By / Sep 21

In last few weeks, there have been a number of developments concerning the availability of pornography on social media. OnlyFans, a social media service that caters to those in the sex industry and profits off the promotion of pornographic material, initially announced that it would bar sexually explicit videos beginning in October. This caused a massive conversation about the morality of pornography in the digital public square. Bloomberg reported that the service has attracted over 130 million users and experienced rapid growth during the COVID-19 pandemic, similar to the boom that Pornhub saw during the initial lockdowns in 2020. News of this move was received by many as a blow to the pornography industry — including to those who earn a living off on the platform selling access to their pornographic material.

OnlyFans originally stated that this decision was due to a strategic shift in focus to a broader platform for various artists and creators, as well as pressures from investors and payment processors who saw financing or facilitating pornography as a potential liability and deleterious to their own public image. However, OnlyFans cancelled their plans to ban sexually explicit content just a week later because of the massive public outcry, especially on social media. The company announced on Twitter that it “stands for inclusion and we will continue to provide a home for all creators.” 

This entire episode brought to light an ongoing debate in digital governance and public policy over the ubiquity of pornography online and how society should go about navigating questions of vice, free speech, and public morality.

Recognizing the moral component

Reflecting on the OnlyFans decision to reverse their proposed ban on sexually explicit material, Felix Salmon at Axios writes that many technology companies are beginning to act like a fourth branch of government given their immense power and control over our public discourse. He argues that many of these content policies end up going much further than the law actually requires in terms of the availability and distribution of pornography online. The argument goes that if the government doesn’t ban it, neither should these companies.

He highlights how these bans on explicit content, such as porn, are often driven by moralistic underpinnings based on the fact that pornography is legal, yet is “shunned by most of the business establishment.” He goes on to contend that these decisions — often based on the fact that payment processors and banks tend to shy away from financing pornography websites, especially due to the illegality of some material and the rise of sex trafficking — are contributing to a lack of U.S. alternatives to the current mainstream pornography sites, which are often based in other countries including the London-based OnlyFans. 

He also mentions some of the controversial moves by eBay and Tumblr. Each company implemented strict policies against pornography. These policies seem to fly in the face of the celebrated progress of the sexual revolution toward the mainstreaming of expressive individualism, LGBTQ+ rights, and the ridding of what are seen as outdated views of marriage and sexuality from our public conscience.

The inescapability of legislating morality

While there is much more to be said about these types of decisions, including the wisdom of banning pornography and objectionable content online, there is irony in how those in our secular age think about issues of governing and morality. Some will celebrate the technology industry making moral judgments in certain arenas, including the celebration of LGBTQ inclusion or the ever-expanding definition of hate speech that tends to describe historic Christian teaching on sexuality as unacceptable for public debate. Yet, these same groups will chastise the industry for making other policies on moral grounds, including decisions to limit or ban pornography on social media platforms. Concerning the latter, they argue that these technology companies — and the business industry itself — need to shed these outdated and moralistic attitudes since we shouldn’t be legislating or designing content policies on moral grounds. 

It is increasingly common in our society to think that we shouldn’t legislate morality, but this misses out on the fact that all laws and even digital governance policies are making inherently moral statements about what is to be promoted or celebrated in our society. They each put forth a version of the good life, which is a central facet of ethics and morality. While pornography is currently legal in the eyes of the state and an extremely lucrative business, companies that disallow pornography may be acknowledging, without even knowing it, how dehumanizing this industry is for all involved and how it tears down society. Either by giving into the public pressures to keep this material off their platforms or recognizing the ways in which being associated with this material will reflect on their brands, decisions to preclude this material from their platforms are ultimately serving a higher good in our society. 

In the digital age where technology companies hold such immense power over our public discourse, each of their content moderation policies are casting a vision for the good for our society, and it is incumbent on all of us to be involved in these debates. These companies have every right to ban or suppress pornography on their platforms, which, should be noted, is not an easy decision in light of the financial incentives and public pressure. But our society is better off because decisions like these protect the vulnerable and innocent among us and uphold public virtue and the centrality of the family.

The OnlyFans situation and continued debate over moralistic attitudes in our public discourse is yet another reminder of the moral incongruence of expressive individualism and how much of our modern public ethic based in the pursuit of vice is simply untenable. When you build public morality off of carnal desire rather than transcendent principles, you will be left with a system that is not only unable to stand under its own weight but also one that will not produce the type of virtue desired for society. While there may be legitimate debate within the Christian community over the wisdom of government bans, private companies choosing to exclude pornographic content from their platforms is a clear win for public morality and the common good.

Learn more about ERLC’s work in the digital public square and sign up to receive articles like this at ERLC.com/digital

By / May 21

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss Dr. Moore resignation from the ERLC along with his move to Christianity Today, views on masks guidance, the latest on Israel and Hamas, Texas signing a six-week abortion ban, and SCOTUS taking up Mississippi case. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Jordan Wootten with “How do we make sense of modern culture? An interview with Carl Trueman about The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self,” Ethan and Michaela Holsteen with “The importance of the church when dealing with disability and grief: How one family leaned into community after their child’s diagnosis with Cri du chat Syndrome,” and Jared Kennedy with “3 subtle sins to warn your kids about: Any why it matters when wrestling with sexual temptation.”

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By / May 19

Rob was heading off to college, and he planned to room with a high school friend, Jack. But one phone call threatened those plans. As Rob drove home from youth group one Wednesday evening, his phone began to vibrate. He looked down to see that it was Jack, and he immediately thought that was odd. Jack sent regular texts, but he wasn’t much for long conversations. So, as soon as Rob pulled into the driveway, he called his friend back. The voice on the other end of the line shook. Jack had called to confess he’d been hanging with a number of gay friends. He was struggling with same-sex attraction and even same-sex sexual intimacy. He’d called Rob out of respect. Jack wanted Rob to know before they roomed together.

Rob had grown up in a conservative family and community. For that matter, he’d grown up in a conservative part of the country. Jack’s voice shook for a good reason; he knew this was a risk. Frankly, the confession shocked Rob. Repulsed, he took a posture of judgment. Rob was polite on the phone, but he didn’t go room with Jack as they’d planned. And when the two young men got to school, Rob avoided his struggling friend. The sad irony of that reaction was that Rob’s lust and sexual sin was equally disordered. His pattern of desire was different, which somehow made his sin seem more excusable, but his depravity was no less.

The Bible tells us that we are all sinners (Rom. 3:23). Fornication, adultery, homosexual behavior (same-sex sexual and romantic intimacy), and active transgender expressions such as cross-dressing and gender re-assignment are all sinful results of the fall (Matt. 15:19; 1 Cor. 6:9–19). God calls all Christians to repent from such actions by turning away from them in the power of the Holy Spirit. Homosexual lust, sometimes called same-sex attraction, and gender identity confusion are disordered desires, and they are also a result of the fall (James 1:13–15). God calls Christians to repent from evil desires by walking in confession (1 John 1:9) even though such desires may persist throughout a believer’s life.1See the excellent explanation of this reality in statements 4 and 5 of the “Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Human Sexuality to the Forty-Eighth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America,” https://pcaga.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/AIC-Report- to-48th-GA-5-28-20-1.pdf.

The short epistle of Jude warns against those who excuse all such immorality. Jude is a loving, spiritual father. He wants what is best for each member of God’s church. He begins his letter with regret, saying that he’d wanted to write and encourage the beloved with good news about their shared salvation. But instead, he felt compelled to warn them to fight against false teaching (Jude 3). As parents, we must be willing to speak to our children in the same way. Even when it’s awkward or difficult, our kids need warnings and encouragement to stand against sinful temptation and the world’s lies.

Jude 4 summarizes the heart of his warning:

For certain individuals, whose condemnation was written about long ago, have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

We must see what Jude is not saying here. He’s not condemning everyone who has disordered desires — or who commits sexual sin — to hell. In fact, Jude’s letter ends with hope for those entangled with lust (Jude 22–23). Instead, Jude rebukes those who excuse sin and justify them- selves (just as Rob did with his potential roommate). False teaching and immorality aren’t just out there in the world. Jude says they’re inside the church. Sin is a disease that’s inside each one of us.

Three types of false voices 

Jude warns against three types of false voices. Let’s look at each one and put ourselves under the microscope. Do we see these tendencies in ourselves or our kids? If so, we must heed Jude’s warnings and fight for our kids’ faith by speaking his words of warning to them as well. 

First, beware of discontentment. When we’re discontent, we fail to believe that what God has given us is enough. Contentment is not circumstantial. It’s theological. Any time we give in to sexual immorality or a desire to define our identity on our own apart from God’s design, we’re demonstrating a lack of happiness and satisfaction in God. Our desires are out of order, that is to say, our strong affections for self, sex, or power are stronger than our affections for God and his ways. It does not matter whether lustful desires are heterosexual or homosexual in nature, choosing to follow strong, competing sinful tendencies demonstrates our failure to delight first in God. 

Allowing a discontented heart to reign within us without confessing this as sin is dangerous. God rescued Israel from slavery and oppression in Egypt. They were given a great salvation, but they grumbled and complained in the desert. As a result, a whole generation died in the wilderness (Jude 5). Whether it’s through his examples of the fallen angels or the perverse people of Sodom (Jude 6–7), Jude shows us a pattern: discontent leads to destruction.

From an early age, kids need to work through the disappointment of not getting what they want. When a child can’t have another piece of chocolate before bed, it’s an opportunity for them to learn that their parent knows best. Help your kids learn to find satisfaction in what they’ve already received. And model for your kids what it looks like to bring your wants and desires to the Lord in prayer (Matt. 7:7–12). Don’t be afraid to pray with them for good desires you know you might not get. Then show them what it looks like to choose satisfaction in God’s answers and obedience to him whatever comes. The secret of contentment lies in depending on Christ for strength even when we are weak (Phil. 4:12–13).

Second, stop making excuses. Jude’s opponents claim they don’t have to obey God’s law, because, according to Jewish custom, it was mediated by angels (Acts 7:53; Heb. 2:2)2See other Jewish sources in Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word Books, 1983), 58. and not given directly by God himself. Jude sees this argument for what it is: an excuse (Jude 8). God’s Word is clear. They just don’t want to obey it.

We still make excuses today. The Bible is plain. Same-sex sexual lust and intimacy is sinful (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-10). However, some say this is harsh and would openly affirm same-sex sexual relationships even while they claim to follow the Scriptures. When read- ing a clear verse like Leviticus 18:22, “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable,” they make excuses: “Old Testament law doesn’t apply today. It came from Moses, not Jesus.” But that is the same tune Jude’s opponents played.3Kevin DeYoung carefully reviews arguments like these and gives careful biblical responses in his book What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).

Help your kids see the world’s excuse-making for what it is. And more importantly, help them see when they are tempted to excuse their own sin. When we make excuses, we attempt to lessen the blame or guilt we’re due for our immoral behavior and desires. Rob, in my story above, may have known from youth group what the Bible taught about homosexuality. The trouble was he’d excused his own lusts.

I can still remember when I first confessed my own struggles with lust to a friend in seminary. He asked me, “Have you practiced regular confession?” And he quoted 1 John 1:7 to me: “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” I thought to myself, “Does God really mean that?” All the excuses rolled through my head. My pathway to repentance was to admit my guilt and submit to God’s authority.

Still, I have regrets. There have been times when my own hypocrisy has crippled efforts to genuinely care for others. One writer describes how this is a common problem in the church:

Many gay people sense a double standard when Christian leaders routinely (and loudly) denounce same-gender sex while quietly ignoring morally lax attitudes toward other areas of sexual ethics. In an era when pornography and serial monogamy are both common occurrences, some gay people . . . feel hurt, mis- understood, and judged when Christian leaders harp instead on the evils of the “gay agenda.”4Nate Collins, All but Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions at the Intersection of Faith, Gender, and Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 9.

We must stop having a different standard for others than we do for ourselves. Only awareness and honesty about our own sin will empower us to speak the truth with credibility to our gay, lesbian, and transgender neighbors.

Finally, beware of sin’s empty promises. Jude says the false teachers came in like a thundercloud but never brought rain; like a dead, hollow tree that never bore fruit; like a wandering star, no use for navigation (Jude 13). Here’s the thing about sin: it talks a good game, and it can be fun in the moment, but the promises are empty.

Our culture glamorizes relational happiness. Young girls grow up on Disney love stories, believing marriage is a fairy tale of unending personal intimacy. Young men fantasize about an indulgent honeymoon. As parents, we want relational joy for our kids too. We all want the glory of fulfillment and love. If fulfillment is the goal, it can be tempting for families to accept their child’s gender transition or their desire to pursue a romantic same-sex relationship without any qualification. Some parents feel that if they don’t affirm their child’s desires and support a same-sex partnership or gender transition, they’ll be robbing their child of a life of joy.

But true wholeness isn’t found in temporal relationships. It’s found in Christ. Christ doesn’t guarantee that besetting conditions will be resolved simply because of faith. Rather, living as a Christian in a broken world sometimes means persistently battling with desires that are contrary to God’s plan. But we do not do so without hope of reward or final healing (Luke 18:29–30). 

Jude tells us the way broken people must fight the good fight of faith: “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 21). We remember God’s love and wait on Jesus. On the last day, we’ll see that he is better than what we long for here.

*For a more in-depth treatment on teaching your children about sexuality, grab this e-book, A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Your Children About Gender: Helping Kids Navigate a Confusing Culture.

  • 1
    See the excellent explanation of this reality in statements 4 and 5 of the “Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Human Sexuality to the Forty-Eighth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America,” https://pcaga.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/AIC-Report- to-48th-GA-5-28-20-1.pdf.
  • 2
    See other Jewish sources in Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word Books, 1983), 58.
  • 3
    Kevin DeYoung carefully reviews arguments like these and gives careful biblical responses in his book What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).
  • 4
    Nate Collins, All but Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions at the Intersection of Faith, Gender, and Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 9.
By / Mar 24

[Note: In light of the subject matter of this post, I feel obligated to warn that the content and language is intended for a mature audience. My goal is not to offend, but only to edify, encourage, and proclaim the sometimes-all-too-frank biblical truth. Though I acknowledge the ever-growing porn addiction among women, I will be speaking as a man to other men simply because the problem of porn runs all the more rampant among men.]

The problem of porn has been crippling churches for years. I’m not here to pick up my stones and throw them. In the vein of what Jesus said to the Pharisees, I couldn’t begin to lob the first one. This article is for myself, my best friends, the pastors in my life, my mentors, and you, because what we’re seeing in the porn industry is unprecedented. I am writing in hopes the Spirit might prick the heart of a calloused generation and extend grace to the wounded and weary sinner. I am writing so that broken men might see the reasons why their habits will break others. I am writing because the problem of porn has led so many men astray from the assurance of God’s love.

Let’s begin with some statistics on porn. At the time of writing, Covenant Eyes reports that over 90% of teens and young adults are “either encouraging, accepting, or neutral” when they talk about porn with their friends. Of adults 25 and older, only 55% have a moral concern with the use of pornography. Even more dire are the numbers inside the church: Covenant Eyes also reports that one in five youth pastors and one in seven senior pastors use porn on a regular basis. Sixty-four percent of Christian men watch porn monthly, while 15% of Christian women do the same. 

There’s no sugar-coating it—these numbers are unnerving. What we are facing is no longer just a struggle with holiness; we are in the midst of a cultural crisis. We are in the middle of an age where secularism and church culture are often indistinguishable. Sin is seeping into our congregations, and it poses a future-shattering question that we need to address before it’s too late: “What does an entire generation of fathers and pastors raised on porn look like?”

The Church needs to face this new reality head on. Humankind has contended with the sins of adultery and lust ever since the Fall, but Paul never had to urge Timothy to stay off of PornHub or give up his smartphone. We’ve never had this kind of access before. And it is precisely because this is such a new problem that we cannot fail to consider what the long-term effects may be. I want to share three with you.

1. The sterilization of the faculties of love and imagination

C.S. Lewis lived 33 years before the internet, and he still foresaw the effects of the porn culture. In a 1956 letter written to Keith Masson, Lewis discusses the “harem of imaginary brides” in the mind of the man who seeks to selfishly satisfy his lust.1This letter is found in volume 3 of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis. This harem “is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival.” Today, this harem has become digital. 

The man who habitually looks to porn for his affirmation, satisfaction, or fulfillment commits severe offenses against God and violates the imago Dei. In his pleasure-seeking, man takes his portion of love and wastes it on his own selfishness. 

According to James 4:4, taking heed to the passions that are at war within us turns us into a spiritually “adulterous people.” Pornography not only ruins a man’s ability to love well; it beckons toward the formation of an adulterous heart. Like an artist with clay, over time porn has the capability of repurposing the very form of our love.

Romans 1:28–31 talks about the man who sees his vain self-pleasure as preferable to God. Paul says that these people have a “debased mind.” We ruin the mind with our sinful pursuits. Like a drug, pornography rewires the mind, turning it into a machine seeking pleasure no matter the cost.2For more on this, see Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, especially pp. 102–104. See also Steven Pace, “Acquiring Tastes through Online Activity: Neuroplasticity and the Flow Experiences of Web Users,” M/C Journal, 17(1).

In order to fight porn, we must understand and believe the fundamental doctrine of the imago Dei, because regular porn consumption reorients the male posture toward a diminished view of women’s dignity. In consuming pornography, we take one of God’s creations and sinfully abuse it. Matt Chandler reminds us of this in a sermon on the image of God:

“Pornography is the degradation of the performers as not having souls, as not having any real value, and it is consuming their emptiness and despair for our own pleasure. It is deplorable and wicked. No little girl dreams of that growing up. If we had any idea of the horrific backgrounds we were dealing with, there’s no way we would watch and be aroused. We would be heartbroken. We’d be devastated at the molestation, at the rape, at the horrific abuse so many have endured. This is an imago Dei issue.”3From “A Beautiful Design (Part 2) – In His Image,” available here: https://youtu.be/2NOjzdPkefw

These girls are often slaves by vocation, underpaid and forced into their circumstances.4See Catharine A. MacKinnon, Pornography as Trafficking, 26 Michigan Journal of International Law, 993 (2005). The effects the industry has on women reaches as far as PTSD.5Corita R. Grudzen, Ryan, G., Margold, W., Torres, J., & Gelberg, L., “Pathways to health risk exposure in adult film performers.” Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 86:1 (2009), 67–78. It endangers them. If you want to protect women, look inward: rid yourself of your porn addiction, no matter what it may take. Confess to your spouse, your pastor, or your brother. Put safeguards in place to aid you in moments of weakness or temptation. Reinforce the walls of your heart that are about to cave in on themselves. For the honor of God’s creation, for the celebration of the justice he so ferociously seeks, and for the sake of the vulnerable, we should be fighting vigilantly against the problem of porn.

2. The capitulation to hyper-sexualism

Pornography chips away at the conscience. There are a whole host of tangential sins related to porn use—something I have referred to in private conversations and counsel as a breed of “hyper-sexualism.”

University of Texas professor Mark Regnerus analyzed the results of the Relationships in America survey in this article titled, “Tracking Christian Sexual Morality in a Same-Sex Future.” From this survey, we can track a trajectory for the Church as it decides how to handle the problem of porn, and it doesn’t look pretty. The survey compares trends in sexuality, comparing varying views on same-sex marriage (SSM). 

When it comes to pornography, there is a significant difference between Christians who oppose SSM and Christians who support SSM — a whopping 28.8% increase in support for pornography among Christians who affirm SSM. Additionally, an increase in affirmation of porn correlates with a decrease in faithful marriage. Churchgoing Christians who oppose SSM are 2.3 times more likely to stay together when married with kids than those who affirm SSM. And they are almost 11 times less likely to take part in what the survey calls “marital infidelity.” In other words, one’s approval of porn use tells a story about one’s larger moral system; this has major implications when it comes to marriage and one’s sexual behavior. 

Personally, I have often found that among people with persistent sexual sins of all kinds (porn use, marital infidelity, homosexuality, masturbatory habits, regular sex outside of the marriage covenant, etc.), the root of their sin is not merely an attraction to a certain person or the thrill of a specific pleasure; rather, it’s a commitment to hyper-sexualism—a desire for sexual pleasure that trumps other concerns or moral commitments. 

Regular porn consumption is a dangerous game, and it cultivates a dangerous heart.

3. The cheapening of grace

More than anything else, the problem of porn cheapens the grace of God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls cheap grace the “justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.” By the biblical definition, this “cheap grace” cannot exist. God’s grace is costly: It required the death of a perfect man—a man whose submission to the will of his Father was greater than the sorrows of his human nature; a man who didn’t deserve anything but the greatest glorification for his perfect righteousness. God’s grace is expensive, and using it to excuse the sins you commit while surfing porn websites is wicked.

When we abuse the grace of God, we not only mock the work of Jesus on the cross but hinder our communion with him as well. To abuse God’s grace is to misunderstand it. If I have a misconstrued view of grace, I can’t rightly be joined to the Church, or grasp the significance of my baptism, or appreciate the conscience-checking boundary of the communion table. 

It’s impossible for us to understand what God wants from us if we misconstrue what Christ did for us. If we are truly Christians, we can’t cheapen the grace of God. To do so is contrary to both the character of his disciples and the purpose for the grace he gave to us. Grace does more than save us from hell; grace is a means of God’s everlasting arms reaching out to embrace us, rescuing us from our captivity to sin, and reminding us to find our identity in him.

Grace exists for the porn addict. Grace exists for sinful men. And grace alone can save us. But it is absolutely costly. We should refuse to mock it. Christian men must combat the problem of porn until its spark can no longer light the kindle of our sinful hearts.

The redeeming hope of the cross

God didn’t leave us to fight this battle on our own. He sent his Son for our sake. The Creator of the universe cares about the problem of porn. Sinning against God — whether contemplating murder or lustfully clicking our way to a porn site — is an act of what R.C. Sproul calls “cosmic treason.” Even still, he gives us grace for even our most shameful, despicable sins. The redeeming hope of the cross is that we can’t sin our way out of God’s love. There is forgiveness in the man Jesus Christ—and his forgiveness sets us free.

John Owen wrote, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you,” and he couldn’t have been more right. The problem of porn will not go away on its own. We have to fight it. We have to put on the whole armor of God. We have to mortify our sin. 

This article was originally published on April 6, 2015.

  • 1
    This letter is found in volume 3 of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis.
  • 2
    For more on this, see Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, especially pp. 102–104. See also Steven Pace, “Acquiring Tastes through Online Activity: Neuroplasticity and the Flow Experiences of Web Users,” M/C Journal, 17(1).
  • 3
    From “A Beautiful Design (Part 2) – In His Image,” available here: https://youtu.be/2NOjzdPkefw
  • 4
    See Catharine A. MacKinnon, Pornography as Trafficking, 26 Michigan Journal of International Law, 993 (2005).
  • 5
    Corita R. Grudzen, Ryan, G., Margold, W., Torres, J., & Gelberg, L., “Pathways to health risk exposure in adult film performers.” Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 86:1 (2009), 67–78.
By / Aug 27

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

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

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

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

The problem of porn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predatory porn

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

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

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

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

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

By / Jun 8

NASHVILLE, Tenn., June 8, 2019—In advance of the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, June 11-12, in Birmingham, Ala., the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group has released a public report on church sexual abuse.

Upon its formation in July 2018 by SBC President J. D. Greear, the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group was tasked with considering how Southern Baptists at every level can take discernible action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse, as well as foster safe environments within churches and institutions. This report flows from that assignment and aims to convey the key findings that have emerged over the last year.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC, commented on the report:

“I’m not sure that I have ever seen a group in all my years in Baptist life conduct work as thoroughly and with as much excellence as has the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group over the last year. This report reflects the fruit of hundreds of interviews with survivors, experts in law enforcement, counseling, trauma, security and many others. It is a starting point, not the final word from this group or on this issue—but a significant document nonetheless. I hope all Southern Baptists will take the time to read it as we unite and commit to root out this wickedness from our midst and care for those who have experienced this horror.”

The report is intentionally designed to educate churches on the sexual abuse crisis, equip churches on how to care well for survivors and prepare churches to prevent abuse. The report is available in full online here. Additionally, a summary article with key takeaways from the report is available here.

This report will also be featured when the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group delivers a presentation at the SBC annual meeting, presently scheduled for 2:45 p.m. CT on Wednesday, June 12.

Earlier this week, the ERLC, along with the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group, announced the launch of the “Caring Well Challenge,” a unified call to action designed to confront church sexual abuse. The challenge is meant to provide churches with a clear pathway to immediately enhance their efforts to prevent abuse and care for abuse survivors. All Southern Baptist churches are invited to join as an important first step in addressing the issue of church sexual abuse. Resources for the initiative are available at caringwell.com.

By / Apr 30

NASHVILLE, Tenn., April 30, 2019—The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has changed the planned focus of its 2019 National Conference. The new theme of the event is titled, “Caring Well: Equipping the Church to Confront the Abuse Crisis.” The conference will be presented in partnership with the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas, Oct. 3–5 featuring sessions with abuse survivors, experts, pastors and abuse prevention advocates.

The ERLC had already fully planned its 2019 National Conference on the theme, “Gospel Courage: Truth and Justice in a Divided World,” but recently decided to shift the theme to focus on the crisis of abuse in the church, given the current crisis within the SBC. 

ERLC President, Russell Moore, commented on the national conference:

“In planning our conference around the theme of gospel courage, we came to a realization. That is, the scourge of sexual abuse in churches is the very embodiment of the need for gospel courage. Combating abuse takes clear eyes, resolute focus and a willingness to engage in painful, complicated questions. This is a critical season for churches seeking to address this crisis. As we thought about this, we realized if we want to talk about courage, then we owed it to our churches and the world around us to talk about courage in light of this area of great need. So that’s what we’re going to do. As we do, I’m so very thankful to get to work with a team at the ERLC that is sensitive to the needs of churches and passionate about providing the best resources and events possible. I look forward to this event with the hope that it will be one more step toward combating the satanic evil of sexual abuse."

Through speakers, panels and breakout sessions, event attendees will gain clarity on how to talk about abuse, care for the abused and prevent abuse in the church.

Members of the national press are invited to attend the event. Please email Elizabeth Bristow at [email protected] for registration details and press credentials.

2019 National Conference speakers include:

  • Russell Moore, president, ERLC;
  • Beth Moore, author, Bible teacher, founder of Living Proof Ministries;
  • J.D. Greear, president, Southern Baptist Convention and pastor, Summit Church;
  • Rachael Denhollander, attorney, advocate and educator;
  • Gary Haugen, CEO and founder, International Justice Mission;
  • Diane Langberg, psychologist and international speaker;
  • Jennifer Michelle Greenberg, speaker and author of “Not Forsaken;” and
  • Jackie Hill Perry, writer, poet and artist with Humble Beast Records.

The conference will address a variety of topics, including:

  • Sexual abuse and the Southern Baptist Convention,
  • Listening to survivors,
  • Lament,
  • Becoming a church that cares well for the abused,
  • Key partners in response (law enforcement, social services, legal, etc.),
  • Church practices,
  • Response protocols,
  • Awareness of related issues,
  • Mental health, and
  • Theological and church polity issues.
By / Feb 15

The Houston Chronicle has published a three-part series about sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches. Here are parts one, two, and three. As J.D. mentioned, what these articles describe is heinous. There can simply be no ambiguity about the church’s responsibility to protect the abused and be a safe place for the vulnerable.

We completely agree with the words of ERLC president Russell Moore:

Jesus does not cover up sin within the temple of his presence. He brings everything hidden to light. We should too. When we downplay or cover over what has happened in the name of Jesus to those he loves we are not “protecting” Jesus’ reputation. We are instead fighting Jesus himself. No church should be frustrated by the Houston Chronicle’s reporting, but should thank God for it. The Judgment Seat of Christ will be far less reticent than a newspaper series to uncover what should never have been hidden.

But anger and grief, while appropriate responses, are not sufficient to protect victims. What can easily be lost in the size of these numbers (700 identified victims), which are grievously large, is the tragic fact that they cannot be the whole story. More must be said and done in the coming days. But today, we want to provide some initial guidance to victims who have not yet come forward on how they can receive care.

How to receive care if you are a victim

If you have been victimized by a church leader (or anyone else for that matter) and the Houston Chronicle story rekindled fear and doubt about how you could receive care, please hear us: we are profoundly sorry. It is an unjust tragedy that you experienced abuse in the past. And it is unjust and tragic that you feel fear in the present.

We, the church, have failed you, but we do not want you to forgo care or counsel.  To that end, here are some options to consider:

1. Realize you did nothing wrong. Abuse is never the fault of the abused. The appropriate response of anyone who is representing Jesus to you should be care and compassion.

2. It is understandable to be afraid. When people who should be trusted (like church leaders) violate that trust, it can make an already fearful situation (like abuse) even more disorienting.

3. Speak with someone who can help you process the abuse and resulting trauma.

For immediate guidance, here are three numbers where you can reach trained professionals who are available 24/7:

  • The National Hotline for Domestic Violence number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
  • The National Child Abuse Hotline number is 1-800-422-4453.
  • The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network number is 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

For ongoing care, identify a counselor near you who is experienced in working with abuse and trauma. If you need help finding a counselor, here is guidance on finding a trusted Christian counselor near you with experience in your area of need:

If you are not ready to speak with someone yet, consider reading On the Threshold of Hope by Diane Langberg or The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick. Both of these books do an excellent job of describing the healing process after abuse and would provide a taste of the benefits you would receive from working with a Christian counselor.

4. If you were abused as a child, then a report to Child Protective Services (or the equivalent in your state) will need to be made. If you are fearful to take this step alone, the counselor you speak with can help you do that.

5. If you are an adult who has been abused, the offense against you is no less wrong. Know that you have a choice about when in the process of your recovery that you choose to seek justice.

Taking the steps in #4 or #5 ensures that the crime (not just sin) your abuser committed against you shows up on a background check. This helps protect others. Reporting a crime is not just a matter of protecting others, though. It can also be an important step in restoring your voice.

6. When you are ready, involve your current church in your recovery journey. This assumes you are not in the same church where your abuser is in leadership. It is understandable if you do not take this step for a while. Don’t feel rushed. Your first step in this direction might be inviting a Christian friend to be an advocate in your counseling sessions. God is a patient Shepherd who walks at the pace of his sheep (Psa. 23:4).

A word to pastors and church leaders

Before we close, let us say something directly to pastors and church leaders: Please share the resources above through your personal and church’s social media accounts. It is easy for church leaders to become self-centered and self-protective when news of churches’ failures come to light. But it would be another tragedy and a reinforcement of the problem if we allow that to happen.

People in our churches and communities need to know that we are concerned about their safety, not about our reputation. Until that confidence is restored, no one who has been abused will feel safe in our churches. The way we respond in this moment—either in protecting and caring for victims, or defending ourselves and our institutions—will either obscure or adorn the gospel we claim to preach.

Pastors, let us also remember to be patient with those who are understandably slow to trust. Even if we are not individually guilty of the things being discussed, people in our roles, who said the kind of things we say, are guilty of these very things. For those who have been abused or are close to a survivor, trust will come slowly.

As leaders, we need to remember that trust should not be an assumed entitlement for those who hold positions of authority. When situations are suspicious, then mistrust is not a sin. It is, in fact, wisdom rather than vice. For those who have suffered injustice and great harm from ministry leaders, their mistrust is something to be honored, not rushed.

Imagine it this way: if your child was abused by a teacher, wouldn’t you want your child’s next teacher to be patient with your child’s fear? Sure, the teacher could easily personalize that fear as mistrust and respond defensively, but the only appropriate response—the one you would want for your child—is one of patience.

If you want to learn about the impact of abuse, we would recommend this series of podcasts from Diane Langberg titled Church as Refuge. Dr. Langberg will be giving similar lectures in the Washington, D.C,. area on February 15-16. We encourage as many ministry leaders as possible to attend.

And one final word, this time to everyone: While it is not enough to “just pray,” we absolutely should be praying for those who have been abused: for the 700 people in the Houston Chronicle article; for the many, many other victims who have not yet come forward; for the abused in our very churches.

In addition to grieving and praying, we need to make sure, to the best of our ability, that those who are hurting in silence are cared for. What we have described here can help us toward that end. There is more to be done, and more will be coming out from our Sexual Abuse Advisory Group in the coming days.

This article originally appeared here.

By / Feb 13

We are in a significant moment in our society because of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements. As we have now seen clearly, sexual abuse and assault has deeply affected the Southern Baptist Convention. People are coming forward about suffering abuse at the hands of ministers, church leaders, and family members—trusted individuals that were supposed to be sources of safety and help. What has been a private, quiet, and likely agonizing reality for thousands of men and women dealing with the trauma associated with sexual assault for many years is coming to light. What we know now cannot be ignored.

As the church, we have a responsibility to care for those who suffer among us. But perhaps this burden is rightly placed most heavily on the men established and called to shepherd Jesus’ flock. There are policies and procedures that must be in place for when a victim comes forward. Without the proper tools for responding swiftly to tragedies such as sexual assault, we simply will not be able to care for victims properly. Yet we also know that there will be a need for spiritual care as well.

I am not a psychologist, but I am a survivor, and I offer six ways pastors can care for those in their midst who may come forward in the coming days as victims.

1. Reduce shame and blame

One of the hardest things a survivor of sexual assault ever does is say these words out loud: I have been a victim of sexual assault. People often do not share this because of shame and unwarranted guilt that plagues them. So when someone tells you this deeply personal part of their story, you must be ready to listen and care without any hint of accusation.

Women,* in particular, are blamed for their assaults. I’ve heard women share with me some of the terribly hurtful and preposterous words said to them:  

  • “You were too friendly.”
  • “You shouldn’t have been wearing that.”  
  • “You shouldn’t have been in the room with him in the first place.”

Accusations such as these aren’t only inappropriate, they are soul-crushing and damaging. You cannot eliminate shame, but you can reduce it by being conscientious of how you react and respond. Tell her it’s not her fault. She did not make her perpetrator assault, harass, or abuse her. He is responsible for his actions.

2. Resist shock

Although studies show that nearly 1 in 4 women have been sexually assaulted, few speak openly about the experience. Survivors may feel isolated and alienated because of the lack of openness of survivors around them. I don’t say this to put blame on those who remain quiet. It took me many years to speak openly about my experience, and to this day I know many women who have never, and will likely never, share their experience.

It’s incredibly hard to vocalize victimization. When a woman comes forward to share, reduce her fear by limiting your shock. Of course, we will feel sorrow and righteous anger, but when we are shocked, we tend to respond with: “What?! Why haven’t you said anything?” Or, we might be completely and uncomfortably silent. Maybe the best thing to say at that moment is, “I’m so sorry this happened to you.” The first time someone shares with you is not the time to ask questions. Be there for her. Comfort her. Listen to her.

3. Remind them of Jesus

When a congregant shares the deep wound of abuse, she will need to hear that she is clean and covered because of the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10:22). She will need to hear that Jesus was a man of sorrows and is acquainted with the deepest grief (Isa. 53:3). She will need to hear that she can draw near to the throne of grace and receive mercy and help in her time of need (Heb. 4:16). She’ll need to be reminded that Jesus and God, the Father, love her.

4. Be their advocate

When we think of advocacy, we might immediately turn our minds to public work such as being a mouthpiece for sexual assault in the public square. That may very well be where the Lord leads you. We need Christian advocates willing to speak up about abuse. Part of loving our neighbor involves advocating for our neighbor. When one person mourns, we all mourn, and when one person weeps, we all weep (Rom. 12:15; 1 Cor. 12:26). She will need a champion, a person who might have to sacrifice his comfort and perhaps even his reputation to advocate for the abused. It might cost you something to stand up for what is right. At the end of your days, it will be worth it to have kept your integrity.

5. Pray

We don’t usually think of prayer as an action, but prayer is an action. If we have access to a holy God, the Father and Creator of the universe, we should never minimize prayer. Prayer is quite possibly the greatest action. So in all our supporting and advocating, we want to make sure that we are also praying. God is the only one equipped to handle and fully care for our burdens and those of our friends. Let’s take those cares to the throne of grace. God is ready and willing to help us.

6. Know your limitations

You may have a deep desire to serve the person who came to you, but you are limited. Know your limitations and insufficiencies, and seek the proper help. Involve a counselor, pull in the authorities, find someone who can actually help. Learn about resources available to victims and have them prepared and ready to give to your member. Knowing your limitations and inadequacies may very well be the wisest, safest, and most caring thing you do for victims. And as an overseer, telling a victim that you, too, need help is a humble and honest example for what she needs—and what we all need.

*For the purpose of this article and to keep it clear and succinct, I am using the pronoun “she.” I am aware that many men are abused yearly and that this is not a problem isolated to women.

A version of this article originally appeared at Lifewayvoices.com.

By / Feb 11

This past Sunday, the Houston Chronicle released an investigative piece detailing sexual abuse cases of leadership in Southern Baptist churches over the last 20 years. When news hit social media that the article would be forthcoming, my heart skipped a beat. With minimal clicks, I found the Chronicle’s promotion video for the article that included dozens of minister’s mugshots.  

Scanning row by row, my heart sunk to see the familiar eyes of my ex-husband, on the third row from the bottom looking back at me—one of the approximately 220 abusers who reporters found records for, all of whom have either been convicted or took a plea deal. An all-too-familiar wave of nausea, anxiety, and grief washed over me.

On Aug. 12, 2009, my husband, a 19-year veteran of full-time church ministry, left our parsonage explaining that he needed to prepare for a meeting at church.

A blatant lie.

The truth was that he was reporting to the local Sheriff’s department, for questioning.

I went about my morning routine having absolutely no idea that, just a few blocks away, my husband was trying to justify his heinous, sexual abuse crimes. I did not realize on that hot, August morning that our entire world was shattering into a million pieces. Life for me, our four children, the two young victims, and our church community would be forever altered.

How do you explain to your children when sexual sin has been committed by the man whom they call “daddy”? What words can comfort victims who trusted a manipulative leader who twisted Scripture to justify the violent violations they suffered? And, how does a church respond to such a crisis?

My church was present from the beginning

Upon hearing the horrific news, our church cancelled regular activities and spent Wednesday night grieving together. Shock, anger, and disbelief hit this steadfast body of Christ with the force of a tidal wave.

My church had a decision to make in those early hours—one that would set the course of either justice or sinful cover-up. Would they choose love over a tainted reputation? Would they choose healing or destruction? In those dark moments, my church wisely made the decision to run to God, their only hope.

The testimonies of two incredibly brave, precious victims, along with irrefutable evidence led to Jack’s arrest on 18 felony counts. He admitted guilt and was ultimately sentenced to 17 years in prison.

It was a high-profile media case not only in Virginia, but across the nation. My family hid as media trucks sat in our church parking lot. It was terrifying. I made plans to leave the area. I was deeply ashamed. How had I not seen this coming? How was I going to provide for my children? How could I help the victims? Where would we go?

Where was God?

My church stood beside me throughout those first and worst days, protecting my children and me, providing us a safe place to hide, and helping me think through all the decisions that had to be made. Church leaders relayed hundreds of messages of love and concern to me from members. Despite their hospitality, I wanted to run.

On what I expected to be my last Sunday at the church, I quietly slipped into place after the worship music began. My plan was to flee, to leave between the sermon and the offering, never to see them again. However, that was not God’s plan.

My church pursued me

Following the sermon, an older couple left their seats and approached me. They took my hands in theirs and told me that they loved me. They were followed by students, deacons, choir members, and friends. One by one, they grieved with me out of their love for me and my family. Some spoke words. Some slipped money into my trembling hand. I shook, not with tears, but with the sheer magnitude of grace. The line stretched down the aisle and around the sanctuary as people expressed sorrow, grief, and concern for my children. Some said nothing at all, but looked me in the eyes and communicated what a thousand words could not say. My entire soul was enveloped in their love, sorrow, grace, and mercy. I was not alone.

My church continued to care for me and my family

The church never left our side. They encouraged us to stay in the community. They healed alongside of us. They provided us the parsonage to live in and job leads for me. They helped me write a resume after 18 years of being a pastor’s wife and a stay-at-home mom. They gave my children Christmas that year, and the next, and the next. They could have turned their backs on us; instead, there was an outpouring of Christlikeness. They allowed us to heal at God’s speed. They were my family.

Where they lacked expertise, they recruited helpers. Consultants and counselors provided services to the body. There was never talk of cover-up, maintaing an image, or protecting their reputation. They continued to point people to our only hope in the midst of darkness—our sovereign God.

There are still hard days today, but there has been tremendous healing. There is still deep grief for everyone whose lives were impacted. There will always be grief, but there is also hope, redemption, and joy—real joy. In the lives of the victims, my children, my church family, and in my own soul. God is restoring the years that the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25).

Because of the redeeming power of the gospel, there is also the ability to say that it is well with our souls. We are learning the hard work of grief in preparing for an “eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:16-18). He is truly the God who sees and knows (Ex. 2:25) and never abandons or forsakes us(Deut. 4:6), and neither should the church.

My church set a powerful example for others to follow as these stories continue to emerge. Let’s be a people who are present, pursue, and care for our people. Let’s be a people who point others to the only hope in the midst of the darkness: Jesus.