It’s really disgusting out there.
Not just out there, in the moral cesspool of American culture. I mean out there, in the moral cesspool that is rapidly and tragically coming to define American evangelicalism.
Within just the last few years, I’ve covered any number of shocking sex scandals within conservative evangelical circles: Sovereign Grace Ministries, Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips, the Jesus People movement, former Indiana Pastor Jack Schaap, and so on.
Right now, the most prominent conservative Christian sex scandal du jour involves Josh Duggar of the Duggar family, who’ve been popularized on the hit reality TV show, “19 Kids and Counting.”
You know the story by now, so I won’t rehash it. But on social media, I’ve been quite clear about my position on this rallying cry of: “Don’t judge Josh! He’s forgiven! Aren’t we all sinners? There but for the grace of God go I!”
To this simplistic mentality, I have said: “There’s more to this than just that.” Josh Duggar may have been forgiven by God, but he also got away with his sex crimes at the civil level. Read the online news reports for more on how that happened. And a truly repentant sinner both repents before God and accepts the full legal consequences for any crimes he has committed, without equivocation, cover-up, excuse or carefully worded PR statements. So again, I called for evangelicals to stop all this cheap-grace garbage and start addressing the problem of sexual abuse in our circles with more screening, more reporting and more compassion for the victims.
Now in airing my views on Josh Duggar out on social media, I apparently made some people mad. Par for the course; I am used to it. But soon, the barbs moved in a direction that really shocked me.
Some people actually started telling me that we’re all basically sexual predators at heart.
One follower informed me that “All 14-year-old boys want to molest girls.” He went on to tell me, “We have all committed sexual assault, if only for a second, if only in the heart.”
Of course, people sin by lusting in their hearts. We’ve all been sexually tempted at times and have had inappropriate, impure, sinful thoughts. I think most Christians will admit that freely. But all young teenaged boys DON’T want to “molest” girls. Kiss and hug, maybe, or perhaps beyond, but “molest?” No. Guys, lest you doubt my assertion, read this definition of “molestation” and see if you’ve ever yearned to do any of this “in your heart.”
Molestation: n. the crime of sexual acts with children up to the age of 18, including touching of private parts, exposure of genitalia, taking of pornographic pictures, rape, inducement of sexual acts with the molester or with other children … also applies to incest by a relative with a minor family member, and any unwanted sexual acts with adults short of rape. (Source: http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Molestation)
Boys, does this sound like you? How about you men? Did every single one of you desire to commit any of that predatory, criminal behavior at age 14? I expect not.
What about the assertion that everyone has committed “sexual assault” in the heart? Let’s take a look at what that phrase really means:
Sexual assault: n. a wide range of unwanted sexual contact such as rape, forced vaginal, anal or oral penetration, forced sexual intercourse, inappropriate touching, forced kissing, child molestation ,exhibitionism, voyeurism, obscene phone calls torture of a victim in a sexual manner etc. (Source: http://definitions.uslegal.com/s/sexual-assault/)
I don’t know about you, but I can honestly tell you I’ve never thought about committing the felony crimes of “molestation” or “sexual assault,” in any of those forms, ever.
I contend, in fact, that if you are someone who really has desired to molest girls or rape women “in your heart,” you need to know that you are a potentially dangerous deviant who should immediately seek professional help before your fantasies become reality.
This is my view, which I expressed to several professing Christian men on Twitter who kept trying in vain to convince me that we are all not just sinners, but sexual deviants at heart. I continued to strongly object, noting this is not a biblical concept and agreeing with a friend who summed it up perfectly: “No one is saying their heart is perfect, but neither is everyone’s heart perverted!”
But the hits kept coming. The next morning, I received another tweet from a man who said this: “Ask your husband if he EVER had a rape thought … You may be surprised. Not hatin, just sayin.”
My husband? How did my family get dragged into this? Having failed to get me on board with their Scripture twisting, were these dirty-minded boys really trying to move it to a personal level and make the case that my own husband is a secretly deviant, wannabe predator?
Yeah, they went there.
To my husband’s credit, he decided to directly and honestly respond to the man. Here’s what he wrote: “No, I never had a thought that evil cross my mind. If you do, I’d suggest professional help.”
You’d think it would have ended there. But it did not. Because it was at this point that J.D. Hall jumped into the fray.
Now you might remember the name J.D. Hall. He is a Montana-based pastor, author and founder of the Pulpit & Pen blog. But he is perhaps best known for his online harassment of former Brewton-Parker College president Ergun Caner’s teenaged son Braxton, who tragically ended up committing suicide last year.
According to The Christian Post, Pastor Hall “confessed to his congregation at Fellowship Baptist Church that he was ‘crushed” by Braxton’s death.”
Pastor Hall, who’d become notorious in many Christian circles for his aggressive online battles in the name of “defending truth,” told his church at the time: “The irony is that about three weeks ago I made known to you, my flock, that I was walking away from these conflicts. … In one sense, I am reaping what I sowed. When you live by the sword, you die by it … Knowing now that this young man struggled with that level of despair, I am even more sorry that my interaction with him was adversarial rather than pastoral.”
At the time he said this, I thought Pastor Hall’s response to the tragedy was wholly appropriate and right. How impressive, I thought, that he could humble himself like that, admit how wrong his behavior was and vow never to become adversarial in an online context ever again. Good for him!
Well, that was then.
Because as soon as Pastor Hall saw my husband deny on Twitter that he was literally a “rapist at heart,” he swooped in for the kill.
He tweeted to my husband: “Yeah, are you sure? Our view of depravity calls baloney on that.” When I retweeted my husband’s response, Pastor Hall further mocked me for retweeting my husband’s denial, telling us, “You know what’s funny? Your wife RT’d that like she believed you.”
Guess what, Pastor Hall? I do believe my husband isn’t a “rapist at heart,” because unlike you, I have the advantage of knowing him. I do believe, and he readily admits, that he is a sinner saved by grace who has sinful or inappropriate thoughts at times (so do I)! But to call out a man you’ve never met for not admitting a bonafide deviancy that he doesn’t have is rather striking behavior from a pastor whose attacks on public figure’s families in the past haven’t ended so well.
The exchange grew worse. I was admittedly angry to see a pastor I’ve never met – and his co-combatants – stoop to the level of repeatedly attacking the character of my husband. None of them has even met my husband. And to me, it smacked of projection. Apparently, Pastor Hall and his cohorts believe it is normal for even Christian men to be sexually deviant – not just sinful, as the Bible and historic confessions of faith define it, but flat-out deviant — which is not normal, by definition. And to Pastor Hall, if you deny having deviant thoughts, it’s not that you don’t have them. It’s that you’re a liar who, in his words, is “denying the depth of our depravity.” Could it be that in hearing a Christian man honestly state he’d never had rape thoughts, Pastor Hall’s own conscience was pricked?
In a long response Hall wrote after his social-media combat, he even equated looking at a woman with lust in the heart as equivalent to rape. Hall writes: “To look at a woman, desiring her sexually and to ravish her with your mind, is no doubt contrary to her desires and against her will. In a Biblical understanding of sin, this is rape of the mind as a man undresses the woman with his imagination. And so yes, I am very skeptical that any man with a desire toward the opposite sex has not had such thoughts.”
To this, I say: “Really, Pastor Hall? So any man who’s ever desired a woman in his heart is a would-be rapist? Where is it written? Where exactly does the Word of God say that desiring a woman sexually is the equivalent of rape?
I would first point Pastor Hall to what Jesus did and did not say in Matthew 5:28: ”But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Now note what the Lord did not say. He did NOT say, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed rape against her in his heart!” Physical adultery involves two willing parties, and it is this female willingness that a man’s lust presumably desires and prefers. Rape, by contrast, is the violent, forcible and criminal sexual overtaking of a woman by a man without her consent, subjecting her to shame, humiliation, degradation and possible physical injury. Big difference!
Referring specifically to me and my husband, Hall continued: “When our own claims of heart-purity are challenged, the self-righteous person attacks with a visceral negative reaction. That is because the self-righteous person finds a level of assurance in their own righteousness, and to threaten to take away that assurance must be met with hostility.”
First of all, Pastor Hall fails to prove that either my husband or I have ever claimed any “heart-purity” whatsoever (which, by the way, we haven’t). The only righteousness either of us have is an imputed righteousness earned for us by Christ’s perfect obedience to the law on our behalf, an alien righteousness that is granted to us only by faith in Him.
Had Hall bothered to actually stop and ask either of us our views on total depravity or original sin, he would have learned that we both wholly believe we are sinners saved by grace, without any excuse, condemned as to our law-breaking, wholly dependent upon our Savior Jesus Christ for salvation, and justified and forgiven solely through His atoning death, burial and triumphant resurrection from the dead on our behalf.
But Pastor Hall is a bully, and an impulsive one at that. He doesn’t waste time thoughtfully and kindly questioning and interacting with those he perceives to have “gotten it wrong” before going for the jugular. So that question was never posed.
And to another false assertion Pastor Hall made against us: I would expect most people would have a “visceral reaction” to a charge of “you’re in denial that you’re a rapist at heart.” This is not because of any self-righteousness on the accused’s part, but because on its face, the charge is absurd, indefensible, unbiblical and, frankly, flat-out deranged.
Most troubling of all, Hall bizarrely veers into even more insanity unsupported by Scripture. He writes that “the thoughts of every man (at least once) are exceedingly sick and twisted.”
Scripture certainly does describe fallen man as wicked, with evil thoughts. Jesus said, “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7: 21-23) This is absolutely true!
But the Lord did not, and the rest of the Word does not, describe the universal state of man’s thoughts as “exceedingly sick and twisted.” In fact, that kind of language is generally applied only to rare criminals like serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who was so far from normal that researchers made a point of studying his postmortem brain to try to understand his freakishly immoral conduct. What’s more, if we’re all “sick and twisted,” how can we possibly get it together enough to self-diagnose, anyway?
Pastor Hall then ends his response with a lecture to me and my husband, informing us that we’re hurting the gospel because we’re saying we’re “above the fray,” we’re “preaching the wrong message,” and we need some “Gospel-centered introspection.”
I would contend that if we did actually deny original sin, which we emphatically do not, Pastor Hall’s online behavior would have readily convinced us of it. In that vein, Pastor Hall, take a bow for your perceived victory there.
The true scandal of this interaction is not only that Pastor Hall has not changed his bullying ways, but it is he – the self-appointed “defender of truth” — who is ironically preaching the “wrong message.”
All men and women are sinners. But all men and women are not deviants, at heart or otherwise. Because by definition, “deviant” means “departing from the norm.”
And on just a practical level, it must be noted that Pastor Hall can no more announce every man is literally a “sick and twisted” deviant in his heart – even if he believes it — any more than he can confidently announce every man’s peanut-butter-brand preferences. In addition to having no biblical proof for this assertion, he also can’t possibly know exactly and specifically what is in the heart of every man. I Cor. 2:11 tells us plainly: “For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them?” We all struggle with various sins, but we struggle with different sins, and one size does not fit all. Pastor Hall may wrestle with sick and twisted thoughts himself (though that’s a problem in and of itself, if true!), as may some of the men he counsels, but that in no way can lead to the leap in logic that, therefore, every single man on earth has sick and twisted thoughts.
I also want to make an important biblical point here on the matter of the thoughts and mind of a Christian. Yes, we are simultaneously justified and sinful, struggling against sin even as believers (Romans 7). But let’s also not forget the good news! Because of our union and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin. Sin no longer controls us, as it once did. And so we have the hope that as the Lord continues our sanctification process, we can increasingly put off not just outward sin – but also sinful thoughts!
The Bible has much to say about our thoughts and our minds. Paul urges believers to set their minds on what is good: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil. 4:8) Romans 12:2 tells us: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
But even more pertinent to the issue is Romans 8:5: “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” What’s more, Paul says in I Corinthians 2:16: “We have the mind of Christ.” If you are a Christian, living according to the Spirit, and you have the mind of Christ, and you’re daily being conformed to Christ’s image, how could you simultaneously have a “sick and twisted” mind all along the way?
This is the tragedy of Pastor Hall’s hopeless and unbiblical assertions. He seems to have no category for a man who’s not permanently deviant at heart.
Additionally, Christians who do struggle with occasional impure and sinful thoughts need to be reminded that they’re new creatures in Christ. Even the formerly worst among us have new natures once they are in Christ. Because of Christ, they are not slaves to their fallen natures anymore – in body or in mind! Is this not one of the most glorious truths about our new natures in Christ? Is this not the message that most needs to be proclaimed to Christians in their struggle against sin? Not kicking them as a bunch of sorry, deviant worms with no hope, but encouraging them to grow in Christ as the transformed people that they really are? “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.” (I Peter 2:10)
Also, go back and spend some time reading Ephesians 2:1-10, which describes what we once were but what we are no longer, because of Jesus Christ. Be sure to note the complete absence of any references to God’s people being “sick and twisted” at heart.
This is exactly why Pastor Hall must be called out – no longer just for the Internet bullying that this self-proclaimed “defender of truth” can’t seem to rein in, but for his doctrine. And not just called out, but stopped in his tracks.
A year ago, Pastor Hall thoroughly embarrassed himself and the theological system he proclaims by mercilessly attacking a teenager on the Internet, a young man who tragically took his own life. Pastor Hall repented publicly for his behavior and claimed to have learned his lesson, and many people took him at his word. But what this latest episode shows is that Pastor Hall has not learned his lesson at all. He isn’t self-controlled, he hasn’t stopped his bullying ways, and he has espoused a view of human nature that can’t be defended with Scripture, causing many to raise serious questions about the state of his own mind.
This affects many of us, because Pastor Hall works hard to try to increase his own fame and influence through Pulpit & Pen, while doing his level best to climb up the ranks of the Christian Celebrity Ladder, cozying up to better-known Christian leaders in his quest to make a name for himself. Oh, he’s made a name for himself, all right – as an aggressive online bully with a perverse view of human nature. But is that good for him, his church, his ministry, or any of the rest of us?
We must cry foul. And it must be clearly stated that not only does Pastor Hall need to get off the Internet, but for the sake of Christ’s church at large, there must be no place for Pastor Hall to advance in the ranks of our well-regarded Christian leaders. I don’t care how “good” his doctrine may be in other areas. His doctrine on human nature isn’t biblical; in fact, his doctrine is dangerous. We already know how he conducts himself online. Hasn’t this man already done enough public damage to the cause of Christ? The enabling needs to stop, for both our sakes and for his. Trust me, the Christian online community and conferences will survive just fine without him.
That said, I really do hope and pray that this incident will be the catalyst for change in Pastor Hall’s life, that he will finally repent and change his ways. I’m always hopeful that God can change people. But will it happen? I don’t know. So far, he hasn’t apologized to me or my husband for his nasty online behavior, only emailing me that he apologizes for not first “airing his concerns privately” to us. This tells me that he still doesn’t get it. And the last time he assured us all that he finally got it, we now know he didn’t get it at all.
And in the end, Pastor Hall desperately needs to get it. So until he finally does, he needs to go away.