Can Albert Mohler Unite a Southern Baptist Convention Divided over Donald Trump?

 

Al Mohler wants to be the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention.  According to Yonat Shirmon and Adelle Banks’s reporting at Religion News Service, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville will be nominated as the denomination’s next leader.  Here is a taste of their piece:

 

In a statement about his willingness to serve as SBC president, Mohler said he hopes to “unite Southern Baptists,” a group that has long had political and theological divisions within its fold even as it has seen a declining membership as the nation’s largest Protestant denomination….

Campaigns for the presidency of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination with about 14.8 million members are usually tightly scripted, polite affairs in which populist megachurch pastors are typically chosen. But because 2020 is a U.S. presidential election year, there was a desire among leaders of some of the denomination’s agencies and seminaries to avoid an ugly and potentially divisive battle over President Donald Trump.

Though most Southern Baptists are evangelicals and therefore make up the backbone of the Republican Party, Trump’s presidency had divided some of its leaders who believe it’s unwise to align so publicly with the nation’s president.

Among those who support Trump is Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, who has become a fixture on Fox News defending Trump publicly for protecting America as a Christian nation. Other Southern Baptist leaders, such as Russell Moore of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, are in the Never Trump camp. 

“There’s a tension in the SBC,” said Barry Hankins, professor of history at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. “The rank and file are going to vote for Trump one way or the other. The leadership will argue on it.” 

Mohler, who is 60, has taken a middle path.

Though not a Never Trumper, Mohler has expressed skepticism about Trump’s moral character as early as 2016. Appearing on CNN shortly after the “Access Hollywood” tape came to light in which Trump is heard bragging about grabbing women’s genitals, Mohler took a sharply critical view.

“When it comes to Donald Trump, evangelicals are going to have to ask a huge question: Is it worth destroying our moral credibility to support someone who is beneath the baseline level of human decency for anyone who should deserve our vote?” Mohler said.

Read the entire piece here.   Clearly Mohler will have a lot of work to do.  The Donald Trump presidency is now shaping the identity of the Southern Baptist Convention.  I warned about Trump’s influence on American Christianity here.