Pro-Life, Pro-Justice: Holistic Ministry for Human Flourishing

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Russell Moore, Cherilyn Holloway, Benjamin Watson, and Charlie Dates—discuss how Jesus calls us to be holistically pro-life so that whole people can flourish for their whole life.

Cherilyn Holloway: Welcome everybody. My name is Cherilyn Holloway. I am the Founder and President of Pro-Black, Pro-Life. I am so excited to be here with these three great minds. We have today for our Pro-Life, Pro-Justice: Holistic Ministry for Human Flourishing panel, Dr. Charles Dates.  

Dr. Charlie Dates: Charlie, yeah.  

Cherilyn Holloway: We are going to call him Charlie from here on out. 

Dr. Russell Moore.  

Dr. Russell Moore: Hello.  

Cherilyn Holloway: And the incomparable.  

Benjamin Watson: Yes.  

Cherilyn Holloway: Benjamin Watson.  

Benjamin Watson: Thank you. Man. I don’t have a doctor in front of my name. I don’t got a mister or anything. But I’m here. 

Cherilyn Holloway: You guys, I hope that you are as excited as I am to be here and talk to these young gifted men about this issue. So, we’re going to get right into it. 

Charlie and Russell, as our resident pastor and theologians, can you share a little bit about how you see the issues of life, justice, connected theologically? Why we, why would we talk about these in the same way? Why should we talk about these in the same way?  

Dr. Charlie Dates: So, the Old Testament, first of all, glad to be here with you, Cherilyn, and you, Dr.Moore, and you, Benjamin Seth Watson.  

I think the Old Testament conveys again and again between the books of poetry and prophecy that God laid at the foundation of the earth, justice and righteousness were part of His architectural design, so to speak for the earth and creating the earth and the systems that would facilitate life on earth, justice is part of His way of thinking about how life is to flourish and to be.  

And so, in the mind of God, there is no human flourishing apart from a very right grounding of life. The challenge is not to agree with me propositionally with that, because I think people would readily do that. The challenge is to agree on what justice is and therefore how it connects to the flourishing of life. 

Dr. Russell Moore: Absolutely. You think about when John the Baptist was preaching at the Jordan, tax collectors and soldiers came, repented, were baptized, and said, “What do we do now?” And John said, “Don’t extort people. You don’t mistreat people.” He starts talking to them about what life in Christ is like acting justly, which is Charlie said, the Old Testament speaks of that repeatedly. 

And you have people judged for acting unjustly, for using their power in unjust ways. And then Jesus comes, first sermon, doesn’t contradict any of that, but says, “Here I am.” And immediately talks about that Year of Jubilee that has come in Him. And one of the problems with the way that we separate out justice from life or justice from personal morality and so forth, is that the Bible doesn’t do that. 

The Bible says, “Take up your cross and follow Me,” and that means all of it. And one of the things that I’ve noticed in my own life is that I don’t really like people talking about sins that I like to do. And so sometimes you’re going to have people who will say, “I love justice, but don’t talk to me about my life personally and how I act.” 

And there will be other people who will say, “I’m fine with you telling me how to be a Christian in my personal life, but don’t talk to me about justice.” But Jesus doesn’t give us choose A or B. It’s follow Me. And so, I think that’s how it holds together.  

Benjamin Watson: One thing, Cherilyn, I’ll just add to that. I think as believers, when we think about justice, we also need to remember that justice is central to the gospel. 

And it was an act of justice that a holy God had to judge sin. And many times, we have to be careful, I think as believers, if we think of justice in solely a secular, with a secular viewpoint. As both of you mentioned, justice is central to Scripture, but really, when we think about the gospel, and we think about our transgression against a holy God, and the fact that there had to be made atonement for that sin, that there had to be blood shed for that sin. 

That was an act of justice to satisfy God’s holiness, but also done on our behalf. And so, you see this combination of justice on God’s behalf and mercy for us. You see the combination of the grace and the truth. And so, for the believer, justice is central to how we are, how we have become heirs and how we’ve been adopted as sons and daughters into the family of God. 

So, we can’t get away from this idea of justice. But to what you said, Charlie, I believe it’s important in how we define it. We should never allow the world to define what God has already told us in Scripture, and we must always come back to His definition of justice to inform how we act in our present world. 

Dr. Charlie Dates: So, I am a preacher. Let me see if I can weave some of these things for our audience in this regard. Life, therefore, on the basis of what you just heard Dr. Moore and Benjamin say, cannot flourish in injustice. Where there are unjust principles and laws, people are limited in their ability to enjoy creation as God has laid it out. 

I think, I appreciate that question and it being the first one, it’s fundamental to the question of life. Because it is how God intended for life to be lived. Where, and it’s not, justice is not simply fairness or equity, but it is where right prevails. Where the right thinking of God and about God rules the order of the day. 

Dr. Russell Moore: And you think about how often justice is tied up with God hearing. So, you have Hagar sent out into the wilderness and God sees her. Children of Israel are unjustly being persecuted and they’re groaning. Exodus says God hears. And you come to the Psalms. God hears the cry of the fatherless and the widow. And then you move to James who says to the church, “Some of you are mistreating your, the people who are working for you,” and God hears them.  

And so, it’s really easy sometimes for us just to say, “Okay, those are the people I don’t have to pay attention to, regardless of who it is, and they become invisible to me.” And God is consistently saying, ” Just because you are stopping up your ears, doesn’t mean that God does.” And it’s not the last you’re going to hear of it.  

Cherilyn Holloway: Wow. And we’re done. I’m just kidding.  

Benjamin, you have written and spoken about parenthood, whether from a perspective of fatherhood and also of motherhood. Why do you see that as such an important topic in this discussion? How do your understandings of what it means to be a mother and a father shape our response to this question of life, and I am going to help you a little bit on the mother answer, but  

 I’ve read part of your book via telephone and text messaging, so I know you do touch on this.  

Benjamin Watson: Yeah. Psalm 127, “Your children are an inheritance from the Lord.” And it talks about children being like arrows in the hand of a warrior. And this idea that we as parents are charged and equipped by a guide to really change places and generations that we may never see. 

And when you think about an arrow, I’m not 100 at all. I do like to think that I am, that I could shoot an arrow and hit something, but I probably couldn’t hit anything. But we think about an arrow, especially as a weapon or as a mode to kill your food if you need to eat that way, they are equipped with the shaft and the arrowhead. They’re sharp to fly far and to fly direct and to create change and to hit their target. 

And when you think about parenthood and you think about, my seven kids, our seven arrows, as we call them, God is equipping and charging my wife and I to lead them in all things according to righteousness, to teach them the Word of God, to teach them how to care about people, to teach them how to live amongst themselves, to teach them all these things, not only so that they can reproduce that in their homes and do it better hopefully, but so that they can be the change makers for the next generation that we hope to be in ours. 

It is an incredible privilege to be a parent. Much of what we see, the social ills that we see, many times come back to parenting. Yes, there are systemic factors. There are ancillary problems that we must address, but when you look statistically at families, the family is one of the first institutions that God created. 

When you talk about the family, you talk about communities, and you talk about government and then church. It boils down to how we’re parenting our kids. And so, we are to do so humbly or to ask God for wisdom. And I think specifically when it comes to issues of life and justice, those topics can be hard to talk about with our kids. 

But please believe this, there are messages out there that are being sent to your kids if you don’t tell your kids the right messages. And so, your kids will be catechized. They will be taught. They will be led, all those sorts of things, by someone, somewhere, by some entity, if you’re not doing it in your own home. And again, we don’t do it perfectly, so the point I’m making is, it’s imperative that parents address issues of justice practically with their families, scripturally with their families, and also theoretically in how we talk about image bearers of God. 

Dr. Charlie Dates: I would if I may, Cherilyn,  

Cherilyn Holloway: You may.  

Dr. Charlie Dates: I would urge everybody watching to humbly admit that we live in an unjust culture and nation and that our children are bombarded with images of injustice. I think when the pandemic first struck and we got a chance to, as a nation, watch on television the murder of George Floyd and some of the responses to that, nobody could escape that. No young person, no kid could escape it.  

But what we have done is that we have let the news networks interpret, explain, and clarify what’s going on in the culture rather than assuming that responsibility at home. And I think particularly of black and brown kids who suffer injustice, be it living in a food desert or the kind of schools, the inequality of the schools that they attend or the lack of access to healthcare and the juvenile rates, mass incarceration, we can go on and on.  

The reality is we have to help interpret what the brokenness of our world means for the present reality on our children. And in doing so, we’re not merely explaining to them what is going on. We are equipping them to carry themselves in a world that is unjust. 

And I think that we can’t leave that up to anybody else. Essentially, parents who have a a theocentric view of the world need to help interpret that for their children and then give their children the equipment to behave.  

Cherilyn Holloway: And I think that as a mother, and as I communicate these things to not only my children, but to the children that my children bring into the home, right? 

I’m from, I live in a very small town, and we’re often the home that other kids come and hang out with because there’s two parents in the home, and there’s somebody’s cooking dinner. For women and for young girls to understand that being able to carry and bring forth a life is a gift. And I often call it a superpower.  

Dr. Charlie Dates: It is. Nobody else can do it.  

Cherilyn Holloway: Nobody else can do it. Nobody, no man can be born without a woman. And having them understand that physiologically you, this is something your body was created to do is not a burden.  

Because I think we live in a time where we’re told it is a burden to give, to have children. It is going to be a burden on your finances, is going to be a burden on your career, specifically as women. This is going to keep you down, these things, children. 

Where what my personal experience was, I had an unplanned pregnancy for my oldest son. Decided I’m going to have the shot. I’m going to get married. I could not wait. I could not wait because it changed the trajectory of how I saw the world and how I saw my life from that standpoint on because now it’s not just about me. And I think that’s something that God instills in us, is that we are relational by nature and we want to connect to Him by nature. 

And so, we are supposed to be in community. It’s what we’re supposed to do and it’s why we have so many that are out there and that are lost and, you know, living their truth and speaking their truth because they don’t understand that we are meant to be in community with family, with our neighbors and all of these things because it changes the trajectory of our life and our dreams and our goals when other people’s lives are at stake. 

Dr. Charlie Dates: Cherilyn, I know you’re asking the questions, but can I flip it to ask you a question?  

Cherilyn Holloway: Sure.  

Dr. Charlie Dates: How might we as a church in America better affirm women, support women, raise the value of women such that women see themselves with the superpower that you just described? What can we do? And what can men do? To say, no, our view on women has to elevate. 

Cherilyn Holloway: I think I would say tactically, we tend to get shuffled into the women’s ministry, right? To the first lady’s ministry, like this week to the children’s ministry. We get shuffled into these places because it’s assumed that we’re going to be nurturing to other people’s children, which isn’t always true, I think that going through it, I went to a church in Waldorf, Maryland, and we did a a study where we found out what our giftings were. I had never done that before. And we took our top three and said, okay, these are the things in that category, those categories that we offer. And it allowed me to go through those different things to find out where my gifting and anointing, because they’re different, really lies. 

And I think that, and outside of the Mother’s Day brunch and the Mother’s Day, saying to a woman, we understand that you have this gift and this superpower and that you are filling our church with the next generation because a church with a solid children’s ministry has a solid following.That we understand that you have given us this gift. What can we give you? 

Dr. Russell Moore: There was a study done that was talking about children in churches. And so, we recognize that a church that doesn’t have children is dying. But it’s not just that. It’s that it changes the mentality of the church about, are we pouring ourselves into a new generation and it changes, not just the way you do children’s ministry and not just your future, it changes what you’re doing right now. And I never thought about that, but it hit me, that’s true because it’s true for just personally in my own life, it changed the way I saw things and that’s true for the church, too. 

Benjamin Watson: I think also along those lines, children need to see authenticity from their parents. And it’s one thing to tell our children for example, when you mentioned George Floyd or any other sort of well-publicized injustice that we talk about and we confront, children are watching how we react to certain things. 

They’re listening to our comments. They’re listening and watching our, the look on our face, the jokes that we make. They’re watching all those sorts of things. And so, it’s one thing to tell a child something. It’s another thing to actually demonstrate what it means to care about injustice deeply, to be broken over injustice domestically and abroad and also to commit yourself, your family to trying to confront some of that. It’s one thing to talk about it at a conference. Another thing when you’re in your living room. And your kids are watching you and they’re like, that doesn’t line up with what my dad or my mom is saying. 

Also related to that, the primary way we as men, I would say, instill that sort of confidence, humility, empathy in our children is how we love our wives. Too many times, we underestimate the simple relationship, not simple, the important relationship between man and wife. 

If we go back to Genesis 1 in the garden, Satan was hellbent on disrupting not only the order but the intimacy, the relationship between man and wife. “If I can interrupt that relationship, I can impact everything. I can not only impact your family, your seed, your offspring. I can impact entire communities. I can impact entire nations. I can impact the entire lineage of mankind by disrupting and turning a man against woman.”  

And so, we see that and we’ve talked about it over and over again. We see that in so much of the messaging that we’re getting from out there. It decouples men and women into their own sphere, pitting them against each other, where God says we are to be one flesh. 

And as much as we can, especially as fallen people, as believers, the importance of marriage, the importance of men loving your wives, and demonstrating that to our children, that will not only build for them with their relationships, but with all these other things that we’re talking about. 

Cherilyn Holloway: Yeah. And just to shift things, I’m gonna shift things once and then I’m gonna shift them again.  

Benjamin Watson: You’re doing a good job.  

Cherilyn Holloway: Thank you. I’m a shifter.  

One of the persistent refrains around the abortion question is that I’m not allowing abortion. We are keeping women from exercising all of their rights and in many ways discriminating because they are not free to have a career unencumbered by children as a man can. Why does this narrative of motherhood and femininity fall short?  

I’m going to answer that. It goes back to women being the life givers in that, in this situation, we have been fighting for women’s rights for a very long time. I think we’re at like 200 years right now where we’ve been fighting or maybe it’s over 70, I don’t know.  

Benjamin Watson: It’s probably longer than that.  

Cherilyn Holloway: I’m not a historian. For a long time. And the fact that we have not got to the place as women who have said, “We bring forth life. We need you all to adjust yourselves to us because what we are now asking is that we want to be able to do things as men do things. We weren’t created the way men were created. We were created to give life. And so with that, what do I need as someone who wants to pursue a career outside of the home, to be successful as a mother and in that space?”  

And there was a study that said if a woman can go lay her eyes on her children during a break or a lunch, she’s 80% more productive at work, but it’s cheaper for a company to provide abortions than to provide that type of care.  

And we are not calling them to the mat as mothers. We are not calling them to the mat and saying, “You cannot do what you do without us. And this next generation that you will hire wouldn’t be here without us. So, we need you to change these things now.” 

And that is taking a true stance on motherhood and femininity to me because as a woman, these are the things I was created to do. And if I am created to be able to do this, but God has also given me a purpose to do something else, I need to be able to do that, and I need to be able to do it effectively and without guilt or burden. 

Dr. Charlie Dates: I think biblically, the laws, the Book of the Laws, the Pentateuch, really are in one sense about God restoring order to chaos. It is not ideal. It’s more like a, since this is the reality, here now are rules and regulations to abide by. Sin really did a job on us, is in essence what I’m trying to say. 

The law itself did not eliminate the desire for murder. It exposed it. It did not technically fix us. It exposed how broken we were. So in one sense, when I hear you say that, I want to say to everybody that even if we changed everything, we would not necessarily change the question of abortion. That is, people will still seek to do it. 

However, I contend that we can fight against the need for abortion. When people feel like they need it, we can mitigate against those factors. And you hit on some. I think if women were paid at the same rate that men are paid, if we respected the superpower of giving children, where women were given ample time to care for their children, then children would not be seen as a burden. They would be seen as a blessing.  

I actually think if we cared for women, women would make that decision more often than not to honor God with the life that God has given them. However, we have created a carrot in our nation that is all about productivity and ascension and power and the acquisition of things, where really children get pushed to the back burner, whether you’re a man or a woman. 

But I think fundamentally the contingency is to say, “How have we mistreated you and where can we right those wrongs?” And then I believe that you’re going to start making that decision to keep the gifts that God gives you.  

Benjamin Watson: It’s going to take some intentionality, and it will take some intentional changes, specifically, let’s just talk about the workplace for a minute since that’s the topic that we’re on. 

It will take some intentional changes by employers and corporations to do that. Because again, it’s about, it’s not only about productivity, it’s about the perception or the idea of what’s most productive. So, you have an idea that it’s most productive if you’re in the office, you don’t see your kids. 

But what the pandemic actually did show us, and studies have shown this recently, that with an alternate work week, with things like being in the office three days or two days, or those sorts of split schedules, there’s still productivity happening, and it’s also allowing women or men to be at home with their children more often than not. 

And so there are these types of, yes, equal pay, those sorts of things. It’ll have to take intentional action though. But there are several studies that we’ve talked about and we’ve seen that show that there can be ways to make it more amenable for women to have children, but also to have careers. But it’s not going to happen by accident. 

And that’s the thing. No big change of this type happens by accident. It takes people taking intentional action to change things from the way they have been done and understanding that there is a better way to do it. 

Dr. Russell Moore: And part of that requires government responsibility as well, because sometimes you have employers who are thinking in order to have a workplace that really is just to our women employees, what’s going to happen if I lose my competitive edge with the person down the street? And so, there are some things like paid family leave and so forth that we can do better, not just as individual workplaces but as a society. 

Cherilyn Holloway: Yeah. Yeah. We absolutely have one of the worst paid family leave policies in the world.  

Benjamin Watson: It’s a mess.  

Cherilyn Holloway: In the world. One last question. And I want to start with Russell, I want to start with you.  

One of the troubling statistics is that there is a clear divide in the issues that white evangelicals care about, what white evangelicals care about, and what black Protestants care about. 

In poll after poll, it seems pretty clear that even for those who share a theology and a view of Scripture, they end up radically different places when it comes to addressing justice issues. What leads to this division, and what can we do about it?  

Dr. Charlie Dates: I almost want to take my mic off and put it in front of him, you know,know, right? 

Cherilyn Holloway: I’m not even sure.  

Dr. Charlie Dates: Even sure. Even though you got a mic, you need two or three of them.  

Cherilyn Holloway: Double mic him, double mic him.  

Dr. Russell Moore: I think a great deal of it is the cultural captivity of the church in which the church, white evangelical church is being used as a means to an end for something else, for a cultural identity, a political identity and so forth. 

And so, you end up with a sense in which if you speak in broad generalities, no one’s going to object to that until you get to the specifics of what some of this looks like. And that has always been the case. If you, at least in the United States, you stand up and say, “We’re made in the image of God. We ought to love each other.” Everyone says amen in 19th century Georgia until you say, “You are going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ for claiming to own another human being made in the image of God.”  

Same thing, you could do the same thing in Jim Crow era, and a great deal of that has to do with a lack of courage among leaders because here’s the way it works. And you can see this historically happening in Jim Crow Alabama and Mississippi and other places. And you can see it happening right now, which is to say, a leader will say, “I know we ought to bear each other’s burdens, but my people aren’t ready for that yet. So I’m going to conserve my influence until a time when I can lead them.”  

And what you say to yourself is, “If I’m not here, somebody worse is, so why would I jeopardize this right now within the church?” And what happens, there’s never a convenient time to talk about bearing each other’s burdens, and there’s never a convenient time to be convicted of sin. 

None of us want to be scheduled for that. And so you end up with this paralysis. And what has to happen is the Spirit working, for one thing, but you also need some leaders who are willing to survive and be willing to as Hebrew says, follow Jesus outside the camp, whatever the camp of your particular tribe is. 

And so that is, I think what’s happened over the past several years, is that God has allowed an unveiling so that we can see some things very clearly and can’t deny them that are already there. Maybe that’s a first step, the unveiling. Sometimes God brings things into the light before He upends them. Maybe that’s the case, but that’s going to require obedience. 

Cherilyn Holloway: Yeah. I didn’t think anybody was going to want to add to that, but I just want to take a little…  

Benjamin Watson: Doc got something to say.  

Dr. Charlie Dates: I actually am on record having said enough right now. I just appreciate Dr. Moore’s courage. 

Cherilyn Holloway: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.  

You all, this has been amazing, and I really wish that I could have just handed you all these questions and you just fumbled through and then just talks amongst yourselves. And I think that there will be opportunity to continue this conversation.  

And I just thank you. I thank you for your willingness to come and speak on this and speak to those who may be questioning, where they fit in this pro-life movement, in this pro-life space and even with this idea of what it looks like to now be holistically pro-life following, the fall of Roe. 

So, we thank you and we appreciate you guys and we’ll see you guys soon.