Why I Defended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Statement on its Racist Past

Southern Sem

Below is a version of what I wrote in the comments of this post.  You can read that post to get up to speed.

I responded to a post by someone named Justin S.  He wrote:

We are all in different stages of processing our racial heritage and identities, and I like you’re “walking” analogy. The trouble is–it seems to me–that a lot of people come from such a retrogressive perspective that they expect affirmation for taking a step or two forward when they have miles left to go.

It is commendable that SBTS is making an effort to more-clearly assess its trouble past, and I think you make a good point when you observe that we are all in different places. But when you lobby for more understanding and equanimity from their critics, it sounds like you are saying, “Hey, let’s cut them some slack now because–even though they are still pretty racist–they are slightly less racist than they used to be.” It’s unrealistic to expect people to treat dogmatic racists kindly just because they’re trying to be less racist about their dogma, especially when they’re still hurting people with their slightly-less-toxic racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and nationalism.

I know some of the folks who wrote the SBTS statement and I can attest to their integrity and serious commitment to racial reconciliation.  Justin, what do you want them to stop doing? Seriously, would you rather they not have written the report? Are their past sins so great that cannot be redeemed? (I don’t think you believe this). These folks know the work is not done.

As far as I know, no one at SBTS is “expecting affirmation” for the statement. So far they have been quiet about the criticism they are getting. (By the way, when I say I know these folks I do not mean Al Mohler. Frankly, I am afraid he will open his mouth and make things worse. I am referring instead to some of the historians who authored the document).

I have defended the SBTS publicly because I felt someone had to do it. I don’t want to “cut them slack,” I want to encourage my fellow evangelicals to walk with them on the journey. Of course we will all be watching to see where they go next.

In the end, I think SBTS is going to have to turn for help to people with whom they might have theological disagreements.  Non-conservative evangelical Christians have more experience on this front.  For example, what might it look like if SBTS takes a meeting with Chris Graham and his racial reconciliation committee at St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Richmond, the so-called “Cathedral of the Confederacy?” Of course SBTS will never embrace St. Paul’s progressive liberal theology, but they can certainly learn from the way this historic church has tried to deal with its racist past.

I understand that progressive Christians want more out of this statement. Many have suffered as a result of the Southern Baptist Convention’s racist past. This should not be ignored. There is time and space to be angry, but I am a Christian and I cannot dwell in anger any more than I can dwell in fear.

Right now progressive Christians should be getting on the phone and calling SBTS to ask how they can help the seminary on its journey.  Isn’t this the kind of work progressive evangelicals want to do?  Instead, they are criticizing the seminary in public and on social media.

I tend to view the SBTS statement through the eyes of hope.  And God knows we could use more hope in the world right now.

Bad Timing

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Today Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville issued a report chronicling its long history of racism, segregation, and slavery.  As I noted in my post this morning, this is a step in the right direction.

This evening I received an e-mail advertisement that the seminary took out with Christianity Today.  It reads:

Give now and help continue the legacy at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

At Southern Seminary, training men and women to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to megacities, rural areas, suburban backyards, and the people groups of the world is one of the most lasting donations you can ever make.

Give Now 

Every dollar you give this year-end to Southern Seminary goes directly to support over 5,500 students from all 50 states and over 70 nations preparing now for gospel ministry.

Join the legacy of Southern Seminary by giving to continue the task of theological education – for the thousands already here and the thousands more to come.

In addition, for every $25 or more donated to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary this year-end, you can receive a copy of Dr. Mohler’s newest book, Life in Four Stages.

Probably not a good day to be touting the Southern Baptist Seminary “legacy.”

Al Mohler’s Report on Slavery and Racism at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

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Read it here.

Justin Taylor has summarized the 66-page report in a post at The Gospel Coalition:

The following 13 points constitute a summary of the findings in the 66-page report:

  1. The seminary’s founding faculty all held slaves.
  2. The seminary’s early faculty and trustees defended the righteousness of slaveholding.
  3. Upon Abraham Lincoln’s election, the seminary faculty sought to preserve slavery.
  4. The seminary supported the Confederacy’s cause to preserve slavery.
  5. After emancipation, the seminary faculty opposed racial equality.
  6. In the Reconstruction era, the faculty supported the restoration of white rule in the South.
  7. Joseph E. Brown, the seminary’s most important donor and chairman of its Board of Trustees 1880-1894, earned much of his fortune by the exploitation of mostly black convict-lease laborers.
  8. The seminary faculty urged just and humane treatment for blacks.
  9. Before the 1940s, the seminary faculty generally approved the Lost Cause mythology.
  10. Until the 1940s, the seminary faculty supported black education and the segregation of schools and society.
  11. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the seminary faculty appealed to science to support their belief in white superiority.
  12. The seminary admitted blacks to its degree programs in 1940 and integrated its classrooms in 1951.
  13. The seminary faculty supported civil rights for blacks but had mixed appraisals of the Civil Rights Movement.

I will try to read the entire report and make some comments later.  In the meantime, I think it is fair to say that this is a step in the right direction.  I am glad to see evangelical institutions coming to grips with this history.

I am reminded here of the theme of our latest episode of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast (Episode 43: “Reconciling the Church and Slavery”).

Al Mohler Pontificates on the Origins of the Culture War

KavanaughWho “started” the culture wars?

Recently some members of the Evangelical left called for a “pause” to the culture wars.  Evangelical women want Congress to reject the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination and appoint a more moderate justice.  Read about their efforts here.

Meanwhile, Al Mohler, the conservative evangelical president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has told PJ Media that such efforts are “doomed to failure.”  Here is a taste of Tyler O’Neil’s piece:

“The ‘Call to Pause’ is just the latest effort by the Evangelical left to blame the culture war on conservatives,” Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), told PJ Media Sunday. He insisted that the “Call to Pause” is doomed to failure, and more likely to damage the reputations of its supporters than to achieve any cultural or political change.

Here is more:

Mohler fought back against the idea that conservative evangelicals are to blame for the culture war. “It was liberals who pushed the new ethic of personal autonomy and sexual liberation, and it was liberals who championed legalized abortion and celebrated the infamous Roe v. Wade decision in 1973,” the SBTS president told PJ Media.

He noted that “you can date organized evangelical involvement in American politics to Roe v. Wade,” noting that the conservative evangelical movement was largely a reaction to the Left’s culture war coups achieved by the Supreme Court. This became even more clear in light of Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which supercharged conservatives’ emphasis on the Supreme Court.

“Now, just after the nomination of a clearly conservative judge, Brett Kavanaugh, as the next justice of the Supreme Court, the evangelical left is predictably opposing the nominee, and calling for a ‘pause’ in the culture war,” Mohler noted. “Amazingly enough, those behind the ‘Call to Pause’ are transparent about their fear that Roe v. Wade might be reversed, or even that abortion rights might be curtailed.”

A few thoughts:

  1. Mohler is often at his dogmatic worst whenever commenting on sexual politics.  I do not expect Mohler to agree with the evangelical women who oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination, but why does he have to come across as such an authoritarian ecclesiastical strongman whenever the issue he is addressing involves evangelical women?  One thinks he might have learned something about the voices of women in his denomination.
  2. Mohler pins the entire culture war on Roe v. Wade.  While this Supreme Court case played an important role in mobilizing the Christian Right, it is much more complicated than this.  But nuance, of course, will not help Mohler and his friends win the culture wars.
  3. Mohler continues to operate on the old Christian Right playbook for winning the culture wars.  If we nominate the right Supreme Court justice, the playbook teaches, the problem of abortion will go away.  For some context on this playbook see Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Mark Silk: May 2018 Was a “Humiliating Month”

WeinstienOver at his blog at Religion News Service, Trinity College professor Mark Silk reminds us what happened this month as it relates to the #MeToo era:

  • The elders of Willow Creek apologized for casting doubt on women’s allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of departing senior pastor Bill Hybels
  • Paige Patterson, denigrator of women, was relieved of the presidency of Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary.
  • “The judgment of God has come,” wrote Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
  • Harvey Weinstein left a New York Police Department precinct in handcuffs.
  • And then there was Morgan Freeman, the Voice of God Himself.

Click here to get the entire list.

Paige Patterson’s Supporters

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Paige Patterson is out as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, but he still has his defenders.

On Monday, we did a post on Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s reporting that Patterson, while serving as president of Southeastern Baptist Seminary in North Carolina, told a woman not to report an alleged rape to police and asked the woman to forgive the rapist. Rick Patrick, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Sylacuaga, Alabama and an apparent defender of Patterson, responded to the Bailey’s piece with this tweet:

Patrick

Disgusting.  In case you are unfamiliar with the people mentioned in the tweet, they are all prominent Southern Baptists who have called for Patterson to resign.  As conservative blogger Rod Dreher put it:

A woman claims she was raped at a Southern Baptist seminary led by Paige Patterson, who urged her to stay silent about it (“They shamed the crap out of me,” she told the Post), and then put her on probation for two years (the victim does not know why, but she senses that it was because she let a man into her home). And the pastor of First Baptist Church of Sylacauga, Alabama, makes fun of her, of the rape, and of Southern Baptist men who have publicly spoken out against Patterson’s prior remarks about women and violence!

Patrick has now apologized.

I apparently don’t have the same hotline to God that Al Mohler has, but he may be right when he says that “the judgement of God…has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Albert Mohler: “The judgment of God…has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention”

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Mohler is the president of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville.  He has responded in writing to the whole Paige Patterson mess.  He continues to defend complementarianism, and I am not sure why he will not name Patterson by name, but this is a start.

Here is a taste of his website post:

The last few weeks have been excruciating for the Southern Baptist Convention and for the larger evangelical movement. It is as if bombs are dropping and God alone knows how many will fall and where they will land.

America’s largest evangelical denomination has been in the headlines day after day. The SBC is in the midst of its own horrifying #MeToo moment.

At one of our seminaries, controversy has centered on a president (now former president) whose sermon illustration from years ago included advice that a battered wife remain in the home and the marriage in hope of the conversion of her abusive husband. Other comments represented the objectification of a teenage girl. The issues only grew more urgent with the sense that the dated statements represented ongoing advice and counsel.

But 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.

We thought this was a Roman Catholic problem. The unbiblical requirement of priestly celibacy and the organized conspiracy of silence within the hierarchy helped to explain the cesspool of child sex abuse that has robbed the Roman Catholic Church of so much of its moral authority. When people said that Evangelicals had a similar crisis coming, it didn’t seem plausible — even to me. I have been president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twenty-five years. I did not see this coming.

I was wrong. The judgment of God has come.

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.

We cannot blame a requirement of priestly celibacy. We cannot even point to an organized conspiracy of silence within the denominational hierarchy. No, our humiliation comes as a result of an unorganized conspiracy of silence. Sadly, the unorganized nature of our problem may make recovery and correction even more difficult and the silence even more dangerous.

Is the problem theological? Has the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention come to this? Is this what thousands of Southern Baptists were hoping for when they worked so hard to see this denomination returned to its theological convictions, its seminaries return to teaching the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures, its ministries solidly established on the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Did we win confessional integrity only to sacrifice our moral integrity?

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. I know that was not true. I must insist that this was not true. But, it sure looks like their prophecies had some merit after all. As I recently said with lament to a long-time leader among the more liberal faction that left the Southern Baptist Convention, each side has become the fulfillment of what the other side warned. The liberals who left have kept marching to the Left, in theology and moral teaching. The SBC, solidly conservative theologically, has been revealed to be morally compromised.

Read the entire piece here.

Patterson is out as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, but he has been given a golden parachute that includes directorship of a new center on campus, a cushy home on campus, and a new post as “theologian in residence.”  As someone on Facebook wrote: “He is still in and comfortable.”

Southern Seminary Adopts the Nashville Statement

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If you want to teach at Southern Seminary, you just may have to sign the Nashville Statement.  The Board of Trustees recently voted to make it part of the school’s “confessional documents.”  Here is a taste of Andrew J.W. Smith’s piece at the seminary website:

The Nashville Statement is a document that affirms biblical teaching about gender and sexuality and seeks to clarify Christian beliefs on some of the most pressing cultural issues. It was published earlier this year by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and signed by evangelical leaders across the United States, including each Southern Baptist seminary president. That Southern Seminary adopted it, according to Mohler, is a matter of responsibility.

“Southern Seminary takes its confessional responsibility with great significance,” Mohler said in an interview immediately following the Board’s public session Monday evening. “Years ago, our Board of Trustees recognized the need of adopting certain statements that clarify and establish the meaning our longstanding confessional documents: the Abstract of Principles, adopted in 1859, and the Baptist Faith and Message, as revised in 2000.”

Like the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” and the “Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” — both previously adopted by the board — The Nashville Statement is a “timely addition” to that list of official documents, according to Mohler. Faculty members at Southern Seminary and Boyce College agree to sign and teach according to the Abstract of Principles and the revision of the Baptist Faith and Message. The Nashville Statement was adopted to help interpret those two binding statements and specify the seminary’s conviction on matters not directly addressed in the central confessions of the institution, Mohler said.

Mohler emphasized The Nashville Statement does not reflect new thinking. Instead, he said, it affirms historic Christian teaching about human sexuality.

Read the entire piece here.

I am sure that all the Southern Seminary faculty already affirm the beliefs set forth in the Nashville Statement.  But it unclear whether or not faculty will be required to sign it.  See our coverage here.

More from the Pietist Schoolman on the Nashville Statement

Gaylord

Last week I called the Nashville Statement a “disaster.”  Even if one affirms the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, this statement seems unusually divisive.  (I thought Al Mohler’s defense of the Nashville Statement in this weekend’s Washington Post took a less strident tone).  Over at Facebook I compared the Nashville Statement to other attempts by conservative evangelicals to define who is an evangelical and who is not.  I am thinking here of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and the Evangelical Affirmations meeting of 1989.  I was an observer at the latter meeting while I was a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and I saw fierce debates over whether or not an affirmation of biblical inerrancy was a marker of evangelical identity.  I also watched an attempt to keep John Stott from the evangelical fold because he believed in annihilationism.  Many of the signers of the Nashville Statement were also in the Arnold T. Olson Chapel in Deerfield, Illinois on that Spring day in 1989.

Last week at the Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gerhz described the Nashville Statement as “theology for the age of Trump.”  I affirmed his decision to describe the statement in this way.  Many people who signed the statement or who were sympathetic to the signers, took offense to this.  They argued that a significant number of signers did not vote for Trump in 2016.  Fair enough.  But as Gerhz’s recent post suggests, such a response misses his point.  Here is a taste of that post:

It’s clear that the title of the post (“The Nashville Statement: Theology for the Age of Trump”) has been a stumbling block for some. Lamentably but understandably, they don’t necessarily want to read two thousand words’ worth of my musings. Incorrectly but understandably, they read the title and nothing else, assuming that I’ll simply dismiss the signers as Trump apologists, or John Fea’s “court evangelicals.”

I did try to head this off in the post. While noting that one prominent signer is Trump supporter James Dobson, I added that the list also includes Trump critics like Moore and Piper. (In retrospect, I should have added Burk to that list.). But if I wanted to bring more light than heat to the discussion, I should have stated that point even more forcefully before trying to place the Nashville Statement in the context of an “Age of Trump.”

So let me try to sum it up this way:

The Nashville Statement is meant to stand up against “the spirit of our age” on matters of sexuality and gender. But the way it is written actually evokes the angry, merciless, divisive discourse of our age — whose problems don’t start or stop with Donald Trump, but certainly are exemplified by him.

Bart thinks that some of us critics of the statement raised “mincing and squeamish complaints” about it. Recognizing that I am naturally averse to confrontation and conflict and perhaps too quick to cry “Peace, peace,” I nonetheless stand by my conviction that Christians should always write as winsomely and irenically as possible. Even when it’s absolutely essential to draw a doctrinal “line in the sand,” it should be with the intention of persuading people to join us on our side of that boundary, not of keeping them separated.

So no, the signers are not all Trump backers. (I don’t think most have made their politics clear, either way.) But in their attempt to present an evangelical witness in the year of our Lord 2017, I think it would have behooved the authors of the Nashville Statement — like any of us writing for a public that is inevitably bigger than the intended audience — to have gone out of their way to communicate in as un-Trump-like a manner as possible.

Read the entire post here.

Southern Baptists Are Not Happy About the New Starbucks’ Holiday Cups

A lot of Christians on my social media sites are asking if anyone out there is actually opposed to the new Starbucks cups.  I initially thought that the Starbucks critique came from one guy–an evangelist named Josh Feuerstein

But I was wrong.  
Richard Land, the president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and the former president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has joined the cause.
I am curious to see what Russell Moore, Land’s successor as the president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has to say about this.  How many Southern Baptists does Land represent?  If what I have read about Moore is any indication, I would think he would rise above this petty issue and keep the Southern Baptist Convention focused on more important things related to its mission. But will he speak out against his predecessor?  (I haven’t seen any commentary by Moore on this.  If he has spoken or written on this topic please let me know).
It is worth noting that in 2012 Moore spoke out against a Christian boycott of Starbucks after the coffee company announced that it would support same-sex marriage.
Al Mohler, another Southern Baptist leader, is not too happy about it either.

Al Mohler Blasts Pope Again for Being Too Political

This is not Al Mohler

Al Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY, does not seem to be very happy about the arrival of Pope Francis.  In his daily “briefing” he said the following. (I have paraphrased, but you can read the entire thing here).

  • He insists that Francis’s visit (he never calls him by name–he just calls him “Pope” or “the Pope.”) is purely political because Obama and Biden went to the airfield to meet him.
  • He finds the fact that Francis will be visiting Congress tomorrow to be “troubling,” but he does not seem to say why.  
  • He quotes from Wall Street Journal op-ed“Pope Francis arrives Tuesday on his first visit to the United States, and the welcome event illustrates his unique and paradoxical appeal. The Argentine pope is being celebrated more for his embrace of progressive economics than for the Catholic Church’s moral teachings.”
  • Mohler quotes the Wall Street Journal again: “Yet the pope will also visit the White House and speak to Congress, and this is where his tour takes on an extra-religious resonance. Pope Francis has overtly embraced the contemporary progressive political agenda of income redistribution and government economic control to reduce climate change.”
  • And another quote from the op-ed that Mohler uses: “Secular progressives who disdain the Catholic Church’s teaching on abortion, same-sex marriage and divorce are ignoring all of that catechistic unpleasantness and claiming the pope as an evangelist for their agenda. You might call them cafeteria progressives, after the old line about Catholics who are selective in which church teachings they follow.” Mohler uses this quote to show that Francis is “overtly political” and is in the United States to “push” his “agenda.”
  • Drawing again on the Wall Street Journal op-ed, he latches on to the phrase “cafeteria progressives.”  Mohler writes: “In other words, they’re taking the parts of the Pope they like and they are rejecting the embarrassment of the parts of the Pope’s teaching that they certainly do not like.”
  • Then he defines “cafeteria Catholics” more fully:  “Cafeteria Catholics are those who approach the Catholic faith as if they’re going to a cafeteria, they’ll take this dish, but not that one. They want this but not that doctrine.”
Several observations come to mind here, some of which I addressed in a post yesterday:

1.  I find it very ironic that Al Mohler, of all people, is saying that the Pope’s message is too political. It is apparently OK for Mohler to provide a daily “briefing” in which he approaches contemporary issues from a “Christian world view,” but when the Pope responds to issues from his own “Christian world view” he is out of line and being too political.   Why doesn’t Mohler just say that he opposes the views of the Pope and move along?  His current approach makes him look hypocritical.  Catholics like Francis and Reformed Baptist evangelicals like Mohler both have fully-developed world views that explain every aspect of the world, including social issues, economic issues, and the world of politics.  How is Mohler’s criticism of abortion or support of traditional marriage any different than Francis’s criticism of abortion or capitalism?  Both men believe that theology speaks to every dimension of human life and the created order.

2.  Let’s see what Mohler has to say later in the week, especially if the Pope makes strong comments about abortion, marriage, or other conservative issues.  Will he praise the Pope for his defense of these things?  If he does, wouldn’t this be an example of a “cafeteria” approach to the Pope’s teaching. 

3.  I still think Mohler’s criticism of the Pope is a missed opportunity for Southern Baptist conservatives to find common ground with Catholics on a host of moral convictions that they share. This is a shame.  

4.  Mohler does not elaborate on why Francis’s visit to Congress is “troubling.”  If his comment is related to the “separation of church and state” it makes for an interesting argument.  Does this put put Mohler in the same camp here with Barry Lynn, the leader of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. I would guess Mohler would reject such a comparison.  A quick Google search shows that Mohler is skeptical about the separation of church and state as it is defined by the 1947 Everson case.  (Despite the fact that Baptists have long been defenders of the separation of church and state).  In other words he does not seem to have a problem with religion in public and government life.  I wonder how he would respond if someone asked him to address Congress? Would he accept the invitation or would he argue that such an address would violate the separation of church and state? Has he now become a strict separationist?

But perhaps I am wrong about the reasons why Mohler is so “troubled” that the Pope is speaking in Congress. Maybe it has nothing to do with church and state issues.  Perhaps he just doesn’t want the Pope to speak because he disagrees with his views.

Al Mohler on the Pope on CNN

I just heard Mohler on CNN make some pretty harsh criticisms of Pope Francis and his visit to the United States this week..  (I am searching for a transcript, but it is not available yet.  Here is the closest thing I have been able to find.  If I find a transcript I will add a link).

Mohler ,the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, criticized the Pope for being too political.  And he basically said the Pope contradicts himself because he defends traditional views on marriage while at the same time criticizing capitalism and supporting climate change.

I understand that Mohler has theological disagreements with the Pope and needs to emphasize those disagreements as a spokesperson for conservative evangelical Protestantism.

I also imagine that Mohler believes that evangelical Christians should have a fully-formed “world view” that helps them make sense of all kinds of political issues such as abortion, marriage, the family, the economy, etc.  I commend him and his Southern Baptists for wanting to engage the public square from a Christian point of view.

But why does Mohler criticize Francis for having his own fully-formed Christian world view? When conservative evangelicals discuss so-called “political” issues they claim that it is a natural extension of their Christian view of the world.  Yet when Francis discusses climate change or capitalism from the perspective of his own Catholic “world view,” Mohler says he is getting too “political.”

It seems to me that Francis is consistently applying his Christian faith–his world view– to a host of social and economic issues.  In this sense, he is no different than Mohler.  Francis just has different views from Mohler on capitalism and climate change (I am sure there others too) and according to Mohler, this makes him a walking contradiction.  Francis is not flip-flopping–he is consistently applying Catholic social teaching to the major issues of the day.

It is actually Mohler who is being “political” here by interpreting Francis’s views through the grid of his own convictions and the saying the Pope contradicts himself if he does not conform to those views.

Mohler had a wonderful opportunity to seek the common good and try to find common ground with the Pope’s moral vision.  He did not take it.

Roger Olsen: "Frankly, I am appalled at [Al] Mohler’s support for capital punishment."

Here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home I try not to dabble too much in intramural evangelical theological debates.  This is mostly a history blog that has a large audience of believers and unbelievers.  So I hesitated in posting about Albert Mohler’s recent piece at CNN in which he claims that Christians should support the death penalty based on a reading of Genesis 9:6, an Old Testament passage in which God tells Noah that the punishment for intentional murder should be death.  Mohler is the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.


Yet, after thinking about this a bit more, I felt the urge to call your attention to Roger Olsen’s response to the piece in order to show that Mohler does not represent all evangelicals on this matter.  (Although I think he might represent a good number of evangelical laypersons).  Olsen is an evangelical theologian who teaches at Baylor University.

Here is taste of Olsen’s post from his Patheos blog:

I find Mohler’s defenses of capital punishment weak at best. The Old Testament “clearly calls for” many things—including capital punishment for a broad range of offenses including adolescent rebellion against parents. Certainly for idolatry. Does Mohler think we, as a whole society, should then expand the death penalty for all the offenses for which it is called for in the Old Testament? I doubt it. That makes his appeal to the Old Testament extremely weak.
Mohler seems to believe that IF the Bible calls for something American government should practice it. That’s a huge leap off the pages of the Old Testament to modern, secular government. He speaks disparagingly of secular government. Does he want a return to theocracy? If not, he should explain how his argument is consistent with a rejection  of “Christian Reconstructionist” theocracy…
Advocates of capital punishment like to say that no innocent person has been executed. Since when? Nobody doubts that in the past many innocent people were executed. I suppose they mean in the recent past. But just recently serious doubts about one executed man’s guilt has been raised by experts including a special Texas panel led by a governor-appointed chairman. (The governor fired one chairman apparently because he was favoring the findings of the panel that Todd Willingham was not guilty of the crime for which he was executed.) Enough evidence of his innocence has been brought forward to now declare that he was almost certainly not guilty of the crime for which he was executed. The new governor-appointed chair and the governor seem to have stopped the panel from declaring Willingham to have been innocent….
Should Christians support the death penalty? Mohler asks. His answer: “I believe that Christians should hope, pray and strive for a society in which the death penalty, rightly and rarely applied, would make moral sense.” Why rarely? If murder deserves execution and murder is common, why should execution be “rarely applied?”
The fact is that capital punishment is never necessary which is the main reason ethical people, including Christians, should oppose it. Deadly force should never be used when it is not necessary. Capital punishment is absolutely never necessary. A stronger case could be made that sometimes torture, even of innocent persons who might have needed information, is necessary. And yet no Christian ethicists I know of supports torture. Now that the federal government and all states (so far as I know) have sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole and solitary confinement for violent inmates (and if the they don’t yet, they can and should), capital punishment is simply not necessary for any reason—unless blood lust and vengeance is considered a valid reason for it.
If I could ask Mohler one question it would be this: How do you respond to the possibility that God might have some use for the life of a person the state executes? How is the state, supported by you and other conservative Christians, not cutting off God’s ability to use a person in the future?
There is also another dimension of this entire debate that needs to be addressed.  Olsen’s blog is read largely by fellow Christians who most likely share the author’s belief in the authority of the Bible.  Mohler, on the other hand, chose to publish his argument, which is based entirely on the presupposition that the Bible (in this case, Gen. 9:6)  is authoritative and should be obeyed on matters such as capital punishment, at CNN.  I don’t know how many readers of the CNN religion blog accept this presupposition, but I am guessing that a lot of them do not.  
So here is a message to my fellow Christians.  If you want to enter the public square to make an argument about the rightness or the wrongness of a particular social practice, building your argument on a belief in the inspiration or the authority of the Bible is not the way to do it.  Such an approach does little to persuade those who do not share your presuppositions.