I posted last night:
Several friends and church members were curious why this late announcement from the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention elicited such a strong response from me. I wanted to share a few thoughts.
First of all, it has nothing to do with VP Mike Pence’s personal character or Christian faith. I don’t know the Vice President, and I can’t speak about his relationship with Jesus. From all appearances, he seems to be a sincere man and a faithful husband.
Here are the reasons why this move saddens me.
Politicians do not belong at the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Southern Baptist Convention is annual meeting of churches to conduct the business of our cooperative efforts. We hear reports from our seminaries and organizations. We commission missionaries. We gather to be encouraged by faithful preaching and singing together. We draft resolutions. It is not a place for politicians or political rallies.
Baptists have championed religious liberty for centuries, yet it saddens me that we don’t exercise this liberty by telling politicians–of both parties, “We love you. We will pray for you. But you don’t belong on our convention stage.”
Many of us were hoping for deep repentance.
As late as two days ago, the Washington Post was still reporting about the fall of one of our most recognized leaders Paige Patterson. Patterson, who was scheduled to preach at this year’s convention, was fired from his presidency of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary after testimonies surfaced from a female student who claimed in 2003 he strong-armed her in private meetings into not reporting rape to the police.
A further instance of rape cover-up was brought to light from 2015. Kevin Ueckert, chairman of the board at SWBTS, said he was given an email in which Patterson “discussed meeting with the student alone so that he could ‘break her down’ and that he preferred no officials be present.”
On top of this, earlier this year Frank Page, CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, stepped down from his post confessing a “morally inappropriate relationship in the recent past.”
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, reflected on the gravity of this moment in denominational life:
…the issues are far deeper and wider.
Sexual misconduct is as old as sin, but the avalanche of sexual misconduct that has come to light in recent weeks is almost too much to bear. These grievous revelations of sin have occurred in churches, in denominational ministries, and even in our seminaries.
Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention. The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance. There can be no doubt that this story is not over.
This is exactly what those who opposed the Conservative Resurgence warned would happen. They claimed that the effort to recover the denomination theologically was just a disguised move to capture the denomination for a new set of power-hungry leaders.
Over the past few months, Southern Baptists have expressed great sorrow over how our own blindness to sin in our midst could have contributed to the trampling of women in our churches. Many of us were hoping this convention would be a time of humility, weeping, contrition of heart, and brokenness before the Lord for sin in our denomination.
Can we not see the sad irony that less than a week after the keynote preacher of the convention has to step down for allegations of rape cover-up, SBC President Steve Gaines is pleased to welcome the Vice President into our gathering “to express appreciation to Southern Baptists for the contributions we make to the moral fabric of our nation”?
The prophet Jeremiah comes to mind:
“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 6:14-15)
Southern Baptists, do we even know how to blush? If ever there was a time to be ashamed, to weep, to wail, and to moan over our transgressions, this convention is it. But Wednesday’s congratulatory greeting shows we have no interest in spending too much time dwelling on the gravity of our sins.
We are completely tone deaf to the concerns of minorities and women.
I was at last year’s convention in Phoenix when the denomination stumbled hard, but finally succeeded in passing a resolution denouncing the Alt-Right and White Supremacy. Many of us begged for forgiveness from the black brothers and sisters in the denomination for being clumsy in seeking to do the right thing.
Whether the Vice President shares the perspective of the administration, I do not know, but he represents the president. And whether we like it or not, welcoming the Vice President to the convention platform communicates to the world that we align with this administration’s comments regarding women and minorities. Are we to expect the minorities and black congregations who remain in the SBC to forgive us again as we shrug innocently once more and say, “We had no idea!”
I would encourage you to ask a friend who is black or latino how they perceive this move by the SBC. Listen to their response.
The Church is not a voting bloc.
More than a couple of friends and acquaintances mentioned how much of an honor it is to have the Vice President at our gathering. I believe it would be an honor to be recognized by our nation’s leaders under other circumstances and in a different setting.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened. It’s a regular pattern in our denomination. George H. W. Bush’s Vice President Dan Quayle welcomed the messengers in 1992, in the throes of an election year. The year before, President Bush himself addressed the convention. In 2002 and 2007, President George W. Bush addressed the convention via satellite.
We are fools if we do not realize we are being treated as a voting bloc that needs to be glad-handed and petted before each election. I cannot fault politicians. It’s their job to get elected–or re-elected. But I can fault our denominational leaders for allowing a significant portion of our one annual meeting a year to be hijacked for a political rally.
Professor Thomas Kidd quoted from the official Baptist Press briefing:
It’s sad that to be a Southern Baptist who wants to remain separate from the influences of political parties puts me outside of the mainstream of denominational life. We serve King Jesus, and we are not beholden to any politician, party, or power.
Our little church prays and will continue to pray for our nation’s leaders in our Sunday gatherings and other prayer gatherings, just as Paul commands:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. -1 Timothy 2:1-4
We will heed the call of Jeremiah “to seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7) Like Daniel, we want to be wise counselors to the powers that be. However, there are times when with Daniel we must humbly decline the accolades of kings: “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another…” (Daniel 5:17)