This book explains to American Christians that ignoring the culture around us will not rewind us back to some safer place in the past. More than that, the book is a catalyst for thinking through a path forward for the years to come. Read this book and ponder how we can leave an inheritance for our children of liberty and justice, for all.
A couple of weeks ago, I was at my old med school interviewing prospective students when I used a few minutes after lunch to check out the construction on the campus. I wandered into the new main lecture hall and saw the title slide for a lecture on Reproductive Rights vs. Right of Conscience projected on the gigantic screen.
The “culture wars” seem distant for many. We’ve heard about the couple in Oregon who lost their home and business for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, or the fire chief in Atlanta who lost his job for writing a Christian book quoting extensively from Romans 1, but for most people, the likelihood of losing one’s career or livelihood as a result of their faith would seem pretty remote.
The prospect doesn’t seem so remote to Erick Erickson and Bill Blankschaen. Erick is a political commentator who hosts an early evening, drive time talk show in Atlanta while attending seminary during the day. Bill is a former pastor from our home area (he helped launch a Christian school that serves families from our practice) who now writes about faith, culture and church issues at Faith Walkers. Their new book, You Will Be Made to Care, provides an in-depth look at the cultural forces laying siege to the freedom of conscience that people of faith in America have long taken for granted and offers a clarion call to church leaders and individual Christians to prepare for the challenges to our faith that appear increasingly inevitable.
Christianity is, in this life, a religion of suffering. We have forgotten this truth in America. Put bluntly: if you do have a comfortable path through life with no fears at all of persecution, you probably are not a true Christian. The suffering may not be major. It may be an accumulation of small slights over time. It may be the loss of a friend or just the expulsion of your Christian group from your private school. But Christianity is a religion of suffering and persecution.
Throughout the first two-thirds of the book, Erick and Bill paint a very grim picture of the movement seeking to erode our right to free exercise of religion and freedom of conscience. They pull no punches in calling out cultural, political and religious leaders and organizations who have “chosen compromise over conscience, cautious silence instead of courageous speech and indifference rather than decisive action.” They intend to provide a dramatic wakeup call to those in the church who think they’ll avoid being impacted by the forces that have been unleashed within the culture.
The greatest value of the book lies in the final five chapters as they cast a vision for a “resurgent community” in which Christians live by a faith characterized by “doing what you sense to be true, often in spite of what you see, sense or feel.” Erick and Bill call us to “live what we believe to be true based on the revealed Word of God, especially in the face of the constant media barrage telling us that we are the bigoted extremists for refusing to convert to the secular religion.”
The question is not who’s on the right side of history, but who’s at the right hand of the Father?
Erick and Bill conclude by laying out a strategy for people of faith seeking to prepare for the challenging times that lie ahead. They emphasize the importance for each of us to surround ourselves with a community of fellow believers. They encourage us to become clear about what we believe, to reconnect with the history of our faith and to seek to discover how our faith applies to cultural issues. They implore us not just to call ourselves followers of Christ but to “do what he has called each of us to do,” to speak boldly, to surround ourselves with others who will call us out for hypocrisy and to confront our fears. They cast a vision for resurgent families characterized by faithful marriages, a focus on family unity and children taught to think critically in applying their faith to the culture. They paint a picture of resurgent churches that unite grace and truth in preaching the Gospel, teach the Word of God and prepare attendees for suffering and persecution. They encourage Christians to remain engaged in the exercise of their faith within the public square.
So…why am I so passionate about freedom of conscience and why are we talking about it on a disability ministry blog?
My personal life experience and my thirty years as a physician specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry convince me that God’s way works. A culture in which sexual liberty is permitted to take precedence over the free exercise of religion and individual autonomy over freedom of conscience is a culture in which many children and teens served by our practice and many kids and families served by our ministry will not fare well.
The sexual revolution has not been kind to kids vulnerable to mental illness. Sexual activity during the teen years (both opposite sex and same sex activity) is associated with significantly increased odds of depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. We wouldn’t need to develop as many resources to support adoption and foster care ministry as we do if not for the collateral damage of broken relationships and traumatized kids from the pursuit of sexual freedom.
I fear that clinicians will be reluctant to treat teens who experience anxiety or mood issues while wrestling with conflicts between same-sex attraction and the teachings of their faith because of new laws outlawing the practice of “conversion therapy.“
Some conditions are so politically charged in the current cultural environment that research to help kids in distress is becoming impossible. Most kids who exhibit gender non-conformity (variations in norms in gender role behavior such as toy preferences, rough and tumble play, aggression and playmate gender) don’t progress to gender discordance (a discrepancy between an individual’s biological sex and their personal sense of being male or female)…a good thing, since kids with gender discordance exhibit extraordinarily high rates of mental illness and suicidal behavior. Despite the enormous differences in outcomes between kids who progress from gender non-conformity to gender discordance versus those who don’t, one of the world’s top research clinics for kids with gender dysphoria was recently shut down because of accusations from activists that they were far too cautious about socially transitioning kids to live in accordance with their gender instead of their biological sex.
The larger issue that will have far greater impact upon the disability ministry community is the impact the erosion of our freedom of conscience will have on the ability of committed Christians to work in the healthcare professions.
I’ve written extensively about the challenges looming ahead for healthcare professionals of faith as physician-assisted suicide has been legalized throughout Canada and in a handful of states, including California. Most would be surprised to discover that every U.S. medical school except for one has abandoned use of the traditional Hippocratic Oath because of its’ prohibitions against abortion and physician-assisted suicide.
I fully expect in the next 10-15 years to see more and more legislation in which the government will use the power to license healthcare professionals or rules governing reimbursement for medical services to mandate actions incompatible with the traditional understanding and practice of Christianity.
The teaching in my church this morning was on Matthew 5:13-16. We’re called by Jesus to be “salt” and “light” in the world. The power of Christ exercised through the influence of the people of Christ can transform the world. If we’re worried about the culture that we’re leaving behind for our kids and grandkids, we have a responsibility to allow God to transform our hearts so that we might use our influence as agents of transformation.
We’re seeing what happens in the medical profession when the influence of the people called to be salt and light is absent from the culture. The Center for Medical Progress exposed Planned Parenthood staff negotiating the sale of body parts from aborted babies. I wrote here about a paper from the Journal of Medical Ethics on “post-birth abortion.” When individual autonomy is valued more highly than life itself, persons with disabilities are most vulnerable. We’re seeing that firsthand in the Netherlands when it comes to euthanasia of persons with mental illness.
What would I tell a Christian kid nowadays asking my advice about divulging their involvement in faith-based groups on a med school application? I’d encourage them to list their involvement on medical mission trips or service provided to marginalized people. I’d also want them to think about how they’d respond ten years from now when they finish their residency with $300,000 in educational debt if the law requires them to assist their patients in committing suicide as a condition for maintaining their medical license.
Erick and Bill have written a book that encourages all of us to prepare ourselves for a time coming very soon when we’ll face the prospect of paying a significant price for remaining true to the teaching of our faith. We had best be prepared.
You Will Be Made To Care by Erick Erickson and Bill Blankschaen is available on Monday, February 22nd at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Christian Book. Anyone who preorders the book is eligible for a bonus package including the first chapter of the book and more than 11 hours of in-depth interviews featuring Russell Moore, Ravi Zacharias, Kevin DeYoung and others.
Disclosure: I received an advanced reader’s copy of the manuscript to write this review, but I’ve purchased a copy of the final version of the book.