Russell Moore

Dean of Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

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)

Planned Parenthood Vs. Jesus Christ

It turns out that everyone sends Christmas cards, including Planned Parenthood. I know this because several years ago a friend sent me a copy of one being sent out by the currently-being-investigated organization. The card was a Christmas homily to “reproductive freedom,” beautifully designed with embossed snowflakes and stars made of glitter. And emblazoned across the card was the caption, “Choice on Earth.”

The latest undercover Planned Parenthood video is out, and it is horrific. Who can watch these pirates discussing the trafficking of the eyeballs of babies, and not be shaken to the conscience? Any person of goodwill, regardless of religious faith or lack thereof, ought to be able to see the humanity destroyed by this violent organization of pirates. For Christians, though, we ought to remember that behind all of this violence is a question of the person of Jesus Christ. He has been to the abortion clinic, too.

Remember: Jesus was not born into a gauzy, snowy “winter wonderland” of sweetly-singing angels and cute reindeer nuzzling one another at the side of his manger. He was born into a warzone. Jesus was chased out of his manger and into Egypt by one of Planned Parenthood’s ancestors, King Herod, who also sacrificed Bethlehem’s infant children for the sake of power.

Demonic powers have always hated babies because they have always hated Jesus. When they destroy the “least of these”—the most vulnerable among us—they’re destroying a picture of Jesus himself, of the child delivered by the woman who crushes their head (Gen 3:15). They know the human race is saved—and they’re vanquished—by a woman giving birth (Gal 4:4; 1 Tim 2:15). They are grinding apart Jesus’ brothers and sisters (Matt 25:40). They are also destroying the very picture of newness of life and of dependent trust that characterizes life in the kingdom of Christ (Matt 18:4). Children also mean blessing—a perfect target for those who seek only to kill and destroy (John 10:10).

The reason we Christians talk so much about protecting unborn life—and the reason we are committed to the closure of any organization that tries to profit from the unborn’s destruction—is that we know that an assault on an infant is an assault on the good news of Jesus Christ. The gospel is, after all, grounded in the uniqueness of humanity in creation, redemption, and consummation. Behind the questions of whether we should abort babies or torture prisoners or harass immigrants or buy slaves is a larger question: “Who is the Christ, the Son of the Living God?” If Jesus shares humanity with us, and if the goal of the kingdom is humanity in Christ, then life must matter to the church.

The presence of the weak, the vulnerable, and the dependent is a matter of spiritual warfare. The womb reminds us that we are not self-existent. Everyone you have ever met is—to borrow the ridiculous words of one abortion apologist—“a product of conception.” None of us are “viable” apart from others and from the eco-system God has built around us. This is why the Psalmist speaks of learning to trust God at his mother’s breast (Ps. 22:9). Jesus quoted a line from this same Psalm as he was being crucified, with his own mother, from whom he had nursed as an infant, looking on. The promise given to us in the Garden of Eden was that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. The cosmic war of redemption that defines all human history is a war of a baby versus Babylon.

The kingdom tells us what matters—and it’s not raw power and force of will. The kingdom tells us who matters—and that’s not defined by power and force of will. The church is to embody these realities, and the mission sets out to teach and persuade the outside world of a gospel that honors and protects life. To deny human dignity then is to kick against Christ himself, since he brings with him nothing of the sort of power or wisdom the present age craves. When we care for the vulnerable—the unborn, the aged, the poor, the diseased, the disabled, the abused, the orphaned—such is not “charity. These are not “the disadvantaged,” at least not in the long run. These are the sorts of people God delights in exalting as the future rulers of the universe.

As we lament and protest Planned Parenthood, it may be tempting to despair, thinking we are powerless in the face of such well-funded and well-protected evil. But we cannot forget Jesus. All the royal rage and blood-thirst in the world could not stop God from accomplishing his purposes through the Messiah child.

God used a young virgin and a quiet carpenter to preserve the life of the Savior. Let’s follow their example of obedience and fight the spiritual powers that seek to kill, steal and destroy, by carrying the Gospel of the baby who came to give life, and life abundantly. As we stand against the abortion industry, and the culture of death behind it, let’s point to Christ. He’s been to the abortion clinics too.

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)

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