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No Fault Divorce Harms Children
February 24, 2022
A couple of weeks ago, Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister for the United Kingdom, praised what he called an “important” debate in Parliament. He was referring to a law effective April 6, under which married couples no longer have to name any faults before seeking a divorce. Ironically for a member of Britain’s Conservative Party, this idea flies in the face of what “conservative” means. It certainly cuts against conservative foundations articulated by the likes of Edmund Burke and T.S. Eliot. According to these thinkers, family and tradition are the only real bulwarks against the chaos of our atomistic age. As we noted recently, “If we lose our belief in marriage and the family as the foundation of a healthy and flourishing society, there will soon be very little left for ‘conservatives’ to conserve.” But Mr. Raab’s comments got worse. He went so far as to claim that this new law was a positive good, not just for parents seeking divorce, but for children. As he put it, “This vital reform will remove unnecessary conflict from the process by ending the blame game—helping [to] spare children from the harmful effects this can have.” This, “the kids will be fine” line, is not just nonsense: it’s dangerous nonsense. It flies in the face of everything we know about the impact of divorce on the most vulnerable among us. Over 20 years ago, Chuck Colson said, “People who divorce are more likely to die from stroke, heart disease, cancer, and hypertension. Kids from broken homes are more likely to fail in school, abuse drugs and alcohol, commit crimes, and have children out of wedlock.” What Mr. Raab and our friends across the Pond should do is look before they leap. A look at the American experience reveals how this so-called “freedom” has played out here, and the enduring scars it’s left upon children. In the early 1970s, an incredible (and incredibly sad) study was launch, which was later published in book form under the title The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. It told some of the tragic stories of these children. Drs. Judith Wallerstein and Julia Lewis interviewed over a hundred children of divorce in California, hoping to get at the real-world impact of divorce on the increasing number of children growing up in broken homes. They didn’t only interview these individuals as children, but also followed them over the next 25 years. What this study found was devastating. As one reviewer described their findings: [O]nly seven of the 131 children from the original sample experienced a post-divorce home in which they had a good relationship with a step-parent. At this 25-year mark, only 60 percent had contracted for marriage. Two-thirds of the sample decided not to have children. Only 30 percent of the sample received financial support for college, as contrasted with 90 percent of children whose parents were not divorced, an indication of the nature and quality of their troubled relationships with their parents. This story is about far more than stats. It’s about the heartbreaking impact divorce had on these kids’ lives. There’s the woman who almost 30 years later could still see in her mind the details of “the sun striking the patterns on the living room carpet” the day her father left when she was only 4. There’s the boy who refused to take off his heavy coat at school despite the day’s heat in case he’d have to leave at a moment’s notice. There’s the little girl who kept telling her teacher about her new baby brother, except there was no baby, only her little heart’s plea to imagine her parents were still together. Then, there was the 5-year-old who said she needed a new mommy because hers had been “a tense, cranky, unavailable stranger.” There are times when divorce is necessary, but it is always tragic in the same sense as when catastrophic cures like amputation or chemotherapy are necessary. To pretend otherwise is a dangerous fantasy. The Bible sees marriage as a lifelong bond between a man and a woman, but, recognizing the frailty of human nature after the Fall, it allows for divorce in extreme cases, such as abandonment, adultery, or abuse. Highlighting the “wholesome” effects of no-fault divorce is even more reckless than praising the upside of amputation. Divorce is a messy, sometimes necessary, side effect of living in a world full of sin and folly. But while we may have to deal with our human weakness in this way, it’s never something we should excuse by saying that it is for the kids’ good. The cost to children is too high. Its effects on children are too long-lasting for society to allow, let alone encourage. To do so is to ignore the data, the stories, and reality itself. By: John Stonestreet and Timothy D. Padgett
Summit Ministries is Immunizing Students from Bad Ideas
February 18, 2022
Many Christian parents worry about passing on the faith to their children. Sadly, statistics suggest they should. In 2020, the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University found that just 2% of millennials, a generation now well into adulthood, have a biblical worldview. That’s the lowest of any generation since surveys began. Lifeway Research reports that two-thirds of those who attend a youth group as teenagers will drop out of church as adults. A significant aspect of the battle for the hearts and minds of the next generation has to do with ideas. Helping students think correctly about life and the world, God and themselves would be hard enough if they weren’t facing such strong cultural headwinds. But they are, and bad ideas are like viruses. They spread from the mind to the heart, and from person to person, even infecting entire populations. Many young people today leave the faith because they lack the necessary immunity from the bad ideas of our culture. Christian parents must not only present the truth to their kids, they must find ways to immunize them against lies. To do that, we need to know which teaching methods work and which don’t. Dr. Jeff Myers of Summit Ministries points to the work of a Yale psychology professor from the 1950s. Dr. William McGuire suggested that bad ideas behave like viruses. Specifically, the more exposure one has to bad ideas in a controlled setting, the less likely they are to fall for those ideas later. McGuire performed a series of experiments in which he tried to convince subjects of a lie, that brushing their teeth was actually bad for them. Those with no preparation for what they were about to hear were more easily convinced to stop brushing, and those who were warned against a specific bad argument they would hear were harder to deceive. No real surprise. More surprising were the groups that were easiest and the hardest to dupe. The group most vulnerable to falsehoods was not the one with zero preparation, but the one who’d merely had the truth reinforced. In other words, the subjects most easily deceived were told things like, “You know brushing your teeth is good for you, right? You’ve been taught this since you were little. Trust us.” When they heard arguments they’d never heard before, this group felt sheltered and even deceived. The least vulnerable group were those who had not only been warned against a bad argument they’d hear, they were also taught how to respond. And, they were warned they could face additional bad arguments, so they needed to be aware and vigilant. What does this experiment teach us? Well, for one thing, that the method many Christian parents and churches use to pass on the faith—reinforcement without taking seriously counter ideas—is doomed to fail. In fact, it can leave young people more vulnerable to lies. It also teaches us that we don’t have to give kids all the answers, but they do need to be aware and ready to think for themselves. This requires that we give them a framework, or a pattern, of responding to bad ideas thoughtfully and confidently. This is what the team at Summit Ministries has been doing with students for decades: immunizing them against bad ideas and preparing them for challenges to their faith. The results are measurable and impressive. An independent 2020 survey of Summit alumni showed that just 40% felt able to defend their faith against challenges before attending a student conference. After attending, that number skyrocketed to nearly 90%. Before Summit, only 44% claimed a strong commitment to Christianity. Afterward, 77% did. And, almost 97% of Summit alumni indicate they are currently attending a church that holds to the truth of the Bible. Chuck Colson called Summit Ministries “the gold standard” for training young adults in Christian worldview. I agree. I’ve personally witnessed and been part of the transformation that happened at Summit. Each 2-week student conference—held at Covenant College in Georgia and at the Summit headquarters in Manitou Springs, Colorado—shapes a robust, biblical worldview in young people, while also preparing them for divisive topics like abortion, doubt and deconstruction, evolution, gender identity, God’s existence, sexuality, and more. If you know a student who needs to attend a Summit conference this summer, get a $100 discount with offer code “BREAKPOINT22.” You can also save $200 when you register before March 31 for any in-person Summit Student Conference. Simply visit summit.org/breakpoint. The numbers speak for themselves. Passing on a Christian worldview to our kids requires much more than just telling them the truth. It requires us to help them love the truth, and gain spiritual immunity against infectious bad ideas.
The Metaverse and a Disembodied Church
February 17, 2022
Futurists and tech industry gurus have long promised a utopia where humans aren’t dependent on pesky biological or geographical realities. Behind yesterday’s cyberspace and today’s “Metaverse” is the same idea: In a brave new world of digital existence, humans can be freed from bodies, specific locations, and other physical limitations. Digital technology made it possible for churches to pivot and continue in the early, uncertain days of the pandemic. Many congregations have chosen to keep their live-streaming option on offer, in order to accommodate their older, more vulnerable, or physically distant constituents. Other churches have taken it a step or two further. Some have opted for an online-only congregation, abandoning a physical building and physical gatherings altogether. Others are starting “churches” in Facebook’s new Metaverse, where people, or their avatars, can “come” to church from anywhere in the world with other people, or their avatars, who join from anywhere in the world. D.J. Soto, a pastor at what is called VR Church in the Metaverse, recently claimed, “The future of the church is the metaverse… in the church of 2030, the main focus is going to be your metaverse campus.” On one hand, such innovation is just the latest chapter in a longer history. Churches have long employed new technologies and methods to reach the sick or infirmed, particularly in times of crisis, and keep them connected with the wider Church. Evangelicals, in particular, have a long tradition of using new technologies in the service of evangelism, including the printing press 500 years ago, the newspaper 300 years ago, the radio in the early 1900s, and the TV in the late 1900s. This commentary, BreakPoint, got its start on the radio. But new technology and communication methods must be evaluated on more than whether or not something new “works.” This new chapter is also about what the Church is. Decades ago, Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.” Put another way, the means used to tell a story will shape what is said. When it comes to Church, it can change the nature of what we kind of people we are. People aren’t just inviting the world into the Church through new technology, they’re moving the Church into the new realm of that technology. Such a move can have unexpected consequences. While there’s certainly cause for attempts to “reach people where they are,” what we reach them with is what we reach them to. We must make sure any effort to communicate the Gospel doesn’t reduce the Gospel to anything less than It is. Remember, Christ spoke of those who, in the Parable of the Sower, initially received the Gospel with joy, but, lacking root, turned aside when growing stopped being as convenient. But there’s also something else to consider. A disembodied Church assumes that a disembodied faith is possible. A Christianity lived only online encourages America’s already existing “choose your own adventure” understanding of religion. Christianity is about more than content. Rather, its content cannot truly be lived outside of the context of real people in the real world. As Tish Harrison Warren put it recently in the New York Times, “[B]odies, with all the risk, danger, limits, mortality and vulnerability that they bring, are part of our deepest humanity, not obstacles to be transcended through digitization.” In contrast, a cyberspace “church” can be something akin to 2013’s “Her,” where an imaginary relationship with an online persona becomes preferable to the often painful and inconvenient nature of tangible reality. As someone from that movie puts it, “You always wanted to have a wife without the challenges of dealing with anything real,” a line that could describe what too many seek from the Bride of Christ. The faith of our fathers is not simply attending a performance, or even embracing a set of ideas about God or Jesus. A church without doctrine is a mere social club or an arbitrary special interest group, but a “church” that remains doctrinally correct but only connects online is a mere chat room. A disembodied online existence makes it too easy to hide who and what we really are from those God has called us to love and be loved by. The Christian life cannot be fully lived online. God has called us to this time and this place, to times and crises that are uncomfortable and to people whose issues and ailments are unpleasant. The world in which God is making all things new is filled with real people and real problems, and these won’t be mended in the illusive world of an online existence.
Research Says Marry Early, but Don’t Live Together First
February 16, 2022 • John Stonestreet
New data is poking holes in what’s become a prominent cultural myth. “When it comes to divorce,” write Brad Wilcox and Lyman Stone in The Wall Street Journal, “the research has generally backed up the belief that it’s best to wait until around 30 to tie the knot.” This is because the divorce rate is generally lower for those who wait to wed. However, according to the National Survey of Family Growth, there’s an interesting exception to this modern-day rule of thumb. Couples in their 20s who don’t cohabitate first have some of the lowest divorce rates of any group. Though it’s not exactly clear, from the research anyway, as to why this is the case. This particular cohort is disproportionately religious, something that is linked to lower divorce rates across the board. Even so, the data sheds further light on the relationship between cohabitation and marriage in American society. Decades of studies have led sociologists to broadly conclude that cohabitation leads to higher rates of divorce. In general, living with a partner, even one that eventually becomes a spouse, is associated with a 15% higher chance of splitting up. One Stanford study indicates that the rate is twice as high for those who cohabitate with someone other than their future spouse. “We generally think that having more experience is better….” says University of Denver psychologist Galena Rhoades, “but what we find for relationships is just the opposite.” More partners mean more comparison, she argues, which can make it harder to achieve long-term contentment. Cohabitation also teaches couples that one can always head for the exit when problems seem too daunting, instead of to press in and stick it out. As a result, while marriages in general are more stable at 30, marriage to one partner is better, even if at a younger age. Still, despite a significant amount of data that says otherwise, society pushes a very different story about living together. People in their 20s, says convention, should avoid commitment, establish themselves professionally, and certainly try living together before tying the knot. For a generation raised in divorced homes, skepticism toward marriage is understandable … as is the desire to “try it before you buy it.” After all, this is the same generation who never has to pick a restaurant before checking its rating on Yelp. And so here we are, in a culture where both delayed marriage and cohabitation are “normal,” but relational satisfaction is rare. Married couples report more satisfaction across the board than cohabiting couples, in all kinds of areas, and report more trust by double digits. Even couples who’ve had to persevere in marriage through difficult seasons report higher levels of satisfaction. Marriage is also broadly connected with better health and wellbeing, not to mention the wellbeing of children, 40% of whom today are born out of wedlock. Though the data about marriage is overwhelming, fewer and fewer are choosing it. Compared to only 9% of Americans in 1970, more than a third of adults today (35%) will never tie the knot. That’s not to say they won’t have romantic relationships and create children. They will simply opt out of marriage. Given the relevant data, the idea that one should not get married “too early” emphasizes the wrong factors. Wisdom should always be exercised with commitments this big, but at the same time, age matters far less than the commitment itself. Limitless sexual experience, self-actualization, and the freedom to leave don’t actually produce relational happiness in the long term. In fact, they damage it. In short, as a project of self-fulfillment, marriage might be worthless. As a way to reap the rewards of self-sacrifice, its value is incalculable. Christians know why. Marriage is a part of the created order. Though some marriages will tragically end for various reasons and others may want marriage but struggle to find it, the Church can provide vital community for all of its members, while still promoting marriage for the God-given good that it is. And when marriages hit rocky ground, resources like Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored conferences, are available for those willing to fight for reconciliation … with incredible stories of success. Ultimately, though, a successful marriage requires the same thing as Christianity, a commitment to something bigger than ourselves.
Join Colson Center and Focus on the Family for New Speaker Series
February 15, 2022
Our information-saturated world seems to run on news headlines. One comes at us after another, all calling us to shock or outrage. It’s no wonder so many choose to simply turn off the noise. It’s as if the world is constantly coming into our clean rooms and dumping a new pile of dirty laundry for us to deal with. So, we just shut the door in order to stop the madness. But for Christians, simply closing our eyes and plugging our ears is not an option. We may choose silence or a sort of media fast for a while, but God has not called us to this time and place in history in order to disconnect from it. At the same time, we need to discern between what is noisy and what ultimately matters. Breathless headlines and made-up news stories can distract us from far more critical issues. Christians believe that the specific stories of our culture don’t ultimately reveal “what” we should care about, but they are the “when” and “where,” the context in which God has called us to live out our faith. Another way to put this is that this cultural moment is the stage, not the plot. It’s the moment, not the story. The news is where we see ideas and their consequences expressed, both good and bad. It’s where the philosophies that were born in ivory towers meet the reality of people’s lives, dreams, relationships, and decisions. Confusing the noise and chaos of the headlines with the Story of the world is one of the most common ways that Christians lose their way. As Christians called to this part of the story, it’s essential that we learn to hear and trust the Divine Script Writer. God hasn’t called us to success as it is often defined in this moment, but he has called us to faithfullness. Like any actor, we can forget our role or lose our place in the storyline. We can miss our entrance or forget our line. Thank God, our Director is as good as it gets. This year, the Colson Center is partnering with Focus on the Family to produce a series of events designed to offer Christians a deeper level of understanding about the issues that matter most in this time and place. This special speaker series will focus on some of the most confusing and controversial parts of our story right now, specifically at the intersection of family and culture. The series will be presented in three parts this spring and three parts this fall and will feature a who’s who of thought leaders addressing areas where we need to refocus our attention on the roles and responsibilities we have as Christians in our community contexts. The series starts tonight, with Dr. Anthony Bradley of the King’s College. He will address the very important issue of how we are failing young men. The tyranny of low expectations, soft relationships, absent fathers… ours is a culture failing to transition boys to men. In March, Katy Faust of Them Before Us will address the various ways that children’s rights are being sacrificed for adult desire. I hope you’ll join the Colson Center and Focus on the Family for this special series called “Lighthouse Voices.” To register for the livestream, visit www.colsoncenter.org/events.
Valentines, Dating Apps, and The Church
February 14, 2022
Years ago, would-be couples would meet at a dance, at church potlucks, or around a friend’s dinner table. Even further back, due to the gender imbalance created by selective infanticide, Roman young men found their spouses at church. Today, many singles (including Christian singles) search for relationships online, scouring dating apps, debating whether to swipe right, swipe left, or just give up. Dating apps have re-conditioned how singles think about dating and relationships. Long gone are the times when a single young man walked into a community, noticed a young lady, and was forced to overcome his nerves to take a risk. On one hand, many dating apps have taken first impressions beyond mere appearance to other important relational factors such as interests, hobbies, and shared views on essential issues. On the other hand, apps have isolated relationships from real community. That’s often not healthy. Apps are yet another way our day-to-day lives have become disembodied. Recent studies reveal that many young people are “explori-dating,” interacting with someone from a different country, background, or faith, ditching what are leading indicators of long-term relational stability. Some are now “hesidating,” a term coined by the online dating site Plenty of Fish to describe mostly single females who struggle to choose whether to date seriously or casually because of how uncertain life feels. Tonight, in fact, many young people will choose to celebrate “Galentine's” or “Palentine’s” Day instead of Valentine’s Day, an indication of how difficult it is to date and commit these days. And of course, there’s the uglier side of dating apps: sexting, secret connections, ghosting, and targeting. Online anonymity can lead singles to go farther than they wanted to, stay longer than they intended, and pay more than they were hoping. To be clear, dating apps have diversified and improved. Many have found love online, entering long-term committed relationships that culminate in marriage. In one sense, apps now fill the significant relational gaps that have only widened in our rapidly changing culture. Some suggest that given how difficult it is to date these days, apps have changed things in “positive ways.” Helen Fischer, an anthropologist who's studied dating trends for over forty years and an adviser to one of the largest dating apps, believes these opportunities create “historic turnarounds with singles. They are looking for committed relationships.” But what if the church has a role to play in creating contexts for relational connections, even romantic ones? What if the current relationship dearth being filled by apps could be filled by Christian matchmaking communities instead? Since it is Valentine’s Day, it’s worth reflecting on the day’s namesake. Valentinus of Rome was a 3rd-century martyr, and though the specifics around his life are somewhat cloudy, the most widely accepted version of his martyrdom is that he ran afoul of emperor Claudius II for encouraging romantic love and marriage in his community. Claudius banned marriage because he believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families. Valentinus believed marriage was an essential part of human life, or like we say around the Colson Center, like gravity. So, he married couples in secret despite the edict from Rome. He was caught and executed for his deeds. Today, to follow Valentinus’ example by creating contexts for singles to meet within a larger healthy community, is to offer the world something it needs but doesn’t have. To celebrate marriage, not just in word but in deed, is to declare that committed romantic relationships are possible and good. To place these relationships, as the Christian worldview does, in the larger context of our God-given identity and purpose is to point young people to love for the good of others, as opposed to love as mere self-expression. As C.S. Lewis outlined in The Four Loves, a Christian view of passionate love, “eros,” differs from mere sentimentality or sexual desire. Eros, when rightly ordered, causes us to toss “personal happiness aside as a triviality and [plant] the interests of another in the center of our being.” Where else will young adults hear that definition of love? The Church has much to offer a lonely world on Valentine’s Day and the rest of the year. The Church, of course, is to be a people that cultivate a community together. It may be that we should become a bit more intentional about cultivating marriages too.
Our Christian Witness
February 10, 2022 • John Stonestreet, Maria Baer
Since the contentious 2016 election, many have publicly questioned whether evangelical support for Donald Trump “hurts the Church’s witness.” Others assert that to vote for anyone but Donald Trump warrants excommunication. Over the last two years of the pandemic and all its associated controversies, some have confidently proclaimed that if Christians choose to not wear a mask or not be fully vaccinated they’ve harmed the cause of Christ. Others announced that to wear a mask or be vaccinated is to compromise the cause of Christ. Whenever cultural flashpoints are used to judge the faith of others, the same script tends to be followed. An appeal is made to the Church’s witness and reputation in the wider world. Of course, the Bible is clear that Christians bear responsibility for how our faith is both perceived and received by those inside and outside the Church. After He washed His disciples’ feet, Jesus told them that by loving each other in that way, “all people will know you are my disciples.” When He prayed in the garden on the night before His crucifixion, Jesus asked God to unify His followers so that “the world may believe that you have sent me.” When people see our good works, Jesus said, they may “glorify your Father which is in heaven.” In other words, Jesus clearly tied together the love among fellow Christians with the plausibility of the Gospel message to the wider world. What’s clear from these verses, and throughout the Bible, is that we bear responsibility for our reputation both inside and outside the Church, and that stewarding the Gospel message means protecting both the integrity of the message and demonstrating its impact on our lives and the world around us. The Gospel is both plausible and compelling, and we ought never do anything to make it seem less so. However, what the Church is not (and cannot be) responsible for, is the reaction a world will have, particularly a world that is unbelieving and even hostile to either Christian morality or Christian truth claims. “Loving our neighbor,” for example, will mean very different things to someone depending on their definition of love. According to our constantly shifting, culturally dependent definition, an act of love can seem like intolerance or even hate. In the same way, we are not responsible if someone perceives the good news of the Gospel message as bad news. We are not necessarily at fault when it is rejected or hated, or when it offends as Jesus predicted it would offend. The good news, though, is that when the Gospel is believed, embraced, or heeded, the success belongs to God, not our clever methodology or presentation. According to Scripture, what “hurts our witness” the most is disunity. And this doesn’t mean that unity comes at the expense of church. But what we’re told “hurts our witness” the most in this cultural moment is violating the new moral consensus about sex, politics, or controversial public figures. So, in an effort to “protect the witness,” we spend an inordinate about of time policing each other’s behavior, often publicly, about matters prioritized within a wrong set of values. I’ve no doubt that much of the concern over the Church’s witness is genuine and well-intentioned. We are responsible to live as if what we say we believe is real. At the same time, Jesus didn’t rebuke the Pharisees for being “mean,” but for being hypocrites. Whenever our well-intentioned concern for the Church’s witness becomes a dressed-up purity test, what we’re really saying is “You can’t be a Christian and do that thing.” And that misunderstands the Christian faith altogether. True belief always leads to regeneration, and sanctification takes time. Salvation is not forfeited every time a mistake is made or a theological error is committed. The patience and grace we extend to each other, even when a fellow believer makes a decision we disagree with, is a way of loving one another and advancing the witness of Christ to a watching world. In fact, imagine how compelling the Church’s witness would be today if we prioritized forgiveness. Our wider culture has absolutely no time for it, and many of those most vocally concerned for the Church’s witness have little time for it either. To forgive, is considered complicity in evil. To accept any apology as sincere, or to extend grace for even the benefit of the doubt is completely unacceptable. Christians should be different. We shouldn’t just take different sides of an issue: We should take our sides differently. We might find out that forgiving easily and assuming the best of one another will compel a watching world to ask us for the reason for that kind of hope. We might find that forgiveness, not a purity test, is the best thing for the Church’s witness these days.
America Has a Trust Problem
February 8, 2022
“Trust is to capitalism what alcohol is to wedding receptions,” suggests Jerry Useem in an article in The Atlantic last November, “a social lubricant… ‘If trust is sufficiently low,’” he continues, quoting economists Paul Zak and Stephen Knack, “‘economic growth is unachievable.’” Public trust, specifically of the federal government, began to erode in the 1960s. The series of unfortunate events in the decades that followed—wars, Watergate, economic struggles, impeachments, ever-deepening political divisions—only contributed to what has become a steady decline of public confidence in the federal government. The only notable exception came with the brief spike in national unity in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. During the last two years, like so many other social conditions that pre-existed the COVID pandemic, the numbers hit an all-time low. Our national distrust is not only aimed at Washington D.C.. According to a 2019 Pew Study, almost two-thirds of Americans believe trust in each other is falling. The inherent connection between interpersonal trust and social stability, has an impact on the economy, among other things. In their report, titled Trust and Growth, Paul Zak and Stephen Knack describe that “low trust environments reduce the rate of investment and thus the economy’s growth rate…very low trust societies can be caught in a poverty trap.” On the other hand, when social trust improves, so does interpersonal trust..This can actually lead to economic growth. Americans’ trust in each other, however, dropped from 45% in 1973 to just 30% in 2014. Useem thinks that had trust among Americans been stronger during that time frame, more like New Zealand for example, “(our annual GDP per capita would) be $16,000 higher.” In addition to our pocketbooks, the loss of trust is affecting work. According to one study, 42% of employees think that their employers do not understand their pandemic experiences. Conversely, employers are showing a decline in trusting their employees. Since the pandemic started, the employee monitoring software industry has grown by 50%. According to one study, 74% of remote workers are concerned their employer is monitoring when and how much they work. As one Forbes article that predates the pandemic put it, a lack of trust in the workplace “demotivates employees and is costing businesses dearly.” Trust is a significant ingredient of what can be called “social capital.” Just as an individual needs financial, relational, and labor resources to start and grow a business, so a society needs financial, relational, and labor resources in order to grow and flourish. It only makes sense that a collective loss of trust, particularly at the scale we are now experiencing, would be felt in economic terms. As opposed to more short-term factors like monthly job creation or a particularly volatile stock price, social trust points to more consequential concerns about longer-term stability and sustainability. Christians, of course, care about social trust for far more important reasons than the economy. The economy, in fact, is just one of many indicators of human flourishing, but there are others, such as family stability, mental health, upward mobility, education, and creativity. Trust is critical in each of these aspects of social capital. Starting tonight, and continuing for the next four weeks, a new Colson Center short course will tackle this crisis of trust. Taught by Dr. Bruce Ashford and Dr. Yuval Levin, the course will begin with Dr. Ashford exploring where authority is grounded in a Christian worldview, namely the character of God. Next Tuesday night, Dr. Ashford will explore some of the social factors and historical shifts that have led to the current crisis of trust and authority. In the third session, Dr. Ashford will teach on how Christians can cultivate discernment, an essential ingredient if we are to rebuild trust in the context of our fallen world and broken cultural moment. Finally, to close the course, Dr. Yuval Levin will talk about the crisis of trust in social institutions and how we can work to rebuild them. As Useem wrote in the Atlantic article, “A trust spiral, once begun, is hard to reverse.” But what choice do we have but to confront it? If we are to be faithful to Christ in this cultural moment, Christians must embrace the call to be agents of reconciliation in their own spheres of influence. That’s why this short course is so important right now. “The Crisis of Authority and Loss of Trust: A Christian Response” course begins tonight, at 8 p.m. Eastern, and will continue for the next four weeks. Each session is live online, and recordings are made available for anyone enrolled in the course not able to make the live session. To register, please visit www.colsoncenter.org/events.
February 7, 2022
It should go without saying that, in 21st century America, most of the assumptions at work in contemporary culture are not Christian assumptions. And whatever new “normal” is, it’s constantly changing, it’s anything but worldview neutral. As my friend and author Natasha Crain puts it in her new book Faithfully Different, “We are in a culture where feelings are the ultimate guide, happiness is the ultimate goal, judging is the ultimate sin, and God is the ultimate guess.” That means that Christians today are called to a daunting task: believing, thinking, and living contrary to widely accepted beliefs and practices. We must be a “worldview minority,” even, at times, among those who call themselves Christians. In her punchy and accessible new book, Natasha Crain helps Christians embrace this calling while resisting the false assumptions that surround us. Faithfully Different: Regaining Biblical Clarity in a Secular Culture is a terrific guide for those who wish to maintain Christian identity and confidence in the face of pervasive secularism. Of course, the first step to faithfully living as a worldview minority is to establish that we are, in fact, a minority. After all, Pew Research’s Religious Landscape Study still shows that around 65 percent of Americans identify as Christians. However, surveys that look at actual beliefs give a clearer picture of what’s going on. In her interview with my colleague Shane Morris on the Upstream podcast, Natasha pointed to the recent results of the American Worldview Inventory, conducted by George Barna and Arizona Christian University. According to that survey, just 6% of Americans hold a “functional biblical worldview,” meaning they gave recognizably Christian answers to questions like, Who is God? and What are human beings? and Is there absolute truth? Among respondents between the ages of 18 and 29, only 2% had a functional biblical worldview. This kind of extreme minority status means there is constant pressure on Christians to live in a secular way and to hide beliefs that our neighbors find unbelievable. Even worse, there is strong temptation to join in the cultural scorn on historic Christian faith, following the example of the many authors, entertainers, and pastors who have publicly “deconstructed” their former faith. Faithfully Different is a clarion call for Christians to intentionally push back on this pressure. In twelve rich but readable chapters, she identifies and challenges the primary assumptions held in our secular culture and reasserts the Christian alternative as a better way to understand the world. In full disclosure, Natasha asked me to write the foreword for Faithfully Different, and I did so gladly after reading it. Here’s a portion of what I wrote: All humans are, in many important ways, shaped by cultures. Our fashions, tastes, beliefs, and so many other things about us reflect the social environments into which we are born and live. In fact, a culture is most powerful in shaping us by what it makes seem normal. If you’ve ever traveled to another country, you’ve likely experienced the feeling of, seemingly, being in a different world. You’re not, of course. You’re in a different culture, a place imagined and built differently by a different group of people. This is what humans do. We build worlds within the world. In recent decades, the Western world (which include the United States) has shifted in dramatic ways. Things once unthinkable are now unquestionable. Beliefs and behaviors once unimaginable now seem so, well, normal. Christians who aren’t discerning will quickly find themselves embracing things that are wrong. That’s why this book, Faithfully Different, is so important and, if you read it carefully, will be so helpful. Natasha is a clear thinker and a captivating writer, with this knack of explaining things most essential, such as worldview and culture. Not only does she help her readers understand what they need to know, she helps them act in ways faithful to truth. As parents of four kids, my wife and I are big fans of Natasha’s previous books. As someone who has spent the last two decades studying worldviews and culture, trying to convince Christians to take both seriously, I’m a big fan of this one, too. Faithfully Different covers an incredible amount of crucial ground without cutting any corners. It’s one of those rare books that is both faithful to biblical truth and honest about our cultural situation, a work of sound cultural analysis from a solid, and distinctly Christian worldview. It’s just so very helpful. I hope you’ll pick up Natasha Crain’s timely new book, Faithfully Different: Regaining Biblical Clarity in a Secular Culture, and listen to her interview with Shane on the Upstream podcast.
Redefining ‘Parent’ is Bad for Kids
February 3, 2022
In case you haven’t heard, Major League Baseball is in the middle of a lockout. Later this week, the players’ union will meet with team owners to negotiate new contracts, hopefully in time for spring training. Imagine if all of this haggling over salaries and contracts and terms happened without the players being at the table? What if MLB team owners were negotiating with sportscasters or concession stand workers or third-base umpires over the terms and million-dollar conditions of the baseball players’ contracts, but the players had no say? It’s an absurd notion. Negotiations only work if all of the key stakeholders are in the room. That exact scenario is happening right now at a very different, and far more consequential, negotiating table. In 1973, states began considering (with many eventually passing) something called the Uniform Parentage Act. The legislation codified a legal definition of the word “parent,” one which more or less aligned with reality. “Parent” meant the biological parents of a child, regardless of whether they were married. (This solved prior legal questions over the rights of so-called “illegitimate children” when it came to their fathers.) The 1973 version of the act also declared that the term “parent” could apply to an adult who’d gone through the legal adoption process. In 2002, as assisted reproductive technologies were becoming more popular and sophisticated, several states started to update their Uniform Parentage Act. The definition of “parent” was stretched to include adults with no biological relation to a child or legal adoption papers, but who had obtained the child through sperm donation, egg donation, surrogacy, or some combination thereof. The negotiations didn’t stop there. Despite promises by activists, lobbyists, and judges that gay marriage had everything to do with consenting adults and nothing to do with bearing children, the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges renewed calls to revise the Uniform Parentage Act again. As Katy Faust, Founder and Director of the children’s rights organization Them Before Us predicted, “When you make husbands and wives optional in marriage, mothers and fathers become optional in parenthood.” That’s the way many legislators saw it, too. After Obergefell, multiple states revised the legal definition of “parent” under their Uniform Parentage Act again. In these states, unmarried same-sex partners of people with a child can be legally recognized as that child’s parent, even without going through the adoption process. Many of these states also allow something called “pre-birth orders” in surrogacy, which allows the couple paying a surrogate mother to apply for legal custody of that mother’s baby up to three months before the birth. In this case, it’s not just that the stakeholder with everything to lose in these negotiations—the children—aren’t at the negotiating table, their rights aren’t even considered. If the Church is to continue its long history of defending and protecting children, especially in eras of extreme sexual exploitation, we’ll need to pay attention to this issue, show up for them, and demand their rights are considered. As Christians, we accept that the One in charge of the definition of “parent” is the One who created the process by which we become one. However, whether or not we are Christians, biology requires a man and a woman to create a child, even if some find these mechanics of reality discriminatory or unjust. Despite our best attempts to separate sex from procreation, which Obergefell codified into law, it simply cannot be done. Same-sex relationships cannot produce children. Children need both a mother and a father. These things remain true even if the God who created the world this way is rejected. At the same time, the Bible acknowledges that the desire for children is both natural and good. God repeatedly honors that desire throughout Scripture, sometimes despite biological challenges like age or infertility. And, at other times, God does not give the gift of children, even to those who desperately desire them. This tells us that despite the real pain of childlessness, children are not a right. They are, as the Bible calls them, a blessing. They come when God wills. When we venture outside His created design for children, whether through assisted reproduction or by redefining the word “parent” to accommodate adult desire, we intentionally sever a child’s relationship to either their mother, their father or both. Anytime that children are treated as our “right,” we inevitably violate theirs. If our culture persists in negotiating the rights and terms of children’s lives, children deserve a seat at the table. That’s exactly what Katy Faust and Them Before Us is working to provide. I hope you’ll check out her work and get involved at thembeforeus.com.
Hope, “HopePunk,” and the Gospel
February 2, 2022
There’s a new genre of literature that most people have never heard of: “hopepunk.” Coined in 2017 by fantasy author Alexandra Rowland, “hopepunk” was a reaction to a different kind of writing dominating the market that year, a genre that Rowland and others refer to as “grimdark.” Grimdark emphasizes the cruelty that so often defines human interaction. Think, for example, of HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones, a show which hit its highwater mark in 2017 and which capitalized on a trifecta of gore, nudity, and nihilism. AMC’s The Walking Dead and the more recent Netflix global hit Squid Game are also examples of shows that attempt to portray the very worst of human nature as graphically as possible. In contrast, “Hopepunk,” wrote Rowland in a line that captured the attention of the internet, “is the opposite of Grimdark.” And then she added, “Pass it on.” And they did. After that post went viral, she elaborated further: “Hopepunk says that genuinely and sincerely caring about something, anything, requires bravery and strength. It’s about demanding a better, kinder world, and truly believing that we can get there if we care about each other as hard as we possibly can.” Since she invented the label, bloggers have retroactively applied it to works like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. In a sense, the term applies to works that attempt to answer a vital existential question of the human condition: Is there really any hope? This question is especially relevant in a culture experiencing record levels of depression and purposelessness. One source for ascertaining just how hopeful a culture is are its stories. Consider the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box, penned by Hesiod in 700 B.C. In it, the gods place all of the world’s evils in a box and give them to Pandora, the first woman. When she cracks the lid, they escape into the world and the jar is emptied, except for one thing: hope, which is captured before it can escape. The story raises a haunting question: Was the hope left in Pandora’s box a good, or an evil? Is hope legitimate, or is it merely a trick of the gods designed to induce more suffering? The Stoics believed that hope was foolish. Anticipating future joy leaves humanity vulnerable to all kinds of disappointment and miscalculation. As Seneca wrote, quoting his friend Hecato, “Cease to hope and you will cease to fear.” This kind of hopelessness makes sense in a worldview where neither nature nor the gods are particularly benevolent. All that remains for humanity is hedonism, the ancient ideal of a heroic death, or a joyless, gritty stoicism. Within a secular worldview, the challenge remains. How can there be any real hope if there is no God, or any basis for ultimate things such as purpose, right, wrong, good, evil, reward, or justice? Indeed, if we do live in such a world where, as Bertrand Russell famously put it, “…Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the débris of a universe in ruins…” If Russell is correct about the world, it’s hard to argue with his conclusion that “only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.” Sadly, two years after writing her viral post advocating “hopepunk,” Rowland’s appeal to hope seemed to have slipped into cynicism. “Those are the words of a person cloaked in a story that hasn’t yet been worn threadbare and ragged,” she admits. One gets the sense that although she wants to hope, she just cannot find a reason to hope. Of course, the stories that originally inspired her to hope are grounded in a much better worldview. Unlike armchair nihilists like George R.R. Martin (whose books were the basis for Game of Thrones), J.R.R. Tolkien actually experienced the brutality of war. In the trenches of World War I, he lost all but one of his childhood friends, even as Western Europe was reduced to a muddy, hellish burial ground. That landscape may have been, in fact, the inspiration for his fictional realm of Mordor. Yet, even in his grief, Tolkien believed in something deeper, a way things should be. Sam and Frodo stuck to their grueling quest to destroy the ring not from an existentialist “hope in hope itself,” but from a full awareness that good and evil are real, nothing is accidental, and some things are worth fighting for. Years later, Tolkien would sum up his basis for hope in a poem. “The heart of Man is not compound of lies, but draws some wisdom from the only Wise, and still recalls him. Though now long estranged, Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed. Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned, and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned.” In other words, hope stems from what is true, and because of what is true, what is possible. That’s why, ultimately, hope is so powerful. There is life. There is light. There is a way out of chaos into a new day. All that is sad can be made untrue. Indeed, one day it will. Only that level of truth can carry us when the world is darkest and we are weakest.
Transgender Surgeries and the Weight of Reality
February 1, 2022
Anabaptist theologian Stanley Hauerwas once said that in 100 years, if Christians are known as those who do not kill their children or their elderly, we would have been doing something right. May we, in fact, be known for nothing less than these things, but I hope we’ll be known for far more. Specifically, Christians must be known as those who acknowledge created reality, in particular the goodness of the human body. This won’t be easy. Unthinkable a couple of decades ago, it’s now normal to deny the purpose, the meaning, and the goodness of the human body. Increasingly the body is seen, not as a given of reality, but as a fully morphable canvas of self-expression. Not only do we celebrate unnatural ways of using it, we see it as something to be reinvented and remodeled, even mutilated if that allows us to “be ourselves.” Because Christians believe in a world created by God, including the human body, we must not allow what is considered normal to seem normal to us. We might be shocked and grieved, but we should always point to the truth of who we are, and oppose these ideas which destroy and degrade, rather than liberate human beings. Any culture that denies what our bodies reveal about who we are must work hard to suppress the overwhelming evidence of reality. At times, like beach balls pushed below the water, this evidence re-emerges. For example, just before Christmas, New York Magazine released an issue with a cover photo of a person with a beard and body hair, wearing nothing but briefs, staring at readers. A massive scar dominates one leg. The headline reads: “My Penis, Myself: I didn’t need a penis to be a man. But I needed one to be me.” The person in the photo is a woman. The organ in question was surgically constructed using flesh taken from her leg. The author and subject describe her “transmasculine” surgery, performed in a San Francisco hospital, in full detail. The procedure was potentially life-threatening and involved physicians doing things that, in any other surgical context, would be considered harm, not help. The result of the surgery was not a male body, but a wounded and disfigured female body. The author is now in near-constant pain and in constant danger of infection or rejection. Even so, this dysphoric woman viewed the process as a liberation from her own body. By portraying this procedure as a surgery rather than an act of harm, and by portraying the choice to undergo the procedure as heroic rather than heartbreaking, New York Magazine bypasses any real discussion about a host of related ideas, ideas about sex, gender, humanity, morality, medicine, and more. At the same time, the cover photo, of a largely exposed woman with horrific scarring, points to truths that, in the end, cannot be suppressed. This movement is, in reality, an assault on humanity. The bad ideas behind the movement leave victims in their wake. In a sort of gnostic remix, these ideas reject the most basic of created realities. Christians, who believe that God called our bodies “good,” must continue to point to what is true. First, we must point out that there are very real scars left when people deny reality. And second, we must point those with these scars to Christ, the One whose scars can make them whole again. Back in June, an episode of “Blue’s Clues and You” earned applause for featuring a pride parade of LGBT-identifying animals. Only later did viewers notice that one cartoon beaver, waving a trans pride flag, had scars like those of women who’ve had what’s called “top surgery.” A Nickelodeon spokesperson confirmed that the producers’ intent was to teach young children that this “surgery” is normal, and if women wish to have healthy breasts removed in order to mimic men, they should. To point out that this sort of message, aimed at children, is body shaming and abusive will inevitably mean being called “transphobic,” “bigoted,” and “hateful.” We may be cancelled. But to be silent is not to be loving. Rather, it is to be complicit in harm. In this cultural moment, faithfulness to Christ involves not just declaring salvation but defending creation; not just preaching how men and women can be saved but that men and women exist. Churches will need to include extensive and thorough education on what it means to be made in God’s image, why He made us male and female, and the difference that makes in modern culture. All of which will mean proclaiming obvious, now unfashionable truths. But, given the damage being done by denying those truths, it’s the only loving thing to do.
Trust Issues: Responding to Our Cultural Authority Crisis
January 31, 2022
In his book The Last Word, atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel, talked about “the fear of religion”: “… I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.” This “cosmic authority problem,” Nagel thought, was at the root of modern attempts to explain everything by science. Today, 45 years and more than a few other factors later, has evolved into what might be called a “cultural authority problem.” Its roots lie not only in the philosophical denials of God and His authority that Nagel wrote about but also in what Pope Benedict once referred to as “the dictatorship of relativism … which recognizes nothing as absolute and which only leaves the ‘I’ and its whims as the ultimate measure…” And, of course, upon these ideological foundations, we’ve all had the experience of living in the Information Age, being forced to navigate a dizzying amount of information daily and the many voices constantly vying for our pocketbooks and attention (often by any means necessary). Even before the chaos of the last 24 months, there has been more than enough to spur on our collective distrust. Still, on top of all that, what social institution in American life hasn’t failed us in recent years? The state, churches, education, corporations, big tech, news, even medicine… we don’t trust any of them anymore. To some degree, skepticism of authority is understandable, even commendable. And, when healthy, it’s a necessary ingredient of discernment, a skill required of anyone who wishes not to be brainwashed today. Increasingly, however, skepticism has been replaced by cynicism and is expressed in an immediate distrust anytime anyone tells us anything to think or do. This is not healthy or sustainable, nor is it a biblical way of thinking about authority. If we begin from a Biblical Story instead of the chaos of our cultural moment, we must grant that authority is a God-given feature of life in this world. Beginning with God, the ultimate authority, the Bible describes how God also ordained other authorities, especially His image-bearers. Of course, unlike God, all of these ordained authorities have been twisted and compromised by the Fall. At the same time, the fact that the Bible continues to recognize (even after the fall) both God’s authority and the, should chasten us whenever our discernment is replaced by cynicism. And there’s an awful lot of cynicism these days. Is it possible for Christians to be discerning without being cynical? If so, how? Are there ways to respect authority without being duped? Can we recognize the collapse of our institutions without wholly abandoning them, and perhaps seek to restore them? Christians must answer these questions as part of our cultural witness. Certain existential questions rise to the surface in specific cultural contexts. For example, at a time of tragedy, the question on the top of the cultural surface tends to be, where was God? At this moment, in a culture with a cosmic authority problem, the question is, who can we trust? To help us think through the cultural crisis of authority and the loss of trust, the Colson Center will be hosting a special virtual short course beginning next Tuesday night, February 8. Each of the sessions will feature a presentation and a time for live Q&A. The first three weeks will be led by Dr. Bruce Ashford and will cover the topics of “God’s Authority and the Authorities He Has Ordained,” “Where Did the Crisis of Authority and Trust Come From?” and “How to Cultivate Discernment in an Untrustworthy World.” The fourth week will be led by Dr. Yuval Levin, a scholar from the American Enterprise Institute, who will help us think about the collapse of our cultural institutions and what it would look like to rebuild them. He’s an example of a scholar who can inform Christians on how to think about life in this cultural moment. Each of the four sessions will be recorded and distributed to all who sign up for the course. To register for this course, “The Loss of Trust and the Crisis of Authority,” please visit colsoncenter.org/events.
In Defense of Stigma
January 28, 2022
A new ad playing on Ohio radio stations is part of what’s being called the “Stop the Stigma” campaign. In the ad, game show contestants are asked about the biggest risk factor for substance addiction. One guesses “making bad choices,” but gets the buzzer. Another guesses “hanging out with the wrong people,” and is also wrong. The right answer, we’re told, is family history. According to Ohio officials, the ads are meant to encourage people to “practice empathy, not judgment” for those suffering from addiction. Research shows a strong genetic component to addiction, but research also shows that making unwise choices and spending time with others making unwise choices contributes to addiction. Why downplay these factors? In a similar vein, The USA Today recently reported on new research on the roots of pedophilia. The sexual disorder is, according to researchers quoted in the article, “determined in the womb” and is therefore “misunderstood” by our culture. If the evil is “inherent,” the article implies, it must be afforded a very different, or perhaps no, moral weight. The suggestion that people who do something wrong only deserve our empathy or compassion when they “can’t help it” misunderstands the human condition. None of us are immune from wrong impulses, and all of us do things that are wrong. At the same time, none of us have to indulge our inclinations, either. To act on a desire is still to act, no matter our genetic composition or elevated risk factors. And, Christ offers redemption to those sinners, too. The Bible fully acknowledges the internal inclinations and impulses humans have. It tells us to “flee” from them. Paul tells the Galatians how the desires of the flesh are in conflict with the Spirit, but He doesn’t say “therefore you are helpless,” or “now do good things to cancel out the bad.” Instead, he says, we must “crucify the flesh.” When we lose that battle, because we lose the battle, God offers grace and forgiveness in Christ. People who do wrong things are to be given compassion and help, but not because any of us “can’t help it.” Their value is rooted in the fact that they, too, are human beings, made in the image of God. At least part of recognizing that dignity is treating people like the moral agents they are. This requires, to some degree, not eliminating—whether in word or practice—the consequences of our actions. Our culture-wide efforts to “stop the stigma” suggests that the very real consequences of our real moral decisions cannot play a significant role in our moral formation. The Bible testifies that it does. No progress can be made unless we confront reality. As the cliché goes, the first step to recovery is admitting the problem. To preclude that important step on a cultural scale is to preclude many from moving forward. Dr. Matthew Sleeth is a friend and emergency room physician who wrote a book about the Christian response to suicide. Speaking about his research at the Wilberforce Weekend last year, Dr. Sleeth said that an unexpected but very real common denominator that he has found in testimonies from those who survived a suicide attempt or ultimately chose not to go through with it was that they believed, it would be wrong. We want to be loving and compassionate, he said, but people need to know their decisions have moral weight. Of course, the very assertion that something we do could be wrong requires a consistent moral standard against which to measure our inclinations and behavior. Christianity is the only worldview that not only offers a fully formed and consistent moral standard, but locates it in a Creator who, out of love and compassion and the ultimate expression of identifying with us, became one of us. In no way does this downplay the very real way that biochemical components, genetic predispositions, and outside factors like predatory advertising contribute to things like suicide, addiction, or sexual inclinations. But we need not suggest that people aren’t responsible for their moral choices because of these factors. God created us as moral creatures. Thus, we have an internal motivating sense that we don’t want to do something wrong. Biblical compassion requires Christians to be ready to help when and where we can. That kind of love, rooted in God’s love for us, includes healthy stigma and never pretends there are no consequences for our choices.
Holocaust Remembrance Day and the Fight Against Antisemitism
January 27, 2022
Two weeks ago, in Colleyville, TX, a monster reappeared. Malik Faisal Akram walked into Congregation Beth Israel and demanded that the United States release a scientist connected to Al Qaeda. At first, news outlets and even the FBI seemed hesitant to ascribe any motive to the attack or even to name him. Yet, the assailant himself said, “I want to kill Jews.” This sort of thing is far too common. As Social commentator Abigail Shrier described on Twitter: “10 years ago, my synagogue and my kids’ Jewish school had no armed guards. Now, both have a near platoon of special forces guys. In the last 5 years, my kids’ Jewish camp & my kosher grocer have hired armed guards b/c of threats. This is how Jews live now. Americans should know.” Antisemitism has been a scourge of the human race since the ancient world. Too often throughout history, Christians have not only turned a blind eye but even took part themselves. That this still happens in America, even after the long shadow of the 20th century’s greatest horrors, is incomprehensible. Each year, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the world takes stock of one of its darkest moments. The Holocaust is among those historical markers that force us to face the reality of evil. Especially in a culture like ours, that too often thinks in “Dr. Evil” comedic caricatures, we must never forget the true potential of humanity. The Holocaust that was perpetrated by the Nazi regime is the most well-known horror of a horror-filled twentieth century. In many ways, it is now shorthand for the reality of evil in this world: eleven million dead, six million of these specifically targeted Jews. No discussion of the problem of evil or of the Second World War is complete without an extensive commentary on the realities of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Bergen-Belsen. Whatever it takes, we must never forget. Many in our generation first came to know the terror of this part of our history through films such as Schindler’s List, Life is Beautiful, or The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. For others, it was a book assigned in school, such as The Diary of Anne Frank, Man’s Search for Meaning, or Eyewitness to Auschwitz, where a narrator describes three years working in the crematorium. The Holocaust Museums in Washington D.C. and Jerusalem are also invaluable tools of our cultural memories. Even as we learn this history, we must also remind ourselves that this “enlightened age” is no less capable of great evil than our supposedly more primitive ancestors. The lie of moral evolution is a particularly pernicious and dangerous one. Future generations must know of the limits of the human condition, lest they too get lost in illusions of technological grandeur. After all, the Holocaust was not the work of some oppressed people, seeking to redress sins inflicted in the past. Neither was it done by backwoods, uneducated folks, so ill-informed about life that they lashed out against any and all who were different. This was done by citizens of what was arguably the most scientifically advanced and best-educated nation in the world at that time. As portrayed in an excellently unnerving HBO movie, Conspiracy, the leaders of German society, military, legal, and political, came together at what was called the Wannsee Conference, on January 20, 1942. They thought the matter through, planned, and then did it. Recently, on the 80th anniversary of that horrible gathering, religious and political leaders, both Christian and Jewish from across Europe and North America gathered to clarify why we must continue to oppose anti-Semitism in all forms, and to address the antisemitic ideas, laws, and spirit that is still alive and well today. As one German participant put it, “It is the duty of Christians to make the concerns of their Jewish compatriots their common concern.” Christians, in fact, should be the first to condemn and counter any hatred or desecration poured out on any fellow image-bearer, including those through whom God revealed His Word and brought His Son into His world. At their meeting, on the 80th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference, the European Coalition for Israel issued a Declaration entitled: “Fight Antisemitism, Protect Jewish Life.” It’s worth a close read and our full consideration, especially at a time when so much of the world seems at risk of forgetting.