Deryk D. Hayes, pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church at Shively Heights in Kentucky, said he believes Strachan’s comments about “wokeness” makes him look like “an open and unrepentant champion of white supremacy.”
“His most recent attack isn’t against ‘wokeness’ as much as it is the affirmation of ‘whiteness.’ Among white male evangelicals like Owen, apathy and bigotry seems to be at an all-time high,” Hayes charged on Twitter Monday.
Anthony B. Bradley, professor of religious studies at The King’s College in New York City and a research fellow at the Acton Institute, called Strachan “depressing” and his analysis hypocritical.
“I cannot tell you how depressing Owen Strachan is. These are people who quote Spurgeon & Edwards. Racism doesn’t require Matt 18 excommunication only the responses to it. This is why Eric Mason calls Reformed Evangelicalism a ‘hypocritical monstrosity,’” Bradley tweeted.
Southern Baptist Convention Pastor Dwight McKissic who is founder and current senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, also suggested Strachan’s take on “wokeness” is hypocritical.
“Owen Strachan is encouraging the SBC to disfellowship ‘woke’ churches & professors from the SBC. 3 AA professors have been targeted. One has since resigned. Would Strachan favor removing the names of the White Supremacist founders at SBTS from buildings? No, of course not!” McKissic tweeted Monday.
The problem here is not only with Strachan, but with Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the school that gives him a platform.
Some of you may remember last June when Strachan attacked popular evangelical preacher Beth Moore. Here is part of what I wrote back then:
Of course the Southern Baptist Church leadership has the right to define the role of women in the church in any way they want to define it. This is what religious liberty is all about. Millions of evangelicals attend churches that do not ordain women. As noted above, the largest religious body in the world–the Catholic Church–does not ordain women. But Strachan and other Southern Baptists also like to fancy themselves as heirs to the evangelicalism that I experienced at TEDS nearly thirty years ago. Strachan writes books and edits books for conservative Christian publishers extolling people like Carl F.H. Henry, Charles Colson, and other members of the neo-evangelical movement.
My professors at TEDS had firm convictions on a whole host of issues, but they did not promote them with the fundamentalist spirit to which I see coming from Strachan and his followers. In fact, it was this very spirit–the kind of militant spirit I see in their tweets–that made fundamentalism so repulsive to people like Carl Henry, Ken Kantzer, and the other neo-evangelical leaders who broke from fundamentalist militancy in the 1940s and 1950s.
The Southern Baptist Convention can work out their issues on women in the church on their own, without my help, but if you are going to try to make complementarianism a defining and non-negotiable characteristic of SBC orthodoxy please stop writing about how much you love the neo-evangelical movement.
The flagship seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention decided Monday (Oct. 12) to maintain the names of campus buildings named for school founders who had connections to slavery. At the same meeting, the trustees of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary created a multimillion-dollar scholarship fund for African American students.
“We’re not going to erase our history in any respect or leave our history unaddressed,” said the school’s president, R. Albert Mohler Jr., in a statement. “We are seeking to respond to the moral and theological burden of history by being a far more faithful institution in the present and in the future than we’ve been in the past and in this central respect we acknowledge a special debt to African American Christians.”
Starting in the 2022-23 academic year, the school will earmark $1 million of restricted and endowed funds for the Garland Offutt Scholars Program to honor the first African American full graduate and assist Black students at the seminary. It plans to contribute an additional $1 million every three years until a $5 million goal is reached.
The seminary trustees also declared vacant the Joseph Emerson Brown Chair of Christian Theology, which was held by Mohler. Brown, governor of Georgia during the Civil War, earned a substantial part of his fortune from the exploitation of mostly Black convict-lease laborers and gave a gift of $50,000 to the seminary that helped save it from financial collapse.
Here is Owen Strachan of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the major Southern Baptist seminaries in the country. He calls for the excommunication of people who believe in critical race theory and suggests that they will be sent to “eternal damnation.”
The arrogance of this is amazing for a man who responsible for training ministers.
Strachan is also driving a knife through the Southern Baptist Convention, many of whom teach critical race theory at Southern Baptist seminaries.
Watch the entire lecture here:
By the way, here is my take on critical race theory.
Here is a taste of Kadia Goba’s piece at Buzzfeed News:
It’s a common difference between the churches in Georgia right now who are grappling with the coronavirus. More than 7,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the state and those numbers have deterred many of the most vulnerable — churches with large Black congregations — from returning to in-person activity.
Gov. Brian Kemp reopened the state on April 24; a month later, Trump declared places of worship essential, settling a nationwide dispute as to what category they fell under during the pandemic. By then, and soon after, many evangelical churches led by white ministers with predominantly white congregations in Georgia were opening their doors. Many Black churches, some of which had been closed since March 15, continued digital services and one-on-one Zoom meetings with members of their congregation.
“I would be overwhelmingly reckless and irresponsible to put 6,500 people in my sanctuary while COVID numbers in Georgia are still escalating,” Pastor Jamal Bryant told BuzzFeed News, who added that the divide on masks wearing is that of a political nature, and nothing to do with theology.
State data shows the statistics mirror other parts of the country: Seniors and Black people have disproportionately died of the coronavirus. Data in June showed that 79% of people hospitalized in Atlanta for COVID-19 were Black.
The Southern Baptist Church now wants to be called “Great Commission Baptists” but none of the denomination’s seminaries will remove the word “Southern” from their names and churches have the right to reject the new name. Go figure. Sarah Pulliam Bailey has the story at The Washington Post. The suggested move is an attempt to separate from the South’s racist roots.
I want to tell you about an important name change for Evangelicals for Social Action. For 40 years, I had the privilege of leading ESA. Although I retired in 2013, I continue to serve as co-chair of the board.
Today, September 15, ESA launched a new fabulous website and announced its new name. Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) is now Christians for Social Action (CSA).
Here is a short (well, relatively short!) explanation of the new name.
The most important thing to say is that the title I have given this blog makes the most important point: different name, same mission.
ESA began with the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern written over the Thanksgiving weekend in 1973. About 50 evangelical leaders – – elders like Carl Henry, Frank Gaebelein and Vernon Grounds and younger folk like Jim Wallis, Sharon Gallagher, John Perkins, Richard Mouw, and myself – – spent two days wrestling with the widespread lack of evangelical engagement on social issues such as economic and racial justice, peace, and the dignity of women. Everyone at the conference, both young and old, agreed that biblical faith demanded that American evangelicals become much more engaged in issues of social justice.
The Chicago Declaration started with our central foundation: “As evangelical Christians committed to the Lord Jesus Christ and the full authority of the Word of God, we affirm… “ From there, the statement went on to call evangelicals to a vigorous commitment to struggle against personal and structural racism, economic injustice, “the misplaced trust of the nation in economic and military might,” and men’s prideful domination of women.
The immediate response to the Chicago Declaration was stunning. There was massive coverage in both the religious and secular press. Almost everyone was surprised and many were delighted that evangelicals were ending a long silence and were now ready to launch a new movement of evangelical social action.
Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) slowly emerged from this historical declaration. After several years of only annual meetings, ESA became a membership organization with full-time staff in 1978. Our basic sense of mission was to develop biblically solid materials and meetings to help evangelical Christians become much more deeply engaged on issues of social justice. (We focused on evangelicals because we were evangelicals and that was where the need was greatest!)
In the next couple decades, ESA developed programs in many areas: working to end apartheid in South Africa; opposing our government’s support of the Nicaraguan contras in the 1980s; developing materials and workshops on global poverty; encouraging the emergence of Christians for Biblical Equality; launching an environmental program that became the Evangelical Environmental Network; working for racial justice. In the 1990s, when we began to fear that some younger evangelical social activists might lose their passion for evangelism, ESA launched a program to help churches combine word and deed. We hoped and prayed that vast numbers of American evangelicals would become part of a large movement that would work through both faith-based social service agencies and political engagement to make American society more just.
But ESA (and related organizations) were soon not the only ones urging theologically conservative Christians to reengage politics. In 1979, Jerry Falwell formed Moral Majority and led large numbers of fundamentalists into politics. In his run for the presidency in 1987-1988, Pat Robertson did the same for many charismatics and Pentecostals. Their agenda was significantly different from that of ESA. Whereas ESA believed biblical faith called us to a “completely pro-life “agenda, Falwell, Robertson and colleagues tended to focus on a much narrower range of issues ( especially abortion and marriage). And they identified more and more with the politically conservative part of the Republican Party. Increasingly, the media equated evangelicals with the “Religious Right”. And in 2016, 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. And they have continued to support this twice divorced sexist, who had boosted of sexual affairs, stoked racism, promoted policies that largely benefit the richest 20%, ignored the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming and lied constantly, undermining democracy by dismissing anything he disliked as fake news.
Today the word evangelical in the popular mind has largely political connotations. For large numbers of people, it signifies a right-wing political movement irrevocably committed to Donald Trump. Large numbers of young people raised in evangelical churches are turning away in disgust – – abandoning evangelical churches and even sometimes Christian faith itself. And the larger society thinks of evangelicals not as people committed to Jesus Christ and the biblical gospel but as pro-Trump political activists.
The result is that ESA increasingly found that our name failed to communicate who we really are. And it also led people to click off any message with that name before we had any opportunity to explain that the word evangelical is a rich theological term that refers to historic Christian orthodoxy and a commitment to Jesus’ gospel (the word evangelical comes from the Greek word for Gospel.) Because of a long history of white evangelical racism, the black church has long refused to use the term evangelical for itself even though its theology and piety are very close to what the word evangelical used to mean. And since 2016, there is even more resistance among African-American Christians to the word evangelical.
So after careful thought and prayer, we have decided to change our name – – a little! Our new name is Christians for Social Action (CSA). We believe that will help us win a listening ear with more people – – not least with African-Americans. And it certainly will avoid people refusing to even take a minute to see who we are because they see a word that for many people immediately signals “right-wing, pro-Trump” political folk.
On Sunday, the 87-year-old Stanley announced to the congregation that he was stepping down and turning the reins over to his already designated successor, the Rev. Anthony George.
Stanley, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, will become pastor emeritus and plans to remain active with In Touch Ministries, which was founded in 1992.
“Earlier this month, I informed the board that I felt the time had come for me to step down as senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta to become pastor emeritus” Stanley said in a pre-recorded message.
Yesterday, Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, the culture war wing of the largest Christian university in the world, held a 1-day conference titled “Get Louder: Faith Summit 2020.” Evangelical Trump supporters were encouraged to yell and scream more, fight more, and make sure that they were active on every social media platform. This is how the Kingdom of God will advance and Christian America will be saved because in the minds of the speakers, and probably most of those in attendance, there is little difference between the two. There was virtually nothing said about civility, humility, empathy, peace, compassion, the common good, or justice for people of color or the poor.
If there is any doubt that the Falkirk Center, with its angry and bitter political rhetoric and unswerving support of Donald Trump, represents Liberty University, those doubts were put to rest in the first fifteen minutes of the event. The day began with a video from the late Jerry Falwell Sr.:
This was followed by a welcome from Liberty University Provost Scott Hicks. Scott Lamb, Liberty’s Vice President for Communications, also welcomed the audience and praised the work of the Falkirk Center.
Falkirk Center director Ryan Helfenbein introduced the day’s festivities:
The first plenary speaker was former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. He started-off with a real “historical” whopper:
Much of Huckabee’s speech confused identity politics with “collectivism.” It was an ideological mess. The real socialist collectivists in America are no fan of identity politics.
And it wouldn’t be a Huckabee speech without some fearmongering:
Huckabee is disappointed with students on “evangelical campuses”:
Next came Ralph Reed, one of the primary architects of the Christian Right playbook. Reed sings one note:
The “Great Awakening” was ubiquitous at this event:
We’ve written about the “Black-Robed Brigade here.
Falkirk Center’s co-founder Charlie Kirk’s pastor spoke:
A general observation about the day:
And then Eric Metaxas showed-up:
I compared this session on the “Christian mind” to Bruce Springsteen’s convocation address last night at another Christian college–Jesuit-run Boston College:
Next-up, court evangelical Greg Locke:
Next-up, the anti-social justice crowd:
At the end of a long day Eric Metaxas came back for a solo speech:
Please read my recent Religion News Service piece in this context of these texts.
Eric Smith is Senior Pastor of Sharon Baptist Church in Savannah, Tennessee and Adjunct Professor of Historical Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. This interview is based on his new book, Oliver Hart and the Rise of Baptist America(Oxford University Press, 2020).
JF: What led you to write Oliver Hart?
ES: I wrote Oliver Hart and the Rise of Baptist America mostly because I wanted to tell the story of Oliver Hart, arguably the most important evangelical leader of the pre-Revolutionary South, whose thirty-year ministry in Charleston transformed Baptist life in the region. I also wanted to tell the understudied story of American Baptist transformation across the long eighteenth century; Hart provides a particularly useful window into that narrative.
JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Oliver Hart?
ES: My bookargues that Oliver Hart played a pivotal role in the rise of Baptist America in the second half of the eighteenth century by practicing a singular and understated style of religious leadership. Through his earnest piety, relational skills, and ability to integrate Baptist precisionism with the evangelical revivalism of the Great Awakening, Hart became Southern Baptists’ most important pioneer and a key contributor to Baptist ascendancy in America.
JF: Why do we need to read Oliver Hart?
ES: My book is the only biography of Oliver Hart, Southern Baptists’ most important pioneer and one of the most important evangelical leaders of the eighteenth century. If you read my book, you will also discover how American Baptists began the eighteenth century a small, scattered, disorganized sect, but ended it a large, rapidly growing, increasingly sophisticated, and relatively unified denomination in the young republic.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American Historian?
ES: I have always been fascinated by the past! As a child in West Tennessee, I grew up enchanted by American history–exploring Shiloh National Military Park, listening to stories about Davy Crockett, watching the Ken Burns Baseball documentary on PBS with my dad, reading presidential biographies–and I’ve just never gotten over it. I’ve also always loved to write. So as a historian, I get to pursue the sheer joy of learning for myself, and then try to share what I’ve learned by telling the very best story I can to others. I’d love to produce for readers the kinds of informative and enjoyable stories about the past that I’ve benefited from through the years. My work so far has focused on Baptists, an important but relatively understudied group in American religious history. Since this is my own tradition, I have a personal interest in understanding how the Baptists have lived, worshipped, and participated in the larger American story (for good and for bad) through the centuries. Along the way, maybe I can shed some light on the Baptists for others, too.
JF: What is your next project?
ES: I have completed a biography of the eccentric but highly influential Baptist John Leland, which is currently under consideration with a publisher, and I have begun work on a critical biography of the nineteenth-century Southern Baptist leader John A. Broadus.
If you want to understand what is dividing the Southern Baptist Convention today, watch this documentary produced by a group called Founders Ministries :
The discussion of race in America picks-up at the 33:00 minute mark when Thomas Ascol of Founders Ministries starts talking about “critical race theory” and “intersectionality.”
Why are some Southern Baptists so afraid of critical race theory?
I have never met a Southern Baptist who accepts every dimension of critical race theory. So I am imagining much of the concern regarding these ideas is best explained by the old slippery slope theory. In other words, critical race theory will lead to compromises in other areas of doctrine that will put Southern Baptists on the road to theological liberalism. These conservative Southern Baptists, like the fundamentalists of the early 20th-century, are always guarding against declension. In his wonderful book The Sin of Certainty, theologian Peter Enns compares this kind of Christian faith to “sentry duty.”
There is much that is true about critical race theory. For example, it forces us to come to grips with the fact that some groups in society oppress other groups. In this sense, there are parts of critical race theory that illuminate the impact of human sin on modern life. Is anyone in the Founders Ministries group going to say that white people have not oppressed black people in American history? Is anyone going to deny that white Christians have used their power in ways that are unChristian? Critical race theory might be one way to make sense of this. If James Cone can help me become more aware of racism and teach me how to have a greater solidarity with the oppressed, then why wouldn’t I want to read him, engage him, and employ some of his ideas in my work? All truth is God’s truth. This seems to be the general thrust of the so-called Resolution 9 discussed in this video.
So what is really going on in this documentary? It seems like the folks who created it want to avoid having hard conversations about racism in America. In fact, it seems like they don’t want anyone in the Southern Baptist Convention to have conversations that might lead to more effective efforts at dealing with racism in church and society. They are trying to scare ordinary Southern Baptists by telling them that there is some evil Marxist force working in subtle ways to undermine Christianity. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
When I watched this documentary, at least the parts related to race, it seemed like I was watching the Southern Baptist version of a debate that recently took place in the House of Representatives:
Let’s remember that the Southern Baptist Convention was born as a pro-slavery denomination and remained committed to white supremacy for much of its history. As a result, white supremacy is deeply embedded in all of its institutions and has been for 150 years. Repentance, apologies, and spiritual transformation through the work of the Holy Spirit is necessary, but so is structural change.
Those looking to bring such structural change to the convention should be glad that Founders Ministries felt the need to produce this documentary. As an outsider looking in, it tells me that despite the Trumpism of Robert Jeffress, Jack Graham, Richard Land, Greg Laurie, and Al Mohler, some things are starting to change in the Southern Baptist Convention.
But I am also sure that folks like Jarvis Williams, Matt Chandler, Dwight McKissic, Matthew Hall, and Curtis Woods would say that the convention has a long way to go. As University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter reminds us, these kinds of deep structural changes often take generations and can only “be described in retrospect.”
Over at Religion News Service, Yonat Shimron has some good reporting on evangelicals and systemic racism. She quotes Redeemer Presbyterian Church founder Tim Keller: “You can’t simply say, ‘We’re going to convert everyone and convict them of the individual sin of racism and everything will be OK.”
Eric Metaxas is still attacking systemic racism. Today one his guests said, “systemic racism does not exist. It is a conspiracy theory that the radical Left has been using to try to destroy the whole American system of justice, of equity, of individual rights, and of the Christian mission of the human being as morally responsible for his own actions and for no one else’s.” (For what people mean when they say “systemic racism,” I point you to Chris Cuomo’s show last night).
Metaxas says that people are now talking so about systemic racism right now because Donald Trump “has been such a monkey-wrench in the deep state.” (No reference here to the idea that people may be talking about systemic racism because of the death of George Floyd and the peaceful protest in every U.S. city”). His guest also compares what is happening right now in America to the Salem Witch Trials. Metaxas compares the woke mob to “Hitler and the Nazis” and also suggests that Black Lives Matter and anyone else who is sympathetic to the movement is the Antichrist. Metaxas knows where his ratings bread is buttered.
In other court evangelical news:
Robert Jeffress believes that churches should lead the way in solving the problem of racism. He writes, “Every major social and political movement in American–from abolition to the Civil Rights Movement–has been led by pastors and churches. Too many attempts have been made in recent years to scrub our public square clean of religious language and devotion.”
Leave it to Jeffress to somehow connect the church’s role in social justice to the victimization of white evangelical churches.
I wish Jeffress was correct. I wish white churches would step-up and work to end racism in America. But first let’s stop and think more deeply about the history of American reform movements. Yes, Christians were active in the abolition movement and civil rights movement. This activity has been well documented. But let’s also remember that abolitionism was necessary because white churches in the South–including Jeffress’s own Southern Baptist Convention–endorsed slavery. In fact, the Southern Baptist Church was born out of its defense of slavery.
And how about the civil rights movement? Let’s remember that Martin Luther King Jr. and the other leaders of the Black church had to fight for civil rights because white churches and pastors did nothing to end it. King wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to the white clergymen in Birmingham who did not not want him in town because he was an “outside agitator.” And let’s not forget that Jeffress’s own First Baptist Church in Dallas was a bastion of segregationist theology. So before Jeffress starts pontificating about churches leading the way, he should look at the history of his own people.
Jeffress says that “reform is always local.” I wish this were true when it comes to the history race relations in America. The racist localism of white cities, and the fear of “outside agitators” like King, meant that change had to come from the outside, including the federal government. History teaches that when we leave white evangelical churches, especially those in the South, to solve the problem of racism, very little happens. I pray that things might be different this time around.
Below is a video of Jeffress’s appearance tonight on Fox News Business with Lou Dobbs. I was waiting for Jeffress to bring up Romans 13 to defend the police. It happened tonight, just after Jeffress asserted that Trump does not have a racist bone in his body. And he concludes by saying that if Biden wins in 2020 he will bring out the guillotines and kill everyone who has a thought that the Left does not like. What is it lately with all of these references to the French Revolution? Jeffress sounds like the Federalists in New England who feared that if Thomas Jefferson were elected president in 1800 the Democratic-Republicans–fueled by the spirit of the French Revolution– would start closing churches and confiscating Bibles. And there are still smart people out there who reject my fear thesis.
Ralph Reed is trying to convince people that he has compassion for Stacey Abrams
Stacey Abrams ignored and disrespected by Joe Biden as he conducts VP search. Why wouldn’t his campaign contact her? It is a deliberate slight. https://t.co/d2UdGqa9Zl
I can’t remember if it was in college or divinity school, but somewhere along the way my professor assigned John A. Broadus‘s book On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons. I don’t remember anything about the book and I did not know that Broadus was a significant figure in Southern Baptist history and a slaveholder.
Well, it looks like the Southern Baptist Convention named a gavel after John Broadus. Current SBC president J.D. Greaar wants to retire it. Here is Sarah Pulliam Bailey at The Washington Post:
J.D. Greear, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, on Wednesday called for the retirement of a gavel that carries the name of a 19th-century Southern Baptist leader who was a slaveholder and led the convention in support of the Confederacy.
Greear said that he was “deeply conflicted” last year when he was handed the gavel named after John Broadus, who was the second president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the SBC’s flagship seminary. The SBC’s annual meeting, which takes place in a different city every year, was held in 2019 in Birmingham, Ala., the city where several significant events took place during the civil rights movement.
“Southern Baptists, I think it is time to retire the Broadus gavel,” Greear wrote in a forthcoming piece in the Baptist Press that was shared with The Washington Post. “While we do not want to, nor could we, erase our history, it is time for this gavel to go back into the display case at the Executive Committee offices.”
The decision comes amid nationwide protests around racial injustice that has led to the removal of Confederate statues and symbols, which have been challenged for years. A spokesman for Greear said the gavel is the SBC’s version of a Confederate monument and that Greear did not realize that he had the option to choose another gavel.
The SBC is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and was founded in 1845 in defense of missionaries who owned slaves. The police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have elicited widespread condemnation by Southern Baptists.
Greear will preside over one more annual meeting and will get to pick the gavel next year for SBC business. He wrote that he might consider using a gavel representing Annie Armstrong, a pioneer advocate for missions who fought to send the first female African American missionaries. He also might consider the Judson gavel, named after Adoniram Judson, was one of the first missionaries to travel to Myanmar, then known as Burma.
I really don’t have much to add to Jonathan Merritt’s piece at Religion News Service. I would just ask people to think about the possible links between Mohler’s 1998 statement (and his views on race generally) and his current support for Donald Trump in 2020.
Here is a taste of Merritt’s piece:
In December of 2018, Albert Mohler, longtime president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, released a reportdetailing and denouncing the school’s legacy “in the horrifying realities of American slavery, Jim Crow segregation, racism, and even the avowal of white racial supremacy.”
The report was a historical reckoning for one of the nation’s largest evangelical seminaries, Mohler said at the time. While it denounced the racism in the school’s deep history, the report avoided any assessment of the school’s more recent past, including Mohler’s own time there as a student and his tenure as a president.
Mohler’s views about race and slavery came under scrutiny this week after comments he made in a conversation with Larry King in 1998 recently resurfaced.
In that interview, Mohler said that while the Bible does not endorse slavery, it does require slaves to obey their masters. When asked if that rule applied to runaway slaves, like the famed Harriet Tubman, he said that there is no loophole for disobeying.
On Friday (May 15), Mohler told Religion News Service he was wrong.
“It sounds like an incredibly stupid comment, and it was,” he said, after hearing his remarks from 1998. “I fell into a trap I should have avoided, and I don’t stand by those comments. I repudiate the statements I made.”
A review of documents, transcripts, videos, audio clips and interviews relating to Mohler’s beliefs and behaviors as a student and as the school’s president reveal Mohler may have more to repudiate and repent of.
Mohler and I were classmates at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the early 1980s. If I ever thought of him back then, it was “Oh, yeah, the kind-of-nerdy guy who wears a suit every day so he can work in Dr. Honeycutt’s office.” (Roy Honeycutt was the seminary’s president back then.)
About a decade later, Mohler returned to Southern Seminary. As president. Turns out, he used his job as a student worker in Honeycutt’s office to network with the fundamentalists who were taking over the Southern Baptist Convention, which owned the seminary. He built the platform for his future by currying favor with the people who were preparing to undermine the denomination’s institutions and throw out their leaders.
So, Mohler rode a political juggernaut painted in theological colors back into the president’s office at our alma mater. He jerked the school hard to the right, specifically by firing or running off faithful, Jesus-loving faculty members and replacing them with a mix of fundamentalists and uber-Calvinists.
But now, this. As reported in the Washington Post, Mohler has announced he will support Trump in this year’s presidential election. Apparently, Trump no longer is “a horrifying embarrassment” to evangelicals. After one term of the Trump presidency, endorsement for political gain is no longer “too high a price to pay.” After so much moral relativism the past few years, the “much higher standard” evangelical leaders must uphold isn’t all that high.
Why Mohler’s reversal? Only he knows for certain. But perhaps a couple of factors are at play.
This winter, a group calling itself the Conservative Baptist Network announced its formation in order to reboot the “conservative resurgence,” which Mohler rode to prominence a generation ago.
“There are some very concerning things happening in Southern Baptist life,” a network spokesman said. One of the “concerning things” members of the latest ever-rightward SBC movement don’t like is the leadership of Russell Moore, a former Mohler protégé who heads the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. A Never Trumper, Moore has advocated separating religion from political parties and spoken passionately on significant issues, particularly lambasting racism. For his efforts, he had drawn the ire of the right wing of the SBC.
So, even though Mohler doesn’t have to worry about getting beat for SBC president (the convention canceled the annual meeting because of the coronavirus pandemic), perhaps he realized the SBC’s political winds are blowing to his right. He still has a seminary to keep running, with money to raise. So, staying in good graces with evangelicals who still back Trump by almost 80 percent (and the SBC is a complete subset of evangelicals) is good for business.
Check out Jonathan Merritt’s Religion News Service piece on Albert Mohler‘s recent “flip-flop” to Donald Trump. (We broke this story early. See our posts here and here and here.). Some of the scholars and SBC-insiders he quotes are quite revealing.
Here is Merritt on Mohler’s church history professor and Southern Baptist historian Bill Leonard:
As a fresh-faced student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Kentucky, in the early 1980s, Mohler hardly cut the figure as a paragon among far-right conservatives. As Dr. Bill Leonard, Mohler’s church history professor at SBTS reflects, “In my experience and the experience of others, he was mostly an academic and not a part of the conservative contingent at the school. There was no sign that he was going toward the hard right.”
But Leonard, founding dean and professor of divinity emeritus of Wake Forest University School of Divinity, says that Mohler’s theology quickly evolved in the ’80s when theological conservatives moved to take over the Southern Baptist Convention. Mohler pivoted to the right just as it became clear that conservative factions were going to win.
“I think you can make the case that there was an expediency to Al’s hard-right turn in those days,” says Leonard, author of “Baptist Ways: A History.” “He saw where things were headed in the denomination and turned toward it.”
And here is Merritt on Mohler’s early support of women’s ordination in the Southern Baptist Convention:
One of Mohler’s most stunning theological flip-flops came at the denomination’s gathering in Kansas City in 1984, when SBC conservatives introduced a resolution declaring that only men were qualified to serve as church pastors and that women should instead concern themselves with the “building of godly homes.”
His opposition was so strong that he helped purchase an ad in the Louisville Courier-Journal declaring that God is “an equal opportunity employer.”
The resolution passed despite Mohler’s fierce opposition (though he later preferred to say he merely “took umbrage”). Rather than fight on, Mohler simply changed his position on women in ministry.
Barry Hankins, chair of Baylor University’s history department, who interviewed Mohler extensively for his book, “Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservatives and American Culture,” said, “I’ve always believed (Mohler) wanted to be president of Southern Seminary and the SBC’s most influential theologian. The problem is he’s spent way more time on culture wars over the past 20 years than on theology.”
Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s recent story at The Washington Post adds to what I posted about earlier this week (here and here). Here are some new things we learn from her piece:
Mohler’s son-in-law is a Trump appointee in the State Department.
Dwight McKissic, a prominent African-American Southern Baptist pastor in Arlington, Texas, will no longer recommend Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (where Mohler serves as president) to African-American young people who want to attend seminary.
Karen Swallow Prior, a prominent voice in the evangelical community, has taken this moment to say that she will vote for a third-party candidate in November.
Wayne Grudem, a conservative evangelical theologian, praised Mohler’s decision. Grudem said, “It is hard for me to think of someone who’s done much good for the country in that short amount of time. (I re-affirm what I said about Grudem back in December).
Some quick thoughts for my fellow evangelicals who will be changing their vote to Trump in November:
1. On abortion: I am still convinced (as I argued in Believe Me) that overturning Roe v. Wade and winning the federal courts will not end abortion in America. In a broken world, abortions will continue. We must work, as citizens of the Kingdom of God, to reduce them. As someone who cares about the dignity of human beings and the protection of the vulnerable unborn, I think expanded health care and poverty relief, both staples of the Democratic Party platform, will keep the number of abortions in America on a downward trajectory. As a Christian, I thank God for this downward trajectory and I want to do everything I can to keep lowering the number of abortions in America.
2. As someone who has watched and studied Trump every day of his presidency, I think his presidency has been a moral disaster–for the country and the church. Nothing has changed in four years. If anything, it has gotten worse. Trump has succeeded in weakening (even further) the moral clarity of American evangelicals. And not just the court evangelicals.
3. Religious liberty issues are real. I will continue to push for a more pluralist society in which Christian institutions are permitted to exercise their faith–even on sexual issues–with freedom. On the other hand, we can’t be afraid of persecution if and when it comes. We can’t turn to an immoral strongman to protect us. Perhaps persecution may be exactly what the church needs right now. I hope not. It doesn’t sound fun. But if this happens, Jesus promises that we will be “blessed.” It will reveal our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. And if history is a guide, it just might draw more people to consider the Christian faith.
4. Mohler says in his video that his decision to vote for Trump in 2020 is based on his “Christian (or Biblical) worldview.”
I love how targeting tax breaks towards the .01% and eliminating basic rights of worker protection, championing measures to exacerbate gross inequalities of income and generational wealth, eradicating by executive agency fiat already precarious regulations about not dumping chemicals in water, engaging in a non-stop campaign to demonize even the slightest efforts to increase access to health care, and engaging in deliberately targeted efforts at voter suppression (targeted against black voters “with an almost surgical precision,” as the North Carolina Supreme Court put it) is now defined as the “Christian worldview” in politics, while the other side is “anti-Christian.”
I agree with the idea of viewing the world from the perspective of Christian faith–all of Christian faith. But I object when “Christian worldview” is invoked in a narrow and limited way that focuses on one or two issues. The idea that a Christian approach to politics should center around abortion and Supreme Court nominations is a very new phenomenon in the history of American evangelicalism and, more broadly, in the history of the global church. It is only about forty years old. This does not mean that evangelical political witness was perfect before the rise of the Christian Right (for example, the evangelical movement’s commitment to the Civil Rights Movement was weak at best), but it does suggest that Al Mohler’s understanding of political engagement was shaped, and continues to be shaped, by the concerns of a group of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists who developed a successful political movement in the late 1970s. Mohler even admits this in the video when he talks about his unswerving support of Ronald Reagan.
As I have argued, this approach to politics is rooted in fear, power, nostalgia. It is deeply rooted in the false idea that the United States was founded as, and continues to be, a Christian nation. It is deeply rooted in the idea that big government was a threat to local practices such as segregation. It is deeply rooted in the belief that new immigrants posed a threat, and continue to pose a threat, to white America in the wake of the 1965 Immigration Act. It is deeply rooted in the idea that public schools should be teaching Christians about God and, when prayer and Bible reading was removed from public schools, somehow God was removed as well. (This, it seems, is a pretty small view of God and a pretty weak view of the church as a site of spiritual formation for young people).
If one believes that a Christian worldview means we should always vote for a candidate who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade and defend the “rights” of evangelical Christians, then it makes perfect sense to vote for Trump. What I am suggesting is that this entire playbook is too narrow and relies too much on fear, power politics, and nostalgia. It ignores the vast majority of Christian teaching, especially as it relates to the poor, social justice, and the care of God’s creation. This is ironic for someone like Mohler who no doubt believes that his Christian worldview is built upon a belief in an inerrant Bible. All of those mentioned in Pulliam-Bailey’s article are operating under this mostly unbiblical playbook.
Mohler says that his “Christian worldview” has led him to vote for the GOP ticket despite his misgivings about Trump’s behavior. Mohler believes that a Christian worldview should lead evangelicals to vote for Trump and against Joe Biden in November.
For Mohler, voting according to a “Christian worldview” means that an evangelical must vote for a candidate who is 1). pro-life on abortion; 2). is willing to use the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade; 3). upholds an originalist view of the Constitution; and 4). defends religious liberty as he defines it. Are these the only Christian issues that should inform an evangelical’s decision in the ballot box? (For the sake of time and space, let’s leave the debate over whether the Bible teaches an originalist view of the U.S. Constitution or the proper method to defend the life of the unborn for another day). Mohler is not a court evangelical, but his argument is identical to these Trump sycophants.
In 1998, Mohler went on national television multiple times to call for the impeachment of Bill Clinton on the basis of his failures in character and personal morality. He did not vote for Trump in 2016 because he wanted to stay consistent with his 1998 statements. But this election is different, he claims. But is it? Granted, Trump is no longer (as far as we know) talking to entertainment reporters about grabbing women’s body parts, but can we honestly say that his character has improved over the last four years?
Mohler says that the two major political parties in the United States are so different on moral issues that it is impossible for Christians to vote for a Democratic candidate. This, he says, is not bound to change anytime soon. As a result, Mohler claims he will vote for the GOP candidate, and will campaign against the Democratic candidate, for the rest of his life.
Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant group, have canceled the denomination’s annual meeting due to the spread of the coronavirus.
The decision, announced Tuesday (March 24) by Baptist Press, the denomination’s news service, means the meeting, which had been scheduled for June 9-10 in Orlando, Florida, will not be rescheduled for a later time. Instead, the denomination will skip a year and meet again in 2021.
Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, described the cancellation as “heartbreaking” but said, “The reality around us nationally and globally cannot be ignored.”
Just last week, the United Methodist Church announced it was postponing its 2020 General Conference, where delegates were expected to take up legislation to split the denomination.
The Southern Baptist Convention has gone liberal. That’s the message of a new, insurgent group of right-wing Baptists called the Conservative Baptist Network of Southern Baptists. This group of pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention announced the new network several weeks ago, on Valentine’s Day. The organizers claimed that 2,500 congregations signed on in the first two days.
“There are a lot of great people in Southern Baptist life leading, but there are some very concerning things happening in Southern Baptist life,” Brad Jurkovich, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bossier City, La., and spokesman for the new group, declared. The group is especially concerned about “the apparent emphasis on social justice, critical race theory, intersectionality, and the redefining of biblical gender roles” in the Southern Baptist Convention.
The group is also upset that some “messengers” (delegates) to the 2018 national convention in Dallas protested the presence of Vice President Mike Pence at the gathering. They staged a walkout when Pence began to address the assembly. All of this, apparently, is evidence of a drift toward liberalism in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Jack Graham believes in the Southern Baptist Convention.
He’s a former president of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and once traveled the country drumming up support for the Cooperative Program, the church giving program that funds much of the convention’s missions.
Yet, after three years, Graham’s congregation, Prestonwood Baptist Church, which claims 45,000 members, started to withhold money from the SBC. At issue: Graham’s disagreement with Russell Moore, Southern Baptist ethicist and Never Trumper, who once referred to Donald Trump as “an arrogant huckster.”
Graham, one of the president’s evangelical advisers, felt that Moore’s criticisms of Trump and his evangelical supporters was out of bounds. He didn’t want his church’s dollars to support Moore’s work at the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Prestonwood eventually starting sending money to the SBC again. But it has opted out of funding the ERLC, which Graham thinks has outlived its usefulness.
“The focus of the ERLC is not the focus of the mainstream of the SBC in terms of its approach to politics, to conservative thought and theology,” Graham told RNS in a phone interview this week.
Graham is not alone. About 100 of the denomination’s 46,000 churches said they would withhold funds from the Cooperative Program because of the ERLC back in 2017, according to published reports. Since that time, more churches have threatened to do the same, according to leaders of the SBC’s Executive Committee.
Mike Stone, chair of the Executive Committee, said this week that committee members have heard anecdotal evidence that churches are displeased with the ERLC and withholding money. So the committee voted to launch a new task force to review the ERLC to see if it is fulfilling its “ministry assignment” or if its actions have threatened donations to the cooperative program.
Graham said that the Executive Committee made the right move. He has long believed that Southern Baptists should “address the direction of the ERLC and the disposition of its leader, Russell Moore.”
Graham says that Moore is outside the “mainstream of the SBC in terms of its approach to politics, to conservative thought and theology.” Last time I checked, Moore believes in the Baptist Faith and Message, a 2000 doctrinal statement adopted by the SBC in the wake of the fundamentalist takeover of the denomination in the 1980s and 1990s. The Baptist Faith and Message requires Southern Baptist leaders to believe, among other things, in the inerrancy of the Bible and a complementary view of gender roles.
But this is apparently not enough for some Southern Baptists. What does Graham mean when he says that Moore’s politics are outside the mainstream? Is this a reference to the fact that Moore is a vocal critic of Donald Trump? This is significant in the sense that politics is now dividing the largest Protestant denomination in North America, a denomination that has historically championed the separation of church and state.
And what about Graham’s reference to “conservative thought?” Does one have to believe that the Bible and conservative political ideology are compatible in order to hold a leadership position in the Southern Baptist Convention? If Graham represents the mainstream of the Southern Baptist Convention, then I think it is fair to say that the thoughts of Southern Baptists are is no longer captive to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), but captive to a Trumpian brand of conservative GOP politics. It looks like the SBC is ready for another rupture.
ADDENDUM: February 21, 2020 at 11:23:
A helpful correction from a Twitter follower. I changed the title of this post:
John, the southern baptist “church” is not investigating the ERLC. It’s not the convention either. It’s the executive committee. The convention overwhelmingly supported the ERLC and Moore back in 2018. When we say the convention, it the delegates that meet in June.
Some of you may remember Paige Patterson, the former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. We’ve done a few posts on him over the years.
Here is Robert Downen of the Houston Chronicle:
The president of the Southern Baptist Convention on Friday said churches should consider disgraced former leader Paige Patterson’s history of mishandling sexual abuse complaints before inviting him to preach to their congregations.
President J.D. Greear’s remarks in response to Chronicle questions are the most forceful to be issued by SBC leadership regarding Patterson, who was ousted as the leader of a Fort Worth seminary in 2018 for his handling of multiple students’ abuse claims.
Greear noted Patterson’s dismissal from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in his remarks. “Trustees terminated Paige Patterson for cause, publicly disclosing that his conduct was ‘antithetical to the core values of our faith,’ ” Greear told the Chronicle. “I advise any Southern Baptist church to consider this severe action before having Dr. Patterson preach or speak and to contact trustee officers if additional information is necessary.”
Greear made the comments after the Chronicle asked him to respond to recent criticism of two SBC churches’ decisions to host Patterson, a former SBC president who was instrumental in pushing the nation’s second-largest faith group to adopt literal interpretations of the Bible.