To help Christians and churches better understand what the Bible says on both alcohol and illegal drug use, the Christian Life Commission has compiled a new resource. It is a six-page document titled "On Alcohol & Drug Use: A Biblical Perspective." (It does not deal with prescription drug abuse; we hope to do something soon on that subject.)
In American culture alcohol use is common. Advertising associates drinking with good times, parties, and beautiful people. It may not, however, be as widely consumed as sometimes perceived. The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health said 70.1 percent of people reported they drank alcoholic beverages in the past year; 56.0 percent reported that they drank in the past month. That's most Americans, but almost half of Americans steered clear of alcohol over the previous month.
Still, the negative consequences of alcohol abuse are staggering. According the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, here are some of the stats:
We protect children and teenagers because they are a gift from God and a blessing to the world. As they grow, however, they are vulnerable because of their size and stages of development. Children and teens need adults to care for and protect them as they grow.
Not all societies have placed a high value on young life and the importance of protecting them. Even in the United States, child labor laws had to be enacted to protect children and young teens from being exploited. We also make sure children and teens get a basic education, that young ones are safely secured in vehicles, that children are treated properly by parents, and that no adult is allowed to be involved sexually with someone under age 17.
While not all cultures protect children and teens in the way the current American society does, Scripture sets forth the high value God places on young people. (The Bible was written in a time and place when children were seen as "coming of age" at 13; in our society, with its growing complexity, that age is more generally seen as about 17 or 18, and various laws reflect that increase.)
When a sexual assault is reported, church leaders may be tempted to invoke the Apostle Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 6:1. “If any of you has a dispute against another, how dare you take it to court before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?” (CSB).
That passage is dealing with what we in the U.S. call civil lawsuits, where church members were asking the Roman courts to rule on disagreements between church members. “As it is, to have legal disputes against one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” (1 Corinthians 6:7, CSB).
This passage is not dealing with sexual assault. If a Christian in Corinth had murdered someone at a church meeting, the church, I think, would have called the local authorities to have the person arrested before he could kill anyone else.
Two thousand years ago Jesus put his heal on the notion of revenge. “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:38-39, CSB).
This sounds wonderful until you are the one slapped; then it gets personal. I was taught by a Christ-following dad that if someone hit me, I was to hit him back. It was a reflection of the practical rural wisdom he grew up with, not with what Jesus taught.
Revenge gets embedded in us early. And here’s the interesting thing, revenge is related to justice. That’s the point of the eye-for-an-eye instruction in the Old Testament. It actually limited punishment to an equal response for an offense. In other words, if someone steals my cow, I’m not supposed to go and kill his son. I’m supposed to seek a just recompense -- one of his cows, or maybe more than one cow as a punishment.
Even though eye-for-an-eye justice is limiting, you can see how it metastasizes, especially when individuals or groups seek to exert what they think is a fair punishment, not what some external authority thinks is just.
This happens over and over on the global stage. An interesting article in The Washington Posttalks about how white supremacists and Muslim fundamentalists are feeding off of one another.
Abuse is evil. The Houston Chronicle’s recent series of articles about sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention sheds some light on this pervasive problem in churches.
This is a watershed moment, and it is also an opportunity for Southern Baptists to step up and walk the narrow path of repentance and change.
I am inspired by survivors like Debbie Vasquez and David Pittman, their stories were featured in the article, who courageously share with the world about their traumatic experiences. They speak truth to prevent the same thing from happening to others.
Their stories are heart-wrenching and infuriating, and unfortunately, they are nothing new to the church. I know multiple women and men who were sexually assaulted by church leaders as children. While healing is possible, the trauma of abuse ravages people physically, mentally, and emotionally for years and decades.
This is our opportunity to listen to survivors and mourn together.
Stories like Heather Schneider’s are haunting. Churches have the opportunity to listen to her mom, Gwen Casados, about her abuse and suicide and hear from survivors in our communities. Survivors are everywhere, including our churches. In the broader U.S. culture, one in three women and one in six menhave experienced sexual abuse in their lifetime.
We can step up, listen, and learn from survivors; their voices and stories matter the most.
Sometimes it is hard to acknowledge what we know to be real. Such is the case with sexual abuse that happens in churches or by a church leader or volunteer.
It is real. It is tragic. It is devastating to lives. It is damaging to the cause of Christ.
The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News have partnered in producing a three-part series on sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches. This is not the kind of news any Southern Baptist wants to read, but it is exactly the kind that we must read.
Reporting possible crimes
Any charge of sexual misconduct should be taken seriously. If it involves possible criminal activity, law enforcement should be immediately contacted. Keeping it quiet within the church is not a option.
If we think a store has been broken into, we call the police. If we think money has been embezzled, we contact authorities. If there is any indication a sexual assault has been committed, a church needs to report it.
The wise approach to any instance of alleged sexual abuse or assault is to call the police, says Kathryn Freeman, the Christian Life Commission’s director of public policy. Reporting such crimes is also the law in Texas.
A new Barna report shows that pastors “place a premium on discipleship when it comes to social issues.”
Nine in 10 pastors (90%) say it is a major part of their role to help Christians have biblical beliefs about specific social issues. Just under three-quarters (72%) say helping Christians think well about culture in general is a major part of their job.
Pastors believe they can make a real difference when it comes to developing this kind of cultural discernment. More than nine in 10 believe they have influence with their congregants when it comes to how they think about current issues in society (31% say “a lot” of influence, 60% “some” influence). Most leaders express optimism that their congregants are prepared for a divided culture—a majority of pastors says their congregants are somewhat (55%) or very (7%) well-equipped to have conversations on sensitive topics.
We can be thankful most pastors say it is a “major part” of their work to help believers develop a biblically informed view of social issues. Also, most see themselves having at least “some” influence on how church members think about current issues.
I’m not as confident as the pastors who say their congregants are well-equipped to have conversations on sensitive cultural topics.
In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. declared:
I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up.
Merriam Webster’s Thesaurus lists shameless boldness as the best synonym for the word audacity.
Dr. King embodied righteous audacity as he proclaimed that every person regardless of race, country, or creed has the right to a full and healthy life despite the realities of oppression in the world.
Is this not the very essence of faith in Christ? Despite darkness, light wins. Despite oppression, freedom prevails. Despite hunger, people eat in abundance. The first shall be last. This audacious faith seems fitting for people who believe the God of the Universe became human in order to save the entire world from sin and evil.
In Texas, one in four children struggle with hunger. Our state ranks last -- 51st (50 states plus the District of Columbia) -- in terms of health care coverage. Thirty-one percent of Texans under 65 do not have health insurance and have barriers to adequate healthcare.
The “arc of the moral universe ... is bending toward justice.”
These are now famous words, but are they true? What do you see when you do a personal memory scan of what you know about history. Some of us may see an arc toward justice; others of us may wonder.
We surely have not arrived at complete justice in the United States.
We live in a nation of laws, which is a huge step toward greater justice, but those laws are not always justly applied across economic and racial divides.
We live in a nation of inclusiveness that promotes justice for all persons without regard to race or ethnicity, but still bigotry and racism flourish in both language and violence.
Justice and injustice -- both are real.
Scripture makes it clear that God is just and wants justice. One reason some people miss this is that in Scripture the words translated as justice or righteousness are often the same words in Hebrew or Greek.
Symptoms, we call them. When I can't stop coughing, it's an indication something is wrong in my lungs. When my truck will not start, there's something wrong under the hood. When young people drop out of church, there's something wrong. Dropping out is a symptom.
It’s not really news that many young adults stop attending church regularly after high school. New numbers show the situation is actually a little better now than 10 years ago.
But if we care about the people these numbers represent and the teenagers who are following them, then the reasons why they leave are very important.
Top five reasons for dropping out:
Moved to college
Judgmental or hypocritical church members
Disconnected from people in church
Disagreed with church’s political/social issues stance
Work responsibilities prevented attendance