Resources to Learn About And Act Against Human Trafficking

Last evening CSF took a night off from our usual meeting to attend a Human Trafficking Awareness Month event.  As a group we visited another local college where we took part in an event called Walk in a Victim’s Shoes.  The goal of this event is to help participants get a bit of a feel for what it is like to be a victim of sex trafficking, specifically to see how hard it is to get out of it once you are in it.

With that in mind, I want to share some resources for any interested in learning about human trafficking and, following that, taking steps to begin to oppose it.

First, as a shameless plug, here are a few  blogs I’ve written over the years on the subject:

Real Men Don’t Buy Girls

Why Does Turning a Camera on Make Abuse Legal?

Pimps are Criminals Who Beat Women…Which is Not Cool

Just Laws to Protect Trafficking Victims and What the Church Can Do

Halloween and Slavery

Second, here are some organizations to follow on Facebook who post frequently about trafficking.  Follow them, read the links they post and peruse their websites to learn more.

Shared Hope International

International Justice Mission

Polaris Project

Not For Sale

Third, think about getting involved in FREE (Freedom and Restoration for Everyone Enslaved) if you live around Berks County.  If you live elsewhere, find a local community organization that is working on this issue that you can volunteer with.  FREE meets the third Tuesday of each month from 7-9 PM at a local church in West Reading (Details on our website).  The first portion of time is focused on awareness raising, the rest of the time is focused on planning events.  We can definitely use more people!  The more people involved, the better events we will plan.

I know everyone is busy.  And I realize this is not the issue for everyone.  Even if you believe it is an important issue, it may not be the one you give your time to.  I believe all Christians ought to be working towards justice but none of us can do everything.  So if you pray and think about it and want to get involved, great!  If you feel you want to get involved in something else, that’s great too!  As long as you are doing something.


Everyone Compromise With Culture…so Be Humble

I’ve read many times that Christians who support gay marriage are compromising with culture.  This post is not about whether such an accusation is true or not.  What is intriguing to me is that those who make such an accusation often do not realize the ways they themselves have compromised with culture.

This was apparent to me last week when I read an article on Internet Monk in response to another article by a conservative theologian: A Response to Owen Strachan on Cultural Courage.  The basic point seemed to be that Strachan made the claim that Christians who support gay marriage lack courage as they compromise with culture.  The writer at Internet Monk disagreed.  Read it for yourself.

I followed the links to Strachan’s blog and noticed that the very next post he had written was titled “American Sniper” Shows Virtuous Manhood in Action.  Now I do not want to make this post a debate about that movie either.  For the record, I highly value those who sacrifice their lives to serve in the military and have nothing but respect for my friends in uniform.  At the same time, as a Christian, it seems to me that celebrating, near idolizing, a man whose claim to fame is killing hundreds of people may also be cultural compromise.  Or, to put it another way, using this man as an illustration for what it means to be a virtuous biblical man is a huge stretch.  Why, to many, is accepting gay marriage compromise but celebrating death and killing is biblical?  The difference, for Strachan at least, is that one is a culture he approves of, it is one that celebrates things like war and violence and killing by the good guys here in the United States.  Many evangelical Christians, staunch in their opposition to what they see as the evil of gay marriage, are okay supporting killing and torture (evangelicals have been most supportive of torturing terror suspects among all US groups).

Then we have Jesus who says things like love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you and do not harm those who seek to harm you.  I do not think you need to be a pacifist to think that the love and admiration of war and violence just might compromise with this ethic of Jesus.

My point is not to debate the merits of gay marriage or of war and killing.  My point is simply that what may look like cultural compromise to you may not be so obvious to someone else, and when you accuse others of compromising they may return the favor by pointing out places where you have compromised.

We all probably do it somewhere.  I am sure I do it.  Maybe it would help if we were not all so self-righteous about it.

The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade

For the last year I have been listening to Hardcore History’s podcast on World War I.  It has been fascinating and educational.  I never realized how absolutely awful World War I was, nor do I think I took seriously how much the world changed.  Really, our modern world was born in World War I.  Most of all, I now know that the worst place in history I can imagine being is a trench during WWI.

I was pleasantly surprised that during this same time one of my favorite authors, Philip Jenkins, published a book on the religious aspects of World War I – The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade.  Jenkins has made his name by writing on global Christianity and the history of Christianity outside the west.  A few of those same themes appear here, as it was during and after World War I that Christianity began to explode in places like Africa.  One of the reasons for this was the breaking of colonialism that began at this time.

Jenkins book is a page-turner, illustrating how all sides invoked God as they went to war.  He talks about the Germans, English and French and then moves on to talk about the Jews, Muslims and Christians in colonial lands.  Most impressive is that he does not stop at the end of WWI but traces the story through to WWII and beyond.  The events of World War I continue to have aftershocks today.  If you are interested in history and religion and how both play into contemporary events, check out Jenkins’ book.

Weekly Word – Some Lessons from the Story of Ruth

Weekly Word is a weekly Friday devotional geared towards the college students at PSU Berks.  But hopefully anyone else who stumbles across it finds something helpful.

This semester on campus our theme for Thursday nights is The Bible You Never Knew: Secondary Characters Who Matter.  I am hoping to investigate the lives of some less known Bible characters, people who do not get a yearly mention in Sunday school growing up, like Abraham, Moses, David and Daniel.  Of course, who is a secondary character is a somewhat arbitrary choice.  This week we looked at Ruth, who has a whole book of the Bible dedicated to her story!  So why did I choose her as a “secondary character”?  In my experience, the stories of great women from the Bible such as Ruth tend to only show up in women’s Bible studies.  Everyone studies David and Moses, only women study Ruth and Esther.

Like I said, its somewhat arbitrary.  That said, I think the story of Ruth teaches us some amazing things.  I won’t go into the details of the story here, other then to note that it is important to grasp that Ruth was a Moabite living in Israel  The narrator refers to her as a Moabite quite often, not allowing us to forget her outsider status.  Moabites and Israelites did not get along in those days, there was a mutual animosity.  Living in Israel, Ruth would have not been trusted, she would have been seen as a questionable woman  In some ways, think of negative stereotypes that immigrants have today and you may begin to get the idea of how people thought of Ruth.

Not everyone looked down on her.  Boaz showed kindness to her which, to make a long story short, led to their marriage.  Ruth ended up giving birth to a son whose descendants included King David and Jesus.  So Ruth is rather important.

Here are four points I drew from the story with some questions I gave the students time to discuss last evening:

1. Be generous in ways that go above and beyond what is required.

Ruth would have been seen as “just an immigrant” or “just a Moabite” or “just a woman.” Who do you tend to look down on, to see as “just a _______”?

Who is someone in my life that I should make an extra effort to love and care for?

2. By walking in someone’s shoes and seeing the world from their perspective we are able to be humble and sympathize

How would the way I talk about immigration (or really, anything) be different if I tried to put myself in someone else’s shoes for one day?

3. The love of God transcends all human made borders and boundaries.

Do I tend to think God favors people who think, act, talk and look like me? Am I open to loving the people Jesus loves?

4. The most unlikely person can be used by God to be the hero of the story.

With a college education, you are someone empowered to do great things. You will have opportunities others may not. What will you do to empower all the Ruths in this culture who are going to do great works for the kingdom of God?

My Opinion on Muslim Call To Prayer at Duke University

Last week Duke University was going to begin sounding the Muslim call to prayer each Friday before a few prominent Christians (Franklin Graham) spoke out against it.  Duke’s goal seemed to be to make their campus more welcoming to the diverse students who go there.  The same chapel sounds bells on Sunday to announce the beginning of church.  Graham responded that this call to prayer comes at a time when Christianity is being excluded from the public square.  Even if that is so, Duke is private and is very welcoming of Christians, so Graham’s argument does not seem relevant.

Further, I think it is great for Americans, and Christians, to model a welcoming attitude to people of other faiths.  We ought to be better then the extremists who are executing those they disagree with.  Not just better to the point that we don’t execute people, but better because we welcome the other.  Instead of fear and silence, why not sound a call to prayer for three minutes each week to show Muslims we welcome them into our pluralistic culture?  As one person in the video below said, this could even set an example that Muslim students can take back to their home country and perhaps work to change some attitudes towards minority religions in those countries.

In other words, if we want Christians as minority to be treated better in other countries, the best way to do this is not Graham’s way but Duke’s way.

What do you think?

Franklin Graham Blasts Duke

Duke Chapel Welcomes Muslims

Video Discussing Duke’s Call to Prayer

Hope Reformation by Josh Woodward (Review)

God is more merciful and kind then we are, this is true.  God is bigger then Israel and God is bigger then Christians” (Hope Reformation, 77)

I am a huge fan of the social networking website Goodreads.  You get to see what other people are reading, see reviews of books, join discussion groups about books.  It is a book lovers online paradise.  One of the cool things also is that you get to meet people who have written books and want reviews.  I’ve gotten some interesting free books.  Of course, the challenge is what do you say about a book you got for free when you were not such a huge fan?

Josh Woodward’s self-published book Hope Reformation is one such case.  First, I wish I had Josh’s heart and passion.  His love of Jesus and desire for others to know God come through clearly in the pages of his book.  If anything, he slides into preaching at times, writing in a style that ends up a bit too informal for text.  I’d love to hear him preach.

Josh’s case primarily is that everyone will be cleansed with fire.  God will pursue all people and eventually win all people.  Controversial?  Sure.  Whether you agree with Josh on that point or not, there is still a lot of good in the  book.  While part of me wants the Christian universal position to be true, I just do not see it in scripture.  That said, I still find myself agreeing with a lot of wht Josh writes.

As I’ve dialogued with Josh online it seems that many of my disagreements come from him needing a proofreader.  The book is filled with a variety of historical mistakes, easily corrected by a quick visit to Wikipedia (or preferably an even more reliable source).  The book also sorely needs some footnotes to direct the reader to where Josh is getting some of his information.  A few of my other initial disagreements come either from me not fully understanding his argument or him not being clear.  For example, I do not think Josh is fair to the traditional view of the Trinity as he seems to think it diminishes the oneness of God.  Yet Christian theology has always held to the oneness of God, holding that in tension with the threeness of the Trinity.  Perhaps Josh’s task would be simpler if he argued such a position is absurd rather than portraying those who hold to the Trinity as missing that God is one.

That said, what Josh says about Jesus hints at a traditional Trinitarian position.  His views of Jesus bring diversity and relationality into the identity of God.

Finally, I think Josh tends to cherry-pick at points to fit his case.  He brings in Luther and Eusebius as people who questioned whether certain books belong in the Bible, then from there argues Matthew’s gospel ought to be out.  It seems odd to employ such authors for this task since they both accepted Matthew.  Josh does not like Matthew, but I don’t think he needs to reject Matthew to get to the main theological points he desires.  Maybe he has not worked hard enough to reconcile Matthew with the rest of scripture?  He would say he has and that it is not possible to reconcile it.  I’ll have to continue to disagree.

Overall, I think I liked this book, at least I liked more of it then I did not. Or maybe, for all the disagreements, I found myself liking the author.  It is hard to write a book, to put your thoughts out there on paper for the world to see and criticize.  I have  benefited from conversingwith Josh and I know some suggestions of mine have made it into the editing process for the republication of this book.  So I’d say, if you’re interested, get the book and give it a read.  It’ll make you think as there is lots to disagree with.  And it will make you want to know more about Jesus,which is always a good thing.

Weekly Word – Jan 16 – Stories from the Margins

Weekly Word is a weekly Friday devotional geared towards the college students at PSU Berks.  But hopefully anyone else who stumbles across it finds something helpful.

When I watch movies, I am often intrigued by minor characters.  They show up on screen so briefly, perhaps making a major contribution to the story, and then disappear.  The primary example of this is Boba Fett, the bounty hunter who captured Han Solo in the sci-fi/fantasy film Empire Strikes Back (I know, nerd alert!).  He appears on screen quite suddenly, says little, has an awesome spaceship, and disappears just as quickly.  We know little about his background and motivations, though we want to.  Of course, book authors and the prequel trilogy sought to shed more light on Boba Fett.  But part of his coolness is his mystery as a minor character.

As you go through the story of scripture there is a Hall of Fame of sorts when it comes to characters.  Some characters get a lot of time for their story.  These men, and mostly are men, are the main characters in the story – Abraham, Moses, David, Joshua, Daniel.  If you’ve been around the church for any amount of time you are probably familiar with their stories.

What about the characters in scripture who are not quite as well known?  People who live  on the margins, either the margins of their time or the margins of our understanding?  People like Ruth, a poor immigrant woman from an enemy country?  Or like Micah and Habakkuk, prophets whose tiny books are dwarfed and often lost in the hazy end of the Hebrew Bible?

This semester our Thursday studies at CSF will focus on such people.  We will see what lessons their stories and writings can teach us.  Beyond that, we will see how they point us to Jesus.

Who is your favorite minor character in a movie?

Who is your favorite minor character in scripture?

Two Types of People – Those Who Think they Know Something and Those who Know they Know Nothing

Near the end of his novel The Idiot, Russian novelist Dostoyevsky reflects on two sorts of common people.  First there are common people who possess limited intellect:

 To a commonplace man of limited intellect, for instance, nothing is simpler than to imagine himself an original character, and to revel in that belief without the slightest misgiving…Some men have but felt some little qualm of kindness towards their fellow-men, and the fact has been quite enough to persuade them that they stand alone in the van of enlightenment and that no one has such humanitarian feelings as they. Others have but to read an idea of somebody else’s, and they can immediately assimilate it and believe that it was a child of their own brain. The “impudence of ignorance ,” if I may use the expression, is developed to a wonderful extent in such cases;—unlikely as it appears, it is met with at every turn (p. 290).

Such people think they are original and intelligent but are actually unoriginal and just regurgitating ideas they read from others.  Yet Dostoyevsky says such people are much happier, due to their ignorance.  Then there are common people with greater intellect:

Our friend, Gania, belonged to the other class— to the “much cleverer” persons, though he was from head to foot permeated and saturated with the longing to be original. This class, as I have said above, is far less happy. For the “clever commonplace ” person, though he may possibly imagine himself a man of genius and originality, none the less has within his heart the deathless worm of suspicion and doubt; and this doubt sometimes brings a clever man to despair (p. 290).

These people are smart enough to realize, though they want to be original, that they really are not.  They realize how many other smart people are out there and doubt their own intelligence.

As I read this it struck me as a fantastic description of people.  Do we think ourselves to highly then we ought?  Perhaps we doubt ourselves when we shouldn’t?

I’ve had experiences where I was very confident about something until I learned more.  I read one side and was convinced of their arguments, thinking anyone who disagrees was ignorant.  Then I read or listened to the other side and realized I was the ignorant one.

What do we take away from this passage?  Don’t think yourself too highly then you ought.  Realize that no matter how much you think you know, someone else knows just as much or more and disagrees with you.

Maybe simply, be humble.

The Paterno Legacy by Jay Paterno

Its been over three years now since the Sandusky abuse scandal shook the nation.  For the most part the media and the world have moved on.  Those of us with close ties to Penn State are still living with the aftershocks.  In the early days the media spent more time talking about iconic football coach Joe Paterno then they did Sandusky or the victims.  There was talk of conspiracies and cover-ups by Paterno and others.  In the summer of 2012 the Freeh report was released and soon the NCAA sanctioned Penn State’s football program.

To many, the whole scandal illustrated the problem of caring about football too much.  People talked of a “football factory” and of athletics being put above academics.  For those of us close to Penn State, this all sounded like so much bull.  Paterno’s players consistently ranked near the top in graduation rates.  This one fact rarely made the news as it did not fit the narrative the media was running with.  The truth is that if you wanted to play football in college, not do much in class, and get to the NFL as easily as possible, Penn State was not for you.  Penn State players went to class, studied and graduated.

Long after the Freeh report and sanctions were released, many people are still fighting for the truth to come out.  Jay Paterno, son of Joe, is one such man.  His book, The Paterno Legacy, is a combination memoir and defense of his father’s integrity and life work.  Overall it is a fantastic book – rambling at times but moving and heart-wrenching.  Jay paints a picture of his father, showing him as a great man who did all he could for the young men entrusted to him on the football team and beyond that for the university as a whole.

Jay also works to tear down the Freeh report and the narrative portraying his father, and the football program, as knowingly covering up Sandusky’s crimes.  Of course, it is on a near weekly basis, even after the publication of this book, that news comes out to show the Freeh report was not as objective as they claimed but in actuality was in collusion with the NCAA from the beginning.  Jay emphasizes that two wrongs do not make a right – scapegoating his father does not help Sandusky’s victims and defending his father does not mean one does not care about the victims.  The truth is that Sandusky fooled everyone.  He was a foster parent for years and the experts who worked for the state of PA to approve foster parents  were fooled by Sandusky.  How can we expect a football coach to discover what others with far more expertise did not?

This is a must-read book for any Penn Stater, but beyond that it ought to be read by those who rushed to judgment on a man who lived a tremendous life.  My fear is that such people will not read the book, they have already passed judgment and moved on.  Hopefully the truth will continue to come out.

Thank you Jay for a great work.  I love Penn State and continue to admire Joe Paterno.  The two are tied in to any person’s life who attended school there – I studied in the Paterno library and prayed in the chapel the Paternos donated money to build.  Those on the outside may see a football factory but they are simply wrong, Penn State is so much more and, as many have said, We Are because He Was.

Science and the Case for God

This past November CSF hosted a Question and Answer night, which is always a lot of fun.  As the questions come up, I try to set the tone for the discussion, directing it towards certain things and away from others.  Inevitably questions about science, evolution, faith and God come up.  On this night, I prefaced the discussion on those topics by stating that Christians hold diverse views on how science and faith relate.  I emphasized that many Christians believe in Darwinian evolution as the best explanation for how we got here.  Finally, I pointed out that college professors will not respect your opinion if you come into class and assume your knowledge of Genesis 1 and your Ken Ham videos make you an expert, able to refute those who have dedicated their lives to studying such things.  If you want respect, learn the material and come to your disagreement based on your own knowledge and study.

Personally, I find science interesting…and kind of irrelevant to faith.  I tried to watch Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos and after 2 episodes I shifted over to documentaries on World War I.  I’d like to know more, but there are other subjects I am more interested in.  More than that, I am bored with the entire creation- evolution debate.

Well, on that night in November, my effort to stay away from these debates failed.  Pretty soon the students were debating whether science proves God or not.  An intelligent Christian student was arguing lines from either a creationist or intelligent design textbook.  Later on another smart Christian student quoted a random verse in Job to show the Bible teaches the earth is round (the verse does not mean what he, or whomever he got it from, wants it to mean).  It seemed like a fun discussion, but ultimately it never seems to get anywhere.  Science can do a lot of things but it cannot prove or disprove God, such questions are the realm of metaphysics and philosophy.

Over the holidays an article by Eric Metaxas kept popping up on my social media feeds.  This article, published in the Wall Street Journal, argues that “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God.”  Bible scholar Peter Enns points to a rabbi who argues why Metaxas’ approach is doomed to failure.

All are good reads and while I tend to take the side of Enns and those who agree with him, I recommend all articles be read.  In my work with college students one thing I always emphasize is that they keep learning, that they love God with all their mind.  There ought to be no fear in study or learning.  If you are open-minded and the person you are talking with is too, then you will at least discover respect and even friendship in the disagreement.

Any thoughts on the articles from Metaxas and Enns are welcomed!