family members will always be after the fact, that is, too late to prevent the abuse.
- So, he believes women should do “their part in making sure” abuse ‘doesn’t happen.’”
I think Smith means well. I really do. Yet I think he demonstrates some dangerous ignorance regarding the nature and dynamics of domestic abuse.
Stephen A. Smith plans to make more clarifying comments on today’s edition of First Take. Here are four things I think he missed the first time, and that I hope shape his comments this time:
We cannot qualify the basic message.
Had Smith simply stopped with his opening statement—men “have no business putting [their] hands on a woman”—period—end of sentence—then he would have delivered a clear, unmistakable, and most necessary message. That message got lost because there are no acceptable qualifiers for it. It stands alone. It should be shouted repeatedly into a culture among professional athletes that all-too-often turns the blind eye to gladiator men smashing around beautiful women.
But any time you add a qualifier like “women should do what we can to prevent abuse,” you shift responsibility from the abuser to the abused. You blame the victim. Rather than focus on the perpetrator of the crime—and that’s what battering is!—you saddle the already entrapped, manipulated and hurting woman with responsibility for herself and for the one beating her.
Domestic abuse is not a “women’s issue.” It’s a men’s issue.
I wrote about this a little while back (see here and here). It’s related to the blame-shifting mentioned above. The battering of women and children would decrease dramatically if (a) men owned this as our problem and (b) those men who do not batter would hold accountable the men who do. But too often we speak of domestic violence in terms that leave men blameless. We say, “Debbie was beaten” rather than “Joe beats Debbie.” In the first sentence, our usual way of speaking, “Joe” doesn’t even appear in the picture. And that’s the major problem. The abuser vanishes in the shadows while good men stand by quietly and women are left with “the problem.”
Men must prevent domestic violence.
Smith rightly calls for prevention. We need to do everything we can to prevent abuse. But the “we” who needs to do something is men—not women. So many people seem to forget or know very little about battered women’s syndrome. When we’re ignorant of even the most basic description and dynamics we end up doing things devastatingly harmful for the women and children who experience it. Taking five minutes to read the Wikipedia entry would be a very helpful first step in educating ourselves for prevention. Men must prevent domestic violence because the women and children trapped in the repeated cycles of abuse-reconciliation-blame-abuse-reconciliation are overwhelmed with the grooming and abuse much the way war veterans with PTSD are overwhelmed with the effects of war.
Putting women in abusive situations will cost someone their life.
Asking women to take preventative measures while involved with an abuser costs too many people their lives. Women make up about 75 percent of persons killed by an intimate partner. But sometimes the victim is the male perpetrator when women take desperate measures to defend themselves, another effect of battered women’s syndrome. We can’t afford to be uninformed about the global problem of men battering women—especially if our comments are as high-profile as Smith’s.
Lessons for the local church
As I thought about Smith’s comments over the weekend, my mind went quickly to my role and the role of Christian men in our churches. Let’s not forget that many of the battered women in our communities are in our churches, worshipping alongside us, pretending everything is okay, hiding brutal bruises, and making excuses for their abusers. Sometimes the abusers are husbands who are also involved in our churches. And, worst of all, sometimes the abuser is a church leader.
Domestic violence shelters can no longer be the only safe places for abused women and children. The safest place should be the family of God.
But it’s not. And our churches won’t be safe until we get in the fight on behalf of our sisters. Churches aren’t safe because Christians pretend blindness, remain ignorant, and sometimes provide disastrous counsel. How many times have we heard leaders and Christians tell an abused woman “God hates divorce” or some such thing? How often have church leaders made women the villains when men were abusers? How often have women be ostracized or shunned while men continued their service in the church?
We’ve got work to do, brothers. It’s time for godly Christian men to make domestic abuse and intimate partner violence a men’s issue. It’s time pastors preach and teach on this issue in an uncompromising, courageous and visionary way (here’s an example). It’s time we end our complicit silence and speak up for our sisters. We’ve asked women to support black men in a thousand ways for hundreds of years. But truth be told, men haven’t even begun to return the love, support, protection and hope women have given us! We’ve taken their support and turned our backs when and where our sisters have needed us most. We need to repent. We need to call a moratorium on all our “save the black man” activities until we show some strength in saving, protecting and nurturing some black women!
Personally, I can’t blame Black women for debating whether they should continue marching and protesting in support of Black male causes. I pray the debate (see here, here, here for example) leads to some necessary repentance and action among us brothers. The Lord knows that when guys are knocking women out in hotel elevators and worse in private homes, our sisters need us to step up for them. May He give us strength to do so.
This article was originally published on thefrontporch.org.