Russell Moore

Dean of Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
The past week reeks of blood. We saw the cellphone videos of black men killed by police officers in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights. We saw a terrorist ambush on police in Dallas, killing at least five officers and injuring seven. The country reels beneath all this violence. So how should a pastor speak to this on Sunday? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Pray specifically for the families of those killed, by name.
One of the most chilling aspects of the violence we see around us is the attempt at invisibility, as though those who are killed lived lives that didn’t matter. This is not new. After Cain killed Abel, he chafed at even the reminder of his existence (Gen. 4). Read aloud as you pray the names that we have:
Pray not only for their families to be comforted, but also for justice to be served, that others—whether police officers protecting a rally or African-American young men in any given city in America—would no longer be unjustly killed.
2. Lead your congregation in a time of lament.
Too often our worship is discordant from both the example of the Bible and the lived experience of our people. A peppy song service of easy celebration does not speak to a time such as this. The Psalms are filled with examples of lament, many of them about fear of violence or about the fact that injustice seems so often to “win” in this life. Choose hymns, songs, and spiritual songs that can speak to such. The specifics are going to depend on the “language” of hymnody your church employs. A reading of a lament from the Psalms (such as Psalm 74 or Psalm 90) would be appropriate.
3. Before you preach, ask where the minds and affections of your people are.
Some have asked if I would put forward a sermon outline for pastors to use this Sunday. That’s impossible because the needed comfort or correction will vary from church to church. Look at the social media feeds of your church members. Consider your conversations with them. If it seems that your church ignored the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, then it may well be that the struggles of black lives are invisible to your people; speak to that. If it seems that your church members were concerned greatly about the injustices apparent in those situations (and the many just like them) but don’t know to think or pray about the attack in Dallas, speak to that. Ask before you preach whether most people in your congregation are angry, scared, confused, defensive, or apathetic. Knowing that will illuminate you on where your people need to be led by the Word of God.
4. As you preach, consider these biblical truths, all of which are bound up in this crisis.
The Sanctity of Human Life and the Sin of Murder (Matt. 5:21-22)
The Truth that God Knows about Lives We Deem Not Worthy of Life (Gen. 4:1-10; Jas. 5:1-6)
The Unity of the Church as the Global People of God (Rev. 5:1-14; Eph. 2:11-22; Gal. 3:1-29)
The Need for the Church to Bear One Another’s Burdens (Gal. 6:2)
The Mandate for Justice to Be Impartial (Prov. 17:15)
The Good Calling of the Authorities Responsible for Public Safety and Order (Rom. 13:1-7)
5. Remember the counter-cultural witness of the church.
In a time of national disunity, God has called the church to model unity. Ask how your church is doing at this point. Does your church look like the people in your mission field around you, or are you a mono-ethnic church in a multiethnic community? If so, ask why.
In a time of fear, God has called the church to be courageous. Many are fearful that the violence we’ve seen is a sign of a fracturing American social fabric. That may well be. Even so, we are part of a social order that transcends and will outlast the American one (Phi. 3:20-21). We can pray for our country with concern and yet do that not as the pagans do, who have no hope.
6. Consider a word of testimony.
If your church is one that can easily identify with the plight of police officers but not with those of African-Americans grieving the deaths of those shot by police, consider asking an African-American parent to speak for a few moments of what he or she experiences with worries about his or her child. If your church is one that is grieved and angry about the way black lives don’t seem to matter but does not know how to grieve for police officers slain in the course of duty, perhaps ask a godly law enforcement officer to speak about how he or she seeks to live out the ethic of Jesus in maintaining public order. In either case, pray then not only for the person who has offered testimony but for all who are in similar situations.
7. Start and end with good news.
A week filled with violence will shake people, and can remind them of their mortality. Such a week will also remind them of the persistence of sin, both individual and corporate, in the fallen world around us. Our sense of outrage at injustice can remind us that our sense of justice points beyond us to the Judgment Seat of Christ. Remind people then that they are created in the image of God, and loved by him. Call people to see that their secret sins are not secret and will be exposed at judgment. Warn people that life is fleeting. Point people to Jesus Christ who lived out the life we cannot live, bore in his own body the judgment of our sin, and was raised from the power of death. Offer the gospel as the only word that can reconcile us to God and then to each other.
Publication date: July 8, 2016
Many Americans awoke from their Independence Day weekend to read that yet another African-American man had been shot and killed by police. On Tuesday Alton Sterling was confronted by police while selling music CDs outside a convenience store in Baton Rogue. A video posted to social media shows Sterling apparently pinned to the ground by two police officers, before gunshots ring out and Sterling is killed.
Most of us had scarcely caught up with the news when another grisly video went viral. The footage, first posted to Facebook, shows a young black man, Philando Castile, wearing a blood-soaked shirt in his car while his girlfriend tells the camera that he was shot by an officer after reaching for his concealed carry permit. The videos of the deaths of these two men have been seen by millions of Americans on social media, and provoked cries of anger, grief, and frustration.
What we should understand, first, is that this crisis is not new. Many white evangelicals will point to specific cases, and argue that the particulars are more complex in those situations than initial news reports might show. But how can anyone deny, after seeing the sheer number of cases and after seeing those in which the situation is all too clear, that there is a problem in terms of the safety of African-Americans before the law. That’s especially true when one considers the history of a country in which African-Americans have lived with trauma from the very beginning, the initial trauma being the kidnapping and forced enslavement of an entire people with no standing whatsoever before the law. For the black community, these present situations often reverberate with a history of state-sanctioned violence, in a way that many white Americans—including white evangelicals—often don’t understand.
Secondly, we should understand the peril here. The shootings here, and the root causes behind them, come at a time when the United States is hyper-polarized and socially fragmenting. In addition, there’s a resurgent wave of blatant racism and anti-Semitism on display in social media channels and in upheavals around the world. The social bonds in our culture are weak indeed, and ought to cause us to have the same gravity about us that leaders during the Great Depression had, not knowing whether the crisis would propel the nation to greatness in problem-solving or toward meltdown.
The stakes are even higher, though, morally than they are socially. If we believe that every person will stand before a Judgment Seat, we cannot then stand silently when we see injustice. But many—including evangelicals of all ethnicities—wonder what we can really do? Some are reluctant to speak because they do not wish to reduce these issues to a hash-tag and they don’t know what to do.
These situations ought to cause us, as Christians, to understand our own doctrine of sin. The Bible speaks of sin both in terms of how we relate to others personally and how we relate to one another corporately. Sometimes we speak of issues that are “political” as though they have no bearing on issues of gospel and discipleship. It is telling that we tend to be quite selective in what issues we deem to be too “political” to speak about with a word from God. It is also telling that we often don’t consider what it even means to be “political.” The “political” is not merely the partisan. “Politics” describes what we act together to do corporately in the public arena. Joseph’s brothers are acting “politically” when they throw him into the pit and sell him into Egyptian slavery. The fact that they are acting corporately doesn’t absolve each of them for responsibility personally. The Bible speaks of sin both in strikingly personal terms. The one who is sexually immoral sins against his own body (1 Cor. 6:18). The Bible also speaks of sin in terms of the way we organize structures—whether that’s unjust courts or the oppression of laborers in the fields (Jas. 5:4-6).
Some white evangelicals dismiss the structural. They assume that if they do not harbor personal animus against those of other ethnicities then there is no “race problem.” We do not take the same view (and rightly so) when it comes to abortion. That’s why we rightly object to the pro-choice bumper sticker that reads, “Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one.”
Recognizing that we have responsibility for structures and systems that can be unjust doesn’t give us an immediate blueprint of what to do. After the last rash of public killings of unarmed African-Americans, many called for addressing these situations through body cameras on police officers. As we have seen, body cameras alone won’t address the root issues here. They may show us, after the fact, what has happened, but they do not—alone—solve the problem.
The situation is complex precisely because such injustices are so longstanding and are often hidden from majority populations, who don’t pay attention to such questions because they rarely have to think about them. My oldest two sons are learning to drive. I have many fears, but I’ve never worried about one of my sons being shot after being pulled over. My perspective is thus radically different than my African-American neighbor or colleague or fellow church member. Notice the differences even on social media over the past couple of days. An African-American colleague of mine noted that the divide is glaring, with black evangelicals interacting with this set of news while many white evangelicals continue on discussing the presidential race or the upcoming Olympics, with no reference to these shootings. That divide ought to cause us to reflect on how we’re experiencing the culture differently, and what implications that has for our unity and our witness.
At the same time, our concern for addressing systems and structures cannot dismiss the personal. It is true that these issues are more than just personal, but they are not less than personal. We can only address these questions if we care about them in the first place. That means that these questions cannot only be addressed by those who are in fear of unjust systems and thereby not addressed by those who benefit from them. We must bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), which means that those in majority cultures listen to our brothers and sisters who are directly in harm’s way. Again, those personal viewpoints and relationships do not solve the question of structures and institutions. But structures and institutions are changed only by people. And people are only awakened to act when their consciences are enlivened to the moral stakes involved. That means that we can work for justice in the public arena as we learn to love one another in the personal arena, and vice-versa.
The path ahead will be difficult, but it will require the Body of Christ—the whole Body of Christ—to call one another to moral awareness and action. That starts with acknowledging that we have a problem. When the videos are no longer viral, our witness must still be Christian.
*Editor's Note: Article written before Dallas shooting.
Publication date: July 8, 2016
The Supreme Court has ruled that the state of Texas’ common-sense laws on abortion clinics are unconstitutional. This is a grievous affirmation of the Court’s commitment to a radical abortion ideology, one that puts unborn children, women, and families at the mercy of a ruthless industry.
The Court’s laissez-faire attitude toward the abortion industry reminds me of the tobacco lobby’s work in the legal battles around cigarettes. Nothing but a completely uncontrolled and unaccountable abortion mechanism will suffice. This isn’t “reproductive freedom”; it’s the sacrificing of life and human flourishing for the sake of profit.
The abortion industry’s resentment of controls and accountability is not just a feature of post-Roe v. Wade politics. Instead, it’s an ancient kind of self-deception. In our sin, we want to keep our illusions–whatever they are–that enable us to silence the conscience within us. We want to, in short, walk in darkness. That is why ultrasound machines, waiting periods, and crisis pregnancy counseling centers are all enemies of the abortion lobby. They each point to the self-evident truth that unborn babies are indeed persons with inalienable human rights.
Avoiding the light is how sinful human beings protect themselves from being exposed. The abortion lobby wants the “fetus” to be thought of only in clinical language, as though he or she were merely an “it,” tissue to be disposed of. This is why there are many people who will protest working conditions of factories or employee wages of superstores in the name of justice and consumer protection, but will cheer—openly—the victories of Planned Parenthood over the common good.
This kind of hypocrisy isn’t just a “liberal” issue, either. There are “pro-life” politicians who preach about human dignity in front of the abortion clinic but talk of refugees and immigrants in the most dehumanizing rhetoric possible. There are activists who work against trafficking but then consume the pornography that sustains such trafficking.
When we seek to justify ourselves, we end up becoming the very things we protest. And so, the abortion lobby, in the name of women’s “health” and “safety,” finds itself celebrating a legal victory against women’s health and safety. The protections that pro-choice advocates have said for years must be given to women who seek abortions are now obstacles in the way of “choice.”
The gospel pierces through all our efforts at self-justification. In the gospel we hear a word that both condemns our consciences and offers resurrection life. An abortion culture knows that hell exists, and they know judgment waits (Rom 2:14-16). The church must confirm this, but not stop there: We must declare that God is not simply willing to forgive, but that, in Christ, he is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom 3:26).
The woman who has had the abortion needs to know that, if she is hidden in Christ, God does not see her as “that woman who had the abortion.” He hasn’t been subverted from sending her to hell because she found a gospel “loophole.” In Christ, she’s already been to hell. And, in the resurrected Christ, God has already told her what he thinks of her: “You are my beloved child and in you I am well-pleased.”
The Supreme Court today has taken a stand on the wrong side of justice, the wrong side of human dignity, and the wrong side of the gospel. The church must stand ready to receive more refugees from the Sexual Revolution’s broken promises and shattered hopes. For them, we have a better word than any court could give.
Publication date: June 28, 2016
It’s not often that I find myself wiping away tears in a denominational meeting, but I just did. The Southern Baptist Convention voted overwhelmingly to repudiate the display of the Confederate Battle Flag. This conservative evangelical denomination gathered together just miles from Ferguson, Missouri, to stand together against one lingering divisive symbol.
To understand the significance of this, one must note the “Southern” in “Southern Baptist Convention.” This doesn’t speak to geography; there are SBC churches in all fifty states. It speaks to history. The Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845, over a controversy about appointing slaveholders as missionaries. The SBC was wrong, and more than wrong. The SBC of 1845, and for many years after, was in open sin against a holy God, and against those who bear his image.
This afternoon, the Convention voted, from the floor, to amend the resolution about the flag as it was reported out of the Resolutions Committee. The proposed resolution spoke about the way that many people fly the flag out of a sense of family history or honor. The Convention voted to strike that language. The committee version called for Southern Baptists “to limit” the display of the flag and to “consider” stopping flying it altogether. The Convention decided stronger language was in order.
In an amendment, offered by former SBC president James Merritt, himself a descendant of slaveholder, the Convention voted to say this: “We call our brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole Body of Christ, including our African-American brothers and sisters.”
Does this change the game as it applies to the crushing issues of racial injustice around us? Of course it does not. But at the same time, we cannot dismiss this as just about symbols. Symbols matter.
The Convention recognized today what the flag represents, and what it says to our African American brothers and sisters in Christ. The flag hearkens back to a day when in order to justify idolatrous Mammonism, Southern religion wove a counter-biblical folk theology that stood on the other side of Jesus. The flag also points to years and years of domestic terrorism against African-Americans, often with threats of physical violence.
Like James Merritt, I’m a descendant of Confederate veterans too. But my family history is more complicated than just that. I’m a part of another family now, a bigger family that spans heaven and earth, a people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language. The gospel frees us from scrapping for our “heritage” at the expense of others. The gospel frees us, as the Bible says, to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19). The gospel calls us to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). What hurts one part of the Body hurts us all.
As I’ve said before, the Cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire. Today, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, including many white Anglo southerners, decided the cross was more important than the flag. They decided our African-American brothers and sisters are more important than family heritage. We decided that we are defined not by a Lost Cause but by amazing grace. Let’s pray for wisdom, work for justice, love our neighbors.
And let’s take down that flag.
Publication date: June 15, 2016
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