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Sexual abuse (and problematic responses to it when uncovered) is a plague wreaking havoc across our country, not only in the Catholic Church or in the independent fundamentalist congregations across the country, but also in Southern Baptist congregations. The Houston Chronicle’s three-part report (the first part was released on Sunday, February 10) found more than 700 victims in just the past 20 years, with some of the accused church leaders still serving in SBC churches even today.

Read the report. Reread it. Don’t look away. Ask yourself, How can this evil flourish in churches that name the name of Jesus? Moving forward, we cannot excuse inaction due to of our Convention’s structure (“What can we do? Every church is autonomous!”) or because of our denominational bureaucracy (“It takes too long to get anything done”) or because we are not personally involved (“I’ve never fielded an accusation”).

What kind of Great Commission people are we if we move heaven and earth to send out missionaries to spread the gospel abroad, but cannot muster the will to stop predators from “slaughtering the faith” of people at home?

We can no longer accept the reality that we are “a porous sieve of a denomination” that makes it easy for perpetrators to move from church to church and for more innocent victims to be preyed upon. This is not a problem out there. If we are in this together when we celebrate God’s work among and through us, we must be in this together when the work of the evil one is exposed and our failures are so glaringly put on display before a watching world.

I don’t know all that we can or will do in the months ahead, but I trust that the feelings of grief and anger among many of us today will lead to renewed efforts to partner together in ways that uncover abusers and protect the vulnerable. Southern Baptists must do more, and it must start with us. God give us wisdom and determination.

Below are excerpts from several of the responses from Southern Baptist leaders:

J.D. Greear:

I am broken over what was revealed today. The abuses described in this article are pure evil. I join with countless others who are currently “weeping with those who weep.” The voices in this article should be heard as a warning sent from God, calling the church to repent. As Christians, we are called to expose everything sinful to the light. The survivors in this article have done that—at a personal cost few of us can fathom. We must admit that our failures, as churches, put these survivors in a position where they were forced to stand alone and speak, when we should have been fighting for them. Their courage is exemplary and prophetic. But I grieve that their courage was necessary. We—leaders in the SBC—should have listened to the warnings of those who tried to call attention to this. I am committed to doing everything possible to ensure we never make these mistakes again.

It’s time for pervasive change. God demands it. Survivors deserve it. We must change how we prepare before abuse (prevention), respond during disclosure (full cooperation with legal authorities), and act after instances of abuse (holistic care). I will pursue every possible avenue to bring the vast spiritual, financial, and organizational resources of the Southern Baptist Convention to bear on stopping predators in our midst. There can simply be no ambiguity about the church’s responsibility to protect the abused and be a safe place for the vulnerable. The safety of the victims matters more than the reputation of Southern Baptists. The Baptist doctrine of church autonomy should never be a religious cover for passivity towards abuse.

Church autonomy is about freeing the church to do the right thing—to obey Christ—in every situation. It is a heinous error to apply autonomy in a way that enables abuse. As a denomination, now is a time to mourn and repent. Changes are coming. They must. We cannot just promise to “do better” and expect that to be enough. But today, change begins with feeling the full weight of the problem.

Russell Moore:

Our approach is seeking to encourage policies and practices that protect children and the vulnerable from sexual abuse in autonomous but cooperating churches, all the while promoting compliance with laws and providing compassionate care for those who have survived trauma. True, we have no bishops. But we have a priesthood of believers. And a key task of that priesthood is maintaining the witness of Christ in the holiness and safety of his church.

For the rest of the post…

January 23, 2019

Many were alarmed and dispirited by footage this week of raucous cheering in the New York State Senate chamber. The “Happy Days Are Here Again” sort of celebration wasn’t for a bill to guarantee health care or repair roads or to reform the government. The applause and laughter was instead for a bill to remove any protections as persons from unborn children at any stage of pregnancy. While this video does indeed tell us much about the culture in which we live right now I actually think another piece of footage tells us more.

A few weeks ago, I watched an episode of a video series in which children ask questions of an adult. One episode featured an adult who was a mortician, for instance, in order to talk about death and grieving. This particular episode was a conversation between children and a woman who has had an abortion. What struck me the most is that it was a kind of Sunday school.

As someone who believes strongly in Sunday school, I’ve always bristled at the use of the term “Sunday school answer.” I get what the term is meant to imply: a shallow, surface-level answer that is given by children because they know what the adults around them expect. An old pulpit cliché would often talk about the Sunday school teacher who, about to tell a story about a squirrel, asked children what was furry, with a bushy tale, climbed trees, and stored up nuts for the winter. One child is said to have replied, “I know the answer is ‘Jesus,’ but I’m just trying to figure out how to get there.” The point of the cliché is that there’s a real answer, but then there’s the answer one is supposed to give.

That’s what appears to have happened in this interview between the abortion-rights activist and the children. The children seem to be trying to give the “right” answer. One says that abortion is okay, as long as it for “good reasons.” This answer is obviously the wrong one, as the adult seems to chastise him for differentiating between “good” reasons and “bad” reasons. Children keep using the word “baby” in reference to the “choice” that abortion is supposed to be about. The activist, whenever encountering some moral hesitation about abortion, asks the children whether their families are religious, as if to explain some irrational repression. The children seem to be trying to find what it is the adults want them to say, but there are some moral realities they can’t help but bump into along the way.

That’s both the good news and the bad news for those of us who believe in human dignity and the protection of human life, regardless of age, size, or vulnerability. In order to see the realities around us, we must have a thick Augustinian vision of both human createdness and human fallenness.

The fallen nature of humanity is evident. Who could cheer the potential to stop the beating hearts of children who are, in some cases, just weeks away from birth? And the closer one gets to the issue, the more one sees just how blinded by injustice people can get.

For the rest of the post…

On the Jewish Sabbath this week, a white nationalist terrorist murdered eleven worshippers within Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, in what is being called the deadliest attack on Jewish people in American history. Sadly, in a time when it seems that every week brings more bloodshed and terror in this country, we should not let the news cycle move on without a sober reflection of what this attack means for us as Christians.

Such is especially true as we look out a world surging with resurgent “blood-and-soil” ethno-nationalism, much of it anti-Semitic in nature. As Christians, we should have a clear message of rejection of every kind of bigotry and hatred, but we should especially note what anti-Semitism means for people who are followers of Jesus Christ. We should say clearly to anyone who would claim the name “Christian” the following truth: If you hate Jews, you hate Jesus.

Anti-Semitism is, by definition, a repudiation of Christianity as well as of Judaism. This ought to be obvious, but world history, even church history, shows us this is not the case. Christians reject anti-Semitism because we love Jesus.

I will often hear Christians say, “Remember that Jesus was Jewish.” That’s true enough, but the past tense makes it sound as though Jesus’ Jewishness were something he sloughed off at the resurrection. Jesus is alive now, enthroned in heaven. He is transfigured and glorified, yes, but he is still Jesus. This means he is still, and always will be, human. He is still, and always will be, the son of Mary. He is, and always will be, a Galilean. When Jesus appeared before Saul of Tarsus on the Road to Damascus, the resurrected Christ introduced himself as “Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 22:8). Jesus is Jewish, present tense.

Indeed, much of the New Testament is about precisely that point. Jesus is a son of Abraham. He is of the tribe of Judah. He is of the House of David. Jesus’ kingship is valid because he descends from the royal line. His priesthood, though not of the tribe of Levi, is proven valid because of Melchizedek the priest’s relation to Abraham. Those of us who are joint-heirs with Christ are such only because Jesus is himself the offspring and heir of Abraham (Gal. 3:29).

As Christians, we are, all of us, adopted into a Jewish family, into an Israelite story. We who were once not a people have been grafted on, in Jesus, to the branch that is Israel (Rom. 11:17-18). That’s why the New Testament can speak even to Gentile Christians as though the story of their own forefathers were that of the Old Testament Scriptures. We have been brought into an Israelite story, a story that started not in first-century Bethlehem but, millennia before, in the promise that Abraham would be the father of many nations. Whatever our ethnic background, if we are in Christ, we are joined to him. That means the Jewish people are, in a very real sense, our people too. An attack on the Jewish people is an attack on all of us.

The reason this is critically important to reassert is because the blood-and-soil movements often want to claim the word “Christian.” The way they define this, you will notice is in opposition to some other group. They are “Christian” instead of Jewish, or “Christian” instead of Muslim or some other religious identity. What they usually mean is “European white identity” defined in terms of “Christendom.” This murderer had posted social media rants not only against Jewish people, but also against Jewish people’s efforts to help refugees and migrants fleeing Latin American persecution.

Such types have long been with us. Notice the way the “German Christian” movement wanted to maintain “the church” and “the Bible,” just whitewashing them of their Jewishness. A Bible with its Jewishness wrung out of it is no Bible. And a Christ with his Jewishness obscured is no Christ at all. We cannot even say his name, “Jesus,” or “Yahweh saves” without immediately confronted with our Lord’s Jewishness.

We groan anytime an innocent human life is taken.

For the rest of the post…

October 24, 2018

As I reflect today on the death of the writer/pastor Eugene Peterson, I can’t help but think about many of the things he taught me. One of the most important, though, was a lesson in anatomy, on the difference between the skeleton of a beetle and a kitten. Believe it or not, that lesson has proven to be one of the most important for my life.

For years, I had written and spoken about the importance of bones in the Bible—from Joseph’s brothers promising to carry his bones from Egypt into the Land of Promise to the fulfilled prophecy that not one of Jesus’ bones would be broken. I had never thought through, though, just how different human bones are from that of some of other of God’s creatures—and why.

In his 2017 collection of sermons, When Kingfishers Catch Fire, Peterson recounted what he had learned about endoskeletons and exoskeletons. “In the early stages of development, creatures with exoskeletons (that is, skeletons on the outside, like crabs and beetles) have all the advantages, as they are protected from disaster,” Peterson wrote. This advantage ends, though, because though the creatures molt into different forms, “there is no development because there is no memory.”

“Creature with endoskeletons (that is, skeletons on the inside, like kittens and humans) are much more disadvantaged at first, being highly vulnerable to outside danger” he wrote. “But if they survive through the tender care and protection of others, they can develop higher forms of consciousness.”

Therein, Peterson noted, lies a parable. “The man who asked the question of Jesus had lived his life with an exoskeleton,” he wrote. “His material goods and moral achievements were all on the outside like a crust, and they separated him from both his neighbor and his God.” The change he needed for eternal life was one that he resisted because it would leave him vulnerable, feeling exposed before the world.

I can relate to that. It seems that one of the primary spiritual obstacles for me is to abandon an exoskeleton of self-protection, to trust the one who counts all my bones and sees to it that however much I may suffer, I will not be finally broken. I also find myself often seeking refuge in a kind of steely Stoic resignation, rather than in the kind of Christ-life that can be hurt, that can weep. This is, of course, the only kind of life that can truly love and be loved.

This means learning to be served by others. In another book, Peterson writes about a time when he came close to ministry burnout. He told his church elders that he had no time for study, no time for prayer, no time for close personal relationships. Again, I can relate. His elders decided, when they learned that a primary trouble for him was the endless blur of administrative meetings,  that except for the monthly session meeting, the pastor would not attend any more meetings.

This seemed like a Godsend, until one Tuesday night, when Peterson was restless, and, knowing there was an elders’ meeting going on, meandered over to the church, and sat in the back of the room. One of the elders stopped and asked him what he was doing there. Peterson replied that he was free and wanted to be present to offer moral support. The elder said, “What’s the matter? Don’t you trust us?”

Peterson reflected: “Defensive phrases assembled themselves in my mind, but I never spoke them. The abrupt challenge was accurate and found its target. ‘I guess I don’t,’ I said. ‘But I’ll try.’ And I left. I haven’t been back.”

The issue was a matter of exoskeletons versus endoskeletons. The hard shell of self-protection would rather not need others. We don’t wish to be in their debt. We trust our own activity, our own sense of control, more than the vulnerability that comes with being ministered to by others. And yet, only the crucifiable self is, ultimately, glorifiable.

The shell of protection—of our own doing and being and winning and displaying—can convince us that we don’t need others, or even, though we won’t admit it, that we don’t need God. But, deep within, we know that structure we build on the outside is protecting us only from what we need the most: the love of God, the communion of saints, the carrying of the cross. We are, in the end, protecting ourselves from blessing.

This kind of blessing is what Peterson meant when he spoke of the Beatitudes, words for which familiarity often becomes our exoskeleton, protecting us from how shocking they really are.

For the rest of the post…

  |   October 2, 2017   |  by Russell Moore

A few hours ago I was on the phone with a friend in Las Vegas. He and his neighbors had just lived through, and will be living through for some time, the trauma of seeing in their own city the worst mass shooting in modern American history. I reflected after that conversation what my friend, a strong Christian and a respected leader, would say when asked by those around him, “Where was God in all of this?” He will have a word for his community, but for many Christians, when disaster or great evil strikes, this is a hard question to answer. Maybe that’s you.

The first thing we must do in the aftermath of this sort of horror is to make sure that we do not take the name of God in vain. After a natural disaster or an act of terror, one will always find someone, often claiming the mantle of Christianity, opining about how this moment was God’s judgment on an individual or a city or a nation for some specified sin. Jesus told us specifically not to do this, after his disciples asked whether a man’s blindness was the result of his or his parents’ sin. Jesus said no to both (Jn. 9:1-12). Those self-appointed prophets who would blame the victims for what befalls them are just that, self-appointed. We should listen to Jesus and to his apostles, not to them. Those killed in a terror attack or in a tsunami or in an epidemic are not more sinful than all of the rest of us.

We live in a fallen world, where awful, incomprehensible things happen. When an obvious and egregious injustice such as this one is done, we should stand where God does and see this as real evil, not as an illusion of evil. This means that our response to such should not be some sort of Stoic resignation but instead a lament with those around us who are hurting.

Christians sometimes suppose that our non-Christian friends and neighbors want to hear a detailed explanation, to justify God in light of such horror. The Bible doesn’t give us easy answers. The Word of God instead speaks of the “mystery of iniquity” (2 Thess. 2:7). When tragedy fell upon Job, an ancient follower of God, and asked why such happened to him, God did not fully answer him. God instead spoke of his own power and his own presence. That’s exactly what we should do.

We do not know why God does not intervene and stop some tragedies when he does stop others. What we do know, though, is that God stands against evil and violence. We know that God is present for those who are hurting. And we know that God will ultimately call all evil to a halt, in the ushering in of his kingdom. We know that God is, in the words of the hymn, both “merciful and mighty.”

When my wife and I were going through a difficult time, years ago, a friend stopped by, a respected theologian who spoke often and well of God’s sovereign providence. I expected him to speak to us of how God was working in this tragedy we were facing. He didn’t. He cried with us. He sat with us. He prayed with us. And as he left, he turned and said, “Russell, I don’t know why God permitted this to happen to you, but I know this: Jesus loves you, and Jesus is alive and present right now in your life.” I’ve never forgotten those words.

Our neighbors do not need us to provide easy answers to what is, this side of the eschaton, unexplainable. What they need, though, is a reminder for us that life is not the meaningless chaos it seems to be. There is a loving Presence at work in the universe.

For the rest of the post…

By Russell Moore

  |   September 28, 2017   |

Overnight, we learned of the death of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. Hefner is the iconic figure who not only made pornography socially respectable (and even more lucrative), but also spent a life constructing a “playboy philosophy” of sexual freedom that would supposedly undo the “Puritan sexual repression he saw in American life.”

The death of any person is a tragedy. Hugh Hefner is no exception to that. We can’t, though, with his obituaries, call his life “success” or “a dream.”

Hefner did not create, but marketed ingeniously the idea that a man’s life consists in the abundance of his possessions and of his orgasms. To women, he marketed frenetically the idea that a woman’s value consists in her sexual availability and attractiveness to men.

The “bunny” logo was well-chosen because, in the end, Mr. Hefner saw both men and women as essentially rabbits. This path was portrayed vividly by John Updike in his Rabbit Angstrom series. It is not a happy life.

And yet we are not actually rabbits. We can see our deaths coming, and we outlive those deaths to give an account of our lives. If you want to see “success,” look instead to the man faithful to the wife of his youth, caring for her through dementia.

In the short-run Hefner’s philosophy has won, on both the Right and the Left. The Playboy Mansion is every house now. Many church leaders implicitly or explicitly say, “This is fine.”

For the rest of the post…

September 22, 2017 
Here we are again. News reports are abuzz with a “Christian numerologist” suggesting that Sept. 23, 2017, is the fixed date for the end of the world.It could be, of course. Any day could be Judgment Day.

But there are a couple of reasons we should pay no attention to this prediction. The first reason is summed up in the words “Christian numerologist.” The second, and more important, reason is that this sort of doomsday speculation has little to do with religion and everything to do with marketing.

For the rest of the post…

by Russell Moore

June 1, 2017

This week marks the release of the latest DC superhero, Wonder Woman—and with the film comes a hubbub of conversation about what it means to be male and female in this supposedly post-gender society. Some are outraged that some theaters showed early release showings of the movie to restricted all-women audiences. Others are angry that the super-heroine apparently shaves under her arms (which no self-respecting island amazon would do, some say).

Wonder Woman is unperturbed by all this. She’s been in the middle of gender wars before. In fact, she’s been there from the very beginning.

There’s a reason, after all, that Wonder Woman was on an early cover of the feminist Ms. Magazine. Unlike other DC superheroes, she wasn’t the product of the imaginations of then-anonymous young men in garages or apartment stoops, longing for the extraordinary. Instead, she was the invention of a psychologist

William Moulton Marston, a scholar from Tufts and Columbia universities, was not a Stan Lee-type comic book marketing genius. He was just the opposite; he was one who thought comic books were degrading American culture, and he sought to fix it, with an Amazon princess.

Marston was more than just a psychologist and scholar. He was the inventor of the technology that later became the polygraph, the “lie detector” test. This idea showed up in the Wonder Woman comics (the golden lasso makes everyone in its grip tell the truth). He was also a supporter of the Progressive movement, an early feminist, and an expert on the mythologies of ancient Greece and Rome.

Marston feared comic books were too violent and depraved (as did many at the time). He located this depravity not in the medium but in its “blood-curdling masculinity.” So he set out to design a woman who comes from an amazon island, with no men and thus pacific. Wonder Woman wasn’t for girls (they weren’t the comic book audience), but for the boys. “Give them an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to and they’ll be proud to become her willing slaves,” he concluded.

It didn’t quite turn out just that way, but Wonder Woman transformed American society—and was transformed by it, becoming more aggressive in times when women were working factories in World War II, for instance, and more docile in the 1950s.

The resurgence of the warrior princess on the silver screen ought to remind us of the powerful mythological and cultural forces behind many of the contemporary “gender wars,” and that these are, in some ways, nothing new. The Apostle Paul, after all, knew about Wonder Woman.

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Christians, Let’s Pray for President Trump

  January 20, 2017

Today I have a piece in The Washington Post on why Christians ought to pray for our new President, Donald Trump.

Here’s an excerpt:

Consistently, no matter who is in office we are to pray for success. That doesn’t mean we pray for all of any leader’s ideas to be realized. But it means that we pray that he or she would succeed, would carry out an agenda that leads to the flourishing of the rest of society and, particularly, so that the church may “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” In contemporary American society, we’re supposed to want those we like to leave office as heroes and those we don’t to bumble and fail. That should never be our attitude.

For the rest of the post…

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You know the guy I’m talking about. He spends hours into the night playing video games and surfing for pornography. He fears he’s a loser. And he has no idea just how much of a loser he is. For some time now, studies have shown us that porn and gaming can become compulsive and addicting. What we too often don’t recognize, though, is why.

Recent research indicates that millions of men are debilitatingly hooked on leisure. Some economists and social scientists are even voicing concern that the amount of men who play games instead of work is a real threat to economic growth. Additionally, the epidemic of pornography is so pervasive in our culture that Time Magazine recently devoted an entire cover story to the testimonies of men whose lives had been harmed by their addiction.

In their book, The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It, psychologists Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan say we may lose an entire generation of men to pornography and video gaming addictions. Their concern isn’t about morality, but instead about the nature of these addictions in reshaping the patten of desires necessary for community.

If you’re addicted to sugar or tequila or heroin you want more and more of that substance. But porn and video games both are built on novelty, on the quest for newer and different experiences. That’s why you rarely find a man addicted to a single pornographic image. He’s entrapped in an ever-expanding kaleidoscope.

There’s a key difference between porn and gaming. Pornography can’t be consumed in moderation because it is, by definition, immoral. A video game can be a harmless diversion along the lines of a low-stakes athletic competition. But the compulsive form of gaming shares a key element with porn: both are meant to simulate something, something for which men long.

Pornography promises orgasm without intimacy. Video warfare promises adrenaline without danger. The arousal that makes these so attractive is ultimately spiritual to the core.

Satan isn’t a creator but a plagiarist. His power is parasitic, latching on to good impulses and directing them toward his own purpose. God intends a man to feel the wildness of sexuality in the self-giving union with his wife. And a man is meant to, when necessary, fight for his family, his people, for the weak and vulnerable who are being oppressed.

The drive to the ecstasy of just love and to the valor of just war are gospel matters. The sexual union pictures the cosmic mystery of the union of Christ and his church. The call to fight is grounded in a God who protects his people, a Shepherd Christ who grabs his sheep from the jaws of the wolves.

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