Category Archives: Headline

A Different Kind of Back Alley

January 21, 2012, was an overcast day in Birmingham, Alabama. The group that met the third Saturday of each month to pray outside the New Woman All Women abortion clinic was dispersing. As they climbed into their cars, a couple of the women noticed something unusual. They kept a low profile, but one of them grabbed her camera.

They watched as two women were taken away in ambulances. Paramedics hand-lifted one of the patients down the back stairs into the alley where a gurney waited beside the dumpster. The other woman was brought out in a wheelchair, her face covered by an oxygen mask.

Based on the women’s testimony and the photographs they took, local pro-life leaders asked the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) to investigate the clinic. For a couple of months, it seemed like nothing was going to happen. Then, on Good Friday, April 6, 2012, the ADPH published a shocking 76-page “report of deficiencies” found at the New Woman All Women Clinic.

As it turns out, the two women removed in ambulances had been given an excessive amount of Vasopressin, a drug that limits blood loss. The nurse who had drawn up the syringes mistakenly gave them each 2 cubic centimeters instead of 0.2 cubic centimeters.

The report also stated that clinic administrators failed to ensure that “the clinic staff was properly trained to provide safe quality patient care” and had no policies in place to respond to medication errors. Examination of medical records revealed not only that were records sloppy and incomplete, but also that some were falsified. Apparently clinic employees had a habit of filling in the records ahead of time, evidenced by the fact that the records of both women taken away in ambulances said “ambulatory discharged in no distress.” The nurse who signed the records did not even work on the day of the medication overdose.

There is one patient, described on page 56 of the report, who I can’t get out of my mind. Patient #43 was a 17-year-old girl, which means she couldn’t have an abortion without parental consent. She filled out the required questionnaire, which included these questions:

3. Do you think having this abortion is in your best interest?

4. Are you sure you want to have this abortion?

5. Do you think you will most likely be able to go on with your normal activities without emotional or psychological problems because of the abortion?

To each of these questions, Patient #43 checked “No.” In answer to the question, “Why do you want to have the abortion?” she wrote, “Because my mother want me to.”

On May 18, 2012, the New Woman All Women clinic relinquished its license. On the third Saturday of May, I joined the group that had been meeting there for prayer since 1994. This time, we met for praise. Someone inside the clinic turned on the sprinklers, but the seasoned pro-life activists had brought their umbrellas. (Only at abortion clinics is it routine for the sprinklers to be pointed at the sidewalk rather than the grass.) As we sang our songs of praise, a woman with long grey hair left the shelter of the umbrellas and danced in the spray of sprinklers. It was a joyful day.

Need for Regulation

Abortion is a distasteful subject. Fear of intruding on a woman’s right to choose along with fear of making a painful situation worse can make us keep our distance and pretend it doesn’t exist. Since many doctors will not perform abortions, some women go to sub-par facilities like the New Woman clinic or the one run by Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia. These clinics exist for profit, and they are frequently staffed by abortionists who fly in from out of state and provide no follow-up care for their patients.

In the case of the New Woman clinic, the Alabama Department of Public Health could have justified turning a blind eye to violations because of the clinic’s history, for it was the one bombed by Eric Rudolph in 1998. A security guard died and a nurse was seriously injured in that horrific bombing. But I’m thankful to say that our public health officials didn’t let the clinic’s history place it above the law.

This was not the case in Philadelphia. The “House of Horrors” run by Kermit Gosnell went 17 years without being inspected. Department of Health official Janet Staloski told a grand jury that the state chose not to inspect abortion clinics to avoid “putting a barrier up to women” who sought abortions. The message that women should be allowed to do whatever they want with their own bodies over time evolved into the reality that doctors could do whatever they want to those women without oversight.

Just this month, the governor of Alabama signed into law the Women’s Health and Safety Act. This new law requires that a physician must remain present at an abortion clinic until all of the patients are discharged.  It requires clinics to meet the same building code standards as an ambulatory surgical center. It requires that doctors who perform abortions in Alabama must have admitting privileges at a local hospital (something that Bruce E. Norman, the doctor present when the Vasopressin mistake was made, does not have).

A standard defense of Roe v. Wade is that women will have abortions whether they are legal or not. If they are legal, at least we can regulate them, the logic goes. But the same people who make this argument have protested the Women’s Health and Safety Act as a back-door effort to take away access to abortion. Planned Parenthood has gone on record as saying that the act (which, remember, requires doctors to remain present with their patients and admit them to the hospital when necessary) will not improve the health and safety of women. Clinic administrators argue that creating extra-wide doorways that can accommodate gurneys will place an undue financial burden on clinics, forcing them to close.

Story Isn’t Over

Sometime in early 2013, activity at the New Woman Clinic resumed. The clinic’s website advertising abortions had never been taken down. Someone was again answering the phone. And Dr. Norman was seen coming and going from the clinic.

On March 26, the Alabama Department of Health filed a civil complaint against the clinic, which, according to the complaint, continued to offer “abortion services to the public without a license.”

In response, the lawyer for Norman made an unexpected defense. Scott Morro told The Birmingham News that so long as Norman performs fewer than 30 abortions a month, the clinic doesn’t need a license. Brian Hale, deputy general counsel for the ADPH, said that the issue will have to be settled in court.

At the time of this writing, the website for the New Woman Clinic is still advertising abortions. Presumably, so long as the clinic owner can find a loophole in the law to keep from being regulated, they will continue. If there is another medication error, Bruce Norman or whoever else is minding the sedated patient will have to call an ambulance and take her out the back door and through the alley.

Give a Gift that Encourages

You’ve seen it with your kids. All December they plead for you to buy them the “must have” gift of the season. You’re bombarded by TV ads, in-store displays, and thick catalogs. But you remember what happened last year. Before January 1 they were already bored with the toy. They moved on to something else. You can’t be too hard on them, however. You did the same thing in your childhood. And you just might do the same with the gadgets on your grown-up Christmas list this year.

We want to buy our loved ones a meaningful gift, something worthy of the season’s meaning, something that will last. The Gospel Coalition’s 2013 National Conference runs only five days in Orlando, Florida, but we’re trusting God to change lives from April 6 to 10. We’re praying the world missions pre-conference would exalt God and compel many to take the gospel to the nations. And we’re seeking God’s blessing on a national conference focused on Jesus in the Gospel of Luke and featuring more than 80 speakers addressing subjects from “Why Cities Matter” to “The Church and Her Artists,” in gatherings both large and small.

Until December 26, we’re holding registration costs at their lowest point so you can consider sending a loved one to join us in Orlando. If you’re a student or living outside the United States, you can register for the missions pre-conference and main event for only $150. And if you register together with your spouse as a Christmas gift, you could save up to $220. Registering early won’t just save you money, you’ll also reserve your spot in one of the 16 first-come “focus gatherings,” ranging in discussion topic from Lauren Chandler on “Stability in the Midst of Suffering” to Bryan Chapell on “The Role of Grace in Sanctification.”

Please join us in prayer that God would bless this event in such a way that he alone gets the acclaim. Thank God the gospel of Jesus Christ never bores, never breaks, and never goes out of style!

Justice for Jerry—And Us

As a native of State College, I found some sense of relief that justice was duly administered in the conviction of Jerry Sandusky this weekend for his systematic abuse of minors. However, this verdict should be seen not only as the end of an horrific nightmare but also the beginning of a more difficult process of reflection and healing for the entire community.

For residents and natives of State College, the Sandusky trial is a harsh reminder that justice is not merely the responsibility of the state, but of the community as a whole. The monstrosities committed by Jerry could not have gone on for decades without the willful neglect of hundreds in the community to pursue justice. Every blind eye turned, every awkward conversation avoided, every assumption that someone else was dealing with the problem, every passing on of responsibility to higher ups, is a crime against God and the victims. Many of those seemingly Draconian passages in Leviticus so commonly lampooned today existed to help the Israelites as a community be bearers of God’s justice. We Christians—and much of our culture as a whole—have forgotten and forsaken this responsibility. The historic confessions of the church include not only a plea for forgiveness for the sins we have committed by our actions, but also the sins we have committed by our failure to act, for neglecting to respond to those in need.

For Jerry, the trial proves that no one can compensate for atrocious acts with good deeds. We watched Sandusky’s profound delusion with shock—he seemed to honestly think that the hundreds of kids helped through Second Mile more than compensated for the dozens of lives destroyed by his predation. We might be stunned by his delusion, but all of us share in this trait to some degree. We are all delusional; we all paper mache over guilty consciences by convincing ourselves that we are good people. We’ve all done good things, people generally find us nice, we’re not as bad as so and so down the block. But the God who knows our hearts is not deceived by our bartering. As the media and courts exposed the darkness of Jerry’s heart, so will all of our sins be exposed when we die. The question is not what good deeds we have done, but have we repented of our sin, and do we cry out to God for the mercy and forgiveness that can only come through the cross of Christ? One thing is certain: God will not forgive those who don’t want to be forgiven. Unfortunately, so far Jerry seems to have forsaken the love of God, wanting not to be with his Maker, but instead to receive a reward for his philanthropy. I pray for myself and others that we don’t make this same mistake.

For the victims, the verdict offers a modicum of comfort, knowing that justice was served and that there will be no new victims. Of course this comfort is not complete, nor can there ever be closure on this earth. Hopefully friends, family, the State College community, and churches will aid in the healing process for all those victimized. Thankfully, we can turn to a loving God who is no stranger to savagery. God incarnate, Jesus, suffered severe physical and emotional pain—he was abandoned and neglected by loved ones and abused even in his innocence. God the Father mourned the abuse of his Son, and God continues to mourn along and with those who turn to him.

The Good News is that this mourning does not exist forever. Just as Christ was healed of his wounds through his resurrection, so complete healing will come at the end of days for those who receive this Good News, when heaven and earth unite, when Jesus’ victory over sin, evil, and death in his resurrection reaches its completion. All those who turn to Jesus may taste his healing power this instant and look forward to a time when wailing will be turned to dancing, where those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.

All Oppression Will Cease, Even in North Korea

The world waits anxiously as the leadership transition unfolds in North Korea. It’s premature to suppose that the death of Kim Jong-il guarantees improvement or hope for the oppressed people of that totalitarian nation. Uncertainty and regime change inside a violent leadership culture could result in tragic consequences for ordinary citizens.

In a recent column for The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof gave us a glimpse into the world of North Korea. He describes “The Loudspeaker,” a radio mounted on the wall of every North Korean home that randomly vomits propaganda on North Koreans. “In his first golf outing,” it shrieks, “Comrade Kim Jong-il shoots five holes-in-one!” The speaker recounts robotic answers to questions from two North Korean schoolgirls and the horrific story of a husband asking and receiving permission to execute his wife, who raised questions about Kim Jong-il’s womanizing.

By now, we’ve probably all seen the video and photos of North Korean citizens weeping and tearing at their clothes and hair in agony at news of their infallible leader’s death. We ask what could possess people who suffer under such harsh conditions, such deep poverty, such rank abuse to mourn the death of their oppressor. But this is nothing new.

There were similar levels of unimaginable cruelty in Germany during the Third Reich, as well as in China under Mao and the Soviet Union under Stalin. The 20th century learned the lessons of the industrial revolution and created vast government machines of oppression. Ordinary citizens terrorized their friends and neighbors, buying into propaganda that told them such cruelty served of the invincible demi-gods who led their state.

Unfortunately, the collapse of North Korea would not be the end of totalitarianism. Many other nations, such as Cuba, hover near the border of this description. As political philosopher Hannah Arendt has said, “It is in the very nature of things human that every act that has once made its appearance and has been recorded in the history of mankind stays with mankind as a potentiality long after its actuality has become a thing of the past.” Dictators and despots will continue to learn from their predecessors and build bureaucratic machines of terror and oppression.

But only for a time.

Oppression Will Cease

The fact remains that a day is coming when in Jesus’ name, “all oppression will cease.” Even the oppression of totalitarians in North Korea.

North Korea is a glaring reminder of the brokenness of the world and the great evil that we are capable of carrying out. Machinized terror, systematic oppression, gulags, prison camps, and propaganda are all the product of a God-given imagination running horribly awry. Under the weight of that corrupted imagination the world groans in weariness. North Korea’s rulers have drained the resources of a starving nation, pouring every dollar they could into the military, which stands as both a tool of oppression against their people and as bared fangs to the world that looks on in disgust. Yet that power is somehow cosmically undone by the birth of a child in a stable in Bethlehem.

As Placide de Cappeau de Roquemaure phrased it so brilliantly in his hymn “O Holy Night”:

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
As yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Sin’s entrance sent the world careening towards destruction, creating a rift between heaven and earth that required sacrifices, temples, and veils to protect us from the furious heat of God’s holiness. The Christ child’s entrance into the world set the two on a collision course once again, with the promise that the babe in the straw would reconcile them all, destroying death and sin in the process.

Cannot Defeat the Gospel

I can’t help but think of Herod as we imagine North Korea at Christmas. The isolation of their people and the brutal persecution of Christians is like the murderous response of that other king when he heard of the birth of the Messiah. Like the later attempts by Roman emperors—indeed, all those made by despots throughout history—every attempt to crush the gospel has and will continue to fail. Christians in North Korea need our prayers and whatever help we can provide.

Jesus taught us to pray “on earth as in heaven,” inviting us to look at the world through the hope-filled promise of reconciliation. It’s through those eyes that we should look to North Korea, or Iran, or any other populace suffering under the crushing thumb of dictators. There is nothing so liberating as the news that we have a better King and an eternal hope. In spite of their screeching protestations, every tyrant’s days are numbered. A King was born in Bethlehem who will one day bring justice and peace.

Merry Christmas, North Korea. We love you and we’re praying for you. May the wondrous announcement of the birth of the One True King take root in your people, spreading a fearless hope in your hearts as you face the uncertain days ahead.

Productive for the Glory of God, Good of Neighbors

No doubt America’s church leaders are as concerned as anyone else about the grave news emerging from the European financial crisis. It threatens a disruption so serious that every economy in the world would be damaged. But pastors may naturally ask what, if anything, it all has to do with their work as the spiritual leaders of God’s people.

I don’t think pastors are called to become experts in international finance. However, I do think the European crisis intersects with the daily work of stewarding the mysteries of God and equipping the saints for discipleship in the American context.

One of the most important callings of the pastor is to equip the saints in discerning and carrying out the various callings God has for them in every aspect of their lives, including as members of their civil communities. And thinking Christianly about our daily calling to be good citizens in our homes, workplaces, and communities actually provides unique insight into the financial crisis and what we, as ordinary citizens, can do to make a productive contribution to the good of our neighbors and nation.

Moral and Theological Foundations

Looking at the European crisis, let’s start with some simple economic knowledge and work our way back to moral and theological foundations. The immediate cause of the crisis was a broad constellation of bad policies that reward irresponsible behavior. For example, when European banks buy debt from European governments, they’re exempted from rules requiring them to backstop the debt with some assets in case of default. Naturally, banks all across Europe have responded by buying lots of European government debt, even when they knew it was likely to default. So now, if one or more countries go bankrupt, the whole European financial system will suffer severe and unpredictable disruptions.

But how did Europe get to the point where so much of its financial policy and behavior is so irresponsible? And how did nations like Greece get to the point where voters won’t let them make the necessary reforms even in the face of catastrophe? That’s a longer story.

A historically unprecedented phenomenon has been unfolding—in Europe for the past five centuries, in America for the past two, and more recently everywhere across the globe except sub-Sarahan Africa. That phenomenon is explosive economic growth. After millennia of basically stagnant wealth levels from the earliest recorded history forward, God’s world is at last beginning to flourish economically.

Just in the past two decades, the percentage of the population in the developing world that lives in dire poverty (less than $1 a day) has been cut in half. Contemplate that for a moment.

This economic flourishing was originally produced by a confluence of factors, the most important of which was Christianity. Late medieval Christianity developed an increasing emphasis on universal human dignity and (consequently) the intrinsic goodness of economic activity. The Reformation dramatically expanded these trends and added critical new dimensions—especially the idea that your daily work is a calling from God and the primary way God makes human civilizations flourish.

All this culminated in cultures that made productivity—improving the lives of others by responding to their authentic needs—central to both individual and national identity. Scriptural treatment of this topic is extensive. Everything from the image of God to the Trinity to the prophets and parables is implicated in understanding productivity.

Christians believe human beings are made in the image of a Father who creates from nothing; this explains why human work creates wealth rather than just moving it around. Christians believe in a divine Son who joined in mystical union with temporal and material humanity. Material activities like economic work are not separate from, and inferior to, “spiritual” activities. And Christians believe in a Spirit who liberates us from selfishness; this explains why life works best when people orient their daily lives around serving others.

The problem is, too many Europeans now take wealth for granted. Some have forgotten where it came from—productive work—and feel like they’re entitled to it by birthright. More to the point, the people and institutions in authority have irresponsibly indulged this attitude (for various reasons, such as vote-buying) and have thereby anointed it as culturally accepted.

Where this happens, economics is reduced to the purely material. If the proper economic goal for individuals is to enjoy leisure rather than to be productive, then of course voters should demand endless, unsustainable entitlement programs. If the fundamental purpose of business is to make money rather than to serve customers, then of course businesses should game the system to enrich themselves—and nations can try to get rich by playing games with the money supply.

The idea that policy should encourage financial rewards for productivity, and culture should set the expectation of productive work from all who are able, simply makes no sense in this context. Once you forget the Creator, you quickly forget that wealth needs to be created.

American Asset

Where does America stand in all this? Our finances are not nearly as bad as, say Greece’s. But they’re not nearly as good as Germany’s. And, like Europe, we’ve been punishing productivity and playing games with the money supply. Not to mention continuing unsustainable entitlements, housing market shenanigans, irrational subsidies, and naïveté about destructive programs.

But America has a hidden economic asset that not even Germany has: churches full every Sunday with people ready to hear what God has to say.

Again, I don’t think pastors should pretend to be experts on international finance, or try to handle political and policy questions beyond their knowledge. What they can do is equip people to discern the calling of God to productive work.

Imagine pulpits across America clearly and consistently preaching:

  • God is calling you to spend every day making the lives of others better through productive work in your home, workplace, and community.
  • God is calling you to be a spiritual leader who gracefully sets that expectation for others—because everyone made in God’s image is called to productivity—and for our nation.

Productivity is a critically essential component of both discipleship and good citizenship. In the long term it is the only protection against both pietistic subjectivism in our churches and also economic collapse in our nation.

Good News from Egypt

“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ — Matthew 2:13

For many centuries Egyptians have been proud that when God’s Son needed refuge, he came to their land for shelter and security.

Today, as the bright sunshine of the Arab Spring is being overshadowed by darkening clouds of the Arab Fall, many Christians and moderate Muslims are seeking to flee from Egypt for freedom.

You will undoubtedly have heard that the Islamists have made significant gains in the recent first round of parliamentary elections. This was expected but has, nevertheless, discouraged many who made great efforts to vote and somehow hoped that the non-Islamist candidates and parties would have made greater gains. Nonetheless, many believe that the next two rounds of elections will not be as favorable for the Islamists. A host of smaller parties are joining forces to counteract the Islamist takeover.

Many wonder why the Islamist parties have gotten a majority of the votes. Here are a couple possible possible reasons:

  • The recent Egyptian revolution was against the oppression of President Mubarak’s regime, so it is logical that people would want to vote for those who were most oppressed by the former government.
  • A more convincing argument is that the Islamists have campaigned on only one issue: restoring Egypt to God’s laws. Since Egyptians are some of the most religious people in the world, this platform has tremendous appeal with the masses that trust these leaders to provide them with a decent life and help them get to heaven.

Before you claim that this is naïve, think of how keen Christians in your country are to vote for a Christian candidate!

God at Work

Rather than focus on the many economic, social, political, cultural, and religious problems that Egyptians are struggling with, I want to share with you some remarkable news of unprecedented breakthroughs for the gospel.

  • My wife, Rebecca, began ministering 29 years ago with an unknown Coptic priest who was serving the despised and neglected garbage collectors of Cairo. On November 11 the largest prayer meeting in the history of the Middle East took place at the Garbage Village’s Cave Church complex when more than 50,000 people from all denominations and all walks of life met to pray for Egypt. We are hearing dozens of stories of healings and spiritual transformation that took place among those who attended this 12-hour event or even among those who watched it on satellite TV. With all the sanctified imagination she could muster, Rebecca could not have conceived such an event when she first began ministering with Father Simon.
  • During the recent fighting in the vicinity of Liberation Square, the nearby hospital was damaged. Kasr El Doubara Evangelical Church, which is also nearby, established a “hospital” on its premises that was manned, among others, by Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood doctors and nurses. This event as picked up by the media, and Islamists told media in interviews how welcome and loved they felt serving in that church hospital.
  • I recently attended the opening service for a church around the corner from my home. This is the first time since the 1950s that a Protestant church has opened in the suburb where I live.
  • Last month the Bible Society bought a shop in the Giza district of Cairo (which has 7 million inhabitants and 115 churches). We are renovating it as a Bible bookshop, the first in Giza.
  • Last week we finished rebuilding the roof of the new Bible Society national distribution center and are hoping it will be in operation by the summer.
  • The objective of our “Rebuild Egypt” campaign was “To flood Egypt with God’s Word.” We began with highlighting biblical values that resonated with the aspirations of the Egyptian youth. As the situation in Egypt has progressed and regressed, we have become increasingly more focused on equipping the church, seeking to encourage and assure people not to fear the future, but to trust in the Lord.

In the opening service of the new church close to us, the pastor preached on 1 John 4:18, “perfect love casts out fear.” True believers should not fear. The best antidote to fear, he said, is love. We do not fear those we love. So the solution is to love those we fear. What a message for Christians in Egypt today!

Christian Hope and the UK Riots

Editor’s note: London-based blogger Adrian Warnock shares his perspective on the troubling events in the UK. More details of the emerging situation and further Christian responses to these events are available on

We have seen inner-city riots before. As these events began they initially seemed to be following a similar pattern. The trigger was a fatal shooting by police during an arrest. To understand why such an event could trigger a riot, it is important to understand two things. First, in the UK regular police do not carry guns, and as a result deaths by police shooting is very uncommon here. Such deaths by their unusual nature often make the national news. Second, the death happened in Tottenham, an area of London in which many youths feel angry with the police. A peaceful vigil outside the local police station then triggered a violent reaction and rioting.

The first night of riots was localized in Tottenham but rather extreme in its nature. The devastation—the like of which some are saying has not been seen since World War II—has shocked the nation. But the events since then have angered and upset us even more. In an unprecedented manner disorder spread the following day, initially to nearby Enfield, where the church I attend is based, then to other parts of London and to other cities in the nation.

The disturbances have tended to be caused by groups of 20 to 200 youths rather than mass mobs, making policing more challenging. There appears to be no political or racial motivation; instead, wanton looting has been the characteristic. Shops are broken into, robbed, and in some cases burnt to the ground. In many cases shop owners will have seen their livelihoods built up over decades disappear.

Different Hope

How are Christians responding? There is a strong call to prayer. But as Oliver Cromwell used to say to his troops, we must trust in God and keep our gunpowder dry. Many have been reaching out to offer help with clear-up operations. This is also a time to reach out with compassion to neighbors who may be very worried at this time. It is also an opportunity to reach out to local officials and for communities to rally together.

Our nation has sought to marginalize the church. In these troubled days, doors are opening up for the gospel in word and deed, and there is a renewed openness for the voice of the church to be heard. In addition to obviously praying for peace, please pray that many churches will use the increased openness we are seeing to forge healthy relationships with local government and to care for those around us. Many people are feeling shaken by the way a tiny minority of people are behaving in our usually peaceful nation. The difference Christian hope makes at a time like this is palpable. May many reach out to God at this time and that Christians will rightly represent Jesus to our nation.

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Returning Evil for Evil: The Snickering Consent of Prison Rape

Justice is a fickle word. The way we often use it, you’d think that it’s more malleable than it actually is. We often use it in a way that fits our cause. For our enemies, the word is used more severely. For ourselves, well, we’d like a little Christian grace along with it.

In the case of prison rapes, we—even Christians—often use the word justice corruptly.

In the July issue of Reason, Lovisa Stannow wonders why the government is doing so little to end sexual assault in prison. She reports that the U.S. Department of Justice’s study of the number of inmates who are sexually abused concluded that at least 216,600 inmates were victimized in 2008 alone. Surprisingly, however,

[M]ost of the perpetrators were not other prisoners but staff members—corrections officials whose job it is to keep inmates safe. On average, each victim was abused between three and five times over the course of the year. The vast majority were too fearful of reprisals to seek help or file a formal complaint (emphasis mine).

That’s around 600 assault victims a day with authorities chiefly responsible. Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003, but implementation has been slow, according to Stannow, for reasons that aren’t clear.

I’m not sure about all of Stannow’s conclusions, but I’m not surprised that prison rape is low on the list of social ills we want to eradicate. Take for instance, the fact that prison rape is a common punchline. A Los Angeles Times article by Ezra Klein from March 2008 made the case that since we often joke about prison rape, it’s hard to take the problem seriously. These snickers range from the common “don’t drop the soap” quips to California attorney general Bill Lockyer, who in 2001 jokingly day-dreamed out loud about wanting to escort Enron’s Ken Lay “to an 8-by-10 cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says, ‘Hi, my name is Spike, honey.’”

We might not actually approve prison rape, but as Klein points out, “it doesn’t exactly concern us, and occasionally, we take a perverse satisfaction in its existence.”

Perverse, indeed.

As Christians, we should love and fight for justice. Prison rape is a wicked and perverse consequence that we should not delight in, nor joke about. The Bible explains that God gives human government responsibility to distribute justice and punish those who commit evil. We should find no satisfaction in returning evil for evil.

Preying on the Weak

Our snickering supposes that rape happens to the worst of criminals. But the fact is that the victims are often juveniles, women, and the weakest of prisoners. Take for instance the story of Jan Lastocy:

While serving time for attempted embezzlement in a Michigan prison in 1998, Lastocy was raped. Not once, not twice, but several times a week for seven months. The rapist was an officer who supervised her at a prison warehouse.

Chuck Colson and Prison Fellowship, catalysts for the Prison Rape Elimination Act, have been on the front line of this discussion for years. You can read the most recent statements by Prison Fellowship vice president Pat Nolan on the Departments of Justice’s proposed prison rape standards. Colson has said elsewhere:

Prison rape affects more than just prisoners; it punishes people who never set foot inside a prison. For example, AIDS, which is now five-times more prevalent inside prison walls than outside, is a deadly plague that infected inmates will spread once they leave prison. And once released, many inmate-victims visit all the rage and humiliation male rape victims suffer on innocent people–usually women–in a misguided effort to win back a sense of manhood.

Christians delight in perfect justice, not when it is abused. And those who wink at what disgraces humans and dishonors God should repent. May we love our neighbor and enemy by praying that this abuse stops and that those in positions to make changes do so swiftly.

‘I’m a Gospel-Person’

The March 21 issue of Towers, published by The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, includes an interview with Don Carson, president and co-founder of The Gospel Coalition. He talks with managing editor Aaron Cline Hanbury about why he sees himself as more of a pastor than a professor. He also explains how he ended up training pastors in the United States rather than serving as a pastor himself in Canada.

Whatever title you give him, though, Carson explains what truly defines him:

What drives me, in fact, is not first and foremost what label is attached to me functionally, but the gospel itself. In other words, as highly as I want to emphasize the local church and pastoral ministry—and pastoral ministry primarily being ministry of the Word—the presupposition behind all that is the non-negotiability and importance of the gospel. So I’m happy to say I think of myself primarily as a pastor, but fundamentally, I’m a gospel-person.

Read the rest of the interview and the whole issue of Towers, which explores the relationship between the church and the seminary.

Not Just Shoeboxes: Operation Christmas Child Focuses on Discipleship

Today marks the beginning of National Collections Week for Operation Christmas Child (OCC)—the annual evangelistic project of Samaritan’s Purse. Each year an estimated 75,000 churches participate in this program, which sends millions of shoeboxes worldwide to needy children in underdeveloped countries. Last year, more than 8 million children in more than 100 countries received a shoebox full of school supplies, toys, candy, and an evangelistic booklet, “The Greatest Gift of All.”

If you are not familiar with OCC, here is how it works. Participants pack a shoebox full of goodies. Some families choose to include a photo and a short note. These shoeboxes are then shipped all over the world, where they are distributed at one of the 65,000 sites along with an hour-long gospel presentation. This massive undertaking involves an incredible amount of volunteers and coordination, making it perhaps one of the largest annual evangelistic efforts coming out of the developed world. About 5.5 million of the gifts come out of the United States, while 2.7 million gifts come from other sending countries, including Germany, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Since its beginning, OCC has stayed true to its mission: “To demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to needy children around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.”

Children in Veracruz, Mexico, learn about 'The Greatest Journey.'

I’ve always thought the shoebox thing was a great idea. My kids have a blast being a part of it, and I am blown away by how many people get involved each year. But I have always wondered just how effective it actually is as an evangelist tool. Does it really result in children understanding the gospel and becoming followers of Christ? Or is it more about Santa and getting a Christmas present? Before you call me a Scrooge, I realize this gift serves as an introduction to Christianity for most of the recipients, and you often need to plant a seed. But I have always hoped that more could be done. I was particularly encouraged today to learn that OCC is doing more. In addition to the shoeboxes, they now focus on continuing discipleship for these children through local churches. They have introduced The Greatest Journey as a teacher-led discipleship program aimed at helping kids better understand the gospel and mature into faithful followers of Christ. This is more than just a short pamphlet. It is includes a New Testament and a full-color, 12-lesson study guide (preview) focusing on who Jesus Christ is, what it means to follow him, and how the gospel changes a person’s life. This material has already been printed in 28 languages, and right now more than 30,000 teachers in 50 countries are being trained to walk children through the program (gallery) as a part of their local church.

While the shoebox is a great introduction or touching point for many kids—even serving as a remarkable barrier-breaker for bringing Christianity into some difficult-to-reach areas of the world—I believe this discipleship program will be an amazing addition to this evangelistic effort.

If you would like to find out where to drop off your shoebox or how your church can become involved with The Greatest Journey, please visit the drop-off map locator.