By / May 22

When you hear the phrase “payday loans,” what words and ideas come to mind? Helpful? Useful? Timely? Or words with a more negative connotation like harmful, predatory, and immoral? These are some of the responses given by a group of Christians that took part in a recent survey titled American Views on Payday Loans. The survey of one thousand Christians from 27 states was conducted by Lifeway Research and is part of a larger project sponsored by a coalition of faith-based institutions called Faith for Just Lending.

The responses to this and other questions included in the survey were split and have changed to a surprising degree in the last several years. For instance, since 2016 the percentage of respondents who view payday loans as “helpful, useful, and timely” has doubled, and 34% of Christians living in one of these states “have obtained that type of loan themselves” (also doubling since 2016).

The reason for these changes is mixed. Yet, whatever the reason, Christians would be wise to explore what payday loans are and why they can be so morally and materially problematic.

What is a payday loan?

Barrett Duke writes that payday lending “is the term used to describe the practice of lending small amounts of money to people, usually $350 or less, for two-week periods (i.e., until their next payday). In return, the borrower pays interest on the loan when it is due at the end of the loan period.” 

A payday loan, therefore, is a relatively small amount of money (though surely it doesn’t seem small to those being forced to borrow) that is lent to people to see them through to their next payday. As Duke acknowledges, a short-term loan like this “can provide an important service,” but the terms of the loan often lead to more difficulty on the part of the borrower. In fact, the loans are often predatory in nature. And according to the Center for Responsible Lending, there are more than 20,000 payday loan shops providing these loans in the United States today.

Why are they sometimes called predatory?

Payday lending is a business that preys on the most financially vulnerable among us and those who are most in need of help. 

The Center for Responsible Lending calls payday lending a practice akin to “modern-day usury,” a word defined by Merriam-Webster as “an unconscionable or exorbitant rate or amount of interest.” While the authors of this guide recognize that “lending can empower those in need,” they also warn that “lending can be used to exploit those in need.” In too many cases, payday lending is used for the latter. 

Part of what makes payday lending predatory is the outrageous interest rates that are pinned on the loans—rates that are often veiled by the use of unclear financial speak. Duke uses the example of a $350 loan borrowed at 15%. These terms may sound reasonable to a borrower, “except that this [15%] is the two-week rate, not an annual rate. On an annual basis, that 15% two-week loan is actually provided at a 390% annual interest rate,” which is just shy of the “typical payday lender charge [of] 400%.” 

In addition to the high interest rates and unclear language, payday loans are typically eligible for renewal when a borrower is unable to repay the loan in full. In this scenario, a lender will renew the loan, provided that the borrower pays the interest that’s due. Using Duke’s example from above, on a $350 loan borrowed at 15%, a borrower would pay “the $52.50 [in] interest and extend the loan for two more weeks at another 15% interest,” rolling the unpaid total into the new loan. 

And this is a cycle that can continue almost indefinitely. It’s a business model that profits from borrowers’ inability to pay back their loans and traps them in an ongoing cycle, metastasizing their dues and eventually saddling them with a sizable amount of long-term debt. 

Why should Christians care about predatory payday lending?

Christians should care about predatory lending because its practices exploit and take advantage of our neighbors, whom we’ve been commanded to love. In the Old and New Testaments, Scripture is clear that God’s people should not tolerate injustice, should serve and care for those who are marginalized, and where possible, put a stop to the injustices perpetrated against them. 

Finding themselves in a “tough financial hole,” many of our neighbors “have attempted to use payday loans to dig themselves out.” Unfortunately, what they often find with payday loans is not that they’re digging themselves out but digging themselves deeper. For example, “the typical payday borrower pays back $793 for an initial $325 loan” and, on average, “takes out 9 loans a year.” Frequently, these loans lead to more difficulty, more hardship, and more vulnerability for borrowers.

Predatory lending affects not just individuals, but families and entire communities. Cumulatively, it’s an industry that as of 2010 collected $3.5 billion every year in fees alone (i.e., interest and other fees), making it increasingly difficult for borrowers to make ends meet, for families to put food on the table, and for whole communities to thrive. Christians should care about payday lending because it’s a system that fundamentally “undermines the dignity of borrower[s] when [their] failure leads to success and profit for the lender.” Predatory lending is an issue of biblical justice and human dignity.

How have the SBC and ERLC engaged with this issue?

In 2014, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting made their opposition to the practice of predatory payday lending clear by passing a resolution that: 

  • denounce[d] the practice of predatory payday lending as contrary to God’s design for human relationships;” 
  • urge[d] churches, employers, and other concerned individuals to provide viable solutions for meeting short-term financial needs within their local communities;” 
  • call[ed] on governing officials to investigate current payday lending abuses in their communities and institute just regulations and policies that terminate the practice of predatory payday lending;” 
  • and “admonish[ed] those who are engaged in the practice of predatory payday lending to consider the great damage they are causing in the lives of vulnerable people and to adopt a just lending model.”

To that end, the ERLC has long sought to shed light on the predatory nature of payday lending. From writing Issue Briefs like the one referenced above to serving as a member of the Faith for Just Lending coalition, the ERLC recognizes “these practices should be regulated to restrict this industry’s ability to prey on the poor among us” and advocates for policies (like South Carolina’s Senate Bill 67) that seek to do just that. Recognizing that predatory lending is an issue that directly concerns human dignity, the ERLC has made the support of payday lending regulations one of its 2023 policy priorities.

By / Apr 28

Sexual abuse in the nation’s federal prisons must be rooted out, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, the Justice Department’s second-highest-ranking leader, recently told prison wardens gathered for a nationwide training event. 

“This is urgent, urgent work,” Monaco told the Associated Press (AP) in an interview. “It’s incumbent upon us as leaders to call that out and make those changes and really be vigilant about it.”

According to the news agency, Peters was hired last year after her predecessor resigned amid mounting pressure from Congress following AP investigations that exposed widespread corruption and misconduct within the prison system. 

Sexual abuse in American prisons is a deeply disturbing issue that continues to fester within the correctional system, despite the enactment of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) in 2003. As followers of Christ, we are called to care for the marginalized and oppressed, and this includes our brothers and sisters behind bars. This article examines the severity of the problem, the factors contributing to its persistence, and the ways in which Christians can engage in solutions grounded in our faith and God’s love.

The scope of the problem

Sexual abuse in American prisons is a grievous sin that affects countless incarcerated individuals. According to a 2018 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were 13.5 allegations of sexual victimization per 1,000 prison inmates and 11.9 per 1,000 jail inmates. This translates to tens of thousands of people suffering from this dehumanizing trauma each year.

Both fellow inmates and correctional staff perpetrate these heinous acts. Of the 1,673 substantiated incidents of sexual victimization in 2018, about 58% were perpetrated by other inmates and 42% by staff. The power dynamics and lack of accountability within prisons often fosters an environment where abuse frequently goes unpunished. Many victims are reluctant to report incidents due to fear of retaliation or the belief that their complaints will be disregarded.

Factors contributing to the prevalence of sexual abuse

Several factors contribute to the high prevalence of sexual abuse in American prisons, including:

Overcrowding: The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, leading to overcrowded and understaffed prisons. Overcrowding exacerbates tensions and increases the likelihood of violence, including sexual assault. It also hampers the ability of correctional staff to effectively monitor inmate behavior and intervene in potentially abusive situations.

Lack of training and oversight: Many correctional officers receive inadequate training on how to identify and respond to sexual abuse. In some cases, they may be unaware of their responsibilities under PREA or may choose to disregard them. The lack of external oversight can also foster an environment in which abuse is tolerated or even encouraged.

Inmate vulnerability: Certain populations are at a heightened risk for sexual victimization, including young inmates and those with mental illnesses. These inmates may be targeted due to their perceived vulnerability or social isolation, making it even more challenging for them to report abuse and receive support.

Retaliation and fear of reporting: Victims often fear retaliation from their abusers or other inmates, discouraging them from reporting incidents. Additionally, they may be concerned that their complaints will not be taken seriously or that they will face further abuse from staff members.

What Christians can do to help

As followers of Christ, we must not turn a blind eye to this crisis but rather engage in solutions grounded in our faith and God’s love. Some possible ways to help include:

Advocating for alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders: Christians can support and advocate for alternative sentencing options, such as community service, drug rehabilitation programs, and mental health treatment, when appropriate and safe in order to help reduce the prison population and alleviate overcrowding. This approach aligns with the Christian belief in redemption and the power of transformative change.

Encouraging training and oversight: Christians can call for comprehensive training of correctional staff on the identification and prevention of sexual abuse, as well as their obligations under PREA. Additionally, Christians can advocate for independent oversight bodies to monitor compliance with these regulations and hold institutions accountable for addressing incidents of abuse.

Offering spiritual support and advocacy: Churches and faith-based organizations can offer spiritual support to vulnerable inmates, providing them with a sense of community and protection. These organizations can also advocate for policies and procedures that protect vulnerable inmates from sexual victimization.

Promoting a culture of abuse-reporting and victim-supporting: Christians can encourage prisons to create environments in which inmates feel safe reporting incidents of sexual abuse. This can be achieved by implementing confidential reporting mechanisms, ensuring that complaints are taken seriously, and providing appropriate support services for victims. Additionally, churches and faith-based organizations can offer spiritual and emotional support to survivors of sexual abuse, helping them find healing and forgiveness through Jesus.

Addressing staff-perpetrated abuse: We can advocate for thorough background checks on prospective employees, ongoing training on professional boundaries and ethics, and clear procedures for reporting and investigating allegations of staff misconduct. By pushing for a zero-tolerance policy for those found guilty, we can demonstrate our commitment to justice and the dignity of all individuals.

Fostering a culture of rehabilitation and restoration: By promoting a focus on rehabilitation and restoration within the prison system, the Church can help reduce violence, including sexual abuse. Emphasizing the importance of personal growth, and accountability, we can create safer environments that align with the teachings of Christ.

Christ’s love in the darkest places

The issue of sexual abuse in American prisons is a stark reminder of the fallen nature of our world and the need for Christ’s love to be present in even the darkest of places. As followers of Jesus, we are called to stand up against injustice and advocate for the marginalized and oppressed. As it is written in Proverbs 31:8-9, “Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed. Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy.” By engaging in solutions grounded in our faith, we can work toward a more just and compassionate prison system that respects the human rights and dignity of all individuals, regardless of their past mistakes. 

By / Jan 27

We didn’t need to see it. 

The sorrow expressed by law enforcement officials. The pleas from community leaders to not riot in response. The labels of “appalling” and “inhumane” used to describe the footage. All of these comments told us what we were about to see would be revolting.

They were right.

Video footage from the brutal beating of Tyre Nichols during a police confrontation is now public. It ought to sicken all who care about the city or work for racial unity or simply seek the wellbeing of our neighbors.

It now sits before us. Enraging us. Dispiriting us. Condemning us. Challenging us. Even questioning us: asking what we intend to do about such an act of brutality.

Memphis has been asking itself that for weeks. The city has been on edge waiting for this moment. Colleagues in Memphis have described the palpable tension in the air. A close friend has been worried about his hometown for the last several weeks.

Officials have been quick to act. Last week, the police chief fired the officers involved in Mr. Nichols’ death, and, yesterday, their arrests were announced. Each of them was charged with murder, along with several other crimes. The breadth of the charges was another sign of the appalling nature of what took place during the arrest. 

Some will read about this case and say we cannot jump to conclusions. Others, upon learning that the officers involved were Black, will feel relieved, thinking that at least the racial element of a white officer and an unarmed Black man is absent from this tragedy. Still, others will think they are too far removed from Memphis to spend much time thinking about this.

But if you see this footage, all of that will fade away as you view the sheer horror inflicted upon Tyre Nichols.

I am stirred to anger because another life has been lost in this way. That the officers happened to be Black serves as confirmation that this is a systemic problem in our justice system requiring real reform. The distance of this atrocity does not matter, because my faith places no geographic qualification on who is my neighbor (Luke 10). We should pray, in this instance, that evil will be exposed in the course of the investigation and punished (Rom. 13).

The result of our collective devaluing of life

But as with other tragedies, deeper reflection is required.

There will be unhelpful voices which call us to ignore this as a single case of bad apples, already dealt with by a system working as it should. There will be those who call for radical proposals such as eliminating the police and defunding them, a proposal that ignores the very real benefit that officers and government bring when they are doing their duty to promote order and protect citizens from evildoers. Both of these extremes must be avoided if we are to address the real problems at this moment. 

No, the real solution for this actually goes beyond law enforcement. It calls us to consider both the societal and individual results of a culture of death.

It should be abundantly clear to all that we have witnessed a devaluing of human life across our society in nearly every sector. 

A nation that has so easily eradicated the unborn for generations spawns a culture where a man can be pulverized to death mere yards from his home by those who should be there to serve and protect. 

A nation that separates children from their mothers in the name of border security creates a culture where security officials eagerly take on the role of executioner without thinking to involve the judge and jury in the equation.

A nation that views elderly life as discardable enables a culture where no one dares to intercede as a bludgeoned man cries out for his mother in his final moments.

We should resist the temptation to decouple any of these things. They are all connected because they reveal that we do not fully see, fully appreciate, or fully comprehend the awesome responsibilities we have toward one another because each of us is made in the image of God (Gen. 1). This principle spans across fields of occupation. The doctor, the educator, and, yes, the law enforcement officer all have as much responsibility as every pastor and minister to see the inherent dignity and value the immeasurable worth of every individual.

When we fail to do so, it leads to tragedies like this in Memphis.

But it is precisely because of this city that I have some optimism that real action will come from this moment. The faith community there is strong––and resilient. They’ve faced adversity like few cities. The ministers of the gospel there have been forged in the fires of previous tragedy. There’s a bond that ties together the churches and ministries in Shelby County that I have personally witnessed and worked alongside. If there is any community that can come back from the devastation of this video, it will be Memphis.

We should pray for this outcome. We desperately need an example of the Church shepherding a community and leading broken, sin-torn hearts to the suffering Savior. And we need leaders and activists responding with real reforms that bolster the police force and work toward safer neighborhoods. This will ensure the weighty calling of protecting a community begins with the vital foundation that every person has value and will be treated accordingly throughout our justice system.

I long for a day when we have moved beyond events like this. Where every individual feels respected and protected by every officer of the law. The evidence that our culture has moved to a better place will be that life itself is seen as invaluable throughout our society.

We all should long and plead that God would usher in that day, because repulsive and heartbreaking videos like this are almost too much to bear. The grief is so heavy. It shows that day is very far off indeed, and that now is a time for weeping. 

By / Jan 10

According to Pew Research Center, 80% of Americans say social media platforms are effective for raising public awareness about political or social issues, and over half have also been civically engaged on social media in recent years. Social media can be a powerful tool when harnessed with wisdom as we seek to influence change and address grave issues of injustice throughout our world. 

But for all of the positive change that these tools can help facilitate, one of the temptations in this age of social media is to believe that digital activism is all that is needed to address real-world issues. Digital activism can quickly become a substitute for true and lasting change because we buy into the lie that simply participating in an online campaign is enough. 

Here are two ways to think about social change and move beyond raising awareness of these issues online.

Raising awareness is good, but action is better

Marking our hands with an X to raise awareness about sex trafficking around the world or changing our social media avatars to show support for a cause can be a helpful way to let others know about issues that may fly under the radar of our daily experiences. With all of the busyness and constant distractions of life, digital activism can be an important tool in the age of social media. 

But as our teenagers and families participate in these online movements, we need to stop and examine our motivations for participating. It is tempting to post, share, or like things in order to be seen as the type of person that is socially involved but then fail to actually address these issues in the real world.

Social media can quickly become a way to show the world a version of ourselves that we want them to see rather than seeking true and lasting change through a concerted effort in our communities. Talking or showing support for an issue is one thing, but acting is a whole other level of engagement.

Look for ways to partner with others

One of the blessings of social media is the ability to connect with others, but these online connections can become shallow or superficial. It is more important than ever to move those connections offline and engage with others face-to-face. You may feel called to get involved with important issues like abortion, sex trafficking, or racial injustice, but true change usually happens in real-life relationships with others.

There are countless reputable and gospel-centered organizations that you can partner with in your community to help move the needle on these important issues. You can give resources, volunteer time, and and participate in community events that allow you to put feet to the online support. 

God calls his people to be the hands and feet of Christ in a broken and sin-torn world. May God find his Church actively engaging the world around us, caring for the least of these, and championing human dignity for all, instead of thinking that performative online activity is enough.

By / Dec 27

I remember very clearly the first pro-life event I attended at age 15. A friend’s family invited me to go with them to a march and rally in our state capital of Montgomery, Alabama. The passion on display that winter day moved me as I walked among the mass of people carrying signs and crying out for the preborn. Until then, I had been principally pro-life but didn’t feel any personal responsibility around the issue. But somewhere amid that crowd, in air so brisk I could see my breath in front of me, I realized God was prompting me to defend the preborn. 

The message from speakers that day was simple: Save the babies. Overturn Roe v. Wade

As pro-lifers, we were united in both our cause and our game plan.

Now we live in a post-Roe world where many states restrict or ban abortion in ways that save countless innocent lives. But alongside this victory, a disagreement brews on the edges of the pro-life movement about how to apply criminal justice to the fight for life. Pro-life advocates have always sought to leverage the criminal justice system to protect the preborn by prosecuting physicians who perform illegal abortions. But a new wave of activists insists that we must also criminally charge women who seek abortions.

This sector of the pro-life world describes their movement as one to provide equal protection under the law to the preborn. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But many who spend their lives working at various levels of the U.S. criminal justice system caution that while the law provides justice in many cases, it has its limitations. The more complex the facts around a crime, the greater the chance of unintentionally compounding or creating one injustice while addressing another.

Demographic realities

To understand the problems connected to this proposition, we must recognize the realities of who will likely be seeking illegal abortions in a post-Roe United States. Now that abortion is banned or heavily restricted in some states and fully legal in others, women with even moderate resources will not risk prosecution to have an abortion. In states where abortion is illegal, most women will leave and travel to states where it’s not, have the procedure with zero risk of prosecution, and return home. 

In fact, abortion activists—including the Biden administration—are so dedicated to keeping abortion common that they are placing abortion providers on state borders for easier access and funding organizations to help women travel to abortion-friendly states.

Given the abortion lobby’s zeal for creating access to abortion, what kind of woman will still consider an illegal procedure in a pro-life state? A very poor one, generally, with no resources for travel, no understanding of how to access the free abortion travel funding, and who feels desperate enough to accept the risk of an illegal abortion that may be dangerous and might also send her to jail.

In my years serving abortion-vulnerable women, I observed that as a woman’s level of agency decreases, the likelihood that others are heavily influencing the decision regarding her pregnancy increases. The less power she has—because she’s young, poor, or her partner or parent is coercive—the more likely it is that someone else in her life is calling the shots and insisting that she terminate her pregnancy. And if we make a Venn diagram of low-resource women who will attempt to get an abortion in a state where it’s illegal and low-agency women who aren’t the primary decision-makers, we get a lot of overlap.

Within that overlap is a field ripe for unintended injustice.

Unintended injustice

Those who want to criminalize women insist that we can write statutes that consider those mitigating factors. They say that just as current homicide statutes allow for degrees of crime and charge accessories to the act, criminal abortion statutes could, too. But we also know that the criminal justice system works very differently for those who can afford an adequate legal defense than for those who must depend on an overworked, underpaid public defender.

Which representation do we believe the woman who couldn’t afford a road trip to the state line will receive? How difficult will it be for her to prove, with meager legal resources, that she was coerced or pressured by others to abort when so much of that evidence is “he-said, she-said” in nature?

I think the equal justice crowd—whose burden for the preborn I appreciate and admire in many ways—imagines passing laws that convict and lock up the 30-year-old professional on social media “shouting her abortion.” And to be clear, that woman’s wanton disregard for the preborn infuriates me, as well. But these laws will rarely touch her, if ever. She will continue to live in or travel to an abortion-friendly state. She will keep aborting at will. She will keep shouting about it. 

These laws will almost exclusively catch the poor and disenfranchised in their net and few others. Is that justice? Is that equal?

A pragmatic argument

Finally, I hesitate to make a pragmatic argument on a moral issue. Still, when lives hang in the balance, I think wisdom demands that we consider all the potential consequences of the idea on the table. By jailing women in red states (the only states where legislatures might pass such laws), those purple states where voters are pretty evenly divided on the abortion question will be watching. Passing these “equal justice” laws may jail a few women in Alabama or Tennessee. However, the optics of it all will raise millions for the abortion lobby to spend in purple states where abortion policy is still very much a jump ball. We will lose crucial legislative battles in those states to ban or restrict abortion more fully. 

And when we lose those battles in purple states, more children will die.

I think the wiser course is to keep our focus on making abortion illegal in every state and focusing resources on women in need who may run toward abortion out of fear. Both of these goals are better accomplished if we can convince the millions of Americans in the middle of this debate that both lives have value—mother and child—and that we, as pro-life Christians, are dedicated to seeing each of them thrive as God intended. By doing these things, we can continue to advance a culture of life.

By / Aug 11

Why, O LORD, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

These aren’t my words, but they might as well be. I feel like I can’t take another day of bad news. War, political vitriol, violence, corruption. Our holidays aren’t even restful, because evil doesn’t take a day off. These “why” questions come from Psalm 10. The chapter is a desperate prayer, cried out without pretense, right from the pages of our Bible. In this passage, we meet someone in the middle of a crisis of faith. He is struggling to apply what he knows to be true about a good and just God to circumstances of rampant injustice around him. Surely, we can relate.

I am asking a lot of my own why questions these days. Why does our world feel like it is getting more dangerous, more confusing, more uncertain? Why can’t we go to our local parade without fear? Or send our kids to school, or go to the grocery store without worrying for basic safety? Why does it seem the most vulnerable among us keep paying the highest price? Why do our leaders— the very people charged with doing the right thing in the face of injustice— seem to lack fortitude? 

Beneath all of those questions, my heart is asking along with the psalmist, “Why, Lord, are you far away when we need you most?” But I am so grateful to see my concerns included in Scripture. And in this way, we see God is not distant. He speaks to us right here in Psalm 10, right into the real pain of our lives, meeting us in the tension of how to live in a world not as it should be. We learn several things from this passage about how to face injustice. 

How we pray

The author gives us a lesson in how we pray for justice. He first spends nine verses detailing how a wicked man exploits the vulnerable for his own gain and laments the way evil seems to operate with impunity. But then, the author turns to God and says, “Arise, O Lord. Oh, God, lift up your hand” (v. 12).

What a request! The directness makes me uncomfortable. But should it? The psalmist believed what God says about himself is true— he is righteous, just, helper to the helpless. And so he requests that God act on behalf of his own reputation. It is a request of faith, not doubt.

In verse 14, the psalmist writes that God not only sees the injustice, but takes it into his own hands. Stop there for a second. This image contradicts every fear we could ever have that God is indifferent to human suffering. He cares, enough to take it into his hands and deal with it himself. What better evidence do we have for this claim than Christ? In Jesus’ death, we see there is no length to which God would not go to deal with the sin and evil of this world— even the death of his only beloved son.

So, if we are uncomfortable being direct with God, it might be because we don’t trust him to be who he says he will be. Let’s instead, reorient our hearts to hold Christ as the firm foundation upon which every request is made. We can ask God for justice because he is just. We’ve seen is character in Christ’s willing sacrifice for our sin.

How we care

When we encounter injustice— on the news, on social media, or in our very neighborhood, what is our heart’s response? I confess that mine often cycles between detachment and vengeance. But we lose the ability to engage faithfully in justice work when we spiral into despair or rage. Psalm 10 offers a different model.

First, what stands out most in this entire passage is the heart of God for the helpless. His relationship with the vulnerable is beautiful. The wicked brag that God doesn’t care about their pain, but Psalm 10 affirms the truth: ‘you do see’. (v 14) God hears the cries of the afflicted, and he does not forget them. What is more, ‘he will strengthen their hearts’, (v 14) meeting them in their time of need. This picture of God’s heart and care should shape our response.

Second, when we step back from the story, we see this is about more than two earthly parties— the victim and the aggressor. There is actually a third person involved. Do you see it? The author. He is not passive. He is grieving injustice, with his heart and mind aligned with God’s care for the vulnerable. We see this as he desperately petitions God to intervene in righteousness.

And here lies both a promise and a warning. God cares deeply, specifically for the vulnerable— but do we? And as God’s people, do we consider that his care for the helpless may just flow through us, through our wallets, our prayers, our churches? Because when we get down to it, the wicked man is not so far removed from us. In fact, many commentaries believe the aggressor was a wealthy Israelite or group of Israelites who defied God’s commands specifically given to his covenant people to care for the vulnerable (Exo. 22:21-24). 

I don’t want to settle for cycling between detachment, despair, and rage. And I don’t want to be blinded by pride, thinking God doesn’t actually care how I treat the vulnerable. Thankfully, there is another way. We can look to the beauty revealed here and ask the Holy Spirit to help us reflect God’s heart in our own actions. It will require more of us— likely sacrifice and personal cost— but there is nothing better than living within God’s commands and promises by the power of his Spirit.

How we hope

For much of the chapter, Psalm 10 reads as a petition. Then, near the end, comes a change in verse 16. The psalmist breaks from speaking to God and makes a statement about God. “The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land.” This is the truth claim on which everything else depends. All the power players of his day, and of ours— they are actually waning. 

There are so many times in the last few months particularly, where I’ve been tempted to believe darkness is winning. But what is beautiful about this chapter is that it reminds us to speak the truth to ourselves when we are most tempted to forget. We need this good news to break through and capture our hearts and minds. We need a secure hope while waiting for our broken world to be made right. We too need to be reminded that the Lord is king, and the land is his.

The psalmist ends here, not with a declaration of vengeance or even resolution, but a promise. He writes of a future time when “the man who is of the earth will strike terror no more” (v 18). What a triumphant declaration! And it points forward to a promised time when Jesus will establish his rule of justice and righteousness and reign forevermore (Isa. 9:6-7).

We are right to long for justice, but oftentimes what we want is far too small. The justice Jesus brings is even better than what we could imagine. We think of justice as a courtroom idea— to make payment for wrongs. That is true, but the just kingdom described in the Bible goes far beyond that idea. Our King upholds righteousness, so that humanity and all creation flourishes as it should, as it is intended to. Whole, peaceful, completely sinless. Restoration is coming through Jesus. And it is better than anything we could ever design (Rev. 21). Let us pray and hope toward that end. 

By / Jun 16

There are few issues more difficult to discuss in recent years than those related to race and justice. For families especially, it can be difficult to know what is appropriate to mention to children and how to introduce the topic in a way that honors God and his vision of kingdom diversity and is also cognizant of the current points of conflict and concern. That is why Helen Lee and Michelle Reyes’ The Race-Wise Family: Ten Postures to Becoming Households of Healing and Hope is such a welcome addition to conversation. Lee and Reyes provide practical lessons as well as guidance on what it means to disciple our families in upholding the dignity of all individuals and seeking justice. They joined us recently to talk about their book and what this means for each of our households. 

Alex Ward: In reading your book, and looking at a lot of the conversations around race in the church, I was struck by the point you make that so often we don’t seem to have the same goal when we talk of racial reconciliation. How does that shape the way we approach these conversations, and what is a goal that you think should unify the church?

Helen Lee and Michelle Reyes: We have to understand that Black, Brown and white churches have fundamentally different starting points when it comes to the issue of race. For many white churches, conversations on race are more theoretical than personal. White leaders and parents aren’t often aware of their cultural identity, let alone how they live at the intersection of their faith and their culture, so race-related issues can feel like something relevant to other people and not themselves. Some white leaders feel they are guilty by default, just for being white, and that their only role in race conversations is to apologize. In addition, some in white churches fear that they or their children will upset someone of another ethnicity, i.e., by saying the wrong thing or making someone angry. These perspectives and concerns often lead white churches to avoid and disengage with race-related issues.

Conversely, for many Black and Brown churches, race is the reality in which we live. It is the very air we breathe because we are very aware of the color of our skin and the way people treat us accordingly. We feel unheard and even silenced at times by majority culture evangelicalism. In addition, our greatest fear is our children, our spouses, and our parents being racially assaulted, perhaps even killed. When our fears take hold, it leads to defensiveness and, even at times, hate. 

It is impossible to pursue healthy gospel-centered conversations on race as the big ‘C’ church if our approach is filled with either fear or defensiveness. When it comes to race, the goal of the church should be to have a joy-filled biblical engagement. Instead of simply creating a list of what not to do or what we want others to do, we should challenge ourselves to have a far more robust, Christ-centered lens that sees the topic of race as an opportunity to build the kingdom of God together. The more we can see each other—Black, Brown, and white—as fellow co-laborers, striving together for the gospel, healing, unity, and shalom, the more we will be able to unify in our efforts.

AW: In a similar way, the church isn’t the only place that has a story of what this should look like. So how can Christian parents be particularly attentive to the kinds of stories that their children are receiving and also take an active role in providing a kingdom framework for these issues? 

HL & MR: We can’t predict what racial incident is going to happen next. To some extent, we can’t control the kind of racial brokenness or pain that will rage through our communities, let alone how these events will affect our kids. What we can have agency in is to engage in current events together and develop a race-wise lens in age-appropriate ways. A race-wise family asks God for help in unpacking racial issues and seeks his direction to know how to identify and combat racism in all its overt and subtle forms. 

In our [Michelle’s family] home, we talk about what’s happening around the world with our kids (mine are currently ages 7 and 3). From the wars in Ukraine and Afghanistan to the Haitian migrants at the border, the murder of Black and Brown folk, and anti-Asian racism related to the pandemic, my husband and I tell our kids what’s happening in the world (if your kids are older, you could watch the news together) and then pray. We pray for wisdom in how to respond. We also pray for God to protect and provide for the hurting, and that he would draw people to himself during this difficult time. We tell our kids about police shootings too and ask them, “What do you think the Bible says about this?” 

Now, when my 7-year-old hears about a racial incident, his first response is, “we need to pray!” I know a day is coming when my kids will be all grown up and will leave our home to go out into the world. I can’t control what they will see or experience, but if their immediate heart posture is to see the racial brokenness in the world and then turn to pray and seek wisdom from God’s Word, I know they have a healthy biblical foundation to build on. 

AW: You talk about how one of the “postures” of a race-wise family is that of seeing color. What does it mean to “see color” but also not make that the defining or essential characteristic of their personhood?

HL & MR: The end of the civil rights era heralded the concept of colorblind as a new and healthier way forward for race relations. The term is borrowed from the last part of Dr. King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, where he says he wants people to judge his children for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. I think a lot of well meaning folks ran with that in the 60s and 70s and wanted to prove that they weren’t using skin color to treat people unequally. 

The unintended consequence, though, is that folks who strove to be colorblind also became blind to the lived experiences of ethnic minorities. In an attempt to treat us all the same, people’s racialized experiences of everything from racial profiling, police brutality, and more got swept under the rug. It’s easy for folks who say “I don’t see color” to also ignore laws, policies and zoning that creates gaps in education and wealth equality along racial lines. In other words, when you tell someone of color that “color doesn’t matter” or that you prefer to be “colorblind”, you are essentially saying that you don’t care about their story and their lived experiences of pain.

So what we’ve come to realize now, especially in the past decade, is that we need to see color because seeing color is the portal into people’s lived realities. I am more than the color of my skin, but I am no less than my pigmentation. God is El Roi, the God who sees (Gen. 16:13). He sees all of us; our skin color, our pains, the beauties of our culture. God created the world, including people, with glorious diversity. He declared that all that he had made in wondrous technicolor was “good.” God’s heart throughout Scripture is for a multiethnic, globally diverse people. If we want to see people like God does, we must see in color without sliding back into any form of segregation or disunity. 

AW: How can Christian parents approach the topic of inviting people of color into their lives proactively, in a way that allows people they know to share their stories, but that also doesn’t treat their pain as “just” an example from a history book? 

HL & MR: We need to value stories within the context of relationships. If a person only cares about an Asian woman’s story during AAPI Heritage month or after an anti-Asian hate crime, they are posturing at best. They are treating that Asian woman as a token—maybe even without realizing it—often using her story to feel a little better about themselves for having new knowledge and greater awareness about a reality in the world, but without proactively doing much in response. 

If you really care about breaking cycles of anti-Asian hate, for example, then first begin reaching out to your Asian American congregants, neighbors, and co-workers. Invite them over for a meal. Better yet, go to their home and eat food from their cuisine. Imitate the model of Jesus, who went to Zaccheus and said, “I’m coming to your house today!” (Luke 19:1-10). Start building a friendship by asking questions such as, “What’s your story?,” “What are your ethnic roots?,” and “How is your family doing?” 

Then, when a racial incident occurs, reach out, ask your friend how they’re doing, if you can bring a meal over, and what they need. Instead of being the outsider, peering into moments of racism from an impersonal stance, walk alongside those who are hurting. Live life together. Be in the trenches with your friends as best you can. Pray together. Show up when they need you to show up. This is how we proactively engage racial problems in ways that are honoring to the people around us. 

AW: So often, the question about race and ethnicity in America is filtered through a white/Black binary, understandably because of the history of slavery and segregation. However, that often overlooks the other ways that racism toward other minority groups is a reality. How should families think about racism as not just an issue for white and African Americans, but all racial groups?

HL & MR: There is a tendency in our country to prioritize Black-White relations when it comes to conversations on race. The problem with this approach is that it overlooks and even erases the experiences and livelihoods of Asian Americans, Latinos, and Mixed Race among other groups in the United States. 

For example, a 2021 survey conducted by LAAUNCH showed that 42% of Americans cannot even name a well-known Asian American. The next most popular choices after “I don’t know” were martial arts legends Jackie Chan (11%), who’s from Hong Kong, and Bruce Lee (9%), who died nearly a half century ago. These findings were disappointing, but not surprising for me. The inability to name a prominent Asian American reflects the invisibility of Asian Americans in U.S. society. Not only are Asian Americans victims of racism, but our experiences are overlooked. In fact, despite rises in anti-Asian racism throughout the pandemic, more than one-third of white Americans and nearly half of Republicans said they didn’t know anti-Asian violence was a problem. After the Atlanta shooting on March 16, 2021 in which six Asian women were murdered, many white Christians confessed to me that they hadn’t even heard of the incident.

Asian Americans have also been overlooked throughout U.S. American history. As former Japanese American politician, Norman Mineta, once said, “When one hears Americans tell of the immigrants who built the nation, one is often led to believe that all our forebears came from Europe. When one hears stories about the pioneers going West to shape the land, the Asian immigrant is rarely mentioned.” A lack of education on Asian American heroes, leaders, and theologians both within schools and the church have led to this erasure. Moreover, not “soaking in the presence of Asian Americans,” as Norman Chen says, means most folks have not sat under the teaching of Asian voices, and this includes Asian American Christian leaders in the church. 

If you don’t have books by Asian American Christians on your bookshelves, start investing in some. My first book, Becoming All Things, as well as Helen Lee and I’s The Race-Wise Family, are good places to start. Follow the Asian American Christian Collaborative and listen to the AACC Reclaim Podcast co-hosted by myself and Raymond Change, AACC President. The resources are out there. All it takes is a commitment and a little bit of effort to find them.

AW: Your book focuses on the need to develop both the prophetic and pastoral voice. How are these different, but also linked to one another? Why do we need to develop both?

HL & MR: The practices of calling out and calling in are what we refer to as the prophetic voice and the pastoral voice, respectively, in The Race-Wise Family

In our cultural moment, we all love exercising our prophetic voices. We love calling out sin, exposing toxicity, and shedding light on racism. Unfortunately, we’ve seen the ways that our prophetic voices have become damaging and even sinful as we engage in the world’s forms of cancel culture and shaming. So, even when we feel that holy righteousness to call out the sins of the world, we must do so with a certain degree of slowness, humility, and wisdom. We absolutely should stand up for those being racially insulted and maligned. We should step in and be an ally when someone is being bullied because of their ethnicity, skin color, or culture. 

In those moments, we should speak truth in love. We can let someone know that their words or actions were not honoring or kind in ways that honor the other person being made in God’s image. Our language must be humanizing and speak to the other person’s self-worth. I don’t know anyone who has been shamed in a conversation on race that then wants to turn around and make a change in their life. If our prophetic call out only shuts someone down instead of helping usher them into greater love, we’ve missed the mark. 

Our pastoral voice, conversely, is a way of calling people in. It is positive, biblical language on race that helps educate and offer alternatives to where people are right now. When we exercise our pastoral voice, we speak God’s own affirmations over people. We speak aloud his promises, his love for all people, and the beauty in their individual cultures. For example, we tell our kids often that God created other cultures, and he calls them “good” (Gen. 1). The more that we can see and name the beauty in each other’s cultures, the more we can move forward on the path of racial healing. Proverbs 12:18 tells us that “thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword, but wisely spoken words heal.” As we writein  The Race-Wise Family, “the more we speak kind, loving words to others, the more our words will generate kind, loving relationships” (70). 

AW: As a parent of a young daughter, I think about how to raise her in a way that you describe in your book. But I am also keenly aware of just how difficult that is and how I am myself still growing in the way that I understand the beauty of God’s multiethnic vision. I’m sure that I will get some of this wrong. How would you counsel parents to respond when they stumble and mess up in this process? 

HL & MR: I think some of the most powerful phrases we can have in our toolkit within conversations on race are, “I’m sorry,” “I don’t know,” and “What can I do?” We need to normalize making mistakes. In fact, it’s only through putting ourselves out there and being willing to make mistakes that we will learn and grow in issues related to race. If we choose to never engage out of fear of saying the wrong thing, we deny ourselves the opportunity of being used by God as a force for good and racial healing in his kingdom. 

So, instead, as a parent, be open and honest when you don’t have an answer to your kid’s questions about race. Tell them, “That’s a good question! I don’t know the answer. Perhaps we can investigate this together.” Then reach out to a friend or read a book or a news article together, discuss, and explore. When you say the wrong thing, when you realize that your response was selfishly-driven or perhaps was well-intentioned but still missed the mark, challenge yourself to apologize. Admit when you were wrong. Process those moments with your family and your children so that they can be spiritually formed by your honesty and willingness to learn and grow. The goal isn’t perfection. No matter how hard we try, we will make mistakes. But if we can commit to a posture of heart to grow in greater love, knowledge, and kindness each day, we can acknowledge our mistakes without becoming paralyzed by them.

By / May 29
By / May 29

Seeking justice and righteousness, especially for those who are most vulnerable, is fundamental to our faith and an essential part of Christian living. God directly commanded us to seek justice through the prophet Micah, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8 ESV). 

The Biblical Call for Justice

Throughout Scripture, God calls his people to care for the vulnerable and to seek justice on behalf of our neighbors. As God gives the Law to the Israelites, he instructs them to care for the poor (Lev. 19:9-10, 23:22), to welcome immigrants and refugees (Ex. 22:21; Lev. 19:33-34), and to be fair in their financial dealings (Lev. 19:35-36). The prophets carry on these themes of justice and often indict the people of Israel for their failure in this area. Isaiah directly admonishes the people that caring for and fair treatment of the vulnerable is an essential part of faithful worship.

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard” (Isa. 58:6-8 ESV).

In the New Testament, Jesus says of those who are his sheep, “‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me’” (Matt. 25:35-36 CSB). Later, in James, we are instructed as to what true faith entails: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (1:27 ESV).

Areas of Advocacy 

It is this clear mandate from God that both defines and motivates our advocacy for justice. Though injustice and tragedy run rampant in our fallen world, God’s people are to work for the good of our neighbors to push back the darkness and lift up the vulnerable. In our advocacy for fair and impartial judgment and equitable treatment of the unfairly marginalized, we bear witness to a God who is the ultimate just Judge, who deeply cares for the oppressed, and who proclaims a gospel that saves all who believe without partiality.

Immigrants and Refugees

Within our larger advocacy for immigration reforms that uphold ideals of dignity and fairness, the ERLC has strongly advocated for Dreamers, young immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents, at no fault of their own. These Dreamers, who often have known no other home than the U.S., face continual uncertainty and potential future deportation unless Congress can deliver a solution allowing them to remain here legally. 

Additionally, in recent years, the U.S. refugee resettlement program has been devastated, along with the network of nonprofits and service providers that support resettlement. The U.S. has largely abdicated its role as a refuge to the vulnerable at a time of historic levels of refugees and internationally displaced people worldwide. The ERLC is deeply engaged in advocating for the rebuilding of this safe and legal program to restore our country’s legacy as a beacon of hope to those fleeing persecution.

Criminal Justice Reform

In 2018, the ERLC advocated heavily for the passage of the historic First Step Act, which worked to reduce recidivism in prisoners, prevented the shackling of most pregnant prisoners, and made other important steps toward a more compassionate criminal justice system that maintains public safety. Since then, the ERLC has continued to advocate for the RE-ENTER Act and the EQUAL (Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law) Act. 

The RE-ENTER Act would allow eligible individuals with federal convictions to apply for a certificate of rehabilitation from a district court, attesting to a law-abiding future and a commitment to successful reintegration into society. The EQUAL Act would remedy the disparity in federal sentencing for crack and powder cocaine related crimes that unjustly and disproportionately targets people of color. 

Predatory Lending

Payday lending is the term used to describe the practice of lending small amounts of money to people for two-week periods, until their next payday. The average annual interest rates on these short-term loans is 391%, often leaving already impoverished families with crippling debts. These unjust lending practices are exploitative and predicated on consumer loss, trapping families in poverty. In response, the ERLC is advocating for the Veterans and Consumers Fair Credit Act that would extend the same lending protections currently established for Active Duty military members under the Military Lending Act to all consumers, including veterans and their families. 

While Christians can have good-faith disagreements on the contours of our nation’s policies, the Bible is clear that all image-bearers are worthy of dignity and respect. As we face injustice in our world, indifference is not an option afforded to believers. God has called us to fervent prayer, advocacy, and service for all our neighbors. It is ultimately in this work that we will experience a taste of his kingdom on earth.

By / Feb 21

Years ago, as my wife and I were renovating our house, we met an African American gentleman who came to help with one of our projects. We welcomed him into our home and left him to do his work. After he finished the job, we began to talk. He graciously thanked us for the hospitality and mentioned it was not always the case. Upon my inquiry, he proceeded to describe some horrendous experiences he had endured as a Black man in people’s homes in our small Southern community. Some wouldn’t allow him in their houses, others watched him like a hawk, and others spoke in passive but incredibly derogatory ways toward him as he worked. He even told us that there were certain areas in town that he asked not to be assigned because Confederate flags fly proudly in front yards, which is still far too common for those of us who call this place home.

As Christians, the ways that this man had been treated should turn our stomachs and push us toward a righteous resolve to rid our communities of these abohorent and blatantly sinful attacks on the dignity of our fellow image-bearer. And while racism isn’t as open and obvious as it once was in our nation, it is still painfully present even if in more subdued or subtle forms. Many Christians today often feel caught between the realities of racism in our society and the calls for social justice that at times are at odds with the biblical social ethic. On one hand, some tend to argue that racism is nonexistent or at least not a prominent issue facing the church — often being seen as a secondary or tertiary issue to other cultural and social issues in Christian ethics. On the other hand, much of what is promoted in terms of social justice today does not accord with true social justice, biblical defined which is rooted in the inherent dignity of all image bearers and redemption through the cross of Christ.

How is a Christian to navigate these questions today of standing against racism but not losing biblically grounded justice? Scripture makes clear that racism in any form is a grievous sin before our Holy God and is to be repudiated in the strongest of terms, wherever it is found, by the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13; Gal. 3:28; Rev. 14:6). As Christians seek to walk through these complexities and tensions, we must keep two overlapping truths together. First, biblically grounded social justice is central to the gospel message being rooted in the imago Dei. And second, downplaying social justice or failing to address the outworkings of sin in our society is a repudiation of the Christian social ethic (Psa. 89:14).

Social justice and the gospel message

The concept of social justice has at times been hijacked by the wider culture to stand for causes or to justify actions contrary to the biblical message of human dignity and the reality of sin. Christians rightly decry how the term has been overly politicized and has been taken up to promote causes that degrade true human flourishing and the common good in our society. Some calls for social justice reduce all of human existence to power dynamics or push radical social agendas that are designed to normalize hyper individualism and complete moral autonomy. But we also must be honest that the gospel message has likewise been hijacked by some — especially in the past — to support or even promote the horrors of slavery, segregation, and the continuation of unjust policies that seek to define someone’s value and dignity based on their skin color or background. Injustice is an affront to God and his character no matter where it is found.

The Christian moral tradition clearly illustrates that the gospel message is the good news that Jesus Christ lived the life we were created to live and died the death we deserved to die in order to give us everlasting life in relationship to God for eternity. It also makes clear that this message of new life in Christ contains wide-reaching and life-altering social implications for all of society which is rooted in the God-given dignity of all people (Gen. 1:26-28). The personal aspects of the biblical ethic directly inform the social aspects because we are individuals living in community with one another. We each bear immense responsibility for pursuing truth and upholding justice in our society. As new creations in Christ, we are to model for a watching world what Jesus meant when he called his people to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (2 Cor. 5:17; Matt. 22:37-39). Overlooking our neighbors or passively allowing injustices to be perpetrated is completely contrary to this command by God to stand for the vulnerable and downtrodden in our communities as we seek to biblically defined justice wherever injustice is found.

An ethic to make the world tremble

As the world-class evangelical Protestant theologian and ethicist Carl F.H. Henry boldly stated, “Social justice is not simply an appendage to the evangelistic message; it is an intrinsic part of the whole, without which the preaching of the gospel is truncated. Theology devoid of social justice is a deforming weakness of much present-day evangelical witness.”1Henry, Carl F. H. God, Revelation and Authority. Vol. IV. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1979, 551. For Henry, social justice is a key part of the gospel message because it is the outworking of the Christian social ethic grounded in the imago Dei and modeled by the Church throughout a host of social justice issues such as racism, caring for vulnerable children in the womb, or decrying the killing of the elderly in the name of “dignified death.” Rightfully defined in this era of immense confusion over the social aspects of the biblical ethic and the nature of responsibility, the Christian social ethic is robustly pro-human dignity in every aspect of society, even those deemed not worthy of respect or honor by the culture around us.

This vigorous and unadulterated biblical social ethic must be retrieved in each generation as new challenges arise and questions of human anthropology are being asked in light of the quest for moral autonomy and even in the face of modern technological developments. Henry, speaking of the nature of the gospel and the Christian social ethic, once wrote that we must “confront the world now with an ethic to make it tremble, and with a dynamic to give it hope.”2Henry, Carl F. H. Twilight of a Great Civilization: The Drift toward Neo-Paganism. Westchester, Ill: Crossway Books, 1988, 166. This practically means that we recognize sin and the distortion of human dignity wherever it may be found, as well as the hope of reconciliation that we have in the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

In an age of rampant moral autonomy and hyper-individualism, the Church must see and proclaim that sin is not simply an isolated personal issue, but something that is pervasive throughout every single aspect of society. Thus, we must not only articulate a vision of biblical justice but also seek to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:11-21). We must ensure that our words align with our actions as we proclaim a message of hope in a sin-torn world longing for redemption. As the prophet Micah reminds us, the Lord has spoken and commands that as his people we are to “love justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our God]” (Micah 6:8).

  • 1
    Henry, Carl F. H. God, Revelation and Authority. Vol. IV. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1979, 551.
  • 2
    Henry, Carl F. H. Twilight of a Great Civilization: The Drift toward Neo-Paganism. Westchester, Ill: Crossway Books, 1988, 166.