By / Nov 8

The following article is adapted from remarks made by ERLC President Brent Leatherwood to Michigan Baptists.

In my recent conversations, I’ve detected quite a bit of fear. Outside the walls of our churches, fear is rampant. It often comes out as fear of the unknown, fear of the results of the election, or, as another put it, fear of what “they” may do to us. For the most part, it’s causing people to respond in one of two ways: either despondency and pulling back from the world, or seething with anger and deploying the language of warfare and conquest. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking is seeping into our churches. I have been told this by pastors and ministers in numerous conversations I have had over the last six weeks.

There is no doubt we live in a challenging and confusing moment, and we should be clear-eyed about the challenges we face. But allow me to offer a gentle reminder of Paul’s reassuring words to Timothy: “. . . for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). Spirit-led courage, unceasing love, and humble self-control are qualities that stand in complete opposition to the times in which we find ourselves. And they are qualities Christians should exude at all times, whether we are going to another country, planting a church in a new context, or entering a chaotic public square.

Life in the public square

The public square is where the ERLC operates on a daily basis and where Southern Baptists have spoken for over a century. It is vital that we continue to do so by serving and responding to the needs of our churches while continuing to build on the legacy of those who came before us. The best way to do that is through partnership, or, to use that rich Baptist term: cooperation. When we cooperate in our missional work, I truly believe there is no better gospel force on the planet than our convention of churches. And given the state of our public square, it is crucial that we see it as a mission field that is in dire need of those who are cooperating together for the sake of the gospel.

Last summer, we witnessed the most significant victory in the history of the pro-life movement with the Dobbs decision that overtuned Roe v. Wade. Abortion, as an issue, can now be directly dealt with at the state level. A number of states, overnight and in the ensuing weeks, shifted to a legal posture that respects life, defends preborn lives, and serves mothers. But we must acknowledge some have taken the opposite path. A path where more lives are lost and more mothers are allowed to be targeted and preyed upon by the abortion industry. At the same time, not every state has settled this question. 

To find an example, all one has to do is look at a state like Michigan.There, the question of abortion rights is being placed before voters on Election Day. 

Proposition 3 seeks to amend the state constitution to create a right to abortion, prohibiting the state legislature from regulating the procedure before viability. This law could take the state well beyond even the disastrous Roe framework. I encourage Christians in Michigan, and throughout the U.S., to be people of life who speak into this moment (and others like these) clearly and convictionally. Those who live in Michigan should vote against this diabolical measure and instead work to institute a culture of life with policies and leaders that protect both mother and child. The right to an abortion in Roe was wrong in 1973, and Proposition 3’s anchoring of a right to abortion in the state constitution is wrong in 2022.  

Because this issue has long been important to our churches, we have many stories to share about ways lives have been saved and mothers have been protected. As Tim Patterson, executive director of the Baptist State Convention of Michigan, wrote in August, “Keep telling the story and living the life. It has and does make a difference.” That’s why the ERLC wants to come alongside ourBaptist brothers and sisters in Michigan—and members of SBC churches across the nation—as you proclaim the dignity of preborn lives, inviting you to our pro-life conferences and gatherings, and why we want to continue placing life-saving ultrasound machines in centers that will directly confront Planned Parenthood and the lies they tell vulnerable mothers and scared fathers.

Other important issues in the public square 

The same is true for other issues important to our Baptist family that are within our ministry assignment. We want to continue being the foremost Baptist voice on religious liberty, which, in a legal sense, is on its strongest footing ever right now. Yet, we know the challenges to that standing are growing. So we must safeguard this liberty––which is our first freedom, our essential liberty.

The same goes for our human dignity issues like pursuing real, Ephesians-like racial unity and continuing to advocate before the state for laws that help families flourish. And of course, it is imperative we cooperate on an issue like combatting sexual abuse. This terrible scourge has been with us for far too long, and I am encouraged that our convention of churches has resoundingly said, “No more.” At the ERLC, we are proud to be partnering with our new SBC president, Dr. Bart Barber, and the new Implementation Task Force that is turning recommendations into action to serve you and your churches and to make sure they are safe from abuse and safe for survivors.

It is clear that there is urgent work to be done. Work that is not for the timid or fearful. And it is work that can be accomplished through our Southern Baptist cooperation. As we at the ERLC come alongside to assist you, your church, and your convention, it will allow us to speak more adeptly from our churches into the public square––a chaotic, messy, noisy public square that is in desperate need of the hope and peace that can only come from hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

By / Nov 8

When you think about the political moment we find ourselves in, what thoughts and images come to mind? What emotions bubble to the surface? What motivations drive your political activity? How we answer these questions has significant implications for how politics is done in this country and how healthy we are as a body politic. And increasingly, we’re trending in the wrong direction on both. 

The results of a new national NBC News poll conducted in mid-October pulled back the curtain on Americans’ answers to some of these questions. And the findings (mostly) aren’t good. What has felt palpable and steadily on the rise over the last several years—anger, fear, and extreme partisanship—is spelled out clearly. In light of the midterm elections happening, the findings show we are a country highly interested in the political process but highly divided in our political calculus. And, alarmingly, we’re being driven to the polls in record numbers by a common motivation: anger. Here’s a rundown of some of the poll’s findings.

Major findings

On a positive note, the poll revealed that “voter interest has reached an all-time high for a midterm election.” Using a scale from one to 10, voters were asked to weigh their interest in this November’s elections, and a whopping 70% scored their interest either as a “9” or “10,” which is “the highest percentage ever in the survey for a midterm election at this point.” Eighty-one percent scored their interest at an “8” or above.

While having record-high voter interest and engagement is a positive development, the poll’s revelations about voter motivations and outlook are troubling. According to Mark Murray, “what stands out in the poll is the bipartisan anger among Democrat and Republican voters.” Furthermore, “Eighty-one percent of Democrats” and “an almost-identical share of Republicans” (79%) “say they believe [the other party’s] agenda poses a threat that, if not stopped, will destroy America as we know it.”

With findings like these, it’s no wonder voter interest has reached an all-time high—we have likened our political moment to an “existential crisis” of sorts. And when we view politics this way, as apocalyptic, then our political engagement becomes something resembling the Hunger Games rather than an exercise in bringing about public good. But Christians should know better. We should model a better way.

Anger isn’t the way

What’s clear from the NBC News poll is that American voters, both Republican and Democrat alike, are motivated primarily by their anger. Unhappy with the direction the country is heading and incensed by the opposing party’s platform and its leaders, voters intend to turn out in droves to make their indignant voices heard come election day. But this angry polarization and extreme partisanship is no way to get the country back “on the right track.” It only steers us further in the wrong direction and, when taken to its extreme, leads to senseless and tragic acts of violence like we witnessed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband

Christians should not be driven to the polls by anger. While episodes of appropriate anger may be warranted at times—as a response to injustice, for instance—an unremitting posture of anger and outrage is at-odds with the Spirit who lives in us. It means we are given over to “the works of the flesh,” as Paul outlines in the book of Galatians. We are not to check the fruit of the Spirit at the door of our local polling place, but are to “walk by the Spirit” right to the voting booth and exercise our Constitutional right for the good of our neighbor and the “welfare of the city. . . for in its welfare [we] will find [our] welfare” (Jer. 29:7). Instead of anger motivating our political engagement, we should be driven by love; love for God and love for our neighbors. 

American politics isn’t ultimate

Underneath voter anger and the hostilities associated with our extreme polarization is a phenomenon one political commentator calls the “ultimatizing” of politics. When politics are ultimate, as we seem to have made them, then each and every election is viewed through apocalyptic lenses. And when apocalypticism colors our view of politics, then it becomes a no-holds-barred contest of us versus them, where “we” view “them” as enemies of the state coming, as the poll shows, to “destroy America as we know it.” 

This kind of thinking inevitably turns our politics into an immoral maelstrom. And, at the personal level, it opens the door for moral compromise, a sort of win-at-all-costs mentality. When we freight elections with ultimacy, describing each one with phrases like “the most important in our lifetime,” we can develop a tendency to overlook or excuse the moral failings of the candidates on our side while trumpeting the purported missteps of those we oppose. We shuck prudence and our moral principles for political expediency, turning our political engagement into a form of moral gymnastics.

But politics shouldn’t be ultimate, every election shouldn’t be apocalyptic, and we shouldn’t see people who disagree with us on political issues as enemies of the state. Instead, as Patrick Schreiner argues, Christians need to put politics in its proper place. And we are to do that by “bring[ing] every part of our lives in conformity with Christ“—which most certainly includes the way we think about and practice our politics.

Politics in the way of Christ

Politics is important but it is not ultimate. When we ultimatize politics we pledge allegiance to the wrong kingdom and we lay moral burdens on ourselves and our fellow voters that politics simply isn’t built to bear. What’s more, our undiluted allegiance to party and politics forms and disciples us into an image at odds with Christ and his kingdom. But there is a better way. 

At a time when American politics has gone haywire, our system “needs people with joyful confidence who seek security not in politics but in Jesus.” In a system presently preoccupied with grabbing and holding power at all costs, the balm for our political milieu is a fresh dose of the fruit of God’s Spirit. In place of the moral compromise that is so normative, we need men and women of goodness and integrity; in answer to our vicious polarization, we need citizens who are committed to being kind and tactful; and instead of anger and outrage, we need a body politic compelled by love. 

While things continue to devolve, as the NBC News poll indicates, Christians bear the responsibility for showing the American electorate a better way, and for holding our elected officials to a higher standard. But in a culture where anger and outrage are growing, and where polarization is presumed to be a political requirement, it’s a task that demands courage and perseverance. Yet we are those who’ve been commanded to walk by the Spirit whose fruit is love, not anger; whose way is marked by kindness and gentleness, not outrage; and who lives inside us, empowering us to live “every part of our lives in conformity with Christ.” In American politics, as in all of life, we should not be known by our anger, our party, or even by our voting record. We should be known by our love: love of God and love of neighbor. 

By / Nov 7

The 2022 midterms elections are tomorrow, and in the last days and weeks, Americans have increasingly turned their focus to politics. Voter turnout for the last midterm election in 2018 was 49% of the eligible population, the highest for a midterm election in 100 years, according to Pew Research. Some election officials are predicting that this year’s numbers will be equally high. 

Elections are an important avenue for Americans to register their opinions about the direction of the nation and their local communities. How should Christians think about elections and how should we engage this moment? I’d like to provide three answers to equip and inform believers as they make their way to the ballot bot.  

Be informed, not ignorant

I know, we are all busy. Our lives are consumed by family responsibilities, professional requirements, and our preoccupation with social media. I’ll admit, adding “candidate research” on top of that doesn’t sound appealing. But the reality is, our vote is important, and we should want to know who we are voting for and exactly why that candidate deserves to receive our vote.

Samuel Adams put it like this in 1781, “Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual – or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society.” So how does one get informed to be able to approach Election Day as a “solemn trust”?

Being informed means getting inquisitive. But how? I’d suggest your local newspaper, first and foremost. The reporting there is likely based on the issues affecting people in your area. Second, a great site to visit for some unbiased analysis is the Cook Political Report. Finally, if you’re looking for something that really dives into the history of states and districts, the go-to resource for journalists is The Almanac of American Politics.

All of these resources, and others like them, can help you research positions and policies, give you handles for examining a candidate’s record (especially if they have a history in public service), and, ultimately, help you determine whether the individual exhibits enough of an alignment with your principles to merit your vote. 

As we do this, we should realize that not every determination we make is going to be an easy call. There are going to be some political races where there isn’t a clear indication as to who deserves our support. That can be frustrating, especially operating in a culture that wants clear, binary choices. But that isn’t the world in which we reside. While it can be tempting to withdraw entirely from the political space, we aren’t called to that. Instead, we must wisely process the information we collect and move forward.

Be discerning about politics, not dogmatic

As we are doing our research and gleaning the necessary information to make an informed choice, we should be on guard against false reports and misleading details, particularly from entities that are spreading them on purpose.

We all are tempted to read sources or believe social media posts that only serve to reaffirm our political beliefs. That’s the type of behavior that political advertisers and Twitter bots feast upon. As such, we are merely turned into the talking heads that we see on cable news, parroting the talking points we’ve just been fed. We should resist this.

I would suggest, instead of being discipled by our favored media outlets, we take it upon ourselves to collect information from a number of different sources. Do you watch MSNBC all the time? Ok, pick up The Wall Street Journal, too. Do you follow all the writers at The Federalist on social media? Take the time to peruse what the folks at The Atlantic are writing about, as well. Do you listen to Fox News Radio on your drive in the afternoon? Occasionally flip on PBS Newshour once you get home from that drive. And vice versa.

All the outlets I just listed tend to focus on national issues. I would submit that local matters and candidates for offices closer to home are just as, if not more, important for your life than nearly everything that comes out of Washington, D.C. So pick up the local newspaper, scan what reporters across your home state are covering, and try to listen to some locally-produced programs and podcasts. There are a number of critical issues in our communities that deserve our attention, but they are flying under the radar because all of us are devoting far too much attention to the latest procedural vote on Capitol Hill.

Let’s commit ourselves to being good stewards of information by keeping a discerning eye on what we come across. From there, we can be helpful voices as we actually engage with our neighbors.

Dialogue without dehumanizing

After we have taken the time to research the candidates for federal and local office and any ballot measures, what should we do with the information? In other words, if we’re given the opportunity, how do we helpfully engage people around us?

Unfortunately, there’s too few who are leading well in this regard right now, especially online. Instead, there are numerous examples where individuals are trying to rhetorically “own” their opponents and demean any hint of opposing viewpoints. While that may be appealing in our current cultural moment, that’s not how a Christian should view his or her interactions with others. Ephesians 4:29 reminds us that we’re called to a higher standard: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Seek to persuade, not pulverize. All around us, whether on the political left or right, activists are trying to drive their opponents out of the public square. Online mobs attack their partisan adversaries. Political leaders completely dismiss their rivals. In lieu of mimicking that behavior, I would hope my words about current political issues bring a greater sense of clarity and perspective. Does that mean there won’t be disagreement? Of course not. Well-meaning people can disagree without seeking to dehumanize one another. That is the type of heart we should display in both our personal interactions and our public pronouncements.

Here’s the added benefit: This type of healthy engagement on the personal level helps strengthen the public square. Much like the streams that form the headwaters of rivers, our conversations with friends, colleagues, fellow church-goers, and social acquaintances knit stronger social bonds in our communities. It helps build up what former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called the “free trade in ideas.”

Moreover, there are some scriptural underpinnings to this too. Though in a different context, the call to “come and let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18) stands out as well as what Paul tells us in Romans, “live at peace with everyone” (12:12). These are helpful reminders and framings for the posture we should take as believers. By inviting someone to sit down and talk through an issue (with the hope of finding common ground), you are respecting their status as one made in God’s image and, in our current context, reaffirming the notion that our American experiment is a shared project that’s better undertaken together than apart.

Overall, we must keep perspective. All that is mentioned above is advice for this particular season. Yes, we should stay abreast of the political developments of the day, but we cannot let it consume our lives. Politics and the policy decisions being made by our leaders are important in our society, but they are not eternal. The things of God are (2 Cor. 4:18). We must be mindful of that as we engage in this space. Doing so will ensure we remain informed and charitable toward those who are casting ballots alongside us.

By / Nov 3

The right to vote is at the heart of our nation’s grand pursuit of a more perfect Union. Though restricted at the founding, this right was secured more fully through the dedicated advocacy of suffragettes and civil rights activists. In 2020, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment which secured the right to vote for women.

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. . . . Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”Amendment XIX, Constitution of the United States of America

On this episode of Capitol Conversations on Election Day 2020, Chelsea Paterson Sobolik commemorates this centennial with interviews covering the history, the role of faith, and the meaning of the Women’s Suffrage movement. The conversations with a historian, a seminarian, and a lawyer also highlight inspirational role models and why it’s important for women to be engaged in the public square.

This episode is sponsored by The Good Book Company, publisher of The Christmas We Didn’t Expect by David Matthis. Find out more about this book at thegoodbook.com

Guest Biography

Andrea Turpin is an Associate Professor of History at Baylor University. She is the author of A New Moral Vision: Gender, Religion, and the Changing Purposes of American Higher Education, 1837-1917. Dr. Turpin received an A.B. at Princeton University, an M.A. at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. at the University of Notre Dame. 

Missie Branch is the Assistant Dean of Students to Women and Director of Graduate Life at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS). Years ago, Missie and her husband, Duce, co-planted a church in Philadelphia, PA where she served as a pastor’s wife, a children’s ministry director, and a women’s ministry leader. Missie and Duce have four children.

Palmer Williams is a Founding Partner of The Peacefield Group where she specializes in legal and policy analysis related to international human rights, sanctity of life, non-profit operations and government affairs. She earned her Juris Doctor from Vanderbilt Law School and her B.A. in Political Science and Community Development from Vanderbilt University. Palmer and her husband, Joseph, have two sons, Jack and Henry, and live in Nashville, TN.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Aug 18

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. . . . Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

-Amendment XIX, Constitution of the United States of America

Exactly 100 years ago today, on Aug. 18, 1920, America took a leap toward realizing its exceptional ideals when the Tennessee House of Representatives was the 36th state to vote to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote.

The fight for women’s suffrage—for the imago Dei to be recognized and affirmed in half the population of the country founded on the principles of a democratic republic and popular sovereignty—was not a linear one. It took centuries of hard-fought cultural and political battles to achieve. 

The long road to Aug. 18, 1920

In 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed and the source of our natural rights was declared to come from our Creator, a radical shift occurred in human history. A government was created and founded upon the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings.  

Or at least that’s what the preamble famously proclaims. 

Yet, in reality, we know that the majority of people living in the colonies were not actually included in this language. Women, the poor, Native Americans, and African Americans were all excluded from this experiment of self-governance because they were all denied the right to vote. 

A simplistic version of American history would make it easy to believe that the fight for women’s suffrage would not begin until after President Jackson expanded the right to vote to poorer white males and the Civil War and Reconstruction expanded the right to vote to African American males. Then, everyone decided it was time to fight for women to have the right to vote.

But the story is much more complex, and more like a Texas two-step, with one step forward, two steps back. Women did have the right to vote in some colonies until state constitutions were adopted after 1776 that denied voting rights to women. The battle for suffrage was an often bitter and heartbreaking one on the long road to Aug. 18, 1920.

The deciding vote in Tennessee

It all culminated in downtown Nashville a couple of blocks from where the offices of the ERLC sit today. After decades of women and men fighting for women to have the right to vote, it all came down to a vote at the Tennessee State Legislature, where the House of Representatives was deadlocked. Hope seemed lost.

Suffragettes wore yellow roses, and their opponents wore red roses. The Hermitage Hotel, a few blocks from the Capitol, was the epicenter of out-of-town activists. Rumors still swirl today, a century later, about backroom deals and bribes. And the fate of every woman in America rested in the hands of 99 men.

The deciding vote was a 24-year-old representative from McMinn County, Tennessee, named Harry Burn. Originally planning on supporting the amendment, he began to vote against motions to bring it to a vote when he received misleading telegrams pressuring him to vote against it due to opposition by his constituents. However, a letter from his mother, Febb Burn, ultimately changed his mind, and the course of history:

“Dear Son, . . . Hurrah and vote for Suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt. I noticed Chandlers’ speech, it was very bitter. I’ve been waiting to see how you stood but have not seen anything yet. . . . Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. ‘Thomas Catt’ [National American Woman Suffrage Association president] with her ‘Rats.’ Is she the one that put rat in ratification, Ha! No more from mama this time. With lots of love, Mama.” 

On this the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, may we pray for the eyes to see the mission field the Lord has placed us in, the humility to submit ourselves to his wisdom in navigating the precarious waters of contemporary culture and politics, and the courage to don our own proverbial yellow roses to fight for justice and equality for our fellow image-bearers.

And so Harry Burn changed his vote. The Tennessee House of Representatives passed the ratification of the 19th Amendment by a vote of 50-49. Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify it, satisfying the constitutional requirement for ratification and giving women the right to vote.

It’s tempting to believe history changed in that moment with that one mother-son relationship. But the fight for suffrage had begun centuries earlier. Generations of women had fought and seemingly failed in their lifetimes. But God was using their advocacy to plant seeds that would be harvested years later.

Learning from Febb Burn

In 2020, our nation continues to grapple with our past and how it will affect our future. But like the yellow-rose clad suffragettes, we must remember it’s the small, faithful action of many that bend the arc of history toward justice. We can learn something from Febb Burn, who realized her relationship with her son allowed her the opportunity to make a difference, to be persuasive, and to speak truth to those in power. 

As Christians, we are called to faithful lives marked by acting justly, seeking mercy, and walking humbly (Micah 6:8).  As representatives of Jesus, we are required to advocate for what’s right and to do so in the right ways.

On this the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, may we pray for the eyes to see the mission field the Lord has placed us in, the humility to submit ourselves to his wisdom in navigating the precarious waters of contemporary culture and politics, and the courage to don our own proverbial yellow roses to fight for justice and equality for our fellow image-bearers.

By / Aug 12

On Sunday, the country of Belarus held a national election where President Alexander Lukashenko won in a landslide victory, claiming an implausible 80% of the vote. Over the last few days, the nation has experienced mass protests over the controversial election, and the opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has fled to neighboring Lithuania for safety. Tikhanovskaya became the opposition candidate after her husband Siarhei Tsikhanousk was jailed by the Lukashenko regime.

Tikhanovskaya gained mass support with younger Belarusians by utilizing the power of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube to share her message and organize large rallies. In hopes of quelling protests and widespread unrest in the nation, which is especially high given the failure of the regime to slow down the spread of COVID-19, Lukashenko’s regime reportedly shut down the internet, which allows dissidents to connect with each other and the outside world.

Where is Belarus, and what happened?

Belarus is a country in eastern Europe, bordered by Russia and Poland. Lukashenko has served as president of the country for over 26 years. His reign began in 1994. The self-described authoritarian leader continued many of the former Soviet Union’s policies such as state ownership of large segments of the economy. Described as “Europe’s last dictator,” Luckashenko has led the country to commit massive human rights violations and has a track record of voter suppression and fraud, which is often seen as the means to retain power over the people of Belarus.

A presidential election took place on Sunday in Belarus, but many outside observers have called the election a sham and an effort to allow Lukashenko to remain unchallenged as an authoritarian president. The Economist describes the lead-up to the election by saying, “prominent opposition figures were jailed or chased out of the country, most independent observers were barred, foreign media harassed, and opinion polls banned.”

The internet shutdown that began on Sunday has continued throughout this week. Despite the Belarusian government’s denial of a state-sanctioned shutdown, it is widely assumed that Lukashenko’s government instituted the complete shutdown to internet connectivity throughout the country, including the use of land-line phones. In response to the official government release claiming an outside attack on the internet infrastructure, WIRED reported that Alp Toker, director of the nonpartisan connectivity tracking group NetBlocks, said “there’s no indication of a DDoS attack. It can’t be ruled out, but there’s no external sign of it that we see.” Netblocks tweeted on Sunday of the initial connectivity issues, which ultimately lead to a complete blackout in Belarus. 

Nationwide protests broke out in response to the rigged election and internet blackout. Mainly focused in the capital city of Minsk, the country’s leadership has mobilized and deployed police units and military troops to quell the unrest. Lukashenko claimed Monday that the mass protests were brought on by foreign interference and that he would put down the opposition rallies. In response to Lukashenko’s supposed landslide victory, Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia both quickly endorsed the results even as opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, continues to claim that she is the rightful winner of the election.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that the election in Belarus was “not free or fair,” adding that the United States “strongly condemn(s) ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters, as well as the use of internet shutdowns to hinder the ability of the Belarusian people to share information about the election and the demonstrations.”

How does this happen?

With so much of our daily lives and community tied to technology, especially the internet, it is no wonder that authoritarian regimes around the world would seek to leverage these tools to suppress dissidents and retain their power over their people. This digital authoritarianism was once contained to nations like Russia and China, which have extreme limits to the free flow of information and technologies their people can use. But many nations, including Iran most recently, have clamped down on the internet and other technologies in order to stamp out opposition and maintain power over their people.

The internet is essentially a massive network of various computers and servers swapping information. As the internet grew in prominence throughout the world, each country took different steps as they adopted this life-altering technology. Countries like China took a hands-on approach as they developed their internet system, building in complete control by the government which is commonly referred to as the ”Great Firewall of China.”

In the hopes of retaining control over the information that flows from and to their people, nations like Iran and Russia retrofitted their traditional private and decentralized systems, like those found in most Western democractic countries, with varying degrees of control over connectivity after the systems were designed. Wired reports that “Belarus has a fairly centralized internet infrastructure, making it relatively straightforward to pull the plug if you’ve laid the groundwork,” especially with state-owned companies controlling “both the mobile data network and the country’s interconnection points with the international internet.”

As I have previously written, one of the seemingly unintended and unseen consequences of this type of communication ban in Belarus is that information continues to flow even without the internet as people take to the streets and other means.

Why does this matter?

In a 2005 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, then U.S. Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice, said that Belarus was one of the world’s six “outposts of tyranny.” Under Lukashenko’s rule, the government of Belarus has been shown responsible for disappearance of opposition leaders, propaganda, election fraud, and persecution of many non-governmental organisations (NGOs), independent journalists, and national minorities.

Christians should be among the first to stand up against authoritarian regimes, proclaiming that every human life is valuable and that these freedoms are not the government’s to grant nor take away.

In the West, we’ve grown accustomed to various freedoms and often forget that there are millions of people worldwide living under the repressive hand of authoritarian regimes like that in Belarus. The internet is a powerful tool of communication that has allowed for the flourishing of humanity as well as the democratization of information in ways that the world has never seen before. But these same tools in the hands of authoritarian leaders have also opened the door to atrocities and violations of basic human rights that we could have never imagined.

According to a 2020 report from Freedom House, Belarus has an abysmal record of civil liberties, human rights, and internet freedom. While it may seem even foreign in the United States for these types of atrocities to be committed amidst political turmoil, it is very common in many places throughout the world for authoritarian regimes like China, Iran, and now Belarus to clamp down on dissidents and to deny basic human dignity to their people—all in hopes of retaining power and position over their citizens.

Christians should be among the first to stand up against authoritarian regimes, proclaiming that every human life is valuable and that these freedoms are not the government’s to grant nor take away. Every human being is created by God with certain inalienable rights and dignity as his image-bearers (Gen. 1:26-28). This is one of the many reasons that Christians engage in international diplomacy and foreign policy in hopes of standing against these regimes designed to exploit the weak and dehumanize our fellow image-bearers (Psalm 82:3). 

In a world where everything is tied to the internet in some capacity, a government should not have the power to institute a blackout at will in order to recentralize power and deny rights to its people. This power should also not be used in order to rig elections or jail opposition to retain ruling authority. While various details will likely still come out about the situation on the ground in Belarus, other authoritarian leaders throughout the world are watching to see how we respond to the abuses of power.

If left unchecked and undeterred, it is only sensible that these regimes will continue their blatant violations of human rights over the vulnerable and powerless, especially using technological means to weld their authoritarian control. Part of any international strategy for human rights must be countering these nations and regimes morally, as we call for accountability and freedom for all people around the world.

By / Nov 9

The presidential election is over, and we now have a president elect, but the work has really just begun. The years ahead could easily produce anxiety, greater division and frustration. We’ve seen the questions: Will our country survive? Will my candidate be elected? Will one or the other political party destroy America?

The results mean good news for some, and bad news for others. It’s good to be involved and even concerned about the political climate of our country. As Christians, this burden for the nation should lead us from angst to prayer.

The Apostle Paul instructed the church to pray for leaders:  

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:1-4).

In this passage, there is a clear calling for Christians to pray for kings and all people in high positions. Notice that Paul doesn’t qualify his statement with “if only those leaders are [fill in the blank].” That means we pray for our President and all governing officials regardless of their political ideology or conviction.

To a world that is screaming at one another, our prayers display the unique peace that the gospel brings in the heart of believers, so we might be able to “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (v. 2b). God’s desire is for all people—from the lowest ranks to the highest—to be saved (v. 4). Ultimately, our prayers are about Jesus and pleading that those who do not know him would come to a knowledge of our great Savior.

Here are five ways you and I might pray for our president elect:

  1. Pray for wisdom and understanding: Pray that our President will understand the implications of each decision made, each conversation and all policy negotiations. Pray for wisdom for major decisions like the Supreme Court nominees and other potential groundbreaking decisions that have the ability to change the shape of our nation for years to come.
  2. Pray for self-control and a heart of service: Pray that the President would be self-controlled and sober-minded. Pray that the President would not make rash decisions and will seek good counsel. Pray for humility and a desire to work and serve for the good of others and this country, and not for selfish gain.
  3. Pray for protection: Pray that the President would be protected from evil and from doing evil deeds. Pray also for protection from enemies. Pray for the President’s health and general safety.
  4. Pray for courage: There will be days ahead when our President must stand firm and have courage in the face of adversity. Let’s pray that the President will be courageous in seeking to serve the nation.
  5. Pray for the President’s salvation: Ultimately, as the text above shared, we want to pray for the salvation of all people, including our leaders. Pray that our leaders, including our President, would truly know Jesus. Pray that God would capture their hearts and Jesus would reign. Pray for humility to repent of sin and turn to the bread of life.  

There is no authority beyond and above God. Rulers may think they are in charge, but as Christians, we know that apart from God, nothing could happen. He doesn’t take direction from our President; God alone is in control and isn’t worried about election results. He came up with the idea of government and asks us to trust him with it. For we know, “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1b).

We see God’s power throughout all of scripture, and we join Isaiah in this proclamation:

Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not considered the foundations of the earth? God is enthroned above the circle of the earth; its inhabitants are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like thin cloth and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He reduces princes to nothing and makes judges of the earth irrational (Isa. 40:21-23).  

Our government will never live up to what it should. Our presidents will never be completely who they should be. But we can rest and trust in God now—there’s an eternal future awaiting us. Jesus is coming back, and nations will not stand in his way (Rev. 9:11, 15–16). We will not always need to submit to governing authorities led by sinful men and women, who, just like us, are in need of God’s grace. Until the day of Jesus’ return, we continue to pray and rest in God because we know he is ruling, and we have a beautiful inheritance awaiting us.

By / Jul 27

“King James Way,” the street sign reads. “Every king has a kingdom,” the mayor remarks to the crowd of 30,000 at the unveiling ceremony. “And every kingdom must have roads.”

Some 35 miles to the north, connected by Ohio’s once highly polluted and deemed dead Cuyahoga River, a downtown building dons another marker: a 10-story-tall banner picturing a man standing victorious, arms stretched wide and head raised heavenward, facing a throng of faithful followers. Etched across the man’s garment is a single, nine-character word—Cleveland—his city of victory. Nothing more.

Both the signpost and the signboard—short in words but long in meaning—tell a singular story. A dead and buried English monarch is not their subject. Nor do they point to a particular 1611 Bible translation and the crowning figure proclaimed across its pages. The duo of marquees point, instead, to a once unknown boy from Akron turned basketball sensation, otherwise known as LeBron James.

At 30 years of age, this 6’8” forward returned to his native northeastern Ohio, and, in little time, led the Cleveland Cavaliers to an electrifying dethroning of the Golden State Warriors to capture basketball’s coveted prize, the 2016 NBA championship. With that, Cleveland’s 52-year major sports championship drought officially ended—a streak predating the city’s infamous Cuyahoga River fire of 1969, ignited as sparks from a passing train fell on oil-soaked debris in the polluted water below.

Yesteryear’s dubious “mistake by the lake” moniker flows no more. Glory returns to the Lake Erie shore. And, as another billboard expresses of Akron’s son, “We are all witnesses.”

In celebration, an estimated one million fans lined a parade along Cleveland’s Cuyahoga banks to honor “King James” and his team. It was, ironically, June 22—the anniversary of the day a few sparks lit the river and burned the bridge from which the flickers of light flew.

But on this celebratory day 47 years later, something else ignited. The fireworks of fandom built a bridge—men and women, boys and girls, of all manner of races and religions—united under the banner of one, of a “king.” His revolution arrived. Night skies were illumined. And it wasn’t yet the Fourth of July.

A city, one might say, was reborn.

Declaring independence from a king

Another state to the east, along a widening Delaware River, had a smaller crowd gather in 1776. The city was Philadelphia. But all was not well. A king, George III, had saddled a people called colonials under a yoke of tyrannical rule. “The history of the present King of Great Britain,” they declared, “is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.” The gathered congress of men—names like Jefferson and Adams and Franklin—could no longer suffer him.

“He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people,” they declared. Their grievances, carefully crafted and handwritten, numbered 27 in all. The “long train of abuses and usurpations”—sparks sprayed on liberty-impoverished soil—ignited a fire of freedom. Her flames spread up and down the Delaware and swept the land. The break “from all Allegiance to the British Crown” began, a full-throated revolution was underway.

A common people, under a common banner—one holding “these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”—is conceived. This is their Declaration of Independence. A new nation—sealed by a “mutual[] pledge to each other” of “our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor”—was established.

Two cities, two presidential histories

Now, late July 2016, the pomp and parades have returned to Cleveland and Philadelphia once again. So have the fireworks. The occasion, of course: the Republican and Democratic national conventions—one in the shadow of LeBron, inside the Quicken Loans Arena, where history had unfolded just weeks earlier; the other in the shadow of Independence Hall and the iconic, cracked Liberty Bell—symbols of the Declaration.

The road to the White House, history reminds us, has passed through these cities before.

It was Cleveland that the 20th U.S. President James A. Garfield called home, from birth until premature death—he succumbed to the grave 80 days after an assassin’s bullet struck him on July 2, 1881. The 49-year-old Republican occupied the Oval Office just 200 days. His body now occupies a crypt in Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery.

And not long before Garfield, Cleveland bid congratulations—and goodbye—to the “father of the Grand Old Party.” In 1861, Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural train crossed the Cuyahoga and stopped in the city en route to Washington amid cheering crowds. Four years later, a train returned on those tracks, en route to Springfield—this time carrying the 16th president’s corpse.

Then there’s Philadelphia, birthplace of it all. In 1789, a newly formed Congress, meeting in the “City of Brotherly Love” and in need of a tested leader, unanimously called the Revolutionary War’s commander-in-chief out of retirement, from his Mount Vernon home on the Potomac. George Washington, “father of his country,” would humbly serve his nation one last time, as first president. This new nation, after all, would crown no king.

Two cities. Two histories. Now, today, two proposed paths forward, flowing from the Cuyahoga and the Delaware once more.

The road forward is the road back

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Charles Dickens famously began his classic work A Tale of Two Cities, comparing and contrasting the social conditions of late-18th century London and Paris. Yet, as the political pageantry of 2016 America unfolds before us, amid a world reeling from all manner of injustice and unrest, one might wonder: Where have our “best of times” gone? (Supposing such times were once with us.) And where should we go from here?

The path forward may well begin with a journey back; first, to Philadelphia, where our nation was born. Jefferson, the Declaration’s chief architect, and Adams, one of four others on the drafting committee, surely had the Independence Day document on their mind as they both slipped into eternity on the same day 50 years later, in 1826. It was, after all, July 4.

Lincoln, too, thought back to that 1776 day. “Fourscore and seven years ago,” he solemnized at Gettysburg, “our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” The great emancipator, standing on the then-quiet battlefield in November 1863, ensured that a wounded and divided nation would not forget—nor settle with a freedom still denied to millions. The cannon fire that lit that eastern Pennsylvania sky in one of many bloody battles over such freedom ended on July 3, the eve of Independence Day’s anniversary.

But we must go back further still, past Philadelphia. Not 200 years, but 2,000.

To another city, on the road less traveled

Before Cleveland gave us King James and James Garfield, before Philadelphia gave us the Liberty Bell and Old Glory, before the break from King George and the birth of a grand Declaration—long before all of those men and moments and monuments—there arose another man, with another mission, out of another city.

The people of his day sought a messiah of political and military might, one who would overthrow the yoke of Rome’s tyranny under which they had long lived. But this son of Nazareth offered them nothing of the sort. Political power and military prowess would not be his short-term mission. He came as no such king. He led no such revolution. Not this time, anyway.

This man named Jesus, at age 30, inaugurated a different kind of kingdom, out of a river called Jordan, ultimately suffering outside Jerusalem’s city gate and defeating the power of sin and the sting of death (1 Cor. 15:55–57; Heb. 13:12).

His would be a kingdom not confined to the cleaned-up Cuyahoga or the discharge of the Delaware. Nor would his living water flow only, as in a different Dickens tale, from London’s Thames or Paris’ Seine. His kingdom would instead cross land and sea, colonies and continents.

“My kingdom,” he declared, “is not of this world” (John 18:36).

Everything, consequently, would change. Which means we now live in “an already but not yet kingdom,” as Russell Moore describes in Onward, a kingdom that is “mysteriously both here and yet to come.” Followers of this King hold dual citizenship, both earthly and heavenly. Though we live in the City of Man, Augustine explains in The City of God, the rescued and redeemed labor for the City of God.

So, again, where do we go from here?

Seeking first the kingdom of God

This Man called the Christ offers the charge: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33).

Even as we travel through Cleveland and Philadelphia, crowning kings and electing presidents, the One who sits on David’s throne points us toward another city, “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:2). This Lion of the tribe of Judah directs our gaze forward to “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city” (Rev. 22:1–2). Fix your eyes, the head of all rule and authority exhorts us, upon the coming King of glory—himself—now seated victorious, arms stretched wide.

He and he alone holds the keys to the future realization of a dream once expressed by an assassinated mortal named King—when justice will “roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). Only this other—divine—King will forever vanquish “the worst of times” and usher in “the best of times,” “making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

This Savior won’t roll in by train or touch down by plane from Cleveland or Philadelphia. The once-slain but risen-to-reign King will appear, instead, by horse, in the sky, from heaven. He came the first time to a crown of thorns, but he’ll return again with a crown of glory, “on his head . . . many diadems.” And “[o]n his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:11–16).

He needs no mayor or majority to wear that crown. He needs no street sign or ballot box to assume that throne. He needs not a court, or a Congress, or a consensus to determine any of that. God the Father declares of his Son, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom” (Heb. 1:8).

This Man—this Truth—has already triumphed. This Light has pierced the dark of night. King Jesus is, and always will be, the Way (John 14:6). A bloody cross and a cracked tomb are his Declaration. And we—the born anew, forgiven and freed—are all witnesses.

By / Jun 23

What is Brexit?

British, Irish, and Commonwealth citizens will vote today on the question “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” Brexit is merely the shorthand abbreviation for “British exit,” which refers to the UK leaving the European Union.

What is the European Union?

After two World Wars devastated the continent, Europe realized that increasing ties between nations through trade might increase stability and lead to peace.

In 1958, this led to the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC), an arrangement that increased economic cooperation between six countries: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Over the next few decades, more countries joined (there are now 28 member state) and it morphed into a federalist-style economic-political union. The UK joined in 1973, and in 1993, the name was changed to the European Union.

The EU institutions are: the European Council, the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the European Court of Auditors.

Why is there a push for the UK to leave?

One of the main principles of EU membership is “free movement“, which means any citizens living in an EU country can live and work in another member nation without needing a visa (it’s similar to how in the United States you don’t need a work visa to move from California to Texas or live in Missouri and work in Kansas). This prevents a country from having much say into who can enter, and some people in the UK prefer to have more control over their borders.

The EU also imposes numerous restrictions on businesses, requires full regulatory compliance, and acceptance of the supremacy of EU law. Critics of the EU also say that the UK could get many of the same benefits of trade without having to pay billions of pounds (the UK currency) to be a member state. (Denmark and the UK are two member states that have opted out of using the euro, the official currency of the eurozone, which consists of 19 of the 28 member states.)

What is the argument for the UK staying in the EU?

Those who support the UK remaining in the EU (sometimes referred to as Bremain), say that leaving will hurt trade.

The EU is likely to impose stiff tariffs and other restrictions on the new non-member country, making it more expensive to buy products and services from EU states. They also say that Britain has benefited from migration into the country and that leaving will harm citizens who are currently living and working in EU nations. Additionally, unemployment could increase as global manufacturers moved to lower-cost EU countries.

How does the decision affect the U.S.?

As in the UK, there is support and opposition of Brexit in the U.S.

President Obama warned that the “U.K. is going to be in the back of the queue” on trade deals with the U.S. But critics of the president say there is no reason the U.S. couldn’t make separate trade deals with the UK and the EU.

Another concern is that the UK leaving the EU weakens geopolitical stability in the region. Without the UK, the EU could appear to have lessened influence, which could embolden Russia. But skeptics of this claim say that it is NATO, not the EU that plays the major security role in that region.

By / Feb 1

We are in the midst of a presidential election that, even to this political junkie, becomes tiresome with the bombast and vitriol, cliques and platitudes, polls and pundits. Every election, brave candidates step forward for public vetting, reminding us of the deep flaw and corruption present even in the best of humanity.

At times, Christians are tempted to despair, wondering if it’s even worth voting, if the politicians and the programs offered are even worth engaging. Perhaps its better, some muse, to simply sit out an election. Others wonder if, by voting, they are usurping the sovereignty of a God who works through the affairs of men to put in power whom he will (Rom. 13:1; Dan. 2:21; Psa. 75:7).

I understand the temptation toward disengagement in the voting process, but I believe every Christian should vote. Here are three reflections from Scripture that might help inform your decision:

1. We should vote out of love for neighbor. The prophet Jeremiah told the Jewish exiles in pagan Babylon to “seek the welfare of their city” by building, planting, creating and cultivating. This was difficult instruction for the people of God, thrust into a culture where their way of life and their values were out of step with those around them. What’s more, false prophets were telling the Jewish exiles that soon they’d be delivered from Babylon and would have their kingdom back. Jeremiah was tasked with the job of telling them that, no, they would not get their kingdom back, that this exile would last for many years, and that the kingdom they sought would be fulfilled, ultimately, in the everlasting kingdom of Christ.

New Testament Christians are not Jewish exiles, but there is something we can learn from the words of Jeremiah. We, too, are exiles in a world that is at odds with our beliefs. We too face the temptation to withdraw into our ourselves and disengage from the world around us. But because we are born again into Christ’s kingdom, we are called to live on mission in our communities and in our country.

Thankfully, many evangelicals are beginning to see their surroundings, not as the Promised Land, but as Babylon, as a mission field, as a place where God has called them to reflect, in part, the coming Kingdom of God. This movement is a movement of God—but what I fear, when I talk to many missional Christians, is a reticence to engage the politics that affect the cities they love. Jesus told us that we should love our neighbor as ourselves—how can we love our neighbor, how can we seek the welfare of our cities, if we sheepishly abdicate the opportunity to choose the people who lead us? How can we love our neighbor if we ignore the policies and structures that affect him?

This doesn’t mean Christians should turn their church lobbies into political party headquarters. It doesn’t mean Christians should pledge allegiance to a candidate. It doesn’t mean the church should lose its prophetic voice to both political parties. What the Scriptures do teach us, however, is that taking our vote seriously is one way, an important way, in which we love our neighbors and love our cities.

2. We should vote because God has given us a stewardship for which we will be held accountable. In a representative republic like the United States, citizens are given a share of power—we are tasked with electing our local, state, and national leaders. This isn’t a perfect system and history has shown that even in a great country like the United States, the system can at times be gamed and manipulated. And even the best politicians often pander to the worst fears and base instincts of the people in order to win their vote. But this is the system we have.

In Romans 13, Paul reminds us that all civil authority is granted by God (Rom. 13:1-7). This power to vote—this is a God-given divestment of authority to the voter. This means that not only will government officials be held accountable for the way they rule—those who vote are also held accountable for the choices they made or didn’t make come election time. In a sense, Christian citizens in America are not only the subjects; they are also, in some sense, Caesar (Mark 12:17).

This responsibility should change the way we vote in two ways. First, it should move us away from the idea that to vote is to put your full faith and power in a candidate or movement. We vote, not because we believe our man or woman will usher in the Kingdom, but because we are fulfilling a God-given stewardship. Secondly, it should remind us that, even in the best election with the most inspiring of choices, we are choosing between two fallen sinners. Every election is about the lesser of two evils.

3. We should vote because it can help speak up for the vulnerable and help gospel advance. On issues of human dignity, a vote for or against a candidate can be a vote for or against human dignity. It is a way the powerful can speak out for the powerless on issues of life, dignity and religious liberty. It’s a way to love our neighbor by seeking the common good. We shouldn’t vote, of course, because a candidate or a party is going to make America a theocracy. We shouldn’t project onto the White House what only the church should fulfill. Civil government, at best, protects its people, seeks justice for the poor and vulnerable, and guarantees religious liberty.

Some well-meaning Christians take a defensive posture, arguing that Christians should not work for religious freedom—but this is at odds with Jesus, who told his audience that there are limits on the authority given by God to governments. The conscience belongs, not to Caesar, but to God (Mark 12:17). This is also at odds with Paul, who told Timothy to pray for a government that would protect the freedom of Christ followers so the gospel could advance (1 Tim. 2:1-3).

Sure, history has shown that the advance of the kingdom of God is not dependent on governments and has, at times, thrived under severe persecution. But Christians should not  wish for government pressure nor abdicate their God-given role in influencing the government. In some ways, those who advocate for freedom are “holding the ropes” for missionaries both here in American and overseas.  

Elections are messy and often unpleasant affairs. There is an incivility and dishonesty in some of our politics that is at odds with a Christ-shaped witness. But as Jesus said in his prayer in John 17, we have not been parachuted out, but have been sent into this world, as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.