Photo courtesy ERLC
As we emerge from a political season that exposed the cultural divides of our country, American Christians may feel the temptation to retreat from the public square. But now more than ever, a truthful, winsome, and loving Christian witness is essential.
We sat down with Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, to discuss how pastors, ministry leaders, and parents can navigate a complex (and morally hazardous) cultural and technological landscape.
What are some common mistakes pastors and ministry leaders make when seeking to engage culture?
I think sometimes pastors and leaders simply take whatever they find objectionable in the culture and rail against it. They sometimes use the language of decline, where we’re in the worst situation we’ve ever been in before, and these very dire terms—which is not true. If you look at every generation of the Church you see older people complaining that the next generation is just going to pieces. That’s always been the case in every history of the Church. It’s fear-mongering. It’s easy to stand up and rail against other people’s sins in a way that can cause your congregation, or your Bible study group, or whatever it is that you have responsibility over, to think “Man he is really hard against sin,” when in reality, we’re just hard against other people’s sins, and we don’t have the courage to address the sins that are going on right in front of us.
The most dangerous things about the culture are not what’s being debated on CNN or Facebook. The most dangerous things for your people are the things that nobody is arguing about, because we’ve already accommodated those things, or because we don’t see those things coming down the pike.
What are some of those things?
Well, for instance, look at what happened with pornography. You had Christians who believed that they were winning the fight on pornography, because, back in the 90s, convenience stores weren’t stocking pornographic magazines anymore. Well, what was right around the corner? A digital revolution that made pornography ubiquitous and with an illusion of anonymity. And so we need to be the people who recognize many of the issues that are going to be facing us are going to be technologically driven.
One pastor told me that most of the issues he’s dealing with when people come in and say “I’ve got this burden of sin on me right now,” are things that would not have been technologically possible when this guy started ministering. So we need to be looking at where technology is going to how technology is going to change us and change the situation around us. We need to be watching those things and speak to those things, not just with the word of, “Can you believe how awful it is,” but to say, “Some of you are being trapped in this. Here’s how, through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ and through the community of the Church, where the weak are bearing up the strong, you can be ministered to and you can be free.”
As a parent, how are you training your children to engage thoughtfully as they grow into adulthood?
The main thing we do is to make sure that we’re not putting a burden upon our children that they can not handle. I have children ranging from ages 3 to 14. My kids are the only kids in the neighborhood who don’t have smartphones, or who don’t have iPads, because I believe that unrestricted access to the Internet at that age is not something that a 14-year-old boy ought to be expected to burden or to handle.
I’m thankful to God as a Gen-Xer that I came of age right before the digital revolution. Because, if I had been born just a couple of years later, I think I probably would have been destroyed; my parents wouldn’t have been aware of what all was out there out in cyberspace. I know who I was as a 15-year-old, 16-year-old boy. It would have sifted me like wheat. As parents, we make sure that what our children have is what they are able to handle. And then we spend a lot of time talking about, “Here’s what temptation looks like, and here’s what the gospel looks like, and here’s what happens when you find yourself in a situation where you have really messed up.”
So, for instance, we’re talking about substance abuse. We had a reason to be talking about drunkenness, and I had to say, “I hope that you will never go down that path. If you do, though, here’s what you do. If you find yourself in that sort of situation, you call me.” Then I explained how I would respond to it, because what I don’t want is a situation where as they grow up, they think that they have to hide from the people who can help them. And I’m aware enough of the biblical story where every family in the Bible—every family—has issues of prodigals and temporary prodigals and sometimes permanently prodigals. So I’m under no illusion that simply because my wife and I are intentional in our parenting that our children are going to just simply follow the same path that we did.
What I do want to make sure is that they know that if they find themselves in a time of rebellion, that rebellion need not be permanent. We remind them, “We’re still going to be your parents, and here’s how we’re going to respond.”
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
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