Tag archives: Culture

A Hidden Life Is an Unparalleled Depiction of Christian Discipleship

by Daniel Hart

February 4, 2020

Are we merely admirers of Christ, or are we followers?

For all Christians, this profound question should shake us to our core. It’s a question that runs through the heart of A Hidden Life, a powerful new film from acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick, who wrote and directed the three-hour epic that explores the calling and consequences of true Christian discipleship.

A Simple Life Shattered by War

A Hidden Life is based on the true story of an Austrian farmer named Franz Jägerstätter, a devout Catholic and conscientious objector martyred by the Nazis, who lived with his wife Fani and their three daughters in a small village in the mountains during World War II.

The movie begins by showing parts of an old Nazi propaganda film of Adolf Hitler touring a town in Germany and the adulation he receives from the people. In stark contrast, the film then envelopes its audience into the majestic beauty of rural Austria, where Franz and his family live an idyllic life as humble farmers. Scenes of hard farm work mixed with the simple joys of recreation with family early in the film establish the fact that Franz, Fani, and their girls are living a peaceful, happy, and fulfilled life. Other scenes of genuine comradery between Franz’s family and the other townspeople demonstrate that they are well-respected and even loved by the village.

It is in these opening scenes that the unique filmmaking style of director Terrence Malick becomes apparent. As in his past films, most of the scenes in A Hidden Life are presented as a kind of vignette, often with minimal dialogue. Sometimes, the dialogue is muted intentionally, with music or even a voice over being what you hear. Frequently, Malick will intersperse scenes with gorgeously rendered shots of nature—the mountains, fields of grain waving in the wind, a waterfall cascading down into mist. For the uninitiated viewer, this style can be a bit disorienting at first, but the film has a way of drawing the audience into its world after the first few minutes. One reviewer of A Hidden Life aptly described it as “a movie you enter, like a cathedral of the senses.”

Soon, the ominous sounds of Nazi airplanes flying high above the village convey a distinct sense that the simple lives of the farmers and townspeople will never be the same. Sure enough, Franz is conscripted into the German army, and at first he willingly complies with their demands that he complete basic training. After months away from his family, he is allowed to return home, but the possibility of Franz being called back into full duty as the war drags on hangs over him and his wife. From this point on, the central conflict that Franz faces becomes the focus of the film—he knows that he will be required to pledge an oath of loyalty to Hitler once he is called back up to service.

A Heroic Act of Conscience

As Franz seeks counsel from his parish priest on what to do, it is clear that many churchmen of the time could not muster the courage to make the principled stand that Franz is attempting to make. “We’re killing innocent people, raiding other countries, preying on the weak,” Franz pleads with his priest, asking for guidance. Instead of answering, the priest defers and directs Franz to ask his bishop for direction. When Franz is able to get an audience with the bishop, he asks him pointedly, “If our leaders—if they are evil, what does one do?” The bishop’s response clearly breaks Franz’s heart: “You have a duty to the fatherland. The Church tells you so.”

After this, Franz and Fani try to go about their normal life, but they are clearly mourning what they know is likely to come: Franz’s imprisonment and execution for his conscientious objection. Through extended scenes of the couple lying together in the countryside, sitting in their bedroom, or doing farm chores, it is clear that an internal battle is raging inside of them as they contemplate the consequences of the unthinkable—to forever lose their tranquil and joyful life together for the sake of sacrificing his life for the gospel.

As if this weren’t enough, Franz and his family begin to experience ridicule from their fellow townspeople. It seems that Franz is the only man in his village to publicly and openly question the Nazi war effort, which is clearly too much to bear for their guilty consciences. The town mayor, a close friend of Franz’s at the outset of the film, eventually ends up denouncing him: “You cannot say no to your race and your home. You are a traitor!” Franz and his family are publicly insulted, spat upon, and even physically threatened at various points in the film.

Despite the almost unimaginable pressure that Franz faces from his church, his peers, and even his own family (from his mother-in-law and sister-in-law) to give in the Nazi’s demands, he refuses to take the oath to Hitler after his inevitable call-up to military service.

Once Franz is imprisoned, we begin to find out more about what is going on in his soul. In a series of interrogations by the Nazis and during interviews with his court-appointed defense attorney, Franz is challenged over and over again to give in. “You think your defiance will change the course of things?” “Words! [referring to the oath to Hitler] No one takes that sort of thing seriously.” Franz’s responses are simple and direct, but somehow their simplicity makes his motivations crystal clear: “I have that feeling inside me, that I can’t do what I believe is wrong. That’s all.” “If God gives us free will, we are responsible for what we do, what we fail to do.”

What will never be simple, though, is the toll that Franz’s sacrifice takes on his wife Fani and their daughters, which is illustrated through numerous scenes of toil and heartbreak as she undertakes difficult farm work and tucks their children into bed without him. Even still, the fortitude that Fani exhibits is every bit as heroic as Franz’s. Toward the end of the film, she is allowed to see Franz one last time in prison. In an almost unbearably emotional scene, Fani displays the epitome of spiritual union with her husband as she assures him of her solidarity even if his decision means death: “Whatever you do, I’m with you, always.”

As A Hidden Life draws to a close, it is clear that Franz’s experience of imprisonment, interrogation, physical abuse at the hands of the prison guards, and the mental anguish of his impending death has molded him into a Christ-like figure. When a Nazi major promises him that he will be free if he signs a paper oath to Hitler, Franz responds, “I am already free.” In one scene, he gives his tiny ration of bread to a fellow starving prisoner, who stares at him disbelievingly. In one of the most subtle yet surprisingly touching moments of the film, he carefully replaces an umbrella he had accidentally knocked over back to its original position. These actions show that he has indeed become a truly free man, unencumbered by worldly concerns, whose only goal is to do good with the little time he has left on earth.

An Unparalleled Depiction of Christian Discipleship

From a Christian perspective, watching A Hidden Life is an unparalleled film experience. In the words of one reviewer, it is arguably “the best evocation of the Gospel ever committed to film.” The deliberate, reverential style in which it is acted, filmed, and edited allows the viewer to truly immerse themselves into and contemplate the deep mysteries of some of the biggest questions that frame the nature of discipleship in Christ. How far must we go to become a true follower of Christ, and how do we reconcile this with our familial obligations? Is there meaning to our suffering for Christ when it causes us such indescribable pain? Does standing for the gospel really matter if no one seems to notice? Why does God seem to hide Himself from those who most desperately need Him?

The most pointed question this film asks of its audience is one that remains extremely pertinent in our own time, in which Christians remain the most persecuted religious group on earth. The question is this: When we are faced with the wrath of the world for our faith, will we shrink and make excuses, or will we stand for truth, no matter the consequences? In the film’s depiction of Franz Jägerstätter, we are a given a true-to-life role model for how to accomplish heroic virtue with grace and serenity.

But perhaps the greatest gift that A Hidden Life gives the viewer is three hours of space—space for reflection and contemplation of these most paramount of questions that probe the deepest mysteries of the faith life. In this age of distraction and anxiety, we desperately need it.

A Two-Kingdom Perspective: Christianity, Politics, and Eternity

by Zachary Rogers

January 31, 2020

With the 2020 election season underway, it is wise to reflect upon the lessons learned from the 2016 election. After President Trump’s election, thousands of progressive voters admitted they were emotionally devastated. This phenomenon has been described as “post-election stress disorder,” and it apparently impacted numerous people.

This exaggerated reaction points toward a temptation to replace Christian principles with a progressive ideology that attempts to “immanentize the eschaton,” or create a heaven on earth, and to react in extreme ways when these efforts fail.

The Christian worldview offers an alternative perspective from the crushing angst, fear, and anger that frames much of our political discourse. Christianity calls people to fulfill their duties to God and their fellow man with the appropriate level of concern based on their understanding of the world, sin, the sovereignty of God, and the end of history. Christians understand that they are to be in the world but not of the world (John 17:14–19).

The Christian worldview includes four basic components:

  1. An understanding that God created the universe and mankind.
  2. Man chose to try to become like God, resulting in sin and the Fall.
  3. Christ died on the cross to redeem us from our sins and rose again to conquer death.
  4. Christ will return in glory to judge the living and the dead and restore all things.

These theological commitments comprise the Christian worldview and influence how Christians see and engage with the world.

A high view of God and the gospel will inevitably affect one’s approach to politics. Christians, for instance, should be mindful of the tongue and strive to engage rationally, clearly, and without lying. While politics is important, only a few things are of eternal significance. For example, the souls of our fellow citizens, both Republicans and Democrats, are of eternal significance. The truth and sound policy must be pursued in a manner that will not destroy our Christian witness.

Christians should support good policies that align with biblical values. Unfortunately, many politicians are guided by an ungodly fear of man. Even Christian leaders are often tempted to take the easy way out. However, politics often requires hard decisions that are often unpopular, and every politician, Christian or not, Democrat or Republican, must do his or her duty for the common good in accordance with the structure of the Constitution.

Christians must distinguish the important from the ultimate. The goal of life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This purpose should guide and direct every area of our lives. The state of our souls and the souls of our family and friends must be our chief concern. Jesus himself said that the second greatest commandment was to love “your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). The stability and order that is afforded the Christian by having a clear understanding of the purpose of life and the standards for good living provided by God in the Scriptures allow him to clearly see that love of neighbor ought to guide Christian political engagement.

God gave man reason and a knowledge of what is required for human flourishing through the natural law: limited government, the rule of law, the necessity to work in order to provide for our families and those in need, and the right to religious liberty.

On many issues, the platforms, policy positions, and rhetoric of the two major political parties in America represent radically different visions for human flourishing. While neither party is perfect, it is clear that one party values the sanctity of marriage, the life of the unborn, and an understanding of gender as divinely created while the other does not.

Christians in America should be actively engaged in politics while recognizing that our ultimate hope is in heaven. Christians, and especially Christian leaders and pastors, must approach politics from a Christian worldview and make sure our engagement honors the Lord and follows principles outlined in His Word. In this way, we can shape government so that it in turn shapes the environment in which we raise our children and live our lives to the glory of God.

In a nutshell, Christians must have a two-kingdom perspective: we must do the will of God in every aspect of life, including politics, so that we can live with Him forever in the next.

Zachary Rogers is a graduate of Hillsdale College and is a former intern of FRC, the Kirby Center, and the Claremont Institute. He is currently working in education in Northern Virginia.

For Every Christian, Being Pro-Life Must Become a Way of Life

by Adelaide Holmes

January 27, 2020

Many Christians today are missing from the fight to end abortion, and the pro-life movement needs their help.

Instead of joining the political or cultural efforts to fight abortion, many pro-life Christians leave the work for the pro-life leaders in these arenas. There are two primary fronts in the battle, and Christians are needed in both. Abortion will continue to be legal and culturally acceptable as long as Christians fail to do their part and leave the bulk of the work to larger, interest-based organizations. 

There are many pro-life organizations in D.C. and around the country that are dedicated to making abortion illegal and socially unacceptable. Family Research Council, as well as other pro-life political action groups such as Susan B. Anthony List, National Right to Life Committee, and Americans United for Life are effective and passionate about changing the political landscape.  

But this won’t be enough to end legal abortion in America.

While the political fight is crucially important to ensuring justice for the preborn, there’s work to be done in the culture as well. Countless groups exist with this focus. Life Training Institute and Equal Rights Institute have top-notch speakers and apologists who train pro-lifers all over the country in conversational apologetics. National groups like Students for Life of America or state groups like Protect Life Michigan exist to equip high school and college pro-life clubs to host effective outreach and start dialogues with young minds who might be open to the pro-life argument. And groups like Live Action and The Radiance Foundation educate the public through digital media on the reality of what abortion does to its victims. 

But this still isn’t enough to make abortion culturally appalling.   

Sixty-two percent of Americans between the ages of 18-29 still identify as pro-choice. About one million abortions are committed every year. It’s not for a lack of groups dedicated to bringing a legal end to abortion. It’s not for a lack of organizations devoted to informing the culture about the inhumane injustice of abortion. The problem is that too many Christians are leaving them all the work. If more Christians don’t join in the fight, we won’t see an end to this injustice. 

Pursuing justice for the unborn is not simply a job for special interest groups. Pursuing justice is a duty that God has placed on all of us as Christians. The prophet Micah reminds us that acting justly is a requirement of God for mankind. Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Not only that, but we are commanded to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

The unborn are our youngest and most vulnerable neighbors. Christians have a God-given duty to love their neighbor and to act justly by them. We cannot ignore this duty by leaving the work of advocating for the unborn to pro-life organizations. We must join them in the fight, and we can do this by simply living out our faith.  

Christians need to start acting like being pro-life is more than a check you write in the mail to your favorite organization or more than a vote for the pro-life candidate. Being truly pro-life must be a way of life. Not everyone’s contribution will look the same, but abortion won’t become illegal, much less unthinkable, until every Christian starts loving their preborn neighbor in practical ways.

Here are several possibilities:

  • Offering sidewalk counseling at abortion facilities
  • Praying in front of abortion facilities
  • Contacting your representatives and senators
  • Signing and circulating pro-life petitions
  • Volunteering your time and resources to help pregnancy care centers
  • Consider opening your home up to pregnant women who need support
  • Consider adopting a baby in need
  • Marching for life in D.C.
  • Reading a pro-life apologetics book and learning to articulate why you’re pro-life
  • Sharing that training with your fellow church members, friends at school, or your own family
  • Sharing why you believe the preborn are valuable human persons with someone who disagrees with you

These are some of the ways we can love our preborn neighbor and seek justice on their behalf. Until every Christian starts to live out his call to love his preborn neighbor, the political and cultural pro-life organizations won’t be enough to turn the tide on abortion. They can’t do it on their own. They need our help.

Pastors and churches play a central role in this mission. We need pastors to teach on how every human being, regardless of size, is made in the image of God. We need youth groups to host apologetics trainings and do outreach in the community. We need churches to equip their congregation to dialogue with their pro-choice friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers.

It’s time for every pro-lifer to be the hands and feet of Jesus. It’s time for all of us to love the preborn as we love ourselves. It’s time for us to defend and protect the rights of these tiny humans the way that we would want our rights defended. It’s time that we become willing to love them as we would our own children. Until we do, there won’t be lasting change toward a culture of life in America. 

Adelaide Holmes is an intern for Life, Culture, and Women’s Advocacy at Family Research Council.

What’s Wrong With American Boys?

by Daniel Hart

January 14, 2020

Why are adolescent boys and college-aged young men in America still so boorish and misogynistic?

Peggy Orenstein, a writer for The Atlantic, wrestles with this question in a recent feature-length article entitled “The Miseducation of the American Boy.” To her credit, she compassionately attempts to understand what is really going on in the souls of typical boys and young men in the wasteland of contemporary American secular culture by personally interviewing them.

What she finds is both intriguing and disturbing, but not very surprising. Most of the boys she talked to struggled with leading a kind of double life—on the one hand, they “could talk to girls platonically,” as a high school senior named “Cole” said (she uses pseudonyms to protect their identities). But then he admitted that “being around guys was different. I needed to be a ‘bro…’” Most of the other boys Orenstein interviews had similar views about the expectations their peers placed on them and the crushing pressure to conform to a hypersexual, misogynistic “bro” subculture.

So how did we get here? Orenstein admits that there seems to be a “void” in parental guidance of boys: “Today many parents are unsure of how to raise a boy, what sort of masculinity to encourage in their sons. But as I learned from talking with boys themselves, the culture of adolescence, which fuses hyperrationality with domination, sexual conquest, and a glorification of male violence, fills the void.”

It’s clear that Orenstein wants to find solutions for this problem. She prefaces her article by stating that “we need to give [boys] new and better models of masculinity.”

What are these “new and better models”? Unfortunately, Orenstein never really proposes any kind of coherent standard to which boys should strive for. After spending almost 7,500 words extensively quoting their frustrations, fears, and longings and cataloguing dozens of misadventures of boys hooking up awkwardly with female students, bragging about sexual escapades, laughing at rape jokes, and so on, she musters two paragraphs at the end of her article that offer some kind of path forward. She says that we need “models of manhood that are neither ashamed nor regressive, and that emphasize emotional flexibility—a hallmark of mental health.” She also challenges authority figures to step up: “Real change will require a sustained, collective effort on the part of fathers, mothers, teachers, coaches.” Her last tidbit of advice is this: “We have to purposefully and repeatedly broaden the masculine repertoire for dealing with disappointment, anger, desire. We have to say not just what we don’t want from boys but what we do want from them.”

Belief Systems Create Gentlemen

This is certainly all good advice. But what is striking about Orenstein’s guidance is what she does not say. It begs the question: what exactly do we want from boys? It’s all well and good to promote emotional flexibility and mental health, but if the goal is for boys to unlearn misogyny and start respecting girls more, as Orenstein and all people of good faith so desperately want, isn’t it going to take more than “emotional flexibility”?

The answer is unquestionably “yes.” Having respect for girls and women is an essential aspect of moral conduct that all boys and men should have, but obviously do not. That’s because it has to be taught and learned, just as all moral behavior must be, through a system of values, which must ultimately be derived from faith in a revealed moral order. In our politically correct culture, writers like Peggy Orenstein can’t seem to state this obvious fact, probably because they don’t want to be accused of promoting “religion.” It’s notable that the words “religion” and “faith” never appear once in Orenstein’s entire article.

It’s a sad but telling reality that in a culture still fully in the throes of grappling with the #MeToo movement and one in which boys are still so clearly gripped by a culture of sexual conquest, so many secular writers still can’t bring themselves to admit that certain belief systems have the antidote for misogyny built into them. As I have written previously:

[W]hat if more boys were taught from an early age that the context for the full expression of human sexuality is within the bonds of marriage between one man and one woman, as Christianity and other religions do? If this teaching were to be taught consistently throughout childhood and young adulthood, it would substantially increase the amount of gentlemen in our culture. Gentlemen treat women with respect, the kind of respect that inherently knows how to avoid looking at women with lust (see Matthew 5:27-28), the kind of respect that would never even consider making unseemly sexual comments in their company, much less harassing or assaulting them.

Since Orenstein never proposes a belief system with moral principles as an answer to counter misogyny, it appears that she along with most secular commentators are merely hoping that boys will somehow magically absorb sexual morality and respect for women from… friends who happen to have good values? Their parents who happen to be good people? Orenstein never says. She does at one point ask her main interview subject, a high school senior named “Cole,” why he doesn’t assert his “values” more with his peers. But what she never bothers to ask him is where he got his values from.

The Crucial Mentorship of Fathers

Who is it that should be the primary instiller of values in children? This most basic of questions is unfortunately passed over by Orenstein. The vital importance of a father in a boy’s healthy development into a gentleman is the elephant in the room that seems to escape the notice of many secular writers like her.

But perhaps Orenstein can’t be entirely at fault for this. As her article illustrates, the boys that she interviews don’t seem to think much of their fathers. “Cole” briefly describes his father as “a nice guy,” but he went on to say that “I can’t be myself around him. I feel like I need to keep everything that’s in here [tapping his chest] behind a wall, where he can’t see it.” Another 18-year-old named “Rob” described how his father merely told him to “man up” when he was having problems in school. “That’s why I never talk to anybody about my problems,” he said. Another young man, a college sophomore, described how he never felt comfortable talking to his father: “[T]here’s a block there. There’s a hesitation, even though I don’t like to admit that. A hesitation to talk about … anything, really.”

This is heartbreaking stuff. Is it any wonder our boys and young men are so lost and adrift when their primary role model and mentor—their fathers—never make themselves available to their own sons to just talk about life, about growing up to be a man, about anything?

Orenstein’s “The Miseducation of the American Boy” is revealing in a number of ways. Yet again, it reveals that when a belief system based on eternal moral truth is not instilled in boys from a young age, the secular adolescent culture of hypersexual narcissism and misogyny will fill the void. It also reveals that when fathers abandon their fundamental role as the primary mentor and confidant of their sons, their boys will be left emotionally numbed, less empathetic, and more prone to becoming a part of this secular adolescent culture.

Here at Family Research Council, we are doing our part to renew authentic masculinity and to help instill a culture of biblical manhood to stand as a bulwark against the dark cultural forces that promote sexual objectification and conquest, gender confusion, and emasculation. Learn about and consider attending our Stand Courageous men’s conferences, which are making a difference through teaching the principles of authentic manhood as providers, mentors, instructors, defenders, and chaplains.

FRC’s Top 5 Blogs of the Year

by Family Research Council

December 31, 2019

In the Year of Our Lord 2019, FRC’s blog covered a wide range of topics that have impacted the sanctity of life, the family, religious freedom, and the culture here in America and across the globe. Listed below are the five blogs that received the biggest response from you, our readers, as well as some other honorable mentions. Thank you for reading our blog! We greatly appreciate your interest in and passion for these vital issues that are shaping the moral character of our nation. We hope that these articles inspire you to stand for biblical truth, whatever your walk of life may be.

1. 75 Years Ago Today: A D-Day Prayer by Chris Gacek

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.”

2. Should Christians Recognize “LGBT Pride?” by Peter Sprigg

The tendency of many straight ‘allies’ of ‘LGBT Pride’ is to avert their eyes from these actual behaviors. Instead, they define such individuals by their feelings, and then accept the argument that because these feelings are not a ‘choice,’ they must define the person’s innate identity. This is a mistake. Just because feelings are not chosen does not mean they are inborn—they may result from developmental forces in childhood and adolescence. And while feelings are not chosen, both behaviors and a self-identification are chosen.”

3. Basic Human Decency Starts with Protecting Babies on Their Birthday by Caleb Seals

When it comes to abortion, the political Left always trots out the same line: ‘It’s the woman’s right to choose whatever she wants with her own body.’ Pro-lifers respond to this by speaking up for the rights of the unborn baby’s body. But after the recent passage of New York’s extreme abortion law and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s pro-infanticide comments, we are no longer talking about defending the unborn, we are talking about defending the born. Let that sink in.”

4. How Game of Thrones Mainstreamed Sexual Exploitation by Laura Grossberndt

Movies and television shows such as Game of Thrones enjoy a patina of respectability due to their complex plots, extensive viewership, and numerous awards—making them more palatable to a wide audience than a pornographic film would be. However, by treating human sexuality as a commodity, Game of Thrones and its ilk are just another incarnation of the commercial sex trade.”

5. Boys Competing Against Girls Steal Another Win by Cathy Ruse

When men who identify as women compete against women, they’re not achieving a sports victory. They’re just lying, cheating, and stealing.”

 

Honorable Mentions

Last year, my brother Josh, a 37-year-old married father with five kids under the age of 9, announced he was becoming a woman …

Thus, my tall, handsome, muscular brother began taking strong female hormones that transformed him into a different person. His facial hair stopped growing. He grew breasts instead. As part of his ‘social transition’ he began wearing dresses, wigs, heels, and makeup in public. He will have to stay on female hormones until the day he dies. He refuses to answer to the name Josh now—the only name anyone’s known him as for almost four decades. He says Josh is dead. There was even some type of symbolic ‘burial ceremony’ to say goodbye to Josh once and for all. Unfortunately, I didn’t get invited to that. Nor did my parents. No one sent us flowers. No one dropped off a casserole.”

It’s common wisdom to teach kids to respond to a fire or active shooter. They need the same ‘fire drill’ for pornography. Thankfully, most children won’t deal with a fire or a shooter, but all of them will need to escape from pornography.

The ‘escape’ plan from Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr. is simply ‘Turn, Run and Tell!’ Turn away from the bad picture, hurry and get away, and go tell a trusted adult what you saw. The CAN DO Plan from Good Pictures Bad Pictures helps kids not only turn away from it, but to label it by saying ‘That’s pornography!’ This allows kids to have more control over their thoughts by engaging their thinking brain.”

As trade talks between the U.S. and China continue, China’s human rights violations need to be at the forefront of the discussions. China’s organ trade isn’t a minor violation—it’s indicative of systematic harassment, abuse, and even murder of its religious minorities.”

What America needs today is citizens who strive for personal responsibility and service to others and leaders who are looking first to serve, to imbibe the spirit expressed in the faded, worn out words of the Washington Monument—Laus Deo. We need leaders who serve God (Joshua 22:5; 1 Samuel 12:24; Hebrews 9:14) and their fellow citizens (Luke 6:38; Galatians 5:13; 1 Peter 4:10). Jesus himself said, “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matthew 23:11). We as citizens need to renew our commitment to being responsible for ourselves but also to serve those in need, and our government officials need to rediscover their true vocation: to be public servants.”

Netflix’s Mocking of Christians Is Not Sitting Well With Brazilians

by David Closson

December 18, 2019

Netflix is facing considerable pushback following its release of a film that contains profane, anti-Christian content. The film, titled The First Temptation of Christ, was produced by a Brazilian YouTube comedy group called Porta dos Fundos, which is known for producing irreverent content. The film depicts God and Mary as illicit lovers and Jesus as a closeted homosexual, among other things.

Outraged Netflix subscribers in Brazil and around the world are calling for the film’s immediate removal. One petition protesting the film has already collected over two million signatures since the film debuted on December 3.  

Described by the filmmakers as a “Christmas Special Show,” the plot follows Jesus as he returns to Nazareth for his 30th birthday party. Accompanying Jesus to the party is an effeminate and flirtatious character named Orlando. Conversations with Jesus’ family strongly imply that Orlando is romantically involved with Jesus.

Explicit and sexually suggestive language is used throughout the film, and many scenes are scandalous and outright blasphemous from the perspective of biblical Christianity. For example, Mary smokes marijuana, one of the wise men hires a female escort, and Jesus gets high off a “special tea.” God is depicted as a good-looking, talented, and likable character, while Joseph is portrayed as an incompetent carpenter. Furthermore, the film portrays Joseph as being jealous of God for the relationship he has with Mary. In one shocking scene, God reveals to Mary, Joseph, and Jesus that he had intercourse with Mary, which resulted in her pregnancy. In a subsequent scene, God and Mary appear ready to kiss before Joseph interrupts.

Toward the end of the film, it is revealed that Orlando is Lucifer—evidently, he successfully seduced Jesus in the desert. While Jesus is summoning up the courage to fight him, Orlando/Lucifer forcibly kisses Mary. The movie concludes with Jesus killing Lucifer and accepting the call to spread God’s message.

From the perspective of a biblical worldview, there are a few points to be made. First, the film intentionally seeks to provoke and offend Christian sensibilities. The notion that Jesus is gay and has a homosexual lover contradicts the evidence of Scripture and its clear teaching on the immorality of homosexuality (Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10).

Second, the portrayal of God as a sex-obsessed deity is reminiscent of the sordid escapades of Greek gods and goddesses and in no way resembles the God of biblical Christianity. The depiction of God in this film is utterly blasphemous. In Christianity, blasphemy is the act of showing contempt or lack of reverence for God. The third of the Ten Commandments prohibits such irreverence: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). Christians believe the name of God is holy and how we use God’s name ought to express the reverence that is due to him. The commandment forbids more than just the verbal misuse of God’s name (e.g., as an expletive): it also condemns any abuse of God’s name in “ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious, or wicked” ways. Without a doubt, the film misuses God’s name by portraying Him in a manner that is diametrically opposed to how He is presented in the Bible.  

While Porta dos Fundos insists The First Temptation of Christ is merely satirical, the film has proven divisive in Brazil, a nation that is home to 120 million Catholics—more than anywhere in the world. The controversy is not surprising, then, as the film depicts Jesus in ways that are alien to Scripture.

It is worth noting that caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that are much less profane than how God and Jesus are portrayed in The First Temptation of Christ have provoked massive protests in Islamic countries. Most famously, Muslim terrorists attacked the office of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in 2015 after the magazine depicted Muhammad in an unflatteringly light. Twelve people were killed and 11 wounded in the attack.

When films with sacrilegious content offend the sensibilities of believers, the question of free speech and censorship often arises. The First Amendment protects offensive speech, certainly. However, important questions ought to be asked. Such as, why do companies like Netflix think it is acceptable to violate basic standards of decency when it comes to religion? Why do many producers and directors think it is acceptable to attack the beliefs of millions of devout Christians in the name of “art”?

While it is no longer socially acceptable to malign people for their sex, race, or nationality, it is unfortunately still acceptable to bully and make fun of Christians and their beliefs. That is why Netflix and other media companies do not hesitate when providing a platform for a film as profane as The First Temptation of Christ. These companies think Christians are easy targets who will not fight back. Therefore, they believe they can continue to belittle and mock Christians through their films, art, and music with few repercussions.

However, it appears that Christians in Brazil have had enough and are pushing back. They should be applauded for voicing their objection to this offensive material. By uniting their voices, they are sending a clear message to Netflix that sacrilegious content like The First Temptation of Christ has no audience in Brazil and that movie makers should respect religious belief if they want an audience.

The Birth Rate is Falling. But Why?

by Daniel Hart

December 16, 2019

Here in the United States, we are not having enough babies to replenish our population.

In the latest numbers from the CDC, there were just under 3.8 million births in 2018, down 2 percent from the previous year. This marks the fourth year in a row that births have declined in the U.S. The current rate of 1.7 births per 1,000 women is well below the 2.1 births needed to maintain a steady replacement level.

The decline in U.S. births mirrors a global decline since the 1950’s, which has seen the birth rate plummet from 4.7 to 2.4 over the last 70 years. Many secular commentators point to a handful of factors to explain why this remarkable decline is happening in America, including a lack of “suitable partners” for women and “economic instability.”

A Society’s Survival Depends on Its Values

But some secular writers are beginning to grow skeptical of these mainstream explanations that barely skim the surface of what’s really going on. In a fascinating recent piece in The New York Times titled “The End of Babies,” Anna Louie Sussman asks, “Something is stopping us from creating the families we claim to desire. But what?” She points to an intriguing study showing that in almost every European country as well as the U.S., the number of children that women want is well above the number of children they actually have. While Sussman does explore a bit of the standard excuses that many secular liberals give for not having kids, including climate change and economic inequality, she eventually hits on the root of what fertility hinges upon: the values that a society has.

For communities that do not hold to secular values, Sussman notes that low fertility is not a problem:

Where alternative value systems exist, however, babies can be plentiful. In the United States, for example, communities of Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, Mormons and Mennonites have birthrates higher than the national average.

Why is this? Sussman’s next paragraph is key:

Lyman Stone, an economist who studies population, points to two features of modern life that correlate with low fertility: rising “workism” — a term popularized by the Atlantic writer Derek Thompson — and declining religiosity. “There is a desire for meaning-making in humans,” Mr. Stone told me. Without religion, one way people seek external validation is through work, which, when it becomes a dominant cultural value, is “inherently fertility reducing.”

Perhaps unwittingly, Sussman has hit upon a transcendent truth: When we lose sight of God, we begin to lose our bearing on what it means to be human. When this happens, it becomes easier to overlook the essential building blocks that provide meaning, purpose, and continuity to our humanness: the institution of marriage (which is in steep decline) and the children that naturally result from this union.

Faith Casts Out Fear

After reading Sussman’s article, one can’t help but come away with a strong sense of the anxiety that so many in our culture carry with them when it comes to marriage and family. Her piece is peppered throughout with the worries and fears of those she interviews: “Young people say, ‘Having children is the end of my life’”; “If I become 50 or 60 and I don’t have kids, I know I’m going to hate myself the rest of my life”; “Everything is super expensive.” Sussman herself is not immune to this anxiety. She has convinced herself, rather sheepishly, that she must save $200,000 before she has a child. Why? Because she is single and plans to have a child via in vitro fertilization (IVF), and this figure is “an acknowledgment of the financial realities of single parenthood, but also the arithmetic crystallization of my anxieties around parenthood in our precarious era.”

Without getting into the troubling aspects of IVF, I’d love to be able to reassure Sussman and her fellow worriers, “It’ll be okay! God will provide!” One of the greatest benefits of faith is that it casts out fear of the unknown. For what does Christ himself tell his followers in the gospel? “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:26-27)

Even still, I must admit that I often forget Christ’s words. I struggle with many of the same fears that Sussman describes. As a husband and father myself, I often worry about finances and my ability to support and provide for my wife and our two young boys as they grow up, as well as any future children that God might bless us with. But guess what? God has provided for us. He always does. He is always faithful. I have found that the more I trust in God’s providence, the more my worries and fears fade away. For God, who is “Perfect love,” “casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

The Birth of a Child is the Rebirth of Hope

It is clear that the declining birth rate is intimately connected with anxieties about having kids that permeate our culture. When a society largely rejects religious values, it loses its ability to have hope in the future, most profoundly illustrated by the birth of new life. When God is forgotten, the world becomes a complicated, intimidating, and “precarious” place, as Sussman says, one which can seem inhospitable to rearing children.

But despite all this uncertainty and anxiousness, the desire for rebirth still lingers within us. In the candid and heartfelt conclusion to her article, Sussman can’t help but admit her own yearning to pass on the legacy of her father, with an implicit longing for motherhood:

But as I reflected on the immaterial gifts I like to think I inherited from him, it became clear I craved genetic continuity, however fictitious and tenuous it might be. I recognized then something precious and inexplicable in this yearning, and glimpsed how devastating it might be to be unable to realize it. For the first time, I felt justified in my impulse to preserve some little piece of me that, in some way, contained a little piece of him, which one day might live again.

Not even liberal New York Times columnists, it seems, can escape the primordial urge to pass on our humanity, to indeed “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).

An important lesson can be drawn from all of this for believers. When we work to spread the gospel, we are working to dispel worldly fear and break open hearts toward openness to new life. For the birth of every child is the rebirth of hope, the hope bestowed by a Creator who gives us the gift of life, smiles upon us, and calls us “good.”

Introducing Lecture Me! - A New Podcast from FRC

by Family Research Council

October 15, 2019

We all need to be lectured sometimes.

Family Research Council’s new weekly-ish podcast Lecture Me! features selected talks by top thinkers from the archives of the FRC Speaker Series. Our podcast podium takes on tough issues like religious liberty, abortion, euthanasia, marriage, family, sexuality, public policy, and the culture—all from a biblical worldview.

Listen with us to the lecture, then stick around afterward as we help you digest the content with a discussion featuring FRC’s policy and government affairs experts.

The first three episodes are now available. They include:

  • Nancy Pearcey: Love Thy Body

FRC’s Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview David Closson joins Lecture Me! to discuss Author Nancy Pearcey’s lecture about her book Love Thy Body, in which she fearlessly and compassionately makes the case that secularism denigrates the body and destroys the basis for human rights, and sets forth a holistic and humane alternative that embraces the dignity of the human body.

  • Military Mental Health Crisis

Currently, an average of 21 military veterans are taking their lives each day. FRC’s Deputy Director of State and Local Affairs Matt Carpenter joins the podcast to discuss Richard Glickstein’s lecture as he shares the compelling evidence that proves faith-based solutions reduce suicides, speed the recovery of PTSD, and build resiliency.

  • Repairers of the Breach

How can the conservative movement help restore America’s inner cities? FRC’s Coalitions Senior Research Fellow Chris Gacek joins the podcast to discuss Robert L. Woodson, Sr.’s lecture on how the conservative movement must identify, recognize, and support agents of individual and community uplift and provide the resources, expertise, and funding that can strengthen and expand their transformative work.

Lecture Me! is available at most places you listen to podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and Castbox.

The Unintentionally Powerful Pro-Life Message of One Child Nation

by Laura Grossberndt

August 30, 2019

One Child Nation co-director Nanfu Wang stands with her son in front of a Chinese propaganda mural.

Faced with a national population approaching one billion, the People’s Republic of China instituted a one-child-per-family policy in 1979. This policy was in effect until 2015, when the government expanded the birth limit to two children per family. While the policy may have “succeeded” at slowing the national birthrate, it also forcibly violated the bodies of millions of women and resulted in the death or disappearance of millions of pre or post-born children, most of them female.

One Child Nation, winner of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize, is a heart-rending, eye-opening account of China’s one-child policy and the human rights violations that ensued. The documentary is narrated and co-directed by Nanfu Wang, a Chinese-American immigrant who was born in China while the policy was in effect. In the film, she conducts a series of interviews with victims of the one-child policy, former government officials and midwives entrusted with enforcing the policy, citizens who defied the policy, and members of her own family (some of whom supported the policy and others who opposed it). The result is a vivid portrayal of Chinese life and a compelling critique of government authoritarianism. Because of this, the documentary One Child Nation is the rightful recipient of much critical acclaim and deserves a wide viewership. However, a surprising moral inconsistency and a false comparison in the closing minutes of the film prevents this otherwise superb documentary from having its fullest impact.

A Heartbreaking Account of State-Enforced Brutality

Aspects of the film worth commending include Wang’s compelling first-hand experiences about the one-child policy. She explains that propaganda supporting the policy was woven into virtually every facet of life while she was growing up: from murals and advertisements to entertainment and music. She recalls feeling shame for having a sibling (some rural families were allowed to have two children). Her family felt immense relief when her younger brother was born—if he had been a girl, the family most likely would not have kept the baby.

Wang expresses frustration that her family and the Chinese people did little to stop the practices that she believes are morally reprehensible. In terms of presentation, little of the documentary’s runtime is dedicated to expressing her own feelings. Instead, she and her co-director Jialing Zhang allow the interviews to speak for themselves, without inserting commentary.

The people Wang interviews have varying attitudes towards the one-child policy. Some, like Wang’s mother, maintain that the Chinese government was right and that the policy was necessary to prevent wide-scale starvation. Others, like the village midwife, deeply regret the policy and their participation in its enforcement. This particular midwife performed an estimated 60,000 abortions in her career. Now she tries to atone for her past by offering medical care for infertile couples and delivering babies.

The first-person accounts of One Child Nation appeal to the viewer’s humanity again and again. The documentary successfully communicates an important moral point: What may have begun as a government’s sincere attempt to raise a nation’s standard of living has resulted in a human rights crisis. The blood of discarded children practically cries out from the ground. During one interview, Wang talks with an artist committed to documenting the horror of infant bodies left to rot under bridges and on top of trash heaps. The artist shows the camera one such body he has managed to preserve in a glass jar and marvels about how the baby resembles his young son.

An Incoherent Conclusion

As the documentary draws to a close, Nanfu Wang reflects on her journey, including the shocking brutality and human rights abuses perpetrated in the name of the one-child policy. However, as she discusses everything she’s learned about China, her family, and the one-child policy, she arrives at a surprising conclusion: the horrors of the one-child policy are parallel to abortion restrictions in the United States.

Despite over an hour carefully describing the horrors of forced abortions, sterilizations, and the horror associated with abandoning one’s child, Wang argues that both countries are guilty of policing a woman’s sovereignty over her body, albeit in different ways. In an interview with Vox, she expressed much the same sentiment:

I remember when I first came to the US and learned about the restriction on abortions in the US. I was very shocked. It wasn’t the free America that I had thought it would be. I was surprised by the government control on reproductive rights and the access to reproductive health care.

Making this film, I also had a lot of conversations with people about the topic, and I was surprised. Sometimes people couldn’t see how forced state abortions and the state limiting access to abortions are quite similar; they are both the government trying to control women’s bodies and trying to control women’s reproductive rights.

I hope that the film reminds people what would happen if their government takes away women’s choice, or any individual’s choice. And sadly I think it’s happening in China, it’s happening in the US, and it’s happening in a lot of countries throughout the world, where women do not have the freedom to make their own reproductive decisions.

These statements are stunning because of the inconsistency with the moral appeals for the humanity of the pre and post-born throughout the documentary. After seeing footage of babies preserved in jars and thrown onto trash heaps, is the viewer supposed to believe that the sole atrocity of the one-child policy is the violation of reproductive choice?

The policy’s crimes against adult women—such as forced abortions and sterilizations—are horrific, and Wang is right to expose and censure them. But as One Child Nation clearly depicts, adult women were not the policy’s only victims. The countless children killed in the womb or immediately after birth, as well as the children abandoned in marketplaces, on roadsides, or in dumps were also victims. Furthermore, the Chinese government’s one-child policy, paired with the culture’s preference for male children, practically guaranteed that most of the slaughtered or discarded children were girls. Women—both adult women and infant girls—were the victims most deeply harmed by the policy.

It is worth noting that sex-selective abortions are a type of misogyny that is often ignored by the pro- “reproductive rights” wing of feminism because it doesn’t neatly fit their narrative of abortion-on-demand. But as long as some cultures value male children over female, sex-selective abortions and other crimes against female children will continue to be a problem.

An Inadvertently Pro-Life Message

While One Child Nation adeptly exposes the tragedy of China’s one-child policy to a wide audience, a moral inconsistency and a false comparison in the closing minutes prevents this otherwise superb documentary from having its fullest impact. Both children and adults are clearly victims of China’s government-imposed birth restrictions. Furthermore, China’s birth restrictions and America’s abortion restrictions are far from parallel policies. The former kills children, while the latter seeks to prevent the killing of children. The Chinese policy violates women’s bodies with forced sterilization, while abortion restrictions seek to protect the bodies of all women: adult women from risky abortion procedures and pre and post-born girls from being aborted.

Harrowing and poignant, One Child Nation illuminates the problems with China’s one-child policy while making a strong pro-life case that perhaps its own directors do not even fully understand.

One Child Nation is rated R for some disturbing content/images and brief language (via subtitles).

Let’s Make Evangelism Part of Our Everyday Lives

by Daniel Hart

August 30, 2019

As believers in Christ, how much is evangelism part of our everyday lives?

It’s a question that I have been asking myself a lot lately, especially in light of yet another discouraging poll that was released this past Sunday showing that over the last 20 years, the number of Americans who see religion and having children as “very important” is in steep decline (from 62 to 48 percent for religion and from 59 to 43 percent for having children).

The same poll also shows a substantial difference in the outlook of Millennial/Gen-Zers (ages 18-38) and the Boomers/Silent Generation (ages 55-91), who see patriotism, belief in God, and having children as “very important” at substantially higher rates than the younger generation. This does not bode well for the future of our country.

Overall, the poll found that Americans are increasingly angry, anxious, and unsatisfied. As believers called to witness to the gospel, we clearly have our work cut out for us.

Plentiful Harvest, Few Laborers

Whenever I come across fresh evidence like this of our country’s increasing godlessness and indifference to family life, I often think about Christ’s words in Matthew’s gospel: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’” (Matthew 9:36-38).

They were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Isn’t that an incredibly fitting description of our culture right now? Christ’s next words haunt me no matter how many times I read them: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” There are so many souls out there who are lost, who are yearning for God without fully realizing what this hunger in their souls is for. Are we laboring amongst the plentiful harvest of these shepherdless sheep?

As believers, it’s easy to settle into a comfortable pattern in our faith lives. We find great solace and satisfaction in sharing our faith with our families, close friends, and church communities, as we should. While it’s true that a primary evangelistic responsibility is to pass the faith on to our children and to refuel our needy souls in our churches every week, it’s also true that many believers live their lives as though that is where their call to witness ends, myself included. What Jesus is calling us to is something even more far-reaching: to see the world as our mission field.

An Isolated and Lonely Culture

So how should we evangelize today’s culture? Should we stand on street corners with megaphones and loudly proclaim Christ while handing out leaflets?

I would argue that for most of us, this type of impersonal evangelism is not what we are called to. I believe we are called to a much more personal type of witness, one that focuses on individual connection and invitation during one-on-one interactions that happen in everyday life.

Why? Consider this: in one of the most astonishing studies released in recent memory, it was found that 46 percent of Americans reported “feeling lonely sometimes or always,” with 43 percent “feeling isolated from others, and the same number report[ed] feeling they lack companionship and their relationships lack meaning.”

Let’s let this sink in for a moment. Almost half of America is saying that they do not have meaningful relationships and often feel lonely and isolated. Now recall what the first study I discussed in the opening paragraphs found: fewer and fewer Americans consider raising a family and faith to be important. But families and faith communities are two of the biggest means by which people find true companionship and meaning in their lives, and thereby avoid loneliness!

Tragically, a large portion of the American populace does not appear to see the connection between what they value most in life and how those values affect their wellbeing. They are shunning society’s most fundamental institutions that provide authentic community and a sense of identity and belonging. Just how integral is family to this sense of identity? As Mary Eberstadt has written:

Up until the middle of the twentieth century (and barring the frequent foreshortening of life by disease or nature) human expectations remained largely the same throughout the ages: that one would grow up to have children and a family; that parents and siblings and extended family would remain one’s primal community; and that, conversely, it was a tragedy not to be part of a family.

As for faith, psychology professor Clay Routledge recently summed up his and his colleague’s findings about its unique importance:

Religion isn’t just like any organization or group that affords people the opportunity to socialize. Religion promotes a deeper feeling of mattering by teaching adherents that they have social duties to family, friends, and even strangers. Religious faith is an invisible thread that weaves individuals together into moral communities.

And yet, fewer and fewer Americans are seeing the value of family and faith. Is it any wonder that so many in our society are feeling increasingly isolated and alone?

The Essential Importance of Connection and Invitation

It is abundantly clear from all of this that there is a plentiful harvest of people in our culture who need to be reached out to. To reiterate: I would argue that the most effective way to evangelize a godless, lonely, and disconnected culture is to focus on personal connection and invitation in our interactions with people in our everyday lives.

So what does this look like?

Connection. For an introvert like me, I start getting nervous when I think about “reaching out” more. I’m the kind of person who, depending on the day, finds it quite difficult to merely ask a cashier at a store how their day is going. But these kinds of friendly interactions must be the starting points in our mission as believers to spread the gospel. A friendly “How is your day going?” to a grocery store clerk, fellow airplane passenger, or homeless person on the street can easily turn into a genuine connection if the moment is right. But unless we initiate this connection, we will never know if an evangelism opportunity could arise from it. 

Even if one of these everyday encounters does not result in a genuine connection being made, we can simply say, “God bless you” as we depart from the person we are engaging. These simple parting words are a way not only to impart a blessing on them, but also to emphasize the fact that we are Christian and that our good will is ultimately derived from our faith.

We should be especially open to opportunities for connection at our places of employment. Besides our homes, there is no place that we spend more time at than our jobs. The more time we spend at work with our coworkers, the more of a rapport we establish with them. This natural familiarity we develop with our coworkers can lead to an increased trust and openness with each other, which can then lead to excellent opportunities for evangelism.

We should also remember certain populations of people who are especially prone to isolation, particularly the elderly and those in prison. One in three seniors report feeling lonely, which underscores the need for us to visit our local assisted living facilities, where many elderly often do not have loved ones to spend quality time with. We should also spend time to discern if we have a calling for prison ministry. Organizations like Prison Fellowship provide great information and opportunities to minister to this often-forgotten population.

Invitation. Once we have established a connection with someone, we cannot afford to leave it at that. As we are seeing, our culture is starving for authentic community. This means we must extend an invitation to those we have connected with to continue the conversation, at a minimum. Depending on what we feel called to in a given situation, this could mean exchanging personal contact information, extending an invitation to our home for a shared meal, or inviting them to our church.

As Rod Dreher has written, evangelism in our time cannot be separate from discipleship. When we help those we witness to learn how to be faithful by continually inviting them into our own homes and faith communities, we not only build up their faith but also enrich our own families and communities with the fresh perspectives of newcomers.

We Are Not Called to Be Successful, But Faithful

During our journeys of witness, we will often feel like failures. In fact, we will probably not be able to see any lasting impact from most of our attempts to evangelize during our lifetimes. But this doesn’t matter. The Lord is simply calling us to be laborers in the harvest—He will take care of the rest.

In the end, evangelism is simply the act of showing love for our neighbor. Consider the words of Augustine, the mighty father of the early church, who described how Ambrose, a bishop, witnessed to him in his Confessions: “I began to love him at first not as a teacher of the truth … but simply as a man who was kind and generous to me.”

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