Recently one of my Facebook friends posted a September 2015 article written by a Southern Baptist pastor in Alabama named Dr. Rick Patrick. I don’t know anything about Patrick other than the fact that he is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Sylacauga, Alabama and apparently, at the time of publication of his article, did not like the direction that Russell Moore, the President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), was taking the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
Dr. Patrick wants Moore to be more thorough in the way that he applies the Christian idea of the Imago Dei, or the belief that we are all created in the image of God and thus have dignity and worth.
Since he became president of the ELRC, Moore has urged the members of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to treat their political opponents as if they are indeed created in God’s image. The list of these so-called opponents have included population control advocates, Planned Parenthood employees, family members with different political views, the victims of the Orlando gay bar attack, and transgender people. (Or at least this is the list that Patrick has come up with). Patrick links to websites where Moore is on record making such appeals.
But then Patrick goes political. Why isn’t Moore defending the men and women who Hillary Clinton called “a basket of deplorables?” Aren’t they created in the image of God too? Why doesn’t he criticize the defenders of abortion for their conviction that ending a pregnancy can be a moral act? Isn’t the child in the womb an image-bearer of Christ?
And he goes on…
In the end, Patrick concludes: “In this Presidential election, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has demonstrated a clear pattern of bias in favor of the Democratic Presidential nominee and in opposition to the Republican Presidential nominee. I never thought I would live to see the day.”
Patrick’s piece is a clear sign of the way politics can divide a church. He implies that the true mark of a Southern Baptist is his or her support of the GOP presidential candidate. His use of the phrase “never thought I would live to see the day” captures perfectly the beliefs of many in the Southern Baptist Convention right now. They seem to have sacrificed their spiritual mission for a political mess of pottage.
It also reveals some shoddy logic. Whenever a Trump supporter is asked a direct question about Trump’s policies they often answer with something like “Yes, but what about Obama…?” or “Yes, but what about Hillary…?” These are not arguments. Moore is calling his church to task on the particular things that he believes they need to address as a religious body. This has nothing to do with Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. By crying “but why aren’t you saying this about the Democrats too?” is just a way to avoid Moore’s pointed critique of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Patrick’s piece, published on September 15, 2015, also illustrates the most recent conservative backlash against Moore. We blogged about this the other day. Those who have been critical of Moore seem more interested in power and politics than advancing the spiritual mission of the church. They appear willing to destroy the denomination in order to maintain the power they first grabbed in the 1980s when they led the conservative takeover of the denomination. We will see how far these power-brokers will dig in their heels and fight against the more moderating views that Moore has championed during this election season. I am guessing that many of them think that Moore is a threat to their control over the denomination and believe that they can form a political coalition, just like they did forty years ago, to bring him down.
Or maybe not. Several Southern Baptists have now rallied around Moore. Al Mohler has defended him. Today World Magazine is reporting that Ray Ortlund, Derek Minor, D.A. Horton, Justin Taylor, Lauren Chandler, and Karen Swallow Prior have defended him. Others are rallying around the #IStandWithMoore hashtag on Twitter. Three Tennessee Baptist leaders, all under the age of forty, have called for unity. Even Princeton University law professor and conservative intellectual Robert George has weighed in with a tweet in support of Moore.
This support of Moore serves as a clear rebuke to those like Rick Patrick, Paige Patterson, Robert Jeffress, Brad Whitt, William Harrell, and others. Since I am an outside observer, I don’t know what kind of power these folks have in the denomination. If they represent a majority or even a strong minority they could tear the nation’s largest denomination apart (again). If they are a small group with little popular support in the denomination then I think this current criticism of Moore may be their swan song–a sign of their declining influence in the shaping of Southern Baptist life. But whatever the case, don’t expect them to go down without a fight. These folks have a relatively long history of placing power politics over Southern Baptist unity.