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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…

June 12, 2016

It happened again.

In the dark hours of this Sunday morning some 50 people were killed and another 53 were injured in a terror attack in gay nightclub in Orlando. President Obama has called it an “act of terror and an act of hate,” and it’s being described as the most deadly shooting in American history.

The news of such violent atrocities comes to us so regularly nowadays that we may feel numb, helpless to know what to do or say after such events. But as followers of Christ we can’t simply shut out the pain and despair. We must bring light and healing.

These horrible events of recent years have targeted a wide variety of people: military personnel, movie-goers, elementary school children, and now patrons of a gay nightclub. All have dignity as made in the image of God. The death of any leads to mourning, whether they were targeted at random or not.

Over the years several writers for TGC have provided wise guidance on how to respond. These five calls to action apply to the most recent in a strring of tragedies.

Lightstock

Pray

No matter how frequently such tragedies occur, our first response should always be the same: turning to God in prayer. After the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting in 2012, Scotty Smith provided a model for how to pray in the midst of pain:

Dear Lord Jesus, we abandon ourselves to you tonight—we come running with our tears and our fears, our anger and our anguish, our lament and our longings. We collapse in your presence, with the assurance of your welcome, needing the mercies of your heart.

Some stories are just too much for us to absorb; some evil just too great to conceive; some losses beyond all measurability. We need your tears and your strength tonight. That you wept outside the tomb of a beloved friend frees us to groan and mourn; that you conquered his death with yours, frees us to hope and wait.

But we turn our thoughts from ourselves to the families who have suffered an unconscionable violation of heart and all sensibilities. Bring your presence to bear, Lord Jesus, by your Spirit and through your people. May your servants weep with those who weep and wail with those who wail. Extend your tear wiping hand—reach into this great tragedy with an even greater grace.

Pause

In the wake of mass violence, a common pattern is emerging among tech-literate, socially connected Christians. Rather than hearing the news and turning to God, we turn first to social media.

If we wanted to learn the facts about the incident we would look to news agencies. Too often, though, we’re actually looking to revel in the partisan divide. Even without looking we know the various angles that will be played out (e.g., gun control, the violence of Islam) and want to jump into the fray to join our “team.”

“Perhaps due to the callousness of our hearts or the fact that mass shootings have become common,” Trevin Wax wrote after the Umpqua Community College shooting last October, “we now rush to the computer to vent our frustrations rather than turn to God and to each other to express our grief.”

I understand how the feeling of helplessness intensifies the desire to just do something—to promote some person or push some policy. Make a statement. Pass a bill. Do whatever it takes to help us at least feel like we’re making progress in preventing these senseless horrors.

What troubles me is not that these tragedies lead to advocacy for policy change, but that our country’s imagination is held captive to the idea that the only place where such change can take place is in the legislature or courthouse.

On days like this we may need to guard our heart (Prov. 4:23) by avoiding social media altogether. Out of consideration for those who are suffering and in pain we can refrain from engaging in the polemics and adding to the din of divisiveness. Instead of tweeting and posting, we should seek to take practical actions, such as donating blood. (Even if we don’t live in the Orlando area, this event can remind us that daily tragedies occur and blood donations are always needed in your community.)

Grieve

As Christians we are called to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). Yet in times of tragedy we may be tempted instead to try to explain and justify rather than to simply be silent and grieve with those who are grieving. As Trillia Newbell has written,

When your friend is weeping it’s hard to say, “I don’t know, I don’t understand.” We want to know. We want to bring comfort, but in our attempt to “fix it” we can forget that there’s a real person in deep sorrow. Your friend, coworker, or relative is not a faucet to be fixed—they are flesh and blood to be loved. Those moments when you’re anxiously trying to find the perfect words are often the best moments to humbly embrace your weakness and lack of knowledge.

To be clear, waiting doesn’t mean never sharing perceived wisdom. Waiting might actually involve acknowledging you do understand. You understand your friend’s sorrow enough to be willing to bridle your tongue, to speak carefully and thoughtfully, to pray and wait.

Love

The death of any humans should lead to mourning, whether they were the victims or the perpetrators. As Angela Price wrote after the domestic terror attack last July,

Loving those who are different is not easy. It’s a sacrifice, but Jesus did it for us. When he came to rescue us, we were all lost in sin. We were “risky” for him, even to the point of crucifixion. Yet he entered into a world filled with filth, and willingly laid down his life in love. This is how we share Christ with those desperate for saving grace.

Hope

Christians should be the most realistic people on Earth. While we may support certain policies and solutions that we believe can foster peace, we must always be quick to admit that the root cause of violence and hate is sin.

As Erik Raymond wrote after the mall shooting in Omaha in 2007,

First and foremost an event like this is a heart-wrenching reminder of the devastatingly painful and absolutely brutal result of sin. The basic answer to the question as to why the trigger was pulled once, never mind 40 to 50 times, is a rebellion from and a hatred of God. At its must fundamental sense this tragedy is rooted in a rebellion from God. The fact that people had to die today in this mall is a testimony to the vicious recourse of sin. The Scripture is clear that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6.23). Death is the sword of sin, it cuts deep and far, and spares none.

Such tragedies, Raymond adds, should cause us to look away from superficial hope.

For the rest of the post…

by Trevin Wax 

bathroomdecree

Now that President Obama has issued guidelines for bathroom access in public schools across the country, many parents and schoolteachers are suddenly engaged in conversations they never anticipated. Questions about bathrooms, sports teams, locker room access, gender identity, and potential dangers are bouncing around on social media and in blog comments.

Much of the conversation focuses on student safety, not surprisingly. Safety for children in public schools should be of the utmost concern—and that includes the safety of transgender students as well.

But the latest developments have bigger repercussions that we also need to consider. We need to take a step back and look at what the White House guidelines signify about our culture.

Repercussion #1: Blazing a Political Path Toward Tyranny

First, it is striking to see the description of the president’s guidelines as “a decree” (now softened to “directive”), as well as the White House’s threat of withholding funds from schools that do not comply.

Regardless of one’s views on gender identity, no one believes that the intent of the lawmakers who passed the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s and Title IX legislation was to include gender identity as part of their protections. To apply this legislation to gender identity today, apart from Congressional approval, is to effectively rewrite the law without any kind of legislative process. It is to create a new law out of nothing and then use the president’s powers to promote it.

Even if you agree with the president’s guidelines, I urge you to consider the precedent this sets for future presidents to invent and revise new interpretations of laws and then demand compliance. The Founding Fathers put guardrails in place to keep the legislative, executive, and judicial branches from careening toward tyranny. Ever since Woodrow Wilson, those guardrails have been weakening, making it easier for a future tyrant to seize power and have historical precedent for doing so.

Repercussion #2: Co-opting the Civil Rights Narrative

The fact that “segregation” has re-entered the American vocabulary, only this time in reference to bathrooms, is astonishing. It puts gender identity and race in the same category, and then applies the story of civil rights to the societal push to embrace transgender theories. To dissent from this ideology or to question the wisdom and prudence of this revisionist understanding of the human person is to join the ranks of bigots and racists.

In her speech that connected racially segregated bathrooms to gender identity, Attorney General Loretta Lynch claimed that, in both cases, there was merely a “distinction without a difference.” In other words, the fact that a transgender female possesses male anatomy is a distinction, but not a substantive difference.

This is not a scientific statement, but an ideological vision of what male and female mean. The detachment of “sex” from “gender” will have repercussions that extend far beyond the debate over bathrooms, and because of the complexities associated with various forms of gender identity, a soft despotism will be necessary in order to enforce the new tolerance.

Repercussion #3: Promoting a New Vision of What It Means to Be Human

As Christians, we believe that gender is a gift from God and that we ought to welcome this gift (part of God’s good creation), even when it may be difficult (as a result of our fallenness). We believe that true freedom comes within our acceptance of our bodily existence, as given to us by God, and our discovery of how best to glorify God within this finite frame.

Today’s world promotes another “gospel”: believe and submit to one’s own individual desires as an act of self-definition. Another “great commission:” to increase the number of people who affirm every act of self-definition, without question. Another “hope”: to create a world of peace and joy by embracing a queer cosmology that transforms society into less binary ways of being.

The bathroom debate is heated because of what it symbolizes: a redefinition of what it means to be human.

  • What does it mean to be a mother in a world in which men can have babies?
  • To advocate for medical procedures on the body that have no relation to deeper questions of what our bodies are for?
  • To see surgeries that sterilize as the only compassionate option for people experiencing gender dysphoria?

Repercussion #4: Exploring New Options for Educating Kids 

For the rest of the post…

Trigger warning! The Bible may disturb your emotional health (COMMENTARY) – Religion News Service

A boy from the Mennonite community reads the bible at his school in Cuauhtemoc, Mexico o November 8, 2012. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez  *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-WAX-COLUMN, originally transmitted on August 17, 2015.

(RNS) Before you read this article, be warned! You may come across something you disagree with, or an idea that makes you uncomfortable, or a statement that causes offense. Please shut off your mobile device or close your browser, and back away slowly from your computer.

I’m kidding, of course. But only a little.

There’s a movement afoot in many universities and colleges across the country. It’s driven by the vision for the campus to be a “safe space” where ideas and words that make someone uncomfortable can be easily avoided. In New York magazine, Jonathan Chait describes it as a renewed strain of political correctness, a kind of “language policing” that poisons political debate and shuts down discussion.

In The Atlantic, Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff argue that this strain of political correctness is primarily about “emotional well-being,” protecting students from psychological harm. It’s “the coddling of the American mind,” they say, in a twist on Allan Bloom’s famous work, “The Closing of the American Mind.”


READ: ‘Megareverend’ John Oliver trolls televangelists with new tax-exempt church


One example of turning college into a “safe space” is the recent trend of putting “trigger warnings” on books — alerts from a professor that something in the course may stir up a strong, emotional response from the students. The motivation behind trigger warnings is sensitivity to people who have had traumatic experiences, a way of letting them know they may be disturbed by what they read.

Unfortunately, in a collegiate atmosphere tense with the fear of perpetual offense, the number of “triggers” have multiplied, and many of the most important books in history are getting labeled, and in some cases, dismissed.

For example, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” gets a trigger warning because of its depiction of misogyny and abuse. The classic myths of ancient Greek literature get trigger warnings because of rape.

Can you imagine how many trigger warnings the Bible would get? If there has ever been a book that is designed to make you uncomfortable and challenge your way of thinking, it’s the Bible.

Christian radio stations love to say they’re “safe for the whole family,” but that slogan wouldn’t fit if they were reading the whole Bible out loud as part of their programming. Violence, abuse, torture, rape, slavery — these are the warnings we’d have to issue by the time we finished reading the Bible’s first book, Genesis.


READ: Utah governor orders state agencies to stop disbursing federal funds to Planned Parenthood


The further you read, the more challenges you find to today’s political correctness. The storyline of the Bible starts with a God who created human beings in his image as the crowning achievement of his creation (trigger warning: speciesism!). He created humans male and female (gender binary alert!) to subdue and cultivate the Earth (ecology alert!), to join together as the two halves of humanity in covenant marriage (marriage discrimination!), to be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth with icons of his glory (overpopulation!).

After the human race revolts against God, the stories of the Bible follow a long line of humans who are idolatrous to the core, willing to substitute anything and everything for worshipping God (low self-esteem!). The diagnosis for humanity is bleak, but the thread running through the narrative is one of God showing mercy and grace to his chosen people, Israel, (ethnocentrism!) in order that he might one day bless the whole world.

For Christians, God’s rescue plan happens only through sacrifice — blood sacrifice that covers our guilt and shame (Sorry, PETA!). Their Bible climaxes with Jesus the Messiah who lives the life God always intended for humanity, shows the world what God is like, extends mercy to those who oppose him, and willingly offers himself as the final and ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world. In the Gospels, the trigger warnings multiply: torture, injustice, abuse, and execution.

For the rest of the post…

By Trevin Wax

 

April 5, 2015

jesus-resurrection

(See the previous post: My Jesus – Dead.)

Mary Magdalene went
and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord!” 
(John 20:18)

~~~~~

He is alive! This man from Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel, the Lord of the world.

With the breath of creation, He speaks of peace, faith, and mission.

With lungs full of air, He breathes on His disciples and grants His Spirit. My Jesus – alive!

The eyes that saw the darkness of death now drink in the sunlight of Easter. My Jesus – alive!

The arms that hung from a cross of wood now embrace a a world of grief. My Jesus – alive!

The hands that bear the scars of love now lift the head of doubters. My Jesus – alive!

The ears that were deafened by death are now filled with the joy of God’s people. My Jesus – alive!

The lips that that cried out, “Finished!” now promise ”I make all things new!” My Jesus – alive!

The voice that lay silent in the grave now sings the song of life. My Jesus – alive!

The feet that were wrapped in grave clothes now stroll the shores of Galilee. My Jesus – alive!

The heart that bled for sinfulness now beats again in righteousness. My Jesus – alive!

The Bread from heaven, a feast for earth.

The Light of the world, chasing away the shadows.

For the rest of the post…

dbonhoefferA new biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Strange Gloryimplies that the German theologian experienced same-sex attraction toward Eberhard Bethge, his friend and confidante who later wrote a biography of Bonhoeffer and oversaw the collection of his works.

The response to the biography has been interesting. In his typically understated manner, Frank Schaeffer wrote an article, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer Was Flamingly Gay — Deal With It,” in which he predicted evangelicals would be up in arms about such an explosive claim.

In contrast, Sarah Pulliam Bailey reported on how different Bonhoeffer scholars and evangelical leaders have responded. Christianity Today gave a positive review of the biography, as did The Gospel Coalition, though the reviewers saw the biographer’s focus on Bonhoeffer’s sexuality as distracting.

The facts in the case of Bonhoeffer are clear: he was engaged at the time of his execution, and he wrote about the fact he would die as a virgin. No biographer or scholar claims that Bonhoeffer engaged in a sexual relationship with anyone, male or female, whatever his attractions may have been.

I believe the conversation about Bonhoeffer’s sexuality tells us more about life in the sexualized culture of the 21st century than it does about Bonhoeffer. In fact, if we pay attention, we will see how Bonhoeffer’s life and legacy directly challenges several commonly held assumptions today.

Assumption #1: Life lived to the fullest must include sexual fulfillment.

Bonhoeffer lived faithfully – emphasis on fully – as a virgin. One should not miss the countercultural reality on display in his life.

Post Sexual Revolution, people often define themselves by their sexual identity. For this reason, many people see any restriction or moral restraint on how sexuality is expressed as oppressive, a dagger to the heart of a person’s life and dreams.

For the Christian, such an exaggerated view of sexuality is a pernicious lie. It feeds the falsehood that, without sexual fulfillment, it is impossible for someone to live a full and engaging life. In contrast, Christians believe celibacy is not a pitiable choice but a beautiful calling.

Bonhoeffer’s witness (along with evangelical heroes like John Stott, not to mention Jesus Himself) testifies against the assumption that self-actualization must include sexual relationships. His life challenges a culture that says you are your sexuality.

Sam Allberry, a pastor in the UK who experiences same-sex attraction yet believes homosexual behavior to be sinful, is familiar with the accusation often made against evangelicals, that adhering to Christianity’s sexual ethic contributes to teenage angst and suicide. His response is spot on:

“No, the problem is a culture that says your entire identity and sense of who you are is bound up with fulfilling your sexual desires. You are the ones who have raised the stakes that high. So that the moment you don’t fulfill your desires, you have nothing left to live for.”

Society’s view of a Forty-Year-Old Virgin is Steve Carrell. Christianity’s view of a forty-year-old virgin should be Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Assumption #2: Affectionate male friendships must be romantic in nature.

History is replete with examples of robust male friendships that are full of affection and expressions of love and yet are not sexual.

Unfortunately, the sexual revolution has made it more difficult to imagine passionate philos apart from eros. That’s why revisionist historians read romantic notions into Teddy Roosevelt’s affectionate letters to his closest friends. People wonder out loud about Abraham Lincoln’s sharing a bed with his friend, Joshua Speed. It’s hard for our society to understand how King David could weep so terribly over the lost love of Jonathan unless there was some sort of romance between them. And now, Bonhoeffer’s relationship with Bethge is put under the microscope of 21st century assumptions.

In fairness to the biographer, it is certainly possible that Bonhoeffer was attracted to Bethge, even though acting on such a notion was always out of the question. But it’s also possible, even likely, that Bonhoeffer’s friendship was, like many male friendships of the time, strong and affectionate, with a passion that did not include sexual desire.

The speculation about Bonhoeffer’s sexuality distracts us from the greater loss of slowly disappearing same-sex friendships, the kind of love we see in literature between Sam and Frodo, relationships that many today can hardly conceive of, apart from some sort of sexual longing.

Assumption #3: Sexual attraction must define one’s identity.

Because our society has adopted the notion that sexual expression is wrapped up in our identity, some may think that getting to the root of Bonhoeffer’s sexuality is the only way to truly understand the man he was. But I suspect Bonhoeffer himself would dispute such a notion, and so would most people throughout history.

When we assume sexual orientation is fixed from birth and unchangeable, the question of identity naturally comes to the forefront: “Was he gay or not?” But Christianity rejects such a reductionist view of sex and identity. Everyone is warped in sexual attraction, at least to some degree. We are all sexual sinners in need of the grace and mercy of God. We are marked by our need for grace, not our longing for sex.

Bonhoeffer’s identity was not defined by sexual attraction, but by his costly discipleship following in the footsteps of his King. Going beyond letters and writings and personal correspondence to speculate on the unspoken sexual longings of a figure from the past says more about us and our own preoccupations than about the person under scrutiny.

For the rest of the post…

by Trevin Wax

Letter from a Millennial Who Walked Away avatar

walking-awayWhen I think of the reasons that have led me to pen this letter, I get sad.

I never intended to walk away from the faith. There is so much about Jesus that I like: his personality, his teaching, his example.

I never wanted to walk away from Jesus or his followers, but I feel like I’m left with no choice.

Based on the testimony of others my age, I know I’m not alone. There are people like me walking away every day. Why? Here’s my attempt at giving an answer.

First of all, I get this feeling that I’m not good enough. That I’m lacking something. That I don’t measure up.

This is altogether frustrating.

For the rest of the post…

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