By / Aug 26

In the aftermath of the sudden, tragic fall of Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban, thousands of refugees have been fleeing the landlocked nation to escape persecution and retaliation from the extremist group. Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm of Southern Baptists, has begun the process of helping Afghan refugees as they resettle around the world by working with World Relief and other ministry partners.

Photos of packed aircraft and video of desperate Afghan people surrounding planes as they take off have captured the world’s attention in recent days. Those who served alongside the United States military in some capacity are among the groups in the direst situation, but there are thousands of others whose lives and livelihoods are now at risk because of the Taliban.

“We need to pray for the Afghan people as many are fleeing with nothing but the clothes they have on,” said Bryant Wright, president of Send Relief. “Any remaining Christians will be targeted. The women and girls who are left behind will lose the freedoms they’ve gained over the last 20 years. May the church minister to any refugees our government allows in who have supported American efforts or faced persecution there.”

Thousands of Afghan refugees are expected to arrive in the United States in the coming days and weeks, and World Relief — a global Christian humanitarian organization that partners with local churches to serve vulnerable populations — has 17 offices across the United States where they aid refugees who will settle there.

As churches seek to respond, Send Relief will provide training and materials to equip churches that want to serve refugees in their communities and connect churches with organizations, like World Relief, that will help make direct connections with refugee families.

Most refugees arrive in the United States and need to find places to live, figure out how to enroll their kids in school and purchase basic household and hygiene items. Many also need assistance with learning English. Organizations like World Relief often work with local churches to help meet some of these needs.

“We don’t view this through the lens of politics or even through the lens of the images coming out of Afghanistan right now,” said James Misner, senior vice president of strategic engagement for World Relief. “We view this through, and we respond through the lens of the commands of God in scripture—which tell us over and over again to welcome the stranger in need.”

Matthew Soerens, World Relief’s U.S. director of church mobilization and advocacy, also addressed concerns about the vetting process for refugees entering the United States with Baptist Press.

The U.S. government has, in recent decades, taken steps to ensure that those applying for refugee status receive background checks against several databases, according to The Heritage Foundation.

Afghans who provided assistance to the U.S., and are seeking to flee Afghanistan apply through a process called the Special Immigrant Visa program, a long vetting procedure that often takes more than two years to complete. Christians, women and other religious minorities are likely to flee the nation and seek refugee status in the U.S. or elsewhere.

Along with assisting in the refugee resettlement process in the United States, Send Relief also coordinates with international partners in resettling refugees in other nations around the world, helping those forced to leave their homes adjust to life in what is oftentimes a strange, new land.

To learn more about how you can give or serve refugees in this current crisis, visit sendrelief.org.

This article was originally published here

By / Aug 24

Last week, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court in New Orleans, Louisiana, upheld a Texas law prohibiting certain uses of an abortion method known as dilation and evacuation (D&E), a procedure “commonly used to end second-trimester pregnancies.” The law, officially known as Senate Bill 8 as it was being considered by the Legislature, was initially blocked by a “three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals” just last year but was granted a re-hearing by the full court at the request of the state of Texas. As a result, the law was officially upheld by the court.

The ERLC affirms the court’s decision to uphold Texas law and its prohibition of this inhumane procedure.

What exactly does SB 8 outlaw?

As recorded by Kevin McGill of the Associated Press, SB 8, first passed in 2017, is a law that “seeks to prohibit the use of forceps to remove a fetus from the womb without first using an injected drug or a suction procedure to ensure the fetus is dead.”

Stated differently, the intent of SB 8 is to outlaw what many in the pro-life community refer to as a “dismemberment abortion” from occurring in the second trimester of a mother’s pregnancy. In such dilation and evacuation procedures, children are forcefully removed from their mother’s womb with the use of forceps, resulting in the dismemberment and death of the child. The law, passed in Texas and upheld by the court of appeals on Wednesday, prevents these procedures from taking place.

It bears mentioning that this law is not a sweeping ban on abortion but a prohibition of a specific abortive procedure from occurring at a specific point during a pregnancy. And while more work is yet to be done to strengthen and expand pro-life legislation, this ruling is a common sense step to disallow a grisly method of abortion.

Can an abortion be performed safely?

Of the 14 appellate judges who heard arguments, nine ruled in favor of the Texas law. In the opinion, judges Jennifer Walker Elrod and Don Willett said “the record shows that doctors can safely perform D&E’s and comply with SB8 using methods that are already in widespread use (emphasis added),” an opinion that, despite the majority’s favorable ruling, makes a confounding assertion.

Furthermore, Judge James Dennis, in his dissent, said that SB 8 “makes it a felony to perform the most common and safe abortion procedure employed during the second trimester (emphasis added).” 

These statements beg the question, can an abortion be performed safely? According to these opinions and others, the safety of an abortive procedure depends solely on the resulting health of the mother. While we always want to be concerned about a mother’s health, it is important to recognize that when an abortion is performed precisely the way it is intended, it necessarily results in the death of a person — the preborn baby.

By definition, then, a successful abortion is never safe; it is always fatal.

Reaction outside the court

Outside the court, Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights and a critic of the decision, stated that her group “is analyzing the decision and considering all its legal options.” Northup went on to say, “At a time when the health care needs of Texans are greater than ever, the state should be making abortion more accessible, not less.”

On the other hand, Kimberlyn Schwartz, Texas Right to Life director of Media and Communication, praised the decision, saying, “Texans celebrate today’s long-awaited victory” and expressed gratitude at the court’s ruling. 

Obviously, the issue of abortion is a divisive topic within American culture, and the reaction to this ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is further evidence of that. The ERLC, in concert with Texas Right to Life and other pro-life organizations across the country, stands unwaveringly on the side of life.

What’s next?

Though this ruling is favorable to the cause of life, we can be sure that the ongoing work of protecting and preserving the lives of unborn children remains squarely in front of us. Texas’ SB 8 is a common sense measure that, to the extent that this law outlines, ensures the humane treatment of preborn children. The decision could be appealed and go all the way up to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, more robust protections are needed for these most vulnerable  children; protections that seek not only to disallow certain abortive procedures, but that further aid the cause of making abortion unthinkable. 

While we should continue the effort to strengthen and expand current legislation, the cause of life is an issue that will advance only as far as the collective conscience of our culture allows. The ERLC remains resolutely committed to working toward both the strengthening of legislation and the softening of hearts, for the cause of life and the glory of God. 

By / Jul 30


The ERLC has submitted an amicus brief in an important Supreme Court case that could affect the future of abortion in America. The amicus brief explains why the court should overturn Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), twin decisions that have prevented states from prohibiting abortion.  

“For too long, the Roe and Casey decisions have allowed our nation to turn a blind eye to the plight of those who have no voice,” said Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, ERLC’s acting director of public policy. “Our brief asks the Court to overturn those two cases and set a new precedent that respects every life. With each passing day, more and more people recognize preborn lives are worthy of protection. The Dobbs case provides another chance for the Court to come to that same conclusion and affirm the fundamental right to life.”

An amicus brief is a learned treatise submitted by an amicus curiae (Latin for “friend of the court”), someone who is not a party to a case who offers information that bears on the case but that has not been solicited by any of the parties to assist a court. The amicus brief is a way to introduce concerns ensuring that the possibly broad legal effects of a court decision will not depend solely on the parties directly involved in the case.

ERLC joined other religious organizations — including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Association of Evangelicals, and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod — in filing the brief in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The Supreme Court agreed this past May to revisit a previous decision “by reviewing a Mississippi law that would replace the ‘viability standard’ with a limit on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.” Viability refers to the stage of development at which an unborn child is capable of living, under normal conditions, outside the uterus. The viability standard is the primary justification for supporting federal legal precedents regarding abortion. Gerard Bradley, a law professor at Notre Dame, says, “the removal of the judicially created barrier of ‘viability’ could let loose a cascade of pre-viability prohibitions, and in due course test the hypothesis that there is no principled, coherent stopping point between removal of the ‘viability’ standard and flat-out reversal of Roe.”

The brief ERLC joined requests that the Supreme Court uphold the Mississippi ban and says the U.S. Constitution “does not create a right to an abortion of an unborn child before viability or at any other stage of pregnancy. An asserted right to abortion has no basis in constitutional text or in American history and tradition.”

The brief also points out that the state has an interest in protecting human life. 

“Government has many responsibilities. Chief among them is protecting innocent life,” said Brent Leatherwood, ERLC chief of staff. “How much more important is that responsibility when it comes to protecting preborn lives that cannot speak for themselves? Christians have long pleaded the case for America to recognize the inherent dignity of our most vulnerable neighbors. This case gives us another opportunity to do so. Until that happens, our nation will not be able to fully achieve that lofty goal of being a land that preserves life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for every individual.”

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in this case sometime between October and April, and should issue a ruling next summer.

The ERLC will always advocate for life, in the public square, before the courts, and before Congress.

By / Jul 29

There has been a lot of conversation recently in Southern Baptist circles and beyond about the right way to fight against abortion. Perhaps you’ve heard about the debate over incrementalism or abolition. Essentially, those views represent two different camps within the broader movement of pro-life Christians seeking to end abortion. But before I dive into the specifics of each view, I wanted to say at the outset that both camps are comprised of faithful brothers and sisters who all share the same fundamental goal. In fact, even this current conversation about the way forward for the pro-life movement further reflects that the movement itself is a broad, diverse, and expanding coalition fueled by a passion to protect the unborn.

Abolition

The first thing to say about the abolitionist camp is that they are laser focused on the goal of ending abortion. And because of that commitment, abolitionists dedicate their time and energy to calling for the immediate end of abortion. Through their activism and advocacy, they support legislation — focusing largely on bills in state legislatures — that would immediately outlaw abortion if passed and signed into law. 

Additionally, abolitionists tend to oppose efforts to restrict abortion that fall short of abolition. And while they may do so for many reasons, a common refrain from abolitionists is that they cannot support laws that allow any lives to be legally aborted. Though I do not consider myself to be an abolitionist (for reasons I set forth below), I think their fierce advocacy in opposition to abortion plays a critical role in keeping the heinous and grievous nature of abortion before the eyes of the American public.

Incrementalism

In a sense, the incrementalism label is a bit of a misnomer. I’m not aware of a single person in the incrementalism camp (of which I consider myself a part), who would not desire or support the immediate eradication of elective abortion. Incrementalism doesn’t mean that one supports the slow destruction of abortion. Instead, it means that one embraces a comprehensive approach to ending abortion — one that leaves every tool and resource on the table to advance the fight for life.

Why incrementalism

At root, I consider myself an incrementalist for one simple reason: I will support almost any measure designed to save the lives of unborn children. As a Christian, I believe that every life is sacred and precious because every single human being is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). And as an image-bearer, every person deserves to be treated with honor, dignity, and respect. That certainly means that every human being has a natural right to life. Though I don’t love the label, I’m an incrementalist because I will support a whole range of efforts to save more unborn lives — up to and including the total abolition of abortion.

Another reason I’m in the incrementalist camp is that I believe abolitionism is morally right but practically wrong. I stand alongside every person in the pro-life movement in opposing the Supreme Court’s wicked and devastating decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion in all 50 states. More than that, I lament and oppose every legal effort to further protect or establish abortion in the United States. But despite my opposition to these things, I recognize that short of civil war — which no one is advocating — the only legitimate remedy to the status quo is through our legal system. 

I respect the moral correctness of attempting to pass state laws to abolish abortion. But at present, if any state were to pass such legislation the federal court system would simply strike down that law as unconstitutional. And in effect, passing such a bill simply maintains the status quo. (I know some within the abolitionist camp predict more successful outcomes such as a cascade of states refusing to submit to the will of federal courts, but I am wholly unpersuaded that such scenarios represent even a remote possibility). 

Instead, I’m convinced that the best way forward is to gain every inch of ground we can. This is the long-held strategy of the pro-life movement. And it is working. That strategy includes things like heartbeat bills, partial-birth abortion bans, pain-capable bills, informed consent laws, waiting periods, and more. Each of these are tools the pro-life movement has employed to save the lives of the unborn. 

As Joe Carter has written, “Since Roe v. Wade became the law of the land in 1973 the [abolitionists] have made absolutely no progress, while the incrementalists have helped to save the lives of thousands of children. Over the past 45 years, incrementalists have helped to pass hundreds of laws restricting abortion, including 45 in 2018.” The fact is, there are men and women alive today — attending school, raising children, following Jesus — who wouldn’t be here apart from these “incremental” laws. Moreover, with a still freshly-minted conservative majority on the Supreme Court, it is possible that one of these incremental state laws may lead to the weakening or reversal of the Court’s dreaded Roe decision.

Conclusion 

Supporting incremental measures to reduce abortion isn’t choosing a morally compromised strategy over one that is morally pure. Rather, it is about choosing not to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. It is reprehensible that the abortion regime remains firmly ensconced in America’s legal and cultural fabric. And because it is, I continue to have a deep respect for those who are committed to seeing the immediate destruction of abortion in America. But even so, I remain convinced that the best and most serious effort to reach that goal is found in the comprehensive strategy of incrementalism that seeks to take every step possible to end the culture of death and secure for us a pro-life future.

By / Jul 22

Every person reading this is a human being. But what does that actually mean? “Human dignity” is a term used by Christians (and non-Christians) in policy conversations about a vast array of topics including poverty alleviation, humanitarian aid, abortion, and euthanasia. As Christians, we believe that God creating humankind in his image means that every person possesses an inherent and inalienable dignity. In other words, every human life is precious because every life belongs to a person who bears God’s image. Because of the value and preciousness of each life, it is vital that we develop a clear biblical understanding of what a human is and what the image of God implies. 

What is a human?

Our culture has wrongfully placed the responsibility of defining personhood onto individuals instead of our Creator, who, as “the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13), has the rightful authority to define our being. Claiming false authority over personhood has led to broken families, distorted views of sexuality, and heinous acts such as abortion in our society. Thankfully, through the creation account, the Bible helps us understand specific ways human beings are set apart from the rest of creation. Though faithful scholars differ in certain respects about exactly what it means to be made in God’s image, below you’ll find three characteristics about humanity that are clearly implied by the opening section of Genesis. 

1. Humans are relational

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen. 1:26)

When God created mankind, he did so as a Trinity of three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God created us to live in community with him and with one another, reflecting his relational nature. As one God in three persons, God is relational by nature. Similarly, humans are made to operate in relationships. This is precisely what God emphasizes when he creates Eve to live in union with Adam and says, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). 

Through the blood of Jesus, God invites us into fellowship with the divine Trinity. John writes in 1 John 1:3, “Indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” God’s heart for relationships is further revealed in the New Testament when he establishes the familial nature of the church, encouraging believers throughout the New Testament to “devote themselves to fellowship,” to “have one heart and one mind,” to “bear one another’s burdens,” and to “love one another with brotherly affection” (Acts 2:42; 4:32; Gal. 6:2; Rom. 12:10).

2. Humans are distinct/unique

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). 

In creating us, God not only gave us the ability to love and enjoy companionship with one another and himself, but he also made us distinct in two ways. First, as mentioned above, mankind is made in God’s image. And from Genesis, we learn that human beings are distinct because we are the only part of God’s creation that he specifically made in his image. 

Second, God made us distinct in terms of biology. As Genesis 1:27 tells us, God designed us as either male and female. These distinctions in biological sex are apparent in many ways, including our DNA and external features. Each sex is unique, and various aspects of God’s nature are displayed in both men and women. Ultimately, these distinctions are an important part of the mystery of the gospel, particularly when they are on display in a one flesh union between a husband and a wife. 

As the New Testament explains, the male and female marriage relationship is a picture of Christ’s love for the church. Paul writes of the mysterious, holy complexity of the marriage relationship in Ephesians 5:32: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am speaking about Christ and the church.” Long before Christ’s incarnation, God purposefully created humanity as male and female and designed the marriage union to display truths about himself. 

Biological sex in every individual is one aspect of God’s design that proclaims his creativity and gives us a clearer picture of his image. The distinct features each human bears remind us that no life is ever interchangeable, replaceable, or worthless.

3. Humans are commissioned

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28). 

Every person has a designated role as a steward and cultivator over the earth. God gave Adam a job: to have children, to subdue the ground, and to rule over the other living creatures. Each of us can subdue, or tame, the earth through all kinds of vocations, but this command reveals that God has designed a place and a purpose for each of us (Eph. 2:10). God has included in our makeup the ability to procreate, desires and determination to care for and protect our families — with specific callings designed for husband and wife — to produce things that are good and useful, and to assert leadership in various settings. In order to preserve ourselves and care for loved ones, we employ different gifts and talents that add value to the world and subsequently seek the good of our neighbors. 

God sets his image-bearers above creation and other created beings in giving us vocations. Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations is widely taught and accepted, observing the phenomenon of trade as an obvious outlier from the way animals relate. Smith is merely observing what has been woven into creation — God has uniquely commissioned his image-bearers to work and care for his good creation, and even the marketplace puts his creative design on display.

Conclusion

The special care God took in setting humans apart from other created beings is why a Christian understanding of human dignity is important when considering issues of justice. Slavery, genocide, abortion, and exploitation of all kinds are tragic displays of treating other humans as utilities. But God’s unmistakable genius in each of our bodies, minds, hearts, and personalities denies any attempt to devalue a human’s worth. These practices are considered “inhumane” because they treat people as a means to an end, more like subordinate animals than respected brothers and sisters.

As Christians, we must defend the vulnerable on the grounds that humans are image-bearers; there is no amount of privilege or power that makes a man or woman more or less valuable. Physical distinctions are often a barrier to relationships and an excuse for sinful and exploitative uses of authority, but the Bible makes no distinction when it comes to a person’s value; every person bears the imago Dei, and every person matters.

When God finished creating heaven, earth, and us, he called his masterpiece “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Long ago, God defined our worth so sinful humans wouldn’t be responsible for determining the value of a life. From conception to death, humans have dignity, eminence, and significance because we are the only creatures God made in his image. We may not understand the full picture of the imago Dei until we are face to face with God in heaven, but we do see God’s image reflected in how humans are relational, distinct, and commissioned.

By / Jun 29

Forced displacement is a global crisis that grows every year. In the face of these conditions, sympathy toward displaced people is often overshadowed by fear and concern about security, economics, and culture. As the global refugee crisis worsens, Christians need a perspective that considers Scripture and political realities and can be applied at the local church, national, and international levels. 

In Refuge Reimagined, Mark R. Glanville and Luke Glanville present a compassionate approach to displaced people based on a biblical ethic of kinship. The authors apply the call of God’s people to compassion and kinship to the complexities of the global refugee crisis, challenging a fear-based ethic and casting a vision for a hopeful and generous way forward. Read below to discover more insights from the authors’ book about forced displacement and the church. 

What led to your interest in studying and now sharing about biblical kinship and refugees?

We have been thinking and writing about local and national issues and global justice for refugees for some years. As we discussed refugee issues together a few years ago, we noticed that, on the one hand, Mark was finding that biblical arguments for the compassionate welcome of strangers were often met with the response: but you misunderstand politics. You have not grappled with the conceptual limits and large-scale practicalities of applying this to nations. 

On the other hand, Luke found that political arguments offering for a more compassionate approach to refugees were often met with the response: but you misunderstand the Bible. The biblical call to welcome the stranger is not as straightforward as you think. 

And so we thought it could be helpful to write a book that addresses each of these responses at once, drawing on our complementary interests and expertise in biblical, missional, and political theology (Mark) and history, political theory, and international relations (Luke).

Your approach to compassion for displaced people is centered on a biblical ethic of kinship. What is a biblical ethic of kinship?

In our book, Refuge Reimagined: Biblical Kinship in Global Politics, we highlight the biblical mandate for a thick form of kinship with the displaced, a kinship that embraces and enfolds vulnerable strangers into church communities and national communities, a deeply relational kinship.  

A biblical ethic of kinship is unfolded throughout the biblical story. We see it, for example, in the so-called Golden Rule, Jesus’ command: “You shall love the Lord your God . . . and your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30; Matt. 22:37–39; cf. Luke 10:27). The “love” language found in the Gospels here derives from kinship language. “Love” means to enfold and protect another person as one would a family member. It means to live in solidarity with someone who needs it, as makeshift family. 

Of course, Jesus didn’t invent this command. Rather, he interprets the Old Testament law as fulfilled in his own life and ministry, as he gathered a faithful remnant, an eschatological Israel. With these words, Jesus is echoing the Pentateuch’s teaching on those to whom kinship-love is due under the covenant. Kinship-love is due to God (Deut. 6:5), to one’s neighbor (that is, one’s kinsperson; see Lev. 19:18), and also to the stranger (the outsider who is to be enfolded as kin; see Lev. 19:34; Deut. 10:18). These three kinship-loves are interdependent, expressing an organic covenant life that is emphatically oriented toward others and in particular toward the weakest among us.

What are some of the global conditions that may lead to an increase in the amount of displaced people in the coming decades?

The global number of forcibly displaced people has been increasing by millions each year for many years now, to the point that presently 80 million people find themselves displaced by persecution, violence, human rights violations, and events that seriously disturb social order. Many of these problems are becoming more drawn out and intractable: civil wars are lasting longer, displacement-generating natural and human-made events are occurring more regularly. And climate change already exacerbates these problems — and will likely continue to — as it amplifies food and water insecurity and contributes to triggering or prolonging armed conflicts in various parts of the world.

The refugee crisis is intertwined with many vast and complex issues. Where is a good place for people to start becoming informed if they feel overwhelmed by the subject?

The website of UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, offers insight into the vitality and resourcefulness of people on the move. It has up-to-date information on global conflicts that cause displacement as well as creative responses. For an orientation to engaging the topic thoughtfully, take a look at the film, “Borderstory,” produced by Erin Goheen Glanville (24 minutes). 

How might you respond to those who believe that tackling the issue of refugees is too political or idealistic?

In response to the charge of being too political, we suggest that the mission of God surely includes within its scope not only the church but also the nation and indeed the world. Through Scripture, we discern God’s desire not only for Christ-followers but also for nations, and we thereby discern what the Spirit is longing to restore, and is busy restoring, in the world. Mission is the encounter with the world of a community gathered by Christ to be caught up in the Father’s reconciling purpose for all of Creation. We should strive, then, to seek to discern God’s reconciling purpose for the nation and the world concerning refugees and other displaced people. 

In response to the charge of being too idealistic and the suggestion that we should argue for more “realistic” and incremental change, we acknowledge that there can be a time and a place for seeking to nudge reluctant communities and their leaders toward more compassionate rhetoric and more generous policies toward refugees; a time and a place for pursuing marginal gains in the direction of justice. But we take as the task of our book to examine God’s vision for how communities should engage with displaced outsiders and to explore how this vision might ideally shape the actions of church, national, and global communities today. Our book is idealistic in the sense that God’s desire for human society is so much more beautiful than the present reality. Only once we comprehend the ideal can we know what we ought to strive for by the power of the Spirit.

One of your chapters is titled “Relinquishing Fear, Nurturing Compassion, Institutionalizing Love.” What are some steps we can take to foster a more loving and compassionate, less fearful approach to the refugee crisis?

A first step is to cultivate tenderness (Mark 1:40-41). Some of us live close to refugees, and some of us don’t. Yet, all of us live nearby to struggling single parents, aging seniors, people who are lonely, mentally ill, addicted, anxious, hungry, or depressed. Indeed, are we not all broken in some of these ways? 

Is Christ inviting you into a time of discernment around ways in which you might express the tenderness of Christ? For example, are you being called into your local school to assist children who need help in reading? Is your church being called to start a program to offer meaningful work for underemployed people in your neighborhood? Is Christ leading you to be a companion to lonely people in your church, lonely people like you? Are you being called to care for the creation, our common home? Our tenderness is a sign that the Spirit of Christ is moving among us (Phil 2:1).

A second step toward creative kinship is sharing life in diversity, as we explore in chapter five of our book. Both as households and as churches we need to remodel our kinship circles around the example of Christ. How can your worshiping community begin to reflect the diversity of your neighborhood? Do you need to sing in other languages? Do you need to prioritize those with little as you set your table, as Christ did? Do you need to contemplate a broader range of issues than your preaching and Bible studies tend to address? 

A third step is learning with others. Perhaps some friends would join you in a book group, for example. 

What can the church learn from our displaced brothers and sisters around the world?

Can we tell you a story from our book? Both of us are Australian, though Mark resides in Vancouver. Our book describes how people arriving by boat to seek asylum in Australia are mandatorily detained in facilities on Manus Island and Nauru. We speak about the injustice of this policy and the harm that it does to already vulnerable people.  

Our friend, Ebony Birchall, is a gifted and compassionate Christian lawyer in Sydney, Australia, who uses her professional skills in solidarity with refugees. Birchall both serves these refugees and considers working with refugees to be a gift. For example, when she expressed compassion to one Christian refugee, the man said to her: “Don’t worry. I know that the Australian Government isn’t the most powerful thing in the world. I trust in God, and I know that this will end.” 

Birchall was struck in that moment by the contrast between the many Australian Christians who support this policy and this man who is still pointing to God amidst the suffering of detention. She reflects: “There is a gift in knowing that life isn’t about buying a house and going on holidays. It is this work that gives me joy and fulfillment. This is the sort of thing that builds my character and my faith in God.” 

The truth is, there are more Christians in the global south than in Western nations. Many Christians are coming to Western nations as refugees — the gospel is coming to us! A greater spiritual passion and vitality often characterize churches birthed by refugees.

How can the church best serve displaced people in their communities?

If you have this opportunity for a relationship with newcomers, engage humbly, anticipating that you will transform and enrich each other just like two friends would. Be curious as to how ‘helper’ dynamic might be flipped. Ideally, we were both giving and receiving. This is one step on the road toward friendship, which is something that all of us need to flourish. Here are three ideas: 

1. Reach out to a refugee resettlement organization within your community, such as World Relief. The map of all resettlement orgs is found here

2. Reach out to a pastor of a church in your community that worships in a language other than English, build a relationship and look for opportunities for fellowship and mutual encouragement

3. In the current context where many children are arriving alone, there’s a significant need for families willing to become licensed foster families

Finally, we can always pray. Pray that God would draw refugees to himself through Jesus. Ask him to use you and your church to help meet their needs, both physical and spiritual. And pray that the Father would comfort, protect, and encourage refugees in the midst of circumstances that are often difficult. 

Refuge Reimagined can be purchased here.

By / May 5

Jeff Pickering and Travis Wussow welcome Matthew Soerens of World Relief, a refugee resettlement agency, to the roundtable to talk about what happened with President Biden’s decision on the refugee admissions ceiling. The group also discusses the Evangelical Immigration Table advocacy both for refugee policy and for solutions to the ongoing migration humanitarian crisis at the U.S. southern border.

“Rhetoric is no refuge for the persecuted — we need action. The refugee resettlement ceiling should be raised immediately so our nation can welcome those we already vetted. … We know the program is a secure and thorough process by which America can serve as a beacon of freedom and safe harbor for the oppressed, including persecuted Christians and other imperiled religious minorities.” — Russell Moore on April 16, 2021

“I’m thankful President Biden revised his decision on the refugee ceiling. This action is the first step in bringing admissions back to the historical average and our nation back to our own ideals as a beacon of freedom.” — Russell Moore on May 4, 2021

Guest Biography

Matthew Soerens serves as the U.S. Director of Church Mobilization and Advocacy for World Relief and as the National Coordinator for the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of evangelical organizations of which both World Relief and the ERLC are founding members. He previously served as a Department of Justice-accredited immigration legal counselor for World Relief’s local office in suburban Chicago. Matthew is the co-author of Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis (Moody Publishers, 2016) and Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2018). Matthew earned his Bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College (IL), where he also has served as an adjunct faculty member for the Humanitarian and Disaster Leadership graduate program. He also earned a Master’s degree from DePaul University’s School of Public Service. Originally from Neenah, Wisconsin, he now lives in Aurora, Illinois with his wife Diana and their four children.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Apr 19

Ten years ago, we sat in child-sized chairs in a storage room/office at the elementary school across the street from where we lived in Pennsylvania and heard these words from a psychologist, “We believe your son has autism.” We had walked in that morning knowing something was different about James, and we walked out with a diagnosis, a binder of resources, and the promise someone would call with our next steps. 

I wasn’t new to the world of disability—my big sister has Down syndrome. But my experiences as a sibling and my experiences as a mom were different. Honestly, everything was different after that day. How we spent our time was different. We now had therapy appointments to go to and books to read. How we spent our money was different as we paid for behavioral therapy and occupational therapy. Our relationships with friends changed, as their kids grew and matured through stages James wouldn’t reach in the same way. Our relationships with family members changed, requiring them to adjust their plans around his needs. My plans to homeschool James changed as his preschool teacher held his hand and walked him into the big elementary school when he was just three. 

Changes to our church 

One more thing had to change—the church my husband pastored. Even though I had grown up in a church that welcomed my family and many other special needs families in our small town in Oklahoma, making accommodations and having a culture of inclusion, it hadn’t occurred to me that our church at the time of James’s diagnosis wasn’t ready to welcome special needs families. I looked around and didn’t see kids or teens on the autism spectrum, with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or any other disability. In most school districts, 13% of their student population is in special education. But that number wasn’t reflected at our church. 

In the parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14, we hear Jesus speak of another time a portion of the community was excluded. The master of the house invited many friends and neighbors to his banquet, but they had excuses about why they couldn’t come. So he instructed his servant to “‘bring in here the poor, maimed, blind, and lame.’ ‘Master,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, and there’s still room’” (vv. 21b-22, CSB). 

The master may have looked around his home, his table, and noticed who was missing, much like I did when I looked around our sanctuary the Sunday after James’ diagnosis. Kids like James were missing. Adults like my sister were missing. And our mission was clear—invite them in, and make them welcome. Then, we’ll experience the truth of what the servant told his master—when we make room for those who need accommodations, those who are often neglected, ignored, or ostracized, we realize there is room for everyone. When James pulls up a seat at the table and joins them at the banquet—when they actually see him—the entire church culture can change in miraculous ways. 

When our church sees James, they see the image of God in him, and they learn to see the image of God in everyone they meet. We once had an older church member tell us, “I was at the grocery store and saw a boy flapping like I’ve seen James do, and I knew why!” They learn, like the disciples did in John 9, that disabilities aren’t the result of sin on the part of the parents or the person with a disability. Jesus said, “This came about so that God’s works might be displayed in him” (v. 3b). They see the work of God through the life of James, the life of every member that makes up our church body, and the life of every person they meet in our community and beyond.

When our church sees James participate in corporate worship time and group Bible study because of the accommodations we’ve made for him, they make room for other children and teens with autism, with sensory processing disorder, and with obsessive-compulsive disorder. And as they meet his needs—as they make the gospel accessible to him—they know they can meet the needs of the 6-year-old with ADHD, the 9-year-old with visual impairment, the 15-year-old with Down syndrome, the 32-year-old with social anxiety, and the 73-year-old with dementia. 

When our church sees James use his gifts to build up the body, they know they are needed and valued too. They see the truth in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 and step into their place of service, “Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God works all of them in each person.” They know it isn’t just the pastor on the stage or the teachers in the classrooms who are equipped to serve, but that everyone has a role. 

And when our church takes these steps, they are able to see themselves more clearly. They don’t have to say they are doing fine Sunday after Sunday, because they see that perfection isn’t a prerequisite for belonging in our church family. They see strength, perseverance, and faith lived out right in front of them, and they ask God to produce those qualities in themselves as well. They see their need for the good news of the gospel each and every day.

I’m so thankful for how our church in Pennsylvania responded to James’ needs after his diagnosis. I’m thankful for how our church here in Texas welcomed him and our family a few years ago when my husband became the pastor, and overnight they had to build a special needs ministry. I’m thankful for the churches I communicate with each week in my role as the special needs ministry consultant for the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention. And I’m praying for the day that people with disabilities have a seat at the banquet table in every church in our world and that their absence is noticed and missed. Because when my church sees James and your church sees members with disabilities, we reflect God’s purpose for the church and the beauty of heaven.     

By / Apr 13

The ERLC supports the bipartisan Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act so that the United States can be a place of refuge for Uyghurs fleeing persecution.

The ERLC advocates for the dignity of the sojourner in accordance with  Scripture’s expectation on God’s people to minister to the vulnerable. God’s love for the immigrant, refugee, and foreigner is a specific and consistent biblical theme, and He calls His people to do the same. Christ, the greatest example of love, commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

The U.S. government has made an official determination that the People’s Republic of China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China, for targeting Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups. Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has waged a systemic campaign of oppression and persecution against Uyghur Muslims. The CCP is seeking to “pacify” the region with totalitarian tactics like pervasive surveillance, thought control, ideological reeducation, forced birth control, and compulsory labor. China has constructed upward of 1,000 internment camps for this purpose, and it’s estimated that 1-3 million Uyghur Muslims are detained in these facilities. Aside from political indoctrination, physical and psychological abuse is commonplace throughout these camps, including rape, torture,  malnourishment, and forced organ harvesting. 

The Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act designates Priority 2 refugee status for ethnic Uyghurs and others who are suffering from arbitrary arrest, mass detention, and political and religious persecution by the Chinese government.  This bipartisan bill expedites their ability to apply for refugee status and asylum in the U.S. Priority 2 status is for groups of special humanitarian concern to the United States who are designated by the U.S. government for resettlement processing and provides them direct access to the U.S. refugee system.

The U.S. has a history of welcoming refugees fleeing persecution, and we must not return Uyghurs to a country where they face a horrific genoicde. By offering priority 2 refugee status to Uyghurs, our nation can demonstrate that this country is a safe haven for the persecuted and those whose human rights have been abused and whose religious freedom has been violated. The United States must continue to counter China morally and offering Uyghurs refuge is a strong next step.

By / Apr 13

The International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) will recommend abolishing a longstanding ethical limitation on human embryo research. For decades the scientific community has observed the so-call 14-day rule. This ethical guideline—first formulated in the United Kingdom under the Warnock Commission in the mid-1980s—requires that embryos may only be gestated for 14 days after conception in the lab. The ISSCR wants the rule lifted so that human embryos can be developed to a more mature stage.

The 14-day rule was issued in the aftermath of the first successful IVF birth in the U.K. in 1978. The rationale for the rule is that at 14 days post-conception the developmental marker of the “primitive streak” appears, along which the central nervous system develops. Admittedly arbitrary, this marker has been an important benchmark for embryo research.

Acknowledging the plurality of views on the moral status of the human embryo even back then, the Warnock Commission recognized that some limits were necessary.  

. . . as we have said, it would be idle to pretend that there is not a wide diversity in moral feelings, whether these arise from religious, philosophical or humanist beliefs. What is common (and this too we have discovered from the evidence) is that people generally want some principles or other to govern the development and use of the new techniques. There must be some barriers that are not to be crossed, some limits fixed, beyond which people must not be allowed to go. Nor is such a wish for containment a mere whim or fancy. The very existence of morality depends on it. A society which had no inhibiting limits, especially in the areas with which we have been concerned, questions of birth and death, of the setting up of families, and the valuing of human life, would be a society without moral scruples. And this nobody wants. (Warnock Report, p. 2)

Well, at least nobody wanted the barriers to be crossed until now. According to Antonio Regalado, writing in MIT Technology Review, the ISSCR “is not going to set a specific new time limit, like 28 or 36 days . . . the society wants to move to a more flexible approach.” 

For those who are pro-life, the 14-day rule is already a bridge too far. This rule permits the generation of human embryos in the lab and requires researchers to destroy them by the 14th day. So, in fact, the 14-day rule is in essence a mandate to kill human embryos. 

And, if members of the ISSCR are honest, they must agree that human life begins at conception. That is, after all, why they want the 14-day limit abolished. They want a policy that will allow them to perform research on living members of the species Homo sapiens from conception onward. They want permission to research using living human embryos, not mouse embryos, dog embryos, or other species. 

Currently, in the United States, human embryo research may not be done with tax payer dollars. Since 1996, the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, attached to the appropriations bills for the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Education, restricts the use of federal funds for creating, destroying, or knowingly injuring human embryos. Each year the amendment faces challenges to overturn it. The jury is out on what the stance of the Biden administration will be.

To make matters yet more complicated, two different research teams have developed “embryo-like entities” called human blastoids, which resemble human embryos at the blastocyst stage. According to the scientists, these blastoids behave like early-stage embryos at about the 2-3 week stage of development. 

If these human blastoids behave like early-stage human embryos, including attaching themselves to the petri dish in a way similar to the way the embryo attaches to the uterine wall, how are they to be distinguished from human embryos?  Case Western Reserve and Harvard University bioethicist, Insoo Hyun, observed in a recent NPR interview that these experiments raise “a very interesting question of, at what point does an embryo model become a real embryo.” Indeed!

Are these really human embryos or does calling them “blastoids” only obscure the facts?  As, Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, staff ethicist for the National Catholic Bioethics Center has said, “Scientists face the perennial temptation to depersonalize early human life, and to treat embryos as objects. Human beings are so sacred, that we must particularly reverence them in their origins, in the way they come into the world.”

Research using human subjects, whether at the embryonic stage or at the end of life, requires utmost respect for the nature and sanctity of human life. Until researchers can be sure that they are not crossing the line by trampling on the sanctity of human embryos, they should resist those experiments. The end does not always justify the means to get there.