FRC Blog

FRC’s Top 7 Trending Items (Week of January 9)

by Family Research Council

January 14, 2022

Here are “The 7” top trending items at FRC over the past seven days:

1. Update: Swimmers Pool Their Resources to Fight Trans Onslaught

For parents in the stands at a recent Ivy League swim meet, there was only one way to describe it: “messed up.” In the head-to-head match-up of two “transitioning” athletes (one male-to-female, another female-to-male), most of the sports world is still rattled. Moms and dads who were there to witness it say they still can’t shake the image of one swimmer’s scars from a recent mastectomy.

2. Update: Dems’ Comparison to Pearl Harbor Bombs

The best person to host a “democracy summit” probably isn’t someone who wants to undermine elections, use the courts to subvert the rule of law, and thinks the best kind of government ignores individual freedoms. But then, Joe Biden probably isn’t the best person to lead a democracy either.

3. Blog: Don’t Let Biden Off the Hook for the Disaster He Left in Afghanistan

The media has largely moved on from the Afghanistan debacle, and many are all too eager to sweep the consequences of President Biden’s botched withdrawal under the rug. Yet, the repercussions will last lifetimes. Currently, hundreds of Afghan parents and family members are seeking help for their starving children.

4. Blog: China’s Tragic War on Uyghur Women

Recently, an independent tribunal in the United Kingdom released a judgment that found the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghur people to be consistent with the legal definition of genocide. Multiple governments have made the same pronouncement, including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Belgium.

5. Washington Watch: Roy Blunt, Ken Paxton, Kevin Miller, Hayden Ludwig

Tony Perkins was joined by Roy Blunt, U.S. Senator from Missouri, to discuss the upcoming vote in the U.S. Senate to change the filibuster and pave the way for the elections takeover bill. Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General, discussed President Biden’s Atlanta speech pushing the Democrats’ elections takeover bill. Kevin Miller, Administrative Pastor of Foothills Church in El Cajon, California, gave an update after California state government officials shut down his church’s preschool over COVID protocols. And, Hayden Ludwig of Capital Research Center shared his research showing how left-wing ‘dark money’ groups are funding Senator Schumer’s secretive anti-filibuster campaign.

6. Washington Watch: Jeff Landry, Simon Calvert, Connor Semelsberger, David Closson

Joseph Backholm was joined by Jeff Landry, Louisiana Attorney General, to analyze the Supreme Court oral arguments regarding two of President Biden’s vaccine mandates. Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at the Christian Institute, discussed a European Court of Human Rights ruling in favor of a Christian bakery that declined to create a same-sex wedding cake. FRC’s Connor Semelsberger detailed how American opposition to the Build Government Bigger Bill has dampened support among Democrats in competitive races. And, David Closson, FRC’s Director of the Center for Biblical Worldview, explained why Christians must form a biblical worldview and what the Bible says is the role of government regarding vaccine mandates.

7. Washington Watch: Katherine Johnson, Joni Ernst, Todd Rokita, Mike Braun, J. Christian Adams

Tony Perkins was joined by FRC’s Katherine Johnson to discuss the U.S. Supreme Court blocking Biden’s OSHA vaccine mandate for businesses but allowing the vaccine mandate for health care workers to go into effect. Joni Ernst, U.S. Senator from Iowa, talked about Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer moving forward with votes on an elections takeover bill and radically altering the filibuster. Todd Rokita, Indiana Attorney General, gave an update on his lawsuits against the Biden vaccine mandates and discussed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Biden’s vaccine mandates. Mike Braun, U.S. Senator from Indiana, commented on the Senate HELP Committee voting to advance Robert Califf’s nomination to head the Food and Drug Administration. And, J. Christian Adams, President and General Counsel of Public Interest Legal Foundation, responded to Senator Schumer’s claim that the GOP is passing voter suppression laws at the state level.

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On Religious Freedom Day, Let’s Recommit to This Fundamental Human Right

by Arielle Del Turco , Lela Gilbert

January 14, 2022

Each year on January 16, America observes Religious Freedom Day. Unlike many others, this observance wasn’t launched in the 20th or 21st century. Its first appearance dates back to a founding American document on the subject, penned by Thomas Jefferson in 1777. Less than 10 years later, the document was enacted into Virginia State Law, and later into America’s First Amendment.

Much of that amendment animates Jefferson’s views and visions for America:

…no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.

The First Amendment—approved by Congress on December 15, 1791—emerged from Jefferson’s writings, and the freedoms enshrined in it have become known as American “First Freedoms.” Thankfully—although not without increasing opposition—religious freedom continues to be the law of the land in the United States.

But unfortunately, as we observe Religious Freedom Day in 2022, much of the world increasingly rejects America’s point of view about religious liberty. In country after country, there are no such boundaries. And today, the two most vicious enemies of religious freedom globally are radical Islamism and post-communist regimes.

In the Middle East, Christians continue to be attacked by radicals and driven out of their historic homelands.

In Iraq, “Beginning in 2014, ISIS drove Christians from Mosul and their traditional homeland in the Nineveh Plains … From 1.5 million Christians in 2003, the Chaldean Catholic church now estimates a population of fewer than 275,000 Christians.”

In Iran, Islamist state authorities continue to arrest converts to Christianity on absurdly false charges. For example, Article Eighteen reports:

Christian convert Hadi (Moslem) Rahimi has begun serving his four-year prison sentence for “acting against national security” by attending a house-church and “spreading ‘Zionist’ Christianity.” The 32-year-old delivery driver, who has a nine-month-old daughter, turned himself in to Tehran’s Evin Prison on Sunday morning (9 January)…

Interestingly, despite ongoing marginalization, injustice and violence, innumerable conversions from Islam to Christianity in Iran continue to be reported, even being called a “Christian Boom.”

At the same time, across Africa, attacks on Christians are becoming increasingly violent and frequent. In Nigeria, massacres of Christians are being viewed by international observers as an unfolding genocide. Stories of massacres, mass kidnappings, and torched homes and churches are commonplace.

Meanwhile, in recent months, after America’s abrupt and ill-conceived departure from Afghanistan in August 2021, religious violence is skyrocketing. At the same time, it has become apparent that an underground Christian community, comprised almost entirely of converts from Islam, numbers as many as 10 to 12,000. The Taliban—Afghanistan’s radical new rulers—are systematically seeking out and killing those new believers along with other religious groups who do not conform to their extreme Islamist ideology.

In Pakistan, Christians and others are imprisoned on bogus “blasphemy” charges, often accused by neighbors as revenge for unrelated disputes. Even when those accused of blasphemy are acquitted or released on bail, they are in danger of mob violence. Such is the situation for  Nadeem Samson, who was released on bail on January 6, though his lawyer warns that “when Nadeem Samson is going to court he can be killed anytime.”

At the same time, post-communist regimes such as the Chinese government continue to marginalize religious beliefs that conflict with the state’s official atheist ideology. Well over a million Uyghur Muslims are held in internment camps and used as a source of slave labor. House church pastors such as Pastor John Cao are serving unwarranted prison sentences after being targeted due to their ministries. The country’s burgeoning surveillance state puts all citizens at risk as they are tracked for any actions that might be out of favor with the government—actions including going to church.

In North Korea, known Christians risk their very lives. Those who escape North Korea and are returned by Chinese authorities are particularly endangered as they are suspected of encountering Christian missionaries and churches in China. One North Korean defector said, “If you tell them that you went to a church and believed in Jesus, they would not stop at just beating you.” Other Christians are known to languish in harsh political labor camps with no prospect of ever being released.

Religious Freedom Day is an opportunity to pause and remember the profound importance of this right. As we continue to enjoy our own blessings and opportunities to share our faith, let’s remember those around the world longing to freely live out their faith.

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Is Diversity a Biblical Goal?

by Joseph Backholm

January 14, 2022

While racial tensions reached a fever pitch in the aftermath of George Floyd’s tragic death, the issue is not new. Two thousand years ago, Paul addressed the issue of race in his letter to the Galatian church when he said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

Appropriately, the church has taken a leading role in the effort to bring unity and racial reconciliation where it is needed. In some cases, this has led some church congregations and denominations to place a special emphasis on cultivating racial diversity in their midst.

For example, the Acts 29 church planting network, started by Mark Driscoll and now led by Matt Chandler, has a Diversity Initiative. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has a Kingdom Diversity Initiative. Hillsong Church says they are “committed to providing strategic direction to enable us as a global church to make progress in racial diversity and equity.” Various Christian colleges have published their “Christ-centered rationale for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”

All this emphasis on diversity begs the question: should church congregations be making a concerted effort to be racially diverse?

There are many things Christians are commanded to do, including loving one another (Rom. 13, John 13), honoring one another (Rom. 12:10), accepting one another (Rom. 15:7), being at peace with each other (Mark 9:50), serving one another (Gal. 5:13), carrying each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), and forgiving one another (Eph. 4:32). There are no exceptions for people who don’t look like you, talk like you, or think like you.

But nowhere does Scripture command us to have racially diverse congregations.

Of course, this does not mean racial diversity is wrong. It can often be helpful. But it is not specifically a moral good because nowhere does God say that diversity is a virtue in and of itself.

It is beyond dispute that the Kingdom of God is racially diverse. Not only are the world’s 2.3 billion Christians spread all over the planet, but John’s vision of heaven in Revelation gives a glimpse of what the diversity of heaven looks like: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Rev. 7:8-9). Heaven is diverse.

This vision of different people praising the same God is beautiful and even aspirational, but it does not mean that racial diversity is inherently virtuous. We know this because if that same group of people pictured in John’s vision were chanting “Hail, Satan!” it would be no consolation that they are a diverse assembly. What we intuitively understand—but must say—is that racial diversity can be a sign of something good but is not something good in and of itself. Racial diversity could be a sign of discipleship, but is not a form of discipleship.

In one sense, this is simply practical. It would be silliness, for example, to tell a group of Christians in remote places like the jungle of the Congo or the mountains of India that they need more racial diversity. In some places, racial diversity isn’t realistic. But this point is not merely practical. If we emphasize the secondary over the primary, we end up with the wrong goals.

The primary goal for Christians is to love God and others. We rightly see racism as a violation of God’s commandment to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31) and may see racial diversity as evidence that racism is not present. This is logical, but there is a risk. The emphasis on racial diversity as the antidote to racism may create a situation where we see racial diversity not as evidence of love but as a form of love. As a result, diversity has become an end unto itself.

The problem with confusing diversity for the sake of diversity with real, biblical love is that it puts the cart before the horse. In a world where diversity is a form of love, communities that are “diverse” are inherently better than those that are not. In a world where diversity is a form of love, we inevitably value people differently based on their ability or inability to contribute to our diversity. Christians can’t subscribe to this mindset. In addition, while efforts to be diverse are nearly always well-intentioned, the temptation to appear diverse can easily become self-centered. Only God knows when we’ve crossed the line from trying to love people well to trying to look good, but the line exists.

Consider an analogy from Acts 5. Ananias and Sapphira were a couple in the early church who made a public display of generosity. However, they intentionally misrepresented their gift, and God put them to death for it (Acts 5:1-11). Generosity is a good goal; wanting to look generous in the eyes of our fellow man is not. In the same way, it can be good to be diverse but not if we are merely wanting to look diverse. If God is more concerned with the condition of our hearts than the complexion of our skin—and He is—we should be, too.

What every Christian can do, in all times and all places, is love people the way Jesus does. In communities where people look different, the love of Jesus will transcend racial barriers and bring people together. In communities where people look the same, the love of Jesus will transcend other boundaries, including class, politics, age, or sex.

None of this means that concerns about racism are invalid or that the church should not be part of the solution. Our call to seek justice, provide hospitality, and care for the marginalized will create a community that some might call diverse. In addition, when people share pain and frustration about the brokenness of the world, we should be slow to speak and quick to hear. But racial diversity that honors Jesus will never be achieved by making it our primary objective. It will, however, inevitably develop as Christians follow the example of Jesus. Seeking Jesus will lead to racial diversity; seeking racial diversity will not lead to Jesus. Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount seem to apply here: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).

No doubt, the emphasis on diversity is well-meaning, but it comes with real risks. If we pursue diversity with more passion than we pursue love, we are very likely going to miss both.

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Don’t Let Biden Off the Hook for the Disaster He Left in Afghanistan

by Arielle Del Turco

January 10, 2022

The media has largely moved on from the Afghanistan debacle, and many are all too eager to sweep the consequences of President Biden’s botched withdrawal under the rug. Yet, the repercussions will last lifetimes.

Currently, hundreds of parents and family members are seeking help for their starving children. Last year, the United Nations warned that one million Afghan children were at risk of starvation, and now many are struggling to make it through the winter.

On the best of days, Afghanistan has a near-universal poverty rate. Now, a famine and economic collapse are making it virtually impossible for many to meet their families’ basic needs. In sheer desperation, some parents are being driven to sell their young daughters into future marriages just so the family will have a few months’ worth of food. It’s an unthinkable choice—but one that some feel is their only chance to evade death by starvation when there is no work to be found.

One father’s decision has him in agony. He told CNN reporters that he could no longer sleep at night because he sold his nine-year-old daughter into marriage. The guilt and shame have “broken” him. Following unsuccessful attempts to find work, even traveling to the provincial capital, he said, “We are eight family members. I have to sell to keep other family members alive.” The money from the sale will feed the family for only a few months.

Sadly, the economic collapse in the wake of the Taliban’s rise was predicted and shouldn’t take Biden administration officials by surprise. The question now is how to respond.

The U.S. government is rightly being careful to avoid giving any financial aid to the Taliban. And although the United States donated funds through international humanitarian aid groups, Olivia Enos, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, has pointed out that current aid levels are expected to meet only 40 percent of the anticipated needs to get through the winter months. The Biden administration should seek effective solutions to get substantial help directly to suffering Afghans.

When it comes to promoting religious freedom in Afghanistan, the U.S. government has always fallen far short. The past 20 years of U.S. involvement in the country failed to produce a cultural acceptance of religious freedom or pluralism. The consequences continue. And for the Afghan Christians most endangered by the rise of the Taliban, the Biden administration’s actions (and inaction) were shameful.

Although certain groups of Afghan nationals were given Priority 2 (P-2) designation for the U.S. refugee program—which allows more direct access for individuals to apply when they are at immediate risk—religious minorities were not offered P-2 status. This is in spite of the Taliban openly threatening religious minorities and the number of minorities who would have utilized the program being small and manageable. The Biden administration should fix this error and extend P-2 status to Afghan religious minorities.

When private NGOs tried to help vulnerable Christians, women, and others fleeing the Taliban, the State Department was accused of thwarting these rescue efforts. Josh Youssef, president of Help the Persecuted, helped organize refugee flights out of Afghanistan with endangered religious minorities. When he reached out to the State Department for help, he was told that he would have a better chance of the plane taking off if there were LGBT-identifying persons on board.

But religious minorities aren’t the only people with reason to fear. Amid the Taliban’s rollback of women’s rights, many women who had public professions are scrambling to hide their identities. Female athletes are on the run, changing locations every few weeks to avoid being caught and punished by the Taliban.

Women who served in the Afghan military or police are also hiding. Samima, who served in the Afghan Air Force, fled to a new location with her husband after she received phone calls from Taliban fighters and the Taliban began going door to door looking for former Afghan military members. She told The Wall Street Journal, “Thousands of girls like me are receiving threats, face an uncertain future and are being tracked by the Taliban.”

Countless Afghan girls and female university students have been kept at home and out of school since the Taliban’s return. For many, their dreams were put on hold in 2021, perhaps permanently.

Meanwhile, there are still Americans who remain stuck in Afghanistan. Not to mention the countless Afghan allies who worked for the U.S. military and were promised protection in just such a circumstance as a U.S. withdrawal.

The White House would be happy for us all to forget that the grossly mishandled U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan ever happened. But we must not. America spent 20 years involved in this country; the people of Afghanistan deserve better than to be abandoned and ignored in their hour of most dire need. Furthermore, the American people deserve far better leadership than President Biden has shown throughout this ordeal largely of his own making. By electing Joe Biden, Americans entrusted him with our foreign policy. The resulting human suffering in Afghanistan ought to be remembered as a grave stain upon Biden’s presidency.

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5 Ways to Give the Gift of Yourself This Season

by Dan Hart

December 29, 2021

As much as we believers may try to avoid it, it’s hard not to get caught up in the present-buying frenzy that our culture is dominated by during the Christmas season. Spending enormous amounts of money on gifts every December has indeed become a kind of secular American tradition bordering on a religion.

While the giving of material gifts around Christmas time is a wonderful and storied Christian tradition that goes back to the time of Saint Nicholas in the fourth century, the pressure and stress of trying to buy the perfect present for a laundry list of family and friends can often feel overwhelming and can easily overshadow the reason for the season: the coming of Our Savior to earth as a baby.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a different—and perhaps better—way of gift giving that doesn’t necessarily involve spending money on material things. Here are five ideas on how we can give the gift of ourselves to others this season.

1. Reach Out

Even before the pandemic hit, more than three in five Americans reported being lonely. The pandemic further compounded the problem, with the rates of reported loneliness and suicidal thoughts rising dramatically not only in the U.S. but globally.

It’s clear that there are many Americans, particularly in urban areas, that do not have strong networks of friends and family nearby them that they can get support from. This is where we as believers can be the hands and feet of Christ—by reaching out not only to those in our own social circles but also to anyone we may encounter in our daily lives. Here are a few ideas about how to connect with people.

  • Write: Go through your contacts and send a text message or an email to someone you haven’t connected with in a long time asking them how they’re doing. You might even consider writing an old-fashioned letter if it strikes your fancy or you think your friend might be pleasantly surprised by one. You never know how a simple “Hello, how are you?” can affect someone, possibly giving them a mental boost at just the right time or rekindling a friendship.
  • Strike Up Conversations: When you are out and about, don’t be afraid to be friendly. Initiating conversations with strangers in everyday situations is a great way to establish an atmosphere of friendliness in public. Whether it be asking the grocery store cashier how their day is going or asking how old a fellow patron’s kids are in the coffee shop, you never know where a good-natured conversation can lead—possibly even to friendship and faith.
  • Take Regular Walks Around Your Neighborhood: Post-pandemic life has brought with it numerous changes, particularly making more American’s lives increasingly home-centric, so much so that one could conceivably go weeks without ever having to leave one’s house thanks to internet delivery services and the ability to work from home. This is why it is all the more important to get out of the house as often as possible, not only for fresh air and exercise but also to build community with those around us. By taking regular walks around our neighborhoods and making an effort to meet and become friendly with our neighbors, we can learn a lot, including where elderly shut-ins, those with disabilities, and families with small children live so that we can get to know them and offer our time or a helping hand when opportunities come our way.

2. Go Through Your Closets and Give Stuff Away

As one of the most prosperous nations on earth, Americans tend to accumulate stuff. Many of us have attics and closets full of things that we hardly ever use or wear. Instead of having garage sales or spending hours listing things on eBay to sell, consider giving your stuff away instead. Local Goodwill and secondhand stores are a good place to start, but it might be even better to consider giving them to a church clothing or Christmas gift drive so that those who are most in need can be the first to receive them. Just make sure the things you are giving away are not broken or overly used. Put yourself in the place of someone receiving your things—would you be happy to get them?

3. Make a Meal or Start a Meal Train for Those in Need

Providing a warm, home-cooked meal is one of the best ways to extend a helping and comforting hand to someone in need. With COVID and its variations still lurking, chances are we know someone in our social circles who is sick and may be in need of a meal (or more), especially if they are parents of small children whose needs don’t magically stop if their parents are sick. Others who often need meals are mothers who have just given birth and their families. One of the best ways to provide ongoing meals for those with extended illnesses or who have just had a baby is to set up a meal train for them—this allows their friends and acquaintances to all pitch in and sign up to provide meals for different days. MealTrain.com is a very useful and easy way to set up a meal train.

4. Consider Serving in Prison Ministry

Christ commands us in Matthew 25 to visit those in prison. There are over two million people in prison in the U.S., and the rates of loneliness and depression among prisoners are extremely high. Many churches have their own prison ministry programs that serve local prisons. You can also volunteer your time with the biblical worldview-centered organization Prison Fellowship, as well as financially support them. Because of the COVID pandemic, many prisons have severely tightened regulations for visitors, making it more difficult for family and friends to visit prisoners. If this is the case with prisons in your area, consider writing letters to prisoners who don’t have family and friends to support them.

5. Pray

Times are difficult in America right now in many ways, but one of the most painful difficulties for many of us is how divided our extended families are. Polls show that differing views about politics and vaccines are causing familial rifts like never before, not to mention the growing number of family members who are at odds over religious views. When tensions are high with our loved ones, Christmas and New Years can be an especially hard time because we often aren’t in a very giving mood.

That’s where prayer comes in. Prayer is powerful. Jesus Himself assures us that “whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will” (Mark 11:24). The Scriptures are brimming with verses on the power that prayer has to change things. When we caste all of our problems on the Lord in prayer, not only does He hear them, but our own minds are put at ease. The best gift we can possibly give to anyone is love, and prayer is absolutely integral to loving well. Whether it be a family member who has fallen away from Christ or someone who is sick and is in need of healing, prayer may just be the best gift you could ever give them.

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The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 5): Mary Endured the Crisis of Ostracization

by Joy Zavalick

December 24, 2021

This is the final part of a five-part series. Read our previous entries on Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.

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The fifth and final woman acknowledged in the genealogy recorded in Matthew’s gospel is Jesus’ mother, Mary. Scripture tells us that Mary was a young woman from Nazareth who was highly favored in God’s sight (Luke 1:26-28). The angel Gabriel visited her to explain that she would serve the Lord in an unprecedented way; the power of the Holy Spirit would allow for Mary to conceive even though she was a virgin, and the child would be the Son of God.

Mary would have understood the social consequences of her conceiving prior to her impending marriage to Joseph. She would have faced possible ostracization from her community, since at this time in history, women could even be executed for an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Nevertheless, Mary readily accepted the Lord’s charge for her, telling Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant […] May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

What Mary’s community would have viewed as a “crisis” was all part of God’s plan. In reality, the crisis Mary faced was not her pregnancy but the pain of facing a world that would not celebrate the creation of this new life with joy. We learn from Scripture that Mary did receive support from at least a few people in her life. These included her fiancé, Joseph, and her cousin, Elizabeth.

After the angel of the Lord affirmed to Joseph in a dream that Mary had not been unfaithful to him, and that the child in her womb was the Son of God, Joseph responded in faith and accepted his charge as the adoptive father of Jesus. Joseph cared for Jesus as his own son throughout the entirety of his earthly life. In so doing, Joseph set a strong example of a man of God rising up to fill the role of an earthly father for a child who was not biologically his own. Prayerfully consider if God might be calling you—like Joseph—to adopt, foster, or mentor children who are not biologically your own.

The response of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth paints a beautiful image of how all Christians ought to respond to the news of a pregnancy, even if the surrounding circumstances are not easy. Elizabeth was also pregnant at the time of Mary’s visit, and Scripture tells us that the baby in Elizabeth’s womb, who would later become known as John the Baptist, “leaped in her womb” as he recognized the nearness of the Messiah. Elizabeth and her own unborn child shared in Mary’s joy at the news of her pregnancy and treated it like the miracle that it was.

Just as Elizabeth shared in Mary’s joy, Christians ought to rejoice at the news of pregnancy, encouraging the mother and reminding her of the miracle of life in which she is participating. Each child is a unique individual handcrafted by the Lord and worthy of celebration. Although Mary had the unique honor of carrying the Savior in her womb, every mother has carried a human made in the image of God.

Every new life is a gift of God, but not all pregnancies are surrounded by joyful or peaceful circumstances. Some pregnancies are unexpected. Some pregnancies might be unwanted by one or both parents. Some pregnancies result from rape. Some pregnancies are accompanied by a prenatal diagnosis of a disease or disability. However, the faithfulness of the Lord ensures that a response of trust in His plan can contribute to redeeming a broken situation. Even amid dark circumstances, the light of miraculously creating a new image-bearer can shine through.

Though not in bodily presence, as he was with Mary, Christ is present with each of us as we face challenges. The world may see an insurmountable trial, but as Christians, we are called to believe that each “crisis” no matter how big or how small is all part of God’s plan.

Let us pray that this Christmas, no matter what circumstances we happen to be facing, we would recognize that God will use every moment of our life for good. May we join Mary in singing, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior… The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name” (Luke 1:46-49).

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The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 4): Bathsheba Endured the Crisis of Sexual Sin

by Joy Zavalick

December 23, 2021

This is the fourth part of a five-part series. Read our previous entries on Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth.

***

The fourth woman identified by Matthew’s gospel as being part of the lineage of Christ is Bathsheba, or “Uriah’s wife” as Matthew refers to her. If we take a closer look at Bathsheba’s story, it becomes clear that Matthew’s description of her as Uriah’s wife is intentional.

According to 2 Samuel 11, King David remained at home while his army was away at war. One night, while walking on the roof of his palace, he noticed Bathsheba bathing. Instead of respecting the woman’s privacy, a lustful David sent one of his servants to find out the woman’s identity. Despite learning that she was married to someone serving in his army, David continued to pursue Bathsheba.

David commanded his officials to bring Bathsheba to him, and he slept with her, causing her to conceive. Scripture does not tell us what Bathsheba’s role in this affair was; she could’ve been a co-conspirator in David’s act of sexual immorality or a victim of sexual assault. However, Scripture does show us that David misused his position of authority to initiate a crisis of sexual immorality.

When David learned that Bathsheba was pregnant, he attempted to hide his sin by tricking her husband into sleeping with her so that Uriah would believe the child was his. After this strategy failed, David resorted to placing Uriah at the front lines of battle so that he would be killed. Thus, David not only sinned against Bathsheba sexually but also by murdering her husband and leaving her a widow.

Bathsheba married David after Uriah’s death. She might have had little choice, given David’s position as king and her own desperation to survive after being widowed. Although David believed his sin to be in the past, the prophet Nathan reminded him of the Lord’s wrath against David’s acts of sexual immorality and murder. David was convicted and cried out to the Lord in repentance. His prayer for forgiveness, Psalm 51, is one of the most well-known penitent psalms in Scripture. Although he repented, David still had to live with the consequences of his sin. Tragically, the first child that Bathsheba had conceived with him died (2 Samuel 12:19).

Bathsheba eventually bore David a son named Solomon, who later succeeded his father as king and became known for his immense wisdom. However, the trauma and anguish that David caused Bathsheba may never have fully healed in her life. Even if the intercourse between David and Bathsheba was consensual (which is unknown based on the biblical evidence), it was nevertheless a sinful act that God mercifully commuted. The Messiah’s lineage passing through Solomon, David, and Bathsheba’s son, demonstrates God’s willingness to graciously use for good situations that man intended for evil (Genesis 50:20).

Tragically, there are many women who must live with the consequences of evil acts committed against them, such as sexual assault or abuse. Just as David attempted to escape the consequences when Bathsheba became pregnant, many men today try to conceal evil actions or simply escape the responsibility of fatherhood by abandoning women or coercing them to undergo abortions. It is important to note that although men must be held accountable for sexual abuse, children conceived through an act of sexual sin are never to blame for their fathers’ sins and must be treated with the same inherent dignity as every other child made in the image of God.

Chemical abortion pills have provided yet another way for men to avoid the responsibilities of fatherhood. But what makes this abortion method even more appealing to abusers is that it limits the woman’s contact with an in-person physician, making it harder for the abuse to come to light. Women who have suffered a coerced abortion ought to know that there are resources available to help them. Additionally, women who have taken the chemical abortion pill should know that this form of abortion is reversible if only the first pill has been ingested and action is taken quickly to reverse it.

Many women have been sexually manipulated or assaulted and may be struggling to recover from this pain. The church must rise up to protect and care for these women, ensuring that they have access to resources and ministries designed to help them heal.

The story of Bathsheba reminds us that Jesus Christ came to free mankind from captivity to sin and demonstrates the loving character of God in bringing beauty even from the depravity of human actions.

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Listening to Christians Around the World: Do You Hear What I Hear?

by Lela Gilbert

December 22, 2021

One of many beloved Christmas songs filling the air these days is “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and it holds a promise, “The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night. He will bring us goodness and light…”  

We American Christians are usually able to set aside our difficulties and challenges when Christmas comes around and fully celebrate “the Child”—the Son of God. We are so grateful that He lived among us not only to offer goodness and light, but also the opportunity to share in a lifetime of His love and grace.

Over the past year or two, our country has faced unusual challenges: continuing pandemic concerns, the worrisome shifting of political winds, and other trials such as floods, fires, and—most recently—horrifying tornados. Many fellow believers also struggle with financial worries and other concerns. Still, during this special season, our families and church congregations joyfully gather to sing hymns and carols, light candles, listen to children’s choirs, and worship the Christ Child who came and lived among us, and who continues to bless us with His presence.

Unfortunately, however, beyond our borders, the Christmas story is not so welcome as it is here. In much of the world, the gathering of Christians for any reason is often far from safe. A 2021 article in The Guardian reported:

Persecution of Christians around the world has increased during the Covid pandemic, with followers being refused aid in many countries, authoritarian governments stepping up surveillance, and Islamic militants exploiting the crisis, a report says.

More than 340 million Christians – one in eight – face high levels of persecution and discrimination because of their faith, according to the 2021 World Watch List compiled by the Christian advocacy group Open Doors.

It says there was a 60% increase over the previous year in the number of Christians killed for their faith. More than nine out of 10 of the global total of 4,761 deaths were in Africa.

At Family Research Council, we keep in contact with Christians in places where the decision to follow Jesus Christ is dangerous and—as The Guardian notes—even deadly. In fact, our concerns about international religious freedom have deepened dramatically in recent weeks and months. Just this week we asked friends in Nigeria, Iran, and a refugee from Afghanistan about how Christmas is celebrated in their countries.

Dr. Hassan John, Director of Communications Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion writes:

For Christians in northern Nigeria, Christmas, especially this year, is full of anxiety and fear from the continuing attacks by Islamist Fulani militias and the Boko Haram terrorist Islamic sect. There is also anxiety for the new year for the fact that the Nigerian government has demonstrated a lack of will to stop the massacres and destruction of predominantly Christian villages by the Fulani Islamists. Many can’t reunite with loved ones because the roads are dangerously spotted with terrorists. Unfortunately, before the Christmas season is over some Christians will likely be killed or kidnapped for ransom their families cannot pay. The world will celebrate Christmas but in Nigeria, for many Christians, it may be yet another season of mourning.

Mary Mohammadi is an Iranian convert from Islam to Christianity who was jailed and physically abused for her faith. She explains:

In Iran, celebrating Christmas—like holding other Christian occasions and ceremonies such as Easter, baptism, etc.—is a crime. But we know this is a very important occasion, especially for Christians. So, despite widespread arrests and severe punishments, they secretly celebrate Christmas in their house churches every year. Yet, every year at Christmas, security forces raid house churches more than on any other days, arresting as many as 100 people in one house church.

Personally, I have not been ever able to celebrate Christmas in any year. In 2017, for the second Christmas after I believed in Jesus Christ, I was locked up in the Ministry of Intelligence security detention center, called 209. I had forgotten the date in the cell. I realized that it was Christmas Day only by seeing a Ministry of Intelligence newspaper.

The regime congratulates in the media on Christmas, but on the other hand, Christians must spend Christmas in detention, and those who have not been arrested are detained in house churches during the celebration! This represents the government’s lies and hypocrisy and propaganda.

And finally, here is testimony from a 24-year-old Afghan Christian refugee. She and her family, who were rescued from Afghanistan, must remain unnamed, and are living temporarily in refugee housing.

Up to now we never celebrated Christmas. Only between us we celebrated in my family. Here, also, no one celebrates Christmas. I hope one day I celebrate it and [can be] proud of my religion!

Thankfully, with wonderfully few exceptions, in our free country, we are free to celebrate together without fear or threat of danger. This is a great blessing—perhaps greater than we sometimes realize. Our problems are many, but the physical dangers for following our faith are few. As we hear the stories of others, let’s listen closely and remember them in our prayers.

As that familiar Christmas song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” says, “Pray for peace, people, everywhere…”

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The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 3): Ruth Endured the Crisis of Being Widowed

by Joy Zavalick

December 22, 2021

This is the third part of a five-part series. Read our previous entries on Tamar and Rahab.

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The third woman identified in Matthew’s gospel as being part of the lineage of Jesus is Ruth, a Moabite woman who married into the nation of Israel. In addition to being an ancestor of Christ, Ruth has the distinction of being one of only two women with a book of the Bible named after her (Esther being the other).

The book of Ruth opens with an introduction to three widows: Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth. Naomi had relocated to Moab with her husband and two sons in order to avoid an ongoing famine in Israel. While they were living in Moab, Naomi’s sons married two local women, Orpah and Ruth. Tragically, all three husbands passed away, leaving Naomi alone in a foreign land and Orpah and Ruth childless.

When Naomi decided to return to her homeland of Israel, Orpah returned to her parents’ household, but Ruth refused to abandon Naomi, knowing that her mother-in-law had no one left to care for her. Ruth demonstrated her loyalty to Naomi by saying, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:6).

Ruth and Naomi returned to Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem. Upon arriving, Ruth provided for them by gleaning in the fields of a man named Boaz, the son/descendent of Rahab and a relative of Naomi’s late husband. Boaz took notice of Ruth, impressed by her loving sacrifice to leave her home in order to stay by Naomi’s side. Boaz treated Ruth with kindness and ensured that she could work safely in his fields without being harmed by men who might prey on her.

Naomi informed Ruth that Boaz was one of their family’s kinsmen-redeemers. According to Hebrew law, Boaz was eligible to purchase their family property and marry Ruth, thus allowing her to carry on her late husband’s family line (Ruth 2:20). When Ruth approached Boaz and explained her family’s situation to him, he went through the proper cultural channels to redeem Naomi’s husband’s inheritance and marry Ruth (Ruth 3:9-13). Ruth’s first son with Boaz was named Obed. In God’s wonderful providence, Obed had a son named Jesse, whose youngest son, David, would one day become king of Israel.

The intricate story that God wove from the tragedy of Ruth’s widowhood shows His ability to bring beauty even from crisis situations. After the death of her first husband, Ruth likely was unsure of her future. When Ruth selflessly refused to abandon Naomi, she took a leap of faith and trusted that God would care for her—and He did, grafting the Moabite woman into Israel’s family tree.

It is worth noting that Ruth likely did not see the ultimate plan that God was working through her suffering during her lifetime. This is true for us as well. In this life, we will likely never fully understand why God allows us to experience a tragedy. Whether it is the experience of heartbreak, miscarriage, death of a spouse or loved one, or loneliness, it is important to know that the Lord is still present even when He seems silent and that hope for the future remains even when today’s circumstances are filled with pain. Just as Ruth mourned her loss and placed her faith in God, so should we today whenever tragedy strikes.

There are ministries and resources equipped to support widows as they raise a child while simultaneously coping with grief. The book of Ruth may also be read as a call to action for the men of the church to meet the needs of women facing crisis circumstances. Marriage aside, there are countless other ways for Christian men to emulate Boaz and serve the widows or single mothers in their community through acts of kindness.

Ruth’s example may provide inspiration to women and men who have experienced a tragic loss or who unexpectedly find themselves in the position of being a caretaker. Ruth displayed her noble character by acting based on her love for her family and trust in God, rather than allowing the pain of loss to overshadow her hope for the future. Her story reminds us to turn to the Lord in every sorrow and trust that He is working all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28).

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The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 2): Rahab Endured the Crisis of Protecting Her Family

by Joy Zavalick

December 21, 2021

This is the second part of a five-part series. Read our previous entry on Tamar.

***

The second woman identified by Matthew’s gospel as being part of the lineage of Christ is Rahab. When Scripture first introduces us to Rahab in Joshua 2, she is a Canaanite prostitute living in the city of Jericho at the time that the Israelites were preparing to enter the Promised Land. Two spies sent by Joshua to scout out the fortified city of Jericho secretly lodged in Rahab’s house. When word reached Jericho’s king that Israelite spies were inside the city, he commanded Rahab to turn them over. However, she sent the king’s men to search elsewhere instead of betraying the spies’ true location.

Rahab had heard about the mighty deeds of Israel’s God and decided her fear of this God and love for her family were worth the risk. In the face of impending death for herself and her family, Rahab saved the lives of the Israelite spies by hiding them from the king and asked them to do the same for her and her family, acknowledging, “the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”

The spies assured Rahab that they would spare her when the Lord delivered the land into their hands, so long as she tied a red cord to her window and kept her family members inside during the impending attack. When the Israelites eventually surrounded Jericho in Joshua 6, God miraculously delivered the city into their hands. Prior to the battle, Joshua commanded his men to spare Rahab and her family because she had honored her word to protect the spies.

Rahab and her family were rescued and brought into the camp of the Israelites, where she married a member of the tribe of Judah named Salmon. According to Jewish tradition, Salmon may have been one of the two spies whose lives Rahab had saved. Rahab was either the mother or direct ancestor of Boaz, whose marriage to Ruth is named later in the genealogy of Christ. The Lord transformed Rahab from a prostitute and a woman who likely worshipped pagan gods to the wife of an Israelite and an ancestor of the Messiah, thus adopting a Gentile woman into His family.

Rahab’s brave actions embodied obedience to the charge God gave Joshua himself in Joshua 1:9: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Hundreds of years later, Rahab’s faith was even included in the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11. Many women today face circumstances that seem insurmountable and approach motherhood with trepidation. Rahab modeled a response to fearful circumstances that constitutes courage, trust, and devotion to God.

Rahab’s story can encourage women (and men) that their past does not have to define them. God did not have to include a prostitute in the family line of Christ. He did so to demonstrate that no life on earth is too broken, shameful, or deeply steeped in sin that He cannot redeem it and use it for His glory. Rahab’s family lineage went on to produce the Messiah, who spent His time on earth ministering to those lost in sin, as well as the needy and the downcast, in further affirmation of God’s love even for those that society rejects or those who start out their lives far away from God.

Rahab’s actions on behalf of her family also contradict the modern narrative of individualism. Just as Rahab risked much to protect her family, women and men facing unplanned or unwanted pregnancies ought to consider their duty as mothers and fathers to their unborn children rather than using abortion to bypass that responsibility.

Tragically, the pain of abortion is already part of many women’s stories. Rahab’s example shows that women who have something in their past that they are ashamed of ought not to distance themselves from the Lord but rather draw near to the throne of grace and accept the mercy that is theirs in Christ.

Resources such as Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard exist to bring healing to women who have suffered the pain of abortion and to help them to lead lives reconciled to God. For women who, like Rahab, have worked as prostitutes, resources such as Gems helps provide an exit from the commercial sex industry. Additionally, for trafficking victims who were involuntarily forced into the sex industry, organizations such as Justice Ministries assist with rescue and coping with trauma.

Rahab’s story shows that being strong and courageous can take many different forms—sometimes, it is simply choosing to trust the Lord and serve one’s family that can produce the greatest fruit.

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