Someone informed me recently that it’s open-letter writing season. Who knew? The trouble with writing an open letter to the SBC is twofold: time and space. The number of serious problems that are on the SBC dancefloor at the moment is more than a little daunting. Another problem for me is that I am not a very good writer and I am especially not a very good at being a pithy writer. I am so bad at it that even Google cannot help me. So, I ask you to please keep reading and consider it an answer to your prayer for patience.
Recently, Paige Patterson, the president of SWBTS stepped on a landmine in pagan American culture. Patterson dared to suggest that we never advise divorce in the Christian community. Patterson’s advice remains true, he believes, even in situations of physical abuse. As a result of his remarks, a number of SBC and evangelical leaders have expressed disagreement and even outrage. Now, the real purpose of this article is to help you, the reader, better evaluate what is going on in the church, how to think biblically about it, and as a result, how to respond to it, and how to help your family and your church think about and respond as well. I am not a pastor or a professor. I have a secular job. Someone may say that this means I am not a stakeholder. That would be patently false. We, as believers, are all stakeholders in the Christian community. We are such by our calling and election and it is our greatest duty and privilege to be defenders of the Christian faith and the deposit of divine revelation upon which it is based. We have no other option, ethically, but to get involved in this ugly war that is taking place today. Christianity has always been a religion of inconvenience. That remains true today even in the most privileged country in the history of human existence, America.
The purpose of this blog post is not to provide marital counseling. If you are reading this and you are in a situation where physical abuse is taking place, you need to run to your elders and pastors immediately for counsel. That is the only advice I can offer. Go to your leaders and go now. That said, how should the Christian think about divorce and the fact that so many Christian leaders and an innumerable number of “Christian” women are objecting to Patter’s remarks? First, what is the ground for the objection? If the Bible is our only guide and the Bible clearly provides permission for divorce under two and only two circumstances, then what are we to think about the suggestion that abuse is a new ground for biblical divorce? The Bible teaches that divorce is only allowed in cases of unrepentant adultery, or in the case of unbeliever abandonment/divorce. The Bible never encourages, recommends, guides, advises, or suggests that a Christian ought to seek a divorce. That is never the counsel of Scripture. So, when Patterson says he never counsels that women should divorce their husbands in cases of physical abuse, he is in fact counseling exactly the way Scripture instructs.
Now, modern women, and especially modern American women, and especially, modern pagan American women have a problem with this advice. Nothing could be more wicked than abuse as far as these women are concerned. And I agree that abuse is wicked. In fact, I have a younger sister and when she married, I had the traditional big-brother conversation with my new brother-in-law and he knew I meant every word of it. That aside, we have to ask what is driving the current outrage over Patterson’s remarks? Has Patterson said something that is so obviously contradictory to Scripture that we should be offended as believers? No, he has not. That is not the source of the outrage. The source of the outrage is a philosophy that has become deeply embedded in American society, even in American Christians, even in American Christian leaders. That philosophy is clearly at odds with the teachings of Scripture. The philosophy tells us that women deserve to be happy in their relationship with their spouse. It is a right. They are entitled to the kind of marriage that meets their standard. But that is not actually true if one holds to biblical Christianity. Biblical Christianity commands the husband and the wife to be content in their marriage covenant and to love one another.
Recently, Russell Moore has come out to say that physical abuse constitutes abandonment and therefore is grounds for divorce. The abandonment mentioned in 1 Cor. 7 is literal physical abandonment. Moreover, that abandonment itself, in that culture, was divorce. The ancient culture knew nothing of this idea of legal separation and divorce. Hence, when Paul said that if the unbeliever departs, let them depart, that departure itself was the exiting of the marriage covenant. Moore is wrong to suggest that physical abuse constitutes grounds for divorce and that to counsel a woman that way is, for a Christian pastor, reckless and irresponsible.
To add insult to injury, Beth Moore has joined the #MeToo fray and is using the current situation to bolster her own status within evangelicalism. Recently, Beth penned an open letter to her brothers in Christ in which she listed what can only be described as a list of behaviors that she interpreted as micro-aggressions of male abuse. She made much to do of a theologian who supposedly looked her up and down and told her she was prettier than another female speaker. Who knows what this “looked me up and down” actually looked like? In addition, Beth listed a number of other interactions she had with men that she felt were abusive or sexist. And there have been many Christian leaders who have positively responded to Beth: Russ Moore, Matt Chandler, J.D. Greer, and Thabiti Anyabwile just to mention a few. What are we to think about this situation?
Did Beth Moore do what a Christian should have done in these situations? Did she do what a Christian woman should have done in writing an open letter to all of us? I think she should have followed the instructions of Jesus in Matt. 18 and of Paul in Gal. 6:1. When the theologian behaved inappropriately toward her, she should have reminded him of Jesus’ words regarding the sin of adultery and dealing with lust in the heart, that is, if she really was convinced he was lusting. Perhaps it would have been better to have simply addressed the inappropriateness of his comments politely and let it go at that. In act situation, given that the behavior was out of bounds (and I am not saying it was or was not), Beth Moore had a responsibility to her brothers to love them by speaking with them at the time. She didn’t. That is regrettable. And it was wrong. It was a failure on her part to love her brothers just as much as it was a failure on the part of those brothers to love her and treat her with respect to the degree she should be respected. She is a false teacher and in rebellion against God in a number of areas. But I am placing that aside for the purpose of dealing with the issues. There are women who experience these things who are NOT false teachers. They ought to know how to deal with these issues biblically when they encounter them. Beth Moore’s behavior is not in accord with biblical principles. If I had access to Beth as a friend, I would tell her exactly this. That means that those leaders who do have access to Beth ought to be doing just that right now and we should see some sort of retraction and correction from Beth. But instead, we see these men propping up what amounts to behavior that ignores, clearly ignores the mandates of Scripture.
Adding insult to injury, a group of women has signed a letter (HERE) calling on the SWBTS Board of Trustees to take action. The method is one of mob intimidation. We see this in the SJW tribe, and now we are seeing it in the female tribe of American pagan culture that has taken root in and permeated the Christian church. What is driving this behavior? Sin would be the final answer. That said, it’s probably a good idea when we see behavior like this to understand how we are sinning so that we can better equip ourselves going forward to avoid the sin.
In one sense, there is a narcissistic attitude that is prevalent in the culture that has infected the church in two ways: first, there are a ton of false converts in our churches. They don’t know Christ and they don’t want to know him. What they want is the feeling of being a good person that supposedly comes with knowing him. But those who know Christ truly don’t have this sense of being a good person. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The better acquainted we are with our Lord, the better we understand that we are not a good person. The second reason narcissism exists in the church is the neglect of sound teaching methods and training. Thirty-minute SS lessons that are barely interactive and mostly superficial and predominantly geared to my happiness and self-esteem do nothing but contribute to the biblical incompetence that provides fertile soil for this kind of fallacious thinking and unbiblical behavior. People are no self-aware, not reflective enough, not introspective enough to honestly look at themselves and then look at Scripture so that they might be transformed into the image of Christ. And it seems to me that almost all modern Churches in the SBC and evangelicalism have no interest in the purity of the body of Christ. There is no stomach for or toleration of discipline. After all, a shrinking Christianity is a politically powerless Christianity. And now we are getting to the problem.
If you believe that Christianity has a duty to shape the culture, policies, laws, etc., then there are certain conditions that absolutely are vital to such an undertaking. And make no mistake about it, SJW do think that the church has as its mission, the duty to shape the culture in this way. In America, you change the culture through the political process, through protests, civil disobedience, unrest, punishing business whose principles you disagree with, getting people fired etc. These behaviors are all done under the guise of helping the helpless.
Now, in order for the church to have the muscle it needs to carry out this vision, it cannot be weak in number or lacking in credibility. What is needed is a church that is both large in number and sufficiently credible in the eyes of the culture so that it can use those numbers to influence the culture at large. This means that the church needs leaders who have their fingers on the pulse of the culture. You see, if we start excommunicating false-converts before you know, we are too small to matter politically. The only reason Washington pays any attention to evangelicals is that of our size. If we were actually the size of our true converts, we wouldn’t matter. No one would take any interest in us.
Second, we cannot be perceived to hold views that are instantly stigmatized by the world. Consequently, doctrines that society finds outrageous and offensive have to go. Denial of evolution theory is so incredible that we modify our views to get to an old earth, or theistic evolution. Adam and Eve are myths, not literal. The virgin birth can be rejected without consequence. But more importantly, the Christian ethic has to be refreshed so that it does not offend the ethics of society. For example, slavery was not condemned in the Bible. Slavery is racism. Racism is intolerable. Therefore, the Bible is intolerable. This puts these leaders in the unenviable position of having to do gyrations around the Bible’s teaching. The Bible has to be completely reinterpreted so that it doesn’t offend society’s ethics for the sake of the credibility of Christianity. This means these leaders not only come up with all sorts of creative ways to deny that the Bible does not condemn slavery, they must also come up with ways to make the Bible condemn what many modern people consider to be social injustices that amount to racism. This is the price you must pay if Christianity is to have an honored seat at the table.
Now, look at the Patterson issue and the Beth Moore open letter through that lens and think about what you see. Patterson has taken a stand on an issue that Scripture speaks to pretty clearly. However, the ethics revealed in Scripture is contrary to the one espoused by American society. To say that physical abuse is not grounds for divorce or worse, to say that a woman should not ipso facto seek a divorce because her husband has been physically abusive is about as outrageous as being an open racist. In other words, the view itself discredits the one holding it in the eyes of the culture. Your ability to influence evaporates immediately. And if that happens, you cannot even begin to shape the culture in any direction, let alone in the direction you think it should go. To add insult to injury, when Christians adopt these unpopular positions, they are marginalized and suffer extreme stigmatization at the hands of the culture. So, if your opinion of me matters too much to me, then that can serve to influence my own thinking, beliefs, and practices. This is why American society has such influence over the church and her leaders.
We are all susceptible to this kind of thinking. We want to be liked. And when we are not liked we are either hurt or in some cases, angry. I want to be liked. And when I have to say things that I know are going to cost me in that arena, I get angry. We have to be more concerned with God’s mandate to us, with God’s opinion of us than we are of society’s opinion of us. I have to put to death my desire to be liked by others. When that desire is unrestrained, I become less useful to my brothers. My brothers need me to love the truth more than them. And I need my brothers to love the truth more than me. If that state of affairs obtains, then my brothers and I will only love one another more than we would have if we loved the truth less than we love each other. The only way to love your brother more is to love the truth more than you love your brothers. Any time you love your brothers more than you love the truth, then you are not loving your brothers as much as you could or as much as you should.
It seems to me that modern evangelicals and the SBC, as well as some in the reformed community, have become or have been for some time, far too concerned with how society views them. American society has come to believe that Christianity is both intellectually and ethically untenable. Enlightenment philosophies have introduced entirely different criteria for what is intelligent belief and what is ethical behavior. Since these philosophies are antithetical to divine revelation from the start, it is not surprising that they affirm basic presuppositions that are hostile to and contradictory to Christian doctrine. Intellectually, it is simply backward thinking to affirm male headship in the home, at work, or in the church. Once you make such an affirmation, you are summarily dismissed as not credible. There are a number of basic Christian doctrines that fit this category. Miracles, or as add it seems, certain kinds of miracles are also believed to be intellectually untenable. The virgin birth is an example. Andy Stanley is on record as claiming that you do not have to believe in this miracle and many others in order to be a Christian. In other words, if it offends your intellect, you can reject it. God understands. This is true as well for views on relationships and especially divorce. The overwhelming majority of churches stopped excommunicating people for unbiblical divorce years and years ago. It simply isn’t taken seriously which means marriage isn’t taken seriously. This thinking contributed to the pagan notion that same-sex marriage makes sense.
So, when a preacher says abuse isn’t grounds for divorce between Christians, predictably, society finds such doctrine intellectually untenable and even unethical. You see, these women are not going to allow men like Russell Moore and the church at large to restrict abuse to physical abuse. The reason for that is that most women, the majority of women have never suffered physical abuse. I don’t say that to downplay the problem of abuse. It is a problem even if the numbers are low. That is not the subject of this post. Read me that way and you have misread me completely. Many women have suffered emotional and mental abuse, economic abuse, and a number of other abuses, so-called. Who gets to decide? The woman, who else? If it is true that physical abuse is grounds for divorce, then why not any other type of abuse? The door swings open wide now, doesn’t it. And why? Because the Bible swings it open wide? Nope! Leaders who are more concerned with the idea that society finds Christianity, and specifically, the SBC and evangelicalism both intellectually and ethically tenable. Only if that is true can we grow our numbers and grab the political capital we need to shape the culture. It is vital that Christian doctrine is held in high esteem by society.If we prove to be intellectually bankrupt or ethically repugnant, we have lost all hope that we can shape the path forward, or so the current leaders seem to think. They couldn’t be more wrong.
I will close with the following words from Paul: Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.