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 / 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 / Aug 17

You walk into your 11-year-old son’s bedroom. His back is to you. Over his shoulder, you can see that on his phone he is watching a pornographic video clip that contains violence. How you react then may well have a significant impact on the rest of his life. Will you yell, ignore it, freak out? The best thing you can do as a parent is have a calm conversation with him about it, based on the facts of what pornography does to him, and to others. Are you ready for that conversation? If you are not sure you are ready for that conversation, then I have written a book with you in mind.

Why I wrote a book about pornography

Not long ago, the harmful nature of pornography struck me in the face and shocked my conscience. While researching ways to prevent sexual violence on college campuses, I was struck by how the pornography industry undermined my work without mercy. I wrote Protecting Your Children from Internet Pornography: Understanding the Science, Risks, and Ways to Protect Your Kids with the intent of shocking your conscience as well. Like all parents, I know you want what’s best for your kids. And in this day and age, it isn’t always easy to know what’s best. Even if you have strong opinions on what might be harmful to your children, protecting them can feel unrealistic or even impossible. But we must do our best to help our kids navigate a world where people seek to turn a profit by turning sex and sexual violence into a product and selling it to our kids. I’m here to help you understand the many ways that porn can hurt your kids and what you can do about it.

Porn is violent

In the past few decades, the violence that kids (and others) have been exposed to in pornography has grown from occurring in a small niche market, to being more common, to being in almost every scene1A. J. Bridges et al., “Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best-selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update,” Violence against Women 16 (2010): 1065–85. and image.2J. Peter and P. M. Valkenburg, “Adolescents’ Use of Sexually Explicit Internet Material and Sexual Uncertainty: The Role of Involvement and Gender,” Communication Monographs 77 (2010): 357–75, https://doi.org/10.1080/03637751.2010.498791. Pornography scholar Megan Tyler notes that the early 1990s brought in a new level of violence into mainstream pornography. In the late 1990s, violence increased further. Most recently, acts so violent in pornography that they lead women to vomit are mainstream.3Meagan Tyler, “Now, That’s Pornography!,” in Everyday Pornography, ed. Karen Boyle (New York: Routledge, 2010). Scenes degrading women by showing men’s bodily fluids on their face are now commonplace on the internet.4S. Gorman, E. Monk-Turner, J. Fish, “Free Adult Internet Websites: How Prevalent Are Degrading Acts?,” Gender Issues 27, no. 3 (2010): 131–45. Though some pornographers, and those who support them, occasionally play down the violence in pornography, scholars who study pornography note that men in the industry celebrate the fact that their work is abusive.5Meagan Tyler, “Now, That’s Pornography!,” in Everyday Pornography, ed. Karen Boyle (New York: Routledge, 2010).

One of the most important things about pornography that we need to understand as parents is the way that it objectifies the people in porn, particularly the women. At some point in your life, you have probably heard the phrase “pornography objectifies women.” Essentially what this means is that pornography turns a human being into an object to be acted upon, without agency, and without humanity. Objectification in pornography isn’t just a philosophical statement; it is fact supported by strong evidence. Research has shown that the more pornography men use, the more they see women as objects, not as people.6R. C. Seabrook, L. M. Ward, and S. Giaccardi, “Less than Human? Media Use, Objectification of Women, and Men’s Acceptance of Sexual Aggression,” Psychology of Violence 9, no. 5 (2019): 536–45, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/vio0000198. And given the content of pornography, it is no wonder that men see women in it as objects. 

A 2020 study of internet video clips found that 45% of scenes in online pornography include at least one act of physical aggression. Spanking, gagging, slapping, hair pulling, and choking are the five most common forms of physical aggression.7Niki Fritz et al., “A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 49 (2020): https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0. Furthermore, in pornography with aggression, women are the target in 97% of the scenes, and the response that they have been told to have during the aggression, while they were being filmed, is almost always either neutral or positive. Men were the perpetrators of aggression against women in 76% of scenes.8Ibid. Thus, pornography teaches viewers that women like to be hit during intimate activity, sending the message that men’s violence against women is acceptable. This is a message that we obviously don’t want being sent to, or believed by, our children.

Why do you need to know about pornography if you don’t already? For too long, people have thought of pornography use as a private issue that wasn’t anyone else’s business. In fact, pornography is harmful to those who make it and to those who use it, and in turn, harmful to sexual partners or victims who may be hurt by the mistaken point of view that women like to be objects of violence. 

Practical suggestions

If you were to find your 11-year-old son looking at pornography, my advice as a father and as someone who has studied pornography for many years is to build on the relationship you have built with your son and have a calm conversation with him about it. Discuss how it is natural for him to be drawn to these images, but these pictures are harmful to his development as a person. The following questions can be a helpful guide in such conversations with your children.

Children who are 8–12 years old 

  1. If someone showed you a picture of people who didn’t have their clothes on, what do you think you would do?
  2. Do you think it is okay to watch videos where people have no clothes on?
  3. If you are over at a friend’s house and they told you they wanted to show you something cool but that you can’t tell your parents, what would you say?

Children who are 13–17 years old 

  1. When your friends hand you their iPhones or iPads, what kinds of things do they show you?
  2. In the past, what have you done when a friend of yours handed you a smartphone and it had pictures of people who didn’t have clothes on? 
  3. How did looking at the pictures make you feel inside?
  4. Were any of the images you’ve seen in pornography violent?
  5. What do you think the makers of pornography want you to think when they show violent content in their video clips?
  6. If you based your views on what sex should be like on the pornography you have seen, what do you think the consequences of that decision would be?

The sad reality is that in our day and age many of our children will most likely be exposed to pornography at some point in time. But the good news is that we can do things today that will equip them to flee that temptation. The power of God’s Word—filled with the truth that God made us in his image and bestowed value upon us, calls us to respect and care for those around us, and has a plan and design for our sexuality—is stronger than the schemes of the enemy. We can pray and trust that the Lord will use our efforts to help our children see pornography for tje evil that it is and see God’s way as best.

***

The following is an adapted version of Chapter 1 from the book “Protecting Your Children from Internet Pornography: Understanding the Science, Risks, and Ways to Protect Your Kids” by John D. Foubert, Ph.D. (Northfield). 

  • 1
    A. J. Bridges et al., “Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best-selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update,” Violence against Women 16 (2010): 1065–85.
  • 2
    J. Peter and P. M. Valkenburg, “Adolescents’ Use of Sexually Explicit Internet Material and Sexual Uncertainty: The Role of Involvement and Gender,” Communication Monographs 77 (2010): 357–75, https://doi.org/10.1080/03637751.2010.498791.
  • 3
    Meagan Tyler, “Now, That’s Pornography!,” in Everyday Pornography, ed. Karen Boyle (New York: Routledge, 2010).
  • 4
    S. Gorman, E. Monk-Turner, J. Fish, “Free Adult Internet Websites: How Prevalent Are Degrading Acts?,” Gender Issues 27, no. 3 (2010): 131–45.
  • 5
    Meagan Tyler, “Now, That’s Pornography!,” in Everyday Pornography, ed. Karen Boyle (New York: Routledge, 2010).
  • 6
    R. C. Seabrook, L. M. Ward, and S. Giaccardi, “Less than Human? Media Use, Objectification of Women, and Men’s Acceptance of Sexual Aggression,” Psychology of Violence 9, no. 5 (2019): 536–45, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/vio0000198.
  • 7
    Niki Fritz et al., “A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 49 (2020): https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0.
  • 8
    Ibid.
By / Aug 16

Adoption is a concept deeply enmeshed in the Christian worldview, and the good news of the gospel is at its center. Christians believe that upon receiving Christ through faith, we are then adopted into the family of God by the Father. One of the outworkings of our being adopted by God is that we are often called to “go and do likewise,” demonstrating the kindness we’ve received from God to children who need a family, both here and abroad. In the United States, “practicing Christians are more than twice as likely to adopt than the general population.” And yet, according to a recently published survey, there is still a great deal of work left to do.

The National Council for Adoption (NCFA) recently released what they’ve called “the largest survey ever conducted on adoptive parents.” The survey “provides useful data to [people] interested in adoption,” and it aims to “equip adoption professionals, adoptive families, and prospective adoptive parents with information to help them in their role as part of the larger adoption community”—it is part one of a three-part study called “Profiles in Adoption.” And while there are many findings from the survey we could highlight, we will underscore three takeaways here below. 

Three takeaways from the NCFA survey

In an article summarizing the survey’s findings, the NCFA headlined their impression of the results this way: “Adoption really has changed, a lot.” And, as the report shows, they’re right; over the last 20 years adoption has changed dramatically. Along with those changes (some of which will be reflected below), there are also significant challenges with adoption, like its cost and the length of the adoption process. These challenges make adoption difficult for prospective adoptive parents and difficult on prospective adoptive children. Here are three takeaways from the survey. 

1. Adopting children with special needs.

Children with special needs are often the target of mistreatment even before they leave the womb. In the context of adoption, children with special needs—from those in the foster care system to those in other countries—regularly find themselves awaiting forever families for long periods of time. As of early 2021, there were an estimated “134,000 children with special needs awaiting permanent homes” in the United States, according to the National Adoption Center. And while, domestically, only about 13% of adoptions involve children with special needs, a number that is virtually unchanged since prior to 2010, the percentage of intercountry adoptions of children with special needs has risen exponentially over the last 20 years. “Intercountry special needs adoptions” stood at a mere 7.3% in 2000. In 2020, 61% of intercountry adoptions involved children with special needs (a number that has actually decreased from its high in 2018 of 79%). 

When mothers who are in unplanned pregnancies, carrying a child with special needs, choose to carry that child to term and place him or her for adoption, Christians ought to be among the first who’ll volunteer to give them a permanent home. Let’s pray that the 134,000 children with special needs awaiting homes in this country will soon find loving, forever families. And let’s rejoice that children with special needs from other countries are being given the chance to grow up in permanent homes. 

2. Cost of adoption.

According to the survey, the cost of a private domestic adoption has nearly doubled over the last 20 years, rising from an average of $17,017.96 to $33,141.83 in 2020. Likewise, intercountry adoptions in the same span of time have risen in cost from an average of $22,245.67 to $36,776.21. Unsurprisingly, data shows that because of these prohibitively high costs adoption is a near-unrealistic option for many families that desire to grow their family by adopting children who are awaiting homes. The overwhelming majority of families that secured either a private domestic adoption (72.4%) or an intercountry adoption (62.4%) earn in excess of $75,000-$150,000 annually. “More than half of families adopting privately or internationally viewed the cost of the adoption process as a barrier, even after completing the process.”

If Christians hope to prevail in our work of providing stable, loving homes for children who need them through the process of adoption, then it seems that the financial cost is something that must be addressed. Policy makers should think creatively on ways to address this staggeringly high barrier for families that wish to adopt children in desperate need of homes.

3. Length of the adoption process

On average, the length of time the intercountry adoption process took for survey respondents was a little more than 22 months—almost two years. Other organizations estimate the process takes as long as five years, depending, in large part, on the country the child is being adopted from. As for the process of adopting a child in foster care, the length of time varies based on one’s family structure. The process tends to move quickest for married couples (335 days, on average), followed by single females (373.6 days), unmarried couples (376.3 days), and single men (429.8 days). The process of adoption, whether domestic, intercountry, or from the foster system, is an investment not only of money but of time as well. 

Adoption, the heart of God, and the heart of his people

The motivations for adopting a child are wide-ranging, spanning (on this survey) from infertility to adopting a family member to a religious calling, all of which are good and honorable. For God, his motivation is singular, and clearly stated in the book of Ephesians: he adopts us because he loves us (Eph. 1:5). And “because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5), we ought to be driven to the ministry of adoption by this same love.

As long as children are in need of permanent homes and loving families, the people of God are called to care about adoption no matter the barriers, whether the financial cost or the process length or the challenges we’ll inevitably face in adding to our families. While the NCFA survey equips families with the information they need to determine what part they’ll play in the adoption community, it also reminds us that there’s work yet to be done. As the people of God continue our work in adoption ministry, tools like the NCFA’s Profiles in Adoption study can be just the boon we need. May we use all the resources at our disposal to carry out this ministry that is so near to the heart of our Father.

The NCFA survey is part one of a three-part study called “Profiles in Adoption.” Parts two and three will focus on the “experiences and characteristics of birthmothers” and the “lived experiences of adopted individuals,” respectively, and will be published at a later date.

By / Jul 27

What makes a family distinctly Christian? And if you are a parent, how do you raise your kids in a way that’s truly Christian at its core? The Bible says the chief Christian difference is not political or ethical or social, though being in Christ surely guides a family in those areas. No, our foundational trait is that we live not by our strength but relying on Jesus: “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20).

If morality or ideology or healthy habits made life Christian, our approach would be simple: Try hard. Think straight. Do right. But faith is an offbeat path with practices that feel unnatural: Receive from God. Trust his Word. Follow him. Rest in Jesus. Most Christian parents find it harder to lead their families in that—in faith.

Examples of faith 

More often than the Bible defines faith, it gives us examples of faith. For instance, like Jacob who wrestled with God, we should grab on and not let go until the Lord blesses us as he sees fit (Gen. 32). Like Hannah who was childless and mocked, we should pray with many tears and give our worldly hopes back to God (1 Sam. 1). Like blind Bartimaeus who was told to hush, we should cry even louder to the merciful Son of David who is our only chance (Mark 10:46-52). But my favorite faith example may be Peter.

In Matthew 14, Peter and Jesus’ other disciples were facing hard times. Their ministry colleague John the Baptist had just been murdered, and when they tried to respond by getting some rest away from the crowds, more than 5,000 people followed them. Jesus multiplied a few loaves and fish to feed that crowd, showing the compassion and provision of God despite all that had happened. But the disciples remained fixated on their worldly situation. Mark 6:52 explains, “They had not understood about the loaves.”

Jesus would teach them about faith. He sent them off in a boat without him while he went to pray. Then as they struggled on the sea, he came to them, walking on the water and speaking the best words any of us might hear: “It is I. Don’t be afraid” (Matt. 14:27). Peter answered, “If it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus told him to come, and Peter climbed out of the boat and started walking on the water.

Life of faith

Those steps are an impressive example of faith. Faith looks beyond the dangers and troubles we can see in the world around us, believing who Jesus is. what he can do, and how he’s better in every way. We model faith each time we pray about anything. We model faith when we obey God even though the worldly consequences look stormy. We model faith when we open our Bibles daily and go weekly to worship because we know how much we need God’s Word and his people. We model faith when we live boldly for Jesus, even taking some risks, because we know he rules the world and loves us to our core. By God’s grace, kids who learn faith become both humble repenters and brave missionaries.

Failures of faith 

But Peter’s example includes another side of faith that’s even more important. When Peter saw the wind swirling around him, he became scared and started to sink. He cried out, “Lord, save me!” (v. 30). That simple prayer is the essence of Christian faith. In his dire need, Peter’s gut reaction was not to yell to his comrades in the boat but to call on the strong arm and quick compassion of Jesus.

Of course, Jesus saved Peter and brought him to the boat, showing us that faith is not just for brave achievers but also for doubters and failures. Jesus is the true hero of this story and of any walk of faith. Think about it: the moment in the story when we sense Peter is most secure is not when he’s successfully walking to Jesus alone, but after he’s failed and Jesus has had to save him, while he’s with Jesus walking back to the boat.

Whether we have failed morally, or failed to act bravely, or failed to love our kids or spouse or neighbor, modeling faith means we cry out to Jesus for help and forgiveness. It is the instinct to go to Jesus especially when we feel beaten down and unworthy. Faith means we are quicker to pray than to scold, we more readily admit sins than hide them, and we thank God for our Christian growth instead of showing it off. That will make an impression on our kids. They will learn to remain settled and joyful in Jesus even when they encounter dangers in the world and ugliness within themselves.

Steps of faith

So as a parent, what can you do to lead your family in faith?

Live close to Jesus. Faith-filled parenting comes from being a faith-practicing parent. In your personal life, give time to prayer, the Bible, and worship so that you get to know the outstretched hand of Jesus and can give control of your kids over to him. When you fail at this and are feeling far from God, go back. That’s when he’s most eager for you to come near again.

Show your kids Jesus. Make it a family habit, natural and expected, to stop and pray whenever concerns about anything come up. Read, listen, and talk about Jesus regularly and often. Also make it your role as a parent to be your household’s most visible repenter, often letting your kids see how you admit you have sinned, are saddened by it, and decide to obey God anew—in his strength and under his forgiveness. Again, you will frequently fail to create this environment and keep these habits. Those are times to beg Jesus for help, which is faith too.

Step out of the boat sometimes. Now and then as God puts needs in front of you, have your family do something for Jesus even though you feel scared or ill-equipped. As you step into your task, pray about it and recruit prayer from others, and listen to God’s Word. You might be surprised by what God does. Or maybe things will go badly and you will seem to sink, but if you do, it will be an opportunity to reach for the comforting grip of Jesus. Either way, you will learn faith.

Ultimately, we need the Spirit to fill our hearts with faith, and we need God, in his amazing grace, to give our children eyes to see it and hearts to believe it. As we stumble along in faith as parents, we can rest assured that the work needed to lead our kids in faith depends on One infinitely stronger and more faithful than we are. 

Editor’s note: Bible quotations are from the CSB.

By / Jun 15

Parenting advice is not hard to come by these days. Advice from grandparents and friends, articles, vlogs, and books detailing parenting strategies and philosophies all vie for our attention. When I became a new dad, it was the first time I ever crossed into the noble task of diaper changing. Thankfully my mother-in-law gifted me with a dad handbook complete with diagrams and dad-jokes. Parenting advice can be a blessing or an annoyance—some is good, some is bad, and some of it is just plain silly. It can be stressful for parents at all stages to sift through all the nonsense in search of those precious morsels of good counsel.

In the sea of parenting advice for new dads, how many people stop and dwell on the example of God the Father when looking for instruction on parenting? I wish I had done this sooner. The temptation may be to turn every which way to look for parenting advice when the example of our Heavenly Father is clear in the pages of Scripture. David even illustrates the Lord’s compassion as a father’s love toward his children (Ps. 103:13). God reveals himself as the Father on purpose, and his character and deeds are those of an ideal father. When I look to God’s Word, it is clear that the Father raises his children through presence, instruction, and love. And we dads should imitate his example.

Presence

I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God (Ex. 29:45-46, ESV).

Throughout the Israelite’s exodus through Egypt, God did not leave his children alone. The Father was present with his people. When the children of Israel were sojourners in the wilderness, God provided manna, quail, and water. Later, the Father’s presence through his guiding instruction sustained his people even when he was silent. His presence set them apart from the rest of the world (Ex. 33:16). 

In the same way, fathers should be present with their children. They are responsible for caring for their kids. Fathers would do well to imitate God’s commitment to his presence with his people. So many things, even good things, call for our attention, but few are more important than spending genuine time with our kids. Just as the children of Israel did best when they were aware of God’s presence, so too, our children will do best when their dads are visible and active in their lives. Research even shows that children are negatively affected when their father’s are absent. 

Of course, fathers must also provide—though that will look different for each family—which usually means spending time away from their children for work. While human fathers can never achieve the omnipresence of God, they can ensure that their children experience their presence through explaining why they are away and how this helps them care for their family. So, for example, when a child is eating lunch and dad is away at work, they can remember they have a father who loves and cares for them. And as the show “Daniel Tiger” emphasizes in one of its episodes, children with present fathers can have confidence, even while their fathers are away, because they know that “grownups come back.”

Instruction

Blessed is the man whom You instruct, O LORD, And teach out of Your law (Ps. 94:12, NKJV).

God’s instruction of his children is perhaps one of the most neglected practices imitated in Christian homes. The evidence of his instruction is all throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, the Father made a point to instruct his children in his law. By giving the law, the Lord revealed his character to his people and also made them aware of sin (Rom. 7:7). Then, in the New Testament, he sent his Son, In the fullness of time, to save us from our sin and reconcile us to himself (Gal. 4:4). Now, those who are in Christ have the Holy Spirit to instruct them in the Word and lead them into holiness (John 16:13).

Out of this abundant example of God’s priority for instructing his children in his ways, Christian fathers must also place a high value on instructing their children (Prov. 1:8). When it comes to instructing children, opinions abound. But dads can be sure of this: God expects them to diligently raise their children, by his grace, to fear and love him (Deut. 6). Young children are sponges—they perceive new things about the world each day. Even small children will slowly begin to recognize that their parents submit to One who is their authority. However, this must eventually take the form of intentional instruction from the Bible. 

The instruction of children is anything but passive. Fathers cannot outsource this responsibility, though other trusted adults will often play a role in a child’s spiritual formation. It is a privilege a blessing for fathers to get to raise their children in the fear of the Lord. And it’s vital, for it helps paint a picture of who our Heavenly Father is, even in the mundane things of life like eating dinner, getting ready for the day, traveling, or doing chores. 

Love

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

The Father’s love is not contingent on our actions, but proceeds from his very heart. God gave what was most precious to him in order to save his children while we were still in active rebellion against him, while we were his enemies. And he is committed to his children all the way until the end (John 13:1). God’s love is unconditional and sacrificial.

In a world full of independence and self-serving motivations, Christian fathers should see to follow God’s example of sacrificial and unconditional love, however imperfectly. When we forsake other good things to spend time playing with our children, for example, we model a small piece of God’s sacrificial love for us. The love displayed in this sacrifice is not conditional on a lack of temper tantrums or clean rooms. Instead, fatherly love finds its origin in the Father’s love for us. The realization of how it pleased God to sacrifice for the sake of his children in ways that we never could should lead Christian fathers to ask him for a heart to love our kids well.  

Conclusion

Even in a world in sexual crisis, society is coming around to the fact that fathers are instrumental. That’s because God’s design for the family—which includes a married father and mother with children—leads to individual and societal flourishing. Because of the fall, families will not be perfect, but fathers should try their best to lavish their children with their presence, faithful instruction in the Lord, and love that points to the One who loves their kids best. As we strive to bring up our children in the ways of God, let us cast aside worldly advice and follow the example of our Heavenly Father. We will not always get it right, but we can trust God to sustain us and ask him to give us the joy of seeing our children walk in the truth (3 John 4).   

By / May 3

Adoption is a beautiful picture of the gospel, but in this world, it’s fraught with a mixture of grief and gladness. In addition, particular joys and challenges can enter the picture when a family grows by cross-cultural adoption. In light of this, Brittany Salmon’s new book, It Takes More than Love: A Christian Guide to Navigating the Complexities of Cross-Cultural Adoption, is a welcome encouragement and guide for adoptive families or those who are seeking to support those who have adopted. Below, Salmon answers questions about the unique and practical aspects of cross-cultural adoption. 

Alex Ward: You start your book by saying you have a love/hate relationship with adoption because it’s “joy and suffering and loss and gain and hope and disappointment all in one.” How did your adoption story shape how you see adoption in this way? 

Brittany Salmon: It’s an odd thing for an adoptive parent to say they have a love/hate relationship with adoption, isn’t it? However, it’s true. I love parenting my children. It is such a gift! But I hate that in order for me to get to be their mom, they had to walk through the trauma of being separated from their first families. 

Adoption happens because brokenness exists in our world, and I felt that acutely the first time we were in the hospital meeting our son. I remember the heaviness of watching his first mom say goodbye, and my heart broke into a million pieces as she left the hospital without him in her arms. “It’s just not supposed to be this way,” I cried. I remember the heaviness of rocking him at night, singing to him, knowing that mine wasn’t the voice and the body he was used to hearing those months in utero. And yet, as our family grew and another one seemingly shrank, I learned to hold both joy and sorrow at the same time. Our joy and love for our son didn’t have to erase the sorrow that came along with it; both could coexist together.

AW: Recently, there has been considerable discussion about how much race and culture on the part of prospective adoptive parents should be considered. Bethany Child Services made news when they recommended acknowledging that a purely colorblind approach does a disservice to the child. At the same time, others criticized the move as capitulating to an ideology that sees white parents acting as “saviors.” How should parents think about their own race and culture when adopting transracially and how that may shape or affect a child?

BS: Well first off, I think we all need to acknowledge how complex of an issue this is, and in our current political climate it is easy to make this issue a polarized one. It requires a lot of nuance to fully understand the many complexities of cross-cultural families and the identity development of cross-cultural adoptees. 

However, as we’ve now listened and learned from adult adoptees, we can openly say that in adoption there is no room for a savior mentality or colorblindness. These are two separate ideologies that are indeed harmful to adoption communities. I’m not here to debate that, as the Bible affirms that we have only one savior, and his name is Jesus, and our God is a gloriously creative God who made all mankind in his image. 

So in answering your last question — how should parents think about their own race and culture when adopting? — the great part is that we all come from a culture and ethnicity that we can celebrate! Because every person who walked the Earth was made in the image of God, we can celebrate how each of us uniquely reflects the goodness of a creative God! For example, I’m Hungarian American, and one of the Hungarian dishes I grew up eating is called Turos Csusza. It’s one of my kids favorite dishes, and I tell them about my grandpa who was Hungarian American. One of our sons is half Puerto Rican, so I’ve been doing my best to master a delicious Arroz con Pollo. It’s more than just meals, but we’ve learned that if we’re going to be a multicultural family, we can’t live a monocultural life. And so we make space in our families to embrace all of our unique and God-given cultures. 

AW: How would you encourage parents who adopt transculturally to immerse their children in the culture of their birth? What does that look like practically, and why is it necessary? 

BS: Like I said above, if you’re called to be a crosscultural adoptive family, you’re called to live a multicultural life. And the great thing about this is that we get to choose where we spend our most valuable resource: time. We get to choose where our children attend schools and where our families attend church. We get to choose which sports and extracurricular organizations our families are a part of. We get to choose who we invite over for dinner and who we do life with.

For the multicultural family, I believe you must be intentional about doing life in spaces where your children can build genuine relationships with people who share their same ethnicity. In my book, I break down representation into three specific tiers, but the most important tier is ensuring that your child has racial representation in their real life and everyday community. 

AW: I doubt that when people are thinking through the adoption process, the question of haircuts comes up often. But you devote an entire chapter to the question of hair, beauty, and affirmation. What about these seemingly mundane tasks is part of the larger challenge of transcultural adoption? 

BS: I think one of the things that has stood out the most when talking with and learning from adult adoptees is how ill-equipped some of them felt to care for their hair. Many of them had stories about how they didn’t know how to take care of their hair or skin, or how their parents shamed them when they started exploring beauty practices outside of their parents’ Eurocentric beauty standards. Or worse, they had memories of their parents bemoaning how hard or horrible it was learning how to take care of their hair. 

I devoted an entire chapter to this topic because it is so much more than just hair care; it’s learning how to affirm your child’s beauty and giving them the tools to take care of themselves. Doing this is another way we can honor our children’s ethnic heritages rather than erase them. And from a biblical perspective, taking care of our bodies can be seen as a form of worship. For the adoptee, honoring their culture’s beauty standards can be a part of embracing their God-given racial identity.

AW: In the book you urge potential adoptive parents to consider the cost of adoption, and one literal cost that you bring up is the need for a specialized adoption counselor. Why do you think that counseling may be needed for the entire family, not just the child who experienced trauma? And is the fact that everyone needs counseling a reason to think we aren’t qualified to adopt? Should people have it all together perfectly before starting this process?

BS: Well first off, you should know that I think all parents should consider counseling. Every single person who walks this Earth has suffered and experienced heartache, many have experienced trauma, and I think it’s incredibly wise and healthy to pursue godly counsel. There is a stigma with counseling that it’s only for a certain type of person, and I would argue that it’s for all of us. I’ve used counseling for a number of different seasons in my life, not just the traumatic ones.

However, I do think when you’re walking through trauma or wrestling with past traumas, it’s wise and helpful for everyone involved to seek godly counsel from licensed professionals. And since adoption is birthed from trauma, it can be helpful for the whole family to get the tools they need in various seasons. 

For example, if a child joins a family and they have regular tantrums, issues with food, outbursts, etc., it is not only helpful for parents to receive counseling and learn how to parent in a trauma-informed way, but it’s helpful for the siblings in the home to also have a counselor to walk with them through witnessing angry outbursts they might not be used to. Also, some siblings of adoptees express frustration or the feeling of being left out because their parents’ attention is hyper-focused on helping a child transition into their home. Having a trauma-informed and adoption-informed counselor can be greatly beneficial for the whole family to process the changes needed to welcome a child. 

AW: I think that for most parents, they know that they won’t be perfect. They hope and plan, but seem to know that there are going to be days when they drop the ball. For parents who are honestly just struggling to know what they don’t know when it comes to transracial adoption, I think that fear of doing something wrong is probably even higher. So how did you handle it when you got something wrong?

BS: Every adoptive parent I know has gotten something wrong at some point. So if there was time, I would take every parent wrestling with shame out to coffee and would tell them this: Shame is a dirty liar, and conviction is a tool that God uses to prompt us to change. Which one are you feeling? 

You see, shame can keep us focused on our failures, whereas conviction pushes us toward repentance and change. It pushes us to do better, for our kids’ sake and the glory of God. So we don’t give a lot of time and mental space to shame. Instead, since we know that all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we repent of our sins and then we use conviction as a catalyst for righting our wrongs. We’re going to make mistakes as parents. We know that going into parenthood, so we can be free from the fear or shame that Satan might use to paralyze us. And we can rest in the freedom of serving a God who calls us to live lives of repentance. 

AW: Is there anything else you would recommend people do as they are either considering transcultural adoption or are trying to serve those who are? What other resources would be helpful, and what practical steps can our churches and families take?

BS: I love the phrase, “You can’t know what you don’t know.” And I think it applies to this question. One of the greatest things people who are considering cross-cultural adoption or supporting those who are adopting can do is to start their educational journey now. That’s why I wrote one chapter specifically for families and friends supporting adoptive families. If communities and prospective adoptive families start learning and listening well before a child is placed into their home, they will be better equipped to handle some of the hard aspects of adoption that their family and community will experience at some point in their journey. 

As for some practical steps our churches can take? My biggest piece of advice for churches would be if you’re going to encourage your families to step into foster care and adoption, let’s make sure our churches are equipped to serve them! Two great steps would be: (1) to make sure your Sunday school curriculum and resources for children represent and support all the children in your congregation, and (2) consider partnering with local child welfare agencies and have trauma-informed training for your volunteers that work with children. 

By / Feb 28

We’ve encountered a ton of parents who are reactive to a problem rather than proactive. The typical parental approach to the topic of sexuality is to avoid the subject as much as possible, drop one big “talk” sometime in their kids’ tween years, and then avoid it again for as long as possible.

One problem with this approach is that it’s too slow. Parents will be caught off guard if they wait. From an early age, kids encounter sexual content — by stumbling into illicit material online, by participating in sex education at school, through conversing with friends, and by watching suggestive or explicit content in music videos, television, and movies. The world will disciple your kids in the way of sex if and when you don’t. Do you want that? We certainly don’t for our kids.

What does a proactive approach look like?

Start from an early age

A proactive approach starts from an early age. Sexual discipleship entails teaching a biblical theology of sexuality as early as is developmentally appropriate. Your kids need to know what God thinks before the world gets to them. Disciple them often and early, so that these conversations will be natural and normal by the time they hit the tween years.

Use every opportunity afforded to you in daily life to teach your children the ways of the Lord. Consider Moses’s words in Deuteronomy 6:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your chil- dren, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (vv. 4–9)

Good parenting thrives in the ordinary, everyday teaching moments of conversation. Scripture emphasizes not only the content (“love the Lord your God with all your heart”) covered by these conversations but also the context (“when you lie down, and when you rise”) where these conversations happen.

Establish that no topic — even sex — is off-limits

Establish in your home that no topic, including sex, is off-limits. It’s an awkward topic but a necessary one. Conversations about sexuality are a vital part of discipling your kids — to teach them the ways of the Lord in all things. Have honest conversations with your kids so they don’t figure these things out on their own.

One family told us, “From experience we have noticed that sometimes our children feel guilty and don’t know how to tell us they are struggling. Simply asking them, point blank, ‘How are you doing with what you are looking at on your phone and computer?’ opens up a safe place for them to talk. Even if they don’t say anything at that moment, it causes them to think about where they are in regard to purity. And sometimes hours later they will come to us and share their struggle.”

Celebrate biblical sexuality

Teach your kids about the riches of God’s gift of sexuality. Juli Slattery writes, “Biblical sexual discipleship paints a complete picture of sexuality as not simply something to avoid but a great gift to be treasured, celebrated, and reclaimed.” Parents should model and uphold a biblical view of sex, not a prudish stereotype in which sex is treated as dirty and disordered.

Be careful not to spend all your time just preaching at your kids about the dangers of sexual immorality. Teach them that sex outside marriage is wrong, but don’t stop there. Author and pastor Sam Allberry observes that we can turn God into a cosmic killjoy by implying that he randomly restricts and cuts off ways for humans to be happy. Children grow up thinking that he practices a sort of divine arbitrariness in which he pronounces some things good and some things not good. Sam Allberry writes, 

Every time God gives us a prohibition, he’s protecting something good. So we need to teach the positives behind the negatives, and show that God’s Word isn’t in fact arbitrary but instead points toward what is best and most life-giving for us. Whenever God says no to something, he is saying a much bigger yes to something else. Unless we thrill people with the biblical vision for marriage and human sexuality—especially how they point beyond themselves to God’s love shown to us in Christ—we won’t be providing the full spiritual resources needed to fight deep and besetting sinful desires.

We must teach our kids about a holy and sovereign God who loves us through Christ. Sex is a part of God’s kindness to us. We shouldn’t reduce sexuality to a list of don’ts but instead hold it out as a beautiful part of what God intends for those who love him.

Editor’s Note: Selected excerpts taken from Rescue Plan: Charting a Course to Restore Prisoners of Pornography, ISBN 9781629953830, by Jonathan Holmes and Deepak Reju, pages 195-198.

Used with permission from P & R publishing Co., P O Box 817, Phillipsburg, N.J. 08865  www.prpbooks.com

By / Nov 30

Magic pixie dust for great fathering. Ok, that stuff doesn’t exist. There is no shortcut or gaming the process of raising boys to men. It is hard work, by design. But effort alone won’t get the desired results. Fathering needs to be deliberate. How does a dad purposefully raise a boy? This is the question Jon Tyson’s book, The Intentional Father, addresses.

Intentional is practical 

Tyson’s work is highly practical. Key tasks are explained and supported from Scripture and research. The reader is not left to think, “OK, I need to do that, but how?” Each chapter is marked with an “Intentional Steps” section. In these pages, the reader is led in a style similar to a workshop to process the chapter’s contents and formulate concrete steps. 

For example, in the third chapter, the reader is asked to think forward to a day when their son leaves the home to strike out on his own. Rather than delaying that moment as long as possible, Tyson guides us to face this inevitability. How do you want your son to be prepared for that day? The workshop pages invite the reader to slow down, think, and write answers to the prompts, “What do you want your son to know? What do you want him to be? What do you want him to be able to do? What experiences do you want him to have?” 

Writing down these answers can provide a plan rather than a laissez faire approach to what sons get from dads. With these goals in mind, this loose plan can minimize the pain of inconvenience. For example, if you get a flat tire, you are stuck. Being stuck is annoying and irritating. However, if you have identified changing a tire as something you want your son to be able to do, this inconvenience has become an opportunity to work your plan. This difficulty is not just a curse but also a blessing. The intentional father begins to have eyes that are always looking to get his son in the classroom of life.

Avoiding the “man-ager” rut

“Man-ager” is a term Tyson and his son use to refer to those who by chronology and biology are adult men, but their way of life is too childish — too much like a teenager. Tyson provides sage advice to avoid or dislodge from the rut of persistent adolescence. He presents this guidance as five shifts: 1) from ease to difficulty; 2) from self to others; 3) from whole story to part of the story; 4) from control to surrender; and 5) from temporary to eternal. 

These five qualities are critical for both men and women to thrive in a life that is lived to please God. They are central to a biblical worldview. If boys are unaware that these are the views God is intending to develop in them, they will not only be surprised when these occur, but they will resist the change they are designed to foster. For example, if boys are unaware that a core change in their view of the world needs to be from ease to difficulty, they will likely misinterpret all hardship as poor planning, unjust people, or hatred from God. 

Dads don’t need to plan difficulty; it is baked into life. Rather, an intentional father is ready to take a hard experience and invite his son to consider what he really wants. Does he desire the tough stuff to just be over, or does he desire the good things like perseverance, humility, and dependence that hard things can grow in us. The boy that embraces that difficulty will not only happen, but that it is also designed for his good, will be less likely to put off the increasingly hard responsibilities of adulthood. 

Likewise, the shift from temporal to eternal is a mark of those that are maturing. For example, dads should take their sons to funerals. They are events that force us to face our mortality and consider what kind of legacy we desire to be remembered. End-of-life moments expose what is temporary and awaken our hearts to consider what is eternal. Furthermore, this change in mindset can aid in curtailing the temptation to look for complete satisfaction in this world. 

Boys that embrace the eternal are not surprised when things of earth are only partially fulfilling. They become men who resist chasing satisfaction in the creation and are less prone to anger when they don’t receive such contentment from the temporal. These men begin to see all temporal things as road signs and billboards pointing their longing of satisfaction to the One who is eternal.

Tyson argues for dads to create a growing realization in their boys that God has invited him to leave the center stage of his own small story and take a role in his grand epic story of redemption. Too many boys, and man-agers, are trapped in an illusion that a life that is largely about their own glory, pleasure, and power. The intentional father is actively leveraging experiences to open his son’s heart to see beyond the three-foot circle he lives in. 

A proactive approach to parenting

The author identifies critical worldview formation that readers may have been putting off. What is a person? What is true? What is good? What is beauty? What is ethical? What happens at the end? People have been asking and trying to answer these core worldview questions for millennia. God has given clarity on these types of questions in his Word. Waiting for a son to eventually “figure it out” is not taking fathering seriously. The world will give plenty of answers to these quarries that won’t make your son flourish. 

Tyson posits that a father must be intentional with the views his son leaves home with. We need to help boys develop a theology of sex, a theology of money, a theology of work, and a theology of satisfaction — not simply telling them what to think but walking them through the long-suffering process of helping them to think. For example, a son who has wrestled with questions of God’s design for sex and God’s boundaries will have a level of protection from the culture in which he will live. That culture will try to catechize the boy into its godless, self-determined view of sexuality. Intentional fathers guide their sons to consider what God has said and prepare them for challenges that the world will raise. 

Additionally, God is a worker, and in making man in his image, he made man to be a worker. Because God works, work has intrinsic value. A man does not avoid work. His dream is not to win the lottery and never work again. Rather, a man experiences God’s goodness through work. He grows in discipline, dependence, and humility before God. A theology of work helps a young man see through the warped view of work his culture is trying to sell him.

Intentional moments

Tyson highlights the need to be purposeful in the threshold moments of life. Life has a series of firsts. First cell phone, first exposure to pornography, first girlfriend, first break up, first exposure to drugs, first exposure to the LGBTQ world, first exposure to death, first job, first exposure to racism, first time with a driver’s license, etc. Fathers are assured that all of these will happen. Being purposeful in preparing sons for these events is loving and wise. 

In order to be intentional, Tyson encourages the reader to embrace the practice of initiation. Most cultures throughout history recognize that age 13 is a period where change happens in the heart of a boy. Though preliminary work can be done in younger years, early teens is when Tyson recommends that fathers really need to get to work in a particular way. Readers are led through a series of exercises to recall watershed moments and gifts in their own journey toward manhood. A deliberate plan to mark the transformation of your boy to a man is a high task that ensures he will get the blessing from his father that every man needs. 

Tyson’s work is most helpful as an example to inspire rather than a blueprint to replicate. He admits as much, indicating that what he did was tailor-made for his son, in their region of the country, and with their resources. These variables will likely differ for readers. Tyson gives several details about the specifics he and his son, Nate, did such as regular early morning meetings. Meeting at the same time with one’s own son is not as critical as the regular meeting at a time that best fits you. 

Embracing intentionality

Don’t skip the step at the end of each chapter. They function like mini commitments and targets. Deadlines help us complete tasks and uphold responsibility. We can experience them as stressful and weighty, but they are usually necessary. You sometimes get to audit a class, but no one gets to audit fatherhood. Even those who abdicate nearly every fatherly task and opportunity leave indelible marks on sons. In addition, no one is sufficient, all on their own, to the task of raising sons. 

There is more than enough grace from Jesus for your son to develop better than the work you put in. Being an intentional father is a means the true and better Father uses to change you. With this volume, you will get to make a plan that is custom fit for your son. God chose you to be his dad. Roll up your proverbial sleeves and get your hands dirty in the heart of your son. It is work. Expect to be frustrated, tired, and at a loss sometimes. But look ahead to the man he will become, knowing all your effort in the Lord is worth the result.