By / Jun 27

The ERLC affirms the full dignity of every human being. At the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Messengers passed a resolution to “reaffirm the sacredness and full dignity and worthiness of respect and Christian love for every single human being, without any reservation.” The SBC’s commitment to love of neighbor is grounded in the truth that “God created man in His own image; He created Him in the image of God; He created them male and female.” (Gen. 1:26-27)

Through the Equality Act, Congress would punish faith-based charities for their core religious beliefs about human dignity and marriage. While the proposed intention of this bill is to protect individuals who identify as LGBT, the bill fails to respect people’s freedom of conscience. A government that can pave over the consciences of some can steamroll over dissent everywhere. In its pursuit of fleeting cultural ideals, the Equality Act erodes foundational constitutional freedoms.

The Equality Act undermines decades of civil rights protections for women and girls. Women’s shelters for those escaping domestic abuse or homelessness would be forced to house biological males who identify as women. The Equality Act disregards the privacy and safety concerns that women rightly have about sharing sleeping quarters and intimate facilities with the opposite sex. This legislation would also harm women’s sports and scholarships as girls would be forced to compete with biological males for limited positions.

The Equality Act threatens the efforts of faith-based adoption and foster care agencies. The legislation would explicitly curtail the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, thereby forcing faith-based child welfare organizations to either abandon their deeply held religious beliefs or be shut down. State enforced closures of such agencies is especially harmful at a time when multiple social crises increase the need for children services.

The Equality Act hinders the work of healthcare professionals and faith-based hospitals. While religiously affiliated hospitals routinely serve patients of any background, including those who identify as LGBT, providers who hold moral or religious beliefs cannot perform every procedure a patient requests. For example, doctors and nurses who object to gender reassignment surgeries for moral, religious, or scientific reasons would be forced to provide the procedure or risk losing their jobs.

The Equality Act would also force healthcare workers and pro-life healthcare providers to participate in and provide abortions. This bill would roll back decades of conscience protections that protect pro-life nurses and physicians who object to participating in abortions because of their deeply held religious beliefs. No person should be compelled to participate in an act they believe to be the taking of a human life. Additionally, it would jeopardize the longstanding Hyde Amendment that protects federal taxpayer dollars from funding abortion.

The Equality Act would undermine the ability of Americans who disagree to work together for the common good. These legislative changes represent a dramatic departure from the foundations of civic tolerance. If enacted, the Equality Act would bring sweeping and historic changes to religious liberty with devastating effects to this foundational freedom. Due to these concerns, among many others, the ERLC strongly opposes the Equality Act.

By / Jun 27

Last week, the Equality Act was once again introduced into the House of Representatives and the Senate for consideration. This legislation intends to expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI) and would revise every title of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add these categories as new protected classes in the federal code. Last Congress, the Equality Act passed in the House, but the bill died in the Senate. 

The ERLC affirms the full dignity of every human being. At the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Messengers passed a resolution to “reaffirm the sacredness and full dignity and worthiness of respect and Christian love for every single human being, without any reservation.” But the Equality Act does not advance the cause of human dignity. 

If passed, the Equality Act would punish faith-based charities for their core religious beliefs about human dignity and marriage and would undermine decades of civil rights protections for women and girls. The alarmingly detrimental consequences of the bill pose a significant threat to the deeply held religious beliefs of millions of Americans who honor God’s design for sexuality.

What does this bill mean for religious liberty?

This bill would substantially undermine religious liberty protections in the United States. America has long been a place where people with different views and beliefs have lived at peace alongside each other. Though America has not perfectly lived up to this ideal of a shared nation, it was central to our founding as persecuted religious minorities sought safe harbor in this land. Though cleverly named, the Equality Act is out of step with that American ideal. Equality cannot be achieved while eliminating other basic, fundamental freedoms. Of particular note, the bill would essentially gut the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a bill which passed with broad bipartisan support and was signed by President Clinton.

By undermining RFRA, the Equality Act would force faith-based child welfare organizations to abandon their deeply held religious beliefs or be shut down by the state. The state-forced closures of such agencies is especially detrimental at a time when multiple crises—including the post-pandemic effects and the ongoing opioid epidemic—have led to increases in the number of children in need of services.

What does the bill mean for women and girls?

Most strikingly, the Equality Act undermines decades of hard fought civil rights protections for women and girls. Single gender spaces, such as locker rooms or shelters, would no longer be protected by law. This departure from a legal understanding of gender as male and female makes women and girls vulnerable to biological males being in their private spaces. For example, shelters for those women and girls escaping domestic abuse or homelessness would be forced to house biological men who identify as female. This legislation disregards the privacy and safety concerns women rightly have about sharing sleeping quarters and intimate facilities with the biological opposite sex.

Another example of the harm this legislation poses to women and girls is in athletics and academics. Since 1972, Title IX has advanced women’s sports and scholarship in remarkable ways. If enacted, the Equality Act would threaten female competition as both areas would then be open to biological males as well.

Are there pro-life concerns in the Equality Act?

Yes. The Equality Act would be the most pro-abortion bill ever passed by Congress. It would redefine the term “sex” to also include “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.” This language would roll back federal law that protects the consciences of pro-life nurses and physicians who object to participating in abortions because of their deeply held religious or moral beliefs. These conscience protections carry decades of bipartisan consensus—a consensus that no person should be compelled to participate in an act they believe to be gravely immoral. The Equality Act would also jeopardize the longstanding Hyde Amendment that protects federal taxpayer dollars from funding abortion. There is nothing equalizing about forcing Americans to fund abortion through taxpayer dollars.

How has the ERLC been involved?

The ERLC has worked tirelessly to defeat this bill. We have partnered with a broad coalition of more than 85 faith-based nonprofits, religious entities, and institutions of higher education to highlight the dangers of the Equality Act. We have raised these concerns with members of Congress and the administration through coalition letters and countless meetings with members, administration officials, and their staff. We have also engaged in public advocacy against the bill by producing a suite of resources to inform Christians and the broader public about the pernicious threat of the so-called “Equality” Act.

What’s next?

In the prior Democrat-led House, the Equality Act passed 224-206, with three Republicans joining all 221 Democrats. In the 118th Congress, Republicans narrowly hold the majority seats, but the bill is unlikely to make it to the floor for a vote. Two of the three Republicans who voted in favor of the bill are no longer in Congress, which makes it even more difficult for Democrats to force a vote on the bill. Another obstacle is Speaker McCarthy’s commitment to unifying the Republican majority’s voice in the House to present a strong front before the American people. 

While it is unlikely the bill will be passed in this Congress, its continued appearance presents a larger, on-going threat to human dignity and religious liberty. The ERLC will continue to highlight how the Equality Act erodes fundamental freedoms and undermines the ability of Americans of diverse beliefs to work together for the common good.

By / Jul 5

On June 14, 2022, the New York Court of Appeals ruled in a 5-2 decision that Happy was not a human. Happy is a 51-year-old Asian elephant who has been kept at the Bronx Zoo for the past 45 years, having spent the previous 15 years in isolation in her enclosure due to a hostile relationship with other elephants at the zoo. The Nonhuman Rights Project representing Happy in the case contended Happy ought to be legally considered a person, thus possessing the ability to invoke habeas corpus which would free her from isolation at the zoo. The court, while acknowledging that “dialogue regarding the protection and welfare of nonhuman animals is an essential characteristic of our humanity,” ultimately disagreed with Happy’s defense, asserting that Happy is, in fact, only an elephant. 

There is certainly merit within the public square, and particularly among Christians, to deliberate and discuss how we can best care for creation and animal life. The first commandment God gave Adam in the Garden of Eden was to have dominion over the rest of what God created (Gen. 1:28), a responsibility characterized by cultivation and stewardship. Yet, this case, rather than demonstrating how best to care for creation, can serve as a warning to Christians who seek to define what is or is not a human being especially since this question strikes at the core of many of the most pressing social questions of our day.

Defining a human being 

Integral to The Nonhuman Rights Project’s argument to free Happy was the human-like qualities elephants possess. They asserted that “elephants are intelligent beings, who have the capacity for self-awareness, long-term memory, intentional communication, learning and problem-solving skills, empathy, and significant emotional response.” This appeal was unconvincing to the court because “the selective capacit[ies] for autonomy, intelligence, and emotion of a particular nonhuman animal species . . .  are not what makes a person.” They continued their disagreement by stating, “the right to liberty of humans because they are humans with certain fundamental liberty right recognized by law.” 

In these meager two sentences at the core of the court’s opinion, we find the crux of the matter: there is something more to being human than mere rational capacities, intelligence, or emotional capabilities. Even though the court rightfully never attempted to define what it means to be a person, their reticence to do so serves as an example of wisdom for Christians seeking to ensure human dignity for each person. 

Genesis 1 communicates that persons are different from the rest of creation because we are made in the imago Dei, or in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Theories as to what the imago Dei might include range from having rational capacity, creative freedom, walking on two legs, or self awareness. Yet, these definitions fall into the same trap as The Nonhuman Rights Project—by ascribing what it means to be a person to a set of attributes, these potential definitions are both underinclusive and overinclusive. They are underinclusive in that some persons who do not have the defining capacity can be excluded; and overinclusive in that some non-persons possess certain capacities traditionally associated with humanity.

If the New York Court of Appeals had agreed with The Nonhuman Rights Project’s definition of what it means to be human, persons with mental disabilities, those who are preborn and newly born, and persons with cognitive diseases would have been excluded from personhood. Christians can fall into the same trap. Whether it be rational capacity, emotional capabilities, social disposition, or any other well-intentioned articulation of the principle found in Genesis 1, groups of persons who are made in the image of God will invariably be denied their dignity if one attempts to define the image of God. When this happens, we desecrate the image of God because we refuse to affirm it in others simply due to a lack of the specified quality we have come to value. Such patterns of thought disorder a Christian theological anthropology because it locates human dignity in an attribute rather than the status of the imago Dei that is the very root of what it means to be human. 

3 lessons from this case

While the Christian who is concerned for the inherent value of other beings can celebrate the court’s decision to unwittingly protect the rights of all persons regardless of ability, three lessons are to be gleaned from this case: 

1. The world is composed of human beings with a range of abilities and perspectives. Each of these persons is to be celebrated because they are created in the image of God and loved by him. Further, church communities ought to be constituted of persons of all abilities and all stages of life, as each person teaches and instructs us on the love, creativity, intelligence, and care of the Creator. 

2. Creation is marvelous. The fact that an elephant can possess all these traits similar to humans should be worthy of our praise to the Creator. Allowing ourselves to find wonder within creation permits even more opportunities to worship God. Such an ability found in a non-person in creation simply points to the creativity and intelligence of our Creator. Yet, even as amazing as creation is, let us not confuse an animal as what it means to be a person.

3. Christians valuing and advocating for every person’s inherent dignity ought to use this case as a clarion call for our vigilance in protecting the vulnerable. Theologically, we ought to use this case as a reminder to be cognizant of what it means to be a human being and what it means to be made in the image of God. Politically, this case should serve as a reminder to Christians in the public square to remain vigilant in our defense of others who have their human dignity threatened. Because all people are created in the image of God, the rules and laws governing our country should respect the inherent dignity of all persons. 

As we go forward, let us think carefully about our emotions, language, and actions. 

We can enjoy God’s kind gifts, such as amazing animals, without disrupting the value of each human being made in the image of God and abandoning God’s design for the created order. Sometimes, in our culture of confusion, events that might seem silly to some of us, such as the legal trial of an elephant at a zoo, can mount a significant challenge to what it means to be a person, and thus, what it means to be made in the image of God. Let us be a people who meet these temptations and challenges with the truth of God’s Word, a ready answer, and a commitment to uphold the special value God has bestowed on every human being. 

By / Apr 20

Obedience to God is part of the Christian life. When we become followers of Jesus, we set aside our former self and take our place behind Jesus. He leads us step by step. As painful and tumultuous as the road may be, we set our sights on him as our Lord and Leader. For my family, this call to obedience was put to the test with a diagnosis of Down syndrome for my younger sister. I was almost 3 years old, so the trial that my parents endured in those early months and years was lost on me. 

Choosing life when obedience is hard

I can’t imagine what my parents felt as they heard doctors tell them my sister would never walk, never talk, have severe disabilities, and would likely suffer major heart problems. They were terrified at the life their child would have. As they processed this diagnosis, they made a decision to choose life.

This child was still a human being, which meant that her life was worth living even if the road ahead turned out worse than the doctors could imagine. It was easy for my parents to choose life for my sister because they believe life is precious and created by God, but this decision was through tears, heartache, and prayer. Yet, my family was forever changed by my sister, Amanda. 

In the early years, my parents faced uncertainty about her health and development, always wondering what she would be able to do with her life. They had to fight not to compare her to other kids her age and accept that her life would look different than their other two daughters. On top of this, they worried about her safety, how others treated her, if she was being bullied or made fun of without being able to tell my parents, and if she was being included with the other kids. 

As her sister, I learned to be less needy as a child so that my parents could give Amanda the attention she needed. No one forced me to make this decision, but it was my natural response to a sister who needed special care. Though this learned independence was not all bad, I did have to relearn as an adult to ask for help and be vulnerable with my needs. I also felt and still feel personally wounded when I hear jokes about those with special needs, and recoil when the word “retarded” is used in name-calling. 

Amanda is now an adult, and the difficulties of her life are not all over. She will never have the “normal” life that my youngest sister and I had. She won’t go to college, get married, or have a big social life. It is difficult for us, as her family, to know that she won’t do the same things that other 20-somethings do. 

Gifts from my sister

One could read these difficulties and ask if her life was really worth preserving. Did my parents make the right decision? Were the trials of delayed speech, the staring from people in public, the struggles with the education system, and the extra attention she required worth it? Wouldn’t it have been easier if Amanda never existed?

Easier? Yes. Absolutely. There is no way to deny that my family would have an easier time without her. But ease of life and lack of trials is not the point. The point is that Amanda is a person, and all people are worth preserving at any cost to those around them. 

What I haven’t told you yet is that Amanda made our lives better — in a multitude of ways. 

She teaches us about love. Amanda loves her family and her friends unconditionally. When she meets another human, she treats them with the honor and respect they deserve. All aspects of human life are incredible to Amanda. She is thrilled when someone has a baby, gets married, starts a new job, goes on a vacation, or even eats at a restaurant or visits a bookstore. Whether it is my engagement announcement or a picture I took of a tree, Amanda leaves a comment on social media that says “that is amazing Allyson” or “I can’t believe you did that – that is so cool.” And you know what is incredible? She actually means it. 

She teaches us about gratitude. Beyond her love of others, she has the most pure and grateful outlook on life. When she was younger, a single Reese’s peanut butter cup would make her so excited. At Christmas, she is the most thankful of anyone for what she receives. The smallest, most simple gifts or activities bring delight to her face and, “I can’t believe it!” to her lips. 

She teaches us about humanity. When she was younger, she played softball and was an amazing catcher. As a teenager (and even as an adult sometimes), she will roll her eyes at my dad’s jokes or my mom’s requests that she doesn’t like. She remembers details about her favorite actors and can tell you exactly when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was born, where he is from, and what his favorite foods are. She makes fun of us, laughs at silly things, goes to her dance class, and tells me about the annoying people she encounters. She hugs, cries, gets mad, does her chores, writes in journals, and eats her favorite foods. Amanda is a person, a human life, not all too different from you and I. 

She affects the lives of those around her. If you were to divide Amanda’s life between the joys and the trials it brings, the joys would break the ground compared to the trials. Joy incomparably outweighs trial. Amanda enriches the lives of those around her. In her softball days, opposing teams would cheer for her when she got a hit. At school, she knew all the “cool kids” and would receive a string of high-fives from all the athletes. Around the dinner table, her belly laugh can brighten your day immediately. Everyone she meets is her new best friend, and she will care deeply for all she knows. You cannot walk away from an encounter with Amanda and not be blessed by it. 

Life may have been easier without Amanda, but it would not have been better. She is a daughter of the Most High God. She was knit in my mother’s womb (Psa. 139), fashioned by God, and her life has been all grace. My parents chose life, and they chose obedience to God. For every hardship we have endured as a family, the grace of God shown through Amanda’s life outshines it all. 

Following behind Jesus in obedience is worth every step. The kindness of God might not always look like we expected, and his blessings might not always be obvious to us. But faithful obedience to him will always, always, always result in his grace meeting us. One day, our faith will become sight when we meet Jesus in glory. He will be our prize, and he will be our reward. 

By / Dec 2

The eyes of the nation are turned toward the Supreme Court this week as the Justices heard the oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. This is a pivotal moment regarding abortion rights in America. Never before has the Court seemed more likely to overturn Roe v. Wade than it does at this moment, and it could be decades before another chance like this arrives. Many articles will be able to better explain the legalities of this case. While it is important to consider what the Constitution says about abortion, it is even more important to consider what God says. Below is a brief overview of the Bible’s teaching on early human life.

What the Bible says about life

John and Jesus

The Bible is clear that all human beings are made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26), that the wanton shedding human blood is deeply sinful (Gen. 9:6), and that life even at the earliest stages is precious (Ps. 139:13-16).  In the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we read of Mary, the mother of Jesus, going to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Luke tell us, 

In those days Mary set out and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judah where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped inside her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she exclaimed with a loud cry: “Blessed are you among women, and your child will be blessed! How could this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me” (Luke 1:39-44). 

This text tells us a few things. First, Elizabeth speaks of her child in terms indicating he is at that moment, in her womb, alive and worthy of being spoken of as a baby, not simply a potential life. He was a prophet from the womb as he was declaring that this was the Christ. Gabriel even tells Zechariah, John’s father, earlier in the chapter that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15). 

The Greek word for “baby” in 1:41, 44 is brefoß (brephos). Luke (who, if you will recall, is a doctor) uses the same word to describe the infant, Jesus, in the next chapter during the narrative about the shepherds. He writes, “This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby (brefoß) wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger” (2:12). It is also the same word Luke uses in 18:15 to describe the infants (brefoß) that the people tried to bring to Jesus when the disciples sought to prevent them, and Jesus rebuked them.

Aside from what this text tells us about John, it says a great deal about the Lord as well. Both John and Elizabeth recognize that Jesus is, at this specific point in time, the Messiah. Luke 1:26 says Elizabeth conceived six months before Mary. Even if Elizabeth were nine months pregnant when this meeting took place, the furthest along that Mary could have been is around 12 weeks. This is well before the US Supreme Court’s litmus test of viability. When Roe v. Wade was handed down, this was believed to be around 28 weeks.

Job and David 

In Job 3, after seven days of sitting quietly on the ground in mourning with his friends, Job speaks and curses the day he was born because of the unthinkable suffering he had endured. He says, “May the day I was born perish, and the night that said, “A boy is conceived” (3:3). Job does not view the beginning of his existence from viability or from the moment he passed through the birth canal. He views the beginning of his life from the moment he was conceived, which has direct bearing on the abortion debate today. 

David says something similar in Psalm 51 when speaking to the depth of his sinfulness. He said, “Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me” (51:5). David and Job did not see their own lives as coming after that which was conceived in the wombs of their mothers. Rather, they identify their beginning from the moment of their conception. 

Furthermore, David speaks of God’s work in fashioning him in his mother’s womb in Psalm 139. He says, 

For it was you who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise you because I have been remarkably and wondrously made. Your works are wondrous, and I know this very well. My bones were not hidden from you when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in your book and planned before a single one of them began (139:13-16).

David is not speaking of his potential self in these verses. Clearly, he believes that what was in his mother’s womb was not merely a “product of conception” but rather himself as a formless, immature baby. He also indicates in 139:16 that while his days began at birth (that would be the counting of them as one would count a birthday) that his life and existence had already begun. 

Conclusion

Ultimately, human life is valuable because man is made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26). Man does not derive his own worth from inside himself but from his Creator. Abortion is such an egregious evil because the destruction of life made in his image is a destruction of the image of the holy, almighty, infinitely glorious, and eternally valuable God.

Abortion has caused the destruction of countless lives — inside and outside of the womb. Women who have had an abortion should not suffer alone. These women or those who believe that their only hope is to have an abortion should find safety, not ridicule, from those in the pro-life movement. Loving both mother and baby is the only acceptable option. Stopping the death of unborn babies is but one part of a holistic worldview that churches who promote life must have. This issue is one piece of a larger framework for creating healthy marriages and families and enabling the society around us to flourish.

Believers everywhere should pray for this week’s events at the Supreme Court. Pray that God will have mercy on our nation. Pray that the scourge of abortion will end. Pray that the sun will finally set on the great human rights crisis of our time. Pray that those made in God’s image will no longer have to be subject to instruments in the hands of abortion doctors. Pray that moms would be encouraged to embrace the unborn life inside of them. And pray that the right to life will prevail. 

By / Nov 4

In December, 127 Worldwide will celebrate a decade of ministry. We exist to connect and equip the global body of Christ to restore hope to orphans, widows, and vulnerable communities. And we work with Christians and churches in the West and with respected, driven, and visionary local leaders in Kenya, Uganda, and Guatemala who are taking care of vulnerable people in their communities. 

God has exceeded every expectation I had for starting a nonprofit organization in 2011. This was certainly not my plan in life. I used to think this was a unique element of my story, but does anyone’s life actually turn out exactly the way that they plan? The last 10 years have been full of  the hardest and simultaneously most rewarding adventures that God has ever invited me to join. 

Recently, someone on our team suggested that I reflect on 10 lessons that God has taught me during 10 years of leading our organization. This list is not exhaustive, but I hope it will be encouraging and useful to you as you seek to live out true religion in the various ways God has called you (James 1:27). 

1. Trust that God will open and shut appropriate doors

As an executive director of a nonprofit organization, so many decisions wait for your input. Many times I have prayed, “God, you know me, and you know where I most need help. Please make it obvious to me what you’d have me do.” I rely on the faithfulness that God has demonstrated in the past to grow my trust that he will open and shut the correct doors in his perfect timing. I have learned to walk through open doors and not to push through shut doors. Sometimes this has not been easy to learn, but my confidence in God’s faithfulness has definitely grown in the last 3,650 days.

2. Self-awareness is key and will keep you humble. 

Vulnerability is somewhat tied to this lesson, too. I have degrees in counseling and psychology, so I have always enjoyed personality inventories to learn more about myself. I’ve learned that you have to be honest with yourself and your team as you consider what is the best use of the time you devote to your work. I know where I am strong, and (just as importantly) I know where I am weak. I make it a goal to spend 80% of my time working in areas where I am the best qualified person on staff to do the task. I want to invest my time wisely in things no one else can do as well. Likewise, I am very aware of the areas where I am not the best person for the job. 

3. Surround yourself with people who are gifted in your areas of weakness. 

This was a lesson that my dad taught me at an early age, but it has been consistently reinforced in the last 10 years. It takes self awareness and vulnerability to admit your weakness. However, this has been a huge shaper of our culture at 127. I am quick to announce my weaknesses and even recommend other people on our team who would be a better fit for some tasks. Just as Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 12, we are one body with many members. We need each other to accomplish our best work. Humbly embrace that you need other people to work to your full potential.

4. Trust your gut

Now this isn’t an “always rule.” We know that the heart is deceitful above all else (Jeremiah 17:9) apart from Christ. Of course, we have to examine what the Holy Spirit might be doing and walk confidently in the way that we sense God leading us. There have been times, though, when the logical solution didn’t feel like the best solution. I have learned what “trust your gut” looks like for me. It is not a card that I play very often, but I have grown in confidence when this tactic is appropriate. 

5. The (lack of) rhythm is going to get you. 

Healthy rhythms in ministry leadership are a must. It’s okay to calendar time for reading, writing, and spending time with God, family, and friends. Boundaries are healthy. Saying no is healthy. Maintaining rhythm in your life and work is crucial. The quickest way for me to spiral downward is to lose sight of the disciplines that are tethering me to a firm foundation. Solitude, prayer, and journaling are just a few habits that encourage routine. Prioritize routines as much as possible. 

6. Stop. Collaborate. And Listen

Technically, these could be three separate directives. Before executing your new and fresh ideas, wisdom and maturity requires you to pause, see who else is doing similar work, and make an attempt to work together if possible. Ask good questions, but then do less talking and more listening. Ministry should not be a competition. Find like-minded people who make you better as you spend time with them. Learning this lesson has been truly life-giving for me.

7. The leader in a group may be the quiet one. 

One might assume that the loudest voice in the room is the strongest leader. To that, I say one of the few French sayings that I know, “Au contraire mon frere!” A colleague once noticed that I direct conversations even though I am usually not the one who is doing the most talking. People love to talk about themselves, and you can learn so much if you learn to ask good questions. Also, if you are quiet until you really feel compelled to say something, then most of the time people will listen intently as you provide evidence to support that you have something worth listening to. 

8. Beware of burnout

Burning the candle at both ends will lead to a puddle of wax. I definitely learned this lesson the hard way. I hit the 7-year wall where I woke up one day realizing that I was spending most of my time doing things that I was not gifted to do and that I wasn’t passionate about doing. I was cranking out essential tasks purely out of obligation. Somewhere along the way, I lost my joy for the work. 

You will always have tasks in your job that you don’t love, but operating the majority of your time outside of your giftings greatly increases your chances of burnout. Compassion fatigue is a real struggle in this work of empowering local leaders who are serving vulnerable populations. Taking time out for rest and self-care is essential to prevent the previously mentioned puddle of wax.

9. Don’t shy away from hard conversations. 

I am markedly more comfortable with conflict and difficult conversations than I was a decade ago, and I am definitely better for it. God can use the process through difficult discussions to make both parties look more like Christ as the end result. Advance, don’t retreat. Spend time building trust and respect among your team and ministry partners. Then, when tough conversations are necessary, you have established a baseline for the message to be received on top of a firm foundation.    

10. Stay in a posture of openhandedness. 

Choose carefully the hills that you are willing to die on. These hills should be few and far between. The last few years have been years of growth and clarity for 127 Worldwide. As God has expanded our team, I’ve had to figure out my nonnegotiables for the direction of the ministry. One of my most important jobs as the executive director is to guard the mission and vision of the organization. It is okay if others are forging a path that looks very different than the one you would have taken. You should expect that. 

What is important is that the team is passionate about the work and equipped to succeed in building their path. The results are up to God. Freedom grows as open hands release people, plans, and expectations. Disappointment comes when we hold too tightly to any of these. Open hands are not capable of holding on to anything, but they can easily receive what God has for you.

I am grateful that God gives us opportunities to grow in Christlikeness through every step of obedience that we take. I look forward to seeing all of the new lessons that await me in the next decade. And I encourage you to pray about what steps of obedience God might be leading you to take. 

By / Oct 13

As the world grapples with the transgender revolution, one area where the revolution refuses to subside is in the area of sports. There are now too many documented instances to count, but Christian legal advocacy organization Alliance Defending Freedom has put together a helpful clearinghouse of information on the subject.

As many might remember, the issue of allowing transgender-identified persons to compete in the category of their preferred gender identity rose to the cultural surface during this year’s Olympics when a transgender female (biological male) competed against other females in a weight-lifting competition. The athlete in question failed to advance, which, for some, may have put to rest the question of there being an unfair advantage in play when males competed against females.

But the issue shows no signs of going away, especially as a report from the European Sports Councils Equality Group is questioning whether innate advantages in male athletic performance can be reduced solely down to testosterone levels, which is what most regulatory bodies have tended to focus on in their rule-making.

What “retained differences” reveal 

The report offers these words summarizing their findings: “Our work exploring the latest research, evidence and studies made clear that there are retained differences in strength, stamina and physique between the average woman compared with the average transgender woman or non-binary person registered male at birth, with or without testosterone suppression.”

The language of “retained differences” is a massively revealing tell that we cannot ignore. There are admissions and clues given to us even from an unbelieving world that end up reaffirming God’s created order. It’s a sentence that also reveals why such a report needed to be written in the first place: “Retained differences” evidences an unwitting theological category for “nature” in general, and human nature in particular. Nature is a created reality (Genesis 1:26-27). The idea of “essence” speaks to there being a human nature known as male and female. And these categories, in Christian thought, are said to be immutable categories that cannot be transcended based on choice or self-willed preference. 

We know the nature of a thing by understanding its purpose, and purpose is never severed from a thing’s design. Hence, when we speak of male and female, we are speaking of those sexed persons whose bodily design bears a teleological purpose toward a particular end, namely, reproduction. As the Nashville Statement rightfully states, “the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.” The Nashville Statement’s wording testifies to the reality of an enduring gender binary. When God made us males and females, he did not make that an exclusively psychological category, but a physically enfleshed reality.

Even where testosterone is hormonally altered by medical therapies to make it virtually negligible to compete against women, that does not altogether reconfigure the innate advantages that males possess. There are more aspects to maleness than mere testosterone alone — such things as muscle, bone density, and anaerobic capacity. We cannot escape who God made us, despite our best attempts. Our true self will always shine through. The question is whether we will live in conjunction with it, or in futile opposition to it.

The underlying problem of the transgender revolution 

The report proposes several solutions to resolve transgender competition. But the attempt to resolve this dilemma will ultimately be pointless, because where you have a culture trying to suppress what is simply there by virtue of nature, human creativity will not, for long, withstand the natural flow of the universe. 

Where all interested parties in the report attempt to find supposed satisfaction in striking compromises, what it really does is reveal the underlying problem of the transgender revolution: When society takes the drastic action to separate gender identity from biological sex, it has done grave damage to the sustainability and equilibrium of gender and sex throughout virtually all segments of culture. The report seems to admit that there are no perfect solutions. It is the Christian who can help explain why that is: It is fruitless to treat nature as a malleable substance. It simply cannot be done without grave confusion and injustice happening.

This latest controversy reflects a truth of the Christian worldview: We are embodied beings whose sex is always brought to bear in our everyday life. While I might be more than a “male” as far as how I understand myself in the world, I am never less than a male. My experience as a professor, a husband, a father, and even as a friend, is an intrinsically sexed experience.

The sooner that our culture recognizes this, the sooner we can return to what is true.

By / Oct 7

What is your immediate reaction when you see something that is broken? When I see something broken, I want to fix it — whether it’s a household object, a relationship, or a community. I want to jump in and start solving the problem. It’s like that broken thing was just waiting for me to come in and save the day. 

But what if the “broken” thing I see isn’t actually broken? Or what if I’m not the one to fix it? 

These are the kinds of questions that Jeff Palmer forces us to ask ourselves in his book So You Want to Dig a Well in Africa?: What You and Your Church Need to Know About Mercy-oriented Missions Palmer has served in international missions and development work for more than 30 years. During that time, he has used his background in agriculture to help people in over 60 countries with things like food security, clean water and improved health. His book, though, is not really about digging wells, and it’s not really about Africa. Rather, it’s about how Christians (and the Church) approach mercy-oriented missions.

The world is full of needy people

The world has always been full of needy people, and it always will be until the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21:1). In this digital age in particular, we feel the weight of the neediness of the world more than ever before.

We see Facebook ads telling us that every child deserves a pair of shoes, so we give. We hear stories of families in need around the world, and we give. And the more we are exposed to a world in need, the more resources we pour into overseas projects.

The average church member has more opportunities now to experience cross-cultural missions and see others’ needs first hand. We see lifestyles that are so different from anything that we’ve experienced in the West, and we think that those different communities must be broken and in need of repair.

But what if before we tried to fix the brokenness and heal the neediness, we first looked at our own brokenness? What if we first recognized our own neediness and complete dependence on God? What if people living in different circumstances than us really aren’t any more broken than we are? 

Locals aren’t depending on you

Is it possible that we’re not as necessary as we think we are?

There are a lot of people in the world who have been living in need for generations. You may be able to be a part of their solution, but as one local believer addressing a group of outsiders said, “They are not waking up every morning and mentioning your name” (31).

Throughout the book, Palmer reminds readers of both the dignity (and brokenness) of those in need and the brokenness (and dignity) of those who have much. Both “sides” have something to give and something to receive. 

Solutions that heal

When we do discover needs in the world that we are positioned to address, we must be careful to address them in ways that actually bring healing and not more hurt. Through stories, examples, and prodding questions, Palmer teaches readers to evaluate the difference between actually helping a community and just trying to make a community look more like ours — something we’re more comfortable with. 

When serving communities in need, missions teams must prioritize the dignity of their neighbor and the sustainability of the solution. As Palmer points out in the book, Jesus gave those in need the dignity to express what they were seeking. Consider, for example, when Jesus asked a blind man what he wanted Jesus to do for him (Matthew 20:32). Palmer calls on believers to serve as Jesus did, allowing compassion to move us to action that honors our neighbor more than ourselves.

There are many ways that we can do this, and Palmer spends the majority of the book helping readers decipher myth from truth when it comes to serving those in need with dignity and then looks practically at what successful mercy-oriented missions programs look like.

While there is no one right answer for every need in every community, Palmer says that involving the community in the quest for long-term solutions to long-term problems is crucial. He describes outsiders as catalysts and local people as the ones who discover their problems, prioritize them, design their solutions, and implement their plans.

Palmer walks readers through a journey of considering (and hopefully understanding) how solutions that begin and end with the local people are both dignifying and sustainable after outsiders leave.

Why we help

If I’m broken and needy myself, if locals need to be the ones to create and carry out sustainable solutions, and if they’re not depending on me, then how come Palmer’s book didn’t talk me out of engaging in mercy-oriented missions?

Palmer concludes the book by reminding readers that helping communities in need gives us access to those who have never heard the gospel, empowers local churches to be on mission with God, and leads to international gospel proclamation. But we have to ask ourselves hard questions to make sure that these things are true of our mercy-oriented missions and that the people we are trying to help really want and need our help.

Mercy-oriented missions are for the good of people and the glory of God. So we pray for discernment, asking God to lead us and open our eyes and ears to the opportunities to meet needs and make his name known.

Whether a pursuit of mercy-oriented missions is intimidating to you or makes you feel good about yourself (or something in between), Palmer’s book invites you to consider weighty questions about the how and why behind your missions engagement. May our mercy-oriented missions always be for the glory of God.

By / Sep 28

When news from the Middle East and Near East regions of the world begin to fill my screen, there’s one reporter that I want to read: Mindy Belz. 

I’ve known about her work as an editor and war correspondent with WORLD magazine for over 15 years, but her 2016 book, They Say We Are Infidels, was instrumental in shaping the way I understand this part of the world, revealing its rich Christian history. Her relationships with international churches and believers have provided her decades of insight into these predominantly Muslim parts of the world. 

As Christians in the West consider today’s international crises, as well as reflect on the impact of 9/11 20 years ago, Belz shines a light on both the histories and cultures of these far-off nations, shares her reasons for going into hard places, and points us to the eternal things that should guide our lives.

Jill Waggoner: Can you help us zoom out and understand the cultural landscape of the Middle East and the significance of Afghanistan?

Mindy Belz: Afghanistan commonly gets lumped into the Middle East because of the wars after 9/11, but it’s technically considered part of the wider Near East or Central Asia. That’s important, because Afghanistan is somewhat of a bridge. It has a lot of the Islamic elements that have bedeviled the United States and the Middle East (in Lebanon with Hamas and Iraq with al-Qaida and ISIS). But it also has this history of being under the thumb of the Soviet Union. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and subsequent occupation set the stage for the American engagement there. It began as a Cold War engagement, and then it moved into what we know today, an engagement over terrorism that had its base in Afghanistan. That history is significant to how it came onto the American radar, but of course, 9/11 propelled it there to stay. 

I traveled to Sudan in 1998, 1999, and in June of 2001. Sudan was engaged in this war that pitted Christians in the South versus Muslims in the North. It was a precursor to what we would see after 9/11. Christians have been like a footnote in these conflicts, and yet, to me, they were an important piece because what Christians experience is often a precursor to what the entire population is going to face. When we look at the war that was happening in Sudan in the 1990s, we see this dramatic and atrocious conflict between a jihadist government in the North and the Christian population in the South. That set a pattern for what we saw repeated in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, where this concept of “conquering infidels” came into play with really deadly force. 

JW: How did 9/11 change U.S. engagement in this region of the world?

MB: It had been a Cold War engagement up until that point, very much based on our national interests in keeping dominance over the Soviet Union, Russia, and its breakaway republics after the fall of the Berlin Wall. 9/11 changed it dramatically because then it became about U.S. survival. It was an attack on the U.S. homeland. Nothing like that had happened in modern memory. It was no longer war at a remove; it was war up close. 

Significantly, that moment built on the Cold War alliances. NATO, within days after 9/11, invoked Article 5. This was the first time in its history, putting NATO on a war footing in support of the United States. Among the victims of 9/11, there were more than 90 nations represented. We had tremendous international support for our response to it.  

JW: How would you help a younger audience think about 9/11?

MB: 9/11 is possibly the largest event of the century and certainly one of the landmark moments in U.S. history. 

It is important to go beyond the headlines and the 10-minute recap you see on the news. You can visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum site or go to the museum and see the names. It’s such a powerful reminder of the ordinariness of the people who died. They had no intention of stepping into a war zone when they were going to work that day. I would encourage anyone to read some of the original sources on the 9/11 Museum site. Find the 911 calls on YouTube. Not everyone wants to go down that road, but I think it’s valuable to get a real sense of what people went through.

It is also important to generally appreciate what the terrorists’ goals were. I’ve had the 9/11 Commission Report on my shelf at the ready for years. It is a thick book, but mine is so well thumbed now. Parts of it read like a novel. It helps you understand all the players and what was happening from the FBI, CIA, and military standpoint. You understand what was happening in Washington and New York. It describes what ​​al-Qaida was planning and the hijackers’ stories leading up to that day. Original sources are what we have to rely on, especially as we see misinformation surface. 

I’ve [also] really enjoyed reading about the millennials whose whole generation has been shaped by how our country changed after 9/11. I have much encouragement and hope as I see how many of my children’s peers committed themselves to military service or aide or nongovernmental organizations. When I covered the refugee crisis, I saw many 20- and 30-somethings that dropped everything to help these refugees coming across the Mediterranean. That defines the generation to me. I have great hope because of how this generation has been shaped by really sobering, hard events. 

JW: How would you encourage the Western church to think about and understand the Christian church in the Middle and Near Eastern parts of the world?

MB: I went to Iraq to cover the war early on and discovered the Christians along the way. There was this rich history there outside of what many think of as the Holy Land. I was going in churches that were built in the 300s. Their liturgy was in Aramaic. They were holding on to traditions because they were precious to them, not because they were following rote tradition. Everywhere I went, I was having my own presuppositions exploded. 

I met people whose resilience drew me to them. They had a patience about the Christian conflict with Islam and a determination about it that seemed to be lacking in the American public. The U.S. eventually wanted to turn away from the conflict and commitments in Iraq, as we are seeing now in Afghanistan. One of the reasons these wars have ended in such disarray and with such tragic consequences is that we never engaged them on the terms in which we said we were. We failed to understand that this is an age-old conflict. We failed to look at the really good examples of how people from outside of Islam have engaged with Islam.

On my journeys, I [saw] great examples of people coexisting and also being great witnesses, and in some cases being martyrs. The Old English definition of a martyr is a witness. They were being martyrs on a daily basis, and sometimes with their own lives, in order to stand and to give testimony to the Muslims that they lived alongside. 

JW: Recently, my 10 year-old son got in my car as I was listening to the news. He asked what it was, and I told him. As I turned it off he said, ‘Why are you listening to that? Aren’t bad things happening?’ I wondered how you would answer that question. In a world where ‘bad things’ are happening, why should we pay attention?

MB: Because the love of Christ compels us to. We can all have a sense of discouragement and helplessness in the face of any days’ bad news, but we know Christ came to enter into bad news, bringing life and the good news of the gospel. 

Our life in the United States gives us so much material comfort and grace that we lose sight of the consummation of all things. We might be tempted to think that the consummation is like our day to day: the sun shining, peace with our neighbors, a grocery store nearby. Our current reality dulls our sense that there is a future — where Christ is reigning and has reconciled all things under his feet — that is beyond what we can imagine right now. We can be tempted to lose sight of that chapter of the gospel narrative. I have a sense that the Christians who went before me had a much clearer view of what is to come that compelled them through the hard things of any day. 

JW: Many people have had trauma in the last two years. I imagine that your journeys have allowed you to see things that I’ve never seen, creating difficulties for you on a personal level that might extend beyond the experience. Do you have a personal word for those who are dealing with trauma? 

MB: It is definitely a real thing and something that I’ve struggled with from time to time. I have faced life and death moments. Because I’m still here after those moments, I can say they propel us to the feet of Christ and into the arms of God. 

Sometimes I dread going into a place where there’s a lot that’s unknown. There also have been times where I felt like I knew the situation, but when I was walking down the street, I could feel the tension and feel how much things had changed. This happened to me in 2019 in Syria, and I knew I was not in a safe place. Within 30 minutes, a bomb went off right across the street from me. I’ve been in moments where all I know to do is pray and trust that God has me where he wants me. That might be a place of death or a place of witness — seeing something that’s really, really hard. 

I come back to this fraternity that we have with Jesus. In those moments, we see in a new way what he endured, and what he was willing to endure, for us. We also see our own weaknesses and shortcomings. We’re brought face to face with the fact that we’re not Jesus. We quake and have fear and sometimes we run away, and that’s okay to do. 

The only way I know to process those things is in community. The community that I have with my husband, first of all, is the only reason that I have been able to continue this work — his support, patience, and willingness to hear the things [I’ve experienced]. Also, I process with my church community, pastors, and friends who are good counselors. We have to process these things in community, but we also have to process them as a way of recognizing our weakness and the profound sacrifice that Jesus made. 

By / Sep 2

As the United States departed from Afghanistan, there remains an urgent humanitarian crisis in the country, both for the U.S.’s Afghan allies and those fearing persecution from the Taliban.

Chelsea Sobolik welcomes Matthew Soerens, the U.S. Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief to discuss how and why Christians can serve Afghan refugees who qualified for the Special Immigrant Visa Program and the Refugee Resettlement Program.

Guest Biography

Matthew Soerens is the U.S. Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief, where he helps evangelical churches to understand the realities of Afghan refugees and immigration and to respond in ways guided by biblical values. He also serves as the National Coordinator for the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition that advocates for immigration reforms consistent with biblical values.

Matthew previously served as a Department of Justice-accredited legal counselor at World Relief’s local office in Wheaton, Illinois and, before that, with World Relief’s partner organization in Managua, Nicaragua. He’s also the co-author of Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis (Moody Publishers, 2016).

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