By / Nov 30

On our previous episode in our series on gender and sexuality, we looked at the family and how parents can approach these important topics with their children. Today, we’re turning our attention to an issue that has caused anxiety for some parents: gender and sexuality in schools and how to direct our children as they are confronted with teaching and examples that contradict what the Bible says. 

As we discuss these important topics, you might have additional questions. We’d love to hear from you. Please e-mail us at [email protected] and let us know how you’re processing this conversation. 

Joining us on today’s episode is Shaka Mitchell. Shaka serves as a Senior Fellow for the American Federation for Children. He is also an elder at his local church.  He has previously served as Associate Director of Policy and Planning at the D.C.-based Center for Education Reform and led outreach efforts at the Institute for Justice, a constitutional law firm based in Arlington, Virgina. He is an alumnus of Belmont University where he teaches as an adjunct faculty member. He earned his Juris Doctorate from the Wake Forest University School of Law. Shaka and his wife live in Nashville with their children and are active in several non-profit organizations.

The ERLC podcast is a production of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It is produced by Jill Waggoner, Lindsay Nicolet, and Elizabeth Bristow. Technical production is provided by Owens Productions. It is edited and mixed by Mark Owens.

By / Nov 16

So far in our gender and sexuality series, we’ve learned what the Bible teaches about God’s design, we’ve traced the sexual revolution in our society, and we’ve heard a powerful testimony of honoring God in the midst of a struggle with sexual sin. Today, we’re going to discuss talking with our kids about gender and sexuality.

We’re going to hear some helpful advice for parents as they seek to teach their children a biblical view of sexuality.

As we discuss these important topics, you might have additional questions. We’d love to hear from you. Please e-mail us at [email protected] and let us know how you’re processing this conversation. 

On this episode, Steven and Amy Castello are going to help us think through some important aspects of teaching our kids God’s intent for gender and sexuality. Steven is the Lead Pastor and planter for City on a Hill Church in Boston, MA. He previously planted Immanuel Church in Birmingham, AL, before moving to Boston. Steven holds an undergraduate degree from Samford University and a M.Div from Birmingham Theological Seminary. 

Amy is the Director for Women’s Discipleship and Care for City on a Hill Church. She also serves as the Spouse Care Advocate for a non-profit in Boston called “For Greater Boston”. Amy has served in the local church, discipling and counseling women since 2009. 

Steven and Amy are parents to four daughters who are in middle school and high school. You’ll also hear briefly from our friend Katie McCoy who also joined us in episode 341 of this series, Society’s Spiraling Sexual Crisis.

The ERLC podcast is a production of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It is produced by Jill Waggoner, Lindsay Nicolet, and Elizabeth Bristow. Technical production is provided by Owens Productions. It is edited and mixed by Mark Owens.

By / Oct 9

SBC’s policy arm filed public comments, calls bill sponsors to file with EEOC

Nashville, Tenn., Oct. 9, 2023 The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention filed comments calling for the removal of abortion language from the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act regulations. 

The comments were filed in a letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The federal commission is tasked with issuing regulations to carry out the newly passed law, but the EEOC’s proposed regulations include abortion procedures in the list of “pregnancy related medical conditions”—directly contradicting Congress’ stated legislative intent and endangering preborn lives.  

“We urge each sponsor of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to file an official comment on this proposal and demand abortion be dropped from this regulation,” said Brent Leatherwood, ERLC president and the signatory of the letter. “Failure to do so will only empower a radical agency to completely disregard clear congressional intent and, more alarmingly, turn a law meant to help mothers and children thrive into the abortion regime’s newest tool to destroy life.”

The ERLC affirms the important objective of the bipartisan PWFA to ensure women are given accommodations in the workplace in consideration of their health and the health of their preborn children. 

“Every human being has inherent dignity and every life should be protected,” the ERLC states in its letter to the EEOC. “In the context of the PWFA, Scripture makes it clear that mothers and children are precious and worthy of protection.” 

The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 13.6 million members and a network of over 47,000 cooperating churches and congregations. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.

To request an interview, contact Elizabeth Bristow
by email at [email protected] or call 202-547-0209
 Visit our website at www.erlc.com
Follow us on Twitter at @ERLC.

By / Sep 7

Welcome to the all-new ERLC Podcast! In this first series of our new format, we will explore the issues of gender and sexuality and discover what the Bible teaches us about these controversial, but important cultural topics. 

During this episode, you will hear from expert voices about:

  • What it means to be made in the image of God;
  • God’s good design for all people;
  • How the world was corrupted by the fall in Genesis 3; and
  • How to live out countercultural beliefs about these topics. 

While the format is new, our goal for the podcast remains the same. The ERLC seeks to help you think biblically about today’s cultural issues.

We’ve been listening to you to better understand the questions you’re facing and how the ERLC can help on matters related to gender and sexuality. 

On this updated format of the ERLC Podcast, we want to give you brief, informed, practical, and biblically-based answers to important cultural issues.

You are not the only one asking these questions. Just like you, we want to hold fast to the teachings of Scripture as we seek to raise our families, serve our churches, and love our neighbors in an ever-evolving and often challenging cultural landscape. 

We are glad you are here and look forward to walking alongside you as we challenge one another to think biblically and critically on matters of gender and sexuality so that we can live in the world, but not of it—all for the sake of the gospel.

By / Sep 5

In today’s digital world, how can we help children find their identity in Christ? Every child is looking for a place to anchor his or her identity, whether that be in the search for a best friend on the preschool playground, trying to make the team, or joining the right club in their teen years. It is essential that Christian parents guide their children toward their identity in Christ while protecting against spiritual identity theft in today’s digital age.

Internally, all people are asking three questions: 

  • Who am I?
  • Where can I have meaningful human relationships? 
  • And what should I do with my life? 

In Deuteronomy 6, God gave parents the task of forming their children’s spiritual identity. In that day, they spent time raising crops and herding flocks (Deut. 6:7-9). In our day, we spend time on social platforms and streaming platforms. In the middle of this digital age, we cannot replace the essential need for our children to find their identity in Christ, their calling in God’s mission, and deep community in God’s family If we can turn down some of the noise, they will hear the beauty of God’s design for their identity.

In order to nurture our children’s spiritual vitality, we must find ways to lessen the noise that is drowning out the beautiful symphony of God’s design for them. We need to protect our children’s spiritual identity from being hijacked by a digital identity. We have to challenge and propel kids toward real-life impact instead of virtual experiences. In a world in which many children have a myriad of superficial connections, we have to encourage them to cultivate real-life, meaningful connections.

Digital identity theft 

We live in a digital age where most of our day is a dance between screens. We are curators of our own content and sometimes pawns of algorithms that plunge us down rabbit holes of digital content. For many children, their dance between screens has begun to define them. 

Nearly 2/3 of teenagers are on screens for more than four hours a day. Research has shown that dopamine levels produced in the brain in response to social media interaction are comparable to that of drug or gambling addiction. It is not a stretch to say that children are addicted. Perhaps like me, you have witnessed a child melt down and exhibit withdrawal symptoms when a device is taken away. The child’s identity is so wrapped up in their digital identity that it is actually painful to be away from it. 

Pursuing a digital identity leads to addiction, but it is also leading to increased levels of anxiety and depression. Between 2006 and 2016, the suicide rate for those between ages 10 and 17 rose by 70%, and clinical depression rates rose by 40%.

Our children are swimming in a sea of digital content that misinforms them about their identity. As parents, we have the opportunity to anchor our children’s identity in what God says about them. My wife and I often remind our son to listen to the people who love him when he is trying to decide what he will believe about himself. Often, our children are listening to people who do not love them as we do or as God does.

Our job as parents is not to instill self-esteem in our children, but to guide them to the foundational truths about who God says they are. The God who breathed everything into existence says that they have inherent dignity and worth and that they are irreplaceable (Luke 12:7, Jer. 1:5). Once your child trusts in Christ, you can take them to even greater depth of identity through their adoption into God’s family, the indwelling in the Holy Spirit, the shepherding care of Jesus, and so much more. These realities will not shake with the wins and losses of the digital world, because they are rooted in the character, nature, and activity of God.

Differentiating between digital wins and real-life impact 

For many children, the rise and fall of their lives depends upon what happens in the digital world. We must separate digital identity from spiritual identity as we lead and empower our children to embrace their calling in the real world, not by living vicariously through YouTube or video games.  

A few weeks ago, I was talking with one of our children’s ministry leaders. He asked our church’s elementary-aged kids to name a challenge they faced recently. Almost every tough scenario named was faced in a video game. We have an opportunity to help call our kids to join God’s mission and gain a sense of accomplishment outside of their digital world.

We often undervalue the influence that our children can have, but preteens and teenagers have made a big impact throughout history. Think about young men and women like David, Daniel, Joseph, Samuel, and Esther. Perhaps part of the problem is that we are not giving our teenagers any challenges to face in the real world, so they are fleeing to a digital world.

Helping your children cultivate an awareness of God and desire submission and obedience to him is the biggest gift you can ever give them. Calling them to see his glory and purpose while inviting them to embrace their unique personality, gifting, and calling is the greatest privilege and joy of parenthood. The Bible says our children are like arrows, so let us aim them so that they hit the bullseye of eternity (Ps. 127:3).

From superficial digital connections to biblical community 

Finally, we need to model and prioritize biblical community for our children. When we do so, they will be able to distinguish deep connections from superficial digital interactions. We set the example for our children when we spend more time engaging in deep relationships at our church and in our neighborhoods than in our online communities or on social media. Orienting our lives around spending time with God and people will become the true source of our identity—for parents and for children.

The digital world is an extension of the real world, not a replacement for it. Although disconnection is not caused by devices, our devices can multiply our disconnection. Children need to understand that relationships are messy, but they are a mess worth making. In a digital confrontation, you do not have to look a real, living person in the eye. In the digital world, personality is often removed from intimacy and people can hide their flaws while magnifying their strengths. We need to figure out ways to get our children involved in deep relationships and invest in people rather than digital experiences. 

When Jesus was asked to summarize the Old Testament, he responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:25-28). Jesus took the same identity that God gave his people in Deuteronomy 6 and paired it with a missional imperative. When we listen to these passages, we hear God beckoning our kids to find their identity in Christ, their relationships in biblical community, and their purpose in their God-given calling. There are no perfect parents that handle this dance with screens perfectly, but all of us can help point our kids toward God’s glory and their good.

By / Aug 18

A Massachusetts couple recently filed a complaint in federal court against the state’s health secretary and multiple officials in the Department of Children and Families (DCF) after their application to become foster parents was denied because of their religious beliefs about marriage and sexuality. 

What happened? 

Mike and Kitty Burke are a Catholic couple from Massachusetts who applied to become foster parents in order to care for vulnerable children in need of a loving home. Mike is an Iraq war veteran, and Kitty is a former paraprofessional for special needs children. Unable to have biological children, they sought to become foster parents through the state’s foster care program with the hope of caring for and eventually adopting children in need of a stable home.

According to Becket Law, the nonprofit legal firm representing the Burkes, the Massachusetts DCF currently does not have enough foster homes or facilities to meet the needs of the children in its care, leaving over 1,500 children without a family. The crisis has become so extreme that the state has resorted to housing children in hospitals for weeks on end—not because the children need medical attention, but because the Commonwealth has nowhere else to put them. 

The couple went through 30 hours of training, lengthy interviews, and assessments of their home, health, and family life. Despite meeting all the requirements, the DCF denied the couple because they “would not be affirming to a child who identified as LGBTQIA.”

The Burkes believe that all children should be loved and supported, and they would never reject a child placed in their home. They also believe that children should not undergo procedures that attempt to change their God-given sex, and they uphold orthodox Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality. As the author of their license study put it, while the Burkes are “lovely people,” “their faith is not supportive and neither are they.”

DCF regulation and policy, as well as the Massachusetts Foster Parent Bill of Rights, all prohibit religious discrimination against potential foster parents. As Becket Laws points out, the “Supreme Court has already—unanimously—rejected the attempt to exclude Catholic foster care agencies from the child welfare system (Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, 2021). And the Third Circuit held that the First Amendment prohibits retaliation against foster parents for sharing their religious beliefs on marriage.”

Why does this matter?

This is another instance of the state overstepping its authority and failing in its duty. The state has no authority to penalize individuals for their religious beliefs. This is a bedrock principle of our constitutional order, and one that has been affirmed repeatedly in court decisions at all levels. 

Instead, the state does have a duty to promote justice. One way it does that is through the care of the most vulnerable. A loving husband and wife willing to care and provide for a vulnerable child should not be seen as dangerous because they will not support dangerous and medically unnecessary surgical interventions for children experiencing gender dysphoria. No government should use the state’s power to cause children to suffer by advancing a progressive agenda out of step with the actual goal of caring for vulnerable children. 

How is the ERLC advocating for similar issues? 

The ERLC has made it a priority to protect the religious liberty of foster care and adoption service providers. 

A number of states and cities are working to exclude child welfare providers who seek to operate in a manner consistent with their religious convictions. This leads to fewer families available for foster care and adoption. Legislation is needed to further prohibit government discrimination against child welfare agencies on the basis of their beliefs and ultimately protect children in the foster system and those waiting for adoption by ensuring that a wide range of child welfare providers are available to serve them. Such religious liberty protections are especially necessary to support pro-family policy in a post-Roe world.  

One example of such legislation at the federal level is the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act. The bill would prohibit “the federal government, states, tribal nations, or localities from discriminating or taking adverse action against a child welfare provider that declines to provide services due to the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” The ERLC has long supported this legislation and hopes to see states take up similar efforts to preserve religious liberty and help vulnerable children find a place to call home.

As Christians, we are called to hold fast to God’s design for marriage and sexuality as we care for the vulnerable. Furthermore, as Southern Baptists, we believe that government should not interfere with our ability to live out our faith as we participate in our communities. As our culture continues to turn away from a biblical view of gender and sexuality, the ERLC will steadfastly affirm the foundational rights of parents—including foster and adoptive parents—in decision-making regarding their children and advocate against harmful gender-transition practices while we seek the flourishing of our society and hold out the hope of the gospel to a confused culture. 

By / Aug 11

A recent article in Politico Magazine about a Louisiana law HB 142 has gone viral because of its astounding headline:  A Simple Law Is Doing the Impossible. It’s Making the Online Porn Industry Retreat. “Unlike past efforts to curb online porn that had simply declared the sites a danger to public health, these laws are not symbolic,” writes Politico’s Marc Novicoff. “And they are having real effects on how the massive online porn industry does business.”

Novicoff is referring to laws passed earlier this year that requires users to prove they are 18 or older before accessing pornographic websites. Louisiana was the first state to pass such a law, with similar bills passing in six other states—Arkansas, Montana, Mississippi, Utah, Virginia, and Texas. 

The positive effect of such laws—traffic to Pornhub has dropped 80% within Louisiana—shows why similar legislation should be adopted by other states and highlights why these efforts deserve the support of Christians across the country.

What is the Louisiana law HB 142?

The Louisiana law, known as HB 142, was the first of this type of legislation and provides a model for how they can work.

The process: That law requires users in that state to prove they are 18 or older before accessing sites that contain at least 33.3% pornographic material that is “harmful to minors.” To meet this requirement, users must show government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license, to verify their age. (Louisiana is one of the few states in the U.S. that allows residents to store government-issued IDs digitally on their smartphone.) Doing this helps to prevent minors from accessing adult content and ensures that the websites are complying with age verification laws.

The penalty: Companies that violate the Louisiana law can be sued for damages in civil court by the parents of minors who were able to access the site without being verified. The law makes it clear it does not apply to legitimate uses, such any “bona fide news or public interest broadcast, website video, report, or event,” nor does it “affect the rights of any news-gathering organizations.”

Why should state laws curbing online porn be embraced?

While some privacy advocates have expressed concerns about the law, there are several reasons why this is a legal approach to curtailing pornography that should be widely embraced.

1. Such laws protect minors from exposure to adult content

Christians and other anti-pornography advocates make no apologies for wanting to see all pornography banned. But the primary reason for these laws is the more limited effort to protect minors from exposure to adult content. By requiring users to prove their age before accessing pornographic websites, the law ensures that children and teenagers are not exposed to inappropriate content. 

Decades of social science research has shown that exposure to adult content can have negative effects on young people, including:

  • increased sexual activity,
  • risky sexual behavior,
  • and negative attitudes toward women.

By preventing minors from accessing adult content, these laws are helping to protect young people from the negative effects of porn.

2. Such laws ensure compliance with age verification requirements

Another reason why the Louisiana law is a particularly helpful model is that it ensures compliance with age verification laws. Many states have laws that require websites to verify the age of their users before allowing them to access adult content. However, these laws are often not enforced, and many websites ​either do not comply with them or do so in a way that negates the effectiveness and intent.

By requiring users to show government-issued ID to prove their age, the Louisiana law ensures that websites are complying with a community’s efforts to protect its children.  

The law also puts the onus for compliance and enforcement on the community. Louisiana doesn’t identify which companies need to comply. Instead, the state allows companies to determine for themselves whether or not they decide to implement age verification to avoid legal liability. Parents, rather than the state, also bear the burden of determining harm and seeking restitution.

3. Such laws do not pose an undue threat to user privacy

Some privacy advocates have expressed concerns about the Louisiana law HB 142, arguing that it could lead to the collection of sensitive personal information. However, the law is designed to protect user privacy by:

  • requiring that the information be collected by third-party sites—rather than the porn websites,
  • and that all information contained on the user be deleted within 30 days of verification.

This means that websites cannot collect and store user information, which helps to protect user privacy. 

Additionally, the law only requires users to show government-issued ID, which is already required for many other activities, such as buying alcohol or tobacco products. Therefore, the law does not require users to provide any additional personal information beyond what is already required for other activities intended to protect minors from harm.

4. Such laws encourage other states to take efforts to protect our children 

These laws have already provided a positive example for other states to follow. If adopted by a majority of states, it could reshape the landscape of the internet in the U.S., reinforcing the importance of responsibility and accountability in the digital age.

While the main focus is on protecting minors from adult content, the implications of such laws go beyond this. They highlight the broader issue of how society should regulate online pornography to ensure the safety and well-being of its users, particularly among the most vulnerable groups.

The ripple effects of these laws can already be seen, with discussions and debates arising in legislative chambers across various states. This reflects the widespread recognition of the potential dangers of unrestricted access to adult content for minors and the need for concrete steps to address it. It’s also an invitation for tech companies and website developers to innovate in creating more robust age-verification mechanisms that are efficient, user-friendly, and respectful of user privacy.

Whether we should be all that concerned about the privacy of pornography users is debatable. What we should not do is put such concerns ahead of our need to safeguard the well-being of minors in the digital age. The Louisiana law HB 142 and the ones that have followed serve as pioneering models, emphasizing the importance of finding creative legal solutions and setting the stage for broader discussions on how best to navigate the complexities of the internet.

As other states consider similar legislation, it’s imperative that lawmakers are aware that Christians support such efforts to protect our children from the soul-destroying evil of pornography. 

By / Jul 10

What does it look like practically to create a culture of life within a family, especially if there are young children?  How can caregivers uphold the value of life in age-appropriate ways?

The sanctity of every human life is one of the most important truths we can teach the children in our care. Kids are being raised in a society that devalues life at every turn, from messages on billboards to ads on streaming services. Too often, any individual who requires our personal sacrifice is viewed as a burden and a threat to our autonomy.  And the abortion industry thrives off of this way of thinking.

If we want our children to be both hearers and doers of the Word, we must demonstrate a pro-life ethic not only in our words, though that is essential, but also in our actions.

Here are 10 ways you can create a culture of life within your family and develop ongoing trust between you and your children. 

  1. Connect with your local pregnancy resource center (PRC). Find out where your closest PRC is, and reach out. All PRCs need support in some way. Ask for a tour, and bring the whole family. Let your children see the facility, hear the stories, and develop empathy for women who may feel scared and alone.
  2. Donate baby items for expecting mothers. You could do this through your local pregnancy center, church, or another local organization that supports pregnant women. Take a family shopping trip to purchase diapers, wipes, bottles, blankets, toys, and more. Talk about how exciting it is to welcome a new life into the world and to support moms by meeting physical needs.
  3. Fill a baby bottle. Many pregnancy centers hold what is known as “Baby Bottle Campaigns”—but even if yours doesn’t, this is still a wonderful way to uphold the value of life. Keep an empty baby bottle in your home where it will be seen every day. Set a goal for your family to fill it up with loose change. Once filled, donate the contents to your PRC or other organization that supports moms. Pray together over that money, that it would bless both parents and new life.
  4. Memorize Scripture that points to the sanctity of life. Psalm 139 is a great place to start. Read this passage together and work toward reciting it by heart.
  5. Read picture books that are pro-life. Picture books have the unique power of uniting both words and images to communicate powerful truths. Add life-affirming books to your library and make a point to read them together. A few places to start: Pro-Life Kids; God’s Very Good Idea; Wherever You Go, I Want You To Know.
  6. Talk about your relationship with your children before they were born. Share stories of your excitement about meeting your children. Share about the kicks, how they heard and knew your voice, and how they developed eyes, fingers, and toes while they were in the womb. Normalize talking about the humanity of children from the moment of conception.
  7. Host a baby shower. If you have a family member or friend who is expecting, offer to host a baby shower or even invite your children to attend one with you. Create the expectation of celebrating new life.
  8. Practice gentleness with babies and respect for the elderly. Whether your children are preschool-aged, teenagers, or somewhere in between, there is value in creating an expectation of gentleness and respect toward all life. Cast a vision for your family members as protectors of the weak. This can be demonstrated with babies by using gentle touches, soft voices, and kind speech. This can be practiced with the elderly by holding doors, assisting with physical needs, and listening attentively to stories and wisdom.
  9. Learn with your family about adoption and foster care. Pray about whether or not God is leading your family to pursue one or both of these options. Invite other families who have fostered or adopted to come share about their experiences. Pray together for those families. Add these words to your family vocabulary, and make sure your children see positive examples of both.
  10. Tell the truth about abortion using age-appropriate language. Our world has sterilized the word “abortion” with phrases like “pro-choice,” “abortion care,” and “removal of pregnancy tissue.” If your children are older, they are hearing this language. Do they know what abortion really is? You can tell the truth about the humanity of the unborn and the sadness of abortion without going into extreme detail. For younger children, it may sound something like this:

    “Sometimes when a mom gets pregnant with a baby, she might feel afraid or scared about being a mom. Some people might tell her that abortion will help her not be afraid. Abortion is when a baby’s life is ended on purpose inside the womb. Abortion doesn’t protect babies or mommies.”

    With age and maturity, your children can learn more. But the important thing is making sure you are the source of their information. Hearing the truth from you will build trust and increase the likelihood that they’ll come back to you with questions. 

Giving feet to your faith

If your children hear you say you’re pro-life, but see no evidence of compassion, empathy, and love toward all life—whether it be a preborn child, a lonely man in a retirement home, or a mother facing an unplanned pregnancy—then they will be less inclined to believe you when they’re grown. 

Additionally, making the extra effort to uphold a culture of life within your family, especially regarding our tiniest of neighbors, will give feet to your faith and bolster the faith of your children. In his book The Storm-Tossed Family, Russell Moore says, “The self-interest that sears over the joy of birth will also sear over the joy of new birth.” New life here on earth is God’s megaphone for proclaiming the gospel to the world. That’s why abortion is inherently a gospel issue.

May it never be said that we let the world inform our children’s beliefs about the immeasurable value of life—or about the One who authors it. 

By / Feb 2

Since the fall, people build culture on the basis of many varied and competing authorities. Gone are the simple days of Genesis 1 and 2. Now the cultural canvas is stained with sin, and until eternity human culture will not perfectly reflect the will of God. This is why our response to culture is so important. It is one of our primary moral struggles. Teenagers need to grow up understanding this and being prepared for it.

The struggle with culture is inescapable, and it is always moral. People always interact with the world in a spirit of submission to God and his Word or in rebellion against him and dependence on their own minds. The cultural struggle is always about right and wrong, true and false, good and bad, belief and unbelief, human desire and God’s will. Isolation is impossible. Assimilation is capitulation. We need a better way.

The need for protection

You can see the influence of culture in the way we dress. Few of us wear the same style of clothing we wore ten years ago or maybe even five. Skirt lengths go up and down, and tie widths go from narrow to wide and back again. Have you ever looked at a family photo album and said, “I can’t believe I wore that!”? Fashion is a pointed example of the influence of culture. It shapes not only what we do but also the way we think and the way we see. 

The example I used with my teenagers to capture the insidious influence of the surrounding culture on them (and us) is air. Like the air we constantly breathe, culture is the spiritual air that our hearts constantly absorb. Many of the pollutants in the physical air are unseen. The same is true with culture.

We as parents have made a great error in our tendency to emphasize obvious issues (sex, drugs, violence, abortion, and so on) while neglecting the more deceptive, unseen pollutants in the cultural air around us. The result is that although our children may not participate in the “biggies,” they end up serving the idols of the surrounding culture.

(See the figure at the bottom for examples of these idols, their impact on our teenagers, and their biblical alternatives.)

Surely, these idols are more to be feared because they creep up on us unseen, appearing harmless and attractive (see Col. 2:8). They also powerfully play to the desires of the sinful nature—that is, they feed the very thing that God, by his Spirit, seeks to destroy.

Another error we have tended to make as parents is to blame the vehicle rather than focus on the idol themes these vehicles promote. A variety of vehicles—internet, social media, government, music, movies, education, television—all transmit and promote the philosophy of the culture. None of these vehicles are in themselves bad or dangerous. The danger is in the way they are used to promote the things they promote. 

The point is not to slay the messenger—these vehicles are used for both good and evil. We must be aware of the power of the media to transmit a culture’s ideas, but it is the ideas that are dangerous, so it is the ideas that must be the focus of our attention. For example, many Christian parents will not let their teenage children go to R-rated movies but will permit them to scroll for hours through social media, which is also a vehicle that transmits the perspectives, relationships, and values of the surrounding culture.

This is where the pollution metaphor helps us. When there are poisons in the physical air, people wear protective equipment that filters them out. In the same way our teenagers need spiritual filters against the unseen poisons in the cultural air. They need the protection of a biblical world- and life-view, and, as parents, we want to begin giving them one from the very earliest moments of their lives. We also want to have eyes of faith to see that every situation, relationship, and problem in their lives is an opportunity for us to encourage them to rethink and carefully apply a biblical view of life to concrete situations.

Talking to your teenager about culture

In light of this, don’t be hesitant to talk, talk, talk to your teenager. This cannot be a time when your relationship grows distant. Your child needs your parenting as much as ever, so seek him or her out.

Let me suggest some strategies for these conversations.

  • Don’t wait for your teenager to talk to you. Seek your child out in a way that is warm, friendly, and affirming. Teenagers who are on the defensive won’t talk freely and won’t listen well.
  • Don’t settle for non-answers. Follow up the yeses and nos. Ask questions that your teenager cannot answer with a yes or no and that require him to disclose what he is thinking, feeling, and doing.
  • Be positive. Don’t be like a detective hunting for what is wrong. The purpose of these talks is not to “catch” the teenager but to help her to understand, desire, and do what is right. So much of the talking that goes on between teenagers and their parents is negative and discouraging to the teenager.
  • Lovingly seek to expose the faults in your teenager’s thinking without making him feel ignorant or stupid. Teach him, in an affirming way, to see where he has breathed in the pollutants of his culture.
  • Become a partner in your teenager’s struggle by sharing your own struggle to live a godly life in an ungodly culture. Admit to the places where you have been influenced. Ask your teenager to pray for you as you promise to pray for her in her struggle.
  • Always point your teenager to Christ. Remind your child that Christ daily gives us mercy and grace in our moments of need and patiently continues to work in us until his work is complete.
  • Always keep in mind that you cannot protect your children from culture. The only effective strategy is to prepare them to deal with culture in a biblical fashion. This will take years of loving commitment on your part.
  • Model the character of Christ. Don’t be drawn into negative verbal power struggles. Greet anger, negativity, and accusation with soft-spoken strength. Don’t beat your teenager with words but win him with Christlike love.

Excerpt taken from Chapter 9: Life in the Real World, Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens, Revised and Expanded by Paul David Tripp.

By / Jan 17

Every semester thousands of students fill college campuses across America with dreams and aspirations of a bright future. While many go on to the career they’ve worked hard for, there are young women experiencing unplanned pregnancies and expect that their dream will never become a reality. A variety of factors such as costs, time, and relational support may prevent many young women from completing—or even starting—a college education. The MOMentum Network is an organization that exists to help single moms as they work toward their education. Below, Cara Hicks, founder and CEO, discusses the ways that they are living out a pro-life ethic and serving single moms.

Kadin Christian: What is the story behind The MOMentum Network, and what is its purpose?

Cara Hicks: Having experienced an unplanned pregnancy just before graduating high school, I realized the tremendous pressure to choose abortion. I hate to admit it, but I had heard people of faith respond unkindly to single moms and unmarried girls with unexpected pregnancies, and I was afraid of being judged too. I was scared and went to a women’s center out of town expecting to hear my options anonymously, but that center turned out to only focus on abortion.

They asked probing questions to understand my fears, then shared scary statistics that supported abortion only. “Less than 2% of teen moms graduate from college . . . growing up in poverty leads to the worst outcomes.” But I recalled the verse I had memorized for cheerleading that year, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Right before I was handed a pill that was promised to take my problems away, I felt like the Lord lifted me out of that place. I asked for my money back since they didn’t provide an abortion, but they refused. I realized it was never about empowering a woman; it was about profit only.

I never wanted another girl to feel pressured into having an abortion again.

I went on to shatter the statistics by completing college, thanks to the resources available by my college (campus housing & Pell grant for low-income students on top of my merit-based scholarships that I didn’t lose by continuing as planned), my campus ministry, my strong community of friends, and Christ—who was faithful—even when I stepped away from my faith for a season.

I later read from Guttmacher that when a woman decides on an abortion, “the reasons most frequently cited were that having a child would interfere with a woman’s education, work or ability to care for dependents (74%); that she could not afford a baby now (73%); and that she did not want to be a single mother or was having relationship problems (48%)”. However, I knew that there were resources available and that having a child helped me develop resilience and selflessness that I may not have had without a child to care for beyond myself.

Being a single mom doesn’t have to define us, but it can refine us and help us to be better. A woman shouldn’t be pressured to choose between a child and an education—she CAN choose BOTH. But no woman can do it alone. None of us can or should raise a child on our own. It takes a village. So that’s why we formed The MOMentum Network—to be a resource with relational and now residential community of support. 

KC: What are the benefits of a single mom obtaining an education? What are some factors or obstacles that can hinder a single mom from getting an education?

CH: Institute for Women’s Policy Research has done some great research on the benefits of a woman’s education—including more earning potential for her and her child—as children of college graduates are more likely to complete higher education. They spiral up.

I believe the most prevalent deterrent is the lack of awareness of abundant resources that can help moms make a strong choice for life, especially on college campuses. Campuses tend to be very aware of abortion providers, but not necessarily open to referring to agencies that can empower a woman to continue her pregnancy while progressing through her classes. There are resources available, but more people need to know more about them. That’s where the MOMentum Network can help. 

I can’t speak for all states, but Tennessee does have a multitude of resources to help women reach their goals, from public assistance that covers a large portion of childcare costs to Tennessee Promise and Reconnect that ensures a two-year degree can be attained tuition free. Insurance is available for pregnant women and their children. Temporary assistance for needy families even covers some transportation assistance and gives grace periods for their work requirements for up to one year. Additional funding has become available during the pandemic as well. Colleges also provide some wrap-around services that address issues specifically related to the challenges of being a single mom including counseling, food pantries on campus, and accommodations (through Title IX). 

Admittedly, the systems aren’t perfect, but that’s where the church can step up and shine. We’ve had needs met by people in our community in amazing ways. In collaboration with our local pregnancy resource center, necessary and even extra material needs are almost always covered. And when they’re not, we’ve seen organizations like Abby Johnson’s LoveLine cover costs no one else would cover. We’ve been fortunate as an organization to have both pro-life and pro-choice supporters see the value in supporting women and children as our Scholar Mamas are pursuing their education. It’s something that we can all agree is a proven pathway forward. 

And still, obstacles do exist. We need more childcare, and the biggest challenge with that right now is staffing. And we need more social support that goes beyond one-and-done gift giving. We need mentors who are willing to walk with these women long term. It can be messy; often life is chaotic before an unplanned pregnancy, so it doesn’t automatically get cute and comfortable. When I was close to giving birth, my car was stolen, my dad was murdered, and my life was extremely overwhelming. There was no easy fix. It was ugly before it was better. But I was fortunate to have a peer and a mentor who continued to meet me where I was. That made such a difference. 

KC: What are the specific services that The MOMentum Network provides? How many women and children do you typically serve at a time?

CH: We are a network at heart, serving as a connector between any motivated single parent who is interested in completing college (including those who aren’t currently enrolled) and collaborative organizations by keeping track of the complex systems and resources to help clients see a way forward.

We served over 244 women and children in this way last year. We go more in-depth with moms who are willing to commit to a deeper level of transparency and accountability; we call these participants scholars because they are willing to learn, grow, and commit to at least a semester of individual and group coaching.

When a mom comes to us, we look at her whole life, first recognizing her value and the assets she has and connecting her to the resources she needs, until she achieves her dream of graduating college. Our scholars who commit to the highest level of engagement live on campus as residents. We currently have six residential spots and six “fellows” or off-campus spots. We are eager to increase the residential capacity to help more moms but would need more mentors and space to make this possible. 

KC: Is The MOMentum Network a faith-based organization? If so, how has faith shaped its culture and operations?

CH: Yes, we are a faith-based organization. While there are a lot of organizations that do wonderful work in the same field, I’ve seen the power of the gospel make a hopeless situation seem possible. God really is a good Father, and his Word calls us to care for the fatherless. Christians have an opportunity to meet families in this time of need, and we have solutions that the world cannot provide.

Our staff and board are all Christians, however, we do NOT require participants to engage in religious activities if they do not want to. We ask about faith and honor their preferences. The MOMentum Network has seen the love of Christ work in the lives of women who are exploring their faith, largely because college is such a time of exploration. We encourage our non-believers to ask us any questions they have because walking with emerging adults is an adventure already. When they have a child to care for, their world opens up. While it’s not prescriptive to have a child while in college, it can certainly change their perspective—their world shifts to something beyond themselves, to something much bigger. 

KC: How can individual Christians and local churches help support the work of places like The Momentum Network?

CH: Commit to a long game. We are really good at giving gifts, but what our moms and these babies need more than anything is a committed presence. Someone who is willing to get to know them and go beyond transactional relationships. When we commit to coming alongside moms for life, we get to be a part of multi-generational transformation. 

KC: After the historic Dobbs decision, has The MOMentum Network been affected, negatively or positively? Do you anticipate any short-term or long-term effects from the decision?

CH: Yes, both positive and negative.

The negative: Women are making quicker and quieter decisions. The abortion industry has saturated the internet and college community. Pills are being shipped and abortions are happening in secret, no matter how dangerous that is. The pro-choice advocates united and poured so many resources into removing barriers to abortion. If the pro-life community united in the same way, two generations could be the catalyst for change. But I think a lot of pro-lifers have stepped back after the decision thinking that it’s over. It’s absolutely not over. 

The positive: I do hope that more lives are being saved. We haven’t seen a huge increase in moms needing assistance yet (which concerns us that quick, quiet abortions are happening), but we’re working hard to pull together more support to be ready for it. 

I pray that more Christians rise up and help us meet this challenge.