By / Sep 3

A while back, Judi and I had one of those “aha moments.” It was something we should have realized earlier but for some reason we had missed it. We suddenly recognized that we had been responding to our children’s sin in a way that rendered them Pharisees-in-training. We were reflexively parroting familiar language that was pushing our children in the opposite direction of where we said we wanted them to go.

It was very common for us to respond to their sin by saying, “We cannot believe that you would do that! We are not people who do those kinds of things.” While we have an evangelical understanding of sin and the universality of human depravity in a fallen world the language we were using was betraying our stated conviction. Our verbal training was communicating that we expected good kids and that we were stunned at any behavior that showed they were not good kids. The implication is that they are expected to be good kids because we were a good family.

We knew Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and quoted it often when sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. But functionally, the culture we were creating in our home by our words, proceeded as if we were exempt from depravity and the struggle with sin. I am not sure exactly when it happened, but Judi and I decided we needed to change our language so we could be faithful gospel witnesses in our own home.

We sought to banish the language, “We cannot believe you would do that! We are not people who do those kinds of things!” We replaced it with, “I am not at all surprised you would sin in this way. I have sinned in similar ways. This is a good opportunity to remember that you do not simply sin but that you are a sinner.” The first approach was gospel-less. The second approach is “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14).

The way we had been responding to sin focused on how the child was letting us down and failing to live up to the family standard of righteousness. The new approach puts the focus on God and his standard of righteousness and paves the way for clarity about the good news of salvation. It presents the Christian parent a strategic opportunity to say something like, “I am a sinner too but I have been forgiven of my sins by faith in Jesus Christ and I am praying that the discipline you receive will remind you that sin has consequences and that you too will seek forgiveness in Jesus Christ.”

We now tell our children we do not want them to grow up to be a good man or woman according to our cultures arbitrary standards. We tell them we want them to be a gospel man or woman. It is dangerous thing for your children to think you as a parent are inherently morally superior and that they should attempt to become like you so they do not let down the family name. It places them on the performance treadmill of your expectations. When they frame the world in an anti-gospel performance way—the only outcome is defeat and despair. Conviction of sin will bring no joy. It will bring shame because they will reason, “I have failed my parents. If I were a good person I would have repented sooner. A godly person would never have these thoughts or act this way. The fact I struggle in this way shows that I am worthless.”

Christ-centered discipline provides a unique parental opportunity for gospel proclamation and clarity. It is liberating when parents stop trying to raise good kids by being good parents. We are not good, not one of us, and that is why we all desperately need Jesus and his gospel of the kingdom. Telling our children, “We cannot believe that you would do that,” trains them to create a good image and try to live up to it. But they cannot live up to it, because it is a mirage, so they live in fear of being exposed. Constant accusation without the gospel is hellish not holy.

Christian parents need to make sure our words match our doctrine when we discipline our children. Every parental discipline encounter is a strategic opportunity to expose our children’s true identity (and ours too)—sinners who need a Savior. That is what is so powerful about gospel-focused discipline. When a parent clarifies the sin, points to the gospel, administers the discipline, and the embraces the child joyfully and forgivingly by declaring, “I love you no matter what!” the child gets a small taste of the glorious and absolute freedom offered in the gospel (Gal. 5:1).

A previous version of this article was published here.

By / Aug 4

NOTE: Denny Burk will be one of the speakers at the ERLC National Conference: “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” The conference is designed to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches. This event will be held at the iconic Opryland Hotel on October 27-29, 2014. To learn more go here.

If you’ve ever been in a debate with someone about gay marriage, one of the conversation stoppers that proponents often throw out is this: “How does gay marriage hurt traditional marriage?” Or more personally, “How does my gay marriage corrupt your straight marriage?” The thinking goes like this. What two people do in the privacy of their own home ought not concern you, even if they choose to reinvent society’s most basic institution. After all, who are you to judge someone else’s pairing? If some people want to call gay unions a “marriage,” what’s that to you?

The assumption in this line of argument is that marriage is a private good with no public consequences. But is this assumption valid? Is it not the case that a redefinition of marriage affects all marriages? Certainly a redefinition of marriage to allow gay nuptials will continue to sever the link between marriage and procreation. But this is not the only public consequence.

Hanna Rosin had a piece on last year titled, “The Dirty Little Secret: Most Gay Couples Aren't Monogamous.” Gay marriage proponents frequently argue that gay marriage should be treated as equal with traditional marriage. Proponents put forth examples of gay couples and their domestic life together to illustrate the point that gay marriage is not different than any other kind of marriage. Rosin argues, however, that such examples are not the norm. She cites one study that “found that about half of all gay couples have sex with someone other than their partner, with their partner knowing.” Many gay couples are not monogamous butmonogamish.

Rosin then concludes with a profound admission:

In legalizing gay marriage, we are accepting a form of sanctioned marriage that is not by habit monogamous and that is inventing all kinds of new models of how to accommodate lust and desire in long-term relationships.

People sometimes ask me, “How does gay marriage hurt traditional marriage?” The answer is right there. Once our society abolishes the heterosexual norm of marriage, what’s to keep it from abolishing other norms as well? If heterosexuality is no longer a norm, then why should monogamy be?

Mark Regnerus argues that monogamy might very well become a casualty of legal gay marriage. Whereas the vast majority of Americans still consider adultery to be morally wrong (source), the same cannot be said for those in gay unions. Regnerus writes:

Because adultery doesn’t work the same way in a significant share of [gay] unions; instead of a single standard, couples negotiate (and often renegotiate) what their standard will be. It’s why Dan Savage can call nine extramarital partners being monogamish rather than serial cheating. Social theorist John Milbank asserts that when the definition of adultery must be tweaked, the exclusive sexual union risks ceasing to be perceived as having unique relevance—that is, not crucial—for marriage in general. We’re not there just yet, but the bridge is definitely under construction…

This, I predict, will be same-sex marriage’s signature effect on the institution—the institutionalization of monogamish as an acceptable marital trait. No, gay men can’t cause straight men to cheat. Instead, the legitimacy newly accorded their marital unions spells opportunity for men everywhere to bend the boundaries.

In short, Regnerus is arguing that the redefinition of marriage will bring with it a redefinition of marital norms. We’ve already seen this happen with the advent of legal no-fault divorce. No-fault divorce laws have given us unilateral divorce-on-demand as the norm. Thus the norm of lifelong monogamy has given way to serial monogamy over multiple marriages. That is why our culture is quite accepting of a man who has multiple wives—so long as he has them one at a time.

In the same way, I think Regnerus is on to something when he says that the legalization of gay marriage may cause a similar revision to the definition of “faithfulness” in marriage. A study published in 2010 reveals that monogamy is simply not a central feature for many gay unions. The New York Times reports:

Some gay men and lesbians argue that, as a result [of abandoning monogamy], they have stronger, longer-lasting and more honest relationships. And while that may sound counterintuitive, some experts say boundary-challenging gay relationships represent an evolution in marriage — one that might point the way for the survival of the institution.

Did you get that? The article suggests that “monogamish” serial adultery might be the future for all marriages. And not only that, adultery may save the institution from irrelevance! Perhaps this sounds like an absurd suggestion, but should we really be surprised by this? When we redefine marriage, everything is on the table. And there’s no reason to exclude the possibility that the monogamous norm might give way to the “monogamish” one on display here.

So as we appear to be on the precipice of legal gay marriage in this country, here’s a question everyone ought to be asking themselves: How much redefinition are you willing to allow? Is the monogamous norm up for grabs as well? The question is not whether we will define marriage in our culture and in our laws. The question is which definition we will land on. If we abolish the norm of monogamy, that will cause a revision that will affect everyone—both gay and straight.

How does gay marriage hurt straight marriage? Laws establish norms, and norms establish cultures. A thriving marriage culture will not be helped if spouses begin “renegotiating” what faithfulness means. For this reason, legal gay marriage could hurt straight marriage in ways that people never anticipated.

By / Jul 18

As LoveLoud Sunday approaches, we—at the North American Mission Board—would like you to lead your congregation to join the social justice movement currently underway among evangelicals globally.

What is social justice?

Social justice is a phrase that conjures up a vast array of images and feelings, while lending to numerous attempts to define what it is. By definition, social injustice refers to something that is wrong in our society. From hungry children without meals to eat when school is out of session to our sometimes nebulous approaches to addressing problems like human trafficking, one thing is clear when talking about social justice: There are things in the world around us that are not as they should be.

Some of the ‘wrongs’ that we see are caused by oppression by others, such as prostitution and abortion, whereas some social justice problems are the result of living in an imperfect world, such as natural disasters and sickness. In the midst of the potentially confusing discussion of social justice, Christians can be paralyzed, not knowing how to—or even if they should—act. For instance, should we care about the current border crisis? Or, is that emergency the government’s problem and not something that concerns the church?

Should Christians get involved?

So that the central point of this article is not lost, let me state it clearly here: All evangelicals must engage in social justice, to correct things that are wrong, yet not all evangelicals will engage in the same type of social justice efforts or to the same level of personal involvement.

God’s word leads, without doubt, to this position. Passages such as Deuteronomy 10, Zechariah 7, and James 1 show us that God is a compassionate God, who expects the same from his people. And these chapters are not isolated texts, but rather are representative of an overwhelming message within the Bible. According to some estimates, there are over 2,000 biblical texts that lead to one important conclusion: All evangelicals must engage in social justice. We must strive ardently to foster compassionate cultures within our churches so that the body of Christ exudes the aroma of a caring and merciful people.

Historically, Christians have understood these truths to be non-negotiable and have seen the fruit of applying them to social injustice. It was such a natural and self-evident aspect of what it means to be a Christian, believers have not needed reminders such as this article until the 20th century.

The early church was known as a merciful and compassionate group of people, providing dignity and care for the sick and dying victims of the great plagues in the late 2nd and 3rd centuries. William Carey, known as the “Father of Modern Missions,” bought women out of prostitution, fed countless men and women, and started socially conscious businesses to benefit persecuted Bengali Christians. In short, the church, throughout two millennia, applied these 2,000-plus passages to social injustices by physically caring for the weak while proclaiming Christ. Christians set wrongs right through their words and deeds.

What does involvement look like?

So, the answer is ‘yes,’ we should care about the border crisis as well as other injustices. The key question is how? Again, not all evangelicals will engage in the same type of social justice or to the same level of personal involvement. I think it is helpful to use the following matrix to help individuals and churches consider what social injustices they will address and how they will go about it. Also, I believe all four of these elements must be in place to see catalytic social justice that truly transforms an injustice to become a just situation.

Applying this framework to the border crisis, we can think through the reality that believers should engage in compassionate action in various ways. Whereas all of us should increase our knowledge of the circumstances that led to this calamity, some believers will have the expertise necessary to engage in political action, including advocacy on behalf of the women and children suffering through this situation and addressing the policies and circumstances that led to these conditions.

While some Christians will raise awareness through social media or personal conversations, some men and women will feel that their very souls are tied to the welfare of these individuals. Some of God’s people will search for financial margin in their budgets to assist local churches on our southern border ministering to these refugees, although they will never take a trip to do so personally. Yet, my church may not give as much financially as another church that has a strong interest in caring for neglected children.

Hopefully, all evangelicals are praying for the kingdom of Christ to come in power for the border refugees—to rescue them from their oppressors, to see their physical needs met, and to see them come to faith in Christ—although not every believer will make it a priority to pray in this way with great fervency or regular consistency. A very select few believers will combine all of these types of personal engagement to be used of God as an agent of catalytic social justice on a particular issue. The result, in some cases, has been a dramatic change in socially unjust situations, such as the impact of Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon on marginalized people.

How will you get involved?

We could (and should) apply this framework to every social injustice that individuals encounter in our culture. There is great freedom in Christ to not be involved in every type of social injustice at the same level as others who God leads to deeper, long-term engagement. There is no freedom in Christ, however, to avoid doing what Scripture clearly calls us to. Involvement is beyond question.

Whether the issue is adoption and foster care or ministering to the homeless population, God has called us to minister to the least of these—to the men, women and children who are lost without a shepherd. You and your church may not be called to rescue women from the sex trade at your local strip club, but surely you can finance ministries that do and pray for receptivity among the women they will encounter.

Our hope, as evangelicals, should be to see God burden his people men and women with relentless compassion, who foster congregations that are noted for offering physical, emotional and spiritual enrichment to a hurt and dying world. Our part, as evangelicals, should be to engage in significant ways. If God’s people will run full-steam into the mess of broken lives and injustices around us, proclaiming the hope found in Christ alone according to an individual’s or a congregation’s specific level and type of involvement, we would see the possibility of being catalysts of social justice become reality as great believers experienced in previous generations.

By / Apr 29

Hello, this is Russell Moore, and this is Questions and Ethics, the program where we take your questions about issues that you are facing in your life or in your home or in your neighborhood or in your workplace and answer them through the grid of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the question today comes from Michael, and he is referencing the controversy that happened in recent days over World Vision. And before I ask Michael’s question, I will give you a little bit of the context for those of you who don’t know:

World Vision is a Christian ministry that has done very good work when it comes to helping starving and at-risk children around the world. And World Vision prompted a huge controversy in recent days when they announced that they were going to start hiring people who were same-sex married and that they were going to change their policy when it came to homosexuality, when it came to people who were married legally in states. The outcry meant that within, I think, forty-eight hours World Vision said we are reversing that policy. And so Michael says, “Dr. Moore, do you think World Vision changed its mind for the right reasons or simply because they lost so much support within the first twenty-four hours of making the announcement?”

That’s a good question, Michael. My response to that is to say I think that evangelicals made our views clear to World Vision, and I think that World Vision did the right thing in saying we are reconsidering this and we are turning around. Now, I think we need to be the sort of people who are willing to speak the truth, including to speak the truth to and about World Vision when they do something that we believe is unbiblical. But I think we also need to be the sort of people who can take yes for an answer.

World Vision put out a statement and said we apologize. The thing that struck me about this statement from Rich Stearns is that it was unlike many public apologies that we tend to see these days. It didn’t self-justify. It didn’t say, “I am sorry if I offended you. We’re sorry for those that we offended.” It said we did the wrong thing. We lost our way when it came to the authority of the Bible, and we are turning around. We are going to seek to make it right.

Now, I think that we take them at their word. I Corinthians 13, tells us to believe the best, and so I don’t think we can read motives, and I don’t think we ought to read motives. I think instead we ought to rejoice and say unless they prove otherwise, I think we need to take them at their word.

Now, does that mean that we ought to take into account—some people have said well, yeah, but you know, they made a really bad decision in the first place, so how can you trust a board that would make this sort of a decision that is just a clear break from biblical teaching and from two thousand years of Christian witness? Fair enough. Should we seek to watch and to hold World Vision accountable? Yes. We need to watch and to hold every Christian organization and ministry accountable. That’s what the Bereans did when they judged everything that the apostles were saying according to the word of God. They searched the scriptures to see if these things were so. We need to do that all of the time because every human authority is fallible, and every human authority can make mistakes. And so we need to be constantly watching that.

And I don’t mean that we need to have a watchful spirit or a skeptical spirit the way some people do, wanting to pounce on everything. But we need to hold everybody, all of us in Christian ministry, up to the standards of the word of God. True enough.

But we also need to be the sort of people who when somebody starts going in a wrong direction, they are rebuked, then they turn around—I mean the worst thing we can do is to say, oh, well, you obviously just turned around because we rebuked you; that means your motives are wrong. I mean the Apostle Paul confronted the Apostle Peter and said your refusal to have table fellowship with the gentiles—I am withstanding you to your face because you are not living up to what has been delivered to you by the Lord Jesus. Paul did that. Now, what if when Peter turned around and repented the response from the rest of the church is oh, well, he just repented because Paul confronted him; he is just worried about losing the influence that he has among the apostles? Well, you could read all those motives into that if you wanted to. But I think the better way to go is to take them at their word and to say we are glad you did the right thing. And like any other ministry, we are going to be holding you accountable. And if you walk away from the Bible and from the gospel, which is what happened here—I want to be very clear; that is what happened here—we are going to be the people who will remind you there is still an evangelical movement in this world, and the evangelical movement still believes the evangel.

Yeah, we need to do that. But we need to do it as people who take people at their word and believe the best.

What is your question that you have? Send it to me at [email protected]. Maybe it is something that you were reading in your quiet time in the Bible and you say I’m not even sure how to necessarily understand this; or maybe it’s something that you saw on television on the news or read about on the internet and you are saying I am not sure how to think about that as a Christian; or maybe it is a situation that you are facing in your family or in your home or your neighborhood or in your workplace. Send it to me at [email protected], and we will address it here on Questions and Ethics. Until next time, this is Russell Moore.