TGC Spotlight highlights TGC articles from earlier in the week, previews articles coming next week, and links to items around the web that you might have missed.
California Forces Churches to Fund Abortions Through Insurance Plans
Under a new policy in California, churches and pro-life groups dedicated to opposing abortion are required to cover elective surgical abortions in the healthcare policies provided to their employees.
In August, California’s Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) began sending notices to health insurance companies notifying them that they were required to cover the cost of abortions. The only exception allowed was that a health plan is not required to pay for abortions of a “viable fetus,” i.e., if there is a “reasonable likelihood of the fetus’ sustained survival outside the uterus without the application of extraordinary medical measures.”
DMHC had previously given approval to Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente to offer plans that excluded abortions deemed not “medically necessary.” DMHC officials, appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown, have not explained why they overturned the exemption approvals given under the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The decision also applies to health care plans purchased by churches. According to World magazine, seven churches (Skyline Church in La Mesa, Foothill Church and Foothill Christian School in Glendora, Alpine Christian Fellowship in El Cajon, The Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, City View Church in San Diego, Faith Baptist Church in Santa Barbara, and Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino) have responded by filing a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Weldon Amendment, adopted with each Health and Human Services appropriations act since 2005, allows the federal government to withhold funding from any state that doesn’t allow conscience objections in health plans.
“Under federal law, pro-life employers have the freedom to choose health insurance plans that do not conflict with their beliefs on the dignity of human life,” says Catherine Short, legal director for Life Legal Defense Foundation Legal Direct. “Already under Obamacare’s mandates, employers and individuals are required to purchase health insurance coverage they may not need or want. California cannot be allowed to discriminate against health plans that don’t cover elective abortions and force people to purchase coverage that conflicts with their convictions.”
• Since the days of the Puritans in New England, Christians have been lamenting the decline of America. Matt McCullough offers some perspective on this type of rhetoric of decline.
• In standard notation, rhythm is indicated on a musical bar line. But as John Varney notes in this illuminating animation, there are other ways to visualize rhythm that can be more intuitive and help us better understand the music of the world.
(For even more links, see the "Remainder Bin" at the end of this post.)
On Sunday, October 22, 1944—seventy years ago today—it is doubtful that anyone noticed a soft-spoken, lanky, and decidedly bookish first-year university student leaving his dormitory room at Corpus Christi College and heading across Oxford for an evening Christian Union service at a local Anglican church.
Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age has been praised for its thorough analysis of how we arrived at the “secular” moment in which we live, a world where the biggest shift is not simply in what human beings believe or disbelieve, but what is believable.
The abbreviation “P.C.” has an almost universally negative connotation. We hear “P.C.” and we think “politically correct.” Being “P.C.” is synonymous with cultural capitulation, a kind of cowardice that refuses to call things what they are.
The Bay Area chapter will host its third conference in Walnut Creek, CA on the theme, Revival and Reformation. Featured plenary speakers include D. A. Carson, Léonce Crump, Collin Hansen, and Jon McNeff. This team of plenary speakers will take us on a journey to explore how God works through prayer, the Word, leadership and persecution to precipitate gospel renewal and strengthen the church.
Heading Home: A New Heaven and a New Earth. Speakers include Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, John Piper, Mark Dever, Voddie Baucham, Philip G. Ryken, Ligon Duncan, and many others. The lowest rates for registration expire on October 31.
Under the Obama Administration, the United States is breaking its own law by giving taxpayer money to the United Nations Population Fund, which supports the One-Child Policy. It is also failing to implement immigration and visa bans for those who have been complicit in forced abortions and sterilizations.
A new study by researchers at Gordon College and Wheaton College has confirmed what many have long suspected — that many evangelical institutions lag far behind the general marketplace in leadership roles for women.
There are thousands of immigrants working in forced labor in the United States — lured into the country by false promises and then trapped or threatened by their employers so that they’re unable to leave.
So who supports decriminalizing cocaine, heroin, LSD, methamphetamine, ecstasy and all dangerous drugs, including marijuana? No, it’s not your teenage nephew. It’s President Obama’s new acting head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Vanita Gupta.
Elkhart’s improvement is a particularly dramatic example of a nation-wide trend: Graduation rates are improving, especially for Latinos.1 Nationally, the on-time graduation rate topped 80 percent for the first time in 2012, up from 74 percent five years earlier.
Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement protesters have been demanding that the city’s top official, CY Leung, step down for weeks now. They may soon be joined by many more of the city’s 7 million residents, after a controversial interview last night in which Leung suggested that election reforms sought by the protestors would invite undue influence from the city’s poor.
“Friends are all staying home,” Isaiah said. “There is no activity. We don’t socialize. We don’t go to the beach. We don’t go to the nightclub. We don’t go to school. We only go to church on a Sunday for a worship because at the church people take much precaution.”
State lawyers filed a legal notice Tuesday morning that said they won’t defend a recently overturned Wyoming law that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman, meaning county clerks can begin to issue marriage licenses to gay couples and the state will recognize same-sex unions performed legally elsewhere.
The Supreme Court closely scrutinizes policies involving racial, sexual, and other “suspect” classifications. But unlike almost every other classification imaginable, marriage laws use a criterion necessarily linked to an inherently good social purpose that we didn’t just invent. This criterion isn’t truly suspect and shouldn’t get heightened scrutiny.
We report from Chicago on how churches are responding to transgender people, especially as they become more and more visible in popular culture. At the Urban Village Church in Hyde Park, Rev. Emily McGinley’s ministry reaches out to transgender individuals.
If you ever want to get folks lathered up, raising the issue of God’s gendered design is sure to do the trick. Such discussions can be frustrating, and they often leave us with more heat than light. This is, after all, an understandably sensitive—and therefore contentious—subject. Is the conviction that men and women are, as Tim Keller has put it, “equal but not equivalent” based solely on a few isolated (and likely misinterpreted) texts? Or is it rooted in something broader, something deeper, something more holistic?
In their thick new book, God’s Design for Man and Woman: A Biblical-Theological Survey (Crossway), Andreas and Margaret Köstenberger labor to demonstrate that, far from being a peripheral anomaly popping up here and there, male leadership and female partnership is a sustained pattern that spans the canon. It isn’t just about 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, in other words; it’s about Genesis to Revelation.
I recently corresponded with both Andreas (senior research professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina) and Margaret (adjunct professor of women’s studies at Southeastern) about the danger of mistaking conservative culture for biblical complementarity, women as company presidents, “non-pulpit” teaching, and more.
In the book you survey the Bible’s theology of man and woman. What do you understand God’s design for man and woman to be?
In our biblical-theological survey from Genesis to Revelation we identify a pervasive pattern of male leadership as well as a pattern of male-female partnership. Far from flowing from a few isolated, debated passages, the pattern of male leadership spans from Adam to the patriarchs, kings, and priests, to Jesus (incarnated as a male, Savior of all) and the Twelve, to Paul and his circle, and to elders in the New Testament (NT) church, not to mention the 24 elders in Revelation. The pattern of male-female partnership is rooted in God’s creation of the man, and subsequently of the woman as his corresponding partner and helper; it continues throughout Scripture as women serve as prophetesses in both testaments and as witnesses to Christ and the gospel for which they are persecuted just as men are (Acts). So men and women are presented as partners, and at the same time men are given a special leadership role.
In your book you say that Jesus probably couldn’t have chosen women as apostles. Can you explain why?
Jesus, of course, can do anything he wants to that corresponds to the Father’s will! In keeping with the established pattern of God’s creation order and design, Jesus chooses 12 men (not, for example, six men and six women) as apostles; the Gospels and Acts report this in unison. Some, however, most notably the matriarch of the feminist movement, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, posit a historical reconstruction of the “Jesus movement” as a “discipleship of equals.” However, this is a clear case of revisionist historiography, and her proposal has met with significant opposition even by feminist scholars (see Margaret’s book Jesus and the Feminists).
Regardless of one’s views on the subject, the question arises, why did Jesus choose only male apostles? Feminists really don’t have a convincing answer. Some say it would have been inconvenient for women to travel with men; but Luke 8:2–3 indicates that some women did travel with Jesus and the Twelve. Others say Jesus accommodated himself to the culture. But Jesus typically didn’t do so when an important principle was at stake; in fact, he did just the opposite—healing on the Sabbath and engaging in public discourse with women. It’s most likely, then, that Jesus chose 12 male apostles in keeping with the biblical pattern of male leadership originating in Genesis 1–2, with the Twelve constituting the nucleus of NT church leadership analogous to the 12 tribes of Israel.
In what ways can evangelical Christians be in danger of confusing conservative cultural expectations with biblical complementarity?
Scripture doesn’t give a lot of detail as to how God’s design for man and woman is to be worked out, so a traditional division of labor (women in the kitchen, changing diapers; men at work letting women do all household chores) doesn’t square with the biblical design (we’ve discussed the inadequacy of labels here). It’s true that God’s design assigns primary spheres of activity, but Scripture calls the husband not only to provide for his wife materially but, more importantly, to love her sacrificially. There is flexibility within the basic framework, and each couple has unique circumstances in which to work out God’s design and plan for them personally, both leader and partner. The biblical pattern is loving, self-sacrificial complementarity where the couple partners in conscious pursuit of God’s mission. Marriage is part of God’s larger purpose of reuniting all of humanity under one head, the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10).
How should we think through questions like whether women should teach adult men in “non-pulpit” contexts (for example, parachurch gatherings, seminary classes, Sunday school, and so on)?
We would like to encourage a mindset of men and women pursuing God’s design for them—for his glory and their good. While we desire women to find a place in leadership wherever possible, questions like “Where do we draw the line before crossing God-given boundaries?” seem unduly minimalistic. Since Scripture doesn’t address parachurch ministries directly (they didn’t exist in NT times, at least not in the modern form; everything was funneled through the local church), the question arises as to their purpose in relation to the church. While parachurch ministries are not the church, ideally their function is to build up and train believers to lead and contribute to the church. Aligning goals with the church, then, would seem to be appropriate. The male pattern of leadership articulated with regard to the church in passages like 1 Timothy 2:9–15 offers principles and guidance.
Though there are no formal restrictions placed on women here regarding parachurch organizations, we believe Scripture limits public teaching and authoritative offices in the church to men. Not everyone agrees, but we believe this is by far the most plausible reading of this passage, both in its own right and in connection with the pervasive pattern of male leadership throughout Scripture (for a thorough discussion see Andreas’s and Tom Schreiner’s Women in the Church, forthcoming in a third edition). Mature women should flourish in teaching other women (Titus 2) and children, and participate in teaching men informally (especially in conjunction with their husband, as Priscilla did with Apollos), as well as engage in some administrative roles. Beyond this, we would encourage all believers to strive to honor the spirit of Paul’s words and of God’s design for man and woman in all of Scripture in general.
What do you believe about women in leadership positions outside of the family and the church (for example, a company president)? How do gender roles apply to the workplace?
With regard to women in the workplace, we’ve found that a helpful question for couples to consider is: Will the woman, if married, be able to give her best hours and energies to those God has given her to care for in the home and family? This applies to ministry involvement as well. Consider God’s creation design (Gen 1:26–28; 2:18, 20) in conjunction with the primary spheres of ministry given to the woman as highlighted in the judgment she received after the fall, which stands in direct relation to her role in childbearing and with her husband (Gen. 3:16; cf. 1 Tim. 2:15). Consider also the role model of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31, who is portrayed as centered in her home and fully supportive of her husband. And note Paul’s references to women being workers at home (Titus 2:5), widows being honored who have been faithful wives, having brought up children and shown hospitality (1 Tim. 5:9–10), and younger widows being encouraged to marry, bear children, and manage their households (1 Tim. 5:14). Women on mission for God together with their husbands will be able to rejoice in all God has for them as they’re centered in the home and ready for all he calls them to do individually. Single women, too, unless called to permanent celibacy (1 Cor. 7:7–8), can prayerfully nurture and prepare for this and incorporate some of this in their extended and church family experience.
Regarding political office, there are no direct commands in Scripture encouraging or barring a woman from leadership roles. Again the question is: Will she be able to fulfill her primary God-given role in the home and family? Could she continue to support her husband’s leadership in the areas to which he has been called and to nurture her family if she were to take public office? This isn’t a question of giftedness or competence but relates to God’s design in making people male and female. Christians may legitimately vary in their choices in these matters because of life stage or even because of temporary (or long-term) cultural, personal, circumstantial, spiritual, or ethical factors (see our application chapter, “God’s Design Lived Out Today”). Also, since Scripture is primarily addressed to God’s people, whether Israel or the church, any application to non-Christians or to the modern workplace or political arena is necessarily indirect.
Did working on this book together cause you to rethink any view you previously held?
A fresh and focused look at the overall teaching of Scripture on God’s design for man and woman has given us what we think is a more balanced paradigm for men and women. Succinctly put, the overarching model that many have implicitly understood in recent years has been male leadership and female submission. Though true in essence, we believe that this approach may unduly constrain the woman’s role and contribution in marriage and the church. We might rather categorize the biblical teaching in these terms: male leadership and female partnership. Holding these two patterns in tension without denying or diminishing either is vital. Many unfortunately deny male leadership, which is indisputably and pervasively taught in Scripture, while others—in practice if not in principle—diminish the real sense of male-female partnership in keeping with Scripture’s depiction of the woman as the man’s counterpart and as his fellow heir of God’s grace.
John Sowers’s The Heroic Path: In Search of the Masculine Heart is an Areopagus work. Let the reader be prepared: this is neither a careful exegesis of texts touching on manhood, nor a systematic theology of gender. Sowers isn’t out to write either book. The Heroic Path is an introduction and invitation to men who know little of either masculinity or Christianity.
Sowers, author of Fatherless Generation(Zondervan, 2010) and president of The Mentoring Project, begins by acknowledging that modern Americans view masculinity with something like a statue-to-the-unknown-god approach (Acts 17:23). The modern American man has a welter of desires, intuitions, fears, and confusion about what manhood means—especially if, like Sowers, he grew up without a father. Sowers tries to show how these desires, fears, and confusion find their fulfillment, relief, and resolution in Christianity.
He begins by placing himself as a fellow pilgrim among confused, fearful men. The birth of his twin daughters fills him with both joy and anxiety; how can he be a man for them when his own dad was absent? He intuits that real masculinity exists out there somewhere—“a remote ManCave with lots of bearded men, and smoke and fire and drum circles” (13). The Heroic Path, in his words, “is about getting to the ManCave” (13).
Let’s pause here. If seeing the word ManCave in a Christian book on masculinity makes you want to write it off totally, be at ease. Sowers has a lot of fun in his writing. This book is full of good will and good humor—largely at his own expense—and he stirs in some silliness even when he’s moving toward a serious point. Sometimes the style distracts from the substance: his extended riffs on The A-Team and the doomsday prepper movement are two examples. But overall, Sowers effectively uses humor to make serious points.
Roughly the first half of the book consists of meditations on somewhat related subjects. Sowers identifies some of the inadequate masculine stereotypes floating around our world—Gym Guy, Huge Pickup Truck Guy, Adultlescent Man Guy, and others (19–20). With those as counterexamples, he reflects on the value of men who depict a more meaningful picture of manhood. He discusses the importance to men of what he calls “place” (42), or rootedness in location and relationships. Sowers devotes a chapter to discussing how men must not draw their identities from women—either as mothers and mother-figures (55) or sex objects (59). Moreover, he asserts the importance of “wildness” as part of masculinity (71). This is the most tenuous chapter in the book: he doesn’t say this, but this idea appears to come from the misinterpretation of the fact that Adam was “created outside the Garden.”
But beginning in chapter seven, Sowers picks up a fascinating trail. He connects what he sees as “the heroic path”—the life God ordained for men and displayed in Jesus’s life—with the stages of the archetypal mythic journey. Building off of the famed conversation between J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis on myth, Sowers bridges traditional epic stories to the narrative of the gospel. “Our way to the wild masculine follows the one true Myth,” he writes (90).
The rest of the book is devoted to the stages of this mythic path. Severance involves leaving the comforts of our former life, stepping away from old habits and old grudges into a state of attentiveness to God. Sowers symbolizes this with the River, grounding it in Jesus’s baptism and in our own conversion: “When we surrender to the Father, our old lives are buried and gone” (143). Confrontation sets the natural/buried fighting instinct of men against the forces of spiritual evil (157), summed up in “wilderness.”
Transformation is where the use of our “mythic talisman”—the Word of God (167)—turns our lives into weapons of God’s glory (175). Return means we don’t stay on the road or in the wilderness, so to speak; we find a home and spend our lives building into it. “The men who change history are those who love well,” he observes (191).
These sections contain so much interesting content that I wish the whole book had been devoted to this idea. Sowers bridges the archetypal hero’s journey, Areopagus-style, both to the life of the Christian and to the life of Jesus. He is a vivid writer who has a gift for bringing biblical scenes to life (see, for example, pages 139–141 on Jesus’s baptism). He renders truth in a way that a non-Christian could easily understand and appreciate. As an introduction to Christianity and an invitation to start a journey to change one’s life, The Heroic Path would serve well.
That said, the book has some typical weaknesses that come from being an introduction and an invitation. For instance, it makes so much of Jesus-as-example-and-pattern that it drowns out the message of Jesus-as-Savior: the emphasis seems to be on what we are to do, not on what God has done for us. Similarly, while Sowers identifies that we’re in a spiritual battle and even that our own flesh can fight against us, he fails to emphasize the ultimate stakes (eternal life/death) or the danger of God’s own wrath against sin. Such omissions may seem understandable considering the intent of the book, but there’s danger in omitting them from any discussion of how we are to live.
And the “poetic” nature of the book means that Sowers majors on connecting to readers viscerally and minors on presenting structured or systematic truth. There’s a lot of biblical content in The Heroic Path and some definite calls to action, but it feels more like inspiration than instruction. It’s a book to get someone started.
Reservations notwithstanding, The Heroic Path would benefit men who want to develop as men and perhaps investigate Christianity. Sowers has some serious writing gifts: he’s talented with description and style. And his good humor and goodwill make the book feel like an invitation from a friend. On the whole, The Heroic Path has a warm and distinctive approach to masculinity that can get men moving in the right direction.
Louie Zamperini’s amazing life is the subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. It has remained on the New York Times bestseller list for almost four years (a remarkable feat!), and on Christmas Day the much-anticipated movie adaptation is slated for release. Although it is one of my favorite books, I have to agree with Collin Hansen: “The title is all wrong.” After the war, Louie returned home a broken man.
Louie survived 47 days adrift in a lifeboat after his plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He narrowly escaped marauding sharks and strafing from passing Japanese airplanes. And he survived on rainwater, fish, and seabirds until he was picked up by a Japanese patrol boat. After two brutal years as a prisoner of war in Japan, World War II ended, and Louie returned home a hero.
Soon thereafter, he married a beautiful blonde woman named Cynthia. On the outside all seemed well, but hatred for one of his captors metastasized. “A once singularly hopeful man now believed that his only hope lay in murder,” Hillenbrand writes. Louie’s life spiraled downward as he gave himself over to drunkenness and reckless behavior. Money he had invested in get-rich-quick schemes foundered. Despite appeals and warnings from friends, he made no reform. His wife initiated a divorce.
Conversion Under Billy Graham
In September 1949 a young Billy Graham came to Los Angeles for a three-week campaign to bring the city to Christ. Cynthia attended and received Christ as Savior. She returned home, informed Louie of her new life in Christ, and made clear she would no longer pursue a divorce. Although relieved, Louie wanted no part of this religious awakening. Nevertheless, eventually Louie also attended and, although indignant at first, on the second day he came forward to receive Christ. Here is his account:
I dropped to my knees and for the first time in my life truly humbled myself before the Lord. I asked him to forgive me for not having kept the promises I’d made during the war, and for my sinful life. I made no excuses. I did not rationalize, I did not blame. He had said, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” so I took him at his word, begged for his pardon, and asked Jesus to come into my life.
His new life had begun.
Joy replaced anger in Louie’s heart, and he freely forgave his former captors. Throughout his life he gave testimony of Christ, particularly with troubled youth near his home in Los Angeles. He was a faithful husband until Cynthia died in 2001 of cancer. Louie died earlier this year at 97.
Portrayal of Conversion in Zamperini's Life
The inclusion of the tent meeting and Billy Graham's sermon in Hillenbrand’s Unbroken was an answer to prayer for Louie. “Unbroken is Laura’s book,” Louie later told the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, “so all I could do was pray that she would somehow have the gospel in it.” We should all be thankful that Louie’s conversion was included, even if not explained in robustly theological terms.
Not surprisingly, however, major news outlets have minimized Louie's conversion and offered man-centered interpretations. For example, the New York Times devoted only one sentence to this transformation in its obituary for him: “Mr. Zamperini straightened out his life . . . after hearing a sermon preached by Billy Graham.” According to The Guardian Louie “was overcome and born-again as a Christian.” But perhaps most disappointing was Hillenbrand’s own eulogy:
What made his life transcendent, what made it resonate in millions of hearts, was not the hardship he encountered, but the way in which he greeted it, how he turned it to joy, and what that told the rest of us about the potential that sleeps within ourselves. (emphasis mine)
In a recent profile of the upcoming film (directed by Angelina Jolie) on Louie’s life, the Los Angeles Times indicates that the movie will end with Zamperini’s liberation and will not include his alcoholism, Billy Graham's preaching, or Louie's conversion. This is tragic. Louie was clear that one could not tell his story apart from his new birth in Christ. When CBS wanted to air a documentary of his life in the 1990s, he insisted on including his conversion:
My whole life is serving God. If you want this to be authentic, you have to have my conversion in there.... I want you to show a picture of Billy Graham to confirm it. When people hear the name Billy Graham they think of one thing: the gospel.
The first trailer of the film included some small hints of Christianity. At this point, it is too early to tell what will or will not be included, but we can be hopeful that Louie's faith in Christ will be highlighted. Nothing else would honor the memory of Louie.
Broken by Grace
Louie’s life story is not about the innate human power to forgive. In fact, when we consider his life we see the complete opposite: a total inability to overcome sin and the reaping of its disastrous fruit apart from God's grace. Louie’s survivor instincts—those same instincts that kept him alive at sea and in prison—offered no help when he returned home. “(U)nlike the war, when I had faced obstacles and overcome them, this time I did not have the same self-confidence,” he later recounted. “Then I’d taken survival-training courses, knew I was in great physical shape.” He had realized the greatest enemy was not without but within. Although no longer a prisoner of war, he had remained a slave to sin (John 8:34).
Conversion for Louie was not a postscript or an unobtrusive footnote in an otherwise heroic life; no, conversion was the preface that put his entire life in context. The Lord’s sovereign work in saving Louie—in breaking him with a reality of his sin and turning him toward Christ in faith—made sense of all that had gone before and all that followed.
In short, the story of Louie Zamperini is that of a man unbroken by war but broken by grace. And as David reminds us, a broken and contrite heart God does not despise (Ps. 51:17).
What most encourages Tim Keller, John Piper, and Don Carson as they interact with the rising generation of church leaders?
“There are so many younger men and women who love the Bible and are deeply committed to being followers of what it says—as opposed to jellyfish in the current of the culture,” Piper observes. “Such an allegiance to Scripture starts yielding commitments that I get excited about.” The sovereign grace of God and racial justice are just two examples that energize his heart.
Carson likewise notes a “remarkable attitude that wants to be taught and mentored in the Bible, in historic Christian confessionalism, and in how to minister.” This humility and eagerness, he says, is thrilling to see.
And while plenty of young leaders desire to be either “only attractive” or “only offensive,” Keller adds, he also sees many who are striving to embody the biblical tension of gospel ministry in which we are “both offensive and attractive” to our neighbors (1 Pet. 2:11–12).
Watch the full eight-minute video to hear these three leaders discuss unprecedented multiethnic growth, racial justice, Calebite spirits, and more. Then register to see them address various topics in plenary sessions and workshops at our 2015 National Conference, April 13 to 15, in Orlando. Early registration ends next week! So grab a group and sign up together to get the lowest rates.
Jesus gave the Great Commission to his church almost 2,000 years ago. He clearly instructed us to make disciples in every people group, to baptize them, and to teach them to obey everything he has commanded. After all these years, more than half of the world’s people groups remain unreached, representing more than one-third of the world’s population. The challenge to reach every people group as quickly as possible resonates in our hearts and prayers, and reverberates in missions conferences. We must reach the unreached because no one can be saved without the gospel.
But subsequent questions easily divide and distract us in our efforts to obey the Great Commission. What does it mean to reach the unreached? What does a reached group look like? And does a people group need any more missionaries once they are reached? Should I feel guilty or mistaken if I believe God is calling me to a group that some consider reached? Discussions about such questions often become more emotional than missiological.
The definition that missiologists often use to describe the term “unreached” is something along the lines of those ethnolinguisticpeople groups whose population is less than 2 percent evangelical, or those groups without a sufficiently strong presence of New Testament churches or numbers of Christians who could carry on the work without outside help. This percentage metric was devised by missiologists simply to have a commonly embraced benchmark to assist them in talking about levels of evangelical Christianity in various missions contexts. However, it was quickly adopted more broadly as a useful way of discerning which groups had the least presence of Christianity and therefore priority targets for missionaries. Indeed, some even used it to decide where missionaries should go to serve, and when others should leave ministries and redeploy elsewhere.
Certainly those groups with populations that are less than 2 percent evangelical must hear the gospel, and we should use all haste to reach them. Carl F. H. Henry said that the gospel is only good news if it gets there in time. Sadly, for about 50,000 people in unreached people groups every day, it does not.
Crucial Questions and Answers
Still, many questions remain unanswered. If a group is more than 2 percent evangelical, that is if it is not unreached, may we call it "reached"? Does reached mean that missionaries should not be there, that the work is considered complete and should be handed off to nationals? What about people groups that have been saturated in animism or some false world religion for centuries that subsequently embrace a gospel presentation? Haiti comes to mind—though the majority claim to be believers, a greater majority still practice voodoo. One thinks of Rwanda that had more than 90 percent baptized Christians when the worst genocide our age has known broke out; almost 1 million were slaughtered by other "reached" Christians. The lifelong task of discipleship should indeed be handed off to the national church, but only after they have been discipled.
Certainly most would agree that faithful obedience to the Great Commission and reaching the unreached is more than a matter of speaking the gospel message and moving on. But how much more? Jesus answered that question. He said to teach them to obey all he has commanded. That statement must not be abbreviated. The task of the Great Commission cannot be compared to running through a large darkened building, flipping on a few switches and announcing that they now have light even though thousands of other rooms leave most people in darkness. If that is all one understands reaching the unreached to mean, then we must agree that the great tragedy of the world today is not that it is unreached, but that it is undiscipled.
We have unintentionally created the erroneous perception that missions equals reaching the unreached. If one’s efforts consist of flipping on light switches and then hurrying to the next darkened room, that is not the Great Commission; it’s only half of what we have been commanded to do. Jesus said we are to teach them to observe all that he has commanded.
What, then, is missions all about? We are to strive to know God and to make him known. We are to reach the unreached and teach the disciples. The role of the Western missionary is often seen to be simply reaching the unreached, flipping on light switches, then leaving the discipling and teaching task to the national church. However, when the national church has not received deep discipleship, theological education, or pastoral training, the teaching cannot be handed off to them. The 1 Timothy 3 admonition that a pastor should be apt to teach does not just mean that he knows how to teach, it also means that he knows what to teach.
Teach Them Sound Doctrine
God has greatly blessed the churches of the West with centuries of Christian reflection on revealed truth. Western theologians and biblical scholars stand on the shoulders of all those who came before them, incorporating the insights revealed and lessons learned from schisms and heresies. All that God has providentially allowed or sent, and the ways that he has sovereignly guided the Western church, has resulted in what we Western believers understand evangelical Christianity to be. Wise stewardship must not treat this heritage lightly but should seek to share it in ways that are biblically faithful and culturally appropriate so that others may know. The core principle of discipleship is that the one who knows teaches the one who does not know (1 Tim. 2:2).
Every people group must have the Bible in a language they can understand. They should have biblically qualified and trained pastors. They should have their own theologians and authors who are well-equipped to reflect on the Scriptures in the context of their people’s worldview and write in their heart language. But this ideal world will not exist until we obey our commission to disciple disciplers, train trainers, and teach teachers. Nationals will one day be the best teachers, theologians, authors, and preachers for their national church—but only after they have been prepared. The background developed through generations of being steeped in pagan worldviews and false religions does not evaporate on praying a prayer of salvation. This is why Christ commanded us to disciple them.
Unchanging Truth in a Changing Culture
My grandfather taught my dad much about life, and my dad embraced this teaching, improved upon some of it, and then adapted it to the new methodologies of his generation before teaching me. Likewise, I learned their values and primary lessons but made adjustments to the world I live in to practice their wisdom faithfully. Many of the missionaries who brought the gospel to Europe had studied the writings of the early church fathers and learned from previous generations, but they made adjustments to embrace new languages and worldviews without changing the gospel. Music and liturgies the missionaries had learned in their past were often ineffective on newer mission fields. The Christianity that came to the New World continued to adapt and morph, but it has remained faithful to the original Word once for all delivered to the saints.
When missionaries share translated books, sermons, and lessons with peoples who have yet to prepare their own, they are not theological imperialists or imposing their particular beliefs on others. They are faithfully sharing truth they have learned with the full knowledge that their hearers will do the same. Reaching the unreached is a lifelong process. The pioneer missionary may begin the process and then change his approach to meet the evolving needs for the rest of his life, or he may plant a church and invite others to come behind him to do the deep discipleship and pastoral training. Teaching those we reach is not an optional component of missions. When Jesus said to teach them all he has commanded, he is saying, “Tell them all that I told you.”
Lost people of the world must hear the gospel to be saved. That is true whether they are in an unreached people group or not. Lost people in reached people groups are still lost, and everyone who dies in a lost condition will go to hell for eternity. Their only hope is to hear the gospel and repent. The task of missions is not simply to reach the unreached, allowing every missionary to define what that means for himself; it is reaching the lost and teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded.
I don’t like to wait. No, let’s be completely frank: I despise waiting. There is a certain highway in the city where I lived until recently that is notorious for traffic snarled for hours on both sides of rush hour. I avoided it like cream of broccoli soup. Every Sunday morning, there are certain members of my family who move at the speed of a glacier in getting ready for worship, and I’m convinced they make less haste on the days I have to preach. They make me wait, and I don’t like it.
I realize that I am not alone. Fallen humans categorically do not like to wait. We want instant gratification. We want life’s knottiest dilemmas solved in a half hour or so. Why is it so hard for sons of Adam to wait? Conventional wisdom says doing absolutely nothing should be easy for us, but it is not.
Over the years, I have learned that waiting on the Lord is one of the most potentially sanctifying (and necessary) aspects of the Christian life. It is one of those glorious “gospel paradoxes” that helps us understand what the LORD told Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Is. 55:8). We pray in hope, and then we wait on the Lord to answer. A Christian man prays for a job so that he can provide for his family as God has commanded, and then he waits. A mother prays that God will draw her wayward son to himself unto salvation, and then she waits. We pray that God will make our future path clear, and then we wait. We read Matthew 6:34 for a thousandth time for comfort.
The Puritans understood this reality well and developed something of a doctrine of waiting; they referred to it as being in “God’s school of waiting.” William Carey understood it well. He spent many years on the mission field before seeing his first convert. Of greater import, the inspired writers understood it well: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps 27:14).
As difficult as it can be, waiting builds spiritual muscles in a unique manner. My sinful impatience notwithstanding, Isaiah makes this truth clear: “But they who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount with wings as eagles, they shall run and grow weary, they shall walk and not faint.” What a glorious promise! And yet our discontented hearts find it difficult to wait.
Still, waiting on the Lord does many good things for us. Waiting . . .
Causes us to pray without ceasing. We are needy, and he owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He is always faithful, and the outcome of our waiting proves him wholly true.
Instills in us a clearer understanding that we are creatures absolutely dependent upon our Creator. Though our sinful hearts crave omniscience and omnipotence, we possess neither, and waiting helps us to focus on that reality.
Increases our faith. After all, does not the writer of Hebrews define faith as “the conviction of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”? (Heb. 11:1). We wait and God works.
Transfers the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty from the speculative realm to the practical. In waiting, we actually experience God’s lordship in an intimate way.
Grounds our future in a certain hope. This is Paul’s point in Romans 8:24-25: “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” As we wait God instills in us patience, that most elusive of spiritual virtues.
Reminds us that we live between the times. When Jesus returns, the not yet will collapse into the already, and there will be no more waiting for an answer to desperate prayers. The kingdom will be consummated, and Jesus will set everything right. Until then, we pray and wait and are sanctified by God’s wise process.
Stamps eternity on our eyeballs. When we bring urgent petitions before the Lord, we wait with expectation, and the city of man in which we live fades in importance as we begin to realize that the city of God is primary. As Jonathan Edwards prayed, “O Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs.” Waiting helps to do that. It prioritizes the eternal over the temporal in accord with 2 Corinthians 4:18: “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
I pray that God will sanctify my impatience. After all, isn't that the word that really describes our distaste for waiting? Perhaps it really is a sign of God's love for me that I seem to find the rush hour traffic jam virtually every day.
Editors' Note: TBT (Throwback Thursday) with Every Square Inch: Reading the Classics is a new weekly column that publishes some of the best writings on vocation from the past. Our hope is to introduce you to thoughtful literature that you may not have discovered yet and, as always, to encourage you to know and love Christ more in all spheres of your life.
Several passages of Scripture assume that buying and selling are morally right. Regarding the sale of land in ancient Israel, God’s law said, "If you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another" (Lev. 25:14).
This implies it is possible and in fact expected that people should buy and sell without wronging one another—that is, that both buyer and seller can do rightin the transaction (see also Gen. 41:57; Lev. 19:35-36; Deut. 25:13-16; Prov. 11:26; 31:16; Jer. 32:25, 42-44).
Benefit of Voluntary Commercial Transactions
In fact, buying and selling are necessary for anything beyond subsistence-level living, and these activities are another part of what distinguishes us from the animal kingdom. No individual or family providing for all its own needs could produce more than a very low standard of living (that is, if it could buy and sell absolutely nothing, and had to live off only what it could produce itself, which would be a fairly simple range of foods and clothing). But when we can sell what we make and buy from others who specialize in producing milk or bread, orange juice or blueberries, bicycles or televisions, cars or computers, then, through the mechanism of buying and selling, we can all obtain a much higher standard of living, and thereby fulfill God’s purpose that we enjoy the resources of the earth with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:3-5; 6:17) while we “eat” and “drink” and “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
Therefore we should not look at commercial transactions as a necessary evil or something just morally neutral. Rather, commercial transactions are in themselves good because through them we do good to other people. This is because of the amazing truth that, in most cases, voluntary commercial transactions benefit both parties. If I sell you a copy of my book for $12, then I get something that I want more than that copy of the book: I get your $12. So I am better off than I was before, when I had too many copies of that book, copies that I was never going to read. And I am happy. But you got something that you wanted more than your $12. You wanted a copy of my book, which you did not have. So you are better off than you were before, and you are happy. Thus by giving us the ability to buy and sell, God has given us a wonderful mechanism through which we can do good for each other. We should be thankful for this process every time we buy or sell something. We can honestly see buying and selling as one means of loving our neighbor as ourself.
Buying and Selling and the Imago Dei
Buying and selling are activities unique to human beings out of all the creatures that God made. Rabbits and squirrels, dogs and cats, elephants and giraffes know nothing of this activity. Through buying and selling God has given us a wonderful means to bring glory to him.
We can imitate God’s attributes each time we buy and sell, if we practice honesty, faithfulness to our commitments, fairness, and freedom of choice. Moreover, commercial transactions provide many opportunities for personal interaction, as when I realize that I am buying not just from a store but from a person, to whom I should show kindness and God’s grace. In fact, every business transaction is an opportunity for us to be fair and truthful and thus to obey Jesus’ teaching: "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 7:12).
Because of the interpersonal nature of commercial transactions, business activity has significant stabilizing influence on a society. An individual farmer may not really like the auto mechanic in town, and the auto mechanic may not like the farmer, but the farmer does want his car to be fixed right the next time it breaks down, and the auto mechanic does love the sweet corn and tomatoes that the farmer sells; so it is to their mutual advantage to get along with each other, and their animosity is restrained. In fact, they may even seek the good of the other person for this reason.
So it is with commercial transactions throughout the world and even between nations. This is evidence of God’s common grace, because in the mechanism of buying and selling God has provided the human race with a wonderful encouragement to love our neighbor by pursuing actions that advance not only our own welfare but also the welfare of others—even as we pursue our own. In buying and selling we also manifest interdependence and thus reflect the interdependence and interpersonal love among the members of the Trinity. Therefore, for those who have eyes to see it, commercial transactions provide another means of manifesting the glory of God in our lives.
Temptations to Sin
However, commercial transactions provide many temptations to sin. Rather than seeking the good of our neighbors as well as ourselves, our hearts can be filled with greed, so that we seek only our own good, and give no thought for the good of others. (This would happen, for example, when one person in a business transaction wants 99 percent or 100 percent of the benefit and wants the other person to be reduced to 1 percent or 0 percent of the benefit.) Or our hearts can be overcome with selfishness, an inordinate desire for wealth, and setting our hearts only on material gain. Paul says,
Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Tim. 6:9-10)
Because of sin, we can also engage in dishonesty and in selling shoddy materials whose defects are covered with glossy paint. Where there is excessive concentration of power or a huge imbalance in knowledge, there will often be oppression of those who lack power or knowledge (as in government-sponsored monopolies where consumers are only allowed access to poor quality, high-priced goods from one manufacturer for each product).
Sadly, even some who call themselves Christians are dishonest in their business dealings. I have heard several stories from Christian friends about how other so-called “Christians” have broken their word, “forgotten” their business promises or failed to keep them, betrayed a partner’s trust, done shoddy work, or been dishonest about a product or the condition of a company. These actions by a small minority in the Christian community bring reproach on the whole church and bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ. Such actions should not be swept under the rug, but should be subject to the process of personal confrontation and church discipline that Jesus outlines in Matthew 18:15-20.
But the distortions of something good must not cause us to think that the thing itself is evil. Commercial transactions in themselves are fundamentally right and pleasing to God. They are a wonderful gift from him through which he has enabled us to have many opportunities to glorify him.
Packing Hope at the Desiring God National Conference
Last month our team exhibited at the Desiring God 2014 National Conference here in Minneapolis. As we often do, we invited attendees to pre-order full cases of Theological Famine Relief resources to take overseas and put in the hands of indigenous church leaders. The response was phenomenal. Through this one event we sent 180 cases of books to 20 countries around the world—6,400 in total. Pray with us that these resources will bear strategic fruit for the kingdom!
Study Bibles for Cameroon
Our Theological Famine Relief projects involving ESV Global Study Bibles have been some of the most exciting we’ve ever been involved with. And as I remark in this article, I’m constantly surprised by the far-flung corners of the earth to which they go. I love the letters we received from local pastors after this distribution in Cameroon. Marshall told us he badly needed a study Bible; he’s now digging in to explore it both for his own understanding and for lesson preparations for his ministry to youth and children.
Keller’s Center Church in Russian
This month, in partnership with Redeemer City to City, we are asking the Lord to provide for this strategic church-planting resource to be translated and published in Russian. Please consider supporting this project with your gift so that we can help to equip the church in the Russian-speaking world.
How We Began
Last month I wrote a short summary of how and where International Outreach got its start, beginning with our days at Desiring God.
Eric Brown is co-founder and chief creative officer at Whiteboard, an award-winning creative agency that specializes in organizational storytelling through branding and digital media. He lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with his wife, Katie, and his daughter, Ella. Prior to co-founding Whiteboard, Eric served as the project and research manager at Q, a learning community that mobilizes Christians to advance the common good in society.
How would you describe your work? What do you do every day?
My days are spent bridging the gap between client and creative. This typically looks like mapping strategies, meetings, and leading my team from concept to implementation. Unofficially, I serve as project cheerleader, purveyor of cheesy excitement, and stand as each client's biggest fan.
As an image-bearer of God, how does your work reflect some aspect of God’s work?
Working in the creative industry, I’ve come to learn that belief isn’t a commodity; it’s a skill. Embracing trust, faith, and confidence—whether in someone or something—takes practice. In my work, I’m constantly trying to reflect “heaven on earth” through my design. I see the internet as a canvas, an expression of what our world values, and I think we miss out on its ability to contribute to the common good and the flourishing of humanity when we reduce it to right sidebar ads, 15-second commercials, and the “like” button. Creating great technology that reflects God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, then, has become a moral obligation for me.
How does your work give you a unique vantage point into the brokenness of the world?
Unfortunately, the creative industry can be manipulative, oversaturated, and distracted. As a result, most of us have become cynics. We anticipate that the next person will have ulterior motives and that the next marketing tactic won’t deliver. I’m learning, though, that there’s a wide chasm between discernment and cynicism. I’m not called to be a cynic, but a servant. When I’m a cynic, I can’t see the beautiful and impossible work of God in my life. It’s hard work wrestling my inner cynic to the ground, but I have to let go of my vision and embrace God’s vision if I want to see the beautiful and impossible things he’s doing in my everyday work and life.
Jesus commands us to "love our neighbors as ourselves." How does your work function as an opportunity to love and serve others?
What greater legacy than to help others fulfill their own? This question is one of the first phrases you’ll see inside every proposal or presentation that we create. We founded Whiteboard because we want to do intentional, meaningful work. We want to leave a mark greater than ourselves. To me, there is no greater calling than to use our talents to empower others to lead their organizations with meaning and purpose.
Editors' note: TGCvocations is a weekly column that asks practitioners about how they integrate their faith and their work. Interviews are condensed.
Pat Hood explains what it is like to pastor a "sending church."
Tell me about some unique things your church is doing in outreach.
I don't know if we do anything that's really "unique." I would describe our outreach as "simple." I think Jesus' was too. He simply told his disciples, to "Go, make disciples." That's what we teach our people. We challenge them to live sent lives in every domain of their life. We tell our people that we have no marketing campaign. We don't blanket the community with fliers. We don't rent billboards. We tell our people they are the outreach plan.
How did LifePoint transition from a traditional First Baptist to an international, multi-ethnic "sending church?"
In 2004, I felt a clear direction from the Lord to lead our church to a time of prayer, fasting and worship. We would fast for three days and then meet together at night for a time of intense worship: no preaching, just fasting and meeting together to pray and worship.
We had already begun to transition some external things like our music style and dress, and, as a result, had seen lots growth. As a result, we were in the middle of a building program to build a new auditorium. We thought this time of prayer and fasting was to prepare us for what God was going to do when we opened our new auditorium. However, during those three days of prayer & fasting, we realized that God had called us together because He wanted to open our eyes to His heart for the nation. So, our focus changed from bringing more people in to sending more people out.
How did you measure success in the past?
I've always been a pastor who loved people and love seeing their lives transformed by Jesus. But, admittedly, there was a time when I was more ...
Each year at LifeWay Research, we work together with Outreach Magazine to create the Outreach 100 listings of the country's Fastest-Growing and Largest Churches. On one hand, these lists are one of the most anticipated things we do each year. People seem to eagerly await the lists so they can learn from these churches about what God is doing to build his kingdom across the United States. On the other hand, there are those who complain about the lists. They seem to think this is a way of exalting "big churches" in an effort to make them look better than the churches that are not on the list, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Remember folks: facts are our friends.
I love to learn. I have spent a significant portion of my adult life in the classroom, either as a student or as a professor. These lists feed our hunger to learn as we evaluate the temperature of the churches we study in an effort to learn more about the ways God is working. I hope these lists encourage you and challenge you. I hope, like me, you read them and celebrate the ways God is working. I hope they challenge you to think through your own strategy to reach your community with the gospel.
On this year's lists, we noticed many of the same trends we've seen in the past. Among the recent trends, we continue to see multisite churches becoming more and ...
I appreciated Ronnie Floyd's words here. At our church, we don't do a "come forward" invitation-- that does not work in a movie theater-- but we always invite people to Christ at the end of every message. I found his comments helpful.
How church partnerships can help foster multiplication.
Denominations and networks of churches were and still are created for the purpose of partnership in mission. At times, these organizations have successfully unified churches around their common goals and accomplished much. But sometimes the very institutions meant to unify and encourage the mission have inadvertently hindered their own ability to multiply efforts through partnership.
Without a clear avenue to foster partnership for multiplication, the need for these organizations becomes less clear. If denominations and networks do not exist-- at least in part-- to multiply churches, then they have lost a big part of their purpose.
Denominations, networks, and other such partnerships (referred to occasionally as simply "partnerships" for sake of space), when functioning correctly, should help foster multiplication.
I regularly work with a variety of denominational leaders to help them chart a course toward unified missional engagement. There are several points of weakness common to many of the organizations I have seen.
Since these blind spots seem to be somewhat universal, it makes sense to give broad consideration to the ways of overcoming them. So, I have taken a talk I gave to the Evangelical Free Church leadership and modified it a bit to share here.
Hopefully this information can serve other groups as well. Here are six key steps toward creating the type of unity among churches in denominations/networks that leads to sustainable multiplication of a movement.
1. Recognize that Multiplication is Part of Health.
First, your partnership must understand that multiplication is a sign of health.
Healthy churches multiply disciples, groups, ministries, and churches-- and healthy partnerships cultivate ...
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Oct. 16, 2014—The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist Joint Committee are often on different sides of church–state issues. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the Baptist General Convention of Texas represent two different strands of denominational life. These groups put aside their differences Thursday to stand together in asking Houston Mayor Annise Parker to stop the “improper and unwarranted” subpoena of pastors’ sermons.</p>
<p><span class="caps">ERLC</span> President Russell Moore, working with <span class="caps">BJC</span> Executive Director Brent Walker, organized the coalition behind the letter and was joined by other Baptist leaders of Texas.</p>
<p>In <a href="http://erlc.com/article/russell-moore-and-other-evangelical-leaders-sign-letter-to-houston-mayor">the letter</a> leaders wrote to Mayor Parker:</p>
<p>“Your Honor, we represent a broad coalition of Baptists from across the political and theological spectrum. We disagree on many things, but, as Baptists, we have a long history of support for religious liberty and separation of church and state. On that, we stand united.</p>
<p>“We ask you, and the City of Houston, to acknowledge that the issuing of these subpoenas is improper and unwarranted, in order to ensure that such will not happen again. Whatever a church or synagogue or mosque or any other religious body believes about marriage or sexuality, the preaching and teaching of those bodies should be outside the scope of government intimidation or oversight.”</p>
<p>Other signatories included:</p>
<p>Frank Page, President, Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention<br />
Suzii Paynter, Executive Coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship<br />
Jim Richards, Executive Director, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention<br />
Jimmy Pritchard, President, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention<br />
David Hardage, Executive Director, Baptist General Convention of Texas<br />
Jeff Johnson, President, Baptist General Convention of Texas<br />
Gus Reyes, Director, Christian Life Commission, Baptist General Convention of Texas<br />
Robert B. Sloan Jr., President, Houston Baptist University</p>
<p class="notes"><a href="http://erlc.com/documents/pdf/20141016coalitionlettererlc.pdf">Download a <span class="caps">PDF</span> of the letter</a></p>
<p>The Baptist Joint Committee is an advocacy organization comprised of 15 national, state and regional bodies in the United States devoted to religious liberty and the institutional separation of church and state. The <span class="caps">SBC</span> was a key part of the <span class="caps">BJC</span> until withdrawing from the organization in 1991, reassigning religious liberty advocacy to the body now known as the <span class="caps">ERLC</span>.</p>
<p>The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is a Christian network of nearly 1,800 churches, formed in 1991 after the controversy between conservatives and moderates in the <span class="caps">SBC</span>.</p>
The Honorable Annise D. Parker
Mayor of Houston, Texas
P. O. Box 1562
Houston, Texas 77251
Dear Mayor Parker:
The last several days have brought about intense controversy, as you know, about subpoenas issued to pastors opposed to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), requiring that these pastors submit “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”
As of this writing, you have indicated that you did not know about the subpoenas when they were issued, and that you will seek to narrow the scope of the inquiry. At the same time, however, you posted on Twitter the following: “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out anti-HERO petition?”
Your Honor, we represent a broad coalition of Baptists from across the political and theological spectrum. We disagree on many things, but, as Baptists, we have a long history of support for religious liberty and separation of church and state. On that, we stand united. Our ancestors stood in the colonial and revolutionary eras demanding the disestablishment of state churches, the end to state licensing of preachers, and the cessation of penalties for religious dissenters. Our forebears—some of whom were imprisoned—petitioned for a First Amendment guarantee of religious liberty, for everyone, because we believe as Baptists that God alone is Lord of the conscience.
We ask you, and the City of Houston, to acknowledge that the issuing of these subpoenas is improper and unwarranted, in order to ensure that such will not happen again. Whatever a church or synagogue or mosque or any other religious body believes about marriage or sexuality, the preaching and teaching of those bodies should be outside the scope of government intimidation or oversight.
This is about more than “walking back” a bad public relations move. This is about something that is fundamental to basic, self-evident rights that are endowed not by government but by nature and nature’s God.
Russell D. Moore, President
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
of the Southern Baptist Convention
J. Brent Walker, Executive Director
Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
Frank Page, President
of the Southern Baptist Convention
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Oct. 14, 2014—Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, says he is “simply stunned by the sheer audacity” of reports that Houston city attorneys have issued subpoenas to pastors who have voiced opposition to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (<span class="caps">HERO</span>), a measure which deals with gender identity and sexuality in public accommodations. </p>
<p>“The preaching of sermons in the pulpits of churches is of no concern to any government bureaucrat at all. This country settled, a long time ago, with a First Amendment that the government would not supervise, license or bully religious institutions. That right wasn’t handed out by the government, as a kind of temporary restraining order. It was recognition of a self-evident truth.</p>
<p>“The churches, and pastors, of Houston ought to respond to this sort of government order with the same kind of defiance the Apostle Paul showed the magistrates in Philippi. A government has no business using subpoena power to intimidate or bully the preaching and instruction of any church, any synagogue, any mosque or any other place of worship. The pastors of Houston should tell the government that they will not trample over consciences, over the First Amendment and over God-given natural rights.</p>
<p>“The separation of church and state means that we will render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and we will. But the preaching of the church of God does not belong to Caesar, and we will not hand it over to him. Not now. Not ever.”</p>
<p>Moore’s full blog post on the issue can be found <a href="http://www.russellmoore.com/2014/10/14/houston-we-have-a-constitution/">online.</a></p>
<p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn. and Washington, D.C.</p>
<p>- <span class="caps">END</span> – </p>
<p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br />
contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br />
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Oct. 6, 2014—Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, commented on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to deny review of seven petitions involving disputes over the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.</p>
<p>“The Supreme Court’s refusal to take up marriage cases means an immediate expansion of gay marriage. In terms of response, the church must not jettison a Christian sexual ethic in order to acclimate to the cultural moment. We have no authority to revise what Jesus handed down to us. And the church must not respond with a siege mentality. We live in an era in which marriage is redefined and confused. So did many of our forefathers and foremothers. The sexual revolution didn’t start at Woodstock. It is always with us.</p>
<p>“Let’s hold fast to what the gospel reveals about the meaning of marriage and the gospel behind it. Let’s articulate a Christian vision of what marriage should be, and let’s embody that vision in our churches. Let’s love our gay and lesbian neighbors. Let’s move forward with persuasion and with confidence. This is no time for retreat or for resentment. This is a time for mission.”</p>
<p>The <span class="caps">ERLC</span> will address the changing marriage environment at a national conference in October in Nashville. “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage” will feature speakers such as Rosaria Butterfield, Russell Moore, Jim Daly, David Platt and others who will give keynote addresses, participate in panel discussions and address breakout sessions on key issues related to the future of marriage in the current culture. </p>
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Sept. 18, 2014—Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, urged U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today to allow a vote on the nomination of Rabbi David Saperstein as the ambassador-at-large for religious freedom.</p>
<p>“The whole world is on fire on the issues of religious liberty and religious conflict,” Moore said. “This nomination is too important to leave hanging simply because senators want to get back on the campaign trail. Leader Reid controls the Senate calendar and I strongly urge him to allow a vote, up or down, on President Obama’s nomination of Rabbi David Saperstein to the role as U.S. Ambassador on Religious Freedom. We need all the diplomatic and intellectual power we can muster in addressing these critical matters of human rights and global security. That should be more important than politics.”</p>
<p>Moore previously commended Obama for making a nomination to fill this vacancy. Dr. Barrett Duke, <span class="caps">ERLC</span> vice president for public policy and research, expressed that he believed Saperstein would be a “tireless, eloquent, fair-minded, effective champion” for religious liberty. </p>
<p>In December 2013, Robert P. George, recipient of the ERLC’s 2013 John Leland Religious Liberty Award and then-chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, called upon the Obama administration to appoint a new Ambassador-at-Large. On July 15th, Moore wrote a letter to Obama to nominate another ambassador for this position without further delay.</p>
<p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.</p>
<p>- <span class="caps">END</span> – </p>
<p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br />
contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br />