Russell Moore

Dean of Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

What Katrina Taught Me

As a young child, I remember sitting in church and listening as my pastor flipped through one apocalyptic scenario after another in his prophecy charts, and wondering: What would my hometown of Biloxi, Mississippi, look like after the seals of the Book of Revelation were opened? What would I see if I could look out at my home and see that all hell had broken loose on this city?
In those days a certain eschatology was fashionable among Southern Baptists, and I was reassured by those around me that we Christians would be raptured long before any such catastrophe struck. No need to worry, I was told; I’ll be in heaven, unreachable by hell or high water.
Ten years ago this week, I watched as my city experienced an apocalypse. And rather than watching it all helplessly from heaven, I watched—even more helplessly—on CNN. That week a decade ago I was safely a thousand miles away as Hurricane Katrina drove my beloved Biloxi virtually off the map. After the National Guard allowed traffic into the disaster area, I drove down Highway 90, along the Gulf, with my wife. I pulled the car over to cry, and to vomit. Houses of family and friends: gone. Churches I’d heard and preached the gospel in: gone. Most of the landmarks of my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood: gone. And thousands of my fellow Coastians (and New Orleanians): devastated. The strewn brick and rotting fish and jagged trees all lay there in the coastal sun like a decomposing corpse.
Some people said it looked like Hiroshima after the bombing. My thought instead, conditioned by my fundamentalist background, was that it looked like Babylon after the fall of the Beast. It was like the end of the world I used to worry about, just a couple miles down the road from there. And, in some ways, it was.
Ten years later, most everything that could be rebuilt has been. You can’t rebuild a beachfront antebellum house or a hundred year-old church. Instead, old Biloxi is now dotted with (even more) casinos, (even more) Waffle Houses, and Wal-Marts and Bed, Bath, and Beyonds. The hometown of my memory isn’t there anymore. But then again, it never really was.
The hope after Katrina is not for civil defense and architectural rebuilding. It is for that little stretch of pine-dotted coastland, and with it the entire created universe, to be redeemed and restored in Christ. There will come a day when the curse is reversed, and the Gulf Coast, along with the entire cosmos, fully reflects the glory of a resurrected Messiah. And John sees in his vision that, on that day, “the sea was no more” (Rev. 21:1). He also sees that, in the Holy City, “nothing unclean will ever enter it” (Rev. 21:27).
Jesus of Nazareth can bring down Babylons, yes, and Jerusalems too. But Jesus can also drive evil spirits into the sea. He can turn back the sea itself with a clearing of his throat. And even as he teaches us that those who follow him must leave “houses and lands” (Mark 10:28–29), he promises us that we’ll receive “a hundredfold” of such in him.
The apocalypses we experience now—whether in Katrina-struck America or earthquake-devastated Haiti or tsunami-ravaged Asia—remind us that this present order isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. The CNN meteorologists can explain the hurricane only in terms of barometric pressure and water temperatures. We know, however, that at its root this natural disaster isn’t natural at all. It is creation crying out, “Adam, where are you?”
We can’t promise there won’t be an even worse Katrina to come. As a matter of fact, we know there will be. All of our hometowns will be submerged one day, not in wind and water but in the fire of God’s righteous judgment. But, out of that, springs a new creation that started in a promise God made to a Middle Eastern wanderer thousands of years ago.
I don’t know what waits for you or for me in our lives. I know we’ll face struggle and loss and disappointment and, unless Jesus comes first, the dust of death. But there’s a promise out there that took on flesh in a virgin’s uterus somewhere in Nazareth. We look to that inheritance waiting for us, the city where moth and rust don’t destroy, thieves don’t break in and steal, and flood waters don’t devour.
 
Publication date: August 31, 2015

Should We Watch Murders on Social Media?

I watched a video this morning that I’m ashamed to say I viewed. No, it wasn’t pornography—at least not the kind of pornography we typically think of. The video was the live shooting of two television journalists as they were reporting in Virginia. At the time, I saw the post on Twitter, which noted “unexplained shooting noises.” When I watched the clip, I assumed there was gunshots around them and that the journalist and her interviewee had ducked for cover. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that what I had seen was a cold-blooded murder, streaming across my Twitter feed.
There’s much debate right now as to whether news sources should show the video, or whether people should watch it on their social media feeds. Many respected voices are calling this the equivalent of a “snuff film,” the sort of twisted video that feeds into morbidity and bloodlust. The killer himself recorded the bloodshed on his phone and immediately posted their deaths onto social media, where thousands, and perhaps millions of people, could watch it again and again.
On the one hand, I strongly believe that we should not hide from the reality of evil. That’s why, when many suggested media shouldn’t carry images of the falling twin towers after the September 11, 2001, attacks, I disagreed. We should see the images before us, if we as citizens are to know the depth of injustice with which we are called to address militarily. The Planned Parenthood undercover videos are awful, but I have encouraged people to view them, precisely because our consciences must be made aware of this injustice toward the most vulnerable among us. So, what then should we make of this, what Charles Cooke is calling “the first social media murder”?
I don’t think we should watch the video. I don’t think we should post it. And I don’t think media outlets should run it. Here’s why. We have no lack of consensus in our society that the gunning down of innocent people is morally wrong. To be fair, we do have legitimate debate about what to do about gun violence but not about the morality of the violence itself.  The conscience of society is already awakened to the horror of such evil.
Moreover, our watching the video seems to feed into the wicked desires of the murderer himself. He chose, after all, to carry out this atrocity on what he knew would be a live television feed. He wanted not only to kill these innocents but also to broadcast their deaths. Perhaps he wanted the notoriety of killing. Perhaps he wanted to humiliate them with the recording of their deaths at his hands. We shouldn’t enable this murderer his wishes. He wanted not only to murder their physical lives but to murder their digital images as well.
As Christians, we ought to have very sensitive consciences to this. Our Lord Jesus, after all, was murdered by the Roman Empire, publicly humiliated on a cross where he was mocked by the populace for the shame of the way he was killed. The cross was meant to signal not only death but also the most shameful death possible, as a way of warning others not to commit the same acts. The church reclaimed the cross but not on Rome’s terms. The cross is explained, for us, in light of incarnation and the resurrection and the enthronement of Christ.
A videotaped massacre can easily be a kind of pornography, turning human beings—made in the image of God–into spectacles, all while giving the illusion of a safe distance between their suffering and the audience. We can justify watching this as “being informed,” but there is a very thin line these days between news and entertainment. The last thing we should ever be entertained by is the taking of human life. That’s why our early Christian ancestors refused to go to the gladiatorial games.
This killer’s video isn’t exposing darkness. It is celebrating darkness. He put forward a kind of pornography of violence, and from that we must turn away.
Russell Moore is President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He formerly served as Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. Dr. Moore is the author of several books including Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Crossway).
Publication date: August 26, 2015

Kindness is Not Weakness

Years ago, when I was serving as a preaching pastor in a church, I was approached by an eleven year-old in our congregation who wanted to introduce me to his friend, Jared. Jared was on his soccer team, and had never been to church before. After a few minutes of talking, Jared told me that he needed prayer, that his Dad had left, and he didn’t know what his family was going to do. He wondered if I might pray that God would “put my Mom and Dad back together.” I prayed with him, and he turned to go back to his seat. He was wearing a shirt celebrating the inauguration of a President who was unpopular with most of the people in my mostly white, blue-collar congregation. As I watched this young man walk down his first-ever church aisle, to hear the gospel perhaps for the first time, a middle-aged man walked past him and huffed, “We need to get you a better shirt.”
 
I was incredulous. I wanted to yell, “He’s lost. He’s wounded. He’s hurting. He doesn’t know Christ, and you’re worried about this shirt!” My church member was lacking the full context, and he didn’t ask. All he knew was that he didn’t like the President on the boy’s shirt. I wondered how often I’ve done the same thing. How often have I fought the fight I saw in front of me, instead of the one that was really there to be fought.
 
The Lord’s servant is not quarrelsome, Paul commands. This is part of a more comprehensive gospel reality: as we are conformed to Christ we seek to diminish ourselves, and, by the Spirit, to live more the life of Christ within us. That’s why Paul told Timothy he must “patiently endure evil” (2 Tim. 2:24). Quarrelsomeness, the desire to fight for the sake of fighting, is a sign of pride. How often are our most bitter, sarcastic clashes with those who disagree with us less about persuading them and more about vindicating ourselves? This is especially true when we fear that those who oppose us think we’re stupid or evil (or both). We want to prove to them, and to ourselves, that they are wrong about us. That’s quite a different spirit from the Spirit of Christ.
 
Our Christ does not “cry aloud or lift up his voice,” and neither does he “grow faint or be discouraged, till he has established justice in the earth” (Isa. 41:2, 4). Jesus doesn’t defend himself against personal offenses, and he doesn’t allow injustice to stand without shining light upon it. This is because Jesus has a broader vision of what’s going on. Jesus doesn’t blink before Pilate because he knows, ultimately, he is setting the agenda, not Pilate (Jn. 18:36-37). This is not because Jesus doesn’t’ see the fight before him, but because he sees a bigger, more seemingly intractable, fight in the distance. Kindness and gentleness grow, not when we downplay warfare, but when we emphasize it. For Paul, kindness is not politeness. It’s a weapon in spiritual warfare. We teach and rebuke with kindness and gentleness, so that “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil after being captured by him to his will” (2 Tim. 2:25-26).
 
The Scriptures, we know, present a picture of the universe as a war zone, with the present age a satanic empire being invaded by the rival kingdom of Jesus. Talk of such realities rise and fall in the history of the church, oscillating between preoccupation and embarrassment. The church around the world—especially in what sociologist Philip Jenkins calls the Global South—grasps the kind of demon-haunted universe presented in the Scriptures. But many North American and Western European Christians wince at the “spiritual warfare” novels of the previous generation, with invisible angels and demons duking it out over small town America. We cringe at the latest television faith healer describing the demons that were persecuting him right around the time he was caught with the cocaine and the prostitutes. Many liberal Protestant churches excised “Onward Christian Soldiers” and other such “martial” hymns years ago. They are not the only ones. When was the last time you heard an evangelical praise chorus speaking of the war against the satanic powers?
 
Listen to Christian media or attend a “faith and values” rally, and you’ll hear plenty of warfare speech. Unlike past “crusades,” however, such language is directed primarily at people perceived to be cultural and political enemies. If we are too afraid of seeming inordinately Pentecostal to talk about the Devil, we will find ourselves declaring war against mere concepts, like “evil” or “sin.” When we don’t oppose demons, we demonize opponents. And without a clear vision of the concrete forces we as the church are supposed to be aligned against, we find it very difficult to differentiate between enemy combatants and their hostages.
 
The Scriptures command us to be gentle and kind to unbelievers, not because we are not at war, but because we’re not at war with them (2 Tim. 2:26). When we see that we are warring against principalities and powers in the heavenly places, we can see that we’re not wrestling against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12). The path to peace isn’t through bellicosity or surrender, but through fighting the right war (Rom. 16:20). We rage against the Reptile, not against his prey.
 
We hear many calls, from across the religious and political spectrum, for civility. But civility is not enough. Civility is a neutral ground, a sort of mutual non-aggression pact, where we agree to respect one another and not to belittle one another. That’s important, and a good start, but that’s not enough. Just as we are not for “toleration” of those who religiously disagree with us but for “liberty,” so we should not be for mere civility, but for, from our end, kindness. Civility is passive; kindness is active and strategic.
 
The gospel commands us to speak, and that speech is often forceful. But a prophetic witness in the new covenant era never stops with “You brood of vipers!” It always continues on to say “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” We make arguments, even as we understand that arguments are merely the equivalent of brush-clearing, to get to the main point: a personal connection with the voice that rings down through the ages from Nazareth. We want not simply to convey truth claims, but to do so with the northern Galilean accent that makes demons squeal and chains fall. Kindness isn’t surrender. Gentleness isn’t passivity. Kindness and gentleness, when rooted in gospel conviction, that’s war.
 
This article is adapted from my new book Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel.
 
Russell Moore is President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He formerly served as Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. Dr. Moore is the author of several books including Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Crossway) 

My Hope for the Planned Parenthood Videos

What do I hope is the end result of the Planned Parenthood video expose? Here’s my answer to that question for The Gospel Coalition.

Russell Moore is President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He formerly served as Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. Dr. Moore is the author of several books including Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Crossway)

  • Editors' Picks

    Don't Think of Church as Your Own Spiritual Power Bar
    Don't Think of Church as Your Own Spiritual Power Bar
  • Is it Biblical for Christians to Get Tattoos?
    Is it Biblical for Christians to Get Tattoos?
  • Why the Church Must Start Talking about Domestic Violence
    Why the Church Must Start Talking about Domestic Violence
;