Evangelicalism in America is going to face a reckoning, and we will be the cause.
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner
Whether you have read them or not, the Russell Moore letters are a very big deal. Not just for the SBC Executive Committee he is addressing, but because they point to a much bigger problem that seems to exist almost everywhere you look in American Evangelicalism. As Scot Mcknight and Laura Barringer address in their recent book A Church Called Tov sexual abuse and assault cover-ups are old hat in American evangelicalism. As is the kind of victim blaming and shaming outlined in Moore’s letters. Whether it be at the highest levels of the SBC or the highest levels of Willow Creek Church, the covering-up of sexual abuse, assault and harassment by powerful leaders, to protect those powerful leaders seems to be a pervasive problem in the leadership of American evangelicalism. But it does not stop at sexual assault. Moore’s letters also reveal a deeply seeded racism that stems from the SBC’s origins as a pro-slavery convention in the 19th century. There are Executive Committee members who are promoting and working alongside white supremacist/nationalist organizations such as Sovereign Nations and if you need examples of derogatory and racist language used by Executive Committee Members, just read Moore’s Letters.
Add to that the Augie Boto letter released on Twitter on Monday in which he calls Rachel Denhollander a “tool of Satan” and that her and another abuse victim were just “looking for abuse” and so they found it. Implying that all of this was just a big distraction keeping the SBC from its main priority which he calls: “Evangelism.” As a Historian this is recognizable as the same excuse for why the SBC would not hold Slave Owners accountable. It is also an attack on two women who were victims of sexual abuse and who are well-respected in the general public. When you attack someone, when you heap more trauma on an abuse victim, you are hindering your witness in the public square, you have to be credible in your witness. If you want to evangelize then you have to take sexual abuse seriously and deal with it as a sin against people made in the image of God and a sin against God himself.
The fact is, once again, Beth Moore (the other Moore who recently left the SBC) is correct:
I could stop here, but I want to unpack what Beth is saying, because again, she is absolutely correct. If we think that God is blessing this then we really need to take a step back and look at the parts of Scripture we are currently glossing over.
Ignoring sin, or justifying sin, never ends well for us, but do not take my word for it. Consider Romans 2:1-11.
2 Therefore, every one of you[a] who judges is without excuse. For when you judge another, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is based on the truth. 3 Do you think—anyone of you who judges those who do such things yet do the same—that you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you despise the riches of his kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing[b] that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? 5 Because of your hardened and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed. 6 He will repay each one according to his works:[c] 7 eternal life to those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality; 8 but wrath and anger to those who are self-seeking and disobey the truth while obeying unrighteousness. 9 There will be affliction and distress for every human being who does evil, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek; 10 but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does what is good, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no favoritism with God.
As evangelicals, we love to preach on Romans 1, it tells us what the result of our rebellion against God is as fallen humans, but then we turn around and forget Romans 2 which is explicitly stating that while we condemn the world for its behaviors, we continue in those behaviors ourselves and stand self-condemned. Romans 2 is not written to the unbeliever, but the believer. Paul is not telling the Romans that unbelievers are acting this way, but that they are acting this way. That is the catalyst for his 7 chapter long explanation of the Gospel and the last 6 chapter explanation of the life change brought on by the Gospel. The Romans are condemning the world for gossiping and slandering, then turning around and gossiping and slandering, probably at the same time. Paul is not approving of this behavior, he is telling them they stand condemned because they are untransformed as believers.
Or consider 1st Corinthians 10: 1-13
10 Now I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless God was not pleased with most of them, since they were struck down in the wilderness.
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, so that we will not desire evil things as they did.[a] 7 Don’t become idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and got up to party.[b][c] 8 Let us not commit sexual immorality as some of them did,[d] and in a single day twenty-three thousand people died. 9 Let us not test Christ as some of them did[e] and were destroyed by snakes. 10 And don’t grumble as some of them did,[f] and were killed by the destroyer.[g] 11 These things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages[h] have come. 12 So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall. 13 No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to bear it.
Here Paul is using two examples from Israel’s history to demonstrate the ways in which the open sinfulness of the Corinthian church were inviting the judgment of God. He does the same in 11:28-32 where he gives The Lord’s Supper discourse where he tells them taking the Lord’s Supper in an unhealthy manner results in: “eating and drinking condemnation upon ourselves.”
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And of course how could we forget Jesus words in Matthew 25:31-42
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels[g] with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations[h] will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35 “‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or without clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick, or in prison, and visit you?’ 40 “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger and you didn’t take me in; I was naked and you didn’t clothe me, sick and in prison and you didn’t take care of me.’ 44 “Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help you?’ 45 “Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
When Christ returns, we will, in the church, be judged as sheep or goats, the righteous and the unrighteous. The unrighteous thought they could skate into heaven without actually doing the things Jesus commanded them. The righteous lived out their righteousness with actions. We could probably add “I was sexually abused and you did not speak up for me, I was Black and you were silent while I was oppressed.” Or any number of items to this list. Those who ignore the lowly and oppressed will be sent away into eternal punishment. Since Jesus Mission as stated in Luke 9:26 becomes our mission in Matthew 28, Acts 1-3 and Mark 16 to do anything else is to invite judgment of God. We have to be setting the oppressed free, giving sight to the blind and so on as part of our relationship with Christ, because that is what Christ wants to do through us. These are the “Good works, prepared beforehand by God” (Eph 2:10)
When victims are ignored, shamed or even blamed, when men more interested in power are not held accountable for their sins, we are inviting condemnation and a reckoning from the throne of God himself. Interestingly enough, all these things being ignored or condemned while “religious liberty” is pursued will probably be the reason that Christians in this nation will lose their religious liberty. All it would take for one lawsuit to get to the Supreme Court and the Court rule in favor of the victims and the door is opened. It would be better if we listened to the abuse victims, those who need to repent, repent and step down from their positions of leadership and seek reconciliation. Or if they refuse to do that, we do what Paul did to Hymaneaus and Alexander at Ephesus, they be: “turned over to Satan so that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim 1:20).
Because that is what all this is, blaspheme. It is blaspheme because it denies the work of Christ as laid out in Ephesians 2-4. While we condemn the world for its sins, we ourselves stand condemned because we are silencing sexual abuse victims and ignoring those who are oppressed by heretical theology. In doing so the Church is divided and the Holy Spirit grieved, we keep heaping up more and more condemnation for ourselves. Leaders who have actively engaged in this, who are unqualified for ministry according to 1 Timothy 3 are leading congregations in the Eucharist.
Those pastors who are speaking up and pushing back against this are getting lambasted, as Russell Moore has been by members of the SBC Executive Committee. In my own detractors one thing has stood out. Not once has anyone mentioned the name of God or asked what He might want. It is all about what the detractors want. In the case of the SBC it is power. In the case of many church members it is the comforts of consumer Christianity, which I might add, does not resemble biblical Christianity in the least. God and His desires are suspiciously absent from the discussion altogether. We need to be wary of this, because we have historical evidence in abundance that it never ends well for Christians who travel this route. This behavior in Rome could very well have been part of the justification for the mass murder of Christians under Nero in 67AD. This persecution appears to have purged a lot of this behavior from the Church, but it did eventually come back, in fact, in the centuries after Constantine it was normalized to the point that Post-Enlightenment Christianity emphasized salvation over and above life change, to the point that whenever I preach on Colossians 3:1-17 I hear the comment: “I’ve been a Christian for X number of years and I have never heard that before.”
Now, I know many of you will say: “God is patient” and you are correct. God is a long suffering God. But we have to be aware that in the Bible and in history that patience eventually runs out, usually around the 300-400 year mark. Here we are 300 years from the Enlightment and 500 from the Reformation. We have emboldened and empowered those who are playing with fire, and we must be careful. We are in essence asking for the second role of Government ordained by God, the power of the sword against us (Rom 13) to be enacted. We are also told not to test the patience of GOD or as 1 Cor 10:9 says, test Christ.
Repentance is necessary, public repentance for the wrong that has been done in the name of power. Apologies and restitution made to victims needs to follow as they did for Zacchaeus (Luke 10:1-19). Those who have perpetuated and covered up the abuse and refused to do investigations or even give the victims an audience need to step down from positions of leadership they have disqualified themselves from. What is being done in secret is being brought by God out into the light, and once that happens, it is only a matter of time before the reckoning occurs. But it is not too late. We can still turn the ship around.