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.
Christian Right leader Paige Patterson virtually destroyed Southwestern before he was finally ousted. New president Adam Greenway is trying to bring the Fort Worth seminary back. Check out Ian Lovett ‘s piece at The Wall Street Journal.
After the Rev. Adam W. Greenway stepped to the podium during his inauguration as the ninth president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he acknowledged the tumult that had engulfed the school in recent years.
The previous president was fired. Enrollment plummeted, and the training ground for many of the nation’s most famous pastors found itself at the center of a debate over the treatment of women in the church.
“I cannot change the past,” he said. “For any way in which we have fallen short, I am sorry.”
A generational gulf is threatening to split evangelical Christianity.
While older evangelicals have become a political force preaching traditional values, younger ones are deviating from their parents on issues like same-sex marriage, Israel, the role of women, and support for President Trump.
For Southwestern to thrive again, Dr. Greenway must attract more young people without alienating their parents. At stake: not only the health of the 111-year-old school but also of the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest, most powerful Protestant denomination, whose membership has been falling for more than a decade.
The shift under way at the school is dramatic. Dr. Greenway’s predecessor, Rev. Paige Patterson, was a hero of the conservative resurgence, which swung the Southern Baptist Convention to the theological and political right. During 15 years as president of Southwestern, Dr. Patterson turned the campus into a reflection of his brand of evangelicalism.
He preached that scripture is inerrant and that women should submit themselves to the leadership of men, both at home and in church. He required members of his administration to carry firearms, for security reasons, he said. His office was filled with taxidermy. Stained glass windows depicting “heroes of the conservative resurgence,” including Dr. Patterson and his wife, were installed in the chapel.
Last year, Dr. Patterson was fired following allegations that he mishandled accusations of sexual assault by former students.
Dr. Patterson, in an email, said he handled the alleged assaults appropriately. “Candidly, I have no idea why I was released,” he said.
If you can get by the paywall you can read the rest here.
J.D Greear, the 62nd president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is trying to make the denomination more sensitive to race and the SBC’s long connection to slavery. It looks like he has his work cut out for him.
On August 19, Greear wrote 3 tweets:
In late August 1619, a Dutch ship carrying “20 and odd” captive Africans landed at Point Comfort, VA. They were the first slaves on our continent. North American slavery lasted 246 years.
— J.D. Greear (@jdgreear) August 19, 2019
To put that in context, the United States itself is only 243 years old.
— J.D. Greear (@jdgreear) August 19, 2019
If the church is to change our nation’s story for the future, we must begin by knowing and owning the story of our past. This August, we pause to remember.
— J.D. Greear (@jdgreear) August 19, 2019
And then all hell broke loose:
Surely you (and other stupid white people like you) can dredge up something better for which you can whip yourself and thereby show your false, social, piety…what about the Native American genocide? Or the eradication of polio and communicable diseases? Try harder.
— Number 6 (@ThePrisoner006) August 21, 2019
Interestingly, I feel absolutely no guilt whatsoever for what I didn’t do before I was born.
— Paul W. Huey III (@Hueypw) August 20, 2019
The apology tour continues. I’ll be so glad when a Bible-believing conservative succeeds you.
— Miles Lee Elder (@mlelder) August 19, 2019
This is wholly incorrect and could be interpreted as intellectually dishonest. Native Americans had African slaves long before any white settlers did. See Eugene Genovese and Orlando Patterson. I appreciate your passion, but passion without accuracy is toothless and wrong.
— JohnWhite (@johnwyte) August 20, 2019
We recognize our country was and is flawed. We also recognize there is much greatness goodness mixed with bad and ugly. Most of us haven’t ignored or denied this. Emphasizing only the bad ugly is manipulative
— A J Metcalf (@TeachingLiberty) August 21, 2019
This SBCer canNOT wait for the day you are no longer leading what is left of the SBC. And I can only pray someone will step forward to lead the SBC back to Biblical truth & evangelism – not your Neo-Marxism. If not, thousands of SBC churches will exit.
— BuckeyeGal (@BGif) August 21, 2019
Slavery was a very bad thing, it has passed, now we need to think about things of today like abortion. Those that keep bringing up slavery are causing divisions. Abortion stops a life before it even has a chance to be born, why do you never talk about this???
— Bonnie Jean Schwartz (@mckeenagirl) August 20, 2019
Since ALL the people involved with that have died, I think I will just move along, confident that God has forgiven me for MY sin AND that he will not charge the guilt of others to my account.
— (generally) Happy Warrior (@HappyWarrior9) August 20, 2019
Please just stop. There is literally no one who A) doesn’t know this, and B) doesn’t acknowledge it’s depravity. There is nothing that can change the past and no one within the church wants to go back to that. You are our president. This is divisive and unnecessary. Please stop.
— Jimmy Parker (@PastorJimmyP) August 19, 2019
I completely agree that we need reform in those areas but that isn’t what JD tweeted. JD tweeted about history. A history of violence and ungodliness that we today have absolutely nothing to do with. His tweet is stoking the flames of divisiveness. Stop blaming white people today
— Jimmy Parker (@PastorJimmyP) August 20, 2019
JD, you still haven’t actually researched this tweet at all. I guess you assume only blacks could be slaves.
— Britt Smith (@ReformedBritt) August 20, 2019
WRONG. Better consult more than Wiki if you’re going to make these kind of bonehead statements.
— Dr. Jim Roebuck (@Jim41056094) August 20, 2019
Slavery on the North American continent ended precisely because the USA existed. Literally, almost within a century of the nation’s existence, slavery was abolished. Which other nation did that?
— Bradley (@1averagepatriot) August 20, 2019
Not my President…. Your Wokeness is truly remarkable
— David Wood (@WoodMDavid) August 19, 2019
You are one sick, disgruntled, disruptive, instigating, race-baiting, discouraging man. Those are not the traits of a godly man. You should stop your dividing. You are in authority, and are more responsible than others. Please stop your pain-making.
— onward (@hislovejoypeace) August 20, 2019
Anyone who knows anything about Native Americans knows that they kept slaves from rival tribes for years before any Europeans made it to our continent. Quit spouting leftist lies. It makes you look uninformed and bigoted.
— Jeanne B ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (@MagaJeanne_MAGA) August 20, 2019
No matter how hard you attempt, I will not be “white guilted”.
— YourSpiritualBread (@YourSpiritBread) August 20, 2019
Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, endorsed the Williams and Woods’s piece with this tweet:
— Albert Mohler (@albertmohler) August 6, 2019
And then came the critical tweets:
As each day passes you prove more-so what @tomascol and other faithful men are warning us about.
— Jason Harris (@JasonHarris2819) August 7, 2019
Anti white, liberal incrementalist rhetoric like this ignore the many crimes committed by other races daily, deny whites an ethnic community that African Americans and Hispanics enjoy, and legitimize replacement level migrations.
— Jacob Dodson (@tradistjacob) August 6, 2019
The problem is that the gospel of Christ states the fact that all men are sinful before God. You seem to taint the gospel by putting the call of repentance for racism on only one group when the other group is just as culpable. And that only brings more tension.
— Gil Martinez (@gimar63) August 7, 2019
How is any faithful Christian supposed to heed the advice of this article in fighting racism and White Supremacy when you and your brothers are promoting such gross redefinitions of those terms––the very redefinitions by which the faithful are also being abused in the culture?
— Jacob Brunton (@JacobTBrunton) August 7, 2019
I am guessing that these tweeters endorse this video.
Jemar Tisby, author of Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism called them it out.
Al Mohler is nobody’s liberal, and neither are the writers of the article he shares, but look at the replies. In all this talk of white nationalism, we ignore Christian fundamentalism to our peril. There’s always a spiritual/religious element that gives authority to ideologues. https://t.co/HP77KlzzCY
— Jemar Tisby (@JemarTisby) August 7, 2019
The anti-social justice warriors and complementarians are at it again.
Here is Religion News Service:
(RNS) — A video posted by Founders Ministries, a neo-Calvinist evangelical group, paints Bible teacher Beth Moore, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and the SBC’s current leader as part of a conspiracy to introduce social justice advocacy into evangelical churches.
The video, posted on the Founders Ministries website, intersperses images and comments from a number of Southern Baptist leaders with commentary from Tom Ascol, president of the group.
“I see godless ideologies that have spread across Western civilization over the last decades with a vengeance, to tell us what we are supposed to be seeing, ” said Ascol in the video. “Many of these ideologies have been smuggled into many evangelical churches and organizations through the Trojan horse of social justice.”
Read the rest here.
Some Southern Baptist leaders who appear in the trailer are not happy about it:
Yes, folks, I have now seen the @FoundersMin video trailer and I am alarmed at how some respected SBC leaders are represented. Southern Baptists expect and deserve a respectful and honest exchange of ideas. I am convinced we are all capable of this. 1/3
— Albert Mohler (@albertmohler) July 23, 2019
I have also long known and enjoyed the company of the folks who made the video and the folks offended by the video and I am hopeful that @FoundersMin will respond appropriately and in a way that affirms their intention to be a responsible voice in the SBC. 2/3
— Albert Mohler (@albertmohler) July 23, 2019
Here, in the heat of July, is another reminder that HOW we engage and represent one another is as important as what we argue and who we engage. Let’s encourage one another to good works, good theology, and a good mood. Now, back to my grandchildren. 3/3
— Albert Mohler (@albertmohler) July 23, 2019
— Daniel Akin (@DannyAkin) July 23, 2019
As many readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know, I am not a cradle evangelical. I spent the first sixteen years of my life as a Roman Catholic. I had a conversion experience as a sophomore in high school and I left the Catholic church for a non-denominational Bible church. In other words, I became an evangelical.
When I converted, the word “evangelical” or “evangelicalism” meant nothing to me. I don’t think I ever met a born-again Christian until I started attending the youth group at Gilgal Bible Chapel in West Milford, New Jersey. I went from the cloistered community of a working-class Catholic upbringing (I seem to remember mostly Catholics and Jews in my public high school, although I am sure there were Protestants as well) to a similarly cloistered evangelical world. My only exposure to evangelical Christianity came through Gilgal, a church plant with an authoritarian pastor located on a multi-acre site that included a Christian camp and a conference center. (Gilgal had its own unique approach to evangelical Christianity, and its authoritarian pastor had a tragic fall from grace, but I will need to save that for another post or perhaps another book!)
My conversion was real and life-altering. I put aside a journalism career and prepared for a life in the evangelical ministry. My pastor recommended I go to Bible college. So I did. I initially thought I would be spending the next four years in residence at a place similar to a monastery, but I soon realized that most Bible college students were no different than the students who attended my public high school. They dressed the same way, had the same haircuts, listened to the same music (despite the fact they were not permitted to listen to “secular music”), drove the same cars, and had the same ambitions and vices. They baptized these traits with their “calls” to ministry and a sense of Christian piety. For some, these “calls” were real and I had much respect, and continue to have much respect, for many of my classmates. For others, I had no idea why they were in Bible college. In the end, I had a great time at Philadelphia College of Bible (now Cairn University). I played basketball and made some great friends. It was like I was attending a four-year Christian youth retreat. But I digress…
By my senior year I realized that I wasn’t getting much of a liberal education. In the 1980s Philadelphia College of Bible was a dispensational school. Bible and theology professors taught us that God had different plans for Israel and the Church. (One professor, John McGahey, would scream at us: “ISRAEL IS NOT THE CHURCH!). The purpose of this Bible college education, if you could call it that, was to indoctrinate students in dispensational premillennialism. We were required to buy a copy of the Scofield Bible. We read books by dispensational luminaries such as Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, and J. Dwight Pentecost. We waited for the rapture–the moment when God would raise-up the true believers to meet him in the air. And our teachers made sure that we knew the rapture would come before the seven-year tribulation. All of my Bible professors had advanced degrees from Dallas Theological Seminary, the intellectual home of dispensationalism.
Upon graduation, I knew that I wanted to continue my theological education. But I did not want to go to Dallas with some of my other classmates. I enrolled at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) in Deerfield, Illinois. TEDS was an evangelical seminary, but it was not dispensational in orientation (although it did have a few dispensational professors). I chose TEDS because I knew that I would find evangelical professors who would expand my horizons. My goal was to pursue a Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree and use my time to figure out what I might do with such a course of study. At the very least, I thought an MDiv would allow me to think theologically about the world. I had no real long-term plan. My parents helped me out with the tuition, but I also worked as a security guard at various places to get myself to graduation. I eventually fell in love with history, added an M.A. in church history to my vita, and headed off to pursue a Ph.D in American history.
When I arrived at TEDS in the late 1980s, the school prided itself on its commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible. Kenneth Kantzer, the retired dean of the seminary, had attracted some of the best evangelical theologians to TEDS for the purpose of providing an inerrancy-based alternative to Fuller Theological Seminary, the Pasadena, California school that abandoned the doctrine of inerrancy in the 1960s. (See George Marsden’s book Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism).
Some professors made a big deal about inerrancy. Others rarely mentioned it. I took Scot McKnight for a Greek refresher course. The subject of inerrancy never came up. (Nor did it come-up much in his Synpotic Gospels course). John D. Woodbridge, who taught me how to think historically and encouraged me to pursue a Ph.D in history, was a staunch defender of inerrancy. My other church history professor, Tom Nettles (who I did not know as well as Woodbridge), did not say too much about inerrancy despite the fact that he was an important historian of the doctrine during the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Church.
But what I remember most about TEDS was the theological diversity of the faculty. While some of my readers might wonder how a school that upholds biblical inerrancy could be theologically diverse, at the time I did not see it that way . TEDS was not Philadelphia College of Bible or Dallas Theological Seminary. During my three years on campus I took courses with dispensationalists (Paul Feinberg) and covenant theologians (Ray Ortlund Jr and Walter Kaiser). I took courses with faculty who opposed women’s ordination (Wayne Grudem) and those who championed women’s ordination (Walter Liefield). There were Presbyterians and Baptists, Calvinists and Arminians. I even had one professor (Murray Harris) who did not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. I sat-in on courses taught by some of the founders of the neo-evangelical movement: Carl F.H. Henry, Kantzer, and Gleason Archer. I took theology with Harold O.J. Brown, the Harvard trained scholar who was one of the leading voices of the pro-life movement. I made a few visits to a class on Puritanism taught by English theologian J.I. Packer.
I don’t know how all of these professors got along in the faculty lounge, but they always modeled a spirit of conversation and debate. Evangelicals had core convictions, but what made them evangelicals was their irenic spirit and acceptance of those with whom they differed. This spirit, perhaps more than anything, was what made them “evangelicals” and not “fundamentalists.” As Marsden once put it, “a fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something.”
At TEDS I learned that evangelicals championed orthodox beliefs– the deity of Christ, the redemptive work of Christ on the cross, the resurrection, the inspiration of the Bible, the Holy Spirit’s role in the pursuit of holiness, and the necessity of living-out the Great Commission through evangelism. But I also learned that evangelicals differed on what my professors called the “secondary” or “minor” doctrines: the ordination of women, the proper form of church government, the proper mode of baptism, capital punishment, the relationship between God’s providence and human free will, the gifts of the Holy Spirit (speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy, etc.), war and peace, and the way one’s faith should manifest itself in the political sphere, to name a few.
I had classmates from every Protestant denomination imaginable–Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Mennonites, Anglicans, and Presbyterians. Students were preparing for ministry in evangelical denominations like the Evangelical Free Church, but they also trained for work in non-denominational megachurches and mainline Protestantism denominations.
At this particular moment in my life (it was the early 1990s), I needed a place like TEDS. I loved the fact that evangelicals could disagree on some matters of biblical interpretation. (I even co-wrote a song about it titled “So Many Views,” sung to the tune of the Monkey’s “I’m A Believer”). I learned how to think critically and theologically. I knew that there was a larger theological world out there beyond the evangelical boundaries of TEDS and my experience in Deerfield gave me the skills to navigate it.
I understood the culture at TEDS as representative of the spirit of American evangelicalism.
I have been thinking lot about my experience at TEDS as I watch the debates over the role of women in the church currently taking place within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In case you missed it, last month there was a pretty significant Twitter battle on this topic.
It all began when the bombastic Southern Baptist seminary professor Owen Strachan of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary published a piece on women in the church at his blog “Thought Life.” Here is a taste of that May 7, 2019 post:
Biblical teaching on the sexes is not bad. It is not harmful to women. It is good–thunderously good–for women and for men. If we take the Bible at its word, then we recognize that there is no way for a woman to instruct the gathered church, whether in an authoritative or “non-authoritative” way. Congregational preaching and teaching is authoritative, for the Word of God is authoritative. There is no “non-authoritative” way to preach and teach the Bible. Any who doubt this point might recall how Paul contrasts the “word of men” with the “word of God” in 1 Thessalonians 2:13. If you speak and interpret the Scripture, you speak with the weight of eternity upon you. It cannot be otherwise.
Beth Moore and J. D. Greear are two popular Southern Baptist voices. Both Moore and Greear are gifted individuals, respected within the SBC and beyond it. In recent days, I was surprised to see these two figures endorse, in the context of the church’s gathered worship service, a woman teaching and preaching to the corporate body (see here and here). This was new to me; Southern Baptists have never embraced such a view. As mentioned above, there is no New Testament precedent for a woman teaching the corporate body of Christ (Priscilla’s words in Acts 18 to Apollos came in private, not in public), nor were women called to serve as priests in the old covenant era. Christ did not appoint a woman to be an apostle, nor did any woman serve as an elder in the first-century churches spoken of in Scripture.
And here is his Strachan’s conclusion:
Though many paint women monolithically today, seeing them as instinctually feminist, there are many women in submission to God who wish for men to lead them well and preach the Word faithfully. They do not see the Bible’s teaching on womanhood as “restrictive,” nor the complementarian movement as “afraid” of womanly gifting. Rather, they approach the Word of God with great reverence and awe. They wish to know the will of God, and do it. They take no pleasure in quieting or softening the Bible; they recognize the order that God has established, and they love it. There are scores of such women in church history, in Baptist history, in the modern SBC, and in the broader evangelical world. I know they are out there; I have heard their testimony firsthand. With the whole church of God, these women gladly confess that the counsel of the Lord stands forever (Psalm 33:11), and that the law of God’s mouth “is better…than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (Psalm 119:72).
There is much the Word frees women to do as mentioned above. But for the women I speak of, where the Word gives them a prohibition for God’s glory and their good, they receive that commandment with gladness. They submit to God, as we all must do (James 4:7). In our God-defying age, this posture stands out sharply. It is driven by our total confidence in the unerring mind and will of God. We think of Psalm 119:89 on this count: בַּשָּׁמָֽיִם נִצָּ֥ב דְּ֝בָרְךָ֗ יְהוָ֑ה לְעוֹלָ֥ם, “Forever, Lord, your word is fixed in the heavens.” It is not man who has “fixed” the word of God, and written it in the sky. By God’s own hand and mind, there is order in the home; there is order in the churches; there is order in the world God has made.
Let no one defy this order.
There is a lot that could be said about Strachan’s post. I disagree with him on the role of women in the church and the family, but my intention here is not to get into these theological and interpretive weeds. There are indeed a lot of denominations that do not ordain women, including the Roman Catholic Church. But I will say this: by ending his post with the words “let no one defy this order,” Strachan reveals his dogmatism on this issue. I wonder what he would think about someone who does “defy this order?” Are they living in sin? Are they outside the fold of Christian orthodoxy? Of evangelicalism? Will Strachan still have Christian fellowship with them? Should they be cast into perdition? What is at stake here?
After he wrote this piece, Strachan turned to Twitter to promote it:
Complementarians disagree cheerfully about much.
One thing we have massive agreement on: women do not preach on Sunday to the church. Doing so is functional egalitarianism.
We will not capitulate here.
Why we won’t: https://t.co/FDxTNICNJ3
— Owen Strachan (@ostrachan) May 8, 2019
It was at this point that the wildly popular evangelical preacher Beth Moore entered the fray:
Owen, I am going to say this with as much respect & as much self restraint as I can possibly muster. I would be terrified to be a woman you’d approve of. And I would have wasted 40 years of my life encouraging women to come to know and love Jesus through the study of Scripture.
— Beth Moore (@BethMooreLPM) May 9, 2019
I need you to at least get the right ratio in your head here. I have brought a message from a pulpit in an SBC church service about 15 times in 40 years. If your track record of “obedience” tops that, more power to you. This is over me speaking at an SBC church on MOTHER’S DAY.
— Beth Moore (@BethMooreLPM) May 9, 2019
I want to stoke the fire I’m in the middle of right now about as much as I want to amputate my toes without anesthesia. I’d much prefer to change the subject & move on & ignore the fury. I also want my family to have relief. But after intense prayer, I need to say a few things.->
— Beth Moore (@BethMooreLPM) May 11, 2019
I am compelled to my bones by the Holy Spirit – I don’t want to be but I am -to draw attention to the sexism & misogyny that is rampant in segments of the SBC, cloaked by piety & bearing the stench of hypocrisy. There are countless godly conservative complementarians. So many. ->
— Beth Moore (@BethMooreLPM) May 11, 2019
There are countless conservative Complementarians I very much respect & deeply love even though I may not fully understand their interpretations of certain Scriptures as the end of the matter. I love the Scriptures. I love Jesus. I do not ignore 1 Tim or 1 Cor. What I plead for->
— Beth Moore (@BethMooreLPM) May 11, 2019
I had the eye opening experience of my life in 2016. A fog cleared for me that was the most disturbing, terrifying thing I’d ever seen. All these years I’d given the benefit of the doubt that these men were the way they were because they were trying to be obedient to Scripture…
— Beth Moore (@BethMooreLPM) May 11, 2019
Then I realized it was not over Scripture at all. It was over sin. It was over power. It was over misogyny. Sexism. It was about arrogance. About protecting systems. It involved covering abuses & misuses of power. Shepherds guarding other shepherds instead of guarding the sheep.
— Beth Moore (@BethMooreLPM) May 11, 2019
Here is what you don’t understand. I have loved the SBC & served it with everything I have had since I was 12 years old helping with vacation Bible school. Alongside ANY other denomination, I will serve it to my death if it will have me. And this is how I am serving it right now.
— Beth Moore (@BethMooreLPM) May 11, 2019
Strachan initially responded politely:
Hi @BethMooreLPM: glad to talk by email or in person. We disagree, but I respect your lively mind and sharp wit.
I have nothing to add to my piece. Folks can read that here: https://t.co/FDxTNICNJ3.
— Owen Strachan (@ostrachan) May 9, 2019
But then his Twitter feed got snarky.
For example, he retweeted this:
“When I hear women & men challenging God’s order, saying…“Women should do more than just serve in the nursery or teach children.“ I wonder why they have such a low opinion of those babes in the nursery? Why such a low opinion of children?”
Best comment from last few days (AB). pic.twitter.com/a7vbyWx55M
— Owen Strachan (@ostrachan) May 11, 2019
And then his many followers and others of like mind started chiming in:
What you have said in these tweets, and the pot you are stirring, is shameful and damaging to the body of Christ. It’s really quite simple- repent and be obedient to the clear command of scriptures. Women aren’t to teach men in The Lords Church
— Tommy Moose (@MooseDad3) May 13, 2019
Wow,I had no idea Beth Moore was a false teacher. I’ve not ever taken a study by her but have heard people say she is great. I did read a book by her. I didn’t catch any false flags like I usually get but it didn’t make me want to read more of her books so….
— Jan V. (@commonsensejan) May 13, 2019
Post-modernism infecting the church 👇🏻
— Gene Snelling (@GeneSnelling) May 13, 2019
And then this week Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, added fuel to the fire with this tweet:
We have reached a critical moment in the Southern Baptist Convention when there are now open calls to retreat from our biblical convictions on complementarianism and embrace the very error that the SBC repudiated over 30 years ago. Honestly, I never thought I would see this day.
— Albert Mohler (@albertmohler) May 31, 2019
Those familiar with Mohler will remember that he was instrumental in making Southern Seminary a complementarian school and the Southern Baptist Convention a complementarian denomination. When one listens to Mohler and Strachan, one gets the impression that they believe their view of what the Bible teaches on the role of women in the church and the home is not a secondary issue of faith, but one that is essential to Christian orthodoxy. I honestly don’t believe that they really think this, but their rhetoric is so definitive and dogmatic that it certainly sounds like they do.
Strachan is not letting go of this position. He sees the denial of the pulpit to women such as Beth Moore and others as a non-negotiable theological view in the SBC. In other words, those who take a different position do not belong in the denomination. Here is his tweet in response to Mohler (notice how he continues to see himself in the vanguard of those who led the conservative resurgence, even going to the point of capitalizing the word “Resurgence”):
Dr. Mohler is right.
With sadness and alarm, we are in a “critical moment.”
Yet God reigns. By his grace, the sacred fire of the Resurgence will not go out on our watch.
An army of Southern Baptists love the truth, winsomely preach the truth, and will never abandon the truth. https://t.co/MrIx9u7LOA
— Owen Strachan (@ostrachan) May 31, 2019
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.
On the other hand, if you do want to claim the Henry/Kantzer/neo-evangelical mantle, perhaps it is time to rethink the Convention’s position on this issue and broaden the tent a bit.
Watch this video.
Last month I wrote a post titled “Big Changes at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.” I wrote about the Fort Worth, Texas seminary’s decision to remove stained glass windows devoted to two architects of of the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention: Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler. Both men were accused of sexual misconduct last year and Patterson was ousted as president of the seminary. Jacob Lupfer wrote about this here.
In addition to Patterson and Pressler, there were also stained-glass windows removed with images of Jerry Falwell Sr. and Jerry Vines, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a member of the conservative resurgence. Jerry Falwell Jr. now has the Falwell Sr. and Vines windows. They are on display at Liberty University.
In the video, Falwell Jr. praises the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist convention and mocks the “new regime” at Southwestern Theological Seminary who removed the windows. He even calls the new administration a Southern Baptist “deep state.”
As Southwestern Theological Baptist Seminary tries to move beyond a horrendous year in which multiple cases of sexual harassment were revealed, the authoritarian leadership of Paige Patterson was exposed, and financial difficulties rocked the school, Jerry Falwell Jr. wants to keep that legacy–the darkest parts of the conservative resurgence in the SBC– alive and well at Liberty University. Is it only a matter of time before the Patterson and Pressler stained glass window make their way to Lynchburg?
Here is a taste of a Liberty University press release:
At Liberty University’s Baccalaureate Service on Friday night, President Jerry Falwell made a bold statement to the Southern Baptist Convention when he displayed two stained-glass windows that were recently removed from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s chapel. The windows feature Liberty’s founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell, and Dr. Jerry Vines, who delivered the Baccalaureate address.
The two windows were part of a larger collection that honored the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence among Southern Baptist churches. Installed only a few years ago, the Falwell window was made possible by financial contributions from Liberty University.
In a SWBTS press release from 2015, the seminary stated: “In order to pass along the story of the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence, Southwestern has dedicated stained-glass windows in MacGorman Chapel to those who played a major role in turning the convention back to a high view of Scripture.”
But on Friday, just moments before black drapes were removed, revealing the two large windows behind him on the stage, President Falwell said that “unfortunately, a new generation has taken the Convention away from those values in many ways.” He said the windows have been “removed by the new regime.”
Falwell demanded that SWBTS return the money donated for the windows and sent a plane to Fort Worth, Texas, this week to retrieve them. They will go on display in the Jerry Falwell Museum on campus.
It has been a rough couple of years at Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and for the Southern Baptist Convention generally. We have learned a lot about the dark underbelly of the so-called “conservative takeover” of the Convention that took place in the 1980s. Here are just a few of my posts over the last year:
Southwestern has been at the heart of many of these SBC problems. According to this article at SBC Voices, the seminary is releasing 25 faculty members and closing its Houston campus. (I wonder if this prison program will close).
Southwestern has also decided to remove stained glass windows devoted to two of the architects of the conservative takeover: Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler. Both were accused of sexual misconduct last year.
Here is a taste of Jacob Lupfer’s piece at Religion News Service:
Pressler and Patterson eventually went from a metaphorical pedestal to actual stained glass. At Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, where Patterson was president, donors raised funds to immortalize leading figures of the conservative resurgence in the school’s chapel windows. The project originally intended to memorialize as many as 70 modern-day conservative Southern Baptist heroes.
Throughout Christian history, churches and cathedrals have used the medium of stained glass to tell the stories of prophets, apostles, saints and the Lord himself. The controversial Southwestern chapel window project, overseen by Dorothy Patterson, Paige’s wife, nicely illustrates the post-takeover SBC’s ahistorical infatuation with itself.
Normally, Christians allow the weight of history or the ecumenical consensus of the ages to decide which heroes of the faith to commit to stained glass. At a minimum, they wait until the honorees have died. But the Pattersons jumped the gun, and their brethren among the SBC powerful were too blinded by their own uncritical adulation for the conservative resurgence to stop them.
With no fanfare, and to the secret relief of many, the windows came down last week. This may reflect a preference for unadorned churches by the more Calvinistic leadership at the seminary, which until recently was a holdout among the SBC’s seminaries for resisting efforts to infuse the Southern Baptist Convention with Reformed theology.
More likely, the windows are untenable amid reconsiderations of Pressler and Patterson themselves. Patterson, 76, was forced out as Southwestern Seminary’s president last year, in part for mishandling sexual misconduct allegations years earlier at another seminary, and Pressler, 88, has been accused of sexual misconduct going back 40 years.
A spokesman for the seminary offered no comment on the windows removal when I called, beyond what was reported in the Alabama Baptist newspaper. The paper quotes an April 3 letter signed by trustee chairman Kevin Ueckert, which gave no reason for the removal, saying only, “After much prayerful consideration and discussion, we have concluded that it is in the best interest of the institution to remove and relocate the stained-glass windows.”
Read the entire piece here.
What is perhaps most disturbing about [Dallas megachurch pastor Robert] Jeffress’s [book] Twlight’s Last Gleaming is the way in which his deeply held passion for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others is neutralized by his political agenda. The book begins with a foreword by former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee: “If you are looking for a sweet little ‘bookette’ that is politically correct and safe to read and share with staunch unbelievers so as not to offend them, then put this book down and keep looking.” In the first sentence of the first page, Huckabee alienates unbelievers and, in the process, undermines everything Jeffress says in the book about the importance of evangelism. But Jeffress proves in the pages that follow that he does not need Huckabee’s help in weakening his gospel witness. Jeffress urges his readers to give up on the culture wars and focus on their “unprecedented chance” in these final days of humankind to “point people to the hope of Jesus Christ.” Then he spends the rest of his book teaching readers how to more effectively win the culture wars. At one point in the book Jeffress attributes the steep decline in the number of new converts baptized in the Southern Baptist Church to spiritually weak church members who are afraid to offend anyone with the claims of the gospel. Jeffress may be correct. But the possibility that the decline in baptisms is related to the fact that most Americans now associate the gospel with partisan politics does not appear to have even crossed his mind.
Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, p. 128-129.
Last week we did a post on the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News reporting on a major sexual abuse scandal in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Over at First Things, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary administrator Keith Whitfield challenges his fellow Southern Baptists to take a hard look at what that convention has become. Here is a taste:
The past twelve months have been a heart-rending season, with a handful of dismissals surrounding sexual misconduct and one for the mishandling of cases of sexual misconduct. Now another shoe has dropped: The Houston Chronicle published three articles—“Abuse of Faith,” “Offend, Then Repeat,” and “Preying on Teens”—on more than 700 abuse cases that occurred in Southern Baptist churches over the past 20 years. The banner graphic is a chilling mosaic of mug shots of Southern Baptists who were convicted or pleaded guilty to sexual abuse, faces that represent only a portion of the 220 known perpetrators since 1998.
It is devastating to realize that many of these accounts have been known for years. These survivors and many others have attempted to tell their stories, but their voices have been silenced. At times, their pleas have been ignored. In other instances, the accusations have been handled “in house” to protect the reputations of churches and leaders. Some survivors were even encouraged to “forgive and forget” those who victimized them. These responses are unacceptable, reflect complicity in the abuse of the vulnerable, and provide a place for predators.
As Southern Baptists, we have to come to face reality: These reports show a systemic problem spanning decades of neglect in handling abuse cases in our local churches and through our cooperative structures. While some of these same issues may be present in churches outside the SBC, this is the moment the Lord has appointed for us to deal with them in our cooperative family of churches. The SBC faces a moral crisis as big (if not bigger) than the theological crisis we faced over the “battle for the Bible” in the 1970s–1980s. The theological crisis called us to protect the faith; this challenge calls us to live it.
I believe there are five key systemic reasons for our negligence that allowed for the disturbing scope of the abuses outlined in the Chronicle‘s report.
Read the entire piece here. It is a heartfelt reflection from an SBC insider that is worth your time.
I just have one issue with the piece, and I think it sheds more light on the current state of the Southern Baptist Convention. Whitfield writes: “The SBC faces a moral crisis as big (if not bigger) than the theological crisis we faced over the ‘battle for the Bible’ in the 1970s-1980s.” I am bothered by Whitfield’s decision to equate (or nearly equate) the sexual abuse of women in the convention with the fight over the inerrancy of the Bible. The former is a moral crisis. The later was a fundamentalist attempt to use one evangelical interpretation of the Bible as a means to win political control of a Protestant denomination. There is no comparison.
The Southern Baptist Convention has its hands full today. A piece of investigative journalism from the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News reveals a serious problem of sexual abuse in the denomination. Here is a taste of their reporting:
Thirty-five years later, Debbie Vasquez’s voice trembled as she described her trauma to a group of Southern Baptist leaders.
She was 14, she said, when she was first molested by her pastor in Sanger, a tiny prairie town an hour north of Dallas. It was the first of many assaults that Vasquez said destroyed her teenage years and, at 18, left her pregnant by the Southern Baptist pastor, a married man more than a dozen years older.
In June 2008, she paid her way to Indianapolis, where she and others asked leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention and its 47,000 churches to track sexual predators and take action against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers. Vasquez, by then in her 40s, implored them to consider prevention policies like those adopted by faiths that include the Catholic Church.
“Listen to what God has to say,” she said, according to audio of the meeting, which she recorded. “… All that evil needs is for good to do nothing. … Please help me and others that will be hurt.”
Days later, Southern Baptist leaders rejected nearly every proposed reform.
The abusers haven’t stopped. They’ve hurt hundreds more.
In the decade since Vasquez’s appeal for help, more than 250 people who worked or volunteered in Southern Baptist churches have been charged with sex crimes, an investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News reveals.
It’s not just a recent problem: In all, since 1998, roughly 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, the newspapers found. That includes those who were convicted, credibly accused and successfully sued, and those who confessed or resigned. More of them worked in Texas than in any other state.
They left behind more than 700 victims, many of them shunned by their churches, left to themselves to rebuild their lives. Some were urged to forgive their abusers or to get abortions.
About 220 offenders have been convicted or took plea deals, and dozens of cases are pending. They were pastors. Ministers. Youth pastors. Sunday school teachers. Deacons. Church volunteers.
Read the rest here. This is the first of a three-part report.
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.
In case you haven’t heard, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville recently issued a 66-page historical report on its long history of supporting slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, racial inequality, Lost Cause mythology, and white supremacy. The scholars who composed the report produced an excellent work of institutional history. I have known professors Gregory Wills, Matthew Hall, and John Wilsey to be first-rate historians and honest scholars.
A wise friend once told me that when it comes to dealing with race and racial reconciliation in America all of us (especially white people) are on a journey. When we engage the darkness of race relations in the United States we are always going to encounter people who are at various stages on that journey. What I have learned in recent years is that we must walk beside one another on this journey and help each other along the way. As I see it, it is the only way forward.
I say this because I have been disappointed by the response the SBTS statement has received by those who seem to believe that they are further down the road on the question of race relations in America. Rather than seeing this statement as a MAJOR step in the right direction for SBTS–a step that should be commended by all those concerned with racism in the Christian community–most of the coverage has attacked the statement as not going far enough.
The gist of his column is that because the leaders of SBTS are theologically conservative, and because many white Southern Baptists are politically conservative, they are not much different from their slaveholding and white supremacist ancestors. If they were really sorry for slavery and white supremacy, Wilson-Hartgrove’s column says, then the Southern Baptists would become Social Justice Warriors like — golly! — Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.
It’s an extraordinarily graceless piece of work. It’s important for this reason. Today I blogged about the Fairness For All proposal, an attempt by some Evangelical leaders — conservatives among them — to find middle ground on the struggle between LGBT rights and religious liberty. Already some conservative Evangelicals are calling it a sellout of principle that will in any case not be respected by liberals and progressives. Part of their argument is that progressives do not negotiate in good faith, that if you yield even a bit, they’ll take advantage of the opportunity to smash you.
A column like Wilson-Hartgrove’s gives ammunition to the “no compromise” side. To be clear, I don’t believe for a second that SBTS president Albert Mohler ordered the appraisal because he sought any kind of political advantage, whatever that might look like. I believe he did it because it was, and remains, the right thing to do. But those on the religious right who oppose initiatives like this on grounds that it will allow progressives to weaponize confession and repentance will cite Wilson-Hartgrove’s column as evidence that the Evangelical left is interested only in scoring points against their enemies.
Read Dreher’s entire post here. I wonder if Wilson-Hartgtove, whose work I admire, just missed an opportunity to walk alongside SBTS as they embark on this journey.
And here is historian Alison Collis Greene, a historian I know and respect, at National Public Radio:
Notwithstanding the seminary’s new openness about its pro-slavery past, the detailed chronology ends in 1964. “In the decades following the civil rights movement, the seminary continued to struggle with the legacy of slavery and racism,” the report concludes, but without further elaboration.
“Making a statement about Confederate monuments might be a next step,” says Alison Greene, a historian of U.S. religion at Emory University in Atlanta, “or taking a stand on questions of voting rights in the 21st century. That would be really significant.”
Greene, who was raised as a Southern Baptist, found the seminary report lacking in its failure to acknowledge any consequence of the denomination’s recent association with conservative politicians and the policies they have promoted.
“It papers over a generation of hand-in-glove cooperation with efforts to roll back every single social program that served African-Americans or promised to rectify, even in the smallest ways, the gross economic and social effects of enslavement and segregation and inequality on black communities,” Greene says.
Greene’s criticism here is fair. But rather than see the statement for what it doesn’t do, I prefer to see it for what it does do.
I know Greene has not been at Emory University very long. Perhaps she will be able to help Emory add to its own statement about the school’s connection to slavery. It is nowhere near as thorough as SBTS’s statement and it stops at 1962.
NBC’s coverage quotes my friend, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs professor Paul Harvey: “The Southern Baptist Seminary, and by extension the denomination leaders…did a very good job of reckoning with the past, and a not-so-good job of reckoning with the present.” Again, this is a fair criticism. SBTS has a long way to go on this issue. Perhaps a model for moving forward might be what is happening at St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Richmond, the “Cathedral of the Confederacy.” (Listen to episode 43 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast). But in the meantime, I am glad to see that SBTS has begun the journey. As someone on my Facebook page noted, “Let’s hope they keep walking.” Yes! We will be watching.
I hope future coverage of this statement will be more balanced. For example, why hasn’t The Washington Post, NPR, or NBC talked with African-American leaders within the Southern Baptist Church? Where are the interviews with Fred Luter, Thabiti Anyabwile, Byron Day or anyone in the National African Fellowship or the Black SBC Denominational Servants Network?
I also hope other southern schools–seminaries, colleges, and universities–will do the kind of historical work SBTS has done as a necessary starting point to address their own racist pasts. I am thrilled to see the way these SBTS professors are using the study of history to work toward justice.
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.
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.”
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:
- The seminary’s founding faculty all held slaves.
- The seminary’s early faculty and trustees defended the righteousness of slaveholding.
- Upon Abraham Lincoln’s election, the seminary faculty sought to preserve slavery.
- The seminary supported the Confederacy’s cause to preserve slavery.
- After emancipation, the seminary faculty opposed racial equality.
- In the Reconstruction era, the faculty supported the restoration of white rule in the South.
- 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.
- The seminary faculty urged just and humane treatment for blacks.
- Before the 1940s, the seminary faculty generally approved the Lost Cause mythology.
- Until the 1940s, the seminary faculty supported black education and the segregation of schools and society.
- In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the seminary faculty appealed to science to support their belief in white superiority.
- The seminary admitted blacks to its degree programs in 1940 and integrated its classrooms in 1951.
- 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”).
Yes, you read the headline correctly.
Paige Patterson, who was ousted at Southwestern Theological Seminary for dismissing women’s concerns about domestic abuse and rape (see our coverage here), is teaching an ethics course at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina.
But it gets better. Patterson is co-teaching the class with Southern Evangelical Seminary president and court evangelical Richard Land. In 2013, Land retired early from his post at the Southern Baptist Church’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission because he made racially insensitive remarks in the context of the death of Trayvon Martin. (Russell Moore replaced him in the post).
Here is Adelle Banks’s piece at Religion News Service:
Patterson plans to co-teach a mid-October weeklong class on “Christian Ethics: The Bible and Moral Issues” with Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, a school that is not affiliated with the SBC.
“Dr. Patterson’s one of the most significant figures in evangelicalism in the last 20 years, at least, of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st century,” Land told Religion News Service, “and we believe that there are a lot of people who would like to hear from him about living the Christian life in America. I believe he’s an asset to evangelicalism and we’re looking forward to it.”
Read the entire piece here.
Back in June, I wrote a post about the 150th anniversary of the founding of First Baptist Church in Dallas, the congregation led by court evangelical Robert Jeffress. In that post I referenced Tobin Grant’s 2016 Religion News Service piece on the long history of racial segregation at First Baptist. Daniel Silliman’s piece at Religion Dispatches is also worth a look.
Here is the 150th anniversary video that the congregation has been promoting:
A few comments:
- The narrative revolves around three authoritarian clergymen: George Truett, W.A. Criswell, and Robert Jeffress.
- It says nothing about the fact that the Southern Baptist Church was formed because southern Baptists defended slavery and white supremacy.
- It says nothing about Truett’s and Criswell’s commitment to racial segregation and Jim Crow.
- It does include an image of Robert Jeffress with Donald Trump. Let’s remember that Jeffress defended Trump last year after the POTUS equated white supremacists and those protesting against white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Rather than taking a hard look at its past, First Baptist-Dallas has whitewashed it.
I thought about this June 2018 post a couple of weeks ago when I had the privilege of teaching the Adult Faith Formation class at St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Richmond, Virginia. St. Paul’s occupies and amazing building in the heart of Richmond. It is located across the street from the Virginia State Capitol and adjacent to the Virginia Supreme Court. The church was founded in 1844.
During the Civil War, when Richmond served as the Confederate capital, both Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis worshiped at St. Paul’s. After the war, the church used its windows to tell the story of the Lost Cause. It is often described as the “Cathedral of the Confederacy.”
But unlike First Baptist-Dallas, St. Paul’s decided to come to grips with its racist past. In 2015, the church began its “History and Reconciliation Initiative” (HRI) with the goal of tracing and acknowledging the racial history of the congregation in order to “repair, restore, and seek reconciliation with God each other and the broader community.” I encourage you to visit the HRI website to read more about the way St. Paul’s is trying to come to grips with the darker sides of its past.
Public historian Christopher Graham, who co-chairs the HRI when he is not curating an exhibit at The American Civil War Museum, invited me to Richmond to speak. He is doing some amazing work at the intersection of public history and religion.
When I think about St. Paul’s, I am reminded of Jurgen Moltmann’s call to “waken the dead and piece together what has been broken.” It is also refreshing to see the words “repair” and “restore” used in conjunction with the word “reconciliation” instead of “Christian America.”
Southern Baptists, and American evangelicals more broadly, may immediately conclude that they have little in common theologically with St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Richmond and can thus dismiss the congregation’s history-related efforts as just another social justice project propagated by theological liberals. But this would be a shame. They can learn a lot from this congregation about how to take a deep and honest look into the mirror of the past.
Check out Stephanie McCrummen‘s Washington Post excellent piece on a Southern Baptist, Trump-loving church in Luverne, Alabama. Many of the members of this church fear immigrants, think Obama is a Muslim, and hate Hillary Clinton because they claim that she hated them. It is also worth noting that most of the pro-Trumpers in this church appear to be over the age of 60.
— Peter Sillin (@psillin) July 22, 2018
Who “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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.