By / Mar 3

We want to help you think well about immigration, especially as news reports grow over potential surges of unaccompanied minors at the U.S. southern border. How do we care for immigrants well and celebrate immigration as important to America while also not creating a magnet for a border crisis? Jeff Pickering and Travis Wussow welcome Laura Collins to the roundtable to help answer that question.

Guest Biography

Laura Collins serves as Director, Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. Collins previously served as the Director of Immigration Policy at the American Action Forum. She has experience in politics, working as a Senior Research Analyst at the Republican National Committee for the 2012 election cycle and in the Texas House of Representatives for the 82nd Legislature. A former practicing attorney, Collins earned a JD from The University of Texas School of Law and a BBA from the University of Oklahoma.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Feb 16

I settled into a chair not far from the podium in the courtroom with my client’s case file in hand. The judge was preparing to enter any minute, and upon his entering, we would hear, “All rise!” I scanned the growing crowd, and it was immediately clear that the number of cases on the morning docket far exceeded the seating capacity in the courtroom. The crowd spilled outside the room, and people were beginning to line up in the hallway. Looking at their faces, I wondered how many were coming to court without an attorney because they did not have the means to hire one. How many had no idea what was going to happen next? Were they anxious? Scared?  

The questions were rhetorical because I had litigated cases in this type of court and volunteered at a local Christian legal aid ministry. The answers, I knew, were clear. A vast majority was unrepresented due to inability to pay for a lawyer. As the judge entered and took his seat, the court clerk began to call the names of the cases. So many people were standing outside that names had to be repeated into the hall. The Lord reminded me in those moments that the need is great. Each of these litigants mattered to God; therefore, they should matter to me.  

Our country is blessed to be governed by the rule of law, and thankfully, we have certain Constitutional rights we enjoy as American citizens. One of those is the right to an attorney to represent you if you have been charged with a crime and cannot afford to hire counsel. These lawyers are called public defenders, and their work is critical to our system of democratic government. However, the scene I described above involved a docket call of civil cases. These men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters had been sued by another party; they had not been charged with a crime. Their cases involved landlord and tenant disputes, breaches of contracts, evictions, and unpaid debts, to name a few. Except in very limited types of cases, no right to an attorney exists in a civil case. The scene described above repeats itself daily in courtrooms across the country, which means many of our neighbors have great needs that are going unmet. 

A Justice Gap Report, prepared by the Legal Services Corporation in 2017, found that in the past year, 86% of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help. In addition, 71% of low-income households experienced at least one civil legal problem in the last year, including problems with health care, housing conditions, disability access, veterans’ benefits, and domestic violence.

We have been given an opportunity to demonstrate the gospel of Christ by helping others receive justice before the law.

The Legal Services Corporation funds legal aid societies and offices across the country, and these providers work hard, and do well, to meet the civil legal needs of those unable to afford an attorney; however, the need far exceeds the assistance available. Acknowledging and responding to this need should certainly not rest solely on the government. Christ-followers have a responsibility to respond in Jesus’ name. We have been given an opportunity to demonstrate the gospel of Christ by helping others receive justice before the law. 

Jesus met needs. He fed the hungry and gave sight to the blind. He opened the ears of the deaf and healed the sick. He freed the afflicted and comforted the hurting. He raised the dead. In Matthew 25:31–40, Jesus explained that his followers would be known by the love of their actions. He so identifies with the vulnerable that he said, And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (v. 40). 

How can you and your church get involved? 

First, recognize the need and pray for wisdom as to how the Lord would have you respond in your specific community. Is there a need for immigration law help? Are housing problems a concern? Are predatory lenders keeping those in your community in poverty? 

Second, you can discuss the need for gospel justice with your pastor and church leadership. Scripture is filled with God’s heart for the poor.  

Third, you can explore becoming a justice center where volunteer attorneys meet needs in Jesus’ name. Resources are available. There is a movement happening across the country where gospel justice centers are working to help in Jesus’ name. The needs are great. Will you help?    

By / Feb 12

In the opening lines of last week’s executive order addressing the country’s refugee program, President Biden wrote, “the long tradition of the United States as a leader in refugee resettlement provides a beacon of hope for persecuted people around the world.” Sadly, the rising tide of nationalism in our politics has dimmed that once bright light. There is much work to be done if America is to, in Biden’s words, lead again. Critical to that work is the rebuilding of a refugee resettlement program that honors our nation’s rich history of welcoming the world’s most vulnerable.

The President is charged with determining the maximum number of people allowed entry through the refugee process. The number, while set by the White House, represents an annual conclusion of a worthwhile debate throughout Washington. It’s a debate in which the ERLC is regularly engaged.

During the 2020 campaign, President Biden promised to “set the annual global refugee admissions cap to 125,000, and seek to raise it over time.” While the administration’s recent executive order marks an encouraging move toward relighting that beacon, the refugee ceiling is the critical next step.

Among other directives, the order begins a wide ranging review of the federal government’s refugee resettlement procedures. For example, the order directs the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to designate a senior-level employee in their departments to focus on the refugee application process. Among the specific reviews ordered is the nation’s policy which grants Special Immigrant Visas for Iraqi and Afghan allies.

The refugee program has long enjoyed both broad bipartisan support in Congress and in the communities these men and women have enriched, including many Southern Baptist churches. The vetting procedures for refugees were already the strongest of any category of immigrants, and these security procedures have been further strengthened. This program tells an important story about who we are as a nation. It has enabled remarkable talents to become Americans and pursue the American dream such as Vietnamese refugee David Tran who created the popular Sriracha hot sauce.

Since the Refugee Act of 1980, the resettlement ceiling before the Trump Administration ranged from as high as 230,000 to as low 67,000. The historic average over the decades hovered near 95,000. President Trump first set the refugee ceiling at 50,000 in 2017 and then cut it each year, leaving it at 15,000 for 2021.

This precipitous drop not only closed the door to many of our own brothers and sisters abroad in the persecuted church seeking safe harbor, but it also starved the resettlement pipeline needed to provide that harbor in America. Integrating these families seeking refuge in our local communities requires the ongoing partnership of government offices and non-profit agencies. Without refugees moving through the line, many agencies shutter. This leaves our future capability to serve in peril.

The Evangelical Immigration Table, of which the ERLC is a member, responded last Friday to President Biden’s order noting both appreciation of this first step but also urging him to follow through on his commitment to officially raise the ceiling.

In the EIT press release, Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, explained how, “our advocacy for religious minorities in peril around the world, whether they be Uyghurs in China or Christians in Syria, is a priority of our work at the ERLC.” Moore also said it was his “prayer that Christians will lead the revitalization of America’s commitment to be a beacon of freedom and safe harbor for the oppressed and persecuted.”

As vaccines and treatments help the world climb out from under the coronavirus pandemic, we ought to use this time of restricted global travel to rebuild the resettlement infrastructure. We should invest now in the infrastructure needed for overseas processing and help resettlement agencies in the U.S. rebuild so that when our door is able to be reopened, our welcome mat is ready. Instrumental to this process are faith-based organizations who partner with local churches to welcome refugees as our new American neighbors.

By / Feb 5

Our form of government invites Americans to engage in the legislative process through advocacy. The ERLC advocates for issues of missional priority that are of national import through the cooperation of congregations throughout the Southern Baptist Convention, as was recently noted in the introduction to our 2021 Public Policy Agenda.

Our public policy team’s advocacy work in Washington is organized through the categories of religious liberty, sanctity of human life, justice, marriage and family, and related international engagement. On some issues, there is a wide shared consensus and purpose, and on others, there is deep disagreement. As our public policy agenda says, “whether issues are currently popular or unpopular, we have the opportunity to bear witness, to seek to persuade, and to build the consensus needed to make change.”

In a newscycle driven by soundbites and hot takes, one tool that helps our advocacy efforts rise above the fray is the traditional letter. We send letters to Congressional leaders, the President of the United States, and other policymakers and administration officials to advocate on the issues of our day. Sometimes, these letters are written and sent by Russell Moore directly as president of the ERLC, and other times the ERLC leads or joins a coalition letter drafted with multiple signatories. Coalition letters include signatures from partner organizations working together to advance a certain policy priority. Some coalition letters accumulate dozens, even hundreds, of organizational signatures before they are sent to the White House or Capitol Hill.

Members of Congress want to hear from their constituents and learn what issues are important to them. Anyone can reach out to their local Representative and Senator and ask for a meeting, send a letter, or call to share an opinion on a policy. Constituent representation is fundamental to the job of public office holders, and so, their office contact information is readily available online

When the ERLC sends letters to Congress, we often address it to Congressional leadership, including the Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, Senate Minority Leader and the House Minority Leader. Other times, we address the letter to a particular Chairman and ranking member of the appropriate committee where a piece of legislation resides. The same is true for letters we send to the executive branch. Often, Moore will correspond with the President, but occasionally, the issue is better addressed to a cabinet secretary or other public official.

When a Congressional office receives a letter, the staff in the office will make note of the letter for the Representative or Senator. This is an important step for members of Congress to understand the support and the opposition for a particular policy. Often, when we send a letter, the office returns a request for further conversation on the issue. That then gives us the opportunity to build a new relationship, or deepen an existing relationship, over a meeting. The same happens with the presidential and vice presidential staff at the White House.

Our goal when sending such letters is not only to provide an opinion on legislation, but also to provide expertise on the underlying issue. For example, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 unfortunately included a little-noticed provision which created a new policy to tax nonprofits—including houses of worship—on the cost of parking provided to employees. We advocated for its repeal alongside a broad coalition of religious groups. In our letters and meetings, we offered examples of how such a tax would negatively impact our ministries and organizations. Through these efforts, the tax was repealed in December of 2019.

Thankfully, in our advocacy, we are also often able to share about the incredible work of Southern Baptists in disaster relief in the wake of a hurricane, child welfare providers in adoption and foster care, and feeding the hungry in their communities and globally. Sharing our perspective as Christians helps influence public policy.

In June of 2019, the ERLC led a coalition of scholars, religious and secular leaders, and human rights advocates through the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Roundtable to send a letter expressing our concerns over the human rights violations and religious freedom abuses in China. This coalition letter was sent with over forty signatories.

While the letter was addressed to former President Trump, we also sent copies to contacts within the White House, National Security Council, and the State Department. Later that day, we heard that National Security Advisor John Bolton had read the letter on his flight to Osaka, Japan ahead of the G-20 summit. Ambassador Bolton made a few phone calls to others in the Administration about the importance of the issues raised by the IRF Roundtable letter.

Eventually, this advocacy effort resulted in the IRF Roundtable meeting with then Vice President Pence, Ambassador Sam Brownback, and NSC staff. The Trump Administration invested heavily throughout 2020 in countering the Chinese Communist Party morally, eventually declaring the abuses against Uyghurs in Xinjiang a genocide. And now the Biden Administration is signaling a continuation of posture against the CCP for this genocide.

Like so much else in public policy advocacy, we never fully know what the effect of a letter will be, or who all will read it, until it has been sent.
For more on how the ERLC advocates in Washington, D.C. and what the team is working on each week, sign up for our policy newsletter.

By / Feb 4

The ERLC stands by our pro-life convictions in every sphere of cultural engagement. This includes our witness and advocacy to the federal government on issues Christians care about. One of our threshold questions for our team before supporting any piece of legislation is whether the bill protects and honors the value of every human life.

Each year, Congress must pass twelve appropriations bills that fund the federal government. These bills are “must pass” pieces of legislation in that they are needed to keep the government funded and operating. Since Roe v. Wade, Congress has added pro-life “riders” to the appropriations bill, which modify with common sense limits the way appropriated funds can be spent. The riders must be reattached to appropriations bills each year, because they aren’t permanent policy. 

The Hyde Amendment is one of the most important pro-life riders; it prevents federal funds from being used to pay for an abortion. To learn more about the Hyde Amendment and why it’s so important, see our other articles on the history of the Hyde Amendment, why we still need it, and how it is currently vulnerable

Though there are many, here are five additional pro-life riders Southern Baptists should know about:

1. Weldon Amendment

The Weldon Amendment protects the consciences of health care workers by prohibiting federal funds from being used to discriminate on the basis of a health care entity’s refusal to provide, pay for, or refer women for abortion. This Amendment has passed every Congress since its introduction in 2004 and has enjoyed wide bipartisan support. 

However, under the Obama administration, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) refused to enforce the Weldon Amendment and instead allowed violations of the law to go unrestrained. To that end, the Conscience Protection Act is sorely needed to codify the Weldon Amendment so enforcement of this important conscience protection is consistent across presidential administrations. 

To learn more about the Weldon Amendment and the Conscience Protection Act, listen to this Capitol Conversation’s episode, read this article on its importance, and learn from our policy brief

2. Dornan Amendment 

The Constitution gives Congress the power to appropriate all funds (both federal and local) for the District of Columbia. The Dornan Amendment prevents all federal and local DC funds from being used to pay for an abortion. This amendment extends the type of protections afforded by the Hyde Amendment to the District of Columbia.

However, the Dornan Amendment was weakened last year as the language only prohibits federal funds from paying for an abortion. The ERLC rejects any attempt to weaken this amendment and will continue to advocate against any government funding of abortions. Learn about our advocacy in support of the Dornan Amendment here

3. Helms Amendment

The Helms Amendment is the oldest pro-life rider. First proposed in 1973, it states that “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” Congress clarified in 1990 that funds could support foreign family planning organizations that included abortions in their overview of all options as long as they comply with the laws of their host country. 

Like the Hyde Amendment, the Helms Amendment is also being threatened. On July 29th, the Abortion is Healthcare Everywhere Act of 2020 was introduced to repeal the Helms Amendment. You can read our one-pager opposing the bill here.

4. Siljander Amendment

Many organizations that perform abortions both receive federal funding and lobby the government for support. While the Hyde Amendment prevents those organizations from using the funds to perform abortions, the Siljander Amendment prevents them from using federal funds to lobby for abortion internationally. In addition, the Siljander Amendment prohibits the federal government, in its foreign policy, from lobbying for or against abortion, effectively requiring the American government to be neutral on abortion.

When the Siljander Amendment was introduced in 1981, it only prohibited lobbying for abortions. Congress has since modified the language to also prohibit lobbying against abortions. You can learn more about the Siljander Amendment and its relation to the Mexico City policy here

5. Kemp-Kasten Amendment

The Kemp-Kasten Amendment prevents U.S. funds from being being given to “any organization or program which, as determined by the President of the United States, supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.” 

The president, after citing evidence that an organization supports forced sterilization or coerced abortion, may prevent funding to a specific organization. This rider has been used by pro-life administrations to withhold funds from the United Nations Population Fund as the Fund has supported China’s population control policies. Presidents who support abortion have refused to invoke this amendment. Pushing back against China’s draconian population control policies is needed now more than ever, as multiple news sources and researches have shown that China is forcibly sterilizing Uyghur women and coercing them into having abortions. 

Congress regularly passes many other pro-life riders that, like the Helms, Siljander, and Kemp-Kasten Amendments, are designed to curb the global influence of the abortion lobby. You can read more about them in this ERLC article. 

The Bible makes clear that all people are worthy of protection and dignity, regardless of age, ability, or stage of development. The ERLC will continue to advocate for these pro-life provisions and other legislative measures that reflect God’s gracious love for every human life. 

ERLC public policy and law Intern Julia Stamper contributed to this article. 

By / Feb 3

As we step into a new year, as well as a new administration in Washington, D.C., we want to join together to discuss this important moment in the pro-life movement. We believe that the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case which will occur in January of 2023 will mark a significant moment in time for the pro-life movement. We have a powerful opportunity now to begin 2021 discussing the future of the pro-life movement and begin casting a vision for the next three years—what we are calling the “Road to Roe50”.

This panel first aired during the ERLC’s Evangelicals for Life conference on Thursday, January 28, 2021.

This episode was sponsored by The Good Book Company, publisher of Being the Bad Guy by Stephen McAlpine.

Guest Biographies

Denise Harle serves as senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom. Denise focuses her litigation efforts on defending the First Amendment freedoms of pro-life health care professionals and pregnancy resource centers. She also works to defend pro-life legislation around the nation. Since joining ADF, Harle took the primary role in drafting the briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court in NIFLA v. Becerra, resulting in a free speech victory for California pro-life pregnancy centers.

Steven Aden serves as Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel for Americans United for Life. Aden is an experienced litigator, having appeared in court against Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry dozens of times and appointed by the attorneys general of six states to defend pro-life laws securing numerous victories.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Jan 29

Every January the March for Life rally brings thousands of people to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to “end abortion by uniting, educating, and mobilizing pro-life people in the public square.” This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the “heightened pressures that law enforcement officers and others are currently facing in and around the Capitol,” the event organizers have made the rally virtual and are encouraging pro-lifers to join by watching the broadcast online

The event brings in around 250,000 attendees each year, including tens of thousands of evangelicals. (In 2016 the annual Evangelicals For Life Conference began to coincide with the March for Life.) But when the original March began in 1974, abortion was still considered a “Roman Catholic issue.” 

For example, prior to the 1970s, many Southern Baptists either took no position on abortion or were accepting of legal abortion under certain conditions. A poll conducted by the Baptist Sunday School Board in 1970 found that 70% of SBC pastors supported abortion to protect the mental or physical health of the mother, 64% supported abortion in cases of fetal deformity, and 71% in cases of rape. In 1971, the leadership of the Christian Life Commission (which was later renamed ERLC) even supported a resolution—which was later adopted at the SBC annual meeting—that called upon Southern Baptists to “work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

Fortunately, there were still some leaders within evangelicalism who understood the necessity of protecting life in the womb. Although thousands of people helped launch the movement, there are three leaders who during the 1970 and 1980s had a particularly important influence on getting evangelicals to embrace the pro-life cause. 

Harold O.J. Brown

When abortion became legal throughtout the U.S., Harold O.J. Brown, a Harvard-trained theologian, historian, and philosopher, was working as an associate editor at Christianity Today in 1972. As WORLD magazine notes, “On Jan. 21, 1973, he joined some members of the American Medical Association and the Christian Legal Society in New York to discuss abortion and a strategy to combat it. The next day, the high court handed down its Roe v. Wade decision. Brown hurried home to write his magazine’s lead editorial.” 

“This decision runs counter not merely to the moral teachings of Christianity through the ages but also to the moral sense of the American people,” wrote Brown in that editorial

Three years later Brown left the magazine and founded the Christian Action Council, the first major U.S. evangelical pro-life organization, and became a contributor to newly established journal, The Human Life Review. The Christian Action Council would later adopt the name “Care Net,” and become one of the major networks for pregnancy resource centers

When Brown died in 2007, Michael Kruger, now the president of the Charlotte campus of Reformed Theological Seminary, said that Brown’s “most central place of influence is rightly considered the pro-life movement. He not only anticipated the problem before abortion was legalized, but he has been one of the great organizers of actions to deal with the problem.” 

C. Everett Koop

One of the men who joined Brown in founding the Christian Action Council was Dr. C. Everett Koop. Koop was a pioneer in pediatric surgery who invented many of the anesthetic and surgical techniques that are now used on neonates and infants. In 1956 he established the nation’s first neonatal surgical intensive care unit, and became the first editor of the Journal of Pediatric Surgery when it was founded in 1966.

Early in his career he became convinced that “abortion amounted to taking a sacrosanct human life.” This lead him in 1975 to wrote The Right to Live; the Right to Die: Famous Pediatric Surgeon Speaks Out on Abortion and Mercy Killing. The influence of Brown is apparent in this book, observes Matthew S. Miller. “Koop evidently kept Brown’s articles close at hand as he put his own thoughts to paper,” says Miller, “He quotes from Brown more than from any other source (other than the Bible), often whole paragraphs at a time.” 

In his memoir Koop says, “I aimed the book primarily at Christian readers, as I sought to awaken the evangelical community to a vital moral issue they were choosing to ignore.” The 120-page treatise would sell over 100,000 copies in its first year of publication, and another 100,000 in the years that followed. 

Koop’s pro-life activism caught the attention of newly-elected president Ronald Reagan, who nominated Koop to be U.S. Surgeon General in March 1981. When Reagan published his 1984 book on abortion—the only book to be published by a U.S. President while in office—the original version included an essay by Koop titled “The Slide to Auschwitz.” 

Francis Schaeffer

In 1950, Koop removed the appendix of a young girl named Priscilla, which sparked a lifelong friendship with the girl’s father, Francis Schaeffer. A few years later, Schaeffer would leave the U.S. to set up the ministry organization called L’Abri (“The Shelter”) in Switzerland. Harold O.J. Brown brought Schaeffer back to the states to give a series of lectures in Boston, including at Harvard. These lectures lead to Schaeffer and his wife Edith becoming well-known figures within evangelicalism. 

After the Roe decision in 1973, Schaeffer took up the cause of opposing abortion. In 1979, he partnered with Koop on Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, a project that included a five-part film series, a book, an activist handbook, and an international lecture tour. 

“In Washington, D.C., the series was screened by prominent politicians and opinion makers; churches across the country showed the series to their congregations,” noted PBS. “Thousands of evangelicals heard Schaeffer’s message and became persuaded that they had a duty—indeed, a moral obligation—to set aside their long-standing aversion to politics and step into the political arena.”

“It is difficult to overestimate the incredible impact that Francis Schaeffer and Dr. C. Everett Koop made on evangelical Christians in the latter third of the 20th century,” said Richard Land, former president of ERLC. “Everyone devoted to the pro-life cause owes an incalculable debt of gratitude to Francis Schaeffer and to Dr. C. Everett Koop.”

By / Jan 28

Lisa Cathcart, in her role as executive director at the Pregnancy Care Center (PCC) in Nashville, Tennessee, leads her team to serve women, men, and families in the greater Nashville area facing unplanned pregnancies. Their work has grown to include a special focus on the needs of those from immigrant communities. The spirit of their work and ability to adapt is an example to all of us who seek to serve our communities, as they truly are, and honor the dignity of all people. 

How did you become aware of the immigrant community in the Nashville area? From where are they coming?

Nashville has been a destination for immigrant populations for quite some time. Most area residents are aware of the various immigrant populations that have come to call Nashville home. However, unless one is intentional about engaging with our new neighbors, it is fairly easy to ignore or miss the important contributions they have made to our society and the richness they bring to our communities. At the Pregnancy Care Center we have a heart for serving vulnerable and marginalized populations. As a ministry that exists to affirm the worth, dignity, and sanctity of all human life, I believe we are uniquely positioned to accept and receive newcomers to our country and community, extending the same compassion and grace to this vulnerable population as we do toward the unborn and the women and men facing a pregnancy decision. 

The Pregnancy Care Center first started serving immigrant populations about six years ago when two women from Egypt were referred to us by a Nashville health clinic where they were participating in childbirth education. These expectant moms found themselves trying to navigate not only a new life in a new place far from home, but also the role of parenting in a country with different laws and vastly different customs—all without the support of the multigenerational influences and involvement that they had been raised with. Although both women were Arabic speaking and from the same country, they came from very different backgrounds. They practiced different religions, Islam and Coptic Christianity. One was a highly educated professional and the other was from more humble circumstances. One spoke English, and the other did not. One was a first-time mom, and one had older children. 

Yet despite their differences, they had formed a friendship and found their way to the PCC together. As they began to see the value in the relationships they were forming with the staff and volunteers at the PCC and in the assistance they received, each went back to their own communities and spread the word about the Center’s services. Very quickly, the number of immigrants who were seeking our services began to grow to the extent that at one point, more than 50 percent of Parenting Support cases/visits were with immigrant families. Over the past two years 32 percent of all visits of any type have been with individuals from other countries. 

We have now served individuals and families from 38 countries of origin and at least eight unique faith backgrounds. We have ministered to individuals from the Middle East, Africa, Central America, South America, and Asia. Those who are Arabic speaking continue to represent the largest immigrant population we are serving. Among Arabic-speaking families — which include both Coptic Christians and Muslims — many share histories of war torn countries, poverty, and religious persecution.  

What are you doing to serve the immigrant community in our area? What are their needs and unique challenges? 

Serving recent immigrants has presented unique challenges for staff at the Pregnancy Care Center as we work with women and families who are at the beginning stages of acclimating to Western culture. Our ministry is committed to providing holistic care that goes beyond what can be done by simply handing someone a pack of diapers. Too many services and experiences in our lives are transactional in nature. We are more interested in transformation, which can only come about through relationship with one another and with Christ. Many of the immigrant populations initially coming to the center have been told that they can “get free diapers,” etc. We have struggled through language and cultural barriers to communicate that the material assistance we provide is only available through participation in our Parent Support initiative, which involves meeting with a PCC team member one on one, or in a group setting, to complete a prenatal or parenting lesson, mentoring session, and/or Bible study. 

While this relational approach is our goal, it is very difficult to accomplish without an interpreter. Over the past few years, we have been continually adjusting our policies and experimenting with different ways of providing care to our new neighbors, while being careful to guard against mission drift and often struggling with compassion fatigue that comes with difficult cross-cultural ministry. 

Before having to pause group class offerings due to COVID-19, we were offering two group Parent Support sessions each month, specifically for Arabic-speaking clients with the help of a paid translator. By offering group classes we are able to serve these families by building relationships, offering meaningful practical instruction and assistance, while at the same time remain focused on our mission of serving individuals facing a life-altering pregnancy decision. 

The group sessions include a devotional, practical parenting lesson, and time for sharing and prayer. Afterward, participants “shop” in our “store” where they can pick out items needed for their children using points they have earned for their participation in Parent Support. Individuals who are fluent in conversational English are also eligible to schedule one-on-one appointments outside of group offerings. In addition to the Arabic groups, we have some Spanish-speaking volunteers who come to assist on a regular basis. Over the past year as we’ve had to reimagine how we deliver services during a global pandemic. We have served the needs of these diverse populations through virtual visits and curbside material assistance. 

We are very intentional about speaking words of affirmation in order to connect people with their worth and dignity as a child of God. We’ve had meetings with community leaders who can help us understand more about the cultures our clients come from—how to speak or sit, how to interact with our body language, how to navigate some of the challenges we face, and ultimately how to build bridges between our cultures in order to minister more effectively. So, whether helping with housing needs, health insurance questions, job applications, or learning to react properly to a client who tries to barter for material aid, we are continually learning as we go. 

How do you want individuals to feel when they arrive at your center?  

It is our hope that everyone who walks through our doors will have a sense that they matter. We have intentionally and prayerfully created a space that is inviting and welcoming to all. It is our prayer that individuals feel safe and welcome, no matter where they have come from or what difficulties and fears they are currently facing. Before our staff even speaks a word, we want the environment to communicate a message that elevates someone’s sense of dignity and worth. 

Too many services and experiences in our lives are transactional in nature. We are more interested in transformation, which can only come about through relationship with one another and with Christ.

Because the lives of those we serve are often filled with chaos and uncertainty, we offer a calming reassurance that they are not alone. Some of our staff have even learned basic Arabic phrases to extend meaningful greetings and expressions of hospitality so that our Arabic-speaking clients feel seen and valued. 

Everyday the team of staff and volunteers at the PCC begin with prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to fill us and the Center with his presence so that everyone we serve will encounter the love of Christ in a meaningful, tangible way. 

From your perspective, how do the needs of an immigrant change the longer they have been in the country?

As we work with immigrants and build relationships we see how assimilation changes people. In some ways, we see amazing growth and exciting new opportunities for families to flourish. In other ways, we are disappointed by how Western culture can influence individuals. 

Initially, we may be helping to advocate for individuals as they navigate the complexities of adjusting to life here. We make phone calls to various agencies on their behalf, sit at a computer with someone to fill out an online form, explain terminology on applications and documents, and demonstrate how to use and install a car seat, etc. As our relationships grow we sometimes become aware of emotional or spiritual concerns that we can speak into such as questions about the gospel, or even how to identify abuse in a relationship. We are able to educate women on the rights they have that they may not have had access to before, and we can empower people to seek and find safety when necessary. 

When many immigrants face an unplanned or crisis pregnancy, the stakes are extremely high, especially if the relationship is outside of their faith or culture. Sadly, the more assimilated to Western culture an immigrant is, the more vulnerable to abortion they become. Some come from a culture that does not even have a word in their language for abortion, but now they are presented with an option that they have been told will allow them to avoid the shame and pain of unintended pregnancy. Where marriage is an expectation and sexual purity a priority, assimilation sometimes leads to casual and promiscuous relationships. 

How would you encourage the Christians in your community to pray for and minister to these immigrant populations? 

Whenever I think of the refugees and immigrants in our community, I think of the Golden Rule that Jesus taught us. I ask myself how I would want to be treated if I found myself separated from most of my friends and family, starting a life in a new country. I would desperately want others to show patience with me as I attempt to speak a new language. I would want caring people to gently explain practices within this new culture that do not make sense to me. I would want to be welcomed as an image-bearer of God and valued as someone who can make a positive contribution to our community. I would long for friendship! Let’s pray that we as Christians will be the example in our community of radical hospitality to the stranger and foreigner as we see modeled in the people of God from the Old Testament to the New Testament.  

By / Dec 31

On Christmas Eve, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed legislation that would expand access to abortion in the state. On Dec. 29, the Massachusetts legislature overrode Gov. Baker’s veto, with a Senate vote of 32-8 and a House vote of 107-46. The abortion-expanding measure was included in the recently passed $46 billion budget. 

The ROE Act codified abortion into state law and allows for abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases with a cases of of “fatal fetal anomalies,” and when a physician deems it necessary “to preserve the patient’s physical or mental health.” In addition, the ROE Act lowers the age at which minors can obtain an abortion without parental consent from 18 to 16.

Gov. Baker, in a letter to the legislature, stated that he “strongly” supports a woman’s right to access reproductive health care, including the provision in the bill that would make abortions available after 24 weeks of pregnancy if the fetus would not survive after birth. But in his letter he stated, “I cannot support the sections of this proposal that expand the availability of later-term abortions and permit minors age 16 and 17 to get an abortion without the consent of a parent or guardian.” Baker requested changes to this measure, including changing the qualifying condition for a later-term abortion to “if a continuation of the pregnancy will impose, in the best medical judgment of the physician, a substantial risk to” the patient’s physical or mental health.

Current Massachusetts state law only allows for abortions after 24 weeks if “necessary to save the life of the mother, or if a continuation of her pregnancy will impose on her a substantial risk of grave impairment of her physical or mental health.” But the ROE Act expands access to abortion and includes minors in the expanded access. 

Why does this matter?

Gov. Baker has stated that the ROE Act “would give Massachusetts some of the broadest and most significant reproductive health rights in the United States.” More than 400 Massachusetts pastors called on Gov. Baker to veto the legislation, calling it a “shocking and callous disregard for human life and the importance of parental involvement in the lives of children.”

Interestingly, Massachusetts was one of the first states to pass limits on legal abortions in the 1970s, including required parental consent for minors. Parents should have the right to protect their daughters from the dangerous practices of the abortion industry. 

This decision by the Massachusetts legislature comes after states like New York and Virginia passed increasingly expansive abortion legislation. Those states have advocated for safe and legal abortion at every gestational stage. Yet, polling shows us that the majority of Americans are opposed to late-term abortion, and 80% of Americans support abortion being limited to the first three months of pregnancy.

As Christians, we must not place our ultimate hope in legislation, but we also must not neglect the God-ordained role of government in restraining evil and shaping the conscience of society on vital issues like human dignity. We believe that every unborn child has innate dignity and worth and ought to be protected in the womb, and beyond. The ERLC is committed to protecting the life of the unborn and will continue to work to ensure that state and federal laws reflect that commitment.

By / Dec 8

Peter Singer, Princeton’s Ira W. Decamp Professor of Bioethics in the University Center for Human Values, is (in)famous for his arguments about personhood. For Singer, only beings that have sentience can appropriately be describe as persons. Sentience is the ability to experience conscious pleasure and pain. Conscious pain is that interior state of mind that elicits a pain response such that we say to ourselves or others, “Ouch!” “That hurts!” “Stop it!” “Leave me alone!” etc. So, Singer argues, causing any kind of pain to animals is a moral harm and ought to be avoided. The morally good form of life is a vegan lifestyle. 

Because Singer believes that animals are sentient persons and sentient person have rights, including a right to life, Singer has been an advocate for a granting a “right to life” to Great Apes, dolphins, dogs, and other species.  

Furthermore, for Singer, since “a chimpanzee, dog, or pig, for instance, will have a higher degree of self-awareness and a greater capacity for meaningful relations with others than a severely retarded infant or someone in a state of advanced senility . . . we must grant these animals a right to life as good as, or better than, such retarded or senile humans” (Singer, Animal Liberation, p. 19).  Following his own logic has led Singer to defend bestiality and even the rape of disabled people

Singer’s extremism sometimes makes him easy to dismiss and vilify. But, if sentience is what defines personhood, then he may be right. So it’s crucial to understand what personhood is and to recognize who is a person.

Understanding personhood

Personalism is a school of thought that prioritizes the person. According to the personalist account of Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith, a person is “the particular kind of being that under proper conditions is capable of developing into (or has developed into) a conscious, reflective, embodied, self-transcending center of subjective experience, durable identity, moral commitment, and social communication who—as the efficient cause of his or her responsible actions and interactions exercises complex capacities for agency and intersubjectivity in order to develop and sustain his or her own incommunicable self in loving relationships with other personal selves and with the nonpersonal world.” This is a very useful starting point, and every clause is important.

“Person” has a long history in theological discourse, especially in the Christological debates of the early church. Orthodox Christians affirm that each member of the Trinity is a person. Those three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are one God. As the hymnwriter put it, “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.” The Bible also speaks of other persons, including angelic persons and human persons. The early church spent a great deal of time trying to understand who is and who isn’t a person. 

According to the biblical witness, to be human is to be a person.

According to biblical theology, human persons, as distinct from divine and angelic persons, are embodied from conception onward. At conception, at least one genetically unique human person is formed (twinning may occur during the first two weeks of pregnancy). So the psalmist offers a glorious hymn to God in Psalm 139:

“You created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because of I fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depth of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (13-16 NIV). 

Human persons are, however, the only persons who are made in the imago Dei (image of God). Thus, Jesus—fully God and fully human—is the “image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15). Likewise, according to Genesis, “God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).

Singer defines persons on the basis of their functional capacities (e.g., the ability to experience conscious pleasure and pain). But the Bible nowhere defines personhood that way. In fact, according to the biblical witness, to be human is to be a person. To be made in the image of God is to be a human person. All members of the species Homo sapiens are persons quite apart from their location (in or out of the womb), age (unborn or born), or functional capacities (cognitively disabled or cognitively healthy).

Note again Christian Smith’s definition of a person as “the particular kind of being that under proper conditions is capable of developing into . . . . a conscious, reflective,” etc., being. Unborn human beings are not, therefore, potential persons. They are persons with potential. Under proper conditions (e.g., not being aborted), they will develop those markers of personhood. But those markers of personhood are not personhood itself, but the signs we typically observe to one degree or another in persons.

In my own view, personhood is not a set of functional capacities, but an ontological status. Every entity who is made in the image of God is a person. All Homo sapiens are made in the image of God. Therefore, all Homo sapiens are persons, regardless of other conditions.