By / Dec 16

I love this time of year. In addition to the joy that comes from having extra time off work to spend with family and friends, I enjoy the mood of reflection that comes along with wrapping up one year and preparing to head into another. One of my favorite things are “best of” lists, and because I am particularly nerdy, the lists I pay the most attention to tend to be about books. Speaking of books, I would recommend keeping an eye out for The Gospel Coalition’s book awards each December, which offer particularly strong recommendations for believers. Another list to look for each year is Russell Moore’s books of the year list. (Bonus: for 2020 he also put together a top 20 books in 20 years list that you shouldn’t miss). 

But beyond book lists, there are all sorts of end-of-year wrap-up posts floating around, from personal reflections to world news and events. One I try not to miss is from Google that compiles a video showing us what we searched for each year. So as a thought experiment, I asked myself what things I would highlight from 2020. I know what you must be thinking. Yes, in so many ways it has been an awful year. I trust that the reasons we’re ready to move into 2021 are obvious enough. But before we do, here are just a few things—some serious, others fun—that I wanted to reflect on before we wish this year goodbye.

Robert George and Cornel West

So I’ll break the rules right of the gate by acknowledging that the first thing on my list actually happened around this time last year and not in 2020. But like the arrival of Disney+, it was an unexpected surprise to help me get through a difficult year. Last December, I attended a Trinity Forum event, with an ERLC colleague, featuring an evening of conversation about the subject of friendship between Robert George and Cornel West (we wrote about it here). If you aren’t familiar with George or West, maybe the most important thing to tell you is that these men are intellectual giants on opposite ends of the political and ideological spectrum. But beyond that, you should also know that both are sincere Christians who share a deep and decades-long friendship. 

In a year of cultural tumult and racial strife, having a primer in friendship that transcends political and ethnic barriers was a gift I didn’t know I needed. George and West have significant differences on any number of important issues, the kinds of issues we so frequently blast one another over on social media. And yet these two men model exactly the kind of friendship and understanding that is so desperately needed in this political moment. No matter how strong their disagreements might be, each treats the other as an equal and always recognizes the other’s humanity and dignity.

Each one also had the humility to admit that they know they are sometimes wrong, even about things they believe most sincerely. Watching the two of them on that stage was powerful. And as I tried to grapple with questions of racial justice and fractious politics this year, I’ve reflected on it often. The good news is that they’ve taken that show on the road. You can watch a shorter or longer version of that conversation online. 

ERLC podcast

I won’t take a lot of time on this one because it seems incredibly self-serving. But one of the real highlights of my year was relaunching the ERLC Podcast with two of my best friends. In January, after months of scheming, I convinced Brent Leatherwood and Lindsay Nicolet to try something new and turn the ERLC’s flagship podcast into a weekly culture rundown featuring news, opinion, conversation, and interviews.

We’re still figuring out what we are doing, but we have had a really successful first year and we’ve interviewed some great guests. I can’t name them all, of course, but we’ve talked to some of my heroes like Jen Wilkin, J.T. English, Benjamin Watson, David French, Katie McCoy, Dean Inserra, and Bryant Wright. You can go back and catch the interviews even if you don’t listen to the full episodes. We’ve also built a great team to help us make the podcast each week (hat tip: Gary Lancaster, Meagan Smith, and Marie Delph). 

If you haven’t checked it out yet, feel free to download it in your podcast app: iTunes | Google Play | Stitcher | Tune in  

Gentle and Lowly

As an avid reader, I am frequently guilty of trying to push books that interest me on my friends so that I can have someone to discuss them with. In this case, I don’t feel bad about doing so at all. Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly was released in April of this year, and every single person I know who has read it has simply raved about it. But this is all the more impressive (and wonderful) once you learn what the book is about. As Dane describes it, “this is a book about the heart of Christ” written for “the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty.” That’s a lot of us in 2020.

This year we’ve experienced the hardships of a broken world in a way we would rather forget. But whether we’re facing a pandemic or a relative paradise, every Christian needs Jesus.

I often say that Christianity isn’t complicated, but it is difficult. We live in a world that is full of sin and  sickness and pain. And this year we’ve experienced the hardships of a broken world in a way we would rather forget. But whether we’re facing a pandemic or a relative paradise, every Christian needs Jesus. And not just for “salvation” but for life. Apart from the Scriptures, Dane’s book is the place I would point you to connect with Jesus in a fresh and meaningful way. If your soul is weary or if you just want to focus upon our Savior, consider picking up a copy of Gentle and Lowly. You won’t regret it. (Shameless plug: you can hear an interview we did with Dane about the book on this episode of the ERLC podcast).

J.K. Rowling makes a stand for women 

Most people know J.K. Rowling solely as the author of the world-famous Harry Potter series. Growing up, I felt like a fish out of water because I wasn’t a fan. I’m not sure whether it was my Christian convictions or just a lack of interest in the world of fiction. Either way, I didn’t realize it at the time but Harry Potter wasn’t just a popular book and movie series, though it certainly was those things. For a whole generation of kids, that series opened up a kind of alternate reality, as though Hogwarts and all its lore were actually out there somewhere. I say all of that not because there is any need to dispel the fiction of Rowling’s mythic universe, but because recognizing Harry Potter’s massive success actually helps explain her influence. 

Rowling not only wrote best-sellers, but she shaped the imaginations of a whole generation. So this summer when Rowling dared to dissent from the orthodoxy of the sexual revolution, specifically to the ways that transgender ideology leads to the erasure of womanhood, people listened. In fact, her actions caused an epic firestorm both in Europe and the United States. And as a result, Rowling was threatened and attacked with the worst kind of scorn and vitriol. She was even upbraided by stars from the Harry Potter film franchise. But even so, Rowling—who is otherwise progressive on many issues related to sexuality—stood her ground. And the world paid attention. As I wrote about at the time, I think there is something important Christians can learn from her example and her stand on behalf of women.

Standing for Uyghurs

Back in October of 2019, my boss Russell Moore posted a tweet with only two words: Google Uyghurs. Shortly before he did so, some friends of ours were kicked out of an NBA game for holding up a sign with the same two words. The reason? They were a part of a movement to draw attention to atrocious human rights abuse in China. 

For some time, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been persecuting a minority Muslim population in China. Here is how the ERLC described it in July: “Since April 2017, China has systematically detained more than one million Uyghur Muslims and placed them into what it describes as re-education camps. In these internment camps, Uyghurs are prevented from engaging in their religious practices and forcibly ‘re-educated’ to the Communist Party’s ideological standard of ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.’” 

China has the largest population in the world. The CCP, which exercises total control over the nation’s government, is tyrannical and authoritarian. The CCP routinely persecutes Chinese citizens believed to be political dissidents and egregiously perpetrates human rights abuses against its own people, including minority populations like the Uyghurs. But in addition to all of that, the CCP has basically a zero tolerance policy for criticism of its regime, even from non-Chinese citizens. (Remember the backlash it delivered to the NBA over comments in support of democracy in Hong Kong?)

Here’s why this makes my list. Many times when Christians hear of a worthy cause, we do what we can in the moment but due to the many demands of our lives or our limited attention spans, we usually just move on. In the case of Uyghurs, Christians in the United States have been among the loudest and most persistent voices seeking to defend their rights and calling for an end to these abuses in China.

In addition to raising awareness, we have called for sanctions against China, spoken out about them at the U.N., and opposed U.S. companies purchasing goods that are products of forced labor in China. With every avenue available to us, Christians are continuing to stand up for a persecuted minority. And that is something we shouldn’t forget.

The West Wing and Fresh Prince

If you’ve followed much of what I’ve written, it doesn’t take long to find a reference to the TV series, “The West Wing.” I’ve been into politics since I can remember. When I discovered “The West Wing,” it felt like I had found a show that was written just for me—a serious show about politics that dismisses the darkness of shows like “House of Cards” and rises above the comedy of “Veep.” As a social conservative, I’m often totally at odds with the policies supported by the fictional Democratic administration of “The West Wing.” But even so, in most cases the show also features a brilliant character who opposes their position by making a compelling counter-argument. Grading Hollywood on a curve, I think that is about as much as I could ask for.

But more than policies, maybe the best thing about “The West Wing” is its idealized image of American politics. All of us grow weary of the political fray, of the squabbling and insults and barbs and mistruths. What we want aren’t really politicians but statesmen. We want men and women committed to public service who can rise above the fray—who put the good of the American people above party or ideology. That’s what “The West Wing” provides; not always, but overall. It paints a different portrait of politics and provides the kind of inspiration that those who work in public life need to carry out their work. 

In any case, in the latter part of this year, there was not only a “West Wing” reunion but a “Fresh Prince” reunion as well. (Don’t miss Russell Moore’s reflection on the grace in the “Fresh Prince” reunion here.) Obviously, I can’t endorse everything that was said on either occasion, but seeing some of my favorite actors together again—especially watching the White House gang read through the script of one of my favorite episodes—was truly something cool in the middle of this awful year. And that’s something I’ll take with me too.

Scream inside your hearts

So that’s my list. Well, almost. In a year of plague, where face masks became as essential as undergarments, there is a lot I’ll be happy to leave behind. But one last thing I’ll take with me is a catchphrase gifted to us by a Japanese theme park. “Please scream inside your heart” was supposed to be a clever, I guess, way to mitigate the spread of the virus while allowing patrons to enjoy rollercoasters. Instead, it just became a viral meme.

But let’s be honest—2020 has been a year of screaming inside our hearts. For so many reasons, a lot of them bad, it’s been an emotional year. And in the midst of the sadness and frustration and loneliness, or even joy and elation, when you felt those emotions, you knew you had the option to scream—at least inside your heart. And I put that on my list because unlike 2020, I doubt it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

By / Dec 27

Civility is a buzz word these days as an exhausted electorate wearily stumbles toward another national election. And Christians—those who are charged with both declaring the truth and cultivating kindness—are, sadly, among the worst when it comes to civil discourse. This issue will explore why that is. 

We feature important new research about evangelicals and civility as well as essays from leading evangelical voices such as Andrew T. Walker, Trillia Newbell, and Russell Moore. We also feature the example of Prison Fellowship and civility in action across party lines and an interview with Josh Deckard and Michael Wear about their experiences in the White House. 

By / Aug 13

Editor’s Note: View our Equip Austin playlist on YouTube to watch videos from this event.

AUSTIN—In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage, Christians and churches must respond by speaking with confidence, conviction and kindness while also creating biblical community, speakers at the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty’s inaugural Equip gathering, said, July 29.  

“We have been called to be a people of both truth and grace, of both conviction and kindness, in a world that is often fearful and angry,” said ERLC President Russell Moore during his opening message, based on 2 Timothy 2:22-26.

Moore admitted that Christians often associate kindness with weakness or cowering to the culture, but sitting back silently while the world celebrates perversion of God’s design for sexuality is “not an option,” he said.

“If we capitulate or if we are silent about what the Scripture teaches about marriage and sexuality, we are not just avoiding a social issue or a moral issue—we are avoiding a gospel issue,” Moore said.

“The church now has the opportunity to articulate a distinctively Christian witness to marriage and sexuality.”

Moore went on to say that the church must learn to teach a biblical theology of marriage and singleness while recognizing that every member of the church is involved in the issue.

“We need the entire body of Christ together in the articulation, not only in what to avoid—“flee youthful passions”—but also what to pursue—love, peace, righteousness—and embodying that within our own congregations,” Moore said.

Paul’s admonishment to Timothy to “patiently endure evil” means Christians must be confident in their convictions but speak truth “with a Christian accent,” he added.

“People don’t change their minds because of a pile of arguments … (or) because we humiliate them,” Moore said. “People have hearts changed when they encounter the risen Christ, who calls them by name.”

Moore concluded his message by calling churches to reach “refugees from the sexual revolution,” those who have followed after lustful passions and found their promises empty and damaging. Those who are best able to reach these hurting individuals will be those who are confident in the truth and gracious in their offer of the gospel.

The three-hour event, titled “The Gospel & Same-Sex Marriage,” featured pastors and formerly gay Christians and addressed how churches and Christians should respond to the issue. The event, which was hosted by The Austin Stone Community Church and funded by a grant from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, was simulcast live over the Internet to homes and churches across the country.

A common theme throughout the evening was that churches needed to cultivate gospel community, which involves intentional life-on-life relationships.

Mike Goeke shared his testimony of separating from his wife to pursue a homosexual lifestyle before repenting and returning to his marriage. Goeke has a unique opportunity to reach those struggling with same-sex attraction in the church and warned that the solution is not in programs or special ministries but simply “for the church to be the church.”

Goeke, now pastor of First Baptist Church in San Francisco, said the primary reason many who are saved by Christ out of homosexuality often return to the lifestyle is because of loneliness. Several speakers noted that the LGBT community thrives on networks of close, personal relationships.

Churches, then, must model biblical community.

“When a gay person walks away from their entire world, when they walk away from their sexual identity and possibly their whole identity, when they walk away from their community to pursue Jesus, they often find no one in the church to walk alongside them,” Goeke said.

“Shiny, well-scrubbed, secret-bearing Christianity will never foster anything except more secrets. We need to pull community out of a list of programs and graft it into the DNA of our church.”

Healing community, Goeke said, is messy and inconvenient, but it is also life changing for every member in the church.

Rosaria Butterfield, a former English professor at Syracuse University who abandoned her life as a lesbian and gay activist when she converted to Christ, echoed Goeke’s plea for churches to display gospel community. Her own testimony includes a pastor and his wife who befriended her and welcomed her into their lives as they demonstrated and discussed the gospel with her.

Butterfield, author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, stressed that just like every person who repents and believe in Christ, those coming out of homosexuality are exchanging their old identity for a new identity in Christ, yet this transition is not simple.

Jackie Hill Perry, who also was a lesbian before coming to Christ, explained that the gospel creates community, saving individuals into communities of people called local churches. For this reason, she encouraged Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction to pursue friendships in the church.

“If God has said and created people with roles that will equip us and mature us,” Perry said, “then those of us who are struggling can’t decide, ‘I’m going to grow apart from the way God taught me to grow.’ We have to go to a local body because that’s where these roles are expressed.

“We need people to help us, and I know it’s scary, but fear is a great place to trust God.”

At the same time, Perry challenged churches to get beyond conferences and programs on the topic and to simply be the body of Christ.

“Most of us may not be able to empathize or understand the struggle with a specific sin such as homosexuality, but I believe that all people can empathize with sin as a whole,” Perry said. “I think that’s even more crucial to why the church should actually exemplify community.

“The thing about the gay community is that it actually is a community—you feel safe, you feel listened to, you feel heard, you feel understood. So I think it’s a problem when those who are unbelievers feel way more safe in a room full of unregenerates than they do people whom God knows.”

Matt Carter, pastor of preaching at The Austin Stone, admitted in a panel discussion at the end of the evening that it’s often easy for churches to stand for truth but more difficult for them to offer grace. He seeks in his preaching to “unashamedly preach the gospel in a loving way,” and by God’s grace, they have seen people drawn to Jesus as a result.

Carter encourages his church members to “look at people in this community the same way you would anybody that needs the love of Christ.” At the same time, Carter said, he has been asking himself and his church, “How can we be a family to these people whom we are calling to repentance? We’re calling these folks out of the only family they may have, and how can we be a real, genuine, authentic, biblical community for them?”

Butterfield said she appreciates this approach, and added, “We are calling people to lose a community, and of all people, Christians ought to be able to step into loneliness.”

ERLC plans to post sessions from the Equip event on its website,, in the coming weeks.

By / Jan 2

WASHINGTON (BP) — “Convictional kindness” became the new catch phrase for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in 2013.

The term entered the entity's lexicon when Russell D. Moore was elected its president in March — the first time trustees had needed to select a new head for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) in nearly a quarter of a century. Moore quickly offered a vision of cultural engagement marked by faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus and Scripture as well as by grace toward those whom Christians disagree with on the issues.

“We will stand with conviction, and we'll contend, as the prophets and apostles did in the public square, against injustice, but we'll do so with a tone shaped by the Gospel, with a convictional kindness that recognizes that our enemies are not persons of flesh and blood,” Moore said in giving his first report to the annual SBC meeting last June in Houston. “Our enemies are invisible principalities and powers the Scriptures say are in the air around us. We oppose demons; we don't demonize opponents.”

Moore — whom the website Real Clear Religion named Dec. 27 as one of 2013's top 14 religious newsmakers — and the ERLC had plenty of chances to demonstrate “convictional kindness” throughout the remainder of the year. This was especially true when espousing a biblical perspective in the face of the effort to redefine marriage and of threats to unborn children from the Obama administration's abortion/contraception mandate.


Moore elected and inaugurated as ERLC president

ERLC trustees ushered in a new generation of leadership March 26 by electing Moore, then 41, as the eighth president in the ERLC's history. He took office June 1. At his Sept. 10 inauguration in Washington, D.C., Moore said, “We will stand as good American citizens, and we will fight for justice, and we will fight for liberty, and we will fight with our forefathers for all of those things that have been [guaranteed to us] by the Constitution as Americans, but we will also remember that we are not Americans first. We belong to another kingdom.” He came to the ERLC after nine years as dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

Richard Land retires after 25 years as ERLC president

Richard Land concluded a quarter-century of service as head of the ERLC and was named president emeritus upon his retirement. At a June 8 dinner honoring Land, SBC leaders commended him for his courageous leadership in directing the commission to become a stalwart advocate for the sanctity of human life and religious freedom while it maintained its biblical stances on such issues as racial reconciliation and marriage.  

U.S. Supreme Court embraces same-sex marriage

The Supreme Court struck down the section of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that had defined marriage as a heterosexual union for purposes of such matters as federal benefits and had barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. The ERLC responded with a fact sheet to help churches understand the effect of the high court's action. While the justices' opinion did not legalize gay marriage nationwide, a series of advances at the federal and state levels followed for the movement. 

ERLC continues opposition to abortion/contraception mandate

The ERLC bolstered its call for the Obama administration to overturn the religious coercion in its abortion/contraception mandate, a rule implementing the 2010 health care law that requires employers to carry insurance for workers covering drugs defined by the federal government as contraceptives, even if they can cause chemical abortions. The entity is co-leading with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops a diverse coalition opposed to the mandate. In addition, the ERLC signed onto friend-of-the-court briefs in support of several legal challenges, including ones by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties that will be considered by the Supreme Court in 2014. 

ERLC works with NAMB to support military chaplains

The ERLC joined the North American Mission Board (NAMB) in support of Southern Baptist military chaplains as they deal with the U.S. Armed Forces' recognition of same-sex marriage. In late August, NAMB issued new guidelines for chaplains that reinforced Southern Baptist beliefs on the issue.1 

Federal judge invalidates clergy housing allowance

A federal judge in Wisconsin struck down Nov. 22 the part of a 1954 law that allows ministers to exclude for federal income tax purposes a portion or all of their gross income as a housing allowance. The ERLC and GuideStone Financial Resources, the SBC's health and financial benefits entity, opposed the ruling and said they would work to protect the allowance. 

ERLC supports legislative prayer in high court case

The ERLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court in support of prayers before legislative meetings as constitutionally protected expressions by private citizens. The justices heard oral arguments Nov. 6 in the important religious freedom case and will issue their ruling in the next few months.  

Polygamy ban falls in Utah

A federal judge in Utah essentially decriminalized the state's ban on polygamy in a Dec. 13 decision. The ERLC's Moore criticized the ruling, saying, “This is what happens when marriage becomes about the emotional and sexual wants of adults,” instead of the needs of children. Utah's attorney general has announced that he will appeal the ruling. 

ERLC maintains support of immigration reform

The ERLC continued to work throughout the year for responsible immigration reform that is both just and compassionate. The Senate approved a broad legislative proposal, but the House of Representatives has yet to vote on measures to address the issue. 

ERLC launches new initiatives

The ERLC inaugurated several new enterprises after Moore became president. They included a panel discussion on marriage in conjunction with the SBC meeting in June, Church Equip conferences to assist local congregations, a conversation on religious liberty in Washington, D.C., by a diverse group of commentators and the John Leland Award Lecture on Religious Liberty on Capitol Hill. 

By / Dec 6

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) spoke in chapel at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS).

Moore earned his Master of Divinity in Biblical Studies from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and his Doctor in Systematic Theology from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The chapel service was held on Southeastern’s campus in Binkley Chapel on Dec. 3.

Moore stated, “It is such a joy to stand here. … You have this really intangible spirit among you of joyful gravity, of people who love each other, who love the lost and who love reaching the world. … There is a true spirit of joy and unity in this place.”

He preached on 2 Timothy 2:22-26. Moore highlighted Paul’s constant encouragement to Timothy to fight the good fight of faith and to overcome his timidity.

Moore identified that many Christians today are interested in focusing on a brand of beliefs and have lost the will to fight.

“Scripture says be kind to everyone, show honor to everyone; Paul says show this kindness and gentleness to your opponents,” he said.

Moore encouraged listeners to avoid foolish controversies that breed quarrels and stray from focusing on Jesus. “Kindness is not a break from fighting, kindness is how you fight,” he said.

He shared an example about the interaction a church member had with someone he had witnessed to in the past. The Christian focused on issues of the law instead of grace to the unbeliever. Moore said, “The issue in his life is that he is heading toward judgment without a mediator, without a Gospel, without Christ.”

He addressed common situations that believers face in the 21st Century. “The reason we do not snarl at the Wal-Mart clerk that says ‘happy holidays’ is not because we do not care, it is because we have the confident tranquility that when Jesus says upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevent it, that Jesus knows what He is talking about,” Moore said. “Jesus is willing to go as He is being arrested, He is not willing for Peter take up the sword to fight … [God] is engaged in the kind of war and the kind of fight that is paid for in blood.”

“There is a difference between someone who will fight the good fight of faith and someone who is looking for a fight,” Moore said. “There is a certain carnality in our personality that would be fighting anyway.”

“People that we are talking with … who think you are crazy or bigoted or evil, these people are not your enemies,” he said. “Scripture says we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but we wrestle against principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”

Moore urged the audience to remember that our goal is for those around us to repent and come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. “We speak to them with truth and conviction but with gentleness and kindness because our ultimate agenda is not to win an argument,“ Moore said. “A New Jerusalem made up of those of every tribe, tongue, nation and language redeemed with blood, that is the commission we have been given.”

“Our test right now is to remember what you have learned from whom you have heard it, you speak the truth and you speak the truth with the gentleness of a steamroller,” Moore said.

Moore concluded, “We speak, fight and stand, but we do that with a Christ-like manner that recognizes that kindness isn’t surrender, gentleness isn’t passivity, kindness, gentleness, conviction, that’s war.”

During the service, the annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering was collected for International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries. Daniel Akin, president of SEBTS, stated that the Christmas season is “A time to remember, because He came, we go.”

Since 1888 when the offering began, over $3.5 billion has been raised to fund missionaries; the goal this year is $135 million. To make a donation to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, please click here.