Russell D. Moore on What to Do When Scott Peterson Sits in Your Pew (and He Will)
You probably didn’t notice Scott Peterson in church this past Sunday. But he was there. Somewhere in the third pew from the back, or perhaps in the children’s Sunday-school choir. Of course, Scott Peterson could have visited no church this past Sunday—and he would have been noticed if he had. The paparazzi would have followed him through the foyer and into the sanctuary. He is a celebrity now, as he sits on death row for brutally murdering his wife and unborn baby, and dumping them in the water while he partied on with his lover.
The problem is that Scott Peterson is not just anindividual; he is a type. There were little boys and young men in our congregations this past Sunday who are wondering what it means to be a man, who have no idea what it means to be a protector of women and children. Any one of them could be the next generation’s Scott Peterson, in heart if not in deed.
We err if we think that Scott Peterson is all that unusual. And we err even further if we think that this phenomenon exists only outside our church walls. We all have seen the faces of women we can’t get to visit our churches for weeks at a time, because they don’t want anyone to see the bruised eye left by a man’s fist. We all have heard of the teenage girl driven to a “clinic” in the city to dispose of a baby her deacon father or youth-group-leader boyfriend didn’t want discovered.
We all have seen the tearful woman silently crying in a church building while her adulterous husband sings the special music on the platform up front, with hands raised and eyes closed. We all have seen the little boy, with eyes averted and head low, walking into our Vacation Bible School, dropped off by a mom who must work three jobs because his father abandoned them for a woman with a particular way with peroxide, silicon, and Botox.
As Christians, we know what this is: a spirit of murder. Jesus has taught us that hatred of our brother (or our sister or our child) is not simply an emotion. It is the fountainhead of murder (Matt. 5:21–22). The Apostle John explicitly identifies hatred with the kind of murderous spirit that led to the slaughter of Abel (1 John 3:11–15). And Jesus traces all of this back to the one who was a “murderer from the beginning,” the Evil One himself (John 8:44). This is especially appalling when men act murderously against their wives and children.
Why is the public so fascinated with these cases that they light up the cable network talk-fests night after night, day after day? See the public’s fascination not only with Peterson but also with Robert Blake and O. J. Simpson. Some would say people watch for the glamour or celebrity of the individuals involved. But Scott Peterson was no celebrity until he became a suspect, and though Robert Blake may have been a celebrity at one time, the glamour had, let’s face it, departed years ago.
Something else is afoot here. We seem to know instinctively, whatever our egalitarian culture tells us, that men have a unique responsibility to protect women and children. We’re eerily disturbed and fascinated when they instead become predators against them. Sociologists and criminologists tell us that this kind of violence is not all that unique, whatever the soap opera storylines involved in these particular cases. All over the country, every year, thousands of men hurt their wives and girlfriends—often, inexplicably, when these women are pregnant with their children. We should not be so surprised.
The number and ways of expressing hostility toward women and children are skyrocketing in our culture, even as it encourages men to view “responsibility” and “commitment” (i.e., being husbands and fathers) with dread and disdain. And I am not just talking about the obvious family revisionists from the left fringe of the culture wars.
Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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