Transcript: Questions & Ethics Live at SBC 2014
Image credit: Paul W. Lee
Note: The following is a transcript of the ERLC panel discussion "Questions & Ethics Live," which featured Russell Moore and Matt Chandler. The panel was held on June 9, 2014 at the Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore, Maryland.
PHILLIP BETHANCOURT: You’ve been a pastor at the Village for how long now?
MATT CHANDLER: It will be twelve years this fall.
PHILLIP BETHANCOURT: So there are some younger folks in the audience, maybe some that are still in seminary who are going to be in ministry, maybe in their first few years. When you are looking back on this past decade in ministry, what are some of the things that if you said, hey if I could do this over again, I would love to take that in a different direction or do something differently than we did?
MATT CHANDLER: Yeah, I think almost all the errors we made were, I mean if I’m just frank, probably my own arrogance, and you know when you are twenty-eight without a seminary degree you just think you are brilliant and so I think we didn’t lean well into hard conversations early on, so we let some things fester that we then had to deal with where it could have just been a difficult conversation that turned into a massive skirmish a couple of years later.
I wish we would have just been willing to sit down and have the hard talk. I think that we hadn’t thought through well exactly how we were making disciples so we did everything and nothing well and I think that there were times I was probably as pastoral as I needed to be. Did a great job of kind of air war from the stage but not a great job of being on the ground encouraging and speaking life into, so those are some but literally a buddy of mine, we have been talking about writing a book, what we thought we knew and we were wrong—something like that.
So, I could just go on and on about the errors we made in communication, how well we thought we were communicating but weren’t and so, it was pretty, the fact that God has accomplished what he has accomplished is, like, people ask me sometimes, how do you not get a big head? Just because I know what actually has gone on and it is absolutely the Lord’s grace and mercy that the thing hasn’t completely imploded and a couple of us end up in jail.
PHILLIP BETHANCOURT: Gotcha. Well, we’ve got already some questions that came up from the audience. If you submitted a question at our event last night, I want to encourage you to write questions out and pass them to the side when you have those ready. The first one comes from Sherry Dickenson and the question is a simple one. Should a pastor preach on explicitly political issues? Would you help us think through the way a pastor should and should not address politics in the first place?
MATT CHANDLER: I can just speak for myself, so I have addressed government and institutions and what the Word of God says about government and institutions and I have taught on issues that are attached to certain legislation but I don’t know that I’ve ever explicitly tried to be political in regards to the things I am addressing and I’ll tell you why. So, again, I so wish Dr. Moore was here, but at the end of the day I feel like if I make it a full-on political party issue then what ends up happening is I start to lose people in the crowd who I think I can persuade with the Word of God and so by simply going to the Word of God, here’s what the Word of God says about governments and institutions, what they are for, why God has given us, if I go to the Word of God and say here is what the Bible says about life.
If I go to the Word of God and say this is the Imago Dei, this is what it means by every human being having a terrific value, then I think I am addressing political things and cultural issues without making it Democratic or without making it a Democratic party issue or a Republican party issue. So, I have found that by doing that, I don’t lose my Democrats, that they will listen and they will hear and they might not necessarily land where I land but at least now we are talking about the Bible and we are not partisan.
PHILLIP BETHANCOURT: Sure. I know from our conversations with each other you are actively seeking to equip your church to address cultural issues with the gospel and those types of things, so tell us a little bit about how you go about doing that. For example, do you ever have a topical teaching or seminar or homosexuality or other pressing cultural issues?
MATT CHANDLER: Yes, we used to do pretty consistently something called “Culture and Theology” where we would just take something and then we would look at it Biblically. So I have taught on homosexuality and I teach annually on abortion and then have addressed other kind of cultural issues but those would be the two big that I kind of went all in on, don’t want any question about where I stand on this, what we believe about this, what the word of God says on this and I think the key, and this is something that I was talking about in the Baptist 21 Panel, I think the key on these subjects to kind of not be labeled kind of culture warriors is more than I want to talk about the topic, I want to talk about people.
I feel like if you talk about a topic you will say things that you would never say to a person but those topics are attached to real people and so, I want to address people and not necessarily the topic and so, if that gets muddy water I can try to clarify that; but I almost want to repeatedly come back to the fact that if you are going to talk about homosexuality, you had better talk about homosexuality in light of the reality that there are those sitting, I don’t care where you are from, there is more than likely people in your congregation that struggle themselves or love people that struggle or have a neighbor who walks in that lifestyle and if you ignorantly paint this issue, you are going to jam up the people you have been meant to lead; you are going to push people who are struggling into silence and quiet and not towards confession and the seeking of help. You are going to make them feel as though the church they attend is a not a safe place to struggle with these issues, rather than create an environment where it is okay to struggle with these issues. Let’s be honest and open.
There is room at the cross, brother and sister, come, and so I always want to teach those issues in light of we are talking about people. So, as we talk about what the Word of God says about homosexuality, I almost always want to come back around and just go, here’s what we know about how God views all sexual sin, and here is the grace of God for all. And the same thing for abortion, like, I personally know guys in our church love the Lord, who, before their conversion funded a girl to get an abortion. I know plenty of women who have actually had abortions and so I am super passionate about that topic and I don’t want to pull back from saying “it’s murder” but I want to be quick to go God tends to have a lot of grace for the murder in the Word of God. You’ve got Paul, you’ve got ________, and so the line that I often will use when we talk about abortion is that God pulls from the fringes his bride, his life, and so this has not disqualified you in any way. This honestly should draw you into God’s initiating love for you, it should draw you into to Him, don’t from Him, he knows and he has made a way and so this is how I want to talk about those subjects.
PHILLIP BETHANCOURT: Good. You can keep passing those questions to the outside if you have others that come in. Another question that has come from the crowd is on the issue of pornography. So, when you are helping Christians think through the issue, what does the gospel have to say for somebody who is wrestling with this sexual temptation towards lust? I’d like for you to address that and then, I know this is an issue that is frequently faced by men, after you address broadly how any Christian should attack the issue of lust with the gospel, I’d also like for you to comment on what would be your counsel to a wife who knows that she has a husband who is wresting with this particular area?
MATT CHANDLER: Sure. Well, to start with just pornography in general, I think you’ve got to go back to the Imago Dei and I think you have to go back to God creating us in His image, male and female, He created them and so I think that in that you have an intrinsic value of every human being and you’d be hard pressed to find any, I’ll be careful, of any intelligent human being that wouldn’t say that what is going on in a bulk of, if not all of pornography is the full-on degradation and dehumanization of women, and so for all the freedom and liberation talk, it is horrifically degrading to say, let’s not concern ourselves with the soul, let’s not concern ourselves with the mind, the emotional state and the background of, let’s just take from this woman physically her body and not view her as a soul or a person.
So, on that level, I want to make our people, male or female, that what’s going on in pornography is the dehumanization of people and a perversion of a good beautiful gift that God gave us and then the counsel we have given wives whose husbands tend to be addictive to pornography is let the church be the church and you partner with us so we are going to engage your husband on this issue, we are going to kind of start walking through the process of discipline. We are going to try to help him, we are going to walk along side of him. You walk along side of us as we walk along side of him and so, I feel for wives who are in situations where the church will not engage a husband over such activity and will not get in the mix, not in a harsh way, and that’s why for us covenant membership is such a big deal. It’s not you just walking down the isle and wanting to join, we are saying, here’s what the Word of God says, you should expect of us as elders.
Here’s what the Word of God says that should be expected of all of us as members and you are going to sign that and we are going to sign that and we are in covenant with one another and part of that covenant is I am going to lovingly rebuke you and you are going to lovingly rebuke when the season comes. Let’s acknowledge on paper this season is coming for all of us. So on the days that I’ve got to sit you down and go, brother, what’s going on in this area of your life, but no only are you willing to participate in what degrades other women and dehumanizes other women, but now also has attacked the worth of the wife that God has given you, that the Word of God says is a good right thing. Then to point out, not in a way that shames a brother, but to help him see, like, brother do you not see that there is something intrinsically wrong with you going to your computer at night when God has given you a wife to woo.
You are being lazy, brother. You are not trying to win her heart; you are not trying to woo her mind. You are not loving her like Christ loved the church. You are short circuiting God’s good and beautiful gift to you and being lazy and so that’s how we have engaged it at the Village. I’m always nervous in talking about how we do it because I think we have a sense of compassion and graciousness that I know is not everywhere and don’t want somebody to hear and say, go get ‘em! You know, that’s just not going to go well and so but we’ve counseled wives, we will get involved.
PHILLIP BETHANCOURT: Sure, that’s good. Okay, so another question from the crowd that comes in comes from David. He says, how would you minister to somebody who either visited your church or is interested in joining your church who is transgendered? How would you navigate that question?
MATT CHANDLER: Okay, say, this isn’t even a theory right, this actually happened and so we literally had someone confess, not just confess, full-on, I’ve had the surgery, I’ve decided but I’m not, it was an interesting ordeal and so we have a strong recovery ministry at the Village Church. We kind of view it as there are seasons of everyone’s life in which you need to be towed, so you are not going to be driving on the freeway you know 65 miles an hour, you need a tow truck for that season, and so we tried to plug this woman into our recovery ministry to walk along side to encourage and to strengthen her relationship with the Lord but she was coming from a situation where family wasn’t supportive of her pursuing Christ where there wasn’t a lot of help out there but us and so, honestly, she didn’t stick, she didn’t but our kind of how we operate is if you want to fight we are with you.
If you are going to fight we are with you. If you are not going to fight then we can’t be with you. If you are willing to repent and keep working on repentance then we are with you till the end. The moment you go, I’m not going to repent, this is who I am, I’m giving myself over to it, then we can’t fight with you anymore because you don’t want to fight and so at that point we will treat you as a sinner sitting there hoping that you will hear and receive the Gospel.
PHILLIP BETHANCOURT: That’s good. Okay, this question comes from Jennifer. She says, and you’ve done a lot of work in this area so I’m really looking forward to your answer on this, how do you share the Gospel in the Bible belt with those that think they are Christians but they aren’t?
MATT CHANDLER: Well, you have to do quite a bit of deconstruction and so, what I’ve often done is tried to, I want to figure out why they think they are and then I have to be real careful here because I don’t want to bruise the immature, but I will often times say, if you have not desire to follow the Lord, if you have no fruit in your life, if you have no real desire to go “I want to be obedient to the Word of God,” then you are probably not a Christian and I don’t care, and then I’ve pointed out some of the, if you think you’re a Christian because your mom and dad sat you down and said, do you want to come to heaven with us or do you want to burn in hell for eternity? And you said, I’ll take heaven, and there’s never been any life change or fruit, then you are probably not a Christian, or if you saw the scary sketch about hell at RA Camp, you know, and go, I don’t wanna, you know, the one where they drag away your friend that you never shared the Gospel with. If that’s why you became a Christian there is no fruit, no desire to pursue Him, no objective evident of regeneration, then I would be concerned about, so that’s how I try to deconstruct it.
I’ve literally had a man tell me when I ask him if he was a Christian that he was born in San Antonio. That was his answer. Sir, are you a Christian? Well, I was born in San Antonio. So no? I mean, I don’t understand what just happened here. So, I think in the Bible belt you have to do a lot of work of deconstruction and I think you have to walk the scary line of their objective evidences to regenerate souls and so, complete obedience will always be imperfectly executed by all of us but there better be some desire to be obedient or I would just seriously question whether or not you are born again.
PHILLIP BETHANCOURT: Just for the record, I want you all to notice that he made a reference to RA Camp in that answer further proving his Southern Baptist bona fide credibility.
MATT CHANDLER: You don’t know about RAs if you are not SBC.
PHILLIP BETHANCOURT: Right. Okay, do you have more questions? Keep sending them to the outside. We’ve had some great ones so far. We have plenty of time for some more. This one comes in from Corey. Corey wants to know about the subject of adoption. So the two part question, how do you at the Village foster a culture of adoption there and in particular, Corey wants to know is it okay to adopt an embryo? What some people call a snow flake adoption where somebody would take the embryo, carry it to term, and then raise that baby in that way. So talk to us about adoption.
MATT CHANDLER: So, the second one I almost have to defer. I mean, that’s kind of, I haven’t had that question asked of me before. We have a foster and adoption ministry at the Village Church. One of our elders has adopted, we have had weekends in which we teach on adoption and then on that weekend where we address our right to life weekend, we almost always want to present that as a we need to get in this game for the glory of God and because this is what God has done for us and so we went to celebrate adoption and probably don’t do as good of a job of it as we should but we have a growing number that foster to adopt; in fact, that seems to be the path that almost all of our men and women have taken, foster to adopt. Part of that is cost. You know where you are going to end up fostering.
Now, there is a lot of heartbreak in foster to adopt, and a lot of risk but our people have been willing to take it and through tears some of them have loved a child and had that child taken from them and put back in extremely difficult settings and situations and so, we want to encourage it. We need to do a better job of encouraging, we need to do a better job of celebrating it. But one of the guys on our staff has fostered to adopt, I think, two or three children now. One of our elders fostered to adopt and so we have a growing burden to celebrate and champion that all the more. And then in regards to, my personal take is the commercialization of any aspect of reproduction; I tend to get really nervous about commercializing it. So at that point I think you are starting to mess with God’s creative design in a way that is different then combating cancer or, you know, that weird argumentation of well, isn’t certain medical help intervening in God’s, it’s just a bit different to get involved in reproductive design and commercialize it.
PHILLIP BETHANCOURT: Gotcha. Dr. Moore, one of the things that he likes to talk about when he talks about fostering and adoption culture in a church is that is the kind of thing that you can’t program into existence. You can’t just say we are going to start an adoption ministry. It is the kind of thing that has to be seen and modeled and patterned and those kind of things whether that comes through fostering to adopt or snow flake adoptions or international or domestic type of adoptions. That’s a really good word and I am interested in you following up on what you mentioned because you said you often times discuss adoption in conjunction with when you talk about abortion annually, Sanctity of Life issues, and fits with the question that comes from Deborah, why is it that you decide to spend a week every year talking about Sanctity of Life issues? And Deborah’s particular question is, how do you minister to those who have had an abortion?
MATT CHANDLER: Yeah. So we’ve had in our recovery ministry, so let me answer the second question first and then the first question. We have had in our recovery ministry a group within that ministry that is for those who have had abortions or those who have paid for abortions and so that group meets on Wednesday night, it is support and discipleship and so they meet within the umbrella of our recovery ministry so they would be a break-out group within that discipleship lane.
As far as abortion goes, every January I tackle the same subject every January. There are things that are kind of stakes in the ground for us as a church and so one of those is racial reconciliation, one of those is life, and one of those is global missions. So those were three kind of stakes in the ground that we were going to fight for that we believed because of the time and period of history that we are in, because of the influence God has given us, and because of really where we found ministry playing out and where we are in Dallas, that these were three issues that were huge for the help of our church and for stewarding our influence faithfully in evangelicalism.
PHILLIP BETHANCOURT: Good. Well, I just got a note that Dr. Moore is on the way. He will be here in just a few minutes and we will save all the hard questions for him. In the meantime, I have another for you. Your experience with brain cancer has been well documented. Most of the people here are probably familiar with that as something you have been through and you have been now on the receiving end of people’s ministry to you in the midst of suffering through cancer. Many of the people here, are ministering, whether it is a family members or church members wrestling with cancer. What are some of the helpful and not so helpful things that you encountered during that?
MATT CHANDLER: I get asked this one often. So, I think what you have to do when you are a sufferer is you have to give some grace that people don’t know what to do so they are going to be a bit awkward and so there were times that people were saying things to me that I was like, man, that is not helpful, but I had to say to my heart, okay, I know they are trying to encourage me and so, I found that there were two kind of camps that neither one were really helpful to me. So there was “God wills” camp.” And then there was the “Faith to believe” camp.
So really the more extreme one of those were, the more unhelpful I found it, even though there was some truth in both sides of those and so I found a brother that just constantly wanted to quote Romans 8:28 to me. I understood his heart but it just wasn’t always helpful. Yes, I know this is working together for my good, I know it, but I feel like punching you in the face right now, it might work together for your good. How would you receive that? And so, you know, to me the best thing to do to someone who is struggling is presence and empathy. I think those two things always went a long way. There were really dark days for me and presence and empathy.
RUSSELL MOORE: I just walked in and heard you talking about punching someone in the face, that’s all I know.
MATT CHANDLER: Ethical question. If on a dark day as I was struggling with cancer, someone constantly quoted Romans 8:28 to me, could I open-hand smack them for their own good? Would that fit into Romans 8:28?
RUSSELL MOORE: You know if I say yes, if I say yes, the headline is going to be, “Moore Calls for Violence Against Bible Quoters,” if I say no, then headline is going to be “Moore is Mean to Cancer Victims.” So, I’m not going to say anything.
MATT CHANDLER: I’ll answer it. Empathy and presence are really the two best things you can do for anyone suffering and I do think you need to be careful with coffee cup verses in those seasons because most believers know them or have them so one of the things I have simply tried to do, we just went up to our hotel room before, and I just wrote a couple of e-mails, a friend just passed away on late Sunday night, early Sunday morning, brain cancer. He actually reached out to me when I was diagnosed basically said, hey, I know what you are going through, let me know how I can serve you, let me know how and so Phillip actually went home to be with the Lord on Sunday after an extended fight with primary brain.
I sent an e-mail to his parents, sent an e-mail to his wife, and simply just said, love you, can only imagine, I have a son, can only imagine what it’s like, also know the confidence you have in the Lord and what great pride must be yours to see that your son suffered well, lived well, suffered well, and died well. Let me know how I can serve you. I will drop whatever I can to be there and help in any way I can. So empathy and presence to me is the rule in pastoral ministry for people who are in difficult scenarios and situations.
PHILLIP BETHANCOURT: Very good. So Matt has done a great job navigating all of the questions. The only one he deferred to you when we were talking about adoption is whether you would encourage couples to consider Snowflake adoptions?
RUSSELL MOORE: Yes. And the reason for that is this is, sometimes people will say, a Snowflake adoption is the wrong thing to do because of the ethical problems with in vitro fertilization. That is not the case because what is happening with Snowflake adoption is not the creation of new people through in vitro fertilization, this is actually rescuing already conceived persons who are locked away in cryogenic storage units. So adopting an embryo is the exact same thing morally and ethically as adopting a child in any other way. Now, what that does mean is that a couple has to think through what does this mean, what is this going to look like in terms of our own situation; High, high rate of failure when it comes to this but those are the sorts of risks that a couple takes as they start moving through adoption.
PHILLIP BETHANCOURT: So, to get things started with you, Dr. Moore, I’d love for you to spend a few minutes talking with the audience here about this recent church in California that is advocating for a third way on the issue of homosexuality. Can you tell us a little bit about what is going on with that particular church, how you would want us to think through that issue as a denomination, and what that pastor as a dad must be going through with his son?
RUSSELL MOORE: Yeah, you know, I have watched the video of this pastor talking about his son and one of the things that I thought as I watched that was this is a situation of a church that seems to me was ill-equipped to know how both to stand for the truth in scripture and to love somebody. So, I don’t know what all has gone on in that particular church but I think there are a lot of people in the situation where they assume that if you hold to what the Bible teaches, that means that when you look at a gay or lesbian person or anyone really who is walking outside of the way of Christ, you are seeing somebody who is sort of a super villain plotting somewhere in a lair for your destruction and so all they’ve ever seen is a sense of railing against those people, so when they meet somebody and the person is much more complex than that, they don’t know how to deal with that and they don’t know how to answer that. I think that is a problem.
The Biblical doctrine of sin is so deep and intrinsic to who we are in every sort of way, it is deep in terms of who we are that the scripture says that there is a way that seems right to a person and he walks in that way. So I think this is a congregation that didn’t have a deep enough view of what sin is and what sin looks like and also a congregation that didn’t understand clearly what the scripture teaches about what repentance means and what repentance looks like and the other issue that I think is a stumbling block for this church probably and it is going to be a stumbling block for all sorts of other churches is if a church doesn’t know how to call people to give something up, to take up a cross and to talk and to follow Christ, then they are going to encounter people, especially people who are same-sex attracted who say, well, what does this mean? This means that I am going to have to live out my life and I am going to be very lonely, I am going to have to give up a relationship with some other person. If you don’t really understand the Gospel and cross bearing in the Gospel, if you think that Jesus is just something to help you get everything that you want in this life and then Heaven at the end of it, you are not going to be able to call same-sex attracted persons to repentance and to the hard road of walking after the way of Jesus Christ.
I remember listening to testimony by a woman named Rosaria Butterfield and I would commend everybody in this room if you haven’t read her book, Secrets of an Unlikely Convert, to get it and really not just about this issue, but about dealing with lost people across the board because she talks about this pastor and his wife who were sharing the Gospel with her and she didn’t immediately what must I do to be saved? She went to a Starbucks and she would sit at the Starbucks across the street from the church and watch the people getting out of their cars and say, could I ever be one of those people? After she came to Christ she is in that congregation and she said to a group of moms around her, she said, “I gave up my girlfriend for this, what did you give up to follow Christ?” That struck me, because if you had said that in first century Ephesus or in first-century Philippi or in first-century Rome, or in first-century Jerusalem, everybody in the room would have had an immediate answer. Pretty soon, in American life, everybody is going to have an answer to that question. So we need to be saying when we are saying to gay and lesbian persons that we are calling to repentance, we are not calling you to something that is easy, we are not calling anybody to something that is easy.
Temptation is difficult and hard. What we are saying is that it is worth it to follow Christ and you are not alone because there is the power of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that rested on our Lord Jesus when He was wrestling the devil in temptation and there is a body of Christ. You are not going to die alone. You have brothers and sisters. You have a family. That’s what we need to be able to communicate to people.
PHILLIP BETHANCOURT: Okay, so we have a question that comes in from John. John says, how do we communicate with conviction without being known as the people who are against everything? How would you navigate that kind of question?
RUSSELL MOORE: To some degree, it doesn’t matter what you do and say, you are going to be known as the people who are against things if you are against the things that people like. So, when you are talking about following Christ, there are always going to be those idols that people are going to hold to and if you start messing with those idols they are going to find a reason to say the problem is with you. That’s always, always, always going to be the case. That doesn’t mean though that you need to turn into an angry person. There are a lot of Christians who sometimes assume because there is so much wrong in the world that Christ-likeness looks like channeling Yosemite Sam. That’s not the mission of Christ.
Instead, we need to be the sort of people when we are loving people and we are speaking with kindness and we are speaking with conviction, that doesn’t make fewer people angry, it makes more people angry. That’s exactly what happens to Jesus. When he goes to Zacchaeus’ house, there is one group of people who are angry that he is calling tax collectors to repentance. How dare you come in and suggest that we need to stop defrauding people that we need to give this money back. How dare you get involved with our economic lives? And then there is another set of people who are angry, look at him, he eats with tax collectors and sinners. So, you can’t so much worry about that.
You need to just make sure that if people are getting angry at you, the are getting angry at you because they clearly understand what you are saying and that you don’t stop there with the anger and you don’t return evil for evil but you keep moving toward gospel presentation and reconciliation, and that means not giving up on people. I mean, the Holy Spirit is able to take people who are hardened and angry and resistant and sometimes who will stand and say awful things to you right up and including death threats. The Holy Spirit can turn that around in an instant and you need to be the person who is speaking that word of repentance and that word of offer and invitation in a way that they hear the voice of Jesus echoing through it.
MATT CHANDLER: I’d be careful with both the praise you get from people, as well as the criticisms around that because one of the things I’ve learned is that I will often times get an e-mail from somebody that was like, man, I’ve been listening to your stuff for years, I can’t tell you how disappointed I was when you said this about homosexuality or I can’t believe you addressed this, why would you ever address abortion? And so, I’ve just started to e-mail those people back lovingly, there is a pattern that is being established that I’ve learned the longer I am in ministry, that people love me until I address that area of their life that they don’t want anybody to touch. So, like I speaking on something, and like, you get ‘me Chandler. But then if the Word of God turns on them, that’s when all of a sudden I can’t be trusted anymore and so, I’ve learned to just be really careful and people are like “great job.” I’ve also learned to go, I’m just going to stand on the Word of God when they are like, I can’t believe you did that. Well, I didn’t do that, I just told you what it said.
RUSSELL MOORE: Jesus does this. How many times in the gospels does Jesus have someone who is saying what must I do to inherit eternal life? Or people who are gathering around we want to hear the kingdom of God that you are preaching. Or can you believe the gracious words? Luke chapter 4 that are falling from this person’s ears. Jesus turns around and says, “I don’t think you understand what I am saying. What I am saying is unless you eat my skin and drink my blood, you have no life in you.” And the people are freaked out by that. What I’m saying is give everything that you have and sell it to the poor and come follow me. What I’m saying is you have had multiple husbands and the man that you are living with right now is not your husband. He’s clarifying for them because they think that what Jesus is saying is good and they want a part of it. He says, “I don’t think you do want a part of this yet. Let’s talk about this a little further.”
PHILLIP BETHANCOURT: There have been several questions that have come in from the group related to how to talk to your kids about different issues related to sexuality and one of the one that exemplifies it here comes in from Josh. How would you talk to your kids about same-sex marriage? And I know you’ve got five boys ranging from 12, 13, all the way down to two; what are some of the things that you’ve encountered on a personal basis with them with what they are dealing with in the neighborhood or in their church. How would you counsel families to address these kind of issues with their kids.
RUSSELL MOORE: About a month ago, my 7-year-old son came in and said, “Dad, there is a boy in the neighborhood and he is a boy but he says that he is dating two boys. What’s the deal with that?” Now, in my flesh, the first thing I want to do is to say, he’s not ready for this, this is my little cherub-faced Jonah, he is so sweet and innocent and I want to keep him protected from all of this for as long as I can. But you can’t do that. This is the sort of culture and world that they are living in and so what you have to do instead is to communicate, we are not afraid of what is going on in the outside world because we believe in a gospel and in a Savior that has overcome the world. So, I think the way that you navigate it is by explaining in an age-appropriate sort of way. In the same way we do with everything else.
When you are talking about sexuality to children, we don’t tell them everything there is to know when they ask their first question at age four and traumatize them and freak them out, but we kind of measure that along. I think the same thing happens here. You say where is this child in maturity level? I explain it and I am doing that in a way that demonstrates I am not afraid of this because if they sense in you that you are afraid of this, what they are going to assume is that your gospel is so fragile that what other people have is a threat to it. You are confident in explaining that and you also want to make sure that you walk this balance of keeping your child from normalizing whatever that is out there in a way that he or she is conformed to it. On the other hand, to keep your child from turning into a Pharisee; I mean the last thing that you want is for your child to have an attitude of thank you God that I am not like that tax collector or that sinner on the outside. And that is not a conversation, that is an entire life time of many conversations.
MATT CHANDLER: I don’t know that I have much to add other than I think I’ve tried to be proactive in some of those conversations and that being proactive has paid dividends as we’ve had a couple of them. And great kind of gospel story, the woman who was training my daughter who rides horses to barrel and English was living with a woman who she had been with for quite some time, I mean marriage equality sticker on the back of her car and like my daughter just knew how we operated to invited Lisa over and so Lisa just started coming over and my wife started sharing the gospel with her. She left that woman, got saved, Lauren baptized her. She is at our house all the time now and so, Audrey would say, we should tear that sticker off the back of her car and I would go, okay, baby, how about this? You know what is going to be even better than that? What is going to be better than that is when she takes the sticker off her car. And then Lisa took the sticker took the sticker off her car and then Audrey was just beaming at, “she took the sticker off her car,” and that was one of those ways where the proactive nature of conversations about what sex is, God’s design in it, me loving Mamma well, and embarrassing her by giving Mom kisses and making her go, “oh, gross.”
And I’m like, look the Lord says this, and you know even kind of playful things like that have kind of set the stage for in this moment Audrey knew, okay, so she has a wife that can’t be right. I need to get her to the house so Mom and Dad can, I mean it was interesting to watch her do it. And then there is another woman out at the barn right now, same story, and then my daughter has just been, she invited her, her’s my eleven year old going, “hey, come to Easter services,” and the new woman just won’t do it, so my daughter has been heartbroken because she thinks all of them will convert now and become friends of the family. So, but by being proactive, when my daughter ran into it, she kind of had this framework for how we engage lovingly, how we invite and how we practice hospitality. How we are not afraid. That really was helpful. I don’t know what would have happened if we hadn’t have had some of those proactive conversations because it is going to find them. I mean, they don’t have to go looking for it. They are just going to be playing on the playground; they are going to be in the neighborhood. They are going to be out at the barn. I mean, it is going to find them. So, proactive into now they understand how we interact in a way that for Lisa, in particular, led to salvation in our recovery ministry in a home group in our house, almost every other day.
RUSSELL MOORE: One of the ways that this is going to show up in every one of your homes immediately has to do with divorce, because your kids are going to know parents, they are going to have classmates and others who parents are divorcing and the immediate question that they are going to have whether they articulate it or not is, is this next for my mom and my dad. So you’ve got to explain this is a bad thing, a hurtful thing, we do not ever want that for ourselves and we don’t ever want that for you, without communicating we are the good people who don’t divorce, they are the evil people who do divorce. And that just means you have to spend a lot of time working both God’s justice and God’s grace into that conversation to say, yeah, you know, Johnny’s parents are divorcing and we need to pray for Johnny, we need to minister to Johnny, and your mom and I aren’t going to divorce and the reason we are not going to divorce is because we have made promises and we are going to stick to those promises and because God has said that our marriage is a picture of Christ in the church and we want to keep that and we want to honor that. You communicate that but communicate that in a way that doesn’t….because kids kind of naturally want to divide the world up into the who are the good people and who are the bad people, so the divorcing people, those are the evil people, we stay away from those, or the gay people as the evil people, or whatever it is that is going on in your community. You want to fight that at every moment you can so that you can reach your own kids with the gospel.
MATT CHANDLER: Well, I think the best thing if you are a parent, the best thing you can do is own your sin before your kids, ask them for forgiveness when you sin against them and then, I’ve said to The Village before, I seek forgiveness from my children probably more than anyone else besides the Lord on earth. I feel like I am constantly….so my message to them has always been, hey, Daddy needs Jesus just as much as you need Jesus so I’m not trying to separate myself out as varsity and my kids junior varsity. I’m just going, look we are all in need, and we all need this grace that Christ has. So then that becomes kind of the bedrock of all of these other conversations is the fact that they see Daddy needs grace and Daddy is imperfect and Daddy falls short and then that becomes really the basis of these other conversations where there can’t be an us and them if we are all in need of grace. So, that’s how we try to navigate it, I want to own it as much as I can, my failures and short comings.
RUSSELL MOORE: That takes a couple that both know where the other’s vulnerabilities and weaknesses are—not so that you can point them out but so that you can shore then up. My wife knows that my particular point of vulnerability is if I come in and something is going on with the kids, I want to sometimes come down with a really harsh hasty sort of immediate decision. Oh yeah, you did that? You left out the milk? No more Legos for you—ever—in the history of the world. It’s done for you. I want to do that and what my wife does is she never argues with me in front of the kids, she never comes up and says, oh don’t do that. We don’t resent a divided front. She will just walk up and stand with me and put her hand on my back and start slowing rubbing my back and I know that means, I think you better walk this one back.
PHILLIP BETHANCOURT: We have time for one more question and this has come in from a number of people and in a number of different ways. It seems like from the crowd that people are looking for some guidance on how to make practical decisions as it relates to interacting with gay friends, family members, neighbors, those kinds of things. So, some of the ________ of it, questions like should I attend my gay friend’s wedding ceremony? Should I allow my aunt who is a lesbian and her partner to spend the night at my house? What are some ways that you can give a framework for how people should evaluate those questions as the come up in daily life?
MATT CHANDLER: You want a framework?
PHILLIP BETHANCOURT: Yes, so how would you navigate it?
MATT CHANDLER: See, this is where for me theology has to be more than theoretical and so to kind of create this grid is always complicated for me. So, we don’t have gay marriage in Texas, so we’ve had a multitude now like ten plus gay men or women into our home for dinner. There was a season in which I was driving down to Dallas and meeting with a group where they would ask me questions, I would answer them, they would cuss me out, and I would remind them that they asked me, and then I never had any of them spend the night in my house. I would probably create the rule that I do with any single college couple that would spend the night at my house, which is, spend the night but you are down there and you are down there, and don’t get up in the middle of the night and snuggle on the couch.
So, I would tell that to two heterosexual non-married people and I would tell that to two homosexual couple that was spending the night at our house. If I was friends with and walking with a family member who was going to some ceremony, and I don’t know where you stand, I would probably go in regards to keeping that relationship established but would make it clear that I disagree with what was happening and my presence there was not in any way to be understood by them as agreeance with what they were doing but rather I love you, I’m for you, my hope is that you will repent and come to a saving knowledge of Christ and so, am I wrong there?
RUSSELL MOORE: Yes, you are wrong there.
MATT CHANDLER: I’m willing to be wrong here.
RUSSELL MOORE: I’m exactly with you on what you don’t want to do is to say, we don’t want gay and lesbian people in our home. I mean, once you kind of adopt that ethic, we do not eat with tax collectors and sinners, you are in a really, really bad place in the New Testament so that’s not the way that we are to be. When it comes though to the wedding itself, to the marriage ceremony itself, I would say that a Christian should not go to that event. And it’s not because something sinful in happening there, it is not because sinners are happening there, it is because of what a wedding actually is. What’s happened in American culture, unfortunately, and this is long before we get to this issue, is that we turned a wedding into about the couple and about the love of the couple and it’s kind of a party celebrating the couple and their expressing themselves, but that’s not a wedding is biblically and it is not what a wedding has been in the history of the Christian church. A wedding is about the people who are there who are the witnesses to this vow, so the couple there, they are making vows and the people who are gathered there are saying we are here to hold you to your vows. So that’s the reason why we have things that we say in wedding ceremonies that kind of don’t make much sense anymore.
They are left over from a day when people took it seriously when we say if anyone has reason to show why this couple should not be joined together, let him speak now or forever hold his peace. Nobody expects anybody to say anything there, except in some sort of sappy chick-flick romantic comedy where an old boyfriend stands up, I still love you…but why is that there? It is there because the people who are gathered are witnesses to the vow; they are actually participating in the event. So, if I had a gay or lesbian couple, friends of mine that I am witnessing to who said would you come to our wedding, would you come to our civil union, would you come to something like that? I would say, you know what?—I love you, be happy to have you over to the house and do those sorts of things, I can’t come to that and here’s the reason why. Because I would be involved in something that is against my conscience and I wouldn’t be able to do that. Most people really do get that at that point, which means the real issue here is that you start settling those issues before it becomes personal. Frankly, that’s the case not only with this, that’s the case with all sorts of things. I remember at my ordination we had this elderly guy in the room, this elderly deacon who said, you believe the Bible? Yes, sir. Are you going to be alone with a woman that is not your wife? No, sir. Okay. Moved on. That actually was one of the best moments in my entire ministry because there are so many times now where there are situations where there is a woman who will say, you know, can you and I ride together to this event or can we do this sort of thing?
And it would be really kind of weird and awkward if I said, I’m not going to do that because I think it might be wrong or might be a stumbling block because her immediate reaction is, “who do you think you are?” Yeah, you look like a cricket. But instead what I have to say is, you know what, I made a vow at my ordination that I would never be alone with a woman except for my wife so I really can’t do that. And everybody gets that. It is not about that person in that moment, it is something that you’ve decided before and that has to do with who you will marry. There was a lady here that I ran into at the Southern Baptist Convention. She walked up and said, “Your grandfather,” my grandfather was a pastor, died when I was six years old, “your grandfather refused to marry my parents because my dad was an unbeliever.” I said, “Sorry,” you know. She said, “No, no, no, that won my dad’s respect. He respected that. He later came to faith in Christ.”
The reason my grandfather was able to do that, I’m sure, is because it wasn’t about that couple, he already knew what his convictions were about that. You are not going to have everything mapped out, and there are going to be gray areas when it comes to this sort of thing where you are thinking, I’m not sure if my being involved in this is going to give an endorsement or not and then we just have fall on that Romans 12-14, understanding of conscience: Whatever is sinning against your conscience, you should not do. But you need to, as much as you can, start thinking through, how am I going to handle these situations.
PHILLIP BETHANCOURT: You all have done a great job this afternoon answering these questions. Before you leave just a few quick things, with all of the questions that have come up about things related to homosexuality and same-sex marriage, I want to make sure you notice on your chairs there, we have some information about our fall conference we are having in October in Nashville on the Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage. We would love to have you come bring your church members and be equipped on these issues. You will also find other great resources there on the chair. If you found the conversation helpful tonight, then you can catch it in just a few days when we post it on line at ERLC.com. The winner of our bat giveaway is Josh Herring.
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