Category Archives: Culture

Barna Update | Does School Violence Begin in the Home?

Mass shootings in schools may get the most coverage, but violence at school is happening everyday. Why are our sanctuaries of learning often unsafe for students? Barna asked American adults what they believe leads to school violence. Findings show that most point to the home as the source—but there are notable differences among ethnicities and faith groups.

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Homosexuality, Gender Identity, and Other Sexual Immorality

Bible study author, speaker and blogger Michelle Lesley has written a thought-provoking piece for Bible believing Christians (those who hold to the authority of Scripture) that lays out the biblical view of how we must respond to all the troubling sexual issues that are impacting the world and the Church. She writes:

Sexuality in Western culture is a mess. Within the last hundred years or so, we’ve devolved from a society that had, broadly speaking, a general understanding of, and compliance with, the Bible’s parameters for sex to today’s sexual mores that barely top short of child molestation and bestiality and permits – even encourages – nearly every other form of perversion.

It can be difficult to know how to approach these issues which have been suddenly thrust upon us, and with which the average person – Christian or not – has very little experience. How are Christians to think about, believe, and address these issues in our families, churches, and communities? Do we just go with the “live and let live” flow of modern society? No. As with every other issue in life, our thinking, our words, and our actions must be shaped by and in submission to the authority of Scripture. Not public opinion. Not political agendas. Not our own personal feelings, opinions, and experiences. Scripture.

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Source: Homosexuality, Gender Identity, and Other Sexual Immorality

Barna Update | Should Sex Ed Teach Abstinence? Most Americans Say Yes

Sexual norms have changed dramatically over the years, and young people are often left to their own devices (sometimes literally) when it comes to navigating sexuality. A new Barna study uncovers how Americans see their responsibility to educate and equip teens to make choices about sex.

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Why the Rejection of the Nashville Statement on Sexuality Is a Rejection of the Bible

The problem is not with the Nashville Statement. It is with the Bible, since the statement only reaffirms what the Bible clearly teaches, namely that: 1) God made humans male and female; 2) marriage, as intended by God, is the lifelong union of a man and a woman; 3) homosexual practice is always sinful in God’s sight; 4) God offers forgiveness for all human beings through the cross of Jesus; and 5) those who struggle with same-sex attraction or gender identity confusion can be welcomed into the Body of Christ like any other struggling individual, as long as they do not celebrate or affirm that which is wrong.

If a group of astronomers issued a major document stating that the Earth revolves around the sun and the moon revolves around the Earth, it would be greeted with a shrug of the shoulders. Who didn’t know that? Why, then, has a recent statement by Christian leaders affirming the basics of biblical sexuality been greeted with such protest from other professing Christian leaders? It is because these other “Christian” leaders have rejected the authority of the Word of God.

For those who haven’t read the Nashville Statement, the Babylon Bee, a Christian satirical website, actually sums things up well, and with some well-placed sarcasm: “It says some really controversial stuff for Bible-believing Christians, like that God made Adam and Eve as (trigger warning) male and female, that marriage was created by God to be the union between one man and one woman, that He loves people with gender dysphoria and same-sex attraction even if He doesn’t approve of all of their actions, and that He offers His grace and mercy to sinners of all stripes.”

Yes, just the most basic of the basics, reaffirming what the Church (and Synagogue) have believed about marriage and sexuality for two millennia and offering grace and mercy to all. That’s why, when I was asked to be one of the initial signatories, I signed on without hesitation. What was there to disagree with?

Yet in response to the Nashville Statement a headline on the Huffington Post declared, “Hundreds Of Christian Leaders Denounce Anti-LGBTQ ‘Nashville Statement.’” The Post called the statement “divisive and bizarrely-timed,” noting that it “drew harsh criticism from many other Christians, members of the LGBTQ community and even the mayor of Nashville.”

Need I tell you that this article was penned by Antonia Blumberg for the Post’s “Queer Voices” section?

Of course LGBT activists and their allies will condemn a statement that reaffirms God’s standards for marriage and sexuality. Why should that occasion surprise?

Likewise, a September 1 op-ed piece in the New York Times stated that, “This week, an influential group of evangelical Christians publicly doubled down on intolerance in a message about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people that represents a renewed commitment to open bigotry.”

Yes, “The Nashville Statement’s harm is more than symbolic. The hateful beliefs it endorses have real-life, devastating consequences.”

And who is the author of this article? Eliel Cruz, a self-described “leading bisexual activist.”

Are you seeing a pattern here?

The problem is not with the Nashville Statement. It is with the Bible, since the statement only reaffirms what the Bible clearly teaches, namely that: 1) God made humans male and female; 2) marriage, as intended by God, is the lifelong union of a man and a woman; 3) homosexual practice is always sinful in God’s sight; 4) God offers forgiveness for all human beings through the cross of Jesus; and 5) those who struggle with same-sex attraction or gender identity confusion can be welcomed into the Body of Christ like any other struggling individual, as long as they do not celebrate or affirm that which is wrong.

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The post Why the Rejection of the Nashville Statement on Sexuality Is a Rejection of the Bible appeared first on The Aquila Report.

Our Minds Have Been Hijacked by Our Phones

Social Media Has Hijacked Our Minds

There’s lots to reflect on in this article on social media:

Sometimes our smart phones are our friends, sometimes they seem like our lovers, and sometimes they’re our dope dealers. And no one, in the past 12 months at least, has done more than Tristan Harris to explain the complexity of this relationship. Harris is a former product manager at Google who has gone viral repeatedly by critiquing the way that the big platforms—Apple, Facebook, Google, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram—suck us into their products and take time that, in retrospect, we may wish we did not give. He’s also launched a nonprofit called Time Well Spent, which is devoted to stopping “tech companies from hijacking our minds.” Today, the TED talk he gave last April was released online. In it, he proposes a renaissance in online design that can free us from being controlled and manipulated by apps, websites, advertisers, and notifications. Harris expanded on those ideas in a conversation with WIRED editor in chief Nicholas Thompson. The conversation has been edited for clarity and concision.

Nicholas Thompson: You’ve been making the argument that big internet platforms influence us in ways we don’t understand. How has that idea taken off?

Tristan Harris: It started with 60 Minutes and its piece reviewing the ways the tech industry uses design techniques to keep people hooked to the screen for as long and as frequently as possible. Not because they’re evil but because of this arms race for attention. And that led to an interview on the Sam Harris podcast about all the different ways technology is persuading millions of people in ways they don’t see. And that went viral through Silicon Valley. I think several million people listened to it. So this conversation about how technology is hijacking people is really catching on.

NT: What’s the scale of the problem?

TH: Technology steers what 2 billion people are thinking and believing every day. It’s possibly the largest source of influence over 2 billion people’s thoughts that has ever been created. Religions and governments don’t have that much influence over people’s daily thoughts. But we have three technology companies who have this system that frankly they don’t even have control over—with newsfeeds and recommended videos and whatever they put in front of you—which is governing what people do with their time and what they’re looking at.

And when you say “three companies” you mean?

If we’re talking about just your phone, then we’re talking about Apple and Google because they design the operating systems, the phone itself, and the software in the phone. And if we’re talking about where people spend their time on the phone, then we’re talking about Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram because that’s where people spend their time.

So you’ve started this big conversation. What’s next?

Well, the TED talk I gave in April was only heard by conference attendees, but now it’s available online. It basically suggests three radical changes that we need to make to technology. But before understanding what those changes are, we have to understand the problem. Just to reiterate, the problem is the hijacking of the human mind: systems that are better and better at steering what people are paying attention to, and better and better at steering what people do with their time than ever before. These are things like “Snapchat streaks,” which is hooking kids to send messages back and forth with every single one of their contacts every day. These are things like autoplay, which causes people to spend more time on YouTube or on Netflix. These are things like social awareness cues, which by showing you how recently someone has been online or knowing that someone saw your profile, keep people in a panopticon.

The premise of hijacking is that it undermines your control. This system is better at hijacking your instincts than you are at controlling them. You’d have to exert an enormous amount of energy to control whether these things are manipulating you all the time. And so we have to ask: How do we reform this attention economy and the mass hijacking of our mind? And that’s where those three things come in.

OK. How do we reform it?

So the first step is to transform our self-awareness. People often believe that other people can be persuaded, but not me. I’m the smart one. It’s only those other people over there that can’t control their thoughts. So it’s essential to understand that we experience the world through a mind and a meat-suit body operating on evolutionary hardware that’s millions of years of old, and that we’re up against thousands of engineers and the most personalized data on exactly how we work on the other end.

Do you feel that about yourself? I tried to reach you last weekend about something, but you went into the woods and turned off your phone. Don’t you think you have control?

Sure, if you turn everything off. But when we aren’t offline, we have to see that some of the world’s smartest minds are working to undermine the agency we have over our minds.

So step one is awareness. Awareness that people with very high IQs work at Google, and they want to hijack your mind, whether they’re working on doing that deliberately or not. And we don’t realize that?

Yeah. And I don’t mean to be so obtuse about it. YouTube has a hundred engineers who are trying to get the perfect next video to play automatically. And their techniques are only going to get more and more perfect over time, and we will have to resist the perfect. There’s a whole system that’s much more powerful than us, and it’s only going to get stronger. The first step is just understanding that you don’t really get to choose how you react to things.

And where’s that line? I do choose sometimes to use Instagram because it’s immensely valuable to me; I do choose to go on Twitter because it’s a great source of news. I do go to Facebook to connect with my friends. At what point do I stop making the choice? At what point am I being manipulated? At what point is it Nick and at what point is it the machine?

Well I think that’s the million-dollar question. First of all, let’s also say that it’s not necessarily bad to be hijacked, we might be glad if it was time well spent for us. I’m not against technology. And we’re persuaded to do things all the time. It’s just that the premise in the war for attention is that it’s going to get better and better at steering us toward its goals, not ours. We might enjoy the thing it persuades us to do, which makes us feel like we made the choice ourselves. For example, we forget if the next video loaded and we were happy about the video we watched. But, in fact, we were hijacked in that moment. All those people who are working to give you the next perfect thing on YouTube don’t know that it’s 2 am and you might also want to sleep. They’re not on your team. They’re only on the team of what gets you to spend more time on that service.

So step one is, we need to transform our self-awareness. What’s two?

Step two is transforming design, so that based on this new understanding of ourselves—of how we’re persuaded and hijacked, etc.—that we would want to do a massive find-and-replace of all the ways that we are hijacked in ways that we don’t want, and to replace them with the timeline of how we would have wanted our lives to go. An example of that is today, you look at your phone and you see a Snapchat notification. And it persuades you to think a bunch of things that you wouldn’t have thought. It causes you to get stressed out about whether or not you’ve kept your streak up. It’s filling up your mind. And by responding to that one streak, you get sucked into something else, and it cascades. Twenty minutes later you’re sucked into a YouTube video. And there goes your day.

What we want to do is block those moments that hijack your mind in ways you regret, and replace them with a different timeline—what you would have wanted to have happened instead. The resource we’re conserving is time. Imagine these timelines stretching out in front of people, and right now we’re being tugged and pulled onto these brand-new timelines that are created by technology. Let’s do a massive find-and-replace from the manipulative timeline to the timeline we would’ve wanted to have happened.

How do you do that?

As I say, it has to do with design. An example I gave in the TED talk released today was the idea of replacing the Comment button with a Let’s Meet button. In the last US election, conversations were breaking down on social media. People posted something controversial, and there’s this comment box underneath that basically asks you, Which key do you want to type? It turns into a flame war that keeps people expressing their views in small text boxes and keeps them on the screen. People end up misrepresenting each other’s ideas because their views get compressed into these little boxes of text. So it’s causing people to stress out. It’s causing people to dislike each other.

Internet companies are racing to the bottom to capture our attention, Tristan Harris’ says in his 2017 TED talk.

Imagine we replace the Comment button with a Let’s Meet button. When we want to post something controversial, we can have the choice to say, “Hey let’s talk about this” in person, not online. And right underneath, there’s an RSVP, so people can coordinate right there to talk about it over a dinner. So you’re still having a conversation about something controversial, but you’re having it at a different place on your timeline. Instead of a fragmented timeline over 20 minutes at work getting interrupted 20 times—while Facebook delivers the messages drip by drip and other notifications come in and you’re getting sucked into Facebook, which is a total mess—you replace that with a clean timeline where you’re having dinner next Tuesday, and you’re having a two-and-a-half-hour conversation in which a very different sequence of events happens.

But how do you know meeting for dinner and talking about things is what you want to happen? Suddenly you’ve created this whole new system where you’re pushing people to meet in person because of your assumption that meeting in person or videoconference is better than talking in chat boxes. Which may be true. Or it may be false. But it’s still a decision made by the person or the social media company.

Yeah, exactly. And so before we ask, Who are we, Nick and Tristan, to say what’s better?, let’s ask: Why is Facebook promoting a comment box and Like button in the first place? Were the designers thinking about what’s the best way for humankind to have conversations about controversial topics? No. They don’t get to ask that question. The only question they get to ask is, “What will get people to engage the most on the platform?”

  • Social Media Could Inspire Horrors—Or Maybe Superpowers

If we really wanted to have a reorientation of the tech industry toward what’s best for people, then we would ask the second question, which is, what would be the most time well spent for the thing that people are trying to get out of that situation? Meeting for dinner is just an example. I’m not saying everyone should meet in person all the time. Another example: On the podcast, Sam Harris and I talked about the idea of a Change My Mind button. Imagine on Facebook there’s an invitation, built right in, to ask to have our minds changed. And maybe there are great places on Facebook where people are already having fantastic conversations that change minds already. And we, the designers, would want to ask, “When is that happening and when would we want to help people have those conversations.” Someone pointed both Sam and I after that to a channel on Reddit called “changemyview.” It’s basically a place where people post questions, and the premise is, “I want you to change my mind about this thing.” And it’s really really good. And that would be more time well spent for people.

So you want all the designers who work at these big companies and on these platforms to stop and think about what’s best for humankind: Hash that out, debate it. And maybe there is no single thing that’s best for humankind. But maybe you get closer to some ideal if you’re having those conversations instead of just thinking about engagement. Is that right?


OK, so that’s part two. What is part three?

Part three is transforming business and accountability. We have to have a big conversation about advertising. I think we’re going to look at the advertising model—which has an unbounded interest in getting more of people’s time on a screen—and see it as being as archaic as the era when we got all our power from coal. Advertising is the new coal. It was wonderful for propping up the internet economy. It got us to a certain level of economic prosperity, and that’s fantastic. And it also polluted the inner environment and the cultural environment and the political environment because it enabled anyone to basically pay to get access to your mind. And on Facebook specifically, it allows the hyper-targeting of messages that perfectly persuade and polarize populations. And that’s a dangerous thing. It also gave all these companies an incentive to maximize how much time they have of your life. So we have to get off of this business model. And we haven’t actually invented the alternative yet.

So just like what happened with coal and things like wind power and solar power, if you went back to 1950 and said, “We’ve gotta get off coal,” good luck. We didn’t have any alternative that would’ve gotten us near producing the amount of energy we needed to support society. Same thing with advertising. If you said, “We’ve gotta get off advertising,” subscriptions and micropayments don’t (yet) add up to getting us back to where we are with the advertising model. But just like what’s happened with all of these renewable energy technologies, we can get to that point with technology if we make those investments now. And the background for this third point of transforming business is, the tech platforms are only going to get more and more persuasive.

What I mean by that is, we’re only going to have more information about how Nick’s mind works, not less. We’re only going to have more information about what persuades him to stay on the screen. We’re only going to have more ways to scrape his profile and what he posts to find the keywords and topics that matter to him and then mirror back his sentiments about everything he cares about when we sell him ads. We’re only going to get better and better at undermining his mind. And so the only form of ethical persuasion that exists in the world is when the goals of the persuaders are aligned with the goals of the persuadees. We want those thousand engineers on the other side of the screen working on our team as opposed to on the team whose goal is to keep us glued to the screen. And that means a new business model.

But can’t you make a compelling argument that being able to better target advertising is a way to give people what they want? If an advertiser knows that I need running shoes, they offer a discount on running shoes.

Yeah, so let’s be really specific here. This is isn’t about not getting ads for shoes we like, it’s about the advertising model. People say, “I like my ads for shoes!” People say, “And I don’t mind the advertising on the right-hand side of the article.” Exactly, the advertisements themselves are not the problem. The problem is the advertising model. The unbounded desire for more of your time. More of your time means more money for me if I’m Facebook or YouTube or Twitter. That is a perverse relationship.

Again, the energy analogy is useful. Energy companies used to have the same perverse dynamic: I want you to use as much energy as possible. Please just let the water run until you drain the reservoir. Please keep the lights on until there’s no energy left. We, the energy companies, make more money the more energy you use. And that was a perverse relationship. And in many US states, we changed the model to decouple how much money energy companies make from how much energy you use. We need to do something like that for the attention economy, because we can’t afford a world in which this arms race is to get as much attention from you as possible.

And as we start to go into virtual reality using these platforms, we become evermore manipulable and persuadable, right?

Exactly. The real message here is, now is the time to change course. Right now, 2 billion people’s minds are already jacked in to this automated system, and it’s steering people’s thoughts toward either personalized paid advertising or misinformation or conspiracy theories. And it’s all automated; the owners of the system can’t possibly monitor everything that’s going on, and they can’t control it. This isn’t some kind of philosophical conversation. This is an urgent concern happening right now.

Back to the analogy of the energy companies: Their behavior changed because the energy companies are regulated by the state. The government, which acts in the public interest, was able to say, “Now do this.” That’s not the case with tech companies. So how do you get to the point where they come together and make a set of decisions that limit the amount of attention that they take?

Well, I think that’s the conversation we need to have now. Is it going to come through the threat of EU regulation? Or will the companies get ahead of that and want to self-regulate. There are pros and cons to each of those approaches.

So tomorrow you want Mark Zuckerberg to call up Jack Dorsey, and you want the CEOs of all these companies to get together and say, “OK, we’re going to tell our engineers that they need to think about what’s best for their users, and we need to make a pact among ourselves that we’re going to do XYZ”?

That’s one part of it. And that touches on all sorts of problems having to do with colluding and self-policing and a whole bunch of other things. But we need to have a conversation about the misalignment between the business model and what is best for people; we need a deep and honest conversation among the companies about where these harms are emerging and what it would take to get off the advertising train. And I’m here to help them do that.

Talk to me a little bit about the differences between some of the companies. Apple, Google, Facebook—they have infinite sums of money. If they wanted to change their policies, that would be fine. Twitter—

Twitter not so much, but Apple and Facebook and Google could, yeah.

So you can imagine some kind of agreement between the infinitely profitable companies, but then Twitter, Snapchat, and the other companies not having the same financial success presumably wouldn’t join the pact.

Exactly, and that’s why it gets more complicated, because you can’t control, for example, popular companies that are outside the US. What do you do when Weibo swoops in and takes all the attention that Apple and Facebook and Google left on the table when they did their self-policing agreement? That’s why it has to be coordinated from the outside.

There are two ways that can happen: One is through regulation, which is unfortunate, but something you have to look at; the other, and the opportunity here, is for Apple. Apple is the one company that could actually do it. Because their business model does not rely on attention, and they actually define the playing field on which everyone seeking our attention plays. They define the rules. If you want to say it, they’re like a government. They get to set the rules for everybody else. They set the currency of competition, which is currently attention and engagement. App stores rank things based on their success in number of downloads or how much they get used. Imagine if instead they said, “We’re going to change the currency” They could move it from the current race to the bottom to creating a race to the top for what most helps people with different parts of their lives. I think they’re in an incredible position to do that.

So you’ve partnered with this app called Moment, and one of the things it does is tell users how much time they’ve spent in each app, then users rate their satisfaction with each app. So Apple could presumably take that data, or create its own, and at the end of the day ask you, “How satisfied are you?” And if people are very satisfied it could put that app at the top of the App Store.

Yes. That’s one small thing that they could do. They could change the game, change what it means to win and lose in the App Store. So it would not be about who gets the most downloads.

What else could Apple do, specifically?

Change the way that they design the home screen. And notifications. They set the terms. Right now when you wake up in the morning it’s like every app is still competing all at once for your attention. Netflix and Facebook and YouTube want your attention just as much as the morning meditation apps. Imagine if there were zoning laws. So they could set up zoning lines in the attention city that they run and separate your morning from your evening from your on-the-go moments of screen time. So when you wake up, you’d see a morning home screen, in which things compete to help you wake up, which could include there being nothing on there at all. It’s like the stores are closed until 10 am, just like back in the old days. Right now, you don’t have a way to set that up. And there’s no way for there to be a marketplace of alternatives—alternative home screens or notification rules. So this is actually a way in which Apple could either do a really good job themselves or enable a marketplace of competing alternatives so that people could set up these zones, and we could figure out what would really work best for people.

But the incentives don’t work like that now. The reason these companies want you to use everything all the time is so they can serve you the maximum number of ads and get the most revenue and please their shareholders, but also so they can harvest the maximum amount of data.

I think we need to move from a conversation about data to a conversation about what data enables, which is persuasion. If I have data, then I know exactly what’s going to move Nick’s psychology, and I can persuade your mind in ways that you wouldn’t even know were targeted just at you.

So this is the world that we’re already living in. And this is the world that, again, ran away beyond the control of the engineers of the platforms.

But data isn’t only used to persuade me. It’s also used to help me plan my travel route most efficiently and to get me from A to B more quickly. So there’s a lot of good that can come from data, if used carefully.

Yeah, absolutely. And that’s part of why in this TED talk I say we have to have a conversation and whole new language for the difference between ethical and unethical persuasion. We don’t have good language in English for the difference between the words “manipulate” versus “direct” versus “seduce” versus “persuade.” We throw around the words like they refer to the same thing. We need formal definitions of what makes up a persuasive transaction that you want in your life and what makes up something that is nefarious or wrong. And we need a whole new language for that. That is one of the things that I plan to convene a workshop on in the next six months, bringing together basically the leading thinkers on this problem. Part of it is just defining these externalities and these costs, and the other part of it is defining what makes for ethical and unethical persuasion.

Right. I can decide, “Actually, I’ve looked at the data and I wish I spent less time on Facebook and less time on Twitter.” And then I can optimize my phone for that, or Apple can help me optimize my phone for that. But there are all these other ways that what I do on my phone or what I do in my car, all that data is transmitted to the companies and all these other things are made from it that I have no insight into. So determining a system where that is done in a way that is best for me and best for humanity is a more complex problem, right?

We need to think of these services and platforms as public infrastructure, and we need to be able to fund the solving of those problems in advance. If you’re a New Yorker, how much of the taxes you pay go to paying for police, subways, or street repairs? How much goes to sanitation? There are a lot of taxes and resources that are allocated to keep the city working well for people, asking what’s best for people. In contrast, think about how little at these technology companies is spent on “what’s best for people.” If you think of the actual scale of Facebook, just to pick on them a little bit, 2 billion people’s minds are jacked in, more than the followers of most world religions. You need a lot of people—not just 10, 20—working on the misinformation problem. We need a lot more people working on these problems, from cyberbullying to radicalizing content to misinformation and beyond.

So you want many more people looking at this. You want the companies to devote many more resources to identifying these problems, to being transparent about these problems, and you want a lot more effort put into letting users have agency and being made aware of the ways they lack agency.


OK. And how are you going to win this war when one of the most important weapons for fighting it is social media itself? How do you win a battle about disengaging from the main weapon used in the battle?

It’s very interesting because this speaks to a related problem, which is the fact that these services are monopolies on the news. If they wanted to, without anyone knowing, they could quash my voice. They could make it so no one reads this article. And that speaks to the problem. I think this is why we’re creating a social movement in which people who care share this with each other and we start coordinating. We need to reach a consensus that there really is a problem with how 2 billion minds are being hijacked. That it’s not happening by accident. We need to talk about that with each other and pressure these companies to change.

All right, I think that is a good note to end on. Is there anything else, Tristan, that you want to say to WIRED’s readers?

I think the core ideas are here. And if people care about convening around the problem, resourcing it, or helping with advocacy—they should get in touch and join the movement for Time Well Spent.

Source: Our Minds Have Been Hijacked by Our Phones. Tristan Harris Wants to Rescue Them

Counseling Parents about Smart Rules for Smartphones (And All Social Media)

Smartphones are everywhere and it is common to see very young kids playing on a tablet or to see older kids texting at every intersection. As counselors or parents, how do we navigate the inevitable conversations, develop reasonable rules, and lay down age-appropriate guidelines regarding smartphones? I hope to lay out some ways you can help those you counsel be smart about smartphones and other social media.

The use of tablets, the internet, and social media in general is an important topic for any parent. My wife Tammy and I have three kids: 17, 15, and 9 years old. We have been thinking through this for several years. We have made mistakes and found greater success as we adjusted our approach based on biblical principles through trial and error.

We have to help parents think about how well they model responding to prompts from their phones as well as how and when they spend time in front of a screen. We can’t ask our kids to be self-disciplined about their screen time if we are not. To be honest, at one extreme we have been lazy at times, allowing our kids to binge on games or text during homework time. On the other extreme, we have taken month-long fasts from electronics as a family to spend more time reading, playing games, and enjoying family time. Neither extreme is realistic or healthy long-term. That is why we have been working on guidelines that are reasonable and sustainable, helping our kids use their devices wisely. Whatever you decide, it is best to agree as a couple or be consistent as a single parent in order that what you say should happen actually does happen.

So, when do you let your child use the family cell phone? Looking at your phone under your supervision could start quite early, but what they watch and how long they have the phone is important. We typically let our 9-year-old have the phone (or iPad) for 30 minutes on weekdays and for an hour on weekends. Both our teens were assigned a family phone they call their own at age 15. That means it is our phone, not theirs, but they can carry it, use it to contact or text us throughout the day, or do homework, play a game, or text friends during certain hours of the day.

While there are filters for the web and restriction on apps, my kids’ showing responsibility in handling these things well was very important in our decision as parents to give them access. I would have waited even longer if I had not seen that pattern of responsibility in school, at home, with friends, and with social media on the computer. Boundaries can always be broken and your kids showing responsibility is the litmus test for access and continued use. We would suggest that you research safeguards that limit access to certain sites, games, and what is age appropriate for your child before you grant any access.

What I’m proposing to you here is not the hard and fast rule of exactly what is best for your child and situation. Whether your child should have access to a phone or other electronic device is an important decision that should not be made without prayer, counsel, and conversation with your child.

I believe waiting until your child is 7-years-old or above to even begin to interact with electronic games or age appropriate entertainment is a good start. By seven, most kids have developed both cognitive and moral reasoning well enough to understand right and wrong. Most will also have enough self-control to understand how to view their use as a privilege.

Nothing substitutes for knowing your child and adjusting rules to their maturity level. Our kids need to know we want them to succeed and our protection is in their best interest. It is rare for any child to wisely exert their intellect, moral reasoning, and/or self-control without close parental supervision and wise guidelines. As I share what we have tried, let me make a distinction between hard and fast rules and wisdom guidelines. Think of rules as tall fences (“Don’t text and drive!”), and guidelines as speed bumps (“No phones at the dinner table.”).

Here are 10 rules and 10 helpful guidelines I would suggest, with the caveat that some may be different in your home.

10 Rules for Smartphones and Social Media (Violation Means Restricted Use for Days or Weeks)

  1. Never text while driving a car.
  2. Never write a text or send a photo that you wouldn’t want your mom or dad to see.
  3. Always ask before you forward a text or photo.
  4. Never post your cell phone number anywhere.
  5. Turn off location services and never broadcast your location.
  6. Never respond to numbers you don’t recognize.
  7. If someone asks you to send an inappropriate photo, say “No!” and talk to your parents about it.
  8. If you receive an inappropriate photo, delete it immediately and tell your parents; block the sender.
  9. Don’t download apps without your parents’ permission.
  10. Don’t use social media or electronic devices to bully or gossip.

10 Smart Guidelines for Smartphones and Social Media (Violation Means Restricted Use for Hours or Days)

  1. Demonstrate you have a life beyond your smartphone (you are not addicted to it).
  2. Turn in phones at a certain time each night (different times based on age).
  3. Kids must leave phones at a charging station in a public room in the house at night.
  4. No cell phones at the dining room table.
  5. No cell phones out of your backpack while you are in class.
  6. Don’t text someone in the same room. Talk face to face.
  7. Don’t wear your cell phone on your body (jury is still out but those waves can’t be good for you).
  8. No Snapchat-type apps that allow you to erase history.
  9. Parents can look at phone or take phone at any time.
  10. If you break, it you buy it.

I hope these rules and guidelines are helpful to you as you discuss them with your spouse, children, and others concerned with your children’s welfare. I would suggest a contract be developed, especially with teens. Have them read it, ask questions, and sign it. From Parenting 101, remember this: don’t make a rule you don’t plan to enforce, and don’t implement a guideline that you can’t keep yourself. Ask God for courage and consistency as you implement your agreement or contract. If your kids are like mine, they will say no other parent is as strict as you, but your kids will be better off (and might even admit it once in a while) and you will sleep much better at night too.  Be wiser than your tech-savvy kids and smarter than their smartphone by proactively getting on this today.

Source: Counseling Parents about Smart Rules for Smartphones (And All Social Media)

The Rise And Fall Of The Christian Bookstore

The flailing Christian bookstore industry reached code red status earlier this year when Family Christian Stores, touted as “the world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise,” declared it would shutter all of its 240 stores across America and lay off 3,000 employees.

Back in the 1990s, it often seemed that every city and town in America had a strip mall with a Christian bookstore where you could purchase WWJD bracelets and enough devotional books to fill up the Ark of the Covenant. But today, these Christian bookstores are a dying breed. Indeed, it seems we are fast approaching an America where this particular brand of religious retailer will be no more than a memory.

Over the last decade, Christian bookstores across the nation have been shuttering. In some cases, consumers are just less interested in the stores’ God-blessed inventory. But plenty of others are just opting to purchase religious items from online retailers, with Christian bookstores humbled before the same digital market forces that felled secular mom-and-pop bookstores.

The flailing Christian bookstore industry reached code red status earlier this year when Family Christian Stores, touted as “the world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise,” declared it would shutter all of its 240 stores across America and lay off 3,000 employees. The 85-year-old chain said that “changing consumer behavior and declining sales” left it no choice.

Given the state of the industry and larger retailing trends, Family Christian Stores’ closure is seen by many as a harbinger of things to come. If trends persist, Christian bookstores may well be destined for the history books.

But Christian consumers should not let their hearts go troubled. This trend may turn out to be good news for the faithful.

Christian publishing has long been a presence in American life. But it was a renewed desire to evangelize the world following World War II that fueled the modern rise of Christian publishing, which focused mostly on Bibles and gospel tracts at the time. In 1950, the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) formed in response to the growing need to connect and equip Christian product providers in the marketplace.

As time passed, religious retailers slowly spread across America and expanded their offerings. Then the industry truly exploded during the 1970s, and the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) was formed in 1974 to help give these new religious storeowners a chance to network and strategize.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly which cultural trend triggered the renewed interest in Christian content, but the American cultural revolution in the ’60s and ’70s seems like a plausible candidate. A perfect storm of progressive social change movements — from civil rights to feminism, anti-war protesting to environmentalism — swept across America. Many traditionalist Christians felt as if their religious values were under siege. In response, these believers mobilized and became more visible and vocal. The cultural unrest created an opportunity for printed content that spoke to these Christians’ concerns and anxieties.

In 1970, Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth rocked the marketplace with claims that the biblical end of the world was fast approaching. Bantam picked up the title in 1973, making it the first Christian prophecy book released by a secular publisher, and it went on to sell more than 30 million copies. The Living Bible was the bestselling non-fiction title of 1972 and 1973, and Billy Graham’s Angels was the bestselling non-fiction title of 1975. The mainstream success of books like these proved that a hungry market of religious readers existed in America.

The trend continued to build. In December 1983, an Associated Press article titled “Christian book sales are booming” relayed that Christian booksellers had grown by 20 to 25 percent over the past decade.

As Sue Smith, president of CBA notes, industry growth continued into the ’90s thanks to several breakout bestsellers. “People who would never walk into a Christian store suddenly would come in for The Prayer of JabezThe Purpose Driven Life, and the Left Behind series,” she says. Each of these titles became #1 New York Times bestsellers.

In the late ’90s, however, the advent of the digital age began to transform the way Americans shopped and consumed media. The rise of online retailers created stiff competition for brick-and-mortar stores. The absence of rent, real estate, and large staffs allowed these emerging distributors to offer deep discounts that traditional booksellers simply could not match. The internet also created options for authors to affordably self-publish their work and distribute it straight to consumers. This, combined with a sharp decline in book sales generally and the rise of reduced price e-books, ate into publishers’ profits.

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The post The Rise And Fall Of The Christian Bookstore appeared first on The Aquila Report.

CultureWatch: The Nashville Statement

Every so often a short, succinct and vigorously reasonable and readable public statement is needed to deal with some of the vital issues of the day. There have been a number of these of late. Here in Australia some of us put out the Canberra Declaration seven years ago to deal with the crucial issues of marriage and family, the sanctity of life, and religious freedom

Others important documents would include the Manhattan Declaration of 2009. These international statements help to clarify, reassert and reaffirm basic truths; offer a standard around which we can rally; and point a way forward as things grow darker and foggier in the surrounding culture.

A brand new declaration has just been released in the US, and it is well worth being aware of, signing and sharing. Put out by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, it reaffirms the biblical and biological case for two sexes, for God’s intentions for human sexuality, and for the purposes of marriage.

A number of America’s leading evangelicals have helped to put this together and promote it, and the timing could not be better, given the many fierce battles now raging on such matters. The 14-point document deals with the biblical understanding of sex and sexuality.

John Piper called it “a Christian manifesto concerning issues of human sexuality.” With all the confusion about sexuality – even in Christian circles – especially with the homosexual and transgender war on God’s design and purposes, such a statement is vitally needed.

Some of the initial signatories have included:

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Tony Perkins, President, Family Research Council
D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
John MacArthur, Pastor, Grace Community Church; President, The Master’s Seminary & College
John Piper, Founder & Teacher, Desiring God; Chancellor, Bethlehem College & Seminary
James Dobson, Founder, Focus on the Family
Russell Moore, President, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
J. I. Packer, Professor of Theology, Regent College
Wayne Grudem, Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary
Sam Allberry, Speaker & Apologist, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
R. C. Sproul, Founder & Chairman, Ligonier Ministries
Francis Chan, Author & Pastor, We Are Church
Marvin Olasky, Editor in Chief, World Magazine
Ligon Duncan, Chancellor & CEO, Reformed Theological Seminary
Christopher Yuan, Speaker & Author, Moody Bible Institute

But enough from me. Let me here offer the 14 points. Also worth reading (see the link below) is the preamble to the statement, along with other documents. Here then is the Nashville Statement:

WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.
WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.

WE AFFIRM that God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.
WE DENY that any affections, desires, or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse before or outside marriage; nor do they justify any form of sexual immorality.

WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.
WE DENY that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.

WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.
WE DENY that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.

WE AFFIRM that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.
WE DENY that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.

WE AFFIRM that those born with a physical disorder of sex development are created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers. They are acknowledged by our Lord Jesus in his words about “eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb.” With all others they are welcome as faithful followers of Jesus Christ and should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.
WE DENY that ambiguities related to a person’s biological sex render one incapable of living a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ.

WE AFFIRM that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.
WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.

WE AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life.
WE DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.

WE AFFIRM that sin distorts sexual desires by directing them away from the marriage covenant and toward sexual immorality — a distortion that includes both heterosexual and homosexual immorality.
WE DENY that an enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality justifies sexually immoral behavior.

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

WE AFFIRM our duty to speak the truth in love at all times, including when we speak to or about one another as male or female.
WE DENY any obligation to speak in such ways that dishonor God’s design of his image-bearers as male and female.

WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.

WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions and by divine forbearance to accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological sex and one’s self-conception as male or female.
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s revealed will.

WE AFFIRM that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection, forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Savior, Lord, and supreme treasure.
WE DENY that the Lord’s arm is too short to save or that any sinner is beyond his reach.

Overall this is a terrific restatement of some of the core biblical teachings on these issues, and it is well worth sharing far and wide. While it is of course not perfect, and other things might have been added, it is a very good start indeed. Many thanks to all those responsible for putting it together.

Source: The Nashville Statement

CultureWatch: There is No “Conservative” Case for Homosexual Marriage

Every now and then you will happen upon an article or talk made by someone claiming to be a conservative that seeks to argue that homosexual marriage is somehow a conservative value. Let me cut to the quick: no, it is not a conservative value, and the person trying to make that case is very likely not a real conservative.

They may well be a libertarian, but that is a far cry from a true conservative. But I have elsewhere sought to explain those major differences. See this piece for example:

While it may come as a surprise to some, conservatives actually seek to conserve and preserve; they do not want to destroy and distort. Thus they will do all they can to maintain and protect our most vital social institutions, including marriage and family.

Recently in the Australian newspaper we had yet another lame attempt to say that homosexual marriage is somehow something conservatives can rally around. In this case it was no less than the Liberal Party federal president Nick Greiner seeking to make the “conservative” case for homosexual marriage.

Sorry, but there is so such thing. All true conservatives know how important marriage is, and the only ones on the right seeking to argue for its redefinition, and thus its destruction, are radical libertarians. But libertarians on the right are often little different from anarchists on the left. In my books, a pox on both their houses.

Before offering some careful dissection of his rather shallow article, let me share a few words from Andrew Bolt about the ongoing implosion of the Liberal party:

Being made Liberal president has gone to Nick Greiner’s head. He’s again lecturing elected MPs on policy and making clear the party is ruled by the Left. . . . It is inappropriate, to say the least, for the president of the Liberals to lead a campaign by one group on Liberal MPs in conflict with another. He is supposed to be a figure of unity, not division. But Greiner seems determined to wage war on his party’s conservatives, demonstrating that maybe they should go to One Nation or the Australian Conservatives if they’re no longer wanted by the Liberals.

But back to his very shallow and unhelpful article. Greiner’s very first sentence could not be more wrong – no wonder his entire article is less than helpful. He claims, “Marriage is an institution that celebrates stability and commitment.” Um, no. If that was all that marriage is about, then a long-standing group of ardent bank-robbers should be the first in line to demand marriage rights.

He then quotes one writer who claims ‘significant relationships’ must be officially recognised by marriage. Wrong again. There are all sorts of significant relationships out there which the state has no compelling interest in, whether to recognise or legalise as a form of marriage. For example, two elderly sisters who live together, care for each other dearly, and enjoy a significant relationship are not in need of marriage rights.

This is true of all sorts of relationships. They may be significant, emotionally close, and even long-term, but they deserve no special government recognition. Societies have instead chosen to give special recognition to only one type of relationship: heterosexual marriage.

That is because genuine marriage has the natural ability to bring about the next generation. Therefore societies have taken a keen interest in it. Heterosexual marriage is good for children and good for society, which is why society has long given it preferential treatment if you will.

Even an atheist like philosopher Bertrand Russell saw this uniqueness: “It is through children alone that sexual relations become of importance to society, and worthy to be taken cognizance of by a legal institution”. And marriage most certainly is all about children.

As American political scientist James Q. Wilson succinctly put it: “Marriage is a socially arranged solution for the problem of getting people to stay together and care for children that the mere desire for children, and the sex that makes children possible, does not solve.”

Natural marriage has always been a conservative value, and one despised by the left. No wonder the Spanish philosopher George Santayana once quipped that “the chief aim of liberalism seems to be to liberate men from their marriage vows.” Conservativism affirms and promotes marriage both as an institution and as a tremendous good for male-female couples. Liberalism does not.

Since Greiner rather disingenuously seeks to harness Edmund Burke for his case, let me quote him again. Burke argued that “religion is the basis of civil society,” and that includes “all our laws and institutions.” He certainly had the institution of heterosexual marriage in mind here, never faux marriage such as homosexual marriage.

Greiner goes on to make the quite reckless claim that nothing changes when homosexual marriage is legalised, and everyone’s religious freedoms will be just fine. Nice theory, but reality is against you. Wherever homosexual marriage has become law, there have been massive changes, including the heavy hand of the law brought to bear on all recalitrants.

For example, those who simply state on their private social media page that they believe marriage should be between a man and a woman can be – and are – at risk. In my book Dangerous Relations that I wrote on this a few years ago, I offered nearly 200 actual cases of those who had lost their jobs, were fined, or were even imprisoned for daring to go against the homosexual marriage narrative in countries where it had been legalised.

Be it the cake maker, the marriage celebrant, the florist, the priest, the pastor, the reception centre owner, the photographer, or anyone even remotely connected to the marriage industry, they have all faced the wrath of the activists once marriage was redefined.

And given all the harassment, bigotry, and bullying those opposed to homosexual marriage in Australia are already experiencing on a regular basis – and I too have often been on the receiving end of all this – just imagine how much worse it will become once our laws are so radically changed.

And it will not just be those of a religious persuasion who will experience the negative impact of all this. Anyone who dares to differ will potentially be subject to various forms of persecution, ostracisation and bigotry.

Greiner closes his piece by pretending that the radical redefinition, and thus end of marriage, is no big deal: “Together let’s celebrate the many achievements of this government and focus on the real challenges and opportunities our nation faces. Rather than tying ourselves in knots over whether same-sex couples can get married, let them tie the knot and we can move forward together.”

Um, it is the other side that is all in a lather about this. All that we true conservatives are doing is trying to conserve and preserve the most important social institution ever devised. We are not the ones all worked up – it is the activists on the other side and the clueless wonders who pretend they are conservatives that are.

Folks like Greiner try to make the case for homosexual marriage by somehow dragging a genuine conservative principle of small government into the debate. But this simply backfires on these fake conservatives. Whenever the state seeks to radically alter the institution of marriage, big government becomes bigger, and liberty is contracted even further.

One simply has to look at those places that already have legalised homosexual marriage. The state grows, freedom shrinks, and homosexual fascism is allowed to run its full course. More and more people are persecuted, jailed, fined and dismissed from their jobs when this happens – just how is that a conservative value?

As the American philosopher and free market advocate Jay Richards has rightly said about all this:

To claim seriously that government is and ought to be limited, you have to answer this question: What limits the state? The longstanding conservative answer: the rights and responsibilities of individuals and the institutions outside the state’s jurisdiction. And the institution that limits the state more than any other is the family, precisely because it pre-exists the state. The family is initiated by the marriage of a man and a woman. Ideally, human beings will be born, fed, raised and educated in a family, which will in turn be supported by the other institutions of civil society around it — neighborhoods, churches, voluntary associations and so forth, institutions the state should recognize and respect.
A limited government doesn’t try to redefine reality; it recognizes those pre-political realities outside its jurisdiction. The totalitarian, and Orwellian, governments of the twentieth century understood this perfectly well, and set about doing exactly the opposite. Lenin and other Marxists knew that to realize their vision, they had to destroy not just the idea of private property, but also religion and “this present form of marriage.”
What could possibly be less conservative than to decide, politically and legally, that marriage and family are mere social constructions that we’re free to change the moment the Supreme Court or a state legislature decides to do so? If a state can redefine marriage, then what can’t, what won’t, it redefine?

True conservatism, as mentioned, is about conserving, about valuing what works, about hanging on to what is vitally important. Sure, some small, incremental changes are necessary within that overall framework. But redefining marriage out of existence is no small change.

In his important 1953 volume The Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk, the father of modern American conservatism, listed six basic principles that characterise conservatism. His sixth point was that “change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress.”

One can think of no more incendiary change than the radical redefinition of marriage, and all the social upheaval that naturally follows from it.

Source: There is No “Conservative” Case for Homosexual Marriage

Barna Update | How Teens Spend Their After-School Hours

Smartphones are changing the way an entire generation spends their time—and it’s dramatically altering their behavior. As part of the back-to-school series, this article explores how young people spend their time after school, illustrating the impact of technology on their lives

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This ‘n’ That (08/25/2017)

  • Well, at least some people are finally admitting it.
  • Let’s clean up our language.
  • I’m eager to listen to this.
  • Hey, art and beauty are in the eye of the beholder, right?
  • The National Day of Prayer continues to make me cringe.
  • “While it is true that Scripture never mingles grace and works as grounds for justification, it is not the case that grace rules out law altogether, or vice versa.” The inimitable Phil Johnson offers a helpful primer on antinomianism.
  • Here’s your weekly dose of adorable.
  • You keep using that word, “Christian.” I do not think it means what you think it means.
  • I did not know this and I find it hilarious (thanks, Janeen!). What a creative God we serve!
  • Here are some of the best videos of Monday’s total solar eclipse.
  • Kevin DeYoung follows up with more thoughts on Game of Thrones.
  • Mr. Magoo-type theology…now, there’s an interesting concept.
  • Classic John MacArthur:

Source: This ‘n’ That

Should President Trump’s Evangelical Advisors Resign?

CRN has reported that some of President Trump’s spiritual advisers are anything but authentic Christians; they are Word of Faith health and wealth prosperity preachers, which qualifies them as false teachers…wolves in sheep’s clothing. One such adviser to the president is his close confident and “pastor” Paula White. White is also the “spiritual daughter” to anti-triniterian prosperity preacher T.D. Jakes’, as you will see here. During a recent interview with Pastrix Paula, another word-faith wolf, Jim Bakker, proclaimed that this woman has “full access to the White House anytime she wants,” as she sat there nodding and grinning. So if some members of Trump’s “evangelical” advisory council feel they must resign, let’s cross our fingers that Paula White will be one of them.

Now to the story over at (questionably) Christian Headlines:

President Donald Trump & Paula White.

People are certainly divided over their support for President Trump. This division is not only seen in the country in general, but even within the Republican party, and also within the Christian community.

Trump created his Evangelical Advisory Board–a group of evangelical pastors and Christian leaders who are there to give him advice–during his presidential campaign. The Evangelical Advisory Board includes such prominent Christian figures as Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, Pastor Paula White of New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Florida, and Christian author and speaker Johnnie Moore.

Recently, some members of this advisory council have been considering stepping down, due to what they see as a disconnect in values between themselves and the President. Pastor A. R. Bernard, one of Trump’s advisors, actually did step down, and explained his reasoning here.

View article →

Source: Should President Trump’s Evangelical Advisors Resign?