22 December 2020

At the Heart of the CRT Debate (at Least for Me)

The acrimony in the debate about Critical Race Theory in the SBC is reaching new heights. I believe we must have this discussion, but it need not tear us apart like it is currently. It is a deeply emotional and complex issue with great importance regarding our identity and our commitments as Southern Baptists. 

On the one side, we have those who are holding up CRT scholarship as a helpful, maybe even necessary tool, to propel the SBC over the racism hump. On the other side, we have those who are waving warning flags that CRT imports an ideology that is hostile to our commitment to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. This divide is growing deeper and the rhetoric is becoming increasingly toxic. However, relevant questions remain that call for our continued engagement. Are CRT proponents being naive at best or deceptive at worst about the nature of CRT? Are CRT critics being overreactive at best or at worst masking their own racism?  

The issue of CRT, particularly in regard to our seminaries, has emerged over the last year and a half, and we are in a genuine struggle to get at the truth. I personally know and am acquainted with voices on both sides of this divide. I desire to give all the benefit of the doubt in regard to motivations. However, it is my opinion (and maybe mine alone), that as we Tweet and fuss about CRT, we are missing the bigger picture of it all. It takes time for issues to come into better focus. I think this is happening with me. I'm not saying I have a perfect handle on all the nuances of such a complex discussion, but I think I can make some reasonable observations to help keep the conversation constructive and respectful.

First, the SBC does need to continue to move aggressively forward with greater focus in our seminaries, in our entities and in our churches on racial diversity and unity. Anyone paying attention, can see that over the last 25 years, the SBC has made tremendous strides, but we cannot become complacent. To do so probably evokes in our black brothers an understandable suspicion of tokenism. If our debate about CRT spins out of control, and we become reckless with our words, we will suffer devastating consequences that will set us back to pre-1995 days. We must speak into this issue with charity, clarity, integrity and self-control. If you can't do this, then be quiet.

Second, the SBC must critically evaluate the possible dangers posed by CRT scholarship to our commitment to the Bible. It is not unreasonable to be posing these questions and attempting to discern the level of concern we should have. Appropriating CRT for the purpose of making progress regarding race in the church should not be a casual or careless decision. We must look deeper into it and further down the road and think critically about its potential impact. We must demonstrate a continued commitment to guard the gospel and the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, even from a discipline that may have a natural and apparent innocuous attraction.   

I have been striving to understand the basic tenets of CRT for several months. Richard Delgado and Jean Sefancic give a concise description of the its basics in their work, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (2017). They define the CRT movement broadly as, "a collection of activists and scholars engaged in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism and power" (3). The authors identity for the uninitiated some of the fundamental features of CRT. 

First, CRT posits that racism is ordinary and everywhere. This racism serves to maintain the status quo of white dominance over people of color in ways that are not being sufficiently addressed. Only the most obvious and egregious examples garner attention. 

Second, since racism maintains and advances the interests of whites, whites have little interest in combating it and most often do not acknowledge it. 

Third, CRT asserts that race and races are social constructs invented by the dominant group of whites to justify the racism of the their group. The characterizations of minority groups by whites have changed in ways to serve the needs of their group throughout history. 

Fourth, the idea of intersectionality figures prominently into the discussion of oppression. Intersectionality is the concept that no person has a simple, single unitary identity. For example, one may be female, black and gay. Each category combines to produce overlapping identities, each having its own historical and current issues of oppression. 

Lastly, CRT leverages the notion of the unique voice-of-color thesis. This idea presupposes that minority status brings a superior competence to speak about race and racism.  

As America wrestles with how racism is entangled with social realities, the rise of CRT has emerged as the post Civil Rights activism that identifies the lingering areas of inequality in law, institutions and social norms that continue negatively to impact people of color. Critical Theory began with the study of law and has branched out into other specialized studies on various ethnicities, gender, and the LGBTQ community.   

The draw of CRT on some, especially our black brothers, is completely understandable. I do listen to them, hear their stories and their reasoning, and I think that I get it. CRT is a means by which to open up important discussions that have not been sufficiently taking place. I also believe these brothers are committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible. But the question remains: is this a good idea?  My answer is no.

Critical Theory has come to be the dominant philosophy in higher education over the last 35 years or so. Much of what we see in regard to feminism and LGBTQ inclusivity in other denominations has been an application of the CT ideology. The drift of these denominations and some evangelical individuals and churches is largely the influence CT on the culture at large intersecting the dominant pragmatism existing in many churches.      

It is my opinion that CRT may offer the promise of some short-term help in regard to the SBC continuing to progress in matters of race; however, the long-term consequences of folding it into our seminary education will likely have very predictable consequences. Whereas it may serve as a helpful tool on race, it will undermine our commitment to biblical manhood and womanhood, church leadership, and matters related to gender and sexuality (LGBTQ). You may think that statement to be absurd, overreactive, or fear mongering. I would suggest it arrogant to think it could not happen to the SBC. The reason for such caution is supported by reason and the reality of others within Christianity who have already walked down that road.

The important question is whether or not SBC educators, which in short time will influence SBC pastors and churches, can take CRT scholarship and walk hand-in-hand in the same direction. It seems that as long as we just focus on the descriptive pertaining to race it may be possible, but at some point in the journey that information takes us to the prescriptive, which will be about more than race. At that point, who will be holding on to whom and what path will we be walking down together?

The threat of CRT is not in the fact that its scholars and activists may expose the impact of racism in our history and trace it's lingering effects. It's long past time that Southern Baptist historians give more serious emphasis to the same. CRT's threat to biblical Christianity is in its inherent unbelief that rejects the Bible and the gospel message, and furthermore sees that message as a major source of the oppression that it is fighting against. The clash of worldviews is inevitable. 

An important question in all of this debate pertains to the ultimate compatibility of CRT with biblical commitments as expounded in The Baptist Faith and Message, 2000. The recent statement by our seminary presidents was an attempt to say something to this. It didn't help. It made things worse as it was interpreted through so many different lenses in regard to its intent.

However, I do believe if we embrace CRT as a legitimate tool without a good grasp of the larger ideological landscape of CT, we will find ourselves in short time in conflict with specific portions of the BFM 2000.  Here are the parts I believe we are currently putting ourselves on a trajectory to challenge.

VI. The Church: "Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."

Frankly, this is already happing in the blurring of the line between the position and function of pastor.

XV. The Christian and the Social Order: "In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death."

CT ultimately deconstructs the social constructs of gender and sexuality. This is already happening as well. So far, the SBC has drawn a clear line on this. So far. 

XVIII. The Family: "Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race.

The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation."

CT will inevitably challenge biblical instructions on marriage, homosexuality, the husband-wife relationship, and anywhere where it perceives a particular group based on race, gender or sexual orientation/identity has been oppressed. It's proponents do not regard the Bible as possessing any kind of divine authority.

CT is descriptive of historical interaction and prescriptive in how to address issues of inequality and oppression that lie below the surface embedded in the law, institutions, economics, and social norms, including religion.  

CRT uses the same epistemology of CT, just with a focus on race and racism. It works to find where racially-rooted inequity exists, doing history, analyzing data, and offering interpretation. It goes on to prescribe how to deconstruct what has been constructed to benefit whiteness in the United States and move the needle toward those of color. And although this sounds reasonable and good, we must be aware it does this from a materialistic framework, which is ideologically hostile to the Christian tradition. 

I get the attraction of CRT. Too many white, "good Christians" have held racist views through our American history. Many had this moral blind spot in spite of their commitment to Christian faith and the Bible. We have to own the soiled history, lament it, and keep pressing forward more faithfully. But do we need CRT to do this? Does it offer the right kind of solutions reasoned from the right premises? I don't think so.   

So the relevant questions seem clear. Can we reasonably assume that we can drink just a little from CRT scholarship? Can we somehow consume the practical parts devoid of the ideology that establishes the whole? Is it possible that the fact that some think this is possible is evidence of a greater commitment to pragmatism than the sufficiency of Scripture?

I believe the vast majority of Southern Baptists want to see us continue to progress in racial diversity and unity. This should be a consequence of our commitment to the gospel and the Bible. I believe it is imperative that we should be willing to recognize that CRT may be pressing issues we have failed to address. Shame on us. I think we can thank CRT for knocking on our door and showing us some blind spots, but it doesn't mean we have to let it in. If we welcome it in, and it grows and bears its prescriptive fruit, it will ask us for more than we will want to give. By the time we realize that, some will already be yielding, and it will be the battle for the Bible all over again. 

22 October 2020

Thinking Christian about Politics

A faithful pastor guides the flock to engage their world with the Bible. Here are a few thoughts for my flock in particular and Christians in general to keep the upcoming election tethered to a biblical perspective.

Being Christian transcends temporal governments

Is a Christian's participation in government important?  In our American context, I believe the answer is yes because God has given us the privilege to participate. Since we have this privilege, then it is appropriate for us to exercise the privilege of voting. Christians can choose to run for office or hold an appointed government position. In this life, God has ordained that people live in societies that are governed. This governance is charged to promote and protect the good and to deter and punish the evil. Therefore, our interest in politics is warranted as far as we can have influence on the responsibility given to government by God.

However, our true citizenship is in heaven. Therefore, we ought not despair over current events. We should not act as if our hope rests upon the outcome of an election, even while we engage with our culture and communities. Neither should our disposition be the "do nothing" approach. Christian people have and should participate in the processes of our government, such as by voting, activism, lobbying and the such. There is no reason to think it is spiritually inappropriate to participate in our governmental processes.  However, we don't hang our hopes on government. We don't act like "everything" rides on who wins an election because that is simply untrue, and we evidence putting more trust in man than God. We don't turn away with indifference when we see government failing in its charge to promote good and deter evil. But we must not forget that the way Christians most impact their country is by proclaiming the gospel and living godly lives. This is the plan Jesus gave to his followers. Although, it's fine to be involved in politics, we must remember Jesus didn't define those things as our purpose. He commissioned us to proclamation, discipleship and holiness.  When we do this well, we have the greatest impact on our country!    

Being Christian calls for a spiritual exercise of freedom

In our American context we have an incredible amount of freedom. Even with all of our collective sins, both past and present, God has graciously allowed us a generous prosperity with significant personal freedom. The question remains regarding how we understand and use this freedom. This political freedom is a blessing, desirable and ideally part of what makes a society lean toward the good. Certainly, an oppressive government is not good for people, although it has and can be tolerated by Christians. However, personal freedom can also become the slogan for rebellion against God's standards. Our American freedom, with its emphasis on individualism, can lead to a defense of sin in the name of freedom. We see this all the time. The Christian is called to walk in humility before God and others. He or she is right to be grateful for personal freedom, but wrong to hide behind it to excuse sinful behavior in the society. Of course, we must let the Bible inform us of what is good and what is evil. Yet in all of the debate and passion, the Christian must demonstrate self-control, patience and love while holding tightly to biblically informed convictions.   

Being Christian asks us to hold this life loosely

Lastly, it's good for us to remember that the Bible teaches us that this world is fallen and fleeting. No amount of activism or political ideology will erase the stain of sin and its effects. Until Jesus comes back, we will continue to plod along in a deeply flawed world. Sinful people will continue to do sinful things. People will continue to be murderers, liars, abusers, thieves, and sexually immoral. Ultimately, we know, even as we strive for the good, the world far from God will continue in sin. Nevertheless, we should not throw up our hands in defeat and simply try to grab the best life now to the neglect our neighbors. Our purpose is to be faithful to what Jesus has called us to do. No matter what we do in this life, whether we teach students, run a business, work in the service industry, work for government, serve in the military, or raise the kids at home, fellow Christians share the same vocation. Being a Christian is not an addendum to your life, it is the core and essence of your life.  And the way Christians are faithful in this short life, is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, love God and love other people all while trusting in his sovereignty over this world. Our true treasure is elsewhere, not in the stuff here. Our true citizenship is in heaven, not in any country here. Our great love and desire is for our Father in heaven, unrivaled by anything here.  

Now, I can hear your thoughts now, if you actually read this far.  Your possibly thinking, "All that is fine and good, but you still haven't specifically told me anything particularly helpful regarding for whom to vote!" 

Maybe you're like many, who are frustrated with the two choices.  If so, I believe you have plenty of company.  But let me suggest the following questions as a help regarding the choice between the candidates and parties from which God has given you to choose. I believe this is how we should think every time we vote, not just now.

  1. Who and whose party promotes what is good as defined by God's standards informed by His Word better than the other?
  2. Who and whose party seeks to deter what is evil as defined by God's standards informed by His Word better than the other?

I know there exists glaring issues with each candidate in regard to personal character and policies. However, I think if you honestly apply those questions to the candidates and their parties' platforms, God will show you where to put your vote. Of course, you'll have to take up your Bible and stretch it over the choices as your plumb line. If you do this, the choice should be clear.  I'll leave you with a few suggested Scriptures for your reading.

Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Tim 2:1-3; 1 Peter 2:13-17; Matt. 5:13-16; Luke 20:19-26; Ex. 20:1-17; Rom. 1; Gen. 1:26-31; Prov. 6:16-19; Prov. 21:3; Ps. 139:13-16; Matt. 22:34-40; Micah 6:8; Ps. 37:27-29   

19 August 2020

20 Theses on Covid-19, the Church, and Government

These are extraordinary days, during which the church must articulate a clear, biblical, and reasonable message that addresses the particulars of such times. The coronavirus pandemic has caused significant disruption, uncertainty and distress among people. It has challenged governmental leaders, locally and at the state and federal levels. It has caused widening divisions over tension between concerns for public health and the impact on jobs and the economy. It has raised questions about the extent and nature of religious liberty and the responsibility of the church to its community. The following is a theological and practical reflection toward a faithful response by the church. It certainly cannot explore every possible facet of the intersection of Covid-19, the church, and government. It only attempts to present some basic principles and convictions that I hope prove to be congruent with relevant biblical content. 


1. God is the creator and sustainer of all human life. But because of sin, our earthly existence is defined by our mortality (Gen. 3; Rom. 5). Death is inevitable for all people. Scripture teaches, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting on him” (Heb. 9:27-28). 


2. The coronavirus poses a real threat to human life, particularly to the elderly and to those who have pre-existing health conditions with some exceptions to these apparent norms. 


3. Every day we live with certain risks to our health and lives. Many of these risks we are neither preoccupied with nor take extreme precautions toward. We travel in our cars almost every day without contemplating the fact that around 38,000 people die every year in the United States from auto accidents and an estimated 1.3 million globally. According to the CDC, since 2010 there have been as few as 12,000 deaths in a single flu season and as many as 61,000.  People die every day from different kinds of accidents and sicknesses. At a basic level, coronavirus is simply one of a variety of means by which a person may die, albeit at this time we are still on a steep learning curve about its nature and effects.


4. However, just because death is inescapable, we do not live foolishly or callously. Life has an intrinsic worth and dignity because all people are created in the image of God. God has clearly stated that the taking of life or carelessness with life is an offense. Life should not be risked foolishly (Gen 1:26-27; Gen 6:9; Ex. 20:13; Matt. 5:21-22). Therefore, for example, we have laws to provide safer roads, and we provide a flu shot each year.


5. The onset of Covid-19 brought the entire country to an unprecedented clamping down on activity.  The original projections of over 2 million deaths sent the nation into paralysis. Projections of a 9% mortality rate of the estimated 81% of Americans that would become infected terrified the nation. Since then, although still a serious health threat, we have come to learn the danger is not so grave. 


6. Therefore, it becomes unconscionable to shut down church gatherings voluntarily, or for states to unreasonably restrict church gatherings, when people are shopping, eating out, riding on airplanes, protesting in large numbers, and willing to return to public schools and sporting events.           


7. The church by definition is a gathered assembly of believers, who come together physically to worship God, grow as disciples of Christ, support one another in fellowship, and contribute cooperatively in the ministry. 


8. If a congregation can meet, it should meet to carry out its purpose of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples.


9. So-called online worship is a self-contradicting idea.  An assembly that does not physically assemble is not an assembly. I can no more enjoy the fellowship and experience with God and others virtually any more than I can enjoy the experience of the beach through a live stream of it on my computer.  


10. The ability to live stream or record and upload worship services is a modern tool that is helpful for those who truly cannot make a gathering. However, even though one can benefit from the instruction from God’s Word, a virtual experience cannot replace the interpersonal and spiritual dynamic that takes place in physical gathering. Furthermore, Scripture commands the Lord’s church to gather. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25). 


11. The onset of the coronavirus on the world has occurred completely within the divine will of God. All things are not good from our point of view; however, our faith compels us to confess God’s control and power over the affairs of this world. His ultimate purposes through hard circumstances often remain unseen to us in this life. However, we can be assured that his children will mature in faith through the many trials of this existence, and God never ceases to be sovereign or good.


12. Covid-19 should not send the believer into a paralyzed fear.  We should declare with the Apostle Paul, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).


13. Nevertheless, trust in God in this life with our physical lives is not a call to foolishness in behavior. Since the threat of the coronavirus is real, common-sense precautions are in order for our personal lives and when the church gathers. This is not only reasonable for the protection of one’s own health, but to protect others.


14. According to health professionals, the coronavirus is primarily transmitted by personal contact through respiratory droplets. Therefore, working to maintain physical distancing between non-family members, wearing face coverings when distancing cannot be maintained, and sanitizing hands regularly are all reasonable precautions congregations should take when gathering during this health crisis.

15. Churches have a responsibility under God to take the current threat of Covid-19 seriously and thoughtfully and take measures to mitigate risk and the potential of its spread during its gatherings. Even the temporary suspension of in-person gatherings may be reasonable to prevent a spread, if a known case has occurred in the congregation.  


16. Christians will disagree on some matters regarding precautions and risk prompted by the engagement with the reality of Covid-19. But our call is to respect one another and be patient with one another in regard to matters of personal opinion.  


17. Christians, even in the midst of differing personal opinions, should be careful to respect and comply with the pastoral leadership of their congregation on these matters. This preserves unity and obeys Scripture when it says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17).  If you find an egregious lack of wisdom on the part of pastoral leadership and an unwillingness to listen to reason, then your prayerful consideration may regard your continued connection to that congregation.


18. The government is established by God to be the means by which people who live together in a society are protected from evil and harm and through which the good of society is promoted. Government has the right to collect taxes and to create policy and law that benefits and safeguards its citizens. Government is accountable to God for the morality and justness of its laws and policies (Rom. 13:1-7).


19. The government does not stand above the church, God’s divinely established institution, created by Him and for Him. The government does not have the authority to bind the religious conscience of the individual, who is part of the church, through arbitrary or burdensome laws. The government should not prohibit the church’s gathering or put conditions on its gathering that it does not equally require of all others in contexts where people gather.


20. Jesus Christ is the Lord of His church. While Christians have a posture of respect and submission to governing authorities, the church must courageously give priority to honoring and obeying God when government inserts itself inappropriately into the affairs of the church. 

24 June 2020

How to Save Complementarianism in the SBC

Maintaining a biblical worldview in a world in which most people have a cultural default of biblical opposition is not an easy task. It takes perseverance and strong conviction from the biblical Christian.

For those of us who take the Bible as the information that shapes our sincerely held convictions, we need to understand how to communicate our understandings about flash-point issues in a way that holds accurately to God's revealed truth while being saturated with Christlikeness toward those who challenge our sincerely held beliefs.  

The unbelieving world still overwhelmingly gives the amen to some biblical truths, such as the general idea of loving your neighbor, or not stealing or lying. However, other issues, such as sexuality, marriage, and gender become points of great tension with a culture that has pushed itself away from biblical teachings that run contrary to the emerging cultural consensus. 

Here, I want to speak to one of these difficult issues for the church to address within our secular world and increasingly with other Christians who appear to be increasingly succumbing to the constant pressure to side-step or obfuscate biblical teaching. I want to demonstrate here how I can hold to a complementarian view of gender and be nice to women. 

I know that sounds strangely obvious. But here is why I think it needs to be stated. Currently, a rhetorical inertia is creating the connotation that meanness and sexism is coterminous with complementarianism in the same way that intolerance and anti-intellectualism came to be synonymous with the label fundamentalist. This is happening within the wider evangelical world.  

Since I believe this is the trend, here is how I believe complementarianism must be saved among conservative evangelicals in general and within my beloved Southern Baptist Convention specifically.  

First, there is a need for clarity.

I want to take seriously the biblical content. I want to understand it in its context thoroughly, interpret it correctly, apply it appropriately, and be clear in my communication of it. 

Part of our problem in our discussions, debates and rants is a lack of clarity. We replace precision with passion and call it godly. We don't define terms well, or we cleverly dance around a topic with all the right buzz words without being specific. We can turn drawing attention to an issue into a personal attack, feeling sorry for the one attacked, without ever seriously asking if there might be a legitimate issue at stake. We circle the wagons to protect certain personalities without considering that dissent might actually have a point. Much of the fuel of ongoing debate is a lack of clarity among participants. We are in danger of reducing our concerns and disagreements to virtue signaling, rants, fears (real or perceived) and straw-man arguments on Twitter rather than finding ways to stay on point. I'm pretty weary of all that junk. I hope you are too.  

Therefore, let me be clear about my complementarian view of gender based on what I perceive to be the biblical content.

I apprehend that God has revealed that all humans are created as bearers of his image. This is what makes humanity unique within all creation. Furthermore, God stated that humans were created binary - male and female. And from this fundamental truth flow subsequent revelations about male headship in the home and church. Consequently, I believe men are called to lead in their homes and in the church. This is a calling of responsibility and authority, not authoritarianism. This leads me to a specific application that God calls men to eldership in the church. This leads me to apply that truth to the function of preaching. The role of elder is inseparable with the primary function of eldership, which is preaching and teaching the Word of God to the congregation. Therefore I am in complete agreement with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 Article VI "The Church" which clearly states, "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture." Additionally, differences exist generally speaking between men and women that are not designed to be adversarial, but complementarian. These differences do not constitute differences of quality, value or worth, but of nature, role and function. 

I'm well aware that the above paragraph is offensive to some simply because of what I have said clearly, not because of how I've said it. If you earnestly disagree with the content of my complementarianism, then we are surely at the very definition of an impasse, and there we will likely remain. 

Second, there is a need for charity.

I want to wield biblical complementarianism with conviction, patience and kindness, not as a club. If someone claims that my view itself is hateful, then all I can do is demonstrate my disagreement with a consistent, above-reproach kindness. But I can't allow shaming to cause me to soft-peddle biblical truth for the sake of improving my likability with the shaming crowd.

However, beyond disagreement on the issue, there is the matter of how we treat one another in our disagreement. This is the area within which we often don't take as seriously as the content on which we disagree. We have a tendency to excuse ungodly attitudes and words toward those with whom we differ. Sometimes, complementarian men are just not nice to women who they perceive challenge their views. This is sinful.

As a Christian, male complementarian, my theology should drive me always to treat women with the dignity and respect they should be afforded as image bearers. Therefore, my public or private comments must flow from a heart totally gripped by this truth from God. This is my aim. If I feel a freedom to express a belligerent attitude with sexist comments, then I've moved beyond disagreeing on the issues. I've revealed something deeper in myself that is far from God's expectation for me. There is nothing that can justify the denigration of an image bearer.

I know these are polarizing days on many fronts. We are debating important issues with practical applications for the church. Our debate about completarianism (strict, soft, or whatever) and egalitarianism is emerging more forcefully within the SBC. We can sometimes get overly excited by those who espouse the antithesis of what we may believe. We get more quickly heated when we perceive wrong ideas being expressed and promoted within our own tribe. We need less rant, rage and disrespect. We need more clarity by all and charity for all. Then we might have honest, productive conversations and debates that honor the Lord and each other.  

We, who hold to a complementarian view of gender because we think it expresses the biblical content, should remain strong to our convictions and be nice to women personally, generally, publicly, privately, theoretically, or any other way. These can and should go inseparably together. We can't allow ourselves to be the real personification of the caricature of the hateful, sexist conplementarian. 

We must follow Christ's example, who being a man, valued and esteemed women in a culture that tended to devalue and demean them. Jesus did not chose a woman to become an apostle who would lead the church, but he quietly, yet conspicuously included women as disciples and participants in the Kingdom of God. And he never disparaged a woman because of her gender. He was the model complementarian. 

07 June 2020

An Open Letter from a White Pastor to the Black Community

The events of the last couple of weeks have once again drawn Americans into a boiling cauldron of outrage and heartache. Tragically, once again the spark that lit the fire was a horrific act of a deadly abuse of power by a white police officer perpetrated on a defenseless black man. That man was born right here in North Carolina in a bordering county to where my family and I live. Yesterday, my wife, my daughter and I attended the visitation in Raeford and paid our respects to a family we don't know, but for whom our hearts break.   

His name was George Floyd. Sadly his death was not an isolated travesty. Shortly before his death we saw Ahmand Arberry shot dead in a Georgia street in a senseless act of vigilantism. These are the most recent incidents caught on video of such a nature. A new tipping point was reached with Floyd's death, which sent people into the streets in mass, overwhelmingly to make peaceful protest. Of course, it didn't take but hours before a few anarchists hijacked peaceful protests, resulting in greater and more forceful police responses, which in turn escalated some situations. 

We have watched citizens and police behaving badly. It has been another excruciating experience for the black community and the searing of our collective conscience in regard to the reality of continuing racially-based injustice in America, specifically in regard to policing.

My purpose here is simply to share a word about who I am and how I wish to posture myself as a white pastor, who has been deeply affected by these events. This is just a quick note, certainly insufficient and incomplete. I hope you'll receive it with the spirit of good will with which I desire to communicate it.

I admit that the ongoing experience of those of color in this country regarding racially-based injustice pertaining to policing and the criminal justice system has never been in the front of my mind. For most of my life I have had a certain amount of naivety to this reality. And certainly, when I have observed it, I've wanted to believe it to be an aberration, not something pervasive and persistent. I now see this is a real, systemic problem worthy of all of our ongoing attention until it's fixed.

I admit that I do not know specifically what to do about any of this at this point. The problem is embedded in complicated policing and legal systems immersed in fear and mistrust. By myself I feel mostly powerless to do anything. But this cannot be a capitulation to passivity. Circumstances do need to change. And they need to start changing now.

I bring to this discussion a biblical worldview, ethic, and content for problem solving. I reject the term social justice, but not because I reject the idea of justice.  The term social justice is simply too loaded with an ideology that runs counter to concepts of biblical justice. This is easy to research and discover. For me, using the term makes dialogue confusing. I am aware that the common understanding of social justice has much in tension with my biblical worldview. Please let me explain.

The social justice movement as popularly defined and understood in academia and among activists groups focuses on the redistribution of resources and power from those identified as the privileged and oppressing group to those groups who have been identified as victims of oppression. 

The main oppressed groups, often referred to as minority groups, are women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. The privileged group is whites, particularly white males. The focus of any discussion in the social justice universe centers on to which group one belongs. Either you belong to the oppressor group or an oppressed group. It doesn't matter so much what is true about an individual.  

Social justice is fueled by identity politics, cultural Marxism and rooted in radical feminism. This is not a secret. It is there to discover easily for the one who looks into it. There is much in it that is completely incompatible with biblical Christianity. And if Christians adopt the language and reasoning of social justice in regard to race, even with the best of intentions, we will incorporate a way of thinking that will press us logically to affirm the ideology of feminism and the LGTBQ community. It's clear that this has already happened among many.

However, just because I reject the term social justice and the broader movement with its specific ideology, does not mean I am against justice. Just the contrary is true. I am deeply concerned about matters of justice because God has revealed himself to have such concern. And God reveals repeatedly that he hates injustice and exploitation. 

I desire to see a society in which we are striving to make sure everyone is treated equitably by the laws, policies and procedures we create and maintain to live together in regard to policing. I see the current racial inequity in regard to policing and our justice system, and I agree change is desperately needed.  

But here is where I, and I hope all Christians, approach the problem differently. I believe in the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for all human behavior and in the authority and sufficiency of the Bible to guide us in issues of justice. When the Bible is properly understood in its context, interpreted properly to explain its meaning, and faithfully applied, it is totally sufficient to speak into our social ills and guide us. There has been abuse and twisting of the Bible in the past, but that is not the fault of the Bible, but the ones who perverted it.

Therefore, to those who have a different color skin, different heritage, different challenges, and who are rightfully angry and frustrated over the pervasive problem of police brutality and harassment in the black community, this is what I want you to hear from me.

I will love you and want to defend your right for equal treatment by and under the laws of our land and to feel safe.

I want to stand side-by-side with you for biblical justice in audible, visible and tangible ways that advocates for needed change and roots out unjust double standards in our policing and justice system. I'm all in. 

I want to listen more intently. I need to hear from you.  

I will continue to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ because this is the only message than brings real transformation to people's hearts and moves them to desire to love their neighbors, according to God's standards. 

George Floyd's death was tragic. It was senseless. It was an egregious abuse of power. But I believe God can redeem it for good when we experience the transforming power of the gospel and seek to obey the principles of God's Word. I don't want us to lose this opportunity. It's time for God's people, black and white, to open up their Bibles together and be used by God to bring the change that is needed.   

11 May 2020

Unity, not Uniformity, During Church Reopening

Yesterday, here in North Carolina, churches were allowed by the governor's executive order to meet outdoors without a number limit as long as social distancing was observed. Our church gathered for the first time in 55 days on a beautiful Spring morning. And it was wonderful! About one-third of our average regular crowd participated. Although our county has had little health impact from the coronavirus, two-thirds of our congregation choose to stay home. Let me tell you why that's okay for now.

In Romans 14, Paul lays out a principle for the church that perfectly fits our current circumstances. In that chapter, Paul is directing believers to be gracious to one another over matters on which they may have differing opinions.  He mentions certain observances and dietary choices as examples. Over these kind of things, Paul says, "not to quarrel over opinions."  

You may think of the Apostle Paul as that guy who was always impassioned about his opinions, but Romans 14 (as well as 1 Corinthians 8), show that Paul (under the inspiration of God) didn't lump every issue into the same level of concern.  

If the matter at hand was a gospel issue, related to correct belief or Christian conduct, then the gloves were off! Paul would vigorously defend God's truth (see Galatians).  However, on non-gospel matters he urged understanding, compassion, and grace. He posed the rhetorical question to the Romans, "Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls." In other words, in these secondary issues, each believer is accountable to God, the one he or she serves.  

The Bible teaches us here that these secondary, non-gospel issues become matters of personal conscience. The mandate is not for uniformity among us, but for each of us to behave in such a way that maintains unity.

As the church reopens, within the parameters that each state's governor will issue, church-goers will personally weigh out their circumstances and comfort level. Some of us are comfortable with more risk. Some of us are not comfortable with much risk at all. Some of us are not in that higher risk category. Some of us are part of the more at risk crowd. Some of us feel we can take our kids out and properly protect them. Some of us feel we can do that best by keeping them home for now.  With all of these variables in play, it's no surprise that people will have differing opinions about how and when to head back to church to physically gather with others.

As pastor, my commitment is to do all that I can to comply with my governor's reasonable restrictions to protect you and the public health as we reopen. Additionally, I want to encourage the whole congregation to posture themselves with humility and grace toward one another during the slow process of reopening.

First, don't judge one another over personal matters of conscience. We must all remember that our opinions are nothing more than our opinions. The more cautious among us should not accuse others of being careless. The more risk taking among us should not accuse others of being cowardly. To point fingers and say snarky, judgmental things creates disunity and causes stumbling. "Therefore, let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hinderance in the way of a brother."  

Second, we should make this a time of congregational unity, focused on mutual support of one another.  We should love and respect one another, even if we don't agree about the speed or manner in which we all engage the church reopening. "So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding."  
Summer is almost here, and many people enjoy the water during the summer heat. Some go to the swimming pool and run and jump in.  Some approach the swimming pool by first sticking in a toe, then the foot, then sitting on the side with both feet in, and then slowing sliding in the rest of the body. Which approach is right? You probably think that question is absurd and improper. If so, then you get the point.

This current crisis, and the fear and precautions that goes with it, will eventually pass. At some point, we will all gather together again. In the meantime, whether you are the jump-right-in kind or the gradual-slide-in kind, please know I love you and respect the manner in which you will choose to engage reopening. Do this for one another.      

Romans 14     

14 April 2020

Why Our Sad Hearts are a Good Sign

The COVID-19 crisis has cause most churches to get on a steep learning curve to leverage technology to keep their congregations connected. Some large churches on the top of the technological pyramid were already poised to jump into production because they were already swimming in that pool. However, the vast majority of pastors, who shepherd the more typical small flocks, scrambled to figure out live streaming options and how to utilize Zoom for smaller virtual gatherings. Now, that we are several weeks into this temporary, new normal, we have figured out how to record and upload, go live online, or preach to folks in the parking lot, while they stay in their cars like attending a drive-in movie. 

I am grateful for the technology that does allow us to see and speak to each other on a screen for a small group. I am appreciative to have the means to record some Bible teaching or sermons, so that the congregation can still be under the instruction of the Word of God. I am delighted that our music ministry can record a set of songs and upload it to our website for folks to enjoy. Being forced to be innovative and think about what is truly important can be one of the blessings in this whole ordeal. 

However, this experience has affirmed what I already believed. Even though we have all this technology that can keep us virtually connected, it does not and should not mitigate the natural grief of physical separation or ever be an alternative for actual, physical gathering.  

Online broadcasts, even if live, are a one way street. There is nothing wrong necessarily about that. Reading a book is similar, and much profit intellectually and spiritually can come from reading a good book! Watching a good movie or documentary can be entertaining and informative. I have benefited greatly by listening to or watching recorded sermons. But that is not the point. 

The point is that a church cannot worship this way.  Whether a congregation is ten people or a thousand people, corporate worship is a group activity that requires physical presence. If you find yourself truly growing more sad each week because you can't physically gather with your church, then you are in the right emotional place. We need to be reminded that this is a time to lament the temporary loss of what we typically take for granted - our gathering. 

In the New Testament the underlying assumption, hardly worth expounding on, was that a congregation was by definition a group of people that physically gathered. As they gathered, they were instructed in the Word of God, worshipped together, prayed together, and served and gave together. When they came together they baptized new believers and shared in the Lord's Supper together. They guarded their membership, supported the work of the gospel, and protected the integrity of the message. All of this and more was done eye to eye, voice to voice, and heart to heart with the conjoining of leadership, the congregation, and the power and presence of God's Word and Spirit.           

Yesterday, I came across one of those typically pragmatic articles that are put out to encourage pastors with 3 tips about that or 5 ideas about this. The title of the article was, "5 Principles for Avoiding a Drop in Online Worship Attendance."  Although the content of the article was fine - simple reminders of ways to stay connected and still be fulfilling purpose during these days of social distancing - the title itself was like fingernails on the chalkboard of my soul.   

For evangelicals to think that online worship attendance is even a real thing shows how deeply we have drunk from the well of the consumer driven, shallow, darkened room, spotlighted singers, hipster preachers, highly produced, made-for-spectators church.  

If I have convinced myself that going to worship is essentially a passive event, then it is an easy transition to watch from my own kitchen table or living room couch. The only thing I lose is the energy of the crowd. I may benefit from watching and listening. Once again, that is not the point. But to worship corporately requires my presence with others.  To think that I can worship with my church while physically distant is like thinking a square triangle is a real thing.

Corporate worship by definition assumes an in-person participation.  When we sing together, we are making confession together of our faith and our gratitude and love toward God. When we hear the Word of God read and preached we enter into a dynamic moment of corporate discipleship in which the Word rightly divided, empowered by the Holy Spirit, works in the mind and heart of the hearer. In-person, corporate worship allows us to look each other in the eye, to offer the warmth of a handshake or hug, and to exchange words of encouragement. 

Preaching to a camera is still pretty awkward for me, even though I am grateful some are going to listen and watch and receive instruction from God's Word. I miss what God does among and through his people when they gather. I grieve the loss of that. As we come together and we place God center-stage of our worship and submit to the Bible rightly explained, interpreted and applied, and love and encourage one another from sincere hearts, God does his work among his people for his glory. I miss that!

If that is what your heart aches for during these days of physical separation, then let me affirm your loss. Your sadness caused from not being able to gather with that Sunday school class or small group in person is to be expected. If going week after week and not gathering is creating an increasing heaviness in your soul, then let me assure you of the appropriateness of your restlessness and longing. Be encouraged that the sadness of your heart is a good indicator of the place of your soul.    

However, if you are finding that as the weeks roll on in COVID-19 that your thoughts have been very little of your church, then you may want to pause and ponder. If your heart hasn't truly longed for the gathering of the church so that you could greet fellow believers, sing together, give together, listen to the Word together, and just be together, then maybe Christ's church is not truly that important to you. If you think that online options are viable replacements for actual gathering, then most likely you were already merely approaching church as a spectator activity, and you have been missing the point and the blessing.

I'm looking forward to that first Sunday back. In my mind's eye I see familiar faces that are singing, greeting one another, showing hospitality to guests, listening and receiving God's Word and being the church - an assembly of sinful people saved by God's grace, striving to greater faithfulness now, and looking forward to that blessed hope. Until then, my heart remains a little out of sorts, and that's okay.  

P.S. If this experience has a positive for the church, it may well be at least to help us empathize more deeply and sincerely with our homebound members.  For them, social distancing was a reality long before the coronavirus. We should remember this and do better to alleviate the burden of their isolation from their congregation.

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