By / Nov 7

Free, downloadable bulletin insert for use by your church on Orphans and Widows Sunday. 

In the days and months following the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs, pro-life
organizations redoubled their efforts to care for vulnerable mothers and infants.
One of the ways that churches can step into this new post-Roe landscape is by creating a culture of adoption in their churches. Below are some ways to help minister to families considering adoption or walking through the process.

Celebrate adoption

Never stop celebrating and championing orphan care. Adoption is not the only answer to fulfilling James 1:27, but for some children it is exactly right. In the church, we need to be intentional about celebrating adoption and championing adoptive families in healthy ways in order to send a clear message that adoption does not have to be perfect to be something that we affirm and praise the Lord for.

Allow for grief and sadness in adoption

Just because adoption is good doesn’t mean that it is always all good. Give people the grace to experience the full range of emotions around their adoption, including pain and difficulty. There is no one right way to feel or experience the layers of emotion around the broken relationships and sad stories that are part of adoption. Just sitting with our hurting friends in their grief can be more powerful than any words we have.

Provide resources

Years ago, researchers did a survey of Christian adoptive families, and what they found was striking. They discovered that the first place they want to go for help and resources, and the last place they are likely to turn to, is their church. When the church becomes among the safest and the best prepared places to care for the uniqueness brought by adoptive families, we become a living picture of the grace of God to a world that is dying to know and follow Jesus.

To see additional SBC event dates, visit sbc.net/calendar.

By / Dec 6

Chelsea Sobolik welcomes Ambassador John Cotton Richmond, the former U.S. Ambassador to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons from 2018 to 2021 to human trafficking, forced labor, how Christians can get involved in caring for vulnarble people, and how the Lord led Ambassador Richmond into this work.

Listen to part one here.

Guest Biography

Ambassador Richmond’s career has taken him to the front lines in the global battle against human trafficking. As a Partner at Dentons, the world’s largest law firm, he focuses on the intersection between business and human rights. John advises companies on how to keep their supply chains free of forced labor and their workforces free of sex trafficking.

Before joining Dentons, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed John, and he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons from 2018 to 2021. Serving in the nation’s highest-ranking position dedicated to human trafficking, John led U.S. foreign policy related to modern slavery and coordinated the U.S. government’s response to the crime.

Prior to his appointment as Ambassador, John served for over a decade as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, where he prosecuted numerous victim-centered labor and sex trafficking cases. He also co-founded the Human Trafficking Institute and lived in India for three years pioneering International Justice Mission’s slavery work.

John has received numerous honors and commendations, including being named a “Prosecutor of the Year” and receiving the David Alred Award for exceptional contributions to civil rights. His work caused the former head of the FBI’s human trafficking program to call him “every trafficker’s worst nightmare.”

John received his undergraduate degree from the University of Mary Washington and his law degree from Wake Forest University. Ambassador Richmond is a writer and frequent speaker on topics of faith, justice, vocation, and parenting and is a Fellow at the C.S. Lewis Institute. He lives outside Washington, D.C., with his “Lovely and Talented” wife and their three robust and remarkable children.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Aug 18

The Bible is clear that (1) Christians should care about injustice (Micah 6:8, 2 Chronicles 19:7, Prov 20:23) and (2) Christians should respect civil government and laws (Rom 13:1-2, 1 Tim. 2:1-2). Yet over the centuries, Christians have toiled over the dichotomy between a godly passion for justice and the biblical call to submission. 

Believers have often found themselves at odds with the rulers and laws of the land they live in. In America today, laws stand that threaten the lives of the unborn, diverge from the biblical understanding of gender and sexuality, and forsake the widow and orphan. Currently, the U.S. House of Representatives is considering 12 appropriation bills for FY2022 that propose the removal of pro-life riders from the budget such as the Hyde and Weldon Amendments. Thankfully, Christians living in the 21st century are not the first group of believers to find ourselves in disagreement with the laws and norms of their culture. Jesus prepared us to expect as much, when he prayed for the protection of his people in the garden of Gethsemane, “they are not of the world, even as I am not of it” (John 17:16). 

The book of 1 Peter was written as the church faced persecution and focused on instructing Christians about how to live faithfully in a time of extraordinary evil. Peter instructs believers to use good conduct and submission to those in authority as a testament to the gospel (1 Pet. 2:13). We have been made free by the blood of Christ, we must now use our freedom not to bring chaos but instead to show the world the gentleness and servant nature of our Savior (1 Pet. 2:16). This includes submission to human authority (1 Pet. 2:15). Peter gives us a beautiful framework for what living as a servant of God looks like, calling Christians to “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor (1 Pet. 2:17). 

Honor everyone. 

The first two principles at work in Peter’s framework inform how the Christian is to go about showing honor to those outside the church (the first principle) and those within the church (the second). The first portion reminds believers that we are to honor (or rightly respect) all people, which includes recognizing and standing up for their dignity as image-bearers. The way we treat people should reflect the inherent worth each individual possesses as one created by God. 

Regarding those who are particularly vulnerable, Proverbs 31:8-9 calls believers to: Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” The Bible is filled with accounts of brave men and women of faith who defied their rulers to hold fast to their faith and protect the innocent: the Hebrew midwives who resisted Pharoah’s command to kill the Israelite babies (Ex. 1), Rahab’s defiance of Jericho’s rulers and protection of the Israelite spies (Josh. 2), and Obadiah’s hiding of the prophets of God from the murderous queen Jezebel (1 Kings 18). This is rooted in the reality that the Lord is a God of justice, who hates abuses of the poor, vulnerable, and powerless.

Love the brotherhood.

The second principle — love of the brotherhood — calls Christians to love one another. This includes within our own local churches and Christian communities, but it also extends to the body of Christ across the world. This should also inform how Christians respond to cries for justice from within the church. It was the Black church and its advocacy, activism, and exercise of peaceful civil disobedience that called the United States to respect the full equality and dignity of Black Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. 

Christians should strive to see an expansion of God’s kingdom here on earth. We should seek justice in a way that displays the character of God and his compassion for the hurting, and especially those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ (Gal. 6:10). We should work to cultivate justice that points to the kingdom of perfect righteousness that is coming.

Practicing this principle can take many different forms. As we look to the Scriptures, we see that Paul spent a great deal of time collecting funds from other Christians for the relief of the church in Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15; Rom 15:14–32). We also see Paul instructing Philemon to treat Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother (Philemon 1:16). Today, showing love for the brotherhood could mean financially assisting a believer facing a medical crisis, volunteering for a Christian justice or poverty relief ministry, helping to repair a church building damaged by a natural disaster, or providing resources and support for a community of Christian refugees from another country. 

Fear God.

The final two principles are important because the first one controls the second. The fear of God is to take priority over our honor of the emperor, and it’s also our motivation for respecting the rulers he has set in place (Rom. 13:7). The same Peter who writes the epistle is the one who told the Jewish leaders in the early days of the church, “We must obey God rather than human men” (Acts 5:29). When the early church was forbidden from speaking or teaching in the name of Jesus, Peter and John refused and said, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-20). 

Similarly, during the reign of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, the young Israelites Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego courageously refused to worship the King’s statue and were thrown into a burning furnace (Dan. 3). Later, Daniel would be cast into a den of lions for his refusal to follow the king’s unjust command forbidding prayer (Dan. 6). 

Again, the Civil Rights Movement illustrates how Christians should be willing to accept punishment and consequences for refusing to obey unjust laws. Those who protested against the prejudiced treatment of African Americans under Jim Crow segregation were willing to face jailing (and often unlawful physical punishment) to demonstrate that the government’s policies were not only unconstitutional but unjust. It was in one such prison that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail as a plea to forsake silence and delayed justice.

Early Baptists in England and North America also faced persecution from the government on account of their religious faith. Men like Thomas Helwys and Isaac Backus refused to attend state-sanctioned churches and suffered retribution from the state. Like the apostles in Acts, because of our fear of God, Christians should be unwilling to submit to unjust laws that deny justice and equality to our fellow human beings. 

Honor the emperor.

First Peter 2:11-17 identifies Christians as sojourners and exiles in this world and urges believers to “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable” and to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” Therefore, Christians should instead give thanks and pray for those given authority over us “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Like Peter, Paul wrote Romans, his letter to the church in Rome, during a period of persecution from the Roman Emperor Nero, making his commands concerning government all the more powerful. Romans 13 clarifies that every person should be subject to their governing authorities because their authority has been instituted by God. Though we are often tempted to forget, government in general is a good gift from God intended to keep order and lead to the flourishing of society. And Paul warns that we risk incurring the wrath of God and violating our consciences when we disobey the civil authorities he has established (v. 5). As Christians, we should honor our rulers, pay taxes, and respect those in authority with our words and actions. And as we do so, we remember that we are actually submitting to and honoring our King.

So what now?

In his commentary of Acts 5, John Stott says, “We are to submit right up to the point where obedience to the state would entail disobedience to God. But if the state commands what God forbids or forbids what God commands, then our plain Christian duty is to resist, not to submit, to disobey the state in order to obey God.” 

As Christians, we should default to respect civil authorities and submit to the laws we are subject to. When a civil mandate contradicts our heavenly mandate, our allegiance to God’s kingdom should win. Christians should resist laws that command sin and constantly work within the existing rules to change evil laws and promote righteousness. Above all, we should do so as we remember that our effort and obedience is ultimately aimed at pleasing God.

By / Apr 7

America is no longer a Christian nation if one goes by the official membership rolls of churches. According to a recent study by Gallup, church membership dropped below 50% for the first time in their 80 years of studying religion. This follows a decades long trend of increasing disaffiliation, rejection, and apathy of faith by Americans. The data from Gallup points to some trends that all pastors and leaders in ministry should be aware of, but it also holds some important points about how to stem the growing number of people walking away from Christianity specifically, and faith generally. 

Problem of decline

The decline noted by Gallup is not a new phenomenon. As Gallup’s polling shows, church membership held steady at roughly 70% for most of the 20th century. However, in the mid-to-late ’90s, there was a sudden uptick in the number of people moving away from religious identity. These “nones” represent the fastest growing segment of the American religious landscape. As Ryan Burge has written in his study of this group, it includes those who are atheists and agnostics as well as those who are “nothing in particular.” It is this third group, who eschew religious labels even as they retain a limited number of religious beliefs, that account for the decrease in religious behavior. For an interview with Burge, view this ERLC article. 

However, the rejection of affiliation is not just from those who dismiss the tenets of the faith. Even among believers, formal membership has declined. What can account for this? While there has always been a fluidity to church membership in America’s religious marketplace where people could leave one church and go to another without much trouble, a trend that has accelerated with the rise of larger parachurch organizations and the ability to “go” to church online. But based on the rapid increase, it seems that there are other reasons for this decline rooted primarily in our loss of trust in institutions across society of which religion is just one victim. 

Crisis of institutions

The trend toward declining membership began in the late ‘90s and has accelerated over the past two decades. While monocausal explanations are rarely sufficient to capture the complexity of any situation, it is not a understatement to say that the past two decades have revealed deep rot within our institutions and a growing distrust by the public that institutions serve the public good. From the scandals of sexual abuse within Catholicism and Protestantism to the #MeToo revelations in the halls of Hollywood, not to mention abuses by celebrities and leaders (both religious and secular), the last decade especially has evidenced the deep problems that exist. 

And the effect of this crisis is that younger generations are less likely to see a reason to join any traditional institution because of a creeping cynicism about the motives and purpose of the institutions. Rather than being places of formation, the institutions are viewed as means for those in power to protect themselves and ensure their ongoing prosperity. And the response increasingly is “Why bother?” Why bother with a church that prioritizes politics over fidelity to the gospel, an abusive leader over protecting the vulnerable, or that is satisfied with “only preaching the gospel” without ever asking what the gospel requires of us when we go into a world filled with injustice? A church that is no more sanctified than the local Kiwanis Club is not worth the effort it takes to invest your life, and at least the Kiwanis don’t require you to give up a Sunday morning. As Russell Moore has said,

“The culture often does not reject us because they don’t believe the church’s doctrinal and moral teachings, but because they have evidence that the church doesn’t believe its own doctrinal and moral teachings. They suspect that Jesus is just a means to an end—to some political agenda, to a market for selling merchandise, or for the predatory appetites of some maniacal narcissist.”

Places of hope and renewal

But it is not all bad news. In fact, the problem reveals the solution, even if it is a generations long project. First, though church membership is declining, religious belief still remains strong. Though the nones are growing, and growing rapidly, over 70% of Americans still identify with some form of organized religion, even if they are unwilling to formally join that religion. As discussed above, it is the institution that needs to be reformed as well as the individual; just because people aren’t on the roll at their church doesn’t mean that they aren’t finding their identity somewhere else. So the task of Christian leaders and congregations is to help situate their members’ identity primarily in the gospel, and especially in the context of a local church that is part of a global body. Institutions are strongest when they are places of character and identity formation.

Someone who goes through the military comes out a certain type of person. He or she has been molded and shaped by the norms of the institution into a person who values, loves, lives, and acts in accordance with institutional norms and expectations, often to such a degree that it is apparent in all areas of their life. 

The church should be no different. The decline in church membership is not the real problem, only the evidence of the deeper problem that people are not being formed into the type of people that prioritize the local body. In order to change this, a perspective is required that looks not just at the immediate circumstances, but generations down the line and into eternity. As C.S. Lewis reminds us, it is in the everyday choices that we are being conformed into either a heavenly or hellish creature. It is an ongoing process of formation and molding—or sanctification, to use the terminology of the New Testament—that occurs over a long period of time. 

More importantly, the church should hold out the beauty and power of the community that is the church to the world. The early church had its share of struggles and growing pains, with division between rich and poor, Gentile and Jew, and controversies over who had baptized them, all of which were rebuked. They were also called to unity and community because of their shared identity in Christ. It has become increasingly obvious over the past year that we are not meant to live life alone. Isolation is not good for our souls. And the community the church offers in its rituals and membership is a fellowship that goes deeper than just a Kiwanis meeting. 

The church is a place of vulnerability as we reveal our pains and hurts. It is a place of love as we are served by and serve those around us. It is a place of welcome as we are brought in without regard for our past and are seated at the table where the cup and bread are passed from one broken individual to another. And it is a place where the markers of identity that matter outside the church—race, gender, income, marital status—are not ignored, but they are subsumed in the deeper identity shared by all who are united to Christ. People are looking for community. May they see the church as a place where they are pursued and welcomed into deep, lasting relationship.

By / Mar 30

At the very core of who we are exists a deep desire and fundamental need for connection, belonging, and security found only within relationships. This eternal truth can be traced back to the very beginning of time.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26-27).

God’s design for connection

The community between the Father, Son, and Spirit is imprinted on the human soul—we bear the imago Dei, “image of God.” As the creation narrative unfolds, God reflects on his creation of Adam, remarking, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). God’s response to Adam’s solitude is the creation of Eve, Adam’s partner. The height of joy and depth of trust experienced through loving relationships and secure attachment are fundamentally God’s idea and God’s design. 

More than 2,000 years later, we take our place in history longing for connection—remembering this foundational truth and holding onto this eternal hope for ourselves, our neighbors, our communities, and perhaps most importantly for our children. Yes, God created us to be in relationship—at peace with him, with others, and in our hearts. And yet, with the fall of mankind into sin, we now experience the pain of broken relationships and the vulnerability of isolation. This is the painful reality for many of the children Show Hope seeks to serve—children who have been orphaned. 

It is not uncommon for children who come home through adoption and foster care to have had exposure to adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, trauma, loss, and/or neglect. As these children enter our families and our stories intertwine with theirs, tensions may surface. We must ask ourselves, How do we effectively communicate the truth of the gospel—an invitation into a forever relationship with Christ—to our children who may carry attachment injuries and associate belonging and connection with fear?

As scientific research expounds, our understanding of the human brain is only beginning to grasp the fullness and complexities of God’s design. And as only God could design, the human brain is pliable and can be rewired. Developmental psychologist and advocate for children Dr. Karyn Purvis once said, “Our children were harmed in relationship, and they will experience healing through nurturing relationships.” When we step into the journey of caring for children who have been affected by early loss and trauma, an incredible invitation is extended. We have the opportunity to help rewrite the narrative—to help lead our children to places of emotional, physical, and neurological healing by being the hands and feet of Christ. 

Furthermore, by choosing to love children from difficult beginnings, we are afforded a front-row seat as God’s miraculous work unfolds. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the sacredness, beauty, and peace of imago Dei is reimagined and reaffirmed as our children become at home with our love. 

Surely, no one person could do this work alone or without the encouragement and support of a wider community. This is why Show Hope’s Pre+Post Adoption Support exists. We understand—as many of you do—that the adoption journey doesn’t end the day a child is welcomed home. Because of the difficult beginnings many of our children have experienced, we must work diligently to help them reimagine home and experience belonging and connection.  

Learn how to build trust and connection with vulnerable children

Families affected by adoption and/or foster care can benefit from Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI®) methods developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross from the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at TCU, which exists to bring attachment and connection in families. TBRI “is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children.” At its core, TBRI works to promote trust and connection between caregivers and children by addressing physical and emotional needs while also disarming fear-based behavior. 

And, so, while TBRI may be perceived as clinical in nature as it involves the complexities of science, at Show Hope, we believe that at its core, TBRI is an expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Created to Connect: A Christian’s Guide to The Connected Child, Dr. Karyn Purvis, with Michael and Amy Monroe, wrote, 

The longing of the human heart is to connect and belong. We long to connect with our Creator, in whose image we have been made, and by God’s grace such a connection is possible. As relational beings, we also have a deep need and desire to connect with those around us. One of the most important and meaningful human conditions is undoubtedly between a parent and child.

Build a community of support

Another practical step in serving and equipping families and caregivers is launching a support or small group for individuals and parents affected by adoption and/or foster care within your church or faith community. Perhaps you can begin meeting weekly or monthly in prayer, study, and conversation. A great resource to walk through is Created to Connect. This study guide sheds light and goes deeper into the biblical principles that serve as the foundation for the philosophy and interventions detailed in The Connected Child by Drs. Purvis and Cross. 

As part of that support or small group, recruit volunteers who can be on-call to help meet the everyday needs of adoptive and/or foster care families. It can be as simple as setting up a meal train for heavy, busy seasons of life or offering childcare for parents to have a night out for reconnecting. The adoption and/or foster care journey is not meant to be traveled alone. As a local church or individuals, we have the opportunity to come alongside children and families in service and support. 

Find hope for the journey

Show Hope’s new Hope for the Journey Conference will premiere on Friday, April 9, with a broadcast period through Mon., May 31. The conference includes training in TBRI, a new teaching component called The Gospel + TBRI, and Practical Perspectives videos featuring the voices of adult adoptees and foster youth alumni as well as adoptive and foster families. The conference targets parents and caregivers meeting the everyday needs of children impacted by adoption and/or foster care, and remains a resource for churches, agencies, and other organizations as they support and equip the families, caregivers, and the communities they serve. It can be a great opportunity to educate volunteers on the needs of children and families affected by adoption and/or foster care. 

Will you join with us in showing up and showing hope?

By / Aug 27

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

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

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

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

The problem of porn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predatory porn

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

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

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

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

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

By / Jun 18

The COVID-19 pandemic has left no one unscathed, least of all the world’s already vulnerable refugees and internally displaced persons. World Refugee Day should prompt us to reflect on how countries around the globe can step up to alleviate this new layer of suffering among refugee populations.  

The United Nations Refugee Agency reports that 2019 witnessed the highest level of individuals fleeing violence since World War II. The onset of a pandemic in 2020 made a bad situation even worse by increasing vulnerabilities for already-displaced persons and likely set the stage for further displacement of other communities.   

In Asia, refugee crises come in all shapes and sizes. From displaced Burmese Muslim Rohingya in Bangladesh, to North Koreans fleeing to freedom, to the potential for new refugee populations emanating from China, the needs are great, and the demands for assistance are high. The U.S. should continue to lead.  

Rohingya refugees  

The world braced itself for news of the first case of COVID-19 to be reported at the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. It arrived on May 15. The camp is home to more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees where social distancing is a physical impossibility. Compounded with a lack of access to medical care and the Bangladeshi government’s decision to limit access to information, the conditions create a perfect storm for a potentially massive outbreak of the novel coronavirus.  

Rohingya have already endured so much. In August 2017, the Burmese military drove them from their homes. The UN believes that the Burmese military went further than that, perpetrating genocide and crimes against humanity among this oppressed Muslim minority.   

The U.S. has yet to issue an atrocity determination—a decision the secretary of state has the authority to make at any point in time. Now is a particularly auspicious moment. Should the U.S. decide to take this step, it would go a long way toward galvanizing aid from around the globe to alleviate the plight of Rohingya, particularly in the midst of vast and ever-increasing humanitarian needs during COVID-19.But Rohingya are far from the only refugees suffering during the pandemic.   

The people of North Korea  

Many worry about the effects of COVID-19 on the people of North Korea. An oft-overlooked population are refugees who had dared crossing the 38th parallel to seek freedom. According to Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), an organization devoted to smuggling North Korean refugees to freedom, they have had to suspend rescue operations. LiNK anticipates that few, if any, of those wishing to flee the regime will make it out of North Korea this year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.   

And what of the North Korean refugees who managed to get out of the country but had not yet made it to freedom when the outbreak began? They may now be stuck in third countries like China or other parts of Southeast Asia. Due to COVID-19 regulations in those countries, their movement is also likely to be restricted. In fact, one report indicated that jails in Thailand, usually full of North Korean refugees waiting for their refugee claims to be processed in South Korea, now sit empty.  

While North Korean authorities claim there have been zero cases of COVID-19, policy changes in Pyongyang suggest otherwise. Increased border controls and reductions in trade between North Korea and China are likely to have dire impacts on food security and economic stability inside the country.   

Should North Koreans’ lives get even harder due to the COVID-19 restrictions, we may well see a spike in the number of refugees fleeing once those restrictions are relaxed. The U.S. should watch closely to see whether the rate of resettlement in South Korea begins to increase as restrictions in North Korea are eased and maintain contact with on-the-ground groups involved in smuggling North Koreans to freedom.  

Other critical conditions  

The pandemic also facilitated conditions that may lead to additional displacement elsewhere. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in China has seized on the moment of distraction to undermine political liberties in Hong Kong. The CCP’s steady erosion of freedom in the special administrative region may, in fact, create more refugees, particularly if the Chinese government opts for a military intervention.  

The United Kingdom has already offered visas to approximately 300,000 Hong Kong citizens. And Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has said she will offer safe haven to Hong Kongers fearing persecution at the hands of Beijing. In the U.S., Congress is considering legislation that would extend Priority 2 refugee status to the people of Hong Kong. It has been heartening to see the world come together to support Hong Kongers who are witnessing an historic loss of freedom.  

The situations in Burma, North Korea, and China are emblematic of the various forms of suffering refugees face. Though vastly different from each other, each presents an opportunity for the U.S. and its allies to lead in promoting freedom.  

Prioritizing refugees is often the most practical thing the U.S. can offer to hurting populations suffering at the hands of their own governments. When governments abrogate their duty to protect and defend their citizen’s rights, other freedom-loving nations must step in to fill the gap. Sometimes it involves resettling refugees within our own borders; other times it means providing aid and assistance to frontline states. Both promote the national interests of the U.S.  

COVID-19 added insult to injury for many refugee populations. Their suffering, already so great, was only amplified by the global pandemic. While other countries may be tempted to turn inward as they combat their own novel coronavirus outbreaks, the U.S. should lead in assistance and encourage others to do the same.  

By / Aug 11

James P. Sullivan unleashed a soul-shaking roar. His patented bellow was the reason “Sully”—the lovable protagonist in Pixar’s Monsters, Inc.—was the best in the scaring business. But as he produced his textbook yell, he saw for the first time the result of his authority: fear.

Scaring sleeping children, as his superiors told Sully, created the energy needed to power Monstropolis. Sully knew his job was to create reactions from unsuspecting kids, but his unlikely friendship with Boo, a toddler girl trapped in Monstropolis, forced him to really see his own work. And he didn’t like what he saw.

As Boo shuddered in fear at Sully’s roar, Sully knew everything had to change. His authority increased Boo’s vulnerability. Sully’s leadership created pain for children. Sully saw the consequences of how he was using his gifts. And it wasn’t pretty.

In Strong and Weak, author Andy Crouch does, again, what he’s keen to do: Write about an unsensational, seemingly undramatic topic that, in actuality, touches on every aspect of our human experience. Strong and Weak is about authority and vulnerability (not exactly ideas topping Google searches), yet it shows up just about everywhere, including children’s movies.

In the title, readers get an indication of the paradox Crouch exegetes in the book. In a word, Crouch defines strength as authority and weakness as vulnerability. His definitions of these dimensions of power anchor the book.

“Properly combined, authority and vulnerability lead to flourishing,” Crouch writes. “But when either is absent—or even worse, when both are missing—we find distortions of human beings, organizations and institutions. We find suffering, withdrawing and exploiting.”

At the center of Strong and Weak is a profound 2X2 chart Crouch uses to help us “grasp the nature of the paradox.” The paradox is that authority and vulnerability exist best together. This both/and perspective anchors Crouch’s arguments in Strong and Weak. Strength and vulnerability aren’t opposites. They’re complementary. Jesus perfectly modeled this.

In Jesus, we see full vulnerability. He was born in a stable, associated with the marginalized and died a criminal’s death. It isn’t an emotionally manipulative vulnerability—a tears-on-command, oversharing sort of faux transparency. No, Jesus risked all of himself on our behalf and modeled a life of complete vulnerability.

In Jesus, we also see his full authority. He made the dead come to life, gave the blind sight and emerged from the tomb victorious. His power created the greatest movement in the history of the world. Jesus led with historic authority.

Jesus wasn’t either vulnerable or authoritative. He was fully both. And, the truths of this simple paradox show up in every area of our lives and culture. In Scripture, we see it in Saul of Tarsus exploiting Christians with his authority. We see it in Pilate withdrawing from his authority in the indictment of Jesus. We see it in Jesus suffering unto death, emptying himself of all authority on our behalf. We can see it in our families and organizations. It shows up in politics and sports. And, it shows up in our films.

In the powerful turning point in Monsters, Inc., Sully watches an instant replay of his scare tactics on a wall of freeze frames. He witnesses how his work and industry exploit children. He recognizes that his distorted use of authority needs to change.

Sully starts with himself. He commits to no longer scaring children. Laughter, he finds, creates more energy than tears. Sully then reforms his industry, changing the very essence of how his fellow monsters power their world.

In our families, neighborhoods, organizations and churches, we hold power. The question facing us is how we will steward it. In Strong and Weak, Crouch provides a helpful framework for navigating that question.

Will we shirk our authority by withdrawing from the challenge? Will we abuse our authority by exploiting those around us? Will we ignore those without authority, thereby increasing their vulnerability and suffering?

Our culture is replete with examples of self-promoting, exploitative, manipulatively vulnerable, isolated leaders and institutions. The challenge for Christians is to embody Christ’s journey in how we lead, with real vulnerability and full authority held in tension with one another. In doing so, we will embody the death (vulnerability) and victory (authority) of our Savior. In doing so, we will lead confidently in our strength and weakness.

“The empty tomb or the cross?” Crouch asks paradoxically. As it turns out, Jesus shows us that leaders do not have to make that choice. In Strong and Weak, we see both are true in the life of Jesus. Both should be true in our lives as well.