By / Feb 1

Each year on January 28, organizations and governments from around the world come together to highlight Data Privacy Day and raise awareness of the immense challenges to personal privacy in our technologically driven society. Data Privacy Day was originally started by the Council of Europe in 2007 and then two years later, the United States Congress passed two resolutions recognizing January 28 as National Data Privacy Day in the U.S. as well. Increasingly throughout our society, there is a growing conversation and debate over personal privacy and its purpose in our society, as seen in the recent controversial moves by Apple and their push for more transparency on data collection by apps, as well as the continued push for a federal digital privacy law similar to that found in the European Union with the GDPR and states like California with the CCPA. But among the many challenges of digital privacy today, privacy can mean very different things across segments of our society and is often left undefined, misunderstood, and misapplied in our lives.

Moral autonomy

Law professor Daniel J. Solove states in Understanding Privacy, “Privacy is a concept in disarray. Nobody can articulate what it means.” He goes on to say, “privacy is a sweeping concept, encompassing freedom of thought, control over one’s body, solitude in one’s home, control over personal information, freedom from surveillance, protection of one’s reputation, and protection from searches and interrogations. Philosophers, legal theorists, and jurists have frequently lamented the great difficulty in reaching a satisfying conception of privacy” (1). As individuals across society and varying cultural contexts seek to define the concept of privacy, it often remains elusive because of the many ways we seek to ground privacy in the human experience, namely in the modern understanding of self and personal autonomy.

While it was not the beginning of privacy talk in America, a 1965 United States Supreme Court decision often is seen as a watershed moment for privacy and personal moral autonomy. In Griswold vs. Connecticut, Justice William Douglas—writing for the majority—famously applied this sense of personal moral autonomy to the controversies of the sexual revolution and found an “implied constitutional right to privacy”, which was used to justify the ability of married couples to buy and use contraceptives without government restriction. This understanding of an “implied constitutional right to privacy” has significantly influenced the modern-day debates over personal digital privacy and the role of government in moral decision making. But as opposed to a more historic and transcendent understanding of human rights, these individual rights are now seen as cut off completely from concepts of human dignity as seen in the Christian moral tradition based in the image of God. 

A right to privacy is not derived from the moral autonomy of the individual but from the dignity of all people with the understanding that each life is precious and valued by God himself who created us as individuals in his image.

Human rights and privacy

Discussing the modern claims of individual rights, theologian John Kilner in his work Dignity and Destiny states, “It is important to keep rights closely tied to a clear sense of the dignity/sacredness of all people. Otherwise, rights claims can degenerate into mere assertion of self with no regard for others. Human rights are really God’s rights over humanity more than one person’s rights over another” (318). Human rights are the rights of all people as fellow human beings and advocating for human rights, such as privacy, intrinsically means standing for the dignity of other people and their rights rather than claiming our own. This corporate aspect of human dignity is articulated well by Kilner when he says, “just treatment of all requires taking account of personal and societal relationships in which people live, rather than merely viewing people as individuals” (320). Kilner’s words here directly contradict much of the common discussion around human rights and privacy today because of the current emphasis on moral and personal autonomy. If we merely speak of a right to privacy as a personal autonomy, we miss the fullness of the human dignity grounding of privacy.

A right to privacy is not derived from the moral autonomy of the individual but from the dignity of all people with the understanding that each life is precious and valued by God himself who created us as individuals in his image. One of the functions of privacy in this world is a way to care for the vulnerable among us and uphold their dignity as image bearers in a technologically rich society. As we see each day, data and information about our fellow image bearers can be and will be used, abused, and manipulated toward selfish ends because of the prevailing nature of sin in the world. Technology will be used to control and strip others of their dignity and one of the main ways this will be done in our digital society is through the misuse of data and information, thus the great need for a right to privacy grounded in a transcendent reality of human dignity rather than the pursuit of autonomy and individual freedom.

A Christian moral theory of privacy must be grounded in the Christian understanding of human dignity as opposed to theories grounded in persistent pursuit of complete moral autonomy and individualistic freedom. The Christian moral tradition shows that privacy is an instrumental and foundational right of all human beings, as individuals and communities, that serves the end of upholding dignity for all which is grounded in the Christian doctrine of the imago Dei. Armed with this understanding of privacy grounded in the imago Dei, Christians can be equipped to navigate the challenges of this technological society knowing that personal privacy is a God-given right, a right that speaks to the created reality of a life lived under God’s reign and rule where we can be known but also loved as fellow image bearers. Privacy then is to be upheld, respected, and honored in this world of increasing digital surveillance and data collection.

By / Jan 18

If you’ve used social media in the past year—and over 75% of Americans have — you’re probably in an online bubble without even realizing it. Thanks mostly to COVID-19, we’re living in a world where most of our connections are through screens. And that’s not a good thing. 

Social media use among American adults has been steadily rising for years, but as stay-at-home orders rolled out across the country earlier this year, it exploded. Platforms like Facebook saw up to 27% more daily users during the first few months of the pandemic. Zoom went from 2 million users to 6 million, almost overnight. And local apps like Nextdoor saw their users grow by almost 80%. 

As our work, school, and social life all moved online, we became even more disconnected from the world outside our screens. This rapid move to online communities was at least partially responsible for drastic increases in mental health issues. 

Approximately one in three Americans reported suffering from anxiety or depression in 2020, up from one in 12 in 2019. On a more concerning note, the CDC reports that 25% of young adults considered suicide at some point during 2020. 

While these numbers are staggering, we’ve overlooked the way our digital isolation has caused many people to lose their grip on reality. Conspiracy theories have exploded online. Both conservatives and liberals have become convinced that the success of the other side would mean the end of the republic. And the disconnect between the laptop class — those who see the world from their comfortable work-from-home lives—and the working class—the waiters, cashiers, and blue collar laborers who have been directly affected by restrictions shutting down their places of work—has grown larger than ever. 

Why is this happening? 

Simply put, we’ve lost the real-world human connections that keep us grounded. We’ve been forced into online bubbles on platforms designed to group us with people like us. 

When you open Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, or virtually any other social media site, you’re seeing posts selected just for you by the AI algorithm. These posts are designed to connect you with people who have the same interests, have similar beliefs, and think the same way you do. Why? The algorithm is designed to increase engagement and keep you from closing the app, and logically, if you see things you like and are interested in, you’ll stay on the site longer. 

If the only things you read are articles tailored by the algorithm to fit your interests and the only people you talk to are those who post things that align with your thoughts, it’s incredibly easy to get sucked into a version of reality that doesn’t exist in the real world. 

But social media algorithms aren’t new. As the hit documentary The Social Dilemma shows, they’ve been in place for years. So what’s changed? 

In a normal time, most of us have regular interactions with people who aren’t like us. We talk to friends or neighbors who are on opposite ends of the political spectrum. We visit with relatives who don’t share our faith or belief systems. We interact with co-workers who come from different backgrounds and see the world differently. Our real-world connections provide an unfiltered dose of reality that keeps us grounded. Last year, we lost that, and our online bubbles became more isolated than ever. 

Escaping our online bubbles

While our world may soon return to normal, our tendencies to withdraw into sheltered bubbles won’t disappear when we get the COVID-19 vaccine. So, here are three ways to escape our online bubbles in 2021:

1. Limit social media use carefully 

This might seem like obvious advice, but it’s not as easy as it seems. Social media apps are intentionally designed to keep us scrolling for as long as possible. Personally, I’ve found it’s helpful to limit notifications and block out periods of time where you don’t check social media. The only way to win the battle against mindless social media use is to be intentional about disconnecting. 

2. Get your news and information from multiple sources

It’s tempting to believe everything you read on the internet, but so much of what we see on our feeds just isn’t true. Take the time to research things before believing them, and especially before sharing them with others. Often, a quick Google search will provide the truth about something. 

It’s also helpful to seek out multiple sources to find the truth about issues. Don’t get all your news from one media outlet. Read and follow people who think differently, but who are thoughtful and sincere in their arguments.

3. Be intentional about making real-world connections 

Making a point to connect with people outside of social media — especially those who aren’t like us — is so important. Not every conversation has to be a political discussion or deep worldview debate. In fact, simple “small talk” can go a long way. Even in a time of social distancing, it’s possible to make these real-world connections. Video chats, texts, and phone calls are all far better than a Facebook message or Twitter DMs. 

These connections don’t happen on their own. Unlike social media, where the algorithm creates conversations, real-world connections require effort and intentionality. Pick up the phone and call an old friend. Text someone to see how they’re doing. Surround yourself (even virtually) with people you love and trust. They will keep you grounded — often without realizing it.

It might seem like our isolation is out of our control, but we can be purposeful about escaping our online bubbles. We don’t need the world to go back to normal to change the way we interact with others. In an online world designed to pull us apart, let’s choose to break out of our bubbles. In 2021, let’s scroll less and talk more. We might “like” fewer posts, but we’ll be free to love more people in the real world.

By / Oct 6

The last few weeks have seen the reopening of school districts across the country. Teachers are adapting to the current pandemic in a number of ways with some teaching in person, others online, and some doing both. This has, understandably, created a new source of anxiety for both students and teachers. Students have to contend with Zoom fatigue in addition to struggling through long division. Online teachers are in the unenviable position of attempting to replicate the community of a classroom from the confines of a screen with tiny little Zoom boxes and weak internet connections. In this current moment, Christian parents should consider how they can serve their teachers as they adapt to the new situations of online learning. Here are three practical ways: 

Remain flexible 

If the last several months have revealed anything, it is the truth that there are many things beyond our control. Every day brings some new catastrophe or unexpected challenge. And online education is no different. Not long after schools resumed near me, teachers started their day to discover that Zoom was down worldwide because of server problems. Immediately, an entire day’s scheduled meetings and plans had to be reworked. 

In some ways, the pandemic has just affirmed the truth of Scripture: we are not in control. In response, we can cling more tightly to our plans and our belief that we are the masters of our fate, or we can accept that there is much outside our control and trust the one who sets planets in motion and hung the stars. In the midst of a season that seems intent on inducing worry and anxiety, the same voice that calmed the waves offers us the promise of peace (Mark 4:39). 

Show your support 

With many teachers teaching online or in new hybrid options, it is very likely that parents may not ever get to meet their teacher in person as they normally would. And with so much of instruction occurring in asynchronous formats, it can be easier than ever to forget the effort that many teachers have put in to redesigning their classroom, curriculum, and even teaching style. This is especially true when every day brings a new cause for anxiety: Should we wear a mask when we leave the house for groceries or have them delivered? Will my wife lose her job because she was deemed unessential? Who is in charge of childcare this week while we work from home? In this moment of continual anxiety and fear, it would be easy, and understandable, that we would forget about what we cannot see in front of us, or about the person on the other side of the screen.

Christians should make a special effort to remember and praise the work of their children’s teachers during these times. Teachers are often facing the same existential crises in their own families, all while seeking to love and serve a Zoom screen filled with kids who are facing a new challenge of their own. So look for ways to serve and care for the teachers in your life. A well-timed email, a note sent in the mail, or brief video chat just to let them know that you see and appreciate all that they are doing can be a welcome reprieve for a teacher. We know that our words have the power to build up and encourage (Prov. 18:21), so we should seek ways to offer a word of hope, encouragement, and life to those who have devoted their lives to teaching the next generation.

Extend grace

It is inevitable that no matter how much planning occurs on the part of administrators, teachers, parents, or students, there will be confusion and problems. An assignment will be given the wrong due date. An online password will be mistyped. A Zoom link won’t work. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that problems will arise. 

This time of learning from home offers a unique opportunity for parents to help their children learn not just how to read, write, or solve equations, but how to grow in love, joy, patience, and kindness (Gal. 5:22-23). 

However, Christians should be the first to extend grace to teachers in this season. When so much is beyond our control, Christians have the opportunity to meet these problems with the grace and forgiveness that we have received (Luke 7:47). It is precisely because Christians recognize that we are interacting with humans created in God’s image on the other side of our screens or emails that we extend that grace. So as you type that email to correct your teacher or prepare that post for Facebook about the school administrator, remember that they are also struggling with the new reality and often doing the best that they can with circumstances beyond their control. Just as you would want grace for yourself, extend it to teachers. 

And it is not just for the sake of the teacher, but for those little eyes and ears that are watching you. The students who see a parent lose it over a Zoom meeting or a problem with online learning are receiving an education in how Christians respond to problems, but not in how to extend grace to those around them. This time of learning from home offers a unique opportunity for parents to help their children learn not just how to read, write, or solve equations, but how to grow in love, joy, patience, and kindness (Gal. 5:22-23). 

When the school year ends, students and teachers will likely breathe a sigh of relief that they endure this challenging season. However, Christians should make special effort to serve their teachers during this time. In a time when it would be easy to retreat into survival mode and think only of what is best for ourselves, we ought to consider how we can encourage and pray for teachers. As the pandemic and school year ends, may this be a season when we have all learned how to recognize new ways to serve others. 

By / Oct 1

Internet safety for children has always been a concern, but increased use of technology and the amount of time spent in front of a screen has elevated the need for intentional measures to protect our children.

Free, downloadable bulletin insert for use by your church on Social Issues Sunday: Internet Safety. 

To see additional SBC event dates, visit

By / Oct 1

A few days ago, I started hearing buzz around the documentary, “The Social Dilemma.” It is a documentary on NETFLIX that exposes how addiction and targeted ads and videos aren’t accidental side effects of social media use, but they are planned features to keep the user coming back. Although its original design was intended for good, many of the former tech executives in the documentary say that social media apps are now monetizing this addiction and have the potential to shape beliefs and behaviors in negative ways. 

As a Christian, this is disconcerting, and yet if we look at the last few years, we can understand how this is true. Between the Pizzagate conspiracy on TikTok and the Flat Earth Conspiracy theories seen on YouTube, we see just two substantial examples of how social media has affected the beliefs of its users. Not to mention that psychologists are now linking social media use to seeing increased depression in children. So, what are we to do? How do we ensure we aren’t addicted to technology and our minds and behaviors aren’t altered by smartphones?

Justin Early, in his book The Common Rule: Habits for Purpose in an age of Distraction says, “Habits form much more than our schedules: they form our hearts.” I think this is a wise word for believers wrestling with how to use technology well. Here are a few “habits” or ideas that will better help you grapple with how to use technology well. 

Make your smartphone work for you

A few years ago I read a book called The Tech-Wise Family. In his book, Andy Crouch argues that we ought to be putting technology in its proper place. In other words, technology should serve a purpose; you shouldn’t serve technology. In order to do this, Crouch gives 10 Commitments or guiding principles that will help you form a better relationship with technology. 

One of the principles I recently started practicing was making sure that my smartphone “goes to bed” before I go to bed and “wakes up” after I wake up. My phone shouldn’t be the last thing I see at night or the first thing I see in the morning. This seems like common sense, but truth be told it’s something I haven’t been practicing during most of 2020. I’ve found myself scrolling the news or social media in bed. As I checked my phone for more updates on the many happenings of 2020, I slowly became more addicted to “news.” What originally started as a quick five-minute habit turned into something I’d do and lose track of time (and precious minutes of sleep). 

One practical way to enforce this habit is to limit what apps you can use and when. Most smartphones now have screen time limits where you can shut down and wake up apps at specific times. I now have a minimalistic list of apps that I can use (messaging, notes, etc.) in addition to the main purpose of the smartphone, actual phone calls, from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. No more mindlessly scrolling through Twitter before bed. No more ending the day with fear-driven news or peeking in on the latest evangelical Twitter battle. 

We should view our use of social media as a good news tool, not sticking our heads in the sand about hardship, crisis, and heartache, but as a method to take the good news to those hard places and meet the needs of others.

After putting these guidelines in place, I was surprised at how much more reading I finished in a night and how I was able to fall asleep faster. I was no longer going to bed anxious about the news or what a neighbor said on Facebook. Now I jot down my to-do list for the next day, pick up a book, and read until I’m ready for sleep. It’s been incredibly life-giving. 

Know when to step away

Another good practice is learning how and when to unplug. I often set good boundaries, only to slip into bad habits again. This is a good signifier that I need to unplug for a few days and reset boundaries. Tiffany Shlain, a Jewish filmmaker and author of 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day A Week recommends unplugging for at least one day a week. In her book, she calls this a “technology Shabbat,” modeled after a traditional Jewish shabbat. One day a week from sundown on Fridays to sundown on Saturdays, their family powers off every cellphone, iPad, TV, and other computers in the house. They kick off the shabbat with a big meal, signifying the communal aspect of shabbat, and she has said that this has been one of the most life-giving habits for her family.

Andy Crouch, in The Tech-Wise Family, says something similar. He recommends shutting it all down for one hour a day, one day a week, and staying unplugged for one week a year. As Christians, this idea of sabbath rest from technology shouldn’t feel too unfamiliar. After all, we see an example of our good and all-knowing God modeling rest in the creation narrative. And historically, Sabbath rest, moderation, and fasting have all been disciplines that were practiced regularly by Christians. Practicing these disciplines directly combats a cultural gluttony that values independence, surplus, and instant gratification. Rather than succumbing to addiction and the instant gratification that smartphones can bring, we have the opportunity to point to a better way of living: one rooted in Christ, our ultimate sabbath.

See the potential for gospel good

It’s tempting to get caught up in a doomsday approach. It seems like just about every major problem in society has the potential to lead toward the end of humanity as we know it—or at least, that’s what the talking heads tell us (and the end of the documentary suggested). But as a people who base our entire existence on the hope of a suffering King who has promised to come again, we can have a more redemptive lens. We know that God has promised to make all things new. And in the meantime, he has charged his church with the mandate to go into the world and preach the gospel, and to be for the flourishing of others around us. Social media can be a powerful tool toward those ends, so we choose to steward it well. 

We should proclaim Jesus every chance we get on social media. We can point to rhythms and resources that help others walk faithfully with Christ. We must model Christlike discourse online when the rest of the world is yelling. We have the opportunity give generously to GoFundMe accounts and other organizations raising funds for worthy causes. We should view our use of social media as a good news tool, not sticking our heads in the sand about hardship, crisis, and heartache, but as a method to take the good news to those hard places and meet the needs of others. In other words, we use social media for Gospel good and don’t allow social media to use us for evil. 

These are just a few habits we can practice, and they aren’t exhaustive. Rather, my prayer is that they serve as a catalyst for you to spend some time thinking and praying through how you can, as Andy Crouch says, put technology in its proper place. 

By / Aug 31

I wore it with the confidence of a No Fear brand ambassador. I believed my neon yellow WWJD bracelet flashed the message I’M A CHRISTIAN, setting me apart from the world and in with the Jesus freaks.

Like other Christian movements of the 1990s, the “What Would Jesus Do?” phenomenon spawned a generation of youth group zealots motivated by peer pressure and rewarded with false assurances of holiness. Yet also like other movements during that era, WWJD carried a grain of truth. Christians should act like Jesus. Even in our current politicized evangelical landscape, the command to imitate Christ is indisputable.

Though WWJD had obvious flaws, I wonder if it deserves something of a reboot today. Hop onto any social media platform, and you’ll soon find examples of Christians acting in less than Christ-like ways. While many evangelicals have panned cancel culture, the problem extends beyond casting out a public figure to casting stones at anyone who expresses a thought or opinion that bothers you.

Take the example of the debate about COVID-19 gathering restrictions. Various opinions have been shared and stances taken on social media. In one situation, a commenter tagged several friends and told them to come after a particular individual in order to “share truth.”  Within 48 hours, more than 500 accusing comments maligning this person’s character had been recorded. 

You’d think that Christians would rise above such malicious behavior and strive to maintain a credible witness. Yet, we seem just as likely to set comment threads ablaze as the next keyboard warrior.

Tracing the source of the fire

Why is it so hard for us to tame our tongues on social media? Social scientists posit several theories about what ignites these online firestorms. One study suggests that people become aggressive online to punish those who are violating social norms—for example, insulting a politician who is abusing power. Aggressors assume their words are justified because they believe they’re standing up for the greater good.

Another study indicates that moral grandstanding—the use of moral talk to seek higher social status—contributes to vicious speech online. That study also found a link between moral/political conflict and social vigilantism, which is the desire to correct others for espousing what you consider to be bad or incorrect beliefs. Both moral grandstanding and social vigilantism are associated with polarization and breakdowns in effective communication.

Given our mission to shine truth in a dark world, it’s understandable that Christians could fall into harsh communication patterns while trying to champion moral imperatives. You could call it a misguided inversion of WWJD: “I believe I’m doing what Jesus would do, and will take down anyone who opposes Jesus’ (my) conviction.”

The problem with this mindset lies in a basic yet often forgotten truth: We’re not Jesus. We’re sinful. We don’t possess all authority, wisdom, and power. We can’t peer through our screens and pierce the thoughts and intentions of other people, nor do we bear responsibility for correcting every person for every wrongdoing we think they committed. 

Asserting ourselves as Jesus doesn’t effectively serve Jesus. As Christians who are being sanctified in truth, we still make mistakes and jump to wrong conclusions. So we can’t rely on our assumptions as a compass for how we respond to other people. In fact, the Bible issues a stern warning against those who assume superiority while speaking venomously: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26). And as fallen human beings, we still have trouble taming our tongues (James 3:8). 

Christians are supposed to submit every idea we encounter to the authority of Scripture, but we rarely submit our gut reactions to the same scrutiny. Even when righteously indignant fires burn within our chests, we should bring our frustration to the Lord first before spewing it online. Though there might be times to correct error and call out false teaching, we should try to do so gently and with humility. Recognizing our own faults and exercising patience with others can help us avoid the ruin of foolish talk. “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Prov. 18:2).

Looking to the author and perfecter of our speech

Following Jesus’ lordship means we should learn from observing his communication style during his ministry on Earth. Jesus spoke to others with compassion, gentleness, and concern for their physical and spiritual welfare. He talked to strangers, practiced active listening, sat with the suffering, and remained silent under false charges. At no point did he tell his disciples to gang up on someone who offended him. Throughout his life, Jesus submitted to the mission that directed his every step: to obey the will of his Father.

Of course, we can’t overhaul our sinful speech habits by simply parroting Jesus’ words. Change must begin in our hearts. Michael Horton emphasizes this distinction in Pilgrim Theology: “The evangelical call of the New Testament is not to be like Christ, but to be in Christ.” When we root ourselves in Christ, digging into the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible study and meditation, and service, we can banish corrupting talk and speak what is “good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). As we draw close to our source of renewal, words of life will naturally pour out of our mouths like fresh springs instead of cesspools.

So what would it look like if Christians today committed to examine our words before engaging online? Making such a radical pledge of self-moderation could revolutionize the digital forum and testify to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.

Think of how reflecting on Jesus’ example might change the way you interact on social media. What if, before firing off a nasty comment on someone’s Facebook rant, you prayed for them? What if, instead of bashing a person who tweeted something you considered wrong or offensive, you DMed them to initiate a private conversation? What if we, as children of God being conformed to the image of his Son, made the shocking decision to not post anything on social media when we’re too riled up to communicate in a gracious, God-glorifying way?

We can’t say with certainty what Jesus would post or not post on social media, or if he would create any accounts in the first place. Rather than invent hypothetical scenarios of what Jesus would do if he were to take over our social media platforms, I suggest we adopt his main ambition in life. Before posting, let’s pause and ask, “Would this please God?” For we aren’t ambassadors of our own opinions or feelings, but rather imperfect, in-progress followers of Christ.

By / Aug 27

Amid the cultural upheaval of COVID-19 and what has turned out to be one of the most eventful years in modern history, a dehumanizing and predatory perversion of technology has been spreading in the darkness of our communities: pornography. While the out-of-sight nature of pornography makes it is easier to shrug off its insidiousness, especially given the social unrest of the moment, the rise in predatory marketing plans and expanded pornography use should not be left alone because of the monumental human dignity implications.

As the coronavirus lockdowns went into effect throughout the world in March, Pornhub, the world’s largest online pornography provider, announced that they were providing users in Italy free access and subscriber privileges due to the nation’s outbreak and isolation. The company has also provided similar access to users in other nations such as Spain and France. In light of the free and open access to this pornographic content, Pornhub self-reported on their official blog that daily usage increased by 38-61% throughout these European countries, which led them to also claim that “people all over Europe were happy to have distractions while quarantined at home.” According to the company’s June analytics report, “worldwide traffic to Pornhub continues to be much higher than it was before the Coronavirus pandemic spread worldwide.”

The company also demonstrates how people are also searching for virus-related pornography. According to Pornhub’s report, there have “been more than 18.5 million searches containing Corona, 1.5 million containing Covid and 11.8 million containing Quarantine. More than 1250 coronavirus themed videos have been uploaded to Pornhub, with many being viewed over 1 million times.”

None of this should come as a surprise because the pornography industry is well-suited for a worldwide pandmeic. As the Economist reports, the industry “has already largely moved online; and its consumers often voluntarily self-isolate.” This pandemic has not created a pornography problem in our communities and homes, but it has esacerbated a deep and disturbing trend of separating sexual desire from relational wholeness and marital fidelity.

The problem of porn

Statistics can only take us so far in understanding the deceptive nature of pornography and how it is ruining so many lives throughout our world. At the heart of pornography use is not just young men and women who are unable to control their sexual desires or openly reject God’s good design for our sexuality. The core of the problem is an acceptance of a worldview and morality that isolates our sexuality from our whole person. This deep division of body and mind from flesh and desires contributes to the growing trend of the normalization of pornography and the perversion of human sexuality.

The unbridled mantra of our day is that the real you is your deepest desires and emotions, cut off from the embodied nature of humanity. As Nancy Pearcey states in her book Love Thy Body, “sexual intercourse, the most intimate of bodily experiences, has been disconnected from personal relations” (emphasis original). This bifurcation of humanity has led to countless perversions and abuses of fellow image-bearers, most evidently seen in the rise of the sexual revolution and the corresponding rise of pornography worldwide.

As the culture around us continues to buy into the lie of the sexual revolution, the Church has a call to proclaim the goodness of the created order and the redemption found in Jesus Christ.

When we separate what it means to be an embodied soul, the use of pornography becomes commonplace because it allows for the sexual high outside of any relational context and reduces humanity down to what writer Melinda Selmys describes as a “wet machine,” which could also be understood as a soulless body or organic machine. The real you—the disembodied ghost— controls this machine in order to pursue pleasure in any way you see fit, regardless of the cost to yourself or others.

Alongside this division of body and soul, another dehumanizing effect of pornography is the objectification the person on the other side of the screen (or even headset, in light of the explosive growth of VR porn in the last few years). One of the ways this manifests itself is in the faceless nature of pornography and the obession over the body. God designed the face to play a major role in how we see each other as individuals and subjects, worthy of respect and honor, and made in his image (Gen. 1:26-28). As the late philosopher Roger Scruton describes in The Face of God,

“The underlying tendency of erotic images in our time is to present the body as the focus and meaning of desire, the place where it all occurs, in the momentary spasm of sensual pleasure of which the soul is at best a spectator, and no part of the game. In pornography the face has no role to play, other than to be subjected to the empire of the body. Kisses are of no significance, and eyes look nowhere since they are searching for nothing beyond present pleasure. All of this amounts to a marginalization, indeed a kind of desecration, of the human face.” (107)

Scruton goes on to show that this desecration of the face leads to a “canceling out of the subject,” rendering sex—especially in a pornographic culture—“not as a relation between subjects but a relation between objects.” Through the use of pornography, we naturally objectify the other because we are not concerned with them as a fellow human but rather as an instrument that leads to our sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure becomes the primary goal of the user rather than a deep and intimate connection with another image-bearer as a whole person. 

Predatory porn

The dehumanizing effects of pornography affect those on both sides of the screen. Not only is the viewer dehumanizing themselves by separating the goodness of sexual intercourse from its proper context, but there is also a victim who is portrayed and treated as nothing but a simple object of desire. These victims often see sexual acts as the only way to provide for themselves or even as a way to attain fulfilment or freedom.

During this pandemic, some people are turning to various pornographic websites like IsMyGirl to earn extra income. This particular site offers predatory promises by signing up to become a model. According to a March press release, the company opened up lucrative “opportunities” for furloughed or out-of-work McDonald’s employees. The popular pornography platform stated, “in an effort to help McDonald’s employees, and to make sure they can continue to provide for themselves and their families, we want to help provide them with a legitimate option.”

This “legitimate” option is nothing less than asking others to sell their bodies in order to make ends meet during these extraordinary times. But as the culture around us continues to buy into the lie of the sexual revolution, the Church has a call to proclaim the goodness of the created order and the redemption found in Jesus Christ.

While it may be tempting to overlook those stuck in cycles of pornography use or even the industry itself, Christians have the mandate to speak out against the predatory practices of the entire pornographic industry. Part of this mandate will mean that some believers will need to address and seek help for their own pornography addictions. For others, it will mean speaking out against these dehumanizing atrocities in order to expose the lies and predation of the porngraphic industry. 

The Christan moral witness proclaims that sex is not designed for a temporary high, online exploit, or even a late-night addiction. We are more than just machines. We are people created in God’s image. We are embodied souls who are offered redemption by the God who took on flesh himself in order to save us from ourselves. And our hope in the midst of this porn pandemic is that what is hidden will come to light in the fullness of time. As the church, we must be ready to proclaim the forgiveness found in the light of Jesus Christ while working to welcome, defend, and care for the vulnerable among us. 

By / Aug 12

On Sunday, the country of Belarus held a national election where President Alexander Lukashenko won in a landslide victory, claiming an implausible 80% of the vote. Over the last few days, the nation has experienced mass protests over the controversial election, and the opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has fled to neighboring Lithuania for safety. Tikhanovskaya became the opposition candidate after her husband Siarhei Tsikhanousk was jailed by the Lukashenko regime.

Tikhanovskaya gained mass support with younger Belarusians by utilizing the power of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube to share her message and organize large rallies. In hopes of quelling protests and widespread unrest in the nation, which is especially high given the failure of the regime to slow down the spread of COVID-19, Lukashenko’s regime reportedly shut down the internet, which allows dissidents to connect with each other and the outside world.

Where is Belarus, and what happened?

Belarus is a country in eastern Europe, bordered by Russia and Poland. Lukashenko has served as president of the country for over 26 years. His reign began in 1994. The self-described authoritarian leader continued many of the former Soviet Union’s policies such as state ownership of large segments of the economy. Described as “Europe’s last dictator,” Luckashenko has led the country to commit massive human rights violations and has a track record of voter suppression and fraud, which is often seen as the means to retain power over the people of Belarus.

A presidential election took place on Sunday in Belarus, but many outside observers have called the election a sham and an effort to allow Lukashenko to remain unchallenged as an authoritarian president. The Economist describes the lead-up to the election by saying, “prominent opposition figures were jailed or chased out of the country, most independent observers were barred, foreign media harassed, and opinion polls banned.”

The internet shutdown that began on Sunday has continued throughout this week. Despite the Belarusian government’s denial of a state-sanctioned shutdown, it is widely assumed that Lukashenko’s government instituted the complete shutdown to internet connectivity throughout the country, including the use of land-line phones. In response to the official government release claiming an outside attack on the internet infrastructure, WIRED reported that Alp Toker, director of the nonpartisan connectivity tracking group NetBlocks, said “there’s no indication of a DDoS attack. It can’t be ruled out, but there’s no external sign of it that we see.” Netblocks tweeted on Sunday of the initial connectivity issues, which ultimately lead to a complete blackout in Belarus. 

Nationwide protests broke out in response to the rigged election and internet blackout. Mainly focused in the capital city of Minsk, the country’s leadership has mobilized and deployed police units and military troops to quell the unrest. Lukashenko claimed Monday that the mass protests were brought on by foreign interference and that he would put down the opposition rallies. In response to Lukashenko’s supposed landslide victory, Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia both quickly endorsed the results even as opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, continues to claim that she is the rightful winner of the election.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that the election in Belarus was “not free or fair,” adding that the United States “strongly condemn(s) ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters, as well as the use of internet shutdowns to hinder the ability of the Belarusian people to share information about the election and the demonstrations.”

How does this happen?

With so much of our daily lives and community tied to technology, especially the internet, it is no wonder that authoritarian regimes around the world would seek to leverage these tools to suppress dissidents and retain their power over their people. This digital authoritarianism was once contained to nations like Russia and China, which have extreme limits to the free flow of information and technologies their people can use. But many nations, including Iran most recently, have clamped down on the internet and other technologies in order to stamp out opposition and maintain power over their people.

The internet is essentially a massive network of various computers and servers swapping information. As the internet grew in prominence throughout the world, each country took different steps as they adopted this life-altering technology. Countries like China took a hands-on approach as they developed their internet system, building in complete control by the government which is commonly referred to as the ”Great Firewall of China.”

In the hopes of retaining control over the information that flows from and to their people, nations like Iran and Russia retrofitted their traditional private and decentralized systems, like those found in most Western democractic countries, with varying degrees of control over connectivity after the systems were designed. Wired reports that “Belarus has a fairly centralized internet infrastructure, making it relatively straightforward to pull the plug if you’ve laid the groundwork,” especially with state-owned companies controlling “both the mobile data network and the country’s interconnection points with the international internet.”

As I have previously written, one of the seemingly unintended and unseen consequences of this type of communication ban in Belarus is that information continues to flow even without the internet as people take to the streets and other means.

Why does this matter?

In a 2005 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, then U.S. Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice, said that Belarus was one of the world’s six “outposts of tyranny.” Under Lukashenko’s rule, the government of Belarus has been shown responsible for disappearance of opposition leaders, propaganda, election fraud, and persecution of many non-governmental organisations (NGOs), independent journalists, and national minorities.

Christians should be among the first to stand up against authoritarian regimes, proclaiming that every human life is valuable and that these freedoms are not the government’s to grant nor take away.

In the West, we’ve grown accustomed to various freedoms and often forget that there are millions of people worldwide living under the repressive hand of authoritarian regimes like that in Belarus. The internet is a powerful tool of communication that has allowed for the flourishing of humanity as well as the democratization of information in ways that the world has never seen before. But these same tools in the hands of authoritarian leaders have also opened the door to atrocities and violations of basic human rights that we could have never imagined.

According to a 2020 report from Freedom House, Belarus has an abysmal record of civil liberties, human rights, and internet freedom. While it may seem even foreign in the United States for these types of atrocities to be committed amidst political turmoil, it is very common in many places throughout the world for authoritarian regimes like China, Iran, and now Belarus to clamp down on dissidents and to deny basic human dignity to their people—all in hopes of retaining power and position over their citizens.

Christians should be among the first to stand up against authoritarian regimes, proclaiming that every human life is valuable and that these freedoms are not the government’s to grant nor take away. Every human being is created by God with certain inalienable rights and dignity as his image-bearers (Gen. 1:26-28). This is one of the many reasons that Christians engage in international diplomacy and foreign policy in hopes of standing against these regimes designed to exploit the weak and dehumanize our fellow image-bearers (Psalm 82:3). 

In a world where everything is tied to the internet in some capacity, a government should not have the power to institute a blackout at will in order to recentralize power and deny rights to its people. This power should also not be used in order to rig elections or jail opposition to retain ruling authority. While various details will likely still come out about the situation on the ground in Belarus, other authoritarian leaders throughout the world are watching to see how we respond to the abuses of power.

If left unchecked and undeterred, it is only sensible that these regimes will continue their blatant violations of human rights over the vulnerable and powerless, especially using technological means to weld their authoritarian control. Part of any international strategy for human rights must be countering these nations and regimes morally, as we call for accountability and freedom for all people around the world.

By / Aug 11

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the way almost all activities take place. Events like school, church, and regular social gatherings have shifted to being virtual experiences rather than in-person meetings due to the safety guidelines. Moving to an online format has presented numerous challenges, but one of the biggest challenges we face is how to make sure that kids are safe on the internet. Internet safety for children has always been a concern, but increased use of technology and the amount of time spent in front of a screen has elevated the need for intentional measures to protect our children. Rather than being reactionary in combating unsafe or inappropriate material on the internet, we need to be proactive in establishing safe and helpful internet practices. Here are some issues to consider as you seek to safeguard your children online: 

1. Screen time 

Something that adults and children alike have had to figure out during the last few months is what a work/life separation looks like when remaining home. For many of us, our places of work and rest are within the same walls; we do not have a daily commute to cool down, do not change out of work clothes, and are spending exponentially more time in front of a screen. This will also be true for children when school starts again. Usually, “screen time” is a form of reward after the day is finished or on the weekends; but right now, screens are the medium for learning and not just for entertainment. 

It is important for children and parents to have set routines and rhythms. Set aside specific times of day to complete chores, do homework, go for walks, and spend time with family. While every day does not have to be exactly the same, you can create a sense of normalcy by having cut-off hours for school life and by setting screens aside at a certain point in the day. Because we don’t know what to expect for the fall semester, we can be better prepared by thinking through the possibility that we may have to do school from an online or at-home format. One idea worth considering is purchasing blue-light blocking glasses to keep children from getting headaches as they spend extra time completing assignments in front of a screen. 

Routines and rhythms make adults feel more productive, and the same will be true for our children.

2. Monitor online presence

Awareness of how your children are using the internet is of paramount importance. This includes what they are watching, the social media platforms they are using, the online learning programs being accessed, and with whom they are communicating. It may seem invasive or overbearing, but knowing these things about your kids can be tremendously beneficial for their well-being and safety. Especially for younger children who are still learning how to navigate the computer and other technology, it is crucial for parents to monitor their children’s online presence. 

Some of the dangers kids run into on the internet include cyberbullying, inappropriate websites, sexual predators, and scammers. Kids who have never been taught internet safety are not equipped to deal with these issues when they arise, and it is very likely that they will not be able to identify these as potential threats. By monitoring what children are doing online, parents have the opportunity to recognize threats and harmful content that the children may not recognize themselves. 

Secretly checking on your kids will erode their trust which can cause them to hide online content and lie about what they are doing. Having open and honest conversations with your children about the potential dangers they may encounter online can help protect them, as well as create a home environment that allows children to feel safe when talking about hard topics. Knowing all of the passwords to the accounts your children have is a good way to check their content; it is prudent to do random checks on their accounts. Another good practice is only allowing children to have access to screens in public areas of the home. If a parent is able to see what the kids are working on, it can protect and keep them accountable.

3. Rules for internet usage

A practical step for internet boundaries is to have a list of internet rules. Your list of rules to implement may include:

  • Never give out personal information.
  • Do not post your photo on any public site.
  • Do not open an email or private message from someone you don’t know.
  • Don’t respond to hurtful, insulting, or bullying messages. Report any message like this to a trusted adult.
  • Report any inappropriate message to a trusted adult.
  • Never agree to meet with someone you’ve only met online.
  • Never spend or send money online without adult approval.
  • Set appropriate time limits for being online.
  • Do not chat with strangers.
  • Report any content, images, or conversations that make you feel uncomfortable, even if it comes from someone you know.

We must also recognize that predators are not always strangers, but can be people within our communities. While child molesters and sexual predators may be strangers, research shows that most target victims they already know. Make sure to talk with your children about predatory behaviors before this situation presents itself. 

These rules are just general guidelines to help think through the important topics and stipulations you should discuss with your children. Each age group will be different, so rules can change as kids get older. Talk through your internet safety rules with your kids regularly and explain why they are important. 

Moving forward

Continue being just as vigilant with internet boundaries as you were before the COVID era. More time spent on the internet means more times to check in and guard the safety and privacy of your children. Furthermore, enforcing screens in public spaces will help children keep accountable and stay safe while they are on the internet. 

The internet is a tool: not inherently bad, not inherently good, but it can be used to both edify and tear the soul. Because children will be spending more time on laptops and tablets in the coming months, parents should be extra vigilant in monitoring screen time, having hard conversations about safety and sexuality, and praying for God’s protection. Parents serve in the role of guide and counselor; let us not miss this opportunity to train our children in the way of the Lord and remove stumbling blocks when we are able.

ERLC interns Juliana Martinez and Mary Beth Teague contributed to this article.

By / Aug 10

Over the last few weeks, there has been a cultural firestorm over the viral video sharing app TikTok and a potential ban in the United States. TikTok’s usage surged during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns with millions of users finding reprieve during this difficult season of isolation and social distancing. My colleague Conrad Close and I recently wrote about this application that has taken the world by storm. It is the first major mobile application to be built specifically for the smartphone era and has been wildly successful, with rival social media companies seeking to catch up or even ride the momentum of its innovative approach to video sharing. From Instagram’s newly released Reels to the promised Youtube Shorts, major technology companies see the success of TikTok and desire to be a part of this shift in the way people connect and share information.

Alongside the enjoyable family dance videos, jokes, and even political activism on TikTok, there is a considerable threat to freedom, human rights, and personal privacy that often flies under the radar based on TikTok’s contentious relationship with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and their involvement with private companies. This is one of the main reasons that the United States government has been exploring options of banning or encouraging the sale of the U.S. TikTok operations to a non-Chinese company like Microsoft. 

Often threats to freedom and human rights are characterized as an overreaction to legitimate competition from rival technology companies, but this is a truncated view of the power and influence not only of the CCP in China but also throughout the world. The argument centers on the idea that Chinese companies should have the right to export their values and compete on the open market as anyone else. But should these Chinese technology companies be treated differently on the world stage?

State-backed technology

In The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State, Elizabeth C. Economy writes on how President Xi Jinping’s Chinese state embraced technology early on to strengthen the power and influence of the state, while at the same time limiting the freedom and democratization of information for its people. Under Xi Jinping, the CCP wants to embrace the global political influence through China’s innovation hubs, social media companies like TikTok, and the growing economic output through manufacturing. But it also rejects the fundamental democratizing aspects that come with the free flow of information in the public square.

From the “Great Fire Wall,” which filters internet access and content by only allowing “acceptable” content to the Chinese people, to the use of facial recognition technologies powered by artificial intelligence to track and detain government dissidents (including religious minorities like the persecuted Uighur Muslims), China’s heavy-handed approach to technology and state leadership has allowed it to emerge as a global superpower on the world stage without any true accountability. The CCP’s influence in global affairs has also led nations around the world to passively accept Chinese dogma such as the controversial “One China” policy in relation to Taiwan, growing influence in Hong Kong through the recent enacted security law, and insider access to valuable data and information collected by its rapidly growing technology sector. This influence includes control over companies and their data collection such as TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, 5G network and telecom provider Huawei, and even the popular messaging app WeChat.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last Wednesday, “With parent companies based in China, apps like TikTok, WeChat, and others are significant threats to personal data of American citizens, not to mention tools for CCP content censorship.” These threats to personal data and privacy have to do with the unique relationship between Chinese companies and the Communist party. Chinese technology companies like ByteDance are required to cooperate with “state intelligence work” per the 2017 Chinese National Intelligence Law. This type of agreement not only allows Chinese interference in personal data captured by these applications, but also gives the government wide-reaching control and power over how these companies operate and with whom they associate.

According to the Canadian government’s assessment of the 2017 intelligence law, “the law’s vague definition of intelligence in the opening articles suggests intelligence includes both information collected and activities conducted in support of comprehensive state security.” This broad and overreaching authority in a company’s affairs is concerning on a number of fronts, but none more important than issues surrounding basic human rights and freedoms. In an ironic twist given the Chinese restrictions on a open and free internet, Reuters reports that in response to the U.S. government’s actions last week, the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, said the United States “has no right” to set up a “Clean Network” and calls the actions by Washington as “a textbook case of bullying.”

Standing for the oppressed

It is understandable that there would be controversy surrounding the potential ban of TikTok throughout the world, especially in the United States, because of the popularity of the app and the relative freedoms we experience. Our nation is based on a democratic form of government, where our government leaders are accountable to the people and our nation’s laws are subject to our elected representatives. While questions and concerns abound about the proper role of government and of technology companies in the public square, the United States (and other Western nations) have the ability to enact change and even protest the presence of repressive measures in ways that the Chinese people simply do not. We also have the ability to publicly disagree with our government’s position and decisions. This is part of what separates our nation from authoritarian regimes, like China.

Chinese citizens are denied basic human rights and are subject to draconian laws that seek to dehumanize and suppress any dissidents against the CCP’s power and control. This is clearly seen in the recently enacted Hong Kong security law which bans sedition, secession, and subversion. As my colleague Chelsea Patterson Sobolik has said, “China is remaking Hong Kong in its own image, and freedom-loving men and women on the island-city and around the world are concerned. Hongkongers have watched how the communist government treats its citizens, severely restricting their freedoms of religion, assembly, and speech.”

China has a long record of blatant human rights and religious liberty violations that have been thrust on the world stage with the continued revelations of the treatment of Uighur Muslims and other minorities. These men and women created in God’s image have been subjected to concentration like camps, forced work, renunciation of their faith, and government propaganda, all in hopes of strengthening Chinese “national security”—a cover for authoritarian power grabs and state control.

The security and privacy concerns with Chinese technologies like TikTok, Huawei, and others do not only concern American citizens. These issues also extend to the treatment of other image-bearers who do not experience the same freedoms we are guaranteed in this country. Christians should be among the first to stand up against and speak clearly on these blatant violations of human rights because we believe that every person—no matter where they live or what they believe—are image-bearers of God himself and deserve the utmost respect and dignity.

Often standing up for the oppressed means giving up some of your own freedoms and opportunities as you seek to see justice enacted and human life valued. These sacrifices pale in comparison to the lack of freedom and opportunities experienced by our fellow image-bearers, especially those under the heavy authoritarian hand of the Chinese Communist Party. We stand with the oppressed, all of whom are created in the image of our Maker, because our Savior bled and died for us when we had nothing to offer and stood oppressed by our own.