By / Jun 28

NPR’s Michel Martin speaks to Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, about how his faith informs his perspective during two national crises.

Full interview here.

By / Aug 3

About a third of Americans (36 percent) say they attend religious services at least once a week, and nearly the same percentage (30 percent) say they seldom or never attend religious services. A recent survey by Pew Research asked the reasons why people choose to attend such events—and why they avoid them.

The survey asked U.S. adults who say they attend religious services at least once or twice per month about 10 possible reasons they may do so. The vast majority of regular attenders say becoming “closer to God” is a very important (81 percent) or somewhat important (13 percent) reason for attending services.

The next most common reasons they attend religious services are to give their children a moral foundation (69 percent say it is very important, and 21 percent say it’s somewhat important), because it makes them a better person (68 percent say it is very important, and 24 percent say it’s somewhat important), or for comfort in times of trouble or sorrow (66 percent say it is very important, and 28 percent say it’s somewhat important).

Smaller majorities say they go because they find the sermons valuable (59 percent say it is very important, and 34 percent say it’s somewhat important) or to be part of a community of faith (57 percent say it is very important, and 33 percent say it’s somewhat important).

Fewer Americans say they attend for other reasons such as to socialize and meet new people (19 percent say it is very important, and 47 percent say it’s somewhat important) or because they want to please their spouse or family (16 percent say it is very important, and 25 percent say it’s somewhat important).

In a follow-up question, regular worship attenders were asked to choose the most important reason they attend religious services. The vast majority of evangelicals (90 percent) said they go primarily to become closer to God. About two-thirds also say they find the sermons valuable (76 percent) or because it makes them a better person (70 percent).

Eight-in-ten evangelicals (86 percent) also say they “always” or “often” experience a sense of God’s presence when they attend worship services, and more than three-quarters (77 percent) say they “always” or “often” feel a sense of community with people who share their faith when they attend church.

The survey also asked Americans who attend religious services a few times a year or less often (including those who never attend) why they don’t go. The single most common reason given for not attending religious services is “I practice my faith in other ways” (37 percent). About a fourth (23 percent) say they haven't found a house of worship they like. Others say they don’t like the sermon (18 percent), don’t feel welcome (14 percent), or don’t have the time (12 percent). Only 9 percent do not go because of health or mobility reasons, and only 7 percent say there isn’t a church for their religion in the region.

By / Dec 15

Editor’s Note: We wanted to let you know about this really important new initiative from our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom. We are grateful for the way they come alongside churches and ministries to help defend and protect religious liberty.

“The team at Alliance Defending Freedom have consistently proven themselves to be the kind of convictional and talented advocates that Christians and churches are in need of today,” says ERLC President Russell Moore. “I have no doubt that Church Alliance will benefit ministries across the country by establishing such a partnership between local churches and attorneys committed to safeguarding our most fundamental liberties.”

What would you do if a situation arose in your church that directly threatened the religious liberty of the church?  Would you know what steps to take to proactively protect your church’s religious liberty?  If someone filed a lawsuit against your church simply for exercising your religious beliefs, would you know how best to defend against it?

Churches face an increasingly difficult culture and some have even found themselves in the middle of legal situations where the religious liberty of the church hangs in the balance.  At the time I am writing this article, Alliance Defending Freedom is assisting over fifty different churches on religious liberty issues that have the potential to turn into litigation.  And we currently have over a dozen cases in or close to litigation where we are working to defend the constitutional rights of churches.  These are churches from across the country.  They are big and small in size and from all denominations and theological tribes. The fact situations in all these cases are varied, showing that religious liberty issues can arise in unexpected places. And this is just one snapshot in time.

As an attorney who has litigated on behalf of churches and pastors for the last ten years, and has litigated religious liberty cases for the past eighteen years, I can say without hesitation that churches need legal help in today’s world to protect their religious liberty.  It is not a matter of if churches will face legal challenges to their religious liberty but rather where and when.

It is not a matter of if churches will face legal challenges to their religious liberty but rather where and when.

These times call for creative new initiatives to respond to a dynamic and challenging legal system. Seeing a need to reassess the Church’s role in stewarding religious freedom, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) recently launched a new project called the Church Alliance. Through the Church Alliance, ADF is able to offer direct and focused legal help to churches to protect their religious liberty Given today’s context, membership in this alliance of churches is well worth the consideration and deliberation of your church leadership.

Here are five reasons we have launched the Church Alliance:

1. Americans are losing sight of the importance of religious liberty. Many who reject the beliefs of Christians consider adherence to biblical teaching to be a mask for “discrimination” or some other darker motive. The culture is asking religious freedom to take a backseat to sexual autonomy. In some cases, especially when the Gospel is in direct opposition to the culture, our first freedom is being told to take a hike. Those who advocate for sexual liberty believe that if they bring enough social and even legal pressure to bear on the Church, that the Church will abandon its “discriminatory” ways and become truly affirming and tolerant.  For many in this camp, bringing a legal challenge against a church requires no more thought than suing a secular business.

2. Over the last few years, ERLC and ADF have partnered to distribute the Protecting Your Ministry legal guide to thousands of churches across the country. Many churches have requested help to review their documents to make sure they are protected from a religious liberty standpoint. Now, among other services, the Church Alliance is offering member churches a religious freedom audit and document review. Our ministry of preparation and protection is affordable due to the generous contributions of believers across the country.

3. The Church Alliance isn’t just preparing churches for the cultural issues that we see in the news. Although it was largely created for this shift in the legal landscape, it is also helping with less-spotlighted practical legal matters that involve the religious freedom of churches. Whether it’s purchasing land for a new building, helping plant a church, starting a new ministry, requesting access to government property, or a host of other routine church matters, religious freedom experts are now coming alongside church boards and pastors to help you navigate potential pitfalls.

4. The Church Alliance program is working to ensure that churches remain free to preach the full counsel of God’s Word, without fear of government interference or inhibition. The heartbeat of the program is to work to keep the legal doors open for the Gospel so that it can be proclaimed freely and lived out fully.  Let us help you as you are bold in your ministry context.

5. The Church Alliance is for the protection of all churches. While church leaders may consider joining the Church Alliance purely for the services we offer their churches, those who join are stewarding religious freedom in a much broader sense. What we have seen time and time again is that what happens to one church affects all churches, and joining this alliance allows ADF the opportunity to respond.

Christians in every American generation have valued religious freedom and even served as stewards of that freedom. They have kept the government accountable and ensured that our first freedom is properly understood as a God-given right.

Pastors and churches in particular have helped secure the freedom that we have enjoyed since our country’s founding. The Church Alliance is a continuation of this long-held tradition of the Church. But it is also the beginning of a new era of religious freedom protection, launched from an obvious and growing need.

Consider making this program an agenda item for your church’s next board meeting. We ask churches like yours to join us in this mission and be the stewards that we are called to be. For religious freedom – for the Church – for the Gospel.

Learn more, request additional information, or become a member at

By / Jul 17

Facebook recently announced they’ve hit the milestone of two billion users. There are more Facebook members than members of any religion except Christianity. (Just barely. There are 2.4 billion proclaimed Christians globally). That means that worldwide, one in four people now use Facebook every month. I should probably fess up that I am among the few billion people not on Facebook. I’ve written about why here if you’re curious. But I’ll be the first to admit, that Facebook itself isn’t “bad” or “evil.” I’ve seen it used for a lot of good. Whether or not you should have Facebook is not a hill I’m willing to die on. Whether or not you look to Facebook as your church is.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is upfront about the company’s plans to do more than simply connect people online. He wants to:

  • Stop our growing sense of disconnectedness.
  • Weave strength into the social fabric.
  • Bring the world closer together.

It’s hard to argue with that. Those are good goals. But he lost me when he suggested that Facebook could plug the holes in our lives left by declining church attendance. “A lot of people now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else,” Zuckerberg said.

The First Church of Facebook can only temporarily spackle the holes in our hearts and lives, never fix or heal them. We need Jesus for that, and Christ’s Plan A for our sanctification and the world’s redemption is the local church. Not the cyber church. Not the podcast church. Not the blogosphere church. Not even the Facebook church. Here are three reasons why.

The First Church of Facebook can only temporarily spackle the holes in our hearts and lives, never fix or heal them.

1. The Church is physical

Acts 2:42 describes the early New Testament church. This is the model instituted by the disciples under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit after Christ’s death and resurrection. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” This is a simple and effective mission statement for the local church.

  • We learn God’s Word together.
  • We connect with other Christians.
  • We share communion together.
  • We pray for each other.

Some of these goals can be accomplished online, but usually only as a cheap substitute. How does an online devotional written by someone you’ve never met compare to a Bible study in your living room hosted by an older woman who loves you and knows about your life? How does connecting online compare with connecting over coffee? How can we bear each others’ burdens (Gal. 6:2) when our profiles are all polished up to a high shine and no one knows we’re struggling? How can you take communion across a computer screen? How can you kneel side by side and hand in hand via Facebook?

So much of the nitty gritty of what happens in the church happens in a physical building, physically standing side by side with other believers.

2. The Church has shepherds

Facebook’s founder called for “great leaders” to shepherd the growing Facebook flock. He even compared these leaders to pastors. Great idea! In fact, it’s God’s idea.

As Paul planted churches across Europe and Asia, he directed church leaders to appoint elders for each church (Titus 1:5). Paul made it clear that elder selection shouldn’t be random, nor should it be a popularity contest based on votes like an episode of American Idol. Elders are to be chosen based on evidence of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Specifically an elder should be:

  • Above reproach
  • Faithful to his wife
  • Discipling his own children
  • A man of self-control
  • Obedient to God and respectful of others
  • Not arrogant, quick-tempered, drunk, or violent
  • Hospitable
  • A lover of good
  • Upright
  • Holy
  • Disciplined
  • A hearer and doer of God’s Word
  • A teacher of wisdom
  • An enforcer of Godly discipline (vs. 5-9).

Are these the qualities we see online? Or do the loud and obnoxious prevail more often? Can godly men and women supervise the Internet? If so, who would appoint them?

Matthew 18 outlines a plan to bring believers back to godly living when they are in sin. James 5:16 encourages us to confess our sins to each other. Spiritual authority is a tremendous gift given to us by a loving God who knows our sinful hearts. The church is a safety net woven by God because of our tendency to choose sin and then find ourselves in a freefall. It cannot be replicated online. We need our pastors. We need our elders. We need the men and women sitting beside us who are brave enough to ask us if we’re struggling and hold us accountable.

3. The Church needs you

God has designed it so that you and the church need one another. Let me show you what I mean.

In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus gave believers through the ages the Great Commission. We are on a co-mission with Christ to make disciples and teach the Word. This calling is unique to the Church. It cannot be replicated, duplicated, or delegated. As a Christian, you are expected to join this mission.  

Ephesians 4:10-12 tells us that Christ gave us the church  “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” It’s the Church’s job to equip you so that you can get to work for the Kingdom. Christ has personally called you (and me) to do everything we can to build up the Church. We’ve got work to do!

Our gifts belong to each other. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace” (1 Pet. 4:10). You have irreplaceable gifts God wants you to use to serve other Christians. I have irreplaceable but different gifts God wants me to use to serve you. Part of the reason we were created was to serve the local church body. Maybe your needs are being met online, but what about ours? We cannot do this without you.

The Christian life is a life of service. We bring our “firstfruits,” the best of our time, talents, and resources and lay them on the altar in front of God’s people, asking him to use them to build his Kingdom. You can’t serve in the Facebook nursery. You can’t sing in the Facebook praise team. You can’t teach a Facebook Sunday school, take a Facebook mission trip, or visit the sick, discouraged, or grieving on Facebook. You can’t grow as deep in Christ without close proximity to others.

Social media platforms will likely continue to grow. The web will remain a worldwide hub for connection, but it can only enhance, never replace the gift God gave us when he created the Church. Facebook will pass away, but the Church will endure forever (Dan. 2:44).

By / Jul 7

After the Supreme Court demoralizing abortion decision, I searched my mental files for an Ebenezer of encouragement. I remembered that Justice Clarence Thomas was scheduled to give the 2016 Commencement Address at my alma mater, and I eagerly planned to return to hear his remarks. Although I was just two years old at the time of Justice Thomas’s nomination by President Bush in 1991, I grew up hearing my parents talk about his hard-fought confirmation hearings and appointment as victories in a spiritual war.

Sitting in the audience when Justice Thomas spoke this past May, I realized how much I needed his message after the bruising 2016 presidential primaries, the tragic loss of Justice Antonin Scalia, and a country that seemed so lacking in moral leadership. Thomas delivered a message that, in its truth and humility, was as salient for the graduates as for the nation: liberty is purchased with responsibility and sacrifice, and freedom comes with obligations to live as good citizens in small ways.

His address also provided a model for how Christians should respond to a world hastily discarding our principles and institutions. Justice Thomas recalled his grandfather’s teaching in the segregated South, “Being wronged by others did not justify reciprocal conduct. Right was right, and two wrongs did not make a right.”

The church in America has taken a wrongful beating lately. The important story of early 21st-century America could be summarized by Thomas’s simple reflection: “Things that were considered firm have long since lost their vitality, and much that seemed inconceivable is now firmly or universally established. Hallmarks of my youth, such as patriotism and religion, seem more like outliers, if not afterthoughts.” Indeed, the world today is far less hospitable to both biblical Christianity and the general civic virtues that attend them, both of which the loss reveals grave consequences for human flourishing.

But Thomas made clear at the outset that this would be a different sort of address from what graduates and parents might be accustomed to hearing at commencement: “I resist what seems to be the formulaic or standard fare at commencement exercises—a broad complaint about societal injustice and an exhortation to the young graduates to go out and solve the problem and change the world.” He added, “Having been a young graduate myself, I think it is hard enough to solve your own problems, which can sometimes seem to defy solution.”

This recognition of the limits of what a commencement speech can give its audience reflects inherently biblical understanding of human nature: we are fallible, often morally frail creatures, burdened with the effects of the fall. Appropriate to his venue, a liberal arts college with a focus on great books, Thomas evoked the same theme articulated by Leo Tolstoy: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

This lack of self-reflection explains part of why religion and patriotism have taken such a hit, and part of the path toward recovering freedom means recovering this concept. “Today, we rarely hear of our personal responsibilities in discussions of broad notions such as freedom or liberty,” Thomas said. “It is as though freedom and liberty exist wholly independent of anything we do, as if they are predestined.”

However, “in addressing your own obligations and responsibilities in the right way, you actually do an important part on behalf of liberty and free government,” Thomas said. It was the faithful discharge of such responsibilities by America’s founding fathers and each successive generation that has sustained free government—but often in small, personal sacrifices.

The small sacrifices that Thomas described preserved the great liberty of a nation because a “there is always a relationship between responsibilities and benefits.” He continued:

If you continue to run up charges on your credit card, at some point you reach your credit limit. If you continue to make withdrawals from your savings account, you eventually deplete your funds. Likewise, if we continue to consume the benefits of a free society without replenishing or nourishing that society, we will eventually deplete that as well. If we are content to let others do the work of replenishing and defending liberty while we consume the benefits, we will someday run out of other people’s willingness to sacrifice.

Knowledge of this relationship between liberty and sacrifice led Thomas’s family “to fight for the right to die on foreign soil to defend their country, even as their patriotic love went unreciprocated;” they returned from war “with dignity to face the indignity of discrimination.”

Thus when Thomas sought his grandfather’s advice about weathering the first waves of public criticism directed at him, his grandfather simply replied: “Son, you have to stand up for what you believe in.” Such simple advice, Thomas said, supplied the clarity he needed to see his duty and the courage he needed to fulfill it.

Similarly, Thomas’s advice can provide clarity for Christ-followers in a wayward time. He told Hillsdale’s graduates, “As you go through life, try to be a person whose actions teach others how to be better people and better citizens. Reach out to the shy person who is not so popular. Stand up for others when they’re being treated unfairly. Take the time to listen to the friend who’s having a difficult time.”

And finally, “Do not hide your faith and your beliefs under a bushel basket, especially in this world that seems to have gone mad with political correctness.”

Taken together, discharging these small duties can “become the unplanned syllabus for learning citizenship,” something that must be learned in order to become “a beacon of light for others to follow.”

We in the church are increasingly fighting our own battles in a spiritual war. We find our reliance on God and country to be increasingly shaky ground, with our core beliefs increasingly marginalized as strange at best and hateful at worst. We have ended another year of fighting at the Supreme Court and seem to have little to show for it. But we cannot despair. Instead, we would be wise to look to Justice Thomas’s life and listen to his words as we renew our efforts to become shining beacons of principle with the hope and prayer that others will follow.