The Culture of the Christ-Haunted South

Russell Moore, the president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, begins his latest book, Onward, by telling a story.Onward Russ had a college friend, an atheist, who wasn’t antagonistic towards the Christian faith so much as he found it simply irrelevant. Russ and he had friendly coffee-shop debates about the existence of God, and on a number of occasions Russ had shared his faith with his unbelieving friend. So when his friend, out of the blue, asked Russ to recommend a church for him to attend, Russ thought the friend must have had a Damascus Road-type conversion. His friend quickly corrected Russ:

He rolled his eyes. “I don’t believe any of that stuff,” he said. “But I want to go into politics, and I’m never going to be elected to anything in this state if I’m not a church member. And I’ve looked at the numbers; there are more Southern Baptists around here than anything else, so sign me up.”

I was stunned into momentary silence as he stopped to check out a girl walking past our table. He then took a swig of coffee and continued, “But seriously, nothing freaky; if anybody starts screaming about hell or pulling a snake out of a box, I’m out of there.” (2)

Russ makes his point well. There has been a serious downside to the culture of the Bible-Belt, a milieu he calls “the culture of the Christ-haunted South.” For many persons, claiming to be a Christian became so expedient that it blinded them about the actual claims of Christ.

Russ argues that the collapse of the Bible-Belt provides the Church with a new opportunity. “We ought to see the ongoing cultural shake-up in America as a liberation of sorts from a captivity we never even knew we were in” (7). In Onward: Engaging the Gospel without Losing the Culture, Russ Moore makes the case for a clear-eyed optimism. I think he’s right.

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A Few Thoughts about Kim Davis’ Imprisonment

Last week on Sept 3, Kim Davis, the county clerk for Rowan County, Kentucky, was jailed for contempt of court. Rather than issue state marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Davis stopped processing marriage licenses altogether. She and her office were sued by both straight and gay couples. The courts ruled against Davis, and when she refused to comply a federal judge had her taken into custody.HT_kim_davis_jef_150903_16x9_992  As of this writing, she remains in jail. The Rowan County clerk’s office now grants licenses to same-sex couples. A concise and clear summary of the case and the issues involved can be found in the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s The Weekly Explainer. I want to express a few thoughts:

1. Kim Davis is right not to violate her conscience. To the best of his or her ability, a Christian has a responsibility to the Lord to obey His will as expressed in His Word. The Bible gives numerous examples of believers who find themselves in circumstances that require them to stand against the tide. The Books of Esther and Daniel were written for the express purpose of providing such examples. I admire and respect Davis’ courage and conviction.

2. There is no need to give a blanket approval to the way Davis handled this matter. She was wrong to shut down the County Clerks office. Her decision to refuse all marriage licenses is problematic. Because she is an elected official (as a Democrat), she cannot be removed from office except by impeachment. This appears to be a case where resigning in protest may have been the best course of action for her to have taken.

3. Kim Davis should not have been put in jail. In their article “Need We Jail Each Other Over Marriage Licenses“, Russ Moore and Andy Walker point out that this situation was created by the overreach of the federal government and the failure of the Kentucky state government. They note:

[T]he judicial ruling against Mrs. Davis needlessly escalated the events in Kentucky by meting out an unnecessarily harsh penalty—incarceration—with failure to consider similar past measures undertaken by those in support of same-sex marriage. As many others have noted, those who are now hailing the rule of law as a way of cudgeling Mrs. Davis are the same voices who once undermined it in the name of advancing same-sex marriage. When Attorney General Jack Conway (now the Democratic candidate for governor) refused to defend Kentucky’s marriage law, no negative recourse was handed out even though Conway got to play pick-and-choose with the laws he believed were worth defending. Furthermore, when a same-sex couple in Kentucky exercised civil disobedience at being turned down for a same-sex marriage license in 2013, they were arrested, fined one cent, and quickly set free. With the length of her incarceration unknown, is Mrs. Davis receiving equal treatment?

4. This is just the beginning. We are going to have to think carefully about how we respond to future situations. As Moore and Walker’s article notes, there are differences between the religious liberty claims of private individuals and those of government officials. Christians must pray for the wisdom, grace, and courage to stand rightly for the truth. Days like these require from us the spiritual balance to be “as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves”.

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Who Are the Weak Among Us Today?

J.D. Greear recently published an article on his blog discussing how as he finished preaching through a series on the book of Judges at his church he realized how easy it is to read Judges and condemn the people for their heinous acts. But, as J.D. writes:

[W]e’ve got to realize that we aren’t any different. What we see in Judges 17–21 is just the inevitable result of casting off the rule of God. It begins with re-defining morality, and it always ends with the strong oppressing the weak.

This raises the question for us: who are the weak among us today? Where has our society, in a frantic rush to dismiss the wisdom of God, left a trail of pain and brokenness in its wake?

To read the entire article, head over to J.D.’s blog.