By / Oct 17

A common refrain among many outside the church is that Christians seem obsessed with talking about sexuality and gender issues. Often, this is mocked or simply dismissed as Christians just seeking to enforce their personal views on other people or to impose our beliefs through government action. Many argue that society would be better off if Christians just kept to themselves and let people have their personal, private fun since it doesn’t hurt anyone. It is thought that the Christian sexual ethic is not only retrograde and backward, but also deeply harmful and inherently hateful since it limits moral autonomy, the golden calf that rules our day. The idea goes that we all must respect one another’s private decisions and honor the autonomy of the individual to decide what is right and good for themselves.

The infamous moral philosopher Peter Singer highlights this idea in the introduction to his work, Practical Ethics, by highlighting how most people assume that Christians are obsessed with sexuality to the neglect of other aspects of ethics. He states that there was a time in our history when if someone saw a newspaper headline reading “RELIGIOUS LEADER ATTACKS DECLINING MORAL STANDARDS,” they would naturally understand this was simply decrying (yet again) promiscuity, homosexuality, pornography, and more. Singer rightfully decries this simplistic understand of ethics, but then goes to on lambast religious-based sexual ethics as simply “nasty puritanical prohibitions” designed to keep people from having fun.

Yet, this focus on sexuality isn’t simply limited to Christians; these ideas are at the forefront of cultural debate today and have been for several decades with the meteroric rise of the sexual revolution. This monumental shift in society is rooted in modern conceptions of the individual that reject our created nature and believe that one’s sexual desires and proclivities are to be seen as absolutely central to one’s personal identity. Not only that, but they should be freely expressed and affirmed by all, regardless of one’s personal beliefs. 

Given the widespread cultural fixation on sexuality and gender, it is no surprise that the church would focus on these crucial aspects of both personal and social ethics. But we must not believe that the Christian sexual ethic is simply a response to cultural movements. Instead, as humans, it is rooted in the very nature given to us by God. In an age where we often seek to create our own meanings and moral truths, Christians must remember that the biblical sexual ethic isn’t about limiting one’s pleasure but aligning our desires with our God-given nature for our ultimate good.

An inflamed and sexualized society

We are inundated with conflicting messages about sexuality and deep confusion over the nature of sexual ethics, whether it’s providing (and protecting) gender-affirming care and surgeries for youth or the deeply entrenched nature of pornography. One of the main aspects of this cultural divide is seen in the recent calls to push for the complete normalization of LGBTQ+ lifestyles, especially among children and young adults. For example, this past summer we saw companies like Disney make sexuality and gender issues a primary emphasis in their entertainment offerings for children. This push can also be seen in the Biden administration’s recent National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality that is designed to help normalize these lifestyles throughout all domestic and foreign policy.

But these moves are just one element of a larger movement throughout our culture to encourage and support the radical moral autonomy of the sexual revolution. While particular instances like that of Disney made national headlines, many schools, communities, churches, and even hospitals have bought into and promoted the harmful lie that we are able to simply determine our sexuality and gender based on personal feelings and decisions rather than seek to bring the mind into alignment with the biological realities of our creation. As these discussions and debates continue, what does the Christian ethic bring to this conversation? And how can we proclaim truth while also caring for those struggling and left in the wake of broken promises and false hopes for peace?

The root of our sexual rebellion

According to Romans 1:25, all of us in our sin and rebellion—no matter our sexual temptations or desires—have ”exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” While not all people believe in God, Paul makes it clear that we all know that there is a God, even if we suppress that truth in our unrighteousness and desire to be like God ourselves (Rom. 1:19-23). This desire to be God and to have the power to decide what is right and good for ourselves is the very root of our rebellion (Gen. 3).

Many will speak of the root of the sexual revolution as the turmoil of the 1960s, various Supreme Court decisions on no-fault divorce, contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage, or even the rise of modern philosophy with figures like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others. While these factors have undoubtedly shaped beliefs about sexual ethics today and aided the progression of the sexual revolution, the core of our problem goes much further back. All rebellion and sin began at the Fall of humanity (Gen. 3), and the nature of this fall reveals a deep truth about human nature and the great lie we are apt to embrace. 

Leading up to the Fall, the serpent tempted Eve by causing her to doubt how God created her. The beginning of Genesis goes to painstaking lengths to show that God created man and woman utterly unique from the rest of creation, stating how God made humanity in “our image, after our likeness”—a reflection of the Triune nature of God. Yet, in Genesis 3, the serpent asks, “Did God actually say?” and then quickly stirs up confusion about how God made Eve in his very image. The serpent said, “You will not surely die (if you eat of the fruit). For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” This original disinformation and an outright lie was not just tempting Eve to question God’s commands but to reject her God-given nature. She was already like God because she was made in his image. 

One of the ways we try to be like God is by asserting authority over our sexuality. However, part of our God-given nature is the reality of being made distinctly male and female. Our sexuality is rooted in our created nature. But in our sin, we seek to reinterpret or alter God’s good design. This isn’t simply limited to those outside the church or even to those struggling with gender disphoria or same-sex attraction. All of us apart from Christ seek to rebel against God’s good design for our sexuality. Many of us go to great lengths to craft our own identities and reject the one given to us by our Creator. 

While the culture around us pushes to normalize rebellious, sinful, and harmful ideologies, Christians must seek to retrieve a deeply biblical sense of sexual ethics, rooted both in Scripture and in the evident ways that God has created us. This idea is commonly referred to as natural law ethics and is a foundational element of the Christian ethic upon which the commands of God as revealed in Scripture and the virtues we are to exhibit as Christians are built. This approach reminds us that the Christian ethic must be deeply rooted in the Bible, but is also revealed in part through how God made us in his image as humans—both male and female.

Even though it is common to hear that the Christian sexual ethic is backward, oppressive, and out of date, we must respond by boldly and gracefully speaking the truth, remembering how God rescued us out of our rebellion. Despite the opposition we might (and will) face, we can take comfort in the fact that God has made his attributes clearly known in creation and that our hope is not placed in temporal cultural gains. As we proclaim and live out the Christian sexual ethic to which creation itself testifies, a broken society will witness how our God enables us to live in joy and true freedom as we point to the gospel of reconciliation and redemption. 

By / Nov 10

One of the anthems our culture sings louder and more often than any other is “you do you.” If you think about the meaning of that popular phrase, you can quickly start to identify some of its cousin expressions like “you only live once,” and “be the best version of you.” These are not harmless expressions; indeed, they reveal problematic thinking, bad theology, and — according to writer Alan Noble — faulty anthropology. They come from one of the fundamental lies of our modern age: the lie that we own ourselves. 

Noble, an English professor at Oklahoma Baptist University and author of Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age, argues that much of our cultural turmoil stems from our belief that we belong to ourselves alone and are responsible for every aspect of our existence. Noble addresses this lie of self-created identity and meaning in life in his newest book, You Are Not Your Own. The first half of You Are Not Your Own diagnoses and explains the problem with self-belonging, while the second half considers how to fight this lie. And Noble shows that while our culture is obsessed with who we are, what is most important is to whom we belong.

Modern society and self-belonging

Noble, who admits that he borrows heavily on the ideas of others, references poetry, novels, philosophy, and pop culture to illustrate his point. The most important idea he uses to examine the problems of modern culture is the first question and answer from Heidelberg Catechism: 

Q: What is your only comfort in life and death? 
A: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. 

This simple statement of our creatureliness provides an immense comfort. We are not responsible for defining ourselves. Rather, as finite and created beings, we are able to rest in the fact that we do not have to construct and sustain our value and and existence. 

Modern society, however, has tried to convince us that each individual is responsible for his own existence. Our faulty anthropology comes with a cost: “the responsibility to justify our existence, to create an identity, to discover meaning, to choose values, and to belong” (35). Noble collectively calls these “The Responsibilities of Self-Belonging. And even though they are obligations only to ourselves, they are burdens we weren’t meant to carry. As burdens we were meant to — and can’t — carry, they end up crushing us. What we think should be freeing, the ability to define ourselves in any way that we choose, actually ends up as a longing in our souls and searching in our activity that is futile. 

Society perpetuates our belief in self-belonging. We’re told to find our true selves, and then we have to express it. Noble explains how society tries to give us meaning and values through art, community, and rituals. Society promises fulfillment if you accept that you are your own, work to discover and express yourself, and use the methods of society to improve your life (69). But because meaning and values are not universal, “there can be no substantial common good for us to work toward, politically or socially” (56). 

Our efforts to define our identity and improve ourselves lead to endless competition rather than peace and fulfillment. People competing against each other are on a spectrum of affirmation and resignation, vacillating between self-confidence and despair. The demands of self-belonging have led us to self-medicate: “Contemporary people are obsessed with means for coping with life. We don’t self-medicate because our lives are wonderful, but because we need comfort to continue living” (121). Our efforts to be autonomous and self-sufficient are a way we sinfully deny the hand of God in our lives.

Realizing to Whom we belong

But Noble reminds us that there is good news! We are not responsible for creating our identity and defining meaning and values. We don’t have to live in an endless cycle of striving for and failing at self-improvement. We are not our own. Despite what the world says, who we are is not the most important thing. Instead, Noble tells readers that “Whom we belong to makes all the difference in the world” (117). Belonging to God and “knowing and abiding by His limits enables us to live as we were created to live, as the humans He designed us to be” (118). Believers must remember that their identity and meaning are not self-created; they are found in Christ. Only in Christ do we find belonging without harm; only in Christ do we find perfect acceptance and love. 

I read You Are Not Your Own during a difficult season. As my family went from crisis to crisis, the first two lines of Andrew Peterson’s song “Is He Worthy?” were on repeat in my head: “Do you feel the world is broken? (We do) Do you feel the shadows deepen? (We do).” As sickness, grief, and pain shook my family and church family, what a comfort Noble offered me. How can I live in a broken world? What counsel can I offer those around me in their suffering? What hope do I have in life and death? That I am not my own. 

By / Oct 15

A new survey of 17 advanced economies finds that the United States is one of the most conflicted when it comes to questions of social unity. In just about every category of the survey — politics, race, ethnicity, geography, and religion — Americans see strong societal conflicts. A majority also believe that there is a disagreement over basic facts. 

None of the countries surveyed are as divided over political and ethnic conflicts as Americans. Almost all (90%) say there are conflicts between people who support different political parties and nearly 3-in-4 (71%) say the same when it comes to ethnic and racial groups. 

The divisions are most pronounced between people who practice different religions, between partisan political groups, between racial and ethnic backgrounds, and between urban and rural residents. 

Black and Hispanic adults, as well as Democrats and those who lean Democrat, are more likely to say there is a strong or very strong conflict between people who practice different religions. Sixty-two percent of Black Americans, 56% of Hispanics, and 56% of Republicans identify such conflict, compared to 44% of White adults and 39% of Republicans. More than half of all Americans (52%) also say there are strong or very strong conflicts between people who are religious and people who are not religious. 

Nearly three-quarters of Americans (74%) say that racial and ethnic discrimination is a serious problem in the U.S. However, Black adults and Democrats (both at 82%) are more likely to see such conflict than are Hispanics (70%), Whites (69%), and Republicans (58%). 

The area of conflict identified by the fewest percentage of Americans was between people who live in cities and people who live in rural areas. Only 42% find there is a strong or very strong conflict between these geographic regions. Yet even there, Americans are much more likely than some other countries to identify an urban/rural conflict. In comparison, only 12% of those in Spain and 18% in Japan say the same.  

A significant majority of Americans also say that when it comes to important issues facing the U.S., people may disagree over policies but most people disagree over basic facts. About 60% of Democrats, Republicans, Whites, and Hispanics make that claim, compared to 49% of Black adults. Moderates, whether they lean toward Democrats or Republicans, are also less likely to see disagreement over basic facts (54% and 52%, respectively) than are conservatives (62%) and liberals (68%). 

How should Christians think about these findings?

First of all, Christians should be people of the truth. In our day of misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and lack of trust in basic facts, those who trust in Christ should be known as people of reasonableness (Phil. 4:5) and those who can be trusted (James 5:12). We must not contribute to spreading falsehoods and stirring up strife. We serve the God of truth (Heb. 6:18) and are called to be his ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20), making known his character to those around us. This is true whether we are within our homes, step out of our front doors, or post on social media. So, in addition to understanding God’s Word, seeking to love him with all of our minds in this age (Matt. 22:37) means pursuing correct information online and refusing to flippantly share stories we don’t fully understand. Our conduct should be above reproach, and oftentimes that means holding off on posting until we gather more information and can share in a way that is helpful and upright.   

Secondly, Christian should be people of love and kindness. It would be a tragedy — and displeasing to our God — if we are known as contributors of the conflict problem in our country. While we can’t control conflict brought upon us for the faith we hold in Christ (Matt. 5:11-12), we are responsible for the conflict we heap upon others. For the sake of God’s glory, we are to be people of good conduct (1 Pet. 2:12), showing gentleness and respect toward those around us (1 Pet. 3:15). Love and kindness does not mean approving of what is evil (Rom. 1:32), but it does mean being marked by the humility of Christ (Phil. 2). 

And, of all people, we should demonstrate love and kindness to toward fellow believers. Jesus said that we, as Christians, will be known as his disciples if we love one another (John 13:35). We have become one body in Christ (Rom. 12), yet, we often treat one another as enemies and act as if ethnic, racial, political, or even geographic differences should take priority in how we align with one another. Instead of justifying such conflict — especially online — we should intentionally heed the Apostle Paul’s admonition: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:31-32). 

As we read over these survey results, we should ask ourselves how we might be contributing to the tenor of conflict in our country. Are you known as being a person of conflict? Or, overall, would others point to you as a person of truth, love, and kindness? May the Lord make us more like him for the sake of the gospel.

By / Sep 24

What is the relationship of Old Testament laws to the American government? How ought Christians respond to the decline of cultural influence? What are the ways that Christians exercise power within the public square? These are some of the questions that animate Christian Reconstructionists, a group that likely is less well known than broader denominational or theological identities such as Baptist, Catholic, evangelical, or Reformed. Crawford Gribben sheds light on this group in his book, Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America: Christian Reconstruction in the Pacific Northwest. While the ERLC does not subscribe to the tenets of Christian Reconstructionism, it is important to understand this numerically small but influentially growing movement, as Gribben’s work shows. 

In Gribben’s recent study of the movement, particularly in the community centered around Moscow, Idaho, he found that these evangelical Christians were continually navigating the tension between resisting the wider culture around them because of its rejection of Christian values and hopefully expecting that there would be a cultural renewal and return to God’s laws and standards, though likely not in their lifetime. Though a numerically small group, these Reformed evangelicals have shown themselves to be adept at marshalling soft influence through avenues such as publishing, homeschooling curriculum, and the founding of a Christian liberal arts college. Gribben’s study is an excellent introduction to the lived realities of this movement, its history, and the ways that theological principles have practical outputs in the project of cultural renewal. 

Gribben, a professor of religious history at Queen’s University Belfast, was kind enough to answer a few questions related to the movement and his scholarship. 

Your book is a study of Christian Reconstructionists, a particular group of Reformed evangelicals rooted in the writing of R.J. Rushdoony, and more recently pastor Douglas Wilson. What are the distinctives of this movement? 

Christian Reconstruction is the name of the social theory that an Armenian-American Presbyterian minister, R.J. Rushdoony, began to develop in the late 1950s. As its descriptor suggests, it’s a social theory that argues that modern societies should be reorganized in terms of biblical law. While the movement is varied, its advocates tend to argue that the judicial laws in the Mosaic covenant, as a reflection of the “general equity” of the moral law, as the Westminster Confession puts it, should be adopted by modern states. This position is often described as “theonomy.” But Reconstructionists don’t just argue that these laws should be adopted by modern states — they also expect that these laws will be adopted by modern states. Their confidence that modern states will be reconstructed according to biblical law reflects their widespread commitment to “postmillennialism” — the expectation that the preaching of the gospel in this age will result in extraordinary revivals, to the extent that, before the return of Christ, the global population will in large part be regarded as Christian. 

These ideas — “theonomy” and “postmillennialism” — might seem strange, even outlandish, to modern evangelicals. But these claims, and others like them, were made by reformers and Puritans. In fact, many of the colonies that came to make up the states of New England were led by ministers and theologians who were committed to these views. What makes Christian Reconstruction so distinctive within the broader cultures of evangelicalism is that its arguments are being made in a religious landscape that has largely abandoned claims that were once normative within American Protestantism to embrace instead the principled pluralism of the American constitutional tradition.

The plan proposed by the community in the American Redoubt (Idaho, Montana, Wyomin, and the easter portions of Washington and Oregon) shares some similarity to that of others, such as Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option. Is this just a wider dissatisfaction with American culture, or is there something unique going on with those who are moving to the Redoubt?

Yes, there are similarities between the kinds of people who are moving into the Redoubt and those who are attracted to Dreher’s Benedict Option. In fact, Dreher has explained that he had intended to include in his book a chapter on the Moscow, Idaho, church that is led by Doug Wilson, until some controversial decisions made by congregational leaders relating to the pastoral care of a sexual offender changed his mind. But there are also some important differences between the Reconstructionists and Benedict Option Christians. Most importantly, while both groups are withdrawing to a large extent from mainstream society, the Reconstructionists do so with much greater confidence they are building communities that will survive the crisis in American culture and that will emerge to create, entirely organically, the institutions that will hold together the new — and newly Christian — United States. I think it’s also important to note that the Benedict Option idea appeals to Catholic and Orthodox groups. Christian Reconstructionists tend to be emphatically protestant (though their protestant credentials have been questioned by some of their critics, especially in relation to the “federal vision” theology with which Wilson has in the past been associated).

In the book, you emphasize the role that the group’s theology plays, particularly their postmillennial eschatology. Why does this cause them to react differently than other evangelicals to a shifting culture? 

Well, as Wilson put it in one of our conversations, it’s so much easier to play when you know you’re on the winning team. While lots of larger evangelical communities are losing ground — at least in the sense of shrinking membership — the Moscow, Idaho, community is pushing forward with some very ambitious plans. They make no secret of their intention to make Moscow a Christian town — nor of their expectation that the world will be converted to Christ. I think this expectation provides this community with a very distinctive confidence. While other groups of evangelicals are scanning the headlines for the signs of the times, or are persuading each other not to “polish the brass on a sinking ship,” as some premillennial critics of social action put it, the Moscow Christians and their Reconstructionist fellow travelers are developing concrete plans to survive and resist what they perceive to be an extraordinary moral collapse. And they’ve been very successful. 

In Moscow, they have established a classical Christian school — one of the founding institutions of a network of similar schools, whose conference was addressed in 2019 by Senator Ben Sasse — as well as a high quality liberal arts college and music conservatory. Members of the congregations associated with this community run very successful businesses, including the publishing house that does most to promote the group’s ideas. Overall, they’ve created an ecosystem that publicizes their ideas, that encourages migration into the area, that supports new arrivals with employment opportunities, school and other educational ventures — and this kind of growth is, of course, positioning the community as the fulfilment of its own prophetic expectations. Success breeds success — and so it will be interesting to see how Wilson’s new Amazon talk-show, “Man Rampant,” contributes to this positive feedback loop. 

There is a consistent theme of the tension between rhetoric and theology, most clearly in the renewed interest in the theology of the “lesser magistrate.” How does this work itself out for the congregants who are not actively looking to take up arms against the government, but do exist in a culture where that is possible and sensationalized (as with the fiction novels you mention)?

That’s an interesting question. Very few of the people we met while doing fieldwork for this book were interested in talking about taking up arms against the government – and none of those who did were attending Wilson’s church. I think a lot of the discussion about “resistance” is largely rhetorical. The old protestant doctrine of the “lesser magistrate” is certainly important in these circles. But the small number of Christian Reconstructionists who have turned toward violence — like Paul Jennings Hill — have been consistently denounced by thought leaders in the movement. All of the people we met within the Moscow congregation were living what might in other circumstances be regarded as fairly ordinary lives — working, shopping, going to church, and so on. The more militia-orientated people tended to prefer to keep themselves to themselves.

For many of the Reconstructionists, it is through cultural renewal, rather than political or violent action, that America can be saved. This is, as you note, one of the problems that Rushdoony had with the Religious Right in the 70s and 80s: they focused on political power rather than spiritual regeneration. How has the modern movement tried to focus on this goal of cultural renewal? What is their hope in the long term for America?

As I said before, members of the Christian Reconstruction movement work for and expect to contribute to the conversion of the United States. And that word “conversion” is key. The emphasis in their writing and speaking is not on coercing citizens into a Christian republic — despite the claims of their critics. Instead, Reconstructionists argue that as individuals are converted, they will influence their families for Christ; as families are converted, they will influence their neighborhoods for Christ; and so on. They expect a bottom-up transformation of American society, not any kind of transformation imposed from the top-down. That’s why these believers tend to avoid any participation in politics — even at a local level. While they might enjoy talking about the reconstruction of the legal system, or tax codes, they are often kept busy enough building Christian families, running businesses that reflect their Christian commitments, and going to church. In fact, you might say that in day-to-day life most of these believers are indistinguishable from their evangelical neighbors — except that, when they pray “thy kingdom come,” they expect to see it happen before the return of Christ, and they anticipate that their everyday lives will make a real contribution to that end.

Much of the book is built around the community in the American Redoubt, and particularly in Moscow, Idaho. Even the magazine, Credenda Agenda, as you note promulgated old ideas and new books, “but most of all it sold the community that was gathering around [Doug] Wilson’s ministry” (115). What is the role of the community for this movement, and how does that shape their activity?

The idea of community is really at the heart of this project, I think. From the 1990s, Credenda Agenda  — the magazine that did most to promote the group’s ideas — was never about one man. Instead, it brought together a range of writers who were capable of producing smart, satirical, and theologically sophisticated arguments. The letters page of each issue showed that readers found what they read attractive. They liked the idea of being part of that kind of community. And the institutions that this group established were designed to reinforce that community — a K-12 classical Christian school, then a liberal arts college, and so on — all taking their place in the positive feedback loop that I mentioned before. Online testimonies from some of the most recent migrants into the area still emphasize that this idea of community — maybe even ideal of community — is what drew them to Moscow. 

This group isn’t numerically large, and you even state that they don’t exist inside the religious mainstream. However, they are becoming increasingly influential. How so?

You’re right — the community isn’t especially large — in fact it’s tiny by comparison with many megachurches, even in Idaho. But this group projects its soft power very deliberately and very effectively. Wilson’s most recent venture — the Amazon talk-show called “Man Rampant” — seems to be surviving on that platform. Wilson has a nose for publicity. He co-authored a book with Christopher Hitchens and participated in a hymn sing in Moscow that resulted in arrests and attention on Twitter from President Trump. There is a real sense of crisis in American culture at the moment. This group’s influence is growing because they know how to articulate what might be at stake in that crisis, and how to present a response to that crisis that turns it into a single moment in the great sweep of victory by which the “kingdoms of the world become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ” (Rev. 11:15). And that’s why their influence is only likely to grow.

By / Sep 16

My family lives just outside of a small town in Tennessee with a historic downtown district. Like many small towns throughout our nation, we have a downtown square that serves as a hub. In prior generations, these public squares were gathering places for everyone. People regularly traveled in from the outskirts of town to shop, eat, and do business. They would also come together for community events and to freely engage with one another. While many historic downtown public squares have been abandoned in light of the growth of suburbs, there is a renewed interest in revitalizing these historic neighborhoods and to provide a place for communities to gather once again — especially in a digital age that has led to increasing isolation.

These public gathering places serve as an apt metaphor for a period when much of our daily communication, commerce, and community are facilitated in the digital public square of social media and online connectivity. With the rise of the internet and various social media platforms — such as Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok, and massive online retailers and internet companies like Amazon and Google — these new digital public squares promised to bring about a vibrant era of connectivity and togetherness across distances, more diverse communities, and more access to information. Many of these initial promises were made in light of oppressive regimes throughout the world that stifled free speech, suppressed human rights, violated religious freedom, and limited access to information in order to maintain control over other human beings made in the very image of God. 

Ethical challenges in the digital age

While technology has brought incredible benefits and conveniences into our lives, it also has led to countless unintended consequences and deep ethical challenges that push us to consider how to live out our faith in a technological society. Each day we are bombarded with fake news, misinformation, conspiracy theories, ever growing polarization, and more information than we could ever hope to process. We are regularly faced with challenges where wisdom and truth are needed, yet faith is not always welcomed in the public square and in the important debates over digital governance. In truth, technology has always been used and abused by those who seek to hold on to power and wield it to suppress free expression all around the world. But today, these threats seem more visceral and dangerous to our way of life than ever before.

One of the most challenging ethical issues of our day with technology is centered around the proper role of digital governance and the ethical boundaries of free expression in the digital public square. Many have recently begun to question the role of the technology industry over our public discourse, as well as the responsibilities of individuals, third-party companies, and even the role of the government in digital governance. While much of the dangerous, illegal, and elicit content is rightly moderated, questions remain as to what kind of ideas or speech are to be welcomed in the digital public square and how we’re to maintain various ethical boundaries as we seek to uphold free expression and religious freedom for all. 

On one hand, our digital public squares are very public and have an incredibly diverse group of community members. But on the other hand, there is often immense pressure to conform to certain secular ethical principles that tend to push people of faith out of public conversations and debates simply based on their deeply held beliefs about God, the nature of humanity, and how we are to navigate these challenges to free expression and religious freedom. 

A new research project

The complex nature of the questions surrounding ethics and religion in the digital age is exactly why I am excited to announce that the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is pioneering a new research project called the Digital Public Square. This project is designed to help provide the local church and the technology industry with thoughtful resources that will help everyone engage these important debates over digital governance and promote free expression as well as religious freedom for all. We seek to cast a robust vision for public theology and ethical engagement in a technological society — a vision grounded in a historical understanding of the role of the church in society and in the unchanging Word of God. While some believe that religion has no role to play in a modern society, we believe that our faith is central to how we engage these pressing issues and live faithfully in the digital age.

The Digital Public Square project will gather some of the best voices from across academia, journalism, public policy, think tanks, and most importantly, the local church to clarify the state of the digital public square and to cast a vision for Christian engagement in the areas of content moderation, online governance, and engagement with the technology industry as a whole. Just as Christians have sought to develop a robust public theology on matters of church and state relations for many generations, Christians must also think deeply about how God would call us to engage the challenges of technology and these companies that operate around the globe in vastly different cultural contexts. We will seek to answer questions surrounding the nature of free expression, the role of democratic values around the world, and best practices for cultivating a truly diverse digital society where people of faith are a vital part of these important conversations.

We will do so in a four-prong approach that will extend throughout 2021 and 2022. The project will include an in-depth report on the state of the digital public square, a set of guiding ethical principles for digital governance, and numerous resources for the local church to use in order to engage and bear witness to the gospel in the digital age. These resources will include two different book-length volumes: Following Jesus in a Digital Age with B&H Publishing, and The Digital Public Square: Ethics and Religion in a Technological Society from B&H Academic in 2022. The latter will feature contributions from 14 leading thinkers from across society addressing the pressing issues of digital governance, such as the nature of the public square, US and international technology policy, religious freedom, hate speech/violence, seuxality and gender issues, pornography and other objectionable content, misinformation, fake news, conspiracy theories, and the rise of global digital authoritarianism. 

To learn more about the Digital Public Square project and to receive project updates, along with our weekly content on technology ethics, visit ERLC.com/digital.

By / May 31

Amidst the ongoing opioid crisis, government agencies are warning about the rise of another deadly illegal drug methamphetamine. As the New York Times noted earlier this year, methamphetamine has “never been purer, cheaper or more lethal.” Here are five facts you should know about this forgotten killer.

1. Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug usually used as a white, bitter-tasting powder or a pill, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Crystal meth is a form of the drug that looks like glass fragments or shiny, bluish-white rocks. Users take methamphetamine by inhaling/smoking, snorting, swallowing a pill, or by injecting the powder that has been dissolved in water/alcohol. Common names for methamphetamine include meth, chalk, crank, crystal, ice, and speed.

2. Methamphetamine increases the amount of the natural chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that affects motivation and helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers. Meth produces a “high” (euphoria) by releasing increased levels of dopamine rapidly in reward areas of the brain. Because the effect of the drug starts and fades quickly, says the NIDA, people often take repeated doses in a "binge and crash" pattern. In some cases, people take methamphetamine in a form of binging known as a "run," giving up food and sleep while continuing to take the drug every few hours for up to several days.

3. Use of methamphetamine has been linked to a number of health risks, including severe dental problems (“meth mouth”), extreme weight loss, hepatitis C infection, stroke, psychosis, paranoia, and other forms of psychological distress. A study published in 2014 in the journal Addiction found that violent behavior increased after subjects used meth. The drug’s users also face a higher risk of death than people who use other drugs, including cannabis, cocaine and alcohol.

4. Nearly 30 percent of government agencies responding to the DEA’s 2017 National Drug Threat Survey said that methamphetamine was the greatest drug threat in their areas. Thirty-six percent reported it is the drug that most contributes to violent crime. The methamphetamine threat is particularly high in the west, southwest, and central parts of the country, says the DEA. The agency also notes that prices are the lowest they have been in years (about $5 a “hit”) and the average purity of seized methamphetamine remains at or above 90 percent.

5. According to data from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), over 12 million people (4.7 percent of the population) have tried methamphetamine at least once. NSDUH also reports that approximately 1.2 million people used methamphetamine in the year leading up to the survey. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that from 2010 to 2014, the number of drug overdose deaths involving methamphetamine more than doubled, jumping from around 1,400 to nearly 4,000. Nearly 6,000 people died from stimulant use in 2016, and provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that 7,663 people died from psychostimulant use in 2016, with the majority of deaths in this category related to methamphetamine.

By / Dec 29

In our digital age, one thing that seems to mark the conclusion of every year is the abundance of “best of” lists making the rounds on the internet. These lists chronicle everything from the best books of the year, to the best movies, songs, cars, employers and even viral videos. As more-than-casual observers of culture, we find these lists fascinating and insightful because of the picture they offer us of the world we live in. And from these lists, we can discern not only the kinds of things that capture people’s attention, but also why. So we were particularly intrigued when we stumbled upon Google’s version of the year-end recap of top search results.

Google is ubiquitous in our culture. Being a search engine, an internet provider, ad manager, email service, and so much more, Google is one of the preeminent tech giants whose influence is seen throughout most sectors of our society. For millions of people across the globe–ourselves included–the tech juggernaut is fully integrated into our everyday lives in ways we are not even conscience of, seemingly serving as an extension of our own minds. By examining the trends and patterns revealed in internet searches during 2017, Google discovered an interesting result: this year, the world asked “how?” And to showcase these results, Google put together a video.

How?

Our questions ranged from the humorous to the urgent, and from the practical to the existential. Many of our questions came in response to tragedy. In 2017, the world witnessed dozens of devastating natural disasters. We watched as Mexico suffered an earthquake that killed nearly 400 people and injured thousands; we watched as historic wildfires raged across California; and, we watched as multiple hurricanes inflicted horrible damage upon Texas, Florida and the Caribbean including Puerto Rico. Even more, we once again witnessed unspeakable horror as we saw nearly 100 people either injured or killed during mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs. In response to these and other disasters, Google recorded an outpouring of compassion. Millions of people turned to Google to find out how to help. But that wasn’t the only response. In addition to compassion, we also revealed our fears and frailty, asking how we might protect ourselves from experiencing the very same things.

We also asked practical questions: how to be a better parent, how to run for public office, how to view the solar eclipse. And each of these things tell us something too. We see that in an ever-changing world, some things stay the same. Parents still want to do right by their kids, offering them the kind of love, support, and guidance needed for them to make their way in the world. Record searches inquiring how to run for office or how to make a protest sign indicate that in the midst of a year of political chaos and turmoil, many people are motivated to do more than just talk or stand on the sideline. And the fact that millions sought to view the eclipse reminds us that even though nature can wreak havoc through its destructive power, it can also stun us with its remarkable beauty.

Some of the questions we asked were even more serious. We asked about the threat of nuclear war, about immigration and caring for refugees, and about how to be a strong woman. These and similar questions are clear reminders of the brokenness of our world. Throughout 2017, the world has watched with fear each time North Korea ratched up tensions in the Pacific by testing another intercontinental ballistic missile. Likewise, we have watched for years, the humanitarian crisis in Syria, as refugees are driven from their homes in the wake of a brutal civil war that continues to drag on, all the while grappling with our nation’s own treatment of immigrants. And as we close the book on 2017, we do so under the shadow of the #MeToo movement, where week by week new accusations are brought forth revealing the contemptible and predatory culture that has for too long permeated so many of our country’s most significant institutions. All of which shows us the reality that women are often not afforded the honor, dignity, and respect that they deserve as beings created in the image of God.

A window to our souls

It might come as a shock to many that companies like Google keep a record of our internet searches. We understand why the idea is off-putting. In many ways, our search histories provide a window into our souls. In a world where so many things are artificial, our Google searches can show us something real. As Russell Moore recently remarked, “Google knows who we are, sometimes better than we know ourselves.” He adds, “people don’t like to admit certain things about themselves, or to themselves. But they’ll tell Google.” And this is true. Though we can’t help doing it with others, we don’t filter or mask the questions we ask Google. Perhaps this is because we feel secure in the relative anonymity of the internet. But regardless, these search results tells us a great deal about both our greatest fears and desires.

Through these results, we see some basic human traits: People are fearful, so we seek to mitigate disaster and avoid danger. People are compassionate, so we seek to help those in need. People are joyful, so we seek out opportunities to live life to its fullest and to make the world a better place. People are fun, so we ask questions about how to become superheroes. But the biggest thing that these trends reveal is that people are seeking answers because we all understand at our core that we are not in control of our lives or the things around us. We are not God.

The answer the world needs

As Christians, we need to have answers to some of these questions that people are asking. We need to be the ones who lead the way in responding to tragedies, loving our neighbors, equipping parents, protecting women, and so much more. But beyond all of that, we need to be the ones pointing to the answer to the fears behind many of these questions. In a world full of danger ranging from nuclear war to mass shootings to natural disasters, we need to be the ones pointing to the Son of Man. Jesus is the only one who has the answers. And Jesus is the only one who holds the power to make an end of our suffering and bring us peace.

As we start 2018, the world is asking perhaps the most important question, “How to move forward?” The church has the answer that we all are searching for. As God restores this fallen world, we must be the signpost pointing forward to the day when Christ will make all things new. Jesus is the true and lasting hope the world needs.

By / Aug 23

The first ERLC conference in 2014, “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage,” was well received and exceeded expectations. Part of this is because we’re are living in world that is confused about these topics. Sherif Girgis helped shed some light on how to think about marriage in his talk, “Better Together: Marriage and the Common Good.”

By / Nov 18

My wife, Alli, and I found our seats in a dimly lit conference room, awaiting the presentation to begin. We were giddy with excitement. This training was our first big step toward becoming foster parents. We had talked and prayed about it, but this was our moment to go public with our intent.

The trainer entered the room, connected her laptop to a projector and launched into her presentation. Over the next three long hours, the trainer lamented the challenges with the foster care system, expounded on the worst-case scenarios for families, and crassly described the average costs incurred by adoptive and foster families. Our energy sunk with each passing minute. What had felt monumental now felt lifeless.

Our foster care journey hit a major detour that night. We came into that training with fervor to serve our city’s most vulnerable children. We left uncertain about ourselves and about the system we hoped to work within.

The adoption organization hosting the training has noble ideals. It’s focused on helping vulnerable children find safe homes. But, this organization and its staff were not immersed and enlivened by these ideals. The result was a sterile, negative and patronizing culture that was passed on to those of us in the room.

This organization is a failing institution. It is an institution lacking a coherent vision. As a result, potential foster and adoptive families—and ultimately, our city’s vulnerable children, are suffering.

Philosopher Jamie Smith describes institutions simply as “spheres of action.” Author Andy Crouch suggests the Christian failure to understand the importance of institutions has hurt the church “more than most groups.” American Christians, Crouch says, are often more smitten by big personalities that lead short-lasting movements, rather than doing the often unglamorous work of building institutions that last.

What’s clear is the health of our society is built on the health of our institutions. Institutions shape us; from the God-given institutions like the church and the family to the institutions all around us—our schools, government agencies, recreation centers, businesses and nonprofits.

A few months after our deflating training experience, we signed up for an introductory training with Project 1:27. We walked into a church meeting room nervous about what we might hear. We held onto hope that foster care might be part of our story, but our confidence waned.

As soon as the trainer opened her mouth, though, we knew this session would be different. She shared vulnerably about her own calling to foster care. She described the joys and challenges of being an adoptive mom. She shared how God’s heart for children explodes off the pages of our Scriptures. And she prayed with us.

Just minutes into the training, Alli and I looked at one another, tears glistening in both of our eyes. This was what we were about. These were the reasons we wanted to open our hearts and home to vulnerable children.

Project 1:27 is an institution having a huge impact on families and children in Colorado and now across the country. It’s an organization that understands the magnitude of work to be done and accomplishes this work with passion and grace. Today, Project 1:27 is part of a network of churches, families and nonprofits that have helped to dramatically decrease the number of children awaiting loving homes in Colorado.

“Our God is a God to the fatherless by placing the lonely in families,” said Robert Gelinas, founder of Project 1:27. “The way God cares for the orphans of the world is by placing them in the empty room in our house, the extra seat in our minivans, the extra chair at our dinner table.”

When Gelinas, pastor at Colorado Community Church, began sharing the story of his story of adoption with his church, a movement began to grow. But he knew the movement would stop with sermons, and only with the people in his church, if he did not build an organization to sustain and grow the mission he cared so deeply about.

And so he planted an institution, a “sphere of action,” that would inspire and train families from churches across the country on how to navigate the complex foster care system of government agencies, social workers and legal systems. To do the important work of finding safe homes for vulnerable children, Gelinas looked longterm. He built an institution.

That night with Project 1:27—a remarkable institution—accelerated and enlivened our foster care journey. That journey took another significant step forward just this month, when we welcomed two sweet sisters into our home for a short-term foster care placement.

Institutions reinforce or repudiate our values. They develop or diminish the dignity of people living in our society. They can impair or allow us to accomplish more together than we could ever do alone. The sickness of one adoption agency almost stifled us, while the health of another led us to inviting two scared little girls into our home. And, because of Project 1:27, we’re confident we’re only just getting started.